Posts in Travel Guide
My India Adventure Part 1

I'm fresh off the mission field of India and I have so much to share! I'm pretending like you and I are sitting down for a cup of coffee and I'm sharing my stories one-on-one with you. Cool?

I can't emphasize enough that prior to going on this trip, I was not a "missions" person. I wrote a little bit about my decision to go on this trip here. It's been nine years since I've traveled internationally for a mission trip! I'm pretty much a different person now, so I'm categorizing myself as a beginner mission trip traveler. 

I really can't emphasize how big of a deal it was for me to even go on a trip like this. I'm a little, how do you say..... high maintenance. I was very nervous about being away from my comforts. When I say comforts I mean - air conditioning, electricity, comfy beds, my husband, cozy sheets, air conditioning, western toilets, food I'm used to eating, and air conditioning. Did I mean to say air conditioning three times? Yes. That's what I was most concerned about. 

I'll go as far to admit that I even tried to get out of going on this trip a few times. I was coming up with every excuse in the book to back out. I'm VERY thankful that I pushed through, stuck with my commitment, and actually WENT. 

I see things very differently now. I said earlier that I wouldn't have called myself a "missions" person. I think that's the wrong way to look at it. Now, I don't think there's a "missions" person and "non-missions" person. We're all called to GO. The going may look different and it might not mean that everyone travels internationally and sleeps on cots. It might mean that you serve your community by knowing your neighbors, inviting people into your homes and lives, and/or volunteering in your church or community. I'm excited to explore this new mindset and hopefully help bridge the gap of "missions" being overseas work. You can do missions in your own house. 

First, I want to brag on my team. We all had a total blast together! I couldn't have picked 5 better people to go on this journey with. From airport shenanigans to Indian dance parties, these people will always be so special to me. I saw each and every person take huge steps, put themselves out there and trust God a little more. We all came back a little different. 

Have you ever seen those people in an airport who have lost their minds? They're sprawled out all over the terminal seats, cackling out loud without a care in the world, and they look a little disheveled. You know those people I'm talking about? That was totally us. I now have a special empathy for people who are like this in airports. It doesn't mean that they don't have any pride or self-awareness. it means that they've been delayed multiple times and have spent the majority of their time sitting in airports. They've lost it! I've lived it.

You can't tell the story of our India trip without sharing all of our travel drama. One missed flight put us in a tailspin of waiting, hurrying, begging (for hotel rooms!) and praying for 3 days. Where it's supposed to take you 24 hours to get to India (24 hours is a LONG time to travel, btw), it took us 90. Here's how it went down: 

Day 1 - Jackson --> Chicago / delayed in Chicago --> Toronto / because we were late getting to Toronto, we missed our big flight to India. Spent the night in Toronto. 

Day 2 - Toronto / they lost my luggage and planned to send us to Newark to catch the big flight to India, oh yeah, and we were delayed... again --> Newark / missed the big flight to India. Spent the night in Newark.

Day 3 - Newark / bought new clothes and gear, finally caught the flight to India! Flew all night. 

Day 4 - India / found my luggage! --> 5-hour bus ride to the villages

Pretty outrageous right? Thankfully no one listened to me after we missed our second big flight. I was ready to call it and go home. I think an important attitude and perspective to have when going on a mission trip, is to be ready for anything. Even if that anything means sitting in airports dealing with customer service reps. To be able to handle frustrating situations with a positive outlook and not crumble out of boredom or anger, is an important part of travel that training sessions might not prepare you for (hah!), but it's important nonetheless.

Long story long, if you see a group of delirious people wearing disheveled 2 or 3 day old clothes, have a little empathy. They're probably a group of people trying to go on a mission trip *joy/laughing emoji* By the way, we no issues with anyone in the airport, but I'm sure we were a sight to behold!

Once we finally reached the villages and split off from the other team (our team of six was broken up into two teams of three), we hit the ground running. We met our translators and dropped our things off at our host home and immediately started visiting homes. We were DRAGGING because #jetlag, but we were so relieved and excited to finally BE THERE, that we pushed straight through. Usually, I'm an 8-9 hours of sleep kind of gal, so it was only by energy from God that I was able to make it through *insert laughing emoji*! 

This is a straight up evangelism trip. We weren't there to give supplies or medicine, physically build anything, or dig wells (those are all amazing things, just not part of this trip). We were there to pray, encourage believers, and share the Gospel. Before we could blink we were sitting in people's homes praying over families.

I was nervous during our first couple of home visits. I'm generally a very chatty person and comfortable engaging with new people, but I was really nervous! What was I supposed to talk about? How do I work with a translator? What if the translator doesn't know what I'm trying to say? What if I don't like the food or drinks? What if I say something stupid? What if I offend someone or the whole family? I wish I could say that I had this magnetic gusto from God and said everything perfectly, but it was quite the opposite, especially during the first few visits. I sat very quietly, drank my drink, ate some snacks, and waited for someone to address me.

But you know what? That was okay. It was only after the first couple of hourse that I finally loosened up and started praying bigger. I was seeing first hand what pavement pounding evangelism was really like. I was carrying around a message that people were eager to hear and receive. It was after praying specific things over specific families that I realized what was really going on. 

These people were expecting God to do something. Even if they weren't believers yet, they still had hope that God could heal ailments, mend relationships, bring customers to their businesses, and provide. It was a magnificent thing to witness. It made me question the depth of my faith. Did I really believe that God could heal this woman's tumors in her throat? Was I really expecting God to do something miraculous? Do I pray like this in my everyday life? Why not?

That first day visiting people's homes opened my eyes to big, weighty prayers. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule. We didn't have all that much time to spend in people's homes. Maybe 15 - 30 minutes per house. It was enough time to drink a beverage, have a snack, share a quick message, and pray.

It's customary when you enter someone's home that they serve you a drink and a snack. The drinks were either fruit juice (mostly mango juice, which I liked the best!), Coke, Mountain Dew, or Orange Fanta. The snacks ranged from almonds, cashews, crackers, cookies, Gulab Jamun (look it up, they're SUPER sweet), chips, and milk candy (don't know the actual name of it, but I liked it). It was truly humbling to be served in this way. We knew that we were nothing special, but they essentially rolled out the red carpet for us. We could all learn a thing or two about hospitality from their example. 

Our main purpose for going on this short term mission was to share Gospel through Bible stories at Compassion Kit Parties. For months local pastors work within their villages, build relationships with people, and share the Gospel. For weeks leading up to the trip, my team and I learned and practiced how to share the Gospel through stories to best fit the culture we dropped into. 

The Compassion Kit parties were amazing! During our time there, we had 3 CK Parties in 3 different villages. People would come from all over, cram into a small courtyard and listen intently to the local pastor and then to us as we shared. The CK Parties are so well thought out and structured specifically for the oral traditions of the culture we dropped into. The Gospel is kind of amazing like that. It can reach anyone. No one is too far gone or too different to respond to the Gospel. It was amazing to see people respond with such hope. You know what? People genuinely responded. I know that as soon as we left those people are being discipled by the network of pastors and leaders stemming from our mission partners. Incredible! 

When we came back together on Friday as a large group (there were other groups there serving beside the six of us), we debriefed with stories and celebration! Our mission partners gave us a report on the week's work. Yall, this is crazy: 4,000+ people heard the Gospel through 43 Compassion Kit parties; 2,000 Compassion Kits were distributed, and over 600 people gave their lives to Christ....

Isn't that incredible! There is a movement happening and it is amazing to be a part of it. I seriously cannot wait to go back. I've taken so many valuable lessons back home with me. At the risk of sounding cliche, I've come home a different person. Your worldview totally changes when you experience a new culture and see God move in huge ways. 

I've got pages and pages of my travel journal filled with things that God showed me about myself. I can't believe that I've been home for almost a week! I'm already recruiting for next years trip. Go ahead and start saving. $10 here. $20 there. Everyone needs to Go. I'd love to talk with you one on one about my experiences and new convictions for missional living. - JJ 

Your Guide to Laurel, MS (Part 1)

With the premiere of HGTV's newest show, Home Town (Tuesday nights!), my humble hometown has become the center of attention. 

I see article after article highlighting not just the show and the hosts, Erin & Ben (who are amazing!), but the town as a whole. It's crazy to watch your hometown be revitalized on national tv! I'm so thankful for all of the new businesses popping up around downtown and the energy and love that's filling the previously abandoned buildings. 

Because people know that I'm from Laurel, I get a few messages a month asking for recommendations of what to do in Laurel for a day trip. If you're planning to make a pilgrimage to the quaint little town, here are a few of my favorite stops: 

The Laurel Mercantile

The flagship store of, Home Town, is quickly becoming one of our favorite places in all of downtown. Every piece of inventory and every display is perfectly styled to be cozy, homey, and friendly (my three favorite feelings!). Luke and I love looking through the displays and smelling the candles. We have the Laurel Candle and it's the perfect scent for springtime! Luke ALWAYS has to look at the Scotsman products. I shared in an earlier blog that he wears the Scotsman cap every day. He now has 2! 

The Southern Antique Mall

The Southern Antique Mall is a long-time favorite shop. There are SO many beautiful things in this 2 story shop. Everything is beautifully styled and thoughtfully arranged. It's an inspiring place to walk in! FYI - this is not an actual antique store. Don't come here planning to go junkin' for thrift store pieces and prices. It's an actual shop with beautiful things for your home, clothes, accessories, kitchen items, and pretty much everything else. 

They ALWAYS have the most beautiful Christmas displays! 

Adam Trest Home

Adam Trest Home

I LOVE popping into Adam Trest Home to see long-time friends, Adam and Lily! Their store is perfectly curated with drool-worthy home goods for every room in your home. Adam and Lily have flawless taste and it's on display in their magnificent store. Adam is an incredibly talented artist and his designs are simply stunning! Also, this building has insanely beautiful floor tile.

Lee's Coffee and Tea

Far and away the best cup of coffee you can get in Laurel. I was in college when Lee's opened downtown. It's so cool to see a business start and thrive! I had to snag this photo from the Lee's Facebook page. The picture I took, didn't turn out super well #notaphotographer. Anyways, the food here is great, the coffee tastes good, and it's in a prime location for downtown walking! 

PDI's

PDIs

While you're downtown, drive over a couple of miles to go to PDI's for a cheeseburger and fries. PDI's was my Papaw Alvis' favorite burger place. Actually, it's everyone's favorite burger place. It's been around for forever and there's nowhere to sit, but you don't care because the food is that good!

Sweet Somethings Bakery

Sweet Somethings Bakery

Go here for Cinnamon Rolls and Sticky Buns. No need to elaborate. They're amazing. 

The Laurel Wall

The Laurel Wall

Be a tourist and take your picture in front of this awesome wall! There are really great murals all over town, too! 

I'm going to break this up into a few different posts. There are some new to me places, that I want to learn about and try and there are new businesses popping up all over the place! Stay tuned for Part 2!