Mission trip, refugees, Soul-bearing

Praying for Refugees (How You Can Get Involved)

Know that the Lord our God loves the refugees and His Spirit is moving among them. I pray that their stories will capture your heart like they did mine because then you’ll be moved to do something, too. If you do nothing else, pray that they will find Jesus, pray they will be reunited with their families, pray that they will find purpose and meaning in their lives. We as a country, and we as the Church, have largely forgotten them. 

Before we left Germany after a week of meeting, listening to, and loving refugees, we were challenged by our group leaders to sit down with the teammates we had been serving with all week and come up with a summary/challenge to all those we’d talk with back home. The above statement is what my team wrote together.

“If you do nothing else, pray.”

That challenge has been a common refrain of mine for the past few weeks since returning from Germany. I’ve been blessed with many wonderful opportunities to share stories from my trip, and something God has really put on my heart to emphasize is the power of prayer. We were praying constantly during our time in Germany…and I saw God at work, directly answering prayers.

The Bible tells us to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Scripture also mentions calling to Him and “‘I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know'” (Jeremiah 33:3). A refugee I met, who escaped his home country because of religious persecution, cited his favorite verse as “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). We are commanded as followers of Jesus to pray for all things, and I truly feel personally convicted that we should be praying for refugees, fervently.

Nearly 60 million people are forcibly displaced in the world right now (source: World Relief website http://www.worldrelief.org/refugee-crisis). Sixty million. That’s 60 million people who have been ripped away from the life they knew. Sixty million people who have experienced great — sometimes even tragic — personal loss. Sixty million people who have no idea what their future holds. Sixty million people who need us to advocate on their behalf, starting with prayer.

Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a person who works an 8-to-5, a pastor, a student, or someone in between, praying for the refugees is something we can all be doing. I’m challenging myself right alongside you. Beyond the needs in our own lives and those around us, my hope and prayer is that we will be crying out to Him on the refugee’s behalf.

Pray that the refugees will find the hope and peace that can only be found in Him, as many I met were searching in the midst of such personal turbulence. Pray that their families will be reunited, as many I met were separated from parents, wives, and children. Pray that they will be able to find jobs, whether they return to their homeland or are eventually granted permission to work in the country they’re resettled to. Pray for the children, some of whom have seen horrendous acts of violence and have experienced trauma I still can’t fathom. Pray for the parents, who have the same hopes and dreams for their children as many of you reading this do for yours. Please pray.

Pray that your heart will be open to helping however the Lord leads, even if it is just praying continually for these people. Pray, if you’re struggling with how you should react to this refugee crisis, that God will show you the unconditional love He has for these people. Pray for me, that I will continue to seek Him for how else I can serve and love refugees in the here and now. Please pray.

If you’re the type of person who enjoys physical reminders, here’s a prayer guide put together by World Relief with specific ways you can be praying for refugees: We Welcome Refugees Prayer Guide.

If you’d like to read more personal stories from refugees (or those persecuted in the midst of violence) and gain a deeper understanding of how to pray for those affected, I highly, highly recommend two books I’m in the midst of currently: Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens and Dr. Issam Smeir (I have it on audio AND in print if anyone wants to borrow either!) and They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz.

In closing, I leave you with this quote from a refugee one of our teams met during our time in Germany.

“I cried because you prayed in the name of Jesus.”

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Mission trip, Soul-bearing

On Fear + Refugees

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Let’s talk about fear.

Fear is all around us these days. Wars. Shootings. Bombings. An upcoming presidential election. I could go on and on, but I know it’ll stress you out as much as it does me.

When I felt God’s calling to sign up for a mission trip to share the love of Jesus with refugees, I was confident. My heart felt so overwhelmingly burdened for these people that I knew I had to do SOMETHING.

But with every bit of passion and joy I had in signing up, I was also battling something else.

Fear.

I had no idea what to expect. How would I/we be received? Would we be met with hostility? Violence? Something else? We were going to Germany to hear their stories, to show love and compassion, but also to share the love of Jesus. Would we be met with something stronger than ordinary rejection?

The day I flew out to Germany, I learned of the Munich shooting just hours before my flight. Details were sketchy at that point, but my stomach was in knots as I flirted with a decision: Do I get on that plane and go in faith…or do I stay home?

I knew I had to go. Beyond wanting to live a life with no regrets or “what ifs,” I knew, more importantly, that God had placed the love for and passion for the refugees in me. It was no accident, and living in fear and staying home in my bed for a week certainly wouldn’t remove it. The Bible talks about how perfect love casts out fear, so I decided to lean into my First Love and follow Him.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

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A few days later, there I was. In Germany. Bawling. We were in the middle of a morning meeting as we prepared to go to the refugee centers for the first time, just reviewing last-minute information and praying together, and I had my head in my hands, sobbing. I had woken up that morning to news of another attack overnight near Munich. I was scared. So freakin’ scared.

My head was cycling through worst case scenarios. Though a teammate had said something super profound and very true to me at breakfast when I briefly mentioned my stress (“I figure, if I’m going to die, what better way to go than on a mission trip telling people about Jesus?”), though I was reading and praying through Philippians 1 all morning (“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”), I was struggling. I was afraid.

Another level of anxiety came from the fact that I was specifically concerned about what my interactions with the male refugees would be like. I’m not naive — I know many of their home countries definitely have misguided, and oftentimes downright wrong, views about women. I didn’t know what to expect, at all.

Teammates put their hands on me and started to pray, silently. I sat there and begged God to take all the fear from me. I asked Him why I was so afraid. I know my eternity is secure in Him. I know He alone knows the number of my days, but I was holding so tightly to my dreams and hopes for the future. I realized the possibility of surrendering my own desires was driving my fear. The fear of losing what I want. The fear of the unknown.

I had to give it all over to Him. I know it’ll be an ongoing process of surrender for the rest of my life. But for that day, that trip, I was able to just place it all in His hands and surrender.

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God not only protected me during my time with the refugees, He truly opened my eyes to love and care for these dear people. Most of the refugees I met were men, the vast majority of whom are searching for more, for the love and security only Christ can give. I saw with my very own eyes how God is moving, taking a great tragedy to open so many eyes, cause so many hearts to search, and bring so many to Him.

I feel it’s important to share that I never felt dismissed or ignored when talking to any of the refugees. I never once felt threatened, endangered, looked down upon, or discounted by any of the men I met. They were all kind, courteous, and open when I engaged with them, oftentimes going out of their way to make me feel comfortable. They let me leave my shoes on when it’s customary to take shoes off before entering their homes. They offered us their beds to sit on while they sat on the floor. My teammate and I were, during one visit, asked what we wanted to drink; twenty minutes later one of our hosts returned with drinks and cookies he ran TO THE STORE to buy for us, using some of his precious weekly allowance of Euros to feed us.

I’m not attempting to make a blanket statement about all refugees, but I want you to know what my personal experience was, because it was completely different from what I expected from media coverage. Completely. Different.

God opened my eyes and stripped away so many fears and prejudices I had. I was humbled and honored to meet such incredible people. My life is better and my heart is more open having met them. Admittedly, I’m still learning. But I pray I’m able to speak up on their behalf and share my experience as much as possible.

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My prayer is that my personal experience will make a difference, perhaps change or soften hearts, like mine was. All I know is that I feel an obligation to share what I saw, felt and experienced. I know my thoughts and experience may make some uncomfortable. My hope is that I am speaking truth in love.

At the end of the day, please know that these refugees — most of whom are, yes, Muslim — are people the Lord loves just as much as He loves me and you. They are made in the image of God, just like you are. Please know that these are real people with real families and real losses. Please care. Please pray for them. Please.

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Mission trip, Soul-bearing

Pura vida con Cristo

I’ve been trying to think of how to start this blog post for about a day now. Should I start off with a story? A photo? My biggest takeaway from the trip? It’s almost impossible to boil down my experience in Costa Rica to a single memory, moment or photo.

But I should probably back up to the beginning first.

When people were asking me “Are you so excited?!” in the weeks leading up to the trip, I would usually smile and say “Yeah!” But inside, I honestly didn’t know. I was constantly fluctuating between being really excited and being scared. I didn’t know what to expect, obviously, and the fact that my last mission trip had been nine years ago was really weighing on me, too. A lot in life changes between the ages of 17 and 26, and I honestly had doubts about how 26-year-old me would respond to all that a week on a mission trip brings. I was really struggling with just giving all of those fears over to God.

I was praying the entire way to Costa Rica “God, just please take this fear away and replace it with Your joy.” And boy, did He ever answer that prayer.

I experienced joy, in the purest, truest, beautiful form over the past week of my life. I was humbled that God chose to use me and honored to see how He worked through other people. I’ve never been around a group of people, both Americans and Costa Ricans, who showed such love without any boundaries or hesitations. Just honest, God-filled love.

A verse that I feel sums up the events of the week well would be 1 Corinthians 2:9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

If you had told me a week and a half ago that I would experience God the way I did in Costa Rica–see Him actually start to heal broken hearts before my very eyes, to see Him move in people’s lives, to see Him bring over 140 people to His saving grace–I would’ve believed it because He can do anything, but experiencing it in person is something I’ll never be able to fully express in words.

One thing I definitely was not expecting heading into the trip was the personal impact the translators and the local church members would have in my life. The very first day, within an hour or two of officially getting to meet and know them, my translator, Stip, and local church member, Yeudy, shared their testimonies with me. Their hearts for God were so evident throughout the week, and then as I learned more about different translators and different church members and their personal stories, I became just overwhelmed by His goodness. We all came from such different backgrounds, struggles, and pain that God has worked through to bring us all to this point in our lives. Together for a week. I will always, always be thankful to God for bringing all of those people in my life. They encouraged me and taught me more about faith, love and His grace.

There are more stories I could tell…and I probably will at some point. There’s just a lot of emotions I’m still shifting through. But for now, this is what I wanted to share. God used me, God used the people around, but it was not about us. It was all to His glory.

I experienced grace like an avalanche in Costa Rica. A beautiful, unexpected, life-changing avalanche. I’ll never be the same.

I feel like God has more for me in Costa Rica. That I’m not done there quite yet. I don’t know exactly what that means yet, so I would appreciate your prayers in that manner. But I feel like there are more people to reach there and that He wants me to be a part of it.

To all of you who prayed for me and our team, thank you. Your prayers and support made the difference. To all of you I was privileged to meet in Upala, I love you all as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s all never forget what God showed us in Costa Rica. Ever. Because He is so good.

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explanation, Mission trip, Soul-bearing

Being brave (Costa Rica, here I come!)

I wouldn’t be the person I am today had it not been for mission trips. More importantly, I wouldn’t be the Christian I am today had it not been for mission trips.

So it’s with great excitement that I say: I’ll be heading out on a week-long trip in July 2014. (!!!)

To give you a brief history of my experience on mission trips thus far in life, I went to the Dominican Republic in 2004 and Peru in 2005, both times with members from my church youth group.

My trip to the Dominican Republic was absolutely life-changing in so many ways. I have an entire journal full of everything God taught me/revealed to me/showed me during that trip. Most importantly, it was during that trip that I rededicated my life to the Lord. I had prayed and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior when I was 5, but I had been basically living the typical “good Sunday School kid” life up to that point, just kind of going through the motions without really pursuing a meaningful relationship with Him.

But God completely broke my heart (in the good way) during that trip. When I was least expecting it. He humbled me and showed me through a series of amazing events during the trip that it is NOT about me; it’s about Him. So I gave my life fully, 100 percent back to Him then. I’ve never looked back or been the same since.

I’ve previously mentioned part of my experience in Peru on this blog. God used the Peru trip to fully take me out of my comfort zone, more than I had been even before or in the DR. I was also heading into my senior year of high school that year, and during the trip God gave me so much peace about my future and He had a plan for me, even if I was struggling to trust Him with it.

Some photos from Peru (still searching for my DR photos!): The first one is with one of the local boys from the Peruvian church we partnered with (I still remember his ever-present eagerness to help and his name: Gustavo) and my sister (loved that we got to share such an experience together), the second is from some construction work we did at the church.

Peruvian church banquet

That brings us to present. I haven’t been on a trip since 2005. Eight years.

The funny thing is that, for several years now, I’ve constantly cycled between desperately wanting to go on another trip (but knowing I didn’t have the vacation time yet at my job) and being completely terrified (and thankful that said lack of vacation time was holding me back).

God really started tugging on my heart a few months ago to start praying about going a trip. I began the cycle again between YAY! and “nope, maybe I should wait another year or so…”

A total God-thing then happened when I became Facebook friends with a gal who works for e3 Partners Ministry. You may have also heard of them through their “I Am Second” ministry. The two of us have yet to meet in person (we share many mutual friends where I used to live in Texas), but I started noticing her Facebook posts about trips. I knew God was leading me to ask her more.

Long story short, I started praying more, focusing on whether God wanted me to go on a trip with her. I had complete and total peace about it, which is extremely rare for me, being the anxious person I generally am. I started off praying between Costa Rica (where she’s heading this next year) and Peru (also with e3 but being lead by a person from my old church in Brownsville). My heart wanted Peru–I was familiar with it, I loved the people there, I wanted to see more of that beautiful country.

But it was never meant to be Peru. I had zero peace about that, and every time I started to pray about it, it was always Costa Rica.

A lot of the details are still being worked out, but here’s a general idea of the trip I’ll be going on (from the e3 website):

We are returning to San Ramon to continue the church planting work that we began in 2012. We will be using sports ministry to do outreach to the kids, and community health education in certain areas. Everyone will be involved in the home-to-home evangelism and the I Am Second discipleship that will be our main focus as we work with our local church partners to continue to spread the gospel, to disciple new believers and to plant new churches. Part of the team will also be working with the church plants from last year to continue their development and to make sure the replication process will lead to a new generation of church plants.
While you are in Costa Rica:
Each day you will partner with local believers to share the gospel in the community in exciting and creative ways. You will be helping either to start a brand new church, or strengthen an existing one. One day will be set aside for touring, shopping and free time.
Cost $2400 from Denver, CO contingent on airfare
$200 non-refundable deposit due with application
$1100 due 4/13/2014
$1100 due 6/12/2014
Cost includes leadership training, transportation, hotel, meals, transfers, evangelistic materials and follow up materials and funds.

The one reason I’m particularly excited about going with e3 is because of their emphasis on partnering with churches and church planting during the trip. During the last two trips I was on, we did partner with local churches during our time there, but I’m fairly certain that the Peruvian church members were far more prepared to continue the ministry when we left than the DR church. I really want to be a part of something that goes far beyond just a bunch of Americans showing up for a week and then “see ya” and life goes back to the same old there. This is about expanding God’s kingdom continually.

Yes, I’ll have to raise about $2,400 to go on the trip. But I’m not freaking out about it. I’ve seen in the past how God moved and brought things together for my other two trips. Whether it was people generously straight up writing checks or asking me to weed their garden in exchange for a donation, God provided. I plan to submit my application by December 13, and I’ll need $200 to do so. If this is His will (and I have peace that it is), God will provide. I’ll also need to get my passport renewed (it expired since I last used it)–I have faith that God will provide the funds for that, too.

So many amazing things have been happening in my life recently in regards to God opening my heart to things, giving me the courage to ask for forgiveness, answering prayers, etc. I feel like He’s moving me into a new season of life. I don’t know what it is yet, but I firmly believe Costa Rica is a part of it.

All that to say, thanks for reading all of this. If you could be praying for me mentally, physically and spiritually as I continue to follow God in this, I would so greatly appreciate it. If you feel like God is calling you to donate in some way, shape or form, I would be humbled.

No matter what, this is the verse I’m clinging to: Isaiah 6:8- Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

This verse used to scare me so much. Even after my other two trips. But not anymore. Where He leads me, I will follow.

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Dedication, Soul-bearing

Davion wants to play football, but there’s no one to drive him to practice. He wants to use the bathroom without having to ask someone to unlock the door.

More than anything, he wants someone to tell him he matters. To understand when he begs to leave the light on.

Earlier today I read the story of Davion Only, a 15-year-old boy who went to a church in Florida and stated his case to the congregation, asking that someone adopt him.

I’m not one to often get emotional, but Davion’s story tore me apart. I felt like my heart was actually breaking when I read this quote from him:

”I’ll take anyone. Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be.”

Just read that again is making me tear up all over.

Guys, this is a boy who just wants to be loved. He’s been alone since he was BORN. His mom was in prison and he held out hope for years that she would come for him—until he found out this year that she had died.

And he went to a church and asked for someone, ANYONE, to adopt him. And while two families came forward to inquire, nothing’s been done yet. He’s still without a family. Which is all he wants right now.

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Ever since I was probably 16 or so, I’ve known that I wanted to adopt children, someday. I don’t know when, but I truly believe that’s what God has for me in the future.

I still vividly remember the turning point for me: I was watching a 20/20 on adoption and foster children, and it broke my heart. Broke it. And it’s never been the same since.

While plenty of people have their own children (which is wonderful and I am in no way discrediting that), I’ve never felt like that was for me. Now, granted, this could change, but I’ve felt that way for years now.

Because here’s the thing. There are so, so many beautiful, wonderful children in the world right now without a home or a family. They bounce from foster home to foster home, longing, waiting for the day for someone to call their own.  But so many, too many, never get to know what it feels like to have a popcorn and movie night in the living room, to get invited to the neighbor kid’s pool party, or even what it’s like to have someone who loves them as their own tuck them in at night.

Someday, I want to be that person.

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The bottom of the news article I referenced above contains the following information regarding Davion: (At publication time, two couples had asked about Davion, but no one had come forward to adopt him. If you want more information about Davion — or any of the 120 foster children in Pinellas and Pasco counties who are waiting for families, call Eckerd at (866) 233-0790. If you can’t adopt but want to donate time or money, call Eckerd at (727) 456-0600.

Let’s spread the word about Davion (and the thousands of others just like him). He needs a home.

Davion Only needs a home

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Dedication, Soul-bearing

The story of Peru, a little girl named Noris, and unconditional love

I haven’t really shared this story. Until now.

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I pulled this photo out yesterday for a Throwback Thursday photo on Instagram. But the photo flooded me with so many emotions and memories I hadn’t really tapped into for a long time. And I decided it was time to share the story. The story of Noris.

In 2005, I went to the outskirts of Lima, Peru, on a missions trip with my church youth group. (When searching for the specific portion we were in, La Tablada, I stumbled upon this YouTube video. I got a big lump in my throat when I saw the cross at the 1:36 mark–we repainted that cross when we were there because it was covered with graffiti.) I had gone on a trip the year before to the Dominican Republic, which had definitely made a lasting impression on my life.

But I was unprepared for what Peru would teach me. All because of a little girl named Noris.

During the course of our week there, we helped with construction at a church, served at an orphanage, and walked door-to-door to tell people about Jesus. But we also ran a VBS every afternoon in the town square that was a few blocks away from the church.

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Kids from all around would fill the square every afternoon. It was so beautiful–we shared with them about salvation through Jesus, and they shared joy and pure love with us in return.

I loved every minute of it. But there was one little girl who made a lasting impression on me.

I don’t remember exactly how we found each other. Whether she was next to me during song time, in my group for crafts, or some other circumstance, I don’t remember. But all I remember is that she was there.

We didn’t speak the same language. The interpreters were all always busy with other conversations around the square, so I don’t think the two of us ever had a fluent conversation. I asked her, “Como te llamas?” “Noris,” she whispered back. She hugged me.

It wasn’t like any hug I had ever had before. It was a no-holds-barred, I-don’t-know-you-but-it-doesn’t-matter hug. It touched something deep inside me. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know my story, my history, my failures.

All she knew is that I was there. In that moment. And she hugged me.

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For the next few days, I spent the majority of my time in VBS with her. Letting her play with my hair. Helping her watch her tiny sister. Giggling together about things around us, not needing to speak a word to share a laugh.

On the last day we sat together, just holding each other. She was curled up in my lap. I stroked her glossy black hair, which was always messily done in two braids. When it was time to say goodbye, I cried.

She whispered, “Te amo.” Choking back more tears, I whispered it back to her. I told her in my broken Spanish that Jesus loves her, too, and she nodded and smiled. Then she grabbed her little sister’s hand and walked away.

Noris

Noris showed me what unconditional love looks like. Growing up in the church setting, I had often struggled with that concept. I had heard so many sermons and talks about it but couldn’t wrap my mind completely around it.

Jesus died for me? Me? And everyone else? Even the people I don’t like? I believed it, I had asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, but it was just something I struggled with on the daily level.

Because there’s no reason a perfect God should love someone like me. I sin. All the time. I hurt people, I lie, I worry, I say cruel things. I don’t deserve a perfect Love.

But God sent me Noris to show me what it looked like on an earthly level. To trust without boundaries. To love in purity. To not overanalyze things. To just accept His love, even if my finite mind can never truly fully comprehend it.

paintingThis painting hangs in my bedroom now. I bought it at a market in Lima at the end of our trip. It reminded me of Noris, and it still brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

Every day, I’m thankful for what she showed me. And I can only hope I show that love to others.

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Funny stuff, Soul-bearing

Galentine’s Day, Treating Myself and Not ODing on Chocolate

It’s that dreaded day again. Valentine’s Day. AKA the day that all the lovebirds go on fancy, romantic dates, and us single folk chill at home and eat unreasonable amounts of sweets.

At least, that’s what I did in years past. Truth bomb: I’ve never had a date on Valentine’s Day. I used to hide that fact, but I’m OK with it now. Years ago, absolutely not. Two years ago I ate so many chocolate-covered cherries that I basically blacked out. And then I got the worst migraine of my life, and I stopped eating chocolate. Last year I just pouted. In the past, I’ve worn all black. I’ve worn red. I’ve cried. I’ve gone out with other single girl friends. I’ve holed up in my room. I’ve basically done it all when it comes to coping with Valentine’s Day as a single lady.

So that’s why it’s going to be different this year. No feeling sorry for myself, no hating men, no overindulging in candies, none of that.

This year, I’m just focusing on me. And what I love about my life. And the wonderful, lovely people that are in it. And the One who loves me unconditionally.

One of my favorite TV shows, Parks and Recreation, kind of perfectly sums up what the philosophy of my day will be.

Treat you self

Also, Leslie Knope is my personal hero.
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Over the years, I’ve been really blessed with some phenomenal friends who have kept me going when I was in the pits. Every year, three college friends (Kalyn, Brenna and Melissa) have sent me a Valentine’s Day card. (They are awesome and send them for other holidays, too, but the Valentine’s Day ones are my favorites.) I’ve had married friends sit me down and tell me to embrace where I am in life now and not waste it (Giana and Eunice, I’m specifically grateful for you two). My dad sent me balloons and sweets when I was in college. My mom and sister have listened to me whine and cry. And many others.

These are the people who helped me through the dark times. Now I’m not afraid of tomorrow. I’ll hit the gym and celebrate being a strong woman. I’ll possibly allow myself to have a treat (calorie counting, ya know). So happy Valentine’s/Galentine’s Day, all! If you are in a couple, enjoy it! Really, I truly mean that. If you’re single, I know it’s not easy, but find something to enjoy about the day. It’s just another day, after all.

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