September 17, 2009

Baja, Mexico -- Part 1

So I know I need to blog about my trip to Mexico and despite having nearly 2 weeks to gather my thoughts, I can't seem to figure out a way to write something that would even begin to capture even a day, let alone my week at the orphanage without this being 300 pages long!

So I will attempt walk through the week in this entry and then follow up with a small snippet of the last couple days in the next and leave the rest to my journal which I wrote while I was there.

I had been praying about going on a mission trip for well over a year and when I lost my job, I figured that was all part of God's plan to send me away for a few weeks to some third world country to help end world poverty or something huge like that. But that wasn't the case at all, and how glad I am that God knew more of what I could handle than I did!

Once I lost my job, I began searching numerous websites for a trip which I would be able to go on...everything from Willow Creek, to Park Community to my favorite church in Iowa, and even tried googling mission trips thinking I would just sign up and go with a group who was looking to do the same. I was starting to lose hope but decided to check Willow Creeks one last time and a new trip had been added...a trip to Vincente Guerrero, Mexico to Foundation for His Ministry, an orphanage 5 1/2 hours south of San Diego, CA. The trip was scheduled for exactly one month and 3 days from the day I started inquiring about it. My biggest obstacle would be to meet the financial obligations since I am obviously broke as a joke. I prayed about the trip and within a week I was being interviewed and was all set to begin soliciting for the $850 sponsorship. Within two weeks God more than provided the funding for the trip which allowed me to start worrying about other things. Some of those included:
  • I went to our first meeting and decided everyone was very different from me and how in the world would we all get along for an entire week?
  • I don't sleep well anywhere but my own bed (everyone knows I hate sleepovers, let alone in a room with many other people!)
  • I don't travel well on roadtrips with Jason, how was I going to travel with 10-15 other people in one van? (those same people who I was confident I had nothing in common with!)
  • My last worry was being gone for a whole week. Kinda strange that my parents provided me with many trips where I traveled for a week at a time to exotic places such as Mexico, Virgin Islands, Canada, California, Europe and just a million other places in the states but I still get homesick after being gone for more than 3 days.
But I spent a day fasting and many hours in the Bible and both Judy and Meredith gave me verses to reflect on leading up to and on my trip which were all a huge help!

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified, for I the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9

Greater is He who is in your than he who is in the world. -1 John 4:4

God says Jesus will give you the strength you need. (from Judy)

Faithful is He who calls you who will also bring it to pass. -1 Thessalonians 5:24

Okay so fast forward through the worrying and sleepless nights leading up to it (complete with very ugly nightmares) and I'm at O'Hare meeting the group with all my stuff packed and ready to go. Flight to San Diego was fine, did some wandering around at Seaport Village in the afternoon, had dinner with the group in Old Town, had a good nights rest at the Hampton Inn and before I knew it, it was Sunday and we're all loaded up in the vans to head across the border and begin our mission. (Note: At this point, I feel like I've already been gone 4 days and am already feeling homesick.)

But after the 5 1/2 hour van ride, we made it to the orphanage!! The week basically consisted with getting up before 5:50 so you could shower (no showering allowed one hour before or one hour after any meal was prepared/served) and showers were to last no longer than 3 minutes. After showering there was about an hour to kill before heading to the cafeteria where you'd try to get as much food into your stomach before they started cleaning up. (I'm not were seated, prayed and finished eating within about 10 meal time was not the time to get to know your neighbor or hear what others were up to) After breakfast we killed another 30-50 minutes before Sala (translated to living room in espanol) where we had morning devotions, similar to a church service with worship music and a lesson...usually all in Spanish and translated to English or vise versa. After sala, we would get our morning assignments, ranging from a variety of things. Many days Michelle and I were out by the nut house attempting to weed the prickly weeds and getting bit/attacked by ants. Another day we were on garbage duty which involved collecting all the missions trash (including the kitchens festered with maggots, flies, ear wigs and other fun bugs. We then went to the city dump and well, literally dumped it there!)

(Other assignments included working in the medical offices cleaning or helping stock shelves, working in the theater which was being gutted -- such very dirty work, cracking macadamia nut shells in the nut house, cleaning the visitors center's (where we slept) bathrooms, mopping floors, working in the kitchen de-boning chicken, sorting clothes/blankets and shoes with the outreach center, preparing food in the soup kitchen, sewing in the sewing room, watching/teaching children in the day camp, work with the special needs children in the day home, weeding/planting in the prayer garden and just about any other imaginable work you can imagine at a working mission with about 10 different amazing missionaries besides the orphanage!)

There was a 15 minute break around 11:00 where the local folks would serve quasadillas and other cheese-filled yummy snacks. Then it was back to your morning assignment until lunch. Lunch was the same as breakfast...trying to beat your morning time of chowing down as much food as possible in fear of not liking dinner, which was always a very light meal. After lunch we either had another assignment or would head out to children evangelism. For child evangelism, 4-5 of us would hop in a van with a Spanish speaking teacher and head out to the village where children lived, caring for their younger siblings (all not attending school) while they're parents were at work for 12-14 hours a day. We would circle around the village in our van with a megaphone calling all the children to meet us for the afternoon bible study and project.

This. was. AMAZING.

The children were so loving and excited to be with us. Some had Bible verses memorized from the week before, eager to learn more. They all participated in the children's Bible songs which I, of course couldn't learn the words to...let alone the motions which went with them! After about an hour and half with them creating a project they could bring home, we would fill their cups (or 2 liter jugs for some) with milk and give them each a table spoon of peanut butter to help their little bones grow and nourish them properly.

After the afternoon assignment or child evangelism is dinner. Dinner was something small, generally soup but wasn't the time to expect a large meal but was expected to be consumed in 10 min or less. One day a week each of us would be on kitchen duty, which was comprised of setting the dinner tables, bringing out the food and drink and then cleaning up afterwards. (but the day I volunteered, there wasn't a chance to clean up because we had adult outreach.)

Which leads me ever so perfectly to...Adult Outreach which was on both Tuesday and Thursday evenings. For the purpose of this blog I will focus on the Thur night outreach. First, our outfits were ridiculous. To be respectful of their culture we wore long pants, with a skirt over it and then wore something over our heads to protect our hair from lice or other bugs. What we don't understand is no one in their culture wears those pretty outfits, secretly I think they all laugh at us when we leave! :) So Adult outreach we would play with the children (who would immediately run toward the vans as soon as we arrived!) They loved piggy back rides, jump rope, long hugs, being carried, any kind of conversations. (in espanol of course) and anything else you'd let them do. I was blessed both nights to be able to go to the homes and invite the parents to the pelicula (movie) We were showing a children's cartoon and then after the video would pray and do an alter call and offer up some time for prayer. I got to see into these homes where the families lived. No unpotty-trained children (that I saw) wore diapers or pants, the bed frames generally didn't have mattresses and if they did, they didn't have any sheets/blankets. But what amazed me most is that everyone was so welcoming and wanted to hear what we had to say. The smiles on these tired yet affectionate faces was real. There was so much love. During the movie on Thursday night, I had a little boy, Sergio, who asked very politely (in espanol) if he could sit on my lap. He was so gentle, loving and kind. Him and I chatted, exchanging names and other things that my extremely limited espanol allowed me to chat with him about. He had 2 sisters who were with him and the three of them were so sweet. As the movie went on and the children were getting sleepy, he kindly asked if he could rest his head in my lap. Through the movie he asked me a few questions, one I remember was if that was Moses' Mom. Me not really knowing the story of Moses I had to ask Rolanda who confirmed it was and let him know. I have been and will be praying for Sergio and his family every night. Honestly, I am at a lost for words when I try to explain what all happened that evening. It was moving and life-changing for me and I cannot begin to have the words to describe it.

Sergio, his 2 sisters and me

Another highlight of the trip for me was Tuesday morning 6 of us were able to deliver the shoes we had all collected and brought to the village. I was able to help the children and moms fit into their new shoes. The children knew exactly what they wanted. I thought they would want the shoes with the best colors or the shoes their parents couldn't afford...but these children didn't even want the sandals, they wanted the sturdy gym shoe with laces so they could run and play. It really put things into perspective for me.

Friday was the last day on the mission and we worked in the morning and then had the afternoon off. We started off at the very small local flea market and then went to the local beach and had a relaxing afternoon. There were perros y gatos everywhere along the beach and it broke my heart. Along the roads there were stray dogs every hundred yards just asking to be hit by cars. All were malnourished and dirty so not petting/loving them was really hard for me!!

As I said earlier, I was very homesick from the beginning. Everyone kept asking if I missed Jason or what it was that I missed but my best explanation was "home." I missed being able to check in and be home. This trip was the perfect amount of time for my first mission trip and the perfect setting for my first mission trip. The group I went with was very diverse, and we all brought our own gifts to the group and got along so well! I learned something from each person in the group and learned how well God can make each of us perfect for our own unique job. Something I have felt very led from the very beginning of the trip would be to lead a group from Willow Chicago to this same mission next year. Going as part of S. Barrington was very different than going with Willow Chicago. It's hard to explain why but the most obvious being that I attend Willow Chicago...not S. Barrington and our resources (not even mentioning our lack of pastor) is enough reasons alone to want to go with the Chicago church.

I also learned while on this trip that my next trip which I would not be leading would be to a third world country and possibly living with a host family and doing something more specialized. My heart has a lot more to give and believe God would better use my gifts in a different setting.

These are all things I am praying about and only God will know where to best use me in the coming years. This one week in Baja was one of the best spent weeks of my life and I am so thankful that I was provided the opportunity to go, the funding available from loved ones and the health to get me through the week.

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