Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What do you do?

What do you do when you come home from Africa? What do you say? What do you do? How do you fit yourself back into the person you were before?

I've done this 5 times now. You'd think I'd know the answer...

You miss the faces, the little hands in yours, the smiles, the hugs, the love

You cherish the relationships you built with your team and partners overseas


 You cry, sometimes, when you do once simple things like going grocery shopping and walking into your closet, overwhelmed by the amount of "stuff" here

You marvel at the memories of selflessness and the giving spirits of those who have nothing by our standards

 But then what? What do you do?

It's hard. If you've ever done it, you know it's hard. And I don't know that there is one answer. For me, after 5 times, I think I'm learning; it doesn't always matter what you do. It matters that you do something.

It has never been my experience to learn nothing while overseas. Every experience brings new understanding to my life here, sheds more light on my life in the future, and expands my ability to love beyond my life in America. But how easily, how conveniently, and how subtly I can slip back into who I was before. I don't think that is ever His intention.

I don't think that everyone is called to drop everything and move over there forever. I don't believe I should yell at people I see not finishing their food because there are starving children in Africa. But I don't believe I was privileged to go over there just for some happy memories.

So if this applies at all to you, I can't tell you what to do. I can't tell you that anything you do is wrong. But do something. Let yourself be changed. Let yourself be new. Let yourself be different.

Even when your friends are sick of hearing about Africa. Even when your teammates aren't calling to tell you how much they miss it anymore. Even when no one understands why you can't be the person you were before.

Dare to change. Dare to tell. Dare to grow in the new skin you now wear. Dare to do...even if you have to do it alone.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Malawian Fingerprints

There's a song that talks about love. It talks about looking at the world, at people, through love's eyes. It's an interesting concept; looking at love as a person instead of just an idea or feeling. Part of the song goes like this:

I see what I made in your mother's womb.
I see the day I fell in love with you.
I see your tomorrows; nothing left to chance.
I see my Father's fingerprints!

That's about how our special needs camp in Malawi went. I saw these kid's hearts, their joys, their talents, their passions, the people whose lives they made better, the contributions they had to make to their world. We saw, on these kids, our Father's fingerprints. My team and I were blessed, for one short week, to get to see these amazing kids through love's eyes.

 Because, here's the thing: We didn't know much about Malawi. We didn't know the culture, we hadn't seen how these kids and their parents were treated in their communities. We went in knowing little about all the people who had left them in their lives because of their disability; parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, entire villages. Some kids, we went in not even knowing their disability for their society didn't know the name for it. We walked in and saw beautiful children, smart children, loving children.

We put on skits. The kids sat and stared. They didn't see grown adults in home made costumes running around speaking a language they didn't understand, bound to a translator to get their point across. They saw a puppet (who failed at everything) meet the woodcarver who made him and find out how uniquely and lovingly he was made.
They saw kids making choices about how to help a classmate, make a friend feel included, and choose service over selfishness. They say a king who wanted to help prepare his feast, but had to come, disguised as a peasant in order for the people to let him help them. They saw a man who calmed the storms with a word and fed thousands with one basket of food. They saw a bug in the jungle who thought he was too small to serve the lion king learn how to serve by listening and being a friend. There were kids who had never seen a skit before who sat enthralled by what was being taught as these stories came alive for them.

We made crafts, children and adults alike, that were hung proudly in huts all over central Malawi. A heart shaped sun catcher, a wreath of cut out hands, a Popsicle picture frame, all became treasures to people who never had time or resources to be creative and rarely heard that their work was beautiful.

We played games with hoola-hoops, balls, inflatable pools, water balloons, newspaper, and slip and slides. They had fun just for the sake of fun.
They had enough toys for everyone to play a game the way it was meant to be played and a place for everyone regardless of ability.

As the week went on, we learned about their struggles, their pain, their losses. We were told that the most normal looking child was tormented by epilepsy and outcast because of it. We heard stories from our kids who, as babies, were abandoned when their parents learned that their skin was without pigmentation. We learned of the hurt, but we didn't see it. Not at camp. Not in a safe place where everyone was different in some way. Not when everyone was an important part of the team. Not where these crazy Americans loved them so much that they chased their buses waving and yelling "see you tomorrow" every day when they went home.

At camp...we met love. We saw how love saw these kids. But we also felt how love saw us, through these kids.

The song ends:

I see your story, I see my name, written on every beautiful face.
You see the struggle, you see the shame.
I see the reason I came!

I came for your story, I came for your wounds,
To show you what love sees...
When I see you!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Still walking... A day in the the life of a Malawian

If you missed the beginning of the story, you can read the first post about my trip here :-)

We started our trip full speed ahead. We were told of the "cultural immersion" day kind of in passing; "yeah, we'll go to the village and it'll be great" or "you'll get a good look at Malawian culture". Well yes, both were true... very true!

My team and I happily hopped on the bus that day, ready for an adventure. We had no idea just how far the day would take us. We wound our way through the busy, crowded streets just outside the big city, bumping along steadily before stopping at a seemingly random point, surrounded by people. We were given partners, a handful of colorful bills, and a list of words in Chichewa (the language of Malawi) and set free on the unsuspecting market.

Charged with the task of gathering the necessities of the day, we fumbled through the language and the open air market itself. It was a bustling plethora of colors, potent scents, smoke, barefooted children, laughter, and shouts of Chichewa. It was all that I remembered :-). While others looked amazed, shocked, or completely lost, I felt myself walking with a stupid grin on my face, breathing in the air that felt so very African to me.

We eventually gathered our goods and headed to our destination for the day. Splitting into our pairs again, we made our way to the homes we were to be "immersed" in. They weren't kidding when they said that word: "immersion". We met with our families, and then jumped right into their plans for the day. Cooking, cleaning, mudding huts, or gathering water and carrying it on our heads, each pair set to helping their families. This is where it got messy. You would think, having actually lived with an african family for months in the past, I would have rocked this task. Think again.

Where to start... I had no idea what to say to my family, I spilled their clean washing water we had just gotten, dumped the clean dishes in the dirt, knocked the pot we were cooking in into the fire countless times, oh yeah, and sliced my finger open with the new knife we had brought them as a gift, and bled all over their vegetables... yeah, just that. Did I mention they had a hard time believing me when I told them this was my 5th trip to Africa?

This day stretched our team. Some spent the day praying not to get sick from touching raw goat meat, snotty toddler faces, holding hands with countless small, dirty children, and then proceeding to eat 2 meals with those same, unwashed hands (no utensils). Some spend the day near tears at the poverty and struggle they were surrounded by for the first time. I spent the day in awe of the spirit of those around me, and the love of my Father and willingness to send and use me, despite my oh so apparent weaknesses.

 As my struggles and embarrassment chugged along that day, do you know what my Malawian family did? They smiled. They laughed. They made sure I was ok, they fixed my mistakes, they hugged me and thanked me for coming. They showed me a love I had no business receiving and accepted me just as I was. They showed me grace. Grace; when I was clumsy, prideful, and awkward.

I had no idea at the time, but I met some of my best friends that day; some of the girls I would come to love and never forget. I didn't know until way later; but I met my sponsor child that day. That time of laughter and mistakes that day are priceless now. The pictures are precious. And I almost missed it by being caught up in what I couldn't do, instead of what He was doing.

And this was all before our task, our love, our full and beautiful work with the special needs kids even started...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Walk Through Malawi

This is the first trip I have been on, since starting my blog, that I haven't been able to post while out of country. It was a little weird.

And since this blog is as much for myself as anyone else, can I walk you through Malawi? K, thanks...

Malawi never made sense in my head. I signed up to go, not because it was logical, in fact, if you really thought about it, it was a pretty illogical choice. I didn't have enough money to go. It wasn't a strictly medical trip, which I had been saying I wanted to do. I knew that general area of Africa wasn't a place I had been particularly fond of in the past. It was only 2 weeks; I had loved going for longer periods of time in the past, and didn't really want to go back to being there for such a short period of time. I had trouble coming up with reasons to even sign up.

As I packed, stayed up until 2:00am, and drove to meet my team to head to the airport, my mind was never at peace with the trip. But my heart was, and that's how I found myself, almost 3 weeks ago now, on a plane, with 15 strangers and my best friend, headed to Malawi, Africa.

I stepped off the plane, half asleep, after maybe 2 hours of cumulative sleep over the 30 hour journey, and the first thing I noticed was the smell. Maybe I did inherit a bit of my mom's infamous supper sniffer, because that always seems to hit me when I get off of a plane. My first thoughts were of mixed emotions. A twinge of regret and longing washed over me. The smell was familiar; it was Africa. But something was missing... the salty sea and fish...I actually missed the smell of fish! Yes, my first thought was of Senegal and how I missed it and my life there. But that quick wave washed over me, and a second exciting and familiar feeling hit me... I was relaxed, I was set to a new pace, I was back. The deep, earthy, moist scent of Africa was again filling my nose. I had not one more regret from that moment forward.

We traveled to our compound and a welcome ceremony put on by the kids at a children's home that the organization we worked with ran. My team, most of whom were new to the continent, drank in the scenery, the people, the sights, the smells as we drove through the city. It was beautiful to watch their eyes light up as they experienced the place I love for the first time. I adored hearing their comments and laughter. I could almost feel their hearts opening to this beautiful country.

The welcome ceremony was beautiful. The kids sang and danced and were so happy to see us. The language was different. I knew it would be. It hit me then too; I couldn't understand these kids, and no matter how much I spoke to them in Wolof (oh and I tried) they wouldn't understand. I thought this would upset me too, but I was pleasantly surprised; I loved their little voices, their little hands, their smiles. I didn't care. I didn't feel like I needed my words. I loved not caring. We met the first of our special needs kids that day. "T" had a traumatic brain injury as an infant. Now, she rides in her wheelchair and needs help with just about everything she does. Except smiling. She loves music. Want a smile? Sing a song and she will light up. My heart melted as I sat down next to her.
This trip still made no sense in my head, but I wasn't following my head now. My heart had taken over, and it knew, HE knew, exactly where I was going and why I was there. He brought me to Malawi, and He always made sense...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Off again

As I find myself ready to leave for yet another trip overseas, I find myself often being asked, once again, the question I have struggled to answer each and every time. 'Which of my trips have been my favorite?"

I tell people, each time, that it is really hard for me to choose because they've all been so different. "but if you had to pick...?" they press.... Each of my trips have been so different, with such different trials, challenges, joys, successes, picking a favorite... impossible.

I usually end up picking the one I have been to the most or the longest, just out of familiarity and comfort with the culture and language. But I don't know that you could accurately call that my favorite... But then, the other day, my good friend, L, asked me about my previous trips in a different way. One with a longer answer, but one that I loved!

"Do you feel like you learned something different from each trip?"

Yes!! I loved that she asked that and I loved thinking about and answering it. Thinking back, there has always been at least one (often several) BIG thing I've learned on each trip. So, As I prepare for the next, I thank my friend, L, for causing me to reflect on these important, thrilling, and memorable times in my life.

Brazil 1- teamwork, opening eyes to the rest of the world

Brazil 2- Leadership

Canada- teaching, serving my teammates

Kenya- Overcoming fears, growing up

Senegal 1- spiritual warfare,  loving across language and cultural barriers

Senegal 2- Relying on Him alone, building relationships

Zimbabwe- serving, embracing unexpected opportunities

Malawi- His provision... and more to come...

Friday, June 28, 2013


I am so in awe and blessed as this whirlwind week comes to an end. It started with a great trip up north with my family for my cousin's wedding. We mixed in some hikes and cave exploration on the way to break up the 16 hour drive.

Then, on the way home, started the "provision" part of this post. The blessings just started pouring out for our trip to Malawi! Let me list some of the awesomeness for you :-)

1. The cost of our trip got lowered!

2. A friend's mother's company asked if they could provide books for us to give to the kids. These are special needs kids we will be working with, and now each one of them will have a copy of a beautifully written children's book describing the Father's love for them and how uniquely and specially made they are. And mostly, how precious they are to the Father, all in terms they can understand. We knew we wanted to get these books to these kids, but 30 hardback books are not cheap. But my team was so amazing in their trust and dedication to get this book to these kids, and He really provided.

3. I was thrilled to find the other day, that about 95% of my support for the trip had been donated!

All of the planning and logistics for the trip are falling into place beautifully and I am so excited that in just 12 days, I will be getting on a plane with my amazing team, for what is sure to be another beautiful adventure.

So thankful, excited, and blessed right now! Can't wait to see what's next!

I'm still collecting underwear to donate to the orphanages over there, and will be right up until I leave, so, if you want to be involved, this is a great chance! Thank you so much to everyone who has already joined me in this journey!!

Saturday, May 11, 2013


 So I'm going to Malawi... questions?

Where is Malawi?

When/for how long are you going?
I'm leaving the second week in July and I'll be there for 2 weeks

Who are you going with?
A team of 17; 3 guys and 14 girls (I know, poor guys! lol) we range from high school aged to married with grown children. But, one of the many exciting things about this trip is that my long time best friend (we met when I was just 6!) is going with me!

This is me and L
L is such an awesome friend and I'm so excited she'll be on the trip with me! This will be her first trip to Africa and I'm so excited to share this time with her!!

What are you doing there?

We will be working with special needs children, demonstrating true love to them in a way they can understand. We will also be working with the families and caretakers of the children to impact the way they and their communities interact with these special children, hoping to show them the true blessings found in these kids.

The usual: Is Malawi safe?
 Malawi is probably the safest out of all the places in Africa I have been to :-) It has an open and welcoming culture and is a democracy. However, it is one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in Africa. It has been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and has staggering numbers of orphans and broken families as a result.

Can I help/get involved?

1. Getting to the more southern portions of Africa is expensive! I've never asked for support before and, I'm going to be honest, it's hard for me to do so. But He continues to confirm in my heart that it is not up to me to decide who wants to participate in this journey with me. So, I'm asking and trusting that He will provide through His people. If you've been reading for any length of time, you know I do not post locations or specific organization names, so please contact me if you have any interest in helping me go to Malawi or if you just want more information.

2. Underwear! I know it seems strange, but my team and I are collecting new children's (elementary to high school aged) underwear. We will be visiting and working with many children's homes and orphans. This basic necessity is highly needed for these kids and my team is aiming to bring a bunch with us to give to the homes. So, if you're able, I will be collecting new (packaged) underwear from now until the day I leave and would greatly appreciate your donation!

that's all for now :-) Stay tuned...