The Cross, Transformation

My First Mission Trip

Last week on Wednesday, I boarded a plane at about 6am for Phoenix with people from my church, most of whom I didn’t know well. I didn’t have many expectations only to work hard and sacrifice my introvert time! We arrived in Phoenix safely and were off to the Phoenix Dream Center in no time! Once we arrived, we were greeted and put to work right away.

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Myself and roommates were given the task to deep clean the Hacienda, a room used for children’s church and women’s morning devotions. A bit later we put together discipleship binders that the men use for their program. I can’t tell you how many times we tried to create a smooth process to put the right forms behind the right tabs just like the example binder. There were seven of us (4 missionaries, 3 female program leaders) and just as it was turning into a lunch break we finally found an efficient process! Now I can put together those binders in my sleep! The rest of the day is a blur as we were kept busy until 9pm, cleaning and painting rooms.

Thursday morning we woke up around 4am for a 5am hike at The Phoenix Mountain Reserve. I was not enthusiastic and chose the “easier” path when offered. Soon I renamed the “easier” path as the “actually moderate for me” path. It was a mental challenge because I did not know the path or where it was leading or when it would be over! I kept my negative thoughts to myself and continued on like everyone else. Maybe it was my short attention span taking over, my untrained body shocked or my stubborn will deciding “so what’s the point?” We came to another crossroads our leaders told us: we could hike up a very steep hill to see a beautiful view or walk back towards the parking lot. I said PARKING LOT immediately, but as most of my peers decided to take the challenge, I succumbed to their lead. Guess what? It was a very beautiful view and yes I did feel accomplished having done the harder thing. After that I did look forward to our Saturday morning hike at another location but the night before it got cancelled and we were scheduled to do a different project.

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A task we were given on Friday afternoon was to clean the 3rd floor railings with rags and a bucket of cleaning solution water. I never imagined I would be cleaning the railings of re-purposed hotel but there I was. The rooms of The Phoenix Dream Center all face an open courtyard where birds are free to fly so there’s no lack of bird droppings on the railings. Cleaning the railings gave plenty of time for people to talk and share their stories with one another. This was my view looking up from the 3rd floor.

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Friday evening, we went to an outreach to a neighborhood park to play with the neighborhood kids. Every Friday program students facilitate this outreach, they bring food and clothing, music and usually share the Gospel. A boy named, Nick, who was about 10 years old asked us if a certain woman was with us but we told him she did not come with us, he opened a pocket size bible and showed us that she signed her name in it. He explained that he had been waiting to see her again. He also asked if she had sent the bags of clothes she promised, which she had. I was amazed at the relationships that were being built there in the park on Friday nights.

Friday night, we gathered as a very large group to pray before we headed out onto the bar district of Tempe, AZ. It is an outreach they do every Friday night. We broke into smaller groups to walk around and pass out bible tracts or pray. I held a sign that read, “Jesus Forgives.” It was something I wouldn’t ever do at home. We walked by a lot of people enjoying themselves at the bars or restaurants, most ignored us. However, some did not ignore us. They mocked us or mocked our signs, someone from a balcony shouted “hail satan” repeatedly as we crossed a street. The Discipleship students that were with us did a great job of initiating conversations or just greeting passersby. They asked if they could pray for them and accepted whatever response they got back. Although this was all new to me, the students do this outreach every Friday night. I wondered if what I was feeling was what the Apostle Paul felt when he spent time preaching and writing letters to the believers in cities like Corinth. He knew the believers would need encouragement as they lived in a place known for lasciviousness. Most of us do live in a Christian bubble. Most of us don’t spend our Friday nights getting drunk at clubs anymore and so we are removed from the people that never left. I realized it is going to be an important part of ministry to put myself in places I would usually stick my nose up at. The night ended at their traditional spot, Jack in the Box. The only complaint I had that day was Jack in the Box was all out of chicken salads! Seriously, all I wanted was a salad.

Saturday was the day we went to the Gila River Reservation. We were part of a similar style outreach for the kids there. Hot dogs were grilled, basketball was played [ not by me LOL], there was bible trivia and candy. I had my first experience with “rez” dogs, dogs I’ve only heard about on the internet.

In the afternoon, we gathered again for another outreach in an apartment complex parking lot. Discipleship students and some of our group members walked through the apartment buildings to gather the kids. We served hot dogs and cookies, sorted through donated produces to make take home boxes for the kids. Some little girls got their face painted. I played Connect 4 with a 8 year old boy until it was time for the bible story and quiz. There was a water fight. There was am irate man that threatened to call the police on us if we didn’t leave, although the group had permission from the property owner to have the outreach every Saturday. The man took a few food items but eventually left and the outreach went on smoothly. One little girl around 4 years old didn’t leave the Leader’s side. She went wherever he went and always wanted to sit with him. I could only imagine she was desperate for a father and this may have been the only positive consistent male figure in her young life.

We gathered back at the Dream Center afterwards. Soon after, someone in our group quickly came up with a plan to ambush another mission team from South Carolina with a water fight. This was done to us by our mission coordinator earlier in the week. The South Carolina team had arrived at the Dream Center early Saturday after some had pulled all-nighters for their flight. After the water fight, we circled up and both teams prayed for one another. Later that night, our mission team met together one last time to debrief. We shared our highlights for the week which most of us talked about how we did things we don’t normally do, we stepped out of our comfort zones, we appreciated all the hard work The Phoenix Dream Center does daily, and how much we enjoyed getting to know other people from our own church.

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The next morning we woke up and prayed together one last night before heading to Dream City Church Phoenix. The church campus was beautiful! We got a quick tour before going into service. I posted the following on my social media accounts: “Sunday morning concluded my first mission trip. As I sat 3 rows centered from the stage in a reserved section I waited to hear special guest @drcarolineleaf speak, I began to simply take in the moment. I thought WoW, I get to be here in Arizona – serve at the Phoenix Dream Center- attend service at the main @dreamcitychurch – hear the author of Switch on Your Brain speak! During worship I began to repeat these experiences and as I said in my mind, “Im front & center here…” – God said “yes, you are front & center to me, you’re my Shining Star and I like it when you are outgoing.” I thought in my mind “I always feel on the back burner”….God instantly said “You Are Not on The Back Burner.” I began to cry, almost weep. I cried for a whole song. Even throughout the next 20min if I replayed the conversation in my head I began to tear up. I hadn’t ever articulated that I felt on the back burner before that very moment. It was a real conversation from Heaven down to my ears! God speaks to me when I least expect it and tells me things I didnt know I needed to know! He’s so so kind to me♫”

I know I’m leaving a lot details out because there are so many things I could write about. I appreciated that I had a team that didn’t complain and just went to work when given any task.

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The Phoenix Dream Center: https://www.phxdreamcenter.org/

Dream City Church Phoenix: https://dreamcitychurch.us/

Dream City Church Omaha: https://dreamcitychurch.us/campuses/omaha-nebraska/

Church on the Street: https://www.cotsphoenix.org/

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I’m so Pretty

Recently I was listening to “Betcha Gon’ Know” by Mariah Carey. It was the version that features R. Kelly. It made me think about how R. Kelly is now known for abusing women and how many were pushing for the mute R. Kelly movement, among other celebrities that are outed as abusers or pedophiles. I see why people want to shame these people and want to take away their star power. However, there are abusers all around us. There’s millions probably billions of people that abuse other people but we are only aware of the cases that make the headlines, nationally or locally. If we knew what literally everyone was up to in their spare time no one would be allowed to do anything in the court of public opinion. It seems that we have entered a new era in history. Pedophilia and abuse against women in general is taken more seriously in some ways. Despite the “anything goes” culture, the “consent” culture, there seems to be thirst to know the truth even about our supposed heroes or favorite celebrities. I cannot emphasize enough though that it shouldn’t surprise you that the World is busy being the World. That is, if you’re a Christ follower.

In Genesis 6:9, the Bible tells us that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” He [and his immediate family] was the only one selected to survive the Great Flood. Literally, no one else.

As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core. Genesis 6:11-12 MSG

Further in Genesis 18, the Bible tells us that Abraham interceded for the town of Sodom. He asked if God would spare the city if fifty righteous people are found and God said he would. However, I think Abraham knew there wasn’t fifty righteous people so he kept bargaining for less. He stops at ten. He asks God if he would spare the city if there are ten righteous people found and God gives His word, “for the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” We read just one chapter later that God did not find ten righteous and only allowed Lot, his wife and two daughters to flee as God rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from Heaven. Out of the four fleeing, three made it to the next town.

Skipping ahead to the book of Daniel, we learn about a young man named Daniel that was trafficked to Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar took over Jerusalem. Daniel became known for maintaining his purity in the midst of the Babylonian culture. Daniel refrained from the foods and drinks they served as to not defile himself. God gave him favor and Daniel was allowed to not partake in the lifestyle. Daniel continued to see favor throughout his life while living in a different kingdom.

Just as in the times of Noah, Lot and Daniel- these men were counter-cultural. Within their generations and throughout history, their names and stories were written down to be known forever for their righteousness. These are just three examples, but three out of the billions of people that have gone to the grave before us and will go after us… THREE stands out to me.

We are living in modern day Babylon or Sodom or Gomorrah. These cities are basically cliché in 2019. But if you are a Bible reader, you need to acknowledge the time in which we live. Our culture is a secular one. Our country didn’t begin that way but as history repeats itself, Secular is what we have turned into. That is why there is so much hostility towards the Christian life. Real Christians standing for Biblical Truth in the Post Modern Culture.

You’re probably wondering when I’m going to explain how I’m so pretty and what that has to do with R. Kelly, historical and biblical references.

[I apologize if you’ve lost interest already. Context is one of my top strengths and I feel compelled to give the context to help lead you from one idea to the next. It’s just how my mind works! ]

While we live in Babylon just as Daniel did, we are called to stand out. We are not to participate in everything that the opposing culture offers. Daniel could have forgot his identity and dismissed his God but he did not. He could have sold out to the dominate culture, a foreign culture. Time and time again God warned his people to not worship other gods or idols. To not become like those around them. In the Old Testament, God very clearly gave those instructions repeatedly. In the New Testament, God gave us his only son to give us the grace that we might finally obey his commands. He allowed Jesus to come to love us by allowing us to see our hearts are knitted together with His. That we see ourselves and others with His gracious loving eyes. We have to distinguish what is the culture permit and what does God command? They should not be the same. We are to pursue Christ and aim to be Holy not assimilate to a culture that rebels and rallies against our God. It can feel uncomfortable but if our eyes are on eternity with Christ, saying no to permissive cultural practices should become easier over time.

Earlier that day I was running errands. I went to a Target for one thing. That one thing was not in the store so I decided to walk around a bit. Dangerous, I know! I walked through the women’s clothing, accessories, bedding, back through the accessories and women’s clothing. I tried on a lot of sunglasses and touched many handbags. I left the store only buying one t-shirt!

As I was driving away, I began to think about how much I desire to buy new clothing and accessories. How much I desire to join in the beauty and fashion trends taking place. How the pull of obtaining more clothes, more accessories, longer lashes, specific nude colored lipstick permeate my mind. I follow a lot of online boutiques on social media so I constantly see the clothes I don’t have and decide very often that I need thirty new tops every month. Social media is now interwoven with ads of all types. These ads are catered specifically for you through algorithms. Its easy to get caught up in striving to look a certain way or follow current trends.

I often feel I need to be prettier. Prettier and prettier. I have to achieve more as far as appearance. I have to improve my appearance. I have to aim to look better than I do today. Its feels like a beating drum…. Prettier….prettier….prettier. A pounding drum.

For men, it could be you feel you need to make more money, improve your wages, get a bigger paycheck. More money…money….money. A pounding drum.

I then wondered what if I replaced that beating drum with the beating drum of God’s love? What if I put that appearance drum on mute. I believe I would hear the pounding drum of God’s fierce love. I Love You. I Love You. I Love You. DEEPER. FIERCER. That sound would be overwhelming and no other sound could replace it once I heard it truly.

It made me think of how I long for a husband. A husband that would take delight in me. That would be excited when I walked into a room. Or if I were doing something like the washing dishes a very mundane activity. My back is towards him as I zone out in the task before me. He, on the other hand, very much intently watching me. Radiating beautiful thoughts towards me.

So, if I take this vision and transplant it on the Lord…

Can I fully grasp how much he loves me already? How much it isn’t about my appearance? The clothes I wear, the makeup trends I choose to follow or reject, my hair style, my weight. When I catch a glimpse of myself in a reflective surface and instantaneously think “ugh,” when I don’t measure up to the standards I decided were important… NONE of these influence God’s love. God has been radiating beautiful thoughts on to me since before he knit me together in my mother’s womb. For every beat of “be prettier,” God beats “I LOVE YOU” louder, “I LOVE YOU DEEPER,” “I LOVE YOU FIERCER”….its a beat more steady and full than our own heartbeat. Its a rhythm with origins in Heaven that God gave us the grace to tune in to.

Havilah Cunnington posted this the other day on her Instagram. I thought it fit perfectly into the revelation I had.

Related Reading:

Sister, Your Worth is Not Found in Your Size

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