Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Going & Gloves

The older I get the more I realize it is hard to wrap important things up into neat little blog posts. I think it is why I am writing more sporadically. There are BIG things happening in my heart and life--and I want to hold them well. I don't want to oversimplify for the sake of a post. Writing can be so one sided and the most important parts of life generally require conversations not monologues.

At the same time, I need to start recording some of these things for posterity, so hold on to your hats. ;) I hope in the next several days to be a bit more prolific. Today I am starting with Spring Break.

Our family travelled to the Dominican Republic last week as a part of a Young Life Expeditions Team. The purpose of the trip was to go and see what God is up to(and engage as a small part) in the DR. As a family, we were excited to return to the site of our first family mission trip experience four years ago and see how things had evolved.

Our team built this walkway in 2011--so much fun to return & see how it has held up over time.
Sunday - Thursday morning was spent in Jarabacoa at a Vida Joven (Young Life) camp called Pico Escondido. For 6 weeks each Summer this property is used to introduce Dominican teenagers to the person of Jesus through humor, relationship and adventure. Our work team participated in several projects which improved the property, provided additional security and increased capacity so even more students can come and hear.

The majority of the year, the camp is used as a retreat center by other organizations in the Dominican. Pico's reputation as one of the more excellent facilities of this type in the DR keeps it booked up and that income is used to keep the costs of camp very affordable for low income Dominican students (about $12USD per day).

There are a handful of year round paid employees, but work teams keep the ministry's cost low and allow visitors to develop a heart for the work the Lord is doing here through 'sweat equity.'

We reestablished a green house so cuttings from the existing landscaping could be propagated & used around camp.

The men participated in clean up efforts. 

K enjoyed being a part of the painting crew with students from UNC-Greensboro and USC.
On the 2nd and 3rd work days we sanded/refurbished 22 bed frames so 132 additional kids can hear about Jesus this Summer.


We got dirty, slept in bunkrooms according to gender, washed our metal dishes in buckets of water, got eaten up by hell bugs and smelled a bit ripe. There was hard work as well as periods of laughter and rest. We made new friends despite language barriers and it was good.

Thursday morning we loaded a van and travelled 2.5 hours to Puerta Plata for the home stay portion of our visit. For two nights 18 of us were welcomed into a 2 bedroom house with an enclosed back garage with hospitality so gracious that I felt convicted of how poorly I steward my own home.
In under 48 hours we served all over the city. By picking up trash in surrounding neighborhoods we were able to model service without an agenda. Being on those streets, looking into the eyes of curious onlookers we were able to 'see' the city and pray for the people there. The high school graduation rate is only 10%. Drugs, sex, gangs & poverty are rampant. The fields are ripe for hope to come and light up darkness.

After several bags of trash collection we went to a home for elderly people. All we did there was touch the residents, look in their faces and love on them. I couldn't help but laugh thinking about a post I read years ago making fun of a short term mission team offering "Hugs for Jesus" in Costa Rica--here we were! Yet, it was a powerful part of the vision setting--instilling compassion and love in our group for the residents of this city where ministry currently does not exist.
I took this Friday when the children were playing a game called "Hands" after lunch. What a beautiful rainbow.
I once read a quote that said "To love the world God loves, you must see the world God sees."

The church inside the school we visited. There was no destruction here, this is simply where they stopped building and decided this would have to do.
We spent Friday morning as guests in a local school. Our group was allowed in 8 different class rooms to present a 15 minute version of club. Our children were quite engaged. Our whole group was involved in the humorous games and skits that broke down walls to allow a Dominican staff person, Julia to present the person of Jesus in a relevant and meaningful way. It was awesome to consider if any of these students would some day sleep on the new beds at Pico Escondido. Would they walk the stone path from 4 years ago while talking to a Vida Joven leader about God's love for them?

We played in the school yard together before enjoying lunch with a few students and members of the faculty who are supporting the establishment of Vida Joven in their community.
No fancy sports equipment here. A stick and a crushed can were all that was needed for a schoolyard baseball game.
Later that day we went to a new church meeting behind a roll up door in a garage like unit to bring supplies and manpower for painting.

That night a few local students came to meet with us in the home and we recapped our trip. Clearly, our hearts had grown to love these people. We caught their vision for local ministry and left there with hearts inclined to pray for and commit to support their mission.

We spent our final day and night resting with air conditioning and hot water at a nearby beach. As I scratched my dozen bug bites and considered the expense, the discomfort and the work my heart pondered the big questions: Did this matter? Was it worth the work of bringing my children here? What was the point?

There are people on strong opinions on both sides of the short term missions discussion. (I hope to write about that at greater length later.) For us, the answer is a resounding YES.

Several years ago I read one of the books that has helped form and shape my life. In one chapter of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years author Donald Miller shares about a friend whose daughter was struggling with rebellion in her adolescence.

“He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn't provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn't mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she'd chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence.”
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life    

Ryland & I have long loved travel and service, hoping to make it part of our family's story...but this quote solidified our desire to build a bigger story for our children. Clearly, this has to be about more than a week or two a year--but we committed to try and intentionally build in these 'out of the cul de sac' experiences as a part of our parenting strategy. "Giving up" vacation time to get a little uncomfortable and allow God to expand our worlds has blessed us and changed us. We are reminded whether you are a child of 10 years old, a trained specialist in a different line of work or a middle aged Southern housewife GOD CAN USE YOU in meaningful ways.

On Friday morning God drove this message home to my heart when local staff person, Julia asked casually "Do you still have your work gloves from camp?" I handed one over--a brown, non-descript, medium priced glove we had picked up one week prior at our local tractor supply company.

One hour later my eyes welled with tears as she used it to explain to the Dominican students how our lives are like those gloves. We try to fill them with many things...money, substances, good deeds, popularity, etc...but each of those things are lacking. None of them fill out the glove the way it was intended. In Spanish Julia asked, "What was this glove made for?"

"Mano!" they replied. She dramatically placed her hand inside the glove and wiggled all the fingers and the children applauded and cheered. In Spanish she summed it up. The glove was designed to be filled by a hand. Our hearts and lives were designed to be filled by our God.

"He came that we may have life and have it to the full." John 10:10

I thought of Donald Miller and his encouragement to find and fully live out our stories. I thought of how alive I feel in this season because God is showing me that midlife is a fantastic time to serve him with vigor. God-ordained ministry fills us with purpose. Purpose is invigorating.
And today, my purpose is to share with you and to encourage you to step out in some small way to *see* people you may have missed before in a way that reminds you of their humanity and our common need for love, grace & the Lord.

I am just a brown glove...no more 'special' or holier than you. I'd been home from an incredible weeklong experience less than 24 hours when I was apologizing to a friend for acting like a jerk. But the glorious thing about our God is that He can use brown gloves and mouthy women.

Let's let God fill our glove. Let him use us. Like that work glove it often means different assignments. Some are uncomfortable and make you feel ill equipped. Few are glamorous and many 'small jobs' leave you scratching you head wondering if it is merely busy work.

Those brown gloves sanded, carried, gardened and proclaimed the Gospel last week because they were available. Today the hands that wore them are typing encouragement before grocery shopping, tax preparation and putting away four loads of laundry. This is real life...mundane, necessary work that occasionally offers a glimpse of the extraordinary and eternal.

Some tasks are more exhilarating than others, but all can be done to His glory as part of His plan. May we be available, flexible and open to our assignments each day.


Helen said...

What a beautiful trip. I myself lived in the Dominican Republic for a year just out of college, and also have a 10 and a half year old. I'd love to go there as a family as well.

Cheryl said...

I don't personally know you but I so enjoyed reading this post. You write so eloquently---- so heartfelt. You always give me words to ponder. Just wanted to say thanks!!

Denise Ross said...

Fabulous post Jen. Thought provoking, convicting and encouraging. I would love to do something like that.

Timmarie Wyatt said...

We are a family who would love to get involved in missions work. Do you have any recommendations/organizations that could be a launch pad for my family?

Cris Emiliano said...

Hola, soy Cris, que bueno que hayan disfrutado tanto el viaje, los queremos mucho y esperamos que vuelvan pronto!!!
Hi, I'm Chris, I'm so glad that all of you enjoyed the journey , we love you and hope that you return soon !!!
I'm in Facebook like Cris Emiliano and in INSTAGRAM like crisemilianor

Cris Emiliano said...

hello I am very happy that all of you enjoyed the trip and spend time with us , we love you and we hope to return soon.
IM in Facebook like Cris Emiliano and Instagram. Crisemilianor