12 August 2013

Day Four -- Part Two :)

This first full day in Swaziland was so amazing -- and so full of life-changing events -- that I felt I had to break it up into multiple posts to do it justice.  Throughout the day, I just kept thanking God for allowing me to be here...

Mangwaneni was beyond my telling of it; I cannot adequately express the effect those children, or that place, had on me.  It was, at once, beautiful and heart-breaking, wonderful and bittersweet.  Those precious children know so much greater want, so much more need, and have witnessed enormous pain, already, in their short lives... and yet, they have JOY that I have not seen in children who live with abundance.  They have HOPE that other people, with half their problems, know.  They exhibit a selflessness that is rarely seen among the most pious of Christians, much less in children so young.  There is a potential there for God to do so much, because there is so much to do!  
I came away humbled and inspired -- I was humbled because I realized the universal irrelevance of my seemingly large problems.  And I left inspired to live my life more selflessly devoted to Christ, and with more HOPE and expectation than ever before.

Around 2:30, we left the Care Point to go and make home visits to some of the families in the area.  We loaded up the shuttle with bags of groceries, soap, and blankets to give away to those in need.  This is something I have done before, with our church, here in Baton Rouge, but nothing could have prepared me for the journey which lay ahead...



I have seen abject poverty before, but I have never seen this. 
A precious widow lives here, with her 7 children.  Her husband died several months ago, and now she is doing all that she can to make a go of it.  A couple of her older children walk, several miles each week, to come to church and Healing Place Church Swaziland is reaching out to help them get on their feet. 


At first, I wondered if we should be taking pictures... I did not want to embarrass them or make them feel like they were an object of our pity.  But Gugu Precious (love her!) explained that it was OK because they want us to see how they live and they want us to remember to pray for them.  Indeed, every time I look at these pictures, I am reminded to pray for this sweet family.  It was hard to witness this, but when you ask to see the world through God's eyes, then you cannot ignore the pain or pretend it doesn't exist.

Too many people spend their whole lives focused on their own problems, and because of that, their problems seem insurmountable and overwhelming.  Sometimes, we need a kick in the gut, to wake up and see that we do have SO much to be thankful for... that our problems -- while still very real -- maybe aren't quite so daunting, after all.  
Too often, people shut their eyes to the plight of others because they don't want to see the pain or witness the need.  
It's uncomfortable for them.
But God didn't call us to be comfortable.  And He certainly didn't call us to be self-centered and self-consumed.  He called us to have compassion: To see the need and to be His hands and feet to the world.
I wonder how many people -- if they would just take their eyes off of themselves for a second -- would see the world as God does?  Maybe, with a little God perspective, they would start being thankful for their blessings instead of constantly complaining about all that's "wrong" in their lives.
Sorry to get on my soapbox, but I'm preaching to myself, too.
Africa was a wake-up call, but one doesn't have to travel halfway around the planet to experience this.  You simply have to look.  
There is someone hurting, someone who's in need, someone who needs rescue in your very own zip code.
I will continue to remember and pray for this family... And I will choose to keep my eyes OPEN.



27 July 2013


Day 4 -- Wednesday, 3 July 2013 -- PART ONE:

See that view?  That's what I woke up to my first morning in Mbabane, Swaziland!  It was late when we arrived at Redberry Inn last night, so we couldn't see the setting, and we were so tired, we wouldn't have cared anyway.  Waking up to this, however, was simply breathtaking!  There are mountains for miles and miles... These pictures don't begin to show the extraordinary beauty of Swaziland.  In many ways, it reminded me of Hawaii...


Redberry Inn was SO nice and very clean and cozy, but on our first morning there, we were reminded -- once again -- that it is winter here.  Brrrr!  Nothing like a cold blast of air to wake you up each morning!


We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast before heading out to start our day.  First stop was a Staff Development Training at Pastors Adam's and Kim's house where we got to meet key members of the HPC Swazi team.  Then, we were off to Healing Place Church Swazi campus!

It was interesting to see the capital of Swaziland, busy and bustling under the dawn of a weekday.  The outdoor markets were already bustling and there were people walking everywhere.  The Church is located in the heart of the city, right in the center of everything, which is great for outreach to the community...

                 

We weren't at the church long before we loaded up again to go to Mangwaneni.  This is a Care Point, started by Children's Cup, which works with the local community to provide free education and food to the children of that area.  I had heard about the Care Points for years, but was completely unprepared for the amazing experience which awaited me...
My first impression was amazement at the majestic view which lay before me.  I could hardly take my eyes off the sweeping mountains and valleys, curving gracefully into infinity.  And then I saw the children.




They were SO precious!  These sweet babies... only between 4-7 years old, greeted our team of strange faces with beautiful songs and bashful smiles.  My heart melted as I looked into the eyes of these innocent faces and listened to their beautiful voices praising God...


video

Our team spent the rest of the morning with the children of Mangwaneni -- learning a lesson about the power of the tongue, playing games, and doing a puppet craft for them to take home.  As a special treat, the kids were given boxed lunches from Hungry Lion.  Each box contained 2 pieces of chicken, french fries (chips), and came with a cold drink.  Knowing that many of these children come from impoverished homes, we were surprised to see they were not eating!  Most of the children took one or two bites of food, then closed their box and held it on their laps.  We inquired about why they were not eating and were told that they were saving the food to take home and share with their families.  It was all I could do to not break down, sobbing, right then and there.  These precious children -- so very young -- were already deeply aware of the ravaging effects of hunger and true lack.  The decision to set their own hunger aside and choose selflessly for their families' welfare was a sobering reality check for these spoiled Americans.  It would be only the first of many lessons I learned while in Africa...



 

21 July 2013


AFRICA -- Day 3:

From Johannesburg to Swaziland...

After a yummy breakfast at African Dreams in Johannesburg, we started driving.  Jo'burg is enormous and very densely populated!  And we only saw a portion of the city...





After about 45 minutes of driving, we arrived at The Lion Park

This place was absolutely amazing!  We enjoyed a guided tour through the various wildlife preserves where we saw Gazelle, Zebra, Ostriches, Guinea Hens, Giraffes, Lions -- including White Lions -- Cheetah, and Hyenas.  Our tour guide was very informative and seemed to really enjoy her work, and she made sure all of our questions were answered.

After the "Safari Tour," we got to pet the lion cubs and have our pictures made with a young lion.  And to top it off, we got up close and personal with Meerkats and hand-fed the giraffes!  It was such a fun day!



After the Lion Park, it was time to start the 5-hour drive to Mbabane... The drive was really beautiful -- seeing the ever-changing terrain of mountains, hills, and veldt (plains).  As night fell, we often saw massive wildfires across the plains.  The winter air dries the grass and if rain doesn't fall, it doesn't take much to start a roaring blaze.  I can't even tell you how many fires we saw -- some small, some huge -- along the drive.  Unfortunately, my pictures of the glowing lines, piercing the dark, did not come out enough to print.

It seemed like the drive would never end, but finally, we heard Banele (sp?) -- our driver -- say it was time to cross the border.  Going through customs at the Swazi border was a surreal experience of its own.  I almost felt like I was watching a movie or from without... but all went smoothly and we entered Swaziland without incident.  And now, begins the real adventure!

20 July 2013



MY AFRICA JOURNAL


As you have probably guessed, I did not have time (nor consistent internet service) to post here while in Africa, but the trip was absolutely amazing!  Honestly, there are not words enough to express what this journey has meant to me.  I prayed for God to use this trip to draw me closer to Him and He definitely has!  I am still processing everything I saw, and did, while there.  I don't want to forget a single thing!
   I have thought about it and I think the best way to post about my trip is to record my daily journal here... So, even though I have been home almost 2 weeks, I will be posting as though I am there now.  And I'll throw in a few pictures, too!

Day 1/2 -- Sunday/Monday, 30 June & 1 July 2013:

I started my anti-malarial last night and it made me so sick!  I don't think I slept at all, so hopefully, I'll get to sleep on the plane!

Our team met at the church and then drove to New Orleans for the first leg of our journey.  We flew from N.O. to Atlanta then boarded our flight, non-stop to Johannesburg.  At the gate in Atlanta was this very clear warning not to buy any animal/poached products while in Africa:




The flight was rather uneventful, but unfortunately, I did NOT sleep.  I was seated between two people I did not know, and as I have trouble sleeping on planes anyway, I finally gave up trying.  I think I dozed for 1 hour out of the 16 hour flight!

When we finally arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, it was Monday night and we were all exhausted!

My first impression of Africa was the smell of spices... and clove cigarettes.  The airport felt enormous and I'm sure there was a lot of interesting things to see, but the only thing I wanted was a BED.  I was so tired, I could hardly think straight.  Before long, our driver arrived and we were off to African Dreams Guesthouse.

Stepping out into the South African night, we were all shocked by the blast of frosty air.  Oh, yeah... it's winter here.  There were bags to unload and rooms to locate, but soon we all congregated in the private board room where we were served a delicious, hot meal of beef stew over rice and butternut squash.  Now, I have never really loved butternut squash, but my friend Susan -- who lived in Africa for many years -- had told me that it doesn't taste the same in Africa.  While it can be very bitter here, in Africa, it is very sweet.  And she wasn't kidding!  The squash was my favorite thing on the plate!  The food was so good, we wasted no time in eating and we were so tired, hardly anyone spoke a word.


We each headed to our rooms and went right to sleep.  Tomorrow, we would begin the journey from South Africa to Swaziland.  Even though I could barely keep my eyes open, I said a prayer of thanks and smiled to myself.  Finally, I was in Africa!


29 June 2013

AFRICA Calling

It has been more than 2.5 years since my last post here... I had thought to put away this blog, permanently, after writing about Jordan's death, but here I am again.  I'm a tad rusty at this blogging thing, but it seems somehow fitting that I am writing about my upcoming trip to Africa.  Jordan had a heart for missions; Indeed, he was the consummate missionary.  It didn't matter if he was here, in Baton Rouge, or half-way around the world, Jordan had a heart for others.


Our team leaves for Swaziland tomorrow.
Honestly, I've never gone so far from home... I've been to Hawaii (2x) with the Air Force. I've been to the Bahamas with my dear friend, and Tech School Roomie, Stacy.  And I've gone to the Caribbean with my family and in-laws... before I discovered that boats and I don't get along (I get Mal de Debarquement Syndrome).  I've been to some interesting places and done some interesting things.
But this is AFRICA:  Another continent, another world.

I vacillate between extreme anticipation/excitement and sobering anxiety.  I'm on an emotional roller coaster right now because I don't really know what to expect.  I have spent the past week fasting and praying, and making list after list, but still the questions persist: How will all of this play out?  Am I adequately prepared?  Have I packed the necessary items?  There's no way to know until I arrive and then it will be a moot point, anyway.  I guess it even takes faith to pack for a missions trip!

Don't get me wrong, I want to go.  But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little scared.  Jordan talked about how his first missions trip radically changed his life, and I believe it will change me, too.  How can it not?  How could anyone travel so far, to do the work we are doing, and come back unchanged?
One thing is certain: my world is about to get a whole lot bigger.

It is with all of these thoughts swarming my conscience that I sit here trying to compose a moderately coherent blog post.  I don't know if I'm succeeding, but I felt it was important to try.  I'm going to attempt to post here while we are in Africa; I don't know how much I'll be able to write as I am unsure of our internet access where we're going.  I know our free time will be very limited, as well.  If I don't post again over the next week you'll definitely hear from me when I return!

I want to take a moment to say THANK YOU to everyone who gave towards my trip, who prayed for me and our team, who will continue praying for us over the next 8 days... You may not be going to Africa, physically, but you are as much a  part of this trip as I am.  Don't believe for one minute that your prayers and contributions are of little value; God used you to validate my decision to go.  He used you to multiply not only my faith, but the faith of others who beheld the miraculous way this trip came together.  He is still using you... your prayers will carry us across oceans and continents and back again.  So, thank you.  Your kindness, generosity, and prayers mean more to me than I could ever express through words.  I pray that God blesses each and every one of you and multiplies your gifts back to you, a thousand-fold!

To my husband and children: I love you so much...  Thank you for believing in me and standing with me in this journey.  I will miss you, but I know I will return better than I left.  ;)

Now, to find that mosquito repellant...
Summer

08 November 2010

A Life Worth Remembering

It's been a hard month.
In the past 30 days, 7 people in my world -- some close to me, some who were related to those close to me -- have died.
On Wednesday, I will attend my 3rd funeral in almost as many weeks... this time for a young man, just 22 years old, Jordan Gautreau.
I am just about cried out.
I wasn't super-close with Jordan, but we were in School of Ministry together a few years ago and he was a guy I really respected and admired. He used to tease me and call me "Mrs. Summer" to which I would threaten to punch him.
I nearly fell out of my chair when I realized he was born the year I graduated high school. He was an intelligent, thoughtful, and kind young man who had a servant's heart, and like the others who have passed in recent weeks, his death came as a total shock.

I can't help but feel there is a message in all of this. Without resorting to cliches or vapid prosaicism, I have to acknowledge that there are no guarantees in this world. We are not promised one day more or less than has been allotted for us and to know that number is humanly impossible. We have to live each day never knowing if we will see tomorrow. Only God sees the bigger picture.

We can think we have it all together, our life a neat and tidy box, perfectly aligned with best laid plans and the objectives we have set for ourselves, but at the end of our allotted time, will it even matter? I'm not opposed to dreams or ambitions, but in the big scheme of things, how will whatever we are doing affect the world around us?

The real question is, Are we living for ourselves or for something bigger than ourselves?
Will our legacy merely affect our grandchildren or thousands of souls we may never even chance to meet?
When we die, will people remember who we were or what we did?
Will those memories be buried with us or will they live on in the rippled effects of our life's work?

Three men from my church have died in the past month.
Each of them has left an enduring legacy... sacrificial lives submitted to God's greater purpose. I want to know -- when my time is up -- that I have done the same.

There's certainly no harm in living a productive, successful life, utilizing the talents you are given. But if your ambitions are all for self, what does it really matter? If your sole purpose on this planet is to seek "happiness" and "fulfillment," they will always elude you. REAL happiness and fulfillment are found only when you are living for something greater than yourself.
Dave Ohlerking, John DeLage, and Jordan Gautreau.
These three men lived lives worth remembering and as examples for us all.

When I was a kid, I thought giving my life over to God meant I would have to be a missionary in some remote corner of the world. Far longer than I care to admit, I was afraid to offer my life -- all my plans and dreams -- to God to use. I'm so glad I finally know better. Now I pray that God will use my life until the very last breath I take.
Fear of the unknown should never keep us from seeking God's greater purpose for our lives. As Brother Dave Ohlerking always said, "There's no safer place to be than in the will of God."
I believe that.
And I want my life to reflect that belief.

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” -- C. S. Lewis
*******


27 June 2010

Blogging Vs. Writing

So, my friend, Carole -- who is also a writer -- twittered something yesterday that I absolutely agree with...
She was talking to a friend of ours (Donna Frank) who has written several books.
She mentioned to Donna that she had not written on her book lately, but that she had been doing a lot of blogging.
Donna responded with:
"Well, yeah, blogging is instant gratification. Sitting down and writing your book isn't; it's work and very delayed gratification."
What a profound truth!
In the past, when I was blogging more faithfully, I really struggled to make time for my book. There was this constant (albeit, imagined) pressure to post here, regularly and often.
When I recommitted to finishing the task God has given me (now, TWO books!), I found it harder and harder to come here and blog.
I couldn't figure it out at first, but there was an uneasy suspicion that I was somehow "cheating" on my book by blogging.
Now, that might sound weird if you are not a writer, but it's true!

Time issues aside, I found that I became more and more possessive of my analogies, stories, and musings. If something was really good, it would go in the book. How could I put it here?
There's always a fear that something you write will be stolen or misused and there's a deeper fear that you will "waste" all your good stuff on the blog.
So, what happened was I would go weeks without posting or I found myself alternately writing either really preachy stuff or "fluffy" stuff (which I loathe, by the way) here on my blog. I wasn't just selling myself short; I was selling you -- the reader -- short.

Carole has blogged about this struggle as well.

Yeah, I know; I'm totally neurotic to be obsessing about this, but to hear another writer (published author, no less!) surmise it so well was somehow comforting to me.
So, I can either focus my time on the calling God has placed on my life (my writing/my books) or I can worry about what other people think about my blogging.
Truthfully, I think it's a no-brainer. ;)

06 June 2010

Black Gold = Red Sea :(

*sigh*

Ugh, it makes me sick just to think about it... The oil won't stop and it's destroying the Gulf Coast! Even as BP boasts of "success," the reality here is far from it.
So many people have been affected and it isn't over yet.
Right now -- in truth -- there is no end in sight.

I have friends whose entire livelihoods are dependent upon gulf shrimp and seafood.
Friends whose families have worked on the off-shore oil rigs for decades.
Friends who have just started to truly rebuild their lives -- and their businesses -- after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina 5 years ago.

And I can't even begin to think about the wildlife... the pelicans, the turtles, and all the animals dying from such a senseless accident. It makes me want to break down and cry.

Just a few weeks ago, we agonized over whether or not to go forward with our vacation to Destin -- a trip we've had planned since last fall.
Would there be oil? Tar balls? Rancid fumes?
We watched the news and checked web updates daily... hourly.
We prayed about it and decided that, come what may, we would go.

I am SO glad we did!
Who knows when -- or if -- the Gulf Coast will ever be as beautiful again. I heard yesterday that lots of tar balls are washing up in Pensacola and there is some oil smell and "greasy spots" from the spreading gunk. Just 3 weeks ago, the beaches at Destin looked like this:


In all the summers that I have gone to these beaches, I have NEVER seen the water as crystal clear and beautiful as it was 3 weeks ago!
NO seaweed.
NO jellyfish.
and more importantly, NO OIL!!


We were ecstatic!
Not only were the beaches and water pristine, we had the wonder of seeing dolphins and stingrays! I have never seen stingrays so close to the shore.


This couple wasn't paying attention, but the stingrays were!
They just swam around them!

An older gentleman informed us that earlier that morning, they had seen a manatee swimming close to the shoreline. Manatees NEVER come that close to the shore; obviously, the oil was driving these sea creatures in, in search of cleaner water.

We spent a joyous week at the beach and I am so thankful now that we did. I shudder to think what is coming... and the ominous signs of what has already arrived. How can we not mourn?

Destin's beaches are still beautiful at this moment, but for how long?
I fear that I am posting these pictures for posterity's sake, but I sincerely pray I am wrong.
Biblical end-time prophesies aside (that's a whole 'nother blog post, not for me to write), this is devastation on a monumental scale.
There's no amount of money that can replace what's been (or could be) lost...

Please pray for the Gulf Coast!

22 April 2010

So Much To Say

Yes, I know it's been over a month since I last posted.
I have been so busy, but mostly, I've been at a loss for words (rare for me, I know).

The Human Trafficking conference was absolutely life-altering and it has taken me some time to process everything I saw and heard while there. So much pain... which leads to so much anger.
First, I was mad. Then I cried.
Now, I'm just determined.

But where to begin?
How do you sum up an ocean of thoughts and feelings and convictions into a single blog post -- or even an entire blog? There is so much I want to say, but I find myself unable to write about the passion I feel for this outrage. Once I begin, the words come tumbling out faster than my fingers can type!

For one thing: I feel like we've been sold a bill of goods... like all this talk of "feminism" is nothing but hot air and wishful thinking.
I was a proponent of feminist ideals; my degree focused primarily on Women's history (as well as African-American and Latin-American history). I applauded the amazing accomplishments of the early abolitionist and suffrage movements... and I vowed that MY children would grow up knowing this amazing part of our history.

Now it all seems like such a farce.
Maybe some so-called feminists can pat themselves on the back and think they have made so much progress, but I imagine that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott are rolling over in their graves. Modern feminists fight for abortion rights -- claiming that it's a woman's right -- but (for the most part) ignore the increasing degradation of women, globally. What about the rights of those who are being bought and sold like cattle?
What about the rights of children who grow up never knowing innocence?

PETA fights tooth and nail to protect animals (and I do love animals); Meanwhile, women and children are being treated far worse than any caged chicken or young cow. You want to talk about living conditions? What about being born into brothels, never even given the chance at a "normal" life? At least the caged cows and chickens will be fed on a regular basis without having to perform disgusting acts in return.
Young girls are being bought and sold in astounding numbers while the world continues to congratulate itself on "modern progress."

Sexual slavery is being "normalized" and the sex trade industry is becoming increasingly socially-acceptable with the likes of Oprah promoting "pole-dancing" as a fun workout.
Whatever.

The goal is to desensitize our society so much that it becomes blind to the ugly reality: these girls are in bondage. It's NOT OK.
MOST women who work in the sex trade industry -- whether it is pornography, strip clubs, prostitution, or an "escort" service -- are NOT there by *choice.*
THINK ABOUT IT.
What little girl says to herself, "When I grow up, I want to be a hooker." or "I want to make pornographic films."???

They choose that lifestyle.
Really???
Is that what you REALLY believe?
This is a lie that we tell ourselves so we don't have to feel guilty or compelled to act. We can ignore the awful truth, which is that women and children are WORSE off today than they were 100 years ago. And our society's acceptance and increasing demand for these sex industries are driving the human trafficking trade!

This has nothing to do with being a "prude" or "religious;" this is HUMAN RIGHTS in their most basic form.

Sure, we have the right to vote and we have (almost) equal pay, but women are seen as sex objects more today than they ever were before in history. The African slave trade was a hideous part of human history, but the current slave trade rivals those historical figures and, in fact, may already surpass them.
Today's numbers are mind-boggling. (pdf link)
There are hundreds of thousands of women and children (boys, too) who are screaming for justice and intervention. You can shut your eyes (and your ears), but if you do, you are complicit in their bondage. How can we rest in self-proclaimed "progress" when they have no rest at all?

Perhaps I've said too much?
I think not.

20 March 2010

SERVOLUTION 2010


In less than 1 week, there will be an invasion...

If you live in the Baton Rouge area, expect to see SERVE shirts like these

everywhere you look.
Next Friday -- March 26th -- kicks off our annual SERVOLUTION and hundreds of churches across the globe will be doing the same.

Whether you live in Africa, Australia, or Arkansas, you will find us -- standing on street corners, handing out cold, bottled water... painting widows' houses, mowing lawns for the elderly, picking up litter and washing cars... you might see us bringing a hot meal to the local fire station or lunch to local law enforcement... you might find us handing out candy at the mall, groceries in the inner city, or protein bars in the ER.
Maybe you'll see us washing our neighbor's trash cans.

*** DO NOT BE ALARMED ***

STAY CALM.
This is to be expected of people who call themselves followers of Christ. We follow the example He set by washing His disciples' feet. And through these random acts of kindness, we tear down the walls of the Church and demonstrate the love of Jesus to those in our communities.

If you -- or your church -- would like to be part of the revolution SERVOLUTION, it's not too late! Simply go HERE and register.
For more information ----->>> Check this out.
Let's make these 10 days leading up to Easter, count!

We are changing the world by serving one.

Servolution 2010 promo from Healing Place Church on Vimeo.