watching, reading, and writing stories

Living on Mission

on January 26, 2015

Image Source:

So I’ve made up my mind, made my commitment, and now I’m starting to prepare for a mission trip this fall to Mozambique. I’ve never been to any country in Africa before, but I still remember my first mission trip experience. And I think I’ll let you get a glimpse of it from this short story I wrote about the trip. But first I want to write about why I’m excited for this coming mission trip to Mozambique.

One reason I’m really excited to go, is because I’m going with people from my church. There’s nothing wrong with going on a mission trip by yourself, or with people you’ve never met. Those can be eyeopening experiences too. But there’s something about working together with a strong knit community that is energizing and fun. I’m looking forward to growing closer with my team and getting to see what God is going to do together.

And secondly, I’m excited about this trip, because it will remind me to live on mission even now. Whenever there’s a goal in front of me, something to look forward to, it helps give me focus and gives me direction for where I’m at now. Knowing that I’ll be on a mission trip come this October, helps me now to want to live on mission here and prepare for what will happen there. I know as a Christian I should be living on mission no matter where I am. I don’t need to go to Africa to do that. But preparing myself to get out of my comfort zone in Africa, helps me to be okay with getting out of my comfort zone while I’m still in America too.

Anyway, I’ll probably have several more posts about this coming trip. But for now, I hope you enjoy this short story about my very first mission trip to Haiti. And if you’d like to read more stories about my mission trips, check out the Haiti Category in my blogs.

Leaving Home

Finally the day to leave came. I had packed my bags the night before and was all set to go to the airport with Dad. We had to get up super early, like five in the morning. And as I stood by the front door, preparing to take that final step outside, I began to cry. Could I really do this? I was just a kid and this whole being a missionary thing was a big task.

Mom took a picture of me and Dad before we left; my blue shirt was spotted with tear stains. But after than initial breakdown, God gave me strength. I wasn’t going alone after all. Dad was right there with me, and we were with a group too.

As I sat in the airport, waiting with our team for another flight, I took my malaria medicine. I was too small to take the regular pill, so the doctor had little baggies of powder that I had to mix into a drink and chug down. The concoction was always bitter, and to this day Apple Juice has a bit of a bad taste to me. Luckily I had learned from my brother’s mistake the last time, and not put the medicine in Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

As we journeyed from Austin, TX to Port au Prince, Haiti, I began to wonder how I would be used on this trip. In my letters I said I didn’t know how God could use me, but I was willing to be used, whatever it was. But as I stared out at that large Atlantic Ocean, I began to wonder what God would have for me. I wasn’t an adult, I couldn’t speak the language, and let’s face it, I was really shy. Why was God taking me on this trip? I didn’t know, but I looked forward to finding out.

The plane landed on the island of Hispaniola, half of the island belonged to the Dominican Republic and the other half belonged to Haiti. We were landing in the Capital city of Port au Prince. The airport was very small, and we had to walk out on the tarmac to get to the little customs area. I had gotten a passport just for this occasion, and I showed the lady at the desk my papers. It was a little intimidating to stand there and wait for the stamp to be pressed into the thin paper, but finally the lady did it, and I walked towards the exit with my first stamp in my passport.

“Hold onto your bags,” our trip leader directed. “People will want to help you with your luggage, but you need to carry it yourself.”

I grabbed my small bag tightly and stuck close to Dad. As we stepped out into the bright sunlight of a summer in the tropics, noise and smells hit me like a truck. I was surrounded by people, and cluttered streets. My heart started to race, but I followed as the group made their way towards a large open air bus. It was painted bright happy colors, like a mural of saturated hues. I didn’t have much time to study it though, because soon we were climbing aboard.

As I settled into the hard seat, I felt a sense of relief. I was no longer out in a crowd, but snug in my spot on the bus, with Dad right there with me. I glanced out at the crowded street around us. I had a better view from the bus, and now I could see little alleyways and shops, street venders, people on bikes, and women carrying buckets on their heads.

“Welcome to Haiti,” a tall dark man said from the front of the bus. “I will be your driver today. I show you all the sights of the city, then take you to the church.” He sank down into his driver’s seat, and soon the bus was roaring to life.

The bus bounced and swerved, as we wove through traffic. Stop lights and stop signs were not as prevalent here. But every time the bus driver hit the horn I laughed. It was a sound I’d never heard before, like an undulating laugh. It reminded me of something a clown would honk. But it still got people’s attention, and somehow sounded friendlier than the beeps I’d heard in the states.

We passed trash lined sidewalks, and I could smell the filth in the air. I wondered why they didn’t have a trash truck to pick up all the garbage.

Eventually we came to a central plaza, surrounded by the only grass I’d seen, and home to the president’s house, and a big amphitheater.

“That’s where we’ll have the games on Saturday!” the guide yelled out above the traffic noise.

I was used to the AWANA games going on indoors, where there was air conditioning, but I didn’t know if that was something they used here. I began to fan myself with my hand; it sure was hot, out here near the equator.

After out tour, we were dropped off at a hotel. I felt like I was stepping into an oasis. There was a pool, and flowery plants, big shady trees, and when I got in the room I was delighted to feel the cool refreshing air conditioning. Oh yeah, I could sleep in this place. But, I reminded myself, I still couldn’t use the water to brush my teeth, or open my mouth in the shower. That was one thing the meetings had drilled into me: Don’t get sick from the water, it’s not fun.

As I began to explore the hotel, I snapped a few pictures of the interesting artwork on the walls. One painting in particular looked like a face made out of fruit. It made me smile every time I saw it, so I decided to take a picture. I joined the rest of the group out on a covered patio where we would be eating meals, and listened in to their conversation.

Dad was talking to our bus driver, “You know in America, we say ‘You want to see a movie?’ and someone will answer, ‘yeah, why don’t we meet at seven?” He laughed. “It can get confusing with the yeah, and don’t, and it makes it sound like you do not want to see the movie, even though you do.”

The driver laughed, “Yes that has confused me in the past. Americans can talk very strangely.”

The next day was a whirl of activity as we began serving the churches and helping with projects. Everywhere I turned there were people who didn’t look like me and couldn’t speak my language. I was starting to feel very isolated. I didn’t feel super close to any of the adults because they were all older than me, but all the kids in Haiti intimidated me, and I didn’t know how to be their friend if I couldn’t understand a word they said.

Luckily God had a plan. That evening as we were relaxing at the hotel, all of a sudden our Tap Tap pulled up, and a family began to pile out of the vehicle. There was a tall slender man, a plump woman, with beautifully braided hair, and two girls that looked about my age, whose hair jingled with beads.

Dad leaned over to me, “These are the Valcins, the missionary family.”

Gerson, the father, came forward and shook my dad’s hand heartily, “Keith, it is good to see you again.” He looked at me. “This must be your daughter.”

“Hello,” I said quietly as I held out my hand to shake his.

He went on to say hello to the rest of the group, while his wife and daughters came behind him.

“Hi,” one of the girls said. “I’m Deborah, and this is my sister Elizabeth.”

“My name’s Lydia,” I said.

“Nice to meet you Lydia,” said their mother. “My name is Betti.”

After the introductions, we all stood a little awkwardly, like now what are we supposed to do.

Gerson smiled and said warmly, “How would you like to go out for a fancy dinner? It is the 4th of July!”

We all thought it sounded like a good idea, so off we went. The people in Haiti didn’t really celebrate the 4th of July, I mean it’s not their country’s Independence Day, so why would they? But there were some ships out in the harbor that would shoot off fireworks, and from the fancy restaurant’s hilltop view, we could all see the bright explosions.

“I know you are not in America,” Gerson said. “But I am glad we can all celebrate together.” He raised a glass, and smiled, “Cheers!”

I tapped my glass of coke with the adults’ alcoholic beverages, and took a swig, the bubbly carbonated drink felt like a blast of fireworks in my throat. I sat back and watched the fireworks in the distance. I wondered what it was like back in Austin. We’d always go up on the hill and watch the fireworks from Town Lake. Maybe Mom was out there now, with the other kids. I began to feel a little homesick. I did miss the rest of my family.

But I couldn’t feel sad for long, for right at that moment, something unexpected happened. The white plastic chair that had been supporting Betti suddenly snapped and she fell butt first onto the ground.

Everyone burst out laughing, and Betti joined in, we could not believe that the chair had just broken out of nowhere. The surprise of it all and the expression on Betti’s face made everyone crack up. Without knowing it, my homesickness disappeared, and I joined in the joy and hilarity of the moment.

Throughout the week I grew closer and closer to Deborah and Elizabeth. I met other kids, but they didn’t speak English, so I had no idea what they were asking me when they did talk. Plus there was a kind of security with the missionary’s kids. I knew they were Christians too, and it was easier to relate to them than to the adults in our group. I did help with organization, and completing tasks in preparation for the big AWANA Olympic Games on Saturday, but most of what I remember from that trip was the adventures with Deborah and Elizabeth.

One time we hung out in the cool hotel room, and I tried to teach them a card game that my family played at home. At other times we went swimming in the hotel pool and made up pretend adventures while splashing in the cool water. We even acted like we were fountain statues for the pool’s scenery and had their mom take a picture.

One night we went to their relative’s house. It was raining like a hurricane, and on our way there, I saw channels of muddy water pouring down the streets, washing the trash and gunk downhill. But when we arrived, I got to try the best tasting lemonade ever! I could actually taste real lemons, but the sugar was just right so it tasted sweet, not bitter.

Then we began to play ping pong with their cousin. She couldn’t speak any English, but we laughed as the ball went bouncing off in all directions, and we shared the universal language of laughter. Even though we probably didn’t play the game the right way, and we were stuck inside on a rainy day, we enjoyed ourselves. And I learned that even when I couldn’t talk to someone, I could still enjoy being with them.

But the best memory I have of hanging out with Deborah and Elizabeth was the day we all went out for pizza. I had been worried that I wouldn’t eat much on this trip. I mean I wasn’t as picky an eater as Jonny was, but I still liked plain foods, and even though Dad said the rice and beans were delicious, I was excited to hear the word ‘pizza.’ It was like a bit of home had somehow found its way here, just for me.

As I sat chewing my pizza, I was relieved to find that it tasted, for the most part like any other pizza I had back in America. It was just what my hungry stomach needed. I sat across from Deborah and Elizabeth; we had also sat together on the bus too.

“Want to play a game?” Deborah asked.

“Sure, what game?” I replied before taking another bite of the delicious cheesy mess.

“Stare contest!” Deborah said excitedly.

“Okay,” I said with a mouthful of dough and cheese. After swallowing, I blinked my eyes a few times then focused on Deborah’s dark brown eyes.

“Go!” she yelled.

I wasn’t very good at staring contests, my eyes usually hurt after a couple seconds and I felt like I had to blink or I’d get dust in my eye. But the girls I played with were no pros either. We took turns with who we stared at and usually ended by laughing. It quickly became who could keep a straight face the longest, instead of who could keep from blinking.

“Have you ever played thumb war?” I asked after the game had gone on for quite some time.

“No,” Elizabeth said with interest. “What is it?”

“Here give me your hand,” I locked my hand into hers and began tapping my thumb side to side. She started following the rhythm. “One, two, three, four; I declare a thumb war. Five, six, seven, eight; try to keep your thumb straight. Go!” I started trying to catch her thumb in mine and soon had it pressed down against our clenched hands. “I win.”

“Oh I want to try!” Deborah said excitedly. She switched places with her sister and soon we were repeating the little rhyme together. Deborah was older than Elizabeth and her fingers were quicker.

I couldn’t catch hold of her thumb, she would always swing it out of the way, so I let my thumb fall temptingly low, till she lunged for it, then I quickly jerked it out of the way and tried to snag her thumb while it was within reach.

We laughed and giggled as we tried to capture each other’s thumbs, and I’m sure the adults wondered what in the world we were doing. But I didn’t care. We were forming a close knit friendship through those games that I’ll never forget.

Finally the day came for the big Olympic Games. It was a hot day, and I felt like I was sweating bullets in my cotton skirt. I never wore skirts at home, but it was culturally appropriate for girls here, and so I wore one of Mom’s homemade skirts. The sun beat down on my little white hat, and I could feel my skin turning pink. The humidity was almost unbearable and I wondered how the kids here could handle it.

The games began and I found a seat with Dad in the shade. We watched as the kids raced in circles, diving for the pins, or bean bags, and cheering on their teammates. I may not have understood what they were saying, but I knew how the games were played and watched with interest.

Then out of nowhere, a cloud came up and rain started pouring on the event. Kids started screaming and everyone rushed for the pavilion’s protection. One kid tripped and scraped up her knee pretty bad. I was afraid someone would get trampled. In an instant everyone was under the shelter and we watched as the rain fell.

Our team started praying for the rain to stop so we could continue with the games, and then a hole of blue sky appeared in the clouds, and within minutes it stopped raining. Wow, I thought, I just saw God answer a prayer.

The games continued and eventually I went back to the hotel with Deborah and Elizabeth to go swimming.

The week ended with a day of souvenir shopping and saying goodbyes to our new friends. A few of the girls got their hair braided like the Haitian girls, and I played a few last games with Deborah and Elizabeth. The next morning we got on a plane and headed home.

I learned a lot on that trip. Maybe relationships were a lot more important to God than getting an event put together. And if we asked, He would answer our prayers. These two ideas, though not fully formed at the time, I would carry into the mission trips I would take in the future.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: