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Hello from Mexico!

Mark Van & Kayla Koontz- Howdy! This is our first blog update and we have decided to have each kid answer a different question (that I secretly intentionally specified for each kid- muah haha!) so you readers can gain great perspective on our first week impressions without re-reading the same thing over and over. The next blog update will having them digging deeper to answer whatever questions I am inspired to ask to reveal the mighty work of God in their lives.

In the week of us arriving we have attended two rallies, past out six hundred flyers, a few of us have walked the streets searching for a soup kitchen in the rain, led worship in 4 different places, performed a drama displaying God creating the world and sin entering in and Jesus saving mankind from sin. We have eaten most of our lunches at the high school in Elsa (18-and-under free lunch program), and have all picked up each others interesting food combinations (such as cereal in ice cream)! We have had amazing prayer times asking God for salvations in the Rio Grande Valley and blessings on the kids we’ve built relationships with.

Mark- These kids of mine have blown my mind. They are so responsive to scripture and are so ready to serve. They are intentional and bold and are so confident in the salvation of our Savior. They each have different personalities that compliment us as a group. Each kid is so gifted by God and brings an extraordinary impact to each ministry we’ve worked with. I love them. They make me proud as a dad and at the same time a blast to be with as a friend. They heed my instruction as I seek the Lord’s and through this my Father has brought me to more maturity. They are a blessing to me.

Kayla- I have been completely blown away! I never expected that this team would be this amazing. We have known each other for a little over a week and family is the only word I can come up with. Each person brings something unique to the group. If one person was missing we would be lacking something very special. I have watched them listen to God and follow his leading with enourmas amounts of courage. I am a mom who is so exremely proud of her kids! So excited to continue to watch them rock it out!

Brendan- How has the food been?

The food that I put into my body to sustain myself is actually quite delightful to my tummy. We’ve had Mexican and American food, just normal things for the most part, and it is delicious and nutrious. The only downside to any of the food is the water, and that is because it tastes like chlorine filled pool water, and is quite terrible to drink. To combat this atrocity to my stomach, I have since put tea bags into my water, and it worked! Yesterday I had over 200 ounces of tea! It was fantastic, I was finally at peace with the water. All in all, if I had to give the food and drink a rating, it would be a solid 9/10 stars.

Nolan- What would you do different? Do you agree with what we do?

I do agree with what we are doing. I can see three main areas of focus on this trip: our relationships with each other as a team, our relationships with God, and our relationships with the people here that we are ministering to. I can see that no matter what we are doing we are always growing as a team, and we are continually relying on and growing closer to God. If there was anything that I had to alter it would be the amount of time we spent reaching out to the people. It has been fantastic getting to know all of the kids from the Church of Acts, and I can see God using us to minister to them in powerful ways. Right now I am just hoping that we will have more outreach opportunities to the un-churched, non-believers of this area. I know there has been talk of visiting a prison, and we have already handed out flyers for a rally, which was a great opportunity to witness to people. I do not want to make it sound like I disagree with what we are doing, because I can see God moving in huge ways already, I am just excited for further outreach opportunities.

Emily- Describe your top two most EXCITING moments thus far.

How am I supposed to limit this to two exciting moments!? Every moment we have had here in the Valley and at training camp has blown me away and brought me so much joy. One of the first moments I thought of was when we went to the Way of the Cross warehouse chapel for the first morning service. As we walked into the building, I couldn’t help but let the biggest smile come across my face. At first I saw the building with broken windows and cracks all along the ceiling and walls, but then in the midst of all that brokenness was a huge wooden cross and beautiful people sitting in the chapel coming together to praise God no matter what their circumstance. After we got seated, a Mexican man came out with his 12 string guitar, closed his eyes as tightly as he could, and started singing and shouting out praises to God. All I could think of was how awesome it was that God brought me to Texico with my team and here we were listening to this beautiful music in this old warehouse. God really does make beautiful things out of dust in any situation =) The other most exciting moment for me was when we did VBS with the little kids in another church building, and I met a girl named Ruby who was about 6 years old. At first we were doing face-painting so I painted a blue and pink butterfy on her cheek and then she totally opened up to me. She told me that she was going to Mexico in a week so that she could see her dad who lives there who she hadn’t seen in 6 months or so. She said this with the biggest smile on her face and it made me so happy that we are with her while she can’t be with her family. We then got to hang out playing pattycake and sing songs, which was so fun! These stories only skim the surface of what we have all done and expirenced so far here, and I am so excited to see what else God has in store!

Taylor – What do you think of your leaders?

Mark and Kayla are just awesome. Not many leaders are as humble as these two. I say that only because they’re really just like one of the kids – we laugh together, discuss together, eat together, and do most everything else together. Mark is such a strong man and has become a really prevelant role-model in my life and the lives of many others here, especially the guys. He’s one of the funniest guys I know – when Mark’s laughing, EVERYONE is laughing – but, in the blink of an eye, he can switch to the strong “father-figure” that he has to be. Sometimes, with Mark, I feel like there’s a Bible lodged somewhere in his brain. Randomly, and without notice, he’ll often rattle off a Bible verse, verbatim, to whomever is standing around him – not to boast his knowledge of God’s word, but to enlighten and teach us with the purest and truest of methods – and while the verse may not always seem entirely relevant at the time, I find myself coming back to it later in the day, only to think, “Wow, Mark really did say that for a reason…” Kayla is really the mother/big sister figure to a lot of us here on this trip (I only use the “father/mother” analogy because Victoria has resorted to calling out “Mommy! Daddy!” when trying to get Kayla or Mark’s attention). Kayla is the kind of woman that can step up and lead a group of 13 through a Wal-Mart (which, rest assured, is no easy task), but can just as easily step back and let us lead worship or a VBS activity. She has such a caring heart and always listens to everything that goes on amongst us. Her presence is such a great gift to us, and her love and encouragement is always so uplifting. When we all met at training camp, we were a group of 11 with 2 leaders. Now, just a little more than a week a later, we are a group of 13 – Mark and Kayla are still our leaders, but they are most definitely a part of our team as well.

Ben – Do you feel like you have grown? Have you learned anything?

I have grown and learned so stinking much in just these first ten days. God just blew me away at training camp. On the first night, we all got a “thing” that we were told to hold on to no matter what, my thing was a piece of pottery. The second night, we plastered things that we thought made us who we are. The third night, after carrying the weight of the thing and what it represented, we smashed it in the light of that the things on it are not what defines us, but that we are God’s kids — and that is all that really matters. It really impacted me and let me see who I really am. One thing I learned was listening prayer, or how to listen to God, for the first time. I also learned how to share my testimony and relate it to the listener, which I have already gotten to do. In Texico, I have learned to place all dependence on God. I have learned to love people, just because they are people. Oh, and I’ve learned that showering every five days is enough, haha. Colossians 3:2 states, “Set your minds not on things that are above, not on the things of things that are on the earth.”

Stephen Shank – Have you gained any friends here? Do you like the participants?

I have gained friends here. I met a guy named Anthony; who brought me out of my shell. Anthony is not one of the main leaders of the group (as one of the adults) but he is a strong leader of the group. He is also hilarious. Each individual has their own personality. Each personality is benificial to the team in some way. The team’s main leader Mark has a very fun personality but when its time to take control of a situation he does so. Mark uses scripture to get his point across. I love when scripture is used in every day life because sometimes I forget how to use scripture in my life. Most of my team is talented in drama, music, or dancing. Everyone on my team I personally formed a relationship with. I would decribe each experience with each individual but that would take to long. I really like the kids I am with.

Bethanie Hall- What do you think about our team?

The only word that could describe our team is incredible. We have only known eachother for 9 days and we are already so close. We fall asleep on each others shoulders on the way home from places when we’re not laughing like crazy in the van. When one of us cries we all cry and when one of us rejoices we all rejoice. All of this definately makes us a family. I love my team and I love my leaders. We wouldn’t be the team that we are if we didnt have our leaders Mark and Kayla. We are such a blessed team and I can’t wait to see how close we are when it is time to go home.

Sara Beth Abbey – Thoughts on being here for 5 weeks?

It’s so exciting! So much happens each day – I can’t begin to imagine how things will be by the time we leave. While God can do great things through shorter mission trips, there is so much that can only be done with time. We’re forming real relationships with these people as we worship with them, talk with them, laugh with them, and cry with them. The stories of what these kids and teens are going through are overwhelming, and being able to speak into their lives is such a blessing. Their friendship is speaking right back into each of our lives. Whenever we part, the kids ask if we are leaving to return back home, and it is amazing to be able to tell them that we’ll be with them for another month! On a lighter note, we’re likely to return home less frequent shower-ers, more creative food prepare-ers, and greater “cock-a-roach” slaying warriors.

Alec Marquette- What do you think of the area?

What do I think of the area? I think this area is very hot and dry. The people are great, and I’m surprised at how much english they speak! The roads here are very smooth. There are a lot of farms here, we stay across the street from a cotton field. A lot of the teens here are involved in drugs and gangs. That is who we have been ministering to this week so far. I really enjoy ministering to these kids. The city we are staying in is Harlingen and it actually has a pretty big population. We go to a colonia called Indian Hills and it is severly affected by poverty. We have been working a lot with a church called the church of acts/iglesia de hechos. The church is really amazing and the head pastor Steve is extremly dedicated to the teenagers in Elsa. Please pray for his church.

Victoria Yang- What do you think about the weather?

Coming from 10 days of living in a low-income apartment complex in extremely humid weather, I thought that this weather would be tolerable – but I was wrong. However, I know that I am lucky we have been living in a building with air conditioning, which we use when we sleep because we are not usually here. One of the greatest ways that the Lord has shown HImself to not only this group but also to the residents of Brownsville, Mercedes, and Harlingen is through rain. It has not rained for about 8 months prior to our arrival, and the people around here (especially those from the Church of Acts) have been fervently praying for rain, that it would bring nourishment and refreshment. During the first daythat we were here, I had heard many of the kids in the Church of Acts sing “Let It Rain”. Not only that, but that night I had a worship session with a brother, Nolan, and we both were praying for the Lord to pour down rain. The next day after we came back from lunch with the children at the community church, rain started to pour down from the heavens and that was simply a glorious time for all of us. When we went to the VBS program at Indian Hills on Thursday, the whole place with covered with mud which ruined our footwear (but it’s okay because the people need rain). The only downside is that I slipped because of the rain and hurt my right knee and I’m sitting here with a knee brace, but praise God that He sends down rain. Oh, and there are palm trees, I thought they were only in Florida!

Anthony Young- How is the/what are your thoughts on where we live?

Living where we are is not as bad as what I thought It’d be- somewhat of a dorm but also an old spanish church. The boys and girls are on opposite ends of the monestary and in the middle is the sanctuary where we all meet to worship every day. The floors are all red tile and the walls are white both outside and inside. We have bathrooms with a shower on each side of the building for guys and girls. We all have adapted to living together as a family. Having a church to ourselves has been a fun experience. If you look outside the front door you see cotton fields. There are palm trees and hundreds of frogs singing every night. Behind the church is a walkway shaped like a cross where you can have one-on-one time with God. But, one of the most exciting things about where we live is our in-house battle with the roaches. Our kill count is 121 at the moment! We yell and chase them and stomp on them and throw brooms at them and take care of business. I thank God for this place because some of the other AIM groups don’t have these living conditions. Funny, though- I don’t put as much importance in showering all the time as I used to! God has blessed us with a great place to lay our heads after working for His Kingdom all day.

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