A short term missions trip changed my life.
No joke. No exaggeration.
As an 18 year old, newly committed follower of Christ, I traveled to Kharkov, Ukraine with 5 other members of my church. It took planes, trains and automobiles to get to our destination, where we spent two weeks teaching the scriptures, sharing the gospel, and loving orphans. Along with my senior pastor and our translator, I stayed with a tent making pastor and his beautiful wife and children.
This amazing family sacrificed their food, beds, privacy and comforts to host this insignificant teen. That week I experienced a God who loves His church around the world. I saw the smiles, heard the laughter of orphans who played soccer with us and delighted in the taste of gummy worms. I saw fearful hearts soften with compassion as we shared the gospel with their former communist neighbors. My heart was bound up with those that I traveled and served with- memories of laughter, illness, stepping out of our comfort zones, receiving sacrificial hospitality, and so much more.
And my experience in Ukraine is not unique. Since that time, I have been to Rwanda and multiple times to Belize. The joy of serving Christ with those at my church is irreplaceable- linking us together in a common hope and mission- sharing the gospel and strengthening the global Church. Consistently, my fellow team mates and myself return home fired up, ready to serve God in new ways at home, passionate for the Lord’s church.
Short terms missions trips provide opportunities for team members to do things they have never done before. When I went to Rwanda, multiple teammates shared the gospel- an experience they had never had before. The joy they felt prompted them to come home and serve in the local church in ways they had never served before! In Belize, teammates taught scripture and led worship- things they had never dared to do at home before. But now that those barriers of self-consciousness have been broken, who knows what they might dare to do in the name of Christ!
I do not know what kind of impact I have made in others during these trips. I trust that somehow God has used these times to encourage other believers, spread the Good News of Jesus, and draw unbelievers to Himself. I know I am forever changed by each country, culture, church and person I have had the privilege of meeting. I have seen prayers answered in profound ways, come to understand God’s Word in a new light, and learned to appreciate different ways of worshipping God.
Have you ever served on a short term missions trip? If not, is it possible that God is calling YOU to step out of your comfort zone to serve Him in a new country and culture?? Is He calling you to go again?? I’d love to hear from YOU!!
When people return home from a missions trip, they are often asked, “How was your trip?!” Generally speaking, people want to hear, “It was great,” and then be relinquished to go about their business. It’s no one’s fault, really, but for those returning from a trip, whose lives have been forever impacted, it can be disheartening to so flippantly respond about our time away. I have been pondering how to briefly, but honestly relay to others about our time in Belize. The phrase that comes to mind:
It was hard to come home.It was hard to come home. And probably not for the reasons you think. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it was HOT after being in frigid Wisconsin all winter. Yes, it was a break from my regular responsibilities of cooking, cleaning and homeschooling. But that’s not why it was hard to come home. I have developed a love for the missionaries we partner with. They are people that I want to be like- in them I observed people who purposefully encounter strangers, ready to share the Gospel or intentionally seeking to encourage a brother or sister in Christ. Man, I want to be like that! I want to be so Kingdom-minded that I seize every opportunity to share the love of Christ with others, rather than hoping a stranger won’t strike up an awkward conversation with me in the local coffee shop.
It was hard to come home because it was the first time that I returned to the same place of ministry, able to reconnect with people I had met before. How SWEET it was to see familiar faces and receive a smile, or even a hug, of recognition! How wonderful to be warmly welcomed by missionaries and pastors, knowing that we are partnering together to lead people to Christ and to strengthen the Church through teaching and equipping.It was amazing to meet up with Zelda, a young woman I had worked with at Machaca Summer Camp in 2000. How sweet it is to see her steadfastly serving the Lord 15 years later! It was wonderful to once again see little girls we played with last October. Where six months ago there were shy smiles and play time, now there were warm hugs, selfies, singing, showing us their homes, learning about their lives and growing in relationship. It was hard to come home because life is relatively simple in Belize- or atleast it appeared that way to me. Part of the simplicity is due to poverty- if you don’t have money to spend on stuff, you don’t have stuff to complicate your life. Joe and I came away with a strong desire to simplify our lives- from diminishing our excessive wardrobes, to purging the ridiculous amount of toys our kids own, to limiting the media that our family has access to. All of our “stuff” gets in the way of our family’s relationship with Christ- time spent managing our excess is time spent distracted from our Lord.
I come away from our time in Belize with new perspective regarding what it important, what is of eternal value, and what some of the distractions are that I need to eliminate from my life. I have a renewed sense of mission- God has called me to be a missionary at all times, wherever I may be. I am to love my neighbor (everyone) and seize every opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those I encounter. That means I have to be prepared to share the Gospel! Nothing is more important than fulfilling that mission- whether it is training up my children to know the Lord, discipling the women in my small group, or traveling around the world on a short term missions trip. My desire is to be useful to the Lord by Doing Life Deliberately!!
In His Love,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Before breakfast this morning, a young man named Tash arrived to inquire with Mr. Bob about finding work. Bob had not appeared yet, so I quickly introduced myself and struck up a dialogue with him. Things quickly turned to spiritual matters: he grew up in the Catholic Church, but had left as an adult because he felt that they were not following the Bible, but worshipping idols. He had questions about where heaven is located, was this the end of the world, and what it means to be Christian. It was delightful to share the good news of Jesus Christ with him and explain that there is a hole in his life that women, alcohol, and money will never fill- but Jesus can make him complete! We talked about the importance of reading the Bible and going to church where a pastor can teach him what the scriptures mean. God clearly opened a door for me to share the gospel- my heart was overjoyed.☺️After breakfast, 6 of us left with Bob to visit Lubaantun, a Mayan ruin nearby. Ben and Nate were fighting intestinal issues and decided to stay behind and rest. So we drove along and right before the ruins, we saw this house:
There was a sign at the road explaining that this house was the largest recycling project in the country. A woman saw us looking and waved us in. So we stopped, met Elissa, and toured the home that she and her husband have been building for three years. The building is made of garbage: wine bottles, glass coke bottles, plastic bottles and used tires held together by cement.
After our time with Elissa, we went to Lubaantun, a local Mayan ruin made famous by the discovery of a quartz crystal skull (this is where the idea for the Indiana Jones movie, The Crystal Skull, came from). Our experience was somewhat comedic in that we were drenched with sweat and just wanted a quick tour. But our guide was excited to show us his knowledge and so… he began reading the wall signs in the small museum!!😳😜😂
Geronimo (our guide) was very kind and gracious. You can tell he loves Mayan history and his ancestors. It was sad to walk among the site, that though was a once magnificent, thriving center of trade, is now reduced to large piles of rubble. (A medical doctor in search of treasure in 1925, blasted multiple monuments with dynamite.😔) But even now you can see to pok-ta-pok courts (a Mayan ball game where the victor had the honor of being a human sacrifice), as well as the altar where sacrifices were made. So many emotions accompany viewing such a place, but mostly a thankfulness that we can we can know the One True God, and be called his children (John 1:12).
After visiting the ruins, we went back to the Training Center for lunch, rest and packing. We ate dinner afterwards and the headed to San Antonio to visit Geronimo and Othelia’s church. We had told Othelia that we might visit, but she was certain we wouldn’t come. So when we walked in the door, the smile on her and Geronimo’s faces was priceless.Geronimo promptly announced that someone in our group should bring a message and Othelia came to our seats to ask the ladies to lead in song.😳😊 There was a portion of the service devoted to memory verse recitation- so young and old alike came to the front and shared the verse they had been working- it was so encouraging! Maybe our church should do that! It certainly spoke volumes as to what was important to their church. Overall, attending the service was a precious time of worshipping with and encouraging the saints. Joe preached the gospel and several responded to receive Christ. Many smiles, handshakes and blessings conclude the service and our time in San Antonio.
Today we are in Placencia. We have come to debrief and relax as a team. Praise the Lord, Ben and Nathan seem to be feeling much better. Pastor Bob and his daughter Hannah have also been under the weather, so please keep praying for the health of our team and missionaries.
All in all, this trip has been about investing ourselves in things of eternal value. What a joy it has been to endure heat, humidity, and for some, illness, for the sake of the Gospel. The things of earth are passing away- houses made of bottles, temples made by hands…. but the Word of God will last forever!!
Thank you for all of your prayers! We are eternally thankful for our time here and looking forward to being reunited with our children, family and friends!
Blessings from Belize!
Today we traveled to Boom Creek to visit the students at Living Word elementary school. This was our church’s second time visiting this jungle village of about 100 people. About 40 students attend the school, grades K-8.
I had so much fun leading the children in making salvation bracelets and teaching them how to share the gospel with others. Kendra then led the children in song and telling them the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Next, Kelli facilitated a chain activity, walking the children through several Bible passages that instructed how we are to conduct ourselves as Christians. The kids were so attentive- it was delightful to be with them again.
While we were at the school, Joe and Ben spent an hour with Andrea and Becky who live in the house next door to the school. They asked all kinds of questions about their lives, learning about the daily happenings of village life: cooking, hunting, fishing, etc. (in Boom Creek there is no electricity because of how remote the village is). Then they prayed with Andrea- it was the high point of Joe’s day.
After our school visit, we went to the village church. Together we prayed for revival in Boom Creek and throughout the Toledo District. We interceded on behalf of the pastors and teachers we’ve met. It was a sweet time of prayer. Just as we were getting ready to leave, Pastor Santos arrived! We were able to chat with him a bit and lay hands on him and pray.
We then traveled back to the Training Center for lunch and a respite from the brutal heat. I think today was the first day the heat really got to me. But all of us felt pretty wilted after being in 95 degrees and 85% humidity with little breeze for most of the morning. The air conditioning was a much appreciated blessing at the Training Center. So after a rest, we headed to Blue Creek for a swim. I hadn’t been there for 15 years- I’m so glad we went today. We walked about a mile under the canopy of the jungle to reach Blue Creek.
The area is now a popular zip line destination and so a large portion of the trail is rough cement and crushed stone. We had to go beyond the fancy, tiny cottages to reach the cave that is the source to the creek.
The water was cool and pristine- the perfect way to cool down after a hot day. We had a great time swimming over to the waterfall, getting a natural massage under it, climbing up the rocks and jumping back in again. IT was a great time of fellowship and team building as we encouraged each other to try something new and helped each other reach the goal: whether hiking through snake infested jungle, helping a teammate climb up a small waterfall, or jumping into the water from a height. It was a good gift from the Lord.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24
Blessings from Belize,
Yesterday was the last session of the Healthy Church Conference. Because the pastors all needed to preach at their respective churches, they could not return on Sunday. As a consequence, our numbers were dramatically smaller. The upside of that was that we got some great one-on-one time with people, allowing us to get to know people better.
Today was a lot of fun. It’s probably my favorite day yet. We started off the day leisurely and spent some time debriefing about the Healthy Church Conference: what went well, what did not go well, and what should we change. We had great discussion and, all-in-all, I think our team goes away encouraged about what we see happening here. After our debrief, we set out to find where Pastor Geronimo and his wife Othelia live. They are new acquaintances to Mr. Bob, invited to the weekend’s conference by a friend. Through discussions, Bob became curious and wanted to get to know this pastor more. Though Bob had a vague description, he didn’t know exactly where they lived. So as we drive down the rocky jungle road, we prayed that God would help us find their house. We arrived in town and Bob parked the van in the area described by Geronimo. We then split up to ask the neighbors if they could direct us to the right house, and to share Christ along the way. Kevin, Kendra, Lilia and Nate went into the house right behind where we had parked and immediately Kendra spotted a Bible laying on the counter. She inquired with the young lady at the counter about the Bible, who suspiciously answered it belonged to her Father. Sure enough, Othelia heard their voices from where she was working in the back and laughter and joy ensued. We had parked directly in front of their house!!!
Unfortunately, Geronimo was at work and we did not get a chance to visit with him. But we had a wonderful time visiting with Othelia, her expecting daughter, Pamela, and her granddaughter, baby Othelia. It was wonderful to connect with her again after spending the day with her in Saturday.
After our visit, we went back to the Training Center for lunch and to finish our debrief of the Conference. It divided a good opportunity for me to FaceTime with our children, as today is Isabelle’s 5th birthday. I was humbled to find that almost my entire small group, along with other friends, were gathered together for a birthday party for Izzy.🎉 I won’t name names, but I cannot tell you how loved and blessed I feel to know that my baby girl (and her siblings) are being so well cared for. Thank you, ladies and gents, for going above and beyond to make a little girl feel special. Just, wow.❤️
Late in the afternoon we traveled the rocky road to Machaca for a home visit to another pastor, Pastor Santos. Bob has known him a bit longer. Again, we found that Santos was still at work. But his family warmly welcomed us into their homes.
A very fun surprise was that we had seen this family when we were here in October and the children remembered us! We had brought little toys and balloons for the kids, and smiles and lots of hugs ensued. They had been friendly, but guarded in October. But this time they were very free with their affection and enthusiasm to see us.
Both adults and children were proud to show us their homes. They made us a cold chocolate coffee drink. And we talked about life in Belize. As the young men started coming home from work, we got to meet Santos’ sons, Samuel and Rolando. Samuel was eager to show us the church and play music for us. He has never been trained on the keys, but he sounded amazing!
I guess what I really loved was seeing these lovely people in their context. At the Training Center we get to talk with people and hear their stories, but visiting them in their homes allows you to see the challenges and beauties of their lives. You take a mental image of their extended family and neighbors with you. It gives you an appreciation for their daily struggles and the simplicity of their lives.
We ended our time by visiting Camp Machaca where my Belize experience began 15 years ago. This is just about a mile up the road from where the Machaca village lies. It was spending a summer here that prompted us to explore if God would have our church partner in ministry with missionaries here. Little did we know that the missionaries God would lead us to partner with live just across the road from where I lived and served so long ago. God has a great sense of humor and a wonderful plan.
Blessings from Belize,
Yesterday the Belize Training Center hosted the first Healthy Church Conference. Mr. Bob personally invited many local, indigenous pastors and their families to come. Planning for the event was a challenge because we had no way of knowing how many would attend and what their backgrounds, knowledge level, skills or needs would be. Bob has expressed concern for the church in Belize that seems to be a familiarity with Jesus, but a lack of depth in faith. The conference was planned in hopes that we could come alongside the pastor’s and their families, solidify the foundation of our faith, and help to equip them for the work God has called them to.
Our church has been using a curriculum called “Growing in Christ” to teach a new believers class. Our team brought the first part of that curriculum, called “Lessons on Assurance” as the basis for our teaching times. Joe, Bob and Kevin worked with the men. Lilia, Rhonda and I worked with the women. Kendra and Nate worked with the teens. And Kelli and Ben rocked the day with the precious young kids.
I really enjoyed the day with these lovely women. Some read, some do not. Some are only months old in their faith, some have been walking with Christ for years. Some have knowledge about spiritual things, but haven’t quite made that heart connection yet. Regardless, they were patient and kind toward one another, respectful of each other’s needs. From what they tell me, that is not a “normal” Beliezean response. For example, there are stories of one farmer having success and his neighbors destroy his crops because if they live in poverty, he must live in poverty, too. This is not the attitude I saw yesterday. These women were filled with the love of Christ for each other.
One really exciting part of the day for Joe and I was seeing Peter, who we had met the previous day at the cafe, bring his family to the conference. It was a joy to know that God had appointed our meeting him on Friday with the purpose of bringing him to the conference on Saturday. Below is a picture of Joe and I with Peter, his wife Marta, and five of their six children.
The day ended with some relaxed time as team sitting in the shade, cooling in the warm wind. Followed by a delicious dinner at Asha’s, eating seafood over the ocean. I am really loving this time with our team and getting to know these lovely people better. I am blessed. Thank you, Lord.
Blessings to you all on this day the Lord has made. Let us all rejoice and be glad in it… together!
Today was our first full day of ministry in Belize. We started the day leisurely with breakfast at the Training Center, followed by a trip into Punta Gorda for market day. Local vendors come together to sell fruits and vegetables and other homemade wares. Joe challenged the group to look for open doors to encourage the locals and share the gospel and we prayed that it would be so.
Once we got into P.G., Joe headed to a local cafe to work on some teaching prep while the rest of the group went to the Cotton Tree Chocolate Factory.
This one room “factory” is equipped with a drill powered cocoa bean grinder, toaster oven roasters, and hair dryer threshers to separate the nibs from their shells. It’s not exactly high tech, but it is quaint and gets the job done.😊
I met up with Joe afterwards and shortly after a gentleman approached us trying to sell a stone carving his son made. We weren’t interested, but the man lingered. Without my knowing, Joe recalled his challenge to us and noticed the cross tattoos on the man’s arms. We had a great discussion about faith and were able to discern that this man was indeed following the Lord. We seized the opportunity to invite him to the pastor’s conference tomorrow. We prayed for him and wished him well.
Well, another man saw us pray for him and stopped to ask if we were missionaries. He shared much of his life story with us and we were thrilled to learn that he had a past of pastoral ministry and was feeling called to re-enter pastoral ministry once again. We quickly informed him of the pastor’s conference and prayed for him and his cousin. Below is a picture of Joe with Edmund (right) and his cousin Jose.
While we were there, Kelli and Kendra witnessed to a gentleman who was grilling meat at the cafe. So it was a purposeful time in town!
After lunch we traveled to the village of San Antonio where Ben shared words of encouragement from God’s Word for the students who are preparing to take some big exams.
Afterwards we had a couple hours of downtime for teaching prep and rest, followed by Friday night youth group. Approximately 50 youth come to the Training Center for worship, teaching, and fellowship. Kendra brought a great time of teaching through the life experiences of Gideon in the book of Judges.
The icing on the cake for me today was reconnecting with Zelda. She was a student that attended Camp Machaca when I was a summer missionary in Belize in 2000. She is now a 7th grade teacher at a local Christian school, wife and mom to a 6yr old boy. She volunteers at Friday night youth group, helping to teach and disciple the kids. It is a blessing to see her still walking with the Lord!
I go to bed very tired, but filled with anticipation of what God will do tomorrow.❤️
Love and hugs to our children… Hannah, Sarah, Gideon and Izzy, we love you and are praying for you!😘
Sweet dreams from Belize,
So you may be wondering “Where in the world is Belize?” Belize is a tiny country about the size of southeast Wisconsin, just south of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Our team is in the southernmost part of Belize, just north of Guatemala.
Our team is staying at the Belize Training Center, just a few miles north of Punta Gorda.
The facility is beautiful and in no way, shape, or form are we roughing it. The men stay in one room and the women bunk in another. Here’s a picture of the ladies’ room:
And the showers and bathrooms are comfortable, too.
We will have youth group and Sunday service in the largest room (seen below), equipped with instruments and sound system, along with brand new air conditioning units!
The Training Center is equipped with a lovely kitchen where Miss Bridget prepares our meals. Rice and beans, fry jacks, hamburgers, homemade tortillas, fried chicken…. We eat VERY well here.
Bob and Rhonda’s home sits between the Training Center and the Hummingbird Hwy. Below is a view of their lovely home (less than a year old) from the Training Center.
To top it all off, we are surrounded by magnificent views of the surrounding rain forest. We woke up this morning and sat in the shady side of the training center, enjoying the bleating goats, parrots sqwaking, and brilliant sunshine. Thank you, Lord, for this day.
The day began at 2:45…..AM!! By 3:20am Kevin and Kendra picked us up and we headed to the airport. We were joined by the rest of the team at the airport by 4:30am and by 6am, we were headed to Atlanta. Praise God! Our travel went very smoothly today- no hiccups whatsoever. It was really fun to watch Kelli and Ben see Belize from the plane for the first time.
The haven’t flown since they were young, and were gifted their “wings” by our first pilot.😊
Once we arrived in Belize, we jumped onto a small puddle jumper , 12 seat plane from Belize City and flew to Punta Gorda- the nearest city to the Belize Training Center.
The ride was a little bumpy upon take off and landing because of the high winds today, but at 4,000 ft, it’s a gorgeous view of the country.
We were greeted with smiles and hugs by Bob Farley at the airport, and after a quick lunch in Punta Gorda, we headed to the training center to unpack and prepare for the weekend’s pastor’s conference. We worked on teaching prep, gift bags, and cleaning.
Thank you to everyone who donated items for the trip! We are looking forward to showering those we encounter with God’s great love!
Today Joe and I, along with a team of 6 others, are heading back to the Toledo District in southern Belize. Last October we had the privilege of meeting and partnering in gospel ministry with Bob and Rhonda Farley, missionaries to Belize for over a decade. This region of Belize is the poorest of all the districts, with only 11 of 52 villages having access to electricity. The average worker in Belize makes less than $400 annually. And though the name of Jesus is familiar to Belizeans, their access to spiritual growth resources is very limited as their is no Bible college or seminary in the country to try pastors.
That’s where our mission comes in.
This week our team will be partnering with the Belize Training Center, which the Farley’s have established near Punta Gorda, to train and disciple pastors and their families. We will bring teaching, encouragement, and counseling in hopes of strengthening and encouraging the faith of our Belizean brothers and sisters in Christ.
Would you like to partner with us???
The thought of traveling overseas to serve others seems daunting to some. But every missionary, short term or long term, needs faithful partners in prayer:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
There is a very real spiritual battle going on for the souls of men. We need God to fight for us, in response to the prayers of His people.
If you take this calling to prayer and spreading the gospel seriously, would you please commit to partner with us in prayer?
- For health and safety- pray that God will keep us safe from harm in travel, protection from food borne illness or personal health issues that the team might have. I have a pretty severe cold at the moment.
- For our team to work in unity. Pray that we will communicate well, encourage one other, and bless one another.
- For language barriers- that we will be understood regardless of language and cultural differences. Pray that God will provide skilled translators and that what God wants to say to His children will be communicated clearly.
- For humility- that our hearts will be soft and open to where God’s Spirit is leading us, open to His conviction and His work. Pray that we will not be arrogant or rude, thinking we know it all, but that we will be eager to learn and serve.
- For us to be uncomfortable- that we will step out of our comfort zones to strike up conversations with nationals, make attempts to learn their languages, worship in a new or different way.
- For us to be a blessing- both to the Farley family and all the locals we encounter. Pray that our words will be matched with loving actions that draw others to Christ.
- For our families that we leave behind and entrust to the care of friends and family. Ask God to keep them safe and cover them with His presence. Pray that they would feel included in this process, even if they can’t be physically present with us.
Thank you for joining us in prayer!! What a blessing it is to walk this path with you. I look forward to paying pictures and updates as things ice forward.