By Lizzie Schwebel
In March 2016 I had the opportunity to go on a week-long mission trip to Ecuador. Leading up to the trip I was nervous about what all I would experience and encounter while there. I had always heard how people went on mission trips and would have a huge encounter with Jesus that would radically change their lives. Going into the trip, you could say I had pretty much pinpointed the area of my life Jesus would reach out to me and heal. I thought I knew exactly what would happen, but I was so wrong. Looking back, I think I was trying to figure out what kind of experience I’d have with Jesus before it happened to avoid having to be vulnerable with Him and others on the trip to reduce the fear I had been experiencing.
Once we arrived in Ecuador, I realized I had no reason to be nervous prior to the trip. I had let the devil tell me lies and let him cause unnecessary fear. The first few days I didn’t feel much going on inside me and figured maybe Jesus wasn’t going to do much work on me during this trip. It wasn’t until halfway through the week that things started to change. It all started with a conversation I had with one of my friends that was one of the leaders on the trip. Throughout this conversation I began to realize a lot of things I hadn’t thought of before and saw them in a different way. That conversation sparked the conversation I had the next morning that radically changed my life.
We were on our walk to Holy Hour. I was talking with one of the other leaders on the trip I had just met a few days before. During our walk, I shared some of my struggles from the past regarding chastity and how I had struggled with certain aspects of it in the past. Up until this point, I had only ever talked about this in the confessional and with two of my close friends. Instead of trying to hide and not expose those wounds, I was able to be vulnerable and transparent with her. For so long I had kept this secret from the world and it had slowly started to cause me to feel isolated and begin to hate myself for struggling with these things. Bringing them to the surface was both painful and beautiful. Instead of judging me or trying to shame me for these things, she listened as I exposed these parts of my heart to her and loved me through them. This is exactly what I imagine Jesus doing too.
During that Holy Hour, I reflected on a few passages that the missionary suggested for me (Mark 16:9, Luke 7:36-50 and John 8:1-11). These verses all had a common theme – forgiveness. No matter what we have done in the past, God loves us and desires a relationship with us, which is why He is so forgiving with us. At some point, I remember seeing the priest getting ready for Confessions and I had to force myself to stay seated. I wanted to jump up and run to him. Once he was ready, I did and it was the most beautiful thing ever.
At the beginning of the week I had been so nervous about the trip that I thought I knew exactly what Jesus was going to do in my life during that week in Ecuador. Little did I know He would actually catch me by surprise and teach me the greatest lesson – His love and mercy for us is endless. I learned the importance of vulnerability and the power in bringing light to the dark places we would rather keep hidden. I learned that Jesus will meet us where we are and use the people around us to help encounter us.