Thank you to everyone for all of your prayers and support! God taught me so much about Himself, myself, and how I can best share about Him to others. And what better place to learn more about Christ than Denia, Spain?!
At three a.m. my alarm jolted me awake. I had slept for a total of one hour. We arrived at our church at four, and I slept during the two-hour drive to the Dallas airport. Checking in went smoothly and so did our flight from Dallas to New York. Then, disaster struck. Although I guess it was somewhat of a beautiful disaster. All flights into Madrid, Spain were canceled. Our group of 23 waited hours at the airport in a section without food vendors. We survived off of my sour skittles, trail mix, and peanut butter crackers while splitting into smaller groups that would fly to Spain separately. We were randomly assigned new flights, and I was half thrilled and half scared to learn I would be flying with five other girls into Switzerland and then Valencia. Thankfully, my best friend Kylee had also been handed the same ticket, so we embarked on this unreal journey together. We said goodbye to the rest of our team that had received hotel accommodations for the night in New York.
Navigating through the airport and unfamiliar security checks was not the most fun I have had in my life, but I felt like a real adult. I also remember that the burger I bought on the way to our flight had never tasted so good! I was eating real food again! Hours later, I was sitting beside Kylee on a six-hour flight to Switzerland. We were given two full meals, headphones, a pillow, a blanket, and we each had our own small screen in front of us to watch movies on! It was truly a great flight and I was able to rest a bit.
After landing in Switzerland, we were surrounded by chocolate and smoking lounges! The view of the mountains and Swiss homes from the airport's windows was stunning. Then, I cleverly decided our girls group name should be the #swisssix.
The Swiss Six safely landed in Valencia a bit later, and were greeted by three of the friendliest people! Thankfully, my friend Asia had been on the trip last year and recognized our greeters as pastors of the church and school we would be staying at: Alfa y Omega.
By this point, we were all thoroughly exhausted and I tried my hardest to keep my eyes open during the drive from Valencia to Denia, but my eyelids grew heavy and I don't remember much from the car ride.
Traveling home was a complete breeze! Our layover was in London, our flight attendants spoke with a British accent, and I learned how to entertain myself during the ten-hour flight. The most exciting thing that happened was nearly swatting the lady sitting next to me when the overhead announcements came on while I was in the middle of a fat nap. I'm just a jumpy person sometimes!
2. A Typical Day
7:30 Wake up
8:00 Eat breakfast
8:30 Small group worship and devotional
9:00 Baby time!
10:00 Sixth grade class instruction
11:00 Primary school recess hang out/snack
11:30 Secondary school recess hang out
12:00 Service project/Serve at "Extiende Tu Mano"
3:00 Free time to explore downtown/Visit small group church
5:00 Meetings/more free time/Visit small group church
9:00 Free time/Prep for next day/ Rotate through showers
11:30 Turn in for bed!
3. The Lord
Thank you for your prayers! It was evident that God's hand was in everything we did during our trip. Traveling alone was difficult, but God ensured that we were well cared for. I also believe it was a part of His plan for me to arrive a day earlier so that I could establish deeper relationships with the church pastors and volunteers. We stayed at a church/school/dorm named "Alfa y Omega" and it was easy to sense His presence daily through interactions with the children and people and our beautiful view of the city and sea. Our mission was to spread God's love as an example of how He has loved us. We spent time teaching students in the school each morning and taught them about how Jesus had been working in our lives.
One of my favorite memories was talking to two fifth graders during recess. I had established a relationship with these girls on the first day and had been meeting up with them on a regular basis when they were given time to play. They were familiar enough with English to ask me questions and I was able to learn more about their lives. I laid in bed at night and wondered how I could casually bring up God during our conversations. During our future time together, I started our conversation by asking the girls if they knew why I was at their school. When they admitted that they didn't, it opened the door to a conversation in which I told them all that God had done for me in my life. Our college pastor, Justin, had been telling us that we had come to Denia to plant seeds. I'm confident that God had His hand in our conversations and that these girls will surely grow in their faith.
I was also blessed to visit a house church in Benissa, Spain. It was reminiscent of a small group bible study and served those that did not have access to attend the church services at Alfa y Omega. Part of our church partnership's goal is to establish and continue growing these house churches that are reaching a range of people around Spain. In the home I visited, there were fewer in number, but our size allowed us to intimately share a few of our favorite verses and our testimonies. Joshua, one of the pastors at Alfa y Omega, translated the others' stories of how God had shaped their lives. There were even two women from Colombia who described the ways in which God had led them to this small group in Benissa.
Prior to this visit, I thought it was an overused phrase to express how God had planned everything to lead up to where one is now in their life. Be it overused or not, I can see that God is the same throughout the world! It was mind-blowing to hear the parallels between many of our testimonies. We had God in common, and that was all the connection we needed. After exchanging stories, we had the opportunity to pray with one another. Although it was difficult to follow along in Spanish, I knew we were praying to the same Lord with similar requests.
Hearing the other college students' testimonies was also powerful. I realized that I know many of the students in my college group, but I don't fully KNOW them. After the Denia trip, I had made up my mind to apply to become a college group leader. This position would allow me to lead Bible studies with another student, lead Columbus Avenue events on campus, and grow closer to those I see at church every Sunday. I had not been trying my hardest to connect with others in my church because my three best friends also attend church with me, so I lacked the motivation to seek fellowship with others. Now, I see the importance of developing relationships with those around me and sharing what God has done in my life more often.
I really have more to share about how God was moving in my life this week, but it is difficult to pin down in writing.
Our team was broken into smaller groups of five that traveled to different places together. On Monday, it was my team's turn to serve at "Extiende Tu Mano," a branch of the church that focused on outreach for the homeless. My team and I helped prepare lunch that was later served to the homeless. I learned that this gesture of personally serving the homeless was very impactful for them and Christlike. We also took turns washing the dishes left over from lunch. Washing dishes is hands down my least favorite chore ever invented, but washing dishes for others was much more meaningful. It's amazing that something as simple as washing dishes can lead to a powerful conversation about Christ with others. I had the privilege of talking to another woman who was helping us in the kitchen about her life story and it was clear that God was shining through her labor.
Over the course of the next few days, we sanded approximately twenty doors, painted these doors, trimmed and raked overgrown hedges, cleaned the pool, moved and rearranged countless tables, desks, and chairs, and tidied the animals' pens. The work we performed was not hard, but it was tiring at times. Yet I still cherish the times we spent as a team beautifying Alfa y Omega, which God had already blessed a thousand times over. Plus, Fernando, the maintenance leader, was an absolute joy to work with because of his funny jokes. He may or may not have called me a diva when I asked for gloves to pick up the thorny branches we had to remove, haha!
5. Fine Dining
I ate bread, bread, and more pan! Meals were served at later times during the day! Breakfast was at 8:00, a.m. lunch was at 2:30 p.m., and dinner was at 8:30 p.m.! We were given hearty snacks between meals, though! At every meal, we were given a basket of bread as one of many side dishes. Breakfasts typically consisted of two slices of toast, crackers, jam, butter, yogurt, an apple, corn flakes, and a muffin. We weren't slacking in the grains food group! We were also given the option of spreading their version of Nutella on our toast; it was different because the hazelnut and chocolate were separated into two layers! Lunch was always delicious and my favorite meals were the seasoned pork chop, chicken pasta soup, penne pasta, and of course, the traditional paella that Spain is famous for. My favorite dinner was a type of chicken roasted on a skewer. Surprisingly, we also had hamburgers twice!
When we ate downtown, I splurged twice on specialty waffles and also tried mint and strawberry gelato! For dinner, I sampled a variety of tapas, which are sort of like appetizers. I learned that I do not care for the type of ham they serve, but everything else tasted great! I would have happily gone back for seconds had I been hungry enough.
The city took my breath away with each view. When we toured the historic castle in Dénia, we could see the entire stretch of city, sea, and mountain. God definitely knew what he was doing when he created Dénia!
The first night when the #Swisssix arrived, we were scheduled to have a welcome dinner with the youth group at Alfa y Omega. They asked around to see if the American marshmallows had made their way here yet, and sure enough, I had volunteered to pack the marshmallows in my suitcase that morning! This was an important matter to everyone because in Spain the marshmallows melt off the stick and cannot roast. After I brought down the bag of our Jet-Puffed marshmallows, everyone took turns roasting about five marshmallows each. It was a unique bonding experience that first opened my eyes to the differences between America and Spain (albeit small).
We missed the famous "Fallas" festival by four days, but we were fortunate enough to see a few of the elaborate cork statues set up in honor of the celebration. Over the course of our week stay, we saw the set-up of these themed statues on every major corner downtown. They were to be burned the following week as a way to release the "sins" of the city. There were many tourists because of the upcoming festival, and small children liked to play and throw mini, loud fireworks to scare others while impressing their friends! Dénia's nightlife was always so lively, especially in the preparation of Fallas!
There really is so much more to tell, but I would fall even farther behind on schoolwork if I were to go into any more detail. :) I am so thankful and blessed to have been a student on this trip.
We serve a powerful God who rules over all nations. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have!