Sierra Leone 2014–Part One

I went on my fifth mission trip this summer. It was my first (and surely not last) trip to Africa. As usual, I fell in love with the people of Sierra Leone (or Salone in Krio), more specifically, the ones in Kathirie village just outside the city of Makeni near the center of the country. I always struggle with putting my experiences on missions trips into words. The vastness of the difference between what I am used to and what I experience on trips like this always renders me inept to describe what I saw. To use an Jr. English vocabulary word, it is an ineffable experience.

I’ll start with the most vivid images I can remember. The humanity that surrounded me each time we visited Kathirie—that I will never forget. Nine children standing around me, each one grasping one of my hands with his or her hand under the hot sun outside the village. Three children sitting on my lap at the Day Camp we facilitated, until only one two year old boy is left, sleeping on my chest. The ornery little boy whose big, bright, clear eyes crinkled with his huge smile, running from group to group of people, making mischief as he went. The 14-year-old girl unable to stay awake during the school lesson, and sighing in boredom as she waits for the teacher to dismiss them all. That is a familiar look I’ve seen, but I’m sure her reasons for being sleepy and “bored” are quite different from any of the freshman girls I teach. Who knows how far she may have walked to get to school this morning. The strident singing of the young women who led the march into church, dressed in their colorful dresses and head wrappings, moving to the rhythm of the song. And the beauty of the young girls at the school dedication, with their hair freshly coiffed, their deep brown complexions glowing atop the new white shirt of their school dress uniform.
These are just a few images that I will treasure forever.

When asked what we did on our trip, the best word that I can come up with is “represent.” Our church raised enough money during our Christmas offering in 2012 to build a church and a school for the village. Our team’s main purpose in going on this second of three trips was to celebrate with the village and represent our church at both dedications, which was a great honor to be a part of. I am so thankful for the many people from my church who sacrificially and lovingly gave money for the good of this village. I hope that I did a good job representing Grace Point’s love toward  the people of Kathirie village. The villagers had been working hard, in conjunction with the contractors, to finish the school and church before we arrived, and we could see how proud they were to show the buildings to us.

One morning, carrying through on our plan to continue our support of Kathirie, we sat around a table with the Village Development Committee and a representative of World Hope International as the VDC came up with a list of needs they have. Our team represented our Church’s commitment to this village.

And now that I am back, I ask myself, what did I really DO for those people? I mean, I saw the great structures that my money helped pay for. I hugged kids and prayed with people and listened to their needs and handed out some medicine. But did I make any difference in going? Why go on trips like this? It comes back to that word—represent. I now represent Kathirie village in Sierra Leone and the people who work in Sierra Leone for World Hope International. I can share my experiences with other people and let others know about this organization who is doing great work in a country that is trying to climb out of a deep poverty-ridden, post-Civil War hole. I represent the people of Sierra Leone. I represent the work of World Hope International. I’d like to write a few more posts about what they need and how you could help.

To start, check out World Hope International. I’ve sponsored a child in Nepal for years, and I’ve always wondered what else I could help with. Now that I have seen WHI in action, I’m amazed at the work this organization is doing! Maybe you can find a place to share your wealth with others!

 

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Book Review: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

I’d been wanting to read this little gem for quite some time. I finally bought it at a Christian bookstore before Christmas Break, thinking I’d have plenty of time to devote to it. And, I did have the time, which was a good thing because this book is very dense. Voskamp’s writing style in this, her first novel, is difficult to define–entrancingly poetic, jarringly unconventional, and even a bit pretentious? It was not always an easy read for me because I would have to reread the sentence to figure out which grammar rule she didn’t follow, such as putting an -ly on an adverb or using a noun as a verb (English teacher problems).  This style usually enhanced the writing more than diminishing it. Take this description of a soap bubble as an example: “In the light, the sheerness of bubble shimmers. Bands of garnet, cobalt, flowing luminous.” This unconventional style actually adds to the image. The bubble is the definition of luminous. Luminous is flowing. I enjoyed mulling over sentences and thoughts like that, which is probably exactly what she wanted to accomplish in this book.

The premise of the book is basically a challenge one of her friends gave her: write down 1,000 gifts. As Ann starts to write down these bits of life for which she is grateful, she finds herself living with joy. She explains that she has discovered the meaning of thanksgiving (eucharisteo) and how we as Christians can change our lives by giving thanks in all things. After the thanks comes joy, peace, grace, and blessing. But not until there is thanks! It’s amazing how that works.

Voskamp tells her story of learning to give thanks in a semi-chronological, but more anecdotal way. She tells about the various trials and troubles she has endured in the past (which are thawing and melting away through giving thanks). She shares about the concurrent doubts and crises she faces, including a farm accident involving one of her sons, as she practices eucharisteo, (these crises softly pry her fingers off her life circumstances to truly let go and rely on God). She casts a vision for the rest of her family and friends through this newfound desire to find thanks in all things. I thoroughly enjoyed her descriptions of farm life (she lives on a pig farm in Canada), motherhood (she has six children), and observations of nature.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book (there are many!):

“It’s ridiculous how much joy a moment can hold.”

“It’s this sleuthing for glory that slows a life gloriously.”

“Is it only when our lives are emptied that we’re surprised by how truly full our lives were?”

“Trust is the bridge from yesterday from tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the planks–from known to the unknown–and know: He holds.”

“Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is.”

“Feel thanks and it’s absolutely impossible to feel angry. We can only experience one emotion at a time. And we get to choose–which emotion do we want to feel?”

Putting a title on these posts is optional. Good. Because I cannot put it into words, try as I may. While walking home tonight, I happened to glance upward and find a clear, clear night sky full of stars. I was compelled to drive out of town to see them better. They did not disappoint.

And, I can’t put it into words. The peace I felt. The awe I felt. And upon further reflection, the love I felt. God created that vast expanse of space that surrounds Earth. Vaster than I can imagine.

Yet. . .

He wants me to know him. How could I be worthy of knowing someone so great and powerful? What merit do I have to make him mindful of me?

I’m not worthy. I don’t have the merit.

Yet. . .

He loves me still.

There are no words.

Invisible Children

My senior year in college, I watched a documentary about the Invisible Children of Uganda, children who were forced to spend every night walking away from their villages to a safe place where they wouldn’t be abducted by a rebel army who wanted to turn them into child soldiers. The documentary was quite inspiring because it featured three guys about my age who happened upon these children while they were on a filming adventure in Africa. It shocked them so much they came back to the US with plans to do something about it.

That was in 2003; I watched their documentary in 2005 or 2006; today, Invisible Children has grown into a non-profit organization that has been working hard to get the US and world governments to do something about the terrorist Joseph Kony’s reign via his “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  The LRA has been terrorizing Central Africa for 20 years, but these three young Americans almost singlehandedly brought the world’s attention on him, and the LRA’s power has been weakened significantly. You can track information about what is going on with this at another Invisible Children website.

Sometimes I wish I could go somewhere that far away and do something that big. Africa has been on my mind lately for a few reasons. . . our church is going to use one week’s worth of offering to build a water well in an African country, and I know a missionary couple working in Uganda who I’d love to visit. And, I’ve always dreamed about writing a book about Dr. Eva Gilger, a missionary woman from my hometown who spent 50 (FIFTY) years in Kenya, caring for orphans and starting a girls’ school.

Maybe I need to start planning a trip!

Done.

I didn’t renew my subscription to the online dating site. Maybe I’ll try it again sometime, but for now I’m just done.

It is a bit time consuming (probably just because I’m one of those people who like to get my money’s worth, so I make full ((too much?)) use of it). Mostly, though, three months was more than enough for me. I actually did meet several quality guys and we emailed or chatted online. One of them I met in person, twice. He is fantastic, but I’m not sure we’re going to go anywhere. Time will tell. Maybe I’ll tell the whole story sometime. :) I have lots of tips for anyone thinking they want to try online dating, but I won’t pontificate about them here (I’ve used that word entirely too much today). For now, a few things that bug me about online dating:

  • Winking smilies. I now seem to use them in e-mails all the time, whereas before they were reserved for only very sarcastic lines. Ugh. It’s so girly of me. ;)
  • Guys who don’t fill out the short answer questions. The site I was using gives you a seven-day trial. How hard is it to tell at least a few sentences about yourself, even if you’re not going to pay for the service?
  • People who don’t post photos. Duh. It’s a DATING site! How can you not post a photo of yourself?

And, since I don’t want to be negative Nancy–a few things I really liked about online dating:

  • The people who were really real on their profiles. They honestly and frankly described themselves, even some of their negative traits.
  • The many types of people I came across. Some of them were a bit quirky, which made me laugh; others were very successful and driven, which made me think, “How in the world is this person not married yet?”; still, others had come from very different cultures and backgrounds. I guess, since I love people anyway, I find this type of thing very interesting.
  • The shared element of Christian faith (I used a distinctly Christian-owned site) encouraged me quite a bit. I haven’t encountered a whole lot of single men around my age who actually care about going to church, serving others, and loving God.

I think I’ve learned a few things about myself through this experience, too. It has been good. As I said before, I don’t know why I didn’t try this out sooner! :)

Online Dating

Online dating isn’t something I thought I’d ever try, but after three months of trying it out, I’m wondering why I didn’t do this sooner. I’ve always lived in a small town with small populations of males my age, and I have rarely gone “out” to meet people (whatever that means–I guess I’m picturing the stereotypical twenty-something crowd that goes bar-hopping looking for people of the opposite sex to date). That was never me, and it never will be me. So, for the last six years, online dating might have been really good for me, even if I was a little busy with my Master’s and the process of learning how to teach. But, for whatever reason, I only just started to try it.

It’s interesting to think about those reasons. For one, I was mortified at the thought of someone finding out I was clicking away on people’s profiles in search for a date. It seemed desperate, a little creepy, and more like something for people much older than me. Another reason I avoided it is that I convinced myself I didn’t need online dating to help find somebody. It was a little prideful, actually, thinking, “I’m above God making that my story.” There was an blog post from Boundless that really confirmed how wrong this thinking was.  http://www.boundlessline.org/2011/10/engagement-stories-aurora-kenneth.html  Yet another (and probably the biggest) reason for not trying online dating was that I was a little embarrassed to admit I had a “problem” (i.e. not having a boyfriend/fiancee/husband at my age). Speaking of age, the median age for women to get married now is 26. I’m 28. So, it just confirms what we always knew, right? I’m above average. :) Anyway, up until this year, I have been very quiet about my desire to get married and have a family. Maybe I felt like I needed to put up a more independent front. Maybe I felt like people would feel sorry for me if I talked about it.This summer, during a family prayer time when everyone was home, I asked my family to pray that I would find a husband soon. Of course, mom has been praying for this for years, as I have, but it was affirming and healthy for me to tell it to my family. There is nothing wrong with letting people know you want to get married.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, thinking, “Oh, poor girl. She’s desperate to be married.” I’ve grown up around many people older than me who didn’t get married until after 30 (and even 40), so it wasn’t like I didn’t think it wasn’t going to happen eventually. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) hit the panic button. (Ummm…..actually I won’t ever hit the panic button because I have faith that God knows what is best for me at any given moment, and right now that’s being single). I’m so content and blessed in my life as it is right now. Still, I definitely recognize the ways in which life would be so much better married and starting a family. Being alone is boring!

So, why online dating? Basically, I believe God can and will use whatever means (even technological) currently available to move us along in His will. Does that mean I’m going to meet someone online? Not necessarily. Even if I don’t, I already know I will have been blessed by the experience and learned a little about myself in the process. Just in three months, I’ve been both blessed and, it would seem, a bit cursed, as I learn how to go about this process. That’s probably all you need to know about that. ;) More about the details later.

This all plays into the end of the year really well. I am finishing up yet another year after high school of being single. On some days, when I am free to wander around Barnes & Noble at my leisure, pick up and leave at the drop of a hat, or spend inordinate amounts of time reading or working on the latest project as school, the single life is a wonderful gift. On other days, when I come home from a big event to an empty apartment, sit and eat alone at a restaurant (worst thing ever!), or get asked (for the billionth time) why a “young, pretty thing” like me isn’t married, being single is a depressing and difficult experience.

Still, regardless of what happens, I always know that God is right there, and He truly provides me with comfort on the tough days. One of the best was this past Valentine’s Day, an experience I have been a bit too self-conscious to share up until now. I had walked back up to the school to get something, and when I walked out of the building and headed west, I was blessed by this gorgeous sunset. It seemed that God was speaking directly to me, saying, “I Love You.” He knows His children intimately and speaks to them in ways that are perfect just for them. That was the best Valentine’s Day gift ever!

So, I’m soon headed into another year of the single life. I hope it is full of adventure and love!

Back to Blogging With a Book Review: Tim Tebow’s Through My Eyes

I’m sure the whole world has been just waiting for me to blog again! HA.

My last post was about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m now in that light! :) And, honestly, it’s just as wonderful and just as terrible as I thought it would be. This summer is my first free one since, oh, probably about 10th grade. But particularly, since I have started my teaching career, I’ve been busy with either classes or a job the whole summer. This summer, no classes. And I miss them. Surprisingly, I’ve found it difficult to be without stress. I guess I just operate best under stress. However, I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to read the books that have been waiting for me. Maybe I’ll write about some of them. Also, I’ve been able to do a bit of planning for next year, which is nice strange. . . I mean, I’m going to have a plan? Well before the year starts? What a novel idea! I already have the first nine weeks of Freshman English laid out, including that dreaded grammar instruction.

Volleyball camp is coming up. Can’t wait to get on the court and teach the little girls to love volleyball!

Since I don’t have Internet access at home, I can’t post all that often, so I think this is going to be a long one. I’m at the library. Can I just say that public libraries rock my world? Free internet, free books, free newspapers, and when I logged on today, they had an ad on their website for free music downloads. LOVE IT!

Okay, a book review. Here it is. I bought Tim Tebow’s Through My Eyes and finished within 24 hours. Loved it! It’s possible you haven’t heard of him, if you don’t pay attention to football, so let me oblige. Tebow won two national championships at the University of Florida, was up for the Heisman Trophy three times (the first of which he won–after his sophomore season), and was a 2010 first round draft pick for for the Denver Broncos. Those are just his football accomplishments. He has done and is so much more. The son of missionaries to the Philippines, he is a miracle baby, the youngest of five children, and has grown into a man with a desire to use his football platform (his word) to spread the message of Jesus. I hadn’t heard of this guy until after his second Heisman nomination, but once I started paying attention to him, I began to be more inspired than ever to be more open about my faith. His book has only inspired me more.

I’ll admit this book might be a tough read for a person who doesn’t know anything about football. He almost takes you through every game of his college and professional career play-by-play. Of course, this is only five years, so it’s okay that he’s so detailed, even telling about each of his injuries. I enjoyed hearing his mindset as a team player and leader. He also gave lengthy descriptions of his workouts, which sounded insane, yet inspiring. He detailed his relationship with his coaches, Head Coach Urban Meyer and Strength & Conditioning Coach Mickey Marotti. I could identify with that as well as with the descriptions of his encouraging, faithful parents and the crazy stories he related of growing up on a farm, getting “Farm Strong.” I felt like I was reading about MY life! :)

Throughout the memoir, Tim weaves snippets of spiritual discussion and inspiration. He doesn’t shy away from the tough questions, like “Why does God let bad things happen?” and “Why doesn’t God always answer my prayers?” and “Which way do I go?” As he discusses God, he truly gives readers the gospel message in a non-preachy kind of way. He simply explains why he believes certain things, usually backing it up with scripture and then helps the reader directly (in second person, even) apply it to their lives. What an encouragement!

I highly recommend this book to you if you fit in any of the following categories:

  1. A Coach
  2. An Athlete (current or former)
  3. A football fan
  4. A Christian
  5. A mother of boys
  6. A teacher of football players
  7. A farm kid
  8. A sports fan (especially of the SEC)
  9. A high school student
  10. A college student

You will find something in the book to relate to the very experiences you are going through or have gone through. Tim Tebow leads a very public life, as most star football players do, and he is one of the good ones, who is trying to do good things. He stands for things in this world that other people scoff at, and those people are eagerly awaiting his public mistakes. Say a prayer for him when you think of it.