Joy

I sat in a tiny chair, legs tucked underneath a tiny desk, hands folded on the surface and head down. I looked to my left to see a young first grader Ashley mimicking my behavior. Her face was composed but her eyes held a glimmer of a smile. Beside me was a girl who had been forced to grow up too fast.

Throughout the week at Shepherd I had the chance to talk with Ashley several times. She told me about her family; her aunt had just moved away this week and her and her brothers had gotten a new bunk bed to share between the three of them. Ashley didn’t play childish games during recess. She didn’t participate in wacky Wednesday or pajama Tuesday during spirit week. She is subdued, respectful, quiet. Ashley has faced hardships and conflicts that have pressured and shortened her childhood. However, Ashley has persevered. She doesn’t wear silly clothes to school, but she laughs at my silly faces during quiet time (I might not be the best influence ūüôā ). She doesn’t doodle on her homework, but she hides behind me giggling and shrieking during dodgeball. She runs up and tackles me during recess, she laughs and skips around the playground- at 8 years old she has grown up, but she has not lost her grasp on joy.

This is a common theme at Shepherd. The first grade classroom I was in was full of children who are not always allowed to be children. They have faced conflict, threats to their danger, and lack of resources. They have been pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. They have endured hardships and yet this week they have taught me so much about joy.

The children of Shepherd reminded myself and my team that joy is everything. They embodied the joy of the Lord in the way that children do- through their laughter, their curiosity, their acceptance, and their hospitality. They refreshed my soul and reminded me that through the business, through the heartache, and through the trials of life, joy remains. Joy continues, it refreshes, it encourages, and it reflects the attitude of Christ.

Tonight my team sat around singing worship songs. We sang gospel music and clapped along, we sang children’s songs with motions and old 90’s worship songs we hadn’t heard in ages. We got up and danced around laughing and praising the Lord. This is just one example of the ways in which the Lord allowed us to feel His joy this week.

I have loved this week. Through the ministry of Shepherd, through my team, and through the children of God has allowed me to see his joy in new and refreshing ways.

-Nicki Mortland

Ready to head home

We had a great final day in Daytona…starting with an amazing breakfast with two AMAZING alums Dale and Barbara Murphy. While the food was great….getting to know these to wonderful alums was the best thing about the morning. Here are some pictures from breakfast at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill:

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After breakfast, we spent time relaxing on the beach thanks to some special friends we met last year who have become great supporters of our team! After a great dinner we came back to the hotel for some debriefing and our annual Daytona Talent Show – (no pictures of that auspicious event).

Tomorrow will start with a sunrise service – followed by an Easter service. Then after packing up – we will load up the vans and begin the long journey home. Pray for safety on the trip, for more good time processing and for the many friends we will be leaving behind.

Thanks!

Recess

Four-year-old Emily invited me to make the biggest castle in the world with her. Although skeptical of the¬†stability of a building made of mulch, I undertook the construction project. Then, I played tag with her; it was basically a game of let’s-run-super-fast-until-we’re-laughing-too-hard. That was such a fun recess.

As the week progressed, I would smile at Emily as she came into breakfast, but never had the chance to talk to her again.

During the final hour of our time at the academy, the kids were in the cafeteria preparing to be dismissed. At one end of the 4-year-old table, a large group of children were laughing and playing. At the other end, Emily sat sobbing while watching them, making no effort to wipe the tears from her face.

I ran over and sat next to Emily. I rubbed her arm, asked her about her troubles and assured her that everything would be okay.

Before the trip, a prayer of mine had been to tangibly feel God’s love through me for¬†another person. In that moment, I did. It is hard to describe what it felt like, but I had¬†real¬†compassion and an intense desire for Emily to know that she was loved.

I just continued to rub Emily’s back as her sobs slowed. A couple of minutes later, Emily was called by her teacher to go outside. Her parents had arrived to bring her home. She was still sniffling¬†and shuffled to the door.

As she left, I began to cry. I felt such grief. She was leaving and she did not know that I loved her because God loved her. I barely knew her and may never see her again, and yet I want her to know her value so badly; I want to see her understand the love of Christ. I was overwhelmed with a surprising wave of emotion, a bittersweet pang of love.

I think that in that moment, God was teaching me about His love. Often, when I try to show people my love for them, it is partially selfishly motivated. I want them to appreciate ME appreciating them rather than just wanting them to feel appreciated. In that moment with Emily, my focus was not on myself; I was overcome with a longing for her to know her value. I know that this did not originate in me. The only way that this happened was God giving me His love for Emily.

I believe that this experience was just a taste of God’s¬†love and the way that He feels for us. He was so pained by our separation from Him that Jesus came to die for us. He desires a relationship with us in which we can love and be loved. I know this deeper now.

I am being taught that to truly love someone else, I must share in Christ’s suffering. Wow, actually caring about people means that you hurt for their brokenness?! It is risky business. However, the infinite, beautiful Christ is the strength and love flowing through us. And there will always¬†be recess.

-Julia Noonan

Mission in Memphis

Today our team wrapped up a busy week of serving and being served by the Memphis community. Our team had the privilege to be Christ’s hands in feet in the Binghampton neighborhood through home repair and a community youth program. Our team that worked on the roof was able to create a strong bond with their homeowner and were also impacted by the families gratitude. “Along with roofing, I was able to spend my time off¬†with the kids Collin and Jeremiah building paper airplanes and putting together race car tracks. This experience was not only fun for me, but also gave Miss Val a much needed break” (Eric Castigilia, Junior). Along with the relationships being built on the roof, the other half of the Taylor team was busy sharing Christ’s love with middle schoolers from the Binghamton neighborhood.¬†Each year Builders (local middle schoolers) have the opportunity to design and construct a significant construction project in Binghampton to bring added value to the community. Builders work closely with architects, contractors, engineers and other relevant professionals throughout the process. This year our team was able to partner alongside this project and worked hard to build a pavilion for a community football field. “Seeing how these middle schoolers were developing their own leadership skills was so encouraging to me, because they are living in a place where they often do not have much of an advantage. The skills they are learning, and how they are encouraged through this program gives me so much hope for this area” (Jen Cline, Sophomore).

Throughout this trip, we have learned how God uses our ordinary tasks and projects to glorify Him. We have been able to grow closer in fellowship and experience God in new and different ways. God is doing big things in Memphis and we have been so fortunate to be apart of His kingdom work here at SOS ministries.

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Day Seven

Today we spent the morning and afternoon in Mexico again. By lunchtime, the roof and sides of the house were finished and the house was completely built. I was amazed that the house was built so quickly! It was awesome working together as a team, and also working alongside other Mexican workers. Christ’s love was extremely evident throughout the entire day. Members of the team also broke off to play games, such as soccer, with local children in the area. Others made bracelets, sidewalk chalk art, blew bubbles with the kids, and gave short Bible lessons. After a quick lunch break, the only thing left to do was to clean up and finish painting the house. We plan to go back tomorrow to officially hand the key over to the new owner, and to pray over the house. Back in McAllen later this evening, we had dinner and got the chance to hear Miguel and Vivian’s story. God has done incredible things in their lives, and He continues to work through them in amazing ways! Prayers for their ministry would be appreciated. Their hospitality and encouragement have been pivotal in our stay here in McAllen. 
-John Beeghly

Day Six

Today we spent our first day in Mexico building a house for an elderly woman whose house had burned down. While some worked on the house, several of the other students played soccer with the young kids from local homes. While the day started a bit chilly for southern weather, by noon the sun had come out and it was a hot afternoon. We were able to get to know missionaries who work on the border and build many houses for Mexican families. This evening we spent some time together as a team in worship and prayer. Several stayed up to play games as well. Please keep praying for safety for our team, good health, ease of travel crossing the border, and more fun times together!