Sunday, June 9, 2013
day 9: hell on Earth.
I'm gonna go ahead and dive straight into this one, because it's probably going to end up being on the longer side. The word of the day is: .hell. And to just go ahead and be really, really clear, I don't have anything theological or ridiculously profound to say about this subject. I was raised in a Bible Church that taught us in elementary school Sunday School that going to hell meant we were going to burn alive for the rest of eternity, which was terrifying for me because growing up my biggest fear was that my house would spontaneously catch fire, and I would burn alive caught inside. When I got older and could actually grasp the concept, I was taught that what hell actually meant was "eternal separation from God", which I'll confess didn't mean much to me. I was saved young, and if you've heard my testimony you know that a huge struggle of mine early on was understanding the Gospel because I didn't understand what Jesus was saving me from. I was a "good" kid. So instead of trying to drudge up something meaningful to say about what hell is, I'm going to tell a story.
In January of 2012, my class of Impact 360-ers packed up and flew to Brazil for a month on a missions trip. If you've been on this blog for a little while and somehow missed my connection to Impact 360 & the people there, ask me about it. It's a different story for a different time, but one I would love to tell. But anyways. A week into the trip our team split in half, with half of us going to host camp at Porto Alegre, and the other half flying out to Florianopolis [a smaller town on the beach] to host VBS and do repair work for local churches. To make a longer story short, the trip was hard. It was emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually draining. HARD.
Our third week there we drove out to the Cadi, a organization that took kids in from the surrounding pavelas (slums) and kept an eye on them, making sure they were fed, taken care of, and getting some sort of education. We got to host a VBS for these kids, as well as paint and restructure what would soon be one of their new classrooms. It was our last project in Florianopolis, and I can honestly say that starting the week I was ready to go home.
The first night we worked in the Cadi we came back to our camp and had a team meeting. Going into the team meeting I was fine. And then suddenly, I wasn't. I don't know what happened or what snapped, but all of a sudden I felt unbelievably, ridiculously empty. At the time I tried to pass it off as exhaustion or sadness. I had had recent conversations, hard conversations with two very close friends of mine, neither of which had come to any sort of conclusion. However, as soon as I walked out of the main house I knew that wasn't it. I walked back down the hill with Payton, my roommate, and we sat down on some stairs outside of the rooms. She didn't ask me what was wrong, she just started to play guitar. Eventually a handful of our friends wandered over and we had an impromptu worship session, something that was somewhat of a habit for us. I stared off into space for what I thought was 5 or 10 minutes, and was later informed was more like an hour. Eventually it got late and since we had a full day of work tomorrow everyone headed off to bed. Kartwright walked over to me and tried to get me to talk for a few minutes, before finally taking a few steps back. He finally sighed, wished me goodnight, and walked off. As soon as he shut his door, I broke.
I have cried before, but this was sobbing. I mean bent at the waist, doubled over, body shaking, hit the ground because you can't hold yourself up anymore sobbing. I was curled up in a ball at the foot of the stairs, gasping for air because I couldn't take breaths big enough to keep me oxygenated before I started crying again. The only 2 people up besides me were our leader and a girl he was talking to on the other side of the stairs....other than that, I was completely alone.
Let me say this. I can't say for sure that I know what it feels like to have your soul ripped from the one who created it...forever. But that night, I'm pretty sure I got a piece. See, that entire trip I spent frustrated because I couldn't understand the Gospel. I couldn't understand why this one message made people cry and run forward and break in the middle of their lessons. I didn't understand the need, the unquenchable longing in your heart for something that only God could truly fulfill. I didn't understand what it was to be empty. But laying there that night on the stairs, too weak to pick myself up and walk to my room, I finally understood. I cried outside for half an hour, begging God to do something, anything to show me that He cared. I didn't care if that was a shooting star, a voice, a miracle, or just someone coming outside to hug me. I was begging for anything. Never in my LIFE have I felt so alone. I never doubted that God was there...I only doubted that He cared. I knew that He heard me...I couldn't understand why He wasn't reaching me out and putting the jagged edges of my heart back together. It was like I could see Him, feel Him, watching me across the darkness, completely unresponsive to my grief, pain and heartbreak. I have never felt so meaningless, worthless, hopeless, and unbelievably devoid of life.
I don't know what Hell will look like, feel like, or entail. But if being separated from the Lord eternally feels anything like that night, I have never been more thankful for Christ OR the Gospel. The awareness of my need for a Savior, for hope and meaning and life has never been more apparent to me than in those 2 hours I spent listening to music and crying my eyes out. I went into Brazil begging that God would help me understand the Gospel, and He did. He just took me the painful, I promise after this you won't ever forget what I did for you, route. And just so this story doesn't end on what seems to be an absolutely awful note:
I finally got to bed and told myself that everything would look better in the morning, because that's what I've heard all my life. It didn't look better in the morning. I was an absolute wreck and I was barely holding it together. Pam walked up to me just to ask me how I was doing, and I broke down and told her the whole thing. She, at a complete loss for what to say, prayed for me, hugged me, and put me on the bus off to the Cadi for the day. That day was the last day of VBS, and I was responsible for sharing the salvation bracelets with the kids, which basically meant I would stand up and tell the Gospel story, before finally closing with inviting them to pray the salvation prayer along with me. Needless to say, The Lord and I weren't on the best terms after last night. I didn't understand WHAT He was doing and I didn't want to share the Gospel. I felt like I couldn't. How could I share something I didn't understand? But I did it because I had too, and after finally getting through the story and bowing my head I invited the kids to pray along with me and started the prayer.
Of the 90+ kids in that room that day, almost every single one of them repeated after me.
I don't know how many of them fully understood, and how many of them genuinely received Christ. But it was the final point of realization for me. Hearing almost 100 clear, beautiful voices praying to Jesus Christ in Portuguese, asking for salvation shot straight through my heart, and I broke for the Gospel for the first time.
Of all my experiences in Brazil, this is the clearest :) The phrase "I'm thankful I'm not going to Hell" doesn't seem sufficient. It blows my mind. My soul DESERVES to go there....in my fallen, broken humanity, it's where I belong. But because I serve a God who loves to be glorified through His mercy, I will NEVER experience it. And for that, I am broken, undeserving, and indescribably thankful.