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live. love. serve.

Today has been insane and it is nowhere close to being finished. Today was my day to lead the women’s discussion at camp. I was super nervous all morning because of this, which is just so silly thinking back because this is what I was called to do!!! My calling in life is to bring hope to women. Figuring out this calling has been a very painful and difficult process that has taken years, but I am finally here and I am striving to fully embrace it.

God has been teaching me a multitude of things on this trip about life, love and ministry, and I desperately feel the need to share these lessons with you.

Lessons About Life: 

I never thought I had a “the whole world revolves around me” mindset, but I have been so humbled on this trip just to double and triple check and even quadruple check that I really do know that the world does not revolve around me. *cough, cough* Thanks, Jesus. What I mean by this is that I have a pride issue that was hidden. *gulp* Did I really just admit to the entire world that I am prideful? Yes, I did. Admitting things like this in church seems taboo, it seems scandalous, because then the whispers seem to start. “Did you hear that so-and-so struggles with such-and-such?? And they are in ministry? They are a leader?” Now please hear me out with this, I know that not all church members are like this, but I also know from experience that just as many are, and yes, I will be the first to admit it, I have done this too. We all do it. But here is the thing- THE CHURCH SHOULD BE THE FIRST PLACE YOU GO TO ADMT YOU HAVE AN ISSUE. It should be a safe place to discuss such things. You should feel liberated and you should experience freedom when you admit your struggles. Because contrary to popular belief, WE ALL HAVE SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET.

But unfortunately, that does not seem to be reality.

We live in a comparative society. We compare our deep dark secrets, the worst part of ourselves, to other people’s “picture perfect” lives. We look at social media and we see edited, exagerated pieces of someone else’s “perfect” life. We think that life would be better if we could look like this person (even though they took 20+ selfies and spent 30 minutes editing that picture to get just the right filter), or if our family did what that family does (even though just after that perfectly staged picture, the three year old started throwing a temper tanrtum), or if we could have the glamour of moving to or experiencing a new culture (even though the culture shock alone makes that person want to move back home and never leave their comfort zone again).

We compare.
And I believe this is the sneakiest tactic the enemy uses.

We are taught that we need to be better than other people, but we continually feel like we are incapable of being “as good as” the next person.

I say all of this because I can relate to all of these things and admitting it takes a lot of humility, because of my pride issue. Yes, I said it again.

The Lord has been teaching me a lot about humility over the last 11 months. One of the things I have been working on is being on my phone less. I expect people to not be on their phone so they can be fully present with me. But I realized I can never expect someone to do something that I am not willing to do myself. I want to be more fully present when I am around people. I want to be more intentional with those around me, so I have been trying to be on my phone less when I am with other people even if they do not have the same goal; I want to strive to make them feel important and not like I am bored with them.

All that to say, when I came to Greece, I kind of lost that mentality. Here is where that “the world revolves around me” mindset comes into play. I thought I needed to be involved and aware of what was going on back home. I thought I coud be present both places, but boy was I wrong. I was so caught up in everything happening back home that it was nearly impossible for me to be present with my team at the start of this trip. I am not on my phone now as much as I was at the start of the trip, but I also know that I could still be better with it. I know that Haviland does not need me to function properly right now; but my team here does. Because if I am not present, then our team is lacking in ability and talent. And I firmly believe that God brought all five of us here for specific purposes at this specific time…together. We need each other to be present to be able to take away from this trip what God intended.

I am learning that walking humbly means recognizing that the world does not revolve around you.. But not just recognizing it, reminding yourself daily and then taking actions to be fully present with those around you.

Lessons About Love: 

In learning about life and ministry, I have seen an absolutely beautiful picture of love since I have been in Athens.

The two greatest commandments are about loving God and loving others; the Great Commission is making disciples of all the nations. It would make sense that the two shoud coincide, right? Ministry is hard work; there is no doubt about that. I do not want to downplay any of the ministry work I have seen in America. I have witnessed and experienced passionate and transformational ministry in the States, but I have also experienced ministry work that was completed simply to check it off a list and that is absolutely not acceptable.

Since we have been in Greece, we have been so incredibly blessed to experience ministry full of love. Despite how frustrating a situation should or could be, each person we are serving beside serves with love and grace and it is so very evident in everything that they do, and beyond that, it is beautiful to watch happen.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres

1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Every person I have served alongside or that I have watched serve others over the last two weeks is rooted deeply in love and I have learned so much from being a part of the process.

Love in ministry is…
-being patient when a child throws a water balloon at your head
-showing kindness to the meanest people that you encounter
-not jealous because someone else is being recognized more than you
-not bragging about all of the things you do just to impress people
-respecting every person that you encounter
-building others up
-not blowing up on someone because they messed up
-beautiful, raw, and vunerable. 

Lessons About Ministry: 

Over the course of the last five years, I have built up this sort of expectation about ministry and how I think it should work. I came to Greece with those expectations in place without being aware of it.

Before I came, I asked a lot of people what the best advice they had for a trip like this was and I heard over and over to come in with zero expectations and let God blow my mind.

I thought that is where I was. However, I became incredibly discouarged very early in the trip because I was most excited to be a part of women’s ministry in a new culture… But I felt utterly useless with the language barrier. I was at a point where I was basically yelling at God asking why He brought me here if I was not capable of doing anything for the women. Why was I here to see women’s ministry if I was working with children?

I want to share part of an entry from my journal from last week:

July 19

When I woke up this morning, I did not want to move because I had a nightmare last night that kept me awake from 2-5 this morning. I was pretty overwhelmed, but did not want to miss the shower day for women.

As we arrived at Helping Hands and the women started to come in one by one, I was getting more and more overwhelmed. A few kids trickled in, and Hannah was right at home playing with them as I awkwardly sat there and watched.
Finally, a few came to me to play with the kitchen stuff and it was super awkward at first. But slowly, very slowly, it became less and less awkward for me. When I started to feel more calm about working with the kiddos, I started to slowly become more aware of what was happening in the room around me.

I was in the area where the kids were was very chaotic, but there was a weird overwhelming sense of peace over the place, so I began to look around and what I saw, took my breath away.

I immediately began to feel like I was a part of something far bigger than I could ever understand. As I looked around I saw that nearly all of the women were surrounding a couple of different tables, and they were being pampered.. It was the most beautiful thing. They were either having their hair braided or their nails done; some were making jewelry, some coloring, some laughing and some were simply resting. There were so many things happening and everyone was so content and full of joy. It was utterly beautiful.

I was part of something far bigger in those moments than simply being force fed plastic food by children. I was just exactly where I have been praying to be for months. I have been praying not that the Lord would prepare these places of ministry for me, but that He would prepare me for what He has already been doing.

And He did just that.

I desperately wanted to be a part of womens mininstry in a new culture and at first I thought I was just a small part of the childrens ministry here..and I was bitter about that.

But then I remembered my prayer and God reminded me that playing with the kiddos is one of the most crucial pieces to make womens ministry happen. Women need to know their babies are safe so that they can fully engage in what the Lord has before them. And when He revealed this beautiful truth to me, I was so humbled to be a part of the process.

I thought that was all God wanted to teach me about ministry, but I was so incredibly wrong. This week we have been working at an Iranian and Afghan believer’s camp and our team was selected to lead the discussion groups…and in case you were unaware, NONE OF US SPEAK FARSI. *Cue anxixety here.* Thankfully we were going to have translators with us. Hannah led two days ago when I stayed home with a migraine and she was also amazing and led the group yesteday as well because I was too awkward to do it. But today was my day.

Moment of honesty.

I was not looking forward to leading at all. After being a part of yesterday’s discussion, I was again frustrated with God and my purpose for being here. I began to question the purpose for short term trips to do ministry because my passion for relational ministry kicked in and I felt incapable of being able to lead authentic ministry for these people I do not know. I do not know their stories, I do not know their names, I do not know the first thing about them; but I am expected to lead them in a discussion to show them more about Jesus?? I have a hard time when someone walks into my life and tries to tell me how to live my life with no intention of staying long-term…so why do I think I can do that to someone else?

All morning I was praying that no one would come or that there would only be a few so it woud be less intimidating. Hah. God has a funny way of working those things out, it seems. Because I am pretty sure there were more women here today than yesterday.

All the sudden it was discussion time. Yikes. 

The lesson today was based out of Ephesians 2, so that is what our discussion questions were based on. The discussion started out a bit slow and I felt like I was a horrible leader or something.

But all the sudden there was a switch.

And things got deep and raw and vulnerable in a mere moment. The fact that everything was being translated no longer mattered to me. The fact that these women were bearing their souls to me and everyone else took my breath away. These women began to share about depression and mental health and it was heartbreakingly beautiful to experience.

And then I felt the Lord gently tugging on my heart to get deep and raw and vunerable. So I shared some of my darkest moments, my battle with depression and struggle with suicide, and was able to relate to them through a common struggle. Because of that, I was able to offer hope to these hurting women.

I have known for a long time that my purpose in life is to bring the same hope and freedom to other people’s lives that transformed me. Over the last few years, I have been able to do that through my form of relational ministry.. But today God reminded me that He knows no limits. That He still uses the most unlikely people to do His work. That He has a plan for me that far exceeds my expectations and I am so thankful for that because I would sell myself short far too much if it were up to me. He reminded me that He is continually working behind the scenes to orchastrate moments like this so that as He is transforming others, He is transforming me as well.

Sometimes ministry is…
-playing with tiny humans who want to force-feed you plastic food
-dancing to the cupid shuffle in front of a room full of people you do not know
-feeling out of place
-awkward because you need a translator
-making bracelets with people you do not know so that when you leave this place and wear the jewelry, you will remember to pray for them
-confusing and frustrating

But here is the thing:
MINISTRY IS ALWAYS WORTH IT.

 

Until Next Time,
April

PS- today was the best, most transformational, challenging, and rewarding day I have had on this entire trip.

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More Than the Sand

If you have followed my Facebook posts at all, you will know that I have been having an incredibly difficult time transitioning into this culture. Today was my first day interacting with any of the refugees because I was fighting an allergic reaction when we got here on Friday. Today was another very difficult day for me.

Our team leader, Tiffany, had a migraine, so Hannah and I were on our own to meet up with the interns from Helping Hands and thankfully, we were successful! Our day was going to be spent at the beach with the women refugees, and I was so very anxious about it. But, God is good and He knew exactly how to speak to me today to calm my soul.

In order for what happened today to make sense to you, I should give a little back story. When I was growing up, I literally never wanted to go to a beach. The idea of spending all day in the heat and being covered in sand never interested me at all. That changed when I was 19, working a summer camp and heard a sermon over Psalm 139:17-18. Today, the Lord brought those sweet, sweet words back to my mind to bring peace to my soul and comfort to my heart. And those sweet words are what I want to share with you today.

If you did not know, before today, I had never experienced a beach. I have spent my entire life in the midwest and I have absolutely loved it, but unfortunately, there are no beaches in Kansas. Not only did Hannah get to experience sitting next to me on my very first plane ride, she also got to be right next to me when I ran into the ocean for the very first time!

I have never really been one who could spend hours at the pool in the water, usually 30 minutes and I am good. And that is okay. I had to remind myself of that though. After about 30 minutes, I was exhausted, so I went to sit out on my towel for the rest of the time. The longer I sat there, the more awkward I felt.. And that is when I had a sweet moment with the Lord.

As I was sitting and watching the refugee women interact with each other and with the children, I was praying for each of them, even though I knew none of their names. In those moments of laughter and freedom that I was watching, the Lord reminded me of Psalm 139. Two summers ago I was coaching at a camp for 8-11 year olds and the speaker preached on these two verses one night:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand!

The purpose of this message was to show the kids that the Lord is continually thinking of them because He cares for them. But that June day two years ago, the Lord instilled these words in my heart. He said, “April, ‘the grains of sand in a sand box’ or ‘the grains of sand on a specific beach’ is not written there. It simply says, ‘they are more than the sand.’ Rest in that beauty. My thoughts of you and for you cannot be numbered. When you go to the beach, try to pick up a little bit of sand and count the grains- it is impossible for you! Just as the sand grains cannot be numbered by you, neither can my thoughts.” That day, I had my mind changed and I decided I wanted to experience going to the beach simply to put sand in my hand and two years later, here I am.

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As I was sitting and praying for these refugees, the Lord brought this beautiful truth back to mind and I knew immediately that I needed to share this truth with you today. I know I chose to be here and I worked hard to get here, but I think I can relate a little bit with some of these refugees. Like I said, I chose to be here, but at the same time, I feel I was ripped away from my comfort zone, my safe place. No matter how many conversations you have about culture shock, nothing can prepare you for the actual experience. I feel utterly alone and even though I am here with a team, I am the only one who is experiencing cuture shock for the first time. I feel awkward and so far out of my element. I know that my experience with these feelings will fade as I better adjust to this place; but I am also very aware that these refugees no longer have a safe space to go back to, they must find or create a new one. They do not have countdowns on their phones for 18 days from now when they go home; or 293 days from now when they get to graduate college, Lord-willing, of course. They may not even have phones for goodness sake.

While all of these thoughts were running through my mind, the Lord reminded me that His thoughts for the refugees are just as beautiful and vast as they are for you and me. His thoughts are for them and His heart hurts when their hearts hurt.

I am simply dealing with culture shock for a short time, only to return home in a few weeks and to fall back into the routine of my safe, comfortable life.
They are dealing with culture shock to change their entire lives.
AND IT WAS NOT THEIR CHOICE.

So I challenge you- next time you are near sand, pick up a handful and try to count the grains. Think about Psalm 139. Remind yourself that the Lord thinks of you always, and He thinks good things for you. But just as He thinks of you, He also thinks of others in the same way.

 

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Until next time,
April

 

 


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Be Still. Trust. Act.

I am currently in the air somewhere between Chicago and Montreal and it is still such a surreal feeling that I will be in Greece soon. As I am sitting here and my team is resting around me Psalm 46:10 came to mind,

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

I thought of how I have not really had a chance to sit and be present with the Lord a whole lot over the last few days because of crazy last minute preparations for this trip. So I pulled out my Bible and began reading in Jeremiah because I really like the story-format of the Old Testament a lot, especially in the midst of my quiet moments with the Lord. I like the Old Testament stories because I am always reminded that the Lord works in absolutely astounding ways through the most unlikely of people and that encourages me so greatly.

 

In the first chapter of Jeremiah, we find the call of Jeremiah:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say that you are only a youth;
for to all whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah 1:4-10

As I am sitting here flying above the clouds, I am meditating on these seven verses and thinking of how applicable they are to my current situation. The Lord knew me from the very beginning just as He knew you..I am not sure if you have fully grasped that yet. Before you were even in the womb, the God of the Universe knew exactly who you were going to be; He knew what your passions and purpose would be; He knew what your strengths and weaknesses were going to be. He knew all of these things because He was creating you so intricately to be specifically that. So not only were these words true for Jeremiah, they are also true for us, today.

I love this next part where the Lord kind of puts Jeremiah in his place. Jeremiah tries to make an excuse for why he thinks that he is underqualified for the calling the Lord has given but the response is, “Do not say that you are only a youth; for to all whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” The Lord refuses to accept man-made excuses because He knows just how truy capable we are. 

I laugh at myself, because this is exactly where I have been over the last eight months in preparation for this trip. I was accepted to be on the team and then I backed out because of finances. I had a come to Jesus moment on December 28, 2016 with Joshua 18:3 which basically says, how long are you going to put off stepping into what God has already done for you? God reminded me that He would never lead me somewhere that He would not provide the means to get there. After that moment in the quiet of the early morning, I remember praying, “Okay, God. If I really am supposed to go to Greece, provide my deposit before I move back in for the spring semester.” Later that day my sister, Keari, gave me the exact amount for the deposit and I cried and said, “Okay, I get it. I am going to Greece.” And here I am, in a plane on the way to Athens. There was a moment probably once a week at least where I would question if I was capable of what this trip will require, but God would always come through and prove Himself and His provision to me. As each money deadline approached, I never had the funds necessary, but at the last minute, He always provided..proving to me that the words He spoke to me that December day were tried and true.

As we make our way into Athens in the next 24 hours and begin our work in the ministry, my prayer is that we remember the power that lives in us and the strength that guides our path.

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to build and to plant.”

Though our trip is taking place at the end of the summer rather than the beginning, I believe the Lord has spoken these words over us just as He spoke them over Jeremiah many years ago. He has plucked us up from our comfort zones and our safety nets, broken us down to bring us here so that we can continue to build into what He is already doing here and to even plant new seeds of His love.

Just as the title of this is Be Still. Trust. Act. my prayer is that during this journey, we will remember to first be still. Second, trust that the words God speaks to us are true. And finally that we will act boldly and confidently in everything we do in the days to come.

 

Until next time,
April