Beyond My Walls, An Open Letter to My Readers

Buenos Días!

As you hopefully read in my blog post from Tuesday, I returned just 11 days ago from my first ever mission trip to San Salvador, El Salvador. To say that my life was forever changed is truly and understatement. I prayed for months about whether or not God wanted me there and once I realized He did, I was eager to discover His plan and purpose for my Central American adventure. It took a few days and even a few tears, but by Thursday of our weeklong trip, I knew why God wanted me there.

I was blessed to be able to visit a local private school in San Salvador, Colegio Ceren, to talk with a group of high schoolers (most of them were around the 15-18 age range). I figured that this wasn’t God’s purpose for me, since it’s what I do for a job and I was sure there was something bigger for me in San Salvador. Once again, I was wrong. I spent two and a half days at the school talking with the teenagers about my faith and theirs, comparing high school experiences and laughing. One of the boys I met, Josué, pulled at my heartstrings from Day 1. It was something beyond the fact that he was at least 5’10″ (unusually tall for a Latino!), had skin as pale as mine, bright blue eyes and naturally red hair. It took me a few days and numerous people to piece together his backstory, but in a nutshell, his dad left when he was little, his mom passed away from breast cancer, his brother is in jail, and Josué is living alone in a tiny apartment with just enough money from a family friend in the states to cover tuition and a little food.

Friday afternoon at Ceren with Josué!

Friday afternoon at Ceren with Josué!

After 3 days with Josué and his peers, I knew why God had sent me to San Salvador. After discussing the idea with Pastor Victor (the head pastor at the San Salvador church we partner with, Iglesia Gran Comision), we decided that I would become Josué’s sponsor. My financial support will go through the Great Commission Latin America (GCLA), the same organization Rock City Church uses to sponsor the little kids. From there, my money will be specifically designated for Josué and will go to Pastor Victor and he will use it as he best sees fit for Josué’s needs at that time. In 2 years, when he graduates from high school, I can continue donating money to go towards Josué’s college fund. Then, once he is stable and on his own, he will no longer need my financial support. Through all of this, Josué and I will be able to email one another and build a friendship that spans many years and thousands of miles. I have a dream of seeing Josué graduate high school 2 years from now!

Working with the high schoolers didn’t feel “special” at first, it just felt like another day at work (I’m an 11th & 12th grade English teacher in Columbus). But maybe that is how God shows us our spiritual gifts and purpose. The things that we love to do and can do without hesitation are the things He wants us to do for His glory. Yes, he will challenge us and push us to “flex, flex, flex” (this was our motto for the week to remind us to be flexible!) out of our comfort zone, but it’s only to make us stronger in His purpose for us. 

I have only been home a little while, and I already know that my time in San Salvador is far from over. It was definitely hard for me to leave. Part of my heart was ready to be home, share my experience with my friends and family, and cuddle with Dewey, but the other part ached for the new friends I had made.

This past Sunday, an opportunity to return to San Salvador presented itself. I was sitting next to Annie, a woman I became friends with on the trip, at church on Sunday, and in the middle of the service, she leaned over and whispered that she was joining up with the August mission trip. My heart immediately longed to return, so I spent some serious time in prayer begging God for a sign of whether I was to go back in August or not. I realized that really the only thing keeping me from going was raising the money. As a teacher, I’m on summer break, so the timing is perfect.

Yesterday in the mail, I got a check for $425 as an AEP Electric refund. “HEY ASHLEY!!! HERE’S YOUR SIGN!!!” -Love, God

I am hoping and seriously praying that God will come through, not just for me, but for the Salvadorians as well, and help me to raise the extra $1325.

Our trip is August 2-10 and our role will be to serve the community through working with the children, assisting in the health clinic and possibly some construction work. We will share the love and message of Jesus Christ and build relationships with people that are eager to share their life stories and hear why we have the hope we have. I realize that it might not fit into the schedule to visit Colegio Ceren, but I trusted God once to stretch me and grow me, and I know He will do it again. Obviously, I hope and pray that we do, but if not, I am eager to see what God has in store for me this time.

I am asking for your support in two ways. First and foremost, I need some diligent, persistent prayer partners! If you remember to do nothing else on our behalf, please remember to pray! This is so imperative as I begin making VERY QUICK preparations for my trip and then as I actually arrive on site to minister to the poor and hurting of San Salvador. 

Please add us to your daily prayer list!

Secondly, I am asking for support financially in this outreach endeavor. The total cost is $1750 per person for the 9 days we will be in San Salvador. I believe that God has put this trip on my heart (again!) for a reason and I am very confident that He will put this request on the hearts of the people he would have support this mission opportunity. All that I ask of you to do is to pray about it and then follow what God wants you to do for His Kingdom. If you decide to donate, directions are below.

I realize that you may have never met me, maybe this is your first time stopping by adorable lil blog ;), or maybe you’ve never donated to something like this before. Please understand that when you donate, your money IS NOT going into my pocket! First of all, when you donate, you go through Rock City Church. You simply designate your donation for Mission Trips, and then include my name so it goes towards my fundraising. This process will not only assure you that you are not sending money to some quirky girl with pink hair (oh yeah, I dyed my hair pink last week!) to do who knows what with, but it also makes your donation tax deductible! YAY!

I hope that you will also be assured that your hard earned money is going towards a cause bigger than me, bigger than you, greater than the sum of us combined. Your money will be used to show the poor and disadvantaged people of San Salvador God’s love. You will be helping me to connect with Josué, the 16 year old boy I am supporting financially, spiritually and emotionally. And a little bit selfishly on my end, you will be supporting me in finally feeling like I am fulfilling God’s purpose for me.

Your prayer and financial partnership will help our team to influence many for Christ as we serve them in different ways while we are in their country. For those of you that are serious planners like myself, this might be a bit last minute, but remember, “FLEX, FLEX, FLEX!” I must have ALL of this financial support by July 6th. I look forward to hearing from you! Together, we can make an impact on the lives of these precious Salvadorians!

With love, Ashley

If you feel led to donate to my Salvadorian Adventure or have ANY questions whatsoever about donating, please let me know by using this form to contact me!

To read more in depth about my first of many San Salvadorian adventures and see the beautiful faces of the people God has blessed, please check out my blog post:

EndingUpHere.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/san-sal  

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How to Give

Online Donations

  • Rock City Church can accept donations online through our website www.rockcitychurch.tv
  • In the upper right corner, click the little black box with 3 lines. Scroll to the bottom and click “Give Online.”
  • On the next page, click the large box that says “One-Time Gift.”
  • On the next page, in the first drop down menu, select “Mission Trips”

This next part is important!!

  • Currently the merchant services that Rock City Church uses does not offer an option to leave a memo with my name, designating your donation to me. Along with your online donation, please send an email to missions@rockcitychurch.tv with the subject being “Missions Donation For Ashley Arend.”

Turning support funds in to Rock City Church via an “actual” check:

  • Double check that all checks are made out to “Rock City Church.”
  • Double check that the memo section states “Rock City Missions: A. Arend”
  • Once you have verified that all the checks are completed correctly you may:
    • Drop them in the offering OR
    • Mail them to: Rock City Church / Attn: Mission Trips / PO Box 474 / Hilliard, Ohio / 43026

Example Check:

***IMPORTANT: DISCLAIMER!***

To insure the tax deductibility of your support gift, IRS regulations stipulate that support contributions may NOT specify that an individual be the beneficiary of or direct recipient of the contribution. However, you may indicate a preference below and the Church will endeavor to honor that preference. Make all checks payable to “Rock City Church.”

Thank you for considering giving to this cause. Any amount you would like to give will be greatly appreciated.

Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Love Is My Purpose

{please click HERE to see ALL my photos from San Salvador!} Well, I think it is quite obvious that I was unable to complete a daily blog while in San Salvador. I got to the point where I was so … Continue reading

Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Day 3

{please follow my journey through photos here!}

Goooood morning! It is 5:30am Tuesday morning here in San Salvador! Yesterday was our first day of work at the Children’s Center (CDI)! My day started off with another cloudy morning sunrise (much like the one today!), but once again, it’s better than any sunrise I’ve seen in Columbus, Ohio. Before I got to work praying, I actually did a little rooftop yoga to help center my mind and wake up my brain and body! I then spent a good amount of time journaling, praying and reviewing God’s word so that I would be ready for our house visit later that morning. I prayed in Child’s Pose and asked God to use me for Him in whatever way was necessary. I asked Him to take away any barrier I might have from speaking and simply use my words and my body to His glory.

After breakfast and a devotional from Bob (he is on this trip with his 4 kids, one of which, Jenna, is my roommate!), we got on our way to Guayabo! Along the way, the “micro-bus” I was in stopped to pick up 5 of our translators for the day. Suddenly, our van, which should safely sit about 11 people, was stuffed with SEVENTEEN people! Our translators are kids in their early 20s and most of them are in college. They are all hilarious, infinitely helpful, beautiful people. Some of them have visited the United States before, giving us something in common to talk about. In fact, although we live thousands of miles apart, we have quite a few things in common! There are 3 big things that I clicked on with each of the translators immediately: Facebook, Instagram & Twitter! I have also learned that “Selfie” in Spanish, is “Selfie!”

When we arrived at the CDI, we got a quick tour, downed some coffee, and organized into our morning groups. John, Annie and I were introduced to the woman whose home we would be visiting. Unfortunately, none of us can remember her name! We were teamed up with Andrea (Andi) as our translator. I feel as though Andi and I would be great friends if she lived in the US! I am pretty sure she is the Salvadorian Patron Saint of Selfies! We walked with this woman to her home, probably 25-30 minutes away and uphill the whole way! Whenever we came to a fork in the road, we’d ask which way, and of course she would point the direction going UP! Thank God for all my workout classes! We got tothe woman’s home and her husband was there working inside the house. Their land was actually quite nice for Guayabo! They had 5 jugs filled with water, which is important when you don’t have running city water like we do, chickens (one was even a pet and lived inside the house!), and a dog! When you peeked in the house, it was just one room for everything. Their beds we against the walls on 2 sides, the kitchen was on another side and the front door was on the 4th side.

The woman introduced us to her husband and pulled out three stools for us to sit on her front porch. Their dog was wandering the home and immediately got shooed away to make room for the visitors. We graciously accepted the seats and proceeded to have small talk to try to get to know the family and where they were with their faith. Juan has a job where he picks vegetables and carries them in giant bags on his back. Some days, the woman, although she looks frail and weak, carries just as much weight as her male counterparts. They have 5 children, 3 of which are young enough to be enrolled at the Children’s Center. We discovered that the woman seems to understand Christianity fairly well and that God’s love is a gift that we can do nothing to earn. She belongs to the Catholic Church down the hill from their home and attends weekly. Juan, on the other hand, attends church about once a month. We asked them if they had a Bible, and they brought out this old, worn, falling apart Bible. I heard once that if a Bible is falling apart, it must be owned by someone who isn’t. That might explain why the woman was able to walk nimbly up and down the steep Guayabo hills in dress shoes without the slightest of stumbles. We proceeded to go through our pre-marked verses, stopping after each one to check for understanding. Both Juan and his wife understood what we were attempting to tell them until we got to the part about not being able to earn God’s unconditional love. This is common amongst many Catholics; they believe that we can only get to Heaven by doing good works. Salvation can be earned. After many verses and discussions, John asked Juan if he was ready to accept Jesus into his heart. Juan stood silent and gazed over the horizon. We gave him a moment to collect his thoughts before John asked him what was holding him back. It was revealed to us that he felt as if he wasn’t good enough God’s love; that he hadn’t yet earned it. No matter how many verses we showed Juan and explained to him that if we believe the Bible to be true, which we do, and something is in the Bible, it must be true, he still wasn’t ready to commit. At this point, had I been alone, I would’ve quit and said, “Well, thanks for your time! I’ll check back in later!” But Annie pushed through. She told a story about her struggles with being good enough and how she worked through it to finally realize that she can’t ever be worthy of God’s love. Something in her story struck a cord with Juan and he connected with what God was trying to tell him. John asked again if he was ready to give his life to Jesus and this time he said that he was!! His first question was, “Now what??” We explained that John would recite a prayer, Andi would translate it into Spanish and Juan would repeat it in Spanish. Hearing Juan tell God that he was ready to accept his undeserved, unconditional love was a blessing like I’d never experienced before. After the prayer, we celebrated with Juan and encouraged him to get connected to other believers. Fortunately his wife is a believer and can help him with this. I hope we are able to keep updated with Juan somehow and make sure that he is able to find other believers and strengthen his faith.

On the walk back to the center, I felt frustrated because during our house visit, I really didn’t say much. I pretty much sat with John, Annie and Andi and followed along. At one point, the family dog returned and I pet the dog for a long time. At one point, her even rested his head on my lap! But I didn’t really have much to say that I felt could have helped Juan or his wife’s understanding of God’s grace. I felt useless. Like here are John and Annie, two amazing people with so much to offer, and I just sat and smiled like an awkward bump on a log. I was disappointed in myself. I was just really hoping that God was going to use me during that house visit and I don’t feel like he needed me. I suppose it’s true that sometimes we have to get out of God’s way and let Him do His thing. Sometimes that involves us and sometimes it doesn’t. While walking, I prayed that god would have another way to use me that day.

As Melissa got ready to deliver her lesson, I wandered around the children taking photos. At one point, I found two of the daughters of the family we had just visited! As Melissa and her translator were talking, these kids were rowdy! It’s truly a good thing I can’t speak Spanish because my teacher mode would have come out in full force!!! After the lessons, there was a craft the kids got to make and take home. I had fun helping the kids. They didn’t care that we had a communication barrier, they just wanted someone to pay attention to them and help them.

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Once the kids’ lesson was completed, they were allowed free time to run around and play. I went to check out the construction area where we are building a playground and completing some other tasks. Still trying to be useful for God, I picked up a shovel and began helping where I could.

Our entire group got to go to the home of Victor and Sylvia Turcios for dinner. Victor is the pastor at Iglesia Gran Comision and works very closely with the CDI. Their home was very simple and not a mansion by any means, but they worked very hard to make it welcoming for us. Dinner wasn’t quite ready when we got there, so a group of us went to the playground next door to play soccer. I didn’t play, but took photos and held cell phones instead! When we returned to the house, we were treated to a delicious meal of homemade tortilla soup, homemade jalapeño pesto dip (I tried it even though I’m a weakling when it comes to spices! It was very good, but very spicy!!!), quesadillas, pound cake and coffee.

Sylvia serving us her delicious meal!

Sylvia serving us her delicious meal!

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It was then back “home” to the hotel for our debriefing meeting and bed! All in all, I had a wonderful day and got to experience some truly incredible things. I am still working through my frustrations of not feeling useful for God, but I know that He has a place where He will use me for his glory.

Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Day 2

Our first full day here in San Salvador was of course, AMAZING. I am realizing though, that with the incredibly full and busy days ahead of us, I may not have time to provide detailed posts every night. I can survive on 5 hours of sleep, but the way I usually write and edit…I’d only get 3 hours of sleep! SO, I will provide as much detail as possible, but I just hope that between my handful of words and bevy of photos, your curiosity about my current adventure will be satiated!

  • I woke up at 5am this morning to experience my first Salvadorian sunset. Unfortunately, it was a little cloudy from last night’s  rainstorm, but the sunrise was still more beautiful than any I’d seen in Columbus for a while! I tried to have some quiet alone time of journaling, but as soon as I’d get to writing, the sun would rise a little higher, creating the “just right” Kodak moment.

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  • Breakfast was at 6:30am. During breakfast, we went over the plan for the day, fellowshipped together and had a short time of devotion to put our heads and hearts in order for the day.
Eggs, beans, ham & cheese roll, plantains, and OF COURSE...COFFEEEEEE!!!!

Eggs, beans, ham & cheese roll, plantains, and OF COURSE…COFFEEEEEE!!!!

  • After breakfast, we left for Iglesia Gran Comisión San Salvador and the first of 3 church services we would attend and serve at throughout the day. At each service, our pastor, John Ransom was preaching! The only thing that made this slightly challenging was the fact that John was speaking with a translator. John would say a sentence or phrase and then the translator would speak in Spanish. Everyone at the church was so kind and welcoming and eager to have us there. I met hermanos Gerson (pronounced hair-son with a rolled rrrr.) and Emilio and their father, Emilio Sr. Gerson and Emilio sang in the church worship band. We sang songs in Spanish, that I could pick out a few words from. We also sang an old familiar song, How Great is Our God, but in Spanish! It was a unique experience to be able to worship with our hosts in their language and know that God not only hears us, but understands our hearts and our words.
  • We stayed at Iglesia Gran Comisión for another service, but instead of sitting in for the service, a group of us sat outside the worship hall and fellowshipped a bit. I am really enjoying getting to know the people on our trip. We are all connected in some way!
Church Worship Band at

Church Worship Band at Iglesia Gran Comision

  • By the time the 2nd service ended, it was lunchtime! We traveled to the local mall to eat in the food court. We were each given $5 to spend on food. San Salvador uses dollars like in the United States, but it goes much further down here than it does up north. Another difference is the popularity of the Sunday lunch crowd at the mall! We walked in and it was PACKED! I can’t remember the last time I saw any mall in Columbus so filled with people! Wait….Yes I can. 1998, City Center Mall was filled with teenage girls hoping to catch a glance of the popular boy group Hanson. I was one of said girls. But I digress. Apparently the thing to do with your friends and family on Sunday is go to the mall and have lunch in the food court. We were given our money and a partner and sent on our way. I was partnered with Alyssa and we TOTALLY underestimated how difficult it would be to acquire food in a Salvadorian mall food court when neither of us speak Spanish. Thank God we serendipitously chose the same line as Sarah! She was able to help us figure out exactly what we wanted!
  • After lunch, we headed to Soyapongo for church service #3. In Soyapongo, I met Mario, a guy that works with the church to run sound and helps with the children’s ministry. Mario’s English was better than some of my friends back home! I asked how old he was and he told me to guess. I hate guessing ages, but I played along and guessed 18. WRONG! 25!!! Such a babyface! I noticed that Mario was wearing a pristine pair of Nike Jordan shoes. I commented that my students back home LOVE their Jordan’s too. He said that he has to have them and has worked very, very hard to pay for THREE pairs of them! Mario does something working with computers and networking (even in his near perfect English, I had a hard time understanding exactly what he does! Ha!) and is currently studying for an exam for either a promotion or job change (again, even English didn’t help my lack of technical knowledge.). He showed me on his phone the reading he’s doing. No wonder his English is so good! He was reading words that would take me a few tries to comprehend! It was nice to talk to someone from San Salvador without struggling with a language barrier. Plus, I was truly inspired by his perseverance and hard work not only to get something he wanted but also his dedication to the church, which he has grown up in since he was a little boy. Just something about his joyfulness was magnetizing! I could have talked with him for hours! We also had a few good laughs watching the little kids interact with each other. Turns out kids are the same no matter what country you’re in!

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  • Since the third church service was so late in the afternoon, by the time it was over, it was dinnertime! Dinner was at a local restaurant, Tipicos Margoth. I had my first pupusa! A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla that is usually filled with a blend of the following: cheese cooked pork meat ground to a paste consistency refried beans, or queso con loroco. It was a simple, but delicious dish!
I was so hungry, I started eating before I remembered to take a picture!

I was so hungry, I started eating before I remembered to take a picture!

  • Post dinner, we had our debriefing meeting back at the hotel and figured out who would be doing what tomorrow at the children’s center. John asked if I would go with him and Annie on a house visit (i.e. evangelizing) in the morning. Of course I said I would go. Evangelizing has been my biggest anxiety in planning for this trip. I simply don’t think my story of coming to faith is all that exciting or meaningful. It’s not something that brings me to tears, and I think the ones that do are some of the most impressive stories. Heck, I can’t even identify the exact moment I was saved. I have just always known that Jesus is my Savior because I was raised in a strong Christian home. Sure, at some point I had to make the decision to follow Christ for myself, but I really can’t identify when that moment was. Yes, I have had times of trial where I have been angry with or confused by God, but I have never questioned his existence. Needless to say, I just don’t think my testimony is very strong or really even worth sharing. I am glad that I will be on my first visit with John, our pastor who obviously know what he’s doing and what to say. I will be able to learn a great deal from him and observe how he talks to people about his faith and what they believe.

Today was a long, exhausting day. I am eager and anxious to see what tomorrow brings!

Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Day 1

PHEW! It’s 8:45pm here in San Salvador (10:45pm back home in Ohio) and for some odd reason, I am not tired yet! I should mention I have been up since 3am (thanks for the wake up call, Dad…ughhh), have been on 2 flights totaling 5 hours in the air and 1 45-minute van ride. I should be exhausted! But I’m glad I’m not so I can give everyone an update!

Our first flight left from Columbus, Ohio at 5:50 am this morning and landed us in Miami, Florida. From Miami, we flew to San Salvador, El Salvador.

In case you're as clueless as I was...

In case you’re as clueless as I was…

Right in the heart of it all!!

Right in the heart of it all!!

Both flights for me were pretty uneventful. I already knew that even with the best of intentions to be productive during either of the flights, I knew I’d fall asleep eventually. So I gave in and tried to catch some extra zzz’s before the long day ahead. Flying into San Salvador was simply breathtaking. Everything was so green! I could see homes and buildings from above, but the land far outweighed the buildings.

Once we landed, we went straight to Immigration. The woman checked my passport and documentation and ask how many days I’d be staying. My Spanish is beyond lacking, but I can at least count to 10, and we’ll only be here 9 days! WOO! I know the answer to this one! So I happily blurted, “NINE!” Well, there went my first opportunity for real Spanish. She looked at me confused, “What? Oh…ok.” She was very sweet and smiled at the silly blonde girl who couldn’t even figure out how to say “NUEVE!”

After Immigration came Customs. Once again, the friendly Salvadorian laughed at my lack of Spanish and asked me to push a button right below a giant red and green traffic light looking contraption. “OH! Ok! It’s green….what’s that mean??” I was hoping for some sort of exciting prize for following directions so well! WRONG! Apparently it’s a randomizer that randomly lights up red or green. Green – you pass through into San Salvador. Red – you have to put your bag through the x-ray machine.

Everyone made it through both Immigrations and Customs without a hitch. The only slight problem was that one of our bags got lost, and both fortunately and unfortunately, it wasn’t anyone’s personal items, “just” donations for the villagers.

My new best friend and San Salvador reference, Sarah, met us outside. Sarah works as the Missions Coordinator and her husband, Jorge, is the head of college ministry. She reminded us of a few important tips (DON’T drink the water and don’t flush toilet paper!) and gave us a rundown of the rest of the afternoon and evening before escorting us to our van drivers for the week. We all piled in and began the 45-minute trek to our hotel.

Looking out the window on the drive was incredible. We saw everything from horses just chillin on the side of the road, to dogs wandering around, to graffiti, to shirtless workers enjoying an afternoon siesta.

 

Okay…the tired is starting to hit me, so I’m going to wrap up the rest of the day kinda quickly:

  • We arrived at the hotel and received our room assignments. I am rooming with 2 lovely girls, Jenna and Becca. Small world! I graduate high school with Becca’s older sister! Our room is basically 2 queen sized beds and one twin. They are very quaint, but perfect. It feels kinda like a dorm room (but we have our own bathroom!).
  • We had orientation (schedule for the week, do’s and don’t’s, cultural traditions, etc.).
  • Our first outing was to the local grocery store! I stuck close to Sarah and she showed me some delicious treats you can only get in San Salvador. I will be returning home with plantain chips, white chocolate and peanut butter candies, cream soda and Oreo Wafers! YEAH! I’ve never seen Oreo WAFERS in the US!!! I also scored some delicious pastries from the bakery. Since I will not be able to bring them home, I documented the banana puff pastry that might have been one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted.
I'M GOIN' IN!!!

I’M GOIN’ IN!!!

I couldn't even get a picture of the entire thing before my mouth took over and I started chomping!

I couldn’t even get a picture of the entire thing before my mouth took over and I started chomping!

  • After our grocery outing, we came home (the hotel) for dinner. PIZZA!!!! A little taste of home was fantastic!
  • Our last group activity for the night was getting to know each other a little better by sharing what we are most looking forward to this week. I shared that I am simply looking forward to everything!! I’m really not sure what to expect this week, so I am excited for it all! I will be paying attention to opportunities to be stretched beyond my comfort level and open to God’s changes in my heart.
  • It had started to rain during our meeting, so after we had concluded in prayer, a few of us when to the roof (yeah, you can just go chill on the roof!). It’s covered, so we weren’t being rained on. I tried to capture some photos of the storm, but I did not have any success. I will just have to remember it. That roof is going to be home to many of my quiet times this week. In fact, I’m just crazy enough to dare to get up for the sunrise tomorrow!

Speaking of which, I am now officially tired. Please follow me here on Ending Up Here, Instagram, and Flickr for as many updates as I can muster before passing out from exhaustion each night!! Thank you so much to each and every one of you for your support through kind words, encouraging texts, and just by keeping up with me here!! Noches! (I’ve picked up that the “Buenos” isn’t necessary. 😉 )

View from the airplane as we arrived in San Salvador. Created with the iPhone app Vrsly.

View from the airplane as we arrived in San Salvador. Created with the iPhone app Vrsly.

 

Taking the Dip

Yesterday morning was supposed to be fairly simple for a Sunday…church with Shelly, Dad & Cathy, lunch, laundry….my typical get stuff done day. Well, all of those things happened, but one more item was spontaneously added to the list.

I have been attending Rock City Church since November of last year. As a lifelong Christian, I have been through my fair share of churches. I grew up attending a Lutheran church with my family, often attended Sunday mass with my childhood best friend Sarah (she couldn’t sleep over Saturday night unless she went to mass first, so I made it part of the event!), switched to a different Lutheran church where many of my high school friends were in 9th grade and began going to a nondenominational Christian church after college, where many of those same friends had moved to. Needless to say, church has always been an important part of my life and it needs to be a place where my friends and I feel welcome, wanted and safe from judgement.

Rock City not only makes me feel all of those things, but in the 7 short months I have attended, mI have felt more compelled to do the work of Jesus than I ever felt anywhere else. At previous churches, when service opportunities were announced, by intial thought was, “Well, I shoudl probably go, but I don’t wanna go if I don’t know anyone there. Meh, I probably won’t know anyone. I’ll go to the next one.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to serve alongside our close friends and family, but God calls us to do His work whether we are with each and every one of our Facebook friends, a few acquaintances or no one we know at all. I was not able to focus on that fact – I was more worried about if I would have to meet new people, which for me, is something I actually love!

I have not done a lot of service events with Rock City Church, but now, rather than wondering who will be there that I know, I figure, “That sounds cool and like something that really needs to be done – sign me up!” For example, when I first heard about Rock City’s mission trips to San Salvador,my interest was immediately piqued. I had always wanted to go on a mission trip, but for one reason or another, never made it a reality. But when the idea of traveling with Rock City to San Salvador crossed my path, I decided I was going to “pray circles” around whether or not I should go. It didn’t matter to me who else would be going; more likely than not, being that I was so new in the church, I probably would not know anyone on this trip. One prayer led to another and I knew that God was putting the people of San Salvador on my heart for a reason and that I was meant to go.

Not only had my motives behind serving change after joining Rock City, but my relationship with my dad changed as well. I invited Dad and his girlfriend Cathy to join me for a service one weekend. With the loud music, unusual venue (Rock City Church uses movie theaters as their place of worship!), and the fact that it was something new (my dad and I both cling to tradition very tightly), I was sure Dad would come once to be nice and that would be that. Well, I was wrong! Dad and Cathy both LOVED it! They loved the upbeat, heart-pounding music. They loved the cleverness of a movie theater house of worships, and most importantly, they loved the pastor Chad’s message. So they came back the next week with Cathy’s really-not-so-elderly father, John (make sure he knows I put that in print!!). And even John loved the service!

Because Dad and I had begun worshipping together again for the first time since around 2003, God began working in our relationship. Planning for my trip to San salvador brought Dad and I closer. Chad’s weekly messages gave us something to discuss at our weekly dinners. I was trying to refine my ability with my father to be slow to anger and quick to listen. I truly believe Rock City Church has brought out the best in both of us and helped remind us that before getting frustrated with one another (which happens VERY frequently), we need to express ourselves in love. Dad and I have gotten along better in the past 5 months than we have in any of our 29 years together.

This brings me to yesterday’s unexpected event. I woke up early, took care of some things around the house and went to church to meet Shelly. The message was the 2nd of a 2 week series called “The Dip.” Last week’s sermon was the idea that “We all go through it. One way or another. Whether by design or by default. We want to avoid it. Nobody wants to go through it. But there are some things God can only speak to us in The Dip. Find out what to do when you’re in it, and what’s waiting for you on the other side once you go through The Dip.” I should’ve seen what was coming in yesterday’s message – a different kind of “dip.”

It was Baptism Sunday.

The message focused on the fact that God gives us a very simple and straightforward command: “Repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38) A water baptism is meant to be our first act of obedience to Christ. He doesn’t say “Repent and convert at least 5 other people.” or “Repent and tithe all your money to the church!” or “Repent and give up all your heathen ways NOW!” No, God says “Repent and be baptized.” So why is water baptism so important to Christians? What does it mean for us? God responds to simple obedience. If we can be trusted to do the little things He asks of us, imagine the big things God can trust us with! We might not understand why God tells us to do something, but He’s God, so we just do it. Take the story In Acts of Philip and the Ethiopian. God told Philip to “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he did. There, he met an Ethiopian who was “on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.” God then directed Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” So he did. Philip overheard the man reading from Isaiah and asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” and invited Philip onto the chariot to sit with him. He showed Philip the passage her was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.” (Isaiah 53:7,8)

Using that piece of scripture, Philip began telling the Ethiopian the good news of Jesus Christ. They traveled along the road together and came upon some water. The Ethiopian asked, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” So they went down to the water and Philip baptized the Ethiopian.

What is holding each of us back from begin baptized? Often the simplest commands and the most simple acts of obedience have the deepest significance and yield the greatest results. When God proclaimed that “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” Jesus had just been baptized. All it took for him to please his father, the creator of the universe, was to be baptized; to proclaim in front of everyone that he belonged to God. 

I was listening to Chad preach, I wondered, Well, I was baptized as a baby, doesn’t that count?? You’re just talking to the people that have never been baptized at all, right?? WRONG. This is something I have wondered many times before – if someone needs to be re-baptized if their parents did it for them as a baby. As if Chad was reading my mind, he imparted, “If you were baptized as a baby, that says more about your parents’ faith than your own faith.” This actually made sense to me. When Mom and Dad had Uncle Art baptize me, they were proclaiming the church and to God that they would raise me in a Christ-centered home, with Biblical values and teach me to live a Christian life. So yes, that says a lot about their faith and how important it was to their life. And they did all those things. They “made” me go to church each Sunday, they encouraged me to join the youth group and they were at each and every time I earned a place in the church musical chorus, they were there front and center.

But I never announced to the world that I had made a decision to follow Christ and declare myself as his. I truly appreciate that my parents had a very big part in pointing me towards Jesus, but as a person that can (and sometimes to my parents’ chagrin) and has always made my own decisions, He asks me to proclaim it for myself. So yesterday, after Chad gave an amazing and action-inspiring sermon about the importance of water baptism, he invited anyone that wanted to make the decision and announce to the world their dedication to Jesus to head out back where a team of people would meet them. Well, that would be cool, but when I get baptized, I wanna have an outfit prepared, I want to invite my friends and family, I want to have a lunch planned afterwa…wait. Where’s Dad going? “Shelly, did he just walk out there?? We should probably go with him, right? Holy crap!” Shelly and I followed Dad to a room where he was filling out a baptism registration card and getting clothes he could get baptized in so he wouldn’t have to drench his church clothes. “What’re you doing??” Dad asserted, “I was baptized as a baby, but this is important to me and I want to do it now! Plus, it’s better than when they do the winter baptisms in 12-degree weather!” (He had a point, yesterday was a beautiful, sunshiney day!) I stuttered, “Oh! Huh…well, I guess I can’t let you do this alone…hand me a card!”

As a spur of the moment decision, I made the choice to go with my dad and be baptized. I have been doing my best to live a Christ-centered life my entire life. (Some days are notably better than others!) What was holding me back from making it official and declaring to God and to the world that my heart and my soul are His?? Not having a well planned out event or a fashionable outfit? Well, that definitely sounds like something I’d say, and just showed that I wasn’t think with my head on straight! I donned a Rock City Church t-shirt and a pair of workout shorts and headed outside with Dad. We were met by a team of people just waiting to pray with us. They thanked God for moving our hearts and our feet that day and sent us on our way towards the baptismal tubs! Dad and I decided that we were in this together, so we were getting dunked together! We stepped into the giant, horse-trough-turned-baptismal and sat facing each other. Pastor Todd Marrah knelt down beside me while another volunteer knelt next to Dad, and Todd assured us that as soon as we came up from the water, we would be washed clean in the blood of Christ, clean and forgiven from the sins we committed 10 years ago, the sins we committed 5 days ago and the sins we will commit 5 hours from that moment (we’re human…it’s normal to sin on your baptism day!). He asked if we understood and accepted that. Dad and I both said that we did, leaned back into the water and came up refreshed and new.

Oh, did I mention that Dad and I’s few moments of baptism were on the big screen? Oh yeah! Since Rock City holds their services in movie theaters, they live broadcast the baptism into the theater for the rest of the church to watch. I’ve been in there for previous baptism services, and it’s amazing. Every time someone come up from the water, the entire theater rejoices with applause and cheers!

Do I feel differently now that I’ve been baptized? Honestly, no, not really. But I am proud that I got to share the moment with my Dad and now I can go to San Salvador practicing what I preach. I now know, without a doubt, that when Jesus calls me home, my home is with Him in Heaven for eternity. My friends and family know who my heart belongs to, but most importantly, God knows!

I wholeheartedly trust that God has a plan for me, goes before me and has a place ready for me in Heaven. I know that if I trust God enough to follow him, He will allow me to do immeasurably more than I could ever do on my own. Yes, I will falter. But with God at my side, time and time again, He has and He will continue to strengthen my faith.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Hillsong United

***UPDATE*** You can watch Chad’s sermon HERE! It’s Week 2 of the series.

Prayer Team

Prayer Team

 

We are assured that we are cleaned from ALL our past sins and ALL our future sins through Jesus' ultimate sacrifice.

We are assured that we are cleaned from ALL our past sins and ALL our future sins through Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

 

A friend in the worship service recognized a few familiar faces this week!

A friend in the worship service recognized a few familiar faces this week!

 

photo 3 (2)

Ending Up Helping :: Birthday Girl’s Choice

So I didn’t exactly write a blog a day…and for that I am honestly only mildly disappointed. I learned a lot about many local and national charities and I was able to pass this on to my students! As I mentioned earlier, I had my juniors do a project in which they were required to research one charity and interview someone involved with the organization. Some of my students took this assignment and ran with it! They chose things that meant something to them (Anxiety & Depression Association of America, Huckleberry House, Wounded Warrior, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Stonewall Columbus…I could go on!) and learned how to support these causes and why they are important. Other students…well…they just weren’t inspired. “I chose the Ronald McDonald House because I like McDonald’s.” I guess that’s a start! Oi veh…

One part of this idea that I did take VERY seriously was choosing one philanthropy to donate my own time and/or money to. And I’ve decided…

San Salvador Missions Trip with Rock City Church

Recently I have been searching for a church home. I grew up going to one Lutheran church until 9th grade, when I switched to a different Lutheran church where many of my high school peers attended. When I hit college, I pretty much stopped going to church altogether, other than when I was home on break. I tried different churches on my campus, but none of them were as good as my home church. I felt like my spirit wasn’t being fed, so I just quit trying (I don’t recommend this method, by the way). After college, I went back to that home church. A few years later, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (one branch of the Lutheran churches) voted that if a person was in a committed, monogamous homosexual relationship, they COULD be a pastor! HOLY YAY!!!!! (Literally!). Well, my home church did not feel the YAY as much as I did. They decided to put to a vote whether or not the church would stay part of the ELCA or leave (thus stating that they were against gays being able to be pastors in our church). Guess who could vote? People of a certain age that had tithed a certain number of times. Guess who couldn’t vote? Me. And most of my peers. One of my favorite memories of this time (okay, I wasn’t there for it, but I can imagine what it was like) was when my mom went to a forum to express why voting to leave the ELCA was ludicrous. As she stood up to speak, two elderly women behind her were heard whispering to each other, “Oh, that’s the woman that is friends with those gays.”

BAHAHAHA! Hell yeah she was! God, I miss her.

I digress…needless to say, it was time for me to leave my home church and find a new home. After much searching and wrestling with what’s important to me in a church, I landed in a seat at Rock City Church.  

Rock City Church is a newish church in Columbus, almost 3 years old. They don’t actually have their own building. They use movie theaters (specifically the Lennox and Regal theaters) as their worship halls. I know this sounds kinda weird, but in all actuality, it rocks. They have a full rock band that performs in front of the giant screen while the lyrics are projected behind them. The band is so loud and so rocking that the church offers earplugs for more sensitive listeners. To expand their audience, Rock City live streams the pastor’s message from the main theater in Lennox to another theater down the hall and another theater across the city at the Regal Cinema! The Regal Cinema has their own band, but they get to hear the same message from across the city. How 21st century is that??

The set is a little more elaborate now, this is from their opening day, but you get the idea!

The set is a little more elaborate now, this is from their opening day, but you get the idea!

My favorite part of church is the music. When I can close my eyes, sing along and rock out my worship to Jesus, that’s when I’m most connected. I recently learned that ONE SONG at Rock City can last as long as 15 minutes!! I had NO clue!! It certainly doesn’t feel that long! Every time I leave Rock City, I feel good! The message sticks with me through the week and actually affects my daily living.

You might have seen our pastor Chad in last month’s 614 Magazine!

I realized Rock City was worth a hard look as a possible home church when one week, I “accidentally” planted myself next to this fabulously sweet gay man (who happens to be a teacher as well!) and the next week I saw one of my college sorority sisters sitting alone before the service! Josie and I reconnected and she seemed just as interested as I was. Just like any activity that requires commitment, having a buddy definitely helps. Josie encouraged me to join her for the Rock City Connect classes, where you get to learn more about the church.

Well, one thing led to another, and I had decided that Rock City was the church for me. I don’t think I can ever be 100% sure about a church. The church changes and I change, so who knows how long this will be my home, but for now, it’s the perfect fit.

Getting Involved

Since I had finally found a new church home, I wanted to be involved and stay connected. Here’s where the charity part FINALLY comes into play! It has been 9 long years since I have left the country (Canada doesn’t count). I have been wanting to see more of the world for years, but haven’t made saving money a priority. Well, now I’m going to pay it forward AND see the world all in one swoop.

In just a few short months,  June 7th – June 15th 2014, I will be joining a short-term missions trip to San Salvador, El Salvador with people from Rock City Church and our partner church, the Great Commission Latin America. Because of generous donations, Rock City Church was able to fund and finish construction on a Child Development Center in 2013. At the center, 120 children are provided with healthy meals, medical and dental care, education, Jesus, and hope.

San Sal Promo

Our role during this trip will be to serve the community through working with the children, assisting in the health clinic and possibly some construction work. We will share the love and message of Jesus Christ and build relationships with people that are eager to share their life stories and hear why we have the hope we have.

In order for me to go on this trip, I will need some serious prayer warriors. I am learning to “Pray BIG!” God can handle my big prayers. So I am asking people to pray that I allow God to use me for His will, not my own, on this trip. I’m not sure in what way God will use me on this trip, but I hope not only to be a blessing to those I encounter, but also to be blessed by this new experience.

I must admit that I am a little nervous. I feel like this is a quick decision, even though I’ve been thinking and praying about it for almost 2 months now. I trust that this is something God wants me to do and that he will use me to His benefit. I’ve also never been to a Spanish speaking country before! So, I’m learning Spanish! I took French in high school, and I’m finding that background knowledge does help a little! I will be going on this adventure with a brand new group of people. Sure, I’m pretty good at making friends, but it’s still a little nerve racking, even for me!

So as I prepare for this trip over the next 4 months, please pray, send good karma, whatever it is you do! I am so excited for this experience and I can’t wait to tell you all about it, from planning and preparation to the actual trip!

As Jesus once said, “¡Ve!”

(I’m told that means to command someone to “GO!”)

Confession: I had to look up where El Salvador is...

Confession: I had to look up where El Salvador is…

 

Please watch the video below to see where I will be and to meet Nelson, one of the Salvadorian children benefitting from Rock City’s efforts: