Hey all! It’s taken quite a while for me to get these all together, but I am so excited to share with you moments, memories, and thoughts from my recent mission trip to Tucson, Arizona. I was so blessed to have the opportunity to go and to create relationships there and additionally back here. Okay, so that’s all the fluff I’ve got, so feel free to read, comment, ask questions, etc. All of these paragraphs are slightly edited excerpts from my journal from while we were in Tucson. A big thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to go!
FRIDAY-SATURDAY: A 30(+) hour bus ride, which included poker, laughs, uncomfortable sleeping positions, and bonding.
I came into this bus ride excited but fearful. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to get to know people who were outside my typical friend group. Instead, I sat between two people who I adore and feel safe with. Internally, I felt empty, alone, and unjustified. Why should I have gone onto the trip? What good would I do? Have I gone just to go? I know I’ll look back on this summer as a high, but will it felt like on as I go through it? I just felt so broken and empty. And also like I had to keep it all a secret. This was a mission trip. One should be strong. Throughout the ride, I remember feeling short of breath and with a stomach ache. However, I also remember looking out the window every hour and smiling to myself because there was at least one cloud somewhere in the sky the entire bus ride, even at night, when silhouettes were visible. It was here where I started asking God to come in and redeem me. Renew my mind. Satisfy my heart and soul. I wanted to be genuine, authentic, and vulnerable. I strived to restoration to my heart, mind, soul, and my physical lungs.
That night, we talked and talked until around 2:00 AM. We also played poker, but with starbursts instead of chips because it indeed was a mission trip. We played many games of heads up and catch phrase, rummy and other card games, and really just tried to get to know one another. I still sat comfortably in my friend group, but some brave faces came to visit with us.
As we became surrounded by desert and mountains, I started to feel strong. I wasn’t alone. I realized our bus was a burning light in the darkness and those on the bus were my brothers and sisters, and it gave me strength. I wasn’t one light alone, struggling to stay afire. Instead, my light became brighter and brighter among others. We were burning and becoming strong together. Clouds still dusted the sky.
When we arrived at the church in Tucson, we unpacked and talked about what the trip was going to look like. That night, I remember being extremely thankful for a bed to lay on and for being able to breathe.
SUNDAY: a church service and flyer-ing.
Each morning, a student gave a short devotional to the entire group. Today’s was concerning relationships – how spending time and intentional efforts to grow are key to one’s relationship with God and others. We talked about being unified and finding our purpose in God. We need God. There’s no doubt about it. Even while Jesus was on Earth, he constantly met with the father. God is waiting for you. You are not a burden. There is hope.
After the devotional, we split into groups regarding the church services. For the first one, I had the opportunity to spend time with some of the children there, and we got a lovely game of uno going. For the second service, I played keys for the worship band, and it was absolutely beautiful. Many of our students shared their testimonies, and we got to talk to the attendees after the service.
Following the church service, we got into groups to go flyer-ing. For each house visited, we invited them to a block party we would be throwing on Wednesday, and we additionally told them about a VBS we would be hosting at the church each week night. We asked many of the houses how we could pray for them, and many responded positively, inviting us to pray for them immediately. Many houses were trashed, beer cans littering the yards, bars over the windows.
Immediately after, we enjoyed some authentic Mexican food at a nearby restaurant, and returned back the church for a debrief. Our night speaker gave a short talk on the importance of giving all you have throughout the trip. He mentioned how God powerfully works through us when we give Him everything, and led us through an exercise which invited us to ask the following two questions: How do you want to grow me? and What can I do? Things I wanted to grow in throughout the trip were vulnerability, honesty, love, and removing bitterness. What could I do? I decided I wanted to expand my circles, intentionally take time alone, and surrender everything.
Similar to the first night, we then had a bit of free time where late night talks and deep conversation filled the church premises.
MONDAY: hike, quiet time, and refugee ministries.
To start off the day, our morning session was on things preventing us from serving, whether they be physical, emotional, or mental. Thoughts of uselessness, remembrances of the past, or even just downright pain could all be possible ideas. A big thing for me this morning was thinking about how each member had a purpose for being here. We were all still alive and breathing.
We went on a hike in the desert, and it was absolutely beautiful, and we definitely had some good conversations and laughs on the way up and down. Thank goodness @chandler is still alive.
We went flyer-ing again today, though we divided up into different teams. I had the opportunity to speak to three different houses in Spanish and invite them to our block party. It was really neat to be able to use something learned back home to impact people in a greater way.
After coming back from flyer-ing, groups divided into their evening teams – refugees, traveling vbs, home vbs, and youth group. I was a part of the refugee team, which didn’t have much information on what we would be doing throughout the week – meaning we had around two hours of free time. I went to the picnic tables to journal and sit in His presence. It was then and there I decided I felt like trail mix. Trail mix looks so appealing, all the pieces of chocolate and cashews flooding the front, catching your eye. After opening it, though, often the revelation there are also almonds and raisins disappoints me. I guess I sometimes feel like people spend time with me because of my so called m&m’s and cashews, and after they realize there are other parts to me, they often walk away. Also, I wrote I felt sometimes my faith looks all put together. All good and all appealing and all great. I’m not the greatest at letting people know when I’m spiritually drowning. Around people my age, I often feel like a rock or someone who gives more than receives. And I’m usually okay with it. Sometimes though, it becomes a thing forcing me to always pretend I have it together. And I promise I don’t. Even when I think I have it together, God knows I don’t. It’s just how it is. So I’m sorry if you’ve been disappointed by my raisins, and know I am always here to support you, as long as I’m allowed to not have it together also.
After deep revelations and long journals, we prepared to depart for the refugee ministry. We first did an exercise which broke my heart into a million pieces. We were given your basic sheet of printer paper and asked to rip it into sixteen papers. On each of the four papers, you were to write a family members, regardless if you had more than four. You had to chose which four you would take with you if you were to be leaving your country. For me, it was simple. I have my mom, my dad, and my two brothers. Easy. On the next four, we were instructed to write down four material items we would take with us if we were fleeing. Without too much hesitation, I brought my Bible, my phone, my house, and my toothbrush. On the next four, talents and passions were written down. I remember writing kids, music, writing, and serving. Next, came four identities. Daughter, musician, sister, and student each had their own paper. The people leading the exercise asked us to place them face down in front of us, and walked us through the steps one would take in leaving the country. First, you would have to leave your house. They came and randomly ripped up one or two of the papers in front of us. Then, one would have to cross the border. Two more papers. Finding a center equipped to hold you. Two more papers, ripped. Finally, clearance to leave the center – the time in between these two steps could have been weeks, months, years, even decades. Four papers this time. Finally, you arrive at the new country. From me, they took two last papers, leaving me with four left. Around me, people had anywhere from two to six papers. Only then were we allowed to flip them over. The four remaining were as follows: J (brother), kids, phone, music. That’s all I had left. I was no longer a daughter; my parents were gone. I didn’t have the means of writing. My other brother – gone, and never to be seen again. I was humbled in this moment. It gave me a perspective to see just a small snippet of what it means for someone to actually flee their country and also an overwhelming amount of empathy for the refugee kids we would be meeting. After the simulation, our team of probably 15 boarded a bus with the expectation for the kids to be downright solemn and overwhelmed with loss.
Another thing about this refugee center – we weren’t allowed to bring up Jesus. They wanted it to be a religion free zone in order to make all cultures feel welcome at the center. However, if the children were to ask us questions or talk about it first, we were allowed to jump in.
As we pulled up, however, children started running towards our bus, joy spread across their faces. At first, there were fifteen children. Soon, others started popping out of houses, bringing their friends. Some were hesitant. Others jumped in immediately. I remember turning in a full circle, watching games of frisbee, football, tag, duck duck goose, leap frog, and soccer entertaining every kid who entered the grassy area. Some sat and talked to members of our team. The girls braided hair. This was day one, and already, four children had already captured my heart. Sandrine, Clementine, Aimee, and Benito were their names. They all had individual personalities. Benito, he was spiderman. Literally. Aimee just wanted to talk about any topic. She seemed almost lonely in a way. Sandrine and Clementine – cousins – wanted to laugh and involve themselves in as many things as possible. I love kids. I love being around kids. After the long day, I felt so content being around them. It didn’t even seem real. Their joy was absolutely contagious, and I longed to stay longer than two hours. As we left the premises, a few of the children started crying, hanging on to us, begging us not to leave. Luckily, tonight, we were able to tell them we were returning tomorrow.
After getting back from the church, we had our nightly session, which covered our desires for God. Did we invite Him in? Was He the reason we were here? Did we make intentional efforts to grow in Him? Were we fully set on serving passionately? What do you need to disengage from to be fully present? For me, I decided perceived expectations were definitely prohibiting me from serving wholeheartedly. I knew what a mission trip could be like and basically put it in a box. Also, certain relationships were definitely being put as a priority rather than serving. Bitterness, reluctancy to be vulnerable, and a lack of intentional alone time were also contributors.
After the session, free time entailed, and yet again, deep conversations prevailed.
TUESDAY: speed bumps, kids camp, grace house, chick-fil-a, and camp songs.
So if you’ve read my most recent post, you’re aware I had an allergic reaction. So the inhaler I received was to be taken every four hours, meaning 12AM/PM, 4AM/PM, and 8AM/PM inhalations. So picture at four am, my alarm starts buzzing. And it continues to buzz. For a full minute. I don’t remember any of this, but apparently my mattress partner yelled my name, and I sat up and say “sorry, I was having a dream about speed bumps.” Yeah. What a day.
Tuesday was also the first day I woke up early early to go outside and do devotionals, and it was beautiful. After doing so, we had our morning meeting where we discussed comfort zones and stepping out of them. Something I wanted to do was daily morning devotionals. I was initially reluctant to wake up early to do so, but God moved, and I wanted to witness Him on a daily basis.
After a quick breakfast, we departed. One third of our team arrived at an abandoned middle school where a kids camp would soon take place. We were instructed to paint backdrops, but out hands, and prep many other things. It was a good time, and I met a few new people. After doing so, we took a quick trip to Chick-Fil-A, and it was great as usual. Two of my now best friends and I took a table and just kinda talked about life and opinions and Jesus and all good things. We had an extra thirty minutes or so, so everyone strolled over to Target, and some of us began to play hide-n-go-seek. It was a great decision. The sky was also beautiful.
After, we arrived at a one story house, capable of being a home to seven families. This was Grace House. Single parents could come with their children, live here, and be provided a job at a local store until they could make it on their own. What a beautiful idea. A few of the members on our team took the children there to the park while the rest of us stayed back and deep cleaned the house. We weeded, organized, cleaned, mopped, dusted, picked up trash – anything needed to be done. The woman who ran the household was incredibly grateful. At one point, we were walking through the kitchen area, and one of our team members asks the child near him to point to his favorite face on the fridge. There was one of those magnets with probably 30 different facial expressions on it, and of all of them, the sweet sweet boy looks up and points to “hopeful.” My heart melted.
At the refugee center, we were again greeting by children running towards our bus. Today, we made flower chains, and I led a few camp songs from my summer job. They taught us some songs, and overall joy and laughter filled the field. Their joy was absolutely overwhelming. You couldn’t be around them without feeling content yourself, and though other thoughts fought to fill my mind, I could only feel gratitude and joy.
As we returned, we prayed on the bus, and it hit me we were halfway done with the time we would be able to see them. How even now, I long to go back. I would have been content to accidentally miss the bus heading back and stay there for another week, month, year… decade.. I love these children so much. We prayed they would bring up Jesus. All of me hoped all the kids I bonded with knew Him. I want to see them again. I want them to live forever with Jesus. I want them to know the good news. I want salvation to be attainable for them. I want them to realize they are loved. They are cherished. There is hope. There is love. There is redemption. There is more. It was a passion. I needed to know, but we couldn’t bring it up ourselves. Which really stunk.
During our afternoon session, we debriefed the day. Talked about Jesus. I was tired and didn’t write anything down. But it was good. I promise.
Tuesday night, our free time involved playing on the swing set and hardcore volleyball. The sunset was gorgeous.
WEDNESDAY: small group, weeding, testimonies, and community.
I’ll start off by saying Wednesday was a pretty poopy day overall. We did amazing things. I loved being with the people. I wasn’t focused today. I was exhausted. I was in pain. I was anxious, although there was nothing justified to cause it.
Like Tuesday, I got up to do morning devotionals, and instead decided to write each of the refugee children I had bonded with a short note. Without great permission, I included a bible verse or two on each one of them, in hopes they would know exactly what I was talking about. Or at the very least ask a question.
Our morning meeting covered the topic of discernment and discerning God’s voice. And Jeremiah 33:3. That’s all I wrote down. Again, today wasn’t my best day.
First, we put together a last minute worship band to play for a small bible study. It went pretty well, considering we didn’t rehearsal at all? Throughout the study, one of our members shared her testimony, and it was absolutely beautiful. So many trials and things gone wrong, but she still stands and has used these things to lead those around her to God. Towards the end of the small group, and older couple came up to the stage and played a song they had written, and it was probably the cutest thing ever. Absolutely. After the Bible study, we stayed at the church and weeded like none other. Hoes, rakes, gloves, and trash bags floated around, and we weeded a good portion of the church property. There were lots of laughs and good conversations, despite an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.
After weeding and preparing for the block party the church was hosting, our sub-team left for the refugee center yet again. This night, however, I just felt like nothing was going right, and I kinda shut down on the bus. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be anywhere else. I wanted to sit alone. One person in particular on the bus thought otherwise about my isolation. They came and sat and talked when I couldn’t. They prayed. They prayed for courage and continually inquired as to what was happening. I didn’t really know. I didn’t feel alone. I just felt weak and incapable. I was exhausted. I felt like I had no more to give. I was overcome with anxiety and felt like I couldn’t go on. I can’t really even explain why. Even now, I look back and wonder why a wall of exhaustion, loss of purpose, and overall tangible sadness was present. I remember right before exiting the bus, they said I’m sure the kids will make you feel better. But they did. Looking back, I’m positive this was a confirmation from God intended to give me confidence in working with children.
Arriving, I wasn’t exactly present. Aimee, Sandrine, and Clementine all approached me and we started talking. Each of them confessed at some point during our conversation they too weren’t having the best day. I then told them how I wasn’t feeling it either, and we decided we could at least make the evening great. So we did. Girls braided my hair again, frisbee entailed, and additionally some really good talks. At one point, however, a group of us were sitting in a circle, and we asked the kids if they had any plans for the weekends. Most of them shook their heads, but one particular boy nodded and broke to us how he would be attending church on Sundays. After he brought it up, many of the other kids sitting there started to agree and proceeded to ask us if we attended a church. In those five – ten minutes, we got to share with them how much we loved God and how cool it will be for us to see each other again in heaven. My heart was filled with joy knowing these beautiful children were my brothers and sisters. God is good.
On the way home, we all exchanged stories. Saying goodbye at the camp ground was a little more difficult today. We all kinda knew the end was drawing near. Back at the church, we had yet another evening session, though this one took place outside. While our small group was at the Refugee Center, the other groups had been working together to throw a block party. Our group had about thirty minutes to kill until it was over, so a friend and I grabbed some shaved ice and sat at a picnic bench. We both shared our entire testimonies in those thirty minutes, which brought new understanding and appreciation for one another. For our nightly debrief, we sat in a giant (60+ people) circle on the basketball court, and we had acoustic worship. Instead of a message, we all shared happenings from the day and prayed for one another. Post debrief was some more swings and good conversation.
THURSDAY: GAP, final refugee day, worship, and hard goodbyes.
Today, I again woke up at 6:00 and went outside for devotionals. I didn’t really talk much and isolated myself so I could focus after yesterday.
This morning, we talked about gratitude and constant prayer. Often times, our generation focuses on the storms rather than the clear. We don’t rely on God in times where things seem to be going well. Are we always dependent on Him? Are we constantly thankful for opportunities and the blessings He gives us?
To start off the day, my morning group was assigned to go to GAP Ministries. GAP is a place where foster children are given a new chance at life. They are put into a house with a volunteer mom and dad who love them and cherish them. They often come to the ministry to meet with their biological parents if it so be the case, and GAP is also responsible for a shop where underprivileged families can shop for less in addition to non-profit organizations (i think?). It just so worked out another girl and I forgot to wear close toed shoes to the building, and we weren’t allowed to work in the warehouse with the rest of our group. Instead, we went to a different part of the facility and made Father’s Day baskets for the “fathers” of the ministry. During our time in the room, God moved. Goosebumps moved. She shared her entire testimony with me and even mentioned she felt led to share things she had never shared before. The authenticity and stories she shared gave me chills. You could tangibly feel God’s presence in the room. There was only truth, genuine love and grace abounding. We both agreed our forgetfulness had a greater purpose.
Upon returning, we had a last minute worship rehearsal for later in the night. If you’ve never heard the song Ever Be by Bethel Music, go look it up now. Listen to the words and just rest. It’s absolutely beautiful.
For the last night at the Refugee Center, we threw a small block party with two bouncy houses, a slip-n-slide, shaved ice, and pizza. It was so much fun for the kids. The same kids who approached with slight hesitation were now the ones going on the slip-n-slide in their clothes. There were new kids who had never come before, along with many parents. Later in the night, I sat down with a friend and a child he had bonded with. We talked to him for a while, and eventually, his younger sister, Aimee, Clementine, and Sandrine came over also. They all wanted to draw in a our notebooks and write down their contact information. Sandrine gave me her favorite bracelet, telling me we needed to stay best friends, even if we were a 30 hour bus ride apart. A small child named Izayah had written 18 good bye notes for each of us who had come there every day. Saying goodbye, or see you later (though we all knew it might be much later), was incredibly hard. They all wanted to hug you and be held. It dragged on and on and on. As we began to board the bus, many of the children tried to hop on board to come with us. On the way home, a girl and I prayed for all the children we had met. We prayed for wisdom and a desire for God in their hearts. For their futures and their families and their schooling. And for the parents, hoping they would realize we were different from your typical group of teenagers. Back at the church, we played worship – Ever Be, The Rock won’t Move, Unstoppable God, Victory, and Deep Cries Out. Also, Jesus Freak, but it was more of a rave than genuine worship. I was incredibly content.
FRIDAY: grand canyon, bus rides, dank mems
We left the church at 6:20 AM and probably got like three hours of sleep total. We stopped at the Grand Canyon, and it was beautiful, as always, but this time, it wasn’t as breath-taking. Going to the Grand Canyon was almost like a routine after the trip, so it took an almost intentional effort to truly see God’s beauty in the marvelous rocks. Looking back at pictures, I am still in awe. We sat in a small cave like formation in the rocks and talked about the trip as a whole. Something which had really stuck out to me while on the mission trip was the idea of gratitude. Things like opportunities, life, the people we met, friendships, God following through, His presence, food, and many more, don’t consistently have me thanking God, even though I should. A large majority of the students shared what God revealed to them during the week; we prayed and began to split into groups to hike. Five of us walked around and sang worship songs and took in the beauty around us. On the bus ride home, we were all exhausted, but one particular person ensured none of us would fall asleep. We had many deep conversations, many testimonies, many laughs, and many nostalgic talks about the trip. Before it got to be too late, we played many of the songs we had played throughout the week. All conversations ceased, and all hearts were focused on the Creator. It was something we were united in. I imagined a flame, first small, but then multiplying as hearts gathered together and we became stronger together. Soon, our individual lights would be scattered, but for now, we were in a position to be supported and loved and had the ability to be re-lit if our light began to die out. Later into the night, two others and I crammed into a seat and watched a movie. It was odd because we were definitely in close proximities and engaging in physical touch, but I felt safe. I felt comfortable and loved, which aren’t typical feelings which accompany physical touch for me. It was great. I don’t remember much more until waking up early in the morning and seeing an abundance of clouds.
SATURDAY/SUNDAY: more bus rides, resistance, fortune cookies, and arriving back home.
To start off the day, we went to a classy gas station which sold cinnamon rolls and grapes. Back on the bus, we played a game called resistance, which breaks trust faster than the +4 Wild card in UNO. I legitimately cried. It was actually really funny. For lunch, a group of us decided to go to a smaller Mexican restaurant rather than the Burger King or McDonald’s near where the bus parked. We began walking down the road, and when we got to the restaurant, it was incredibly jank. They didn’t melt the cheese on the enchilada and it was just overall a little sketchy. Three of the four of us didn’t order there, and we decided to go further down the road to a small Chinese place. Their food wasn’t the best I’ve ever tasted, but what matters here is we bought 43 fortune cookies for $4.30.
From here, I have nothing more of great substance or any new revelations.
To all my friends I was privileged to serve with: Thank you for tangibly demonstrating what the hands and feet of Jesus are for. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for being vulnerable and being present. I appreciate you, and you’re a blessing in my life. Every part of me wishes I could have had more conversations with you and learned each one of your testimonies in its full being. You all have amazing stories, and you’ve played a part in helping write mine. Thank you.
To all the people who have supported me through prayer or financially: Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for loving me unconditionally and taking time out of your day to follow God’s lead in your life. You have also played a part in writing my story by contributing to give me this opportunity. I cannot thank you enough for your generosity and obedience to God’s calling.
To my family: Thank you for supporting me always.
To you: Thank you for reading. It’s my joy to share these special moments with you. You made it through 5,000 something words, which is extremely commendable in and of itself.