Lay it all down, lay it all down, lay it all down, lay it all down.
Everyone in Ohana Court is pressed up towards the front, hands in the air in surrender. There is excitement and joy in the air, and some people are jumping and dancing. But… wow! Do these eighteen-year-olds even know what they are declaring over themselves?! Do any of us young people really understand what a life in missions really means?
It’s so easy when we are gathered as a community here in YWAM to be excited about missions. Hawaii is beautiful, and the people you meet at this base are so awesome! There is excellent, cheap coffee right here on base, a nice air-conditioned prayer room open 24/7, plenty of staff to walk you through all your struggles, and powerful, corporate worship. How can you not fall in love with Jesus here? There are all kinds of hipster world maps and a circle of flags, and you can just look at the maps and flags and dream about all the places you will go one day.
But… missions is not about you. It’s not about “finding yourself”, traveling, or what you want to do in life. It’s about following God wherever he leads. It’s about taking care of his people and bringing them into restoration and relationship with him. And maybe along the way those other things come too, but the goal is always Jesus.
Sometimes following God means you’re not going where you want to go, not doing what you want to do. It’s laying down all your own desires and declaring that God have his way in you. God is a good Father! He cares about you; but like any good parent, that doesn’t mean you get whatever you want.
I’ve read a lot of missionary stories, and all the ones that stick with missions long enough end up going through such unimaginable struggles! Imprisonment, isolation, starvation, persecution, torture, martyrdom, sickness… the list goes on. As I stand in Ohana Court, singing with everyone else, I can’t help but wonder… where will we all be in twenty or thirty years? How many of us will still be in missions, how many will have died or survived some of these book-worthy experiences? And why, knowing the potential horrors ahead of us, do we plunge on, pursuing this life?
Because it’s so worth it! Jesus, you’re worth it all, every nation, every soul.
It may be because I’m only twenty-two and I’m still a bit naive, but I’m so eager to go. I want to work with the refugees and the prostitutes and the orphans, the poor, the sick, the heart-broken. I want to go overseas and struggle with the language and the food and the bathroom situations. I want to show the love of Jesus in tangible ways!
And yet… that’s not where God has me right now. He has called me to Hawaii for this season. I’ve complained so much because I’m doing so little of what I’m actually passionate about. Today I did yard work. Who really thinks to themselves, “I’m so passionate about yardwork!” But… it’s not about me or what I want! I know that work blessed the leaders of our ministry. We cleared the land on their property, and soon they will be able to use that space for ministry events. If I really want to be in missions for the rest of my life, I have to learn the heart of serving. I have to learn the rhythm of hard work. I have to learn how to take responsibility, to look ahead and plan effectively, to have eyes to see what needs to be done. And to be honest, I’m not there yet! But I am learning… and I think I’m finally beginning to understand what missions is really about. If I really want to love people, the first step is dying to myself… because I can only truly love well when I stop operating out of my own desires and let God work in me.
Little David, one of the two precious toddlers I’m caring for at the orphanage, really tries my patience sometimes. My biggest struggle with him is during lunch time. For whatever reason, he often does not want to eat at this time. He starts to play with his food, I take it away and ask if he is done, he whines, I give it back and tell him to eat. Then at some point in this little game, he deliberately puts his whole hand into his bowl and grabs his food and tries to fling it on the ground. He knows this is wrong. I’m not proud to say that usually at this point, I completely lose it. I rip his bowl out of his hands, slap his hand, yell “NO!” and then proceed to violently clean the mess and make him sit in his high chair until I am done. Then I feel mad at myself, because I have lost my patience and my temper. I feel like I have failed at my role as his caregiver. But today, I actually won the battle with patience for once. When David shoved his whole hand in the bowl again today, I kept my cool. I took the bowl away, held his hands until he looked at me, and said calmly but firmly, “No. That’s not okay,” and then slapped his hand. It felt so calm and controlled, and I think it was more effective too. He stuck out his bottom lip and was quiet for a minute. He knew he had disobeyed. And I just felt like maybe I am finally starting to learn. Maybe I am finally getting better at this.
For most of the nearly three months I have been here, I have felt so unbelievably inept at this task of caring for children! I have felt like such a failure. I have been impatient, ill-tempered, irritable, tired, and sloppy. I have doubted God’s calling on my life to work with orphans. I have started to wonder if he brought me here to show me that I am not cut out to work with children. But I do not think that is the case at all. I think raising children is one of the hardest tasks on earth, and of course I am going to make mistakes! I am not always going to be that perfectly patient, calm, put-together person. Some days, it is all I can do to get through the day. But I do think God has gifted me in the area of child care. I think maybe I need to be more patient and gracious with myself. Overall, David and the other toddler, Silaa, are very well-behaved for their age. They are definitely very sweet. David likes to give kisses, and it just melts any frustration that was there a moment ago. The house stays pretty clean regardless of my “I just don’t care today” days. So I think I am doing okay. Even so, though I realize these three months are only a very small taste of what it will be like to be a parent, I am more sure than ever before that I am not ready to be a mom.
And through all of this, I am once again reminded of God’s heart towards us. I was reading this blog post from a mom about why parenting is the hardest job in the world. She writes all these reasons of why it is so hard, and the last reason is love. She writes, “Love is what makes you put up with the power struggles, the endless variations of crying and whining, the constant physical and emotional upheaval children bring to your life. . . . That heart-swelling, earth-shattering, all-consuming love for your kids is what creates the challenges of parenting, yet makes them all worthwhile.” How like God to give the majority of people on earth a job that brings them closer to understanding his heart than perhaps anything else. A job that receives no payment and almost no recognition, yet drives you on tirelessly. Just like you cannot force a child to obey you, so God has given us free will. And he is eternally patient with us through all of our tantrums, all of our blame-games, all of our disobedience. He does not lose his temper or have “I just don’t care today” days. There is no level of disobedience that can cut us off from his love. This love parents have for their children drives them to keep caring for them, through every struggle. And this love, I think, that is the closest understanding we can have as humans to the depth of God’s love for us.
The rain is pouring like nothing I have ever seen before. When it rains here, you can hear it before it actually starts. It comes like a wave- this distant roaring that grows louder and louder until it is all around you, and the sky is thick with dark clouds, unleashing its pent up fury and pounding the earth like a waterfall.
The hesitation to step outside is rather like the hesitation to jump into a lake. I will have to change clothes…
But the childish glee wins and I’m in the downpour, running barefoot and hardly able to see because the water is streaming down my face. Within seconds, every inch of me is completely drenched. The property might as well be deserted–no one else is foolish enough to be out in the rain. But we do not have rain like this where I am from!
Why does a downpour like that feel so freeing? It feels like God’s power and love is pouring out of the sky, and I want to be in it. I want it to soak into my clothes and my hair and stream down my face. It’s like that song, “He is jealous for me. Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy…”
Oh, how he loves us!
My time here in Thailand has been hard. I know it is where I am supposed to be, and there have been some really amazing days, but it has been hard. But running out into the storm, letting the water pound into my skin and wash away all the dirt, sweat, and weariness, my heart swells with joy once more. I will sing to the Lord, for he revives my soul! His love is relentless. You cannot stay dry under the torrents of his love.
Here I am sitting in the coffee shop by the orphanage in Thailand, writing and enjoying amazing coffee and a brownie, just like I pictured myself while I was at home! It is so crazy when your daydreams come true. I arrived three weeks ago and I will be here for three months, caring for two toddlers in a small orphanage that I visited on my DTS.
I knew my time here would be hard. I don’t think anyone can spend time in an orphanage and not be emotionally and physically challenged. But there are other ways I am being challenged that I could not have foreseen. One of these challenges is in my purpose here.
You may have heard me say “I just want to love people!” And it’s so true, but there is so much depth to that word, “love.” In DTS it was so easy to love people. How do I explain that? We were able to love directly–spending time with people, encouraging them, praying with them. Children starved of attention would light up with joy when we played with them or held them, or even so much as smiled at them in passing. We were able to watch the effects of our love–or rather, God’s love through us–as we saw lives transformed before our eyes. We never stayed in a place long enough to bear the burdens of long-term love. And love was reciprocated; I was blessed with a team that delighted in affirming one another, and I knew they loved me. Any challenge I faced, my team was right there to encourage me and pray me through it.
But here… it is so much different! My team is scattered around the world, and I am here on my own. I have to build new relationships with people I have trouble communicating with. My days mainly consist of chores, and I feel I have little time to actually spend with people. Now I am learning a more difficult, deeper kind of love through serving. I am learning to love indirectly–for I will not see the effect I have here. The two babies I care for are not going to suddenly blossom before my eyes simply because I clean the house. They are certainly not starved of attention. If I was not here, someone else would care for them. Still, the work I do here needs to be done each day, and this is where God has called me for now.
I barely understand it myself yet, but I think this is part of why God brought me here: to learn a different kind of love. And wow, it is a challenge! If I even for a moment take my eyes off God and look at my life, I become overwhelmed with exhaustion and can barely drag myself through the day.I have to remind myself that I am serving Him even in the mundane, ordinary chores. I am learning that I do not have to do extraordinary things in the darkest parts of human need to serve God. This is where he wants me right now, and so I will serve by working at these simple tasks with a joyful spirit and thankfulness in my heart.
When I consider if there is somewhere I would rather be; if I would rather be at home, the truth is a big, resounding… no. I love my family and friends, but I have no purpose at home. I do not seem to have a comfort zone anymore, because I do not like being comfortable! So I rejoice in the challenges–because as I learn these things, as I become more and more dependent on God, there is an overwhelming joy.
Okay, time to unload some memories that I cannot bear to forget. This is the story of Camp Oasis, the camp we put on in Naga, Philippines.
When we arrived in Naga, excited to begin our ministry after the small taste of outreach we had had during our four days in Manila, we received the disappointing word from God to “wait.” After two weeks of waiting, intercession and worship, we finally felt God call us to move–to put on a three day camp for the kids of the Philippines. The theme of the camp was understanding our identity in God, which I realized later was probably my personal theme for all of DTS.
Where do I even begin telling about this amazing camp? God worked in so many ways! We were preparing for something like 60-80 kids–we ended up with well over a hundred, ages anywhere from about seven to twenty. We were extremely low on budget–we ran the entire camp with maybe $600. We ate a LOT of rice! The kids came from lots of different places: we had kids from churches, from slum villages, and even from the streets. We piled them up into a jeepney and shuttled them to the camp.
If you are at all familiar with Royal Family Kids Camp (camp in the U.S. for abused children), that is the closest thing I can compare this camp to. The kids are much the same–many have been abused, and all have grown up without the attention, overprotectiveness and commodities that rampage U.S. families. But in RFKC, there was at least one staff person or counselor to each child, all staff were trained months in advance, and we had all the resources we needed. At Camp Oasis, there was about one staff per ten kids, we planned the entire camp in two weeks, and we had almost no resources–AND there was a major language barrier. My team (Golden Cheetahs!) I led with my teammate, Nanna, and we had eleven kids ages 10-14. Half our kids were from a slum village called Azucena, and they spoke barely a word of English. But what kind of setback is that to a God who breathed life in us to begin with?
One of the girls from Azucena, Rachelle, was really on my heart. She was 14 and you could tell that she had to grow up fast. She was tough and motherly at the same time. In RFKC we would have called her a runner; she ran away whenever she got the chance. She would glance back at me because she knew I was watching and then laugh when she caught my eye. She would move around in the crowd of children checking back to see if I was watching, and then before I knew it, she was gone. Of course I went after her every time. I’m so beyond grateful that I had Nanna co-leading with me during those times–she ran so many times that first day! The second day she did not run nearly so much, and the third day she did not run at all.
Kuya Utol–a street magician/evangelist that worked at the YWAM base we were staying at–had been ministering to a group of street kids for a while and invited them to camp. By some miracle of God, their leader came too! At first he would not really participate or respect the leaders that were placed over him. Instead he led his street kids in rebelling against authority, sneaking off to do drugs in the bathroom and things like that. But the second day, things started to change.
During the second day, Kuya Adel gave his third sermon entirely in Tagalog or Bicol, so I have no idea what the message was about–but when he was finished, all the kids came into the middle of the church, crying and praying for one another and being prayed for. All of us clueless leaders stood around on the sides, praying over them. Oh… how can I possibly describe this moment? It was one of the highlights of all of outreach. I was so overwhelmed by the presence of God in that place. I did not even know what the pastor had said! But Rachelle and the other Azucena girls were crying, and I knew something had finally reached her heart. The street kid leader, Rammel, was up front weeping also, hugging the pastor, and the pastor was weeping in return. Rammel was saved that day! Most of the street kids and many others were saved as well! I just could not believe the things that God was doing right before my eyes. I think I had felt really discouraged the day before. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and watching Rachelle like a hawk and running after her all the time, and I was frustrated because I could not talk to her and reason with her. I knew how to say “I love you” in Tagalog: “Mahal kita!” and I said it often, but that was all I could say! I prayed for her a lot. But in that moment, praying over all those weeping children, I saw the love of God sweep over them and touch their hearts in deeper ways than I ever could have managed on my own. These are the things you pray for but you so rarely witness, and God allowed us to see some of the effects his love can have on people. I guess this camp gave us a purpose for the rest of outreach and maybe even the rest of our lives: that prayer, intercession, and partnering with God in his reckless love can change people’s hearts forever. Because your identity is in God and not in your circumstances. You are loved, you are forgiven, you are precious, you are redeemed.
That night, we had some time with our groups to talk with the help of a translator. I was able to find out why another girl, Maye, was crying. She said she felt so much shame for all the bad things she had done, and I was able to explain to her with the help of the translator how shame is not of God! That Jesus died and took her shame upon the cross and God had already forgiven her when she repented; that he loves her unconditionally. We had posters up that the kids could write on, and she wrote “God love me so much” on all of them, which just melted my heart. How precious are God’s children!
The last day, worshipping was probably the best worship experience ever. I was overjoyed at the work God had done in the kids and in us over three short days. The songs we sang were songs you had to dance to, and we were all jumping and dancing with huge smiles! Rachelle engaged in the worship, finally, which sent my heart soaring. Later on, we even did the cha-cha slide for fun and let me tell you, that was the most fun I have ever had doing the cha-cha slide. It was especially amusing since many of the kids do not speak English and therefore cannot understand the dance instructions in the song. So they just followed us as best they could or did their own thing and we all laughed the whole way through!
What joy filled my heart that day. I cannot describe it. I woke up burning with fever and aching all over, but I pressed on and joy overtook my sickness until we returned back to base! In the Philippines, it is custom to give “remembrances” when you say goodbye. All of my Azucena girls (including Rachelle) gave me their name-tags! I will keep them forever. All of my campers are so precious to me. I’ve written mostly about the ones from Azucena but the others are so dear to me also! Some of them I am friends with on facebook! So if any of you beautiful children are reading this, know that each and every one of you is and always will be important to me. I love you all. And praise be to God for those three days that he taught me so much about my identity in Him and drew me so much closer to Him. Praise be to God for the love he poured out on all of us.
I’m home! Obviously my updates have been horrendously absent. There is SO much more I want to write about from my DTS trip. Hopefully I can get some of those incredible stories written down soon! For now, I just want to share some of my thoughts for the day.
I’m glad I can never fully understand God. When you fully understand something, it gives you a certain kind of power over it; you learn how to manipulate it and predict what it will do. But we can never manipulate God; we can never understand his ways because they are different and higher than our own, and he is so much greater than human understanding! How can the pot manipulate or understand its maker? Yes, absolutely God is constant and unchanging, faithful to the end. He always loves and he is always good. But how can we understand what that looks like in our limited perspective? He loves–yet people are not always healed, not always rescued, not always joyous. There is no rhyme or reason. We try to make sense of it by chalking it up to “sin” or “not enough faith.” But God is not limited by the failure of our humanity! He still restores, regardless of our mistakes and spiritual immaturity. Death, sickness, tragedy… none of that was part of God’s original plan. The darkness of sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to let it in, because God gave them that choice. But God is gracious and merciful and allows us to see glimpses of heaven by healing and doing miracles on Earth! He has already given us so much more than we deserve! But how can we ever understand why some people receive those blessings and others do not? All we can do is trust the one who made us and cares for us. And there is something comforting about being totally dependent on someone so much greater than ourselves–someone we can never fully understand but who understands everything about us, down to the very depths of our hearts, and loves us unconditionally.
We are in the Philippines! I can still hardly believe it!
Our first day, we went for a tour around Smokey Mountain in Manila, the poorest area in all the Philippines. We walked through big concrete housing developments with gaping dark entrances and children waving from the windows, through muddy roads lined with shacks made of tarps and whatever scraps were available, and finally climbed Smokey Mountain, from which you can see all the slums and then the skyscrapers way in the distance, barely visible through the smog. Smokey Mountain is literally a mountain of trash. There is vegetation growing on it, but you can still see the trash poking through. The whole area reeks like nothing else. It feels like the stench just soaks into your clothes and your skin and your hair, like you could catch some disease just breathing. The puddles in the road are cloudy and almost green and there is trash everywhere. Scrawny cats and dogs roam the whole area.
How can I even really describe this place? It is by far the filthiest place I have ever been in my life, far worse than I could have imagined. The next two nights I had dreams that I lived in the slums to help people and there was no way out–no coming back to base, rinsing the crap off my shoes and showering. I woke up in my bed feeling dirty and restless. And yet that is what it is like for those people–there is no way out for them. There is already an unusual strength about people that live like that. They are hard-working and resourceful; they dig through the trash and make things out of it, and they find a way to survive. They take something as dead and disgusting as a literal mountain of trash and grow new life from it in gardens. The children are so joyful and so curious about the foreigners walking through their town. Most of the children wave at you, and the brave ones come and take your hand or try to high-five you. Then they look so surprised and pleased when you respond to them!
There are several people that I will remember long after I leave this place. As we were coming down Smokey Mountain, a girl with long, black hair that was maybe twelve or fourteen reached out and touched my arm. I turned around and she just looked at me shyly and said hi. That kind of curiosity and hope so intense that she would reach out to me amazed me. Another time, I saw a woman holding a baby on the side of the road, so I smiled at her and she smiled back. There is something so intriguing about looking into a stranger’s eyes… I wonder what her life is like, where she has been, what she thinks about, what else those dark eyes have seen. And then to smile at her and see her face light up is the best feeling! I am inspired by the perseverance of these people. We visited some in their homes and talked with them and it is easy to see that even though they have to fight so hard just to survive day to day, they are so full of hope! After only the first day on outreach, I realize that I cannot just dip my toes into the poverty of a third-world country and run back to the safety of America for the rest of my life… I’m not sure what that means right now but I know that my heart is already too invested to just count this as a good experience and leave it here when I go home!