Wow! How does one describe such an amazing summer? How can I adequately convey what an incredible team the Lord gave us? I hope I can give you a small glimpse of what a blessing this summer was to us as a couple, as a team and as a ministry!
We had 18 team members—11 girls and seven boys. They ranged in age from 13 – 18. We had two other leaders—Thomas, who is a current student at the Teen Missions BIBLE, MISSIONARY & WORK Training Center and Eliza, who is a nursing student at a Christian college in Iowa. This is Thomas’ second team as a leader. Eliza has been on two previous teams, but this was her first time leading. Out of the 18 team members, six were former team members.
From the beginning of Boot Camp, we knew we had an exceptional team. They were focused on serving the Lord and we did not experience any real discipline issues. They were very teachable (except for the music and drama classes…) and displayed positive attitudes in whatever was asked of them. I had a feeling that since it didn’t seem we were being stretched very much during Boot Camp, the field experience might prove to be different. Our motto from the beginning was to be “fluid and flexible” in whatever situation the Lord put us in. By the end of the summer, we determined that the “fluid and flexible” motto was way overrated…
We were commissioned on Saturday, but did not actually fly until Tuesday. During those couple of days, we helped take down Big Top #1, did laundry, went to a house on the beach where we enjoyed pizza and a swim and just generally relaxed. We left Tuesday morning for Chicago and then we boarded our flight to Hong Kong where we were for several hours. Our last flight took us to Yangon, Myanmar. Since we arrived so late in the evening, we went to a guest house where we enjoyed a real bed, showers and air-conditioning (Myanmar is really hot…). The next day we bought supplies and exchanged money. The following day we divided into vans for our nine-hour trip through villages and over mountains to the small village of Gwa which is located on the Bay Of Bengal. We arrived around 4:30 PM and unloaded and got settled into our rooms at another guest house. However, it did not provide the comfortable beds or AC that we had experienced in Yangon. We were thankful for the fans/electricity which was available from 5 AM – 10 AM and 5 PM – 10 PM daily. My kitchen was a small room with a dirt floor with brick on top. They built me a small table and some shelves to hold the food. We cooked over an open fire. It was small, dark, HOT and had a small window that looked out onto the building next door (which was just about a foot away from the window). The guest house hosts were gracious, especially in helping me get the fires going.
The village officials arrived early the next morning and asked for our passports. After returning, they informed us that we would not be able to work at the orphanage and would not be able to even visit the orphans. We were confused and upset. So, for the next two days, it went back and forth between the officials and our missionary, Naing. Even some of the town’s people got in on the discussions as they knew there was a great need for the children to have adequate housing. They did relent and let the team visit the children where we spent several hours playing games and teaching them songs. On Sunday morning, we made another trek to the orphanage and had a church service with them. They were so well behaved! That afternoon, after lunch, the orphans came to our guest house and the team and children walked down to the beach where they again played soccer and other games and spent quality time with the children.
However, by Monday morning, we knew we were not going to be allowed to work in Gwa. So, on Tuesday morning, we had one last time with the orphans and after many tears and goodbyes, we all boarded a bus for our trek back over the mountains and through the villages to Yangon. We stayed there another couple of days while we checked out another possibility of working at a children’s home outside of the capital. When it became evident that that project would not work out, the office made the difficult decision to send us to Cambodia to help with our work there.
So, on Thursday, we boarded our flight in Yangon, back to Hong Kong and then onto Siem Reap where we were met by the Teen Missions Cambodia missionaries, Mathew and Heni Wylie. They graciously housed us in their home for a couple of days. We were able to visit Angkor Wat (along with the Cambodia MSSM team) and do some shopping (there was great bartering in Siem Reap) before we boarded another bus for our project in Kampong Chhnang. This is a remote location about an hour from Phnom Penh. Our project was to build a multi-purpose building that would house the motorcycles and we were also involved in helping prepare the property for the upcoming Boot Camp.
Since we were suppose to be housed in guest houses in Myanmar, many of us did not have bedding that we would need for the tents that we had in Cambodia. Those who had bedding shared and some bought some straw mats in Siem Reap. With the heat in Cambodia, any type of blanket was not needed.
Now, how do I describe our project site. My kitchen looked like the Beverly Hillbillies house (not the mansion…). Again, I cooked over fire and it was so very hot. The heat was the hardest thing for me to deal with. You see, I can usually go into every summer with the non-verbalized attitude of “I’ve got this!”. But I didn’t…Year after year, I watch every team member and leader go through Boot Camp and learn to lean on the Lord. It always excites me to watch how the Lord draws them to Him for their strength; however, I didn’t really want to go through that painful process. After three sleepless nights, I finally got it through my thick head that I was not going to be able to live through the next nine days unless I depended on Him. I was miserable at night with it being so hot and not being able to sleep. The ground was hard and I didn’t realize that I still had hip bones that would hurt the next day after sleeping on such hard ground. Once I realized that if I soaked my head with water before I went to bed, and pure exhaustion finally caught up with me, I was able to sleep better.
But the neat thing was, even with lack of sleep, I found this team to be such a joy to serve. No matter what we asked of them, they did it and were always so positive. We had 12 days in Kampong Chhnang and only nine days to get our work project accomplished. Despite the heat and humidity, they were able to pour the footers, put up the columns, pour the floor, help put the roof on and lay about six courses of brick. Not only will this huge building be able to house the motorcycles, it will provide much-needed shade during the day and will also be able to house some of the interns who are doing the motorcycle ministry.
Another positive thing about this team is that there were no cliques or pairing off problems. They made a genuine effort to get to know one another and love one another. They challenged one another spiritually and even the former team members said that this team was special in so many ways. And boy, could they make me laugh (which can be important when you are hot and miserable).
Thank you Myancambodia Team for being such a positive influence in my life, for challenging me spiritually and for loving one another and us as leaders. The hole in my heart is not getting any smaller, and I miss you all every single day! Keep up your devotion times with the Lord and be all that He has called you to be! NEVER forget what He taught you this summer!
So, now you can understand why (after 10 moves, not knowing what we were going to do, countless hours in vans, buses and planes) we feel that being “fluid and flexible” is way overrated. However, I wouldn’t change a thing of what happened as we saw the Lord’s hand in every aspect of the summer.
Colton had a fantastic trip to Mongolia and South Korea. While in Mongolia, they set up the Boot Camp site and helped run the Boot Camp. He taught the puppet class. While in South Korea, they were able to teach English. He enjoyed Mongolia especially. He is feeling a tug towards missions and is praying about his future. Right now, he is a senior (can you believe it?). He is taking a couple of college courses in the mornings and attending high school in the afternoons. He also got his driver’s license (first try) after returning home from his team. Please pray that he will continue to seek the Lord in his future plans for school. He is hoping to save enough money to go to a missions conference in January in Oregon to check out what opportunities there are for both schools and missions. He has signed up for the Madagascar Motorcycle Team next summer.
Danae loved being in Madagascar and is already signed up for the Madagascar Motorcycle Team again next summer (Yes, she and Colton will be on the same team…). Her team did Sunday schools in remote villages and also had the opportunity to hand out Operation Christmas Child boxes. She made a lot of amazing friends on her team and is spending way too much time communicating with them. She is a junior and has a heavy workload at school between AP and Honors courses. Please pray that she will be a testimony to her friends at school.
BJ also had a GREAT time in Uganda. His team completed a toilet block and put up a gate and a wind turbine at our Uganda base in Koboko (on the border of South Sudan). He really enjoyed playing soccer with the orphans. He is now in high school and is in the DiVinci Academy (has an engineering emphasis). He is also in an AP class and has several Honors classes, so school is keeping him busy. He continues to play soccer (scored two goals yesterday!) and is planning on playing high school soccer which starts in a few weeks. He has not decided where he is going next summer, so please pray for wisdom for him. Also, please pray that he will be a positive Christian witness to his non-Christian friends.
Lindsay spent the summer working and is now attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where she is studying to be a social worker. We were able to spend a short time with her when we were in Chattanooga for the Labor Day weekend. Please pray that the Lord will provide some Christian friends for her at school.
After our summer ministry, we had three weeks off. Most of that time was spent cleaning, organizing, putting away the summer stuff, planting a garden and we even managed a quick weekend up to Chattanooga to visit my parents, sister and family and supporters. My parents are still trying to sell their home—please pray that it will be sold soon so that they can relocate to the Atlanta area so that my sister can help with caring for my dad.
We are now back at work in the office. We already have over 100 registrations in and I have been busy putting them in the computer. Madagascar, Nepal and N. Ireland are the most popular teams so far. Paul is already starting to work on the travel arrangements.
Thank you so much for your prayers and support. A big thank you to those who helped support our kids on their mission trips this summer. Please pray that our support will increase. We lost some support in the spring, which caused some lean months, but we know that the Lord will supply (I still struggle with faith in this area….). Also, please pray that we will be wise with what the Lord does provide.
Paul, Beth, Lindsay, Colton, Danae and BJ Kostner