What if I told you my latest excursion involved hanging out with the kindest people on earth, enjoying a glorious massage under a twinkling skyline, showering with my feet planted on warm, glistening rocks, and meditating to live music every evening?
You’d probably think I’d scored a weekend at some decadent spa or resort. On the contrary — my son and I went on a mission trip near Globe, (A place you wouldn’t exactly call posh). We spent a week camping there with our church family during our annual mission trip to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. (The massages? Given by a generous camper. The showers? Solar! Translation — from a plastic bag with warm water filled by the sun).
I knew it was going to be hard work. What I didn’t anticipate was how much fun we’d have. And despite standing witness to crushing poverty, we not only built hope — we found it.
Building more than just homes
In partnership with Amor Ministries, my home church, Mountain View Lutheran in Ahwatukee, just logged its 20th consecutive mission trip to build homes in impoverished communities. We do this because Lutherans embrace a roll-up-your-sleeves brand of faith. Our ministry doesn’t just take place within our four walls. We’re called to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely — to love our neighbor across the street, and across the globe. (And in Globe)!
San Carlos is home to the third largest reservation in the state of Arizona, where unemployment tips 75 percent. We spent the week hand mixing and smoothing stubborn stucco, finishing walls, painting rooftops and toiling under the hot sun. At the end of each day, we were baking hot, sore, tired, and grimy.
And I can’t wait to go back.
The kids are all right
Technically this trip is designed for middle and high school-aged kids. Spending time with my son minus the distractions of home was pure joy. We joked that after a week of mixing and scooping thick, heavy stucco, chores at home wouldn’t seem so bad.
Kids and adults worked together in harmony for a higher purpose, each person in the hive falling into a busy formation. I never once heard a grumbling complaint. The promise of S’mores by the campfire each night probably didn’t hurt either; but we should give teens more credit. They sang while they worked; they showed respect to the adults. They were awesome!
After this, her third trip to Mission San Carlos, Bonnie Conrad of Ahwatukee put it this way, “For the kids, it’s a trip that really affects them for the rest of their lives. They find out they can build a house! And they learn to give to others.”
It was Bonnie’s daughter, Kelly, who just graduated from Desert Vista that convinced her mom to go in the first place after she and her dad had enjoyed two trips together.
“You leave the comfort of Ahwatukee and learn how much bigger the world is, and how much need is out there,” Kelly said, adding that the trips helped her see how much she enjoyed helping people, and inspired her to pursue a career in nursing.
Sore muscles, soaring souls
We all agreed connecting with the recipients of the homes was a highlight. Around the campfire, Karen France of Ahwatukee shared that her “high” of the day was meeting Shirley, the Apache woman who cried when she saw her new house. “It’s so big,” she’d marveled. Mind you, it was 675 square feet. Shirley’s the very reason Brett Sauers of Chandler returned for all 20 trips.
“I go to make people cry,” he said.
I’m so glad I listened when God called me to serve His people in San Carlos. But as usual — it was me who received. The experience left me moved, healed, touched. Changed. Who knew a week of hard labor and sleeping in a hot tent could leave you feeling so utterly restored, connected and inspired? Who knew I’d make so many friendships with people with whom I’d only passed the peace from the next pew over?
“That’s the secret of mission trips,” our pastor, Leland Armbright, quipped, when I shared it with him. Now that the secret is out — will you listen when you hear the call to serve across the street, across the globe, or near Globe, Ariz.?