As I sit down to write this reflection of the last three and a half weeks of my life I’m filled with joy and sadness, encouragement and heartbreak, stillness and urgency. This was my first trip out of the United States; the farthest and longest I had ever been away from home in my 22 short years of life. For the past six months my team and I prepared our hearts and minds for the journey ahead of us, only to be completely broken when we arrived in country. I hope I can share my journey with you through my words well, and that you may also see how our Father is working throughout the world, the same way I saw it.
For those who don’t know, I traveled to South Asia with a small group of students from my school. We spent three weeks living in this country learning and investing in the culture around us. While I enjoyed this trip and the experience I had, it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. I tried all I could to prepare myself for the culture shock I was sure to encounter upon arriving, but nothing can prepare you for the things you’ll see. As we were driving to our hotel (we arrived in country at about 2 o’clock in the morning) I felt the immediate desperation to reach out to these people. Entire families sleeping under freeway overpasses, families of four spread out on a single blanket with the night sky as their ceiling. Seeing this shook me down to my soul. Here at home we race for the biggest and nicest house, yet within an hour of being in South Asia I had seen more families without homes than I had ever seen in my life. However, 30 more seconds down the street and you’ll find one of the most extravagant malls you’ve ever seen in your life, selling top name brands like Calvin Kline, Michael Kors, and Louis Vuitton. I’m not trying to make my readers feel guilty for the things that have or trying to preach a “count your blessings” type of post, but am trying to give you the best mental picture of the things I saw.
Even though I saw very difficult situations and experiences while abroad, this country still held it’s own beauty. Elegant skyscrapers mixed with tropical greenery down every street. Take away the 85% humidity and the smell and you’ll find it’s a pleasant place to be in. I was initially very intimidated to be in a new city that I knew nothing about, but by the end of my three weeks there I travelled around with confidence. Rickshaws, taxis, the train, the metro, I could handle them all. Getting to see the city through the eyes of the people who live there was a great experience.
I can still vividly picture and hear the sights and sounds of riding in a rickshaw down the street, nearly getting hit every 20 seconds, and the laughs and memories that came with those moments. South Asia is filled with exciting sights and views even though we were staying in an incredibly busy city, you just have to find those instances that are quiet and look around you.
Every national I had met while in country was incredibly nice and were as helpful as possible, even if they spoke little to no English at all. For a lot of people in South Asia, my team and I were the first white people they had ever seen in person, which naturally made us the center of attention almost anywhere we went. This took some getting used to because we would constantly be being stared at. Not the type of staring where when you two make eye contact they look away, but the type of staring where you make eye contact, maintain that eye contact, look away, and still find them staring at you. While I know they didn’t have bad intentions behind the staring, I struggled with this because it made the girls on my team, and in some instances myself, very uncomfortable. We would have men and women approach us and ask to take selfies with us simply because we were white. In some cases we were able to talk and share the Truth with some of these people in these moments, but many just wanted to show off to their friends that they knew white foreigners.
Throughout our time there we had the opportunity to meet many millennial aged students and business professionals, spending time talking and getting to know about them, their culture, and their beliefs. Unlike here at home, people in South Asia enjoy deep spiritual conversations, talking about different beliefs and viewpoints. This made sharing my faith easier, but the task of walking up and meeting different individuals was still a daunting task. However, there was one particular interaction that will forever be engrained in my memory. As my friend Josh and I walked around a local mall we came across a boardshop. The shop attracted our attention and we went inside to check it out. The coolest part about the shop was the mini-ramp that was built right in the middle of the store and the 10-12 kids that were skating inside. With ages ranging from 8-17, we spent some time hanging out with these guys and skateboarding with them. Towards the end of our time in the shop I got to share the Truth with four of these kids and talk about what that meant to them. While I had no immediate declarations of faith, it was very cool getting to share the Truth that has so influenced my life, and may possibly influence their life later on. I merely planted the seed but the Lord can do wonders from that!
The first Sunday in country our team split up and visited a few different churches that our fieldworkers attended. While I hadn’t planned on this going into the trip, I was presented with the opportunity to teach at the church I was attending! The three girls and I who all went to this small church got to share our testimonies, and I led the congregation in a quick study of Luke chapter 19, the story of Zacchaeus. I’d like to say I was prepared and ready to give this lesson, but I had no part of it, it was completely the Holy Spirit! Getting to see the passion this church had and the eagerness they had to share the Truth with their community was so encouraging. The head pastor who teaches every week leads the lesson in three languages, yeah THREE! Hearing worship songs in their native language showed us all that our Father is making Himself known throughout the world. It was incredibly encouraging to see.
By the end of our trip my team and I shared the Message to literally hundreds of people living in South Asia. We met tons of incredibly welcoming and nice natives who we loved talking to and getting to know. While I may have not had the best attitude every day I was in country, I look back on the experience with immense joy. The Father revealed Himself in ways I had never seen before. I’m still processing and working through many of the things I saw and learned, so be prepared for more posts to come, but one thing I know for sure is that He is working and making himself known throughout the world. We can either sit idly on the sideline, or you can lace up and join the movement.
Thank you SO MUCH to those who helped me fundraise for this trip. I am so incredibly blessed by my family and friends who prayed over me and this experience. I hope to see some of you soon so I can share more stories in person!
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone),