“wrestle with the things i saw
stepping through the door
knowing things won’t be the same
when i get back on the plane
i look into your eyes
and i feel like i know you
so far removed our lives
but so close inside
let our worlds collide

el salvador
el salvador
you’ll never know what you have done
you’ll never know what has begun
you left your mark on me
you left your mark on me

wrestle with the things i saw
stepping through the door
circumstances are beyond your control
i see your hands they touch my soul
this memory i’ll always hold

i know more now than i have ever, ever known before
i learned more in one day than i have learned all years before
don’t let my heart grow cold
for this i’ve seen and you have shown
beyond this space, this time
we must let our worlds collide…”

~ “el salvador”… phil joel

No, I haven’t been to El Salvador. But I have been other places that have had this effect on me. I’ve been on six missions trips so far… to Dayton, Ohio… Mississauga, Canada… Sydney, Australia… Jackson, Kentucky… Chicago, Illinois… Managua, Nicaragua…. Each place and the people there had great impacts on my life and on my mindset, all in different ways.

In Dayton, one thing I learned about was the value of having a missions team. We were a team, brothers and sisters, on a mission to share with others. It was my first missions trip ever, and I know now that I had so much to learn. I still do, but I think that at that point I thought I had more figured out than I really did.

When we went to Mississauga, I learned to Love. I learned how to really fall in Love with Jesus and how to carry that Love over into my relationships with others… how to let it overflow into my life. I learned a lot about how a team works on that trip too, because our team was having some major problems; I was one of about three people who could talk to anybody on the whole team throughout the whole trip. In order to be effective, we have to let our lives reflect God and what He has done for us and in our lives. We have to be Jesus to others. Another thing I learned in Canada was to not complain. Up until then, I wouldn’t say I complained about everything, but complaining was not something I really thought a lot about… sometimes I just did it though. In that humid heat… I made this decision to not complain anymore about humidity and heat. I’ll acknowledge that, yes, it is hot and humid out, but I won’t complain about it. Find something to be glad about. There is always, always something we can be thankful for. 🙂 Always.

Syndey… what memories… wow, it is so hard to believe that we went there over three years ago!! In Sydney I learned about being willing to just jump in and do whatever I was called or asked to do. Don’t question why God wants you to do something. Don’t ever question the point. He will show you in His timing what the purpose was for it. It might be hard to trust… but do it anyway. Trust God that He knows what He is doing. He knows the plans He has for us. They are plans to prosper us, not to harm us. They are plans to give us hope, and to give us a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) God always, always knows what He is doing. I promise. He taught me a lot in Sydney about trusting Him, just jumping in and going for it… stepping out of my comfort zone. How much am I really trusting Him if I don’t get outside the little box where I’m comfortable? He gave me the opportunity to play the piano a couple of times there… one of those times was for a church service. I didn’t know most of the people there. But I wasn’t nervous. I had to just trust God and go for it.

In Jackson… my first trip as a leader… I learned about the huge effect a simple smile can have on somebody. This sweet, sweet lady at the Happy Church, Margaret, taught me so much. Let me tell you about Margaret… she is a petite lady, maybe in her early 30’s. She has an adorable daughter named Lori, who was two years old at that time. One of Margaret’s arms is kind of shrivelled and unusable, and she just holds it close to her body and does everything she needs with her other arm. I don’t know what happened to her arm; I don’t know if it has always been that way or not. That doesn’t matter though. She had a college degree, but she didn’t have a good job because she had a little girl to watch and take care of (she didn’t have relatives or anybody there to take care of her) and also couldn’t do some things with her arm. I got to talk with Margaret a little here and there during our weekend trip to Jackson, and something I noticed about her is that she never complained. She was just so sweet and joyful. She always had a smile. She had situations in her life that were less than desirable, but she made the choice to have joy instead of complaining or blaming God for the way her life was. Then… right before my team and I left to drive home… Margaret made sure to get a minute to talk with me. She told me she loved my smile. I’d had an impact on her life through sharing a smile with her… And yet, her comment made me feel so unworthy, because I mean, what did I do for her? She is the one who inspired me, right? I guess it goes both ways. Just know that people are watching our choices and reactions; they watch our smiles. We can have such a great impact.

When we went to Chicago in June of 2005, we had a huge lack of communication between us and the people in charge of the ministry we were working with there. We ended up having misconceived expectations of what we were going there to do and of what it would be like working with their ministry. It is a really great ministry… There was just a lack of communication on both our parts. One of our other leaders and I went with the expectation of getting to actually work with the kids more than we ended up being able to. Donna and I were assigned the job of making lunch for about 50 – 60 kids each day for day camp, so we ended up in the kitchen most of the time. After both lunch shifts had eaten and we finally got everything cleaned up, we were able to go and actually spend some time with the kids and with our team, but we didn’t have the opportunity to really get to know the Chicago kids like the rest of the team did. What did I learn from this? I learned to be flexible. Things don’t always go the way we want them to. They often do not go as we plan. God’s plans are better than ours though. His ways are higher than ours. (Isaiah 55:8-9) When things go differently from what we expect… make the most of it. Learn from it. Have fun. Neither of us expected to be in the kitchen all day, but it was fun to just have that time to talk about random things and get to know each other better. And we have stories to tell from our kitchen times now too.

And Managua… I don’t think there are words in the English language to describe everything I learned there. The no-complaining commitment from Canada is still in effect. Yeah, it was definitely very hot and humid in Nicaragua!! When you are on your 3rd and 4th showers after spending just barely 24 hours in the country, that is pretty hot and humid. 🙂 We made the best of it though. And you know, I never thought I would enjoy a cold shower. In Nicaragua we often chose cold showers over hot ones…. That is something you’ll rarely find in the U.S.! Just before leaving for Nicaragua, I read this book by Ted Dekker called The Martyr’s Song. It talked a lot about everyone being beautiful. Our human eyes may not see them that way, but we need to learn to see everyone as beautiful, because… God made everyone. We are all beautiful to Him. We need to see others as God sees them. At the first church service we went to, I saw a little girl (probably about 4 years old…) whose eyes were crossed, and I just felt this deep Love for her. It never would occur to me not to love her. God Loves her, and so do I. It just struck me as we worshipped with these people in Los Brasilles and I watched this little girl and others… it struck me how beautiful she is. Beauty is what we make it… If we see ourselves as beautiful, just as God sees us as beautiful… then others will learn to see us the same way. And those who can’t learn to see us as God sees us… well, they don’t have God’s Love in their lives. The song I quoted by Phil Joel says “wrestle with the things I saw… knowing things won’t be the same when I get back on the plane… let our worlds collide… you left your mark on me… I know more now… I learned more in one day than I have learned all years before…” This describes my experience in Nicaragua so well. Wrestling with the things I saw… the people living in the garbage dump, the children’s home kids, the village kids and their living conditions, the joy in the Nica churches, the hospitality of the Nicas… No, things are not the same when you get back on the plane. How much I learned there… How great an impact God used it to make on my life and heart. Nicaragua and its people left their mark on me. Let our worlds collide. We need our worlds to collide.

I could go on and on about things I learned on each of these trips… from the people there, etc. But I think it is enough to say that they all have left their marks on me. God has used the people and circumstances in each place to grow me and work in my heart and in my life. I cannot even begin to describe how much He has grown me in the past six years as I have been involved with missions team. It is incredible to be a part of God working and to know that He is using us in His work, as well as growing us at the same time. I so love to watch Him work. “You left your mark on me… Let our worlds collide…”