Saturday, August 22, 2015

Finishing Up In Puebla

I am like, the worst ever at this whole maintaining a blog business.

And I never have any idea what to write about. That issue persists. I put, "Blog post" on a post-it note and sit down at some point to find, yet again, I've no idea what I'm doing.

So this should be more of the norm: my giving a hasty summation of things that've happened, and then rambling about whatever I decide to ramble about halfway through.

I'm home in the States again, having arrived nearly a month ago now, on July 31st. Yes, a month ago, on top of the month of not posting anything for July while I was in Mexico. That's a two month period of being lazy about this. Shame consumes me.

Overall, I can say that I am very glad I went to teach in Mexico, and I think I made the right decision in doing what God wanted me to do. That's always a good feeling to have, when you're safe in your retrospection. I think I was better prepared for this trip than my YWAM venture (as if I could have prepared for YWAM), and things had a much less surreal quality about them as I sat on the plane heading home. I knew I would learn a new skill in teaching, and I think I did alright. At least, the students who weren't doing so well in the beginning were definitely more capable in speaking English by the end. I knew I would see a new place and culture, and I think I did an okay job at that too. Although, my Spanish could (and will, God-willing) be better.

I knew I'd meet new people, and of course that happened. The Reyna family were crazy good to me, helping me when I was sick, giving me a place to sleep when I needed it, and generally inviting me into their family. I learned so much from Shereen, who taught me how to be effective in the classroom, as well as a thousand other things that usually started with, "Do you wanna hear something weird?" No matter how often or in-depth I thought I'd prepared myself for her catching me off-guard, she surprised me every single time. If you ever want an off-the-wall conversation and someone who's up for anything, it's Shereen. Last but not least is my roommate for the time I was there, who I won't name out of respect for his crazy disapproval of leaving a virtual trail. I seriously lucked out as far as roommates go. We could so freely pray, worship, exercise, work, do whatever with the other around, and there was never a time I felt I wouldn't have a place to go and decompress. So many good conversations about God and life, I lost so many hours of sleep. Throw in all the other people, 1-2-4 Project, the Basiles, Olaf, the Crossroads Fellowship team that came down, those who served at El Pozo, and the people even rank above tortas and climbing volcanos in the list of things that I loved about my time in Puebla. And tortas are tough to beat.

So in the end, I have to look back and ask myself what God was teaching me, why he brought me there, what I know of him I didn't before, and things that he changed in me through the trip. So what was he teaching me? Well, patience, for sure, the kids I taught made that a necessity. I also know that it was valuable practice in picking up a challenge I wasn't quite prepared for, and adapting to a culture that I'm not used to. Generosity was another thing, surrounded by the people I worked with, and it was really cool to see something I've asked God for be developed in such a way that I could see the difference.

I was surprised when, some time in early July, I thought that God was telling me he was sending me to Raleigh whenever I prayed. At first I was just excited, "Yes! Sending me home sounds so easy." I just sort of passed by thinking it might be more than just permission to go back to where I came from. But, as time went on, I think he got pretty adamant about the fact I wasn't just, "going home", he was sending me to Raleigh. NC was the platform he sent me to Mexico by, and Mexico was going to be the platform he sent me to Raleigh.

Which brings us to the present (almost). Relationships and opportunities he's opened up for me since coming back fill me joyful hope, and a curious feeling of being small. How he chooses to use me is up to him. Of course, I get to be a part of it and that's awesome and I can't grasp yet how good he is to me, but it sort of makes me feel small in a very comfortable way. I am an instrument, I'm not the main character, it's not my story. It's interesting how you can learn the same lesson but with a different flavor. With YWAM the major theme was that I walk my path with God and it's just me and him and whoever he brings along the way for certain times and places. But this time, it is that I am really very small in my own path with him, and this is his walk we're going on, not mine.

Now that July's post is actually done, I suppose I have to give a post for this month too, before it's over. Which means, time to write myself a reminder on a post-it note, this way I can be prepared.

Don't get your hopes up, but I'll try my best.

P.S. - A very big thank you goes to all the people who supported me, you can expect a more personalized token of my gratitude in a bit by mail, now that I'm back in the swing of things here. To have people willing to pray for me as well as support me financially is ridiculous to think about, and there were many times when I would rest in the knowledge I wasn't alone, that the family that Jesus has given me was with me the whole way. You all know who you are, and God knows who you are, and I pray for and fully expect him to bless you for it. If you need any prayer from me, don't be afraid to let me know somehow, it would be my privilege.

Adventure is out there.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Alright, a brief catch-up:

I taught class, Shereen and I have been slaying lesson plans and class schedules, I’ve been doing my level best to learn Spanish (I start with a personal teacher June 1st), as well as find time to exercise and find a pattern to get comfortable with. No such pattern has been found. There has been more good food, more seeing new things, more bus rides. Got a haircut that involved a straight razor, which was new and exciting.

I got to explore a church, as well as the ancient pyramid ruins it was built on top of yesterday, which was a ton of fun, and I find I am still at home underground. If only Moria was an actual place, I’d totally go. I got to see four guys spinning around a huge pole, suspended by ropes they carried up untethered. Saw a movie that translates to “The Big Little”, or something like that. I don’t have wifi at the moment, otherwise I’d just look it up. An excellent movie, but I think I got something in my eye, because they were quite watery at times.

There we go. Caught up.

…I’ll just be honest, I haven’t kept a record of the specific days, so I had to do a highlight reel. I find it amazing just how reliant I generally am on a set pattern of living. At home, I had work on specific days, then school, then sometimes an afternoon/evening activity, and all ran according to the minutes of an hour, once that time was up, I could move on to the next thing. “Nay, nay,” says Mexico. Times here can have a 30 minute “maybe whatever it is will be soon…” period. For everything. Well, except the movie theaters. I still love the movie theaters.

So I’m wondering just how much of the way I handle the world ought to change in the face of such a challenging non-schedule. Contrary to what most people think, I do have the introverted tendency of completely removing myself from things in order to cope with life. So what happens when those times are less frequent than I would prefer? Do I need to try and take a stand for a solid schedule, or adapt to how loose things are at the moment? What does it say of my character to be stressed out by not having things as I’d like them? Is it understandable, or is it a trait that needs to go? I suppose it could be a little of both, perhaps, but it’s certainly something for me to spend time thinking about.

Ah, I forgot a couple highlights of the week. I almost had to drive here in crazy Mexico, and I definitely did eat chili-powdered grasshoppers. It’s true that the legs get caught in your throat.

I bet my mom will be thrilled to read this.

Ah, another thing. A heavy storm showed my roommate, Oliver, and I that the ceiling in our room is very much leaky. Which was pretty funny, and though we do have to deal with that when it rains, it’s like we’re braving the elements, and we’re both still very thankful to have a clean space to call ours. Not sure if I said it in my last post or not, but he’s a German and we took great joy in our holy crusade to clean the place up for ourselves.

There, that one will make my mom proud.

Just two more struggles to write about, the first being that I miss those back home, which I’m pretty much certain will continue for the rest of my life as I meet and build friendships with people all over the world. YWAM showed me that, and know it’s a beautiful but uncomfortable thing to miss others. Just because we taste the bitter does not mean the sweet is not worth pursuing.

Second struggle is that candy and ice cream here, like all food, is ridiculously cheap by American standards. At any one moment I face the crushing temptation to go and drop like, 30 dollars and stuff my face with sugary goodness. I must stay strong.

Adventure is out there.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mexico Already Has Me Super Busy

So it's the end of my fourth full day in Mexico. I'll try and sum up the events thus far.

I landed on Saturday night where I was met by Shereen, Mrs. Betty, and José, and we went out to eat immediately. I was quickly impressed with the quality and cost of the food. This place is great when you're hungry. After that we got to the BAM Center and I got a quick tour, then I stayed up talking for a while before crashing into an amazingly comfortable bed.

Woke up for church in the morning, which was in Spanish, and there were headsets available for translation. I hate having to use them, so I have decided to make it a goal of mine not to need them by the end of my time here. Met a lot of people (names are so difficult to remember, but I'll get there), called my mom for Mothers Day, and then I got a tour of Puebla and the adjoining town, Cholula. We went to markets and central courtyards and parks and restaurants, and I found that the area is fairly well off. Something was strange to me as we went, and then I realized, I didn't see any homeless people in the inner city. I asked why, and Betty said that it was different here, that I could find them on the outskirts of the city, rather than the center. It's kind of strange to me, not at all what I've come to expect.

We came home and worked on some school stuff, and then came packing. I helped Shereen get her things together for quite a bit, and it was really cool to share our testimonies and get to know each other better. She has packed what looks to be literally everything she owns, so we had ample time for conversation. I crashed and was once again deeply grateful for my bed.

Which brings us to Monday. Time here doesn't feel like separate days, but like one long day where we just take naps when it gets dark. I sat in on Shereen's English class, trying to pick up how the class should run. I also moved to a new place called Casa Verde that Mrs. Betty had checked out for me before I came (she is pretty fantastic), after having to jump dripping out of the shower and throw all my things together in three minutes flat because they needed to clean the room for a new team that was staying at BAM. Flexibility. Which brings us to a fiasco of a bus ride...turns out that it's very easy to get lost here in Puebla. But, we made it to Casa Verde in the end, and it turns out we made it pretty close for not knowing where we were.

Which brings us to hotcake night. (This entry is not chronological, by the way, as I cannot remember Monday due to the fact it was Monday. We visited Casa Verde earlier in the day so I could see it and meet a few people.) The house is next to a college, and the ministry here is for that demographic, which means lots of people hanging out late into the night eating pancakes with all the fixings possible and having a rather loud overall volume. I had some great conversation, met some more people, and didn't sleep for quite some time.

Tuesday was another blur, but this time it included sitting in on Shereen's Spanish class. I thought my brain was going to explode. But, I was very grateful for the practice of listening to conversation and actually understanding it. We were also invited to have dinner with the family that runs the BAM Center, and that was certainly enjoyable as well. Then I showed up for another hotcake night.

Wednesday was another English class, another Spanish class (this time much easier to understand), more looking for bikes (and not finding any), and Mrs. Betty's last day before taking off for Raleigh again. So, we hammered out some more stuff for the school, and fit a sushi lunch in there too. She will certainly be missed, but I'm glad to know she can enjoy seeing her family. Also, hotcake night.

Thursday was another day at BAM, and I honestly can't remember a whole lot about it other than there was another English class to sit in on, and we jumped on a bus with José's kids as our guides to figure out the routes, this time successfully. Later on, Shereen, Becky (one of José's daughters), and I went to the movie theater and saw the new Avengers movie. I've decided I'm actually resentful of the movie theaters in the U.S., as a ticket here was a mere, like, $2.50 or something. And the theater food was actually reasonable, I could get a bag of skittles for like, a dollar. C'mon, America. Also, never eat the super sour powdery lemon "candy" that they sell here. I'm 95% sure the stuff is basically Comet toilet bowl cleaner, and could clean the rust off a car that's been hauled out of the ocean. Needless to say, my innards despised me for the next two days.

Friday we didn't have class of any kind, but I was definitely sick. Pretty much ate nothing all day, and Shereen and I spent a lot of time trying to finish out a bunch of lesson plans. I have found that I have an intense dislike for lesson plans. We also picked up a cheap little cell phone for me (it was only $18, super cool) so I can call people here in Mexico without it being an international call for them. I was hurtin' for certain at the end of the day (loudest stomach rumblings of my life, it was actually kind of funny). So, José's wife, Enma, was ridiculously generous, bringing me to their home and giving me medicine, some soup, and a flippin' comfortable place for the night on their couch. I've found I don't know how to appropriately thank people for generosity and care like that. Perhaps it's not something I'll ever feel I can adequately respond to.

Saturday rolled around, and I felt much better than the day prior. So, I taught my first English class. It was two hours of practice for me, and while I am keenly aware there are things I need to work on, I'm certainly hoping to adapt quickly. My stomach still gave me trouble throughout the day, but it was overall much better. So, after coming back to the house and Shereen and I did one more lesson plan, then we went to the mall with Becky. I'm not one for malls, but this was actually super cool, on account of the way the place was built with plant-covered pillars, a pet store, and a 4D movie theater.

Again with my dislike for American theaters, this ticket only cost what a normal ticket in the U.S. would be. COME ON, AMERICA, get with the program. I got to see Mad Max in Spanish with 3D glasses on seat that moved around like a rollercoaster, with wind blowing through the theater, mist when the dust was kicked up in the film, blasts of air next to my head as bullets zipped around the the characters, and water spraying at my face whenever a water tank got shot or a bad guy gets his at close range. It felt like going to the movies for the first time again. It was super intense, fairly scary, and had the whole theater giddy with laughter at how much of an experience it was.

I came back to Casa Verde and found a Harry Potter marathon in the room I was to sleep in, so I said "what the heck", and watched two of those before closing my eyes at 1:00, when they started the third movie. Mexican time seems to be, "wake up when you want, eat frequently enough that you're never hungry, work at some point, and stay up as late as you can." That brings us to today, Sunday, when I woke up to a woman and her five year old son cleaning the room for a church service I knew nothing about, so I got off the couch, helped set up, and packed up my things so they were out of the way in a corner. I went upstairs to find that two girls had spent the night on the floor as so many people seem to do here at Casa Verde, so I gave one my spare tooth brush, and then Andy (I'm surrounded by giants here, by the way.) took us all to a place just down the road to eat breakfast. Came back, ran into another group of new people who invited me to lunch, and out the door I went again. Finally, I came back, and here on the couch I sit.

Like I said, life is super busy, but it's certainly entertaining and enjoyable. Spanish, Spanish everywhere. I'll post again at some point, perhaps with a little bit more of what I think of things around here, if things calm down.

Adventure is out there.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Puebla Bound

It’s been a while.

I’m not even going to try and catch up to life as it’s happened since my last entry. To sum it up, I worked and took three classes at Wake Tech. Life has marched resolutely forward, leaving me quite breathless, but I have managed to make it this far, and I type this post as I sit in a plane on my way to Mexico.

I suppose I ought to explain a bit about the whole Mexico thing. I constantly forget people don’t know what I’m doing with my life (insert obligatory “I don’t have any idea what I’m doing with my life either” blog snippet here), and apparently that carries over into blogging. Also, the word, “blogging” still makes me feel weird when I apply it to myself.

So, I’m flying to Puebla, Mexico, being sent my 1-2-4 Project to teach English with English4Life at the BAM Center (Business As Missions) until July 31st, starting today. Which is still really weird to think about. I don’t feel like I’m leaving for three months, I just feel like I didn’t plan out my Saturday and this seat in the sky is simply where I found time to open my planner. Teaching is a new adventure for me, so I’m praying that I manage to hit the ground running and adapt quickly, though I do anticipate a lot of learning I’m going to have to do. A common theme in life, I see.

So far, the trip seems to be going well. As soon as I got to the airport, I found my ticket was messing up somehow, and then that it was because the flight was overbooked. To fix this, they just cut out the unnecessary flight from Raleigh to Washington, and bumped me up to a first class seat on the way to Houston. This is why I sit eating a complementary banana along with my usual choice of tea. And on top of it all, I didn’t have to pay for my checked bag. Heck yeah.

Side note though: Having to sit in first class while everyone else shuffles past me, looking at the ample foot room as I’ve done in the past, feels super awkward.

Upon landing in Puebla, I am under the impression that I will meet up with my friends at the airport, and they’ll show me around a little bit. I’ll live for a couple days at the BAM Center itself, and then I may or may not be frequently moved until I can rent a place in two weeks or so. Flexibility is important, as is being comfortable with packing and unpacking quickly. I hope to sit in while others teach for a bit, to get the feel of the class before jumping in myself. We’re still not sure about how many classes I’ll be teaching, or when those classes will be. Again, flexibility is important.

I just got a fig newton type treat from the flight attendant that actually tastes delicious, and it was lemon flavored. I love lemon. What is this place? Also, these clouds are legit the coolest. But I digress.

I really have no idea what else to share, as that’s really all I know for now. Teachers wear business casual in the classroom. I might get a bike at some point. Bus rides could be a regular thing. Flip flops are frowned upon. I need to wear sunscreen because I’m white and it’s Mexico.

Of course, prayer is a pretty big deal to me in this venture, and I would like to invite any who would to pray for me and for those I meet while I’m here. I want to be following the Spirit and listening for what he has to say, to see the needs of those around me, and learn of things to work on in myself. The goal for me here is to teach English, yes, but it is mostly to fill the needs of others and share the love of Christ with them. I will post more specific requests to pray about as I go along (I hope to put one post out a week), but for now my requests are that I stay healthy, that I learn quickly, that I don’t get too frazzled from so much new stuff, that I find favor regarding financial support, and that I don’t get a wicked sunburn.

Should anyone have specific questions for me regarding anything at all, or if you would like to help me out financially, feel free to get in touch with me, I’d love to talk. I won’t post my contact info here for the masses of the Internet to find, as I trust my base of readers to already know me personally, or know someone else who does.

As per a request from a friend of mine, I shall now list a couple things that came into my head just sitting in the airport:

“For whatever reason, airports make me sad. Not like, depressed sad, but ‘The bird that’s been raised from its hatching just learned how to fly and has joined his people in the great migration and is gone forever’ sad.”

“Wouldn’t it be so cool to run on a massive treadmill sped up to 45 m.p.h., but go in the same direction? You would be flying, but if you fell, it would only be like a normal fall, not getting smacked into oblivion by the Earth whizzing past you.”

That’s all I’ve got, folks. I end my scatterbrained monologue here. I would not be surprised if I read this post later and find it to have been written horrendously, but as it is, I’m lucky it’s getting posted.

*Munches pensively on lemony fig newton while gazing out first class window into the horizon* Maybe someday I’ll write in a way that's less like a rambling squirrel with attention issues.…maybe someday.

Adventure is out there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New Pair of Glasses

One more post and we're all caught up, people.

Since I've written about what I did, I'll talk about what I've learned. I'm sure a lot of it is going to sound super cliché and typical, but I think a lot of the time things are cliché and typical for a reason. And you know what? Because I like how simplicity makes things significantly easier, I'm gonna be really straightforward.

"If you are saved by Jesus, you are part of a global Family."

I've said it before, but it's so worth saying I'll do it again. We serve the God of the universe, which certainly includes the whole of planet Earth. We are part of a global Church, it is our global Family, we are part of the Body. All those descriptions are whole things, yet when I was confronted with my outlook before I left or the majority of those in the States (at least what I see), I see a weird, totally unbiblical apathy to/distance from our distant fellow Christ followers. It doesn't even have to be that far, I see it in comparing churches across the street from each other. When was being a part of THE Church traded for being a part of a specific congregation, like it's some fan club and you can't support another church as being part of your Family? Of course, we have to use wisdom in who we support, but this is kind of ridiculous. Let's make it stop, people.

"Never outright judge people, you don't know them."

I am so guilty of this. Not that I would hate people, or even deny them opportunity, but I would absolutely assume what they were like before I got to know them. As if I, a tiny human, could know the depth of personality or knowledge or integrity in another person. Of course, you do get a sense of what someone is like based on how they CHOOSE to present themselves to the world, because the choosing says something. Would I trust a super tattooed guy who listens to his screamo music super loud and swears like a sailor to teach a fifth grade small group? Heck no. (Sorry, potentially super tattooed, screamo listening, swearing, potential Reader.) But I can't assume that's all he is, he could possess exceptional generosity or honesty or compassion for all I know. I'm simply saying that impressions only get you so far, and in no way tell the whole story. Once again, wisdom is fantastic.

"Missionaries are just like *insert whatever your job/role/education/status/disposition/skillset/interests are here*."

This is something we hear and agree with in our heads, but we hardly ever live with it as truth. Is it something special to "be a missionary"? Sure. But what makes it special? That we would "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" and really treat Jesus as Lord. When we say, "the Lord", that's a pretty serious deal. A lord is served with honor by his subjects of their own will, who seek to meet his purposes first, or he tells them to do something, and they do it. To be a missionary all you need to do is follow Scripture: "love the Lord your God", and obey what He's commanded. So to be a missionary really just requires that you love God and serve Him, which we should be doing everywhere.
(Side note: This is not a copout paragraph to feed how people to flippantly say, "Well, I serve in my church," and do nothing more. If you're not going, you're supporting. But if you call yourself a "supporter" and God tells you to go anywhere, even if it's just across the street, you'd darn well better do it.)

"Quit complaining."

Seriously. Let's stop it, please. It accomplishes nothing, breeds laziness and selfishness, and makes us soft. Wimps. If you complain, you're a wimp. If I complain, I am a wimp. Jesus was not a wimp. We need to stop complaining and start thanking God for what we have. Whining about things is a slap in the face to a good God who has blessed us with every good thing we have, and continues to bless us despite our ridiculousness.

"Stop looking through a screen and look with your eyeballs."

Some background about what brought it to my attention might be good, I suppose. For the first month in Panama, I decided I was going to go without any form of communication/media from back home. That meant no Facebook, phone calls, email, news, whatever. And in this time I had the purest times with God, enjoyed new sights and sounds more, and just overall applied myself to life. We waste our time on our technology and use it to escape into a cheap, laughable copy of what we want out of life, rather than striving to actually live. Bored? Get out and do something you always say you wish you did, like running, or learning an instrument, or find a solitary place to talk to God and give Him the attention He deserves. Speaking for myself (because speaking for others in this coming statement would be kind of harsh), if I don't find something to do it's either straight up can't because I'm stuck in an empty room on the bottom of the ocean, or I'm lazy. And I don't think I've ever been stuck in an empty room on the bottom of the ocean.

"Stop freaking out/caring so much about...stuff."

Really what I've been learning about this is how wrapped up we get in stupid things. Petty arguments, preferences, what whoever said about whatever and how much we disagree with it. Too often we (I keep using this word because I'm included here) take up some cause or situation as our cross to bear without stopping to think if it's really worth it in the end. There are real things to get really upset about, like when Jesus actually DID something about the moneychangers in the temple (an actual problem worth his time). Jesus did something about whatever bothered him, or else it wasn't something he needed to jump into. We need to pick our fights for the glory of God.

"The 'all things' in Romans 8:28 means exactly what it says."

That's why it says, "all things". Nothing coming down the pipe surprises God, even if it's a bad thing like war or illness (...or a lost passport), and He works everything out for the good of those who love Him. I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to be one of those who love Him, because if you believe God is who He says He is, you can bet on that promise. On our end this means (aside from loving God, as it says so explicitly) to be teachable in all things, no matter what, and to choose to remain thankful. So hang tight and take God at His word.

So there you go, the main things I've learned since flying off for Panama until today.

Good golly. That took forever. And I see I'm quite fond of parentheses, run-ons, and a blunt writing style. I'll think about changing that, but no promises.

Onward, to serendipity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Panama in Retrospect, Part 2

I'll just start right back into it:

We needed all the peace we could get in Chiriqui because as my journal says, " is the day outreach really began." We had arrived in Changuinola. It was a unanimous decision amongst the team that this was the most trying time we had, and we were lucky it was only three nights. We left the Chiriqui base on the 28th of April in a van driven by Scott (who was the man, by the way), and after crossing the mountains to the north, we arrive in the town of Changuinola. We hopped out at a diner of sorts where we grabbed a quick meal and waited for "El Pastor" to show up. Before he did though, we unloaded, and it was here I heard what I now see was a word from the Lord. He said, "Dude, you should probably double check to see if you left anything in there." And I said, "Meh, someone else will check." In hindsight, that was a stupid thing for me to say.

We said farewell to Scott, who drove away with the van, and eventually El Pastor showed up. I have no idea what his actual name was, but he was a nice guy. Our leader Rodrigo hopped in with him in his curiously shaped, tiny van, and the other eight of us split into two truck taxis. We were told we were going to Pastor's house, but when Pastor's van and our taxis go two completely different ways, I was a little perplexed. Then we came to a police checkpoint on the road. He walked from my side of the car over to the driver's, then opened the back driver's-side door where my three teammates were and said, "Passports." It was then it was brought to my attention that was what God had tried to get me to double check for. Luckily my astute reaction was ignored by the policeman, who must not have spoken English, for I immediately exclaimed, as I stared into my backpack, "I left my freaking passport." The officer checked everyone else in the car but me, and waved us on.

Let me take a moment to emphasize here: The guy checked everyone except me. Who knows, perhaps he just thought I was taking too long? But regardless of why things happened the way they did, I "lucked out" big time.

Eventually we stopped at a house and assumed it was el Pastor's, so we unloaded and wound up sitting on the front porch area while the family that lived there kind of gave us sideways glances and went about their business. I admit that I sat steaming at myself for a while, but eventually I distracted myself with hypothetical zombie survival questions with my team. Always a good fallback. Rodrigo eventually showed up and I alerted him about my lost passport, and I guess Pastor's little car was broken, because we were kind of on our own for the rest of the day. We walked down the road a short distance to the school we'd be helping at and the little general store, then came back and ate what we could for dinner. I think it was spicy noodles. By then the sun was down, and we were promptly attacked by the marauding hordes of beetles. Hundreds of them. Nights in the upstairs room we had were pretty interesting, seeing as there were only curtains for the door and windows, and a five inch gap between the walls and the ceiling. We also found out it was very unfortunate to have to use the restroom at night, as the toilet only halfway worked, and the bathroom, with its rusty metal door and leaky pipes, was reminiscent of a prison.

Daylight proved that it wasn't just the beetles that were notable. To use gaming terms, it was like everything leveled up and I didn't. The wasps, centipedes, and even grasshoppers were two to three times bigger, jet black, and had red pinstripes. I got stung by one of the wasps through my shirt, and had a small crater in my shoulder even until I got home about four weeks later. And I'm not even exaggerating when I call it a crater, it looked like someone took a mini ice cream scoop out of me.

But, onto ministry. Only being there for a few days, we applied ourself to repainting the school, as the staff simply did not have any time. We scrubbed and painted all day, every day, and got a lot of hard work in. Changuinola may have been the least comfortable place we went, but honestly, it was where we all laughed the most. The company of my team members was such a comfort and a privilege, and I really caught sight of how great they all are. If you guys from team Panama read up to this point in my quite possibly overly long post, I love and miss you all.

The last day we were there, Rodrigo returned from visiting Bocas town where we'd be heading next on the island of Colón. We were just finishing up with the painting project, and gathered around in eager anticipation. Annie asked if he found a place for us to stay over there, and he said, "No, but we'll be leaving anyway." We all rejoiced at this news and Rodrigo says, "Oh, I also found this, I think it's a passport or something," and tosses my lost treasure to me. I breathed a mighty sigh of relief and felt the calm I hadn't had since I lost the thing. After another night in "the Room" (in which we burned WAY too many mosquito coils), we were on our way to Bocas.

After a bus ride and then a water taxi, we walked out onto the main street, and clomped over to the nearby Golden Grill to get some lunch while Rodrigo found us a place to spend the night. It was here I saw that the menu was in English. Things just kept getting better when Rodrigo brought us to the hotel a very short walk away where we had both wifi, AC, and private restrooms. And the beds were glorious.

While in Bocas del Toro, we definitely had to learn to adapt and make things happen, as there were no pre-existing ministries to jump into, and we had a lot of empty time on our hands. Along with checking out the villages on the surrounding islands to gather information for the coming YWAM base, we did some street ministry and (the most interesting part of the trip) had a bible study with a guy who called himself Elwood. I've never spoken to anyone who calmed the Bible "wouldn't let him read it", and he stretched our group for sure. But even through the confusion and twisting of scripture we witnessed, I was encouraged when I saw how we could withstand the trial and draw close as we discussed the spiritual truths that had been called into question.

Being in the big travel destination that we were, however, we did get to have some fun too. We got to see Starfish Beach, Cayo Zapatilla (the island where Survivor was filmed), and my favorite, visit a missionary family, the Woods, on Bastimentos. God has absolutely smiled on them and blessed them immensely in what they've been doing with the native villages. They are a model of patience, perseverance, and joy, and a real blessing to everyone they meet. While we stayed with them, they treated us to some of the best food I've had in my life, showed us around the property the YWAM base would be on, and by far my favorite part, gave us a tour of a bat cave.

After our 18 days in Bocas, our outreach officially came to an end. We left Bocas on a water taxi and took a bus south across the mountains to a mountain town called Boquete in Chiriqui (how good it was to be back there) where we had done street ministry before, and got rooms in a hostel. We spent one day here for debrief with Rodrigo, as he was heading off to visit family when we left for Kona. And then finally, having made our way from Boquete to David to Panama City, we spent the night at the base there and rode to the airport the next morning. We bid our leader farewell, and we were bound for America.

So that's the super condensed version of Panama, and of course, I've left out a ton of names and places and sights and sounds (like the fact the number one use of a car horn in Panama seems to be honking at gringos). But, I did my best to share the events that took place, perhaps I'll go into what I've learned in my next post.

Onward, to serendipity.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Panama in Retrospect, Part 1

Holy goodness, it's been forever. I had to read my own blog to figure out where I left off. I'll try not to do that in the future.

Brace yourselves, folks, this one's a two-month long story.

Alright, Panama. What a big topic. We left Kona on March 23rd, flying to L.A., then Dallas, and finally Panama City. According to the journal I kept for the length of the trip, I didn't sleep at all on the plane, yet I somehow managed to stay awake and take in the sights and sounds once we arrived. I "could feel the moment my (assumed to be endless) sweating started."

There was just so much new, it was fascinating. For starters, Panama City was blistering hot, and the humidity was up there. But then Panama as a whole is a pretty conservatively dressed country, so we "gringos" were definitely out of place, with our t-shirts and shorts in stark contrast to the dress shoes, jeans and formal shirts of the people. And still we sweat more than they...I think. Needless to say, everything was Spanish from then on. The traffic was amazing. To me, a sensitive, pampered, American motorist, it was pretty much anarchy, and I've never been so scared of being hit by a car in my life. But then, they are SO much better with their vehicles than Americans are that I eventually came to trust them (with due reservations, I assure you.) Ah, I can't leave this out: with so many people and no sense of environmental stewardship, the place was absolutely TRASHED. Garbage everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I'm not ragging on Panama when I say that my concept of cleanliness had to take a back seat for our stay there. Next up was the ridiculous contrast between the wealth in the skyscrapers filled with offices for foreign companies, situated a mere block away from the hovels of the poor. I had anticipated this difference, but I was not prepared to see the two extremes so close to each other. The thing that stuck out most to me, however, isn't so much the clothes or the temperature or the driving, but what I saw of the people.

During our time in the capital we helped with many ministries, but to start, we had to get a feel for the place. So, Andrea (our fantastic host) took us to a hill called Anćon that overlooked the whole of the City, from the Old Town to the booming business district. Looking out over this bustling metropolis she said, "Alright, so we're all gonna pray and ask about the needs of the city, and just try to listen for what God's telling us." So we prayed individually for about five minutes, and I thought the Lord was telling me about families. Specifically, the disconnect between fathers and their families. Looking back now, that really was God showing me a need: Panama as a whole needs help with its fathers. The times I saw dads investing in their kids were woefully few, and the times I saw and spent time with kids (particularly boys) absolutely desperate for attention from a father-figure were too many to count. To have such strong convictions and be upset about the state of the family in America, and then getting this wakeup call in Panama really got my attention. If you could join myself and the great missionaries and church leaders I met down there in praying into this issue, it would be very much appreciated.

So I mentioned ministries, and Panama City definitely had the most for my team and I. Over the course of the sixteen days there, we did street evangelism (called "treasure hunts", you basically just show up in the city and say, "God, where should I go?" and see what happens), helped at an elementary school (attention starved kids that speak a different language than you are extremely difficult to keep in their seats, let alone teach what "yellow" means), visited two villages (I held a man's head as two of his teeth were pulled), shared about our mission and our testimonies on two radio programs, and helped out at the Panama City YWAM base. And it was here that we learned our frequently performed skits. I gave it a fair shake, but I still loathe skits.

My personal favorite was our visit to the prison in Gamboa, El Renacer, or "Rebirth". Fitting, for a prison ministry. (Side note: Manuel Noriega, the dictator of Panama that was captured in 1989, is held there.) Pastor Bill Wilbur has been leading a ministry there for years and has a small church established among the inmates, and when he invited us along, I was definitely all for it. I thought to myself, "This'll be great, we'll show up, get to pray for these guys, share some testimonies, encourage them, and I'll get to say I've been to a Central American prison." Yes, we did all those things, but I was completely unprepared for what they did for us. After we sang a hymn together (it consisted of singing hallelujah over and over, but it was good) and did our thing, the mic went to them, and they matched us. They gave their personal testimonies, they prayed over us, they encouraged us, they blessed us just as much as we blessed them. These criminals, these who were brand new Christians, and doing time in a prison, because they were in Christ, could do everything we could do. Never assume you are more godly or competent than the newest Christian, and pray against the favoritism in you that you cannot see. Going into this ministry showed me an assumption I'd made without realizing it, and God blessed me immensely through the experience, showing me even more of Himself and of the Family I have in Christ.

So, on the ninth of April my team hopped on a double-decker bus (which was pretty cool, and nicer than a U.S. airplane), and went for an eight hour ride to the City of David, in the province of Chiriqui to the west. We were picked up at the bus station (buses are a pretty serious deal in Panama, so it's quite busy, and reminds me of a train station) by a YWAM Chiriqui van...and I soon found out Chiriqui is, geographically speaking, one of my favorite places. Pine trees and crisp, fresh air were a welcome change from the hot and hazy city, and David was suddenly the model of cleanliness. To us, the Chiriqui base was an absolute paradise. I slept in my hammock every night, and even got too cold a couple times. Looking in my journal, I described the dog there as, " actual dog, hefty and huggable". It was glorious, and my spirits soared.

While at the Chiriqui base, there were less opportunities for ministry, but we still managed to stay busy. We helped with the conference celebrating the anniversary of YWAM in Panama for a few days, visited a nearby boys home a couple times where we did our skits, played soccer, had a bible lesson and shared testimonies, visited a nursing home, and the guys built a cold-room (basically a walk-in refrigerator) for the base. Chiriqui was the perfect place to recharge, and we certainly needed it...

And now that I'm looking back at this post, it's long enough. This'll have to do for part one, and look at me, ending with a cliffhanger. As if I know what I'm doing. (In all seriousness, ignore all grammatical and/or structural mistakes here, I'm just trying to catch up at the moment.)

Onward, to the serendipities in part two.