La Vie en Togo

 

 

Different

It’s the word we choose when we try to compare our lifestyles. Different because we don’t struggle with the same things. Different because of the things we have or don’t have. Different because of the languages we speak, or the way we express affection or anger. Different.

Different has a way of poisoning us. What is really just a word turns into a barrier, a wall, a separation between what “we” do against what “they” do. Somewhere along the lines, our way becomes better than theirs, but we won’t admit to believing that, we just say “we’re just different.”

I’d like to challenge that. I’d like to challenge the belief that we all seem to have and say that even though the circumstances may not be identical, that our lives are made of the same things. I’ve been in many places, and I’ve seen the same things. Joy, life, excitement, frustration, boredom, anger, confusion, sadness- these things are everywhere. When we choose to open our eyes, we can see that, but there’s that magic word- choose.

Take a moment and look outside yourself. Look at the people around you and see the way they do things. Is it different? Quite possibly, yes. But can you relate to them? Can you relate to the mum who is visibly frustrated with her children, whether she portrays it the way you would or not? Can you relate to the teacher who is so proud of all of his students, regardless of whether they meet national standards or not? Can you relate to the father who would do anything to provide for his family, even if he works a different job than you?

What I saw in Togo was different than what I saw in Canada, or Australia, or Papua New Guinea. What I saw in West Africa is even different from what I saw in South Africa, but do you know what tied it all together? There’s a common theme in all of these places, something that, when I chose to look for it, I could relate to? It’s people, doing life, right where they are. I smile because they are beautiful, and they smile because they’ve never felt hair like mine before. I cry because they deserve more than just trying to survive, and they cry because someone is hearing their story. I laugh because they are unashamed, and they laugh because I dance and look ridiculous doing it.

You see, we’re not that different. There is no “us” and “them” in my eyes. I am a girl of 22, seeing life and death, joy and pain, new and old, all over the world. She is a girl of 22, seeing the exact same things, but through her own eyes, her own perspective, her own experiences. We all laugh. We all cry. We all sing. We all dance. We all live.

So let’s live. Let’s live as if there were no barriers. We need to look past our differences and realize that He created us to live this life together, with Him. Look inside and ask yourself where you have created those barriers, the fences that keep you on different sides. Ask yourself where you’ve used the word different in place of better. It’s not an easy process, but you have to do it. Walls and fences and barriers make for a lonely life, one full of comparisons, loneliness and pride.

So breathe. Laugh. Cry. Dance. LIVE.

Live life out loud, knowing that the only differences that keep us apart are the ones you choose to hide behind.

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Lessons from today

This day was one I will always remember. I’ll remember it because it was an ordinary day that, when turned to God, becomes something surprising and beautiful and sometimes- just what you need.

This was a day when God took me on an adventure with an incredible friend. A group of us walked to the local market and I was overwhelmed, thirsty and unimpressed. This market was nothing special, nothing set it apart from all the other markets we constantly found ourselves in. To be honest, I was in an awful mood, not exactly the person you might deem fit to lead a team across the world. Exhausted and thirsty, we decided to walk the 45 minutes back to where we were staying. Along the way, I remembered a scene I wanted to take a photo of- two trees hanging over the road, perfectly framing the mountain on the horizon behind it. I set out with my student and sent the others on ahead so we could take some photos. When we finished, we decided to walk a bit further past the trees and happened to run into our friend, Ellie, who we had met just that morning.

African’s continually amaze me. When I was in South Africa in 2008, the hospitality and generosity of the people humbled me, and this day was no exception.  Ellie invited the two of us to his home, which he had built himself (and is in the process of finishing) just behind his parent’s house. He called to his wife, Simonè, who came out to greet us, holding their 3 month old daughter. I wasted no time in taking that beautiful girl into my arms as Ellie set up a bench for us and a chair for himself and invited us for tea.

 Here I was, sitting with my Korean and Togolese friends, holding a 3 month old baby, in Africa, being offered organic, home grown tea. A beautiful surprise, perfectly timed, and perfectly suited to me. 

Ellie was a blessing, a gift from God I’m sure. God knew the state of my heart, ungrateful, annoyed, exhausted and ready to be an extreme introvert, and He gave me 4 things I love- friends, a baby, Africa and tea. As I reflected on the day, I was humbled and challenged and encouraged all at once.

Humbled because God looked at me in my dirt, and He chose to give me the best blessing He could at that moment. He didn’t look at me in my bad mood and choose to leave me alone until I sorted it out, He looked at me and said “She could use this right about now.” Do I do the same? When I encounter someone having a bad day, do I seek for the best way to bless them? Do I truly desire to love the ones who don’t love me?

Challenged because far too often, I only look out for myself. Even in a situation where I’ve been leading a team for the past 2 months, my mind still snaps instantly to what I want/need/desire etc. I’m sure there was another person that day, guaranteed at least at some point on this trip, who needed a blessing. Did I choose to serve them? Did I choose to ask them, to pray with them, to set aside what I needed/wanted, in order to bless them? It’s a simple thing, really. We try to make it sound complicated so we don’t have to do it, but really it’s simple. I was challenged to get over myself, again. (still learning)

Encouraged to know, and be blatantly reminded, that God knows my heart. He knows what makes me smile, what reminds me of home, what I need and in which moment I need it. I was encouraged to know that He loves me even if I’m in a terrible mood, and encouraged to bless others simply. It was refreshing to know that something as simple as tea can change someone’s entire mood as it did for me.

– – – – – –

So I’ve been challenged, encouraged and humbled, all in one afternoon. As we set out, thanking Ellie profusely for the blessing it was to sit with him, to hear his stories of God’s faithfulness, to pray for healing for his sister, I nearly cried. You could chalk  it up to homesickness, exhaustion, frustration- but I choose to give credit to God, for being the One who made my heart and knows the simple things that make me smile. I felt so blessed to be so loved. And I pray you feel that too.

So challenge yourself, be encouraged, and humble yourself. I’m sure you could find a million ways to bless the people around you. Can I call you to action? To love and serve them, even if they never know? Even if they don’t show their appreciation, and even if their hearts are never warmed to yours? Jesus was the best example of this- serving people who, really, had nothing to offer Him, but aren’t you glad He did?

Be blessed, my friend. You are loved!

Ellie-tea

Kathleen teapotJiminSamtea

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With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Lay it down

It’s Tuesday night, 10pm to be exact. I’m laying in my bed in Hawaii, and all my roommates are asleep. If it wasn’t for the soft pounding of “Clair de Lune” rushing through my headphones, I’d hear the slow in’s and out’s of their sleep cycles. Today has been a long day. Not because of the hours I’ve been awake, nor the amount of things I’ve had to check off my “to do” list. Today has been a long day because my heart is tired of one little word.

It’s a word I can’t get used to. A word that only has deep meaning when someone becomes important to you. It’s a word that doesn’t ever get easier to say, and actually has the potential to build up a bit of bitterness inside you. I know it has for me, not just in the past, but also today. I hate goodbye.

Goodbye sucks, and let me tell you something- God never intended for us to say goodbye. If only we had listened. If only Adam and Eve didn’t fall into the temptation of something lesser than Him. If only, if only.

Let’s face it- I could live in the land of “if only’s”, but that wouldn’t help me. It wouldn’t move me closer to my friends, it wouldn’t stop me from missing my family, and it wouldn’t let me receive His heart in this situation. So what do I do? How do I live knowing that goodbye sucks, that goodbye is inevitable, and necessary?

Sometimes I’ve been tempted to shut off, and mum can tell you that I’ve succeeded multiple times in doing so. It’s how I safeguard my heart. Here’s my logic: Goodbye only hurts when you say goodbye to someone you love. SO: If I stop loving people, then when they leave me/I leave them, it won’t hurt anymore.

I’ve lived this out, sadly, and let me tell you, it’s a rotten idea. We are meant to love. We’re meant to live together, through the joy, the pain, the excitement and sadness, we are not meant to do this all alone.

Our lectures last week were about fear of the Lord. No, not fear that He is going to smite you, not fear that He can and will wipe you off the face of this earth, but healthy fear. Part of fearing Him is laying down our rights, and I’ve talked about this before I’m sure, but He is always speaking newness, and so I’ve been listening. “What does hating goodbye have to do with me laying down my rights?” Do I have the right to have all my friends in my life forever? Do I have the right to walk with the same people always? How about to keep them to myself, even though they were meant to do great things in new places? Do I have the right to get to know them when I want, or to spend as much time with them as I want?

Nope.

Not even a little.

See, I’ve learned that God, He’s a good God. He knows my heart, even the nasty, disgusting parts that I try to hide from you. He sees all of that, and He sees that my hate for goodbyes comes from a place deep within. I’ve learned that He knows best, even though I fight with Him all the time, being so sure that I’ve got it under control. Does it make it easier when my friends get in vans and airplanes and leave? Not always. But I don’t have to pretend with Him. Today I sat in the middle of the sidewalk with a friend and we just sat and cried. We cried because people mean something to us, they sit in our hearts, and we are thankful for them. We cried because yes, saying goodbye is hard, but we also know that they are meant for greatness. I will let them go (as if I have a choice), and serve the best way they can: by listening to Him.

So: when goodbyes suck, tell Him. Tell Him how much you hate them, and I guarantee He will agree. But one day, one glorious day, there will be no more goodbyes. No more.

Take that, Satan.

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With Strength that is not my own. Sam

Before I go….

Watch this:

 

 

Wasn’t that amazing?? This is the extreme talent that I get to accompany to Togo in 17 short days! This video was produced by my team, and this is just a taste. We have been praying and seeking God out so much in the past week, just really asking Him what His will is for our team. What do the people there need most? How can we meet that need, or even just be a part of it?

If you pray, please pray for protection from distractions and for safety. We have just heard from our student Selina, and her doctors have cleared her to come with us to Togo. (She took a hard fall and broke her elbow, and since then has travelled back and forth between Hawaii and South Korea in order to get surgery and check ups). We know that when we face great resistance, it can be because of the work we are doing, and so please pray for strength and wisdom for my co-leader Anna and I as we endeavour to take this team across 2 oceans and through 5 countries within the next 3 months. (Did I just say 5 countries??)

I’d personally like to thank you for reading so faithfully (even if you’ve missed a few…too many). The work I do out here is a balance of such a joy because I feel alive, and of exhaustion because even in your afternoon off, your work is never done. But please hear that with ears of appreciation, because although this job is never ending, it is also so  rewarding. Walking through discipleship seems ideal until you’re in the middle of it, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am so blessed and thankful to God for the places He’s brought me over the years, and so thankful that I get to share it with you.

And think long term! I will be home in October and would love to sit with you and tell you stories of Hawaii- of the discipleship school process, what it looks like on a daily basis, what it’s greatest joys and challenges are, and life in Togo- of abandoned babies, street children, voodoo markets, and the overwhelming God of Africa who is SO in love with His people and their culture.

I’ll leave you with a quote I read this week. I’ve been walking through theologies and denominations, and have come to realize that there is beauty in the brokenness. Although I would love for all to attend one church and be one Body, I do accept that we are all so different, and as long as we work together, different churches are ok. Anyways, I digress, I found a quote by Martin Luther, a man who had more courage than many of us combined.

“Sometimes when we are called to obey, the fear does not subside and we are expected to move against the fear. One must choose to do it afraid.”

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So here’s to travelling across land and sea, to jumping into foreign-for-now cultures. Here’s to committing to a cause greater than ourselves, to moving against fear, and to seeking Him in the beautiful mess.

Join me?

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Philippians

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I just finished Philippians. I’ve been taking it one chapter a week, asking God “What does this look like for my team? What lessons are for me in this?” Ask and you shall receive, He said, and I’ve seen the lessons popping out at me ever since. For your sake I will keep it to a minimum, just highlighting a few from each chapter, but I’d like to encourage you to take this on for yourself. Pick a book and ask Him to speak about it, about what was going on when it was written, and what it means for you today. So here we go!

Chapter 1: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”  Phil.1:6 

This was a big one for me, as I look towards leading this team (with my beautiful Anna, of course). First of all- God is the one who began the good work among the Philippians, not Paul. Even though Paul was doing the “dirty work” of discipleship, God is the one who begins it, and therefore: He is faithful to complete it. God isn’t someone who does things halfway. If we only learn a lesson halfway, it’s because we didn’t push through to the other side, not because God deserted us in the process.

Another major point I took from this verse is something that I gleamed from my own outreach to Papua New Guinea in 2011. Paul was separated from the Philippians, he isn’t able to be with the people who bring him great joy because of his suffering for Christ. That means that he was shepherding them for a time and then had to leave before he saw their transformation completed. What does that mean for me? For our team? Well #1 it means that the students, as well as me, will be learning lessons that may not be fully understood while we are together. The learning process will continue after the outreach, and I may not be around to see it. Will I be ok with that? And for us as a team, we will see issues that we won’t like. We’ll see corrupt orphanages, street children, a devalued nation and it will break us. There’s no way we’ll be able to “fix” it all in 11 short weeks. Will we be strong enough to walk away, after pouring out our hearts, even if we don’t see the change?

Chapter 2: “Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” Phil 2:2

Unity is something our team is striving for, yet isn’t something that can be forced. Unity comes when we are honest with each other, when we repent together, when we lay down our desires and hopes for this trip, and we come together and ask God for His heart, His vision, and His plans for us. Unity comes when we work together to pursue God, because all good things come from Him. Paul is pleased when the people work together, pursuing love together, being Christ-like together. Our team will have a lot going on, but we will be together, and that is one of the most important things.

“Though He (Jesus)  was God, He didn’t think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave.” vs. 6&7

This one hit me. Big black letters are scribbled in my journal, simply saying “Sam, lower yourself.” I am here to serve- serve Him, serve my team, and serve Togo. Sometimes I catch myself thinking I deserve a special acknowledgement, I mean “I always serve…” but that’s my job. Do you congratulate your washing machine when it washes your clothes? No- because that’s it’s job. My job is to serve, and if Jesus Christ, our LORD, could lower Himself to a person who couldn’t even control His own bladder (an infant), I need to lower myself. I need to serve my team, and treat them with love and respect and admiration. Samantha Nicole- get over yourself.

Chapter 3“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” Phil. 3:10-11

I want to know the mighty power!! Yes Lord! Pick me! I want to see miracles, I want to see you raise the dead. I want, I want, I want. But do I want the suffering that goes with it? I’m reminded here to be wise with my prayers- I want to see miracles, but I never finish the verse. Am I as eager to suffer as I am to see His glory? This was definitely one that I had to double check with my spirit, because to be frank, I’m a selfish person. What do you think about this?

Chapter 4: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” Phil. 4:11

This one especially makes me stop and think, mainly because I don’t think much about this verse until my “rights” have been exposed as “privileges.” Will I be ok in 3 weeks when I don’t have internet in the palm of my hand, when I can’t text my mum real quick, or send her a photo of those sweet babies immediately after I take it? Will I be ok when I have to sleep under a mosquito net, or when all we have to eat is starch and water? Will I be content when I have to hand wash my clothes and limit my shower times? What about when my team gets on my nerves, or we’re short on cash, or our transportation is uncomfortable and my head hurts? Will I be content?

Will I be content when “all I have” is Christ? When all the comforts of this life are stripped, and what’s left is my mess of a heart and what little knowledge I have of Him? Will I be content? Would you?

It’s my prayer that by the end of this school, by the time we land back here in Kona on September 14th, that I will have learned even just a sliver of this, to be content no matter what. Whether I have mum’s home cooking, my single bed, no shower, shelter from the rain, my family, my team or no one at all- I hope to be content. Pray with me?

With Strength that’s not my own, Sam

But why….

Why go all the way around the world? Why try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language? Why pay to serve? Why?

I say why not.

Why not let her know she’s worth it? Why not get out of my comfort zone for her? Why not make a personal sacrifice? Why not let it hit home by seeing it with my own eyes?

She has infinite value, He said it in His Word. He created her with purpose, with plans for a full and rich and beautiful life, and that’s been stolen from her. Day after day she’s told she’s not worth it, she’s treated like nothing more than an object. She’s told that her life was a mistake, that she’s just the result of a loveless night of lust, and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of those lies she’s believing, I’m sick of the simple needs that she is denied. I’m sick of it all, and I’m sick of the fact that I could just so easily close my eyes to it all. I could go about my days just like I did for the majority of my past and just pretend like it doesn’t exist. It shouldn’t be that easy! I shouldn’t be able to change the channel, close the magazine or turn off the radio to keep myself in my safe little world. I’m sick of it, and it has to change.

So watch me go. Tell me I don’t have to go all the way over there to see it, because I agree, I see that too. But I also know that He’s called me. He’s asked me to go, and now the ball’s in my court. He’s sending me to her, He’s challenged me and broken me and picked me up out of my own filth and tears. He’s asked me to go, but what about you? Where is He sending you? Can we do this together? Can we choose to be honest about this life, this world we’re in? Let’s look outside our Pottery Barn lives and see the dirt. Let’s see the hurt, the sadness, the pain and the sickness. But don’t get depressed, don’t be discouraged. If you keep looking, you’ll find it and it will break you. You’ll find the hope in her eyes as she sees you coming. Look for that, and then you’ll get it. Then you’ll understand why I must go.

So what do you say?

Take my hand- let’s go.

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With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Oh I just, I just want to be like you

I couldn’t fit all the words in a status update on Facebook, and I made myself too busy to write it on real paper in order to fly it to you on time, but I have a few things to say to you, and I want the world to know. I want them to know them woman I know, to hear stories of your faithfulness, your successes, your glory moments. Sadly I don’t have many photos of us, so let’s start planning our family photos for October right now, ok?

Mum,

Right now I’m staring out the window of my house in Hawaii, I can see the ocean from where I sit, but even more so I see the rain pouring down in front of me. It reminds me of all those times growing up as kids where our whole family would make it’s way out to the front porch on the farm and watch the thunderstorms. It’s a simple little memory, but it proves my point: you wanted us to be together. From matching dresses lined up in the church pews, to devotions time at breakfast, communal baths and sharing rooms, we were together, and that has made all the difference. You taught me that even if you have nothing, you still have each other, and whether you like it or not, your family will be there waiting for you.

One thing I remember most about you is your honesty, how you are willing to say what’s going onside of  that beautiful brain of yours, even if it’s a short sentence of “I’m not sure where I’m at right now.” Your honesty has challenged me- in good and bad ways- but has been such an encouragement. When I’d come home from school upset because I was being teased, you always just told me “If they don’t like you, that’s their loss- you just go on being you and ignore them. They’ll come around one day.” You never told me to change, you never gave in to my desperate pleas to buy me name brand anything, because those things didn’t matter. What mattered to you was being real, being honest about where you’re at, being Christ-like, and having fun.

I woke up this morning thinking about how sad I was that I wasn’t going to be with you today. I imagined the look on your face as you walked into your surprise birthday party last night (I won’t say the number…) and wished I could be there, but we both know that God’s plans are not our plans, and I rest easy knowing we are both incredibly blessed. But as I picked up my journal I started thinking “Today is Mother’s Day, and although I’m not a mum, in God’s timing I will be. What kind of mum do I want to be?” And I thought of you. I want to be a mum who encourages her children to be who God created them to be, to release them from my expectations and let them be free to be themselves. I want to be a mum who treasures quality time with each child individually, who takes the time to nurture them one by one, and shows them the joy of having a big family. One day I dream of being the woman that people shake their heads at because she cheers so loud, celebrates every small achievement, and stops in the middle of her day to drop to her knees in prayer with her babies. I want to be “that mum”. I want to be the mum that has little eyes rolling at me because of my simplicity, but at the same time, those eyes know that in a heartbeat, I’d be there fighting with them. “If you need me call me, no matter where you are, no matter how far, don’t worry, baby.” That will be me.

And how can I guarantee that will be me? By letting that be me, right now. I need to live those words out now, and for that example I look to you. Even this past week I called you, and as you walked around making dinner for my lucky dad, I got to pour my heart out to you, to tell you about all the tears I cried this week, about all these fears I’ve had to get over. And you didn’t rush me or interrupt me, you just listened. You found places where we connected, where God has been teaching us the same things and you related to me. I hung up that phone and was so conflicted- I felt so blessed to have you to talk to, but so sad that I wasn’t there in person before you with a cup of tea.

Mum, I could go on and on about you, and I need to do that more often. I need to let you know how grateful I am for you, how you’ve raised me up to be the girl I am today. Although it makes me sad knowing we’re over 7000km away from each other, I know that God has us both where He wants us, and we just need to trust Him. Know that I’m missing you from out here, and can’t wait for the day when you get to come visit me. I’ll show you all the prettiest places, take you to the sweet cafe’s, bring you to Monday morning worship where you can sing your heart out, and let you rest in the Hawaiian sun. I love you. I miss you. And I can’t wait until the end of September when you get to spoil me I get to see you again.

Much love, Mum

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With Strength that is not my own, Sam