I went to Kenya on a short-term missions trip shortly after I finished college in 2004. Besides a few over-the-border-of-Mexico experiences, I had never been outside of the United States. This felt like a huge leap of faith to me. Though the missions trip was for just one month, it felt like an enormous amount of time, and I was nervous. I was excited though, too. Excited to see what another part of the world looked like. Excited to meet and get to know people that lived differently from me. And, excited to share the love of Jesus, something that I was powerfully passionate about.
The journey to Kenya began with a week-long training at the Adventures in Missions headquarters in Georgia. I had, at that point, traveled very little in the South. Growing up in Colorado, I was used to dry summers. The heat would build up, but the humidity almost never would. Moving to California, I experienced mostly temperate summers--not too hot and not too cold. Georgia was a whole different ballgame. It was hot and its humidity had humidity. We stayed in tents and from the minute you woke up in the morning to when you went to bed at night, you would sweat. The cold showers at the end of the day, which helped to prepare us for our rugged experiences abroad, were a God-send!
I had been so excited about my travels to Kenya, I gave little thought to training camp. It was there that I met the team that I would travel with, participated in team-building exercises, and planned towards our various outreaches and ministry opportunities together as a team. When I think back to my time in Kenya, I know that that little slice of time was setting seeds for what was to come just a few years down the road. However, what I didn't expect to learn from was that training camp.
My whole life, I have felt a bit unsure of myself when it comes to physical challenges. Though always the top of each of my classes academically in school and drawn to opportunities to use my musical and creative giftings, I shied away from organized sports. I was always the slow runner in my PE classes, the nervous one when it came to our gymnastics unit at school, and hated drawing attention to myself or disappointing a team when I didn't do well in an activity. The instant I was presented with a physical challenge, I would turn it down, minimize my abilities, or become extremely fearful that in some way, I would disappoint those around me.
A big part of the training camp were team-building activities, all set to build up the team's trust in each other, as we would need that traveling to a new place together and experiencing new experiences in a different culture. There was a wall to scale, a net to cross through, a swing from one side to another, a tire to pass through, and so much more. Every single one of the activities brought immense fear--would I be able to do it? Would I be disappointing the team if I wasn't able to complete the activity? Should I have even agreed to this at all? Day after day, I woke up with a feeling of dread--what would we face today and would I make it through without disappointing my team?
The interesting thing about building trust...it takes time and it takes practice. In one activity, we had to feed each member of the team through a different part of a rope net. My team learned that I was scared to be picked up, so they started with having me go through a lower portion where I didn't need to be lifted. Instead, I could focus on what I COULD contribute to the team. I could encourage, I could hold and help and use my own strength to carry others.
Little by little, each activity grew in its ability to challenge me to trust my team, and trust myself and my own abilities. Climbing up and over the wall, I had to trust that my team had me on the way down. Swinging over a pit, having to keep from dropping down, my team shouted encouragement and built me up to believe that I could make it over (and I did!).
The greatest challenge of trust came in having to carry each member of the team through a large tire. I knew that I could easily help carry each member of the team through the tire...but my doubts raged when it came to trusting others to do the same. My mind whirled, all the fears and insecurities that I had had over my years concerning my body and my weight all popped up in my brain, tears skirting towards the edges of my eyes. The team reassured me of their ability, and before I knew it, they had me up off the ground and through the tire and safely back on land without a second thought.
The lessons I learned at that base camp, how to trust others and even how to trust myself, I needed that trust established so that when challenges arose in the month to come, I would be able to lean into others to provide the help and the strength I needed. Like when we hiked up the hill above our tented camp during our ministry to the Masaai in the northern part of Kenya--I needed their strength to make it to the top. It was there, with my team, that we watched the sun come up over the land, the individual homes waking up with the noise of babies and baaing of goats and sheep, and it was there on top of that hillside that I saw the gentleness with which God was drawing the Masaai people to Himself. That trust was there, when during an outreach, I struggled to cross a wide gap in the land. The team all jumped over it with little struggle, but they walked alongside me until we found a narrower space for me to confidently jump across. They grabbed be steadily and encouraged me across the gap. Shortly afterwards, I was able to share the love of Jesus was a sweet family who eagerly accepted Him as their Savior.
It was this same trust...the trust required to push past the fear and the unknown...that God called me into when I was praying about coming to Ghana. His words to were exactly that, "Autumn, this is an issue of obedience. Trust and Obey." Trust...He had me. He would hold me. He would encourage me along. And He has and continues to. Over and over again, His faithfulness has been the safest place for me to land.
I've learned that fear is one of my greatest enemies. It comes along to prey on my biggest insecurities. "What if I can't?" "I'm not good enough...smart enough...strong enough..." And sometimes learning to trust, that brings along a whole host of new insecurities to prey on my mind and heart. "What if I disappoint them?" "What if I get hurt?" Trust is always a risk. Trusting others. Trusting myself. Trusting God. Every relationship requires the risk of trust. How much you lean into that place of trust also increases the risk, but it also increases the reward.
That base camp in Georgia and my time in Kenya, it taught me things about myself and about my relationship with others and with God that ultimately, changed my life. Without those lessons, I wouldn't be WHERE I am today. And I wouldn't be WHO I am today.