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

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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.

Wrestling with Contentment

Over and over again people tell me they are waiting for God to do something significant in their lives and most of them are usually dreaming and hoping for something specific. It breaks my heart when they do not see how God is already working through the everyday circumstances of their lives and all they need to do is join in.

We sometimes look and pray so hard for God to do something big through our lives that we do not see what He is currently doing through the people and circumstances around us. I have come to realize in my own life that God was preparing me for what I am doing now and I can only assume He is still preparing me for what He wants me to do in the future.

I also had a dream and prayed hard for it. It was to work in ministry full time. I was tired of working for the perpetual business dollar. However, no matter how many jobs I applied for in the church and with other nonprofits, I could not seem to get an interview. I ended up working at the Star Tribune for twelve years and those who knew me best were the first to say I did not fit in.

I kept busy by working through eight jobs during those twelve years and focused on doing the best work possible. While I continued to pray, all I could do was live my values, serve unconditionally and wait for that ministry opportunity. When I became discouraged or frustrated during times of inequities, I reminded myself to focus on doing the job as if I were serving God — not man (Colossians 3:23). I painfully had to make decisions based on my values instead of what would help me gain favor in other people’s eyes or get that next promotion.

I remember one instance when I was applying for a supervisory position but the hiring manager was confused when I told him I had a servant leadership managerial style. Needless to say, I did not get the job.

On November 30, 1993, I wrote in my journal: “I need to be content in whatever situation I am in rather than always looking for God’s Will in something else. Instead of looking elsewhere, I need to look around at what I’ve already got. Where I am now IS God’s Will. God put me here.”

In the meantime, to ease that discontented feeling, God provided ways for me to serve Him in the church and on overseas mission trips. Although I did not realize it at the time, God used those years of experience in business and volunteer work to prepare me for the job I have now. He even provided a situation where I could finish my Bachelor’s degree and the only thing I had to pay for were my books.

It was June 2007 when the Star Tribune offered their first voluntary buy-outs. I did not accept it at first but woke up the following Sunday to the realization that God had provided the opportunity for me to get out of the trap I had been in. I did not recognize it at first because I had assumed it would come in the form of a new job offer. This open door required me to step out in faith. It meant that I had to quit my current job before acquiring another one.

One week after accepting the buy-out, I received an interview at Northwestern College and within one month, I was working at KTIS meeting with donors, listening to their stories, getting their feedback, answering their questions and making sure their needs are met. God had been waiting for me to let go and then He provided the opportunity.

I, like most people, knew I had finally landed my dream job. It is much easier now that my work matches my values and I can openly live out my faith. Only months after I had started, when I ran across former Star Tribune colleagues, they commented that I looked happier and they could tell that I had finally found the place that was “a good fit for me.” At the same time, I soon found that there are expectations and responsibilities that come with full time ministry. Now, more than ever, I need to strengthen my knowledge of the scriptures. In other words, I need to read more and serve deeper than I ever had before. However, this is not rigorous work. It is who I am so it fits my life and I can live it 24/7.

Every person I meet and every concert I attend challenges me in my faith and understanding. For instance, here are photos from “The Story” Christmas concert this past year with Stephen Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, Selah and Natalie Grant. This is one of those times when pictures cannot begin to describe how inspirational it was.



When I think about my previous post regarding simplicity and this subject of contentment, I cannot help but think about the people I have met during the foreign mission trips I participated in during the past 10 years. I have personally seen that our ability to provide for our own basic needs and buy those things that make us comfortable (give us temporary happiness), are among America’s biggest distractions that keep us from seeking and depending on God’s activity in our lives. In third world countries, they depend on God for their basic needs. In most situations, it is their next meal. But yet, they have a faith that is so strong it has brought me to tears on several occasions. They want to be like us but I want to be like them!

It is time for me to write about my life changing mission trips to the Philippines, Mexico and Africa. I will begin those with my next post.

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