Down in the Dirt

The van pulled into the parking lot of my church, Grace Fellowship. I looked around at my surroundings and saw a big 15-passenger van with a trailer waiting by the jr. high room. Piles of luggage were sitting outside. I added my stuff to the pile and walked in to the jr. high room, where both friends and new faces were hanging out. I found my friend Amanda, and we sat down on the couches in various states of repair. I glanced around the room and looked at all the people. This is my missions trip team, I thought. These are the people with whom I'll be spending a week.
Before we left, we had a period of prayer with students, parents, and leaders. We prayed for a safe journey, and that we could make a difference during the week we would be there. The prayers of all the people drifted up out of the room and were heard by God.
All too soon, it was time to leave. I had butterflies in my stomach, and was wondering how I was going to survive a week of hard work and little sleep. But I was determined to make the most of it. I wanted to make a difference somewhere in Chicago. In the vans, I got to know some of the other people coming along. Kim, Jessie, Nate, Amanda, Amanda, Jesse and Jon (the twins), Adam, Ashley, Todd, Janet, Alana, Seth, Tina, Lana, Sara, and Joe were all there.
The drive to Chicago was long, but not boring. A carload of jr. highers and some really cool leaders don't get bored easily. We had a great time singing silly songs, playing games, and just talking. At lunch, we found out that we all had handwritten Chicago shirts, or "Chigaco," as Jon's shirt said. From then on we passed the time by signing the back of each other's shirts, right underneath a bible verse: "Do nothing out of vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."
Soon we were in the city of Chicago. It didn't take that long to find where we were going: CSM. CSM is the program we were serving with, and it stands for Center for Student Missions. We were staying in a dorm: guys on the first floor, girls on the second floor.
We had to share the floor with another group from Illinois. The girls there had taken the biggest room, even though we had more people to fit in there. The rooms we were stuck with was about ten feet by nine feet, one of which was the debriefing room, so the four people who slept there had to clean up their stuff every day. Even so, it was cramped quarters. And the 90-degree heat present in the building (there was no air conditioning) didn't help one bit.
"You guys, come on. We can't argue over this!" the girls in our group kept saying. It was frustrating, but good came out of it. We all just opened up and shared what we were feeling, and that was helpful later on. It secured friendships.
That night we went out to a local Vietnamese restaurant. Now, I wasn't a big fan of trying new food, but it turned out to be okay. I even learned to use chopsticks! By the time we got back and were settling in to go to bed, it was after midnight. Well, I thought to myself, you made it through the first night. Only the rest of the week to go…
"Time to get up!" The annoying sound rang in my ears.
"Uhggg…" I groaned along with a chorus of others as they woke up. I glanced at my watch. 6:25? Already? I just went to bed… I groaned again and attempted to flop out of my sleeping bag. There was no morning chill, and my pajamas were damp with sweat. I rummaged around in my bag for my shower stuff, slipped on my flip-flops, and headed outside with everyone else. All of us trudged across the street to the gym showers of the university, except for Adam, who was cheerful. I heard stories from the other guys on how he woke people up.
"Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey…" he would say in an annoying, sing-song voice. There were times when I was glad I was female.
That morning, seven other people and I left for our destination: Casa Central. Casa Central was a daycare type thing that kids could go to while their parents were at work. I'm a shy person, so I was a little nervous about this. Alana, Amanda, and I would be working with kids from about ages five to seven. We attempted to teach them stories. We attempted to do crafts. We attempted to play games. But the kids would NOT listen. They seemed to disobey everything we said, if they happened to hear it. Their behavior did not reinforce my courage. That night, our group held a prayer session, asking God to let us reach these kids, and that they would listen to us.
The next morning, I did not want to get up. My body felt like a bag of sand, and it took a lot of will power to lift my head off of my pillow. But I knew we only had a half hour of shower time, and I needed a shower.
A few hours later, we were headed back to Casa. People have been on this missions trip before, I thought. I've heard that the kids will be climbing all over me. At this rate, I'll just be sitting there trying to play with them. I think some of the other people shared my opinion.
But when we got there, the kids' behavior had improved 200 percent. They asked us to do stuff with them. They would come along and give us hugs for no apparent reason. The kids love us! I thought. The notion struck me as absurd, as this was only our second day hanging out with them. It was hard work, though, especially with my lack of sleep.
I would say the hardest, but also the most fun, part of the trip was immersion night. That was when we went out in the city and just talked to people. We were given two dollars per person for dinner (that equaled $12 total, as there were six people per group,) and enough money to ride on the El (Elevated Train) to get to certain destinations. I loved being out on the streets, with the people, breathing the same air that they were, seeing the same skyline, and pretending to be like them and seeing how they lived their lives every single day. One of the hard parts was figuring out which direction was north, and which were south, east, and west. The four teens would stand there arguing on the street corner, while our leaders (Sara and Adam) would stand a couple feet away. I swear that they laughed to themselves about our indecisiveness. During the evening, though, we talked to quite a few different people, and even me (in my shyness) contributed.
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye. I had made friends with all the kids at Casa… Raquel, Jessie, Sabrina, Giovanni, Javier, and Angel to name a few. It was incredible: the feeling that I had for them after only knowing them for a week. This year at school, I'm taking Spanish because of those kids. A lot of them know Spanish, and it would have been a lot easier to communicate if I knew what they were saying. I also had to say goodbye to all my friends, the ones with whom I had gotten down on my knees in the dirt to serve with. I didn't know them very well at the start, but now it seemed like I had known them forever. That was hard, since half of the team came from a church in St. Cloud, and I wouldn't see them very often.
We reached Grace Fellowship at about 1:30 am. Even though everyone was exhausted, we had to clean out the vans and unpack the trailer. After that, it took a while for everyone to hug each other goodbye and exchange email addresses.
All in all, that trip was one of the best, if not the best, weeks of my life. I learned a ton, and grew taller spiritually. The hard manual labor and lack of sleep made it the most demanding week of my summer, and at times I wanted to give up, but at the end all I wanted was to do it again. Maybe next year…