Helping Not Hurting: Lesson 2

Last week I talked about how in the West, when preparing to go do service abroad, we forget that long-term change does not happen by coming in and “fixing” problems in a week or two. I then talked about some of my experiences in Cameroon thus far and how this struggle between long-term and short-term change manifests within our ministry. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, you can check it out here. Today, I want to go into the second lesson I have learned regarding how to help in the long-term. The interesting part about this lesson is that it actually does touch on short-term service and how that can be effective.

Lesson #2: Short-term service is effective ONLY when relationships are already in place.

Short-term service can be effective when there are already people within the culture we are trying to help. If there are people there who have already established relationships and will continue those relationships way past the time we leave, change can take place. This point came up recently during an orientation talk with some field visitors that would be potentially taking up long-term positions in Cameroon. As our field director talked about how any of the work that could now be implemented was solely because of all the work of people serving before us, I was brought back to my mission’s trip to Mexico (LINK) in Summer 2017.

I had the opportunity to go to Mexico and work with an organization called Doxa to build houses for families in the slums of Tiajuana. I found this to be one of the most impactful short-term missions trips I have ever been on because it felt like we were making a difference. The way Doxa works is that people who want us to build a house for them have to apply. Within the application process, they have to prove that they have a plot of land that we can build on and they also have to show some sort of proof of employment. This shows that the family will be able to maintain the house moving forward. I thought this was so smart because it ensures that the house isn’t just going to fall apart again after we leave.

IMG_0792Beyond that, Doxa has also been working in the same community for almost its entire time. One day, I was working on the roof of the house and I looked out and saw other Doxa houses that had the same bright colors and build. We were impacting this community, not just giving a temporary solution to this one family. Our Doxa representative who was working with us knew so many people in the neighborhood. As we drove through to our worksites people would wave and ask him how he was doing. The specific teams that were coming to Mexico may have been changing, but the project and the presence was ongoing.

It was because of the relationships that had been built through past groups coming and the Doxa workers that we were welcomed into the community and able to be effective.

I want to encourage everyone to find ways to serve and hope that this series does not discourage you. It’s important to do your research when finding organizations to work with to make sure that you’re leaving a lasting impact. It’s about finding ways that your resources and talents will go the furthest. That could mean sponsoring a child through Compassion or partnering with an organization like Doxa for a short-term trip or even committing your life to long-term work with missions like World Team. It’s not just about doing something to help; it’s about being effective in the ways we help.

Coffee of Kentucky

Within the past six months, I have traveled to Kentucky twice! My boyfriend’s (Peter’s) brother and sister-in-law (Matt and Becca) live there and his other sister (and my friend), Anna, goes to school there. I first flew out over Spring Break to see Anna at school and then I went again in August with Peter to visit. The majority of BOTH trips consisted mainly of going to coffee shops; and, honestly, I was more than okay with that. Anyway, here is my miniature guide to coffee of Kentucky (well, at least Lexington).

(1) Coffee Times I was lucky enough to get to Coffee Times on both of my trips to Kentucky. It’s located in a little strip-mall not too far from Matt and Becca’s house. It has a really relaxed vibe and the makeshift furniture makes it feel homey in a way. They hadIMG_0434 a wide variety of both drinks and snacks, which is always nice, because I know sometimes coffee places can be lacking on the food selection. They have an option to get either pita or veggies with a variety of dipping options including hummus, spinach dip, and beer cheese! Attached to the sitting area/bar of the coffee shop, they have a little store where you can buy TONS of different coffees or little knick-knacks. They had a wide array of COFFEE MUGS (I may or may not own upward of twenty mugs), which were fun to stroll through. Both times I went there I think I had tea—Chai the first time and a London Fog the second, but from trying Peter and Anna’s coffee I can attest that it is also delicious! If you’re in Lexington, I definitely recommend you stop by; but, don’t count on there being available seating right away!

(2) Chocolate Holler Chocolate Holler is a chocolate and coffee bar that I also had the opportunity to visit twice! One of the things that first stood out to me was the exceptional customer service. Both times I was in Chocolate Holler, the barista at the register was IMG_0431friendly and asked whether we were from the area, how we enjoyed Lexington, and just continued a general conversation. They also had board games and puzzles over in the corner for people to enjoy, which was always a plus with me! I liked the idea that they were really putting forward an environment that said, “Hey, come study, play games, hang out. Take your time!” When you first walked in, they had a “pay it forward” board, where you could donate a cup of coffee and then write something like, “for someone who had a bad day” and then post it on the board. If someone came in and looked at the board, they could pull that note and get a free drink! Such a cool idea! The first time I went I tried a Rose Latte, which was not my favorite (more of the combination than the coffee itself though). The second time I had a Snickerdoodle hot chocolate with espresso that was just perfect! Swing by their location in Lexington and maybe you could even get a free drink!

(3) Daily Offerings Daily Offerings has two locations in the Lexington area. The first one is the roastery, which is located in downtown Lexington. The newer location had just opened up in a shopping center called “The Venue.” Both locations have a very open, airyIMG_0433 feel with lots of windows that allow the sunshine to pour in. They are also animal friendly, which is great for Peter’s brother and sister-in-law who have the most lovable Golden Doodle in the world! The new location has a massive garage door that opens up to an outdoor courtyard area; but, sadly, it was raining when we were there. I really enjoyed taking some time to do work at both locations on my two trips. I’ve tried a variety of drinks, from iced lattes to chai teas and thus far I have not been disappointed. They too have a decent food selection, including a daily quiche that I tried. The only caution would be that they didn’t seem to have a ton of food in the store, so if you’re hungry, GO FOR IT! Daily Offerings is also a family owned business and they view it as “not just as a means to support our family, but also as an avenue to share our blessings.” SO encouraging! Stop by either (or both) of their locations as soon as you can!

(4) North Lime Coffee & Donuts This was my last coffee shop stop on my most recent trip to Lexington. Becca and I spent the morning there chatting and then Peter and Matt IMG_0432joined us a little while later. North Lime has locations in both Lexington and Louisville. They are known for not only their coffee, but also their delicious DONUTS! The donuts are made fresh each day, and whatever is out on display is what they still have for purchase. I tried their carrot cake donut, which I think might have just been a seasonal thing, but either way was absolutely delicious. In Lexington, they get all of their coffee from Nate’s Coffee Roaster. I tried a latte and then also a London Fog. For the London Fog they double-checked it was good, because they don’t often make them. Customer service points right there for sure! The shop itself has a decent amount of seating (although it was still kind of difficult to find someplace to sit). There is definitely more of a family-friendly vibe, with lots of families coming in and out with small children. I would say that if you are looking for somewhere low-key to study, this probably won’t be the place for you. However, if you want to chat with a friend and want some delicious (albeit, not the healthiest) breakfast, definitely swing by North Lime Coffee and Donuts.

If you like coffee, traveling, or find yourself in Kentucky, make sure to check out some (or all) of these amazing coffee shops! Comment if you know of any other good coffee shops in the Lexington area we should check out on our next trip.

Niagara Falls: Away from the Crowds

Niagara Falls is a beautiful place, but I would be lying to say it hasn’t been tainted by the flashy, gimmicky attractions that surround the natural wonder. Last summer, my boyfriend and I planned a road trip from New Jersey up to Niagara Falls through Saratoga Springs, NY and Charleston Lake, Ontario. We wanted to find a balance between the touristy aspect of the falls and seeing the natural un-tainted beauty of it.

We found the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass, $65 to experience all of Niagara’s “natural wonders and attractions.” Between that and discovering Niagara Glen, we found the perfect balance to really appreciate the falls. Overall, I thought the package was completely worth it and I really enjoyed the experiences! We were only in the falls for two full days, but I feel like we did everything we wanted to do and were included in our pass. It gave us about a 10% discount over buying each ticket individually, so that was an added bonus because we got to experience things we wouldn’t necessarily otherwise purchase. I’m going to give a quick summary of everything we did and some of our initial impressions.

One of the highlights of the pass was our access to the bus line. The line had two stops about a quarter mile from our Hostel and then could take you to any of the major attractions of the falls. It was 2-day WEGO Bus Access. It was so convenient and nice that we didn’t have to worry too much about getting from one place to another, we had my car, but parking would have been so much and walking would just take a lot of unnecessary time.

Hornblower Niagara Cruises This is basically the equivalent of the Maid of the Mist, IMG_7616except on the Canadian side. The big difference was that we wore red ponchos while the American side wore blue ponchos instead. It was crowded, but worth it, as you really got a first-hand look of the Horseshoe Falls. The mist turned into a straight downpour the closer we got to the falls. This was one of the first things we did, so we definitely opted to move from the touristy to the natural.

Whirlpool Aero Car This was our second stop and it was a really cool and unique experience. It was an aero car that traveled over the whirlpools. It was designed by Spanish engineer Leonardo Torres Quevedo and opened in 1916. The length of the cable is 3,5000 feet. The river actually makes a ninety-degree turn, so that’s how they can manage setting it up without crossing international borders. Except for about three seconds, we do technically cross the border, which is technically illegal, but it’s okay! Other than the crowds of people, it was a really enjoyable experience and I would definitely recommend trying it out.IMG_7632

Butterfly Conservatory Okay, so I’m terrified of birds, right? And I THOUGHT it was just birds, but apparently, it’s anything that has wings and flaps, so that’s including butterflies. We were walking through and I was doing okay until one flew near me, then I freaked out! It was to the point that I was hanging onto Peter’s arm so tightly and looked so terrified that people actually started laughing at me. As far as the process and how the took care of the butterflies, it was really fascinating. There were 180 meters of pathways and up to 45 different species of butterflies! I felt kind of bad for Peter making him leave, but I think he was mostly just amused by my terror.

Floral Show House This was one of our last stops on our two-day Niagara Falls tour. We stopped by before we headed to our final anniversary date dinner. It was absolutely gorgeous and incredible the different things they could create out of flowers. We both said that we would love to go back with someone who actually knows more about flowers because we were just kind of like, “that’s pretty,” but that’s all we knew. Personally, my favorite part was the birdhouses that were on the outside groups of the IMG_7463show house. They were absolutely gorgeous houses and I liked to pick out which one I would want to live in one day! The whole time we were making fun of my grandmother going, “These flowers are so gorgeous, why don’t MY flowers ever look like that?!”

Niagara Glen So this part of our exploration of Niagara Falls was actually not included in our package, but probably one of my favorites! Niagara Glen consists of 4 km (2.5 miles) of hiking paths and trails that explore the Carolinian Forest and at parts go directly along the Niagara River and the Niagara River Whirlpools. It was insane how beautiful it was and while some people were paying lots of money to take a touristy boat ride down to the rapids, we were able to walk right there and experience the natural beauty.


Mexico Missions: Back to Friendship

June 9th, 2017

This morning I once again woke up early, but this time it was sadly to pack, not journal. We had to be packed and ready to go before we went to the work site. Our breakfast was leftover casserole from the day before except they had added cheese to the top of it. Despite having spent A LOT of money on food at the beginning of the week, we didn’t end up with that many left-overs.

At the site, all we really had left to do was put up the trim and paint over it. My hammering skills had definitely gotten significantly better and I was becoming both less frustrated and more confident. I again spent quite a bit of time on top of the roof work. When I finished for the day, I had tar all over myself and nineteen bruises, and that was only on my legs, not my arms and foot. As Drew later said, “I bruise like a banana.”

IMG_6648The final thing we did for the front of our house was built a cross for the front, and not a small cross either, it was MASSIVE. It really put into perspective why were there. It’s not about us, it’s all about God and now He was visibly the focus of all we were doing on the house. When we were done, it was time to give the keys to the family. They were so excited and now we share a bond with this family that will never be broken as long as they live there.

For lunch, our family made us the most amazing enchiladas I’ve ever had in my life. The most surreal part about being in their home (the sister of our family’s mother) was how at home we felt there. The house was completely falling apart on the outside, but on the inside, you would have thought that we were in the United States. I am pretty sure Drew ate about six enchiladas and the family probably would have kept feeding us if we let them. As we left, they told us we were always welcome back and they would make us more amazing food.

We then drove back to the orphanage for the final time to pack our bags then headed to the border. In the van, I ended up sitting in between Dylan and Joe. We were told the drive to the border could potentially take three hours, so the three of us managed to rearrange ourselves in some sort of sleeping positions. It felt as though we were finally comfortable when we pulled over. There was shockingly no traffic, so in order to go to the souvenir shops, we had to stop on the side of the road.

I bought a blanket for myself and Joe and I got churros for our car to split. We made it across the border with no issues and I fell asleep using Dylan as my pillow until we reached the church we would be staying at for the night. We had two hours to explore La Jolla (the rich area of San Diego), eat dinner, and/or shower before our final chapel time.

Joe, Dylan, Drew, Adam, Katie, and I decided we would the couple blocks to the beach, then find someplace for dinner. I purposefully left my bathing suit in the room since we were supposed to just be dipping our feet in the water. I apparently made the wrong choice because I ended up completely drenched, coated in sand, and without two flip flops. We decided our best move would be to head back to the church and get changed.

Once we were dry (and I had Katie’s extra pair of flip flops on) we headed to a sub shop for dinner. When we walked in they informed us that they were out of bread!! Following that unexpected turn of events, we ended up at some healthy burger place that was decent. We rushed back in fear of being late and getting yelled at, but we ended up being early and everyone else was upwards of fifteen minutes late.

I decided to end my trip with the same word I began it with– friendship. The feeling of love that I felt at the very beginning of the trip had extended over the entire week. After the week I truly felt like a part of the family. I had met and gotten to know better a group of people that would probably be in my life for a very long time, if not forever.

After chapel, I called Peter (Wow! Haven’t said that in a while!), showered, then went to see what everyone was doing. They were all playing spades so I watched Sean and Dylan for a while. Slowly the number of people awake dwindled until I too gave up and went to sleep around two in the morning. Two and a half hours later, Suzie woke us up and our journey really came to an end. Joe had two empty seats next to him that Adam and I moved to sit in. Then, in what felt like a blink of an eye, we landed in Philly and this adventure had come to an end.

Mexico Missions: Life Full of Laughter

June 8th, 2017

This morning I was once again able to wake-up early to have time to journal before breakfast. I knew today was going to be a long day and I wanted to have some time to myself first. I was getting into a flow of words coming out onto the page when suddenly I head, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” followed by a high-pitched shriek. Today was Adam’s birthday and the guys in his room had made plans to wake him up bright and early to celebrate it. For breakfast, we had a breakfast casserole and, of course, coffee. After, we had our typical quiet time before loading the truck and heading to the worksite.

At the worksite, there was quite a bit of work that still had to be done. As everyone unloaded the truck, Dave had me climb the sides of the house to help get the last of the rafters up so we could begin on the roof. The beginning of the day felt a little slow especially since Drew spent it with the other team. Luckily, in the afternoon we got Drew back and Rachel came to help us from the kitchen staff. I spent basically all my day on the roof: first nailing down the wood, then the paper, and finally the tar. Although we met many roadblocks over the course of the day I feel like I was constantly laughing, whether that was messing around with Drew and Jason or dancing on the rooftop with Rachel. Today I also had to overcome my fear of ladders. I realized that heights and climbing do not bother me, but the thought of having to climb down a ladder absolutely terrifies me. Luckily, my team was incredibly patient and supportive.

By the time we left, I was covered with dirt, paint, tar, and bruises. Although the bruises would be around for a while a nice, hot shower could cure everything else. Today my foot was beginning to turn a really pretty blue color. It still hurt, but it had not gotten any worse. I was just grateful that I was still able to do any work at all.

For dinner, our families came over and the orphanage cooked us fish tacos. I am normally not one for fish, but these were actually pretty delicious! There was also a really good drink, but I honestly have no idea what it was. Before dinner was served, Joe, Dylan, Drew, and I played a really aggressive game of basketball that was probably a bad idea for my foot. During dinner, Joe and I were messing with one of the little girls from Joe’s site and despite the language barrier, communicating quite well. We ended the dinner portion of the night with cake, ice cream, and a piñata to celebrate Adam’s birthday.

Afterward, we had a little time before going to chapel so Adam, Drew, Dylan, and I went upstairs to play cards. We settled on playing Kemps. Adam and I were partners and our secret signal was licking our lips, something I was really bad a doing casually. It did not matter though because although Adam got Kemps round one, I missed the signal. Needless to say, for the next round we needed to re-evaluate. We settled on kicking Dylan or Drew—a signal I could totally get behind! This time I was ready and when Dylan yelled “OW!” I yelled “Kemps!” securing us the point.

My word for the day was “laughter.” This trip in its nature is very difficult both physically and mentally. It would be really easy to become exhausted and get inside of my own head, but by God’s grace, I was able to spend my whole day laughing.

After chapel, I went back to the room and talked to Katie for a while. It was one of those conversations that felt like only ten minutes but was actually closer to two hours. Needless to say, we fell asleep almost instantly once we shut our mouths!

Mexico Missions: Precision Cutting

June 6th, 2017

This morning was a little different from the previous days, starting with the fact that we had to wake up earlier. Tuesdays in this town were market days. Our street and two adjacent ones were crowded with various stands selling everything from classical GameBoy and Nintendo 64 games to hats and clothes to various foods. I went out to the market with Jason, Adam, Drew, and Dylan. I didn’t buy anything, but Dylan bought a new Nike hat, and most of the guys got candy. On our way back we bought taquitos that Dylan, Jason, and I split (breakfast part 2!).

When we got back to the orphanage, we grabbed our stuff, loaded the vans, and were ready to go! I was determined to do more today because although my foot still hurt, there was a large purple/blue bruise that covered the entire right side, extending out to my middle toe. This may not sound encouraging, but it meant that the only thing going on with my foot was probably a bruise. I could handle the pain from a bruise.

Our goal at the worksite was to get as many walls as possible up and begin to paint our first coat. I was actually decent at hammering, but my noodle arms made it slightly harder to keep it going for a while. A skill I did have was the precision to measure and cut all the different sized boards with the chop saw. I’m pretty sure Alex, Drew, and I measured and cut every single board that was part of the house.

For lunch, Alex, Sean, and I visited the other site. While we were there the family for their site brought everyone rice pudding with cinnamon and vanilla. It was delicious. It is also kind of crazy to think about how little these families have and they are still just trying to find things to do for US or ways to serve US.

All of the frames we made today had to be nailed down overnight so they didn’t “grow legs and walk away.” When we were done we were essentially out of material and had three-sided walls up and two frames. This meant that we only had two more frames to put up tomorrow. It was really encouraging to see actual walls and really made it feel like a house!

When we got back to the orphanage I got changed then headed upstairs for dinner. We had lasagna, but it was kind of hard to eat because Joe and I were huddled together under one of Katie’s blankets. About halfway through dinner I hit a wall and felt the urge to leave, so I did. I decided to try taking a shower, which kind of helped, but I still felt off. When I finished showering it was just about time for chapel.

I really struggled to find a word of the day and see where God was. I ended up settling with precision. I was the board measurer on my site today, which required precision because otherwise, the whole house would be off. Also, although my foot was improving, if I wasn’t careful and precise with where I was stepping, I’d feel a sharp pain.

After we finished chapel, Katie asked if I was feeling okay. I said not entirely, so we went out to one of the right-side balconies– a view we had not really seen before. It was really nice to catch up with Katie. I really missed her and it was hard not being on the same work team as her, although I definitely saw the benefits of us being split up. I was still feeling off, but more relaxed when we finished talking. Katie opted to stay and hang out upstairs, but I decided I should just go to sleep. I wrote for a little while and then passed out before 9:30 PM.

Mexico Missions: Photographic Perspectives

June 5th, 2017

This morning we were woken up (AGAIN) by Suzie singing. Although I’m sure it was meant well, it did not necessarily have the desired effect. What did wake me up though was the warm oatmeal and fruit that was for breakfast… and maybe the coffee helped a bit too. I had my quiet time out on the patio, but again it consisted of mostly just journaling. I was ready to go a little before 8:30 AM– our designated time to leave, but since my room wasn’t I decided to wait. Looking back on it, this may have been the wrong decision because a couple of minutes later Suzie came upstairs saying our van had already left. That was not entirely true, but they HAD already pulled out of the orphanage.

At the site, it was cement day– Joe’s favorite day. Because I wanted to be very careful of my foot, I brought my journal with me to the site and began my day by writing. Soon I was able to be of slight use and tie the wire around the metal rod pieces that were in our foundation. The rest of the morning was a continuation of odd jobs and picture taking. I had said I wanted to work on my photography this summer… I guess this was God giving me my chance in an unlikely way. Cement day required a lot of physical labor, so I got the job of reminding everyone to drink water.


The process of cement day went something like this: (1) carry buckets of sand and gravel to our site, (2) dump them into a pile,(3) dump two cement bags onto the pile, (4) create a volcano looking structure, (5) add water to the cement and mix, (6) continue adding water and mixing until the cement has the correct consistency, (7) add to the plot. This is basically what we did ALL day until our plot was full.

When there was a lull in the action, Jason, Krista, and I wandered over to the other site. Since their site was slightly smaller than ours, they were mixing the concrete directly IN their plot. Instead of going back with the other two, I opted to stay for a while and take pictures of the other group. IMG_6499.JPGTheir family had consistently been at their site and there were two little girls and a baby boy that I got to play with and talk to. One of the girls had a flat slab with dirt on it so I drew a smiley face in it. This got her excited and we continued drawing pictures until she drew a picture of a house. I pointed to where the team was cementing and she got the biggest smile her face like, “Yeah, that’s going to be MY house.”

Around lunch time the kitchen crew came to visit us, so when they went to the other site (my site!), I went with them. Rachel had brought me ice so when we got back I iced my foot for a while. I was actually able to do some work, especially with simple tasks like filling water and whenever it got to be too much I just grabbed my journal and climbed onto the roof of a neighboring house.

Being up above everything that was going on really gave me a new perspective. I could see over the community and see the other Doxa homes that other groups had built. It showed that even though this is only a one week trip helping two families, we are part of a picture mission that is helping the entire community.


During my roof-top writing session, I was ambushed by three local children– Omar, Maria, and Joe. They were adorable, but they were also trouble-makers. They thought it would be funny to start calling me “Jenna loca” or “Jenna crazy.” Once I finished playing and attempting to talk with them, I decided to try to make myself more useful.

We were getting towards the end of the day and I knew everyone was tired so I wanted to make clean-up as easy as possible. I asked Dave what we were going to do with all of the empty cement bags and he said we should see if we could burn them. I went over to the “burn pile” area with Alex and we found a flame still going that we were able to build up. Once we finished our bags, we went to the other site to grab and burn those. They were further behind us so Jerry asked if we could possibly send some help over when we were finished.

When we got back to our site, Suzie and Rachel were still helping so I headed to the other site to help them. I felt as though I fit right in and they didn’t see me as injured. We powered through two more volcanoes and get the entire foundation cemented just in time.

Back at the orphanage, it was going to be one of my three shower days, but I found out that the water was currently not working. It all worked out though because Nikki and Alex had a couple hundred baby wipes our room was able to use. By the time we felt at least slightly cleaner, it was dinner-time. Dinner was beef tacos with the orphanage. We sat with a little boy who enjoyed dabbing and calling me “poop.” His name was Diego and he kept us entertained for the entirety of the meal.

After dinner, we went upstairs to the main balcony area and waiting for chapel time to start. It was freezing cold, but luckily Dylan had a fuzzy blanket that he reluctantly shared with me. Chapel was similar to the previous evening and my word of the day was “perspective.” Being injured allowed me to gain many new perspectives, whether that was through working at the other site, seeing the bigger picture on the roof, or the various angles photography brings.

The day ended after I crushed Katie and Joe in a game of Dutch Blitz. Back in the room, we stayed up WAY too late talking and I ended up falling asleep in Katie’s bed and only switching to my own somewhere in the middle of the night.