Dear Younger Me: First Mission Trip

This is a letter to my almost 15-year-old self on that very first exhilarating mission trip to Honduras in February 2004. Note: mission trip (STM) refers to evangelical Christian humanitarian work typically in another country. My teenage self would probably roll her eyes at this letter, but… Little Idealist, these are lessons you will eventually learn.

El Jardín

In a medical clinic during one of my first trips. El Jardín, Copán, HN.

Dear Younger Me,

Finally! You’ve been waiting and praying about the chance to go on a mission trip and it’s finally here. So much expectation and anticipation (and let’s face it… drama, because well, you’re 14.) It really will prove to be more life-changing than you can even understand in this phase of life. I know you have done so much preparation and feel like everything in life has been leading up to this big, glorious moment. It will actually prove to be just one of many gloriously small moments that will ultimately string together in a beautiful way that only God can orchestrate. Just wait.

Journal this experience. I know you do this anyway because you’ve always been the weirdo kid who documents EVERY. THING. Good for you. One day, you’ll be 27 and a more experienced, slightly wiser version of yourself and you’ll be going through your old things and come across your old mission trip journal and you will sit in your room and cry over the pages because of how faithful God has been. And you’ll laugh at how cute and naive you once were.

LEARN. That is your first responsibility as a team member on a mission trip: to learn. Learn the language. Learn the culture. If you are serious about opening your mind and heart up to this new part of the world and want to effectively serve in some capacity with these people then there is only one option that makes sense… LEARN TO COMMUNICATE WITH THEM. You can’t build a ministry in another country through hand gestures and handouts while thinking like an American (read: United States-ean). Relationships are key and the foundation is communication and understanding. Do the hard work: learn the language.

Being a learner means you realize that you actually don’t know best. Do you know who does know best? The natives, and usually, the missionaries. The ones who live there day-in and day-out. They know what is appropriate and what is not. They know which situations are dangerous and which are not. As a team member, an outsider (no matter your age), it is not your place to question their leadership or decisions. Like, if they tell you to stop laughing obnoxiously loud in a public restaurant because you are being disrespectful of the country’s social norms don’t roll your eyes because “ugh, what a party pooper.” (Other than already attracting probably more unwanted attention than necessary, you are reinforcing a negative stereotype of North Americans – being disrespectfully loud and dominating of public spaces). You are also part of a team of people who is representing a local ministry or organization. LIVE BY THEIR RULES. It might seem super stuffy or strict compared to your church back home but… you are not at home. Respect the hosts’ rules.

Once you get to truly know the people and the culture you’ll find that they aren’t that different from you. You’ll get past the point of identifying all the differences and will start to celebrate and relish in the similarities of your common humanity. You’ll see dignity in each person and will be less likely to make blanket statements about their culture or race. As time goes on and you start having more conversations with the natives you’ll realize you stop talking so much about the natives. You’ll probably start out quoting faulty statistics about the country to friends back home or making wild generalizations about the local people as a whole… (Yeah, you’re gonna think you’re an expert on the entire Honduran population within your first trip or two. You’re kind of annoying.) Then you will get to know their hearts and will feel silly for making all those ethnocentric assumptions. (Thankfully, your Honduran friends are gracious people. Most will forgive you.) 😉

You’ll undoubtedly come home from this first trip with excitement and tears and pictures, sharing stories of what you saw and felt. Who wouldn’t? You might encourage a couple other friends or family members to join you on following trips. Some will listen intently, some will get bored from your stories pretty quickly because they didn’t experience it with you. They’re not going to understand. They don’t get why you cry because you have such a nice house and so many don’t, and why suddenly you are borderline taking a vow of poverty. You just went though a real emotional journey over the last seven days and those who didn’t experience it can’t exactly relate.

Speaking of poverty… YOU ARE NOT A POVERTY TOURIST. You did not pay $1,200 to travel all the way to Central America so you could “experience poverty.” (Which you never actually did. Seeing poverty is not experiencing poverty.) The thousands of people who live in rural Honduras and are trying to survive off a dollar a day are not staged for your entertainment or learning exploit. This is their real life. I know you’re excited about all the pictures you get to show to everyone back home but count the cost of that photo you just snapped with your iPhone* in that family’s private space while gawking at their extreme lack. Be sensitive and consider each person’s dignity before doing anything.

*I went through 3 entire disposable cameras on my first trip 12 years ago

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Apparently all I did on my first trip was hold other people’s babies.

Now, let’s talk about your clothes for a second. This isn’t a pertinent issue necessarily but it reflects your attitude toward those you are serving. If you show up uncharacteristically dressed like a bum in cut-off capris and cut-off ratty t-shirts, the message you are conveying is: you aren’t worth my best… or at least, you aren’t worth my average. I’m telling you now, there is no need to raid the thrift store for the nastiest items before your trip because “you don’t want to ruin your good clothes.” This is a fine excuse if you are helping with hard labor or a messy job like painting but consider your activity… washing hair for lice? Giving worm medicine at the entrance of the pop-up clinic? Dress appropriately and show respect in that.

Ok, I know you most likely will not receive this well right now because you are high on enthusiasm and naive idealism but you will come to learn this with time and it needs to be said… you are not the hero. Like, it is not about you at all. Take your piece of humble pie and swallow it well because no one likes an arrogant team member. You are one of many team members and unity is key. First of all, you are doing the humbling job of serving other human beings, so esteem them higher than yourself. Secondly, you are working with other volunteers as a unit and any individualism on the job has to go. Thirdly, you nor your team are the first nor the only ones to do this kind of work. It is valuable and needed! But it is not exclusive to your group. You don’t have a monopoly on “free medical clinics in Honduras”and you certainly didn’t invent the idea. Celebrate the fact that you are joining so many others in the effort to share Christ’s love in a tangible way!

It all feels glamorous right now but it won’t always be. You will experience more fear and pain than you even imagined but you will find more love than you even imagined also.

Let this experience move you to inward and outward change. You will slowly start to see the world completely differently. You’ll probably have a slightly different perspective on success, faith, politics, and current events than others. Let it move you to make a difference at home as you dream about going abroad again. You didn’t have this awakening inside your soul just to apathetically return to abundance and self-indulgence. Your eyes will be open to hurting people all around you. DO SOMETHING. Don’t sit casually waiting on your annual mission trip to come around again. You have a bigger purpose and there is too much at stake for you to put on your missionary hat for only one week out of the year.

So, in conclusion, little 14-year-old going on 15, your years ahead have so much in store. Don’t worry about learning all these lessons at once. It will happen in its time. Just you wait,

27-year-old You

(who still anticipates more lessons in the future)

___________

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Then in college I wrote this poem in an attempt to express the love affair I have with the country & people to which I don’t belong.

A Call to Love

Broken streets and broken souls call
I am compelled to answer, answer them all
Your small hands have taught me more than textbooks could contain
Your selfless joy is like my heart’s refrain
I’d choose you over a city of gold – all of you, every inch
I’d choose you first and I’d choose you again
I am a jealous lover, it’s my heart you win
You’re more than a memory, more than a friend
More than beauty and dirt and land
More than a good story to tell, more than I can stand
I am who I am because of you
It’s taken years to express, but for years it’s been true
My commitment to you runs deeper than a flutter in my chest
You have all of me, my worst and my best
I love you longer than seven days
Beyond borders and languages, my love stays
I love you stronger than a smile or a tear
Because I choose to love in the face of pain and fear
I’ve felt welcomed, accepted, rejected and betrayed
I was close to giving in and letting apprehension have its way
But I am led to you by a greater Hand
And my trivial emotions are irrelevant to His plan
I haven’t forgotten you, I never could
You are my first love, and my love is for good

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Oh yeah, 27-year-old me still likes holding other people’s babies. 🙂 Nueva Alianza, Copán, HN.

 

Purposeful Singleness (and thoughts on marriage)

“…God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.” – Paul (the celibate missionary) 1 Cor. 7:7

When was the last time you viewed your singleness as a gift? It doesn’t have to be some unfortunate event that happens to you. You can be intentional in your singleness. It has a purpose.

We make our own decisions every day. Just as one chooses to marry, one can choose not to marry or to wait. Each scenario can be a blessing in its own way.

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I am writing this as an unmarried woman in her late twenties. I have been in a committed relationship for 3 years and 8 months (2 yrs and 10 months of which have been long-distance… I mean really long-distance, like I can’t see him without using my passport). I am very taken by a person who happens to also be very taken by me and we are planning our life together… while we are currently apart.

I am not looking forward to marriage just for the sake of getting married or to fill some void in my life. I am looking forward to marriage because I have fallen in love with someone who is my best friend and adds so much positivity to my life and calling and I think we can serve the Lord better together. I don’t idolize a married life but I do look forward to it.

1044205_915195455260816_4385145030561955805_nI live away from him in a strange phase somewhere between the married and single life, kind of as a not-available single person. At first I viewed this time as the intermission, or the waiting room to the grand beginning of life.

¡Pura casaca! like some say in Honduras… LIE! I’m not sitting around waiting on my life to finally begin! Nor do I dread that it’ll all be over once I say “I do.” This in-between time has actually been a wonderful journey rediscovering the joy and purpose of singleness.

My Christian faith informs my purpose in life which ultimately is to bring glory to God. Marriage is never the end but rather the means to the end of glorifying my Savior. That doesn’t mean the marriage is supposed to be perfect but it should certainly strengthen rather than hinder one’s relationship with the Lord. Before we enter into covenant with another human being we should know them well enough to determine what they turn to in the midst of problems. (of course, we are fallen humans who live in an imperfect world and there are some domestic scenarios that not even the most prepared person can predict) When things get tough what is that person’s knee-jerk reaction? What/whom do they trust? Do they lead me toward Christ or away from Him?

>>>><<<<

Dear single person (whether never-been-married, divorced, or widowed),

You have value. You are not a second class human compared to your married peers. And those in the ministry, you are not less of a spiritual leader because you are unmarried. No need to mope! Your life is not on hold. You have so much to offer in your singleness, and I am not only talking about temporary singleness until you find someone. View it as a gift! Be independent, travel, make your own decisions, make your own money, volunteer, engage in community with others, do productive things with your free time.

IMG_5771Singleness is not a disability, a curse, a punishment, nor something over which we should mourn. It can be a joy! You are not incomplete nor lacking in spiritual maturity.

Church, take your single members seriously. Provide space for them, not just for couples and families. You don’t have to play match-maker, really. Especially if it was not asked of you. Consider the fact that the individual might actually choose singleness. They don’t need your pity. They can serve and fully function within the body of believers as well as and often with more ease and flexibility than your married members. Value them in the stage of life right where they are without trying to change their status.

 

— A few thoughts on marriage —

What marriage isn’t (or shouldn’t be):

  • a solution to a problem
  • a problem or burden
  • your life’s goal

What marriage is (or should be):

  • a safe place to work through inevitable problems with a supportive partner
  • a blessing (something you enjoy with someone you enjoy)
  • an avenue to accomplish your goals
  • another way to serve and bring glory to God

*Also, weddings signify the beginning of a union and are a great time to celebrate. Weddings are not a real accomplishment though. Working through years and years of faithful relationship with another human being is the real accomplishment. I fully intend to celebrate on my wedding day but I think our 50th anniversary should be a bigger celebration. 🙂

–>><<–

Chin up, single! You have intrinsic worth.

When Grown-ups [Indirectly] Hurt Your Feelings on Facebook (or in real life)

*Disclaimer: Maybe this is common sense for some of you. If so, GREAT! Unfortunately, from my Facebook newsfeed this is still an issue among people I know.* :/

Dear oblivious friend, family member, angry and bitter Facebook acquaintance,

Your comments hurt. Yeah, remember that time you thought it was funny to joke about those illegals or those violent Muslims? Or, maybe because you feel as if the government or the media is unfairly slanted toward “anti-American values” (and due to the fact that you don’t have any diversity whatsoever within your Facebook friend list) you thought it would even the playing fields by lashing out at an entire group of people by reposting a cruel meme. You justify your hate speech with scripture and make biting comments and sarcastically wish ill on “those people” all in the name of patriotism or religion or whatever twisted combination of the two you pledge allegiance to.

Those things hurt.

Personally.

And it makes me question if there are any loving Christians still out there. 😦 (I know there are because some of my best friends still represent the very best of Christianity)

I know I’m sensitive. I get emotionally involved in situations and people’s lives too easily. I feel drawn to outcasts and misunderstood people. My worldview (read: politics) is determined by my faith in Christ + personal experiences and friendships NOT by talking heads in the media who supposedly share my faith.

(I don’t want to get on the subject of politics but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, why are so many Christ-followers supporting a clearly arrogant, bitter, angry, unloving, anti-grace bigot this election season? I am appalled.)

“I see the confusion of politics and religion as one of the greatest barriers to grace. C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of UNgrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.” – Philip Yancey

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I do believe that God has given me a burden for marginalized people. I confess that I am not always the best at loving people consistently but oh, how I feel a heavy burden. I have been an advocate for immigrants for some time and just recently I have made a couple dear friends in the Muslim community not too far from where I live. I am consistently amazed at what we have in common. Why had I never noticed our common humanity before?

Maybe because most of the voices I hear paint these every-day people as a murderous, revenge-seeking caricature. That is so far from my personal experience. I choose to believe that my friends are not the exception to the rule, just as I hope they choose to believe that I am not the exception either. And I hope I’m not.

(Funny, random story: the other day I was giving some friends a ride home after the ESL class that I teach. It sounds like the start of a joke but we were… a white girl, a Latina and a Muslim lady all in one little car. A group of people was on the corner at an intersection where we stopped and they all had posters offering free hugs. I honked and waved and a black girl ran across the street and reached into my car to give us all hugs! It was hilarious! I don’t know what that group represented or if I would even personally agree with them on what they stood for but it didn’t matter, I’ll still take a free hug! All four of us had such distinct backgrounds and stories. That to me looked like such a lovely picture of diversity. I wish someone had actually taken a photo. ❤ )

Some people would rather live their lives looking at others with suspicion and fear. That doesn’t sound like a nice way to live though.

If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.” Luke 11:35-36 Message

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..unless it is actually just you because “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” …or the fingers post.

Action step: Let’s try to be more considerate with what we post online. Have a little more discernment before sharing that hilarious thing so-and-so just posted.

We can all THINK before we post. Is it…

True

Helpful

Inspiring

Necessary

Kind?

And I am certainly not saying all of this out of political correctness. Could there be a more nauseating topic of conversation?? How about we all just try not to be *rear ends* in general as we interact with one another. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being patient and kind and loving and gracious. I don’t know if Jesus would be too down with your redneck renegade rant you just posted offending half of His creation. Let’s be gentle in our speech.

For the most part, this is me while scrolling through social media…

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But sometimes I want to sit down with the person and have a good coffee (or Yemeni chai tea) and ask what kind of horrible experience they had that made them so hateful toward another person… maybe that is a conversation we should have?

Mission: school supplies

Success!

Thank you to those who donated toward the school supply project for the community of El Limon in Copán, Honduras. We had a long day today – Friday – traveling to the mountains to spend a little time with the kids in El Limon and distribute backpacks and school supplies to each child. (and I am exhausted and should be sleeping and probably can’t produce the most coherent thoughts, but… I want to share already!)

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About a month ago, I requested the financial help of my friends in the states for a project that God had laid on my heart for these needy families in Honduras.

Here was part of my plea and why school supplies are so important for impoverished families:

The majority of Honduran children living in rural areas will go no further than 6th grade – it is a typical expectation that at that age they begin to work and help support their families. The price of schoolbooks, supplies and uniforms can be a particularly heavy burden on many poor families. We want to alleviate some of that financial burden by providing each school-aged child with a few basic school supplies like notebooks, pencils and a backpack.

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We (Natán, Dr. Yanela, Mariajose and I) arrived as a surprise to the community with only a couple hours of warning. The families really didn’t know what we had brought for them and when we got to the schoolyard where they were congregated and waiting we asked for the children who were currently in school to raise their hand. In Honduras, the new school year begins in February and so the month of January can be particularly difficult for some families as they try to scrape up enough money to send their kids to school.

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As we were counting hands, a mother spoke up and said, “I’ll be honest with you. I have three that should be in school but since we don’t have the money for school supplies I don’t know if they will be going this year…”

We were able to reassure her that God had heard her prayers and the prayers of other parents in the community who had been worried about how to send their children to school this year. And because He is such a good and loving Father, He takes care of His sons and daughters even down to the smallest things like pencils and notebooks and backpacks.

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The kids were thrilled! And we had a blast hanging out with them and sharing God’s love. To God be the glory… and thanks to this super team!

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“Love” by Roy Croft

love

I love you
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.

I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;

I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,

And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find

I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple.

Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good.
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy.

You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.

You have done it
By being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
Being a friend means,
After all.

___________________________________

That’s legit.