Reportback has been great so far. Although I am ready to go back to my family, I realize that this week is very important. I have had time to relax and have quiet times with God. I have also had time to plan out what I am going to do next in life. The staff have planned out sessions for us that have been very helpful to make us aware of what it will be like when we get home and how to deal with that.
This has also been a time to meet new people and reunite with our school. It was so fun the first few days, sleeping on the dock, having pool parties, and getting ready for graduation with a nail painting party. It´s been great to be able to the April school and share some wisdom that we received during our DTS, also to hear the amazing things God is doing in their lives.
As I was going to bed the other night God spoke this little sentence to me. These 5 words opened up my eyes. I was convinced that God would change his ways for me, that I can get my way and just pick and choose how I want my life to look. I caught myself thinking that I know what is best. I want to decide things for myself; I want to be independent yet I still say I want God in my life. I want God but I don’t always want to make the sacrifice that follows the choice. I want the fairytale story without any bumps I want a happy ending.
God is steadfast. He has given us promises that will never change, he is the same on our good days and our bad days, his love never changes for us, he is our cornerstone on whom we build. God never changes.
This is a very comforting fact about God because it gives us the ability to trust in him, we can count on him. When he promises to give us hope and a future, he does. When he tells us he loves us, he does and nothing we do or don’t do changes that. He is unchangeable! He is the same today as he was decades ago. God does not change.
Therefore we are the ones who must change. As we grow in our relationship with Christ we change, not because we get brainwashed or forced to. The reason we seek God is because we want to be like him. I know that God is way better than me yet I still find myself wanting to decide. As I seek God and my desire is to follow him, his desires become my desires mine does not become His. As we grow in our relationship to Him we will not be able to avoid change, change is the very reason we seek God.
As I recognize these things to be true I am filled with humility and my fear of change dwindles. The fact that I am changing is evidence that I have relationship with Christ and I am becoming more like him. How cool is that! Our God is so big, we will never understand him fully and we will never win a battle against him. So stop fighting and embrace the change, it might feel uncomfortable but it is a good thing.
Last Thursday evening we arrived back onto the shores of YWAM Belize in a water taxi full of shouts of excitement and tears of joy. We were home! Back to a fuller family, humidity, and mosquitoes. These past few days have consisted of debriefing, team bonding, combating fears with truths, and preparations for the transitions we’re going to be facing going back home. For a while I thought, “Well, this is just us going back to reality.”
I now realize how wrong I was. God + Life = Reality. God is just as present in California as He is right here, in YWAM. But throughout this time there has been healing in my life that has enabled me to see that.
I used to think believing in God meant you read your bible, you go to church, you quote Christian Living Books, you go to bible studies, etc. Before my DTS I honestly thought I had it all together because I knew how to do those things…yet those actions now feel like they were hollow and missing the most important thing that gives those actions Life. I needed a reality check, I needed to be stripped of my pride, I needed to stop choosing to wear a crown of shame. I needed real relationship with Jesus. Throughout the Outreach Phase of DTS I asked God if He would teach me how to have humility. I’m laughing right now because it’s rare that we realize how powerful a prayer can be when it comes to saying something so nonchalantly. Turns out he answered that prayer with a whopping YES. It was difficult. Being in close quarters definitely puts a strain on relationships especially when your in a country that already pushes you out of your comfort zone. But He was faithful, He always is. Difficult times always make way for an attitude of gratitude for the times that don’t seem so. With the 3 months of Lecture Phase, we were learning the truths of REAL relationship with Jesus. Then came the Outreach Phase, where the truths were put into action through Love. It was hard and amazing all at the same time. Honestly, my words can’t do justice to the things I witnessed God do.
It’s coming to that time where I’m going to have to have an answer to, “How was Outreach/DTS?!” I think I’m okay with allowing every response to be as lengthy or as short as God prompts. Never the less, God’s kingdom was extended in Zambia through many of the mercy ministries we did in Lusaka and in the bush. Whether it was door-to-door evangelism, building a school roof, teaching in a public school, building relationships in orphanages, holding a public ministry event in town, or even starting a dance party in the middle of a grocery store parking lot. God was the Love that put Life into every one of those actions.
The first week of our DTS we were told to write a note to ourselves about what we were looking forward to for this season, and then after we’d get back from outreach we’d open them. Well…when I revisited my letter, I couldn’t help but start to weep silently to myself.
One of the first things I noticed was how much God had fulfilled in my life in these past 5 months. The second thing was that I was totally speaking ‘Christianese’. Especially with that quote: “Never hesitate to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
I know that before I came here I didn’t want to sacrifice anything that would make me uncomfortable. But after applying and getting accepted, I knew that if I wanted the real deal I needed to let go and let God take hold of my life. One of those things I needed to give up was my home. I had been living on my own and had been working at a job I really enjoyed before coming here. So when I applied and got accepted, by the second week of DTS, I was already asking people if they had a room I could rent out. Well as time went on, I felt convicted that I was talking more about trying to live somewhere rather than praying and asking God if he would give me a place to live. I knew this was something that no matter how hard I planned, if it wasn’t His will for me, it wouldn’t happen. Plus every other time I’ve tried to make things happen, I end up with a huge tangled-spaghetti-kinda mess.
So 5 days before we leave for Outreach, I’m messaging back and forth with a ministry called The Doves Foundation based in Bogota, Colombia trying to see if I could be apart of their ministry. During Lecture Phase, God revealed to me how big my heart is for missions and evangelism. I remember writing my dream on the Dream Board, ‘Speak to EVERY nation’, and from there on out I was going to do whatever I could to make that happen. So when Lina wrote back to me that they were going to do ministry in the neighboring countries I was in shock because right after she told me that she not only said she’d allow me to be apart of the missions trip, she offered me a place to live!!! I’M GOING TO LIVE IN COLOMBIA PEOPLE! GOD GAVE ME A HOME IN COLOMBIA!!!! I wish I could express the joy I felt when I ran out of the library screaming for joy running around like a crazy woman after I saw her message. But God gave me a home!
March 26, that’s the day that we got to Cuba, now nearly 2 months later I sit on a night bus heading from Cancun, Mexico to Belize City.
It’s quiet and dark on the bus, we have the whole thing almost exclusively to ourselves and I find my mind wandering, pouring over the last 2 months. In many ways the time seems to have flown by, gone in the blink of an eye. I can remember clearly stepping out of the airport in Havana, it seemed much hotter then Belize, maybe only because of all the concrete and asphalt. I remember following Hatniel (our contact) to a bus, our team was amazed by Cuba, we couldn’t help but comment on all the vehicles, cars older then our parents (sorry guys). This was only the beginning of our journey. We would see much of Cuba and meet many incredible people who we will not soon forget. Now it all seems like some sort of a dream as I sit here in the dark recollecting. While I can do my best to describe the emotions and the experiences, surely my words will fail to do justice to the true experience, none the less I will try.
I have never done an outreach before, but I will take a stab in the dark and say that this may have been a struggle to lead and the way in which Josh and Donny led the team was outstanding. For those of you who have never been to Cuba you may not understand, but Cuban culture is unlike anything I have experienced. I have been to other warm, Caribbean cultures where time is of little value, but Cuba takes it to the next level. Time is a means of only a very very rough estimate; for example you may be told a car will pick you up at 9:00am, but at 1:00pm you get a call saying the car had problems, but don’t worry another one is on the way, the car finally shows up at 4:00pm. While this may not have been an everyday occurrence, it is a good idea of transportation and timelines in Cuba. Now this casts a negative light on the culture and I most certainly mean to do no such thing. The lack of concern for time may be frustrating for someone from a western culture but I assure you there was much about the culture that our team loved.
Food. The food of Cuba was beyond expectation, we could be assured our daily intake of rice and beans but we would also be treated to many delicacies and fantastic desserts. It actually seemed that every new location we went to would have its own dessert speciality, a unique treat to get from street vendors. One place might be churros, the next night have guayba filled pastries, one thing you could count on was delicious Cuban coffee for one peso or the equivalent of 4 US cents. Far beyond the great food was the warmth of the people, no matter where we went we warmly welcomed. We would do house visits to pray for and encourage members of the church, they would often feed us and give us coffee or offer to slaughter a pig… They have a huge heart and reflect the love of Christ so well in this. In fact on one occasion I asked a vendor if she sold coffee, I was told no, but was then given a glass of coffee for free that presumably has been for her personally.
We got to travel all the way for Havana down to Santiago and then full circle back. Along the way we met so many cool people. For example there was our over qualified translator, Pablo, he could rap, play guitar, bongos, sing, do amazing wood carvings and even masonry work. Or there was Joani, he was 41, had been in wheel chair for 20 years. People told him he would be a burden to society, never amount to anything, now he is a carpenter that loves Jesus and he overflows with joy. Cuba was full of warm amazing people, people who loved so so well, like God calls us to. The passion they have for the church, for growing the body of Christ, for knowing the people was so encouraging. They truly are a beautiful people. We went to minister to them, to teach them, yet I know that we walked away with more than we left.
Cuba and all it’s hectic scheduling and random transportation had struggles and it had victories. We took 12 people, most having only been acquainted for 3 months and we went to Cuba. In some ways this trip was extremely difficult. We left with 12 people, and only returned with 8. It’s a hard thing to lose team members regardless the circumstances. I can however say with certainty that even though we may not understand it, God had his hand in it weaving it together for his glory. I won’t lie and say it was easy, it wasn’t, but we pushed through it as a team, leaned into God and grew closer because of it.
Outreach forces you out of your comfort zone no matter who you are, it forces you to ride in cramped cars designed for far less then your number, it forces you to sleep on a cold or hot floor. You get closer with your team members than you thought possible and perhaps then you would have liked. The inevitability of outreach is that you see people at their worst and thankfully also at their best. Like it or not you come out as a family, mess with one of us and you mess with all of us. We leave Cuba a unit, bringing light and freedom wherever we go, that is our mandate and right as heirs of the King.
Do I have regrets from this outreach? Maybe yes. There are situations I could have handled better, there are times I could have stepped up more. Would I change it if I could? Absolutely not. Our team killed it. We were refined by our struggles, we come out better and stronger on the other side. A team of warriors. Again I snap back to the present and I know there is no one on this bus that I would trade away, this team was hand picked and hand assembled for this outreach and it’s awesome. I am excited for what the future holds, I am excited for what’s next for all of us, but surely I will miss team Cuba. Spending 5 months with someone, being with them almost every waking minute, and sometimes every sleeping minute, creates an incredibly strong and unique bond.
I am beyond blessed to have been part of this team and forever changed because of it.