To See and Feel Through God’s Eyes by Jonny Leathe

Jonathan Leathe

Cost of Trip: $3500

Location: Mafraq, Jordan

Partnership: ELIC

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I can’t believe it’s been a week since I’ve gotten back from Jordan. Seems like it was a long time ago and at the same time I feel like I just said goodbye to the many new friends I’ve made. I may be in America but my mind and heart are still in Mafraq. I can’t shake the feeling I still need to be there, maybe God has more planned for me in the future. I have been more than blessed and thankful for the opportunity to serve God and the people of Mafraq. My team and I joined alongside a team from China as well as another American team to partner with ELIC and a local church to show Syrian refugees the love of Christ through teaching English.

Now I have only taught English to kids on one other occasion. For the most part they had a decent grasp and could communicate. This was a totally different ball game. For some of the kids it was there first time in a class room setting. So behavior and rules were largely unknown and if you could imagine, think of 35 kids ages from 11-13, rowdy and restless cramped sometimes in small rooms. We were there to prepare them for formal schooling after the summer ended and teach them as much as we could in three weeks of school. We were split into two locations – one was at the local church teaching a lot of kids from the streets and kids from families close by. The second location was at the actual school run by this same church but farther away. The kids in this area would most likely be coming back for the regular school year starting in the fall. My time was split between these two locations but I ended up at the school location for a majority of it. My class was split with 20 boys and 15 girls. I had one co-teacher and one translator. A lot of my job in the beginning was classroom management and hopefully instilling a set of rules they could agree to and follow. They were loud, wouldn’t listen, and would fight with each other but, wow, were they smart kids. When you could get them to do an activity they would be very absorbent of the information given. These of course were some of my happiest times as a teacher. It was definitely a challenge and I thank God for pushing me outside of my comfort zone.

These kids came from all types of scenarios and reasons but the obvious one is they are all in that classroom with me because they needed to escape the war in Syria. Learning English would help them transition to other countries like the USA or Canada. I had kids in my classroom with scars, burn marks, and trauma. I’m not a Psychologist I have no degree and I certainly don’t know how to help them in that way. What I do know is that I can love them. I can be intentional in the classroom, go up and down on the slide until I faint, I can look them in the eye and tell them how much I care for them. It sounds easy on paper but it was one of the hardest things I have ever done maybe the hardest thing I have ever done. I wanted to see and feel through Gods eyes. So I prayed that prayer for several days in a row. I know I would not be able to handle what God feels but I do think God gave me a taste of what he sees. I saw the pure joy on these kids’ faces running around and playing with their friends. Care free and peaceful, just regular kids. I also saw the utter brokenness and pain that you’d see in kids eyes when they sit down and try to tell you about home and wishing they could go back. A brokenness that can’t really be explained. Honestly for a lot of that trip I was depressed, somedays I’d be sitting on the playground watching the kids and couldn’t help but cry. I was mourning for their losses and the pain and suffering they had to endure as just kids. The amount of death they know is too much for one lifetime. I couldn’t relate with them. I wanted to do more, I want to help but not only that I wanted to fix it. I knew that I would never be able to. God put me there in that classroom with those kids to teach them English with the love of Christ. I pray that those receiving refugees in their countries would receive them not as a statistic of fear but with the love Christ.

Let Me Learn From Where I Have Been by Nate D’Andre

Cost of trip: 2,600

Location: Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Partnership: Mission to Ukraine; Good Mansion Camp

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I have been to many camps in my life time and after each one brings its own high.  After a while, however, the memories and lessons from camp fade away, bringing back the old mundane life that existed before going to camp.  Good Mansion Camp, however, truly is a special place on Earth, different from other camps that are out there.  All of the volunteers who worked at the camp were from different denominations and walks of life.  But that did not matter; we all came together from different places in to accomplish one common goal: loving kids.

There are so many lessons that I learned and so many things to go through in my mind, so I would like to talk about two aspects that hit me in particular: joy and hope.

Joy

In Ukraine, people are expected to fit the general mold that society expects you to fill.  If you do not look or act in that mold, then you are put away from society so that people do not have to see that those kinds of people exist in the country.  This would include people with special needs.  Because they do not fit the cultural mold, they are laughed at, made fun of, and are told to stay in their homes because they look or act in a strange way.  To hear stories how some of the kids who were at camp who were made fun of on a daily basis was heartbreaking.  Yet, because their parents accepted Christ and did not give into the social pressure to keep their kids at home, it was amazing to hear that their neighborhoods are starting to see the kids with special needs as fellow human beings.  That is huge.  It is because of the contagious joy that the kids have that is slowly but surely changing the nation and their view on people with special needs.

The joy that the kids have kept reminding me of the simplicity of life.  Many times we make life so complicated and forget to find joy in the little things in life.  The kids found joy in being given food, or going down a slide, or even simply saying their name by recognizing their presence.  They are shunned by most of society, and when they are talked to directly, they are blown away that someone else is taking interest in them.

Hope

It seems like there are so many different social justice issues today that all demand our full attention.  When so many issues come our way, everything seems so hopeless in the world, because we get so caught up in what is happening in our local area.  Yet, we need to take ourselves outside our comfort bubbles and see the good that is going on in the world so that we can see how God is at work in the world.  In a world that is slowly dying, we need to find the ways to keep restoring the Earth and bring hope to those who do not have much hope.  Just by loving the kids at camp, we were fighting against the system of injustice that the kids feel every single day.

There was one day that we were having staff devotions before having breakfast with the kids, and we were singing the worship song, “You Are Beautiful”.  As we were singing one of the last verses, this line really hit home; “When we arrive at eternity’s shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Your bride will come together and we’ll sing, You’re beautiful”  I saw a picture of Heaven that day.  Everyone was running into the gates of Heaven: the volunteers, kids, parents, leaders, everyone.  We were all running as equals, as it should be.  Then, when we finally entered into Heaven, we were ALL recounting the stories of our lives and what we went through on Earth.  The key is that we were all equal!  No matter what we go through here on Earth we ALL have the same hope in Christ Jesus.  Whether you are a kid with autism or an adult with cerebral palsy or someone who is hurting, we all have the hope of eternity to look forward to.  This is why this camp was so different from others.  The kids gave me a hope that I have not experienced in a long time.  I am more alive now after coming home from Ukraine.  Here, I thought I could reach out to the kids, but really, it was the kids who were doing the reaching out.  God works in unexpected ways in unexpected places.  We just need to ask Him to give us the eyes to see how He is at work in the world.

Joyful by Jacob Jones

Cost of Trip: $4000

Location: Bulembu, Swaziland

Partnership: Bulembu

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Being able to go on a short term trip to Swaziland was a great opportunity for me. Even though it is true that there exist many negative views against short term trips, I think that the experience that my team and I had in Swaziland counter those views. We partnered with Bulemebu ministries to help and assist with any assignments that needed to be done.

In Swaziland, we spent the majority of our time in an orphanage in Bulembu. Our main objective was in the clinic; painting murals on the walls in the waiting room, cleaning vacant rooms, and repainting areas where the paint was chipping. We had a blast doing that. Through the confusion, laughs, and cries we were able to render a project that renewed life in the Bulembu clinic. After the murals were painted on the walls of the waiting room, that same room also became a room for functions catered to kids during the hours in which the clinic was closed.

Even though our main objective was to work in the clinic, we also was allotted space to spend time with the children there. We played many games, learned the national dance, learned new words in their native language, spoke about education and our career goals, dined, and even worshipped with them. The time we spent with the children was very joyous. I was amazed to see the joy that these children wore in their hearts. The joy was so impressionable that they influence me to be joyful.

At the orphanage, there were many missionaries. Many people from all over the world came to Bulembu. (Coincidentally, I saw my elementary school principal from Boston, Massachusetts in Swaziland who is now working for an NGO that brings education to areas in developing countries.) I learned so much from these missionaries. Sometimes I fear God sending me to a place to permanently serve in which I had never had any intentions of going to. To see that there were many missionaries who never planned on serving in different capacities and doing so out of obedience to God really challenged my way of thinking in that regard. They admitted that there were many hard times that they experienced. But there seem to be a joy that exceeded all of the pain that they experience. That is something that will always stay with me.

There is so much that I learned that I can speak about, such as how many of the ministries that started there were birthed from deep and committed prayer, or how I learned that many things that I throw away are actually recyclable, or the team and I seeing Christians functioning in love and in the gifts of the Spirit. But the one thing that will stick with me most is the overall experience: That the children at the orphanage in Bulembu who came from difficult and challenging backgrounds now lived their lives with joy. This is truly and utterly amazing because this was done by people acting in love and wisdom, and creating an environment where even those who have experienced a challenging upbringing can now grow and develop in a healthy manner and be joyful. John 3:16 is my favorite verse and this shows me how God acts in His amazing grace.

#NoExpectations by Susi Franco

Cost of trip: 2,600

Location: Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Partnership: Mission to Ukraine, Good Mansion Camp

 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” –Ephesians 3: 16-19

Trust in Him

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Our small team arrived at Camp Good Mansion in Zhytomyr, Ukraine on a hot–like major sweat stains and the painful promise of smelly feet–hot evening in July. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our motto “#NoExpectations” would be put to the test. After a quick tour of the campus and dropping off our bags, our guide asked, “Did you get a schedule for camp?” We nervously chuckled with high hopes of getting one and replied, “No.” He smiled with a blank stare, and motioned us into a big circle where all the staff was learning a dance. We were jet lagged, sweaty, and clueless about the camp that was starting the next day… In hindsight, we did have one clue: this camp always kept us on our toes. We dispersed throughout the circle, joined hands with strangers, and embraced the dance lesson, laughing at ourselves as we exchanged glances. Our trip was marked by moments like these. Moments where our plans had to change, our motivations were tested, and we were reminded that our understanding (among many other things) was lost in translation. Our motto became comedic relief. But, there was more to “#NoExpectations” than a way to laugh in the midst of the harder experiences. The motto was born out of our prayers a month prior to the trip. We prayed that we could enter camp with no expectations; instead, putting our trust in Him for the gifts revealed through the unexpected. It was a bold prayer, but one God provided for abundantly. He kept us strong in his love through each moment. I can’t possibly put into words the depth of gratitude and wealth in lessons I have brought home with me. Even so, I will humbly attempt to share a few of the moments that captured my heart and changed my soul.

How high, how deep

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            I woke up around 4 A.M. on the third day of camp. Jet lag is rough. It was two hours before my alarm, but I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I grabbed my towel and headed for a walk near the showers. It was a cold morning. My heart was anxious, my body exhausted; and being honest with myself, I didn’t want pasta for breakfast again. Tears started flowing down my cold cheeks. I had no motivation to stumble past wheelchairs and sweaty kids in 90-degree weather, up and down aisles to take photos. I had no desire to speak broken Russian with the other camp photographer to explain my camera settings and have him grunt “Bad”. I really, really did not want to eat pasta for breakfast. There was pain and frustration in my heart and I asked God, “Why did you bring me here?” My tears started flowing faster and faster. I prayed, “God, I don’t want to be here today. I have no motivation to do my job. I know you brought me here for a reason. Give me even the tiniest taste of the love that you have for these kids, this camp, and this country.” With a numb heart, I took a cold shower.

Later that morning, I made my way down to the front of the stage. I put one knee on the ground and tried to balance to get a steady shot. Unexpectedly, I felt two little hands wrap around my waist and squeeze me tightly from behind. I looked back and received a big kiss on the cheek from Bogdan. Before I could move, he sat on my knee as I tried to film. I tried to get him off me so I could change the angle of my shot. He wasn’t moving and made it clear that I wasn’t either. I let his hands wrap around my hands on the camera and we sat still there until my heart was at peace. I had a grin on my face, and a renewed motivation to take pictures. I heard God say, “Look at Bogdan. The way he loved you in the pain no one else could see; that’s how I love these kids, this camp, this country, and the whole world! That’s how I love you. Your heart is numb to the need and pain of those around you, but Bogdan’s isn’t. He felt your pain and celebrated you with a hug and kiss until you felt at peace and had joy.” Even now, I tear up when I think of that moment. Bogdan showed me that I was the one with a disability. I was the one who needed to learn how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is for all of us.

Waste not…

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            Laughter filled the hallway and I could trace it to my room. I walked in and found two of my roommates on their beds laughing at the happenings of the day. “They insisted that I fold these scraps of paper and string, tiny scraps that are trash, and save them in a box. I know there’s no way they will use them next year!” exclaimed my friend.  We all laughed as we wrestled with some of the cultural differences we faced. Camp had a steep learning curve for the Ukrainian norms of openness, perfectionism, and frugality. That same night, our team met to debrief. We had finally settled into camp routine and begun to understand the purpose of this place. Awestruck by the fullness of life we experienced, we felt we had entered holy ground. The only words we could use to describe camp were, “a little bit of heaven on earth.”

Camp Good Mansion signaled the fullness of life made complete in Christ’s love in a way I have never experienced before. That’s why we felt so close to heaven! In a society that dismisses, rejects, and isolates children with disabilities and their families, Mission to Ukraine (MTU) was gently embracing and celebrating the worth of these lives. Just like the scraps of string and paper, Camp was restoring the value of what everyone else labeled trash. I am still deeply moved and challenged by the way in which MTU has grasped the depths of God’s love.

I arrived at camp with no expectations. I did not expect to reveal the disability of my numb heart from a child with Down syndrome. But I did. I did not expect to have my faith challenged and encouraged by Mission to Ukraine. But it was. I did not expect to leave a part of my heart at Camp Good Mansion. But I have.

Deaf Ears; Hearing Hearts by Wislene Augustin

Cost per Student – $2200

Location: Kingston/Knockpatrick, Jamaica

Partnership: Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf – CCCD

This past May I was given the opportunity to serve at two deaf schools in Jamaica. I have never worked with the deaf population before so not knowing sign language was a barrier. I was excited and worried going down to Jamaica because I did not know how I was supposed to communicate with these students. I did not know how I was supposed to show them the love of Christ without speaking to them. I was concerned about how well the students would accept the team into their home. Once we stepped foot onto Jamaican soil, our team was greeted with so much love and patience.

When we arrived to Kingston all the students piled on top of us as if they had known us their whole lives. They welcomed us with open arms, which made me think about how many times these kids have had to open up to team after team when they come in. To me it would have seemed frustrating and redundant to be having teams coming in and out of my home constantly. But to them that was their world, their reality and they were happy to accept it. Even though we were only in Jamaica for two weeks, we were able to build relationships that had a great impact on our lives.

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Students attending the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf usually usually does not have anyone in their family that knows sign language. The lack of knowledge slows down their development because they do not learn sign language until a later point in their life. So from the time they are born to the age of five, these students are not fully able to communicate to their family and friends.

 

They were not able to fully express their feelings and what they needed to the ones around them. Half of the time their families did not want to learn sign language. It was wonderful to see what these students have been through and what they have accomplished. 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.

 

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While we were there, we were able to participate in what the deaf community was building which was Deaf Can! Coffee. DeafCan! is a coffee business started with the students at the Kingston campus that 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.

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On the last few days of the trip I learned so much about being still and content where I am. There were times on the trip where we were not doing as much and it felt as if we were just in the way. However, we were able to see the beauty of being present with the people of Jamaica. We were not called there to come in and do everything for the people there as if they could not do it themselves. We were there to connect relationally with the people and work alongside them in any way that we could. We were not their saviors; we were just people coming in to learn about their livelihood and what assets they have that they can utilize for the good of their community.

Jamaica was my first mission trip and I am grateful that I was a part of it because it showed me that mission trips do not have to be only physical labor. Mission trips are also relational. The mindset that Jamaica gave me was that we can go into a place and believe that we are helping when in actuality we are bringing more damage to the community. We need to be able to hear the cries of the community and see how the community itself with their assets can rebuild themselves. We do not fix them but we work alongside them towards a solution and I will forever take that lesson with me