Friday, September 16, 2011

Lessons Learned in Africa

It’s been a few weeks since my mission’s trip to Africa, and I am still processing all that I saw. I’ve been told it would be eye-opening, if not life-changing; it definitely was both.

As imagined, the needs were huge and overwhelming. America’s slums would be considered “the good end of town” for most parts of Kenya, the poverty was that extensive. There was no sanitation system which meant trash was everywhere. There were also no street lights or sidewalks. To save money, they used speed bumps instead of stop signs or traffic lights.

Some of the homes resembled our sheds or “lean-to’s”. We visited several widows, however, who lived in mud huts with thatched roofs. Many of these widows were raising young grandkid, due to their adult children being sick or having succumbed to Aids. When we inquired of their prayer needs they would often request prayer for the childrens' illness, usually malaria. For themselves, their prayers were more for their vision and their joints. Their bodies ached all over. Was it simple arthritis, or something worse – who knew? There was no money for doctors or medicine, regardless. And very few Kenyans wore glasses; too much of a luxury when food was a constant daily struggle.

We stayed at a gated compound on the edge of Lake Victoria. Our last day there about six of us missionaries went to visit more local widows and give them gifts. These were not gifts of flowers and candy; rather these were practical gifts of soap, flour, matches, sugar, salt and oil. An interpreter really wasn’t needed to relay the heartfelt appreciation of some as they dropped to the floor and repeated, “God bless you, God bless you,” in their native Swahili or Luo tongue.

As we felt led, each missionary took a turn praying for a widow and their family before exiting their home. At the last home I sensed I should pray, but the lump in my throat wouldn’t let me talk. All I could do was stare at the meager supplies we had brought…and desperately wish it had been more. To say I was convicted and humbled wouldn’t begin to cover the myriad emotions welling up inside me – emotions that I had struggled with for days. On all levels I was exhausted: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And knowing we would be leaving the next day only made matters worse. I was certain that if I tried to speak, a flood would gush forth.

During the entire trip, the one question that I kept repeating to God was, “Why? Why does most of the world live in such poverty? Why was America so blessed?” And on a personal level, “Why did You call me here?” It was my first mission’s trip and first time out of the country. I knew for the past year that God wanted me to go and I had fought it for several months. After all, I wasn’t a spring chick. I was in my mid-fifties and had a few health issues. Also, the air was thinner in Kenya; I struggled sometimes with keeping up.

All along I thought I was going to Africa so that I could be a source of encouragement to our sponsored daughter. I thought my mission would be to speak words of faith into her heart about how God had big plans for her life; about how He wants to use her to minister to, and build up others in her village. But I never even got to meet her. I was disappointed and confused.

Now that I’m home and have had some time to reflect, though, I believe part of the answer to the question of why I went to Kenya, is to write and share with others what I saw. Through my writings, maybe they, too, will be nudged by God to give, go, or pray. It might be to go to Africa, or maybe it will be to sponsor one of the many orphans who desperately need cared for and need an education. Maybe they’ll be encouraged to just go across the street to minister to their neighbor. But one thing I’ve learned the past few weeks is, we all need each other. We all need encouragement. We all need a helping hand. We all need prayer, and… we all need Jesus.

“There is one who is free in giving, and yet he grows richer. And there is one who keeps what he should give, but he ends up needing more. The man who gives much will have much, and he who helps others will be helped himself” (Proverbs 11:24 NLV).

Blessed beyond measure,

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Man on the Bicycle

You’ve probably heard the saying, “the third time is a charm”. For me, I have a general rule of thumb that whenever something is brought to my attention three times, I sense God might be trying to tell me something and I pause to pray about it.

So that’s why, just days before leaving for my mission’s trip to Africa, when I saw the same man three times within two days, I had to ask the Lord, “Why?” Why do I keep seeing this stranger? This man was the thinnest man I had ever seen. Each time I saw him he was riding his bicycle in almost 100 degree heat, intent on collecting cans from alongside the road and placing them in the wagon hitched to the back of his bike. He was obviously working very hard just for pennies.

That third occurrence was mid-morning, and already a scorcher. I quickly swerved around him, determined to put distance between us. But then I remembered my “third time” rule. Since I was running a little late to meet a prayer warrior friend for coffee (who was going to pray for me to “grow closer to God while in Africa and be used by Him to bless others”), I decided to just pray for the man on the bike to be protected and blessed, and keep driving.

Usually I feel better after praying – as if a burden has been lifted, but not this time. This time the burden actually increased.


I knew what that meant. But what could I do? Even though many generous people had helped offset the cost of my mission’s trip, my husband and I had still raided our savings account to pay for last minute supplies, shots, and inoculations. I needed my money to carry out God’s mission in Africa, didn’t? Couldn’t He lay it on the heart of another Christian who didn’t have all these expenses, to help this man out?

And then, deep in my heart I heard, “So, you’ll trust and obey Me to go part-way around the world to minister to others, but you won’t trust and obey Me for this one who I’ve placed before you three times.”

Oh, why do I have to keep learning the same lesson over and over? When will I get it that God owns it all, that I am simply a steward of His money? And when will I truly let go of money and stuff and trust God to take care of my needs, everyday, no matter where I am?

The man on the bicycle was obviously a proud man. He humbly accepted my assistance and expressed appreciation for prayer, yet made it clear he needed to get back to work.

When I returned to my air-conditioned car, it was with mixed emotions. Was this God’s way of preparing my heart for Africa? Was He teaching me (again) to put the needs of others first? To spontaneously give to and pray for others; especially those who have so much less than I do? (And I didn’t know it then, but owning a bicycle in some parts of Africa would denote wealth. Even the poorest among us can be considered rich by others.) We have so much to be thankful for.

Oh, and if you're local and you’ve seen the man on the bicycle, too… his name is Robert.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 25: 40).

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