The following is a letter I sent to the Teen Mission International Dominican Republic Team, which my sister is on right now.
You have no idea how much I am envying you all right now. I went on six teams from 1998-2003 and those are very fond memories for me. What most FTM’s won’t tell you is how they cried like a baby the first two nights at Boot Camp (which I did). Some of you are feeling very homesick and lonely right now. You are dreaming of the terrible things you will do to that person who convinced you to come to this evil place. They lied to you: telling you that this would be a great experience and that you would learn so much.
Dominica, I’ve been there. I’ve been there many times. But take a moment and look forward to two months from now. Most of you will be standing in an airport terminal looking as one by one your team members walk away. You will never see most of them again. These people who shared a terrible and memorable experience with you will be gone. You will remember that homesick feeling you had in your chest from Boot Camp except you will now feel it for these precious people who are walking out of your life.
Yes, Dominica, that will be you.
You see, this painful, lonely, hot, mosquito-ridden, swamp will be a hinge point in your life. I cannot imagine my own life without Teen Missions. To this day I have difficulty explaining to people who have never gone what Teen Missions did for me. On the France Team in 1998 I learned some very painful and terrible things about Chip Gruver. I learned that I am not a good person and God is not lucky to have me. The irony of the situation is that once I knew I was a lazy, immature, foolish, and desperate little boy, I was ready to accept what Jesus did for me as a precious gift. God loved me while I was that bratty child.
Don’t be discouraged Dominica. You have some very painful challenges in front of you as a team and as individuals. Those dark moments will hurt, badly. Please hear it from someone who has been there, it will be worth it. This is a precious time. As much as you can, savor it. One day you will be sitting in an office in Minnesota, looking at images of Boot Camp on Facebook, and you will wish you could go back.
So, keep you hands up at the wall, keep an extra pair of dry socks in your backpack, drink plenty of water, and cherish this time. This is the adventure of a lifetime and you are getting to do this as a teenager. You are privileged to be where you are. One day it will feel like a privilege.
I’m rooting for you all.