Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Letter

      I sent a little letter to some folks about my trip and although I couldn't mail one to everyone, that's okay! Because I can post it right here. :) Here are my thoughts, feelings, well really, my heart and soul and mind on my experience in Africa. Enjoy!

My host sister Adriel from S.A.
and I enjoyed some coffee at the wonderfulWimpy! :)

      I have thought about writing this letter for weeks, not really knowing where to begin, or where to end. It seems like just yesterday that I began sending out letters announcing this incredible journey I was going to embark upon, with fears that raising enough money was not possible. Little did I know that it was only the beginning of God revealing his faithfulness to me. When I think of 2013, I do not think of a trip I went on or some experience I had overseas. I think of a collection of many small moments that have altered my mindset and emotional connection with man and God forever.
Whatever I thought I knew about God, or Africa, or people in general, it all went out the window.
Mpumalanga and I were best friends.
He was in Grade 1 at Olievenhoutbosch Christian School
where I worked during my time in S.A.
      It is difficult to talk about my trip because most people want to know what I did. The common expectation of going on a mission trip of any kind is that you do things. Yet even in the beginning days of my trip which I spent training with my team, one of the first things we learned is that Immersion is not about doing. It is about living. A lot of things we do, fade. You can build a house for someone, but eventually that house will fall apart. You can give handouts, whether money or other objects, and those too will eventually be gone or fade. Immersion was not about checking things off a list to say that I did my part, but it was about making every action, every word I spoke, and every thought even, to be part of living out my mission. In the end, whether someone builds a house, or gives an impressive cash donation, it is how you interact and love that will truly transform the hearts of people. But you see, building things or giving money away is so much easier. It can also be much more time efficient and convenient. As American’s or westerners, we are all about that. However, the sad truth is that people in Africa have not been changed by these gifts. If anything, it has made it worse. It has not made them realize that God is the foundation of all things and he is the ultimate provider. Instead, I learned that many African’s look at white people or westerners as a god. Meaning that they think we are the ones who should help them, that we should give them money, that they could never accomplish anything themselves. Why? Because they were never told they could. That is when I learned that the devil really does fool us all. Not only does he tell us lies about ourselves individually, but he lies to nations, to countries, to continents, like Africa. The saddest part is that Africa is the wealthiest continent regarding natural resources and material. If they would simply be educated of this and shown their own potential, they could become so much more. Instead, the cycle continues.
      Why am I telling you all this? Because once I too had no idea, I had no idea that all the things we thought were so helpful, maybe were not so helpful after all. Africa is a beautiful place with beautiful people. I learned on my trip to stop thinking that it was me who was going to offer Africa something, but that it was really them sharing their life with me-that it was me who needed to be taught that life is so much more than the box we put it in. More than designer labels, more than our fancy cars with shiny paint, even more than our 5 star restaurants. It reminds me of a verse from Proverbs 15 that says “Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is, Than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” Maybe I didn't always have the most delicious meal in front of me in Africa, but truthfully, the conversations were always heartfelt and with love. Just a few weeks into my trip, while we were still on the reservation, my team had a discussion about how we wanted to grow, whether in relation to God, ourselves, others, or nature. I specifically remember wanting to grow in relation to God. I realized that God to me was in a box, that there were certain things he could do but then there were things that God would never do, or maybe it was that he couldn't do them.
      Little did I know that God was preparing me, he was going to show me that he was bigger than I ever thought, or ever knew. Namibia was the second country my team and I traveled to. We had had a great beginning in South Africa. Relationships were built relatively quick, and communication seemed easy. We were on a roll with this whole Africa Immersion thing. When we arrived in Namibia, we heard that it was a community of kind and friendly people. We expected to have a somewhat similar experience to the one we had in South Africa (this is where my team would laugh, now knowing that we had no idea what we were really in for). Personally, my time in Namibia had a rough start. I had struggled with connecting to my South Africa host family, and I had high hopes for my host family in Namibia. After I was put into a host family, for a slew of reasons, within a couple days, I was unexpectedly taken out of that host family. I was then placed into a completely different environment with my second host family. The transition was incredibly difficult for me. My second host family in Namibia was an older couple and they tended to their own lives. Thankfully, they had their five-year-old grandson living with them and he was able to add an energy to the home. But most of the time, I felt unnoticed and conversation only happened when I initiated it. Communication itself became more difficult as they didn't speak as good English as those in South Africa. On top of that, all of my teammates except for me were placed into schools, whether elementary or high school. I, however, was placed at a creche, similar to a daycare. With around 22 children ages four-six, and they didn't speak English and their teacher, Marty, also spoke very little English. There I found myself, a continent away from anything familiar, in a small and deteriorating building, with 20+ children running wild, and a teacher who could barely understand what I was saying, as well as a host family who I wasn't even sure were interested in getting to know me. Let's just say I found myself in a lonely situation. I also wasn't guaranteed to see any of my teammates daily due to our different work locations and host families. This was it, it was me and God. The special thing is that God had given me a scripture long before my trip to Africa. The passage of Hebrews 11, that we walk by faith and not by sight, had been put into my mind and now it was becoming a reality and fast. I remember as my team debriefed after our first week there, I told my team that I felt as if I was walking in the dark and hoping that God had some purpose in what was happening. It didn't take long for me to realize that he did.
Marty and I with all the children from the creche on one of my last days there.

      Before traveling to Namibia, God put it on my heart to begin reading 2 Corinthians. As I read it during my time in Namibia, one weekend at church, the power point screen displayed 2 Corinthians 5:7, which says “we live by faith, not by sight.” The crazy part of this is that I had always thought that verse was in Hebrews, little did I know that it was actually in Corinthians, which God would have me read. Coincidence? I think not. God was speaking to me, reassuring me that he was definitely with me and wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. One of my biggest desires before going to Africa was wanting to build unique and deep friendships with the people I would meet. This was something that I had struggled with thus far on my trip. Especially being in the host family I was and working with Marty. How was I ever going to build deep relationships in these circumstances?! I should have known, once again, that God was planning for me to begin my most memorable relationship on my trip.
Marty, William, me, and Deidre :) My good friends in Rehoboth, Namibia!

      Her name was Deidre and she worked in the church that owned the property the creche was on. In the mornings, I would go over to the church to make coffee for Marty and I. This ended up being how I I met Deidre. Every morning her and I would chat for a bit while I made the coffee. Before I knew it, she began to open up to me, and share her life, her joys, her sorrows, her passions, and her weaknesses, with me. Weeks upon weeks we spent, some days, even hours talking. Truthfully, I sometimes spent a little too long “making coffee” simply because I wanted to chat with her. This eventually led to me helping her with some of her secretarial duties. One of my most beloved memories is one week when I told her how I missed pizza. She then said, “Ah! The church has a kitchen, should we make some?” I was shocked. She wanted to make pizza with me? She then went on to say how Dominee (Afrikaans for pastor), was out of town and it would be our little secret. The next day I went to the local shop, Spar, and bought the food to make it. That Friday we spent time making the dough from scratch and baked a huge pizza, and after all the kids from the creche left, Marty, Deidre, and I sat in the church eating the delicious pizza we made. We chuckled at our mischievous yet tasty act. Deidre called us partners in crime. It's hard for me to not cry as I write this. Especially because I know that I started out in Namibia so afraid and lonely, and when I left, I left behind some of the deepest relationships I'll ever make. Marty, she shared her heart with me, including her struggle with her husband who told her she wasn't a good wife, despite the fact that she walked an hour to and from the creche daily, where she was paid close to nothing. She said she would never leave him because she had made a vow to God to be with him until death. The children, though none of them ever had an actual conversation with me, I knew all their names and felt like I knew everything about them. My host family, we were able to laugh about the same things and make jokes to one another, but I also got to see into their past of pain and loss. Deidre, an unforeseen yet incredible blessing from God. We were two souls that found each other at just the right time, when I was feeling alone and she was raising her children alone as her husband worked hours away and was gone for months at a time. What I would give to walk those dusty Rehoboth roads again, to be able to see the smiles of those 22 children, to hug the women who taught me so much about life and commitment to others, to their friends, to their families, and ultimately to God.
      It is crazy to think that this was only a portion of my trip. There were so many other things that happened and that my team did. For me to try to to write them all out would probably take a novel! Instead, I'll take this last paragraph to explain some of the more technical things that we did to give a more full summary of my trip. We began on the Navajo Reservation for three weeks in New Mexico and Arizona. We worked with several different communities while we were there, leading an adult Bible study as well as doing a VBS. We were also able to do some manual labor projects for locals. In South Africa we worked in a squatter camp (a small community of shack-like homes) called Olievenhoutbosch. My team was split in half with four of us working at a christian primary school and the other four working at a disability center where they also assisted the workers in making jewelry for their button business. In Namibia we worked in schools and were also divided in half again, with four working with one church and for working with another church. We also were there during their 150th celebration of being a church, so we attended many church services and celebrations. In Lesotho, we learned how to “Farm God's Way”, a new and inventive way of farming that completely goes against today’s standards of farming, yet is much more beneficial and the crop yield is greatly increased. We spent two weeks at the home base, Growing Nations, with the students who were being taught this way of farming. We then went home with different students for two weeks to their villages to practice what they had learned about farming and to create their own farms using this new style. We then returned for two more weeks at the base and worked on the fields at GN.
Crossing the river as we walked an hour and a half to a village to spend
time with the locals.

   Overall, my trip to Africa was everything I hoped it to be but nothing I expected it to be. It will always remain as one of my most treasured memories. It has now been two months since I got married and I still don't know where exactly God will take Kevin and I, well, that is something only he knows. But coming back from Africa, God has taught me that even when it feels like I'm walking in the dark, that he will guide my every step. I expect this even now with the various unknown aspects of my life, like where will I go to college to finish my degree? What will my degree be in? Where will Kevin and I end up staying? Will I ever go back overseas? I can rest assured that if I “walk by faith, and not by sight”, that God will remain faithful every step of the way.
The team of students at Growing Nations that we worked with.
To my left is Lebohang, who I and Mary Kate (on the other side of him) stayed with.
Copyright Barry Mann Photography/AIM 2013

      Thank you for taking the time to read this long and well overdue letter, I hope that it is more than just someone else's story, but that you can take something from it and apply it to your own life and walk with God. Thank you again for supporting me, whether through prayer or financially. This experience of my life and what God taught me through it could not have happened without you!

My team, from our first day, to one of our very last in Lesotho.

with love,


Saturday, July 27, 2013

When I look at them, I see me

There's Tom, a young 30 something, wandering. Abandoned by his father and orphaned by his mother who died too soon from a game of Russian Roulette, he is searching. Will he ever find what he's looking for?

There's Martha, a grandmother of many precious babies. Her neighbors are her relatives and they are persistent in giving her grief. Taking her to court, arguing over the property line, and even losing 40 baby chickens to their dog. When will it end?

There's Charley, a pastor of the local church. He's caught between serving God and maintaining some of the Navajo tradition. He is faced with opposition for his position. He is looked down upon and  people have left his church. What did he do wrong?

There's me, a young woman attempting to serve God each day. I'm out of my comfort zone most days, struggling with my insecurities. Am I sure I can do this?

Today marks three weeks I have spent on the reservation. Each week has been full of its own surprises, its challenges, its joys. Some days I don't know how I'll survive with the heat, the sand covering what seems to be every inch of my body. Showers turned into quick rinses by the garden hose. And how about that dirt between my toes that I can't seem to get rid of. Might as well forget about the smell of my feet too because it isn't going to get better any time soon.

That's when I meet people like Tom, Martha, and Charley. They struggle every day too. They wonder about how they will survive, how they will make ends meet, how to face the difficult challenges that come their way.

I have realized that there truly are no differences between them and me. In fact, when I look at them, I see me. I see a heart that just wants peace. I see a heart that just wants love. I see a soul yearning for understanding and meaning. Navajo or white, we're all the same. 

This past week was a challenge. Our pace turned from teaching and talking to physical labor: remudding an adobe, taking everything out of a incredibly dusty and cough inducing shed just to put it back in, rebuilding an entire fence, digging a 5 ft deep hole for an outhouse, and rebuilding a sheep corral. We spent our nights sleeping on the cement floor of a hogan, where we had a few 'visitors' overnight. 

There were a few moments when I felt like quitting or at least crying. But God reminded me of a few things.

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised." 
-Hebrews 10:35-36

Whether it's me, Charley, Tom, or Martha, we will all face days where we feel like giving up and letting go. But God has called us to holdfast, to not let go but to remember his faithfulness and love. Instead of letting challenges separate me from others, they can be used to bring us together. They can be used to let someone know that I hurt too, and that I'm not the strongest person. Although maybe the Navajo and I come from two different worlds, we both come from the same Creator. Through him, we can be whole again.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Off-Roading Can Teach You

There we were, sitting in the desert as the sun beat upon us from high in the sky. We gazed over at the massive puddle the heavy rain from the night before had brought. It was so heavy that it was called a 'once in a 5 year' rain. It had washed away many of the "roads" in Bisti. The roads are not as you would imagine. Rather than paved roads, we traveled upon dirt trails, sometimes only big enough for one vehicle. The reservation is known for its windy, bumpy, and most definitely adventurous, dirt roads. Our attempt to avoid the deep puddle was successful, but getting back onto the dirt path did not turn out as well. We had taken our only other option: off-roading. Although it had started out as a fun and bumpy ride, it soon ended in our Ford Escape stuck deep in the thick mud with a back tire up in the air. Oops! We quickly jumped out and attempted pushing the car, but we quickly found out that our man power was not going to get us out of our dilemma.

In fact, earlier that day we had found ourselves in another dilemma. Our team had been putting on a VBS and adult Bible study at a sweet little church called White Rock Baptist Church. 

It was located in another town on the res near Bisti. It was our second day and although the Bible study led by Rachel and I (Rachel squared as they say :)) was going well, VBS had presented the other team members with many obstacles. It seemed like the odds were against our team. The number of children had doubled since the day before, adding up to nearly 40 children. Although having more kids come was exciting, it was also difficult feeling like there wasn't enough of us to lead and help in certain areas. In addition, some kids didn't want to be there, they weren't having it, which was followed by a bit of disrespect and lack of participation. Despite not being a leader for the VBS, the stress and frustration other team members were feeling affected all of us. We were all discouraged. All we wanted was for them to enjoy this week, to have fun and learn more about Jesus. What could we possibly do to fix the situation? 

That was the same question we began asking ourselves as we viewed our only form of transportation stuck deep in the muddy road. 

It was then, sitting in the hot sun, waiting for our other friends from Bisti to rescue us, that it all came together.

No matter how hard we pushed the car, all we were doing was digging it deeper into the mud. It was the same with the kids at VBS, no matter how hard my team tried to have them cooperate, we were only digging ourselves deeper. 

What we needed was God's help. We had been searching in ourselves for the answer, for the perfect solution. Our Ford didn't get stuck for no reason. It was God saying "Hello! I am the answer! You need ME!" We quickly realized that it was God who would change the hearts of the children, not any of us. 

It was something I needed to hear too. Co-leading an adult Bible study for the first time, in a new place with new people, was intimidating. I kept wondering how I would seem well organized and prepared. What if I didn't know what to say? How would I handle those foreseen awkward moments? What if I didn't have the answer? I found myself seeking to find the answer within myself rather than God. Instead of trying to go in all put together, I realized that God is the only one who can truly work through the Bible study and people there.  Letting go of the control I had, (as if I had any), allowed God to use me in better ways than I could have on my own. 

Thankfully Rachel had experience and I was able to learn so much from her. I am also thankful to say that the awkward moments were few and the meaningful moments were plentiful.

Eventually, an hour and a half later, we were rescued by some friends from Roger Deal Memorial Baptist Church, which is where we had helped out the previous weekend. The EM Staff there served us a delicious dinner. 

That's not where it ended though. As we finished up dinner, I walked outside to feel rain sprinkling on my arms. Looking up, I saw a beautiful rainbow. God's presence was there with us and I was reminded of his faithfulness once again. 

Some photos from the past week (cuz everybody loves those!):

They were having a dance off! 

A yummy Navajo Taco! Included fried bread, beans+meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa and sour cream! NOM NOM!
My team at the Badlands :)
My team with the amazing Rhonda from Roger Deal Memorial Baptist Church
Can I get a holla for a sillhoutte!? 
Some of our awesome Bible study! I will miss them so much! <3 On the top right is Ethel and Nancy.  Bottom right is Esther, Rachel, and Mary. On the left is Bernice, Felix and me. :)

All of us on our last day! I love this little church.. And I will miss it!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Big News!

My team and I were informed of some pretty significant news during our training yesterday. Due to some complications, we are unable to go to Mozambique. That's right. Mozambique is now out of the plan and instead we will most likely travel to Namibia. Namibia is a country northwest of South Africa on the coast. It is essentially opposite of Mozambique. 

Although we were all a bit disappointed in the news, we are also very excited to know that God desires for us to be somewhere else instead. Please continue to pray for this new update as plans and opportunities for us to serve in the community are being worked out. Hein, EM's community partner/leader for all of our work in Africa, lives in South Africa but is originally from Namibia. Not only is it exciting for us to see what God has in store but it is exciting for Hein as well knowing that we are going to experience his homeland. 

As for the team, we are spending a lot of time in training. Yesterday we spent a total of 8-9 hours together discussing various topics such as doctrine, approaching other cultures, our worldview, and so much more. There is so much preparation happening as we approach diving into the Navajo Reservation as well as Africa in the upcoming weeks. Please pray for our team as God works to prepare us to go into these new places with open hearts, ears, and minds so that we may love deeply, listen well, and understand greater.

Lastly, I have really enjoyed getting to spend so much time with my teammates. I feel that God has definitely handcrafted this team and although we will experience this journey together, He also has many things to teach us individually. Please pray for my teammates and I as God reveals these things to us.

With love,

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Beginning


... to New Mexico that is. :)

After an early morning flight and three hour layover in Chicago plus a four hour drive from Albuquerque, my team and I have arrived at Many Waters Mission. We are located near a town called Farmington, with the Navajo Res. only a few miles away.
We are spending the next few days training with our leader Lindsey, Heather (part of EM Staff and she also went on the first Africa Immersion trip with Lindsey last year) as well as Chris Clum, the director of EM. 

Pretty awesome stuff thus far! We have begun talking about what our part in this six month journey looks like. A huge part of EM is not going into cultures and communities with an agenda as the in charge white Americans. Instead it's about entering communities and joining along side of projects already in motion. Consequently, a lot of our days aren't scheduled with a structured plan from 9-5. Instead, we are able to be open and flexible to not only the people's needs but wherever God may be calling us to serve. 

I am excited to see the next few days of training unfold, as well as spending more time with my team and appreciating the beautiful New Mexico landscape.

New [Mexico] Experiences:
-Everything is mostly dirt and desert. Forget green grass and trees.
-Beautiful mountains surround me and amaze me constantly, the hills of PA got nothing on these beauties.
-IT'S HAWWWWT. But it's a dry heat, so although I sweat, at least I don't melt like in the humidity of PA.

With love,

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A New Way to Donate

Some of my other team members have been using this website to receive donations so I thought I would give it a try!

It's much simpler and doesn't require you to have a login or create an account. If you have a few spare dollars, anything at all, please consider donating! Every bit helps! :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Little Update

As of today I mailed out another set of letters. In case you weren't someone who received one, here's your own internet version. :)

       Approximately four months ago I mailed out my first set of letters describing my upcoming trip to Africa. The response was overwhelming. In fact, in the first month alone I raised more than half of the total cost of my trip. It became even clearer to me that Africa is where God wants me to be for the second half of this year.
       When I mailed my letters in January, it marked 184 days out from the day I leave. Now it is almost less than 70. It always fascinates me how quickly time passes by. Thinking about my continually shortening time left here in Pittsburgh, it causes me to reflect about the time I have left here on Earth and each day that God gives me. Each new day that I can awake to morning light and be given another opportunity to live differently today for God. There are times when it becomes habit to think that being different is a goal, rather than a lifestyle. In this I realize that being different does not come tomorrow unless it begins today.
       As my time here in Pittsburgh shortens, my appreciation for my family and friends grows ever more. Knowing that I am leaving has reminded me to appreciate all of life for what it is now, because what today is may not be the same as tomorrow. At my age, with most of my peers as young adults trying to figure out where to go, I consistently feel the pulse of wondering when the next big ‘life event’ will happen. Everyone is waiting until they get to college, graduate college, get a job, get married, etc. We are always waiting for tomorrow rather than finding the priceless value that exists in today. I love how God is teaching me so much from this trip, even though I have yet to experience it. I do believe these blessings and lessons will continue to be given during and surely after my trip.
       I wanted to thank and encourage all of those who have previously or are currently supporting me in my endeavors. You have shown me the love and generosity of God and it is such a beautiful thing! Currently I have obtained $7,100, leaving $2,200 left to raise. Knowing that God has brought me this far, I rest assured knowing He will bring me the rest of the way. For those who have not financially supported me, consider if this is an opportunity for you to give. Giving is not simply fulfilling the temporary trip I am adventuring onto, but it is also fulfilling and supporting the eternal kingdom of God as well as the people of each country I visit. As always, please continue to pray for not only me but the rest of my team as well!

If you are excited about my upcoming adventure and would like to support me in it then please view the instructions on the right side of this page which will tell you how you can!

Thanks a bunches!

With love,