Long before my mission trip, I knew that God was going to do something big... I just couldn't figure out what. Seriously, I told several people that God has told me to prepare my heart... And I thought I was. I prayed daily, gave up several things for Lent and replaced all of it with more God Time. But even as he told me to prepare my heart, he didn't give me a clue as to what I should expect, just that it "was bigger than anything I could imagine"
I remember sharing this with our team lead, Mike, and feeling a little frustrated by it... the not knowing part - you see, I have control issues...
Anyway, The Father, of course knew my heart and my desire to know what he wanted me to learn, but it wasn't time yet... and He told me so.
On my first day, as I had arrived two days later than the rest of the team, I was completely overwhelmed, from the moment I arrived on site. Leaving from the airport, we came directly to the feeding center and passed through areas that range from quite productive, to quite desolate and foul-smelling. The jobsite was in a wasted barrio, with red dirt roads and barefooted children all around. Faces of adults peered out the doorways… I am sure our presence was curious and elicited a little wariness.
The very first thing I noticed is my own presumption that I was there to serve these people in need... In fact, I was! AND I first needed to learn what a servant's heart really looked like. You see, the people on the ground, the Mexicans who are the foundation of the team in Mazatlan, only wanted to serve us. They cooked for us, waited until we had our fill before eating their meal; they pre-built the foundation and major parts of the building, and were there with all of the materials we required to finish the building of the feeding center, and they built a flushing toilet for us so that we would not have to use - a bucket behind a curtain? A bush on the adjacent lot? - I am not sure what they were using in the few years they lived in the house before we arrived, but they used their own money, effort and time to build a flushing toilet so we would not be inconvenienced. These people have a servant's heart.
That evening, we returned to the hotel, and as I floated in the sea (during an evening swim that would become my habit) I asked God, "What is it that you want me to do? I feel it... I sense your presence... I just don't know what you want me to learn." God said to me, "Karole, do you love me?" Well, reminiscent of Peter, of course I said, "Yes, Lord, I love you!" And He said to me, "Feed my sheep".
My heart felt faint, because I knew where this was heading (or so I thought in the moment), and I wasn't sure I could withstand any of the tests that Peter endured, so I kind of just ignored the whole conversation and went about my evening.
The second day of building (Tuesday), we all were working so hard... I was exhausted by lunch time, but we all continued on... The Lord kept asking me all day, "Do you love me, Karole?" and I continued to answer Him with songs of praise, thinking I could avoid the topic... but as the evening came, and I went for my swim, my heart cried out to Him to please tell me what He meant. The Lord answered me by telling me that if I have to ask, I am not ready to know... I in my frustration then began to argue with him... Yes, really. "I am too ready" I countered, and He simply said that I wasn't.
The third day, my heart was heavy all day, because of what I saw as brokenness. I felt guilt about all that I had, but didn't appreciate. I thought I was a good steward of God's blessings, but it became so clear to me that I have not been. I had ignored, or half-heartedly obeyed God's messages to me over the past few years to 'simplify', and it was clear to me that I could do much better at being a good steward of His blessings... and that evening, as He and I chatted in the ocean, I asked Him again to please reveal to me what he wants me to do... He again told me "Karole, if you love me, you will feed my sheep". I was so grateful that there was no one around me, because I yelled at God, that I don't understand what that means, to which He calmly replied, "Then honey, you are not ready". So with full resignation and a defeated heart, I responded to him, "Please make me ready, Father". He simply said, "OK". And with that, I felt a relief that was beyond description. I can't explain it further, I just knew that God would show me, and it was imminent. I didn't worry any more... I felt so much peace about it.
Day four started the same as all the rest, but instead of going to breakfast upon our arrival with the team, I decided to walk around and photograph the surroundings.... I noticed an old man, taking a bath in an outside tub, trying to ensure his privacy by pulling over a sheet to block himself from the street; I noticed the many homes whose walls were merely black plastic stapled onto whatever wooden frame could be scrounged; I noticed a little church made of pallets, where you could see right through the slats. I noticed the "nicer" homes across the way... about a quarter mile or so from this barrio... and I noticed how many homes there were in the general area and I wondered if I could live here? I wondered if I could be humble and do it if that is what God asked me to do. When I arrived back at the building site, while photographing the vacant lot next door, I noticed something quite odd... a tomato plant... just growing, all by itself, near the corner of the fence... and as I looked up, taking the rest of the lot into my view, God gave me a vision of a garden, full and ready to harvest, full of corn, squash, beans, herbs, berries and other fruits. He said to me, very clearly, "feed my sheep".
This is so far from what I had expected upon my arrival 4 days prior... But I know that this is the future God has for me... It fits! I LOVE gardening! He has equipped this vision with all the means necessary to complete it... I know that the people who will all come together are just waiting for Him to cross all our paths... I know that the seeds we plant will not just feed His sheep physically, but will also bring about a spiritual growth... and not just in those we intend to feed, but that spiritual growth in each and every person who puts forth any kind of effort on this endeavor. The team is being built; we just need to address the formalities...
God's love is so unexpected and He shows up in the craziest of ways! He has shown me how to be faithful, and He has shown me how to be a servant through those who I thought I would serve. He has shown me humility through those who are humble. He has shown me purpose through patience. My heart is so full....
..... And that's my story.... It isn't over yet. In fact, this is just the beginning.....
I appreciate the time you have taken to read my long-winded letter. I thank you so much for all prayerful consideration and for sharing this project with your friends. Peace be with each of you, and God's blessings upon you all.
The King will reply, “Truly whatever you did unto the least of these brothers and sisters, you have also done unto me.” Matthew 25:40