Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beauty For Ashes

Isaiah 61:3
"...and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord  for the display of his splendor..."

Beauty for ashes.

That's what I keep sensing in my heart regarding my recent mission trip to Rwanda and Ethiopia.

In Rwanda, we heard first-hand accounts of the genocide from sweet people who are now dear friends forever. These testimonies of what they and their families witnessed were unlike any kind of suffering I could even imagine living through. Then still offering forgiveness and now living together in unity, while still praising God that He is good despite the tragedies. And this is the story of an entire nation. An entire nation that now lives together in peace and offers forgiveness over and over. With little crime and an immacutely clean city and country (cleanest I've ever seen; really). I heard 1 story of a Hutu man who had committed many killings. He became a believer and wanted to seek out a woman whose family he had killed, to seek forgiveness. When he found her, she came and embraced him, saying that she was also a believer and had been praying for him to come. Wow. And that's not the end. The 2 of them now work together, and travel throughout Rwandan villages sharing the Gospel. She calls him her son because she no longer has a son (because HE killed her son!). That is the kind of forgiveness that can only come because of the Lord. The most clear picture I can imagine of the reality of God's forgiveness of our sin through the sacrifice of Christ. A true redemption story.

Beauty for ashes.

In Rwanda, when we first got off the van at the orphanage, we were surrounded by tons of adorable children. Many held our hands and just shared love with us immediatly. After a few minutes, one sweet girl (probably about 9 or 10) who had been holding my hand since literally before we got off the van (through the window!) whispered to me "You are my mom." Talk about heartbreak! These precious children, who are so important to God and so loved by Him, so desparately want to know the love of a family. I had to look in that sweet girl's face and tell her that no, I wasn't her mom, but I was her friend, and how much I cared about her, while giving her the biggest hug I could. Hard to even type about it without tears! During our time there, we held and loved on so many sweet babies. Played with and poured into elementary-aged children. And shared Truth (and dancing!) with some sweet teenagers. Were they orphans? Yes. Were they longing for a family of their own? Yes. Were the conditions of the orphanage great? No. Before arriving, I had expected all of these things. But there are a few things that I didn't expect. They give and love so freely. To us, to their nannies, and to each other. They truly cared about and looked out for each other in the same way a family does. They are each other's family and it was beautiful to watch. Also, the kids truly had such a joy that can't be explained. Lastly, it is evident (maybe displayed in all that joy we saw!) that they KNOW the Lord loves them and is their heavenly Father. We know from Scripture that God loves orphans and He's close to the broken-hearted. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit reveals Himself to these sweet children (who happen to also be orphans) in a way that we cannot understand. One of the precious teenage girls that I was honored to spend some time with wrote this in a letter to me: "I'm very happy because you like to pray to our God. God knows orphans. Jennifer, I'm an orphan, but God knows me because God is the father of orphans. It helps me in my life to know God because God is our best friend." Encourages my heart to know that they KNOW God and understand Him as Father. Wow.

Beauty for ashes.

In Rwanda, we had the privilege of having sweet Florence cook lunch for us for our few days there. We discovered on the last day that she’s widowed, has 3 children, and has had difficulty paying her rent due to taking out a small business loan to open her own restaurant recently. Our team was able to bless her with a donation, and she immediately fell to her knees and lifted her hands thanking the Lord as Laura prayed with her. We then worshipped together in English and Kenrywandan. An unforgettable moment.

Beauty for ashes.

In Ethiopia, we spent time serving in a village called Korah, where the people experience a level of deep poverty unlike anything I've ever seen. It was the rainy season, and combine that with dirt roads and it's a true mud-pit. But this is daily life for them, and for us to enter into their lives truly was an honor. Most of the children there have families, unlike those at the orphanage, but many don't have the means to provide an education or even food for regular meals. Again, there was a joy among the people in this community, and many of the residents truly care for and take care of each other like family. The generosity of the people was incredibly humbling. We had the honor and privilege of visiting a family in their home that I've had a special connection with for years. The generosity of this sweet mom to share fantasic coffee and, as 1 teammate put it, strangely delicious popcorn with us, when they likely didn't have enough food for their own family, was humbling yet again.

Beauty for ashes.

Many of you know the story of how Brighton Their World started. Read more here: Brighton Their World, among other things, collects and sends formula to an orphanage in Ethiopia that so desperately needs it in order for the babies to survive. The Lord used the loss of Tymm and Laura’s sweet Brighton to break their hearts for orphans and set their hearts toward orphan-care. Many of us on our team were there, serving God in Ethiopia, as a result of Brighton’s short but impacting little life. His life has impacted and influenced so many, for the Kingdom of God and for the sake of the orphaned. We had the sweet and somewhat heart-wrenching privilege of accompanying Tymm and Laura to pay respects at Brighton’s grave. Standing there, overlooking the beauty of Ethiopia, reflecting on how God has taken something broken and heart-breaking and has turned it into His good and glory. Another story of redemption.

Beauty for ashes.

During one of our worship times with our team in Rwanda, we sung the song Beautiful Things by Gungor. This song has been meaningful to me in the midst of heart-healing over my father's cancer, suffering, and loss. But it now takes on a whole new and beautiful (ha!) way.   (lyrics in the video; trust me you want to watch it. :)

I know this post was long. Probably too long. I may have lost many of ya a few paragraphs back! And I even held back on some stories! There will be many more to come, I'm sure, as I process and share what the Lord has done and how we can all enter in and be a part of caring for the orphaned and poor around the world. Thankful for the opportunity, for each of you, and for a God who loves us despite of us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Noel Orphanage in Rwanda

Our team will spend the majority of our time in Rwanda ministering to the 700 orphans at Noel It is the oldest and largest orphanage in Rwanda, located in the town of Gisenyi, a few hours drive outside of the capital city of Kegali. They minister to children and young people from a few days old up to age 25. Our team will be loving on some babies, praying with children, playing sports with the kids, teaching Bible stories and songs, doing crafts with them, and just seeking out ways to serve them any way we can. We want to be a blessing to the staff as well and help take the burden of some of their workload while we’re there so we could be taking care of some household needs also.

The nannies who work at Noel love the children and do their absolute best with the resources they have. There are just so few nannies for so many children that they may not get the kind of love and attention that all children need, simply because of the sheer number children vs. number of adults.

(these pictures are from their facebook page)

Their sweet little faces are killin' me! I just can't wait to get there!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Deep Respect for Rwanda

Many of you may (or may not) know of the tragic genocidal killings that ripped through Rwanda in 1994. In 100 days, more than 1,000,000 people were murdered. Shocking. One of the first things we will do in Rwanda is visit the genocide memorial. We can’t truly minister to a group of people if we don’t know where they’ve come from and what they’ve been through. The forgiveness that has taken place across the entire nation, in order to bring restoration, is truly amazing. Such a beautiful example of the forgiveness we have in Christ.

On our first night in Rwanda, we'll have dinner with a Rwandan friend of some teammates who was orphaned as a teenager during the genocide. He has now started an orphanage with others who were also orphaned during the genocide, to minister and provide hope for children. I am humbled at the opportunity to hear his story. As I’ve read more about this tragic time in Rwanda’s history, I was hit with the reality of this sobering fact: anyone that I meet who is my age will have lived through this terrible tragedy as a young teenager. While I was living a carefree teenaged life of a highschooler in America, they were witnessing their families being murdered by trusted friends and neighbors. And now they have offered forgiveness to those who murdered their loved ones. Wow. What a newfound respect and admiration I have for the people of Rwanda.

A book that shares just one person's story is Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocuast by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Though I don't agree with all the theological aspects of the book, it shares the reality of that terrible time and the amazing grace of God to be able to forgive.

I'm realizing as I learn more about the people, places, and ministries that we'll be serving, that there are so many layers to this trip. And my heart is already starting to feel a bit wrecked (in a good and challanging way). I am also being reminded of the great and powerful importance of prayer as the Lord prepares my heart for what's to come and prepares the way for our team to minister in Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Headed to Africa

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Psalm 82:3

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Many people who know me well (or even not so well!) probably already know, the Lord has been breaking my heart for the orphans of the world for many years. This scripture to care for orphans has been deeply embedded in my heart as I seek out direction from the Lord. I’ve tried to be active and obedient to being a voice for the fatherless from a distance, through raising awareness, collecting formula and other things the Lord has orchestrated, but I’m hearing that now is the time to GO and visit (which literally translates to care for) orphans and share the Love of Christ with them. He has given me a job as a teacher where I have the blessing of a work-free summer. The Lord has reminded me over and over lately that my time and my life are not my own, but His. So I have been seeking ways that I can “give my summer away” for His name.

Visiting Orphans ( is a non-profit organization whose vision is to “awaken the body of Christ to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the 163 million orphans by visiting them, loving them, and sharing the Father’s heart.” One thing that I love about their ministry is that they partner with ministries and orphanages that are already established in the 13 countries where Visiting Orphans serves. Those of us being sent, step into these ministries to complete the work they are already doing. It’s a great way for the local churches of America to partner with ministries who serve orphans. We are doing short-term work, but there is a long-term investment because of the established ministries that are always there serving. I’ll be spending 10 days ministering to the needs of orphans and thos in need in Ethiopia and Rwanda. We’ll work with many different ministries during our time in Africa, which I'll be sharing about soon.  

 What about China?

Many people in my life were a beautiful part of the work the Lord was doing to send me back to China in 2008, including financial support, prayer support on behalf of the Chinese, and so much encouragement. So many were also truly the hands and feet of Jesus to me during the difficult season when the Lord re-directed my path to North Carolina that year to take care of my father. No words can express my gratitude for all the many ways the people in my life have shown Jesus to me throughout the years! After I returned home from caring for my father in North Carolina in 2009 and began letting the Lord heal my heart, I began to also seek out the Lord’s direction and timing in returning to China. As I’ve prayed and sought direction, my heart has been unsettled in a way that I haven’t been able to understand or quite explain. It has made sense to continue down that path to China, but the peace from the Lord hasn’t been there. The more I’ve prayed, the more the Holy Spirit has been prompting me that now is not the time. Stay, wait, pray, and trust. This is what I continue to hear from the Lord over and over. Deciding not to return to China at this time has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. I cannot imagine all of the reasons He would keep me in my American hometown at this time, but I do trust Him and His Sovereignty over my life, so for now I will stay, serve Him here, wait on Him, and trust Him with all parts of my life.

I'm Back..With a Reason to Blog

So I decided to try and pick blogging back up for a season. The Lord is really impressing some things on my heart and opening my eyes up even wider and so here I am to share! I almost started an entirely new blog but decided I'd just pick right up where I am (even with a 2 year lapse and only a few blog posts in the years before that! ha!)

I hope that as I work out my heart and thoughts here on "paper" that you'll be challanged, encouraged, and able to see a bit more of the Father in your life. That's my sincere prayer for my life and therefore also this blog; that He be honored in what I say/do/write and that others are drawn deeper into Him as a result.

I'm headed to Rwanda and Ethiopia to minister to orphans in a few weeks, and the Lord is definitely doing a work in my heart as He prepares me for this part of the journey. So I'll be back soon (really!) with a few posts to share what He's showing me.