Back from Africa: the hard transition season

I have been back in the states for 4 weeks and it has been a whirlwind of a transition. Reverse culture shock, I must say, has been much worse than the initial culture shock of going from America to Africa. I’m not sure how to describe the exhaustion of this transition except to say that it has been challenging mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

For one, it was difficult to say goodbye to the community of believers from all over the world who became my family for 6 months. While I was eager to see friends and family back in the states, the ache of goodbyes is never easy. Emotionally, I have been up and down as I try to figure out how I fit into life back here in the states. Physically, I’ve been trying to re-adjust and figure out some stuff going on with my body that may or may not have to do with being in Africa.

Spiritually, it has been very hard to enter back into a culture where the spirit of religion, apathy, and self-preservation reign after spending 6 months on a continent where material poverty is common yet spiritual hunger and awareness  is so alive that it is practically tangible. My heart became burdened for the American Church to experience the unfettered heart of worship that the African Church has. And I am grateful to be here and re-engage with my beautiful church family (and Church family) and am praying for an awakening in the American church. But that is a subject for another day. 😉

A friend from church approached me the other day to see if I was doing okay and half-jokingly said that on my first Sunday back, I looked like a soldier returning from war who was suffering from PTSD. I laughed and sincerely thanked him for checking in, because I felt like he discerned the difficulty of the transition well. In YWAM, they say that in the course of the 6 months of DTS (our missions program), we absorb about as much information and growth as we would in seven years of church attendance.

Seven years.

That’s a long time. And perhaps that is why I don’t fully know how to reconcile the past six months with the life here that seems to pretty much be right where I left it. Except it’s not where I left it. Because I have changed and I know the people around me have changed. Before I left, I had a job, a car, and a place I had called home for 2 years. I don’t have any of those things right now.

But the more I travel, the more I realize that home is the people around you rather than a place. And I definitely have people around me who feel like home.

I’ve been staying with my AMAZING parents who are loving me well, exercising soooo much grace with me in the ups and downs of transition, and are so generously providing food and so many other things for me, which has been an immense blessing and privilege in this season. I have also gotten to catch up with some great friends, am still planning to catch up with many more, and have even made some new friends since being back. A friend graciously loaned me a car, so I had wheels for first few weeks and am trusting God to provide day by day in the weeks to come. God is faithful!

Many people have asked me the “What’s next?” question, and my honest answer is that I do not know at this point. “What are you doing?” is a far easier question to answer. Because what I’m doing right now is reading the Word and praying to hear God’s voice, interceding for friends here and in Africa, sending emails and praying into a couple of options for further ministry and training since I feel 100% called into full-time ministry and missions, and trying to spread the word about Re:Generation, a new prayer blog that I just launched.

Right now I am waiting on the Lord to reveal the “next step” to me and am faithfully trusting and seeking Him in the meantime, because that is my charge and aim, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Nothing else matters if I am not seeking Him. I must say, I have been discouraged and some days are harder than others. I very much feel like I’m in a season that lacks a lot of definition. But I am confident that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing in seeking God and diving into His Word, seeking to love others well, sharing the testimonies of what God has done and is doing in my life, and committing to pray daily and post prayer to encourage and inspire others to seek God’s heart too.

Sometimes I forget that God sees my heart and I have to remember that God does not want my striving or my attitude of “doing stuff for Him.” He just wants me to enjoy Him and bring glory to Him as I fall more in love with Him! Some days I feel very out of place. But I know that God is faithful and I need to stay close to Him rather than running to friends or activities to sustain me. God is the only One who satisfies us completely!

I really appreciate your prayers and support and welcome your continued prayers in this season. There are many of you who I would still love to see, so please feel free to email or give me a call if you want to get together. (The only reason I haven’t been more on top of setting up times to see people is because my access to transportation varies from day to day.)

I love you all and am SO thankful to have such quality people in my life who love and support me and are invested in what God is doing in and through me. You all are incredible friends and I am beyond blessed by each of you. Thank you for journeying with me. Our God is amazing!!

Survivor: Life in the Mountains of Malawi

The bags slid across the floor as the big, red truck bounced over the rough terrain, climbing further up the mountain. Lush, green tea plants seemed to stretch for miles on both sides of the dirt road. “This must have been what Eden looked like,” I remember thinking. Just when I thought the road couldn’t go any further, we would lurch and turn onto another path – which seemed even narrower than the first. Finally, two hours into our adventurous ride, we stopped in front of a house high in the mountains and unloaded our bags. The children were already there to meet us and each one carried something down a rocky path where we would be setting up camp. Ready or not, village life was upon us.

For the first three days, I was sick. I was coughing, my throat was sore, and I had feverish chills all through the night – not a super fun combination when you are sleeping in a tent and it’s cold outside and rainy. Add to that an emotional breakdown, and I was a pretty sorry sight. Just ask my team members. I looked and felt like death. Not a promising beginning for this would-be missionary! I had reached my limit physically and emotionally (from a build-up of things occurring over the past 2 months) and felt like I had nothing left to give spiritually. By the third day, I was ready to quit. I talked to my leaders and said I’d decided to leave and recover at the Base in Blantyre. We didn’t have a vehicle and were two hours away from the base, so arranging transport and getting off the mountain weren’t exactly the most convenient options. After crying my eyes out some more…praying…and talking with my leaders, I decided that I really did want to see the experience through for the full 2 weeks and that it wouldn’t be the most healthy thing for me or my team members to pull out and try to conquer all of my emotional battles on my own at the Base.

So I stayed.

And it was a great decision. Because not only was I committing to stick it out, I was choosing to believe that God had a purpose for bringing me to Mankhamba and that His purposes were greater than my comfort. I came to the mountains of Malawi with my team but I felt like in that crucial moment, I was choosing to be there because God had called me there, not merely because I was just going along with the team agenda. I can honestly say that from that point, things started looking up. The next day, I felt miraculously better. My team prayed for healing, I went to bed super early without dinner, and I woke up feeling renewed and refreshed. I was in a place with a purpose and I was filled with a renewed sense of hope the whole day.

The next day, however, was hard again. And the rest of the week was hard. God was dealing with a lot of things in my heart that were stretching. One of my purposes in coming to Africa – and one of my prayers – was that I could learn that God is all-sufficient. I have spent a lot of Sundays singing about how God is all I need, but I felt like I needed to really experience that God is really all I need. And let me tell you…there have been many moments in the past few months when I have felt like I have had nothing but Jesus. And He really, truly is all sufficient. Even though my heart fails and my emotions can deceive, I am learning that He truly does satisfy completely. God spoke a lot to me in the village about having a heart at rest and at peace – themes He began to touch on during my time in Mozambique. I had lots of intimate (tearful) conversations with Jesus in the mountains and by week 2, I had a totally different perspective, was totally content to be there and was amazed at how fast the week flew by. God is faithful!!

So what did we do in the village?

So glad you asked. Our team of eight went into Mankhamba with three Malawian translators   – Patrick, Sue, and Patience – who became our lifelines and our friends. They taught us to cook over a fire, walked for hours to get food for us at the market, and made living in the village so much easier. We stayed at Patrick’s family’s home and shared the yard/cooking area and shower/toilet with two families. They were so gracious to let us share space with them. They each lived in a very small one-room area and we very easily took up the yard and their main living space outside. Though we couldn’t communicate with words, we exchanged lots of smiles and laughter.

Every day, a bunch of kids would come over and just sit with us. If I was reading my Bible on a rock, they would just come sit all around me. I only knew how to say “hello” in their language and only a few of them knew English, so mostly we just sat and smiled at each other and then they taught me songs and games in Chichewa. Twice a week we had organized kid’s ministry. We did a lot of door-to-door visits. We would just go and sit with people and talk to them for a long time and tell them about Jesus and pray with them. Everyone in Malawi is so warm and inviting! The culture here is SO amazing! We were always greeted with smiles and warm welcomes at each home. Kids followed us wherever we went and would often shout “Zungu! Zungu!” (aka “white person). I got to give a short message at an HIV women’s support group and I got to preach this past Sunday at a church in the village. We ministered in 5 different churches over the course of 3 Sundays. In addition to the personal ministry we had during the week, we also dug a foundation for a building for future ministry teams and harvested an entire field of corn (actually maize) and spent hours taking every kernel off of every cob. We got pretty good at it so I’m going to need to see if there is any sort of competition at the county fair for “cobbing,” as we came to call it. 😉

The adventure of village life was quite an unforgettable experience. Our food was pretty darn fresh…my American brother and I killed chickens on the second or third afternoon and had them for dinner (we had fresh chicken a couple of other times after that). Then for our final two days, we bought a goat and killed it (I didn’t watch) and cooked it over the fire. It was AMAZING! We named the goat Supper so we wouldn’t get too attached. 😉 By the time we left, we were all quite accustomed to the squatty potty position. Needless to say, I do not miss our hole-in-the-ground toilet at all. I don’t miss the smell, the flies, or the lack of privacy. I also don’t miss our sticks and rocks “shower” (though I do admit, I’ve never had a better view while getting cleaned up). I learned to appreciate sugarcane as a snack, got used to going to bed when the sun went down and getting up with the sun, and even learned to carry a bucket of water on my head up the mountain (which was only half full and a crazy hard workout). There were so many new experiences that were challenging, but I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I am so grateful to have had such a unique experience!

The part that stood out to me the most in the village was the spirit of joy and happiness that the people carried. These Malawians are so very poor. I only ever saw the kids in the same outfits – soiled by dirt and torn from lots of use. They eat simply, have barely any possessions, and have virtually none of the “comforts of home” that are standard in any Western household. But they carried with them more love, joy, and hospitality than many people I have met in the states who have more than enough material things. I was reminded again that material poverty is not the most devastation human condition. I was humbled by the amazing testimonies of the women who are living with HIV. They were so hopeful and continued to praise God for all He has done in their lives. The spirit of worship here absolutely blows me away! I hope to be more like these Malawians in their peace, contentedness, and love for others.

I’m sure there is much more that I could say, but my body became so accustomed to going to bed early that I already feel wiped out and it’s not even 8pm! If you have any questions, feel free to ask! I’d love to answer anything I can. I tried to post pictures but our internet is failing at the moment, so better luck tomorrow. I captured some great moments!!

Again, thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement! They continue to bless and sustain me because our faithful God is listening and has been fueling my heart with the strength to carry on even when I feel so weak and inadequate. Praise the Lord!

Until next time,

-s

Mozambique: Hospitals, Heartache, and Hope

It has been a few weeks since my last update and my, oh my – much has happened! We left Johannesburg a couple of weeks ago and flew to Mozambique. We had no issues going through customs in both South Africa and Mozambique, which is a big deal when you have travelers from 3 continents and 5 different countries. God is so faithful! We were picked up by a guy named Domingos who is a YWAMer. He has been our translator and has become part of the team since then – going wherever we go, eating with us, and playing cards at night (by the time we leave, I’m quite sure that over 500 games of UNO will have been played).

The YWAM Base we live in is not like the base in Muizenberg, rather it is a small house. There are three bedrooms (one is occupied by our boys, one is occupied by our girls, and one is occupied by our coordinator/translator, Domingos), one kitchen, an open living/dining area with plastic tables for our meals, and one bathroom for all nine of us. When I first got here, I thought that might be an issue in terms of shower schedules and such, but the water is so cold that it isn’t even a temptation to take a long shower! We have all managed the bathroom sharing pretty well, I must say. There have been a few times when the water has run out so some people have been without showers. Fun times! 😉

Our team has had quite the adventure over the past couple of weeks as we have sought opportunities and have walked away from closed doors to pursue open ones. We started off in a community called Matola Gare. We took a taxi to get there, which means we crammed 23 people into a van that probably officially seats 15, and bumped along dirt roads all the way to a town about 30 minutes away from where we are staying. Once there, we headed to the church we had arranged to meet with and started the day off with dancing and worship with the congregation. Domingos translated everything for us because they speak Portugese here in Mozambique and very few people understand, let alone speak, English.

We then felt led as a team to pray for healing for many people in their church who were there, so we prayed for an hour or so. There was a girl who was in a lot of pain when she walked and was basically shuffling instead of walking. When we were done praying for her, she was walking perfectly normally. It was incredible! God did some other emotional as well as physical healing during our time with them that morning. He is so faithful! After that, we headed out and walked (for about 2 hours in the super hot African sun) to the homes of people in the congregation. Some of them lived in homes constructed of sticks but quite a few had concrete homes. We stopped at each home and prayed for a while with whoever lived there.

Then, we came back to the church late in the afternoon and ate a meal the women had prepared for us as a welcoming. An hour or so later, we caught a van back. We were planning on moving into the village later in the week and camping out among the people for 2-3 weeks. It was going to be super rough physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but we were committed as a team to go. Our second morning there, however, we met with the pastor and group again and due to some pretty big misunderstandings about why we were there, our team went out to pray together and re-evaluate our commitment to the church in that village. Three of us on our team specifically got the verse about shaking the dust of off your feet if a town doesn’t receive you and all of the other group members really felt a lack of peace in staying in the village and shared other verses. We talked and prayed about it for probably 40 minutes or so and then after we all really felt like God was saying it was time to move on, our leader talked to the pastor and we said goodbye to the congregation and left.

It was a really hard thing to do because we all knew we were letting people down, but each of our team members very clearly heard from the Lord and felt very strongly that we were not supposed to continue in the village. We believe maybe God was testing us to see if we would be willing to move into the village, but He made it very, very clear that Matola Gare was not the place for us to set up camp or invest in during our time in Mozambique.

For me, it was really powerful to see that Scripture come to life like that. I mean, I know that part about “shaking the dust off of your feet” is in the Bible, but for some reason I guess I didn’t think Paul actually meant it. But then I realized he said it because it was something he actually did in his ministry. After we said goodbye, the 9 of us hopped in the back of a truck (another form of the taxi here in Mozambique) and had a laughter-filled joy ride all the way back to our stop. God was great to supply joy and an adventurous ride home after a hard team decision which could have been really discouraging. He is faithful!!

So now our ministry looks different and is a lot more local. Every morning, we are teaching a group of kids that comes here to the YWAM base to meet with a woman who is part of the YWAM team here. Then twice a week we go to the orphanage that is literally a 2 minute walk from our doorstep, to play soccer with the kids and then share a testimony about God. The other two days of the week, we go pray for the sick at a hospital. Ministry on Saturdays fluctuates week to week and then on Sunday we preach, lead worship, and give a testimony (or some variation of those things) at a local church. Monday is our off day.

Our first visit to the hospital was a really heart-wrenching experience for me. Once we got inside, we were told we would be praying for people with TB. I don’t know if you know much about that disease (I didn’t), but it is really severe and pretty highly contagious. Definitely an opportunity to exercise our faith, not only for the people we are ministering to but also for God’s protection over our team. The hospitals here aren’t at all like back in the states. Vanderbilt is like a vacation spot compared to the hospital we visited in Maputo.

As we walked into the first room, I saw 8 beds, metal nightstands, and very frail bodies lying beneath blankets with flies swarming overhead. There were no nurses attending to them at the moment (though nurses did come in and out of some rooms while we were there) and no emergency call buttons that I could see. No TVs, no reading material…just blank walls and the look and sound of death. I shared a brief word of encouragement about how God sees them and hasn’t forgotten them and loves them, which was translated for them by a local guy we were ministering alongside. This was repeated at each room (though a different team member shared in each room).

Lifeless eyes, emaciated bodies, and hopelessness met us in each room. Though I fully believe God was already present with them before we even got there, my heart was completely broken by the hopelessness, helplessness, and abandonment that I know they felt. I cried from the time we entered the first room until after we had left the hospital grounds. Part of it was because I have never seen anything like that. I have been close to death before, but never like that. I was also so sad for them because they are so hopeless without the knowledge and revelation of Jesus Christ and the power He has to totally transform our lives. I have known Christ for most of my life, so I do not remember that hopelessness. Also, when Jesus said pray for the sick – He really meant to have compassion for people in such a lifeless condition. My spirit was awakened to the reality of what Jesus was saying and I was convicted by not loving the sick in this way before and it absolutely broke my heart. My heart was already in a sensitive place because of some other things I’d been wrestling with earlier in the week.

In all honesty, the past couple of weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for me. I know that God sent me here to Africa. I know the promises He gave me and I know He has been meeting me in every moment and filling me up with more of Himself – enough love to share with those we are ministering to and for my team members as well. But this is a very stretching time and in reality, the stretching is very painful. Living in very close proximity with 8 other people is very, very challenging. I love each of my team members, but it is very tough to always be in each other’s faces. Just as every joy is felt, every tension and strain is equally felt in community living. Usually when my heart is aching, I will send a quick email or text to family or close friends if I am in need of encouragement or prayers for discernment in a situation involving other people. However, we do not have internet so there is no way for me to contact people except if we happen to find internet on our off-days. All that to say, I’ve been journaling way more than usual, crying a lot, and spending a lot more time in prayer lately – which is good. And God has been providing joy and life too, so no worries. I’m not depressed. J Just really in need of encouragement and prayers.

I share that to say that my heart right now longs for my friends and family back home and I am feeling very torn right now emotionally. I know God has called me here and I want to be fully here but I am realizing more and more that there is no way I can do it in and through my own strength, because it is waning. But God supplies more – just enough – for each day. Which is beautiful. Please pray with me that God will flood and fill me with more of His strength, hope, joy, and peace each day. Pray that these longings for home will inspire prayers for people back home rather than sorrow that renders me ineffective here. Please pray also that God will give me the stamina and endurance to complete the race set before me. That I might fight the good fight and continue to see God at work here each day. He is definitely living and active here in Mozambique! I am so glad God never leaves or forsakes us!!

Thank you so much for your continued prayers and perseverance in walking this road with me. Just as the Word says God is the anchor of our souls, I feel like you – the Church – are an anchor for me as well through your prayers and encouragement. I am so grateful for you each! You all are amazing! I miss you tremendously and am SUPER thankful for each of you, dear friends! Journey family, I pray for you often!

Love you all so much and miss you immensely!

Peace,

-s

the 26 hour bus trip (and other traveling excitement)

It is only day 2 and already, our outreach has been adventurous! The bus trip that was supposed to take us 18 hours actually took us 26 hours. But by the grace of God, all of us were safe and in good spirits when we finally arrived at the Joseph Project in Johannesburg. The amazing YWAMers here fed us a delicious, hot meal around 8:00pm tonight once we had our bags in our room and had been given a tour. Now we are about to get cleaned up before heading to sleep for the night. It is early but we are all wiped out!

So what was the excitement, you ask?

About an hour or two into the trip, we came to a stand still. There had been a tragic and fatal accident literally a few yards ahead of us. Two people died and it took 3 hours for all of the emergency vehicles to come through and cut them out and clear the road. So we waited and prayed. It was pretty scary, honestly. It was really weird to be that close to death. My dad is a firefighter so I know he has experienced some pretty crazy accidents. It made me pray for him and firefighting teams back home too as well as for the family and friends of the people involved in last night’s accident.

We left that scene at about 11:30pm and as tired as I was, it was hard to sleep. I drifted in and out of sleep and prayer. We stopped sometime this morning and as we were about to pull out, we were told we had a slashed tire that needed to be repaired. Our team enthusiastically ran into the gas station – thankful for extra time so we could get breakfast and coffee. We were hungry! Fast forward to rest stop #3 (our final stop)…about 30 minutes down the road, we realized we left someone behind. So we had to sit and wait for them.

But wait…the stopping wasn’t over! Just as we were getting into Joburg, we started going up a hill on a really busy interstate and the bus sputtered and stopped. We were just laughing at this point. An 18 hour bus trip was now 25 hours. What was another hour? We were able to get in touch with the people waiting for us at the bus stop and they came and parked behind the bus (on the interstate) where all of us were standing and unloading our bags. Not super safe at all…but we were praying that no cars would swerve into the place where everyone from the bus was standing. God protected us yet again and got us safely to the YWAM Base (aka Joseph’s Project) where we are staying tonight and will be serving for two days before heading out on Thursday.

One awesome part of the bus trip was my seatmate. Six of our team members got to sit together, but Estera and I had seats with people we didn’t know. At first I was a bit bummed, but within the first two minutes of sitting there, I found out that the woman next to me was a born again Christian and my goodness – does she love the Lord! Thino is from the Joburg area and came to Cape Town to run in a marathon this past weekend. She was traveling back home with her teenage daughter and her daughter’s friend. Thino and I talked a lot about how incredible God is and what He has done in our lives. She shared with me how God delivered her and saved her and is her treasure now. This lady gets up at 4:00am every morning to spend time with Jesus! She was a practicing Hindu before she met Christ and wow, she is so full of the love of Christ!! It was so inspiring to hear her story and passion for the Lord. She and I swapped contact info and she said she would love for me to come stay with her and her family sometime if I come back through.

It was such a sweet encouragement for me to meet her because often when I travel, God connects me with some amazing people on the way. For some reason, I didn’t fully expect to meet someone on the bus because I thought I would be sitting with my group. But God’s ways are higher than ours and He demonstrates His sovereignty in the most unexpected of places. I definitely felt like meeting Thino was a huge gift from Him and was His way of showing me that He is with me on this trip and will guide my every step.

We will be serving here in Joburg for two days and we fly to Mozambique on Thursday morning. We would DEFINITELY appreciate your prayers! Getting here was pretty eventful and we haven’t even left South Africa yet, so I have no doubt that more trials are still ahead. But I know that God is faithful and has His hand of protection on our team. Please join me in praying for continued protection, revelation of God, team unity, and favor as we travel and minister in the days ahead.

I love you all and am so thankful for you!

Blessings,

-s

ps I took a bunch of pictures of our trip here, so I will post those as soon as I can.

Heading out!

The time has finally come for us to leave Muizenberg and go into the nations for our 2 month outreach. Four teams have already left and the Base is feeling pretty empty. My team leaves today at 3pm today (that’s 8am CST, for all the folks back home) and will take an 18 hour bus trip to Johannesburg (aka “Joburg”) South Africa. We will be working with Joseph’s Project in Joburg this coming week and then will fly to Mozambique on Thursday. 

My team is absolutely AMAZING! I love them so much and am so glad that God has put us all together. There are 8 of us: Scott (Canada) and Charmian (South Africa) are our two leaders and then we have Jean (South Africa; pronounced “John”), Quinton (South Africa), Luke (California), Rebekah (South Africa), Estera (Poland) and me. Hopefully we’ll have a group picture up soon so you can see all of their beautiful faces!

Outreach is a time of intensive hands-on ministry and is an opportunity for us to really be stretched and taken out of our comfort zones and lay down ourselves for the sake of making Christ known. I am SO excited!! We will be in Maputo, Mozambique for 31 days and will be working in hospitals, orphanages, and potentially with the homeless. Our heart is to spend time loving people who are outcasts in society either because they are orphans, do not have a home, are alienated from society due to disease, etc. God has been teaching us so much about His love for all people and we want to really live that out and spread hope to those are are completely without hope. I do not know specifics yet of what we will be doing day to day but I will send updates if we have internet in Mozambique.

Then, we will head back to Joburg (by bus) the first or second week of April and will fly to Malawi where we will post up at a YWAM Base and then spend two weeks at a time in a village. We will have no running water, no electricity, obviously no internet…it’s going to be awesome! And so challenging. We will be living with the people and getting to do life with them. I know it is going to be difficult, but I am so excited about this part of our outreach! During our time in Malawi, we will be spending a lot of time building relationships and being in people’s homes and we will also be preaching and teaching and praying for the sick. I am SO pumped about all of this! 

Obviously there is risk in a trip like this, but we are fully confident that the blood of Jesus is covering us and that HE has commissioned this trip and will guard and guide us and send His angels to protect us. A few weeks ago, God brought me to 1 Chronicles 16:19-24 and I am claiming it for this trip:

When you were few in number,
    of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
    he rebuked kings on their account,
 saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
    do my prophets no harm!”

Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
    Tell of his salvation from day to day.
 Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!

I am so expectant for all the amazing things God is going to do in the next couple of months. God has been demonstrating His power so much in the past few weeks and wow – I am ready for the Kingdom of God to come down to earth. The same power that resurrected Christ from the dead lives in each and every one of us! I’ve been reading through Acts and man – God did some incredible things through the disciples because of their great faith and our call and commission is the same today. 

We are so excited to see what God has for our team and for those we will be ministering to in Mozambique and Malawi. There is SO much more that I could say but I am still finishing up some stuff and have lots of goodbyes to say before I leave. I just wanted to let you all know that I love you a ton and that if you don’t hear from me for a while, it is probably because I don’t have internet.

If you could be praying for our team and the 5 other teams, that would be amazing!! We are in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Uganda, South Sudan, South Africa, Swaziland, and Thailand, and the Philippines between all of us. Please pray for safe travel for all teams, protection and good health during outreach, and for a continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Please also pray for team unity and testimonies of God working in powerful ways in people’s lives. We want to see hearts and lives changed as God transforms them! 

I hope you all have an amazing Easter! Love you all and am so grateful for your continued encouragement and support!

Happy Easter!

-s

for Journey parents: a vision for your kids

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” -Ephesians 1:16-19a

I know there are many of you back home who are praying for me, but I just wanted to let you know that I am praying for you too. God is knitting my heart into this continent but make no mistake, my heart is still very much knit into you, my Journey family. I love you all so much and continue to pray for you.

One of the groups that God specifically laid on my heart a little over a week ago was the kids of the Journey. I’m sure you all know how much I love and care about your kids. Though it was really difficult to say goodbye to so many of you, saying goodbye to your kids was the part that absolutely broke my heart. I feel so honored and blessed that many of you have entrusted me with a role in the lives of your children over the past few years and I want you to know that I do not take that lightly. I know that your kids are the most important gift that God has entrusted to you and I am so thankful that you have allowed me to be invested in their lives. Please know that I think of and pray for them often.

As I was praying for the kids at our church the other day, I was really struck by a lot of the difficulties and hardships that many of your kids have been or are facing. I know many of you have spent countless uncertain hours in hospitals over the past few years. There have been injuries, sicknesses, surgeries, unknown physical ailments, emotional hardships and many other difficulties in the lives of your children. Many of you have been under intense worry and stress as you have had to entrust your children to doctors and experts for care. I am amazed by everything the kids at the Journey have been through. You are so brave, as parents, to continue to fight with them. I have really been blessed to see how you have all cared for each other through some really scary times.

I was praying a lot for your kids the other day and God shared some of His heart with me that I really want to share with you guys. As I was praying, I felt like God was saying that He has BIG plans for your children. I mean REALLY big plans for the kids of the Journey Church. And right now, the enemy is trying to come against so many of them and strike fear into the hearts of your families and our church as a whole to somehow discourage the calling on their lives. 

I know that as parents, your primary concern is for each of your children and so while I’m sure you are all pretty well aware of other kids in the church, perhaps it doesn’t always strike us as strange when someone else’s kid gets sick. As someone who doesn’t have kids of my own but delights so much in your kids, I feel like God has allowed me to see that there is something happening on a larger scale that is affecting many of your kids. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that these medical scares and spiritual attacks have been involving kids who are growing up together under the teaching of the Word and who are being raised to believe and live out the Truth of the Gospel.

The enemy only attacks those that he is afraid of. And just as God knows what dreams and visions He is birthing in the hearts of your most beloved kids, I think that there is an unseen enemy who knows what incredible potential your precious children have to make a huge impact for Christ.

And I think that the enemy is scared of your kids.

As I was praying for your kids, I felt like God was saying that He is raising up a generation of men and women who are really going to take the Kingdom by storm for Him – and that generation includes your children. They might seem young and powerless now to pierce the darkness of this world with light, but while I was praying for your kids and missing their toothless grins and crazy amazing energy – I was seeing boys and girls who are going to become teachers, preachers, worship leaders, and ministers of the Gospel.

The passion, energy, excitement, and love for Jesus that God is growing in your children now is HUGE, my friends. Their stories are still unfolding and right now they need your prayers and care so much because they are vulnerable and helpless on their own. But their childlike faith, their hunger for more Bible stories, and their energy and drive in this season of life is something that I believe God is going to grow and multiply in incredible ways in the years to come. 

I just want to encourage you all because I know in the face of heartache, unanswered questions, illness, and tragedy, we can be tempted to believe that God has forsaken us. But He has not. He sees each of you. He sees your marriages, your families, and your children. And He loves them SO much and is watching out for them.

I believe that God wants you to be encouraged because He not only knows the plans He has for you – but He knows the plans He has for your children. The time spent discipling them in the Word, modeling Christ for them, and teaching them about the Body of Christ now – in this season of their young lives – can have powerful ramifications. Sweet mothers and fathers, continue to trust God’s heart for your children. He is watching over them and will guard and guide them! He is laying the foundations now for them to be the leaders that I believe He is raising them up to be for their generation.

I still remember some of the Sunday School lessons I learned when I was between the ages of 5-7. I remember hearing about missionaries for the first time when I was a little bit older than that and felt stirred in some way for God at that young age. God allowed some really tough circumstances in my childhood. He allowed a lot of heartache, tragedy, and division to be a part of my life as a kid. But He never took His eyes off of me and He protected me from so much and continued to summon me to Himself. I believe with all of my heart that God will continue to lead and guide your children in the same way.

Trust His heart. I think that He has so many incredible things ahead for your sweet children! I believe that He grieves as we grieve, rejoices as we rejoice, and hopes with us – knowing that He is so worthy of all of our trust and will fill us with even more measure of hope. He is victorious. He wants to be victorious in your lives and in the lives of your children and my goodness – I think He is SO proud of you for the amazing parenting you are doing. It is a difficult job but He has entrusted these precious kids to you and will continue to use you to grow and sharpen them and point them to Him.

I love each of you SO much. I love your kids so much. And I have so much anticipation and excitement for all God is already doing through your amazing kids and all that He has yet to do. My prayer is that your hearts are encouraged, sweet friends. Your children are SO important and I think that the kids of the Journey Church are a very special group that have some amazing days ahead of them. He who called us is faithful to complete the work that He begun! May we cling to that promise. His power is made perfect in our weakness and His love and care for us are constant!

Love you all and am so thankful for each of you!

May He flood and fill you with hope, joy, peace, and perseverance as you continue to live out your calling as parents to these beautiful little world changers.

love,

-s

new eyes for identity

God has been tilling up the soil in my heart a ton over the past 9 weeks. Last week, we took a 20 hour bus trip to Drakensberg, South Africa for the Nations to Nations conference. We joined up with 3 other DTS groups and had an awesome week of lectures, praying into calling, doing outreach at local schools, and getting involved with a Zulu church in Katani.

I was really blessed by extended times in the morning for prayer. It was incredible to be able to be in the wilderness and cry out to God with all my strength and passion and not fear being heard by others. On my morning prayer walks, it felt like it was just God and I. It was so amazing. He really gave me more of a heart for my DTS group, the Zulu people, and also many friends back home in the states. He fueled me so much through prayer!

One of the biggest walls that I feel God was knocking down last week was the fear of man. I have been really struggling over the past few weeks with identity and the theme of our Nations to Nations week just happened to be “Identity, Dignity, and Destiny.” I feel like God was preparing my heart, before we even got to Drakensberg, to receive freedom. I entered into the week in Drakensberg with a lot of insecurities and even some hostility towards others because of my own issues and fears.

One thing God showed me was that I had been putting my trust, confidence, and security in the opinions and affirmation of others rather than in Him fully. This is really dangerous because it means that when someone disappoints me, injures me emotionally, or doesn’t affirm me as I desire to be affirmed, all of the sudden my confidence is sapped. Last week, I really felt like God was telling me to be content in His presence and just be who He has created me to be, without worrying about how others are interpreting who I am. I know that I have a strong personality and am pretty outspoken at times. Rather than praying to see how God wants to use that part of me, though, I started to filter things I was saying and analyze the responses of others and try to adjust my behavior accordingly to please man rather than God. What I’m learning, though, is that God never calls us to be less than ourselves. He always calls us to Himself as the foundation of our identity, security, and confidence. It is only out of that identity, rooted in Christ, that we are completely free to be who He has created us to be.

I feel like God released me from trying to live up to a certain expectation or of fitting into a certain mold. The reality is that I will probably never fit into the mold that I’m “supposed” to fit into. We are each created in the image of God and we each have a unique identity – an identity that is meant to be shared with others so we can grow and be sharpened and have a greater awareness of the heart of God. I know that I will still struggle with affirmation, at times, and the desire to be accepted and loved by certain people, but I am realizing that I need to submit those feelings to God moment by moment. Those longings of my heart for affirmation and acceptance are longings that can be satisfied by God completely when I turn to Him first.

Part of the reason I got rid of Facebook for a while is because I realized I was trying to live up to an expectation of having certain experiences or communicating certain details or staying in touch regularly or keeping up to date on everyone else’s life. It was a standard that I realized I could not meet. I was also convicted because I realize that sometimes, social media can become the channel for idolatry of self. I felt like I was promoting myself and my own experiences, joys, and insecurities too much and was not speaking enough about my God. He is the most important in my heart and life and should be conveyed as most important in all outlets of my life.

I will so often fail other people – just as I have been failed by people – but when our identity and security rests in Christ alone, then our hearts are sturdy and our feet firmly planted. Our confidence is not sapped by lack of approval or lack of affirmation when our confidence is in Christ. May we be rooted and grounded in His love, dear friends! And may we learn to love and encourage each other without ulterior motives or selfish agendas. May we love fully and freely from a pure heart because He first loved us.

Lord, see our hearts. We need your love and affirmation. We need to be rooted and grounded in your love and not the love of others. Father, we are frail and weak. Our hearts are fickle and we so often fail ourselves and others. Lord, please help us to see You as You are and not as the inadequate God that we imagine you to be. And Father, please help us to see ourselves as You see us. Show us how precious we are to You, oh God. Make us men and women who are confident in You and confident in ourselves. You have created us in your image and we are so beautiful. May we walk in the freedom You have given us and may we live as people who are seeking You with our whole hearts. Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we have leaned on others for emotional and spiritual security. You alone satisfy, oh God. May we be real with ourselves, real with You, and real with others. May we be willing to admit our struggles and shortcomings. Break us open, oh God, that we might be transparent and vulnerable. We have no more shame or guilt because we are free in You, oh Lord. Teach us to love as you love. Teach us to serve as You serve. We are affirmed by You. Help us to feel that in our spirits. Thank you, Father, for your precious love. Thank you for blessing us with friendships and relationships which glorify and honor You and encourage and build us up. May we delight in pointing others to You! You are so good and we praise your holy name! Amen. 

Waging a War

I’m realizing, more and more, throughout this DTS, that in addition to material poverty, there is another poverty that is far less noticeable and much more grievous. And that is spiritual poverty. I believe America is really suffering from spiritual poverty. We boast diversity, religious freedom, tolerance, social equality and so many other things, but I believe that somewhere along the lines, we have mistaken “religious freedom” for spirituality. But we must know that practicing religion is not the same as living in and for the Kingdom of God.

I think that many of our churches have modeled after academic institutions, political rallies, and social organizations rather than the New Testament Church instituted by Jesus and lived out by the first disciples. We teach many facts about Jesus, but do we actually know Him as our friend? Is He the first person we call out to when we are overwhelmed, disappointed, or afraid? Is He the one we rejoice with when we finally get that promotion we’ve been hoping for? Don’t we know that He cares about the desires of our hearts?

Has the pulpit become a place to propagate our own values, experiences, social and political agendas and shallow wisdom? Don’t we know that the true Gospel shows us what to value, how to experience life to the fullest, and what true wisdom looks like?

How I fear we have desecrated the cross of Christ in America by making an instrument of torture an icon of comfort and safety.

We have not just watered down the Gospel. We have become a nation plagued by idolatry of self. We have elevated success, individuality, opportunity, and national pride above the truth of who God is – Father, Son and Spirit. Our Caretaker and Comforter, our Intercessor, Savior, Brother and Friend, and our Wonderful Counselor – who ministers to us each day by His blessed Spirit – an aspect of the Trinity largely ignored completely in many American churches.

So how does this relate to Africa? A place where witchcraft, voodoo, and blood sacrifices are very much a reality? There is a spiritual awareness here that I have never seen before.  Believers and non-believers on this continent know how very real spiritual warfare is. They have had real encounters with demons and evil spirits. I know that sounds scary and dark and so unlike the Christianity we are familiar with, but that is because we live so unaware of the darkness keeping us in bondage. Spiritual warfare is very much a reality in Scripture. And we are living in the midst of that battlefield, whether we are aware of it or not. And the Christians I have met here in Africa are truly waging a war.

God has been wrecking the images I’ve created of Him – images of safety and comfort and things that I can understand – and has been showing me how unfathomable He really is. The moment we begin to think we have God figured out, we have damned our souls to a lesser salvation, lesser glory, and lesser grace than the Gospel of Christ promises.  

My mind has been bent so much in the past few weeks. I have been wrestling with God, my friends. And He has been so patient with my skepticism and ignorance. He is leading me – day by day – into a greater awareness of who He is. And the hardest part for me, as someone who is very thought-driven and analytical – is that this God who I thought I understood so well is so far beyond my grasp of who He is. He is still near in Spirit and love and care – but He will never, ever be understood.

Because He is God and we are not.

It frightens me that I assumed I could fathom all that He is. How presumptuous of me! Did that mindset come from years of Sunday School in which the same stories and characteristics of God were taught? Did it come from an eager interest in theology during my time in college which led me to believe we can explain away God with fancy theological and philosophical jibberish? Who am I to think that I have enough words to explain every aspect of God? He will not be put in a box. Not even by the greatest theologians or the most religious or spiritual of all men.

My heart is for us to be hungry. So hungry that we do not settle for teachings on Sundays, Wednesdays, and other days of the week set aside by the local church, as the primary sustenance for our spiritual appetite. The local church is amazing but it was never designed to spoon feed us truth. The local church was designed to be a community of disciples making disciples.

My heart is for the Church in America to become refusing Christians. Christians who refuse to settle for the constraints of religious practices, structured services, and straight-laced legalism as a means of containing God. Friends, He doesn’t want to be contained – He wants to be explored. May we refuse to be filled only by the sermons we hear, the songs we sing, and the ritual prayers we pray. May we be awakened with a greater hunger for the love of the Father, the friendship of the Son, and the counsel of the Spirit than ever before.  

Oh how we need Him! The LIVING GOD! Not the small god of our imaginations, the fake god who is eager to strike us down when we fail or fall short, or the puny god who needs our worship or church attendance for His self-esteem. He is God – He doesn’t need us – He knows we need Him. And He wants to meet every single need of ours. He wants to satisfy our hunger in the scorched places. He wants to give us life to the fullest.  And we know these truths because they are revealed in His Word – the best place to discover the heart of God.

It is not up to a pastor or “seasoned” Christian to teach us who God is. We are called to be in the Word and test the spirits on our own rather than relying on one person to feed us our faith. God instituted the Church for His glory and our building up, and certainly pastors are called to shepherd us in the truths of Christ but please beware of basing the foundation of your faith on one man or woman’s interpretation of Scripture.  We will each be held accountable, on the final Judgment Day, for our own salvation.

God wants to reveal truths about Himself to you directly. That is why He has given us “the promised Holy Spirit.” He does counsel us with His hand upon us. He will lead us in the way everlasting and He longs to give us the desires of our hearts. Ultimately, He will become our desire the more that we know about Him.

I appeal to you, as someone who loves you so much and who loves God most of all, please seek Him earnestly with every fiber of your being. In Jeremiah we are told that when we seek God with all of our hearts, He will show us great and unsearchable things. In James, we are told that when we flee from the enemy, he will flee from us and when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.

May our hunger run so deep that we feel famished unless we are feasting on the Word. May we lay aside our preconceived notions of who God is and search Him out for ourselves. He wants to awaken us, friends. He wants to prove Himself worthy of all of our love and affections. When we cast our cares on Him, He sustains us. He walks with us into the darkness. He desires to satisfy this hunger completely.

May we submit all that we are to the Lordship of Christ rather than settling for our own kingdoms, which are earthly; which rust and moth destroy. He is eagerly awaiting us, sweet friends. Maybe we are Christians who feel like there must be more than this dull, routine religion. Maybe we have been walking with God for a long time but we have never been awakened to the goodness of His Spirit – to the reality of God as Wonderful Counselor. He wants to give us the gift of continual communion with Him!

May we press into Him, precious friends. His graciousness is unsearchable; His love knows no bounds. He wants to overcome our spiritual poverty with an abundance of spiritual wealth. May we have open hands and open hearts to receive all that we have only counterfeited, for much of our lives, unaware that there is so much more to be known about God. He is limitless! And He is waiting to fill every thing in every way.