“I think you should come with us to the D.R.” Sitting in my office at the church was our Youth Director, Laura. I don’t really remember what I said. I think I probably gave one of those non-committal, “Mmm”s. It didn’t really seem feasible, what with all my job duties at the church. Plus, it was hardly something I had experience in. How in the world was I going to be any help? Yeah, nice idea, but not realistic.
After she left, however, I did start to really think about it. You see, I’d been praying God would stretch me out past my comfortable little life. Oops! Why had I not learned that prayers like that are dangerous?! This would certainly be way out of my comfort zone! A college friend (Calvin – Go Knights!) had been telling me how each summer he took high school students to the Dominican Republic through an incredible organization called Students International. I emailed him about Laura’s suggestion. And whoa, it was the same place he went! That helped decide it for me.
I said yes, it was approved, and wham! done deal. Now the doubts started to pound down on me. Laura had told me how bad the bugs were. I hate bugs. As in, screaming-like-a-little-girl hate. As in, squirting raid at a big ol’ palmetto bug scurrying along the kitchen floor and then slamming a glass over it and leaving it there… for a week… before getting up the nerve to gently slide a piece of paper under it and carry it to the trash, shuddering the whole time.
So, bugs. And Spanish. I was raised in Canada. Years and years of French would do me no good. What else? Living in a cabin with nine others. Hmm. I’m single, and love having ‘my’ space, and lots of ‘me-time’. Non-stop people was not going to be fun. On top of that, we wouldn’t be able to use the water in the taps, and wouldn’t be able to flush toilet paper down the commode. Laura mentioned something called a ‘poo basket’. Yeah, this was just getting better and better!
Oh, hang on. Wait a sec. This was a Youth mission trip. Youth. That meant... students. Students! Why did it have to be students? (Yep, I sounded a little like Indiana Jones!) At the time I was 40 years old. Divorced, no children. None of my friends in the area had kids that age. Our students were going to be so unenthused about my presence. They were going to see me as a grouchy old lady! What was I going to say to any of them? What in the world was I thinking? Was it too late to back out?!
As Christ-followers, we are all called to make disciples. I confess, I have not always taken this seriously. I felt I had nothing to offer, I was afraid I’d be asked things I wasn’t going to be able to answer. Very frankly, I preferred coping with scary bugs to sharing any of my life with young people. Thankfully, God did not wait until I felt capable of fulfilling His command before He made a way for me to begin!
I’d love to say that the minute I started hanging out with the students, all my concerns were washed away as we connected immediately and significantly. Laura could tell you that certainly wasn’t the case! What I can say is that slowly, but surely, I started to see ‘them’ as individuals. I started to care less about what the kids thought of me, and more about what they had to say. I started to realize that they were pretty cool – and more important, they didn’t expect me to be!
One afternoon I sat listening to one of our students behind our cabin. She was sharing important, big deal stuff with me. Sitting on the concrete step, blue sky above, palm trees in the background, clothes drying on the line, I began to realize a deep truth. This student didn’t need dismissive platitudes and pat answers. She wasn’t looking for me to say something so definitive and wise her life would be instantly changed forever.
What she did need was someone to listen – really listen. Someone to value her concerns and questions. Someone to be real, and admit it wasn’t always easy and there weren’t always simple solutions. That, I could do. When we got back to Harrisonburg, I continued to meet with a small group of high school girls. It became one of the highlights of my week!
I shared earlier this week about what Students International is doing in El Callejon. Along with long-term community development, SI is also committed to helping students (who come down on short-term trips) to encounter Jesus. Through their experiences ministering in the D.R., the students’ faith can stretch and grow, and their understanding of how God works can deepen. As they are discipled, the students are equipped to join in making disciples. I love this Christ-like approach!
And so, through God’s grace, I will continue to spend time with young people, hearing their stories, sharing mine. As groups of students come down to the D.R., I will have the privilege of serving and growing with those assigned to El Callejon. What a joy to be walking a small part of their journey!
I’m so thankful that God is not dependent upon my abilities and self-esteem! I’m thankful He is able to work through my brokenness to connect with others. I’m thankful this includes students. You know, all things being equal, you can keep the bugs. Bring on the kids!!