By Rev. Tyler Heston, Minister to Youth

“I’m the only girl in my P. E. class.”
“I didn’t know my friend was adopted.”
“I remember being overwhelmed the first day of calculus, when I was the only freshman in an all-junior class.”
“I didn’t know that childhood friend was actually a second-cousin.”

The high schoolers at last week’s Ecuador team meeting gave such answers in response to two questions. First, when were you in a situation in which you felt that you did not belong? Second, when was a time that you found out something surprising about someone you knew well? Each answer by itself was just a fleeting reminder of moments that confronted us with the unknown; together, everyone’s stories created a palpable sense of how much is unknown in the world.

These discussion questions were a little icebreaker that kicked off our meeting, a way to get to know each other a little bit better and to warm our minds to the deeper discussion about being in a foreign country. Eighteen of us are traveling to Otavalo, Ecuador, in June — 15 high schoolers, Lori Bennett, Nancy Lear, and myself — to spend a week learning about and supporting a nonprofit that works with community development in rural communities across the country. We’re excited to travel together to a new part of the globe with two missions in mind: to serve and to learn.

We will serve by partnering with people working on a daycare building that offers accessible childcare for working mothers. We will learn a lot. We’ll learn about daycare buildings in Ecuador, and we’ll about day-to-day life in rural Ecuador— a place very different from urban and suburban America. We’re going to learn new foods, meet new people, and new words in a different language. We’re going to learn new ways that people flourish and thrive with far fewer resources than most of us have. We’re going to learn new ways to think about God from the new people we meet. We will feel like we don’t belong, and we will be surprised by things we learn. We’re going to see that there is indeed much in the world that we didn’t know.

The unknown can be scary, especially when you’re confronted by it by travelling to a new part of the world. Yet, the unknown can also be a sacred, vital balance to the known. God is not just in things that are familiar but is also in things that are new, different— in things unknown. Author and speaker Rob Bell talks about how things like knowing and unknowing or faith and doubt “are not opposites; they’re dance partners. It’s possible to hold your faith with open hands, living with great conviction and yet at the same time humbly admitting that your knowledge and perspective will always be limited.”

Our week in Ecuador will give us a chance to practice dance as we explore the harmonies of unknown, and I can’t wait to come home to hear the harmonies more clearly in our everyday life. I pray when we return, this hearing is contagious, and that we will help show you that everyday is filled with awesome unknowns that contain the presence of divine mystery.