Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thoughts of Christmas and My Trip to East Central Africa

This Christmas I am reflecting on numerous things. You see, I have recently returned from two weeks in Africa – visiting Kampala, Uganda -home to two million people and unbelievable traffic; Kabale, Uganda - beautiful, terraced hills of green in western Uganda; Rwankuba, DR Congo - a remote area that 2 years ago was under rebel control, a place where there used to be a thriving missions outreach, but now there remains a small hospital and empty buildings; Goma, DR Congo - a town that was overwhelmed with refugees from Rwanda in 1994, and then devastated by a volcanic eruption in 2002, a place where children play and families live in homes built on top of lava rocks; Kigali, Rwanda – a mixture of old and new, where the country strives to move on after the horrific genocide nearly 17 years ago, and where I looked at homes and people and cried – wondering how many family members died, how many are still refugees, and amazed that there can be reconciliation, where 50% of the population is under the age of 15 because nearly a million people were killed 16 years ago; Ggaba, Uganda – a poverty stricken“suburb” of Kampala, where we were welcomed by delightful children. Although each place was different, they were all the same in that the areas we visited were dealing with extreme poverty and difficulties. 

The purpose of the trip was to update and add children to the His Hands Support Ministries child sponsorship program.  (Please go to for more information.)  The emotions the three of us felt ranged from guilt, anger, amazement, joy, and peace, to a complete sensory & emotional overload – where we couldn’t even find the words to describe what we were seeing and feeling. 

I came back to America to homes covered in lights and Christmas decorations, to traditional celebrations, to Santa Claus, to commercialism and materialism, to all sorts of things that were not evident in our African travels – though I did see a white Santa Claus in one Rwandan store that looked extremely out of place!  It has caused me to think….. “What is Christmas?  Why do we do the things we do?” Because of that, other thoughts and reflections, and needing lots of sleep, I have been slow to put up decorations. 

As of today, December 23, I have a grapevine wreath on the door, a ceramic tree in the window, a couple of candles that happened to be out before I left, as well as some Christmas themed tins that I had forgotten to put away last year, and a small nativity from Guatemala.  Will I get out more?  I doubt if I will add much else. A part of me wants to, but I can’t face the abundance of stuff that we have collected over the years. I did find a quilted nativity wall hanging that I hung last night. Will we have a tree? Only if my husband decides he wants one and helps to put it up, but, if we don’t, it won’t matter because “Christmas” will happen anyway. We will have family and friends over and celebrate the day set aside to think of our Savior's birth.

The trip to Africa is hard to describe.  I found it difficult to even journal between exhaustion in the evenings to not being able to find the words to write.  I thought I had seen extreme poverty in Haiti, but now I have seen worse.  The border town we crossed through from Uganda into DR Congo tugged at my heart.  Children sitting in tattered, dirty clothes by the roadside. babies sitting alone on the ground, many men hanging around with seemingly nothing to do, women working around their homes, but it was all shades of brown and covered with dust.  Then once we were allowed to cross and miles later, we found ourselves in a lush remote area - though still poverty stricken, where some children had terrible oozing, fly infested sores on their legs and feet, some missing toenails - the worst feet the team leader has ever seen, even though there is a hospital and medical help available.  But... I suppose that takes money they don't have, or maybe they see their medical problems as nothing to be concerned with.

Rwanda was very emotional for me - both times I entered it. The genocide was utmost on my mind. We were able to visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.  It is hard to take in... just as the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, DC is.    Rwanda is a beautiful country - hills, and mountains and volcanoes, terraced fields, tea plantations. The children we visited met us at our car with handshakes of welcome.  They were so sweet.  Of course, many children hung around to watch what we were doing even though they were not in the program.  Whenever I would take a child to be photographed, a bunch would follow me outside and watch.  I had to be discreet when giving the child a piece of candy after their photo, but the others knew what I was doing.  Incredible, they never begged for me to give them candy too.  I wish I could have, but it was not possible.  They even got to where they would tell the child being photographed to smile or to do just what I wanted him/her to do without me saying a word!  They didn't understand my words, nor did I understand them, but they watched and modeled. There were some children here that I wish so much I could have found out more about - they seemed even more needy than others were.

Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... wow.... I had been told it was bad, and at first I thought, "What's so bad about this?" and then we got further into the city and saw the devastation of the volcanic eruption in 2002.  The roads are horrendous - rivaling those I have seen in Haiti, if not worse.  Then there are the piles of volcanic rock, made into walls, or just lying on the ground or jutting through the roads.  The children we met here delighted us with songs, imitations of us, cartwheels, games, and by just being themselves.  When I saw the church.... well, I have to admit I became angry at how much emphasis many American churches put on their buildings and building funds.... what is the church anyway?  I would have liked very much to have been present for a Sunday service at this humble little church.  One little girl here has a spinal problem.  When I first saw her, I was struck by her outfit; I liked the pattern and color. Little did I know, that this was the child God would place on my heart to sponsor.  Neema is now my Congolese "daughter".  After I took her photo and she left the house we were at, she came back in the back door and her mom came in behind her and we met - smiling and shaking hands though we couldn't understand each other's languages. Her mom had been helping some other ladies to prepare food - which I found out later was our lunch!  Delicious.

There are many other stories to tell, but I must go.  I will say that I am so glad that I obeyed my Father's call to go to Africa.  I still may not know the complete purpose for me to be there, but I know it will be revealed over time, just as He was preparing me for this trip over many years. 
 I will leave you with some photos.

The first view from our window in Kampala, Uganda.  Overwhelming!!!

At the market near our hotel 
Visiting widows who had been given a pig as part of The Pig Project 

Children at the Kigali church waiting to be seen
Children in Rwankuba, DR Congo
Goma, DR Congo
The church in Goma with dirt and volcanic rock floor.
Neema, in the middle, playing with other children.

The beautiful land of western Uganda.  Rwanda is similar.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How am I to Know God's Will?

I've heard it said that one needs to find where God is working and join Him there in His work.  OK, but there are many opportunities to do that. He is working in many ways and in many places. So, how do I know where I am to work?

Years ago, I would have said I never want to go to _______, but at this point, I can't think of anyplace that I would say, "I will NOT go to ______." I like to travel and experience new places, meet new people, and get a glimpse of what life is like outside of the US when I can.  Did you know that only a third of the world lives as we do in America??  Two-thirds of the world lives in ways most of us can't even imagine.  We are so blessed and take so much for granted.

I have been to Haiti four times and to Guatemala two times.  I will be returning there in less than a month!  I am anxious to see new friends, family, and the children at the school that His Hands Support Ministries supports. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would most likely need to focus mostly on Guatemala and limit my trips to there, even though I have have a heart for Haiti, too.

Now I am faced with another possibility of service..... someplace I have not considered because, well..., I just wasn't interested.  This morning I was asked if I would consider going to Africa for 2 weeks in Nov/Dec. I would like to see parts of Africa, but have not had the desire to go to where His Hands For Africa ministers. They go to Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. Nope.  No desire! Yet, when I see TV stories or pictures of others who have been someplace in Africa and seen the children's faces, I feel a tug on my heart to go.

It makes me think of the Scripture, "Seek your happiness [delight] in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desire." (GNT).  I don't take that to mean that we get whatever we ask for, but that if we are seeking our happiness in God, he will put the right desires in our hearts.   ... is Africa His desire for me?

In a book I am reading, it said to earnestly desire to be used of God (I do), one must empty themselves of hidden agendas, dreams & desires.  Only in being emptied of self can we make room for what God wants to do in and through our lives.   It sounds as though perhaps I am being tested. Do I really desire to be used?

Of course my biggest drawback to going and my immediate response when asked was, "I can't go there! I can't afford it!"  No, I can't afford it; my Father in heaven can. He's proven it before with every trip I have taken.  Either He has provided the needed funds through others or He has given me the funds through other means. Why do I doubt?

It sounds as though I know what I should do, but I know I need to pray.  So that is the reason I am writing this - to ask my friends to pray for God's will to be absolutely, without a doubt, revealed to me within the next few weeks.  If you have any words of Scripture or if God gives you something else to share with me, please do.

Thank you for reading and for praying.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Haiti Reflections 2010

Since returning home from Haiti, I have been thinking about what I want to share and the lessons learned while there.

The main purpose of the trip was to update children in the His Hands for Haiti sponsorship program. The team visited six schools and interviewed, measured, and photographed 661 students. Three of us took turns with the photography. It was such fun to see each child, speak to them, and try to make them smile. Sometimes it was easy and other times not so, –at least not until we were done and gave out a piece of candy. Then we saw smiles!

Many have asked about what we saw in terms of the Jan. 12th earthquake. The area we visited was not directly affected, but many people have moved away from Port au Prince to be with family in other towns. One new student we saw was a 15 year old boy, a survivor of the Port au Prince earthquake. He lost 7 siblings and both parents. He is now living with a relative and attending school in Terrier Rouge. One of the ladies on our team has become his sponsor.

The joys of sponsorship were made evident to me. I was able to see two of my children and give them hugs. I was so please to see one looking happier and healthier that he had last year when he first went into the program. I also saw the boy my church sponsors. He remembered me from last year and wondered if I had a card for him! (I did, but it would be given to him by his pastor in a more private setting so as not to cause other students to have hurt feelings because they didn’t get anything. Letters and cards are special to them.

Another purpose was to deliver funds for relief efforts which were given to those in positions who would best know who to help and how. One recipient we know of was a young woman whose husband was killed in the earthquake. She now faces delivering her first child in May as a single parent. She is currently living in Cap Haitian with missionaries.

One of the most exciting things we were able too do is to deliver funds to Pastor Noel for his church to start a permanent orphanage and home for abandoned children in Terrier Rouge. There is currently a house mother and 12 orphaned or abandoned children living in a rented building. The goal is to build individual houses; rather than a large complex. Each one would have a house mother and 10 children. Once the first house is completed, and more money comes in, the next house will be built. It is my understanding that they will share a kitchen and courtyard. It is an effort that entirely relies on faith in God’s provision and timing. We were blessed to see the land with nothing on it, have a dedication service there, see the first strike of the pick/hoe, and then to see the work that had resulted by the time we left. The foundation was already about three feet above ground.

Since the earthquake, I have heard many reports about revival taking place in Haiti - people turning to God, and praising him for their survival. Interestingly, some of the Haitians we talked with believe that the earthquake was indeed a sign and a judgment from God. We were able to see one of these “revivals” when we visited Cap Haitian. On a main street there was a long procession of people singing and carrying signs referencing 2 Chronicles 7:14
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

The group stopped in the middle of the busy street, and with UN peace-keepers present, a man preached on the same Scripture. Afterward, they continued on their way, singing and praising God, passing right by us. It was a special event for all of us to observe.

Each morning we started the day with team devotions, where we were challenged by God’s Word and then ended the day with a team time in which we discussed the day and a reading from a book on short-term mission trips. These were two very important times of each of our days there.

One thing I learned is that I don’t want to be a “monkey”. In one chapter, the author told a story about a zealous and courageous monkey who tried to help a struggling fish trying to swim upstream in a typhoon. His way of helping was to remove the fish from the water and place him safe on the ground! He was unaware of the true needs of the fish, thinking what would be “safe” for him, would be OK for the fish, too.

How often do missionaries and well-meaning Americans go into a country thinking they have all the answers? They think that what works in America will work elsewhere too. We have to be aware of cultural differences and be willing to be humble, to listen, to learn and to work with the nationals who know best the true needs of the people.

On this trip, I learned even more of the importance of not giving money or a gift directly to a person. At first it seemed a little harsh and unloving, but now I understand so much better. We think it can be a good thing, but in actuality it could mean harm to that person (or self) or chaos and confusion. Why do we think we must give something to someone personally? The Bible says not to let your left hand know what the right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3) If we insist on giving personally to someone, what is the benefit? The benefit is only to oneself ~ feeding our pride and feeling good about ourselves. When we allow what we have brought to be given to a person in leadership, who can disperse as needed, then we allow someone else to share in the blessing, too, and the focus is off of ourselves!

Which brings me to giving…….. why do we give? Are we giving for the sake of giving (Oh, look at me and what a good thing I am doing.”) or are we giving for the sake of serving Jesus, and giving not just what we don’t want, but that which is just as good, or better, as what we want for ourselves. These are some lessons God has been working on in my heart.

One of my favorite authors, Michael Phillips, wrote about this very subject in his book, Dawn of Liberty. He says that many times western Christians go into a country looking to do a work that they can put their name on. They aren’t interested in working with or under an existing ministry. They are too busy trying to do their own thing that they don’t take the time to sit with, listen to, pray with, talk to, help or support their Christian brothers and sisters –- they very thing they need!! Many times they arrive with boxes of stuff and with an attitude of “Just look at what we brought you! Aren’t you grateful to us?”

Phillips writes, “It’s not a giving of sacrifice, but a giving of pride. There is ‘giving’ and then there is ‘giving.’ There is pretended sacrifice, then there is sacrifice. There is the appearance of servanthood, then there is servanthood. Appearance counts for more in many people’s estimation than they even know themselves. What does it cost - what real personal price is there in the way of death to an individual’s self to serve another? That is the question.”
(p. 449)

I don’t want to be a monkey, and I don’t want to have only an appearance of giving and of servanthood. One of my prayers in Haiti was, “Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear….” I want to be aware, I want to be a help, not a hindrance to those I go to work with. I want to keep an open, compassionate heart and not become hardened to the poverty and injustice I see. God is teaching me more and more about humility and what it means to die to self.

The goal in going on a missions trip is not to be so task and agenda oriented that we miss the opportunity to be a blessing to others. We need to take the time to build relationships. In order to do this, we must humble ourselves and allow those we seek to serve, to also serve and bless us. In doing so, we will be obeying Christ’s command to love one another.

There were many other things that I saw or experienced that made an impression on me, but if I shared them all, I’d be writing a longer book! 

holding an orphan...

Love is color blind....


Friday, February 26, 2010

12 days and counting!!

Our trip was recently in our local paper.... praying for funds for the orphanage and feeding program.  I hope people will also check out the sponsorship program too.  It is blessing to have the freedom to have this printed.  Funny, I don't think about myself as a "missionary" and was surprised that the writer used the word.  I expected it to say "Two Teachers plan trip to Haiti"!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Returning to Haiti

Yes, it's true! I will be going back to Haiti March 11 to March 23.  I will be going back to northern Haiti and working once again with His Hands for Haiti. We will be updating children in the sponsorship program and we will also be taking in needed funds for food, clothing and other needs for those refugees from Port au Prince who are seeking help from Pastor Noel in Terrier Rouge. 

We will also be taking funds to help get an orphanage built on land that was bought 2 years ago.  It is an exciting event - to see the beginnings of this project.

I am anxious to see our friends there and to spend time with the children who visit the house we stay at, loving and hugging them! 

Please pray for this trip and our team of 14, from Maine, Maryland, and Utah. 

I pray we may be open to God's leading and that He will use us in ways we never dreamed of.

Blessings ~

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti - a helping hand

It all over the news. It's in our hearts. How can we possible help the victims? 

I want to be there so much.... I wish I had medical training in times like these. But I don't.

I will return to Haiti in March with His Hands for Haiti to help them update the children in their sponsorship program.

Thankfully, these children and their families were not hurt in the earthquake since they live in the Northeast of Haiti, but they will suffer from the after effects - lack of supplies, food, etc. and they will most likely see refugees moving to their areas who need care, housing, food, and jobs just like the others.
What can we do? 
Pray.  Give if you can.
Visit these sites - Donations and child sponsorship  - Text SP to 85944 to make a $10 gift.

Each of these organizations share the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they meet other needs.

I have been amazed at the singing, raised hands, and praises to God in the midst of tremendous suffering. It's a lesson for us.  They don't just need us; we need them.  We need to learn from their resilience, their hope for salvation, their survival in spite of such great tragedy.   Many in Haiti still need to hear the Good News.  Let's not leave them in despair.