I was looking for an adventure, something to get out of not only Washington, but of the U.S. My thinking was that the ministry happening in Kitsap Country was really good and I am excited for it but there is so much more outside of it to see. I needed to stretch my faith and get out of the comfort zone many of us tend to live in for the sake of Christ. This wanderlust and need to get out of my comfort zone had been in the back of my head for a year or so. It brought me to a friend I had known since high school named Kyle Donn who works with COTN (Children Of The Nations).
Kyle told me about a missions trip to Sierra Leone which is a country in a desperate time between the AIDS epidemic and fall out from civil war. I thought to myself Theres no time like now Lord, let’s do it and so I told him I would love to go for a month. I told Kyle that if possible I would also love to use my welding job skills in the country to help out. He started to coordinate with other people and getting the group together. I sent out support letters and was slowly getting excited for this new adventure, like none I had ever been on. Then the Ebola Virus outbreak happened and put a stop to all teams going. I was disheartened but Kyle informed that a missions trip to Malawi was coming up in the summer (the one we are finishing). Again he would try his best to make it possible for a project which included welding. Little did I know that this trip would be so much more than just doing a few projects.
Once all the funds were in and everything was ready, it was time to undertake this great journey. My expectations before going was that our projects would take up almost all of our time. I was a little more focused on the projects though and realized this two weeks into our trip. God had big plans for my personal walk with him. I knew that I would grow but again had no idea how much. I fell in love with Malawi, the people, the food, and the relationships. During my time in Malawi I also talked to my fiance (now my wife, Mihaela Echols) about sponsoring a kid…and a university student.
Starting from day one in-country everything slowed down including our schedule. Yes, we had projects like I had mentioned and were busy during the day but just imagine not having your cell phone going off once during the day. In fact imagine not even thinking about checking your email or phone…etc. I was reminded just how important personal, real, and genuine relationships are in our lives.
When I got to spend every day with our translators and in the evening different people…oh man do you grow close. Our team would play games at night if not spending time in each of our own devotions or with the people around. God used Molly and Misha (two of our team members) with their years of camp experience and friendliness to do things like Spotlight which helped our team out a lot coming from a group of strangers to a close-knit team. In Spotlight one person was in the “Spotlight” and included three different parts to it. The first being questions to them, whether silly or serious. Then came encouragement to them in any way, wether it be what you have observed in their personality or maybe something you just thought was really cool they did during the day. Lastly praying over the person and if they had any specific prayer request we would pray for that too. This Spotlight and also sharing each of our testimonies throughout the trip really helped to pull the group together and I thank God for that.
Slowing down helped me to grow more than I had been and strengthen my dependence on Christ with him as my identity, meaning, and satisfaction. I had my ups and downs but the Holy Spirit would remind me in verses and in thoughts that I am not alone. Here is part of a journal entry one day when I was struggling that Gods grace was not sufficient for me…
“You remind me during lunch of Psalms 119:9-16 Lord, thank you for the leading of the Holy Spirit. Guide me, help me keep your statues and treasure them. Your grace is sufficient for me, even when I think not.”
God supplied me all month-long with his strength, joy, peace, and contentment because I continually came back to him. I do not mean to say that bragging though because without God would not be the same man or have the contentment Christ provides me with. I don’t deserve anything God has blessed me with including life and the Cross. He knew that I would be going on this trip and everything that would accompany it.
As I said, I was reminded just how important personal relationships are. In the picture above is two individuals I chose to sponsor, the little girl is Cathleen and the man to my left is Samiton. I had the honor of meeting Cathleen’s family and Samiton’s younger brother. Cathleen and her family live in a house a little smaller than mine which is 400 square ft. More than that no running power or electricity but the family was so happy. The mom was so thankful that I chose to sponsor her and it was humbling, heart-breaking, and life changing all at the same time. God was not done with me yet.
I again was humbled but this time at Samiton and his story of life which is very common in Malawi. His dad had three kids with his mom, a daughter and two sons which he is the oldest sibling of them all. Around nine his dad left home and has never come back or communicated back to them. He was left with having to step up and be the man of the house…at nine. He is now starting college and cooks for COTN to pay for housing at their campus. When he is not busy with school or cooking, he is at home helping his mom with gardening and farming. He has his dreams but never walked away from the most important thing to him.
This missions trip has had the most impact on me compared to any other one I have been on. I have a huge desire to go back but this time it will be with my wife. We are planning to go back in two years, possibly with the same team if everyone ends up being free that summer.
My wife’s story when I was gone “My Retreat”