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:  http://www.brightontheirworld.org/about/Brighton/. 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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uumI-PdeZzY   (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.