On October 15 I headed off for my five day trip to Texas with Send Relief and NAMB. It was a disaster relief trip so I knew that I would be helping people whose homes had been destroyed in Hurricane Harvey. I knew there would be some hard work involved and potentially some evangelism but what I did not anticipate, was just how much I would learn about myself, about this world, and about Christ.
As a single volunteer (meaning I went by myself; without a group), I was placed with a church group from Utah. These were some of the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met even though none of them bothered to learn my name the whole trip; they just called me “Ohio”. But I let them because I thought it was cute.
Our first job was a bit of a disappointment. I have been to Texas before on a mission trip and all we did was paint a house that did not need to be painted. We weren’t helping anyone, we didn’t get to share Christ with anyone. It was basically a vacation. I didn’t want this trip to be the same. I wanted to do something meaningful, something that mattered, something to bring people into the kingdom of God. This first job that we got seemed to be exactly what I was afraid of. This house was in an affluent neighborhood, and yes, with five feet of flood water the house got extremely damaged. But this was a wealthy family, with a fat insurance check, who requested volunteers just to save a couple bucks. Another job we received was for a man who got six inches of water while he was in the middle of remodeling his house. He called us in, and when we showed up we found out he was just looking for free labor to finish the remodel.
But just as I started to feel like volunteering was a waste of time, the Holy Spirit began to move. This week I have experienced God more than I have, quite possibly, in my entire life. There was a reason I came to Texas on these dates, was placed with this group, and got assigned to these houses. Lesson one: God’s plan is bigger than what I can see. I must learn to have faith in him, even when I am discouraged.
Tuesday was the start. Our job for the day was an hour’s drive away. When we arrived, the homeowners weren’t there and when we called them they told us that they would not be home for a few hours. We didn’t really know what we were supposed to do… Then the next door neighbor, Deedee, showed up. There was a reason that those homeowners ran late. We were actually meant to be there for Deedee.
She came home, and we didn’t have anything to do, so we said to her, “hey, do you still need help with your house?”
“Yes! Come look!”
So the guys went inside and saw what needed to be done and then quickly got to work. I did help some, but mostly I, with another girl, stayed back and talked to Deedee and she shared her story with us. She said that she’s living in a rental house while her house is being repaired and she only comes back to her house every other day. She was not supposed to go that day but the night before she had been praying to the Lord and asking him to “please, please send some help for my home.” Then she felt God telling her to go. So she did, and there we were standing in her driveway, ready to help. Lesson two: I am where I am for a reason. The Holy Spirit will use my circumstance in ways I cannot imagine.
Across the street from Deedee, we saw an older Mexican couple sitting outside on their porch. We went over and introduced ourselves. They didn’t speak any English but fortunately, one of the pastors on our team spoke Spanish and could translate for us. The older woman was named Maria and she was a cancer survivor. She lived there with her husband, Jose, who was a diabetic man who had recently had both of his legs amputated. Their daughter was there as well, with her son, a 6-year-old boy with Downs Syndrome.
All of those things working against them, and a house that had literally nothing salvageable inside… It was heartbreaking. What’s worse is that, like most of the people in Houston, they did not have insurance, and they also were not getting any assistance from FEMA. We were the first ones to offer help.
A group of guys went in to work on the house while I stayed back and talked to them. It was hard, as I do not speak Spanish, but thank you, Jesus, for Google Translate! At first, I decided that I wouldn’t try and have a conversation with them because I thought it would be impossible to talk to someone who does not know my language. But God’s words are beyond any language, and he used this situation to remind me of this. Lesson three: the Holy Spirit does not have language barriers.
We spoke for a little bit about our families. As she told me about the babies she lost, she pointed towards heaven, and that’s when I got to tell her about my two siblings in heaven as well. I segued from this into a discussion about Jesus. I found out that she didn’t go to church anywhere because she didn’t have a ride, so I told her that I would send her contact information to someone who could help her with that. I asked her if she had a bible and she told me she did not nor could she read small print. So the next day we all showed up with two Spanish bibles and a pair of reading glasses. We were able to do all of this without even speaking each other’s languages.
On Thursday, we discovered the worst house of the entire trip. But in that house lived two of the cutest kids I have ever met. Their names were Carter and Dia, and they were the most beautiful, friendly, happy kids and they entertained us the whole time we were working on their mold-ridden, cockroach-infested mess of a house. It was with this family where I learned one of the most valuable lessons of them all. Lesson four: When it comes to sharing the gospel, I am a messenger, not a salesman.
For as long as I can remember, I have been scared to share my faith. To be honest, it kind of terrifies me. A lot of it comes from being afraid of rejection, some of it comes from not knowing exactly what to say, and some of it is being afraid of somehow saying the wrong thing and pushing people away. Before I left for Texas I spent some time reading tips on how to share my faith and one of them stuck with me the entire week I was there. “Remember that you are not a salesman!”
I do not have to worry about saying the right thing or presenting the gospel in the right way. My only job is to share the good news. God takes care of the rest. This is liberating! I do not have to worry about pushing people away either– if God decides to bring someone to Him, there’s no way I can mess that up. As someone once so wisely put it, “you cannot go to jail for killing a dead man.” Those who are dead in Christ can’t get any deader, no matter what I say.
I was so concerned about introducing Jesus too early in the conversation and turning people off to what I had to say, and I was so concerned about not having a good enough relationship with these people yet to even bring up the gospel, that I was forgetting about the very God I was wanting so badly to tell them about.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what to say or how to say it… When all I had to do was just….. say it. It’s as simple as, “Can I tell you about Jesus?” That’s it. I learned this when Pastor Mike from our group went up to Carter and Dia’s father, whom he had never spoken to before, and said that exact thing, and then ended up having a conversation with him for well over an hour. It was at that house on Thursday, with Carter, Dia, their father, and the 200+ cockroaches, where I got the most impactful lesson of the week.
Every person that I got to speak to this week all said that they were believers in Jesus. Whether or not they were being truthful, I still should have felt some joy when they told me this. But I kept finding myself becoming disappointed. I was ready to come in and change some lives, tell people about Jesus, maybe even lead people to Christ. But when I saw these people, saw their pain and the devastation in their lives, I realized that sharing the love of Christ is not just about winning souls. He’s not a magic potion that we take once and we’re cured. Following Christ is a life-long journey that involves constant growth and an endless need for his guidance and grace. Lesson five: the saved need Christ just as much as the unsaved.
The Great Commission is not “Go and make believers of all nations.” It says go and make disciples. A disciple of Christ is a believer who is at a place in their walk with God where they themselves are ready and willing to live out the Great Commission. Like I said, following Christ doesn’t stop at salvation, and neither does evangelism.
One of my reasons for going to Texas was to explore a calling that I felt God may have been placing on my life. Since I was 17-years-old, I have had an interest in missions and I go back and forth with the thought that maybe I am called to be a missionary. I hoped that this trip would allow me to discover what I was called to do and where I was called to go.
But here’s the thing– what I learned was that my only calling and my only purpose are to serve the Lord. I need to serve Him right where I am. Maybe someday he will provide the opportunity for me to move to some foreign country and become a missionary and honestly, that would be pretty cool. But right now, he has called me to be a missionary in Columbus, Ohio. His work for me here is no less crucial than His work for me there. When I asked one of the long-term missionaries on our team how I would be able to find the money needed to be a missionary like her, she said, “it doesn’t cost anything to be a missionary right where you are.” Lesson six: my calling is to love God. And my purpose is to further His kingdom. I can do all of that wherever He has placed me.
God is amazing. Since I’ve gotten back people keep telling me what a great thing I did and how I probably changed so many lives. This might be true, but I fully believe that God planned this trip for me. He has taught me so much this week about His love for me and for this world, about the kind of person that I’m supposed to be, and the kind of life I am supposed to be living.
My name is Pilisa Hamrick and my mission field is Columbus, OH. My calling is to follow Christ and my purpose is to further his kingdom. I serve a risen savior whose plans for me and this world expand far beyond what I can see or imagine and whose plans are good even when I can’t understand how or why. He doesn’t need me to do anything but instead chooses to use me to do His work. I may not always know why I am where I am but I do know that wherever it is, I am there for a reason. Whether it be in a slum in Southeast Asia or an overly crowded college campus in Columbus, I am a missionary.
Thank you, God, for allowing me to be a servant for you.