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.

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

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.”

selfportrait

 

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

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

What if…

“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me.

All day long I put my hope in You.”

Psalm 25:5

I’m going to ask you a question, but first I must set the stage. I love prayer. I love the way God communicates to us through prayer, I love how it unites us as brothers and sisters, and reminds us that He is in control. I love prayer, but I have one question.

What if  YOU were the answer to your prayers?

This question is mostly for me, as I’ve been assessing my prayer life, the things I’ve been asking God for and to do. Over the last few months I’ve been blasted with these huge issues- children being raised without fathers, girls getting sold/taken/forced into sex slavery, forced abortions, malnutrition- the list keeps going. As I’ve faced these issues, I’ve just built up this anger almost. “God, why is this happening?? Why isn’t anyone doing anything?? GOD, please DO SOMETHING!”

rustling

There was no booming voice. I didn’t see an angel or get struck to the ground, but He spoke, and it was clear as day. “Sam, you keep asking me to do all these things, but I want you to go. I want you to act. I want you to be part of this, to do this together with me. I’ve asked others before, but they continued with the same prayer you’re praying. Well, now’s the time. YOU go. Be an answer to your own prayer.”

What if, instead of asking, “God, would you please do something to stop this?”, we asked “God, what can I do to help?” Instead of looking at the big picture and getting overwhelmed at the thought of it, we just went to see one person. Instead of seeing the figures of 132 million orphans and saying “I can’t change that by myself”, you took on the call from countless Scriptures and said “I can take care of at least one. At least.”

God is looking for a partnership here, He’s looking for a daily relationship. He cares about the in’s and out’s of your day- every single detail. He is a good Father, He doesn’t favour any one of His children over the other, so why do we? It keeps hitting me that because of His grace I was born in the family I have, but so easily I could be the 12 year old in Togo who can’t afford her $10 school fees, and as a result gets sold by her parents into prostitution. It could have been me, but it’s not, so what am I going to do about it? I am a strong believer that we are blessed so that we can bless others, so let’s do this. Please excuse me if my posts start asking more of you, if they make you uncomfortable by asking you to look at uncomfortable things, but this is my heart. I’ve noticed such a shift in my focus since the day I landed here, and I’m letting that be a beautiful thing. I’m choosing to see change in a new light. Will you do that with me?

With Strength that is not my own, Sam