The Mission Trip “Bonus”

When I returned from two weeks in Niger with Jesus Film Ministries in 2009, my parents picked me up at the Indianapolis airport. My car was at their house, and I remember driving home in the middle of the night. I cried. I cried a lot. The people I had seen, the lives God changed… it was too much to comprehend as I drove through a deserted downtown Fort Wayne back to my apartment.

We also got back late two years later when I went to Nicaragua with my church and Food for the Hungry. I got in my car at the church, started to drive home with some Chris Tomlin in my CD player and once again, I cried. I couldn’t get the faces of those kids out of my head. I couldn’t forget the sound of my sponsor child saying, “Adios!” when we parted ways in his village.

Mission trips are about people, not places. They are about God, not us. I say that because you will also notice that mission trips typically involve a couple days of sightseeing. I don’t want my supporters to think their money went to a “vacation.” Tomorrow I leave for Zambia, and yes, we will spend a few days sightseeing. We’ll go to Victoria Falls, and on a day safari. We’re also lucky enough to have long layovers in London on the way to Zambia, and on the way back. Any money spent there will come out of my pocket, not from support raised.

To me, sightseeing is an important part of mission trips. For one, it’s a way to see God’s natural beauty in a way we never have before. Two, it’s a way to see and experience the culture of the place we’re visiting.

Here are some pictures from some of the sightseeing I’ve done on mission trips:

We ate at some pretty awesome restaurants in Niger. One was a French place where I had the best veal marsala I've ever tasted!
We ate at some pretty awesome restaurants in Niger. One was a French place where I had the best veal marsala I’ve ever tasted!
One day in Niger we took boat rides to look for hippos. We saw some peak their heads out from under the water. It was amazing! The boats, however, were a little scary!
One day in Niger we took boat rides to look for hippos. We saw some peak their heads out from under the water. It was amazing! The boats, however, were a little scary!
This is our group preparing to go looking for giraffes in the Niger desert. That's not a van for a zoo or anything, that's the vehicle we used all week. We literally saw giraffes in their natural habitat.
This is our group preparing to go looking for giraffes in the Niger desert. That’s not a van for a zoo or anything, that’s the vehicle we used all week. We literally saw giraffes in their natural habitat.
So beautiful. We were so close, and they were free.
So beautiful. We were so close, and they were free.
We had an eight-hour layover in Paris on the way back from Niger. It was just long enough to run into town and see the Eiffel Tower.
We had an eight-hour layover in Paris on the way back from Niger. It was just long enough to run into town and see the Eiffel Tower.
In Nicaragua we spent our final day visiting the market and hanging out at the beach. Was such a beautiful place!
In Nicaragua we spent our final day visiting the market and hanging out at the beach. Was such a beautiful place!

God knows our hearts. He knows that we’re going on this mission trip to impact the lives of kids at Lifesong for Orphans. But don’t be surprised when I return and post pictures of Victoria Falls, a safari, and London. Know that when I get in my car to drive home after my trip, I’ll burst into tears because of the children, not because of a waterfall and some animals.

High-quality H2O? Today is World Water Day

bobbleI’ve always found it hard to truly enjoy water unless I was completely, 100% parched. That is, until I got a Bobble. Maybe it’s because it’s cute. It has a red top and filter. It’s design is fun and the bottle is squeezable. The name alone – Bobble- is fun to say. And, of course, the water is delicious.

Since I got my Bobble, my water intake has drastically increased. Nearly every hour I’m heading to the water fountain to fill my Bobble with filtered water, which will then pass through an additional filter before reaching my mouth and making me happy. That’s some seriously “high quality H2O” that Water Boy’s Bobby Boucher would be proud of.

Today is World Water Day. How often do we, in America, really even think about water? It’s such a huge part of our everyday lives that we don’t even notice it. Water isn’t only readily available, but clean, fresh, cold and hot water is readily available to almost everyone. Some people even spend a couple bucks on a bottle of water, one of which they picked out of dozens of choices.

Such is not the case in most places in the world, and I have seen this with my own two eyes. The photo at the top is a stream of water in the village of Terencio in Nicaragua. I took this photo when I was there on a mission trip in 2011. Can you even imagine bathing in that water, let alone drinking it? In some places, they have no choice. That is 480633_10151287503896573_1606328051_nthe only source of water available to them. That picture isn’t of a puddle, it’s of a stream. Often their only source of water.

The picture on the right is one I took in Niger, Africa, where most of their water supply comes from the Niger River, an obviously unclean river. With half the country being covered by the Sahara Desert, water isn’t easy to come by.

According to the World Water Day website, 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Six to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.

It breaks my heart when I think of Mayrober, my sponsor child in Nicaragua, having to live with filthy, disease-infested water, as well as all the beautiful children and adults I met while in Niger. I’m thankful that Food for the Hungry and other organizations are doing all they can to bring clean water to these communities.

Take a moment to visit the World Water Day website to learn more about “focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources”. Be thankful today as you drink a glass of water. Not everyone on this planet can get a cool glass of water whenever they please.

World Water Facts and Figures

 

Meeting Mayrober

His picture jumped out at me right away. His giant brown eyes couldn’t be ignored, and I knew he was the one for me. “Mayrober” was his name, and he would be my sponsor child from Nicaragua.

That was a few months before I went to Terrencio, Nicaragua on a church mission trip, and many of us felt led to 200745_10150105570821573_4972463_nsponsor a child from the village through Food for the Hungry. All I knew about Mayrober at the time was that he was five years old and liked to draw. My heart danced when I got my first drawing from Mayrober, and I could hardly wait to meet the little guy on our trip.

When the day came that I would meet Mayrober, I was a little nervous. OK, I was horrified. For four months he had been a piece of paper, a beautiful picture of a child who lived worlds away in poverty. What on earth would I say to him? I knew some Spanish, but not a lot. There would be a translator, but still, what do you say to a five-year-old living in poverty? He doesn’t have a favorite television show or cartoon character. He doesn’t follow a basketball team or play video games. But aside from all of that, I was excited beyond words. Others in our group had met their sponsor kids the day before and had awesome stories about how the kids jumped into their arms and thanked them for writing and sponsoring them. I was so excited for my “moment” with Mayrober!

207828_10150151374481573_3642730_nWhen we arrived at Mayrober’s home he was sitting in a plastic chair outside. Their home was like a hut- it had some sort of roof made of random materials and a couple of walls made of sticks. Mayrober’s mother stood behind and the translator introduced us all. Mayrober didn’t jump into my arms, he didn’t even smile.

Mayrober looked at me like a scared child looking at Santa. He just looked at me and didn’t even blink. It was like he was trying to figure out if he wanted to cry or run away.

“Hola Mayrober!” I said. “Como estas?”

He just looked at me.

I looked at the translator and he said something to Mayrober in Spanish. He still just sat there, but his mom tapped his shoulder as if to say, “Answer her!”

He whispered a tiny, “Bien,” meaning he was doing well.

That’s how the next ten minutes went. I would ask a question, he wouldn’t resond, his mom would make him, and he would have a one word answer. 215199_10150151374606573_4561465_n

I wanted a picture, but Mayrober was afraid. His mom had to pick him up and put him beside me. I went to put my arm around him and he leaned away from me. It was official: my sponsor child hated me.

When I got back to the bus where everyone on our mission team was waiting, they were so excited to hear about my experience. I told them how terrible it was, and they tried to make me feel better by saying he was younger than their sponsor kids, that he must just be really shy, etc. etc., but I was still heartbroken. On the drive away from the village and back to Managua, I got tears in my eyes wondering why things went so poorly.

A few days later was the final day of Vacation Bible School that we were leading in the village. I was assigned the job of helping the kids make paper bag puppets. We had crayons, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and all sorts of things the kids could glue on their paper bags. Seems like a simple craft, but these kids looked like they had never seen or done anything so fun and amazing. They were in heaven making their puppets.

With only about 20 minutes left, I saw Mayrober walk into the “classroom.” He saw me and kind of smiled but then noticed that all the seats were taken… except one at the front of the classroom, right beside me where I was hanging out glue sticks.

207426_10150151390566573_1671953_nThere were three or four of us helping in the room, and I’ll be honest, the moment Mayrober got there, all my attention was on him. I was glad I remembered the Spanish words for eyes, nose, mouth, face and hair so I could help Mayrober decorate his puppet. After each part of the face he would look at me like, “What next?”

It was my happiest moment of the trip, to be sitting next to him, helping him make his puppet and seeing him smile.

He hung around with me even after the puppet-making class. Everyone was to go over to the village church after activities, and Mayrober walked with me. I knew it was the perfect opportunity for a much better picture than the one we’d taken a few days earlier. Sure enough, Mayrober had no 216075_10150149305886573_3381294_nproblems giving a big smile as I put my arm around him for a picture. We were buddies now, and he knew there was nothing for him to be afraid of.

You always see these kids on television, the ones who have no home, barely any food and live in poverty. I can’t vouch for other organizations, but I can say that Food for the Hungry is legit. The money you pay for your sponsor child helps the entire community.

I also learned that the money is only half of the impact you can have on a sponsor child. They love hearing from their sponsors back in the US! I’ve gotten endless drawings from Mayrober, and I love writing to him. Food for the Hungry takes care of the translation both ways.

Meeting Mayrober was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I will continue to support him for as long as the program allows (until he is 18). I write to him, support him, and pray for him. While things didn’t start off the best between us, I am so happy that we eventually got to spend some time together and that he was genuinely happy to meet me.

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Is this really happening?

My head was spinning when I got home. I couldn’t tell if it was from an hour of zumba at the YMCA or if it was the email I had just received from my friend Janeth in Texas. Either way, I felt like I might pass out.

You see, on my way home from zumba, I got to thinking about how it had been awhile since I went on any sort of mission trip. Sure I’ve started volunteering at the Allen County Juvenile Center (ACJC), but my heart for international missions hasn’t been satisfied since I left Nicaragua in April 2011. I’ve always felt a calling to serve internationally, so I pretty much always have the desire to go.

I got to thinking about my trip to Niger, Africa in 2009 with Jesus Film Ministries. We shared the gospel with hundreds of people in Niger, in villages all across the desert. We also spread the word of God to students at the university in Niamey. For two weeks we were missionaries for Christ, completely immersed in a country that was more than 95% Muslim.

In 2011 I went with my church to Nicaragua where we dug latrines and did vacation Bible school with the children. The highlight of the trip was meeting Mayrober, my sponsor child through Food for the Hungry. It was so incredible to see that the money I spend each month really is making a difference in the community. I definitely was given a heart for Nicaragua after my trip.

Still, my desire to go back to Africa wasn’t gone. And on this drive home Tuesday night, I started to get discouraged. My church doesn’t take any trips to Africa. We go to Nicaragua, Haiti, Turkey, etc. etc., but not Africa. I wasn’t sure how God would work this out.

Enter Janeth. I checked my email when I got home, and there it was- an email from my friend in Texas with information on her upcoming trip to Zambia. She said I should go. Wait, no, God said I should go.

I have prayed a lot in the past few days, committed myself to this Zambia trip, contacted the travel agent, and have officially been posted on the website as a member of the Zambia 2013 team. Wow. This is really happening.

What will we do? We will spend most of our time at Lifesong for Orphans. It’s an organization that provides education, meals, and physical, emotional and spiritual support for orphans. We’ll also spend some time in the strawberry fields where many of the adults work for a living. Sightseeing-wise we will go to Victoria Falls and also go on a safari for a day.

I just can’t believe how God has worked this all out and done it so quickly. Sure it’s going to cost a lot, but I am confident that if God is sending me, He will provide a way for me to pay for it.

If you feel led to donate to my trip, please do. Pray about it, and if it’s something you can afford please contribute either on the website or by sending in a check (donations are tax deductible of course!). No amount is too small. If you can’t afford it, please keep me and the rest of the team in your prayers as we prepare for this journey.