Family Reunion

There is nothing quite like meeting your sponsor child for the first time. I have had the pleasure of doing so twice, for my child and my parents’ child. The only thing better than meeting her for the first time is the long awaited reunion after a year of being apart. One of our translators caught her as she walked in to let her know I was there. When I walked up to Tengetile, Noomsa was crouched on the ground in front of her and Tengetile was bawling. My husband did what we would do with any other kid—grabbed her, hugged her, stroked her hair, tried to figure out what was wrong. Noomsa explained to us: Tengetile was overwhelmed to the point of happy tears. All because we were here. She didn’t know about the gifts we brought her. She didn’t know that we save every letter she writes and every picture she draws to hang on the wall, or that we pray for her every single day…not a clue. We hadn’t done a single thing. I broke into tears. Hunter, my husband took us by the hand and walked us up to the church. We rummaged through the bag my husband and I packed for a juice box and some sweets, and went through all the things we take for granted every single day—a soft fuzzy blanket, sunglasses, socks, peanut butter—the things that are just LIFE, not special treats or uncommon occurrences, the things we don’t think about thanking God for because they are commonplace every day staples.

Today, we visited the homestead of my sponsor child, Tengetile and her sister Noncedo, the child of another couple on our team. She lives with her gogo (grandmother) and 6 additional children under her care. There’s no warmth between the family members. It is a distant, static relationship—not warm and loving.

It would be easy to give them money—but we can’t. Money is temporary, when we need sustainability. We need men who stand up to defend, and provide for their families like the example set for us by Christ and the Church. We need women who are confident to speak wisdom and truth by following the model of a godly woman as explained in Proverbs 31. We need children that are hugged and told ‘I love you’ so that these children might be the person God created them to be. We need believers back home who refuse to be complacent in a calling from God.

“Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. I will defend you against marauders, protect your wheat fields and vegetable gardens against plunderers,“ Malachi 3:10

We are testing the Lord now. We serve a good, powerful, loving God, and we have seen the ways He has provided in our own lives. We have seen the overwhelming need, and we know our kids are in God’s hand, as are your sponsor children. Where our children’s parents fail—leading, guiding, providing, speaking truth and wisdom—God has sent us be His hands and feet, and we need to step up. PLEASE join is in praying for the Njojane community, for provision, for sustainability—for men and women who become loving, caring moms and dads, not just biological mothers and fathers.

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I almost didn’t get on the plane today.

I wish I could tell you that when you try to do great things with the right heart for the right God, things go exactly according to plan and it is very easy to do. If I’m going to be honest, that sounds like good logic. Good things should happen when you try to do good things. But they don’t. And I can’t tell you it’s easy, and here’s why:

I almost didn’t get on the plane today.

I almost didn’t get on the plane today several times over the last couple of weeks.

In the chaos that seems to be my life, my passport disappeared off the face of the earth a few weeks ago. It is nowhere to be found, and so Hunter and I made a trip to the passport agency in Chicago tow weeks ago. I had to argue with the processing agent because we showed up 4 days before my appointment time because, if we had waited, I would not have gotten my passport in time. I found myself standing on the outside nearly in tears, defending my calling and explaining to this woman that NOT being on this plane today was simply NOT an option. There is a team of twelve people expecting me to be on that plan. There are three little girls out in the bush of a country that no one has heard of that are counting on me to be on that plane. There are dozens of people who have mailed in money to finance this trip that are eager to know that their support helped spread the Gospel a little bit further than it was before. I have spent the last 52 weeks counting down from 365 for this flight and not being on it is not an option. I am standing here in front of you with tears in my eyes. There is no one else in line. I have waited patiently and prayerfully. Please do this thing for me.

In the end, the processing agent did process my passport and it did arrive in my mailbox in plenty of time, but there are so many more things that almost stopped us from getting on the plane:
Funding: we got on the plane today with a $1200 balance for our trip.
Wellness: Hunter and I both came down with something this week—a cough, sinuses, sore throats—something that we could easily pass to a kid who doesn’t have access to proper medical care or nutrition.

Finally, and most frighteningly, I spent more than thirty minutes with a flustered ticket agent trying to get my name straightened out. I hadn’t planned on changing my name legally until after we returned from Swaziland FOR THIS VERY REASON, but with needing a new passport, I had no choice…however, my ticket had been purchased under my maiden name, and our travel agent wouldn’t change it. I stood before this ticket agent, who was trying her hardest to get me checked in, completely paralyzed in fear because I was so close and yet so far away. It took several phone calls and rounds of being on hold, but Kym was finally able to change my name on the ticket to match my passport and other travel documents. We flew through security, only to hear my name being called to the gate agent because there was an issue with my passport. Ellie, that poor gate agent, accidentally deleted my reservation while trying to fix the passport issue. It took another phone call or two to get things straightened out, and I was one of the last people to board the flight to Atlanta. I was sick for the whole flight, I think from drinking too much coffee on an empty stomach, and my ears wouldn’t pop. Everything sounded as though I was underwater through the layover, until we’d been on the plane to Johannesburg for about an hour.
In my last post, I talked about the attacks of the enemy on our team in the weeks leading up to our departure. Sometimes, the enemy attacks in really big ways, and sometimes, he attacks in the littlest details that make the biggest difference. Sometimes, the Father allows things that feel like attacks to happen, but it’s all part of the plan. When bad things happen, like everything today, I try very hard to remember that last part, and look for Jesus in every detail—where he is, where I can see him, where I can praise him, where I can represent him—and it’s extremely difficult. Just about the time I was ready to let defeat overcome with the ticket agent, I was thinking to myself, if I don’t get on that plane, my God is still good. Within minutes, I was walking away, guitar in one hand and boarding pass in the other. Everything is a teachable moment around here, and a lot of times, the only lesson is that I am not in charge. That was the case today, but there was another lesson too. It’s something we all know, but tend to forget when things are hard. I almost missed it, until I heard it on a commercial for our airline as I settled in to watch a movie:

There is no stop in us—only go.

I almost didn’t get on the plane today, but I did. We did, because there is no stopping us, and God is still good, even when things are not.

a body that quits & a God who doesn’t

I had a nice long post written under this same title, talking about how the enemy has a tendency to attack right before big things happen for the Kingdom: one of our sponsor children, a little boy we’ve met and invested in, has left our care pointe, and we won’t be seeing him again; I broke my tailbone the week before our wedding, and the 16-hour flight and dirt roads will not be kind to that injury; one team member’s father broke his back just a week before our departure; a missionary friend miscarried today; another team member lost a close friend today. A young boy was dragged into a lagoon by an alligator. More than 100 people were injured or killed in Orlando this weekend.

It was a beautiful post, and I spent a lot of time working on it. And while it’s the least of our problems, the post has simply vanished. I saved the draft multiple times, but there is no record of it anywhere on my computer. (the irony is not lost on me.) I’m choosing to look the other way–maybe Jesus is trying to humble me, or maybe what I was trying to say isn’t what needs to be heard. Instead of sharing my words with you, I will share someone else’s.

Today on the radio, the DJ shared a statement from Ann Voskamp:

The world needs prayer warriors who don’t see prayer as the least we can do, but as the most we can do.

I will sit here with a busted tailbone and eat my words and my humble pie as I ask for prayer for H and I, and really for our whole team. There are teenagers leaving home for the first time, and parents leaving small children behind. There is a young woman who recently got engaged. A newlywed couple, and a brand new husband who is getting ready to leave for boot camp. I am in the midst of a fibromyalgia flare up that meds can’t keep under control. And, with just 3 days until we depart for Swaziland, we still have a need to raise $1300. Our God is good, even when our circumstances are not, and we know that God will be glorified regardless of what is required of us. We kneel here and pray confidently and expectantly that God’s will be done by the time we get on a plane Saturday afternoon.

My body might want to quit, but my God never will.

We Sing Hallelujah

The ground began to shake, and the stone was rolled away

His perfect love could not be overcome

Now death, where is your sting?

Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated.

Yesterday may have been the day that love (almost) didn’t win, but today is the day that Love conquered death and sin, fulfilled the prophecy, and set the captives free.

The third day rolls around, and the stone rolls away to reveal an empty tomb.  Jesus reappears, much to the disbelief and amazement of those he encounters…even the disciples.  Jesus had to hold his hands out, to show his friends the holes made by the nails that held him to the cross. Today, after centuries of celebration, people still doubt the resurrection of Christ. On Friday, I shared a post from Jamie the Very Worst Missionary on Facebook about how Good Friday makes me fee like a horrible Christian because, quite frankly, even as a Christian and as a theology student, it is so difficult to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. That doesn’t happen. Maybe he could have been in a coma, or extended sleep, or just plain unconscious because prior to the crucifixion, he was beaten within inches of his life. It could have been blood loss or even possibly act of God–hehe watch this I’ll just take a little nap and chill in the tomb till the third day–but it wasn’t. John 19:34 tells us that a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, causing a “sudden flow of blood and water.” Modern medicine proves that the soldier pierced the pericardium, the sac of fluid around the heart. Without a pericardium, a heart cannot beat. A body without a heartbeat is a dead body. It wasn’t a nap. It wasn’t a coma. There was no form of life support in the tomb; Jesus was dead, and he raised back to life. He had to die to fulfill prophecy. I know that…and yet, I cannot wrap my very small, logical, earthly brain around the undeniable fact that Jesus came back to life. Fortunately for me, and you, and every other little brain that struggles to believe that this is possible, Jesus did not come to conquer disbelief. He came to earth to triumph over death. You don’t have to understand how or why–you need only to accept the gift of grace.

And so I have. I can remember, even as a little kid, getting choked up about Easter Sunday. A man came to earth, lived a sinless life, took on the sins of the world, and died for me. An ordinary man died for an extraordinary love. There’s a dozen or more worship songs I could quote to wrap this up, because I don’t have the words to summarize how I feel about this morning. I could say that I’ll stand with arms high, and heart abandoned in awe of the One who gave it all. I could say that the power of Christ in me means that I have no fear in life and no guilt in death. I could say that our God is greater and higher than any other, or that we are made conquerors and coheirs with Christ. I could say that forever, he is glorified and lifted high, risen and alive. There is a million ways that I could say it, and should say it, and I will; I will spend every day of my life saying these things in every way imaginable. But for now, as I spend the day worshipping and celebrating with family, I will leave it at this:

Til He returns or calls me home, here in the love of Christ I’ll stand.

The Day Love (almost) Didn’t Win

It is Saturday. Two thousand years and a day ago, an ordinary man was hung on a cross because of an extraordinary love. A man born to a young girl and her new husband, in a feeding trough far from home. A man who grew up with siblings, and never once made a mistake. One man, a carpenter by trade and sacrifice by calling, voluntarily took on undeserved mockery and shame as he suffered beating, whipping, public torture and humiliation. One of his best friends sold him out for 30 pieces of silver, and still another denied association three times. He went to trial for a crime he did not commit. In the tradition of Passover, a prisoner is set free; the members of his community voted to let Barabbas, a known murderer (Mark 15:7), go free, in place of a man who had done no wrong. He let the guards force a crown of thorns–not just little rosebush thorns, but big, long acacia thorns–on his head, mocking him, the King of kings. He was nailed to a cross, raw and splintering, through his wrists and feet–not by just any nail you might have lying around your garage, but a railroad spike driven through some of the most sensitive nerve centers in the body.He watched Roman guards gamble for his clothing. He hung there, bleeding and mourning for his people, calling out, ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’ Not only that, but as he hung there, he offered salvation to another man being crucified next to him (Luke 23:40-43). He hung there, suffering and in pain, and yet you and me were at the forefront of his mind. Every step of the way, Old Testament prophecy was being fulfilled, plain as day. Not a single bone was broken; all looked away from him after piercing his side and the pericardium around his heart. With his dying breath, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). At that moment, Christ had taken on the sins of mankind, past, present and future, and God turned his back on his own son. Clouds blocked the sunlight so severely that it was pitch black at midday. We know that the veil, the barrier between the Holy of Holies, God’s physical dwelling place within the Temple was torn completely in half–there was no longer a reason for the separation between God and his creation.

And then there was Saturday. Like any other Saturday, Jewish people woke up and went about their Sabbath day business of rest and worship. And while this next little bit isn’t in the Bible, this is how I imagine it went down:

Pontius Pilate: So that darkness yesterday was weird. Not really sure what happened at the Temple…but everything else is back to normal. Phew. Good call.

Pharisees: Haha that so-called ‘King of the Jews.’ What was that guy thinking? No really. How crazy do you have to be to let yourself be crucified for something so stupid?

Disciples: …is it possible we were wrong? We’ve seen him perform miracles, and I mean yeah some crazy stuff happened after Jesus died…but nothing?

The Enemy: HA take that Jesus! I told you we would win. I’ve got the people on my side. They killed your King.  Those people that you love so much–they love me more. They mocked and beat you! I win. There is the victory. There is the sting. Death is final. It’s permanent. There is nothing you can do now. I win.

For about a day and a half, it looked and felt like love had lost the battle. The disciples were in hiding, the Pharisees were smug and no longer felt threatened. Pilate made sure that Jesus’ tomb was sealed and heavily guarded so that no funny business could take place. In shock, the disciples literally could not even…but still they waited. They knew the prophecy said three days. The man they knew and loved and gave up their lives to follow had promised them three days. Patiently, anxiously, nervously, they waited.

An Ethiopian Endeavor: Part 3 // Set Apart

joey and isaacSide note: This is Isaac. He is a ten year old habesha (meaning Ethiopian native, etc.) boy in the city, and I love him dearly. I’m really bad at names, so I call kids ‘baby’ all the time. At first he hated it, but we eventually came to an understanding that I can call him my baby if he can call me Mommy. And thus, I have been dubbed the ‘American habesha mommy’ to sweet Baby Isaac and his close friends.

Ethiopia was an interesting trip. I learned a lot. About our God, about missions, about different team dynamics, about myself. I came home with two very important lessons burning a hole in my heart:

I am, in fact, set apart for life as a vocational missionary.

Not everyone with whom I travel with is.

In a previous post, I talked about the comfort I found in this last trip to Swaziland. Being at Njojane was like coming home from college for the summer.  I’m just as comfortable sitting on a bench in the feeding center as I am on my parents’ couch. Half my team to Swaziland, our team leader and family, has a permanent, lifelong heart for the people of Njojane, just like me.  Ethiopia was an entirely different ballgame. For the first time, I was in the minority of people who were diving headfirst into a brand new experience. Of the eleven team members, eight of them had been to Ethiopia with this group before; a ninth had at least been to Ethiopia with another organization. The tenth team member was the teenage daughter of #9; I was number eleven. I was the odd man out, without any friends or family members on the team, and without experience on my side.

I was the odd man out in another way as well: I am dedicating my life to wherever the Lord might send me, and I am therefore prepared for the things the mission field can throw at me. I’m not wowed or shocked by the same things that other people can be. Climbing into and bouncing around in the backseat of and old Land Cruiser has lost the luster the once had. I no longer ooo’d and aww’d over the food; Swazi food (and now shirowat) has become my comfort food of choice. I am comfortable with children I have never met pulling at my clothes, crawling up into my lap, giving me sloppy wet kisses, calling me mommy. The discomfort associated with carrying around a child who is bare-bottomed, wearing no pants, underpants or diaper, is completely neutralized, though abjectly avoided by most. The illusion of living the glamorous life of missionary has been shattered–I’ve been doing this long enough to know there is nothing glamorous about sticky fingers leaving fabric paint on my favorite skirt and having my hair pulled painfully tight in braids, dishing out three hundred bowls of sticky rice and beans without a single thank you.

As a sweeping generalization, parents in the third world (particularly in African nations) don’t love on their children in the way parents in the first world (particularly in western nations) love on theirs. Children are to be seen and not heard, and preferably not seen. In many cases, the announcement of a pregnancy or birth is not one that evokes congratulations or excitement, but solemn understanding. One more mouth to feed, one more mind to put through school, one more dowry to pay or spouse to support. There is no one cheering that child on while he or she struggles with reading or memorizing times tables or dealing with self esteem. I love getting to be that cheerleader, for however short a time. I love it so much that I requested to lead the large group time during the part of the trip spent in Amharic territory. I love it so much that I begged the translators to teach me the Amharic for a list of the daily affirmations I have seen, heard, and lead on Swazi care pointes, so that I could teach our kids. I am special. I am important. I am pretty. I am smart. I am loved. I matter.

There was one specific instance while in Ethiopia that I felt distinctly, definitely, irreparably the odd man out on my team. It was one afternoon after vacation bible school in Amharic territory, and we were circled around the dinner table, talking about the day. People were complaining about the kids’ relentless behavior each time we try to depart. I sat in stunned silence as my team members said the following things:

“They [the kids] don’t have to crowd around the care at the gate. They know we’re leaving, why don’t they let us leave?”

“I can only hug one person at a time. You need to back off.”

“I’ve already hugged you like five times, I don’t need any more.”

One of my very favorite things in the entire world is a giant hug from a group of kiddos at the end of the day as we’re leaving. You know, the kind where I’m walking with hands full of smaller hands. One kid comes up and wraps arms around me, and slowly more and more and more kids are wrapping their little arms around me and weighing me down and pushing me over. It thrills my heart to pass out kisses on the cheek or forehead to an endless line of kids desperate for affection, and to get down on my knees to look kids in the eyes when I tell them they are important, that they matter, to hug them one on one so they know I mean it. Do you know why? Because these kids, like all kids, need someone willing to get down on their level and tell them they matter, to take the time to kiss them on the forehead, to hug them one on one.

My heart was so deeply wounded to hear team members complain about children acting out to find the affection for which they are so desperately starved. Could they behave better? Yeah. Could they listen better when we say, that’s enough, we have to go? Sure. In my mind, I was instantly quoting Jesus–“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:14). So maybe it’s time to go, but what’s the rush? We’re on no strict schedule. The whole evening is composed of free time. We can spend a few extra minutes loving on kids in need. That is a need I feel, I understand, I can fill. It took everything in me as all members of the team chimed in with some sort of agreement to not scream at the top of my lungs. Don’t get me wrong, I love these people and the work they do. We are brothers and sisters in Christ…but nonetheless, I was livid. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been so angry. Are you kidding me? I thought to myself. Do you understand that this is the purpose behind our mission? It was because I love these people that I had to take a deep breath. Okay, a lot of deep breaths. I had to complete about fifteen minutes of deep breathing exercises in order to make sure I was really in control of my mouth before I felt calm enough to talk. Love is patient, love is kind, I thought to myself. It keeps no record of wrongs. Before I could say anything, I remembered a conversation I had with Jesus a few days prior:

“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” Galatians 1:15-16

God has set me apart and called me by his grace. If I’m going to preach his name, my words need to show him, not my humanness. My mind jumped to other places scripture talks about being set apart:

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'” Jeremiah 1:4-5

“Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Tremble and [in your anger] do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Psalms 4:2-4

I love when the word of the Lord resonates within me and my circumstances, not just in one place, but repeatedly. I have no authority to point a finger; I am not blameless. He knew I would encounter this conversation with my teammates, and he knew the anger that would burn inside of me, but that his divine love would overcome. I waited awhile to write this to let that anger dissipate, rather than have this piece be a lashing-out against my team. Now that I’ve given it time, I have found that I am no longer angry, but rather, I hurt for my teammates. They don’t get to experience the same kind of messy, dirty, smelly, sweaty, sticky, unadulterated joy in which I have been called to thrive, and that makes my heart so sad for them. This is a joy that forces my cup to overflow, overflow, overflow. It’s something I know deep down in my soul, that Christians are set apart from the world–it’s that whole ‘IN the world, not OF the world’ philosophy–but it occurred to me that I have forgotten that I am set apart from other Christians because I have been called differently than other Christians. The passage from Galatians specifies that God has set me apart, called me by his grace, and demands that I live a life worthy of the Lord and that calling (Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1). I have never been so happy to be the odd man out, because I was reminded that I was the odd man out for Christ. It’s a constant reminder that this fabulously unglamorous life I have been given is a rarity, and that I am blessed enough to live it.

An Ethiopian Endeavor: Part Two // Rest for the Weary

The first night we camped out in the village, I was dangling from an acacia tree in my little green hammock. Under my bug net, under my rain fly, in case the looming clouds decided to end their drought and pour out on us. After being awake for nearly 80 hours, I was exhausted and ready to pass out as soon as the sun went down. So there I was, dangling, my first time ever camping, totally unsure of what was to come in the following weeks. I managed to drift off to sleep in the middle of my nightly conversation with my Creator, despite the ambient sounds. You see, we were in a Muslim country during Ramadan–sleep all day while fasting, party all night with food and drink. I remember hearing the villagers laughing and cheering and chit chatting in an unfamiliar tongue before I fell asleep. A few hours later, I awoke to a silent village, and the sounds of footsteps on the compound. Not one set of footsteps, like a fellow camper getting up to use the facilities. Multiple footsteps, light and careful, but still crunching on the gravelly soil around our hammocks. I panicked. This is it, I thought seriously, not sarcastically. This is how I die. The words of Paul in his letter to the people of Phlippi ran through my mind:

I eagerly hope and expect that I will in no way be ashamed, but have sufficient courage so that now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death [NIV]. Alive, I am Christ’s messenger. Dead, I am His bounty. Life versus more life! I can’t lose [MSG]. (Philippians 1:20-21, emphasis mine)

Over and over and over, I prayed these words. I pleaded with God. To my own surprise, I was not pleading for my own life, but for the souls of those around me. I begged for the opportunity to explain why I would die for the cause of Christ. For the small chance that one of our captors might pick up the bible laying beside me in my hammock and read it, that just one of them might be changed by the willingness of my team members to lose their lives to advance the Kingdom. I found tears streaming down my face as I silently petitioned for the will of God to be done in that moment, regardless of the cost. I prayed and prayed and prayed for what seemed like a long time–probably no more than a half hour at most. I prayed until I noticed the absence of sound altogether. Cautiously, I unzipped my bug net. I pulled back my rain fly just enough to peak out at the compound. No more footsteps. No more strangers walking around on the compound. Nothing but two Land Cruisers and ten other hammocks swinging in the gentle breeze as dawn began to break on the horizon. I slid back down in my hammock and zipped my bug net and prayed tearful prayers of thanksgiving. I prayed until I fell back asleep, hard as a rock.

The next night, and each night for the following week, our team went to bed just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon. Just as I was on the cusp of falling asleep, an alarming announcement was made over a loudspeaker. An unfamiliar tongue was shouting things rhythmically–Arabic, to be exact. It was the first of five calls to prayer for the surrounding Muslim community. After a few seconds of initial shock, I gritted my teeth. That call to prayer felt like the Enemy staking his claim on the people of this village and it made me angryWho are you to claim these people? I found myself thinking. You are not their Creator. You are not their Sustainer. You are not their Protector. You can’t claim them. There is too much going on. We’ve built a school. We are building a special needs center. Our God has promised that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, and there is nothing you can do about it. And so I closed my eyes and began to pray. and pray. and pray. If the Enemy thinks he can conquer these people with five calls to prayer, fine. I’ll fight fire with holy fire. I’ll have five calls to prayer of my own. Each night, there are five calls to prayer that wake me from a dead sleep, and so I will cover these people in prayer. In addition to the calls to prayer, some sort of sermon [for lack of knowing what to call it] was given over the loudspeaker as well. It lasted maybe 12-15 minutes, in a language I cannot understand, and I did everything I could to counteract whatever instruction was being given. I prayed, I recited scripture, hummed worship songs. Every night for the duration of our stay, I was awakened six times and I decided to fight the Enemy on his terms. We went on a prayer walk at the site of our new special needs facility. Rather than walking around the site, I settled under the shade of an acacia tree and assumed the prayer position used during the Muslim call to prayer. Knees on the ground, face in the dirt, arms extended. Body bowed before the one true God in absolute submission. and I prayed. I got eaten alive by who knows what kind of bugs. We had thirty minutes to pray, and for thirty minutes, I sat in the dirt and thorns begging Christ to be undeniably present in this place. I don’t regret it a bit.

I didn’t sleep well in Ethiopia. Even after we left the village and returned to the city to stay in a hotel, I had trouble sleeping. Though I could not hear a call to prayer over a loudspeaker, I still awoke five times a night and prayed for the people of the village and of the city, until I could fall back asleep. Here’s what is so interesting: each morning, I awoke, and I felt rested. I was ready to tackle another day. Yes, I will admit, that shortly after waking, I did partake of the best coffee I have ever had, but I am sure that my alertness and readiness for the day had less to do with caffeine intake and more to do with the restoration found in Christ. Over and over, Scripture promises such:

“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'” Matthew 11:28

“But those who call upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when we has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

Prayer becomes extremely unnerving when you take it out of your familiar context and pray in such a way that makes you uncomfortable. I recently found the following quote:

God invites us to pray in such a way that it scares what is scared within us. If you are not praying the type of prayers that scare you, they are certainly not frightening our enemy. –Lisa Bevere

This quote struck a chord within me, because this is exactly what I was doing in Ethiopia. I can honestly say I have never been so frightened by the prayers I was praying. They didn’t make sense. I was not praying for selfish provision or needs; I was praying that my death might be used to glorify God by changing the lives of my potential captors. I was praying prayers of conquering over an enemy, who is counting his chicks before they’ve hatched. I was praying in the manner of those who worship a false God for the purpose of overcoming. Prayer should be taken out of a familiar context more frequently. So frequently, in fact, that a ‘familiar context’ does not exist. The way in which we pray should constantly push us to the limitations we think we have, and turn them over to a God who has none (AW Tozer).

An Ethiopian Endeavor: Part One

The tallest mountain in Ethiopia--right around 11,000 feet!

The tallest mountain in Ethiopia–right around 11,000 feet!

I recently returned from my first trip to Ethiopia, and I have been wrestling with the experience. Just about every aspect of the trip conflicted with previously held standards, opinions, and methods of ministry. It was uncomfortable, and for me to claim discomfort…well, then it’s real.

I don’t mean uncomfortable in the way you might think. Yes, I slept outside, dangling from the branches of an acacia tree in my little green hammock (which was really much better than it sounds, after the first sleepless night. more on that later). Yes, I learned how to poop on the backside of the building (while making eye contact with nationals, I might add). Yes, I ate more goat than any one human should ever eat in a lifetime (to answer your question, it’s like eating cheap, slightly overcooked beef). Yes, I dealt with the stigma of being a ferengi, a foreigner, an outsider, and the ensuing scrutiny by tribal leaders. So maybe those things weren’t the most comfortable aspects of the trip, but they were nothing in comparison to what made me the most uncomfortable:

I couldn’t identify with my Creator.

For most of the trip, I couldn’t speak the name of Christ; I could not read my bible openly; I could not sing any of the many children’s songs I know because of their spiritual content. I could not lead worship. I had to make sure my tattoos, all of which relate back to Christ, stayed covered. I couldn’t live out loud the way I am used to, or be myself “in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:13, MSG). I had been warned that we would have to censor some of our ministry…I guess I didn’t understand that we would have to censor our entire ministry not only for our safety, but for the safety of the children with whom we would be spending our time. I don’t think I have to mention the fact that, if it were only my safety in jeopardy, I wouldn’t have censored a dang thing. The Gospel would have been proclaimed far and wide at the top of my lungs…but, since the lives of innocent children were at stake, I gritted my teeth. clenched my fists. and loved with open arms. I taught English–the parts of the body, various animals (taught by playing charades! so fun), articles of clothing, the literal way in which light pierces the darkness of this world. We taught songs, we played soccer and dodgeball, we painted a giant picture on a canvas drop cloth.

The language barrier was far greater with the tribal kids than I’ve previously experienced with the kids at Njojane, so fortunately for me, I didn’t have to answer questions like, “Why are you here?”…however, it was still incredibly painful to see beautiful smiling faces and squeeze tiny hands and hug malnourished bodies without being able to whisper in waiting ears that Master of the universe, the Creator of the world loves you so very much. Unfortunately, upon my return, I cannot give specifics about the tribal area in which we worked; I cannot post pictures of the children’s faces due to the unique bone structure of the tribe…doing so would give away the location of our ministry and put the safety of the children in jeopardy.

Never in my life have I had to keep quiet about my faith. Sure, as a child and early pre-teen, I was not so boisterous and boastful about the grace and mercy I’ve received at the hands of my Father; in fact, if you told little Joey that I would one day be traveling all over the world to preach the Gospel, I would have laughed in your face. Since my initial collision with Christ, I have found the strength to boast in my weakness and I can’t stop. While I was in Ethiopia, I discovered that not only can I not stop, but I don’t want to stop…but more on that next time.

Ethiopian Endeavor

I am sitting in seat 38H on an Ethiopian Airline jet awaiting takeoff for what I hope to be the most dangerous endeavor I have yet to endure. Countless people are worried sick over my journey. I will be camping in the great outdoors for two weeks (which I’ve never done) in a sick and hurting nation overrun by Islam and tribal warfare. People keep asking why I’m participating in such a risky trip…”isn’t Swaziland enough?” What if you get caught? I don’t know why, but I am going with God and his plan. Does it matter if I get caught? I’m already a captive. It says so in Zechariah 9:11-12:

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.  Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

No. Swaziland is not enough. Swaziland will never be enough. Africa, the southern hemisphere, you name it, will never be enough until I see that every hungry mouth is fed and every child has someone to tuck him in at night and every hand has one to hold. I am held prisoner to the hope for Africa. I’m following the example of the Israelites, and following God blindly, wherever this path might take me.

“‘And I myself will be a wall of fire around her’ declares the Lord , ‘and I will be the glory in her midst.’” Zech. 2:5

The Interim

I have been struggling through the aftermath of this year’s Swazi experience. It was much different for me than previous trips; living arrangements were different, the people were different, my expectations were different. With very limited access to the internet and longer work days, I was unable to write much of anything worth writing. I have pieced together a collection of anecdotes detailing some of the individual experiences, to be posted in a few days. I’m still mulling everything over, trying to glean as much information as I can from this trip before I am too far removed.

One note of concern I had early on in the trip was my lack of emotional response (aside from a handful of small experiences to be shared later). The shock factor of the various care points has worn off; I didn’t feel the same stretch and pull or the nudging of the Holy Spirit that instills growth and reveals the lessons that God has prepared for me. I’ve been patient. I patiently waited out the 355 days in between trips. I patiently waited in line for airport security. I sat patiently through the 16 hour flight and the 6 hour drive to Mbabane. I waited patiently through the first morning at Njojane, playing with the preschoolers, helping dish the meals, singing songs…all while waiting patiently for my babies to get back from school. Finally, I saw Tengetile coming over the hill, dragging a piece of firewood behind her–kids eat for free as long as they bring a stick to keep the cooking fire burning, that’s the deal–as she approached the stick pile, we made eye contact. She dropped her stick and ran full speed at me. I picked her up and hugged her…but there was no spark. Even when Khetokuhle got to the care pointe and sought me out, it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.

I wrestled with this for the first few days. It took some thinking and praying and talking to my team leader, a 4-trip veteran, to realize why I wasn’t experiencing an emotional response:

I am home.

Home is a place where you are welcomed and comfortable. It’s warm and there is lots of hugs and laughter. Home is where you’re feet feel happy upon the familiar ground, there are games to be played and stories told. Its a place where no one is afraid to be himself or herself, where bellies can be filled and spirits lifted. Home is where the language of love is spoken, through smiles and hands held. It’s a resting place, where you are comfortable in your own skin. I don’t get emotional when I come home at the end of a semester, because it’s home. Its a special place, but comfy. Familiar. It’s not exciting, but it is a place I belong.

I keep coming back to the word comfortable, which is funny to me. If you ask anyone that has ever been to Africa on a mission trip, they will tell you there is nothing comfortable about Africa. We are forced to grow in faith and in spirit, in strength and in courage because of the people we meet and the things that we see. There are too many heart wrenching sights to grow comfortable in a place like Swaziland, but nonetheless, I feel comfortable. There is nothing comfortable about carrying around two toddlers while others pull at your arms and legs. There is nothing comfortable about bouncing around in the backseat of a khombi on dirt roads, hitting potholes the size of a small sedan. There is nothing comfortable about sending children home loaded down with a backpack full of the bare necessities, hoping an older child or adult won’t rob her of your gift on the walk home. There is nothing comfortable about watching your sponsor children sob at the sight of the khombi pulling out of the care pointe for the last time. These things are excruciatingly painful, both physically and emotionally, but these are the things I am dedicating my life to so that some day, no one else will need to.

text message

This is the very greatest compliment I could receive. I got this text message yesterday from one of my very first babies–the young ladies in the small group I had the blessing to lead while I was in high school. She is now finishing up her freshman year of high school, and is making me so proud in everything she does. She is currently leading a group of third and fourth graders at summer camp, and this is what she shared with me. I can’t think of a single third or fourth grader I know, but somehow, he knows me and my heart well enough to identify the Guatemalan equivalent of me. My cup and my heart are so overflowing.

5 days, 14 hours until Ethiopia.