“Nor will people say, Look! Here it is! or, See, it is there! For behold,
the kingdom of God is within you (in your hearts) and among you (surrounding you).”
At the beginning of August, Will and I had the privilege of leading our second mission trip to Nicaragua. (Read about our first trip in 2013 here and here.) Of all the mission trips I’ve been on, I know that the best way to prepare my heart is to simply try to forget any expectations I might have. I went into this trip with an open heart, ready to receive whatever it was that God had to show me.
If I could put it in a nutshell, I would say this: Now, more than ever before, I want this beautiful and hard ministry experience to translate into my every day life. I want the Kingdom of God to be on my heart and mind constantly. I do not want to separate my 1 week in Nicaragua with the other 51 weeks spent here in Raleigh, in my pretty home and quaint studio the rest of the year. I want my prayers to be for others who are hurting in distant lands, not just for my family, my life, my needs. I want our budget and our money to reflect our hearts, generously giving towards those who are hungry, naked, and fatherless. I want to play my small role in being the change that I see needs to happen on this earth.
a home in Nicaragua
While I was in Nicaragua, I learned that this goal of effecting change can be extremely daunting and discouraging at times. When we left, each member of our team brought 2 large bags full of kids clothing and toiletry kits to give away. We had practiced Spanish and prayed and sang and practiced skits and prepared as much as we knew how. We felt ready to go and make a huge difference! When we arrived, we implemented everything we had prepared for. And yet, as we walked through the impoverished neighborhoods, passing out clothing and kits, and asking to pray for families or people who needed it, all of our supplies ran out very quickly. Every child needed some article of clothing. (Most children walked around either without a shirt or pants, and most did not have shoes on.) Every mother needed the toiletry kit to help keep her family clean. (I had an elderly lady beg me for some shampoo – it was priceless to her.) We went to Nicaragua feeling like we were going to make a difference, and we left feeling like there is such a difference that is yet to be made. There were times I felt so helpless because our supplies were running out and we had only been to a few neighborhoods. By the time we finished our trip, we had distributed all of our supplies in 3 neighborhoods. Only 3 neighborhoods in the city of Managua! Only 3 neighborhoods in the entire country of Nicaragua! I felt like a drop in a huge empty bucket of poverty and need. All I wanted to do was turn on the faucet until it overflowed, but all I had to offer was my one drop.
“But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) continually within him unto eternal life. The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never get thirsty nor have to come here to draw.'” John 4:14,15
Hallelujah, HE is the Living Water, when I am only a drop.
Below: We spent about an hour in this neighborhood. One of the locals explained that the pipes you see on the ground are the pipes that carry their drinking water to their neighborhood. I walked down this street, and when I looked down, I noticed a hole in the pipe (that I could easily kick dirt and dust into just by walking by) and a trickling stream of water in the bottom of it. If you have a moment, just stop and stare at this photo. To the left, you will see the side of a house, pieced together by scraps of metal. You will notice chickens roaming freely, rusty barbed wire to fence in and hold up housing, clothes drying, (Lord may I never complain about laundry again,) and kids playing with a yellow sword-balloon in the distance. (One of our team members is a wonderful balloon artist.) It smelled of bonfires burning and dirt. It was hot and it was quiet. This is their neighborhood, this is their life. Just looking at this image makes me incredibly thankful.
The last night of trip, Will shared scriptures from Matthew 13: all about the Kingdom of God. After a week of feeling overwhelmed, heavy, and helpless, these words that Jesus spoke brought life and light into the darkness I was feeling. The Kingdom of God on this earth starts small. It’s about the one. It’s not about changing the world, but it’s about changing the life that is in front of you. Will read these words:
Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
Above: This sweet girl I am hugging is that mustard seed. We laid hands on her and prayed healing over her as she has been diagnosed with a blood disease and her parents are desperately seeking God for answers. I am believing she will be healed to fullness of life and health again in Jesus’ name.
Above: Horacio is also the mustard seed. One of the highlights of this trip was to meet him. We sponsored him last year through the Donna Holland School, and this year we got to meet him face to face! We prayed for him and wrote to him, and now we can say that we know him. It was amazing, really. Those 3 photos on my fridge now have more meaning than I could have ever imagined.
As I experienced the heart of the great and loving God that I serve, I realized these truths:
– He is the Living Water! He is the faucet that I need! He has the ability to provide and to heal and to comfort, when I am lacking.
– Jesus goes after the one. While I was overwhelmed at facing the needs of the entire country of Nicaragua, all I needed to do was focus on the one precious life in front of me in each moment. “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” Luke 15:4-7
– The Kingdom of God starts small and grows. : Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”
– The heart of the Lord is close to the poor, the fatherless, the needy. We honor Him when we help those who need it. “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him.” Proverbs 14:31
Isn’t that a message of hope! We cannot do everything, but we can do something. It seems impossible to leave an impact in this world, and yet when I arrived in Nicaragua by lunchtime on Monday, I realized that it is, in fact, very possible. It’s just a few hours in a plane. It’s just a few articles of clothing. It’s just a few dollars each month to sponsor a child. It’s just 1 week of my 52 weeks each year.
It’s hard for me to reconcile all that I’ve seen and experienced with how I live my life here in the US. The first few days of the trip, we stayed at a Christian Retreat Center that used to be an orphanage (all orphanages were nationalized, so they had to close its doors).
This place had no AC, water that we weren’t allowed to drink, geckos crawling on the walls, cold showers, open windows. We slept in mosquito nets and twin beds. When I laid my head down to sleep at night, I was sticky and sweaty – throwing off even a thin sheet because of the heat. I didn’t know if I would be able to sleep because I was so hot, but every night, I eventually drifted off from pure exhaustion. It was a wonderful physical challenge of comfort for the entire team. Hard, but so good.
During the day, as we went into the neighborhoods in Nicaragua, I realized that the retreat center where we were staying was so much nicer than most of their homes. We had floors, running water, cement walls, sinks, private toilets, beds, towels, and fans.
And then, at the end of 8 wonderful and challenging days, we came home. My own bed had never felt so good. I was amazed that I could get ice and water whenever I wanted it. I had food in my pantry, a closet with way to many clothes, cool air blowing through the vents. I know I experienced this last year, but I experienced it again this year: I was overwhelmed with how much I have.
With that realization, I am slowly changing my life and my language. I am happy to stay in this small townhome for as long as the Lord wants us here, because it is more than enough. I am stopping the comparison game with my friends, the size of their house vs. my own, etc. – it’s wasted energy and it’s foolish when I have so much. I am not shopping nearly as much as I used to. I’m going to stop saying “I need ____.” Materially speaking, I don’t need anything. I am going to remain flexible in my day to day work, just as I had to on this trip! I am going to stay available to how God wants to use me.
I am going to remember. God graced me with the experience of opening my eyes to the hurt He sees every single day. I’m going to remember what I saw, pray for those we met, print photos and hang them in my home.
This trip marked Will’s last event on staff at our church in full time ministry, which is kind of funny, because I feel like our ministry is just beginning.