Visiting Orphans

Hey everyone!  So today’s post is not really about my recent trip to Africa, but it is about the people who make my trips happen!  Both times we’ve traveled on an international mission trip, it has been through Visiting Orphans.  They are an excellent organization to work with, and we have been so pleased with our experience!  It has been a blessing serving with them as team members and also as team co-leaders.

I hope you take a minute to watch this video about Visiting Orphans and their ministry!  I also hope that it motivates you to GO BE LOVE and sign up for an upcoming trip!  Please let me know if you have any questions or are interested in going on a trip.  I’d love to talk to you about it more!

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Saying Goodbye to Family

Right now I am sitting in the Washington DC airport. Our journey home began at 7 am on Saturday morning. We took a 3 hour bus ride from Gisenyi to Kigali, ate lunch, and went to the airport. We had to say goodbye to 6 of our team members that morning. They were all staying behind to see sponsored children or making an additional trip to Turkey. We all hated having to say goodbye to our new family. Please continue to pray for them as they stay in Africa for another few days or weeks. We are already missing them!

Once in the airport, it took nearly 2 hours to get past the ticket counter in Kigali. If you ever wonder why most African countries struggle to get out of poverty, look no further than the incompetency at the airport. It pretty much summarizes it. Anyways, after that long wait to get a boarding pass printed, we boarded our plane. We made a surprise stop in Uganda, which was pretty cool, then jetted on up to Ethiopia. We laid over a couple hours there before the 16 hour flight to DC. Thankfully, we slept a lot on the way.

After landing and going through customs, we had to say goodbye to 4 more team members who were renting a car and driving home to North Carolina. These were hard goodbyes, especially because these 4 people were on our team last year, so we are truly connected through Africa. Those people have been family to us for a year now, and it was hard to stop hugging them.

After our prolonged goodbyes, we went through security for the 4th time in 2 days. Then ate a DELICIOUS bacon cheeseburger from Fuddrucker’s, even though it was 9 in the morning. We certainly missed our good ol’ American food! The really irritating part about today is our layovers. We are on hour 7 of an 8 hour layover in DC. Then after a quick flight to Charlotte, we’ll sit there for another 5 hours. So all in all, our travel time is about 45 hours.

Before we board our plane to Charlotte, we have one more goodbye to make to a team member traveling to Dallas. She boards her plane soon, and it will be another tough goodbye. She was also on our team last year and has also been like family to us. She was also my seat-mate for most bus rides and plane rides so it’ll be weird traveling on without her!

We are really looking forward to seeing our family and our sweet Jazzy girl tonight! It will also be nice to sleep in a soft bed and not need a mosquito net. Even though it’s nice to enjoy the comforts of home, there is always a tinge of guilt after having seen the conditions in which people live in Rwanda. It’s really not fair that my birthplace in the land of the free, home of the brave entitles me to so much more luxury and comfort than their birthplace. This is the point where our mission trip takes on a new purpose. We have to take what we’ve seen and experienced and mold it into purpose. We are advocates for the fatherless, and we must fight against injustice. This year’s experience was less shocking and heartbreaking than last year, but it is still full with just as much purpose. Sometimes short term mission trips get a bad rap (and sometimes they deserve it), but if people come back from their 12 day trip with a determination to serve others and love others more deeply, then it was well worth it. I pray that our team will please the Lord in how we use our experience for His glory. I pray that our actions will honor the orphans we met and loved so deeply in such a short time.

Always Stretch Before Rwandan Church

Hello supporters and prayer warriors!  I’m still a day behind so I’m going to tell you about yesterday (Sunday). It was an emotional roller coaster for sure.

The day started off at church.  We were SO EXCITED about going to church here because last year in Africa we didn’t get a chance to go due to travel schedules.  We had heard that it’s crazy energetic, but that was our only expectation.  On Saturday, a few of us had gone to the church to speak to the pastor about how he wanted us to be involved in the service.  He basically said he wanted us to be a big part.  He asked told us that one of us would preach, and our team member Ben stepped up to the call.  He also asked if we could prepare some songs to lead in worship.  They said “Church starts at 9, please be there at 8:30.”  

One thing that is SO different about African culture than American, is their judge of time.  (Remember when Jean Claude said it would take 15 minutes to climb 2 miles up a very steep mountain? yeah.)  If they say they’ll be somewhere at 9, then don’t expect them until 10:30.  It’s just the way it is here.

So we got to church at 8:30, and there are a few other adults and about 25 little kids there.  Soon after we arrive, the kids get on stage and start singing to some INCREDIBLY LOUD music coming out of busted speakers.  Since there’s literally no one in the church we thought it was rehearsal or something.  Well, after a few minutes, the kids all just started running in place in time to the music.  Then they motioned for us to join.  I kid you not, we jogged in place to the music (which was just a beat that plays on the electronic keyboard like techno) for about 30 minutes.  Then there were maybe 10 more adults that had shown up.  They all start singing, and I’m still wondering if this is still a rehearsal of some sort.  But after we sang for whole ‘nother hour, I figured that this was actually the church service.  This is the best way I can describe to you the singing and worship time at this church:
1.  VERY VERY LOUD
2.  Singing in the correct key is optional, as long as you are VERY LOUD
3.  Here in Rwanda, blowing a whistle repeatedly with all the air in your lungs is worship
4.  It’s totally fine if halfway through a song, they decide to stop, have a huddle, and then choose another song
5.  Hype guys are definitely an improvement to church worship.  If you don’t know what a hype guy is, they run around jumping up and down, waving rags, singing, shouting, and just generally being super intense.  They were awesome.
6.  At times, there are more people singing on stage than there are in the audience.
7.  Each song will be at least 9 minutes long
8.  All songs will eventually degenerate into simply running in place to the music for an additional 5 minutes
9.  It’s a good idea to stretch before church, because cramping and calf aches are a likely side effect to worship

It was crazy, y’all!  But we loved it! Well, I didn’t really love the permanent hearing damage.  I also didn’t love when the whistle blower guy spit the whistle out of his mouth and his spit got all over my cheek.  But everything else I really did love!!

After about 2 hours of worship, they called us up to the front to sing.  We had prepared a few songs, even a couple in Kinyarwandan.  About 80% of our team is made up of musicians and singers so we actually had a pretty good muzungu choir!  Then they had testimony time, and a few of our team members got up and shared.  And then Ben gave a great message from The Word.  And of course we sang for another 30 minutes or so.  

After church, we went to lunch with all the Best Family kids again.  Then we returned to the school that BFR uses for activities.  We said goodbye to some of the older kids who had to return to boarding school.  Since this was the last time al of BFR would be together with us, Jean Claude gave a big speech (of course, cuz that’s what he does).  He presented each of us with a carved giraffe statue, and it was really beautiful to see how much the kids love their big brothers and sisters and how much they miss them at boarding school.  Several team members had some tears flowing at this point, by the way.

Afterwards, we thought this would be the best time to give our donations.  Our team brought lots of donations that BFR had specifically requested.  They said they needed shoes, backpacks, clothes, some sports equipment, jerseys for their sports team.  Our group brought TONS of stuff.  Especially our awesome friends April and Joe who brought like 100 pairs of shoes, and Rachael who brought the jerseys and backpacks.  We presented BFR with all of the gifts, and the kids were SO HAPPY!  They danced and sang and then danced and sang some more (cuz that’s what BFR does).  They loved it, and Jean Claude did too.  They were so very thankful. 

Blake and I spent much of the remaining afternoon getting pictures and videos for Best Family’s website and upcoming programs.  Belize had spent the whole day with me (as she had every minute since I stepped off the bus on Friday), but after a while of sitting there while we took pictures, she was getting a little antsy.  She asked permission to go play a game with some other people, and of course I told her that was fine.  But deep down I was a little sad cuz I knew this was my last afternoon with her.

After a while, we had the “goodbye ceremony.”  They sang many songs, but one was about being apart physically but staying in each other’s hearts.  It was really beautiful, even though it had such a mournful sound.  We also sang Oh Happy Day to lighten the mood.  Then they had some more share time from the kids about how much they loved having us.  Lastly, there was a prayer time, as we all prayed for each other.  At some point, we heard “Amazing Grace” being hummed and many others joined in.  Y’all…that got to me.  Being prayed over by these children who have so little, hearing one of the most beautiful and spiritual songs ever written, and holding Belize tightly, I got so overwhelmed. I really felt like crying (as many of my teammates were), but I wanted to keep it together for the kids.  

You should know, I am seriously not a cryer.  Anyone who knows me, knows that.  I never ever cry.  But Africa pulls on my heart strings like nothing else.  After our prayer time, we made the terrible walk to the bus to say goodbye.  I have made many friends at BFR in just a few days, but none like Belize.  I held her hand on the walk but just looked ahead.  I was telling myself to just choke down the tears until later.  When I finally turned to look at her, she lifted her head up and her lip started trembling.  Y’all I lost it.  I said “Don’t cry!” and immediately we were both in each other’s arms bawling.  I’m even crying as I type this.  I have never in my life made a connection like that in such a short time (much less with someone who doesn’t speak my language).  I had lots and lots of other kids coming up to me to say goodbye, and that just made it worse.  I wanted our goodbyes to be joyful and full of hope, not miserable.  I tried to pull myself together as we took some final pictures (where I look puffy and surprisingly like I’m trying to smile through tears).  It took forever for everyone to finally get on the bus because we had so many kids we had fallen in love with.  In addition to Belize, kids like Jado, Antoine, Florence, Maurice, Emmanuel, Jephte, and many more had taken a large chunk of my heart.

We finally loaded up the bus with our team and with the eldest kids of the Best Family.  We were taking them to dinner at a burrito place downtown.  As much as my heart ached, those burritos were AMAZING.  Way better than any burrito I’ve ever had anywhere else.  It did wonders for my mood, and I even got a MOUNTAIN DEW.  I enjoyed spending some extra time with the eldest BFR kids.  Shakour (#1), Shakur (#2), Grace, and Pascal just to name a few.  It definitely eased the ache.  

Days like that and feelings like that are what make me so certain that I’ll return.  How could I not ever see Belize again?  What does it mean for me to spend about 3 days with her and then leave?  It’s not just her but all of the BFR.  They really do love like family, and I am so blessed to be a sister to them.

I feel like I have so much more to say, so many more emotions rolling around.  But I’m just too drained and exhausted to try to type them out (fyi, it’s 12:45 am, and I have to get up at 5:00).  Maybe some other time, after I’ve processed this crazy emotional roller coaster I can write more about it.  I love you all and please keep praying for us!

We’re Here!

Happy Liberation Day!  I mean, Happy Independence Day!  Today on the 4th of July, we landed in Rwanda.  Not only do Americans celebrate our independence on this day, but Rwanda does also!

After about 26 hours of travel (give or take a little because I am so completely confused on the date and time), we have finally made it to Rwanda!

The morning in DC was a time of reuniting with old friends from last year’s trip and quickly making new ones.  After that, we boarded the plane for the trans-Atlantic flight.  Long flights over the ocean are always boring and exhausting.  This one in particular was a strain because it was CRAZY HOT on the plane.  I’ve never been on a plane that wasn’t freezing cold, but this one had me sweating and feeling like I spent 14 hours breathing in someone else’s hot breath.  However, it was awesome that all of our team was sitting together within 3 rows of each other.  Well, everyone except Frank who flew first class.  I’m sure that between eating his 4 course meals and sleeping in the giant bed-like seating that he wished he was back there with us.

After a layover in Ethiopia, we arrived in Kigali around noon.  We were a bit nervous because the luggage carousel went around and around, with NONE of our luggage on it.  Thankfully, after waiting a while, ALL of our luggage came out.  And for a team of 16 people, each with multiple bags, that’s a miracle in itself, y’all!

We got to our hotel and knew immediately that we would not be “roughing it” for this portion of our journey.  It’s really nice, and the shower is better than any we experienced last year!  Yay for hot water!  I also got excited when I plugged in my blow dryer and it worked!  Then I was not so excited when I felt pure electricity running through my hand from the blow dryer.  (It still tingles a bit, but don’t tell my parents).

Our team is super exhausted at this point after all the traveling and little sleep.  At dinner it was almost silent because we were all fighting to stay awake.  After dinner, our friends Jean Claude, Emmanuel, and Salomon from the Best Family came to visit our team!  We just visited together, laughed, and talked about the great ways God is moving in our lives and in the life of Best Family.

To cap it all off, Blake even got to drive around Jean Claude’s moped.  He really enjoyed it, and it was hilarious to watch.  Tomorrow we will visit the genocide memorial and then spend the rest of the day with the BFR kids!  Now for some much needed sleep…

Our Itinerary!

OH MY GOSH I AM SO EXCITED!!!  That’s right, folks, it’s only FOUR days until we start this crazy epic journey back to Africa.  I wanted to post our itinerary so that you could know what we will be doing each day.  This way, you can pray for us specifically as we travel and serve.

Here are some general prayer requests, that we would love for you to be praying over:
1.  Safe and uncomplicated travels – pray that our flights will be on time, that we will make all of our connecting flights, and that our luggage all makes it there when we arrive.
2.  Team unity – pray that our team bonds quickly, and that friendships are forged in the service of Christ.  Pray that everyone gets along the whole trip, even when we are tired and cranky.
3.  Pray that the message of the Gospel is apparent in our actions and our words, and that the people we meet will be drawn to God through us. (even after sitting in an airport for 13 hours, without having had a shower in over 48 hours).
4.  Pray that God uses this experience to change lives — both of the people in Rwanda and our team members. Pray that this trip incites a change in lifestyle and becomes the catalyst for living life as James 1:27 tells us to.
5.  Pray for Blake and I – this is our first time leading a team, and we are feeling the pressure!  Pray that God gives us wisdom and guides our every action as team leaders.  Pray that the team members will respect our authority as it has been given to us, and that we have no major crises we have to handle while we are there!

This itinerary might be a bit more detailed than you’re looking for, but I thought some of you might like to know when we are in the air, and what our flight schedule is like.  I’ve notated whenever there is a time change, and in case you’re wondering, Rwanda is 7 hours ahead of the central time zone.  Our brief time in the Ethiopian airport is 8 hours ahead.

Throughout the post, I will be mentioning ministries whom we will be partnering with while we are there.  All of these organizations do a wonderful job of serving the orphan and living out James 1:27 on a day to day basis.  Please click on any of the colorful buttons on the side of the page to learn more about these ministries and how you can be a part of the amazing work God is doing in Rwanda!

Tuesday, July 2nd
8:00 am (Central time) – We will get to the Birmingham airport and say goodbye to our family.
10:27  – We fly to Houston where we have a SUPER SHORT layover when we’ll have to jog across the airport to get to our next flight.
12:46 – We fly to Washington DC
4:55 (Eastern time) – We land in DC.  We will stay the night in DC, and spend the rest of the evening at our hotel, meeting some other team members who will be flying in that day as well.

Wednesday, July 3rd
7:30 am (Eastern time) – get to the DC airport and meet the remaining members of our team!
10:15 – We begin the looooong flight overseas

Thursday, July 4th
7:45 am (Ethiopian time) – we land in Ethiopia where we have a layover for a couple hours
10:30 – Board our flight for Rwanda!
11:55 (Rwandan time) – We land in Kigali, Rwanda!  So looking forward to seeing our guide there to greet us!
We’ll spend the rest of this day recuperating from our many hours of travel and getting to know one another on our team.
Blake and I might also get to have a brief meeting with the leaders from Best Family Rwanda to learn more about their ministry’s future, and how we might be able to help them through The Co-Mission (the non-profit for which we serve on the Board).

Friday, July 5th
In the morning, our team will visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.  It is a somber site, dedicated to the memory of the 1 million people who were slaughtered unjustly.  The leaders of BFR, who all suffered a great deal of loss during the genocide, will lead us through the memorial, and provide a firsthand account of the horrors of genocide and the glory of God’s restorative power.

Afterwards, we will go to the BFR campus to have lunch with the children and then spend the afternoon playing with them and loving on them.

Saturday, July 6th
We will spend the entire day with the kids of BFR!  This day will be full of soccer games, face painting, blowing bubbles, singing, and dancing!    Our goal is to love them like Jesus.

Sunday, July 7th
We will attend church with the BFR kids.  This is something I am SO excited about!  Last year, we did not get to visit a church in Africa, and I can hardly wait to experience it!  It is so exciting to praise Jesus in another culture, in another language, on the other side of the world.  There is just something so holy about The Church, the universal Body of Christ, joining together in worship of our Lord and King.

After church, we will again eat lunch and spend the rest of the day with the kids of BFR.

Monday, July 8th
On this day, we will visit the village of Gasharu, just outside Kigali.  This village is comprised of society’s poorest, many of whom are outcasts.  A large percentage of its population includes widows, orphans, and teenage mothers, and many are also HIV positive.  We have learned that many young girls in Rwanda are raped or taken advantage of by men. Then when the girl gets pregnant, the men pretend they don’t know her, and the girl is left to care for herself and her new life on her own.  These girls are often shunned by their community and have no way of providing for themselves, often ending up in the exceedingly poor Gasharu village.  BFR, “adopted” 30 children under the age of 10 from this community to be a part of the Best Family and to help meet their needs.  We will be visiting the homes of many of these children and sharing the Gospel with their families.

Tuesday, July 9th.
We will take a 3 hour bus ride through the beautiful hills of Rwanda to the town of Gisenyi.  Here we will have an afternoon of rest before dinner on the shore of Lake Kivu.

Wednesday, July 10th – Friday, July 12th
We will spend these 3 days at Noel Orphanage.  This is the same orphanage we visited last year, and we are so looking forward to seeing some familiar faces that we’ve missed so much!  Again, our days will be full of playing and loving.

We will also visit 2 other ministries in Ginsenyi called No. 41 and His Imbaraga.  They employ orphan artisans to make bags and jewelry.  The profits go to help supporting these young men and women and also to feeding children in school.  Check out their website from the buttons on the side of the page!

Saturday, July 13th
The long and sad journey home begins early in the morning.  We will drive back down the mountain to Kigali.
4:00 pm – Fly from Rwanda to Ethiopia
10:15 pm (Ethiopian time) – Board the flight back to the US

Sunday, July 14th
8:30 am (Eastern time) – land in Washington DC.  This is the saddest part, where we have to say goodbye to many of our team members as we each travel home around the country.  We sit in the airport for nearly 8 HOURS before our next flight.
4:10 – Fly to Charlotte, NC.  Sit in this airport for ANOTHER 5 HOURS
10:35 – Fly to Birmingham
10:56 (Central time) – Land in Birmingham where my awesome parents will be there to greet us.

Sweet Home Alabama

Well folks, I survived Africa and made it home safely.  We picked up our dog from my parents’ house and unpacked all the suitcases this morning and got everything back to normal.  Well…almost everything is back to normal.  After this trip, Blake and I will never go back to the normal we knew before.

It was an amazing experience.  It was exhausting, and at times it was scary, but it was so rewarding.  It’s hard to put into words why it was so powerful.  I saw a huge change in myself while we were there.  I stepped out of my comfort zone, threw aside my insecurities, and was willing to be used by God in any capacity.  He worked in my heart to be more outgoing, more compassionate, and more loving.

I saw God in a special way in Africa.  Mostly, He revealed Himself to me through my team members.  28 people from around the country.  Some knew each other beforehand but most didn’t.  I’ve never known such generous, loving people.  We all immediately accepted one another and bonded together.  We all had little in common except for a love of Jesus.  Watching them just jump right in and feed babies or play soccer or hold an orphan’s hand was like seeing all of them truly being Christ’s hands and feet.  It moved me in a special way.  They inspired me to be better than myself, to seek God more fervently, to be more gracious and more forgiving.  And they made me laugh like crazy :-).

So now I’m back home.  It was great seeing my parents and my puppy again.  It was definitely awesome to sleep in a soft bed and take a hot shower. But I lack that sense of purpose and drive I’ve felt the past couple weeks. I think it’s partly because I’m not on a tight schedule packed full of activities…but it’s also because I feel so much less useful here.  I keep adding 8 hours to the time and thinking about what we might have been doing in Africa at that time.  I know I’ve only been home a day, and you’d think it would be awhile before I started missing Africa.  But no…while we were driving home from my parent’s house, you know what I did?  I went to the Visiting Orphans website and started looking at the upcoming trips.  Am I nuts?

I want to thank you all so much for your prayers while we were gone.  We are so thankful to have made the whole trip without getting sick, getting injured, having side effects from medications, losing our luggage, or having any travel mishaps.  God was with us every step of the way.  Thank you for caring about us and about the message we were there to spread.  I pray that reading this blog has given you a better idea of the needs in Africa as well as what you can do about it.  We were certainly blessed to have the opportunity and the support that enabled us to go on this trip.  I know that not everyone is able to go on a mission trip like this.  I want to encourage you to pray about whether or not God is calling you to go, or to give to missions.  The need is great, but God is greater.

Thank you for reading my blog as we made our great journey.  This will be my last post….until the next trip to Africa :-).  If you would like to keep up with my husband’s blog where many needs are displayed and Christ is revealed through daily life (especially after our trip to Africa), go to http://www.anthemsong.wordpress.com.

Love you all!
-Lindsay

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widowsin their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  –James 1:27

Headed Home

Ok so we just landed in Washington DC.  It was a long 17 hours of traveling, but now we have some time here in DC to eat lunch together and say our goodbyes.  It’s nice to be able to flush the toilet paper and drink from the water fountain!  The following was actually typed up last night, but I didn’t have internet to post it.  It tells you all about our last day in Africa!

It’s almost 9 PM here in Addis Ababa, and we are about half an hour away from boarding our flight.  From there, we have about 27 hours of traveling ahead of us before we land in Sweet Home Alabama.  Phew…that’s a lot.

So here’s what we did on our last day in Ethiopia:  This morning, we went to visit Kibebe Betsehay Orphanage.  This is one of 3 government orphanages in Ethiopia, and it is considered the worst of them all.  There are not enough staff and the facilities are not fit for little children.  This orphanage is primarily for children 5 and under, though a few older children are still there for various reasons.  Our leaders, Tymm and Laura Hoffman, run a Non Profit Organization called Brighton Their World. You should definitely visit their website to find out about the awesome things they are doing to care for orphans just as God’s Word commands us to.  They give TONS of formula to help these orphans get the nutritional food they need. Kibebe Betsehay has not allowed any team like this within their walls, but due to Tymm and Laura’s continued relationship with them through Brighton Their World, we were allowed in.

We spent the first part of the morning touring the facilities.  It’s certainly in desperate need of some changes, but they are doing the best they can with what they have.  They are desperately in need of more staff, and ESPECIALLY occupational therapists and physical therapists.  The children in the special needs room look like they are rarely out of their cribs (some up to 9 years old) and they do not have the equipment needed to get these children the help they need.  That was the most heartbreaking part to me.

Then we went to the infant room.  I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with infants at Noel in Rwanda, so I enjoyed doing something new!  I found the CUTEST little boy (I think it was a boy).  He was dressed in a little orange pumpkin onesie.  They don’t have names so I called him my lil punkin.  He was so beautiful, but unfortunately the orphanage doesn’t allow pictures.  Oh well.  Just trust me.  He made awesome crazy faces and had huge eyes with long eyelashes.

Afterwards we played with the toddlers/young kids.  Due to the lack of staff, the kids obviously get away with a lot.  They fight like crazy.  I mean 4 year olds are punching each other in the mouth and kicking in the stomach.  It’s pretty unusual to see such hardcore fighting from little bitty kids.  I spent most of the time just holding this one little cross-eyed boy with a hairlip who got picked on and pushed down.  He hit his head on the table and started tearing up.  It obviously wasn’t a serious injury, but once I picked him up into my lap and kissed his boo-boo, he sat there for the next hour and didn’t budge.  I don’t even know his name, and I only knew him for a short time, but it was still sad leaving him just after knowing him for a short time.

Then we went to a street market to do some shopping and use up our Burr (Ethiopian currency).  We found some cool stuff, but it’s just sad because so many beggars hang out there and ask the rich white people for money.  And finally we came back to the guest house to pack, eat dinner, and say goodbye to our awesome guide Nebyet (probably butchered that spelling).

Everyone is SSSSOOOO sad to be leaving each other.  We’re all exhausted and ready to be home, but we aren’t ready to leave one another.  Seriously, with 28 people on a team, I thought for sure at least a few people would be weirdos.  But no.  We’ve all gotten along SO WELL!!  These people are like family to me.  We’re already planning a reunion.  I have never in my life seen people so incredibly willing to do WHATEVER God asks of them.  On top of coming to Africa, I’ve seen people just give and give and give some more.  We get peed on, we get muddy, we get sweaty, we get pulled in all directions and break up fights…but these people never stop.  They are so full of Jesus.  This is what the body of Christ should look like — reaching out to orphans and widows and giving to the poor and spreading a message of hope, joy, and love wherever we go.  I pray that I will be just like these people.  I know that America will be different, but I pray that I will continue to keep Jesus at the forefront of my mind at all times, just like these generous, wonderful, hilarious, 27 team members have shown me.  I will miss these people so much, and I’m not kidding when I say we need to go on another trip with just the same people…no one else allowed.  To all my VO team members and leaders, I LOVE YOU!!