Worth the Risk

       I peeked through the crowds at church dying to catch a glimpse of who would be our new youth pastor. I saw dark, cropped hair and two very broad shoulders. His suit coat boxed him in as the most perfect definition of short and stocky. When he turned around, I noticed gray hair sprinkled into his thick goatee, along with an alarmingly jutting jaw. He smiled and rubbed his hands together while he talked and laughed with his newfound friends. His name was Brother Jimmy and I was in middle school when he started.
       In the years to come I would nickname him Papa J and run to his side to bother him before youth group on Wednesday nights. At some point he introduced me to “ant bites”, a pinch under the arm that hurts like the dickens. If he was lost in conversation, I would sneak up behind him and squeeze the tender part of his skin. As he howled and swatted, I ran away giggling.
       During my junior year of high school, the youth group held a solemn meeting in a back room after church one night, announcing the possibility of an overseas mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Parents held a flyer in their hands while biting their lip and eagerly asking questions.

“How do we get a passport?”

“Is it safe?”

“Do my kids need shots?”

“Will they get sick?”

       Brother Jimmy stood at the front of the room, explaining the organizations we would coordinate with in order to pull this off. 18 students started raising financial support, along with 3 leaders. I was one of those students and I felt giddy with anticipation.
       After flying to from Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia we were hauled to a parking lot to memorize a skit. Everyone held two skinny sticks, white and weightless, and we rehearsed for hours in sync with a Spanish song. Our right arms slowly rose, the stick pointing skyward, then our left arms. “Arise, my love. The grave no longer has a hold on you.” We spun around, sank to our knees, bowed our heads then lifted them up dramatically and reach our sticks high, our toes balancing our young bodies for a split second. The song’s melody burst through the speakers and I felt the drama pulse through my heart. I was a part of something beautiful that would fly with the wind and touch the hearts of our audience.
       The Dominican Republic schools welcomed us into their courtyards where hundreds of blue t-shirt and cacki clad kids watched. Our audience.
       They squinted in the sun, their braided black hair reflecting white light. Our speakers blasted the story of the resurrection while our group simultaneously spun on our heels to face them. I tried not to look around but couldn’t help but notice groups of neighbors clustered on top of a nearby roof or others sitting on the school property walls, their bare feet slung over the ledge.
       With the help of a translator, our group shared the message of hope found in Jesus. Once the program ended, kids crowded around, their white eyes searching for eye contact with Americans. I knelt down, opened a story cube and began spouting in broken Spanish to any who would listen. I prayed over the kids, hugging them and telling them, “Dios te ama” God loves you. 
       Our youth group teens high-fived (no Spanish required) and danced with the kids, kicking their legs in the open air while sweating profusely in the hot sun. My little brother grabbed hands with children half his size and swung around in a circle, feeling the rhythm of music that transcends language. His shaggy blonde hair jumped around in sweaty clumps and his smile broke wider with each beat.
       Our van would leave the school after each performance with broken but full hearts. Some of the girls began to cry for the children, longing to gather them in their arms and bring them home.
In the middle of the trip, our morning meeting included discussing the logistics of feeding a local village lunch.
       A separate van was loaded completely with food, plates and utensils for the large meeting. We dragged big pots onto tables, stirring beans with metal spoons until they were ready.
       I was on rice duty. Plate after plate passed from one hand to another in our assembly line, and I scooped white rice until the indents in my hand burned red. The steam rose up to my smiling face and I shifted my weight, trying to rest my feet one at a time. Teeny kids roamed around clutching their fork and my fellow teenagers stooped down to help them eat. It took a village to feed a village.
       The debrief that evening went long because teens kept raising their hands to tell another story of how that massive feeding had made an impression in their heart. Ryan talked about watching one little boy travel around barefoot, making sure all his friends were fed. Katie talked about helping a sweet little toddler shovel bits of rice in her small mouth. We all had our own special morsel of blessing from the event. I felt that I was pushed to “Give, give, give.” And the more I gave from my massive pot of rice, the less I cared about my selfish desires.
       When we left Michigan a week prior we had white faces, naked from the long winter. But when we flew back into the hub that was our home, our cheeks were red and our hearts were exploding. There just weren’t enough words, enough time, enough capacity to fully describe what this trip to the Dominican meant to us.
       I absolutely fell madly in love with the Spanish language on the trip, vowing to work with every ounce of my being to speak it as well as English. I didn’t want any language barrier to stop me from relationships with people.
       My heart also grew in faith and I stretched to trusting God with whatever He wanted to do with my life. The mission trip solidified a truth in my heart; that God’s way is higher, better, more fulfilling, more purposeful and far more rewarding than anything I can attempt to do in my own strength. In that vein, I sank deeper in my commitment to serve Him whatever the cost.

       In June of this year, Kevin and I will board our own flight headed to Jacó, Costa Rica with teenagers under our wings. We had our own back room meeting with a Costa Rican missionary at the front of the room, explaining the need for passports. The room felt crowded and electric, just like that first meeting I sat in so many years ago. A tingle runs through my limbs as I realize how God has designed this for such a moment as right now.
       How the days have changed from the arm-pinching pesky teenager I was to the agenda-holding youth leader I am now. We are the adults, whisking these kids away on possibly their first trip overseas. I am not a student name on the list now, I am the phone number at the top of the page in case something goes wrong. I am the face with my husband and one another adult, leading the charge.

Vámanos. Let’s go. 


  1. Great post! Neat to hear all this. Sad you didn't mention meeting up in Atlanta with your older brother. haha

    1. Thought about it! I found a picture of us. I will send it to you :-)


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