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

Worth It by Megan Hammes

Location: Ometepe, Nicaragua

Cost of trip: $1,800

Partner Organization: CICRIN

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua with Gordon College as a participant. I went with high hopes, open expectations, and the most limited Spanish vocabulary Nicaragua has probably ever stumbled upon. I went, I saw, and I fell in love – with the people and with the country nestled in Central America. And this year, I had the joy and the honor of returning as a co-leader. How beautiful it was to reconnect with those kind hearts and amazing people.

When I think over my experiences, I continuously find myself dwelling on the inherent goodness of our partner organization. Gordon selects organizations with intentionality, and I truly think it is our honor to work alongside of CICRIN. The premise of the organization is to provide homes for at-risk kids. This could mean anything from abusive parents to total abandonment, from parents resorting to prostitution to caretakers suffering from alcoholism. Each child at CICRIN has a story, and each child at CICRIN has a reason for calling CICRIN their home. While the full-time workers at CICRIN are charged with providing home and love and sustainable care, we are charged with doing the same, for the workers. Through work projects and programming with the kids, we are able to temporarily lighten the load of the day-to-day tasks. With each project, I am reminded that our contribution is merely a fragment of the contribution that CICRIN’s full time workers make each day. While we physically laid foundations for bathrooms and prepared the soil for crops, they laid the foundations for healing and prepared hearts for restoration. How beautiful it is to take part in something so much more insurmountable than ourselves.

This year, I found myself walking away with a much different experience. While last year’s fulfillment came through connections with kiddos and successful completion of projects, this year’s was found in the larger vision. During one of our work days, I was able to talk with the architect who had been working with Hellen, CICRIN’s owner and visionary, to develop the long term vision of CICRIN. Next to the kids’ home, CICRIN had untaken the construction of a Christian school. Originally, it began as an elementary school, eventually expanding to include middle school, and just this year adding its first high school classroom. The architect, Bud, explained the ultimate vision for renovation and addition, culminating into the completion of Ometepe’s very first k-12 Christian school. Bud explained his hope that CICRIN could ultimately offer a bus service around the island, being the first to provide a free private education to the kids of Nicaragua. As he talked I marveled at what this could mean: an island enriched by the devotion and passion of one small organization, an entire culture changed through the hope and persistence of one small group of kids and adults. The best part? The school was entirely funded by donors. Bud explained that CICRIN had never developed a projected budget or definitive timeline – God had been gracious, and the school had come together against all odds.

Before I left, Bud noted that they had even taken time to design custom tiling in the new bathrooms. He pointed out the intricate design in the tiling, the intentional color and composition intended to replicate ornate buildings found in the capital and wealthy homes. What struck me was that this had nothing to do with the bathroom itself, but rather with the dignity of the kids. Bud wants the kids to know that everything, everything , from the chairs in their classrooms to the paint on the walls, from the walkways outdoors to the neighboring garden, is being designed with them in mind. They are worth the effort it took to build the school, they are worth the fervent prayers for provision and funding, and they are worth the time it takes to design the bathroom, tile by tile by intentional tile. They are worth it, and they are loved.

The trip was filled with so many sweet and joyous and truly rich things. We saw sunset after vibrant sunset and ate plantanos until our stomachs smiled, we dug until sweat seeped through our socks and bore sunburns redder than a rising sun, we laughed with kiddos until our feet ran out of energy and our mouths ran out of Spanish words. But mostly, for me, I learned why we were there. God had taken the broken backgrounds of lives and used them as the foreground of His glory; He was reviving a community, and through the redemption of an island He was changing the complexion of a nation. We – as Gordon – are not the vital piece. But being a part of something so life-giving has shown me what it means to be a small part of His big and beautiful kingdom. Being a part of this trip has shown me that He believes those kids are worth it, and so do I.

 

Faith as Small as a Mustard Seed by Leah Snavely

Comunidad y semillas de mostaza

Location: Ometepe, Nicaragua

Cost of Trip: $1800

Partner Organization: Centro Infantil Cristiano Nicaragüense, or CICRIN

I returned to Nicaragua for my third and last time with Gordon College this past March during spring break. CICRIN, the island of Ometepe, and the Nicaraguans who I have met there have held a special plaec in my heart throughout my whole college career, and I can honestly say that I am graduating a better person because of my experiences there. After spending this past summer leading domestic short-term mission trips and this past semester studying in Lima, Perú, I was excited and felt more prepared to lead the Nicaragua trip for a second time. Of course, each trip comes with its own challenges and new team dynamics, but an improved confidence in my Spanish abilities and a solid friendship with my co-leader, Megan Hammes, helped me to start the trip off on a positive foot.

 

Gordon has partnered with CICRIN for about the past ten years and each year they have been such a blessing to work with. The organization houses and feeds about 30 children who come from at-risk homes and additionally runs the only private, free, Christian school on the island that is currently expanding to include a high school. Recently CICRIN also bought a plot of land where they have started to plant and harvest plantains. During our week at CICRIN, we had the opportunity to dig numerous holes for plantain trees at the farm and to dig out some other larger trees next to the school, where they will be putting a parking lot in the near future.

 

During the trip this year, although our team did not spend as much time with the children at CICRIN, we did get to know the adults much better than in past years. Talking to Carlos, the head farmer, I learned about the civil war in Nicaragua and how that impacted his childhood. Hilario, who works on the farm and also helps out with odd jobs around CICRIN, told me stories of his radical faith and how that has influenced his interactions with the people in his town. His wife, Virginia, is the head cook at CICRIN, and his two oldest children also help out with the kids and with cleaning. We also had the chance to work with some Costa Rican missionaries who were there at the same time as us, doing a dance ministry with the children. It was encouraging to see the exchange of the global church between these two countries, especially because Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans historically have not had the best of relationships.

 

Every year, Hellen, the director of CICRIN, tells us her testimony of how she came to CICRIN. Originally from Costa Rica, she became a Christian while studying in California for a year in high school. As a young adult, she was asked to come to Nicaragua just for a couple of weeks to help translate for some US missionaries who had come down to re-start an orphanage on Ometepe, which eventually became CICRIN. These missionaries had to leave all of a sudden, and, promising Hellen that they would come back, they returned to the US. But, they never did return, and Hellen has been working at CICRIN for the past twenty years.

 

Each time she tells us this story, Hellen emphasizes the roles that trust and faith have played in her lifetime. This year she passed out mustard seeds to everyone, quoting, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing is impossible for you.” As a senior, I have been encouraged to put my complete trust in God and to know that no matter where I end up, it will be according to the Lord’s purpose. I look forward to seeing what else I learn from this trip in the future, as I take forever to debrief my own experiences, and I hope to return to Nicaragua in the near future, even if I can’t do so with Gordon.

If it Seems Impossible, You’re Doing Something Right by Ashley Bongiovanni

Location: Punta Gorda, Belize

Cost of trip: $2000

Partner organization: LOL Ministries

Over winter break, I was blessed with the amazing opportunity to return to Punta Gorda, Belize for the third time, this time as a team leader along with Abby Caron. We were headed to LOL Home for Children, where we would spend the week working at the orphanage. The trip generally consisted of spending time with the children and working on various construction projects.

 

When I returned to Gordon last fall for my senior year, one of the questions in my mind was if I was going to return to Belize or not. I had been the past two years, and both of those trips had been life changing for me. I had no idea if the trip was even running this year, so when someone from a past trip asked me if I would be going this year, my answer was simply, “I don’t know, is there a team going?” Through that conversation, I found out that Abby Caron (someone who I went to Belize with the past two years) would be leading the trip. I knew after having that conversation that I had to go back, and that God was telling me that I wasn’t quite finished there yet. So I contacted Abby, asked her the dates and information, called my mother, and within the hour I had decided to go back to Belize. Less than a week later, Abby had reached out to me asking if I would co-lead the trip with her. After meeting with Sarah and praying about it a little more, I decided that I would co-lead the Belize mission trip! God really confirmed to me in those days that going back to Belize was something I needed to do. I had no plans to go back that year, but God opened the doors and had greater plans for me the whole time. While planning the trip was not always easy and there were definitely a lot of stressful moments, but Abby and I relied on prayer to get us through those tough times.

 

At the end of December, we finally began our trip to Belize. Words cannot describe the feeling I had once I got back there. It was so incredible to be back in a country that has held such a special place in my heart. Once we got to our house and got settled in, we learned that we would be spending the whole week with the kids, and we were so excited! We were with those kids every single day that week, and we were able to see them and interact with them in their own environment. From going on a “walk” through the jungle, or using a makeshift waterslide, being able to see the joy on the kids’ faces made it all worth it.

 

Something that LOL does every night before dinner, is they get into a huge circle and share praise reports for the day before they pray over their meal. This has become one of my favorite parts of being there. Something I noticed this year, was how the kids praised God for everything, big or small. And that really hit me. I feel like often times we thank God when he answers our prayers or when something big has happened, but we sometimes forget to thank Him for the small things. So hearing the kids say that they were thankful that they got to watch a movie, or play on the water slide, was so humbling. It was just another reminder of the child-like faith that we are supposed to have.

 

Something else that was so apparent during this trip, was that God can take any situation and turn it into something good. Throughout the week our team would talk about how we are sometimes put into situations that we don’t want to be in or situations we don’t feel qualified for. One morning we were doing devos with Jervis (the founder of LOL) and the staff members, and Jervis said something that stuck out to all of us: “If it seems impossible, you’re doing something right.” This resonated with every team member. Sometimes in life, we are faced with situations that seem impossible. But we need to remember that with God, nothing is impossible. If we hold on to Him, and trust Him with every step, He can make the impossible possible.

 

Belize holds such a special place in my heart, and I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to serve there.  I will always remember the amazing experiences I’ve had, and everything that God has taught me through serving at LOL. I pray that one day I will be able to return to Belize, and I am so excited to see all the work He is doing there.

Reconciliation in Northern Ireland by India Boland

 

 

Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Cost of Trip: $1400

Partner Organization: 174 Trust

Northern Ireland has held a special place in my heart since I first traveled there a year ago, as a participant on the trip I just had the privilege of co-leading this past January. A group of Gordon College students has traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland for the past six years, and it is so powerful being a part of this kind of international-relationship building. While there, we partner with an amazing organization called the 174 Trust. Established in 1983, 174 Trust is an organization aiming to provide a local Christian witness without denominational bias or sectarian prejudice. They offer artistic programming and community-led activities for people of all identities and religions, with the hope that their presence can be a powerful example of God’s heart for the people of Belfast. They approach their work with an inspirational humility that was an example to our group every single day.

 

This is not a missions trip in the traditional sense: we don’t go to build homes, teach children, or work in areas of severe poverty. But, to me this trip is a beautiful example of what missions can really look like. Northern Ireland is a first-world, English speaking state that is twenty years into recovery from an internal conflict. While we’re in Belfast, we meet with politicians, community leaders, ex-combatants, and families. We learn about conflict and reconciliation, and pay attention to the ways in which faith interacts with these complicated issues. We debrief and talk amongst ourselves (a lot), but we listen even more. We give space for people to tell us their stories, and take their hard-earned lessons to heart. We support the work of a fantastic long-term organization, and utilize our privilege as American college students to add external legitimacy to the work of the Trust. By looking at the ways in which God is working abroad, we are better able to understand how He works in our own neighborhood.

 

We talked extensively as a group about why we were going on this trip at all: wouldn’t it be better to raise the money and just donate it to the 174 Trust as opposed to traveling there ourselves? This is a critically important question about missions that many people much smarter than me have written about. But, my experience on this trip helps me understand (or at least begin to understand) how to answer this question. There is so much to be gained from existing in relationship: to people who are like us and to people who are different. Development, peace, and wholeness of spirit depend on so much more than money – if that was the solution to hurt, conflict, and poverty, we would have been able to eliminate these things so much sooner. This is not to say capital isn’t important, or that tithing to the organization that hosts us isn’t a critical part of our trip. But a person-to-person connection is so powerful, both for the 174 Trust and our Gordon College team. And this trip is so much more than one group of students, or one meeting. I’ve loved learning these lessons, supported by a fantastic advisor and incredible co-leader, this year. I look forward to seeing how I can apply a broader understanding of God’s community and of missions in my future, and could not be more grateful for the opportunity to return to Belfast this year.

-India