day 3: a tour of the “o little town…”

It was a Sunday, so we had the opportunity to attend a local fellowship.  Though I could understand nothing and was busy thinking warm thoughts because I feared my extremities might give into frostbite, I loved getting to worship with the local believers in town.  Listening to people worship in their heart language is just awesome and it gives a small picture of what it will look like when “a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Rev 7:9-10).

Afterwards, we loaded up and headed to Manger Square…where we, of course, had falafel and hummus for lunch!

Some of the gang in front of the tree and nativity.

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Frying up goodness.

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The Church of the Nativity.  It is considered to be the oldest, continually operating Christian church in the world.  This church sits atop the cave that is said to be the birthplace of Jesus.

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This silver star is over the grotto (cave) where Jesus was born.  You can actually touch the rock.  Some choose to kiss it.  A nun actually cut me off as I was going to touch it, so she could kiss the rock.  True story.  The nuns and monks on this trip sure seemed to have it out for us!

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This is where the Midnight Mass is held of Christmas Eve.  It was closed when we came to visit, but we were told it would be standing room only!

DSCN0901 DSCN0905The next stop was Shepherd’s Field.  This was one of my favorite spots.

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There are buildings around, but you still can get a feel for what it would have been like for those shepherds.  I don’t really know what I pictured when Luke said “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night”…but I don’t think it looked so rocky.  I always envisioned a nice, easy place to let your sheep graze.  This was by no means an easy place to hang out with sheep.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

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“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'” (Luke 2:13-14)

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“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15-16)

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We headed down to another city to a glass-blowing factory.  The route we ended up on was not the one intended.  But, it gave us an incredible view of the countryside and allowed us to meet some super friendly guys, who made sure we made it to our destination.  When you read in the Word of all that happened during the times of the kings, when David was fleeing from Saul, etc…this is what they had to maneuver through and around.  Being able to see the geography of a place really makes the stories come to life!  It’s just cool.

                                                                          

If you can’t have Starbucks…well then, Stars & Bucks is the next best thing!!

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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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day 1: just to the left of the middle of nowhere

It all started at a truck stop.

Well, that’s not exactly where it all started…but close enough.

Back in March of 2012, three friends and I began to throw around the idea of doing Christmas together.  And what do ya know?  All of the logistics came together…minus the small detail of where exactly we would need to be picked up.

Getting across the River really took no time at all.  Things went super smoothly (that should have put me on alert!).  As we were going through immigration on the other side, that’s DSC03648where the fun started.  I made the mistake of not saying “Good morning” before asking for the visa form and was reamed for my lack of manners.  Nothing says “Welcome to our country” like tearing into a few tourists for their manners.  Because of this first rough encounter, I was questioned extensively about why I was in the country (always a good time).  After verifying our story we passed through security and into the Promised Land looking for E in the parking lot.

Remember that small detail of a pick-up location that was never quite nailed down???  Well, that led to a bus full of strangers deciding where we should be dropped off.  Yes, we sat back and let the group decide for us.  There was really no choice in the matter.  The consensus was to drop us off at a truck stop outside of Jericho and hope E knew which one!  So, we grabbed the first of many falafel sandwiches and hunkered down in the cold to await our ride.

Our first couple hours were spent hanging out just to the left of the middle of nowhere.

DSCN0827Once the Fantastic Four were reunited, we set out to see some sights.  First stop: Masada. It was an incredibly cool place.  Herod the Great built it way back in the day as a fortress/palace.  It is a huge complex built on the top of a mountain plateau and overlooks the Dead Sea.  There was an intricate cistern system, old thermal baths, the remains of a Byzantine church and synagogue.  A scribe actually sits in the remains of the synagogue and copies the Torah onto scrolls.  We didn’t get to see him working because it was Shabbat.  My nerdy history side really came out and I was reading every sign (I am my father’s daughter).  There is just something cool about getting to see these places with my own eyes and not just in a history book.  See…I’m a nerd at heart.

I was blessed to spend Christmas vacation with friends who found the humor in all of our crazy situations.

* The next few blogs will be about my awesome Christmas vacation through a land filled with an incredible history. *

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.

once for all.

The Old Mosque in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

Tomorrow, Muslims around the world will celebrate Tabaski.  Tabaski is how those in West Africa refer to this festival.  Maybe you’ve heard it referred to by another name…Eid al-Adha, Feast of the Sacrifice or the Greater Eid.  The festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to do so (they believe Ishmael to be the son he almost sacrificed).  Abraham had shown that his love for God superseded all others: that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dearest to him in submission to God’s command.  On Tabaski, a sheep (or a goat) is slaughtered as a symbolic gesture of the ram that God substituted for Abraham’s son.  The sacrificed meat will then be shared with family, friends and the poor, as an act of charity.

As I sit here writing this, I can hear the bleating of my neighbor’s sheep and I can’t help but think that no matter how many days these people have fasted or the number of good deeds they have done or prayers prayed or sheep sacrificed…it’s all meaningless.  They live without hope.

They need the great high priest.  They, so desperately, need Jesus.

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

(Hebrews 7:27)

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of this own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

(Hebrews 9:12)

So tomorrow as my friends and neighbors gather together, would you take a moment to lift them up?  Pray that they would see that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) and that Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of God’s provision for Abraham and for our sins.  And pray for good conversations, as I interact with those living around me.

It is my hope that they will one day fully know and understand the greatest news of all:  that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

(Hebrews 10:12-14)

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

in togo…

God is doing big things in Togo and all along the truck routes of West Africa.  Yesterday, I had the chance to take a road-trip to the border of Burkina and Togo.  It is a highly traveled truck route…starting at the coast, in Lome (Togo), and ending in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).  There are also other major routes into Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Senegal.

Along the way, there are truck stops.  These stops are mostly at borders, where truckers must stop to get documents in order for customs and such.  At times, these stops aren’t quick and easy.  They can be there for days, just waiting.

A colleague of mine had a vision to see the Gospel spread through West Africa by way of truck drivers.  Many local believers are being trained in oral strategies to reach this massive group of people…and God is doing big things!  At the truck stops, conversations are being started with the men as they sit around and wait.  These lead into opportunities to share stories…and an African will hardly ever pass up a chance to hear a story!

While we were at a border check-point, there was a group of guys sitting beside their truck.  As we waited longer, my friend said “We can’t just sit here and not share a story…come on!”  So, we made our way over to the group and one of our national brothers jumped right in to sharing the story of the demoniac.

In an audio article found at AfricaStories.org, a colleague said this:

Islam spread in West Africa from the east to the west through the trade routes.  And, today the truck routes are our trade routes.  And, the truckers currently are carrying Islam to the south where there is a strong Christian base. They’re also carrying AIDS with them.  And, they’re also leaving children along the route from the affairs that they have as they go along.  I figure they could carry the Gospel just as well and that they would be able to reach and get into areas that we as missionaries would never be able to go.

This truck is full of prayer mats. Pray for those who will buy these mats to worship a false god. Ask the Father that their eyes would be opened to the Truth.

Would you join those of us in West Africa and lift up these truck drivers, most of whom are Muslim?  Pray that the Father would continue to raise up nationals to take ownership of this ministry and learn the stories.  Pray for the families of these men, as they are away for months at a time.  Ask that these stories would change the hearts of the hearers and that they would then be burdened to pass them on.  Pray for the process of getting these stories recorded in mp3 format, so that when someone isn’t there to share a story with them face-to-face, they can still have access to the Word and a means to share.

 As you pass truck drivers, wherever you live, I pray the Lord puts this group of people on your heart to lift up before Him.