I just recently returned from my 4th mission trip in 5 months with Visiting Orphans. All of the trips have been amazing and yet very different from each other. And I've discovered that our trips are yes about ministering to orphans but they are also about meeting needs and being Jesus to kids, adults and whoever God puts in your path and at the same time - allowing God to change you. Yes, you're ministering to others. But watch how God also ministers to you. Prepare to be changed!!!
Costa Rica was in March and was a 10 person team all pretty much from the Nashville area. It was my first time as team leader and we had an amazing team! And our in-country guide, driver and translator were so fantastic - they truly made my job as leader sooo easy. They are top-notch!!! The kids were so amazing. We visited 2 different orphanages near Limon. We danced and sang and did arts & crafts and just had so much fun with the kids. We even got to take both sets of kids to the beach all at the same time. They had a blast and so did we!!! I fell in love with a little boy named Ariel who was 2 years old and very withdrawn. He didn't fall in love or bond with me - he kind of kept his distance. He would sort of let you play with him but he did not want to be picked up, held or touched. And you could tell he was very skeptical of all of us. He did better with the men - especially when they would pick him up, turn him upside down and tickle him. And Brian, our guide, helped him ride a skateboard which he really loved. But with me and the other girls - he wasn't really too interested in connecting with us. And I could really sense that this kid had already been through alot. He had 4 older siblings who were also in the orphanage and they were all precious. They weren't orphans. Not in the sense of the definition we tend to think of when we think of an orphan. They still had a parent alive (possibly both but we know for sure their mom is still alive) and yet, here they were in this orphanage in Limon, Costa Rica. We found out later from our translator who asked some questions for us, that most of the kids in Costa Rica who are in these 2 orphanages we visit still have one or both parent living. And yet, there they are - not being cared for by their parents. We learned that a lot of them are taking away from their parent(s) due to abuse, neglect, drug addiction, etc. The sibling group I mentioned above was taken away from their mom for neglect - neighbors apparently called the police because the children had been left home alone. Can you even imagine leaving a 2 year old home alone? I can't. I hate to even think about what could have happened. Those kids had been taken from the mom that time but in other instances, she had just dropped them off there. So they've been in and out a lot. No wonder they didn't want to attach to any of us and were skeptical. We found out later that their mom is pregnant again and that she hadn't been by to check on her 5 kids in months. By the time our next team went in July, those 5 kids had gone to live with their grandmother. And my prayer is that they are in a loving home with her and being well provided for and loved. I have some photos from that trip printed out and hanging in my room - it reminds me to stop and pray for them. I may never hear about them or see them again - but they are in my heart and I will continue to pray. That trip was my first VO trip but even if it hadn't been - it was really hard for me to leave knowing that a lot of these kids don't have stability and are in and out and we may not see those same kids again. And we wouldn't get to know if they were ok or not. That was hard. I cried like a baby when I left those kids. I pray their families would get healing and help and be able to care for them the way they deserve.
China was in April and we were a 7 person team led by Frank Pass. I had just been hired on full-time as Mission Trip Coordinator in March and needed to go to China to see how one of our trips went so that I could coordinate all the China trips. It was a beneficial trip for sure. I learned so much that has already served me well in planning other trips. And I also fell in love with the kids there. We visited one orphanage in Chifeng, China for many days in a row while we were there and a majority of the kids were considered children with "special needs" according to China. I just saw children - beautiful precious children! And I fell in love with a little girl who was withdrawn and skeptical and was very difficult to get to smile and didn't want me to hold her at all for the first few days. Chinese names are hard to say so I named her Jordan, which happens to be my favorite girl name and she looked like a Jordan. Her name was actually Jun Tien Luen - no idea how that should be spelled but that's my best guess:) By the 3rd day, she would let me hold her. Jordan had a condition that I've heard called "Teddy Bear Syndrome" where she can't really bend her elbows and her hands are turned outwards so when she was trying to pick something up - she had a difficult time but would scoop it up with both arms at the wrist. And she could hold on to small items like a crayon but not a bigger item like a ball. She would just bat at it on the table but if she wanted to hold it - had to scoop it up between her arms. One of the days we had a game where she just played with crayons - picking them up and dropping them, then I would pick it up and hand it back to her and we'd do that again and again - when I handed it back to her, she would smile and her smile was beautiful. What a precious little girl. So many physical limitations with the kids there and yet, their resilience was amazing and they adapted and were able to come up with new ways to do things. Frank, our team leader, fell in love with a little boy with no arms and that little guy would just cry and cry but when Frank would pick him up - he would stop crying and be perfectly content. And if you could see how he could pick things up with his feet - it was amazing. He picked up Frank's cell phone and passed it back and forth from foot to foot. He was so cute. And he stole Frank's heart. I don't know how many of the kids there are true orphans - my guess would be that a lot of them were simply cast aside due to so-called "special needs". And that is heart-breaking cause every one of those kids were precious. And every one of them deserves love! So for that time in Chifeng, we went in and we loved them and held them and played with them and gave them one-on-one attention. And next year, a lot of that same team is going back to the same orphanage again to do exactly that again. We also took the orphanage shopping with donation money and got them several washers and dryers and 4 microwaves for the orphanage. Even though these kids don't have moms and dads to care for them - the Chifeng orphanage was wonderful. They clearly love those kids and those kids love each other. We have since found out that Chifeng is not even on the adoption registry list so unless that changes, these kids will not be leaving there. And I hope that does change and those kids get forever families. But I do know that the orphanage felt like a big family and I am sure it's not like that everywhere so in seeing that and how well those kids are being cared for - it made it slightly less difficult to leave them because we knew they were in good hands. Though I did cry when I said goodbye to Jordan and walked out the door to leave. That was hard. And I think of and pray for her often.
Haiti was in June and I didn't know I was going until really last minute. I was co-leading with Bethany Haley and Barbara Crossman and we made a great team! And we needed 3 leaders cause it was a hard trip. I've not quite experienced chaos like Haiti before nor since. There's a desperation that's very real and very obvious. And there's SOOO much need. It became very clear that there was no lack of places to go that need help. We visited orphanages, tent camps, helped out in a medical clinic, went to a school, gave medical attention to kids on the street and tried to intervene for an unborn child to the mother who was thinking of having an abortion. I didn't personally do all these things - but our team did. Each person had unique giftings and they put them to use in Haiti. I'm not a medical person and I'm not trained in trauma therapy or counseling - it was amazing for me to watch our amazing women at work in these areas. They were a huge blessing to me and to all the people we met there. They helped so many children and adults. And they were incredibly flexible. Haiti was the trip that all came together day by day, flexibility was #1 because plans fell through, things changed and nothing really happened quite the way we planned. It was often stressful for us as leaders and it was very hot there. And yet, this group of ladies handled it with the utmost grace and flexibility. The team truly blessed us leaders by having such servant hearts and positive attitudes. Yes, we loved on orphans in Haiti - but we also loved on each other, we loved on orphanage staff, and lots of adults and kids at the tent camps and other places we went to. And our team loved on our translator Sylvestre by deciding to help with college. They saw great potential in that young man and wanted to invest in him. And since returning, they have gone to great lengths to make that happen. It's been so neat to watch how God works during and after these trips. It never ceases to amaze me. He is such an amazing God!
Ghana, Africa was my most recent trip in July/August. I absolutely love Africa - the culture, the people, the joy, the sense of community and the simplicity of life there. I saw poverty but I rarely saw anyone who seemed to even notice they were in the midst of it. We were welcomed with smiles and greetings everywhere we went. A lot of that was because of Cheryl Read who was gracious enough to let our team come join her International Hope & Heritage team. They had already been there 30+ days when we arrived. And VO had never been to Ghana so it was really helpful to go and learn from Cheryl. I learned first and foremost that in Ghana - relationships are everything. I saw the importance of returning to the same places year after year and building those relationships. I saw how important being formal is there. It all goes back to relationship. I will never cease to be amazed at how much people can carry on top of their heads. And at how little kids can carry babies and other small kids on their backs. They take care of each other in Ghana. And I loved it there! I loved sitting across from a little girl who loved mimicking everything I did as a game. I loved singing a song I made up on the spot with a group of local kids from huts along the beach in Aflao. I loved helping a medical missions team by counting pills under a tree in a remote village outside of Tamale. I loved doing the hokey pokey with 30 kids, holding babies in the Anfaani orphanage and helping the kids at Hands of Mercy Children's home with their homework. I loved watching Cheryl's team tell the Panorama bible story to widows in mud hut villages and getting to join them for an entire day of hut to hut evangelism. We did so much more than minister to orphans on that trip.
And that's what I love about what I do. I get to watch as the Lord moves on the hearts of each team member, I get to see what passion he stirs up and I get to hear about how team members come home and can't just go back to life as normal. They come home changed. And they aren't content to just go on with life as usual. They start new ministries, they sign up for more trips, they start the process of adoption, they sponsor kids, they start raising money to support an orphanage, and so much more. And I get to be a witness to it all! There is nothing better than that. After all, it is out of a similar experience that I'm here today doing what I do at Visiting Orphans. I went on a mission trip in 2007 with Compassion. Honestly, I never had a desire to ever go on a mission trip prior to that. But I wanted to meet my sponsored child and I had just read the part of Purpose Driven Life that talks about asking God to send you. And I had prayed that prayer and the next day got an email about a sponsor tour to the Philippines. God's timing is perfect. I have no doubt of that!!! That sponsor tour changed my life and I couldn't go back to life as usual. I had to do more. So I sponsored several more kids, became a volunteer and later an area coordinator over 18 volunteers in Nashville. And my passion for missions was born too!!! I wanted to go, go, go wherever I could, as often as I could. And 3 years later - I lose my ad agency job only to start helping out with admin work part-time with Visiting Orphans at exactly the same time that it grows from 12-15 trips a year to 25 trips and suddenly has an immediate need for a full-time person to plan trips. I didn't even go looking for it. I was just there and I was open and willing to do whatever was needed. And because I was already helping with anything and everything - there I was in the position to be considered for that role. And here I am - Mission Trip Coordinator of a missions sending agency. Only God! Only God!!!
I challenge you to ask God "will you send me?"! He'll send you. He'll show you. And He'll radically transform your life. It won't look exactly like mine. He has a way of custom fitting each of our paths to our specific giftings. He is a God of details. And He has a plan for your life and He has a plan for the lives of all the people you will touch on the mission field. It's orphans, it's widows, it's village chiefs and translators and your in-country guide. It's everyone God puts in your path. Go where the Lord is calling you and see if He doesn't change your life as a result. If you step out in faith and let God guide you - you'll be amazed at what He'll do. I know I am. I'm amazed everyday that He's put me in this place, that He would choose me for such a time as this, and yet - I'm willing and although I don't feel qualified, I'm also not afraid. I am confident that He will equip me for that which He has laid before me. And thank God - He does!! Cause I can't do it on my own, that's for sure. It's my job to take the things He's put before me very seriously and try to be as diligent and faithful with it as I can with the most integrity. But He's doing the rest! I'm just letting Him use me and feeling humbled and honored that He would choose to. If He can use me, He can use you! We're all broken, sinful humans. But we have an almighty God who can do infinitely more than we can ever ask or imagine. And I hope I get to hear about what He does in your life!!!