Central and East Africa: Third Update

The best way to describe this past weekend is literally, Wow. Wow! when it was not pouring down rain we were on the go. It is nearing the end of rainy season for South Sudan. You could say that this is true literally and figuratively.

South Sudan has become so barren and desolate due to the most recent conflict. While we were there we could see the results of that in the empty shops and abandoned and collapsed homes. However, we could also see a glimmer of hope in the people of Yei. People are starting to slowly return to their homes from the refugee camps. We saw hope in the eyes of the new police recruits (pictured below). We saw hope in the eyes of the youth choir. They are the future of Yei and they were full of joy.

We see the future of Yei beginning to change. During our stay, we witness new life breathed into one community with the drilling of a new well and life restored by the repair of a broken well in another community.  While these two communities are far apart, thousands of people from many local villages joined together to watch and celebrate the South Sudan cup (AKA soccer) in the center of Yei Town. This is such a great message of peace coming to a nation.

Another demonstration of coming peace to South Sudan was when Barry taught on Sunday morning. People came together to celebrate and worship. Those not able to make it to the church were blessed with the opportunity to hear Barry’s message on how “Water is Basic” to Christian life over the air waves of EPC radio.

The team left Yei inspired, encouraged and humbled by the progress toward peace and the resilience of the strong and brave men and women that continue to push forward to make Soth Sudan home again. Please continue to pray for South Sudan as the seeds of hope are sown.

Central and East Africa: Second Update

The last two days in Arua and Rhino Camp have been a whirlwind. We’ve barely had time to unwind let alone process all that we’ve been seeing and hearing. Both days, we have driven into Rhino Camp (the South Sudanese refugee camp on the Ugandan border) and the journeys have been half the experience. The drive is over 1.5 hours with the last half on broken, unpaved roads. Multiple people on our team have nearly fallen ill time and time again. But the Lord held us together. Today was no exception. It started raining in the morning and did not stop until late afternoon. Because the roads are made of dried mud, our return today seemed nearly impossible, and yet we trudged on. At one point, we got stuck in the mud and couldn’t get moving. So our wonderful Senior Pastor, Barry, and our amazing team leader, Mike literally went out in the trenches and pushed our car til we were able to navigate it to safety. We thankfully made it home!

In Rhino Camp, our team split in half to serve alongside two different ministries. Rejoice – a ministry connected to OneTribe and Radio South Sudan – provides the community with training on sanitation and hygiene. Half our team helped lead those trainings and taught community members how to sew pads and make soap.

The other half of our team helped train church leaders and pastors on the impact of trauma through ALARM. The most impactful experience for the participants and our team was our grief circle when each person shared about their own grief and trauma. The pain was palpable and yet the resilience was just as strong. As people wept, the entire group would sing the song “we shall overcome” over them. It was a holy space and we were honored to receive their stories and trust and share ours as well.

Another beautiful thing we’ve learned from our South Sudanese brothers and sisters is the incredible power of joy alongside pain. After hearing such deep pain, their songs and dances of joy were all the richer. Their joy was vibrant but did not erase the depth of their grief or minimize the weight of their weeping. In fact, the wall was lined with paper links that documented some of their losses – there were hundreds. But their joy stood in juxtaposition to the reality of their grief. They carried both so tenderly and near to their hearts. I was struck by their courage to hold both. Their joy welcomed me in and their grief called me friend.

There is so much we have to learn from these brothers and sisters. God is gracious to have let us sit under their incredible witness and leadership.

Pray for us as we head to Yei, South Sudan today. Pray for us to hold these stories near to our hearts and ears to truly listen. Pray that God would expand our ability to love and for our South Sudanese brothers and sisters to feel the depth of that love.

McAllen Mission Trip: Second Update

After a couple of days in McAllen, we are finally starting to settle in – even if we are a bit more sore and we are fairly convinced that the alarm clock is going off a little earlier every morning. Lisa mentioned this in the previous post, but one of the most continual sources of encouragement on this trip has been the staff that are here full time. When we arrived this morning, we were welcomed by a group of people that took effort to reach out and told us how excited they were to see us again today. Their continual joyful spirit helps us feel like we are making a valued contribution as we try to serve God and some of His most vulnerable children. For the most part, we’ve been able to stretch out a little further than we did yesterday. We may have still done a lot of the unglamorous (but necessary) work that we did before – sorting clothes, moving water around, things like that – but we have gotten the chance to try some tasks that allowed us to make more of a human connection. For example, we were able to help distribute clothes and shoes, and seeing the excitement on a child’s face when you’ve finally been able to find a pair of shoes that fit (and that they like) reminds us of the difference we are making. And that, really, is I think the most important thing we experienced today: even the smallest ways we can show honor and respect to people make a huge difference. We’re in the midst of so many people that have been cast aside, and even the smallest things we do to help them find dignity are valuable. With gratitude, Seth Martin

McAllen Mission Trip: First Update

The days seem to be flying by. As pleasantly uneventful that day one was (we were driving all day), day two was filled with sweat, joy, and tears.

Sweat – we sorted clothes, cleaned tables, and organized hundreds of bottles of water. It seemed both simple and never ending, but we made a small dent in the work that many of the staff and volunteers have been doing for months on end. As I’ve shared with others in the past, this work isn’t glamorous. Its exhausting and menial in a ton of ways, but I’m reminded over and over again that God sees and is honored by faithfulness in such small things. Honestly, one of the sweetest pieces of our time here has been bearing witness to the work and love of God’s people.

Luckily, they do have an “air conditioner” for volunteers!

Joy – What a joy it was to meet the staff and volunteers at the Respite Center. Their love exudes every interaction and every small act of compassion. They welcomed us with warmth, appreciation, and open handedness; we quickly felt at home and were “deputized” to serve as we saw need. They made us feel part of a bigger community, serving and gathering together around love for God and our neighbor. In these interactions, we were struck by how much we have to learn about sacrifice and commitment.

Tears – it was also clear that the challenges and work faced on a daily basis are overwhelming to those on the ground. The work is overwhelming and unpredictable, and yet, they have created a process that works as efficiently as possible. At lunch, we dropped by a local taqueria next door, and the most impactful moment of my day was when the waitress wept with us as she shared how grateful she is to meet people who care. She shared how easily these brothers and sisters are forgotten and overlooked, but when she meets teams who come to serve, even when they’re only here for a short time, her heart fills with joy because she is reminded that they are seen and that God sees them.

Overall, its been a great two days. As we dive into our next, would you pray for us? Pray that God would continue to give us a sense of purpose, eyes to see places of need, and willingness to step into them. Pray that God would strengthen and sustain the staff as they continue to lay down their lives day -after-day. Pray for our migrant neighbors to experience a glimpse of the kingdom as they find respite and welcome at the Center.

With gratitude,
Lisa Jacob

Honduras: Day 5

It’s hard to believe that this was our last full day in Honduras. People say “Time flies when you’re having fun”. A more fitting spin on that would be that “Time flies when you’re working hard”. These past couple days we have worked day in and day out, whether it be helping at a local church or building a house. As this trip comes to a close I thank our Lord for this amazing opportunity, this opportunity to meet amazing people, to do amazing things, and to do amazing things for these amazing people. We’ve been humbled by the people that we’ve met, and these past couple of days I’ve come to realize how truly blessed we are, and the importance of using these blessings for the benefit of others. 

We started the day early, not wanting to waste a single bit of light that the Lord had blessed us with on this day. As always breakfast was amazing at “La Casa Grande,”giving us enough energy for the busy day that we had ahead of us. Shortly after eating breakfast it was back to the hotel rooms to pack up the last of our belongings, load the truck, get on the van, and head out to our next destination. 

Our next destination was the house that we had just finished building the previous day. The Guevarra family had just spent their very first night in their new home, and Serve Hope wanted to bless them with a good first breakfast. It was a touching moment to see that what the family had dreamed of for so long, having just been accomplished. To know that we were a part of making their dreams come true, to make something that seemed unattainable to them, become something that was now tangible and their own is absolutely amazing. As such it only makes sense that a great night’s rest should be accompanied by a great morning. We dropped off breakfast at the Guevarra family’s house, as Olga prayed over us, thanking us for all that we had done, and making her dream come true. I wish I could simply say that it was a “touching” moment, and it was certainly that, but it was also something so much more intense, so much more beautiful. In that moment, I felt the Lord’s presence, smiling that his children, coming from all different backgrounds, were now one family, one people. After the prayers we said goodbye to the family, gave out hugs, smiles, and high fives.

After leaving the house, we went to the recreation center where we would be spending most of our day with the EduCafe students. We were greeted by smiles and “Hola”s. Our group went around shaking hands, and introducing ourselves. They were more than happy to introduce themselves as well, and despite the language barrier I felt that our introductions went really well. We sang songs, the cool thing about the songs were that while they were in Spanish they were still the Spanish versions of songs that are already pretty well known in America, such as “Yes Lord” and “This is Amazing Grace”, so we were still able to sing along and build a deeper connection to the EduCafe students. Following that we went outside to play some games. All the students and members of our group were separated into 4 teams: Red Team, Yellow team, Blue team, and Green Team (AKA the best team, though I might be biased). All the games involved us running around, and was a great way to better understand the students. The great things about the games was that no in depth conversation was necessary. We were able to get to understand each other through our actions rather than our words. 

After we finished the games we headed back inside for a sermon by our very own Pastor Jared. The sermon was amazing, and I’m not ashamed to say that I may or may not have shed a tear. Jared stressed the importance of committing your life to the Lord, to make the Lord the center of your life, and to do it as soon as possible. Following that our translator, and all around amazing person, Christian, asked the EduCafe students to stand if they were ready to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. A number of students stood, and were asked to walk to the front of the room. Our group prayed over the students, blessing them, and reminding them that they are loved, they are appreciated, and that they can do amazing things. After the prayer we hugged the students, appreciating their willingness to make the Lord the center of their lives. We ate lunch afterwards, provided by EduCafe. After lunch we went out to play soccer with the students, just having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

After leaving the center we went back to Serve Hope Coffee, where we stocked up on coffee beans for gifts to family and friends, and relaxed. Spending most of our time listening to our driver, and also amazing person, Alberto, talk about his childhood, and the changes that have occurred in Honduras. Through this we were really able to gain a better understanding of life, and the people of Honduras. After relaxing at the coffee shop for about an hour we were back on the road again. Heading to a hotel closer to the airport, and close to a small waterfall. 

It took an hour and a half to get to the hotel, on the drive scenery was absolutely breathtaking… mountains, lakes, rivers, the greenery… absolutely awe inspiring. Moments like those are moments where we have to be thankful for all the beauty that the Lord has placed in our world. We drove up, down, and around the mountains to finally arrive at the hotel that we would be staying at. Shortly after arriving, and wasting no time at all, we began our walk to the waterfall. The walk wasn’t long, it was just enough to want to enjoy the nice, cold, flowing water of the waterfall. We spent about an hour (though it felt shorter), at the waterfall, going under the falls, and enjoying the “nice, cold, flowing water”. We made our way back to the hotel, where we had a 10 minute break to get changed and get ready for dinner. Before  dinner we were able to take in the breath taking scenery, we spent a good chunk of time taking pictures and enjoying the weather. Dinner was great. It’s hard to go wrong with steak, eggs, and plantains. After dinner we had our group meeting like we do every night. Except this night was slightly different. Instead of talking to one another the entire time, we spent most of the time writing letters to our future selves, describing what we had learned, and what we hope that our future selves can take away from the experience of going on the mission trip to Honduras. 

After the meeting I started working on this blog post, while most of the group played cards outside. I would’ve felt bad for missing an opportunity to play cards, but I never got that opportunity because a couple minutes later it started raining very hard. Everyone was able to take shelter safely, and we were able to close up all the windows and doors successfully. 

One of the most important things that a person can create in their life are memories. During these last couple of days, we’ve created memories that may well impact the way we look at all the blessings that we have in our everyday lives. We’ve interacted with the people of Honduras, and under the Lord’s guidance and love we were able to create meaningful connections with these people. It’s because of our Savior’s love that we were able to meet all these amazing people, that we were able to make Olga’s dreams come true, that multiple students made the decision to commit their lives to Jesus Christ, that we got to work under such an amazing organization. I’m astounded by all the work that we put in, all the lives that are changed. I never want to forget Olga’s tears of happiness when she saw her completed house. I never want to forget the tears when those students gave their lives to Jesus Christ, I never want to forget the tears when we washed the feet of the EduCafe teachers. I never want to forget the happiness that we brought to the children at Sunday School. I never want to forget the laughter and pure joy of the EduCafe students playing soccer. I never want to forget Honduras.

With Love,
Anthony  “Antonio” Liu

Honduras: Day 4

Hi everybody! I am so excited to tell you about some really amazing things that happened today. We accomplished so many things, and the longer I think about it, the more I appreciate and absorb just how incredible God is. 

I’ll start with breakfast. Was I awake? Was I asleep? Was that actually something that happened today, or was that a week ago? All I know is that everyone was tired but still had so much excitement about finishing the house we had been working on for the Guevarras. We stopped at EduCafe to get coffee, then went to the house.

We started by putting up the last wall, then really got going on the inside. Together we built some walls for privacy, screwed in sheet rock, and finished some final touches. We built the porch, finished the roof, and watched as a part of that final wall became a door. We even put up an awning to go over the porch. 

I have never seen a group of people work so diligently in my life. It got hotter and we got more tired, but I didn’t hear a single complaint. Seeing the children running through their future home made us forget about any irritation or stress that we had. I saw pure joy in Jeferson and Lisa as we lifted them to touch the ceiling and they climbed through the windows. Seriously, I’ve never seen smiles or heard laughs like that in my whole life. 
After working all day (besides our lunch break- shout out to chicken and rice), we finished the house around four o’clock. Everyone gathered on the front porch to present the finished house to the Guevarras. Together we sang “This is Amazing Grace” and celebrated how good God really is. How amazing His grace is, how His love is unfailing, how He laid down His life so that we could be set free! 

Olga, the mother of the Guevarra family, spoke to all of us. She told us how thankful they were and even called us angels that God sent. A woman from her church told us about how they had been praying for a house for so long, and that we were making their dreams come true. God! Answers! Prayers!!!!

Amber and Jared spoke and prayed over the family as well as the house. We prayed that the house would be a part of their testimony, that it would be a place where they share the gospel with other people. We prayed that it would be full of safety, comfort, and laughter. We told them that they are so special and that God has an amazing plan for them. 

It is so amazing that this house will truly change their lives and become a way for them to tell other people about Jesus. I know that we built the house with our hands, but none of that strength came from us alone. Building that house was only possible with the strength of God, and the unity felt on that porch can only be described as the Holy Spirit. 

After we finished the house, we went and got ice cream with the Guevarras and the EduCafe students that had been helping build the house. Shout out to them because they worked so hard, especially on the roof. We could not have done it without them. Also, the ice cream was so good and so refreshing. Ice cream is always good.

After that, we came back to the hotel and started to prepare for the evening, which also ended up being so insanely special and impactful. 
Seven EduCafe teachers came to our hotel so that we could eat dinner with them and celebrate all of the incredible things they do. Teachers, especially here in Honduras, do not receive enough recognition or appreciation. We wanted to show them that their hard work does not go unnoticed!
We ate dinner with them, heard their stories, and spent a lot of time laughing about the word snickerdoodle. This was all so great, but the very best part was when we washed their feet.

I’m going to get really real. When I heard we were going to wash their feet, I was like uhhhhh no sorry. It made me uncomfortable. 

At some point, something shifted. Jesus had the humility to wash his disciple’s feet. Who am I to let my own discomfort stop me from showing that same love to other people? The awkwardness turned into something completely beautiful. The nervous laughs turned into tears flowing down the teacher’s faces. Washing someone’s feet is so much more than just that.

It’s love, it’s humility, it’s respect, it’s vulnerability. It’s a symbol that we are all equal and deserve to love and serve one another just as Jesus did. 

Overall, today was great. The Lord showed up in so many ways. Please be praying that we stay energetic and courageous as we go in to our last full day! Thank you so much to everyone who is supporting us! 

With love,
Grayson McGovern

Honduras: Day 3

Hola, everyone! Today was an exciting and impactful day here in Honduras. I am so thankful I get to sit here tonight outside in the beautiful Honduran rain and write to you about how God is moving this week. I personally have seen and heard so many stories just in the past 48 hours and I am excited to share some of them with you. 

This morning we woke up to the sound of birds pecking on our windows. (We have learned this is one of their favorite 5am pastimes) after which we headed straight to the Guevarra’s home and began work on their new home with the assistance of a few EduCafe students, their neighbors, and Serve Hope team members. We worked from 9-4 in the Honduran heat on the house, but made great strides towards completing the project. During a break we concluded that so far over 2500 nails have been nailed (by hand) into the structure of the house. This just accentuates the fact that we are all thankful for many hands diligently working to complete this humble families’ new home. 

The Guevarra family have really shown us what true thankfulness and gratitude consists of. When we first arrived to the construction site this morning, their youngest daughter, Lisa, greeted us by proudly showing the balloon she was given at the church yesterday, along with big hugs and a jubilant smilie. Throughout the long hot day she never failed to encourage us with her bright smile and joyful laugh. When I would run out of energy or feel like I had no strength left in my arms, taking a break and spending time with Lisa brought my perseverance and joy back.

Today the little things made the biggest impacts in my view of our work here as well as my view on our normal lives at home. As Cristian, one of the Serve Hope leaders, reminded us tonight, the Guaverra family had no hope of ever having enough money to have a home such as the one we are able to provide and construct in just a few days. However, tomorrow night they are going to be given a gift that will change their lives forever and give them new hope in their future. This brought back the realization of how blessed we are to live in the United States with a roof over our heads. My perspective and gratitude of the way I am blessed to live my life is forever changed.

To be completely honest with you, today was hard. We had a few setbacks along the way and at times the tasks at hand felt challenging or even impossible. I saw the Lord today through my teammates and the way they brought their individual and unique talents to each situation and used their personalities to relate and show love to everyone they came into contact with. A few team members dedicated their time today to serving the younger kids while we worked on their (future) home, others used their physical strength to labor tirelessly, and some pursued past the language barrier to show love through their social interactions with others. This team thrives in challenging times and one of the strengths I see in my teammates is encouragement. When I felt like I couldn’t hammer one more nail or felt like I wasn’t being helpful, they lifted me up and reminded me that we are all working for the same purpose and every little thing makes a difference.

Today specifically, I saw perseverance as well as kindness in situations that could have only been touched by the presence of the Lord. We were invited over to Christian’s house and we shared a very special homemade meal while we got the opportunity to encourage his family and his team. Later this evening we played a game of soccer with a few of the students from EduCafe and their friends which was incredibly special. Our day was long, tiring, and challenging, but I saw God in the details and through the people I was given the chance to interact with.

Continued prayers are appreciated for our team, the students we will interact with from EduCafe in the coming days, and the Serve Hope ministry. I am so thrilled to have this opportunity and we appreciate the prayers and support from our church family. God is using Honduras to change my life, the lives of my team members, and the lives of people we are blessing in his name.

In Christ,
Melissa Weaver