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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”).

 

 

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Getting out of Myself

At this time of year I’m usually absorbed in getting myself ready to teach another year of high school, but if you’ve followed my past blog posts you know I will not being going back this year, so that’s freed me up a bit.  Instead, I’ve been filling my time with home improvement projects and giving a new life to my book.  What this all amounts to is that I’ve been home alone and wrapped up tightly in my own cocoon of me.  This is the introvert Terri.  She cares deeply about others, but if nobody checks on her, she tends to lose track of the world and just sort of fold up inside herself.

Ok, I’m done referring to myself in the third person.  I just wanted to try it out for a bit, but it’s going to get creepy if I take it any further.

Thankfully, I’m about to experience a takeover of my attentions, and I really need it.  Next week I’m going to Guatemala on a mission trip.  I will be building houses, presenting vacation bible school activities to children, and hanging out with a team of 16 other people, and getting very little time for my cocoon, and I’m glad for that.  I love cocoon time, but now it’s time for me to reach out and love others.  I cannot wait to see what God has planned.

If you are interested in seeing what our team does while on the trip, follow us at www.arkpages.com/goguatemala2

I may or may not be posting to this blog while I’m there.  It depends on the demands on my time and how well wi-fi works where we will be staying.  If I don’t post for a bit, check out the above link, to which I will definitely be posting, as it is one of my roles on the team to update the team’s blog.

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/

Hope and a Future

I’ve neglected my writing lately, both in blog posts and creatively for my book sequel.  My mind has been a jumbled mess and I just haven’t had the time to sort out all the pieces.  This sounds bad, I know, but it really isn’t.  Ok, I concede that the neglecting my writing part is far from good, but my jumbled mind is not so much.  Changes are looming and I just haven’t really felt I can write about it all yet.  It’s all about timing, right?  That’s what “they” say anyway.

I’ve been going through a time of learning and preparation for changes, I think.

A recent lesson:  Robert and I signed up to go with our church on a mission trip to Costa Rica (click here to read my post recapping this trip). I went last summer and it was an amazing experience in many ways.  Robert was excited to have this opportunity, and I was thrilled that we would be doing it together this year.  Our hearts were set on it for months, since I came home actually.  Those who know me know that I am a planner and when I get set on something, well, change is not good.  Yet, change is sometimes necessary.

One evening, I got a phone call in which I was informed that the Costa Rica trip was cancelled, but there were still a few spots open to go on one of the Guatemala trips.  I hung up the phone, told Robert, and waited to see if I was going to be angry or sad, and to see his reaction.  We both took it well and quickly decided this was for a reason and we now had a new opportunity, one we had not expected.  No tears were shed, no items were thrown across the room, and no yelling was uttered from either of us.  We were immediately accepting of the change.  Now we are both excited about going to Guatemala.  If this was for a purpose, I cannot wait to see what that purpose is.

I know other changes are on my horizon and preparation continues.  I’m not sure where all of this will lead, but I’m starting to appreciate the adventure.  Also, I know that whatever may come, it is part of God’s plan for my life, and He always has good plans.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)  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.

Ready, Set, Go!

I love my mom dearly, but I blame her for my being a crier.  Sad occasions. Happy occasions.  They both bring equal tears, and sometimes I’m not even sure which one I’m feeling.  If you know me really well, you know I’m a crier.  But if you don’t know me too well, I like to think I take on a strong exterior (I could be completely wrong and maybe everybody can tell), because I’m pretty good at hiding the crying most of the time.  Going on the mission trip to Costa Rica brought a wealth of emotions to me, and tears.

The idea of being “called” to go somewhere and do something, whatever it may be, is an overwhelming privilege.  To be “used” for something good is awesome.  To see the world through opened eyes is a priceless opportunity.  I would love to have done more, but how many lives can one truly change in a week?  Sometimes these callings to “go” are more for us than they are for those we are going towards.  I needed my heart to be broken, and I needed to see that God is calling me for more.

I hear arguments from people that, “We shouldn’t have to travel around the world to see we have needs in our own communities,” but I think sometimes being given that perspective is important.  It helps us see needs differently, and to see our own roles in meeting them differently.   God wants us to do locally, and He has also called us to “Go into all the world.”  We can do both, and if we do, He will use us to grow others, and He will help us grow as well.

I’ve been warned to never pray for God to show you what He really wants from you unless you really want to know the answer, because it could change your whole world, take you out of your comfort zone, and lead you to new places.  From the first time I heard the song “I Will Go” (by Starfield) during worship at church, it has brought tears to my eyes every time.  I feel a need to “go,” both locally, and possibly not locally as well.  I don’t always know what good I will be for others, but if I am faithful to go, He will do good through me.  And if you do the same, you will be amazed at what will come.

Uninhibited Airplanes (with sound effects)

One unmistakable truth in life is that when you were a child, running was more fun if you held your arms straight out from your sides as if you were an airplane, and even better than that was making sound effects as you did it.  You don’t see many adults doing that.  Why not?  Are we too mature, or are we too jaded and scared of what others will think? There are so many “little things” in life kids are not afraid to do, but adults over-think the whole process and can’t get past themselves.

I’m not just lecturing everyone else, but I’m speaking from experience.  Going on a mission trip to Costa Rica was a step out of my comfort zone, but I’m usually up for travel, as long as I don’t have to do it alone.  All the plans were in place and I just had to show up.  Then I knew God would also show up and guide me through the rest of what I was to do there. That part worked out well, and I had an amazing experience.  I felt I was faithful through all of that and I got so much out of it (more than I gave, I’m sure).  Oddly, the most frightening part of the trip came on our day to relax (a day off was worked into our schedule for reflection, team building,  and just to keep us from being too overwhelmed by everything else we would see and do).  The first item on the agenda that day was a zipline tour over the canopy of the rainforest.  I’m not a big fan of heights, but I had paid the extra money and decided this was an opportunity I would probably not have again and I would regret it if I didn’t do it.

I was terrified.

The guy who had to help me into all my gear asked me how I was that morning, and I told him I was nervous.  “Me too,” he said.  “It’s my first day.”  Now, I knew he was teasing, and the fact that he could be so nonchalant about it helped me see this was a routine thing there and I didn’t have anything to worry about.  Then a group picture was snapped and we all climbed into a truck that would take us up to the top.  Ascending felt like it took forever, and the further up we went, to more nervous I was becoming. I was waiting to put my sweaty hands into those thick, reinforced leather gloves because it would be a sauna in there with all the sweat.

All ready to go- yes, you will stand and walk funny with all that gear

Then we were lined up and hooked to a cable.  One by one, each member of my team flew off on a cable towards the next platform, but not before we requested our pastor say a prayer for all of us.  The closer I got, the more I was shaking.  A few of my teammates were a bit worried about me.  I was a bit worried about me.  What would happen if I passed out on my way to the next platform? I wondered if that had ever happened.  There was an “emergency brake” system at each platform, and lots of padding…  Then it was my turn.  “Place your strong arm on the cable behind you and the other hand here,” said an oddly muted voice somehow attached to the guy pointing to the place where all the hooks were holding me to the cable I would soon be riding.  It was hard to hear him over my heart beating.

And then I was flying down a cable over the tops of trees!  Oh, and I could clearly hear myself screaming.  Then I began to rise again, and slow down as I arrived at the next platform.  I was still shaking when I was getting hooked onto the next cable.  The guy at that station tried to point out a toucan to me, but I would have to lean over to see it and I wasn’t steady enough to do that.  I figured I’d see it once I got going, but I forgot to look, only focusing my eyes directly in front of me as I again was launched down the cable.  When I arrived at the next platform, I wasn’t shaking so much.  Part of me was starting to enjoy it a bit.

This is a serious matter- notice the intensity of survival on my face

Then came a true test of letting go of inhibitions.  At the sixth platform we were supposed to be given a choice to either go backwards or upside down (which was also backwards, btw).  Apparently this was a “slow” cable and we needed to be more aerodynamic.  I had thought I would just do the backwards thing, but somehow I missed the part where we were given a choice and I was flipped upside down, my feet adjusted at the top of the cable, told to leave my arms loose, and shoved off the platform!

At first, I was disoriented and a bit angry at my surprise sendoff.  Then, I had a truly surreal experience as I looked to the side and saw the mountains hanging over the sky in the distance.  And here I was flying over the top of God’s beautiful creation, with my arms held out to the sides, making sound effects.  He had made all of that.  He made me.  And I was perfectly safe in His hands.

Doing the airplane

That’s how I feel so often.  As an adult, I over-think and over-analyze too much.  Sometimes I need to be more like a child and just let go of all my inhibitions.  I need to trust that God has me, as long as I am careful to follow Him.  Sure, we need to take precautions, like strapping into safety gear, but then we need to let the cable take us to the next platform.  I know my life is going to start changing very soon.  I’ve known that for a while now.  I don’t know the details yet, but when I’m at each platform on the way down the mountain, I’m going to trust God, and jump.

Understanding a Functional Introvert

More extroverts exist in our world than introverts, so often the idea of what an introvert is gets misconstrued.  Sure, some live in their mothers’ basements, squinting out into the sunlight only when they run out of food, and cannot seem to form sentences to verbally communicate with others; however, many of us are what I consider “functional introverts.”  We tend to really confuse extroverts.  Introverts are just more introspective and so we need time to process life by ourselves sometimes.  Sure, I’m not generally a conversation starter, but I can hold my own once it has been started, and I’m a great communicator in writing.

I took a test from the Strengthsfinder 2.0 book by Tom Rath a few years ago, and one of my “strengths” is intellection.  A few  of the traits mentioned are: “You like to think.  You like mental activity…You are introspective.  In a sense you are your own best companion.”  This can be misleading though, because I am not a socially awkward person.  Believe it or not, I can mingle quite well and am even often included in social settings.  In the book, an example of what an intellection strength person might sound like is this: “I suppose that most people who meet me in passing presume that I am a flaming extrovert.  I do not deny the fact that I love people, but they would be amazed to know how much time alone, how much solitude, I need in order to function in public.”  See, that’s the problem.  I’m social and friendly (some even say funny), but in order for this to work, I need space.

I went on a mission trip two weeks ago with a group of 13 other people, most of whom I did not previously know or know well.  We spent the entire week together, and of course, roomed together in groups.  We were kept busy during the day and tried to contact loved ones in the evening.  The hostel where we stayed had many areas set up for socializing, and it was impossible to find any place to be alone.  Hence, I spent a week in constant companionship with at least part of the group, if not all, not to mention the time spent with the little ones we were there to work with (through the awesome Roblealto Child Care Association).  It was all quite amazing and I loved all this time spent, but I never had a chance to stop and process any of it while away on the trip, creating an overload for me.

After I got back last week, I spent a few days with my husband who had taken time off work so we could be together since he had not come on the trip with me.  The great thing about Robert is that though he is an extrovert, he knows I am not.  We spent time together, but he also gave me at least some space to have some reflection time, like when he left me alone as I wrote my first blog post last Monday after my return.  He knows if I do not have this time, the functional part of my being an introvert will quickly turn dysfunctional.  Nobody wants to see that.  If you do, you’re a freak.

By the time Robert went back to work, I was highly in need of ALONE time, and I did very little that could be seen as constructive to the outside, but I was reconstructing myself.  I thought a lot about my team members and felt the need to pray for them as many of them were going straight back to work.  I couldn’t imagine having to do that after the week we had just had, so I knew even the extroverts would need help getting back into life and routine.

You know those times you get placed with people you don’t really know, and you’re afraid of how it will turn out?  That’s how I felt going into the trip.  I wasn’t as nervous about what we would do on the mission trip as I was about 14 different personalities converging in Costa Rica.  But sometimes, definitely if God is involved, it turns out to be amazing.  After all, He hand-picked us for this trip.  We varied in ages and backgrounds, yet we bonded quickly.  Our guide and interpreter was amazed at how much like a family we were, and how comfortable and accepted she felt with us.  I know we all must have had a few moments of frustration- we are human- but none of that lasted or really showed.  We looked out for one another and got to know and accept each other’s “characteristics” (you had to be there to really get that).  We bonded, and now I’m proud to call my Costa Rica mission trip team my mission family, and I truly feel love for each member.  Though I needed a week away from most of the world, I loved seeing my mission family again at church where we retold our experiences.  We all had missed each other, and though we are getting back into our busy lives, we agreed we don’t want to lose the connections we built.

My new family

The moral of this post is that we may all work through and process life in a different way, but if we take time to try to understand this about each other, we can all be functional together.