9th grade service trip to Ciudad Bolivar

As I write this today, I’m exhausted, emotional, and there is a non-ending list of things I need to do before I can rest tonight.  But, I need to take a break before this up-coming graduation/ end-of-the-year-celebration totally consumes every last drop I have and reflect on how incredible this week has been so far. 🙂

This past year, once a month, the 9th graders have taken an hour-and-a-half bus ride with me to the very south of the city – up winding, broken roads; we pass shacks, piles of garbage and stray dogs and children to a little dirt side-street where our ministry house is.  Ciudad Bolivar, in the past, was known as one of the most dangerous parts of the city.  Even this year, there has been limited guerrilla activity up on the mountain where we serve; but, Saturday mornings are relatively safe, and we arrive ready to love on the kids who live in the every-day dangers that come with being displaced.  The students have struggled, grown, and been completely challenged as they’ve learned to love on these kids who are so different from them.

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At ECA, we dedicated the last week of school to mission and service.  The 9th and 10th graders do something special with the children they’ve been serving all year; 11th grade usually takes a trip outside the city to work in a poor school; and 12th grade takes their Senior trip, incorporating some kind of service.  Two years ago, because transportation in a city of 10-11 million people is ridiculous, we decided that the class that partners with the ministry in Ciudad Bolivar would spend 1-2 nights in that part of the city, in a safe barrio.

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I will be honest, on top of everything else that’s been going on, it hasn’t been easy planning this particular trip.  There are many parents who love seeing how their children are changing and growing through the different service opportunities they’ve had; but they, unfortunately, aren’t the parents I hear from the most.  The 2 weeks leading up to this trip, I felt beaten down and broken.

I think that’s why I value what God did in all of us during the trip.  It was challenging for many reasons (we had a puker on our team the first night… and I’m a sympathy puker… not a good combination.  ha!), but the class united and not only served hundreds of kids, but served each other in beautiful ways.  I also got to have some great one-on-one time with some of the girls.  I was their small-group leader last year, and it was wonderful to get caught up and hear how they are growing this year.

Anyway, instead of sharing more of my words, I want to put up a few responses the students wrote yesterday when we got back to school.  They’re pretty cool! 🙂

From Maria Jose:

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This service week was a very special week, where we as 9th graders could learn new things about
our city, and have our eyes open to the reality of some people, and we could help and be a testimony in
this people’s life. I was able to connect with a little girl who was about 5 years old. At the beginning she
was very shy but after a while she talked to me and told me how her mother and step father would hit
her and not show any kind of love towards her. I was very shocked and decided to talk to her about God
and trying to teach her and show her real love and care. I will keep praying about her because she
impacted my life. I learned about God that if we do things in his name, and show people that God is with
us, he will always help us and protect us and be with us. We had very special and unique times with the
class where we bonded together and got to meet each other more. I will never forget this week since it
was a very special time for me since I learned about people and how they suffered or some of the
situations in their life, where I was able to help, but also how 9th grade got closer as a class and to God.

From Juan David:

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This service week was of great impact in my life. I could see how blessed I am to have everything I need,
a house, food, clothes, and more importantly a home, and I am not grateful enough. The rage in most
of the kids stood out to me. You could see the pain they were feeling by the way they looked at us. This
impacted me because I can only imagine the things that the children have had to experience, and they
are situations that WE don’t usually experience. Every single kid was different but one of the kids that
most impacted me was named Alejandro. It is the kid I’m holding in the picture above. He was very
violent as soon as I saw him; he wanted to hit Carlos and called him offensive names. But when he saw I
was giving kids piggyback rides he wanted me to give him one and from then on he didn’t want to leave
me. This happened during lunch. Then when I was in the Bingo section he was disruptive and wouldn’t
let anyone talk, and would keep hitting Carlos. Some classmates were trying to hold him but he would
just respond with more violence and throwing a tantrum. I tried to calm him down by talking to him, I
tried to reason with him and told him to sit down with me, and he grabbed me by the hand sat me down
on a chair and sat on my lap. He was quiet the rest of the class and told me some stories. I realized these
kids just need someone that cares for them. I want to remember this whole experience; every single
detail was good for me to grow as a Christian and as a person. But I especially don’t want to forget how
some people are just seeking love instead of material things.

From Manuela:

There were a lot of nice moments and things that I learned about in this service week. It was a
very special time that I could share with my class and serving others. A moment in service that really
impacted me was when there was this little boy about 6 years old called Alejandro that was really
misbehaved but at the same time he was really cute. At first he wouldn’t do anything we told him to
and he would just be really rude and say very disrespectful things to us and everyone would try to make
him behave but he wouldn’t. But I tried to be really loving to him just be there and pay attention to him
and at the end he would be extremely sweet and kind with me and everyone and he didn’t want to let
go of me when the activity was over. This was very special to me because I could see that sometimes all
someone needs to feel better is for someone to be nice to them and show them love and that can really
change someone. Something that I learned about our class was that even though sometimes we fight, if
we set our minds towards doing something good and that pleases God, we can do really amazing things
that can impact people´s life for a long time. Something I always want to remember is when we were
doing the mural and putting a lot of effort on it and a little kid passed by and said how beautiful it was
because it taught me how doing something nice to someone, can not only be good for that person but it
can also impact other people´s life.

From Cielo:

Three days of service, are three days to get to know one another as a class. For me serving taking the
pictures at the first foundation we went at was really fun, because I got to see how everyone has their own
talent and they use it to bless others. Even with horrible outfits or doing things we didn’t want to our heart of
service and love for the children where immense. The children we worked with are people that don’t have the
same life and opportunities as we do, but they enjoy every little detail that for us isn’t important. As we played
with the small group the plans changed, we went from bingo to carrying children around. That moment were
even in the simple things as serving with joy, hugging, and playing with those children is the one that impacted
me, because just looking at the smiles in those faces made me realize that in the simple is the great, and that
these kids really are in need of God. We were there to share that with them and make a moment of their day
fun no matter what the reality they live in is. As a class we grew as in every way. It was a great experience to see
how united we are and how much God is doing with our class. I learned that we care, we understand, and we
are really patient with one another, but what I most like is that my class is like a big family with different people
that care for each other no matter the way they are.

From Vanessa:

Something that stood out to me during service was the day that we were painting all day. It was a day of really
hard work but we never gave up and it was definitely worth it. I liked to see the change from brick old brown wall to
colorful and beautiful wall showing God’s word to other people. Someone I met that really impacted me was when I was holding a small baby girl and singing to her a worship song. She was very quiet and calm when I hold her, but once I had to let her go, she was very upset. The little baby girl would not let go of me at all. Her sister had to pull her away from me as the baby was crying. I showed the baby love and she liked it, which is why she didn’t want to let go of me. It impacted me because it showed me that even the smallest and slightest amount of love is enough to show God’s love through you and make them feel special. I was holding her and singing to her songs and by this, I was showing love to her and it was something that she probably doesn’t feel every day. I want to remember the experience of showing love like painting the wall, without getting anything back just like Jesus did when he died in the cross for us.

 

From Santiago:

I really liked the moment when I played with the three kids. It made me think about
them and remember experiences about my own life. I think every child at that age should
have a manly, paternal, figure in their life to affirm their identity. That’s why these children
like to play violent stuff and make everything they do or see violent. First, I thought I shouldn’t
play violent games with them, because I could’ve been showing them violence; but then I
understood that every child at this age needs a manly figure in their lives. I also grew up in
Ciudad Bolivar so I started to remember things about my childhood and how I used to walk
in that streets playing just like these kids played. That’s why I think this moment and these
children, that I met, stood and will stand out for a lot of time in my memory.

 

Glory to God!  Now, on to my un-ending list…..

Processing… and waiting

Leo and I are about to celebrate 3 years of marriage!  It’s crazy how fast these few years have gone, and how many obstacles we’ve had to overcome in such a short time!  The few months leading up to our wedding, and even a year and a half into our marriage, it felt like it was us against the world!  Or, at least, us against the US Immigration laws and other issues that had to do with Leo not being able to get to the States.  Now, things have kinda switched around a bit.  Leo even took his first trip by himself to the States in March… a kind-of expensive requirement that comes with having a resident Visa… he can’t be out of the States for longer than 6 months.

We are at a bit of a stand-still now, however.  Leo would really like for us to have a year-long furlough in the States sometime soon, and I agree that we need a break!  Back in October, we were thinking that we could do it this coming January… but things haven’t worked out how we hoped.  We were thinking I could get pregnant, have the baby here in Colombia (I don’t have insurance in the States), and then live the last year of Leo’s residency requirement, before he gets US citizenship, in the States being close to family in a kind-of utopian, rest-filled existence.  Well, obviously, I’m not pregnant yet, and from what we’ve seen and heard from doctors, even visiting the States isn’t a good option for me because of my hormone issues and how connected my body is to seasons.  The two 2-month trips we took during opposite seasons knocked my body off again, and that’s the reason I’m still having a hard time getting pregnant.  And, if we went to the States and were able to get insurance, we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant until we’ve paid into the system for 9 months.  So, everything is on hold, and it’s not very fun.

All that to say…I’m not doing well… in many ways.

I’ve read 2 books lately that have really helped put words to my emotions.  One is “God on Mute” by Peter Greig.  He skillfully writes about the many reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  Ultimately, it’s because our life is meant to glorify Him, and He will do what He wants with us.  We can’t manipulate Him, have enough faith, or do enough good things to change His mind.  He knows what is best for us in the long-run, and He will have His way.

The second book I devoured this week is “A Million MIles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller.  I know it’s been out for a long time, but I finally had time to read it this week… I was sick at home for 2 days.   He writes about the importance of having a story, but yet knowing that our personal story ties in with the big Story that is weaved through generations of lives.   The greatest stories are those that have an obstacle too big for the main character to overcome without great sacrifice.

We don’t have many helpful answers to my health issues, but I can’t help think that somehow malaria has something to do with it.  My liver was pretty damaged during the whole ordeal, and your liver is what processes your hormones. Almost 7 years ago, I had to understand that if facing death was the price, it was worth knowing Jesus through the pain.  I knew the presence of the Lord through my pain… a kind of knowing that gets into your bones and holds everything together.   However, the last few years, I haven’t wanted to know Him in my pain and suffering.  I have wanted to know Him in the blessing… in the easy things… and nothing has been easy.  It’s been rather crazy actually.  But, in the area of my health, I’ve had to face another, very real thought:  if malaria is the price of not having natural children, is it still worth it? Is this my obstacle that comes with great personal sacrifice?

I don’t know why being in pain as a wife is so much harder than it was being single.  Maybe it’s because as a single person, serving Jesus, I knew that He was all I had… it was just me and Him, and as much as I was hurting, He was the only one who could hold me and bring healing… and I was willing to trust Him.  Now, as a wife, I serve my husband and Jesus, and my focus gets all off when I forget that my husband, while he can hold me, can’t bring healing or light to the dark, almost hopeless areas of my soul.  And while the tangible is seemingly more available than the eternal, I’m mad at both.   It was easier to believe in God’s sovereignty and timing when I thought it more closely lined up with mine.  More closely being “o.k. maybe not this month… but definitely this year, right?”.  2 years, and more un-answered questions later, I’m not doing well.

We have a beautiful tangerine tree in our apartment.  Our first Christmas together, we couldn’t agree on what kind of tree to have because Leo couldn’t understand the tradition of cutting down a beautiful, living thing just to decorate and watch die; and I couldn’t handle the feel of fake trees. So, we compromised and bought a small tree to decorate.  Bogota isn’t the best place for any kind of fruit trees because it’s so cold; but when we got the tree, it had 7 little tangerines growing.  The tree is supposed to bloom every 4 months, and then from those blooms, produce fruit.  I can count on one hand the amount of times it’s bloomed since it has stayed in the little corner of our living room that gets sunlight, and we’ve only had 1 tangerine grow since we plucked the first 7.

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This month, however, I saw little buds forming.  It was interesting to see them coming up from all different parts of the tree.  The buds have since turned into leaves or little white balls that will burst open into the most delicate, sweet smelling flowers.  This past week, I’ve been waiting for the first flowers to bloom, and just this morning, we had 3.  I remember thinking as I was tending to the tree this week that I don’t know how much bigger those little white buds can get before they break open.  They have such tension before they burst!

We are living an overwhelming amount of tension right now, and it’s easy to get mad at the tangible elements: our non-existent savings account, our tiny apartment that wouldn’t even fit a baby if we wanted it to, our lack of material things that would supposedly make things so much easier (… if I could just have a fancy mixer with all those fancy attachments so we could eat even healthier than we do now,  or a juicer so we could do one of those “cleanse” diets…), Leo’s citizenship process that is still so expensive (and will continue to be for another year and a half) that he needs to finish before we can adopt, etc.  It is overwhelming!

In the midst of this waiting for whatever is supposed to come next, however it’s supposed to come, I’m trying to choose to believe that this tension we are feeling is going to break forth into something beautiful and sweet-smelling soon.  It just has to.  We are desperate.

Pray for me… pray for Leo… pray for our hearts to be willing to line-up with God’s timing for many different things.  Pray for balance between being faithful with what we can control, and having faith for what we can’t.