A Millennial's View: The Value of International Service

I not only learned but experienced something new last summer that changed my perspective on faith and missions.

After recently starting a full-time position with Group Mission Trips, I had the opportunity to travel to a small village outside of San José in Costa Rica. As part of the marketing team, I wanted to experience for myself the beauty and transformation that others spoke of as part of our international mission trips. Traveling solo, I managed to navigate my way from one connecting flight to the next, through customs, and successfully joined a group of 21 from Wisconsin who welcomed me into their group. We engaged in a week of intensive labor, building a new home previously held together by rotting shards of metal, for a family of 6. The tropical weather in Costa Rica brings unforgiving rains that test the strength of structures called “home.” This happened to be the 131st house built by our partner organization.

The house was simple by our standards – panels drilled into a cement foundation with concrete flooring – but to this family, it was more than four walls and a roof. It represented newfound safety, security, and hope. Through the sweat, heat, and hard work alongside teens and young adults, never have I experienced or seen such genuine joy in service. With cell phones disconnected, distractions were minimal and there was a willingness to be present and engaged with the heavy work load and the residents. During our evening debriefs, each teenager spoke of the hospitality and grace experienced throughout the week, the contagious laughter and love of children, and the unexpected moments of God’s provision.

Evenings were spent disconnected from the lure of social media and replaced with silly games, good conversation, and genuine desire to know each other. The funny thing about traveling to a new place, especially to a culture unlike your own, is that your expectations aren’t always met. You become a guest in another’s home, privy to another’s way of life. You surrender control – from car keys to choosing the menu for the day. But what is certain is your expectations are exceeded. Tenfold. Familial community is established as you encounter firsts together – new tastes, new sights, new people, new experiences. The people you travel with become your family for a week, and I would argue much longer.

Transformation happens when you step outside your own comforts and self-protections and show up for the unknowns.

When you power down your cell phone and dirty your shoes in new soil. When you position yourself as a guest in someone else’s home and choose to be present in another’s reality. And when you show up with eyes wide open to all God is doing across the world. Once you see for yourself the rusted metal that others call home, once you hear for yourself the unbridled laughter of children running, jumping, playing, once you taste the subtle sweetness of exotic fruits, once you receive the hospitality of a family offering their best without having much to give, once you choose to abandon your own perceptions of what is necessary to create a full life, you can’t, and you won’t, return the same. That’s the beauty of God calling us outside of ourselves – our own safe environments – and showing us a place that is marked by His fingerprints of matchless beauty, joy, generosity, and fullness of life.

We are not the savior. God is.

Yet, we’re given the incredible opportunity as His children, to partner with what He is already doing – not only to extend, but to accept hope, love, relationship, and so much more. There is so much life to experience, joy to be found, and life-changing transformation when you travel beyond your borders. You just have to see for yourself.