Friday, August 22, 2014

Slow to Speak

Our first couple days were spent hauling bricks up a mountain.  (I could hardly live through it.  I have not had the strength to write about it yet.)  They were being gathered for a two houses being built.  Clearly we had no idea what we were doing so we got stuck with the grunt work.  It was like being a kid all over again. :)

IMG_0046.JPGOn the third day of hauling we rotated our team in and out, 3-4 at a time, to actually spend a few minutes building the house.  We would stick around long enough to get a few pictures and fling a little mud.  I was thrilled to hear it was my turn.  I entered the home and was taking in all the directions.  They line the brick where it goes and I fling mud all around it to form the glue that will hold it in place.  I was given a pile of freshly made mud and away I went.  

Throwing mud seemed to be a talent of mine and I ran out of my pile quickly.  I looked around and asked my teammates if they knew where I could get more mud.  No one knew.  I looked for a translator to ask them but could not find one.  Finally the Batwa man that was 12 inches from my face, just on the other side of the brick, said, “It is over there.  They are making more.”  
I stood straight up and could feel my eyes get HUGE.  I said, “You speak English!!!”  He shyly smiled and waved me off.   I said, “No, I am on to you!  You speak English!”  He told me he could speak a little.  His name was Damien and he had spent a couple years during the genocide in a refugee camp in Kenya.  They spoke mostly English so he had to learn quickly.  

I gave him a hard time about holding out on us and secretly listening in on our conversations.  He blushed a bit but you could tell he was quite proud to be able to communicate.    Longin had been the translator at the house but was called off for the moment.  I told Damien, “You are our translator now!”  He was a bit intimidated but up for the challenge.  
Damien (in white shirt)

I wondered why he kept silent for so long.  Was he intimidated, meek, humble, unsure?  Regardless of what it was, I knew I could learn from him.  He spent several days in silence only breaking the silence when he was able to help.  

Quick to listen and slow to speak.  (James 1:19)  

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all (Mom)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

African Surprise

I am very detail oriented.  That means spontaneity is not my specialty.  This is one reason Ken is so good for me.  He is super fun and has never cared about a single detail in his life.  We are a perfect mix of extreme opposites!  Because of my deep love for details, I in turn do not like surprises.   I want to know what to expect at all times so I can plan and prepare for every part.

When doing missions, this is not always a good trait.  Flexibility is vital.  So, I just plan for being flexible.  Before I go, I try to think of everything that may come up and try to be prepared for that. I prepare a devotion, testimony, talk on youth ministry, a random Bible lesson, I ALWAYS pack a deck of cards and spoons, and a few other things - just in case!  
Me, Nicola. Lisa, Jay

On the Wednesday we were in the village, Nicola (the missionary there) told me we were going to need someone who was willing to preach the sermon on the following Sunday.  Normally that would be our pastor, Jay.  However, this year he and a couple of the other guys were leaving early to go see some other work in another part of Africa so he would not be available.  Evidently there was a vote while I was not around and Jay told me I was nominated.  

Certainly something I had prepared would work, right?  They wanted me to speak for about 20-30 minutes.  I teach almost every Sunday for longer than that, so this was not too intimidating.  The rest of the week I mulled over some thoughts and had a decent outline.  I was feeling pretty confident.  

Saturday evening came.  We were getting ready for dinner when I saw Nicola walking rather briskly toward me.  She had a smirk on her face.  I was not sure if this was good news or bad news for me.  “I have a little African surprise for you.”  I quickly determined it was bad news for me.  “Instead of preaching for 20-30 minutes, we need you to preach for an hour.”

The Drummers of Burundi
Nothing could have prepared me for that!  Not only did I need to double or triple my talk, it was already Saturday night.  We were on our way to dinner and following that was our celebration.  Because I was there last year, I knew that meant the rest of the evening was filled with the drummers performance, a time for thank you gifts and speeches, and fellowship with all the translators.  It would be 9 or 10 at night before I would be able to sit down and figure out what in the world I was going to do for the next morning.  

My original plan was to talk to them about the church being missional.  I was going to make Jay proud for sure!  Once I found out about this “African surprise”, I quickly changed gears and went middle school on them.  I spend a lot of my time and energy talking to our middle schoolers about having a genuine life-altering relationship with Jesus.  You know, a relationship instead of a religion.  

Too many people that attend church treat it as another activity in their busy lives.  It is like Jesus is another category or facet of who they are.  Work, family, God, friends, hobbies, etc.  Really, if we are honest, if we take a very hard look at our lives, many of us would have to say that our lives are still lived to serve ourselves instead of God.  We are kind because it makes us feel good.  We are giving because it makes us look good.  Not everyone!  Just many.  

If you claim to follow Jesus, it changes everything.  Everything I do, everything I think, everything I say, every choice I make.  Everything is centered on God.  My life is not my own.  I died to myself.  Living for myself; what makes me happy and what makes me feel good, is no longer relevant.  The old person that I was is gone.  “I no longer live but Christ lives in me.”  It is not that I am just a good and moral person.  Not just that I contribute to society.  Not just that I am a loving person.  The only thing I desire to do is to help make an invisible God visible.  Love God and love others.  Everything I do runs through that filter.

Preaching Sunday Morning
I wish I could say I am that person.  I try but am clearly a work in progress.  We all are.  However, this should be who we are striving to become.  The world has more than enough moral people who are kind and loving when it is easy and comfortable.  What we need are people who choose to love the unlovable, accept the unaccepted, and care for the forgotten.  People who give when it is not expected, serve when it is not noticed, give time when we don’t have it, and extend grace to those who don’t deserve it.  We need people that love because He first loved them.  People that don’t live a life where God is part of it but live a life where God is all of it.  

This is my heart beat.  This is what I want for my life, my children, my students, and it is what I asked of our African friends that Sunday morning.  I was not as articulate as I wished I had been.  It is hard to speak using a translator.  You have to speak in sentences instead of thoughts.  But, I went on for about 45 minutes so hopefully my heart was heard.  I am pretty sure the other 15 minutes they had to fill was spent cleaning up the mess I made.  But, I made it through. 

Lord, may I be who you intended me to be.  Help me to get out of the way so that You can be seen.  Thank you for the grace You give me when I do not represent You well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"You Again?!"

Each person on the team for Africa was chosen because of what Pastor Jay would call their “skill set”.  I found it funny that I could never get him to actually name what mine was.  We did a lot of things that week and I can now tell you what my skill set is not!  (That is another post!)  

IMG_0128.JPG I suppose the fact that I am one of the few people who does not fear public speaking qualified as a skill set.  Pastor Jay recruited me and we led a two day pastor training conference.  Many of these pastors traveled several hours to listen to us.  Really!  We had to end our sessions by 3:00 so they had time to get home before dark, 4 hours later!  The back of the chapel filled up with bikes and 45 pastors sat ready to listen.

Only around 60% of the pastors were literate.  Of those, few of them had an education beyond 8th grade.  Their literacy is more survival than it is functional.   That means 40% of the pastors sitting with us could not read or write!  If you can not read the Bible, how are you suppose to be responsible to help others know what it says?  Often the pastor of a church is chosen because they are one of the few that can read or because they need a job.  Since it will put food on the table they sign up.   Needless to say, few are equipped or trained for the job.  

We wanted to teach the training in a way that on the next Sunday morning, even the illiterate would be able to retell the story of Jesus and how God has kept all His promises.  Knowing the ability to take notes or reread a passage was very limited, we decided to teach in story form.  

Jay was everything they had hoped for.  When he got up to speak, it was clear that their long journey had been worth it.  He taught the entire Bible.  Genesis through Revelation.  He focused on the creation, fall, and redemption of man.  They ate up the details, new ideas and thoughts that were being revealed.  It was fun to see people full of such joy and gratitude at the chance to hear God’s message.   

Then there was me.  I really like to be the fun girl.  I want people to be eager to listen to me.   I always hope their hearts will skip a beat when they know I am about to bless them with my wisdom.  I wish, just once, when someone was asked, “who is your favorite speaker?” my name would be mentioned.  A girl can dream!  But boy, was I a let down!  

I often felt like the “red headed step child”.   The pastors really wanted what Jay was offering, but when I got up, I saw a room full of looks like, “really, you again?!”  Far from what a speaker dreams of.   Although I thought of myself as a vital part of the learning (and remembering) process, to them I was what they had to endure to get back to Jay.  I was recap girl.  It was good that I strongly believed in what God had asked me to do or I would have called in sick for day 2.


We split the Bible into 8 sessions.  While Jay was telling the story of the Bible, I would frantically work to write a very abbreviated and succinct version of the session Jay had just taught.   When it was my turn to speak, I would involve the pastors in retelling my version of the story.  I would say, “In the beginning, God created the …” and they would say, “heavens and earth” and so on.  I then asked them to turn and tell the story, as we just retold it, to someone near them.  

Even though I was not their all time favorite speaker, by the time I was done with them they had heard the story, helped me retell the story, told someone else the story, and listened one more time to the story from another pastor.   If they did not have it down by then, there was not much more I could do!  I would then follow up with questions to try and help them apply what they learned to their everyday lives.  I would sit down.  Jay would speak again.  When he was done I would get back up getting more looks of disappointment.  This went on for 8 sessions!

It was humbling. I guess we are not always called to be the favorite. Not all the roles in God's plan are glamorous. Yet, just being part of God's plan is enough. I have joy knowing I was allowed a small role in helping His story be passed on to more generations. That is also very humbling,

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Batwa

Many of you have asked questions about the people of Bugenyzi. It occurred to me that in my eagerness to tell their story, I am telling you about people you have never met.  So without further ado, it is my incredible honor and privilege to introduce you to the Batwa!

Burundi is a small country in central Africa.  You may have heard of Rwanda because of the genocide.  Burundi is right below that.  It is sandwiched in between the Congo and Tanzania.  It is about the size of Maryland and has a population of around 10.8 million.  It is one of the five poorest countries in the world and certainly the hungriest.  There are 17 provinces which are the equivalent of states.  Bujumbura is the largest city and also the capital.  
There are three tribes.  Tutsi, Hutu, and Batwa.  

Burundi has been plagued with war.  There were 2 major genocides.  One in 1972 where the Hutu’s were targeted and one in 1993 where the Tutsi’s were the target.  However, civil war spanned over 30 years ending in 2009, killing about half a million people.

We spend some time in Bujumbura because that is where the organization we work with is based. They are Harvest for Christ  (  But, what we really go for is 4 hours up a mountain in the province of Karusi, the village (town) is Bugenyuzi.  There is a community of Batwa there that we serve and have fallen in love with.

The Batwa were the first tribe in the Burundi area.  Traditionally, they were hunters and gathers for the king and were known for moving around.  They would build a temporary hut for shelter until they did what they needed in that area and move on to hunt elsewhere, build a hut then move on again.  

Hutu and Tutsi began to settle in the area.  But unlike the Batwa, they would build with the intention of staying and cultivating the land.  As more people immigrated, forests were destroyed and turned into farmland and pastures.  This made it hard for Batwa to do their jobs.  (90% of the land is now farmland and pastures.)  The need for and dependency upon the Batwa became less and less.  Meanwhile the Tutsi and Hutu were creating self sustaining farmlands and livestock.  

100_8400.JPG Less people looked to hire the Batwa to hunt for them as the land in which they could hunt was becoming obsolete.  The Batwa became more dependant upon their women to provide through making and selling pottery.   Unfortunately, cheap mass production of products led to plastic replacing pottery.  The pots became unnecessary.  The Batwa were then forced into other jobs that would provide quick money for food such as day laborers or brick makers.   The few that were still able to hunt hit their biggest obstacle as hunting became illegal in an effort to protect what was left of the rainforests.   

As the Batwa became poorer and more desperate, they would eat anything they could find and their clothing became filthy and tattered.  They began to be viewed as unclean, repulsive, and uncivilized.  While the other tribes could afford to build brick homes the Batwa could not afford the upgrade.  This created others to see them as living in the wild like the animals. They became shunned, despised, and worthless.  

Batwa were stagnant while the other tribes progressed.  Hutu and Tutsi families were given birth certificates, identity cards, and medical cards that all associated them with the country.  Without these things the Batwa had no way of owning land, getting medical help,or even being counted in the Census.  They became jungle people without a jungle.

IMG_0035.JPG To this day, they are taken advantage of.  They will work all day making bricks (around 200 a day) and be paid 50 cents or a few bananas.  Since they have no way of legal defense, they are an easy target for their land to be stolen and vulnerable to much violence.  Even for those that know education is vital to their future, it is either too far away, too expensive, or the family can not afford to lose one of their workers.  For the lucky few that find education a possibility, often they drop out after a couple years because of hunger.

It’s a hopeless spot to find yourself unable to live as you have traditionally yet modern society is unattainable.  

100_8520.JPG100_8473.JPG When we look in the eyes of the Batwa we see something different.  We encounter people who are kind, hospitable, loving, humble, hard working, committed, tender, sweet, and valuable.  We see people who need an advocate.  They have a purpose and were created on purpose by a God who loves them and made them in His image.   People who deserve to meet the God who declares them equal and worthy.  To meet a Jesus who died for them.


So we go.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Church Body

      We arrived in the city (Bujumbura) on Friday evening.  Saturday was filled with rest, sightseeing and a somewhat violent game spoons.  Sunday morning at breakfast we were given 2 warnings about church.  First that it was going to be 3 hours and include 2 sermons.  Second, someone from the church had died the night before so church would be a bit different.

      I don’t know much, but I got the idea that the man was not necessarily pronounced dead at the hospital, sent to a morgue, and waiting at the funeral home as we would do here.  The pastor had spend most of the night literally taking the body to various places to do whatever it was that was needed.   And now, we were being warned about what would happen in the service.

IMG_0012.JPG       Church was in fact very different than it is here.  I certainly do not want to put anyone down and our talents all come in different areas, but lets just say next time you see your worship leader, give them a hug!  It was basically 2 complete services with an intermission in the middle.  We had the first set of worship songs and a sermon.  Intermission included some stretches, blessing the people outside the building by chanting and pushing air toward them in every direction, and a lively dance by the pastor.  Then, the second half began with Jay giving greetings from America and the Chapel, it had some special music and a second sermon.  So far so good.  It did not seem too different because of the death.  

IMG_0013.JPG       We were in the last stages of the second half singing another round of worship songs when the unthinkable happened.  I know we were warned but I really feel we needed a bit more prep for what came next.  While singing, a couple guys paraded a body down the middle aisle across the front and around into a room to the side of the church.  It took everything in my being to not have my eyes pop out of my head and stare.  No casket.  No warning.  And no one else was phased.  All I could think was, “Keep your eyes forward.  Pretend this is normal.  What happens in Africa stays in Africa.”  The service ended with a prayer for the family who lost their loved one.

      After church we did the white mans parade.  (AKA boarded the bus.  This always seemed funny to me.  No one else seemed to drive anywhere.  Just us.  So, watching all the white folks file into the bus to go do whatever white people do, was always a spectacle.)   As we headed back to get some lunch everyone in the bus seemed jolly and normal.  However, I was still in shock over seeing this body carried through the church.  I could not help but start to wonder things like, why wasn't he stiffer seeming?  Did they have to do something in order to be sure he wasn't stinky?  Would he stay in that room until they could get a casket?   Was the family present?  How did they stay so calm?  Why doesn't anyone else seem bothered by this?  How can I possibly go eat lunch now?  After what seemed like forever, Paul (bless his heart) learned in and whispered to me, “Did that just happen?”  

“I know. right?!!!!”

      I looked at Nicola, our fearless leader, and informed her that a little more warning would have been helpful!  She looked a bit confused.  So, Paul asked her what the deal was with the dead body.  Nicola started laughing.  I was thinking that was an odd response but to each his own!  She explained that there is a person who has epilepsy in the church.  They were having a seizure so they were being carried into the next room to be helped and recover.  

A week later we went to the same church. This sweet person had another seizure and was carried once again to the side room. Nicola turned and looked at me with the perfect combination of smirking friend but also that look moms are so good at, "what is wrong with you?!"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What was different this year?

The question I have gotten the most is, “What was different this year than last year?”.  I know I gave away the big answer yesterday, but there is more to tell!  

As I mentioned, the people of Bugenyuzi are different.  The ramifications of them being healthier is huge.  It made me chuckle one night as we had our team debrief.  One member said their favorite part of the day was seeing the moms interact with their babies.  I had noticed this too but for a different reason.  Last year, the moms had very little interaction (that I noticed in the short time we were there) with the children except if it was time to nurse or if the mom wanted to get a photo or a handout.  
typical gathering of  the women last year

It seems a couple things are in play.  First, the moms are not dying.  If you consider last year 3 in 4 moms died in childbirth, then obviously there were not many moms that were able to interact with their children.  Second, the babies are not dying.  There is less need to put up barriers to protect yourself from the devastation of losing a child.  There is freedom to bond.  Astounding when you think about it.

I never saw the women gathered off on their own this year.  They were always among all the others and typically with a baby in tow.
There was certainly a sense of intrigue and reservation last year.  They were skeptical about why we were there and what would happen next.  We did not know how they would receive us or what they would expect of us.  They were watching us and we were watching them.  This year it was clear that we were friends.  We were free to enjoy life together because there was no question of our motives or what our love would cost them.

Our relationship with Harvest for Christ was different.  Last year our relationship was more business.  We were deciding if they were a group we felt we could invest in, trust, and partner with.  They were figuring out the same for us.  We did not know what to expect of or from each other.  This year we are in love with their ministry and we found that they put a lot of confidence in us.  (AKA we came back and they worked us hard!)

IMG_0027.JPG Another big difference was me.  Although 10 days in Africa a year ago did not make me an expert, it did give me a foundation to build on for a return.  This time, I was not shocked by what I saw.  My heart was already broken and I had a year to mull over all the things I wished I had done and asked.  I was not worried about the food, the bugs (ok, maybe a little bit), the weather, clothing, malaria pills, sleeping conditions, showers, translators, pictures, etc.

As much as I hate to admit it and although this was not my heart at the time, last year was probably more about me than it ended up being about them.  I did not mean for it to be.  I chose to go because I felt strongly that God was asking me to go.  I wanted to share His love with people who are not shown any love.  Unfortunately, after I got there, it was suddenly about how I felt, if I would get a shower, how I slept, what I could teach them, what God was teaching me, what I was grateful for, and how my life was forever changed.

I suppose an element of the motivation for this years mission was still about me. It's because of how I feel, my heart is broken and I am absolutely in love with this village, that would prompt me to return.  I guess most of what we do is based on how we feel or what we get out of things.  If we are honest, too little in our lives is actually purely unselfish.  

God can use anyone and I know I am not a savior.  He could send many people in my place to accomplish as much if not more.  Yet, I wanted to be the lucky one that got to go and He seemed to be up for the challenge.  This year, I was aware that my return was more a gift to me than it was to Africa.  So with a concerted effort toward humility, I was glad to bypass much of the culture shock and try to focus less on myself and more on the people I went to serve.  I suppose that is the constant battle and prayer of my life.  More of Him and less of me.

So what was different this year than last year?  Oh, you know, everything.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

My One Story

Unbelievably, I have been home for 2 weeks.   A friend asked me if I had a few minutes to tell her some stories.  "Of course!"  I finally left an hour later.  There is really no way to sit for five minutes and sum up what is going on in Africa and my love for it.  However, among all the smaller stories, there does seem to be a bigger picture that I would love to share.  If I could only tell one story, this would be it.

After a couple days in the city of Bujumbura, we finally traveled up country several hours to our village of Bugenyuzi.  I was like a kid on Christmas morning.  It was all I could do to not squeal aloud.  I had traveled halfway across the world and now I was seconds away from being reunited with the piece of my heart that I had left last year.  
As we passed through villages near ours, others in the bus would ask, "are those the Batwa?"  "No."  "Is that them?"  "No."  Suddenly, Paul and I proclaim at the same time, "There they are!!!!"  I had forgotten how easy they were to spot.  The rags they wear and the dirt on their bodies are a chilling dissemblance.  My heart was doing flips inside me.  A year of waiting.  The bus came to a stop and the beauty of the familiar mountains, huts, and little faces let me know I was at my home away from home.  The crowd of children surrounding the bus started singing, "God is so good" just as we had taught them last year.  Everyone around me seemed to be waiting for directions but I could simply wait no longer!   With tears in my eyes I was the first to step out of the bus.  I gave countless hugs and quickly felt little hands clasping mine.  "Amahoro!  Amahoro!  Amahoro!"  (Peace.  Peace.  Peace.)  As I looked in the eyes of both children and adults I instantly knew, I was in the same place with the same people but everything had changed.  They were healthier.

Copy of 100_8406.JPG
Bebe last year

2014-06-23 17.42.28.jpg
Bebe this year

If I left for home after that moment it would have been worth the trip.  A year ago we walked into a village of people who were dying.  3 in 4 women died in childbirth.  Most children died before turning 5.  This year the story is life.  All your prayers.  All your money.  All your love.  Over the last year, God used it all and packaged it up into the gift of health.   One man said, “Our women are not dying anymore.  If this is all that you do for us, it is enough.”   Thankfully that is not all that God has planned for them.  But isn’t that the way of God, when we see no light at the end, suddenly God shows up and does abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine.