New Year’s always holds infinite uncertainties, dreams, hopes, adventures, challenges, and resolutions. My new year kicked off with an international trip. Bright and early on a Saturday morning this January, my wife and I boarded a plane with 5 other people for Nicaragua. Actually, the plane was full, but only 5 of the other people weren’t strangers to us.
Those 5 were the other team members of our mission trip. My wife has been to Nicaragua a handful of times already, but this was our first mission trip together. In fact, it was my first mission trip period. Naturally, I get excited/anxious/nervous for every trip I go on. But this one was different.
Of our 7 person team, only one person other than me had never been before. I heard so many stories of past experiences, relationships, and characters that I would meet. Even with all of that, I had no first-hand experience and absolutely no idea of what to expect until I got there.
What I did expect was to be hot, sore, and uncomfortable. And I wasn’t necessarily wrong about those. Even though we went during the “winter,” the weather was sunny with a high of 90 degrees everyday. It didn’t rain once, and there were practically no clouds in the sky to offer any protection from the unforgiving, direct rays of heat. The physical labor of digging trenches for the footers and foundation took its toll on my muscles, but mainly because I had no idea how to use a pick axe. The “comfort” level was realized at night, when I curled up in a bed that was a tad too short. Nothing new there – I’m used to beds not being long enough. The problem was that there was a footboard, meaning that I could not stretch my legs while I slept, meaning that my legs were in a constant state of cramped for the duration of our stay.
On a more superficial level, there was no television where we stayed, which I had tried to prepare myself for. The hardest part was not having Sportscenter in the morning during the NFL playoffs! Not to mention, there was no air conditioning either. If you are unfortunate enough to know me very well, then you know I am very particular about certain things…a LOT of certain things. Being out of my comfort zone is very damaging for my mental health (in the moment) and I tend to have a difficult time coping with that. Being aware of those things beforehand led me to believe that I could face those issues and deal with them sufficiently. Afterwards, however, I can almost always appreciate new experiences and learning new things.
Then we got there. Something weird happened. Maybe it was something in the air or water. There was DEFINITELY something in the water, but I don’t think it’s the same thing I’m referring to here. Our group came together and bonded instantly. I never missed not getting to tune into ESPN. Sure, I was curious about final scores, but I couldn’t care less about seeing highlights.
Beyond that, any other discomforts faded quickly once we arrived at the village where we would be working and staying. The people of the town offered such a warm welcoming and bright smiles. They were elated to see familiar faces from past trips. We received an amazing outpouring of love that only grew throughout the course of the week. It’s a different world there. Houses don’t have a television in every room. Therefore, relationships play an even more important role in daily living. Instead of gravitating toward their favorite tv show, they gravitate toward their friends and favorite games. They gravitate toward family, church, and their faith.
The construction project that was the purpose of our trip turned into a secondary objective. Spending time with locals, building relationships, and giving and receiving love was the ultimate focus for our group…but not that we didn’t leave behind a great start for a new home.
Upon our return, it was hard to face all the billboards, bright lights, radio commercials, telephones, tv shows, and everything else that bombard our senses on an hourly basis. The quiet in Nicaragua was deafening. That made the noise of Indianapolis unbearable.
At the end of the week, our group decided to have a team dinner upon returning home. I was afraid that after spending an entire week with a group of people in such close quarters that we would be itching for some separation, but I was extremely surprised to learn that it was the exact opposite. Our re-entry into our fast-paced, digital world left us craving a reprieve with people who could relate…which only left the 7 people who comprised our team. Throughout the week, I was anxious to talk to my family and share about the trip, only it wasn’t that easy. On my return to work, while trying to share with a co-worker, they innocently commented, “It makes you appreciate what you have, huh?” No. It doesn’t. It kind of makes you sick about all of the possessions you DO have and covet. I can’t relate things to somebody that has never been…you just can’t share those experiences and feelings through words.
I had originally planned on including trip details such as feasting on fresh shrimp and lobster that had been caught that morning, swimming in the ocean, eating fried fish that looked just like it had when it was alive (other than being a little more cooked – head, eyes, tail, and all!), trying to break up dirt that is more accurately described as not-yet-hardened concrete, touring a foreign country like a band of gypsies, walking around the rim of an active volcano overlooking the Granada Islands, sticking my face into a steaming hole in the side of said volcano, then zip-lining through a rainforest down the side of that same volcano…upside down! Yeah, that all happened. But it’s not the least bit important.
Having a bon fire on the beach with area youths, making home visits and distributing bags full of food and clothing, giving hope to a family in the form of a new home, and coming home with a group of 7 new best friends…THAT is what is important. Finding direction and purpose was a key take-away from this trip. After having a month to reflect, I’m well aware of that now. And I can’t wait to go back!
Thank you, that is all.