The Mission Trip That seemed Wrong But God Made Right

Lying on the cold airport floor, shaking and vomiting, wasn’t exactly how I thought our mission trip to Madrid would begin. As I lay there with a wet rag on my forehead, my team huddled around me and I could hear my baby crying nearby, wanting me to hold him. In that moment, I knew that this trip would humble me and break me of any self-sufficiency and pride that gripped my heart. The beginning was only a foreshadowing of the sickness to come.

The day before we left I had decided to make homemade chocolate chip cookies for our team. As always, I ate some cookie dough while I worked on the cookies and listened to music, preparing my heart for the trip. The next morning I woke up feeling nauseated and wasn’t able to eat like usual, but brushed it off due to nerves. We were taking our one year old with us and were anxious to see how traveling with a baby would be! As the day progressed and we boarded our flight to Madrid that evening, I gradually felt worse and more nauseated. A seven hour plane ride through the night with a baby that refused to sleep didn’t help the nausea. By the time we landed my stomach was hurting and my body felt weak.

Thus began the mission trip that went completely wrong.

Expect The Unexpected

At an early age my parents began teaching me about the importance of missions in the life of a Jesus-follower. The first missionary biography I read was “Through The Gates of Splendor” by Elisabeth Elliot. The story of Jim Elliot’s heroic faith and Elisabeth’s steadfast, enduring perseverance even after her husband was killed by the very people he sought to share Christ with gripped my heart. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot obeyed the Great Commission, even to the end when discomfort, the unexpected, and even death greeted them. Their example taught me that the Great Commission is not a command to be considered, but rather a heaven-sent, eternity-driven charge to be obeyed.

After reading this biography, I knew God was calling me to a life of mission. Over the following 15 years, I went on every mission trip I could, traveling from various states and countries to share Christ with those who have not heard. Every time I have gone on a mission trip I have felt like I was exactly where God wanted me to be. His heartbeat becomes audible. My experience with missions up until this point had been somewhat ideal, that is, until last week when I was laying on the airport floor wondering how I would get up to walk through passport control with our team.

The unexpected is never on our radar (or it wouldn’t be unexpected). We are always surprised when things don’t go how we have planned. I never dreamed that I would be sick on the very mission trip my husband was leading! I never imagined myself ending up in the hospital needing fluids, sitting in a room full of strangers while watching an IV drip slowly into my veins and wondering if I would finally feel better. I never would have thought that I would spend the next few days aching in bed instead of serving with our team. The unexpected can knock the wind out of our souls and dry us up in an instant. 

But sometimes God uses the unexpected trials of life to be the empty cup with which He fills us with new mercies that we would have never seen through the eyes of ease. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot learned this firsthand in their unexpected trials of life on mission. Last week, God began to teach me this truth as well.

Dark Night of the Soul

Everything within me wants to write you and tell you that I was strong throughout this whole ordeal of sickness. But I wasn’t. I was weak, weary, and worn out. I felt hopeless, afraid, and alone. I was confused and doubtful and questions constantly plagued my heart. Why would God send me to another country to serve and share the gospel knowing I would get sick? Not only that, but why would He allow us to take our child knowing that I wouldn’t be able to care for him adequately? I laid in bed each day, feeling my body fight illness while my soul took a beating as well. Spiritual warfare was raging within my heart and prevailing at my low moments. 

My desperation and discouragement hit the depths when I couldn’t even make myself cry. My body was so weak and without nutrition that I couldn’t muster up tears to display the state of my heart. On Saturday, I was lying in bed scrolling through pictures on my phone. Our team had been out serving and exploring and my heart felt heavy with embarrassment and disappointment. I stopped when I saw a photo I had taken a few days before we left for our trip. I had grabbed my Pawpaw’s Bible and opened to one of the tattered pages that he had thumbed through countless times. The words on the page read:

It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3:22 KJV)

At that moment, my heart's defenses laid down its weapons and I succumbed to God’s infinite grace. This sickness, this disappointment, this weariness would not consume me, the Holy Spirit whispered into my heart. God’s mercies will. As I read these words and let them soak through my parched soul, tears began to stream down my face. These tears were proof that God would bring me through this trial.

It wasn't sunshine and rainbows the next few days. I still went to the hospital again and I still struggled physically, but I kept pulling out my flashlight of hope and shining it when the enemy tried to make me think I was being consumed. 

The hardest moments of life are often the tools God uses to release the grip our hands have on the false anchors of this world. I had prepared for this mission trip expecting it to be another spiritual high and was surprised when it was an all-time low. The dark night of my soul ended up allowing me to see more clearly through God’s flashlight of hope. 

Flashlight of Hope

As I sat in this foreign hospital, listening to everyone speak a different language around me, taking in the moment, I felt a strange comfort that God was with me, even in that unfamiliar place. They placed an IV in my arm, said a few words I didn’t understand, and then left me in this room filled with others receiving their IV’s as well. For over an hour I sat in that uncomfortable, blue chair, watching the fluids drip slowly into my veins. It felt like an eternity. But I kept thinking about those words: because of His mercies, this would not consume me, God’s grace will. 

Nothing will ever consume us more than His mercies, and it is a beautiful thing to be consumed by the mercies of God.

Each time fear began to occupy the residence of my heart, God pushed it out with these words. Like a flashlight shining in utter darkness, Lamentations 3:22 was God’s flashlight of hope to my weary soul. The words of Scripture redirected my thoughts and reaffirmed my heart that God would be faithful in this and would redeem my suffering for His glory. He wouldn’t forsake me in my moment of need and He wasn't surprised by my suffering. Instead, He wanted me to know Him more intimately through it all, because that is how good He is. 

Missions: Discomfort for His Glorious Comfort

After five, long days of sickness passed I was finally able to join our team, this time with a keen awareness that it is by God’s grace that we live, move, and breathe. I walked into the trip with a puffed up heart and ended up with my face in the dust. Humility is a beautiful, but hard thing. God used our mission trip that went wrong to show us the right way to view missions for the glory of God. It is not about our comfort or a spiritual high, it is about knowing Him through the process of sanctification, making Him known wherever He leads us (even to a hospital room), and becoming more like Him along the journey. 

Because we live in a fallen world, we will pass through discomfort. Isaiah 43:2 promises us, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” These verses don’t say “if” you pass through the waters, but rather “when.” Suffering is inevitable, and God’s grace will always sustain us. Nothing will be able to consume us other than the grace of God. The discomfort of this world teaches us to find comfort in Christ and in our eternal hope. 

If your idea of missions is not firmly rooted in the truth of the gospel, then real mission experience can quickly cause you to feel disoriented, disillusioned, and burned out. But when our sole mission is to know Christ, make Him known, and become more like Him, then we will expect the unexpected, pull out our flashlight of hope in the dark night of our souls, and shine the light of the gospel. That is what missions is about—being light in the darkness, pointing the world to Christ. 

May we shine brightly, even when things seem to go completely wrong, knowing that God is making all things right for His glory.

shining my flashlight of hope,

Gretchen