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.

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.

 

day 2: the beginnings of the falafel tour

An explanation of the title.  We ate falafel pretty much everyday.  Falafel and hummus.  Hummus and falafel.  IT. WAS. GREATNESS.  So, the trip got dubbed “The Falafel Tour” and rightly so.  What is a falafel you might ask?  It is a ball of deep-fried goodness (made of ground chickpeas) that you can stuff in a pita, slather with some hummus and enjoy everyday of vacation…if you so desire!

Before this trip even started, we resigned ourselves to the fact that there wouldn’t be much time for sleep.  When you haven’t seen some of your greatest friends in around nine months, there will be lots of late night convos!  The lack of sleep was totally worth it.  Each day was crammed full of seeing everything we possibly could see.  For our first full day in the country we hit the ground running!

It would be hard to put this day into words.  So, for the most part I will let the pictures do the story telling.  I’ve been here before, but it will never get old.

Standing on the Mount of Olives and taking in the view of the Old City is pretty incredible.

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“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray'”.  (Matthew 26:36)

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From the garden, we walked the Via Dolorosa.  This is said to be the path that Jesus walked, with his cross, to the site of his crucifixion.  It takes you by the sites of his condemnation and flagellation.

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“And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.” (Mark 15:24)

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  This is the traditional location of Calvary and the tomb where Jesus was laid.  The church is home to Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

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These crosses were carved into the walls of the church by the Crusaders, during the First Crusade.

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This church marks the traditional site of the birthplace of Mary and the home to Jesus’ maternal grandparents.

**Side note: this church is known for its awesome acoustics.  Anyone can sound awesome singing.  So naturally we sat down, made sure no one was singing and then proceeded to sing Amazing Grace.  We hadn’t gotten two words out before the monk came over and chewed us out for not waiting our turn!!  Apparently the folks taking pictures at the opposite end needed their chance.  Needless to say, some members of our group were quite bitter over getting reamed by a grumpy monk that day!**

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Next to the above church are the pools of Bethesda.  This is the place where Jesus healed a man laying beside the pool.  “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” (John 5:8-9)

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The Garden Tomb.  This was one of my favorite spots.  At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it is really hard to imagine what things would have looked like because you are overwhelmed by the gaudiness of it all.  This is a quiet place where incense isn’t being waved and people aren’t kissing all of the possible places Jesus may have stood.  It was peaceful and gave you a chance to reflect.

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My little buddy and me at the Garden Tomb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Word really comes alive when you get to walk in the places where the events actually occurred.  As the day came to a close, two things really hit home.

First, many of the sites throughout the Old City are incredibly touristy and gaudy.  There is so much incense burning and candle lighting and kissing of objects that it is really hard to focus on what took place there.  There just seems to be a lot of extra hoopla.  And, it is easy to find yourself really annoyed at the sight of it all and even critical at the groups that have control of the various sites/churches.  These different religious groups may view worship very differently from how I view it, but they have preserved these locations and enabled us to still be able to visit the various places that were significant in the life and ministry of Jesus.  And for that I am thankful.

The second thing pertains to the fact that there are several locations that are up-in-the-air…no one knows for certain where they took place.  While at the Garden Tomb, I heard a tour guide make this statement: it does not really matter if we know for sure where certain things happened; what matters is that we know for sure they did happen.  Whether Jesus Christ was crucified and buried at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or at Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb doesn’t matter.  What matters is the fact that he lived a perfect life, died for us and rose again and conquered death.  What matters is that he is no longer in that grave.  He is alive and he is coming again!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

**Just so you know…the pomegranate juice is Chuck Norris approved!**

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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.

we are the Body.

I haven’t been to a church in two months.

For the last nine weeks, I have been a part of a small group.  During training we were divided up by affinity groups and we met almost daily to dig deeper into the Word.  It was an incredible time of growth and learning, as we lived life-on-life with each other.  We met as a group for the last time this past Thursday.  Needless to say, I was somewhat uneasy about jumping back into “big church” my first day back home.  To go from 10 people in a very intimate setting to several hundred in a large building is somewhat overwhelming.

My uneasiness was completely unwarranted, however.  As I walked through the doors this morning, I was greeted by friends who: wanted an update on my life, told me how they had been keeping up with my newsletters, and had been lifting me up during this time of transition. What a huge encouragement.  As if that wasn’t enough, I got to speak in Spanish!  I had the opportunity to talk to José Henríquez, one of the 33 miners trapped for 69 days in Chile.  What an incredible testimony he has to share.  Our God is faithful!  He and his wife, Blanca, will be going to Africa later in the year, so it was neat to be able to share with them (in Spanish!) a little about where I’m headed.

As the service began, I found myself fighting off tears.  This was the last time I’d stand and worship with my church family for a while.  I tried to take it all in.  Looking around, I saw faces that have walked with me as the Lord has revealed His plans for me, encouraged me during the rough times, challenged me in my walk, and made me laugh until my sides hurt…and I was overwhelmed with thankfulness.  At the end, as we were singing “Jesus Paid It All”, a friend next to me tapped my shoulder and asked if he could pray for me.  So, we walked off to the side and knelt down to pray.  My “M” pastor soon knelt at my other side.  There are no words to describe the feeling when friends have surrounded you and are lifting you up before the Father.  In that moment, my heart was full.

Today was a sweet time of worship with the local Body.  I praise the Father for STBC and all that He is doing through them.  And I look forward to partnering with them over the next several years, as the Lord uses His people to reach the unreached of West Africa.

Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church, thank you for loving me.  And thank you for your prayers, encouragement and support as I go out.  Thank you for investing in me.  My cup runneth over.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

 Hebrews 10:24-25

 

another stamp in the passport…

“I am not the same for having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

I read this on a friend’s blog a while back. And as I process my last trip, this continues to come to mind. My life has been radically changed through the trips I have taken to other countries. My heart has been stirred countless times by the things I have seen. And I am immensely grateful for the opportunities I have been given to experience life in another context.

This most recent trip was no different. And while I cannot go into much detail here on the world wide web, I can tell you that I saw and learned a great deal. I saw hopelessness in the eyes of youth, and it broke my heart. I saw determination in the faces of those with extreme disabilities, and it challenged me. And I saw joy and excitement on the face of one young teenager who had lost both of his legs, and his attitude and outlook on life convicted me. These youth taught me more than I could have ever tried to teach them in a lifetime.

I never thought I could grow to love a certain group of people so deeply and in such a short amount of time. They are impressed upon my heart forever. A friend of mine recently wrote about leaving a country she’d been living in.  She put into words exactly what I have been feeling. She said:

As usual, I came to give, work, help, and love and I’m leaving with so many memories, wonderful blessings, special friends, exciting stories and a deeper perspective. I’m also leaving behind another piece of my heart in another precious country, and again, wondering why I do this to myself and when I won’t have any more pieces left to leave behind…but I love it and doubt I’ll stop anytime soon.

To interact with and do life with people in a different context is life changing. It is one of those things that is not easy, but so so worth it. The people I just left have a chunk of my heart. My perspective has once again been broadened. My heart is full. And I cannot wait to go back…no matter the cost.

When border patrol looks at my passport, they see the stamps and visas of the countries I have visited. When I thumb through those pages, I see places that have shaped me and the faces of the people that have poured into my life in spite of the barriers of language and culture.

Those stamps are more than mere ink. They are stories that have shaped my life.