Monday, July 30, 2007

Juarez, Mexico: Part VIII

It was the end of the week and we were all tired.
The heat, combined with a busy schedule, and little sleep in some cases, was definitely setting in.

After working at VBS all morning and then grabbing lunch and dinner at our dorm, we headed back out into the dusty streets to an evangelistic event organized by Ramon's church.

We met at the "park" or rather, what they called a park.

It was an uneven, dirt field in the middle of a neighborhood. Children brought their soccer balls and dogs to the park to play the beloved game and hang out.

Ramon's wife, Delfina, pulled their van forward and we began unloading equipment. The church's karaoke machine and mics, stacks of chairs, and a pop-up shade structure were set up to stage our outreach.

We performed a dance and a skit for the group of church members in attendance, and other members of my team lead worship.

It didn't seem like many people outside of the church had come.

Ramon began his sermon, speaking to the people in their houses.

He told them that he knew there were people in their homes at that moment who had poor marriages, were struggling with addictions and their children were out on the streets, involved in gangs and violence.

He told them his story of redemption, when he met Christ for the first time.

As he finished his powerful speech, he told the leaders and our group that we were to pray for anyone who asked for it, to gather around them when they stood.

He asked "if there's anyone here who wants to begin a personal relationship with Christ---this is not about religion or doing the right things---we will pray for you."

An old woman in the back stood, a few tears running down her cheeks. All of our team gathered around her and I walked over, as well.

Ramon prayed a general prayer in Spanish and then was silent.
No one in our group said a word.

I began praying the best that I could in Spanish. The words that kept coming to my mind were "Come, Lord into this woman's heart. Give her peace and help her to know you better."

When we were finished, I hugged her and she smiled, tears still coming down her face.

I never got to ask her if this was her first time committing her life to Christ, but I could tell that she had been touched.

Though I couldn't connect with her completely on a language level, my heart could feel her desire and her pain.

I might not know her name, but I'm going to continue to pray for her and others in Juarez, who have yet to meet Christ.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I know there have been quite a few of these entries, but hang in there....

My lesson

Aside from doing so much translating, one other event weighed on my during the trip: teaching a lesson to the entire group.

At the beginning of the week, all of the leaders for the trip met together to go over the schedule:

Breakfast 8 a.m. Leave at 9/9:30 a.m. Begin working and/or VBS at 10 a.m. Return to church at 2 p.m. for lunch. Hang out for a few hours. Dinner at 5 p.m. Out for park outreach at 7 p.m. Home by 9 p.m. for small group study and a lesson.

"So, who wants to volunteer to teach a lesson this week?" our trip leader asked the group.

Though the leaders were mostly male, we did still have four female leaders, as well.

One by one, male leaders volunteered to take on the lessons.

With only one night left to claim, the group was silent.

I volunteered, even though it was something I knew would be a challenge.

The previous year I had gone on a trip to Northern Ireland with the same youth outreach organization. I was no longer a leader once we were sent to our various locations throughout the country. This was especially difficult for me when we faced huge challenges in our leadership and I had to stay out of it for the most part and just play a supporting role for the rest of the team.

On that trip, I learned to support my leaders while also helping to bring cohesion to the team.

That meant stepping up when others wouldn't.

In Northern Ireland, I had my first experience teaching a large group mostly because others didn't want to volunteer. I felt anxious in the days leading up to the talk because I was worried about what to say.

In the end, God gave me the words.

Still, in Mexico I had my doubts; my own insecurities.

The kids I spoke to in Northern Ireland didn't have personal relationships with Christ. It was all about outreach and delivering the message then.

This group I was going to teach to had personal relationships with God and certainly strong ones in most cases. Very intimidating.

I felt like Timothy. What did I have to offer?

Despite my insecurities, the whole week leading up to Thursday night, I prayed and I read my Bible, asking for the right message, not my own.

I feel like God gave me the right one and also used my ability to tell stories to also capture the interest of the tired group members.

I finished the group that night feeling relieved and also encouraged.

The lesson I learned that night is one that I've been in the process of learning for probably the past year. Interestingly enough, it was best summed up in the movie "Evan Almighty."

"God" tells Evan's family that "People pray for patience, but God doesn't just give you patience---he gives you opportunities to exercise patience."

It's in those times that I have to depend on God for His strength and for His peace that I'm given the opportunity for my faith to grow. I learn to depend on Him more.

At times I indeed feel timid about sharing my beliefs with others, or staying the course that God has set out for me, but I'm reminded of these times out on my short-term mission trips when God has moved in amazing ways, simply because I got out of His way and let Him use me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Interesting article:
"What would Jesus Drive?"

Check it out...

"Yen, let me tell you something."

Pastor Ramon put his arm around my shoulders as we walked out of the supermercado.

We had just completed a task of buying as many items as we could for only $5. Our guide was a short grocery list with everything written in Spanish.

"Que paso, Ramon?" I asked.

"You, you have blessed me and my family. You are my favorite, you know that?" he told me.

I was flattered.

I hadn't really done much other than love his children and talk with his wife, Delfina.

"Gracias, Ramon."

He continued.

"You are here," he touched his chest. "In my heart always, you remember. You are my daughter."

I nearly cried, I was so touched.

To be adopted by a family you hardly know is something amazing, especially when you're just loving without expectations.

I had felt insecure about my Spanish abilities around most people there, but especially Ramon and his family. I was trying my best, but as a person whose job is to communicate a message to others, not being able to communicate as effectively or as eloquently as I wanted was extremely frustrating and difficult.

We walked out of the grocery store and laid all of the items on the concrete sidewalk near the entrance.

Soap. Toothpaste. Cooking oil. Vegetables. Rice. Beans....

Most of us were able to buy more than 8 food staples using only 5 American dollars.

It made me look at my Starbucks Frappaccino back home a lot differently, that's for sure.

After the items were divvied up, our small groups grabbed two grocery bags and loaded back onto the bus.

We sat on the bus for 30 or so minutes as we traveled to a poor Colonial across town.

When we arrived, they told us to stay with our groups and wander the sand-covered streets until we felt led to give one of our bags to a family.

The homes were broken in many cases. Floors were dirt and fortunate homeowners had block walls. Others used whatever materials they could scrounge up to create their homes.

It took us a while to find a family that was home or willing to accept our groceries. I was frustrated by the end of the exercise, wondering if people were just used to groups traveling here and giving out bags such as these.

I was nearly sent over the top when we were asked to pose for a picture near the bus, while homeowners from the community rifled through a box of clothing and shoes nearby.

Taking a picture near such poverty felt as if we were exploiting the situation and saying "look where we are and look what we did."

It wasn't until our trip leader asked us to be quiet and look around that reality and my focus shifted.

A boy, about 6 years old, shifted clothes in one box from one side to the other. Finally, he pulled out one bright green flip flop.

He held it up, and then smacked it against the palm of his other hand. He looked at it for a minute, then shoved it in a box at his feet.

He didn't even have the mate for it.

I don't know why he decided to keep the bright green flip flop, but it certainly hit me hard. If I had found one bright green flip flop at home, I would've thrown it away. What would I do with one bright green flip flop?

The barefoot boy then turned away from where we were and walked back down the road where power line wires laid exposed on the ground.

Youth ministry vs. children's ministry

Juarez, Mexico: Part V

Fast forward a few days...

Vacation Bible school was a hit. Telling our story by using Spanish children's books depicting the story of Queen Esther was definitely the route to go. The kids made crowns for the art project and-- of course-- wanted more jewels for them, but supplies was limited.

With the kids, I could speak in my broken Spanish and not fear too many strange looks. They'd just smile and wait a little longer for me to get my message out. Being that my language skills lie somewhere in the elementary level, I was the perfect communicator for the age group we worked with.

It was my first VBS---ever. Initially, I was a little worried. I mean, working with little kids is just, well, different than working with teens. You have to communicate differently.

But it wasn't a bad change, I realized.

With children, you can love on them--hug them, turn them upside down, and play "pato, pato, ganzo" (duck, duck, goose)---and be given the biggest grins in return. In youth ministry, you usually get a blank stare or "the look" when you try to love on them (in different ways, of course). Okay, that's a generalization, but true much of the time.

I decided to stay at VBS the rest of the week.

During my week of adventures, I bonded with Melody, the youngest daughter of the church's pastoral family. I called her my "mono"--monkey because she loved being dipped upside-down and swung side to side. A fake tattoo of "Donkey" (Shrek) that I found in a Doritos bag thrilled her to no end (she got her sister to put it on her immediately), and hugged me around the legs saying "es de mio" (she's mine) when other kids where fighting for my attention. It was certainly flattering and also such a pure act of love that I don't get to experience too often.

Then there was Daniel. Daniel was the biggest goofball I'd almost EVER met. He taught all the children the "goose dance" when they couldn't win at duck, duck, goose. (I'll have to post the video--he's hilarious!) We had our own little handshake and could play a hand-slapping game for hours after VBS ended each day. He truly gave me that much more to look forward to every day when I went to the church.

I began to see why many in the church choose children's ministry over youth ministry. You get that reaction, that pure loving reaction almost immediately. You know you're the authority over them and can guide them in a way they can't at that age. Youth ministry can leave you feeling a bit insecure and wondering if you're affecting any change.

Perhaps my experience in Mexico gave me a "grass is greener" perspective. Either way, I know God has called me to youth ministry and I will continue with that until He tells me otherwise, but it was certainly a new experience.

Because of my time in the Juarez VBS, when I returned home and found out that our VBS hadn't happened yet, I decided to volunteer.

At first, it was overwhelming because there were so many resources, so many beautiful decorations and other things that our modest VBS didn't have.

While it wasn't the same, I did learn one thing: children are the same anywhere you go. They're willing to be vulnerable and love on you even if they don't really know you. In most cases, they haven't learned how harsh life can be or how mean and unloving people can be. They have a pure faith.

It's no wonder that Jesus cared so much for them.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Juarez slide show 2007.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

Juarez, Mexico: Part IV

"Can you translate the message for the English speakers here," Ramon asked me in Spanish.

We were at his church, dressed in the best Sunday clothes we could stuff into our small black duffel bags.

I nodded and qualified it in Spanish with "I'm not the best, but I will try."

He patted me on the shoulder and I left to go back to my seat.

Turning to one of my group members, I whispered "I have to translate the sermon for everyone into English---I'm so nervous! Pray for me, please!"

She said a little prayer and encouraged me with some kind words.

Still, there was a little voice inside of me that was freaking out.

It had been two full years since I had truly had the opportunity to be immersed in the language and I feared that I had lost a lot of my skills. Four years of Spanish at the university is nothing to sneeze at, but it doesn't compare to using it all the time and living in a foreign country.

Church began with a worship time.
This is when I fell in love with it.

There were no acoustic guitars. No basses. No drums.

Just a karaoke-like CD player at the front of the room, two microphones hooked up to each plug.

As the music began, I looked around the room at other church members who were already singing along to "Ven, es tiempo de adorarle" (Come, now is the time to worship). As cheesy as it may sound, I felt my spirit soar and I began feeling that swell of emotion that happens when the Holy Spirit is moving in amazing ways. The tears came to my eyes and I could help but feel overwhelmed by the heart of this congregation.

After the song finished, Pastor Ramon explained in his broken English "Now, you Americans may not dance in church, but here, we dance."

The song "Remoleondo" began and as the chorus hit, church members began spinning in a circle in their small space near their chairs. Then, everyone began kicking their feet out like ska dancers.

With ribbons twirling at the front of the room, four little girls danced along to the music and church members grinned from ear to ear.

What a great church service, I thought.

As worship closed, Pastor Ramon cued me and I walked to the front of the congregation of about 60, prepared to translate his sermon.

All of a sudden, he called our trip leader up, who spoke basically NO Spanish.

What's going on here? I thought to myself.

Then, Ramon told me that I was going to translate Bill's words for the congregation and Bill was to tell them why we were there and anything else.

This is not what I signed up for! I thought as I got even more nervous.

It was bumpy, and absolutely terrible most of the time. I had only been in the country for less than a day and hadn't had much practice time. Already I was trying to translate for a big group.

I sat down, feeling disheartened about my abilities. My group mate hugged my shoulders and told me she thought I did a good job.

Hah! You didn't understand what I was saying, though, I told her.

Though I wasn't up at the front to translate the message into English (something MUCH easier to do), I quietly translated sections of it for others in my row.

I felt at least a little bit better by the end of the service because I had helped a few people understand what was going on.

Things would get better, I told myself.

We left on the bus that day and headed back to our bunks.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wanna learn Spanish?

I just found an AMAZING resource that I'm soooo interested in trying to keep my language skills up.

The place is called "The Spanish Place" and it's on Mill in Tempe. Basically, you can pay $25 for a day pass to attend all classes that day or $95 for a month pass, which allows you to go to as many classes as you want throughout the month (and it goes from whatever date you start to that date the following month, i.e. 2oth of july to 20th of August).

I'm so jazzed about this and am certainly going to see if I can try it out.

Anyone game? Hannah?

Nos vemos!

Hasta luego!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Juarez, Mexico: Part III

After a few hour's wait, the other groups from Oklahoma and California arrived and I picked through the pile of duffel bags to find the one I had marked with a bright pink ponytail holder. Lugging it through the automatic doors, we walked down the sidewalk to a caravan of SUVs and vans that would take us over the U.S.-Mexico border to our destination: Juarez.

My small group from Arizona was shuffled to different vans in the line of vehicles and I left to join the California group.

They couldn't help giving me a nice jab at the fact that my Arizona group flew to Texas rather than making the drive like they did. Then again, they were planning a luxurious stop at a Tucson spa on the way back. Rough life. (so California! haha)

When we finally pulled up to our temporary home, located on a Christian school campus, we were thirsty, hungry and tired from traveling. To our relief, we were shown our rooms, complete with plastered walls, bunk beds with plastic-covered mattresses, and little else. The swamp cooler worked in our bedroom, if the air was rerouted from the main dining/community room.

We didn't know that the first night.

Not only were we acclimating to the heat, but we were adjusting to no cool air. Most of us went to sleep that night sweaty and sticky, wondering how we were going to survive the rest of the week ahead of us. Fortunately, the trick was discovered the next morning and we had cool air the rest of the week.

The first days

It was surprising to me how difficult it was for the teens to adjust to life without iPods, without their cell phones, and without hard plans and schedules for the week. One boy struggled to sit still or find something to do now that he didn't have his MP3 player. Clearly out of his comfort zone, I tried to encourage him to read his Bible, get to know the other group members, and just relax a little.

It proved to be quite the challenge as he sat around bouncing his right leg and looking around the room.

I gave him his space and went about talking to other group members and enjoying a little peace and quiet.

It had been a very long time since I had been without what I had once considered "necessities." No cell phone to text message a friend. No iPod to listen to my favorite music. No hair dryer to quickly style my shoulder-length hair.

Pastor Ramon

Saturday night we were finally given our briefing and introduced to the family and pastor we would be working with for the duration of our trip.

In Spanish, Pastor Ramon told us his testimony.

He had been addicted to drugs and alcohol from a young age, and spent much of his early 20s getting mixed up in the gang scene.

One day he was laying in a city park when he remembers a teenager coming up to him and telling him "You know Jesus loves you," and simply walking away.

It changed his life.

He began asking questions and desiring to be out of his drug-addicted life. Eventually, he met his wife, they started a church, and had two beautiful daughters.

I was touched by this man's story, but more importantly the man himself. Joy seemed to radiate from his inner core as he smiled and joked with the group of English-speakers. To me, he was the epitome of what a Christian should look like. Jesus changed our lives and yet, often, we walk around just as down-cast as anyone else.

I didn't realize I was the most fluent Spanish speaker in the group until I noticed I was the only one laughing after the punchline of his jokes.

At that point, it was pretty clear to even the trip leader that they had someone who could be the liaison they needed to survive the work projects and church meetings.

That was the beginning of the most uncomfortable, stretching part of my experience in Juarez.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Juarez, Mexico: Part II

An hour after leaving Phoenix, we were already touching down in El Paso, Texas with a sleepy leader, a discouraged leader, and two anxious team members.

It was 11 o'clock, leaving about two hours until we would board vans with other groups from all over the U.S. and travel across the border to Juarez.

As we exited the plane and began walking toward baggage claim, it was apparent that our 2-hour wait was going to be less than thrilling. Aside from a handful of shops catering to turquoise-loving tourists and two small Mexican food restaurants, little much else existed.

Baggage claim reminded me of the little town in Washington I used to visit when I was younger. Four luggage carousels were nestled in a corner of the airport with dozens of passengers waiting for their bags to arrive.

We began to notice other high school-aged students wearing the same grey, "Project Serve" T-shirts that we were sporting, so that was a pretty good sign.

Luggage arrived. We met our trip leader. Baggage was tossed in a growing heap next to the automatic sliding doors near the exit.

So far, so good. Still feeling like a failure as a leader, but doing all right for the most part.

"So hey, do you guys want to go get some food?" our trip leader asked.

We shrugged our shoulders, grabbed our wallets and walked down a small corridor to our only option: Mexican food.

"Fine by me," I thought. "Might as well get used to it-- we'd be eating a lot of it for a week."

Our small group stuck together in the small alcove, straining to hear over the loud hip-hop music blaring from a speaker overhead.

After polishing off a chicken burro and an iced tea, I checked my watch and we headed back to the carousels where a large group of teens had congregated.

Sitting in a circle, they slept and talked amongst themselves while we sat in a set of chairs. My other leader began sleeping with his head resting on a metal bar behind him. Within a few minutes, I was ready to break out of our little group and try to be social. With my team members on board, we joined up with the other group while my other leader laid down on the airport floor to take a power nap.

Georgia. Never been there, but the accents sure sound nice. As soon as we had approached this group of Georgians, we were immediately welcomed in and began comparing notes on the differences between our cultures.

Sweet tea. (Big) trucks. Football. Wafflehouse.

Yes, Wafflehouse.

It was in that moment of learning about these 16-19-year-olds that I began to feel more excited, more relaxed, and less aware of my previous failures as a leader.

We would be waiting for another hour for other groups to arrive, but I was looking forward to the wait and the rest of the week ahead of us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Juarez, Mexico: Part I

Saturday, June 23

The morning started off on a good note.
With my black, Youth for Christ duffel bag packed, I swung my sleeping bag, and backpack over my shoulder and headed out to my Xterra to load up. Within minutes, one of my other team members, arrived, large straw hat perched atop his head.

"You ready?" I asked him.
He nodded and smiled.
With a final hug good-bye and a brief prayer, his mom was off and we left to pick up another team member.

With a knock at the door and a few minutes of waiting, my other leader appeared, bleary-eyed from staying up til the wee hours of the morning talking with his "like" interest.

"Didn't get much sleep, huh?" I smiled. I had figured he was going to be up for hours with her.
He smiled back drowsily.

He'd been away in California for several weeks without much contact with her and had been looking forward to catching up.

With the back loaded up, we were on the road again heading toward the airport. We had one final team member to meet up with before boarding our flight.

That's when things started to turn.

We stood on the curb waiting to be checked in for about 15 minutes only to find out that we have to pay $2 per bag to check in there. Conveniently, the sign that states this was shoved behind the counter.

Grumbling as I walked, I began dragging my bags to the U.S. Airways ticket counter where the line snaked around several times. This is where we finally meet up with our last team member.

After 15 minutes, our group finally reached the front of the growing line. We each approached the the kiosk only to find out that each person was listed under my name for a group check in. Just one more roadblock to tackle.

Quickly, I checked in, threw my bags on the weighing station and searched for my other team members who were stuck waiting for an airline worker to help them get things sorted out.

We were all scattered, but I knew where each person was, thankfully.

I buried my head in figuring out the computer kiosk for two of my team members, eventually got it figured out and then began to look around, discovering that I have lost one of my team members.


"I hope she's just waiting at the security checkpoint for us or this is going to be VERY interesting," I think to myself as I lead the other two up the escalator toward security.

She is---along with her parents. Thank goodness they still like me!

This is when I began to feel like a pretty sucky leader.

Through the security gates we went and off to our gates, finally, as a group. I began to breathe a sigh of relief as we found our gate and put our bags down next to a group of empty chairs.

That's when I heard "wait a sec, my ticket says I'm supposed to be at B11."

I looked at my ticket.

Double shoot.

Off we trudged towards the RIGHT departure gate, located on the exact opposite side of the terminal. Thank goodness he discovered it before it was too late.

Safely at our correct gate, a team member and I begin comparing notes about who's sitting where.

"That's funny, we're listed in the same seat," she says.
I examined it further--- she has a copy of my ticket.

Oh geez.

Grateful for a previous mistake at the kiosk, I rummaged through my bag and found an extra printout of her ticket that the airline worker had printed off for me.

Crisis averted.

About 30 minutes later, we were on the plane destined for an hour-long flight to El Paso, Texas where we were to meet up with the rest of our team with Youth for Christ. We were ready to help with VBS, sweat under the 100+ degree heat during work projects, and build relationships with other people.

But there was so much more that we didn't expect...