Last week, we kicked off our series Small World, Big Heart with a look at the power of short-term missions and how they could change our lives.
This week, I want to share dispatches from the field – moments and stories that left my heart changed forever.
It says in 1 John 3:16,
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”1
Note: One of the stories below may not be suitable for younger audiences. Please take care while listening to this episode.
Dispatch #1 – Porch Lights | Athens, Greece – 2011
It was just after midnight when me, our missionary contact and another one of my traveling companions got into a vehicle for a tour of Athens, Greece, after dark.
Some of our team and local ministry partners would spend the next several hours ministering to the sex workers of the city.
They would be moving from brothel to brothel in hopes of having meaningful conversations that would lead to women exiting the human trafficking hell they found themselves embedded in.
Athens is gorgeous by day, but a whole new city comes alive when the sun goes down.
While our ministry partners worked the streets, we covered more ground in our vehicle. Our missionary took us to streets and back alleys where sex workers would congregate in the open as well as behind closed doors.
As the photographer and writer for the trip, I was poised to capture the moments that would tell the story of lives trapped behind closed doors.
But, we had to be careful; there were always madames and pimps on the lookout for those who didn’t belong.
It must have been around 1:00 a.m. when our car turned onto a narrow street lined with cars and illuminated by a few street lights.
As our car slowed to a crawl, it looked like many neighborhoods we had driven through. It had homes that lined the streets and porch lights that cut through the darkened streets.
These porch lights…white as snow in some cases.
After a word of caution about photographs, our missionary partner shared how these porch lights were different.
They illuminated the porch steps alright, but not to a home, but a…brothel.
As I looked down this street, it was a sea of white porch lights. As we drove on, we encountered two porch lights side-by-side with a dumpster at the corner.
I raised my camera – click.
Driving on, we entered another narrow street, and as I looked down the street, a single porch light shown brightly in the dark and dingy street surrounded by graffiti.
I raised my camera – click.
Women in search of a better life had been duped and were now trapped behind closed doors, being abused and trafficked every day. Only the power of Jesus could rescue them from their daily hell.
I grew up in a different world than what I saw and captured, but these porch lights remain etched on my memory.
Dispatch #2 – The Love of a Father | Ensenada, Mexico – 2019
Our Mexico Missions team just returned on Friday from a week in Mexico, meeting the needs of the hurting and the struggling and helping to alleviate poverty in our own backyards.
In 2019, on my last trip to Mexico, we arrived on Sunday afternoon in Ensenada. The YUGO compound is nestled in a small area, bordered by a large Mexican military base, and not too far…the beach.
The community compound is patrolled nightly for our safety, and there are 150 and 200 short-term missionaries of all ages at any given time. The youngest our team has taken was three years old.
On Sunday evenings, you meet your family whom you will be serving for the week. In our case, we were building two homes – one for the Garay family (a YUGO staff member) and the Perez-Lopez family.
The Perez-Lopez family was a blended family with visible struggles. During an evening chapel at YUGO, Pastor Ray kicked off the evening by saying,
“You are not just building a house for them, you are destroying an entire mountain for them.”
Before we head to a meal with our new family, we take a moment to lay hands on them and pray for them. In this case, we prayed the walls we construct would break down walls in their heart to see how much Jesus loves them.
I wrote on our trip blog two reminders for myself and the team:
- “When we walk alongside the hurting and joyful, our hearts and lives are never the same.” (Dave Anthold)
- “For the Perez-Lopez Family, they do not know Christ, and we have the unique opportunity to build a home for them that will serve as a testimony to God’s care and love for them.” (Dave Anthold)
The team laid hands on most of the family – father, son, and daughter – and prayed for them. While the team prayed, I took a moment to capture it with my camera.
In one of my most memorable pictures, the son is looking at the camera as I look up and capture the hurt, pain, and apparent toughness of a young child and a father praying that this house will change his family forever.
Dispatch #3: Town Square | Warsaw, Poland – 1994
When I was eighteen (18) years old, I packed a suitcase and backpack and boarded a jet plane to take me to the United Kingdom, where I would meet up with other team members as part of the U.K. Continental Singers.
This was my first solo trip out of the country with a lot of moving pieces on the other end. Mind you; this was before cell phones.
I knew two others (Arnie – USA, and Mia – Netherlands) who would be on the trip. We served the previous year as part of the U.S. Continental Singers. This group was smaller and a bit older. I was on the younger side.
We were performing The Dreamer, a musical about the life of Joseph from the Old Testament.
We traveled all throughout Europe by bus and ferry and enjoyed host homes in all those places. Some spoke English, and for others, there were a lot of hand gestures. This was also before any of the current translation apps.
During our trip, we were due to sing in the town square in Warsaw, Poland, but the event was canceled due to rain.
That didn’t stop us…we were determined to sing in the town square. I might never be back in Poland, so I was going to take advantage of it.
After lunch, we marched over to the square, sang praise to our Lord, and got drenched. It’s hard to believe that was nearly thirty (30) years ago.
Dispatch #4: Rotten Teeth and Family Portrait | Petrozavodsk, Russia – 2011
We had been in Russia for a few days when we boarded a train from St. Petersburg bound for Petrozavodsk, about 12 hours away.
As we slept in our cabins, the clicking clack of the train sang us a sweet lullaby as we headed to dreamland.
Pulling into the station, we were greeted by the missionary with whom we would spend the next few days ministering and doing some strategic planning.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to go to a village outside the city. The further we drove, the more desolate these villages appeared to become.
It was late winter, and there was fresh snow on the ground, and it was cold. The man of the house is a former Russian soldier whom Eugene met a few times before his arrival.
This man had a beautiful family – a son who adored him, two younger girls, and a newborn. As Eugene spoke with him, the older girls and son played with my ministry partners while I captured the moments.
I drank in the surroundings.
There was no electricity or running water in the home. All water for the toilet and food would come from outside.
At night, the home would be lit by candles and a fire to keep them warm.
During our visit, the kids and my ministry partners played patty cake and the hand-slapping game. Laughter filled the home.
I am blessed to be able to go to the dentist or doctor when I need to, and they take care of me. These kids were so cute, and when the youngest of the girls smiled, I could see she had a few rotten teeth.
As someone who had visited the dentist at least once a month over the past 13 months, I wanted to bring her back to the United States and get her teeth fixed, but that wasn’t possible.
Before we left their home, I got a family photograph. The photograph is a mix of love, grace, struggle, and joy. This photograph hangs in my room as a reminder of my visit to their home.
Dispatch #5: God’s Timing & Tapestry | Kenya, Africa – 1993
It was 1993, and I had graduated high school thirty days ago, and now I was in Kenya, Africa. I was on tour with the U.S. Continental Singers as a sound engineer.
While in Kenya, we had the opportunity to visit villages inhabited by the Masai Mara tribe people. They were loving people and showed us gracious hospitality.
We also had the opportunity to be on two safaris. Unbelievable. We saw elephants, lions, zebra, and other animals close up.
During our time in the Rift Valley, we stayed at a lodge constructed a few years earlier. It was gorgeous and was built for travelers like us to experience the beauty and majesty of the Rift Valley region.
Fast forward seven years, and I was graduating from college and transferring to the facilities department, where I have spent most of my career.
Over coffee one morning, my future manager and I were discussing all the places we had traveled. I told him I had traveled to this beautiful lodge in the Rift Valley.
He said, I know it's beautiful; I helped build it.
When I look back, God was at work creating an amazing tapestry in my life. He was connecting dots that seemed random to me, but in the end, it shows how amazing God is when viewed from further away.
Over the course of my 30+ years of short-term mission work, I have met many people near and far that have left an impression on me and my heart.
Short-term trips are a great way for families to connect while serving. You might want to consider a short-term mission trip for your next vacation.
Regardless, our memories while serving stay with us for a lifetime.
Next week, we are going to look at serving those closest to us and the impact we can have on our communities and families.
Dispatches From The Field Newsletter
If you liked these Dispatches From The Field vignettes, I encourage you to join me as I bring you into the world of short-term missions with a special, 10-day curated pictorial email newsletter from my travels.
They will be ten all-new dispatches and not repeated from the ones mentioned in this podcast episode.
Head on over, and sign up at: https://rockingchairdevotions.com/dispatch.
Lord, thank you for your work in us and through us. Please help each one of us see the needs around us and meet them as You lead. Thank you for your provision in our lives. Amen!
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- 1 John 3:16 ↩︎
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