Hi Everyone, So many of you prayed for my kids while they were in Mississippi, and all of our prayers were answered. I asked the kids to write a thank you NOTE, and they both wrote very lengthy letters, because neither of them was able to express their experiences in any way shorter than this. I’m sooo proud of them, and so happy for them. Their faith inspires me EVERY DAY. They hand-wrote their notes, which I have tucked away for keepsakes. Here is the typed version:
LETTER FROM IAN:
Dear Friends and Family,
I give you great thanks for all the prayers and money you donated to my brother and I to go to Mississippi. We went on this trip knowing only 5 or 6 people and as we arrive home, I can say that I am friends with everyone that went down there and even made a few best friends. It was truly a life-changing event and I wish I could tell you all about it, but that would take hours.
While on this trip, I learned what it really means to be content in any and every situation. I met this lady named Ms. Valia who had her entire house destroyed during hurricane Katrina. She had to live in a car for 2 months and later one of the Mississippi trips before us bought her a tent. She had to live in that through 2 more hurricanes. Volunteers then all built her a beautiful house and it was given to her free of charge. She was so thankful for it. Her house was built up on stilts and everything below the house were things she saved from her destroyed house. She even kept the steps to her old house. It amazes me what has such value and meaning to them. I also met this guy named Willie. Willie’s house was not completely destroyed, but it was left beaten and battered. All the garbage from the neighborhood ended up on his front lawn. Operation Restorations 1, 2, and 3 (we were 4), cleaned up all that garbage and it was lined up along the street on the side of his house. While I was working on a fence in his yard, just on the other side was the garbage pile, and a huge garbage truck pulled up. This was not your regular industrial sized garbage truck. This was an extra large garbage truck. While a crane picked up the pile bit by bit, Willie came out to the lawn and started to cry tears of joy because the garbage was finally gone. It took the garbage truck 4 trips to take away all the garbage. When he spoke to us on the bus, he told us how he had lost everything in the storm, but he was thankful. He was thankful for his life. I was very confused when he said that, but it all makes sense now. When you see a teenager lose their cell phone or ipod, they can’t live because they have become so attached to it, that it is a part of their life. Willie lost EVERYTHING and was still happy. That is what it really means to be content in any and every situation. I believe that if you look up content in a dictionary, a picture of Ms. Valia and Willie should be next to it.
While on this trip, all 50 or so students came out to worship every night. They shared testimonies and stories of their lives. I remember it was a Thursday night and just after Gabe had finished singing Paul Digiovanni raised his hand to say something. He said, “After hearing that song, I have decided I want to fully devote my life to Christ.” Cheers rang aloud for a minute straight. As this happened, questions started whirling through my head such as “Is He real?” “Did He really die for our sins?” “Does He always listen to me?” “When will I see Him?” “Will I ever see Him?” and so on. Then, later on, one of my good friends Joey shared his testimony. He had such a hard life and his story really touched me. At this point, I felt like someone was talking to me. I kept asking questions like “Is that you?” “Can you show yourself to me?” “Can you explain this feeling?” and so on. There were also these two very young leaders there who both shared their testimonies. Their names were Andy Sparks and Drew Edwards. Drew went last and at the end of his speech, he told us of a tradition he did when he was on a mission trip in Uganda, Africa. He would scream, “Halelujah!” and we would all yell back together, “Amen!” You would do this 3 times, then clap 5 times and on the last clap, you raise and open your arms to the sky. The first time he screamed, “Halelujah!” and I screamed back, “Amen!” As I screamed “Amen!” I felt a tear run down the right side of my face. Then the second time Drew screamed “Halelujah!” and I could hardly answer the next two Amens because I was crying so hard. Then, we clapped 5 times and I raised my hands to the sky and looked deep into the night sky lit with bright shiny stars. At that moment all of my questions were answered. He IS real. He DID die for our sins. He DOES always listen to me, and it was HIM talking to me. And at that moment I was saved.
After Drew’s tradition, Josh said some things that I cannot remember, but I did hear him say, “Anyone who thinks they want to fullly devote themselves to Christ, come over here when you are ready.” I looked up through my 3D glasses I was wearing to see Paul stand up and walk over there, then a couple others, then Ciara, and then I knew I was ready so I got up and walked over to the group of leaders. I gave Paul a huge hug that lasted probably 10 seconds as we sobbed on each others’ shoulders. Then, I walked over to Drew and he squeezed me tightly into him and then took me by the shoulders and said, “Do you mind if I pray with you for a minute?” I looked at him with a big smile and tears coming down my face and said, “Of course.” We walked to the side, away from the group and he began to pray for how thankful he was that I was saved and that he ad the opportunity to meet me. He called me “Fingers” because of my amazing catches in ultimate frisbee earlier that day. And, I remember the last thing he said was “Hey Fingers, did you know that every time someone devotes their life to Christ the angels rejoice in Heaven?” I bit my lip to stop from crying and nodded my head and he went on, “Well, they are singing your name right now. Can you hear it?” I turned to him and gave him another hug. He then asked me if I wanted to pray and I said, “yes.” I just thanked God for finally showing himself to me, everything he has done for me, giving me the opportunity to meet Drew and that the rest of the students could someday have this wonderful feeling. I couldn’t say much more as tears ran off the tip of my nose like a faucet, and then Drew began to cry. We held each other for what seemed like forever, an then we walked back to the group where tears of joy covered the ground and there was a hug fest going on. I gave a hug here and a hug there. Then, I found my brother, Rory, and we held each other and kissed each other, and just cried. Then, as we held a prayer circle with about 12 people on our own, everyone began to make their way over to join us. Then, as soon as we finished, Josh Korn, the youth pastor of Edge, leaned into the circle and said, “You guys wanna know what the cool thing about a mission trip is?” We said, “What?” and Josh replied, “You can get baptized.” Right after he said that, everyone ran into their huts to get their bathing suits on. Rory, Brad, Rob, Paul, Nic, and I all ran to the beach as fast as we could. Then, we waited for everyone else to show up and when they did, we walked out into the gulf. The moon was never out at nights. The tide was about 50 feet further out than normal. We all got out there and Michael Gilbert went up first. Cheers and screams were loud. Then I looked over at Rory and said, “Let’s go together.” So, Rory and I went up next after the barage of hugs that went around us, and we were to be baptized by Clay Shuman, one of the leaders, and Josh Korn, a leader and one of our good friends. I don’t really remember what they said because of all the excitement in me. I had Josh in my right hand and Rory in my left. They said, “We baptize you in the name of the …..” and then everybody joined in, “Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” They dunked us under the murky water of the Gulf and we came up to hear everyone cheering loudly and trying to give us hugs. it was a wonderful experience.
The next day was Friday and it would be our last in Mississippi, for we would leave Saturday morning. We went to our jobs and worked side by side with the others for the last time on htis trip. Nobody wanted to leave including myself. We left Saturday morning and everyone’s attitude was sad. Some people even cried as we left on the bus. We were able to stop in Nashville, Tennessee on the way home. It was a wonderful trip that I wish could have lasted forever.
I just want to once again thank you for your donations and prayers because they really helped. Without you, this trip would never have happened, and I would not have all these stories to share with you. Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Thank you so much and God bless you!
Sincerely, Ian MacDonald