17 May A Heart-Changing Hike
The Servant Teams program invites young people from all walks of life to answer God’s call into missions and social justice. Yevette Garcia answered that call, and gained new perspective with each step she took.
“A Heart-Changing Hike”
by Yevette Garcia
I knew that Servant Teams was designed to offer intensive study along with hands-on serving, but I wasn’t sure how that would come together for me personally. I had only superficial expectations of what my “missions” experience would look like in Portland and in East Africa. But once I went through the initial Servant Teams trainings in missional theology, social justice, and community development, I was humbled by what I learned. By the Lord’s grace and with a totally new mindset, I felt eager to serve at Grace & Healing Ministry in Dodoma, Tanzania.
As we connected with the community there, Mandee (the Servant Teams Director) and I were really drawn to the mentees in the Lahash Stand With Students program. After completing secondary school, these kids were officially finished with the Sponsorship Program through Lahash. They were each matched with a local mentor to help prepare them for higher education and adulthood. We loved being part of their lives – discussing matters of faith, sharing meals, and helping them any way we could.
In April, Mandee and I planned a day trip for the group – a hike up one of the many scenic hills surrounding the city of Dodoma. The day of our hike proved to be so beautiful. The breeze was just right and the brightness of the blue sky was immense. I was really excited for the adventure, and to get to know the mentees on a more personal level.
One of the young men, Emmanuel, had made this hike before and was a good leader for our group. But for Petronila, Neema, and Jofrey, hiking up a hill in Dodoma was a first! They hadn’t ever experienced a journey like this before. It made me think about how fast these young individuals had to grow up. Their childhoods weren’t filled with fun summer vacations or playing on playgrounds. They hadn’t even gone hiking in the hills outside their own town. They were responsible for the care of younger siblings, cooking, maintaining a household, or even working alongside parents or caregivers in order to meet basic needs.
The ascent up the hill with these young individuals was a chance to watch them make childlike discoveries. Every responsibility and burden was gone for that moment. They embraced the joy of laughter and the beauty of God’s creation. We took breaks for selfies, flower-picking, and scenery. And when we finally made it to the top, the view of the city was gorgeous. We found a huge rock where we could all sit and read the Beatitudes portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth… Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:3,5,8) We read the words and paused to soak in what they meant to us.
After hiking back down the hill, we gathered at our home for some delicious food and played games. I laughed so hard every time Emmanuel yelled, “BYE!” to someone when they lost a round at cards. At that moment, I not only witnessed their childlike joy blossom, but was a part of it.
In our training before coming to Africa, we spent a lot of time on Trinitarian theology, based in the understanding that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are inseparably related in loving communion with one another. They are all distinct, yet rooted in love and deferred submission to each other. I learned about my role as a member of God’s community and how the Trinity impacts our pursuit of others for the kingdom. Learning more deeply about the Trinity completely rocked my faith, and the day of the hike, I felt that knowledge come alive.
Just as I had seen the mentees discover childlike joy through hiking and fellowship, I had discovered the beauty of the Trinity in community. In planning the day, I hadn’t realized that Mandee and I were creating a sacred space for the group – a space that was filled with laughter, stories, worship, and prayer. I saw how the Trinity can be exemplified in our relationships with one another, and it made me more aware of the relational poverty in my own life. It validated my eagerness to pursue true community, and seek to embrace the type of relational abundance I saw in the lives of these young people.
We all crave community in some way and hunger to be relational. As Americans, we can overthink what that looks like. In Africa, I saw it so clearly. It’s simple. It’s those little moments – laughing on the hiking trip, going out to eat together, helping them improve their skills in the computer room. Our connections to each other and to God deepened on that hike day. Taking in the beauty around us, laughing, pushing hard even when we felt tired, exploring, and reflecting – all of it fed that craving for community.
Through my Servant Teams experience in Portland and East Africa, I came to see that God is a “missioning God” who pursues us in the small still moments. We reflect that mission best as we live out the gospel of reconciliation through relationship with others. I didn’t know what to expect from my time in Tanzania, but God knew just how to combine the training I received with my life experiences and the relationships I built there. I am excited to find new ways to live out what I learned as I continue my journey from here.