2020 will be a memorable year for the Herring family. Of course we’ve had the pandemic and closing of on campus schooling and everything else that has come with this Covid 19 pandemic year. But 2020 is also the year that God has moved our family out of Mexico and back to Wilmington, NC.
When we first moved to Puerto Escondido in 2013 to run GEM and start the Manantial School we knew our commitment was a lot like a blank check to God. We didn’t know how long we were going to be living in Mexico…or what would really happen with the mission we were founding. We just went with a clear calling and no plans or timetable for returning. 7 years later God made it clear it was our time to return to the US and serve with GEM from Wilmington.
We have been back in Wilmington for 3 weeks. Our resettling has been easy and filled with blessing after blessing, largely because of our family and church. We moved into the same house we left behind in 2013 and have restarted our lives here. As Meg and I have been reflecting, we’ve notices that so much has changed…but many things are also the same. We have the same neighbors, same house, and of course our family and church are the same. Meg and I have joked several times as we sit at our kitchen table (same table as before the move) how it feels like we’ve just picked up the life we left behind in 2013.
But there are some significant and obvious changes too. Our family has grown from 2 children to 5, Manantial has grown from 0 students to over 220. And 1 school has grown into 4. There has also been change in our hearts. God has taught us and shown us so much during our time in Mexico. There’s too much to share in this blog post, but I can summarize it this way. God has repeatedly proven Himself faithful and convinced us, even in our moments of weak faith, that we can truly trust Him and praise Him no matter what is happening around us. We believed this before we left for Mexico…it’s the reason we obeyed and started GEM. But we know this truth at a deeper level now.
So many times between 2011 (when GEM was officially founded) and 2020 it looked like GEM was in serious trouble. We’ve faced financial shortfalls, recruiting/staffing shortfalls, immigration issues, local church challenges, governmental pressure, threats from other schools in Mexico, and on and on. On top of that, I have struggled through the normal challenges of learning how to start and run a gospel saturated school in another country. Countless times over the last 9 years I wanted to “throw in the towel” because of my professional shortcomings and failures.
But I am convinced God has allowed these struggles to be a part of my journey for my good. I have been forced, through the constant challenges, to pray more and call out to Him as my only hope. This is right where He’s always wanted me, and I love Him more because I can see how He truly never left me.
With all that said…don’t assume I have it all together! I certainly don’t! I have not arrived at some super spiritual place and all is right in life. I’m in process and all that God has done in my heart is going to be used to give me just enough courage to press on and continue to overcome in this next chapter of life and ministry.
So what’s ahead? It looks like God desires to use GEM to reach more people and grow in our ability to impact those we serve. We have 3 schools in Mexico, 1 in Uganda, and another opening in Colombia. We also have several other potential school projects around the corner. God is growing GEM and its exciting! Our move back to Wilmington is part of a big transition and step for our ministry. We believe opening an office in Wilmington will allow us to develop better partnerships, recruit and train more missionaries, and better serve all of our schools. We have repeatedly talked about this being the start of a new chapter for GEM.
We’re excited and can’t wait to see what God will do. We know it will be challenging and at times really hard, but that’s okay. God has always done his best work in my heart in those times.
Please pray for GEM as we start this new chapter. Pray for our leaders as we open our office and work to develop new roles. Pray that our ministry would grow in impact and that those who are served in our schools would truly know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
I’ve reached the end of my 1 1/2 year contract and reflecting back, I am left in awe and amazement about all that God has done in my life. This truly has been the most difficult year and a half but the richest in my walk with Jesus. Never have I experienced such depth in relationships quite like the ones here as well as my relationship with the Lord. As hard and painful the journey has been, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything because of how I know and love Jesus in the ways I do now. I’ll be honest, when I first moved here, I didn’t know how I would make it to June 2020. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t stay longer than that.. I was so bitter and resentful because of shattered expectations, struggling with my mental health, and missing friends and family.
God began a WORK in my heart. Leading up to summer 2019, I counted down the days and seconds to fly back to the United States, longing for comfort, rest, and a break. I couldn’t wait. During that summer, God began to soften my heart for Mexico and my community in Puerto. He gave me such a deep desire and longing to be back. He began to grow my heart where I felt this heavy burden for the people here to come to know Jesus. When my plane flew back into Puerto in August, I was overcome with tremendous peace that could have only come from God. I knew this wouldn’t be my last year. I began praying in August about what this upcoming summer would look like in preparation for who knows how long God will keep me here in Mexico.
When I first came back to Mexico, I lived with a family for a short time due to having so many struggles my first semester here. It was a sweet and needed season that allowed me to feel safe, secure, and back on my feet again. God allowed it to where He opened up a tiny little house next to my friends just in the time I needed and was ready to have my own place. On my first night by myself in my new home, I opened up my book called “Every Moment Holy” and prayed a prayer over this house. That God would dwell within this place. That he would be present at this table and present as I rise and lay down at the beginning and end of each day. That this home would be a place of shared tears and laughter, a place of meaningful conversations, a place of creating and reflecting, and a place to serve and welcome in others.
Over the past 6 years, I’ve moved around quite a bit. I’ve never actually lived in the same place for more than 9 months at a time. I lived out of suitcases and boxes and storage bins while expecting to pack up and switch dorms or houses shortly after I would begin to feel settled. Now that I am in this house, I don’t have a time frame for when I need to move on to the next place. I can just “be.” For the first time in 6 years, this is the longest place I’ve lived in and it has been such a gift from the Lord. I’m able to be more intentional and welcoming towards people within this space. It has served as a “harbor of anchorage and refuge, and a haven from which I journey forth” in order to carry out the Great Commission. And as I continue on, my roots are beginning to grow deeper and deeper within this community that I am growing to love more and more each day.
So leading into what this summer will look like for me. God has made it so clear that I’m not supposed to come back and visit the states until December. It was sad and hard at first to have to cancel plans I was looking forward to and realizing I won’t see my family for a year. But as my roots grow deeper and deeper into this community, there is only so much I can communicate and understand with my limited Spanish. I am SO excited for what is next. I’m not moving back to the States. God knows that timeline, I don’t. However, over the summer, I am going to be living in a small town 30 minutes outside of Puerto with a sweet Mexican family to study and learn Spanish at a school there. I start school on June 22 and I end on August 7th. After school, I will start preparing for the next school year at Manantial teaching 4th grade again.
God did more than I could ever imagine in my life this year and especially within these past 6 months. I am so excited for what’s ahead. What the enemy intended for evil, God used it for good (Genesis 50:20). No matter how long God may have me planted here, I am praying that “my days lived within these temporary walls would serve to awaken a restless longing for my truer Home in heaven” (Every Moment Holy).
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:22-25
Wow, these words. I was cut to the core this morning. To be quite honest, any sort of praise or recognition of God’s goodness has been far from my lips. I hadn’t even realized how hard my heart had become until I started reading different passages like this and realized how little faith I had in them.
I don’t know about you, but lately I have found it much easier to focus on the hardships, hurdles, and things going wrong in my life. I have been spending way too much time complaining to God about everything around me, crying out about the evil that continues to infect our world, and growing bitterness in my heart for all of the ‘unfairness’ I see. In my flesh, my heart says ‘God is not good and He is definitely not Faithful because if He were, He would do this or that… or ‘how could God be silent in times like these?’… but oh how incredibly wrong this is, how much farther from the truth could this be!
Number one, who am I to think such things about God? How could I (mere dust) point my finger at THE living God and say, ‘this is unfair, you don’t know what is good, you need to change things’?
Psalm 24 tells us,
“The earth is the Lord ‘s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” – Psalm 24:1-3
Psalm 33 reads,
“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host… Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm… The counsel of the LORD stands forever” – v. 6, 8-9 & 11.
Who am I in comparison to YAHWEH?! God is the Holy, Perfect, and Just Creator of the Universe. He is the One in charge.
Number two. After reflecting on God being the Sovereign, Powerful Author of all things, Lamentations 3:22-25 (above) reminded me that God is also overflowing in mercy… without condition. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” – Lam. 3:22. God has never stopped pouring out his love and mercy on us, ever. Even after accusing God and having an ungrateful heart, He has not ceased to bless me every single day with both the gift of salvation and the physical gifts that I take for granted, e.g. food, safety, clothing, etc. Jesus laid his life down for the sheep. 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Need I say more? The LORD has loved each of us beyond what we can ever comprehend, He is indeed The Good Shepherd; the very definition of Faithful love.
And Lastly, the third thing. Psalm 33 showed me what my heart’s response should be to God. “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD” – v. 1-5
He is more than worthy of praise. Truly. After reading verses this and pondering all of the other scriptures mentioned, my heart was totally changed. God made Psalm 33 the song of my heart. You know how? I looked upward instead of to myself for the answers. This is how amazing and wonderful God is! The moment we give ourselves over to Him and realize His love, he begins to shape our hearts and take out all of the darkness and untruth. When we begin to believe we are in charge, that is when things fall apart. When we stop trusting God for who He is.
Cry out to God in faith and He WILL respond. He saved me from my bitter heart! Before reading Psalm 33, I was filled with discouragement and sadness. After being exhorted to praise, for the rest of the day I couldn’t get praise songs out of my head! It just started flowing out of me! So Let us constantly consider – Who is God? And who am I? The Lord loves you and He will show you His love if you seek Him… “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” Lam. 3:25.
Natalia Saint Clair, GEM volunteer
During this time of quarantine and of plans not happening and disappointments, God has really been teaching me some things that are true.
As we received news that school would not go back this school year, we were so disappointed. As we have made plans to move back to the U.S. at the end of this school year, this was definitely not the ending we imagined. So what do you do when disappointment and an array of different emotions come? When you feel so frustrated and mad and sad? We were even more frustrated because we could not even get back to Juquila where we live. We came to Puerto Escondido when all of this started and thought maybe we would come for a couple of weeks. We ended up staying a couple of months as the roads and towns shut down that we’d have to travel through to get back to Juquila. We have no control over anything; I’ve seen that truth shared so many times in this whole pandemic. It is true though. We cannot control the way these small towns are handling the virus; we cannot control the decisions our government makes. We definitely cannot control the current state of the world, and we cannot control whether the plans we make happen or not.
The fact that we have no power to change those things can be really overwhelming, but it is a humbling truth and I am finding freedom and deeper joy when I surrender this. And in that surrender, I can see things that I actually can control to an extent. I can decide what I read, what I do or don’t scroll through, if I spend quality time at the feet of Jesus. These things are so worthy to be taken seriously. I could waste an entire day just worried and overwhelmed dwelling on the things I want to be different but are not. Or, as these frustrations come, I can feel them, think upon them, and then surrender them. God is trustworthy. And so that means that this is true from Matthew 6:26-34:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Maybe it is hard for me sometimes to believe that I do not need to worry because I do not deeply think upon what I actually need. I feel worried and anxious because my plans are canceled. But I am never promised perfect plans. I get overwhelmed because the world is in chaos. But I am not promised a peaceful world, not until Jesus makes all things new. What is true is that I have Jesus, a close companion and friend. And the Holy Spirit that raised Him from the dead lives in me. Just the power of that alone should make ANY circumstance a miracle!
Sometimes it is hard to see it, but He really is making all things new. This is true, but in order to see His working, we must think upon the things of the Spirit. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. These are the things that God wants to grow in us. And as much as these circumstances are hard, as many disappointments there are, I believe that circumstances like these are actually great soil for these fruits to grow.
And I say all of this not to belittle anxiety and worry or to say that any of what is happening is good. I have just been very encouraged to have a perspective change. Our world and our lives have changed in so many ways in the last few months, but God remains the same. And His heart for us is to know Him and grow in Him so that we can love Him and others. Even though things look different, we still have just as much access and maybe even more time to see and grow in His purpose for us.
I hope that everyone is doing well during this troubling time in our world. So much has changed so fast. People have lost their jobs, their money; many have lost relationships or at least access to certain relationships. Businesses are struggling to get by or are being forced to close down. It appears the world we live in is far less stable than we thought.
When everything changes and our plans are not turning out as we hoped, many thoughts start to creep into our heads. Worry, anxiety, and fear can be all consuming. I have been constantly battling these thoughts and feelings. I have been constantly having remind myself of what is true.
Just recently I remembered a command from God that has been so comforting. You might be thinking, “How is a command comforting? I’m afraid and someone is telling me what to do?” Well it has been said that this command can be found 365 times in scripture! That’s a lot! We should probably pay attention to this command. So are you ready for it? Here it goes, the command is…..
“Don’t be afraid.”
That’s it! Don’t be afraid! Or in some translations, “Fear not!” Here are a few well known places we find this command in scripture. It appears in both the Old and New Testament:
He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”
These are just a few of the places where this command shows up. Often times this command is accompanied by God reminding his people who He is. When we realize who God is, we have no need to be afraid.
When I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t need to be afraid.
When I don’t know where I will be living in the next few months, I don’t need to be afraid.
When I don’t know what my job will be, I don’t need to be afraid.
When an infectious virus is spreading all over the world, I don’t need to be afraid.
When I don’t know what will happen to the ministry I’m a part of, I don’t need to be afraid.
When I see my friends struggling in their marriage, I don’t need to be afraid.
When I don’t know who or what to trust, I don’t need to be afraid, and I need to remember that I can trust the one true living God.
He sustains me, he guides me, he provides for me, he cares for me, and above all else, he loves me.
And guess what 1 John 4:18 says,
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”
God loves us, and we do not have to be afraid. He is God. We might not know what the future holds, but we know the one that holds the future.
Don’t be afraid my friends. Walk in love.
Now being in my 4th year as a GEM teacher, one of the sweetest connections I have made since moving to Mexico is with the students. Even though my first year was very challenging, God softened my heart over the summer after my 1st year. Since my 2nd year here, I have felt called to reach out to a few of the middle school girls and to also be genuine with the students I am teaching and tutoring.
God has blessed me so much by being able to connect with them and get to know them, and even their families more and more each year. Having students over to my house for dinner and playing games or being silly with them during class or getting hugs has been so sweet.
However, I have felt called to be more intentional in my interactions with them because I want to be a light for the gospel in their lives. So when I was given the opportunity to lead a small group of girls through a Bible study I was so excited! I would have never imagined four years ago that I would be in such a pivotal role in these girls’ lives.
I was also asked unexpectedly to teach 5th grade for a whole semester due to another teacher’s health. My time teaching the 5th grade had its difficulties, but I can see how God was using me in little ways in those kids lives. I was very nervous and felt very unprepared for both of those roles, but I knew God had a plan far greater than I could imagine and I knew He would give me strength in my weakness.
I have been so thankful for the different conversations I have had with several students! I can see how God is working in their hearts and I’m looking forward to what else God will do in their lives. I am even amazed at how God is using these students to show me how loved I am by Him. I write this as a reminder for myself and others – that God can use ANYONE to make a difference for the gospel. And He will often call you to step up in unexpected ways to lead others, and through Him, we are completely qualified for these important roles. I am thankful for this semester of unexpected opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone for Jesus!
If you’d like to support Tracy as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!