It has been nearly six months since Tim and I (and a fellow colleague and new found friend) returned from our physical therapy service trip to Costa Rica. It has taken me a while to truly process my experience while serving in such a beautiful country. This process was certainly derailed by my reading of the book, Doing Good Is Simple by Chris Marlow (founder of Help One Now) shortly after returning home. A book I highly recommend if you’re looking for ways to serve others! And one that I wish I had read prior to my trip not after…
Prior to leaving (with a vague itinerary), I felt ready for whatever situation we may be placed in while serving there…I was so wrong! I was guilty of thinking I had the perspective I needed for this trip. Reading articles, watching videos, talking with others, etc did nothing to prepare me for the emotions that would hit me hard throughout our service project.
Myself and a colleague had the bittersweet pleasure of getting to work at a place called Manos Abiertas. What a special place this is, and one that will forever be etched on my heart! This place is so full of life, even amidst an undertow of suffering. The many stories of suffering were overshadowed by the amazing staff and volunteers, who are caring for some of the most vulnerable children and adults in Costa Rica. At times, the joy on the residents’ and staffs’ faces were almost palpable, which was inspiring after hearing about the many struggles they endured. This is the kind of place that can be hard on the heart, but so worth taking your heart to. A place I truly hope to return to someday!
My trip reflection
It may seem cliche, but hindsight truly is 20/20, especially after a trip like this. My pre-trip, somewhat naive self learned so much more than bargained for throughout the many eye-opening and heartfelt experiences. Following this retrospection I’ve discovered three repeating thoughts that will hopefully result in a greater impact during my future adventures, here in the States and abroad.
The first, WHO is the trip impacting?
Prior to the trip, I was looking forward to how I would be able to impact the people I came in contact with during my time there. However, by the end, I was realizing just how much of an influence they were having on me. Looking back, the ebb and flow of the relationships I made were very much one of mutual give and take. And being more aware of this kind of connection and realizing how important this two-sided relationship benefits both, will only add to my future mission experiences.
The second is, HOW are you impacting the people and the community?
Pondering the ways in which your time and effort will impact the people you are there to serve is something I considered, but didn’t intentionally think about until I was in Costa Rica. Since I had never traveled outside the US for something like this before, I really had no idea what to expect. Finding ways to make your service impact more than just the people you directly work with is important. Encouraging those you connected with to then go out into their community and inspire others is where success is found.
And lastly, WHAT impact are you leaving behind?
This to me, is by far the most important thing to consider before signing up for a service or mission trip. Knowing how the organization maintains relationships (long after you’ve come and gone) in the community you’re serving is crucial to the long term benefits of the people living there. This is one thing I had never really considered until reading countless articles on the ways short-term mission trips and pop-up mission organizations can sometimes be a detriment to the communities visited and how much more an area can flourish with lasting support. Which is why finding a company that had an established presence in the community was crucial for me.
I encourage you to take a trip and experience different cultures, hear other languages, and learn about the ways of life outside the safety of your community, it may just be the best thing you could do…at least it has been for me!
Love God, Love People, Serve Others ❤️