Have you ever tried to shove the best experience of your life through a 1,400-word funnel?
Well here comes EVERYTHING.
Earlier this month, five of my closest buddies and I got the opportunity to take a pilot mission trip to Tanzania. And by pilot, I mean if any of the six slipped and fell into the mouth of a lion—they’d know not to send another group next year.
Our mission was to be an encouragement to and students of our Grace Baptist missionaries who left their lives in the States to serve the Lord in Dar Es Salaam. After getting briefed on our mission, I remember thinking, “Why the crap-hell are we not here to do more??”
I’m a closet douche! Well, what we had learned was—although done in good faith—things like air-dropping food or sharing the gospel and flying the coop can be extremely damaging. The people you’re serving need to have their spiritual and social needs met—not just their physical. Our missionaries believe that if the roots we foster run deep, when the storm comes, the tree can fall and the roots are still in place. So instead of doing white people things, we set out to build authentic God-centered relationships and provide extra hands wherever needed. And it was dope.
The journey began in early March when Danny, Sarah, Charity, Kyle, Jo
MAMA JOJ, and I set out for the 24-hour flight to Tanzania. That means Cleveland > Detroit THE GEM OF THE MIDWEST > Amsterdam > Teetering on the tip of Kilimanjaro > Dar Es Salaam.
I was 1000% convinced we’d get off the plane and immediately get dragged into separate hippo ponds for maiming, but we landed at the terminal—like how most airports work. And by “like how most airports work” I mean into the arms of the Boon and James families, our favorite
standup comedian gal Shantelle Brutsman, and the world’s best interns Paulo, Bwana Eddy, Abel, and Apollo. We didn’t know it yet, but we’d leave our 2 weeks together as #besties4life.
You might be thinking, “WHAT’S THIS INTERNSHIP??” Glad you asked, you SCREAMER. This gig is a year-long experience where four nationals bunk up with the Boons, study the Bible, live in community, get discipled, and are prepped to take up their cross and go spread the good word through a platform of their choosing. These guys have the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever met—every second with them was a joy. The way they love is contagious. They’re all hilarious, and their servant hearts are extraordinary.
Another ministry we had the joy of spending a few days with was Sifa Threads, a killer organization headed up by Steph Boon and Shantelle. This two-year program extends an opportunity to young women born into difficult circumstances to reach financial and spiritual sustainability. Sifa teaches women how to sew, equips them with business skills, disciples them, gives them a platform to sell their goods, and provides them the tools they need to spread the gospel and be a spiritual mentor to others. This ministry is a monster.
While at SIFA, each of us got the opportunity to share our testimony. That means a “quick and painless” 5-minute story about how you came to Christ and how different your life is now that you’ve accepted him as your savior. Oh, and this time it needs to be translated on the fly into Swahili.
Ya that’s not intimidating. I’ll be the first to tell you, sharing your white-person sob story with a room of young women who have the entire world on their shoulders is an out-of-body experience. I was, however, surprised how many of the major tropes we deal with hold true across cultures even though we live worlds apart. Death, divorce, deviance, shame, and guilt and things we all deal with. You’d also be surprised how easily you can connect with a stranger after hearing their testimony. It breaks down every barrier and is an extremely effective ministry tool. To be honest, while sharing I was a total train wreck. I was pumped that Joesph Boon has the ability to break up my fast-talking and untranslatable idioms CHOO -CHOO into something that hopefully made sense.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the pure hype of getting custom wedding garb designed by our girls at Sifa. The interns selected the shared pattern, but we each got to pick our own style. It’s amazing putting a name and a face to the art you’re sporting on your body. THANKS, ESTHER! After Shan gave us 8 seconds to decide the style we’d be stuck with for life, Danny and I ended up with these beauties:
In short, Sifa gives women a sustainable future and ropes in nationals for the success of their ministry. It’s kind of unstoppable. Support them by getting a Boutique in a Box or sending them some love.
The third ministry we saw kill the game was Alive TZ.
Headed up by Aaron, Shan, Steph, Eugene, and Tom, this ultra-spirited group of young people takes a nation-wide bus tour twice a year to spread the good news. I’ve literally NEVER a group of twentysomethings tear the house down quite like this. Each member uses their unique God-given gifts to dazzle and direct people in remote villages towards Jesus.
Here’s how a day rolls in typical Alive TZ fashion:
- Wake up before the Holy Spirit
- Drive 8 hours on a dirt road picking up talented hitch-hikers.
- Get chased by village kids who’ve never seen a bus before.
- Break-the-ice with song, dance, and Oreo wiggling.
- Adam and Eve Puppet Show.
It gets weird quick.
- Face painting
- Get fired from face painting for thinking kids like sharks.
- MC Freddie unleashes his raps while DJ Michael CRANKS IT.
- Abel and Joas do HYPE. AKA insane African Zumba the whole village loves.
- Question if that 90-year-old doing HYPE will die mid-wobble.
- Apollo leads worship.
- Villagers see their first film: The Oscar-nominated
- The adults hear the gospel from Alive TZ leadership.
- There’s an opportunity to accept Christ.
- Drive 4 hours to the next village.
- Start over
- Write songs behind a mud hut at midnight.
- Take a shower out of a bucket.
- Poop if you’re lucky.
- Pass out.
- Repeat for 4 days.
It was exhausting. It was amazing. Alive TZ was really the meat and potatoes of our trip. And, whether or not I really wanted it, I got that sleep-on-a-church-floor, squat-over-a-hole, close-your-eyes-when-you-think-we’re-praying-in-Swahili-but-we’re-not moment.
GAH, so embarrassing. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. These young adults are held to a high standard, and if you’re not walking with the Lord, you’re not going on tour. This team has powerful leaders, and they’re doing amazing work mentoring these young people to use their talents to glorify God. Something I’m now REAL inspired to do.
Let’s get real. This trip was not just
pooping in holes and crying heavy stuff. I laughed from the second we got there till the moment we left. We had adventures that would make Marco Polo look like a stack of hay.
After our ALIVE TZ trip, we had the absolute blessing of driving a human lunch box around 40 km death-loop—or “safari.” You know what they always say, one lion in the car is better than 15 in the bush!
Everyone says that in Africa.
It started out like this:
And ended up like this:
As promised: NOW PICTURE THAT WATERMELON AS YOUR HEAD.
Our second adventure was to the lovely sands of Zanzibar. Being able to accompany the interns as they explored this island for the first time was the best experience. Their reaction to every part of this 24-hour vacation was like giving your heart a warm hug. Also, we met this fine specimen:
Plus, what’s an island adventure without a few needles…
This story is trash. Don’t click it, don’t click it. Ok, click it. 🐢
This mission trip was the adventure of a lifetime. My heart feels completely changed. I got a major attitude adjustment, I learned so much about my relationship with God, and I made 15 new best friends. If I could pass on any learnings it would be this list below.
- Being below the poverty line doesn’t mean you’re miserable. The people in these villages are the happiest people I’ve ever met. They have fewer distractions fighting for their eyeball—they can truly focus on Jesus and family.
- Finding your identity in anything other than Christ will make you sad. Nothing else will satisfy you—I promise.
- Don’t be jealous of someone else’s talents. You have gifts of your own—they’re amazing and unique to you.
- God uses REALLY cool people to do his work—missionaries aren’t just ruler-beating nuns. I’d spend every day with these people. BY CHOICE. 😛
- God provides in crazy ways. HUGE thank you to my team for helping me smash my goal of $1,500 to fly me across the Atlantic.
- We don’t have control. Over anything.
- You can love through a language barrier. Sometimes words are a waste.
- Getting nationals involved in your ministry is vital for sustainability.
- God is powerful. His love is universal and a universal connector.
- Missions are worth it.
This post is effectively over. Keep reading if you want to creep on my love for the missionaries!
CREEP. CREEP. CREEP.
Here’s Your Jaekle Jam:
Keep it Real Out There,
Aaron Boon: Duuuude you’re the man. Thanks for showing me what leadership looks like and making fun of me until I cried at night. Keep Eugene and Tom in-line, and keep leading these amazing interns by example. Thanks for teaching us everything we needed to succeed and for being a blast to be around.
Steph Boon: Steph, you’re my dumpster-diving older sister and the strongest person I’ve ever met. Your persistence to do what’s right over what’s easy is inspiring. Thanks for all the laughs, the insights, and the fun. You have an incredible way of telling your story and the passion for what you do is the most contagious.
Joseph Boon: Joseph your ability to serve others without batting an eyelash makes my heart hurt. I’m so glad we got to spend so much time getting to know you. You’re an amazing guy, and I can’t wait to see you in a cap and gown. I couldn’t be rooting harder for you. Your heart for kids is incredible, and I can’t wait to see the lives you touch.
Joe James: HEY BESTIE. I’m super bummed I didn’t get to know you before you left because I feel like we’d be tight AF. Keep raising those two little rockstars, and inking yourself. I LOVED hearing your Dad’s story about Cuba. I’m praying your language learning goes quicker than expected and that you’re constantly encouraged in your ministry.
Britt James: Britt, I’ve never seen anyone transition from laughing to barfing so fast. I admire your heart for the marginalized and your unbelievable transparency. I learned so many things I’d rather not know! But I’m a better man for it?? Hahaha. You’re doing an amazing job with Bunju. I want to return immediately. Keep doing the good work and keep us posted on how our kids are doing!
Shan Brutsman: HEY CRYSTAL. You’re the reason I went on this trip and I couldn’t be more thankful for your unparalleled sense of humor, business-savviness, and ability to throw together a killer schedule. You’re the best storyteller I’ve ever met, and you’re emails are completely terrifying. Keep it up! Chick-fil-a soon??
Bwana Eddy: BwAaaAAaNNnAaa Eddy. You have so much energy and you wear your emotions on your sleeve—I LOVE THAT. Thanks for being an amazing leader while we were in TZ and for always hitting us up on WhatsApp. It makes us feel loved.
Abel: My DuuUuuUDdeee. Thanks for being an absolute blast and taking me under your wing. Winning the scavenger hunt with you was one of my favorite memories from the trip. Keep up your unbelievable character and be my best friend forever.
Paulo: HEY DANCE PARTNER. Paulo, your heart is huge and your story is amazing. I had so much fun getting to know you and wish we more time together. You’re an unexpected goofball. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish for the Lord. Keep jumping!
Apollo: Apollo I am so pumped you’re the leader of these 3 incredible men. You have incredible character, you’re an incredible talent, you’re sneaky hilarious, and you’ve got a lot of wisdom. Proud to know you, my man. Tell your mama I said HEEEY!