It’s a scene no mother envisions: your 1-year-old child running barefoot through a church made of two double-wides in the middle of West Virginia. And, yet, this is a quintessential moment from my first mission trip with my daughter.
To be honest, it was a beautiful sight. You see, in coal country, there is an emerging trend to combat vast unemployment, uncomfortable outside aid, and limited access to essential services.
Cease having children.
When I agreed to join this service opportunity, I didn’t realize that my little girl would be the youngest child I would encounter on the trip. I live in the Deep South, and babies are everywhere. But this is not true in the heart of Appalachia, and it would be my daughter who gave this community what I could not: hope.
Our adventure began with an annoying Baby Christian plea from my lips to God’s ears:
“Lord, if you really want me to go, please give me a sign.”
I’m pretty sure this very line wrote me out of Heaven on the spot. But, still, I had significant concerns about serving on a four-day mission trip with my daughter.
What would she do while I volunteered?
How would I keep a close eye on her without my husband?
What if something terrible happened to her?
I think Jesus responded with a belly laugh.
I’d be lying if I said the trip wasn’t challenging at times, but isn’t that the very nature of loving other people? I was reminded that God never calls us to where He hasn’t already prepared. Time and time again, the older volunteers with whom I served entertained my daughter on the bus or held her when my hands were – quite literally – too full.
Our community projects involved organizing and distributing items from a church’s food pantry as well as sharing donated backpacks filled with toys and toiletries. On the first day, my daughter napped for an hour. On the second day, she napped for 2.5 hours. And all those times in-between? She was busy engaging the hearts of everyone we met. Before the end of our trip, nearly every member of the local congregation knew her name.
I couldn’t shake how rare and special their acceptance of my daughter and myself felt. Just before I offered a brief testimony on the first evening, I looked up from the pulpit to see my daughter – with a chocolate chip cookie bribe in hand – run across the front of the sanctuary. A knot instantly formed in my throat. Her presence, however, was met with love.
An oversized teddy bear was later provided so that she could remain with me – with all of us – as we shared about how God is moving in our world.
If your spiritual life should ever stall, I highly recommend a mission trip with a 1-year-old. Your mind will convince you of one million reasons to say “no”, but Jesus guides every step.
I can’t say that I offered those in West Virginia a job, a home, or a new car. But I did see a grandfather of one pick up my daughter, tickle her belly, and whisper silly secrets in her ear. In those moments, my girl offered only her innocence, and the church members chased her like family.
And I think – deep in their hearts – they already knew that those tiny feet lead to life.