"Each one of them is Jesus in disguise."
It has often been said that missions trips are life changing. Leaving a familiar comfort zone to serve in a foreign land with unfamiliar smells, customs and languages can definitely cause a person to rely on God and to question their own customs and traditions. For the past twenty years, I have had the privilege of leading missions teams all over the world. I've seen firsthand the power that a missions trip can have on an individual. Many of my team members have returned home and made life altering changes. Some have gotten involved in ministries in their own communities, others have changed directions in their careers, studies or families, some have adopted children and others have even moved overseas to serve. Are missions trips life changing? Absolutely!
While serving in El Salvador, I have been honored to organize three quinceaneras for teen girls living in orphanages. Each one has been unforgettable. Last night was our first opportunity to host a quinceanera for women with special needs and the gala far exceeded my expectations. I am still struggling to find the words to describe what we experienced. But the bottom line is this. I need El Salvador more than El Salvador needs me. The Salvadorian people are constantly teaching and changing me. And I desperately need them.
In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks about the final judgement. He tells his followers that they will be rewarded for caring for the least of these, and that by caring for his people, they care for him.
"But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, the he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goat. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was in prison, and you visited me.'
Then these righteous ones will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?'" "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" - Matthew 25:31-40
These verses remind us that Jesus' sheep love him and his love flows out of them. Last night we had the unbelievable opportunity to be his hands and feet and there was truly nowhere else in the entire universe that I would have rather been. As I watched our team members give hugs, paint nails, prepare make up and hair, and dote on the guests, I experienced Jesus. I felt the presence of Jesus as I observed men on our team gently lift women out of their wheelchairs, fix their hair and sweat on the dance floor. These special ladies are truly the "least of these" and I felt his pleasure as we celebrated their beauty. In a world that values outward beauty, independence, success and power, these women are often rejected. However, they are absolutely precious to Jesus and he has not forgotten them. Having the ability to communicate his love for his princesses last night was overwhelming. In caring for them, we cared for Jesus.
The women that we threw the party for oozed with gratefulness and joy. They were not fussy or demanding. They would have been content with any dress, any hairpiece, any nail color and any piece of jewelry. Their thankful hearts were humbling and I found myself constantly convicted by my own attitudes. This is why I need El Salvador. I have encountered some of the most beautiful people that I've ever met in the orphanages, barrios and prisons of this country. Though they have experienced indescribable horrors, they are incredibly joyful because of their love for Jesus. They have an eternal perspective. They teach me over and over again about what really matters in life. And I am deeply grateful to know them.
The story that gripped my heart was that of two sisters, who had been separated into different orphanages due to their ages. The girls had no idea that they would encounter one another and their reunion was like a scene from a movie. They screamed with glee, grabbed one another and didn't let go the entire evening. I sat near them during dinner and was captivated by the way in which they caressed each other and even fed one another. I have never witnessed that much affection and joy between two people and it was absolutely breathtaking. These girls taught me how to value and appreciate the people I love. I'm so thankful that the quinceanera brought together two heart broken sisters, who miss each other deeply. When the younger sister turns eighteen (in about five years), she will be moved to the center where her older sister resides. What a day that will be!
I desperately need El Salvador because as a North American, I tend to be distracted by things that don't really matter. I worry about issues that are fleeting. I care too much about how I look and what people think of me. I complain. I get easily annoyed. And discontentment haunts me. The Salvadorian people have taught me to be grateful in the midst of trials. They have shown me how to dance even when I'm separated from those that I love or I'm grieving. They remind me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While the world values the outward appearance, Jesus cares more about the beauty of our hearts.
It has truly been an honor to serve alongside Sus Hijos/His Children this week on my twelfth trip to El Salvador and I do not deny the fact that our team has changed lives. I am proud of our team and overwhelmed by the things that I get to do as a Missions Director. I love the fact that we make a difference when we serve. But let the truth be known. The Salvadorian people have touched me more than I've touched them. They have changed me. They've placed an imprint on my soul and I will never forget them. Missions trips are undeniably life changing because the people you encounter have the ability to touch you in the core of your being. The absolute truth is the fact that I need this beautiful country to make me more like Jesus. And I become a little more like him every time I serve.
"I Saw What I Saw" by Sara Groves
I saw what I saw and I can't forget it
I heard what I heard and I can't go back
I know what I know and I can't deny it
Something on the road, cut me to the soul
Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face a memory
Your hope a fire
Your courage asks me what I'm afraid of
(what I am made of)
And what I know of love
We've done what we've done and we can't erase it
We are what we are and it's more than enough
We have what we have but it's no substitution
Something on the road, touched my very soul
I say what I say with no hesitation
I have what I have and I'm giving it up
I do what I do with deep conviction
Something on the road, changed my world