When I was 12 years old, I found a brochure in my grandma’s “den” (still not sure why we called the extra room in her house a den, but we did.)The brochure featured a list of dozens of mission trips to countries around the world — complete with exciting descriptions of the locations and projects. Building homes in Brazil, evangelizing down the England Canal, performing theater in Zambia, singing in New Zealand. It was the first moment I realized I was a world traveler.

As an overly zealous Christian pre-teen, Teen Missions International seemed to be my ticket to the world and Christian ministry. I chose a month long trip to Maracaibo, Venezuela but I didn’t know what I was getting into. Teen Missions is as much about the world traveling ministry as it is about the “boot camp” all participants must endure in preparing for their trip. For pre-teens, it was only a week and boy, was it hellish. Merritt Island, Florida is humid, swampy, mosquito-ridden pit. My aunt dropped me off and I was left with a team of 30 and some “mean” leaders to deal with for the next month. In Venezuela, we cleaned, painted, and built projects for a Christian school — as well as performed puppet shows and songs at public parks.

The next year, I was back at Boot Camp for two week training before my trip to Holland, where we would help renovate a Christian youth center outside of Amsterdam. Several years later, when I was 19, I went back to Teen Missions for a hard core, two month trip to Gondola, Mozambique.

There is much to say about each of these trips — a long essay all their own to be written but watch this video takes me back to boot camp. Boot Camp is the essential experience of Teen Missions and the sounds, smells, sensations of it put me right back there in my 8-inch work boots, sweating to death in a dirty, pond scum stained t-shirt, stone washed fanny pack, bandanna and water canteen. We slept in cheap tents propped up by unsteady plywood, woke up at 5am to run a difficult obstacle course before breakfast and day full of bible lessons, work training, singing, working, praying and discipline. We were required to eat every bit of food on our plates, help make meals, and were given “special blessings” (demerits) for every time we disobeyed a rule. We had to keep our tents spotless and neat, washing our clothes (and bodies) in buckets, and respect our elders and teammates to the highest degree. We did everything for the Lord. We loved Jesus and the world — and everyone in it — became all about Him. Perhaps these were the summers I most intimately came to know God — and built a great foundation that now stands in my life today.

I credit Teen Missions with helping strengthen my faith and my love for the people of the world. It gave me an appreciation for hard work, and reliance on God when you don’t think you can. At boot camp, you can’t quit and you can’t leave. You can’t escape the heat or the chores or do anything halfway. Most folks would do well to attend something like this just to straighten them out. Props to TMI for the amazing organization they run, the lives they’ve changed the work of God they do so diligently:

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