The Love We Share: M-Trip Sunday

The Tanzania Team tells about their experiences.

We’re on the sixth slideshow when my roommate, Emily, leads her team to the front of the auditorium. The mostly-female team are all wearing the shapeless, colorful dresses that they wore for their week in a Central Asian village. This, along with covering their hair and serving the three men who accompanied them, was their homage to their hosts, most of whom had never met a Christian before.

It’s M-Trip Sunday today at Black Forest Christian Fellowship, the day on which the 70 students and 15 leaders from the spring break mission trips give reports in the service of their weeks around the world. By the time the Central Asia team takes the stage, I’ve already stood in front, wearing my orange Habitat for Humanity t-shirt and stucco-speckled jeans as our students shared about the provision of safety and fellowship during our week in Romania.

As I listen to the students today, I’m struck by both the variety and the similarity of our weeks in six different countries. Some went with boldly evangelical missions, preparing dramas and Bible studies to share with children in Italy and Belarus. Others went to “closed countries,” where to speak the name of Jesus at all was forbidden. Some were teaching, others building. We went to three continents–Europe, Africa and Asia–and took with us 85 different sets of expectations for what the weeks would hold.

Yet this morning I’m struck more with the similarities of the trips than their unique differences. As slideshows reveal that kids in every country like to jump rope and blow bubbles, I hear the students say, again and again, that what was most meaningful and important each week was the relationships they were able to build with one another and with those they’d come to serve. No matter what the “project” that had brought them to Tanzania or Slovenia, Romania or Belarus, the students were impacted by this opportunity to share the love of Christ the best way they know how, by loving His people.

I was sixteen the first time a short-term mission trip took me to a foreign country. Bethany Community Church sent twelve people to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we spent the week building relationships with a community of believers there and, most of the time, doing the backbreaking labor of building a church from concrete, rebar and cinder blocks. I remember the Costa Rican pastor, during our last meal together, sharing that with the money we’d raised to fly twelve people from Seattle to San Jose, we probably could have hired people to finish the project. Discouraging thought to my sixteen-year-old self. But he continued, saying that in the end, this was better, this fellowship of believers coming together to know one another, reflecting the love of Christ that knows no language or cultural barriers.

This is what I hear from our students as they return for the last six busy weeks of school. It was amazing, they say, so see the God is everywhere, working in grander ways than we could ever have imagined. Even though many of our students have grown up away from what we call their “passport countries,” most of them come back impressed by the international nature of the body of Christ, delighted to see that whatever the differences of language and culture, they are joined by a more important bond of shared love for their savior, Jesus.

Thank you to all of you who make this ministry possible, for your prayers and support that enable our students to take these journeys of faith as they grow towards maturity.

Ben shares the value of community in their time in Central Asia.

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Romania: Raising Walls, Raising Children

We raise the front wall of the house, which we spent the morning assembling.

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

I Corinthians 12:14-18

“OK. On three. One. Two. Three. Lift it!”

Robi, our Romanian supervisor, guides the ten of us who are spread out along the back wall of the house we’re building in the outskirts of Oradea this week. The house–a row house with three studio apartments–will be  the new home to three young adults in their early 20s, who have grown up as orphans in Romania. We’ve come with fifteen students from the two high schools in Kandern, hoping to build relationships with our neighbors as we work together building this house.

This morning, the first day of building, we began by hammering two-by-fours together in mysterious combinations. Seven of that size, four of another, our unpracticed hands tapped the hammers weakly, unevenly, against the long nails. By midmorning, we had stacks of pieces. When Robi came to lay them out, fitting everything together like Lego pieces, we watched as windows and doors appeared, and later helped to assemble the entire wall, following pencil marks and swinging our hammers sideways to secure the laying-down frame. Now we’re raising it, lifting together the first wall of four, the skeleton on which the house will be hung over the next four days. It’s a glorious moment.

The moments leading up to it–each stubborn nail that we drove through knotty, curved boards and each bland-looking piece of the puzzle–were less glorious, not so photogenic or full of victory. When we come together at the end of the day, most of us will share varying feelings towards the process of hammering the pieces together, but all will agree that it was only later that we understood what we’d been doing. From the beginning, it wasn’t clear. We were just obeying, just the small pieces in the bigger picture.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we all bring different things to the body of Christ. Perhaps there’s only one nose, only two eyes, but there are millions of blood cells, neurons, and other critical parts that bring it all together, with varying levels of visibility. All are important, even and especially the mysterious or invisible ones.

Later in the week, I’ll find myself sitting on the floor and listening to the children of the Caminul Felix choir sing worship song in Romanian. Caminul Felix, the organization for which Habitat For Humanity builds houses in Oradea, has been working for over twenty years to care for orphans and abandoned children in Romania. Children are placed in family homes, with a couple and up to fourteen children, and in large part remain there until adulthood, essentially adopted by their host parents, whom they call “Mama” and “Papa.” I’ll hear one of the couples, Caminul Felix parents since 1999, tell about both the joys and the challenges of raising 14 children. I’ll hear in their stories a passion and love that overwhelms and inspires me. What unbelievable love, to adopt a dozen children in addition to their own, to pour out their lives to raise them into godly, secure, independent adults.

For young people, the whisper of ambition is ever-present, asking us what we’re doing next, how we’ll move up or on, how we’ll get noticed, get published, get heard. I’m struck that these families and their children aren’t famous, aren’t living as “eyes” in the body of Christ as they joyfully pursue our shared calling to care for the most vulnerable people in our world. Watching them, I realize that it doesn’t matter who sees or notices. For these children, their parents’ commitment to stay put and keep investing has given them continuity and love that they’d never have known otherwise. And their obedience to this calling is more beautiful than anything that fame or ambition can buy.

It’s a privilege to raise the wall, to see some vertical growth on this project we’re working on together this week. But I leave Romania more impressed by the beauty of each individual nail, the myriad invisible obediences of the body of Christ, bringing glory to His name around the world.

Christine supervises a tree-climbing adventure on our visit to Caminul Felix.

To Romania We Go!

The BFA and August Macke students gather for pizza and a last pre-trip planning session.

Spring is in the air in Kandern, as I sit with wide open windows on the last Wednesday night before Spring Break. This means that in three short days, I’ll be heading to Oradea, Romania with a team of 14 students and six leaders, where we’ll build three apartment homes for Adrian, Valerie and Maria, young adults who have grown up in the Romanian orphanage system.

You have all been so incredible supportive so far, with questions, encouragement and financial generosity, and I ask again for your prayers as we embark on this great adventure.

Health and Safety. Pray for the welfare of the team members as we travel and work in the coming week, that we would be be free of sickness and injury. Pray for the spiritual and emotional health of the team, as well, that we would be intentional to support one another with encouragement and prayer during our time together.

Connections and Community. Pray for our growing relationship with our neighboring public high school, August Macke Schule, from which six students and three leaders are coming. Pray that we would be testimonies to the love and truth of Christ in our time together, and that this project would be the foundation for lasting connection between BFA and the Kandern community.

Student Testimonies. Pray for the students as they serve, that they would grow in both humility and gratitude as they spend time working alongside our Romanian connections, and that the love of Christ would be a powerful witness to those involved in the work project.

Communication. As we take a bilingual team of students across the continent, pray  for clarity and intentionality as we communicate expectations and instructions to the students and between leaders.

We will be in Oradea from late in the evening on March 31 through the morning of April 7. I’ll be posting pictures and reflections from the trip on our trip blog, Homes for the Homeless in Romania, if you’d like to follow us. Thank you for your prayers!

Peace in Christ,

Kristi