Even in Chaos by Sarah Bain

Location: Mafraq, Jordan

Cost of Trip: $4,100

Partner Organization: English Language Institute–China

Last year, I was blessed with the opportunity of going to Jordan for the first time. Surrounded by new people, new challenges, and a new culture, I learned and grew exponentially. My faith was challenged and shaped in ways I never expected. The season that followed my first trip was shaped by questions. What did being a Christian mean to me? What did it look like to truly love your neighbor? How could the God who loves this world so much allow so much suffering?

I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to go back to Jordan this summer, let alone co-lead the trip. But the Lord leads in mysterious ways, and I found myself back in the city that I fell in love with the year prior. Before leaving, I wondered what this experience would bring compared to last year. I learned quickly that if last year’s trip lead me to a lot of questions, this year’s trip lead me to a lot of answers.

Our location is only around ten miles from the Syrian border, making it a convenient relocation point for Syrian refugees. I, along with over twenty other participants, partnered with a local church to teach local Syrian children English. The program lasted for three weeks, with classes running from Monday to Thursday, 9 AM to 1 PM. I was able to teach kids from ages 7-10 basic English skills that could assist them as they try to find jobs in the future or relocate to a different country. It was an honor getting to work with the church as well as others in the community as I grew in understanding of the conflict and how God is working amongst it all.

With twenty to thirty kids in our class, each day was a challenge, but a fun one. Each day, when our class started at nine, I knew I would end the day exhausted but fulfilled. From out on the playground to craft time to playing word games, the amount of honor and joy I felt to be able to serve these kids was overwhelming. Of course, they didn’t always listen. They would act up, fight, disobey the rules, and create messes. Chaos was not a stranger in the classroom. But while some days were more difficult than others, I was constantly reminded of how much God loves each and every one of these kids, even among chaos. God loves them even when they fight, when they spill water all over the floor, when they scream so loud no one can hear anything. God loves them so intimately and deeply. He knows when my students smile and when they cry. He knows when they sit and when they rise. He knows their joyful victories and their painful losses. He knows and loves them all, and He knows and loves me. Even when my life is chaotic, He is there. Even when I act up, He is there. Jesus loves and likes me, just as He loves and likes our students. And it is in remembering this very important fact that my soul came to find peace regarding the questions that plagued my mind in the past. What does it mean to be a Christian? To me, it means to love as unconditionally as Christ loves me. What does it mean to truly love your neighbor? To me, it means to serve and advocate and listen, just as Christ does these things for me, just as He does for the kids my team served, and just as He calls me to do with others. Why is there suffering when there is a loving God? Well, that’s a more complex question, and while I admit I don’t have the answer, the one thing I do know is that suffering does not negate love. It does not negate joy. This trip reminded me that God is present in the suffering. He was there when our students fled Syria. He was there when they found their new homes, He was there when they signed up for our English camp, and He was there in our classrooms. And while I am no longer in Mafraq, I know that God is still there, still ministering to the kids we worked with, still present with the church we partnered with, and still present with me. Even in chaos, God still works, and I will always be thankful for that.

Hospitality by Susannah Campbell

Location: Bangalore and Andhra Pradesh India

 Cost:$3500

Partner Organizations: Visthar, BIRDS and Christiana Children’s Home

 When I got back from India, a respected friend asked me how exciting my trip was, on a scale of one to riding a paddle board in the eye of a hurricane. I told him it was like the feeling of riding a roller coaster for the first time. It’s scary and unknown, but strap in for something wild. 

Over the four week trip, we spent time at three organizations, learning not only by joining in some of their work, but by listening to their stories. I was so inspired by the hospitality and care we received at each location we went. At BIRDS, our host Paul allowed us to jump in and experience the things they are doing firsthand. We were shown the sustainable development projects helping the rural communities around BIRDS, and had the opportunity to teach at the school located there, helping the older students develop their English skills. At meals, he always made sure the food wasn’t to spicy, which made me feel very cared for. At the Children’s Home, Babu and Hepse gave us time to play and build relationships with the children there, who also accepted us with open arms. They were so eager to learn from us and it ended up teaching me more about what it means to be hospitable. 

 A heart of hospitality has made life better for the children at Children’s Home and it allowed our team to build relationships with them. I pray they know how blessed by Babu they are and how much they taught us, by being joyful and welcoming without pretenses. They are a great model and when I think of their smiles and laughter, I’m challenged to be more like them-open arms, open hearts. 

Restore a Town. Transform a Nation. by Alyssa Doucett

Cost per Student: $3000

Location: Bulembu, Swaziland

Partnership: Bulembu

As I moved into my dorm this year for the last time I saw the theme of my floor: traveling. Among the maps of the world, one sign had the German word fernweh painted onto it along with the definition, “longing for a far-off place”. This word perfectly describes the way Swaziland tugs on my heart from over eight thousand miles away. I first went to Swaziland last summer, where I instantly fell in love with the kind-hearted people and their culture. Returning home brought missing Swaziland every day and I knew that God wasn’t done with my time there. This past summer I was blessed to return to Swaziland as a co-leader. I was so excited to share this amazing place where so many people embody the love of Christ with some of my peers.

For eight years Gordon College has been working with Bulembu Ministries Swaziland and it’s sister program Challenge Ministries Swaziland. My co-leader and I were excited to continue this partnership this summer. Due to the high rate of HIV in Swaziland, orphans make up ten percent of the population, which is about 120,000 children in a country roughly the size of Connecticut. Bulembu Ministries was started eleven years ago by a family who was taking in as many orphans as they could. It is currently located in a restored mining town in northern Swaziland called Bulembu. The entire town is involved in some way in taking care of the four hundred children (from young babies to young adults) they now have. People in the town are either directly working with children, such as teachers and youth group leaders, or in the infrastructures Bulembu has built over the past ten years. Bulembu has a honey factory, a dairy, a bakery, and a water company. These enterprises not only provide the children with clean water, bread, and milk for the children but it also provides an income for the ministry to be able to expand and take care of more children.

For the three and a half weeks that we were there, we had multiple work projects. We helped build fences, repair walls, and our biggest one was building an obstacle course for the youth’s Royal Ranger program. These projects required a lot of manual labor, which some of our team wasn’t used to. Most of our team members were from the city and had never experienced this type of work. God was faithful through it and gave us the strength we needed every day. Gordon College has a reputation in Bulembu for being hard-working and we were able to uphold that reputation. When we weren’t doing work projects we got to join the children after school for their clubs and sports. It was so special to share in their joy of playing soccer or learning Swaziland’s traditional dance.

The most special thing to do with the kids was worship. Once a week the town holds a worship night for anyone in the town that wants to attend. While we were there we got to see so many of these children worshiping. These children have come from some of the hardest backgrounds imaginable and to see them worship is the most powerful thing I have seen in my life. One of the songs we sang at the last worship night had the lyrics, “freedom reigns in this place”.  Freedom truly does reign in Bulembu where these children are taught about the love of Jesus. We also traveled to the more rural parts in Swaziland to see how Challenge Ministries was working within communities. We traveled to the poorest part of Swaziland where many children in Bulembu had come from; a town called Lavumisa. Their only source of water was from a river that was completely dry. Challenge Ministries has planted a church and a school in the community, which is changing lives. In both Lavumisa and Bulembu, our team saw so much redemption. We got to see and be part of how God is working to redeem the lives of his people down in Swaziland.

The mission statement of Bulembu Ministries is “Restore a Town. Transform a Nation.” This ministry is working to raise up a generation of leaders to transform the nation of Swaziland. This ministry is working towards a long term goal of saving a nation that statistics have said will be extinct by the year 2050. Challenge Ministries Swaziland and Bulembu Ministries Swaziland are doing God’s work in this nation and to reverse this heart-breaking statistic and I am so thankful to have been part of it. Every day I miss Bulembu and Swaziland, and I know that God still holds this place in my future.

– Alyssa

 

Their Stories Will Change Your Life – by Joe Nadler

Cost per Student: $4100

Location: Mufraq, Jordan

Partnership: English Language Institute – China

I left the states for Jordan on July 6.  The team and I had a delightful three-flight trek to Amman where we joined up with the rest of the larger ELIC team.  These folks were from all around the states, and they were some wonderful, wonderful people.  Once we got to the church in our home city where we were staying, we got paired into teaching pairs and prepared for our first Monday of teaching!  My teaching partner Julia and I got placed in one of the older classrooms, which was filled about 3/4 with boys who were about 12 years old, and 1/4 of kind, sweet, timid Arab girls.  Almost all of our students were from Syria, besides a few Jordanians and two Iraqi students (most of them told me they were from Homs or Aleppo) and had come to Jordan seeking refuge from the civil war going on in their home country.  We taught english for three weeks—and the students actually learned a lot.  We got to build relationships with them that were hard to conclude at the end of our time.  Many of the students gave Julia and I tiny gifts at the end of our time there, and now I have tiny bracelets on my wrists. At the end of our time in the classroom, we got to give each student a certificate saying they had completed the program, and we encouraged them through a translator based on their strengths that we had the honor of seeing during our time there.
I’m finding it really hard to condense my time in Jordan into a narrative, and that would bore all of you, so let me tell you a few big things I learned during my time instead 🙂
 
1. I learned that trauma doesn’t always look like I expected it to look.  When I went to Jordan, I expected to see trauma a little more apparently on their faces.  But, to the average spectator, these kids were average kids.  They wanted to play soccer, loved drawing, talking to each other, telling jokes, you know, normal middle school-aged kid stuff!!  But, as I stayed with them for a slightly longer period of time, I got to see a little more of the subtle ways that trauma comes out.  I think back to when a few students were very clingy to me and wouldn’t stop hugging me during our breaks.  Or when one of those same students started crying and almost got violent with another student when he didn’t want to share his crayons.  I think I expected them to be sullen and visibly upset more often, but I learned that that’s not how trauma manifests all the time, and often you won’t get to see it unless you stick with the same kids for a while.
2. I learned that this is something that I could do in my life, whether domestically or abroad.  I loved living in another country so different from my own.  I loved interacting with people from the middle east.  I realized this when I went to one of my students’ homes for a visit after school one day.  While we were learning a little more about their story and telling his mother that we really loved having him in class, I realized how normal it all felt to me, reminiscent of my time in Germany last summer but even deeper: being in a random sitting room, tossing a ball with my student, sipping tea, and listening to conversations in Arabic between my translators and the parents, and having room to speak a bit when I could.  I loved it.  So much.  I’ve been realizing more and more this summer that hospitality is really core to me as a person, and I really loved being able to receive it as I learn how to give it.  (and, a little side note on middle eastern hospitality—there’s nothing like it.  They drop everything for a stranger, even if they have little to nothing to give. So good. So Kingdom.)
3. I learned a bit of God’s heart for refugees.  There were moments in my class when my co-teacher Julia was reading english storybooks (these were central to our curriculum—teaching them vocabulary words and sentence structures from the books) to the children and I got to sit back and watch all the kids.  Sometimes I got to sit next to a student and put my arm around him, or just pray for them while they were all (kind of) sitting still.  The immense love I sensed from the Father in those moments was indescribable.  He just loves them so much.  They’ve seen so much pain and had to leave so much, and His love has not been absent, even as we could claim it is.  God’s plan for care for my students is so much bigger than my 3 week trip to Jordan.  Even as their futures are up in the air because of their unknown resettlement status or the volatile situation in Syria, I am choosing to trust that God knows them so intimately and will be looking out for them.
I returned back to the states on July 29, so I’ve been home for a little over a week.  It’s been a tough transition—not so much in reverse culture shock, but in making myself reflect.  It’s been hard to delve into the many thoughts and experiences I had and people I met.  But, talking about it with friends really helps a lot. So, if you want to know more about my experiences, please reach out to me—I’d love to talk more, either in person or via a message.
Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing”. I’m trusting that God is going to take care of the students I met and refugees in general.  But while his plan of care for them is larger than any of us, he wants to use us—how cool is that!!?? I challenge you as sympathetic people to advocate for refugees in your home area and reach out to the ones living in your area.  Their stories will change your life.  They’ve changed mine.  

Love Deeply by Wislene Augustin

1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins”

Cost per Student: $1800

Location: Kingston, Jamaica

Partnership: Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf (CCCD)

This past May I was given the opportunity to go to Jamaica and serve at the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf in Kingston for a second time as a leader. Going to Jamaica for a second time I was able to learn more sign language and establish deeper relationships with the kids that I met the previous year. I learned their stories, spent time with them and they poured out what they had to teach us as a group.

Their motto “Deaf ears but hearing hearts” rings loudly because they do not see their deafness as a disability as they can communicate with their hands. It is all a matter of people willing to communicate with them as well. These students were so willing and patient with us when we were learning sign language. They would sit there with us teaching and reteaching us when necessary, never complaining when it took us a little longer to get it. They were just happy that there were people willing to learn their language and communicate with them. It was beautiful to see the team interact with the students on a leadership level and see them get out of their comfort zones. They challenged themselves to be able to invest in these students lives.

While we were there we were able to participate in what the deaf community was building which was DeafCan! Coffee. DeafCan! Is a coffee business started with the students at the Kingston campus and has recently started booming. The work these students are doing with this business is all produced by them. They brew their own coffee and train the other students in the coffee shop. Through this, the boys are gaining work experience so when they do graduate they have a great form of experience.Their main message is that deaf people can do the same tasks everyone else can and that their inability to hear is not a barrier. Going a second time I was able to see how big the company had grown in just a year!

This summer was a bit different in the sense that I knew what I was walking into and had my usual expectations. However God had something else to teach me this time around. During one of my devotion times on the trip God brought me to 1 Peter 4:8 which I have stated at the top. I wanted my time there to be worth it and wanted God to teach me something new. God gave me three tasks in that time to not only reflect on in Jamaica but for the rest of my life: Love God, Love People, & Love Creation. Simple right? Actually it was a difficult task that God was asking me to do. Let’s start with Loving God. I thought I knew how to love God well but clearly I did not know towhat extent. In Jamaica my faith was tested and challenged by the house mothers who were grounded in their faith. The way that they constantly served the children and the staff came from a place deep within. House mothers such as Mrs. Williams and Ms. Yvette, welcomed us with open arms and challenged us to tap into God’s presence at all times, even when the going gets tough. They showed me how to love God well and seek Him in times where I do not hear His voice clearly.

Now that I learned how to love God, how was I going to love people well? God slowly was softening my heart and giving me compassion for the people in the Jamaica as well as my teammates. Every single person has different personalities, quirks and all the above. It was difficult at first but through our experiences I was able to love the students well by being present at all times, by playing games with them, by listening to their stories and in so many other ways. There was a girl named Antoinette and the way I was able to love her well was by simply sitting down and talking to her about her life. I learned about who she was, what she cared about and what she wanted to do after school. I was able to love the staff well by being present, by doing what they asked us to do, by listening to their stories and asking questions, and by cooking meals with them. Staff at CCCD at times feel as if they are pushed to the side since teams usually play with the kids, however for my team we made it a goal to get to know the staff as much as we get to know the kids as well. The staff needed the same support and encouragement because they are doing the groundwork and setting the foundation for these kids.

Lastly was learning how to love creation. God was really testing me with this one because I am not really a big nature person, I like taking nice walks and enjoying the scenery however I am not big into hiking and offensive weather in that case. Jamaica was very hot at times so learning how to appreciate that as well as the ghastly mosquitoes that God so eloquently created was difficult. During our time in Jamaica we went on a hike but this was no ordinary hike that I was used to. It was physically challenging and it pushed me to get to the end but once I got there it was all worth it. God’s creation is so beautiful and I realized that I needed to take a step back and enjoy it because God created it to be enjoyed. My time in Jamaica with CCCD was a blessing in itself. God had a specific plan for me this time around and I heard him loud and clear on what he wanted to teach my team and I. I truly cherish the time spent at CCCD and pray that God continues to cultivate the drive to know how to love Him, love people and love His creation well.

.

Vision by Elena Meyer

Location: Bangalore & Andhra Pradesh, India

Cost of trip: $3500

Partner organization: Visthar, BIRDS, Children’s Home

My second trip to India has brought some of the most difficult, confusing, and joyous times of my life. Through a challenging season of preparation and planning for a trip in 2016 that eventually fell through, I was disappointed and confused that God didn’t seem to honor my efforts to lead a trip to serve him. In that year, I spoke to the organizations Gordon had partnered with for 10 years, one of which reported they had one of their most difficult years due to the absence of the Gordon team. But God’s timing proved perfect, just as he has promised. The team that was brought together in 2017 was full of life, excited to learn, and ready to take part in partnership.

Throughout our four weeks in India, we continued relationships with three partner organizations, seeing and stepping into the work that they do every day. One of the most inspiring things from the trip was seeing the vision of these organizations being carried out by hard working servants of the Lord. Paul, the founder of BIRDS, allowed us to be part of teaching in the school that he started many years ago. He also brought us around to several locations in which BIRDS has a part in supporting, such as farmer suicide prevention, sanitary napkin, and healthy grain projects. Another organization, the Christiana Children’s Homes, asked us to be a part of their teaching efforts inside as well as outside the classroom. Through time spent with the children, we were able to help build English skills as well as confidence to further them in their education and future life opportunities. This was our most significant role in helping carry out the vision of Babu and Hepseba, the founders of the children’s homes.

As I continue processing such a significant trip, I think about all of the children and people we were able to build relationships with. Not only do I think of their smiles, but I think of the suffering and struggles that they endure every day. My prayer is that the time that our team was able to spend with them will leave a lasting presence of encouragement and partnership with those who have been rejected, mistreated, and forgotten by the world. I pray also that they would know with confidence their place in God’s kingdom, and that the relationship we have with them goes beyond our humanity, showing what it means to truly be part of the fellowship that God intends for his children.

Elena

It is Well. By Emma Vargas

Location: Bulembu, Swaziland

Cost of trip: $3000

Partner organization: Challenge Ministries Swaziland

Homecoming.

I was going home.

After spending a month studying in Israel my heart and mind were truly ready to enter a holy place. I was to make my way back to Bulembu Swaziland after being gone for one whole year, this time though, I’d be leading a group of other students there. Excitement rushed over my body as I waited in desperate anticipation, eager to reunite with those I had met the year prior. Soon I’d get to see all those familiar faces. Faces that radiated with love from the Father. Back to Bulembu, truly a slice of heaven on Earth.

Bulembu is not the traditional orphanage. It is the place where the label “orphan” is REDEEMED. This small little town tucked away in the mountains of Swaziland is committed to raising Christian leaders in a land that has been devastated by suffering and despair. Swaziland holds the record for the highest rate of HIV which had almost wiped out an entire generation, leaving behind an enormous number of orphans. Several organizations committed themselves to taking these children in one being Challenge Ministries, who purchased the town of Bulembu with the sole purpose of raising these children. Today Bulembu is home to 450 beautiful kiddos all eager and hungry for the Father that never abandoned them.

God moves in MIGHTY ways and my team and I saw it first hand during our time in Swaziland. Our task for our trip was to help Bulembu build an obstacle course for the children. In order to even build the obstacle courses we had to clear huge amounts of land with grass and vegetation taller than our own bodies. And so with a slasher in hand my team got to work whacking away at branches, weeding out shrubs, and yes sometimes even plucking flowers. There, in the mundane, we found God.

I was so astonished at my teams’ resilience. Never taking breaks and never complaining. We all just kind of did. It was bigger than us. We were working for the Kingdom and what a beautiful honor that was. We were overjoyed to have extra hands join us in our slashing as some of the boys in the community volunteered their time. We really felt part of Bulembu as we grew closer to the boys pickaxesing with us day in and day out. In our minds this was Swaziland, but unfortunately that just wasn’t accurate. We had to see more.

And so we were also blessed with the opportunity to experience life outside Bulembu, because the sad reality was that not every child in Swaziland was as lucky as those in Bulembu. And so we headed out to Lavumisa, one of the most impoverished towns in Swaziland. We were driven there by a man named Bongani but let me assure you he didn’t just drive us there. He invested in us. Bongani shared his testimony of how he was a street kid but committed himself to Christ. Today he pours back into women who have been taken advantage of and abused. We all fell in love with him and were so lucky to have him. Bongani and the pastor of Lavumisa led us through the town as we walked across a completely dry river to deliver water to those in the community that had been hit the hardest. It was hard, but necessary. We saw the conditions of their homes, but we also saw the condition of their hearts and and let me tell you they were not defeated. Their foundation was built on complete trust in their heavenly Father. And He provided. All though there was no grass or water to feed their cattle for months, they were still fat and healthy. Walking miracles. That whole place was a miracle. Soon though it was time to return to Bulembu to finish the work we had started and we all felt like we were returning home.

Bulembu changed me.  I was welcomed into a beautiful family. They invited me to eat with them. They taught me traditional Swazi dances. They welcomed me to worship with them. There was so much strength and assurance in Christ as these children that had been through unthinkable suffering resounded praises so so high!  And I knew standing there that in my suffering my spirit would not, could not, waver.

It is well.

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;

you consider their grief and take it in hand.

The victims commit themselves to you;

you are the helper of the fatherless. Psalm 10:14

Mold Me, Shape Me, Transform Me by Erica Beavers

Location: Blanchard, Haiti

Cost of Trip: $1,900

Partner Organization: Partners in Development (PID)

This past winter break, I was given the amazing opportunity to go back to Haiti for the third time. Nothing could have prepared me for my first time co-leading the team, but I would not trade that experience for anything in the world. Our team works with Partners in Development, also known as PID, which is a phenomenal organization that was founded in 1990 to pour into the lives of those in impoverished conditions and provide sustainable resources for overall life improvement. Several programs that PID run include a child sponsorship, small business loans, medical, and housing.  A large portion of the trip consists of building and doing construction work for the housing program. During our trip, we worked on a house in Canaan. At the worksite, passed cinderblocks, caught flying buckets of cement, shoveled limestone into wheelbarrows, smoothed wet cement onto the walls, and sifted pebbles into fine sand with a multiple step process. Every task was as challenging as the next and pushed each of us mentally and physically. What made this trip so memorable was being in Haiti on the 7th anniversary of the earthquake. Past trips have not had such a rare opportunity before and it was both beautiful and heartbreaking to experience the solemn atmosphere that covered the nation while voices echoed throughout churches and filled the air with song.

 

The best way that I have described this trip is that a lot of things did not go as planned, but by the grace of God, it could have been a lot worse. An example of this is our first day. Our ride to Boston Logan was an hour late, our plane to Miami arrived early thus resulting in a forty-five-minute standstill on the runway, and another two hour wait from Miami to Haiti because two passengers wanted to get off of the plane and their luggage had to be searched for and collected beforehand. My co-leader, Farnel, and I were beyond thankful and so proud of our team for how they pulled through, and kept their spirits up our first day of travel like true champs. Several other bumps in the road came along as the week progressed, but with each challenge, the Lord was with us. An example of this is that He provided clouds to shield us from the hot sun of Canaan, a place that rarely has cloud coverage or strong wind. What were once dry, barren fields three years ago are now lush, green crops that stretch out into the mountains. This is a sign of hope. Renewal.

 

Our team was very diverse in the fact that everyone had a different level of exposure to other cultures and environments. Each member went through a time of struggle, learning, growth including myself. Something that struck me throughout our time there was an idea- a question. On our last day at the work site, it was very hard to say goodbye to people who we spent time sifting rocks, smoothing walls, and tossing cement-filled buckets with. It was hard to play newly learned hand games with the children for the last time. After holding hands together in a circle, praying, and singing the Doxology, we said a tearful goodbye and left. Looking out to the fields of Canaan, I asked myself, “who am I to say that God doesn’t know what He’s doing? The Lord has a plan and who am I to question that?” He cries with us and fights for us and although my impatient spirit yearns for a complete turnaround for the nation of Haiti, I must wait on Him. I must wait for that moment, hope for the future, and pray that the Lord continues to bless the country with growth and prosperity. Let us not forget that all things happen in His time.

 

There is not much that I look forward to or map out for the future, but going back to Haiti is one of them. Haiti stole my heart in January of 2015 and seeing so many people remember the names and faces of the Gordon team is just one factor that calls me go back. Short term mission work not something that should deter someone from going to serve. The last three trips to Haiti that I have been a part of have all been different, challenging, eye-opening, impeccable, and motivational and I am so underserving of such a privilege. The last three sentences of my debriefing journal after the trip say, “wow. Jesus, mold me. I don’t want to be stagnant.” As I keep wrestling with hard questions, growing in my faith, and leaning to God, His provision is always there. Throughout my life, Philippians 4:19 has been my life verse as it says, “but my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” and He surely provides. So as I tear up while writing this, I can’t help but remember how even the smallest of blessings were clear evidence of God’s presence. No words can describe how grateful I am for the chance to be a piece of God’s plan for PID and the nation of Haiti.

 

Reconciling Relationships with the Impoverished by Mike Spegal

Location: New York City

Cost of trip: $605

Partner Organization: New York City Relief

Since coming back from the World Race,  I’ve had a desire to lead a mission trip and thought that I would eventually squad lead a World Race trip after college. I also knew that I wanted to lead a trip for Gordon before I left, but other priorities have put that off until now. When I decided to lead the New York City mission trip,  I came in with a desire to help my peers have a life changing experience. I also wanted to learn about how New York City Relief operates and how that information could help with my future dreams.

I’ve had a desire to work with the homeless community since I was a teenager. Feeling a desire to help alleviate the pain and hardship of living below the poverty line has given me a few different ideas over the years. Yet, over the past few years, and developing during my time on the Race, my dreams have become something greater than I think are possible – at least for myself to accomplish. There are many connections and processes that need to be overcome through many years before I can really see this dream become a reality. I have much learning to do and many policies and theories to understand. Though I still don’t know what my role is supposed to be in bringing the kingdom of God to the lost, I know that God has given me a vision of what can be and I must work toward making that goal a reality.

NYCR has a great vision for their ministry. It’s the details that help to shape their ministry and focus. They put a great emphasis on identity of the people that they serve. The homeless and poverty stricken are not referred to as such, but are referred to as friends. These people are just that – people. Describing someone with a qualifier like “homeless” or “poor” creates an identifier and sets them apart from the rest of society. A homeless person should not be viewed and identified as homeless, but as a person who happens to be homeless – focusing on the person and not their situation. These friends need to be viewed as a vital part of society and reconciled into the family of God.

Their main focus is the mission of fixing people’s broken relationships. They believe that it is a person’s relationship between God and himself that needs to be reconciled before the rest of their life can be shaped back into order. Yet, there are many other relationships that need to reconciled and formed to help encourage a connection with God. Therefore, they focus on other aspects of the person’s life. As their name suggests, the most visible work that they do is relief. By providing soup, bread, and drink,  they are helping to relieve hunger. Providing socks and hygiene kits helps to bring a level of comfort that is lost due to poverty. Prayer is always offered and helps to relieve a lack of spiritual connection. Conversation with our new friends helps to relieve those lost and broken relationships that are most hurtful of all.

A secondary and very important focus of NYCR is the rehabilitation and development of our friends on the street. The outreach leaders are constantly trying to get friends connected to the help they need to get out of the situation they are in. With many connections to private shelters, drug rehabilitation centers and programs, and other organizations,  NYCR leaders can provide a level of help that goes beyond just the relief of a person’s circumstances. They can help a person overcome addiction, make connections with jobs, and apply for housing.

Despite all the help they can provide,  there is a mentality that continues in the minds of those who are stricken by poverty that prevents them from taking advantage of all that is offered. There is no hope for the future and many people simply continue in their current situation with no plans of getting out. One of our outreach leaders, Lauren, noted that one our friends made the comment that they were grateful for all the work that we’re doing and hope they will see us again next year. Lauren’s grief was that this person had no plans for the future of making a better life for himself, but that they planned to be in the same situation, continuing to live a life that relied on the support and relief from others.

This is the heartbreaking reality of many people’s philosophy of life. They don’t think there is any hope and that their lives will remain the same. They are stuck in a mentality that prevents them from overcoming their circumstance and becoming more than what they are now. So my question is: How do we change the mentality of those who are stuck in poverty?

From homelessness, drug addiction, or just being stuck in poverty – there seems to be a commonality with the mentality of people who don’t desire to get out of their situation that makes life difficult and below what we consider normal. How do we change the desires of others to be better than they are now? Or should we? Is it right to force our ideals of “normal” living onto others and expect them to live a certain way? These are the questions I have and I hope to hear from you because it is through intelligent discussion that we become more and better than what we are now.

Be sure to follow me at Spegal.Wordpress.com to stay up to date and get more details about my experience in NYC and future ministry. 

The Power of Servant Leadership by Antonio Vargas

Location: San Pedro de Marcoris, DR

Cost of trip: $1,700

Partner Organization: Colegio Moriah and TIME Ministries

For the past five years, Christ has shown me the power of servant leadership – one that sustains, develops, and mostly loves. Whether it was in prayer for my community, leading worship in city streets, heading to Washington D.C. to wash feet, or simply in sharing the gospel at an abandoned city park, it’s alway been about those around me. This year, Christ brought me, and some amazing people from Gordon College, to San Pedro de Marcoris, Dominican Republic for Spring Break. During our time in Colegio Moriah (host site), we worked through relational reconciliation, working in the school, building a home, and seeing God’s hand at work!

Personally, this experience has been very defining for my walk with Christ. Annually, the two leaders from the D.R. team have the opportunity to preach for Colegio Moriah’s Sunday service, and this year it was Luan Cadahia’s and my turn. As I wrapped up my sermon, the lead Pastor Tanis went to our Advisor Esteban, asking if I was able to also preach during their Tuesday service, and he accepted the invitation. After explaining to me the situation, I wondered how I was going to spend my time helping build a home and prepare a sermon in 48 hours – I didn’t know what to do! I spoke Esteban, and it was decided that one half of my day would stay back at the host site to work on my sermon, while the rest of the team went back to the construction site. I felt a lot of guilt about this because I felt that the reason why I went to the Dominican Republic was to work with the people physically.

In the middle of a writer’s block, I find this view, and begin to tear up:

It wasn’t the beautiful scenery that brought me to tears, it wasn’t the dirt in my eyes, it was the realization of the power of the God that I serve. I’ve been pushing away the calling of ministry in my life for years, and it took God to pick me up out of my country and drop me in another to realize that He is all-present and no matter how much I push, His will, will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. 

This mission trip means the world to me, and I couldn’t feel more humbled by God using me as His hands and feet. 

Antonio