It was March 10th. I jumped awake to the noise of the alarm, it was 2:30 AM. Who the hell sets their alarm for 2:30 AM? Well, on that day the answer is me. I dragged myself out of bed a mixture of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and excitement spinning through my head. The time was finally here! In two short hours I was going to be getting on a plane to Belize for a week of mission work.
I got on the bus (the team was all taking a limo bus to the airport) and everyone was wide awake; singing, dancing, and taking pictures but I sat in the back quietly. That is when the lies began tormenting me: I made a mistake, I don’t fit in, I can’t do this. So, I kept quiet. I didn’t want to bother anyone.
We get to Belize and get on the bus to the place we are staying. It was a two hour bus ride filled with music, laughing, singing, and excitement. Why wasn’t I excited? Why did I feel so left out? Why was I being so shy and reserved? I just couldn’t get out of my head.
That night we had empowerment, which is basically a time of prayer for the team to prepare ourselves spiritually for the week. I was sitting there in silence listening to the music when I felt this tugging at my heart, “Hannah, they are praying with people in the back. Get up. Go back there. Receive prayers.”
I reluctantly got up; feeling overwhelmed. All of this is way out of my comfort zone. The one things I remember being told in this prayer time is “You are suppose to be here and this is going to be such a healing week for you.” As I was walking away two letters were handed to me. Both at one point or another said the exact same thing that was said to me in prayer, “This is going to be such a healing week for you.” I’m sitting here thinking, “Okay, what the heck are you going to do to me Jesus.” I went to bed that night feeling more overwhelmed than ever. I was in a foreign country, I was overwhelmed, and I wanted to go home.
Then next day was a blur. It was hot, we walked a lot, and did a few little things here and there. I refused to come out of myself. I stayed in my head. I became more overwhelmed. I went to bed early hoping things would get easier.
The next day we went to Xunantunich, one of the sites of the Mayan ruins. No one warned me that it was a very long walk. You can imagine I was thrilled. The last mile was completely up hill, I wanted to cry.
There is no way I am suppose to be here. I literally can’t do it, but I kept going. Let me tell you being on top of the Mayan ruins gave me the boost I needed. I remember sitting up there and being like “Hannah, mind over matter. You can do this. You just climbed up this entire thing and you wanted to give up.”
We were walking back from the ruins and I was trying to keep my head up. I was walking slow with my roommate (her shoes gave her the worst blisters, the two of us were a mess) just chatting. One of the other girls from the team hung back to walk with us. The conversation turned pretty serious really quickly. My roommate and I already knew we had similar struggles. We knew we had been through some of the same things, but what we didn’t know is how much we were still affected by the things of our past.
The combination of exhaustion, heat, monotonous walking, and the love that these woman showed me in this moment broke me. I remember looking at them saying, “I’m just not okay.” I’m going to be blunt with y’all. Whenever I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, hurt, I turn to self-harm. And that was the thing, I couldn’t do that; not here on mission, not here in another country, not here where I hold myself to a higher standard. So, in this moment I was faced with facing my emotions, facing my fears, and the scariest part of all — letting others love me in my brokenness. Here is the even scarier part, after spilling my heart and sharing fears, they didn’t walk away.
We ate a quick meal and then walked back home. We had an early night because tomorrow started the brunt of mission: teaching. We sat down that night with our teaching partners (we each had one person we taught with), got our class schedule, and finalized our lessons. I was super excited, yet super fearful. I was teaching 18 classes on *drum roll please* suffering. My teaching partner was teaching on the theology of suffering and I was giving my personal witness on suffering.
Tuesday, March 13th. I rolled out of bed to my 6:30 alarm. All the fear I had experienced previously was replaced with excitement (thank you prayers) and I was PUMPED. My teaching partner and I were teaching first period. Class begins, my teacher partner is killing it the Holy Spirit is working and I’m ready.
I start by asking the students about a time when they were suffering, how did that make them feel? I continue on about Hurricane Katrina, my family’s recovery from that, my struggle with self-harm (I have post on all of these things if you want to check them out), and how God revealed himself to me in all of these situations. I shared with the students this verse from Romans 5:3-5 “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint”. I concluded with the idea of rejoicing in suffering and the concept of hope. After we were done teaching we answered questions for the rest of class (usually about 15 minutes). The questions broke my heart. In every class I answered questions about broken family situations, self harm, suicide, and many other difficult topics. My eyes were truly opened to the suffering and pain that is so evident in the world around us.
I taught four more classes that day and then the team and I stayed at school and played sports with the students, sat and chatted about life, played music, just whatever the students wanted to do. I can personally say this might have been my favorite part of mission; just meeting these students where they are at and really getting to know them on a personal level.
We went home, ate dinner, chatted for a while, just regular things. I was sitting outside when someone from the team asked me the simple question, “Hannah, what are you passionate about? What do you want to do in life?” I sat there pushing my usual answer, that I want to be a public conference speaker, into the back of my head. So instead I said, “I don’t know.” He responded with, “I just see you being a conference speaker, like speaking at the Steubenville conferences. You were captivating up there. You really have a gift.” What? Me, a conference speaker? No one has ever told me that. What a gift it was to be affirmed in something I am so passionate about.
The days continued: waking up, teaching classes, answering questions, hanging out, going back, eating dinner, repeat. One theme continued though: Hannah, you have such a gift for speaking. My heart was overwhelmed with joy.
Friday, March 16th. The last day in this beautiful place that began to feel like home. The streets became familiar, the students won over my heart, the team became my rock. It was definitely a complete turn around from the beginning of the week. The beginning of the day was normal, just a day of teaching classes, but the evening was completely different. We were hosting a Festival of Praise for the students. This is basically a time of prayer, praise and worship, and adoration of our sweet Jesus. I was a little nervous to see if students would attend, but most of all plain excited for the event. I knew God wouldn’t disappoint.
And he didn’t. The turn out was amazing. God was changing hearts. His love was so evident. The night was nothing short of one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
That night was also bittersweet. I was going to miss this place so much, but life in The States demanded me to return. So if you made it this far and are still reading here is what I want to leave you with. This week and the ways I encountered God changed my life. The people I was surrounded with changed my life.
Teaching on suffering every day was one of the biggest challenges, but something very beautiful was revealed to me through this. It is in my suffering that I am the closest to Christ; the closest to understanding all he went through for me. It is in The Cross that I find hope. It wasn’t like Jesus was taped to the cross and could come down whenever it got to hard. It wasn’t like he only was up there for 5 minutes and then was free from suffering. He was literally nailed to the cross. He endured suffering to his last breath. Sometimes that is our life. Sometimes the reason for our suffering is something that is out of our control. Sometimes our sufferings are to our last breath too, but how beautiful that we can be united to Christ in that way. Also from the verse in Romans earlier, “Hope does not disappoint.” Y’all suffering is temporary because Jesus on the cross gives us hope for eternal life. A hope of a life where there is no suffering, no pain, just pure simple paradise. The Cross gives me so much hope in the toughest of times.
Sharing the deepest wounds of my heart was the other biggest challenge. I got up there everyday and admitted to my weakest moments. With every time I admitted to my struggles it was like a huge burden was lifted. Yes, talking about these things made them more of a reality but with that came freedom. I was met with love every.single.time. I was united to those who had the same struggles as me.
Here is the lesson I learned and I hope you can take away from this. You are not the sum of your weaknesses. You are loved. You are worthy of love. You are not alone. There is always hope. Have confidence in your passions. Follow your dreams. God is love and love changes everything.
P.S. The adventured didn’t end. We missed our connecting flight because we got slowed down in customs. Were stuck at the airport, all had to take separate flights home. But it was good. God is good.