Can I tell you about one of the best weeks of my life?
I spent it in a very poor part of a very poor city in a foreign country. It was cold and rainy and muddy much of the time. I slept on the hard ground in a leaky tent. I ate beans and rice for nearly every meal. I didn’t shower. I didn’t even change my underwear every day.
Yet, it was amazing. Let me explain.
A few weeks ago my daughter and I joined 70+ other people from First Community Church for their annual Mexico Mission Trip. The goal of the trip is to build houses for some of the less fortunate families in an area served by a fantastic organization called Amore Ministries.
And that’s exactly what we did. We built a house (five, actually). Well, we would call it a garden shed — four walls and a roof with no electricity, plumbing, or insulation. But there it’s often a house for several people. That fact alone is pretty humbling.
It’s taken me a couple of weeks to process the entirety of the trip. While I was there, I called it a long, fast week. The days seemed very long, getting up before dawn and doing construction entirely by hand all day (no electricity, remember?). The nights seemed even longer sleeping alone in my cold, leaky tent.
But the week was over before I knew it. And somewhere along the way we built a house and so much more. I thought the best way to share the experience would be to share 3 lessons I learned during my long, fast week.
1. Everyone feels like an outsider sometimes.
Many of the people on this trip had been on the trip before, or had attended Camp Akita together for years, or are members of First Community Church. I was none of the above. The first few days I totally felt like an outsider listening to all the stories and witnessing all the established friendships. I’m pretty good at making new friends and yet even I felt very much like an outsider for a few days. Thankfully, several people made sure to include me in conversations and activities which sped up the process considerably.
I shared my outsider story with the group on the last night of the trip. To my surprise several people I thought were “insiders” thanked me for sharing my experience because they, too, had felt like an outsider at the beginning.
It taught me that everyone feels like an outsider sometimes. From now on I want to make sure I have my “outsider radar” turned on so I can quickly identify people who may feel left out and make sure they always feel included. Because feeling left out is one of the worst feelings in the world, and feeling included is one of the best.
2. Nothing is more powerful than community.
I couldn’t have/wouldn’t have built a house all by myself. I also wouldn’t have had such an amazing experience all by myself. 70+ of us took this trip together. We camped together, ate together, sang together, laughed together (a LOT), cried together, prayed together, and swung hammers together.
Community isn’t just a collection of people in the same place at the same time. It’s the sense of togetherness that makes a community. It’s a connection that creates a kind of magic you don’t experience any other way. It creates new friendships and strengthens existing ones. It is a positive, energetic bond that makes difficult circumstances a whole lot easier to take. And it can make the seemingly impossible possible. This is a particularly important lesson for a lone wolf personality like me to get through my thick head.
3. Comfort is overrated.
About three times I day I see a motivational post on social media challenging me to “get out of your comfort zone.” This trip made me realize how few times in my life I have truly, honestly been out of my comfort zone. I was physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually out of my comfort zone. Like WAY out. For an entire week.
And I didn’t die.
In fact, I grew.
I remember noticing 3/4 of the way through the week that I felt STRONG. Stronger than I have felt in a long, long time. It was one of those rare moments when I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. It’s hard to describe, but in that moment my former idea of discomfort ceased to exist. Sure, I still prefer my pillowtop mattress and freshly laundered 800 thread count sheets to a sleeping bag in the dirt. But my comfort zone now has new boundaries and covers considerably more territory. It’s as if I somehow just discovered a much bigger, more awesome playground than the one I’ve played on for years.
There were many more lessons this trip taught me, and maybe I’ll share those in the future. For now, I’ll just answer the most common question I’ve been asked since I got back:
Will I go again?
In a heartbeat.