a wake-up call.

IMG_1389Living overseas for an extended period of time can cause you to become numb to your surroundings. You are always reminded of the crazy things that have become your normal when volunteers arrive. They are seeing it all with fresh eyes. Are people riding motos with their sheep/goat not a normal thing everywhere? You mean masked men chasing random bystanders down the street is frowned upon where you live? Do donkeys not roam the highways in the US? Does public transportation back home ignore the challenge of stacking baggage sky-high for a cross country trip? These things rarely catch my eye anymore. Occasionally there will be something so over-the-top that I have to stop and snap a picture. But for the most part, the ridiculous has become part of the rhythm of everyday life.

The numbness presents itself in more serious ways, as well. It’s easy to lose sight of why we are here. We get caught up in the busyness of life. Drama at church demands our attention. Visits have to be made to keep folks from griping about how long it’s been since the last time they saw you. Bills have to be paid. Repairs need to be done. And the list goes on and on. You feel weary and think at times you are just spinning your wheels. Why are you really here?

And then something happens that serves as a wake-up call. IMG_2852A bush taxi collides with an oncoming car 40km outside of town and 11 of the 19 passengers die. A friend’s older sister is among the injured. As you walk into the emergency area at the hospital, you’re surrounded by people whose lives are being drastically changed by this accident. You see the faces of men, women…kids who will never return home. And later that evening, you get the call that your friend’s older sister died from her injuries.

It’s easy to grow numb to the harshness of life here. But then people you know die. And they don’t know Jesus. It’s heavy. And it’s heartbreaking. But it serves as a reminder that life is short. No guarantee of tomorrow.

It serves as a reminder of why we are here.

As we sat in the village for this lady’s funeral, we were surrounded by people mourning with no hope. They wailed as the body was brought into the compound. They wondered if she had done enough good to be accepted by Allah. And they cried out to a god that will never respond, as her body was put in the ground. No hope. No assurance. No realization of their need for a Savior.

So much darkness.

2012-09-08 13.37.20But that’s why we are here. To share of the hope that is within us. To share about a God who sent his only son to save a lost and dying world. And to share about a love that can and will transform families, villages and nations.

Pray for the people of Burkina Faso. Pray that they will come to know God as Father and Jesus as Lord and Savior. And pray for those of us living and working among the lost. Ask that we not grow weary, and that we share the good news with a sense of urgency and that we would be found loving others well.

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Prison Stories: “He sent us ice!!!”

hailI went to prison this morning. I think it’s going to be a longterm thing.

Mondays are my prison days. Every week I get the opportunity to join a group of ladies who give up their mornings to go encourage the women in our local prison. It’s a cool ministry. We have a time of singing, breaking open the Word, and then close out our time in prayer. Each week a different lady leads the Bible study time (I’m up in two weeks! You can definitely be praying for that!!). It is always a neat time, but also a bit heartbreaking to see how their choices have radically changed their lives. But the Lord is at work and drawing them to himself!

I wanted to share a story from today’s trip.

We had just finished up the Bible study portion and were asking for prayer requests. A few of the women shared a couple requests and then one woman, Mama, jumps in and says that she wants to give the Lord praise! When I look up, this woman’s face is beaming. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t wait to hear what was going to come out of her mouth. She was practically busting at the seams!

“Yesterday was so hot. And the folks that sell us ice don’t come by on Sundays to sell at the prison. During church we were just suffering from the heat. I prayed to God for relief.”

And it was stinkin’ hot yesterday. Like “you don’t want to move because it would take too much energy and you might die” kind of hot.

“And then, the winds started up. And there was thunder,” she said, with growing excitement, “and the RAINS CAME…AND THEN HE SENT ICE!!!”

Seriously y’all, there was ice. Tons of it. Falling from the sky. You Americans call it “hail”, but there isn’t a specific word for it here. It’s just ice.

Mama went on, “There was so much of it. It covered our whole area. See that place over there? It was full of ice! And over there? Covered! So we grabbed it all up and put it in our cooler! And we had cold water!! Praise the Lord! I just want to give him thanks for the ice. He heard us!”

When you think of hail, I bet you don’t think of it as a blessing. It usually has a bad rap. Car and roof damage. An indication of bad weather coming. Pharaoh definitely wasn’t a fan of the stuff.

But yesterday, it was the answer to the prayers of these women. And they recognized it as such. When they asked for some relief from the heat, I really doubt ice falling from the sky was on their radar. But that’s how the Lord answered. And y’all, I wish you could have seen Mama’s face. Ear-to-ear smile. So full of joy because the Father heard her.

Then it hit me. Am I this quick to attribute thanks to the Father for the little things? Does it cause me to hit my knees in praise when he answers a request in a way I hadn’t thought of? Do I even recognize it?

They have so many reasons to grumble. Even with the hail. They could have griped about it, but they saw it as a blessing. In the midst of crappy situations, a few of the women have chosen joy over bitterness. And what a testimony that is!

May we all be challenged to follow their example. Today…choose joy!

An unexpected lesson from behind the prison walls. I think these women will continue to challenge me.

it’s going to be okay…

When you’re gone from any place for a while, coming back always brings a to-do list. When you’re gone from Africa for almost a month that to-do list is ridiculous! There are bills to be paid, trips to the market to be made, updates to send out, unpacking to do…and it goes on. Well finally, after a good week or so back in Bobo I have caught up. Or at least I am as caught up as I ever will be. The heat really messes with my productivity level!!

Life in Bobo is a little quieter now. Both the teammates are back in the States, and I am adjusting to life as a one-man team. It is different. I’d love to be able to say it has been a breeze, but that would make me a liar. It is hard. The Lord and I have had some tough conversations. I’ve laid it out there that I don’t really care for this set-up. I’ve questioned this plan. I’ve let him know that I am NOT. A. FAN. Being alone is for the birds!

But, at the end of every conversation with the Lord I’m reminded that he is good. All of this is part of his plan and it is for my good. For my good doesn’t equal easy. I’ve lived enough life to have experienced my fair share of, what my mom always calls, “character building moments”! I’m convinced that I am already chock-full of character…but I guess there’s a bit more room.

So, there are still those days when the loneliness overwhelming and I feel inadequate for the work and I think that I’ll never get this language down and I would much rather lock myself up in the house and tune into what’s going on in the Bravermans’ world rather than step outside my gate. And that’s usually when I get a kick in the butt!

Thursday was one of those days. My kick in the butt? A power cut. No one wants to stay inside when there’s no moving air.

Now, I don’t want to say that I’m surprised when the Lord shows up, but I’m always blown away. And humbled. And left standing in awe.

I went to visit a family I hadn’t seen in over a month. As I walked through their front gate, I was greeted more warmly than I have ever been greeted during my two years in Africa. You would have thought I was bringing them a million bucks! That’s a day-changer. And as we sat and caught up on life, one of the first things my friend asked for was more stories from the Word. A family that holds tightly to Islam wants to hear more Jesus stories. Our God is good. As I asked for the road and she walked me to my truck, she went on and on about how good my Jula was and wanted to know when I would be back to share the next story. She will never know how much her comment on my language encouraged me that day. Language learning isn’t a strong point and it’s hard work. The Lord knew.

That visit was exactly what my heart needed. It was as if the Lord was saying, “See? It’s going to be okay.” And it is. The hard days are inevitable, but the Lord is at work and has promised his presence. Couldn’t ask for more. He is enough.

In one of her sessions on David, Beth Moore said something that hit home for me, “We can go so far with God in the fellowship and comfort of close companions, but a time comes when each true follower is summoned further still.”

I’m pressing forward and going further still.

from where i stand…

Around two weeks ago my plans came crashing down. That is never an enjoyable experience. It is usually a time filled with a million questions and no answers. Well, no answers that seem to explain things in full.

As I began to process my new reality, a dear friend reminded me of this: “Nothing has changed.” I had to wrestle with that statement for a bit. How could she say that? Both her world and mine were changing faster than either of us would have wanted. But she was right. Had our plans changed? Yes. Had the Lord’s plans gotten derailed in all of this? Absolutely not. Nothing had changed.

That fact didn’t make me okay with it all. I feared the future. What-ifs were crossing my mind at all times. I questioned the decision of my being appointed team leader. The enemy kept bringing up past mistakes made in times of high stress and massive change. The fear of having to do this alone overwhelmed me. I was dreading February…my first month as a one-man team.

So, my friend and I walked. And I shared my heart.

The Lord can really begin to work when we get honest with where we are. That night, as we walked circles around the cultural center, the weight I’d been carrying began to lighten. Galatians 6:2 was being lived out, as this friend listened to me talk through what was weighing on my heart.

Over the next few days the Lord used my time in the Word to remind me of who he is, what he has already brought me through and what he was promised to do. The One who calls me is faithful…(1 Thess 5:24).

As I prayed about the coming months, my heart began to change. I was still dreading February. Not looking forward to it one stinkin’ bit. It was really weighing on me. The thought of being here without the girls and my adopted family kind of scared me. February was THE UNKNOWN. But, my conversations with the Lord redirected my thoughts to what I do know. I know he is in absolute control. I know he has a purpose and plan for my time here. I know he will use my weaknesses to show his power. I know that he is able to do far more abundantly than all that I ask or think. And I know his hand is and will continue to be all over the goings and comings of folks here in Burkina.

So two weeks later, where am I at? Well, I can say that I am genuinely looking forward to the coming months. And there is even a growing excitement to see what the Lord is going to do.

Will there be moments I’ll look at the long journey ahead and freak out a little? I have no doubt. But from where I stand, all I see is a God so much bigger than my circumstances. A God who has walked me through some of my darkest times. A God who has never let me journey alone. And a God who has never given up on me.

As I look at the race he has set before me, it is easy to get caught up in the questioning of things months and years down the road. So I’m holding tightly to the things I do know and just focusing on running what’s next.

 

The Roundabout Way

detourI am not a huge fan of roundabouts.  They are chaotic.  No one really knows who has the right of way, so it turns into a free-for-all.  Plus, why would any person choose to go in a circle when all they want to do is go straight?  Direct is always best…right?

I’m reading through Exodus right now.  The Israelites have left Egypt.  The Lord has rescued them out of slavery.  He has shown himself faithful to these people time and again.  The promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has not been forgotten.

They are finally out from under the rule of Pharaoh and begin following Moses as the Lord leads them to the land that has been promised to them.  But, along the way they get grumpy and put out with the circumstances.  They complain because the water is bitter.  They gripe because they are hungry and believe they had it better back in Egypt.

The Lord leads them on the roundabout way through the wilderness.  He “did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” (Ex 13:17)  Rather than a quick trip, they get to take the long road home.  Why?  Because the Lord was merciful.  He was compassionate.  He didn’t want them to see war and change their minds and return to Egypt.  The chosen route is, without a doubt, the road less traveled.  No one chooses the roundabout way on purpose.

As I read, I am often quick to jump all over the Israelites and hound them because of their ungratefulness and lack of faith in a God who brought them out of slavery with an incredible display of his power.  It is easy to judge their attitudes and actions from the comfort of my couch, as I read through their story.   So what that they journey 40 years longer than expected!  Why are they complaining?  The Lord never ceased providing for their daily needs.  He was always guiding.  He was perpetually present.  Could they really ask for anything more?!

BOOM.

And it is then that I realize I am no different.

If I take time to sit with this story and wrestle with it…it is not hard to see myself in the actions and attitudes of the Israelites.  How often do I grumble when something doesn’t go as planned?  How often do I question the road the Lord has me on for this season?  How often do I doubt that he will provide the things needed for the position he has called me to?  Me and the Israelites, we’re cut from the same cloth.

There have been countless roundabouts in my life thus far.  Can I retrace my steps exactly?  Nope.  But I can say that my God has journeyed with me every step of the way and continues to do so.  What is clear is his compassion along the way.  He has used the many roundabouts to shape me and to teach me to depend on him exclusively.  

Clearly, the destination isn’t a location.  I’ve learned that the end goal is following a path that leads me deeper and deeper into a relationship with my Creator…no matter how many twists, turns and stops there are along the way.

I’m learning to love the roundabout way because I see his hands all over it.  He is always guiding.  And he is perpetually present.  Could I really ask for anything more?

a one way ticket on an eastbound plane.

Ap4ociDCIAAhPvMOne year ago today, I held these tickets in my hand as I waited to board the flights that would take me to my new home.  These tickets were for one direction only.  As we say here in Africa, there would be no “going and coming”.  There would be only going…and staying.

One year ago today, I left all that I knew behind.  A way of life that was easy by comparison.  Family who loved me despite my flaws.  Friends who would share life with me over Tex-Mex and cups of coffee.  Nieces and nephews who would grow up while I was a world away.

One year ago today, I left a world in which I was fully competent.  I could drive with ease and it was relaxing.  Look at a menu and know exactly what I would order and what I would receive.  Speak and be completely understood.  Worship in my own language.josue

One year ago today, I entered the unknown and a way of life that is far more difficult.  But I have been blessed by a family here who encourages me on a daily basis.  Friends who I can share life with over rice and sauce and cups of bissap.  Little nieces and nephews who sit in my lap to drive my truck and entertain me during language lessons.

One year ago today, I was thrown into a context were I was completely incompetent.  But now I can drive like an African (watch out!), order food and get basically what I ordered, and be semi-understood in conversations around town.  And I am learning how to worship in the heart language of the people I’ve been called to serve.

Three hundred and sixty-five days later, I’m amazed at the difference a year makes.  I’m amazed at all I’ve learned.  I’m amazed at the friends He’s blessed me with.  I’m humbled as I continue learning to live life in this context and speak a language that is not my own.  And I’m grateful to call this crazy place home.  The Lord provides in incredible ways.

This next year promises to be chock-full of changes, new responsibilities, and more opportunities to share Jesus with those who’ve never heard.  And I step into this second year anticipating the Lord to do great things.