Ten miles southeast of Ensenada, Mexico lies the small, poor village of Lomas Bonitas. For a decade now, my church has returned to this struggling community each summer on a missions trip. Some of the most notable accomplishments: in 2007, volunteers built a brand new church; last year, they constructed a house for the village’s Pastor Carlos and his family, who had previously been living in the church’s basement. This year, our team focused on rebuilding the children’s crumbling play structure, painting and repairing homes, and teaching the creation story through a vacation bible school program.
Upon our arrival, the people of Lomas Bonitas welcomed us with open arms. It wasn’t just the adults who were happy to see us: the kids loved having some new playmates, constantly pulling us into their (rather intense) games of soccer or shouting, “Capuchi!” for piggyback rides. And Pastor Carlos, though this was my first mission trip and he had never met me before, took a break from shoveling gravel for the playground one afternoon to thank me personally for his new house.
VBS was filled with songs and art projects; our painting crew got a little extra help from a few eager young boys in the village; shouts of delight filled the air after Pastor Carlos prayed over the new play structure, releasing the excited children to climb aboard.
One of our last days in the village, we held an evening church service followed by a “shoe ministry.” After the village packed the church to standing-room only and my church’s pastor held a powerful altar call, we ushered everyone outside to select which pair of shoes they’d like to keep out of the hundreds we’d brought them from back home.
After the completion of the week-long mission, I don’t think any of us came home unchanged. The gratitude and grace we encountered in the village humbled and amazed us over and over again. There lied something incredibly powerful in extending compassion all the way from our own community to the dusty streets of Lomas Bonitas, 600 miles away.
By no means was the trip easy – I spent 16 hours sitting in a van on the day we drove down, I had never been so physically and emotionally exhausted, and I knew absolutely no Spanish, so communication was both embarrassing and fairly impossible.
However, I choose to look at it this way: I got to sit by the window and gaze out as the van rolled past the incredible Mexican coastline; I learned that where my abilities stop, God’s begin; I was shown by some amazing kids that love doesn’t speak a certain language, but manifests itself through laughter and patience and generosity and even a scrappy soccer game.
The week was certainly emotional, full of tears both good and bad. I cried out of heartbreak for the people who were locked in such suffocating poverty, out of desperation for the kids who might never make it out, and out of remorse that I had ever been ungrateful when I have been so abundantly blessed. But the good – the good was humility, compassion, awe, prayer, joy, and an overwhelming sense of God’s power.
In my one week in the mission field, I learned that when you allow Him to, God will change you from the inside out.
He certainly changed me.