Comfort For The Soul

I have talked in past blog posts about serving the poor by providing food, clothing and shelter but this is a story about the need for spiritual comfort.

Below is a message I received about the Ebola outbreak from a friend that we met during our 2007 Liberia mission trip…

“Yesterday we experienced a terrible and serious situation in Johnsonville. Saturday morning about 10 am, we saw a convoy of about a dozen vehicles driving in from the city. The convoy of Armed Forces of Liberia, The ministry of Health, Internal Affairs, Justice, Police and Red Cross ambulance. We were caught by surprise. We were asked to go indoors. They told us to stay indoors because the convoy contained dead bodies of Ebola victims. We went indoors but later came out. Little did we realize that the district commissioner and the land Inspector had given permit to the Ebola team to bury dozens of dead bodies which were being carried in a KIA Motor truck. A chain caterpillar began to fix the damaged road. Following that, a long convoy apart from the first started approaching. They came to bury all the dead bodies collected from various hospitals in Monrovia. Villagers protested and refused to let the government officials in. A heated argument ensued and this resulted in the firing of guns for several minutes. They beat residents wounding several and then buried the bodies. As I write, there are a few among residents that collect water from unprotected wells.

There is complete fear upon us as there are lot of gun men around. Today, the faces I saw in church made me cry. Our people are in complete desperation and suffering. They cannot do their normal activities for fear of catching the Ebola sickness. We are thinking about providing relief and continue to feed hungry children who are cracking kernels for food. Tell the world that we need help. Our country is falling apart.”

Not being able to help someone in a tangible way is a bit disheartening and requires us to be dependent on God for his mercy.

I know we can’t all serve in missions, but we should all try to understand; and therefore, have compassion for those in need around the world. The reality is that the poor will always need our help. We need to respond when we can whether that is moving our hands and feet locally, sponsoring a child, sending someone who can go overseas, sending any form of encouragement, or praying. To help us understand the suffering of the poor who have no voice, this would be a good time to ask ourselves “what would we do if the government wanted to bury bodies with deadly diseases in our neighborhood?”

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The Perfect Mission Trip

What makes a perfect mission trip? The perfect combination of service, relationship building, rest, and team camaraderie. Kudos to David and Lisa McCarty from World Servants and glory to God for making last week’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic a perfect one. 

After a good dinner Saturday evening, we went right into our first 24 hours of building relationships by walking up and down the mountainous hillside visiting the people of  San Cristobal.  me visiting

Then on Sunday evening, we enjoyed sharing worship and stories with them during their church service.  DR Church

When Monday came, we split into four teams to begin our projects and show love to the people of San Cristobal by getting our hands dirty…

We had the privilege and joy of restoring a couple tin roofs and laying concrete floors in the homes of those who could not afford to do it for themselves. One of whose owners was in the hospital because the mother had just given birth so it was a joy to know that we were creating a new, clean environment for mom and baby when they returned home. One of the things that was special about this trip is that we were not laying floors all by ourselves with the Dominicans looking on. Instead of us coming in and showing them the American way, the Dominicans worked hard alongside us showing us several techniques for mixing mounds of sand and cement and teaching us how to level and spread a concrete floor using string and two-by-fours.  cement lines

blog laying cement

As I said in my last blog, we receive just as many blessings from these mission projects as we give.  But there was something new about this trip that I hadn’t expected…  Our team ministered and enriched one another as a by-product of reaching out to and serving the Dominicans.

 

 

 

 

This was the most impactful team I have ever been apart of.  None of us could have laid seven concrete floors, built a community garden, or conducted kids programs for hundreds of children in just one week without the help of every other member of the team. For instance, mixing the mounds of sand and cement required several people at a time, it took a bucket brigade to move the concrete to the floors, and several people at a time to spread and smooth the concrete in the houses. It was very rewarding to achieve so much while working side by side with new friends.  mixing cement with me in background

Sure, it was hard work. However, the hot working days were only seven hours long and when you were exhausted at the end of the day, there was the option to go to bed as early as 8:30 and get up at 6:30 in the morning.  And yes, I did that a couple times.

Then there was the garden that we helped plant for the school so they will have food for school lunches when the kids start attending full days next year. The project started on Monday on the side of a hill where one of the teams had to break through hard ground and pull brush. Then they had to cut down trees and make a fence for the entire area.breaking ground for the garden

By the time my team got there, they needed us to clear a path to lay PVC pipe so they could direct spring water down the mountain, we had to rake up the rocks, and then the donkeys had to carry more bags of black dirt up the steep mountain side so we could finish adding the top soil.me raking garden

It was amazing that within five days, we were planting seeds.planting seedsIt will be a joy to see pictures of fresh vegetables during harvest time!

My favorite part of any mission project (whether it is here or overseas) is spending time with the children.  Each of our teams went to a different school to tell a Bible story with drama, sing songs (that we learned in Spanish), play games, face paint, make balloon animals, and do a butterfly craft.  DR school teaching

Then when there was a break in construction at the homes, I would pull out the “Spot It” game and work with the kids to find the matching objects. me playing with the kids

This is the closest I have come to understanding how Jesus felt when he told the disciples to “let the children come unto me.”  Their love is unconditional and they are so eager to enjoy all you have to give them.  me with the kids

This is my new friend Jakela.  Isn’t she adorable?  me with Jakela

Not only did the team camaraderie and working side by side with the Dominicans make this a very rewarding trip, but the times of encouragement and sharing in the mornings and evenings were inspirational with the devotions centered around the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (Mark 6).

We were of all ages and total strangers. The majority of the team came on this trip alone but we all left as lifetime friends. We had to trust one another and be there for one another. Never before has it brought tears to my eyes as I think about my mission friends. I love you guys:  Pat, Patti, Heather, Heidi, Denise, Barb, Amy, Joy, Loren, Nan, Howard, Brian, Andy, Julie, Jason, Amanda, Danny, Haley, Erica, Jadee, Jolee, Steven, Jennifer, Dave, Lisa, Katie Johnson and Katie Jorgenson!group at the garden

Who Gains the Most from a Mission Trip?

Why would anyone want to use their vacation time to go overseas to live among the poor and risk their health and safety? That is a question I actually get more often from those that I go serve rather than friends and family at home. The question always surprises me. I’m usually thinking “why not?” I feel as though my reward is sometimes greater than those I am serving but those I am serving are so humble that they do not readily understand what they have to offer.

MVC-001S

Serving on a mission, whether locally or overseas, is the best way to learn and understand compassion and put your unconditional love and selfish desires to the test.

I am about to go on my eighth overseas mission trip and I’m looking forward to getting away from the endless busyness and responsibilities of American life and focusing on serving as Jesus’ hands and feet. We will be going to the Dominican Republic to teach children, do construction, lay cement floors, help with gardens, and the best part of all, visit homes and look into the grateful eyes of those who do not have the means to do all of this for themselves.

I also look forward to once again learning how to increase my faith from those who rely on God at a deeper level than I’ve ever had to. It is indescribable to be a part of such spirit-filled worship in the midst of environments that make you think there is nothing to celebrate. On the contrary, their faith is in abundance and they have so much to teach me! For instance:

In Cebu Philippines, I learned that kids are the same no matter where they are and orphanages, such as the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, can be beautiful when run by people who truly love and want to rescue children of all abilities. I also learned a deep respect for squatters who live in cardboard houses and yet dare to dream and work hard to get an education so they can change their futures.

In Eastern Germany, I learned the importance of building relationships to strengthen and encourage fellow Christians, especially those who are struggling to serve in an atheistic society.

In Haiti, I witnessed the spiritual joy and strength of the elderly even when all they have is their one room shacks. I also learned about the ministry of touch. Rubbing lotion on sick and dying patients was one of the most realistic manifestations of Christ’s love that I have ever experienced because I wasn’t there to just solve a need, I was there to comfort and touch the untouchables.

In Mexico, the Church taught me how to apply and prioritize spiritual disciplines, which included audible prayer walks before sunrise.

In Liberia Africa, I witnessed a Christian culture that takes the Bible literally and one of the ways they apply it is by demonstrating respectful speech and hospitality. My favorite experience was when waking up in a mud house to the sound of a sweet voice singing right outside my window. By the way, did you know roosters crow at night!?

That is why I go on these trips. God has created and called me to experience so much more than my small world has to offer.

A Journey to the Philippines — part 2

SATURDAY
On our fifth day of the trip and after our final morning with the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, we took the Jeepneys into a squatter’s village near the Cebu Central Free Church. We could barely get the Jeepneys into the area because the roads were so narrow.

This was another one of those life changing moments. While they were seting up the pipes, curtains and portable radio for the puppet stage on the hard dry dirt, we took out our toys and games to play with the kids:

Before we could get started with the music and puppets, the Filipino kids gathered together in front of us and treated us to their own performance of song along with synchronized movements. It was beautiful! It turned out that they had learned the song at the Central Free Church.

Since this situation was in an open field and not confined to a fenced-in environment, we were surrounded by mobs of people and hundreds of outreached hands when we passed out the care packages. We gave away anything and everything we could find, including our pens and personal snacks. After everything was gone, they even took the cardboard boxes that once held the care packages.  

SUNDAY
Sunday was so hot that we had a constant stream of sweat pouring down our backs. We were back at the Cebu Free Church to lead Sunday school this time.  Here is Rachael teaching and Jessica showing off one of the crafts:

Angelo was there and was one of the few adults who came down to watch the puppet show with the kids. I noticed that Angelo was watching from the curb across the street when we were saying goodbye to the kids.  It was another one of those heartbreaking memories. It felt as though we were leaving one of our own behind.  Thankfully, however, he had been introduced to many in the church and it was our prayer that he would stay connected with them.

That afternoon we went to an inside Market which would be comparable to an indoor flea market here in the States. We did our best to spend all the money we had while we were there but that took some work considering the fact that pesos were 44.38 to the dollar. It took 7,500 pesos to buy $150 in souvenirs. The seven women that packed up our items and served us were giddy by the time we left. Our favorite souvenir was a hat for Randy made out of frog hides.

This was the evening when Jessica found a small lizard in the tub at the guest house. She thought it was so cute that she tried to pick it up by the tail. However, the lizard shed its tail and left the tail wiggling in her hand. Needless to say, Jessica freaked out.

MONDAY
Monday was our day to go to the beach and rest. The private beach club we went to was clean, had a cement wall around it, and was a sight for sore eyes. I did not understand the purpose of the wall until I was out in the water and looked back to see that there were more squatters on the other side of that wall. It was difficult to stay focused on a day of rest with this reminder just a stones throw away. Here is a picture of the divide.

Our devotions that day were about perseverance and how God works through trials.  We were a little over half-way through the trip and as we reminisced and looked back over the long week, people started missing their families back home.

TUESDAY
We were not sure if we were going to be allowed to teach religion in the school because, in order to do so, all the kids had to bring back their permission slips.  It turned out that they all did.  Therefore, we were allowed to go in to present a 20 minute story to each of the classes. Here we are waiting for their procession and worship of the Virgin Mary before school started.

We tried to use puppets during the first presentation but the class did not pay attention and got a little carried away so we did not use them after that. We quickly learned that the Filipino children have a short attention span and the teachers keep their attention by having the entire class repeat a lot of what they say.

Afterwards, we had to wait in the hot sun for the Jeepney to show up. As with most mission trips, it was one of many times when we had to remember that “no plans and no schedules are set in stone.”

WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY
We spent our last couple days playing with the kids and visiting with the college students. I had brought a couple pocket toys with me on the trip and it was now time to let them float away into a crowd of children to never be seen again. Here they are with one of our favorite…Mr. Potato Head

A few of us walked through the squatter’s village, bought up all the bread from the local baker, and passed it out as we walked along.  There were some very educated people living in those tin and cardboard houses.  We met nurses, teachers and a mechanic.  One of the problems is that there are just not enough jobs available for everyone.

Because our presence brought so much attention, the churches had big turnouts during Sunday services the next week.  Therefore, they set up Bible study groups to continue their work with those who were new to the church.  And, the Alliance Church was expecting to have another congregation in their area within three months. Knowing that gave us a little peace for the ache we felt when we had to return home.

We poured out our remaining energy on one last outreach on Thursday evening.  We went to the squatters who lived in a tarp covered marketplace that went on for blocks and blocks.  Again, it was quite a squeeze for the Jeepneys to get around:

We walked deep into the belly of the market and to the second floor of an unfinished cement building where a group of kids were waiting for us.  This was the foulest smelling and dirtiest place we had been to yet.  The smells of rotting food and garbage were mixed with smells of urine.  One of the children warned a member of our team to not go down a certain corridor because, as he said, “there are snakes down there.”  There was one point where we saw a rat run across the floor and we were told that the welts on some of the kids were from rat bites.  Here is a photo of these precious children:

After the singing and puppet show, Jessica, Rachael and I took out the bubbles again.  However, this group was pretty wild.  It was not long before we had to put the bubbles away because the kids were pushing and shoving so much that they started slipping on the soap that spilled on the dirty cement floor.  There was even one boy who kept dipping his hand in the soap to coat with hair.

In my journal I wrote: “I now realize one of the reasons we are here in Cebu is to be an encouragement to the churches, students, Children’s Shelter, and the people in the squatter’s villages.  I left on this trip assuming I was going to get something done.  However, it really came down to equipping the Cebu churches and encouraging them to serve and reach out to their own people.”  The Filipinos told us that because we flew all the way to Cebu to be with them was an encouragement in itself.

FRIDAY
After ten days in that moist salt air, our cameras were wearing down and even the guitar strings had started to rust. We left behind all of the puppets, equipment, supplies, and even some of our clothing with the churches and shelter.

After tearful goodbyes at the Shelter and a last minute visit into the midst of the squatter’s village to visit with one of the families, we were on our way to the Cebu airport.  Here is half of our team (and some of that luggage) with one of the Jeepneys…

This time we did not have a stop in Honolulu but had a 13 hour flight from Manilla to Los Angeles. Thank goodness we had a four hour layover in LA because it took us three hours to recheck our bags.  All of our flights were once again late.  However, because there were so many of us, the subsequent flights did not leave without us because the airlines did not want to have to put 30 people in hotels.

SATURDAY
I experienced my first episode of culture shock in LA when I saw a man standing at the airport McDonalds yelling at the cashier because he did not get what he had ordered.  This was a shock because we had just spent the past two weeks interacting with friendly and gracious people.  They were not loud and angry but instead soft spoken and gentle.

Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got home.  Even to the point that Jessica fell asleep in the hallway while petting the dog.  Rachael had a head cold that she had been battling for days and then developed an ear infection.  My eyes were so infected that it took two prescriptions and weeks for them to get back to normal.

The main thing I learned from this trip was what it means to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).  I summarized this realization in my journal by saying: “this means extending my love to other people by freely giving up my own comforts and time while having the faith to step out and overcome my fears.”  I continued by saying: “how wonderful to experience the reward that comes from seeing the appreciation and joy on the faces of the Filipinos because of that sacrifice.”

Recently, a friend pointed out something I had never noticed before.  If you read Matthew 25:31-46, notice that when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, his judgment is based on whether they fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, invited in strangers, clothed the poor, and looked after the sick and those in prison.

Do not worry about what it is you should do.  Start by making yourself available and willing to be used by God.  Just do something to extend the love God has shown you whether it is locally or overseas.

A Journey to the Philippines – part 1

I am glad I kept a journal of our two week mission trip to the Philippines because so much happened every minute of every day that even the best memory would not be able to recall all the life changing encounters we experienced.

Our flight to Cebu, Philippines took off July 9, 2000. Jessica and Rachael (16 years old at the time) had never flown before and this was my first international flight. There were 30 people on this mission team. We were traveling with 30+ suit cases, 30+ carry-ons, and 30 seventy-pound boxes of supplies. As you can imagine, traveling to the other side of the world with that many people and that much baggage was quite an endeavor. To complicate things more, our very first flight was overbooked and we were 40 minutes late taking off. Therefore, we delayed every flight we were on thereafter.  We had to run from one connection to the next but what really delayed the planes was transferring those 60+ pieces of luggage from one flight to the next. Although we had to wait a couple hours for our luggage to catch up with us in the end, it was amazing that every piece of luggage made it to our final destination.

To keep costs down, we had four stops along the way and it took almost 27 hours to get from Minnesota to Cebu, Philippines. I still have a hard time figuring out the math with time changes and traveling from East to West against the rotation of the earth. All I can say is that we lifted off from Minnesota at 4:55pm Sunday July 9th and landed in Cebu, Philippines, at 8:40am Cebu time Tuesday July 11th (that was 7:40pm MN time on July 10th). Therefore, we lost 13 hours! To make it even more adventurous, we had to endure turbulence from the first flight to the last. I found out later that my husband was closely watching the weather during our flight because we were flying behind a typhoon and a couple other weather systems. God had us covered but what an experience for first time international travelers!

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Manilla was the extremely strong smell of mold. That is when we first heard that the typhoon had just gone through. This was the heaviest humidity I had ever had to inhale. There was so much moisture on the windows of the plane and airport that it was as though we had landed inside a huge greenhouse. The newspaper was full of stories about the typhoon, crooked police, and a garbage slide in the squatter’s village.  Jessica’s first words after that final take off from Manilla to Cebu was “and we have to do all this again in two weeks!?”

When we arrived in Cebu, the diesel pollution combined with the smells of mango, lye and sewage were nauseating. By the end of the trip, we were used to the smells only enough to stop complaining about them but not enough to be numb to them. To this day, when I smell diesel, my mind goes back to the Philippines.

The coolest thing to me about the eight bedroom guest house we stayed in was the banana tree right outside the porch windows. I was surprised to see that the inside of the bananas in the Philippines are more yellow than the ones we get in the States. And, even though the smell of mangoes permeated the air and mixed with all those foul smells, I still fell in love with their sweet smooth flavor. It is disappointing that the mangoes are just not the same here in the States.

After unpacking, we went to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu to meet the kids and drop off some of the supplies. The kids at the shelter were so welcoming and excited when we arrived. Considering the children we saw on the streets, I was surprised at how happy and well adjusted the kids at the orphanage were.

That evening, we needed a distraction to stay awake and get acclimated to Cebu time. Therefore, we climbed into our hired Jeepneys and headed for the mall. Jeepneys are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. They are made from US military jeeps left over from World War II and are known for their flamboyant colors and crowded seating. Here is a picture of the outside and inside of the two Jeepneys we used during our 11 days in the Philippines:

The pollution was so bad that when we rode in the open air Jeepneys, I got dots on my glasses and, in the evening, when I wiped my face with an astringent pad, it was black. From the first day of the trip to the last, I had problems with my eyes. By the end of the trip, my eyes felt like sandpaper and I could barely keep them open.

Our trip to the mall was an opportunity for us to get some good old American fast food. But when Rachael and I approached the Pizza Hut, we had to step back trying not to cringe from the smell. It seems they use goat cheese on their pizzas. Therefore, we ended up going to the good old reliable food chain — McDonalds.

WEDNESDAY
This was our first of four mornings working with the kids at the Children’s Shelter of Cebu.  We sang together, performed puppet shows..,

tutored them on the computers, played games, and did crafts.  The kids loved the attention and learned quickly.  Here are photos of Jessica and Rachael with some of the kids:

 

In addition to the orphanage, we worked with the local churches to reach out to families in the squatter’s villages. Wikipedia defines squatters as: “extensive slums or shanty towns consisting of self-constructed housing built without the landowner’s permission. There is no sewage system, drinking water must be bought from vendors or carried from a nearby tap, and if there is electricity, it is stolen from a passing cable.”

That night we went out by twos among the shanties to hand out fliers and invite the people to a gathering the following evening.
In my journal I wrote: “The children, stray cats and dogs, roosters leashed to poles, and mothers cooking over open fires were just like the pictures I’ve seen on TV.”

There was one particular girl who captured my heart because she reminded me so much of myself. She was a young teen intently watching everything we did and with a trail of the little ones behind her. Her name is Michelle. Here is a picture of her standing behind the pole:

The hardest thing about a trip like this is that we left part of our hearts with the kids.  Michelle is still a part of my memories. Unfortunately, I will never know where she is or what she is doing now but I am thankful that I can trust God with my prayers for her.

THURSDAY
After our morning with the kids at the children’s shelter, we went back to the Cebu Alliance Church in the squatter’s village. One hundred children responded to the fliers we distributed the day before.  

They were awed by the puppet show so much so that even the adults watched with their mouths hanging open. We each brought a relational activity to help us interact with the kids which included butterfly gliders, bubbles, balloons, wipe boards, jacks, jump ropes, and beaded bracelets.

Around dinner time, we lined up the kids and sent them home with care packages that we had brought from the States. The packages contained rice, soap, a wash rag, candy and other things donated by the church.

As this happened, more people came out from the shanties. It was difficult to stop the distribution but we had only 85 packages to hand out to this group. We had to save the remaining 200 packages for the other three villages that we would visit over the next seven days.

After the children left to bring their packages home and invite their parents out for the evening video, we rested and enjoyed our dinner from Jolli-Bees which consisted of two pieces of chicken (the chicken in the Philippines is much leaner and less meaty than that of the United States), a mound of rice, container of gravy, mango pie, and coke.

That evening, the villagers responded to the flier invitations and filled the church… 

It was standing room only so our team had to wait outside. While their parents watched the Jesus video, we entertained the children with nothing but our bodies serving as monkey bars and entertainment for two hours. Here is a photo from that night:

By the end of that evening, we had pushed ourselves to stay up late again and we were 30 very tired, crabby people still suffering from jet lag. However, to remind us of the importance of what we were doing, we noticed that some of the kids were digging through the garbage and eating any leftover chicken they could find from our evening meal. Therefore, it feels like an oxymoron to say that this was one of the most fulfilling nights of my life. We had served (as many as we were capable of reaching) the orphans, physically ministered to and fed the poor, and ended the evening by providing for their spiritual needs.

FRIDAY
After a morning at the shelter, an afternoon of socializing and ministering with a group of college students, and riding on man powered tricycles back to the guest house,

we went to the Cebu Evangelical Free Church to help them reach out to the squatter’s in their area.

No one arrived for the 7pm start time so our team once again walked the streets and invited people to come see the Jesus video. By the time our team returned, people were streaming in, we started singing, and we were able to start the video at 8pm.  Here are some of those kids:

During the movie, I had a conversation with young man named Angelo who believed his ancestors and tradition would get him to heaven. After some discussion, however, he was very interested in the fact that he could actually talk directly to God himself. That evening Angelo prayed and asked Jesus to be his savior and we gave him a Bible. Afterwards, Angelo looked as though he could use some refreshments but the kids had already taken all the juice and snacks. Thank goodness I had a bottle of Gatorade in my backpack so I could give that to him. After assuring him it was okay to accept it, he downed the entire bottle faster than I had ever seen anyone do before.

As I write this and reflect on the fact that I kept saying in my journal “the Filipinos are very friendly and eager to become friends,” I wondered if that observation was real or just my perception because I was experiencing gratitude from the people we were serving.

Then I think about the Filipinos I have met, and worked with, here in the States. I can confidently say that the Filipinos are naturally friendly and hospitable. That being said, however, I have to admit that we encountered a few people who did throw brief angry comments and attitude our way. We were told that some of that was coming as a result of “unwanted Americans from the nearby naval base.” However, these encounters were far and few between.

This trip was so moving and life changing that it pains me to leave out so many details but it would just take too long to describe everything here. However, I would like to invite other team members to help out by posting their experiences and comments as well.

Since this account is already getting so long, I will post the second week of stories about visiting the school and other squatter villages in my next post.

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