Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Africa: Simple Math!

 (Add some maize flour, sugar beans and 18 bags of frozen chicken and you have the ingredients to feed 600+ people!!)

(Before I write anything, I want to promise you… I am not on a guilt trip and I am NOT trying to send anyone else on one either.  If I could talk to you face to face, what you would find is a broken heart…  Not judgment, self-righteousness or self-condemnation.  But here’s the thing…  Hebrews 4:12 says that “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Sometimes, I just have to let the Word of God do its work in my heart…  Even if it hurts…  So here goes!)

This morning I was reading Psalm 72…  I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t familiar with Psalm 72…  WOW, how have I missed this one?

Some believe that King Solomon wrote this Psalm, others believe that it was King David’s prayer for his son, Solomon…  But ultimately, it is a look at what a kingdom would look like ruled by a righteous and just king…  And only Jesus fully fits that description.

As I hung out with the Psalm a while, it struck me that a repeated characterization of a kingdom ruled by a righteous king is characterized by care for the poor and needy…

Well, Jesus made it clear when He came that He was ushering in that kingdom…  It is a kingdom that begins in the heart of a Christian, who claims Jesus as their King, and it is our calling to make that kingdom visible in the world…

And here’s something that really struck me, vs. 15 says, “Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him!”  Charles Spurgeon writes, “How gladly would we give him all that we have and are, and count the tribute far too small.”  The gold that we give to our King are the blessings He’s entrusted to us!

So how are we doing (as the church)?  Even harder to ask, how am I doing?

All I have to do is sit in my chair and look around and I can tell you, I’m not doing so well.  I see waste and extravagance everywhere I look…  I don’t even want to think about what I can’t see from where I sit…our pantry…our closet…there’s not a place in this house to escape it!

Using Heart For Africa’s Gift Catalog (www.heartforafrica.org) and Samaritan’s Purse Catalog (www.samaritanspurse.org) I decided to walk around our house and do some simple math…  I’m only using extras…  things we don’t use…  I don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy God’s blessings… What is breaking my heart though is how I’ve wasted God’s blessings on extravagance…  THAT’S what HAS to change in my life…  So let’s go for a walk…

$350 for 2 of 4 lamps that are rarely used would provide care for an orphan for 10 months (at $35/month)

$100 for my running/walking shoes that are RARELY used for their intended purpose would buy 2 bags of maize flour, feeding 500 people!

2 of 5 Gap black t-shirts at $12 each…  (A Gap black t-shirt is my uniform, I wear one most days but I have a washing machine for crying out loud!)  Those 2 extra t-shirts would buy 4 blankets for a child who is cold.  (I don’t even want to think about how much has been wasted on clothes in general…  There are only so many days in a week…)

The $48.95 sandals that I just HAD to have for a party…  10 weeks worth of milk for a child…  OUCH

There's SO many 'little' things I could list...  Too many lipsticks...  Nail polishes...  Eye shadows...  Hair products...  Brushes...  If I start opening drawers there is $3 - $5 - $10 wasted all around me...  And as you can see from the photo above...  A 'little' goes a LONG way in some countries!

And then here’s one that really hurts…  The community I love so much desperately needs a well…  the $10,000 it cost to increase the size of our family room and second floor playroom (a room to play in...  REALLY?!  That just sounds SO absurd to me right now).  That would have built that well, or an entire house for a family...  Add $5,000 to it and it would have built a classroom, a soup kitchen to feed hungry children…  Now I’m a little sick to my stomach.  Do I love our family room?  Yes…  Was it wrong to do it?  Honestly, right at this moment, I don’t know how to answer that...  I want to say no, but is that really the right answer?  Do we need all that extra space?  Nope!  Could we have had better reflected God’s kingdom by making a different decision?  ABSOLUTELY… 

And isn’t that REALLY what it comes down to?  As a Christian, it’s all about how I reflect the kingdom of heaven!  If someone who knew nothing about God, walked into my house today, they might think that God’s kingdom is all about stuff…  indulgence…  extravagance …waste… 

And that is a POOR reflection of my King whom I love!  HE’S all about caring for the poor and needy…  Redemption and restoration…

Let me leave you with this…  If I say I have a heart for others to know Jesus,  this Psalm tells me how!

Vs 11 says this… “May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!”  And vs. 12-14 tell us how that happens…  “For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor, and him who has no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

If I really want to make Jesus known to the nations (the US included) I need to put some serious feet on my faith…  My life needs to better reflect the reality of the kingdom of God, including in my home and in my buying decisions…  To borrow from Josh Wilson, “Something’s gotta change!”

“Blessed be His glorious name forever, may the whole earth be filled with His glory!  Amen and Amen!”  (vs. 19) 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Africa: The Power of Praise

(I usually like to keep my posts shorter, but this one needed to be a little longer to be able to tell the story…)

So for a while, I’ve been reading through the Psalms…  It’s taken me a while because sadly, I am not the most consistent person in the world, but I love how by God’s grace, when I find my way back to where I left off, it’s always EXACTLY what I need to be reading!

Over the last two days, I’ve read Psalms 68 & 69, and the thing that has struck me is the consistent message to praise…  In the face of enemies, trials, struggles, suffering…  Praise Him!!

In Psalm 69, David is lamenting about his enemies and in verses 30-31 he writes, “I will praise the name of God with song.  I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.  This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.”

Why does God desire our praise more than our sacrifices?  I am CERTAIN that He doesn’t need them to affirm who He is…  He is perfectly humble, so it’s not rooted in pride…  There must be something about praise that is best for His children!

The thing that hits me over and over in Scripture, a principle if you will, is that praise seems to call the presence and power of God…  My favorite story related to this is in 2 Chronicles 20 when King Jehoshaphat puts the singing men in front of the army to lead Israel into battle and they routed the enemy!  But it’s in other places too…

Praise calls us to remember who God is and in the face of trials, it helps us remember that our God is WAY bigger than our circumstances…  Ultimately, praise chases away worry and fear and fixes our eyes on God…  the only ONE with whom NOTHING is impossible!!

On Sunday morning, as we set off to distribute TOMS shoes, we learned that we were missing 105 pairs of the smallest sizes of shoes.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault.  It’s just that there was really no way anyone could have guessed how many children would show up to receive shoes…  Across 11 churches, there were about 6000 children who came.  It was the first time Heart For Africa had done this shoe distribution, so there was no way to know what sizes would be needed…  Sadly, there are FAR more younger children than anyone ever imagined.

So I was worried…  a little sick to my stomach…  As the team leader, I needed to put on a brave face, but I wasn’t feeling very brave.  How would we tell 500 children they could have their shoes, but 100+ they couldn’t?  How would we explain this to our sweet pastor who trusted us to do what we said we would do when he invited his entire community?  This had the potential to be a very bad situation…  I wasn’t fearful from a physical standpoint, I was heartbroken over how once again, people who had been let down so many times, might view this as more of the same old same ol’…

So as I got into the van, the story of when Lazarus died came to mind (John 11)…  Jesus delayed so that God might be glorified…  God often is most visible and glorified through hard times!  I was reminded of 2 Chronicles 20, that I just mentioned…  So I asked M., the incredible young man with the guitar to lead us in a time of praise, after he gave his devotion.

For 30-45 minutes he played and led us in praise…  Worry, fear, anxiety disappeared…  In its place a certainty that God was going to do great things!

And that’s exactly what happened!  We watched as God ‘loafed and fished’ shoes…  We didn’t turn away a single child!  One young girl came to me because her shoes were too tight…  It was the end of the day, we had given away almost all we had so we didn’t have her size, and we had gone one size smaller…  I started frantically pulling shoes out of boxes, heartbroken that I would have to send her away…  But then someone put a pair of shoes in my hand, and they fit her perfectly!  I don’t know where they came from…  We had already searched all the boxes for her size…  But there they were!!  Oh happy Day!

I watched as the teenagers in our group had their faith increased… experiencing similar stories…  shoes that should have never have fit…  FIT!!  Who but God!

For the younger children, who had had no shoes for, we were able to give them clothes!  On all my trips, we have never had so many smaller clothing sizes…  But between the dresses that Dress A Girl Around the World sent with me and the clothes that the students had brought, no one went away empty handed!  No one was upset…  there was a sweet, sweet spirit all day…  

And one other sweet blessing came out of our situation…  I’ve learned over the years that what a friend of mine says is true…  “People are like toothpaste tubes, you don’t really know what’s in the tube until it gets squeezed!”  And we put our pastor in a potentially really BAD situation.  He trusted us and invited all of the community…  It was his name and reputation on the line, as much as TOMS and Heart For Africa and Pastor was amazing!  He was wasn’t angry with us, he was just heartbroken for the children.  God used this situation to give us a sweet glimpse of pastor’s heart and how much he loves those children! 

We could have walked into that situation wringing our hands in fear and worry…  But with praise, we were reminded that God is WAY bigger than the circumstances…  I don’t understand how it works, I only know that it does…  There really is power in praise!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Africa: Home... Kind Of!

I didn't mean to drop off the map and not post about our last day in the community, but as I typed the other night, I kept falling asleep...  I was SO tired!

We worked so hard that last day...  We put shoes on SO many feet!  What a blessing!!  Every one of them had a hot meal and we worshiped!!  It was an amazing day...

But my experience this time was profound...  I need time to process it...  I'll keep writing about it...  I still want to post photos...  But it may take me a few days.  A part of me wants to run from my experience...

What do you do with the reality of 600+ children in a small rural area who are hungry and thirsty?  What do I do with the fact that no matter how many gardens we plant with them, they don't have water to make them grow in a drought?

Where in my heart and mind do I reconcile that some children walked 15+ miles for a pair of shoes?  Some of them on a road that is surrounded by sugar cane on either side...  Criminals will hide there and I can't even imagine the horrors they inflict...  Pastor just said they do evil things...  I would imagine that's an understatement...  He smiled when I said I just wished the black mambas would get the bad guys!

But seriously, what do I do with the reality of that?  Would you walk 15+ miles, and risk your life, for a pair of shoes and a hot meal?  What do I do with that kind of desperation?
We are home...  but a piece of my heart is still in Swaziland...  So if home is where the heart is, I guess I'm just home, kind of...  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Africa: 569

I want to start by saying, Mackenzie was so incredible today!  It was so fun to watch her with the children…  She played, danced, sang with them and let them braid her hair.  I loved watching her sit and talk to them, she slipped into it so easily.  There is no doubt she made some children feel very special and loved today.  (I'll have to wait until I get home to post pictures because the internet is pretty slow here.)

So today was a hard day… 

Today 569 children came to be fitted for TOMS shoes… Today I saw 569 children who have only one, or no parents…  Today I saw 569 children who are hungry…  Thirsty…  Need lip balm because they are in the middle of one of the worst droughts in 10 years and their lips are parched…  They desperately need new clothes and new shoes…  Today I saw 569 of whom I’m sure Jesus was talking about when He said the ‘least of these…’  Not because they are less in His eyes, but because the world treats them as less.

Today I saw 569 children who are starving not only for food, but also attention…  Some of them are caring for younger siblings because their parents have died…  But who looks after them?

Today a little girl literally fought off other children trying to hold my hand…  She didn’t push or fight for her chance for shoes, but she sure did for a touch.  I had my hand on her back for a few minutes and put it down, she turned around, picked up my hand and put it back.

Today I met a young woman with Downs Syndrome.  I’ve never seen anyone with Downs in Africa, but in her face, I saw the face of Jesus.

She stood off to the side of the rest of the children…  She was always nearby, but she never pushed her way in…  She waited to be invited to do anything…  The least little bit of attention would bring a grin that lit up her face… 

At the end of the day, we were blessed with an hour to just hang out with the children…  A few of us sat down on the ground and played with them.  I noticed she sat down just a little behind me, so I scooted back to sit next to her…  she dropped her eyes and smiled.  Every once in a while, I would pat her on her back…  she would drop her eyes and smile.  I helped her shoo the flies away…  she dropped her head and smiled…  I asked her if I could have a picture with her…  she dropped her head and smiled. We couldn't communicate with each other using words, but I guess sometimes all love needs is a touch.

Today, somehow Jesus got me out of His way and used me to love a young woman…  It was an incredible privilege and blessing…  I will never forget her face, because I’m convinced that today, I saw the face of Jesus…  Not just once though…  569 times!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Africa: Humbled

There’s so much I could tell you about today, but to add too many details would cloud one experience that will highlight this trip for me…

Today was our first day back out at our church communities...Our project for today was to plant fruit trees and seedlings in their garden…  They always come out to help us so we finished pretty quickly.  Since we had so much extra time, I decided that for the third year running I would ask Pastor to take us into the community to get a better understanding of what it’s like.  I’ve asked him each year, but he has been very reluctant.  I guess it just took some time to build some trust.

While we were out, he asked if we could stop and pray for a man in his church who had recently lost his wife.  Of course…  We all piled out of the van and as we walked towards the homestead, I noticed an older gentleman out under the tree.  There were grass mats on the ground and pastor started to have us sit down, but the man asked if we would bless him by coming into his house. l

So let me give you a little context...  In Swaziland, it is considered bad luck when your spouse dies.  In fact, in the rural areas the people almost shun the person who has lost their spouse.

So back to my story…  his grandchildren laid out grass mats for us to sit on.  It was a very humble home…  Concrete block walls, a couple of plastic chairs, maybe 3, and just some basic tools to survive.

After a word from Pastor, he invited the gentleman to say a few words…  I was humbled to the core at what he said… “Now I feel like a human being because you have blessed me by coming into my house.”

God used our simple little visit to help restore his dignity…  Stunning!  We just have no idea how God can use the smallest things!

But then, I was completely overwhelmed…  Pastor asked us if we would gather around the gentleman, lay hands on him and pray a blessing for him.  And the gentleman took off his sandals!  In Exodus 3, when Moses was before the burning bush, God instructed Moses to take off his sandals because he was on holy ground.  When we finished praying, the gentleman put them back on.  His simple, subtle gesture gave a glimpse into his heart…  He felt like he was on holy ground!

I am awed by how the simplest things mean so much to the people here…  Sometimes I struggle with feeling like what I do where is woefully inadequate.  I often wonder, wouldn’t it just be better to take the money it cost to come here and just give it to them.  But it’s coming home to me over and over on this trip that someone showing up is as important for their spirit as water and food is to their bodies.

I have a lot more to tell about today, but I’ll probably save it for when we get home.  Tomorrow is measuring for TOM’S shoes…  Pastor says there could be as many as 500 children!  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Africa: Oh Happy Day!

So I’m not even sure to where to begin to tell about today…  There really just aren’t words to do it justice...  And yet, I think I could sum it up in one word…  JOY!!!  Pure, utter, JOY!!!  The pictures will show you what I mean!  (I have so many awesome photos of our team, but I need to ask their permission first, before I post them, because most of them are under 18...  But there's still A LOT I could post!)

I can’t possibly hit every detail, so I’ll just try and give you some highlights…  We went to 2 homesteads.  One was the grandparents and 12 (yep, TWELVE!) children!  The second one was 2 grandparents and 3 children.

At the first home (the larger one), we sat down and talked with them for a few minutes (we had a translator with us all day.)  We learned that the children are basically getting one meal a day.  Growing children…  One meal a day! 

So we planted them a garden!  I started with my gloves, but then I noticed that the gogo (grandmother) wasn’t wearing any gloves, so I took mine off.  If they can dig in the dirt with their bare hands, so can I!  I am so stinkin’ spoiled by my luxuries!

After we finished planting, we played (for a long time!)!!  Bubbles, beach ball, we just hung out with them…  And then we started to fit them with their new TOM’S shoes!!  How fun to watch 12 children get new shoes…  How AMAZING to watch high school kids, Mackenzie included, get down in the dirt and just love these children.  And they loved the gogo and the makulu (grandfather) just as well!

After new shoes, new t-shirts, new socks and beanies, M, one of the high school students got out his guitar…  What a moment to sit on grass mats and worship with this family!  Most of the family didn’t speak English but the grandfather did.  As M sat playing and singing, I heard a sound off to the side…  The grandfather was quietly singing along…  “Oh happy day…  happy day…he washed my sins away…  oh happy day…  happy day…  I will never be the same.”

But the blessings didn’t end there…  We went to the next homestead and met another amazing family!  But it was the little girl there that stole our hearts!  She was the ultimate expression of joy!  Mackenzie was completely taken with her!

Two groups of people from thousands of miles apart brought together in Africa…  Our greatest bond, we share a love for Jesus and a deep gratitude for what He did for us…  Oh Happy Day!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Africa: Just Plain Tired!!

Today was a sweet day...  It was our day on Project Canaan and I was surprised by the impact it made on me being back there.  We started our work day with a tour.  I was amazed once again at the progress they continue to make...

As we drove around the property, I was hit over and over with memories...  The soap stone cross hanging in the chapel, I was there when Janine picked it up, I was there for the dedication of the chapel...  The hill where I stood last year to photograph the arrival of 3500 children for a of worship...  The cross with the baby handprints, now hanging on the completed El Roi Baby Home.  That cross once stood on a hill, the home just a God given vision.  So much has been accomplished in such a short period of time and now 9 babies call Project Canaan their home...  Babies who had been discarded in a pit latrine, a ditch...  One little girl, less than a year old, left by her mother for a week at the time...  But now they have a home and someone to love them!  El Roi...  The God who sees...

Today was a work day for us...  And all of the teams worked hard!  Our team painted the roof of the baby home and Mackenzie climbed right up there and painted most of the day!  You go girl!!

Tomorrow we're off to spend the day with 2 families...  I think we need to be prepared to have our hearts touched in a way like maybe never before.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Africa: Over The Moon!

We are finally in Swaziland!!  That moment, when I step across the border is one I always look forward to and it never disappoints…  Just as much as it tears at my heart when I step across it the other way to leave…  But that is a week away, so I don’t have to think about that right now!

Tonight, we found out what we’re going to be doing for the week and I am over the moon with excitement!  Tomorrow is a work day at Project Canaan (Heart For Africa’s 2500 acre development).  We get to meet the babies at the El Roi Baby Home and each team has a special work project.

And as excited as I am for Friday, to get back to the rural church I always serve at, I am SO excited for Wednesday!  Wednesday we get to spend the day with 2 different families in the community surrounding Project Canaan.  We will plant a garden with each family, give their children TOM’S shoes and also take them clothing and food packs.  WOW, a half day with each family just to love on them, play with them and work alongside them! 

Thursday is an ‘off’ day…  We get to go on a safari and to a very special market.  And then Friday!  Friday we spend our first day in our community!  We garden with them, play with them and if I know Pastor M…  we’ll be doing some really awesome worship (with dancing!)!! 

Saturday we spend the entire day fitting the children in the community with TOM’S shoes!  THAT is going to be an AMAZING experience!  So far one church had over 300+ children show up and another had 500+ children…  We’ll fit them, play with them, sing with them, just love on them!  This is also the day that we will get to give out the dresses I have from Dress A Girl Around the World!

Then Sunday… Sunday we actually give the children their shoes, a food pack and it’s an entire day of worship with our church! 

I can’t even begin to tell you how God is already answering prayer!  Here’s a fun one…  I’ve always wanted someone on my team who could play guitar.  Today a young man got on the bus with his guitar and I thought, “I am so jealous of the team that will have him.”  Well, he’s on my team and I hear he’s quite talented!!

But the icing on the cake is that the whole team is amazing… Of course there’s Mackenzie, her sweet gentle spirit, her smile will be a blessing to everyone and God has also blessed us with 4 other clearly amazing young people from a private school in Georgia.  Just from dinner I can already tell they are a special group of young people!  And then the icing on the icing is we also have their Bible teacher and their economics teacher!  They are funny, you can see their love for Jesus shining right through and I have no doubt they are going to immerse themselves in this week!  It’s clear from the way their students interact with them, they really are special!

God is up to something and I can’t wait to see all that He has in store for us this week!  And here’s one to close with…  If you read my post last night, I was left wondering, is it enough to come each year just for the purpose of loving and encouraging…  Tonight, as orientation opened, Jimmie (who is the stateside director of HFA) said, “We are not here to fix anything, we are just here to bring hope.”  Maybe that really is enough…  Maybe that’s all the why I need!  But I’ll keep praying and watching!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Africa: Searching For My Why!

We just arrived in Johannesburg!  Tomorrow we drive to Swaziland (CAN’T WAIT), but we have a little time before dinner.  I initially picked up my Ipod and thought a mindless game of Bejewelled Blitz might be nice…  We’ve travelled for over 24 hours and I’m tired, but I had to ask myself, is that really how I want to spend this time?!

I decided not…  I think I need to ponder a question!  On the flight, I watched a great movie called Machine Gun Preacher about a really hard man who became a Christian and went to Africa.  On his trip, he asked a soldier to take him to Sudan, right into the midst of the fighting. 

As he saw the horrors of what was happening, the soldier asked him, “Why are you here?  Is it just to get your pictures and your stories?”  There’s nothing wrong with stories or pictures, but if that’s all there is, then really…  what’s the point?  The man went on to build an orphanage right in the middle of the war torn area…  it was an inspiring story but a very realistic view of the life of the children there…  It was heart wrenching!

Well, this is my 6th trip to Swaziland and I have some great pictures and stories, but is that all there is?  It’s time to give that some serious thought!  Is it enough to come here for 10 days each year, love the people, encourage them and then leave?  What about the other 355 days? 

That’s the question I’ll be looking to answer while I’m here.  Maybe showing up and consistently loving them is enough…  Maybe encouraging them to run the race well and persevere through unimaginable struggles is exactly what my part is…  Maybe it’s an answer that’s still developing and I won’t know after this trip or even the next one…  But it’s time to open my heart and really consider why I’m here!  Stay tuned!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

AFRICA!!! It's Almost Time!!!

It’s almost time!!  Mackenzie and I are just days away from leaving for Swaziland AND I can’t wait!!  I was just thinking about what makes me smile, thinking about Swaziland….

1.      Our friend Enoch…  He was my mother’s guide in 2005, but now he’s my friend too!  He can sing…  WOW can he sing…  Amazing Grace…  Reign Jesus Reign…  I love that he let’s me ask all the questions I want, he helps me understand a culture that is so different than the one I live in!!

2.       My friend Mary Jane…  I love her utter amazement that God loves her enough to keep sending a friend back to see her…  She is SO special!!

3.      Pastor Maseko…  Unconditional love!!  I’ve led two teams to work at his church, I’m about to lead a third and I ALWAYS mess something up!  I don’t understand their culture…  I tend to be way too protective (of my stomach) and yet he never stops loving us!

4.      HFA friends…  Heart For Africa is who I travel with and WOW are there some special people!  They make me laugh… they make me smile…  they inspire me to want to give more of myself in service to the Kingdom!  They are a picture of a living sacrifice!

5.      Ultimately…  DANCE!!  I CAN’T wait to dance with my precious friends in Hlane (pronounced SH-Lan-E) They know how to worship!  They taught me how to step outside my box and just dance…  I wish I could be the me, I am in Swaziland, all of the time at home!  For 10 days I get to live as the me HE created me to be! 

I can’t WAIT to go to Swaziland!!  I can’t wait for the moment we step across the border between Johannesburg and Swaziland!  I can’t wait to see the ladies in the African Queen…  I can’t wait to see the drivers of the combis we ride in every day…  the cooks at the hotel…  the AWESOME porters at the hotel (people in Swaziland don't tend to job hop so I get to see the same people year after year and I've gotten to know some of the incredible staff where we stay.  I have fun stories about them that just make me smile!)…  our friend Enoch…  Mary Jane…  Pastor Maseko…  My friends at Heart For Africa…  I have learned not to wish my life away…  and yet, somewhere in the quiet recesses of my heart…  I long for 10 days every year…  10 days that will take me to the friends that Jesus has born an inexplicable love for in my heart!!