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

beautifullight

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

One Step for a Cross

I survived. Scratch that, I did more than survive. I came back from Papua New Guinea yesterday at 3:00, and my heart has been a beautiful mess ever since. Many times throughout the past 6 weeks I was wondering how I could tell you what I’ve been through in a way that you would understand, and so often I felt like it couldn’t be done. I could give you statistics, but that would omit any personal achievements. I could give you personal achievements, but those wouldn’t mean much to you. I’d love to tell you everything, but I don’t have enough word space for that, but I did write a nifty journal entry explaining my heart in the last week, and I’d love to share a piece of it with you.

“When you spend 6 weeks in a rainforest, you’re bound to learn some important things about your life, and why you’re here. But when you’re lead into that forest by a God who needs you there, you learn even more about how “your” life really isn’t yours at all. Very quickly, all of the “I deserve” becomes “I am blessed to receive”, the “basic human rights” turn out to not be so “basic”, and the way you’ve viewed life before those 6 weeks has forever been changed. How can you escape the forest without seeing that God is good, and that He is everywhere? He’s in the creative way the nature blends together so perfectly. He’s in the awesome power rumbling in the thunderstorms. He’s in the eyes of the tiniest child looking for some love. God is here.
PNG definitely is the land of the unexpected. You can wake up in the morning and see nothing but blue skies, not a cloud anywhere. The next thing you know, you’re out walking around when a storm erupts. I’ve learned there’s no way you can predict the future. God has a funny way of letting you know who’s in charge. We’ve been through some pretty tough times (to put it lightly), but He’s always been there to give us exactly what we need, with His perfect timing. In the middle of a 10 hour hike, and you’ve already passed the point of giving it all you’ve got. You know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God is slowly but surely lifting you you up the mountains and through the mud. Or, when you feel called to speak in front of hundreds of people, and you’re up next, when suddenly you realize, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to say.” But, you know you’re meant to speak, so you ask for the right words, and you manage to blow them out of the water for 45 minutes. Only with God.
In the end, when you’ve taken the last step, what have you learned? In the last 6 weeks, what about you has changed? Because there’s no way you can go through everything you’ve gone through and be the same girl as before. You have had the beautiful chance to experience another piece of God, a new piece of Him you understood, but hadn’t experienced. It’s changed you from the inside out. People aren’t just people any more, and money isn’t nearly as important. As I look towards my future, I no longer doubt God’s ability to provide for me, in all areas. I know He’ll provide, because I’ve been surviving off His blessings for the past 6 weeks. Crazy things happen when God is given room to be God.”

So. For those of you who like numbers. Through the six weeks, we hiked on a total of 14 days, for a total of 63 1/2 hours. On a map of Papua New Guinea from 1980, to fly straight from Kerema, our starting point, to Menyamya, our final destination, was a total of 70km. What you need to know: this map was 21 years old, and 100% inaccurate. I’m estimating that the hike was a good 150km, not including all the zig-zagging we did, plus all the inclines. At our highest altitude, we were 2280m above sea level, which is 100% accurate, because we actually started our hike by stepping out of a boat off the ocean. After reading over this, I’ve realized how this is doing the trip a huge injustice. Words are hard to piece together to give you a fair understanding of what we’ve gone through. I hope I can take some time with each of you when I get back and give you some more details. Until then, this will have to do.

When I was hiking, there were points where I felt “I have absolutely nothing left” I knew that I couldn’t go any further. My mind played games with me. Defeat merely begins to explain it. But when I got to the spot where my foot felt like a cement block, all I could remember was “One step, one more step. He took the Cross. I can take a step for that”. Where in your life have your feet stopped moving? I want you to know you can keep going. You CAN continue on, because He’s there to help you, no matter what situation you’re stuck in. This is where you can let God be God. And He’ll never stop surprising you.

Again, I want to say thank you SO much. Thank you for praying. Thank you for saying hi, for encouraging me, and for supporting me from so far away. I have been blessed so much by all of you, God is a good, good, God. I can’t wait to see all of your beautiful faces in less than 2 weeks!!!

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Study?

Have you closed the Bible, sat in your chair for a minute, and then wondered what exactly you just read? I don’t know how many times I’ve done that. I’ve read so much, but never understood what I was reading. I’ve always wanted to know though. I’ve made a few weak attempts at “studying” the Bible, but most of the time I just gave up. It was so frustrating! What was the point of reading if I couldn’t understand it?

This week we did -Inductive Bible Study- on the book of Philemon. Now, in our reference guides for our DTS it said we would be doing this, so I had a head’s up. Also, the girls in my flat were talking about it before the lectures started. I don’t know about you, but Bible study hasn’t really been on my personal Top 10 things to do, so I wasn’t too excited about this week. All of these girls though were so excited for Bible Study, and I couldn’t figure out why! So Monday morning comes around, and our speaker hands out these booklets. They have the book of Philemon in it, along with methods for reading the Bible, and a whole load of context about Philemon. He asked us to read the book and summarize what we thought Paul was saying in this letter, so I did. Let me tell you, by the end of the week we had ripped that book to pieces! We learned context, we learned how to read OUT of the passage, rather than read INTO the passage, and we learned what Paul was teaching Philemon, rather than what he was telling him. After this week, I have such a huge desire to know what the Bible is talking about, not just read it. If I’m reading, I would love to be able to get something out of it, and I think that’s God’s hope for me to. SO! I’ve decided to read the Bible in a year. Did you know that only 20% of Christian’s have read the entire Bible? Jonathan, our speaker asked us these questions this week.

Do you believe the Bible is truth? (Yes)

Have you read the whole Bible? (No)

How do you know it’s truth, if you haven’t read the whole thing? He really challenged us to know what we are saying before we answer those questions. So I’m hoping to make it into the 20% category by next year. Want to join me? I’m interested in starting a Bible study when I get back, but if anyone wants to start it before I get there, I’m fine with that too! Message me if you’re interested in either of these things, it doesn’t matter where you’re from! Any church, any town, any age. God wants to impart knowledge to all his children.

So on Saturday we are leaving for our first outreach! How crazy is that? I’ve been here for 8 weeks, and they already want me to do something! Ha, just joking, but really, we leave in the morning, and we’ll be driving about 5 hours north of Townsville to a city called Cairns. (pronounced caans) Cairns is a real tourist city, so we’ll be doing a bunch of evangelism with the backpackers that run through the city and the beach area. We’ve been invited to a few churches and schools also to speak, so I’m getting nervous! In one of the schools though we’ll be making breakfast for the students and then we get to hang out with them and talk to them, so that’s pretty sweet. I’m just really looking forward to seeing the doors that God is going to bust open for us! Oh! And here’s a story to let you in on how crazy our God is! Roger, one of the guys on my outreach team, was stressing out a bit Thursday night because our outreach fees were due Friday. If we didn’t get our money in, we wouldn’t be able to go, and Roger didn’t have any of the money he needed. All glory to God though, Roger made one phone call, and BAM, all of his outreach is paid for!! The couple he contacted told him that God had told them to stop giving money to the church they regularly donated to, and to save it for something, but they didn’t know what. They knew that someone would need that money, and when Roger called them to ask, they felt God releasing them to do that for him! That’s $3500! How awesome is God eh?!

Thanks so much for reading! Don’t forget to drop a comment too, alright? I like to hear your hearts just as much as you like to hear mine, so speak up! Oh, and don’t forget to feed your souls this week!

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honour them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation’.”  Psalm 91:14-16

Shine!

With Strength that is not my own, Sam