“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” -Matthew 28:19
On June 1, 2013, the Houghton College field hockey team embarked on a missions trip to the beautiful island country of Trinidad and Tobago. We were completely unaware of the work God was preparing to do in and through us…
God was certainly working long before the plane left the ground. Through generous donations from various family members and friends and many fundraisers, every one of the girls planning on taking this trip was able to go without worrying about the finances involved. One girl was not able to send out support letters, but received hundreds of dollars in support anyway!
As God would have it, a beautiful woman of God named Beverly, who arranged many of the details of our trip, used to be a field hockey player and had various connections to the teams in Trinidad. We were given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play against the national field hockey team of Trinidad and various club teams there. (We lost our first game to the national team miserably. I won’t even bother telling you the score! However, during our tournament with the national team training squad and a few other club teams, we played much better.) Our mutual love of field hockey gave us an opportunity to show the love of Christ to the girls we played against. After a field hockey tournament we played in, one of our team members was given the chance to share her testimony with the other teams. She told of how health problems as a child were supposed to keep her from ever playing sports, but by God’s grace she was able to play field hockey throughout high school and college. I am confident that her story touched the hearts of the players she spoke to.
Towards the beginning of our trip, we went to a Vacation Bible School to minister to some local children. We had a blast playing with the kids! Two of the girls on our team are camp counselors during the summer, and they know a lot of fun songs complete with hand motions. We got to teach these songs to the kids and enjoyed hearing their laughter and seeing there smiles.
It was at this VBS that I got to be a part of something miraculous. I met a 12-year-old boy named Stephan. One of the things we were doing with the kids was making salvation bracelets. (Salvation bracelets consist of a piece of string and 5 beads. Each bead is a different color. The yellow bead serves a dual purpose, representing both God at the beginning of Creation, before sin, and Heaven, where we can go after death if we choose to follow Jesus. The black bead represents sin. The red bead represents the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross. The white bead represents the purity we can have because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The green bead represents the spiritual growth that must occur after we choose to follow Jesus.) I had finished making bracelets with my kids and moved on to play with some others. One of my teammates came up to me and asked if I could help her make some more bracelets with the kids that had just arrived. I agreed. Stephan was one of the new kids. He was so sweet! He kept calling me “Miss.” Because of his interest in the story of salvation that I was telling him about, I took a chance and asked him if he would like to follow Jesus. He said “yes!” I told him we could pray right then or wait until after the group finished singing. He chose to wait. After, I made sure that he still wanted to follow Jesus and that he really understood the story of Jesus’ death and what he was agreeing to by asking Jesus into his heart. He was actually concerned that we didn’t have enough time to pray because he had school the next day, but I assured him that it would only take a minute. Surrounded by tons of kids and a lot of noise, we held hands and I told him to repeat that I was praying in his heart. I was so touched by Stephan and his eagerness to follow Jesus! Knowing I probably wouldn’t see him again this side of Heaven, I made sure he knew I was praying for him. I plan to keep that promise. Stephan now holds a special place in my heart.
We were also given a chance to visit a Catholic girls’ school. As was certainly God’s plan, the two team members chosen to share their testimonies in front of the students came from “broken” homes, which was a point of commonality with which many of the students connected. After the testimonies were shared, we split up and each talked to small groups of girls. God miraculously placed each of us with students that we could relate to on a personal level. One team member recently broke up with her boyfriend and had the chance to talk to some girls who had questions about relationships. I spoke to a girl who had dealt with a severe depression, something that I struggled with for years. Out of everything we did while in Trinidad, it was the trip to this school that, in my opinion, touched many of us the most. None of us wanted to leave those girls!
During a ferry ride the next day, I sat next to Beverly and asked her if there were any faith-based mental health organizations in Trinidad. I had been thinking about giving regularly to a specific organization, and my heart lies in helping people with mental health problems because of my own experiences with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sadly, Beverly told me that the mental health system in Trinidad is not good. There is only one mental health hospital in the country, and it is government-run. It is certainly not the best place to go for treatment, as they tend to drug up the patients. She said that all the faith-based organizations that had to do with mental health only dealt with spiritual issues like demonic attacks. This has its place, but some people need help for psychological issues that are not necessarily demonic attacks. She mentioned that, instead of donating money, she could find out if any of the girls at the school were interested in doing an online Bible study/support group with me and I could help in a more hands-on way. I’m praying that she remembers my interest in this and contacts me about it soon! If you will, please join me in this prayer.
One thing that has been on the heart of many of the Houghton players has been the desire to see a change in our team. God used our trip to Trinidad and Tobago to accomplish that. During the many hours spent traveling from place to place on our bus, we sang worship songs together and had genuine conversations, interspersed with bursts of laughter and lots of smiles. Usually, we fail to connect on such a deep level because we’re too distracted by our cell phones and iPods, things we did not have on our trip. This trip gave us a chance to really see each other’s strengths and weaknesses and get to know each other’s hearts. Of everything that came out of this trip, this change in our team is perhaps the most amazing.
I think Americans often view mission trips as a way they can bless others. As a result of our trip to Trinidad, I can now see how much the people we met there blessed us, instead! Traveling to Trinidad and Tobago brought many of us closer to God. We saw Him work in powerful ways overseas and are excited to see how He will continue to work in our lives now that we are back in the States.
I am praying that I can travel to Trinidad and Tobago again. I have connections in that country now and there are people I can stay with. I would love to go back to that school and work with the girls again. Whether I go or not would be a matter of finances and whether or not God wants me to go. I know that, if He wills it, I will be there again next year.
I have one last prayer request, and it’s a big one. If you know me, you know that I want to get a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in clinical psychology. I want to open my own practice for children and adolescents and/or work in a mental health hospital. I’ve been reading a book called The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson. It talks about how we often pray for things that we can accomplish in our own strength. These “small” prayers offend God. We don’t have to give the glory to Him for our accomplishments because we didn’t have to depend on Him for help to reach our goals. This is one of those dreams. Tons of people who are not Christians get doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and open their own practices for children and adolescents. Many are very successful. Although I know that I must lean on God for everything, this type of dream is rather small. Even if I weren’t a Christian, I could accomplish it. After traveling to Trinidad and Tobago, I have an even bigger dream in addition to that. I want to create an organization with institutions around the world, starting in Trinidad and Tobago, that provide free mental health services to those who desperately need it but either can’t afford it or whose country’s mental health system is inadequate. This organization would be faith-based, but would provide services to all people, regardless of faith. If they wanted Christian counseling, that would be available. If they wanted “regular” counseling, we would also provide that. Through our services, we would show our clients the love of Christ. Even if they didn’t want Christian counseling, we could still show them Christ’s love through conversation and acts of service. This organization would be unlike anything else in existence. It’s NOT something I can accomplish on my own strength. If it were to happen, it would only be because God had His hand in the process. I could only attribute my success to Him. Please join me in praying that this dream comes to fruition. It’s possible that God will change or modify this dream. It’s also possible that He has even bigger plans for this organization than I could ever come up with on my own! Regardless of the end result, I am committed to praying for it to eventually happen unless God makes it clear that it’s not something He wants me to pursue.
On a side note, the first time I ever swam in the ocean was on this trip! In fact, not only had I never swam in the ocean prior to this trip, but I had never seen the ocean prior to this trip! When I was in 7th grade, I went with my Girl Scout troop to Florida. We went to Sea World and Discovery Cove. I got to swim in a “fake” ocean with a lot of tropical fish and stingrays. Needless to say, I caught a glimpse of a fish with a jaw that jutted out from his face and was filled with teeth, and pretty much had a panic attack in the water. In my opinion, fish should NOT have teeth! After that traumatizing experience, I swore I’d never swim in the real ocean. I am afraid of sharks, fish with teeth, jelly fish, stingrays, coral (because you can cut yourself on it and attract sharks), etc. I told my parents that if I ever went to the ocean, all I would do was put my toe in to say I had been in it. However, in Trinidad and Tobago, we went to a beach with really clear water and I chose to go in with my teammates. I’m happy to report that I saw no creatures swimming in there (and don’t tell me that even if I didn’t see them, they were there, because I am well-aware of that fact and try not to think about it!) Although I didn’t conquer my fear, per se, I did take a major step in that direction!
I don’t really know how to end this post. I don’t have any advice to give or smart comment to make. All I can say is that God is more powerful and amazing that I have ever realized, and that He worked mightily in my life and in the lives of my teammates in more was than one. It’s getting late and my eyelids are getting heavy, so I’m going to awkwardly end it here. If you are reading this and have any more questions about my trip or anything I’ve discussed in this post, shoot me an email, comment on my post, or ask me in person! I’d love to chat! Face-to-face conversation is always better!