Each year Vanguard sends out teams of students to different global partners around the world. The Ireland team, led by Dalila Toledo ’10, partnered with Cornerstone City Church in Derry, Northern Ireland. The student leader from the trip, Jessie Hornibrook ’16 shared a little bit about her amazing experience with the Vanguard team in Northern Ireland.
If there is anything that is true about our incredible God it’s that he works in amazing and unique ways. I think that it’s fair to say that before Ireland our entire team was feeling a little less than adequate for the trip, myself included. I’ve been on many trips before and as much as my heart wanted to go, a part of me was still screaming, “Do I have to?” I’ll be honest; this past season of my walk with Christ has been rough. I found myself second semester questioning whether I even still believed in the things I was preaching. I felt fake. Fake and alone. Then, I got this amazing opportunity to student lead the trip to Ireland.
Like I said, I’ve been on a million trips before, but none like this. From the second we landed our team was welcomed into this new country as if we were family. The slogan for Cornerstone City Church is “Bringing Love to Life.” That was the cry of their heart for mission week. That was what we got to be a part of. We can all say that we learned how to love in a completely new way. Being in Ireland wasn’t about how busy we could be or how useful we could make ourselves appear. In America, we are told by everything we see that our busyness is a sign of success. That the more we are able to accomplish, the more valuable we become. In Ireland, the most prevalent part of the trip to me was that my identity does not revolve around my ability to keep myself busy. When we arrived, who we were was enough for them. We were sufficient, adequate, honored and that stuck out to me. Cornerstone greeted us with a grace and love that was exactly what I would picture the Kingdom being like.
I believe this is a huge part of the reason why our team was able to bond so quickly. I would love to say that we all had this huge, life changing experience as a team and that it affected us all in the same way. However, I think that limits the severity of what God actually did for us. We all had different experiences with Christ. We were all tested, tried, and stretched in different ways and, in my opinion, that’s what made it so real. We all worked on the same site, with the same kids, for the most part offering the same services but the life experience we gained from it was vastly different. For some of us, we were called to pray out loud for the first time and to seek answers from our peers that we were once too afraid to ask. For others, it was as simple as being called out of their introvert shell to engage in the relationships around them and to engage in a meaningful way about something real. For me, I was told for the first time ever, that I’m not what I do. That my value isn’t in my ability to attain a title. God spoke truth into my life and I finally heard it.
On our last day of service in Derry we had a big celebration service where all of the kids from camp came together in a big church and we showed the entire congregation the awesome things we had been doing all week long. Then, as usual, the Pastor gave a message. The message was titled, “The big wean way.” He started off by stating that if you want a great position in Heaven, then you have to play like a child on earth. As the service came to a close and the band began to play their ending song, something beautiful happened. From the front row we heard this giggle erupt out of a little four-year-old boy named Riley, who we had the pleasure of playing with all week. He then proceeded to get up out of his chair, run to the front of church and Irish step dance. He danced his heart out for the next three songs, never stopping to catch his breath, never hesitating because he was afraid of what all the staring adults were thinking. He just danced a blessing over the hearts of every person there. As he continued dancing, I glanced around the room at the rest of my team and I knew we were all thinking the same thing, “This is the kind of faith I want.” I swear I could feel God smiling down on Riley, proud of his ability to take a chance, risk looking a little silly, and have a childlike joy.
That is what Ireland was about for me: learning to be a child again, in every season and every storm, to choose joy. To sum up the experience of everyone’s trip is nearly impossible and I think their stories are unique and different for a reason and most definitely worth listening to. So if you’re curious, don’t hesitate to ask them. If you’re reading this and you haven’t been on a mission’s trip or maybe you’ve never led one before, I encourage you to take a chance. It’s an experience of a lifetime and our God is greater than any excuse you can come up with. Find that childlike faith again, and embrace it because when you do you will be blown away with what God can do in your heart.
“Do not be afraid but take courage! I am here.”
For more information about Vanguard Mission Trips, please contact the Office of Global Education and Outreach.