Before we departed on our trip to Santiago, Dominican Republict his year–our team’s third and my fourth trip in partnership with Manna Global Ministires–I thought to myself, “what an odd group of people we’ve assembled…how will we ever work together on this trip?” I can solidly say that God worked in wonderful ways throughout the trip to bring us together as perhaps the most cohesive mission team I’ve served with!
While a “Disney-esque team-uniting story” is always entertaining and inspiring, the real story of our trip goes beyond that. Near the end of the week, I was starting to think the trip would pass without a “moment” like the ones I’ve experienced in previous years. I had not cliff dived into the Carribean waves, my teammates and I had not fallen ill with a mysterious plague, and unlike my internship trip last summer, I had not contracted Zika virus (praises!!).
As I sat at the hospital with our team leader, Coach Steven Mason, who had whacked his ankle on a rock during a rough hike two days before, I thanked God that I was there only to translate and not as a patient this time around. That’s when things started rolling. Glenn, our DR-based point-person, asked me to go sit in his car in the hospital parking lot while he waited with Steven. You see, the passenger window of Glenn’s car had stopped closing a week before our arrival and we had to have a “vehicle guard” wherever we went. I wandered outside, wondering how long I’d have to wait alone before returning to the team back at the houses.
In an effort to entertain myself, I picked up a book—Max Lucado’s Before Amen—from the back seat of the car. If I had been in the United States (a) we wouldn’t have gone a whole week with a broken car window, and thus I’d have been inside the waiting room with the rest of my party and (b) if I was waiting alone outside, I’d have scrolled through posts on my phone instead of reading. But there I went, flipping through pages and letting the journalist in me ADORE Lucado’s storytelling style. In one chapter, he tells the story of a missionary in Brazil who must pay an unexpected medical bill. The family runs into a debacle with the insurance company (a story hitting close to home as Coach Mason was struggling at that moment to get the Dominican hospital to accept our international insurance) and ends up paying the $2,500 bill out of pocket. Nervously, the missionary drains his account and starts praying for God to provide his family with the money they need. Later that month, he receives an invitation to speak at a conference in Florida—the only invite he receives in his five years of service in Brazil. At the end of the conference, a man hands him an envelope saying he wants to contribute to the ministry. The missionary assumes it will hold $30-40, a denomination many people donate. But what does he find inside? You guessed it: $2,500 exactly.
Lucado then tells the story of a missionary in Africa who delivers a premature baby in rough circumstances. She tries her best to keep the baby warm and alive, but the hospital’s only incubator breaks and the last-resort hot water bottle bursts, too. The baby’s three-year-old sister, in faith beyond her years, closes her little eyes and prays for a hot water bottle and a baby doll. Of course, the missionary just laughs at the prayer, knowing those items would have to come in a package from the United States and she had not received a package in all her years of work abroad. But what do you know! The next day at noon just as things are looking dim for the premature baby, a box arrives holding several treats, the water bottle and the doll. Exactly what they needed.
Lucado ties the two stories with the “water to wine” miracle from John 2. I’m sure many of you have read it before, but Lucado highlighted Mary’s role in the story in a new way for me. They’ve run out of wine at the wedding and Mary tells Jesus straight-up, “hey son, all the wine is gone.” She doesn’t add more. Lucado notes that Mary doesn’t say, “uh, Jesus, the wine’s gone so could you go accelerate the growth of grapes and then press them into wine to fix this?” She tells Jesus the problem, and then tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. So, they scurry off to fill the urns with water at his request and then BOOM—wine. Lucado challenges readers to bring their problems to the Lord without expectations, like Mary, and watch as he “refills our urns” with not just wine, but the best of it, exactly what we need.
About then, Glenn came to the car to drive us back to the houses while Steven finished up at the hospital. The previous day, our group and our college friends who live in Santiago had walked around their neighborhood inviting anyone and everyone to a feast at the house. My team of five probably invited around 30 people and I imagine the other groups had done the same. However, we didn’t know how many people to expect, so we prepared for 70 guests.
A little background on Dominican culture: nothing runs on time. Our dinner was supposed to start at 7pm…we expected people to arrive around 8pm. So, when Glenn and I parked at the house at 6:40 and saw 30 adults and children in the yard already, we knew nothing would go as we had expected.
More background: at the beginning of the week, our team sat down to plan VBS for the kids. We settled almost immediately—which NEVER happens when you plan something with a group of 35 people—on teaching The Feeding of the 5,000. In case you haven’t heard the story before, Jesus’s disciples feed an entire crowd of 5,000 people using five loaves and two fishes…and end up with an excess of 12 baskets of food! We taught the VBS twice on the trip, once on the same day as our community feast.
At seven o’clock, we began filling plates. I stood at the pot of beans, ladling generous scoops for the guests outside. Reports came in from servers that far more than 70 people had arrived. The serving line became hectic. “Go faster! There’s lots of people to serve!” “How much rice should I put on each plate?!” “Is this already the last of the potato salad?” Usually in situations like these (a) I feel stressed, (b) I get fearful that we won’t have enough to go around, and (c, the big one) I take a vocal leadership role, directing traffic and calling shots. That day, not so. I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace. I continued spooning the same amount of beans onto each plate, a gentle whisper saying to me, “ask for exactly what you need and I will give you exactly enough.” The stories I’d just read danced through my mind. When I’d read them I had thought they were pretty cool, but almost a little too good to be true. Nonetheless, I stood silently in the chaotic room, repeating to God, “we don’t have enough food here. We need exactly enough.”
I emptied the first pot of beans just as someone announced the arrival of a new crowd. “Exactly enough. We need exactly enough. Here’s our problem, Lord. Take it in your hands.” The room reeled. More panic, more questions. Servers flew in and out of the door as we blindly filled plates for the large crowd outside.
“We’re out of plates and silverware.” From somewhere, more appeared!
I ladled the last scoop of beans into the bowl in my hands.
“Stop. Everyone has food.”
We looked at each other in utter surprise. We estimated, based on the number of cups we’d purchased that we’d served 175-200 people. I still said nothing as my friends began celebrating. It’s like I couldn’t say anything…and as a communication major, I’ve been trained not to be at a loss for words.
Do you know how many excess bowls of food sat on the table in the serving room? Twelve. Twelve bowls of evenly divided rice, chicken and beans. TWELVE.
We walked outside to debrief and I shared much of this story with my teammates through tears. I knew the minute I started talking that I would cry, which I hate to do in front of so many people, but I went ahead anyway.
I am still absolutely overwhelmed by God’s provision, both for our team throughout the week’s adventures, and at our feast. In a world and culture of scarcity (Daring Greatly, Brené Brown) where we often feel like we’ll never be enough, Christ will always be enough and he will give us exactly what we need. He is our Daddy and he loves for us to tell him our problems and ask Him for things, even when we feel like he already knows our desires. The verse I relentlessly prayed during this past summer’s three-week adventure in the DR again rings in my head:
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:24)
Thank you to anyone reading who prayed for and supported our team this year. God is doing great things in the DR and I have been incredibly blessed to witness and experience them!
May 2017 be a year where you see God’s provision in a new way…where you prepare for 70 and he overwhelmingly provides for 200.
Written by: Katie Bianchini, Lipscomb Women’s Cross Country and Track
Follow the Team: http://www.lipscombsports.com/wcc