Today’s guest post is written by my beautiful friend (and author !!) Katie Blackburn. Katie has a heart of gold and a way with words; you can keep up with her writing here and purchase her slimbook here.
There were a lot of things that made the trip hard: the decision to go alone, mediocre Spanish skills, inconsistent internet at best, the mosquitoes in my room every night, the International Blackberry that refused to work as soon as we left Miami, the boyfriend in Iraq who I just wanted to talk to, and the broken leg that cut it short, to name a few.
Colombia is a beautiful country—it’s mountainous and green and vibrant and has the hospitable charm that so characterizes the Hispanic culture. But it also has a violent history and is still breaking away from the reputation that it earned in the last few decades as a hotspot of drugs and guerilla warfare. The fear of the recent past still lingers there in many muted, intangible ways. For me, that fear manifested itself as paranoia, and I felt like I always had to come up just a little bit short of fully trusting someone. When you travel by yourself, that fear is a really hard thing to manage. This juxtaposition of beauty and worry, carefree enjoyment and looking over my shoulder was something I had to navigate like never before.
Still, three years have gone by since my summer trip to Colombia, and I have learned a few things in the way that all good lessons are learned: through the twenty-twenty lens of hindsight.
I went to Colombia because every good Christian girl is supposed to go on a mission trip. You didn’t know that? (She says with sarcasm). I went because I had something I like to call “poverty-picture-envy” towards all of my friends who went away for a short while and came back with hundreds of pictures of themselves hugging and snuggling with gorgeous brown faces. I went because I thought people would think highly of my selfless, servant attitude. I went because I did want to practice my Spanish. I went because I wanted others to think I was brave. I went for all the wrong reasons.
The trip to Colombia was about me, all about me. And the lesson: that is just not how it works. Pretty simple, really. The list of hard things was only hard because I was, to put it bluntly, being a princess about them (except the broken leg, that actually was painful). And even though I was blind to them in the moment, the daily lessons I was living in were pointing to something about me that I did not go to Colombia looking for, but ended up finding all the same: the more I focused on myself, the less joy was there at the end. The more it was about Jesus and about others, the more life-giving it became.
And you know, there were a lot of things that made the trip amazing, too: the prayers (oh, do Pentecostal Colombians ever know how to pray—it’s beautiful!), the English classes (“tee-sher, tee-sher, tee-sher, puedo decir “Hi, owww are you?”!!), the food (amen, and amen), the laughter (because American girls with bad accents are funny in Spanish), and the openness (everyone, really everyone, has a story that they want to be heard). These things are beautiful memories in my mind today, beautiful and so authentic. But when I was in them, I couldn’t squeeze them into an agenda that made a big deal out of me, and I think, in the end, that is why the trip was so hard— not the language or the internet or the broken phone or the mosquito bites. It was my own heart.
I would tell you today that this trip to Colombia was the most important trip I have ever taken, because even though I didn’t serve the way I would want to now, it still changed who I want to be and how I want to live. And it is still true in any season of life that the more I focus on myself or what I am getting out of something, the less joyful I am about it. And it’s also still true that whether it is work or friendships or service or motherhood, the more it is truly for and about others, the more life-giving it is.