Only a year ago, I was visiting New York City with Taylor over Valentine’s weekend. Walking through the snow and freezing weather of NYC, I fell in love with the beautiful city, although I was perfectly happy to escape the cold and fly back home to Florida. I’m a very calculated person. I like to have a plan and I like to follow it. Living in the northeast has never been a part of the plan. Yet, here I am, sitting in a coffee shop in Harlem, NYC in the dead of winter.
We married on October 9, 2014 in Orlando, Florida, on the most beautiful day of the year. If you were there you would have thought you walked right into Tuscany. We traveled for the first three months of our married life, and landed here with a mission to reach the lost, help the poor, and teach the abundant life. Last year, I couldn’t have told you that this followed my plan, but I can tell you now that I couldn’t be more thankful with how God put the pieces together.
What this last year has taught me is to embrace the unexpected.
For a long time Taylor and I have had this dream of participating in missions on our honeymoon. We wanted to make a statement at the beginning of our marriage that our life would be about serving others. We were determined to make that a reality when Peacemakers announced a trip that would be held only three weeks after we were married. Passports in hand, we hopped on a plane and began our 28 hour journey to the sweltering heat of Cambodia.
We shared a twin size bed for almost two weeks, constantly reeked of bug spray, and lived in a constant state of fear while eating, taking showers, and using the restroom. Doesn’t get more romantic than that! However, all of those things were expected. We had planned for them and brought all of the necessary items to accommodate ourselves. What wasn’t expected was how heavy the spiritual state of Cambodia would weigh on our hearts.
The project in Cambodia consisted of completing a biogas digester, which you can read more about here, but we also spent a lot of time with children in the slums. These were the moments that impacted me to the core. In only one day, we fed over 300 children and treated them with deworming pills and medicine.
I stood in my place for the assembly line as the children lined up one after the other to receive their medicine and food. They were smiling and giggling as if it were recess at school. But these children don’t have the opportunity to go to school; in fact many of them don’t even have parents. They live on the broken down railroad tracks outside of the city without a home, clean water to drink, or a toilet to call their own.
Our Peacemakers team paired up with some amazing local missionaries who are committed to teaching and caring for these children. As they started to come through the line, I would give them a cup of water and a pill. They stared back at me with no idea of what to do next. We expected to feed children, but I didn’t expect to teach them the basic skill of chewing a medicine pill and washing it down with water. These are luxuries we don’t even know we have.
Just a few days later, we visited children in another slum community. The missionaries we were working with had just launched their first school and church. We were coming in on a Saturday to bring food and offer educational sessions about cleanliness. We had the opportunity to teach children, as well as their parents, how to wash hair.
We asked for volunteers for the demonstration and the young girls who joined us at the front were as giddy as ever. They squirmed in anticipation of their turn at the salon style hair washing. We expected to wash hair, we didn’t expect it to be the first time these girls would have washed their hair with soap in their life. The joy they possessed for the simplest fulfillment of a need humbled me.
The unexpected is often uncomfortable. We can expect our life to have changes, but we can’t always expect the impact they’ll have on us. This year, I’ve been able to experience the highs of the unexpected: I got engaged, and married, I traveled the world, and I moved to a big city. I’ve embraced the happiest of changes. Navigating the unexpected can be difficult at times, but embracing it is simple.
Yet these children in the slums of Cambodia live their entire lives embracing a different unexpected. They don’t know whether they’ll have food on the table for dinner. They aren’t sure if mom or dad will make it home at the end of the day. They don’t know if they’ll ever go to school. They aren’t sure if they’ll be safe from the evil of sex trafficking, so prevalent in their own neighborhoods. They don’t know if they’ll ever find wholeness for their broken arms, or medicine for their illnesses.
For them the unexpected in life is always a time for bravery.
As you live out each day, tackling the small or maybe large unexpected situations in life, remember that there are children across the world putting on brave faces just like you, only their life depends on it.
At Peacemakers we embrace the unexpected, but we don’t always accept it as is. Many people walk into our facilities who have just lost their job. We embrace the unexpected with them, but we don’t accept it. We move forward and we work hard to give them job training and interviews to get back into the workplace. We don’t accept that children have to go hungry or families have to be homeless. We reach out with the love of Jesus and do what we can to show them that the unexpected doesn’t mean the end of hope.
I can’t wait to see what unexpected changes God has in store for Peacemakers and the communities we serve in 2015!