I love how God can use even our selfish motivations for His glory. Such is the case with my involvement in a wonderful ministry in New York called Operation Exodus.
Much of my younger life was filled with feelings of entitlement and pity parties. One of those areas that I felt entitled was travel. “I’m the only person I know that hasn’t been to Hawaii! I never get to travel anywhere.” I remember some of those words coming out of my mouth, and God, in His sovereignty probably rolled His eyes and shook His head and mumbled something like “Kris, Kris, Kris! REALLY? You’re going to play that card?”…when what He probably really wanted to do was drop-kick me. Just another time I’m sure I grieved the Holy Spirit.
Grace comes into this story (as it always does) by the Father allowing me to slowly learn a great lesson once I started to put other people first. I’ve now been to 3 of the Hawaiian Islands, Alaska, Mexico, the Bahama’s, to many states in the U.S. and ya know what….they’re just places. None are quite as pretty as Lake Tahoe. So what I built up in my head as something that I deserved – I really didn’t need. Oh, they were nice and the experience was fun, but God doesn’t owe me anything.
Fast forward to 2009 where I am facilitating mission trips at work that deal with an organization called Mission To The World. By then I had been to Mexico to build homes for needy folks for several years and had begun to catch on to what ministry to others felt like (putting others before myself) and God was gently directing my heart to embrace serving others. It was exhilarating and new and it felt really good. That’s what happens when you take your eyes off of yourself.
I was challenged via Skype by my dear friend Bobbi Jo at MTW when she said “Why don’t YOU go on a short-term mission trip, Kris?” I quickly informed her that I had been serving in Mexico for years, but she persisted in encouraging me to stretch myself out of my comfort zone. My boss (gosh darn him!) supported Bobbi Jo and also encouraged me to go. Really?….I was a middle-aged woman and where would I go?
When Bobbi Jo informed me that she was the Director of MTW Missions to Asia, Europe and New York City… well my ears perked up when I heard New York! What was this?…a Broadway play mission trip? I had always wanted to travel to The Big Apple and here was my chance! This was something I could embrace AND look good at the same time because people would think I was being self-less by doing ministry! And it was certainly less threatening than Asia and less scary than traveling to Europe by myself. WooHoo….sign me up, baby!
Thus began a love affair with a broken and beautiful city that would rock my world and change my life. I packed my bags that first year and headed to New York for a week and worked alongside Bobbi Jo and the tutors at Operation Exodus, feeding 45 volunteers daily and watching the most amazing young people in the inner city of Washington Heights do an amazing job teaching and mentoring kids. These tutors, many who have been through OE themselves as kids, walk alongside the local Dominican and Puerto Rican children and teach them how to better themselves, and how to make a difference for the gospel. In an area where gangs and drugs and teenage pregnancy rates are high, the tutors at OE help build Christian character, and focus on academics in a program that has seen phenomenal high school graduation results in the past 14 years.
I fell in love and have been going back the past 5 years, taking with me teams of people each summer whose lives are forever changed by the ministry. You go thinking you’re going to help these kids, but you walk away finding that God is teaching you way more about yourself than you could ever teach these children. And isn’t that what grace is? Getting something you weren’t expecting? Even a middle-aged gal…traipsing around NY like a teenager. HA!….Ya gotta love it!
OK – this is the part where I have to “fess up”. I have to admit that I’ve been to a few Broadway plays while there, so don’t hate me because I’m Broadway saavy. It’s what God lured me to New York with in the midst of my selfishness and so I feel like I should honor Broadway plays by seeing a show now and then. That, or at least a Yankees or Mets game. Are you buying this? Yeah…no – me neither.
So anyway….I’m heading there again at the end of the week to work again with these delightful kids. If you think of it, pray for a safe trip, lots of great stories about God’s grace, as well as my ability to lead our team of 14. Each team going this summer will be teaching on a different genre of books; historical fiction, mystery, biographies, science and technology, etc. Our team will be teaching on mysteries, writing stories and how God writes OUR story. We have been busy preparing, but I sometimes get all wrapped up in the plans that go along with making this a successful trip, when my first priority should be to pray. I always want to be reminded that I’m not in charge – it’s God’s gig and it’s His party.
Speaking of parties….this will be the first year that we are in the Big Apple when our country celebrates our Independence on July 4th. That will be a treat! Undeserved….but a treat nonetheless. Follow along on the fun as I blog my way through New York next week with Operation Exodus. Grace…and Broadway plays.