A day out of the city…

My “Africa Mix” was the only CD we had with us. My roommate Debby and I were jamming out to IMG_20130831_111001Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” when we were stopped at a traffic crossing. A young boy selling bananas approached the car.

“No thank you, sebo!” Debby said to the young boy, who then heard our music and began dancing beside the car as we waited for the traffic police to let us through the intersection. It was a great start to the long day ahead of us.

The car was loaded with toilet paper, rice, tea, sugar and soap we had purchased to take to the orphanage in Bulamo. Bulamo in normal conditions would be about 30 minutes from Kampala. But in African conditions, it took us almost two hours to get there.

I was mystified at the beautiful Ugandan countryside. So much green, everywhere! Sometimes I felt like I was in the middle of a jungle.

We did some “off-roading” to get to the orphanage, which was down a long lane with lots of bumps and holes, chickens and cows, and of course, children, who would smile, wave, and yell, “Mzungu!” as we drove by.

IMG_20130831_120842The orphanage was thrilled to receive the supplies we brought them, and I walked around the compound with Debby as she introduced me to all the wonderful staff and children there. It reminded me a lot of Lifesong Zambia, and I felt an overwhelming sense of love walking around the compound.

Soon after we arrived, we met up with Bruno, Debby’s sponsor child. I’m not sure I should call him a “child,” considering he is 19 years old, but he still has one more year of school left before he goes to university. Bruno walked around with us for awhile and then we started the journey to Bruno’s father’s house.

Again, it took us about an hour to travel not much longer than a few miles. Bruno filled us in on how he was doing with his studies and his plans after graduation. He wants to study tourism at university, and with that sweet smile of his, I can definitely see him succeeding!

Debby had told me that Richard, Bruno’s father, would likely have all their nicest things out for our IMG_20130831_112601arrival. Sure enough, as we walked into their “house”, the couches and coffee table were covered in lace doilies. We were given the royal treatment, as Bruno’s step mother served us ice cold Cokes. Bruno’s little brother, Peace, was pretty overwhelmed by the two mzungu’s in the house, but he smiled big when Debby gave him the toy car we got him earlier in the day when we bought supplies.

We talked with Richard for a few hours, mainly about his profession. Richard is a butterfly catcher. How amazing is that? When he has the money to pay for his license to catch them, he spends days at a time traveling across Uganda and catching the most beautiful butterflies you’ve ever seen! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone so passionate about something like that, but what made Richard even more special is his love for God, which was just as apparent as his love for butterflies.

Debby, whose heart is one of the biggest I know, wanted to help Richard pay for his license so he can get back to butterfly catching to make money for his family. I was more than happy to offer to split the cost with her, and we gave him the money he needed for the license.

After saying goodbye to Richard, Mary and Peace, we took Bruno to where he could catch a taxi back to school. We might have gotten a little lost then, even to the point where we stopped and asked for directions and the lady said, “You are really lost!”

Eventually, we found our way to Garden City where we enjoyed a nice meal at Café Javas and did some window shopping at Nakumatt.

While the entire day was pretty amazing, I think one of my favorite moments came after we left Garden City. We were stopped at a light when a young, thin boy approached the car to ask for money or food.

“Do you want to give him your leftovers or take them home?” Debby asked me.

I was thrilled that she thought of that, and I handed her my box of food. She rolled down her window and handed it to the boy who smiled and said, “Thank you!” We were stopped at the light for a long time, which was totally worth it to see the boy sit down in the median, dig into my leftover club sandwich and fries, and smile the biggest smile I had seen all day.

Needless to say, it was one of the most fulfilling days I’ve had since I’ve been 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

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.