It’s been almost a month since I had the privileged of visiting The Dream Center for a five day mission trip. As I have continued to process and reflect on all that God did in such a short span of time, He is still revealing new things to me. It truly was a life changing experience. I’m not sure I can adequately compress all the individual stories and miraculous moments into one coherent and concise blog post (which may be why I’ve been holding it off), but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try…so bear with me.
Our journey to The Dream Center began bright and early. Actually, make that just early. We beat the sun to the airport at 5:30 am so that we would be ready to board our 6:10 flight. Within minutes of getting “comfortable” on our flight, the pilot came over the speaker and announced that this plane was in fact staying in Kansas City due to mechanical issues. Honestly, I immediately felt God’s blessing on this trip. Over the last 7 years, I’ve gone on 3 mission trips and a handful of retreats….there has LITERALLY never been a trip that didn’t involve some sort of car engine/car battery issue. My very first mission trip in 2009 involved a death trap bus that imploded, but 20(+) people were also saved that week. I’m a firm believer that resistance and hiccups are just signs of the enemy’s attacks…and the enemy loves to attack when God is doing big things. So with a refreshed sense of expectation and empowerment, I switched over to the new plane that would be (safely) transporting our KC crew to LA! When we arrived in LA, we had time to explore and bond as a team. In the early afternoon we visited Manhattan Beach before getting settled in at The Dream Center. In the evening, we hiked near The Observatory. Throughout the day, God was creating an atmosphere of comfort and love within our group of 22 unique individuals. As we bonded over good food, beaches, and somewhat unsafe hiking trails…God was creating a spirit of peace and safety that would prepare us for the challenges that we would face in the following days. I knew that I had support from everyone on the trip, which encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone. Despite not doing any mission work on day 1, the atmosphere and bonds created were crucial in preparing us for the uncomfortable and challenging circumstances we would face.
“So let’s do it-full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on” (Hebrews 10:22-25 MSG).
Woohoo..Day 2! I was excited to finally dive into serving the community, and I was also eager to feel God’s strength in moments that required more than I had. The first service project I helped with was The Dream Center’s clothing drive. Our Cause group had been assigned three different tasks for the morning, so I joined 6 others to help sort through donated clothes. We divided clothes into bags based on whether they were good to keep or were too damaged. We worked for a couple hours, and lined the walls with clothes. Once sorted, the clothes were taken to be cleaned before going into the thrift store/clothing drive. Even though we accomplished a lot, there was still quite a bit to be done before the clothes ever entered into the hands of the person in need. Sorting clothes was such a cool illustration of how God works. Each step had been planned by God from the moment they left the donors hands to when they entered into whomever would receive the clothes. And, although we did not get to witness a life being changed…our part was still significant and vital to God’s plan. Planting seeds can feel discouraging when we don’t see the fruit that is produced, but a Kingdom perspective trusts that each step is crucial to God’s plan.
After lunch, our entire group got to pass out hot dogs and flowers on Venice Beach. It was such a simple yet impactful way to bless the people there. One girl I met, who received flowers, shared that it would have been her mom’s 65th birthday. She sent the flowers she received out into the ocean as a gift for her mother. God’s timing is perfect and personal, and I love that He used a team from Kansas City to deliver a simple gift to this woman. The smiles, laughter, and songs shared on Venice Beach refreshed my spirit and reminded me how powerful simple acts of kindness are.
A few days before the trip, we received an email from our team leader asking for five volunteers to help watch kids on Wednesday (day 2) evening. In January, I decided that 2016 was going to be a year of “yes’s”, so I volunteered without much hesitation. The five of us who volunteered got to watch kids at Angelus Temple while their parents went to the Celebrate Recovery group. While waiting on the kiddos to arrive, we listened to a testimony from a man who struggled with addiction for 40 years before finding healing and freedom. He spoke of his transformation through Christ, which really inspired and resonated with me. Having recovered from an eating disorder, it was amazing to hear him speak of God’s healing love in the same way I have experienced it. Truly, “recovery” is just a behavior modification while true transformation is a heart/identity change that comes from receiving God’s personal love. Hearing his story provided clarity into my own journey, which I never expected to receive when I volunteered to watch kids that Wednesday night. Again, God’s timing is perfect and personal.
“Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove” (James 2: 18).
Thursday morning, a handful of us walked to a cute coffee shop before starting our day. There is something about the Holy Spirit mixed with caffeine that makes one unstoppable! By 9:00 a.m, our team was loading food trucks with fresh produce to be distributed throughout the community. Once at the designated sites, we then bagged the food so it would be ready to hand out. Loading the trucks, driving to the sites, and bagging the food was physically taxing and took a couple hours, while handing it out took only about 30 minutes. Once again, God was highlighting the importance of preparation in the process. As we passed out the bags of fruits and veggies, we also offered to pray with each person. Reaching outside of my comfort zone and relying on God’s bold love, I asked a woman by the name of Georgie Anne if there was anything I could pray with her about. With surprise and gratitude, she expressed that no one ever asked to pray with her. So often we get distracted by the homeless’ physical needs and circumstances, that we forget how powerful and life changing prayer is. As she shared her story with me, I was reminded that her need was far greater than just needing food. Her needs were outside of what I could provide, but I could join her in bringing them to God. I could remind her of the hope we have as children of God, and provide reassurance of God’s plan for her life. Georgie Anne was already a believer, and hearing her passion for the power of prayer was a humbling moment for me. Faith and good deeds must work together to have lasting, world-changing impact.
In the afternoon, our team visited a local neighborhood to host a Kidz Jam. Kidz Jam is basically a sidewalk Sunday school where volunteers play with kids before leading a short bible lesson. Pouring into these kids emphasized the importance of planting seeds in the next generation. Many of these kids come from rough backgrounds where they don’t have accurate representations of God’s love in their life. Loving on these kids has the potential to stop generational sin cycles. On the mission trip, I was most surprised by how much my heart stirred for these children. I’ve grown up working in children’s ministry; however, years of constant exposure had made me unaware of how passionately I desired to see these kids feel noticed and cherished. I believe God is refreshing my spirit and stirring something new in me.
In the evening, we went to a church service at Angelus Temple. During worship, they played the song No Longer Slaves by Bethel. Over the last 8 months this song has been my anthem. When I committed to recovery, I decided to set some mantras so that I could reset my thought patterns. My main mantra was “I am a child of God”, which was partly inspired by this song. Learning to embrace my identity has empowered me to pursue the promises of God in ways that I never could have imagined. Allowing God to redefine me with His love provided healing and breakthrough that I never believed was possible. So, when this song began to play, I felt reminded of how personal our relationship with God is. Throughout the trip, we all experienced very individualized encounters that were specific to our journey. It’s amazing how grand yet personal God’s plan is! I’m overwhelmed and humbled by moments that remind me that God does notice and love ME!
Day four can be best summed up as Skid Row day. Our team visited skid row three separate times; however, we were divided up the first two times so not everyone went three times. While the morning group did out reach on Skid Row, I was a part of a team that helped to clean the kids building at Angelus Temple. The kids zone building was INCREDIBLE! The number of kids they serve weekly is outstanding, and the resources they have are surprising (in a good way)! The majority of the toys and furniture in the building were donated, and then each week different volunteers help to maintain and clean the rooms. God provides! It’s amazing how much The Dream Center does, while never sacrificing the integrity or excellence of what they do! It’s absolutely inspiring and mind-blowing!
In the afternoon, I joined half of our Cause crew to pass out hot dogs on Skid Row. Once there, they asked a few of us to stay back in the veteran’s center to watch our things. I volunteered since it is the year of “yes’s”, despite being bummed that I wouldn’t get to do outreach on the streets. In all honesty, I was worried that I was going to miss out and felt limited by the walls of the veteran’s center. In hindsight, it’s no surprise that God was able to use me and speak to me through the people in these walls. Not only did I get to pray with and encourage quite a few people, but I also met a handful of people who inspired me. A man named Dallas shared his personal story and praised how good God is. His joy and hope despite his current circumstance spoke encouragement and clarity into my heart. I’ve said it twice before, and I’ll say it again…God’s timing is perfect and personal!
Now, after the majority of our group had visited Skid Row and witnessed the pain and extreme poverty, we decided we all needed to process before heading back in the evening. We were emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally drained. As our team debriefed, it became very evident that we were not equipped in our own ability to serve the people on Skid Row; however, God SO loves every person on those streets and He was calling us back to serve there. It was in our honest moment of doubt/insecurity that God began to empower our spirits. As we pressed deeper into God’s strength and love, our fears began to fade. That night, I witnessed the most beautiful moment I’ve ever seen.
We walked in small groups (4-5 people), and passed out popcorn and water to the people. I was in a group with our mission trip leaders. Earlier in the day, they had expressed their hesitations in returning while acknowledging their need for God’s help. That night, I witnessed these two individuals come alive with God’s bold love in conversation and prayer with the people we encountered. It was a beautiful illustration of how God was equipping them to effortlessly impact lives. Witnessing this spirit of transformation will stay with me forever. It was overwhelmingly beautiful to see these individuals flourish in ways that contrasted how they felt just hours before. Honestly, as I witnessed this, I had a moment of feeling inadequate. I began to wonder if I needed to talk more or pray more or do more, and my insecurities and perfectionism started to convince me that I was failing. And then, I felt God asking me to shift my focus. I felt God asking me to stop worrying about everything I was doing, and to take notice of all that He was doing. The enemy wants us to keep our eyes on ourselves, but God asks us to keep our eyes on Him. It was when I shifted my focus that I felt free from insecurity. God was using me to amplify His love, joy, peace, and victory. He was moving mountains that night on Skid Row, and thankfully it wasn’t only through me. One of the greatest things about pursuing the mission of Jesus, is that it requires a team. Each person’s role is equally significant. It’s not a competition to see who can change the most lives; it’s a celebration that lives are being changed for the kingdom of God!
On the last day, there was only one service project planned. On Saturdays, The Dream Center visits around 15 different locations to host an adopt-a-block. They pass out food, play with kids, and love on the people. Throughout our five days at The Dream Center, the consistency of their outreaches really inspired me. It’s through the relationships they are building by visiting each site multiple times a week that they are able to bring transformation in their city. And after five incredible days at The Dream Center, it’s easy to say that my life has been changed. But how? Change isn’t a feeling…it’s an action. So, I decided to create practical ways that I can allow this experience to truly change me.
- Be consistent in my prayer life + relationships. Consistency is hard. Honestly, I planned to workout for the 6 weeks that led up to the mission trip and made it 10 days before busyness became a distraction. Busyness will kill dreams, so I’ve decided to be more intentional about keeping consistent in my life. Consistency is what produced lasting transformation, not just temporary change.
- Be more conversational. Conversations are hard for me. I tend to fear that I’m going to be a burden or annoying, and so I unintentionally create space. However, we were created for community! It’s who we are. So, whether it’s a more authentic conversation with a friend or a small but meaningful conversation with a waiter, it always feels good to be heard and noticed.
- Keep planting. I’m so quick to quit planting seeds in my life if I don’t see immediate results, and our part in God’s plan doesn’t always involve reaping the fruit. But, living with a kingdom calling requires me to do my part at the best of my ability knowing that God is at work.
- Small and Significant. Often, I feel discouraged that I’m not doing enough. I focus on the things I’m not doing to convince myself that I am a bad “Christian”. I hold myself to these high expectations that I’m realizing I can never achieve. Satan loves to convince us that we are inadequate, so that we will feel unworthy of our calling. But, God doesn’t expect perfection. God doesn’t expect for us all to be missionaries in high risk countries. I can’t allow the enemy to minimize the impact a smile or positive attitude can have. Living with impact means believing that everything I do has an impact. It’s with that bold belief that I will feel empowered to live out my God-given calling.
- Embrace how God created me. Growing up, I’ve always believed that my lack of a loud, bold personality would inhibit me from being used by God. I was convinced that my soft and quiet personality was a bad thing. BUT HELLO… GOD CREATED ME THIS WAY!!! I don’t have to change my personality or force myself to be louder to be used by God. God has given me specific qualities that are perfect for my calling. I can love boldly and live with a quiet confidence that encourages others to seek God’s love!