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.

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.

24 Days // What Will I Make?

I leave in 24 days. 2 hours. 14 minutes.

I had a job interview today, at a local clothing store. The interviewer asked me about what I’m studying at school, and what I want to do with my life. In case you haven’t noticed…it’s kinda my favorite thing to talk about. After I finished explaining, he looks quizzically at me and asked, “There’s a need and all, but why would you pick that? You seem smart. Why not choose to be a doctor or a lawyer? What are you going to make, anyways?”

This is a question I get a lot. I’m not sure why it struck me as it did today; it could be the condescending tone, or the lack of professionalism, I don’t really know. Needless to say, I was livid. I don’t think I have ever been so angry. I wanted to choke him and yell, “YOU ARE A MANAGER OF A TEEN CLOTHING STORE. DON’T JUDGE MY CAREER CHOICE.” right there in the break room, but because this was a job interview and not some televised fight, I couldn’t. Instead, I took a pause. And I thought about 1 Corinthians 12:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? (verses 12, 17-19)

Here is what I am NOT saying: my calling is better than yours.

Here is what I AM saying: my calling is just that–mine. It is personal, just as yours is personal. And whether you are called to missions, or being a manager of a clothing store, your calling is equally important to God’s plan as anyone else’s. Please friends, do not belittle the ambitions of others…especially with trivial questions like what will you make.

I took a deep breath. And I smiled. And I said, “I will make enough. Aren’t there more important things in life than money?”

He nodded in agreement and quickly moved on to the next question.

I thought about it through the whole interview and my whole drive home: What will I make? I thought about Winston Churchill’s famous words, “You make a living from what you get, but you make a life from what you give,” and I have decided that I have a whole mouthful for him, whether the Lord calls me to Africa permanently or keeps me stateside:

What will I make?

I will make kids feel loved. I can give hugs and kisses and smiles and kind words.

I will make my kids understand that there is a God who made them, who loves them, who died for them.

I will make my kids believe in themselves. I will give my kids a reason to believe they are worthy of being loved.

I will make parents and guardians believe in their kids. I will make my kids give others a reason to believe in them.

I can give the support and encouragement to make minor triumphs feel like winning an Olympic medal. I can make major obstacles feel like pebbles on the side of the road.

I will give my kids cause to think and question and wonder.

I can make kids believe they are part of something bigger than themselves. I hope and pray every day that I make myself an example of what it looks like to live a life that demands explanation. I can give them proof that if they love God with everything they are and everything they have, nothing is impossible.

I get to give my kids a chance.

If I am to be really honest, you (and just about everyone else in the developed world) will make more money than me. That’s okay, because I get to make something better:

I get to give everything I have for my whole life. I get to make a difference.

If that isn’t the best dang job in the whole world, I’m not sure what is.

 

I leave in 24 days. 1 hour. 46 minutes.