simplicity

Every time I get back from a mission trip, I wonder how I look to other people.

Sun scorched? More freckles? What do they see in my eyes? Am I more serious? Do I laugh more? Less? Do they mistake my ‘tired’ appearance for the real struggle of transitioning back to the selfish culture we live in? Do I look like God has marked me?

I should.IMG_1139

Because every time…every single time I surrender to God and follow him, he marks me in the global mission field.

It does look different every time, because God needs to change me differently every time. And sometimes I’m not even prepared for what he has in store. Last year in Haiti, I was definitely not prepared. This year…I knew what I needed, and thankfully for once, God and I agreed on my opinion.

Simplicity.

Community.

And hard, sweaty work to make me forget all of the things that I need to do, are expected of me and distract me from my calling.

I needed the simplicity of no cell phone, no internet/email and no one needing anything from me…immediately. The only agenda I wanted was playing around in God’s Global Kingdom work and being with my team, my community, for 8 solid days without any of the add-ons we think we cannot live without.

Honestly, I needed a time out. And I’m starting to think it was not long enough.

That first day in the back of a pick-up truck on the way to a worksite…I took a deep breath for the first time in months that was actually healing. It cleared my brain, my heart and washed away the sticky cobwebs of frustration that like to weave into the corners of my soul. The colossal amount of sweat cleared my eyes, and flooded out the tension and stress that had gathered in my muscles.

I felt free. Finally.

Free to be me.

And I pray in the midst of that freedom those our team was around saw the joy of God in our community, instead of wacky Americans. Or maybe both. But that we shared a piece of ourselves with them, as they did with us.

217391_672439952772791_558712428_nToo often we let our culture and those around us dictate what we think is right and wrong. Too often we silence the voice of God to listen to the things that attract our attention. Too often we tie our joy and contentment to things instead of the One thing. Too often we allow ourselves to get lost in the shuffle of this blip in the timeline of the world, in an American culture that has no depth or richness of character. (Yes, I just said that, and I meant it.)

The arrogance of the American culture saddens and frustrates me. We think ourselves so much higher than ‘third world’ (I hate that term by the way) cultures simply because we have everything we could ever ask for…and more. I mean, honestly, just compare bathrooms, right? *sarcasm* It drives me insane when people rate the standard of living by bathroom standards. Get over it, people. Count yourself lucky that you even have running water, and squat once in a while.

When we let our arrogance for American culture lead our opinions of other countries, we miss out on the beauty, community and amazing ways God is moving. We miss out on the simplicity of living only for Him.

I desperately needed God’s simplicity to take over, and strip off the barriers that had been pushing me into a box to see again the reality of how God has built me.

IMG_0873God built me as a missionary. God built me to be flexible. God built me to be comfortable in other cultures…with languages that are not my own. God built me as a passionate woman who cares about those that others ignore, and who knows what it feels like to draw others to God’s Kingdom work. God built me to be stronger as a part of a team, a community, instead of alone. God built me to be stubborn so that something inside me would withstand the pressure of this world. God built me to cherish how he speaks through scripture, even in the moments when I completely geek out.

God built me with a long memory so that I would know his heart for long-term restoration and transformation. God built me to love relationships so that I would see the tremendous value in discipleship and pouring your life into another.

God built me to love in radical ways because it makes no sense for God to have an ounce of love for a sinner like me…but he DOES and it is UNCONDITIONAL. Period.

This is who I am. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. It’s a work of God.

Marked and called by the living, universal God who asks us to follow him wherever he may lead.

This is who I am.

kryptonite

I have a problem. Actually it’s pretty big…seeing as how it includes 8 people…not just myself…

You know how Superman’s greatest weakness is kryptonite? Well…my kryptonite would be having the support, laughter and community of a team around me 24 hours a day…then losing it once we are home. What I still miss is the walks together…you never knew who you’d have a crazy, wonderful conversation with on the way. I miss talking while falling asleep through mosquito nets…quite the experience! I miss team meals…all around one table, talking, laughing, teasing and bestowing each other with nicknames! Which technically happened the entire time…but intensified around meals! Talking over shower stalls…borrowing Chap Stick, sunscreen, bug repellant…everyone had whatever you had forgotten.

Ironically, I also miss the view from the shower…crazy, I know. It was a small cinder block room with a stick over the top for a curtain that was at its’ best while fluttering in the wind. Not conducive for showering…my best MacGyver moment was on a particularly windy day the curtain wouldn’t stay tucked into the bucket of shower water. My shower buddy, who stayed on their side mind you, kept offering possibly solutions when I realized I could thread the Duke bag I’d brought my stuff in through the end. Talk about laughter…our shower times were humorous, how could they not be with a bucket of water and a bag of water hanging from a stick. But the view…lizards climbing on top of the wall…blue azure sky, white cottony clouds, bright green palm trees waving in the evening breeze. Let’s just say, that view is not in my bathroom…

I miss knowing someone will pick up where I left off if I accidentally drop the ball. Someone constantly has your back…where my weaknesses begin, another’s strengths continue. It is one of the best aspects of being a part of a team.

Truly, I thrive on being a part of a team. I don’t like being alone. I mean, I laugh at my own jokes, but it’s so much better when someone else does, right? Eventually, people look at me weird because I am laughing randomly in public places…all alone…

I thrive on the accountability that comes with being with the same people for 7-11 days on a mission trip. Praying before a meal was never ‘normal’ for me…and I am greatly blessed by our community praying together over our meals, at devotions, team meetings…wherever it may be. There is an intense bond that ties mission teams together, and a lot of things contribute to that, but one of those bonds are intensified by the intimate act of praying together as a community…even when not every one is comfortable praying out loud. And even better…we pray with humor, and wholly believe that God blessed us with a sense of humor because he has one! It’s not abnormal for me to laugh out loud while someone is praying…not because we don’t take it seriously…but more because we do take it so seriously that we leave nothing unsaid.

I also thrive on the energy of others, and when you are with a group of people in the international mission field…we are living off a lot of adrenaline, not to mention the undulated joy of serving as a whole team that gives an electric feel to a group. Ever wonder why those looking from the outside of a mission team wonder what sort of ‘stuff’ there are on? Well…the team is feelin’ the no-way-its-human, power of the Holy Spirit and that feeling is unlike any other in the world.

And this isn’t always relegated to international mission teams…it can be a community working for the Kingdom of God, too. The other night I was a part of a phenomenal conversation with some ladies that are walking a journey of mission. We talked about how you cannot truly be used by the Holy Spirit until you are ready to surrender the part of yourself that hinders it. Mission teams have no choice but to surrender that part of themselves…not only for God to use them the way he sent them, but in order to function fully as a community in mission…as does any community working in that fashion.

One of the other things I thrive on is the wisdom of those who have gone before me. And just in case you were curious…the Haiti team had it in spades. I am a believer in multi-generational teams that form a community based in mission. I know I don’t know everything, and I know not everyone would agree with my opinions on things…but I am a listener, and I crave the wisdom that God pours from the mouths of his people. There were moments that I would look at a teammate and thing to myself, ‘Whoa…that’s not them talkin’ anymore.’

It’s been almost a month since we left…so our team finds themselves in that time frame of will we let those moments of unbridled connection to God shape us or will we succumb to the American ‘normal’? Our team is trying to find a day to get together and see each other this week…and it’s difficult once we get back. I always tell teams…say what you need to say to each other before the last flight, because once we get to KC everyone is greeted by different people and heads out quickly. I miss this team…we conquered a lot together, created bonds that will last for years and did ministry in a community that had been ravaged by an earthquake through blood, sweat…I think the amount of sweat increases the bond…and tears.

As we’ve been sending emails back and forth, one of our teammates sent out at the end of a message, ‘One of the best groups I have been with.’ I’ve been a part of a lot of groups, but few have been so equal in all aspects of a mission team. People always ask me, what is your favorite trip? Who was on your favorite team? To make a choice would be wrong…but there are pieces of trips that make up my ‘perfect’ trip, and this team made some serious contributions!

God blesses his people who are forged in relationship and focused on working for his Kingdom…and our team was blessed beyond imagination and expectation. The glory all goes to our Father who not only took us to Haiti, but spoke and ignited a fire in each of us…in so many different ways.

So to my amazing Haiti team family…thanks for being my kryptonite! I love you all, dearly and challenge you to not lose sight of the clarity Haiti brought to God’s plan for us as individuals and as a team, as well as our hearts and souls. After all…if it weren’t for kryptonite how would Superman had known he was alive at all?

sometimes

Sometimes God crashes into your world and you are caught completely by surprise. We see him. We hear him. Maybe even catch a scent of our Savior.

Other times…we ignore him. Content with our home, car, family, job, activities…we replace our beautiful Savior with the life we are living on this planet. Ironically, the life he has given us. We suffer every now and then, but rarely consistently to the point of discomfort for us Americans. If you feel differently, let’s talk…because the places God has sent me to and shown me in the last 10 years need to bust open your worldview.

If you missed it…over a week ago I left for Haiti…then came back.

Never before have I sweat so much, so often and been so physically uncomfortable than last week. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Because you see, sometimes I forget. I forget what I am fighting for. I forget what really matters. I get lost in details, and lose focus of the big picture. I fight for the small things instead of the true big thing. I get frustrated. Sometimes I feel like I am losing pieces of myself to what others want, and how they view me. Sometimes I feel like I am stuck…that probably more often than sometimes.

And then…God crashes in…and floods my soul with purpose.

Renewal.

Cleansing.

Sweet freedom of the Holy Spirit.

Kingdom reality.

If we lose sight of what we are fighting for…what’s the point? How does God use that?

Haiti brought me face to face with my Savior.

Haiti brought clarity to my calling.

Haiti kicked my butt.

But Haiti filled every part of my soul that had scattered with distraction and frustration.

There is so much I want to share…and I will, I promise. But there are still moments that I need to process and cherish before I throw them out into the wind. I honestly cannot wait to tell you about a precious kiddo who wouldn’t leave my lap, even when tickled. Or Joseph, one of the wisest men I have met with a Kingdom vision and hope mindset that rivals anyone I’ve ever heard. Or the sweet, wrinkly woman who jabbered Creole while kissing my cheeks…but the message was clear, ‘I am so glad you are here.’

Or about those I was with for a week. They blessed me in so many ways that I lost count within 24 hours of hopping on a plane with them. They are laughter. They are wise. They are cool. They are tough, and most of all they are truly my brothers and sisters in every aspect of the word. God created this team to serve him together, and we served with every fiber of our being.

Sometimes we need to listen…and sometimes we’ll actually do it.

Sometimes we need to act…and sometimes we’ll actually act.

Sometimes we need to love…and sometimes we’ll actually love others.

But what if sometimes turned into every time? What Kingdom work would we accomplish then? All around us, every day?

‘the’ debate

I love the moments when I look around a table and find myself thinking, ‘I am so incredibly blessed to be able to serve with these people.’ Our Haiti team leaves in about a month, and we have a strong team on all fronts. We have laughter. We have strength. We have experience. We have desire to do more than just put up walls…we seek to make friends, create relationships…and see where it goes. I’m waiting for the moment when one of them looks at me and says, ‘I want to come back here, because of this kid or this connection I have with this person. And what if we…’

I had a translator once in Russia that went above and beyond just translating…but it was because we had become great friends over several years. Who knows what God has in store for us in Haiti? I do pray that he is already preparing some great people we will connect with in Mellier.

But…’the’ debate…short-term verses long-term mission trips…if you haven’t heard a whisper of the debate that has gone on for years, here’s the basic gist. The short-term critique is folks spending a lot of money, jumping in to ‘fix’ something to their American standards, dumping whatever they think the community ‘needs’ and then leaving again to never come back…however, going home with great photos and stories of third world ‘suffering,’ (consider those ‘air’ quotes…). That is normally the negative side, the realistic side is not many people have the time to do that…and if we say it’s all bad, what about those God wants to use and the people that could be drawn to the Kingdom of God?

The long-term side is normally people who feel a deep call to mission in particular communities…anywhere from urban America to Africa, from Brazil to China, etc. They put roots down in the community and stay for years, raising families in that community, letting their lives be proof of God’s love…over a long period of time. Not something you can do in 8 days. I don’t think many folks argue that long-term is bad…there are just bad ways to do long-term that hurt the community they are trying to help.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do in the international mission field is checking your American culture at the door before you leave. If your plan is to move people away from the ‘dark side’ and bring them into an American viewpoint and structure, you should probably stay home.

Both sides of the notorious debate have positives and negatives. That being said, I am well acquainted with both, mostly by people who like to critique short-term missions that I participate in…and lead, which means I have given this a lot of thought if I am committed to taking other people with me.

All that being said…here’s where I stand. I am well-aware, trust me, on how much money short-term missions throw out into the world when a community could be using it for something they need. These decisions take a lot of time, and honestly…calling…if you are not sure what that means…let’s talk.

I believe in the world not being near as large as it used to be, and I believe that God pulls people he has built to do well in other cultures to go love others across borders. It used to take months for missionaries to hop borders…now it takes mere hours.

Even more, I believe that developing relationships over time in short bursts truly allows God to work, and that is something I have learned over 9 years. I wholeheartedly disagree with going in once, doing whatever and never going back. I think it is a complete disservice to the Gospel, and those you are ‘serving.’ The times I’ve been a part of that it disheartened me so much it is scorched into my memory. Now, if I go somewhere new…you can count on there being more going on than just going on a random trip. I’m looking for new possibilities, new relationships and most of all…God where would you have me?

I do think long-term is the most effective, but not so far as to say all short-term is wrong. I also think that God calls specific people to long-term ministry. I’m intruiged, and champion, those from Africa, China and South America that also make the leap to long-term ministry. Long-term is in no way ‘Western’ specific. Even more so, I champion the folks that move into the urban center and live among their neighbors, or feel called to a refugee group in the US and move to live among them…LOVE IT!

Yet, sometimes, long-term and short-term work hand in hand. Last year, a man who had been a missionary to Nicaragua for 7 years was asked, ‘Would you have preferred support money or their presence to build your ministry?’ His answered, quickly, ‘Their presence, every time, but many churches don’t want to have a presence…it’s easier to throw money at something.’

Listening…if the community doesn’t want you there, or they only want you there for your money…not your friendship and discipleship, you’ve got a problem. You HAVE to listen to what they are saying, what they need and if they even want you there…balanced with, are you going to be making them want material things that are unattainable for them in their economy?

When you find yourself a part of a ministry that is alive and active all year long, staying in touch with those they visit on mission trips, with people they call family and it’s all reciprocated by those they are ministering to…God is doing something there!

In May, I am traveling with a phenomenal group of people, who I know will have connections that make people wonder what the common thread is…I pray people are drawn to that…and that we drawn them to the Kingdom of God. And since you know what I am looking for…you can pray too…

giddy, seriously!


Sometimes I take a look at my life and I wonder, ‘God, why do I get the honor to do that for you?’ This week, it is in light of what I spent my time doing in Joplin on Tuesday and Wednesday. Last June, I was taking my first team to Joplin to work on homes and clean up when our project got off track. The delightful older woman we were assigned to help felt a group of 4 ladies couldn’t move her things into her new apartment, so I ended up back at St. Paul’s UMC to find a new project when I hear, ‘Are you Stephanie?’ After I got over the ‘How do you know my name?’ awkward issue, I said ‘Yeeeessss…’ And then God gave us a new assignment, though he’d had this one in mind all along.

At first, when I asked what this family needed, the list was just siding that needed to be pulled off (which is loads more fun than you would think), exterior sheeting replaced (lots of nails, FYI) and the roof replaced. Their home was in the path of the tornado, but got through with only damaged from debris being thrown into the sides of the house and roof.

As soon as we pulled everything off, though…it got worse…the tarp hadn’t gotten on the roof until a week later, after 4 days of heavy rain, and mold was everywhere. Their home went from getting repaired in a month to coming home after 5 long months. I took out a lot of their walls, pushed out their windows that were shattered and bent, and was knee high in fluffy insulation from their attic for many days.

Very quickly, Lynn & I became friends. It is amazing how you can bond over teasing my brother!

Woods Chapel has had teams at her and her husband’s house demolishing, dry walling, mudding, sanding, painting, roofing, putting up siding…I don’t think I even know what all we’ve done over 5 months.

Last Monday they got carpet…and Tuesday, I was helping Lynn move in her kitchen! What a long couple of months it has been for them, after a horrific disaster that by the grace of God they are still alive.

It was one of the most amazing feelings I have every had to help her move things into her home…start the dishwasher for the first time…doing loads of laundry…helping my friend get back into her home. We were both giddy…her because it was actually happening…and me because I was actually getting to help! I cannot even count how many times I giggled with sheer joy when I thought of being there for the first time, and how amazing their home looks now!

As Lynn and I sat on the twin mattresses in the spare bedroom that had been the moldiest because of a tree in through one wall and out through the window…she said she’d been sweeping the day before when she was waiting for the carpet guys, and got emotional for the first time during the whole ordeal. Her mind had trailed to the first time I’d been there with a team, and when she’d come back to the house after it was being gutted.

She remembered the compassion of two of our team members meeting her outside the house to make sure she knew what was going on, and walking with her into the chaos that was happening inside. (Sorry, I’m ratting you out Lynn, if you are reading this…but honestly as we sat there…I was getting emotional too, because it has been such a journey that I’ve been honored to be apart of with you.)

And it is emotional…this relationship that we have with people when it is forged in a extreme situations, like a disaster area. But that is what going to Joplin…and anywhere else…is about…being compassionate, and caring enough about a complete stranger that your only desire is to help them. It is what Jesus calls us to when he sends us out of our own homes.

God forms friendships through some strange situations, and without WCC’s commitment to the city of Joplin, Lynn and I would have never become friends. I am posting some before and after photos…as well as the one of me in her kitchen last Tuesday drinking water out of her faucet, with ice from the new fridge and in a

glass that we’d moved from the storage unit! I love you, sister! And I’ll see you next weekend – I can’t wait to see the new couch!

//Stephanie//

PS – Thank you, Abba, for giving me new friends! You make me speechless sometimes in how you orchestrate things…