Thursday, November 10, 2016

Called to Service

I believe that God calls us to places where we can best see and serve him. Places that make aspects of his character that may have been foggy before more clear to us. Places where we give up more of ourselves to lean more heavily into him. Places where he makes us more fully into who he is creating us to be.

Working with Back2Back Ministries in Cancun, Mexico has been one of those places for me. Cancun has been a place where I have felt both entirely inadequate and fully capable, completely disoriented and utterly at home, wholly alone and in true communion with God and others. It has been a place where polarities somehow co-exist because it has been a place where I have known who I am and who God is and have not confused the two. A place where my shortcomings have been met by his fullness, my confusion by his peace, and my selfishness by his grace. A place where I have learned to listen and obey while God works out his predestined plan, rather than attempting to take control of my own plan.

And it is with a similar sense of obedience that I will be saying goodbye to full-time ministry with Back2Back and hello to a new place and a new purpose that God has for me when I graduate in December. Just as God prepared a place for me in Cancun and called me to his work here, I believe that God is preparing a place for me in December--I am not sure where that is or what I will be doing but am confident that I will not go alone and that whatever God has for me will be far better than anything I could orchestrate. Thank you for all of your prayers and support during this beautiful time in my life--it has meant the world to me to know that I have never been alone in this work.

So as this chapter ends, I celebrate what it has been and look toward the future with hope, having full confidence that relationships rooted in God's love are eternal and that the same good God who wrote a time of ministry in Mexico into my story is writing the next chapter.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Freedom from Fear

Elisa & Her Family
Fear is powerful. overwhelming. debilitating. It's a feeling that seems to get under your skin and not want to leave. Elisa is 12 years old and knows all too well what fear feels like. She's had some hard times with her family and spent a year living in a children's home before being reunited with her mom.

Sometimes Elisa couldn't sleep because she was thinking about past hurts. She had nightmares, too. But earlier this month, Elisa told her Christian counselor that she didn't want to live in fear anymore--she wanted to be free. Elisa had heard Darlene, her family's Back2Back caseworker, tell her about how Jesus could free her from that fear many times during weekly devotions, but that day, it became real to her.

Elisa told her counselor she didn't want to try to make the fear go away by herself anymore--she knew that didn't work. Instead, she wanted to invite Jesus into her fear, knowing that he and he alone could set her free. Elisa asked Jesus to be her Savior that day, believing deep in her heart that he is. Now, Elisa knows that she is not alone. She knows that she is protected. She knows that her God is so much bigger than any of her fears, that she can tell him about what scares her any time, and that he will always protect and comfort her.
Elisa with Friends at Elementary School Graduation

Elisa's fear doesn't hold power over her anymore because she knows that her God is so much bigger. She doesn't have trouble sleeping anymore, and her nightmares are gone. Praise the LORD who calms the fears of children and who promises to free us from ours, as well. To him be all of the power and the glory and the honor forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mountains and Valleys

Life is filled with ups and downs, good days and bad days, moving forward and moving backward. And while it would be nice to see continual forward progress in the kids and families that I work with, and in my own life, that just isn’t reality. We are all human. The ebb and flow of ups and downs in life is a part of humanity, as is the continual struggle of making decisions that propel us forward, push us backward, or keep us stuck where we are. And while we can pursue continual forward motion, I am convinced that we will never be completely free of life’s mountains and valleys until we reach the other side of paradise.

While these ups and downs can be quite frustrating, I think they can also lead us into further humbleness as they teach us to give grace to ourselves and others and leave us in awe and wonder of God’s perfect, faithful constancy in contrast to our fickle inconsistency. It also frees us to see our present circumstances from a new perspective—to know that our current valley or mistake isn’t the end of all things or even all that important in the grand scheme of things. Rather, it is a chapter in a much larger story that will end in the perfect plateau of complete joy.

So when Mario misses Bible class again or when Jorge comes home drunk after promising to quit or when I lose my patience and say hurtful words, I can continue in hope knowing that this is all a part of the messy, complicated process of being restored to who we were created to be. I can celebrate the mountains and not be consumed by the valleys because of the grace and mercy that our constant God lavishes on his fickle children.

So today I celebrate with Wendy, who is starting her own business, and Perla, who made the honor roll, and Jose Luis, who is a leader on his cultural dance team at school. And I join in prayer with Adriana, who is struggling to find motivation, and Yolanda, who feels trapped in a hard situation, and Leydy, who is struggling to pass math. Praying that God would give me and my fellow Back2Back staff members the patience to walk with them through the valleys and the mountains til we reach that perfect plateau.

In addition to continuing to pray for the hills and dips of Back2Back’s work in Mexico, I also ask that you would join with me in praying for my future. As I think about how I will be finishing up my Master’s program in 9 months and begin looking at what the future may hold for me, I see a blank page of both uncertainty and opportunity. I want to be wherever I can best seek and serve God but am not sure what that practically looks like. While I am unsure as to where I will be and what I will be doing after graduation, I feel called to continue working remotely with Back2Back until then by continuing to supervise a Mexican case manager and consult with staff on big changes we are making to our process of working with the families. An additional $2,500 is needed for me to continue this work through December. I would like to invite you to be a part of this work by financially partnering with me and would love to talk with you more about this. If you are interested in financially partnering with me in this work, you can visit specify that you would like the donation to go towards staff support and place my name in the donation memo box. Thank you so much for considering this and for all of the ways that you support me. I am so grateful for all of you.

I pray that you would see God’s presence clearly in the mountains and valleys in your life right now and that you would be comforted in knowing that you never walk alone. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Growing Together

Lately, I have been reminded of the beauty of God's steadfast redemptive plan, which remains constant even when I cannot see it. God's process of creating us into who we were made to be is not quick or easy. Sometimes it's hard to understand or trust in things we cannot see. But if we have faith through the ambiguity and the fog, I believe we will, with God's help, one day fully realize the beauty woven throughout the joy and the sorrow of our journey towards completeness.

Today I give thanks for the beauty that I see in God's restoration of Perla and Ami's family. Back2Back first met Perla and Ami six years ago at the San Jose Children's Home. Perla was a timid, quiet little girl who sometimes seemed to want to be invisible. Ami, Perla's younger sister, was a boisterous fighter who wasn't afraid to let you know what she was thinking or feeling. Despite having opposite personalities, these two sisters were very close and both shared the same hope of someday moving back home to live with their mom. They understood that their mom wasn't in a place to care for them at the time but that didn't change their longing to be united as a family. Throughout their stay at the children's home Perla grew to be a self-confident, proud young lady, and Ami learned to channel her emotions and outgoing personality toward contagious charisma. Their mom, Esmeralda, also grew during this time, healing her past hurts and learning parenting skills. Throughout 8 long years in the children's home, Perla and Ami never lost hope or stopped dreaming of their family being together again. Last June, the girls were finally reunited with their mom. While the transition has had its hard moments, they have always worked through things together as a family.

God never abandoned Perla and Ami's family--not during their stay at the children's home or during their transition home to live with their mom--and he won't abandon them in this next chapter of their lives either. God used the 8 years of unknowns and separation while living in a children's home to heal Perla, Ami, and Esmeralda so they could be safely restored as a family again. And I for one believe the pain of those years is nothing compared to the beauty of their restored family today. Not only have they been reunited, but they are growing--Esmeralda is expecting a baby boy this spring, and Perla and Ami are beyond excited to be big sisters. Thanks be to God.

Pictures from Esmeralda's Baby Shower

Friday, February 19, 2016

Going Home to Rossy's

Living as a missionary for a year in a half changed my understanding of home. While Upland, IN is my most significant place and I still call it home, my understanding of where home is and what it means to be home is much more dependent on relationships than location. Being with my family feels like home. Going to UCC feels like home. Drinking a quake at Payne's with friends feels like home.

And in January, I was able to go home to Rossy's Bible school while visiting Back2Back Cancun. Spending time with my beloved Bonfil kids, seeing how they've gotten taller and more mature and more loving, and being able to share life with them even for a few short days--I was home.

While I was visiting, God blessed me with the chance to teach the middle school Bible class like I did twice a week for the 18 months I lived in Cancun. We talked about worship and what it means to glorify and honor God. We talked about the difference between general worship, honoring God in how we live every day, and special worship, honoring God by spending time intentionally declaring his praises, praying, and reading the Bible. Looking more at general worship, we talked about obedience as a way to worship God, about how we obey whatever or whomever we love the most (ourselves, others, or God). The kids listened attentively and were eager to answer questions to earn points for their team in hopes of winning the prize of stick-on tattoos. And as I heard children declare who God is and what it looks like to obey him by loving others, being generous, and helping out around the house, I was filled with joy. My heart was full because I felt at home--everything felt comfortable and familiar and filled with trusting love--but everything wasn't the same as six months ago, it was better. It was better because the kids hadn't remained stagnant, they had grown. They were more respectful and more encouraging and more excited than ever to share how God is real to them.

Standing in the cement-block classroom of the Bible school surrounded by 30 middle schoolers, in the middle of an urban neighborhood filled with poverty, drugs, and violence, I couldn't help but smile. From the outside looking in, I had so little in common with the children I felt so at home with--they are Mexican, I am American; they struggle to afford food everyday, I am live in a world of middle-class comforts; they have lived so many hard things in their 8 or 10 or 14 years of life, I have experienced a life of safety and security. But despite our differences, we are united in Christ. And in their presence, I am home. Through that little Bible lesson, God reminded me that home is wherever there is fellowship with Him and His family of believers. Through those kids, He gave me a glimpse of what it will be like to be home in heaven someday, worshiping God in perfect unity and fully restored relationships with God, one another, and ourselves. And I am so grateful for the gift of that little glimpse of home.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Rubi outside her house
Yesterday I was able to share some of the exciting things that God has been doing in Cancun, Mexico with my church, and I thought I would share it with all of you, too :) I've loved being the social worker for Back2Back's Cancun site for the past year and a half and getting a front row seat to the ways that God has been at work reaching his children in Mexico. The first person who comes to my mind when I think about God’s healing power is a 15 year old girl named Rubi. 

Rubi at the annual Girls Retreat
Rubi comes from a violent, abusive home and had been caught drinking, smoking, and getting involved with an older boyfriend. Her dad died when she was six, and she never got along with her step dad. Her mom was diagnosed with cancer in February. After working with Rubi and her family for six months, Rubi pulled my co-worker aside after class. Rubi said “you and Sarah keep saying that when you believe in God you’re not alone anymore because God’s with you—I don’t want to be alone anymore; show me how.” So they prayed and sang a worship song together and we gave Rubi a Bible—she reads it all the time. In May, her mom was healed of cancer—Rubi says she knows God’s real because he answered her prayers to heal her mom; she says that now it’s her job to tell everybody about him and obey him. Rubi stopped hanging out with her old friends, stopped drinking and smoking, and regularly attends Bible classes. God is in the process of redeeming not just Rubi’s story, but all of his children's stories in Cancun. Four girls living at the children’s home have been reunited with their biological moms, and two more are expected to transition home this fall. Four parents and five teens accepted Christ this year. All of the kids are studying with tutors—some are even above grade level, and three of our kids have begun volunteering at their church’s tutoring program. And the Community Center of Tres Reyes will open in the fall after over two years of construction. God is good.

Thank you for all of the ways you’ve been involved in God’s ministry through Back2Back Cancun—through your prayers, encouragement, and financial support. It’s been a beautiful year and a half of service for me, and I’m excited to continue working with Back2Back part-time as I begin graduate school this fall in St. Louis. I’ll continue supervising Back2Back’s new social worker and helping with program development via the internet and visiting the site every few months. I ask that you’d please pray for me and the Back2Back Cancun site during this transition and would like to invite you to continue partnering with me both through prayer and financial support as I’m in the process of raising about $5,000 for this part-time role. I’d love to talk with you more if you’re interested and share 1,000 more God stories about adorable children with you. Thank you so much for the blessing you’ve been to me and God’s ministry in Cancun. <3

Friday, July 3, 2015

Saying "see ya later" to Mexico

As I think about heading back to the States to start grad school in a few weeks, my heart is divided. I'm both excited and sad to leave people who I've come to love here in Mexico. I feel blessed that I'll be able to continue working with Back2Back part-time over the internet supervising the new social worker and continuing to influence how we work with these beloved kids and families here, but I also know that I won't be able to do my favorite part of my job from St. Louis.

From an outsiders point of view, my job may seem flashing and exciting and world-changing. I, however, would say that I am in the business of healing hearts, which is in essence a miraculously mundane process. There are no perfect words or quick fixes. Lots of time, lots of waiting, lots of being together, some words, some mistakes, lots of forgiveness, some tears, and lots of laughs. But no magic buttons.

I'm a missionary in Mexico, and what I do everyday is miraculously mundane. Nothing I do is glorious--although I do it all with and for a glorious God. I listen to upset mothers and lead kids in games and break up fights and make birthday cakes and take kids to the doctor. All things that normal families do--I just so happen to do all of those things with little brown-skinned Spanish speakers. And while those moments taken separately are nothing special, when done together they lead to trust and love and healing. And that is the slow but glorious work that God has called me to be a part of here in Cancun--and that is why it is so hard for me to leave. Because leaving for 1 1/2 years means giving up all of the little moments in which lay all of the meaning and which I have come to love and treasure quite desperately.

I love that I know that Hania doesn't like cheese on her sandwich and that all of the middle school boys like Carla and that Eduardo acts up when he gets too hot and that Gael is really 10 years old (even though he tells everyone he's 12) and that Jonatan loves to dance during worship. I love that Luis calls me Auntie and that Citlally asks where my ring is when I forget to put it on and that Jiromi and I share a birthday and Ami and I have an inside joke about the time she ate a whole bag of carrots just to hear me say that I was proud of her for eating her vegetables.

I love all of those little moments and those are little moments that I can't have over the internet; they are moments that only exist by being together. And that is what I will miss most while at grad school--being with these kids. And yet I say yes to another change, another city, another opportunity to learn, another chance to see God in new ways
 knowing that the children and families I love are his and that he will keep them and draw them to himself. I move forward knowing that the love and relationships God gave me in Mexico were not given in vain, but for his glory. I trust him both with the kids present and their future, and I trust him with the love I've come to have for them--longing for that beautiful day when we will no longer be separated by time or distance or any of the barriers that exist in this world. A day when we can fully know and embrace one another in complete and total worship to God. So today I thank him for being God and for being good and for working out all things for his good, pleasing, and perfect will.