Jennifer Camp, co-founder of Gather Ministries, and author of Loop, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy Bay Area with her husband and three kids. A former high school English teacher, she loves to write, but she especially loves to encourage people to seek and live out the truth of their story, their identity in Christ. You can find her writing at her blog, Jennifer J. Camp .You can connect with Jennifer on both Facebook and Twitter. She would love to have you join her there.
The drive back from Tecate feels less surreal than the drive there. A week ago we pull out of the church parking lot. 6 am, walkie-talkie in hand and FJ Cruiser packed with duct tape and homemade rocket launcher my friend's husband's made and clothes that are destined for coating with Mexican soil. Two caravans, four cars each. Suburbans and minivans packed with clothes and toys and food and people.
In past trips we've led brothers and sisters who were initially strangers. And by trip's end, when we would begin the gradual departing during the long drive home, from Mexico, to just south of San Francisco, we were a new kind of team. After spending a week together working to build a home for orphaned children of Baja, we were family--connected in a way unique to the already established intimacy we share with friends we've known for years.
This year feels different. The team this time are friends we've known for a decade. My husband and I are excited and nervous and unsure how this week will unfold.
Friends who know pieces of each other's deepest wounds, each other's darkest choices . . . Together, we head into new territory, familiar and unfamiliar to come alongside one another . . . to love.
We are a unit. We are a family. Grabbed individually, by the Father, these collective hearts. We are a team.
We hear His whisper before setting out on the road: "Go. . . Remember, like before, I clear the path."
As we leave the familiar to trust the stretched-out open space where God beckons us close--come and follow--emotions vary. Our team mascots are the ever-flexible and open-minded Gumby and Pokey. Yet, as we gather as a team, heading into the unknown together, these Gumbys and Pokeys bump up against each other like an unsteady roller coaster car ready to jump right off the swerving track.
There is fear before the trip:
And we head in.
While Justin and I have more on our plate this time, in preparation for this trip, we are amazed by the faces who make up this team: friends with whom we've walked and cried and laughed. They have heard about this trip for the last two years, and now here they are, joining us in the caravan to the wide swath of brown dirt upon which a children's home is being built, nail by nail, hand by hand, through different sets of teams over the last few years.
We pray, "Let us follow Your agenda, Father, not our own." We lay it down, and He quiets our hearts once again.
"I am with you. I lead. You follow. Together. Remember, I bring my children home."
As a writer, as a listener, I look for the unfolding of story. I notice that in the beginning of this one is the recognition of return.
I return, with my family, for the third time, and perhaps it won't even be our last.
I return to the place where He's been to see where He will come again.
I return to the place of hardship, of stretching, of struggling to work alongside a team, in community, for long days where the introvert in me doesn't have a place to retreat and hide.
I return to my heart changed: I can do things with friends who know me and love me--and go deeper with the Father who beckons me deeper still.
I return to see Him show up, to believe He is with me and He loves me and He will, yes, bring each of us in, even more deeply, home.
I always need to be stretched. I need the water to run short for showers and the toilets to plug and raw sewage to spread all over the women's bathroom. I need to figure out how to help cook a meal for forty people and scrub grills and mop floors and work with seven year old girls to clean the men's showers and toilets. I need to feel alone and misplaced and then rescued when two eleven year old girls grab me just out of the shower and we head up that too crazy-high, white sandy hill with the rocks that slide down just to see if we can.
I need the kids from the orphanage to gather 'round and let me sit on their bunks and teach five-year old Jose to play slap jack and hug ten year old Alexa again and grab hold of her two beautiful, soft hands. I need to be in the circle of the campfire our last morning together, as a team, and remember the first words we shared there: No matter what the week holds, we need to trust that we are here because God brought us, collected this team. We need each person here to hold nothing back, to pour forth all the love He pours into them. We need to see the way each of us, with Him, shines.
Oh, how we need to bend low and get small to rise up.
Oh, how we need to remind each other, together, in the lowering, we shine.