1 Year With Ben (In GoPro Footage)

To celebrate 365 days with the greatest guy I know, I've gone full "cheese" and made a montage of our GoPro footage from this year. Happy Anniversary Benjamin!

Querido Ecuador

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Querido Ecuador,

I have spent 5 months living in your capital city, your heart, but you will live in mine for much longer. I have been here for a total of 140 days, and like 140 steady beats of your heart, each one has been a gentle but steady push against mine. Today is my last day with you, and I am spending my final hours on the side of the mountain that has housed my team, overlooking the vein map of twinkling lights and life that is flowing from your center. Nothing could have prepared me for you, and nothing could prepare me to leave.

I must admit, it took you awhile to romance me... Your people won me over first. One day, I found great respect for them. The next day, I noticed the particularly blinding smiles and radiant spirits. Then as the days tumbled away and jumbled together, I found myself losing my heart to countless strangers every single day. You taught me how important a single heartbeat is. You taught me to love only the one, and in doing so, taught me to love all.

Now, as I leave, I can confidently say I love you in your entirety. Not just because of all that you are, but because of all that you've allowed the Lord to do in me. Everything about you I adore: your people, your luscious green, your spontaneous diversity, your constant humility, your gentle boldness, your strength in great trial, your patient pace of life, your flavorful food and strange fruits, your unforseeable monsoons, your powerful waterfalls, your smoking volcanoes... Everything that is the rhythm of your beating heart. My God has outdone himself in your creation. You are so strong, you are so wonderfully full, you are so worth loving, and love you I always will...

Until next time EC.

Lenses

We all have a lens through which we see the world. The beautiful thing about this is that each individual has a different view of life. A view that is filtered through every experience you've ever had, each person you've met, and everywhere you've been.

Our life-lens, much like the prescription lenses some of us wear, will change with time. Our experiences change, we see things differently, our focus shifts, and we purchase a new lens to suit these changes. I believe these changes are usually gradual, but we occasionally experience something that hastens the process. Whether it be deep pain, excessive joy, a change of environment, or something entirely different.

Until recently, I had never thought about how I saw the world, I simply saw. But these past 4 months have drastically altered my vision. Before coming to Ecuador the first week of February, my only "international" experience was a weekend trip to Toronto the Summer after I turned 16. Coming to Ecuador 3 years later, I had no idea of what to expect from another continent. I had no idea what I was getting myself into at all, really.

My first few weeks here were like trying to take a wide-angle landscape shot with a zoomed-in telephoto lens... I couldn't take it all in. Even so, I was exhilarated by the brand-new reality that I had stepped into: new home, new community, new culture, new language, new normal. But after a few weeks, the glossy shine of the "new" began to wear off, and I became very uncomfortable with my new world.

My environment was different, but I was still the same. My lens was too near-sighted and narrow to clearly see and understand all that was around me. This world I was living in just did not fit within my range of vision. But day by day I felt a hand turning me, pulling me, and broadening my perspective. Sometimes it hurt (pretty badly, if I'm being honest), and then one day everything around me came into focus.

In the picture at the beginning of this post, my team is playing with some kids from a local market (near the park where we perform Carpa Loca on Fridays). The little girl in the photo with me is Maria.

Maria REALLY liked my camera. So I showed her how to use it and let her play for awhile. She learned quickly, snapped photos of friends, barked directions to pose and smile, and giggled uncontrollably at the images she captured. My heart contracted and swelled as I watched her enjoy doing what I myself love to do.

And then something deep within me shifted, cracked, shook loose, and shattered. In that seemingly insignificant moment, my "American Adult" lens was completely removed and I saw the world through Maria's eyes. Her world of playing with friends in an Ecuadorian market every day after school until her mother closed-up shop. Her life as a young girl in South America. Her normal. Her world.

And a beautiful world it was. She had far less than me in material possessions, but she had many things that I deeply desired. Maria had joy, gratitude, patience, freedom, innocence, simplicity, and love. In her eyes, the simple joy of playing with my camera was just that: a simple joy. She was excited, she was shining, she was radiant, and she mesmerized me. Did I ever see the world that way? Was I as grateful at such a young age, or was I entitled and Americanized even then? How many lenses had I unknowingly crafted over the course of my life? How many layers and filters have separated me from the reality of the world I live in, and for how long?

As Maria laughed and played in front of me, I realized that in only 20 years of life, I had already polished, glossed, and buffed my world to a blinding sheen. I had lived blindly. And if not blindly, I had at best viewed the world through a distorted and nanoscale lens. But if I had seen the world as something it was not, had I really seen anything at all?

That's what I asked myself. Then I consulted my Bible and came across the book of John, chapter 9:

"As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So the man went and washed and came back seeing."

Maybe I am like this man. Maybe you are. Have you ever felt like God spit in your face, and then rubbed dirt in it to-boot? As wonderful as Ecuador has been, those of you who know me most intimately, know that my time here has been difficult in a hundred ways. Since coming to Ecuador, I have cried myself to sleep out of utter frustration, pain, joy, loneliness, shame, and the Lord knows what else. All-in-all, Ecuadorian soil has probably absorbed more of my tears than even my homeland has (that's a half-joke, but only a half). There were nights where I firmly believed I had either heard wrong and made a mistake coming to Ecuador, or God had just left me altogether. To paraphrase my prayer-life during my third month here, I probably said a whole bunch of inarticulate things that basically equated to: "Lord, why have you spit in my face?!"

And maybe I wasn't completely wrong. He may have (figuratively) spit in my face after all! Maybe I am like the blind man, and He put the dirty mud of the world right to the very surface of my eyes, and then challenged my faith by commanding me to go and wash in the "Pool of the Sent". My "pool" was Ecuador, but what is yours? Maybe He does this to all of us, and only blind steps of obedience will bring us to the healing waters, where the scales over our eyes can shift and shake free so that His light can enter into our hearts. Maybe our "pool" is where we relearn to be children, to be grateful, to be awestruck, to be happily and wholly ourselves, to be HIS.

And isn't that really what He wants? Is the heart of God not for the hearts of His people?

Maybe the miracles Jesus performed were not just about the physical healing. Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe that physical miracles still happen, and we have the power and authority to execute them just as Jesus did. But I think we wait too often and celebrate too exclusively for the visible signs of miracles, maybe so much so that we miss the most important miracle of all: the intangible transformation of the human heart.

I believe that Jesus wants to use the dirty water of our lives to cleanse the scales from our unseeing souls, and allow His light to breach the darkest spaces within us. But only blind steps of obedience will bring us to our "pool". We may stumble and cry out, not knowing where we are on our journey to where He has sent us. We may look ridiculous to those around us as we blindly walk, arms outstretched and feet carefully feeling their way to the ground with every step. But all that matters is that we get there. All that matters is that we seek, and see, and finally know.

Some people will say that this is all hyper-spiritual, and maybe it is. But I will say what the blind man said when later asked what Jesus had done for him: "... I do not know. One thing I do know, though I was blind, now I see"... And maybe that's what Ecuador is all about for me.

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On This Day

Facebook has just reminded me that 2 years ago I officially graduated from Edison State College with my Associate's Degree. At the time this photo was taken, I was 17 years old, and expecting to graduate with a Master's in Business Administration within the next 3 years, (or at the very least, with my BBA before my 20th birthday). It is now 2 years later, and I am about to turn 20. I am reminded that I have not taken any university courses and I do not have my BA. Instead, I have a couple hundred dollars for Ecuadorian groceries and taxis, and I will return (once again) to the States in 2 months with 2 suitcases full of clothing and bedding, a desire to disciple youth in full-time ministry, and no plan at all. 

Funny, how things change.

At 17 years old, walking across that stage, I was right on track, right on time, making the right amount of money, and doing all the "right" things... Or at least that's what I was told and what I believed. I'd always hated numbers, and yet I lived within the constraints of them in the days leading up to this picture. Aiming to keep the approval I had, and to gain that which I had not, I created and executed elaborate plans that had timelines and due dates. I had goals that I wanted to accomplish before each birthday, a GPA I wanted to uphold, and an endless list of numbered to-dos. Those numbers were my security, my success, and my status. Now all of those numbers are gone.

2 short years later and the approval I had striven so hard to achieve has dwindled down to the few encouraging prayers of those who simply believe in me. Since my graduation, I have left school, quit my job, stopped interning at my church, planted myself in the soil of a 3rd world country, and will eventually come home stripped of all the things with which I had decorated myself before I crossed that stage. All in the name of wholehearted pursuit of my Jesus.

During this process, I have been told by some that I am "wasting my potential", "too young to know what I'm giving up", "foolish", and simply "naive". Whether those statements are true or not, I have chosen to reject them and cling to what I believe, which is that success is not what I do, but who I am in Christ. Consequently, there is not a single person who can convince me that what I had (or thought I'd have), is better than what I've chosen.

Sure, I don't have a Bachelor's Degree, my own place, a job, a car, a phone, money, or even a plan (my 17 year old self would have been appalled by this). But let me tell you what I do have: Richer life experience, unshakeable faith in my God, greater confidence in myself, deeper love for the people around me, joy in today, peace in my future, and patience as I wait for the Lord's guiding hand.

Don't get me wrong, in some moments I look back and wonder what it would be like if I had chosen differently. After all, I loved school, and I still hope I can return one day. In harder moments I wonder what it would be like if I chose differently now (19 is still really young, right?). And honestly, who knows what I'll be doing 2 years from now?! But what I have learned over these past 2 years, is that if you are giving things up for something that is better, it's really not a sacrifice at all. I've also learned that it's okay to be undecided! Of all the places I thought I'd go, and all the things I thought I'd do, I never thought I'd be here. Yet, "On This Day", here I am: Without everything I thought I'd have by now, but with so much more in Him.

So thanks, Facebook, for reminding me to look at my past and smile, so that I can laugh as I run toward my future.

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Video Diary: Months 1-2.5

Video Diary: Months 1-2.5

Here are a few fun and exciting moments from my past 2.5 months here in Ecuador! Subscribe to my channel and stay tuned! (Part 2 coming soon!)

For more info about the internship program I am involved with, click here.

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Mosaic

In general, I struggle with vulnerability. I have a hard time talking about my feelings and opening myself up for criticism. It’s something that I’m working on, and to celebrate that, I’m going to take a moment to be a little vulnerable with you and share something that the Lord recently shared with me. It has to do with healing.

Mainly, that healing looks different than I thought it did. Mostly because it hurts. A lot.

I used to think that pain came from brokenness, and comfort came from healing. I didn’t realize until recently that the exact opposite can be just as true.

Real healing hurts.

Ironically, just a couple of months before one of the most painful weeks of my (short, 19-year-old) life, I had given my first “real sermon” on healing. I spoke to the youth of my church about seeking the lasting joy of spiritual healing at the cost of temporary discomfort, versus seeking temporary comfort in the pleasures of sin that ultimately led to lasting pain.

The Lord gave me a wake-up call shortly after that sermon that I will not forget, and I may never teach again for fear of having to practice what I preach. (Just kidding… Kind of…)

In all seriousness though, seemingly everything and everyone I loved was being broken in that season, and it broke me. Not only were new wounds being cut, but old wounds were being opened. I needed something to fill the empty spaces, and I needed it fast. I would like to say that I handled every situation as a “good Christian” should, but I did not. Sure, sometimes I blasted YouTube playlists from Bethel and prayed through it… But sometimes I did not.

Sometimes I cried in my dreams, and then woke up in the middle of the night with real tears running down my face. Sometimes I secluded myself and lashed out at anyone who tried to breach the solitary fortress of my bedroom. Sometimes I just kept myself busy, or spent more time with friends, or tried to cover up my issues with a few hours of whatever I considered “fun”.

My heart was broken in so many places, and all I wanted to do was bury the pieces.

It became a familiar cycle and there seemed to be no escape. Don’t get me wrong, it worked for a little while, just as it always had. Every day I felt my heart grow more callous around all the jagged edges, old and new, that tried to cut their way through to the surface.

But then one day (or one weekend really), it was just too much. All of the emotional band-aids I had plastered over gaping emotional and spiritual wounds started to peel away, and the oozing pus of my own filthiness was what came forth. Infection, putrid as sin itself, had rotted my wounds from the inside out; the bi-product of neglecting to have them examined, cleaned, and stitched by the proper Physician.

And then my season of healing began.

As you may already know: when your heart breaks, your pride is broken too. So when you are shattered, humility becomes uncomfortably familiar… At least that’s what happened to me. This removal of (some of) my pride made it easier for me to submit to the healing process I had been actively avoiding, and that’s when things really started to hurt. My heart softened again, and I was no longer numb to the jagged pieces that were cutting deeper every moment. But my softened exterior let the Lord in, and He removed each piece one by one: all the way down to the darkest corners of my heart.

At this point, I anticipated that He would just put me back together. After all, healing is defined as “the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again”, as in: returning to a previous state of health. But my Lord surprised me, as He often does.

He took all my broken bits, (old and new, big and small, sharp and dull), carefully glued them together with the grace that only sticks to imperfections, and then made something beautiful. He made something new. 

My colorful past of mistakes – stories glossed to a blinding sheen with fabrications, calloused scars as hard as stones, and words as sharp as broken glass that had been driven into me and left long ago – were extracted from my heart and made into a beautiful picture.

My Lord made a mosaic out of me.

He did not make my past disappear. He did not remove the words and actions of others from my memory. He did not make me into a perfect, sinless human when He was done healing me. He did not even return me back to my previous, less-broken state.

Instead, He looked at one of His 19-year-old daughters, saw the mess she had created of herself, and skillfully separated her from the things that were causing her hurt, as only the Great Physician and a Good Father could do.

But He is not only a Father and Physician, He is also an Artist, and He made a beautiful picture from the things He took out of my life and out of my heart. He healed me, and held me, and helped me look back over my life with His eyes:

"Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness’… So God created mankind in his own image… And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1)

"The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust." (Psalms 103:13-14)

The Lord knows us because He created us, and He doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He still calls us “good“. The same word He used to describe the towering mountainscapes, the trillions of twinkling stars in the sky, and the breath-taking wonders of the deepest ocean depths.

That is the beauty of what Jesus does for us. He loves us where we are at, and yet never lets us stay the same. Even when we are broken, He sees us in our brokenness, yet calls us “good”, and that is what we are.

So maybe healing doesn’t mean we become as if we were never broken. Maybe healing means He makes our brokenness beautiful. He makes us into a testimony. And like a mosaic, we are being made more beautiful with every broken piece.

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The Toll of Tenacity

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Last weekend, some of my teammates and I decided that we wanted to go on a hike. Little did we realize that this trip would require several miles of walking, and then 4 miles of actual climbing up the mountain (and then back down again)! It was very difficult, but the view at the top made it worth every uphill step, blister, sunburn, muscle cramp, and bug-bite. We had succeeded!

When our teammates that stayed home saw the pictures we had taken from the mountain summit, some of them were jealous and wished they had gone. Then, when they heard our stories and saw our bites and burns, most of them changed their minds and thought we were insane instead (some of us thought we were a little crazy too). We just responded by telling them the same thing we told each other on our way up the mountain: “It’s all for the sake of adventure! The view from the top is so worth it!”

At one point in our story-telling, I began to laugh, because the entire ordeal seemed like a metaphor for my life in the past few months…

I have always craved adventure. It seems to be a popular desire for my generation. We want to seek, see, grow, and experience something beyond ourselves. We want to do great things. We want to be great. We see successful individuals and emulate them. We desire to have what they have and be where they are. But what does it really cost to get there?

5 weeks ago, I found out for myself.

It still feels weird to say that I’m an American “expatriate” living in Ecuador. I’ve completed my first month here and have seen, heard, learned, and experienced some amazing things!

I have not only hiked mountains, but visited monuments, straddled the Equator, lived in a community where poverty is a neighbor to prosperity, made friends with the boys of the juvenile center in the capital city, salsa-danced until the bottoms of my feet were blistered, picked a colorful variety of foreign fruits and flowers along Ecuadorian streets and trails, sang and played games (in a brightly-colored tutu) with dozens of breathless kids during our Carpa Loca Outreaches, spent time on the streets of our city talking and praying with families in a foreign language, learned some life-alerting lessons both in and out of our classrooms, seen mountainscapes that have taken my breath away (literally… there’s no oxygen up here), and in the midst of all of this: I’ve been hurting.

My tenacity is being tested.

When I left for Ecuador, I anticipated many of the things that I’ve already had the blessing of experiencing: a new place, new friends, new adventures, challenging classes, opportunities to serve, opportunities to love, great photos, lessons to be learned, and an overall amazing experience, among other things.

Most of what you see on my social-media profiles would reflect all of the above.

But what you do not see, is what I did not anticipate: the daily heartache of homesickness, the sting of insufficiency each time I realize the vastness of need all around me, the unexpected difficulty of building relationships with my teammates, the pain from the loss of my grandfather in my third week here, the limited contact with home due to a 5 week (and counting) delay of receiving internet services at our base, the general discomfort of not only leaving my country for the first time, but living in another one for 5 months (read: extreme culture shock), and the frustration of daily communication with people who speak a language that is different than my own.

Because what Pinterest, the Travel Channel, and even my Facebook feed won’t tell you, is that adventures will cost you. This adventure in particular has been every bit as wonderful as I anticipated (if not more so)! But it has also involved discomfort, inadequacy, an ever-present feeling of displacement, and many many tears. If I’m being honest, there have been several moments when I have felt “unsuccessful” in my journey and decision to come to Ecuador.

But what is “success”? In our classes here, we have been learning to define that very word in the context of our lives. I used to think that success meant finishing school before my peers, getting a high-paying job as early as possible, gaining the respect and admiration of everyone I met, and never failing.

That’s a pretty tall order for a teenage girl, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ever clung to that belief.

After awhile, I started to hate the goals I was pursuing, and in the past few years I began to search for a new understanding of my “purpose” and what “success” really meant for me. Coming here has been a catalyst of sorts, and I’ve redefined the word “success” in the context of my life.

Success to me now is the determination to go through, not around, my trials. It means deciding to do the right thing, instead of what may be perceived as the “greatest” thing, (no matter how difficult it gets and how much opposition I am met with). It means learning and choosing every day to have faith in the Lord that sent me, even in the moments when I lose all desire to be where I am and all understanding of why I am here. It means clinging to the promises of the Greatest One I have ever loved, and the One who loves me the greatest. It is serving Him with every word, step, breath, tear, and moment. It is making every “sacrifice” that constitutes the toll of tenacious faith.

So I’m going to be honest: The decision, preparation, departure, arrival, and reality of moving to Ecuador have been physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. I am completely apart from every comfort zone I have ever created for myself, but it has been the most enriching experience of my life so far.

So seek adventure with the understanding that it will cost you some of the things that make you comfortable: your possessions, relationships, financial security, and approval. But also understand that it may cost you things you are better-off without: your pride, selfishness, ignorance, anger, greed, insecurity, and fear.

The summit view is worth it.

So be uncomfortable. Be faithful. Be tenacious. Make the jump. Make the climb.

The Lord is waiting on the other side for you.


“Radical obedience to Christ is not easy… It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.”  

– David Platt (Radical)

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Two Weeks In(vested)

For those who are curious, here is a summary (straight from my journal) of my first 2 weeks in Ecuador:

Day 1 – Monday, February 8th

(Finally) finished packing, said goodbye to my family that morning, and spent the day flying to Quito! My team made it to our compound (technically located in Cumbayá) sometime around 3am the following day, where we were sorted (at random) into our “apartments”, chose our roommates, and slept for a few sweet hours. Because there are so many Submerge interns this year, they had to get a new place, and it is AWESOME! The Lord blessed us with a very beautiful and secure house for this season!

View from our backyard (my GoPro doesn’t do the mountains justice!)

Day 2 – Tuesday, February 9th

We stayed at our compound/base for the entire day, had a brief introductory meeting, spent time casually getting to know everyone on the team, and then unpacked our bags and got settled in to our new home.

Day 3 – Wednesday, February 10th

We stayed on the compound for the second day in a row, and at this point I started to feel a little claustrophobic, even though the house is very spacious, we hadn’t seen outside the tall concrete wall surrounding our home, and we all wanted to see Ecuador! But the time on the base was well spent, as we gathered as a team in my apartment’s common area and told “our story” to the rest of the team. Afterwards, we (finally!) got to leave the compound and go to town for groceries.

My very first taxi ride (ever)!

Day 4 – Thursday, February 11th

Our first trip to the city of Quito! My team met with Greg (the CEO/Co-Founder of Go International), for a team meeting and explanation of the Organization’s values and expectations. Afterwards, we ate together in town and enjoyed free time at the mall (Maracuyá ice-cream is my new favorite)!

Day 5 – Friday – February 12th

GO WEEKEND BEGINS! Today was jam-packed with team-building, sight-seeing, and the making of some of my favorite memories to-date. The purpose of Go Weekend was to learn the core-values of the organization my team is working with for the next 5 months (in a very original way), as well as becoming more familiar with our team and the culture we would be living in. First, our bus took us to the famous El Panecillo, where we were sorted into teams (Team Pichincha!):

We were then taken downhill to Centro Histórico, where our founders introduced us to the first Go International core value: Love. Our teams were given $5 and told to minister in the square however we liked for the next hour. My team (Caleb, Kaorin, and myself) purchased several dozen roses (very cheap here) and passed them out to women in the square. We ended up praying with several families, widows, and passerby. Because my conversational Spanish is very broken, and the majority of my prayers were in English, I did not expect the reactions of gratitude and the overflow of emotion that we were met with. As we left and I waved goodbye, a large group of elderly women (that I had prayed with earlier) blew kisses and gave me air hugs from the steps of the historic San Francisco Church. That moment was my first realization of the impact that my time here would have on my own heart, and the hearts around me. That was the moment I fell in love with Quito.

Next, we were taken to a children’s playground in Parque La Carolina in (modern) downtown Quito, where we were met by our founders once again. Our next core value assignment, Creativity, was to collaborate between all assigned teams and make something out of a pile of cardboard boxes, tape, and paint. 40 minutes later, we had built a small cardboard city and some local kids came over to play with us. I made 3 new friends who felt a little “too old” to play with us (apparently 7 year-olds have to maintain a reputation nowadays), but wanted to know all about where we were from and what we were doing.

Leaving the park, we were dropped off at the House of Rock (a bar where our church plant is located and meets on Tuesday nights). They were not open to the public at the time, and we used the stage for our next core value: Authenticity. We were asked to go on stage individually and open up to our team about a personal weakness we usually try to hide (or “mask” with something else). This was a great bonding experience for all of us, and we followed-up with dinner together in town.

Our experience following dinner was a very strange one. We thought we were driving home, but after a few minutes on the bus, we were given blindfolds to put on and told not to talk. After several more minutes of driving and being led outside of the bus, we were taken down a path in the dark and told to sit side-by-side on the ground. When we removed our blindfolds, we were in a cemetery. (To be transparent, I was a little scared during this entire process, and the cemetery thing almost through me over the edge… After all, I just met these people 5 days ago.) But the purpose of the entire dramatic set-up was made clear when we learned the second core-value: Proactivity. After Greg talked to us about the importance of making the most of the limited time and opportunities life presents us with, we loaded back onto the bus and drove home after a long and amazing day.

But the day wasn’t over. As my team walked through our front door, we groaned loudly (one girl may have actually cried a little bit), because there were hundreds of dominoes on the floor surrounding Greg and his wife/co-founder, Christa. We were instructed to spell out our next core-value, “Excellence“, using all 700+ dominoes, (in a way that would fall sequentially without a single domino standing). In addition, we were given several parameters making the task more difficult, and would have to start over if any of those were not met.

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We started at 9pm. The challenge took us 5 hours.

Day 6 – Saturday, February 13th

Our 6th day in Quito was devoted to our 6th core-value, Fun, and was started in the middle of the world! We visited the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo on the Equator (from which this country gets it’s name).

After taking pictures and acting like tourists, we split into teams and started our “Race de Quito”: a race against time and the other assigned teams from our missions group. It was on this day that I sprinted through monuments and a historic church, got lost/soaked in the rain with my 2 teammates, was lost in several taxis (my team’s navigation relied solely on my Spanish-speaking capabilities, which are less-than-impressive), drove to Pichincha (the volcano that my team was named after), visited a couple of local markets, climbed to the highest tower of the Historic Iglesia Basílica de Quito and at the end of the day: horribly lost the race. My team didn’t even finish (after becoming lost for the second time, we realized we had lost our advantage and might as well take time to enjoy the locations we were previously sprinting through).

From the top of the highest tower!

We began to wind-down our second day of craziness by returning home at dark, where we were met by our co-founders to discuss the core-value of Vision. We discussed the commitments we would be asked to uphold for the next 5 months, both as individuals, and as a team. The day was complete with a beautiful dinner prepared by our amazing Go Staff and Summitleaders, as we enjoyed Community with each-other, (our last core-value).

Day 7 – Sunday, February 14th

Valentine’s Day in Ecuador was a great one! Today was our first day off and most of my team spent the day in downtown Quito, connecting to wifi for the first time and talking to family. Later in the evening, some of us met for dinner in town. I decided to get gelato with 3 of the girls before heading home, and the night ended up being one I would never forget…

After hailing a cab in time to make it home for curfew, we quickly realized that the driver had no idea where he was going (we live around the mountain, about 3o minutes from Quito). Between his (and our) lack of familiarity with the area, my broken Spanish, and the gradually moving clock, all 4 of us began to panic. After asking for directions 4 times, calling us crazy, and demanding more money, the taxi driver finally dropped us off at a shopping center in Cumbayá (the next city over), where we hailed a second cab. This driver was familiar with the area, but we still weren’t, and our directions were somewhat “incomplete” (our compound doesn’t have an actual physical address). Long story short, we finally made it back up the mountain and to the main highway where 3 nuns stopped us and began speaking in a language that neither we, nor the driver, understood. They then proceeded to follow us in their beat-up Honda for more time than was comfortable, before finally leaving us (around the time we saw our house from the highway). 15 minutes of street-guessing later, we finally found our street (the one with the chickens, pigs, and chupacabra). We walked through the door over an hour after curfew, and I wanted to kiss my roommates out of relief.

I remembered the directions home quite easily after that.

Day 8 – Monday, February 15th

Another day off, pretty uneventful. Rest and communication were the theme of my day. I’ve already read 3 books since arriving here.

Day 9 – Tuesday, February 16th

Today began the first week of our semi-regular schedule. We had weekly house cleaning, a house meeting, then a trip into town again for church. The organization I am working with started ONE UIO in a bar downtown, and that’s where we meet on Tuesday nights. I LOVED IT! My new friend, Stephano, encouraged me with prophesy, and I became immediately close with several people that night. I can’t wait for the next service!

Day 10 – Wednesday, February 17th

Classes have begun! We started our EQUIP, INSPIRE and COMMUNICATION classes today. I’ve already learned so much about time-management, prioritizing, public-speaking, and the psychology of societal standards and the forming of beliefs. I love that what we are learning is practical and useful, while also being totally different than anything I have ever been taught. Since we still don’t have wifi at the compound, we’ve had to bus into town and take our classes in the bar where we have church on Tuesday nights.

Taking ministry classes in a bar in Ecuador… Not exactly conventional, but the Lord is moving!

Day 11 – Thursday, February 18th

I woke up early today and decided to take my new alpaca blanket (from the local market) outside our gate for some reading time overlooking the mountain. It was beautiful!

Today in communications class we had to tell a funny story, and I chose to tell my perspective of the time I had to help a midwife deliver my baby brother… My teammates found the story even more hilarious than I did, but that’s probably because they weren’t actually the one’s who had to deliver a baby.

Day 12 – Friday, February 19th

MORE classes, and I’m loving every minute of them! Today we had to tell a sad story in class (we are working on inspiring specific emotions in our audience). There were lots of tears in the room, but that just means we did a decent job!

After class we participated in the Dream Campaign, which is one of many outreach campaigns we will be conducting regularly. My Spanish is starting to get better, but it is still hard to communicate well at times (when without a translator). Regardless of the language-barrier though, we got to know and inspire some amazing people.

After the Dream Campaign (mi sueño es: “to write a book”), I went dancing in Plaza Foch (Quito) with some of my teammates, and I absolutely loved it! My salsa-dancing skills are definitely gringa-esque, but that didn’t stop be from having a blast!

This city is beginning to feel like home.

Day 13 – Saturday, February 20th

Submerge is changing their weekends from Sun-Mon, to Sat-Sun. So today was another day off. Internet to communicate and write, followed by team card games in my apartment (Extreme Uno was the game of choice today). Things got pretty intense.

Day 14 – Sunday, February 21st

The options for today’s activities included: taking a taxi into town to attend service at a Spanish church, riding theTeleférico de Quito and then hiking to the top of Mt. Pichincha, or resting and then going into Cumbayá to connect to the internet. I chose the last (I know, I know… How boring…). But I needed sleep, I don’t have a lot of money right now (so I am trying to limit taxi/adventure expenses), and I can do both of those things anytime I want to (I am here for 5 months after all). So here I sit, writing this post and downloading video software so I can put together a montage.

In summary:

My time here has been primarily devoted to team-building, training, and lots of fun! Tomorrow starts our more structured schedule, and things are going to get very busy, very quickly. I’m excited for GOYO (our personal ministry time), upcoming campaigns, continuing our classes, and becoming even more acquainted with my team!

Thanks for reading! For more photos of my trip, check out the Submerge Pics page on my blog.

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¡Bienvenido a Quito!

I’m here!

Today marks one week since I landed on Ecuadorian soil, and I could not be more excited to be here! Upon arriving, I was told that “Quito es muy tranquilo”, but I have to respectfully disagree…

The businesses in this city may close early, the pace of life may be slower, the cost of living may be lower, and it may be a wonderful place to relax and refresh, but my experience (thus far) has been anything but “tranquil”.

Quito is beautiful, different, thrilling, full of sunshine, uniquely marked by culture, and teeming with life. Approximately 1.62 billion heartbeats call this city home, and for the next 5 months, mine will be one of them. My experience this week has been life-changing, and my time here has only just begun.

From my first taxi ride, first full day conversing in a foreign language, and first night with a roommate, to passing out roses and praying for women in Centro Historico, sprinting through a religious monument (blonde hair streaming behind me amidst the many disapproving stares of locals), getting blind-folded and led to a cemetery at night, and getting lost (SO MANY times)… I have definitely been “submerged” in culture, adventure, and the ever-more-apparent love of my Lord!

So in short: I’m here, I’m safe, and I am extremely grateful for the abundance of prayer and financial support I received in order to be here. This week has mostly consisted of training and team building in order to be prepared for more extensive ministry in the city (starting next week). Even so, I’ve already had some amazing encounters with the people here, and can’t wait for the opportunities that the Lord is preparing for my team!

Thanks for your interest, prayers, support, and love! I’ll post a more extensive update next week (with photos) when I have better wifi. Love ya’ll!

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The Most Expensive Thing You'll Ever Get for Free

In my last post, I wrote about ladders. Specifically, the one I have chosen to climb.

After I realized what the Lord was trying to work in me, I began to think about what my greatest weaknesses were (or the “rungs of the ladder” so to speak). Pride? That’s a classic and seemingly ever-present one. Greed? Check. Lust? Check. Bitterness? Check. And the list went on… I thought of negative things in my life that the Lord would surely want to immediately remove, trying to anticipate what He would show me during this season.

So you can imagine my surprise when the first weakness He brought to my attention was love.

Love?

Didn’t see that one coming, but when I think about it, it makes sense. The Bible has a lot to say about love. It even says that God is love, and those who do not know love, do not know God (1 John 4:8).

Those are some heavy words… Not exactly the stuff of Cupid’s arrows and romance novels.

But what exactly is love? Again, the Bible (and society) has a lot to say about what love is. I know that while I am living, I will never come to a complete understanding of God and His love. However, I can understand that God is Love, as it says in His word, and so I feel it makes the most sense to unlearn what I’ve “known” about love, and let Him define love for me.

This has been an interesting process so far, to say the least.

I’ll start by saying that I grew up in church. The phrase “Jesus Loves You” was not only something I read from the bumpers of cars and highway billboards, but was a statement often spoken to me throughout my childhood. I even sang it: “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the Bible tells me so. Yes, Jesus loves me!”

But do I love Jesus?

I know that Christ did for me. I wholeheartedly believe that He gave His life for me as an act of love, and so I have no reason to doubt that He loves me. But would He have reason to doubt that I love Him back? What part of my church-going-Christian life is evidence of a greater love for God, than for anything else in my life? I love Him, sure, but how much?

How much does love really cost, and am I willing to pay the price?

These are the questions I was faced with in these past weeks. Because the fact of the matter is: I can attend church, share a Bible verse or two on Facebook, tithe, volunteer my time, worship on Sunday, and try my best to live how I “know” I’m supposed to… But at the end of the day, do I really truly love the One whom I call my Lord and Savior? And if so, how much am I willing to give Him?

Maybe it seems simple, but I’ve struggled with this for weeks. “I want to follow you, Lord! I want to do your will! I want to be your disciple! I’ll do anything! But… please don’t take this away. Please don’t ask me to lay this down. Please don’t ask me to go there, or do that.”

And then He takes, and He asks, and He sends, and He says. And suddenly it’s hard to be a Christian. Suddenly I’m doubting the Lord. Suddenly, I’m struggling and moping around as though I’ve been done some kind of injustice. Suddenly I have to make a choice.

It started with school. He asked me to take a break, and quit running 100 miles an hour in the only direction that seemed to hold promise. So I stopped, and I got comfortable interning at the church and working another year at my job. Then it was my job. Every opportunity I wanted was suddenly open to me at work, I could easily move out and start school again and pay tuition! But He asked me to quit, and to (temporarily) move somewhere much farther than a local apartment… Ecuador.

After I finally got over that little hiccup, the decision became harder. I agreed to go, but how am I going to pay for it, especially without a job in a few weeks time? How am I going to leave my church? What about my friends and relationships here? And leaving the only place I’ve ever called home, the place I love? How am I going to leave my family? All 6 of my little brothers and sisters who still live at home with me, (shout-out to my older sis in Gainesville, who doesn’t live with us, but that I also love) and my parents, and all the craziness that comes with a giant family, and medical issues, and hectic schedules… and now adding miles and miles between?

Family relationships, and my relationships in general, have already been hard enough to care for and grow, so how can any of this even make sense? What on earth am I going to do when I get back, and where on earth is God going to ask me to go next?!

As I said in my first post: I don’t know. But, God knows. “But God.” Those two words had been my comfort through this entire process, and now suddenly they had taken on a new context. I was arguing. I was crying.

“But, God… Why? Why now? Why this? Why this way?”

Every day it got harder, and every day I asked, and every day I didn’t understand. But today, I found the answer.

And tomorrow, I’ll have to find it again:

And He said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” -Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Daily. As in every day.

I’ve heard this verse before. Many times. But living it is difficult. Living this way is a deliberate decision. A decision that must be made every single day, in every single circumstance, in spite of every single thing you want instead. Living this way means denying yourself. It means willingness. It means the ability to leave behind everything else: a dream, a job, a home, a relationship… Even family. Even self. Even ________. All in exchange for a cross.

But that is love. That is what Christ did for us.

Living for the Lord literally means crucifying our flesh and all it’s desires, in exchange for the desires of the Lord.

Crazy? Yes. As Billy Graham put it: “Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have.”

Discipleship costs everything. Love costs everything. But are we willing to pay the price?

Because love is the costliest thing you could ever give, it is also the most expensive gift you’ll ever receive. The craziest part? From Jesus, we get it for free. Jesus loved enough to choose the cross for you. But do you love enough to choose the cross for Him? Do I? Does the church?

What would the world look like if the church really loved?

I think we would ignite the globe.

Love, to me, is the difference between living a life, and living alive. Love, as crazy as it is, is the foundation of my security in Christ, and the first “rung” on my ladder to climb during this journey. I choose Love, because He chose me, and THAT is my victory.


“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

– 1 Corinthians 13 (ESV)

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Ladders

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.'”

Acts 2:17-18


Imagine you’re me, and you’re standing in a blank space. A blank space FULL of ladders. All shapes, sizes, and colors, standing on their own, in what appears to be an empty room. And then a voice says:

“Choose.”

Oddly enough, I didn’t question what I needed the ladder for. I was, however, concerned with the number of options. I was suddenly overwhelmed by ladders and a sense of urgency to pick just one. I couldn’t.

I waited, panicked, looking from ladder to ladder and back again. I started to become frustrated but couldn’t settle on any one over the others.

Then all the ladders disappeared. Except for two.

This time I recognized the Lord’s voice when He said again:

“Choose.”

And so I examined the two ladders in front of me.

The one to my left was in rough shape. Unpainted, sun-faded wood, splintering, rubbed raw in certain areas, and most noticeably: It had only one rung at the very bottom. I couldn’t climb it if I wanted to.

Then I inspect the ladder to my right. I notice that it is the exact same height at the first ladder, but that is the only similarity between them. This ladder is beautiful. Smooth, sturdy, with all its rungs, and painted a glossy, deep shade of red. I immediately prefer this ladder.

Confused by such an obvious choice, I gestured to my left and asked the Lord “Why would you give me the option of choosing a ladder I can’t use? This one is broken.”

“This ladder represents your weaknesses.”

I glare at the ladder to my left with distaste, then turn again to my right. Before I can ask the question, He answers me:

“This one represents your strengths, your passions, and the things you take pride in. Both ladders are the same height, you will run out of rungs to climb at the same time, and both will get you where you want to go. But their journeys, and ultimately their destinations, will be different.”

“Then why would I choose my own weaknesses?” I asked, still thinking the choice was obvious.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…” 

And then I understood.

During this past year, I began to experience a deep sense of “dissatisfaction”. Not unhappiness. Don’t read that wrong. I was/am/will always be very blessed. But beyond that, it seemed like everything I had spent the past couple of years investing into was finally starting to pay off. Opportunity was all around me. Right here at home. Major promotion opportunities were opening at work (28k yearly salary with benefits, health insurance, and paid vacation at 19 years old? At a POOL? Sign me up!), many ministries were starting/growing at my church (shout-out to our newly-titled Reverb and Crossover students, and the interns about to begin the pilot year of CityGate’s discipleship program!), and I hadfinally decided what I wanted to do with my life and exactly how I was going to do it (HA!).

So what was the problem? I didn’t know at the time, but I think the Spirit was simply nudging me. There was one particular week in April when I couldn’t sleep. Something just wasn’t right. I was running the same 7-day-a-week schedule I’d been running for almost 2 years, and I was fine with that. I got a lot done. People liked me. I was “successful” for a (then 18) year-old girl, and I was happy. No problems to be seen. And then one morning I went to work, and the thought that had been banging at the surface of my thick skull, finally made it through:

What am I doing here? 

Making money, obviously.

But the question was deeper, and that answer wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t even making great money, and I certainly wasn’t responsible with what I did make. But even if I moved up, what then? I would do all the things I wanted to, of course! Move out, pay tuition, get a degree, maybe buy a new car, eventually quit, work in ministry after somehow, at some point, getting enough training to be “credentialed”, and get married and start a family somewhere along the way. Right?

Eh.

I guess that could all work out fine, in theory. But what was I really doing? What was God’s calling on my life right then? I didn’t know, but that nagging dissatisfaction in my spirit was telling me this wasn’t it. There was more. I was missing it. I was blessed, because He was blessing me, and I was reaping the rewards of my work, but I wasn’t receiving the fullness of what He had for me.

And boy, was that revelation hard to swallow.

Once I did, though, that nagging feeling of discomfort grew deep inside of me for the rest of the day. So I did what I always do: I went into problem-solving mode. I analyzed, re-analyzed, and over-analyzed what felt like every detail of every area in my life. I couldn’t figure it out. What was wrong? This was what I wanted!

Or at least, what I used to want.

On the way home my frustration grew and I began to pray. When I finally made it home, still praying, I started to cry. I ended up face-down on my bedroom floor. Greasy sunscreen-covered skin, chlorine-soaked hair, and sweaty work clothes still on. I sobbed for a good hour. The perfect picture of a self-respecting, collected, young lady.

And finally I got my answer. I don’t really know how to explain what I heard, other than that I felt the Lord tell me I wasn’t going to stay at my job. And that I was going to move. Soon.

What?

And then I heard the word Submerge”.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such a complex combination of confusion, relief, apprehension, and a stirring of the Holy Spirit. I recognized the word as a name of a program I had seen advertised on Facebook, but knew nothing about it. I immediately got on my computer and tried to track down the program. It took a couple of minutes but I finally found it. Once I found the Submerge page, I started speed-reading the bold-print: “Go International” (huh?), “missions” (cool, I guess), “leadership” (awesome), “training” (more awesome), “classes” (alright), “serving” (love it)… “Ecuador” (as in South America?).

Hold up.

I think I actually laughed out loud. This had to be some overly-dramatic emotional reaction to having a rough week. Prayers get misconstrued by emotions. I’m a girl, and we get emotional. I must have just remembered this when I was praying and thought I heard the Lord.

Crazy. That’s what I thought. Get a grip. Don’t over-spiritualize everything.

I put my computer away, ate some food, and decided to go to sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. I knew better. Even before all the confirmation, counsel, phone calls, applications, and sometimes half-hearted, sometimes desperate prayers… I knew. And it terrified me.

What I didn’t know yet, was that I chose that day. I chose the crazy thing. I chose what I didn’t understand. I chose my weaknesses. I chose faith.

I haven’t even left yet, and I won’t leave for another 5 months. But it’s more than Ecuador. It’s more than not knowing what’s there, or what He has in store for me when I get back. If God doesn’t mind throwing me curveballs like this at 18-19 years-old, then what is He going to do when I’m 25? 30? 60?

I don’t know, but that’s the beauty of it, and I’ve never been more excited to find out.


“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave himself for me.” 

Galatians 2:20

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Why Ecuador?

If you know me, you know that sometimes I laugh way too loudly. If you really get me going, I’ll even snort, which unfortunately just makes me laugh harder. I usually get embarrassed when I laugh loudly in front of people, but this past Wednesday I didn’t laugh that way in a happy moment…

I cried instead.

Don’t worry, most of them were tears of joy, (albeit unaccompanied by an obnoxious, belly-bursting, swine mating-call), but it was one of my more emotional moments to say the least. Before I explain, let me back up a little bit.

As most of you know, I announced recently that I will be moving to Quito, Ecuador for 5 months to join Go International‘sSubmerge Team, (more info on my fundraising page). This decision has been met with a variety of reactions: shock, disapproval, excitement, confusion, generosity, sadness, and a whole heaping wad of skepticism.

I mean, why go there? Why now, at 19 years old? Shouldn’t you be in college? Isn’t that country dangerous? What do your parents think? Couldn’t you get the same ministry experience here?

The answer to all of those questions is: I don’t know. I really don’t.

But, God called me there, and I’m going. Which brings me to the tears.

You see, a year ago today I was just enjoying my summer with friends after graduating with my AA, and then turning 18 in May. I felt on top of the world. Officially an adult, with 2 years of free college finished already, and a bright future ahead of me. I was having a great summer with even greater friends, soaking up the season…

And I was stressed out of my ever-living mind. Why? College. Career choices. Crunch time. Question after relentless question, each one a different variation of: “what are you going to do next?”, and my answer then was identical to my answer now: “I don’t know”. But, I assumed I would figure things out soon enough, and be right back on my merry way up the ladder of success.

Funny, how that worked out.

Fast-forward to just 1 year later and you see Taylor Smith, circa July 2015: living at home, driving a beat-up ’98 Honda, not a single thought of college running through her mind, and still not a single a clue how to answer all these questions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a general idea now of what I’m doing long-term, but this “ladder of success” looks a little different to me now, and is somewhat hard to explain. Primarily because on this ladder, I can’t see the rungs ahead of the one I’m standing on.

And to be completely honest, a lot of people don’t seem to like my ladder. They don’t have to. Even some of the people closest to me couldn’t (or can’t) wrap their minds around why this might be a good idea, and I completely understand their logic.

However, my ladder doesn’t balance on logic alone, I need faith to even the ground. That’s why my ladder gets a little shaky sometimes. I like facts, and plans, and ladders with rungs.

It’s hard to trust. Hard to do something I never imagined, in exchange for all I had planned. Hard to give myself up for 5 months to a country I’ve never been to, that speaks a language I don’t know, with people I’ve never met. It’s going to be hard to leave my friends, family, church, and hometown I’ve never lived outside of. This isn’t some kind of extended vacation, and I know it’s crazy. It scares me as much as it does everybody else!

But, God confirmed it, and keeps confirming it, and honestly, I cry every single time.

I cry because I’m overjoyed by His faithfulness, because I feel His love so deeply in those moments, because I’m excited, and because I’m terrified. I cry because it becomes real on those days like Wednesday, and I realize how much I really don’tknow.

I don’t know how I’m going to get on that plane in February and what I’m going to experience when I get off. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to see, how I’m going to feel, or what I’m going to be doing. I don’t know how dangerous it is, I don’tknow specifically why God’s calling me there, and I don’t yet know what physical/financial/emotional challenges I’ll have to overcome just to be able to leave. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back.

But, God knows, and that’s good enough for me.

So in February I’m leaving. I’m quitting my job, leaving the internship at my church, saying goodbye to my 7 brothers and sisters, hugging my friends tight, packing my bags, and going to the Southern Hemisphere for 5 months. It’s not an eternity, but it’s long enough for God to do whatever it is He’s doing, I’m sure.

So please, ask me how He confirmed it, pray for me, help me, tell me you disagree, even. But please stop telling me why I shouldn’t go. I already know why I shouldn’t.

But, God.


But The One who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:2-4

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