I recently returned from ten days in Peru on a mission trip with the student ministry at my church. Every day was different: street evangelism, building a house, playing with kids in the local community, encouraging the church there. We slept on the floor. We took cold showers. We stayed up too late.
On mission trips past, I’ve walked away feeling I’ve learned more about the poor, or about the needs all around the world, or about feeling more grateful for what I have and wanting others’ eyes to be opened the way mine were. I suppose I expected this to happen in Peru, but it didn’t. Well, not really.
In Peru, I was a “leader” on the mission trip. One of six other adults helping lead 30 students around a foreign country. As one of the “adults” I found myself stepping back and watching more than if I had been a student. I kept looking around and taking in aerial views of what I saw.
Of all the sights, experiences and conversations, I noticed a theme: openness. Openness among the Peruvians and openness among our students:
girls linking arms on a dirt path up a mountain
card games on the airport floor
spontaneous dance parties in the dining hall
Peruvian students and American students talking to each other and laughing as if they went to high school together and saw each other every day
We were there for ten days, but by the tears I watched being shed as we left for the airport, you would think we had been there much longer.
And in the open hearts that I witnessed, I saw the hesitation in my own. I saw a heart that is not as open as it used to be.
It made me think of summer camp when I was twelve. It was a fun week, I remember, and I made good friends. On the final night we all stood around and cried and hugged. We had known each other for six whole days. But then, at that age, we weren’t conscious of our own vulnerability. We weren’t worrying about the future and how difficult it would be to keep in touch. We were not jaded or hardened by broken relationships or dreams.
Peru made me remember when I too was open, vulnerable and had a more embracing posture toward life in general. It reminded me that growing up can chip away at our openness, making us wary of others, making us wary of our own selves.
I didn’t expect to be reminded of this in a place like Peru, but I was, and I am grateful for that. I began to ask myself why and when this chipping away happens. Is it a moment? Is it a certain event? But I think it’s more subtle than that.
Each day, we are offered two choices about our posture toward others and opportunities: open or closed. We are offered this in the tiniest of things:
Will I smile at the person I pass by on the street, or will I keep my eyes on my phone?
Will I invite these people over for dinner, or will I make up an excuse not to?
Will I say yes to this or will I say I don’t have enough time, energy, money, etc?
Will I be open to life, or will I be resistant to it?
My knee-jerk reaction is to be resistant, to make up excuses that close me off to people and experiences. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Living slightly resistant is an acceptable choice. You can still achieve things and meet people, though you are resistant to them. You can live your entire life this way. A lot of people do.
But think about this: If you can do a lot while resistant to life, imagine what you could do or who you could meet if you were open to it? I imagine worlds and worlds and worlds would appear before you that you had completely ignored, shrugged off or pushed aside before.
In Peru, I watched people live with an open posture. Arms stretched out, palms unclenched. The Peruvians, the students—they were open to each person and experience. They were open to allowing their hearts to change and their minds to be transformed by a single visit.
They were not jaded or afraid. They jumped in the water.
At some point, I forgot how to do this, and maybe you have too. The good news is, it’s never too late. Your heart remembers the way; you just have to tell your feet where to go.