The spring semester of my junior year of college was . . . interesting. I found myself in campus ministry leadership, yet with doubts about my faith and confidence. Busy with leadership, classes, and friendships, I got pulled into the common question for college students in campus ministry:
What are you doing this summer?
I felt an expectation to do something meaningful with my summer. So, I ended up applying for a summer mission trip.
The paper application was daunting, and the phone interview was even worse. I found myself sharing my sexuality with a stranger . . . over the phone.
As I hung up, I knew there was no way I’d be joining that mission trip. My time and energy went back to school, band, friends, and my campus.
Needless to say, getting the phone call to join this team in Cameroon left me shocked — and thrilled.
As a late applicant, I had less time to raise the necessary support. Having never raised support before, I was naively confident; I think the last of my support came in just a week before we left.
The couples leading the trip sent several emails to get us ready for Cameroon: ideas for raising support, verses to consider, details about flights, and the rundown of what we’d be doing. They also encouraged us to pray for unity in our group.
I’d be the only student going from my university, but my semester experience in France proved this wouldn’t be an issue. Especially knowing I’d be in community the whole time.
After just 36 hours together in the US — five guys and eight gals from twelve different universities, along with five leaders — we flew across the ocean. We arrived in Yaounde, the capital, but my luggage and the luggage of four others did not.
Maybe this should have been a sign for what was in store? We took the mishap in stride and made jokes about our airport amenities.
During one of our first devotional times, I latched onto 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV):
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
A leader talked about how God is interested in progress, not perfection. My evangelical, Midwest upbringing, along with my attitude of always striving to do good, made me shocked by this idea.
What does progress mean or even look like for a person . . . like me?!
The next day, we split off by gender and shared our stories: the baggages and joys we brought with us to the summer and the team. While it helped me see connections with the other guys on the trip, I didn’t leave that sharing time feeling encouraged.
The anxiety of fitting in as “one of the guys” still lingered because, you know, I liked boys.
That Sunday, we went to our first church service in Cameroon. Three hours later — after some lively singing, percussion, and one of the longest sermons I’d sat through — we grabbed lunch and got ready to attend the national soccer game we’d been invited to.
We got into our taxi groups of four and were instructed where to meet. The taxi with myself and three girls dropped us off in the wrong place.
Reminder: we’d only been in Cameroon for six days. We discussed trying to get back to our “home,” but decided to make our way to the stadium instead.
My anxiety was through the roof, and yet there was a sense of boldness as the only male and only French speaker in that group. The walk felt like miles with the comments I overheard about the girls, but we made our way to one of the stadium gates.
Before we left, we were told which gate to meet at, but they weren’t numbered. So, I tried to communicate with somebody who looked official. He just urged me to enter this particular gate anyway.
I told the girls, but as we got closer to the gate, we got split into pairs by the crowd. As I made it through, I looked back and could tell something was wrong. A worker inside told the two of us to move on, and we told them we were waiting for the other pair.
Apparently, some men in the crowd had been harassing the other two girls. Was I even doing my masculine job to care for and protect these women?!
After talking to many Cameroonians in French and showing them my ticket, we eventually made our way to our supposed seats, only to have the last person tell us we were on the wrong side of the fence. The match was starting, so they led us to our section, right next to a 10-foot fence.
As we sat, the rest of our group showed up on the other side! One of the Cameroonian ministry leaders spent the first quarter talking to officials so that we could cross the fence and — FINALLY — be reunited with our team.
Once together again, we enjoyed the match. And found ways to laugh at the crazy events of the afternoon.
The next day, we began going out on the Yaounde campus. We got to know some of the campus ministry staff and students, as well as the campus itself.
One evening that week, we were getting ready to head to dinner but one of the guys hadn’t joined us yet. I ran back to the room and walked in on him changing. I fumbled with my words and turned right back around.
Great. He already knew my story, my issues. How awkward did that make him feel? Would seeing him naked impact my ability to be friends with him? Or just be normal at all?
The next day, on the way to campus, my taxi group got stuck in traffic. Our taxi bumped a few other cars before traffic came to a full stop. While stopped, some guy tried to get in the car with three American girls in the back. He didn’t, but it stuck in my head when we got to campus.
The voices flooded my mind.
How useless am I not to protect the females on the team? I am so weak. I am nothing like the other guys on the team. What am I even doing here?!
With all that had been going on, my team director decided to have a chat with me. After some word vomit from me, he asked the question that I hadn’t yet put into words: Do you want to go home, Kevin?
“We understand the difficulties you’ve been through these ten days, and we can arrange to get you home,” he said.
And so I wondered . . . would I stay?!
Have you struggled to feel or act like a man among a group of men or women? What triggered this insecurity, and did you step into the discomfort or retreat from it?