My dream of having our family together on a mission trip was finally coming true (you can read that article here). We arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, got settled in, and we took an extra day to see a little bit of Puerto Rico and spend time together as a family.
The day we were going to meet up with the rest of the team, we got up extra early to head back to the beach and squeeze a few more moments of vacation time out of our trip. And that’s when the unimaginable happened. In a blinking moment, my 13-year-old son was washed down a jagged rock face by a wave.
The moments and days following are floating in pieces in my mind. He would have to be rushed to the emergency room, stitches closing up multiple lacerations on different parts of his body. He and his mom would have to leave the trip early because we were worried about infection and he couldn’t walk very well anyway so we didn’t think it was wise for them to stay. I’d stay back with the other three boys and continue the trip, but without my wife and my boy.
Thank God he is alive and fared pretty well, but my dream of what the trip would be was gone. My expectations as a dad were shattered. Not to mention the guilt and frustration I felt for not seeing the potential danger and letting him stand on that spot in the first place.
Why did this have to happen? Part of me wanted to pack up the other boys and just head home, but I felt God nudging me to stay. I felt like God was saying, “Trust me.”
I spend a lot of my time talking to people about managing their expectations on their mission trip. I coach them to “be flexible” and to “be open to what God has planned as opposed to your own plans and expectations.” When you travel internationally, things can happen, and your best plans can often be changed, interrupted, or ruined at the last minute.
“The important thing is to keep an open mind and be flexible,” I like to say. But, now it was my turn to take my own advice. I had this time carved out with three of my boys, and God had a purpose in us being there. I just had to get my head in it.
When things don’t go as planned, it helps to process with good people. Sometimes we can’t see the big picture, but God places people around us who can, and we need to allow those people to have a voice in our life. Stay away from people whose message is, “It’s not that bad.” Also steer clear of the “That ain’t nothing” people who want to match or top your story with one of their own. I’m also not talking about the patronizing, “God has a plan” people. I’m talking about processing with people who can grieve and suffer with you, in full understanding, and at the same time gently point your gaze to things that you can’t see in the moment.
As Hebrews 11 says, our faith is the assurance and conviction of things we can’t see.
God’s community can and should provide this kind of encouragement and support, and I was blessed to have that kind of community on the trip. It took me a day or two to re-engage. But, thankfully with some time and with the care given by those around me, my heart started to change, and I could see more clearly.
My other sons were able to bless the people of Puerto Rico and engage with God and with each other in a way that they never had before. On top of that, my wife and my other son were able to have an extended time together that was intimate and special to both of them.
Things don’t always go as we plan or want them to go. But, God is always working, and we have to strive to look for Him in the times when he seems most distant.
Jobe Lewis directs the international area of Group Mission Trips, which also includes Alaska and Puerto Rico. He and his wife have been married for 18 years and have 4 growing boys. His favorite part of his job is connecting with ministry partners in the countries we serve and seeing the life-change that happens when people go on mission trips. He loves being outside, fishing, hiking, camping, and being with his family.