I had never been on a mission trip before, and up until a few months ago I can honestly say that I had no desire to go on a mission trip. I like things like bed, tv, showers, starbucks, etc. Essentials that I am comfortable having and don't want to do without. Recently however I started reading about Christian revolutionaries and radicals and something inside me started to hunger after doing God's will. My sister in law Rachel had worked for an organization called Presbyterian Disaster Assistance who are currently down in Louisiana and Mississippi rebuilding homes that were damaged during hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Gustav, so our young adults group at church decided we would go and lend a hand. (no I didn't meet Brad Pitt or Mike Holmes)
Having no experience in construction or carpentry and being overall a pretty lousy painter I wasn't exactly sure why I was going. We had to fill out skill assessment sheets, asking us to rate our skills from 1 to 5, 1 being "what's a hammer?" and 5 being professional trades person. mine was 1's all across the board, except for the "cooking" slot where I lied and put a 4, and the "pastor" slot, where most people put "N" for no, I lied again and put a 2. I figured it was justified because that is my current career aspiration, lol.
we had a good trip down, although very turbulent during our descent into New Orleans, but I jokingly said "Don't worry guys, we have too much work to do to die right now. On our way home though, we might not be so lucky." I was trying to ease their nerves through humor, it didn't work.
We arrived in camp, and it was everything that I had feared about mission trips. No bed, instead I got an army cot that my feet hung off the edge of at night. I'm a short man too, so I felt bad for everyone over 5'10" in our group. We slept in large Quansit tents, which are large pieces of canvas stretched over pipes on top of a wooden floor. There were no bathrooms, instead there were blue porto-potties that in the heat of the Mississippi sun felt like detention booths for prisoners of war. We showered in a trailer, we ate in a tent, we cooked in a 10x10 room with 2 industrial stoves and an industrial oven that made the room temperature rise to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It was terrifying.
Day one was excruciating and exhausting. We went to the house expecting to paint (although with our skill set I'm surprised they let us anywhere near a work site) instead however we ended up having to clean up broken bits of drywall, sweep all the dust off the floor, wash down the walls, only to realize they needed to be re-mudded and re-sanded. We kept looking at our watches only to see time almost going backwards. Here we were, a bunch of no-skilled Canadians in 86 degree weather, on a construction work site, rebuilding a house for some people we've never met. I don't think we could have been more out of our element. It was so hot we had to take a break every hour. I remember thinking around 3:30 (we stopped working around 5) "I can't do 4 more days of this..." We brought our lunch with us the first day, but drove back to camp every other day just so we could spend 10 minutes round trip in the air conditioned cars.
Day two was a little bit better, we were more organized, we got a little bit more accomplished and we had set the groundwork to begin painting the next day. We also went out after work to have dinner in town and take a tour of the damage along the coast.
Day three was a turning point for me. I we started painting, we set our sites on God and dedicated the work to him, and what helped out a lot was we stopped looking at our watches. We were still sanding for most of the day, but we also started painting. Sarah, our friend Colleen and I were in the "kitchen" (I say "Kitchen" because that's what it will be eventually) we got the ceiling painted and the edging on the walls.
Day four was a great day. I met the home owner. I had seen her milling around here and there throughout the week, but I hadn't had a chance to introduce myself yet. She walked in while we were putting the first coat on the walls of the kitchen. Her eyes just lit up, she loved the colour. She didn't care that we got a bit on the ceiling (which we fixed later on) she didn't care that it was patchy (we fixed that too) she was just ecstatic to have paint on the walls. She just walked in, took a deep breath and with an enormous smile and a southern accent said "thank you. Y'all have a very special place in heaven waiting for you." It was at that point that I remembered Matthew 25:40 where it says "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
I wasn't talking to some southern lady, I was talking to Jesus. That was really special to me. I painted for 10 and a half hours that day. I started at 9:00 am, and my group dragged me away at 8:30 pm. I was exhausted, but I got such a kick out of how much she loved seeing paint. We got 5 rooms painted that day, so it was worth it.
Day five was a half day, we quit working after lunch to go into New Orleans. Sarah and I caught a mule drawn carriage tour of the french quarter and then we went out for dinner and caught a live Jazz band. I ate an alligator. It was awesome.
Six months ago I didn't ever want to go on a mission trip. After my week in Mississippi I now have the missions bug under my skin. Suddenly once I realized exactly why I was down there I didn't mind pooping in a blue box, or showering in a trailer or sleeping in a tent. In fact I loved doing it. When I proposed to my wife my exact words were "we are going to be broke-ass-poor. But I love you. I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?" I said that because I work retail, and that makes me poor. I see now that it was more of a prophecy, we're going to be poor because we're supposed to be missionaries... which is a lot better than retail. lol.