2019 Mission Work Update (VER International)

The three villages we are focused on this year are known as PVII, Copán; PSP, Choluteca; and SM, Santa Barbara.

Health and Hygiene

In the village, PVII, we have started medical checkups with school age children. After our preliminary checkup with a local Honduran doctor, we discovered that out of the 103 children evaluated, 45 suffer from mild to severe malnutrition. Because of generous donors, at the checkup we were able to provide each child with anti-parasite medicine and iron, and multi-vitamins for those with malnutrition. We’re looking into therapeutic food options for the severe cases.

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In Honduran villages, outhouses are the most common kind of bathroom. In PVII, 70% of homes have no toilet whatsoever. Our goal for 2019 is to be able to install outhouses for 50 families in various villages. (We have 29 of 50 donated so far!)

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Education

We sent 150 kids to school! Generous donors helped us provide education awareness training for parents, a backpack full of supplies, and a complete uniform for a total of 150 kids in 4 different communities. On a recent visit we left a sack of 100 lbs of rice with the teacher to be used during lunch time for those who often don’t have food at home.

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In PVII there are almost 100 children enrolled in a 2-classroom schoolhouse with a leaky roof. The kindergartners meet out on the patio and have no desks or materials. We are writing a proposal to be able to supply them with the necessary resources and repairs by the end of this year, 2019.

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Entrepreneurship

We were able to invest in a pig farming micro-business in PSP that is helping a family build a new house, and will benefit several other needy families in the community once piglets are born.

Our single mom entrepreneur, “momtrepreneur,” in Copán is still running her secondhand clothes micro-business; and we are investing in the startup of a food vendor in Comayagua.


In the area of spiritual formation, we are partnering with the local church of PVII and their new pastor to help strengthen the congregation, especially their children’s program.

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I got a namesake! A mom in PVII named her new baby girl Kristen. ❤

 

Last week we brought a pre-teen girl from her village to the city to live with a family while she recovers from chronic malnutrition and catches up in school.

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The only way we could do what we do is because of monthly ministry partners and friends who give to each project. We are in awe of God’s faithfulness!

A donation in any amount can make a huge difference. Click here to give to VER International PayPal.

Check us out on Facebook and Instagram.

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We are not Superheroes

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If I have learned anything over the last couple years it is that we are are not superheroes. We are not invincible. We are not immortal. And we don’t run the show like we sometimes think we do.

I’m talking about the Christian cross-cultural worker and humans in general.

Humanity

Life and health are fragile things and just when we think we have it tight in our grasp we lose our balance and it is ripped from us in a moment. It leaves us at a loss for words.

I never had reason to consider the fragility of life until recently. I took my safety and health for granted. I’ve recently been confronted with the painful reality that we have no idea what could happen tomorrow. We cannot see the future or, much less, determine it. As a cross-cultural worker I live in a region that is more dangerous than the environment in which I grew up. I’ve had to face the normality of violence and death in a way I never thought I would. Recently, I have experienced heartbreak within my own family and it leaves us feeling vulnerable. I have seen friends go through agonizing loss and face the uncertainty of grave diagnoses. We all question why. Everything was going so well. The control was in my hands!

The American value of self-sufficiency and autonomy is not necessarily a biblical one. We praise those who make it on their own with no help. The desire of self-governance is at the core of our rebellious hearts and is the retort of the atheist. Like toddlers, we push away the hand that feeds us because for a moment we stubbornly believe the delusion that we can actually make it on our own. We imagine that we are the ones in control and that we are strong and capable and independent and free. At our best, it sneaks into our self-conscious as we silently applaud ourselves, and at our worst we give in to self-aggrandizing behavior with disregard to how we belittle others.

Ironically, Webster defines humility as the freedom from pride or arrogance. To be truly humble is to be free. The constant striving to need others (or God) less is like a ball and chain.

 

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An excerpt from my devotional by Paul D. Tripp the other day said it perfectly:

Don’t fear your weaknesses. Be afraid of those moments when you think you’re independently strong.

In a world where all you have in the end is your thinking, your drive, your performance, and your achievements, weakness is a thing to be regretted.

But God’s grace makes weakness a thing to be feared no longer.

And really, the only way to accept the life-altering grace of our Savior is to admit how weak and unrighteous and not-so-know-it-all that we really are.

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How difficult it is for the prideful man to truly know God.


Christian Cross-cultural Work

I have been studying the book, Walking with the Poor, for literally, over a year. It is heavy and oh-so-good and relevant to the work we do in Honduras. Chapter 7 touches on principles and attitudes that a holistic practitioner on the field should have. Myers lists the characteristics that workers should aspire to in Christian development work:

  • Be patient
  • Be humble
  • Everyone is learning
  • Everywhere is holy
  • Love the people, not the program
  • Cultivate a repentant spirit
  • Act like dependent people – Myers says, “We need to show daily that we are a people dependent on God and not on our professional skills, our development technology, or our financial resources. People will see for themselves in whom we most truly place our trust. We need to be sure that our actions and our lives communicate that our trust is in the God of the Bible and nowhere else.

This is something that is so important for my husband and me in our poverty alleviation work. We immediately posture ourselves along with the “recipients” in giving thanks to God for His provision. We all are the receivers and our good God is the giver. No one is assuming the role of Superhero.

Humility as a cross-cultural worker also means having the vulnerability to voice certain defeats or challenges and speaking up when your health (physical, emotional, financial, etc) is spiraling. Humility is recognizing that our human bodies and emotions have limits and require rest. Humility is accepting help, like possibly going to a professional counselor or learning boundaries and when to say no. All of these can be especially challenging for someone on the mission field who has been taught that they should have unending energy and compassion, superhero characteristics.

There is something about the daily exposure to poverty and other ills of society which tends to tear away faith and make agents of change some of the most cynical people around.

– M. Maggay

Myers suggests that when our soul starts longing for the Sabbath that a “sanity escape” can protect our inner lives; this is a time to “withdraw from our work and sit back and look for what is good. [Holistic practitioners] need to be able to hear the music, listen to the silence, pray, and sit quietly before the Word. Smelling the flowers, walking on the beach, and reading a good book are essential to sustaining our humanity and spirituality.”

Rest is the best way to combat burn-out and compassion fatigue for full-time workers in difficult contexts.

Advice for a sending agency or congregation that is trying to care for workers on the field, Myers says, “We have a responsibility to help holistic practitioners free themselves in a way that allows them to make a gift of themselves, their character, and their skills, to all their relationships, beginning at home.”

In the day-to-day, we should learn to balance being driven and trusting in God’s sovereignty as described in the Serenity Prayer:

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amen

The Refugee/Immigration Crisis and Missions

I am a community development worker (also, missionary, if that term doesn’t make you roll your eyes) in Honduras, Central America. My work involves seeing firsthand the havoc that an unstable economy, lack of education, gang activity, generational poverty, violence, and the drug trade can wreak on families. The truth is that, not unlike our Central American neighbors, the situation here is not great. And that’s why I’m here.

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But? It’s not all bad. This is a beautiful country with such a rich history and culture and beautiful people. (so beautiful I married one of them) Yes, I have to be much more cautious living here than back home, but I’m not here because my main priority is self-preservation obviously. There’s a greater purpose.

Note: I recently read an opinion article by the daughter of Honduran immigrants living in the U.S. and she tore this country up talking about the danger. It was pure sensationalism. She literally said that when she came here recently the airport provided her group with police escorts in order to travel down a main highway to a city several hours away “because of how dangerous it was” – a route that my husband and I take at least 3 times a month. Major facepalm because… that’s just a little dramatic and completely unnecessary.

Although much of my naive idealism from my college days has dissipated, I still believe that small, consistent efforts can bring lasting change. (I have to add that I am only one of many here, foreign and local, in Honduras who are promoting change) I am here because I answer to a higher calling and I can be here because, honestly, I have a certain safety net that others here do not. To live the poverty that those around me experience on a daily basis means to have limited options and limited resources and that leads to a lifestyle that is tunnel-vision focused on surviving day-to-day. The pain of not being able to make choices about your own life is one of the most hopeless feelings. It’s so much deeper and complex than just a financial desperation.

I’m writing this in the middle of what has become an international crisis: the majority-Honduran caravan of migrants headed to the U.S. border. About a week ago my husband and I heard about a group of about 1,000 Honduran migrants meeting at the San Pedro Sula bus terminal with plans to march to the United States. (google it if you haven’t heard) It has since grown and each day as we read articles or see news clips, our hearts hurt. Not because it could be a political stunt or because it makes so-and-so look bad or even because it will certainly incite an uproar and/or reinforce stereotypes – but because among the crowds there are probably many desperate people, just like the ones we encounter every day, truly in need of asylum, refuge.

And guess what? Some of you reading this probably only ever have to think about immigration as a hot-button political issue and only when it’s breaking on the news. Here in Honduras it is woven into the fabric of almost every life and comes up in every other conversation. Here it has very little to do with politics and everything to do with quality of life or even survival.

I don’t like breaking rules. I follow laws and I expect others to do the same. Did you know that arriving at the U.S. border to seek asylum is legal? There is actually a legal process to protect those who arrive at our borders fleeing oppression or violence. One of the many loopholes in the system is that many asylum-seekers are unfairly denied representation in court and therefore aren’t able to plead their case. And they are sent back. This system has been broken for a while but you only hear about it when a major crisis comes up. (Unfortunately, I don’t think the caravan is the best way to seek asylum. I worry how this is going to unfold.)

I’m reminded right now of two particular individuals that I knew personally who died as victims of violence here, one who should have fled and one who had just returned from the states as an undocumented immigrant. Maybe their stories would have ended differently had they been granted asylum.

For every person who flees their country there is a unique reason, a push factor. It would be irresponsible to say that every person flees for the same reason or has the same fear or needs. (We also can’t deny the very real pull factors that exist in the states either.)

In some of the communities where we work it is resoundingly clear that the two great aspirations that young people have to choose between is drug trafficking or migration. (This also includes internal migration toward industrialized cities) They simply have no options.

31961152_10214799927644436_3892517732104536064_nAs a missionary and immigrant activist (yes, they can be synonyms) I like to think that the work we do in Honduras, even on a small scale right now, is helping eliminate some of those push factors in our target communities. Without blatantly saying it we are communicating, “Stay. There is opportunity for you here. You can provide for your family and you can contribute to your community.” We can’t buffer every need or eliminate real threats or even convince every individual to stay who personally tells us that they’re considering the trek north. We can remind them that the “American Dream” is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. We can speak positively about the nation of Honduras, discourage escapist mentalities, and plant a seed of hope for the future. I truly believe that a generation is coming up that is going to change the course of this nation for the better. ❤

That’s why we are so adamant about the formation of little minds – education is so important and will have a much bigger impact on a much larger scale down the road. As for the migrants headed north, only God knows what they are truly running from, but I pray this over them as they’re on their journey:

Jesus see the traveler

Jesus see the traveler on their long, hard road

See the mother, see the father, see the child

Have mercy on the traveler

 

Lord make soft the strangest bed

Rest the weary feet

Of the mother, of the father, of the child

Have mercy on the traveler

[written by Sara Groves]

*For extra inspiration listen to “God Help the Outcasts” from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame*

I’ll add one more note: If you have a heart for foreign missions or you have been touched personally on a mission trip or by a friend from another country, I hope you allow God to soften your heart toward the immigrant and refugee. If you know a missionary working in a country from which immigrants are fleeing, support them! They’re essentially working against all the conditions that expel individuals. I won’t quote scripture here because I’m embarrassed at how it has been used as darts against those who don’t agree with us but know that the Bible/our Savior is clear on what posture we as Christians should have toward the foreigner. If you don’t have a personal connection to this heavy topic of immigration I pray you become friends with someone who does and you’re able to hear them out on a human level. As author Sarah Quezada has said, “Relationships are an anecdote to fear.”

Good resources if you are curious about the topic of immigration from a Christian stand-point:

  1. World Relief organization and the book, Welcoming the Stranger, by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang
  2. Love Undocumented by Sarah Quezada
  3. Podcasts: The New Activist, Upside Down Podcast, Chasing Justice
  4. Evangelical Immigration Table

I wrote about my first immigration encounter in high school here.

Little Paola

Little Paola,

Where do you see yourself in the future?

What do you dream of?

Something heavier than what your vocabulary can convey

Something on the tip of your tongue, you can’t quite say

Even more than what you’ve been given permission to dream

Beyond the horizons of the coffee fields and lush, green mountains

A beautiful, natural beauty

That on some days look more like your prison walls

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What burdens do you carry?

Do you dream of carrying books

Instead of water jugs and firewood?

Carrying the weight on your shoulders, assuming guilt

For the adults in your life and their decisions past

Growing up much too fast

Never questioning the injustice

Never once uttering a “Not fair!”

Coming home from backbreaking labor in the coffee fields

Sore feet, broken ambitions

Passing neighborhood friends

On their way home from class

They with their backpacks, you with your plastic bucket

Accepting your fate

Never daring to challenge the way things are

Your vision stretches as far as your reality allows

 

An inferiority you’ve breathed day in and day out

With your tired lungs

Since the day you arrived on the earth

An inferiority as thick as smoke that never dissipates

Less than

Less than

Him, her, whoever else is out there in this big world

Less than the grown-ups

Less than the boys

Less than the white skin

Less than the educated and the rich

You never considered the damage

That breathing in this smoke of inferiority would do

Why can’t you see yourself like I see you?

The smoke and mirrors game of those in power

Clouds your vision, chokes your breath

And you assume that everyone plays by the same rules

 

Can you imagine a God who sees your inherent worth?

Who has plans of hope and not of harm

Who knew you (and wanted you!) even before your birth

Who carries your burdens in His arms

 

The flooding of things

The house in the dark during rainy season

The terror and anxiety that a storm brings

Dirt floors turning to mud through cracks in the roof and cracks in the walls

A life with cracks no one bothers to patch anymore

The flooding of emotions that you eventually learn to stop

You learn quickly to control the little things

The very few things you can, in an out-of-control world

Hard, defensive

Survival technique

A conditioning, an adapting to a harsh environment

The washing away of the vulnerability and fear and caring

Leaving a bare soul, jaded

A life-education very few could bear

 

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Invasions

The invading of personal spaces

Critters and humans taking advantage of weakness

Survival of the fittest

Fitting in your role

Survival of the lowest expectations

And you learn to expect abuse and the dismissing of wants and sometimes needs

Dulling memories of sharp violence reinforce it all

Privacy is a rarity

The power to choose, a luxury

With babies on hips, no protest on lips

It starts with baby brothers and sisters but soon the babies will be your own

No emotion is valid so there’s no value in expressing them

Why would your life be any different than your mother and her mother?

Why would you dare to dream of any other?

Could it be that anyone out there has your best interest in mind?

Could it be that someone out there cares without ulterior motive?

 

You have permission

For what it’s worth, I give you permission

To challenge

To change

To see beyond your limited horizon

To dream of something new

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We see each individual, created in the image of God, as having inherent worth and much to contribute to society.

We have just founded a nonprofit organization called VER International (501c3 status pending), committed to breaking cycles of poverty through community development initiatives. We are currently working in rural communities of Honduras with the hope to expand to other countries in the future. Our website and social media accounts are “under construction” at the moment but we will have our official launch soon!

For the month of October we are launching a student sponsorship fundraiser. With a one-time donation of $50 marked “Student Sponsorship” you will give the gift of education for one year to a student in rural Honduras, like Little Paola. Look us up on PayPal by our email address, verinternational.info@gmail.com, or go straight to our link to give: www.paypal.me/verinternational

Student Sponsorship

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Comment or message me if you would like these flyers to help promote among your church or school groups.

The Worlds of Excess and Lack

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Take about a minute to study the illustration above. Move your eyes back and forth between the child with the iPad and the child eating off the ground. What do you feel?

This hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Shocking.

True.

How can I do more?

It says what I haven’t been able to find the words to say for a while now. Here in Central America I live in the tension that you feel when you look at this image. It’s an uncomfortable place, I admit.

I’m much more comfortable in my middle class home in Alabama, watching House Hunters on TV, surrounded by all my iThings and justifying the couple hundred dollars of recent purchases I just made on frivolous stuff for myself. I mean, I’m not rich and wasteful like those people, right?

We play the comparison game. The truth is that in the U.S. I feel borderline poor and almost convinced that I deserve more: more convenience and comfort, better service, newer gadgets, faster technology, the latest styles. But who is making me feel this lack in my life? Advertising companies? The family down the street? That friend from high school who flaunts her lavish lifestyle on Instagram? Maybe it’s time to cut those things out. I’ve recently started a discipline online of unfollowing people/media/companies that feed that insecurity in me, that insatiable hunger that tells me I need and deserve more more more. They. Are. Lies. (For parents, it might be those that convince you that you should take out a 2nd mortgage just to get your kid all those gifts for Christmas.)

As an adult (more specifically, an adult living as a foreigner in a developing country) I am fully #woke to the fact that in my family we were lavishly spoiled as children during Christmas. (which I loved as a kid, don’t get me wrong) But I think it fed that little materialism monster in me and now it’s my job to try to starve him.

It’s the reason I have a hard time answering when someone cheerfully asks, “Do you love living in Honduras?” Well, part of the time, yes, but not because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself or super comfy or even “living the adventure of a lifetime.” My lifestyle here is very different and a lot of days are hard. It helps keep me grounded and more aware of the majority world’s reality and I value that far more. In the states I can easily and comfortably forget the suffering of those outside my door – the ignorance is bliss kind of thing. Even when I go back home and spend an extended length of time I start to forget. We humans have such short attention spans.

Here, the suffering is unavoidable.

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Now that I have seen I am responsible. – Brooke Fraser


If you’re still wondering if you might be considered rich or not by global standards, Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 1.20.26 PMcheck out the Global Rich List and see how you compare. I can bet you’re at least in the top 3% richest in the world. 😉

  • sidebar: It certainly isn’t a USA vs. majority world problem either. Economic inequality is sometimes the most extreme within the borders of one single country. The gap between rich and poor in Honduras is painfully obvious.

I just finished reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker – I’m behind the times, I know. The tagline is “an experimental mutiny against excess.” Yes. It encouraged me (Again. I will forever and ever need these reminders) that there is value in living more simply and that most of the things we think we need aren’t really necessities but, in fact, excess. The premise of the book is to free ourselves of the bondage of materialism while at the same time opening our eyes to the needs of others around the world. liberation + solidarity.40e6ebd24f7c0e79951a2463ca2290e6--truth-quotes-a-quotes

A good friend of mine used to say, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” Amen.

A few years ago I blogged about something similar after reading Jeff Shinabarger’s book More or Less.

I wrote, “the real kicker is that the kind of life I live here (Honduras), which at first I considered sacrificial, is still seen by many around me as living in abundance. That blows my mind.” The car I felt embarrassed to drive during college now looks like a huge blessing when I consider that most families here do well to buy one used shared vehicle. And mine was one of FIVE vehicles that my immediate family owned – practically unheard of here in Honduras.

I’m caught between these two worlds – but I want so badly that they understand each other.” (Full blog post here.)

My great frustration in life is feeling misunderstood. (My Myers-Briggs [INFP] and Enneagram [4 w 5] personality type results confirm this) So, as if to complicate things even more I decided to move to and marry into a new country and culture and language. Communicating effectively and achieving “being understood” is even more challenging yet at the same time more rewarding when it happens.

And it’s not just on the Honduras end. Sometimes it’s hard for family and friends back home to relate to my daily life (no fault of their own) or to understand that the values, norms, and status quo in Honduran society are different. It gets tricky trying to balance two different value systems. Small talk becomes even more painful when you have so much heaviness weighing on you. Very few in the states truly understand the plight of an average individual trying to make ends meet in a developing country like Honduras and even fewer truly grasp the reality that: The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income and the richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income. The inequality is staggering and it’s an inequality that has actual faces and names here.

Did you know? The money spent on diet plans in the U.S. alone could feed all starving children around the globe? The 60 billion dollars spent on Black Friday in the U.S. could solve the food crisis TWICE and the water crisis 6 TIMES?

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The wonderful thing is that statistically, Americans are more likely than any other country to voluntarily give to help the poor in other countries. Ironically, those with lower incomes actually give a higher percentage. We could improve on the fact that there is still 33% in our country who do not donate to charity at all.

On my previous short-term trips I would come home to the U.S. to my big comfortable bed and just cry because I didn’t know what to do with what I had just experienced. I knew something was terribly wrong with how I saw the majority of Americans living – their skewed priorities, their indifference to “outsiders.” Unfortunately after a few weeks, those strong feelings of unrest and conviction would start to wane. The awareness that 62% of the population of Honduras live below the poverty line would fade to the background of my consciousness because it was no longer right in front of my face. I would continue with my life and get caught up in the same trivial first world problems. I now consciously choose to keep it in the forefront of my mind no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

I also choose to keep speaking up about it. I’ll be like that annoying dripping in the kitchen sink that just won’t. shut. up.

You’re welcome.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matt. 6:19

What are some practical ways you liberate yourself and your family from the bondage of materialism and/or stand in solidarity with those suffering in and outside our borders?

*Two other life changing books on my shelf regarding this topic are Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider and The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.*

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Newlyweds on the Mission Field

It’s time to give you the lowdown on what we’ve been up to these last few months! And give you an idea of our 2018 plans.

Natán and I are living in the northwest region of Honduras and have been settling in quite nicely to newlywed life. I really can’t say enough just how thankful I am to have married someone so selfless and caring. Not only does he care for me well but he has such a heart for the marginalized and oppressed. I couldn’t ask for a better partner as we navigate this new phase of life as esposos, missionaries, directors of a nonprofit, and – for me – an expatriate in a new land and culture. It takes a lot of adapting and compromise.

We certainly couldn’t do what we do without the backing of an incredible support and prayer team back home. Even though we haven’t personally reached 100% of our monthly support goal, the Lord doesn’t cease to amaze us and continually proves Himself as our Provider.

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In our work we see heart-breaking scenarios and subpar living circumstances. 62% of the population of Honduras live below the national poverty line, or in other words, under $2.50 a day. Most of these people live in rural settings and work in agriculture. Limited education, improper nutrition, lack of clean drinking water, inadequate hygiene practices, and lack of employment opportunities or unpredictable crop yield all contribute to cycles of poverty that continue for generations. Our goal is to help families break these cycles through holistic community development programs.

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According to the CIA World Fact Book

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Lenca Indian girl in the kitchen of her home – Intibucá

We’ve identified two needy villages to begin with in the west and southwest region of the country. We’ve started with some exploratory trips and small-scale initiatives but our goal is to implement projects in 2018 that will result in self-sustainability during our 3 year involvement. (The first villages will be our pilot programs and each year our goal is to initiate new holistic programs in new needy villages.)

I posted the following on my Facebook page this past July:

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Elderly lady in the “living room” of her home – Copán, Honduras

While we don’t want to create dependency among our villager friends or base our friendship on what we give and what they receive, we recognize that certain groups of people are especially vulnerable with little chance of reaching self-sustainability such as the abandoned elderly and disabled. The lady pictured above is one example of that and is a recipient of food “handouts” whenever we visit her village.

We have a couple friends who are on board with the program in Copán and give financially specifically to fund our efforts there. We are planning a few end-of-year fundraisers to kick the program off so stay tuned! You can find giving info here.

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A recent visit to our village in Copán teaching appropriate hygiene practices and disease prevention

To get a better idea of how we distinguish relief work (which is not our focus) from development work, check out this chart developed by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

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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.

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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.