Tuesday, October 29, 2013

a local celebration

1 day.
6 houses.
15 minutes trying to tie a head wrap.
Countless months recovering from all the food we consumed.

This was Tabaski-the largest holiday celebrated in our country. The base of this holiday is the story of Abraham & Ishmael.* Every male head of household must sacrifice a sheep to thank God and atone for sins committed the past year. People will go from house to house throughout the day asking their neighbors and friends to pardon sins done against them. 
*Many people here believe that God told Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael instead of Isaac.

Our town had it's own version of "Black Friday" where the Market stays open the entire night before, families come together, the whole day is spent preparing food and eating. It's a day full of joy for them, and a day of reminding for my team and I. 

As the day of Tabaski drew near, the invitations kept coming. We started with 3..then 4..then 5...then 6. SIX FAMILIES. Five of these families were close friends, and one is a house where we have been really wanting to invest in relationships. We just could not say  no. 

We experienced something new in each house, from seeing the sacrifice happening, to eating french fries for breakfast, to chugging a drink made from ginger because that's the only way I could get it past my taste buds. 

It's crazy for this American to witness holidays such as this. We read verses pertaining to sacrifice, but I never truly understood the process. As I heard prayers being done, as I watched the sheep being slaughtered, as I saw them placing their hope on a mere animal, I understood parts of scripture like never before. One house asked if we sacrificed our sheep for Easter. Hello, opportunity. Oh, how great it is to know, "It is finished!"

"he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption."
                                                       -Hebrews 9:12


Monday, October 28, 2013

sweet reminder

"...remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose,' calling a bird of prey from the East, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it."

How great are these words. Seriously. I read this right before I was preparing to tell a story in a different language. A language I'm afraid I butcher completely every time I open my mouth. But a story that causes me to open my mouth time and time again. These words were a refreshing breath. A breath that let me know that He has a plan through it all, no matter how much I stumble through the words. He has a plan. His plan will conquer all. His counsel shall stand. Praise to the One who has planned a great plan, that He carries through no matter how much I fail. He reigns. Through it all.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


It hits you in the simplest of moments.
In the most unexpected of ways.

Sitting around the bowl, sharing a meal.

 An older woman's smile.

A night spent cooking with friends.

A moto ride out to the village.

An afternoon with the girls.

A joke shared.

A child's visit.

And you realize you are falling in love with this place all over again.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Confessions of an Introvert

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

No matter your personality, whether you'd much rather curl up with a good book on a Friday night or be surrounded by fifty of your closest friends, we were created to live in community. To encourage each other. To love each other. To simply do life together. 

As an introvert, I don't think I really understood the importance of that until I moved over here. You see, I was the one who was content to curl up in bed with a good book on Friday nights. I didn't need a huge selection of friends, as long as I had my 3 or 4 I could really trust. As I live among a people who are experts at community, I see how much I've been flawed in my thinking. As I walk along the streets I pass courtyards full of grandparents, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, full families living together. As I share meals with them, I see everyone eating out of one platter, placed in the middle. 

And while I still love finding that quiet place with my book, I see the simplistic beauty living like this creates. They are happy to share with each other, ready to pour into each others lives-whether it's wanted or not. And I see that community is not about what you can get out of it, but more about what you put into it. I think I was content in my small bubble because I didn't think I needed anyone else. But, that's not what it's all about. Yes, you gain things from community, but how much of a greater joy is it to pour into one? 

So often I have been scared of new groups-scared that they wouldn't accept me. By doing this, though, was I accepting them? I have kept people at arm's lengths, using the fact that I'm an introvert as a crutch. Yet, I'm called to pour into my community. We are all given gifts, to edify and build each other up. If I refuse my part, then how are my gifts being used as part of the church? If you look all throughout Acts you see Paul being welcomed by different brothers in Christ. Some of these are people he didn't even know in person, yet we see over and over in his letters that he poured into them, whether face to face or in written form. This is how community is built. You have to work at it, it's not just handed to you. But the work is so more than worth it. I see it in the communities here, and I think about how much more beautiful a community would be of brothers and sisters, all having the same goal in mind. Then, I'm reminded I have this community. Even though I am separated by a ridiculous amount of distance from many of them, that does not diminish my call to encourage and build them up. 

 Then, there are those here. The community I am loving on, and my brother's and sister's in Christ. Each day I have an incredible opportunity to encourage and serve. I know I have a long way to go, but I pray that each day I am found being more and more faithful in showing them love. This is what we were created to do.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

365 days.

365 days, y'all. 365 days I have spent on the continent of Africa. 365 days away from everything I once thought familiar. 365 days of joy, tears, and every emotion in between. three hundred. sixty. five. days. 

One year ago I had no idea how in the heck I was going to survive the next year. Now, I can't imagine having spent the last 12 months anywhere else on earth. It hit me the other day how much I truly love this place. I don't just say I love it to make my mom feel better about her daughter living in some random country. I don't just say this to convince myself. I am really attached to this little piece of earth and the people here in West Africa. 

Each month has held something special, something that will forever be etched into my heart. 

In October, after two weeks of being in my "home" country, I flew to Burkina Faso to begin a month long training. This is the first time I experienced cooking outside over a gas burner. Little did I know how important these moments would become to me. Moments of sweet conversation made while cooking a meal.

In November I experienced my first stay with a local family. We stayed in this sweet baby's house in Ghana. This was the first glimpse I had of the hospitality the people of these countries have. These attitudes have taught me so much about selfless sacrifice.

 In December, I began to pick my way slowly through conversation. Hand gestures became a vital part to any conversation I found myself having. Thankful that this amazing woman stuck with me as I struggled through each word. She is the mother of a family who has become so dear to me.

  In January, I no longer found myself thinking this sight was strange. Going to the market became a weekly, sometimes daily task. I would soon get to know some of the women there on a first name basis. I was finding out that the market was not just a shopping trip, it was a social event.

 In February I turned 24. My birthday was celebrated with these friends, plus a few more. Days like this make it hard to be away from my family and friends back home. However, I saw on this night that I was making my way into a different kind of family. A family who looked nothing like me, but a family who I could celebrate the joys of life with.

In March I was able to be a tourist for the first time here. I stuck my feet into a pink lake, feared for my life while riding a running camel (I don't have good luck with riding horses and the like), and saw a few key locations in the capital. It was a good time to take a step back and really appreciate this place.

 In April I experienced my first wedding. I saw that it doesn't matter which country you are in, girls bring IT to weddings. It took me 2 hours to get ready, and I only had 2 possible outfits to wear. This is also the first time I experienced trying to drink water out of that bag I'm holding. Biting a hole into a water bag is more difficult than it sounds, trust me.

In May I found myself momentarily losing my head and running a 10k...which turned out to be 11.5k. This all happened at 4 p.m., amongst all the buses, motos, and horsecarts the city had to offer. I also experienced the water bags here. Trying to rip into a water bag after running a couple of miles in the intense Africa heat is a struggle I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. However, I finished alive, with new friends, and a t-shirt. So, worth it? For sure.

In June I took a 10 hour road trip with 3 other girls. I realized this country is really beautiful in it's unique way. I also realized I will never again take on a 10 hour road trip with no a.c. on African roads.

  In July I hopped on a little airplane, and made my way to the beautiful Italy. Over the next 10 days, I would travel all over that little country. We made our way to Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Venice, and Sienna. Another major plus was I hugged my mom and grandmother for the first time in 10 months. Such a sweet time, and such great memories were made as we hung out with gladiators, ate gelato, and fell in love with everything Italy had to offer.

  In August these five jokers showed up knocking on our door. So, of course, we welcomed them with open arms. They have been such a blessing to our team, and I am so excited to see what kind of work they will be doing the next two months they are here!

In September we were able to make our way out to a village, where we will hopefully begin to work in their school. I can't wait to see the types of relationships that are a result of these visits. So many new areas of opportunity are popping up, and I am so, so excited to see where they will all lead!

As I reflect on the past year, my heart is full. Were there tears? Yes. Intense moments of home-sickness? Of course. But, there was joy in those moments. The joy of knowing that I am exactly where I need to be. Now that this year has finished, I can look forward to the next 9 months, knowing that even greater things are going to happen.