An experience. And a calling.

The moment I stepped off of a bus on my first international mission trip and mentally photographed a smile from a little boy, I experienced a feeling that words would never be able to explain. A smile came to my face that I never knew I could express, an inner force that made my chest throb and my eyes start to swell with tears.

I searched for words to be able to describe the experience. From compassion, loving, a deeper sense of being, I always left unsatisfied with the choice of words I presented. It wasn’t until this year, when I went on a mission trip through Buckner with my youth group to the Dominican Republic, that I finally found the perfect word: God. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I had been naming off characteristics of God and trying to illustrate a personal image of him. But we weren’t created to be able to fully grasp the idea of God.

So when I led a Bible study at a school in the Dominican Republic and my youth minister asked the students, “What does God look like?” and they replied, “No sé [I don’t know]”, I immediately understood that God was known not by a physical image but by characteristics that painted a spiritual image.

Through the Buckner staff, I was constantly reminded to give the kids all of my time and energy, but also to be intentional about why I was there. In the beginning I forgot why the Lord provided me with this journey, but was quickly reminded when I saw my dad sharing the gospel with a 17-year-old baseball player.

On the final day of serving, a sponsor firmly said, “This is your last day to make an impact and learn from these kids.” That sentence rang throughout my head, and I asked God for the strength to give everything I had left. I remember the Lord providing me with energy that only 10 shots of espresso could provide. I ran, played soccer and, with the little Spanish I knew, let every kid know that the Lord loved them.

By the end of the trip, I knew I left my heart with Buckner Dominica. As I sat down on the flight home and reminisced about the entire trip, I had a sense that everything I experienced was God. The laughter, the conversations regarding faith, the memories. Everything I encountered was as if the Lord directed every detail.

I learned I wanted to do more than sit in an office cubicle for the rest of my life. I felt God pushing me to do more with myself. With what, I have yet to unveil that mystery. But I know I am going to start with the spark He ignited in my heart for missions.

Lauren Ummel is a senior at White Oak High School in White Oak, Texas, where she participates in many activities including volleyball, student council and powerlifting. Lauren was adopted through the Buckner Domestic Infant Adoption program in 1997 by her parents David and Shannon.

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