Sunday, July 27, 2014

A pair of shoes

Joy....Humility....Blessed.....Loved... those are just a few things I feel right now. All I do know is that I am sitting in my room with a pair of brand new and expensive church shoes that were not bought with my hands, but with those of a man who struggles with the weight of poverty. I´ll begin with the story of a boy I met in February named Alex. 

This little boy was like none other that I had encountered in Villa Hermosa. It is hard to find glimpses of Jesus when you are surrounded by children who live such awful lives, but when I met this child, it was like a light had been given to me while walking down this long and dark tunnel. His eyes were so big and his smile made everything seem so much better. You literally could not think of anything negative while watching this young man. His hugs were addictive and I would repeat all those moments he fell asleep in my arms if I could. When I saw him.. I saw a true disciple. Although young... his heart was growing rapidly. 

So here I am.... July 27th. heading to his house to ride to church with him and his family. His father, the pastor of the church, had invited me to start attending regularly. Now let me remind you, this family has the same struggles the other people do living here. Some days they eat, others they don´t. Some days Alex has clean clothes, other times he has to wear the same shirt, pants, and underwear several days in a row. The parents have little to nothing, yet run a church built by a mission team and tend to their six children. 

As I stepped into the home, I was greeted with hugs from all but 1..... Alex. About 6 seconds later, he came limping in with a bright red face and red spots all over him. He was sick with the virus, Chikungunya, which is spread by mosquitoes and leaves terrible joint problems along with a high fever and hot bumps. Looking into his bloodshot, teary eyes, I knew it was bad. But this very sick boy looked down to see that my feet were filthy from walking. In fear of tracking in dirt to the church service, I asked if I could clean them at the house. Immediately, Alex led me outside and brought out a bucket containing water and his clothes he was waiting to wash. I told him I could do it myself, but before I could finish he took my sandals off and put them in the bucket with his clothes, making the water and his clothes dirty. Scrubbing them clean, he handed them back and then started on my feet. This very sick child.... this child who wanted clean clothes and to simply lie down.. put the feet of a healthy man who had more than enough clean clothes in his only few pairs of clothing and sacrificed his own needs for my want... And the story doesn´t end there.

The father of Alex walked in and said that He would like to buy me some shoes for church. I told him I could buy some with my money, but He refused over and over again. So I was escorted to their car, which was falling apart, and used the little gas they had to take me to the store. While there, He used what I believe was the majority of his money to purchase shoes that I wouldn´t have a problem with buying back at home. They were beautiful and comfortable....and well bought by a man who gave up fathers day because he knew they didn't have any money to celebrate it. Bought by a man who couldn´t give his children any birthday parties because of the lack of payment he receives at his job. Bought by a man who looked at a missionary, knowing he had more than enough money, and went ahead and served him anyways. 

Everyone who goes on mission trips has this intentionality to give to those who are poor, but for the first time in my entire life... I had the needy give back to me. And I saw Jesus... this powerful... merciful...humbling Jesus. And the blessings still did not stop....

Today is Father´s Day in the Dominican republic and at church, the congregation honored all those who had held a father figure position one way or another. They called up each man at a time thanking him for doing what must fathers here run away from. Then out of nowhere my name was read aloud on the microphone. The words that followed brought me to tears. ¨this is given to a man who has become like a father to dozens and dozens of children who need one in Villa Hermosa¨.

I am nothing but a vessel... a simple follower who does what his Father tells him... but when I heard those words.... I felt as if God was standing right there speaking them into my heart. And I am relieved. Your hardest critic is yourself, and man have I been criticizing myself. My entire time here has been moments of wondering if anything I am doing is actually making a dent... and nights like tonight make it clear to me that God wants me to keep pressing in with this village. I hope he is doing the same with you and where you are at. I am going to leave you with a challenge. 

If a family of 8 who have little to nothing can live out a life of missions and servant hood.... there is no doubt that you can to. Get up and serve my brothers and sisters. The needy are calling your name. I love you all... Goodnight. 
Alex after crying in my arms due to having to wear the same clothes for days, reading in scripture about how God providing for His children 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Missions: in the form of a 10 year old.

My eyes burn. They burn when I see a hungry child pressed against the glass at the restaurant I am at starving to just have a taste of what's on my plate. They burn when I see the aftermath of what an abusive father can do to the back of his four year old child with a belt. They burn when I stand outside of a pool hall at night only to find a congregation of children sitting and watching as their mothers prostitute themselves half naked in front of strange men that look nothing like their fathers. And They burn most when a child clenches your hand, begging for you to be his father and you aren't the least surprised because the scars across his arms and face show reason why he asked in the first place.

That is what experiencing a third world country can do to you. You are scarred with things you can never unsee. They are forever stamped into your brain. but... there are also moments that remind you why you bought your plane tickets in the first place. Moments like what happened today.

They followed me. 6 of them. Some trailing at a distant and the others at my side with my arm over their shoulders. the walk to the store wasn't far but enough to cause the attention of an elderly woman under a tree. At first her words were too soft to understand, but after being dragged towards her by the children, I realized what she wanted. food. Just some rice and chicken. She hadn't eaten at all yet lived seconds away from the store. And there she sat asking kindly but embarrassingly for some food to eat. At first I was hesitant because giving food to her meant an immediate crowed of other civilians asking for the same thing. And my money couldn't cover all of them. So I kindly saluted her and walked away. But as I got closer to the store the bible verse Matthew 25:35 came to mind. "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."....

I could easily enter the store, purchase the food, and hand it to the woman, but I felt God tell me to go about things differently. I prayed for a moment and then looked down at what filled the empty spaces between my fingers. With wide eyes and crooked teethe there stood the children. But.... they were no longer children to me. There they stood with scraped knees and runny noses.. Missionaries. I placed the different foods in each of their hands then asked simply if they would like to be a missionary. With a large grin they nodded proudly then ran as fast as they could towards the elderly woman. As I walked out of the store, a look of astonishment swept across my face. And I became more amazed when just 10 minutes later I saw one of my kids, Eddy, buy candy with his own money only to pass it out to all the other boys playing with me and Blake.

Just when you think our effort has run out. Just when you believe that there is nothing else that can be done in the community of Villa Hermosa, cracks of hope begin to submerge. A neighborhood once full with fighting and drugs and hatred, was now showing little bits and pieces unity and hope and love and.....well.... Jesus. I left Villa Hermosa today witnessing the presence of Jesus. He is beginning to bring on a revolution and I am blessed enough to get a front row seat to witness it all.

The sun began to set as our footprints left the town followed by fifteen other sets. It was time to go home, but still they followed. I pulled one in close, and the words he began to whisper into my ear stopped my heart. "I'm a missionary!", he said smiling. It wasn't necessarily the words that brought joy, but rather it was the fact that they left the mouth of a child covered in scars from abuse and a past that you wouldn't dare ask about. "I'm a missionary......" hm...

Thank you for the prayers and the donations. It is being put to good use here! From a bicycle to loads of food for families, you guys are doing just as much of missions here as I am. Keep up the good work!! with love,

Thursday, June 26, 2014

His still small voice

¨I want to go home¨.......

For the first two weeks leading up to this one, that is all I could seem to think each day. From seeing the lives of the kids I have been witnessing to fall apart to being overwhelmed by mission team after mission team, the phrase I thought would never came to mind, could not leave my head. As Each day passed, the mosquitoes seemed as if they had multiplied, the temperature had risen, and the showers got colder. I love this country and while in the states, this place was all I could talk about... But for the past few weeks, I just have wanted to be with my family. I have desired a nice, comfortable bed with good air conditioning, warm showers where I have time to think, and even a nice glass of sweet tea. All the other times I have been here, things have gone as planned and it was happiness. I knew the day would come where God would reveal things to me in this culture that would break my heart, but I never knew that it would be thrown at me within the first week of my arrival. 

I´ve been weak, I´ve been tired, and I hadn't seemed to find a  place to rest from all of this. 

But I knew God was there. 
I could not see him.
I could not feel Him.
But I was waiting patiently for His still small voice to arrive.

And it did. 

It had been a day to unwind at Hope mission. The South Carolina team was wrapping up their VBS and medical clinic, and things were going smoothly. As I entered the gates of the vacation bible school, a small 5 year old boy caught my eye. He sat in the hot sun with a large burn streaked across his face. Where it came from, I do not know, but it was infected and he was rubbing dirt in it. I looked for his mother, but she had dropped him off and went home. So, I picked him up and held him. Within ten minutes, he was sound asleep. And for a short moment, everything went silent. I could not hear the children playing. I could not hear the teachers teaching. All that was brought to my ears was the little sounds this child made. And in this moment of beauty and silence, I could feel and see and hear Jesus. When I felt his heartbeat against my chest, I could feel Jesus. When I saw his eyes flutter and when he moved in his sleep, I could see Jesus. And carried by the sound of his calm breaths was the sound of Jesus playing in my ears. 

For two weeks, he seemed absent. For two weeks my prayers seemed unanswered and I felt at loss. But now, while holding this child, this angel of the Lord, He was everywhere.... In the trees that swayed when that brief breeze halted the continuous heat from the sun..... in the hearts of the sick as they stepped out of line to let the ones more ill in. Everywhere... Jesus was everywhere. 

It can take the simplicity of things not going the way you wanted them to, to completely cause a downfall in your heart and your spiritual walk, but something as small as a child falling asleep in your arms can cause the truth of why you´re at the place that you are at to consume you once again. I have struggled and I have been broken, but after holding one of God´s children... I am reminded of my reasoning behind this trip. So bring on the heat.. bring on the drought... bring on the bugs that bite and the bone chilling water. Let it cause me to be physically ill if it comes down to it.... But I will not let the thoughts of the world overwhelm my willing spirit and strength in Jesus. I am a soldier of God, and a soldier of God does not give up because things get hard.... 

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Noel sound asleep

They just opened it and started reading :)

Enjoying the free toys from the South Carolina team

Friday, June 13, 2014

My Nineveh

When it comes to missions, I have no expectations. I told myself that before I came, and after this week, I will forever live by that. When you enter a village, you never know what´s going to occur, especially if you´ve been away from that village for months. One moment, you are praising Jesus as a little boy you have been pouring out prayer on for years accepts Jesus, and the next moment you are sitting down with the Principal of his school as she tells you he is no longer welcome due to drinking on campus. And then you start crying out to God because that little boy is only seven years old. 

It´s hard to explain my emotions right now. To sum all of them up, I guess I could say that it feels as if the moment I stepped off the plane and entered the Dominican Republic, I was welcomed with closed doors and a broken heart. I had this vision in my mind of what my summer would look like. I had no expectations as in lesson plans and what I was going to do minute by minute, but I at least thought that I would have beautiful moments with my kids and endless laughs. I thought that my mornings would be welcomed by smiles and ended by hugs and warmth from the hearts of the children, but it seemed as if everything had become the exact opposite. 

Instead of playful games, I had to pull a 12 year old child named Manuel away from another kid right before Manuel hit him with an axe. Instead of having meaningful talks with a child, I had to take a  razor he had brought to school away from him. I wanted my week to involve playing tag and loving on my boys, but instead I walked away with bite marks and bruises from breaking up fight after fight after fight after fight.....I came home last night with a broken spirit and I was just so confused as to why everything is so different... Why are things getting worse? Why do the parents of my kids not care? Why and how did everything get so bad in just three months.... 

I have taken a step back and realized that I have three months. Three months to do some damage control. Three months to make things right in Villa Hermosa. Three months to unite the boys and girls living around the area I work in. It seems almost impossible but then I remember the story of Nineveh. God had sent Jonah to Nineveh, the most dangerous area around, to convince the citizens to change their ways.They fought, they killed, they sinned endlessly. But God chose Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah was distraught and did not understand and even ran from God, but God brought him back. He wanted to make it clear to Jonah the importance of what He needed to do. So Jonah went. He declared God´s orders amongst the people, and said that if they did not turn from their wicked ways, God would destroy Nineveh. Within three days, all had surrendered to God. All had given up and given in to God. 

Villa Hermosa, Dominican Republic is my Nineveh. It is one of the most dangerous cities and these people are running from God, but He does not want me to give up on them like everyone else has. And most importantly, He wants me to make it known amongst them that He hasn´t given up on them either. It seems impossible and at times I just want to run away to a safer city where fights are few and the children are nicer, but God has made it clear to me what I must do. If that means that I have to get punched in the face 100 more times by kids, then so be it, but I´m not giving up on God, because God never once gave up on me. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Dirty hands

   The roads just kept going. There were no turns, no houses, no people for miles and miles. Our view consisted of dirt roads and rows of sugar cane aligned alongside the left and right of us. Every now and then our eyes would come upon a carcus of a dog, but without anything to marvel at, we were left alone with our thoughts. as the silence reminisced throughout the van, my mind began to wonder what we were about to experience. 
   Hours away from the city of La Romana lied villages covered head to toe in poverty. Away from society, the civilians lived a life of slavery, drug addiction, and witchcraft. They were hated by dominicans and rejected by the culture. They were nothing but ants to the government. But here we were, headed their way.There is something about those out casted by society that fuels my heart to love. Maybe because it did the same to Jesus. He had a view for the least of these that was parallel to that of the government and pharisees. They scolded him when he helped prostitutes and lepers and encouraged him to stay within the boundaries of the good hearted and clean. But love does not have boundaries when it comes to Jesus. It is universal and should be expressed as such within the hearts of anyone who claims to announce themselves as followers. 
   As we approached a village called, "Batay Whatever", civilians welcomed us one by one. We met women who were trapped in prostitution and joined hands with a pastor as she joyfully praised God for her newborn granddaughter. As all of this was going on, I walked outside and began looking for children to begin relationship with. I started to pull small toys out of my bag and out of no where they came. From out of houses and behind bushes they ran towards me and stretched out their hands. Once all was distributed, I sat and talked with some boys sitting against a tree. We began playing games and laughing at each other when one of us lost. In the back of the group of children surrounding me stood a boy covered in dirt and grime. He smelled and had scars all over. 
   As I went to shake his hand I realized that his hands looked infected and dirty. I at that moment could of backed away or proceeded. I had the choice to risk myself of sickness or show compassion. I closed my eyes, smiled, then not only shook his hand but picked him up and tickled him. As he laughed and screamed, the thoughts of his dirty hands and body went away. Behind all of the dirt still remained a boy who just needed someone to love him. His parents refuse to bath him due to the lack of compassion they have for him, so why should I do the same? Why should I turn away from a child just because everyone else already has? For did Christ do the same to me? NO! In fact he took my infected hand and embraced my filthy body and held me, and spun me, and tickled me. He looked past my dirt and cleansed the thing that mattered. My heart. So, If I reject this child and refuse to be a vessel of Christ and help him, what good is being done?
   On our way back, I looked at my filthy hands and saw the dirt fixated under my nails. My clothes had brown spots and my pants smelled, but my heart.... my heart had grown and flourished. It shined bright and beat beautifully. A smile stretched across my face as I realized the amount of love God has for me. He saw me in that crowd of children. He saw my filth and my grime and my dirt. And He chose me. He loved me. And he didn´t care how dirty He´d get. Nor did I with this child. For in return of the love Christ showed me, I loved this child.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Leaving Home for Home

As my last day here in the United States finally approaches, I am reminded of all who helped me get to the position I am at today. Two years ago I confronted my friends and family to ask for help with a one week mission trip I was going on with my school. Fast forward three more mission trips and they are still my backbone. I can't tell you how grateful I am for the continuous prayers, financial help, and donations given by you all. From flip flops to checks housing hundreds of dollars, I am at awe of the community that resides within my friends and family. The most important and heart warming gift I have been awarded is the unstoppable prayer that has been poured down upon me and Blake. Nothing is more fulfilling and more powerful than a simple prayer from children, teens, teachers, pastors, principals, and my own parents. From the bottom of my heart.... Thank you.

I am looking at my luggage in my room while listening to music and just overjoyed at the fact that in 48 hours, I will no longer be here, but instead in a country far from here with endless opportunities to bring God's prodigal sons and daughters home. I know I talk about it constantly, but I care so much about those children. If you are near me, they're all I talk about. If you were to see my room, I have pictures, notes, and jewelry given to me by them all hanging on my walls. I have been woken up to the importance of what spending just a little time with someone and saying few comforting words can do to somebody. It started with picking a child up. It started with playing relay races with them. It then led to walking with them, sitting with them, and talking with them. As our relationship grew, I met their families and I placed myself in their shoes as they welcomed me into their own little world. I witnessed tragedies that were occurring in their homes. I found the sad fact that some of them weren't even welcome in their own church. I saw the heaviness of conviction resting upon their shoulders and held them as they cried out for forgiveness. 

That's what just picking up a child can do. That's what stepping out of your comfort zone and putting someone above your own needs can do. That's what Jesus did for us. People still ask why I go. They still question my motives for going. They can't seem to understand why I am spending time with these children rather than pursuing a degree. My answer.. because Jesus gave all He had to make sure we had a chance at everlasting life with Him. I go because He came. I sacrifice because He sacrificed it all. I hold those sad, broken children because He never stopped holding me. He is my Daddy and those children don't know what a Daddy is. And they need to know! So, I go! And I will continue to go. To the ends of the earth if I have to. To the depths of the scariest of countries if I have to. Even if it costs me my life, I will never stop pursuing the prodigal sons and daughters of my generation for the sake of the kingdom. For God so loved the world, that He gave... so that we may give until we bleed. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Summer DR trip: Part 2

Hey everyone! I don't know who still reads these, but if you are, you're awesome and I love you! So, In case you didn't know, In just 3 weeks I will be boarding a plane back to the Dominican Republic and will be gone until September. However, unlike last year, I will be accompanied by my best friend this time around. His name is Blake Smith, and after rededicating his life to Christ in December, Christ layed both of us on the same path: Making disciples! God has so many things planned for our ministry this summer, and I can't wait to see what unfolds!

I want to so badly take every minute out of everyday and focus on the trip, but I don't think I have ever been so busy in my life. Last year, things were simpler, but this guy right here is graduating in just 5 days. And the school decided to have finals, graduation, and an end of the year play all in the same week, so my blog post today will be rather brief considering the fact that I have a Literature paper and economics flash cards laying right infront of me.

To take a step back and look at my life last year compared to now literally leaves me speechless. I am amazed at the work God has done on my heart followed by the extreme power and grace that has trailed behind it. I have fallen and cried and grown. My faith has been tested and temptation won sometimes, but my love for God and His love for me never changed. And look at me now. I am getting on a plane to go and serve His children. The children that don't know what a father is. The ones who don't have "love" in their dictionary. Of all people... He chose me to do this... I am so undeserving and so unworthy yet he sends me. God is way more loving and bigger than I could ever imagined.

Well, this is goodbye until I can get past finals and graduation. Peace out!