I found Africa in India.

I can get passionate about most things.

Very quickly.

And be all in.

I’m notorious for trying everything and if I’m not good at it right away, I give it up. Likewise with causes. I’m an emotional appeal kind of girl. Tell me statistics of there being more people currently enslaved than the entire trans-atlantic slave trade combined and I’ll advocate on behalf of anti-slavery movements until I’m blue in the face.

At least, for awhile.

But where I am weak is in follow through and sustainability. I’m not an executor beyond the short term. So when the LORD really started changing my heart and I saw the things that break His heart, my heart stayed broken, for a long time.

The brokenness began through many of the causes I participated in throughout various years. And there was always a theme – injustice. Be it Invisible Children and child soldiers, to Not For Sale and labor slavery, I walked the line of whatever was happening in current culture.

But I always came back to injustice. Especially against children.

When I began working for Compassion, my heart came alive at fighting for the cause of children in poverty. I knew that in order to truly end the horrors of injustice it must begin at the root of the problem – poverty. Poverty is enslavement in and of itself. To break the cycles vulnerable children, child soldiers, child brides, sex slaves, etc, we must give these children a chance at a life outside of poverty.

I saw this first hand in India.

Our final day in Kolkata we went to a project visit. Before this time, I had never seen Compassion’s work in action. I was excited and a little nervous about the experience. As soon as we disembarked in an unfamiliar urban setting, the eager children shyly put their flower garlands around our neck. I was one of the last people off the bus so somehow I ended up with three.

We were taken on a tour of the facilities, saw teachers trying to gently control wriggling children who were so excited about the foreigners they could hardly contain themselves, played games in the courtyard, and got to experience the registration process. It was a mock registration but insightful and interesting nevertheless.

During some down time the project facilitator explained that when they actually register children, it becomes a mad house. Though the children are pre-selected, when word gets out in the community that they are taking new children, people in the urban slums storm the gate.

Literally.

He explained that the people will shove against the gate of the project, jump over the walls, and sometimes get violent. Because they know their child’s only chance at escaping poverty is to be registered with Compassion.

The idea of locking people out and turning them away struck too close to home. It reminded me turning away mothers with outstretched hands, begging me to take their babies. I shuddered at the memory. Here I was finding Africa in India.

“Well, why can’t you take more children? Are you at capacity? Could more children come?” I curiously asked him.

“No, no, we could take many more children. We have room, we just don’t have anyone to sponsor them.” he responded.

Indignation rose in my chest.

Not on my watch. Not while there is breath in my body.

I vowed right then to tell that story. Because that is the story of Compassion. There is room – there is just no one to sponsor them.

I had heard the Compassion / World Vision appeal many many times in my life. It took me until I was 24 to finally sponsor a child. It had nothing to do with the venue I was at, the flashing lights, or the emotional words used to describe a life in poverty.

I knew all that.

I sold that.

I was numb to it.

I argued with the LORD telling Him I didn’t want another guilt trip. I couldn’t afford it, my income was too unstable, I was trying to get out of debt, reason after reason, I threw at Him in my mind. Fine, I conceded, I’ll sponsor a child if it’s a little Asian boy.

A child packet was put in my hands and my heart softened.

Africa. Female. 7 years old.

And then gently He asked me, “Would people know what you’re passionate about if they looked at your finances?”

There was no condemnation, no guilt, no shame, just a quiet question that hit a little too close to home. If you took a microscope and combed through my finances you would see Target, Chick-fil-a, and Starbucks. Occasionally a pair of TOMS Shoes or a Sak Saum purse. All good things. But all things that I received some sort of direct benefit from.

Part of my problem was that my passion didn’t require sacrifice. I didn’t have to give of the thing that impacted my life on a daily basis. My finances. Without a return on investment.

It was a sacrifice. When I made that sacrifice, it all changed.

Passion without sacrifice is empty words.
Passion with sacrifice sets the world on fire.

If you want to sponsor a child, check out Compassion.

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You know my name!

Earlier this week I was having coffee with a friend. As I was waiting in line, I put my hand in the pocket of my trusty fleece. I wear this coat all the time and I practically lived in it while I was in Africa. While waiting for my decaf pumpkin spice latte, I felt something soft and crumpled in my pocket.

I pulled it out, unfolded it, and my face broke into a smile. Somehow, this little piece of paper with the child’s scribbling managed to survive a trans-atlantic flight, several washings, and numerous locations. Instantly my heart ached for the moment when I heard her say, “I want to tell you my name.”

She wrote out her full name in English for me. I then had her say it slowly, so I could spell it phonetically. I still remember her huge smile and her shy eyes as she whispered this secret. She knew the most precious thing she could give me was the gift of her name. And I knew the most precious thing I could give her was to call her by name.

Switch locations to the young adults ministry that I’m currently running in Colorado. Earlier this year I greeted one of the more socially awkward folks by name and instantly they exclaimed, “you know my name?!” I felt surprise, humility, and shame that this person was so shocked that I would remember their name. Because even in my middle America culture, they felt like they weren’t worthy to have their name remembered.

What is it about our names that we long to hear? There is something truly delightful when I’ve met someone briefly before and they remember my name the second time we meet. I try to make a point to remember the names of people I’ve met but often fail miserably. As these two scenarios were stirring in my heart I felt the LORD’s prompting.

Do you know my name, beloved? Do you know all my names? My names represent who I am. You need to know my names to know all the ways I love and care for you. 

And your name, your name is my favorite name. Your name delights me everytime I hear or speak it. I love your name, precious one. 

Sometimes I’m amazed at how much Africa taught me about the LORD’s heart for me.

Final Africa Blog

My heart has been yearning for Africa lately. Between seeing pictures of Compassion kids all over Africa, chatting with our dear missionary friends in Swaziland, and remembering the simplicity but complexity of life over there, I decided to go ahead and write my final blog post.

Because I don’t want to forget.

I don’t want to forget the way Africa planted seeds deep into my spirit and started taking roots.

I don’t want to ignore the life changes that happened as a result of leaving that wild and beautiful continent.

I don’t want to dismiss the butterflies I got as I watched the rich red African soil coming into view through the plane window.

I want these things to continue to be part of my very essence. I’ll be headed to India in a few months and I want to remember those moments as vividly as I remember Africa.

Okay. enough about my love affair with Africa.

Our final day at the Care Point I felt emotionally spent. I knew we were having church at the care point but I also knew I had to say goodbye to my sweet friend. I fought and fought and fought against going numb, but it happened. And I hated myself for it.

Until the singing started.

The church service was held under the awning at the care point. Literally metal poles holding up a tin roof. It was so windy and cold. I remember gathering children onto my lap to try and warm myself thinking it would hopefully help block the cold for them. I sat on the end of a row next to a bunch of beautiful African women. We couldn’t really communicate, but then one of our translators and new friends started giving us the run down of the service in English while also talking in SiSwati. He asked for people to start singing songs of praise.

And then I heard the most pure African voice crying out the names of God. Without realizing it, I stood to my feet, chills running down my body, tears filling my eyes, and I felt more in the presence of the Holy One than I had ever felt in my entire life. The LORD met us there, in His mighty being, through the voice of an African woman. I was transfixed and remember thinking, this. THIS is what heaven will be like. pure uninhibited worship. no agenda. no program. no power point. this is holy and pleasing. 

I could have sat there for hours. But then the time ended and once again in English and SiSwati, the congregation was asked for testimonies of God’s goodness. Four women and one man immediately came forward. Before they started they greeted us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was precious and filling for my soul. They talked about how God has saved them and how thankful they are for what He has given them.

How thankful they are? They have NOTHING. They live on less than two dollars a day and potentially could become an extinct people. Yet they are grateful for what God is blessing them with.

Following all of this, a small plate was put on a tiny table in front of all of the chairs. Voices raised in a worship song, an offering was taken. I saw almost every man, woman, and child, give their pittance to the Lord. It was the widow’s mite in front of my very eyes. Furious that I had no money on me, I awkwardly sat while I watched these men and women give all.

After two moving and brief sermons, we started our process of goodbyes and trying to load up the bus. We knew we had several hours of a drive before we crossed the border back into South Africa and we had been warned Sundays were a busy day.

I saw my sweet little friend running around but she wouldn’t come up to me. Holding back tears, I desperately tried to pick up her squirming body to hold her one last time. She managed to escape so I found her older sister, patiently described that I needed to leave, and asked if she would tell her I had to go back to America. Within minutes my little friend was wrapped around my legs reaching for me to hold her. I pulled her into my arms, snuggled against her and felt hot tears streaming down my face. Our team leaders announced we needed to go so I began to put her down after telling her she was loved and worthy and precious.

She did the classic kid move and pulled her legs up so I couldn’t put her down. I kept trying and trying to put her down but she wouldn’t let go. At this point I frantically started trying to unhook her because I knew if I didn’t I wouldn’t make it on the bus without a full blown meltdown. I walked over to a go-go and asked her to help. She uncurled the little girl’s arms and I started to run.

She chased after me.
Yelling.
As I ran to the bus, I jumped on, and shouted at them to close the door.
As the door was closing we locked eyes.
Tears filled hers as she reached out for me and tears filled mine as I reached out for her.

And in a flash – we were gone. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces as we drove down the dusty road. We began what felt like a 7 hour drive back to South Africa. We knew that what was waiting for us were hot showers, warm beds, and a safari, and while I was so excited for this, nothing could ease the pain I felt at leaving Swaziland.

Under the cover of darkness, we arrived in Nelspruit. A beautiful retreat center became our refuge for the next 36 hours. Upon arriving, we were given a delicious meal on real plates, warm blankets, and hot water. We were split up two to a room and had more space than we’d had in weeks. It was the epitome of luxury for our weary bodies. I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever stayed somewhere that’s felt more luxurious than that retreat center. While there was nothing extravagant about it, the small things I had taken for granted were once again seen with new eyes.

We knew we had to be up around 3:45am for an open air safari the next morning, so bed came early. When my alarm went off, I silently cursed under my breath, found as many layers as I could and stumbled into the main room for something warm to drink. We loaded up the busses and went to a second location where we climbed aboard the oddest looking trucks I’ve ever seen. We huddled close together, were given blankets and began our journey to Kruger National Park. We arrived around 5:30 and the park didn’t open until 6. So we waited. and it was freezing.

I remember begging for the sun to rise just for the warmth. It was so.cold. I can’t even describe how cold it was. But just when I thought the sun wasn’t going to come up, it broke on the horizon and it took my breath away.

We entered a terrain that time seemed to have forgotten. Animals ran wild. Lions, buffalo, elephants, hippos, zebras. We saw it all. It was spectacular. One of the highlights of my life.

Eventually we made it back to the retreat center. After being up for 16 hours, plus the weeks of ministry we had finished, we were ready to crash a bit before dinner and a traditional South African braii. Our team gathered around the fire pit outside and just enjoyed each other as well as the delicious food. After time around the fire, we journeyed back inside to shower, drink hot tea, and continue our time of community. I went to go get the international phone to update our family and friends when I got an update that spoke directly into the deepest wounding of my heart.

News of impending changes in the life of someone important to me rocked me. I sat in the room and it went silent. I saw everyone talking and laughing but my ears heard nothing but the pounding of my heart inside my chest. I guess my face went white and I noticeably stiffened. Someone teased me about something and I went running out of the room. Two dear friends followed me and I sat on the bed and in a broken voice explained the news.

And they just held me. They held me while I cried out the year of pain and confusion. They held me as I ranted and raved, got quiet and loud, sobbed and whimpered. All of the emotion of the past year came out in a torrent.

Defeated I slumped over and said, “I’m so tired of never being chosen.”

And as I closed my eyes and tears began to fall again, my sweet friend Jen stroked my head, held me close, and prayed over me.

I cried myself to into a fitful sleep that night. Tossing and turning hoping it wasn’t the inevitable nightmare I knew was going to happen. As I awoke numb, I gathered my bags, retreated inside my own head and let Jen and Jessica fight for me.

The hours long bus ride is a blur. I know that by the end of the ride, my pillow was tear stained and my face had mascara on my cheeks. As we were waiting in line, one of our missionaries from Woodmen who lives in Joburg and has the most incredible story, met us. The tears that had ceased began to flow without warning. She wrapped me up and just held me. I knew in that moment everything was going to be okay.

As we got ready to board the plane and then begin our 30hour+ journey back to the States, I remember being so thankful for the chance to process alone. Without questions or sympathy inquiries. And I did. And I saw how God had saved me from myself and second best.

And somewhere over the Atlantic, He reminded me that He makes all things new – even me. Even my story. Yes, I lived the same story over again, almost two years later. But this time? This time I was new. This time I wasn’t going to shatter. This time He turned my Valley of Heartbreak into a Door of Hope.

I stepped on that  plane, weeks before, panicking that I wouldn’t have what it takes and terrified of loving Africa.

I stepped off the plane knowing I don’t have what it takes, knowing the One who does have what it takes, and seeing a finished work.

Because that story that started in October of 2009, finally had a happy ending.

Africa Part 6

The LORD has been doing so much in my heart and in my life since I got home from Africa. I feel so much like myself and yet so different all at the same time. I’ve always wondered how that’s possible. Things in my life are changing and I’m probably a few weeks away from announcing the big change but all I can tell you is that the LORD is good.

So where was I? Oh yes. My African meltdown.

During the clinic day, I saw the little girl I had fallen in love with. She was there with her mom and I watched her go through line after line, taking time to play with her and make sure she was seen. Eventually we had to leave and I had my little foot mishap so my thoughts changed gears as we went home.

The next morning was our final full day at the Care Point. I knew the day was going to be rough but I didn’t expect what was to come. When our team got there, I found my little buddy, pulled her up for a snuggle and noticed she was very warm and coughing like crazy. Hoping that her sluggishness and cough were a result of medicine working, I called for a translator to come over.

“Will you ask her if she got medicine yesterday?” I asked Pilo. He quickly translated and a look of concern crossed his face. “No,” he said “She didn’t get medicine.” “Why not?” I pushed, more confused than anything.

“Her mother wouldn’t let her.”

I was shocked.

“What?! But she was THERE! She was AT the clinic! I saw her!!!”

My throat started clogging with tears and anger. I walked over to the tiny little building that is on the care point where the other team members were painting faces. I grabbed a chair in the corner, put the little girl around my body and rocked her while tears dripped down my face. Coughing intermixed with sniffles as her eyelids grew heavy. She soon decided to wriggle off my lap and go find the bubbles and balloons. At this point my tears started to overwhelm me. I walked out of the room, got on the bus and SHOUTED at God.

I was so angry.
so hurt.

so helpless…

The very basic thing she needed to save her life had been in her grasp and she didn’t get it. I shook my fist at God and told Him He was cruel. That His love ISN’T love. How could He let this innocent little girl suffer? And then my rage turned on her mom. How could a MOTHER deny her child life saving medicine. The clinic comes once a year and the medicine is free and she wouldn’t let her see the doctor. I vowed right then and there that if I ever met her in a dark alley…

After about 30 minutes I settled into numbness and knew I couldn’t hide out any longer. I walked back into the hut and helped with face painting trying to distract myself from the emotions swirling inside. Once we finished I went outside and wandered around aimlessly. I don’t know what I was looking for or if I found it but eventually I knew I had to find the little girl. As I walked over, she was sitting in the sand, nodding off, all by herself. Tears came flooding to my eyes as I scooped her up, walked to the building again, and sat in a now empty room. A single chair, rocking this precious little girl to sleep. Again, anger was coursing through my veins. Anger at her mother, anger at God, anger at myself. All I could do was hold her as she was coughing and gasping for air. Her little body was burning up through her jacket and I could feel her feverish shivering as I held her.

I knew right then and there I would never be able to hold another sick child without thinking of this little girl. The intensity of love and protection I felt for her caught me by surprise.  Minutes turned into hours and she slept in my arms without stirring. At some point one of the high school boys came into the building with a boy from the care point who is blind. Zac, one of our high schoolers, kept looking over my direction as I tried to explain how broken I felt.

To my chagrin, this little girl’s mother walked in.

I looked at her, still holding her daughter, and accusingly muttered, “she’s SICK.”

“Yes, it’s asthma.”

LIKE HELL IT IS! I wanted to shout back. But I knew our language, cultural, and life barriers wouldn’t allow for any sort of fruitful conversation. She reached for her daughter, who alarmed, clutched on to me, and peeled her out of my arms. She slung her on her back, tied the towel around her and left. I stood up, put my hand to my mouth, and fell apart. Zac got up, handed me a blanket, and wrapped his arms around me while I fell apart. It was the ugly cry that leaves snot, tears, and make up in it’s wake. Eventually I calmed myself down and walked back to the bus.

I couldn’t do it any more.

I couldn’t love any more.

Hours later we went back to the house and were sent off on our own to process. I managed talk to Deb, a dear friend and co-worker, and she helped me process from the States. After my brief phone call with her, I took my bible, journal, and ipod and went behind the team house. There are times where I go to “hide” but secretly want to be found but this time was one I wanted to just hide. I was sitting on the edge of the deck and I felt the prompting to get on my knees. So I climbed down, among the prickles and thorns, on the hard packed African dirt and knelt with my hands open listening to the song “how He loves.”

How long I stayed like that I’m not sure, but eventually I sat back on the dirt and watched the beginnings of a sunset. One of the other kids ended up finding me and wanted to share somethings that the LORD had been showing them in relation to His love. It was a comfortable moment, sharing words and phrases and silence.

And I looked over with yearning in my voice and said,”I just don’t want to forget it.”

“You won’t.” was the reply.

“No, I don’t want to forget this,” and I picked up the dirt, “or the smells, or the sunset. I want to feel Africa and remember what it’s like to sit in this moment and be here. Wrestling with the greatness of God’s love. How it’s so big and so small and so different. I thought I understood it. But I’m realizing I don’t.”

And that for me was the defining moment for Africa. Because I started to understand that I will never understand. Somehow His love is big enough that it looks one way for this little girl and a different way for me. That He still has a hope and a future for her as much as He does for me. The greatness of our God became awe-inspiring as I sat in the dirt with prickles poking my legs, the cold air dropping in temperature as the sun set, and I wrestled with the truth that a little girl I loved with my limited capacity to love was loved infinitely more by the same One who loves me.

It wrecked my world.

One final Africa post… our last hours at the Care Point, seeing white people again, an African safari, and an old would resurfacing in the most painful way.