Week Five: El Salvador

Flying from Europe to Central America is a complicated process. It started with us driving from Slovenia to Italy. Then we took a train to Venice. From Venice we flew to Frankfurt to Baltimore to Houston and then finally to San Salvador. Thankfully we got to spend 2 nights in Baltimore for a little rest between all the driving. My problem was that the rest was a little too good.

Before we even boarded the plane from Houston to San Salvador I was ready to just stay on American soil. I was desperately searching the airport for a friendly face. I was soaking in all the American culture. On the flight, I was totally checked out. And then we landed in San Salvador. And it was 11 o’clock at night. And I was tired, and we were waiting in a mile long customs line. I was pretty much everyone’s least favorite person to hang out with at the moment. I was completely content to just struggle through the next 7 days until we would be done and heading to Orlando.

I realized this probably was not the best mindset to start the final leg of our trip in, so I tried to get myself pumped up for El Salvador. I tried to think about how it was only 7 days, and it could not be THAT bad. But this still wasn’t the right mindset.  So I prayed. I felt a little silly. If I could not change my own mind, how was God going to do it? But I asked Him anyway. I asked Him to change my heart, and to form my mind so that it would be ready to serve the people of El Salvador.

Then we got in our van to head to the place we were staying and I don’t even know how it happened, but I was suddenly so excited. I was literally singing in the back row, annoying all of my team members who were trying to sleep because it was now 1 am. Fast forward 7 days, and I’m riding in the same van, going the opposite direction, back to the airport, and I do not want to leave. I am completely content to stay in El Salvador for another 7 days, for a month, for a year, whatever.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:12-14

I simply asked the Lord to change my heart, and He did it.

While in El Salvador we worked with an organization called Project Red (PLEASE check them out they are so cool: projectredelsalvador.org). This organization works at reintegrating orphans who have been removed from orphanages back into the homes that they were taken away from in the first place. They are being sent back home because of a new law in El Salvador that takes orphans who have any living relatives and takes them to live with them. The result is a lot of children living in horrible situations where it is hard for them to be fed and to be educated.

Project Red’s main focus is to help these families that are now responsible for their children to be able to sustain themselves and provide for a safe place for their children. We spent most of our time painting newly built houses, cleaning the land around houses, building a chicken coop, and spending time with the children. Everyone we helped and spent time with was so thankful and warm-hearted towards us. Their grace in the midst of the violence and poverty that they live in was encouraging and inspiring.

Project Red as a whole is a really awesome organization. Most of their leaders are under the age of 30 and have their own personal ministries they are working on while also working for Project Red. Getting to talk with them about how they became Christians, how they started working with Project Red, and how they see God in their everyday lives really helped encourage the team to stay motivated through our last leg of the trip. They were all so open and honest about their lives, making it a joy to work for and with them.

This entire trip has been such an awesome experience, but also a tough experience. You witness so many things around the world that make you so thankful for where you come from. A lot of my team members have so openly talked about their call to be full-time missionaries overseas. They have talked about how they cannot wait to find out where God has called them to live, and how sad they are going to be when this trip is over and they have to return home. For the past 4 countries I have listened to them say these things, and thought they were crazy. I love America. I could never picture myself living anywhere else, long-term. And then El Salvador completely changed my mind about all of that.

Toward the end of our stay there, I was talking to one of the Project Red workers who had recently returned from a similar mission trip that travelled around the world. He was talking about how before he left, his only goals in life were to get a job and make money and be comfortable. But when he returned he knew that he was meant to do so much more than that. When he said that, it scared me a little bit. I realized that I was in the middle of experiencing the exact same thing, and I was not expecting it at all.

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

Week Four: Slovenia

I have always wondered how I could combine ministering to others and my love of sports into one action, and I think I have found it in Bovec, Slovenia. This entire week has been spent hiking, biking, rafting, and canyoning, which have been some of the greatest experiences of my life so far, but when you get to add in sharing the gospel and spreading God’s love while I do all of this, it creates a whole other purpose and joy.

Each morning this week I woke up bright and early to head out of our “camp ground” (we’re sleeping in tents in our host missionary’s front yard) to go on a 3 hour bike ride to different neighboring villages. Sounds easy enough, right? WRONG. I have never been in so much physical pain. I consider myself to be an experienced bike rider, and these rides made me look silly. And even though my legs were constantly burning and I could barely breathe for a majority of our rides, it was definitely worth it. We were carrying with us a couple pounds of bible study booklets to put into people’s mailboxes. This simple act of putting a booklet into a stranger’s mailbox, whose face you would probably never see, was oddly rewarding. You just felt so evidently that you were the hands and feet of God, helping Him to spread His Word to a people who had definitely heard it before, but needed a good reminder. And what a blessing it is that He lets me do this.

The Slovene people are a very unusual type. Their cities are FULL of churches, and yet most of them are left completely empty. It is a nation of mostly people who have known God, but have turned from Him. There is a great need for His presence here.

Before our arrival here, we were warned many times that Slovenes are very closed off. However, when I would ride up to a house to put a booklet in the mailbox, I would find that most people had their doors wide open, literally. And although this might just be me looking desperately for a glimmer of hope, I believe these open doors are a sign that the many people I have met over the last few days, who are so strongly called to do missionary work here, are doing good word, and that God is going to do great, great things in this place.

I really have had so much fun in Slovenia. I feel totally in my element. Each day after biking we got to experience other aspects of the missionary organization that we’re working with, which just happen to be some of the coolest stuff I have ever done. For example, rafting down the Soca River, which just so happens to be in Narnia (literally, they filmed one of the movies on this river), and getting to spread the gospel as you do it. We got to go up and talk to strangers as we waited for our guide to set up the raft, and then as we rafted we learned how God is basically the raft guide of our life and we must listen to Him, which sounds cheesy, and is cheesy, but that doesn’t make it any less true!

Honestly this whole week has just been an encouragement for me as I move into the stage of life in which I need to start considering more seriously what I am going to do after I graduate. Getting to talk to different missionaries who have turned their sports passions into great works for the Lord has made me realize the many possibilities in which I have to serve the Lord, no matter what I do.

On to El Salvador!

Week Three: Uganda

Uganda was definitely not what I expected it to be, but in the best way possible. I expected it to be very dry, but it was so green and beautiful. The weather was so different from India. It would be bright and sunny during the day but would be cool in breezy in the afternoon. It was a very pleasant change.

We spent the whole week working at Lulwanda’s Children’s Home in Mbale, which is both an orphanage and school. We mostly worked on beautification projects such as painting the school buildings and painting some containers they had at the front of the school grounds. The children were in school most of the time so we did not get to spend too much time with them. The few moments we did get to spend with them though we’re very special. The kids were so shy at first, but the more they got use to us being there every day, the more they opened up to us. Because the kids were in school, we spent most of the time getting to know the staff, which was really awesome.

I feel like in both the previous countries The Lord has spoken to me so obviously with a lesson he has wanted to share with me. I did not get this feeling in Uganda, but I think that was just exactly what He was trying to say. God speaks so much through the little things: a cool breeze in the evening, getting to watch a movie with the group, getting a cup of coffee each morning. Some times are for work and some times are for rest and reflection. He can teach you so much if you just sit in peace and listen. His presence is felt just as much when you are smuggling Bibles for Him or if you are just enjoying a cup of tea in the evening, reflecting on his Word.

Some random highlights from the week include a super awesome, once in a life time hike that we got to go on to the top of a mountain, watching the U.S. World Cup match against Belgium in a random house with a bunch of random Americans, getting to drink an AMAZING cup of Ugandan coffee every morning, and just all of the Ugandan food in general.

Week Two: India

 

India was the country I had been looking forward to the most before I even left for this trip, and it definitely did not disappoint. I felt a strange attraction to the country as soon as we landed. You can’t spend a single moment here without having the people of this weird place openly staring, waving, or smiling at you. The heat is immense, but so is the color, the hospitality, and the happiness of its culture.

Our only mission here was to go to an orphanage in Kota and spend time with and love on its children. To me, it seemed like an easy enough task, and holy moly was I wrong about that. As I sit in the airport now, preparing to move on to our next leg of the trip, not knowing if I will ever get the chance to return to this place, I am filled with way more emotion than I expected myself to be. I often pride myself in being the strong logical person who knows when its time to move on, who knows not to look back too fondly, and who knows better things are ahead. But I am really struggling with leaving this place. The people I have met here, although we really only spent a brief time together, have truly changed my life.

The greatest thing I learned while spending time at the orphanage was how much your current state of comfort can affect your relationship with God. When I’m comfortable, like I am at home in the US, I am tricked into thinking that I can survive a little without the Lord. It can sometimes be hard to do my quite times in the mornings. I don’t pray as often as I should. The constant communication with God just isn’t there. But in India, its the exact opposite. India is an honest country, constantly slapping me in the face with a reminder of my need for the Lord. When I spent the first morning in India puking up everything that I had eaten in the past 24 hours up, due to a very bumpy 13 hour bus ride, I was very aware of my need for the Lord’s Healing. When I woke up almost every day at 3 in the morning, swimming in a pool of my own sweat because the power had gone out for the 3rd time that night, I was reminded of my need for God’s Grace. When I felt like my arm was going to fall off because I had been playing catch with the same little boy for over 2 hours but could not even think of stopping because he never stopped smiling for one second, I was reminded of my need for His Strength. When I sat in the shade surrounded by little girls weaving freshly picked flowers into every inch of my hair, I was reminded of my need for His Touch. As I sat in a dim and warm church, my own body vibrating with the sound of 600 kids, some as young as 5 years old, praying out loud to the same God that I pray to, I was reminded of my need for his Presence. When I sat, stuck in my bus seat, watching out the window as the group of kids who have given me so much more than I could ever wish to give them chased after us as we left, I was reminded of my need for His Love. They may not have a lot in India, but they have so much of the Lord.

I never spent a moment alone at the orphanage. The moment you stepped out the door little kids would run up to you, grab your hands, jump on your back, ask you to follow them somewhere. They never wanted much. They just wanted you to sit with them or play with them. They just wanted to smile at you or show you their room. These kids have redefined what Love looks likes to me. They are a people who could never be more satisfied than when they are serving others. They wanted to do your hair for you. They wanted you to drink their water. They wanted you to be constantly fanned while you sat at church. They always wanted you to know how beautiful you looked. And they always, always wanted you to be happy. Nothing beats the reaction of a child who asks “Auntie, are you happy today?” and you can simply and honestly reply “Yes.”

My only hope for these kids, who have changed my life for good, is that they feel every day of their lives the way they have made me feel in their home; that they know they can never be alone, that they can always be happy, and that both of these can be accomplished only through the Lord.

 

Week 1:Hong Kong

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

The Word of God is such an important part to a Christian’s faith. So many bibles produced in China, yet so few are made for its people. China has an ever growing population that is also increasing with very brave Christians, and yet they don’t even have the means to meditate and spend time with the Word on a daily basis. This is something that I, with my four bibles, have taken for granted.

Being able to play a small part in helping to bring the Chinese bibles has been a very unique experience. Bringing bibles into China is not illegal, but if they catch you doing it they will confiscate most of the bibles. Each trip across the border involves so many emotions. You anxiously wait in immigration lines. You get a twinge of fear and excitement as you pass through China customs. You feel such a mixture of relief and joy when you have successfully helped to provide someone else with God’s Word. Overall you are filled with an overwhelming peace when the power of the Lord is so evident through the entire process, knowing none of the success can be accredited to yourself.

In my first post, I wrote about Luke chapter 5, when Jesus first encounters some of his disciples. When Jesus tells Simon Peter to lower his fishing net into the water, Simon Peter responds:

“Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”

I found his response to still be true today in my journey across the border each day into China. If I tried to go across everyday by myself, I would get stopped each time. But when I go across in constant communication with the Lord, listening to every He tells me down to which suitcase to take, what clothes to wear, and when to cross, I am successful. And success is not always getting across safely. Success may look like getting stopped and spending time with a Customs officer and getting to share the gospel with him. All things here are so obviously in the Lord’s will and plan.

I have been able to experience many other things here in Hong Kong, along with becoming a professional smuggler. We got to hike up mountains and swim in a waterfall (in which I was the sole person to develop an allergic reaction to). We went shopping in a downtown market and stood in a wet fish market for precisely 2 minutes before we could not stomach the smell or live fish flopping across counters any longer. Every morning I am awakened by a lovely group of elderly Hong Kong residents doing thai chi outside my window, and I have now rode on precisely 5 million trains. I also saw a shirtless karate-chopping statue of Bruce Lee at the harbor, and it may have been the most majestic thing I have ever seen. I will miss this place with its odd mixture of skyscrapers and lush green mountains, all crammed into one awesome city.

They forsook all and followed Him.

“So it was, as the multitude pressed about Jesus to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fisherman had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land, And he sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.”  – Luke 5: 1-11

When I heard a sermon over this passage over a year ago, I had never really considered going on a mission trip, but this had sparked an interest. However, I didn’t have a lot of evangelism experience. And I am sometimes not the perfect example of a Christian. Also, it sounded terrifying. But perfection and experts are not who Jesus asks to be His disciples. These fisherman, now disciples, were previous failures, self-admitted sinners and completely astonished by Jesus. And they were fishers of men now. They forsook all and followed Him.

Throughout my life I have received an excess of blessings. I have been given these blessings not because I deserve them and not even so I can have them, but so I can give them. God doesn’t just love me, He loves me so that I can make His love known. As a saved person, I owe the gospel to every lost person. I am in debt to the nations.

Disciple making is not a call for others to come to you, it is a command to go to others. When I questioned why God had put a tug of a global purpose for my summer on my heart, the only correct response could be …..why not?