Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let the children come

It just hit me like a ton of bricks as I read about Jesus rebuking His disciples for keeping the children away from him in Mark 10. It happened about a month ago, but the Holy Spirit has brought what was hidden from my eyes to light and I am thankful, however painful it is to look at.

We were in a hurry, not only because dark clouds that promised to wash out the roads and leave us stranded loomed overhead, but because we had a long and difficult journey back to Nairobi waiting to begin. We had bought just about everything the small store had, at least all that was edible. Fruits of every kind and vitamin and mineral enriched porridge flour for the children of Loikas, a slum/village in Maralal. The three of us (Grace, Phoebe and I) struggled to carry boxes and bags of food we planned to give as we visited the neediest families in the area. I would say that every single person living in this village is hungry and trying to prioritize who needed the food the most seemed futile and heartless from the get go. With only what we could carry, as cars cannot pass through the narrow walkways, we set out to find several children whose weak bodies and expressionless faces had been burned into my mind months prior. We did not find them all and until I lay eyes on the weakest of them, I must assume he eventually died from malnourishment. It wasn't a very "rewarding" visit. Deworming the kids with visible signs of worms and providing minimal food to the malnourished babies seemed like barely brushing the surface (not even faintly scratching it) and I was frustrated.

It was one of those days I hated the color of my skin even more than usual. I usually love the crowds of children who are drawn by their curiosity of all things new and different, but today I wished to blend in and be camouflage from the millions (well, it felt like it) of children who were slowing us down--crowding the narrow path we were walking, quickly draining my supply of fruit, and giving me less time to find the children who I had decided needed the small things I had "the most".

I don't remember her name. She ran to us the instant she saw us from atop the hill where she lived and insisted upon holding my hand throughout the entire journey. I was annoyed. As I said, I was on a mission and time crunched. The paths were only wide enough for one set of feet and dodging human poop was a fairly high priority of mine--one that she was threatening by holding my hand and pushing her way in beside me. She was older than the usual insistent hand holders (who I adore on most days)... somewhere between eight and ten, I'd assume. She stared at me the whole time, another thing I sort of hate. I was taking any chance to awkwardly (and unnecessarily) hold my heavy plastic bag with two hands so that my obligation of dragging a ten year old through this maze of a village was over. Phoebe could tell I was annoyed (I'm not even a little bit good at hiding it) and politely told the girl to give me some space. I was relieved. But man, she was persistent. If she wasn't holding my hand, she was two inches behind me, still staring. I remember the conversation in my head with the Holy Spirit... it went something like Him telling me "just hold her damn hand. you can do it."

I am not sure the Holy Spirit speaks this way, and mean no disrespect, but sometimes that is how He seems to best communicate with stubborn me. Or maybe it's just how I translate it, but regardless, I still chose to resist. I think I responded with a sarcastic, insensitive "I think she'll survive."

As far as I know, this story does not end with the girl dying that night and me regretting my small act of withholding love for the rest of my life; maybe that would make a more compelling story (maybe even worthy of becoming a forwarded email that ends with a harsh warning to send to all of your friends or you will be hit by a bus) or maybe it would deter me from letting the same thing happen again. I am guessing she DID survive her encounter with a grumpy white-skinned person and is doing just fine right now, but looking back-I know my disobedience pained Him. In that moment, I withheld HIS love from her. Not that He didn't love her without me, but gosh... I could have loved her on His behalf and I gave up that opportunity in order to focus on my narrow, narrow view of what I thought He had on tap for the day.

I imagine the inquisitive kids that gathered around Jesus slightly outnumbered the ones that met me in Loikas that day. :) I can envision Jesus being elbowed and shoved and prodded as He tried to maintain His footing in a crowd of small, but mighty when on a mission, kids who were eager to get near Him, if for no other reason than to stare. I can also see his well-meaning disciples responding to this in the way that they did... rebuking the kids in order to regain order to a now chaotic environment (kids are so awesome at creating those out of nowhere :)). And Jesus was "indignant." Really? Indignant? At least let the disciples gather them into a single file line and bring their voices down a notch. Prioritize them by needs and send the ones who are not sick or hungry home for the day. Let them come with a parent or guardian and please make sure none of them get back in the line after they've already been through once. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . He said to let the children come!!! Stop hindering them and let them continue being who He so perfectly created them to be--the very characteristics that lead Him to remind us again and again that we should aim to be more like them. "The kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these."

So here I stand, humbled and repentant. Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus would have at least taken a moment to look into this girls eyes and hold her hand as He journeyed towards those with "greater needs." I am no Bible scholar, but if I am correct, the children Jesus was referring to in these passages in Mark 10 and Matthew 19 were not even sick. What? I am definitely the disciple who is advising Jesus that His schedule is pretty full, so better just lay hands on and pray for the sickest and poorest and hungriest kids. I probably would have even suggested a good, solid group prayer for all, to hurry along the process. Especially if I knew someone "worse off" was waiting for Him.

Looking back and recalling how unsettled I felt as we drove away from Loikas just as the rain drops became heavy, I am sure that feeding those babies and killing the worms in their bodies was not the primary reason He brought me there that day. I guess He just wanted to pour a little extra love on that girl and He gave me the chance to feel the skinny brown fingers wrapped tightly, trustingly around for Him. I thought surely He sent me to fill grumbling bellies and improve sick children's health. Oops.

Wonderful news though.... He's forgiven me and I am sad I hurt Him, but thankful for the grace to try again tomorrow; the mercy to keep my eyes open; the Holy Spirit to keep my heart willing to love whoever is in front of me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Today as I watched people pour down to the front of the sanctuary of Mt. Bethel as a result of their Holy Spirit inspired “yes” to add a Kenyan child to their lives, I was overwhelmed with happiness. For once, it was not because I was happy for the children who were now promised enough food and clothing and school and love. Not even because I was happy for the families who were now connected to a little life across the world. Even still, my happiness was not attributed to the joy I know my parents and others who have put their hearts and souls into this ministry were feeling as they watched the children they fight for receive sponsors. My heart raced and my eyes filled with tears because what God did today was rich, rich love poured out on one of His faithful servants. It was His way of fulfilling His promise to her (and all of us) that He would provide if she would continue saying yes to what He asked of her.

Her name is Grace and if anyone is more deserving of such a name, I have not met her yet. Her life is about recognizing God’s grace, rejoicing in God’s grace, and praying for more of God’s grace. It began with one child, one yes, one mouth to feed, one deduction from a paycheck, one extra heart to fit into her life. Over the past five years, this woman has given more and more until it became everything to take care of just one more. Anyone you ask will tell you she's crazy... "she takes on too much, she doesn't get enough sleep, she needs a break, she gives too much, she is spread too thin, she is too ambitious, she never stops moving."

I think she is crazy too sometimes when I hear what she says yes to and never really hear a "no" exit her mouth. The rich know her, the poor know her--the Christians know her, the non-Christians know her. She is known and respected because of the way she loves generously, even where tribal barriers try to hinder this exchange. I think she has a more accurate census of who is admitted at the District Hospital than the nurses do. I am pretty positive the restaurant she and her mother own gives out more food each day than they sell. The doctors in town know and expect her to be bringing sick children to them at any hour. She is the first phone number dialed when a baby is abandoned at the hospital.

She is not using her precisely calculated "leftovers" to serve the children in her community, she is giving EVERYTHING SHE HAS to serve them, maybe even at the expense of her own family. She has traded what could have been an extremely comfortable and cushioned life (because she is entitled to this--right? if she works hard and is wise with her money, one might assume) for a life of complete dependance that if He does not provide above and beyond, her family will not eat.

Give give give and don't cling to a thing... trusting that He'll give more to fill in the gaps. He has. For the past five years, the 40-something kids in her care have been fed and clothed and loved. It didn't come easy though. They have known nights of praying alongside Grace that God provides food because the storehouse is empty and they have known nights of grumbling tummies because they ate a bit less than their bodies required to stay full until the morning. They have known tea without sugar and beans without salt and lunchboxes without lunch. Their toes have poked out of the holes in their shoes and their patched clothes have lost their vibrant colors. And they are grateful... they are so grateful because they know that God has brought them far.

I am rejoicing today because I can hear the sigh as Grace gets word that all of her children have been sponsored and looks upward in awe of God's goodness. I can almost see inside her heart as God takes her back to that first simple "yes" He asked of her and gives her a quick slideshow of how much GLORY He has received from that point on--not just through the pretty, the hard too. God loved and cared for and provided for these kids before Project 82 existed and before you decided to sponsor... He did it through this woman and others who came alongside of her. And now He has chosen to involve others--shoes without holes and untattered clothes and access to water (we pray) and more than enough food and wonderful schools and love in relationships are in their futures.

And even though a good bit of the financial weight of caring for 40-something children will be lifted from Grace now that her children have sponsors, I have a hunch that the way she lives her life will remain the same. I trust that she and her family will still reside in the humble 3-room home they live in. I trust that she will still "work too hard" and "not sleep enough" and "give too much of herself" because it is what God asks. Glory for God not just for what He has done today, but what He has done that led up to today, and what He will continue to do from this point forward. Glory to God for the "yes's" today that will have an eternal impact in the days and years to come and Glory to God for letting us be a part of caring for His children.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."

--Isaiah 58:1-11

Friday, November 4, 2011


When I was in 11th grade, my high school sent us to Johnson O'Connor for aptitude testing. I don't remember much of my results, other than that my two greatest strengths were ideaphoria and learning new languages. The language thing is funny now...I love how God equips us for every good work before we even know we need His equipping! And as for 'ideaphoria', it is just a fancy word to describe a constant onslaught of new ideas flowing through my head at all times--some good, MANY (many... trust me) bad. :)

I have been frustrated at times for my lack of 'vision'/structure for ministry in Kenya. But more than anything, I have seen other people's frustration of my inability to produce a sound answer to the questions about "what I actually do here." Teams come and I get to listen to their ideas and visions and dreams and strategies for doing ministry here and I am oftentimes jealous that they have a 'game plan.' They ask me what I am doing here and I am unable to say much more than "loving the people I meet." Usually I don't know what I am doing here, or foresee myself doing here, besides that. As much as He created my mind to fill with thoughts/ideas/dreams about everything under the sun, I have very few for ministry here.

The ones I do have are beautiful in my mind, but nothing that will sell as a pitch to anyone looking to invest in a solid, strategic and transformational plan to bring change in a community. My dreams are about living in a community where I am no longer recognized for my skin-color and financial status [I usually get angry when people assume I am rich because I'm American... but I am. We are. When you make more than a dollar a day, you are rich (if we're considering the whole world and not just the comparison to your next door neighbor), like it or not] but as a neighbor, friend, and fellow community member. I dream of having a huge kitchen table where anyone is welcome, always (and someone to cook large amounts of amazing food, haha). I dream of praying for the people in my community and the problems they're faced with as often as they are praying for me and the difficulties I have. I pray that we would mutually know, that anything "good" is a gift from Him... by way of sponsors or donors or well-wishers or friends, but still directly from His generous hand. I pray that we would, together, rise up to care for our community... that the orphans would not just find a home in my house, but in other homes as well (and joyfully)--that the elderly would be cared for with the respect they deserve and that the most scandalous of all community members know, if nothing else, they are loved and accepted. I pray that we would take care of each other in this way because it is how God takes care of us. I dream that through all of this (God's grace), we would continually ask the question how we can better serve and love and adore Him--and then walk boldly together with the answers we receive in Scripture. I dream that those of us who are sick celebrate Jesus all the more as we get closer to meeting Him face to face. I pray that this is just life, not a mission project.

Today, unlike most all days previous, I am thankful that He has kept my calling so simple and defined and seemingly modest. He has told me to love them and forever, that will be my ambition--to love. He has told me to remain in the forced humility of having NO grand schemes and answers for how to "fix" "change" "transform" "impact"... just the simple instructions to love them and do life with them instead of doing life above them. This is what the Gospel speaks to me, again and again. I know I am simple-minded and have trouble taking things much deeper than they appear on surface level, but I have to believe that is how Jesus meant it to be... that is what His life was about, as I can see it.

I was able to go to a conference this past weekend (Global Leadership Summit put on by Willow Creek) with thousands of Kenyan leaders. I felt inspired just by their presence and desire to see God use them for His glory in Kenya. One of the speakers went through Acts 1 and equated Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to our own places of ministry. Samaria was described as the place we are most uncomfortable... it intimidates you and you try to avoid it. She suggested this is where we are called to serve and though I've heard this time and time again, I realized my answer was not so easily "Kenya" anymore. I was beginning to think "oh crap. are You telling me i have to go to Corporate America??" because that scares me more than anything... I have utmost respect for those of you serving there. I am comfortable here in villages and in orphanages and in slums. I feel like I've lived here forever and though I never stop learning, what used to stretch me (eating the food, pooping in a hole, showers few and far between, being covered in sewage, etc) are no longer as challenging.

I thought a little bit harder and realized He has made it perfectly clear where I am to go next--it scares the crap out of me because I have to depend of Him completely. I think I have learned my place among most people here... they are starting to laugh at my jokes (finally!) and I think we both feel comfortable together after a short time of introduction. Many of my greatest friendships are with the people I've met here in Kenya. And then there is the group that doesn't respond when I greet them, assumes before I even speak that I pity them, believes they can count the millions of problems I see in them, and really intimidates me, if I'm being honest. Some of their cultural customs make my head spin (leaving their babies to be eaten by lions if they have any sort of disfiguration or problem, aborting babies by jumping on stomachs, lots and lots of polygamy (making their HIV rate off the charts), not educating their women, young and arranged marriages (imagine your 7th grade daughter getting married to your husbands friend), female genital mutilation, apathy and avoidance of any sort of medical care, sedentary lifestyle and unwillingness to work... i could go on), but none of these are what He is asking me to focus on. Maybe I'm not even supposed to see those issues. He is asking me to see Him faithful... that's all. If I see Him faithful, the personal intimidation factor does not lower, but it is inundated with PEACE because I know what He is capable of. In fact, someone said at the summit this week that if our vision is not intimidating us, then it is most likely insulting God. Ouch.

That being said, I feel Him telling me we are getting closer to a time for planting my feet a bit. Planting myself in a community, asking for them to accept me as their neighbor, and then watching God move. I want them to know Him... before I want them to stop killing their handicapped babies and have faithful marriages and take the medicines available to prevent passing HIV to their children and cease to circumcise their girls and work hard to take care of their families. I am praying everyday that He makes my heart beat for them, because it is not all there yet.

As usual, I know no defined future steps besides a new willingness to stay still long enough to let some roots sink in somewhere. Thankful for the bits of revelation and expectant that they will keep coming...