I have had the amazing privilege to serve on five missions trips since 2003. These opportunities have come my way through the Global Impact ministry of Frontline, a church of McLean Bible Church just outside of Washington, DC. A few years ago, I compiled a collection of stories from my experiences in Guatemala, Brazil, and Argentina for a newsletter produced by the Capital Research Center called Compassion and Culture. Since I already have many stories about my recent experiences in SE Asia, I wanted to post a rough sketch of that newsletter here on my blog to capture the raw highlights of these experiences. I hope you will be encouraged by these stories as much has they have encouraged me. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
On July 5, 2003 a group of 16 young Washington, DC professionals embarked on Guatemalan mission trip, in response to a cry for help from the Christian church located in the indigenous mountain village known as Santa Clara La Laguna. I was a part of this group, and this was my inaugural overseas mission experience. I call it inaugural because it will turn out to be the first of many years of continued service to the poor and oppressed. The mission to Guatemala changed my life immensely. For 5 days our team of 16 joined forces with Bridge Builders, Inc and Compassion International to construct the second floor of a Compassion Center in Santa Clara. There are any number of Non-Government organizations that exist today for the purpose of sponsoring children in poverty to get their teeth brushed, hair washed, a warm meal, and most importantly an education. These Compassion schools exists all over to world and serve as a central hub in communities where poverty is life. Inside these concrete block buildings, locals volunteer their time and talents to facilitate after school K- 12 educational programs for the local children, hoping to improve the participants’ chances of getting a better paying job and, for some, higher education. Pictured right in the foreground is the local church that supports the Santa Clara Compassion Center, Eben-Ezer Iglesia, and next to it, the Compassion Center. Notice the second floor construction on the background building. We learned how to mix concrete, bend rebar, and mortar cinder blocks. As the walls of the second floor began to take form, we prayed for the future of the building, we prayed for the minds of the children who will learn within these walls, and we asked God to open doors for these children to go to college and bring their educations back to Santa Clara and improve the quality of life in this 3rd world community. When we arrived in Santa Clara, we discovered the single water line into town had busted, and if we wanted water we had to draw from a well 2 blocks from the worksite. The local women carry everything on their heads, (I actually saw one carry a TV on top!) so I volunteered to be the “woman at the well” and actually discovered I have a flat head! I guess God knew one day I’d be a water-barer in the truest sense! I was in charge of making sure that the folks mixing concrete never ran out of water. I also helped out the ladies who cooked for us each day by bringing water for their needs as well. Another one of my jobs was to help plan and administer a children’s party for those who are enrolled in the Compassion Center after school program. As you can see, we had quite a large group- over 200 children were present and enjoyed arts, crafts, stories, and songs. The children truly are the heartbeat of this little town, and it’s encouraging to see their eager eyes and little minds absorbing every morsel of knowledge you can pass along. Many were orphans and children of single mothers. All of them craved love, and we definitely loved on them! While in country, I made two very special friends. One is my friend Diego. He lived next door to the hotel where we slept, (and by hotel I mean the cinderblock shelter with individual rooms and hay beds, read: no running water and spotty electricity). Diego is the oldest man in his household at the ripe age of eight, his father is not present and based on statistics we can assume he abandoned the family due to addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. With the huge burden of leadership on his shoulders, Diego does the work of a grown man helping his mother care for his little sisters (3) and managing the daily household chores in their cinderblock home insulated by bamboo with a tin roof. Diego is not currently enrolled in the Compassion Center, but we pray that as a result of the increased space, Diego will have the opportunity to enroll. This is Juana. She is the woman in charge of the kitchen staff at the Compassion Center who cooks the meals for the children each day. Several younger women worked under her direction, and for some reason, this group took me in under their wing. I could hardly speak a word of their language, but when Juana called “ANA!!” I knew she meant me. I carried water for her, I helped her wash dishes, mop the floor, make the tortillas, set the table, you name it if Juana needed one of us to help, it was me she called on and I happily followed her instruction. Our most meaningful conversations transpired between a translator, but Juana and I connected on a different level. I learned once that communicating is more than 50% non-verbal and I experienced that in my relationship with Juana. I observed in Juana a servant of God, a loving mother, and a woman who knows her God and believes He is sovereign. On the last day she said told me if I ever returned I would always be welcome in her home. The memories of these 10 days in Guatemala are so real to me its as if I just returned. I could go on and on with pictures and stories about this first mission to Santa Clara, but I will bring mission one to a close with this: Parting ways with my new friends was at best bittersweet; however, something inside me knew that one day I would see them again. Little did I know it would be later that same year. One month after we returned to D.C., my teammates Winne Chu and Jenny Scott and I, were offered the opportunity to return to Santa Clara, Guatemala October 18-26, 2003, to help a separate team from Colorado Spring, Colorado complete the construction work on the Compassion Center and construct a third floor on the school. After working through the logistics, the three of us agreed to join the team of 10 people from Colorado to complete the work we began in July. This is an unprecedented opportunity, and I was thrilled to return to my friends there. Part one was complete and there was more yet to learn. Most mission trips cost a significant amount of money, particularly the airfare, and at our church each individual must raise their own financial support to pay for their share of the trip’s cost. As it turns out, when I first contacted my supporters before the July mission, those who were moved by God ‘s call responded so generously that by July 1, my supporters had donated exactly enough money to cover the cost of TWO trips. At that time, I had NO IDEA God had another trip in store for me. As you can imagine, when the offer to return in October came across email, I knew immediately that God’s purpose was for me to return—He had already paid for it! I am sure you may be wondering what God could possibly have planned for 3 American women to continue working construction in a 3rdworld country, but I can testify to the truth prophesied by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “His ways ARE higher than our ways, and His thoughts ARE higher than our thoughts.” Despite the fact we are not “qualified”, we trust in the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:10, “…we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We left wanting to do more for the people and we discovered that even those who have nothing can still share their love. The three of us joined our new friends from Colorado and returned to Santa Clara, gripped by the reality of our friends depravity and an unquenchable thirst to come to the rescue. God still had work for us to do in Santa Clara. Together with the team from Colorado we accomplished our goal: we built a third story and wired the second story for electricity. I taught the women on the team how to draw the water from the well and carry it on their heads. I also mixed a lot of concrete and hauled a lot of rocks up to the third floor. It is simply amazing how far 10 days and $1600 American dollars can go in rural Guatemala where their return rate of their currency, the Quetzal, 8 to 1 to our dollar. What pure joy it was to see Juana and the kitchen ladies for a second time. I can still feel the warmth of her embrace and the look of gratitude on her face. And when our rickety old bus pulled up to the old hotel, I could barely wait for the doors to open so I could receive a hug from one VERY excited Diego who was sitting in front of his cinderblock home, right where we had left him 3 months earlier. The love yet to be discovered on this mission was more personal than the previous trip. As I reconnected with the teachers of the compassion school, I learned that Andrea, one of the teachers I was getting to know better, had a son who had just turned five years old which is the age required to enroll in the Compassion School. I was shocked to learn that Andrea’s little boy may not have been allowed to attend the school in the fall because he was one of only two children in the entire church community who had not yet received sponsorship through Compassion International. In order to attend a Compassion School a student must be sponsored. You may be familiar with these types of sponsorships, for 32 dollars a month a child can be sponsored through Compassion. When I learned that Andrea’s little Kevin had no sponsor, there was no question in my mind what to do. I signed up to sponsor Kevin right then and there and we continue to write letters and keep in touch to this day. It is a true blessing to have a long-term connection to this small mountain village in the heart of Guatemala, and I fully intend on returning one day when I have children so they can meet my first sponsor child! The cost of sponsoring a child is so small compared to how we spend money here in the states—I think it works out to be one coffee shop latte a day. What a small sacrifice to meet such a huge need. Brazil After completing two missions to Guatemala, the staff at my church believed that I was ready to lead a trip myself, and encouraged me to consider lead a similar mission to Brazil. I agreed and worked with a co-leader to form a team. On September 5-14, 2004, we led a group of 14 to Belo Horizonte, Brazil and worked in the suburb of Contagem. Again, partnering with Bridge Builders, Inc and Compassion International, our mission was to build a kitchen onto the back-end of the Compassion Center. We received a warm welcomed at the airport in Belo Horizonte by a huge group from the school including teachers, parents and children. Our team was moved by their hospitality, greeting us with hugs, kisses and tears. Brazilians may be the most friendly people I have ever come to know. These folks welcomed us into our homes, fed us, gave us a place to sleep, and shared their lives with us. They were so to us for caring about their need and making the journey to help them construct a kitchen. Once we settled in and got down to business, we started to hear stories about the children who attend the school and what life is like for them in this community. Almost all of the kids come from broken homes, and many of them receive nourishing meals only at Compassion center. The director of the center told us that they had been praying to God to provide a kitchen to feed the children for seven years. We were the first team to respond to the need. Seven years seems like forever. This really stuck with a lot of us. I don’t think I have ever prayed seven years for something. So for these workers in Contagem, our presence there was truly a miracle and our team was honored to be the ones chosen to meet the need. Thinking more on what a miracle this was for them, we again began to consider our wealth. No one on our team was rich by American standards; however, we all had traveled on plans before this trip, we lived in houses with running water and electricity, had plenty of food, restaurants, clothes, and other luxuries that the folks we worked with in Contagem had never known. The people in Contagem don’t take plane rides, and rarely take car rides; they commute most everywhere by foot or, if they are lucky, by bus. To them, the fact that we could board a plane and fly from one hemisphere to the next—just to help build a kitchen – was very out of the ordinary. One day, we took a break from the construction and participated in home visits with some of the teachers. We walked out into the far end of the community where poverty was rampant. Open sewage filled the air as we tripped over gravel roads full of trash and debris. Most of the homes were “lean-tos” constructed of cinderblock and tin. Many of the homes we entered had no furniture; those that did enjoyed a small wooden table and chair for the kitchen, or a straw mattress on a dirt floor. We listened as one old man with tears running down his face told a story of how his grandson ate wood to survive before being sponsored to attend the Compassion Center. Many of the children are abandoned by the parents, and end up being raised by grandparents most of whom are battling severe illnesses. The stories are heart wrenching, but the locals tell us not to upset us but to communicate their gratitude by helping us see the full picture of their situation and how much our gifts help ease the pain of poverty. In talking with the director of the Center, we learned that she had a dream of offering a library for the students but never had the means to see the dream come true. Our team was moved by her passion and dedication to educating the children so when we returned to the U.S. we raised $8,000 for the Compassion Center in Contagem to begin a library for the community. ArgentinaIn 2005 I married my husband Brian and decided not to go on mission as the wedding plans and marriage adjustments took over both our lives. In January of 2006, Brian and I joined thousands of other believers across the country in a 21 day period of prayer and fasting, asking God to raise-up missionaries to go into all the world and preach the good news about Jesus’ authority to forgive sins through His death and resurrection. Little did we know, God would soon call us to serve together as man and wife in the suburbs of Buenos Aries Argentina May 5-14, 2006 Brian and I joined a team of 12 from out church for a 10 day evangelical mission trip to Argentina. This was Brian’s first overseas mission, and my fourth; however, it was my first strictly evangelical mission. There would be no work projects or construction to be completed, the only building we would work at would be constructing relationships with complete strangers in order to share the love of Christ. For me, this was harder than hauling rocks and cement up three flights of step! But I will say that it was equally as rewarding, especially as we saw more than 90 Argentines put their faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ! Here is out story: We arrived tired and weary from a 10.5 hour flight to Compana, Argentina (by way of Buenos Aries) and got right to work. Our group of 12 was split in two, one group stayed in Compana and the other group worked 30 minutes away in a small community named Capilla del Senior. Despite being in different cities, our work-days were pretty much the same. Each American was paired with a translator from the “Word of Life Bible Institute” and some of us were also joined by a member of one of the churches we were helping to establish in the two communities. Each morning after a breakfast of coffee, bread and dulce de leche we set out in groups of two and three to start meeting folks in the town. The town we worked in was pretty big, about 100,000 residents, and we only had 9 groups of American/Translator/Local teams. So, using a street map, we divided the town into 9 sections and each team was assigned to a section. Our job was to go house to house, knocking on doors, and meeting with whoever would talk to us. Since we didn’t speak enough Spanish to carry on a conversation, each house went kind of like this: local would introduce the translator and the American, the translator would invite the person to a service we were heaving that night, and then the American would attempt to tell the story of Jesus and give the person an opportunity to ask questions and ultimately pray to God for forgiveness of sins and accept Jesus as their Savior. Pretty bold, and intimidating for all parties involved. Honestly, we both had trouble with this strategy at first. We felt awkward because we didn’t know enough Spanish to jump into the conversation and didn’t know what to say that would naturally fit in where they left off when it was our turn to share. We felt embarrassed when we got responses like, “Are you Mormons?” or “Are you Jehovah Witnesses” or “I don’t want to buy what you are selling”. And we even felt discouraged because many people blew us off, slammed the door, and had the basic attitude of “Thanks, but no thanks.” Needless to say, at the end of day one we were all questioning the purpose in being there. But the key to success in this sort of evangelistic strategy is the tried and true mantra of the New York Times best selling author Rick Warren in “The Purpose Driven Life” which states first and foremost: ITS NOT ABOUT YOU. Once we were able to “get over ourselves” we started to make some progress. We started to understand how to pray for God to give us the words we needed to say, we began listening to that still small voice inside us giving us ideas and examples to share that looking back we ask: “how in the world did I come up with that?” The answer is we didn’t – God did. God did it all through us by the work of his Spirit that is in us. We had to realize that as we experienced rejection after rejection and had doors slammed in our faces, that it wasn’t us the people rejected, it was our message… the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank God we learned these things on the first day, because on day two things started happening. Brian was paired with a male translator named J.C. They bonded right away and had a great time going out into the community and meeting people in the parks and coffee shops of the towns. They tried going door-to-door but no one was ever home in their section of town. So after knocking on every door and getting no answer they set out to the parks and plazas to find what Brian called “sitting ducks” or unsuspecting souls who had no idea they were about to meet a crazy American with a story to tell that could change their life. One of Brian’s challenges was that as they shared that everyone is born sinful and needing a Savior to get to heaven, many people didn’t believe they were sinners and some who realized they were sinners were so angry with the truth that they walked away refusing to hear the rest of the story. Brian and J.C.’s success came in the plaza when they met men on park benches and started chatting about life. One man they met was a 20 year drug addict, but as they shared that Jesus could help him overcome his addiction he accepted the truth and believed in Jesus’ power to save. My challenge was working with the translator. She found difficulty jumping into an ongoing Spanish conversation that she couldn’t understand when her translator would look at her and say “they are ready to hear the gospel now.” Ok, well where do I begin? What I finally learned was to stop trying to think of eloquent things to say or supporting arguments to objections and start PRAYING. Since she couldn’t understand what was being said, she had to rely totally on God to give her the right words and trust that what she said was making sense. The more she prayed for God to speak through her, the more progress they would see. Their team ended up being invited into several people’s homes, sitting down for a long time to chat about the Bible and who Jesus is and how he can offer eternal life because his death and resurrection. After a day of door-to-door strategy, we would come back together in the evening for a church service. As we met folks during the day, we invited them to come out that evening to a service, each night it was something different. One night we showed the Passion of Christ, another night we did a wordless Drama, which was fun to act out and had a powerful impact on those who attended. Others on our team also had great success during the day bringing individuals back to the services where they also accepted Christ! The translators from Word of Life attended the institute based in Argentina, and many of them spent their weekends working in the same towns we worked in that week. When a person would pray to accept Christ into their heart, the translator would have them fill out some paper work and ask to come back the next day to go over some more information about the next steps in their relationship with Christ. They call this “discipleship” and some of our team members who helped lead folks to Christ early in the week, were able to develop deeper relationships with the people as they went back each day to teach them more about what it means to be a Christian. I was invited to go on a discipleship call on the last day to visit an 80 year old man named Juan who accepted Jesus earlier that week. Juan was such a cool man, he was a father, and a grandfather, but his wife had passed so he lived alone. He reminded me of my own grandfather, especially when I learned that Juan loved to dance! He was a tango dancer and had photos and records of tango parties and clubs all over Argentina. It was so awesome to watch as Fernanda, the translator, walked Juan through the beginning steps of nailing down his belief in Christ. As the translator worked through a list of Bible verses and taught him the principals of the faith, his face literally glowed with joy! He had such a nice smile that drew your gaze to the crinkle lines around his eyes and you could just how his face literally shined with the glory of God. I will always remember the warm feeling she had sitting there with Juan and Fernanda and knows she will see them both again, if not on earth than in Heaven with Jesus! The really great thing about our translators is that they continue to minister in these areas and are able to follow up with people we met that week. Our team continues to receive emails from the different translators reporting back from Compana and Capilla about how the churches are growing by leaps and bounds since we left and how people who slammed doors in our face on that first day have opened their minds and are starting to believe the truth about Jesus! Most of them remain in Compana and Capilla to this day and we continue to support their work both prayerfully and financially. Going into this mission, our team’s mantra was, “We serve a prayer hearing and prayer answering God, a wonder working God!” and we can all say with confidence that our prayers were heard and answered in a wonder working way. We live in an interesting time, a time when the opportunities to serve and share are bountiful and unprecedented numbers of people are answering the call to serve. Grandparents are dedicating their retirements to the mission field. College students are using their spring and summer breaks to go on short term relief missions to Indonesia and the Gulf Coast. Young newly weds are committing their lives to full time service over seas. Now that you know my story, you may want to know why we do what we do. Why go? Why raise the money? What good can you do? And the answer is in the snapshots, the stories we all come home with, of people whose lives are changed forever. Children who now get warm meals and their teeth brushed in Guatemala, adults who find community among others in the church plants of Argentina, and an entire community with access to education through a new library. These are the sorts of things we take for granted in America that more than half of the world lives without. The hard and fast answer to why we go is in response to these statistics:
- Each year, more than 8 million people around the world die because they are too poor to stay alive.
- Over 1 billion people—1 in 6 people around the world—live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1 a day.
- More than 800 million go hungry each day.
- Over 100 million primary school-age children cannot go to school.
The World Bank defines three divisions of poverty: Extreme, Moderate and Relative. Extreme, or absolute, poverty meaning one is living on less than $1 a day and not able to afford the most basic necessitates ensuring survival. 8 million people a year die from absolute poverty. Moderate poverty defines households earning about $1 to $2 a day, with the ability to just barely meet their basic needs, but still without other basics such as education and health care where getting sick or loosing a job literally threatens survival.Relative poverty means that a household has an income below the national average. As Christians, and we are all part of the body of Christ. We are His Church and we each have a specific purpose to live out in life. In closing I want to call your attention to the words of Paul in Romans 12. The body of Christ knows no borders and sees no colors. We are all equal in the eyes of our Creator who has uniquely gifted each of us to take an active role in His Church on Earth. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of his one body, andeach of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job ofteaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it!If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift forshowing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically. Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and always be prayerful. When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out.” And finally, we go in the name of Jesus for the Glory of God. To bring praise to His name and relief to those who cry out to Him. To be His hands to build, His arms to hold, and His mouth to encourage the billions of people who have no hope. We have the power to save their lives, not us, but Christ in us and the hope of eternal glory. In the words of the late, great Rich Mullins:
“I believe if you were chosen, that if you were elected, if God has anything for you, it’s not just to make you happy. God did not choose you and call you out of this world just to make you high. And God didn’t choose you and God didn’t call you out of this world just so that you could be pious. Because there are enough pious people and there are enough happy people in the world. What God called you for and what God called you to is to make a difference in the world… I don’t believe God chose you and blessed you so that you could heap those blessings up upon yourself. I believe God chose you and blessed you because he wants to make a difference in this world. And you know what? What I think is scary about God is that he didn’t come up with any ‘Plan B’ – that he left the Church here and the Church is the only group of people and the Church is the only institution in the world that can bring about a change. This government cannot do it, so stop depending on the government. Educational systems cannot do it, so stop trusting educational systems. The Church was chosen by God to make a difference… [and] you’re gonna make a difference when you lay down your life and, in complete submission to God, choose to die with him in service to other people.”