Jeremiah 29:11-13

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Reluctant Missionary, Part 3

     Mark 10: 13-16
"13. And they kept bringing young children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples were reproving them for it. 14. But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and pained and said to them, Allow the children to come to Me--do not forbid or prevent or hinder them--for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive and accept and welcome the kingdom of God like a little child does positively shall not enter it at all.  16. And He took them (the children up one by one) in His arms and fervently invoked a blessing, placing His hands upon them."

     Shortly after we returned from New Orleans, our mission team began making plans to go back to Mexico.  It had been two years since I had felt the first stirrings in my heart for a mission trip south of the border, and this time I was determined to go.  Once again, I began listening to my Spanish CD's and was horrified to discover how much I had forgotten.  The language gradually started coming back to me, but I felt like a novice and did not feel confident about it at all.  I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the first of many stumbling blocks the enemy was setting up for me as I prayerfully began my preparation for Mexico.
     I managed to get my passport renewed and started saving up money for the trip.  There was to be about 10 of us going, adults and college students, and we would be driving a large van across country and to Piedras Negras, Mexico, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.  "You know you are going to be very car sick the whole time," whispered a little voice in my head.  Ok, so I would claim the shotgun position in the front seat and take my Bonine.  "You really don't have enough money to do this, you know," the voice whispered again.  Ok, Lord, I need several hundred dollars to finish paying for the trip.  It's summertime and I have no income.   Maybe I shouldn't be going. "Clean out your closet," commanded a different voice.  My closet?
     I obediently cleaned out my closet and while going through an old purse found $300 cash rolled up in a side pocket.  Guess what I owed for my balance for the trip?  You got it.  $300.
Ok, Lord, I'm going, I'm going!  No more arguments from me...
     About three weeks before the trip I was out of town with friends at St. George's Island.  I was sitting out one night looking at the water and the millions of stars overhead and my phone rang.  It was my friend, Randy, our mission team leader with bad news.  Almost everyone had dropped out of the trip.  All that was left was me, Randy, his son Aaron and a young college girl named Maggie.  Our pastor was concerned that it would not be appropriate for just the four of us to take off cross-country.  It might be viewed in the wrong light by people in our church and we needed to reconsider.  I was heart-broken.  Randy promised that he and his wife, Katherine, would work on some other options and he would let me know.  Stumbling block!
    We began to pray about the trip and asked God to give us direction.  Thankfully, we were able to take the money that had been set aside for the van and gas and put it toward plane tickets to San Antonio and a car rental.  That alleviated the problem of spending the night on the road and actually gave us two extra days to work in Mexico.  Thank you, Lord, for Your provision!
    As the date for our departure approached, I had lunch one day with an old friend whom I had not talked to in months.  I excitedly told her about my mission trip that was coming up in a couple of weeks.  I noticed the expression on her face as I began to describe where we were going and what we were going to do.  "You can't go there!" she exclaimed.  "Why not?" I asked.  "It's too dangerous," she told me, "You need to talk to my sister-in-law, Beth."
     Beth is the youngest daughter of my mentor, Judge Robert Walther, with whom I used to attend church.  Beth works for the DEA, and most recently, was the agent-in-charge of Arizona and an expert on the drug cartels in Mexico.  Apparently, we would be driving straight into a cartel stronghold in North central Mexico.  My friend, Lisa called Beth, as promised, and made me listen to her explanations about why we shouldn't be going at this point in time.   Beth had even called her counterparts in Houston and El Paso and they agreed that it would be too dangerous.  Stumbling block upon stumbling block!  Now what?
     I immediately called Randy and told him of my conversation with Beth.  We had already bought the plane tickets and needed to make a decision.  Frankly, I was scared to death, and felt very confused.  Why was God allowing all these difficulties to come against us?  Weren't we following His bidding?  Weren't we attempting to be His hands and feet?  I even felt a little angry and frustrated.  Ok, God, I'm being obedient and You are not making this easy!
     Once again, we turned to prayer and did a little reconnaissance of our own.  Randy checked with the mission team coordinator and one of the missionaries who actually lives there as well as his own daughter who frequently travels there.  It had been peaceful and the attention was currently on the flooding of the Rio Grande.  We had to exercise caution and not be careless as to time of day and place of travel.  In other words, use common sense and stick together.  Don't go wandering off by yourself at night or in areas known to be dangerous.  Same advice you would give to someone going to New York or downtown Atlanta.  So, once again it was a go!  This time, however, I felt an uneasiness I had not felt before.  But I was still determined to go.  I believed God wanted me there for a reason; I just didn't know yet what that reason was...

The Reluctant Missionary, Part 2

     Here is an excerpt from my testimony following my first mission trip with Calvary Baptist Church, written summer of 2009:

     "After Anna Claire's mission experience in Mexico last year, I had decided that I wanted to go with her this year.  I was so excited about working with the children in Piedras Negras and getting to finally use my Spanish minor I had earned at Berry many years ago.  I went and bought tapes to refresh my memory and eagerly started practicing my Spanish.  I had planned to teach dance there and share whatever gifts I had as a teacher.  There is an old Jewish saying that goes something like this:  "When Man plans, God laughs."  Little did I know what the Lord had in store for me right here in America.
     Honestly, Anna Claire and I were both rather ambivalent about going to New Orleans.  She was disappointed that none of her very close friends were going and I felt like I didn't know any one very well.  We talked about it and prayed about it, and somehow we both felt led to go despite the Mexico trip not working out.  The outcome of this, my first mission trip, exceeded every expectation I ever held.  It turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences in my life.
     Although I didn't get to share my gifts as a teacher, I found out that I could do quite a number of other things that I never thought of as something to share.  For example, I found I could direct a rag-tag cleaning crew of 5 and somehow through the sheetrock dust and the garbage and piles of lumber manage to laugh my head off at their antics.  I've never been hotter or filthier in my life, but I have also probably laughed more in one week than in the last 10 years.  I learned that the young people of Calvary Baptist Church have a heart for God and I am so proud to have served alongside of them.
     Serving as a volunteer in the food pantry was another unexpected blessing for me.  During the first two days, we primarily focused on the building of the church there in Chalmette, but volunteering in the food pantry allowed me to put real faces to the stories we've been hearing the last  four years since Katrina--people who would love to have jobs and homes and the security of knowing where their next meal was coming from.  On Thursday morning, Jim and I met a man outside our bunkhouse.  It was 7:20 a.m. and he was waiting by our kitchen door when we walked outside.  His name was Guy.  He was toothless, blind in one eye, and disabled from a heart condition.  He had gotten up very early and walked a mile and a half with his cart to wait for the food pantry to open at 10.  Once upon a time, he had a good job and a brand new trailer purchased just before Katrina hit.  His wife was a diabetic and crippled  and they were living off his disability check.  The food pantry was a life line for them. He gratefully accepted our offer of hot coffee and fruit and told us his story.  There was just such an attitude of resignation to his demeanor as he waited the two and a half hours to be first in line to receive his food and walk the mile and a half back to his little rented house.  It was humbling to say the least.  It made us all realize that there are plenty of opportunities for missions right here in our own country.
     God has blessed me with a renewed spirit for caring and giving to others which I learned from my team members.  The NOLA mission team is an awesome team.  I miss my bunkmates and the sharing of meals with everyone and even driving in circles all over the city, despite Tom-Tom's best intentions.  The leadership was amazing.  Thank you all so much for the opportunity to have shared this adventure with you.  I can't wait to see where we go next!"

The Reluctant Missionary, Part 1

     I was born with a rebellious spirit.  I have a tender, generous heart, but my spirit often digs its heels in with a stubbornness that would shame even the most hard-headed mule.  To God's eternal credit, He is quite patient with me in this regard and over the last few years has sought to reign in this spirit of mine with gentleness and encouragement.  For this, I praise Him and thank Him.  
     Several years ago, in the summer of 2008, I drove my daughter to our church to meet with the other youth to load up for a mission trip to Mexico.  It was a good size group of teens, college kids and adults, including  our pastor, Steve, his wife, Karen and two of their own children.  I felt pretty comfortable sending my daughter with them, although I had not bothered to research anything about that particular area of Mexico or the purpose of the mission.  It was a hot, summer's morning and we parents stood in a giant circle in the parking lot while Steve said a prayer for safe travels and protection and that the mission would be for God's glory.  Something in me began to stir and suddenly I was very disappointed and a little jealous that I wasn't going.  The feelings came out of nowhere and once felt, I could not shake them.  Then Steve turned to me and said, "Maybe you could go next time.  We could certainly use your help since you speak Spanish."  I was a little startled not only that my pastor knew I could speak a little Spanish, but that he seemed to have read my mind at that moment and knew I wanted to go...  I made up my mind on my way home after tearfully hugging my child good-bye, that I would definitely go the next year.  
     The months passed and I thought off and on that I needed to get my passport renewed, but never quite got around to it.  You see, I had already begun arguing with God that maybe this year wouldn't be the right time after all.  I was in a struggling relationship, financially strapped, stressed out, you name it.  I had the excuses lined up and laid out for God to see.  I had my arguments and my reasons ready.  Then news came that there had been an assassination of the police chief in Piedras Negras, Mexico just across the street from the hotel where they had stayed before.  Steve made the call that we should postpone our trip and do something stateside instead.  I remember breathing a sigh of relief.  I wasn't ready for Mexico and now I didn't have to go.  See, God, I told You.
     The decision was made to go to New Orleans instead and work with a church that had been destroyed by Katrina.  My daughter and I debated for several weeks about going.  None of her close friends were going this time and it just didn't seem as exotic and exciting as going to Mexico would have been.  This would be my first mission trip and I just didn't think I could get that fired up about going to New Orleans.  We prayed about it and finally decided to go.  It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.  I didn't realize it then, but God was preparing me for a place called Nava...

     Matthew 25: 35-40
"35. For I was hungry and you gave Me food.  I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you brought Me together with yourselves and welcomed and entertained and lodged me.  36. I was naked and you clothed Me.  I was sick and you visited Me with help and ministering care.  I was in prison and came to see Me.  37.  Then the just and upright will answer Him, Lord, when did we see You hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave You something to eat?  38. And when did we see You a stranger and welcomed and entertained You, or naked and clothed You?  39.  And when did we see You sick or in prison and came to visit you?  40.  And the King will reply to them, Truly I tell you, in so far as you did it for one of the least of these My brethren, you did it for Me."