This summer I went on a short-term missions trip to the tiny island country of Dominica as a chaperone with (I think – because I never actually personally counted them all since I was just responsible for my small group) 56 students from our church. It was my first missions trip. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. But don’t think for one second that I wouldn’t do it again in a heartbeat.
These were the things I thought about in the six months leading up to the trip (Six months is a long time to think.):
- I wonder if I will be able to sleep at night in the heat. (We didn’t have AC, y’all. And it was HOT.)And for that matter, how would I do in the heat, period? Seriously. This was my biggest worry. You laugh, but I am such a creature of comfort.
- Why did I feel like God told me to sign up for this trip? It’s not like I’m involved in the youth ministry at our church, other than the fact that I’m a mother to two of them. I’m the orchestra girl and spend all my time at church playing music and doing administrative stuff. I go to a large church and could have signed up for any number of mission opportunities, even Hawaii. So why this one?
- Will I choke when I am presented with opportunities to share my faith story?
- I wonder how I will handle being emersed in a large group (most of whom I don’t know well) for 12 days with no alone time. This is the stuff introvert nightmares are made of, in case you’re wondering.
- Why do I feel like I don’t know anything about this trip, except for the fact that I will be hot and we’re going to Dominica? I now know the answer. Island time.
- Short-term mission trips often get a bad rap for being more harmful than beneficial and I’ve heard it talked about a lot over the last couple of years. Knowledge is power, but sometimes it immobilizes you rather than pushing you into action. Sometimes we have to lay down our questions and struggles and just get busy doing the work that Jesus calls us to, rather than analyzing whether it is being done the right way or not. I’ll pick those questions up another day. Maybe.
- My daughter and I had so many fun chats while getting ready for the trip. We wondered together about so many things. I really loved those moments.
- The evangelism training that our youth pastor gave the teenagers was phenomenal. I learned so much from sitting through it that I hope I will never forget and will help me be bolder with my faith for the long haul.
There was so much unknown in this trip for me. Now I’m back and I have the answers to my questions…well, most of them. I’ve had several people ask when I was going to write about the trip, or if I would. I’ve shared little bits of rambling from my journal on Facebook. Mostly they were just random thoughts about the island and the people there, and they’ll make it onto the blog over the next few weeks along with some more pictures. The rest I had to process…to think about and sift through the experiences, to consider their lasting impact on my life. And some I’ll share, but many I’ll probably just hold onto quietly.
One of the things we introverts tend to do is to think a lot before we say anything. That’s why many of us present really well on social media. We have time to process before responding. Whereas in real life, many of us will probably be the wallflowers or the ones that try really hard but are always slightly awkward in social situations. Put us in a coffee shop around a table with our friends and we’ll be totally different. That’s part and parcel of being an introvert.
So how does an introvert do something like spend 12 days in tight quarters with such a large group? I looked for ideas before I left but found nothing. So here’s what I wish I had known, but took me a few days to figure out. Thankfully we had 12.
Introvert Guide to Large Group Missions Trips
Find coffee. Do this…
I mean, you could drink water or milk or juice. But why? Why would you drink anything besides coffee in the morning? Coffee is everything!
I found a quiet(ish) place in the mornings, to drink my coffee, write in my journal and read my Bible … and each day my spot was a little more secluded. It started at the airport where I happily became the luggage guardian while people mulled around waiting to board. Heh.
I fell into a routine that helped me to carve out those few minutes of silence. It meant getting up super early, but that was okay. The sun was up anyway and it seemed to come naturally to get up with it. Plus I got to watch the ocean wake up. I never really knew that was a thing. But it always will absolutely be a thing in my book. A magnificent one at that.
Watch for moments that it’s okay to be silent
and then do that…be silent.
For me that meant on bus or van rides I would sit by the window in the van and become immersed in the scenery. I chatted plenty with the kids and our driver and the other chaperone on my van, of course. But I wasn’t afraid to let quiet hang in the air while I soaked in the sites either, especially when all the kids conked out, which was frequent.
Read a book.
I read for a few minutes each night before sleeping and threw my book in my bag each morning in case I had a few minutes of downtime. Usually I didn’t, but it was there if I did.
Preferably choose a really good book that either makes you think or one with a story that you can become emersed in completely. Let it be an escape. I landed on the perfect one for this trip. Sarah Bessey’s “Out of Sorts” is a memoir about sorting and sifting through an ever-changing faith. As my worldview was challenged constantly on this trip, this book ended up being such a comfort to read. It was perfectly timed and the fact that all of the essays were short meant I could pick it up and put it back down easily.
Make the choice to be grateful.
Watch for things to be grateful for. Even if it’s just a butt rock that gives you a good little giggle while you’re out on a really long hot walk! Choosing to focus on the good things that were happening helped keep me from feeling emotionally depleted. I made an effort to write down at least a few things I was grateful for each morning. FYI, having cankles from being on my feet all day long did not make my list of things to be grateful for. (After all, Paul said to be thankful in everything, not for everything.) But having Chaco’s with the new “cloud technology” and adjustable straps to accommodate the sad, swollen feet and ankles did.
If you get the chance to take a nap, do.
(I don’t have a picture of me napping for this one, y’all. But on the first morning in Dominica, this is what my bus ride was like. We were so tired that first day! And hot. Always hot.)
If you can’t sleep, at least lay still and close your eyes and pretend to be asleep if you’re feeling peopled out. People will leave you alone for a few minutes when you do this. From the girl who was afraid that she might not be able to sleep at all at the beginning of the trip, let me just say if you’re tired, even a narrow wood pew can provide a great place to take a power nap. The secret is that you must assume the same position as if you were going down a waterslide. Getting enough rest is so important!
Talk to the locals as often as you can.
I know that’s photo’s poor quality, but it’s the only one I snapped while talking to a local and it was dark outside so it turned out super grainy. Here’s the thing…I worked really hard to be present on this trip and not have my face buried in my phone. I didn’t get an international data plan. And I usually left my phone tucked in a pocket of my backpack. As a result, I came back with way fewer pictures than I hoped for.
This was Magdelena. She was a hostess to us at one of the local churches that we partnered with while in Dominica. I got to chat with her for about 30 minutes following a concert that our kids did next to a bar called Weefee’s. She was so encouraged by them and their zeal to share Jesus. I really loved talking to her. We skipped right past the small talk and dove into what it was like to serve in their local church and what they were doing to reach out into their community. She blessed me in such a big way that night.
Small talk is good to start, but if your time with them is short, keep small talk short, too. Knowing a few key questions to start a conversation ahead of time helped me overcome some of my in the moment awkwardness. And being focused on getting to a turning point where I could share my salvation story helped me tremendously. If you’re an introvert, moving quickly past small talk is such a relief! Talking to strangers is hard, but if you’re there for a purpose and you have a passion to share Jesus, the rest falls away. It really does.
Give yourself a little grace.
Lastly, if you mess up and run out of nice words to say, give yourself a little bit of grace and retreat to a quiet spot for a minute to collect yourself, or at the very least close your mouth. Pray. And definitely ask for forgiveness if you fail to do that and words tumble out of your mouth in a snarky manner and land on an innocent teen who doesn’t have an appreciation for the art of sarcasm. And yes, I had to do that, too.
I had several of the seasoned chaperones tell me they thought this trip was the hardest one our teens have been on. And I lived to tell the tale. The cankles, bug bites and scraped up knee are now a thing of the past, but the memories and the opportunities to share my faith and encourage other church ladies just like me are something I will treasure forever.
Don’t let your own personal hangups keep you from obeying when God calls you to do something, whether it’s heading off to an island with a whole passel of teenagers or teaching Sunday school or being a mentor or any other thing that may require you to step out of your comfort zone.