A requirement to graduate Highlands College is to go on a mission trip. Aaron and I had aspirations to go to another country to fulfill this requirement, but between finances, being uncomfortable being in another country than Rylie (with her being so young at least) as well as my pregnancy, we decided to pursue one in the U.S. On the first night of class in our 3rd semester, one of the employees shard that they had added a couple more mission trips this year. We looked online and saw 3 options: Newnan, GA || Nashville, TN || New Orleans, LA. Under the locations were dates: October, November, and March. Aaron and I knew each trip would fill up quickly, so that night we had to talk about which one we wanted to sign up for. Each trip sounded great and was definitely within our budget, so the only thing left to consider were the dates. The November one was over Rylie’s 1st birthday, and neither of us wanted to miss that, so that one was a “no.” The March trip also sounded good, but the dates were 3 weeks before my due date with baby #2, and I basically refused to even consider it (thankfully, Aaron said no to that one too once he saw the dates). So that left October to Newnan Georgia. We paid for it and were on the list. Good thing too, because the next morning it was fully booked. Phew.
As the date got closer, we had a couple meetings with our leader to go over logistics. We found out we were partnering with a church that is called a Network Church and they stream Church of the Highlands services but they are they’re own church (does that make sense?). Their name is Summit Church and they are 3 years old. They had some things they knew of in their community that we could help with, so our plan was to help out with those tasks. It was only 2 ½ hours away from home, so there were a lot of things we didn’t have to worry about (like culture differences, what would we eat, how long it would take to get there, etc.). We even had a training day the Saturday before we left (10.7.17) which gave us a chance to get to know our group. In the moment, there were a couple people who stood out automatically (mainly the ones I already knew because we were in the same class) but the rest I knew I’d get to know better on the trip. We did a couple “team building” games (which now that we’ve gone on the trip together, I’m sure we could do much better 😝) and talked about when we needed to arrive on Thursday (10.12.17) to leave.
The 4 days leading up to the trip were busy – work (I had a big project that had to be completed on Wednesday), small group, school (which included class, a final, a course review, and a paper) + packing. It was nonstop, but once we got to the busses and got our stuff loaded, said goodbye to Rylie and Michelle (who took time off work to watch her) and drove away, everything calmed down.
The drive up was great. We were in 2 separate vans so we got to know the people in our van while one of our 2 leaders drove up. We stopped once at a gas station to go to the bathroom (because I made them pull-over. Preggers had to go 😝) which actually turned out to be really funny. One of the guys that was in the other van came up to me in the gas station while I was looking at snacks and said, “Thank you for getting them to stop. I asked Juan (our main leader) if we were making any stops and he said ‘no.’ I told him I would have to go to the bathroom but he said we weren’t stopping. Then I remembered, ‘wait, the other van has the pregnant girl. We’ll definitely be stopping!” I started laughing and said, “well I’m glad I could help you out!”
As we pulled in to the hotel, I was shocked at how nice it looked. I thought we would be staying in a crappy motel with 4 people to a room, but this hotel was nothing like that. We each had a roommate (so 2 in each room) and since Aaron and I are married, they let us be roommates 😃 It was such a sweet surprise! Everyone else got someone of the same gender (or course). They handed us the room key and told everyone to meet back in 15 minutes. So we took the elevator to the 3rd floor, walked down the hall to our room, and opened the door. We immediately started laughing. The room was WAY too nice! “I’m definitely suffering for Jesus!” Aaron got out through his laughter.
We set our bags down, freshened up and walked down to the lobby where Moe’s had been delivered. When everyone was gathered, we prayed and then served ourselves dinner. I sat with a group of girls and a couple of them shared their story of how they got to Highlands College. When I was done eating, I got up and went to find Aaron. He had volunteered to come up with some games to play for a little “team night” for everybody, so I found him outside on the patio next to the pool setting up. I helped him get the last couple things laid out and then we waited for everyone else to arrive.
After a worship session, we played 3 different games and each one brought everyone so much laughter and we got to know each other a little better. Aaron did a phenomenal job! Someone posted in our GroupMe after we all separated into our rooms to go to bed, “that was the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”
The next morning at breakfast, we were told what was planned to help serve the community. We had a full day ahead and (unfortunately), a nap was not on the agenda. After a morning devotional together, we loaded into the vans and went to our first serve location. From there, we were split into 3 serve locations (1. Painting and staining a deck for a ministry that gives food to homeless people. 2. Working on a blind lady’s home that needed some work. 3. Helping another chapel with some landscaping and building.). I stayed at the location we started at (painting and staining) and Aaron went to help build stuff at the little chapel down the road. We had some gals come from the church to help out for a little bit and it was sweet to hear their story of how they came to Summit Church. It also gave me a chance to get to know some of the girls on my team. Once we were done painting and had moved on to staining the deck (which none of us knew how to do, but it seemed pretty simple so we got the hang of it quickly), a girl from my group named Priscilla and I tag-teamed staining the rails. She is a nurse and was kind enough to be our “medic” on the trip. I told her the night before that I needed to be reminded to drink lots of water, and she was very diligent to make sure I was drinking enough (which sometimes meant I took a drink and then she made me hold up my water bottle, and she’d respond with, “drink a little more!” hahaha). It may seem nagging, but in order to feel well, I knew I needed to be overly-hydrated and nourished. By mid-afternoon, the groups from the other locations came back to our project and helped us finish up. Many hands make light work!
We all loaded up promptly at 4:30pm and went back to the hotel to shower and get ready for our outreach that evening. We went out to eat first at the restaurant behind our hotel (it was delicious, and our interactions with each other were hysterical) and then we went to the little town to hand out glow sticks at Octoberfest. While we handed out the glow sticks to the participants, we also handed them a card saying “a little something to show God loves you” and tell them about Summit Church service on Sunday. Most of the people were thankful and surprised that we were “church people” but we matched their enthusiasm. Some of our team members had some really good, lifechanging conversations with Octoberfest attendees which was so awesome!
Once all our glow sticks had been passed out and conversations were wrapping up, we decided some ice cream sounded good, so we went to Cold Stone which was in the outdoor mall next to our hotel. Once we had our ice cream, we sat outside and honestly were winding down from the day and just enjoying each other. Unexpectedly, a lady walked over with a cigarette and just sat down, inserting herself (and her date) into the circle. “You guys look like fun, so I wanted to crash your party!” She said loudly. We welcomed them in and they shared they were on a first date (and had both obviously drank too much), but it turned into an awesome ministry moment and we got to pray for them and invite them to church.
Late to bed and early to rise was a regular occurrence with this mission trip. On Saturday we went to their Saturday Morning Prayer (something we do at Highlands – similar to 21 days of prayer but it’s just on Saturdays and it’s throughout the year). We really felt like we helped cast a vision for Pastor Greg (the lead pastor of Summit Church) of what his prayer team could look like. We ended our time of prayer by praying over him and his wife + son.
Once that was over, we got lunch and ate in the van as we drove to finish up a couple serve projects from the day before. I went to the blind lady’s house this time and sat inside and talked with her while everyone else worked outside (painting, doing landscaping and adding to her roof). She had become blind as an adult by accidently falling and hitting her head on a coffee table. I was inspired by her joy and unwavering faith despite her new disability. She was a sweet lady, and I’m glad I got to chat with her.
Once we wrapped that up, we headed back to the hotel to shower and immediately turned around to go to Summit Church’s Team Night. It was really just a time to love on their team, play games at the park and eat good pizza.
When we got back to the hotel, we spent another couple hours sitting on the patio by the pool and sharing what God had done over the past couple days since it was our last night together in Newnan. It was an amazing time packed full with great stories, tears (yes, I cried… more than once) and lots and lots of laughter!
That morning we woke up early and packed our bags so we could check out. After a good continental breakfast, we loaded up the vans and drove to church where we got to serve in various areas (kids, greeters, production, photography, and just keeping the pastor company on the front row). When service was over, we helped them clean up and then the mission team, pastor Greg’s family and a member of his lead team all went to Olive Garden for one last meal together.
When we were done eating, we said our farewells to the pastor, and then the moment came that we all had been dreading all weekend – saying “see you later” to each other. A couple people shared something special with us and a couple girls may have teared up (I was one of them… darn pregnancy hormones 😝 ), we split up into the vans and headed home. There was lots of Sunday traffic, so it took us twice as long to get home, but it gave us a few more good laughs which will not be easily forgotten.
When we got back to the church parking lot, Michelle and Rylie were anxiously awaiting our return. I wish I would have recorded Rylie’s reaction on camera, but it’s a sweet memory that I hold close. Pure excitement swept over our baby girl and she refused to be set down by either of us once she got in our arms. She obviously missed her mama and daddy.
Overall, it was a great trip! Physically exhausting, but spiritually and emotionally uplifting and filling! I don’t think I have consistently laughed that hard in a very long time, and it was so good for my heart.
Most of our team walked into this mission trip as strangers or acquaintances, but we all left as family. Newnan is a very special city and we all look forward to visiting again soon!
PS. I am working on a vlog now to show a recap of our trip through the videos I took + some extra photos that were taken. It’s a lot of footage and I couldn’t wait for it to be done to share our trip on the blog 😉 so I’ll share it as soon as I’m done.