Sunday, July 22, 2012

Getting to Ghana Wasn't Easy

Faith and I left Ethiopia bright and early on Sunday July 8 to fly to Accra, Ghana. We left the guest house around 5:45 a.m. with more luggage than we started with thanks to lots of donations from our generous team members.

We maneuvered our way around the airport with no problem until it was time to enter our gate. Everyone had to go through security again, and it seemed that the magnetometer was being overly sensitive. It beeped nearly every time someone walked through. As a result we stood in line for an hour without moving very much. Not to mention, there was only 1 line open for everyone going to Gates 1-4.

Boarding/Departure times were approaching and people were getting upset. That’s when chaos ensued – pushing, shoving, breaking in line, yelling etc. I’ll be honest, it was scary. Airport security did not want to get involved. They literally walked away as if nothing was happening.

I had to fight for Faith and I to stay together. As the “mama bear” was coming out in me, God kept reminding me to do what my shirt said....Go. Be. Love. My response... “Lord, these people need some TOUGH love!” His response... “These people need MY love! And I have put you here to show it to them.”

I must admit that I failed miserably in those intense moments. But thankfully, God is gracious and forgiving. 

There was a student from China in line with us. We were in front of her originally but somehow in the chaos she made it through security before us! Honestly, I’m just glad she made it through. Anyway, she waited for us at the gate. Then together we tried to figure out what we needed to do to get on our plane. She and I both were clueless. The computer screen said our flight was boarding, but no one was boarding. That’s when God put a young man from Ghana in our path who spoke English. ONLY GOD!!!

Our new friend told me our plane had not been called for boarding yet. The skeptical look on my face (Yes, I have trust issues!) must have convinced our new friend to get a second opinion to convince me. So, he went to the airline counter to double check. He was told that our flight had been delayed for more than an hour, and the intercom system was not working so no one was able to hear the announcement. Obviously, the intercom system was tied into the computer system because the computer screen still showed that we were boarding & our flight was on time.  I felt much better then. 

All of the seats at our gate were taken so we sat in the floor and tried to relax.

A few minutes later, an airline employee walked through the area announcing the next departing flight. Lots of people got up and proceeded to the gate. A man walked in front of us dragging a child about 4 or 5 years old who was kicking and screaming. The young boy obviously did not want to go. Just behind us was a flight of stairs heading down to the tram that takes you to your airplane. A few minutes went by and then I heard a loud noise. I turned around and saw the young boy sitting at the top of the stairs refusing to go down and a suitcase bouncing all the way down the stairs.

At that moment, the man hit the boy so hard on the side of his head that it nearly knocked the child over from his sitting position. The boy was snatched up and carried down the stairs. My eyes filled with tears. I was stunned. My heart broke for the boy and for the man. I prayed. Hard.

Selfishly, I wanted out of there. My (physical) security had been rocked all morning. I longed for my entire family to be together again safely in Ghana – INSTANTLY!!! But it wasn’t going to happen right away. Faith and I were still in the midst of our journey. We had to go through the process.

When it was our turn to board, I noticed that the man who looked at me with such detest during the chaos at the security gate as I fought for Faith & I to stay together was on our same flight. More uneasiness came over me. I had such an unsettling in my spirit – for a lot of reasons & the man was the last straw. I really wanted to run away! But, I couldn’t. I prayed. Hard.

We rode the tram with our new friends and then headed up the stairs to get on the plane. I was almost at the top of the stairs when I saw it.....a soccer ball company sticker on one of the steps with a RAINBOW on it!!! At that moment I knew that I was exactly where God wanted me to be and I was not alone! He was with me. Scripture started coming to my mind, and I was overcome with His peace. ONLY GOD!!!

I would love to say that the rest of our flight went smoothly, but that would be a lie. Our plane was at capacity and filled with lots of rude and demanding people. The “Need Assistance” button went off so frequently that it sounded like a musical instrument playing a continuous song! I am not joking. I have never seen anything like it.

I felt sorry for the flight attendants. There was one in particular who seemed to take the brunt of the demanding rudeness. On my way to the restroom, God had me encourage her and tell her what a great job she was doing, especially with such a tough crowd. A little while later, another attendant came to my seat, handed me a comment card and asked me to write down exactly what I had told the other attendant. She said, “Please write down what you said. We REALLY need it!”

I have never been so glad to get off an airplane before! You know it’s bad when the lengthy lines at Customs looked good to me!!! So just imagine how good it was to see the smiling faces of my husband, son and friends once we got through Customs!!!

My husband was just about to give up on us too. The computer screen in Accra, Ghana showed our flight had arrived on time. Nearly 2 hours passed before Faith & I appeared!!! Now it was time for a new adventurous journey together as a family in Africa!

Through all of this, God was reminding me to Go Be Love - no matter what. Go Be Love when it’s hard. Go Be Love when people are difficult. Go Be Love when it’s scary. Go Be Love when people are mean and critical. Go Be Love when it’s chaotic. Go Be His Love in His strength! It’s His love that the world is longing for anyway, whether they realize it or not.

It’s time for each of us as followers of Jesus Christ to GO BE LOVE right now!

So what are you waiting for?

Loving HIM with all my heart,     

Some Tough Lessons Learned in Ethiopia

On Friday July 6, we went back to Korah to serve. This is how I was greeted! 
It pretty much sums up her personality too! I love this precious girl!

Our team had partnered with the other mission team and purchased several goats to feed the community, starting with the Project 61 children. While lunch was being prepared, we were free to hang out & play with the children.

Faith spent some time playing frisbee & futbol with the older children.

Tanya had brought a Polaroid instant camera to take pictures of the children so they could keep a picture of themselves. She invited me & April to help. Now we just had to find a safe place and a safe way to do this without anyone getting hurt.

We ended up going in the building where our team ate lunch. Two older boys became our helpers (bouncers) and controlled traffic. They lined the children up outside at the door and allowed 10 to come in at a time. When they came in, they sat on a bench and waited for their turn. Talk about God’s provision! These 2 were sent to us straight from Him!

Once our system was in place, one of the older boys handled the door and the other one called the children up for their picture, fixed their hair & told them to smile. Watching that older boy groom the children made me smile (and cry too of course!) 

Tanya took the pictures, and April & I wrote “Jesus Loves You” or “Jesus Loves Me” at the bottom. The children then watched their picture develop and were amazed.

As I handed each child their picture, God had me speak His truth to them – one on one, eye to eye, heart to heart.

But God was also ministering to me. Each time I wrote “Jesus Loves Me” on a child’s picture, God would say to me in my spirit “Yes Nancy, He certainly does! And never forget just how much!” I must have written those words 100 times and each time, they were personal for me. Such a tender time with my Savior!

We got word that lunch was ready to be served so we stopped taking pictures and went to the church. All of the Project 61 children were eagerly waiting. Each plate was filled with lots of Ethiopian bread, broth and meat. My young friend saved me a spot beside her at the front of the church. 

As I sat there and watched these small children eat these huge plates of food, God spoke a HUGE truth/lesson to me. Let me try to put it into words.

A little background info is in order first though. Remember prior to going to Africa, I was the coordinator for the Bible story team. There were 8 of us and we were divided into 4 groups because we thought we would be working with the children at Project 61 in groups. God had laid on my heart to let each group decide what stories they wanted to share, instead of all of us doing the same stories.

I was partnered with Kim, and she felt led to share the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves. My first thought was “Lord, how can we share this story with children who are hungry??!!!” Then the next Sunday’s lesson for my 5th graders was none other than JESUS FEEDING THE 5000! What stood out to me was how the young boy surrendered his lunch to Jesus. That’s when I knew we could use this story to share the Gospel. Jesus wants us to surrender ourselves to Him and when we do, He will do so much more in and through our lives than we could ever imagine. 

Then that same week, God had my friend Cindy share something else with me from the Feeding of the 5000. Jesus instructed the disciples to have the people sit down before feeding them. He wants us to do the same thing today – sit down (be still) so we can be fed spiritually and grow in Him.

Now back to the church in Korah. While watching the children eat, God revealed His purpose for me studying the Feeding of the 5000. You see, I thought it was to teach the children in Korah during summer camp. When those plans changed, I knew God was still up to something regarding the Feeding of the 5000, but I didn’t know what. Then in the midst of us feeding these children, God revealed it to me. ONLY GOD!

I sensed Him telling me, “These children are eating a huge portion right now because it’s the only meal most of them will have today. What I want you to do is pray that this food is enough to meet all of their physical needs until they are able to eat again.

Pray for them, Nancy.

Pray for this food to be stretched like the fish & loaves.

Pray for their stomachs not to gnaw with hunger before their next meal.

Pray for them to know Me and only Me as their Jehovah Jireh (their Provider,) not Americans or visitors from other countries, but Me. Everything, including this food, comes from Me, and the children need to know it all comes from Me.”

WOW! I was speechless. But I immediately obeyed and started praying for them with tears streaming down my face.

After that, I became super sensitive to something. The children were constantly asking us for a gift. It may be a piece of gum, a pen, bubbles, a balloon, a sticker, etc. While these things may seem very small to us, and we are happy to give them away, we don’t realize the potential damage we are causing. I’ll be honest, the children in Korah had pretty high expectations - they expected stuff from us.

I don’t know about you, but personally I do NOT want to be associated with stuff. I want to be associated with Jesus - His love, His kindness, His forgiveness, His Truth, His hands & feet, etc.

One girl who was about 10 years old came up to me and asked me for a gift. I told her I came to spend time with her and be her friend. Then I told her I did not have anything to give her except a hug. She shook her head no and went to talk to someone else!

Stuff is nice and often needed, but it is not a substitute for Jesus! True hope and provision come from Him, not us & our stuff. 

While we are commanded to take care of those in need, I think the key is HOW we go about doing it. For example, giving money or resources to a trustworthy ministry who works directly with the people we feel led to help vs. handing out cash to someone (unless of course the Lord tells you to give it to them.) Or giving donations to a place (such as an orphanage) and letting the staff distribute them vs. us handing things out directly to the children.

Matthew 6:3-4 keeps coming to mind:But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

This way God is glorified, not us. 

Our hearts are in the right place. We want to help when we see a need. But we should pray first and seek God’s direction on how He wants us to fulfill the specific need before we act.  Every situation is different, but God always knows what's best.  He sees beyond the here and now.

Sometimes, our best intentions still lead to negative results that never even cross our minds.  God showed me this too on our last full day in Ethiopia at a government orphanage.

Our team was so large that we traveled around in 3 or 4 vans. When our vans turned down the road that led to the orphanage, we started waving at the local children who lived on that road. In response, the children yelled, “CANDY! CANDY! CANDY!” at us.

Once at the orphanage, we were given a tour but not allowed to take any pictures. The baby room was almost more than I could bare. I held a little one who was around a year old and very social. She was learning to talk and would copy what you said. But more than anything, she wanted to be held. It was not a pretty scene when I had to put her back in her crib and walk away as she was saying “Mama! Mama!” Heartbreaking.

The workers in that room were doing a great job though, and we were able to encourage them too.

After our tour, we were able to hang out with the preschool and young school aged children. We sat at tables with them and colored Bible story pictures. I was at a table with 7 boys. When I opened up the Bible story coloring book to tear pages out for them, guess what story page I turned to first??!!!

ONLY GOD! He prompted me in that moment to pray for these children too, just like I was praying for the children in Korah! WOW!

I assumed that my table of boys would be finished coloring in a matter of minutes – WRONG! These boys took their time and colored everything very neatly. Each of them would color a little bit, tap me on the arm & then point to what they had just colored and I would praise them. We did this for at least 30 minutes.

Also during this time, 2 other children walked up and handed me pages they wanted me to color. I had to laugh as both of them were none other than JONAH! 

I guess that was God’s way of reminding me where I had been and how far He had brought me.  Just keeping me humble. He is amazing!

At some point, someone started handing out glow bracelets. I expected my boys to jump up and try to get theirs, but they kept coloring. For the most part, a staff member was walking around handing them out in no particular order along with a few team members. Because I was still engaged in coloring with my boys, I grabbed Faith and asked her if she could get bracelets for my boys. She returned with the last of the bracelets, and there was not enough for all of my boys. Two of them were without.

Thankfully, April came by and gave 1 boy a bracelet that did not have a connector piece but she creatively passed it off as a sword. She gave the other boy a bracelet that didn’t glow. It was all she had.

The boy whose bracelet didn’t glow was devastated. It was so pitiful. I worked and worked with his bracelet but couldn’t get it to glow. Interestingly, this boy was the one coloring the Feeding of the 5000 picture. His name was Peter. I will never forget the disappointment on his face. I begged God not to let Peter take it personally. His entire demeanor had changed. I also begged God for just one more bracelet that glowed.

Lots of time passed, and Peter remained sad. He was wearing a coat that was zipped up. He put his non-glowing bracelet inside of his coat instead of on his wrist like the other children. From time to time, I would catch him looking inside his coat to see if his bracelet was glowing yet. I prayed for Peter to be strong, just like his name. I prayed for him to know that being different from everyone else can be a good thing. And yes, I must confess I did pray that everyone else’s bracelet would stop glowing real soon!

Then right before we left, Peter spotted her - a little girl with more than one bracelet. He immediately pointed her out to me. When I approached her, she was not happy to see me and tried to run away. Tanya was nearby and told the girl “only one” several times in her language. The girl stopped running and gave me one of the bracelets. She also had an extra connector which I handed to the boy with the “sword.” 

When I gave Peter the glowing bracelet, he started glowing himself!!! He became a new child! I was so happy for him.

But the bracelet drama did not stop there. Bullying occurred in the bathroom when a smaller child had hers taken by a bigger child. Physical fights broke out over them. Not to mention lots of snatching going on.

I know it’s not really about the bracelets.  It's much deeper than that. 

Children long for something to call their own, especially orphaned children.  They want to be loved, accepted and valued.  They want to belong.  But is giving them stuff (to fight over) going to satisfy what they are truly longing for or make it worse?

It may make us feel better but is it really better for them? What about the caretakers who have to deal with the fall outs after we leave?  Or the long-term ministry trying to establish relationships with the children?  Or the next short-term mission team who comes to hang out with the children and share God's truth?

These are all tough realities that God had me come face to face with this time while on in Rwanda and Ethiopia. He and I are still sorting through it all. It was especially difficult for me to see because I love to give gifts to people, particularly those in need. But, there are 2 sides to every coin, and God allowed me to see the other side this time - for reasons only known to Him right now.

On a different note, one of my favorite things about going on short term mission trips is getting to know everyone on the team and watching God work in them and through them. 

And making new friends!

Our Rwanda/Ethiopia team was great! Everyone was devoted to the Lord with a servant's heart and selflessly generous.  Our worship/share times together in the evenings were powerful, particularly in Rwanda.  The strobe light dance party in Ethiopia was good too!

Not to mention that our leaders Tymm & Laura were incredible!

The hardest part......saying goodbye :(

Our team left on Saturday afternoon, but Faith and I didn’t leave until the next morning. 

It was such a privilege to serve with them!  We miss them all so much!!!

Loving HIM with all my heart,     

Friday, July 20, 2012

The First 10 Days in Africa - Part 2 - Ethiopia

On our way to the airport to head to Ethiopia on July 4th, we stopped for lunch.  Instead of going to a restaurant, we went to someone's house.  Florence, the same sweet lady who cooked lunch for us at Tara's house, made the 3 hour journey to cook for us again at her brother's house. The food was delicious as always, but God brought us all together again for a much different/higher purpose.

After we ate, we actually had some time to relax and socialize.  Jane, our guide while in Rwanda, introduced us to her husband (who had graciously rescued our missing luggage the day before and brought it to us) and to the homeowners & their family.  Lots of stories were shared, including some about the genocide. 

But also during this time, we learned that the sweet lady who had cooked for us was a struggling widow with 3 children.  Immediately, the decision was made for us to pool our resources and help her with rent.  When Florence was told we wanted to help, she fell to her knees in tears and in gratitude to God!!!  She worshipped Him unabandonly for His provision and for answering her prayers.  There was not a dry eye in the house!!!  James 1:27 says to take care of orphans and WIDOWS, and God allowed us to do just that in Rwanda.  ONLY GOD!

Our fierce team leaders Laura & Tymm with Florence

Our team after wiping our tears of joy
I am sitting next Florence and Faith is sitting next to Jane our guide

Faith is giving hugs to Jane's son Gideon one last time before we head to the airport.

At the airport, it was CHOCOLATE TIME!!!

On the flight, I had the privilege of sitting next to Chelsey and getting to know her better.  She is hooked on Africa and has an amazing servant's heart!

In the capitol city of Ethiopia, there were lots of people, construction projects, and means of transportation

This is the guest house where we stayed in Addis Ababa

Faith and Taylor 

When we arrived at the guest house, I started praying about room assignments.  I asked God to put me where He wanted me.  The 3 married couples each had their own rooms.  The remaining 2 guys shared a room.  The females were divided among 3 rooms (4 bed, 6 bed & 10 bed.)  Faith went with Tanya, Taylor & Meagan.  I went with Kelly B., Jen R., Missy, Carla & Jenny. 

I continued to pray as I took my things to my room on the 3rd floor.  As I was walking up the stairs, God made it very clear...He was putting me in the same room with Missy so I could hear her story.  Also, He laid another team member, Morgan, heavy on my heart and wanted me to pray for her constantly.

Later that night, Summer from Project 61 came over and talked with us about what we would be doing ministry wise the next 2 days in Korah (the city dump which is home to over 100,000 people.) 

Originally, we were suppose to do summer camp (Bible story, crafts, games, music, etc) with the children divided into 3 or 4 groups.  Most of our pre-trip preparation and supplies were geared towards doing this.  But Summer informed us that things had changed.  They had torn down the old shanti classrooms and were building new ones that needed to be completed in 4 days so they could start summer camp the following Monday. 
I was responsible for organizing the Bible story team and had cautioned them from the start to be very flexible and fluid.  If I've learned one thing (the very hard way) it's that things change all the time (especially on mission in other countries) and being able to give up our own expectations and plans to serve wherever we are needed is HUGE. 

God wants us to be completely surrendered and available to Him.  When our plans and hard work get sacrificed and discarded in the process, we have a choice to make.  We can either choose to be focused on ourselves and get upset & discouraged or we can fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, and get excited about what He is up to!!!  

I mean think about it.  The God of the universe actually invites us to be a part of what He is doing, and we want to get mad when things don't go according to our plans. Really?  I know this is hard, especially coming from an American mindset. But as believers we do have the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us fight our fleshly thoughts and desires.

May you and I never forget that GOD IS SOVEREIGN AND 100% TRUSTWORTHY!  Even when things change, we can rest assure that God NEVER does.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  And His plans are far better than anything we could ever imagine.

Okay. Okay.  Back to Ethiopia.

On Thursday, we headed to Project 61 in Korah. 

Part of our team painted.

Some of the men helped with a concrete project for one of the buildings , and the rest of us helped another mission team do activities (face painting, fingernail painting, making cross necklaces, coloring and hanging out) with the children in the church.

Once my new friend and I met, she stayed by my side.  We sang together, laughed together and played lots of thumb war together - that she usually won.  If she could not find me, she would find Faith and have Faith track me down.

At lunch time, we were taken into a newly constructed building - the future dorm room for some of the children

Faith and Gretchen

Before we finished lunch, it started raining - HARD.  It even hailed for a few minutes.  It is the rainy season so showers and storms occur all the time.
I left my raincoat in the van by accident.  But my friend April shared her poncho with me as we walked through Korah to do a home visit.  THANK YOU APRIL!!!
Our team divided into groups and each group visited a family who has a child in Project 61.  My group went to visit a family of 6 because the oldest daughter is in the program.
Here is the father who is disabled, the mother and one of the young children.

Here is the daughter.  She is grounding roasted coffee beans by hand to make coffee for us.  She allowed a few of us to try our hand at grounding.  It's not as easy as it looks!
Here is Ameila, Jenny, Morgan, Missy & Tanya
It is a tradition to drink coffee and eat popcorn in Ethiopia.  The popcorn tray is on TJ's lap (whose face you can't see), next to him is Carla, April, me & our guide.  I do not like coffee, but this coffee was delicious!

Faith drank 2 1/2 cups of coffee herself and ate lots of popcorn.  Once you finish drinking your coffee, you use popcorn to scoop the sugar from the bottom of your cup and eat it.  It's really good too.

We spent about an hour or so talking with the family through our guide who translated for us.  We prayed with them too.  As we were walking out the door, the mother took hold of my arm and stopped me.  She uncovered a tray and pointed to the bread on it.  It was all the food they had left.  You see, she usually begs for money and food on the street just outside the dump, but begging is not lucrative during the rainy season.  The look of desperation on her face spoke volumes to me.  It was heartbreaking! 

Thankfully, our team was able to purchase a substantial amount of food for each of the families we visited.  Although this does not solve their long-term problem, it definitely eases their current situation and let's them know they are loved and not forgotten.

By the time we returned to Project 61, the sun was shining again.  I couldn't resist taking a few pictures of the precious children made in the image of God.

We returned to the guest house with very muddy clothes and very heavy hearts. We had a lot to process. And God graciously gave us each other to process with.

Later that evening, we went to a restaurant to eat traditional Ethiopian food and enjoy traditional music and dancing. A few of our team members even found themselves on stage! It was lots of fun.

Back at the guest house, Missy & I were in our room and I asked her a question - "How did you end up volunteering at the Passion conference in Atlanta?"  To answer it, Missy had to share what God has been doing in her life over the past couple of years, including battling breast cancer.  The parallels of our lives were uncanny!  We talked for hours!!!  It was quite amazing.  When we could no longer hold our eyes open, I had one last question for Missy..."So how did you end up volunteering at the Passion conference in Atlanta??!!!"
We only live one state away from each other but God brought us halfway around the world to introduce us!  Only God!

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

Loving HIM with all my heart,