Originally, the plan was to do the Surf and Skate Discipleship Training School in Ensenada, and come back with a killer tan and a new skill set. But God had other plans. Shortly before the school was due to begin, I got a call from one of the leaders who said that because only three other guys had signed up for the school, they would have to cancel it. However, we were all given the option of joining the "Classic DTS" that would also be starting in April, in Tijuana. All four of us opted for Tijuana, and by the end of the school, having become so tightly knit with our classmates, it was hard to believe it wasn't the plan all along. In just 5 months, that flew by, our class of 25 students from Canada, US, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Germany, Netherlands, and Australia, bonded and loved each other as family.
|Our whole class and staff.|
During the course of the school, we attended daily classes of varying topics to increase our understanding of who God is, how we relate to and interact with Him, and how to better make Him known to the rest of the world. This school, as I hoped it would be, was exactly what I needed in order to dive into the deep in with my own personal relationship with the Lord. With a scheduled daily quiet time before breakfast, it served to introduce consistency into my personal Bible study and prayer. No matter how I felt, I knew that when 6:45 rolled around, I would be sitting in solitude, committing my full attention to God. It was then that I learned the truth in the saying that when you seek God, you find yourself wanting to seek more and more. As is the common story, at the beginning of the school I had no idea what to do with the scheduled 45 minute block, but by the end I found myself setting my alarm to an hour earlier so I could get more.
Early in the program, we were presented with various ministry options we could attend weekly. I ended up deciding on the ministry that offered an after school program for children in a nearby community-- little did I know I was committing myself, as the resident bearded guy with long hair, to play Jesus in some skit just about every week. Initially it was uncomfortable, to do so many activities that felt silly, but I quickly remembered my own Sunday school experiences, and embraced the much needed opportunity to stop taking myself so seriously.
|Our first week I had to play the Shepherd who leaves all his sheep to find the lost one.|
As the school went on, I began to make more of a concerted effort to learn Spanish. While I had a good base in theory from my three years of Spanish in school, my practical experience was lacking. I began to put myself in as many situations as possible, in which I had no option but to learn if I wanted to communicate. What I found was that my Spanish speaking abilities came around very quickly, but I gained so much more than a new language. A whole new world was opened to me. Classmates that only spoke Spanish were now available to connect on a deeper level, (without Spanish, I would not have many of my closest friends) I was able to speak with and connect to the children in my ministry, (when my two teaching partners were simultaneously sick, I found myself having to teach a complete lesson in Spanish, alone) and eventually I was able to preach without a translator, which enabled me to include more content and follow a continuous train of thought. What I found the most amazing was that the simple act of stepping out of your comfort zone and trying to speak another language--just trying-- sends the powerful message to whoever you're speaking to, that they matter. They are important enough that you will try whatever is necessary to talk with them.
After three months of the lecture phase, our class was devastatingly split in two for the outreach phase, with one group going to India and Nepal, the other going to Mexico City and Chile. The groups were decided through prayer, and despite how badly I'd like to see Nepal, I felt confident I was called to Mexico and Chile. This phase of the school is all practical. Our group would travel to two different parts of Mexico City, for two weeks each, and work with churches there. One of the most meaningful parts of our time in Mexico was the first weekend we were there, in which we helped run a youth event. It was that day that I realized how blessed I had been by God, that my Spanish had been fast-tracked, as I was able to speak from my heart for an hour straight, running on two hours of sleep, to a group of teenagers about the importance of serving God in your youth. This was a topic close to my heart, because I know it is something I did terribly in my own life. I was able to relate to them from my own experience, how the things the world has promised them will give joy, the things Christianity will make them "miss out on", never truly satisfy. I was able to speak with them honestly, about how much regret I have for waiting until now to do the only thing that has actually brought me joy.
(One of the many fun competitions from a youth weekend, where I came back from an early loss to win the best of three)
Somewhere in Chile, there is a video of me enthusiastically performing the dance all by myself in a crowded living room, as the host mother insisted on having a recording to show her friends. I crushed it. Our other big theatrical venture was a recreation of this drama. I bet you can't guess who played Jesus...
We also visited two cities in Chile, first Temuco in the South, (where it was winter, cold, and rainy) and the second, Copiapo in the north (where the desert climate made me a much happier camper). I could say that I enjoyed it all, but the truth is our time in Southern Chile was a mental test that I would say I failed. Between the daily cold rain,the cough and sickness I developed that wouldn't go away, the showers that would switch in an instant from boiling hot to raining ice, and my general dislike for our daily activities and food, I know my attitude was not as it should have been. Looking back, I know I lost sight of our purpose for being there. I know that was time I failed to take advantage of, and potentially negatively influenced the rest of the team.
|I did get to cook one real meal for the team though!|
Once we turned to the North for our last week and a half of outreach, my pleasant disposition returned as we were given the chance to do physical labor. I've come to realize that I am cut from a dirty, grease stained cloth. I like to do the hard work. Talking to people day in and day out exhausts me, but getting my hands dirty gives me energy. We had the opportunity to help clean out mud from some houses that had been ruined by a devastating flood that killed nearly 50 people in the city.
|This house was filled nearly a foot high with mud from the flood.|
|With the whole house a loss, our job was just to clear a way from the front door to the bathroom so the resident had somewhere to go.|
We were also given the chance to build a new house for another family. Despite the numerous times I had prepared a message and preached to a group or church, it wasn't until we built this house that I felt I was using my talents for God-- that same feeling I had in November when I helped build a home in Tijuana-- and I loved every moment of it. I felt totally at home as I got to take charge and use my landscaping experience to level the dirt as best we could before putting the floors down. I was very fortunate to enjoy it, because it was a total fiasco. The house had prefabricated walls and floors, but the walls that were sent were for a bigger floor plan than the floor they sent. Between us all, we were able to work out a way to add on the square footage in a structurally sound way, but then we had to figure out where the walls went, without any directions. It was a disaster, but a beautiful one, and I wore a smile late into the evenings as we labored away. Perhaps the best moment was when we got the floor set in place, took a step back, and realized that in all the fuss in repairing the floor, we failed to notice that our repairs put a giant cross dead center in the floor, making the literal foundation of the house, the cross!
With outreach over, we had just a short week to reunite with the other half of the class, before graduating and heading our separate ways. I'm deeply grateful for every one of my classmates, and I get legitimately sad to think that we'll never get to have that same experience again. I'm so thankful for each person who donated to my cause, to help fund this experience, so unlike anything I've ever done.
It was in Copiapo, as I sat suspended in the air, with feet dangled from a rafter I had just nailed in place, that I decided the next step in my life. Twice now I have felt exactly in the right place, and both times I was building a house. For me, there is nothing like that experience. Fortunately, there is a way I can experience it over and over. As a result, I have decided to make Mexico my home! In early April, I will be moving to Tijuana, where I will be full time staff with Youth With a Mission, and have the opportunity to build homes for families in deep poverty time and time again. What is so great, is that my journey in missions has come full circle. The organization that made me fall in love with serving, is the organization I will be serving with for at least the next two years. I cannot wait to work with Hope Sports, and help athletes to have the same life-changing experience I had two years ago. But more to come on that soon.
As a full time missionary, I will have to raise financial support to cover my living expenses as I make Tijuana my home. Please visit my fundraising page (https://www.youcaring.com/manage-fundraiser.aspx?frid=530687) if you are interested in partnering with me in this next adventure, and stay tuned for another blog coming soon to find out more about my heart for this organization.