Friday, December 30, 2011

Who are God's Children? Meeting Sara

12/30/11
The past few days have been heavy for me. Wednesday we went to the Rosemoor Rotary Home for the Elderly, and today we were at Bethdseda Hospice Home and Children's Home. The people we met blessed me, and my heart is broken for them.

I was slightly out of my comfort zone at the elderly home, as not many of the residents spoke English, and many were blind or battling dementia, which made making small-talk rather difficult. We sang some songs and danced around a bit, which was fun, but we would be there for a while and I wasn't sure how I would pass the time. Paul and Courtney were put to work shaving some old men's beards. We were thinking we could polish some of the ladies' fingernails or wash hair, but we were waiting on instructions from the nurse... so I went outside with my kids to get some fresh air and say hello to some of the residents there. That's where we met Sara. She spoke English!She began chatting away, mentioning several times that she was VERY OLD: nearly 100 years old (I am not sure how near 100, as she looked really great.) She started to share that everyone she loved: her mom, dad, brothers, husband, one of her two sons, were all dead already. She missed her home in Queenstown, and felt very lonely. One of her legs was an artificial leg, which bothered her. She told me she had a hard life. I asked her more questions about her childhood and her family, and she just beamed. I told her how happy we were to be in South Africa and how beautiful we thought it was here, and she seemed very pleased. Then, I asked if I could pray for her. I prayed fairly simply that God would fill her with his peace and joy, that he would provide comfort and that he would let Sara feel how loved she was. Tears just rolled down her cheeks. She told me quite proudly that she had been going to church since she was Violet's size, and even had her own Bible. We continued praying, thanking God for being a good God, and I thanked God for Sara etc. And the tears just kept rolling down her cheeks. "Donkey, Donkey" she said, which means thank you in Africaans. It amazed me actually that she felt like I blessed her that day, when she was the one who blessed me. What an inspiration to see an old woman who was in the end stages of a much more difficult life than I could probably ever comprehend, and the joy she had in her Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Do You Believe in Miracles?

December 28th
The plan: to make a pot of soup and bring it through the Blanco Township to deliver portions of it to any elderly, sick or women who have just recently had babies. The soup was a hearty blend of chicken, carrots, cabbage and beans with various herbs and seasonings. It simmered over the fire all morning, so by early afternoon we were ready to set out.

We walked as a large group: 14 YWAM, maybe 7 OAM, and a few of the local ladies who knew the most deserving houses, and several neighborhood kids excited to deliver with us. With a couple carrying the soup kettle, Liam being pushed in the stroller, Violet and several other small children being toted on hips or given piggy back rides, it must have been quite the sight, as each stop picked up a few more followers to join us on the mission. At each house three to four of us would head in with the soup to serve and offer a prayer for the residents. The rest of the team would wait patiently and pray for the visit, for the street, or just chat with the people beginning to congregate. We walked the streets delivering generous portions of the soup for over two hours. The pot never ran out.

When we reached the decided upon time to finish, there remained still enough soup for at least one more bowl. I've made large pots of food to entertain before, and I saw the amount of ingredients that went into the soup and the portions that were given... and while it may not have had to be stretched by 5000 or even 500, it was definitely stretched in my opinion. God is a God who provides, and he honors our attempts at helping others.

As if that isn't cool enough, I will continue. Jarryd, Tammy, Lola and I went to serve an elderly gentleman some soup. He was seated in a chair outside in the shade. He didn't speak English, but his name sounded something like "General," so that is what we are calling him. He quickly revealed to us his leg, which was extremely swollen and infected looking. He apparently had a disease called elephantitus. Dorie and Katie came over to join us and look over the leg. We wanted to help him raise his legs, but he was in too much pain to even move it at all. As I began to pray over the man for God's healing grace and mercy, Dorie trickled some lavender oil on the leg. He seemed very appreciative. We ladeled out the soup and said goodbye. As we began to walk away, he got our attention and seemed to be suggesting he wanted to stand up. Jarryd gently assisted him to his feet and a great big grin appeared on his face. He looked completely shocked and thrilled... his leg felt a lot better! He began to actually walk over to go sit in the sunshine to eat his soup.

There was one woman who had delivered a baby 2 weeks prior. Her hemoglobin couldn't have been higher than a 5 or 6, as she looked so anemic with completely white under eyes, pale color, and was experiencing very heavy bleeding. Katie, the midwife on our team, and Dorie went in and served a generous portion of soup. They were able to pray for her and her baby, and they promised to stop back the next day to bring some iron tablets. When they arrived the next morning, the underneath of her eyes had returned to red, and she reported that her bleeding had completely stopped and she was feeling much better (a process Katie thought would take another good week or two with iron supplements.)

God is a God of miracles. And this is only what happened today. We are at 9 total dramatic healings right now on this trip. ANd that isn't counting the emotional healing we are witnessing. People just begin to sob as we pray for them and tell them their Heavenly Father loves them, and that Jesus not only died for them, but he wants a relationship with them. This is incredible. And I am so honored to even be a messenger of God's love. Thank you Jesus!!!

Merry Christmas!

So this is Christmas in South Africa! Beautiful warm weather. No snow, but we did have an African version of a Christmas tree. We actually spent a couple hours Christmas Eve at the beach, which was very nice.

Christmas morning we got up early for breakfast and went to church. We then went to Blanco Township to walk the streets and deliver gift bags of treats and trinkets to 200 children. Next, we went to Kidstop to feed 130 street children Christmas dinner and distribute bags with toiletry items, new t-shirts and little toys.

Went back home to prepare our own celebration: African braai (like a barbeque, with various meats)and gift exchange amongst our team. And a most pleasant surprise: gift boxes from our family filled with goodies! My favorite truffles, little dolls for the girls, fun toys for Liam, pendants for Paul and me with the following verse:
Joshua 1:9
Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

I felt so encouraged to have a little reminder of loved ones back home, and to be able to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior with our kids and new friends. It was a very good day.

Test of Faith

I believe faith is a gift. I do not think it is something we can create as humans. I also believe that God is good to give us what we ask for, so if more faith is what we desire or need, we can simply ask Him for that: for strength, peace etc. Perhaps some people are given more of it than others, or for some it just tends to be more of a struggle. Much like needing to fill up the gas tank of your vehicle regularly, we also need our spirits to be filled regularly. When our car is filled with fuel, we can easily take for granted that we can go anywhere; but if we are not aware of the fuel level, we could eventually run out. Anyone who has ever run out of gas knows it is a very helpless feeling. And the worst of it is sometimes feeling so foolish because it could have been prevented. And the scary thing is, it can actually be very dangerous if left stranded in certain neighborhoods or weather conditions. Is it any different when we run out of faith?

After a wonderful fist week getting situated, and now starting to get into the various ministries, I was faced with my test of faith. It started when Violet threw up. No need to panick though, she is in good spirits and smiling. She says she feels fine. Everything should be fine. Then, a few hours later, she threw up some more. I am thrown into busy mom mode, because it is my job to catch the vomit, clean her up, and offer comfort, while still checking in with Lola and Liam and Paul, and washing my hands as often as I can, trying not to breathe in directly next to her mouth which is just inches form mine as we sleep side by side. Trying to catch a bit of sleep, but staying alert to the slightest movement or noise to signal a need for the bucket. Morning comes. She seems much better. Now just a little diarrhea. We should be in the clear.

Then it hits Liam. And I am faced with the challenge of trying to get a one year-old to vomit into a bucket. He is crying and trying to wiggle away from me, yet wants me to comfort him. Another night on alert, running to Liam repeatedly in the effort to at least salvage the sheets he is sleeping on, because we have already run out of towels and bedding with Violet. Morning comes. He seems much better now too. Yes, they both have some diarrhea, but Paul has gotten Gatorade and something form the pharmacy to help, so all should be good.

Then it hits me. I'm exhausted already from two sleepless nights. I spend hours in the bathroom passed the point of having every muscle in my body hurt from the gut wrenching vomiting. When my body is emptied and dehydrated, I weakly stumble to bed. And the fear sets in.

At this point, the kids still have diarrhea. They won't take whatever Paul got from the store. And I am struck with the realization that I have no idea what we got that has made us so ill. I remember getting the flu while pregnant with Liam and being so concerned that it could send me into labor. Now, similar thoughts are running through my head, and I am afraid to say anything to anyone, because I am also afraid of going into the hospital. And this is where I choose to panick and get mad at God. "What is this? You told me to bring my family here to South Africa, that wonderful things would happen, that it would be good for my family... what is this?" Discouragement and doubt had taken over all hope I had felt earlier about the trip.

I spent the entire next day trying to get rest and cuddle with the kids. While we were definitely getting better, I was still angry at God. I couldn't shake the feeling of defeat. I wanted to give up. I felt like I was worthless, and there was no way I would be able to make any difference in this country. And I realized the enemy had already snuck in and stolen my faith. I was on empty. And the worst part was I was too proud or ashamed to humble myself before God and ask Him to forgive me for believing lies from the enemy. It took a while for me to come around and turn to God in trust again.

I won't claim to understand why we got sick, or what the significance actually was: spiritual warfare or just germs, but I know that whatever the circumstances, instead of asking "where is God?" we should be asking "who is God?" Because our God is the same today as he was yesterday, and he will be the same tomorrow. He is a God of Love Always and Forever. When we choose to hold onto that truth, we dispel the lies the enemy wants us to believe. When we stop believing the lies, the enemy gains no ground. Where there is light, there can be no darkness.

Faith is that choice to focus on the truth. ANd we NEED the Bible and prayer time to refuel often. We can never take for granted that we are fine without the help of God.

Welcome to Out of Africa Missions

Week 1:
We arrived in George on December 14th. We are staying at the Out of Africa Missions (OAM) base. Once upon a time it had been a Bed & Breakfast. The front courtyard faces the mountains. There is a fountain/pond and beautiful flowering trees. The property is quite large, and there are several momma monkeys that live in the area and are known to rummage in the garbage. They are quite adorable looking (especially the little babies holding on) but I imagine they are a nuissance much like raccoons in Minnesota. We have been told not to go exploring in the tall grasses behind the property, as it is likely to encounter some large snakes. As I get the creepy crawlies thinking about that, I fondly think of my sister Christy, and pray for guardian angels to protect the property line.

Everyone is very tired. There are 14 of us traveling from the U.S. with YWAM, including our 3 children: Lola, 5, Violet, 3, and Liam, 1. There is a boarding house/dorm adjacent to the main house where we all sleep. Our family has a bedroom with a private bathroom. Space is definitely tight with a double bed, bunk beds, pack & play and sofa in the room, but it feels cozy. With wooden floors and running water, it is actually larger and much nicer than the shacks in the townships that house families larger than ours.

Day 1 (Thurs): Rest and explore a bit: there is a chocolate shop just down the road... known for truffles and nougats. The chocolate is made here and transported all over the world. It is yummy!

Day 2 (Fri): Weeding at the OAM base. Very good way to thank them for their hospitality. Then a couple hours in the late afternoon at the beach.

Day 3 (Sat): Walk to the market. Took a little longer than expected, so Lola got very tired out, but it was a beautiful walk. We had a wonderful conversation with a couple from Zimbabwe. Interesting to hear about the political tension there. The girls were able to pick some shiny rocks, and try African ice cream. Then we practiced dance I choreographed for team.

Day 4 (Sun): 3 hour church service... amazing singing, dancing and worship! Three languages spoken in the church: Africans, Kosa & English. Afternnon prep for skits and teachings for the week ahead.

Ministries for the week:
Kid Stop: A program for street kids that was started by Youth for Christ. They currently have a building and a day program for the kids, where they feed them 2 meals a day, have activities that are Christian based (songs, games etc. ) They also have a tutoring program to get the kids caught up to their grade level so they can be enrolled in school. They are waiting for staff and funding to launch the boarding house/orphanage phase of the project (the space is ready). So it is quite sad that for now the kids get turned out in the evening to be on their own. We are volunteering there to play with the kids, do skits etc. We will be feeding these kids Christmas dinner.

Options: a ministry which is to help pregnant teens and encourage them to keep their babies, offering christian counseling and practical baby items and food program. It also has a earned income program to help the teens with finding jobs or working at their boutique making cards, jewelry and sewing. We've only been there once so far, and we just helped weed their garden and sort donated clothes and help with some organization.

El Shaddai: minister at a rehab center for adults

Children's Hospital: Visit with the children and their families. Some clowning and praying.

Then back to Kidstop.

Hello to South Africa

December 14th
Wow. After months of leading up to this, we finally arrived to beautiful South Africa. It took a full 3 days of travel to get here (flights to D.C., then to Frankfurt, then to Capetown, then a 5 hour drive to George.)We showed up a bit disheveled and very exhausted. Liam was not a fan of flying, and we were tired of wrestling him on the plane and trying to entertain him in the airports. The girls were troopers, but were definitely dragging by the time we landed.

I gazed out the window of the back seat as we drove from Capetown to George and was amazed at the landscape. I fought through drowsy eyelids to take in the beauty of the mountains. But though all five of us were squished together in the back seat, I drifted peacefully in and out of sleep. And each time I would wake up I would thank God for this opportunity to see this beautiful country. And I felt in my spirit a happy anticipation that wonderful things were to come.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thankfulness

After celebrating Thanksgiving, a full week-end of festivitities including the turkey, potatoes, salads, pie and so much more, I could not help but reflect on how blessed I am as an individual. I was surrounded by relatives, friends, and church members who love me. We celebrated the holiday in beautiful warm homes. We live in a country where privilege is the norm.

Enjoying the heart-warming comfort of such a time, I felt this strong sense that God was saying "This is what I want for everyone... every child of mine, in all parts of the world, to partake in a feast surrounded by the love of family." It breaks my heart that there are so many people in this world without enough food to put on the table to feed their own children, people with no bed or no home, and far too many people without any family to love them.

Here are some stats about South Africa:
14 million people face starvation
18.6% of children have no parents at all
In 2010, 280,000 people died of Aids
29.4% of pregnant women are infected with HIV/Aids
11.5% of population are refugees from Zimbabwe

Stats about our world (view an amazing 3 minute clip at http://www.miniature-earth.com/)
43% live without basic sanitation
18% without safe drinking water
14% hungry/malnourished
1 out of 100 adults infected with HIV/Aids

If all American Church-goers would tithe, there would be $1 trillion dollars to work with... (actual tithe annually is approximately $100 billion, of which very little is given for missions and development) Something to think about.

There is an amazing quote by Helen Keller that says this:
"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."

If you are thankful for the blessings in your life, my challenge to you would be to find your "something you can do" to bless someone else.