When I was younger, I heard a story about a little who girl who asked God for a birthday gift. What made this story stick in my heart when I heard it was not God’s immediate answer to her request, but the nature of her request. The little girl didn’t ask for something materialistic, like a new toy, but she asked for an eternal gift: she asked God to help her bring one person to Christ on her birthday, and God honored that prayer on that very day.

Needless to say I was pretty impressed. So after that day I decided that I wanted to pray that same prayer. But I need to be honest; my prayer wasn’t quite as bold as it should have been, I asked God to use me to bring one person to Christ, for the whole of my lifetime.

Being as young as I was when I heard that story, I think it’s pretty incredible that God was already changing the desires of my heart to his desires. And I wish that I could say that in the years that followed that that prayer remained at the forefront of my mind, but it probably wasn’t even on the back-burner. But unbeknownst to me, God had heard my prayer and was working through me in all those years in ways I never would have thought to imagine.

Yesterday I got to attend the baptismal service for the mother of one of my closest friends from high school. Her mother’s journey to Christ was a long one, spanning the course of over 10 years and I am humbled to say I am a part of her spiritual journey that eventually led to an acceptance of Jesus as her personal savior. And the best part (I’m not sure if it should be the worst part) is that I didn’t even know it at the time.

I can’t say that I ever had any deep talks about Jesus with my friends’ mom in fact I never really talked to her much through the course of the past 6 years. To some degree I did talk to my friend about Jesus, but those conversations never really produced fruit, they were mostly initiated by pure curiosity on her side. Which begs the question, what did I do in these past 6 years to help bring my friends mom to Christ?

To be frank, I was simply me. I never hid my faith in high school; my friends never had to ask what I believed in because they already knew. The same way they knew my favorite color they also knew I went to church every Sunday and that I couldn’t hang out on Friday nights because I wanted to go to church again.

I may never have actually tried to evangelize my friends, but my life was transparent enough that my love of Christ was clear to anyone and everyone. As young as I was in high school, I knew the importance of leading a life that pointed to Christ and being a light for Christ was the biggest desire of my heart. In fact, my favorite prayer in high school came from Matthew 5:14.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden”

Read that again. C-A-N-N-O-T. That’s a statement, in case you missed it, a fact.

If we, as Christians, are living the life we are supposed to be leading, it is impossible for the world not to notice.  And even though I didn’t realize it at the time, the world did notice, to the point that my friends’ mom, who was already at a place where she knew she needed to find God, knew that she could go to my mom and ask her about where we went to church.  It took a few years for her to actually make it through the front door of our church but she did make it there and two years after that she made it to the cross.

Years after I had prayed my prayer God answered, I helped bring someone into a personal relationship with Christ. The seeds I sowed in high school were not in vain, it just took a few years for them to show fruit and I’m hopefully that in the years to come there will only be more.

God said it himself, his word will not return to him empty, it will accomplish what he desires and achieve his purpose (Isaiah 55).

High Altitude Reflections

As our time in South Africa drew to a close, it was undoubtedly time for some deep, meaningful reflection and fortunately for me, the 20 hours we had to spend on a plane provided a perfect opportunity for that.

There’s a lot a could say about our time in South Africa. It was interesting, it was tough at times and it was most definitely worth it. I could talk about the incredible children we met, or  the incredible Care Worker’s who have shouldered the burdens of their community, and I could even talk about some incredible team bonding over Taboo.

I learned a lot from my time in South Africa. I learned about the diversity of the family of God, I learned about myself and more importantly I learned about God’s heart.

But of all the lessons I learned, the hardest, and the one I will look to implement the most into my life,  would be that of a generosity.

In most traditional societies guests are extremely important. They are honored and as visitors will receive the very best of whatever that family may have to offer, Africa was no different. On all of our home visits we were given preferential treatment. Our hosts would immediately provided chairs for us even when there were none, and even when our hosts were the ones who needed to sit down more than us. Seeing as how the whole point of our trip was to serve others, it was hard to accept the differed treatment we received. We came to help, not to make sick old grandmothers sit on the floor, and knowing that we have so much at home, made it seem terrible to take what little was offered to us. And yet in every instance there was never really any resentment towards us. The families we met found real joy in letting us into their daily lives. What little they had they gave freely, I’ll never forget the smile on one little girls face as she led me to the stool she had carried outside from me, she was so happy and proud to have me sit on that stool, you would have thought she had been given the best gift ever.

The family we stayed with in Osheak was no different. They didn’t mind giving up a room in their house and letting us sleep on their beds. They didn’t mind cooking dinner for us and washing our dishes and sharing their precious water with us. They didn’t mind letting us sit at the table while they ate on benches. I don’t think I could say I’ve ever experienced that level of attention and hospitality anywhere else in the world.

It especially struck me when it came time to say goodbye to the male head of the household. His response to our heartfelt thanks was “we have nothing” but I don’t think he could have been anymore wrong. Sure they didn’t have a lot of the stuff we take for granted in America, but that didn’t prohibit them from sharing their family with us and giving us their time. And, personally, their selflessness spoke volumes to me.

The Africans we met know what it means to give whole-heartedly and as onto the Lord. In a lot of instances I was reminded of the poor widow in the New Testament who, “out of her poverty, put in everything- all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44). It was a sacrifice for sure, but she did it anyway.

Now that I’m finally home I feel challenged to begin that practice of selfless giving. Being generous in my daily life will probably look like a lot of things, giving my time freely to those around me for one, it might mean a lot of things I might not necessarily feel like doing, like actually stopping for the homeless person I pass on the street instead of just walking by. But it might also look like a lot of other things that have yet to be determined. And while I may not have a lot offer the world, I have learned that I can be generous with the little I have because we serve a God who judges our hearts, for which I am thankful.

After all, “God is not unjust; he will not forget [our] work and the love [we] have shown him as [we] have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

Pretty Indescribable

I don’t know about you, but personally, i always feel closer to god when I’m surrounded by his creation. To me, nature is probably one of the most physical illustrations of his existence. Not to get controversial, but I really just don’t know how anyone can look at nature and not see god. When I’m surrounded by hundreds of different kinds of bugs, and hundreds of different kinds of plants, and hundreds of different kinds of animals (both air and land and water) I can’t help but be in awe. And don’t even get me started on incredibly landscape (how it can be rocky and rugged one second and flat and grassy the next). 

And that basically sums up my entire reaction to Kruger national park today. It was probably one of the best experiences of life, while also the most terrifying (I kept having flashbacks to Jurassic Park). But it was worth it to be able to experience gods creation that he made for us to enjoy.

The same god who made the lions and crocodiles and hippos and every other awesome animal we saw today, also made me, and that in itself is a testament to how great he is. When god made the earth and said it was good he wasn’t bragging about his handiwork, he was simply stating a fact.

The earth was and is good and today was an excellent reminder of that. As well as a chance to see some really cool animals in their natural habitats.

Aside

When the Darkness Closes In

This is not the first time I’ve seen poverty. In fact, if I’m honest you could say I’ve been prideful about the fact that I’ve seen ‘real’ poverty unlike most Americans who live in blissful ignorance. I’ve always seen myself as more culturally aware than everyone else since my family’s travels have taught me not to take what i have for granted.  I’ve seen how the other half lives, so i know better, or at least that’s what I thought.

That’s why I really wasn’t expecting South Africa to be any different from Mexico or Colombia or anywhere else. The people might look and talk differently but the story would be the same. I wasn’t expecting any big shock or some radical breakdown at the sight of my first South African slum because unlike everyone else my eyes had already been opened to suffering.

I was wrong (go figure).

While I might not be a stranger to witnessing extreme poverty, this trip is the first time I’ve ever thought to look at poverty from the Christian standpoint and what I saw broke my heart.

On Tuesday we did our first home visit. Home visits are integral part of Hands at Work and their main point of outreach. While a lot of their work is focused on meeting the physical needs of the vulnerable children of Africa, home visits meet their emotional and spiritual needs. It’s where relationships are developed and where volunteers get a chance to witness the gospel to the children and in some cases they are the only illustration of the love of Jesus in their lives.

But I’ll be honest, as I stood in dimly lit shack held together by wire with only a small fire in the dirt for light, I didn’t see Jesus. I saw only darkness.

The family that we were visiting asked us to pray but as I stood there with my head vowed all I could think was “this isn’t okay”. Nothing about their situation was right or fair. There was nothing we could possibly say or do that could fix the hopelessness of their situation.

What can you pray for when the providence of Jesus seems to be as far away as the moon.

Back home it’s so easy to say ‘the Lord will provide’ but when you’re standing in complete squalor, the way we were, words seem absolutely useless. Prayer, it seemed to me, would be like putting a band aid on a broken bone, woefully inadequate.

But after a day of processing and a team debrief (which wasn’t really brief) I realized that to think like that, is to let Satan win.

It is so easy to fall into the temptation of darkness. It is so easy to get angry and blame God for the problems of the world, problems so great that they may never be solved.

But we serve a God who is greater than the brokenness of our world. He sees the downtrodden and the broken-hearted. He was there in that dark, damp shack, he was there in each and everyone of us.

It was not by accident that our team was brought to Africa at this particular time, to this particular place and that particular home. It was not by accident that that child was brought to the attention of hands at work. It was not by accident that we were asked to pray for that family. There might not have been a miraculous healing, and I doubt that their problems will all go away over night but that doesn’t mean that God loves them any less. He sees the sparrow that falls from the tree in the same way that he sees the orphans of Africa. He sees them, and he hears them. I could be wrong but I think its possible that our visit may have been an answer to someone’s prayers. Just by coming we’ve been able to serve as an encouragement to our brothers and sisters, we have shown them that they are not alone, and we are living proof that God is at work and hears them in their suffering.

What’s more, we may live in a broken world but god has promised us his justice, but his day of victory wont happen on this earth and I need to accept that.

So all in all, I guess you could say the past few days have been rough. I don’t like being angry with God, and my past experiences with times of spiritual darkness haven’t exactly ended well, but this time was different because I wasn’t alone. I had a family to stand beside me and help me weather the storm.

“Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

The contents of this blog represent the sole views and opinions of the author, not of Hands at Work or any other groups or persons.

The Unexpected

While I have never been to South Africa until now, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect on this on trip. I expected South Africa to change how I view the world. What I didn’t expect was South Africa to change how I view myself.

I have a love-hate relationship with my hair. I always have. Its long (sometimes), its dark (I’m never sure if it’s brown or black) and 9 times out of 10 it gets in my way. It’s not really straight, and it’s not really wavy, and it never really stays in anything more elaborate than a messy bun, not that I mind because ain’t nobody got time for that (that’s the hate part). But for some reason, whenever I think about chopping it all off I never can bring myself to do it (that’s the love). So you could probably say that I’m pretty apathetic to my hair, after all its just hair. Or so I thought.

When we first met some kids at the local feeding point one little girl in particular stood out to me, while the other kids where playing and getting to know us American’s,  she was still off on her own and keeping her distance, she was a quiet one for sure, but that just drew me to her all them more. It took her a little while to get used to me but once she did she wouldn’t let go of my hand and it was the same story today.

The minute she saw me she immediately jumped all over me and by that I mean she really did jump, and she did not leave my side the entire afternoon. Unfortunately she didn’t speak any English so having a conversation was kind of out of the question, but then we didn’t really need to communicate once she discovered my hair.

The best way to describe her reaction when I first took my hair down to fix my pony tail was probably amazement. From what I’ve seen African women keep their hair short, like buzz cut short, so the length was probably shocking enough for her. That and the fact that my hair is soft and straightish probably blew her mind. Her expression of pure joy as I let her play with my hair and braid it utterly amazed me. It was something so simple and yet she was able to get so much pleasure out of it.  And she wasn’t alone, even the older girls couldn’t help but play with my hair, and I couldn’t help but feel convicted. Something that I take for granted and barely even notice except to complain about they clearly saw as beautiful.

I expected this trip to be all about what I could give to the vulnerable children of South Africa in the short time that I would be here. What I did not expect, was what they would give me in return. They gave me new eyes with which to see myself, and as someone who’s struggled with self-confidence as long as I have that’s worth the world to me.

South Africa truly is a place for the unexpected.

The contents of this blog represent the sole views and opinions of the author, not of Hands at Work or any other groups or persons.

Soccer

Day 2

I always knew I loved soccer. What I didn’t know was that I should also be thankful for soccer, until today that is.

Before coming to South Africa I knew not speaking any of the local languages would be a problem, but it turns out it’s a really big problem. Even as a stranger striking up intentional conversations to build relationships with some 30 odd kids would have been difficult enough, add the fact that I can only say “yes” in swazi and the situation is practically hopeless. But thankfully, soccer (or football as the rest of the world calls it) is international.

The minute the soccer ball came out, everything changed. Kids started coming up to us out of the woodwork and the boundaries between us disappeared. Anyone can kick a soccer ball, regardless of their age or where in the world they come from, but until today I never realized what a great equalizer it was. Because of it I was able to meet some incredible kids today and make their days just a little brighter just by passing a ball to them and drawing lines in the dirt.

God really does work in mysterious ways. So now, I really LOVE soccer.

The contents of this blog represent the sole views and opinions of the author, not of Hands at Work or any other groups or persons.

It’s Time for Africa

You know those days when all of a sudden you realize just how incredible God is? When you realize just how out unfathomable and beyond all human comprehension he is? Well today was one of those days.

Under normal circumstances you wouldn’t expect 30 people to live together, eat together, and sleep together and still get along. Add an age span of over 80 years, in addition to differences in gender and the fact that they come from every corner of the globe and from all kinds of walks of life, you would expect total chaos. After all what in the world could such a diverse group of people possibly have in common that could overcome what under normal circumstances be insurmountable differences?

Oh yeah, Jesus.

Only God could bring together such an incredible group of people together in South Africa. Only with God’s love could such a community actually function. And only with the power of God could such a community actually be changing Africa.

Logic looks at our team, logic looks at Hands at Work, and says no way could it work, no way should it work. And that’s true; as imperfect as humans are they could never come together on such equal footing, but for the spirit that works in us. We may have nothing in common except for the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins but that’s more than enough. We have all been adopted into the family of Christ, we have all been made sons and daughters, and we have all been given an inheritance and a responsibility to further God’s kingdom. Alone we could never accomplish that, but thankfully we’re not, thankfully God has brought us all into an incredible family, one that doesn’t rely on us, but relies on God, and that blows my mind.

The contents of this blog represent the sole views and opinions of the author, not of Hands at Work or any other groups or persons.

Servitude

The world is flat. Kind of.

Globalization has made the world more interconnected than ever before and the possibilities of our combined human potential are limitless. Never before have the nations of the world been brought together into such a close coexistence as they are now (thank you world politics).

But with that, there are consequences. The problems in one country, where they once would have only pertained to that one nation, are now magnified on a world scale and pertain to the whole world.

But there is a good side to globalization too.

Where the gospel was once inhibited by geography people are finally able to hear about the love of the father. The mission field has expanded and it really is possible for us to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28: 19).

Because the world is the way it is now a trip that would have taken months now only takes hours. But that doesn’t make missions any easier, only more feasible. Boarding a plane for a foreign land still requires sacrifice.  And for me, leaving for South Africa in a little over 24 hours requires a lot sacrifice. It means denying myself and taking up my cross.

As a creature of habit change has always been a struggle for me and going to a foreign country is definitely a change. It means leaving my comfortable home to spend 2 weeks in a country that’s completely out of my comfort zone and where only 8.2% of the population actually speaks English. It means leaving behind family and friends and giving up my time with them for strangers. It means being willing to face the unknown when I know I don’t like the unknown.

So the question then is why? Why give up everything I know for 2 weeks for people I don’t know?

Well for one, because we are commanded to do so. When Jesus commissioned the twelve before ascending to the right hand of glory he said “go and make disciples of all nations”. He didn’t say, “If you feel like it” or “if it’s convenient,” he said GO.  So going to South Africa is a physical demonstration of my commitment to obedience. And I am confident that through my obedience I will be both a blessing and blessed.

I am kept for the master’s use and by serving my brothers and sisters in Christ I will be able to fulfill that purpose.