I came back from a short-term missions trip to Indonesia over a week ago, and I’m still realizing all the ways the trip changed me. I recognized some changes as they were happening. I could literally feel my heart shifting. But other changes I’m only recognizing now. The absence of weights that used to be present. The added freedom, joy, and confidence that naturally bloomed within me.
I’ve gone on dozens of transnational trips before, and this was my eighth missions trip, so I’m no stranger to adventure, foreign cultures, or seeing God move in power. But each experience hits you differently. Each one is different. And each one changes you in a new way.
Sometimes, it’s a simple conversation. One conversation changes your perspective of life, of yourself, of what you are aiming for. Sometimes, it’s a risk you take. As you step out, you realize you have more courage, ability, and faith than you thought you did. Often it’s a word or action received that brings the transformation. You are seen, known, or cared for in a way that reaches down and touches you deep inside, and you can’t help but be changed. And then, sometimes, it’s a simple, off-hand thing you do that seems incredibly natural in the moment, which only later do you recognize as an unused muscle you flexed that changed you in the process.
In all those ways and more, I was changed in Indonesia.
The thing is, I don’t want to change back.
In the middle of the trip, I remember telling myself, “I want to be different with my students when I return.”
My students are the ones I see daily. They are the ones who receive the brunt of my grumpiness and tiredness. Sometimes we have a lot of fun together, but other times I’m just trying to get through the day. And I saw that so clearly during my trip.
On missions, I am always alert, always paying attention to my surroundings and looking for what God is doing. The country is new, the people are new, and the opportunities are only for a limited time, so I go in determined to make the most of them. I put aside my personal preferences and comforts to love the people in front of me with all that I have.
But because I see my students every day, I often overlook them.
It’s what happens. That’s just reality. We tend to overlook the people we see every day. But this trip was a fresh reminder that I have so many people right in front of me all the time who I can love.
Praying for Strangers
At one church service on the trip, there was a boy up at an altar call who seemed distracted. While everyone else was praying with closed eyes, some with lifted hands, some in tears, his eyes were wide open, peering around curiously. I decided to head straight for him and pray for him first, hoping the prayer would help calm him down. But as I put my hand on his back, I spontaneously burst into tears.
This happens to me sometimes. I get hit with a wave of love for someone, a deep visceral experience of God’s love for that person that catches me by surprise. And tears pour forth.
As I cried over this young boy, a boy I had never met, whose name I didn’t even know, I wished I didn’t have to leave him. I deeply wished I could watch over him in some way, help protect and guide him during his life. I knew I couldn’t, so I prayed for God to send others.
Then I thought of my students.
Dozens of kids I see every day, many of whom are so hungry for my attention and eager for my love. Young hearts who need guidance, even a simple role model of what it means to love and be gracious and give others dignity and respect.
Not that I am capable of being perfect or need to put undue pressure on myself, but I suddenly recognized what an opportunity I had. Every day, I have the opportunity to love. It’s right there in front of me, if I’ll only put aside my personal comfort to take hold of it.