I’m home. I’ve been home since December 9th. I started writing this article two weeks after I returned, but finding the time and words to finish it have been difficult. I’m not even sure I’ve grasped all the emotion that I’ve brought home with me. There’s so much to tell that I’m not certain I can do the experience justice, but I will try.
I’ve told many people that I’m ruined for any other mission trip because Athentikos does it better than I could imagine any other group doing. They helped us fall in love with the country before falling in love with the girls we would serve. And I did fall in love with the country. The rich culture and color, the history, the architecture, the food, the beautiful people, and the overwhelming feeling of welcome were the groundwork of love. There were many scenes to make me feel humble, and frustrated at my lack of adequacy to act, but overall, the country is more beautiful than I imagined.
I also quickly fell in love with the team I served with at Oasis. We came with, and maintained, open hearts for the experience and each other. It was beautiful to work together and compromise and share ideas to help one another. Spending so much time with my childhood friend, Amelia, was incredibly fun and meaningful. It was really satisfying to be together as much as we were and still have plenty of room to laugh.
Then there are the girls and the staff at Oasis. As we rambled up the bumpy mountain and arrived at the sliding steel doors, razor wire, and security officer, it was hard to know what was behind the wall, but the doors slid open to a true oasis. The grounds are beautifully maintained with playground equipment, colorful home buildings, a full-size soccer field, basketball hoops, and volcanoes in the distance. We were greeted with kindness and helpfulness and plenty of smiles. It was easy to know we were welcome and wanted.
Knowing the girls were brought to Oasis to escape a violent and/or exploited background to heal, I was a little nervous what the atmosphere would be like. The first thing I noticed, beyond the beautiful background, was the laughter. I know children are resilient but it’s beautiful to witness healing and the perseverance to grow. The younger girls were eager to be close, practice their English, and to laugh at my attempts at Spanish. At first, the older girls were a little reserved, yet they still engaged in group activities and had thoughtful answers to our workshop questions. By the end of the week, their eyes met us with deep emotion that didn’t need translating.
I knew I had the capacity to bring joy along with me, but I didn’t allow myself to think I would “fix” anyone or anything. I did love bringing joy though. My failed attempt to brush up on Spanish didn’t keep me from connecting with the people I met. That said, thank God for our translator, Irene, and our tour guide/chaperone/”Mr. Go-To” Rolando. They were both generous, patient, and knowledgeable God-sends and I’ll always be grateful for them.
Our overall theme for this camp is “I Am Art”, or “Soy Arte”, to express how each of us, even the self-proclaimed “non-artist”, is a beautiful masterpiece of God. Each day we began with a bible verse and discussed how we felt about and saw our self, our home, our conflicts, the resolutions to those conflicts, and the community that supports us. Athentikos organized 11 workshops for the girls to choose from. The workshop I helped with was “Self-Portrait”. Each day we built onto our piece to coincide with the theme of the day. In addition, we did creative journaling to help us intentionally consider how we felt each day.
Wednesday was “Conflict Day”, and just as it sounds, it was hard and emotional. This was the day we brought conflict to our self-portraits by coloring our faces a darker color to represent pain, grief, and sin. I knew it was coming and it was still hard for all of us. We also journaled about the conflict in our life. My grief and conflict is different from the girls, but it’s evident I’m still dealing with quite a bit of pain. I wrote three pages describing the fear of losing more of the people I love, and even worse, the fear I carry of me dying. Have I loved enough? Have I prepared my children enough? Have I shown the gratitude and love worthy of how I feel for David? Have I really allowed God to work through me to represent what I want to give to the people I encounter? Would my people know what they meant to me? To give our group of girls an opportunity to share if they chose to, Amelia asked me to share some of what I wrote. I was intimidated to share my fears and grief thinking they were so ordinary compared to what I imagined they were living with. I shared anyway trying to maintain some sort of composure, and failing. When I finished, Amelia asked if anyone would like to pray for me, and bright-eyed, beautiful Sondra was quick to offer. She prayed for my courage and peace, for me to release the fear and for me to allow God to comfort me. It was such a powerful and humbling act of love for me. It was my grace-gift. Conflict Day was a heavy day, to say the least, with on-and-off “pretty tears” and full-on “Oprah ugly-cries” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g6CKMYukkQ for the reference), but it was so good to release some of the pain that has been held in for so long.
Over the holidays I ran into a friend of mine at a party. After catching up on the periphery topics of our lives, we ended up talking about her bible study. She shared with me one of the lessons they worked on regarding Jesus in the garden before His crucifixion and how moved she was to consider how deeply He knew what He was getting into yet still carried through with it. She said, “He knew they were going to kill him, and He did it anyway. He did it for us.” Now look, I know I’ve taken a deep, heavy turn here, but the words I responded with to her were almost outer-body to me. I said, “Can’t we relate every single day when we open our eyes and make a choice to live? We know the risk that surrounds us, of what we can lose, what can happen, yet we choose to take a step forward to bring the day in.” I clearly know I’m not facing crucifixion each day, but surviving deep loss means that I can’t avoid thinking about everything else there is to lose. I’ve grown to appreciate life in a fuller way because I know the risk of loss that will eventually come to each of us. In hindsight, the words I spoke to my friend were the words I’ve needed to hear for quite a while.
Conflict comes to us. We do not ask for it. We do not want it. Sometimes we don’t even see it coming, but we can respond to it. We can rise from it in whatever form works for us. It is survivable. And that’s painful to consider. I catch myself laughing and living and thriving and then feel a wall of guilt that I’m not rubbing ashes over myself with the pain I carry for the beautiful people that have left me. And then of course I think of those people rolling their eyes at me for mourning them with ashes and telling me to get off my behind and live since they are not. And yes, there’s a lot going on inside this brain of mine.
Bottom line is, this trip was decadent in so many ways. Although we worked hard to provide a meaningful art experience for the Oasis Home, we had a lot of fun too. We worked and played, and worked and played. We made friends, and shared, and grieved, and lifted up, and sang, and danced. We served and received. By the second day, I knew this trip would be a two week living therapy session in all the right ways. It was beautiful. Most of all, I lived in gratitude for David, Anna, and Stephen, and all my people at Keystone Christian Preschool, and the many friends who gave me the gift of independence and adventure to take this trip. I brought every one of you with me and gave thanks for every donation, prayer, and well-wish that led me to this experience. The trip was self-indulgent and needed and I know for sure I am surrounded by love.
May the peace of the Lord be with you always.