Back in the UK - it's been a long while since I last updated this blog, but I'm determined to keep it going until right at the end of this year abroad business, and there's still a little way to go! The end is drawing ever nearer, with many of my friends already having returned to home shores for the last time before heading off to Uni in September, but there's still one adventure left in my journey. I've managed to squeeze in a summer job working as an au pair in the lovely French city of Lyon for a couple of months, finishing promptly at the beginning of September ready to pack my bags for the return to Nottingham once more.
I haven't left quite yet, however. Before I talk about that (next post), I'd just like to talk a little about the remainder of my time in Betel, and the lasting impact it's had on my life. It was an amazing experience, if tough and a bit out of the ordinary (perhaps all the better for that), and there are certain things that will stick with me forever from that place.
Firstly, a simple appreciation of the smaller things in life. You quickly cotton on to the fact that the little luxuries from British culture aren't always present when you venture abroad, but something as basic as being able to talk to your family whenever you want and however long you want to becomes something special when it is limited (the Betelitos are only allowed to have 10-minute phone calls at weekends and, with no internet at the house, I often had to steal moments while I was at church to skype home and check in with the family).
Secondly, a whole lot of gratitude for what I've been given in life. I know this is a little cliché, but when you see firsthand how people's lives can be torn apart by family issues, domestic violence, abuse, unemployment, the crisis, or lack of stability in their lives, it gives you a strong impression of how important a loving, supportive family environment really is. A lot of the Betelitos that come into the centre simply have a massive need to be loved and shown how to live in a community that cares for them no matter what. They need a family. So yeah, I'm very grateful for mine. Thanks, God =]
Thirdly, the relationships I've developed over the three-and-a-half months I spent in the centre at Madrid. It really was wonderful to see the girls grow in confidence, in trust and in faith during the short time I spent with them. Each of them has a very special place in my heart - some were more challenging than others to get on with, especially being in their company 24 hours a day (living in the same house, remember?), but I can definitely say that it was worth the time I invested into every single one, despite frustrations, and the heartbreaking fact that some girls spent time in Betel but left suddenly without reason, presumably to pursue their former lives on the street, or taking drugs. However, I'll continue praying for them and, as for the girls that stayed, I look forward to hearing from them in the future (they promised to write)!
Fourthly, and slightly linked to the last point, the importance of sacrifice. It's not a very popular topic, and not one that I enjoy discussing very much either, let alone implementing, but it's there. It's necessary. It's God (and even if you don't believe in God, it's pretty much inevitable that you will have to sacrifice something at some point in your life). The things that I sacrificed to go into Betel - time, money, sleep, a certain amount of freedom (not being able to listen to my own music, not really being able to talk to the guys), and a large amount of personal space (you're never really alone in Betel), which cost me a lot of effort. However, the things I gained through those sacrifices - patience, acceptance, living/growing in faith, holding your tongue (a whole lot easier to do when you don't speak the language), appreciating the moment, and developing deeper relationships with the girls - were definitely worth the effort. I'm not saying I've completely mastered all these things (be pretty amazing if I had), but I'm certainly a whole lot closer on the way to getting to know them than I was before! And that makes the time seem that much more precious.
And with that, I draw to a close my comments on my life in Betel. As I mentioned on Facebook, Betel has changed my life, and I'm incredibly grateful for the support and love I found among the Betelitas and Betelitos. They are a truly miraculous people, and I'm so privileged to have been able to live alongside them and see the change happening in many of their lives. If you have the chance to do any sort of volunteering experience - a mission trip, a gap year, a summer placement - I'd encourage you to go for it! Especially if it's in another country. You won't come back the same.
God bless you (Que Dios te bendiga),
p.s. If anyone has any questions, or just wants to chat more about Betel (or even feels called to volunteer...), please comment below on my blog or pop me a message if you have my contact details. Thanks =]