I strive to make SouthernPlate.com a place where people of all faiths and walks of life feel welcome, because you are. This is my virtual kitchen and I want any one of you to feel like you can just walk in, prop your feet up, and visit a spell. With that in mind, I’m letting you know that this post will be different in the respect that I will be talking openly and frequently about my Christian faith. So I wanted to give you a heads up on the content of this post out of respect for your views on faith and out of appreciation for your respect of mine.
I’m leaving Monday morning for a five day mission trip to Ecuador – my first very mission trip.
Look, I even have a passport. Never thought I’d have one of these…but glad I do.
I have so many things going on in my heart and head right now that it is difficult putting them into words but one thing keeps coming to me over and over again God is not sending me on this trip for what I can do for others so much as for what he is doing within me. With that in mind, I’m setting out on this journey of mine and will be doing what I can to bring you along.
We are traveling to Quito, which is the capital of Ecuador. This will be our “home base” for the week and we’ll be traveling to different villages each day delivering shoeboxes full of presents to the children there. We plan on visiting four villages, each containing anywhere from 100-200 children.
I’m headed out armed with over a thousand Veggie Tales stickers and lots of tiny fruit flavored hard candies to fill my pockets with, as well as a few other goodies I’ve picked up to pack in my backpack and pull out as I feel led to do so. The Samaritan’s Purse team will meet us at the airport and they’ll have all of the shoeboxes and other needed supplies. I’ll be traveling with Kelly Hancock of Faithful Provisions, which is just another blessing.
Kelly and I happened to be flying out of the same airport so we requested they book all of our flights together. This is a first mission trip for both of us and we’ve been teaming up through phone calls to organize our efforts (Note: If you live near a Dollar Tree store in our towns, you might not wanna go there looking for hard fruit flavored candies or sunglasses because Kelly and I thought they would make nice gifts for folks there).
While I’m gone my mother in law is coming to help my husband with the kids so I know that will be a huge load off of my mind and I won’t have to worry about them. Katy Rose said “When you’re gone and a Grandmama comes it is kind of like they are a substitute Mama, isn’t it?” I explained to her that Grandmothers were especially good at being substitute mothers when needed :).
I’m hoping to post here at least a few times while I am away, including photos and accounts of what the team’s day was like. If you would like to stay tuned and make sure you don’t miss out on updates, keep posted to our Facebook Page (click here). I’ll be posting on there each evening I am able (which should be most evenings) and each morning before we head out for the day. This is the only email I’m sending out because I try to be very careful about sending out too many emails. If you aren’t on Facebook you can just check on this post every so often because this is where I will be adding my updates, beginning with Day one below.
All prayers for Samaritan’s Purse, our team, and the wonderful people we’ll be meeting are greatly appreciated. But make no mistake, this trip is more about God working a change in me than it is them. If you would like to join the group of people praying for us, please leave a comment on this post or visit the Events Page set up for this trip on our Facebook page by clicking here.
I hope you’ll stay tuned to Facebook where I’ll notify everyone each time I update this post. Have a wonderful weekend and thank you for joining me here on my trip next week!
~~~~~~~~~~ Day One ~~~~~~~~
I’ve just made it to the hotel – and am trying to type this on a teeny tiny little computer that I brought with me. Please blame typing errors on the teeny tiny keyboard rather than the keyboard operator ~winks~.
I woke up around two this morning. Not because I had to get up at two, but because I had to get up at 3:30 and at two, I woke up worried that I would sleep past 3:30, and so I got up at two , just to be on the safe side.
If you’re thinking I’m crazy for doing this, I agree.
Anyway, headed out to Nashvillle and picked up Kelly from FaithfulProvisions.com on the way (no sense in both of us having to pay for airport parking!) and then got to the airport around eight. We met Shelia at the airport thanks to the spiffy matching orange tshirts OCC sent us all to wear. When we arrived in Miami we were greeted by a sea of orange t shirts as we met up with the rest of the group.
Goodness, I have no idea how many people are here but there are a lot of us! We are split up into different teams (I think there are six or seven teams) and we’ll each be going to different villages, which means that a LOT of kids will be getting shoeboxes full of presents over the course of the next few days.
They tell us we are at about 11,000 feet above sea level. What that means is that when you walk a few steps, you feel like you’ve just ran half a mile :). It is taking some adjusting. Eveyone says to drink plenty of water and the hotel is providing us all of the bottled water we need. I came in to find only one bottle in my room so called down and was greeted with “Yes Lady Christy, we’ll bring it right up Lady Christy.” Everyone in the hotel keeps calling me “Lady”. When I rached for my bag a man stepped up and said “No, Lady, please. Let me get for you, Lady.” He was very kind and helped me lug both of my suitcases upstairs.
I know I posted on Facebook that the first miracle of the trip had occurred because I’d managed to get an entire week’s worth of belongings and clothes in a small carry on – well that was the honest to goodness truth. My other suitcase, the biggest one I own, is stuffed to the brim with shoeboxes (packed with gifts for th kids) and candy. Lots and lots of candy. Also Veggie Tales stickers and about thirty pairs of sunglasses – oh and a few teddy bears I got on clearance after Valentine’s Day :). I was running out of room so I put them in gallon ziplock bags and had Katy Rose sit on them to get the air out. Those teddy bears are giving me funny looks from the bags so I guess I need to open them up before I go to bed…
I hope to be able to get in bed in about an hour and we have an early start tomorrow. Everyone is wonderful. EVERYONE, just wonderful, and the people in Quito are so very gracious and kind. They have also all been incredibly considerate of my complete lack of Spanish.
While walking through the airport I noticed something interesting. You know how so many of our signs have English and Spanish? Well…that isn’t the case here. It feels very odd and lonely to be walking around looking at all of these signs and not have any real idea what any of them say or if you are headed to the right place. To be in a foreign land where you don’t even speak the language and you just have to kind of hope you’re doing what you’re supposed to do and going where you’re supposed to go. It’s disconcerting and pretty lonely, even if you are traveling with a group. I was walking through the airport desperately looking for any sign with just a few words of English and it hit me, I’m a foreigner now. Everyone needs to know what that feels like.
The internet connection in my hotel is pretty weak so I’m hoping I can get this added in to the post. I’m not going to try for pictures today but I did post a few on the Southern Plate Family Facebook page so head on over there if you’d like to see a few. We will be going to villages all day tomorrow but back at the hotel a little before supper so if I can find a good connection somewhere I’ll share some photos and video with you then.
Please forgive my shortness tonight. There is this big old soft bed and it’s giving me that come hither look Also, the internet is so up and down that I’m just hoping to get this post up for ya.
Love you and please know that if you are reading this, you are in my prayers as well.
P.S. I cannot thank you enough for your prayers, kind comments, and support. I’ve read every single one and will continue to do so and hope to have time to respond once I’m back home.
~~~~~~~~~~ Day two~~~~~~~~~
I’m so glad I didn’t come across anyone toting an oxygen tank this morning because I would be awfully tempted to wrestle them for it I’ll post about today’s events this evening.
How do I even begin to put the things in my heart into words after the most overwhelming day of my life. I just wish so badly I could bring you all here, to this beautiful place with it’s beautiful people. I wish you could see how protectively the mothers hold their children, how anxiously they wait when we bring out the boxes, their eyes filled with hope and pleading that their child will receive one (they do).
I wish you could meet Ieeta, the nine year old girl who carries her nearly two year old sister on her back and smiles proudly anytime someone tells her they like her baby or she is a good sister. She kept both hands cradled behind the small child, grinning proudly as she walked around. I asked a translator if that was normal for a child so small (though nine, she is the size of most six year olds) to be carrying and looking after a baby and Sara, one of our translators told me that it was very common and that nine year old probably knew how to cook and take care of everyone.
A tiny little girl who looked from her size to be no more than 1 year old, turned out to be over two years old and she danced and clapped in front of me, delighting as I began to clap with her. She kept following me around and I kept picking her up or sitting on the ground to play with her. Her name is Sheila and when I got ready to leave she kept saying something. The translator came and said She is telling you ‘don’t go, don’t go.'”
There is this thing that happens today that I learned about at the first stop. Kids. They just, connect with you. Certain children, at every stop, it’s just like your eyes lock and you know this is going to be the one following me around. This is going to be the one I take photos of again and again just so they can see their smile on the digital display of my camera. (They LOVE that).
You take a photo of a child and they immediately rush to you and reach for your camera to turn it around so they can see themselves. This seems to be universal everywhere we go here.
This is the pastor of the first church we went to. He came up and gave me a big hug and said “You must tell everyone, please please tell everyone thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts. We will never forget this.” Then he asked to have his picture made with me.
Oh, did you know that it is Carnival in Ecuador and they have a tradition of throwing water balloons and/or squirting folks with the hosepipe no matter who it is? We even spotted an elderly lady grinning mischievously while holding a hose on the roof of her house!
They had a lot of fun throwing water balloons at our bus on the way to and from the last drop off. On the way back I actually got a little spray from a hose in the face thanks to an open window. They also get you with silly string but water seemed to be the favorite. You can see all of these little kids walking around carrying buckets of water just looking for someone to pour it on. It appears to be all in good fun, kind of like how our kids might do on Halloween or such -wait let me change that. Some kids. If my kids ever pull that they better hope they’re in Ecuador and it happens to be carnival…
This is a photo from outside of the first church we went to. This is really how most of what we’ve seen looks. But the people are so kind, so loving, so grateful! They greet us with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and not one of those fake, half hearted hugs, a real squeeze hug, with zeal and joy and thankfulness for us being there.
At one church we ran into what some might view as a problem. We had planned for 250 kids. 250 had signed up and the pastor had said that would be it. 350 showed up and we had brought shoeboxes for 250. I looked to a guy with us and said “we need us a fish and loaves moment pretty quick.” We all went back on the bus and pooled everything we had, in addition to locating a few more shoeboxes – and ended up with enough to give a full 100 more children shoebox gifts!
I saw kids lives change today, just by being handed a shoebox. If you packed one this year, thank you for all of the hugs, kisses, and “gracias” I received today on your behalf.
These shoeboxes aren’t just boxes that people fill with random presents. These shoebox are filled with so much more. They are filled with hope, love, joy, and everything needed to change a life forever.
Thank you all for today.
~~~~~~~~~~ Day Three ~~~~~~~~
So here is the thing about Operation Christmas Child – even though over 8 million boxes were packed this past year, meaning that over 8 million children will experience the joy of being given a shoebox, many likely packed by one of you, it’s really just about one child. In the end, that is what it boils down to. Millions of boxes become one child. Each child is special and each child and their shoebox has a story.
I can’t tell you all of the stories but today I want to focus on my experience with one child.
Her name is Margaritta. We went to a school today and I sat across from her, a big pad of concrete separating us as the older students performed dances in our honor. We clapped and cheered along and somewhere in the midst of that my eyes locked on her. A tiny slip of a child, but I already knew from my experiences yesterday that although she looked to be around one she was likely a little older than two. She clutched a dirty naked baby doll in her arms which belonged to the preschool. She never once let go of that doll and as I watched her I knew that she was the one who needed to get my daughter’s box. I thought back to last week when Katy Rose and I were in Wal Mart and she spotted two identical beautiful dolls with curly red hair on clearance. They were soft and plush and Katy immediately picked both dolls up and began pleading for them “Please Mama, we could put one in my shoebox and then I could have one just like it that stays at my house.” I took them for a price check and they rang up $6.50, which isn’t exactly a clearance price in my mind but the doll was beautiful and I did think Katy’s logic of having one at home and knowing one was in another girl’s arms in another part of the world would serve to help her remember the whole experience of her mother’s first mission trip.
As the program concluded (it was just beautiful), the rest of the OCC team went to open the cases of shoeboxes and I made a beeline for the bus, determined to get my shoebox to the small girl before someone else on our OCC team handed her one.
I handed it to her and I really don’t think she knew what it was. She looked at it and patted it a few times, then hugged it to her chest.
As we passed out all of the shoeboxes someone began a countdown in spanish Uno, Dos, Tres!
She sat there and began chewing on the paper as she looked around in confusion. It’s alright though, I’ve taught many a child how to unwrap a gift :).
In just a few moments we had her gift unwrapped and I pulled out the doll. Now I need to let you know that often we have to convince these children that the box and it’s contents really do belong to them. Margaritta looked at me in distrust for a moment until I handed her the doll and wrapped her arms around it.
The rest of the shoebox pretty much disappeared for her as she embraced her new baby, only pulling her away long enough from time to time to lovingly examine her face, her hair, and the bow tied at her waist. For the next half hour I tried to help and talk to other children but always when I’d glance back to check on Margaritta she would be holding her doll close to her chest.
One thing bothered me though, I still had not gotten a smile from her. Oh how that bothers me. Whenever I connect with a kid, I just can’t rest until I get a smile from them. Smiling should always come naturally for children and it is very important to never leave a child without knowing they still have that ability.
In search of something to do which would bring a smile to her precious face, I noticed her friend had a baby doll tied to her back in the same fashion as mother’s in Ecuador often wear their babies. I had an idea
On the way up here Kelly Hancock and I had spent a good deal of time discussing climate and what clothes we should bring. This was a particular concern because we only had one small carry on suitcase each for a week’s worth of clothing and needs, so it would not be feasible to bring extra clothes just in case we misjudged the weather. Kelly told me over and over “You need to just bring you a Pashmina shawl. You can wear it as a scarf or use for warmth if you need a little extra.” Well, as we got to the Nashville airport I remembered that I had left mine at home so I darted into a little gift shop and picked up a beautiful pale pink one just in case.
I darted back out to the bus and retrieved it from my backpack, still sporting the tags from the gift shop. As I came back to the children I found Margaritta, still lovingly holding her baby.
I pointed to her friend and tried to motion that I was going to use my shawl to do that for her. She looked trustingly up at me, until I was done and then she kind of looked at me like I was a little bit on the crazy side.
A mother was nearby and I pointed to a mother and her baby and then the little girl and her baby wrap and showed her my shawl as I pointed to Margarita. She grinned really big and nodded as she set about untying my haphazard shawl from the little girl, then spreading it out and folding it properly for a baby wrap.
I can never thank God enough for the blessing he gave me today.
I’ll write more about today in future updates but for now this update is about just one child – and as I’ve learned this week, that is what Operation Christmas Child is about too
~~~~~~~~~~ Day Four ~~~~~~~~~
What happened to the day four update? Didn’t we do something fascinating and life altering on day four? You better believe we did!
We got to go sit in on a Greatest Journey class, where children were taught about the life of Jesus Christ and how it pertains to them. The amazing thing about this class is that it was at a location where our friend and travel companion, Joey, had gone to pass out shoeboxes seven years prior – and three of the children who received shoeboxes from his visit became Christians and were now teaching these classes! It was an emotional day for all of us, especially Joey, but also an affirmation from God that He had his hand on this and it was Him, not us, dictating the events of our lives. I love how God so often shows us things like that to assure us that He is in control – if only we open our eyes to them.
I call them “winks”.
When we returned late that afternoon we all joined together with the entire group again to talk over our trip and what it meant to us and to share any stories in particular that stood out. One story really stuck with me during this time. One lady in our group said she sat at a school as the kids danced in their honor, waiting to pass out shoeboxes, and across the room she spotted a little boy, who seemed to be about 2 – 1/2 years old, wearing a Cars hat. She said he stuck out to her because she has twin grandsons about the same age and they also love the Cars movie. So when the time came to go pass out shoeboxes she made it a special point to be near him and help him open his. After spending a few minutes getting to know the child they announced that it was time to open and as he lifted the lid of his box, there sat a Cars shirt right on top. She said tears just sprang to her eyes because she felt like it was God saying “You see? I know this child. I know each and every one of you. “
I didn’t write my update the night of day four because I was a bit feverish and went to bed early in hopes of being better prepared for the long travel day home on Friday. Thank you for your understanding and I’m sorry. I skipped the dinner I’m the hotel banquet hall and instead grabbed a grilled ham and cheese from the hotel deli. Kelly told me the next morning that I picked the perfect night because the entire meal was nothing but seafood (She knows I don’t touch that stuff if I can help it). See? God even looks after the tiniest details I sure did enjoy my grilled ham and cheese.
During the course of our trip we also had a little bit of danger, but God saw to it that all was well with that also. I may write about that in the future but I’m just not sure it is my story to tell right now.
~~~~~~~~~~ Day Five ~~~~~~~~~
Coming home was hard. We had spent such an amazing week with such a wonderful group of people. As I sit here typing this my heart is aching for missing them. Clearly, every single detail of this trip was divinely orchestrated, right down to the travel fiasco on the way home
We arrived at the Quito airport without incident and the four hour flight to Miami went smoothly. Kelly and I still don’t “get” all of the complaints about airline food because we were served a meal on the way there and on the way back and both were really very good. We got to sit by each other on the way to Miami also, so that was an added bonus. We were bracing for the transition back to “our” world where so many people use their first waking breaths to go on Facebook and find something to complain about and spend the rest of the day piling more discontent on top of that.
In Miami, things went a little haywire. I had never been to the Miami airport and being there on a Friday afternoon is probably not the ideal situation for a first impression – it made the Atlanta airport look like a well oiled machine, which is really saying something. Kelly and I left American Airlines to go get our Delta flight but we had one bag to check. Already we were in trouble because we had originally had a 45 minute window to catch our connection in Atlanta, at two different terminals, and as we walked by the monitors we saw that our flight was delayed thirty minutes, which meant we were assured of missing our Atlanta connection back to Nashville. We decided to get in line, though, and see if we could possible catch an earlier flight to have better odds. We thought we were doing good when we found a special line for folks who needed to change tickets and ended up right at the front, until we stood there for about forty five minutes. At this rate, we were assured that we would miss our regular flight as well.
So we called Joey from OCC, who had planned to stay at the airport for just such a travel issue and within minutes he called back and had us booked on American again. We would be getting home just one hour later but the beauty of it is that we had seven hours until our flight left which meant that as long as we weren’t flying Delta we had plenty of time to check our bag, go through security, have a bite to eat, and decompress
Kelly and I also got to meet up with our friend, Shelia, again, who is also from the Nashville area. The three of us went and sat down inside a restaurant while I proceeded to drink my body weight in iced tea. I got to thinking about our two seats on that Delta flight and how anxious Kelly and I had been to get back to our families and then it dawned on me that two people who were on standby were in those seats now. I had to wonder if they had families or an emergency they were trying to fly back to, and smiled knowing that they could have possibly said a prayer asking God to get them on that very flight.
Contentment washed over me as I sat drinking my tea and talking over the many miracles of our trip with Sheila and Kelly. Divinely orchestrated, every little bit – right down to the $10 bill that fell out of my pocket at some point. I smiled broader knowing that someone must have needed $10.
We made our way to the gate an hour or so later and sat there for quite some time chatting, only to discover that the two men across from us were on their way home to their families from a week long mission trip to Haiti. Within seconds we were all passing phones back and forth to show and explain pictures, asking questions about the areas each of us were in, sharing stories from our weeks that had stood out the most. It felt like God saw that we needed more time to sort out our thoughts and emotions from the week before we returned. We needed to digest it all, and in His wisdom, he gave us time to do just that…
The five of us looked up from our conversation about the children in Haiti and Ecuador as the overhead speakers explained that our gate had changed. Retrieving all of our belongings we got up and walked a few minutes to the new gate and began to look for seats, this time unable to sit together. Imagine Sheila’s surprise though, when she spied the face of a lady named Mary Kelly, whom she’d met on our way to Ecuador at the start of the week. Mary is a retired English teacher who had decided that she wants to move to Ecuador to teach ESL to the people there and had been on a week long trip trying to scout out possible villages who might welcome her. She quickly ushered us to the empty seats surrounding her and we spent several minutes talking, no doubt each of us secretly hating that we didn’t have much time with this fascinating woman.
The screen behind the counter changed and informed us that our flight was now going to be an hour late. ~laughs~
So we had another wonderful hour to spend with Mary Kelly as we traded more stories, showed photos, and explained all about the villages we went to and how we might could possibly help her find a contact there.
By the time we boarded our flight, we weren’t at all surprised to find that Kelly was sharing her row of three seats with the missionaries from Haiti and I was directly beside her with only the small aisle in between us.
My two companions were a disgruntled married couple consisting of a woman who complained with every breath and a husband who had obviously endured enough of it over the years to cause his head to remain down and his shoulders to be in a permanent state of sagging. “I can’t believe we paid all of that money and this flight is late. What use is that? All of that money and we’re not even leaving on time.” The husband nodded in placating agreement as his mouth remained tightly closed while she continued. “I’m cold. This plane is cold. I’m going to be shivering before long now. Great!” He silently reached down and retrieved his jacket from the floorboard to hand to her. She pulled it up over herself in exaggerated fashion, as if holding off the arctic winds in our small plane, the sleeve swinging in the air at me as she did so. I crossed my legs towards Kelly and angled to the aisle slightly. As a recorded voice told us to fasten our seat belts the lady responded “I don’t know why we have to fasten our seat belts. If this plane crashes we all die anyway.” By now this was comical to me and still the man hadn’t said a word as she continued ranting on, repeatedly maneuvering the jacket and slapping both of us with he sleeves as if she was about to go into certain hypothermic shock. I fanned myself with my hand against the stuffy heat of the plane and leaned over to talk quietly with Kelly.
“People just have no idea.”
“Yeah, they really don’t.”
~~~~~~~~~MY TAKE AWAY~~~~~~~~~
What is my take away from this trip? Well there are several things so I’ll just make a list here.
1. I already knew this but there truly are no accidents. Every single thing, right down to the tiniest detail of this trip was divinely orchestrated.
2. Operation Christmas Child is the real deal. If you want to change a child’s entire life, all you have to do is pack a shoebox. In fact, I saw so many miracles on this trip involving extra shoeboxes (At one stop we had 250 shoeboxes but 350 kids and ended up with enough for every one!) that I would encourage you to pack an extra shoe box as well. Not just one.
3. You really cannot understand a trip like this, a place like this, unless you go there. In order to truly understand how much we all have, we must get out of the United States. We have so much wealth and yet are in such poverty. They have so much poverty and yet are in such wealth.
4. Follow your heart. God lays certain purposes, causes, and people on our hearts for a reason. My heart is with children and senior citizens, my daughter’s heart is with the children of Haiti. Your heart may be with your neighbor or another cause halfway around the world. Follow it. The cause has been laid upon your heart for a reason. You will encounter criticism, don’t let it detract you. When God lays a purpose on your heart, don’t let man remove it.
5. If you’re going to pierce yourself, let it be for something worthwhile. This verse really sticks out for me after being in Ecuador, where they have so little but are so grateful for what they have. Then we come back here where, instead of being grateful and looking at all of our blessings with thanks, we hold ourselves up to others in order to measure what we should strive for materially. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Tim 6:10
Each day, so many among us wake up and make a decision, an absolute decision, to pierce ourselves with many pangs. Rather than greeting the new day with gratitude. Rather than finding joy in having a place to sleep, food on the table, clean water that comes out of pipes with the turning of a knob, lights that come on with the flip of a switch, clothes that are washed automatically in a machine, and a family of people who are healthy and love us – we choose to turn away from the blessings and pierce away.
I’ve been that person. I know the tragedy it is from both angles.
Piercing ourselves with many pangs is something we all do every day. I’ve spent my entire life at it. Piercing myself with many, many pangs. Pangs for things that don’t matter, pangs for things that won’t last. Pangs for things that will not help my purpose or increase my cause. It wears you out when your own lifeblood and sweat drips out for all things that are fleeting. I grew tired of that a while back. I want to pierce myself for things that mean something. This past week my heart was broken and filled at the same time. Now that is a good pang.
In the end, my takeaway is something I’ve said more times than I can count and now I say it with even more conviction.
Life IS Good, and there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for.
I will be adding videos from the trip as well as information on how and what to pack in shoe boxes in the future so stay tuned here or on Facebook for those updates.