Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Memoirs of a Summer Missionary

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . I was a summer missionary. For ten weeks during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I volunteered to serve as a missionary in Topeka, Kansas. In the hopes that you won’t do the math on my age, that was twelve years ago. Twelve years may not seem like much, but a lot has changed in that amount of time!

The reason I’m writing about this is because we have had a young lady staying with us for the better part of the summer doing the same thing. Interestingly, she is my namesake, and she is from the South. But that is where the extent of our shared experiences ends. As I have watched her connecting with family and friends back home via Facebook and texting, it has made me reflect back on my own lack of communication when I was an SM.

I was only nineteen when I signed up to serve. I honestly had no idea what was in store for me that summer. I had only been on two short-term (one week) mission trips with the BCM group at my college. So ten weeks away from home sounded like a grand, somewhat intimidating adventure. Ironically, it was my husband that convinced me to apply (although we just dating at the time). Jeromy was going to be headed to Colorado for the second time as an SM. I don’t remember having a strong preference as to where I wanted to go, so I ended up in the ever-fascinating, very flat state of Kansas.

The day I left, some of my family came with Jeromy to see me off at the McDonald’s parking lot where I joined the Alabama caravan of missionaries. Approximately ten of us loaded ourselves and our belongings into a 15-passenger van and a small trailer in the back. And let me assure you, there were no laptops or cell phones in our possession. Imagine if you will, ten young people driving across the country like that, and with no supervision. I think the most memorable part of the trip was when one of the guys passed out on the side of the road while we were trying to take a picture of the group in front of a “Welcome to [insert state name here]” sign.

Thankfully, we all made it to our destinations safe and sound. I ended up living with this terrific family who had three daughters, ranging in age from toddler to preteen. They really welcomed me and my giant duffle bag into their home. I don’t think I ever really wore out my welcome, unless you count the time they went out of town for a week and I accidentally let their swimming pool turn green. They even graciously accepted my lovesickness and endless letter-writing to Jeromy. You see, as I said before, these were the days before Facebook, instant messaging, and cell phone texting. We had a limited landline phone card and “snail mail.” To this day, we have saved the letters we wrote to one another during that summer, and they fill up two huge three-ring binders. I bet our parents spent a fortune on stamps that summer!

One of the first weeks I was there, I went with a youth group to a week-long camp. That was a hard week for me, because I didn’t really know anybody yet. And being at the camp, I didn’t have much access to a phone. There was only one pay phone on site, and I could only get to it maybe twice the entire week.

Being cut off from communicating with my family and friends back home was certainly difficult at times. But I honestly think it was good for me. It forced me to turn to the Lord more, and to rely on Him to be my companion. Which is the kind of relationship He desires with all of us anyway! Unfortunately, I think the technological advances made in recent years have become more of a detriment than a benefit, especially for people like our SM. Some of our co-workers here in Chicagoland also have SM’s working with them, and they have made the same observations. It’s hard to explain without sounding negative, but I think that these young people are really missing out on some special, intimate times with the Lord. If they didn’t have such easy access to friends and family back home, they’d have to do as I did just twelve years ago – find out firsthand what Jesus meant when He described Himself as our friend.

Obviously we can’t go back in time, or reverse the effects of technology. I’m not even saying that I want to do that. But perhaps there is a way we can find a balance. Perhaps we can somehow manage to teach the next generation what it truly means to be still and know that He is God. This is my goal. And something very valuable that I learned about when I was a summer missionary.