Sometimes on Monday mornings, I pour myself a cup of coffee and watch the IMMERSION video. It has become somewhat of a ritual, motivating me as I serve behind the scenes. After humming along with Ben Rector and reminiscing about past travels, I turn my attention to an inbox full of emails and budget spreadsheets and video interviews—my normal workflow. Who said working for a nonprofit was always glamorous, world-changing stuff?
But with each fresh training event, with each tearful goodbye at debrief, with each Skype call from half a world away, with each new applicant who boldly says, “I’ll go!”—I am reminded of how God is bringing each of us together, allowing us to be a part of the stories he is telling around the world. It’s humbling, really.
Five years ago, this week, I returned from the very first 6-Month Africa IMMERSION trip—our “pilot program”. I had the opportunity to lead 12 incredible young adults who literally signed up for IMMERSION before a single blog or photo or packing list existed. Sure, Experience Mission had been around for almost 10 years at that point, but IMMERSION was something new. Despite pre-trip conference calls and months of planning, most of them admitted they showed up to training hoping it wasn’t a scam (or a cult). Talk about boldness. They were the firsts. And over the course of 6 months, my life was impacted as much by them as it was by the cultures and people we encountered together.
Our travels took us from the Navajo Reservation, to the Western Cape of South Africa, to rural villages in Mozambique, to the mountains of Lesotho. We often referred to ourselves as “the test dummies” because so much of the program was new and radical for us and for local people. We made mistakes. We had breakthroughs. Plans succeeded and plans fell through. Some of the most unstructured days became highlights of our trip and the most unlikely people changed us forever. As Hein, our EM Africa Director, says: We built the plane as we flew it. And it was beautiful.
As I reflect on the past 5 years, I think this same spirit of boldness and openness is what has made the IMMERSION program grow and thrive. It is what has taken us from 12 "test dummies" in 2012 to over 530 program alumni by the end of 2018. When something is healthy—it grows. And there is no doubt God is using IMMERSION to change both team members and the locals who welcome them in.
Of course, there have been challenges. Seasons when fundraising was down or doors closed or plans changed unexpectedly. Our staff has walked alongside team members struggling with addiction, looking for their purpose, or questioning their faith. We’ve tried our best to create a place where all of us can come as we are and serve together despite our own brokenness. But life and ministry can look a little messy when it’s authentic.
For me, one of the most rewarding things is hearing the stories of change in communities. As team members humbly live on someone else’s turf—mutual impact happens. Conversations about faith and racial division and poverty and culture happen around dinner tables or while doing laundry at the river or while herding sheep.
It’s in these everyday moments when people look each other in the eye and missions suddenly becomes less about doing something for someone and more about living alongside them as an equal. It’s a slow but meaningful approach, helping us get to the root of our own worldview but also understanding others.
These days, the behind the scenes of IMMERSION looks a lot more organized than it did when our first team launched in 2012. Our staff has grown. We’ve expanded to new communities. Our interview process is more defined. We’ve rewritten curriculum. There are more systems, policies, and paperwork. But none of these things make the program what it is.
At the heart of it, IMMERSION is still a grassroots movement of people from diverse backgrounds who are coming together to learn. And in the midst of our messiness and ministry, God shows up.
I am so proud to be a part of the team behind the scenes, but to also know the deep, personal impact this program can make. Truly, not a day goes by when I don’t think about my teammates or host families or all the adventures we had together. And now more than ever I realize time is a funny thing. Day-to-day can feel like a grind—a slow and steady march toward our hopes, our goals, or who we want to be. But days turn into years. Struggles turn into the best kind of stories. Hard work turns into something so much bigger than just us.
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You must have a group size of at least 6 members to join this trip. Please view the Small Team trips or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.
For most trips, you must have a group size of at least 6 members. Please view the Small Teams tab on each Community page or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.