Hello…for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Sarah Schmitz and I am the wife of Ryan Schmitz who works up in the Student Development Office, and an MVNU alumna.
Let me just start with saying that I am so grateful to MVNU for having a vision to serve alongside of other Christians outside of Knox county and throughout the world. As a student here at MVNU I had the opportunity to go to Romania, Bolivia, as well as helping my husband lead the trip to Table Rock Lake, Missouri. Now as an alumnus I feel so blessed and excited to have had the opportunity to lead students to Belize where we experienced things as a team that I simply cannot explain in theological terms except to say that our God is infinitely powerful, creative, and loving.
Our week long trip to Belize was jammed packed with the unexpected, right from the beginning clear through to the end. We had delayed flights, missed flights, a tornado and a hailstorm, one sleepless night shivering on the floor of the Atlanta airport on our journey to Belize as well as an ambulance ride and an eight hour emergency trip to the hospital on our last full day in Belize City. Our team spent hours painting, playing soccer with school children, and laughing over rounds of the game Phase ten with our gracious cook and her eight children. There were bumpy rides with all 20 of us piled in the back of two pick up trucks as well as songs lifted in praise along the Caribbean as we worshiped on Easter morning with the Zion Church of the Nazarene.
Throughout all that we experienced, whether it was during our exciting adventures snorkeling at Shark Ray Alley or the simple times of jumping rope with the Belizean children, I was proud of our students. It was encouraging to watch them build relationships as they painted with the villagers of San Jose Succotz and as they served each other with warmth and energy.
I’ll never forget how the students taught me how to send my first text message, how to change the ring tone on my cell phone, or how they have convinced me to finally open a Facebook account. I can honestly say that now at home, I miss each and every one of them. We shared our lives together and on our flight back to the states, each of us agreed that we would go back to Belize in a days notice. Within in the one short week we spent together, I watched them learn and change and grow.
One month ago, a young man from our group said that he expected not to build relationships during our time in Belize but was interested only in the manual labor tasks that lie ahead. I witnessed that same young man, laughing happily while being chased by a whole passel of children before our week was even half over.
I saw a shy social work student grow in boldness and become an endearing friend to a Belizean family that cried when it was time for our team to say goodbye.
Our team learned many things while on our trip.
We learned that despite having 24 hour access to facebook and text messaging that we are often times caught up in lives that are relationally poor.
We learned that challenging a group of Belizeans to a game of volleyball can be a very humbling experience.
We learned that our God really is a God of comfort and He can help us conquer our very real fears of flying or sleeping in the same room as a scorpion.
We learned that we really didn’t need all the material things we had back home to experience true community and friendship and perhaps the entanglements of all that “stuff” was more of a hindrance than a help.
We learned that God is able to change us, perhaps even our palates so that eating refried beans for breakfast sounds like a pretty tasty idea.
We learned that it’s possible to live both contentedly and joyfully without a laptop or an ipod.
We learned that Belizeans don’t have imaginary friends growing up because they are nearly always surrounded by what they said, were real friends.
We learned that Americans playing soccer in a muddy field can provide an afternoon’s worth of humorous entertainment for an entire Belizean village.
We learned to laugh at ourselves when we realized that our pride had brought us to a point where we took ourselves much more seriously than we did in God’s provision.
We learned that slicing coconuts with machetes really is as fun as it looks like on Survivor.
We learned that we could quickly fall in love with a culture different from our own.
But more importantly, we learned that we cannot merely come home and reminisce while looking at pictures and expect life to go on as it did before we went to Belize.
I personally cannot go on with life as I did before I went to Belize, particularly after spending a day in the hospital with one of our students. You see the conditions that I saw in the hospital, the anguish of sick children and the desperation of their parents brought me to tears that night and every night since I have been home from Belize. As a mother of three, I cannot express the sorrow and agony I felt for families that do not have adequate medical care and attention or financial access to very simple medicines such as Tylenol. The challenge that I am facing, that many of the students are now facing, is answering the question: what do I do with these experiences as a Christian?
Having bore witness to the glaring need and pain of our fellow human beings, we are now responsible to actively and lovingly respond. Some of us will respond with a commitment to live simpler lives right here in Mount Vernon in order to free up our finances so that churches around the world can minister more effectively. I believe that as a University, we can creatively partner with our Belizean brothers and sisters in Christ to serve their country and meet very specific needs, such as the collection and distribution of basic drugs. It’s not enough to come home and be thankful for our abundant resources and opportunities. Instead, we need to be vigorously seeking out ways to cast our resources into communities of need, especially as we encounter them face to face. Let us remain passionately faithful to calling and equipping our students to serve both here and around the world and though it can start as simply as signing up for a spring break mission’s trip, let us encourage them to see that God is calling them to a life of missional service beyond one week in March.
Thank you all for listening to our stories and for being part of a university that seeks to serve our very great and gracious God. I pray that our experiences abroad will result in changed lives, not just inwardly, but through the active, intentional, and sacrificial engagement of our students with churches and projects throughout the world.