Our Sisters in Africa

Take a hop, skip and a jump over a few continents and you find a tiny transformed village.  By plane, by bus and lastly by foot, we reached Adacar this past July and oh, what an amazing sight it was.  Our time there was short, relatively speaking, five full days and when I say “full” I mean it.  One of the most special times there was the visit to our sponsor children’s homes. I could go on and on, but I want to share this story about one of my sponsor children’s (Martin’s) mom, this lady is pretty amazing and after my visit to Adacar this summer, I find myself praying for her almost every single day because she’s got a huge job ahead of her…

As far as I can tell, Martin has four brothers and sisters and at least three of these, besides Martin are sponsored through Children’s HopeChest.  Martin looks just like his mother, ebony skin, high cheekbones, searching eyes, distinct nose, but I noticed that his other brothers and sisters didn’t resemble the two of them too much.  Slightly peculiar, but I know families there can be just as blended as ones here. The children adapt and life goes on, right?  Sorta. 
Martin has a slightly younger sister (15 or 16) named Betty.  Betty is beautiful, sweet, kind, lights up a hut.  Her and Martin seem to be very close, then comes Nicholas, talk about all smiles…an amazing kid and then the littlest (can we say cutie-cakes?) is Lucy and, as far as I can tell, they have one more brother.
As Martin led us to his hut, he signed something to our team member, Maddie.  She translated, “Martin apologizes for the appearance of his home.”  What?  I thought.  A hut is a hut. We got there, waited a while for his mom, hung out with the neighbors and their children–and waited a little more, finally Betty piped up and said (in Ateso), “Mom went to get the water jug fixed.”  Their only source of “running” water had sprung and leak and mom was out trying to get it repaired.  I don’t know where or exactly how, as it’s not like Target is just a mile down the road, but about 10 minutes after that, I hear, “Yiyiyiyiyiyiyi!!!!!” –a customary joyful expression of the women in Adacar–getting closer through the bush.  Music to my ears.  Martin’s mom comes running through the tall grass with the water jug on her head and embraces me.  It was a pretty cool moment.  We chatted a little while through the interpreter, she showed me around their homestead, a large dirt circle about 15 feet in diameter with three sturdy huts around it and one hut (possibly used for food/grain storage) in need of repair.  For the middle of nowhere, I have to say it was pretty beautiful.  Simple. We were taken to Martin’s hut, yes, it appears that the oldest child gets their own hut–a cool custom.  We chatted some more and I gave her the few gifts I got from the small town store for her.
This year’s visit to Adacar and seeing Martin’s whole family set things in a tailspin because their story is deeper and more complicated than I initially thought, in a story recounted by Betty to one of my teammates (cutie-pie Lucy’s sponsor): Martin’s biological mom and dad married and had two children.  At some point Martin’s father left Martin’s mother and married another woman, and had three children with her.  This woman died, and now Martin’s mom has taken charge of ALL the children. The father is nowhere in the picture. It appears, though, that his dad is still alive, because Martin gave me his cell phone number…
Wow.  Here is a woman, day after day, cooking, cleaning clothes, providing food and water and caring for three children that aren’t even her own ON HER OWN.  I’m astounded and challenged by her strength, love and her selflessness. 
I know this isn’t an isolated case, though, there are woman all over the CarePoint who are loving and providing for children who aren’t biologically theirs because one or both of their parents have died, either from HIV, or malaria and may have just left.  The enormity of their generosity puts me to shame and at the same time energizes and pushes me forward because I can see the supernatural strength that God has given to these women–and how their Maker, their Husband is providing for their children.  It sends chills down my spine to see the gospel in action: the Father of the fatherless, the Defender of widows setting the lonely in families, it makes me want to send up a couple of my own “Yiyiyiyiyiyis.” 

This got me to thinking, when do I feel the most secure, the least worried, and close to zero on the tense meter?  When I know my child is being provided for, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, when I don’t have to struggle to get these needs met. 
There is something tangible that you can do to give our sisters hope: support their children.  Imagine living in a world with no government subsidies, no free education and your food source heavily dependent on the weather and what you’ve been able to grow with your own hands.  The odds seem overwhelming.  But here is what HopeChest, through sponsorship, does in lightening that burden in very tangible ways, by providing:
-school fees and money for their uniforms
-regular Christian discipleship
-each sponsored child yearly physical exams and helps pay for medical emergencies
-one hot meal a day, sometimes, the only meal they get
-each child in the program also gets a goat, which can be used for trading in the market place
I know I’ve written sponsorship posts before, so maybe I’m a broken record. 
Over and over again, we are admonished in Scripture to put feet to our faith:
“What is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, can such a faith save him?” James 2:14
“…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10
I’m going to be honest here: I tout Children’s HopeChestbecause I have SEEN the results with my own eyes: I have seen the hope, the life, the change it has brought about in these children’s lives and in their parent’s lives.  I have seen the TRANSFORMATION of an entire community in just a four years and I have seen what hours of prayers and commitment and love and traveling just once a year to say “hello” will do, and this verse in Isaiah LIVED OUT.  It is amazing and indescribable and just. Wow. God.

So yes, I want you to sponsor a child, but I also want you to accept them into your heart and into your life, into your family’s lives.  I have two sons: Martin and Paul who are growing into men who will one day be husbands and fathers and have important jobs to go to every day whether that is in the field or in the classroom or in an office somewhere in a big city. 
We all share a very important job, let’s roll our sleeves up and get to it.

You Give Them Something to Eat

There is something simple and unassuming about Luke’s account of the feeding of the 5,000.  To me, the whole story begins with Jesus’ words:
You give them something to eat.
Here we are waiting for a miracle, for the earth to split open for it to swallow all the bad people whole, to rescue the abused, the fatherless, to make sense of all of this nonsense, when the answer lies in us:
You give them something to eat.
We wait for our friend to accept Christ, for the marriage to repair itself, for the child in the wheelchair to start walking, but we miss the real miracle of this friend watching you live out a real faith that is genuine and steady and faithful–Godgives the increase. 
There is the marriage that may never be glued back together, but the family whose Maker and Husband is the same.
There is the testimony of the father who tirelessly wheels his son up to the preschool teacher’s door Sunday after Sunday as it opens to give God’s gift of love hidden under the over sized cardboard blocks and between the plastic foods circa 1982.

You wait for the miracle as you drive past women who wait strategically next to budget hotels, abandoned gas stations and sex shops, some so frozen by what they have done time and time again, that they don’t look at a new morning with the hope that others have.

You give them something to eat.
You, yes you, the person who sees and feels their limitations day after day, their lack of pedigree, education or experience, the one who could use a little self-esteem boost.
You give themsomething to eat.
Finally, we can give and give until our well runs dry, until we have to stand back and ask the question: Who am I doing this for?  Me? Them? God?
You give them somethingto eat.
Something that will not bring riches as we know it, fame or recognition, but the bread, the bread of life–John 5:35: I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry…

The Science of Fear and Its Remedy

The girls and I took a little trip to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History this week, and took a quick peek  again on their special exhibit on fear, while the experience was pretty educational, the exhibit itself is well, a little bit frightening, or maybe the better word would be frenetic–perhaps too much for this introvert to take in all at once. 
Several of the displays discussed the fact that our fear response is, of course a good thing, it’s the thing that triggers our fight or flight instinct.  Our “spidey sense” is triggered in the part of the brain called the amygdala (that’s a good one for your next Scrabble tourney).  
They had displays on everything from simulating being tracked by a panther in the jungle to hands-on stalls, where you had the privilege of experiencing fears that a lot of us share:  like the fear of falling, “touching” animals that the majority of us hate: mice, a hissing cockroach, a tarantula, and a booth set up to deliver a small electric shock via your finger (I should add this disclaimer, that the girls didn’t have much of an idea of what the “should” be scared of, since they can’t read yet).
But here is the text that struck me the most from the whole exhibit:
Even though animals freeze when initially surprised, their most common response, once the fight or flight mode kicks in, is to scram!
As with humans, the fight or flight response helps keep animals safe by raising their blood pressure, heart rate and breathing pace, improving their chances of making a speedy escape.
But flight is a trade off: While it helps animals stay alive, it also takes a lot of energy and requires that they stop whatever they’re doing, no matter how important.
The last phrase is what grabbed me, because I can see a human correlation in this, it’s when I was going through the most fearful times in my life that I was the most “frozen.”  The Enemy loves this, He loves for us to be beaten down, tired, so worn out with the “what-ifs” that we forget that there is a bigger world out there, of lost and dying and suffering people, in all of which God can use us, our hands and feet to be HIS remedy for people in even worse situations that we find ourselves.  I’ve heard this phrase several times, “God doesn’t need me to get His work accomplished.”  This may be true, but WE need him to hold us up in the darkest hours and I believe the one, true solution to this is to keep going, keep pressing and keep giving.
And yes, I think this fear can be translated still into our relationships.  There is a difference between danger and the simple frailties of humans.  The truth is, no matter how “safe” I am or others are around me are, we are still human, fallible, capable of getting sick, tired, or just grumpy.  The beautiful thing about all of that is, though, is that God has all, I mean ALL of the bases covered.  It’s because He loves us and His very nature is true and faithful.
So drink this in, and see if you don’t breathe just a little easier after you read the last line.  Go in peace this weekend, be refreshed and trust that God is greater than ALL fear.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”  Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.”  Let those who fear the Lord say: “His love endures forever.”
When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.  I look in triumph on my enemies.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.  All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.  They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.  They swarmed around me like bees, but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them down.  I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.  The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!  The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.  The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.  This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.  Lord, save us!  Lord, grant us success!  Blessed his he who comes in the name of the Lord.  From the house of the Lord we bless you.  The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. 
You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. 
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 118