It's been several years since I've gone on a mission trip. Don't get me wrong- the mission for me to share the Gospel starts wherever I am! But there is certainly something refreshing about stepping outside of the norm and setting aside time dedicated to simply go and make disciples.
Information about a trip came out through my school's Baptist Student Ministry. The trip consisted of taking students to the beach during Spring break to serve people by giving them free rides and free breakfast. I had been interested for a while. I am such an indecisive person on many accounts, but I knew deep down that I really wanted to go. The problem is, I was not sure how I could afford it right then with other expenses I had coming up. I remember talking with a guy friend of mine earlier this semester about it. I was feeling a bit discouraged and it felt impossible. (We must know by now that God will provide for the impossible when we need it!) My friend challenged me to not let finances hold me back. I almost laughed. I could only go if finances were in place! "Annika, don't let money hold you back," he told me, "There is someone who wants you to go and will help you. If you really want to go on this trip, God will provide a way. It's just money."
And He did.
Last Friday afternoon, after a week of midterms, late nights and little sleep, performances, obligations, and every minute packed with scheduled and spontaneous stresses alike, I gathered my overstuffed suitcase, backpack and guitar and loaded onto a school van. There were 25 of us from our school, and multitudes from other schools around the area.
We had a good old fashioned road trip. Music blaring, stopping for overpriced snacks at gas stations, someone needing to go to the bathroom every hour (and someone getting annoyed), trying on all the hats and sunglasses at rest stops. It was awesome. I had my laptop out finishing up the last bit of homework, eager to get it done so I could stare out the window more often and fully enjoy all of the conversations with my peers.
We stopped at a church halfway for the night. Ate pizza, slept on the floor or couches or chairs- whatever was available. Played basketball in the church gym. Saturday morning, we got up bright and early and headed to our destination. I squealed as Palm trees and tropical plants started dotting the highways. I hugged my first palm tree in a parking lot near a Chipotle. It was the dreamiest. We mushed on.
And, I saw the ocean.
I never have before!
It was something I've always dreamed about, prayed for. And I finally saw it! I could not stop smiling. Our driver rolled down windows as I screamed, "It's so BIG!!" over the music and wind. We crossed it and drove down the main stretch of the Island. I have never been in more awe at how colorful and creative buildings could be! A gift shop that looked like a shark, a Ferris wheel, every condo and house painted in some aquatic or sunshiny shade. I never imagined all of this!
We dropped off our things where we were staying and went out to eat back on the mainland. I tasted shrimp and fish like I never have before. My heart was swelling. I leaned over the railing to stare at the water, and had to sit down at one point and cry. I thought I'd have those cute, dramatic little sniffles of joy. Oh, no. That was sobbing. One of my friends gave me a hug and asked, "Are you okay?" I hugged her back. "I'm just so happy."
We stayed at a pink motel. Could a girl ask for anything better?! It was just low class enough to feel like a proper adventure, but pink and unique enough to feel special to me. I remember getting woken up by drunk folks partying outside our door at 4 AM on the first night when we were supposed to have our one and only full night's rest of the trip. A big part of me wanted to complain as I put in ear plugs and a pillow over my head, but I just couldn't. I was staying in a motel next to my dream come true, and besides that it was still better sleep than I had gotten all during midterms week. That pillow was amazing. I felt blessed.
I woke up a few hours later to my sweet freshman roommate climbing in bed with me. "Annika, I'm scared," she whispered. Most of the party had left, but there were still two guys hanging out and talking loudly on the bench by our door. I almost laughed that she woke up from two guys talking but slept through an entire party! But those remaining left after an hour or so and she fell asleep.
We got up Sunday morning for church. It was a whole experience! I had to set my Worship Major mindset aside and simply enjoy the ocean-themed music at the beginning. It can be easy to slip into analyzing a service, if the songs are rich in theology, if the order of worship most clearly portrays the gospel story. To an extent, this is good! It helps me to recognize areas I need to work on and what I need to watch out for. It's also just good to be discerning. However, there is also so much good in being able to set aside the academic mindset and worship and be present.
That afternoon, we ate lunch, painted our vans, and got ready for our first assignment- walking around the island and handing out cards that explained what we did. "Free pancakes... Free rides." There weren't many people who had arrived on the island for spring break yet, so we ended up walking and talking with each other most of the time.
In the last thirty minutes or so, we found an entrance to the beach and parked nearby. As we walked, my van mates blindfolded me and led me by the hand, recording me for my reaction. I had seen the ocean- but this would be the first time I had ever seen the beach, sand and all. They got me to the edge of the sand and told me to take my sandals off and step forward. I opened my eyes... it was so wide.
I thought I would cry at the sight of the beach like I did the water. But I didn't. I could hardly contain my excitement! "Well, go ahead- run to it!" someone told me. "Okay!!" And oh did I run. Up and down the beach, through the water, on the sand, all of it. I got lost at one point and had to look for my friends. I just couldn't stop running in it.
I expected it to be amazing, but I never thought I would get so EXCITED at it!!! Before seeing the ocean, I'd always tell people it was my most favorite place in the whole world- I just hadn't seen it yet. Now I know. How could you look at anything so massive and so detailed and not believe there is a Creator?
More to come...