looking back

looking back 1

I wrote this back in December but never got around to posting it, so here it is:

 

2016.

I had some of my greatest joys and some of my toughest days. Preparing for the Dominican, living there, coming back to this culture.. It changed me considerably. God has been teaching me so much, and honestly at times it’s been quite painful. It’s like the pruning part of growth. There’s no real growth until the pain level is high enough.

While it has been hard, He has continually showed me His goodness and His sheer faithfulness time and time again throughout this year. Confía en Dios is what I’ve learned. Trust in God. Heading to the Dominican, knowing no one, was quite terrifying and exciting at the same time. The Lord has given me a heart for the Dominican and the people there. I saw the Lord’s faithfulness in the support I received to go. Oftentimes I didn’t have the support I needed, would pray and within days have the donations needed. I was nervous to go alone, but He provided me with a great community of friends in the Dominican that I consider family now. He has shown me that there is beauty in brokenness. That when we are at our lowest, He is still there. He has shown me that He is my rock and will always be the one stable thing in my life.

I learned things in the Dominican that I don’t know if I ever could have learned in this materialistic culture of America. I have to practice daily choosing to be content and grateful for what I have instead of continually seeking more. I learned what it was like to live out of a suitcase and loved living so simply. I saw the love of the church in the Dominican in a way I had never previously experienced. I have never felt so welcomed and so at home then I did at Iglesia Bautista Quisqueyana. I learned how to be bold and communicate how I felt and what I believed to the Dominicans in a way I had never needed to before. Talking to people from a different country allowed me the freedom to be who I was and not who they expected me to be. They accepted me for me and valued me because of who I was. Their culture values people in a way that I strive to emulate.

Coming back was difficult though. I’ve written previously about how everything felt foreign. I knew I would have some reverse culture shock, but it completely surpassed what I had expected. When I came back, I thought it was hard because everything felt different: being with my family, friends, being at home, driving my car, having freedom to choose what I wanted to do and eat and what not.. It all felt so weird. But looking back, I think the hardest part for me to accept was myself. While I looked at everything as if it was different, it was me. I was different. I changed.

I think of my life kind of like a snow globe sometimes with its perfectly laid snow laying peacefully at the bottom. Tranquil and settled. Then imagine someone coming, picking it up and shaking it violently. That’s how this year has felt. Like Jesus has taken my calm and comfortable life and shook it up. Like he’s tearing up my foundation to help me be founded in Him and His truth.

I came back and felt lost and confused. Who was I? My whole life I felt like I was this quiet, shy, obedient, submissive rule follower that wanted nothing but to be comfortable and safe, but I came back feeling totally different. I want to go and do things. I want to life to be an adventure. I want to travel the world and see the beauty of nature. I want to follow Him wherever He takes me. I want to go with boldness. I want to live simply, take risks, and enjoy people.

The very first week in the Dominican I was talking to Noe, one of the lead missionaries where I was interning (basically my Dominican dad for the summer), and he started telling me about what he was thinking- how all of us American interns would finish the summer and what we would take from it. He told me this quote, that even at the time I thought was quite inciteful: “a missionary never goes home.”

A missionary never goes home.

I figured at the time that he knew what he was talking about, the Dominican would end up keeping a piece of my heart. Even when I first got back that’s what I thought; I would have two homes after coming back.

But as time passed, I realized that I still didn’t feel at home in America. And I wrestled with that a lot. Why? The Dominican felt like home after a couple of weeks, why couldn’t I get back to normal and feel ‘at home’ here in America? I had been back for much longer then I was gone for. Reverse culture shock is a real thing. And it’s hard.

Here’s one thing I learned. Hebrews 11:8 mentions the obedience of Abraham to move to the place he is called to receive as an inheritance. He leaves his homeland with a calling, but without a destination given to him. By faith he lives in the promise land, but it remains foreign to him. “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) This chapter mentions many dominant Biblical characters who live as strangers and exiles on this earth, clearly seeking a better homeland. “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16) Abraham, along with many others, left a civilized life to follow the Lord’s calling. They lived a foreign life because they knew where they were going and what their purposes were.

It was such an encouragement to me to remember, this earth was never meant to be our home. The saying ‘a missionary never goes home’ reigns true for me. Heaven is our home. The closest thing we’ll get to home here is connecting to people through the love of Christ. 2016 was a year full of travel, change, and learning for me. Learning to trust and depend on Him through the trials and joys of life.

 

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How do I explain it?

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I could tell you all I did this summer. All that happened and it would sound like a terribly hard summer. You would hear about times of sheer joy and laughter, times I laid on the ground from sheer exhaustion, and times I wanted to punch something from sheer frustration (once I even did punch things, but that’s a story for a different time.) I’ve never been more physically, emotionally, and mentally drained in my life.

But how do I explain to you how much it meant to me? How much the people in the Dominican touched my heart. How much this summer changed my life.

Yeah, Dominicans can be overwhelmingly aggressive at times, but they’re the most passionate and welcoming culture I’ve ever experienced. Going to IBQ -Iglesia Bautista Quisqeyana- was like going to my home church. Every week I went I knew more and more people and it felt more and more at home there. Even the weeks with no translation, just solely Spanish, I loved it. Spanish is really a beautiful language. It was such a blessing worshipping with them every Sunday. During the welcoming time, I’d be hugged by strangers and friends alike. I even got to help in the nursery a couple times. They welcomed us into their church like the body of Christ should – with open arms.

Dominicans are genuine. They’re not caught up in what they look like – although they know how to look sharp- but they care about the person. They’ll tell you how you really are, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I learned a lot about myself this summer just from the random honest comments my Dominican friends made to me about myself. Sometimes it was a little harsher then what I’m used to in America, but it opened my eyes to a lot. Then when I’d receive a compliment, I knew they weren’t just saying it, they meant what they said. One of my Dominican guy friends told me that I worked like a Dominican, and I’ve never been more honored to receive a compliment. I have never met a group of people that work harder.

This summer was life changing. I saw God work in so many cool ways. I learned to trust Him even when it seemed impossible. I learned to give up control over myself and those around me in a way that I had never done before(it’s still a learning process). At one point my best friend in the Dominican got extremely sick, like more sick then I’ve ever seen a person in my life, and that was the hardest part for me. To see her that sick was so terribly hard, but that was also where God taught me the most. I so strongly wanted to help her, but I was doing all I could and she wasn’t getting better. I couldn’t control it or help the situation and that was terrifying. I didn’t even have the power to get her gatorade when she needed it because I couldn’t drive or leave the place we stayed by myself. Seeing her get sicker and sicker was stressing me out so much and I felt so powerless to help that I was overwhelmed by anxiety. At one point I just had to be like ‘Okay God. I can’t control this and I’m going to stop trying.’ And I just felt like God was saying “HEY. Trust me. If you can trust me with Your life, you can trust me with Hanneh’s too.” And I had to release that. To recognize that God is in control and remember that He has shown me again and again how faithful and good he is. Of course He is qualified to take care of my dear friend.

I learned that even with 2 opposite cultures with different people, the Gospel unites us. Those few times we were able to worship in both English and Spanish were such a beautiful glimpse of the body of Christ. Worshipping our creator together. A first world country and a third world country, a country born from freedom and a country born from seeking freedom from slavery, an excessive and materialistic country and a humble and simple country. To witness these two groups of people coming together and singing reminded me of the verse that says ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord,’ because that’s what it was – such a joyful noise. Words can’t even describe what it felt like standing there in awe of God’s power to unite such diversified cultures in glorifying Him.

I learned what it’s like to sacrifice everything for Jesus. My time, my comfort, my choice of what to eat and when to work out, the ability to purchase what I want and when I want it, my comfort, my relationships back home- I missed two of my friends weddings. But because of those sacrifices I got to see how good my God is. He is SO faithful. How he gives such good blessings. I made some lifelong friendships in the Dominican that would have never happened had I given in to my fear and not gone.

I learned how he uses us even when we feel like we’re giving nothing. He taught me that’s it’s not about me or how much effort I put into it, He is in control. Any and ALL growth comes from Him.

I was afraid I would be lonely this summer, but God blessed me with amazing friends who became like family to me. He gave me friends I could joke around and laugh with, sit down and cry with, and friends that encouraged me to follow and pursue God’s calling for my life, whatever that is.

He opened my eyes to the materialistic nature of Americans. We have so much and yet we continually desire more. I saw what it looked like to live in poverty and be completely content with it. I saw how easily Americans pity the Dominicans and what they have materially, when in reality the Dominicans are so much more content. The believers that I met and interacted with there recognize how blessed they are, regardless of their circumstances. I saw how easy it can be for Americans to see the Dominican as this culture that needs us so much, they need us to come do VBS for them, they need us to raise money for them, they need us to build chapels for them, they need us to evangelize to them, when honestly I think Americans are more impacted by the mission trips then the Dominicans. We need them to remind us how to live simply and joyfully. We need them to show us what true gratitude is like. We need them to teach us how to be content in whatever circumstances there are. We need them to remind us it’s not all about what we have, but who we have in our life.

I learned full dependence on the Lord in a way I had never experienced before. Honestly I think it’s much easier to depend on Him when you’re forced to that point. I realized that nothing else could sustain me other then the Lord. He continually gave me strength when I sought Him for it. I could not have survived this summer without Him and the friends He put in my life this summer.

I knew that the Dominican would become my relative home for the summer, but I never realized how much it would feel like home. How normal life would become there. Those random daily occurrences that became normal to me – like car alarms going off after it thunders, living in the city and hearing the city life and the disco all night, like the people and the culture and hearing Spanish, even how normal speaking the little Spanish I know was, not drinking out of the tap (it still kind of freaks me out back in America sometimes), taking the bus everywhere, constructing things, getting jugo de Cana at La Sirena every week, going to church in Spanish… It was all normal. It was home to me.

How do I explain it all?