Keep Your Eyes Open

“Cause if you never leave home, never let go
You’ll never make it to the great unknown till you
Keep your eyes open, my love” – Needtobreathe

The maxi taxi rolls to a stop at this dilapidated bus station
and I am more than ready to leave its sweltering interior.
After riding for ten hours with the windows firmly shut
my lungs beg for fresh air.

Our first smell in this new place
is the customary Eastern European cigarette smoke,
lingering on clothing, swirling through the air,
orienting us to this unfamiliar world.

A group of gangly teenage boys stare at us,
the four obviously American girls
with their gigantic bags of luggage
and casual, foreign attire.

Our first order of business is locating a bathroom.
Between paying for our pink square of toilet paper
and experiencing the glory of the squatty potty
our bathroom expedition is a prime example
of full-immersion baptism into the culture.

Our guide leads us inside the ramshackle station
and I notice a massive mural on the wall.
He says it’s a remnant of Soviet propaganda,
and my history-loving brain is intrigued by
the mosaic of geometric shapes
delineating the communist view of society.

The interior of the station makes me feel uneasy
but the warmth of our hosts eases my feelings of trepidation.
They greet us with huge smiles and Moldovan chocolate,
giving us an opportunity to practice saying mulțumesc
and accept their radical hospitality.

Mulțumesc!

This is the thank you letter I wrote for my trip to Romania and Moldova. I figured you (my readers) would appreciate reading it as well. 🙂

My Dear Family,

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me on my trip to Romania and Moldova! Without your prayers, encouragement, and financial contributions, this amazing experience would have never been possible.

I know beyond a shadow of doubt that this trip was exactly what God wanted for me at this point in my life. It changed me. I feel like I grew up during my three weeks abroad. I went into the trip anticipating transformation, but I did not expect this experience to be so far-reaching and all encompassing. It touched completely unexpected areas of my life.

Although I have been home for a month, I am still struggling to put words to what I experienced and learned. That being said, I want to try to give you a snapshot of what’s on my heart.

As most of you know I am in the process of seriously exploring living abroad as a missionary. My two goals going into this trip were to delve into Eastern Europe, and to delve into life as a missionary in a foreign country. I feel like I accomplished both goals, and then some! We stayed with Word Made Flesh staff members, and living with them gave me the opportunity to fulfill these goals. I was able to fully immerse in their culture, and pick their brains about missionary life. My conversations with them were rich, and my interactions with them deeply inspired me. Their courage, joy, hospitality, openness, and dedication challenged me. They showed me what life among the vulnerable, in all its grit and beauty, looks like, and I came away from my time with them feeling that, while a life abroad will be difficult, I truly want to pursue living in a foreign county.

Although this trip did confirm that I want to go abroad someday, I have no idea where I want to live… and that’s completely ok! For the first part of the trip I was constantly analyzing if I could see myself living in Eastern Europe, or working with Word Made Flesh, and it was exhausting. One morning during chapel with the staff, however, God directly challenged the way I was thinking. During this particular chapel we read Matthew 9:9-13 where Jesus calls his disciples to follow him. Those two words, “Follow me,” have been ringing in my ears ever since. The reality of living for God is that I don’t need to know when or where or how I’ll go. I simply need to be close enough to God to hear His voice when He says, “Go!” Once I had this realization, I felt released to enjoy what was in front of me without having to worry about the future. Trusting God with everything is a lesson I have been intensely learning for five years, and this trip helped me continue to release my preconceived notions of my future to the one who has good plans for His children.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was our nightly debrief meetings. Every evening, David (our amazing trip coordinator, mentor, and friend who serves as the regional coordinator for Word Made Flesh in that portion of the world) would meet with Sierra, Grace, Kira, and I to discuss what we had experienced that day. We would say our consolation (high point) and desolation (low point) and then we would discuss hard things we had encountered and ask questions that had come up throughout the day. Our discussions ranged from defining what poverty is and naming what causes it, to wrestling with how to be ethical consumers and live simply, to exploring who constitutes the unseen and vulnerable in our communities back at home. During our meetings we also did a study on God’s heart for the poor by looking at the poor in scripture, and each of us shared our life stories.

I want to end this letter with a quote I recently came across that really resonates with me. “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Prachett. For me, coming back has been incredibly hard, but in going to Romania and Moldova, I grew into more of the person that God created me to be, and I would not trade my growth for the world! Thank you so much for your grace and support as I implement all I have learned, and dig into where God has planted me for this season. I love you all dearly!

Many Thanks,

Kelly

I Saw What I Saw

Dear Word Made Flesh Romania and Moldova Staff,

You have changed my life.

When I think of my three weeks in Chișinău, Galați, and Tudor Vladimirescu, I see your faces and hear your words of wisdom. Although the children you work with did have an impact on me, you are the ones who deeply inspired me, and rocked my world to the core.

IMGP0667Chișinău.

IMGP0790

Galați.

IMGP0780

Tudor Vladimirescu.

As I was unpacking my suitcase a few days ago, the song I Saw What I Saw by Sara Groves began to play on my computer. When I came home from my trip to Honduras four years ago, the lyrics of this song put words to how I felt, what I had experienced, and who I had met. It became an anthem of mine.

Here are the lyrics:

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
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

Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face a memory
Your hope a fire
Your courage asks me what I’m made of
And what I know of love

Something on the road
Cut me to the 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, cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
Ooohhh…
Your dreams inspire
Ooohhh…
Your face a memory
Ooohhh…
Your hope a fire
Ooohhh…

Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face a memory
Your hope a fire
Your courage asks me what I am afraid of
Your courage asks me what I am made of
Your courage asks me what I am afraid of
And what I know of God,
And what I know of God.

Just like last time, when I heard this song on Sunday, it resonated deeply. But this time, instead of thinking of the kids I met in Honduras, I thought of you. Your pain has changed me, your dream inspires, your face a memory, your hope a fire, your courage asks me what I am afraid of and what I know of love and God.

At our final debrief meeting, David asked us, “What were the strongest impressions you felt on this trip?” While I’m not yet sure how to put words to the strong impressions I felt, I do know that you have left a very pronounced mark on my life.

I am inspired by your generosity and hospitality. You took such good care of me! You were very in tune to my needs, and made me feel so welcome. From the minute I met you, I felt like I was among friends. I love how you genuinely wanted to share your lives with me! You opened your homes and your hearts to me, even though less than a month ago I was no more to you than another college student from the states. You answered my endless questions, and put up with my ridiculous ability to step on cultural toes. You have given me much to ponder. Spending time in your community has made me reexamine if I present myself to others in an open manner, or if I tend to close myself off from friends and strangers alike. Thank you for blessing me with your radical hospitality and generosity.

1901246_10202688934278529_1207280378046185158_nSharing a meal.

I am inspired by your joy. You work in dark and difficult situations, yet my best memories of you involve sharing laughter. One of the many unexpected gifts I received on this trip was laughter. Your jokes, teasing, and genuine smiles warmed my soul. Being among you helped me realize that part of fighting the darkness is learning how to smile. Thank you for sharing your joy!

IMGP0687Laughing with Rachel.

Above all, I am inspired by your dedication and willingness to follow God, no matter the cost. You choose the hard road every single day. I can’t even put words to how much I admire your commitment to the vulnerable people you live among, and to each other. My three weeks with you taught me so much about living in community. You demonstrated both the difficulties, and the vast beauty that come from truly being the body of Christ.

There was one day in Galați when your dedication and willingness really hit home. David took us on a tour of the city, and showed us the entrance to the sewer where the street kids used to live. He told us about how he would go with some of the other (now) staff members and spend time among the street gangs, sometimes even spending the night with them. The mere thought of doing that terrifies me! I can not imagine going with the street kids down into the sewers at night. But between seeing the entrance to the sewers, and hearing David’s stories, reality began to sink in. This isn’t about some of us being brave enough to spend time with some of them, because this isn’t about us and them, period. This is about all of us, doing life together, as a family, for the simple reason that this way of life is what God intended for His children. We were MADE for community. Not I was made for community. Not they were made for community. WE were made for community.

IMGP0804The entrance to the sewers where the kids used to live.

Later in the day, we went to a cemetery where the Word Made Flesh community has buried friends and family. You have buried many dear people, including kids with HIV, friends who died in terrible accidents, and miscarried babies of several staff members. Standing in that cemetery, I realized that your community is in it for the long haul, through thick and thin, in life and death.

IMGP0816The cemetery.

I want to end this letter with a painting my pastor shared in church on Sunday.

10446313_10152499261414709_941672676191370751_oA place at the table.

Looking at it helps me remember that everyone is welcome at the table. You have shown me that Jesus has truly given each of us a place. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus and welcoming me. You remain in my thoughts and prayers!

Much Love,

Kelly

Bună Dimineața

Bună dimineața friends!

I’ve had the realization that while my friends at school are probably tired of my constant chatter about Romania and Moldova, those of you I don’t see on a regular basis don’t know much about my upcoming trip, so I think it’s high time for an update.

First off, I have t-minus 50 days until my trip (give or take a day or two.) I will be out of the country from May 16th to June 6th. In Romania we will be working with an amazing organization called Word Made Flesh. (http://www.wordmadeflesh.org) I absolutely love the work they’re doing around the world, and feel so blessed to be able to work with them up close and personal on my trip! Our plan is to fly into Bucharest, and then spend part of our trip with WMF Moldova in Chișinău, and the other part with WMF Romania in Galați. This brings me to my second point.

As most of you know, Russia has recently invaded a portion of Ukraine called Crimea. Many of you have expressed concern that I am heading to that area of the world, and I would like to address your fears.

Eastern_Europe_maps

On this map, Crimea is the little yellow island in the Black Sea, to the south of Ukraine. Moldova is to the west of Ukraine, and Romania is to the west of Moldova. I will be in central Moldova, and southeastern Romania. Although this area of the world is currently quite volatile, Romania is fairly stable. The biggest difference between Romania and Ukraine is how long each has been independent. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and consequently has only been independent since 1991. Romania, on the other hand, has been an independent nation for over one hundred years. Romania also belongs to the European Union, which greatly adds to their stability. For these reasons, traveling to Romania is not particularly dangerous. In the current state of the world, the only part of our trip that is of questionable safety is our time in Moldova. Moldova, like Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union. It has a large Russian population, and is being watched very closely by the international community because no one knows what Putin wants to do next. My team has not yet discussed what ifs for our time in Moldova because it is too early to know what will unfold in the next two months. I am certain, however, that if Moldova becomes an unsafe place for us to go, we will simply stay in Romania for our whole three weeks. I am not personally worried though. I know this trip is in God’s hands. The truth is that nowhere is truly safe. This earth in general is a dangerous place, which is why I am choosing to not let potentially dangerous situations stop me. I know I rest in the hands of a loving God who will take care of me.

Another area of this trip where God has been caring for me is in my fundraising. I have currently raised $2275 out of $3600, and I have been completely blown away by the generosity of the people in my life! Through this fundraising process I have been learning so much about trusting God! Ever since I was accepted to the team God has been telling me over and over that He will provide. The thing is, He provides in His time, not mine. At the end of February I was approaching a large deadline, and a week before the deadline, I still needed $1000. I was beginning to panic when I received a phone call saying someone in my family had donated $1000 towards my account! Time and time again God is showing me that it is so silly to worry. He will never fail me! He has made it abundantly clear that this is a trip I am meant to take, so I am confident He will make a way!

To sum up this update I just want to express how grateful I am. I am grateful for God’s provision, and the way he is using this trip to teach me valuable lessons. I am grateful for the prayers and financial support of my community. And I am so grateful for this incredible opportunity to experience a new part of God’s beautiful world!

Please strengthen me for the task ahead…

For my Bible class this week I had an assignment to read Nehemiah, and respond to it in a creative fashion. I chose to write a letter to God from Nehemiah’s point of view before he returned to the Israelites, and then write a letter from my point of view in light of what I am currently facing. Right now I feel many parallels between what I feel, and what Nehemiah felt, and I am inspired by Nehemiah’s unwavering faithfulness to God. So without further ado, here are the letters.

_________________________________________________________________________

Dear God,

A while ago my brother Hanani came from Judah to visit me, and brought the most heartbreaking news. He reported that the Jewish people who survived the recent exile are in great trouble and distress. My heart is broken for my people! Their beloved Jerusalem has no walls or gates, no protection or honor. Since I heard this news I have been fasting and praying, trying to discern your will for your people. After spending time with you I know what I need to do. I need to go to King Artaxerxes and ask for permission to go to my people. They need me to lead them to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The thing is, I’m scared. What if the King says no? Or even worse, what if he gets angry and kills me? Even if he lets me go, I know I will face opposition. The people surrounding Jerusalem will not be happy with our building project. But I know this is right! I just have to trust that you will be with me. You are the God of the impossible! If you want the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, you will make a way. Please strengthen me for the task ahead.

Sincerely,

Your Faithful Servant,

Nehemiah

_________________________________________________________________________

Dear God,

Back in October I was presented with an opportunity to go on a summer serve trip to Romania and Moldova. I really wanted to go, but I also wanted to be sure it was what you wanted for me. I spent much time praying and listening to you, and I felt you give me the go-ahead to apply. When I was first accepted to the trip I was extremely excited, but now the fear is starting to set in. I am going literally halfway around the globe to a country where I neither speak the language nor understand the culture. I will be traveling with people I met mere months ago, and to top it off, I need to raise $3600 to go on this trip. I know the money will be there when I need it, but I just can’t see how. The fear is real, and it’s eating away at me. But I know this is right! Your purpose is so evident in every part of this trip. I just have to trust that you are preparing the way. You are the God of the impossible! Please strengthen me for the task ahead.

Sincerely,

Your Faithful Servant,

Kelly

Purpose

Pebble Steps

This weekend I experienced a taste of what living out my purpose feels like. I had a moment, standing in the middle of the woods with a group of people who understand a commonly misunderstood part of me, when I thought, “This is it. This is what life is about.” Everything, and I mean everything, felt so right. I was standing in a thin space where heaven touched earth.

Let me back up and give you some context. This summer I will be traveling to Romania and Moldova with a team from my university, and this past weekend my teammates and I, along with the team traveling to Argentina, went on a retreat. It was glorious! Twenty-four hours of unpacking baggage and deconstructing preconceived notions while building trust and making memories. I came away from the weekend glowing!

The amazing thing is that while this weekend focused on my upcoming adventure, I came away from it feeling like I learned so much about life. I have learned many valuable lessons in college, but the lessons I learned this weekend trump them all in terms of propelling me into my future.

That’s the thing – this experience is about so much more than just this trip. This opportunity I’ve been given is about learning how to better live out, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to a melody we sang this weekend.

The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.

He’s opening the gates, and I couldn’t be more excited!

2014

New Year

Passing from one year to the next always feels significant. I don’t have any “New Years Routines,” but I usually find myself taking some time to reflect. My refections on the year that has passed, and the year that is to come have led me to discover two themes that will give me direction in 2014.

Theme One: Have mustard seed faith.

Mustard Tree

My first theme comes from something God spoke over me the night before my 19th birthday back in November. I was reading Matthew 13, and although I’ve read that passage many times, the parable of the mustard seed took hold me in a new way. V. 31-32 says, “He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” As I thought about that imagery, God whispered to me, “19 will be the year of mustard seed faith.”

Theme Two: Pursue fulfillment that isn’t contingent on my relationship status.

His Plan Not Mine

My second theme comes from a quote by Carl Wilson that I read on my favorite blog. (http://thelipstickgospel.com) To share this theme is not entirely comfortable for me, but I know the writing that impacts me most comes from the heart, and is vulnerable and honest, so here we go. As a 19 year old college student, the opposite gender is often on my mind. In the past few months I have had many friends both begin new relationships and get engaged. I know I am still very young, and not yet ready for marriage, but I often become disheartened, wondering if it will ever be my turn to begin my journey towards marriage. My flaw lies in my perception of the beginning of that journey. In truth, that journey has already begun. I cannot know another until I know myself. I’m building my character, discovering my interests, and pursuing my passions. As much as I dream of getting married, there is so much more to my life than my relationship status. In 2014 I may enter a romantic relationship… or I may not. “The future is an undiscovered country,” (Shakespeare) which is why I’m choosing to find fulfillment in other things.

A few blog posts ago, I mentioned an upcoming trip I will be taking to Romania and Moldova. This trip is such a beautiful culmination of my two themes for this year.

RomaniaMoldova

First, going to Romania and Moldova is a leap of faith. It will be my first time out of the country without another member of my family, I will have limited contact with the people I love, and I will be farther away from home than anyone in my family has ever traveled. To top it off, I have to raise $3600 in order to take this trip, and yet, I am so excited! I know this is part of God’s plan for my growth. It’s an incredible opportunity to increase my faith in his protection and provision.

Secondly, going to Romania is “fulfillment that isn’t contingent on my relationship status.” The two largest passions in my heart are getting married and raising a family, and traveling the world. Three and a half years ago I went on a mission trip to Honduras. While I was in Honduras, God awakened a passion in me for travel and culture. Although I do enjoy seeing new places when I travel, it’s the people I meet that truly captivate me. I love stepping into their worlds and hearing their stories.

The Miles Between Don't Matter

Sometimes my passion for travel and my passion for a marriage and family feel at odds with each other. While I know God will somehow work them out together, right now he’s allowing me to wholeheartedly pursue my passion for travel. What a blessing! So I’m running into 2014 with confidence, strengthening my faith and pursuing my passions!