In a few short weeks my team will be departing for the what i call the "middle 1/3" of our trip. Realistically the trip does not occur in equally divided portions ("1/3's") but I refer to the three "phases" as "The Beginning 1/3", "The Middle 1/3" & "The Final 1/3". Even though these 3 phases of a mission trip are not equal in experience, time or emotional value, the 3 intertwine and are each a part of the full experience.
The Beginning 1/3: A mission trip requires much preparation... Preparation emotionally, physically, spiritually & financially. The preparation phase for me feels like it takes the longest of the 3 parts, can at times seem like the least fun, as it can feel very time & energy consuming. When preparing for the trip we need to learn to be patient, open our eyes & heart, work hard yet find rest and refreshment in time with God. We learn to deal with adversity & deadlines while relying upon the Lord. We need to focus on seeing the daily blessings that surround us that we often fail to experience and our time preparing should be drawing us nearer to God. Through all of these preparations we sometimes lose our focus on the purpose of the trip when faced with so much to do and so many details to pay attention to. When we begin tripping over ourselves and our own agenda, God gently humbles us & reminds us to trust in Him & let Him take the lead.
The middle 1/3: This is the portion of the experience that takes place while we are in Guatemala serving as we also develop ourselves and our relationship with God. This is a mere 2 weeks of time compared to the months of preparation & the years following the trip but yet it is the most intense in so many ways (emotionally, physically, mentally & spiritually). This is the part that is tangible, real, leaving nothing to the imagination. It is the full throttle experience using all our God given senses.... seeing, hearing, feeling & tasting what seems a billion experiences. Experiences that can be readily recalled upon our return home through seeing a photo. Experiences that are repressed in efforts to protect our tattered heart & weary soul and brought fully to life and out of repression with a simple sound or smell.
The Final 1/3: Upon our return home, we fulfill our longing to sleep in our own bed, we snuggle and hug our dear ones close. We tell them of our experience and talk incessantly about details that probably bore them to pieces trying to get them to experience as closely as we can to what we did. We savor our favorite foods and drink a ton of water directly out of the faucet. We may even look forward to actually throwing toilet paper in the toilet. We are drawn back into our busy lives & obligations doing whatever it is that desires/requires our attention. At this point it seems to be the natural "completion" of a trip away from our comfort zone. The return home and return to "normalcy" shouldn't be the completion of the journey. Gods wants us to do so much more with the experience.
After my first trip to Guatemala my heart and spirit where not prepared for the imploding guilt and overwhelming whirling of heart wrenching stories and images that spun in my heart & mind constantly. My emotions were raw & I found myself breaking down every time I stopped to try to process what I had experienced or if someone asked me about the trip. I just couldn't wrap my head around the experience and get my emotions to settle down enough to really feel like I had accomplished much. I realized this was because I was relying on my own weakening strength and was not looking to God to bring me a sense of peace and thankfulness for what I had experienced. I realized I was letting the transformation that had begun with the preparations for the trip to stop when I returned. I didn't consider that the experience wasn't over and that God was trying to move me in a direction I had not even imagined. He was working in my heart & soul through the unsettled feelings I was having to encourage me to use my spiritual gifts & the trip's experiences to serve Him more. God wants us to find ministry opportunities and places people into our paths every day that are in need of prayer, are in need of financial help, that are in need of support & encouragement. He gives us the courage to be bold for Him at times we normally would remain silent. He gives us multiple opportunities to speak of our faith and share our testimony from the trip. God can use our experiences to open wider our eyes & heart to seeing people's needs with Jesus' eyes. He wants us to do so while giving Him the glory. This last portion of the trip lasts a lifetime and doesn't end until we choose to bring the journey to a close.
God is good all the time!