September 10, 2016

The Gift of Rest...

Starting in college, I realized the importance of rest and committed to taking one day a week to rest.  This day usually involved spending time with friends, going for walks, taking naps, reading books, watching movies, eating, and playing piano.  However, I’ve found that living life outside of the routine of school, it is much more difficult to discipline myself to maintain a day of rest.

Since coming to Uganda, I have had little time to rest and it is entirely of my own doing.  I would rather be spending time with people than go off somewhere alone but in this context, being with people means being at school which means the possibility of doing work. 

Upon returning from a recent trip to Kenya, I realized just how little people here take time to rest and recover and rejuvenate themselves.  They function on very little sleep and are going from sunrise to after sunset every day.  I have quickly learned that I don’t have the stamina for this kind of lifestyle and likely, people have grown accustomed to this lifestyle and know nothing different.  

During the weeks prior to going to Kenya and during the week following, I was becoming deeply convicted to take days of rest again and to encourage those around me to do the same.  It is so easy to get caught up in doing things for Christ that I forget one of the things He wants us to do is to honor a day of rest every week and that day is to be kept holy, set apart.  Even the God who needs no rest, rested.  We see it in Genesis during creation; we also see it in Exodus when God ordained a holy day of rest when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  Later during Jesus ministry, he would go off by Himself to pray and be alone.  God as God created rest and honored it and Jesus as a man, did the same!  How much more do we as weak human vessels need rest. 

As a result of rest, the quality and energy in which we are able to do our work throughout the rest of the week is vastly improved when there is a commitment to rest—it shows how much we care for our physical and mental beings and recognize our human abilities and needs.  God doesn’t expect us to be heroes or god-like abilities.  He wants us to embrace who we are, needy people.  Rest should be something we want!  Why on earth would we choose to not rest?  It’s amazing and feels so good!  Well, we are sinners who are predisposed to not obey the commands that God has set before us for our benefit.  Weird to think that it is a sin to not honor the holy day of rest that God has given to us.   

So many of us feel guilty for not allowing ourselves one day a week to veg around or do something purely out of enjoyment.  We feel guilty if we don’t achieve certain work related things or don’t push ourselves beyond our max.  But I tell you, this guilt is not of God!  When we live a work filled life, we crash and burn, get sick, realize we need to slow down, and once we’re only semi recovered, are up and at it again. 

All of that to say, I ended up getting sick once again (thankfully just another cold) this last week in the midst of having all these thoughts about rest on my heart and mind.  It’s time to recommit myself to weekly Sabbaths.  I need to be an example of Christ to everyone around me including taking care of myself so that I can take care of others.  And so here I am, taking an extended weekend to sleep, eat good food, go on adventures, make memories, and most especially spend some quality time with good friends!  And I’m not allowing Satan to fill my mind with guilt that I’m doing this, that, or the other thing back home.

Let’s not fight against our need for regular rest.  Not a day set apart that turns into a day to do laundry and catch up on things we haven’t done the rest of the week; but to really be revitalized for the next days’ responsibilities.  It’s one of God’s gifts to us!  Receive it, relish it, and be thankful!  Happy resting!

September 3, 2016

IHOP/FAN goes to Kenya, and what a trip it was...

I have been back from Kenya for almost a week now and still feel like I’m recovering from all the craziness before, during, and returning. 

We left Sunday morning, the 21st of August but the Friday prior the whole school fasted for the day and then had an overnight from 6pm to 6am.  An overnight is something frequently a part of the church cultures here; people come from all over town to whatever church is hosting the overnight—there is praise music, prayer, and messages preached all night long.  They are intense to say the least.  Every third Friday, the House of Prayer in Tororo puts on an overnight at a local church.  The day after being up all night, we all were making last minute preparations for the journey to Isiolo which was supposed to be about 12-15 hours.  Forty-nine of us: staff, missionaries, American missionaries, volunteers, and students woke at 2am and left somewhere between 3:30 and 4:30 am to head to Malaba where the nearest border crossing is into Kenya.  Thankfully that’s only 20 to 30 minutes away. 

Between making several trips to the border to get all of us there with minivans and some people forgetting travel documents behind, it took us until after 7 am to get all of us through the border and onto our bus!  Those planning our trip were hoping there would be a route option to take that would bypass Nairobi but after discussing it with our bus driver, we learned that there was no such option.  We would have to take the long way around.  We drove from Tororo to Malaba where we got a bus to Nukuru.  We had a late lunch in Nukuru and then drove through Nairobi where we stopped for a snack and a bus change.  Our snack stop took half an hour and we waited probably 45 minutes or so on the side of the road for our new bus to arrive.  This was somewhere between 8 and 10 pm.  From Nairobi we drove to Isiolo which took another six hours.  We arrived around four in the morning, just in time to eat supper and go to bed for a few hours before having to report for the first session at 9am!

 Here’s a couple of maps to give you an idea of our route.  

Total time traveled: 24 hrs! Total distance traveled 450 miles ish!

Thankfully the week to follow these three sleepless nights and days was well worth the journey!  Our time in Kenya was like a big family reunion made up of missionaries, missionaries in training, and those training, supporting, and praying for those missionaries!  People traveled from Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, the US, and the Netherlands for this conference with more than 20 tribes and languages represented and multiple States and cultures!  It was amazing!! 

It was so fun to meet so many people all bonded by the Spirit in the body of Christ, who have a heart to share the Gospel to unreached people groups!  Most of our days were spent sharing stories, testimonies of how the Lord is moving, messages from the Word, praising God, praying, and dancing til we about dropped!  And of course, because we’re in East Africa, so much food and delicious tea with milk! 

I was the photographer for the week so I spent most of my time walking around taking pictures during the teaching sessions and activities, worship services, and breaks.  70 videos and 2,000+ photos later, I survived!  :D  It was a blast despite the hard work! 

Here’s generally how the week went:

Monday those of us who traveled from Tororo, were only half awake but even still somehow, the day was amazing!  Perhaps it was the adrenaline and excitement of the conference just beginning but somehow there was an energy in the air despite how tired most of us were!  In the afternoon, I went over to the FAN board meeting that was happening, took some pictures and got to meet some of the leaders who had come from IHOP Atlanta!  It was great to put some names with faces and talk with them and hear their hearts throughout the week!  Every evening we had a worship service with everyone at the conference! 

Tuesday the teaching was focused on evangelism.  Michael and teacher Said (Sieed) shared the teaching sessions; the students were so excited to learn ways of sharing the Gospel!  (In July, a missionary family arrived in Tororo whose primary focus at the House of Prayer is teaching on evangelism and leading the outreach aspect of the school!  Michael Green is the most passionate evangelist I’ve ever personally met; he’s just awesome!  My first encounter of going out and sharing the Gospel with people here was with him and his wife Melissa and their two young boys!  It was so wonderful to see how genuinely Michael loves sharing about Jesus with people and wants his family to be a part of his ministry with him!  They are a great example and I’m so excited to learn from them.)  In the afternoon, all the students went out into the community and shared the Gospel with people they met.  They were so excited to come back and share testimonies of how God used them to plant seeds and to see a few people come to Christ!  It also gave some of them an experience of the opposite response—sometimes people are hostile to the Gospel and one needs to know how to respond appropriately in those situations…

Wednesday, I joined the missionaries' sessions again and then went with them to a special lunch at a hotel in town.  Oh man, that food was so so good!  Amazing cooked and fresh vegetables, chicken, pork ribs, curry, rice, and chips (the french fry kind)!  It was so wonderful to eat something other than the rarely changing menu at the guest house we stayed at.  It was really fun to get to visit with the missionaries more and see more of Isiolo.  In the afternoon, a group of students went back out sharing the Gospel and another group went and did some children's outreach.  One of the people working at school there has organized a group of kids and is teaching them how to dance hip hop!  They came one evening to our worship service and performed some of what they have learned!  It was so awesome!!  Wednesday night's worship service was the most impactful for me personally.  It was healing and refreshing and full of reconciliation with God.  I was so incredibly encouraged!  God started a new thing and I felt my state of spiritual wilderness shift just a little.  Just enough to recognize that it is slowly ending and some of why I was in this place spiritually to begin with.  I had no idea I was so at odds with the Holy Spirit and in need of some deeper understanding, healing, humbling, and faith in His goodness and faithfulness.  Praise the Lord!

Thursday through Saturday everyone was all together all day instead of the students and the missionaries being at separate sessions.  It was so fun to be together all day instead of only at night!  We also started a special activity for everyone--Olympics! camp style.  Everyone got into it so much even though the competitions were silly.  Example: throwing as many cheese puffs as possible at someone's face covered in shaving cream.  Highest score: 16! haha!!  Anyway, everyone was so competitive and had so much fun!  It was blast to watch!!!

The students all stayed at the FAN school while the missionaries and staff from Tororo stayed at a Catholic guest house.  It was a huge compound with a beautiful garden in the center courtyard.  It was so peaceful and shady.  The walkways through the gardens were lined with bushes that I later realized were massive jade plants.  We would gather together for all the meals--the best was morning tea time of tea with milk and mandazis, Swahili bun (fried dough in a triangular shape).  They are just so good!

Our worship services usually involved a lot of praise music, traditional African songs and dancing, all with plenty of gusto and energy!  I'm sure if I saw myself trying to move like an African I would laugh hysterically but it was so much fun, I don't even care that I feel as stiff as a board.

Friday morning as we began our intercessory prayer time, I felt very spiritually disheveled and so took some time away from taking photos to just sit in the presence of the Lord.  It was during this time of prayer that God made it much more clear to me to continue moving towards long term missionary training at IHOP in Atlanta!  I am so excited and so terrified about the possibilities of where this road will lead.  But God keeps assuring me that He is good and has good things and His purpose for my life is perfect.  I need to just trust in Him and follow Him.  My prayer for deeper clarity about IHOP as a possible sending organization was answered and I am overjoyed!

Our week ended with another 18 hour drive back to Tororo.  Much less eventful than our trip there but for one incident.  How fitting to end our trip to Kenya with a miracle of mercy and safety....
We were on the road somewhere between Nairobi and Malaba in the middle of the night when we happened upon something prohibiting traffic from passing through.  I'm not sure if it was an accident or construction or something else but regardless, vehicles in front of our bus were driving off the side of the road to go around it.  Our bus driver decided to follow suit.   Little did he know that the side of the road was a steep embankment.  It went down somewhat gradually at first.  All of sudden it dipped down and our bus, no joke teetered to the side and nearly flipped over!!  I was sitting on the left side next to the window, the side closest to the ground.  In seconds that felt like eternity the bus started leaning much too far to the left, I felt one tire leave the ground, I shrieked as I hugged the person sitting next to me and prayer a quick prayer of desperation for Jesus to save us.  No sooner did I pray than it found all four wheels again and it slowly slowly inched back onto the road.  I was awake for the rest of the trip...  Thankful and shaken.  After sharing the story with a friend who lives in Isiolo, she said seriously, praise God because buses flip over in situations like that all too often there.

There were no other issues after this.  We all got back through customs smoothly and were in dire need of sleep by the time we got to Tororo.  I am so so thankful for all that happened during the week in Kenya!  I was so blessed and I know that so many others were deeply blessed by how the Lord moved in their lives!  Thank you so so much to those of you who prayed for us and supported me to go; the week was irreplaceable!