Guest Post from Sarah: Why Missions

SarahGallagher

Sarah, from her trip to the Czech Republic with SHARE. Photo courtesy Sarah Gallagher.

This post is a guest post from Sarah Gallagher, my sister and partner in non-crime for the Hungary mission trip. If you missed earlier posts about the upcoming trip, check them out under the Hungary 2019 category. Other than deleting Oxford commas and adding links to appropriate resources she mentioned, this post is unedited.

What does everyone want more than anything else?  The answer seems obvious and yet obtuse: everyone wants to have friends, to be in relationships, and to avoid loneliness.  Solitary confinement is the most severe form of punishment. Many cases of depression, severe anxiety and other mental illnesses can be attributed to loneliness.  And still, most of us would say that we feel lonely sometimes, that our relationships have conflict, that our friends occasionally hurt us.

God created humans to be in relationships, both with one another and with Him.  In fact, God himself is in relationship. No human fully understands how the trinity works, but somehow the three persons of God (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God) are in relationship with one another (see, for example, John 3:35).  Not only that, but God created humans to be close to Him, to be intimate friends with Him. This relationship without conflict is what made the Garden of Eden perfect; God and humans were living in intimate friendship without any dissension.

In contrast, humans feel lonely because of conflict.  We do things that create rifts in relationships, build walls around our hearts and protect ourselves from hurt.  Others do things to us that make us feel like we need to protect ourselves from being hurt. Christ followers would call these things sin.  Sin is an action or failure of action that puts a barrier in our relationships. Those actions or failures of action put barriers in our relationship with God as well, although we might not always be aware of that.  Sin is the opposite of love.

Throughout history, humans have sinned.  No matter how well-intentioned one might be, there comes a point at which sin happens.  We have times of selfishness, thoughtlessness, carelessness or perhaps even maliciousness.  Sometimes we do things because we are reacting to someone else’s sin; sometimes our actions propagate someone else’s sin. Either way, the result is the same: we create cracks in relationships. There is conflict, disagreement, sometimes even termination of friendships.

No matter how hard humans try, we cannot seem to get over ourselves enough to obtain what we most want – the lovely company of other people and the beautiful company of God.

Most religions espouse a view of God up on a mountain, with people trying their hardest to get to Him.  There are many paths up the mountain: Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, etc. All paths ultimately lead to God, and humans are striving to get up the mountain.

Christianity is different.  God knows that humans cannot get up the mountain under our own power.  We are too selfish, too careless, too thoughtless, and sometimes even too malicious.  We are not enough like God to climb the mountain to Him by our own strength.

So, God came down the mountain to us.  As the person of Jesus, God came down into the valley.  In order to allow us to be in relationship with Him, Jesus died and paid the price for our selfishness, carelessness, thoughtlessness and maliciousness.  He did what we could not do. He lived for 33 years without any selfishness, carelessness, thoughtlessness or maliciousness.

(This is not my mountain analogy, by the way.  I got it from a book by David Platt called Radical, and I think others have used it, too.)

Here’s the kicker, though.  Jesus’s death is only part of it.  Really, if you think about it, everyone dies.  What’s the big deal about death?

The big deal is this: Jesus rose from the dead.  He is the only lead figure of any religion to have risen from the dead. (If you want more information about Jesus’s resurrection, I would point you firstly to the biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and then to A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.)

Christ followers believe that we can live in relationship with God and with each other because of God’s grace that he showed to us by coming to Earth, living a perfect life, dying and rising from the dead.  We are not trying to get up the mountain. We are just riding the ski lift that God built. God is making us more like Him as we ride.

This is amazing!  It is life-changing, and Christ followers want every person on Earth to have the same joy and peace that Christ followers experience.  Missions are about sending out love and peace and joy into the world in tangible ways (like building wells, feeding people, buying them livestock and teaching them to read) and in less-tangible ways (like listening to people, being a friend and sharing the source of my joy).

(Now, am I joyful and peace-filled all the time?  Definitely not. I still sin; I’m still selfish, thoughtless, careless and sometimes malicious.  But I’m on God’s ski lift, hopefully becoming less selfish, less thoughtless, less careless and less malicious than I used to be.)

And that’s it.  Missions are about loving people.  They are about doing God’s will on Earth as it is done in heaven (see Matthew 6:9-13).


Thank you Sarah for sharing your perspective! 

Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.
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Why Hungary? Why Now?

IMG_4789If you missed the news, I’m going to Hungary. Now, your regularly scheduled programming. 

Many people who know me might recognize that I’m not a strong candidate for missionary work. Over the last 10 years of “adulthood” (what’s adulting?), I rarely attended church (my current faith community is the first consistent one I’ve had since high school), I don’t “send prayers” on Facebook (“thinking of you” is more my style), and my version of a transcendent experience is to stand on the top of a mountain and listen to the wind.

But I do believe in education. I do believe in a higher power. And I do believe that when we come together as community, amazing things can happen.

Given that information, why would I take more than a week off work, fly half-way across the world and spend several days in a town that should probably be visited in the summer instead of February?

Let’s play pretend for just a moment.

If you were living abroad, doing work that you were called to do, there are certain things you forfeit in order to do that work. Some of them are relatively minor, like missing a niece’s birthday party or not having access to a particular kind of candy. Other things are bigger.

Now let’s pretend you have a child, and that child is consistently mispronouncing some letters. They’re young, so maybe this is normal. Maybe it’s not. What if it’s not? In the United States, you could easily set up an assessment with an English speech-language pathologist and get the whole matter sorted out, either through assurance that it’s nothing to worry about at this stage of development or through ongoing therapy.

But you don’t live in the United States. You are an expat in a country that does not speak English. How are you supposed to find out if your English-speaking child is developing properly linguistically without access to an English SLP? Do you make an expensive trip back to the States? But if it’s an ongoing problem that requires therapy, do you keep making those trips? Do you quit your work and move home?

Enter SHARE. At the conference I will be attending and volunteering at, families will have access to educational resources that might otherwise be completely inaccessible to them in their current locations. Lack of resources is a big reason why families stop their work overseas or need to buy expensive trips back to the United States to get assistance.

The young child with a speech impediment is just one example, but these kinds of issues crop up in every age group at every development level.

My role at the conference will be to assist families with teenagers in navigating the college experience. At this point, I don’t know what that is going to look like exactly, but I’m looking forward to helping these young adults develop plans for their futures and start to compile resources of their own and questions to ask as they start the process of pursuing higher education in the United States.

Traditional, four-year college is not for everyone. But education is. Whether you’re looking at a 5-year-old who is learning to tie his shoes or an 18-year-old who want to take a 12-week phlebotomy course while her best friend is gearing up to get a degree in civil engineering, education gives us freedom to make choices. The content of education is important, but teaching people to be learners is of much greater importance.


Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.

Going To Hungary

Megan Brincks

I so rarely share pictures of myself, but this one is personal, so let’s get personal! [Photo by Rachel Florman Creative]

There’s a lot to squish into one little blog post, but I’m going to do my best to keep this short, sweet and not too tedious.

Here’s the punch line: at the end of February, I’m headed to Hungary for a short-term mission trip. (Pause for reaction.) I will be working with missionary families stationed across Europe, the Middle East and Asia to navigate the transition of their teenage children into college life in the United States.

So let’s back up a little. My sister, Sarah, is a speech-language pathologist, and she served two years ago at a conference in Prague. For a week, she screened children whose families were concerned about their language development. When SHARE asked her to come back, it was a resounding yes.

Obviously, I asked if I could tag along and play tourist for the week.

Well, when some of the event organizers found out I work in higher education, they asked if I would be willing to assist families with older children for the transition into college.

Obviously, I said yes.

Obviously (maybe?), I was, and still am, incredibly nervous about this. I have never participated in a mission trip before, and “my religion is kindness” still sums up most of my theology.

However, as I sat with this decision, I felt in my gut that I have something to offer these families, and they need guidance. By amazing happenstance, I have that knowledge they need.

One thing I’ve been learning (or re-learning) lately is that signs don’t always come in big, neon signs. Sometimes, it comes as little whispers in the dark. But when the universe, God, the higher power, whatever you want to call it, offers you a big, neon sign, YOU LISTEN!

And although I will also be sharing some photos on social media before, during and after the trip, I woke up this morning with a whisper that said, “You need to write about this, Megan.”

So here I am. Rekindling the blog, seeing where all this goes, and just doing my best to stay aligned with what I’m feeling called to do in every area of my life.

But Hungary. Here are some things you might want to know if you follow along, which I really hope you do!

What: This conference will be in a little resort town named Siofok, Hungary, at the end of February. Missionary families from all over Europe, the Middle East and Asia are welcome, and it’s hosted by SHARE Education Services.

Who: My sister Sarah and I will be volunteering at the conference, and one of our aunts will also be joining us.

How to Follow: I will share a lot here and on my social media (Instagram @meganunedited is a public account; my Facebook is more for family and friends). That said, the privacy of these families, just like the privacy of my current students, is a top priority. No one’s personal stories other than my own will be shared without express approval.

How to Help: First, and foremost, please think of us and send us light and love as we work to help these families to the best of our abilities.

Second, you can follow along here and on social media to be part of the support system. I would love advice from anyone who’s gone on a mission trip of any kind, especially something like this, and any tips from anyone who’s visited Hungary.

Third, and let me be perfectly transparent about this point, this trip is happening whether or not we raise even a dollar of funding. But if you are interested in helping financially, please email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com, and I can send you information on the church with which we are partnering so that all donations are tax deductible. If we raise more money than the trip costs, all remaining funds will stay with that church for future mission trips.

I might talk more about funding in an upcoming post, but for now, just know that I’m excited to share this journey with all of you and using it as an excuse to get back into regular creative writing.

Also… Hungary! Three months from TODAY I will be in Budapest.

Camping With Kelley

img_69481With my head tilted uncomfortably against the back of the camp chair, and I stare at the sky above our little clearing in the woods. Even though there are no clouds to obscure the view, the stars don’t pop like I thought they might – we’re too close to San Antonio, and the moon is too bright. The combination leaves the campsite comfortably dark, but not oppressively so.

Until I’m in nature, I forget how bright the night is. In the city, night means darkness, shadowy corners, a hyper awareness to every sound.

Among the low trees of this Texas forest, cicadas, tree frogs and crickets chorus loudly around the campsite.

It’s been awhile since I’ve slept outside, although I’ve started opening the balcony door to my bedroom to avoid running the air conditioning. I’m afraid I won’t sleep well, that the shockingly loud noises of the woods will distract me, but sitting there soothes me, makes my soul quiet.img_69611

The wood we get to make a fire and cook dinner is wet, but I learn that perseverance is key. And dryer lint. And lighter fluid. This is not an exercise in suffering.

Thankfully, we brought chips to snack on and music to listen to. As we work on the fire and prepare the vegetables for roasting, conversation swings far and wide – the past, present, future. In between conversation that flows only the way two old friends who don’t see each other nearly enough, I learn about camping. How does this work? What do you do about this? What’s your favorite kind of that?

Night creeps over the camp, but it’s hard to tell for awhile because those city lights maintain a perpetual twilight to the south.

Finally, we eat something so delicious, mostly because we waiting so patiently for it to sizzle in it’s tin foil in the hard-earned embers. Marshmallows come after, with squares of delicious chocolate.

After midnight, exhausted, we crawl into our sleeping bags, still in the middle of all those sounds, but it’s quiet in the late hour. Warm and cozy, my mind is quiet for the first time in what feels like months, just soaking in the cool air on my nose, the warmth in the bed, the subtle sounds outside the tent.

img_69511Sleep, better than I usually sleep, comes easily, probably because we stayed up so late, partly because I feel surprisingly safe. And partly because my cat isn’t purring in my ear for a 3 a.m. scratch behind the ears.

It’s bright when I wake up, but filtered through the tent, I feel cozy and snug, like it would be okay to laze around in bed like I do at home on a Saturday morning.

Quick trip to the semi-modern bathroom, then light up the stove for eggs. It was warm in the tent, but the cool morning air sends a chill through me, and I’m thankful for the heat. We’re quiet in the morning as we wake up, a routine we got used to back in college as roommates. Oh, how I miss the easy flow of that time.

We undo everything we worked so hard to construct the night before – sweep the tent, pull stakes, fold, fold, fold, roll. Then, almost suddenly, everything is packed away in neat packages how we brought it all in. Haul it all back to the car, everything neatly in the trunk, day packs out and water bottles filled.

Ready for the next adventure – an 8 mile hike on rocky ground to see dinosaur footprints. It’s warmer by the time we start hiking, and I’m glad I shed my sweatshirt. Through the trees, the conversations continue – hiking, flowers, birds, trees, places we dream of, places we loved visiting, philosophy on travel and relationships and jobs and careers and the intense pressure from all sides to not miss out on a single moment of this glorious and precious life.img_69741

At the top of a ridge, we look down and see the footprints from so long ago. Across the way, clouds hover above the next treeline. We are on top of the world, but also nestled into this little pocket.

And there it is – this moment is incredibly unique, and we are one of a kind. Yet, we also are so insignificant. This moment is everything and nothing. And that’s the beauty of nature.

Castles Part 2: Singer Castle

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View of the castle as you exit the boat

After exploring Boldt Castle (go read Castles Part 1 if you missed it), we hopped on another boat and rode for about an hour to Dark Island, home to Singer Castle.

Riding along the St. Lawrence River feels surreal, like we were transported to an alternate universe in a storybook. I’ve always lived in landlocked places with little water culture. Sure, I know people with boats and houses by the lake. But to travel down water wide enough that you aren’t quite sure if you’re seeing islands or the main land, dotted with houses on rocky outcrops, I knew we were headed somewhere a little mythical.

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Every window has a view like this

We bounced along the river, always on the United States side of the buoys that mark the Canada/New York border, until we started to see a bright red roof in the distance on one particular island. Dark Island, where Singer Castle sits, is not dark at all. It’s bright and lovely and one could reasonably watch the sun rise in the United States and set in Canada every day of the year. If you lived there. Which would be terrible in the winter because the river freezes, and I’m not sure how you get to the store for coffee and soup and dog food.

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Secret Staircase

Singer Castle was built by Frederick Bourne (no relation to Jason, I assume), the fifth president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The castle is dotted with historic Singer sewing machines, all in pristine condition.

But the most important thing to know about Singer Castle must be confronted immediately: there’s a secret fucking staircase. So many of my childhood dreams came true when I found out and witnessed this staircase. It goes up roughly through the center of the house, so many of the rooms can be accessed by the stone steps.

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One of the many guest rooms in the castle

So, let’s say, you’re a fancy pants Bourne relative, staying at Singer Castle, and you suddenly, in the middle of the night, get a hankering for some cookies or milk or maybe a chat with a maid. You could ring a bell, and a servant would come up through the secret staircase and bring you whatever you wanted! Magic!

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Singer Castle’s backyard

Back to reality: Dark Island was designed and built as the ultimate playground for visitors. There was a squash court, a rose garden, boat house, library, tennis court, hunting and more.

The castle was inspired by the novel Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott. Hence the secret staircase. And dungeon. And towers. The Bourne family used the castle for many years as a summer residence, and they put a premium on entertaining their guests. After Frederick died, his daughter, Marjorie, took over ownership, and she and her family continued to spend summers on Dark Island until her death. After that, the island and castle changed hands several times to different charitable organizations (including one period where it was rumored to be owned by a secret society) until 2001, when it was sold to a tour company that continues to work on restoration and preservation of the island for tourism.

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Boat house

To recap: I’m not saying I want to live in a castle because there are plenty of really annoying things about castle life. Servants sneaking up on you through the secret staircase and watching you through panels in the walls. Visitors asking you all sorts of pesky questions. Cleaning a house with a million bedrooms. Figuring out how to buy dog food in February.

But what home doesn’t have its problems? Life in a castle is still life. So maybe live life in a castle with a SECRET STAIRCASE!

 

 

Castles Part 1: Boldt Castle

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Boldt Castle, Heart Island, New York

Did you know that there are two castles on United States soil that are so glorious and wonderful and mysterious that I want to crawl up inside the attics and stare out the window? There are probably actually more than two, but this summer I had the glorious opportunity to visit two castles in the Thousand Islands region of New York.

The first one we (me + some family + family of family) visited is Boldt Castle on Heart Island, which sits in Alexandria Bay. A quick 10 minute boat ride took us from the mainland to Heart Island, which is actually in the shape of a heart.

The Island was owned by George Boldt, a New York City millionaire associated with the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. George and his wife, Louise, spent many summers on the island in the early 1900s, and they had a lodge there that appeared to be roughly the size of a modern-day mega-mansion.

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All the doors and windows were open to a cool river breeze

 

 

Alas, a private island (uh, make that multiple private islands) were not enough for Mr. Boldt, and he set out to build an actual castle on Heart Island. He planned to give it to his wife on Valentine’s Day of 1904, but barely a month before, Louise died. Construction on the castle stopped immediately, and George never went back to Heart Island.

After decades of neglect, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased the island and began restoring it for visitors and posterity. They kept as many details as possible from the original plans, and the different rooms are set up meticulously in the style of the day.

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Amazing detailed work throughout the castle

As you climb higher and higher into the castle, restoration is not complete, and you can still find graffiti from the years of abandonment.

 

Nonetheless, it’s a gorgeous property, everything decorated in hearts and harts (the original name was Hart Island; George altered the physical shape of the island to resemble a heart before renaming it). But there’s also a haunted feeling to the space. You walk into the ballroom and imagine the parties and laughter… and realize there was never any grand parties like in The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady. As you explore the bedchambers and find quaint window seats and imagine curling up with A Midsummer’s Night Dream, just to realize no one sat there pretending to take in Shakespeare and instead stared out the window enjoying the St. Lawrence River breeze.

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The Play House

 

Parts of the island feel lived in and loved. The playhouse (a baby castle in its own right) was used for several years before Louise died, and the vibe is different. It’s not refurbished, but it doesn’t feel sad.

The power house on the island is connected by an arched bridge from the island, but the structure itself looks as grand and magical as anything in the main castle. When arriving by boat, the power house is the first thing that sticks out, jutting away from the island. The trees surround the castle, but the power house is very noticeable.

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The utility closet

 

Boldt Castle and Heart Island were such a surprise. From pristine landscaping to the musty and creepy tunnels under the castle, Heart Island sparks the imagination – what was, what could have been, what will be? And, of course, how many maids would it have taken to keep the place clean?

Sand, Sand Everywhere

IMG_6732I used to take day trips all the time, but Midland, Texas, doesn’t have a lot of options for short excursions. It’s in the middle of everything… which is West Texas means it’s far from everything.

However, Monahans Sandhills State Park is a gem of picturesque dunes in the midst of flat, mesquite-dotted desert.

Although renting sleds to slide down the dunes is a lot of fun, on this particular trip, Flynn the Dragon and I just went and wandered and played. Dogs are welcome, as long as they stay on leash, and the park rangers will scold you for disobeying. However, I’ll confess I let Flynn romp around a little to get out some good energy.

The magic of the sandhills is that they are such a surprise. You pull in by the sign, pause at the visitor’s center, wondering if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. From the road, it looks like the rest of this part of Texas. As you follow the drive winding back away from I-20, you start to see glimpses, but the skepticism persists.IMG_6725

Then, you pull into the picnic parking area, are you start to see the prize: crisp, smooth hills, one after another after another, off into the distance, an occasional brush or tree interrupting the pristine landscape, but mostly just something straight out of a movie.

When you look closer, you start to see small tracks by bugs, snakes and birds. You see deeper impressions from people who walked there even just minutes ago, but mostly, it’s just marked by the wind making tiny, intimate wrinkles.

Go visit. Enjoy. Take water. Take a camera that doesn’t matter if it gets a little sandy.

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Want more photos? Visit me on Instagram @mbrincks989