Unending Affair

Dear Mexico,

Yes, I’m writing another post in the Missions Work Category with the tag of Mexico. Even though I’ve written so many that my sister thinks it must be the theme of my blog. Although it’s been two years since I saw beautiful you. Yes, two years. Two years today since I got my last glimpse of the country that changed my almost-sixteen-year-old life.

This letter is going to be brief. After all, I’ve written about you countless times. Seriously. My English, Writing, Spanish, and Socials teachers as well as my test markers all got to read about you. My friends and family do everything they can from rolling their eyes as I recall both the funny and heartfelt memories for the umpteenth time. Even though it’s been two years and my life has been filled with other experiences since, I still can’t stop thinking about you, Mexico.

You just taught me so, so much. Everyday, I think about you. There’s your beauty and the way it made me more beautiful. The landscape, the people, the art. There was the poverty and how it enriched me. I saw houses tinier than any house in Canada–but they were yellow and happy. There was the love that welcomed me with open arms. Your people who just plain and simple cared for me. The way Besenta bandaged my knee, the children who didn’t want me to leave, and Jorje with his smile. I learned about beauty, wealth, and love from you.

And now, well, I’m left to ponder it all. Almost from the first day I met you, I was in love. I said back then that I knew I’d come back. But now it’s been two years and I’m still at home. I was supposed to be back with you right now, but I’m not. And from what I can see of my future, I won’t be with you again for a long time, if ever. I miss you. It’s not what I imagined.

But I won’t give up on you. I never could. I will pray and write and dream. If I never see you again, I know that my first and only trip was exactly what I needed. No matter what, I’ll always love you. It’s an unending affair of amor. You are my first love for foreign countries and missions work. You are the one I will tell my children and grandchildren about one day. I love you, Mexico.




Say Hello Not Good-Bye

A couple of months ago, church was just hard. I had to say good-bye to dreams and learn how to welcome reality.

I walked to church that morning because we had car troubles. The sun shone brightly for the first time in weeks and it felt good to stretch my legs. My family had gone other ways since the car broke down so I was alone. I contemplated the morning ahead of me: helping out in Sunday school and running away from the question that was sure to come. The question that I would have to say no to. The question that hurt me so much. Are you going to Mexico?


Before I turned into the parking lot, I saw a little girl dash out of her door dressed in pajamas. She began to unravel the Christmas lights from a little tree in the yard. I don’t know why, but this caught my eye.


For some reason, I stuck around after church. I don’t know why I did it. I’d already made my decision not to go to Mexico so there was really no point.

“Are you coming to the meeting today?” my youth pastor asked as I finally went to the foyer to leave.

“No,” I replied. “I-I’m not going to Mexico.”

He looked disappointed. “Why not?”

“I just don’t really feel called to go. I don’t think God wants me to go this year. I’m not needed and I don’t need it, as much as I want to go.” I said. “And believe me — I want to go to Mexico more than anything. But I really just don’t think He wants me to go.”

“Well, that sounds like a good reason. We’ll miss you though,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said through tears. I watched the others enter the activity room where the meeting was to be held. Some of them had gone before, some of them were new. I envied my friends and asked God why. “Why can’t I go back? I’ve dreamed of it for so long? Why can’t you call me back? Please God! Why do I have to say good-bye again?”

But the Good defeated the bad and I heard His voice loudly and clearly…

“Don’t say good-bye. This is not the end. New things are coming. Good things. Say hello, not good-bye.”

I smiled. It was true. Yes, He was right. I put on my coat with a happy heart. Just because I wasn’t going to Mexico didn’t mean that God had forgotten about me. He was calling me somewhere else. Somewhere better for me. And who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to Mexico someday. It doesn’t matter though. Saying good-bye is irrelevant. Hello is the word to use for the future He has planned out.


As I walked back, I saw the girl who had been unfastening Christmas lights earlier. Now she was drawing a chalk house in the drive way. I was reminded of my younger days of chalk castles and neighbour friends and I felt the nostalgia and sadness come back. But only for a moment.

“Hello,” I said, smiling at the girl as I went.

“Hi,” she replied, looking up from her chalk.

I grinned. I’d said hello not good-bye. I can do this. I really can.


I wrote this post back in February, but over these last few months, these feelings have become even truer as I prepare to graduate and start a new life at university in the fall. While I am very excited to begin this new life, I am also apprehensive. I don’t want to say good-bye to everything I’ve known and loved.

But God is showing me once more that life is about saying hello, not good bye. Today, I was officially accepted into university after months of second guessing and debating. With enthusiasm, I said Hello and Thank you, God!

God has a wonderful future planned out for you, too! Don’t ever forget that He has your very best in mind. He loves you. So say Hello and not Good-bye.

Because Love Is More

“When I was in Columbia…”

“On my trip to Cambodia…”

“In the Ukraine…”

I stared at all three of them in awe. It was my third night at the acting school and I had found, for the first time in the whole year that I had been back from Mexico, three people who felt exactly how I did about missions trips. Three people who had learned to love and be loved, give and receive, and had been humbled and changed on a trip just like mine. It was the answer to my prayers! My heart jumped and I listened intently to the people who also knew that love is more important than anything else.

Between each of us, we’d gone to four very different places. However, we could all identify with the same thoughts and feelings. We all knew that people are people wherever you go, and that the border you cross or the language you speak doesn’t change who you are in Christ. We understood that love is more relevent when you put differences aside and realize that you are quite similar to someone else.

There were stories of little children, beautiful children, who had taught us so much. Some of us shared stories of the power of the words, “I love you,” spoken by kids that we barely knew. We discussed cute, little children who clung to our knees and wouldn’t let us go because they loved us, too. Our hearts wept for the ones left behind, and inside each excited pair of eyes there was a tear for the loss that we had without them. We knew that love is more radiant and beautiful than anything else.

We each knew the interchangeable language that does not need to be translated and can never be misunderstood for we had spoken it on our trips. We spoke of times when there were no words needed because the other person knew. And, of course, there were the wonderful days when words were understood, because love just isn’t a foreign language. It was evident to us that the language of love is more understandable, true, and lovely than any other dialect in the world.

Most of all, we knew about the wealth of each country. We talked of the golden smiles and rich laughter, marvelous moments and wealthy words in Mexico, Cambodia, Columbia, and the Ukraine. We knew that money is not the most important thing, and that the true wealth of a person or country is not measured in coins or bills. The size of your house, the car that you have, or the clothes that you wear don’t define that either. Yes, we knew that love is more valuable and wealthy than any pot of gold.

Thank you God, for these friends and that the love that you sent us is indeed more than anything else in this world.

Thank You…

My last entry ended my 9-post-series on my time in Mexico last summer. It has been a wonderful time of sharing for me in which I felt encouraged, and was able to cherish many lovely memories. Thank you all for being a part of that! As I wrote, the culture shock from my trip was quite painful and releasing my thoughts and reading your encouraging comments on them has been a great help to me.

As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens a friend.

Proverbs 27:17


Part 9: Because Love Is Beautiful

This is the last part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer, a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first eight parts, click here

There was one word that came to my mind and lips throughout my journeys in Mexico. There is one word to describe it all, the heart ache and pain, the joy and the smiles. From the moment  our van went through the Mexican border, past the waving guards and into the mountainous, dry land strewn with garbage and ragged houses; through the hours of tears and pain and emptiness and into the light and joy of the Father; during the time spent laughing and playing, painting and eating with children who had crooked teeth and wore hammey downs with holes, uneducated women and men who spent their savings on alcohol and right on to my tears and memories of that place where it all happened, all I can say is this “It Is Beautiful.”

Yes, beauty, it is the one word to describe it all.  I was right when I told Coolio “Mexico es muy bonito.” I wasn’t just trying to make the woman with the toothless smile or Cadira with her crooked teeth and dirty shirt happy by telling them “Su es bonita.” I wasn’t lying when I told people back home that the Mexican culture is beautiful. Because it is just that. My experience was beautiful, the people are beautiful, the place is beautiful. Even the tears and even the pain, the imperfections and the garbage too. Yes, it is beautiful.

Why is it beautiful?  The streets are covered with garbage, the houses are small and often without roofs but the earth is just indescribably pretty, and the buildings are colourful. The people may not be able to afford braces or fancy clothes but they sure know how to smile and make a person feel loved. It’s beautiful because the Mexican landscape is dry and rich, and people wear smiles and welcome you to their country. It is beautiful because God is beautiful and Love is Beautiful.

Yes, if I were to pin point one thing, one action, one picture that made it so attractive I would say that it was love. Colour and richness make objects beautiful and that is what the Mexican land had. Open arms and big smiles make a person beautiful and that is what the Mexicans have. They are beautiful because Love is Beautiful.

When Coolio told me that he loved me, I was awed by his beauty. So few times in life do we ever tell others that we love them. I think that I can count on my fingers the number of people who have told me that they loved me and the same goes for myself. Often when I do say it, I say it with trepidation and fear. I always debate writing the word after a card or email, because the fear of love haunts me again. But why are we fearful? Why don’t we say it more? Love is Beautiful! And you know what, Mexicans know that because they told me that, not just in words but in their actions, from everything that they did and said throughout my trip.

Mexico may never reach the top three in world wealth, but it is rich in my mind. The government may have problems, the drug wars may prevent some people from visiting but I shall only identify Mexico with peace. The Mexicans that I met might not have had perfect smiles or designer clothes but the fact is, they did smile and they wore them with love and therefore, they are the most attractive people in the world. Why? They are beautiful because of love which is Beautiful.

Part 8: Growing Pains

This is the eighth part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer, a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first seven parts, click here.

I may have left Mexico behind physically, but emotionally, my heart remained under a palm tree for the rest of the summer.

I stared at the computer screen, tears blurring my eyes as I tried in vain to write. I felt sad that day and I wanted to write an equally miserable poem to commiserate but the words just weren’t coming, just like the feelings that Mexico had conjured would not go away. All I could do now was cry…cry for the umpteenth time that summer, cry like I’d done on and off for no reason at all since the middle of July as I thought about the place and the people I’d left behind.

I didn’t understand how I felt at all. I’d had the best trip imaginable yet talking and thinking about it made me cry. It had been almost two months since I’d left but I still felt homesick for Mexico. In my mind I always wanted to tell others about my trip but as soon as I’d start, I would feel hurt, rejected, and sad.

I was upset that I wasn’t in “proper culture shock.” You see, I’d always been told that when you go to a place like Mexico where houses are small and people wear rags, that you’ll come back a changed person. I’d heard that first time missionaries always arrive home with a fresh perspective on wealth because they are touched by the poverty and it makes them believe that they are horribly materialistic and should give up everything. People had told me that I would feel sorry for the people, and that I would cry for the sad, little children without toys and the families that don’t have roofs over their heads.

When I got back, the sentiments were no different. People expected me to be changed in this way and to feel sorry for the people I’d met. One of the most common questions I received was “What did you think of the poverty?”

But in truth, I did not feel sorry for anyone. Although I had seen the small houses and children who begged for hair things and stickers, dirt roads strewn with garbage and a boy who loved his flashlight, I did not cry myself to sleep for it or lecture my family and friends on how they should be more grateful. And to the infamous question I could only say: “What poverty?”

There is no doubt that some people come back affected in these aforementioned ways but I did not. I came back sad but not for the children without toys but because I could no longer see those children. I came back feeling sorry but not over the house sizes, but because the size of my heart was not nearly as big as those of many of the people I’d met. I came back angry but not that I have more money than many in Mexico do but because I valued money more than love.

And why was I in pain over this realization? It was impossible to see then, but I’d left a piece of myself–of my heart, in fact, back in Mexico with the people I’d grown to love in the short time that I was there. I’d scattered pieces of my heart all across the places I’d been and with those that I had met. I was never to retrieve these pieces again and I could only look at them vaguely through the memories I had, the pictures I’d taken, and the rosary around my neck. I had received yes, but I had also given and though this giving had made my heart bigger I needed time to adjust, time to grow. As my mom said, I had growing pains.

Part 7: The Power Of A Flashlight

This is the seventh part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer, a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first six parts, click here.

Have you ever been excited about a flashlight before? You know, one of those little plastic things that you flip on and off and use to bring light to a dark place? It’s something you’d turn on when the power goes out or as you’re walking at night..but you’d never turn it on in the bright afternoon sun of the Mexico sky when everything seems alright.

It was the end of our two-day build and we were cleaning and packing up as the little, two room house was finished when I noticed the power of the flashlight. At this point, I remembered my bag of gifts that I had brought for the family.  There were many things in that bag: baby wipes which I deemed very useful for this family who had a baby, pencils which would be nice for the children who enjoyed school, some toiletries, several tennis balls, a game of monkeys in a box and some cars which I was sure the boys would love and oh yes, a flashlight which had really been an extra one for me but since I hadn’t yet used the first one I doubted I’d use this one and so I thought I’d pop it in as a sort of extra thing. I didn’t really think about it too much. After all, it was just a flashlight! What could be so exciting about that? You can only use it after dark and really, when I thought about it a flashlight was quite a boring gift.

Now before I go on, I must introduce Jorje to you. I don’t think I’ve talked much about him before but he was very important to this trip. The twelve-year-old son of Besenta, Jorje was a favourite with everyone due to his bright smile and huge energy for others and his house. Of all the people, I think that he worked hardest to build that house. From painting the sides of the house, to standing next to my youth pastor helping on the roof, Jorje was always doing something. No, his hands were never idle whether they carried a hammer or a plate of yummy Mexican food for his Canadian friends. And he was always, always so positive! If you weren’t already smiling, Jorje would make you smile by his own big, grin. Even thinking of him now makes me smile.

Jorje and his contagious smile.

Although Jorje and I had hit it off immediately, I remember feeling a bit embarrassed about giving him these things. I could play the ‘”goody giver” at home when I packed Samaritans purse boxes or purchased a goat from World Vision but now, with Jorje, this boy that I I knew, my friend whom I’d come to love and who was my equal, it just felt weird to give him “charity.” I had never thought about it before but I was a very proud person for though I’d always considered my efforts to be humble, I had actually thought of myself as the jubilant giver who helped needy people. Looking at Jorje though, I knew that he did not need my help. He was the one who made me smile, and the one with the hand for the hammer, not me. How could I give him this gift now? I wondered.

Eventually, I simply handed him the things, explaining in motions and broken Spanish that they were for his family and him. Jorje accepted graciously and we awkwardly parted ways. I could tell that he saw some of what I had been feeling and it shamed me to think this…that he had seen my pride. What could I do though? How was I supposed to know that my gifts were not as needed as I had thought?

Jorje, showing off his new game. 

A few minutes later, as I was cleaning up, I saw, to my relief, that Jorje was enjoying the things that I’d given him. However, he wasn’t going for the game or the cars just now. No, to my shock, he ripped off the flashlight packaging with gusto, turned it on and ran around with it, shining the light everywhere with a big smile bursting from his face.

I smiled too, laughed even, as did everyone around me. Any of us could have told Jorje that he should save his flashlight batteries for later as he obviously didn’t need it now when the sun was at its height. But none of us wanted to for his face was too happy, too joyful, too beautiful, too rich and no one wanted to mar that expression.

It wasn’t until later that evening that I realized just how much I had seen with Jorje’s flashlight, even though the sun had apparently been shining. I remembered how proud I had been, and how confident I was that I could cure every little problem I came accross. I had unconciously thought that because Mexicans didn’t have as much as I did, that they were poor and consequently, unhappy. As the “rich” and obviously contented person, I was the one who could save them. Oh how little I knew then.

But I saw it on that day…the picture that I had been missing the whole time….the picture that I so desperately needed to see….the picture that Jorje showed me…

I wanted to help others and to love them too but I was proud, self-seeking, and materialistic. Even though I denied it, I wanted to recieve acknowledgement for every good work that I did and I thought that money was what made you happy and wealthy and because of this “great richness” that I had, I was the one who could transform the people of Mexico. I wanted to be the light.

But I wasn’t that light like I thought with pride that I was. No, I was darkness disguised by light so that I couldn’t see what was wrong with me. Then, I went to Mexico…I met the people and discovered their riches of love, kindness, and friendliness…I realized that the only one who was poor was me as Jorje shone his flashlight onto my proud heart.

Part 6: Love Is Not A Foreign Language

This is the sixth part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer,  a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first five parts, click here.

One of the biggest worries of a missionary or anyone who is going to a country where another language is spoken, is how communication is going to happen. When I went to Mexico, I was no exception–although I had been learning the language for the past year I still only knew a very beginner level and did not feel that I would be able to have all of the conversations that I needed to have.

I laugh when I think of this now because, oh how wrong I was! What on earth was I thinking that I wouldn’t be able to communicate properly? No, I didn’t become fluent as soon as I crossed the border nor did the Mexican people magically speak English. The solution is simply this–love is not a foreign language like we so often make it out to be.

I was picking up garbage at our first outreach when a  girl in a  grey t-shirt with a picture of the American flag on it and a knit bag around her shoulder came up to me and started speaking in fluent Spanish. My brain panicked as I didn’t know what she was saying, what she wanted or what to say back. I tried to use what I knew of Spanish and listened to her and I finally figured out that she wanted to help! Great! But what do I say now? I thought, panicking at one of my first all-Spanish interactions. I stuttered and mumbled for a bit, explaining that I only spoke a bit of Spanish before she finally said simply “Si?” and I replied with the same response, almost laughing at how silly I had been to forget the word for yes! She smiled happily and together we walked around the neighbourhood, up and around the little hill, picking up candy wrappers and pop cans and putting them in the big bag that I carried. By and by some other girls came. I would say words like “Bien” and “Gracias” and we all smiled a lot. Later my friend and I went and joined the soccer game, I told her that I liked her bag and asked her if she had made it (I actually don’t remember how I did this one!) Then we handed out the hair things and stickers that I had brought, and she watched us do the dances that we’d practiced. Finally, it was time for us to go–she asked me if she could have the remaining stickers and this time I remembered my “Si.” I also gave her a comb that I had to which she replied with a big grin and a “Gracias.” We said adios with a big hug and a smile.

My first Mexican amigas and me.

I was handing out stickers and trying to be friendly and meet new people at that same outreach when I spotted a shy little girl by the bouncy castle. I offered her a heart sticker and she shyly nodded her head. Placing a big, pink heart on her hand I smiled and said “Amor” (love.) I watched her face light into a smile.

This little girl was just adorable!

We played hide and go seek and duck duck goose. I ran around with them on my back for hours, skipping and jumping with their little bodies on top of mine with other children by my side, clamouring for my attention, begging to be next. We ate lunch together, side by side. I helped a little girl with her banana. I took pictures with them. We laughed, we smiled, we talked. Then we played some more, I ran with them on my backs again. And even though I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, I still hated to go. I would have run with them for hours if I only could have stayed. And we hugged big hugs as we said “Adios.”

One of my best memories ever…

We painted together, Coolio and me. We talked about the things that we liked such as sports, school, and church with the knowledge I had for the conjugating the verb gustar and the little vocabulary I knew. He was patient with me when I stumbled and when I was slow. We smiled and we laughed. Before he left, he asked my Mexican friend how to say something in English. He turned to me and said “I love you Elizabeth!”

Wonderful Coolio, with some friends, outside of his church.

I stood in the chairs of church, listening to the songs sung in the beautiful Spanish language that I knew little of, taking in the atmosphere before me: two or three Mexican families, in addition to my team, smiling, singing and totally on fire for God. The pastor, a woman about five feet tall, read verses and said prayers in Spanish, loving God with her whole heart as she did so. We performed a drama for them and they all clapped when it ended and the girl went back to God. They sympathized and clapped again over my friend’s testimony and replied with Amens to my youth pastor’s translated sermon. They sang again and I watched and listened, feeling the love of the room even though I did not know the language. A little boy looked up at me from his place in front, and I smiled. He reached his hands up and we clapped our hands together. I looked up to see the pastor and I was worried that she would not like what I was doing but instead, she smiled broadly in approval. They invited us to the beach and we spent the afternoon there with them, eating lunch and taking in the beauty of Mexico together. When it was time to go they wanted a picture with us. The pastor hugged me good-bye, we all smiled, we all laughed.

When I look at these memories, I often wonder how they happened. When I think on them, it seems like I said so much to these people when really, the most that I ever said was hello, how are you and what do you like to do. But I guess that’s because there is more to loving others than that. Smiling, laughing and touching are things that anyone, of any culture, language, or country has the ability to do. Love is universal. It is not limited because of where you were born or what language you speak. Love is boundless, it is not restricting. Most importantly love is beautiful because of the God who created us for that very purpose–yet, so often we forget how to love, and how to say those words. The language of love has sadly been lost in our society by the foreign words of hate and evil that have no place in our lives.

If I learned just one thing in Mexico though it is this: we were born to love and because of that, we can love no matter what. My friends who helped with the garbage taught me that. The children at the VBS who clamoured to ride on my back and hugged me good bye taught me that. And precious Coolio, who told me that he loved me taught me that. No, love is not a foreign language.

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