Like grass in the desert

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

 

I close my eyes and I’m in the desert of west Africa. The sun so offensive and brutal, the locals cry out “windiga zaabdame!”- the sun is hitting me! We skip from shade to shade trying to avoid the heavy hand of its rays. Rapidly and without warning, the sky grows dark, and a smell of dampness dances across my nose. The sky warns- ‘you have 5 minutes to find cover.’ Everyone obeys. You don’t want to get stuck in the forceful downfall of this rain. There’s a frenzy to rush off the roads toward home or the nearest shelter. Soon, the water pours out of the clouds at an alarming rate and magnitude. Floods rush through any open path, washing everything clean that had previously accumulated 4 inches of dust. Even the trees and shrubs get a bath, making everything a little greener… including the ground. In some places, what used to be a sandy desert floor is now a spectacular field of green. As the rain departs, there’s a breath of life- grass emerges from a seemingly dead desert floor. What beauty it displays and what charm it radiates against the brown on brown on brown backdrop of everyday desert life. And yet, how quickly it vanishes without the rain to sustain it. Rising in an instant, and in a blink it’s gone. The dust settles, and life to the eye is just a bit more dull again.

 

I open my eyes and I’m in America. Still in awe of how quickly a life can vanish like the grass in west Africa. Every day I think of a man who I loved like a father, who loved me like his own daughter. He was tall and strong, wise and compassionate. He was a man who loved the Lord with an un-dying passion and taught me how to live out the gospel in everyday life. He gave and sacrificed much for his family and anyone in need. His eyes were full of life, so trustworthy and kind.

 

In the blink of an eye everything changed.

 

Dear cancer, you didn’t win. All you did was take him home to the One he loved with his whole heart. Even though you caused him pain, and though we’re still left with its effects, even this heartache is temporary. This life is a mist; a vapor that appears for an instant and soon is gone. You may have the appearance of power, but it’s my Lord Jesus who reigns. It’s my Lord Jesus who defeated death and allows him to live forever and ever in fullness of joy and peace, to the glory of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And soon I will see him again in glory.

 

“But we do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Holy love

His love is killing me. Literally. It’s exposing me, it’s changing me, it’s transforming me, it’s destroying me. I quite seriously don’t understand His mercy. This love… it’s irrational. He knocks me to the ground with unbelievable power. It’s like a gentle whisper that could bring a thousand towering mountains to the floor in a single breath. The mightiest of armies would flee at the sound of this voice, this Truth… but I have nowhere to go. And though it’s painful, there’s honestly nowhere else I’d rather be. He holds me still and peels back my ribs to put new breath in my lungs. He sits in the middle of my chest- His mercy sustains the beat of my heart. His love is absolutely relentless. I’m not the same anymore, and I pray I’m more like Him every day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Having nothing, having it all

Her husband left her with two babies three months ago. She lives on less than 50 cents a week. She has no education. She has next to zero material possessions. She lives in a tiny mud brick house that is quickly deteriorating under the fast, heavy downpours of rainy season. The unrelenting sun beats down all day long, heating the mud bricks like an oven and baking the residents inside even as they lay down their heads at night on a mat in the dirt, completely exposed to mosquitoes and scorpions.  At any moment her husband could choose to return and kick her out on false accusations of sleeping around. He has the right. He can take the kids. He can take the house. In this world, she has no hope.

She is poor. This is life.

We go to visit her. Her kids explode from the dark doorway, smiling and falling over themselves with pure excitement to see us. She follows behind them. Emerging from the mud bricks into the glorious sunlight is a strong, gorgeous woman. The warmness in her heart melts away her tough exterior. Even though she has nothing to offer, her love provides more hospitality than kings. She shows us around her house, and too soon it is time for us to leave. I walk away wondering if I’ll ever encounter her again. Suddenly, I am stopped and told that she wants to tell me something. I turn around and walk toward her, bracing myself with every intention to do my best at interpreting her French and mustering up a coherent response.

She takes my hands…

To my surprise, she does not speak, but stares deeply into my eyes. I am caught in her glance, and in her eyes I see suffering, I see courage, I see loss, I see hope, I see strength, I see hardship, I see thankfulness, I see pain, I see joy– I see Jesus.

I see more in her eyes than words could ever say. After what seems like hours, although only a few seconds, she says to me with a gentle voice, “que Dieu te bénisse”.

I walk away in awe…..she is blessing ME??? I don’t deserve that.

Though truly, I’ve never been more blessed or honored to see a tiny glimpse into this beautiful heart. Words we never had, but the bond between us I’m certain that death itself could not break. She is clothed in strength and dignity.  She is a woman who fears the Lord.

She is rich. This is LIFE

“…as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” -2 Corinthians 6:10

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shout aloud and sing for joy

One minute I had a free, relaxing weekend ahead of me, and the next, I was catching 2 buses and a bush taxi, travelling across the country with Abbey.  There are times when I’m extra thankful to God that He gave me extroverted qualities, so that when adventures pop up out of nowhere like this, I am filled with a rush of excitement and abounding in energy (often neglecting finer details, but that’s another story).  For the two weeks prior to this impulsive voyage, Abbie and her Ouaga team had been involved in training Burkinabe children’s ministers, who gathered in Sobara, and facilitating children’s camps that were conducted by these children’s ministers in the surrounding, unreached villages. Upon her arrival back in Ouaga, her heart yearned to go back to Sobara to be with the teams as they finished their work in the villages, to hear the testimonies, and to celebrate and praise the Lord for His great and mighty works through these outreaches. She didn’t have to waste much time talking me into going with her, my heart was there too.

After 10 or more hours of driving and shuffling from bus to bus to a very squishy ‘there’s hardly air in here how am I going to survive’ bush taxi, we quietly arrive in a village called Sobara.  We are greeted with smiles by a handful of familiar faces and strangers alike as we sit down and breathe in the sweet, fresh air of the wonderful, green landscape.  Just as I think to myself, “where is everyone?”, a faint sound in the distance answers me.  Quickly approaching is the sound of many voices, singing loudly- praises to the Lord.  The beat of the drums and the voices increase in volume until finally a van bursts into view, carrying way too many people than it can “legally” support, with some hanging on the back and some on top, all exploding with joy and excitement.

They cannot contain it.

They don’t stop singing or dancing as they unload themselves from the vehicle, and without breaking beat, they gather themselves into a circle of worship. One song after another, until eventually we need even more instruments to express the immensity of our joy, attempting to worship our God as He deserves.  We transition beside the church, where the balafon and drums are played. and played. and played. and played. (And didn’t end until about 3 am, fyi) Somewhere in the middle of that, the ones who were involved in the children’s outreach camps gather inside of the church to give testimonies, pray, and celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of God. As I listen to the translated form of their testimonies (thanks, Abbey), I am amazed at the work of God in each and every heart in that room, and the ways they saw Him moving the past two weeks. The villages that they stayed in for the duration of the camps are known for their sorcery, so it was no surprise that nearly all of them came under severe demonic attack. Almost every testimony involved them staying up to pray all night long. One village even rejected a team for what they wanted to teach the children. Vans broke down. Motos had flat tires. Mysterious bugs living in the sand bit up their arms and legs. They ran out of water. But they trusted in the Lord and persevered through the trials. They prayed and prayed and prayed and worshiped and sought Him, and God gave them the victory. Over 1000 children heard the Gospel in unreached villages. Many came to know Him as their Lord and Savior. People were healed of sickness. And, astonishingly, in one of the villages, the chief lowered his status to bring US water and to serve US for the duration of the camp. (This never happens. Position and status is everything here.) The children who have heard the Gospel will take it home to their families. Thousands of people have been and will be touched by the love of Christ. This is no small thing.

No wonder they don’t stop singing. God really is THAT glorious. He really is THAT worthy. He really will never forsake us. He really will give us the strength to persevere through trials and persecution and struggles and attacks. If God is for us, who can be against us?? He really does want all peoples from every tribe and language to hear His Gospel, and He will enable those who carry His Gospel to reach these people… We just have to be obedient. This is why we exist. We believe in a God who is worthy of the praise and worship of every tribe and nation on this earth, and so we will go and proclaim His Gospel to every tribe and nation on this earth until Jesus comes back.

Oh and by the way, after our team had been out in the villages for 2 weeks and spent their last day praising the Lord all night long, we got up early the next morning to head home in the van that had previously been broken down. Our hope was that it would make it to Banfora, where there was a mechanic who could help us get the parts we need. We drive it one minute down the road and stop for gas….and the worker decides to put diesel in it instead. So we spend the next 3 and half hours removing the gas tank from the van, dumping it out, cleaning it, finding a welder to fix broken bolts.. and finally, we’re back on the road. We get another kilometer down the dirt path and the van stops working… again. We have just enough transmission fluid to turn around and get back to the village and spend another night there. The next day, we wake up early to get a bush taxi, but when we get there, they won’t take us because we have too many people. So we have to wait another hour for the next one. When we finally get on it and have every reason to be utterly exhausted and frustrated, instead- our team sings. Not just in a way to take our minds off the situation….they just can’t stop giving glory to God. The praise and adoration in our hearts is true. We sang to our King for the entire 3 hour drive to Banfora. One woman who got on the bush taxi for a brief ride, ended up getting off, smiling, and saying that she was going to start going to church. There is something about the joy that God gives His children that is simply captivating to the world around us. Without Him, it’s unattainable. With Him, there are inexhaustible fountains of joy.

After the bush taxi, and two more buses, we succeeded in smelling bad enough to cause Heidi to roll down her windows, gasping for fresh air as she drove us home.

 Isaiah 12:1-6

To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amina!!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Emptied.

I am weak. I am proud. I am boastful. Here, I have nothing to offer. I am dependent. I am needy. I can’t rely on any of my own skills or talents. I can’t speak the language. I can’t drive. I can’t sew or cook or perform a normal function in my own house without asking 10 questions. I have nothing. He has brought me to a place where I need Him more than I’ve ever needed Him. I need the prayers of the saints and encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ more than ever. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of how much I’m being humbled. I try to mask the fear with false confidence. I try to act like I have it all together- but I don’t. It’s like one ugly mask on top of another ugly beast. The blind leads the blind inside of my heart.

“Son of David, don’t pass me by. ‘Cause I am naked, I’m poor, and I’m blind.”

If I truly lay down my life, these are the times when His power is displayed in the most magnificent and mighty ways. I have nothing. I have nothing but the God of the Universe. The Holy God of Israel is my Father, and His Spirit lives inside of me. I have more than enough. When I am weak, I am strong. I have nothing to offer, except HIS love and HIS power that conquered the grave. I. lack. no. thing.

Father, have mercy on me. I lay down my life before your throne. I need You. Give me the strength to die every day, so that I can truly live.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Jar of clay

Screams of joy fill the kid’s area of the Tabitha Center as I bounce from group to group, playing with blocks and whatever else has captured their attention for the moment. Many would shy away from this scene, overwhelmed by the chaos. But it’s our chaos, and that’s how we like it. As my eyes scan across the crowded room, it’s a wonder that one, tiny child is able to catch my attention a midst all the activity. I don’t recognize him as one of the women’s children, but his appearance has me very concerned.  His skin is red and peeling all over his head and neck.  Bumps cover his face as if he has severe acne, and there are open sores all over the back of his head. Every area of skin that I can see on him is dry and peeling.  As I walk closer to him, I notice that the children around him stop and stare as he shuffles past them. What utterly captivates me, though, is his gentle smile and joyful, beautiful eyes. He is the sweetest child in that room.

I kneel down beside him where he is happily playing with blocks by himself, and he turns to meet my eyes. There is something so wonderful inside of this boy, a beauty that explodes from within that for a moment completely masked all of the physical imperfection on the outside. I place my hands on his shoulders and say to him, “hold on sweety, we’re going to help you”. I go and get DeeDee and we carry him inside. His giant smile slowly fades as a look of alarm takes form in his eyes.  I too would be nervous if two strange white women carried me into a dim room, and plopped me on a chair in front of 50 Burkinabe women. He sits there very still, slightly smiling, but noticeably uncomfortable as DeeDee searches through our bags of medicines to find something with which to treat his skin. I kneel down in front of him and hold out my hand; he grasps it and holds on tight. He gazes deep into my eyes, and I try to convey with a smile that we are helping him, and that he need not to be afraid. DeeDee begins cleaning the sores on the back of his head, and I’m certain that he is going to cry out in pain. He doesn’t. He can’t be older than 3, but he just sits there quietly. Motionless, he continues to look into my eyes, and in his, I see the courage of a grown man- he is the bravest boy I know. He clenches my hand as DeeDee continues to tend to his ailments. Without thinking, I whisper to him “Jésus t’aime”, forgetting that children his age only speak Moore. However, whether he understood or not, he nods his head slightly and his eyes grow even more confident. I smile at him like a proud momma.

When we were finished, we carried him back to the play area, where the kids now stare at him in a different way: now they are jealous of his bandaids and special treatment from the white people! But, once again, the little boy doesn’t even notice, and returns to his blocks to play contently by himself. I marvel at him as I watch his imagination progress as he builds towers and adds more and more toys to his creative, fictional world. After a while, his beaming eyes and huge smile invite me over to join him, and I happily accept.

Since then, I have not seen him again, but I am thankful that God allowed him to stumble into our lives that day. I am confident, though, that he helped me more than we helped him. In him I saw strength where there should have been weakness. Joy where there should have been sorrow. A warm smile where there should have been tears. I saw myself, a broken, dirty, imperfect jar of clay, filled with the perfect, radiant light of Christ.

He gives beauty for ashes.

I don’t know if angels can come in the form of a small boy or not, but Hebrews 13:2 has always fascinated me. I am jealous of people who have seen angels with their own eyes… but who knows- maybe I have, too.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:1,2

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ll be honest

There’s nothing that terrifies me more right now than to try and put forth a single word to explain the things that God has allowed me to experience this past month.  I am just begging Him to help me… help ME to understand it myself, so that I can even attempt to write about it.

May God be glorified. It is for Him that I write, anyway.

I don’t know why God has blessed me so tremendously, but I have been given the privilege to love and serve 50 beautiful women at the Tabitha Center, as well as a billion children.  Ok, maybe not a billion… more like a billion and a half.  I pray every single day that God would teach me how to love each one of them.  I am learning their culture. I am learning what makes them happy and what makes them sad. I am learning that God’s love surpasses any language barrier. The moment I stepped foot into their world, they accepted me. They loved me. They are so full of love and so eager to smile and laugh.  They are some of the poorest women in the world. They have no electricity, and no running water. Most of them live on as little as 50 cents a day. Their babies are sick. They have no food. Life is hard.

But they have joy- they have the God of the Universe.  He makes all things new.

Driving to the Tabitha Center is not an easy task. The paved road ends as we enter Sector 30, and there is a long, dirt road full of deep ruts due to the rain. After turning right at the puddle, going straight past the pile of rocks, turning left by the poles, we barely squeeze through the mud huts in our giant Land Cruiser before finally reaching our destination. Kids begin to emerge from every direction out of the brown, dusty landscape, running full speed at the car chanting “NA SARA”, which means “white woman” in Moore.  The sea of little brown smiling faces fills me with the most incredible joy.  I step out of the car and they all attack me, pulling on my arms and wanting to shake my hand all at the same time. I think that they believe if they pull on my hands hard enough, I’ll grow some extra ones and they’ll all finally be able to give me a hand shake without needing to wait their turn. Dream big. One little boy pushes his way through the crowd and allows me the honor of running straight into his arms. He shoos away the other kids somehow, and holds my hand the whole way to the building. He lets me hold him close and play blocks with him. His name is Arnaud. He has totally captured all of my love.  In my heart, he is my son. My brain doesn’t know yet that he already has a family. It’s going to be the worst day in the world when my brain finds that out. When I leave for the day, I miss him. I dream about his smile.

There is a little girl named Safie. She was rejected as a baby. Her father tried to beat her to death. The Pastor’s family saved her life and took her in- and now she is a healthy little girl. Not only is she healthy, but she is full of sass. She is small and younger than most of the kids, but she sure enough bosses them all around with her puckered lips and scolding eyes. Sometimes, she even yells at me! I look at her with a big smile and say “you are soooo bad!!!!” She smiles knowingly, and sticks out her tongue. She loves being held, and burying her head playfully into my tummy. Her smile is contagious, and her laugh makes me happy instantly.

I am learning to love each one.

I read them books in English. I point at pictures and say English words and they repeat me. Sometimes they say the Moore word when I point to the picture. I try to repeat them and we all have a good laugh about that. They usually laugh a little harder at me than I am laughing at myself…rude!;) They love to do whatever I do, and repeat every word I say. When I walk here, they follow me. When I walk there, they follow me. They are starving for love and attention.  They are the most crazy, disorganized, wild, and dirtiest part of my day. They exhaust me, but I am in love with them. And I want to teach them about Jesus.

God passionately loves every single woman and child there. He knows them deeply and intimately. I don’t even know most of their names, but when I look into their eyes, there is love between us that doesn’t need words. Their lives are so different than mine. They know pain and struggle too well, but they never complain. Every time that I walk inside, every face is beaming, eager to learn about Jesus, eager to work hard, eager to serve one another.

I have barely scratched the surface of explaining my life in Burkina and all that God is doing here.  The good news is that I have a year to keep trying.

Lord, show me how to love each heart, just like You love them. This is my family; please take care of us. By Your grace and sovereign power, please open the hearts that don’t know you yet, and draw them near to you. May they see Your love and Your light in me. May You make a great Name for yourself in Sector 30. You are worthy of all praise, honor, and glory.

Wennaam ya soma. Amina.

Arnaud and Safie

Arnaud and Safie

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments