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The Trip: Wreckage

Thank you for reading this short series about my second mission trip. This will be the last installment.

If you’ve been on a mission trip before then you probably know. If you haven’t, then let me tell you. There’s this feeling that you feel when you arrive home from a mission trip. You feel like your life will never be the same, really — like the trip wrecked your real life, in a way. You feel like your state of normalcy can never be at that level again. Well, that’s — for lack of a better word — normal, I would say. If anything, that’s supposed to happen.

I didn’t think I would feel this way again, however. To be honest, I went into the trip feeling disillusioned. Ah yes, disillusioned — not with the world necessarily, but with life. About a week before leaving for the trip I was offered a job. A decent one . . . with benefits . . . and related to both of my hard-earned degrees (I mean that’s the Holy Grail right there). After being offered the dream, with my potential employer knowing full well of my plans to be gone for two weeks, it was then swiftly taken away. Turns out they needed me sooner than they thought, and I simply couldn’t be there. For a few days, the mission trip was the bane of my existence, the reason why my 7-month job search had gone nowhere. I openly asked God, “Why?”

I’ve learned that a mission trip is the perfect opportunity for God to turn your world upside down (and possibly to shake it up and down too). You can be ruined in the best way possible. Let me explain . . .

When we stand in love, compassion, and solidarity with others in need, we learn that real life can’t be cultivated, dispersed, and, well, purchased in mass quantities at your local market. The real kind of life that we’re looking for is a dark, narrow, snow-filled road that few find (I sometimes liken it to the life Robert Frost writes of in his magnum opus). It’s the sort of thing that you need to forthrightly search for. And when you find it, it demands everything of you — even a potential career, it seems like. You sell all that you have for it. And as you lose everything that seems to be your life, you gain what is most important — your soul, your relationship with God.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to be home (I really missed peanut butter and my puppy). But part of me longs to stay wrecked. I think that I need it. I don’t want everything to go back to normal. I want to stay a little odd (Cue jokes about dorky Cynthia. Ha ha ha . . .). The feelings that I feel when I think of the boys we left definitely help my wreckage. Because it seems that God works most powerfully when I’m out of my comfort zone, I don’t know how to continue with the weirdness without going on a journey that calls me to submission and sacrifice.

A mission trip, at its core (for me, at least), reminds you that your agenda isn’t always God’s agenda (and I wholeheartedly lived that statement). Yes, it sort of messes you up, but you feel like a different person in the end — one that you should cultivate more and more. I don’t know about you, but I need to remember that Jesus’ definition of “living abundantly” looks more like dying or being (here it comes . . .) wrecked than it resembles a perfect résumé or portfolio.

P.S. I understand that God has a plan for me, all in His timing. I ask you, friends, that you pray so that the plan is manifested (quickly) as a job offer for me. I really need it. Thank you and it’s been a pleasure writing about this special time in my life that will never be forgotten. God bless. 🙂

The Trip: The Work

“Choice is the problem” (you’ve seen The Matrix, right?). And I agree. We live in a world full of opportunities, and though it seems heartening (and it really is actually), we can’t do them all. We all have to choose which way we want to go.

In today’s ever-changing world, many people are getting confused about their personal life mission. What they learned to be desirable either ceased to exist or is being diluted through lots of other options. Though I’m still not exactly sure of my “life mission”, I know that one facet of that purpose will include traveling to other countries, observing, and, well, serving in one form or another.

So what happens when there are options aplenty within that “supposed” life mission? What do you do? Where do you go from there? Well, in true missionary form — you pray. Right?

This past missionary trip was chock-full of opportunity. Our leaders constantly gave us details of all of the connections of local pastors and ministries in Maracaibo for which we could serve. As I mentioned in a previous post about the trip, our itinerary was tentative. So tentative, in fact, that we didn’t know where we were going to stay two days before we arrived. Again, what do you do in situations such as this one? Yep, you pray.

Nightly, during our pow-wow sessions — that’s where decisions were made . . . sort of. We’d hear of the possibilities for work the next day and think, logistically and spiritually, what would be the best course of action. Would there be kids there? Is there transportation available? Would we be redeeming, helping a lost world? Most importantly, would we be completing God’s mission? After all, this wasn’t about whether or not we’d feel accomplished at the end of the day, or whether or not we were drop-dead tired at the end of day . . . And then we’d pray. My asking God for guidance, discernment, and, frankly, His intercession soon became something natural — for all of us, really.

So what is His mission? How did Jesus complete the mission? It appears that His mission was done in a small-scale way at times. It wasn’t necessarily about the numbers. Jesus’ entire journey was through community. He modeled community by starting community — with twelve disciples who would manifest it. In this way, Jesus illustrated a strategic model that could easily be emulated for the mission to continue.  Chapter Two of the Book of Acts, verses 42 and on particularly, shows us what community looked like and what it did. It evangelized, it served, and it worshipped (among other things, of course). Plain and simple, regardless of the number, the quantity. And as a result, the mission spread, again, regardless of the how many. I suppose that at their best, churches and communities of people are a reflection of these original communities that did those acts with love, with sincerity. And as it turns out, when we do these things in a genuine spirit, according to God’s Will, these purposes are fulfilled in balance and harmony, they fulfill the mission of God. Or so I like to believe ;).

I guess this is part where I tell you about the things we did, our assignments in Maracaibo, right? Well, I could go on and on, really. So if you have specific questions, I suggest you email me — I’d be more than happy to answer :). But let me just say that in the process of working, we did make connections, relationships in Christ. And well, isn’t that what this whole thing was about anyway?

luz and I on christmas day — children's hospital. photo by guillermo sánchez via facebook

The Trip: The Team

It might be difficult to believe . . . but missionaries are humans. I know, I know, people with seemingly sound minds voluntarily traveling to a Socialist nation where they’re not necessarily wanted are human? Huh? Well, it’s true.

This means that clashes are bound to happen, right? Sure.

The problem of various clashes among missionaries is not unique to this one field of work. Where two or three are gathered, missionaries included, there is potential for conflict. My truth is that missionaries are not super-spiritual beings working in sterilized environments free of normal human problems. Missionaries are humans like everyone, with problems like every other person. And as it is for all other people, disagreements with co-workers can be extremely frustrating, so it is for missionaries. Including God in a situation changes everything, however. All bets are off, so to speak.

Now that that is out of the way . . . Let me introduce the team that went to Maracaibo, Venezuela.

most of the team. via facebook

There was basically every reason for this team and the other local missionaries we worked with to butt heads, grapple, quarrel, disagree with each other. But we didn’t, really. I mean the team itself (all 11 of us) didn’t meet up in its entirety often (in actuality, we all met up to talk logistics of the trip once). It’s also important to note that we all range in ages, nationalities, denominations, churches. So how, just how did it work?

I would say, and (if they allow me) to speak for each person on the team, we all just really wanted it to happen. I know, I know — lame. But we had been waiting for this trip for so long, been through personal obstacles impeding on the actual happening of the mission, organizational and logistical issues that kept us from knowing where we going to stay once landing in the city . . .  that once we knew the tentative date of the trip and we all, in one way or another, had our plane tickets booked, there was simply no looking back. I mean, having the tickets booked meant something, right?

Local missionaries and church groups often asked us: “So where are you all from?” “Where is your church?” More often than not, as I answered with, “Oh, we’re all from different churches, from different places . . .”, I would usually get a ruffled brow in response. By the end of the trip — as God inspired us to become more and more united — when a person would follow-up with a question like, “Oh, well, how does that work?”,  my immediate response naturally became, “It’s a God thing.” Es algo de Dios.

If you’re reading this, team — let me just say it was an honor to work with you all. Thank you for being such highly motivated self-starters. I learned a lot.

And, well, yeah, it was a God thing. I mean, how else would lively Puerto Ricans, more subtle Americans (ie. Me), and many others be able to get along and not kill each other? Oh yeah, God was definitely involved.  Surely this must be the work of God. Only He can reach into the ashes, into a mound of disarray, and retrieve the unexpected and the beautiful.

To be continued . . .

Notes to Future Husband – #5

I will love you as warm, flushed cheeks love the cold side of the pillow, as the cold side of the pillow loves the cushy bed it is laid upon, as the bed loves its function as the ultimate means of relaxation, as the act of relaxation loves the looming moment of the first exhalation, as that exhalation loves being released between plump, dewy lips, as those lips love being extraordinarily kissed by equally wonderful (if not bigger and wetter) lips, and as those lips love to unleash words of adoration and affection, even to the point of bashfulness. I will love you until all such words are discovered and ultimately said to you.

Yours,

Cynthia

The Trip: The Kids

This is going to be quite odd to admit, especially as a two-time missionary who felt the call to minister to kids, but I, in actuality, don’t like kids . . .

Maybe I should be more specific, though, right?

I don’t like American kids. They, for the most part (at least I’ve observed), act very entitled and, well, bratty. I don’t know, but maybe this is due in part to how easy some kids have it here (I know, I know, this is a super-generalization, but spend time with kids from another country and you’ll see what I mean). I’ll use myself as an example. I mean I’m not a kid anymore. I’ll actually turn 25 this year (yikes!), but I spent 18 years as an overpriveleged American kid, so I have a bit of experience ;).

I was the little girl who cried if she didn’t get a balloon at the local shopping mall. I was the little mocosa who wasn’t satisfied with the one outfit that her Barbie came with. I was the little brat who couldn’t stand it if her little brother got to open the last Christmas present around the tree (and would “appropriately” react by screaming her lungs out). In lesser words, I wouldn’t want to spend two weeks of my time with 7-year-old me.

Enter Venezuelan kids.

I am not the most affectionate person (seriously, ask people) and it really takes a certain type of person to work with kids — someone patient, open, intuitive, loving, affectionate, tolerant, and the list goes on . . .

I wouldn’t say I possess all these qualities. So the fact that I loved my time with these kids (and it seemed like they liked me too) made the trip true destiny, a God thing, a way in which God portrayed His perfect timing, His compassion, His kindness, His rectitude . . .  Again, I could go on and on.

So what is it about these particular kids? It’s a bit difficult to point out. But there’s just something about kids who smile, whose faces visibly brighten, right as you walk into a room.

I remember that on the first day of a small camp we were running, some members of the team and I arrived late. As the 40-year-old taxi pulled up to the modest church (a roof held by four posts), I saw the thirty or so kids waiting quietly for us. Naturally, I became nervous. I thought, “Keeping kids waiting is never a good idea. First impression points knocked off for sure.” (I can be quite pessimistic, I know). I walked the plank towards the church with a shaky Hola!

Much to my surprise, I received warm and energetic Hola!’s in return, enthusiastic waves, and curious Cómo te llamas?’s. It was the loveliest. It seemed like I didn’t have to do any work at all.

Maybe it’s because these kids are so open to hugs and affection (as God miraculously also worked in me to become just as open), maybe it’s because though they don’t have much, they buy you popsicles to help alleviate the sticky Maracaibo heat, maybe it’s because they sincerely want to learn more about you and why you’re there. Or maybe it’s because my heart was fated and ready to be gently stolen on this trip. Or maybe The Beatles were right, and all you do need is love. Yep, I’ll chalk it up to all those things.

the kids. via facebook

To be continued . . .

The Trip: The Setting

I’m not sure where I’m trying to go with this post. An introduction to the time I spent away in Venezuela? Bear with me, as I also see where this goes . . .

Six days ago I came back from a two-week missionary trip to Maracaibo, Venezuela. This marked my second missionary/service trip. My first was spent in the Sierra de Perija, Venezuela in June 2010. I wrote a bit about that particular trip here and here.

via flickr

I’m not sure where to begin. So I’ll start with the photo above — my reaction to this photo. This photo wasn’t taken by me or anybody I know. A simple search on Flickr (y’all know how much I love Flickr . . .) led me to this photo. I remember that weeks before I arrived in Maracaibo, I fervently searched for photos of the city — to get a feel for the place, the buildings, the environment, the people. This is what I saw photos of most. The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge on Lake Maracaibo, a symbol of a budding and buzzing metropolis. I remember saying, “Cool — ministering to kids and young people next to this famous lake — can’t wait.” It’s funny, however, because though I’ve spent a combined month in the country, I have yet to even see this bridge during my time in Venezuela.

While a imagined a port city bustling with people going to and from their demanding jobs, I didn’t come to find that. In fact, I have yet to touch the waters of the famous Lake Maracaibo. Rather, I spent time in dusty neighborhoods that even taxis and public cars wouldn’t venture into. This was Maracaibo for me — a sometimes urban jungle, but mostly a dirt road-laden community, with its own citizens afraid to undertake the “tougher” neighborhoods — where taxi drivers would say (in Spanish, of course), “Oh, you want to go there? I don’t go there. I can drop you off in the outskirts.” It was difficult not to become disillusioned with the people, when they were not willing to help their own (this, of course, wasn’t the case for every Maracucho. There are actually many locals who are graciously and selflessly giving themselves for the sake of their people’s salvation and well-being ).

And here we were, us stupid Americans 😉 asking to be thrown into the supposed dangerous abyss. Call it foolishness? I, in actuality, call it faith. I suppose this is the time where I mention that this is the reason I (and most likely each person on the team) decided to completely shatter their comfort zones.

Faith. You know, the whole “believing air exists even though you can’t see it” concept (How many times have you heard that annoying phrase?). I took comfort in the simple Ecclesiastes 8:5 — “Whoever obeys His command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure” (NIV 1984). It was blind. I couldn’t really picture what we were going to do exactly or how we were going to strengthen the spirits of these kids. But never did I feel alone, without recourse.  I just knew I was supposed to be there (it’s just an indescribable feeling . . .). So there we all walked into the difficult neighborhoods, Bibles and love in tow, to share with bright-eyed, incredibly energetic, receptive kids (below).

santa fe 2. via facebook

To be continued . . .

[FW]: Adventure