Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Another Mission Trip

Well, after returning from our family Pentecost Mission Trip in General Cepeda, Mexico, I had one week to rest up and then pack up again.  This time I was helping our youth director chaperone a group of 29 on a youth mission trip/youth retreat in New Orleans called Alive in You.

Every summer for the past 12 years or so, we have brought a group from our parish to one of the Steubenville Conferences.  It was always a very fun and faith-filled weekend, but in the past few years our numbers began to dwindle.  Our youth director decided that we needed a change, and after receiving an Alive in You flyer and checking out the website, we both agreed that this looked like the change we wanted.

So last Tuesday I left behind my husband and kids, we loaded up about 24 teens, 3 moms, 1 grandma, and a priest, and headed down to New Orleans for 6 days.  We arrived at the St. Clement of Rome school and unloaded our bags---suitcases, sleeping bags, and air mattresses.  We found our PreK classroom and began blowing up all the air mattresses.  I am NOT a fan of air mattresses, so I rolled out a camping mat and my new sleeping bag. I had forgotten my pillow along with many other things!  (Last minute packing = failed)

Wall to wall girls & air mattresses (29 to be exact)
We then headed out to check out the shower trailers.  Because we were staying at an elementary school, there were no showers.  The Alive in You crew had ordered shower trailers for us to use.  Of course, I had forgotten to bring a bathing suit to shower in, so I prayed that the trailer had individual stalls and was not an huge open area.  Answered prayer #1!   The showers really weren't that bad and had private stalls!  God does love me!

We were blessed again with our assignments.  We worked at the Museum of Art in their Sculpture Garden in the mornings pulling weeds under this nice shady tree.

And cutting down some overgrown "marsh grass looking stuff".

Father Jeff was determined to get it all cut.

Our afternoon assignment was cleaning and more weeding at the Sisters of the Holy Family Convent.   Our crew jumped in and followed all of Sister Anne's orders without blinking an eye.  Some continued outdoor work in the sisters' gardens.  Others followed Sister upstairs to the bathrooms and began cleaning the tubs, showers, floors, walls, and toilets without any complaint.  Another group spent the entire afternoon cleaning the numerous windows on all three floors and wiping down all the blinds in the three story convent.  These kids did these tedious and unpleasant jobs for three days without any grumbling, but rather with a lot of joyful singing and beautiful smiles!

A group of window wipers
The best part of working at the convent was getting to know the sisters.  It was so wonderful to sit down with them and listen to their stories.  (I'd say the average age of the sisters had to be at least 70!)  They were so happy to have all these young ladies and a few young men around the convent.  They especially liked baby Molly!   It was so good for these young teens to see the joy in these women who had given their entire lives to Christ and His Church. 

Sr. Josephine loved wheeling around chatting with the kids.

Identical twin sister Sisters

After three days of hard work, these Sisters decided to do something for us.  Before we left on Friday afternoon, they made fresh homemade shrimp po-boys and had some local men boil crawfish for us.  There was one other group working there with us from Florida, and they wanted to give them a taste of "real" Louisiana cooking.  All 70 of us were treated to a half of a shrimp po-boy and a quart sized bag of boiled crawfish.  They were so excited to be able to do something for us after we gave the convent a good ole' fashioned Spring cleaning.

Our evenings were spent having crazy themed dinners, competing in crazy competitions, listening to testimonies, and singing praises to God. 

One of our teens leading the rosary
Stache Bash Dinner

One of the competitions

The best part of the evening was our late night "family" talks.  Some of our teens were asked to give their testimony to their own peers.  They all stepped up without batting an eye.  They gave their "witness" talks which got the conversations rolling.  It was really awesome to hear how these teens stepped up and out of the normal high school drama.  Teens talking about attending Adoration when they have problems, not following the crowd, standing up for what it right, depending on the Eucharist for strength---was so amazing to hear.  It gave me hope.

On Saturday, we had some free time to spend enjoying the sights of New Orleans.  Our group decided to do a pilgrimage to Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos' shrine at St. Mary's Assumption Church.  I had first heard of Father Seelos at a retreat a few years back and had prayed to him many times for his intercession for family members' healings.  I was anxious to go and find our more about him and to ask for his help once again.

His story was amazing and really touched me.  The stories of the known miracles and the beatification process were also captivating.  The church and its history was just as beautiful as the stories.  We all had a chance to pray to Blessed Seelos and the crucified Jesus for whatever was on our hearts.  It was such a blessed morning.

Afterwards, we headed down to the Riverwalk for some lunch, beignets, ice cream, and fudge!  We ended the day with Adoration.  The conference ended Sunday with a closing Mass which I missed because I got up very early and headed home to surprise my husband and kids on Father's Day.  The look on their faces when they woke up to mine was priceless!

Pentecost Mission Trip: Day 8 & 9

The Trip Home

The final night we gathered in the courtyard for a skit and to give our final thoughts on our week.  I ended up volunteering to go first because I felt like I was getting sick.  I shared my answers to the three questions we were given earlier for Desert Day (see Day 7).  Yes, I cried through my answers.  Then my youngest gave me her paper and asked me to read her answers for her which in turn gave the other kids an idea!  Except for our oldest, he gave his answers himself.  I was very proud of how much they seemed to have grown this week.  I was able to sit through my husband's sharing and a few others before my stomach began to rumble and rumble!

I remained in the bathroom hugging the toilet for the majority of the evening.  I don't think that I had ever vomited so much at one time in my life.  I couldn't imagine riding in a car the next day for 18+ hours, but I was glad it was me and not one of the kids or my husband.  I prayed and puked for hours.  Our oldest came in several times to check on me and see if I needed anything.  He was very worried after all the stories he had overheard people tell us about getting sick in Mexico.

Once the sharing ended and my husband came to see about me, he immediately went back downstairs for help.  He brought back a nurse that was on the trip with us.  He had brought one of the teens to the hospital earlier in the week for vomiting and dehydrating.  The doctor had given him an extra vile of medicine.  I agreed to let him give me a shot.  I didn't even ask what it was!  I was miserable!  I finally quit throwing up at some point during the night and prayed that no one else would get it before we got home.

The next morning I woke up feeling better, but not great.  My husband and the boys loaded up our car as the girls cleaned up our room.  Then we all said our good-byes and loaded up.  It was one of the hardest places to leave.  It's funny how these people, this town had snuck into my heart and had become such a huge part of my soul in just nine short days.   I was sick to my stomach, but it wasn't the same as the night before.  I also felt as if I had this huge hole in my heart.  I felt like I did when I drove away from my mom and dad's that first time after getting married.

We hit the road and didn't stop until we were almost at the border.  We stopped for a bathroom break and to exchange passports.  Everyone was swapped around in various vehicles because one of the suburban's AC had gone out while we were in General Cepeda.  There wasn't anyone in the town who could fix it, so some of the forty-two "rockstars" on our trip volunteered to ride without AC.  Isaac was one of the first ones to volunteer to ride in that vehicle.  Whether it was just to get away from his "embarrassing" parents for awhile or get away from his "annoying" sisters, I was still proud of him.

We arrived at the border and crossed back with little to no trouble at all.  (FYI:  It is harder to get back in to the US then it was to get out.  The inspections were much more thorough!)  We stopped for lunch after crossing and praised God for a smooth crossing.  I still wasn't feeling well and couldn't decide if it was the sadness or the stomach bug, so I opted for a Gatorade.

The rest of the journey was uneventful except for all the laughing and singing in the backseat!  We had three giggling little girls and two giggly teenagers!  We played all kinds of games over the walkie-talkies with the other cars.  Of course, we won them all!  (And I'm ready next time for the Saint's ABC game!  I've found a "Y" saint!)  All was well until we reached Houston at about 10 pm.

One missionary needed to be dropped off in Houston at one location, and someone had to return the rental van to another location.  We split into two different groups when traffic got so bad that some of us missed an exit.  We decided to all meet at the rental van place.  We got separated from our group when we tried to On Star the rental place and took a wrong turn.  We ended up at the wrong rental place.  We were at the one south of Houston and everyone else was at the one north of Houston.  So back to I-610 we went laughing as we passed the same hospital with the giant neon cross on the front for the third (or fourth) time.

We eventually decided to just head East and meet up at Denny's for a midnight snack which was actually supper!  As all the other vehicles arrived, we realized that we had all passed the giant neon cross many times that night.  We had all just spent over two hours circling Houston.  I'm pretty sure we were all delirious because no one seemed upset about it even though we were all anxious to get back home and shower!!

It was great to sit down and have one last meal together anyway.  Our laughter continued to grow as the waitress began bringing one meal out at a time, sometimes bring several dishes that didn't belong to anyone sometimes bringing out a meal to someone that had already been one of the first ones to eat.  We spent just as much time in that Denny's as we did circling Houston.  Finally, we all climbed back into our correct vehicles for the last stretch home.  The kids slept, and I tried to keep Travis awake.

We finally arrived home about 2:30 am completely exhausted and opened our door to the most wonderful surprise.  Our awesome friends had hung a huge welcome sign and left fresh flowers on our table, cleaned our house, mopped the floors, and left a casserole in the fridge with baking instructions attached for the next day.  (Later, we found a weeded garden too!)

It was then that I remembered how blessed I was to have such kind, loving, and giving friends in my life back home.  This wonderful gesture of friendship refilled that spot in my heart that felt so empty the previous morning when I had to leave a part of it behind in General Cepeda.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pentecost Mission Trip: Day 7

The Final Day

I woke up Thursday morning feeling a little sick and very melancholy.  I wasn't quite ready for that day to be my last in General Cepeda.  I didn't want to go home.  I wanted to stay there indefinitely.  My kids felt this way too.  I'm pretty sure Travis did too, although, he wouldn't admit it.  We gathered for our last breakfast, our last morning prayer, and our last work day send off as a community.

Isaac was feeling a little sick too as was about a third of our group. Many were sick either vomiting or coughing and fever.  We let him stay and go back to bed, and then we headed out to our work details.  Travis and Philip headed back to put the finishing touches on the roof that they had worked on all week.

Some of the roofing crew
The girls and I went on another painting detail.  This time we got to paint a house lime green---the girls' favorite color.

I was able to spend some more time with a wonderful FMC missionary named Dana whom I had become very fond of during this trip.  She and I were able to share more of our stories with each other as we painted side by side once again.  She is truly an awesome woman of faith that I admire and learned so much from.

The shade in the picture above was the only shade around.  We took turns painting in that spot and resting in the little spot around the corner.  At one point, I had lost the girls and noticed that there weren't any kids around.  I found them sitting in the lady's house watching Dora the Explorer.  The lady had come out to check on us and had invited the kids inside to cool off. 

Later, we were invited over to one of the FMC Mexican missionary's house for some ice cold Coca-Cola.  Rita and her family lived right across the street from where we were painting and had invited us to come over for a little break.  We sat and enjoyed our drinks and toured her very nice home.  Then headed back to finish the painting. 

After finishing the painting and praying with the woman of the house, we headed back to the Mission House to pack our picnic lunch.  Marta had made a ton of sandwiches, bagged cookies, and had fresh fruit waiting for us.  We each grabbed our food, our Bible, and our journal and headed out for Desert Day.  I had heard about Desert Day at Wednesday night Formation and in reading the FMC missionary blogs.  I was looking forward to experiencing this for myself.

We all piled into the vans and headed out to an orchard (not the one we visited the previous day) to sit quietly with God for a few hours. The six of us sat under a pecan tree and had our picnic lunch as a family; then everyone grabbed their Bible and journal and headed off to find their own tree.  Of course, Isaac chose the one next to the horse.

We had each been given three questions to meditate on:
      1.  What blessed you the most on this trip?
      2.  What will you take with you?
      3.  What will you leave behind?

 As I sat under the pecan tree and looked out into the orchard, I saw what had blessed me the most, what I'd take with me in my heart, and what I'd have to leave behind---the people!  I had the same answer for all three questions.  I was so blessed by the friendships I had made on this trip---this community of missionaries and the people of General Cepeda and the surrounding ranchos. I was going to be taking a piece of all of them home with me, yet having to leave so many behind. 

I had just spent the most amazing week of my life with a group of amazing missionaries ministering to some amazing people. How could I leave this and go home to my "ordinary" life?  How could I go back to the "comforts" of home?  How could I put aside the warmth that I had felt every time we gathered for meals or prayers?  How could I go back to our everyday routines?  How could I.........?

God was definitely stirring up something in my heart.  For the past two years, He has been preparing us for something.  We never exactly knew what it was, but knew He was calling us to simply our lives, to make drastic changes for something.  Could this be what He had been preparing us for?

The horn of the suburban sounded interrupting my thoughts and signaling that we had fifteen minutes left of Desert Day.  As I gathered up my Bible, journal, and water bottle, I noticed that sheep had moved into the area where we were.  And the tears began to well up again...

This journey began with sheep many months ago with the words "Feed my Sheep" (see this previous blog), then this video had been sent to me (pay attention at the 1:55 mark), and now the trip was closing with a herd of sheep grazing near me on the final day of our trip.  I couldn't help but smile, laugh, and cry!  How awesome is our God!

Day 8 & 9

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pentecost Mission Trip: Day 6

Pilgrimage to Saltillo, the Ranch, & Adoration

On Wednesday, we loaded up and headed to the nearby city of Saltillo to attend noon Mass at the Cathedral and visit the Miracle Chapel there.

It was just before noon when we arrived at this beautiful church.  Just after noon, a little very old man hobbled his way onto the altar and checked to make sure everything was in place.  I took him to be the caretaker.  The "Mr. Jimmy" of the Cathedral that made sure everything was just perfect for Father.  Then he disappeared behind the altar, and a few minutes later he reappeared wearing the violet colored "skullcap".  He was the Bishop!  He was going to be our celebrant.  This was awesome, but I was even more blessed when he kissed the altar and then came our way before beginning Mass.

He began at the front pew shaking each person's hand.  He welcomed each one of us personally as we kissed his ring.  I watched in awe as he did this for all 60+ people in our group as well as all the other Mexican Mass participants there.  This was so heartwarming to witness especially when visiting a foreign country.  He was truly persona Christi.

After Mass, we toured the Catherdral for a few minutes taking in all the smaller altars, chapels, confessionals, and prayer rooms.  Everything was absolutely exquisite.  

Seven years ago one of the families in our group had visited the Miracle Chapel which is located next to the main chapel.  They had prayed for a baby that doctors had suggested be aborted due to birth defects that the child would have.  After refusing, the mother gave birth to a little girl that wasn't expected to live very long.  From what I heard, she's a beautiful little girl now that is bringing so much joy to her family.  One of the ladies returned to the Miracle Chapel to return a pin that would be placed on the wall signifying the miracle that occurred.

After Mass, we gathered on the Cathedral steps for the official group picture.  I had seen so many of these pictures on the FMC website, on FMC missionary blogs, and on Facebook pages.  I couldn't wait to be in one of these official pictures in front of the Cathedral in Saltillo.  Here we are with our awesome group!

We stopped on the way down to pray with a guy in a wheelchair that was selling gum, candy, etc. at the foot of the Cathedral steps.   I later learned that this was this particular guy's spot, and he had become a friend of the FMC Missionaries.  Whenever a missionary group came to town, they always took time to get him something to eat and drink and to pray with him.  I later learned that some of our young missionary guys had taken him across the street to the restroom before Mass.  These boys had paid for him to use the restroom, undressed him, helped him on to the toilet, and had stood in the stall holding him up while he used the restroom.  These boys were truly Jesus to this man!

We had reservations for lunch at a restaurant in a hotel several blocks away.  Our group of 60+ walked through the streets of Saltillo stopping occasionally to give a few pesos to the homeless on the streets.  We arrived at the hotel to find the elevator was out, so we all headed up six flights of stairs.  Again I thought I'd never make it, remember I had climbed a mountain the day before?  My legs didn't hurt except climbing or going down stairs.  My upper thighs ached with every step.  I laughed all the way up as I struggled with one of the Mexican women that was with us---she was 7 months pregnant and giggled through the whole journey.

Finally, she and I made it to the top.  Our group filled up the entire dining room.  The view was absolutely gorgeous. 

After lunch, we boxed up our leftovers that we would hand out to the hungry, homeless on the streets.   The look on the face of the woman Emily gave her box too was pure love.  Something that we usually forget at the restaurant or leave in the car had made someone's day.  We then headed out to the market place which is similar to the French Market in New Orleans.  The kids all spent their souvenir money, and we bought a few blankets to leave at the Mission House.

Then we set off to find that one convenience store that sold Dr. Pepper!  Coca-cola is HUGE in Mexico.  People walked around town drinking it out of two liter bottles the way we drink them from cans.  It was always funny to see.  My husband was craving  Dr. Pepper and had definitely earned it on the mountain climb the day before.  I found the store very quickly and bought my wonderful hubby three of them!   He deserved them all, but he gave one to one of the missionaries that was also craving a Dr. Pepper.

It was then time to meet the group to head back to General Cepeda.  We had one more stop before going back to the Mission House.  A rancher that was friends with FMC's founders had come to the Mission House earlier that morning and invited us to stop at his ranch on our way home.  A group with little ones returned to the Mission House while the other half of us stopped in to see his place.  It was awesome.  We drove down his long driveway through his beautiful pecan tree orchard to his ranch-style house.

He showed us his pure white "Holy Spirit" doves that he raises and told us all about his ranch.  He has sheep which give him "poop" to fertilize his pecan trees.  He talked about his worm farm and then showed us into his home.  The kids were impressed by his ginormous swimming pool.

Everyone wanted to swim, but we had to get back for Jesus!  We were having Adoration in the courtyard of the Mission House that night under the stars.  I absolutely LOVE outdoor Adoration.  We all piled back in the vans and headed back for our evening PB & J and coffee milk supper.  Then gathered in the courtyard to Adore Christ.

It was so peaceful!  We all poured out our hearts to Jesus that evening and allowed Him to fill us so that we could continue to be His hands and feet on Earth.  The night was so perfect that many didn't want to leave after Adoration.  Some followed Christ back to the chapel and continued their prayers.  Some just slept right there in the courtyard under the stars.  It was such a perfect end to another awesome day in missions!

Day 7

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pentecost Mission Trip: Day 5

Another Day Filled with Blessings

Tuesday morning began like all the other mornings---the wake up bell, the gathering bell, breakfast, prayer bell---AWESOME like always!  After prayer, we were once again divided into work groups and home visit groups.  Travis and the boys continued on the roofing project.  They had run out of materials the previous day and were all anxious to get back and make some progress. 

The girls and I were put on a painting team.  I was a little disappointed because I had wanted to do more home visits like the day before.  (And because I LOATHE painting!)  I was ready to sit and visit with all the wonderful ladies that the missionaries had talked about visiting.  But I knew that we had come on this trip to work, so we ran upstairs and put on our work clothes and grabbed our water bottles and sunscreen.

We arrived at the hot pink house that needed to be painted baby blue and realized that we would definitely need more paint then what we had brought.  We got started right away, and I forgot about how much I hated to paint. 

It's amazing how fast paint dries in the dry dessert compared to the hot humid climate of Louisiana. We were able to get the whole house painted with two coats in just a couple of hours.

One of the beautiful parts of a work project is getting to know your team.  Painting side by side these wonderful people was such a blessing to me.  We shared our stories with each other, offered prayers for each other, and encouraged each other.  We became instant friends as we shared our testimonies and the shade of the "Charlie Brown" tree.

Our awesome crew (minus Luis our AWESOME leader)

The best part of the work project was when the lady and her little boy came out of the house to see the finished project, and we all joined hands and prayed with them.  It was so refreshing to see their smiles and grateful faces.  It felt so good to be able to help someone that I forgot all about being hot and tired.  I smiled with an overflowing heart all the way back to the Mission House.

After lunch, we had a long break and decided to join a group that was heading up the mountain.  I really didn't want to climb a mountain, but I couldn't let Travis take all four kids up the mountain alone.  I would have been a nervous wreck worrying about them.  So, we all climbed back in the suburban and headed to a nearby mountain.

It doesn't look quite so tall in this picture, but it was!
We followed our leader Luis along a little dirt path that winded up the hill towards the mountain.  When we got to the base of the mountain, he pointed out the easier but longer way up versus the shorter more difficult way.  Of course, we chose the easier path up the side of the mountain while many of the young people chose the harder route, although, later some of them ended up on our less steep path.

Isaac and Olivia had no problems and practically ran up the mountain.  Emily, my cautious child, stayed near me.  After about half way up, I decided that I couldn't go anymore (which is what I had said about a quarter of the way up also).  I sat down on a boulder and told Travis that I would catch them on their way back down later.  I sat and looked out at the beautiful landscape that God had created.  It was so awesome to see his handiwork.

Then I looked up to see how far the rest of the group was.  Many, including our oldest and youngest, were already near the top.   Next, I spotted the most awesome sight ever---my husband leading Philip up the mountain step by step.  (For those that don't know, Philip is legally blind.)  I watched as Travis guided every step, telling him exactly where to place his foot and hand, and sometimes bending down to point to the exact place. 

Once again, an overwhelming emotion filled my heart and soul and tears welled up in my eyes.  This sight gave me the determination that I needed to get up and continue on.   I gathered up my backpack and headed up.  I eventually caught up with them and was able to see and hear the struggles these two faced with every step.  It's hard climbing a mountain alone, but even harder when you are weighed down with an extra person.  I could see the exhaustion on Travis's face.

Then I looked at Philip.  It broke my heart to think of how hard this must be for him.  He was totally dependent on someone else.  He couldn't see where he was going; he didn't know how much farther he had left.  He had also touched a catus, and very fine hairlike needles were stuck in his hands.  I could see the pain in his eyes even through his dark glasses.  I asked him if he wanted to stop here with me and just wait for the others to come back down.  He quickly answered, "No. I want to go to the top."

Travis grabbed hold of him once again, and they continued their slow and steady pace up the hill.   Emily and I passed them up, so that we could give them a little "heads up" of what was ahead.  By now, most of the group was at the top waiting for us.   The higher we got the more steep the path seemed to be and the harder it was for me to breathe.  But each time I stopped to rest, I turned around to witness the determination of these two, and I pressed on.

Finally, we all made it to the top of the mountain.  I sat next to Philip as tears streamed down his face.  I'm not sure if the tears were from the pain of the cacti needles in his hands, from pure exhaustion, or from the joy completing the journey, but those tears brought me to tears.  He may never know how much he helped me get to the top of that mountain or how much his determination helped me grow that day.

As I sat next to him trying to pluck the very fine, hairlike needles from his hand, I look over and see my husband resting at the top of the mountain.

The tears began to cloud my vision once again.  (I warned you that I cried a lot on this trip!)  This was the wonderful man that God sent to me almost 19 years ago to be my rock, to be the leader of our family, to stick by our side no matter how difficult the path gets.  This man truly amazes and inspires me each and every day of my life.  I don't know what I did to have such a patient, kind, loving man as Travis.  He is a wonderful example for me and for our children.  I guess it's another testament to God's loving mercy; He gives us way more than we deserve.

After listening to some awesome guitar playing on the mountaintop, we began our way back down.  It wasn't as strenuous going down, but was still a difficult task.  And here they are arm and arm again coming down, one step at a time down the loose, rocky path.

We arrived back at the Mission House with FIVE WHOLE minutes to clean up and change for our rancho visit.   When we arrived at the rancho, I felt sick.  I was physically drained from the mountain climb, so I sat in the chapel alone while the others went out to invite the people.  I began to feel much better when I noticed the chapel had begun to fill up.  We had been told that a group of Jehovah's Witnesses had moved into this rancho and had been trying to weaken the people's faith, so we were very blessed to have a full house that evening. 

I was even more blessed to hear the testimony of my husband.  Yes, that night was his turn to tell how God had worked in his life.  We hadn't discussed what he would say at all, so I was clueless.  If you know my husband, he NEVER shares publicly.  It's hard for him to share with me, so I was curious about what he would say to this room full of Mexican women.  But I wasn't worried because I had already witnessed the Holy Spirit move in him that week and have him step out of his comfort zone to do amazing things.

He began by "buttering" up the women by telling them how lucky he was to give his very first testimony to a room full of beautiful ladies.  Then he shared with the people one of the roughest times of our life, Olivia's Journey (youngest daughter's journey that included 21 surgeries from birth to 3 years old), and how God brought many good things from that experience.  This was the second time today that that man made me cry tears of joy.  I thanked God once again for blessing me with such a wonderful husband.

That night was "Ladies' Night" not only did we get to shower, but we got to share at evening prayer.  I don't like to share in person.  (I much rather write than speak out loud, and let people decide if they want to hear what I have to say or not.  I also like to be able to backspace my words as needed.)  But I felt the Holy Spirit move me to stand and share about my tremendously blessed day from the awesome friendships I made while painting to the inspiration on the mountain to my husband's testimony at the rancho.  Yes, I cried through it all again.

After sharing, we learned that others had been blessed by Travis and Philip's struggle up the mountain.  Someone related it to our Heavenly Father being by our side through every step of our journey in life, guiding our every step, our every move, and holding our hand through the most difficult paths and never letting go.  How blessed we are to have a Father like that!

Day 6

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pentecost Mission Trip: Day 4

First Full Day of Missionary Work

I loved waking up to the sound of the bell!  It's strange, I know.  I was probably the only one that loved it.  I'm weird like that!  But the bell ringing throughout the day called us to community which was my absolute favorite part of the trip.  I loved gathering and singing praises first thing in the morning before breakfast with our awesome group.  Our leader always made getting up and going a blast.  He usually combined some type of "get moving" praise song where we had to run around the courtyard, jump, or skip while we sang.  It reminded me of the PreK classrooms at OLI and Mrs. Eileen.

After all that singing and dancing, you forgot that you had been tired and were ready to face whatever God had planned for the day.  Monday was "guy's day" which meant they got to shower, lead prayer, and share.  It was so awesome listening to the men, young and old, share a bible passage, lead prayer, or just share how awesome God was.  After morning prayer, we were given our assignments.

Travis and the two boys were put on a roofing project.  The girls and I were assigned to "Home Visits."  I quickly slathered the boys with sunscreen and double-checked that their water bottles had been filled with the good filtered water and sent them out with hugs and kisses (only one hugged and kissed me back, the other two were thoroughly embarassed).

Here's Travis up on the roof waiting for a bucket of dirt.
The boys working on the planks that would be sent up.
The girls and I helped sort food and clothes that we would be handing out during the week's home visits and rancho visits.  We made several grocery bags containing basic staples that we would bring to some of the homebound elderly woman of General Cepeda.  Then we sorted all the clothes and shoes by gender and by size.  Then we made garbage bags containing a variety of items.  We made sure each bag contained some men's, some women's, some girl's, some boy's, and some baby's clothing and shoes.  These bags would be brought to the ranchos in the evenings.

After all was sorted and bags, we piled into the vans and headed out to visit an elderly lady that had become family to most of the FMC missionaries.  We had divided into two separate groups, but neither leader wanted to miss this visit, so we all stayed together for this particular home visit.  Once we arrived, I knew why no one wanted to miss this lady.

She greeted us all at the door with hugs, kisses, and the most heartwarming smile.  We all gathered in her living room and listened intently as she told the story of her courtship to her husband which consisted of four years of secret letters and no face to face contact.  I felt like I was back in my great-grandma's living room listening to her stories of when she was a girl.  After having to cut her short because of time, we sang a few songs with her and then prayed with her.  My heart melted as the tears filled up her eyes as we began to leave.  She was so lonely.  She did not want us to leave.  The feeling was mutual---no one in our group was ready to go either.

Olivia and I must have hugged and kissed her a hundred times before we finally got out the door.  The next lady on our list was not home.  We went around the back of her house to the neighboring lady who was in a wheelchair because of an amputated leg.  She informed us that the woman in the front had been taken to Saltillo to the hospital the week before.  The kids played on the floor with this lady's kitten as we tried to talk with her.  She wasn't as outgoing as the first lady.  She had so much pain in her eyes.  When we asked to pray with her, her prayers were for her children that she had not seen or heard from in a very long time.  My heart broke for her. 

After that visit, we returned back to the Mission House for lunch.  Once again, the bell sounded, and we gathered to sing and bless the food together.  The food was delicious and once again we stuffed ourselves, so we decided to take a little stroll around the town to walk off some of those tortillas!  As we rounded the corner, we heard lots of commotion---lots of shouting (in Spanish, of course, so we had no clue what was going on) and then a very familiar sound reached our ears---hoof steps.   Yep, we came all the way to Mexico to witness a horse parade.  Travis and the kids felt right at home.

After the parade passed by, we found a little store that sold ice cold Coca-Cola, no Dr. Pepper though, but the Cokes were cold and refreshing.  We also found out that most of the vendors sale GIANT bags of cheese puffs!  This is definitely the size we need for our homeschool picnics and gatherings.

Later in the afternoon, we gathered back at the Mission House at the sound of the bell to practice our Spanish praise songs and head out to the ranchos again.  The rancho we visited this evening was a little bit "nicer" than the one the previous night.  I hate to use that word because they were all so amazing, but this one had its own little schoolhouse including a basketball court and outdoor stage.

When we arrived, we found that the chapel was already full.  The women of the rancho were there praying a rosary.  They had been praying a daily rosary all throughout the month of May in honor of the Blessed Mother.  It was so refreshing to see and hear.  We once again rang the bell to let the others know we were there, and then we headed out to knock on doors to personally invite the people to join us for prayer.  We returned and rang the bell again.

We began by singing some of our Spanish songs which we were getting fairly good at by now.  Then one of the missionaries gave a teaching.  Then some of the people from our group gave testimonies about how God had worked in their lives.  We were very fortunate to have some of the Mexican missionaries from General Cepeda with us.  They gave their testimony about how they had been helping FMC for many years and had just been trained to become full-time missionaries.  It was really awesome to hear their story of how God had used missionaries to touch their hearts.

After the sharing, we prayed over those wanting prayers and then began to lay out the things that we had brought for them.  As the ladies sorted through the clothes, the girls were able to pass out some of the scapulars and rosaries that we had brought with us to the children that were there.  This little girl stole our hearts with her smile.

We hugged and kissed all the people good-bye.  It was so hard to leave these people even though we could not communicate with them with words, each one was able to touch our heart and soul.  We were so blessed by the faith of these people and the deep sense of love and gratitude we witnessed in their eyes.

When we got back to the Mission House, we had some free time before dinner.  We decided to head out to the Famous Cement Slide.  Yes, cement---very smooth and sealed cement.  The kids had a blast.  This instantly became the free time hangout of all the kids---big and small!

Sidney, Luis, and Dana (3 amazing FMC missionaries) and some of the kiddos

 That night after dinner and prayer, I crawled into bed exhausted, dirty, and smelly (guy's shower day), but I didn't even think twice about it.  I slept so peacefully thinking about all the wonderful people I had been blessed to meet that day.  God is awesome!

Day 5