Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fears and failures

Tonight I heard the words to this song and they spoke to me.

So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender

I am so glad that we have a God that knows us and accepts us just the way we are
(fears, failures and all).

This a a truth that I have heard all of my life BUT just really hit me this week. God knows me---completely. How comforting!! In a world where I sometimes feel like no one understands me...He does. This is so easy to forget when things are not going the way I think they should.

Psalm 37:4

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Sometimes I think I know my heart better than He does. So glad this is not true....


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Potter and the Clay

Seems like I have seen lots of heartache lately to where I just seem to ask why. While none of this heartache has happened to me personally, I think about how I would react to the news that one of my children had passed away. Now, I don't even have children yet but...this would be "the thing." "The thing" that I just don't know how I could move on from. Luckily, I forget how BIG God is. I forget, in my disbelief, that He is a good God.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."

Isaiah 55:8-9

"Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message" So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him...Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand...

Jeremiah 18:2-6

I have been reading this blog for a while now and I highly recommend that you read it! Let me warn you though--it will completely change your life. It is the story of Audrey and her short time here on this earth. Please visit her site and prepare to be changed--just as I have been.

Click here for the website.

Click here to see the video their church did. It is 22 minutes but worth it. Scroll down to the post Rocked to my Core and the video will pop up.

....Anna P.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Please pray now.

As I sit here at work, tears are falling down my face and flooding my keyboard. I just heard the news about Stephen Curtis Chapman's daughter Maria. He and his wife had three biological children and then adopted three girls from China. Maria was the youngest (age 5). Yesterday, one of her brothers accidentally ran over her...ending in her death.

As Russ and I think about adoption, I cannot imagine everything you go through to get them home, only for something to happen. I cannot imagine how her brother and siblings are feeling. All I know is that this is a situation that makes my heart hurt. It makes me get down on my knees in prayer and cry out to God on the Chapman's behalf and in some ways ask WHY.

So, please pray for their entire family, especially her brother. Pray for God's mercy, grace, and love to flow down on them!

You can read about the entire story here

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Good Day

April 12, 2008

As I go to bed, I take something for my stomach. It also puts me straight to sleep. There's a pride inside of me when I get to tell people I puked in the middle of the bush. Not exactly sure why, but I swell up a little bit. Nobody else will share in my sentiment.

I wake up and feel alive. For the first time since we landed, I feel like myself. Tinga is our destination. We've done the meet and greet twice now. We've also told the story of Zacchaeus and handed out the coloring sheets. It's almost old hat to all of us now.

As we drive up, they are dancing already. Worship has started. When I look at the crowd of kids, there is one that particularly stands out. He has the boldest eyes. Not in the way that we normally notice. They aren't a different color. I notice the whites of his eyes. He is staring, laughing, stunned by us. For as long as I have read the story of Jesus inviting children to come to him, I picture what their faces look like. In my imagination the stares of those children always differ. Never could I place my finger on what they looked like. Now I think I have a little bit of an idea. It's a jumping off point at least.

His face will be burned into my brain for quite a long time.

We are introduced again. We teach a song, they teach us a song. We tell the story and start to pass out the coloring sheets with the crayons. It is at this moment that we first start to encounter elitism on the other side of the globe.

Every day, there are two types of kids that approach us. There are the "church" kids. Most of them are educated. Their manner of dress is a little cleaner, a little more uniform. They know we are coming and wait for us. There are also the "street" kids. They look a little more tattered. They don't know we are coming, but when they see our white skin, they come to see what's going on.

The church and school kids start coming to draw on their sheets. The ones with torn clothes are standing at a distance. Some women in the church actually keep kids away. If you aren't a part of our church, you can't come experience what we experience. I do not notice what's going on before the Bishop approaches the women to tell them that is not the way to live. Jesus died for the world. If the world is trying to break in and see what the church is about, then we should let them.

Jackson, the 12 year old rock star among us sees the need. He sees the street kids watching They are too timid to come and see what we are doing. Jackson looks into an older building and plainly says "We should bring the colors to them." I work with lots of kids the same age as Jackson, and I am impressed at his willingness to live out the gospel. You do not see that very much.

Teaching street kids to use crayons is the best part of my day. It is made possible by a 12 year old who saw a need and went to remedy it. I am thankful for that.

Plans for a church building are about to be put to good use. This community will soon have a place where they can gather. We are thankful that we can be a part of that.

We also meet the chief of Tinga. We are not to look at him directly. We are to address his assistant. We are only to speak to him unless he speaks to us first. Naturally, with the way we sit, the group puts me 4 feet directly in front of the chief.

They might should have granted me the ability to fly and asked me to sit still. I think I would have handled that better. Chief is pleased to see us. He has just assumed his title. There is some sort of mixup and he did not know we were coming. He is upset with our guides, but still likes to talk to us. He has big plans for Tinga. Development of all kinds. We hope to be a part of that.

Fortunately, the Chief does not see me looking at him. Maybe he does. In any case, I avoid offending him.

We return to the village to play football. As much as I try to like this sport, I cannot. To run around in 110 degree heat for 45 minutes while still maintaining a scoreless tie is maddening beyond belief. I hold my own. I seem to be much better than my American counterparts. That is not saying much. Once I get an open shot, I can't maneuver the ball to my other foot so it falls helplessly out of bounds.

I am across the world. I am playing a sport that I will never play again. I hate it. Yet, there is still this stupid nagging inside of me that says I must win. What is wrong with me? The whole time I think that if I had a basketball and a hoop I would cross these guys over so bad they would cry. I think my competitive drive might be a sickness.

While pointlessly running back and forth, my mind is consumed with dreams of victory. Those thoughts are interrupted by the gleeful sounds of children. I know where they are coming from. They continue for 10, 20, 40 minutes. I still know where they come from.

Finally I turn around. The picture that has been in my mind since the cheers started was now reality. Anna standing in the middle of about 50 kids. They mimic her every move. This is an unspoken game of follow the leader, and the kids are very good at it. Anna raises her arms. They do too. Anna claps her hands. They do too. Anna runs to the other side of the field. They do too.

Anna exhaustedly puts her hands on her knees and lets out a loud "WHEW". The kids do the same. Even when she wants the game to be over, it continues.

She may never let me go back home at this point. As long as I have known her, this has been a dream of hers. To see her live it out is one of the greatest honors of my life. I swell up with pride. I also fight back tears.

Today I have felt better than any. From the birth to the death of the day, it has been good. I must rest. Tomorrow, we see hungry hungry hippos.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

April 11, 2008

Although the first day in Bole was incredibly long, the night is much longer. I have a long history of stuffy headed allergy problems. My mutant power is the ability to tell if a cat has been in the room. It's not a good mutant power I know, but it's all I got.

All night long, my head is stuffy. It's so stuffy that I can literally hear it all rolling around in my head as I toss and turn. I have trouble sleeping. Two hours is about all I can muster. My head feels a little better as I get up in the morning, but the stomach is starting to rumble now.

Breakfast is eggs and toast. Big mistake. The eggs and toast don't stay inside my stomach very long. I contemplate staying in the room all day. If I DO decide to stay in the room, I know I'll always wonder what I missed. Although I'm a little weak, I decide to go on. How many times will I be in the middle of the bush?

The bush is what I called it, because the second day that's where we were. In the middle of freaking nowhere. The village is called Gun-Yiri. That's not how you spell it. It is how you say it.

There are no paved roads. There is dirt for miles and miles. As we walk up, the entire village has taken the day off. No farming. No fetching water. No cooking at all. It's time to go watch the Obruni's. As soon as we pull up, they are all staring. They wait until we are seated and start dancing. Music over there is quite different. There is a repetitive beat. The melodies are sung over and over and over. Dancing is just as much a part of worship as singing or praying. There is something very spiritual about the shaking that goes on.

Jobe is there to translate again. This day is unbelievably hot. Mississippi in August hot. We teach the kids a song, they teach us one as well. Nobody can speak each other's language, but they don't mind. When they don't mind, we don't mind. I tell a story about Zacchaeus again. It takes more effort for me. I still feel pretty exhausted. But the rest of the team pulls everything off with great ease. We hand out crayons and color sheets in a much more organized manner this time.

They don't know how to color. They've never seen crayons. We have to put the crayon to the paper to show them how it works. After a while, they catch on.

One kid comes up to me and points at his color sheet.

He points to the man in the tree on his sheet. "Zacchaeus", he says. Then he points to the other man. "Jesus". For the first time, he has heard a story about the son of God who knows his name. He has heard a story about the son of God who created and loved him.

They have a small church building, but what they really need is a school. We have committed to help make that happen as well. If they pay a teacher for a year, then the government has to maintain the school. That's what we're going to do.

It all dawns on me. I don't want these people to change. I don't want them to get a plasma screen. I don't care if they ever talk on a cell phone. It doesn't matter to me if they ever drive a car. What I do want for them is opportunity. I want them to hear the voice of Jesus. If they ever wanted to come to Mississippi and see how we live, I want them to be able to. I don't know why they would, but it would be nice if they could.

Over the afternoon, we break up into groups to look at houses. I get to visit the chief's house. He has a wife inside. He has another wife somewhere else. The chief is very nice. He is so focused on giving us a tour that he doesn't notice the bat flying around in his house. We are a little more easily distracted. Numerous times, wings hit us in the face. But we try to keep our cool.

We also get to see a yam farm. Yams in Ghana are not sweet. They are enormous potatoes. They are as long as my arm and heavy as a bowling ball. This is not an exaggeration.

Although I was sick throughout the day, Gun-Yiri was one of my favorite places. The people were incredibly friendly. We have given "footballs" as gifts. As we start to pull out, the villagers start to bring gifts for us. One is a sack of yams that weighs about 100 lbs. The sack is a large part of the crop for Gun-Yiri. But we cannot refuse. It would be impolite. The other is a goat. Not goat meat. Not goat milk. A live goat. There is no room in the van. We have to tie it to the roof.

For the 45 minute drive back, we have a goat on the roof. He is not happy. He lets us know he is not happy.

I start to feel a lot better. We have gone to two of the four areas. I finally start to feel like I can do what we have set out to do. I am so entrenched in the culture that it's starting to feel a little like home. There is no more uneasiness. It's time to go to bed. Tomorrow will be a good day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Journey Begins

As we pull into the Cocoa Research Institute, Bishop starts praying without any warning at all. He is thanking God for giving us a safe ride. This is one thing about African Christians that I thoroughly enjoy. They are thankful for God's provision, not just in a "I know I should be thankful way." It's real.

We wake up and get to the van because we are heading to town. We go to visit the school in Bole. The morning is filled with stares, shaking hands with kids, and the entire school coming to see the white people. This is the last day of school before a month vacation. They are excited we are here, but just as anxious as any other kid to get out of school.

The smallest things intrigue them. They want to rub our arms because it's odd for people to have hair on their arms. They don't care about our car, our clothes, or even our food. They DO care about our water bottles and our small leather bracelets. The things you think they would be interested in don't even grab their attention.

The morning is filled with introductions. We all give our names in what seems like a ceremony. The 200 secondary school kids in attendance recognize Joel and Jackson. They even notice that Jackie was here last year. She is suspiciously absent this time. Even though Jackson is 12, he is by far the most popular member of the team. Kids automatically relate to them. He is one of them. Throughout the week we will be driving around town and hear other kids scream "Jackson" every 20 seconds. This is not an exaggeration.

I meet a lot of kids named Mohammad. There are lots of Muslim children in the school. It's one of the only times that Christian kids have the opportunity to interact with people from a different faith.

The afternoon is when we invite students to come back to school, even though they just got out. School students return, but some of the poorer "street" kids are there too. We pass out name tags to students. We help them pin them to their shirts. A leader in the school and the church named Ed is there. Ed helps us tell the story of Zacchaeus. When we start to hand out coloring sheets and crayons, that's when the riot begins. Kids knock each other over just to get crayons. CRAYONS!

We have a detailed conversation with the teachers about their vision for computers in the schoolhouse. They have one now. But the headmaster of the school has a vision for a computer lab with 30 computers lining the walls. We hope that we can help make this happen.

Afterwards, we go to the middle of Bole to play soccer. They call it football, but as my dad would say, "that ain't football." I get to climb trees, which is just as fun in Ghana as it is at Camp Lake Stephens in Oxford, MS. Later on that evening, the pastor in the region, Jobe, has a conversation with some of the Muslim parents. They ask why people would want to come and play with their kids even though they belonged to a different faith. Jobe explains to them that Jesus really loved people, no matter where they came from or how they acted. It was unsettling to them. They couldn't understand why we would do that. They confessed that, had the roles been reversed, Muslim leaders might have been reluctant to play with kids who don't belong to Islam.

That may be the greatest compliment we receive on the entire trip.

After the sun sets, we go back and get ready for bed. It's been a great first day. I have been exhausted from the time I woke. The jet lag and time difference have really thrown me off. I'm tired. For some reason my head still feels like it's 30,000 feet in the air. But there's not a whole lot of relief for me. Physically, it will get worse before it gets better.