I will never forget the best mission trip experience I ever had. I took twenty-two teenagers to Puerto Rico to serve at a kid’s camp for a short-term mission trip. After leading dozens of youth ministry trips, I can honestly say this was the best youth trip ever! The reason this trip entailed such awesomeness is because I did the best job preparing everyone for the experience! Well, actually that’s quite far from the truth.

The reality is, when I first brought up the idea of going to Puerto Rico it wasn’t well received. Some parents and leaders told me it was too expensive and it would involve a ton planning. Others worried there wasn’t enough time to prepare the student’s spiritually. A few parents told me Puerto Rico was too dangerous and they wouldn’t allow their kid to go. The list of reasons kept growing of why we shouldn’t go but I plowed through the discouragement convinced God was calling us to go.

When I started planning and trying to get people committed there were so many fails! Students kept signing up and dropping out. I didn’t ask for enough of a deposit ahead of time which is a lesson now learned. I felt like we were losing money and enthusiasm. Months passed and I ran into difficulties in my personal life as well. After having a baby, and being incredibly sick, hospitalized, experiencing the loss of my father; the last thing I cared about anymore was planning this trip to Puerto Rico.

Spring came and I was slowly regaining physical and emotional strength again. Students were still trying to drop out. I was so angry already at this dumb trip that hasn’t happened yet! I couldn’t help but think everyone was right when they said it was a bad idea. I told my husband I was about to pull the plug. That’s when he reminded me that I felt called by God to go so I needed to focus on listening to God’s voice (This is ironic because “Listening to God” was the theme when we were in Puerto Rico set up by the organization). I continued to hear negative voices from a parent about how students were not spiritually prepared enough to go. I started thinking last minute how I could fix this… and that’s when I heard God’s voice in my head say, “It’s not up to you. Don’t you think I am already preparing them?” Whatever that means! I decided to get out of the way and trust in God’s sovereignty.

So how should one plan for the best mission trip ever? Honestly, I have no idea. All I did was had a few informational planning meetings with a few spiritual things thrown in. I don’t really believe in making students jump through a bunch of hoops in order to go on a trip. However, I do see value in preparing and prepping teens for such an intense experience. Yet, in this season of my life I just wasn’t able to piece all that together very well.  But it still was one of the most epic experiences of all time because God showed up. This had NOTHING to do with what I did or didn’t do. 

It has everything to do with the fact that God was present. I had several students and leaders tell me it was the best trip of their life! They expressed to me it was the first time they really experienced the Holy Spirit. I saw more passion, more glory, and more joy in this one week than I have in very long time. It was absolutely INCREDIBLE! The students who tried to get out of the trip had the biggest turn around of all! God did miracles. So much more happened that I don’t even have words for.

When I was telling a friend of mine about my experience she reminded me there is a saying within the Mennonite committee that gets used a lot when preparing people for a year of three long mission trips. That saying is: “You cannot go where God is not.” Meaning that you are not “bringing” God to the people of (insert city or country), you are not “bringing” God into the lives of the students going on the mission trip. God is already there. And isn’t that wonderful!

Samantha Tidball
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