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Reflections from my ‘One Year Challenge’…

I am wrapping up the last week of my One Year Challenge (technically 11 months) here in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  I am moving to New Jersey on December 16th, 2013 to take care of my grandfather (read the blog post here).  But for now, I wanted to share some reflections to some questions about my year here.


How did you first learn about the opportunity to take the One Year Challenge? I heard it talked about a lot in relation to the campus ministry.  But being 33 years old and in the singles ministry, initially I felt like it wasn’t an option for me.  I looked into it more over time and was excited to see the ‘Disciple Adventures’ website developed and all of the opportunities on there.  At the time, I didn’t see anything that particularly appealed to me because I really wanted to go to a third world, spanish speaking country – so that’s when I considered creating my own OYC.

What were some of the things that influenced your decision to go to the mission field for a year?  One of my best friends who is also single and around the same age as me decided she was going to do a ‘one year challenge’ and that inspired me a lot.  Around the same time, another one of my best friends asked my why I wasn’t pursuing my biggest dream which was to live in a foreign country and serve.  That question came at the right time and really hit me.  In many ways I felt complacent and comfortable in my life and in my walk with God.  I didn’t feel like I was living by faith.  It was easy for me to complain and be discontent even though I had so much to be grateful for.  I had wanted to live in a third world country for a long time (13 years) – to serve & encourage others and also to learn spanish – but one of the tipping points for me was realizing that I got more excited about my latest deal on groupon than serving God.  I didn’t want my life to be about that – I wanted to be living for more.  I wanted to be sold out for God.  I knew I could sacrifice more for him.  Also, being single, at times it was easy for me to think my life would start when I got married and in the meantime be living like I was in the ‘waiting room’. I finished reading a book called ‘Table for One’ and one of the questions in it that really hit me was – “If 10 years from now you are still single, would you have lived the last 10 years of your life differently?”  I didn’t want to be sitting in a rocking chair at 85 wishing I would’ve done this.  I also realized I had some pretty big fears holding me back from following my dream and so I took a month to pray and wrestle with God through those fears until I came to a place of peace and decided I was going ‘all in’ for God and this dream.

What were you most worried about? What made the decision difficult?  I was worried that I would fail.  I was worried because I didn’t feel ‘qualified’.  I was worried that it might be a bad financial decision (what about my retirement fund?).  I was worried that something bad might happen to my family while I was gone.  I was worried something bad might happen to me while I was gone.  I was worried that it wasn’t God’s will for me.  All of these things made my decision difficult – but it was good because I wrestled with God about it all and prayed a lot and got a lot of advice and found peace with all of those fears and ‘what ifs’.

How did you make the move from “dream” to “I’m going?”  I prayed specific prayers but also knew I needed to just make a decision to go ‘all in’ for God – whatever that meant or however that ultimately unfolded – I needed to decide to hand my life over to God and yield to his will.  I knew that also meant being at peace if his answer to all of my plans was ‘no’ or ‘not right now’.

As a side note – about 4 years prior I tried to move to a country in South America to do something similar but as I tried to move forward with the plans I felt like God was saying ‘no’ and that the doors weren’t opening.  I kept praying for him to make it clear and ultimately felt like I needed to stay where I was and continue working and serving him there.  It wasn’t the answer that I wanted, but I trusted God.  I believe in those following years He just continued to shape my character, helped me grow and heal and learn and got me ready for when it was time to go.

So back to the original question – As I was making my decision I listened to a couple of songs a lot during that time and the lyrics helped me – such as “I give myself to you so you make something beautiful out of me” and  “I give myself away so you can use me”  and read scriptures like ‘you must be willing to lose your life in order to gain it’  – I kept praying and I believed that God kept opening doors and lighting my path.  I moved forward with plans by faith – there were a lot of details that I easily could’ve gotten overwhelmed with in the beginning – like what will I do with my car?  and all of my stuff?  But, I forced myself to just stay focused on taking each day as it came and trusting that when it came time to figuring those things out, God would be there and show me the way.  And he did.  Oh, did he ever.

What practical things did you do to prepare?  A huge reason I was able to go and do this was because I was debt free and had saved money.  Six or seven years prior, I took a ‘Financial Peace’ class with Dave Ramsey and that literally is one of the best things I have done in my life – second to becoming a christian.  It changed the course of my future and freed me up (because I paid off all of my debt) to truly follow my dreams.  In the years leading up to me moving, I was living frugally – keeping all of my monthly expenses low which enabled me to save money.  So the financial aspect of it was huge for me.  I also purchased Rosetta Stone to start learning spanish – but honestly, I didn’t get very far in it.  I had also decided that I did not want to put all of my stuff in storage for a year while I was gone.  I wanted to be free from all of my ‘stuff’ with a hope of being more flexible to go wherever God led me after the one year.  So a month before I moved I (with the help of many friends) held a giant fundraising sale and sold all of my stuff (and gave the rest away) – clothes, shoes, accessories, home goods, my car, and more – in an effort to raise money so that I could go self-supported for one year.

Why Honduras?  As I was moving forward with this dream I didn’t really know where I would go.  So, I made a list of possible options based on people I knew and I prayed that God would make it clear.  There were three pretty clear options for me and I ended up ruling out one because it was required that I already speak spanish.  I ruled out the other one because if I moved there I would likely need to find an apartment on my own and buy a car.  It seemed to me that the option of San Pedro Sula, Honduras had its doors wide open.  I had visited there 4 times before on the HOPE worldwide community service brigades.  I knew the church leaders and they were eager and excited to have me come.  The church was about 450 people with only 3 staff members so I felt like there were many ways that I could help out and be a support.  There were two HOPE worldwide programs going on – a medical center and a school – that I hoped I would be able to help out with.  The biggest challenge for me was that San Pedro Sula was considered the most dangerous city in the world and so understandably, many people were very concerned and cautious about me moving there.

What have you been doing on your OYC in Honduras?  I have been doing a lot of different things.  Because this wasn’t an ‘official’ OYC I have been kind of making it up as I go.  I have been finding ways to serve in any and every way possible.  I attend the weekly staff meetings as an intern.  I help out with the campus ministry and the bible talks they have on campus.  I am involved in bible studies.  A lot of what I do involves helping out with media for the church – taking pictures and videos at events, and making videos to be able to share.  I am also helping with the HOPE worldwide programs, taking pictures.  Occasionally, I’ll help out at the church office with general administration if there is stuff they need help with.  One of my hopes and dreams while I was here was to be able to travel to many of the churches within Central America to take photos and tell stories and thanks to God, I have also been able to do that.  I was able to attend the Conference of the Americas (North, Central and South America) held in Panama in June.  I served as the official photographer and worked with the Proyecto Alabanza International team to cover the event, which was amazing.  And I’ve also been able to attend several workshops and retreats where I have been able to serve.

What are you learning from your OYC experience?  Wow… I’m learning sooooo much.  I’m learning to be flexible and go with the flow.  I am learning that my plans may not be God’s plans and I’m learning to yield to his will.  I came down here with an ‘idea’ of what I thought I would do and how I thought I would help – and as it turns out – it’s been very different from what I expected.  But God is still moving and working and I am learning to rejoice every day in the little and big ways that I can die to myself and serve him.  A quote that has become one of my favorites as I’ve been down here is by Helen Keller:  “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”  Jesus is the perfect example of this.  He accomplished small tasks every day as if they were great and noble… and by doing this every day, he turned the world upside down.  I am learning that being constantly willing and available for God to use me, saying ‘yes’ or ‘here am I, send me’ can be a pretty powerful thing.  Even if that just means doing the dishes or cooking a meal for people, listening to someone or sharing a scripture.  Whatever you do, do it for God.

I am learning to be patient with myself as I am learning spanish.  It’s been more difficult than I thought it would be and I can be really hard on myself – so I’m learning to focus on the victories and to keep persevering!  As I am learning spanish, I am realizing that silence is often OK.  I have found myself many times spending time with people and I have a thought or want to share something but I don’t know how to say it in spanish… and as I think through it, I realize that I don’t need to share it.  It’s given me a whole new understanding of the scripture in James 1 that talks about being quick to listen and slow to speak.  I have also experienced this in having conversations with people.  It’s more difficult for me to speak spanish because I have to find the words, conjugate verbs and form sentences – it’s easier for me to listen to people and I am able to understand the general idea of what they are sharing with me.  I am so grateful just to be there for people, to be a listening ear.  Many times people just want to feel heard or listened to.  They want to feel like they matter.  I am grateful that I can do that just by listening.  And then, instead of me giving a long-winded response (which I might be tempted to do if I was speaking english) I’ll simply share a scripture with them in spanish.  What is better than just letting God’s word speak?


What would you say to other disciples who are thinking of taking the OYC?  Pray a lot.  Seek advice from people who really know you.  What might be holding you back?  What are you hoping to give or gain from your experience?  Are you running away from something?  Are you seeking to find something?  Remember that wherever you go, there you are.  If you are running away from yourself, things in your character, sin, or problems in your life or in the church… they will follow you wherever you go.  Is it a wise financial decision? Do you have outstanding debt?  Will going away for a year put you further into debt?  How does this fit into your future plans?

Overall, I think taking a one year challenge is an incredible experience and in many ways I think everyone should do it.  But, I also think it’s really important to be wise about it and really think through it and pray about it.  As a single, I would like to encourage and inspire more singles to consider doing it.  I think as singles we have an incredible opportunity to serve God and his kingdom because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, our interests are not divided as maybe a married persons are.  I also know that for me as a single it is easy to become ‘me focused’ and to get complacent or even frustrated because I’m not married – but when I’m serving God with all of my heart, when I am sacrificing for him and serving others, those things pale in comparison and I’m able to have a more spiritual perspective… and eternal perspective.

Have there been any surprises? What were you not prepared for, if anything?  I knew I was moving to the most dangerous city in the world.  I knew that there would be challenges.  I knew I was giving up my freedom and independence.   But, there’s only so much I could do to prepare for all of that.  The first week I was here a sister in the church was kidnapped and held for ransom.  We spent our midweek service, the entire church on our knees, praying for her safe return – which God answered.  The minister and his wife told me they understood if I wanted to get on a plane and go back to the States – but I stayed.

The first month I was here I spent most of my time in a tiny room with a bed.  Because it it so dangerous here, I couldn’t go outside and walk around.  If I wanted to go anywhere I had to find a disciple to take me around.  There were many days that felt so isolated and alone and sometimes felt like I was a prisoner.  But, even through those times God was working and I was reminded of Paul when he was in prison and the attitude he had (rejoicing and singing songs praising God) and the impact he had (writing letters that continue to impact and change the world today).

Around the third month the house I was living in was robbed in the middle of the day (we were thankfully gone at a funeral) but all of the valuable things in the house were stolen – including all of my camera gear and my computer (about $12,000 worth of my gear – the only valuable things I owned and also my ‘tools’ for work).  That was a blow to the gut – but even through that I feel like God helped me to have perspective.  I had just come from a funeral after all.  Things are just things.  Thankfully none of us were harmed.  But even with that, I was challenged to study out the scriptures to see what they said about security and death.  After the robbery many people encouraged me to leave because of the lack of safety.  I wrestled and I prayed and I looked at other options but in the end, I decided to stay.  (see next question for more explanation)

What things have you seen in the church there that you want to imitate and learn from?  The church here and the disciples have impacted my heart and my life forever.  They love deeply, from the heart. It is a selfless love that reminds me of Jesus.  They love their neighbor as themselves.  Many of them barely own anything but they are so joyful and happy and giving.  They are faced with danger everyday in this city that they live in.  They do not search for security in money, in their government or in their circumstances, they find it in Christ and in the promise of salvation.  Every day they face robberies, kidnappings, murders, sickness, death – the evils of this world – but they remind me that my peace and my security must come from God and the promise of salvation.

This world is not our home.  I am convicted by their lives because they are not focusing on becoming comfortable with their beautiful homes and flat screen tv’s.  Instead, they thank God for their daily bread, for their life today knowing they are not promised tomorrow, and they focus on advancing his kingdom.  I’m not saying that having a beautiful home and a flat screen tv is necessarily wrong – I mean, I would like to have those things and surely I like to enjoy them – but being here, walking in their shoes, living as they live has really opened up my eyes to a different world that often I’m not sure we really want to see or be inconvenienced by.  I think about the story of the good samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and it cuts my heart because I think more often than not my gut reaction to this hurting world is that of the priest or the Levite.  I pray to not be so wrapped up in my own life that I’m not willing to be inconvenienced to love others as I love myself – I want to be like the Samaritan.  (Reading the book Radical by David Platt really challenged me in this too)

Any final thoughts?  Well, if you’ve made it this far in the article, THANK YOU for taking the time to read it!   I pray that perhaps what I have shared has encouraged you, inspired you, or made you think about how you can take your walk with God deeper.  I think we all have our unique, personal journey with God that is continuing to unfold before our eyes.  I have two final thoughts that I would like to leave you with that I hold close to my heart.

Remember this is God’s story.  I often can get my priorities mixed up when I am living like I’m the main character in this story and it’s all about me.  The truth is, I’m just a supporting actor if you will – maybe not even that… maybe I’m just an ‘extra’ in this story – but bottom line, this is God’s story.  It is about him and his love and redemption.  He graciously gives us an opportunity to participate and for that I’m so grateful.  He is the beginning and the end and all of this is for his glory.

Dream big dreams because there are no limits.  Our God is a mighty and awesome God.  He is also a God that is not limited by anything.  He is not limited by our weaknesses, our shortcomings or even by our sin.  I am so encouraged by this because I could spend all day long listing off reasons of why I am not good enough or why God can’t work through me.  But the truth is, it’s not about me and what I can or cannot do.  It’s about God, and with him, all things are possible (Matt 19:26).  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21


December 9, 2013 - 11:44 pm

Eduardo Mendizabal - Mi nombre es Eduardo fui bautizado en 1991 el la iglesia de Boston.
Quiero darte las gracias por tu corazon de compartir, me anima y reta mi fe y corazon. Soy guatemalteco soy cuidadano de los USA.
Todo lo que tu compartes acerca de nuestros paises es verdadero, he pensado y tenido en mi corazón la misma idea claro siempre pensando en depender de Dios y consejo pero creo que he sido egoista y no recto en mi corazón.
Al leer tu decicion me partio el corazón y llore y no quiero que se quede asi ahora tengo un gran reto para el proximo año.
Dios te bendiga el corazon tan generozo y humildad gracias por dejarte usar.
Me tomo el atrevimiento de lo que para mi refleja tu corazon 2 Timoteo 3:10-17 para mi tu heres un timoteo de 2013 bendiciones en tu vida. Con amor de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.
Eduardo Mendizabal

December 10, 2013 - 1:43 pm

larryembling - That’s my girl…… Ness you are unbelieveable! You are such a trooper. Not to mention an inspiration to me and to many of our family and friends. I know that God’s plan is not an easy one to follow. Heaven only knows where it has led me. I pray that the messages are clear and that you do follow His leads. I know that you are making a difference in many people’s lives and that is what this is really all about right? Love you…. DAD

December 11, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Vanessa Embling - Gracias Eduardo!!

December 11, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Vanessa Embling - Thank you Dad! Love you too!!!!!

December 12, 2013 - 6:35 pm

jesse faller - This is a great article Vanessa! Cool to hear about some of your adventures and what went into making this decision. I hope it will inspire others to do likewise. Thanks for sharing!

December 13, 2013 - 4:44 am

Vanessa Embling - Thanks Jesse!