I have been staring at this blank screen for quite some time now, wondering how I can possibly put this trip into words. I think it may take years to process all that happened and all the ways God moved among us. I’ll give it my best try, but if nothing else, just let the photos speak for themselves. They are a collection of images from our cameras that were passed around. Photo credit or the excellence of the shots is really not important, because in the end – it was about so much more than photos. Sharing these stories and images is our way of thanking those who funded and prayed for us on this trip. We could not have done it without you and we want you to know your provision sowed into something truly amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
We went on this trip in March with the expectation that we would get to bless a local church in Uruguay (Sinai Church of God) with professional family photos. We had a small team from our church, Gateway, who were interested in photography and wanted to be a part of the mission. We have since laughed about what a strange team we were — a mishmash of personalities and lifestyles — and how tight we’ve all become. So, for months prior to the trip, we met together in preparation. Eddie and I did some photography lessons, we all shared our stories, and we prayed for God to use us. We talked through schedules and made plans an envisioned what it would look like.
And then, we headed out to Uruguay – where all of our plans changed, our schedules got thrown out the window, and we realized how small our mission was compared to God’s.
To express the kind of warmth and love you are bombarded with by the people of Sinai Church is really not possible. You just have to experience it. Beyond being greeted with kisses from every person every time you see them, you are constantly being fed amazing home cooked meals, prayed for, and when language fails – smiled at. Those smiles can fuel your soul. The purity of love of the people of Sinai is something I will never forget. It’s selfless, sacrificing, kind, fervent, and without end. It’s the kind of love I want to love people with. It’s the kind of love that changes you.
Our days were packed to the brim – while we assumed there may be three days when we did one or two “session” times for people to come get their photos taken, we were in fact doing them every day, and for much longer spans than expected. We built our own backdrop and lighting stands, we set up shop on a wobbly plastic table, and we went to town. Things broke and went wrong and more people kept coming and it was fantastic. The stress we carry here, the things that would normally ruin our day, didn’t phase us. You just roll with the punches. You figure it out. And the Lord filled us with joy.
Prior to taking their photos, we sat down with each family that came (members of the church and their friends/family/neighbors). We in a sense “interviewed” them with an interpreter, but really our goal was to know them – to know the stories behind the faces in the photos we would be taking. We asked about hobbies and goals and histories, and we asked how we could pray for them. My favorite thing about that was how open they were – and how vulnerable they were in their responses. Without any pushing, so many of them shared about their brokenness, their failures, their wounds, their doubts. Some shared about how they struggled with God even when He had pursued them, and how their shame kept them in a pit. Others about how they used to serve God wholeheartedly, and along the way, their hearts got hardened. And so many told us amazing testimonies about what God had done in their lives and how they now lived their life completely abandoned to bring honor to Him. Elba, Sinai’s pastor, was able to sit in on many of our gatherings and get further insight into the people of her congregation, and those who were coming for the first time. We were thankful to facilitate such an organic time of fellowship and that proved to be significantly more important than the photos we took.
For all of those we talked with – they asked for prayer – and they soaked up each word, translated or not, as a blessing we would so easily miss. Seeing them receive prayer, or experiencing them pray — it instantly showed us that we were missing something in the way we come to God, and how seriously we take conversation with Him.
We took hundreds of family portraits throughout the week. Our whole team assisted in lighting, shooting, editing, and printing. We gave each family one print right after their session, and delivered about 5 more at the Sunday service later in the week. It was an incredible thing to see all the images done and delivered – I wish I could bottle up the smiles of everyone as they first saw them. Those photos are not included in this post, but feel free to check them out here: Sinai Family Portraits. Everyone who came for pictures, even those who had been avoiding the church, returned on Sunday for their photos and to be a part of the service. Seeing so many of them crying on the altar at the end of service was such an amazing thing for us to be a part of. Knowing that they now have such a beautiful community surrounding them and loving them as they start (or return to) this journey with God is so incredible. They are in good hands.
When we weren’t meeting with families or taking formal photos, we were walking to people’s homes to share a meal or simply be together. That’s one of my favorite things about our new friends in Uruguay — they really delight in just being together. One of the sweetest visits for me was in the home of Margarita and Pepe – two leaders at Sinai. She takes the role of serving others in the most joyous and graceful ways I have ever seen — she spent the entire week in the church kitchen, cooking for us! And now, she was hosting us at their home. We heard their story with the help of their daughter Ana, who was our amazing translator the whole time we were there. We heard about how Margarita prayed for Pepe to give his heart to God for 30 years. 30 WHOLE YEARS. That is more than my lifetime. She didn’t waver, didn’t grow bitter, and stayed strong in her own faith. She loved him with her whole heart, and she believed that one day he would too know God. And now? He is one of the strongest male leads in the church. He’s a jokester, constantly making people laugh, and his heart is full of the peace of God, despite what challenges they face. For some of our time with them, half of our team, including Ana, had to visit another friend. So the rest of us sat in their living room and struggled our way through simple conversation, laughing the whole time. That was truly one of my favorite moments because it was un-rushed and without an agenda. We all just enjoyed each other. It was perfect.
We explored, we played games, we ate a ridiculous amount of homemade pastries. We stayed up late reflecting and praying and watching God mold each of us. We were each challenged in unique ways and torn outside of our comfort zones. We drank our body weights in Coca-Cola and collected mosquito bites. We made bonds with people we can’t imagine putting into words, which is ironic because we often couldn’t understand each other at all. But love was bigger than that, and it was filling our hearts to overflowing.
One afternoon we went to Elba’s husband Ramon’s work, to shoot photos and video of him in action. Our goal was to show the sacrifices he has made, working overtime at his shop, in order to provide for his family, that his wife could have the honorable position of the being Sinai’s pastor. We interviewed Elba and their son Esteban, and they told us about the kind of man Ramon is. We can’t wait to share the video when it is complete.
My personal favorite visit was when we went to be with the older women of the church, who have a discipleship group. The photos will show you what a fun and hilarious bunch they are. As we sat together they shared stories about their families, their past, their burdens. They cracked jokes and their laughter alone was enough to make us laugh until we cried. They shared of how God had come through in their lives in miraculous ways and how they were asking for Him to come through for them again. They are easily some of the most influential people in that church, and it’s obvious that none of them were vying for position. Just by serving, just by their abandonment to and hope in God, they had this presence that made me want to be around them every chance you got. I can’t look at those photos without tearing up — I felt a special connection to those women that I can’t really explain. I miss them so much.
There were several services throughout the week – at each, we shared our stories. We were vulnerable and raw, telling our new friends of the ways God shaped who we are, majorly through hardship and struggle. We knew we couldn’t go there, asking them to open up to us, and have us not do the same. It was a remarkable thing to see how for each of us our stories unfolded just a bit more during our time there. Through prophetic words that were so incredibly spot-on from people who didn’t yet know us, through our conversations with and observations of the people of Sinai bringing such huge revelations, and through the bond we developed with each other – all of us were changed. Our eyes were opened and our hearts were softened. Calls were spoken on our lives that God has only since developed and confirmed. We all know that the breakthroughs we received in Uruguay were meant for us in that time, in that place. We each have a story (or two or ten) that changed us during our time there, ask us to get coffee and we can dive in to it with you :).
We made lifelong friendships in Uruguay – bonds that can’t be broken. Each of us had particular people we connected with that spoke such life-giving words over us taught us about the love of God. Our team continues to gather together to pray and worship – something that was birthed one night in Uruguay. We are still a mishmash of people that all bring something different to the table – but now I think we value those differences considerably more. We love this road we’re walking together and how each of us has been and is being changed from our time with our friends at Sinai.
We cannot wait to go back.