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.