By: Alison Sauder
January 2019 Short Term Team
I didn’t want to turn around because I didn’t want the tears to keep coming. I threw my bags on the security belt, and snuck a glance anyway. Yup, there they were, still waving. The tears flowed down my cheeks, and my attempts to stifle them failed. I covered my face, and tried to regain my composure. I slapped a smile on my face, but instantly missed the people I had gotten to know in this beautiful country, in this beautiful organization. I looked one last time, positive that they had left by now. I was wrong. I smiled with teary eyes, and waved back to the missionaries who had shown me so much love, so much compassion, and so much joy the past 10 days.
I took my seat at my gate, and while waiting for my flight, I began to reminisce.
ZOE feels like home. It's incredible, because in fact, it is actually 8,357 miles from home. But pulling up, sitting in the transportation vans, I was filled with butterflies and excitement and peace. And then, I saw the house. I saw the kids, and I saw their smiles. Honestly, it just felt like home. Instantly, I was greeted with open arms, fully comfortable with these people and the space they were offering me.
Granted, I had been to ZOE before. However, I can’t say that the first time was much different. A few extra butterflies, maybe, but the same sense of peace and comfort was residing in my spirit. I am convinced it is a gift that God has blessed ZOE with, among so many others.
I checked the clock, and I still had an hour of stifling tears and remembering before our first flight. I pulled out my journal and began to make some lists, because I didn’t want to forget any person or any slightly butchered Thai phrase that I attempted to learn.
I cannot stress enough, ZOE is incredible, but the people that are involved in ZOE are what makes the experience so unforgettable. As a young adult, I’ve traveled around a bit in recent years, but also strive to build an impactful church community around me in my hometown. Interacting with the ZOE Leadership Training students was so meaningful to me. Considering we are relatively the same age, I began to compare the traits that make them so incredible, and find ways to apply them to my own life and the people around me.
These leadership students are devoted. They get up at 5am every day, they read the Bible for an hour, pray for an hour, and worship for an hour, all before their day full of business and Bible classes. They have homework in the evening, and still find ways to serve joyfully around ZOE and mentor the children. How many times have I cringed getting up at 7am to go to work, and then after my 8-hour shift, plopped down on my couch to relax for an hour before starting my next assignment, all with an impartial attitude? God, please PLEASE give me the joy and the dedication to love You the way You call us to.
By profession, I work with kids, and have for the past 6 years. Coming to ZOE, knowing what the children have been rescued from and the horrors that they've seen, it's almost unfathomable to think that they can still experience their childhood. They’re still children. They still love sports, trampolines, smiles, and movies. They have so much to offer, and so much to look forward to. The healing that they've experienced is most definitely a God-thing.
How many times have I been bound by unforgiveness, simply because someone canceled plans on me, or betrayed my trust? How could those children experience such healing, joy, and forgiveness after such unspeakable hurt, when I seem to be broken by such insignificant things? God, please give me a heart to forgive. Replace the bitterness with joy, love, and quite simply, YOU.
Going to the village with the ZOE Child Rescue Team and the leadership students was a major highlight for me. Sure, there were downfalls. A very long ride up the mountains with countless turns made even those who didn’t have weak stomachs, sick (however, to put it in perspective, we got to ride in those nice MILK vans I had previously mentioned, while the leadership students rode on the back of a truck).
These people are so willing to serve, constantly. They don’t often get a chance to sit down, and the smiles and laughter never leave their face. Honestly, I’m pretty sure they could’ve done a whole lot more without us Americans to slow them down, but it was a learning experience for so many on the team.
How many times do I take so much time making sure something looks perfect, or focus on completing the task instead of remembering the reason behind it? A perfectly orchestrated ministry without any heart or vision or JESUS, is absolutely nothing. God, please help me to always remember WHY You call me where You do, when You do, and how You do. Help me to complete even the most mundane tasks with joy, because You are behind it all.
I hear bells dinging in the world beyond my thoughts, and I see people shuffling around me. I realize that my flight is beginning to board, so I quickly pack up my things and get in line for the airplane. I let out a deep breath, filled with hope.
Not only am I returning home with new stories, new experiences, new memories, and plenty of pictures to prove it; I am returning home with fresh vision, newfound challenges, and renewed passions for the year ahead. Me and Jesus, we are going to try our best (well, let’s be honest, I’ll try my best. Jesus always comes through) to transfer these life lessons into the community around me and into my daily life. Oh Jesus, let it be so.