I am a girl that writes to process. In order to really think about something and let it sink in fully, I need to put my fingers to the keyboard or pen to the paper and let everything else go. This is especially drastic in times that are HUGE in my life. One life changing event I never put full time into writing about was my first mission trip. I kept putting aside time for it, but never protected that time to the necessary extent. Finally, I had an ultimate goal of writing it before I go on my next mission trip. Welp, I’m a college student, and procrastination is lyfe in college right? So here I am, leaving for my next mission trip in T minus eight hours. Time to write.
Now where do I even begin? When I was still attending UW Whitewater, I was endlessly searching. I was living a part of my life in drastic change and upheaval. I had a few inclinations on why my heart was so unsatisfied and quite frankly, hurting. I was an aching heart in wonder of what else life and the Lord had for me. So first I prayed. I kept feeling these pulls in certain areas, towards one thing and away from another. I was beyond confused, and so were the people all around me. Still, I prayed. Philippians 4:6. Eventually, I came to a sad peace. I applied, got accepted, and transferred home to UW Oshkosh. My year long career at UW Whitewater slowly came to a close, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. Everyone claimed the usual stake of “I’m going to miss you’s” and many prayed over my heart and journey. My heart began to unsettle day by day during my final week in my home away from home. And then, it was done. The wild ride of a year I had at Whitewater was over, that chapter of my book was ready to close, and I was finally okay. I definitely shed tears during my two hour journey home, but those stayed between God and me. He was just about the only one who understood them, as usual. So I let Him wrap His mighty arms around me, assuring me that this is what’s right. And per usual, He was right. Funny how that happens.
I had a month off in between ending in the dub, and starting up again at osh. A month to plan, dream, and for my norm–panic. My mind likes to wander in every direction and worry about things, things that I don’t need to worry about. As if there is anything really worth worrying about. Psht. But worry I did, and worry did I not have to. After one solid tear filled break down [in my car as always], I was starting my hopefully last transfer. UW Oshkosh here I am. Transferring is always a really interesting thing to me. That stress and pressure you feel when prepping for college, it’s always like that when you’re starting a new place. It doesn’t seem to matter how many years of schooling you have behind you, how well acclimated you had been at either of your last schools-starting over is hard. Always. Definitely not as hard as continuing on in a life you know isn’t the one you’re supposed to be living though. When I started school at Oshkosh, I was determined to make things different for myself. For me. I wanted to be more independent from worldly relationships, and more dependent on my relationship with the Lord. Eventually, I got what I asked for.
I nervously walked around campus in the first week, always trying to find my classes on time like the new kid nerd I was. While walking in and out of the bookstore for the millionth time in the first week to grab many last minute necessities, I was stopped. For some odd reason, I like reading fliers put around campus and within school buildings. So I was naturally drawn to the column of fliers posted right outside the bookstore. Little did I know, one of the first ones I saw, was going to change my life.
On March 20th, I pulled up to the Go House on Oshkosh’s campus. I awkwardly drove my car to the back of the house, while a large amount of people I knew nothing about looked at me. I made the nervous ‘hello’ to a group I passed while walking to the front of the house, and I stood there with my bag. Slowly but surely, piles of people started to fill the front lawn, side lawn, and back lawn of this college campus house I knew nothing about. Eventually, there were fifty seven people collectively standing in a mass on this tiny front lawn. Fifty six people I had never met, knew absolutely nothing about, and then myself. Talk about nerves. It was about then that I wondered why I made this decision for myself. Why did I choose this as the way to get myself involved on my new campus? Why was this the organization I was choosing to try out first? Why did I stop at that bulletin podium outside the bookstore that day? But that’s it, I didn’t-God did. Looking back in hindsight, I can so clearly see that. I can see some of His purpose in the things I thought were of my choosing. And as usual, His plan is so much better than what I thought I could have invented for myself.
In continuation, the beginning of this mission trip with fifty six other people gathered on this lawn, was a true blessing. We listened to Aaron talk and pray over our trip, and we piled into six vehicles headed for Biloxi, Mississippi. Talk about excitement! I piled into the very back seats of one of our massive vans with two people I had just met, and clung to instantly. But then I had a chance to be outgoing and adventurous…which I of course scooped up. The van I was riding in needed a co-pilot for the trip down. Someone to talk with the driver and keep them engaged so our van filled with lovely people could arrive at our destination safely. Get to ride shotgun and be of assistance by being a jabberjaws?? My kinda gig! So I took it, hence getting to know fourteen other people pretty well over the next sixteen hours. Luckily, I love road trips. And talking.
After losing half of our huge squad of vehicles within the first hour, regrouping, many gas station stops, many cappuccinos for me, many bathroom breaks, many chapters read out loud of The Princess Bride, and many ‘get-to-know-you’ questions later, Biloxi bound we were. And yes, they have palm trees…just so you’re aware.
How to explain our week in Mississippi, one can’t even begin to imagine finding the right words. Cliche, but the only thing that could bring some kind of justice to my experience is life changing. Having never been exposed to missions, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew, was what I had heard about from my old high school math teacher. I heard that people were in need, as so many are. I heard that Mississippi was a beautiful place, and that it was still deeply hurting. I heard that my heart would long to help those people, and that I was the kind of person that would love to be there. All of those things, were very true. At lunch with said math teacher right before I left for our trip, I was given a verse.
Isaiah 6:8 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
This verse stuck with me, becoming one of my many favorites, especially for my [hopefully] many more missions experiences. So I clung onto my newfound life verse, and hugged my teacher goodbye. Beyond telling me how proud and excited he was for me, his last encouragement to me went right to the heart. “Go do great things.” And that’s exactly what I was determined to do with these fifty six beautiful souls in this new place, with the help of the Lord.
There are so many moments during this week long mission trip that I will forever hold onto in my heart. The whole week has meant the world to me, even now, months after returning home. When we arrived, we got to know our camp leaders a bit, got settled in, and headed straight for the ocean. We spent the next few days doing the typical touristy stuff. We swam a lot. We got a whole lot of sunburn, even to dangerous degrees [love you haleybaley, and Linda]. We ate tons of ice cream, reached home by watching the Badgers kill it. We searched for alligators with no luck in a beautiful nature preserve. We bought massive amounts of souvenirs [including a few hermit crabs] from a ridiculously huge tourist shop. We got to experience an amazing southern church service. We had huge group breakfasts and dinners. We worshipped the Lord and prayed as a team in the beginning of our mornings. We took the world’s most insane amount of wonderful pictures. We sang horribly, amazingly, and filled with love. We went on muddy runs and random Walmart trips. We ate real Krispy Kreme’s and real good southern cookin’. We had a few hospital visits thrown in the mix. We had Waffle House. We experienced life. We bonded, we made new friendships, we spent real quality time together. I could probably continue on and on with all of the amazing experiences I was privileged to enjoy with this fantastic group of people.
Most importantly, we served the Lord.
I never knew what it was like to truly give my heart, my time, my everything to others. I never knew the fire that was deeply burning in my heart for those around me. I just never knew. I had the heaping honor of serving at Seashore Missions with a group of amazing people while we were in Mississippi. We had many other groups that did FANTASTIC work at other volunteer sites, this is just a brief on mine. The projects we were able to bless Seashore Missions with in our time there, I know are forever appreciated. My team changed a few times while we were there, some trying out different volunteer locations, others being welcomed into ours. As much as I loved the idea of spreading out to another job site to broaden my horizon of Biloxi just a little bit more, my heart was set on Seashore. Jeff and Judy held a firm grip on my heart, and that wasn’t going to go anywhere.
We had the opportunity to finish two completely gutted rooms in their homeless shelter. One we turned into a clothes closet and the other a food pantry. We tried our best to organize two massively massive massed out quonset huts filled with blessed donations to the roof. We had a savvy student literally redo the entire technological situation at the shelter. The surveillance cameras, the internet, the phones, all of it. And the most important thing to our blessed souls, we got to serve others. We got to lend a hand in dishing and serving meals to massive amounts of people in need from around the area. The insane part?! I simply cannot think of a time in my life I have felt more purely blessed than my countless minutes spent asking people ‘if they wanted green beans with that’, and convincing them by telling them ‘there was bacon mixed in.’ The fact of how deeply it touched my heart to be able to be that simplistic person for so many is indescribable.
One of the most touching moments I had on this trip happened right before our last time serving a meal. Judy always prays and gives a message of sorts before the food is served. She has a beautiful way with words that brings such high glory to God and all He has done in our lives. During her last message while we were there, she said something about our work. She spoke on how grateful she was to have our group of volunteers there, making such an impact on their shelter. She told the people benefiting from the shelter that the following Monday, when we were going to be gone already, they would get to try out the new clothing room we built and get a new outfit. There are no words to explain the feeling of gratitude poured into our hearts from every soul that room encompassed. They clapped and cheered, like we just got done running a marathon. That was nice, but that wasn’t what hit me. I looked around, looked into the grateful eyes surrounding my team and myself. Seeing the true and genuine joy from such a truly small act of handiwork, it was breathtaking. And that it did. It hit me hard then, the whole point of it all. The big why of God bringing me to this campus, to this organization, to this mission trip and this shelter. To experience the whole point of life on this earth. To be more Christ like than ever, even if just for a glimpse of a moment in my continuous time here. Absolutely breathtaking. I was overtaken with emotion, bursting into tears. I was grateful for the opportunity to change lives, and have mine so much more drastically changed without them even knowing they were making it happen. I was grateful to be able to let myself cry while Judy prayed over lunch. I was grateful Macky and Troy cared, handed me tissues, and understood because they felt those similar waves of emotion. I was grateful to look to my left and see similar tears in the eyes of my lady teammates. I was grateful. I am grateful. And that moment will forever be greater than almost any in my life.
After serving the meals, we got to spend one of them finally sitting down with the world of people around us. It was more towards the end of our time at Seashore, but I was so thrilled for the experience none the less. So my dear friend MackDilly and I sat down at a table of men. We talked with them about anything, and a horizon of everything. We discussed our trip, where we were from, what it was like being in Mississippi. We talked about the movie that was playing, I hadn’t seen it but made conversation about it anyways. We talked about their lives in Biloxi, about the experiences they had on a daily basis. We talked with them about that fantastic southern food and how Judy filled our plates so full we’d probably never have to eat a meal again. Then ‘high tea’ was over, and it was time to get ready to go back to work for the afternoon. The men around us slowly faded away, one by one leaving until the next day Seashore was all open doors. One man stayed and sat with Macky and I a little longer, an extended goodbye. He asked when we’d be leaving, and we told him that the following day would be our last in Biloxi before we headed back to Oshkosh. Then, magic. Macky and I were probably making some goofy inside joke, and being our awkward selves while we ended our conversation. The man we were with turned a more serious note. Looking at us as if we’d been friends forever, he gave us a simple, ‘Well, how can I pray for y’all?’ The amount that I was caught off guard literally sent chills down my spine. After thankfully speaking for safe travel prayers, I asked him the same question in return. With one of those million dollar southern smiles, he looked at me and said ‘My name’s Steve.’ Core shaking, and simply life changing. A homeless man with seemingly nothing to give is one of the few people on this planet to give me the most hope in my life yet. God is so good.
The amount of times my heart was touched on this trip, there wouldn’t be a number big enough. I couldn’t even begin to go as in depth as to how blessed I am to have had such an amazing experience. Coming home, I struggled hard. Every part of my core felt so pulled to Biloxi, to serving, to more. Sitting in a giant lecture hall filled with students who didn’t care less about the world, while the professor talked about cloud scatters, it just simply sucked. I transitioned so harshly. I stayed in bed for a day after we got home, completely drained in the most amazing way. Biloxi took a piece of me. A piece of my heart and my life I couldn’t imagine another place with another group of beautiful people taking. My first mission trip. The first time in such a drastically long time I did something seemingly for me, but more importantly for the Lord. The first time, but so far from the last. Such an absolutely amazing life experience. So much heartfelt prayer for so many different people, organizations, places. Absolutely beautiful. The blessings abounding. Life changing. Fill in the blank mantra. Just God.
Coming home, I was also blessed abundantly with two new amazing people [among the other fifty four] to share my life with.
This, is MackDilly.
Simply, one of the most genuine and kind hearted people I have ever met. I got to spend the entire week in Biloxi with this guy by my side. My random music singing, hand slap fighting, belly hurt laughing work partner. I am so insanely grateful God brought him into my life and allowed our friendship to flourish. I am so blessed to have made one of my best friends on such an outstanding mission trip in such a beautiful place.
And this, is Hale.
My beautiful roommate, and such a fantastic woman. I am always sure to be laughing my face off when I’m with her. Always such a loving heart towards anyone and everyone. Truly one of the strongest people I know. Always so willing to be anything anyone needs, no matter what. I am so truly blessed and excited to experience life with her everyday this year and beyond! She’s going to be the absolute highlight to my days and I love her to death!
These two, are two best friends to cherish beyond this planet.
Now, T minus six hours until I leave on the Lord’s newest adventure for my heart. Romania. Mission trip number two. God only knows what’s next.
Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
In the meantime, this, is a snippet of the Biloxi in my life. Forever grateful.