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Pray in any language you wish…

Hey Y’all. This is Hannah–not sure if this is going to show up on Tiffany’s account or not. Tech and I still are frenemies. 😉

It’s not usual for me to hesitate when asked to share about an experience–especially if it’s as amazing as one as traveling to another country! 😉 
Yet here I am, unsure of what exactly I’m going to say next.

I could tell you about the refugees: their community and family oriented culture; their love of strong, sweet hot tea; the way their kids run wild, lured in only by cookies or silly games. 

I could tell you about the first time I heard one of the little kids laugh. The sound was so full of absolute joy it caught me off guard and left me longing to hear more. Or the way they kids play a ridiculous version of Uno that demands all my someday-teacher skills and leave me speaking a weird mix of English and Farsi accent. 

I could tell you about my teammates–how awesome and ridiculous they are. 

     *How Josiah is always positive, even on the hard days–and how he keeps almost dying. (Coming soon: “Why Simply Walk Down the Stairs? 10 Reasons to Almost Break One’s Neck Instead” By Josiah)

     *How George has a super empathetic heart that constantly pushes us to recognize the humanity of each and every person–and how he keeps insisting on using Spanish even though we’re working with Greek or Middle Eastern people. (Why? No one knows…Also, ask him how he says “gluttony!”)

     *How Tiffany is the Team Leader Extraordinaire, staying organized and amazingly patient with our mess–and how we have a growing conviction of her klutziness. At the current rate, we’ll be down a team leader by Monday due to injuries from tripping, spilling, and general how-did-you-manage-that-exactly nonsense. (She also threw a box at April’s face. So there’s that.)

     *How April is bravely vulnerable about her struggles, and super fun to experience Greece with, since she’s so excited about all her “firsts”–and how she’s probably the *most* sane out of all of us…if that doesn’t scare you, you obviously don’t know her well! (Note: when I think of a really good roast for her, I’ll let ya know!) 😉

     *How I’m perfect. AND important. They’re #blessed to have me along! 

I could tell you (serious stuff, again) about the way I feel like culture shock or the pain of all the hard situations we’ve encountered hasn’t hit me yet. But that I feel like each new situation tears a little of the barrier I’ve put between my sore heart and the stuff no amount of training can prepare you for. How I’m terrified and eager for what will happen if that barrier is finally broken. My life might be irrevocably changed in ways it needs to be changed, but it will be broken, regardless.

I could tell you about today, about a simple mistake that caused a big, complicated hurt. Yes. I think this is what I really need to write…A well-meaning adult let a girl (8 years old?) named Maadia hold a baby while she watched. Somehow Maadia and all the careful adults nearby were distracted at the same, crucial moment, and the baby slipped from the chair to the hard tile floor. Even though the baby was soon consoled and fine (minus a scare and a sad looking bruise), the guilt of that simple action weighed heavy on Maadia, leaving her inconsolable despite the kind attempts of the staff interns. I looked in her face and I somehow knew why. She was crying about the baby being hurt, yes. But she was also crying about all the other moments in her young life where desperate situations demanded more responsibility of her than was right for her to carry. About how she’d failed many of those, exponentially so. The thing about guilt is it’s either resolved, or it accumulates: layer on top of try-to-forget-that-too layer. 

Maybe she was too slow in packing her things to flee her country, and was yelled at when she needed comfort. Many of the refugees have a horrible time crossing by boat to Greece. Maybe she was asked by a beyond frantic mother to comfort a younger sibling, who was hungry and so refused to be comforted. Maybe she feels alienated from her family (who, as far as I know, are still Muslim). Who knows. I don’t know her story, and it is more than likely I’m putting much of this on her. This I do know: that little girl has already experienced much, much pain. I could see it hiding–barely held back–in her eyes, recognized it from the times I’ve stared, dull eyed and emotionless, at the reflection of my own eyes. But a lot of people have experienced pain. Some more, some less; some similar to mine or Maadia’s, but many different. Suffering, it would seem, is endlessly creative. (Don’t believe it. Joy is endlessly more so–I promise.) And at a certain point, counseling and strong wills and community can only do so much. 

We’re still left alone with our guilt in the crucial moments when no one came to save us. 

I believe Christianity–more specifically, Jesus Christ–offers the only true relief of that pain that haunts our days. He can meet you where you are, smack dab in the middle of the point where you are physically or emotionally incapable of continuing. Of waking up one more day or holding out your heart one more time. That’s why you can come honestly. That’s why you can, as someone reminded me today, “Pray in any language you wish.” 

Farsi, English, Greek. … Pain, Joy, Guilt. 

Jesus speaks them all.

If that doesn’t give us hope, may we learn to pray fearlessly, until it does.

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin or your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Love y’all. 

Hannah

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An Original and Unforseen Greek Experience.

Although this is not my first missions trip, Greece is certainly an uncomparable culture or even phenonomon as there are thousands of people here and many are from different cultures inside this Greek atmosphere.  The history that I have seen is uncomparable and is amazing to see and think about how many of our common simple tools originate from the many artifacts that were discovered here.  I have not seen the Acropolis yet but it is a very majestic and powerful view from the city but I am excited to see it first hand.  The few days that we have spent here have been very interesting, we have volunteered at Helping Hands offering help and relief to refugees who are struggling, we have also seen the Acropolis Museum as well as swam in the Aegean Sea; all experiences that have to be lived instead of told for full justice.  Also the food here is amazing and freakishly cheap for its taste and even the gifts that I have bought from flea markets have been reasonably cheap.  It is very interesting how the people here that are trying to make their way through each day that is their lives are very assertive in roping in customers for business or promoting their name.  This has been my first time riding on a Metro or even a public bus and both are actually not too discomforting or strange but seem like a pleasant way to travel.  Aside from building a barrier between languages I think my biggest struggle is adapting to the other cultures and being respectful in the fact that a positive hand jesture in America is highly offensive in Muslim culture.  Although not everyone in Athens is Christian, there is much grace, love, and joy in these many cultures, however I will say that hope is still in need in everyone’s lives.

Each day that I am serving in Athens I believe that I subtlety discover a new or different reason that God has called me here and why he has used me to spread the glory of his kingdom.  Although the many people here are content and living their lives with what they basically need, I run into several people everyday who are begging for food, money, or transportation; people who have lost their way or it was taken from them.  I am unsure why but everyday when those are asking for money, they always run to me first and I rarely carry money on me or have anything to offer, and I feel terrible because I have to keep walking and leave them in the desolate place that they are stuck in.  Just the other day, we all were on our way back from the Ministry Center and we were passing through the Metro station to get on our line to Kifissia, on the escalator a little boy wearing dirty raggedy clothes came up to me begging for money.  The others told me to just ignore him because their was nothing that I could do to help but nothing in me could just walk away.  I told him that my pockets were empty and that I was sorry but he kept asking, then I remembered that I had a bag of peaches in my hand that I had gotten from the Ministry Center, and I gave him three to enjoy and to have food to eat.  I know that I did not change his day much but just seeing his face of turmoil turn to a sincere smile made mine; I did not give him what he wanted but I was able to help with his needs and that eased my conscience.  Above all of my experiences here, seeing so many struggle just to live in this city and strive to find the next meal for them or their loved ones, what hurts the most is not that I cannot give them what they want but that I have to walk away not being able to give them what they need and it breaks my heart every time and I would gladly trade places with them just to end their suffering.  My passion for this problem, this problem of poverty that is completely unnecessary was shared in my own childhood and I absolutely hate seeing people suffer in loss of value, position, health, home, love, identity, or sometimes the worst for me is a loss of purpose.  

I love that God has called me here, and I know that he knows my heart and that he gave me this passion to relate and feel compassion for others and it is a way that I can show Christ to others and let God’s light shine through me.  Their are over a hundred refugees that attend the Ministry Center who are looking for a way to find the life that they had or hopefully a life with Christ that they have never imagined they deserved.  I love the people that God has brought me to serve and my prayer is that God will continue to use me as a tool to change the lives of others, and what an honor it is to be a part of God’s plans.  In the many days to come, I am eager for the many experiences to come and the joys that I can share with others, although I am also hesitant of how the pain of others will hurt my heart even more.  If I could, I would do whatever I could to change their lives, but the best thing I can do is set an example of Christ and let others follow in helping each other.  That is my greatest fear that I realized while walking through the streets today talking to Josiah and that is that I am so afraid of setting a poor example of Christ and not allowing him glory or even worse robbing the chance for others to give him glory; sometimes helping truly does hurt and it is so very difficult.  My prayers go out to the hurting, the suffering, the lost, the afraid, and the many searching for answers not only in Athens but in the world that they would find Christ and be saved from the many tortures of this awful world but be transformed the love of the almighty father and that they would let go of pride and ask forgiveness of their sins.  A world without pain or sorrow is a world that I am anxious to share with everyone.  

Bless everyone that you encounter and pray that God also blesses them because if we are only focused on ourselves their is no greater way to waste our lives and desert the love of Christ.  To those who read this that are battling with their faith or have turned away, my advice to you is to find your way back to God and eventually put your trust in him; I have lived many years with no intention of having Christ in my life and they were the most desolate and traumatic times of my life and I now know that their is no greater purpose or happiness than serving the Lord and delighting in his many blessings that I do not deserve.  Don’t let this world discourage you because if you turn your eyes away from Christ, you are exactly where the Devil wants you.  There is no evil in this world so great, that God isn’t Greater.

 “Therefore, I urge you , brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”    

                                                                                                                                                                                                          —     Romans 12:1-2
                                                                                                         –GEORGE JACKSON–

                                     


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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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First Day(aka. Jet-lag Blues)

We arrived in Athens, Greece yesterday morning dead tired. None of us had truly gotten a good nights sleep since Tuesday and none of us slept all that well on the nine-plus hours of flying that we did on the way over here. And then there’s the jet-lag…. There was one point, for myself at least where I couldn’t tell you accurately if I was awake or dreaming. Now normally a person would waste no time in getting to the place their staying and getting in a well earned and much desired nap before trying to attempt anything. And it almost began like that. We did spend some time at the place we are staying. It is a wonderful little place owned by Kallie and Jim, and wonderful elderly couple whose heart for Christ is worn on their sleeves. We however did not stay long. Not even long enough for a short nap. Against everything screaming inside of us telling us to sleep, we went over to the ministry center to get a feel for the place and to begin to form relationships with the refugees who were there. At the time there was no place I’d rather be than in my bed, but in hindsight I could not be more pleased that we went.

It all started with a question. When we arrived at the ministry center, we were greeted warmly and show around the facility. Afterwards, in spite of our yawns and drooping eyes, we went to interact with the refugees who were there. Honestly, I didn’t even know where to begin, I was tired, I’ve never been one to start up conversations with people I don’t even know, and we don’t even speak the same language. What could I possibly do? There, sitting at one of the tables, was a man. Not knowing how to strike up a conversation with the guy, I invited him to play a game of chess with me, to which he declined but return the invitation with a question of his own: “Where are you from?” I answered and from there a conversation was born. Most of it was him talking(in a mix of broken English and his own language) and me listening to him talk about his home, his problems, his concerns, his jokes, and of other things which I couldn’t decipher. And all throughout our conversation all the weariness and exhaustion I felt melted away. I may not have been able to do much, but I could listen to this man. I could hear his story and by the grace of God I was able to listen and be blessed by conversation with him. I never caught his name, but I look forward to seeing and listening to him again.

It is a strange thing to think that God has called us here to serve Him. I can’t help but have a feeling that I am totally unprepared and unqualified to make any difference here for anyone. But I know that God’s ministry does not depend on me or my qualifications. God does not need the guy with the most experience or the best of the best. God looks for those who are obedient to His will, and makes them qualified. I only pray that I can be obedient to Him.

-Josiah(Brosiah)

1 Corinthians 1:30-31


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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 


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Chicago

Hurry. Write. Pack. Rush. 
Drive. Sit. Doze. Hush. 
Not there yet–not where we’ve been promised we’ll be changed. 
We’re at the sleepy, cold-metal-biting-through-jeans, in between place. 
We sit here and breathe, and wonder if we dare to plan on a reality we have yet to taste. 
I think this is what the fragile safety of hope feels like. 


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Last VBS Program For The Kids, Heading Back To Bangkok From Phnom Penh, Cambodia (June 3)

Yesterday (June 2) we did our last VBS program for the kids here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was alittle bit sad knowing that this was the last one of the trip before we head back to Bangkok today, but also a feeling of accomplishment and completion. Our team leader from the college, and  also our guide for the trip (Seth), decided to combine the last three children’s homes into one, in order to save time, so this visit was much larger; instead of having about 10 kids, we had close to 40!

When we arrived at the home, all of the kids and parents were lined up along the road and driveway, cheering and screaming that we had arrived. It made me feel like a hero who was being welcomed home by everyone after being gone for a long time. All of the kids enjoyed the program and thanked us many times for coming. Great experience for them as well as me. God is really working in their lives to help them come from bad situations and start better lives.

Earlier in the day, our group went to a mall just to look around and eat some food. I had Sushi for the first time. It was very good. I have enjoyed all the food we have eaten and all of the people feeding us have been very nice and hospitable towards us. I believe that I have made some lifelong-friends on this trip and will continue to stay in contact with them even after we have left.

Even though the trip is almost over, please continue to pray for myself as well as the team, as there is still alot of traveling/plane flights to do before we arrive home early Monday.

Thank you and God bless!

– Rune.