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.

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 5 Things My Dad Did Wrong (and why that makes him the best)

Today is Father’s Day, and too often I think we use days like today to celebrate the things our dads have done right, and totally disregard all of their mistakes. Or, conversely, focus solely on the things our dads have done wrong. This morning, I listened to a sermon about the pressure that dads face, and how we are to respond to both their successes and shortcomings. As I sat down to write something in honor of my dad, I struggled with the inability honestly celebrate my dad while simultaneously taking into account that he is not perfect. My parents started out really young; dad was 22 when I was born and my mom was only 18. My dad has told me time and time again he made mistakes when I was little, and how sorry he is. He did a lot of the things a lot of dads do wrong…but somehow, my dad is still the best. I was trying to figure out how that is, and this is what I came up with.

1. He told me, “No.”

No, you can’t have another cookie. No, you can’t go see that movie. No, you can’t go to that concert. No, your boyfriend can’t come over while you’re home alone. No, you can’t go to that party. No, you can’t quit studying. No, you can’t take the easy way out. Hearing the word no is something I’m used to, and as a kid, it was hard to deal with. It took me a long time to realize it, but each and every one of those no’s was my dad protecting me, teaching me how to make wise decisions, looking out for me…for my health, for my relationship with God, for my earthly relationships, for my education, for my general wellbeing.

No, you can’t go to Africa. My dad and I are a lot alike in many ways, but primarily in that we don’t like being told no. As soon as we hear the word no, a little voice in our heads accepts it as a challenge. This was the hardest no I have ever had to deal with. My Father was telling me to go, but my dad was saying no. My dad’s no forced me onto my knees before my Father, forced me out on a limb to apply for my first trip to Swaziland, forced me to trust my Father to provide. Even if my dad didn’t realize it, he allowed himself to be used as a tool of the Lord to trust my faith, to see how far I was willing to push the envelope on behalf of my calling to Kingdom work. We have both had the chance to grow…in fact, my dad was the one to inform me the Swaziland application was available for my second trip.

2. He didn’t treat me like a girl.

There are 15 years between my brother and I, so growing up, I was the oldest of three girls. Not only that, but growing up, I was a daddy’s girl. Because of that, he didn’t treat me like a girl. Dresses were for church and special occasions only; gym shoes were my go-to shoes. My dad grew up with a brother, and had all sorts of manly information to pass on to someone…me. I know how to change a tire, how to parallel park almost anywhere, how to change the oil in my car, how to strategically pack everything I own into my car, how to shoot a gun, how to defend myself (and someone else) if necessary, how to win almost any argument (except with him, of course), how to lead others and take people by surprise in doing so, how not to take no for an answer. He taught me how a man should treat me, and how to stand up to any man who treated me poorly. He taught me the things that a man should do for me, like opening doors and walking on the outside of the sidewalk, but more importantly, he taught me how not to need a man to do those things for me. He taught me how to be independent and that’s the best gift he could give me.

3. He’s never around. Prior to 9/11 and for a short while afterwards, he worked in the airline industry. During the crash following 9/11, he was unemployed because airlines were laying people off left and right, going bankrupt, and no one was hiring. He started working in other fields because they paid the bills…he sold cars for awhile. Worked at some security/safety consulting agencies. Worked nights and FedEx for a long time because it paid well and provided our family with medical insurance. He taught night classes at a local community college after his day job to bring in extra income to help make ends meet. He joined the Air National Guard shortly after 9/11, and committed to one drill weekend a month to serve our country. He’s missed choir concerts, soccer games, plays, show choir competitions, birthdays…all of those things dads should be there for, he has missed because he was always trying to provide for our family, which is far more important than showing up for a two-hour choir concert.

4. He’s left my family behind.

He has been deployed 3 times and been assigned to more long-term stateside trainings than I can count. There was one time we added up all the months he’s been away from our family, and while I can’t recall the exact amount, it was multiple years of time. He is getting ready to embark on his fourth long term deployment, and will once again be leaving us behind for six to seven months. This is the hardest one to explain to people, and the hardest one for others to understand. It took me years of being an Air Force brat to understand that sometimes, there are people in the world that need my dad to fight for them more than I need my dad here. He taught me how to take care of my car, how to defend myself and my siblings, how to take care of myself and my mom, how to be independent when he can’t be here. There aren’t many things he could teach me than how to be there for myself when he can’t.

5. He told me I wasn’t good enough.

I remember getting B’s in a few English classes in middle school, and my dad lecturing me for it. You speak English. There’s no reason to get a B. That’s not good enough. I distinctly remember the first time I came home with a C+ on a report card. It was the first quarter of the eighth grade, and my 78% C+ was in geometry. I brought it to my parents after dinner, and in return received a lecture on how I wasn’t trying hard enough. I need to apply myself. I need to study harder, talk to the teacher outside of class, ask friends for help. C’s are not good enough. I remember trying to pick classes for my freshman year of high school, and contemplating leaving the honors program I had been part of since the fourth grade. Taking the easy way out is not good enough. As I mentioned before, that little voice in my head hears things like “You can’t do that” or “That’s not good enough” and replies, Challenge accepted. My dad held high expectations over my head so that I might exceed them.

So yeah, my dad isn’t perfect. In fact, he’s not even close. He’s made mistakes. He continues to make mistakes. We hold him accountable, but hold him in grace so he might continue to grow in Christ and as a father. He might be sorry for his mistakes, but I’m certainly not. If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and where I am going with my life. Thank you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.

Love, Pumpkin

Day 1: 4 Hours

I have been counting down to June 7, 2015 for the last 355 days, and it’s finally here.

It’s today. It’s today it’s today it’s today. My heart is nearly beating out of my chest. My bags are packed, I have my passport and my Swazi currency. My guitar is ready for the long journey ahead, so that we might worship with the mountains.
I don’t understand how a person can go to Swaziland and not experience life change, but it happens. I’ve seen it happen with many of my team members–not that it is wrong or bad or anything like that–I guess maybe what I don’t understand is how I have experienced so much life change while walking beside someone on this adventure, experiencing the same things, but walking away with totally different outcomes. There is so much Jesus in absolutely everything we see and do. One such place, and the real landmark that we’ve crossed into Swazi territory, is the mountains.
Let me explain the mountains to you: they are composed of beautiful red rock, and reflect our Lord’s handiwork in a way that is completely indescribable. Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, is set into a valley of three mountain ranges. I can’t even count the number of pictures I have taken, trying to capture just one that do my mountains justice. Over and over in the bible, both old and new testament, are mountains used in reference to God’s power; we serve a God so great and mighty that even the mountains bow at His name; mountains can move from Point A to Point B without hesitation; a God so great and mighty that His mountains serve as an altar of worship. 
If you know me at all, you know I am NOT an outdoorsy person. I firmly believe that if God intended us to spend all of our time outdoors, He wouldn’t have given us the glorious gift of walls and roofs. These mountains, however, are astounding. You cannot look at the scenery and think that anything but God created this. These mountains make me want to fall on my face in worship and adoration at the foot of the Cross, like so many things about this trip.
Last year, upon my departure, I left these two verses as a reminder of the awesome provision the Lord gives His people:

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

This is my prayer: Lord, prepare our hearts for any and all experiences we might encounter, and prepare all those we might meet along the way. Soften hearts and open minds, so that we might have the boldness to be brave on your Kingdom’s behalf. Protect us, protect our kids, protect our care pointe, protect our community. We pray for King Mswati, that he might come to know you and treat his people with the same loving kindness, mercy and grace you’ve shown us. We beg that you show up in a mighty way, one that is unmistakable to any and everyone who sees. We love you and we trust you. It is in your awesome and holy name we pray.
It’s today. It’s today it’s today it’s today.

2 Days // I didn’t ask for this.

My trip has been 100% covered in your contributions, and for that I am so, so grateful.

In the interest of transparency: I didn’t ask for this.

Just like the human body, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 tells us that each part of the body of Christ has its own unique purpose, different gifts and talents and abilities in order to complete the mission for which it has been appointed to do. One body part cannot function without those around it, and without one part, the whole body cannot complete its mission.

There are some days where I look at this earthly body of mine and think to myself, wow. I am uniquely qualified for the assignment I have been given. More often than not, however, I look at this body of mine and think to myself, I did not ask for this body of mine.

I did not ask for a mind that keeps me awake at night, trying to think of ways to logistically house and feed every orphan in Swaziland. (I mean, come on, the military can house and feed hundreds of thousands, why can’t I?)

I did not ask for eyes that are drawn to the outcasts, the lonely, the ones most in need of attention and affection.

I did not ask for eyelids, the inside of which are indelibly inked with the images of painfully beautiful moments with my babies.

I did not ask for ears to which the sound of children is like the most beautiful of songs, ears that hear the cry of one child over the laughs and cheers of others.

I did not ask to find my heart walking around outside my body (click here) so, so far away.; a heart that is broken over watching these sweet babies fend for themselves, and grow up feeling unloved by parents, siblings, their Creator.

I did not ask for an immune system that might kill me in the US, but save me in a third world country.

I did not ask for a voice that does not shake when asked to speak in front of large crowds.

I did not ask for arms that can rock colicky infants to sleep.

I did not ask for hands large enough to hold that of three or four children at once, because there is a shortage of such.

I did not ask for fingers that could pluck guitar strings and teach children to sing of the Happy Day when Christ came alive.

I did not ask for a stomach strong enough to withstand the smell of un-bathed children, urine-soaked clothing, burning trash and feces.

I did not ask for long legs that can play soccer as easily as they can provide seats to two or three children at once.

I did not ask for feet that feel at home wrapped in canvas TOMS, stained red with Swazi soil, impervious to rocks, thorns and sticker plants. Feet that knew I was home the moment they touched Swazi soil.

I am clumsy and uncoordinated with these things that I have been given. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in what’s happening in front of me to see the ones most in need, or enjoy too much the sound of laughter to hear the cry of a child. Sometimes my heart aches more for my own circumstances, those that keep me up at night. Sometimes my immune system knocks me flat on my back (pun intended), and sometimes I can’t use my voice to speak up for my babies. Sometimes, my arms and legs and hands shake so much that I can’t hold a glass of water, let alone hold babies or play guitar. Sometimes, my feet get tired, and the Swazi soil washes away. Sometimes I forget the beauty of the sights, the strength of the smells, the depth of the feels.

It is on days like today that it is the very hardest to cling to the Cross, when I feel weak and powerless, undeserving of the gifts and talents I have been given in order to complete my mission as a part of the body of Christ. As a missionary, I have been warned that the enemy attacks when we are closest to Christ, when there is the most at stake, when we have the most to lose. It is in those moments that the enemy finds us the most vulnerable, because we never see it coming. Today is one of those days. I know the enemy is attacking, but knowing doesn’t make it easier to face. It is days like today that I think that this body of mine is more a burden than a blessing.

And then I remember: this body of mine is not mine.

I may not have asked for these things, but God did. Not only did he ask, he commanded them. He commanded ME. To go, to do, to love. To use this little ol’ speck of his great and mighty body to be a light in the darkness, so that his children might rejoin the Kingdom of Heaven.

On days like today, straight out of Ephesians, this is my prayer: that I might live a life worthy of this calling I have so graciously been given, even when—especially when—I fall short of the glory of God. So here I am. Lord, send me.

2 days, 14 hours, 21 minutes until I go.

Here I am, Lord. Send me.

Countdown to Ethiopia: 40 Days, 40 Nights

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him… And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:5, 10-12)

Several months ago, my campus pastor approached me with news of an upcoming trip to Ethiopia and informed me I needed to look into it. By now, I am sure you know that I get a little bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about any and all things African, so I went to the interest meeting. I had a missed call from my dad as I was walking back to my dorm, so I called him back and apologized for being in the meeting, and told him, I think I need to go to Ethiopia this summer. His response: Okay. I think that’s a good idea. 

I wish I could divulge more information prior to the trip. Here is what I can tell you: I am going to a region of Ethiopia that could potentially be extremely hostile, as it is almost entirely 100% Muslim, making it an unreached people group. Just a month ago, 30 Ethiopian Christians were captured and beheaded by ISIS. We were instructed not to mention the name of the villages or even the direction of the region; to scrub our social media accounts of comments or remarks that were blatantly Christian, for fear of not having our visas cleared by the Ethiopian government. We will not be having many spiritual conversations, nor will we be carrying bibles around with us. We are going to build a special needs complex in an area with an unusually high concentration mental, emotional and physical handicaps in need of additional care.

When I was told I can’t talk about the Jesus that I am so madly in love with, my jaw physically dropped. How on earth am I supposed to do that? I think about my Swazi babies and how we tell them over and over,  schleke kuhle, nokwanda Jesu uyaku tsadza kakhulu. Smile, beautiful. Jesus loves you very much. The older kids often ask why we travel so far from home to see them. I tell them that my Jesus loves me so very much that my heart cannot contain his great love, so he sent me to Njojane to share the love with each of them. How do I communicate through not only a language barrier in Ethiopia, but without the mutual understanding that I am here on Christ’s behalf? How else do I explain why on earth I’ve traveled halfway around the world just to love on some kids and build them a building?

Because the Lord commanded me.

My floodwaters have come–I have seen the graphic beheading of my brothers and sisters. I have gone through all my social media accounts, as far back as the sites will allow, and edited the Jesus right out of my life. If it weren’t for the fact that I am taking a team with me, I would not have edited the Jesus out of my life. This makes my heart hurt–I have been given this miraculous, life-giving, life-changing love and grace that goes so far above and beyond what I deserve, and I can’t even shout about it from the mountain tops of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And why?

Because my Lord commanded me.

It is a hard pill to swallow. This whole trip is a lesson in frustration. I have to sleep in a bug-netted hammock to ward of yellow fever and malaria. Because of my health, I cannot get the yellow fever vaccine, because it is a live virus vaccine and would likely hospitalize me. Rumor has it we only get to shower 2-3 times the whole trip, and that our diet will be of the goat and ramen noodle persuasion. It’s going to be a million degrees. And yet, I find myself counting down the days.

Because my Lord commanded me.

40 days, and 40 nights. 40 days, and the floodgates of heaven spring open, and the Living Water will rain down over our nondescript village and deeply thirsting region–the land without Christ. My heart is heavy, but still I rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-6)

Spring 2015: Sacrificial Serving

Hi friends. It’s been quite awhile, and I greatly missed being able to write freely, about things that interest me, things that come easily to me, things that matter. This semester was a difficult one, to say the least…22 credit hours, working full-time, health complications…I read nearly 10,000 pages, wrote more than 50 papers, and spent the semester waiting tables in a sushi restaurant to save up just shy of the cost of going to Ethiopia for two weeks in July. You see, I have been able to raise the funds to go to Swaziland twice before, without ever adding money of my own. Because I am going to both Swaziland and Ethiopia this summer, I decided I would work for the funds to go to Ethiopia.

I worked in a very dark environment, one full of drunkenness, sexual immorality; of cheating, unethical business practices, of foul language and foul treatment of workers. When I applied for the job, the manager took one look at my resume and asked, “Can you start on Monday?” I made nearly $300 per week, waiting tables, and was able to talk about my calling and my sweet babies in Swaziland countless times with countless people. I took it upon myself to be the light in such a dark environment. I began praying over each table of customers while I filled their drink orders; I prayed over the silverware I rolled; I prayed over cucumbers and tomatoes as I chopped them for salad toppings. God opened the door for spiritual conversations with more customers than I can even remember, and blessed me through the generosity of my customers. Many times, I found words of encouragement left on credit card receipts, with more gratuity than I had earned. Coworkers began to notice and ask questions. When they asked, I gave them the straightforward answer: I serve a really big God who makes crazy things happen–I’m called to do all things as if I were doing them for Christ. I pray for all my tables, plain and simple. I talk about my Big Why–the reasons for which I do everything. I talk about my babies and the crazy need there is, and people respond. I have gotten more than my fair share of crude remarks from my coworkers, many of whom work two jobs to make ends meet. I’ve watched coworkers take tables in my section or tips left behind because they felt more deserving; I refused to lash out or complain to management to fulfill our command as Christians to turn the other cheek, and give my enemy the shirt off my back. I would come home, exhausted after an 8 or 10 or 12 or even a 17 hour shift, covered in sake and soy sauce, the bottoms of my feet bruised, my back aching, my joints throbbing. My hair began falling out and my appetite dissipated from the stress; I was having trouble eating, because I just didn’t have the time; I was chronically dehydrated; some of my grades began to slip. I was spiritually, physically, emotionally exhausted. I would get up, go to class, go straight from class to work, put in my hours, read textbooks in between customers, write papers while sitting on the floor of the kitchen. I kept praying, and working, and doing my schoolwork. It is now the end of the semester, and I am home with my family. I have been home for exactly one week, and I am still not entirely recuperated from the semester. My health continues to decline inexplicably, and I am yet again bouncing from doctor to doctor to figure out what is wrong.

I do not say this things to complain, or to demonstrate that my semester was more difficult than yours; rather, I tell you because, despite unfavorable circumstances, there is still joy in my heart. I finished the semester on the Dean’s List. I have found a wonderful man of God who cares deeply for me, and who is accompanying me on this upcoming trip to Swaziland. I get to share stories of Swaziland with new audiences every day. My brother, Jacob, who is only 4 years old, gets Africa. All the time, he asks me questions like, “Joey, when are you going back to Africa? Can I come?” I might be tired and worn, but even still, I am making an impact, no matter how small. Exhausted as I am, it took all of my energy for the week to write, fold, stamp, and address and lick the envelopes of the 100 support letters I sent out. I finally got them in the mail yesterday, and I am hoping and praying that each of the recipients finds it in their hearts to give for such a worthy cause. If you feel so inclined so as to contribute, there is a link to the right of this post that will take you to a secure portal through Connection Pointe Christian Church’s website–just make sure you include my name!

There are only 25 days until I leave for Swaziland. 25 days, no hours, 56 minutes.