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

Walking on Water

“You called me out upon the waters
The great unknown where my feet my fail.
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand.”

I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful bodies of water. From the Caribbean, to the Atlantic Ocean, to the Pacific Ocean, to Victoria Falls and beautiful blue rivers in Africa, I can honestly say I’ve seen some incredible waters on this earth. It wasn’t until recently that I truly connected the idea of water, Jesus and what it means to have faith.

I’ve always known the story of Jesus walking on the water, but it’s taken a new meaning in my life lately, and it’s eerie how God has revealed to me the importance of this event.

IMG_3120In Zambia a few weeks ago, we taught the story to the children at Lifesong for Orphans. In short, Jesus approached His disciples by walking on the water, and not just any water, but it was also in the middle of a storm. The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, but Jesus said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Oh how often Jesus tells us that, yet we fear so much!)

Peter had such great faith that he told Jesus to call for him. Jesus did, and Peter also walked on water. But when Peter lost sight of Jesus and focused on the winds, he began to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus grabbed his hand and saved him.

“I will call upon Your name.
Keep my eyes above the waves.
My soul will rest in Your embrace.
I am Yours and You are mine.”

Beyond teaching this story I’ve known since childhood to the kids at Lifesong, my friends Mo and Janeth played a song for me while we were in Zambia. The song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong began to speak to me, as it did to Mo and Janeth. I didn’t really get a chance to listen to the lyrics until I got home and downloaded it, but when I did, it all came together for me.

Everyone has their own ways of relating to the story, but here’s mine. Me going to Uganda is God calling me out upon the water. I’ve never been in a position like this where I’ve had to have so much faith and rely completely on God. I have to trust Him for my safety and my fundraising. Some people say I am doing such a great thing and that I must be so strong. I look at it as God did this because I’m not strong. He wanted me to be in a position where I had to surrender to Him completely, because before now, I hadn’t.IMG_2678

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters.
Your sovereign hand will be my guide,
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.”

Peter started to sink when he lost sight of Jesus and focused on the storm around him, and Jesus asked him why he doubted and where his faith was. There will be storms in Uganda. I will experience things I’ve never experienced before, and the biggest storm of all will be missing my family and friends. I’ll sink if I don’t stay focused on Jesus, and if I don’t keep my eyes above the waves.

God has been calling me to step out in faith for years, but only within this past year have I had the faith to step out of the boat and onto the waters. These final lyrics I will type now are so perfectly and beautifully written, that I feel like they came from my own heart:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feed could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

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Lyrics from Hillsong’s Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
All photos by Natalie A. Trout

“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.”

The Mission Trip “Bonus”

When I returned from two weeks in Niger with Jesus Film Ministries in 2009, my parents picked me up at the Indianapolis airport. My car was at their house, and I remember driving home in the middle of the night. I cried. I cried a lot. The people I had seen, the lives God changed… it was too much to comprehend as I drove through a deserted downtown Fort Wayne back to my apartment.

We also got back late two years later when I went to Nicaragua with my church and Food for the Hungry. I got in my car at the church, started to drive home with some Chris Tomlin in my CD player and once again, I cried. I couldn’t get the faces of those kids out of my head. I couldn’t forget the sound of my sponsor child saying, “Adios!” when we parted ways in his village.

Mission trips are about people, not places. They are about God, not us. I say that because you will also notice that mission trips typically involve a couple days of sightseeing. I don’t want my supporters to think their money went to a “vacation.” Tomorrow I leave for Zambia, and yes, we will spend a few days sightseeing. We’ll go to Victoria Falls, and on a day safari. We’re also lucky enough to have long layovers in London on the way to Zambia, and on the way back. Any money spent there will come out of my pocket, not from support raised.

To me, sightseeing is an important part of mission trips. For one, it’s a way to see God’s natural beauty in a way we never have before. Two, it’s a way to see and experience the culture of the place we’re visiting.

Here are some pictures from some of the sightseeing I’ve done on mission trips:

We ate at some pretty awesome restaurants in Niger. One was a French place where I had the best veal marsala I've ever tasted!
We ate at some pretty awesome restaurants in Niger. One was a French place where I had the best veal marsala I’ve ever tasted!
One day in Niger we took boat rides to look for hippos. We saw some peak their heads out from under the water. It was amazing! The boats, however, were a little scary!
One day in Niger we took boat rides to look for hippos. We saw some peak their heads out from under the water. It was amazing! The boats, however, were a little scary!
This is our group preparing to go looking for giraffes in the Niger desert. That's not a van for a zoo or anything, that's the vehicle we used all week. We literally saw giraffes in their natural habitat.
This is our group preparing to go looking for giraffes in the Niger desert. That’s not a van for a zoo or anything, that’s the vehicle we used all week. We literally saw giraffes in their natural habitat.
So beautiful. We were so close, and they were free.
So beautiful. We were so close, and they were free.
We had an eight-hour layover in Paris on the way back from Niger. It was just long enough to run into town and see the Eiffel Tower.
We had an eight-hour layover in Paris on the way back from Niger. It was just long enough to run into town and see the Eiffel Tower.
In Nicaragua we spent our final day visiting the market and hanging out at the beach. Was such a beautiful place!
In Nicaragua we spent our final day visiting the market and hanging out at the beach. Was such a beautiful place!

God knows our hearts. He knows that we’re going on this mission trip to impact the lives of kids at Lifesong for Orphans. But don’t be surprised when I return and post pictures of Victoria Falls, a safari, and London. Know that when I get in my car to drive home after my trip, I’ll burst into tears because of the children, not because of a waterfall and some animals.

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.

What you might be shocked to know about my trip to Zambia…

Two weeks from now I’ll be flying over Africa somewhere, headed to Zambia where we will serve God at Lifesong for Orphans. What’s really awesome about this trip is that Janeth, one of my best friends, will be going on the trip as well! But there’s something you don’t know about our friendship.

Let me tell you about Janeth. Janeth is amazing. Although just a young grasshopper, she doesn’t mind being friends 488122_3188445239546_496056400_nwith an old woman like me (she’s 24 and I’m 32). Never once has age stood in the way of our friendship. She always makes me laugh, and since we became friends almost a year and a half ago, she’s been there for me whenever I’ve needed her.

Even though Janeth is in Texas and I’m in Indiana, she’s managed to be my rock this past year, especially when I had my heart broken. Her advice and prayers got me through some pretty rough times.

What I love about her the most is that she’s such a Godly woman. She is so spiritually mature for her age, and I have learned so much from her beautiful heart for God and her passion for humanity and the earth in general. She is, quite simply, one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.

Janeth is also the reason I even know about the trip to Zambia! The day she suggested I go was one of the coolest things ever. I’m so excited to serve God on this trip and to do it with one of my best friends.

Here’s what you don’t know…

Janeth and I have never met.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

No, we didn’t meet on FriendFinder.com (is there such a thing?), or some sort of Christian website. We met right here, on WordPress.

A few years ago I had a blog that none of my family or friends knew about. It was very personal, and for some reason, lots of people found it interesting. Janeth was one of those people. She followed my blog, I followed hers, and one day in February 2012 I posted a comment on one of her posts. She sent me an email with the subject: “Hi from Texas :-)”

We were both going through some heartache at the time, and her words in that email were so comforting and helpful. She was very open about her relationship with God, and what she was going through. Little did I know that a little more than a year later I would be going to Africa with her.

532521_3195916786330_513696476_nWhat’s weird to think about is that GOD knew. He orchestrated this entire friendship. I have never been so sure of anything in my entire life. God has used Janeth in a major way to help me grow as a Christian. I believe He’s used me in the same way for her.

Janeth and I will meet for the first time in London when I meet the rest of the group going to Zambia. We’ve text and Skyped before, so we’re definitely not complete strangers. Like I said, she’s one of my best friends! We talk pretty much every day!

I know plenty of people will find this all rather bizarre, and that’s OK. I think it’s all pretty awesome that God would use someone so far away to help transform my life. Just one of the many amazing things He’s done for me!

This verse definitely sums up my friendship with Janeth:

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Thank you, Janeth! Can’t wait to serve God together in Zambia!