4.29.2013

Faith, Fear & the Skycoaster at Six Flags

Many years ago, on a Friday night, a few of my girlfriends & I decided the next day that’d we’d get up at the crack of dawn, drive ourselves 4 ½ hours to Atlanta, Georgia, from Tupelo, Mississippi, spend the day at Six flags, then drive ourselves 4 ½ hours back that night in order to go to church on Sunday morning. If you don’t know me well, I’m pretty impulsive when it comes to travel…I always love an adventure.




While at Six Flags, we saw something called the Skycoaster.


#picturestolenfromtheinternet

As my gal pal’s went racing towards it, I looked up and was terrified. Next thing I know, my two friends and I stood on a little platform wrapped up in a harness and hooked in with a tiny, small hook at the center of our backs to a line that was thin like a clothes line. (I mean, maybe it was bigger than that, but it sure didn’t feel like it).  Then we trusted two young girls, probably younger than us, (probably middle schoolers), who most likely made $5 an hour to be the “responsible party” to strap us in. Then, all of a sudden, the platform just dropped from below our feet, and we fell horizontal. Strapped together, and held together by a tiny cord. What in the world! How have I found myself here!

Then the crane started hoisting us up to the top of the arch (I remember this well). I screamed the entire way.

Once we finally got to the top, one of my girlfriends pulled the cord to let us loose (good thing that wasn’t my job or we might’ve been hanging there all night), and we flew. There were a few seconds of amazing, then the worst part happened. The worst part was when we swung all the way forward and those 2 seconds just before we began to swing backwards. The cord loosened and we felt suspended with nothing attached. That’s the moment your stomach is in your throat, but it’s exhilarating all at the same time.  I’m screaming and laughing all at the same time. Terrified but excited.

Then we swung a few more times and the fear went away, probably because we got used to it. By then it was just fun.

-------------------------------------------------------------

On the way home from work today I was thinking about faith. Even this past Saturday as I worked on Rescue Pink (my non-profit), I was coming to the realization of how quickly things are happening and how terrified I am. I even had thoughts running through my brain, “Do you really want to do this, you are just about to the point of no return. You are starting a legal entity that you will be responsible for. This is government business now. You’ll be/are using people’s money and making decisions about it. Do you want to work a second job? Do you have the time for this? Maybe you should just stop now, this is too big for you.”  I knew in my heart I wasn’t going to stop now, but that was running around in my brain. I could’ve let it defeat me like I have in the past, but I just let those thoughts sit there and didn’t really make a decision to think about it one way or another.

Sunday morning I woke up and one of my favorite pastors, Marco Monroy was preaching at my church.  His passage? Hebrews 11.  If you’ve been following my story you know this passage was a key turning point for me in stepping out to do this non-profit to begin with.  And Marco could’ve taken this passage anywhere, but here is a quote from his message:

“God is not going to give you a dream in which you don’t need His help to accomplish the dream.” – Marco Monroy


I love how God uses people as gentle reminders that He’s got you in His hands. He knows every, single thing.  And he knows exactly what you need to hear, and when you need hear it.

So back to the ride home from work today.  I was thinking about faith.  And my thoughts turned toward courage. I’ve often heard the phrase, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” Then I began to wonder if we all feel fear the same way?  At times I’ve thought that some people just have more courage than others, or they are more apt to just jump into things headfirst.  Then I think about how I used to be that way, but as I got older I became more scared of things, I got out of the practice of jumping in headfirst, pushing past the fear, and instead learned to become terrified and immobilized.  Life became dull.

I tell my niece all the time, who seems predisposed to be very, very afraid (she’s a scaredy-cat), to push past the fear – I tell her that on the other side of it are some of the most exciting things in life. Most of my life I lived that way and I have the most amazing stories to tell.  She listens to me (with a lot of “convincing”), and I’ve seen her push past her extreme fear to pet a stingray, hold a parrot, and rush down major waterslides by herself, and more, all at 5 years old. These seem small, but to her, they are HUGE. She’s learning courage. She doesn’t just have it, she has to practice it. Courage is a choice, it’s a learned behavior.

Then I think about faith. And how faith is the same way.  At times I’ve thought that to some people faith must just be easier for them.  But now I think it’s just like courage, we all have the same amount of anxiety about things. But we can choose faith enough so that it can become a learned behavior, and then with lots of practice it will become easier. But it’s not that God put more faith in others, and a little here and a lot there, a teeny tiny bit over there. We all have the same struggle with it.  It’s just what we choose to do with it that matters.

So today, I feel like I’m standing on the platform, and I’m strapped in, the floor is about to drop.

I’m trusting that cord.  I’m trusting that cable is gonna hold me.  Heck, I’m even trusting the middle schoolers who strapped me in.  And I’m gonna fly.  And it’s going to be scary and fun all at the same time, that first swing will probably be the scariest, but the second one should get better. I’m exercising courage. I’m exercising faith. I’m gonna fly.

“If you think God called you to something you can accomplish on your own, then that was just bad pizza.” – Marco Monroy


Check out this video (also stolen from the internet). Start it at about 1:15.


3.02.2013

Here I Go Completely Changing My Life Again…

Little did I know that in January when I posted "Risk" as my word of the year, just how much I would be tested in this. Would I really risk? Or would I waste another year not jumping off the ledge?

In my younger years, “Risk” was never an issue for me. I was a ledge-jumper – I’m telling you, I made it a habit of jumping off some record-breaking sized cliffs.  I have amazing stories of ways that my faith was big and how God was always catching me – trusting Him fully.  But somehow, and I’m not really sure exactly how or when it happened, things changed for me.  Somehow my self-esteem found itself at the bottom of the pit, and I was stuck.

For years I’ve known God wanted me to do something very specific. And for years God has given me this huge vision of the way He wanted to use me. And for years I questioned it all, “God, not really…I know You want this to happen, but the vision I see is too big. I’m not capable. I’m not good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough, or worthy to be used THAT way.”  And because I couldn’t trust that God knew what He was doing, I found myself stuck there. I knew I needed to take that large leap off the cliff and trust Him, but I stayed glued there on the ledge, incapacitated.  For years.

Back in November of 2012 someone mentioned a job offer to me and I sort of laughed in his face. No way. I’m just going to stay right here and do what I do.  But all the while thinking of the vision God had given me every single day. 

Fast forward to January 2013, I was watching Louie Giglio by webstream at the Passion Conference in Atlanta. He was speaking to a dome of over 60,000 students. He spoke of many years ago when he was younger as he sat in the very same dome and God had given him a vision for his future. He saw a dome filled with thousands of young people being mobilized for Christ - and that he would lead them. And as Louie is looking upon 60,000 students on that particular day, he said, “I’m looking right now at immeasurably more.” He talked about Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.”  He spoke about how some of us do not believe that God can really give us immeasurably more. {Voice in my head: YUP, that’s me}.

Next, he spoke of the passage in Mark 9 when a father brings his young son to Jesus to heal him of seizures. The boy’s father brought him, so he had some belief that Jesus could heal, but he must have not believed that Jesus would choose to heal his son specifically because he says to Jesus, “…but if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus replies, If you can?” “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Then immediately the boy’s father says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Then Louie talked about how a lot of us believe God can do amazing things, but we have unbelief that He would choose to use us in that way, that he would give us immeasurably more. He said some of us believe about 90%, but that 10% is blocking us from action {voice in my head: dang, God gave Louie a message just specifically for me – sorry about that 60,000 college kids}

I mean really. That hit me in the face. Hard. So on January 1st, 2013, I began praying every day…”God, I know without a shadow of doubt that you want to use me for a great work in India. I do believe, but please help my unbelief!” Then on January 5th, I started a daily topical bible study in youversion on faith. Every day I was reading and meditating on the great biblical people of faith.

The final day the passage was Hebrews 11.  It’s known as the Hall of Fame of Faith. It goes through many great people of faith.  By act of faith Noah built a ship because he was warned of something he could not see, and as a result his family was saved. By faith a barren Sarah was able to become pregnant as an old woman. By act of faith Abraham was willing to sacrifice his very son Isaac because he trusted that God had a plan, even when it made no sense. By act of faith Israel walked through a split sea trusting the water would not overcome them. By an act of faith the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho and watched the walls fall. It goes on and on…Moses, Rahab, Abraham, etc.

But the last 2 verses in that passage was what changed everything… ”Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised.  God had a better plan for us: that their faith, and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete from ours.” Hebrews 11:39-40

{Voice in my head: Hold up…did that just say what I think it really said? That the Saint's faith is dependent upon my faith? That their acts of faith aren’t complete without mine? Man, I bet they are up in heaven saying, come on already, Sherry}

My world kind of flipped on its axis. It’s too important for me to sit here idly by. This doesn’t just affect me. In all honesty, this isn’t really about me at all; this is about God and what He wants to do. He just wants to use me as a tool. I need to get the focus off me, and my beaten down self-esteem, and trust, just like Abraham & Noah and all the great saints of faith, that even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense, God has His reasons.


So, I’m jumping. I’m leaving staff at Community of Faith, which very much is my comfort zone. I love this church so much, there’s no place like it. I love Mark and Laura, they have taught me so much about life and ministry and serving.  But working on staff at COF is an all or nothing thing – as it should be. The staff sacrifice a lot; they pour their hearts and soul, their everything, into the work there – as it should be. Please, if you are a COFer, I ask you to not read into that statement. I am in NO WAY saying this is wrong. I am saying, “As it should be.” God calls very specific people to serve there and God is using them in amazing ways to build His kingdom. It has been an honor to work there the past 5 ½ years and I will use every, single bit of knowledge I gained by working there for what He is calling me to now.

So, to catch you up on what's up with me: I am stepping into the business world. I am taking a Monday-Friday job, and in the time I will gain, I will begin to build the non-profit that God has been asking me to do for years. It will be a non-profit that will help fund and create a rescue mission for baby girls in India affected by female infanticide.

Without going into huge detail (that’s for a later post), girls in India are being killed at birth every single day by their families. There are many Hindu’s that believe that women are the lowest form, and by killing the girls they are doing the baby a favor, in order for it to be reincarnated as a boy next.  To further complicate this, the dowry system is still in play, although technically it’s illegal, very poor families can not afford a daughter, nor her dowry. In reading this, please don’t judge…when this is all you know, then it’s all you know. I’ve spent a lot of time in India, I have a profound love for it’s people – they are absolutely beautiful. But there is this stronghold the enemy has and it’s killing, literally, its baby girls.

I cannot stand for this. I have to do something…and God has given me a plan and a giant vision. So I’m working on it. I’m praying you’ll stand with me.

I’ll leave you with a quote by Bill Hybels out of one of the most powerful talks I believe I’ve ever heard from him called “Holy Discontent.”

“…there’s a reason why you grew up just like you did, and why you’ve experienced what you’ve experienced, and why you’ve traveled where you’ve traveled, and why you’ve done what you’ve done. And along your life’s path you’ve seen something, you’ve felt something, and it’s gripped you, it’s stirred you. And you need to know that what it is that creates that firestorm in you, what’s wrecking you, is also wrecking the heart of our holy God. And He’s looking for someone just like you, to label your holy discontent, and then He’ll birth a vision in you that will release energy in you and you’ll start setting things that are wrong, right. You’ll start taking a situation of total defeat and you’ll start racking up a victory.”

I’m ready to start racking up the victories! Are you with me?

9.14.2012

Wrecked


My friends and I have been reading the book Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life, by Jeff Goins

And so because Idelette McVicker's post inspired me, I've decided to share how this broken world has slammed into my comfortable life. 


I was first wrecked with the death of my father at a very young age and subsequently the death of a best friend, diagnosed with cancer in his 30's and dead seven days later, just one week before I was to leave for a long trip to India. But that kind of wrecked isn't what the book is referring to, so I'll just give those a mention; however those incidents were surely part of this broken world that slammed right into my comfortable life. And even though God also gave me a wonderful stepfather and many more best friends, both of those incidences shaped who I am today.

So in the context in which the book is written, here are some ways in which God has wrecked me:

I was first wrecked when I was a camp counselor for our student team at youth camp one Summer. This particular camp had a strong mission emphasis. I remember on the final night at camp I had stashed a $10 bill in my pocket to pick up a T-shirt I had been wanting all week. At the service that night the speaker told of a great need in Russia. I don't even remember what the ministry was about but I remember distinctly God wrenched my heart open about "surrender", (God and I were having a totally different conversation there in between hundreds of students worshipping). They were about to take up an offering for the ministry need in Russia and I only had $10 in my pocket that was intended for a T-shirt. 

It seems insignificant now, but there was a big battle between me and God about that $10. After a big fight I surrendered the $10 and then the talk God and I were having changed from "surrender," to "brokenness." I was broken and ashamed that this was even an issue with me. And in five minutes I became broken for the entire world. I still don't know how God did that, but He did, I've not been the same since. 

The next morning as we were loading the bus to leave, a stranger walked up to me, I AM NOT LYING, this person handed me a T-shirt...it was the exact one I wanted. I remember standing there broken to pieces with a verse running through my head... "Do what the Lord wants, and He will give you your heart's desire." Psalm 37:4. I am constantly reminded that if I'll follow after what's on God's heart, then He'll take care of me. I'm even now, still in awe that He would orchestrate this whole thing to remind me that I can trust Him.

First Time in India
The next time I was wrecked was on my first trip to India & Nepal for a summer. As a matter of fact I was wrecked about 10 times on this trip. The circumstances around the trip included heat exhaustion to our team, sickness for almost the entire team (separate from the heat exhaustion), a young man working with our team tragically killed while there, a serious airplane explosion...there's so much more, but I'll stop there. This trip wrecked me for mobilization of the church. I thought about the long term workers in many countries that we never think about. Their sacrifice and sometimes suffering and we aren't praying for them enough, we aren't supporting them with words of encouragement or acts of kindness enough or with enough financial support. I knew I had to do my part personally, but to also become a voice for them to the church. After this trip I went on staff with my home church to work in mission emphasis. 


At Missionaries of Charity
in Calcullta
The next time I was wrecked was the second time to India. I worked in Mother Teresa's Orphanage in Calcutta and Mother Teresa wrecked me. Everything about that woman wrecks me. I also got the chance to befriend a village priest and the most incredible story happened with the NEXT team that came in after our visit. And God wrecked me on how each piece of the puzzle is important, even when it feels like there's no fruit from your work, you just might be the seed planter for an incredible harvest to come. On this trip I was also wrecked by an amazing Indian church planter who taught me how to be wrecked for my own country, and for my own people. 


I apologize for the image quality. This photo has been
carried in my wallet for 10 years now (before digital
cameras) and its pretty weathered. 
The next time I was wrecked by a woman known as J.M.M from Bangalore, India (I'm witholding full names for security and on-going work).  She is god to a religion with over 9 million followers.  I was doing a research project for her about the women's rights movement within this religion in India; subsequently I was composing a research report about the religion for a mission organization so they could formulate a long term strategy within this unreached people group. So I spent much time with her talking. I watched her bless water that people took to their homes to cleanse it of evil spirits, and I saw her do many, many other things. I observed thousands and thousands of people who know her only as god. But I knew her as my friend. I remember distinctly one afternoon leaving in my cab and literally falling apart in the back seat on the way home. My cabbie must have thought I was insane with all the sobbing, but I was so wrecked over her that I was in physical pain. I wanted her to meet my friend Jesus and then because she did, maybe 9 million people would follow. 

Haiti's poverty wrecked me.

Haitian Orphans (scanned image)

I apologize for showing this photo,
my intention is to not exploit but
to depict how I was wrecked by this
The next time I was wrecked was in South Sudan in 2002. Sudan was still in the middle of a civil war and at that time it wasn't yet on the celebrity radar as it is now. I was there a month and was utterly wrecked that no one noticed Sudan, they were being ignored. I was wrecked by a USAID Worker that I rode a bus with and amid conversation found out that these particular USAID workers didn't understand a poverty mentality, which therefore rendered his work useless. As we taught villagers to boil their drinking water on the fire from the streams, I was wrecked by the most extreme poverty I've ever known. It's indescribable. I was wrecked by stories of war crimes, displaced family members and how tribes of Africans have lost significant cultural traditions because of an extremely long war and displacement - a lost identity. Totally, absolutely, wrecked.


Also in South Sudan I was wrecked 

by these girls

These girls have a special piece of my heart
My world got bigger, and smaller that year as we worked in Sudan together. An American, Czech, Ugandan, Dutch & German, working side by side. We were scared for our lives, especially at night, but held each others hands through it. We are bonded for life. 

then...

Go mama!! :)
I was wrecked in Trinidad by my mom pushing past her comfort zone to serve others in another country. (I still can't believe I convinced my mom to go with me - She's a girly-girl and those were pretty tough living conditions - well, by girly-girl standards). 


Drilling
Beautiful people - Cooking for us










In 2005, a water well wrecked me in the mountains of Guatemala with the Mayan people. I worked with Living Water International to dig a clean water well. We worked for days and days with an entire community surrounding us, excited to finally have a clean, healthy water source. After days of drilling we hit volcanic rock, and without a diamond bit that Living Water did not own, there would be no water for this community. I was wrecked with disappointment - everyone should have access to clean water. 


In 2006, another water well wrecked me on the coast of Guatemala, 
near a school for young children 

This one was successful :)



The next time I was wrecked was in Belize working with boys who should have had no chance at education or a skilled trade, but given one by a bunch of big hearted friends from Mississippi.


God be with her
I was wrecked by Prisca, a little Zambian girl, orphaned by parents with AIDS. She changed how I deal with my helplessness of in-your-face poverty, starvation and mistreatment of someone I have grown to love dearly. She taught me that I can never be OK with that, but when there is nothing I can do to change the situation, that I have to trust that somehow God is enough. 


My friend Kaye
Checking on the eggs
I was wrecked in Oaxaca, Mexico, by the idea of animal husbandry and how something simple and thinking outside the box can change an entire community's well being. I also was wrecked by Kerry Johnson, a beautiful example of how keeping a broken heart is THE motivation needed to make a long-term difference. 


My beautiful friends!
I am wrecked by my Batwa friends in Burundi, Africa. 
     I was wrecked by their marginalization. 
          Then the idea of sustainable community development wrecked me              (thanks Claude & Kelley). 
               The idea of long term friendship wrecked me. 
                    The idea of dignity and justice and mercy wrecked me. 
                          
Now the Batwa wreck me almost daily when I hear stories of entire communities changing by the work of their own hands fueled by friendship and partnership. I'm wrecked that God let's me be a small part of it. (series of posts about that starting here)

BUT....


The place that I am continually wrecked is the issue of female infanticide in India. For the last several years I've been utterly devastated by it. I can not go one single day without thinking about it. I know God has a work for me in it. I'm seeking His plan. I once had a friend doing this work in India. I got to spend some time there and the experience of holding a little girl that would be dead if you hadn't intervened is a feeling that I will never be able to describe. My friend has passed away from an illness and there's a giant, empty space now.




What am I to do? God, show me. Show me how. Show me when. Show me what. I am wrecked. {tears}

Isaiah the Prophet, tells us, "If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I'll give you a  full life  in the emptiest of places — firm muscles, strong bones. You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You'll be known as those who can fix anything...YES! God says so!" Isaiah 58:10-14



8.21.2012

You Memorize Me

You know when I rise and when I fall
When I come or go, You see it all
You hung the stars and you move the sea, 
And STILL, You know me. 

And nothing is hidden from Your sight
Wherever I go, You find me
And You know EVERY detail of my life
And You are God and You don't miss a thing. 

You memorize me...


I am overwhelmed that wherever I go, He is there. I am astounded that He knows EVERY detail of my life.  The One who hung the stars and moves the sea, memorizes me.

Thank You God that You know every intimate detail of my life and that Your plan for me is great, even when I don't understand, and others don't understand how You are working in my life...You know every detail. My trust is in You!

7.09.2012

Forgiveness & Restoration: Are They the Same?


From the looks of cryptic facebook status updates and conversations with people, I get the feeling that most of the time people think these two words are synonymous; that once you forgive someone, then the relationship should be the same, or otherwise you didn’t really forgive them. 

Oh, how I have watched so many people with deep hurts struggle with this. Until recently I have thought these two words meant two different things, I never really struggled with it, but going through a deeply hurtful situation caused me to struggle and to spend quite some time re-thinking the whole thing.

The fact that someone I love dearly, who deceived and hurt me deeply, was hurt so much by the fact that the relationship just couldn’t be restored in an instant, troubled me. I have struggled for months and months in what I believed about forgiveness and restoration, studying it, praying about it, and questioning it. SIDENOTE: Sometimes restoration isn’t the answer (unhealthy relationships - that’s for another post later).

When I’ve forgiven someone there is something inside of me, in my spirit, that changes; it’s how I know I’ve forgiven someone.  I’ve been able to forgive people who have never asked for it, because forgiveness is for me (not for the other person). I like this definition of forgiveness: “To cease to feel resentment against”.  Once I’ve forgiven someone I don’t feel angry towards them, I’m able to let go…it changes me.

With this situation it took me a week or so to forgive.  Until that moment I was angry and hurt and mad, but as soon as I chose to forgive them, that all went away.  But here’s where the struggle came in.  I wasn’t angry and I wasn’t mad anymore, but I was not ready to go back to “the way it was.” The love was still there, but the friendship, the closeness couldn’t come back. The main reason: There had been no restoration. The offender had made no effort at restoring the relationship.

One time I had a friend (we were in our early 20’s) who let a big group of people down.  I remember him standing before the entire group immediately after it happened with an “I’m sorry,” and then a reference that as Christians, “We have to forgive and move on.” Even then, I thought, wow, it’s just not that easy.

With this more recent situation I thought, I’m a Christ-follower, I should forgive and move on, why am I struggling so much. Then I started questioning myself, if I’m supposed to be Christ-like shouldn’t I just move on with this?  But then I started exploring and remembering that Jesus forgives us completely when we ask, but there is always consequence to sin.

Then one day a wise friend told me to look at the story of Zacchaeus. So I pulled down Luke 19 and read it. I’m going to post it here for you to read because it’s short and sometimes we get tangled up in the stories that have been told about Zacchaeus in which details may or may not have been biblical.
  

Luke 19
19 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.



When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”



Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.



Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

My friend was very wise.  When I look at Zacchaeus’ story, I see that he is changed by Christ and chooses to work towards restoration.  He says, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” He could have just asked forgiveness from Christ, and he would have been forgiven and had to endure the consequence of sin in his life. He could have just left that between him and God.  But instead, he chose to restore his wrongs to the people he wronged, and not only paying back just what was owed, but paying back MORE than what was owed. I admire that. I feel paying back four times was his way of acknowledging the depth of the wrong he had done.  Just giving back what he took wrongly would just be a payback, but giving back four times I think means, “I’m very sorry, I acknowledge how much I hurt you and the side effects of what I did to you.”

I believe that is restoration.

I wish I could hear “the rest of the story,” with Zacchaeus. I bet he became a beloved person even to the people he wronged and the relationships were deeper because of it.

So dear offenders, one thing you should know: the level you are able to hurt someone is equivalent to the depth of love they have for you. Please don’t ever forget that.  You are SO loved.  You cannot deeply hurt someone who doesn’t love you dearly; they just aren’t affected by it. 

And you are probably forgiven. But there’s some work to be done for restoration to happen between those who love each other deeply.  And that’s ok. And it’s ok if it takes you awhile, but the ball is in your court.

Offendee’s (this is my made up word), I can only imagine how hard it will be for the offenders to make that first step towards restoration. So be open, let them know you are open for it. Let them know they are loved even from a distance.  And if you haven’t forgiven, then forgive; your heart will be set free. 

7.08.2012

Nathaniel's Words on the 3rd Anniversary in Matara

Exodus 12:14 - "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD - a lasting ordinance." 

Nathaniel's Words:  "The Jewish people came from Egypt, from severe oppression.  When they arrived in the promised land, Moses stood up and said, 'Remember what God did for you in Egypt and never forget His name.' And they had a passover feast to remind them of that day. They ate with their neighbors, coming together as one.

So today, we will remember this goodness.  We are celebrating 3 years of being here at Matara.  God used people and has done miracle after miracle to bring us to where we are today. We are on our own mountain. Today, we thank God.  Thank you for saying yes, Community of Faith.  If you could look into my heart, you could see joy that goes beyond understanding.  God bless you for being our friends, and we will see you here in year 4!"

As I spent 3 days in Bubanza first this year I was able to see the conditions of life there more intimately. Knowing this is where our friends from Matara came from it gave me a new perspective. The day before going up to Matara I was wondering if after 3 years would I see signs of forgetfulness; forgetting what God has done, so I made a mental note to look for it. 

I saw anything but that. 

From a little impromptu chorus of children singing to me, "What have I done to deserve all this," to Nathaniel's words above...I feel confident our friends will never forget what God has done for them.  

My friends in Matara challenged me. How easily I forget. How easily I take for granted everything God has done for me. I need to wake up every morning with the song in my heart, "What have I done to deserve all of this." 

I'm hearing it in Kurundi right now... Here's just a tiny clip of it.... (more later)...


6.25.2012

Benjamin's Words

From Benjamin (from Matara):

"This week marks three years in Matara.  Before we came here we were like modern-day slaves.  Growing up it was common knowledge that Batwa did not know how to build a house.  We only knew how to build grass huts and we were never able to grow food. 
We owned nothing, so when our slave master told us to go away, we were able to go within minutes.

It was only a dream that one day I could live in a real house.  By God's grace I was selected to come here, to Matara. Our friends helped us get this land. Now look at all these houses (he is pointing all around Matara where everyone has their own home). These are OUR houses,
 these are not for someone else, these are for us. 

Before we came here we looked very different. Now all our kids are in school...something we were never able to do.  Now when we are sick we can go to the doctor because we have ID cards 
and birth certificates for our children. 

One thing I will never forget about being a slave is that you work all year for nothing and every generation lives like that.  That story seemed to never end. I had decided to never get married because I did not want to bring a family into this situation. Now I have six kids! Today I go to work and when the day is over I go home to my family.  We are citizens like everyone else!"

Then everyone sings a song.  When translated, they were singing, "Even the angels would be surprised the Batwa have arrived." My heart smiles...thank you God for letting us be a small part of this!

6.15.2012

Hope is Sprouting Here

I have spent the past two days in Bubanza. If you know the story of our Batwa friends you know that several years ago we took 30 families from Bubanza and moved them to Matara. Check out these blog posts if you want to catch up on the story.

We Are Family
No One Has Died This Year
Our Names Are Written Down
The Ones We Love Have Come 

With the success of Matara (with 30 families), we have now begun community development in Bubanza, which is with over 600 families. If you have visited Bubanza’s dry, dusty land then you might think we have lost our minds. The project seems insurmountable. But we are willing to take up that challenge, our friends are worth it; however, we go into this knowing that it will be a long, hard journey.

Last night Kelley asked if we had one word to describe the day what would it be. For me it was hopefulness. I have learned that most often the root of all poverty is hopelessness. Hope is the beginning of what it takes to make a change. When I gaze out over Bubanza I can understand the hopelessness, the lack of basic human rights such as an ID Card or Birth Certificates, no possibility of ownership to land or a good job because of discrimination, no access to proper healthcare or education, and on and on the list goes.

But today I see little seeds of hope all over Bubanza. If you don’t look closely you can miss them. Over the past 2 days we planted 750 trees around the small part of land that we have attained a deed for in Bubanza. Just as the little saplings were planted I thought, “This is the start.” (That’s for you Martha). This is the start of something new; this little sapling will grow into something huge if it is tended to and watered every day. I think it's the same with hope, it’s here, but it may need to be watered every day, as generations of poverty will be hard to overcome.

Yesterday I was able to sit down with Ntazina (The one whose name means “No Name” whom Mark first talked to on his first visit here). Ntazina was the leader of the entire village of Bubanza. I can tell from having a conversation with him exactly why. I was able to hear his story of the Bubanza from many years ago, up to the first encounter with Mark & Claude, through our visits over the past few years, and now to today. He is very encouraged and hopeful for his people, he says, “You might not be able to see it now, but we are on our way, hope is here.”

This makes me smile, because once hope is here, poverty will soon begin to disappear. There is much work to be done, but as Ntazina says, “We are on our way!”

The story Ntazina shared with me is powerful - video coming soon.

7.31.2010

Sherry's Radical Experiment

So I've been reading this book called Radical by David Platt. Its seriously been a life changer for me. I have several things in the works, changes to be made in my life, and you can follow along with my blog and see what those are as we go.

Part of the book challenges you to live out a Radical Experiment for a year in your life. I'll detail this out later, but one of the parts of the experiment is to read the bible through in one year. I've done this once before and it was profound. And being challenged by Radical, now I wanna do it again. I want my mind saturated with God's word. David Platt says, "God has chosen by his matchless grace to give us revelation of himself in his word. It is the only Book that he has promised to bless by his Spirit to transform you and me into the image of Jesus Christ. It is the only book that he has promised to use to bring our hearts, our minds, and our lives in alignment with him....when you and I open the bible, we are beholding the very words of God - words that have supernatural power to redeem, renew, refresh, and restore our lives to what he created them to be."

A lot of us have been searching for God's will for our lives, what he has for us to do, say, act, feel, etc. Well, how can we know what God wants if we don't open up the book where he tells us, or where he wants to connect with us. It's like asking your mom what she wants for her birthday and she sends you a written list and you have it in your possession but you don't open it to read it and you still wander around perplexed and worried and confused as to what she wants. And you know what I think? I think that's just silly. But I've done it over and over and over again.

I feel God calling me to make big changes in my lifestyle. To live smaller so I can give more and do more for him. There is a world of people out there who don't know who he is, and Jesus is worth more to me than the American dream. I need direction in this, so I gotta surround myself in His word and see what God says about it.

So I challenge you to do the same. I really think it will change your life. Well, I don't THINK, I KNOW it will. I'm using an iphone app called youversion that has several bible reading plans to get you through a year. I'm doing the chronological plan (just because those who know me, know I like things to be in order) so to read the bible in chronological time order will be neat. I think youversion also has a blackberry app too if you don't have an iphone. Or just do it the old fashioned way and open your bible and read it from cover to cover. It doesn't matter how you do it, just do it!

So you, my 12 blog readers, I challenge you to join me!

7.17.2010

God Remembers

As I close this journal door on my time in Burundi {I know, I know - I'm behind}, I'll leave you with just a few things...If you remember in my first post here I shared about the Batwa village leader that Mark met who was named "no name" because his parents knew there was no future for him and no reason to put any thought into his name. He told Mark that he felt God had forgotten the Batwa. Mark told him that God has not forgotten them and neither would we (COF).

Well, here is Iribuka...


She is the first child born in the village of Matara (read the Burundi Posts below this one first to catch this entire story).

Guess what her name means?

It means, "God Remembers."

Wow!

There are many children in Matara, it's a place bouncing with energy and smiles and love. One of my favorite moments of the trip is playing with the children. I have such a hard time wishing I could communicate with them. But God created a universal language for us - it's called LOVE, SMILES & LAUGHTER!

This is my favorite photo of the entire trip!


I had so much fun on this trip - and this moment was just for me - and it makes me laugh out loud every single time I see this photo. It will be framed for sure! I can't wait to watch Iribuka and these children grow up!

Thank you so much my friends for your prayer support and financial support to go to Africa. I really am so grateful for each of you! I hope you've enjoyed this journey with me. I know I can't do it any justice - you need to see it for yourself!

I'll leave you with my pics in a slideshow set to a song. I hope you enjoy them! Thank you again!

7.16.2010

Batwa Students

If you haven't already, to connect to this story - catch up by reading these posts below!

"We are Family" - Burundi Day One

"No One Has Died This Year" - Burundi Day Two
"Our Names Are Written Down" - Burundi Day Three
"The Ones We Love Have Come" - Burundi Video

As referenced in these posts, I mentioned how COF sponsors over 30 bright Batwa students, to come alongside them as they receive an education. Kelley is really a huge credit to their success as she follows and monitors their work very closely. The children are excelling for the most part and we are so proud of them. The students are so sweet and very thankful for this opportunity. We were able to spend some time with them while in Burundi. We visited them at the student house and they danced and sang for us and big hugs were handed out all around.

On our last visit we played volleyball with them on the beach and had a great afternoon. This was a special treat for them and we loved spending this time with them.



Racing to the water!



There are sooo many more pics - you can see all the pics from our trip by clicking HERE and watching a special video slideshow I made with them.

After we left the beach the students came with us to our guest house where we were staying and had a pizza party with us! There were lots of hugs again and singing. They have such beautiful voices. They thanked us and prayed for us and we prayed for them. I'll leave you with a little video of them singing - so precious!

6.28.2010

"The Ones We Love Have Come" - Burundi Video

Below is a video with some footage and interviews from some of my friends on the trip. We produced this video to fit within a message at my church, so it's focused on generosity, but it captures some of the times I've shared about in my blogs below. To really connect to the video, please read the 3 blogs below first to connect to the experience.

"We are Family" - Burundi Day One

"No One Has Died This Year" - Burundi Day Two
"Our Names Are Written Down" - Burundi Day Three


If you wanna watch it larger - click the 4 arrows next to the word vimeo at the bottom! For an even better experience, after you click the 4 arrows - click the HD (to turn it on) in the upper right corner after you hit play!

6.17.2010

"Our Names Are Written Down" - Burundi Day 3

On this morning I was really excited about spending the day in Matara witnessing 10 Batwa weddings. One of the things the Batwa has lost over the many years of discrimination is "Official" marriages and Birth Certificates. They were so discriminated against that the government would not even recognize that they existed. No birth certificate would be issued to them, which meant no health care and no marriages, among many other things.

So this day was an amazing day! For the 10 couples to have an "Official" marriage meant they were acknowledged. They had been living together as a married couple for years, but were never able to make it official. I try to place myself in their shoes and imagine a presence that did not even warrant acknowledgment, and it's impossible for me to even fathom it.

As we drove up to Matara, all the couples were dressed up in their wedding clothes; the men in a suit coat, tie, new shoes and the women in traditional African wedding attire. I wish you could picture it, the men stood TALL with their chests out and the women looked so pretty and I could see they were a little shy.



At the bottom of the hill was the place where we did the civil ceremony. There was a little tent set up there and we sat to observe. A government official had come to Matara to do the ceremony and have the papers "signed." Claude interpreted to us, "by this man coming makes them feel very special." And then I realized, WOW - not only has the government allowed the Batawa the privilege of an official marriage, but he personally made the journey to the actual village himself to do the paperwork! It was a powerful, significant moment in the lives of these 10 couples.



We watched as all 10 couples came down to the tent with their maid of honor and best man and stamped their fingerprint into the official book.





Wow, "official"...how many Batwa can say that! I remember watching as the best man and maid of honor placed their hands on the shoulders of the couples as they recited vows to each other, and then they all placed their stamp in the book and I was thinking to myself, I wonder if these particular couples two years ago would even be able to imagine the way they've changed their own lives this past year. Of course I cried for each one with tears of joy!

After the civil ceremony, we climbed THAT hill {lol} in our dresses to go to the top to have the religious ceremony. We sat and watched as the pastor did the ceremony and the sweet Batwa couples faced each other. You could see the women and their shy faces as they stared into their husbands eyes; so sweet and so powerful all at the same time.

Afterwards we went to shake the hands with each couple and congratulate them. Then we had lunch with them. We had Goat meat and Kasava {which is a root type of thing with not much taste}. Kelley reminded us how important it was to receive hospitality from our friends. Typically no one would ever eat with a Batwa. Etienne said once that he ate with a non-Batwa and they broke the plates afterwards. So us receiving a meal from them would be a powerful statement. So we ate.

After the ceremony there were a few speeches made. There were a few that were very significant. One of the local area zone leaders {Matara is part of a larger community that is divided up and is governed by Zone Leaders} actually attended the wedding. He is not Batwa. He mentioned in his speech that it was wonderful what the Batwa are doing here and he acknowledged them by saying that it used to be that there were Hutus, Tutsies and Batwa, but then he said, "We are all Burundian." Wow, powerful statement. I was in tears.

Next the government official stood to speak. I thought it was a strong statement that he stayed for the religious ceremony. He talked about all that the Batwa were doing in Matara. He mentioned there were plans to put a road in soon that would be beneficial to the entire surrounding community. He said that the Batwa of Matara offered on their own, to help build the road. The official said, "We will build it together." This was significant to me because it meant that they truly understand that this land is theirs and that they want to be a part of the community to help better it. Then the official addressed us and said, "Thank you for what is happening here, you are showing us our prejudices. We are ALL Burundian." WOW, there are no words to describe this and how powerfully quick God is working here. The official went on to say that all the Batwa in Matara now has birth certificates, which means they are acknowledged as people by the government.

Included in the 10 couples that got married was Francois, the leader of Matara. I had been watching his sweet face throughout the process. He was sooo happy. I watched him in his suit and how he stood so tall and proud.



After everyone had spoken, he stood up to speak. He said, "I was so proud to be standing there like a man in my new suit, getting married officially. I am so happy. OUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN DOWN! You saw it {motioning to us}! If there is now any problem with Batwa, the government has to acknowledge it. You saw it, OUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN DOWN!" I can't describe the joy on his face. To KNOW that for the first time ever, he is acknowledged as a man in the eyes of others. I just can't even begin to imagine what this day felt like for him.



The bible says in Micah 6:8 - "...And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" We have been studying this passage with Kelley, and I am so proud to see justice happening here. She asked us to imagine justice flowing like a river and pouring like a waterfall - I'm seeing this in Matara and it's a beautiful thing.

6.14.2010

No One Has Died This Year - Burundi Day 2

Today we finally went to Matara. I'd been anxiously waiting for over a year to go. I have been praying for my friends and getting to know them and the work through our Communityfor Burundi Blog and from Kelley. So there was already love in my heart for the Batwa.

For those of you who do not know the work of Communityfor Burundi, I'll explain a little of what has taken place. After Mark, Claude, Kelley, David and Sydneyann visited Bubanza that summer, their eyes were opened, they could not leave Burundi and not take some kind action after seeing what they saw. But their hearts was to do so with dignity and respect; Allowing the Batwa to better themselves, not to hand out charity.

Since then Communityfor has not only housed the 34 Batwa students allowing them to go to school (I talked about in my previous post), but they've also acquired land that is NOT government owned, and then loaned it to the Batwa. This is GOOD land - called Matara (which means Life). They formed a committee of Africans who chose 30 families from Bubanza and other Batwa villages and moved them onto Matara. At Matara they are to build their own permanent homes and grow crops to sell to make a living. This happened just a year ago. The land that was purchased had a good water source and the soil was fertile. The Batwa had never lived on land like this before.

Earlier this past year when Kelley posted on the blog about the land, I commented that I wondered if they actually understood or believed that this was now theirs. I tried to place myself in the Batwa's shoes thinking how for generations they've been forced to live on dry, parched land, with unfertile soil, far away from anyone else...literally owning and having NOTHING. I wondered how hard it would be to convince them to work hard because this was actually THEIRS and would NOT be taken away from them. I know from my past work in other areas that after years and years and years of mistreatment and discrimination that it becomes a mind-set that's hard to break, because once you lose hope, that's a true poverty. Poverty of the mind I believe is the hardest to overcome.

Kelley talked to me about the ways they've gone about teaching them and helping them to break that mindset. That this wasn't something given to them that was not truly theirs, but something that THEY had to work hard at and something that will be handed down for generations and generations to come.

The past year I'd heard about how hard they've been working and I was anticipating seeing it for myself. This day was dedicated to meeting the Batwa at Matara and seeing what they've accomplished in the short time they've been there.

So we drove out of the city through the beautiful hills. This country is gorgeous. I'll have pics to post once I'm home. We took a left down a small road and across a bridge and saw them waiting there for us in anticipation. The women were all dressed in their beautiful colors and all standing gathered at the bottom of the hill to greet us. They were clapping and singing. As we got out of the trucks we greeted everyone with a handshake and an "Amahoro," which means "Peace." Their smiles were so big and an interpreter told me that the song they were singing was "The ones we love have come." This was precious to me knowing that they already love us just as we love them.

It wasn't very long until the dancing started. Dancing is a HUGE part of Batwa culture, and they dance a lot! :) So we watched them dance, but it wasn't long until we were dancing and celebrating with them. I danced with tears in my eyes overwhelmed with such joy to be here with more of my family.



After this we were introduced to "little Claude." Little Claude is an agricultural engineer. He has been working with "Big Claude," and the Batwa at Matara to cultivate the land. You really wouldn't believe how much they have done. The hillsides are covered in crops; Beautiful green crops, something completely different from what we saw in Bubanza. Even the Batwa here at Matara look so completely different. Their faces are filled out and their skin has a nice texture to it, they are healthy.

Little Claude took us around and showed us the sweet potatoes, cabbage - all the crops and explained how everything was done. He also showed us where they began making bricks to sell and told us of an upcoming new venture into soap making. They plan to harvest and sell at the market and each family has a trade to do to earn an income. It was amazing to see!

Then we climbed the hill.

There's not much I can say about this except you'd have to experience it, but I think no one else will have to experience it again because they are building a road to the top. BUT the hill is straight UP! The Batwa love the fact that we came and climbed the hill to see "their place." lol!

At the top of the hill we were seated in the multi-purpose room which is an open air two sided room and many of the families and their small children were there waiting on us (they are MUCH quicker climbing the hill than we are).



We were seated and were introduced to the 10 couples that would be married the next day. We presented each of the couples with new shoes, a jacket and tie for the men, and a traditional African wedding dress and sandals for the women.

The leader of the village, Francois, told us that Matara is a good land. There are schools nearby (you can actually see them from the top of the hill) and that the children are being educated. There's also a clinic nearby. Then he said something that struck me. He said, "no one has died this year." It just ran through my brain as he said it and I didn't really have time to think about it then, but I've been thinking about it since. The morning before, we met the oldest living Batwa, he's not very old. The life expectancy of the Batwa is around mid-40's because of the hard lifestyle. Death is an often occurrence in their lives, more so than what we are used to because of the discrimination they've suffered. Terrible land where food cannot be grown, children aren't educated and they cannot get jobs because no one would hire them, so they could not provide for their families. So being born a Batwa surely meant an early death. So by Francois saying, "no one has died this year," he wasn't just saying, "Oh, no one has passed away," in a way that we would. He was saying {I think} NO ONE HAS DIED HERE! BECAUSE we have our own land, we have food, we have water, we have education, we have a source of income! No Batwa has been able to say that for generations. No one has died here. That's a powerful statement.

6.12.2010

We Are Family - Burundi Day 1

We went to learn some Kirundi language at the Communication Language Center in the morning hours and then had lunch at Claude & Kelley's. Claude and Kelley are our partners here in Burundi. They work as the Burundi field service coordinators for Community For (Community of Faith's non profit for international work).


After lunch we went to the village of Bubanza. Bubanza is the first village that Claude took Mark, David and Sydneyann a few years ago to introduce them to the Batwa. To my non-COF readers, you should know that the Batwa were the original inhabitants of Burundi, known as the Pygmies (short people - now a derogatory term). As two other groups, the Tutsis and Hutus arrived, they became neglected and oppressed, and that oppression deepened with the colonization of Burundi by the Germans and Belgians. Ethnic discrimination and racism flourished and the Batwa found themselves at the very bottom of society. The Batwa became a landless people. The government now places them on dry plots of land and will keep them as far away from the road as possible as to not be seen. They did not have any place in the government, in the schools, or anywhere in society.

Bubanza is one of those villages. Dry, parched land...a long way from the main road. As we drove up to the village I tried to place myself in their shoes. It's really unimaginable; Not only the poverty but also the complete discrimination. I can't believe they'd want to do anything for themselves. Part of the work Communityfor and Community of Faith is doing is with some of the people from Bubanza. While Mark was in Burundi for the first time, he met the leader of the village and asked his name, the man replied with his name in Kirundi, and translated his name means, "NO Name." In Africa, families spend much time trying to come up with a name that describes WHO YOU ARE. And this family felt so much oppression that they didn't even feel that it would matter to make his name anything, they believed that God had forgotten them. Mark told him that God had not forgotten them, and that we wouldn't either. After this, the work of Communityfor Burundi began. (More on that later).

As we walked up to the village everyone was singing. My translator told me that the song they were singing was, "thank you for coming, we have been missing you." We walked up the hill on dry ground. As we got to the top, everyone was dancing and singing.



Later, we were told by leaders in the village that there were 600 families living there (1 family = generations of families living together = MANY people). He told us, "thank you for coming to visit," because we could be the voice to the outside world of the Batwa. Later David told them that we still haven't forgotten them and that we were still praying for them. Then we danced with them. I've never seen such joyous people in the midst of such severe poverty. We said goodbye and were on our way.

We left Bubanza and went to a reception at the student house. Again for my non COF readers - Community of Faith has purchased a house near a school is the city so that we can support the education of 34 bright Batwa students. Before, Batwa were not educated because of discrimination and also because they could not afford uniforms or supplies to attend. By moving these bright students to the house, they can get a great education and later attend university so they can become leaders within their communities.

As we drove up, we stood outside the gate of the student house and Claude proceeded to tell us that the students were very happy we were there, and waiting to meet us. He also mentioned that this was such a big deal, that really only about 60 Batwa have ever graduated from school. We went inside and the students greeted each of us with a giant hug and told us their names. After that we went on a tour of the student house. We walked inside of the girl's bedroom and noticed they'd decorated their room with home-made signs on paper with crayons and had made a paper chain across the room. Hanging on one of the paper chains was a sign that said, "Communityfor Burundi - One Family!" And I cried. We ARE family. I feel it and they feel it too. Even Etienne, one of the Batwa leaders in Burundi said it again later that evening after the students danced for us. He said, "We're not just friends, you are our family."

(Photo credit: Ellen Olive)

If you can ever come here at some point, please do, and come visit your family. When we are with the Batwa there's this very unique, instant bond you feel, I can't really describe it, but we are family. I am amazed at the work that is happening here and it's not a hand out - it's so unique what they do and how it's done (more on this later). I am thankful today for the wisdom of Claude and Kelley, and David and Sydneyann and for Mark and Laura. Thank you to my supporters who allowed me to experience this first hand.

I'll integrate photos and video to this post later....for our Photographer's photos from this day (Day 1) please click here and here.