Teen Missions, Int.’l
I’ve written about my experiences on the mission field with Teen Missions International many times before. Not just here on the blog but in high school and college for English papers or essays I found myself winding back to those summers in my life spent with TMI. They were powerful, effective, lasting. Now, TMI has a Facebook fan — and they are posting photos of each individual summer team. Each day, I sign into see the teams that went to Madagascar, Chile, Sicily, Papau New Guinea and more. Takes me back to those long, hot summers when I didn’t know I’d miss them someday .
This is a long, winding entry but it’s my heart. You can read it all below the fold 🙂
I do love that saying, “youth is wasted on the young.” Oh how true it is and I’m not even old yet! Like nothing else, TMI demonstrates to me how powerful smell can be. The experiences I had at boot camp in the jungles of Merrit Island, Florida resonate so strongly that bug spray, fresh rain, laundry detergent, sweaty teenagers, the woods in general, all transport me back there. Perhaps it was because everything else from life was stripped away. There were no phones, no TVs, no computers, no contact with the outside world. It was you, your team, your tents and your boots. Superficial worries, outside concerns were all washed away in the world of TMI where you could focus solely on God, the skills you needed to take to the field and team unity.
Seeing the photos now of the kids that wen this summer makes me pine for those times I had. How I didn’t appreciate then the experiences I had but I believe the shaped who I am today. I wonder if I’d handle the “sweat, mud and tears” better now. TMI has signature t-shirts that haven’t changed since the 1970s — that’s one of their phrases. Another is, “Get Dirty for God.” And, that’s honestly what you do. There’s something amazing about being in a cocoon of God for all that time, leaning on Him to get you through each day and recognizing that your purpose every single morning is serve Him. Now that I’m writing that, I realize how telling it is. The fact is, that should be our purpose every single morning wherever I am.
But back to TMI. We had one pair of shoes, 8-inch work boots that had to be tied to the very top, comfy pants and t-shirts, bandanas, fanny packs and canteens slung around our necks at all times. We march in silent uniform, counting off quickly whenever arrived a new location. We had lunch on trays we kept in homemade dish bags with one set of silverware. You had to eat every bite of what you took at TMI — no excuses.
What really got me thinking about all this, though, was the thrill of the airport. You can’t possibly know how amazing an air conditioned airport feels after spending 2 weeks in the wilderness sweating to death, dirty as a dog. The time between boot camp and the field was like heaven. After the commissioning ceremony, your team loads up on big buses to head to whatever airport you’ll leave the country for. Sometimes that means driving 10 hours to an aiport before you get there. Then, you spend hours there, with your fat duffel bags filled to the brim, lugging the extra wherever you go — filled with food and supplies for the whole summer. You are all wearing the same color shirt and you can eat junk food, like McDonalds or candy bars. Sitting in the airport or on a plane for 10 hours is nothing — it’s heavenly — even though you aren’t allowed to watch TV or read books or magazines. That’s the TMI way — so you sit, you think, you read your Bible, you relax.
Then, after you watch the map of where you are all night, amazed to see the neon line of the plane you are in arching over the Atlantic ocean at midnight, you know you are getting close. To me, watching the plane cross the ocean on the computerized screen, envisioning where I’m going and what I’m no near is so incredibly thrilling. I absolutely love looking at maps. I can’t wait someday to have a nice, big globe in my house that I can just turn and spin as much as I want. I see us flying over Egypt and Morocco, I wonder what’s going on in the cities below. I forget the world I left, as if America and my life there has vanished from existence. THIS is another world.
When the time gets closer, the excitement grows and closer to the ground, I get a good look at the land I’ve never seen — at the trees I never thought I’d be lucky enough to see. I see the unfamiliar curves of the geography, the new way the homes are built, the way the city lights are different here and how the airport seems primitive, strange compared to what I know. But I’m ready — so ready. When the time comes to get out of the plane, my legs are sore and I’m exhausted but I’m so excited. Deep down, this is the moment I’ve been waiting months for — when the trip becomes reality and I step out onto the land God called me too. The air is different, the language is foreign but there is same old sun and same old sky. And we are HERE!
Being in another country — whether sleeping under a perfectly starlit sky in an African valley or ordering the world’s best falafal on a street corner in Lebanon — moves me. I soak in everything, the fabrics swirling around womens legs, the sweet smells of a hookah, the grubby hands of a little girl taking mine on a dirt road to church. I’m mesmerized by untrained voices singing out to God, by strangers offering me their biscuits and their chai tea, by the barefoot babies and smooth, beautiful black skinned mamas. I’m humbled by hours spent in the sun digging a ditch , by hand mixing concrete with shovels and using the “restroom” in a dug out hole in the ground. I’m thankful for the world’s most beautiful sunrises and for brothers and sisters that sing with me and pray with me and hope with me. You can’t escape when you are there, you have to face it. Face your life, face yourself, face God. And I miss that. I miss the raw realness you encounter there. I don’t think I realized that until right now. Here, where I can go have a drink after work or turn on the TV to drown out my thoughts, I can stuff my head in a fiction novel, play on the Internet or run with my ipod. Here, where I can call a friend and complain or fight with my boyfriend or clean the house or cook a meal. Here, I can escape whatever it is God is trying to tell me. But not there. And that’s where I heard Him. That’s where I knew Him best. That’s why I want to — I need to — go back.