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.

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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.

Tonight

As I type, I am sitting on my kitchen floor, in front of our sliding glass door watching a thunderstorm. And I am crying.

I am crying, because I leave in 17 days, 15 hours and 47 minutes.

I am crying, because I am experiencing major writer’s block when it comes to the message I have been given the blessing and privilege  of delivering to the older students, parents, community members…anyone who will listen. I am crying, because this is all I want out of life.

I am crying, because the voice in my head is telling me I cannot do it, that I should tell our trip leader that I don’t feel comfortable doing this, that my message will be no good and no one will come and those that do will walk out saying, ‘What a waste of time.’

I have spoken in front of people before…but no more than seventy at a time. I have sung, alone, in front of hundreds of people. I have even gotten up on stage during chapel at my school, while the campus pastor told two-thirds of our student body my testimony. But teaching Swazis about their self-worth in their identity in Christ? This should not be difficult, but I am drawing utter blanks.

I have been told that if the church doors are open, the people will come. They will come and they will fill the seats. And the aisles. And the foyer. And they will be spilling out into the outside of the church. I know this, because I saw it happen a year ago. Even if only a few show up, I am a vessel for Christ. And thus: the pressure to be perfect sets in.

I paused to take a drink and I remembered that a friend of mine posts a piece of scripture as a Facebook status  a few days ago that I knew would be useful in terms of identity in Christ, so I went searching for it again. The loving words of my friend Sam, speaking not only to the Swazis but also to my heart tonight:

1 Corinthians 1:27- “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
He chose you. Stop saying that you’re not capable, because He makes you ready, and will prepare you. He has a plan for you.

And I am crying, because my God is so good. Even when I struggle, my cup overflows.

This post isn’t really going anywhere, and neither is my message, so I’m going to sign off for the night. Before I do so:

1. If you have any biblical input in terms of self-worth and/or identity in Christ, PLEASE comment below, email, text, call, tweet, etc. Clearly, I need help. If nothing else, please be praying for me specifically to speak light and truth into these lives.

2. A huge blessing has befallen me–my fundraising account has been enriched to reach $590 out of my $3,200 goal, which is incredible. If you are part of this, thank you thank you thank you. If you haven’t had a chance to donate, you can go to http://www.cpccweb.org/globalgiving to make an online contribution.

For your help and support, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I leave in 17 days, 15 hours and 6 minutes.