Sunday, August 27, 2006

There and back again

I returned from Guatemala yesterday afternoon. It was an exhausting and exhilarating adventure. I made new friends and tried to comfort those in need. I messed up and got frustrated. I held babies and wiped tears and laughed. I tried to ignore mess and stink. I saw beautiful children and was amazed they have been tossed aside. I saw people grow right before my eyes.

Once again, I'm grateful for the expansion of my faith, and I'm sore -- physically and emotionally -- in the aftermath. I'm not sure I yet have the energy to wrap my mind around the experience and offer it up for others to digest. So, instead, I'll share something I've already written.

First, though, a brief explanation: There were 14 of us in our group. We traveled with the assistance of Buckner Orphan Care International. Most of the group members are employees of Red Dot Steel Buildings. Some of us, like me, are connected to Red Dot through our husbands. Amazingly, the company's leadership regularly sends its employees on mission trips where it funds improvements at orphanages in several countries. They also look for places to do good works right here at home. Can you imagine what the world would be like if more businesses cared so much about people?

Nearing the end of our trip, I sat in the dim light of our hotel room, the veranda doors letting in a cool breeze behind me. And I wrote.


Hello, husband. I write this late Thursday night. Today has been quite a day. I’m sitting here trying to think of how to describe it, and the only words that come to mind are mountaintop and valley. I saw both today; I suspect most of us did.

Melissa spoke to the group early in the week about us being the body of Christ – how we are individually his hands, feet or eyes; his mouth, legs or arms. We all have different functions within the body, none being more important. I really saw that today. I thought about the men, spending most of their time here on hands and knees, bent over tile – cutting it, laying it, grouting it, cleaning it. What wonderful work.

Near the end of our time today, Melinda and Valerie and Renee and Leanna spent a long time struggling to get photos of the girls printed out to put in picture frames. The going was slow and frustrating; the room they were in was crowded and warm. It must not have felt rewarding or even worthwhile at times; and yet they were doing their best to have just one more thing to leave behind.

The last time I came to Antigua, what I prayed was that God would break my heart for the children I encountered. As you know, he did that. This time, my prayer was (and still is) that Christ’s love for these children could be seen through me. Specifically, that at some point, when they looked at me, they would see his face.

When we returned from Manchin today, I wanted to write you an email, but not having access, I wrote this in my journal:

Thursday, 8-24-06

I just returned from our last afternoon at Manchin. Sitting in the airport Saturday, before leaving, I read through some scripture. One of them was Ezekiel 26:25: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.”

When I read that, the Holy Spirit convicted me that we should have a baptismal ceremony for these girls. We had been told several of them had made professions of faith. Some I know about personally from the trip in January. An attempt had been made previously to have baptisms at Manchin, and we were refused. But God laid it on my heart: Try again.

So this morning we decided, one way or the other, it was going to happen. We arranged for a large bucket of water to be placed on a concrete slab in the courtyard. Along with that was a smaller container.

In our Bible time, Melissa and I explained sin and God’s desire for our salvation, and about how baptism – though it is not necessary for salvation – is a symbol of God washing away our sins. And how he desires us to experience baptism. Robyn and Phaedra shared the same thing in their classes.

In crafts, Leanna & Melinda and Renee & Valerie had the girls make salvation bracelets, explaining how the colors represent our spiritual walk from sin to an eternity with God.

We explained in our Bible classes that after we were done, we would be gathering in the courtyard for all those who had made professions of faith in the past and felt led to be baptized (there were no new professions that I know of). Roughly 20 girls gathered in a circle around the water bucket. We explained that this act should be purely personal and not for anyone else's benefit.

Then, one by one, they walked to the center. Robyn stood on one side with her hands on the girl; sometimes Phaedra and later Melissa stood on the other side. Francisco, our wonderful 17-year-old interpreter, stood just behind her and translated. As girl after girl came forward, I was so blessed to be able to lay my hand on her shoulder or over her heart and speak God’s message: “I baptize you, my sister, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. God says, ‘I will pour clean water on you, and you will be clean.'"

As Francisco finished translating God’s blessing on each girl, she lowered her head, and I poured water over it. Sometimes, when one of them particularly special to Robyn or to me walked up, we would speak more words of love.
Robyn hugged them and kissed them as they returned to the circle and the next girl came to the center.

It was miraculous. An incredible blessing. Some of those girls had such beautiful emotion on their faces. They understood what was happening. With some I could feel their hearts pounding under my hand.

It had been a tough day up to this point. We had to battle for their attention. Several slept. Two had seizures – one in the middle of Melissa explaining how important it is to grow in the knowledge of the Lord. We were beset.

But God, oh, how he shined. How he blessed us.

Praise God. Praise him.


You know, Roy, there’s something else. One of those girls, as I was speaking God’s blessing over her, she looked right into my eyes. And I swear, at that moment, I know she wasn’t seeing me. She was seeing Jesus. As much as you love me (thank goodness), you know I’m not worthy of that kind of blessing. No one is. But in our weakness, he is made great. If he can do that in me, he can do that in anyone.

See you soon, dearheart. Kiss the babies.


And that was that. To those of you who lifted us up in your prayers: Thank you. It was good. God is good.



BooMama said...

I don't know when I've read anything more beautiful.

You sent me straight to the ugly cry. :-)

And I'm linking.

Big Mama said...

I'm with Boomama, beautiful post that made me cry. What an incredible testimony of God's strength and love. Thanks for sharing.

Brenda said...

This is beautiful! Crying and rejoicing at the same time here. Wow. What a blessing!

Sarah's In the Midst of It said...

I love this. I love the pictures of the girls' faces. I love that God is the God of the forgotten! Welcome home:)

Toni said...

A quick explanation about the photos. While we spent most of our time in Manchin (where the baptisms took place Thursday), we also visited some other orphanages. The photos of the boys and of the very young girls were taken at some of these other places. All the girls who were part of the baptismal service were of an age where they were certainly capable of understanding the meaning of what was taking place. They made their own decisions to participate.

Kim in MI said...

What a beautiful post. I'm going to stick around and read a little more about your mission trip and your family and things.

I hope someday the Lord sees fit to send me on such a trip. Or my whole family, together.

Kim in MI - wandering in from BooMama's link

Lauren said...

This is a lovely post about and amazing experience. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Barb said...

Very moving and very inspiring, Toni. And as always, just beautifully but simply written.

The photos are just the crowning touch.

Blessed Beyond Measure said...

Always challenges me when I read what you've been up to. This did it again.

Kelli said...

What a beuatiful post, and testimony to what God can do. I'm glad you're back -- linking -- and hugs! And btw- Roy followed up on the paint thing, as you know, what a keeper :)

Lee said...

Roy shared this with me in an email Friday. I read it (and cried). Then I read it to Susan (and cried). Later I shared it with a friend (and cried). I am very touched by your willingness to let God use you to love others. To say that I am blessed by you is an understatement. Thank you for investing your life in God's plan to love these kids.

Tammy said...

I am crying also...this recount touched me deeply, Toni.

I honestly prayed for you while you were gone, as soon as I had read your post about leaving. And that God would use you greatly. I'm sure many were praying...because He really answered all of our prayers- and yours.

How incredible for you to be used as His instrument in they way. Thank you for being willing to go outside your comfort zone and thank you for sharing this wonderful story of God's loving others through you.

Tricia said...

What a blessing to be used by God in such a way. I'm am in awe and humbled by your story - thank you for sharing this with us!

Melanie said...

Thank you for going and for listening to God's Voice. Praise God!

janice said...

so glad Boo linked to you today!

what incredible, powerful work you are doing.

God Bless you.

Diane said...

Toni, I am amazed at the work God is doing through you and your group. I've always wanted to go on a mission trip, but so far my mission has been to serve here in my community. Thank you for going where I couldn't go, and being obedient to God's call on your life. I can't wait to hear more about your trip. :-)

Mountain Mama said...

Toni I pray our Lord's continued blessing on you. What you are accomplishing here is truly beautiful.

Overwhelmed! said...

What a beautiful post. I'm so impressed with what you're accomplishing! Keep it up!

Elly said...

I'm at Blogger only since last Thursday. Girl..I love ya, just cuz ya hate bakin"!!LOL!! Beautiful post. If I try to figure out how to link...I'll shipwreck my page. I'll be getting bloglines installed by a friend in October (patience!!)...and tho I hardly know is gonna be there.

MommieSunshine said...

I came here from BooMama's post. All I can say is WOW! What an amazing and inspiring post. Such a blessing. Beautiful pictures and wonderfully written. I hope you don't mind if I link you to my blog. =) God Bless You.

Minnie said...

I'm right there with BooMama with the ugly cry going on. What an amazing story!

Auntie B said...

I totally understand. I had the opportunity to stay at an orphanage in Uganda. We hugged babies, played with toddlers, and worshipped with the older kids and adults (totally astounded me). 2 weeks wasn't nearly long enough. I came home and cried for 3 weeks.

I saw kids who'd been abandoned for whatever reason. Actually, the day we got there, a daddy and grandpaw brought a baby that had her mommy pass away during childbirth. I got to feed that baby later in the trip. It was awesome.

You just can't explain to someone what that moment feels like. Singing with some African kids in the middle of the jungle, holding an HIV positive baby that won't make it another 6 months, worshipping with someone from another country, helping to baptize some of those same people. You just can't explain that. It's a God-thing. I'm glad that God allows us to experience some of what He experiences when He sees one come to Him.

Bless you and your continued efforts to further the Kingdom into the "uttermost parts of the world".

Faith said...

I'm here via Boomama. What a beautiful post! Bless you for you work for the Lord!

Laurel Wreath said...

I came here from BooMama, and I am with out words. Thank you for your work and sacrifice. Thank you for sharing this with us. I said I was not going to cry, guess I was wrong.

Thanks agian.

Chandra said...

It does my heart good to see how GOD uses people. Thank you for sharing this. What a great trip you had. Hope you don't mind I linked to you.

the voice said...

Antigua! What a beautiful town! I serve at an orphanage for boys that is about 6 miles from Antigua. I try to go once a year, but missed this year due to work. In the 7 years I have been serving there, I have seen boys who came from the steets grow into stable, Christian men. It truly is a blessing to be able to be a part of changing someones life. May God bless you for your servant attitude today and always! Ken

PS- I found a link to your blog at Minniemoments. First time visitor, loved the post.

On Fire For Him said...

I am learning just how much I love to read the different blogs out there. This post touched my heart as I can identify with how you felt during this time. I imagine that you are exhausted and still recovering from this trip. Right now, I just pray that God will continue to work in you, giving you complete rest. Also, I know that it is hard to come back from a missions trip and immediately become mom again. So Father, give her a double portion of strength and grace. Help her to apply everything she has learned in Guatemala, to her life here at home. Show her the plans that you have for her. Bless her Lord, immensely!
In Jesus Name,

PS - Don't forget to have those around you be praying for you during the next two weeks. That is when a lot of "attacks" come.

Gwen said...

Toni, You know I always enjoy what you write, but this has a special meaning because I know that lives have really been changed! How wonderful that you and your husband are part of a company that has chosen to really make a difference in the lives of others.

OneCoolMama said...

Beautiful post, Toni. How God is using you in so many ways, in so many lives ~ where you live, and where He sends you. Thank you for your friendship. :)

Eagles Wings said...

Wow, I was surfing blogs today and came to you via Boomama...
Wow what a post....It is beautiful...Guatemala is amazing isn't it? You go thinking you'll be ministering to these kids and come back being ministered to yourself...or challenged to share the love of God.