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

Deaf Ears, Hearing Hearts, Deaf Can! by Jenna Dawson

Location: Kingston, Jamaica and Mandeville, Jamaica

Cost: $2,200
Partnership: Caribbean Christian Center For The Deaf

Returning to Caribbean Christian Center For The Deaf (CCCD) and having the opportunity to lead the team was truly a transformative and growing process. It taught me so much and truly challenged me in a variety of ways. One of the toughest challenges however, was planning this trip with my co-leader.

The first task was to pick and secure our dates with the organization. After talking with them, we found out that our previous year dates were already taken and the only available time was during the semester. Disappointed but motivated, we looked for other options. During this time, we were waiting for applications for our team to start coming in. We had very low interest and began to wonder if we would end up canceling our trip. We soon found out that the due date for applications was extended and that we could split our trip between two campuses and keep the trip going. My co-leader and I met weekly and developed our team motto of “Go with the Flow,” which became quite relevant and caught on quickly.

As we began the process, our team of all girls now needed an advisor. After many interviews, emails and declines, our trip advisor became the same person that was advising my co-leader and I. From here on out, our team of all girls began to prepare and fundraise for our trip. Although donations came in slowly, passports were ordered, plans were made and weekly team dinners became the norm. In a flash, the end of the semester snuck up on us. Soon it was finals, move out, my sisters wedding, and our trip. After a long talk with myself, I still wasn’t convinced that I was returning to CCCD Kingston. One thing I did have to convince myself of however, was that the trip wasn’t going to be the same as last years, and this was a hard realization to accept.

Soon enough we were on the plane to Jamaica. Sitting on the plane, it still hadn’t quite hit me where I was going. As the plane landed, thoughts began to flood my brain of all the things we forgot to plan and arrange, one including our ride to the campus. Immediately I began to think of how I was not fit or deserving of this position in leadership. Soon after, we heard a quick beep and our missionary partner pulled right up in the gray-blue van. This and the clear sky, palm trees and colorful signs made me realize that I had returned, and that through God, I have been called back to this beautiful place. During the bus ride to the first campus, I couldn’t contain my excitement to see the same beautiful kids, workers and house moms again. As we all tumbled out of the van, I saw a few familiar spaces and faces and I began to tear up. I couldn’t wait to hear how the coffee shop “Deaf Can” was doing and to start signing again. There was so much to catch up on. There weren’t many students there and we did not have much time with them either, since it was their holiday and many of the kids had gone home. Although immediately, a card game of spoons and heads up  became the routine nightly game.

As the trip went on, there were many struggles, individually and as a team, that transformed us and grew in us a new heart and mind to missions. Before arriving we had heavily prepared for “helping without hurting,” but experiencing it during our trip and realizing that building and keeping relationships with these amazing people and organizations is another and maybe even better (in my opinion) way of doing missions trips. Our first week of our trip focused on this, the idea of relationships, investing, and continuing after the trip, rather than “doing work,” this became our mentality and belief throughout the rest of the trip.

After we said our goodbyes, we headed over to CCCD Knockpatrick, and got to meet some new faces. I truly believe that God had prepared our hearts and minds to use what we had just learned and experienced and put it to action at this new campus. We began to learn about the lives of the house mothers and teachers at their school and develop relationships with them. We quickly saw their hearts and their love for the students and their passion in the deaf community. There is nothing quite as beautiful to me than a community or organization that’s workers care and love so much on their students, that sign language becomes their language, and serving them becomes their passion. There is such an importance there, of learning their language and making an effort to be able to communicate and truly invest in relationships with them. Although I doubted my own ability to lead this trip, although there were many challenges, there was so much growth, and many memories and  relationships built. I believe that there will always be a piece of my heart in Jamaica, and I know that I will always have a family there.

CCCD JennaOften times, people view deafness as a disability, disabling deaf individuals from things that hearing people do, a community that is often overlooked. However, deafness is not a disability, but signing is another language. Caribbean Christian Center For The Deaf stands firm on “Deaf ears, Hearing hearts” and I found this true in my own experiences. There is nothing that they cannot do that a hearing person can. And this is CCCD’s mission, to show and teach their students that deaf can. They speak with their hands, and hear with their hearts, something I think this world could use more of.  I will always carry in my heart, Deaf ears, Hearing hearts and that Deaf Can.

Taken into the Purpose of God by India Boland

Cost of trip: $3,500

Location: Mafraq, Jordan

Partnership: Pinnacle Teaching

During the month of August, ten members of the Gordon community spent time teaching over 200 Syrian refugee children in a small Jordanian city. Partnering with ELIC, a fantastic Christian teaching institute that operates around the world, we experienced things and say God move in ways that are difficult to explain. Each teacher was given a class of 35 students, grouped more or less by age and definitely not by ability. Some students could neither speak nor write in English or Arabic, and many had never been in school before. Lessons could be as basic as how to hold a pencil, or explaining that “coloring” typically included more than one color of crayon. As I sat down to write this post, small memories spring into my mind and remind me of the sweet and bitter memories I’ll carry with me forever.

The laugher as children gathered at the playground in the morning, excited for school and still not yet knowing exactly what that meant. The tear-stained face of a mother as she begged, UN Refugee papers in hand, for her five children to be allowed into one of two refugee schools in the under-resourced city of Mafraq. The joy in the eyes of a six-year old boy as he realizes he can now count to ten in both English and Arabic. A pastor, overworked and under resourced, hugging person after person as they pour in for the Sunday night service. The pride in a young girl’s face as she holds a certificate indicating she completed her course. The silence of the city at dawn, and the noise of the dark streets at night. The smells, the light at dusk as it touches the rooftops. The laughter of the kids as they feel free to experience joy in a school where they are safe.

The past month in Jordan, I experienced more grace, felt more joy and loved God more than any other four weeks of my life so far. I also saw more suffering, more evil, more pain and more destruction than anywhere else. The city of Mafraq, just 15 kilometers from the Syrian border, has more Syrian refugees than native Jordanians. The need is great, and resources of time, of labor and of good are carefully monitored. Everyone has a heartbreaking story of loss, of rescue, of joyfully reunions and painful goodbyes.  It was a beautiful and challenging time to reflect on what it meant to be a servant, when there was so much do be done that I was incapable of doing. Sometimes I just cried because I didn’t know what to say or what to do. And it was in these moments that I found Jesus in a new way, and I understood with a deep level of thankfulness what it meant that He became fully human for us. It is not just that we are able to reach Jesus, to feel Him in our hearts, it’s that He is in and among us, in the midst and the depths of our joys and our sufferings. In the face of the most widespread humanitarian crisis of modern times, Jesus weeps right along with the rest of us. There is a peace and a restoration and a relief that comes from acknowledging that there is a God who loves us so much, and is so involved in our lives, and cares so deeply for us that He weeps when we weep.

There is also so much peace and love in a God who is sovereign, in and above all things. I have struggled in the past with understanding how the gospel can be so exclusive; God has gifted me with an empathetic heart and I can’t bear the thought of the beautiful, lovely and hopeful people I met in Mafraq being condemned to some terrible fate away from love. But God, again, met me in those moments in a new way. I was encouraged to look at this source of tension through a lens I understood – His sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is greater than my ability to understand even one small bit of his plan. I have no say in who is saved and who is not, or even what that means. God is in charge of that, and His plan is more perfect than I could ever imagine. Oswald Chambers wrote once: “It is not a matter of my ability, but my poverty; not what I bring with me, but what God puts in me; not a matter of natural virtues, of strength of character, of knowledge, or of experience – all of that is no avail in this concern.  If I will allow Him to take me to the end of my own self-sufficiency, then He can choose me to go with Him to Jerusalem. The only thing of value is being taken into the purpose of God.”

The greatest injustice has gone to the cross, and it is there it is meant to exist. I was challenged more than I ever thought possible during this month in Jordan, amongst God’s people doing God’s work. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, because in every face I saw the light of God and in every word spoken I heard His voice and with every tear shed I felt His love. God does amazing things if we reach a point where we’re willing to lay down our own agendas and accept His will for our lives. And I’m so deeply grateful for the community I come from that enabled me to go and have this experience. Gordon is a place that encourages people to see outside of themselves, and I appreciate that on a whole new level after this month.

 

By the end of the month, our classroom was covered in work from the students and they proudly counted to five, sang in English and said “goodbye, teacher!” And their voices, their drawings, and their names, will forever be written on my heart.

Be Still and KNOW by Maddie Berry

Cost: $4,000

Location: Bulembu, Swaziland

Partnership: Bulembu

Twenty hours of flying and six hours of driving, we had finally made it. My feet hit the ground and joy overcame me. Hope seemed to rush into my heart, restoration resounded in my mind, and a smile crept upon my face despite my eyes screaming exhaustion: I was in Bulembu. Before arriving to this miracle of a village, I spent my days dreaming of what it would be like as my heart fell in love with a place I had never been. The reality of walking the same streets where little joyous feet pounced and played every day because God had rescued them from disastrous circumstances was overwhelming. All of these emotions flooded me and I had only been there for a maximum of two minutes. It seems that I can only adequately use words to describe the first two minutes, but I will attempt to share a few key moments as best I can.

Bulembu is a village focused on orphan care, but it is different than other “orphanages.” It is home. The children were absolutely incredible, as they would line up just to hug your leg or give you a simple, yet abundantly meaningful, hand squeeze. However, it was the staff in the town that really shook me. Their service resembled the true meaning of humility. Everything they did was for the children. I mean EVERYTHING! Their hearts were fixed on God in such an unwavering fashion that love radiated from them in every encounter. I asked one man, James, how he coped – because being a missionary was not an easy, glorious task – and he confidently responded, “Maddie, I get up every day at four a.m. and pray. I depend on God for everything. I am nothing without Him.” This was the first lesson I learned during my time in Bulembu: dependence on God. I started to ask myself these types of questions: “Do I trust God enough to empty my bank account at His feet, give up the very thing my culture chases after every day, and believe that He will be my provider? No.” “Do I even trust God enough that He will provide food on my table if I were to give up my own for those who have none? Honestly, no.” “Do I trust God enough to give up water for someone who otherwise would have to walk miles for it? Well yeah, but as long as I had some left for myself.” Frustrated at this point I asked, “GOD DO I EVEN TRUST YOU AT ALL?!” That night I opened up my Bible and read in Luke’s Gospel “The Cost of Being a Disciple” and was lovingly convicted by the cost of following Jesus with everything I have. My resources, my money, my gifts, my possessions all belong to HIM! When I lay all I have at His feet, the cost might seem great, but the reward is eternal. God teaching me this in the beginning of my trip was an absolute necessity to sustain me through my next greatest lesson.

During our time in Swaziland, we traveled to a village called Lavumisa. This is where it gets more difficult to describe. Lavumisa is the poorest village in Swaziland. They have little to no water in the river they use due to being hit incredibly hard by the drought. Sickness, poverty, and broken families are visible to the naked eye, yet God is moving in mighty ways through an incredible, faithful pastor with a laugh that spreads joy like a wildfire. We assisted them in the medical clinic and saw many difficult things. The hardest of which came when a small, eight year old girl walked in. She was the most beautiful little thing with big brown eyes and a perfect round head. We watched eagerly, prayerfully as she was tested for HIV so desperately believing that there was no way she could be positive, but she was. I finally lost it. I walked outside and wept, unable to look to Heaven for answers because I was so broken over this. I knew in my mind that Swaziland was heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, with the highest rate in the world, but to see it with my own two eyes attacking such innocence, such perfection drew me to the floor questioning God begging Him to take it from her. I finally came to the feet of Jesus and began to recite what I knew to be true of God. “God you are a good father who never will forsake your children. You are a loving Father who will work all things together for those who love Him. You are a victorious Father who defeated sin and death for us. There is nothing in this world that can separate us from your love!” I felt His presence come over me in this moment and He reminded me that she was His princess. She had a crown placed upon her head. She was seen and known by Him. He loves her. I saw what true dependence on God meant in this moment. It didn’t always mean sacrifice. Sometimes it simply meant to know Him intimately. When tragedy strikes, we cannot lower what we know about God to match our pain. Instead, we are to give our pain to Him remaining steadfast on His foundation and believe in faith that what the enemy intends for evil, God is going to use for good. When I think about that precious face, I still cry and pray every time, but I am comforted in knowing that no matter what her outcome is on this earth, her outcome in Heaven will be eternity with her loving, gracious, almighty, powerful, healing, and good Father. I find refuge in depending on knowing God personally and this trip taught me how truly desperate I am for His presence.

I am not quite sure how to conclude. I could write a thousand page book on Bulembu and all its treasures. To sum it up in a few sentences, understand this: no matter how tragic, horrible, miserable, sinful, and absolutely broken this world is, stay intimate with your Heavenly Father and know Him personally. I have seen His power displayed in transforming a hopeless nation, so you, my dear friend, are not too broken for Him to heal. His love is sufficient to sustain you and give you more than you can ask or imagine.IMG_2440

Serving Through Relationship by Alisha Berkeley

Cost per Student – $2200

Location: Kingston/Knockpatrick, Jamaica

Partnership: Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf – CCCD

In May of 2016, I got the opportunity to return to Jamaica to serve at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf in Kingston and Knockpatick. I was really excited to go back being that I had an amazing experience the previous year. It warmed my heart to see the familiar faces of the students and staff and to recollect on the memories we shared from last year. It was amazing to see growth on the campus and also new faces.

Coming back to Jamaica, I expected to follow the same routine as last year, which was doing construction in the morning during school hours and spending time with the students in the afternoon after school. This didn’t end up happening. Instead of following a set routine, as a team we found ourselves going with the flow of things that were going on through out the day in both Kingston and Knockpatick This was a little frustrating in the beginning because back home, we are so used to following a schedule and we felt like we were useless. What we ended up doing was spending a lot of time in the coffee shop learning how to brew coffee ourselves and watch the new training center come together. We also just got a chance to sit around with some of the housemothers and the staff members and just talk to them and to get to know them. There were other days where we would sit in the cafeteria with the students and color and paint and even go outside. Having this experience made me feel like we were just spending time with family and it was definitely a “worth it” moment. Relationships are so important when it comes to serving other people. Without relationships there is no impact.

At CCCD in Kingston, there is a coffee shop called “Deaf Can Coffee.” The older male students who are also deaf have the opportunity to learn about coffee and make drinks for the team and other students. The students do this work, they spend time perfecting their technique of brewing the coffee and even training other students to work in the shop. This coffee shop has been up and running for a little bit over a year and it has grown so much. One of the purposes of this coffee shop is to give these boys the opportunity to work, learn, build and grow as a team. Looking at the deaf community on the outside, there is a perspective that deaf people aren’t able to do anything and that they are useless to the society. Deaf Can Coffee doesn’t believe in this, which is one of the reasons why it is named Deaf Can Coffee. Those who are deaf are just not able to hear with their ears. They communicate with their hands using sign language and with their hearts. Dismissing the notion of deaf being useless brings motivation to these boys and teaches them “the deaf can.”

I am so glad that I was able to experience Jamaica a second time. I am also glad that I was able to see both sides of serving in the missions field. I am really glad that was able to experience Jamaica and feel like I am at home.

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

Jonathan Leathe

Cost of Trip: $3500

Location: Mafraq, Jordan

Partnership: ELIC

JonnyinJordan

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.