My first experience ever with Mexico Outreach was Thanksgiving of my freshman year. I was walking down cougar walk at freshman orientation, and a girl I knew who was a junior in college that I had grown up at church with called to me over to her. She was working at the Mexico Outreach booth trying to recruit for one of the trips. She slipped me a leadership application and told me she really wanted me to pray about considering applying to lead a team during the Thanksgiving trip. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pray about it, and just applied, stoked about someone wanting me to lead something. This is one of the first and most important lessons I have learned over the last four years at APU: pray. Pray about something even if it seems like a perfect choice, because even though it seems great it could be exactly where God doesn’t want you. Looking back applying to lead was one of my best and worst decisions.
The thanksgiving trip was terrible. I had so many really awful experiences: my team did not respect me, I was accused of something that I did not do by one of my team members (spending the night in a van with a boy), and was just generally cold and miserable. The experience was really crippling for me mentally, I seriously doubted my abilities and capabilities. The experience kept me from pursuing other opportunities the rest of that year large in part because of the gritty resistance I faced on the trip. Looking back now there are so many things I wish I had taken advantage of in college that I did not because this experience was so bad.
However, year two, I decided to try for a corrective experience and lead the same team again, this time it was much more successful (I had learned from my mistakes), but I still was not really leaning into God and his promise and plan for my life through purposeful prayer, I was doing it on my own. That is the second huge lesson that I have learned throughout college and my time in Mexico. Chances are if you look back and see serious regret, you probably were not walking in Gods will. This is not to say that I dont think being in Gods will is always easy, quite the opposite in fact. But I think in God ordained trials you can look back and see the hope, no just crushing regret. I have a lot of regret coming out of college that as I try and process and move past the bitterness of it all, I am learning that I need to wait patiently on the Lord to reveal opportunities He has for me, not try and rush to fill my time with something that looks appealing to me. If my path is God ordained, even if there is difficulty, there will not be major regret. Walking in the unforced rhythms of grace is not easy, and a lot of times in my life it looks a lot more like walking in my own forced path.
The second thanksgiving trip caused me to decide to apply within the Mexico Outreach office for a job for my junior year, which I received. I have been, for the last two year, a Ministry Advisor of Camp Operations, and been down to Mexico about eleven times in the last two years. Every trip is unique in the adventure that it offers and the lessons that are learned. Throughout these last two years, I have loved working in the office. The people in there are my family, and I look forward to coming into work everyday. It is in these last wo years that I have really learned about true leadership. It may seem glamorous to get to stand up in front of others, to get the attention, and get to make big decisions. But really often time leadership is really about sacrificing for those who you are leading. Sacrificing your time, your resources, your energy, and staying behind to take out the trash for the Kingdom, when everyone else is going out and do the kingdoms work. I have discovered there is true Joy found in servant leadership, in persistant prayer, and in sacrifice. I think that mastering these concepts are far more important as a leader than getting attention. But man, attention sure is appealing.
I arrive at the most recent trip I partook in, my last trip as an undergraduate here at Azusa Pacific University. My main role was “Director of Camp Operations”. What this actually means in the day-to-day grind is far from glamorous. I take out trash, lots of trash, with the help of a few others. Like, the trash of 1200 people who eat two meals a day at camp. I break down hundreds of boxes a day to be recycled, I help prepare and cook meals (I cracked a record two thousand eggs this year), I also do tons of little odd projects around camp that need to get done such as hanging lights, fixing the sound board, etc. I also get to help out the APU teams director deal with any conflict amongst the teams; thankfully there was an extremely minimal amount of that this year. Needless to say this is a leas than glamorous job with the reward being spending time with the people who work alongside of you. I would say this is the biggest lesson my time in Mexico outreach has taught me, life is about the people around you, not about the tasks you carry out. Yes, there is richness in doing tasks well for the kingdom, and accomplishing what needs to be done, but the real joy is what you learn in the people who are around you. That is what the highlight of this trip was. It was in Evan who always opened my car door for me no matter what we were doing, even if it was just a trash run. It was the jokes from Daniel, the wisdom of seventy-year old Walter, who was an eclectic mix of potter/arborist/farmer/world traveler, and it was the longs talks about marriage with the camp director on warm sunny afternoons followed by deeply needed prayer.
It’s these precious moments I choose to remember and reflect on. As my four years with the program are wrapping up, I choose to take the lessons I have learned through trials and never forget them, but also not to dwell on the trials. I never thought I would spend so much of my time in college in Mexico, but I did, and I trust that there was a reason. That even though at times I was not in Gods will he met me where I was at and worked with me and walked with me. I am incredibly grateful for the friends I have made and the people whose lives I was able to touch. I know I was able to work to further the Kingdom here on earth, and that is invaluable.
But above all, Mexico has taught me the single most important thing is this world is intimacy with my creator, found through reading scripture and heartfelt prayer. True honest deep prayers will be answered. God will meet you where you are at and He will scoop you up and teach you and love you. He will wipe away your regret and give you great hope in the things to come, he will slowly teach you about forgiving your neighbor, and will take you on journeys beyond your wildest dreams. All it takes to find this is a little bit of disciple to shut your eyes, quiet your heart, and be willing to be changed.