This spring break, I, along with over 250 Azusa Pacific students acted as a stepping stone in the long-standing relationship APU has with the city of Mexicali.

Having served with Mexico Outreach three times in the past, I went into this spring break expecting my heart to be changed. Similar to my prior trips, I prepared for a life-altering experience where my soul would be renewed in a new-found God. In the past, Mexico Outreach has always served as an “altar call” of sorts. This time however, that was not the case.

I soon learned it was not my heart that needed to be transformed, but my perspective. This year, I led an orphanage team where we spent the week with about 20 children. The large, colorful gates of the orphanage protect a small cement playground where the children spend the majority of their days. On the other side of the road lies the border.The largest irony of all is the giant shopping mall clearly visible on the other side. Those children will grow up staring at a giant H&M sign while they live in great poverty; a seemingly hopeless situation. In spite of that, their innocence and love for my team astounded us all.

Despite the joy found within the children, I still never felt that mushy-gushy Jesus feeling. How could I be seeing so much and still not feel God? I began to question my impact as a leader and as a short-term missionary.

With the small amount of time allotted by spring break and Thanksgiving, it is difficult to see a huge change in the Mexicali community. To some (myself included), this can seem discouraging.

Alyssa Lim, a junior nursing major, led a Mexico Outreach team this past spring break.

“People think they can’t make a difference in such a short time,” Lim said. “It’s an opportunity to gain experiences of what it’s really like to live out Jesus’ love and be able to make connections where you are placed.”

As my week continued in Mexicali, I found uncorrupted joy bubbling from the children at the orphanage. Even so, I still felt separated from God and started to look negatively on short-term mission trips. Near the end of the week, one of the eldest girls at the orphanage went out of her way to thank our team. She told our translator when people come to visit them, the children often hide away.

This week, however, our team showed so much love that her brothers and sisters were truly joyful.

It was then that I realized that God had been working in my heart and working in their hearts before I was even willing to attend the trip.

Short-term mission trips are not about what God is doing in the heart of the missionary (although that is important); rather, it is about what God is doing long-term.

Tim Salyards, senior Student Ministry Coordinator for Mexico Outreach brigades and orphanages, understands the true goal of short-term mission trips.

“It is to equip others to engage with ministry … and to [create] partnership with organizations,” Salyards said.

Short-term mission trips are one small piece of the huge foundation that God is laying out across the world. Although it is rare to completely transform something in one week, APU’s 50-year-long relationship with the Mexicali is making a true impact.

Even if short-term missionaries do not see or feel the plan of God in the moment, we should be comforted by the fact that our hearts are not a reflection of God’s plan. Instead, he is at work before and after mission trips take place; we are simply lucky enough to be a vessel for him.

Sierra Tinsley, senior business management major and a member of my team, witnessed God’s love and joy in the children at the orphanage this spring break.

“Even though I am not able to communicate with them I think that these kids have a reliance on God and an effortless trust in Him that I really admire,” Tinsley said. “Overall, they value what’s truly important in life and are so grateful for all that they have.”

As short-term missionaries, it is our job to also be grateful for the opportunity we have to be part of God’s huge plan. In the end, I could not solve the heavy problems that the children face, but simply love them, knowing that God has a greater plan with mission trips as a whole.