Mission Trip Freetime

Tim Haywood takes serious vacations in Latin America — and in this case, “serious” means that he organizes volunteer mission trips to serve people in need.   

A veteran of 15 separate mission trips, Haywood, is coordinator of national distribution sales at Greentech Environmental, Johnson City, Tennessee, as well as a part-time campus minister at East Tennessee State University. In his free time, he leads week-long trips for college student volunteers interested in serving the people in Latin America.  

“This year’s trip is our first group voyage to Panama. Previously, we went to Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” Tim says. “A friend had done mission work in Panama and knew about a Panamanian town in need. It was a perfect match for our group of 10.”  

Tim has taken groups of up to 35 volunteers in the past, but he believes 10 is the sweet spot. They can be effective at serving the communities, but don’t become overwhelming. Not only is the size of the group smaller, but the travel arrangements for this trip are different than most — mainly because of the destination.  

“Our group flies out at 6:00 a.m. and arrives in Panama City around lunchtime,” says Tim. “The next day we will drive to a small airport and fly to the Bocas Del Toro region. Once there, we will jump on another small plane, and then a bus before reaching our home for the night.”  

That next morning, the group will take a 30-minute ride into the rainforest to finally arrive at the community they will be serving.  

“The area is totally remote. We have to pack in food, a large camp stove and water purification equipment,” says Tim. “The volunteers rotate through a number of jobs, including preparing the food, dishwashing, tending the water purifier and prepping for various bible study classes.” 

The group feeds three meals each day to roughly 100 people. That includes large quantities of fresh fruit, vegetables, rice and beans to individuals throughout the community, who rallies around the volunteers. To show their gratitude, the community provides the use of the school — which is more like a pavilion with partial walls and a roof. This is where Tim and his team serve food and lead bible study for the kids and teens — adult bible study is in the local church. 

According to Tim, “The hardest part of a mission trip is always the logistics: what to pack, finding funding, and last-minute nightmares, such as lost luggage, a rolled ankle, or increases in the price of food.”   

As someone who loves to solve problems, Tim is always ready when a hurdle comes up. It’s all part of the experience and he proclaims that it’s all worth it in the end.  

“I love the people of Latin America. Their hearts are open, they’re welcoming and show unconditional love. There’s a lot to learn from them,” says Tim.  

On every mission trip, Tim has watched lives change, both in the people that are served and those volunteers donating their time. Each experience offers valuable perspective about what people need to both survive and be happy. He also stresses that everyone ends up with a greater sense of responsibility and awareness about being grateful.  

Tim reflects, “We’re called to help in any way we can. Not everybody is able to do this kind of volunteer work, but I believe that if you can and you’re able, you should do it.” 

Gretchen Roufs, a 25-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “Freetime,” contact her at Gretchen@GretchenRoufs.com