NovelSisters

watching, reading, and writing stories

Mission Trips

It’s summer time and many people are going on short term mission trips. Often it’s students, sometimes it’s adults, but there always seems to be some sort of mission trip going on. In the past year I’ve seen more and more articles about why people should not go on short term mission trips. When I first read them, I thought a lot of their reasoning seemed valid. It costs a lot of money to travel and if that money was sent to the local missionaries instead of paying for a plane ticket it could really help them out.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel like I disagree. Mission trips, even short ones can be very good and useful in God’s Kingdom. I agree with a lot of what is said in these articles. I can definitely see how these trips can turn into tourist vacations, and hurt rather than help a local community of Christians. But I think the articles are overlooking something important.

Why do we even go on mission trips? What is the purpose? If the purpose is only to make yourself feel good about helping others, I can definitely see their point of being able to do that in your own community and not needing to raise a lot of support money to travel. But what we do as Christians is a lot bigger than just human plans, and helping people. We’re following Jesus’s plan and building His Kingdom. I don’t know why He chooses to do things the way He does, but I don’t doubt that His is the best plan.

Before I’ve gone on any mission trip, I’ve done a lot of praying, asking Jesus if He wants me to go. Because at the end of the day, people’s opinions about your trip whether they think it’s great, or a waste of money, doesn’t matter. What matters is if you are obeying Jesus. Money is no problem for Him, it all belongs to Him anyway. If He wants to take you half way around the world, He will provide a way, and if He wants you to stay where you are and reach out to the people around you, He can help you be bold and live differently. So ultimately, it’s not about us and what we think, it’s about Jesus and what He wants. This is His kingdom after all, not ours.

But I can also see a few advantages to mission trips, that are harder to recreate if you simply stay at home. One is your level of comfort. You can definitely find ways of being uncomfortable in your own city, but leaving your country is a big step. And God does some of His best work when we have to rely on Him. It’s easy to try to handle all the little problems of life yourself, when you’re at home, but when you’re in a foreign country, can’t speak much of the language, and don’t have all of the things and people you normally rely on, it forces you to seek God more consistently and desperately.

Also, there’s something special about traveling with a group of people. Because you spend all of your time together, on planes, buses, and walking through foreign streets, you really develop close relationships which is harder to do at home. Because you’ve all committed to go together, you learn to rely on each other, open up to each other and disciple each other. You can do the same things at home, but it really helps when you’re cut off from your normal routines and forced to actually spend time with people. Traveling also tends to limit your use of certain technologies like text messages and phone calls, so that you can focus more on where you are and what you’re doing at that moment with the people around you.

And lastly, going on a mission trip opens up the opportunity for you to meet people you otherwise would have never met and develop lasting relationships and a deeper interest and care in their ministry. It’s one thing to read a newsletter from a missionary you support, it’s a whole other thing to spend the day with them; seeing what they do on a day to day basis, who they interact with, what situations they face, and how you can better support, encourage, and pray for them. I have developed several close relationships with missionaries and I care more about what they’re doing because I’ve seen them doing it. I might never have supported them and continued to care for them, if I hadn’t gone on a mission trip to where they are serving.

So, I guess what I want to say is, even if you have reservations about a mission trip, or someone else’s mission trip, remember that it’s easy to judge, it’s harder to obey, then pray and ask God what He’s doing and ask if He wants you to be a part of it.

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The Shirt Off My Back

One of my favorite shirts

One of my favorite shirts I’m wearing while in Mozambique

Have you ever heard the expression of “giving someone the shirt off your back”? I have and I think that when I heard it I smugly thought yeah I’m that kind of nice person, I’d totally give someone my shirt if they needed it. But as I was reminiscing today about a mission trip I took last year at this time, I realized that I have actually had an encounter with just such an opportunity and I haven’t been as generous as I thought I would be. In fact this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. Twice now, both while on a mission trip no less, someone has asked me if they could have my shirt. And it threw me off both times.

The first time I was in Haiti and a little boy with not much as far as possessions go sparked up a conversation with me in Spanish, since I know a lot more Spanish than Creole. And as we were parting, he asked if he could have my shirt. I think he knew that visiting Americans often left their clothes for the village children at the end of the trip. I can’t remember now if I said yes or no or that I was planning on leaving some shirts but not that one in particular. But the short of it is that no, I did not leave my shirt in Haiti for that boy. I kept it. And you know why? Because I was attached. I really like that shirt, it’s soft and reminds me of a lot of cool moments from my childhood. And you know what the ironic thing is? It has a cartoon that explains the gospel on it; how Jesus died for us and gave up everything so we can know Him. And I wasn’t willing to give it up. Yeah… so turns out I can be a hypocrite.

Well fast forward in time to last year and as we were moving through the airport in Johannesburg the lady in the airport security uniform suddenly said she liked my shirt and asked if she could have it. She said I could change into a different shirt from my bag. I was thrown off, partly because I didn’t know where I could change in an airport security line, and also because this lady who obviously had a job and seemed to be able to provide for herself was asking for my shirt. I said I didn’t have another shirt and went on my way. (I meant another of the kind I was wearing, I had plenty of other T-shirts, just not one that looked and felt like the one I was wearing). For again someone had asked me not just for an old shirt I didn’t want anyway, but for one I treasured and valued and didn’t want to give away.

So now I’ve been reading a very compelling, and convicting book called “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. He writes a lot about how Christians give to charity or even go on mission trips to help themselves not feel guilty for not loving the poor. But he says that what’s really needed is for us to know and be friends with poor people. Because then when there is a need, we want to meet it, and we’ll sacrifice to help our hurting brothers and sisters, instead of living for ourselves and our own comfort and merely giving to charity the things we don’t want anyway. One part in particular really hit me, he wrote “I heard that Ghadhi, when people asked him if he was a Christian,would often reply, ‘Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are.'” It struck me that a true follower of Jesus should be known as someone who joyfully gives away what they have.

Through all of this God has been teaching me that He doesn’t want my stuff or my things, He wants me. He wants me to give Him everything: my time, talents, treasures and heart. So I’ve discovered one of my treasures that I tend to value above Jesus and above the people He’s asked me to love, are my clothes. And I don’t want that to stay true of me. So that’s part of why I’m writing this. I want to change, to be okay with giving away things that are precious to me, and to do it joyfully. So hopefully the next time someone asks me for the shirt off my back, I’ll be able to say yes and give it with a smile.

Well there’s my thoughts for the day. I highly encourage you to read Shane’s book too. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s really good.

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The Importance of Laughter

So while I was on the mission trip in Mozambique, I laughed a lot. Some people may think that hanging out with the same group of people for 2 weeks straight would be a nightmare, and it’s true that you can’t keep up appearances for that long. Eventually everyone gets upset or tired or stressed. But when you’re with a community, they can help you calm down, rest, or change your perspective on the situation. And one of the best ways we helped each other was by laughing. If you’re in a tough situation, and you choose to laugh instead of worrying or getting mad, the tension just dissipates. I’m so thankful for the many times I laughed with my team. So, I thought I’d share a few jokes or memories from the trip that our whole team laughed about. Enjoy!

C is for Cookie

One of the earliest jokes that entered our group was “Do you need a cookie?” It started when one of the team members started talking about how things would just come out of her mouth that she didn’t mean to say, and that maybe God had made her love eating so much so that she couldn’t say what crossed her mind. She just happened to be eating a pack of cookies when she was telling us all of this. So whenever someone in the group said something a little mean or inappropriate we would ask, “Do you need a cookie?” and immediately everyone would start laughing.

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Sarah writing her song about Mozambique

We also had a team member who loved to just burst into song at any moment, and it soon turned into a game. If a song came to mind because of a word or phrase that was said, he would just sing that line of the song. By the end of the trip I’m sure over 100 songs had been referenced by the whole group. And one girl had even decided to write her own song about her time in Mozambique.

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One of the beds that came with a mosquito net

One joke that I found particularly funny was when the girls were getting ready for bed one night. One girl named Whitnie had shared with us how on a past trip she had made the mistake of spraying insect repellent inside her mosquito net and then was caught in the fumes. I can’t remember if she shared it right before this next story happened or if she had shared it earlier in the week, but I remembered it and thought it was hilarious. So the girl on the bunk across from me asked if anyone had some bug repellent. I did, so I handed it to her and she put some on and crawled into her bunk for the night. Within a minute she started coughing and asked, “Can someone open the door to let it vent out in here?” The rest of us were already laughing at her mistake and then Whitnie said playfully, “No you sit in that poison and think about what you’ve done.” And we all laughed even more.

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The team waiting to go to the market

And the last story I’ll share happened when our missionary friends sent us to the market for some groceries. The plan was to get several items in order to make care packages to pass out throughout the trip and then fulfill the social interaction where you game something to a local and had a conversation with them. We were split into 3 teams and we soon decided that we were basically doing the Amazing Race. We rushed off to the market to find sugar, tomatoes and what I found out eventually was sweet potatoes. My team luckily found a man in the market that spoke English, so that helped us find out what sweet potatoes were. (Our list of what to get was written in Portuguese). The man also happened to be selling sugar (both white and brown). My team remembered seeing brown sugar in the missionaries’ home and it was cheaper, so we went with that. Then when we finished off our shopping we found a Granny (or caretaker of orphans) to give some money to and tell her Jesus loves you in their local language. (Jesu wakka rhandza wenu). I was really glad I had learned that phrase. Our team hadn’t run into the missionaries or translator so the only help we got was from people in the market.

However, when we met up with the two other teams, we found out they had done things a little differently. One team, that had finished first, thought they needed way more tomatoes than they actually needed to buy and asked the translator if that was correct. He laughed and told them no, so they got a little help from him. They also ended up buying the white sugar instead of the brown sugar. But otherwise everything had gone smoothly for them.

But the last team had the most hilarious adventure. They had bought tomatoes outside the market which I guess isn’t allowed in the country because Police came running out and took the produce the lady was selling. She got mad and started throwing tomatoes at the police. So when the police left that team went back and bought onions from the lady too because they felt sorry for her. By that time the translator realized they were not in the market so he guided them to where they were supposed to go. And they decided to buy some skirts (with their own money). And by the time they got back to the car with the other two teams they hadn’t even bought the sugar. So then they started trying to haggle with the other teams and trade some of their produce for sugar. It was hilarious. And in the end our 3 teams came to be known as “White Sugar,” and “Brown Sugar,” and “Got Sugar?”

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Praying and Praising

 

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For my next installment of Mozambique reflections I thought I’d focus on a lesson God was teaching me before and during the trip. Since we were in the country for 10 days (the other 4 days of our trip were traveling there and back) each of the 10 members of the team led a devotional on one of the days. My devotional fell in the middle of the trip and I decided to use James 5:13 as my starting point. It states “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” NIV ’84

For some reason God had put it on my heart to learn this verse before we even left for Africa, and during the trip I couldn’t get it out of my head. During my last mission trip to Haiti, God had taught me a lot about the importance and power of prayer. I couldn’t help thinking about that when I went on this next trip, and I wanted everyone around me to know how important it was to pray. The beginning of the verse states that if anyone has a problem, an issue, is “in trouble” then the obvious solution is to pray. That isn’t the normal reaction most people have and when I’m at home I often forget to pray too. But ever since my mission trip to Haiti, I’ve been trying to pray more often. So on this mission trip I encouraged my teammates to pray as well. And man there are a lot of opportunities to pray on a mission trip. Whether it was a car breaking down, getting lost in the countryside, or asking God to open people’s hearts to His gospel, there was always something to pray about. And it was exciting for me to see the team be proactive in praying after I shared about my experience with prayer. I’ll share two quick stories about prayer.

1. At the very beginning of our trip one of the cars broke down and we had to take it to the mechanic. We prayed that God would fix the car, but in the meantime we used our translator Dilon’s car which was much bigger and could even fit the whole team if we squeezed in. I didn’t realize till late in the trip that the only reason we used that car and could travel all together, and get to know Dilon so well was because the other car broke down. We had prayed for God to fix it, but He knew that it would be better for us to have the whole team together in one car and get to know our driver really well. I’m so glad for all of those bonding experiences and that God didn’t fix the car.

2. I think it was the day after I shared my devotional, we were trying to drive a bunch of orphans to the beach, and there were so many people that they had to pile onto the trailer since there weren’t enough seats. But once we arrived at the highway, we could see police cars waiting on the side of the road. If we pulled out on the highway we would get in trouble. So we stopped. There was supposed to be a taxi to meet us so everyone could be in a seat, but there was no taxi. We sat uncomfortably, unsure what to do. Someone asked Dilon, “What do we do?” His only response was “Pray.” So we did. And soon the taxi pulled up and the kids piled in and we drove past the police with no issue. It was amazing how quickly God answered our prayers.

All of my experiences with prayer were a good reminder for me that God is a loving Father ready to give us what’s best, and whether we ask for what’s best or not, He will give us what’s good and we can trust Him.

The second part of James 5:13 is something I hadn’t thought about as much. It said that if someone was happy, they should sing songs of praise. Now I don’t know about you, but in America I usually only break into song in my car or shower, not around other people. But in Mozambique things are very different. People sang all the time, while working, playing and worshiping. It really inspired me to not just sing when I’m at church, but sing when I’m happy and praise God throughout the week. And instead of writing a story, I thought I’d share this short video I took. It’s of some girls singing and dancing enthusiastically at one of the worship services we got to be a part of.

I hope this post encouraged you to be more proactive in praying and praising too.

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Expectations

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Our church team praying before we left for Mozambique

Hello blogging world, sorry I haven’t posted in so long but if you hadn’t seen, I was out of the country for 2 weeks and didn’t have access to my laptop or even the internet. I had the opportunity to join my church on a mission trip to Mozambique. I had never been to Africa before and it was a wonderful experience. It may be hard for me to process all that’s happened and what all I learned from the experience but I’m hoping this blog will help me sort out my thoughts. So for the next few days or weeks, I will be posting a lot about Mozambique. I hope you enjoy and maybe even learn something.

So for my first post, I wanted to write about expectations. I think whenever you go on a trip, there are expectations that you have for yourself and that the people around you have for you as well. Especially for a mission trip, I feel like there’s this unspoken expectation that you are going to do something significant, make a difference, and achieve something. Often times we measure this with “projects.” It might be building a well, or a new church building, or providing food or clothes to poor people but we like having a specific mission and then achieving it.

Well going into this trip, I was very unsure what that “mission” was. I heard hints of showing the Jesus film and spending time with the Grannies (or caretakers of orphans) but I wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to do or what our mission was. Then right before we left, our trip leader told us that our main goal of the trip was to be a blessing, an encouragement, and a refreshment to the local missionaries in Mozambique that our church supports.

This goal might not have seemed very monumental but during the trip, I discovered how significant it really was. So often in America we focus on the physical world, like the “projects” to build buildings and provide food and clothing and solve problems. But on the trip I realized that all of those things are temporary. There are hundreds of buildings in Mozambique that are abandoned and crumbling. They aren’t allowed to tear them down, so they just sit there, useless and wasting away. Who’s to say that any project we work on won’t end up being the same way in a few years, eventually losing it’s usefulness and crumbling. Even the food we give out won’t fill empty tummies for long, and clothing will eventually wear out as well.

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An abandoned hotel on the coast

I realized that the only thing that really lasts, like for eternity, is relationships. People are eternal beings and when we engage with each other, encourage each other, build each other up and point each other to Jesus, that has an impact that lasts into eternity. So even though we did do a few of those earthly “projects” on this mission trip, what I’m most excited about is the time I spent with people, developing relationships. Because of this trip I now know our missionaries Mark and Les, and their local camp director Dilon, on a deep level. I now know how to pray for them and encourage them and I even if I never make it to Africa again, I will always be their sister in Christ.

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Some of the girls I built relationships with on the trip

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Why Go?

I felt like writing about this and giving my audience a heads up about my upcoming absence from blogging. In 12 days I will be heading off to Mozambique for a 2 week mission trip. This past week I was telling some friends about the trip and one asked me why I had decided to go. I gave her a short answer, but I thought it was a great question and deserved a more involved answer, so here it is.

Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mozambique_in_Africa_(-mini_map_-rivers).svg

Why I am Going to Mozambique.

First off, there are a lot of passages in the Bible where God tells us to go, and says He is sending us to proclaim His word, to share the gospel, and to make disciples. I think there’s something about “going” that is important. It may not always be thousands of miles away, it could just be next door, but God tells us so often to “go” that it must be important. So part of my saying yes to a short term mission trip is because I want to be saying yes to God’s command to go. Here are a few of my favorite verses about going:

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.'” John 20:21

Secondly, I’ve gotten to experience several short term mission trips in the past and I don’t want to miss out. As I’ve grown up in my church I’ve gotten to be a part of 4 different mission trips. It’s been amazing to see God show up and do incredible things when you’re surrounded by people trying to serve God and listen for His calling and just stay focused on Him. From construction projects, to running some kind of kids club, or carrying rocks to sharing the gospel, mission trips have a large range of adventures. And I’ve found that even when we make plans for what we will do in a foreign country, the plans often get changed… multiple times. But it’s a joy to be a part of something lasting; something God is doing.

And one time when I was in college, I was invited to go on a short term mission trip over Spring Break and I thought I was too busy, so I said no. And afterward I regretted it. I heard some of the stories of what God did on the trip, but I wasn’t a part of it and it felt like I had missed out on something good. So now when there are opportunities for me to go, I don’t want to say no.

And lastly, I’m going because I’m available. Right now, I am single. No spouse, no kids, and my job is fairly flexible. I still have good insurance for another year and I’m in good health. I don’t know how long this will last. I may have to change jobs, or I may get married and have kids which brings many more responsibilities. But right now, I’m in a place where I can go. So why wait? At least that’s what it seemed like God was telling me.

And so I’m going because God commanded us to go, because I don’t want to miss out, and because I am ready and available. It’s such a blessing to be a part of God’s mission, whether here or in another country and I can’t wait to be able to share all that I learn and see on this blog when I get back.

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Living on Mission

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Mozambique

So I’ve made up my mind, made my commitment, and now I’m starting to prepare for a mission trip this fall to Mozambique. I’ve never been to any country in Africa before, but I still remember my first mission trip experience. And I think I’ll let you get a glimpse of it from this short story I wrote about the trip. But first I want to write about why I’m excited for this coming mission trip to Mozambique.

One reason I’m really excited to go, is because I’m going with people from my church. There’s nothing wrong with going on a mission trip by yourself, or with people you’ve never met. Those can be eyeopening experiences too. But there’s something about working together with a strong knit community that is energizing and fun. I’m looking forward to growing closer with my team and getting to see what God is going to do together.

And secondly, I’m excited about this trip, because it will remind me to live on mission even now. Whenever there’s a goal in front of me, something to look forward to, it helps give me focus and gives me direction for where I’m at now. Knowing that I’ll be on a mission trip come this October, helps me now to want to live on mission here and prepare for what will happen there. I know as a Christian I should be living on mission no matter where I am. I don’t need to go to Africa to do that. But preparing myself to get out of my comfort zone in Africa, helps me to be okay with getting out of my comfort zone while I’m still in America too.

Anyway, I’ll probably have several more posts about this coming trip. But for now, I hope you enjoy this short story about my very first mission trip to Haiti. And if you’d like to read more stories about my mission trips, check out the Haiti Category in my blogs.

Leaving Home

Finally the day to leave came. I had packed my bags the night before and was all set to go to the airport with Dad. We had to get up super early, like five in the morning. And as I stood by the front door, preparing to take that final step outside, I began to cry. Could I really do this? I was just a kid and this whole being a missionary thing was a big task.

Mom took a picture of me and Dad before we left; my blue shirt was spotted with tear stains. But after than initial breakdown, God gave me strength. I wasn’t going alone after all. Dad was right there with me, and we were with a group too.

As I sat in the airport, waiting with our team for another flight, I took my malaria medicine. I was too small to take the regular pill, so the doctor had little baggies of powder that I had to mix into a drink and chug down. The concoction was always bitter, and to this day Apple Juice has a bit of a bad taste to me. Luckily I had learned from my brother’s mistake the last time, and not put the medicine in Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

As we journeyed from Austin, TX to Port au Prince, Haiti, I began to wonder how I would be used on this trip. In my letters I said I didn’t know how God could use me, but I was willing to be used, whatever it was. But as I stared out at that large Atlantic Ocean, I began to wonder what God would have for me. I wasn’t an adult, I couldn’t speak the language, and let’s face it, I was really shy. Why was God taking me on this trip? I didn’t know, but I looked forward to finding out.

The plane landed on the island of Hispaniola, half of the island belonged to the Dominican Republic and the other half belonged to Haiti. We were landing in the Capital city of Port au Prince. The airport was very small, and we had to walk out on the tarmac to get to the little customs area. I had gotten a passport just for this occasion, and I showed the lady at the desk my papers. It was a little intimidating to stand there and wait for the stamp to be pressed into the thin paper, but finally the lady did it, and I walked towards the exit with my first stamp in my passport.

“Hold onto your bags,” our trip leader directed. “People will want to help you with your luggage, but you need to carry it yourself.”

I grabbed my small bag tightly and stuck close to Dad. As we stepped out into the bright sunlight of a summer in the tropics, noise and smells hit me like a truck. I was surrounded by people, and cluttered streets. My heart started to race, but I followed as the group made their way towards a large open air bus. It was painted bright happy colors, like a mural of saturated hues. I didn’t have much time to study it though, because soon we were climbing aboard.

As I settled into the hard seat, I felt a sense of relief. I was no longer out in a crowd, but snug in my spot on the bus, with Dad right there with me. I glanced out at the crowded street around us. I had a better view from the bus, and now I could see little alleyways and shops, street venders, people on bikes, and women carrying buckets on their heads.

“Welcome to Haiti,” a tall dark man said from the front of the bus. “I will be your driver today. I show you all the sights of the city, then take you to the church.” He sank down into his driver’s seat, and soon the bus was roaring to life.

The bus bounced and swerved, as we wove through traffic. Stop lights and stop signs were not as prevalent here. But every time the bus driver hit the horn I laughed. It was a sound I’d never heard before, like an undulating laugh. It reminded me of something a clown would honk. But it still got people’s attention, and somehow sounded friendlier than the beeps I’d heard in the states.

We passed trash lined sidewalks, and I could smell the filth in the air. I wondered why they didn’t have a trash truck to pick up all the garbage.

Eventually we came to a central plaza, surrounded by the only grass I’d seen, and home to the president’s house, and a big amphitheater.

“That’s where we’ll have the games on Saturday!” the guide yelled out above the traffic noise.

I was used to the AWANA games going on indoors, where there was air conditioning, but I didn’t know if that was something they used here. I began to fan myself with my hand; it sure was hot, out here near the equator.

After out tour, we were dropped off at a hotel. I felt like I was stepping into an oasis. There was a pool, and flowery plants, big shady trees, and when I got in the room I was delighted to feel the cool refreshing air conditioning. Oh yeah, I could sleep in this place. But, I reminded myself, I still couldn’t use the water to brush my teeth, or open my mouth in the shower. That was one thing the meetings had drilled into me: Don’t get sick from the water, it’s not fun.

As I began to explore the hotel, I snapped a few pictures of the interesting artwork on the walls. One painting in particular looked like a face made out of fruit. It made me smile every time I saw it, so I decided to take a picture. I joined the rest of the group out on a covered patio where we would be eating meals, and listened in to their conversation.

Dad was talking to our bus driver, “You know in America, we say ‘You want to see a movie?’ and someone will answer, ‘yeah, why don’t we meet at seven?” He laughed. “It can get confusing with the yeah, and don’t, and it makes it sound like you do not want to see the movie, even though you do.”

The driver laughed, “Yes that has confused me in the past. Americans can talk very strangely.”

The next day was a whirl of activity as we began serving the churches and helping with projects. Everywhere I turned there were people who didn’t look like me and couldn’t speak my language. I was starting to feel very isolated. I didn’t feel super close to any of the adults because they were all older than me, but all the kids in Haiti intimidated me, and I didn’t know how to be their friend if I couldn’t understand a word they said.

Luckily God had a plan. That evening as we were relaxing at the hotel, all of a sudden our Tap Tap pulled up, and a family began to pile out of the vehicle. There was a tall slender man, a plump woman, with beautifully braided hair, and two girls that looked about my age, whose hair jingled with beads.

Dad leaned over to me, “These are the Valcins, the missionary family.”

Gerson, the father, came forward and shook my dad’s hand heartily, “Keith, it is good to see you again.” He looked at me. “This must be your daughter.”

“Hello,” I said quietly as I held out my hand to shake his.

He went on to say hello to the rest of the group, while his wife and daughters came behind him.

“Hi,” one of the girls said. “I’m Deborah, and this is my sister Elizabeth.”

“My name’s Lydia,” I said.

“Nice to meet you Lydia,” said their mother. “My name is Betti.”

After the introductions, we all stood a little awkwardly, like now what are we supposed to do.

Gerson smiled and said warmly, “How would you like to go out for a fancy dinner? It is the 4th of July!”

We all thought it sounded like a good idea, so off we went. The people in Haiti didn’t really celebrate the 4th of July, I mean it’s not their country’s Independence Day, so why would they? But there were some ships out in the harbor that would shoot off fireworks, and from the fancy restaurant’s hilltop view, we could all see the bright explosions.

“I know you are not in America,” Gerson said. “But I am glad we can all celebrate together.” He raised a glass, and smiled, “Cheers!”

I tapped my glass of coke with the adults’ alcoholic beverages, and took a swig, the bubbly carbonated drink felt like a blast of fireworks in my throat. I sat back and watched the fireworks in the distance. I wondered what it was like back in Austin. We’d always go up on the hill and watch the fireworks from Town Lake. Maybe Mom was out there now, with the other kids. I began to feel a little homesick. I did miss the rest of my family.

But I couldn’t feel sad for long, for right at that moment, something unexpected happened. The white plastic chair that had been supporting Betti suddenly snapped and she fell butt first onto the ground.

Everyone burst out laughing, and Betti joined in, we could not believe that the chair had just broken out of nowhere. The surprise of it all and the expression on Betti’s face made everyone crack up. Without knowing it, my homesickness disappeared, and I joined in the joy and hilarity of the moment.

Throughout the week I grew closer and closer to Deborah and Elizabeth. I met other kids, but they didn’t speak English, so I had no idea what they were asking me when they did talk. Plus there was a kind of security with the missionary’s kids. I knew they were Christians too, and it was easier to relate to them than to the adults in our group. I did help with organization, and completing tasks in preparation for the big AWANA Olympic Games on Saturday, but most of what I remember from that trip was the adventures with Deborah and Elizabeth.

One time we hung out in the cool hotel room, and I tried to teach them a card game that my family played at home. At other times we went swimming in the hotel pool and made up pretend adventures while splashing in the cool water. We even acted like we were fountain statues for the pool’s scenery and had their mom take a picture.

One night we went to their relative’s house. It was raining like a hurricane, and on our way there, I saw channels of muddy water pouring down the streets, washing the trash and gunk downhill. But when we arrived, I got to try the best tasting lemonade ever! I could actually taste real lemons, but the sugar was just right so it tasted sweet, not bitter.

Then we began to play ping pong with their cousin. She couldn’t speak any English, but we laughed as the ball went bouncing off in all directions, and we shared the universal language of laughter. Even though we probably didn’t play the game the right way, and we were stuck inside on a rainy day, we enjoyed ourselves. And I learned that even when I couldn’t talk to someone, I could still enjoy being with them.

But the best memory I have of hanging out with Deborah and Elizabeth was the day we all went out for pizza. I had been worried that I wouldn’t eat much on this trip. I mean I wasn’t as picky an eater as Jonny was, but I still liked plain foods, and even though Dad said the rice and beans were delicious, I was excited to hear the word ‘pizza.’ It was like a bit of home had somehow found its way here, just for me.

As I sat chewing my pizza, I was relieved to find that it tasted, for the most part like any other pizza I had back in America. It was just what my hungry stomach needed. I sat across from Deborah and Elizabeth; we had also sat together on the bus too.

“Want to play a game?” Deborah asked.

“Sure, what game?” I replied before taking another bite of the delicious cheesy mess.

“Stare contest!” Deborah said excitedly.

“Okay,” I said with a mouthful of dough and cheese. After swallowing, I blinked my eyes a few times then focused on Deborah’s dark brown eyes.

“Go!” she yelled.

I wasn’t very good at staring contests, my eyes usually hurt after a couple seconds and I felt like I had to blink or I’d get dust in my eye. But the girls I played with were no pros either. We took turns with who we stared at and usually ended by laughing. It quickly became who could keep a straight face the longest, instead of who could keep from blinking.

“Have you ever played thumb war?” I asked after the game had gone on for quite some time.

“No,” Elizabeth said with interest. “What is it?”

“Here give me your hand,” I locked my hand into hers and began tapping my thumb side to side. She started following the rhythm. “One, two, three, four; I declare a thumb war. Five, six, seven, eight; try to keep your thumb straight. Go!” I started trying to catch her thumb in mine and soon had it pressed down against our clenched hands. “I win.”

“Oh I want to try!” Deborah said excitedly. She switched places with her sister and soon we were repeating the little rhyme together. Deborah was older than Elizabeth and her fingers were quicker.

I couldn’t catch hold of her thumb, she would always swing it out of the way, so I let my thumb fall temptingly low, till she lunged for it, then I quickly jerked it out of the way and tried to snag her thumb while it was within reach.

We laughed and giggled as we tried to capture each other’s thumbs, and I’m sure the adults wondered what in the world we were doing. But I didn’t care. We were forming a close knit friendship through those games that I’ll never forget.

Finally the day came for the big Olympic Games. It was a hot day, and I felt like I was sweating bullets in my cotton skirt. I never wore skirts at home, but it was culturally appropriate for girls here, and so I wore one of Mom’s homemade skirts. The sun beat down on my little white hat, and I could feel my skin turning pink. The humidity was almost unbearable and I wondered how the kids here could handle it.

The games began and I found a seat with Dad in the shade. We watched as the kids raced in circles, diving for the pins, or bean bags, and cheering on their teammates. I may not have understood what they were saying, but I knew how the games were played and watched with interest.

Then out of nowhere, a cloud came up and rain started pouring on the event. Kids started screaming and everyone rushed for the pavilion’s protection. One kid tripped and scraped up her knee pretty bad. I was afraid someone would get trampled. In an instant everyone was under the shelter and we watched as the rain fell.

Our team started praying for the rain to stop so we could continue with the games, and then a hole of blue sky appeared in the clouds, and within minutes it stopped raining. Wow, I thought, I just saw God answer a prayer.

The games continued and eventually I went back to the hotel with Deborah and Elizabeth to go swimming.

The week ended with a day of souvenir shopping and saying goodbyes to our new friends. A few of the girls got their hair braided like the Haitian girls, and I played a few last games with Deborah and Elizabeth. The next morning we got on a plane and headed home.

I learned a lot on that trip. Maybe relationships were a lot more important to God than getting an event put together. And if we asked, He would answer our prayers. These two ideas, though not fully formed at the time, I would carry into the mission trips I would take in the future.

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Lessons from Haiti: Coming Home

Well this is the last post about Haiti, or at least the last one planned. I learned so much from the trip that I might end up doing some other little posts about it, however, not for awhile. So here we go!

Day 9: Coming Home

girlsSo Saturday morning we got up super early to catch our plane home. We had some difficulties. One of our team members started feeling really sick, and we thought we might need to call a doctor. But we prayed and God provided strength so that we were able to make it onto the airplane and to Florida.

We decided to get a hotel room for a few hours and just chill till our flight to Texas. It was nice to sit back and eat pizza, play card games, and have a nap. But I did feel a bit of culture shock as we sat in the lobby with the TV on. I suddenly realized I hadn’t watched any shows or commercials for a whole week and I hadn’t missed it at all. It was kind of nice to get away. But now we were back in the States and things were getting back to “normal.” I had to laugh when everyone got on their cell phones once we landed. After being gone for a week, messages had to be answered, Facebook statuses updated, and pictures posted. We had reentered the world of technology.

Despite this bombardment of 21st century, I still had several long plane rides to sit back and digest what I had learned on the trip. I actually enjoyed a really long conversation with one of the girls about what we had learned or heard from God. I also got to journal a lot about all that had happened and what I had seen God do. I think this time to digest what had happened prepared me for coming home, for writing these blog posts, and for sharing what actually happened on this trip and how it had changed me.

As I read through my journal entry for Saturday, I noticed one lesson that I haven’t yet blogged about. I think it came as a result of someone’s testimony. (by the way we did some more of those during our layovers in the airport). Here’s the lesson: Just Love! I was blown away with the testimony of one person who had felt God’s love whenever he was in Christian community and he experienced a deep longing for that love. He was an atheist who could argue about every point of theology and cut to pieces people’s reasoning, but he couldn’t deny love. I guess a lot of times I think people need to understand the gospel, or need to be convinced of it’s truth. But what they really need is to experience God’s love. I guess that’s why Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Matthew 13:34-35

So there you go, my last lesson from Haiti was to simply show love. Or maybe it was that if you’re going to learn anything, you need to stop and take time to reflect and digest what has happened. Otherwise everything is just a blur. Either way, I learned something valuable.

Well I hope you enjoyed this blog series as much as I have. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions.

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Lessons from Haiti: Finding the Good

I’m coming down to the end of this blog series. Friday was our last full day in Haiti, so after this post I’ll only have one more! Wow! Well let’s get started.

Day 8: Finding the Good

taptap

This day was very different from any of the other days in Haiti. Our work projects were pretty much over, and there were ideas of doing more vacation-like activities; like climbing the mountain next to the camp, visiting an old fort nearby, or going to the beach again. The night before, several people had planned on getting up super early and climbing the mountain. I was surprised that all of the girls in our cabin wanted to do it. I didn’t feel much like getting up early, and I said I wouldn’t go, but after a short night sleep, I awakened with a strong longing to not miss out. So I got up with everyone else and went to the pavilion to wait for the mountain guide.

We sat, and waited, and sat some more and waited some more. But nothing happened. The sun began to rise, the animals began to make their morning noises, but still no guide came. My excitement dimmed and the thought of returning to bed became more and more attractive. Finally I gave up and said I was going back to sleep. I found out later that only a few people actually went up the mountain, and most just climbed the shorter hill where the cross stood. So I didn’t feel too bad about sleeping a couple more hours, but there was still a small sense of regret that I had missed out. In addition to this regret I started to feel a little sick. It wasn’t horrible, but it was enough to make it hard to enjoy my last day on the island.

And this is where the choice came in. I think everyone has a choice about how they view their situation. A lot of “satisfaction” or “enjoyment” I think, comes not from literal circumstances, but our attitude towards them. Even though I didn’t feel great and I had missed out on something fun, I was still able to “enjoy” the day. I got to spend time with people I cared about. I got to hear more testimonies from our group that gave me a deeper awareness of how much God can change a life. I even got to spend more time with the little girl who had helped me paint during the week. She gave me a small seashell to keep, and because it was from her, I still treasure it.

Because I didn’t focus on the “bad,” the “disappointments,” the “pain,” I was still able to enjoy the day. One of my favorite memories from that day was just sitting on the front porch of our cabins: singing songs, talking, and suggesting good books to read. It was a simple time of community, with no schedule, no work project, and no worries.

God also blessed me by putting people around me that were also looking for the good in each circumstance instead of complaining about each change or disappointment. In fact, the group even prayed for me to start feeling better. Even though I wasn’t instantly healed, I did feel blessed and loved because of their prayers. When we did go to the beach later that afternoon, our plans got changed; instead of going to a secluded island, we ended up staying on a rough and rocky beach. But even though the group could have focused on what we had missed out on, we instead found joy in our current circumstance. A few people started wandering down the beach and ended up finding some awesome shells to keep as souvenirs. And a few people went body-surfing on the strong waves with the kids. I even tried making a sand/rock castle. Oh, and we got to ride a tap tap for the first time! That was fun.

So even though the last day wasn’t exactly what we had planned, and even though I felt sick during parts of it, because God gave me the grace to focus on the good things, I still had a wonderful day.

I’ll leave you with this verse, which has been on my mind the past few days:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” -Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

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Lessons from Haiti: A Day of Blessings

It’s a good thing I’m only a few days away from finishing this series on my mission trip to Haiti. It’s only been a few weeks, but details are starting to disappear from my memory. So let’s go on to the last work day of the trip.

Day 7: A Day of Blessings

cross finished frandy Peter marc
Even though this was the last “work” day, we actually had a lot of time for relationship building and meaningful conversations which resulted in a lot of blessings. In the morning we were able to hear the story of Jacob’s Well camp from the missionary Gerson. We also went hiking up the mountain and saw a nice view of the valley. I know there were a few work projects going on during the day. I was still finishing up the painting of the Ciel FM radio logo. It was quite entertaining to hear the Haitians in the camp say “Ciel FM” every time they walked by. But the one thing I will always remember from this day is our conversations with Frandy, Peter Marc, and Gerson. I’ll start with Frandy.

Frandy was an interpreter for us during the week. He was more involved with the fence project than my painting project, but we had still gotten to know each other fairly well since he is also an artist. In fact, the conversation I’m talking about happened while he was showing off his artwork for us to buy. As people were picking out bracelets and paintings or t-shirts to purchase, Frandy began to tell us how blessed and encouraged he was by our presence. We were surprised and encouraged by his comment and asked if he told every group the same thing. He said no. I was surprised. As we conversed further, we decided that because some of the other groups were quite large, it was harder to build close, encouraging relationships. But it was good to know that our group had not been a burden to our interpreter, but an encouragement. Most of us even friended him on facebook once we got home.

It was such a blessing to me, to know that our group had been a blessing to Frandy and that he wanted us to know that. Our next conversation, that I don’t want to forget, is with Peter Marc.

Throughout the week we had been sharing our testimonies with each other, but on this evening, we invited Peter Mark to join us and share with us his testimony. It was such a blessing for me to hear how God was working in his life and how he had chosen to follow God. He simplified the Christian walk so well, he simply follows God where he leads, whether that’s moving from Porta Prince to Limbe, or telling his congregation about the freedom in Christ. He expressed the gospel so clearly. Peter Marc said people ask him “why are you so happy, and how can I be free from spiritual oppression too?” Peter Marc’s only answer is Jesus.

Peter Marc’s testimony was a real encouragement to me. He reminded me that my life isn’t that complicated. Just like Peter Marc; my purpose, my mission, my meaning in life comes from simply following Jesus.

Lastly, I wanted to share a story that Gerson told our group. Even though this conversation happened in the morning, I wanted to share it last, because it’s my favorite story. This is the story of the cross at Jacob’s Well camp. When Gerson wanted to put a cross on the hill beside the camp, God provided by having the whole community help him take the heavy cross to the top of a hill. And once it was standing up there, people from the community began to ask him, “What does this white cross mean?” or “What does it symbolize?” You see, in the Haiti culture there are a few different crosses: the black voodoo cross, and the Catholic cross with Jesus’s dead body hanging on it. Both of these crosses symbolize oppression and slavery to the people. But Gerson told the people that this simple white cross meant freedom.

In the end, this day was very encouraging to me as a believer. It showed me that there are hidden blessings in everyday conversations and that no matter if I’m in America, Haiti, or somewhere else; the gospel doesn’t change. It is declaring the good news that knowing Jesus brings freedom.

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