Home again (with photos!)

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Our final day, Thursday, at SOS was a mad dash to finish as much of our projects as we could, and time wasn’t on our side: storms were predicted for the late afternoon. Fortunately, each team was ready to work hard and fast, and we all accomplished much before the storms showed up, right on schedule, around 3 p.m. (this despite the windiness, sprinkles, a transformer blowing up down the block from one home, and one of us falling off the roof—but don’t worry, the harnesses work). SOS staff will be back over the next few weeks to wrap up where we left off.

IMG_9326In chapel Thursday night, we enjoyed worshiping with the other two schools one last time before some students shared highlights from the week and hammered nails into SOS’s “Say So” cross, which is a physical testimony to the work God has done in thousands of SOS volunteers over the last 20 years. It was a blessing for us to hear how God has been working in others’ lives this week as we reflected on what it meant to us. God certainly challenged each one of us to consider our own situations and how he calls each of us to “downward mobility,” to embrace physical and spiritual brokenness and join him in his work.

On Friday, we woke early for a quick breakfast and said farewell to our SOS team leaders and to SOS itself. We spent the day in rainy Memphis, exploring and resting before enjoying spicy fried chicken near Beale Street, Memphis’ famous musical avenue. On Beale Street, we got the chance to walk and shop, and some team members had the opportunity to talk to some men they encountered on the street. Even here, though, God continued to challenge us, as one of the men got a little bit verbally aggressive with the team. Certainly God calls us out of the safety of our comfort zones sometimes.

IMG_9320Saturday morning we got up and headed to our final destination: St. Louis. There we explored the famous City Museum, an old shoe factory converted into an architectural and historical jungle gym, complete with planes suspended from the outside of the building and a 10-story slide down what were once shoe chutes. After the museum, we headed to the Arch and enjoyed a pleasant evening together at its base, our last together as a team. In the evening we headed to Applebee’s for dinner and then to the hotel.

On Sunday we were blessed by Jon and Jake, our trip leaders, through a foot-washing and time of encouragement and prayer for each one of us. It was a beautiful time for us to reflect on the relationships we’ve built with one another throughout the week and a chance to look forward to continuing those relationships after we return to Taylor. I was particularly struck by the passage Jake shared with us to open and close our time:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

IMG_9315I think this demonstrates so well what we tried to do as a team throughout this week as we showed love to one another, to SOS’s staff, to the homeowners with whom we were working, and to many others we encountered in restaurants, on the streets, and in our hotels. It was really awesome today (Monday) in chapel for Dr. Jay Kesler to share about this passage (God’s so cool, right?) and encourage us as the Taylor community to love one another in order to create the body of Christ. Through loving God and loving one another, we accomplish the ultimate goal of God’s kingdom-building work, to bring as many people into to body of Christ as possible.

Thank you so much to everyone who supported us, prayed for us, and followed our work throughout this week. We’re looking forward to sharing our stories and experiences with many of you in the coming weeks. If you’d like to continue praying for us, pray that we would be challenged and changed by what we experienced in Memphis and apply what we learned in our lives. Pray also for our transition back into life at TU as we resume our studies and cope with feeling separated from our team and others we met in Memphis.

Blessings, for the last time, from Team Memphis!

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Shattered

Driving home from Florida has been more than we bargained for. You expect the vans to be filled with a variety of conversations, singing, and sleeping travelers. And we’ve had plenty of all three. But after our dinner stop at Chick-fil-a and Zaxby’s (which included an opportunity for some on the team to pray with an employee) we had an unexpected occurrence. Just before midnight, as Shosh was driving one of our three vans up I75, the front passenger seat window simply SHATTERED! Fortunately Shosh was a rock and didn’t panic but kept the van steady and had Connor let us know to pull over.

Two rolls of Duct tape (and Gorilla tape), a roll of plastic sheeting and some good old-fashioned ingenuity “fixed” the window and got us back on our way – with just a little delay.

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Thank God with us for his protection!! (And for Shosh’s nerves of steel)

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Learning, loving and living together

Today marks the end of our group’s service at St. Martin Community Center for the week. We can hardly even believe tomorrow we’ll be back at Taylor. Looking back, this past week has been a roller coaster of memories and fantastic opportunities of service and sharing with our local community.

 We started every day at 7 a.m. with prayer, then enjoyed breakfast at St. Martin’s before receiving our instructions for the day. Board Member Mary Jackson aptly observed, “There’s no such thing as a ‘normal day.’” Each time we walked through those doors, center operators Mike and Teresa presented us with a new adventure. Our work alongside the regular volunteers created a comfortable, communal atmosphere for the people of Marion. We cleaned pantries and coolers, organized clothes, stocked equipment, demolished boxes and even served food directly to the people. So much work is put into this well-oiled process, especially since all but four of the workers are volunteers!

  The volunteer community and those whom we served were all so welcoming and eager to talk with us. Everyone had a story to tell. With every conversation, we gained a new friend and a new experience to share. Some of the tales were heartbreaking. It was very educational to understand the position of the people of Marion and the importance of aiding this very community in which we live. It was also uplifting to see other people just like us, living life together each day, and worshipping God even just a few miles away.

  Because of the large amounts of work, our group split into subsections each day to cover more ground. This allowed our small group to do intensive work with each other member eventually throughout the week. Our nightly debriefings were even more colorful because we each had a different vantage point depending on where we were and what we were doing that day.

  Some of the week’s highlights were our dinners and evening conversations with those who allowed us to serve this week, including our hosts (Josh, Emily, and Bailey), the operators of St. Martin’s (Mike and Teresa), the priest of Gethsemane and his wife (Father Jim and Kresha), Josh  and even Dr. Cramer one night. Because we were not merely a group of college students living in some hotel, going to the facility, and returning each day, we were able to meet some of the kindest and most influential people in Marion, and discuss our values and purpose with them. God works in so many different ways through so many people, but His persevering love can be seen in all of us. Our experiences only further proved this point.

  Our group has grown extremely close after all we’ve shared this week, and we have a lot to take back and share on campus. We surely will not forget those we’ve met in St. Martin’s and hope to advocate the need of volunteers for such an amazing organization creating a God-centered environment in a broken town.

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Untainted Eyes

Joyful, different, heart-opening, reassuring, laughter; these are just a couple of words we chose to describe our trip. It really is true that not a second goes by that we don’t have something to thank God for in this beautiful city of Mazatlán, Mexico. God is doing such great work here, and amazing things through Back2Back Ministries that we are so ecstatic to have been a part of it this week.
To give you a brief overview of what these past couple days have been like, I can say “we’ve never been more thankful”. We’ve had such great opportunities to play with children at a Salvation Army Home; running with them, loving on them, and even praying for them. We’ve gotten to work with children with special needs; doing equine therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and play with them at a nearby park. We’ve also had the opportunity to do work projects and help build walls around both children’s homes that will protect the children from dangerous situations and help them feel safer. And yet, we’ve also had the experience of sharing laughter, skits, music and stories with girls who’ve been taken out of their homes because of abuse and sex trafficking situations. God really has let us have a full experience here in Mexico this spring break.
I’m not quite sure what we were all expecting this trip before we got here, but I know that so many of us have been challenge to make a change in our lives as we return to the states. One thing about Back2Back that many of us have never heard of before is that they don’t share the children’s stories with the missions’ teams that come. At first a lot of us were sad, as we wanted to know who we were working with. But as we grew to love the kids and see them without the words abused, neglected, or trafficked on their foreheads, we were able to see these children as God sees them. It’s this opportunity to see through God’s untainted eyes that we’ve been able to love the children as much as we have this past week. Of course, we know they come from hard homes and have had trauma in their lives, but we don’t know the details that could directly affect our attitudes. However, we also know that this cannot affect our time with the children here in Mazatlán. God has blessed us time and time again this week in just showing us little glimpses into how He sees His children. Untainted, unconditionally loved, never forgotten, beautiful. This is how God sees His children, and this is how we’ve gotten to experience the people here in Mazatlán. But since we’ve begun to learn this amazing idea of seeing people through God’s eyes, we’ve been challenged to make a change in the way we view all people; in Mexico or in the United States. God has given us tools this past week to really see that it’s the person that matters, and that no matter what trauma, experience, or hardship they have experienced, they are still seen as beautiful children of God.
This week has been hard, draining, jam packed with activities and changes, but we couldn’t have asked for a more widespread opportunity to see God’s heart for his children. The Father loves His people, regardless of what their paths have shaped out to be. He knows they’ve been through hard times, He knows they’ve made mistakes; and yet in the end He comes to see them as beautiful and loved. Our team can only hope that this concept can be lived out as we head home in just a few short days, to love and to see others as God has seen His Children.

Food for Friday

It is Saturday morning now. We have a little bit of a later morning this morning since the Academy doesn’t meet on Saturdays. It is our last day here at Shepherd. Friday was an impactful day. We helped at the Academy from 8:30 to 12:30 again. Those of us who were consistently with a particular teacher and group of kids during the week remained with that group, deepening their understanding of each other. Those of us who have taken other interests in the operations here at Shepherd continued to do so, helping with childcare, kitchen duties, and other non-classroom related facets. After 12:30, we left the Academy and continued our Poverty 101 class, digging deeper into what poverty actually is and discussing resources that we may possess or lack that may indicate the type of poverty we are experiencing. Our experience this week certainly has been a learning experience and as we go from here processing what has happened, we hope to respond correctly with sensitivity to the Spirit and our new understanding of poverty. After class, we were able to rest a little bit before embarking on our dinner plans in which we divided into three groups and visited homes of Taylor University alumni.

They were so kind to host us and we all had so much fun. One of our groups was so fascinated by a goat farm and upon continuously asking questions about it and showing interest, we were given the opportunity to milk a goat! We are so grateful for the fellowship that we are able to share with families of Taylor alumni. It is a great way to form connections and look into the future. It also helps the alumni to look into the past a bit and get to know us where we are in life.

After the dinner plans, we had a fun night of games before hitting the sack. Today, several alumni in the area will be joining us for our final service project at Shepherd. After that, we will depart from Shepherd.

Relationships have been made, understandings on tough issues have been brought into light, and hope has been given new birth. The goodbyes that were said on Friday among us, the teachers, students, kitchen staff, fellows, and other faculty were certainly difficult. But, that was to be expected. We are grateful for our time and support here at Shepherd. We hope to continue to reflect, process, and respond. We will certainly keep track of our time here and value the lives that we have been blessed by.

At times of departing from environments and phases in life in which relationships have been formed and deepened, I like to contemplate something that I encourage you to reflect upon as well. So, I’ll leave you with this:

“Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”

 

Sad goodbyes

Today was the final day of “official” ministry and while it was a wonderful day, it was really hard. Saying goodbye to new friends, leaving behind those we have come to love can be really painful. We have seen lives changed. But we have also seen lives open to change but the process is going to be ongoing and hard. It’s difficult to leave and not know the outcome but we believe and trust that God loves these friends more than we ever could. The day was full of hugs and full of tears…but to hurt over the brokenness of the world is the closest we will be to understanding the heart if our Father.

Pray with us for these new (and old) friends. That God will send others to love and comfort and care for these precious friends.

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While the official time is over we still look forward to tomorrow and the trip home (and life back on campus) to continue looking for opportunities to love people the way Christ did and to continue to experience the joy of living within the community we found together this week.

Hola from the Dominican Republic!

Buenos tardes!! Sorry it took a while to post a blog, on the base internet has been hard to acquire. We arrived in the Dominican Republic safe and sound Saturday night. Now we have all been at our sites for 5 days and have loved growing in the community of Jarabacoa.  I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we are all growing in our relationships with Christ and enjoying the opportunity to show Gods love through actions to people we interact with at our mission sites. A couple of us are going to share some stories and experiences from different sites that we are at. I, Amy, will start with sharing about my mission site, Genesis, which is the special education school here in Jarabacoa.

I have spent the last five days with students with disabilities between the ages of 2-20.  I am going to share about a boy who is by far one of the cutest kids I have worked with. He is 8 years old and has endless joy! This boy comes to school each day with a smile on his face ready to give each student and teacher hugs.  On Monday, this adorable kid came to me and immediately loved on me. He is not a sturdy walker because of his disability but he loves dancing. So he asked me to dance while he sang Spanish songs. My heart melted and although I am a horrible dancer, I of course danced with him for at  least 10 minutes. Through out the day this little guy gave me hugs, blew kisses to me, and danced. At the end of the day he was sitting next to me and in the warmest way possible asked me if I would come back tomorrow. I said yes and he in clear English said “I love you”. I said it back to him and gave him a hug. Its funny how quickly you can get attached to children! The next morning started off great when the bus came this boy stepped off and we made eye contact right away, and tears of joy poured from him and then he quickly came to give me a hug. Being in this school I have an amazing opportunity to love on students who may not always get the love and attention they need. I am excited to be in the classroom tomorrow and continue to love on them just as Jesus loves us!

Como estas??? Lauren Solito here! For the past 5 days, I have been traveling around with Hannah Dissinger, MacKenzie Bedor, Nathaniel Ryan, Nate White, and Anice from the California group! When we aren’t praying or worshipping with patients, you can find us at one of several communities around Jarabacoa taking BP (blood pressure), HR (heart rate), RR (respiration rate), distributing medication, or laughing at the guys’ faces during pap smears. We have all had a wonderful time learning Spanish and building relationships over a plate of rice and beans. Yum! We love what God is doing in the lives of others around us and hope that some of the loving Dominican culture rubs off on us before we have to head back go the states!!!

It is the afternoon of the 28th, our 7th day here. It’s amazing how fast this week has gone. God is truly evident here at Students International. My site leader, Silvio, is a Physical Therapist who serves our Father by allowing the nationals cheap treatment through an atmosphere that genuinely loves and cares about them . It amazes me how passionate he is in using his gifts for the kingdom of God. I have been fortunate to have been working beside him, his assistant, Christian, a fellow TU student, Miranda, and two other high-school students. I have been greatly involved with all the patients that come in, and on one occasion I had the chance to evangelize to a young boy who had broken his ankle. Another highlight of my week was working with several 7 year olds who had cerebral palsy. It was an amazing feeling to love on these kids and laugh with them as I worked on their legs. God has broken my heart for these kids. There is a joy and satisfaction in serving our Lord through missions that can’t be found anywhere else. This week has been a huge blessing for me and everyone else on my team. I love this team, I love the SI leaders serving here, I love the Dominican people, and I love my God for He is always good. Always. – Zach Hershberger