One of my teammates truly captured today's entire essence with one word: Unexpected. There was not a single thing that went according to our preconceived ideas, and while it was draining, it was like nutrients for the soul.
The first unexpected thing was our first stop. While it was on the schedule, we showed up to an unexpected surprise. It wasn't on the plan. Let me scratch that- it wasn't on our plan. Turns out, the garbage is the best place for the plans that are strictly ours. Thanks for taking care of Garbage Day, God.
We made the scheduled stop at a daycare for at-risk kids called Marinata. It's been open for hardly six months. Upon arrival, we were told that no kids were there at the moment, but that we would be given a tour of the daycare. This is what we had expected. Still half asleep, we stumbled to the door to greet the workers... and stepped through the door to a room full of children. In case you haven't noticed... that part was not expected Some of our hearts leapt. Some of our hearts sunk. Here we were, not expecting to see a single child, and coming face to face with the task of entertaining 20+ kindergarteners for an hour and a half. Our leader was sick. We were half-asleep. We had zero props, zero plans, and zero prep time... exactly the kind of situation that God loves the best.
We had a total of 0.5 seconds to adjust to the circumstances, and then it was Go-Time. Our team stood in a circle, nervous and confused, looking at each other and chuckling at the bizarre scenario we had suddenly found ourselves in, listening to the screaming voices coming down the hall towards our room. It was like the countdown to takeoff. Excitement, fear, a feeling of Get me out right now, and then... Showtime.
I was humbled when little Veronica made the first move. The moment her freckled face with the chestnut eyes walked through that door, she spotted me and charged. I hadn't done anything except for stuttering a surprised "Hola!" And yet, her love for me without restraint and her desire to always be held by me was unreal. Her innocent joy as we played Duck, Duck, Goose... her shrill squeals when we played Four Corners... her exuberant actions as we sang camp songs... this beautiful child was larger than life, and there's no better way to put it.
We presented the Bible Story of Samuel going through Jesse's sons to choose Israel's next king. We had no props and no practice, but God gave those kids the ears to listen and the hearts to understand, because the room was so silent compared to the deafening roar of our playtime just moments prior. The phrase we repeated to them over and over again was, "Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the Heart." Turns out, that was the theme of the rest of the day.
My low today was when the 1.5 hour mark was hit, and it was time to leave. I've never seen a child's personality switch so quickly. I had been running around the room spinning wildly with little Veronica hanging onto my back, screeching with delight... and the moment I grabbed her shoulders and told her, "Adios, amiga..." the shutters came down. The despair was instantaneous. She stuck her head between my legs and I felt her silent whimpers for a few seconds before I knelt in front of her, face to face, and told her every Spanish phrase I knew. "You're beautiful." "I love you." "God loves you." "God bless you." And still, as I edged closer towards the door, she began to hyperventilate. Her panic grew and her eyes grew shimmery... and by the time I finally pried her off of me and told her my final goodbye- she turned away. The girl who had not let go of me for the entire time... she turned her back. Because she couldn't bear to see me go.
I don't want to make this sound like it's about me, because it's not. My point is, this hurt me. Knowing that she had put her trust and love in me in so short a time only to have to say goodbye shattered me. We were told some of the stories of these kids- living on the streets, sexual abuse, constant moving, living in government institutions, and parents who just couldn't care less... and it still makes me ache to wonder how many times people have left Veronica's life. How many people, just like me, came in for a split second, and then left? How many people has she thrown herself at, loved on, played with, and spent time with... only to say goodbye for good? And how much less is she going to trust people in the future?
These questions haunted me, today, but only until our debriefing tonight. Our leader told us that she had received a text from the coordinator of the daycare, which read something along the lines of this:
"Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for what you did with our kids today. They have not stopped talking about all of you since then."
They had told us how these kids never got attention like they did today. Their stories are tragic and frightening, and today they felt reprieve. The boy who has had a harder six years of existence than most of us will have in 80... the workers said that despite his quietness and stillness, (which had been discouraging for us at first,) today was the first time they had ever seen him crack a smile.
God takes our failures and turns them into victories. What more could we ask for? When we could give him nothing but our willingness to try, he turned it into a blessing that will last those kids a lifetime. How on earth do we deserve to be a part of something so incredible?
El Camino Christian Academy was our next stop. An English speaking school was so refreshing... but not for long. We spent the day with our Canada booths, each getting 2 minutes or less to talk to an average of 4 children at a time about our topic. It was fast, strenuous, draining, enlightening, hilarious, loud, stressful, and again... unexpected. Our voices were completely gone after speaking our presentations hundreds of times over. But seeing their interest and hearing their questions made every try worth it. The scratchiness will wear off, but the memories will never fade. Praise God that our physical ailments are temporary, while the tearing and mending of our souls lasts eternally.
What I really want to talk about is our evening. Today was something special. Our team was divided into groups of 2 and 3, and we were actually sent off to different Colombian families' homes for dinner. We had never met the people, and we didn't get to bring an adult or leader. In fact we were picked up by the parents from the mall, and we were on our own from there. Here's where our Bible Story from the Day Care Centre played a huge part in moulding our hearts.
When our host pulled up to pick up Lily and I, we felt like family. We recognized the kids of the family from our time at El Camino earlier, and the Mum and Dad were the coolest people. When we pulled up to their home, we were in awe. Again, for the third time today, this was unexpected. This family's home was beautiful. It was big, modern, well-managed, and so clean. Their maid was lovely, their kids were wonderful, and Lily and I looked at ourselves and suddenly felt extremely underdressed. We were sweaty and dirty and looked frazzled from our crazy unexpected day... and here we were sitting in this gorgeous house with this gorgeous family.
God taught me something so valuable today, by weaving it all throughout every encounter. He taught me truly that while man looks at the outside, God looks at the inside. I started out by looking at the outside. I thought- "Woah. These guys are pretty well off! This house is nicer than mine. Their clothes are lovely. They're stylish and clean and polished, and I realized that I immediately placed them in a bit of a category in my mind. But that only lasted until we began to talk.
We talked and talked and talked. They had four kids- 3 of them old enough to speak- and we had such an incredible time. When the time came for the meal, (an abundance of homemade sushi and chicken and beef and rice and delectable Colombian desserts), the Dad's prayer hit me hard. Here I was, with the idea that wealth and prosperity were somehow separate from humility and faith. Boy, was I wrong. Just in his prayer for the meal, he would keep saying things like, "God, we are nothing without you." "God, you be the guest of honour in this house tonight." "God, please never leave our lives- we do not want to do anything apart from your inspiration and guidance." His English was broken, but his sincere prayer to God was certainly complete. My previous ideas were demolished right then and there, and I learned what it meant to be a good steward.
I used to think that one could not serve God by having possessions. I used to think that ownership and property could not be used to further God's kingdom. But when I met this family, so humble, so real, so hardworking, so servant-like, so genuinely generous, and so glorifying to God, I was given insight. This father works so hard to provide for his four children to attend ECA. The school is expensive, as it includes meals for the kids, and is completely English. The cost is high, and so he is their provider. 1 Timothy 5:18 reads, "For the Scripture says, "You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain." And in another place, "Those who work deserve their pay!"' How could God be displeased with a family who keeps their home in such excellent condition, so that they can host travelling missionaries and teams throughout the years? How could God be displeased with a father who steps up to the plate and gives his family the very best that he can offer? How can God be displeased with parents who are raising their children to be Godly?
Throughout the meal and the whole drive home, we asked sooooo many questions and this family gave us soooo many more. Our conversations were incredible. I talked to them like I talk to my closest and dearest adult friends. They wanted to know the most boring things, and because of their legit humility, I ended up telling them the deeper things that I don't tell many people. These amazing humans that had been strangers only an hour before suddenly knew more about me than many of my acquaintances at home. Talk about the power of Christ in us. Our situation does not matter when we have Him in our hearts. That Truth is clear as day to me, now. Our drive home was equally as incredible. We laughed so hard and learned so much about Latin culture, and told them as much as we knew about Canada. We showed them photos of cougars, bears, and moose. They showed us pictures of their animals and farms. We talked about occupations. School. University. Travel. Aspirations. Family. Weather. Population. Geography. History. Music. You name it, we covered it. Shout-out to our hosts tonight- Muchas Gracias for showing us the light of Jesus. You six are truly a model family, and I was honoured to meet you.
While many of us had some notion that the poorer homes and smaller apartments held the best people, Lily and I learned something new: It is not about the house. It is not about the clothes, the money, the situation, or anything material. Man looks at the outside, and we proved that today. God looks at the heart, which he showed us tonight. The best and worst people can be poor, and the best and worst people can be rich. But for those who truly love God, which I think was the case for every unique family that our team visited, there is nothing that can matter except for that relationship.
I was so inspired today. So broken down, so built up, so encouraged and discouraged, so high and mighty, and then so thoroughly embarrassed. Welcome to the mission field, Karis. It's life. It's love. It's learning to take one for the team, and to take one for the Kingdom.