My reflections on our trip to Curacao.
Our church recently sent a team of 16 to Curacao (near Aruba off the coast of Venezuela) to help our friends in the neighborhood of Fuik share the love of Christ to over 400 children. We sent four down a week early to help with preparations and then the remaining twelve came down a week later. Our total trip was longer than that when accounting for a day of playing tourist and travel days. All in all, it was a challenging and encouraging time for both our team and those we went to support. We saw God show up in the lives of children, teens and adults over and over again.
I'll limit myself to just a few highlights that I want to touch on. Suffice it to say, we needed God to show up several times...and He did.
Our host for Vacation Bible School (VBS) every year is Cesar and Emma. They basically turn their house and yard into a community center for this poor neighborhood God called them to about 12 years ago. If you're a child in this neighborhood, you've been in their yard. They love the children and families in this neighborhood sacrificially and generously. Christ is visible in them. Lives have been dramatically transformed because of their presence in this neighborhood. They are the Body of Christ in Fuik.
Imagine 400 sweaty children in a lot about 100 feet x 100 feet. Yeah, chaos. (Lord, thank you for Caribbean breezes!) So you can imagine what it takes to just keep the place relatively ordered and working while VBS goes on ALL DAY. That's 8 AM to 5 PM. Children start showing up at 7 AM and some don't leave until 7 PM.
There are over 90 volunteer workers too. Several sleep over every night so that they don't lose time driving all the way out to Fuik from their home in Willemstaad.
So Cesar is kind of the island MacGyver. He can take a ball of yarn, some chewed gum, and 3 popsicle sticks and make a Kevlar Vest in about 15 min. (only slightly kidding) Anyway, he has to leave mid-week because his brother is dying. (he died later that week) He flies out to Aruba and we don't see him again before we leave. Huge loss. Yet, this team of dedicated Christ-followers press on. They hurt for Cesar. They pray for Cesar. Emma stays in Fuik. They press on.
About four weeks earlier, Cesar and Emma's youngest daughter bears her first child. Out of wedlock. While living in Holland.
Nevertheless, plans are for Cesar and Emma to go there to see her and their grandchild after VBS. Plane tickets are purchased. Despite the circumstances, plans are in place for them to go.
Then, she unexpectedly shows up in Curacao with the baby and father the week before VBS.
Things just got more complicated.
This is the child who has grown up participating in and then, later, helping lead VBS every summer since they began. Every child knows her by name. They adore her. She has demonstrated Christ to them over and over. And yet, there is no peace that she should serve on the team this year. Mixed feelings abound.
Yet we never saw this impact VBS. It easily did. But they (God) did a marvelous job of not allowing this become a major distraction to the team or the children we were serving. God really showed up big here.
I know so few details on this. I do not judge or cast blame here. I love this daughter and fondly remember her from each of my six plus trips to Curacao. My purpose is not to embarrass or cast blame on anyone. I simply want to point out one of the more significant challenges that needed to be overcome for VBS to be effective. And by God's grace, it was. God showed up big here. Also, it was a privilege to be able to celebrate with cake the baby's first month birthday as we were preparing for VBS at Cesar and Emma's the day before it all began.
Another challenge we encountered was funding. The bulk of VBS is paid for through government grants. Cesar and Emma run a non-profit foundation (out of their home) that reaches out to children and their families in Fuik all year long. VBS is sort of the climax of their year. Anyway, their funding was approved but they had only released half of it which was several thousand US dollars, I believe. Yet they hadn't received the money by the time VBS began. And then the news came. All the monies were frozen by the government. Apparently, when their government runs out of money, they don't just print more. They quit spending. (take note, USA)
So we began praying. I'll admit, I had no idea at the time that this threatened to stop VBS the next day. I just assumed that everything would play out fine. But you must understand. They feed these children a hot lunch every day. Nearly 500 people including workers. They also provide snacks two other times and then there's the craft materials, field trip costs, 50 bags of ice per day, and fuel for some of the vans that run 4 times/day. And that's just what I know about. This was a big deal.
Well, long story short, someone gave $800 USD to cover the expenses whether or not the funding came through. All I'll say is that it came from God through His people. It was a generous and sacrificial gift cheerfully given. Other gifts followed that one and VBS never missed a beat. Once again, God showed up big-time.
Our group was about 12 strong that night. We were probably 3 adults and 9 teens. I was the only guy as we went to a home for pregnant teenagers. There were 10 that the local church (IGA) had been ministering to in this government program. We went to encourage them, pray for them and show them the love of Jesus. We also left them a sizable sum of candy.
It started off pretty awkward--for them and for us. While they are used to guests, their guests usually speak more than English. Only one of them spoke English, though several could follow it. By the end of the night we were laughing together and having a great time. We left them with the story of the three trees encouraging them to look past their dreams and believe that God had even bigger dreams for them. We pray we gave them even more hope.
Someone asked me how many children trusted Christ that week. I had to say that I have no idea. I don't know that anyone counted. But I told them that hundreds heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ many times over that week. Much "seed" was planted. Hope was dispensed. Love was poured out. I believe God was pleased and much fruit will come from these efforts.
There were many other stories that I could share like how God protected van loads of 20+ children every day of that week (ahem, I'm sorry, van loads of 9 seat-belted children) and how our team stayed unified in Christ and dealt with our personal trials maturely or how our youth retreat before VBS went so well and...well, that's good for now.
We were humbled to be a small part of such a big love-fest! We are so thankful that the people of Curacao let us come and serve alongside of them even though we can't speak the language, don't really lead anything and often eat more than we should. They are sweet to us all the time. What a privilege to serve alongside with them. We praise God for them.
Sunday morning at Grace we'll share some of this through pictures and stories as we celebrate our great God who made all of this possible. (more pics and stories here) We'll remember the cross as we celebrate the Lord's Supper. We'll take...eat...and remember that we gained Christ and made Him known in Curacao. Praise be to God!