~ ~ where some see a hopeless end, others see an endless hope ~ ~

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Conscious influence is priggish and un-Christian"

Words that spoke, right into my heart, today…

"The new Testament notices things which from our standards do not seem to count.
“Blessed are the poor in spirt,” literally--Blessed are the paupers--an exceedingly commonplace thing!  The preaching of today is apt to emphasize strength of will, beauty of character--the things that are easily noticed. The phrase we hear so often, Decide for Christ, is an emphasis on something our Lord never trusted.  He never asks us to decide for Him, but to yield to Him--a very different thing.
At the basis of Christ's Kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace.
The thing I am blessed in is my poverty.  If I know I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, the Jesus says--Blessed are you, because it is through this poverty that I enter His Kingdom.  I cannot enter His Kingdom as a good man or woman, I can only enter is as a pauper.
The true character of the loveliness that tells for God is always unconscious.  Conscious influence is priggish and un-Christian.  If I say--I wonder if I am of any use--I instantly lose that bloom of the touch of the Lord.  “He that believeth in me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water.”  If I examine the outflow, I lose the touch of the Lord.
Which are the people who have influenced us most?  Not the ones who thought they did, but those who had not the remotest notion that they were influencing us.  In the Christian life the implicit is never conscious; if it is conscious it ceases to have unaffected loveliness which is the characteristic of the touch of Jesus.
We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring…
-"Blessed are the poor in sprit.”  Matthew 5:3
-My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chamber

Friday, August 19, 2011

If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.

  • “What are you going to eat today for lunch?"
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
  • “Where are you going to college?”
  • “Who are you going to marry?”
  • “How many kids are you going to have?”
  • “Where are you going to live, what car will you drive, what kind of house, insurance, vacations, school, yard, boat, church, pets, meals, -life will you live???????”

When all I can do is look back on my life and the closest reaction I have to the above is screaming… it’s then that I need to take a step back.  And take a deep breath.

And my mission trip to Africa is what finally opened my eyes.

I grew up in a generation of answers and timelines.  By HS graduation, you were to know exactly where you were going to school, what you were going to school for, and eventually follow society’s timeline of meeting someone, getting married and having a family.  And here it is, my 27th birthday TOMORROW--and I couldn’t be further from ‘figuring it out’.  And while, I’m all for it eventually --it truly hit me on my trip that our Timeline as Americans couldn’t be more as an offense or a joke to God’s plan He has for you.

I came back from Africa completely off my rocker.  Frustrated.  Bitter.  Mad at the world…. and yet, not ready to get off the couch to make a change in it.  My questions were still unanswered and my confusion for life only grew stronger.  My natural streak of impatience came back and I began to scour as I didn’t know what to do next. ….. and the more people I talked to, the more I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

I’ve only been home for 5 days.  So, all the emotions that have been stirred are completely natural.  And they’re far from being healed.  HOWEVER.  In these past 5 days of confusion and frustration, I have also learned that--we sometimes just need to put our hands up and let Jesus take the wheel.  I DON’T have the answers for what I saw and what I witnessed.  I DON’T know where I’m supposed to go with what I did.  I DON’T know how God is going to use me now, and I especially don’t know when He’s going to start…  But what I do know?  Is that through my faith and through my prayers, He WILL lead me in that direction.  He IS leading me...

I’m still processing and digesting the trip in all honesty.  Some of the things I won’t ever come close to comprehending.  Some other things, I’m still in awe over and trying to make relatable.  I’m really not trying to sound like an "You petty peasant, I’m better than you, I just came home from a MISSION TRIP.”  That’s not it at all!  I WANT to talk about it.  I WANT you to know.  I WANT you to enjoy my experience.  So during this time of reflection, I appreciate your patience, your thoughts, and your prayers in my transition back into reality.  I know that soon enough I will be able to talk about and blog about more, but until then… I’m just praying for that patience.

I don’t need to lose sleep about my ‘timeline’.  And I pray that those reading this don’t lose sleep about theirs, either.  God has a definite plan for each of us.  And if it hasn’t happened, yet?  Well… it’s not supposed to.

Thanks Van Zant for your words today…  “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans…"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't Cry. Just Pray.

Sidenote:  Believe it or not, there are times when I’m completely speechless.  I’m completely blown away and just can’t seem to find words.  Today is one of those days, so please excuse the lack of ‘description and beauty’ in this post.  My mind has been wrecked, and I’m still trying to process…
We’ve spent the last three days in Ethiopia, at a place called Korah.  I should have known walking into the ET airport, wearing KORAH shirts and being asked by the locals what Korah was, that something was up.  Korah is a place near Addis, we call the Trash Dump.  And apparently is a ‘hidden place’, the gov’t likes to keep a secret.
And before I went there, I thought that was a dramatic way to describe it.
Visiting Orphans partners with an organization called Project 61.  We have been blessed to be able to work with Sumer Yates, the staff, and the brothers of this amazing project for a couple years now, as Sumer began this organization after a VO trip to the Dump.  When I say words can’t describe, I mean it.
I can’t do their bio justice; please visit http://p61.org/ to find out more about this wonderful organization and how it all began.
Coming from such a structured and ‘clean’ environment at Canaan’s, I wasn’t sure how to prepare myself mentally for the 3 days.  And after yesterday, I realized, there was not a single way TO prepare.  Our time at Korah was spent rebuilding and redoing 4 of the homes in the area.  We were also given the opportunity to do VBS with the children in the program, feed the children and the lepers meat from 6 goats, and visit ‘Alert’—the hospital in the area that treats leprosy.
When the teams finished plastering, hardening, painting and dressing the walls in the newly refinished homes, we were able to participate in their very special Coffee ceremonies.  My fellow team member, Don Henry said it best when he said, “It humbles me that they give us their very very best”.  Mulu and Mercy ground the fresh beans and hand prepared each delicate pour.  It was nothing short of heaven in a little cup.  And it was such a blessing to be a part of.

And as the day grew longer, my little ‘heaven’ drastically changed into Hell on Earth.
We packed up the 4 vans of Man Up’pers and headed out to the dump.  The real dump.  We were told that because the government in ET is pretty corrupt, that only a few members would be allowed to actually step onto the grounds, in an attempt to limit the publicity.  Because we have the film crew and the guys shootin basketballs with Dude Perfect—they were ‘picked first’.
But God had a different plan in mind.
When we pulled up, the stench started filling the van immediately.  Our leaders asked our guides how many could actually go…. And he said, “Everyone. Please.  Go.”  We were all anxious to go, so we filed out of the vans like robots.  As if we were being led to our persecutions.  I’m sorry to be blunt, but that’s honestly what happened to me yesterday.  I died.
And this is where I struggle to find the words.  I struggle to describe what happened to me yesterday.  I just struggle to keep the tears from falling every second I think about it.
The Trash Dump was not a couple garbage bins the street children scavenge through to find their dinner.  It wasn’t a place where the locals sleep under newspapers and eat ‘rich peoples’ To Go boxes they leave behind.  It was MOUNTAINS, MILES full of sloppy, wet, messy MUSH.  Hills of garbage.  Mounds of dirt as far as the eyes could see.  Caterpillars and Bobcats barely making it thru the murky terrain to dump yet more ‘nutrition’ for our Trash Dump families.
Being selfish is the only thing that came to my mind as I trudged through it all.  I didn’t want to go any further.  I didn’t think I could handle seeing it.  I was literally choking back the vomit that was coming up from the smell.  My eyes were burning from the sting.  Inside my rainboots, my feet were cold and wet from the slop.  Had it not been from another team member that grabbed my elbow and said, “You’re not supposed to stop here Amanda, keep going.”…. I’m still not sure I would have seen it the way God intended.
So I walked.  And I climbed.  And I broke down every barrier, wall, and shell I had around my heart during the past 3 days and let God in.  Cory Cotton and Cody Gordon, another two members on my team said, “That’s when you get broken, you let them in.”  and “He knows what we need the most, and sometimes just puts it in front of our face.  I didn’t expect to be changed.  He brought me exactly what I need.”  And that’s exactly what he did.  He put me in this environment so I could FEEL what they lived.  So I could experience first hand the struggle they face every day of their lives.

I was a mess.  I couldn’t hold back the tears even if I tried.  I was literally shaking.  And a little boy, an all too familiar age of 7, came up to me and said, “Dry your eyes.  Don’t cry.” And proceeded to give me a hug and wipe my tears.  Why was HE holding me?  Why was HE comforting me?  Wasn’t I there to be doing just that??  He bent over and picked up a package, and under all the mud, dirt and slosh, I read the label by Ethiopian Airlines.  A package of salt.  And that was his dinner.  A package of salt.  From the very same airline that got me there in the first place.  That could have been my package of salt I just ‘threw away’.
What I saw yesterday at that dump has been permanently placed on my heart.  I can’t shake what those children go through each day to just find a scrap to eat or a place to sleep.  The mothers carrying over 100 pounds of garbage on their backs to take ‘home’ to their starving families.  Kids screaming and fighting and scrambling to get any piece they can, and then hiding it under tarps and plastic to consume later.
I was a mess.
The team started to leave and we prayed.  We prayed on top that mess. We prayed for those children, for those families.  For answers.  For understanding, wisdom, discernment, and knowledge.  We prayed for the spark to spread.  We prayed.  And prayed.
And I cried.
Through the tears, I looked down to the ground between the mess of rainboots and garbage and saw what appeared to be a small white cross.  Made out of some piece of trash, of course…but I saw it and recognized it.  My teammember then lifted my head, and slowly pointed to the rainbow above.  And I felt it.  God WAS there.  He WAS with us, instilling a spirit of inspiration and brokenness at the same time.  And one of the Brothers came to me, one that had been born and raised in this very rubble.  And he hugged me. He held my weeping body in the most kind and gentle manner.  And he said to me, “Don’t Cry.  Just Pray.  Our God is a strong God.”
Yiesmachew, Sammy, Maste, and Brothers, P61 and staff…. I pray for you.  You are a BLESSING to have in Korah.  You are a light in the dark and a Rae of HOPE to these helpless and innocent children.  I can’t help but keep reading Psalm 23 over and over … and over and over.  You are their shepherd.   Thank you…

Saturday, August 06, 2011

3 'Simple' Words...

There’s something to be said when you wake up in a foreign country, hearing the roosters crowing, the drums beating, the hustle and bustle outside your window, kids singing as they wash their clothes, scrub their porch, sweep their decks, and you grudgingly walk out the guest house door to get breakfast.  Well…COFFEE.  Because to you, your day hasn’t started until you get your first cup. And the first thing you see when you walk out the door are three precious little girls, eyes beaming, smiles stretching across their faces greeting, “Amanda!  Amanda!!  Good morning! How did you sleep?”
And the only thing on their mind is whether or not you had a good nite’s rest.
They were standing there, waiting for ME (and probably for hours) to come alive.  If there was anything on my mind before, any hesitations I had for starting the day—they were gone at that instant.

We arrived to Canaan’s Children Home on Thursday night and have been having the most amazing time here with the kids.  Pastor Isaac and his staff are truly God’s people taking care and blessing these kids with everything they have.  At this orphanage, or “Transition Home”, the guests actually sleep on site and we have the opportunity to tuck the kids in at night, and then be greeted by them in the morning.  Spending all day with them, learning the ins and outs of their remarkable stories and dreams for the future.
Today’s blessing was the children’s program they performed for us.  Divided into age groups and boys and girls, they each performed a different song, dance or skit.  And had the rooster not STILL been crowing in the background, I would have thought I was in America.  These children are SO smart.  So extremely gifted and talented.  And those boys can BREAK IT DOWN!!!  (I will post videos once I get back to America…sort of forgot the whole camera cord).
As we spend more time with these children, our relationships begin to grow stronger and we really start getting to know them.  I have been TOUCHED by my three little angels and their stories.  Nancy wants to grow up to be a teacher, teaching English to the children in the Orphanages.  Angela also wants to be a teacher, a dream she never thought she could reach as her past seems to haunt her every night.  Jovia, Jovia, a sweet sweet soul has visions of becoming a nurse and I know that one day she WILL.  Her soft and absolutely loving demeanor has broken me and I can’t wait to hear about her journey.
They’re all just so intelligent.  So hungry for life, love and the Lord.
And it was while I was saying our good nites, my world….was again rocked.  I was wrecked.
There hasn’t been many times that I’ve asked a child what we can ask Jesus for.  But when I have, the replies have always been a Puppy!  Money!  Candy!  Ya know, the normal kid stuff.
But here, here where things are simple and children love life and don’t ask for much, I was told to pray for Knowledge.  For Wisdom.  And for Understanding.  And as we sat under the tree, looking at the star-speckled sky above, I was shaken because I don’t even ask or pray for those things.  I definitely don’t know everything—in fact, I’m far far from it.  I haven’t lived many life experiences to say I’m wise, nor would I think I should pray to be.
And to understand?  I don’t.
I don’t understand why things happen the way they do.  I don’t understand how certain things in life take their course.  And I definitely don’t understand how a precious precious child, after having the life and past they’ve had, still has so much knowledge and so much wisdom—far beyond their years.
So to say these children are intelligent and smart….well, I guess it’s an understatement.  They live a simple life on the outside, but deep down—they are growing and striving and learning and BEING.
Something I SO wish I could do more.
I woke up again today and walked outside.  Yet again, greeted by those three smiles.  My demeanor has changed.  My attitude is different.  My life has been rocked.
We leave Uganda today to head to Ethiopia.  And I’m excited for the trip.  But I KNOW, my heart has been left here in this country.  Here under that tree.   Here with those beautiful and precious little girls….  And I will continue to pray.  Continue to pray for Knowledge.  Wisdom.  And understanding.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

from a Country Divided to a Cross United

I know you are all waiting for this massive update.  The who’s the when’s the hows, my travels, if I got here safe, the rounds.  And I promise, I will get there.  But there’s something about writing in the moment…and I just can’t pass up the opportunity.
What’s great about never have been on a mission trip before is you don’t have any idea what’s ahead or have any idea what to expect.
And you get completely wrecked by every little thing around you.
We started our caravan for the day, and I got to see Uganda in its brightest form.  People roaming the streets.  Hustling, bustling, meandering and mingling throughout their city, going about their day to day.  We pounded through the countryside to see rolling hills and hills and green and trees—Africa that nobody in the States really knows exists.  And we continued our journey to the Children’s Prison, M1.
People described the children’s prisons to me.  I’ve heard stories from our past teams of what they witnessed.  I had a pretty good vision of what I was walking into today….
… or so I thought.
After warnings of not being able to film or take pictures, being completely denied access to a facility altogether—my opinion started changing today.  We pulled into M1 prison and unloaded the bus and van full of Man Uppers and my vision became clearer.  M1 is a Government run facility that hosts children who have been orphaned and picked up off the streets, children that are awaiting their court sentence, and children who have been given their sentences—about 150 kids, from any age up to 18.  We all had to sign in and we were taken on a short tour of the “facilities”.  An extremely humbling experience to say the least.  About 4 big buildings filled with concrete cells.  Rusted showers—that maybe worked on occasion.  One giant plastic water basin in the middle of the ‘courtyard’, used for their drinking water—to which I watched some take the liberty of washing their hands.  A fire in the middle of the property that burned throughout the day—because they didn’t have trash cans.  Stagnant, sour air filled our lungs walking through the buildings.  Cement cells with no windows.  Community rooms made entirely of concrete, cold walls and cement floors.  Mattresses scarce.  Bathrooms nonexistent. 
The kids stared back at us, but with bright, wondering, hopeful eyes.
And we rushed.  We bombarded those kids like they were our own.  And soon enough, they became just that.
It was like the world and all around me evaporated into thin air.  I couldn’t help but notice the children hovering over small water bins, scrubbing furiously to wash their clothes clean.  Not once, not twice, but three times I saw a little boy ask their Director for soap.  They didn’t have soap to give them.  So onto washing in his dirt colored water he went.  I realized it was such a small offer, but I asked if I could give them some bars of old hotel soap we’d had donated.  (Ya know, those small bars that never get used because they’re either too drying for our skin, or we don’t like the brand the hotel uses.  So they get trashed and thrown because we are just ‘that’ country).  So, as I knelt down to give my new little friend a small offer, it was then, at that moment, like the world and everything that existed around me evaporated into thin air.
And I began scrubbing.
I scrubbed with that little boy with our little bars of hotel soap until I could see the white trim again on his torn up basketball shorts.  I scrubbed with that little boy as he would lift and check the stains on his shirt, only to find more stains on the back and continue the process all over.  I scrubbed with that little boy until he approved of my work with a short, acceptance smirk.  (Which, I think he did just to make me feel better because my scrubbing DEFINITELY wasn’t up to the caliber as his).  I scrubbed and washed and scrubbed and washed…. And it was in that moment that more little boys started lining up.  They didn’t want my help scrubbing their clothes like I expected.  They were hoping for more of that sudsy miracle.
And mini hotel bars of soap became the newest, hottest commodity that ever existed.
To say what happened next, however, there are no words.  My description can’t do the feeling justice, and you can’t write enough to try.
We packed into one of the community rooms and were blessed with song and dance from the children.  Praise and worship like no other.  About 200 of us, Shouting and Singing and Dancing and Jumping and crying out to the Lord.  This impromptu worship service, all being led by a former child prisoner, all but 17 years of age.  As I was doing what I do best—being c razy and acting silly amongst the kids, I saw him.
We were jumping up and down, kids hovering over him and dancing around him, ignoring his presence as he stood maybe but 3 feet tall, and he locked eyes with me.  I smiled and kept jumping and singing.  He kept looking at me.  The praise continued and those kids dropped to the floor, dropped to their cold cement concrete alter and began praying.  Praying like I’ve never heard before.  Cries and prayers like I couldn’t ever imagine.  And he continued to look at me.
I waved for him to come closer, but the shy little guy wouldn’t have it.  I kept waving him over, but he just stared up at me.  Eyes round as the sun and just as bright.  The room around me started to blur, and It wasn’t until I actually stopped jumping up and down, knelt down to his level, held out my hand… he finally came.
And he never left.
This little boy stole me at that moment.  There was something about his gaze, like he was trying to read me.  Trying to see right into my heart so he knew I existed.  We prayed together, we sang together, we laughed and smiled together, hand in hand sitting on my lap.  But even though we were sharing those moments, we were still a world a part as my little boy didn’t speak a word of English.  There was still something missing, even through all we were experiencing during that hour of worship.  I felt it.  He felt it.
And then, if it was even possible, God blessed me even further.
That little boy played with my hands, traced the ins and outs of my fingers, felt across my wrists and my arms—desperate to figure out why we weren’t ‘the same’.  Confused glazes crossed over his face as he looked at my freshly washed, stark white fingernails and compared them with his little, tiny, broken and weak brown ones.
That little boy continued to scope out my hands as he drifted toward my right ring finger.  His tiny fingertips slowly came to my tattoo that lay there between my two fingers, and he froze.  It was like I felt a shock run through his body and he almost jumped.
He traced the tattoo over and over and over and over.  He didn’t look up at me, but I knew right then and there, that at that singular moment, we were finally connected.  We were finally brought together because that little boy, not an English word in his vocabulary, understood what that symbol on my finger meant.
That small Cross connected our two worlds so far apart, and it was at that moment we became ‘the same’.
I never got his name.  But I know Jesus is takin care of him.
I saw God through the eyes of that child today, and I know in my heart he saw Him through mine.  He was too young to talk and I never got his story, but I believe God gave me that moment to say to me, “Amanda, don’t worry.  I’ve got him in my lap just like you did and I will protect him.  He’s going to be okay.”
And for that…. I will be okay, too.