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

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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

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I want to sing

On my second day in Burkina, I find myself at a place called the Dorcas House.  A place where girls have experienced some of life’s toughest trials, and yet where joyful singing can be heard before you even step foot inside the perimeter.  Singing that has no end; singing to a King who is worthy.  It truly is a tiny, glorious glimpse of heaven.

I walk nervously into the room where 50 girls are gathered, learning a Bible lesson in French and Jula.  I find my way near the back part of the room where these beautiful faces eagerly make a space for me.  Even though I don’t understand what is going on around me, I can feel the presence of God, and it is overwhelming.  Just as the heat, mixed with unfamiliar languages, threatens to make my mind wander away, suddenly, a strong, high-pitched voice pierces through the air. Soon, a djembe joins in to create the kind of wonderful African beat you dream about….well, at least I dream about African beats!  Then, all of the girls erupt in a magnificent song, standing up to dance in worship.  I don’t know what to do, so I just sit there amazed.  The girl sitting next to me happens to know English, so she leans over and says to me, “Do you know what they are singing? The words are: Jesus is coming back, and if you are not ready, you are not going with Him.”

All of the breath left my lungs.  They sing because they are ready.  We sing because we are ready for Christ to return, and we long for Him to return.  We praise the holy God of Israel, because He is faithful. Not only did He give us His only Son to save us, but He has a plan to redeem all of creation.  Jesus is coming back.  I gaze in awe at this display of worship.  Some of these girls have been beaten in their villages because of their faith, some have been abandoned and neglected, some had been sold into vile situations, but all, with their faces turned toward heaven, hope in the Almighty God.  Their eyes light up with the precious love of our Savior’s.  He is so beyond spectacular in them.  Their faith is far greater than mine, and all I want to do is sit at their feet and learn from them.

These are my sisters.  We worship the Great I Am.

I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect beginning to my stay in Africa.  It was the most beautiful gift, and I will forever treasure it in my heart.  Thank you, Father, for allowing me to worship You alongside my sisters in Burkina. Thank you for showing me a clearer picture of what it means to truly rely on you.  We are desperate for You.  Thank you for their raw, passionate faith.  Would You please open their hearts and lavish them with your perfect and abounding love?  Would You please bless them the way that they have blessed me?  Oh God, you are way too good to me.  Blessed be Your Name forever and ever. Amen.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. Psalm 40:3

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Be still

I sit down casually on my bed to read a page or two of ‘The Holiness of God’ by R.C. Sproul before I begin the day’s list of errands.

“We fear God because He is holy…He is too awesome.  He makes difficult demands on us.  He is the Mysterious Stranger who threatens our security.  In His presence we quake and tremble.  Meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma..”

As I read these words, my hand that is holding the book begins to tremble. I just look at it, perplexed.  I wonder if my mind is collaborating with my hand to play a trick on me, considering I had just read the words, “in His presence we quake and tremble”.  But even as that thought crosses my mind, the trembling seems to slowly take over my body.  Not a drastic body tremor…just an uncontrollable, soft, tremble.  I close my eyes.  My breathing is shallow. I search for Him.. I know He’s there.  I want to cry out, “what is it, Father?”, but He won’t even allow me to speak.  He silences me.  I think about just days before, how He said to me through my  devotional, ‘I meet you in the stillness of your soul.’ Only God could produce stillness so intense.  I wait, staring into the black void until it becomes like a familiar, peaceful blanket surrounding me.

A single tear streams down the left side of my face until, finally- I hear a voice on my heart: “In ME you live and move and breathe”

The past few weeks have been painfully humbling in so many ways.  For one thing, God has directed my prayers and led me to seek understanding of His great Mercy.  He has gently been opening my eyes.  He knows that I am slow to understand and listen, and of course, quick to speak.  It makes so much sense that He would completely silence me.  Most of the time when I seek Him with intentions to hear His voice, I am still talking. Why is it so hard to be still?  I swear that it is the hardest task in the world.  Maybe this western culture has aided in my corruption.  Regardless, He gave me the words that brought me back to the very core of my being.  I am from dust.  HE put His breath in me.  It is only by Him that I live and move and breathe.

I think of the words from a warrior in Christ, Gianna Jessen, when she boldly proclaimed:

“”Don’t you realize that you cannot make your own heart beat? Don’t you realize that all the power that you think you possess.. you really possess none of it! It is the MERCY of God that sustains you- even when you hate Him.”

Oh God.. I am nothing apart from You. I know it is by your great mercy that I am not utterly consumed; that You allow me to walk on this earth each day. That you allow me to take each new breath. I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve your goodness. Who am I that I should be the object of Your Mercy and Love?

Job 12:10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.

Let my mouth be filled with Your praise.

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