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.

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.

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.

2012: The Recap

This last year was a big one.  I made a pretty big move, started learning a new language, learned to drive a stick-shift on the crazy roads of West Africa, made new friends and got to roam the earth quite a good bit (collected stamps in my passport from 9 different countries!).  A friend asked me last night if my nine months here have felt long or short.  My response: “Depends on the day”.  Though there have been crappy days and incredibly awesome days, I would trade none of it.  The Lord has been good to me.

DSC_0476The first of the year, I packed up all of my life into a giant wooden box.  It was chaos trying to figure out how much space I needed, what was going where and making sure EVERYTHING was catalogued.  It was an awesome and sad realization that everything I owned fit into 200 cubic feet plus 4 pieces of luggage.  I was blessed that Mom was there to really keep things moving.  She saran and bubble-wrapped the heck out of everything (which made for fun times 9 months later).

At the end of January, I packed up the winter clothes that didn’t make the Africa cut and headed to Virginia for a couple months of training.  Being the 2nd time through, I found it a bit more relaxing thanIMG_4852 the first go-around!  You learn a lot in all of the classes, but the thing that really sticks is always the friendships.  To be surrounded by so many who share your heart is incredible.  In those two months I drank lots of coffee, played lots of Settlers of Catan, fellowshipped with folks headed all over the world, heard the stories of many and set tentative plans for a Christmas vacation of a lifetime!  It was a fun time back at the Farm.

Easter weekend I moved to my new home, Burkina Faso.  It was a whirlwind of an arrival with only a week spent in my city before heading to Zambia for a month-long training.  IMG_358340/40 was an experience that I enjoyed immensely.  I got to experience a little of the African life and what the work might look like in my context.  The highlight of the month was getting to spend two weeks in a bush camp.  It brought back good memories of my time in the jungle.

The months following are kind of a blur.  Most of my time All of my time was focused on language learning.  It was and does continue to be a humbling experience.  When I go to communicate with anyone in Jula, I’m once again reminded that it’s never going to be what I can do here…it’s only going to be the Father working through me that will accomplish anything of significance.

564558_10100286283572474_1010209591_nIn August, I finally received my crate!  It was a happy day in West Africa for sure.  The box made its journey across the Atlantic and made it to my front door with no damages.  Unpacking it definitely made my place feel more like home.  So, if you’re ever in Burkina come on over!!

The year wrapped up with lots of travel.  In October, I traveled to Niger to play in a softball tournament.  The ex-pat team from Ouaga played the team in Niamey.  Yes, I travel internationally for sports.  I think it’s crazy too!!  In November, I had the opportunity to travel to North Africa for a conference and got to see some pyramids while I was there.  DSC_0236    DSCN0730    DSC_0445_2 2And remember those plans for the Christmas vacation of a lifetime?  Well, it all came together and it was an incredible time.  After nine months on the field, catching up with friends in the same place in life is always good for the heart.  While we traveled all over the place, saw a million sights and hiked up some extremely steepy (you’re welcome fellow travelling buddies!) hills, the Lord used it to encourage and refresh me…as well as giving me an excitement for this coming year.

When I look back on last year I can’t help but think how the Lord has indeed been good to me.  I am blessed.

the wall and his faithfulness.

I am in the beginning of my sixth month of living in Africa.  It seems like I have lived here forever.  But at the same time, I could swear it was just yesterday that I was packing up my remaining belongings, carefully weighing each bag to make sure it was 50lbs on the nose, and hugging family and friends good-bye for a while.

Six months.  That’s crazy.

It has been a roller coaster.  There have been countless ups and downs.  Days when I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.  And days when I am sure I would have taken the first ticket out of here.   But this place is home.  And I love it.

I have gotten used to the ebb and flow of everyday life here.  The crazy has become the normal.  And it is exhausting.  Language study has become monotonous, and there are days when I think that I will never be able to communicate with my people.  Running any sort of errand in town turns into an all day affair.  And driving anywhere is enough to fry even the most down-to-earth person’s nerves!  The culture stress is setting in.  I’ve hit “the wall”.

The wall creeps up on you…at least it did on me.  All the little things add up.  You find yourself saying “I’m so stinkin’ tired.  And for no reason at all!”  But there is a reason.  There are numerous little reasons.

Just the other day I was texting a dear friend, telling her my frustrations.  There was a list.  One of the big ones was church.  Going to church is work.  It isn’t a refreshing time (yet).  I spend three hours sitting and listening to two languages I barely understand.  Needless to say, my attitude stunk this past Sunday.  I did not want to go.  My roommate was sick, so I had to go alone.  I cannot tell you how tempted I was to stay in bed.  But, I went.

I should have known before I walked out the door that the Father was up to something.  When I arrived, I took my seat with all the women.  After a few moments, I noticed we would be sharing in the Lord’s Supper.  As they began to pass the bread and the cup, my heart began to change.  In that moment, I stood with my Burkinabé brothers and sisters…celebrating what Jesus Christ had done for us.  As we sang a familiar hymn (they in French/Jula, me in English/Spanish), the frustrations melted away.  There was unity at the Table.  The Body of Christ had gathered and in spite of language barriers, we worshiped.  And I was reminded (once again), that it isn’t about me and my preferences.

I might not have been able to understand the sermon.   And I’m not even 100% sure I knew what passage he was preaching from.  But it didn’t matter.  I walked back to my truck encouraged and thankful.  He is faithful.

Have I conquered the wall?  I’m getting there.  Will life here still wear me out?  I have no doubt.  But my God is faithful.  And he has promised me rest.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

a quick update

I have been in Africa for almost a month now.  I think I’ll hit that mark next week.  It has been a whirlwind.  Within my first two weeks this was the count: touched down in 7 countries on three different continents, crossed 7 time zones, been in all four hemispheres and spent more time in airplanes than I care to count!  It has been great though.  I honestly can’t complain about anything. 

The first 9 days were spent in my city getting acclimated to life there.  I love it already and feel comfortable calling it home.  After the short intro to the city, I was off to training in Zambia.  Yesterday finished up the first portion of 40/40.  The week was full of learning about African culture and interacting with people from local communities around Lusaka.  A friend and I were partnered with a local Zambian woman, who took us out each day to meet and talk with her neighbors.  To say I learned a little bit would be a huge understatement.  It was so helpful!  Each day was focused on learning something new and with the intention of building relationships with people that would eventually lead to an opportunity to share the Good News with them.  Saturday I was able to share the Creation to Christ story with three women.  Ask that the truth of that story becomes real to them.  The Father did amazing things through our group this week!  Praise Him for the lives that were changed.    

Tomorrow, we make our trek to the bush!  At 6:30am (which is 11:30pm for you CST folks!), our group will board a bus for a 6-8 hr trip.  During the next two weeks we will be learning about life in a more rural setting.  To end the time there, we get to spend a long weekend with a Zambian family.  I’m excited for this next leg of the training.  There will be stories to share, of that I’m sure! 

When I get back to my computer, you’ll definitely be getting a more detailed update with pictures!  So, check back again in about a month. 

Thank you for continuing to lift me up, even though I haven’t been able to communicate much lately.  I am grateful.