Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving Mission Trip, Part 2

Rancho Visits: What Saddened and Blessed Me the Most

The municipality of General Cepeda has about 50 small villages called ranchos that belong to it.  Some are within walking distance of the "town".  Some are almost an hour drive away.  There is only one priest to take care of the town and the surrounding ranchos.  It is impossible for the priest to visit all 50 each Sunday for Mass.  Since most of the people in the ranchos do not have cars, they do not get to attend Sunday Mass. This is what saddens me the most.

The Family Missions Company missionaries along with some of the parish's lay ministers try to bring communion to several of the ranchos each Sunday, but are not able to get to all 50 in a week much less each Sunday.  When a group visits for a short term mission, more ranchos can be reached.  So each evening our large group (over 60) broke up into smaller groups and drove out to some of the surrounding ranchos that hadn't been visited in awhile.

At each rancho, we sing Spanish praise songs, give testimonies about how God has worked in our lives, read from the bible, a missionary gives a teaching, and then we pray with and over the people.  This is one of my favorite things to do on mission.  It is what strengthened my my faith the most on the last mission trip to General Cepeda and again on this trip.  The faith of these people is so humbling.  They have very little material goods and many times not even the necessities like food and water, but are so grateful to God for what little they do have. 

The first evening, we visited one of the far off ranchos to host a communion service.  We piled about 20 people into a large van and drove almost an hour.  We felt like we were literally sent to the "ends of the Earth" to preach the gospel.  When we arrived, we went out knocking door to door inviting the people to the chapel. We ended up with a full house that night. 

Another evening we traveled to a rancho that was mostly Jehovah's Witnesses.  Out of 115 families only 11 were Catholic.  We had only 4 women with their children show up for our prayer service.  At first, I was saddened by this, but after hearing some of their prayers and stories, I was truly in awe of these four women's faith.  Living day after day amongst people telling you that your Jesus is not Lord has to be incredibly difficult, yet these women persevere in their faith.  They came to pray and worship in the midst of persecution by their neighbors.

 It was my turn to share my testimony that night, and I wondered what I could possibly say to such strong, faithful women.  I asked the Holy Spirit to guide me and my words.  As I talked about all the pains and struggles in my life and how God used them to increase my faith, I could see them nodding their heads.  And when I explained that God had used all those hardships to grow me closer to Himself, I saw understanding smiles and more nodding.  I realized after my talk that recalling those tough times and looking back at how God had worked was just as much for me as it was for those ladies in that chapel.  Sometimes we forget what we had to endure to get where we are. I am so thankful for all those hardships and for God reminding me that the journey was not easy, but so necessary.

I later learned that when FMC first visited the Jehovah's Witness rancho, there were only 1 1/2 Catholic families amongst the Jehovah's Witnesses.  I was even more in awe of those women from that rancho.  The faith and witness of that first family, that one mother of that other family, and the missionaries that visited must have been powerful.  It gave me so much hope especially with all that is happening in our own country today.  We must continue to be the light to others.  We must persevere and spread the Good News to those in our own families and communities.  It is our duty as Christians to share our lives and testimonies with others. 

On one of the evenings, Father John, a retired priest that was on mission with us, accompanied our group to a rancho and offered Confession and celebrated Mass at the beautiful chapel there.  It was Travis's turn to share his testimony.  We were all so grateful that there was one man that had attended Mass that evening.  Most of the time the chapels are only filled with women and children.  Very few men attend.  It takes a lot of courage for the men to come to the chapel with the women and children.  Afterwards, Travis was able to thank him and to encourage him to keep coming.  Pray for those few men that occasionally show up to keep coming and to be examples to the other men in their villages. 

On our last evening, Travis and I and a few of the missionaries were invited to join a family bible study at someone's home instead of going on a chapel visit.  There were three Mexican couples that were there that evening.  Even with the language barrier, we were able to understand that they had a lot of the same worries as we American parents had.  They were very worried about how to keep their kids on the right path.  I thought about all the things in our community that we have to help keep kids off the streets---church youth groups, school clubs, scouting, etc., but more importantly the access we have to materials and people to help us educate ourselves and our children in the faith.  It saddened me to hear their worries, but also blessed me to know that these families were so determined to be different, to be the change their community needed.  Pray for them and their families and for the other families in their community to follow their lead.

As I look back at my week in General Cepeda and our rancho visits, I realize that being Catholic in my community is easy, because I am surrounded by so many others that share my belief and help to lift me up.  I also have three wonderful priests in my community that help me grow in my faith.  I have the Sacraments of the Church readily available to give me the graces I need to continue on my journey with God.  I have access to my Bible, Catechism, and many other excellent books and resources out there to help my on my journey.  I wonder if I would have the strength and courage to continue on like these people without all these things.

Would I remain faithful without the spiritual support that surrounds me?  I pray for that kind of strength and courage---that kind of faith.

Thanksgiving Mission Trip, Part 3

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Mission Trip, Part 1

When we left General Cepeda, Mexico in June, we hoped that God would one day send us back.  Little did we know that we would get to return just six months later. 

When we saw the Thanksgiving trip announced on Family Missions Company's website, we just knew that God wanted us back in Mexico for Thanksgiving.  So, we began
saving and fundraising for about four months.  Even with all the generous people we encountered, we fell short about $1000 in the final two weeks before the trip.  Thinking that it was just our "flesh" wanting to be back on a mission not really God calling us back, we decided not to go on this trip. 

After seeing the disappointment in the kids' faces and listening to them constantly tell us that God wanted us back in Mexico for Thanksgiving, we went back to prayer and asked God to make this happen if it be His will. 
God has a way of making His will known if you just ask.  Within hours we had $500 literally fall into our hands. Within a few days, we had the other $500.  I was in total awe.  The kids were right!  God did want us back in Mexico for Thanksgiving, and I couldn't wait to see why!  

As we began to prepare for the trip that final week, other expenses began to come up.  But with each one, God sent someone our way to take care of it almost immediately.  The missionaries sent a list out of items that were needed by some of the local people in Mexico.  I really wanted to be able to bring some of these items, but we were on an extremely tight budget.  I made a plea on Facebook for the items: medicines, toothpastes & toothbrushes, diapers, & eyeglasses.  I had several friends and family members offer to donate most of the items listed.

But as we gathered them, I noticed that we had not collected any eyeglasses.  I really felt as if I needed to bring eyeglasses.  Something kept weighing on my heart to bring eye glasses.  I decided that I would purchase a few pairs of "cheaters" when I went to buy a few things that we needed to pack for ourselves.  Just before heading out the door, a man that we had met at our garage sale knocked on our door and handed me some money for our trip.  Eye glass money!  I was able to purchase quite a few pairs of the nicer "cheater" glasses when I went to the store later that day.

We were also asked to purchase the Thanksgiving Day hams and some coffee for the mission house.  I once again began counting all our money trying to figure out how to pay for these items.  I received a message the next day from a friend who wanted to donate to our trip.  I picked up his check on the way to the store to buy the hams and coffee.  His donation was almost the exact amount of the cost of the hams and coffee.  God had once again provided for our needs.

As we prepared to leave, I sat in awe of what all had transpired in the last two weeks.  God had proven to me that He is in control and that He will provide for all our needs.  This wasn't just about this Thanksgiving trip, but about my fears of being full time missionaries.  So many times lately I have worried about not having an income and having to depend solely on donations for all our needs.  This was God's way of calming my fears for our future life as full time missionaries and letting me know that He will take care of all our needs.  This was His way of saying once again, "Stop worrying, I got this!"

Matthew 6: 25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? 
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?  
Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. 
If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?  
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’  
All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  
But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.  
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Thanksgiving Mission Trip, Part 2

Friday, November 16, 2012

And We're Off

Well, the second mission trip garage sale fundraiser was about the same as the first one we had.  We sold very little, but made exactly what we needed to make to cover our visas and Mexican car insurance! We were able to help a few families in need again this time too.

This week wasn't any different.  Each time the missionaries already in Mexico asked us to bring something down there, God sent some random person our way with money to cover the cost of whatever was asked---from diapers and eye glasses to Community Coffee and Thanksgiving Hams!  God provided for it all!

So, that means we're off to General Cepeda, Mexico for our second family mission trip with Family Missions Company.  Please add our group and the people we will be serving to your Thanksgiving week prayers!  We have been and will continue to pray for all of you!

Hope you all have a very blessed Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Give & You Shall Receive

It's hard to believe that we're heading back to Mexico in less than two weeks!   We are so excited to be able to head back.  We knew when we left General Cepeda in June that we would go back, but we didn't realize that God would call us back so soon!

We weren't prepared financially to make the trip again so soon, but knew if God wanted us there He would take care of the details.  So, we signed up and began saving and fundraising.  The past two months has had the girls and I in the kitchen almost daily baking for many of our wonderful friends and family.  We have made and sold at least a gazillion mini pies and cookies in the last few weeks.  Most of them to the same people over and over again.  (Thank you all!)

Last week, I tallied up what we had earned, raised, and saved so far, and then added up how much we still needed.  As hard as we had been working and as much as we had been trying to save, we were short----a LOT short.  We had dipped into our savings a few times for other good causes, other fundraisers, other mission projects, etc.  We knew when we dipped into that money that God had promised to reward those who give (Luke 6:38), so we weren't worried at the time.

But last week we found ourselves short on funds and beginning to doubt that we would be able to "receive" what we needed in such a short amount of time.  We still owed the mission company a third of our mission fee, needed visas, needed Mexican car insurance, and would need gas money for the trip there and back.  Thinking about how much gas costs right about now, I didn't think there was any way that we could come up with that much money in two short weeks even with the garage sales we were had planned for this weekend and next. 

I then began to doubt whether we were really supposed to go back to Mexico this soon.  Maybe it had just been our excitement, our "high" from the last trip, and not really God calling us back so soon.  I thought about all the full time missionaries that could really use the money we had already raised.  Maybe we weren't supposed to go to Mexico again this year.  Maybe we were just supposed to help the other missionaries.  Maybe we were supposed to spend our last Thanksgiving home before missions with our family.  Maybe He wasn't even calling us to foreign missions.  Lots of "Maybes" filled my head. 

On Thursday, I sat down to morning prayer with the kids realizing that we only had two weeks left to raise about $1000.  When it came time for petitions, I said, "Lord, if you really want us on this Thanksgiving trip, please move in the hearts of our friends & family & the people that buy our baked goods today.  Help us raise what we need. But if you are not calling us to Mexico right now, show us your will."  We ended with an Our Father.  "Thy will be done..."

During the chaos of baking, laundry, and schooling, a friend called wanting to drop some garage sale items off.  I said, "Sure! Come on over!"  A little later, she arrived with a few bags of things for the garage sale.  We visited for a few minutes while I continued running around my kitchen swapping cookie pans in the oven, tending to a mountain of laundry, and yelling at the kids to get ready for noon Mass.  She probably decided that I really had gone "crazy" like everyone had said and decided run while she had the chance.  But on her way out, she handed me a sealed envelope with a donation towards our trip.  I thanked her as I returned to the chaos at hand.

After she left, I opened the envelope.  And that's when I ran out the door to chase her down like a truly crazy person!  But it was too late.  She never saw me or maybe she did and continued driving away purposefully!  I returned to the house and just sat in awe staring at the check while tears filled up my eyes.  God had done just as I had asked that morning.  He had moved in the hearts of our friends.  The check was almost the exact amount we owed the mission company!  Praise the Lord!  He had heard our prayer and had begun to answer it within a few hours. 

The timing was perfect!  (Of course God's timing always is.) We headed right out the door to noon Mass.  What better place to thank Him for what He had done than at Mass!  I sat teary eyed the entire time just thanking Him over and over---for our friends, for their generosity, for His patience with my doubting, for His love for us, & for Him calming so many of my fears about the decisions we've been making.  I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I wanted to stand up and shout about how awesome our God was to all the people gathered.  I controlled that impulse though, not wanting to give anyone any more proof of our craziness.

After Mass, I hurried to my car to call my husband to tell him what had just happened.  I grabbed my phone to find that I had a text message waiting from a family member who had something to give me.  I was still running on high like a crazy person when I met her in the bank parking lot where she handed me a check for our mission trip.  A check that when added to the other check totaled the exact amount we still owed to Family Missions Company.  God was continuing to answer our prayer.  He had moved in the hearts of our family also!  How awesome is our God!

It was amazing to watch God moving in the hearts of our friends and family just as we had asked Him to do.  Later that day, we delivered the baked goods that had been ordered and returned home to find that the majority of the people had paid us a lot more than what we had charged them.  This happened again with the baking orders on Friday.  All I could think of was "Ask, and it shall be given..." (Luke 7:7)  Yes, I had heard it many times, knew it to be true, had it proven to me numerous times before, but it was still amazing to me that it was happening right before our eyes.

Now that my trust in God had been completely restored again, I relaxed which is what I should have done for the past month.  All this past week I had been worrying about pricing the garage sale items.  I've never had one before.  I didn't want to price things too high and not sale much, but I didn't want to price things too low that we wouldn't make enough.  I didn't even bother pricing most things after our the two days of miracles we had just had.  I knew God would take care of it.

Because we weren't concerned with making the most money we could, we were able to help many people before, during, and after the garage sale.  We were able to sit and listen to people's stories; we had compassion for their struggles; and we let things go for pennies; and even gave some stuff away for free.  God knew exactly how much money we were going to need, and He would provide it.  If not today, by the time we left in two weeks. So, we gave once again to those in need without thinking about our needs.

In return, we had people listen to our story and offer prayers for us and our mission trip.  We had people buy a 50-cent item, give us a $20, and tell us to "Keep the change." This happened all day long.  Even the poorest customers after overhearing our story, would offer us an extra dollar or quarter.  I kept thinking about the widow from Luke 21: 1-4.

At the end of the day, we had sold very little, but gained so much.  We did end up making enough money to cover our gas to and from Mexico, but more importantly we made many new and unexpected friends because we took the time to listen and had the courage to share our faith with strangers.