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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Does it even matter?

I’m one of many.

One of many people who chose to look. To look at the difficult, ugly, unfair things in life. To search for the girls “gone missing”, to ask the uncomfortable questions, to speak up when something doesn’t feel right. I’m just one of many.

Sometimes I catch myself believing this lie, the one that says “What you’re doing doesn’t matter.” Slavery is too big. Sex trafficking is too scary. There are more AIDS orphans than you’d ever be able to take care of. Even if you answer one hard question, 5 new ones will replace it. It’s too big.

I’m only one. But I’m one of many.

I see it. I see that the problems I’m looking at are much too big for me to handle on my own. There’s no way I can fix it all. There’s no way I’m able to walk the streets of Thailand alone and close down every brothel. It’s not possible for me to adopt every orphan, or to educate every man and woman about AIDS prevention on my own. I cannot stop every war, answer every question or soothe every pain. I can’t. But….

I am one of many.

What if you stood up, too? What if you looked a little further than usual. What if you did some research, or even better, got to know someone who wakes up every day and faces pain. What if these numbers, these stupid statistics, what if they became people to you? Instead of numbers, you saw friends. Brothers and sisters suffering under the hands of injustice, inequality and pain. What if? Then you, too, could become one of many.

One person, of many, who will sit idle no longer. One person who chooses love in the place of hate. You could be one who sees all the pain of this world and crumbles under its weight, forcing you to turn to Jesus to carry it all. Would you consider it? Could you consider being one of many? To stand in line with others who, although inadequate and unprepared, are not willing to go another day without saying something.

Will you choose to be one of many?

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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

Drum roll please…

Sometimes I read this and I’m just so.. exhausted! So I give you so much credit for sticking with me! I have a few things to unroll today, and I’m not so sure how smooth its going to be, so maybe pause for a second to grab a tea/coffee/anything and then we’ll have a go at this together.

Alright. Back now? Great. Let’s get at it.

So. When I flew home from Australia, I spent almost my entire flight to LA writing. (Surprise, surprise!) And until recently I haven’t really looked back on those pages. Partly because I read too many other books to be reading my old journals, and partly because I have this stupid obsession of only looking forward, when clearly I can and should learn from my past. Anyway’s, for no other reason but a thought from God, I decided to flip back, back to my last day on that beautiful Australian soil. And this is what I found:

SO much has happened in the past 5 months. It has been SO good, to say the most simple thing to close this up. I trusted God when He called me out of school last February. I trusted that He knew what I was doing. I knew the path I was on wasn’t what He needed from me. And now, I’ve found myself right back in the same position. I have so many paths that I can choose. Do I go back on YWAM? What about Africa? Maybe the Youth Centre? Or what if I go to Hilsong? And every time I pray, I ask God for direction. But over and over I get the answer…

“JUMP.”

Pick something.

But what do I choose? Anything. If you pick Hilsong and its not what God needs, He’ll tell you. If you make plans for Africa and its not from God, He’ll make sure you don’t get there. And even, what if you go to school but never pass? What if you fail? Who cares. Would you rather spend an entire life making awesome plans, or living OUT those plans?

I read that and sat, for quite some time, and mustered up the strength to surrender again. It reminded me of camping in the Outback, when a certain Mark Parker yelled at us until we cried (good tears). It reminded me of my friend Cory, staring us dead in the face, hitting us with word that would sting for months to come. “You have already been forgiven, of everything! Why are you wasting His sacrifice by telling me “I can’t.”  YOU can, because HE did.” And here I am, saying “I can’t, because…” I don’t know if this is 100%. I don’t know if I’ll succeed. And it’s all a crutch.

I have a plan. It’s a good, beautiful plan. I know the downfalls of letting secrets out prematurely. But I also know the benefits of having a group of fellow confused friends behind me pushing into our Father, so I’m letting you know what’s been bouncing between my head and my heart these past few weeks. Here goes nothing, I suppose.

In 5 words. Photography. God. Hawaii. Missions. Africa.

How does one go about linking these 5 together? Well.. logically speaking.. you don’t. But with God.. Oh, with God, anything is possible.  (Matt. 19v26) So I’ve been looking into my passions and my talents, and trying to figure out how I can use them. I mean, God’s given me a gift, it’d be wasteful not to use it, correct? And then comes this lovely little phrase.. stumbled upon. I “happened” to stumble upon this website, which lead me to another, and I end up at the YWAM Kona website, staring at the page explaining the contents of my heart.

PhotogenX.

http://www.uofnkona.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=343&Itemid=635&lang=en

Please, go check it out. It’s incredible. It combines writing, biblical studies, injustice exposure all into one, while using photography to string them all together. I would hone in on my talents, study in depth God’s word, travel this beautiful earth, and reach out to the lost and hungry hearts of this land.

And yes. It is with YWAM. This coming from the girl saying “Going back isn’t for me. I loved what I experienced, but I don’t need more” What a joke that was. And this is purely an informative blog post. I’m not asking for donations. I’m not saying this is set in stone. I’m just saying this is on the horizon. And I’m asking you to pray with me. For clear direction, for faith to jump at something, for support to get there, and just to say ‘hey’ to the One who makes all this possible.

And I bet you’re wondering how Africa fits into all of this, right? Probably not, but I’ll tell you any way’s. If you know me, you know I LOVE Africa. Could not emphasize that more. And I’ve been torn recently. Do I pursue photography further, or jump right into missions in Africa?  Yes, I do think I’ll be a “full time” missionary one day. Clearly I didn’t think about how God could join those together, silly me. But I’m starting to see how this will work out. I’m have this funny feeling that if I go with this Kona stint, I’ll meet a few people who can connect me with the right places in Africa. So! To Africa with love! And, a camera too!

I think we’ve made it. Over 900 words, and I could keep on going, but that would be cruel. Thank you for reading. Thank you for caring. For taking time to bother yourself with me. Thank you for being constant supports. Even if I don’t know your names, I know someone is out there.  Maybe next time I post I can actually add some insight into your life, but right now, I’m trying to figure me out.

Love, love, love.

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Dish it

Just four days ago I sat here behind this screen typing my heart out. Words were pouring out like a fountain, I was unable to stop them. But I couldn’t post it. After reading over it about 15 times, I realized that no one else could possibly follow it. My messy heart transformed itself into a messy blog post, and I feel its a bit too personal to display for you. I was rambling, which I’m famous for, jumping from one heart string to another. I suppose I was frustrated. But this beautiful thing happens when I write… I figure it all out. Or maybe I should say God gives me a new perspective, which is SO appreciated. Seriously. I think my family can attest to that. I’m a better person when I’m seeking God out. Duh.

Sunday was a beautiful day, for no particular reason except for God. I didn’t do anything spontaneous or overly exciting. I went to church, left a bit confused, spent some solid time with the family, and then went for a much needed walk. Needed both physically and spiritually. Mostly spiritually. I’ve been lacking in the joy department lately, for various reasons, and I’ve gotten sick of it. So I did what I do best, and I knocked on His door. “God, you’ve got me here for a bit for your reasons. If I’m to do this, I need an upgrade. I’m down with whatever you can dish out to me, but I have a few requests.” And so I rattled them off. Thankfully He knows what’s best for me, and He’ll deny the silly, selfish ones, but let me tell you, does He ever deliver.

I am blown away by God. Completely. He is so faithful. He is the best comforter I know. He sees each tear that slips off my cheeks. When I lack insight, joy, determination, patience, love or direction, all I need to do is ask Him. Today I was reading and came across this too-true chunk of script,

“Think about your life. What are the moments that have shaped you the most? If you were to pick just a couple, what would they be? Periods of transformation, times when your eyes were opened, decisions you made that affected the rest of your life?

How many of them came when you reached the end of your rope?

When everything fell apart?

When you were confronted with your powerlessness?

When you were ready to admit your life was unmanageable?

When there was nothing to do but to cry out?”

That’s from Rob Bell’s book called “Jesus Wants to Save Christians.” Please, don’t ask me what I think of the man and all the controversy surrounding him. What I do know is that this hit me. Big time. And no, maybe I wasn’t at the end of my rope, but I was close. I think. I asked for a few things, mainly joy and direction, and I feel like He delivered big time. And it’s funny, because I’m the type of girl that once she receives direction, joy doesn’t take long to show its beautiful face either.

So, these are a few things I’ve been dreaming of. And most of them are my plans, and interestingly enough, I find a way to rationalize each one of them:

-Return on staff at the YWAM base in Townsville, where I was earlier this year.

-Do a BCC (Bible Core Course) or SBS (School of Bible Study) anywhere on this earth

-Attend the PhotogenX course offered by YWAM Kona    (This one is my dream. Photography, writing, Bible study and exposing injustice around the world, all rolled into one? Check.Mate. Not to mention travelling to 10 different countries in one year.)

-Find myself a wonderful little orphanage in South Africa, fly there, and be Jesus with skin on to those little babies. Oh, S.A. There’s something to be said about the fact that our initials are the same. Predestined? I believe so.

And my friends, the list goes on. School. Invisible Children. Photography. A family of my own.(One day….long from now) My plans are limitless. But why not dream? Why not set my sights high, and see where I go? I understand that God’s plans are bigger and better than mine, but just recently I’ve come into a new heart knowledge of this. So dream I will. Watch out world.

What about you? What would you do with no barriers on your life? Where would you take your kids? Your spouse? Your group of friends? What would you give to someone if you could afford it? What passion have you set aside for something more “logical”, more “successful”, something less you? What would you say to that person you’re thinking about right now? Dream. Please, dream big. Bigger than you could ever think would be possible. Ask God to reveal your talents, your gifts, what you have to offer this world. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Oh! And one more thing. I’m dying to know… who are you? I’ve had over 3500 views on this thing, which is amazing to me. Who knew my thoughts could be so interesting. Please though, tell me your names. Here. On Facebook. In a text. Even better, in real life. Let me know who’s sitting on the other side of the screen. I’d be oh-so-grateful. Thanks.

With Strength that is not my own, Sam