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Reflections of a Mission Trip: The Faith to Go

I got home a couple days ago now from a week-long mission trip to Guatemala. I want to remember what I learned now while it’s still fresh. That being said, I have probably a few subjects on which to reflect, so I’ll spread them out. Otherwise this would be one long post.

Team Pic

Might as well start at the beginning, right?

This was not my first mission trip. It wasn’t even my first mission trip to the same place; it was, in fact, the third mission trip I have taken to Guatemala. Since I’ve done it before, and I like a little sense of adventure in my life, this part was not scary. The unknowns of a foreign country can be a huge obstacle for some, and understandably so. Because of that, I knew when I was asked to be one of the leaders on this trip, that I could be an asset in guiding the team through this and helping them in knowing what to expect.

Ugh! I was going to start at the beginning, but I’m already getting ahead of myself.

Brakes.

Reverse.

I went to Guatemala in 2013 and 2014, but it’s been a few years. Life happened and I was just holding my head above water. Doing anything beyond that seemed impossible, so though I had it in my mind I would go back one day, I didn’t think the time was now.

promise

When I got the call from our international mission team leader asking if I would be one of the co-leaders for our church, I said I would talk it over with my husband, we would pray, and I’d let her know. In the back of my mind, or not even so far back, I really thought it would be a no. First, it was my husband’s turn to go, and it wouldn’t be fair to him. Second, mission trips cost money, and we had none. Third, my own life was a mess, so how could I possibly be someone a team could look to?

But after a few days of praying and discussing with my husband, I began to see it differently.  My husband had a focus of school and it had been a life change for us to send him back. I had been feeling depressed and useless. I had been given a new purpose in my life a few years before, but just had it taken away and was having trouble processing who and what I was, and whether I had a purpose or anything to offer to others anymore. Now I was being asked to take on an important role. This meant somebody felt I did have something to offer, and that idea was likely placed there by God. And when God says you have a purpose, you better say yes, strap in, and enjoy the ride, because He will use you if you let him. I knew I was at a point where I needed this.

But still, we were struggling so much financially, I felt it was wrong to do traditional money raising, and we certainly couldn’t do it ourselves. But I remembered just how perfectly the previous trips had worked in financial fundraising, one trip almost to the exact dollar. Of course, the trip was scheduled for three weeks before I had available paid vacation at work, so I would also be losing an entire week of pay when we were already living paycheck to paycheck. So, I decided if God was sending me, the money for the trip itself would come, and so would the money to cover my week of not getting paid.

Then there was still the nagging reminder that though it seemed God wanted me to go, I just couldn’t see how I was going to be effective when my own world was partially shattered.  If I was falling apart, how could I help hold together a team of people with varying personalities.

But God uses the messed up, the falling apart, the broken people. After all, I wasn’t going to do it by my own strength, but through Him. He would just be using me. Having learned over the last few years to live by faith when I couldn’t make sense of the world around me, He knew I was prepared for this. My being broken was what He wanted to use.

el cruz

So after more prayers, more talks with my husband, and some tears, I called the international team leader and told her yes.

There are so many scriptures and so many songs that come to mind about being called, but these two scriptures are the ones that have gotten me through all the pain and heartache of the last few years:

Romans 8:28

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

and Jeremiah 29:11

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

Sure enough, we had several people on this trip who had never been before, and I was able to help prepare them and help guide them while we were there, to support them and encourage them. What a blessing that was, to watch as they experienced the emotions of such a trip, and to be able to be part of it. The funds were raised quickly and by less people than I would have expected. My portion was over 100% paid faster than any other trip I have gone on. My husband began a job where he is earning more and working more hours, in fact, much overtime right now, and it has more than made up for my missing week of work. And my brokenness? It was just the condition my heart needed to be in.

volcano me

This was just the beginning of my story. I still want to reflect on what we did and the people of Guatemala, the sense of community and how it spans across cultures, and my personal attachments to Guatemala. Stay tuned. Those are coming.

Epic

If you would like to read now about our work, one of my awesome teammates wrote a blog while we were there. Check it out here: epicgoguatemala.com

One of my other teammates shared this video for our team, and I want to share it with you. (Just click on “this video”).

 

 

My Story

If you’ve been in a church, you’ve probably heard about peaks and valleys. Life is full of them. About a year ago, I was checking out a pretty great view on my own mountain peak… and then was shoved from behind into a canyon. Every time I think I’ve found some hand and foot holds to start to climb back up, I slip.

The thing is, as miserable as this experience has been, I know I won’t be down here forever, and what I do while I’m down here matters.

Because one day, I am going to have an amazing story to tell.

I am a writer; however, God is the author of my life. All truly good stories have several intertwined subplots, and as the reader, we don’t always see how all those subplots fit together, but the Author and Creator always sees how it will all connect in the end.

I am learning that I am not the author of my life. God is. I cannot get out of this valley on my own. I have to trust He is working behind the scenes to pull me up. He is giving me an amazing story to tell. He didn’t knock me down here, but He knew I would fall. He already had a plan to raise me up.

My story is not finished yet. One day I can share the story and the happy ending of eternal life.

(I had this post fermenting in my mind as the first of 2016 over a week ago, and then my pastor gave a message last Sunday that confirmed this was the right thing, right down to the video I had already decided to include. God is funny that way.)

Bad Religion

You don’t need religion to have God. There is no specific prayer you need to pray, no certain clothing you must wear, nor special buildings you must utilize. God wants us in whatever fashion we choose to come to Him, because He just wants us.

Through Jesus, God gave us an example of a prayer in what is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” but we can come before Him in prayer in many ways, with our own sincere words. Our clothing matters little, as long as it does not send wrong messages to others. After all, John the Baptist wore animal hides and was said to be a wild looking man. A church building, no matter how beautiful, is still only a building. The church is the people, and we must not forget that.

Religion is like food these days. Additives. Preservatives. Genetically modified. And all sorts of words and fillers that nobody can pronounce and have no nourishing qualities. I just want some non-GMO, all-natural, organic God. It’s as simple as reading, studying, and following the Bible.

It’s not about following a strict set of rules. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus made it really simple, and no matter how many hoops religions make for their followers to jump through, no one can earn the grace that God has already offered to us. It is about having a personal relationship with Him and loving people…all people… not just the ones in our church building.

This is why I love the church I attend and helped launch so much (Epic Church). We call it “a church for people who don’t do church.” This last Sunday, we gathered in our usual building (which is actually a cafeterium at a local middle school), and then headed out into various places throughout our county in order to serve our community by cleaning, painting, building, feeding, loving, and just generally serving through projects to fill needs through an event called 3G Sunday (Go, Gather, Give). At least 341 people signed up to be part of this, and I am so blessed to be part of a church that does something as cool as this. I’m not telling you to come to my church; after all, you could be reading this from the other side of the globe. I’m just saying that you should think about what your church really stands for and what it really means to accomplish. Is it in line with real biblical truths? We are meant to love one another, serve others, and have a strong community.

My New Mission

Whenever I heard about missionaries when I was younger, they always seemed so brave.  These are people who temporarily give up the comforts of their daily lives and go off to foreign and dangerous lands in order to spread God’s love, and they usually don’t even speak the language or get to use indoor plumbing.

Ok, so I sort of generalized the extreme cases as all mission experiences, and in a sense, I was wrong.  Yes, some missionaries do go to dangerous places with no plumbing, but missions are really any outreach that takes one outside of his or her comfort zone… and let’s face it, our comfort zones here in the U.S. are fairly posh in comparison to many others’.

Last summer, I was able to experience my first international mission trip when I went to Costa Rica.  It wasn’t nearly as rugged as many would think.  We stayed primarily in San Jose, the capital, and Costa Rica is not a struggling country.  We saw shopping malls, WalMart, and Starbucks while we were there.  However, we worked with kids who were living well below the poverty line, and the discrepancy in wealth distribution was highly visible in San Jose.

Los Guidos

Los Guidos

The plan was that I would go back this summer and Robert was going to come with me for his first mission trip.  Plans changed a bit and now we are going to Antigua, Guatemala instead.  Guatemala is no Costa Rica.  In Guatemala, about 50 percent of the children are malnourished, and many do not even finish primary school.  When we go there for a week in August, we get to build a house for a family in need, feed hungry children, and possibly visit an orphanage along with several other possibilities, many of which we may not even know until we get there.

This is the fourth summer our church will be sending a mission team to Guatemala, and this team will actually be the second to go this summer as one will be down there in June as well.  This means we have established a good relationship with our partners down there (Iglesia del Camino) and it allows Epic Church to be even more of a blessing to the people of that community.  Robert and I cannot wait to be a part of the exciting work needed there.  In fact, we’ve even begun learning Spanish together with Rosetta Stone in hopes of being able to communicate with the locals while we are there (Robert is learning Spanish for the first time; I am reviewing what I learned so long ago but never used).

As we prepare for this trip, we need lots of prayer and some financial assistance as well.  We are currently building up our team of support/supporters and the following link will keep our team supporters informed on our progress on both fronts via blog updates on the team and individual updates on each team member’s financial goals.  The money goes towards our food and lodging, transportation costs, and also the cost of the projects we will be undertaking.  If all you can afford is prayer, please do that for us and the rest will be provided as we need it.

http://www.arkpages.com/goguatemala2/

Water is Life

I truly believe that people who have the means should give to those who do not in a show of love.  I also believe this should be voluntary and not forced, so that it is done out of love and not resentment, because when you give out of love, you will find yourself blessed for your sacrifice.

In the U.S. and many other developed nations, we tend to take for granted what may be seen as luxuries to many others in our world.

Like clean water.

So now I am advocating for one of my favorite causes, Charity:water, an organization I found completely by chance and on accident.

My husband and I were on the programming team at our church, epic, and we were planning for a series called “Poured Out,” which in essence was about pouring out God’s love all over.  In searching for possible videos to use in context with this lesson, we came across this video and immediately wanted to have our church take on the fundraising to build a well, though nothing like this had been on our radars prior to that moment.

 

We played the video in church, filled empty water bottles with dirty water to display at church, and set up a link from our website for people to give donations toward this cause.  We encouraged people to give $20, which many did.  The goal to meet for building a well was $5,000, an enormous amount of money for one small church to raise.  I remember that as we grew close to our deadline we still had far to go to actually raise the amount for one well.  Then it happened.  An anonymous giver provided half the goal in one donation, putting us over the top for our total goal to help epic church donate a well.  I was driving to a doctor’s appointment when Robert called me to let me know, and I almost had to pull off the road because tears were filling up my eyes and I was so emotional.  It was an exciting and beautiful experience.

Then we had to wait.  With the dangers of civil wars where our well was to be built and the devastation in Haiti, which came soon after we raised this money, our project was put on hold.  Every once in a while, we would remember and Robert would check to see if anything was happening.  Then, just before Thanksgiving this year, he checked it again, and our well had been built!  The completion date was listed as October 2012.

It is in the village of Aragudi in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where many for which it provides once had to walk up to two hours just to retrieve 5 liters of water from contaminated sources.  Now it only takes these people an average of fifteen minutes… and the 15 liters of water they can now get is purified.  These people take so much pride and care for their well that they even decided to build a stone wall around it, with a door, in order to keep animals out and from contaminating their water, their life source.  They each pay in a small amount to maintain this well, which helps them to feel a pride for contributing to this wonderful water provider.

The well in use

The well in use

It’s exciting to know that halfway around the world, in a different hemisphere, a well our church provided helps give life to a group of people we may never even meet, not on Earth anyway.  I cannot fathom how the simple act of providing clean drinking water has improved the quality of life for an entire village of 357 people.

I still do not know who the anonymous donor was who gave us the boost to be able to provide that well, but I pray he or she is blessed in knowing lives have been changed for the better because of this selfless donation.

The plaque on the well

The plaque on the well

Ephesians 3:20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

“It’s Not a Handout. It’s a Hand Up.”

On Saturday, I got to work with my hands and help build a house for Habitat for Humanity with a crew from my church (epic church). If you have never done a build, I encourage you to give it a try if they are anywhere around your community.  A more fulfilling endeavor will be hard to find, trust me.  I’ve now done three, and I can assure you that taking a look at the progress at the end of the day is an amazing experience.

I’m going to take a paragraph here to dispel the myth that I am an amazingly altruistic, selfless person who always puts others first and spends all of her free time doing for others.  Maybe you didn’t think that anyway.  But if you’ve read my other posts, you may be inclined to believe that all I do is fight human trafficking, go on mission trips, mold young minds, and build homes for people.  I wish that were accurate, but I must be honest in telling you that I really just don’t feel like posting the bad stuff about myself, though I assure you that I am a selfish jerk more often than I’d like to admit.  It’s just that most of the people who read my posts don’t know me, so I thought maybe I could fool you, but it just didn’t feel right.  I am trying, and I want to always be a better person.  Does that count?

Anyway… I was just thinking about how amazing it is to be able to see the progress made in building a house.  When we arrived, only a slab existed on the property.  In a few hours, the frames of the exterior walls were all up and we were nailing on the exterior plywood.  Some worked faster than others, but we all worked hard.  By the end of the day’s work, that slab had complete exterior walls, and I got to help.  Awesome!

In my usual job, I’m constantly building, but I usually cannot see my progress.  Building minds and building houses seem so different.  But maybe they really aren’t.  Sure, I don’t always see the results in teaching (and it would be so much more rewarding if I always could), but I work just as hard at either.  Sweat, labor, and determination go into both, though in teaching the sweat may be more symbolic.  And the pain and exhaustion feel about the same.  My muscles ache; I slam my thumb with a hammer; I get dirty.  You get the point.  One is physical while the other is mental and emotional, but at the end of the day, I’ve been a part of building something that will last.  I can continue this analogy, or I can just make my real point now, which is that sometimes it’s just nice to see a tangible result from hard labor.

I ate all that food for lunch and had three cookies after. Don’t judge. I needed the fuel.