“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Note: I am not allowed to share pictures of the children’s faces who attended the camp but I will share what photos I can.
If we’ve met before, you would know that I love to travel. The world is vast and beautiful and I believe we’re not meant to stay in one small space for the entirety of our lives. Travel is one of the best ways to learn- about cultures, how to interact with others, and who we are deep down. We’re brought to the brink and forced to look at ourselves as we truly are- small creatures that inhabit a great, big world. Realize this is not to make you feel insignificant, though. It’s to make you see that the world doesn’t revolve around you or anyone else. We serve a great God who created this world for us to enjoy and care for. By traveling, we can see His heart when He told His disciples in Mark 16 to “Go into all the world” and at the end of Matthew when He promised to be with us always, “even unto the end of the world.” There is no where in this world you can travel and He is not with you.
In Spain, I knew He was there. Not just because of His promise, but because of the work He is doing in that country. And for some reason, He included me in a part of that work. He didn’t have to but He wanted to. In order to fully explain, let’s start from the beginning.
Note: If you want to skip the story leading up to the trip, just jump down until you see the first group of photos.
A few months ago, God laid on my heart that I should use my meager talent of photography with missions and missionaries. How? I honestly had no idea. Now, I call my talent meager because it’s just a hobby I enjoy. I know the basics and how to edit photos but it’s always been for fun. This is helpful in my career in Graphic Design, though, so I use it when I can.
Photography, missions, missionaries. I began doing research and heard about a missions meeting happening within a couple of weeks at The Village Church Southlake campus I currently attend. There had to be someone there who would know what I can do with this calling, right? So I went and met some great people and told them what was on my heart, but they weren’t sure what I should do except attend a larger missions meeting the next month at the Flower Mound campus. I put it on my calendar and left it in the Lord’s hands. Because it was my first time at the main campus, parking was a bit of an issue so I showed up to the meeting a few minutes late. Afterwards, I was able to talk with the lady in charge -Julie Pate- and explained to her what God had placed on my heart. She asked me what I did for a living and asked even more questions about my job and if I did video design. I’ll be honest and say I thought it was a little strange but there was something about her questions. She truly wanted to know and I wasn’t sure why until finally she asked if I wanted to join their team going to Spain in June and that they were in need of a photographer/videographer.
Excitement and shock twisted together inside of me and I really wanted to say yes right then and there. Instead, I asked for more details and the time frame. As soon as she said it was a two week trip, my stomach dropped and I knew I wasn’t allowed to request more than one week at a time from my job. But God had laid this on my heart, right? And through a string of events had brought me to this meeting to talk with Julie. I told her I would ask my boss. The next day I emailed him, asking for ten minutes of his time and expected he wouldn’t be available until the next day. He responded almost immediately and told me he was free right then. With all nerves, I walked into his office and explained the situation. He eyes seemed to light up as I told him about the trip but then his face fell when I told him the time frame. To my surprise, he told me he was excited about this opportunity and how he’s all about growth and learning and that he would talk with the other executives about my request.
He seriously said that! He had the authority to deny my request right there yet he didn’t. That’s still crazy to me. I emailed Julie and we both started praying. The ball was in God’s court and I believed their answer would tell me whether I should go on this trip or not. Oh, you have no idea how deeply I prayed those two days. I told God that this trip would be amazing and I would love to go but I would understand if He said no. In case you didn’t know, I hadn’t planned on going on a missions trip this year. I had already planned on visiting my friend Kat who lives in Alaska in June and doing some book research in the Smokey Mountains in September. My vacation time had already been sorted between those trips so Spain was not on my radar.
What is that quote? If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans? I’m pretty sure that’s what He did when I had already told people about my personal trips and, within a few days, He had placed in my lap His idea for my vacation time which would bring Him glory. As you already know, God said yes to this trip and so did the Execs at work. Oh goodness, I was on Cloud 9 for days! I wanted to find the nearest hill- because East Texas is relatively flat- and shout my excitement!
As soon as I shared the great news with Julie, I hit the ground running with applications, joining the team, and raising funds- my least gifted area. I’ve never been comfortable asking for donations but I had been the last to join the team so I had the least amount of time. It was slow going but the funds came in at the right time! Which was another sign for me that this trip would be amazing- I had never been fully funded for a trip before.
When I met the rest of the team, something inside told me this group would be different from the others I’ve joined in the past. Everyone seemed perfect for their positions and fell into place like puzzle pieces. We all got along so well and I was excited to see what God would do through our team of 14. I honestly felt awkward at first because they had been meeting already and they all had projects to work on, from crafts to games to organizing the days. All I had to do was make sure I had the right equipment and be ready with the camera.
That is, until Julie assigned me to write the skits and I helped prepare some of the crafts. We were going to Spain to serve the Garcia’s who had recently moved to Paracuellos de Jarama- a village outside of Madrid. They needed a way to help connect with their community and planned an English Camp for kids. It had the same concept as a VBS but with English vocabulary instead of Bible stories. Families were more open to an English Camp instead of a VBS and we were there to help make connections and plant seeds for the Garcia’s. The English Camp theme was a Road Trip across America. Monday was Miami, Tuesday was Dallas, Wednesday was Albuquerque (we learned there is an Albuquerque in Spain and one of the mom’s thought we were taking a real road trip that day!), Thursday was Durango, and Friday was Los Angeles. The team put together games like Pictionary, Bingo, Uno, and Flash Cards. Anything to help them practice the words and remember. My job was to focus on taking quality pictures for the families, putting together a slide show everyday as the parents picked up their kids, and making sure the slides were ready. We used my laptop for just about everything when it came to to projector.
The weeks flew by and the nerves grew. This was God’s trip. I knew that from the beginning so there was no fear in my heart. Even at the airport, we had some issues with our luggage but it all worked out perfectly. We all boarded the plane without a problem and we were off to Spain!
Day 1: After 8 crazy long hours of sitting in the middle seat, we landed in Spain, gathered our checked bags, and waited for the Garcia’s. I knew once we were outside of customs, that this country was different from Cambodia and Brazil. It was almost familiar even though I had never been to Spain -much less Europe- before. Little did I know that familiar feeling would grow in the coming days.
As soon as the Garcia’s arrived along with a van to take our luggage to our host homes and we were given our rental cars, we all headed to downtown Madrid. The Metro was a crazy labyrinth to navigate! We would jump from train to train and different levels of platforms. Even though I enjoy reading maps and had a blast taking Boston’s subway back in 2014, I was beyond grateful Edu Garcia was leading our pack and knew where in the world we were going!
When we finally reached downtown, we had lunch and coffee at the Plaza de Isabel II. Our main event for the first day would be taking a Segway tour of Madrid. After the lesson on how to ride one, all I could think of was Paul Blart Mall Cop! They are super fun once you gain your center of gravity.
Our guides took us to the Palace, through the largest park in Spain, and up to a lookout so we could see beautiful Madrid. So many miles covered and history learned during those couple of hours! The craziest story I remember was the one about the bears and how the king during the time the park was only for the royal family had released a number of bears into the park then hunted every last one of them. The only living bears in Madrid can be found at the zoo now.
By the time dinner time came along, jet lag was beginning to creep up our necks and take us down. We were exhausted! But I was thankful we managed to stay up as long as we did. In my mind, it was like we were forcing ourselves to sleep on their schedule. Lea and I made it to our host home around midnight. By the way, we had the best hosts! Daniel and his wife Vanina were so sweet. We found out later that they’ve hosted around 195 people over the years so they are experts! Vanina and Krista both influenced my heart on how I can be a better host here in America.
Day 2: A full day of orientation and walking through what our camp next week would look like. We visited the building the Garcia’s had rented out for us to use and took measurements. We organized supplies, began laying out and painting the backdrops for each day’s theme, talked through the skits, and spent time together! It was amazing finally being able to get to know the people on the team as well as the Garcia’s.
Day 3: Another full day of camp preparations! This day was also full of long hours working through the slides for opening and closing with Robin. Because it was a Saturday, some of the team went to the park close to A Tu Rollo where the camp would be and played with the parachute. Some kids joined in the fun but once they did, I couldn’t take any pictures because I didn’t have the parents permissions. Krista talked with the parents in the park and I was able to talk with Paul and his adventures as a missionary with his wife in South Asia.
Day 4: Sunday worship and prayer over the English Camp- probably one of my favorite memories of this trip. Being able to pray over every child we would meet the next morning was humbling. A great reminder that yes, we’ve enjoyed each day so far but our purpose for being in Madrid was this camp and we wanted to do our best. We finished preparations then went to the supermercado for that week’s groceries. We had lunch next door at the mall. The rest of the day, we were able to walk through Monday’s opening and time it out along with the skit and songs. Then dinner at a Shawarma place. So good!
Day 5 & First day of English Camp: We had to be at A Tu Rollo so early that morning! The space had been rented out the day before so we had to set up and decorate before any of the kids showed up. Let’s just say it was a whirlwind! But everyone jumped in where needed and followed directions. We were ready right on time! Didn’t I say God put together an amazing team??
I’ll be honest and say the first day was a little off because the kids didn’t know us and we didn’t know them and we spoke only in English the whole time. Krista, Lucas, and Daniel were there, of course, to be our interpreters and in case anything happened. But by the end, the kids were having a blast!
I took over 600 photos! And learned that I needed to pace myself and take more meaningful photos instead of just clicking away. We had a long debriefing session afterwards to talk through what we had learned and what to change for the rest of the week.
Day 6 & Second day of English Camp: Tuesday was much smoother! Everyone seemed more organized and better prepared for the day, and the kids were ready for what we had to offer them. Of course, the language barrier was still there for most of the kids but they were having fun! Today, the leaders started using the sports areas in the facility to help keep the kids focused. They would guess the word on the flashcard and get a chance to shoot a basket or score a goal. This definitely helped with the older kids who wanted to show off their skills and play. With the younger kids, the leaders used just about everything to have them practice English.
Afterwards, we had a much shorter debriefing session and were able to spend that afternoon at a pool and relax. I chose to spend some time laying out in the grass! Krista shared her testimony with us after dinner which was amazing to hear! God has used her in so many ways in her life and continued to do even more after marrying Edu. Their heart for the people of Spain is encouraging and humbling.
Day 7 & Third day of English Camp: Most of the kids were remembering main words and catching on quickly to the new ones. Some of the moms told Krista that their kids were sharing the words when they get home! I took more individual pictures that day that I really wish I could share! The leaders also incorporated water games which really helped. We were told that Spain was having a record heat wave that week! I was just thankful it was a dry heat instead of the muggy-ness of Texas. That afternoon, we had an even shorter debrief then were able to go back to host homes to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Edu shared his testimony with us that night after dinner.
Day 8 & Fourth day of English Camp: Thursday was fun! The schedule flowed so well and everyone was having a blast. Now, some of us were still exhausted but that’s where the espresso machine came in! Collectively, we probably had around….500? But each one was worth it for those kids! God gave us the strength and patience we needed. The leaders also the incorporated Duck, Duck, Goose game but used vocabulary words for that day. During one group’s time at the Bingo table, a boy wouldn’t participate but asked me if I would take his picture while he laid on the couch. I told him I only took pictures of the kids involved in the activity. Needless to say, he was up quickly and participating! The first few days, the kids were a bit hesitant to me carrying a camera around the whole time. I tried to not make them uncomfortable and would move on if I needed to. But this day, they had realized that if I took their picture, it might be show on the slideshow I put together each day. Most of them wanted their pictures taken or would try to playfully hide from me by ducking behind a chair and peeking out. It was fun! We were also told by Krista that some of the moms had said their kids were sad that the camp was ending and were asking if the Garcia’s would be doing more camps in the future. We had come to help them gain connections with their community and it was working!
Some of the leaders had been invited to dinner with the kids and their parents! Some of the rest of us went to Chat and Coffee with Lucas and his wife, Damas. They meet -I believe- every week with others in Paracuellos that want to practice their English. It was a great time to meet other people from that area and ask questions- mostly about what it’s like living in Spain. This reminded me that I need to be more social here in my own community.
Day 9 & Fifth day of English Camp: Last day of camp! I honestly couldn’t believe it was the last day! We had prepared and planned for months and it was almost over. The rest of the team felt the same way and so did the kids. They were a little tough to handle but their parents kept telling us how upset they were it was ending. During snack time, a few of the kids and I had the most fun! They were dancing and wanting their pictures taken. Some of my favorite pictures of them were from this day. We got to spend time with 33 kids!
That night, we had a Family Party where awards were handed out and each group of kids demonstrated what they had learned that week for their parents and families. The Red and Purple group -youngest- sang Pete the Cat and showed off their colors. The Green group sang the Wheels on the Car song. The Yellow group clapped out Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar and used colors for each person. And lastly, the Blue group put together their own skit and “packed the suitcase” for their day. Then, I played a 20 minute slideshow of each day for everyone. It had taken me all afternoon but they were happy and that’s all that mattered! Afterward, we offered them “snacks from America”- brownies and cookies. Most of the group leaders had great conversations with the parents and the kids had fun. Everyone was also invited to Sunday service that would be held in the same building for anyone who wanted to see the team again before we left. Some promised to come.
Day 10: Up at 6AM and on a bus tour to Segovia and Toledo at 8AM! So much history in one day! I may or may not have gotten overwhelmed in the museum in Toledo. There is a Roman aqueduct in Segovia I was able to actually touch! We visited the palace in Segovia which, on my ticket, reminded me of Minas Tirith. I believe that was foreshadowing for what was to come in Toledo. We learned that the tiles on the houses are upside down because of the great snows they get each winter.
In Toledo, we learned that they produce most of the world’s iron and that all of the weapons used in movies and shows are created there. We were warned ahead of time that there would be swords and weapons almost everywhere but I was not ready to see a Lord of the Rings store! My nerdy heart leapt for joy in this city and I was so close to buying either Narsil or Sting and shipping it home. I settled with buying a replica of the Evenstar instead.
I could have stayed for days exploring the museum! There was so much to look at and details to explore that I actually cried a little. Part of me wished I had studied to be an art historian instead of a Graphic Designer just so I could travel the world and study museums like this. The city had recently celebrated Corpus Christi so many of the decorations were still up.
We returned to Madrid around 7PM and headed straight to Puerta del Sol for coffee, snacks, and souvenir shopping. By this time, I was beginning to crash but the coffee helped! We had dinner at the oldest restaurant in the world which only takes reservations weeks in advance! And on the wall next to the restaurant was the oldest door in Madrid. The photo isn’t great but it was after midnight at this time so the lighting wasn’t ideal. The food was amazing and the whole team shared plenty of laughs and stories over dinner. Some of the laughs may have been from exhaustion but it was still fun!
Day 11: Our last Sunday and full day in Madrid was full of different emotions. There’s just something about being able to worship the same God but in different languages. A connection that’s beyond ourselves. Robin and Tori shared their testimonies during the service and Lucas preached on the Good Samaritan. I didn’t quite understand the message but I did read through that scripture. God calls us to love our neighbors- all of our neighbors. Makes me wonder how I’ve been showing God’s love to the neighbors I have here at home. He’s working on my heart in that area. After the service, we served them hotdogs, chips, brownies, and cake- more “American” food. Some of the kids from camp came with their families and it was good to see them again!
That afternoon, a few members of the team went on one last tour of Madrid while the rest of us either napped or packed. Lea and I did both of the latter. Although I would have loved to see downtown Madrid one last time, I knew I would regret not getting ready for the next day so I could enjoy our last dinner with the Garcia’s. It was a bittersweet time together but I was thankful for every moment.
Day 12: We were up with the dawn and headed to the airport to head home. I didn’t take many pictures this day because there was so much going on, but I did manage to take this one of the sunrise because it looked so perfect. A beautiful end to a wonderful time in Spain.
How did Spain feel so familiar? Well, it almost felt like home to me. Walking around groups of people seemed like I was walking around the mall here in Dallas. Although the culture and dominant language is different, I never felt too out of place. I was asked a couple of times if I could move to Spain and my answer is not unless God called me there. My family is my anchor here in Texas and I love being close to them.
What did I learn? God revealed a selfishness I had closed my eyes to the past few years. I had isolated myself from community and realized how much my heart craves it. This team was one I wanted to be a part of for a much longer period of time. They were encouraging, thoughtful, strong in the Lord, and prayerful. This is the community I need and one I am seeking out now that we’re back in the states.
What next? God laid on my heart photography, missions, and missionaries; and I believe this isn’t the only trip He has in mind for me. I’m not sure what’s next but I’m excited to find out!