Father to the Fatherless

I love letters. Birthday cards, thank you cards, love letters, I’m-praying-for-you-hang-in-there cards, sticky notes on my dorm room door. There is something beautiful, nostalgic, and romantic about stamps, stationary, and hand written words. In my desk, I have a folder of thank you letters and pictures, and every time I look at them I cry. You see, they aren’t normal thank you cards. No one is thanking me for the cookies I baked them last week or the coffee I bought them on their off-day. They actually weren’t written to me at all. They aren’t written in english, and they aren’t written on fancy, monogramed stationary.

Most are written in crayon, or almost dried out marker. There are pictures accompanying most of the letters. Both the hand drawn kind and headshot of their 9 year old authors.

They are thank you letters written by Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box recipients. And they break my heart. Every. Single. Time.

The stories that these pages hold are enough to leave me breathless, even though I know what they say and I have read them hundreds of times.

Stories of the sick, who received a box with medicine in it, and with it, knowledge of a healing, sovereign God.

Stories of the lost, who for the first time, realized they were found. Stories of the faceless, who found out that they were known. Pursued. Wanted. And loved.

Stories of orphans, learning for the first time that there is a Perfect Father who loves them relentlessly and unendingly and who calls them “beloved child”.

Hola… mi nombre es Sharick, tengo 12 años, mi papá un día se fue y no sabia que Dios me amaba tanto. Recibí la cajita con muchos detalles… Hoy recibí el mejor regalo de mi vida, Cristo esta ahora en mi corazón…”.

Hello… My name is Sharick, and I am 12 years old. One day, my dad left us. I didn’t know that God loved me. I received the shoebox and all of it’s and all of its thoughtful gifts… But today I got the best gift of my life, Christ is living in my heart. 

This is why I do what I do. This is why I pack shoeboxes. The Gospel is transformative and beautiful and perfect. God pursues us. He loves His children, and He is the Perfect Father. Being able to help children all across the world learn of these things is one of the greatest honors I could ever imagine.

Parrots and Providence: When Answers Don’t Come and Trust Won’t Either

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 18:19-20

IMG_9557
I pleaded with God for direction. I so desperately felt called to go into missions, but I was staying. The hours I spent studying Spanish seemed a waste when I only used what I learned inside the walls of an isolated classroom.

As I was praying and pleading, I painted. I have a special Bible that I use for things like this, and I painted though my prayer. I was praying to be sent. And I was praying for very clear direction in my life. IMG_2482

This was in January. For six months, I prayed. And I prayed for a Burning Bush. Something, anything, to reaffirm my calling and to show me at least the next step of the roadmap.

I don’t know why I painted a bird. I feel called to Latin America and I wanted to paint something that represented that I guess. Knowing me, painting a taco would have made so much more sense. I had never painted an animal before that January day, I haven’t painted one since then.


Soon after, I was asked to go on a trip to a Honduran Orphanage with some of my cousins. They knew my heart, and they knew I could speak Spanish. The trip was tentatively set for the end of July.

I was going. Or so I thought.

In April, they called again. The trip had been canceled. I remember going into my friends’ dorm room and fighting back frustrated tears. If I was called to go, why wasn’t I? I felt called to go into missions when I was 12. Was I just being stubborn by holding onto some childhood fantasy? Maybe I missed something along the way. Maybe I was off on the whole missions thing. Maybe I shouldn’t be studying Spanish. Maybe… Maybe… Maybe…

They cut me off. The self pity had given way to me doubting the Sovereignty of God, but more specifically, doubting his perfect timing. And that had to stop.

After lots of prayer, conversation, and Bible reading, I finished the semester and moved home for the summer. The next day, I started interning with my youth group. My prayers to be sent hadn’t stopped, nor had my pleading for clear direction. But The Lord was teaching me how to wait, and to wait well.

On Friday, May 22, 2015, my Youth Pastor pulled me aside.

I have an opportunity for you, and I think you will be really excited about it. Will you go to Honduras with us?

I’m fairly confident I told him to shut up. And If I wasn’t crying, I wanted to. Agreeing to go to Honduras was the easiest decision I made all summer. Going felt as natural as breathing, but leaving brought all the pain that having the wind knocked out you brings. While there, I continued to beg God for my Burning Bush, but stopped to praise Him for the embers that He provided throughout the week.


There was a zoo at our hotel, and these birds were some of the first things that I saw. How precious it was to see them, the same kind that I had painted into my Bible many months prior. FullSizeRenderThose birds were like salve to my my impatient, wounded soul. Time heals some wounds, but for me, the passing years were painful. Seeing them served as the reminder that I so desperately needed. God knew I was in Honduras. He always knew that I was going to be in Honduras, even when it looked like I wasn’t. The Lord had purposed for me to go long before.

On our first full day in the country, we were driving around when a mural caught my eye. //Jehova Jireh// The Lord Pro10409180_580616882079889_6532651444655779989_nvides. Very quickly the brightly colored feathers of these birds came to represent something far greater than the tropical fantasies that they are so often associated with. It was my own personal flying rainbow, a reminder of God’s promise to provide.


For the past few years, I have had my life all planned out. When I would graduate, what organization I would work with, and what Latin American country I would move to. I am still waiting for God to get on board with that one though, because up until now, He hasn’t.

During my trip, I was praying for him to confirm my plans. You see, I have my 10 year plan. And I was praying that he would make it his. Going into Honduras, I knew what I wanted. I wanted God to want that same thing.

But that’s not how faith works. That actually isn’t faith at all. My prayer wasn’t “Let your will be done”, but rather, “Let my will be done.” And in doing so, I was treating God less and less like the Creating Lord that he is and more and more like an ambivalent genie. (I’m pretty sure Patrick Curtis said that.)

Looking back on my private musings from that time, it’s apparent to me the turmoil my soul was in. It’s slowly, painfully, becoming clear: my plan is just that- my plan. God has a different one. I spent my week in Honduras, and almost every second since then, fighting that. Dying to self is painful. And watching my dream die is painful. What I wanted, it’s not going to happen. And that’s okay. Or so I’m learning.


A few years ago I was struggling with giving up my plans, and a very precious friend pointed me to scripture, as all precious friends should. Paul had plans to go to Rome, the center of the known world, and to bring the Gospel with him. On paper, it was the perfect, God glorifying plan. But God sent him to prison instead. By no means am I saying that I am being sent to prison, but I am being sent somewhere other than where I thought I could best glorify God. Slowly, sometimes submissively, sometimes rebelliously, but always painfully, I watch my plans crumble. And every day He teaches me how to be okay with that.

Because He has promised to provide. His plan is better than mine. His timing is perfect. He’s a good, good father.


One more thing. That bird I painted long ago while praying to be sent and for direction? Before a trip to Honduras was planned, canceled, and then another one was planned last minute?

It’s the Honduran national bird. And I didn’t know that until a few weeks after I got home.

God has a plan. He promised to provide. And he always, always, always, keeps his promises.

An Open Letter to the Youth at MVCC: The One about Pastor Steve

He is a sold out Steeler’s fan, which I suppose is pretty gutsy to be living this close to Baltimore. He can’t function without coffee, he loves Mexican food (which I would never fault anyone for), and he washes his face with a loofah (freak).

Going into the summer, I already knew some of these things about our youth pastor. (The loofah thing was new.) But you see, serving you as summer intern meant that I also had the opportunity to serve Pastor Steve, Patrick, Lenor, and Stefani. Basically, I spent the summer working behind the scenes in the youth ministry. I say that because SOS and WOW combined only made up about 25% of my hours, so the majority of the work that Leah, Ervin and I did, you never saw. But that also means that the majority of the work that your youth staff, primarily Pastor Steve, does, you never see either.

So I decided to tell you what I got to see.


For starters, Pastor Steve’s job does not begin at 6:30 Sunday nights and end at 8:45 when family groups let out. His job is so much more than SOS, more than I even realize. The hours that it takes to plan SOS alone could make up an entire job (and they practically did for Ervin this summer… just ask him if you don’t believe me). But in reality, that’s maybe only 10% of his job. Retreats, student leadership teams, special events, missions trips, adult leaders, relationships with students, weddings, church staff meetings, the occasional sermon… y’all, I could keep listing things off, but I think you get the idea. Now, you should know that I made up that whole 10% figure. I could be way off, but based on what I have seen, I really don’t think I am. But its not just that Pastor Steve wears many hats. He does all these things, and he does them better than anyone I know.


I’m sure if he knew that I was writing this (notice I’m publishing it after my internship ended and I moved out of the state) he would want me to mention that he works on a team of dedicated, loving, prayerful believers who work really hard to make sure that your experiences in the youth group are excellent. But, I’m not writing about that team (even though it is critical and deserves recognition too). This is the one about Pastor Steve, remember?


I have heard nothing but wonderful things about The Fall Retreat. Students go on missions trips every summer, experience God, and come back changed. I’ve not only gone on those trips, but I have helped lead three of them. I know I’m right, I’ve lived it every summer since I was 16! I worked a Senior Banquet my junior year, attended it when I graduated myself, and then I went as a guest this year when my brother graduated. I’ve seen it. I know how special it is, but that is only because Pastor Steve makes it that way. I saw my next door neighbor, someone who hated the very name of Jesus come to a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. He hated church, until he came one Sunday and heard Pastor Steve preach. Now, I will tell you he wasn’t saved that day. But I do believe, and he will tell you this himself, that had Steve not preached that day, he wouldn’t have continued to come back to Mountain View.

Y’all, you have an incredible, godly man as your youth pastor, and you are so blessed to be able to sit under his wisdom and teaching. The work, love, and prayer that he puts into everything that he does is hard to even imagine. And yet, so much of it goes unnoticed. Because what The Lord is using Pastor Steve to do is something that even the American church, in general, is not doing.

According to surveys conducted by Barna and USA Today, between 70 and 75% of Christian youth leave the church after high school. But, over half of students (that I know of) who were involved in The View Student Ministries at Mountain View either go to a Christian college or university when they graduate, or, become actively involved in an on-campus Christian Ministry such as Cru and at a local church. Out of the 12 students who were at the 2015 Senior Banquet, 5 are going to Christian schools. In a culture that continues to see young people leave the church in swarms after graduation, Mountain View sees the opposite, and that should be celebrated.  Whatever Pastor Steve is doing, he is doing it right. And that right there is the proof. He is creating disciples who make disciples. He is raising up and equipping students and student leaders who know Jesus and want to make Him known. And even though I know Steve wouldn’t agree with this, you, as his students, deserve to have that pointed out. The Lord has blessed Mountain View and it’s youth through Pastor Steve.


There are lots of weird things in his office, like an orange with a face and a baby doll head. But there is also a sign that hangs above his desk and it says “given enough coffee, I could rule the world.” And I believe that. God is already using him to change this generation. I know he changed me.

All my love,

your summer intern,

~Ellen

75 Things I Learned in Honduras

  1. Pastor Steve washes his face with a loofah. 11692800_572821682859409_5492613668754818922_n
  2. Rice and beans can be breakfast food.
  3. Jehova Jireh // The Lord Provides 10409180_580616882079889_6532651444655779989_n
  4. Travel coffee mugs were invented for a reason.
  5. The coffee mugs in Honduras were way too small.
  6. Next time I go, I need to pack a normal sized mug.
  7. As much as I want to, I just don’t like watermelon.
  8. Before Christ, I was so desperately lost, I didn’t even know it.
  9. I need a Savior.
  10. I could eat mango every day, and I would never get tired of it.
  11. (I know that, because for a week, that was a thing.)
  12. One cup of coffee a day isn’t enough.
  13. Especially if that one cup is the size of the hotel’s coffee mugs.
  14. I love going on trips with my brothers. 11666162_571078196367091_8985729086626749897_n
  15. I need community.
  16. I wilt without it.
  17. God has a plan for my life, even when all of my plans fail.11707592_572809912860586_5788055658257323895_n
  18. Wearing maxi skirts on travel days is always a good life decision.
  19. Wearing skinny jeans on international flights isn’t.
  20. It’s okay if I don’t know what will happen in my life.
  21. I can trust my unknown future to a known God.
  22. If I lived in an all-summer culture and could never wear shorts, I would be okay with that.
  23. I shouldn’t travel without my water color paints.
  24. Jesus loved me when I was lost.
  25. Coffee creamer isn’t always necessary.
  26. The food of other cultures intrigues me. 11205995_572316409576603_1431581108388006085_n
  27. Tacos are still my favorite food.
  28. I’m still impressed by simple things.
  29. I have been jaded by comfort.
  30. The richest people tend to have the least amount of money, and even fewer things. 11698544_571079649700279_3362724761959367197_n
  31. Childhood hunger is a real thing.
  32. Maybe being a teacher wouldn’t be so bad.
  33. I can’t work in a cubicle.
  34. Praying for my will to become God’s will isn’t faith.
  35. I’m more addicted to coffee than I realized.
  36. God answers even my boldest prayer.
  37. His answers aren’t always what we expect them to be.
  38. Ice Cream after international flights is always a good life decision. 11692617_570382103103367_1344331597808320414_n
  39. I should always travel with a sheet. (thanks Lenor)
  40. Finding (and following) wise counsel is important.
  41. Air conditioning isn’t necessarily necessary.
  42. Although I do really enjoy it.
  43. I still prefer flour tortillas over corn.
  44. The best tortillas are the homemade kind.
  45. Fresh juice is still too sweet for me.
  46. There are some things that all the Spanish classes in the world would never teach me.
  47. Awana’s is even bigger abroad than it is in the states. 11698595_571079883033589_7439708501764661401_n
  48. My spanish isn’t as bad as I have convinced myself that it is.
  49. Laughter, playing, and smiles are the best way to break any language barrier.
  50. I don’t have to understand “why” to obey.
  51. Red Tape exists outside the U.S. too.
  52. God is sovereign even in suffering.
  53. He can give purpose to my pain.
  54. He is a father to the fatherless.
  55. There is no better earthly example of salvation than adoption.
  56. Not all orphan care is beneficial.
  57. Family is crucial.
  58. Baby Coffee trees are beautiful (I haven’t seen the grown ones yet…). 11666221_572317719576472_2608205434668036482_n
  59. Armed guards don’t scare me the way they probably should.
  60. Matching shirts and twinning pictures make me happier than necessary.
  61. 5 year olds are better at soccer than I am, even though I shouldn’t be surprised by that.
  62. I have more anxiety about moving to another country than I like to admit.
  63. Musical Chairs isn’t as violent in Honduras as it is at Mountain View.
  64. God reaffirms my calling in ways that I never would have anticipated. 885629_800001246788084_1553835742185302157_o
  65. My favorite animal is the Scarlet Macaw. 11692574_570729186401992_3872179229529741974_n
  66. I could never take enough pictures, even if I tried.
  67. It’s okay if I am not in control of my life. I can trust the One who is
  68. Traveling abroad is easier when you to go to places that use American money.
  69. I don’t have to have everything figured out.
  70. Being woken up in the morning by birds singing sounds a lot better in the movies than it actually is.
  71. Not all missions trips look the same or can fit into a box.
  72. Having three 6 year olds sit on your lap at the same time gets painful after a few minutes.11401414_722063204569045_3633871161614848925_n
  73. Fruit Loops make great Bingo markers.
  74. God redeems even my most broken  plans.
  75. “Love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.” Bob Goff 11705309_574583299349914_4357478730727309954_n

What La Providencia Taught Me


We played Uno, colored, swung, and played tag. They giggled as they showed me their bedrooms and beamed when I lost at our card game. They pointed out where their best friends lived (in the home across the street) and showed me which park was their favorite (there were two playgrounds within a few hundred yards of their homes in either direction). The houses were normal enough. Big. Open. Inviting. One had a garden in the backyard (#lifegoals) and the one across the street had a chicken coop. It felt like just another day in the life of a nanny. Sure I was speaking Spanish, but I’m a Spanish major so even that wasn’t that weird.

But I wasn’t nannying. And as much as it felt like I was in a neighborhood, I wasn’t.

I was in a Central American orphanage.

Growing up I had heard of orphanages. I’d thought they were desolate places filled with children and void of color. And in most places, I suppose that could still be true. But not here. These children live in bright, spacious homes. They are not growing up as orphans, but rather as brothers, sisters, daughters, sons. The extended family structure that has been established here at La Providencia is nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful.

You wouldn’t think that playing tag and coloring sheets would be profoundly thought provoking, but today, they were. These kids were born into nothing. I was born into upper middle-class America and with that, a life of luxury. I never wondered where my next meal would come from and I never lacked anything. I had everything and then some. They had to look up to see rock bottom.

And yet in so many ways, these children and I are exactly the same.

When they were infants they didn’t know that they had been abandoned. They didn’t know that they were alone. They were dying and yet were completely incapable of helping themselves. Their needs were so great that they could not even express them, for how can one express something that they do not understand?

But then one day, all of that changed. It wasn’t because of anything that the children had done. They didn’t ask for help, because they didn’t know that they needed it. Someone had to come to them. Someone offered open hearts, homes, and arms. They paid the price, crossed bridges, and welcomed them in. These once nameless faces became part of a forever family.

It was these things I was thinking while I played Uno this morning and I had to fight back tears as I thought back on my own adoption day with gratitude and wonder. I was raised, loved, and cared for by my biological parents, yes. But I was indeed adopted into it a forever family as well. I was so desperately lost that I was unaware of the utter darkness in which I was wandering. So love had to take first step. Love initiated.

This morning, when I was looking into the eyes of these once orphaned children, I saw myself. For the first time, my salvation had become somewhat visible. Never before have I been so cognizant of my desperation, so aware of my salvation, or so thankful for it. I didn’t know I needed to be saved. I didn’t ask for it. But God in his mercy saw me when I was alone, desperate, dying, and family-less.

And then he called me His. He extended his grace and his love to me. Not because I asked for it, but because he loved me enough to give it. He saw my need when I couldn’t.

God chose me. He wanted me. He paid the price for me. He adopted me. He loves me.

I am His.

Fruit

I grew up in Virginia and every Sunday driving to church we passed tobacco fields. I thought everyone grew tobacco, until we moved farther north. Now on the way to church, we pass corn fields. Every summer, we went to a beach in North Carolina, and every summer I fell asleep on the drive. When I woke up, I knew we were close when the tobacco had given way to cotton and soy beans. At the beach, my granddad always prepared a fish fry with seafood that he bought from a local fisherman. When I moved back to Maryland 8 years ago, for the first time I had a real Maryland crab cake.
Now I’m in Honduras. There are mango groves, coffee plantations, and fields of bananas, plantains, and passion fruit. Fruits that I have never seen before, juices I have never heard of, and flavors to which I am unaccustomed fill the dinner table. The crops that are grown, and the subsequent meals that are prepared, truly represent the region of the world that I am in.

If I have learned one thing from all my travels it is this: The fruit that is grown is indicative of the region in which we are in.

Shouldn’t that be what our lives are like? We are living in Christ. Those things, the things of Christ, should define us. It should be obvious that the things of this world are no longer growing in us. We shouldn’t cultivate anger, jealousy, slander, malice, sexual promiscuity-sin. But rather, we should let the fruit of the Spirit take over our lives. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

We had to memorize a passage of scripture for the trip, and out of the 17 verses, 5 words have resonated within my soul. “…Christ, who is your life…” Christ is our life. He is the life blood that is running through our veins. And just as the water that runs underground makes the growth of all crops possible, Christ is what is needed to cultivate the only fruit that truly matters.

In North Carolina, I see cotton. Here in Honduras, I see mango. If we truly are living in Jesus, and if He is our life as Paul told us in Colossians, then in Christians, the world should see Christ.

75 Things I Learned My First Month as Middle School Intern

  1. People’s opinions and feelings are valid, even if they don’t make sense to me.
  2. The Gospel will always, always, always be opposed.
  3. I actually like Peppermint Patties.
  4. Turing the alarm code off at the church is stressful.
  5. “Where anger and bitterness thrive, prayer dies.” ~Pastor Hahn
  6. Not everyone is going to like me.
  7. I have to be okay with that, and not let it bother me.
  8. It is okay, even healthy, to not invest in non-durable, toxic friendships.
  9. The amount of energy (and patience) I have is directly proportionate to the amount of caffeine I have had that day.
  10. Always take notes.
  11. Be organized.
  12. If you aren’t organized, chaos and stress abound.
  13. 50 wet middle schooler’s on a hot school bus stink.
  14. The Devil is not in the details.
  15. Details are important.
  16. I still stink at 4 Square.
  17. Musical Chairs is still competitive.
  18. As much as I want to make myself, I just don’t like watermelon.
  19. Drama doesn’t last past tomorrow.
  20. The destruction that drama causes lasts for a long time, and can ruin relationships.
  21. Chill out.
  22. I can’t take myself so seriously.
  23. Fear can’t be a motivator.
  24. People aren’t projects to be handled.
  25. Red nail polish and chocolate can make even the bad moments good.
  26. Gossip is 100% of the time destructive, and 0% of the time a good idea.
  27. My water infuser water bottle is the best investment I ever made.
  28. It’s okay to ask for help.
  29. I can’t do everything on my own.
  30. Sometimes rest is a good thing.
  31. Jesus loves me, despite my failures.
  32. I’m still not a morning person.
  33. Team work is essential.
  34. It takes much longer to repair a bridge than it does to destroy it.
  35. People don’t always receive things the way I intended them.
  36. Always apologize, even if I don’t think I did anything wrong.
  37. If people are hurting because they misinterpreted something I said or did, I am still accountable for that pain.
  38. There is a difference between resting and being lazy.
  39. My enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking for someone to devour. He comes to steal, kill and destroy.
  40. Unopposed ministry is ineffective ministry.
  41. Farmers markets sell great things for my water infuser.
  42. Nothing is more divisive than a competitive, defensive, selfish spirit.
  43. Other people’s jealousy isn’t always my fault, but I have to be cognizant of it.
  44. I can’t try to purposefully step on someone’s toes.
  45. I can’t let the fear of stepping on someone’s toes keep me from doing what I know is right.
  46. Foster relationships with students for the sole purpose of befriending them, not fixing them.
  47. Being an intern really does mean bringing my boss coffee.
  48. It’s possible to do ministry for God, and not with God.
  49. That leads to burn out.
  50. The Broccoli and Beef from Chop Stix is delicious.
  51. Coffee is necessary for ministry.
  52. Not letting people drag me into their made-up drama is always a good idea.
  53. Sometimes not responding to texts isn’t ignoring.
  54. Do everything I can to live in peace.
  55. Living in peace with unpeaceful people is hard, but necessary.
  56. Take the high road, even when I can rationalize rolling around in the mud.
  57. I have to focus on pleasing The Lord, not pleasing people.
  58. There is a difference between high expectations and unrealistic expectations.
  59. When you grow mint plants, you have to water them a lot.
  60. When I drink a lot of water, I feel better and have fewer headaches.
  61. Keeping a note pad in my purse is important.
  62. “To do” lists help me.
  63. The Honey BBQ wings at Buffalo Wild Wings are too spicy for me.
  64. The Teriyaki wings are okay though.
  65. Parks and Rec isn’t as good as The Office.
  66. Always show grace.
  67. Loving people through it sometimes means receiving their unkindness with love and patience.
  68. I still don’t know how to use a key.
  69. Hurting people hurt people.
  70. It’s not always personal.
  71. The Keurig in the Pit doesn’t work with K cups from Ollies.
  72. Live like life is, not like the way I want it to be.
  73. Communication is important.
  74. In everything I do, do it as unto The Lord.
  75. Applying to be a youth intern at MVCC was one of the best decisions I ever made. ❤

An Open Letter to the Youth of MVCC: When in Honduras (or Pittsburg), Always Use Cold Butter

To the students who are going to Honduras (or Pittsburg), or who want to make the perfect southern biscuit, because this applies to you too:

To the biscuit makers:

First, you make your flour mixture. Next, you cut the cold (not room temperature) butter into small cubes, and add them into the floor. Then you do what is called cutting the butter in.

And you have to cut in the butter. And the only way to do that is make sure it is cold. Not room temperature. Not melted. But cold. The colder the better.

But here’s the thing. Cutting butter into the flour is hard. It takes some serious elbow grease, patience, and umph. It would be so much easier to melt the butter, pour it over the flour, and bam. You’re done. Easy peasy lemon squeeze. But if you want flaky, buttery, southern (real) biscuits, pies, doughs, crusts, or cakes, easy just won’t cut it. You have to cut in the butter. There simply is no other way.

And there is no machine that will do this for you. You have to do it for yourself, by hand. There is a tool that cuts in butter called a pastry blender, but if you don’t have one (or can’t find it, like me), you have to use two forks. And it takes forever. The butter has to evenly incorporated into the flour mixture, but because it is cold, this takes some effort. You want the butter and the flour to all be the same consistency, almost like sand. Only then can you add your wet ingredients, knead the dough, and form whatever it is you are making.


Tonight I was making made from scratch strawberry shortcakes and I realized just how hard cutting in the butter can be. Sure, I could have melted it. That would have been quicker. Easier. But I wanted the shortcakes to turn out buttery, flaky, and delicious, not dense, so I had no other choice.

If you want the finished product to turn out well, you can’t cheat. You can’t take the easy, minimal effort way out. You can’t cut corners. You have to cut the butter in. 

So promise me. When you are in Honduras, always cut the butter in. And always make sure it is cold.

Three years ago, almost to the day, I too was preparing for my first trip abroad. I was scared. I was young. I felt unqualified. I was you. So I know how tempting it is to not give it my all. It’s tempting to skimp on memory verses, to not pay attention in the sessions, to blow off your daily quiet time. Because it’s hard work. Standing for twenty minutes over a bowl using arm muscles (that, if you are anything like me, don’t exist) makes almost no sense when you can put butter into a microwave safe dish and press the “add 30 seconds” button. But I promise you. That won’t give you the desired result. 

Even though, like you, this is my first time to Honduras, I can promise you 5 things about the trip.

  1. You will be hungry, even though you just ate. The foreign food will lose the luster that “exotic” brings in a matter of minutes, and it will be just plain weird. You won’t trust it, because you can’t trust what is in it. You will ache for the familiarity and comfort that frozen pizza can bring. I remember eating something in Ecuador and thinking “Back home, I could buy this, alive and squeaking, in a pet store…”
  2. You will wake up more tired and exhausted than you were the night before. Your body will scream at you from overuse and under-rest, your mind will wander, and you will wonder why you ever left the comforts of air conditioning, cable TV, and wifi.
  3. It won’t be a vacation. It will be work. It will test you. Try you. Break you. It will be hard.
  4. Lenor gave you a daily schedule. At the end of the week, you will look back on it and laugh. It won’t look anything like how the days transpired, and you won’t even recognize it as a trip that you were on. Our plans will be wrecked. And it will be Divine Chaos. Sometimes I think God changes our plans just to make us rely on Him, and to remind us who really is in control.
  5. If  you let him, God will use this to change your life. And you will never be the same again.

You see, God asks us to cut the butter in. To do the work. Mark 16:15 says “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation!” It isn’t easy. Our job is to cut in the butter. But the baking? That’s God’s job. 

We are not going on a missions trip. We are joining God on His mission– His mission to bring the world back to himself. We aren’t starting or initiating anything. We are joining in, joining with God in something that He put into motion long ago. 

In Genesis 11, after the tower of Babel, God dispersed the people, creating different cultures, languages, and people groups. This created the need for missions. But our God is beautiful. His timing is perfect, and He doesn’t miss a beat. In the very first verse of the very next chapter we read some of the most profound, characteristic, and loving words in all of scripture. You see God’s plan to bring His scattered creation back to Himself.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

In Genesis 11, you see the problem. And in Genesis 12, you see God’s solution. God chose a very normal guy. Abram just arrived on the scene in a very unexpected way. He came out of seemingly nowhere. But he was on God’s radar. God saw Him, and chose to use him to bring back a lost and hurting people. Remember when I said I felt scared, unqualified? Guys, maybe you feel like this trip is coming out of nowhere, and you feel unqualified.

  • “My Spanish is terrible”
  • “I’m shy”
  • “I can’t sing”
  • “I’m a picky eater”

You are on God’s radar. Remember that. You don’t go on a trip like this just for the heck of it. You are called. Believe it. Act like it.

When tracking the Abrahamic Covenant throughout Genesis, several interesting things can be revealed. Not only do you see God’s continued faithfulness to Abraham and those who inherited the Covenant, but you see how important that faithfulness is to Him. God repeats His promises time and time again (over 40 times). If he is willing to put that much time and effort into them, you know he must mean it. And not only does he mean it, but he wants us to get it. He wouldn’t breathe this promise over and over and over again over the pages of Scripture if he didn’t want us too to understand his faithfulness.

You can track not only the historical narrative of the people of Israel, but you can see the beginning stages of God’s redemptive plan. Mankind was created to live in harmony and community with God. Now that was broken during The Fall, but with the dispersion of the people there needed to be a way to reach them. So through Abraham, God created a people called Israel, through which the Savior of the world would be born.

Guys, pay attention, because it is important that you understand this. Through Christ, we have inherited the Abrahamic Covenant. Those promises apply to us now. But we aren’t doing anything new. The need was long ago made known. And the answer? God too made that clear.

So doesn’t that give you peace?

  • Your Spanish does not have to be understandable.
  • You are allowed to be tired.
  • It’s okay not to like the food.
  • You are normal if you get homesick.

Because at the end of the day, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. We are just joining God on His mission, one that began in Genesis chapter 12. We are called to be obedient. We are called to sow seeds. God will make them grow. Don’t worry about being effective, because anything done in your own power is vanity. Let God work through you. If you let him, He will.

We only have to cut the butter in. It’s hard, yes. But worth it. God will do the baking. It’s his recipe, after all.

All my love,

your summer intern,

~Ellen

An Open Letter To the Youth of MVCC: Be Involved

To the Students of Mountain View Community Church:

As I look forward to this summer of serving you as intern, I have become incredibly retrospective. I remember when I was in your shoes. I remember when I was a student attending SOS. Or more accurately, I remember when I was a student who never attended SOS.

Looking back on my time in high school, I don’t regret skipping this party or not dating that boy. I don’t regret not buying the newest jeans or not having the nicest phone.  I don’t regret not sitting at the best lunch table or even that time I didn’t study and consequently failed a test. I don’t regret not wearing name brand clothing or deciding to shop on the clearance rack. To be honest, I don’t really remember or care about any of those things anymore. But I do remember my time spent inside the walls of Mountain View Community Church, and I wish that there had been more of it. There is nothing that I miss more. And there is nothing that I regret more than waiting until the end of my junior year to get involved in SOS.

If I could offer you one piece of wisdom as we start this summer of doing life together, it would be to get involved. And once you get involved, stay involved.

  • No date is worth skipping SOS for.
  • No dance is worth skipping the Fall Retreat for.
  • No late night party is worth skipping Sunday morning church for.
  • No school friend group is worth compromising a relationship with your small group.
  • No trip to Ocean City is worth skipping out on a summer missions trip.

I think back to when I was a junior, when a senior asked me to homecoming. I had never been to a high school dance before, and I was excited to be going with him. I got to dress up, someone did my hair, and I bought all new jewelry to match my new dress and my new shoes. He came to my front porch, shook hands with my dad, and together, we went to Homecoming. During the first slow dance that night, the boy who took me to my first dance became my first boyfriend. He was a swimmer, and I felt safe in his swimmer arms. He was applying at (and later accepted into) one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. He graduated with a 4.7 GPA, and he made me feel like I was the only girl in the world.

10 weeks later, the relationship ended in fireball fashion, and we have had little communication since.

During my two month long relationship, my excuse for not going to SOS was that I needed to see him. I worked and he was very busy, so Sunday nights were the “only” chance we got to spend time together (we went to the same high school and lived in the same neighborhood, so I saw him all the time). Now, over three years later, I look back on that relationship with regret. Not because he wasn’t a good guy, because he was. I don’t regret dating him, but I do regret what I let him keep me from. When I look back on that time of my life, I don’t remember the movies we watched together, our conversations, or even what we did on those Sunday nights. Looking back, I only see missed opportunities. I didn’t go to the Fall Retreat so he could take me to homecoming. I didn’t go to SOS so I could see him. But you see, those things were not his fault, or his decisions. They were mine.

I didn’t know it was possible to forget the things you experienced and remember the ones you didn’t, but it is. Three years later, it is not him who I miss, but rather, with all of my heart, I miss the missed opportunities.

Learn from my mistakes, and yes, they were mistakes. I’m not asking you not to date in high school (though I could make a compelling case for this). But I am begging you not to let those you date, the sports you play, the jobs you work, or the activities that you are involved in keep you from what really matters.

I graduated two years ago. When I come home from college, it is not my ex boyfriend who I want to see. My high school friends (with the exception of a very small minority) are not even in my contact list anymore. But those friends I met at church? Those are the durable relationships. The ones that last. When I am having a bad day, they are the ones I call. When I fantasize about my wedding day, it is them who I envision standing beside me as I say “I do”.

Now, two years removed, it is SOS that I miss most about high school. But you are still in high school. Take advantage of it. Every time the PIT doors are open, you better be there. Because when you are there,

  • Jesus is Life
  • Everyone is Welcome
  • Relationships are Crucial
  • Students are Celebrated
  • Love Compels us
  • Anything is Possible

If you are looking for a safe, fun, God-honoring atmosphere, there is no place better than SOS. Pastor Steve has made sure of that.

  • If you just graduated: you have one summer left. Make the most of it.
  • If you are just starting high school, start it off right. Start it with the people who will be there for you when you graduate, and who will still be with you long after.
  • For everyone in between, stay involved. If you aren’t involved, get involved.

And now that we have established that you will indeed be involved, I can say I can’t wait to get to know you,

All of my love,

your summer intern,

~Ellen

Providence: For When Your Calling feels like a Game of Telephone 

God knows the desires of my heart, because He himself put them there. I know deep down I am called to a life of missions, as is every Christian. But I also know my future won’t fit into the cookie cutter “American Dream” box. I have no doubt I one day will buy a one way plane ticket to Latin America.

But this past semester I struggled with my calling. If I was called to go, why was I staying?

  • The summer of 2013 I had a long term trip planned. Canceled.
  • The summer of 2014 I had a trip planned. Canceled.
  • And this summer. I was supposed to go to Honduras. And work in an orphanage. For reasons outside of my control, a few weeks ago it too was canceled.

And I was wrecked. Could God be trying to get my attention by closing all these doors? I knew that wasn’t the case, but it seemed so easy to believe. Both of my brothers are going to Honduras with my church to work in an orphanage. Neither one of them want to study missions or Spanish in college, and I study both. I was happy for them, but silently, privately, I grieved. Patience has never been a strong suit of mine, and this life of “waiting to go” has stretched me far beyond my comfort zone. I’ll stick with my own plan thank you very much. My plan does not include this waiting, this happy for them, private silent grieving. But my plan never works out, the Holy Spirit prods. So I submit to the waiting, once again.

Knowing that they were leaving the country and I again would be staying wasn’t easy.

But somehow, surrendering it to The Lord was. It’s funny. Surrender shouldn’t mean winning. But in this Christian life, it does.  The victory has already been won. I just have to give up my selfish, carnal fight and let Christ win. I had to believe that God not only knew the desires of my heart, but that he had given them to me to bring glory and honor to his name. (Isn’t that what I claim to want: to bring honor and glory to His name?) And that in His time, he would give them to me.


And He did. In less than a month, I will join the team from my youth group to do missions work at an Orphanage in Honduras. I am spending the summer serving as Summer Intern for my youth group. Now, I will be serving alongside those very same students in Honduras. After a series of circumstances that can only be described as Divine Chaos, He is sending me.

And the name of the orphanage we will be serving in? Providence.