Standing outside the small, white church, I watched cars loaded with eager children climb up the steep drive. I was unsure if I should be excited or scared, so I chose to be both. The sun and the anticipation already had me sweating. This is it: first mission trip experience. Both this trip and a later one would push me far outside my comfort zone, and in the process, teach me to lean on God in the midst of a challenging situation.
Being only two hours away from my home, I was not actually in a third world country. My home state, Arizona, has eight Indian reservations. I was at the poorest one, an Apache reservation named San Carlos. Some friends of my family operate a ministry on the reservation called American Indian Mission, or AIM for short. I was there to assist with a one day children’s camp. We would be leading the various age groups of kids (ages two all the way to seventeen) through four stations: the Bible lesson, crafts, balloon animals, and games.
Despite the depressing poverty, the scenery is stunning. The reservation land is surrounded by vividly colored mountains. Spacious blue skies were dotted with an occasional puffy cloud. However, the reservation still seemed to be a third world within America. For example, normal accommodations, such as stores and businesses, were sparse. The mission group leader informed me that alcohol and drug abuse are rampant, and the suicide rate is five times higher than the national average. Shacks commonly shelter families. I learned firsthand from my second trip that teenage pregnancy is very common.
On that Saturday afternoon, I was not directly ministering to the suicidal, drunk, or high. My duty was to operate the game station for the two hour camp. It was a hot, dusty, chaotic experience, but the kids enjoyed the balloon games, relay races, and ball tossing contests.
The kids were offered a glimpse of God’s love both through the Gospel message presented and the altruism of the people running the event.
Operating the games outside provided an opportunity to trust in God’s protection. We were holding this event at a church that was perched high on a hill. The kids mischievously inched their way near the edge– a steep drop off. By some miracle, no one plummeted to their death. Leading games at my church in the safety of a fenced-in yard suddenly seemed easy. Even though the cliff added a layer of excitement, I would not host games on the edge of a precipice again.
Three months later, I journeyed back out to San Carlos for a back to school bash. We were operating a similar program to the one before, but this time we would be handing out free backpacks stuffed with school supplies to all the kids and teenagers present. Thankfully, I was spared from the dust and scorching sun and placed in charge of crafts. Despite it being my second time, I felt nervous and jittery before the event. Emotions that are unpredictable and hard to control are truly liars, the devil’s ploy to distract us. Before the event, I prayed for peace. God answered swiftly. I genuinely enjoyed my time with the kids.
God will provide the peace we need in pressing situations, if only we ask.
I mentioned earlier that I learned about teenage pregnancy first hand. While I was with the teens, I noticed one girl who was either twelve or thirteen cradling a little girl. I chatted with her and was shocked to discover that the baby was ten months old and was hers. This experience made me grateful that I do not have children yet, because for many teens, early motherhood is reality.
On a broader level, witnessing the dire poverty of the reservation made me realize how blessed an existence I live. For instance, many of the reservation homes are not equipped with flushing toilets, something most of us take for granted daily. Jobs are very limited, thus many are unemployed. Third World conditions do exist in America, which should make us grateful for all the modern conveniences and comforts that are readily available to us.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone is always more enjoyable when making the leap with others. The teams I participated with were enthusiastic and excited to serve. After these events, leaving the facility in better condition than we found it was a top priority. On the second trip especially, all the volunteers cleaned the church within an inch of its life. The lady who was cleaning the bathrooms was especially ambitious. I snickered when I heard her say, “I wish I had brought a toothbrush so I could scrub this sink better!”
What I learned from the experience is that God has a history of coming through for people when they are miles from their comfort zone. My comfort zone on that Saturday afternoon would have been my bed, taking a nap. Instead, I was helping to run a children’s camp in a foreign culture. Stepping outside of our natural abilities and skills gives God the opportunity to work through our weakness.
The farther we step outside of our boundary lines and natural abilities, the more room we give God to work through us.
Just like Peter stepping out of the boat on to the waves, when we are outside of our comfort parameters, we find God’s supernatural power at work. I would encourage you to first seek out opportunities that push you beyond your limits. Second, do not avoid a new opportunity simply because you are afraid of failing! As C. S. Lewis said, “One fails forward to success.” Third, when placed in a new, potentially intimidating situation, dive in enthusiastically! New, beautiful, challenging opportunities await you, and your God promises to be present every step of the way.