After traveling to Uganda, Kolkata, and La Moskitia for my internship with Kingsland, I had the opportunity to pick from the youth mission trips for my final venture.
So naturally, in keeping with the theme of exotic, international locations, I selected Montana.
There were several reasons I chose the trip, most of which were very selfish and unspiritual, in the name of shooting you guys straight.
First, I knew I wasn't going to make it up to Colorado at any point this summer, and I needed some mountains. Second, I knew the weather would be dry and not hot. (Or at least not AS hot, because, surprise, the state was experiencing an "unusual heat wave" while we were there. I silently wondered if I was, like, the Jonah of this trip or something, cursing everyone because I was too lazy to go sweat for Jesus in Nicaragua.) Third, it was just a 3ish-hour plane ride away, and the 16-hour one to India just a few months prior was still fresh enough in my mind to make that sound glorious.
BUT, I'm not an entirely ungrateful little travel brat, I promise. I had more significant reasons backing my choice.
The trip was led by the one and only Chris Kincaid, for starters, with whom I hadn't gotten to work much. The 10th graders were rumored to be a really fun class, and many of them were siblings of either 8th grade or senior kids I'd already had the privilege of leading in life groups or at Kamp, so there were some connections there for me.
Most of all, anyone and everyone who had been involved with the trip in the past just raved about it. I decided that if I was only going to get one youth mission trip with KBC, it might as well be the one that others who had been on all of them said was their favorite, right?
So, with a host of reasons selfish and selfless alike and the recommendations of many, I jumped on a plane with thirtyish 16-year-olds and valiant adult leaders on July 8 and headed northwest.
"A mission trip to Montana?," you ask? Yep. Believe it or not, Montana is one of the least churched states in the nation, with a uniquely tough culture to reach.
Think about it — it's not an easy environment to live in, at the most basic, natural level. It's cold. It's dry. It's beautiful, but unforgiving. It's isolating, too — a massive, sprawling place with a low population. It takes an awfully resilient, self-sufficient, and determined sort of person to call Montana home — and awfully stubborn sort of love and commitment to convince that sort of person of their need for the Gospel.
So each year, Kingsland partners with a missionary couple in Helena to bring a herd of high school sophomores to the area and offer a helping hand to those ministries already loving and serving the local community in that stubborn way.
It's an honor to come alongside long-haul churches and organizations and, if only for a week, give them a breather from and a standing ovation for the hard work they do day in and out.
We rotated the kids through different service projects during the day (the adults stayed at one spot, which for me meant Farm in the Dell, a farm offering therapy and jobs for special needs adults, be still my heart). In the evenings, we regrouped for a fun activity of some sort, and there was daily time for worship and Bible study. We swapped stories each night of the things we'd experienced and learned throughout the day. We hiked Mount Helena, and I got teary, as I typically do at the top of mountains — because it just puts everything in perspective, and I get the most visceral glimpse of the majesty of my God.
And while I loved everything we did — the missions part of the mission trip and all that — my honest-to-goodness favorite part of it all were the one-on-one or small group conversations I had every day with students. Not a day passed that I didn't get the chance to look a teenager in the eye and tell them I was proud of them, or how I saw Jesus in them, or that high school may be terrible but they're going to be okay.
You're a leader.
You're a joy.
You're the kind of man or woman the world needs more of.
Almost nothing, for me, tops getting to help another person see themselves the way their Heavenly Father sees them. Even if it's just a glimpse.
And to be a part of so many glimpses throughout that week — to see a flicker behind their eyes, to see them relax in their own skin, to see them rise up and recognize truth — makes me laugh and makes me cry and brings me to my knees. It's better than I deserve. I never, ever get over that. I HAVE GOOSEBUMPS RIGHT NOW, GUYS.
It truly doesn't make sense, given the lineup of places I traveled this year, for Helena, Montana to come out on top. But it did, you guys. It was my favorite trip — probably the best week of my whole internship, in fact.
It was sweet and it was spacious and it was good, good, good. The perfect way for me to wrap up my season in Katy. Couldn't be more grateful.