Things I’ve Learned: Post Missions Trip

On Sunday, it will be two weeks since we returned to the States. The past two weeks have been spent getting back into the groove and routine of balancing work, babysitting, and student teaching. I envy my peers that have been able to stay at their original student teaching placements, and have found it really difficult to find the motivation to lesson plan and fulfill the remaining requirements needed for my degree. I like my class at my new placement, but I really miss all of my students at Renaissance. 😦

Since I’ve been back, I’ve wanted to write something that will help me debrief. In ten short days, I, and the rest of my team experienced a wide range of emotions, and then had to jump right back into “normal life.” It’s been difficult at times to come to terms with the fact that I can’t hop on a plane and go right back to South America. I still can’t do that, right?

In the past few days, I’ve had time to reflect, and want to share with you a few things that I’ve learned – post missions trip.

1. American bathrooms are beautiful and should never be taken for granted: I don’t know if I can describe to you the pain I felt when my body was consumed with the need to pee, and had to wait in a long line in the airport in Bogota because there were only four stalls, and that was the only bathroom remotely near our gate. Words cannot describe the feeling of entering a stall and realizing you forgot toilet paper … and it isn’t provided for you. Or how about the smell that builds as the mountain of used toilet paper grows higher and higher because you can’t flush it. Let’s not even talk about how much more accessible soap is here in the United States. I love my little blue apartment bathroom more than ever before.

2. Traffic in America is tame compared to traffic overseas: My life almost ended at least 5 times when we were in Iquitos. The moto taxis whiz through the streets, beeping at other drivers to get out of the way, and barely miss the countless number of open man holes that appear on every street. There are no doors on the taxis, and if you have a backpack, you better hold onto it, or someone might reach over and take it when you’re casually sitting at a red light.

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3. Everything sounds better in Spanish: Does this even need to be said? My newest goal in life is to become fluent in Spanish. I’m actually quite close to achieving it, but just need more practice. Songs sound more beautiful in Spanish. Jokes are funnier in Spanish. Insults are more intense in Spanish. Fights are more passionate in Spanish. Ordering food is more exciting in Spanish. But I think you get my point.

4. American money is really quite ugly: moneyCan we just use soles from now on?

5. Owning a car is overrated: Even though my life almost ended at least 5 times, I miss driving in the moto taxis, and how inexpensive it was to get around. In the past week, we’ve paid over $40 for gas. That would take care of transportation in Iquitos for about a month, maybe more. Not only is transportation cheap, but it’s reliable. We would walk out of our hotel, and four taxis would swarm around us. Caleb and I are looking forward to the day when we can sell our car, and move to South Korea where we don’t have to pay for insurance or gas. I’m ready for that day. 🙂

6. I’m spoiled. You’re spoiled. We’re all spoiled: Life in America is cushioned, and we don’t even realize it. Men and women who are on welfare and rely on food stamps are more blessed and well off than some of the people we met in Iquitos. We take for granted our freedoms, and the way that the government takes care of the American people. I don’t care what you have to say about our President, or the way our government is being run – we are blessed, and should spend less time complaining, and more time praying for our leaders. We have access to so many things (like reliable healthcare, running & clean water, electricity, and the ability to flush toilet paper), and although our country is not perfect by any standards, it’s important to try and find a new perspective every once in a while.

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Because of how blessed we are as Americans, it is vital that each person discover how they can bless others in return. Whether it is volunteering your time, or simply giving a check to your local non-profit organization (like Alzamora International), we all have a purpose, and we all have something to offer the world. Discover what that is, and run with it.

Everyone wants to make a difference and feel important. However, change won’t be accomplished if we remain selfish and complacent. Loving others and making a change takes risk and a commitment to offer precious time and resources. It’s not easy, but it’s more than worth it.

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Let’s teach the next generation about the value of generosity. We are consumed by our possessions, but in the end, that’s not what will bring us into Eternity, or provide us with true happiness.

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So, what can you offer the world today?

If you have been on a missions trip recently or in the past, what are some things you learned after returning to the States?

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Peru: all the days I haven’t written about yet

The last time I wrote was on Thursday, and I was kind of sappy, and lamented over the fact that we were leaving in a few days. But now we’re back, and both Caleb and I can say with certainty that our time on the mission field has only just begun. It’s comforting when God confirms things like that, isn’t it?

I’ll say it again – we don’t know God’s timing, and as of right now, we have too many loans to become full time missionaries as soon as I graduate. If anyone feels led to send us a check for $80,000, I won’t say no. I’m actually not kidding at all about that. If anything, believe in prayer with us that God will provide the money we need to pay off our school debt.

Thursday in itself was a tough day. I wrote that sad post, and then our team split up; the girls went to do children’s ministry at the school in Punchana, and the guys went to do some work on the bathroom remodeling. We did our usual songs and puppet show, played two games, handed out candy, and then I gave the message. I had originally planned to tell the story about the Good Samaritan, but felt like I was supposed to give a salvation message instead. When I gave it, no one listened. The teachers sat in the back of the room as the kids talked over me. But I pushed through, and even though I felt like my words fell to the ground, there was still a group of children that came up to the front and asked Jesus into their hearts. There was one girl in particular that I had connected with the previous day, and she ran up to the front and I prayed with her. Once I finished praying, I told her that she was precious and that God loved her more than anyone else could ever love her. I then started to cry because once again, I realized that this was the last time I was probably ever going to tell these specific children about Jesus. Bill most likely thought I was crazy, but it’s okay. 😉

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Craft time was also hectic, and once again, none of the teachers helped us as we tried to teach them how to make Gospel bead bracelets (each color bead represents a different part of the salvation story). As soon as I brought out candy and prizes, I was pushed into a corner, and attacked by little hands wanting packets of starbursts. In the end, Valerie and I both felt drained and defeated. Before we left, I helped Janet paint faces, and did my best to paint more spiders and hearts. It became even more clear that I wasn’t created to become a face painter.

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This picture is from Wednesday when Caleb was a clown. The kids loved him. 🙂
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We said our goodbyes, and then headed off to Belen to check in with the guys. When we got to Belen, the high schoolers were on their break, so I started passing out candy and glow bracelets. I started talking to one boy and more high schoolers trickled in and joined the group. We sat down and I showed them how to make the Gospel bracelets, and they opened up to me about what they want to do with their futures. One girl said she was inspired to help other people because our group came and helped them. I was able to spend a couple of hours with them, and was once again amazed at how the Lord works. I will be the first to say that I have never felt called to work with youth, yet here I was interacting with the students that had talked over my testimony just a few days earlier….and loving every minute of it.

As for the bathroom, we were unable to finish it completely, but the guys were able to put up most of the walls!

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Before we left to go back to our hotel, Percy took Valerie and I to see Juan and Axel’s house.

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Their family lives in a one room shack, and Juan & Axel sleep on a board with a thin sheet. Their mom sleeps on the other bed with their little sister Suli, and their dad sleeps in a hammock. Valerie and I had written them goodbye letters, and also made them little bracelets and necklaces. Axel took my letter, and carefully placed it in his drawer with the rest of his personal items. He gave me a huge hug, and then smiled that adorable smile where his tooth hangs over his lip.

We said goodbye, and then headed off to our hotel, which doesn’t seem fair.

That night, the team split up and went to two different church services. Bill, Kristen, Valerie, Samantha, Elias, Joe, Jennifer, Janet, and I went to the service in Punchana; Kristen and I led worship with Bill, and Elias preached. At the end of his sermon, Elias gave an altar call for people that wanted the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. We prayed over people that came to the altar, and at one point, the lights turned off completely. Even then, the presence of the Lord was so powerful, and we just prayed louder until the lights came back on.

Friday was an exciting day. We went on a boat ride down the Amazon, visited a wildlife animal sanctuary, and danced with the Bora tribe. We ate lunch overlooking the water, and even ate some grubs in the market.

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I’d have to say the highlight of the day was holding the sloth – it was SO slow, and I still have a hard time believing it was actually real. The grub on the other hand, was terrible. Not that I was expecting to love it, but Andrew Zimmern lied to me. Friday night we left Iquitos and flew back to Lima.

Saturday was spent at a few different places.

1) San Cristobal hill:

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2) The Cathedral of Lima:

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3) A market that sold souvenirs

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4) A Brazilian Steakhouse (amazing)

5) Bill’s House where we debriefed and ate tres leches & flan

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Sunday morning, we got up early & flew from Lima to Bogota, Bogota to JFK, and then drove two and a half hours to Phoenixville. Everyone was excited to be back home.

Looking back, I can say with certainty that this trip was life changing. Caleb and I have a little more direction as to what we know we are supposed to do on the mission field, and are continuing to pray for God to show us where we are supposed to go and when.

We are so thankful that we were able to connect with the Shraders; they are great examples of what missionaries should be like, are great parents, and welcoming hosts. I think I speak for the whole team when I say this was the best missions trip I have ever been on.

I learned about the true meaning of simplicity, and the genuine joy and contentment that is found when you seek God wholeheartedly & understand that He is all you need.

We’re still on an emotional/spiritual high, but I pray that we never forget the poverty, and the hopelessness, and the struggles that Iquitos showed to us.

I love that my life is a life of purpose, but I can’t afford to lose focus on what I know God has called me to do.

For the next few months we’ll be in the States, but I’m so excited to see where our next adventure will take us.

Thursday

How is it already Thursday?

I don’t understand why time has decided to fly by.

Everything within me wants to turn back time. Yesterday as we had our nightly debriefing, I began to cry. Some of my team members might have thought it was because I didn’t get to spend time with the kids doing the craft, or because something Bill said was so profound that it brought a tear to my eye. 😉 Or maybe they didn’t realize that I was crying because I’m an expert at hiding it, and thought I was wiping away dirt that had flown into my eye on our last moto taxi ride. Whatever the case, my heart is heavy as I type this; it took four long years for me to return to Peru, and last night I began to wonder when I’ll be back next, if ever again. God has called both Caleb and I to be missionaries, but in the end, both of us need to be in one accord as to where we decide to plant our roots. It would be selfish for me to say, “We’re called to Peru,” if Caleb isn’t completely sure in his heart as well. So, I continue to trust & wait. The process is never easy, but as I’ve seen on this trip, the results of doing things in God’s timing are always so beautiful and perfect.

If I were to bet how many people on our team were afraid when we arrived in Iquitos, I’d be a very rich person, and then I’d be able to pay off all our school debt, and enter the mission field right away. Then again, Pentecostals don’t bet, right? Right.

I know we were all scared, but I think we were scared for different reasons. Some of us All of us were scared because, hello – this place is an entirely new world. It smells, there’s garbage everywhere, and walking the streets at night alone is just another way of saying, “I think I want to get robbed tonight.” Pedestrians don’t have the right of way, and moto taxis decide whether or not you’re going to return home with all your limbs intact. Thankfully, we all run fast, and have common sense to look both ways.

But for me, it was a different kind of fear. I’ve written before about my struggle with the fear of failure. I want to please everyone all the time, and I’ve realized that I struggle with being a perfectionist because I don’t want people to leave or to stop loving me. During the ride to our hotel the night we arrived in Iquitos, this fear of failure came at me the way moto taxis come at our group every time we cross the street. I felt attacked, and almost incapacitated. I thought about our children’s program, and realized that we had written two skits, but never practiced them. I realized that I still didn’t know the movements to “Jesus is My Superhero.” And I realized that I forgot to pack scissors. What if they don’t have scissors in Iquitos?

As one of the leaders of this trip, my strongest desire is that this group paves the way for future ministry. I want Bill & Lena to love us so much that they say, “bring back groups every year from Valley Forge.” As I thought about this desire, my fear said, “you’re going to ruin everything.”

But you know what? This trip has been an incredible blessing. Someone commented on a photo I posted on Facebook and said, “I give you so much credit for doing this.” A huge part of me wanted to respond and say, “Thank you so much!” What person wouldn’t want to accept a compliment that acknowledges how good he or she is? But the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t able to take the credit because I really haven’t done anything. If I were doing the things we’ve done in my own strength, I would be dehydrated and lying in a manhole, and my beloved Canon would be floating around the Black Market.

We have completed three days of children’s ministry and completed a big chunk of the bathroom remodeling. On Tuesday, we spoke to the high school students that go to the school in Belen, and three of us (and Bill) gave our testimonies. We all felt extremely sick and run down, yet as soon as I got up to speak, I felt like I had been refilled, and I was able to tell them what God has done in my life. Samantha and Elias gave their testimonies as well, and the little mama bear in me was so happy that they put aside any fears or anxiety they had, and spoke to the teenage group. In reality, the guys on the team are the real heroes, and have been working so hard every day to mix cement and lay the bricks for the bathroom walls. Joe from Colorado is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met, but is also humble and has such a sweet spirit about him. I’m so glad that Joe, Jennifer, and Percy decided to join us here in Peru. I’m especially proud of Caleb, and am continually thankful that God brought us together. You would never know that he had never laid brick before, because he learned so quickly and did it like a pro. It becomes more and more evident to me how well we balance each other out.

Each and every day we have dealt with heat, rain, exhaustion, changed schedules, and even a few scary dogs, but we have somehow still ended our days feeling accomplished, renewed, and filled with joy. We walk on rickety wooden planks every day, and get bit by pesky mosquitos, but we remain united and have deepened our friendships. That, my friends, is the hand of God.

Side Note: through it all, there has been minimal complaining – with the exception of my table at dinner last night when our waiter told us they didn’t have frozen lemonade, and then the other waitress brought the rest of our team frozen lemonades. But I digress.

There are so many stories I could tell, like how we get churros every night from the same sixteen year old girl who has a nine-month old baby at home, or how we all worked together yesterday to mix concrete and laughed hysterically at all of Percy’s jokes. Or about how sometimes the way they do things in Peru just don’t make sense, but you go along with it because it’s all a part of the journey.

I could tell you about how some of the children at the schools are abused and unloved, and poverty is a reality that most, if not all of them will never escape. Some of the high school girls we met might have babies this time next year, and most will end up selling chickens at the market, and won’t make more than a dollar a day. Yet, they have a purpose. If they could only see their potential.

Yesterday we visited a school in Punchana, and even though there is an incredible difference between the children in Punchana and the children in Belen, they still live in an extremely hopeless place.

But what I will tell you is that this week, these people have heard about the love of Jesus. In the grand scheme of things, we are just a drop in the bucket/ocean of their lives. Two days at each school is not enough time, but that’s mostly because I’m selfish, and I don’t want to go back to my regular life in the States. I don’t want to student teach at an American school- can’t I finish it here?

However, the Lord reminded me this morning that I am just His planter. I have been given a packet of seeds, and am responsible for sowing them wherever I go. Not only in Peru, but in Phoenixville as well. Our team was never called to save these children, but instead to sow seeds in their hearts, and to trust that the Lord will do the rest of the work. We now have a responsibility to continue to pray for these children and their communities, and to make others aware of the need here in Iquitos.

If any of you are interested in learning more about how you can sponsor a child here in Iquitos, or give to one of the many projects that Percy has planned, please let me know.

Today we are doing our last children’s service at the school in Punchana, and tomorrow we are taking a trip to see the Bora Tribe on the Amazon. We have lived six adventurous days, and I feel like this is still just the beginning.

Continue to pray for our team, and once again, thank you for your love and support as we finish out our last few days in Iquitos.

Kelly

Peru Days 1 – 4: Also Known As, “be prepared for a long post.”

Finally. Time to write.

Unfortunately, this post won’t have pictures because the wi-fi at our hotel in Iquitos is super slow. But it’s okay. Hopefully my writing will suffice. I was able to upload some to Facebook, so check there if you’re really curious.

This trip has been an exciting and terrifying whirlwind.

Day 1 started on Thursday night at midnight as we drove to JFK, and talked anxiously about our expectations for the trip. I should have slept on the van ride, but I didn’t. My biggest and only regret.

After almost 20 hours of traveling and a short layover in Bogota, we landed safely in Lima. When we stepped out of the airport, I felt like I had returned home. After four years, I was back in a country that is so dear to my heart. The smells, the weather, and the traffic – everything was exactly as I remembered.

Friday night, we ate Pardo’s Chicken with Bill & his family, and he gave us some more information about what we would be doing for the next nine days. I was exhausted, and busy eating chicken with aji (a delicious chili sauce), so I didn’t fully comprehend what we would face once we arrived in Iquitos. It’s very easy to get caught up in the emotion and excitement of a missions trip, and forget that missions trips are not vacations. At least, they shouldn’t be – we are called to serve, and to spread the name of Jesus, and quite frankly, that often translates to “hard work.”

Day 2: We woke up & had terrible hotel coffee. Bill met us in the lobby, and we transported our luggage to his house. That morning, we were able to see a bit more of Lima, and spent an hour in a market where I had amazing cafe con crema. Then came team orientation, and at 3 p.m., we left for the airport to catch our flight to Iquitos. During team orientation, we met Joe, Jennifer, Percy, and Janet. Joe, Jennifer, and Percy are all from Colordo; Percy was born in Peru, and now raises money each year for a new project in Iquitos. Janet is Bill’s assistant, and is just a beautiful person through and through.

While we were waiting in line for our flight, we met Henrike (aka Henry), who is from Germany and is working with AFS. She is going to be living in Iquitos for one year. It might seem coincidental, but I have seen God use us in small moments like these. We were able to connect with her, and give her peace of mind as we stepped out of the airport into the city of Iquitos.

The ride to our hotel provided more culture shock than expected – there are moto taxis everywhere, and on one moto taxi, a mother was breastfeeding her baby. The city is extremely poor, and there is such a stark difference between Iquitos and Lima. My heart broke again for this country, and our purpose for being in this city was made clear.

Day 3: Sunday was an amazing day. In the morning, we went to a service at a Bible school for pastors from the surrounding tribes. As soon as we entered the room, I could feel the presence of God. It was like a covering in the room, and our team immediately started praying. That morning I prayed specifically for direction – Caleb and I have such a strong desire in our hearts to become full time missionaries at some point, but I’m tired of accepting the fact that I “don’t know exactly where God is calling us.” I want to know, and even though it won’t be in my timing, if we continue to seek Him, He will be faithful to guide us. Before Bill preached, Kristen gave her testimony, and even sang the chorus of “At The Cross”…in Spanish! I was so incredibly proud of her (and still am), and the way that she is letting the Holy Spirit guide her. She has shown a new adventurous side that I hoped would come out – and it has! From the moment we finished interviews, I was sure that God placed her on our team for a reason, but at that point, I knew for sure that she was meant to be on this trip.

After the service ended, we were talking to the tribal pastors, and Bill started speaking with one young man who is studying the Bible. He is seventeen years old, and had never received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Bill called us over, and we prayed for him in tongues, and then Bill said, “now, it’s your turn. Speak in tongues.” And he did. I have never experienced anything like that before, and as much as the Pentecostal church in America focuses on speaking in tongues, I have come to realize that it is almost a one and done thing. We are not encouraged to pray in tongues daily, or to pray over others in tongues.

Another thing that impacted me is the setting of this church service. As Americans, we are SO blessed. Yet we are selfish, and relish in the art of complaining. We complain that our sound system isn’t up to date, and often require material things to enter into the presence of God. If the words to the songs aren’t up on the screen, we don’t enter into worship, and if someone is singing off key, we get annoyed. Yet, here we were, in a room with beat up chairs and only one microphone, and God moved in an incredible way.

We then went to Belen for the very first time to see the church and the school where we would be doing our VBS ministry, and the bathroom remodeling.

It is currently the rainy season, and because they don’t drain the water, it builds up, and rises so high that the people have to build wooden plank bridges, and ride on canoes to get around. There are feral dogs everywhere (*side note* where there are wild dogs, there is also poop, and I stepped in poop while walking on the bridge), and because there is no place to put the garbage, it ends up in the water. This water is also where the people bathe, what they use to cook with, what they drink, and where they go to the bathroom. Kristen and I created a system of levels as we walked over the wooden planks to get to the school and church.

Level 1: Walking on the planks the very first time. It was so scary, and we feared for our lives.

Level 2: Walking on the planks at night. We did this on Sunday night when we went to the church service in Belen.

Level 3: Walking on the planks when they were wet after a down pour.

We are currently trying to reach Level 4: walking on the planks backwards, or on one foot.

 Sunday night was also incredible; half of the team went to a church in Punchana, and the other half went to the church in Belen. Kristen and I led worship with Bill, and I gave my testimony. Bill preached, and then we were able to pray for people at the altar. They are hungry for God, and are not afraid to show it. They have little to nothing, and understand that even though they can’t change their circumstances, they can rely on the Lord.

Day 4 (yesterday):  We began the first day of children’s ministry and bathroom remodeling. There was a puppet show, I was a “clown” (I just had a clown nose, and a red headband), and we played the game where you put shaving cream on a person’s head, and their partner has to throw cheese puffs on it. Kristen did an object lesson, and Valerie translated. Valerie has been an incredible blessing as well! There were so many issues with her getting her visa, and I know that was an indication of the great impact she was going to have here in Peru.

I was able to connect with a few of the kids, including one little boy named Luis. After the children’s service ended, he came and sat next to me, and I told him about my family, and he talked about his. My Spanish is getting better each day, which is encouraging.

 After the children’s program, we walked over to the school and began the bathroom remodeling. When I say bathroom remodeling, what I really mean is: there is a floor, and holes for where the toilets will go. Everything else, we need to build.

At one point, Percy lifted up a board that was on the bathroom foundation, and two rats ran out and jumped into the water. A few team members almost landed in the water because they were so scared. 😉

Today we might split up the team so that half of us can do children’s ministry, and the other half can make a dent in the remodeling – we only have until Friday!

Today is our last day of children’s ministry at the school in Belen, and tomorrow and Thursday we will visit another school that is supported by Latin American Childcare.

Please continue to pray for our team as we minister to the people of Iquitos. Pray for guidance, wisdom, and boldness. And pray that we will find ways to communicate, as some of our team members don’t speak Spanish. Although we have translators, it’s frustrating when you can’t connect with someone on a personal level without having a person speaking for you.

Thank you to everyone who donated funds to our trip! We are so grateful for your support, and what it has allowed us to do here in Peru.

We’re really going to Peru!

Today is the day we’ve been anxiously awaiting for months!

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This week, our team finally raised enough funds to purchase six plane tickets to Lima, Peru, and tonight we bought them! 

As the leader of this team, I’ve gone through a myriad of emotions; frustration as we changed missionaries multiple times & plans didn’t seem to come together, anxiety as I realized the huge feat of leading and planning a trip while also Student Teaching, and fear as I continued to look at our financial situation, and that big, fat, zero just stared back at me.

Then there was the feeling of excitement and admiration as our team bonded during missions bootcamp, and realized that we all hate team building activities. I feel like we finally became a unified group of friends, rather than six people that kind of liked one another.

Cue the F-R-I-E-N-D-S theme song:

However, nothing can compare to the feeling I had last night when I was able to tell everyone, WE CAN BUY OUR TICKETS!!!!!” 

$4,000 later, we have the biggest part of our trip settled. However, we are still in great need of prayers, and the remaining $4500 in funds to do everything we have planned.

We will arrive in Peru on March 6th, and will spend 1 1/2 days in Lima, where we will meet Bill Shrader & his family, and have our trip orientation.

That Sunday, we plan to fly to Iquitos, and minister in 2 different churches. On Monday we start our VBS program (we are having the VBS program in 2 different schools – 2 days in each school), as well as a bathroom remodeling project, and will return to the States on March 15th.

As you continue to pray for our upcoming trip, rejoice with us as we have already seen the Lord work in such amazing ways! Pray that our team continues to bond, that we will become fluent in Spanish really quickly 😉 , and for protection & health before and during the trip. Overall, pray that we will be a blessing to the Shraders and to everyone we meet in Iquitos.

If you gain anything from this little post, be encouraged that the Lord sees your need, and will meet you right where you are. We are so blessed to be loved by such a wonderful God.

p.s. If you are interested in partnering with us financially, please let me know! You can give online here: https://apps.valleyforge.edu/OnlineGiving/GiftForm.aspx