Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Travels, Toil, and Trust

There are some places that have grabbed my heart and not let go. Rwanda was one of them. After 4 years away, it was such a blessing to return to visit last week. Many things had changed: new buildings built, roads paved, streetlights installed, children grown…and yet it is the same too.  There were still goats running across the road in front of traffic, the avocados were still huge and ridiculously cheap, and the land of a thousand hills was breathtakingly beautiful!

But the best part of all was seeing old friends.

 “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” ~1 Corinthians 1:4 

How true this verse is of my dear friends/family in Rwanda. I truly thank the Lord for them! Getting to visit reminded me of what an incredible gift my two years there was. Besides catching up, it was lovely to spend time together in the Word and in prayer and just talking about what God has done. Such a sweet time!

Rwanda isn’t the only place I visited since my last blog post.  As most things shut down in South Africa during the holidays, including Thembalethu, I was able to spend Christmas through the New Year in New Zealand visiting friends and attending a Bible conference and exploring a bit.

With Heather and Peter at Purakaunui Falls 
That's me, standing behind Kitekite Falls

Being in New Zealand was such a blessing of fellowship and encouragement and I returned to South Africa refreshed and very thankful for the time. The author of Hebrews really knew what he was talking about when he said, “Encourage one another daily...” ~Hebrews 3:13

I was especially thankful for the refreshment, because things here have been busy, with trainings galore. These have included putting on computer training at a local primary school, teaching tomato trellising to Thembalethu’s gardener, and tomato sauce making to Thembalethu’s cooks, hosting another all day training for preschool teachers, doing lots of math tutoring, and preparing for and facilitating training sessions for new group of Peace Corps Volunteers. (There were lots of monkeys at the Peace Corps training site, which was fun!) 

Recent days have also included school uniform distribution, strategic planning for Thembalethu’s OVC program, leading a one on one Bible Study with a neighbor, and making the most of peach season with my host family, picking, pealing, canning, drying, and eating peaches from the trees that are growing in abundance all around our houses.

So, life has been busy, and I know the coming days and months will be busy too.  But when I left Rwanda I kept thinking of one word, courage. I’d forgotten how often I’d heard that word (said with French pronunciation) on my daily morning runs in Kibungo. As I ran one morning, I was quickly reminded as people called out “Courage!” as I went past. It is said as an encouragement, meaning keep going, don’t give up. As I think about my remaining time in South Africa, it’s a perfect word. It echoes in my head in combination with Hebrews 12: 1 & 2 - reminding me to keep on going, to run with endurance, and to keep my eyes on Christ. These verses are life words! I’m so thankful that in the Lord, we have the greatest reason of all for courage. He is with us!

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9

I know this isn’t the clearest picture, but it was courage in action!  I took it in Rwanda and there is a man way up in that tree, cutting down branches for firewood. He had no harness and held on with one hand while he hacked with the other. It seemed like a crazy thing to do, but he didn’t fall and he accomplished his goal!  

So, as I think about the coming months, I want to be brave, to take risks, and to accomplish goals. But most of all, I want to cling tightly to the tree-the cross of Christ, for it’s only in Him that I can accomplish anything worthwhile.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What Are You Doing?

“What are you doing?” How often I hear these words! It turns out many of the things I love to do aren’t considered normal… picking wildflowers on the mountain, reading even though I’m not in school, stopping while walking just to look at the beauty around me.  

And, you know, I’ve asked those words of myself a few times recently. One example was while I ushered goats back outside, after hearing a strange noise in the hall and discovering that 3 goats had walked right up the steps and into my office building!
Goats are much cuter outside!

Another time I asked that question was when I ended up doing minor surgery on a chicken’s foot with an ingrown wire! I never know what my days will bring!

A Leatherman is such a useful thing!

Last week I heard those words asked again. As is often the case, a few of the neighbor kids accompanied me on a run. We stopped at a big tree (which we usually race to) and I decided to climb the tree. Of course, they wanted to climb too. Once we were all up in the tree, we started singing “Deep and Wide.” We were having such a good time that we didn’t even notice two highschool boys walk up and stand under the tree. One of them asked, “What are you doing?” I simply answered, “We climbed the tree and now we are singing songs about Jesus” as if it was a very normal thing, totally to be expected. Well, we all started laughing and after a while the boys walked away and we kept right on singing in the tree. I can imagine we were about the last thing they would have expected to see on their way home that day, but at least we made them laugh! And the next 2 days, we climbed the tree again…and now it seems it is quite a “normal” thing that we might be found singing in a tree. J.

Climbing that tree reminded me of Zaccheus, who also climbed a tree.  (Luke 19:1-10) What an encouraging passage! I’m touched by Zaccheus’ motivation to climb: to see Jesus! I want to live so as to never stop “climbing trees" - to never stop doing things that help me see Jesus.  I want to be looking for Him and to be asking, “Lord, what are you doing?” not just out of curiosity, but to be a part of it.  And I want to live in a way to encourage others to look for Him too.

“Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days - you would not believe if you were told." ~Habakkuk 1:5

So climbing with the kids was not only fun, but also a good reminder for me.  But, now I’m praying that no one will fall and break anything because it’s a long way from here to the nearest hospital (plus it took 1 ½ hours for an ambulance to come when my host sister went into labor a few weeks ago).  Thankfully, so far, I have no tree injuries to report. And I do have a beautiful new little host nephew who is doing well.

Some of the other happenings since the last blog post:

Hosting a training for local preschool teachers, lots of hands on learning!

Helping the Department of Agriculture with seed distribution

Coordinating a 3 day VBS at Tembalethu, with the help of YWAM. We had 85 kids come the 3rd day!
Just a heads up, in case you are looking for me, I'm not in this picture

Making stuff:
Gingerbread houses

Dandelion necklaces

 Hats out of balloons 

and teaching Jenga to people of all ages

So, it's been a fun and busy month, but not so busy too...I'm still getting plenty of time to read on my own and with friends!

Just finished this book, so inspiring! 
Very thankful to get to be a part of what God is doing here and looking forward to what He is going to do in the coming months! 

"He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it." ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Grace Filled Two Months

The last two months have been full. Filled with learning, adventures, and grace. The days have flown by and I’m afraid it’s been a bit too long since the last update, so there’s a lot to share. Feel free to just look at the pictures.

Some of the happenings from the past couple months include:
  • Exploring the local mountains. Two beautiful hikes in the Drakensberg Mountains, one to a waterfall and one to marble pools.


  • Planning and organizing a holiday kids club. This was pretty much 2 full days of VBS, with singing, crafts, Bible stories, games, lunch, memory verses and lots of fun.

This is me with about 1/2 the kids who came. They are holding paper boats they made.

They loved throwing water balloons!
  • Putting out a wild fire. The picture I have isn’t great, but the feat we accomplished was! 
Together with my host family, we battled a fire that was coming down the hill towards our houses, in the middle of the night.  No fire department to call and no hoses at all, we beat out the fire with wet burlap sacks soaked in buckets of water we carried. It was an extremely hot, long, smoky battle and we were filthy afterwards…but oh how we rejoiced when it was out. The time really helped us bond too, we’ve literally been through fire together and came out stronger for it. Here are a few pics of some of the family:

With host mom (Thandi) and her grandson Ayabonga
Ayabonga with Nokubonga, my host cousin (left) and Thando, my host sister (right)
  • Having neighbor kids over to play games and read stories. The word is out that I have cards and books.  It’s always fun to have guests. 
  • Planning and putting on a camp for some of the children my organization serves. This camp was the highlight of my time so far. It is the project I worked the hardest on and was the most rewarding too.  The kids who came had the opportunity to play and swim and do challenge course activities…and just be kids, leaving behind some of the challenges of everyday life. But they also got time to talk about the challenges they share in common, and learn about resilience, goal setting, and how we can have hope, even in the midst of very hard things. I’m so glad that hope isn’t just a word, but is found in Christ. Some really good conversations were had, kids opened up, the Good News was shared, plus we sang and prayed, and danced and laughed and had oh so much fun. 

Another blessing was that with all the busyness of camp, my quite time was a bit earlier than normal, accompanied by a beautiful sunrise.

  • Joining two families for a camping trip in a local game park.  We saw giraffes right as we were driving into the park, then lots of ostriches, zebras, warthogs and different types of antelope. In the morning just a little ways from our tents were two rhinos and a herd of zebras.  Blessed!

That’s a glimpse at what my last few months have looked like.  I really love it here and it’s been so neat to be a part of what the Lord is doing and have time to enjoy the beauty of His creation. But I do miss home too. A few weeks back I attended training in a nearby city. While there, I went for a walk and was thinking about how I was missing fall and the beauty of the changing autumn leaves. And then, right before me, was a giant jacaranda tree in full bloom. I'd been missing colorful trees without even thinking to hope to see them. And when I wasn't expecting it at all, there was a gift beauty. Pure grace.

So I stood right there among the falling flowers and prayed a thank you prayer for how God showers down blessings and makes beautiful things. I was reminded that sometimes beauty comes when and where we least expect it, but how that can make it all that much sweeter. And when I returned to my village, I starting looking and discovered there are jacaranda trees here too.   How had I missed them before!

I want to live with open eyes, to see His blessings and recognize them. To recognize that every day is grace - a free gift I don’t deserve and to remember that it is grace to get to share about the very greatest Gift (Ephesians 3: 8).

And oh how gracious God is to this one who has a hard time remembering and sometimes forgets to look...the reminders are right in the names I have been given. The name Anna means “grace” in Hebrew. And the Zulu name I was given my very first week here, is “Mbali”, which means flower.  And my camp name from a few years back is “Forget-me-not”. So this is a reminder to myself, whenever I see flowers, whether gracing a tree, a field, or a garden, remember God’s great grace. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” ~ Isaiah 40:8

And one more peak into that enduring Word says:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” ~ Ephesians 2: 8-10

Walking in and by His grace!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two Weeks and Thankful

So where exactly am I now? Well, it’s a little hard to point it out on a map.  I’m living and working in the Amangwe Tribal Area, located in the Loskop area of KwaZulu-Natal province. The roads here don’t have names, the few shops are mostly out of everything, but the people are lovely, and I’m loving it!

Here’s what I see in the road every morning on my walk to work:

And here’s where I work:

In the last two weeks at work, I’ve spent time in the garden, visited some local schools, gone with a nurse to visit people living with HIV and AIDS, starting planning for the camp we’ll put on in October, worked on learning Zulu, and spent a lot of time with OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) teaching games and songs, learning names that are difficult to say, and building relationships. It’s been a good first two weeks and I’ve been reminded again and again that “children are a gift from God…” Pslam 127:3. While these children aren’t mine, I feel so blessed that I get to be a part of their lives!  Actually, I feel a bit like I’ve been adopted by them as the new kid in the neighborhood.

While they just learned Ultimate Frisbee, they love it and want to play all the time. We have to stop the games for cows sometimes though.

I’m also very thankful for the pace of life here. Having left a very busy season of life in the States, the slower pace is so refreshing.

From a hike last weekend

A verse I’ve been hanging on to is Acts 3: 19 “…the times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord.”  How good to know that even when the pace isn’t slower, refreshment come from time with Him. No matter how busy life gets, or what's going on, He is the Source!