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Short Term Missions: Beat the Fear, Taste the Joy

By Susan Fikse, Oct 1, 2013
In their book Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris say that one of the hardest “hard things” for teenagers is stepping out of their comfort zone. “Everybody likes to feel strong and smart. That means as soon as we start to feel stretched or pushed past our limits, we hit the brakes, slam into reverse, and scoot back to our comfort zones.” This spring, 16 teens from Florida resisted that impulse and launched from their comfort zone into “the God zone” on an MTW short-term missions trip to Jamaica.

“Teenagers want to be cool, and this kind of trip breaks through some of that …,” said Mick Weltin, the youth pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs, who led the team. “When you get out of your comfort zone in Jamaica, it’s easier to get out of your comfort zone back home.”

Assembling a packing list a month in advance and mapping out precise daily activities, Gabrielle DiNardo thought she knew exactly what she needed to do in preparation for her shortterm mission to Jamaica. But even planning ahead didn’t enable her to squeeze comfort into this zone. In true missions trip style, plans changed. “It helped me to realize that I’m not in control of everything,” said Gabrielle. “I need to adapt to changes.” She said this lesson will stick with her in a big way. “I learned that the point of the missions trip is to make the missions world your daily world.

You are supposed to come at your normal life with the same attitude [you had on] the missions trip …. Put others’ needs above your own. Change your plans. Trust God.”

Entering the God Zone Jessica Monteiro, another member of the short-term team agreed. “We need to trust in Him. When we do, we’re not in a comfort zone, but a God zone!” Her most poignant moment of forsaking her comfort zone for the “God zone” was in a Jamaican infirmary where elderly people were packed 14 to each dorm-sized room. Jessica remembers spotting a woman in a corner, lying on her side, immobile. Flies swarmed all over her because she was unable to move enough to swat them away. Jessica’s eyes fixed on the woman’s wrist, where a bracelet read: Jesus. “I asked her if she knew who Jesus was,” Jessica remembered. “I’ll never forget the hope in her eyes. She said, ‘Jesus, no sweeter name.’ That was a WOW moment! You look at where she is and she is still able to say that there’s no sweeter name than Jesus. It was amazing. It’s the hope we all have.”

For Gabrielle, leaving her comfort zone behind may be an enduring theme as she heads to college this fall. “Being on a missions trip, you can see your role in God’s ministry in a bigger way,” she said. “I’m thinking about becoming certified to teach English as a second language. I wouldn’t have seen how I could use my gifts and personality and interests in this way unless I had tried it.” Gabrielle realized that in Jamaica, “you don’t have to go to seminary or even be a missionary doctor — if you are somewhere, helping someone, showing God’s love, you are a missionary.”

A Foundation for Growth
During the intensity of their week in Jamaica, the Coral Springs missions team left the comfort zone of their high school social groups and coalesced in ways youth group meetings never accomplished. “One of my favorite parts of the trip was when we finished work, we had worship together,” explained Gabrielle. “Some of the seniors spoke and led Bible studies. We talked about what we did for the day, how we reacted and how we felt. It helped me to get to know the students on the team.” For teenagers, expanding friendship and trust among their peers might be the hardest “hard thing” of all.

Jessica and Gabrielle, along with their teammates, dared to defy their longing for comfort and embrace the unknown in Jamaica. In this way, authors Alex and Brett Harris would say that these students have built a launching pad for the future. “If we want to continue to grow and learn for the rest of our lives, we must beat these fears—not by making them go away, but by recognizing that there is something worse than discomfort, worse than the unknown, worse than failure,” they said. “The worst thing is to never try at all.” As they leave the comfort of their homes, church, and youth group for college, Jessica, Gabrielle, and their teammates go in the confidence that they have endured discomfort, refused to be paralyzed by fear, and experienced the strength, peace, and joy of “the God zone.”




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