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.

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.

change

With Strength that is not my own. Sam

Philippians

ihavelearned

 

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.

photo

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Dare to dream BIG

This week was a whole lot of everything. It was busy, it was blessed, it was overwhelming. It had a new schedule, it got me thinking about the April school a lot. I, sadly, only got to be in lectures with the beautiful Layne Grime for one full day, but God lined it up so that I was in for just the right one.

Dream list

You and I know, to varying degrees, how much we are loved. Even if people don’t vocalize it enough, you can feel it and you can read it in His letters that we are loved unconditionally. When that realization sinks deep in your heart, just like with a person, you want to honour that love. I want to honour His love. I want everything I do to reflect His glory, I want to lift Him high, put Him on the throne that belongs to Him. I want to dream big, because with Him all things are possible. This is my list of dreams, things I so dearly wish to accomplish. The closer I’m getting to Him, the more the desires of my heart look like the desires of His heart. What a beautiful reality. So here they are, in no particular order.

Own my own studio

Run a successful photography business

Be a stay at home mum

Go parasailing

Study the Bible in depth (get confused and in awe over and over again)

Have 10,000 comments on this blog. (*yes, dream big*)

Raise children that reflect the Son

Adopt

Own a house somewhere

Run women’s ministry from my living room couch

Own a 50mm 1.2 lens

Spend at least 2 weeks a year in Africa

Never lose my wanderlust for this world

Be married to one man for one lifetime

Live in Holland. Even if only for 2 weeks.

Walk the streets that Jesus walked

Float in a hot air balloon

Love so much it hurts

Write a book

Backpack through Europe

Change someone’s life

Sleep on the beach under the stars

Be in Thailand for the lantern festival

Make photos and videos that challenge and encourage people

Be brutally honest with overwhelming love

Journal. Forever. And then pass them off to my grandchildren

Climb a mountain with my mum

So there it is, my heart laid bare. Whether or not all of these things get accomplished doesn’t matter, the point is we need to dream big. It makes me sad when people sell themselves short, when they don’t dream big and let God prove how majestic He is. He has so generously given us this lifetime, and each and every day I am reminded that there is no guarantees. Not everyone gets 80 years. Some barely get 20, so how are you going to use those days? I dare you to dream big. I dare you to set your sights higher than you can reach- write down something impossible, and see what God does with it. He is SO faithful, all the time, it’s in His nature. “For if we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is.” 2 Timothy 2:13

Dream big.

I dare you.

Old Airport beach, Kona, Hawaii

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Just to let you know…

In January I am heading off to the next step of my story! There is nothing that makes me more excited then thinking about the opportunities God is handing me, and where they will lead me! I’ve put together a small write up of what I’ll be doing, where I’m going, and how it all ties so perfectly in to explain me!

What am I doing?

For those of you who don’t know, I spent 6 months in Australia doing a Discipleship Training School with YWAM. On this school I was the student, and when I return, I will be a staff member! So what does that mean? Well, it entails a lot of things! I get to walk along side a group of students as they pursue God’s heart. I will be a one-on-one mentor for them, a friend, advice giver, prayer warrior, adventure seeker and confidante. When the lecture phase is finished, I will be responsible for leading a small group of students on a 3 month outreach anywhere in the world! While on outreach, we’ll be looking for any opportunity to show God’s love for His people, as well as using our photographic skill to expose otherwise unseen injustices, and using our talents to tell the stories of our international friends.

When the school is done, I have many options as to where I could be working. PhotogenX works with a few main ministries, including Voice for the Voiceless South Africa (www.avoiceforthevoiceless.co.za) and Hakani (www.hakani.org/pt) that I could be assisting where I am in Kona. PhotogenX also has produced the film Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth (sexandmoneyfilm.com/), which focuses mainly on human trafficking and it’s effects individually and nationally. For my six months that I am not working directly with the students, I will be helping out wherever I am needed, as well as completing the internship training that is required of me.

Where am I going?

This is the toughest one to explain, because most people instantly think palm trees and beaches, and yes, there is no shortage of these things in Hawaii! But no, this was not my first choice, especially not when I have to “justify” why Hawaii. But I have full confidence this is where I’m meant to be! So now that you know that, let me explain why Hawaii is the perfect place to stand in the gap.

Hawaii is a hub between both “worlds” (western world and eastern). Just like how the United States saw it as a prime location to put an army base, God has claimed this land as an in-between area. YWAM’s main base is here on the island, which sees upwards of 1200 students each year. These students are doing entry level schools (DTS’s), as well as attaining degrees, being trained practically in worship, prayer, health care, clean water delivery systems- the list goes on. Hawaii is also a stop over for a HUGE amount of trafficking victims being smuggled into America from Asian countries. If I can stand here on this soil and do my part here, I will take all the eye rolling I encounter! :)

Why is this so perfect?

I truly believe every person has specific talents that God has given them to further His kingdom. Sometimes, as was the case for me, discovering those talents and figuring out how to use them is difficult, but very worthwhile. Some time ago I prayed a dangerous prayer, “God, break my heart for what breaks yours.” He heard it! He has shown me family after family that is broken, and what effect that has on society at large. He showed me the beauty inside each person, beauty that sometimes needs to be coaxed out of an individual. He gave me a talent to display that beauty through photography, and a passion to get out there and do it. I think you know by now that I love writing, to tell people’s stories with words as well as photos.

God has promised that when I step into my gifting’s, He will be glorified. He has promised that as I pursue Him, I will grow to look more like Him, and less like me. This, to me, is a beautiful thing. Each aspect of me will be stretched, tested,strengthened and refined as I step up and out.

Thank you for reading, for taking an interest in my small part of this story. Your support is so encouraging. Truly. If you have any questions, you can email me at shine121photography@gmail.com  I would be more then happy to sit with you and talk, especially over a nice cup of tea. My entire stay (2 and a half years) is completely voluntary- yes- that means I do not get paid. If you are interested in supporting me, whether a one time donation, or monthly (like a sponsor child!), send me an email, and I can let you know your secret benefits!

With Strength that is not my own, Sam