Saturday, April 13, 2013

Serengeti...Sweet Fellowship...Shopping. Oh yeah, and rain.

For the love, stop praying for rain!  He has heard and answered your prayers!!!  Just when we think we are going to have an absolutely gorgeous day, the clouds roll in and BAM…there’s rain falling.  Seriously, I should have packed some rain boots!  Oh well, at least the crops are getting watered so they can grow.  Which means there will be ample amounts of rice and beans for me to consume.  Yummy!  My favorite African meal! :)

Anyway…  Wednesday morning we got up extra early and pilled into our “safari car” with Vincent (an excellent driver who has taken me on all three of my safaris) and headed towards the Serengeti.  Once we entered the Serengeti area I was not expecting to see a lot of animals at first.  Typically, you see a few animals on your first day as you are driving in and then you see most of the animals on the second day as you are making game runs and heading out.  However, in true fashion, the four of us could not do anything typical.  Right off the bat we saw 2 separate “couples” of lions.  We joked and said that each couple was on their honeymoon and that’s why they were so far out!  As we continued to drive, we saw giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, elephants, baboons, gazelles, warthogs, crocodiles, leopards and many other animals.  I could not believe that we saw so many!  We saw more that day than I had seen on my two other trips combined.  It was crazy!  Thursday morning we got up early to do a sunrise run and then came back for breakfast and headed out again.  We drove around for several more hours before heading back to Mwazna.  Overall, we had a great trip and took a lot of awesome pictures!

Friday was definitely a fun day.  Liv decided that she wanted to throw the boys a birthday party.  A lot of the boys do not even know when their birthday is, so she wanted to celebrate all of them on one special day.  Earlier this week we went to the market and were able to buy each boy a pair of shorts, a shirt and a pair of shoes with money that had been donated.  We thought these were perfect birthday gifts!  Liv and I baked a cake and we bought pizza and cokes for all the boys.  The boys were beyond excited about everything!  We had a lot of fun helping them pick out which shorts and shirt they wanted.  We had a sweet time of fellowship over pizza and cake.  I’m pretty sure we left them all bouncing of the walls of the church from a sugar high…but it was worth it!
My favorite shirt we bought! :)

Today, Liv took Alston and I into town to the market to do some shopping while Brian studied and prepared his sermon for church tomorrow.  Shopping is always an interesting experience in Africa.  I love being able to look at the things that they have, but there’s one thing I love more…watching Liv wheel and deal with the sellers about the prices.  It was always entertaining to watch her do it in English, but it’s even better in Swahili!  She definitely got us some good prices!  However, we had a funny/aggravating moment happen towards the end of our shopping trip.  Liv had gotten this man to agree on a price for something I wanted.  So, I paid the man, he bagged the stuff and we walked away.  Several minutes later he chased us down and began to talk to Liv.  Apparently it was not his shop and when he called and told what he sold the stuff for, he got in trouble.  So, either I had to pay him more money or give the stuff back.  The price he wanted was crazy, so I gave him the stuff back and he gave me my money back.  I guess I should public apologize to my grandmother…  Sorry Grandma, you won’t be getting the really cool baskets that I found for you!  :)

Our day concluded at the church with the boys.  They sang songs and did some scripture memory.   I just love hearing them sing and recite scriptures.  As I sit and listen I imagine about what Heaven is going to be like.  One day, every tribe and every tongue will praise His name together.  How incredible is that?!?  I can’t wait.  After singing we were waiting for their food to be brought down, so I was able to take some pictures of the boys.  Once you start taking pictures, all of them want their picture taken!  It was fun just playing around with them!  Eventually the food came and Liv, Alston and I were able to plate it up and give it out to them.  This is always a humbling time, but today it was even more so.  These boys have nothing, yet three, yes three, of them “welcomed” me to eat with them.  That quite possibly could have been their only meal today, but they were still willing to share with me.

…What if? 
What if we were willing to give and to share until it hurt? 
What if we were willing to sacrifice what God has abundantly blessed us with for the sake of someone else? 
What if we welcomed strangers into our lives and began to meet their needs? 
What if?

I’ll tell you what…if all of us were willing to do this, we wouldn’t need to be ministering to the street boys of Tanzania…Because their would be no children sleeping on the streets.

What if? 
Why not?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Planes…Power…Perspective. Oh Yeah, and Rain.

Alston, Me, Liv and Brian after church Sunday!
Last Thursday afternoon we were at the airport headed to Africa.  Within the first 3 hours of our journey we encountered a very delayed flight and sprinted through the Atlanta airport (that is not an exaggeration, I promise!), 35 hours and 5 plane rides later…We made it to Mwanza!!!  Our really tired, stinky selves were greeted by Brian and Liv at the airport.  Not only was it GREAT to see my best friend for the first time in months, it was just great to see some familiar faces after our long journey!  It warmed my heart to exit the airport, get in the car with them (Yes, Liv can actually drive like a real Tanzanian!) and drive through Mwanza.  It definitely has been way too long since my last trip.

So far, the motto of this trip has been “Dear Lord, Stop the rain and let there be power!”  For all of you who have rushed the gates of heaven asking for rain on behalf of the people of Mwanza, let it be known that your prayers have been heard.  I mean, they really have been heard.  It has rained more in the three and a half days that I have been here, then in all my other trips combined.  If you would like to slack off on your prayers for rain until I get back to the states, I would be greatly appreciative! :) In all seriousness, God has generously supplied ample amounts of rain to rehydrate the dry soil.  Now that your rain prayers have been answered, pray the power stays on!  While it’s not a big inconvenience, it does get a little annoying at times because it is so random.  There is absolutely no way you can predict if you will have power or not at any given time.  Oh well, it makes for a great adventure! 

The boys eating a meal at the church.
Since arriving here on Saturday, we have spent time with the boys three separate times…Saturday afternoon, Sunday for church and then today, Tuesday.  On Saturday we were able to sing with them and then watch as each of them recited the verses they have committed to memory.  I must admit it was really cool and very humbling.  Some of the boys cannot even read, yet they have hidden His Word in their hearts.  On Sunday we worshiped with them in church. All of them were sitting in the front, listening and singing along.  My mind was blown to pieces when it was time for the offering.  They boys have nothing.  They sleep in the church at night and beg and work on the streets during the day to make a very small amount of money.  However, most of them still went forward and placed part of their earnings in the offering.  I have heard Liv talk about how they do this, but it didn’t really sink in till I saw it myself.   My perspective on a lot of things changed in that moment…

The first building going up!
My perspective changed when I was able to step foot on the property and walk through the first building of Anza Imani Rescue Center.  Three years ago Liv told me she was going to do it…I didn’t believe her…  I was wrong.   It was incredibly exciting to walk and look around as she pointed out where everything is going to go and how everything is going to work.  It’s absolutely amazing. 

My perspective was changed Sunday afternoon and this afternoon as I was able to sit on the dirty, concrete floor of the church where the boys sleep.   My job was to scoop out a portion of beans onto a plate for each boy.  Two of only four meals that we know they get on a weekly basis.  They were so thankful for what little it was. 

Liv translating as I spoke.
Lastly, my perspective was changed as I was able to teach the boys this afternoon.  While it was fun to spend time with them, teach a lesson and laugh and joke, my mind wondered somewhere else as all of these things were going on…

My best friend lives in Africa.  We skype and email on a weekly basis, so in reality, it really doesn’t feel like she’s halfway around the world.  When we got here and got to their house, it didn’t feel like we were in Africa.  Everything just seemed normal.  When we go into town or to the market it’s not odd to listen to her talk to people in Swahili.  However, today, as I stood before the boys and shared the Word of God with them I didn’t use a native to translate...Liv translated for me.  Talk about a crazy moment.  It was an incredible moment for me.  I know she is a missionary, but today I really got to see it and experience it first hand.  She stuck with me word for word and even made what I had to say work when there wasn’t an exact translation.  A year ago she had no clue, but today she rocked it. 

Once again, God continues to blow my mind.  I am constantly amazed at the incredible things He is doing.  I am constantly amazed of how He uses His children who are not worthy.  I am constantly amazed that God cares for and loves each and every one of us.  I am constantly amazed that God doesn’t need my help, but He allows me to join in on the work that He is doing.

May we never loose the humility and amazement of God, His love and His work.

Enjoying the beans and rice!
Until next time here are two funnies from our first few days…  On Sunday we ate lunch with the boys.  Silverware is not a must when eating in Africa, so we joined right in.  It was quite the entertainment watching Alston dig in for the first time!

Adding a nose so it could breathe!
Today when I was teaching I carved a face out of a watermelon as an illustration.  Everything went off without a hitch and it seemed like the boys really enjoyed it.  As I was wrapping up the lesson I asked if anyone had a question.  One boy raised his hand, stood up and then spouted off a few words in Swahili.  When he was done all the boys and Liv and Brian began to laugh.  I stood there awkwardly because I had no clue what question he asked.  My mind wondered about what in the world could be so funny.  Still laughing, Liv turned to me and said, “He wants to know how the head can breathe because we didn’t cut it a nose.”  I laughed, turned to my backpack, pulled out my multi-tool and cut it a nose.  Boys will be boys!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sometimes I Am Embarrassed to Call Myself a Christian

FACT: It takes a lot to embarrass me.  Nine times out of ten, I laugh off whatever foolish thing I have done and carry on with life.  Embarrassment is not something that plagues me or bothers me.  However, over the past several months I have found something that embarrasses me.  I am embarrassed to call myself a Christian.  Time out:  I know where your mind is going, don’t go there.  Hear me out.  Time in.

 Listen (Read) closely.  I am not embarrassed of Christ or being a follower of Christ.  I could not agree with Paul any more in Romans 1 where he states that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.  I am not ashamed or embarrassed by the Gospel or Christ who is the bestower of the Gospel.  I am NOT embarrassed by that.  I am embarrassed to call myself a Christian because of the name and stigma that “Christians” have put on the “title” of Christian.

Yes, I said it.  I am ashamed of the name/stigma that those who call themselves “Christians” have given Christianity.  It’s ridiculous.  Christianity has the stigma that it has because of these people. 

We first see the word “Christian” in Acts 11 where church was happening in Antioch and the disciples were called Christians.  Not to go all Bible College/Seminary nerd on you, but the word “Christian” comes from the Greek word Χριστιανός (Christianos), which derives from the word Χριστός (Khristós), or Christ.  Christian literally means follower of Christ.  For some reason when I think of being a follower of Christ, I have a flashback to my childhood and the movie The Jungle Book.  I think about the scene when King Louie, the ape, sings “I Wan’na Be Like You” to Mowgli.  In the song he says “I wan'na be like you, I want to walk like you, talk like you, too. You see it's true, an ape like me can learn to be like you, too.”  I feel like this is how a follower of Christ should be.  They should want to be like Him, walk like Him and where He walks, and talk like Him.  Some say it is not possible, but just like King Louie believes an ape can learn to be a human; a human can learn to be like Christ.

Is it easy?  No, not at all.  However, in the words of Tom Hanks in one of the greatest movies of all time, “It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”  If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.  One big problem is that a lot of people think that it is easy.  They think that all they have to do is say a prayer, walk an aisle and fill out a card and they are good to go.  They have their “Get out of hell for free” card and they do not need to do anything else.  Therefore, they continue living their lives just as they always have, and there is little to no change whatsoever.  This is a problem.  A big one.  This is where my embarrassment comes in.  People call themselves a Christian, but they are not being a Christian. They are not being a follower of Christ.  Now, I am not passing any judgment, I am just making a plea to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be followers of Christ and not just mere “Christians.”  I am SICK of “Christians” judging others for their sins.  I am SICK of “Christians” not sharing their faith.  I am SICK of “Christians” passing off their “duties” of being a follower of Christ.  I am SICK of “Christians” being selfish.  I am SICK of “Christians” thinking they don’t need church, prayer or the Bible. I am SICK of “Christians” passing judgment on other Christians.  I am SICK of “Christians” thinking they are better than everyone else.  I am SICK of “Christians” refusing to live and minister among the sinners.  I am SICK of “Christians” who use passive aggressive comments on social media to get back at people. I am SICK of “Christians” wasting their money on meaningless, useless, material things when there all people all over the world dying of starvation.  I am SICK of “Christians” who do not go to church on a certain Sunday because they don’t like the music or the person that’s preaching on that certain day. (REALLY?!?!  This is a BIG pet peeve of mine.  I mean, if you are truly hungry for God and His Word it wouldn’t matter who is delivering it.  Don’t get me started.) I am SICK of “Christians” thinking that they are always right.  ***NEWS FLASH*** You’re not always right!  Just because people do not interpret Scripture just like you doesn’t mean that they are wrong!  God uses His Word to speak to different people in MANY different ways.  I promise, you’re not always right.  (More to come on this subject later…) I am SICK of “Christians”.  I am SICK of “Christians”.  I am SICK of “Christians”.

You see, Jesus loved all and worshiped One. He walked among the sinners and taught among the saints.  He gave and expected nothing back.  He stood upon His beliefs until it hurt.  Literally.  He prayed for those closest to Him and He prayed and forgave those who persecuted Him.   He set the perfect example for Christians, His followers, to follow and live by.  However, nine time out of ten we (yes, we.) look right into His eyes, spit in His face and turn and do our own thing.  We do not try to be like Him, walk like Him or talk like Him.  We simply want the benefits of Him without doing His work.  When we do this, we show the world that He really doesn’t matter.  We show the world that we are no different from them; therefore, we portray that the world does not need Jesus.  This is embarrassing.  This is shameful.  This, unfortunately, is the new “status quo” for “Christians.”  Times are changing and with those times, this needs to change too.  Everything we say and do should point back to Christ.  Everything.  If we are going to be a follower of Christ, we should actually follow Him.   It is not until we choose to talk the talk AND walk the walk that the embarrassment will go away. 

I am ready to rid Christianity of this embarrassment.  Let’s stop being  “Christians” and start being followers of Christ.  Who is with me?  If you are with me, do something about it…

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

4 Words that Changed...Part 2

Fact: I never seized to be amazed
who God uses to change the world.

Mary’s life was changed by four words and if you think that she was an unlikely character to speak such powerful words then the next group was WAY unlikely.  Many people thought that the Savior of the world would come by way of a great king who would be worshiped by the highest of highs.  Ha!  We all know that is not what happened!  Instead the King of Kings came in the form of a little baby and was worshiped by some very unlikely characters…. One group being Shepherds.

Luke 2 tells us that after Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph that there were some shepherds that lived in a field nearby and they were keeping watch over their flocks by night.  Now, let’s think about the job of a shepherd for a moment.  This job was low on the totem poll, if you will.  You did not want to be a shepherd… I mean, who really wants to smell like sheep and have to use them as a pillow to sleep at night?!?  Anyway, shepherds were not the high-class society. Hmmm… The Savior of the world came as a humble baby born in stable (not high-class society) and was born of a young humble run-of-the-mill girl (not high-class society) and the angels chose to announce His arrival to shepherds (not high-class society).  Hmmm… Think it was a coincidence?  Yeah, I don’t think so either. 

OK, that was a nice rabbit trail, but let’s get back to the shepherds.  They were hanging out in the fields watching their sheep.  I would like to think that they were looking into the sky, checking out the stars and making small talk with each other.  They lie back on one of the sheep take a deep breath in followed by a long sigh and then in the words of Gladys Herdman “SHAZAM” the angel of the Lord appeared to them in the same night sky they were looking at.  I could only imagine that the shepherds jumped up straight to their feet out of fear.  I would have!  The angel told them to fear not just as it was spoken to Mary and then went on to tell them about the birth of Jesus.  The angel tells them that they could find Him in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  Then a multitude of angels gathered and began singing praises to God and I am sure it was nothing short of AMAZING.  The angels were inviting the shepherds to join all of creation in worshiping the Savior of the world.   Talk about an invitation! When they departed and everything settled down, the shepherds had two choices. #1 they could totally ignore what they had heard or #2 they could seek out Jesus.  Let’s look at Luke 2: 15 to see what they did.
“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

Four words that changed their lives forever… Let us now go.  The shepherds got up and went and found Jesus.  Now, I wonder if they took their flocks with them.  It’s quite the entertainment in my brain to imagine the shepherds and all their sheep weaving their way through Bethlehem to get to the manger where He lay.  Ha…I’m sure it was amusing!  Anyway, the shepherds left, found Jesus, worshiped Him in their own way and then told the world what they had seen and they and many others were changed forever.  Why?  Simply because they said “let us now go.”

Each of us is called.  Now granted, it might be way of an angel appearing to you, but we’re all called.  We have two choices when we are called: ignore it or respond.  God is calling each one of us to meet Him somewhere and do what He has for us and what He has is life changing.  The shepherds responded with four words that we can learn a whole lot from, let us now go.  They heard their call and they accepted it.  They did not say that they needed to wait around and find something to do with their sheep or make sure all their affairs were in order. No.  They said let us go NOW.  The moment they heard their call they responded and they were never the same.  The awesome part about the whole thing is that after they saw Jesus they told everyone they could and their lives were changed too.  This all happened all because they were willing to say, let us now go.

What is God calling you to do?  Are you willing to say that?  Are you willing to say to God “Let us (me) now go” whenever He calls you?  He might not be calling you to go somewhere, but He could be calling you to do something, share with someone or many other things. The shepherds chose to say the four words let us now go and their lives were never the same.  My challenge to you is to simply take on the mindset of the shepherds.  I challenge you to go before God and speak the same four words, let us (me) now go.  Surrender your will, your wants and your way and tell God you are ready to go and do whatever it is that He is calling you to.  Let us now go.  It will change your life, I promise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

4 Words that Changed...

Fact: Christmas time is one of my 
favorite times of the year. 
          I love the atmosphere of joy and celebrating it brings about.  I love the smells of Christmas goodies coming from the kitchen.  I love the cheesy movies where everything always works out in the end.  I love Christmas music (After Thanksgiving and up to New Years!).  I love the time I get to spend my family and friends.  I love Christmas trees…REAL ones NOT artificial.  Anyway, I just love Christmas! 

         The thing I love the most about Christmas?  I love the Christmas story in the book of Luke.  I love hearing it read aloud (I have heard it read aloud in English, Spanish and Swahili.  Next year I’m thinking about doing a rendition in Pig Latin!) , I love reading it myself, I love seeing it portrayed through Christmas plays and movies and I love hearing carols reflecting the story.  I would dare to say that in my 25 years of life I have heard the Christmas story in some form or another over 150 times.  Honestly. However, two weekends when I saw it portrayed at FBC Milan’s Christmas program I saw something different.  Something new and exciting to me.  I saw four words that changed me.  As I went back and read the passage myself I saw three different “characters”, if you will, in the Christmas story say four words that changed lives.  Over the next few days leading to Christmas I would like to look at these three characters and the four words that they spoke.
            The first person I would like to look at is Mary.  Mary, the virgin, gave birth to the Son of God, Jesus.  Everybody knows Mary!  Some religions idolize Mary, but some people just put her aside and forget about her.  To me, Mary is a fascinating person that we, women AND men, should try to model our lives after.  Luke 1 gives a little blurb about Mary, but that little blurb says a whole lot.  Mary is described as being highly favored by God.  There was something about Mary that captured the heart of God.  Whether it was her demeanor or her gentleness or her pure heart, no one knows.  What we do know is that God saw something special in her.  God looked at Mary and saw her to be righteous and worthy of mothering His son.  Wow…what an incredible honor and privilege bestowed upon her.  Mary simply lived her life as an offering to God and she was blessed beyond comprehension for it.

            When the angel, Gabriel, came to Mary to tell her the news that she would bare the Son of God, Mary was startled.  I mean, who wouldn’t be?!?  Anyway, an angel came to her and told her that she, a virgin, was not only going to have a baby, but that the baby was going to reign forever and that His kingdom would never end.  If I was Mary I think I would of done one of two things.  I would have either #1 laughed at the angel or #2 I would have flipped out and said I did not want that responsibility at all.  What did Mary do?  Let’s look at Luke 1:38, “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.  And the angel departed from her.”  Be it unto me.

            Be it unto me.  Four words that changed Mary’s life forever.  Mary did not argue with the angel, Mary did not try to get out of it or even question God.  Mary just said be it unto me.  In the world of Meredith that translates to, “Bring it on God.”  Mary was saying to God that whatever He planned, whatever He purposed, whatever mountain or valley He had for her, bring it.  She was telling God whatever it is, let it happen to me.  Good, bad or ugly, she would do whatever God had in store because she was God’s servant.

            After those four words Mary’s life changed drastically.  She had the task of carrying, birthing and raising the Savior of the world.  Not only that, but I am sure that she caught a lot of flack for being pregnant before she was married and for just being the mother of Jesus.  Then she had to watch her son die a cruel and painful death on the cross because He did nothing wrong.  Mary was never the same after those four words.  Be it unto me.

            My challenge to you is to simply take on the mindset of Mary.  I challenge you to go before God and speak the same four words, be it unto me.  Surrender your will, your wants and your way and tell God to bring on whatever He has for you.  Be it unto me.  It will change your life, I promise.