What We Have Seen

16 Nov

It’s been three days since we’ve been home from Ghana and this time, post-trip, I’ve done something new and different.

I’ve let down.

After previous trips, my routine has been to spring out of bed the morning after and start working. There always seems to be more to do than time to get it done, and this weighs on me. “If I could afford to let down, I would,” was my response to my family’s plea for me to rest after the trip. Despite a bit of exhaustion and a touch of jet lag, I would fill my days with work, morning to evening, as if I was saving the world.

Each day that passes I realize with startling clarity that I am not saving the world. Sometimes let’s-save-the-world, let’s-change-the-world can be effective rally cries if you find the proper audience, but it can also be a dangerous mentality. As we entered each village where we work in Ghana, I once again reminded myself that I have far more to learn than to teach, far more to absorb than to dispense. And on this trip, I tried to clear my vision and really see what was in front of me. Unfortunately, we Westerners glide into different parts of Africa with too many opinions, ideas, images, and solutions blocking our vision. We think that we already know how it should be, and so we come ready to fix things and save people. I only know this because that’s me: fixing and saving.

But that’s all wrong. I can’t fix my own life and I sure didn’t save myself, so I’m not sure why I think I can do this for anyone else. I want to enter into the lives of our friends in Ghana in a way that allows me to see their world and learn from it. If I strip away what I think I know about the people in Ghana – or anywhere in the world – this just might be possible.

So over the past four days – starting with the 36-hour airport/airline festivities – I’ve been closing my eyes and seeing, once again, all that we were privileged to see in Ghana. I’ve been reliving moments and asking myself what I have learned from them. I’ve been dragging my vision across the landscape of a village, a mud and thatch house, a dark room, a contagious smile, and a hand-crank sewing machine. What does it mean that this is one young woman’s life day in and day out? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it holds answers to questions I ask every day.

I could come home and only bury myself in tasks (tasks, by the way, will commence tomorrow), but our work with families in Ghana demands more than a trite let’s-change-the-world mentality. So I’m settling in and thinking about what I have seen. We can never un-see what we have seen. We should never shut our eyes and try make it go away, nor should we attempt to shape it to a reality of our choosing. I want what I have seen to teach me, shape me, and cause me to think about the world and our work in wider, deeper ways

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We Met Dumakyi Today

11 Nov

Written last night, posted today:

We’ve been waiting for this day all week. We visited the village of Dumakyi, which, for us, is a whole new level of Ghana that we haven’t seen – no electricity and no clean drinking water. The villagers have migrated from the Northern Region and are tenant farmers who build their houses from mud and thatch. We supplied solar lanterns to each family in this village several months ago, and every house we stopped at had their lanterns charging. We also went into homes to see at the bedding that was supplied by both Fellowship Lutheran Church and Liberty Church in Tulsa.

This is our last night in Ghana and I’m in the midst of trying to pack all the stitched items and other things we are bringing back. I’m putting wood carvings between all my dirty clothes (like you needed to know that), and have packed an entire suitcase of the stitched items the apprentices, Esther, and Saraphine.

So, I’m going to let the photos do the talking.

Last time…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

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Sunday Lunch Photos

9 Nov

I’m taking the easy way out and posting photos from our Sunday lunch today with the families in the Rising Village programs. I can’t take credit for these. Chris has been taking photos and doing an incredible job at capturing the personalities of the women in our IG program and sponsored students. Enjoy!

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Day Four: Puff Bread, Bed Nets, and Little Girl Dresses

7 Nov

Today is Friday. We are halfway through our time here in Ghana, which is hard to believe. We visited more families today, and made a stop by Ama’s business to treat the staff to Puff bread. The consensus is that everyone in Ankaase should try Ama’s Puff bread! I really wanted to start marketing for her – brand her shop, get some signage, advertise in the village. But she’ll be responsible for drumming up business, and so far she seems to be doing well. She was thrilled to get some t-shirts from Laken, who has connected with her because of their similar businesses. Laken also sells pastries – Lick Your Lips Mini-Donuts.

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We also visited a family who received bedding from Evergreen Baptist Church in Tulsa. The youngest daughter, Afia, is bright and a good student, but she had been missing many days of school each term because of malarial symptoms. Now that she has a bed and is sleeping under a bed net, she is in school every day and she is thriving.

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And the stitched items are coming along. Jennifer has made incredible progress and is now stitching items that she will send back to the U.S. for purchase. She is so proud of her work. She seems more confident and hopeful. If only we could continually bring items from Ghana to the U.S. so that Abigail and Jennifer can have added income. (That’s a hint for any of you that travel here regularly).

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Tomorrow we will meet with all the orphaned students in our program and bring them letters and gifts from sponsors. We have five new students, so we’re excited to meet and greet!

It’s earlier tonight than when I usually post, so I’m going to enjoy a much-needed phone call home (if the WiFi will cooperate).

So…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Connecting Across the Continents

6 Nov

Today, it felt like Ghana – hot, sunny, and a little humid. No, actually it was very humid. Yesterday, Chris wondered where all that hot weather was that I had promised her, so today Ghana delivered it. Ah, this feels like the Ghana I know and love.

This was a day to catch up with old and new friends and to share greetings from our friends back in the U.S. We brought photo albums for our Income Generation women with postcard greetings, letters, and photos of women in the U.S.  We also brought t-shirts from the churches who raised money this summer during Vacation Bible School. We love connecting women and families in the U.S. with families here. Here are photos to show you how the connections in the U.S. made their way here.

This is Kwadwo and his t-shirt from Fellowship Lutheran Church

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Joyce and Ama looking at her letters and photos from women in the U.S.

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And lanterns that were provided by First Baptist Church, Tulsa

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Never underestimate the value of these connections. On both sides of the ocean, they are a blessing. Joyce and the other Income Generation women know that they have new friends in the U.S. who really do think of them and pray for them.

Today, we talked with a mother of two young boys in Nantan who had just been evicted from her house by her mother-in-law. Her husband has left and she has no idea where he is. It doesn’t seem to be enough to say to her, “We’ll pray for you.” And yet, sometimes our ability to get involved in the lives of others is limited to prayer. Most of you will not travel here and some are unable to give resources, but you can pray. And some of you can write letters and encourage these women. Everyone can do something to make a connection. We promise that we’ll do our part on this end to facilitate the connection.

We’ve just finished a delicious dinner of groundnut soup and rice balls. Chris lost. She didn’t clean her plate. On the other hand, I went in for a second helping. We’ll give her another chance tomorrow night when we introduce her to red-red and fried plantain.

So, we’re getting ready to welcome the staff back for another evening – this time for an official staff meeting. It looks to be another late evening, so I’m finishing this post and turning off my WiFi.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where there is a beautiful full moon this evening!

 

Day Two: It Rains

5 Nov

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We brought the rains – at least that is what Isaac says. I started this post writing in my little Wexford 50-sheet notebook with the rain pounding the window and a muddy red river of flooded road washing beside. We were traveling back from Kumasi, and as I looked out the window, I realize that when it rains in Ghana, life goes on. We passed a soccer field where three groups of boys were continuing their game – jerseys soaked, but splashing through the puddles anyway. So in the spirit of playing – and working in the rain, we’re returning from a day of fabric shopping to meet with the Rising Village seamstress apprentices, Jennifer and Abigail, to plan more items they will be stitching. This is a busy week for them as they sew necklaces (yes, that’s right), aprons, and some items of their choosing to sell in the U.S.

The rains continued after our meeting at Esther’s seamstress shop. We sat with Jennifer at the Mission House and talked about what it means to be a woman who takes pride in her work and is able to care for her children because of the income she earns. As Jennifer’s daughter Betty grows up, she will watch her and will know that her mother wanted a better life for her, and worked to learn her craft so she could give it to her.

“Be proud,” Chris told her. “You are doing something wonderful for your daughter and for yourself.”

The rains continued as Isaac drove around to pick up our Rising Village Ghana staff for dinner. It was the first time we had met Solomon and Victor, and our volunteer staff Charles and Martha. We reunited with Eunice, who has been with our staff since January. It is four and a half hours later and both the U.S. staff and Ghana staff is still sitting around the table talking politics and religion – two popular subjects here. I exited the table a few minutes ago, but I’m listening in as I write and I realize that we have an intelligent, curious, and opinionated staff. This is good.

The power in Ankaase is out, but we have the generator running, music playing, good conversation and I suppose the night is still young. And life goes on – in spite of rain and darkness and all the things that could divide us. But as Victor said just a few minutes ago: “We are one.”

Yes we are.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where inside this house there is light and life.

We’re Back in Ghana: Half of Day One

5 Nov

This is last night’s post, but the WiFi was not cooperating, so I’m once again posting after the fact. Just pretend it is about 3:29 p.m. yesterday, which is when you would have been reading this if all things technical hadn’t fallen apart. 

We’re here! Four hours of sleep in 48 hours makes for one exhausted team. But we can’t complain. Our only delay was a turnaround in the air when we were in the process of landing in Kumasi. After about 35 hours of travel (and four hours of sleep in a guesthouse in Accra), we were so ready to be on the ground and on our way to the mission house. But the president of Ghana was landing at the Kumasi airport just as we were about to land, and so we were not allowed to join him. I guess when the president’s plane lands, the airport has to be cleared. So,we flew back to Accra, waited the requisite amount of time – which turned out to be an hour – then flew back to Kumasi.

We unpacked our seven pieces of luggage, then went to Esther’s seamstress shop where we picked up ten more Ankaase bags and five more tote bags. The quality of these stitched items is very good quality, and Esther is really helping the apprentices learn to make these products. They are so excited to be sewing and earning income for the work they are producing. The more opportunities we give them to stitch, the better it is for them and their families. We’re looking forward to bringing quite a few items back, just in time for Christmas!

Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting all the apprentices and bringing greetings to them in the form of letters, postcards, and photos from those of you who have connected with them in the U.S. On Thursday, we’ll visit the IG women, Ama and Helena, and bring those same greetings. It makes these visits much more special when those of you who have made connections enter the picture and join us in encouraging and walking alongside these women.

The power was out when we arrived, so we were able to use some of the solar lanterns that we’ll leave when we return. These are the same lanterns that Isaac and the staff delivered to Dumakyi village in September. We realize that when it’s dark and you are eating a delicious dinner of Jollof rice and chicken, it’s good to see your food. So we dined by solar lanterns, which seemed fitting.

I’m turning in early so this is a short post with no photos, but we’ll be rested and full of energy tomorrow. So now, the moment I’ve been waiting for: crawling into bed for a full night’s sleep.

Thank you for your prayers, They are felt and we are grateful.

Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

It’s Orphan Sunday: Rise and Go

2 Nov

 

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It seems perfectly fitting that on Orphan Sunday we are boarding a flight to Ghana – a country I was introduced to through the faces of five orphans. Three years ago I looked at photos of the children taken in their orphanage, and a few months later was on a plane to meet them. At the time I thought that adoption might be in the plan, but it wasn’t. That was difficult for me to accept until I realized that there was another reason I was led to Ghana.

Orphan Sunday is a day to learn about, speak up for, and find ways to care for the millions of orphans around the world – including the ones in our own city. I am somewhat familiar with the plight of orphans, since thirteen years ago we adopted a daughter from China, and my husband directs an international adoption agency. But I wasn’t as knowledgeable about what all this looks like before a child is abandoned in a crowded market or brought to an orphanage. What are the circumstances that lead up to someone handing over their child? And what happens to children who are shuffled into the home of a relative after the death of their parents? Now I know the stories of some of these children, which is why I keep going back.

We began Rising Village for the purpose of identifying parents and caregivers who have little resources and find it difficult to provide for their children. It’s these families who are often at risk of placing their children in a local orphanage, or worse, being targeted by child traffickers – of which there are many in Ghana. We also decided to come alongside the families who have taken in orphaned children so that we can help provide education through high school and beyond. We want these families and the children to have every opportunity to remain intact and be a strong and vital part of their community and their country. It’s a big goal, but one that we believe in. We’ve seen the other side of it. Each one of us who is traveling today has visited orphanages, brought orphans into our family, organized orphan awareness events, sponsored children all over the world and participated in Orphan Sunday in years past. This year we will participate by boarding a British Airways flight that will take us to Ghana. We go without fear and with resolve.

We will spend time with orphaned children who live with relatives. We will continue to work with single mothers who have started businesses and entered apprenticeships so they can provide for their children and become strong, purpose-filled families. We will visit those who have received bedding to help prevent malaria – a disease that kills parents and children. All of these things help us fulfill our mission of transforming villages through family preservation. It happens slowly and not by our hands only. The people who live in Ghana are capable and ready to join in this mission – we simply bring resources, encouragement, and love to our brothers and sisters who are there. And we go with the blessing and support from all of you who have joined in the mission here. Your prayers and generous giving of your time and money have allowed us to begin and expand this work. We are grateful and humbled.

So this begins my travel journal on this Orphan Sunday. As always, I’m praying for reliable Internet connection so I can send the stories and photos back to you. We have seven pieces of luggage, so I’m also praying for a joyful reunion with that luggage in Accra. We’ll be staying in the capital city for one evening, and then we’ll fly the short distance into Kumasi, then drive to Ankaase. So you and I will meet up again in a couple of days when I’m able to post again.

Thank you for joining us on this adventure. We feel your prayers already. It’s an interesting time to travel to Africa, but along the way we have had continual affirmation that God goes before us, with us, and will bring us safely back to continue the work here – for families there.

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Books, Lanterns, and Backpacks

19 Oct

 

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We’re packing the luggage, gathering the passports, and preparing for another trip to Ghana in early November. I’m so blessed to be able to work in that part of the world. It’s joyfully noisy and replete with complicated cultural nuances that I’ll never completely understand. The people are gracious, the children are full of energy, and the food is spicy and delicious. I’m looking forward to all of it. It challenges me and stretches my faith every time I’m there. Ghana has captured a piece of my heart, and each time I travel there it feels a little like going home.

There are so many people here who help get us there. If you’re interested in being a part of this trip, please bookmark this blog and check back often for pre-travel updates and stories from our journey. You can also be a part of helping us provide a few things for our sponsored students and some families we work with. I’ve created a Wish List on Amazon.com that is so easy it’s ridiculous. You simply choose an item from our list, purchase it, and it will ship to us. You don’t even have to get out of your chair. We would like to bring a book to each of our sponsored students – these are teenagers who have been orphaned and live with relatives in one of the five villages where we work. For new students in this program who don’t have sponsors yet, we need a few more backpacks. And we’re taking three solar lanterns we will use while we’re there, and then give them to families when we return home.

We know each time we walk through the villages in Ghana that we aren’t doing this alone. People here provide what we need to help families and students rise out of poverty. We hope that as we move our feet and hands to serve, give, and love, that we will all see how God is restoring and renewing. Can a backpack, or a book, or a lantern help fix what is broken? Maybe. God has used less likely things (and people) than these. If you would like to see other ways you can join us in helping families rise, visit our website.

Thanks in advance for helping us give, serve, and love in Ghana!

Facts, Not Fear

15 Oct

There is nothing that makes my palms sweat more than a ski lift. Even if I am 800 miles from the nearest one, just thinking about my legs dangling from one of those flimsy-looking benches, with only a single rod between me and the ground far below induces the sweat. And it seems that in so many movies lately, the final scene takes place miles above the ground with the villain and hero slugging it out inches from the edge. I either have to look away or tuck my sweaty hands under my legs. And I paid money for this?

Scientists tell us that fear can sometimes be a good thing. The fear response serves survival by generating appropriate behavioral responses, so when I am hiking in Colorado and winding my way across a mountain trail that juts up on one side and straight down on the other, my sweaty palms are warning me that I am in danger of falling. On a side note (and perhaps a justifying note) falling is one of two natural fears that occur in both humans and animals, with varying degrees. The other is loud noises.

And then there are the fears that grow from unnatural places. These fears can be brought about by our overactive imaginations (the monster in the closet), a traumatizing experience (a near-drowning in childhood), and misinformation – or lack of information. Lately, it seems that many of us are too-easily giving in to fear-mongering. Here is an example: Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell filed a restraining order to keep Ebola victim Eric Duncan’s incinerated belongings from being disposed of at a Lake Charles landfill. Said Caldwell:

“We certainly share sadness and compassion for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus, but the health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority. There are too many unknowns at this point,” Caldwell said. The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is in the process of finalizing the application for temporary restraining order and expects it to be filed as early as Monday morning.

Additionally, the office is sending a demand letter to Texas state and federal officials, along with private contractors involved seeking additional information into the handling of this waste.”

It would seem on the surface that the Attorney General is taking responsible precautions to protect the good people of Louisiana. Unfortunately, he is simply adding to the cacophony of voices that seem to have given in to misinformed fear-mongering. In this particular example, the facts have gotten lost in the panic. Fact: Ebola is only transmitted through bodily fluids. So we can assume that once items have been burned to ashes, there would be no bodily fluids remaining. But instead of learning and sharing actual facts about this disease, we seem content to listen to those who are ratcheting up the panic level for what reason I am unsure (ratings, perhaps?)

Sometimes it helps to see things in their simplicity. Yes, I realize that this disease is complicated, but there are some simple facts that might help us have rational discussions rather than reactive drama.

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These are facts. Now, if you don’t trust your government to the level that you would dispute scientific facts that have been confirmed by infectious disease doctors, researchers and scientists, then I can’t help you. At some point, you have to hang on and trust or you’ll drive yourself and everyone else around you crazy.

But there is another danger to giving in to the fear-mongering. When we are wringing our sweaty palms because we are afraid for our own safety, we lose sight of those who are truly in peril.  Here are more facts.

  • Over 4,000 people have died in three West African countries since the Ebola outbreak began.
  • An estimated 3,700 children have been orphaned due to the outbreak. They are stigmatized and alone in the midst of the crisis.
  • In Guinea, a family of nine was infected with the disease and six died. They tried to care for one another with no reliable health care facility nearby.
  • There are survivors and they have stories to share, yet they are fearful of sharing them because they are certain they will be labeled, shunned, and stigmatized.
  • There are hundreds of health care workers – essentially volunteers – who have chosen to be in the epicenter of the disease in treatment centers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. They are risking their lives daily to care for the sick and struggling to aid in their recovery with very little modern technology.
  • In treatment centers, those who bring sick family members watch them die and then must worry about whether they now carry the disease. One NPR story profiles a 21 year-old girl, Bendu Borlay, who lives in Liberia. She watched her older sister die of Ebola in a treatment center, and then stayed there to care for a 15-month-old baby whose mother died of the disease and grandmother was in the isolation unit.

“That’s the reason I’m still at the Ebola treatment center, volunteering to take care of this baby,” she told NPR. “The grandmother tested positive, but the baby tested negative, so Doctors Without Borders was looking for somebody to volunteer to take care of the baby.” Borlay says that if she gets any money from volunteering, she will go back to school when school opens. “Now I have to be self-supporting,”she says. “The only person who supported me throughout my life is gone.” She adds: “I want to finish high school and make sure I graduate.”

Lest we forget, there is an entire world out there that is suffering and has every reason to be fearful. Perhaps we can keep our own palms from sweating if, instead of being inwardly focused, we turn outward to see their pain and hear their cries. Maybe instead of listening to the fear-mongering we could gather in our churches and our homes and pray for the courage to see beyond our walls and our borders. When we give in to the fears that perpetuate an isolationist mentality, then we are very far from the God who touched the lepers and wept over the sick and dying. If we truly want to be counter-cultural, then let’s not fall in step with fear. Let’s walk outside it. Learn the facts. Pay attention to and have mercy for those who are suffering. Pray and speak out for those who are in peril. And encourage one another as we walk in faith and live with hope.

 

 

Please Join Me for The Village!

27 Sep

The Village is this Thursday, October 2 and I want you to come! If you don’t know what The Village is, then here’s the scoop: some friends and I are going to share stories about connections that we’ve made with women in Ghana through Rising Village Foundation. If you’re going to be in the Tulsa area, I’m giving you this personal invitation to join us because I really want to share this evening with as many women as possible. Okay, I know this invitation is not as personal as us talking face-to-face, but it’s no less sincere. The Village will take place at First Baptist Church, located at 5th and Detroit in downtown Tulsa. We’re going to have dinner together at 6:30 p.m., and then my friends and I are going to introduce you to five women who live in villages in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Through video, photos, and stories, we’re going to talk about how our villages look different, but how our lives can interconnect in some very special ways. Some of the women in Ghana make products that we’ll be selling right after the event is over, so you’ll want to stay and shop.

I have tickets, and you can email me at lisa@risingvillage.org to purchase for $10. An easier way is to purchase online directly from the FBC website (it’s totally secure): Purchase tickets.

Consider yourself personally invited! I hope to see you there.

P.S. There is childcare. Call 918.594.5028 to reserve a spot for your little ones.

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Let’s Honor the Mothers Together

30 Apr

My mother died six years ago this month. I remember the Mother’s Day after her funeral when I sat on the back patio and watched a nest of baby birds with their tiny heads turned toward the sky and mouths open, waiting for their mama to return. “Lucky you,” I remember saying to them, “at least you know she’s coming back.” I was pretty crabby that entire day and to be honest, Mother’s Day remains a bittersweet thing for me. I have children so it’s still a day to celebrate, but they’re at an age when they don’t know much to do except feed me and give me a book. Not that I’m complaining, because I’m continually sustained by food and books, but gone are the days of the cute handmade cards and the recipe holder with the picture of my child smiling painfully (my favorite).

I still miss Mom, which becomes a bit of an issue during the lead-up to Mother’s Day. So this year, I’m dealing with it this way: I’m putting together an Open House this Friday to honor both my mother and some very special mothers in Ghana. We’re raising funds so that Rising Village can continue its mission to transform villages through family preservation. Basically that means our organization finds solutions to problems that tear families apart – namely poverty in developing countries. We don’t do this from 30,000 feet. Instead, we are on the ground in three villages where we provide: 1) resources for women to start or expand a small business, 2) school fees so children can attend school, and bedding so families are protected from the deadly illness of malaria. These things matter, so I’m giving myself over to our mission in Ghana. That means I’m going to spend most of my time finding ways to fund our programs, which are in the very capable hands of our Ghana director, Isaac.

Two years ago I heard Pam Cope, founder of Touch a Life, tell a group of women that we could spend our lives nibbling on the chicken scratch that’s scattered on the ground, or we can choose to feast at the table. “You make the choice,” she said. “If you want to settle for a life that focuses on the little stuff, go ahead. But as for me, I’m going to feast on something bigger.” I walked around the rest of the day in a daze, realizing that most of my life had been spent with my head down nibbling on chicken scratch. I wanted a seat at the table. It was time to look around and see what God is doing in this big, wide world, and then jump into it, even if it was scary and uncomfortable. So I did just that. I was pretty ignorant, but sometimes that’s a good thing because if I had known everything that was going to happen, I might have put my head back down and stayed with the chicken scratch.

So back to my Open House, which I’m calling a Mother’s Day Shopfest. I’m asking everyone who wants to join me at the table to come shop at my house and buy something for your mother, mother-in-law, daughter, yourself. Every penny you spend or donate goes straight to Ghana. Or just come to learn more about these amazing mothers that we serve in the villages. If you think Mother’s Day isn’t for you because your mother is no longer here, then let’s honor our mothers together.

This is your official invitation to come to my house between 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. this Friday, May 2. Email me at lisa@risingvillage.org for address and directions. Until I see you on Friday, take a look at a few of the beautiful mothers we serve in the Ashanti region of Ghana.

And Happy Mother’s Day.

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Let’s Clear Some Clutter

14 Apr

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“You have been treated generously, so live generously.” – Matthew 10:8 (The Message)

It’s April, which means it is time for me to clear out some of the junk. Last year during this season of Lent, I looked through my closets, drawers, cabinets and under the beds to find things that needed to go. It was all excess, unnecessarily cluttering my life even though it much of it was out of sight. It felt good to get rid of it and not because I was on an organizing kick, but because I want to learn more of what it means to let it go and give it up.

During Lent, I’m told that I should give up something up to focus more clearly on the sacrifice of Jesus. I didn’t give anything up, but instead I have spent this time re-committing myself to continuing what I determined to give up this time last year:

Clutter.

While last year I mostly wrote about clearing out the exterior clutter, throughout the year I have also tried to focus on clearing out the interior clutter. I’ve also learned more about what that means, and doesn’t mean.

Everyone has interior clutter. We have been created to desire freedom, peace, and extravagant love. We have all of this offered to us, yet we muck up the inside of ourselves with the kind of crap I found under my beds and at the back of my closet. Much of the time, the interior clutter is unseen and unacknowledged, but it’s there, clogging up the empty spaces that could be filled with something more useful. Or perhaps those spaces could be left empty. We all know that we could use more free space in our lives, especially on the inside. What was under my beds and in my closets was mine, just as my interior clutter is mine. I can’t say what yours is, but what follows is a sampling of Lisa’s junk.

Control

Restlessness

Judgmental attitude

Cynicism

Me-ism (that’s my word for self-centered, self-absorbed, selfishness)

Busyness

It gets messy in there. As much as I would like to someday proclaim that I have “conquered” any of the clutter listed above, it won’t happen in this lifetime. I will always struggle with each of these to varying degrees. So during this season of Lent, I didn’t pick something on the list and vow to give it up. I’m not that naive. The best I can do is realize, once again, that it is all there, and on certain days it still makes a big mess on the inside of me. So instead of giving something up, I’ve been focusing on how I can live generously, because I’ll share a little secret that’s worked for me: living generously does wonders to naturally clear out the interior clutter. 

It also helps usher in that peace and freedom I desire. And even though I know this, it often takes extra effort for me to live generously. The other day, a friend and I made a very quick list of simple acts of generosity we could do in a given day to make a difference for someone else. We did this not because we were setting out with a plan, but because we were confused at why we so rarely actually do these things. If they are so simple, why do I come to the end of the day having touched no one around me with a simple act of generosity? Why do I allow my busy days to crowd out the very acts that would clear out some of my restlessness, cynicism, me-ism?

You won’t find a foolproof plan at the wrap-up of this blog post. I’m still working through it. But I am struck by the words of Jesus to his disciples: “You have been treated generously, so live generously.” I can think of no better example of being treated generously than what we celebrate on Easter morning. And yet, what will my response be? To dress fine, sing resurrection choruses, proclaim He is Risen, and then return to my busy life on Monday morning, forgetting that I am to mirror that kind of generosity. Will I remember that I have been created to pour myself out, not collect more interior clutter; that I am to give freely without judgement; that I am to love everyone without putting them in camps where I can decide who is worthy and who is not. Am I ready for that kind of generosity?

So begins a week of busyness. I can’t stop that train, but I will fill in some of the free moments with a trek through my closets, drawers, cabinets, and under my beds to once again ferret out more exterior clutter. It’s there, some of it hidden and some of it in plain sight, but all of it clogging my desire to live simply so that others may simply live. I’m throwing out a challenge for you to do the same. Then, together, let’s do something with our junk that might make a huge difference for those who are struggling to simply live. And on the way to Easter morning, let’s find those simple acts of generosity that we can give to those around us.

Let’s clear the clutter together.

Are you in?

 

 

 

 

 

I Know That Lady!

18 Feb

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After dropping Alison at the bus stop, I was sitting at the red light on 71st street waiting to go straight across into my neighborhood. It’s a tricky light, because you can’t always see the cars coming across if you’re turning left. A mom (important part to note) in a hefty SUV didn’t see me and proceeded to sail through her left turn while I inched to a stop in the middle of the intersection. They she shot me her middle finger, raised high and mighty with her child in the front seat and two children in the back seat. She kept it up all the way through her turn and still hadn’t put it down after she was on 71st street. I was sitting in the intersection gawking before I slowly moved on through. I had the right-of-way, but realized that when you are in a hurry to get your kid to school, those pesky little rules of the road often get lost in the tense moments.

“Really lovely,” I muttered to no one. “And with her kids in the car.”

And then I realized: I know that lady. I know her well.

She is me.

Okay, I do not flash my middle finger while driving, or at any other time. Every time I see someone do this, I picture them as an eight-year-old kid on the playground trying to get attention, or as a beer-bellied sports fan of the other team yelling obscenities to refs on the field who are far out of earshot. I’m not making a moral judgement on the woman and her naughty finger. I’m looking deeper than her gesture and seeing something in her that I can relate to: a tenseness that can string us so tightly that when we snap we look a little crazy.

Sometimes that tension emanates from stress, fear, and – in my own life lately – busyness. These days I’m wearing too many hats and juggling too many balls, but feel unable to take them off or lay them down. It’s the season of my life and while I accept it and realize it’s temporary, I find myself irritable, impatient, and too-vocal about things that get under my skin. I’ve not had the desire to shoot my finger up, but I have grumbled under my breath at people who walk slowly in the grocery store. I’ve given the dogs lectures about their co-dependence (aren’t the pets always an easy target?), and I’ve declared to my husband and children that if they didn’t hear me the first time, I will not be repeating previous statements or questions: “I’m too tired to replay what you should have heard if you had been listening.”

Ouch. Yeah, a little crazy.

So while I can sit comfortably high in moral superiority to the mom in the SUV, I kind of empathize with her. We’re too tense. Too easily ticked off and offended. Wound too tightly Our hurried days cause us to ignore the many rules of the road that surround us when it comes to our relationships. We’re trying to get somewhere, make something happen, please a lot of people, fix a bunch broken things, shout above the crowd to be heard. Many people are holding on by a fraying thread. And when a little vehicle threatens to get in the way of that frenetic pace, it can all come spilling out in an ugly gesture, an insensitive word, or worse, a blindness to the needs of those around us.

I’ve spent the morning thinking about that lady and feeling sorry that her day began with a spurt of rage. I thought about my own crazy pace and wondered how I can possibly get everything done and not feel like I’m the one careening through the intersection snarling at everyone to get out of my way. And then I remember that Jesus said he’d take that yoke (that’s the burden of crazy lives we carry on our shoulders). He offered to trade it for lightness because he doesn’t demand all that we demand of ourselves. And he certainly doesn’t demand what the world demands of us.

Sitting in my office chair, I could almost hear his voice saying, “Just take it easy. Go about your business, but know that I’ve lightened the load.” I used to wonder what that really meant. Is he going to fix things? Make me more productive? Move the annoying people out of my life?

No. He’s just going to remind me that whatever happens, I’m good. The world isn’t depending on my heroic efforts, my perfection, or my achievements. I don’t have to keep getting better at something or prove how indispensable I am or fix anyone. God isn’t depending on these things. “You’re good,” he says in Matthew 11:29-30. “Stop being so wound up about it.” (Major paraphrase) I think that’s all any of us really want to know: that we’re loved and accepted and wrapped up in arms that tell us to just take it easy.

I’m sure the lady in the SUV has settled into her day. I said a little prayer for her, and for me – that we would calm down, take a deep breath, and lean on the One who is gentle and humble so that we can find rest for our weary souls.

Taking the Romance Out of Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

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I could get in trouble for posting this on Valentine’s Day. After all, this holiday is all about romantic love, perfect relationships, and happy endings. Why would you read a post debunking all that when there are sappy cards to be purchased and dinner reservations to be made? Just to be fair, I received a sappy card last night and loved it, so I’m not completely against Valentine’s Day. But as I looked at my sappy card, I had two thoughts: 1) children should not be kissing in this way, and 2) most of these cards – and the whole notion of romantic love – is a bit of a setup.

When I fell in love with Kyle, I held high expectations for our wedding and marriage. With careful planning and too much of my parents’ money, I pulled off the fantasy wedding, but I’ve been unable to pull off the fantasy marriage. I wanted a soul mate and someone who would be hilariously funny but also sensitive at just the right time. I should fulfill him completely and satisfy him always – and vice versa. As the years go by, he should know my heart so well that he never has to ask, “Are you upset about something?” And when we’ve been married for 25 years we should celebrate this amazing marriage we’ve pulled off with an outrageously expensive anniversary trip to Ireland.

The inside of my card says this:

I needed ya. I got ya. I’m keeping ya. Love ya.

After all these years, that’s exactly what I want to hear. Don’t give me sap. We’ve been through too many decades of deconstructing the perfect marriage myth and drippy prose would be just plain wrong. I like to think that it’s not cynicism, but wisdom that causes me to shake my head at the notion of romantic love as a foundation for marriage. And I wonder if the divorce rate is so high because that notion runs rampant among those who are planning the big wedding. Interesting studies show a lower divorce rate among couples whose marriages were arranged. I’m not going to get into that argument because I don’t live in a culture where arranged marriages are the norm, so I’ll claim mostly ignorance on the results of those studies. But I will concede that over time, the romantic qualities that we based our lifelong commitments on can fade, disappear, and leave us wondering if we chose the wrong person. If we’re not careful, we forget the moment we stood up in formal attire and vowed “for better or for worse.”

At the most difficult times in our marriage, I’ve had to remind myself that I committed to this relationship no matter how ugly it might get. I do not advocate staying in marriages where abuse exists, but I haven’t been in that situation. I have, however, been in this relationship during the times when we have terribly disappointed one another because of insensitivity, selfishness, and stupidity. In those moments and in every moment between, it has never been romantic love that has held us together. It’s been grace.

In fact, grace may be what holds everything together.

In his brilliant book, I Was Just Wondering, Philip Yancey asserts that we need “the spirit of arranged marriages” in our relationship with God, who made us exactly the way we are: peculiarities, limitations, handicaps, and imperfect raw material. We can enter into a relationship with God holding high expectations about how we’ll climb higher, get better, and become someone who God will be pleased with finally and completely. That notion is as false as the one that tells us romantic love is a foundation for a lasting marriage. In both relationships, we commit, regardless of how it may work out. And God does the same in our relationship with him. Yancey says this:

You might say that faith means taking a vow “for better or worse, in sickness and health,” to love God and cling to God no matter what. Happily, “the spirit of arranged marriage” works two ways: God also pre-commits to me. Faith means believing God has taken that same vow, and Jesus Christ offers the proof. God does not accept me conditionally, on the basis of my performance. God keeps the vow regardless, and therein is grace.

Someone once said that when we are in the midst of our most hideous and sinful moments, God tells us that we are beautiful. I used to disagree with that until I lived long enough to realize it is grace that holds all my relationships together – not romantic love or my best efforts. I must continually learn how to give it and also receive it.

I hope the little kids on the cover of my sappy card grow out of romantic love and come to find another kind of love that is filled with risk, centered on commitment, and seasoned with grace. That kind of love, scars and all, is worthy of the celebration.

Ghana Day Six (Last Day): Meet James, Yaa, and Eunice

3 Feb

Our last day in Ankaase was great weather. Cool this morning and dry and warm (okay, a little hot) this afternoon. But definitely my kind of weather. I should be preparing myself mentally to return to winter snow, but I’m trying not to think about the weather.

We handed out Rising Village t-shirts to the headmasters of the DA School today. I love our t-shirts. The front says, “When you pray, move your feet.” It’s an African proverb and that sentence encompasses how we feel about what we are doing (please see James 2:14).

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After visiting the DA School, we took a break then walked to the home of one of our students whose parents have died. James lives with his grandmother who is in poor health. We were all moved by James’ story of losing his parents. When Isaac met him, he was sleeping on the floor in a crowded area just outside his grandmother’s room. His bed is a piece of foam about an inch thick and he is not sleeping under a net. Isaac assessed his situation and asked if we could fund bedding for James. The funds were availalbe thanks to donors who gave during our GiveGood Fundraiser at Christmas. Isaac asked that the family find him a private area to sleep instead of in the walkway of a crowded room. They cleared out a small room and now James will have a bed of his own in a room of his own. He is thrilled. We took him a backpack and gave him the news that he now has a sponsor who will cover his school fees for an entire year.

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It was a good day for James. His grandmother immediately stood up with great difficulty and thanked us. I never know what to say to these expressions of gratitude. It isn’t me who she should thank. It’s all the donors and sponsors who have so generously given to Rising Village. You have come along on this journey with us, and I want to pass along the thanks to each one of you, not only for James, but for all our families.

Our next stop was to visit a Yaa Dufie whose husband died last year. She lives in one room with her five children.

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She has been given a Business Build Grant to begin her fish-selling business and will begin next week. While we were there, she showed us where she and her five children sleep: on one mat on the floor.

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I thought about my bed back home and the bedrooms that each of our three kids sleep in. I tried to imagine sleeping with my family on the floor. I couldn’t. Here’s the thing: I want the same thing for Yaa’s children that I want for my own children. At least that’s how it should be. I don’t always feel this way. Sometimes it becomes easy to believe that these children matter less than my own. They don’t.

This is what I have tried to remember with each step we have taken this week. And now, I want you to meet Eunice who is our newest staff member in Ghana.

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She is a teacher at the DA School, and will be assisting Isaac and coordinating the Classroom Connections program in the Methodist and DA School. We are so fortunate to have Eunice on the Ghana team. She is answered prayer. We don’t want Isaac to carry the load of serving and ministering to our families alone, and now he won’t have to. So we all wore our t-shirts today.

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This week, the four of us have prayed, and we have moved our feet.

When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me.” – Frederick Beuchner

I carry something of each person we have met with me, and I will summon you back to my mind every day. That’s a promise I can keep.

So, one last time, Goodnight from Ankaase.

Ghana Day Five: Jubilee Dinner

3 Feb

About a week before I left, Kyle and I had the idea to throw a dinner party for the Rising Village families. We thought this would be an opportunity to build relationships and encourage them to get to know one another better. We also wanted to communicate that our work in the village is a direct reflection of our love for God. We’re just doing what we think He would do. We felt the best way to do this is to serve, give, and bless each family with a meal and gifts of school supplies, and family photo albums.

It came off without a hitch, which is saying a lot considering Isaac had to leave us with the families while he traveled into Kumasi to get the food. This wouldn’t have been so bad except that Colin and I don’t speak Twi. I carried my Twi cheat cards out to the veranda where the families were gathered. They laughed when I tried some phrases on them. This is always a good feeling – not really, but that entertainment didn’t last long. Enter Eunice. Not only does she speak Twi, but she is a teacher in one of the village schools so she was able to quickly coordinate a craft time with the crayons, paper, foam cards and stickers we brought. When we exhausted that activity, I wrote everyone’s name in bubble letters and they colored it – even the parents.

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This was either the most awkward party or the most awesome party ever. I decided it was the latter. We don’t speak each other’s language well enough to make small talk, but this worked just fine since Ghanaians don’t do small talk. If they have something to discuss or something humorous to share, they will. If not, they are perfectly comfortable sitting in silence together. This makes me nervous. I feel the need to chit-chat so as to not be rude. They don’t need it, and sometimes I think my incessant babbling make them nervous. Relax, I can just hear them thinking. Don’t try so hard. So today, I learned how to sit down and shut up. I didn’t force Eunice to translate things I didn’t really need to say. Instead, we talked about things that matter. Then we served them lunch, which was beautiful. Most of these families eat only one meal a day, and several of them must scrape together food that barely feeds their family. We filled their plates up, and there were no plates with any food left in them when we carried out the trash box.

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And have you ever thrown a dinner party, and the children began to clean up for you? I haven’t.

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It was humbling to see these families all together at the same time in the same place.

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For those of you who are already involved in their lives, we are grateful beyond words. We couldn’t do this without you. The individuals we serve wouldn’t be able to enter school, start businesses, and receive safe bedding without people who believe in what we’re doing. When I look at each of these families, I see my own. We are not that different. I care about my children’s education and I want them to be healthy. Kyle and I want to have the dignity of caring for our own children, and not having to turn them over to someone else to meet their needs. These parents want the same things. It was a day to celebrate and to remember that God desires the very best for all of us. He loves us that much and I want to love in that same way.

Tomorrow is our last day in Ankaase, which is hard for all of us to believe. The work here in Ghana is in such good hands. Tomorrow I will introduce you to Eunice, who is our newest staff member. She will assist Isaac and coordinate our Classroom Connections program. They are a smart, capable, and compassionate team. What I have learned is that I really know almost nothing about working here. I have to rely on those who live in and know the culture, speak the language, and can discern and make decisions far beyond what I would ever be able to do. It’s humbling and wonderful.

I wasn’t able to post last night because we had to buy more data, so most of you are sleeping while I write this. We’re up early and heading out to another village school to meet with teachers, and then to meet James and Yaa Dufie’s families. I always feel as if I’m leaving some things unfinished. There are more people I want to meet and so much more I want to say to the families and our staff here. There are more pictures I want to take and so many things I want to observe and write about. When I get home, these opportunities are gone, but this is what keeps me coming back.

So this time, it’s good morning from Ankaase!

Ghana Day Four: Babies, Farms, and Betty!

1 Feb

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When I land in Ghana, sometimes it takes a couple of days to emerge from the slight culture shock. I feel as if there is so little that is familiar here. I look around and wonder what we have in common between the cultures. I’m always screwing up: getting my greetings confused, shaking a hand with my left hand, making small talk when it’s time to just sit and be silent, asking continuously, “So, when do you think the electricity will come back on?” But then something happens and I am reminded of  the things that are the same between home and Ankaase. Babies remind me.

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This is Ama and Kofi’s nine-day-old infant daughter. Babies aren’t named here until they are 10 days old, so she is just, “baby.” She’s daughter # 7 seven for Kofi and Ama, and child #8. If you were a part of donating to either Kofi or Ama’s Business Build Grant, you have already made a difference in this child’s life. Both parents are preparing to start their new businesses in the coming months. We traveled out to the farmland where Kofi will begin his cocoa farm as soon as the dry season ends. He is in the process of clearing the land, which after traveling there on the motor tricycle, I am convinced is located at the officials end of the earth. We took the motortrike as far as we could, and then walked quite a distance through brush in a heavily forested area until we came to what will soon be the cocoa farm. Kofi has a lot of work to do, but he also has this new baby girl and the other children to feed. He is surrounded by motivation, and now he has the funds to give his children a better life. We spent the afternoon talking to him about the plans for his farm. We’ll walk alongside this family as they build their businesses. Ama will be starting her Puff bread business on April 1. In the meantime, we’ll continue to help them pay school fees for the children, and provide the girls with new school uniforms. This is just an example of what they have been wearing:

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Would you want to go to school every day wearing that? Neither would I. There are good days ahead for Ama and Kofi, Charity, Margaret, Abigail, Dorcas, Rebecca, Samuel, and Baby. So I surrounded myself with the girls and Samuel for a photo, and I was so thankful that we were color-coordinated.

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So I also had to show you this photo (below) of Betty, Jennifer’s daughter. Jennifer is learning to sew with a professional seamstress and she is learning fast. We’re so excited to see the products she makes for us to sell, and she’ll receive the proceeds from those items. In case you don’t know what Betty is doing in this photo, she is trying to tie this “baby” on her back. She grew very frustrated, bending over to wrap the cloth around the “baby” just like the mamas here do it. But she never could get “baby” secured. This was the best she could do:

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What we’ve learned about Betty is that she is stubborn. She was not happy that her awkwardly shaped baby would not bend enough and she spend quite a bit of time yelling about it. If you have children, you’ve probably seen this look before:

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There is so much that draws us together. As we continue to work and build relationships in this village and beyond, I want to focus on those things about us that are the same. God has created us all, and we are all equally loved and cherished. We take that truth and continue walking, shaking hands, hugging, taking meals together, spending time getting to know one another, and sharing our resources with those who have little. We believe this is what God has called us to do here in Ghana.

We’re having our Jubilee Dinner after church tomorrow with the families. I’m so excited to have them all together at once: parents, children…and babies!

Until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase (we’re going to sleep really good tonight).

Ghana Day Three: To Kumasi and Back

31 Jan

I’m not a shopper, but we trekked through the streets of Kumasi (no small feat, see photo below) and when we returned to the Mission House late this afternoon, we officially all dropped. Isaac collapsed on the couch, Colin stretched out in the recliner, and Eunice was slumped to one side in a chair. But we had success! Wax fabric and beads have been purchased and a few other surprises we’re bringing back.

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We didn’t meet with any families today, but we purchased the fabric and beads for the items we’ll sell to help these families continue to rise. I’m not going to start marketing  our items in this blog post, but stay tuned to see what you’ll be able to purchase in the coming months. Hint: You’ll love shopping with us! The proceeds are going to go directly to the women who are in our income generation program.

Tonight we finished our groundnut soup and rice ball and have been sitting in the living area and singing along to hymns on Eunice’s cell phone. The singer is Sammie Badu, who I did not know before tonight. It’s amazing that I am sitting here singing the same hymns with my Ghanaian friends that I grew up singing in my grandmother’s church. They sing much better than I do, by the way. But get this: my friends also love Dolly Parton, Jimmy Reeves, and Kenny Rogers. Surprise! Eunice has “Coat of Many Colors” on her cell phone. This has completely made my night and not because I love Dolly Parton, but because it reminds me how small the world is. We’ve talked about everything from Illuminati to Snoop Dog. We don’t believe in either, by the way.

So tomorrow we’re walking to Kofi and Ama’s little house to meet their family and see the new baby (#8!) Then we’ll climb into the back of a motor tricycle and travel to Kofi’s farm where, thanks to donors, he will begin planting cocoa after the dry season. Ama will begin her Puff bread business after is back on her feet, in about a month.

The rain has brought a cool breeze that is making the curtains flutter just the slightest bit. I have old hymns running through my head and friends around me. I’m a little homesick, so I am grateful for these blessings. It’s been a very good day.

Until tomorrow, good night from Ankaase.

Ghana Day Two: Chicken Bones and Comfort Zones

30 Jan

Here is what I didn’t know about eating in Ghana: we eat the chicken bones, we don’t leave them on the plate. I’m not picky about my food, but I’m not sure about eating chicken bones. Colin did pretty well and gnawed around on his drumstick, but this is really is out of our comfort zone.

I could make a list of things that are out of my comfort zone here, but if I stayed where it is comfortable I would have never met this group of Junior High teachers. They are dedicated to their jobs, despite a frustrating lack of resources. These teachers and their headmaster at the Ankaase Methodist School are determined to get the students excited about learning, and so we sat under this tree for over an hour and talked about ways to do that.

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We all agreed that the students are worth it.

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We reconnected with our friends at the SDA School also, and this afternoon we got a visit from Kadri and Maria. For those of you who prayed for Kadri last summer, he is able to walk now, but unable to speak. His right foot was swollen from some kind of injury he couldn’t explain. He tries to communicate, but even Isaac was unable to understand him. Please continue to pray for this sweet boy.

If I stayed in my comfort zone, I would have never traveled to Nantan, a very tiny village on the outskirts of Ankaase where we spent the afternoon. We first met with the village chief to get his permission to continue on through the village and meet with our new family. After receiving his blessing we walked to where Janet lives with her relatives. Her parents were sent out of the village because they were thought to be mentally ill, so Janet remains behind with her aunts and their children, of which there were too many to count. Janet is not in school, although her cousins are. Often, children who are taken in by relatives are given what is left, which is not much in most cases. We’re committed to walking alongside Janet to make sure that she is given as much opportunity as possible in her environment. We have someone who wants to sponsor Janet (we seek sponsors for children whose parents have died or are no longer able to care for them).

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And we want to provide mattresses and bed nets for the room where Janet sleeps. Each night, her grandmother sleeps on the bed frame with two small children (and no mattress), and three other children sleep on the floor nearby.  Bed nets are in use, but they won’t work because they have holes.

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Mosquitoes love bed nets like these. By the way, we were told that the baby sleeping under the useless bed net has malaria. So we’re replacing these nets and providing mattresses for the children and grandmother. Here is the way we look at it: if we wouldn’t want to sleep in these conditions, why do we think they should? And an even better reason: lives are lost for lack of a good bed net and the education about how to use it.

I have to be honest – I’m exhausted today. Sometimes seeing the needs drain my mind and heart and I am suddenly overwhelmed. If I pull back and try to figure out how we’re going to meet all these needs, I get panicky. And then I get emails (literally in the middle of writing this post) from someone who wants to partner with us at $25 a month, and another someone who wants to sponsor James, one of our newest students and an orphan who also lives with relatives. And I remember that I only need to look at the next place where I’m supposed to put my foot: the next step. God doesn’t give me the responsibility to nail down every detail, but instead He gently reminds me that He is in the details, and I am in this place – outside of my comfort zone – because this is where He has placed me. “Walk by faith,” I remind myself with each step I take in these villages, “not by sight.” It’s becoming my mantra.

I’m okay with being out of my comfort zone at this very moment, but tomorrow I’ll probably have to wake up, take a deep breath, and start chanting. That’s good because it reminds me that this is not about me. Not one bit.

But I’ve decided that I’ll pass on eating the chicken bones. That’s just too far out of the zone. Or maybe next time.

So, the next step for me is a Skype with Kyle, and then on to bed. Until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase and Nantan.

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