Where do I begin?! Our trip was truly a life-changing experience. First, THANK YOU for all your prayers for us! God answers them! If I ever doubted it before, I am convinced of it now! Here is just a taste...Before leaving, Cole and I asked family and friends to pray for 5 things specifically (see previous blog post). Here is what they were and how God answered them and is continuing to answer them.
1. Pray over our bags. We each are taking 30 pounds of medications in our checked bags. Pray that our bags get there and are not taken! We need medicine to run our clinic. You will not believe this, but ALL of our medicines and ALL our supplies (except for 8 pairs of glassses) made it into the country. The missionaries we partnered with there work "hidden" because it is illegal (and has been for 1400 years) to not be Islamic. Thus, we could not come in as a group to meet them. We walked off the plane not speaking to one another or saying sensitive words as to not make anyone suspicious of our group. We claimed our bags and began towards the security area. THE MACHINE TO SCAN OUR BAGS WAS BROKEN AND CLOSED FOR THE AFTERNOON. Yes, I said it, it was closed! WOW! God answered a huge prayer! Looking back, our group was so anxious about this, but God showed us that He is in charge of everything and He will not let Satan or any earthly force keep the gospel from going out to a lost world. What a wonderful way to begin our trip with a reminder that God is in control.
2. Safety during travels to and in North Africa. You are all probably very well aware of the recent unrest in Muslim countries after the death of Bin Laden. Pray that we would not be anxious. Pray that we would encounter peace. We felt safe our entire trip, and in a lot of ways, safer than I feel here in the States. My eyes were opened to how the media in our country leads us astray and blows things out of proportion. The last week we stayed about 300 yards from where the bomb went off in the main city about a week before our trip, and we still did not feel threatened. I learned so much about the Muslim people. I am guilty of my imagination of the Muslim people before this trip, as totally covered in their dress and evil. Oh, how I was wrong! Most of them do look like I imagined, but they do not act like I imagined. They are normal - nice, kind, appreciative, caring, happy people with families and jobs and chores - just like us!! This is not at all what the media tells us. The sad distinction is that NONE of them have the hope of eternity in heaven. We also had safety in all of our travels, even with crazy bus drivers and riding camels!!
3. Pray that we would change the perspective of Christianity there. It is so sad to us that the people associate America with Christianity and all they see of America is the media and Hollywood. No wonder they don't desire it! Pray that people see the servitude we bring through medical care as an example of Christ. Pray that they understand that physical healing is only temporary, but spiritual healing is eternal! God moved mountains in answering this prayer request! Although we couldn't openly share the gospel, we could if a person asked! Our team struggled with this a ton before the trip, especially with just not understanding and foreseeing how we could further the kingdom of God without being able to share the gospel or even say "churchy" words. We trusted anyway and prayed a lot! Turns out, by providing medical care, we were able to love on the people. This was huge! Our goal was not to see the most patients, but to spend time with each patient - touching them, talking to them, and just loving on them any way we could. Since we couldn't openly begin to tell them about Jesus, we wanted our actions to portray Him. It was sad to hear their stories, but so cool to see just how little can change their lives. We had one lady in sobs tell us that she had never been touched in a loving way before. I got to share specifically with one lady that the medicine we were giving her would not make her well and happy forever. God showed us that we had little faith, and that He could use us despite what seemed to be a crushing barrier for our mission. We had a surprising number of people ask us WHY we were in their village! They couldn't understand why we would want to come to help them. What an analogy to our position in relation to Christ. As sinners, we don't deserve Him and often ask, "Why me?" We had the biggest impact on the translators that we worked with because they were with us for 2 weeks. They caught on to our prayer cards and attitudes and other things. I will share more about them sometime soon! I am confident in saying that every patient we saw cannot think that all Americans are like the ones they hear about, and therefore Christianity may be different than they expected.
4. Pray for the full-time missionaries in North Africa. Pray that we would be a help and encouragement to their daily mission to spread the gospel. I learned that the average time it takes a person in the country we were in to convert from Islam to Christianity is 7 years! What perseverance our missionaries have! I saw the hardship it was to be a missionary in a place that is completely lost and where it is illegal to be a believer. It is tiresome and heavy and discouraging. Can you imagine living in a place as a believer with no community or fellowship!? How hard that must be to not have a church, TV or radio worship music, conferences, etc. I experienced this for the first time ever. The missionaries assured us that our 2 weeks was sweet time for them as they shared time with the body of Christ! We especially encouraged them by each developing a heart for "their people". I desired for our team to be an encouragement to them, and we were, but I was just as encouraged by their heart for the nations and dedication to furthering the kingdom of God here on earth. As far as being a help to their mission...The Lord accomplished this through us in multiple ways. We had medical clinics in 2 villages (1 each week). One of the villages had NEVER had a missionary or any other Christian influence or even a medical clinic before, EVER. The government gave our team permission to do a medical clinic there a few weeks before we arrived. (Of course, they didn't know our purpose was to be a light for Christ, which is why we had to be so careful). Our missionaries were able to meet many of the native people, as well as develop a reputation for bringing the American doctors into town! The villages are a lot more likely to be open to anything the missionaries do in the future. They now have a Bible in their native tongue, as well as praise and worship music on a mini headset and a video of Jesus, that can be distributed discretely to those who ask.
5. Pray for our personal growth in the Lord. We are both leading Bible studies during the trip so we need strength, encouragement, and wisdom! Pray that we would see God even bigger and greater than we already do and come away with an even greater desire to make missions a priority in our marriage! God answered this prayer as well! The theme of our trip was "Greater Things" and it is taken from John 14:12-14 which says, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do EVEN GREATER THINGS than theses, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it." God had "greater things" prepared for Cole and I than we imagined when committing ourselves to this trip. I am also reminded of the verse in 1 Corinthians and Isaiah that tells us that "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him." I am excited about posting A LOT of this sometime soon. Just know that this prayer was answered and we DID see how big God is and how we are called to be a light to all nations.