Josiah Brown | Pastor of Student Ministries, Friendswood Friends Church
¡Hola, mi Amigos! I’m grateful to be writing to you about Spring Invasion, which is EFC-MAYM’s biennial student trip to Coahuila, Mexico. As you may already know, the outbreak of COVID-19 cut short the first week of Spring Invasion by a day and postponed the second week’s wave of students from going entirely. Our hearts were broken over this change of plans, as EFC-MAYM and the Coahuila Friends Churches both look forward to this trip with great anticipation.
Thankfully, the majority of the first week progressed as normal. Below you’ll find two student reflections that highlight what day-to-day ministry looked like this year. Most of their time was spent in three categories: worship, work, and play. My personal highlight was worshiping with the youth group at Agujita. We played games, sang songs, shared testimonies, and laughed so hard our faces hurt! Experiences like this from Spring Invasion open us up to God in ways difficult to replicate at home.
Sharing life with believers from different cultures and circumstances expands our perspective of Christ’s Body. We discover both commonality and diversity. Students from both sides of the border befriend each other despite their vastly different cultures and backgrounds, and as a result, they discover that they’re actually asking similar questions and struggling with parallel problems. At the same time, students are introduced to the immense diversity within the Church. Maybe for the first time, students discover that God is shaping a story far grander than one language, country, style of worship, or even cuisine can possibly capture. Sorry Whataburger!
Spring Invasion challenges us to give up our lives and follow Jesus. The families who hosted us embodied Jesus’ words: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Our hosts “denied” their beds, bathrooms, sleep schedules, and comfort in order to accommodate us. Sometimes we overcomplicate discipleship. The Coahuila Friends Church loved and served us as Jesus would have, and that’s a pretty good definition of discipleship!
I believe Spring Invasion gives students a good perspective on the Body of Christ and a compelling vision for discipleship. I could go on and on about how important this trip is to our students’ spiritual formation. But instead, I want you to hear firsthand from two high school seniors, Olivia Skeeter and Creek Love. Please read their words for specific accounts of what they did while in Mexico and how God used this trip to open their eyes. My prayer is that God will continue the work begun during Spring Invasion, and that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide and empower our students into a deep walk with God that transforms them and every bit of creation they come into contact with.
¡Gloria a Dios!,
Olivia Skeeter | High School Senior, Friendswood Friends Church
Everything about this trip was memorable. From the church services and testimonies to the delirious laughter at dinner each night- I will always remember Spring Invasion 2020.
Honestly going into this trip I was a little skeptical because it was a much smaller group from years passed and it just felt different. Man was I wrong to feel that way. The way that our group was able to bond and share with each other was so special and it actually made everything so much better.
In the mornings we would wake up and plan to go eat breakfast at Samuel’s church. However, that was actually not the case for the group that I was staying with because we had such a generous host home that would wake up extra early just to make us breakfast. After everyone got some food, we would gather together and just kinda debrief the day before, reflect, or have someone from our group give a little devotion. Sometimes we were given little challenges like learning a new phrase in Spanish which was always entertaining for us and the people actually teaching us the phrase. After that, we would start getting ready for VBS which was my favorite part. The people that planned this trip wanted to change it up a little and make it more relational instead of mainly work focused. We did one pretty small work project which was redoing the flooring of one of the church’s rooms. This was super different from past years and we actually had so much fun doing it.
Since the trip was more people focused we got to build really strong connections and learn from people in ways different than the past. For VBS, the kids would come and we would have crafts, snacks, a Bible story, and of course games in the field right outside the church. We stayed in this field for hours each day playing soccer, chalking on the road, throwing the frisbee, or jumping rope. So many special conversations and laughs were shared on this field and I get a warm feeling just thinking about it. Although we kinda planned to have a schedule, we really didn’t and just went with the flow of things. It was “Flexico” for sure. The kids would leave the field whenever they wanted or whenever their parents would call them home for dinner. Sometimes some would wander back and play with us a little longer until it was our turn to go eat.
This was pretty much the agenda every day and it was the best. At night we had the privilege of getting to do youth group with the youth at the church that we were at! We had never gotten to do this in the past so we really had no clue what to expect. We got to hear some of their stories of how they came to know the Lord and some of the kids from our youth group gave their testimonies, too. Their testimonies were powerful and I’ll always remember them. Our trip was cut a little short due to the unexpected outbreak of the Coronavirus. Everyone handled the news well and had to say some early goodbyes.
Even though we had to come home early, I would not have changed a single thing about this trip. Every single moment seemed to have the Lord’s goodness written all over it. The Lord showed up in so many ways on this trip. A huge way that I saw Him was through us getting across the border and through customs so fast on Sunday morning. We got through so quickly and with ease that we were actually able to attend church! We were so glad to have participated in worship that Sunday morning, especially since we had to miss the final celebration due to leaving early. We may not have even noticed in the moment how special that first church service was, but it was definitely His plan all along.
Throughout this trip, we were each encouraged to seek the joy of the Lord every day. He definitely provided and opened our eyes to what he was doing each day. I had never felt so at peace and content. Everything and everyone seemed to radiate the joy of the Lord. I could see it in the way that the women cooked every single meal for us with a smile, I could hear it in the songs that were boldly shouted, and I could feel it in the perfect weather that we seemed to have every single day. The Lord truly opened my eyes to just see His goodness and the fact that there is more. There is more to life than what we look like or what we want our future to look like. The kingdom of God is now and it is working!
On one specific night I truly believe the Lord let me see a glimpse of what heaven is going to be like. No description could ever do this feeling justice but I’ll try. We were standing outside in an open field underneath the brightest stars. We were singing songs and laughing with the youth group from Agujita Friends Church. The song that we were singing was Oceans- I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Some were singing in English, others in Spanish. Here we are, under the stars, getting to sing to the creator of the universe in different languages. Even though I couldn’t understand the Spanish, and they couldn’t understand my English, it didn’t even matter because the Lord could. I remember in this moment just looking up and seeing the stars and, in awe, just thinking, “wow, this is what heaven is going to be like.” I couldn’t help but tear up. We serve a God who is for everyone and with everyone. We serve a God who is big and breaks down barriers. I have a new understanding of the Lord’s love because of the way that these people gave their all to the Lord in worship and served one another willingly.
Creek Love | High School Senior, Argonia Friends Church
I have been on four mission trips so far, and each one has been different, each one has taught me a different lesson than the last. (It is almost as if each one has a different theme.) But in order to explain this, I need to take you back a couple months before the actual trip. I was planning on going to Mexico with my pastor and five other students. But over the next few weeks, kids started to drop out of the trip. At the time, it was not THAT big of a deal, I felt bad that not everyone would enjoy the whole experience of going to Mexico, but other than that, I was not concerned. The last two mission trips my group took 3-6 people, so I knew the numbers would get really small before we would cancel.
A couple of weeks later, I was the only one left. At that point, I figured I probably was not going to end up going to Mexico that year. We had (my pastor and I) considered going with another group because of our small numbers. But no other Kansas church was going that week, because our school’s spring was a week earlier than every other school. My pastor communicated with some other churches and got a plan. We would go with Friendswood Friends Church to Mexico. Fast forward a few weeks and we are on the way there. The nerves were setting in for me, I was preparing for the worst. I was afraid of what I would be met with. I was afraid that the people in this church were going to dislike me or leave me out.
When we arrived in Eagle pass, Josiah (the Friendswood youth pastor) welcomed Kirk (my pastor) with open arms. He talked to us and made us feel very welcome. At that point, I hadn’t talked to any of the students yet, but I was happy that someone was talking to us and accepting us. The second day, however, I was starting to make friends. In our host home, Kirk and I stayed with two students, who were incredibly nice from the get-go. Once we settled in we started to have good conversations, and were joking around. I started to feel like I had known them my whole life.
When we got to Mexico the next day, we met up with Samuel (the Agujita Friends Church pastor) and were greeted with lots of children playing and people talking. No one there acted awkwardly or reserved to us at all. It was super nice. They were immediately accepting and welcoming. I am usually pretty reserved around new people, but the whole Friendswood group and the Mexican people made me rethink that. By the second to last day, I felt as though we were all just a big (dare I say) family. We were all singing, playing, eating, and laughing together. It was nice.
The second to last night we were there, we were all called into the sanctuary of the church. The tone when we were being called in was very serious. I was immediately assuming I said or did something wrong. We were informed we would be leaving a day early because of COVID-19 concerns. At first, I was relieved that I didn’t say or do something I shouldn’t have, but then it hit me that the trip was cut short. On the way back to our host home it was very quiet. And almost the whole time we were there we were quiet.
The next day, we met up in San Antonio to shop and say our goodbyes. And although maybe I won’t see them for awhile, I have a feeling they would accept me all over again and we would pick up right where we left off. So although it may be childish, maybe the theme for this mission trip was more simple than the others. If I had to give it a title, I suppose it would be, Friendship.
Jesse Penna | Director of Student Ministries
As I type, I am on day 14 of our quarantine after having returned from Mexico. Many surreal moments in the past several weeks of which will be etched in my memory for years to come. I want to do my best to focus on Spring Invasion in this reflection, amidst so much Pandemic discussion as it relates to COVID-19.
Spring Invasion 2020 was a first in so many regards. Here is a small list of firsts:
- First time in a long time that Ralph Corbet was not able to make the trip to Coahulia to serve as project director due to some health complications and surgery on his eye.
- First time for me to serve as director in an official capacity by myself.
- First time to have my family with me.
- First time that we have ever cancelled a week’s worth of Spring Invasion due to a pandemic.
One thing that happened in January, that I would like to make note of here as a key piece to my reflection, was an important meeting between Coahulia pastors, and EFC-MAYM leaders, Pastors and Youth workers to determine the future of Spring Invasion:
Present: Sergio Ayala pastor of Nueva Rosita Friends Church, Rogelio Arevalo pastor of Palau Friends Church, Zulema and Chuey Vazquez pastor of Nacimiento Friends Church along with a church member, Pablo and Rosie Coronado pastor of Refugio De Dios Church, David Frazier pastor of Miami Friends Church, Josiah Brown youth pastor of Friendswood Friends Church, Gabe Hancock associate pastor of Rose Hill Friends Church, Jesse Penna EFC-MAYM Student Ministries Director, Matt Macy associate director of EFM and longtime director for Spring Invasion, Samuel Vasquez pastor of Agujita Friends Church and Primary host and director for Coahuila Friends Churches, and Ralph Corbet long time Project director for Spring Invasion.
During this meeting that took place on January 16, 2020 at Nueva Rosita Friends Church, it was determined that the number 1 priority for Spring Invasion is relationships, not projects. We will do some projects in the future, but not to the detriment of relationships, looking for intentional ways to plan margin into our schedule, and to look for ways to spontaneously serve those we encounter in the community alongside the friends church in Coahuila. There was a sense that Coahuila friends church, has become our family and we don’t feel any call or leaning towards not continuing to visit and serve and love our family while looking for ways to serve those not yet apart of the family of God.
Now back to the reflection on our time there in March: In light of the decisions and discussions that we had in January, it is interesting to me to see what ended up happening this March; primarily very little projects were completed by the teams and groups from the U.S. minus Friendswood and Argonia during week 1 – you can see their reports on our blog, all other groups were cancelled and did not make it to Coahuila in March 2020).
By the time we return to Coahuila – tentatively planning to go back in March 2021 or for sure 2022, it will have been 3 to 4 years since the last big projects were done by teams from EFC-MAYM. However, we long to be with our family and friends in Coahuila and look forward to the time when we will be back together in face to face relationship with our friends to serve alongside them and to continue to build relationships with them and the community in Coahuila.
Several personal highlights/praises from Spring Invasion 2020:
- We were able to provide some project money for spring invasion, to be done almost 100% by Coahuila Friends Church
- Given that so many projects were already started, and material purchased, the church members in Coahuila jumped right in with work on projects once we left.
- Most notably, there was a big project at Refugio de dios in Nueva Rosita that was ready for a big concrete pour for Miami Friends when they arrived. Since Miami Friends did not come, a group from Nueva Rosita Friends Church went on Monday of our week 2 spring invasion and did a full day’s work to complete the concrete pour. This ultimately is better relationally for that community to work together in that way!
- There were several steps that led to our deciding to cancel week 2 that were clear steps from God and the timing of it all saved groups from loading up and driving all the way down just to turn around. Although we are still saddened that week 2 was cancelled, we are rejoicing in the way God led us to make the decision.
- Jennifer and Andrew Monaghan and family, came down a bit earlier than the rest of week 2. We were able to contact them right before they crossed into Mexico which ultimately saved them from a recommended 14-day quarantine.
- Jenna Schmidt, was able to serve week 1 with Argonia and Friendswood as an EFC-MAYM staff person on site to host since I was not able to miss anymore class. The timing and logistics of all of this played out nicely in several regards. Special thanks to Jenna for doing so much work ahead of time, and for being onsite week 1 as our EFC-MAYM host.
- Gene Stratton served as our delivery man and additional personnel for week 1 to help as an added adult for Friendswood and Argonia and stayed with my family and I until we wrapped up and cleaned up before heading home together. Gene had planned to be there both weeks as he was coming as an adult with Northridge Friends during week 2, and so it worked out to send him with lots of supplies and additional adult help for week 1. He and I ended up being the only Americans at the celebration service on Thursday night as Friendswood and Argonia had decided to leave a day early.
- Bethel Friends releasing a church vehicle for me to use, and Northridge Friends releasing a van and trailer for Gene to use.
- While Miami Friends, Rose Hill Friends, Haviland Friends, Bethel Friends and Northridge Friends made preparations and plans to go Week 2 and weren’t able to in the end, who knows what God did in and through them as they stayed home.