Family

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The world just outside the mission house.

I don’t think my experience in Belize is something I will “process”, and then move on with my life. Instead, I think this this trip, the people I met, the work I did, will become more and more meaningful as I continue to grow.

I cannot fully describe what this trip means to me, how it has affected me, because I’m not even sure yet. What I can do, is share with you how grateful I am that it happened and how God used me and blessed me while I was there.

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My Team 

Team

Team Belize 2015

 

I’ve known 10/11 other members of my team for many years, but going to school and playing sports with people is hardly living with them.  Being with them nearly 24/7 helped me get to know them better and love them more. Truly, I learned so much from each of teammate.

In addition to working at the school together, we also enjoyed going on several adventures, some as simple as star-gazing in the back of a pick-up truck and jumping fences, and others as jaw-dropping as snorkeling in the Caribbean.

We have an endless list of inside jokes that will live on for years to come.  The influence of late-night conversations, when we challenged and encouraged one another in our faith, will always be with us. I got to know each of them on a more personal level, and I look forward to developing those relationships now that we are home.

The Kids 

In the weeks leading up to our trip, my team members who had previously been to TCA, told me that the kids would love me instantly. I figured they were exaggerating; but on Monday morning, when I walked into the cafeteria to greet the  kids for the first time, I was quickly swarmed by smiling kids. By lunch time I had a small gang of little girls who followed me around requesting piggyback rides.  I could not refuse.

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My faithful buddy from day one.

Each school day I led devotionals in the Standard 3 (5th grade) classroom. The first day was a bit rough. I couldn’t tell what the kids thought of me, and I was pretty sure they thought I was completely nuts; but after that first day, things got progressively better. I enjoyed getting to them a little better each day.

I also had the opportunity to get to know their teacher, Louisa, and am hoping to keep in touch with her through e-mail and social media. She’s a special young woman and I learned from her as she interacted with her students. It was neat seeing someone only a few years older than me, taking on something as challenging as teaching 5th grade. I was inspired.

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Four of the five girls in 5th Grade.

My last morning with the class, I talked to them about gratitude. I shared what it means to be thankful, and how to show others love. I had them shout out things, people, and experiences they were grateful for and wrote them up on the white board. Their activity was to write a note to their teacher, telling her why they were grateful for her.

Before they hopped on the bus that afternoon, they all ran up to me with notes they wrote for me. It meant a lot to know I had touched them, even if my impact was small.

New Family 

Yesterday I was texting with a friend who asked me to summarize my trip in one word. Several descriptive adjectives flashed through my mind—incredible, amazing, life-changing, fantastic, stupendous. None of them would suffice. I came very near to simply giving up, telling my friend it couldn’t be done, and writing a summary sentence. Then I found my word: Family.

My whole life God’s been telling me about my brothers and sisters in different countries around the world. I’ve met many who have visited my church and enjoyed dinner in my home. Some family have even stayed with us for a time.

Last week I met some of my Belizean brothers and sisters for the first time. I worshiped with them, I heard their testimonies over meals and in classrooms, and I heard their life stories while doing dishes and riding down dirt roads. I enjoyed playing volleyball with them and sitting down over coffee sharing our prayer requests. 

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The team and the teachers playing volleyball.

Then I had to leave. 

I had to leave family I had just met. I don’t know the next time our paths will cross.  It could very likely be Heaven, and it just felt wrong to leave so soon. This isn’t a foreign feeling to anyone who has had to leave church family. Connecting with people through the bond of Christ creates strong, powerful relationships. It’s no wonder leaving fellowship is painful; yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s hard … because it was good.

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I’m not done writing about Belize. There are individual tales and lessons I am sure to write about very soon.

• Belize •

SubstandardFullSizeRenderMy passport just came in the mail, and I couldn’t be more excited!

About a month ago my friend and I stood watching our brothers play basketball. I was sharing with her that I would love to write the stories of overseas missionaries—what they’re doing, how the Lord is moving in and through them and reaching the hearts of individuals. I would love to use stories to connect God’s family.

After sharing this with my friend she simply asked,  “Do you want to go to Belize?”

There is a small school, Toledo Christian Academy (TCA), in the Yemeri Grove/Jacintoville area of Belize. The school, run by Belizean and American staff, accepts children in the pre-school age group all the way through middle school. The school is supported, primarily, by churches here in the States and relies on frequent short-term mission groups for the upkeep of their grounds and facilities.

The purpose of the school is to give students a foundational education, grounded in Scripture. Each school day is begun with a devotional time, and teachers use a biblically-based curriculum for the students’ subjects. The children have a full day of classes, sports, and fellowship with their classmates and teachers. (If you would like more information about the school, you can follow this link to their website: http://www.tcabelize.com/.)

May 2nd-10th I will be going to visit TCA, with a small team, to teach/help in the classrooms with the staff, lead devotionals in the mornings, work on building/painting projects, play with the kids, meet the parents, and fulfill the needs of the staff in any way we possibly can. Our primary goal is to be yet another group of believers, living Truth, in these kids’ world. (If you would like to keep up with my team in the weeks leading up to the trip and while we are in Belize, you can follow this link to our blog: www.teambelizeblog.wordpress.com.)

Part of the vision God has given me is to encourage and inspire believers to grow in their personal relationship with the Lord, and to speak truth into the lives of the lost. My goal is to take every opportunity God gives me to use my gifts to fulfill that vision. I firmly believe that this trip is an opportunity to put my vision to action in a specific way. 

Please be praying for TCA, the staff, the students, and the churches supporting them. They are doing good work in Belize as they touch the hearts and lives of children and families for the glory of our Savior.

Please also be praying for me as I seek to trust God even more. Ask him to put me in situations where I am compelled (yet again) to acknowledge that I live entirely by his faithful grace to me. 

“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”- Romans 15:13, ESV 

Every Day

Being with and talking to people is one of my favorite things to do. I am in my element and at my happiest when I get to engage others. Not only that, but talking with people is one of the ways I process my thoughts and feelings. It is not unusual for me to walk away from a conversation with a better understanding of my own mind. Often God works through my conversations by speaking encouragement or conviction through people.

In the last 3.5 months I’ve had many of those energizing, perspective-shifting conversations. I am genuinely amazed at the number of people God chose to invest into my life and how much their investment made an impact on me.

A friend encouraged me to change how I approached life by focusing on the strength of the Holy Spirit and to remember that every day is an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Two of my mentors challenged me to accept my identity in Christ, and to trust that He is using me as long as I choose to trust him.

A cousin forced me to confront fears and worries that were causing me to doubt God’s ability to use me.

A couple encouraged me to have an open heart about going wherever it might be that God calls me, be it here in San Diego, or somewhere else in the world.

My coach reminded me to pursue my vision of encouraging and inspiring others to dig deep into their personal relationships with God.

Multiple couples advised me to continually and purposefully invest time into being in the Word of God, hiding it away in my heart.

After each of those conversations I tried for hours (literally) to write about it, to share what it was that God had done in my heart through those people. Every writing session ended with me frustrated and hitting “delete” a billion times. I didn’t get it.

Well, now I do.

Two weeks ago my parents and a friend convinced me to apply for a two month Marketing Content internship with my school. I was excited to give it a shot, but honestly, I did not expect anything to come from it, but I had an interview. Then I had a second interview. Tuesday afternoon, they offered me the position. I’ll be temporarily moving to Texas in a little over one week.

3.5 months ago I would not have been emotionally or spiritually ready to move out of state to write and study full time. Today I am ready, because God used the people in my life to reveal things about both Him and me that I needed to see, to understand, to act upon.

This opportunity showed me that while those seemingly random conversations with random friends and family did not have an obvious pattern, they did build on one another and served an even greater purpose of preparing me for the next step. The reason I couldn’t write about each of those individual conversations was because the story wasn’t ready to be told yet.

The really cool thing is that I only just realized this in the last two days. Imagine how this will all piece together when I get back to San Diego in November, or in two years from now when I have walked farther and grown more!?

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded. Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 

1 Peter 1:13-16

He has given us an adventure that we get to live…every day.

Proven True

The other night my family sat down to spend some time in Scripture and pray. It was my brother Eddie’s turn to lead our time together, and he took us to Daniel chapter 2.

We all know the drill—the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, has a bad dream, his counselors cannot interpret it, so he calls in the prophet Daniel who is gives the interpretation of the dream by God’s revelation.

Instead of reading Daniel chapter 2, Eddie summarized it and then pointed out that almost the exact same thing happens in Daniel Chapter 4. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream, calls in his counselors and wise men to tell him what it means (they can’t…again) so he asks for Daniel who then interprets the dream for the King.

What Eddie wisely observed in these chapters is not how Daniel handled the situations, but rather how King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t. 

In both circumstances Nebuchadnezzar chose to go to his counselors and “wise” men to tell him the meaning of his dream. He sought answers from those who were incapable of providing him with truth. He went to the world, and the world failed him. Twice. Then Nebuchadnezzar went to Daniel, a prophet of God, who was capable of providing truth. And Daniel had the answers…twice. 

Nebuchadnezzar did not learn his lesson, and neither did his son Belshazzar who does the exact same thing in Daniel chapter 5. The reality is that those of us who are Believers—who know the Gospel of Jesus and have seen and heard the testimony of His ministry—haven’t truly learned our lesson either. As my brother asked on Tuesday evening, “How often do we go to the world for answers to our life questions rather than going straight to God’s Word?”

The world, just as Nebuchadnezzar’s counselors were, is completely incapable of giving us the answers we need in order to live life well. Yet even as those who testify to the living, breathing Truth of Jesus Christ are often tempted to find answers outside of Him.

Our lives are dedicated to Jesus, so our life-questions must be directed to Him and Him alone.

“Every word of God proves true;he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” ~ Prov. 30:5

Joy in Pain

Pain doesn’t take a break during the holidays. In fact, for a lot of people, the holidays are some of the most painful and difficult times of the year. It doesn’t seem right that in the midst of Christmas, a time when we celebrate the original coming of our Savior, people are hurting. The circumstances and the celebration don’t seem to match up, or do they?

During Christmas time we focus a lot on the joyous and awe-inducing parts of Jesus’ birth—the pregnant virgin, the star with a mind of its own, singing angels, believing shepherds, and the traveling wise men. In every Christmas carol there are lines about the peace and joy that Christ’s birth brought to Earth.

But we also need to take the time to think about what that manger/stable scene was really like—smelly, dirty, uncomfortable, and cold. Not to mention the fact that the only midwife/doctor available was a young, newly married carpenter. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ situation was hardly ideal. It involved a lot of stress, pain and discomfort.

Maybe I am just strange or a tad morbid, but Jesus’ rough start in life is actually a source of comfort and relief to me. Life, even in the midst of the joy and wonder at the Savior’s birth, wasn’t easy. Jesus identifies with us in our weakness. He walked through pain and experienced hardship. He knows and understands our circumstances.

The birth of Jesus Christ—the life that He brought into this world—gives us cause to have joy in the midst of our pain.

“Allow the truth of God’s Word to meet you in your sorrow. Remind yourself of the joy found in an absolute perfect and everlasting life in Christ.”  – Pastor Brad Greiner

 

Be Brave

A thank-you to Annabelle for sharing this story:

Our visit was quite unexpected, but we were accorded a royal welcome. The missionaries–all of them from Scotland–quickly gathered from every part of the compound to chat with us over a particularly refreshing glass of lemonade.

As we sat there, enjoying to the full this beautiful banquet of joyous fellowship, we noticed that one member of the party–evidently a very charming young Scots-woman–was strangely silent, and I once fancied that, with no apparent cause, I caught the glint of moisture in her eyes. After a while, she quietly left us.

As soon as she had gone the senior missionary explained that to the great sorrow of them all, the husband of this lady a missionary whom they had all loved and valued, had died two days earlier–a victim of the exacting climate.

“And this morning,” he continued, “an hour or two before you arrived, she received a cable from her widowed mother in Scotland. It contained just two words. Not ‘Deeply grieved’ or ‘Loving sympathy’ or any of the conventional phrases.”

The cablegram read: “Be brave.”

F.W. Boreham, Boulevards of Paradise, pg. 147-148

Be brave.

That challenge does not deny the weight and pain of reality, it gives a shot of strength to keep moving forward.

Live bravely.

Not Drowning

I am a horrible swimmer. When I am immersed in water I would describe my movements as  ‘not drowning’ rather than ‘swimming.’ I don’t really mind this fact when I am in a pool––predictable conditions and reasonable depth. But when I get myself into the ocean, things get a little more interesting for me––unpredictable waves and depth.

For the last few months I feel like I have been going through my life ‘not drowning’–keeping my head above the water and trying to avoid getting slammed by surprise waves. drowning

It’s not like I haven’t been enjoying my time out in the water, quite the contrary. I rode in the waves of my job, graduation, fun classes and my 18th birthday pretty smoothly. But the minute I got back out I got hit with the waves of stress from managing a job, school, family responsibilities and ministry; keeping up friendships; writing; and worrying about the future.

There are ideas, dreams and realizations that seem to be hitting my mind and heart all at once. Some of them correlate with my personal life–job, writing, school, relationships–while others are on a more broad scale–my country, the impending zombie Apocalypse (just kidding…sort of), news items, pop-culture.

Those thoughts are all up there, making it a rather difficult job to focus on just one thing. I write in order to think, and right now I have countless documents all with a few unfinished sentences and underdeveloped ideas spread out over the page; I cannot seem to figure my thoughts out much less finish a blog post on it.

Not drowning.

I am flailing my arms to try and keep my head above the water where I’ll get a gasp of air––clarity––only to get dashed by another wave of question.

“You cannot find time for prayer, you have to make time for prayer.”

Water in cupped handsThat word of encouragement, that challenge by a speaker  (Josiah Cruz) on Sunday night really touched my heart. I have been realizing that it is completely and totally impossible for me to “figure out” everything going on in my mind and life on my own. It takes the power of God, the clarity of the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus to bring my mind into focus.

I have been shoving prayer to the side. I have been ignoring the person who knows how to best help me sort things out. As I talk with Jesus, he directs my focus to the things that are actually important, and he gives me the insight I need in order to figure out what to think and do as a result.

Swimming.

“Let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

 Psalm 32:6-8 (ESV)

I am cutting through the choppy water with direction, successfully ducking through waves and learning how to time my breathing.

I am going to make the time for prayer. I am going to stop avoiding my wise Father in Heaven. I am going to trust that it is through his wisdom that I will make it through these unsure waters.