Brazil 2017 – A Reflection

So… it’s been a couple weeks since I arrived back in the states from Brazil and I’m still trying to process everything, but I figured I better start writing now so I don’t leave anything out for all you fine blog readers ūüėČ

I want to start off by thanking God and all of you who supported me both financially and through your prayers. Without you, this trip would not have been possible. So…. THANK YOU!

I just spent the last week of June in Carpina, Brazil with a team of AMAZING brothers and sisters in Christ helping run an English Camp/VBS at a school for kids from nugget-size age all the way up to junior high-age. Going into this trip, I really didn’t know what to expect exactly and I didn’t quite know what to make of it all, BUT I knew that it was where God wanted me to go. He definitely made that clear by providing for all of my financial needs and providing me with the time off to go as well. If you are unaware of my current life status, in the beginning of May, I was laid-off from my job and have been diligently searching and interviewing for the past two months. I had already received approval from my boss to go to Brazil, but after being laid-off I knew that was God making it SUPER clear that this was where He wanted me to be at the end of June.

Back in March when we had our first team meeting I had signed up to help with music, sports, and teaching. Little did I know how much God was planning to stretch me through those things in Brazil. I was told that they had used pre-recorded songs in the past for the music and I had no problem with that, but I really felt that I should bring my guitar down and lead with live music this year. Yes, this required figuring out all the rules about flying on planes with guitars, but looking back now, I see that God’s plans were so much greater than my own. For the past 3 years, I had been leading music for the kids at my church in AWANA and I see now that God used those years as preparation for this trip. In the last weeks leading up to our departure, I felt the attack of the enemy trying to discourage me about bringing my guitar down to Brazil. “What if it gets damaged? Or stolen? etc.” All these thoughts bombarded my heart and mind as I scrambled to put together a list of the songs that we would teach the kids. As far as I knew, it was just going to be myself and another girl from our team, Anna, helping lead the music. Thankfully my Savior is always full of surprises. The first day of English Camp I found out that another guy on our team, the talented Dan Gallop from PA, was a drummer (and a REALLY good one too!). Not only that, but another girl from our team, Ashlyn, volunteered to help with motions for the songs as well.

And thus the English Camp 2017 band was born.

It was such a blessing to minister through music all week alongside these energetic and talented folks. And if that wasn’t encouraging (and surprising) enough, each morning I also had the pleasure of hearing the school’s own worship band open the camp with super-rad songs for the kids in Portuguese. It’s extremely humbling, but SO refreshing to know that God doesn’t need any one language or music style to bring Him praise, and seeing the kids praise Him in Portuguese AND English throughout the week was nothing short of inspiring. In addition, our team was able to visit some of the churches on Sunday, and being able to join in singing with our Brazilian brothers and sisters was a whole other blessing in and of itself. I’m pretty sure that’s what Heaven is gonna be like. Every tongue and nation will be joined together singing praises to our Lord, and that’s totally OK cause He understands it all. Those were some of the most joyful moments for me on this trip. Some of the songs I didn’t know or recognize, but others I definitely did recognize and was able to sing along in English (and poorly attempted Portuguese at times too).

And that was JUST the music.

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Feeding crackers to wild monkeys was totally awesome

Myself, along with two others from our team, were asked to teach lessons to the older kids about social media. Each session focused on a different aspect such as integrity, purity, and accountability. I was specifically asked to teach about maintaining purity on social media. Going into the trip, we were expecting a lot of teenagers to attend English camp, so our messages on social media would be totally relevant to what was going on in their lives, but after the first day, we saw that very few of those teenagers actually showed up, which meant all of us who were teaching needed to revamp our messages to be more age-appropriate, applicable, and relevant. I wasn’t too nervous about teaching as much as I was about communicating the most important points about what it means to be pure in general and then connecting that with social media. Thankfully, I serve an awesome God who gave me the words to say about purity in life and on social media. Surprisingly, a lot of the kids had smartphones, so it ended up making our messages more relevant than we anticipated. In addition to teaching, I also had the opportunity to give my testimony to the kids along with the rest of our team. We had to practice both our testimonies and our lessons with an interpreter before we left so we knew how to phrase our words to make the most sense after being translated. Again, it’s so amazing to see God working in multiple languages at the same time.

SPORTS. What a highlight of this trip. Being able to play futebol with the kids was such a privilege. Those Brazilian kids are REALLY GOOD! We also played lots of other games such as dodgeball, ultimate frisbee, and water-balloon volleyball to name a few. As an “Americano” who loves futebol, it was fun to see the kids react when they realized I loved the game as well. Two nights out of the week, we also got to go to one of the local churches and play pick-up basketball and futebol with guys and girls in the high-school to college-age crowd. Much more competitive and challenging, BUT SO MUCH FUN. We were all sweaty messes at the end of each night, but it was great to make connections with the people through these sports. We couldn’t always talk to each other, but we knew exactly how to “communicate” when we were playing. Some say music is the universal language, but I’m pretty sure that sports are up there as well.

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Blue Injun’s the name. Cannibal’s the game.

As far as games go, Cannibal was by far the “cherry on top” for the week. In the photo above, you can see it was “a little messy”. Definitely not a game that most American parents would let their kids play. The goal of the game is to find each of the “injuns” who all have a different color paint (i.e. I was the blue injun). Once they find the injun, they are required to complete a task (of the injun’s own choice) and get that color painted on their arm. The hard part is that the kids don’t know what order the colors need to be in for them to win (so there’s a lot of trial and error). As an injun, I could have the kids do whatever I want in order for them to “earn their stripe”. Many of them ended up rolling around in mud, fetching me a chair, or sitting in a large puddle just to get a blue line painted on their arm. And to add to the difficulty of this game, there are “cannibals” who run around and catch the kids. When they get caught, the cannibal wipes all the paint off their arm and they have to start over. It was a lot of fun and a great game to cap off the week.

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All the “injuns” and “cannibals” pre-game photo. Can you guess who’s who?

Tied in to all these lessons, games, and songs was the real reason our team came to Brazil, and that was to share Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was incredible to see kids (and adults) so eager to learn more about Jesus and His Word, and praising Him with all their heart. The Brazilian people have a genuine thirst for the Lord and desire to do His will. At the end of the week, 23 kids placed their faith in Christ and over 50 made decisions to dedicate their lives in service to Christ. PRAISE GOD! It didn’t hit me until the Sunday after we returned that our team was made up of 23 people and that was the exact number of kids that were saved. My Lord continues to surprise and bless, and it was a privilege to serve Him in Brazil.

P.S. Mad props to Dan Vanaman, our official team photographer, for the spectacular photos seen in this blog. Check out his other photos here: https://www.instagram.com/danielvanaman/

Peace

 

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I Was Yelling At My Phone But…

…I was really yelling at God.

It was Friday, June 10th. Only about 6 weeks ago. I was planning to go meet up with an AWANA camping trip from my church.

I guess you could say my frustration started when my boss stormed in my office and gave me a verbal beatdown and told me I was not leaving work at 3:30 like I had originally planned but now I was staying until 5:00. This meant I got to travel up to the campsite in North Jersey all by myself.

If you know me, you know I’m all about going on road trips and adventures to new places, so naturally I was SO READY¬†to leave work that day and just drive. I plugged in the address to Google maps, cranked some jams, and headed out on the highway for what was supposed to be a 2 hour trip. I probably should have caught it earlier, but Google maps had me going up the NJ Turnpike for some odd reason. Somewhere along the way, the app stopped working while I was still on the highway and I had no clue what to really do other than keep driving and hope that the app fixed itself.

It kinda did, but not really. I thought I was gonna end up in NYC at one point until it finally told me to get off the highway. To be honest, at this point I was getting a little nervous (AND frustrated) because I did not want to have to drive all the way back home if I did get lost OR spend the night on the side of the highway.

For me, this weekend was a much needed retreat into the mountains to get away and just breathe (for a lot of reasons). I needed to get away and spend time alone with the Lord, but getting there was beginning to become a thorn in my side. I got off the highway and got new directions from my phone to follow. “OK. Cool. Everything should be fine now” BUT that was not the case. As I followed Google maps through a bunch of crazy-named towns in North Jersey that I had never heard of, I started to get that nervous feeling again that I was getting lost.

And guess what? I was.

The surroundings were just not looking right and there was little to no civilization around as I continued to drive. At one point, I pulled over to get a feel for where I was. I thought I could figure it out on my own so I got back on the road. Man, was that a dumb idea.

I hit a really winding road through some mountains, made a handful of turnarounds, AND…. that’s when I snapped. I realized I was REALLY¬†LOST and I started yelling repeatedly at my phone for being so stupid and not giving me the right directions (cause it had obviously let me down, right?). From there it snowballed into me continuing to drive aimlessly while yelling. I was pissed off and¬†I got to the¬†point where I just shouted¬†out at God asking Him why He would do this to me. As my frustration and anger built up, I continued to question Him about all of the other current situations that had just happened in my life because if I’m being honest, those were the “root”¬†reasons I was upset, more so than my dumb phone not working. I don’t think I’ve ever yelled like that before and in that moment, I felt like I had every right to be yelling. In the words of the Fresh Prince theme song, “my life got flipped, turned upside down”, and at a time when I least expected it to, and I had stored up that anger and frustration up to this point where I just exploded. Looking back (and forward), I am so grateful that Christ takes me as I am, even when I’m a selfish jerk that questions His plans. He listens, He answers, and He is good. ALL.¬†THE.¬†TIME.

Remember when I said this trip was to get away? Yeah, I got away alright, but it wasn’t in the way I expected. Here I was, tears dripping down my face as I drove and angry shouts coming from my mouth (and heart) that questioned my Savior’s faithfulness and goodness to me. WHY?! Deep down, I knew I could trust Him, but in that moment I did not, and my pride took the wheel of my heart.

A couple Sunday’s ago, the new pastor at my church spoke and gave a fantastic message on the feeding of the five thousand. In that message, he mentioned that typically after we have a “spiritually high” moment or a really good event happens in our lives, it is usually followed by a test from God. And those tests are typically not what we expect.

This was a test. And not one that I even wanted to take in the first place. Honestly, I’m still taking¬†this¬†same test right now, but Jesus has been so faithful and gracious to me through it all and has been healing my heart and making it more like His. He is peace. He is strength. He is comfort. He is joy. And I don’t know what I would do without Him.

The sun was setting and I was still lost. I called my dad (when I got reception¬†lol) who was already at the campsite to tell him what was going on and received some helpful directions. I had gone at least an hour and a half in the wrong direction. It’s crazy though cause even in my wandering God chose to give me some amazing sunset views as I made my way back to the correct route winding through the mountains.

So after 4 hours of driving, I finally arrived at the campsite when it was pitch black outside. I was exhausted, but I had this renewed mindset that there were lessons to be learned and adventures to be had even in the most frustrating circumstances, like this one. Even when I was lost in the middle of nowhere, Jesus was with me and He had me there for a purpose even in my questioning, anger, and frustration. He is truly a gracious and merciful Savior.

The rest of the weekend was refreshing to say the least,¬†and I got to meet some new guys from my church that I had never even seen before! It was a blessing in disguise for sure and I’m grateful that Jesus led me down a road (quite literally) that I did not originally want to go down.

So yeah. Jesus¬†is still awesome and good, and I’m most definitely still a work in progress. One of my all-time¬†favorite bands, Relient K, just released a new album yesterday (GO CHECK IT OUT FO SHO) and the lyrics from one of the songs hit me hard, especially as I finished writing this blog.

Here they are:¬†“Fix the car, fix the house, fix the flaws in myself
It’s never done.
It’s never done, no, no
Like local construction, it’s never done

Be straight and honest with the Lord and with each other. Until Christ returns, we are all His workmanship “works-in-progress”, ¬†and every day is new opportunity for growth and change. Keep discovering and keep it real (and maybe get lost sometimes too cause you have some rad adventures then as well).

Peace.

Cinco de Blog

Today’s blog is brought to you by…(you guessed it), the number 5.

For those of you who don’t know me as well, my favorite number is 5. It started back when I was just a young buck¬†and it was my number in township soccer and basketball. I would fight my teammates later on in junior high and high school to get my number “5” jersey when soccer season came around. That’s how it’s always been.

Up until recently, I had never¬†realized the significance of the number and God just blew me away when He showed me its significance. I LOVE IT WHEN HE DOES THAT. I was just sitting there, and He was like “Hey, check this out” and I was amazed by what He showed me. He’s been showing (and teaching) me A LOT recently and this was like the icing on the cake so to speak. You may be thinking “it’s just a dumb number”, BUT IT’S NOT. God uses TONS of numbers throughout Scripture for many different significant and important reasons. THREE, TWELVE, and SEVEN are all “important” numbers that come to my mind when I think about important numbers from the Word.

Here’s the quote that was given in church that knocked my socks off: “In Scripture the numerals are used with Divine design and precision. Five stands for grace or favor. When Joseph desired to show special favor on his brother Benjamin we read, ‚Äúportions were taken to them from Joseph‚Äôs table, but Benjamin‚Äôs portion was five times as much as any of theirs.‚ÄĚ Five and its multiples are stamped on every part of the tabernacle. It was with five loaves the Lord Jesus fed the hungry multitude. The fifth commandment is the only one with a promise‚Ķ” (A.W. Pink).

This is what got me. Five stands for grace or favor. FIVE. MY NUMBER! And wow, has God showed me both of those things so abundantly even when I DEFINITELY DON’T deserve them. In all my years in Christian school AND college, I had NEVER heard this and it’s just really awesome that God chose to show me this now. Recently, I’ve found myself shooting hoops in my backyard a lot these days and I’ve found that it’s also a really good time to talk with my Heavenly Father. And it’s cool cause I’ve received signs of His grace, favor, and peace in my life as I’ve been out there. I’ve been learning to pray A LOT recently as well and as I’ve been growing in that spiritual discipline, I’ve developed what I’m currently calling a “sign prayer” or “confirmation prayer”. Here’s the connection with shooting hoops for those of you who are thoroughly confused at this point (sorry, not sorry). Call me crazy, but as I’m talking to the Lord (AND listening, cause let’s be real, prayer involves A LOT more listening than talking) I’m shooting from “my spot” which is at the back center of the court. I attempt to make FIVE shots in a row while I’m praying and if I do, I take it as a “sign” or “affirmation” that that specific¬†prayer is what I should be praying for and that God has heard it and will answer it in His time. So far, I have seen His grace and favor through this AND I have received signs (AND ANSWERS! PRAISE GOD) directly related to those prayers AND a peace and assurance that He has heard me and is gonna take care of everything. That’s definitely not the only way that I’ve been praying and seeking the Lord, but it’s directly connected to FIVE so yeah…Jesus is awesome.

AND…I also just remembered that when I was 18, my family was blessed with a 5th member (my lil bro). Whoa, this just keeps¬†blowing my mind the more I think about it!

I continue to look forward with anticipation to all that the Lord has in store for my life. Even as I type this blog, I have experienced His grace and favor first hand even as He protected my sister and I as her car decided to break down (and thankfully not explode) as we drove down the highway to Virginia to drop her off for an intensive college course. It’s been a crazy awesome adventure so far and I look on toward the horizon to what He has in store.

So the next time you see the number “FIVE” remember that it is a sign of God’s grace and favor and that He has blessed us more than we can ever comprehend or imagine!

“For the¬†Lord¬†God is¬†a sun and¬†shield;
    the Lord bestows FAVOR and HONOR.
No good thing does He withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
¬†¬†¬†¬†blessed is the one who trusts in You!” ¬†PSALM 84:11-12

Thanks for reading and in the words of Vanilla Ice, “Let it rip, tater chip.”

When All Hope Seems Lost

Hope. What is hope? Or rather WHO IS HOPE?

In the past two days, my views on life itself have been stretched¬†to their limits. Usually, when I encounter crazy life-affecting/influencing events I turn to music and write a song, but in this case I needed to write about it and get this out. Yesterday, I found out that one of my co-workers, with whom I have worked very closely for the past 3 years, decided that the world would be better off without him, so he took a gun and committed suicide. I knew little of his personal life, but from what I did know, it seemed that life had dealt him a rotten hand. However, NO ONE (including myself) saw this coming AT ALL, but about a year ago, his daughter had committed suicide, and he had never quite been the same since then. As a follower of Christ, I knew that he needed to hear the gospel and I did my best to pray for him and be a source of positivity and encouragement to him at work. He was Jewish and did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but that did not stop me from giving testimony of Christ’s work in my own life to him. Unknown to us, this whole time he had been holding in the hurt, sorrow, and pain from his daughter’s death and it led him down this path to tragedy.

Let me go on on quick tangent here and say that if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, GET HELP. TALK TO SOMEONE. PRAY WITH SOMEONE¬†ABOUT IT. SEEK THE LORD. Do not let yourself or your friend drown in a sea of hopelessness and despair. Hope has a name and it’s JESUS. He is the only one who can rescue us from our sorrow, heal our pain, and give us security and hope in life.

With this in mind, I know that my co-worker entered eternity without the Lord and my heart is broken. Was the suicide tragic and terrible? Yes, but the fact that he entered the next life without Christ is the trigger that brought me to tears. This morning, my boss read us a letter that he wrote that outlined why he took his life. The recurring theme was that he could not escape the sorrow and hopelessness that he felt and so he concluded that it would be better to end his life. As I heard this I though to myself, “this is where I would end up too if I did not have Christ in my life and I was left alone in this world like he was”. My heart was aching inside me (and still is) because I know that Christ is the remedy for that and I had never taken the¬†chance to directly proclaim that to him. Although he seemed fine each day at work before, he was obviously NOT¬†fine and I am learning now the importance of seeking to REALLY KNOW where people are so that I can better be a beacon of Hope¬†to them. I am confident that because of this tragic event, the door has swung wide open for me to share my faith with my co-workers and offer them HOPE. I know that God is going to use this situation for His glory and I need to be willing to approach the guys I work with with unwavering confidence in the gospel and the Hope of that gospel, Jesus Christ. I don’t know how He is going to use me yet, but I know that He has me working there for a reason and right now I cannot think of a better reason than to share the hope that I have in Christ. HE IS HOPE. HE IS THE HEALER. HE IS OUR COMFORTER AND FRIEND. OUR EVER PRESENT HELP IN TIME OF NEED. I forget this so often myself, but it’s in times like these that I cannot forget and I’m convicted to get my heart right with the Lord¬†and see those around me as He sees them. If you’re a fellow brother or sister in Christ, please pray for me and this situation and that the Holy Spirit will give me the words to say and the actions to show. I am praying for my co-workers as well that their hearts would be open to hear about Christ and that they would be inclined to talk with me about it because of what has happened. Nothing makes people think more about the next life¬†than death, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that Christ’s hope and light shines brightest in the darkest and filthiest situations of life. It’s in the gutter that God’s grace is best made known.

As I write, the song “In Christ Alone” keeps¬†coming to mind. “In Christ alone my HOPE is found…” This song is one that I had heard so many times that I had let myself become almost numb to it, but the more I listen to it and meditate on its words, the more I’m left in awe of what Christ has done and is doing in my life and in the world right now. Maybe I will write a song about this event at some point, but for now I will rest knowing that I was able to give testimony to God’s goodness in the garbage of life and that He is actively working in me to further His kingdom.

THERE IS HOPE.

HIS NAME IS JESUS.

Let this comfort and encourage you, but also challenge you to make this known to those around you.

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the HOPE of glory.” Colossians 1:27