Growing up, the New Jersey church I attended partnered with Amor Ministries, a Christian organization based in San Diego, to put on an annual missions trip. I consistently heard of the trip’s life changing effect from church members who had previously gone. Finally in 2007, after my freshman year of high school, my parents allowed my older brother and me to sign-up. I had been taught that God created all people in His image, and this principle applies of course to the people we would serve in Mexico. In the lead up to the trip my attitude could be summarized by John 13:34-35,
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
I was excited to see a new place and for the challenge of building a church in Mexico.
The trip began with a cross country flight to San Diego, where after we landed we quickly transferred our belongings into a convoy of white vans. Heading south into Mexico was an eye-opening experience. With only 20 miles separating the cities of San Diego and Tijuana, the contrast of worlds could not have been any more different. I still remember the lush green landscape on the United States side, and then almost an immediate change into dry, barren, and dusty land on the southern side. As we crossed the border, I wondered what my impact on this trip would be. Would my limited Spanish get me anywhere? Could I swing a hammer? What does God want me to learn?
These doubts were quickly removed after our first day on the job site. Our team worked tirelessly under the Mexican sun, hand mixed cement and poured the foundation, while some curious young bystanders watched on. These young children, or ‘niños’, as we referred to them, quickly took to the younger kids in our group. Soon, we were spending our lunch break playing soccer in the streets next to stray dogs and sewage. The language barrier no longer became a fear because we shared the same language of sports and fun. As the week progressed, so did our bond with the niños. They diligently attended the daily vacation bible school sessions and learned about Jesus from our translator. I will never forget the joy and happiness of these sweet little children, for what they lacked in material possessions, they made up for in love. The Mexican spirit remained resolute in their respect and pride of their culture. At the end of the week we had completed building the church and dedicated it with a sign out front that said ‘Roca Fuerte’, which means strong rock. The name comes from the passage in Matthew 16:18 where Jesus tells Peter,
"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
The sign served as a reminder that a home built on rock can withstand the spiritual storms against it.
Coming back to the U.S. after a week in Mexico of seeing hardships first hand was a difficult adjustment for me. I struggled with the consumptionism and rampant materialism all around me.
The missions experience opened up my eyes to the way believers all over the world live very different lives, but this does not matter since we all share the truth of Jesus as Savior.
Missions serve as a reminder that the kingdom of God is a diverse place, where people of different tribes, tongues, and skin colors come together to worship Jesus.