Meeting Jesus

We’ve been back for a few months now. I’ve shared so little of Africa in my writing. This is a talk I shared with Antioch church before Christmas. I’m working on getting the rest of my thoughts on paper but thought I’d share this first.

As a mom, I feel like I came home and jumped right back into life. Back into the routines of taking care of kids and homeschooling and the every dayness of it all. But at the same time I’m carrying with me the experiences of Africa, the memories and the emotions.

It’s made me restless. Truth be told, I’ve always been a bit that way. I’ve always wrestled with the tension of giving my life away in some grand adventure and learning to be content to allow God to use me right here in Bend, Oregon. Finding the adventure God has for me, right here in the midst of school lessons and mother/daughter Christmas tea parties and bills.

When my 8th grader complained about the length of one of his assignments, I launched into a 20 minute impassioned lecture on the privilege and responsibilities of a quality education. And although that wouldn’t be the first time my kids have been subjected to you don’t know how good you’ve got it speeches, this time he knew I was right.

Because a few weeks ago I visited schools with 80 or 90 kids in a classroom, sweltering in the heat of the day, daylight squeezing through one window, dim enough that it took a minute for my eyes to adjust and take in all the children crammed shoulder to shoulder on rickety wooden benches, their notebooks balanced on their laps. And of those children, every obstacle is stacked against them.

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Diga district has no potable water. This means the task of fetching water from the river often falls on the women and children. The huts have no electricity or lighting so kids that want to study have limited daylight after water and firewood are gathered.  Because the water is unclean, waterborne disease and poor sanitation are constant oppressors.

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Girls that get a chance to attend school at all, are often pulled out as they approach puberty because of the risks of sexual assault and rape when traveling by foot the 5-8 km through dense mango forests to the secondary school. Without education they are often married by 13 or 14, often to men much older, and the cycle of poverty continues.

Yadette is our family’s sponsored daughter. She’s 12 and wants to be a teacher when she grows up.  For $35/month she gets a chance.

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When we met her, she led us down a narrow path deep into the trees where her family lived. Her mother hugged me with a strength that I wouldn’t have thought possible for her tiny frame. And as we talked to them, I found out that she has one older brother but her other four siblings had all passed away. This mother has buried four of her children.

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 Poverty is a cruel master.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about what masters me as I’ve come home. I’ve been preparing my heart in the season of advent. It’s hard to come home during this season and not feel a little overwhelmed with all the packaging and rampant consumerism of our culture. I went to Target and Costco yesterday and felt like I was going to have a seizure. I think that was the only time I’ve managed to get out of there with only three things in my cart.

It’s easy to want to divide what seems secular and what seems sacred and pick a side. I keep seeing Instagrams of everyone’s homes all decorated and sparkly and part of me thinks it’s beautiful and part of me groans and feels like we’ve missed the point.

It’s easy to want to spiritualize everything and try to live above the fray of it all. I’ve found myself struggling with wanting to pull away from things here because it all seems so fluffy and unimportant.

But God doesn’t do it that way. He never has. Every beautiful thing our eyes see and the fact that we can see them at all has everything to do with who He is as a creator. I am reminded of this as I read through the gospel of Luke.

He came in both flesh and holiness in the most extraordinary of ways. The wisemen brought extravagant and beautiful gifts and offered them as worship. The shepherds came stunned at His glory. And God used both to usher in the Good news of Jesus’s birth and foretell his majesty.

Jesus always taught that He- himself- was present not only with the poor but also present in the poor. 

In Matthew 25 Jesus taught us that when we fail to see Him in the poverty and oppression of others, when we ignore their plight, we fail to grasp our Master. We fail to understand the heart of our savior.  He made no qualifications of those who deserved grace and mercy. He didn’t mention their choices, their gender, their religion, their political affiliations, or the color of their skin.

That restlessness I feel? It’s living in the tension of abundance knowing that God is among us. He says to us, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 42ff)

It made me realize that to meet Jesus in that place of poverty, I would have to have food, I would have to have drink , a home to open, clothes to spread across another’s shoulders, freedom to visit the prison. I am blessed with these things in abundance for the very purpose of meeting Jesus. He has equipped me with everything I need. So I’m anticipating advent with loose hands  asking God to be present.

Child sponsorship is one of the ways I meet Jesus.

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I you would like to find our more about sponsorship in Diga district, where we visited please visit our Food for the Hungry Sponsorship page. We’ll be visiting this project for years to come and would love to partner with you in transforming a community.

 

Africa: A Bird’s Eye View

We’ve been back from Africa for awhile now and we haven’t forgotten about it. If anything, it’s more real the more time it’s had to settle. We took some time to adjust back into our daily lives of work and family and the day to day but we’re anything but settled in our hearts. We came back with a deep desire to share what God is doing in Africa and in our lives. We want to share how you can be a part of it all too. So over the next few months expect to see more posts sharing about the things we saw, the things we’re learning, and how you can be a part of what God is doing right in our midst. We’d love for you to join us as we share.

The following is a recap Heidi Wright shared of our entire trip.

Consider this the bird’s eye view. Later we’ll share more in depth and invite you to partner with us in transforming a community. 

After living in Africa for 8 years as a mother alongside other women in both Kenya and Uganda, I felt I had learned so much. I prayed for ways to share the things I’d learned with women in my home country. I’m not a writer and by no means a speaker, so I said to God, well, I can TAKE them to see for themselves!

And God made it happen.

Partnering with Food for the Hungry, and others,  six women from our small hometown of Bend, Oregon  traveled with me to meet the women of Africa and witness what their lives are like.

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Bend women are troopers and God took care of us every step of the way.

We spent a week in Kenya and 4 days in Ethiopia.

Our time in Kenya was focused on seeing as much as we could in the short time we had.  I wanted them to get as broad a view as we could of Nairobi.

People say it’s a ‘tale of two cities’ town. 

We went from a visit with President Kenyatta’s  sister in law and her friends, hearing how God protected them from the awful Westgate attack directly to the slums of Nairobi where we danced and sang with HIV/AIDS widows (most of whom care for 4 up to 12 orphans themselves) FHKenya is working with these small groups to generate income, and most importantly, hope.

We saw elephants and kissed giraffes, visited schools, and homes of single moms in the slums.

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We saw the difference hope can make in the lives of women. We saw the despair in those without it. 

FH Kenya hosted us for devotions and a wonderful insight on their main projects in Northern Kenya with nomadic people groups.

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Meeting with FH staff in Kenya

At a project called AMANI YA JUU , we saw how refugee women, coming to Nairobi from neighboring war torn countries worked together learning to sew, knit, and quilt, while working to forge forgiveness and community within their differing cultures.

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Amani Ya Juu

And then on our last day in Nairobi, we spent a day with Mike and Ann Mara at Kijabe Hospital. The hospital is overcrowded,  the equipment is outdated and inefficient to keep up with the hundreds that go through there every day. In the midst of frustrations and insurmountable odds, God is at work. Though they’re facing challenges so foreign to our western way of medicine, they’ve also seen people come to healing not just physically but spiritually as they learn about Christ’s love.

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Anne Mara at Kijabe Hospital

That evening we were off to take time to rest in the Lord.  To learn to listen to him and appreciate His beautiful works.  We spent 2 days on safari.  God has sure made some beautiful and unbelievable things!  The highlight was three young male lions right at the side of our vehicle, just napping in the wild and looking oh so majestic.

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Safari in Nakuru Park, Kenya

The next evening we flew to Ethiopia.  It was a late night flight and I thought the team would not make it.  We were leaving a wonderful experience in Kenya and that seemed to be enough.  I prayed all evening that this extra trip into a whole other country would be the right thing to do.

We didn’t land until 1:30am and WE WERE TIRED!

We arrived at our hotel room at 2:30am and were picked up at 6:30 in the morning for a 7 hour drive to Diga district to see the work of FHEthiopia.  At the time it really didn’t seem worth it.

HOWEVER, God knows what he is doing, and after our first stop at Ambo, we got to experience the COFFEE and sparkling water that Ethiopia has to offer, things were looking up.

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Ethiopian Coffee ceremony

And I’ll just say now, that ETHIOPIA STOLE OUR HEARTS.

We were taken such good care of by the FH staff that day.  We were briefed regarding the work we were to see in the morning.

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Briefing with local FH staff, Amsalu, in Ethiopia

Our full day in the Diga province consisted of: coffee, FH office visit, 2 school visits, traditional coffee ceremony, 3 home visits to sponsored children, church visit, and a debrief at the hotel followed by wonderful Ethiopian dinner of injera and shiro.

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Shiley with her sponsored family.

FH just started working in this district and with their plan of being there for up to 15 years, they have invited us back and back to see the changes that will take place in the entire community.  Starting with sponsored children, touching their families, communities, teachers.

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One of the schools in Diga district we visited.

The six of us arrived back in Bend, Oregon and went directly into Thanksgiving and the Christmas season with a lot to think about.

We hope to raise awareness, to seek sponsors for these beautiful kids we met, and to love our own communities, to teach our own children

and to give HOPE.

We want to share some of the things God has stirred up in our hearts and invite you to be a part of them. We’ll be sharing more about those things in the next few posts so be sure to stick around or subscribe. You can follow our Facebook page for updates and information about sponsorships, future trips, and the organizations we visited and love.

What Really Matters

We had our weekly meeting on Monday. We discussed finances and fundraising and all of the nitty gritty details we need to get past before we can really sink our teeth into this amazing opportunity.

Jenn in deep planning mode

Jenn in deep planning mode

We’ve come a long way and our team is seeing God move, but we’re all tired. We’ve all been battling through things in our lives and pushing the limits of our faith to make this trip a reality.

When we heard the airfare was going to be more than previously expected, I felt deflated. I know God will provide but sometimes it’s hard to remember when you’re facing down deadlines and balance sheets.

807f3e7125d4ddb1bc10cc81ac0ae0b0We discussed Jenn’s upcoming cornhole tournament fundraiser and the open door Blue Pine Kitchen and Bar has provided for allowing us to host it there. Saturday, October 5th from 1-5ish in case you wanted to know.

It was three hours of logistics and strategy. How do we raise the money we need? How do we save on tickets? How do we get people to donate all their air miles or fly us on their private jet? If you have a private jet, please email us, we’ll even let you enter the cornhole tournament for free.

But even with all the good things happening, the truth is, we were all feeling a little… tired and stressed.

And then this.

Jenn Sturdy, the mastermind behind the tournament emailed this encouragement to us.

We wanted to share it with you, because this is what it’s all about and it’s a great reminder when the things of this world stark to choke out your faith, you need to stop and refocus. 

hey family.

After our meeting I just laid in bed and tried to think of ways we could make money… and stressed myself out and thought about the prayer I prayed at the meeting and if I said the right thing or prayed the right way or if my heart was in the right place.

And then this verse came into my head: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24 ESV)

And then my head went quiet. I’m about 100% sure that was God shutting me up and saying “Go to sleep!!! I got this”. ha

 Guys, read through Matthew 6 again. I have been stuck there for weeks. It’s so so good. Over and over He says, do not be anxious, do not worry, I will take care of you!

Brandon Reynolds always says, ” If God’s hand is in it, it will happen.”

 Our job might be to “go” but is calling others to “send”. We all have a part.

THEN last night I heard a friend speak on the last 9 months of his life. Him and his wife are starting a ministry in Tennessee and have been brought to their knees time and time again. He talked about a time he was so tired and worn out and he talked to God expressing how he had nothing left and he didn’t feel like he could make this ministry work.

He then felt God was calling him to fight… So he fought hard for his ministry the entire week and poured everything he had into it… but at the end of the week felt more defeated than ever.

That Sunday he went to church where the pastor used the word “fight” repeatedly in his sermon and it became clear that God was not calling him to fight for the physical things, but to fight for what had already been done.

That God had sent his son… for us. That the war is already won. That through faith and grace we have salvation and an eternity in heaven!!! He wanted him to fight for his relationship with his creator.

Let’s fight this week for our relationship with God and believe in the promises he has for us. He’s got us. whatever we are going through. He is trustworthy.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

well… that was a little longer than I intended. but that’s what’s going on in my mind this week:)

P.S. Blue Pine wanted to know if it would be ok to put the cornhole tournament in the bulletin and the source… um… I said yes :)

 God is good.

- Jenn Sturdy

Introducing Our Team: Shiley

387777_10151504324064622_1935890864_nI’m a thirty something stay-at-home momma to a teenager girl, a middle schooler boy and twin boys in elementary. Married to a true Oregonian, we were both born and raised in this gorgeous state.

Going on this trip with such gifted, God loving women is such an unbelievable opportunity.

Through books, sermons, and friends I have developed a deep compassion for Africa. The people of this land have captured my heart- the orphan, the widowed, the poor, the sick and the fatherless. This tour through Food For the Hungry will be that first step to take me from the viewing position into an active one. 

I’m not sure what God has planned for us, but I know that this is just the beginning of a beautiful journey.- Shiley Miller

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On Listening, Loving, and Letting God Lead

When you encounter third world poverty it’s easy to make assumptions. They have a broken system. We can fix it. They have familial issues and cultural norms that are unbiblical, we need to bring wisdom and drive out that darkness. And while these intentions may have been for the greater good, they often left communities and missionaries wounded and grasping for a better way.

 But I see big changes in the way American missions are trying to engage the world around them.

We are asking questions about how to help without devaluing what God is doing in the communities we say we care about. We are having  conversations about the best ways to engage a world that needs the gospel even on our own doorsteps.

We are learning to use our gifts to bring value to God’s kingdom without extinguishing the ways God is using others. 

We want to shine a light on what’s happening in the world. And those are all noble things. Truly. But even in trying to be a voice for the voiceless we’re making assumptions about poverty and oppression.

 In many ways,it’s not so much that they’re voiceless, rather that we stink at listening.

We want to give a voice to poverty,oppression, and justice issues. But is it our voice or theirs?  We want to make our lives matter. We want to go and do. But do we also long to sit and learn, to really stop and listen to what God is already doing? Because He’s not on a hiatus over yonder while we work hard in our American churches.

He’s moving in the hearts and minds of his people, globally. He always has and he always will.

Which is the major reason that I am the giddy-happy-clappy-crying- girl who tears up at the drop of a hat or a worship song or anyone talking about community or faith or God or… you get the picture. I feel like I don’t even know who I am anymore (I have never been one to cry, like ever) but there is a softening going on as I’m seeking what God has me do in this season.

 I love that when we love like Jesus we do it right up close and in relationship.

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I love that the places God orchestrates to make that happen are all relationship based. We grow in our families, in our churches, in our communities and in our world. We rub shoulders and break bread, we gather and laugh and share and sit with each other in the joys and sorrows of life.

 I love that the women God has chosen and called to go on this trip each have something so beautiful to offer and that as we come together, I see the picture so much clearer than when I’m looking  on my own.

20131-08-26 11.53.02 I love that God gives vision as he leads and that each of us is walking in tandem with Him but also with each other. I praise God for the women on this team, every day.  2013-08-19 22.15.58 I don’t want to be a tourist and I don’t want to be a spectator, but I also don’t want to be so blind to think that I’m going with all of the answers. I am going with the knowledge of a God whose grace ransomed the most impoverished of souls, my own.

I am going with the knowledge that together is better than alone, two are better than one, and to be a global community means taking the time to link lives not just theology and projects.

We don’t do missions for the sake of chalking up numbers or sponsorships or souls saved, we don’t just want to dig wells or paint buildings or build schools, we do missions because God calls us to obedience in him. To care about the things He cares about, to love those He loves, and to work towards the things He calls us to even if those things mean sitting with open hands instead of building with closed ones. 

 I want to be a learner, a listener, a grab your hands in mine rejoicer.

I want to see how God made you and what he’s doing and I want you to come alongside me and show me the beauty you see when you follow God each day. I want to share with you mine. I want to remember that social justice and human care matter not just for the sake of doing more but because when you are in right relationship with God, you want to love better. And when you’re surrounded by women who lift you up and surround you with prayer and grace, as I am, you see that love clearly.

 So it’s not so much about what we’re doing although I’m certain our time there is going to be amazing, it’s more about who we’re becoming and it’s my hope and the hope of those traveling alongside me, that who we’re becoming is more like Jesus.

becoming like Jesus

When God is Poor and Mean

I posted this on my personal blog but I thought I’d share it here as well, because this is the reality of trusting God at times and I have my beautiful sisters on this trip to help me reach higher. Thank you, ladies. I love you.

I didn’t hear God’s voice like a boom echoing in my bones, the kind that brings you to your knees and presses your face to the floorboards and makes quiet the thumping heart. Lingering in His voice as solid and steady as the ground beneath your body. The kind of surety that blankets you like a child wrapped snug into a fetal curve and rocking in peace.

But I did hear it. It was a whisper, like a cool breeze feathering across my skin, chills rising to the surface of my mind. Could this be it? Now Lord?

 I dream of Africa on nights when my mind goes quiet and still, and I have waited on the Lord. For so long, it seems.

And now, I’ve heard Him. “Go.”

 On the first missions meeting, we gathered in Heidi’s living room. I looked to the walls where she has picked up memories from Kenya, bound them and made them home, even here. She shares about the trip and her heart and I don’t have to carry the burden of all the details because God said go. I heard him.

 But then weeks stretch on and I’m left with account sheets and balances  and my google calendar  overflows and tramples out days and time is moving so quickly and I’m not ready.

In God We  Trust

And when I think about it all, it makes no more sense now to go than the years when the doors were shut tight. Now isn’t more practical. Now I can’t afford it any more than when we were making minimum wage and Taco Bell was a special dinner out.

It is still impossible.

And when I pray my words come out all wrong. I have a brittle faith. I wish I could say I am brave and undaunted but the obstacles seem like Goliaths taunting me. And maybe my God too.

Because my theology has taught me for so long that God is poor and mean.

He is teaching me lessons that require a stern, “no,” a reprimand for a greedy child, instead of the lavish gifts of a father.

I have been trained for so long to pray around my needs. To pray into my heart. Lord, change my faith to be stronger, regardless of funds coming in. Lord, change my heart to trust you, regardless of things working out. Lord, give me strength, even if you choose not to heal me. Lord, let me believe, even when everything goes wrong.

I have given God a way out of answering my prayers. Like a magician who needs an escape hatch, I pray wide and vague. A way for him to still be God and powerful and never have to prove anything or show up, just in case it’s not His will.

I pray around the desires of my heart so I won’t be let down.

Because I believe God is poor and mean.

I said it. At the core of my trembling heart, I am still the girl waiting for her dad to turn off the news and see her, ask about her day, lift her onto his lap and offer her everything he has as her own.

I still wonder if at the end of it all, there will be a lesson in disappointment and I will name it contentment instead and shuffle my feet awkwardly when people ask me about that Africa trip I was supposed to go on and I’ll shrug and say that God is doing things even though that didn’t work out and I will remain the girl  left with grasping hands and empty bags. And I will go on worshipping the god I know as poor and mean.

Because there are years of failed prayers, years of lessons learned the hardest way, years of no. And in truth, I have timidly mentioned Africa to people, because even though I know that God said go, and I don’t doubt his voice, he didn’t say how. He didn’t unroll the treasure map with the x  clearly marked and the spotted lines flagging across the ocean to the point where I will crack it wide open and see I never had anything to worry about because I had the key all along.

In truth, I don’t want to have to trust in Him for everything. I don’t want to believe because belief takes you to the tip of the highest limb, where the winds whip fierce and wild. Belief asks you to close your eyes, hearing the roar of the shaking leaves, and with quaking legs, tiptoe to the crackling twig and trust that it will not break with the weight of your dreams.

Belief and Dreams

Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt-every situation you believe to be the will of God.” And Jim did, even to the tip of the spear.

It’s easier to do when belief is carved into the sturdy trunk of absolutes. When the will of God says, Love your neighbor and it’s etched across thick bark, and you climb right past that one because it can bear the weight. But the branches fork and grow thin and spindly and from such great heights it’s hard to believe.

It’s hard to believe.

“Go.”

“Now Lord?” I whisper as I climb.