Tuesday, 6 May 2014

I've been home for almost a week now, and I have been avoiding this blog like the plague. Why? Well, first of all, I've been really busy. It turns out when I leave for three months and then come home, I am kind of a social butterfly. So busy and social, in fact, that it's barely ten o'clock and I am ready for some shut-eye. 

Oh, and then the screen on my computer broke--I'm not sure how. Whatever the reason, it put a whole damper on the whole blogging thing. 

But if I am being entirely honest, I avoided blogging for so long because I didn't know what to say. 
I just don't know how to sum up my last few weeks in Spain. 

So many descriptions come to mind. It was exhausting; it felt long, but at the same time, it felt too short; it was difficult; it was an adventure; it was a challenge; it was an absolute blast. And as fitting as all of these words are, it's not what I want to say when people ask, "How was your trip? What did you do?"

But my typical small-talk answer ("It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but also one of the best.") doesn't seem to do it justice, either. 

How do you express how much you have changed and how much you've learned in a just few words? 

You can't. 

And even when I try to tell my friends what kind of work the team did, I don't feel like I am actually describing the trip. Street evangelism, children's' programs, youth programs, performing skits, singing songs, sharing testimonies...it's all accurate information, but somehow, it still doesn't fit

I hate that I don't know what to write, because as someone who loves to write, that's kind of my thing. In my mind, saying, "I don't know how to describe this" is a cop-out. 

I know it isn't--not really--but I'm pretty stubborn. 

So I guess I ought to try. 

As the name suggests, the Travel Team spends a few weeks traveling across Spain (literally across the country--we went from one coast to the other!) to do mission work. For the first month and a half of the program, we stayed in Narón, worked with the local church, and prepared for our upcoming travels. Before we knew it, it was time to head to our first city....Bilbao! 

If you are taking geography into accocunt, our journey was a long one. Like I said, we literally went from one coast to the other!  From Bilbao, we went to a little town in Caceres and stayed with a missionary couple for a whole week. There, we helped them with work around the house, but were also able to get some much needed rest to prepare for our trip to Madrid. Then, we spent two days in Valencia--where we found a McCafe, PLUS a Ben and Jerry's that was handing out free ice cream....does God love us or what?! 

Our next stop was Granada, one of my new favorite places in the whole universe; and, finally, Aguilas, a beautiful town by the beach. 

For me, Bilbao was the perfect way to begin Travel Team because it helped prepared me for everything that was to come. At the beginning of the trip, there were many times when I wondered how much I could really help---which is just a nice, less honest way of saying that I had doubts about the work that God could do. I spent much of that weekend dreading doing street evangelism, wondering how much I could really help these people when I barely spoke Spanish, and wondering why God even needed me there. Of course, these feelings were not limited to Bilbao; after long days of travel and work, it's easy to get discouraged and let those lies into your heart all over again. 

Still, Bilbao was a huge wake-up call because God showed me how inspired these people were. I was so surprised by how much I could love these people in the span of a few days, and how much love they showed us. We were only visiting, but the people made us feel like we were at home. 

And that was true for every city we visited. 

I did not expect to be so affected by the people I met for such a short period of time, but I was. That made it very hard to leave. 

It's not that I didn't want to go home. I did. There was a time, back in February, where all I wanted to do was go back home. I missed my home very much, but it is just as hard to leave a country where you can feel God changing your heart, and see Him move in ways you never expected, and meet people who remind you of yourself. 

Yes, I am happy to be back in Missouri. I missed you all terribly, and in typical Katie fashion, I cried when I got home because I was so happy. 

But I miss my team and I miss Spain, too. I think I always will. 

I still don't know if this blog does describes my experience very well. I do know that I feel so incredibly blessed, and that I don't think I will ever be the same. 

I think I am okay with that. 

" Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!"- 2 Corinthians 5:17

Monday, 17 March 2014

I am not a big fan of change.

People who know me well understand that this is an almost inherent part of my being. It's Katie 101. 

For example: 

I don't want to grow up.
I don't want people to move away.
I don't want my favorite places in Columbia go out of business.
And, for the love of all that is holy, I do not want my mother to buy a new Christmas tree. 

Things are fine just the way they are, goshdarnit. 

I am not a big fan of people, either.

Alright, that's not entirely true--I love meeting people and hearing their stories and building relationships with them. I may be bad at showing it, but I love my friends and family more than anything in the world. I truly believe that ordinary people can be the most fascinating. People are actually kind of wonderful that way. 

What I hate is forced, awkward small talk. I hate being the center of attention in an unexpected way. I hate being in a big crowd and not knowing who to talk to. I hate marching up to someone I see on the street and saying hello. I'm friendly enough, but that doesn't mean I think the situation is ideal. 

As you can see, I am a blast at parties. 

How in the world did I end up on an evangelical mission trip? 

I really don't know. Ask Jesus. I don't think he feels as socially awkward as I do (But don't quote me on that. I'm trying to be funny, okay?). 

On Thursday, we will begin to travel across the country. I will be leaving this Spanish town I have grown to love and this house that I have called home. I will be staying in the homes of people I have never met in my life. I will literally be walking up to people I see on the street so I can tell them about Jesus.

It's all very exciting, but it's also very nerve-wracking. I simply do not know what to expect or how I will handle the next four weeks.

I mean, what if I mess up? What if I offend someone? What if I freeze when people challenge my beliefs? What if my Spanish doesn't improve?

What if, what if, what if. Again and again and again.

This is not limited to my experience in Spain. This is how I live a good 98% of my life. God gave me a beautiful, hyperactive imagination, but in my brokenness, it twists into something ugly: worry.

Sure, I've been worried about the immediate future, but I've also been worried about what waits for me back home. The life of a college graduate doesn't seem so glamorous when you realize that it just involves looking for a Real Job so you can enter the Real World and become an Adult. I worry about plenty of things that I simply cannot fix, and some of those wounds run deep.

God doesn't deal in 'what ifs,' because He wants us to live in the present. He wants us to let go because the things we tend to cling only hinder us from fulfilling our purpose here on Earth--whatever that purpose may be.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
-Matthew 7:34

These next four weeks are going to be crazy....but I'm sure they will be crazy awesome, too. I get to see more of this beautiful country, bond with the people I have met, and try new things. Really, I have no reason to be afraid. God is on my side.

I know that I will have days where I feel small and inadequate, but so did Moses. And Moses was kind of a big deal.

As for my return home?

I still don't have anything figured out.

All I know is that there is beauty in a blank page.

Let the adventure begin.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Almost four weeks ago, I boarded my flight to Spain with only my carry-on bag and a very vague idea of what the next three months of my life would look like.

I hoped I would learn Spanish. I hoped I would meet some amazing people that I could call lifelong friends. I hoped I would grow closer to God. I hoped I would be able to do some good in the world. 

Still, I had a lot of doubts. I was afraid I would be a loner. I was afraid that my boyfriend would dump me for leaving for three months. I was afraid that somehow, I would hate being a missionary and my faith would crumble. 

(This is the part where everyone laughs, because everyone knows I worry about stupid things.) 

My fears sound so ridiculous now. 

This trip has already totally exceeded my expectations--in ways I desperately wished for, and in ways I never even considered. Four weeks doesn't sound like much...and when you consider eternity, it really isn't; to God, four weeks is like a second. 

But God can do incredible things in a second. 

I may be finished with school, but I still feel like a student. And man, is God an awesome teacher. These are my notes from this week...

What Spain Has Taught Me

  • God speaks in mysterious, crazy-awesome ways. You can learn about God in the Bible, and feel His presence in prayer or at church, but He is everywhere. He speaks through drawings, even if you feel like you have little to no artistic ability. He can be found here in Narón, where the constant rain gives life and the sun is a promise of a beautiful day. God is certainly magnificent, but He can be found just as easily in the seemingly mundane aspects of life, too. 
  • It's okay to be bad at Spanish. Of course, you should do your best to learn a new language, but part of learning is making mistakes. A lot of them. No, I can't can't say everything I'd like to in Spanish...but a simple phrase and a smile can go a long way. I was recently told to not be afraid to say something in Spanish--I should just say it! Most people simply appreciate that you are trying to learn. Love has no language barriers.
  • I'm a Plant. Not literally. Duh. During one of our workshops this week, we took an assessment to learn about what we can contribute to the team. My score indicated that I was The Plant. Aaaaaaaallrighty then....
Obviously, these kinds of tests usually speak in generalities, but I'd say it's fairly accurate! Except it said I was an introvert, which is just not true (JOKE. THAT WAS A JOKE.). I loved this test because it only confirmed that we each have a purpose on this team. For instance, I probably won't be the one to delegate different tasks or plan an entire event because I kind of suck at that kind of thing. God wasn't being mean when he didn't give me those skills or talents--He just has something else in mind. 

  • The Old Testament is just as important as the New Testament. This sounds fairly obvious, but let me explain: most people would agree that many parts of the Old Testament are difficult to read. There are so many genealogies and laws to get through, names that are really hard to remember and pronounce, and destruction that seems so pointless. None of that is very fun to read. The Old Testament frustrates me because I read it and think, "God, I love You, but sometimes, I just don't get You." And when I don't understand God, my inner skeptic takes over. I always seem to make a distinction between the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus. However, Jesus said the Old Testament points to him. It's not the easiest text to study, but it is crucial to my faith...and the more I study and try to learn, the more I will hear God's voice. 
  • Loss is not the end. I never expected to lose a family member while I was on a mission trip. Especially not Kory. I've said before that his death does not mean we stopped loving him; his death also does not mean he is not with us. With every dime we find, every tattoo we get, and every drink in his honor, we feel Kory's presence. His death still hurts. I'm not trying to say it doesn't--but I think that our love for him is stronger. 
  • Eve is a lot cooler than you think. Every Wednesday, we have 'girl time' at Eli's house. Yes, we eat a lot of chocolate and drink a lot of coffee together. It's awesome. Even more awesome is what I learned this week about why God created women. Contrary to popular belief,  Eve was not meant to be Adam's useless sidekick. Food for thought. Women rule. 

See why I am so emotionally and mentally exhausted?!

And this is only the first four weeks! And it's not even everything I've been thinking about! Honestly, I think that would take ages. My brain can be a weird place.

As always, thank you all for your support, your kind words, and your love. I wouldn't be able to do this without you.

Dios te ama.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Oh my goodness

I am absolutely floored by the amount of support I have gotten since my last blog post. Thank you for all of the kind messages, the comments, and every page view (all of which make me feel a lot more popular and a lot cooler than I actually am). It all makes me realize how truly blessed I am, and I am grateful for every single one of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

On a related note, many of you have expressed sympathy and have asked me how I am dealing with Kory's death while I am away--the answer changes from time to time, but I think my heart is doing much better here than I would expect. I still think about Kory every day, and that hurt is still there. I know this is a wound that will never completely disappear; still, God has shown me the power of His love every single day. Thank you again for every prayer and every bit of support for my family. I love you all. 

Here in España, we have been doing a lot of training for our upcoming travels (in less than a month! Where has the time gone?! Seriously! This is insanity, I tell you). This includes everything from discussing creative evangelism strategies (I'm breaking out the napkin doodles, y'all!), learning about 

spiritual gifts, dancing and singing along to children's songs, and practicing a puppet show. That's right. A PUPPET SHOW. It's awesome. If I come back home and have amazing arm muscles, it's because I've been holding up a puppet for about seven minutes straight twice a week. 

It's a lot harder than it sounds, okay? 

To those of you wondering what the heck a puppet show and kid songs have anything to do with missionary work, the answer is simple: they're fun, creative ways to teach kids about Jesus. It's probably going to be my favorite part of the whole trip! Admittedly, some of the songs we sing aren't about God, but they're still super awesome. And yes, I am going to come home and be really annoying cool and sing these songs all the time.

As part of our travel team training, we were able to visit another church in a nearby town. Since it was our first time working with a new church, it was a little nerve-wracking, but everyone was so welcoming and I had a ton of fun. 
We sang a couple of worship songs as a team, and a few of us shared our testimonies. This time, we were able to share in English and have our leaders translate, but from now on, we'll have to rely on our own Spanish capabilities. That's a little intimidating, but it's all part of the experience, right? Luckily, we are able to do a lot of translating and practicing beforehand...I think I'm going to need it! 

In the midst of all this training, we've had time for some adventure, too. On Saturday, we visited the Castle of San Felipe (Castillo de San Felipe), and it was amazing! Wandering around an old castle in Spain? On one of the sunniest days we've had all month? By the WATER?! That's basically everything I love. 

Needless to say, I'd go back in a heartbeat. 

I've been pretty tired and scatter-brained lately, so I hope this entry gave you all a better idea of what life here is like--I suppose I could go into even more detail, but it's almost my bedtime and I have a busy week ahead of me. For now, I'll leave you with my new favorite song...

And yes, we do that dance. Are you jealous yet? You should be. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

¡Hola amigos! 

Well, I know that I've been a really horrible blogger, but we've been pretty busy here in España and I've been exhausted (physically and emotionally, but I'll get to that later), which doesn't really put me in a super bloggity-bloggin' kind of mood, if you know what I mean. You probably don't, because I just made that word up. But I digress.

Our team is currently in Narón, Spain, a small city outside of A Coruña. We will be here until mid-March, and then we will hit the road and travel to different cities to work with different churches and teach people about Jesus. Until then, we are working with the local church (really, it is the only church in Narón), Agua Viva. This includes going attending Sunday services, as well as the children, teen, and youth programs, and helping with the English class. We've also been making sure our house (Casa OM, or the OM House) is in livable condition...we've been doing a lot of cleaning and there's usually a small home improvement project that our leaders are working on. Cleaning isn't always the most fun thing in the universe, but it is our home for the next month or so--it's just another way to serve others and to serve God, so in a weird way, I like taking care of it. 

Twice a week, we help at La Puerta ("The Door"), a thrift shop connected to Agua Viva and our ministry. At La Puerta, people can buy clothing, but they can also get free food. Spain is in a huge economic crisis, so many people cannot even afford to buy food. At La Puerta, people can come in and grab something to eat--it also helps us build relationships with people. It's been really cool to see familiar faces, even if all I can say in Spanish is, "Hello, how are you?" 

Since everyone here speaks Spanish, meeting people at the church has been pretty intimidating. My conversations with people at church are pretty much limited to introducing myself and asking for their name. GO ME. Hopefully by the end of the trip, I'll be able to have more interesting conversations. We're all taking Spanish classes and I already understand a lot more than I used to. GO ME AGAIN. Learning another language (or trying to remember one) is difficult, but I've learned that God's love is so much more powerful than any language barrier I will ever face. I live with people from all over the world, and hearing my teammates pray in Spanish, English, German, Korean, Faroese, and Malay has been amazing. I don't understand every word--in some cases, I don't understand any word--but I know God does. 

As jet-lagged and nervous as I was during the first few days, I love life in Spain. I love learning Spanish, I love my team, and I love the people. I never thought I'd be glad to graduate early and be a missionary, but here I am.

I do love life here, but these first two weeks have not been especially easy for me. On my third day here, I found out that my cousin Kory died. This is part of the reason I've been avoiding blogging--I don't really want to talk about it, but it is a part of my experience here, and I feel like I need to.

Everyone I meet knows that my cousins are all very special to me; they do not feel like distant relatives I see every few years as much as they feel like siblings. I remember playing with Kory when I was little, and seeing how happy he always was to be around our family. So many people call him brother and best friend--his death was unexpected, and, understandably, shocked everyone who loves him.

Being away from my family and friends has never been so hard. I have fallen in love with Spain, but there have definitely been days where I just wanted to go home. There have been days when I felt like everything was so unfair. Why Kory? Why now? Why do things like this ever happen?

I'll never have the answer to these questions. Even though my heart is still broken, God has shown me so much love through it all. My teammates have never hesitated to pray for me, bring me chocolate and tea, or just let me cry. I am fortunate enough to have international phone service and Internet access,  so I can talk to my family whenever I want. I have the best family, the best friends, and the best boyfriend ever, and they've all been wonderful through it all.

Some days have been easier than others. To put it bluntly, some days have really sucked.

Even so, I know I'd regret it if I went home. I think I can find peace here because I feel much better doing than I would being feeling helpless at home.

Clinging to God in the face of suffering is not always easy. I've been mad and confused and I've wondered why I even bother. But in the end, I still believe God is good.

I've read this quote from The Shack so many times this week, and it comforts me because I know it's true:
"Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors." 
We all love Kory so much. I say 'love' in the present tense, because the end of his life does not mean we suddenly stopped.

With everything that has happened, I don't think I have ever been so physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted in my entire life. It's all certainly taken its toll, but I'm still glad I am here. As strange as it sounds, I know it's okay to find happiness in the midst of suffering. 

For the next few weeks, we'll be doing a lot of training--this will be nice, because to be honest, I have no idea what I'm doing. Before I know it, we'll be in our van, heading to different towns around the country, livin' la vida loca. Or something like that.

I'm really excited because we'll be working with a lot of kids. Kids are the best. Rumor has it we will learn how to make balloon animals. If you know how bad I am at crafts, you know how funny that is. It's almost as funny as me learning how to cook. 

So. We'll see how that goes. 

¡Hasta luego!