I am writing this reflection from the comfort of my home in beautiful, mosquito-free San Jose, California. First, I have to say praise the Lord for bringing all thirty-five members of our team through the entire short term missions trip and (for most of us) back home. This was my third year on the Belize STM, and my most prominent thought about this STM is every year is different.
The biggest reason for that is the team. Each year the team that goes to Belize is different, and that has a significant impact on the nature of the trip. This year's team was the biggest we have had so far, and I think that gave us all the opportunity to learn and grow a lot. The more people we have on our team and the more different our team members are, the more chance we have to learn about ourselves and grow in how we relate to others. Since my first experience with Belize, I have valued that about this trip. The nature of this STM brings together people from different life stages and different congregations, and I think that is one of the coolest, most beneficial parts of the trip. Every time I come back from Belize, and this year is no exception, I feel like I am returning with a bunch of new and deeper friendships. I love that about this missions trip. There really is something special about spending ten days working alongside each other for the purpose of the Kingdom.
The other reason for the uniqueness of this trip year to year is the tasks and projects we do. This year’s computer lab was very different from last year’s basketball court. Although both were construction projects, this lab required a lot more planning and organization as well as more skilled labor. I was extremely impressed with the team that spearheaded the project, especially since I had absolutely no idea at the start of the trip of how we were going to build a computer lab for the youth hostel. On Saturday, I was part of a small group from our team that finished work on the lab while the rest of our team visited Ladyville Orphanage, and I felt really privileged to help out then.
After last year’s experience with working on the basketball court, it was difficult to go to the youth hostel this year throughout the week and not know what to do. Last year, everyone could easily play a part in the work, and we all actively worked together all week long. This year, however, due to the limited space in the computer lab and the special skills/knowledge required for the work, I found myself feeling unhelpful and unproductive. That is why I felt so fortunate to be a part of that smaller team Saturday. Also, on Saturday our team had better access to the youth at the youth hostel. Lack of access had been a frustration for our team earlier in the week, so it was really neat and really encouraging to have that extra time with those youth.
Another encouraging moment occurred one night at dinner when I got to talk with David Craver, our missionary “host.” We talked about his ministry and his parents’ ministry among other things, and he mentioned to me how the trips he has done with our church have revived his passion for ministry. Earlier, the amount of work he had been doing had burnt him out, but working with LGCC, he told me, has actually been refreshing. In addition to that conversation, I was also really encouraged by another conversation I did not participate in but heard about. John Tsang told me one evening about how he got to talk to Moses, one of the guys David Craver had hired to help us with construction. Moses had a pretty moving testimony (ask John to hear more!) involving drugs among other things, and he now lives and works at a church while studying to become a preacher.
I always think it is such an encouraging reminder of God’s greater plan for and work in Belize when I hear about people like Moses, people in Belize who are being changed by and used by God to serve their community and country. I met someone else who is doing this when we broke into discussion groups after the worship service we led our first Sunday in Belize. I volunteered to lead a group, and a woman named Olive was in my group. She has worked at the youth hostel only since May, but she told me she really loves the kids and enjoys caring for them. As we discussed Craig’s message on Hebrews 4:14-16, Olive shared openly and often. I appreciated her honesty as she shared about the difficulty she has had since losing her two children in a car accident and about the daily struggles she has in trusting the Lord. It was clear that Olive is a true and diligent follower of God, and I thanked Him for providing such a faithful Christian mentor for the youth at the hostel.
It is humbling to be reminded that the Spirit’s work in Belize certainly is not limited to the time our team spends there and that we are only a small part of God’s plan for that beloved country. Overall, I think this STM was a very humbling experience for me. I rediscovered how much I take for granted, how fortunate I am, how dependent I am on God, and how much He has blessed me. I was taught how selfish and judgmental I can be, how weak I really am, and how prone I am to pride and temptation.
Honestly, I am a big fan of this STM, and I would encourage those of you reading this who are considering it to go to Belize (or any STM). The experience, I believe, is invaluable. However, I must warn you that if you agree to go, you are signing up for a lot. I have learned that on this trip I must be prepared to give up my comfort and my comfort zone. I have had to be willing to submit to and follow those in leadership positions. I have needed to accommodate various types of people and situations. I have had to be flexible and open. I must be ready to share the gospel, and most importantly, I must prayerfully seek leading from God, especially as to His purpose for me during my time in Belize.
This trip was a huge learning and growing experience for me, and I truthfully can say I thank God for taking me on and through this trip and for every single thing that happened on this trip. I had not been planning to go to Belize this year, but somehow God worked it out for me to go. He does everything for a reason, and all His reasons are good. I really liked and appreciated the devotionals Pastor Brian put together for our team which focused on 1 Peter. To conclude, I will leave you with a verse from one of those devotionals:
These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:7