It’s our last morning in Haiti. We are all packing up and getting ready to say goodbye to the people that we have been working beside all summer. We spent our last few days here at a beautiful resort where we got to swim in the ocean and relax in the sun. It was like paradise and the perfect way to end an amazing mission trip. We are all sad to be leaving Haiti, but all plan on coming back at some point in our lives. Haiti has left such a huge impact on our hearts and it’s hard to say goodbye. We just want to give a huge Thank You to the Tlucek family for hosting us this summer, the other interns that we worked with for an awesome community, and the World Deputation program for giving us the opportunity to serve in Haiti this summer. It has been a blessing.
It is incredible how time has been flying by this week. It´s already Thursday, which means we will start traveling home in less than 48 hours!
God has definitely been with us here in beautiful Barahona. He has given us an amazing opportunity to create relationships that will last much longer than the duration of this trip. Through our small groups and daily work teams, we have been able to connect with one another through Christ.
Every day has brought many new adventures. COTN has given us the chance to spend a large amount of time in the communities. We have been pouring cement floors, helping to construct new roofs and most importantly spending time with the children and other community members getting to know them better. Some of the guys have been able to play baseball games against local teenagers, and they even won their game yesterday! In the afternoons, some of the ladies have been playing softball in one of the communities and will play their first official game this afternoon against the national team.
Beyond all of the fun we are having, God is definitely working in each and every one of us. He has provided us with wonderful weather, energy to make the most of each day, and a time to reflect without the distractions that we have at home. He has also shown us that love, joy, and faith are the same in all languages.
It has been an awesome week filled wih memories that will stay with us for a very long time. Thank you for your prayers, and we look forward to sharing our stories with you when we arrive home!
Deputation Announcement Night was last Tuesday, February 28th. These eight teams going to eight different locations around the world were revealed. The deputees were excited to finally find out where they would be spending their summers, as were their family and friends. It was a great night, full of excitement and prayer for the deputees as they begin to prepare for their journeys across the globe. Take a peek at each individual team below (click the thumbnail to get a closer look).
About a month ago I–along with 23 others–embarked on a short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic, a country located on a small island in the Caribbean. We went down there with an organization called Children of the Nations, a non-profit group that sponsors children in third-world countries. Our mission: to spread the love of Jesus in the most tangible ways possible. The outcome: changed hearts and a deeper understanding of who God is.
We participated in several service projects during the 10 days we were down there. Most of our mornings were spent laying concrete floors, painting a school, and baking bread for Haitian earthquake victims. In addition to these service projects, we spent our afternoons doing relational ministry with the I Love Baseball Foundation. Using baseball as platform, we were able to connect and build relationships with the Dominicans through this commonly loved sport. Although the Dominican baseball players far outweighed us in expertise, we had a blast and were able to learn a lot from them.
Having now returned from our trip, it will be impossible to forget all that we experienced–from the haunting smell of poverty to the joyful sound of children laughing; all of it remains deeply ingrained in our senses. Pain and joy. Suffering and happiness. Weakness and strength. We witnessed it all. As I continue to reflect on this paradox of realities, I am reminded of a particular experience we had on our trip. This experience took place when we attended a Dominican church for the first time.
During our first full day in the DR, we were invited to attend “Buenos Nuevos Iglesia” (Good News Church). The service was definitely more charismatic than anything I had ever experienced back here in the US, and there was something about the energy in the room that morning that struck me. As I stood there among the Dominican Christians–exhausted from dancing for an hour straight and sweating profusely in 90 degree temperatures–I came to this sudden realization: These people were happy. Genuinely happy. And because of their happiness, they were celebrating. The entire church service (all three hours of it) was a sweet and joyful celebration.
Why were these Dominican Christians so happy? Instead of blaming God for their poverty-stricken conditions, they were actually giving thanks to Him. But why? And that’s when it hit me: Christianity is the only religion I can think of that offers something worth celebrating. That’s why the Bible has so much imagery about parties and wedding banquets. That’s why the Bible talks about heaven as being an endless celebration of praise and worship. As Christians, we truly have something incredible to celebrate. We celebrate Jesus, the one who died for us, rose again, and now sits in glory. Our debt is paid and we are free. We don’t need to earn anything from God; instead it’s freely given. It’s almost too good to be true. That’s why Christians can’t help but celebrate–it’s really our only proper response to grace.
It doesn’t matter if one is rich, poor, well-fed or hungry. This is good news for everyone. The Dominicans Christians we interacted with seemed to grasp this concept full well. In the midst of poverty and brokenness, they still had something to celebrate. Needless to say, it was an honor for us to come together as the body of Christ and celebrate with them.
Overall, our trip to the Dominican Republic was heart-breaking, rejuvenating, and inspiring. Not only did we get to know a lot of Dominicans, but we also got to know each other really well. By the end of the trip our team of 24 had truly become a family. Thanks be to God for such an amazing trip! Our hearts are forever changed.
See the video of our trip.
Written by Tracy Spohn
Over Spring Break I had the chance to road trip down to South Los Angeles with 22 students. L.A. is such a fascinating culture where the poorest of the poor and the richest of rich live merely blocks away. The streets are lined with vendors and stores selling the next must-have jewelry, perfumes, and designer jeans. The amount of stuff for sale is unimaginable, with such a focus on material goods.
With this abundance of “stuff,” is an even greater abundance of need. People are walking the streets jobless, hungry, homeless, and even just in need of a good friend to trust. Loneliness is often what influences many to join some of the most violent gangs in L.A. At the end of the day, many of these people just want to belong… to be part of something bigger. The funny thing about this is ultimately this is something we all crave: authentic community.
Whether we are wandering the streets or road tripping in a van, we all want to belong and to find a place where we feel comfortable and loved for who we are. We were created to be together…not alone.
By the end of the trip our group from L.A. had formed this type of community. Various service projects such as the food bank and the after-school kid’s program really bonded our team together. We walked away not just a group of people but a family. Throughout the trip we also shared life stories where we were able to see how diverse our families and backgrounds were. Many of us had grown up in different places with different families and yet similar themes of struggle and acceptance seemed to emerge in all of out stories. Even as we talked and heard stories of homeless people on the street, we were able to see that though our experiences may be different, our needs are the same.
Overall, I walked away being reminded that the kingdom of God is not designed for one type of person. The kingdom of God is inclusive where diversity is seen as a beautiful asset. God took the same delight in creating me as he did the homeless person on the street. We were all chosen and designed to be part of God’s kingdom.
Written by Becca Suess
This past spring break, I had the privilege of joining 13 other women from The Inn in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a week-long service trip. This trip was the third time in the last two years that The Inn has traveled to “NOLA” with a group of all women. Just like the previous two trips, we saw God working in mighty ways in just a week’s time.
Going into the trip, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Even though I knew what I was getting myself into, each of these trips is so different. God works in different ways even though the location stays the same: the work is different every time, the leadership changes, the women aren’t the same, and many other factors make each trip unique. I knew not to expect anything of the trip and to allow the Lord to work in whatever way He desired, but it was hard to keep from worrying that this trip wouldn’t disappoint because the last two had been so life-changing (and fun!). Also, as a student at UW (not a UMin staff member), it was a new and exciting experience for me to lead a mission trip. I had all sorts of anxieties and worries about what it would be like to be “in charge” of 13 women who I consider great friends and leaders in their own right.
God completely stepped in and worked in incredible ways to eradicate these fears of mine and the struggles that other girls were facing. While serving in New Orleans, my team and I came alongside Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Project Homecoming to rebuild houses for the elderly, uninsured, under-insured, and disabled residents of New Orleans whose homes were damaged by Hurricanes (most notably, Katrina and Rita). PDA and Project Homecoming are both relief organizations that use volunteer labor to rebuild homes affected by disasters; the latter organization is based in New Orleans and was started by the Presbytery of South Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
Ten out of the 14 girls worked for Miss Lita Bennett, a St. Bernard Parish resident whose house was entirely submerged during the Katrina-induced flooding. She currently lives in a FEMA trailer (as many residents still do) in her front yard. I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up in your front yard each morning, see your unfinished house, and be reminded of the destruction and tragedy you faced. My teammates and I got to work tiling Miss Lita’s bedrooms, priming, painting and texturing her walls, all while singing and dancing and having way too much fun. We worked with an awesome Americorps volunteer and a great construction assistant who put up with our noise and laughed along with us. Miss Lita was so charmed by our singing that she gave us a big bag of Mardi Gras beads at the end of the week. It’s amazing how someone with so little is so quick to give back.
The rest of the team worked for Miss Lori Broussard on a house in Gentilly. They did a lot of finishing work, including tiling and painting. They were the second-to-last team to work on Miss Lori’s house, as it was scheduled to be completed the following week. The small, tight-knit group made a lasting relationship with their construction assistants Christina and Faith, and enjoyed having intentional conversations while putting the finishing touches on Miss Lori’s home.
But we didn’t spend the whole time working! We also got a chance to explore New Orleans, including the French Quarter, Lower Ninth Ward, the Garden District, and the Tulane Univ. area. If you traveled to NOLA and just visited the nicer areas of town, you might never know that Hurricane came through; the nicer areas weren’t affected as badly by “the storm” (as NOLA residents call it). It was pretty eye-opening to see enormous mansions in the Garden District contrasted with dilapidated homes in the lower ninth.
All of that work and sightseeing was exhausting, but it was incredibly energizing to spend each evening hearing the life stories of all our teammates. Jesus has healed and transformed each one of our lives in such unique ways, and I realized how much all of us on the trip needed the therapeutic sharing to release guilt, shame and fears that have plagued us. Some of our teammates are in incredibly dark places in their current seasons of life, and it brought so much hope for them to be open and honest with such a loving, accepting community of women – women who have been through those times and can offer wisdom and encouragement. There’s a reason why we take these women-only trips: some of the girls had never shared with a single soul the struggles they are facing, and needed the love and support of our group to begin the healing process. In that way, God revealed that no matter how much fun or life-changing a trip can be, none of that matters when all He wants to do is rebuild lives or heal brokenness.
I think it’s safe to say that the highlight for the whole team was spending our last night at Donna’s Jazz Club in the French Quarter. We invited Miss Lita and a few of our fellow construction assistants to join us for a night of live jazz music and dancing. After a week of having paint in our hair and tile grout in our nails, it was such a fun time to get dressed up and celebrate a week of healing, rebuilding, hope and joy.
Written by Emily Eggers
A few weeks ago most of the UMin Staff had the incredible opportunity to go all over the world on different break missions. Missions have a special place in my heart as God has used them countless times in the past few years to challenge me, teach me, and open my eyes further and further to the greatness of his Kingdom.
This particular spring break I went with Becky Riggers and a team of 17 students down to the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean to work with Global Soccer Ministries. Going into the trip, I was excited about all of the things that we would be doing down there, primarily being our work at an orphanage and playing several soccer games with local teams. For me, looking forward to the trip was more about all of the things that we were planning to do and the ways in which I saw that we could serve. But, as the week went on, God showed me that the trip was such a greater blessing than merely the things that we were doing there.
Now, this isn’t to say that we didn’t do some really cool things. Working at Mustard Seed, the orphanage that we served at for the first four days, was incredible. We did a variety of things there, whether it was painting or construction or hanging out with kids with disabilities. It was a great picture of what real, true service was like. Looking at the caregivers that spend time with the disabled children every day was incredibly humbling, and working with the kids myself was a great eye-opener to see how difficult that really can be.
Playing soccer in Jamaica also proved to be a great source of joy for our team. We brought down both a men’’s and a women’’s team, filled out a bit with a few Jamaican’s because we were a little short on players. Fortunately, we held our own in these games against the Jamaican’s, because going into the trip we all had a lot of fear that we were just going to be annihilated by them. But, even more so than the playing, it was incredible to see at the end of the game how our play had actually earned the respect of many of the Jamaican players. This then gave us the opportunity to share about our love for soccer and our love for Jesus. After all this was done, we simply put our arms around each other and prayed, which was a truly incredible experience.
But, for me the greatest way in which I saw God moving on this trip was in the lives of the students that we brought down. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I was getting very excited about how amazing all the students going on the trip seemed to be. I would constantly be telling guys to get stoked about the trip, because the people we were going through were simply amazing!
Well, God certainly surprised even me with how incredible everyone was! Throughout the week we all got a chance to share our story with each other, guys sharing with the guys and girls with the girls. This was an incredible opportunity for us to open up to each other, to be vulnerable, and to share with the rest of the team all of the ways in which God has been working in our lives. This, in itself, led to a great sense of genuine interest throughout the team, and it was even more incredible to see how everyone sought each other out on a daily basis as well. It was incredible to see how no two people seemed to sit next to each other on the bus twice in a row, and how all of the people genuinely wanted to get to know the rest of the team and to really hear their story. The community that we built on this trip was unlike anything I have ever seen before, and I am starting to see more and more clearly that it is simply because it was centered around a love of Jesus and a love for service.
The amazing thing that God showed me on this trip was what a blessing Christian community really is, and how I often take it for granted. I saw a lot of students on this trip see that blessing of community for the first time, and I also got a chance to see how much of an impact it made in their life. I remember on the final night one of the students talking about how she knew most of the Jamaica team after one week better than she knew most of her good friends from college simply blew me away. In that moment, I started to realize how incredible it truly is to be in Christian community. We are made for community and we are called to community, and this trip showed me even more clearly how much of a blessing it really is!
Written by Cris Tietsort