On Sunday June 3, you would have found my parents and I in Target running around getting everything I needed for my trip. Toiletries, an umbrella, granola bars, a black maxi skirt that I thought I would only wear once on the trip (HA!). As I checked off item after item on my messy list, I became more confident. Thank You Lord. All of these things are getting done! I got home, ate dinner, and went to my room to start packing. I put my two suitcases on my floor, opened them up, and just looked at them. Ha. It was so overwhelming to stare at empty suitcases, the pile of all my stuff, and remember that I was leaving the next day. I packed, slowly, and thought about everything that it took to get up to that moment. During my time in Guatemala, I will have to abide in God even more than I have been. I will be alone in a sense with nothing familiar. As I am making friends, I will have to lean on the Lord. It was scary. Packing, remembering, thinking. I am going to be in a foreign country for nine weeks. WHAT AM I DOING. WHY I AM GOING. WHAT IN THE WORLD THIS IS ALL SO SCARY. For a second, I doubted myself. It was the day before I was supposed to leave for orientation and I was freaking out. I continued to roll up my jeans, put toothpaste and toothbrushes in Ziploc bags, and organize and reorganize my suitcases. Finally, at 10pm, I was finished. I zipped up the suitcases and dragged them upstairs. I couldn’t go to sleep so I talked to my parents about the money situation. They told me to gather all of my checks and just double count. So I did. I went downstairs and searched through my drawers, graduation cards, my desk, everything. I found two more checks I had forgotten about. Excitedly I brought them to my parents and they told me that they would cover the rest. In my heart, I felt this amazing peace. God had it under control the whole time. Really.  Then I proceeded to jump around like a crazy person. I seem to do that a lot when I’m excited.

 I journaled. I read my Bible. I did anything to keep my mind off of the anxiety and excitement and crazy emotions that were swirling inside of me. My head finally hit the pillow around midnight. I slept the best I had in a long time.

The next morning, I got up and stayed in my bed for a while. I can’t believe that today, TODAY, is the day I’m leaving. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening... I was flying into Charlotte, but the ROH headquarters were in South Carolina. Obviously, my geography skills were not very good. (This just shows you how jumbled my thoughts were...) I got up slowly and got dressed. Everything seemed very surreal because every move I made, every word I spoke, was coated in the fact that I was going to be leaving my house, my family, my friends, that day. I opened up my computer and re-read the email: Dear Brooke and Ellie and Aubrey and Sarah and Gabbi and Melissa and Danielle and Taylor and Chris and Aaron and Lauren and Bekah, and Kaley and Heather and Benjamin and Victoria... All those people I would meet soon. Those names, they would be more than that by the end of the summer. They are people that I would come to know and love and deeply respect. We would struggle together, live together, cry, laugh, praise God. Together. 

Saying goodbye to my family was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I was determined not to cry. But I did, of course. Tears were streaming down my face as I hugged everyone. My mom started crying and when she cries, I lose it. I half joked, “I need to go before we all fall apart!” Too late. But it was a wonderful moment. I realized just the full extent of my love for my family. I walked out the door and caught a glimpse of my little brother. I turned away. Leaving them was so hard. I had so much faith though. God was going to do crazy things. I just needed to wait and trust. 

My dad drove me to the airport. He was flying to California for a business trip that day. I was so grateful. We talked the whole ride over, went through security together, and then walked to my gate. I wanted to soak up those last moments. We got to my gate and they were boarding already. I hugged my dad for a long time and then walked towards the podium. I got my pass scanned and then turned around to say goodbye one more time. I was so close to bursting into tears again. As I walked down towards the plane, I wiped away stray tears. The Lord is my Shepherd. God was with me. I shall not want. Everything was okay.

I love flying. The thrill of lifting off and then seeing the world below grow smaller and smaller as you rise into the sky. I journaled. So many emotions are swirling through my mind. Joy - I’m off to SC for training! Faith - God provided all of the money + supplies needed. Sadness - saying goodbye to my family had to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Peace - this is where God wants me. I settled into my seat and began to let it all sink in. I ordered a Sprite. I stared at the map on the napkin. I crossed my legs. I uncrossed them. I crossed them again. I people watched. The old man in front of me started snoring. The business man beside me was asleep. Oh my gosh his arm is touching mine. Wow, no this is not okay. I’ve never felt so nervous in my life, and the funny thing is, I couldn’t pin down why. 

Landing in Charlotte, NC was a blur. I got off the plane, and excitedly walked towards the escalator towards the baggage claim. I stopped. The picture of Tom came up in my mind. Look for Tom. I took a deep breath and got on the escalator. Pretty sure I almost tripped getting off. My eyes searched the area. There. “Ellie! Hello! It’s so good to meet you.” Let’s just say that Tom is one of the kindest people I have ever met. So so grateful he met me at the airport. We got my bag, I met two of the girls who were on the South Africa team, and we headed out into the southern humidity. I was sweating in my sweatshirt and jeans. Why did I wear this. I’m dying. Ugh. My usual outoing self became shy and I didn’t talk much. Come on Ellie. You’re not usually like this! Talk! Engage in conversation! We talked about the weather. About school. About everything really. The 45 minute drive was beautiful. I looked out the window. I’m here. I’m actually here. No turning back. Ha. We pulled into the driveway. Tom told us, “This was a bed and breakfast, and we’ve turned it into the headquarters.” Oh my gosh this is too perfect. The white house with the green trim and the wraparound porch was adorable. I took out my suitcases and rolled them into the house. Greeted on all sides by the staff, we were welcomed and told where to settle in. I went upstairs, put my bags down, and rolled on to my bed. The bottom left bunk. Staring at the bunk bed above me, I thanked God. Father in heaven, I’m here. You brought me here. I’m so eternally grateful. That dream? It’s unfolding. Those desires? They are manifesting. I’m so thankful. Downstairs, I heard joyful voices so I decided to join them. I met more of the South Africa team, and my own team leader, Brooke. Everyone was so nice. Genuinely kind. Wendy, a woman on staff at ROH immediately started talking to me. I felt welcomed. I felt safe. I felt loved. Those feelings consoled me. God was there. I was grateful.

Four of my team members, Ben, Heather, Tori, and Brooke, and I were in SC for the first four days and the rest of our team would meet us in Guatemala. The next few days were filled to the brim with so much goodness. We heard each other’s testimonies. We heard Phyllis Kilburn, the founder of ROH, speak. We learned how we as children of God are beloved. That what God says of Jesus, He says of us. We talked about working with children in crisis. I sat around that kitchen table hearing Wendy talk about how in some areas of the world children aren’t loved, they are abused. They are used and mistreated and ignored. I knew that this kind of stuff existed in the world, but it hit me afresh. Just because I have had an amazing experience growing up in a loving, godly family doesn’t mean every other child has. What an ignorant thought. And I am so grateful God opened my eyes. 

The team members I had already met were amazing. They blew me away. I loved them. They were already becoming my family. We laughed together, talked about deep stuff together, and grew closer to one another. It was wonderful. We had language studies every night. Oy! Let’s just say that taking two years of Spanish definitely helped (THANK YOU MRS. GARAY). But, being surrounded by a language teacher and three college students who love Spanish and are really really good at it... well I felt a bit overwhelmed. I furiously took notes. I tried to speak the language. I let everyone else take the big parts in the skits. I sputtered out random Spanish words. OH MY GOSH WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME I CAN’T SPEAK. I honestly felt completely swamped. How am I ever going to speak with the kids. I began to pray and just trust. I needed God to even speak. Humbling.

A few days in, while I was journaling, I wrote down this prayer. This, right here, was my prayer for the summer. Jesus, I believe you are telling me that I am Your chosen and beloved daughter. You sing praises over me and you love me. You bless me daily and you ultimately blessed me at the cross when you died for me. Break me I pray for your cause. Enable me to keep my brokeness under the blessing. My identity in You is most important. Enable me to give of myself, free to lose, because you have won for me. Give me boldness, gentleness, love, and kindness so that I can that to others. I pray for joy when I am weak, grace for when I am discouraged, and love for the unlovely and unloved. In Your name, Amen. 

The rest of the week began to fly by. Day in and day out, teaching, meals, language studies, laughter, fellowship. Early early Friday morning, 2:30am to be exact, I woke up. This, this my friends, was the day I was going to be IN Guatemala.