Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mocha Club

Read this and thought I'd share it. Brought me to tears and reminded me how much I love what I do...


When I think of Africa, the following images immediately come to mind: Starvation. AIDS. Child soldiers. Genocide. Sex slaves. Orphans. From there, my thoughts naturally turn to how I can help, how I can make a difference. "I am needed here," I think. "They have so little, and I have so much." It's true, there are great tragedies playing out in Africa everyday. There is often a level of suffering here that is unimaginable until you have seen it, and even then it is difficult to believe. But what is even harder is reconciling the challenges that many Africans face with the joy I see in those same people. It's a joy that comes from somewhere I cannot fathom, not within the framework that has been my life to this day.

The images spilling out of my television showed circumstances that could seemingly only equal misery, and I was fooled. I bought into the lie that circumstance defines happiness. The truth is, in Africa I find hearts full of victory, indomitable spirits. In places where despair should thrive, instead I find adults dancing and singing, and children playing soccer with a ball crafted of tied up trash. Instead of payback, I find grace. Here, weekend getaways are not options to provide relief from the pains of daily life. Relationships and faith provide joy. Love is sovereign.

My new reality… I know now that my joy should have no regard for my circumstances. I'm ashamed by my lack of faith, but at the very same moment I am excited by my new pursuit. I'm forced to redefine the meaning of having much or having little. I'm uneasy with the prospect of change and of letting go, but just the thought of freedom is liberating. I want what I have learned to trickle down from my head into my heart - I no longer want to need the "next thing" to have joy.

I'm not saying that Africa does not need our efforts. It absolutely does need our partnership. But for me, I've come to understand that I NEED AFRICA MORE THAN AFRICA NEEDS ME. Why? Because it is Africa that has taught me that possessions in my hands will never be as valuable as peace in my heart. I've learned that I don't need what I have and that I have what I need. These are just a few of this continent's many lessons. I came here to serve and yet I've found that I have so much to learn, and Africa, with all its need, has much to teach me.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Growth Through Community

As I prepare to go make my way home next week for the Holidays, I find myself even more introspective than usual. My best friend emailed me and wondered if there would be any noticeable differences in me since when I left, which of course got me thinking.

I’ve been living in South Africa for almost eight months and I would think that an experience like this would change me in some obvious way. It would have to, wouldn’t it? But as I examine myself and try to remember who I was before I came, nothing really sticks out. I haven’t become a nature or fitness buff; I’m not any thinner than when I left. I’m not an ultra-spiritual person and I’m probably not that much more mature than before. But what I’ve realized is that most of these things are outward changes and I believe that God has been working on my character more than anything else.

I work closely with a relatively small group of people and if you’ve ever worked with other humans before you know that this is rarely an easy thing. We are all very different from each other; some introverted, some extroverted, different backgrounds, different life experiences. We don’t always see eye-to-eye and conflict isn’t unusual. We hurt each other unintentionally and try our hardest to love each other unconditionally. This is life and it’s difficult and requires intentional forgiveness and understanding. Because we do work closely together, it’s important to not let bitterness and hurt build up or life quickly becomes uncomfortable. I’ve been forced to be real and honest with the people around me when in the past I would have tried to hide my hurt feelings and anger, because I wouldn’t want anyone to become upset with me and not like me anymore.

Through living in community, God has begun to show me what life is supposed to look like and what is important and what is not. He’s used those closest to me and spoken into my life in a powerful way. I walk with a little more confidence these days and I try not to sweat the small stuff. I’m starting to realize my value and I think the process of coming into a better understanding of who God has made me to be has started to change me in ways I can’t even imagine.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Bottom Line

I heard someone recently say that as Christians we need to be ‘yes’ people. When presented with a problem or a need, our first response should be ‘yes, we can help with that,’ then figure out the details afterwards. Too often our first response is a no, because we are easily overwhelmed by the details, whether that means time or money, two things that occupy an alarmingly large part of the average American mind.

So what is your bottom line? Is it Jesus and His calling on your life or is it your bank account, your peers, or your comfort? What is your first response when God prompts you? All Jesus asks of us is a willing heart. The details I think are safe with Him.

From South Africa

Why am I saying all this? Because I’m struggling so much with it! He keeps speaking to me about control and I find this subject really, really difficult. I’ve always tried to keep the reins of my life grasped firmly in my iron clasp, but lately He has been gently and sometimes not so gently reminding me who is really in control. Frankly, it’s rather irritating, but I know that to live a life of true freedom requires me letting go, so I’m working on it. I’ll keep you updated.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Her name is Sweetness. She is barely three years old and already her eyes reflect the harsh reality that is her life. Orphaned as an infant, Sweetness had been passed around from relative to relative before landing on the doorstep of a widowed uncle. Out of necessity, he is gone most of the day at work, leaving the three year old behind to fend for herself. Infected with AIDS, his death will follow swiftly on the heels of her parents and Sweetness will soon be orphaned for the second time.
When I first started work in Kabokweni, Sweetness was shy and would not approach me willingly. She is too solemn for one so small and often stares at her feet rather than respond when I try to talk to her. Sometimes I pick her up whether she acknowledges me or not and hold her close. She doesn’t fight, but lays passive in my arms and keeps her head down. I feel the hard, roundness of her stomach. She looks like a pregnant toddler, but I know that this is often caused by malnutrition.
Yesterday, I was playing a game with about fifty of the kids. They were being loud and acting more rambunctious than normal, but still for the most part good-natured. There was a lot of noise, that amazing crescendo unique to children and, while I was laughing and yelling along with the rest of them, organizing a game was fast becoming impossible. And in that moment of chaos, I felt tiny arms encircle my leg and a small body pressed itself close to me. This alone was not unusual, but as I glanced down and saw Sweetness, her cheek resting on my thigh her eyes raised to me, I felt near tears. She stayed glued to me the rest of the day and I let her cling all she wanted. Or maybe it was she who let me cling.

From South Africa

Friday, October 10, 2008


Hello Everyone!

Sorry I’ve been so lax lately on communication, but things have been rather busy. Last week, we held the National YWAM South Africa staff conference at our base. For a week, we hosted about two hundred and eighty people most of whom stayed in tents. Our own little ‘Tent City.’ It’s been an intense couple months preparing for the conference and while I can’t say it went off without a hitch, it certainly exceeded my own expectations!

From South Africa

We’ve had this past week off after the tents had been packed up. I left with a couple friends to stay in the Kruger National Park for a few days. It’s been amazing to just relax and take a breather. I’ll keep you all updated on new developments when I get back to work next week.

Love and Blessings,

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Simple Hope

I’ve always known I have control ‘issues.’ Once recognized, it’s not something easily hidden, but since my move to Africa these issues become more pronounced. I don’t always know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day, let alone three months from now. I get stuck in confusing and often embarrassing situations, whether I’m driving or at the grocery store simply because I don’t know the unspoken rules of society. For someone with problems such as mine these are not pleasant situations.

These may seem like small things and granted, they are, but unfortunately, they indicate a significant lack of trust on my part. My need to be in tight control of my life, to know what is going to happen the next day, week, and month is stunting my relationship with God. I might as well slap Him in the face, because whether I mean to or not I am telling Him that I know better and that I don’t trust him to take care of me. And this leads to an even bigger issue, because if I truly and deeply believed that God is who He says He is, the creator of the universe and everything in it, how could I not trust Him with my life?

All this said and done, I have been reminded by a good friend not to make things more complicated than they are and that this thing called life is really much more simple than we often make it out to be. So at this moment, I’m simply grateful to God for bringing me to a place where I can deal with my issues, where I can grow in my relationship with Him by learning to serve others. He is patient and full of grace and teaching me to not hate the process, but revel in it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

United in Hope

In a few days, I leave South Africa and travel to Germany for a couple weeks to visit my family. I have found that the prospect of seeing them has made homesickness so much worse. I try my hardest to avoid counting the hours till departure. I don’t want to miss something important here while I was wishing I was somewhere else, but living in the present has always been a problem for me. Which is unfortunate, because my ‘present’, my here-and-now, is not something to be missed.

These last few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time in a community called Kabokweni. I go with a few others and we bring enough food to feed close to ninety children. The women have taught us how to prepare more traditional African fare and everyday we gather in a small kitchen cutting loads of onions, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and beetroot. We cry [you would too if you had to cut this many onions], we laugh, and occasionally, we sing as we work as music is an integral part of African culture and you can’t help but sing along.

Then we play games or make crafts with the kids. We’ve brought play dough, coloring books, nail polish, and jump ropes. Every week, we have the children bring their school uniforms and we hand wash them with the ladies leaning over our shoulders laughing at our washing machine-pampered, clumsy attempts. Frequently, an article of clothing will be taken from my hands and the Gogo [Granny] will cluck her tongue and rewash it. I look down at my raw and bleeding knuckles and laugh. The bleach may sting something fierce and I may be bright red with embarrassment, but strangely I enjoy myself despite the discomfort.

We plan to build a care center here in this community and I can hardly wait to see the walls up, the building bustling with activity. The land is ready, the volunteers are ready, the garden is blooming, and plans are in progress for AIDS awareness classes, income generating projects for parents, and a daycare for children along with dozens of other visions and ideas. All we’re missing is the $30,000 it takes to put it all together, but I am confident in God’s provision.

I see the property, I play with the children, and I am overwhelmed with the potential, the raw power of what Jesus-loving people can do when they are united. I see hope where there was none. I see Jesus moving, and while I rarely understand Him, I am grateful He allows me to participate.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

TIA [This is Africa]

Occasionally, I feel the need to remind myself that I live in Africa. It would be easy enough to only go to the malls and drive from one friend’s house to another and never really encounter true African culture. South Africa is certainly more westernized than the surrounding countries, but once I depart the city the Africa I came to experience is there, waiting for me.
Here are some things I’m learning about South Africa.
1) If I want to do anything in town I should probably get there before five o clock otherwise the chances of anything being open go down to almost nil [except the bars of course and the movie theater that’s an hour away and they’re only open to about ten or eleven]. I used to think that this lack of nightlife was because people get up so much earlier here than in the States, which is partially true, but the real reason is that its really too dangerous to stay out after dark and year round the sun is gone by six. This is a difficult thing for a girl who used to work at a twenty-four hour Starbucks. I’ve tried to suppress the night owl within me and not get too terribly angry when people call me at ungodly hours of the morning, constantly reminding myself that This is Africa. Not really working so far, but I’ll keep trying. Everything is a process.

2) Gas [about $6/gallon], cars, books, and electronics are much more expensive here. Movies, restaurants, amazing wine, are all cheaper. Probably something to do with importing, but I’m not positive.
3) If you want something done in a timely manner, you should probably bring your husband [which is bad news for me]. Women haven’t quite received the level of independence here than we have back home.
4) If someone says they’ll be somewhere at ten and they show up at eleven, you grin and remind yourself that TIA. Time is not a commodity here.

I am constantly trying to stop myself from comparing Africa to the U.S. There is no comparison. Africa is Africa and I wouldn’t have it any other way, no matter how frustrated I get. I know this is a normal reaction for an American girl in Africa and I’m trying to get beyond my own stereotypes and expectations, both of the culture around me and those I place on myself.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Jesus in Mozambique

I don’t exactly know where to start describing my last few weeks. I have seen a new country, experienced new cultures, and wished for the comfort of home repeatedly and with all of myself. I learned that I am stronger than I believed and that I have the power of life and death at my fingertips or rather, at the tip of my tongue. I am in the process of learning that life is completely about the process and am so grateful that Jesus is relentless with me, because I would have willing abandoned myself by this point, dusted my hands off and left with some dramatic exit line. Fortunately, Jesus has so much more patience and love for me than I do for myself and I can see His movements in my life. I love His creativity and the different ways He whispers of His everlasting devotion to me, which is another thing I am slowly learning to accept.

It’s been a busy month.

I left to join an outreach team from our base in Mozambique over three weeks ago. I needed to leave the country to renew my visa and it seemed like a good opportunity to add a new stamp to my passport. Maputo [the capital of Mozambique] is only a couple hours drive from our home in South Africa, but seems worlds apart in every other aspect. Once colonized by Portugal, Mozambique is a unique mix of African and Latino influences. In general, the people are much more friendly across the border. Of course, they haven’t had as bad experiences with white people as black South Africans have. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I found definitely wasn’t it. We visited extremely rural villages and I witnessed people who had next to nothing tithe the best portions of their crops. They danced, sang, and laughed as they laid their offerings of chickens and vegetables at the front of the church. The pastor turned to us and said with tears in his eyes that this year had been a very bad year for crops in the village and that he was blessed to know these people. For the first time in all my years of being a Christian and attending church, I saw what it truly meant to tithe and joyfully give back to God, even when it hurt.

I have never been treated with such thoughtless hospitality as I have been given in Africa. We attended weddings and birthdays and churches and at each we were given a place of honor and their best food was laid before us even if they themselves went without. At first I struggled. Was this only because we were white people? But it didn’t take long to realize that all guests were honored and the fact that we had spent our own money to come and visit them touched their hearts deeply.

I wish I had more pictures and videos to show you. I wish I had more evidence of the beautiful memories I hold of Mozambique, but in my effort to be respectful of these people all I really have to give you are words and descriptions. I hope you can see my heart and through that the wonder that is Africa.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Growth Requires Thought

It’s a sad moment when you stop one day and realize that you’ve been forgetting to think. And when I say ‘think’, I mean deeper than the obvious and more than making the motions of day-to-day living. When I’ve realized that all I’ve done this past week is wake up, eat, play on my computer in various capacities, have meaningless small talk with wise people, and fall asleep, I feel like my active brain went on a vacation and all I have in its place is a vague, empty headache. Anyway, it’s motivated me to keep forcing myself to grow and think beyond my box and circumstances.

Despite this unfortunate lack of deep thought behind my actions, I’ve been involved in some really cool things these past weeks. Every other Saturday, we drive out to a local community called Mbonisweni and play games, do artwork, and provide food for about fifty children. These are good times and I enjoy the innocence and simplicity of the children. It’s been slow-going working with the people of Mbonisweni. The distrust is tangible, but we’re hoping and praying that if we prove ourselves faithful we will start to build long lasting, enduring relationships.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Blog Defined

Before I started even contemplating writing this blog, my first ‘real’ one, I made sure to do my research and looked up a definition of what a ‘blog’ really is on my handy, dandy dictionary widget. Ignorance is never a good idea when embarking on something unfamiliar and I would not like to unknowingly step into new territory with the wrong foot. So my widget gave a definition that will hereafter shape all of my future blogs.

a Web site on which an individual or group of users
produces an ongoing narrative.

So there it is. This site will be an ongoing narrative of my adventures and me personally. If this sounds or becomes boring, I suppose I could try writing a narrative of someone else’s adventures and their thoughts while on them, but I would be concerned at the true level of accuracy and my regrettable tendency to randomly exaggerate due to a lack of details. In short, it would become a work of fiction and I prefer honesty in most situations, not including questions regarding my weight or for instance when my dentist asks me when I last flossed as in both these cases I will lie shamelessly.
I should probably work on that.

Most of you know me, maybe not well, but you have probably either worked with me, gone to church with me, grown up with me, dated a family member, married a family member, or are a family member. For the past two months, I have been living in South Africa. I never expected to wind up in Africa and I don’t know how long I’ll stay here. Both of these things unsettle me on a deep level.

I miss the States only when I become uncomfortable here for some reason or another. Maybe the coffee I had for breakfast tasted like badly flavored water, or I woke up early on a day I could finally sleep in because the local monkeys decided to gather on the roof above my room and dance a jig. These things just don’t happen in Washington State, the birthplace of Starbucks. These are just the surface issues. I miss my family on a much deeper level and their absence from my daily routine is a constant ache, but every time I leave home it becomes a little easier to be gone.

I attended my first real African church service this past Sunday. I was the only white woman in attendance and it’s a learning experience to be the minority. I tried to quell the intense shudders of awkwardness and uncertainty I felt inside. I didn’t understand the language and missed all the unfamiliar social cues so that my movements were slightly off balance when we sat down or stood up. The lady next to me would kindly nudge me every time we prayed so that I could bow my head. We were called to the front of the congregation to introduce ourselves and I was desperately nervous and afraid I would say something wrong and disgrace myself.
It went well but my stomach moved in a queasy sway for the next hour.

Despite all this, I enjoyed myself. Africans are a friendly, welcoming people for the most part, eager to talk and share stories. There is a deep love of music and I have discovered an intense pleasure in taking part of their joy. The service was much longer than I am accustomed to, but the sheer newness of it all kept me enthralled and my eyes unaware of my watch. I love to be a part of worshiping God in cultures other than my own. It helps me to see more and more that the Western church does not define God and it helps no one to put Him in that box, even if it comes equipped with a steeple and a nice, paved parking lot.