7/4/2018 5 Comments
On Mission In Mexico
Encountering God On a Ranch in La Paz, Mexico
Going into my first mission trip I had expectations of what it should look like—going out into local communities each day + presenting the Gospel to people. However, through my experience at Rancho El Camino, God has taught me that that is only one piece of the puzzle; only one job in the great work of extending His Kingdom among the nations.
Even more so, through the help of a language barrier between myself and the people within the community, I learned that the act of exalting the name of God is not only fulfilled through, or limited to, word of mouth but the Gospel is presented through our actions + in our service (Colossians 3:17). This is especially true in the Mexican culture, and was evidenced through how the local missionaries and staff at Rancho El Camino lived their lives.
Here I learned a lot about community. For so long I have been accustomed to living my life as an introverted, individualistic, independent type of person. But God is calling me to more than that. He is teaching me the importance of forming relationships with others so that I can grow beyond my personal walk with Him into a communal existence + form of worship as the unified body of Christ. We work better together in the effort of extending His Kingdom by encouraging, challenging, growing in all ways mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
This community of Christ is open. We serve one God, one Dios; one Father, one Padre. He offers us a universal, unconditional love that extends beyond borders, culture, language, or socioeconomic status.
Although I had my own hopes + ideas floating in my head about what a mission trip should model, we as a group didn’t have a set plan for what we were going to be doing while on our trip. We were going in with no expectations; just being open to serve in whatever way possible + following after the tasks that God had prepared for us to accomplish.
Some of these tasks came in the form of physical labor:
We dug holes + smashed rocks in order to put posts in for a new slackline as a part of expanding the camp’s challenge course.
We helped train, feed, clean up after the horses, as well as replace a portion of the old gates where they stay.
We did construction + mixed / poured cement for a new storage area for the Ranch, as well as a wash station for the staff + interns.
"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!"
Two of the evenings we went out into the local neighborhoods to promote the Ranch’s summer camps that will be taking place in the following weeks. The first night, there were not many children at the location we were in so we walked home to home (not the kind of homes we are used to…) handing out flyers + registration cards with information about the camp + how to sign up. The next evening, we were at a playground that was full of energized kids. We had the opportunity to play soccer (fútbol), make crafts, and act out a Bible story that was read in Spanish by one of the staff.
When we think of being blessed we often think in material terms. Being immersed into these local neighborhoods + standards of living reiterated the fact that God’s blessings in our lives extend far beyond material qualifications. These people are living in material poverty, but they are not poor (Luke 6:20-21, James 2:5). They have spiritual blessing far greater than most of us can attain because we succumb to the temptations of materialism + consumerism that hinder our walk with God. Material wealth is precarious, fleeting, and can be depleted, but the blessings + riches we have in Christ are readily available + inexhaustible (2 Corinthians 8:9, Romans 8:17).
Each day before setting out to work we gathered in a circle with hands outstretched to the center + raised them to the cry of “A LA CHAMBA!” It is a shortening of a motto the staff holds on the Ranch: “la cruz, la palabra, la chamba,” meaning “the cross, the Word, the work.”
While contemplating what exactly that saying means to me + how I can apply it, I discovered:
To The Word I set my mind to study + meditate on.
To The Work I set my hands to give + serve.
To The World I set my feet to go + share the Good News.
This is the first step along the path that God has planned for me. I believe He intentionally placed me at Rancho El Camino for my first mission trip for the purpose of learning the various aspects of mission work + discovering what area He is specifically calling me to take a part in. God doesn’t need me to accomplish His task, but He has sought me + invited me to have a hand in the great work that is taking place—what a blessing that is!
"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building."
This mission trip has taught me that although I may not hear + see lives be changed over to Christ in the exact moment before me, I am serving as the hands that plant the seed, lay the foundation, clear the path for individuals to encounter God + begin a lifelong journey with Him down the road. My job isn’t to save lives or build something extravagant so that I can take all the glory for those things. My mission here was to simply GO wherever God was calling me, SERVE in whatever way possible, and ENCOURAGE whoever needed it. God is teaching me to be open—open to having my own plans or expectations be challenged, changed, contorted + following Him humbly, faithfully, wholeheartedly.
6/11/2018 7 Comments
Road Trip Through Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks + Southern California
My family has made it a tradition to visit new National Parks each summer—some of my favorites include Yosemite and Grand Teton. This year, we headed back out to California, but rather than returning to the towering Redwoods + vast canyons, we took a mini western road trip to venture the desert. And good news: I’ve got lots of pictures!
We began our trip in Las Vegas, Nevada where my aunt and uncle live. As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed with a home cooked Filipino feast by my aunt including pancit, BBQ pork skewers (“meat sticks”), spring rolls, flan, an assortment of avocado, mango, and ube (purple yam) ice cream, and ripe mangoes, bananas, and watermelon!
From there, we headed out towards Death Valley National Park. We entered the park at Hell’s Gate and the location names throughout the park continued with the Death Valley theme—Devil’s Cornfield, Desolation Canyon, Funeral Mountains, etc. We made stops at Furnace Creek, Golden Canyon, Artist’s Palette (naturally occurring colors on the Amargosa Mountains due to the oxidation of various metals… AKA, God’s creativity explained through scientific terms), Badwater Basin (the hottest point and lowest elevation in North America at -282 ft. Our high temperature for the day reached 118°F!), and Zabriskie Point.
Later that evening, we made our way over to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where many television show and movie scenes have been filmed. It was a mesmerizing experience to walk over huge mounds of sand with a panoramic view of the mountains surrounding. The scene continually got more astounding as the sun turned golden + dipped behind the mountains, reflecting hues of pink and orange along the mountain range + grains of sand.
The views don’t cease when the sun goes down! As I looked up, I was overcome with awe + bewilderment at the vast sea of glittering stars that extended across the expanse above me (and even further beyond that!?). The amount of stars were so numerous that the sky no longer appeared black, but rather in a shade of silver. It’s incredible to think that we get a free viewing of the universe each night, along with colored sunset skies that vary in hue + pattern with each passing day. And to think that these are only the least of things that are offered to us freely by God.
We then traveled from Death Valley to Joshua Tree National Park where we saw Jumbo Rocks, Skull Rock, and Keys View. I always thought of this park as a desert landscape filled with Joshua trees and that was it, but oh was I wrong—it’s all about the rocks! The wild rock formations + huge stacks of perfectly placed boulders have no other explanation than by the hands of almighty, artistic God. We are blessed in viewing the handiwork of the Artist, but how great it will be when we can see + worship the Artist Himself in person!
Viewing the world from these points sure does make me realize how small I am, yet I am still known + longed for by the Maker of it all.
We made it priority to wake up early (about 4am) each morning of our trip so that we didn’t miss a single sunrise. This is probably one of my favorite things about our family trips—we don’t use them as vacation time spent relaxing, but rather, we rejuvenate through packing our schedules full of places to be + things to see so that we absorb as much as we can in the short time that we have + we don’t miss out on a single precious moment of the day.
On the way out of the south side of Joshua Tree, we passed through Cottonwood Spring + the Cholla Cactus Garden where fluffy cacti were scattered everywhere throughout the valley! We then voyaged through Indio, Coachella, and Westmoreland areas that were studded with numerous kinds of fields, ranches, vineyards, and farms including many date palms.
We followed the edge of the Salton Sea down to the Imperial Sand Dunes, making a few stops at some of the beaches + bays along the way. Although the Salton Sea was bustling back in the 1950s, the area has now been left almost entirely abandoned, which left the rest of us with a somewhat eerie feeling. The Imperial Sand Dunes, on the other hand, took my breath away. I stood in the midst of all the sand dunes that stretched far beyond what my sight could see + felt the wave of heat brushing past me, and I felt like I had been transported straight to the heart of Saudi Arabia (also because I was still slurping on a date shake that we had purchased from the date palm farm).
Salvation Mountain has been a point to visit on my destination list for a long time now, and when I found out it was around the area that we would be for this trip, it was immediately added into the itinerary! The vibrance of color that Salvation Mountain boasted against the desolation of “Slab City” + the surrounding desert was captivating + so synonymous of the great contrast between the Lord’s radiant, bold, compelling love compared to the drab, dry, depressing nature of the world we live in.
I was wonderstruck as I explored Salvation Mountain. My fascination + awe heightened as I ventured across each rainbow patchwork of quirky art + inspiring messages—a Wizard of Oz + Word of God kind of mashup. Not only did I walk up the outside of the mountain, but I got to explore the inside of the mountain which was a fantasy fort-like creation made out of hay, filled to the brim with new discoveries + hidden treasures along each step + turn of the corner. This, too, screams what a life with Christ is like: fascinating, mysterious, curious, exciting, and full of little treasures, happy moments, miracles.
After spending the evening in Palm Desert, we headed towards La Jolla, California. We made a stop in old town Temecula, then drove oceanside through Encinitas, Torrey Pines, and Carlsbad areas. Once to La Jolla Cove, I got to walk along the ocean cliffs + get up close to the MANY sea lions who call this area home. It was really neat to see all of the newborn pups who were cuddled up + nursing from their mothers.
We made our way down to Old Town San Diego to explore the marketplace + museums + restaurants. We also visited Mission Beach, Hotel del Coronado, and stumbled upon the gorgeous Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on our way through Point Loma which was like an Arlington Memorial on the cliffs of the Pacific.
My favorite spot in San Diego outside of La Jolla had to be Balboa Park. I immediately fell in love as I saw various nations + cultures represented throughout the park—from the impeccable architecture of the buildings to the many restaurants and gardens. My eyes were glittering + my heart was bouncing as I walked through those beautiful gardens of numerous different kinds of flowers + variations of roses that I had never seen or smelled before!
I absolutely love spending time exploring nature, especially within our National Parks. With each new location + venture I set out on, I am continually overwhelmed by the power + presence of God. I feel His joy through the warmth of the sun, I see His creativity in various plants, flowers, rock formations, and I hear Him speak through the chirping of birds + crashing of waves. He is a part of all that is around us. He is available at all times + waiting for us to receive Him. If only we can open our eyes + hearts to glorify the Creator as much as we do the creation.
5/16/2018 6 Comments
Hiking, Biking, Kayaking Along The West Highland Way
This time last year I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and sent to an inpatient care facility with restrictions on any and all physical activity or movement. Now I’m backpacking the West Highland Way in Scotland. My God really did that! Let me tell you more about Him!
I was sent to 24 hour inpatient care in April of 2017 at the end of my senior year in high school. I had to miss out on prom, yearbooks, senior trips, final dance recitals, and all the big events associated with that time in life. Through it all though, I kept Jesus as my hope, joy, and motivation while I was going through treatment. He is beyond faithful: He continued to bless me + give me strength, and I was restored to a normal healthy weight within a single month, allowing me to come back home early, walk across the stage + graduate from high school, go on my senior trip to Alaska + go skydiving, and start college on time that fall — all things that my doctors told me were impossible to achieve based on my health. Yes, they were impossible for them to make happen, impossible for me to make happen on my own, but nothing is impossible with God. His love is unconditional + His power is unmatchable.
Now one year later… Scotland!
Day 1: Charlotte to Glasgow
The four days leading up to my departure, I was having excruciating stomach pains, dizziness, nausea, and constipation, and it appeared as if I was not going to be able to go on the trip. However, to spare the not-so-pretty details, God answered all prayers with His healing hands and I was back to normal on the day that I was set to fly out. That morning I arrived at the Charlotte airport around 8am to meet up with the rest of my group that was going on the trip to Scotland. Our first flight was to Newark, NJ landing at 12:38 pm, and our next flight was not until 7:40 pm so we had a long layover time to walk around the airport, play some card games, and do some last-minute bonding before our trip together. The flight to Glasgow was about 7 hours so we were fed a couple meals on the plane and had some time to rest before our first big day!
Day 1 (Part 2): Glasgow to Loch Lomond
We landed in Glasgow at 6:42 am local time, which was still 1am the previous day back home. We immediately met our Active Outdoor Pursuits team and guides for the week (the best people ever!!), geared up, and set off to begin the West Highland Way. We set out from Milngavie at 9am, trekking 12 miles through lots of small towns and pastures. We arrived in Drymen around 3pm where we switched over to mountain bikes for a 14 mile ride with incredible views of Loch Lomond from above. It was such a beautiful sunny day (not typical of Scotland weather) to begin our trip! We finished up around 5:15 pm that evening and made our way to the hostel that we would be staying in for the night. Once we quickly dropped off our bags, we drove to Glengoyne whiskey distillery for a private tour and whiskey / chocolate tasting. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel where our guides cooked us up a spaghetti dinner. We hung out, got showered up, and finally after the longest day, we hit the bed around 11:30 pm.
Day 2: Loch Lomond to Inverarnan
I woke up around 7:15 am the next morning to have breakfast and get my things together. We began the day on canoes for 6 miles across Loch Lomond. It was much more typical Scotland weather of being cold and rainy, but it was not too bad since we were already on the water. We stopped to have lunch on top of a waterfall where we also dropped off our canoes and began hiking the rest of the way through the most beautiful mossy rocks, waterfalls, and rainforest-like environment along the loch. I was definitely feeling like Frodo Baggins on his journey with the ring across this terrain. The sun finally came out near the end of our 7 mile hike and we made it into camp at Inverarnan around 5:20 pm. We had some time to freshen up and sip on some hot tea before heading over to dinner at the Drovers Inn. When you first walk into the pub, the walls are covered in various taxidermized animals and the waiters are dressed in kilts with strong Scottish accents. It was the perfect first night out venue in Scotland. I got the vegetarian bangers and mash and enjoyed spending the evening making friends with my fellow peers and guides. Afterwards, we headed back to camp and fell asleep under the stars — my favorite day by far!!
Day 3: Inverarnan to Tyndrum
I had porridge and hot tea for breakfast and then headed out at 9am for an 11 mile all-day trek out of Inverarnan. We considered this our “rest day” since we were only hiking, which is half of what we do on the other days. Unfortunately, my GoPro camera would not turn on this day, so I settled with taking some pictures on my phone. It was very cold, wet, and muddy throughout the hike passing through lots of cow pastures and wooded forests. It blows my mind how varied the terrain of Scotland is — each minute brings a new surprise! We made it to our hostel for the evening in the small village of Tyndrum around 3pm. I was super thankful for the early arrival because my left hip flexor began to give me a lot of trouble and pain near the end of the trail so I had some time to rest it. We went over to Tyndrum Inn at 6:30pm for dinner, and then laughed the night away with my friends and guides.
Day 4: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe
We began the morning with a 7 mile bike ride out of Tyndrum through the freezing cold rain. It was so much fun flying fast downhill and splashing through lots of mud. We arrived at Bridge of Orchy around 11:15 am and dropped off our bikes to then begin our hike 12 miles to Glencoe. There were gorgeous views of mountains and moors along the way. We reached camp around 5pm and then headed over to dinner at a local pub where I got vegetarian haggis made from kidney beans, lentils, and nuts. After dinner, we went over to some lookout points around Glencoe to see some gorgeous sunset views of waterfalls and mountains including the famous Buachaille Etive Mor.
Day 5: Glencoe to Glencoe Village
Took a later start this morning to tackle the Devil’s Staircase at 10am which was an 11 mile hike through strong winds over big rocks. My peers and I were all beginning to break down physically by this point with hurt knees, hips, shoulders, but we all made it (with very little complaints)! I definitely felt God with me along the whole way because despite the amount of pain I had felt the past few days, when I was in that moment, the negative thoughts never crossed my mind and I felt an unexplainable strength inside that pushed me up the incline. Once down the other side of the mountain, we entered into Kinlochleven at 2:45 pm and geared up for sea kayaking. We set off on Loch Leven around 4pm in cold rain and pulled into camp at 6pm. We warmed up with some hot tea and coffee and then headed out to dinner at 7:30pm. The pub we went to was completely packed so while we waited for a table to open up for us to eat at, we hung around playing pool and engaged in conversation with the locals. So many people had their dogs running around and hanging out and everyone was so friendly. Two of my friends and I talked with some men from Germany and we shared a bit about our travels through Scotland and various other places around the world. A group of us stayed there quite late just having fun and waiting for the rain to clear up before heading back to camp.
Day 6: Glencoe Village to Fort William
The rain was swept away and we were welcomed with a beautiful sunny day — thank you Jesus! We set out on our kayaks around 9:20 am across Loch Leven and into Loch Linnhe. We passed by a small island that had tons of seals popping their heads in and out of the water all around us on the kayaks. We pulled up on shore for a lunch break with a nice view of the loch and mountains. I went to the bathroom in some bushes and ended up sticking my hand in stinging nettles, which as the name implies, caused stinging, tingling, and redness. As we continued paddling, we sang lots of songs and had a good time out on the water. We had nice views of Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the UK, and pulled into the pier at Fort William around 3pm. Once we unloaded our kayaks, we walked to the official West Highland Way endpoint landmark. This was also the same date and location for the end of the Scottish Six Days Trial so there were lots of motorcycles and cheering as we wandered around Fort William. We then made our way to Newtonmore to the Active Outdoor Pursuits main hub and hostel where they prepared us a full meal. After dinner we got showered and met back up at a nearby pub where we enjoyed our last night with the whole team playing pool, singing along to classics on the jukebox, and just having lots of fun. It was bittersweet, but we plan on keeping in contact with everyone!
Day 7: Edinburgh
After a long night, we woke up at 5:15am to have a Scottish breakfast made by the AOP crew before heading off to Edinburgh — toast, scrambled eggs, baked beans, lorne sausage and veggie sausages. I wasn’t feeling too well when I woke up so all I could get down was some toast. Several other members in my group had already gotten sick before we even made it to breakfast at 6:45am. We assume it is some type of virus that has spread around. We left for Edinburgh after breakfast and arrived around 9:30 am. We dropped off our bags at the hostel and split up to explore the city. Some friends and I walked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle to take a few pictures and then stopped by Deacon’s House Cafe around 11am to get a quick bite to eat. We did some souvenir shopping and wandering around the town for a while. Those who were sick earlier stayed in at the hostel to rest up, and although I was feeling very nauseous and lightheaded, I could not bear to miss my opportunity to explore Edinburgh. At 3:15 pm, my friends and I went to afternoon tea at The Hub which is in an old historic church type of building. We got our choice of a hot drink (hot chocolate, coffee, or tea) and they brought a three-tier platter of food. I got the Scottish roobois tea, and the food consisted of finger sandwiches, scones with berry jam, and desserts including a caramel macaron, lemon custard tart, and a strawberries and cream wafer cup. The total tea experience lasted for a couple of hours, and then we walked down to Victoria Street where Diagon Alley was inspired for Harry Potter. We also saw the Edinburgh Palace and spent some time in Princes Street Gardens to see the front side of the castle. We returned back to the hostel around 6:40pm to rest up a bit before heading back out with a larger group for a late dinner and wander around to different pubs listening to live music on our last night in Scotland.
Day 8: Edinburgh to Charlotte
I only got a few hours of sleep before waking up again at 4:45 am to meet the group in the lobby of the hostel where we then headed over to Waverly Station. We rode on a double decker bus over to Edinburgh airport and boarded our flight back to Newark at 8:50 am. I immediately fell asleep on the plane and took about an hour nap. We landed at 4:38 pm, 11:38 am local Eastern Time. After going through customs, rechecking bags, and security, we had time to grab some lunch in the airport before boarding our final flight back to Charlotte. We arrived around 6pm, my mom and I grabbed some dinner, and then made the journey back to our house arriving a bit after 10pm.
It’s crazy to think how much time was spent preparing for and anticipating for this trip and now it’s already over. Despite the rain on a few days and minor health and technical obstacles, I absolutely loved every single moment of it — 100%, truthfully, honestly. The days seemed to last forever which made the trip so much more worthwhile and fulfilling. It was such an indescribable, once-in-a-lifetime, adventurous experience that I will remember and cherish for my entire life. I had high doubts and worries prior to leaving for this trip because I did not believe in myself to accomplish this goal, but God has shown me that I am made strong and I am capable of these great things because He is working in and through me for His purpose (Philippians 2:13). My weaknesses are a platform to showcase His profound strength, ability, power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Satan tried to bring me down mentally in this way in the weeks leading up to the trip, as well as physically in the few days prior and throughout my journey, but he is no match for the power of my God who is within me. I have now hiked, mountain biked, and kayaked along the entire West Highland Way, and I am eagerly looking above for the next path that He lays before me.
All Abroad Lifestyle Travel Wellness