I have had the privilege of being a part of eight short term missions trips in my lifetime. Each one has been unique and has taught me many important lessons, so I knew our planned mission trip to Ecuador this summer would be the same.
From the very beginning, it seemed like God had a lot he wanted to teach me. One big lesson was in the area of trust. As individuals began to commit to the trip, I had some concerns as there were health issues for some and timing issues for others. At one point, everyone who had committed to the trip was under the age of 21 except for me.
But God is always faithful to put the exact people He intends to go on a trip and as I trusted, I saw His plan come together in an amazing way. Our final group of nine consisted of two “older”adults (and I include myself in that number!) and seven who were under the age of 27.
As I looked at our team, my excitement began to grow. After all, it was on my very first missions trip to Australia when I was seventeen, that God stirred in my heart and gave me a desire to serve Him with my life- a commitment that I continue to seek to be faithful to follow. For four out of our seven young ones, the trip to Ecuador would be their first missions trip. Adding to the excitement for me personally was that two out of those four first timers were my own children! I knew that the lessons learned through our time in Ecuador would likely be more for my teammates than for me and the joy and privilege of that was not lost on me!
In addition to trusting God with the team He would put together, there were challenges with getting passports and airline tickets which would become another area of trust and of humbling for me. A travel savvy friend helped me with ordering tickets, but the process was grueling as we entered names and birth dates for nine people over and over again. We had found the perfect itinerary that would allow us to fly out of Rochester, NY (our hometown) and arrive in Cuenca, Ecuador (our final destination) all in one day. This would eliminate the need for a hotel or an in country flight, but every time we tried to get these particular tickets, we were told that one of the flights was overbooked. Each time a message would pop up saying hurry there are 9 tickets left! which was exasperating as we needed nine tickets exactly! We were so sure that these were the best flights and so we kept trying. After entering all of the information three times with no success, one of the flights on the itinerary changed slightly. We prayed that this might be the flight that was causing the issues and entered our information as quickly as we could. This time, our booking was confirmed! We were so excited.
And then I looked closely at the information we had entered and I had spelled MY name wrong!! I felt my heart sink, because I knew that this would not fly (sorry, can’t help myself sometimes!). The next day, I tried to work with the travel site to fix the issue. Two hours and $75 later, the error was fixed. It was humbling for me and incredibly frustrating.
As the team leader, I felt the financial burden for our team and this was compounded by the burden of sending three family members on an expensive trip. We had a benefit concert to raise funds for the team and it was a wonderful success. We worked together as a team and the strengths of our group encouraged me. Our church family and friends were incredibly generous. But after all of this, I still felt a bit stressed. I knew God would provide- He always does!- but I also knew that we had a lot of work to do. One of the beautiful lessons for me was watching my kids work hard to raise money to cover their own expenses. We had many conversations about how we need to trust God to provide, but we also need to work hard with wisdom and integrity. They both did a great job!
And then we were off! All of our hard work in preparations paid off, because our day of travel was wonderful. But when our final flight arrived in Ecuador, we discovered that our bags had not been on the last flight. This was a big disappointment for us after a long day. The lessons learned were to pray and remain calm (our mantra for the entire trip was the Spanish word tranquilo!). As we attempted to use our limited knowledge of Spanish to figure out how to get our bags to Cuenca, I felt a nudge to take a picture of our baggage claim stickers that the airport worker took from me. This ended up being the most important picture that I took in Ecuador! When our bags did finally arrive a day and a half after we did, one of our team members bags was still missing. This caused a lot of frustration for him and a ton of work behind the scenes to find the missing bag. Having the baggage claim information was important, so I am grateful that the Holy Spirit prompted me to get that picture!
There were many moments like that along the way when we could see God’s hand at work. Most of our team traveled from the airport over the Andes mountains and to our final destination (about three hours) in a van, but I was able to go with another teammate and two of the missionaries that we would work with the rest of the week in a car. This would end up being one of my favorite times as we were given the gift of being able to hear about the ministry in Ecuador first hand. The next day, we discovered that three of us from that car ride had read similar passages of scripture in our devotional time that morning and we were all encouraged, knowing that God doesn’t do anything by accident!
Our team stayed with six different host families and we were all blessed by this time, feeling like God had put us exactly where He wanted us to be. Not only is He a faithful God, worthy of our trust; He is a loving God, sweet and compassionate.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was watching how each team member had the opportunity to serve out of their strengths. Many of our team members were hard workers and some were skilled workers. As a result, we were able to contribute to the work projects at a property that is being prepared for a new church plant. We also had multiple opportunities to share Christ’s love in parks in partnership with Iglesia Bautista La Fe in Cuenca. We loved getting to know the people of La Fe and working alongside the missionary families who love the Lord! One of our team members is a nurse and he brought a first aid kit with him. We were all incredibly grateful for his contributions throughout our time there as we faced allergies, stomach issues, altitude challenges, cuts and jammed fingers. Besides having to take an unexpected trip to a chiropractor himself, our nurse was able to remove stitches on two of the missionary’s daughters!
We all fell in love with Ecuador. It is a beautiful country and Cuenca is a fascinating city. The rugged terrain of the Andes mountains, the gorgeous rivers that wind through the city, the historic buildings, Incan ruins, crazy traffic that felt surprisingly safe, the dog sightings everywhere, even the challenges of no electricity or water at times, captured our hearts. This was because the people we came in contact with were welcoming and gracious to us over and over again. They genuinely wanted to get to know us even when there was a language barrier. It’s an incredible thing to walk into a room full of people and receive greetings from each person. They welcomed us into their homes, fed us incredible food, and became our friends.
Friendship crosses cultural and language barriers. And what I have found over and over again in all of my travels is that when there is a mutual love for Jesus and for the gospel, those friendships go deep!
I prayed often for my team members, knowing that they would likely be deeply impacted by their time in Ecuador, but I wasn’t prepared to cry on our last day when team members began sharing what God was doing in their hearts and lives. Many did not want to leave and are already preparing for the next time they will be able to go back. Everyone grew in their trust in God and their desire to serve Him!
Our theme verse for the trip rings true and will continue to be my prayer for our team..
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ~Ephesians 3:20,21 NIV
I can’t wait to see where God leads my teammates, particularly my children! He IS able to do more than we can ask or imagine and to Christ Jesus be glory throughout all generations!
For all of you who supported us through prayer, encouragement and financially, thank you seems inadequate!! It felt like our team was much bigger than nine people and that’s because it was! YOU were a part of our team as well and I pray that God will bless you as you have been a blessing to us!
With deep appreciation,
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
~Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador, martyred on January 8, 1956
As we drove through the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, a breathtakingly beautiful country, Jim Elliot’s words resonated in my heart. While our team of nine from Rochester, NY made it safely home and our lives did not end in martyrdom, I asked myself often, am I willing to die for God’s glory if that is what he asks of me?
The truth is that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We don’t like to talk about this, but I have watched too many loved ones face loss recently and as a result it is ever present in my mind. We should make wise choices and seek to live healthy lives, but we don’t get to determine the length of our days here on this earth. The only foolish way to live is to strive after things that won’t last. Following Jesus is never foolish because only what is done for His glory will last.
I feel bold today. Perhaps tomorrow I will wake up to the pressure of trying to not rock any boats, to not say anything that will make others uncomfortable. But this morning, my husband preached on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (from Daniel 3) Their willingness to stand firm in their trust in God challenged me to my core as it always seems to do! In verse 18 of Daniel 3, these three young men say to Nebuchadnezzar that their God is able to deliver them, but even if He doesn’t, they still will not bow down to the statue that they were being asked to worship.
This is how I want to live. With the faithfulness to stand up for what I believe in like Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. With the willingness to lay down my life like Jim Elliot. The thread that weaves throughout all of the stories of obedience to God is the faithful God who is worthy of trust. Sometimes God takes people through difficulty and then blesses their lives immensely. Other times, faithful servants lose their lives and it’s too soon for their loved ones left behind. The question for all of us is do we trust God’s plan even if it brings heartache instead of blessing?
Yesterday, we arrived back in Rochester after spending ten days in the stunning country of Ecuador. The experiences we had there were incredible, from the new friendships we made to the work projects we were able to help with to the ministries we were able to be a part of. The way that God worked personally in each of my team member’s lives is remarkable and I am beyond excited to see what God will continue to do in our lives as we continue to step out in faith and trust him. But our time there was not without its challenges. So here are some of the lessons learned and the way I saw my teammates respond to the various difficulties we faced.
Even if our luggage does not arrive at the same time as our plane, we still will have a good attitude and continue to do what we came to do.
Even if we lose water and power and can’t get showers or host meals, we still will make the most of it and rejoice in the opportunity to get to know others even better when we shower and eat at their house unexpectedly!
Even if we are unable to communicate well due to the language barrier, we still will try hard to convey the love of Christ.
Even if we are injured or sick, we still will press on and make the most of the opportunities before us.
Even if plans change, we still will roll with the changes.
Not all of our responses were great. We were tired and out of our element and so there were plenty of times when we didn’t respond well. We were annoying or we got annoyed easily. We weren’t always kind or patient. We argued and complained. But ultimately, we sought God’s glory and I am so grateful for this.
What will God do in the lives of the nine of us who went to Ecuador? I’m not completely sure, but I have an inkling. I can seen glimpses of what God is doing in the lives of many of my teammates and I’m excited about the opportunities He has laid before me. One thing I continue to be convinced of is that when we follow God’s will for our lives, it is always good. It’s not easy, but it is GOOD!
Even if… I still will!
There has been a strange shift for me over the past few years in my blogging life. When I talk with other writer friends, I discover that I am not alone. Most of my friends who I have met through the online world are mothers and of course the inevitable has happened—our kids are growing older.
And as they grow older, it becomes more difficult to write about what we struggle with as moms, because while everyone can relate to the difficulty in parenting littles, teen struggles are much more personal. My kid’s personalities are more developed, so if I tell you that my teen is struggling with anger issues, it’s different than…
…and that’s where this attempt at a blog post ended almost a year ago. I never finished it, but when I opened my blog to write a new post today, I realized that I had already attempted to write on this very subject I have been contemplating all day. Turns out, these thoughts have been simmering for quite some time!
Having teenagers has become the biggest writer’s block of my life. Where once words came easily and poured out of me, I now find myself struggling to express how I am feeling. I flounder with words. I delete sentences. Then I delete some more.
And then an unfinished blog post sits in my draft folder for a year.
Having teenagers is lonely. I don’t want to betray their trust. Their stories are theirs to tell, not mine, but it doesn’t change the fact that just as I struggled through learning how to be a parent to a newborn, I am struggling to learn how to parent my kids who are growing more and more independent with every passing day. Not being able to process through writing has been hard.
My oldest got her permit and is asking me to drive. She’s going to a homeschool prom today. Prom!!! Her first international missions trip is happening this summer and she will be working at a camp as a counselor. I watch her spread her wings and while this is completely right and she is so ready for all of these things, I find myself reeling from the speed of it all as she rushes through life. I’m barely holding on.
My second born is growing into himself and it is equal parts thrilling and exhausting. He’s always been an incredibly sweet and thoughtful kid and I think I expected this to be true in his teenage years too. But he started taking logic classes (which he absolutely loves!) and while this is helping him to think critically which is good, he is starting to challenge every little thing. So my emotions fluctuate between being amazed at his growth and being frustrated with the unexpected teenage angst.
I observed a baby girl climbing the stairs to a slide yesterday at a playground and I caught my breath. Wasn’t it just yesterday when my oldest was that age? Later in the day, I cried as I listened to her sing a solo that she will be performing at a benefit concert this weekend. She has grown into a capable and confident young woman, but I still feel like I should be close by, making sure she doesn’t fall, looking to catch her eye to see her light up when she knows I’m there. I’m scared of the day when she no longer looks back to find me…
This is such a strange time, this “middle” between the years when they need us for everything and when they walk into the future God has prepared for them. I’m having to let go more and more, but the more I let go, the more I want to hold on.
When I remember to look for it, I am reminded that there is grace for this time. Grace that covers my failures and allows my kids to love me despite my mistakes. Grace that strengthens the bond between an easily exasperated mom and overly emotional teens rather than tearing them apart. Grace that allows all of us to see the beauty of God’s sweetness towards us.
May you continue to hold my dear ones close. Lead them and guide them through life. May they want to know you more and more and as they grow in the knowledge of you, show them how to love others well in spite of the difficulty and the suffering they will face. Give them integrity and humility. May they pursue you always and when they doubt, may they be willing to listen for your still small voice. May they never stop looking for you and may they be delighted with the knowledge that you are always there for them. Hem them in behind and before! I praise you for they are fearfully and wonderfully made!
When we started homeschooling our kids nearly three years ago, one of the first things we committed to doing as part of our day was reading through the Bible together as a family. Every school morning, we have breakfast as a family and then everyone grabs their Bible and we take turns reading through two chapters of scripture.
Since we do not read over the weekends and on Mondays (our co-op day), we have not made it through the Bible even one time yet. We finished the New Testament a couple of weeks ago and just finished Nehemiah today. There have been times along the way when I have wondered if the reading is worthwhile. Should we be doing more? Are our kids developing a love for the Word of God or do they see it as just another part of the school day that they have to endure?
As I have pondered these questions and prayed about them, God in his goodness has answered in sweet ways. One of those ways is in watching my oldest two make the decision to go on a missions trip to Ecuador this summer. In their applications, both of them stated that they are growing in their faith and want to serve the Lord. While I know that their growth comes from many different sources, I know that this emphasis on scripture in our family has set a foundation for their growth. Through the years as we have come upon difficult subjects, we have been able to have great conversation spurred on by our reading. We also use that time to discuss current events through a Biblical worldview.
When I look back on my own growing up years, I am reminded of the countless hours my family spent praying, kneeling by my parent’s bed. I told my Mom recently that I would often fall asleep as my parents droned on and on, but the truth is, those times were foundational for my own spiritual journey. I learned all those years ago the significance of prayer. I watched prayers get answered and I understood that prayer is meant to be continual and it is a discipline worth pursuing.
I know that my kids won’t always appreciate our scripture reading time, just as I didn’t always appreciate my family prayer times, but I know that God will use those times in powerful ways. My kids are already seeing that the Word of God is living and active. They have experienced the excitement of reading one portion of scripture and discovering that it explains another portion. They have been blessed by reading a passage in the morning and then hearing the same passage lifted up in song later in the day. They are seeing how scripture impacts their lives. Seeing their eyes light up when something that was previously confusing makes sense is one of my favorite things to see.
A few weeks ago, we were reading through Ezra, a book that details the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. One day, my youngest decided to draw a picture depicting what we had read about earlier in the day. She did this in the midst of my prayers and ponderings, unprompted by me (there ARE times when I have the kids art journal a particular verse as part of their response, but this time was completely on her own). She drew men on ladders working on the building, others working with tools and others with their backs to the workers, mocking and ridiculing the work being done.
To say I was amazed is an understatement. Her work was intricate, just like Ezra’s descriptions and I was blown away.
As parents, we don’t get to determine how God will use our faithfulness. We can’t make our children love the Bible and prayer. But we can show them OUR love for God’s Word and we can encourage them to respond to it. We can be intentional about reading the Bible with our kids and praying.
The main thing I have learned from this is that our efforts do not need to be elaborate for God to use them. In fact, sometimes it’s the consistent simplicity of our efforts that God will use the most. My kids are learning that spending time with God is a discipline that they should practice, because it is meaningful and it impacts their lives in powerful ways. Being faithful to God’s call on our lives, whether that means going to Ecuador or drawing a picture might mean ridicule from others who don’t understand. But I pray that this foundation that we are laying in our kids’ lives will support and guide them all of their days.
If you are wondering where to start with devotions with your kids or if you are feeling like what you are doing isn’t working, might I encourage you to just read scripture? It won’t always be easy (the list of names in Nehemiah alone is CRAZY!!) and sometimes the Bible will be bring up questions that you might not be prepared to answer (Mom, what does it mean when it says that Lot had sexual relations with his daughters?!).
But sometimes I think we make it more complicated than it needs to be. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness in His Word. We need to read it!