By Maria Foreman
Small towns, Knoephla soup, heavenly landscapes, funny accents, farmers, tractor rides, huge families and the greatest people you will ever meet. North Dakota is like stepping foot in the middle of a country song. I spent my past summer there on a mission trip and it was truly the best summer of my life.
I went to North Dakota to become a missionary for a group called Young Disciples. There were about twelve of us and after training we were split up into three teams of four and sent out to towns all across North Dakota.
We spent each week in a new town at a different church putting on Vacation Bible Schools for kids, teen nights for teenagers and other events for families.
Being on mission in North Dakota was a very new experience for me. I had never been that far away from home, and never for that long.
There were definitely a lot of challenges that were thrown my way. But there are some things that I experienced as a missionary that have transformed my life. I actually might have gotten more out of the trip than the people I served.
When you are a missionary, you spend a lot of time with the same people, which definitely has its ups and downs. I was on a team with one girl and two guys and we were together every single day.
My girl teammate and I spent every waking minute together because we were always staying at the same host homes, and so we spent a lot of time talking to each other.
As the summer wore on, we really opened up to each other and let ourselves be vulnerable towards one another. We learned a lot about each other. We were very different people, and so that led to more than a few conflicts, but we also shared a lot of good memories. We would often ask each other to pray over us before giving a talk or if we were struggling with something, and those are some of my most cherished memories with her.
Going on this mission trip taught me about the importance of relationships that have substance. It is so important to build solid relationships that seek to build each other up and lead each other to Heaven.
It is important to be able to trust our friends enough to be vulnerable with them and ask for their help. And it is also extremely important to learn how to deal with disagreements in a humble way and seek forgiveness.
This mission trip was definitely a time of learning about people, and not because it was a great experience all the time.
We all failed in being good teammates more times than we can count, but our experience has taught us lessons that will help us become better people and know how to navigate our relationships in the future.
The sense of community in North Dakota was very different from my experience on the East Coast.
Each town we went to was extremely small. The high schools usually had about twenty kids in each class. You had to drive miles and miles to get to a Target. And there were one or two diners in town that you went to for your meals.
But it was different there. Life was not so fast-paced. Each night we went to a different family’s house for dinner. People from the church would graciously offer to host us, and usually the priest from the parish would come along with us. I learned that this was a very normal thing.
The priests were involved in so much in these towns. They went to Friday night football games, dinners with parishioners and to lake houses of the parishioners. They didn’t have as big of a church to minister to, so they got to know their parishioners very well.
The people I met in North Dakota were so hospitable and caring. They took us for horse rides, tractor rides, pontoon rides and even tubing. They made us feel at home and I loved their openness and that sense of community.
All of these things contributed to a very memorable experience for me, but the one thing that was truly transformative for me this summer was my prayer life.
Previously, I had a pretty fragmented prayer life. It was a struggle for me to pray every day and I didn’t spend too much time just kind of being silent with God. But as this was a Catholic mission trip focused on not only serving others, but growing in holiness ourselves, we were supposed to have an hour of personal prayer each day.
This sounds like a ton, but I think each of us actually started to crave it after being with kids all day, and especially on the days when there was a lot of tension within the group. The sufferings of not always getting along with the team, as well as homesickness, taught me how to lean on God when I felt completely alone. He was my companion who I could give my heart to.
Many days, I didn’t feel like spending that time in prayer with Him, but even if I just went into the Church and sat there, I was praying because I was sitting in the presence of the Lord and allowing Him to speak to me.
During my times of prayer, I don’t think I really felt my heart changing, but as I came home and continued the habit of daily prayer, I realized how important this part of my summer was. I think the Lord called me there for the purpose of developing my prayer life.
Prayer is a battle, but it is the most important one you will ever fight. It is essential to growing in your relationship with God.
And so for all of these reasons, I encourage people to go on a mission trip. Each person will have a different experience, but this was mine.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but it was something that I will never forget and that I am so happy I did. I was extremely nervous to sign up at first, but I decided to take a risk and I have never regretted it.
God has plans for you, and if you choose to say “yes”, those plans will lead to your ultimate happiness.