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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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.

Leaving Njojane

This is what heaven looks like:
Heaven is a sunny day with a warm breeze. It is a baby falling asleep on your chest. It is the smell of fortified rice cooking over an open fire. It is a place with a view, where people can come together.
Heaven is hearing “Mommy Mommy!” and knowing a child is talking to you. It is catching a child running toward you and lifting her high above your head. It is knowing that you will be there to catch her, even if only for a short while.
Heaven is getting splashed with water at wash time, and the anxious look on a child’s face when you laugh with him, instead of punishing him. It’s hugs and kind words spoken into two languages. It’s the funny feeling of unfamiliar words bubbling from your throat into the expectant ears of children. It’s the, “Mommy, thank you for loving me. Thank you for teaching me how much Jesus loves me. I understand now.”
Heaven is a place of love; a place where we hug and hold hands and kiss friends on the cheek, even when the hugs are sticky with sweat and the hands have rice on them and the kisses are wet and sloppy. It is a place full of singing, dancing and giggling children. It is a place to be filled, your tummy and your heart and your spirit; a place to run and laugh and play. Even the work is a joy–even killing chickens and rubbing a child’s open wounds with antiseptic–because it brings life.
Heaven is a place where stories happen and love is found and the mind returns to and never forgets.
Heaven is a place where black or white, clean or dirty, boy or girl, young or old does not matter, because heaven is home.
Njojane is my little slice of heaven. It is where I feel the most beautiful, most helpful, most loved. Leaving again for an entire year is excruciating. My heart says stay, but my mind knows it is time to go, so here I am, on the khombi, watching the orange building fade into the horizon. I have two more days in Swaziland, and already I am mourning my return to the United States.
It’s bittersweet, but my cup overflows.
“I

have seen the burden God has laid man; He has made all things beautiful in their own time. He has set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what He has done from beginning to end.”

Days 1 and 2: In Transit

From the plane: 8 hours and 47 minutes to Johannesburg

I am sitting now in the dark as most of everyone is asleep, save for a few night owls like me, and we are nearly halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. Earlier, before the sky had evolved into a pitch black dotted with innumerable stars, it had been a deep, deep periwinkle color that reflected into the clouds and water below me. It blended so well, in fact, that I could not tell where the horizon fell and where the sky began and it made me feel so very, very small in the hand of our Father.

From where I sit, I can see Orion, his belt sparkling brilliantly at this altitude. I looked up just in time to see a falling star streak across his chest in the same manner a hand would to sign the word Lord in sign language and I do not feel so small any more. As I sit here and stare out my little window, I catch a glimpse of the fullness of God’s creation that is awaiting me on the ground. The sun is just barely starting to think about rising; I can see some pink tendrils of light poking through the horizon. The anticipation is keeping me awake. I can merely sit here with eyes closed, burning from exhaustion, unable to do much else but count down the very minutes until I land. I am coming.

After touchdown in Johannesburg, Monday, May 19, 2014.

22 total hours of transit and a six hour time change. An hour-long adventure trying to find out hotel in the dark.

257 songs. 6 movies. 3 meals. 2 sleeping pills. 1 trip to the bathroom.

I do not sleep on planes; I have been awake for nearly 60 consecutive hours. I am tired. The silence as we stood in line at a busy airport in Joburg struck me as eerie as it did one year ago, but is oddly comforting. I keep finding myself smiling like an idiot for being so excited. I’m getting weird looks from strangers and it’s official: I’m a weirdo on two continents. The man who checked me through customs said to me, “You are 18. When are you going to have children of your own?” …what.

Thinking about this time one year ago makes me laugh: I was super salty after being awake for so long. Dinner was great, but I nearly froze to death because I didn’t come prepared for African winter without heaters, which added another sleepless night to my tally; I took a cold shower during a blackout….all within my first 12 hours in Africa. It was not a good start. 

It drastically improved the next day, but I needed to be taken down off my American high horse and Jesus really knows how to push my buttons and he’s doing it again. I watched the movie rendition of one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby, as I ate a dinner on the plane and during my initial period of almost-sleep and something odd happened: the grandeur and opulence of the Gatsby lifestyle, the attractive nature of 1920’s life that so often leaves me with a sense of nostalgia for a time I wish I’d known instead left me with a sense of disgust. I realize the movie was incredibly over the top and that life was not as lavish for the vast majority of the world in the 1920’s…but I still found myself shaking my head, thinking Really? A strand of pearls worth $350,000? That could send me to Swaziland 100 times with money left over.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The last two days were very long, sleepless days; we have already had our first adventure, as it took us an hour and a half to find our hotel (which is only about 15 minutes from the airport…oh well!). Upon arriving, we stuffed ourselves with pizza and retired to our rooms. It was another long, almost sleepless night…luckily I got in about 3 hours and then 3 cups of very strong coffee at breakfast. I am more than ready for the drive to Swaziland. Let’s do this.

Day 1: Before I Go…

It’s today. So many feelings this morning. So many instances of nearly crying in the middle of church or driving home or talking to people, asking me how many hours until I leave, because they know I am keeping track.

I have eagerly been counting down the days since I last found myself in the Indianapolis airport. My mom came to pick me up, and she asked how my trip was and I broke down crying. The only words I could fathom were, I have to go back. I have to go back I have to go back I have to go backI am going back. It’s right now. This is happening. I am sitting in the Indianapolis airport waiting to board the first plane and it is taking everything in me to not jump up and down and yell “It’s today it’s today it’s today!”

Just this morning someone asked me if I was ever afraid to go. I have heard a lot of variations of this question: Isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t there disease? Isn’t it weird to have strange children crawling on you? Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable to be stared at because you’re white? Do they have real toilets or are you going to use squatty potties? What if they don’t like you?

Doesn’t it scare you?

The answer is yes. Yes, it scares me very much. It is terrifying to be so incredibly in love with something that I can’t get it off my mind and to know I am risking my life. It is terrifying to be so scared of this passion so deeply rooted in my heart because I don’t get scared of things. But I know that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is one of the most elemental truths of my entire life, and I am so, so grateful for this.

However: the people I am leaving behind don’t feel this. They can’t understand how fulfilling it is to rock a colicky baby to sleep while her mother cooks, or the overwhelming feeling of having kids fight over who gets to hold your hand while walking from place to place. They haven’t experienced this raw, unadulterated joy; they see only the risks. I have several friends and family members that adamantly oppose this trip and the plan to go back long term, and I can appreciate their opposition. It is out of genuine concern, and lack of understanding. It is for them I have these words:

“And I will be to her a wall of fire all around,” declares the Lord, “And I will be the glory in her midst.” Zechariah 2:5

“God is within her, she will not fail.” Psalm 46:5

I’m a little nervous to step on this plane, but I’m not afraid for myself. I know that I will be taken care of, that I will be safe, that everything that happens on this trip will be nothing short of God’s glory and his plan for my life.

Goodbye, America. See you later.