This post may contain affiliate links. See our affiliate disclaimer here.
After I graduated high school, I traveled overseas for a mission trip in Austria. It was a pretty prestigious thing in my eyes. Each year, my church took a group of high school students to teach English and share Jesus with youth there. We would arrive in Vienna and travel by train out to the foothills of the country. We would sleep in a hostel high upon a hill that looked out over the nearest town. I’d seen the pictures. It looked poetically beautiful just like where Fraulein Maria fell in love with Captain Von Trapp.
After arriving stateside, the group of young missionaries would all come together on the stage of our church and share the messages they learned abroad. It touched my heart as they cried and laughed and remembered all the stories of people I’d never met. I envied their stories of influence and love and decided next year, I too would travel to Austria.
There’s a pretty deep division in my church. Well, in my high school eyes at least. Half of our youth group attended local private schools. They wore Hollister jeans and Abercrombie shirts. But I went to public school and I really liked my shirts from Kohls. They always seemed better than us. They almost intimidated me out of signing up for the trip, but they didn’t succeed.
I filled out my application and tried my best to answer the questions about why I wanted to go and what I expected from the adventure. Only ten of us students would travel together with three adult leaders from our church. Instead of feeling excitement when I was chosen, I felt nervous knowing this trip would be life-changing and radical. I attended camping trips and ski trips with my church before, but never pure mission work and never in a different country.
When I met everyone attending the trip, I was surprised to find how normal they all appeared. Just high school kids like me. Holding true to my theory, half of them attended public schools like me and the other half wore Chacos and french braided their hair like true Christian teens. They still intimidated me. We attended a team meeting where our youth pastor gave us guidelines and advice for how to prepare for the trip and how to raise the thousands of dollars needed to fly across the globe for two weeks. After that, other than awkward hellos on Sundays, I didn’t see my mission trip mates very much.
The two weeks in Europe rushed by with each day filled to the brim with memories bookended by long flights and layovers in London. We awed historic sites built a thousand years ago and swam in a pool that felt like it was a glacier weeks earlier. The views dropped jaws and copious amounts of pictures were taken.
But it isn’t beauty or history or buildings that change lives and create memories. It’s people.
My best memories are sitting next to Theresa on the bus ride to Krumau, a palace in Czech Republic, and hearing about her family and her dreams. We sang together and she showed me what she knew on guitar. We talked for hours on the bus and back at our hostel.
My best memories are listening to Janine and Katharina perform some something in German that I completely didn’t understand and then listen to them try to explain it in broken English. I laughed and they laughed and I learned quickly that laughter knows no language barrier.
My best memories are talking with my roommate Anita about her siblings and her boyfriends and sharing in her heartbreaks and worries.
My best memories are befriending the private school girls from my church who I imagined to be self-righteous and proud, but found them to be insecure and imperfect just like me.
I think that was the whole point of my trip. I know it was a “mission trip” and we did share the Gospel and rejoice in the stories of our new friends coming to Christ. But God changed my mind just as much as he changed hearts.
People are really just people.
I think we get really in our heads about things sometimes. Maybe it’s just me, but we paint these larger than life pictures of the people around us, when they are just as flawed as you and me.
They always have it together.
They always have a plan.
They always look amazing.
They always have a Pumpkin Spice Latte in hand.
It’s a foolish way of thought, but we often trap ourselves in it ogling in jealousy over outfits and jobs and new cars. It’s a waste of your brain power really.
Sometimes I forget this and conveniently forget all that God has taught me. I catch myself shrinking into the background imagining the lives of those more beautiful, more talented people playing out on the stages of life. They sparkle and shine and everyone likes their Facebook statuses.
But they are just people like you and people like me with hopes and dreams and fears and failures. It’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re caught in the trials of life and no one is there to empathize. But they are just people in need of love and friendship just like you and me. We’re just people.