At the end of every school year the same things happens: the work load dwindles down, the days get shorter and eventually, the final bell rings and kids of all ages run to their cars and drive home from school for yet another summer vacation. As a recent high school graduate, it can be officially said that I’ve experienced this event as many times as I could. It came year end and year out and was always consistent. I could always count on it coming and everyone was similar to the other. The only difference this year is it was my very last time getting to do it and I never have to go back again.
Another thing that has stayed consistent throughout my life ever since I became old enough to be productive at them was going on a mission trip with my church. As a child of 2 ministers it was very easy to say that I could count on always being signed up as quickly as possible and penning it into my summer schedule. It was always exciting to go and have fun with friends and always have a task on hand, but just as the last day of school, these trips can be exciting but can also be very redundant over time. As years have gone by, it had definitely become just another thing that happened every summer. This year, however, was much more than “just another mission trip.” This year Meadow Oaks Baptist Church took on the challenge of going to Houston, Texas to work with refugees from various other countries.
Going into the mission trip to Houston, there were many things to take into account. We had never gone on this trip before, never met these people before, had no idea what their interests were, we didn’t know how many people would show up and above all, we were working with “refugees.” As anyone who watches the news should know, refugees are a hot topic today in current politics and news. We were working with people that were in the limelight of American politics right now, whether they be in it for good or bad reasons. This alone was a lot to take in and can be very intimidating for some people. Nonetheless, I remained anxious to meet these people and after many talks with our group and lessons from Butch and Nell Green, we as a mission group felt prepared to take on anything that came our way.
On our first day in Houston, we went to various houses of worship. We visited a Hindu Temple, a Mosque, a Sikh Temple, and lastly a Caodai Temple. Throughout the day we learned all about these different religions and got to meet many of the religious leaders at their respective houses of worship. Though as someone who has found interest in learning about the world and read many articles on other religions, there was nothing like being in the buildings and seeing it all first hand. Though it was known that we were Christian and differed in faith from these people, they were extremely respectful, kind, and eager to tell us about their beliefs. It was a long day and we as a congregation definitely got a different look at the world around us.
The next two days, however, were the truly tiring days. From 10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm, our group from Meadow Oaks went to an apartment complex and played games, sang songs, told stories, and even did crafts with anyone that happened to come by looking for a good time. We spent a couple of months planning games, crafts, songs, and divvying up our group to be leaders. We came in knowing, however, that we could never be fully prepared for what we would be getting ourselves into. We met all sorts of kids that varied from age 5 to age 18. Though it was awkward at first, in about an hour you would’ve thought we were lifelong friends. It seemed as though all of our planning went out the window not because we planned poorly or they wouldn’t cooperate with us, but because we all got along so well that we just went with whatever would happen. There was no discrimination in the activities. Kids’ young and old did crafts, sang songs, participated in recreation and even helped the youth play pranks on our older team members. The younger ones would hug up on all of us and the older ones would crack jokes and talk to us like we’d known them forever. The parents of the children would come by and would talk to us and even make crafts with us, though they would usually forego the recreation part. It was truly unbelievable how smoothly everything went. It was fun, inclusive and helped us build relationships with people we’d never thought we’d see in our lives.
Though it was a tiring two days, I can easily say it was some of the most interesting and fun days I’ve had in a while. The kids never gave me a dull moment and we even made some new friends that couldn’t wait for us to come back next year. Everyone we met was truthfully special, unique and above all, extremely cooperative and kind. Though I was tired and ready to be home, I was sad to leave my new friends that I made in Houston, Texas. I’ve since returned to my home in Temple, Texas and have been able to do lots of mental and spiritual reflection on the trip. Though I could not even begin to unravel all of the political standpoints on refugees, just as I cannot speak for anyone else but myself, I feel that through the power of friendship, love and the grace of God, I have become a better person from my time I spent in Houston, Texas.
As someone from a somewhat small town, who lives comfortably and has gone through the same routine of high school for four years, it is extremely easy to get stuck in my own bubble that I call life. Though I can view the news from my television and know what is going on in the world, there is nothing more sobering than being able to experience it firsthand. First of all, it was demonstrated to me that just because something is different, doesn’t make it bad; it just makes it different. We can have very different faiths/beliefs and yet still respect other people and their faiths. That was very much shown to me on our tour of the different houses of worship. The way that these people of different religions treated me with kindness, respect and welcomed me with open arms showed me that we can have friends from all walks of life. The refugees, however, made me apply that lesson the entire week. Though I knew not of their struggles, their everyday lives, or the various other ways they differed from me, none of it seemed to matter while I was with them. To me, those refugee children I spent time with were just like any kind and normal person you would ever meet. Though I have no idea if they were Christian, Islamic, Hindu, or any other religion, I know that I saw God through their smiles, bright eyes and open hearts.
In present day Christianity Matthew 22:36-40 and Matthew 25:40 are always referenced for us to live by. Every Sunday it seems we are taught to love God and our neighbor, and that when we minister to the “least of these” we are ministering to Jesus. I believe that it is easy to fall into a routine however, just like I fell into the routine of going on a mission trip every summer and school ending nearly the exact same way. We help out our friends and we give to charity, but this trip to Houston opened my eyes and gave me a reminder and new perspective on what those verses say. Those children I played with and talked with are my neighbor just as much as my lifelong friends, and though I went to minister to those “refugee” children, I believe they gave much more to me than I could’ve ever hoped to give to them. They helped me get out of my bubble, experience new things and see God from a whole new perspective. I can say that I am proud to have been a part of Meadow Oaks Baptist Church’s Houston trip. I can also say that I am proud to have a friend in my congregation, Jesus, and the refugees from Houston, Texas.