My family has been involved in mission trips my entire life. We have traveled all around the world, meeting new people and seeing new places. But sight-seeing and hitting the tourist hot spots is not what this travel is all about. We travel to help those in desperate need.
My family owns a construction business and had always wanted to give back to the community. So, when the First Assembly of God Church of St. Charles, Missouri, needed experienced workers to help with jobs in foreign countries, my parents jumped at the opportunity. And when I was old enough to hold a hammer, I joined as well.
In America, some kids dread going to school. They just go to college to party and get away from their parents. Little do they know, halfway around the world are children begging for food and looking for a place to sleep. Participating in a mission trip is one of the fastest ways to gain a better perspective of how our lives compare to the daily lives of the rest of the world. I have been to Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Guatemala, Jamaica and El Salvador on mission trips. I have helped build schools, homes and churches. One of my most memorable experiences was in Panama City, Panama, where we built an addition to a school that we had helped build about five years earlier. Knowing that my work helps communities grow and provides children a safe place to receive an education is a blessing. Every single trip has helped me grow as a person.
“It’s not about the hard work we have to do, we aren’t getting paid,” said Dave Boundy, mission trip coordinator with the First Assembly of God Church. “But the smiles on those people’s faces after we build them a church or a school is a completely priceless gift. I truly believe they help me more than we help them.”
Boundy made this comment as we were working on a school in Bogota, Colombia, a city well known for its high crime rate. At the time we traveled to Bogota, it was listed as the most dangerous city in the world. This simply caused us to be more careful while traveling and more thoughtful about what we brought with us. Our work in Bogota focused on adding a second floor to a church whose membership was growing rapidly. We stayed at a nearby motel-like complex, and the project took us a full week to finish. Near the end of the trip, we had about a half a day to be tourists. We traveled to flea markets and explored the safer parts of the city.
While in Ecuador, our mission trip coincided with the annual Carnival, the same festival that occurs in many other countries immediately before the Christian season of Lent. As I joined in and sprayed the locals with a water gun, I could not get the smile off my face. There is a certain beauty that you can find in different cultures that you cannot find anywhere else. But after that, it was right back to work, which is not as bad as it might sound. That is what we are there for, after all.
Hanging off a three-story building with nothing but a rope to hold onto in one hand and a nail gun in the other is not the most pleasant feeling in the world. But that is exactly the situation I was in when working in Panama City, Panama. The locals could not do the work themselves. The dangerous working conditions and lack of safety equipment was easier to take, though, when the local kids would bring us the best pineapple chunks I had ever eaten.
When we have to put our tools away because the sun goes down, there are almost always local teenagers to show me around. This is how I got a thirty-seven-cent haircut — best haircut I had ever had — in Bogota. As soon as I got out of the chair, Julio, a friend I had made working on the school, said, “Now you look like one of us, I would like you to stay.” His English was broken, but I knew what he meant. I had no idea how to respond. He put his hand on my shoulder and handed me a necklace he had made. It was a leather band with an antique coin on it. He told me he wanted me to bring it back to him one day.
Coming back to the states is never easy. However, gaining first-hand experience of life in these other countries does make it easier to be content here. Seeing how the rest of the world lives and then coming back to this paradise makes it nearly impossible to be upset about our “first world problems.” I simply cannot get upset about my cell phone not working or my microwave not turning on anymore. If I feel myself becoming upset about these kinds of things, I think about any of the trips I have been on. I almost feel ashamed that not being able to heat up my Hot Pocket can aggravate me. Fully understanding how the rest of the world lives makes you appreciate life in a way I wish everyone could.
Mission trips change the people’s lives that you’re helping, but once you go on one and experience it for yourself, you will be forever changed.