I think it was as early as last summer when Brent, the youth pastor @ my church started talking about taking the youth on a missions trip this summer.
In his usual Brent fashion, he slipped the idea of me attending in a sly drive-by statement "you should think about coming". That's all he said.
And I started mulling it over, pretty much right away.
You need to know that I have never in my life been on a Missions trip. I have never been any kind of athletic person, I never even learned how to ride a bike. My parents are academics, and I grew up learning to value my head, not my body so much.
Also, we have 4 male leaders for our kids, and only Angela and I for female leaders. So I kinda felt like it was important to go if I was able.
So, I did it, I requested the vacation, was approved, and bit the bullet and let Brent know that I was on-board. That's pretty much when the anxiety began. I was worried about everything.
I am not the best of long-distance drivers, cars and sunshine in combination make me sleepy, regardless of whether I am the driver or not. but I knew that I needed to do my share of the driving, what if it was too much for me?
We were taking a group of minors to a different country, that's a lot of responsibility. What if one of them got hurt, or homesick, or denied access at the border?
We were going to work. I don't know anything about fixing up a house, using tools (well, I know my different screwdriver heads, and how to use a hammer), anything "handyman"-ish. And I am suppose to lead a group of youths through work projects?!? What was I to do when they asked me a question, and I had no idea of the answer? When they looked to me for direction, and I had no idea what path to take?
What if I didn't have the stamina to work all day? What if i was a poor example?
That last one, was the most heavy on my heart. What if I was a poor example? That was part of my job as a leader right? To present a good example, to lead by working alongside. But what if I couldn't do it?
As if my fears were not active enough, we learned in February that as leaders we would be assigned a group of youths, not necessarily from our own group. So now I was doing this all with strangers! Our host team mentioned that there was a surplus of leaders this year, and so some groups would have 2 leaders instead of one. the letter implied that most leaders would not want this - I was the total opposite. I prayed fervently to be assigned another leader. Another person to share the burden and responsibility and hopefully be a SME (subject matter expert) on the work stuffs.
I didn't really tel anybody about all my worries, at first. As we got closer and closer to the date of departure, I couldn't help but release some of my thoughts. Nobody seemed to think it was a big deal. "don't worry, we'll figure it out", "you'll be fine". It was not as reassuring as I had hoped.
The same week, I was headed to Muskegon for Serve, I had a friend headed to Manitoulin Island in Manitoba for a missions trip as well. I remember sharing with her, and her words of reassurance, were the soothing balm I was seeking. She said, "it's not about all that stuff Miriam. Your job is only to surrender yourself to God. Don't worry about being a good leader or a good example. Just pray, constantly - and surrender yourself. Let God do the rest, he's got it covered." She had given me something I could do.
So bright and early on Saturday July 10th (way before my insides wake-up) I headed to the church in what felt like a beast of a van compared to my Mazda3, and our adventure began.
Brent had worked out a driving schedule (I am sure entirely to appease my concerns about my skills at long distance driving) - we packed the vans, and we were off. 9 youths, 5 leaders - armed with passports and border crossing letters for the minors, we ventured forth into an unexpected week of intense labour (ok this part was expected), banquet style food in US portion sizes, a jam-packed scheduled that ran 7am-11pm daily, being surrounded by others' gratitude, and fun.
We were told that Michigan is the second leading state in terms of poverty, and that Muskegon (the city we were in) was one of the poorest in the state.
It was intense, physically - completely exhausting. Every morning as the week progressed, it became harder and harder to get up. Not that waking-up is an easy thing for me to begin with.
We painted a laundromat for the homeless and low-income people of the community. We helped to prep and paint a little of a house that had been condemned by the government, we replaced old boards with new one on a bike trail, and put up snow fencing around sand dunes to protect against erosion. That was just what my team (5 awesome youths, whom I had never met before, from the US and Canada) worked on. There were a lot of other projects going as well (building wheelchair ramps for a couple of homes, building a shed for Habitat for Humanity, serving food from a Gleaner's truck, etc...)
God had granted me the second leader I had so fervently prayed for - with a twist. She was not set to arrive and join us until our last work-day. This was a gift from God absolutely. I had hurt my back quick seriously 2 weeks before leaving for Muskegon. I was left completely immobile for almost a week. It hurt so badly, I demanded x-rays from my family doctor because I thought I had fractured my pelvis. And remember that I was a labourer to begin with, so this added challenge of worrying about my back, and not being able to lift was a legitimate complication.
Our final day of work, was the snow fencing for the sand dunes. We had to carry heaving fencing and posts, plus a couple of post pounders up a steep series of stairs to begin the work. I think if I had been alone I may have actually cried in frustration at my inability to do the task. I couldn't even co-carry the fencing with someone else - I could only push it: which got it from the truck to the base of the stairs.
My co-leader was very familiar with hard work, she did such a great job of organizing the work, the youth , and even was able to carry an entire bale of fencing herself up the stairs. She literally saved the day.
There are so many things that happened this week in Muskegon. Many stories for many other days. Some will have your rolling with laughter, others will have you slowly breathing out to try and suppress tears. Overall, I hope it was life changing. Well actually it was, the question is will I rise to the occasion, and avoid falling into the life I had before.
And it has again reinforced my experience that in trying to be selfless and do something solely for the benefit and betterment of others, I can not avoid being moved and bettered myself.