After a trying ten days, a group leader asked me if I wanted to go home from our summer mission trip to Cameroon. My luggage had been lost; my taxis often stuck in traffic jams, separated from the rest of the group downtown; my identity constantly attacked.
Yet something told me to stay. The support came in from friends and family; the call, extended.
I was supposed to be here in Cameroon, right?
I prayed with my leader and decided to stay with my team for the final five weeks. Our conversation didn’t make everything “right.” But it gave me hope to keep pushing forward.
As a team, we continued to press into our rhythms: studying Philippians together, sharing meals, the communal laundry clothesline, morning devotionals led by one another, and playing card games or ultimate frisbee in the courtyard.
Washing dishes became an unexpectedly wonderful rhythm. All team members got grouped for dishes on a specific day, and I was with two awesome ladies for “Sunday Fun Day” — always the day with the most dishes, and with Lisa and Kate, two extroverts with whom I felt very different as a super introvert.
But our times of washing dishes turned from singing Lion King to sharing stories of previous summers and struggles within our families.
On campus, our team went out in trios to talk with students. Our conversations often started by explaining why some crazy Americans were even in Cameroon. Sometimes this led to deeper conversations about Jesus; other times, to discussions on cultural differences.
One afternoon, I met a man named Daniel who only spoke French. I got to practice my language skills and faith-related vocabulary learned from my semester in France. We got into conversation about Jesus, and he asked to meet me later in the week to talk more!
One morning devotion, Lisa shared about community: that we are people created for community (Genesis 2:18); and that which community can strive for. From Colossians 3:12-15:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
I began reflecting over what this meant for the summer with my team, but also for my friends back home on campus.
One day, I was in the taxi with three female teammates, taking the longer way to campus when our driver started taking less familiar turns to us. I reminded him in French of our destination, and he nodded.
Thirty minutes later, no closer to campus, I asked for the fourth time if we were headed to campus, and he told us he was lost and dropped us off.
Yet again, I was alone in a foreign city with three girls. Honestly, how and why does this keep happening to me?
We said a quick prayer and checked how much money we had, and I hailed a taxi. The first guy who stopped spoke English and happily took us to campus for half-price after we explained what had happened.
When we returned to campus, we found everybody gathered in prayer for us. Was that taxi driver an angel? Possibly.
That afternoon, I met up with Daniel and talked about the Holy Spirit — the role Holy Spirit plays in our lives. His growing engagement and joy in these conversations were an encouragement to me and a testament to the work God was doing.
Those conversations with Daniel caused me to consider my own answers and my relationship with Jesus and Holy Spirit.
During one of our evening worship times, a few team members shared some of their struggles brought into the summer. One girl shared how vulnerability seemed strange when we’d only spend six weeks together.
“God has placed us together for a specific reason — that the times, stories, and experiences we share are beneficial for each other,” she said.
This led to discussion about how community requires vulnerability. Even with a wide open invitation, I remained a silent listener in the community.
Throughout the summer, my dreams more frequently attacked my identity and sexuality. A few nights after the community discussion, I stayed up chatting with two guys, George and Kasey. They shared their thoughts and fears on dating and marriage. We talked about living the single life, and they asked for my opinions.
I shared how my dreams were impacting my emotions and ability to connect. They encouraged me to grow authentic friendships with the team. As an introverted guy who often feels “other,” knowing that these guys wanted to hear from me solidified our friendship and strengthened my sense of community.
Another evening, a few guys got into conversation about their struggles with masturbation: how it was something we each experienced to some degree. We talked about the brotherhood we were developing in Cameroon.
I shared how I was beginning to understand my story in a context that didn’t exclude me from being “one of the guys.” A breakthrough I wanted to take back home with me to my campus.
I knew any future guys to whom I’d tell my story should generally understand who I was and where I was coming from while also recognizing that I’m changing and trusting God. No need for awkwardness — I should just begin to seek acceptance from other guys.
Each week, our team held a “night of reflection” to consider privately what we’d been learning and where we saw God working and growing us. The last night of reflection of the summer, the guys decided to discuss openly together our times on that Yaounde campus — the differences in evangelism between Cameroon and the U.S.
We took turns sharing what God had been teaching us from Philippians while living in community. It was great for me to share freely and hear the different struggles and ways God had been teaching my teammates, too.
One of the best parts of the summer was hearing what my male teammates were learning about their identities as men of God. These straight guys also had times of searching for their places amidst groups of friends.
As the summer came to an end, we had our last meeting — a celebration — with the local ministry team. We invited students met on campus and from church. The evening was full of singing and dancing and connecting as we shared about the summer.
One Cameroonian staffer encouraged us to be a revelation of revival wherever God placed us (Romans 8.19). As we left, a few of us started talking about owning the same passion that the Cameroonian staff exhibited.
How amazing would it be to have them share with our campuses back home?! And how do we take that same passion to change what our lives and ministries look like?
During our last few days in Cameroon, our team took time to process the summer, share with one another, and prepare for the transition back home to our campuses. Some key takeaways from those days:
- As we looked forward to returning our own campuses, we couldn’t think this Cameroon team was a community of perfection, no matter how amazing it felt at times. There will always be conflict and differences — but healthy community should be full of grace and truth, led by Holy Spirit.
- During an “encouragement hot seat,” how good it was to hear other men authentically encouraging one another — and even me! I was surprised how my being in Cameroon impacted the other guys. One even compared me to Peter because of my strength during adversity, with foundation and reliance upon God throughout the trip.
- In discussion with Kasey about staying in touch, we talked about our need for accountability and a shared desire to read/discuss Scripture with another brother.
During our final worship time in Cameroon, everyone shared one thing God had taught us and one thing we were nervous about in returning home. Hearing from others — and sharing myself — revealed the growth I’d experienced.
As we prayed for the areas of anxiety and growth, I couldn’t help but feel deeply connected to my team.
It would be easy to fall back into my old self and same routine as I returned home to my campus. But several people, both American and Cameroonian, urged me and the team that we could not go back unchanged.
Our lives could not look the same after God had taught and shown us so much that summer.
And so. May we press through tough times, knowing that our God is faithful to bring about growth and greater understanding of the Beloved.
May we step into conversations with people different than us. May we learn to live through the mistakes and fears and laughter and tears.
May we lean into friendships, never knowing where they may lead, or end, or how Jesus will work through them.
May we trust in community, but always in Jesus first.
Have you experienced missional community or some other intense sharing of vulnerability in community? Have you felt worthy or unworthy of community, particularly among men?