A few years ago I went on my first and only short-term missions trip. It was to a small group of Islands right above the equator called, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It all came about mostly because I was having a really hard time in my life. I was making bad choices, I was avoiding and hiding and covering. I wasn’t happy, I was fearful, I was discouraged, I was angry. Notice how many times I refer to “I” this could be part of my problem? I was so full of and over myself, I needed a new perspective, I needed to learn to be content and grateful. I needed to accept the life I had been given and the situation that I was in. It really wasn’t even a bad situation it just wasn’t the one I wanted. I was working full time (for the health insurance) and I didn’t want to. My daughters were facing chronic health conditions and sick all the time. I was feeling like everything I was forced to do was out of my control, I was bitter and miserable. So when the opportunity to go on a missions trip arose at our church I signed up without hesitation. I thought escape/vacation… I mean – a chance to serve others. I knew that this get away would be readily accepted by my husband and mother (the support people who would keep the home fires burning and watch over the kids) because I was off to share the “good news”.
There was months of training and preparation, a passport to get, immunizations to inject and countless details to get arranged at home before I left. I thought about going on this trip of a lifetime almost non stop, I looked up the place we would be staying at on the internet, it looked like a resort. I would sheepishly grin (missions trip – Ha!). I prayed for God to change my heart and my attitude, I felt like Hannah Montana; “you get the best of both world’s” a trip and a new perspective.
Me and 15 other people headed out on this adventure the second week of October, 2009. The team drove to O’Hare, flew to Porto Rico, transferred to St. Lucia and finally hoped the smallest car with wings to the island of St. Vincent. The plane landed on an airstrip in the pitch black of night. When I stepped off the “plane” the heat slapped me in the face. How hot was it you ask? It was so hot it felt like the devil handed me a fur coat and a space heater kind of hot. The airport was a large cinder block room decorated with some old travel posters. The first clue that we weren’t in Kansas anymore was the women’s rest room. There were 2 stools, blocked and over flowing. I wanted to cry but between open mouth breathing and concentrating on holding my bladder I couldn’t manage anything else. A very friendly man suffering from the worst case of pink eye that I had ever seen drove the “team” on roads that were not paved and one lane. The way was bumpy, whindy and steep. After what seemed like hours we arrived at the place we could call home for the next 10 days.
The first morning on the island I woke not feeling to positive or equipped to serve the St. Vinnieans. I wasn’t even sure what serving them looked like. Lucky for me I didn’t have to get dressed because I slept in my dirty travel clothes (guess who’s luggage was lost and then found and then delayed?). I made my way to the dining room for breakfast. I wasn’t hungry – just thirsty, we were cautioned about the water. Most of the time I was there all I thought about was ice-cold, clean water. It’s a strange feeling not to have access to clean and safe drinking water and definitely something I take for granted. Before we sat down to eat I walked out a small doorway onto a balcony and got my first real view of the Island.
The first time I set foot on a beach I was 18 months old, it was the gulf of Mexico. Legend (my mom) tells that when I first saw the water I started singing How Great Thou Art. I must have been really moved and astonished. I had the same type of feeling this time (but I didn’t start belting out the old hymn) I really couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I had been to a beach a time or two but what I saw was amazing, breath-taking. The vast dark blue ocean that went on as far as the eye could see, the black sandy beach. Huge billowing clouds that rolled and changed so quickly. The thick foliage in every shade of green, the sounds of birds I hadn’t heard or seen before. The make shift shanties that peppered the hillside. The humidity thick in the air.
Getting back to breakfast (notice what I focus on) cold hot dogs, rice, plantains and tepid tang. I threw caution to the wind and chugged the juice, I figured if the water used to make it was bad I would lose a few lb’s.
After breakfast we all load into the van, on our way to one of the local secondary schools. I can’t believe what I see out the window. Your eyes need to take so much in and your brain has to process it. There are literally people sitting in squaller, staring at piles of garbage and a loose chicken running around, they sit with their backs facing the ocean.
I imagine these locals visiting me in Iowa and them being astonished at a corn field and asking me why I don’t sit and stare at it all day. I also think, that’s me – sitting there in my life focusing on the stuff right in front of me that’s not perfect and I could turn around and see the amazing, beautiful work of God in my life.
We were told to mingle and interact with the students at the school. To minister and encourage the children and invite them to an after school bible club. Upon arrival I am greeted by the sweetest, nicest, friendliest kids. My heart couldn’t help but open up to them, so easy to love. Smiles (and pink eye) were on every face.
I was shocked that at this public school there is an armed guard shack and fence around the building.
The administrator opened the day with prayer and led them in reciting scripture and singing a praise song. The assembly was packed and the kids stood for hours (there are not enough chairs and a few carried ones from home). They have on uniforms and matching backpacks. The girls school uniforms must have been designed by a man that was freezing one day in the united kingdom. Long, heavy polyester jumpers and long sleeved shirts. Sweat was just pouring off of their perfect little faces, they would just wipe it away and keep living their life.
Others on the team couldn’t help but compare this school to those we have back home and about the attitudes and respectfullness of the students here. They serve soda in the cafeteria, (gasp) I pop one open and chug it, I wonder what the evening has in store…
Come back Wednesday to hear about the youngest and oldest St. Vincent folks and see how we ran a vacation bible club in an oven.