Best Birthday Ever!
I knew my 18th birthday would be special, not like “Super Sweet 16” extravagant, but significant. I would be an adult, right? I would be able to vote, sign a contract and do other adult things. But what really made this the best birthday ever was that I was privileged to spend it on the mission field. Specifically, I was part of a team of short term missionaries from Immanuel Baptist, The Other Side (a Christian based substance abuse program), and other churches in the U.S. and Brazil, who joined dedicated believers from First Baptist Church of Mocajuba in Brazil to share the Gospel with the Quilombola people of the Amazon Rainforest. Immanuel has a rich history of sending its members to fulfill the Great Commission. I have been on mission trips to Arlington, Texas, New York City, and Ghana, but this trip to the Amazon was a milestone in my life, both chronologically and spiritually. First, I was accompanied on this trip by my dad, an international mission trip newbie. He did go to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but I’m one ahead on international trips. Seriously, I knew this trip would be special because I would be sharing it with my dad. Second, I would also be accompanied by Laurel Ann Harkins, one of my best friends. A cool coincidence was that her dad, Paul, was one of our strategy leaders for this trip. Third, I would celebrate my 18th birthday with a couple dozen of my new best friends, but I had no idea what that would entail. More on that later. Let me tell you about the trip first.
Our mission was to travel with a group from Mocajuba First Baptist Church and stay in a rustic camp along the Tocatine River. From that camp, we would walk and ride motorcycles to surrounding villages where we would share the story of Jonah. This is a long term strategy, as most of the people in the villages do not read. So, the mission team from Mocajuba has been sharing Bible stories on repeated trips for some time now. The story of Jonah introduces us to a perfect, yet merciful God, an initially reluctant missionary, and a repentant people. It was a great jumping off point for Gospel conversations. We also conducted a mini vacation Bible school at one village. The kids were beautiful and amazing and so willing to participate in the activities we planned for them.
I wanted to go on this trip because it was way outside my comfort zone. I don’t like camping. I don’t like the heat. I don’t like bugs, and I am terrified of tarantulas and bats, both residents of our camp. The work was hard; we walked 9 kilometers to one camp and while the heat is not that much worse than an Arkansas summer, we were in it 24 hours a day. We may complain of 100 degree heat at home, but in reality, we’re only in it for a few hours at most before we retreat to our air conditioned homes. Sleeping in hammocks was a fun experience, but I had to share my bedroom with a half dozen other missionary women and a huge tarantula on the ceiling. I thought the combination of close quarters, heat and that tarantula would conspire to take my sleep away but after all that walking I was asleep in seconds.
The trip was hard, but rewarding. Pastor Andre picked me to share the Jonah story at our first house in the jungle. I was nervous, but the Holy Spirit (and a lot of practice on the plane), gave me the confidence to share. All that week we were on mission for the Kingdom. In fact, one team led their taxi driver to Christ on the way to the second airport in Sao Paulo. Lesson learned, always be on mission.
We spent 4 days and three nights in the jungle. I saw the hand of God at work in many ways. One small example was on Saturday night after the “church” service where we invited our village neighbors to church and children’s activities, my dad was sick and running fever. He asked our team to pray for him. One of our members even anointed him with oil. The laying of hands worked. His fever broke during the night and the next morning, our last in the jungle, through another divine appointment, he was able to share the Jonah story with 21 villagers at once, include the village leader. After that, Pastor Andre prayed for them all and we were welcomed back any time by the “mayor.” Then we loaded our boat to return to Mocajuba. My dad lost his voice on the boat ride, but we were finished with that part of the trip. God’s timing is always perfect. Speaking of divine appointments, the last morning we were in Belam before our flight home, we were at a huge outdoor market just doing tourist stuff. At one booth a young man told me a certain piece of jewelry was supposed to represent hope. That opened the door to me sharing the true hope of the Gospel with him and presenting him a salvation bracelet. Lesson learned, always be on mission.
Okay. Now to the best birthday ever. On Sunday, November 12, 2017, on my 18th birthday, the ladies from Mocajuba First Baptist put a candle in our sweet cornbread breakfast cake. Pastor Andre said a birthday blessing and then asked my dad to speak. It’s a tradition in Brazil, but my dad was not prepared. Even so, while I don’t remember everything he said, I remember how he made me feel—cherished, unique, worthy, confident, and most of all loved unconditionally. I also got to share Christ, hold a parrot, tell the story of Jonah, ride on a cool river boat that Immanuel helped purchase, pet a wild dolphin, a WILD DOLPHIN, get another blessing at the Sunday night service at First Baptist Church of Mocajuba, and last but not least, attend an end of mission trip barbecue/impromptu 18th birthday party with the whole mission team and others from the church. There they presented me with the most beautiful cake and even presents from some of the girls my age who had gone on the trip. Dad even brought along cards signed by mom and Jett. Like I said, BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! Lesson learned, living life on mission is the only way to live. This week was truly the definition of living life more abundantly through Christ.