“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
For six weeks each year, our entire church focuses on a specific topic designed to foster our spiritual growth as a community. These Journeys consist of a weekend message, individual discussion questions, and small group interaction. In 2010, the Journey was called Free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 God can set us free of strongholds such as bitterness, rejection, fear or stress, and pride. In Week 6 of this Journey, our journal read, “God intends good things for you, and he’s given you the ability to dream. Ask God to give you dreams born out of freedom, and the courage to pursue them.” In the space provided, we were instructed to “write down or sketch anything that comes to mind.” I wrote:
FREEDOM = HOPE + JOY = KIDS (hope and joy)
And I drew stick-figures of 5 children.
Fast-forward two years… We were participating in another church-wide Journey. A mutual friend introduced me to Amy, a Youth Minister at a nearby church. She joined our small group, and we became good friends. Several times a year, she would lead groups from her church on mission trips to Mexico with Back2Back Ministries. On two or three different occasions, she encouraged me to join a group of women she was taking to Cancun, Mexico. I always had a reason to decline. In October 2013, she extended the invitation again. When she shared the trip details, I had a flashback to the Free Journey sketch of the children. Later that evening, I discussed with my husband the possibility of going to Mexico. We asked my parents to help my husband care for our young daughters while I was out of the country. They immediately agreed to give us a hand. At this point, I could not find a single reason to decline. I knew in my heart God was opening windows and doors for me. He wanted me to go on this trip.
My faith was tested when I went to the Post Office to apply for my passport for this trip. When the postal worker saw that I planned to travel to Mexico, he strongly suggested I heed all travel warnings. In front of a line of other customers, he told me I could be kidnapped and beheaded. It took everything I had to hold myself together until I was safely locked in my car. Sobbing, I called my husband. As always, he was supportive, and he suggested I give Amy a call. Thankfully she answered her phone and immediately eased all my fears. I quickly realized these fears were not from God. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7 I was back on track.
Since I do not speak Spanish, I decided I should probably try to learn a phrase or two. I borrowed a Spanish for Kids DVD from the library a couple days before leaving for Mexico. Upon our arrival in Cancun, we boarded the vans and made our way through town. I found myself in a bus with five little girls, three nuns, and two women from my group—not being able to talk with each other. I tapped the little girl in front of me and asked “What is your name?” (in Spanish, of course). She was chewing gum and had her finger in her mouth, so I couldn’t understand her response. I must have asked her the question three times before giving up. I decided to give it another shot by asking the same question of the girl sitting beside her. I learned this little girl’s name was Sofi, and I was able to tell her my name. Success…followed by complete silence. I desperately tried to think of something to do or say yet came up with nothing. These girls were the same age as my daughters, so the inability to communicate with them was extremely frustrating. I immediately began to doubt my decision to be in Mexico. What was I thinking? While fighting the urge to cry, I prayed. Minutes later, we arrived at dinner, and I discovered I was seated next to Sofi and Jiromi (the little girl from the van I couldn’t understand). As the evening went on, I found myself jumping at the chance to serve these little girls–mopping up spills and filling their plates with seconds. Strangely, I didn’t view these acts as the hassle I often found them to be at home. God was reminding me to trust Him.
During the next three days, we celebrated a quinceneara, and we moved a mountain of dirt for a patio. We went grocery shopping for two different families, and we entertained dozens of kids at a government children’s home. We had a pizza party and did crafts with girls at an orphanage, and we threw an If You Give a Pig a Pancake-themed party for another group of children. On our last full day, we shared God’s love with children who had been abandoned by their fathers.
Despite being surrounded at times by unfathomable desperation and despair, I was full of hope and joy. I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise in the mornings. I would lie in bed, praying and just listening for God. During my stay in Cancun, I was rocked to my core. God was working within me.
Though I could talk about this trip for days, I will close remembering the sketch of the five children I drew in my journal in 2010. During my stay in Cancun, there were five children who specifically touched my heart:
P. and her infectious laugh…J. and his beautiful smile…A. and her never-ceasing desire to play horse…C. and her desperate need for attention and affirmation, and of course, A. and the red paper heart. I know God planned for me to be His hands and feet in Cancun that winter. I truly believe “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Since my return to the States, I have prayed for an opportunity for our family to go on a mission trip together. I know He has great plans for our family, and these plans will be revealed to us in His time.