God’s Math—Part 2

Mission Trip to Peru

Before Kim and I had our first date, we spoke on the phone for several hours. One of the many things that we had in common was a yearning to go on a mission trip. At the time, Kim was working as a handyman on his days off from the fire station. He expressed the desire to build homes for people in need. I didn’t know what role I would play on such a mission, but I was open to pitching in wherever I was needed most.

When I first went to Kim’s house (the beginning of 2016), he had a white wipe-off board in his kitchen. Written in the corner of the board were the names Greg & Linda English. He told me that a dental hygienist of his mentioned this group based out of Pensacola that was led by Mr. & Mrs. English. He was told they bring mission groups to build houses in Peru. Kim had a life-long dream to go to Peru to see Machu Picchu. The idea of combining a bucket-list adventure with the desire to build homes for the less fortunate made this a win-win set up for him. At the time, we could have never imagined what God had in store for us!

What Kim didn’t know was that I had a yearning to go to Peru as well. As a matter of fact, while at church one Sunday, my pastor asked us to write down a faith promise on a piece of paper. He said it could be anything that you wish to do for God. It could’ve been to make a weekly donation or to spend more time volunteering or really anything to further God’s love in the world. I wrote down, “Mission trip to Peru.” I’m still not sure why Peru was the place, but in that moment, I decided that any bit of extra money that God provided would be designated as “Peru money.” At the time, however, I was a single mom. Money was tight!! I was barely making ends meet so the idea that there would ever be any extra was doubtful. I had to trust that if God wanted this from me, He would provide a way to make it happen.

Fast forward about 6 months later…my relationship with Kim was gaining momentum. We knew we were God’s pick for each other. Despite the fact that we weren’t married, we jointly put money in the Peru fund. You might be wondering, well where did this money come from? To be honest, it came from God—there was no other explanation for it. Here’s an example… I wrote this in my praise journal on 8/7/16:

Yesterday you surely showered us with a gift and we are abundantly grateful. Kim was told it would be $160 to fix his pressure washer. We were about to forego our plans to paint his house because of this unexpected cost. But when we got to the store to pick up the pressure washer, the employee said that it was Kim’s lucky day. Someone deleted his order from the computer system; there was no record of the parts/labor/cost. He said we couldn’t be charged for it so it’s ours–fixed for free! Kim immediately recognized it as a gift from You and we have praised you for it! In addition, we saved $24 on dinner and got a free movie with a coupon, so it was an awesome day, thank you, Lord! We decided that since the $160 was “found” money that it will go into our Peru fund. This mission trip will happen through your provisions and our faith. 😊 We already have $300 in it (including the money from AT&T’s reduction in my bill)!

Kim and I were married in May of 2017. Our Peru fund continued to grow—the refunded money from Kim’s escrow when we sold his house, refunds from overpaying car insurance—to be honest, my only regret is that I didn’t write down each time it happened. Sometimes we were left scratching our heads with a random check that came in the mail from here or there. It was almost like God was showing off to prove to us that it was from Him! Lol!

Around that time, I went to a Christian Women’s Conference. Compassion International (a humanitarian aid organization) was there handing out packets with information on children who needed to be sponsored. One of the speakers talked about how she had visited her sponsored child and what an impact it made on her life. I took my child’s packet home and after talking to Kim, we decided we would sponsor the child that I was given. However, when I called Compassion, it turns out that they were already able to find a sponsor for the child that I was given. They asked if we’d be willing to sponsor a different child and I said we would. The child that they selected for us was named Jack and his birthday was the day after Kim’s AND, he lived in Peru! Wow! What are the chances of that?! We began to wonder if maybe we could meet him one day–possibly while on our mission trip?!

The months went by and we continued to add to the Peru fund little by little, but the actuality of planning the trip hadn’t happened yet. In 2018, I changed jobs and started working at Berryhill Elementary. One of my co-workers was talking about a mission trip and I told her about our dream to one day go to Peru. It was then that the name Linda English came up again. She told me about Reimagine and about their regular trips to Peru. I told Kim about it and he remembered the name—it was the same one that his dental hygienist mentioned—the one that was written in his kitchen years ago!

Since we were pretty sure God would cover the money for our trip, the next thing we needed was to make the time to go. Kim’s work schedule is VERY difficult when it comes to taking vacation time. He has to request days off a year or more in advance of his trips. Thus in May of 2019, I sent my first email to Linda English through their Reimagine website (https://www.reimagineworldwide.org). Knowing Kim would need to know mission trip dates for summer 2020 by October 2019, I wondered if joining their group was even going to be possible. Linda responded as sweet as could be and said she’d let us know as soon as the dates were set so we could try to join the teams going in 2020. Yay!! It seemed like it was finally happening…or was it?!

Unfortunately, like most others in the world, Covid-19 changed the course of our plans. We were booked to go on the Mission trip with Reimagine in July 2020; we planned to visit Machu Picchu; and we even had a scheduled visit with Jack, our sponsored child—but all of it was cancelled. ☹ And since Peru stayed closed to international travelers for quite awhile, we weren’t able to reschedule for 2021 because the dates weren’t planned far enough in advance for Kim to take off from work. SO, June of 2022 was to finally be our mission trip to Peru–six years in the making!

At this point, we had thousands of dollars in our Peru fund. We had enough to pay for our flights, to stay in the Reimagine complex, for our food, and gifts to be donated to the Peruvian people. We were careful though that the “Peru money” shouldn’t pay for our second part of the trip—to Cusco and Machu Picchu—that part had to be on us. (Kim and I both have a healthy fear of God and we wouldn’t want to mess with using his mission provisions inappropriately! 😊)

The cost to build a home in Peru through Reimagine is $1,000. The plan was to build 5 homes during our 9-day trip. Kim and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary on May 7, 2022. As you may know, the customary gift for a 5th anniversary is one made of wood. So for our 5th anniversary, Kim and I donated $1,000 to Reimagine for the purpose of building a wooden home for a family in need while we were there. After all, the money was theirs from God – we were just chosen to collect it and dole it out.

At this point, everything was coming together, the trip was paid for, a house was donated, we were finally doing a mission trip in Peru, and God got all the glory–how silly of me to think that this was the end of the story!! You would think since this trip was only a few weeks after our The Chosen filming experience (God’s Math Part 1–https://loveisthecommonthread.com/2022/07/19/gods-math-part-1/), that I would’ve realized that the Math lessons had only just begun.

A few months before our journey, we sent Facebook posts, emails, and texts asking for donations toward our mission. Thankfully we didn’t need any more money to cover our trip, but we were collecting vitamins and sneakers to take with us and we also requested any additional money to help with building homes. (https://www.reimagineworldwide.org/donate) There are groups that travel to Peru with Reimagine several times a year. The money donated to Reimagine is used as needed for building supplies, filling of water tanks, electricity bills, health care costs, etc. The wonderful thing about this organization though is that the money is going directly to these people–people who have immediate needs and who have become like family to the Reimagine teams.

A couple of weeks before our trip, we had a “packing party.” The teams who were going brought their donations to the English home so that we could each pack an extra suitcase full of donations. The idea is that no one has too much of one thing in their suitcase since customs can be brutal if they think you’re bringing items to sell. The group collected clothes, yarn, books, vitamins, medicine, feminine care products, sunglasses, toys, socks, shoes, jackets, and hats.

Here is a picture of what I collected before the party. Thank you again to all of you who contributed in this way (and also gave monetarily to cover the cost of the extra luggage or to go toward the building of homes). Like I explained in God’s Math Part 1 (https://loveisthecommonthread.com/2022/07/19/gods-math-part-1/), you provided your part to this equation; YOU provided the loaves and fish…wait till you see what God did to your contributions!

God’s Math–Part 1

The Chosen: Feeding of the Five Thousand

It is the only miracle that was written about in all 4 gospels—the Feeding of the Five Thousand. In the simplest form possible, it went down like this: Word had gotten out that Jesus was in town. People came to hear him speak. After awhile the people were getting hangry, but they didn’t want to miss anything that Jesus said so they weren’t leaving. The disciples were thinking Jesus needed to wrap it up so people could go get themselves something to eat. Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit and said the disciples should feed them. Huh? With what? One of the disciples said, “Hey Jesus, this kid has 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.” Jesus does His thing—blessings and miracles happen–next thing you know, the disciples are serving the masses bread and fish and even had 12 baskets left over once everyone had their fill.

Around seven or so years ago, I read the book, The Grave Robber, by Mark Batterson. It is a wonderful book about miracles and I highly recommend it. One particular quote spoke to me and I wrote it down to remind me about writing for God’s purposes. Batterson said, “I write because I am called by God to write. A book sold = an answered prayer. Each time a new book releases, it feels like giving God my two little fish. All I can do is trust that God will multiply what little I have to offer and feed multitudes with it.”

I was touched by his faith and I was inspired by his purpose for writing. I tried to keep that in mind as I wrote a Bible study (“Joy Cometh”) for people who were going through divorce. I completed the project and brought it to “She Speaks”—a Christian women’s conference which provides opportunities for individuals to meet with publishers and agents to pitch book ideas. So many moments leading up to the conference led me to believe that God was the driving force behind my book. As a single mom, I couldn’t afford to go out of state for a conference. However, the cost of everything–the conference registration, hotel, transportation, and food was paid for entirely by gifts from my family, friends, co-workers, and church family members who encouraged me to go. They each gave a bit and it added up to be A LOT! It was so humbling to know that so many people believed in me and this prayed-over project.

However, despite my best efforts, and meetings with publishers, and attempts to build a platform, and letters from influential supporters, I was never able to find a company that was willing to publish it. I was really really disappointed!! Although I was repeatedly rejected, I tried not to question the “whys” of the book. I became resolved with the fact that God’s plans are not always the same as ours and I had to just leave it at that. I shelved the Bible Study and I folded up the quote by Mark Batterson. I put it in a drawer in my desk and pretty much forgot about it…that is, until a few months ago when I “met” Dallas Jenkins.

Dallas Jenkins is the creator, director, and co-writer of The Chosen—a multi-season series about Jesus that has been the biggest crowd-funded media project in history. I learned about the series from my mom, of course. (Watch “The Chosen is Not Good” ad campaign https://youtu.be/Wo-UzSaWcIA to see why this is kinda funny). This is the most non-cheesy Christian show I’ve ever seen. The portrayal of Jesus is so relatable and I would like to think it’s a close representation of His personality–completely kind and non-judgmental–forgiving in every possible way.

Several years ago (2017), Dallas Jenkins had his life’s huge disappointment—a failed movie. I read that he felt like God had been so present in the whole movie-making process and so he couldn’t understand why it would’ve failed like it did. I completely empathized with that feeling of being let down. At the time, God impressed two things on his wife’s heart—the story of the Feeding of the 5000 and the phrase, “I do impossible Math.” (quote from www.becomingyourbest.com, episode 234). He and his wife didn’t know what these things meant, but they knew they were an integral part of what was going on in their lives. And then on that very day of disappointment, at 4am, Jenkins received a Facebook message from someone named Adam who he never even met. The message was, “Remember, your job is not to feed the 5000. It’s only to provide the loaves and fish.” In that moment, Dallas received the nudge that he needed and realized (just like Mark Batterson did) that we are not responsible for the results of our work for God.

Upon hearing this story, I searched my desk for that piece of paper—the one with Batterson’s quote on it. I needed the reminder that it was time to get back to writing. I need not worry about the results of what I write, only that I do my part, and do it for God.

I figure there is no better opportunity to help me get back into the swing of writing, then with the retelling of my experience at an event that was hosted by Dallas Jenkins himself!

One of my bucket list items has been to be an extra in a film. When I read that The Chosen was offering its fans the opportunity to be an extra in the filming of one of the scenes for Season 3, I talked to my husband and we decided we were all in for the opportunity. We paid it forward (PIF) the required amount so that we could be extras and so that others could continue to watch The Chosen for free. When we learned the scene that we would be a part of was the Feeding of the 5,000, we were beyond excited!

We were responsible for our own travel and costumes. We prayed that the filming dates would coincide with our work schedules so that we wouldn’t have to take too much time off. The filming was set to take place in Midlothian, TX at a Salvation Army Camp that had the large open field needed for this scene. We decided to drive since it would take us about 10 or so hours each way. Apparently over 11,000 people signed up to be extras for the scene. The producers decided to split the group into two days of filming—5,000+ people per day. We were thrilled to learn the dates of filming—June 7th and 8th –the week after my summer break began!

We were provided guidelines on what to wear to be considered “1st century appropriate.” Dressing a 6’6” light-eyed and light-skinned man so that he could blend in during a Middle Eastern event was presenting us with a bit of a challenge. Kim’s costume went through a few variations. He started out looking like a Russian grandma (a.k.a. the babushka, Lol!!) but in the end, he really embraced his role and he especially enjoyed the opportunity to grow in his facial hair! We were so grateful to my parents for their sewing skills and their assistance in helping to make us look the part. We were ready for our film debut!

We selected June 8th as our filming day. The heat was a big challenge that week—the heat index was forecasted to hit 100 degrees. Many of our costumes required multiple-layered clothing and head coverings so heat exhaustion was a huge concern. We also had to jump through the SAG Covid requirements–negative lab PCR tests within 3 days of filming and a negative rapid test the morning of filming. Thankfully we were able to cruise through the hurdles and made it to the set with the intent to witness the reenactment of one of the Bible’s greatest miracles.

They had hundreds of people working the event to try to keep us hydrated in the oppressive heat. They split us into three groups and filmed different parts of the scene before bringing us all together at the end. In the meantime, they provided entertainment and food to keep us occupied during our time off set. We got to meet lots of other fans and were excited when it was finally our turn to walk to the field for filming.

The first scene our group (of about 1000 people) filmed took place AFTER the 5000 were fed. We were told our assignment was to express excitement with the people around us as we all just experienced a miracle. We were able to see a few of the actors in between takes, but to be honest, this wasn’t the most exciting part of the day. It was hard to imagine “after the miracle,” since we weren’t part of the Feeding of the 5,000 scene…yet. They did SEVERAL takes of this scene. Each time they yelled “action,” we became more and more animated and comfortable with the people who were standing around us. By the last take, we were hugging strangers and shaking hands and I think at that point, our group was finally giving a convincing portrayal that we had been through something spectacular together. Dallas Jenkins thanked us for being there and was so genuinely grateful for our part in this life-altering event. We were then instructed to return to the tents where we would wait to be called back for the final filming of the day.

When all of the groups were called back to the field, Dallas wanted to make sure he got all the scenes he needed since this was the last time his group of 5,000+ would be together. We finally got to be a part of the reenactment of the miracle that we were so faithfully yearning to witness. The actors were walking around with their baskets, prepared to hand out the bread and fish. The masses were hoping that they would be lucky enough to be sitting in a spot where they could reach up and grab a piece of bread. (Needless to say, the dried out smelly fish wasn’t as coveted! Lol!) Overall there was a lot of excitement in the air and there was a collective joy that went with being a part of this moment.

Once we were all seated in our places and the restless movement paused in anticipation of filming to begin, I got to look around and take it all in for a moment. Despite the heat which caused our heads to throb, and the hardness of the ground, and the blazing sun on our red-burned faces, there was a realization in that moment that took my breath away….Here I was, with over FIVE THOUSAND people sitting on the grass in a field and the Bible says, “They all ate and were satisfied.” (Matthew 14:20 & Mark 6:42 & Luke 9:17, NIV). Over 5,000 people fed to satisfaction with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread–it is absolutely positively mind blowing!! The sheer grandeur of this miracle was astounding and for the first time in my life, I could see it. Only with God’s impossible math could 5 + 2 = 5,000 (with a remainder of 12)!

As the sun set and the filming was wrapped, our tired bodies were ready for air conditioning and rest. I can only imagine how the original 5,000+ were feeling after their miraculous event. By the time we were handed our boxed dinners and we were loaded onto the bus to take us back to our cars, it was completely dark.

Our bus drove away from the field for a few minutes and then it stopped. We didn’t know what the hold up could be, but to be honest, we were comfortable and “we were satisfied.” Within moments the lights turned on and I looked up to see Dallas Jenkins charging down the aisle of the bus giving every single person a high five and once again expressing his gratitude. Wow! We later learned he went onto every bus that night and high-fived and thanked all of us!! Quite frankly, that was one of the most impressive parts of the day for me!

Dallas Jenkins’ commitment to his calling for Jesus is truly inspirational. He has set an example that is one of genuine love. He and his beautiful show, The Chosen, have left me with the awesome reminder that with God, the impossible can become possible!! All I have to do is offer up my fish and bread, and the rest…is up to Him.