Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lessons Learned

I have no big story or revelation to share today, just life as “normal” here. I’m nearing the end of my journey and although I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, God has infused me with His strength to carry on. I want to finish strong and leave a lasting impression for His glory in the lives of the people He has put in my path here.

God has been revealing to me how He works in so many different ways. Sometimes He asks us to be bold and proclaim His truth with words, and other times He asks us to reveal His love simply be listening or acts of service. On Thursday nights, I go to a homeless shelter and sit with a 70 year old Indian man and listen to him carry on about years gone by. On a recent Thursday night, I began having doubts about how affective I was really being. While I was on my way there I started thinking, am I wasting my time? But then God quietly reminded me of the life of Christ and how he devoted His life to the needs of other people. He reminded me that a life modeled after Christ, is one that requires you to take your eyes off of yourself. And during the time that I sit and listen to Roy share what’s on his heart and mind, my focus is taken off of myself and given to Roy. And when I serve Roy, I’m serving God….

“ Truly I saw to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” – Matthew 26:40

Another lesson God has been teaching me is how to love the unlovable. Two little girls come to mind when I think of this: Apiwe and Nonto. Nonto is one of my students, Apiwe is in third grade, and both live at the children’s home I go to on Saturdays. These little girls do not have any real friends, because they annoy or frustrate nearly everyone around them. Nonto is needy, always asking for things, and to any teacher out there who’s reading this…she’s one of those students who’s in her own little world and could care less if she totally misses everything you say. Apiwe is a little mentally slow and awkward to all of her peers. She just can’t seem to socially relate and is naturally left out. To put it bluntly, these 2 girls are not the ones you would naturally cling to and fall in love with. But oh do they need love! They need to be treasured and adored and treated like the little princesses they are. They need stability. Apiwe was taken from her home in 1st grade because her step father raped her…on a regular basis. The mother knew about it but didn’t say anything out of fear. When the neighbors would hear her screaming, the step father would just pop his head out and say that she is refusing to eat her food. This went on for a long time, until someone finally stepped in. Now she’s living in an orphanage and is scarred in so many ways. She is only in 3rd grade and is always trying to act provocative; she doesn’t know what normal is. Nonto’s story isn’t allowed to be shared, but it is obvious abuse was prominent. If you could be around her for just 5 minutes, you would easily see this little girl has had a life of trauma at such a young age. When I first started teaching, she really frustrated me. But then God put such a soft spot on my heart for her. I long so bad to take her home with me and raise her in a stable, loving family, like every child deserves to have. These girls need such love, and they are just 2 among so so many.

As my time here is starting to come to an end, the fact that I have to leave Nonto and all of my other babies is beginning to sink in. I am very excited to be home again, but it is going to tear me apart to leave these precious ones behind. Their lives are filled with such chaos and destruction, and I’ve strived to create a place of peace and safety for them, but will that remain when I leave? At the end of last week, one of my students told me that several other boys in my class have been taking pieces of chalk into the bathroom, crushing them under their shoes, and then sniffing them like drugs. This obviously wouldn’t make you high, which means they are just doing it to pretend like they’re doing drugs. They are 7 and 8 years old might I remind you. They see older brothers, fathers, uncles, and friends using drugs so often that it is such a normal thing for them. My heart broke, as it seems like that is where there lives are heading.

And that’s why it all comes back to TRUST: the biggest lesson God has been teaching me since I left on 2 ½ months ago. Just like I have learned to trust Him to protect me, to give me strength for each day, and to work out situations that seem hopeless, I have to trust Him that He will take care of these precious children when I leave and place someone else in their lives that can be light to them in this dark world. For as much as I love them, I know He loves them an unfathomable amount more. They are in His care. God commands us to plant His seeds, but He never promises that we’ll be around to watch them grow.

I have several things I would love for you to pray for: I was able to send some of the girls from Mayville, the slum where I lead Bible study on Sunday afternoons, to a girls retreat this past weekend. They had never experienced anything like this before and were so excited. Please pray that the truths they heard over the weekend would sink into their hearts and change their lives. I also will be passing out Bibles to all of the girls today, so please pray God will open their hearts to His Word, so they can learn to depend on it for the remainder of their lives. This is also my last week of school, so please pray the transition is easy on both me and my students. And that I will shine brighter for Christ than ever before during my last few days with them. I also will be leading a “Teaching English and Phonics” workshop to a group of teachers at a very poor farm school not too far away next Monday. Please pray for wisdom and confidence, as I try to help the teachers prepare for teaching a language not their own to their students next school year. And finally, please pray for safety for my Bradley as he leaves on Friday to come here!!! He will be arriving Saturday morning and will be spending my last week here with me, and then we will be leaving together the following Saturday to come home.

There is so much work to be done during these next 2 weeks. My hearts’ cry is that every moment left here will be spent bringing Him glory. For He alone is worthy!!!

Thanks for the prayers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Beauty of Being INCAPABLE.

Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

The most misused verse in all of Scripture. I never used to quote this verse after seeing it one too many times written on people’s basketball lockers or running shoes, as if the strength Paul was referring to when the Spirit lead him to write this verse was meant to help someone win a basketball game, or run a marathon, or                            , you fill in the blank. We mock God to think this strength that He is so willing to grant us is merely used for our puny little hopes and wishes. It is so much more than that.

In the verses before this Paul is talking about the ability he has in the Spirit to endure every circumstance imaginable. To be in the midst of plenty and in the midst of great need. No matter what, He is confident to carry out the work of Christ because of the Spirit that is within Him. Without the strength of the Lord, he knows he is incapable to effectively endure life’s circumstances.

I now understand this. The word INCAPABLE has a new, beautiful meaning in my life. This may sound strange, especially considering my roots. I come from a long line of stubborn, hard workers; the word incapable should be anything but beautiful. It’s in my blood to want to do things in my own strength, by my own hard work and sweat. But coming here and seeing the work God has laid out before me has made me realize just how foolish that mindset is…

I could never have imagined all of the plans God had in store for me here. I could never have imagined completing the work He’s set before me. I am 21 year-old American girl from a small town in a foreign country, how much do I really know? On Sunday, at the Bible study in the slum with that beautiful group of girls, I decided to open up with a little “game” called ‘Beefs and Bouquets’. (If you’ve been in a Bible study with me, you know exactly what I’m talking about =) ) You go around the room and say a beef (something bad) and a bouquet (something good) about your last week. It’s a good way to get people talking and know how to pray for each other. When I’ve played this game before, the beefs tend to be along the lines of “I did bad on my exam” or “My boyfriend and I aren’t getting along.” Needless to say, I wasn’t quite prepared for the beefs I was about to hear in that crammed full hut of girls ages 6-16: my mom beat my sister until there was blood coming out of her ears….again, I wanted to kill myself because I don’t see any hope for my life, my family is all dying around me, my mom won’t stop drinking, and the list went on… I just sat there, begging the Spirit to give me Words to say. How do I make them understand that Christ adores and cherishes each one of them? That there is hope and peace in Christ? Their whole lives they’ve been surrounded with abuse, death and poverty. How will they believe me?

Then there are the precious children at the children’s home. Some are true orphans, some are there because they suffered so much abuse at home. All are hurting so much. When I was playing with the little ones this past Saturday, they fought for my attention so constantly, it was exhausting just to keep track of which one I picked up most recently or threw the ball to last. Little boys, ages 5-9 were dying just to be held. (How many 7-year-old boys do you know who just want to be picked up and carried around all day?) Then later that day, I walked to a store nearby with some of the older girls. The one was sobbing because one of the workers at the home was saying nasty things about this girls’ father, who had died several years ago. She said she gets picked on all the time by the staff and if she doesn’t say anything, she is harshly scolded for being rude, and if she does say something, she is scolded for speaking her mind to an adult. This 12-year-old girl has been at the home for 9 years. This is all she’s knows.

And then there are my 56 beautiful students who have totally captivated my heart. (No, I didn’t miscount…one of my students left the school) These precious babies are the main reason why I am here. Every morning when I wake up, I expect to be completely worn out due to the amount of energy and love that each of these students takes out of me on a daily basis. But as I go throughout my day, the thought never even crosses my mind that I feel tired. I am completely renewed each day.

Recently, I’ve been asked to complete a very scary, overwhelming task. When I first realized what was being asked of me, I thought, “You’ve got to be joking. There is no way I am capable.” The main teacher I am working with, her husband is a principal at an extremely poor farm school outside of the city. While talking with them on my ride to Mayville (the slum) on Sunday, he began to express his concerns for the government’s new policy on teaching for the next school year and how his teacher’s are going to fulfill the requirements. Starting next school year, which is January over here, primary teachers will be required to teach both English and Zulu in the classroom. The problem with this for his school is that the teacher’s can speak English, but they have no background in phonics or written English language rules whatsoever. They really don’t have the understanding or the resources to teach it, but it is a government requirement. I was listening with concern for his school, not prepared that I would soon play a major part in this discussion. Before I knew it, I was being asked to run a phonics workshop at his school. At first I thought, “Oh how awesome that would be to get to teach children in a new setting like that! Sign me up!” It wasn’t until after I had agreed that I found out he was talking about a workshop for the teachers, not the students. I got home later that day, praying fervently that the workshop would fall through and I would avoid this crazy idea. Well, today I got the date for it. I will be leading a workshop on phonics and how to teach it on Monday, October 3rd, during my last week here, because the school will be on holiday that week.

My initial thoughts were so overwhelming. I will by far be the youngest person there, with the least amount of teaching experience, trying to explain how to teach phonics to a group of people who have never even heard of phonics before….all in one day. I didn’t sign up for that. I am INCAPABLE.

And that’s when it hit me. I am incapable!!! I have been incapable of accomplishing ANY of this! I am incapable of having enough energy and love everyday to teach so many new things to so many attention-starved children.  I am incapable of having the boldness to speak to homeless Muslims about who Jesus is at a homeless shelter. I am incapable of having the energy on Saturdays to love on desperately hurting children. I am incapable of truly comforting young girls who are continually criticized by the only people they have in their lives to take care of them. I am incapable of finding the right words to say to girls who are daily abused and hopeless, wanting to end their life. I am incapable of teaching people twice my age how to teach a foreign concept, not even in their own language. I am completely incapable.

And this is where it turns beautiful. Because I am incapable, I have come to see just how CAPABLE God is! There is not other way to explain the continually energy, love, words, guidance and joy that He continually puts in me only to pour out of me. There is absolutely no way I could do any of this by my own strength. God has proven to me over and over again how He will faithfully give me the strength I need to accomplish His purposes when I am obedient to Him. Because of this, I know I can trust Him to give me the strength and wisdom I will need to carry through each day, to lead a workshop for Zulu teachers, and to do whatever else He is going to bring my way.

His strength is the only reason I can do this, so He gets ALL the glory.

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. FOR THIS I TOIL, STRUGGLING WITH ALL HIS ENERGY THAT HE POWERFULLY WORKS WITHIN ME.”   - Colossians 1:28-29