Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thobega's Birthday Wish

Thobega is my friend. She is a strong black South-African woman with an amazing voice, a love for cooking, lots of opinions, and a humble appreciation for her Heavenly Father's love. And she is passionate about life. She works for Justice Dolls, making dolls to raise awareness about Human Trafficking and other injustices. I was able to sit in with her and the ladies there, making dolls, and talking the afternoon away. After visiting with her just briefly, we really clicked. And as I continued to make regular visits, a friendship developed.

She and I would chat about life; laugh at the silliness of children, vent frustrations about the opposite sex, share testimonies of God's greatness, and dream about the future. In many ways, we are quite alike, and yet our lives are so different. We both married our highschool sweethearts: I was married at age 19, and she at age 18. We are both moms. While my family is still growing, she has just one, a beautiful 9 year-old daughter named Onge. While my husband and I have had to work through many issues in marriage, Thobega's marriage fell apart right after her baby was born, and she is now raising her daughter on her own, in a little shack in the wetland area of Masi.

We were able to celebrate Thobega's 28th birthday with her. We stopped by the Justice Doll shop and surprised her with a birthday cake. And after singing in English and Xosa, she smiled, closed her eyes, and maybe she made a wish. And while I don't know for sure what she was wishing at that moment, I know what she carries in her heart, because we had talked about it a few days earlier. Her consistent prayer to God is to be able to live to be 40 years old, so that she can watch her daughter enter adulthood and know she will be okay. She wants to see her receive an education, get a job, maybe fall in love, and more than anything, grow to know, love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Thobega is living each day with the knowledge that one day she will lose her battle to HIV/Aids, and she will leave this earth, leaving her daughter behind.

I have to admit, this makes me angry, REALLY angry.
But when I question God about this, I am almost ashamed, because I know he is not the thief who has come to steal, kill and destroy... he is her Heavenly Father, the God of love and compassion, the creator of Heaven and Earth, and giver of life, the one true God, who came to Earth to overcome the world, who conquered the grave and rose again, who promises to comfort us, wipe away every tear and make us new. So, I have to give up my right to understand everything, and just ask him for his peace which transcends understanding.

And I can be thankful for my friendship. I can continue to pray for Thobega and Onge. And I can tell their story, so you too can pray.

Please check out the Justice Doll website at: Joylynn Landshut and her husband Dave have an amazing vision, and all the ladies involved are remarkable women of God. And each has a story to be told.
(We also have a limited number of Justice Dolls available for anyone wishing to purchase some.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A New Chapter for Amanda

Amanda is our deaf friend. Today we were able to bring Amanda back to the audiologist. Unfortunately, it was confirmed that she is completely deaf in both ears, and hearing aides would do no good for her.

But there is good news: we were finally able to get in to speak with a social worker to look into schooling for her. In fact, the director of Deafsa (Deaf Federation of South Africa)felt it was such an important case that he also got involved. They are recommending a boarding school in the Eastern Cape (15 hour drive away), where she would be able to live with other deaf children. While this would be a dramatic change for her, it is probably the best option to secure a positive future for her. She is so far behind her age group that 24 hour/day emersion would help her catch up the most, and in reality even a school just 45 minutes away from her home would be impossible for her to get to with no transportation. The opportunity for an education and having safe housing will make her far less vulnerable to being taken advantage of. (Also good news is that there will likely be governtment funding available to her for the school being that they are in such financial need. So transportation back home for holidays would be the main expense.)

Our prayer for Amanda is that she will now be able to build friendships and feel like a real part of the deaf community.. a place where she can belong. She will gain a sense of identity when she is able to have a voice and express herself. Please continue to pray that enrollment procedures would go quickly and that God will give her peace as she transitions into this completely new world. She is feeling nervous, but very excited. She was so happy to see deaf people today signing, and conversing, and carrying on just like us. She very eagerly attempted signing the alphabet, and used her own gestures to communicate with the social workers. Not everything was understood, but they would laugh about it. And to see her eyes be opened to new possibilities was incredible. A new chapter in her life story has just begun. God is so good!

Oh yeah... We are also wanting to get her an ipad with a sign language app. Please contact Paul or me if you might be interested in donating funds for this. Amanda (and her sister-in-law Beauty, and brother Richard) are all so thankful that people are praying for them and wanting to help them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tuesday in Masi

I am so excited about the wonderful day we had. Our team has been spending quite a bit of time in the township Masipuhmelele, and really trying to find more ways to reach out to the community. We felt it would be worth a try putting on an open-air event in front of their Baptist Church, with songs, dancing, skits, some testimonies/sharing etc. So, on a Tuesday morning we headed up and down the streets inviting people to our “show” that would be later that same afternoon.

At 3:00, as school children began to swarm the streets, we turned on some music and prayed people would actually show up. And they did! Somewhere between 150-200 people, mostly young children to pre-teen, and some moms and a few other adults, joined in praising and worshiping the Lord, singing songs with us, watching intently as we performed our dramas and dance routine for them, listening to Paul share about the power of prayer, and they even learned the Macarena (who knew South Africa had been deprived of the Macarena up until now)! And after the “show” we were able to just hang out and get to know some of the kids. The kids were so eager to ask us questions. And the moms were super appreciative of having something fun for them to do after school. It was an incredible way to open the door for more relationship.

I had a wonderful time chatting with half-a-dozen 10-12 year-old girls. One conversation in particular seemed to be divinely appointed. Unghle is a 10 year-old who is grieving the recent death of her mother. She did not know if she was sick, or why she died, only that her dad one day told her she had died. Her father left for the Eastern Cape area shortly after in search of work, so she was being looked after by older siblings. She fondly shared memories of her mother with me, and I shared with her that I have a daughter in Heaven too, and told her how much I looked forward to seeing her and Jesus in Heaven one day. Just to be able to hug her and tell her how sorry I am for her loss was a great privilege. I know I spoke the loving words God wanted her to hear. And to see her lovingly smile up at me with gratitude was enough to make my heart both melt and break for her.

We didn’t know if the event would go over or not, but we gave it a shot. And because we wished to glorify God, he stepped in and went to work for us, to make it a huge success. Everyone had fun, and relationships are being formed as well. We are going to do it again this week, and hopefully get to follow up with the same kids. I am so excited about this.

Faith and Cake

I love chocolate. Plain and simple. I love it on any occasion. I love it when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. I love it. Really, I love any dessert, not limited to chocolate, but especially chocolate. And it’s not that we haven’t had any desserts since we’ve been in South Africa, because we have. It just felt like a good time to have dessert again. So, on a Saturday night after dinner, I announced my craving for a really good piece of chocolate cake. And being we are trying to live on a fairly tight budget, and are rather busy too, I lazily and selfishly decided to pray that God would find a way to delight us with the gift of chocolate cake, so we would not have to buy or bake it ourselves. The prayer itself was rather pathetic. I would say maybe slightly sarcastic, but yet it really was my heart’s desire at that moment. The people on my team nodded and chuckled in agreement, and the prayer was released to the heavens.

The next day we visited a local church. The sermon was titled, “The Cake is Already Baked.” The point of the message was that God surely hears and answers our prayers, and that we must remain faithful to see the answer of the prayer unfold. The example given was the story of Daniel in the lions den. He called out to God in prayer, and while it took 21 days to see the prayer answered, God had in fact acted on it immediately; it had just been “in the works,” so to speak, as events were unfolding in the spiritual realm; really, it was a great message and reminder to challenge our faith.

The cool thing, to really emphasize the point, is that the pastor pulled out a chocolate cake and announced that the “cake is already baked. God has prepared it long before we actually receive it. The moment we send our prayers, God replies.” Then, without any knowledge of our prayer just the night before, he states that he is going to send this cake home with the visiting YWAM team! We got our CAKE! And God gave us a wonderful and loving message to go along with it. What a great example that God really does care about the small things, even selfish desires of our hearts. He enjoys giving good gifts, because he loves us. That was the best dessert date I could imagine: chocolate and the love of my heavenly father.

Called to Love

Amanda is a beautiful 15 year-old South African girl with dark skin and dark eyes. She has short spunky hair to match her upbeat attitude. She has a delightful smile that can light up your heart. Even after meeting her just briefly, she warmly hugs you as if you’ve known each other a long time.

She lives in the slum-like township called Massipuhmelele, west of Muizenberg. This is where 40,000 + blacks live. Though the Apartheid has ended, little has been done to combat the segregation in communities and injustice of poverty. The homes there range from small stucco cottages to tin and plywood one-room shacks. Desperate families will put up shacks wherever space allows, often renting the small yard of another family to just make shelter for themselves. Amanda lives in such a shack with her adult brother and sister-in-law, who have taken her in. Her mother is aging, and unable to care for her. It is common here for children to be looked after by various people because of family illness and poverty.

Amanda’s world is entirely different from the world I grew up. She does not have the modern conveniences that many Americans take for granted. The laundry, cooking, dishes, bathing, sleeping, socializing… all is done in one small space, with neighbors right there, homes practically on top of each other. While American teenagers have collections of music, and closets full of clothes, Amanda hardly owns anything. And yet she is joyful.

Amanda is joyful despite her living conditions, and despite the fact that she lives her life in silence. She is isolated from her peers, left out, as most of them attend school and sing and dance and goof around together, and she does not. You see, according to her brother, Amanda was born deaf. Without adequate finances, she has been unable to even see a doctor. This is her reality, and in the past there has been little hope of any change. But does God really wish her to exist in silence?

I believe God has a special purpose and a plan for Amanda’s life. So, if God’s will were to be “done on earth as it is in heaven”, what would that look like? I know God performs miracles, and I prayed my heart out for God to heal Amanda’s ears. With gestures to her ears, and praying hands I tried my best to involve Amanda in the prayer. She nervously smiled, nodding her head in agreement with my prayer. I asked the heavens to pour out on this beautiful girl. But nothing happened. And I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I hugged Amanda, and thanked God for his love and power. I know God has wonderful plans for her. But what? How? I’ve prayed with her several more times, and continue to pray for her on my own and with my family.

As I struggle with feeling helpless in this situation, I am reminded of what Katie Davis wrote in her book, Kisses from Katie.

“As I read my Bible last night after falling into bed, the Lord continued to take me to the miracles of Jesus. And something I have never noticed before really stood out. The Bible tells us of Jesus magnificently raising Lazarus from the dead, healing numerous deathly ill people, and feeding thousands.
What the Bible does not mention, but what must be true is that, years later, Lazarus still died. The people Jesus healed were inevitably sick again at some point in their lives. The people Jesus fed miraculously were hungry again a few days later. More important than the obvious might and power shown by Jesus’ miracles is His LOVE. He loved these people enough to do everything in His power to ‘make it better.’ He entered into their suffering and loved them right there.
We aren’t really called to save the world, not even to save one person; Jesus does that. We are just called to love with abandon. We are called to enter into our neighbors’ sufferings and love them right there.”

And so now my new question is, ‘How can I best love this girl, God?’ In the several visits we have made to see her and her family and friends, we have exchanged pieces of our hearts. The warmth and hospitality we have received just makes me want to help even more… to really be able to do something tangible. ‘Could we get her to a doctor? Could anything be done to improve her hearing? Could she go to a special school for the deaf?’ I choose to trust God that he has something awesome in store for this girl. And I will not give up faith that her life will be a testimony of God’s unfailing love. And I thank Him for this great opportunity to be a part of his love story. To have new friends. To be forever changed.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I am just Me

January 7th

I am ordinary. I am a 33 year-old woman, a wife and mother. I am someone who often would prefer to stay in bed rather than face the day, especially if cleaning or hard work is required. I am someone who can end up in tears after a trip to the grocery store with my three children, because I've had to race to the bathroom twice, wrestle my son who escapes from his seatbelt, and I've completely blown my budget. I am someone who throws mini tantrums when my husband suggests we eat at Burger King and I would rather go to Arby's. I am someone with insecurities, fears and selfish desires. But I am also someone who loves God. And for some reason, God looks through all my flaws and still says He loves me. That is absolutely incredible to me. But even more surprising is that he says I am qualified to represent Him. And so, in Jesus name, through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in me, I am also a woman who has witnessed miracles. And its not the miracles that I'm in love with, but God who performs them. And because I love him, I like being a part of what he does and getting to witness other people have revelation of their Heavenly Father's love.

I have seen a stroke victim regain feeling and movement in her arm after praying for healing in Jesus name. I have heard God tell me that the man before me asking for prayer to heal his asthma needs to rebuke and bind the spirit of addiction and ask Jesus to give him the strength to quit smoking. I have been given the image of a red wagon or cart, and this strong feeling that we should pray for whoever was in it or pulling it, then to end up meeting a man in a red wheelchair; when my husband and a couple friends and I approached him to see if we might be able to pray with him, two ladies with him excitedly proclaim "you showed up at just the right time! We were just telling him he needs prayer! God sent you here!"

God is willing to use me if I am willing to be used. It was hard for me to really believe that God could or would use me in any special way. But one night in early September, after reading a book called "Glory Invasion; Walking under an open Heaven," I was overwhelmed with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the feeling that this book would change my life. It talked a lot about the book of Acts, and how we as Christians are called to move in faith and love (just like Jesus) to bring God's Kingdom to earth. It talked about spiritual inheritance, and lots of miracles. SO I asked God "Is this what you would have for me? Is this what we have in store for us in Africa?" AND his reply: he turned my alarm clock on to a worship song. Paul had the alarm set for like 6:00 am, but at nearly midnight, it instantly turned on as I finished my line of questions. I don't know the name of the song, but it goes something "earth and sky, everything will be praising God." AWESOME!

God is real. He loves us. He sent his son Jesus Christ to die for us. He longs for a relationship with us. He will live within you if you simply ask him to. The Holy Spirit is a living guide for every day. We are not alone to carry our burdens. We were not created to have lonely or even boring lives. God wants so much for us! Before Jesus ascended into Heaven he said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

At the end of the day, I am still just me. I can do nothing in my own strength. I remain ordinary. And I am perfectly content with that. But Jesus commissioned me to be an ambassador. And I will not settle for an "ordinary life" anymore. I want to see God's will be done here. I have tasted little bits of Heaven, and I crave more. And I think you all do too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Who are God's Children? Meeting Isaac, Kathriana & Nurses

Bethseda is a Hospice Home and Children's Home... a place for people waiting to die, and for children who either have medical conditions which make it too difficult for their families to care for them, or who have been neglected/abandoned. Many with HIV, severe Epilepsy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome etc.

We spent some time visiting with some of the residents there, helping feed some of them, praying with some, and just loving on the kids.

Isaac is a man in his mid thirties who has severe epilepsy. He is conscious, but doesn't speak or respond. He has been at Bethseda for some time now, and they don't expect him to live much longer. He was allowed to go home over the Christmas Holiday, but was not given proper care, so bed sore wounds were not treated etc. The nurse mentioned to us that his body had severe burn marks on it. She said it was not uncommon for his culture to lock epileptics in dark rooms and things (due to spiritual beliefs/fears). Not until recently did government money start being granted for families, so neglect was a huge problem. When praying over Isaac, his breathing would steady a bit, and he would even make eye contact with me for little bits of time. As I watched him breathe, so frail and sick looking, I tried to just fathom how much it must hurt Jesus to see him this way.

Kathriana is a 3 year-old girl abandoned by her parents because she has a cleft palate and some other issues as well. She is smaller than Liam, unable to walk or talk. The cleft on her face actually divides her mouth and nose, so breathing is strained for her as well. Surgery to repair the cleft is on hold until some other health issues are resolved. I don't know the whole story. But she is quite a happy little thing, with a huge grin, and she tries to sing along to songs, and just soaks up attention... she'll lock gaze with you and make lovey eyes like you wouldn't believe. We sang "Jesus Loves Me" over and over, and I felt rather guilty to put her down.

This place is amazing. It is staffed by wonderful people who have adopted a vision to care for those in need. Day after day, they show up to love the people who have been rejected by their own families, and to graciously and couragously offer them care and hope as many pass from this life to the next. They invest their time and hearts into the place. ANd its the founders and workers who take it upon themselves to raise awareness and funds to meet the many growing needs there. For example, there are currently 8 cribs in one room for small children, and they are desperately wishing to expand. So the head nurse is starting a brick campaign to hopefully persuade people to donate just a single brick. And so because of her passion, brick by brick, space will be created for more sick children who do not receive care from family. I will try to get more info about this in case anyone wishes to donate to the cause.

I am still trying to take everything in from today. I am asking God for balance: I want my heart to break for what breaks his heart, and yet I also want to be guarded from being overwhelmed by sadness. What can we learn from the people here? How can we be a source of Hope in this? Only God can see the full picture, and so I have to just accept that I may never understand.