And then came Giving Tuesday

It really is fabulous that we shove our way through Black Friday sales, click “Purchase Now” over and over again on Cyber Monday, and THEN we have Giving Tuesday. It’s like saying, “OK if you have any money left, why not give it to help someone less fortunate?”

I just find it a little backwards that we have Giving Tuesday AFTER we’ve spent money on gifts for people who probably don’t need anything we’ve purchased them. Maybe Giving Tuesday should be BEFORE Thanksgiving?

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty about anything. It actually really irritates me when I see that being done.

The other day someone posted something about being appalled that none of his Facebook friends donated to his food drive, and he implied that no one cared about the homeless in our community. I immediately took offense to it (I tend to be sensitive about that kind of thing). Just because someone doesn’t give to your cause, doesn’t mean they aren’t giving to another cause. I do my best to give of my time and money, but we can’t give to everything. We just can’t.

However, if you are looking to give this holiday season aren’t sure where to donate, here are a few organizations that I have experience with, and I have seen first hand that they are doing great things in the name of Jesus.

12017597_10153015984556573_9042627776706687868_oDestiny Rescue: In September I went to Thailand where I visited three rescue homes and two prevention homes. This organization is real and legit, and they are making major strides in ending child trafficking in places like Southeast Asia. I’ve spent time with girls who had been trafficked, and I’ve seen how Destiny Rescue uses God’s love to change their lives.

208280_10150151374051573_8138803_nFood for the Hungry:  Many years ago my church began a partnership with Food for the Hungry. Food for the Hungry is so much more than just child sponsorship, and I got to see it with my own two eyes in 2011 when I went to Nicaragua. The organization truly transforms communities, as they commit to them for long periods of time. Your sponsorship does more than help feed a child, it changes the lives of people in an entire village.

1012685_10151453429291573_1152998984_nLifesong for Orphans: Lifesong will always be near and dear to my heart. In 2013 I experienced the work of Lifesong Zambia, and it was one of my favorite mission trips. They are yet another God-centered organization doing great things for the poor in many nations.

1978758_10151969816186573_1983580348_nNakalanda Project: When I lived in Uganda, every month we would go by bus, then boat, then boda out to the village of Nakalanda on an island in Lake Victoria. We would help our friends Stephanie and Rev. Stephen hold their jigger clinics for the local community. But Stephanie and Stephen have done so much more than just jigger clinics in Nakalanda. They, like other organizations I have mentioned, are truly working hard to transform an entire community. They are also two of the greatest people I have ever met!

blog_headerThe Esther School: While I have been to Zambia, I’ve never been to The Esther School, but I can say that it is in good hands with the Costley family. Wayne Costley, who I taught with at Heritage International School in Kampala, Uganda, is the headmaster at this Christian day school in Zambia. Your donations to support the Costley family would be put to good use, as I know the wonderful and selfless hearts of Wayne and Allison and their two beautiful daughters.

Of course, my hope is that you’ll find an organization or missionary to support on a regular basis, but I hope you’ll at least find somewhere to donate today on Giving Tuesday. Maybe it’s not supporting international missions, maybe it’s taking box of food to your local food bank or some winter coats to a homeless shelter. Maybe it’s spending time with a friend who needs some spiritual guidance and support.

Giving is giving, and it’s always a beautiful thing.

However you choose to give, I pray you’ll do it in the name of Jesus. After all, it’s His birthday that causes all this excitement every December.

“He who is generous will be blessed,
for he gives some of his food to the poor.”
Proverbs 22:9

Sometimes your presence is enough

11233499_10152855702181573_1337504488390336071_nPhillip was in his late 20’s and dying of AIDS. His family had disowned him, and day after day he was in his bed, waiting to die. Sister Judith, one of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, helped take care of Phillip. She would change his bed sheets, clean his room and do his dishes.

Sister Judith was a hard worker. She was diligently washing Phillip’s dishes one day when he called out to her.

“Sister Judith!” he yelled from his bedroom. “Come in here!”

“I’m doing your dishes,” she replied. “Need to get this done.”

“I said, come in here,” Phillip shouted back.

Sister Judith went in Phillip’s room to see what he wanted. He pointed at an empty chair beside his bed.

“See that chair?” he said. “Sit in it.”

It was a lesson Sister Judith said she would never forget. She had been running around trying to “help” so much that she missed the importance of simply being there for Phillip, being someone to sit with, someone to talk to, someone to form a relationship with.

Sometimes, your presence is enough. Sure, there are things you can do to help people, but often what helps the most is just being there.

In September I’m going to Thailand with my church and Destiny Rescue. It is not technically a “work trip.” We aren’t building anything or painting any walls, we are simply going to visit. We are going to build relationships with the girls who have been rescued from child trafficking and sexual exploitation.

What does it really matter? Will our presence in Thailand at these rescue homes really make any sort of a difference? I can say with all sincerity and confidence that I know it will. I’ve seen it happen before.

IMG_3287 (2)When I was in Zambia with Lifesong for Orphans, I remember talking with some precious third graders. One said to me, “Why are you here?” I told her we were there to visit, to get to know them and to talk about Jesus with them. She then asked, “How much do you get paid?” My heart broke.

Once I explained to her that those of us who were there were using our vacation days from work to visit, she was absolutely dumbfounded. She couldn’t believe that we were there for them, and even more so, that we had to pay and raise the funds to get there.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth
for a sincere brotherly love,
love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
1 Peter 1:22

216059_10150151389976573_735678_nWhen I went to Nicaragua with my church and Food for the Hungry, part of our mission in the village of Terrencio was to dig latrines. While I know it needed to be done, no one seemed overjoyed at what we were doing, but they were more than thrilled when we spent time with them. Our sponsor children and their families were elated when we came to their homes just to chat.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil;
hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection,
and take delight in honoring each other.”
Romans 12:9-10

One afternoon in Uganda, my friend Debby and I went to visit the father and stepmother of her sponsor child. Their mud home was as clean as a mud home could be, with furniture covered in white sheets, just for us. They even gave us cold bottles of Coke. Rude to refuse their kind gesture, we indulged, and spent the next few hours enjoying our time together. Their hospitality told us what didn’t have to be said.

“You came to see ME,” is what it said. In Zambia. In Nicaragua. In Uganda. “Someone from the other side of the world came just to spend time with me in the name of Jesus.”cross

I find it funny that people assume mission trips have to be filled with doing construction projects. Which is fine, but wasn’t Jesus the ultimate missionary, and what did He do? He spent time with people.

Even after Jesus came back from the dead, He spent time with people. He didn’t dig any latrines or paint any walls. Check out Luke 24:13-39. After the resurrection, Jesus walks a dirt road with two of His followers as a simple, loving gesture.

At first I felt strange asking for financial support as I embarked on this journey to Thailand, but the more I thought about it, I realized it’s just as important as any other mission trip I have gone on. Looking at what these girls have been through and simply being there to love them might actually be even more important than any mission trip I’ve already been on.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20

Learn more about my upcoming trip to Thailand with Destiny Rescue here.

“Different…” she said.

We were sitting on the ground in the Zambian sun when the precious little girl sitting next to me lightly ran her fingers across the top of my hand. She was a student at Lifesong for Orphans, and while her first language was Bemba, she did know some English.

After touching my hand, she put her hand next to mine, and with her other hand she IMG_3013touched hers and then touched mine.

“Different…” she said, pointing at my pale white skin next to her dark skin.

It was one word that said so much to me. “Different.” Maybe that’s a good way to describe my mission trip to Zambia. The terrain was different. The food was different. Our skin tones were different. The list of ways things were different was practically endless.

Our first morning at Lifesong for Orphans I knew we’d be attending a school assembly. When we think of a school assembly, we usually picture an auditorium or a gym. I knew that wouldn’t be the case at Lifesong, but I was still a little surprised to see Monday’s assembly take place in the dirt area between two mango trees.

Assemblies in Zambia… different.

IMG_3391The morning assembly held more power than any assembly I went to in elementary school in Ohio. Children from the baby class up to the 8th grade sang praises to God, sang the Zambian national anthem, and even heard a short message from a pastor. It was the perfect way to start off their week. It was perfect for our team, too.

Praising God at school… different.

I don’t have any pictures of that first assembly. The couple who runs the organization in Zambia has started asking teams to not take pictures on the first day or two of their time at Lifesong. I’ll admit, I was a little annoyed. That is, until I was there and was able to 100% focus on the beautiful life in front of me and not worry about capturing it on film. I now think it is something all mission teams should do- take a few days to just experience the new world around you. I do think photos are important so we can return to the states and be advocates for these amazing people, but pictures can be taken later.

No pictures for days on a mission trip… different.

Janeth and I were in charge of the Bible story each afternoon when we did Bible School with grades 1-3. One day we had some extra time with a group before they moved on to crafts, so we decided to play a game of “Follow the Leader.” Janeth was at the front of the line, and the eager second graders lined up behind her. For as long as Janeth walked in a straight line, all was well. But as she started to get fancy and curve out of a straight line, the kids went nuts! All of a sudden there were about 10 kids in front of the “leader,” running around wherever they wanted to. It was pretty hilarious, and needless to say, we didn’t attempt “Follow the Leader” again.

Childhood games in Zambia… different.

Our final morning at Lifesong we took all the pictures we wanted. The students held their Friday assembly in the same place as the Monday assembly, and they once again blew us away with their singing and sharing. Their songs in Bemba and in English were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. There was one song in particular that really got to me. It was in Bemba, so I didn’t understand the words, but I didn’t have to. They were praising God, and that was obvious.IMG_3403

Despite the fact that their assembly was in dirt, they were praising God.

Despite the fact that they have lost parents and siblings to disease, they were praising God.

Despite the fact that their only meals that day might be the two they have at school, they were praising God.

The God they were celebrating and praising… NOT different.

Although worlds apart, although we play our games differently and hold school assemblies differently, although our skin is different… we are so much alike in that we’re all worshipers of the same great God.

The little girl who noticed our skin was different will probably see a lot of mission teams come in and out of Lifesong for as long as she is a student there. Their skin will be different, as will their clothes and accents. But I hope that as she grows older she will notice what is the same- that we’re all God’s children, and He loves us all despite the differences that separate us.

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Enjoy some of these videos from the last day’s assembly:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FW_CgoEkKgM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CU54NeX-Llk

Tough question to answer…

It’s nearly 5 a.m. here in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I am wide awake and trying to process the things that are infiltrating my mind and heart as I finally have a moment to think about everything that happened in Zambia. Jet lag is getting the best of me, but that’s OK. I need this time to prepare for what’s coming.

Each time I’ve gone on an international mission trip, I try to prepare for the question that everyone will ask, “How was your trip?” IMG_3287 (2)

I am not sure how people want a response to that question. I think some want to hear, “Excellent!” or “Life-changing!” and for that to be the extent of it.

Others want to hear in detail the ways God revealed Himself to us in Africa, and still others want to know about the orphans and how they broke our hearts.

There are some who will want only to know about the safari, Victoria Falls and the crazy foods we tried.

No matter what response people are expecting, I will never be able to fully communicate the answer to “How was your trip?”

After spending two weeks in Niger, Africa in 2009, it was tough to put things into words when I returned. It was even harder when I got back from Nicaragua in 2011 and had met my sponsor child. This time, it’s even more difficult. From day one in Zambia to the very last day, there were things I saw and things I experienced that have forever changed my heart.

Our trip started off with some sightseeing, where I saw what I now believe to be one of God’s most beautiful creations in nature, Victoria Falls.

Then I saw God’s perfectly created animal kingdom at it’s most vulnerable, as I saw a lion try to attack an impala who then sought refuge behind some cape buffalo.

I felt the deep love of orphans, who grabbed my hands each day at Lifesong and told me they loved me.

I spoke with full-time missionaries so in love with serving God and dedicating their entire lives to helping others that I believe there is nothing on this planet that would make them happier.

IMG_2977 (2)I experienced the great faith of people who have next to nothing by American standards, yet have all they need simply by having a relationship with Christ.

I saw love at its best. I saw hurt at its worst. And while our team of seven has returned to the comfort of our lives as we know it… they are still there. The orphans are still sick. The compound is still plagued by disease and witchcraft. The grandmothers are still trying to care for more children than they can handle. IMG_3255 (2)

“How was your trip?” people will ask me. I still don’t know exactly how to answer. In a way I feel like I’m still there, since I most definitely left a part of myself in Zambia. I guess it will depend on who is asking and how much they want to hear, but I do know that part of my answer will be this, “God is alive in Zambia. I saw Him in nature, orphans, widows, teachers, missionaries, and my fellow Team Zambia members from the US. God is alive, and He will return one day to claim His children.”

Most orphans don’t have curly red hair and freckles…

orphan – (n) a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents

My entire life I’ve feared the death of my parents. No one has supported me more, loved me more, or taken better care283670_3138899200926_1422215904_n of me. The thought of one of them passing used to bring me to tears. It was also something that kept me from serving overseas where God was calling me, but I’ve found a peace within the last six months. I’ve had 32 amazing years with my parents. That’s much more than many people get.

In four days we leave for Zambia where we’ll be working with Lifesong for Orphans. My heart is already breaking for these children who have lost both parents, usually to HIV/AIDS. Can you even imagine? As if survival wasn’t tough enough in a place like Zambia, they have to face the world as orphans.

Not saying it’s any easier for orphans in America, but at least orphans here often have other family members that can take them in. Zambia has a life expectancy of around 49 years. There usually aren’t older family members to take care of the orphaned children.

Our typical view of orphans comes from movies like Annie. Wow did I love Annie, her curly red hair and freckles when I was a little girl. I listened to the soundtrack so many times that I wore out the tape. The movie also led me to believe that all orphanages were run by women like the alcoholic Miss Hannigan.

Luckily, that’s typically not the case. That’s definitely not the case at Lifesong for Orphans, where their motto is “Bringing Joy and Purpose to Orphans.” The people who work for the organization have dedicated their lives to making someone else’s life better- the orphans.

God couldn’t have been more clear in the Bible about how Christians should treat orphans:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

7980_3138908681163_1818934831_nThere are many, many more verses in which God addresses the fatherless and how we should help them. Maybe that’s by sponsoring an orphan, visiting orphans, or financially supporting missionaries and mission trips… there’s something you can do to help.

I’m so glad Lifesong for Orphans brings the message to the Zambian orphans that they do have a Father in heaven who loves them very much. I can hardly wait to give them hugs with hopes that they’ll feel God’s love in the midst of my embrace.

Photos courtesy of Janeth Ibarra.

It’s not about the giraffes…

When we stepped out of the Niger airport into the hot African sun, I was brought to tears.

I’m in Africa, I thought. I’m really in Africa!

I spent the next two weeks in awe of God’s beauty in Africa that managed to shine through the poverty and suffering. Everything I did, I realized I was doing in Africa.

I’m brushing my teeth in Africa!

I am eating breakfast in Africa!

I have a headache in Africa!

We did some amazing things while I was there. We saw giraffes and hippos in their natural habitats, we toured government buildings, we took boat rides, and we ate at fabulous restaurants. It was all a big part of my first African experience.

But I’ll be honest, I was pretty caught up in being in Africa, and not caught up in the work God sent us there to do. It was 2009, I was in a job I hated, in the middle of a terrible relationship, and getting away was a big focus of my trip to Niger.

Don’t get me wrong, I saw God do some awesome things in the middle of Muslim villages and neighborhoods while we were there. But I think what was missing was that human interaction. I don’t speak any tribal languages. I don’t even speak French! Not only that, but we were with different people almost every day. No real connections were formed.

I leave for Zambia in less than three weeks, and things are drastically different for me now. It’s not about the giraffes. It’s not even about Africa. It’s about our mission: to show Christ’s love to the people of Zambia. More specifically, to show it to the beautiful children at Lifesong for Orphans.

When I look ahead to this trip, my heart gets so excited about meeting these kids and getting to know them. Many are orphans because their parents have died of HIV/AIDS, and many of them carry the same fatal disease. I want to love on them all I can while we are there. I want them to know that I love them, and God loves them.

521785_4406504770273_1281097728_nI’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about seeing Victoria Falls and the safari we are taking. It’s not uncommon for mission trips to have a few days built-in for sightseeing, and naturally I am stoked about seeing more of beautiful Africa. I’m not a crazy person! But I realize this time that it’s not about all the things we will see. It’s the things we will experience and share with the wonderful people of Zambia.

My friend Janeth is returning to Zambia for the second year in a row. Look at this picture of her, her friend Liz, and a bunch of the orphans. Is it really any wonder why I’m so excited to meet these kids and do what we can to help them out?! This time it’s not about the giraffes. It’s about showing God’s love, and I simply cannot wait to do so.