“You belong here.”
Those were the words quite literally written on the wall in front of me this morning.
A couple weeks ago I was given an opportunity to speak with a local congregation about my story with missions. At first, I was reluctant to say yes. My first thought was, “there has to be someone better to do this than me.” But I said yes. And I am so glad that I did. I’ve spent hours over the last week preparing my message, and at times, that same thought creeped back into my mind. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t do it right? Was I really the right person to give this message?
Today was the day, and before the service the pastor showed me to a little room to wait for the service to begin. I sat down on the couch and as I looked up I saw what you see in the photo above. I smiled, my nerves vanished, and I knew that was God’s answer to all my questions.
So here is my message that I shared in two services today at a church near my hometown. It’s a message that’s been long overdue coming here to the blog. But I’m glad to finally be sharing it here with you.
I’ve grown up in the same house my whole life, I was a third generation graduate at my high school, and I’ve gone to my home church since I was about six. I am the textbook definition of a small town girl.
And I’ve always been very okay with that, I’ve always loved where I grew up, the lessons I learned there, the feeling of knowing my neighbors in every direction, across the corn fields. I want to be really clear in the fact that I love where I come from and I was incredibly blessed to grow up there. I have the greatest family, and I know I’m biased, but the best parents in the world. But growing up in this small town meant I grew up in my comfort zone. By high school I had only been out of the country once, on a vacation in an all inclusive resort to Mexico, before college I rarely went into the city, and I was always very cautious with everything I’ve done. I like to be safe. I like to feel secure. I like to be comfortable.
And then a few years ago, my pastor came to my church. One day he bought this new idea to our small town congregation. He invited us to join him on a mission trip to Nicaragua. My first thought was, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do and my second thought, was that I never really could. But my pastor is really convincing, and lucky for me, my church family is pretty convincing too. And before I knew it, I was filling out paperwork to travel to Matagalpa, Nicaragua for a whole week without my parents, without my cell phone, far far away from my small town home, and came back with a whole new mindset and a renewed relationship with Christ.
As the day we would leave for Nicaragua came closer and closer my fears got bigger and bigger. Needless to say, I was terrified. And if I hadn’t convinced my boyfriend to come on the trip with me, I probably would have backed out. But before I knew it I was on the plane on my way to Central America. Our first night there was without a doubt one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life.
So we landed in Managua and shortly after began our bus-ride to Matagalpa, the town we would be serving with for our week stay. I was extremely nervous as we boarded the bus and left the airport. It was hot and muggy, everyone around me was speaking a different language. But nothing would prepare me for the fear that would overcome me later that evening. Before I go any further, I just want to make it very clear that I have nothing but love and respect for the country of Nicaragua and their people. But the truth is, it’s very different there than it is here. We had been warned that we really had no idea what our sleeping quarters would be like. A bed here is very different than a bed in Nicaragua, which we soon found out. But I don’t think any of us were truly prepared for where we would be staying. It’s hard to explain in words, but as we pulled up to the facility my heart fell into my stomach. We had been told that the facility we would be staying at was a lodging facility used during church camps. So I figured it would be similar to other “camps” I had been to in the past, probably a bunch of bunk beds in a small room.
And in a sense I was right, the rooms were filled with bunk beds, metal ones with very thin worn mattresses about 2-4 inches thick. There were old pieces of wood on the bed frames of some bunks, and just cardboard on others. Here in the US, our windows have glass and our doors, especially ones that lead to the outdoors, go from the ceiling to the floor. This was not the case in Nicaragua. There was an opening at the top and the bottom of the door, plenty of room for critters to go out and come in. At that point, exhausted from travel, already terrified, I hit a breaking point, I had an anxiety attack. And I finally said aloud what I had been thinking the whole time,
“I shouldn’t have come here.”
And as soon as I said those words, as soon as they left my mouth, as if God knew it was coming, I mean He knew they were coming…I heard Him tell me I was wrong. And even though I was still scared, even though I was still nervous, I knew I was wrong. God made me realize in that moment that I had to get over myself and my fears, I had to focus on what He had called me here to do. So I calmed myself down, went to bed still a little nervous that night, and woke up the next day with the most indescribable sense of peace. For the rest of the trip I forgot about my fears, I forgot about my doubts and my worries, and I focused on what He had called me to this place to do. To serve.
The rest of the week was beyond incredible, to put it lightly. Throughout our time there we were blessed with so many people and their beautiful culture. We worshipped together in the most amazing church services I have ever attended. We overcame language barriers, and instead of using words, understood one another through our mutual love of Christ. We went into the homes of the people in the community, we heard their stories, shared hugs, shed tears, and found friendship with one another.
One of the most memorable experiences for me occurred as we delivered baskets of goods to community members in need. First of all, imagine this for a second: you hear your doorbell ring and when you open the door you see a group of foreigners, around 10-12 of them, who speak a different language, look, and act different from you and everyone else around you, and they want to come in. Would you let them? My answer was no. But every single time we knocked on someone’s door, they welcomed us in with open arms. They prayed with us and shared stories about their hardship.
One man, who lived in the tiniest of shacks, with aluminum siding as the door told us about how both he and his wife were out of work so they sold sodas on the street. They had to be careful though because if they were out too late they would be arrested and taken straight to jail. They did all of this for their little girl. Their love for her was evident in the toys that filled the little house. And this family’s love for Christ was even more evident. This man’s home, tiny, with dirt floors amazed me along with his story. The walls were covered with large papers filled with handwritten prayers. Crosses hung on every wall. We were all amazed at how, even in his hardship, this man’s family praised Jesus and were not ever ashamed.
I could go on forever talking to you about this trip. We were blessed with so many amazing experiences. We held VBS throughout the week for the children in the community. We played games and shared stories with the church members, building lasting friendships. And we even got to go zip-lining through a Nicaraguan jungle, yep, that’s something else I’d never think I would do!
We got to spend some time visiting with the members of a community in the local dump. Yes, you heard that right. In many countries like Nicaragua, there are actually communities build up within their garbage dumps. The families spend their days scavenging through the trash for food, water, and supplies. And that is how they survive. This was easily the most humbling experience of my life.
We spent a week with the beautiful people of Nicaragua, and more importantly, we spend a week with God. So here’s what I want to leave you with today. There are always going to be reasons to say no to something like a mission trip. Trust me, I know. I used those reasons as excuses to ignore what God was calling me to do for a long time.
Before I went to Nicaragua. I didn’t pray. At least not like I should. I prayed in church on Sunday morning, I asked for A’s on my tests, and strength for sick friends and family. But I didn’t talk to God, and more importantly, I didn’t listen. But this trip, serving outside of my comfort zone, changed all of that and made me who I am today.
So, are you serving outside of your comfort zone? And if not, why?
On a final note, I would like to ask for prayers for the beautiful people of Nicaragua and the country they call home. Earlier this year Nicaragua erupted in unrest. To this day there have been nearly 300 deaths due to the violence on the streets. The US embassy has even pulled portions of their personnel. Experts have referred to this uprising as the most violent outbreak since their civil war.
Happy Sunday friends. I hope my message speaks to you in some way or another, and I hope you find the courage to take steps to serve outside of your comfort zone, no matter how big or small of a step that may be.