Why you should take a non-vacation vacation

(i.e. a missions trip)

Why you should take a non-vacation vacation


I just returned from Costa Rica. It was a non-vacation vacation (i.e. a missions trip). I took a team of incredible ladies to engage girls and women (not to mention each other) to see themselves as God intended them to be: whole-hearted, joyful, safe, impactful. We did an after-school program for girls and three spiritual growth conferences for women. We gave away a lot of stuff and hugged a lot of women.

I call it a non-vacation vacation because a vacation is an escape from regular life. A missions trip is also an escape. You leave your reality and enter into someone else’s reality. When I go to help someone less fortunate, I become even more fortunate.

The difficulties and personal sacrifices attached to mission trips don’t really matter. I’m fighting an intestinal bacteria that I caught there, but I’d go again in heartbeat. This was my second trip to Costa Rica (and one of many missions trips), and this one grabbed me harder than the first. I think learning to love a place because of the people will do that to you.

I still haven’t seen the famed Costa Rican beaches, Atlantic or Pacific. I’ve only been the in the country’s center, where dense green mountains disappear into white mist. There, clouds sag from humidity and hurl down torrents of rain without warning, in between light drizzle and searing heat.

In the villages, the cement-block buildings sit with opened barred windows and corrugated tin roofs that magnify the impact of sun and rain. We ate and spoke and prayed for people under those roofs, all of us like chickens baking in an oven.

I’d be willing to stay again in the screen-windowed hotel room on stilts surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. Even at 5 am, I don’t mind waking to deep-throated frogs and monkey chatter. But I could have used night-vision goggles because after the sun sets at 6, the Costa Rica rain forest is as black as pitch, peppered with animal noises.

Everything there stays damp—bedding, towels, hair, clothes. Even straight from my suitcase, clean clothes smell like a locker room.

The food—well, the food is amazing, as long as you don’t get an intestinal infection, which you probably will if you venture away from reliable restaurant fare. The pineapple and papaya are succulent; the yucca tastes amazing; the shrimp tacos put American shells to shame.

Don’t drink the Tang or the tea. Peel your fruit. Be cautious about meat. Stick to your own water bottle. Don’t flush your toilet paper. It’s all normal missions trip stuff, but it all reminds you that you’re on a non-vacation, even while you take pictures of absolutely everything.

Carry wet wipes, mosquito spray, and hand sanitizer everywhere. Greet everyone with a hug and air-kiss to one side of the face. Costa Ricans will touch cheeks with you, and your faces stick together for a split-second because everyone is shiny with sweat. They talk to you like you can both understand each other, even though you can’t. They are generous and gracious.

The cities and villages blend poverty with affluence, but it seems like the poverty is winning. Little shack villages resemble the many others I’ve seen in Eastern Europe, Central America, South America, and Africa.

Poverty is poverty. It’s abuse; it’s a limited education; it’s alcoholism and drug abuse. It’s under-nourished children. It’s contentment and hopelessness. It’s reality, even in a second-world country. And I’m fortunate that it’s not my reality every week of the year.

The people living here—mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters—are working daily manual labor jobs, feeding children they can’t afford to have, sitting on porches watching tour busses go by filled with people like me, snapping photographs on my i-phone.

People in poverty are people like me, without the same opportunities and resources. Some are resigned to their fates, and some are daring to dream for more. I dared—just for a week—to inspire them to cling to something (and Someone) bigger.

Non-vacation trips like this are life-changing. They radically alter your personal cosmos. And you grow. You change. You begin living in a different new-to-you reality.