We landed on the runway at Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City, Belize and I could feel the heat radiating off the tarmac as the plane made it’s way to the gate. There was no jetway, rather a set of sturdy stairs was wheeled up to the door upon arrival. As we stepped out onto the top step, the sun’s rays beat down on me reminding me in an instant that that’s what light does. It shines, it heats, it radiates. How fitting, because after all we were in Belize to shine our light for Jesus.
Our friend and sister Sylvia surprised us at the airport. We planned to rent a car and drive to her hometown, about two and half hours away. Once in the car we navigated towards one of the three major highways in the entire country. Once on the Western highway, it was smooth sailing…except for the many unmarked speed bumps. The scenery flashed by, mostly agricultural scenes with intermittent houses. The highway passed through small towns consisting of just a few stores in a few short minutes. The rest of the towns weren’t visible from the highway. Having completely bypassed the capital, Belmopan, we never saw the beautiful capital building. We saw so many horses and cattle and even a few goats. We saw people with tiny roadside stands selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables and a few of the more enterprising ones had a grill set out to barbecue tiny chickens for any hungry passersby.
As we neared Sylvia’s hometown of Benque Viejo del Carmen, the highway ran alongside a river with shallow parts that revealed smooth rocks where women were washing their clothes. We were to stay at the home of Oscar and Emma, both teachers at La Immaculada RC school in Arenal village. A day later, we visited the school with the intention of giving out backpacks to the 180 children who attended the school. When we arrived at the school, only 6 children were there. I was a little worried since we had bought a backpack for every child in the school and we wanted them to have them. Sylvia asked a little boy on a bike to go through the village and call all the children who were supposed to be there. Word of mouth traveled fast because within minutes children were coming from everywhere. As we unpacked the backpacks, children were materializing from the bushes and packing into the school room. As they sat on the floor, one little girl wandered up to the front of the room and just stood there grinning. She had bright, wide eyes and a gap where her front teeth hadn’t grown in yet. She was eager to get her backpack. In another post, I’ll tell you her story in detail, because of all the children, she’s the one who stuck in my spirit the most. Once all the bags were given out, I looked around and wished we had brought something more than a few little bags to give these kids. Their lives are poverty-stricken one. Most had shoes to wear, but some did not. Some hadn’t shown up to the school because their families needed them to work on their farm. The road to their school and village was bumpy and hard to drive on with anything but a pick up truck so not many strangers came to the village. The principal told me that while many other schools close to the area hosted missionaries or received donations from organizations, this school did not because of their location. It was just physically difficult to get there. Others who came before us had turned away from that road, from that village, and from those children to find some place easier to get to.
It would be easy for a non-believer to say: “God, why would you allow little children to suffer so? What kind of God are you?” I was once one of those people. Now it’s so easy for me to say: “God never wants to see His children suffer. So He sent us to be His hands and feet. He sends us with the charge to feed the orphans and comfort the broken. He sends us to show others His grace and mercy. He sends us to bring hope and love to those who have none. He sends us to pour into others. We are but vessels made and shaped for His glory. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth and we are here to shine His light in dark places.” I’m confident in what I say because I know God made a way for us on a road less traveled by to bring us to a place that needed Him. We would have never been on that road, in that place, at that time if it wasn’t for God’s call upon our lives.
I am going to BELIZE on a missions scouting trip in TWO WEEKS! I have to pack…
What do I pack?
Where am I going to stay?
Who am I going to meet?
What’s the weather going to be like?
I can’t speak the language, how will I SURVIVE!!??
Where’s the bathroom???
I mean I’m not panicking, I’m just PANICKING!
Have you ever had a similar reaction/nervous breakdown like the one above before traveling on a missions trip? Have you had the same kind of reaction when you travel on vacation? Probably not. Perhaps it’s because when we go on vacation, we know we’re going to be staying in a nice, comfortable, maybe even luxurious place with our favorite foods and every amenity we could possibly imagine at our fingertips. A missions trip comes with a certain amount of uncertainty. We don’t always know what we’re going to encounter, what the conditions will be like, what we’ll be eating, and who we’re going to meet. In a scouting trip, like the one I’m going on, there is even more uncertainty. We won’t know what to expect until we get there. We’re basically going on a reconnaissance mission, like the spies in Canaan, except we’re not sneaking in. We’re going to prepare the way. We’re going to gather information to equip others who will go there after us. We are going because God ordained us to go. We are going because we are kingdom builders seeking to show God’s love in tangible ways. We are Hope Ambassadors and we are ready to GO!
After my missions trip to Panama last September, I came back to work feeling depressed. I bumped into a girl in my office who asked me where I had been. I told her I had gone on a missions trip to help build a soup kitchen. She then said, “Well that’s nice, do you feel better about yourself now?” To which I instantly answered with a simple “No.” It was an auto answer, I didn’t have to think about it. It meant, “No, I felt worse than before I went.” Nothing traumatic had happened to me. I had caught a cold but that wasn’t what was troubling my spirit. I didn’t feel better about myself at all, rather I felt like I hadn’t done enough for those I went to serve. I felt like a week and a half was not nearly enough time to accomplish what I wanted to do. I thought about all the sweet children I had met. They had stood outside the tiny building watching us work throughout the week. They were fascinated with the tools we were using, they wanted to help us paint. Every little detail we added to the room was like a new treasure to them. They were excited and they didn’t mind traipsing through the dusty, dirty conditions we worked in. The heat was unbearable at times, the worst being when I painted the kitchen. There were no windows and the smell of the paint mixed with the stifling air was almost too much to handle. I almost gave up that day, but I pressed on since that was all I was able to do to help. If I didn’t do it, someone else would have to step in and finish it which would take them away from another task they could be doing. I didn’t want the rest of the team to know how tired I was, how much my hands, my shoulders, and my back ached.
Missionary life is a calling. It isn’t a vacation. It’s not a “cultural experience.” You don’t go on a missions trip to fulfill any duty. It’s not a requirement, meaning you don’t have to go. Of course Jesus said “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” But the lifestyle is not for everyone. It doesn’t fulfill anything in yourself IF you do it right. What you’re doing is fulfilling Christ’s work. You’re being His hands and feet. Because we love our Jesus so much, missionaries will give of themselves freely. We do whatever it takes to accomplish God’s plan. We spread God’s love in tangible ways and hope that the little things we do in His name helps someone to come to know Him and love Him as much as we do.
Saturday morning. 9:45am. There’s a bunch of ill-equipped people embarking on a four mile hike through Forest Park…fancy sneakers, designer shades, and not a clue in the world. They’re sweating bullets half way through. There’s a hill that just knocks the breath out of them. There are bugs flying into their mouths and every leaf looks like poison ivy. Little chipmunks play along the path and every now and then the group marks the spot they see berries in case they get lost and have to come back for sustenance! Now why would they subject themselves to all this? Because I asked them to.
Every single one of them are a part of Hope Ambassadors, a ministry at HopeNYC dedicated to training missionaries before sending them into the mission field. If you’re a member of Hope Ambassadors, we’ll teach you a language, prepare you with travel necessities, and attempt to acclimatize you before you even step foot on an airplane. We’re looking to reduce culture shock. We’re looking to teach proper mission trip etiquette (don’t use up all the water if there’s no running water!). We’ll let you know if you need to bring a pillow, sleeping bag, or toilet paper!
Now back to the hiking trip. A key part of Ambassador training is purely physical. We want our missionaries to be accustomed to walking long distances. They may have to climb a mountain to get to an isolated area. We want to condition their bodies to withstand unfamiliar environments and climates. We want them to be physically capable for any trip they may take. Not only is it beneficial to them, it benefits their fellow missionaries as well! I was so proud of the few who showed up on Saturday morning. It wasn’t so much about the hiking; I wasn’t looking to see who the best at it was. Rather, I was gauging the willingness and the determination. Just by showing up, I could tell they were ready to commit to wherever this journey is going to lead us!