I remember coming back from Nicaragua. Those few short hours and even sometimes days after returning can be so, so difficult to cope with. I hate to say, but I spent most of the trip home either crying or trying desperately not to. It hadn’t even been a day yet, and I already missed Nicaragua and everyone in it more than I could put into words. Just imagine; everything that happened and everything you witnessed during your time there is so fresh in your mind that it can be difficult to cope with the fact that the world that you’ve grown up in is now the source of your culture shock. All I wanted was to be back in the country and with the people that I had fallen in love with. Coming back from a mission trip can be a really hard thing to explain. Everyone wants to hear about the “fun” things that you did. They want to see all the pictures and they want to hear the stories. But sometimes the stories are hard.
I was challenged, just as my teammates were, to love other people in less than ideal circumstances. When you’re on the outside of a mission trip looking in, it can be easy to see only the polished version. I don’t think anyone really means to make it that way. But it can be hard to look past the countless pictures on social media of all of the beautiful kids the team is getting to know and the countless lives that are being touched and remember that the team is made up of imperfect people, who are imperfect at serving each other and even imperfect at serving the community they are in. Mission trips—at least for the two that I was on—are full of challenges and uncomfortable situations that force growth in people. And sometimes fighting that growth can be an ugly thing. Sometimes it comes out in impatience or a lack of mercy and grace for a fellow team member. Sometimes it comes out in moodiness or unforgiveness. Whatever form it takes, something I quickly realized on my trips was that things were not always as perfect as we like to make them seem. There were many times where I was less than thrilled with my teammates. I know for a fact that there were times that they were less than thrilled with me. However, it was in those times that Jesus could really work in our hearts and change us to become more like Him.
Despite these imperfections and challenges, I know that I wouldn’t want to look back on it any other way. I think that we have a tendency to want to take our stories and clean them up so that they can fit into a tidy and polished version. But that isn’t reality. If we take an honest look at the bible, we can see that God’s people have been a mess throughout history. Even some of the most notable figures in the bible have stories that are far from perfect. David, Moses, even Paul. Just like it is common with mission trips, sometimes the mess in these people’s stories can be overlooked. In doing so however, I think we rob ourselves of the true beauty that God can work from our mess and our imperfection. How could we fully understand God’s saving power in Paul’s life if we did not first understand where he came from? How would we be able to see the vastness of God’s grace if we didn’t fully grasp the weight of David’s decisions? How can we see the beauty that God works in cross cultural missions if we don’t also let ourselves see that we are an imperfect team of people trying to love an imperfect community with a lifestyle very different from our own? The answer is truly that we can’t. We won’t be able to experience the depth of God’s grace for us if we aren’t honest about the depth of our shortcomings.
I wasn’t able to go on the trip to Nicaragua this past summer. Even though it’s been a year and a half or so since I’ve seen the friends that I made there, I still miss them oh so much. There’s been a lot that’s changed in my life since the last time I was there, a lot of new places that my Lord has led me, and a lot of new things that He’s taught me. Even though many of the people that I went to Nicaragua with have gone their separate ways, it’s been amazing to see how our church’s partnership with the church in La Esmeralda has shaped some of my team members and their futures. I think there is something truly beautiful in serving cross culturally, and seeing Jesus reflected through another group of people. There was a lot that was challenging about being in Nicaragua, and a lot that was challenging about trying to love people who know a very different life than we do. In that though, there was so much beauty in loving and being loved by our friends in Nicaragua that has changed me for the better.