Sunday, February 17, 2013

Called To Serve - The Rest of the Story

There's something to be said about being content while waiting on God to put you where He wants you.  Just when you least expect something to happen, when you take the focus off of your own plan and ask Him to put you in his perfect will for your life, He sneaks up on you and gives you the desires of your heart!

After Ashlee's letter to us about feeling like God was calling her to serve in India, we prayed, and we researched, and we prayed some more, and we researched some more.   It had already been determined that Ashlee wasn't going to India alone, so if she was to go, I would be going with her.  Over the past 2 1/2 weeks, I had pursued a few different opportunities, all of which ended in closed doors.  Our biggest fear was getting involved with a group that was a scam.  All I could think about was sending all that money to go on a mission trip and the group running off with the money, which would destroy Ashlee.  So I was researching everything I could get my hands on looking for info on mission trip scams, etc. 

Then one evening, during one of my many "google" searches, I actually went to the second page of my search, which I don't remember ever doing before.  It was there that I came across an organization based in Dallas, Texas called Live in Love.  Their website listed a few different mission trip opportunities, one of which was to India, and it looked like the dates would work, so I filled out the inquiry form asking for more details... and then we waited... and we prayed together as a family.  This was on Monday evening.
I was out all day the next day, but when I got home that night, I had received an email from Live in Love with a very detailed packet of info attached.  I also had a voicemail message from the team leader, Ben Stokes.  I emailed him back, and we set up a time to talk on Wednesday afternoon, at which time he filled me in on the trip.  He told me to find him on FB and that he would add me to the India mission trip group that he had started there.  He mentioned that the group would actually be staying in an orphanage that is run by Daniel Gupta and his wife, Viji, who had taken 15 girls off the streets and had taken them in as their own.  Ben said they were having the first informational conference call about the trip the next evening and that I could find the call info on the group's FB page. 
When I got home from picking Emilee up from school, I filled Scott in on the information from the call with Ben and how the team would be staying in an orphanage with a family by the name of Gupta.  I also mentioned that there was a teacher named Mr. Gupta at Emilee's school.  Scott said, "Gupta is like the most common name in India, like Smith is in the U.S., so do me a favor and please don't go ask the man if he's related to them. You'll embarrass yourself!"  So I said, "I would never do that [cough, cough]!"  :-)

Later on that night I jumped on FB to find the India mission group page.  I found the team leader's FB page, and I saw the orphanage leader's name, Daniel Gupta, so I clicked on his FB page.  Across the top of Daniel's home page was a picture of him and his wife standing beside a bride and groom.  I turned the computer around to show Emilee, and she said, "Hey, that's Mr. Gupta and his wife, Wendy!"   The teacher at Emilee's school was the groom, and the groom was standing beside Daniel and Viji Gupta and their daughter, Madhu.  At this point I ran through the house with my computer to find Scott and shoved the computer in his face and yelled, "This is Daniel Gupa, the man who runs the orphanage, and this is the teacher at Emilee's school, the school we just moved Emilee to in August!  No stinkin' way!" Scott just looked at it and said, "Looks like you guys are going to India."  Again, no stinkin' way!
The wedding photo from Daniel's FB page
(Wendy, Prabu, Daniel, Viji and Madhu)
I had to know more information, had to find out the connection, so I called the team leader back and asked him if the man who ran the orphanage was related to Prabu Gupta, and he said, "Prabu is Daniel's son; I've known Prabu for years."  Seriously?  What are the chances?  Unbelievable... details that only our God could put into place.
We didn't want to put the cart before the horse, so we decided we'd wait until the conference call before we made any definite decisions.  So the next night we dialed in, introduced ourselves along with a few others, and we listened to the details of the trip.  Part of what the team will be doing is they have been given approval from some of the schools there to go in and present a program to share the gospel with the students.  By the time the team is done, they will have shared the gospel with over 30,000 students.  The team will also do some medical care and some evangelizing in the neighborhoods.  Another part of the trip includes going into orphanages, aside from the home they're staying in, and just loving on and playing with the kids.
Ashlee's eyes lit up more and more as the call went on, but I could tell she was still guarded, not wanting to get her hopes up too high just yet.  After the call, we talked about it, and daddy gave Ashlee the official "yes, you can go," although we think at that point God had already given his seal of approval.  Having the security of knowing that we were not getting involved with a scam made it all so much easier, so we started the paperwork process the very next morning.  One more fun part of the story... the day's verse on my phone's Bible app was Psalm 37:4 - "Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  One more teachable moment to share with my girl!
The next morning, I emailed Prabu Gupta to see if I could chat with him after school.  I told him it looked like Ashlee and I would be going to India this summer and would be staying with his family."  I had not actually met Prabu before, had just seen him in passing when helping with things at the school, so I'm sure he was a bit surprised when some stranger emailed him with that information.  He emailed me back and said he'd love to talk to us and could meet us that afternoon.  Unfortunately, Ashlee had drama practice and wasn't able to meet him with us.  When I picked Emilee up from school we went to his classroom and officially met him. I think he was almost more excited than I was that we were going to India to stay with his family.  He filled us in on a ton of information, told us about all of his sisters, told us how great his dad was at what he did and how he took care of the missionaries that came to them, talked about what a great cook his mom was and how well fed we'd be.  I think he got a bit choked up at this point, said he really missed his family as he hadn't seen them since his wedding last year.  We finished chatting, and Emilee and I headed home to share the information with Ashlee and daddy. 
It is unbelievable to me how God cares so much about our desires.  He took the desire in Ashlee's heart to serve Him in India, a desire that began five years ago, a fire that was sparked once again through a game show less than three weeks ago, and He put the details together in such a way that would leave no doubt in our little human minds that this is what we are supposed to do, where we are supposed to go.  Although I began this journey as a tagalong because we weren't about to let Ashlee travel to India alone, I am realizing that this has become a journey for me as well... an opportunity to share my Jesus with others, an opportunity to do whatever I can to serve others, to be His hands and feet.  And in the process, I can't wait to see what God has in store for us, what He will teach us along the way.  So stay tuned... this is just the beginning of this next journey.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Called To Serve - Part I

On January 12th, Ashlee gave her dad and me a letter ... the gist of it went something like this:
"...I have an amazing family, awesome friends, I go to a Christian school, and I live in a country where (for now) I can publicly proclaim my faith in Christ without being persecuted. Honestly, I am incredibly lucky! Right now, I am sitting in a chair, watching football on a TV, typing this email on my MacBook Pro, all warm and cozy in my pajamas and sweatshirt. And these kids have absolutely nothing. Nothing!"
What prompted this?  I could say it started with an episode of a game show called "Minute To Win It" that our family was watching one evening a couple of nights ago.  It's a game show in which contestants have to complete a task (for example, bounce 10 pencils into a cup) within 60 seconds to win a specific amount of money.  With each task you complete, you make it to the next level of money.  On this particular episode, there was a team of two girls.  One of them had founded an organization after she had gone on a mission trip to India, an organization that builds homes for children to keep them from having to live/survive on the streets of India.  She was on the show to win money for her organization to be able to build more homes for children in India.  I could see Ashlee's eyes light up every time they showed a snippet about the organization during the game show.

In reality, what really prompted this letter all began with a book report Ashlee had to do in 5th grade.  The assignment: choose a country, read a book about it, and write a report on the country's culture.  Ashlee chose India.  The report detailed the country's caste system, how each person belonged in a different social class.  And for their entire life, their chance of making it to the next level of society (in their "next life") was all dependent on how well they performed at their job or how good they were during their current life.  This book report sparked a little fire in Ashlee for the people of India, a fire for them to know her God. 

Fast forward a few years.  My in-laws were part of a mission team that traveled to India.  Seeing their pictures and hearing their stories about the incredible poverty they witnessed there just added more kindling to Ashlee's little fire.  Her desire to go on a mission trip was getting stronger... but not just any mission trip would do.  She wanted to serve in India, and she wanted to work with orphans there. 

Fast forward a couple more years and a possible opportunity to go to Haiti presented itself.  However, after much research, phone calls to people who had gone to Haiti, and a meeting with our mission's pastor, we decided that this wasn't the trip.  The mission's pastor felt like her first mission trip should be a good experience, one that would make her want to go on another one.  While I agreed, Ashlee just wanted to work, to serve.  He told us he'd put us on his list and would contact us when a good opportunity came up.  Time went by, and we never heard back from him.  However, Ashlee would hear story after story from other teens who were going on mission trips to other countries through the church and just couldn't understand why she wasn't getting the same opportunity.  A closed door?  Maybe at that time.  Nonetheless, she became discouraged.

Fast forward to January of 2013 and her letter to us expressing how she felt God was calling her to go to India.  She ended her letter with, "I will trust God's plan, His will, and His timing."  How do you argue with a 16-year-old who tells you she feels that God is calling her to serve Him?  What more could a parent want?  Well, as her mommy, I would love to have a 16-year-old who tells you she feels that God is calling her to serve Him a little closer to home than India... like maybe in our community, in our city, someplace where it's safe, someplace that's not on the other side of the world!  That's what my heart was saying.  But God was saying something different.

More information from Ashlee's letter detailed the organization the game show contestant had founded.  Seems like Ashlee had done some research of her own and discovered that this organization was planning a trip to India in May, and they were inviting teenagers to go along to work and serve with them, and she wanted to go.  She asked us to pray about it and keep an open mind.  We promised her we would pray about it.  As far as keeping an open mind, mine was open... well, maybe barely cracked.  However, daddy and I decided to do some research as well.  We realized that we needed to embrace Ashlee's heart to serve.  Besides, I feel very strongly that if God calls you to do something, He would remove any obstacle that stands in the way of that calling, and I did not want to be removed! 

So I emailed the organization for more information about the May mission trip.  Unfortunately, two weeks passed with no response.  Another closed door.  During this time I pursued two other opportunities, both of which also turned into closed doors.  Another organization I looked into had several mission trips on the horizon... one of which was to India; however, the dates overlapped Ashlee's youth choir's summer mission trip, so this wasn't an option.  There was another option with this organization... a trip to Guatemala.  The dates worked well, and the cost was less than going to India.

We talked about this option, but she just didn't get the same spark in her eyes as when she talked about India.  So she decided we would just keep researching, just keep praying.  She was content to wait on His perfect timing, and she was content to pray for God's perfect plan.  So that's what we all did... we waited and we prayed.