Thursday, August 25, 2016

South Africa 2016

Hello everyone!

Sara and I landed in South Africa on Sunday and it has been great to be back!

Our team is from the US + Canada offices: Will + Kristal (CA) + baby Frances, Frank + Crystal (CA) and Sara (US), Suzette (US) and I (US). it's great to spend time on the ground in Africa, but also with each other - we rarely get to see each other face to face!

Monday was a really easy day. We essentially had the day off to catch up with everyone here at the HUB. Tuesday we went into Somerset with Audrey. Yesterday we went back to Welverdiend, where I did my community stay 3.5 years ago. Today we're going to Siyathuthuka! I'm so excited because they love the same songs I do, so for once I can sing and actually know the lyrics. We're back in Siyathuthuka tomorrow for community prayer, before having some down time. Saturday we leave for Oshoek, where we'll spend one night before going on to Swaziland for three nights. We're all really challenged about what we'll see, but also very excited!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

God's plan

Recently I read a post on the true context of Jeremiah 29:11. You can read the full post here, but the quick gist:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11 [NIV]

what society thinks the verse means:

"God has a plan for me that is good, so clearly this suffering I’m going through will end soon and then my flourishing will begin!"

what the verse actually means:

"...the heart of the verse is “not that we would escape our lot, but that we would learn to thrive” in the midst of it"

I have to admit, I love that! Not that its always easy, but that it is always worth it. God's plans are always better.

I'm sitting in my little apartment with the lights off and windows open, taking in the last sun of the day. I am thankful, grateful and in awe of God's goodness. I am sun-kissed after a weekend away with new friends. I am humbled that in a few weeks I will be reunited with dear friends in South Africa, and meeting new friends in Swaziland. I think I was indecisive for a long time. I didn't know if I was coming or going, and I wasn't really living my life to the fullest. Moving into my own apartment meant committing to living in the here and now for the immediate future. I don't know what lies beyond, but I am firmly rooted in today. Since making a decision, committing to the here and now, I am floored by God's goodness. I am no longer wavering about making a decision and second guessing why God lead me here. Nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed - because I am able to focus on other things. Maybe making a decision has enabled me to look at other things, or maybe it was God's plan all along. Either way, I am grateful to be embracing this season. 

I promise I will write more soon, especially as my next trip gets even closer!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

An honest reminder for all of us

More lessons from sheep! #lessonsforlife #lifeofashepherd

Posted by Ray Carman on Monday, February 1, 2016

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Power of Story

When I returned from Africa in 2013, I had been home six months before I had the chance to meet anyone from Hands US. I remember when I first met Lauren she encouraged me to write a story about my experience. Our time together got busy and the holidays came. I never did write a story.

Of course, I've written so many stories here. But you're probably here because we know each other somehow. We have connections. Lauren encouraged me to write a story for the Hands website, that would be seen by people I may not have personal connections to. Which is great! but kind of overwhelming, too.

I think it was after I returned home from South Africa in May, I was approached by other members of the Comms team to write about my time at Celebrations. I agreed, but oh how I struggled! Writers block of the worst kind! Finally, I just decided to pretend that I was blogging for all of you like any other day. It worked! In July it was published on the Hands US newsroom. Incidentally, I've never been much of a 'behind the scenes' person - but when it comes to Comms, now I am: I wrote the story, put it into the website and formatted it for our newsletter. If you want, you can read the story here.

I remember my first story for the website being a very dramatic. Dealing with my aforementioned writers block, not knowing how to express what I wanted to express, wanting to represent Hands well... so many things! I wrote another story in Zambia and the experience could not have been more different! It was a God moment - there is no other explanation. It was so sad, yet such an amazing day. George often says when he's been out in rural communities, where he tends to see hard circumstances and experience incredibly basic things, that is where he meets Jesus. For the first time, I really think I know what he means.

I scribbled everything I wanted to share on paper at the care point. I didn't want to miss a thing and risk forgetting it. Looking back, I didn't need to worry because that day is as etched into my mind as clear as if I was there right now - but I wanted to be sure to do it justice. I had my small netbook tucked away in my backpack. When we were back in the van, driving back to Lusaka, I pulled it out and typed feverishly away. My back-seat friend (I loved when we hit bumps! he did not!) looked at me, puzzled (though his puzzled expression in regards to me was not uncommon) wondering what on earth I could have to say so much about. He did insist on holding my notes for me so I could just focus on typing though. From there all I had to do was check the word count to make sure it was within target and finesse a few things. Almost as soon as I returned to the US, I sat down and edited it three times to make sure it was just right: honest, yet confidential.

I don't know when it will be published. I didn't tell anyone I had written it. I merely added it to the folder of stories. At the moment, it is not officially on the docket - which is fine. I'm sure it will be posted, and I will be sure to let you know what that happens. Really, it is a simple story about a day I spent with a four year old boy. It is such an ordinary story, yet God opened my heart to allow something extraordinary happen. It's so special to me and if no one ever reads it, that's fine by me - but if you get the chance to read it, I truly hope it touches you in some way.

I think I experienced a hint of mother's love that day, and I know that the little boy stole a piece of my heart!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Return from Zambia

I cannot believe our trip to Zambia was over a month ago - and I cannot believe I'm only sitting down to blog now. yikes! sorry for the delay

I cannot thank you all enough for your prayers. It was truly a blessed trip!

First, on Saturday, I flew to Chicago. Flights from PIT to ORD don't always have the most desirable options, so I spent an hour looking at this:

Exciting, right? After an hour, Korean Air morphed into Virgin Atlantic. And Mikhayla landed, so we were able to hang out in the airport. Later the group driving down from Minnesota would meet with us. But only after we got Chinese in the food court!

We flew from Chicago to London, landing on Sunday, and we had a long layover so...

Our group, minus Jed who had to work, took a 6 hour tour of the city. Here we are outside of the Tower of London. And yes, I'm holding fish and chips! We also saw the Tower Bridge (what people think is London Bridge, but is actually Tower Bridge), Buckingham Palace (this was interesting as there was a bike race that day and made things a bit complicated!), Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral, the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Then, finally, we flew from London to Johannesburg, landing on Monday, and on to Ndola.

I was pleasantly surprised when we landed at the airport and my dear friends Blessings was there to pick us up! We worked together in Kitwe two years ago and it was so good to see him again! Of course, once we got back to Kachele I was reunited with many dear friends. We spent a night at the farm and left Tuesday morning to drive to Lusaka, where we would stay for two weeks. Finally on Wednesday we went to the Chisamba care point. We met the amazing Service Center staff, Care Workers, and of course, the kids! We were split up into groups and went out into the community to go on holy home visits.

Holy home visits are exactly what they sound like. We go into the homes and visit with the families living there. I don't think there are ever two home visits that are exactly alike. Obviously, you start by walking into the community. This always gets me, especially since this was my first visit to Kabwe. I'm sure there are many things similar between the landscape of Kabwe and the landscape of Kitwe, but I am always drawn to the differences. They aren't always things you can identify, but there is something. I wish I could convey exactly what it was like to be walking down those roads: clear sky, bright sun, open spaces just beyond the construction sites. I can't really do it justice. At the first house we went to we met a gogo sitting in her backyard in the shade of a large tree. We (Peter, Donna and I) sat facing the gogo, our backs to the house. There was a very large layer of corncobs off to the right side. The dried kernels would be taken off of the cob, they would then be milled into cornmeal to make nshima, and the cob saved to be burnt later. Corn is both the food and fuel source in these communities. The tree was behind me to the left and in front of it was a makeshift well, surrounded and covered with rocks. They would use the water for washing, etc, but there are only three wells with safe drinking water in the community.

We walked in the community on our way to another house. It was then that we saw something that was new to me: a metal barrel with dried corn husks gathered and sticking out of the top. I asked Peter and he explained that it was a sign that there is alcohol ready. They mash corn and ferment it into a traditional beer that is potent enough, it can supposedly only takes two teaspoons to de-worm you. yikes! Later on, in the following week, we would hear stories of young children going to buy this beer for their fathers/uncles/care givers and admitting to drinking some. The challenges and temptations these children face!

Friday we thanked the care workers for all of their hard work. We let them do crafts we would be doing with the kids the following week, we took their photos and printed out pictures for them to have. (Making a picture frame was one of the crafts. Each person got a picture of themselves to keep - a special treat!) Finally we treated them to a meal. We bought the ingredients, they cooked because #1 they are much better at making nshima and #2 they probably didn't want to take the chance of us making lumpy nshima. We bought chicken and oranges (both are too expensive to have very often when you're feeding 100 children), Coca Cola and Orange Fanta. Let me tell you, they love Orange Fanta! The really special part of it all was when Pam presented them each with a book. Her entire family has been involved with supporting and praying for the community of Chisamba, and she has a wonderful, huge family! Pam invited her family to submit a photo, write a bit about themselves and how they're praying for Chisamba, and she put everything together in books so they could keep them. Can you imagine how amazing that would be to receive? I think about those care workers, and how many difficult days they must have, and I think being able to pull out that book and see pictures of the people that are praying for you and being able to read their stories - it must be such an amazing encouragement!

Our team was together 24/7 but we still set aside time to debrief about what we were experiencing. Our weekend in Zambia, we took a break. Well, maybe minus Jed who was the (un)lucky person who got to drive all the way from Kabwe to Livingstone! He is a trooper! When I was in Zambia in 2013 I didn't do any sightseeing, and four of our group had never been to Africa before, so naturally...

We went to Victoria Falls!!!

Just to clarify, this is the DRY season!

And there are baboons everywhere! One even stole our bag of apples, but a young African stole them back (we did not ask him to!)

While at Victoria Falls, we stopped at the local shops to get some souvenirs. You either have to be prepared to bargain or pay up, which can be challenging if you aren't comfortable and walk into the wrong booth - but I think we were happy with what we got.

And we went on safari. First we drove through a safari park:

And later some of us went on a river safari. I have to say, it met my expectations!

The next morning we went to a church close to where we were staying, before driving back to Lusaka.

Then we had final preparations for our kids camp! Each day we had a skit, a craft, a memory verse, along with songs and games. It was a great time, but it was also very challenging. By this point Prag and her team of youth leaders had come to be with us. They were such a blessing: they could step in to translate and they could comfort the kids in a way we can't with the language barrier. Prag and her team got the older children together and split them into groups where they could pour out their hearts about the challenges they were facing. It's hard to hear these stories, but its important for them to be addressed so they can work through them.

One of our teammates joked that I was loving on a different kid every time he saw me. This isn't entirely true, but I did make a few special connections!

Aren't they BEAUTIFUL?! By the way, in case you're wondering, scroll up to the pictures of children with food. The white stuff is nshima: finely ground cornmeal cooked similarly to grits, but thicker. Some people compare it to mashed potatoes. Everyday at the care point the children get nshima, relish (a vegetable - normally cabbage, pumpkin or rape leaves cut and stewed with oil, salt, onions and tomatoes) and a protein (normally beans, sausage or soya mince. Soya mince is good! its so meat-like some of our team didn't realize what they were eating wasn't meat.) During the kids camp we also fed them breakfast. Normally they only receive one meal a day. Our breakfast was simple: two pieces of bread with either butter or peanut butter and tea. Most of these kids had never had breakfast before. Some of these kids were so full from eating breakfast that they didn't have room for lunch. Talk about perspective!

We had a great time with these kiddos: over 100 came to our camp! It was challenging and heartbreaking and tiring and inspiring and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat!

After the kids camp we went back to Luanshya, to the farm. Half of our group rode back with Jed. The boys and I rode back with Prag and her team on the bus. Typically these buses have a Nigerian movie (or music video!) that they play over and over and over again BUT we lucked out and had not one, but three American movies. About 7 hours later, we made it to Luanshya and got dropped off at the roadside. Literally on the side of the road. The bus pulled over and I told the boys it was our stop. With some disbelief they followed. Once we got off the bus, Laurel gave me this look of protest and asked what I had talked him into.  What can I say? TIA #wheninAfrica Matteo was waiting for us, honestly, not too far down the road and drove us the rest of the way.

Back at the farm we had a braai with the volunteers living at Kachele and I got to soak up more time with my dear friends who live there full time. It was SO good, but far too short!

The next morning I was saying my goodbyes. I literally turned around and standing not more than two feet away from me was Clement! He is another friend I worked with in Kitwe two years ago and I had assumed our paths wouldn't cross. It was a happy coincidence as he needed to be there for a meeting. Not very long after, it was time for us to load up. Bryan from Canada took us and we were able to stop for coffee before heading back to the airport to retrace our steps. This was fun because we had long layovers again, aka we had more time to look in the souvenir shops. This was not fun because I faced 40 more hours of travel time. But by the grace of God, with the help of your prayers, we did it!

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Well, we just had our final team meeting over Skype. We fly on Saturday!!!

God has been SO KIND. As this trip drew near, I felt very uncertain about getting all of my work done, for my job and for Hands US, before I left. As of today, I've done the majority of what I needed to do - and the more time consuming jobs at that! So I just have to tidy a few things up during the next two days of work and I'll be good to go!

And finishing packing. That too.

Saturday morning I'll fly to Chicago. I'm the first one of the group to arrive. Mikhayla should arrive an hour after I do. We've never met in person, but we'll have plenty of time to chat. It will probably be a few more hours before five more of our group arrive. I don't mind. I've spent my fair share of hours lounging in ORD the last two years. I'll be the first to admit that when I went to Africa in 2013 I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't know anyone, I didn't really know what Hands did. There is still so much I still have to learn, but I'm so thankful for all God has done. I've taken more flights in the last 2.5 years than I did in the previous 10. Last July I lost my dad, but this trip to Zambia will be my fourth Hands trip in 11 months. Two trips within the United States and two trips to Africa. I fully believe that this is an example of God's perfect timing. I feel like I'm fulfilling something I was made for.

I have specific memories that I hadn't thought about in quite some time. When I was really little, I remember being in Sunday School hearing a story about the disciples and wondering if I would let go of all of my toys to follow Jesus. (Wrestling with much as a 7 year old can wrestle with God...) Incidentally, this got me in trouble in Sunday School because I was thinking what it would be like to empty my toy chest in order to travel the world with the disciples when the preacher was trying to tell us about his decision to leave the church. (ah, childhood memories...) When I was 14, I asked my parents if I could go on a mission trip to Washington DC. My older brother either couldn't go or wasn't interested and they weren't sure about letting me go. They ultimately decided to let me go but, according to my mom, 'only because its not Africa' I'm not kidding. Famous last words. (Mothers, be VERY careful about what you say to your children. You never know what might come back to haunt you.) Those I thought about when I went to Africa in 2013. Recently, I've been tweaking html code for some emails that the COMMs team has been working on. I remembered a summer, I think I was 13, when my dad encouraged me to take a computer class at the local technology center. A major project was creating our own websites. (The classy was the 90s! I'm pretty sure Windows still had that old school desktop and the brick maze screen savers.) That was the first time I ever used html! 15 years later and I've let go of loads of material possessions because I want to be willing to go anywhere at any time God calls, I have no problem living out of a suitcase, I've been to Africa twice, and I'm on the COMMs team for Hands US. I'd be lying if I said I saw the real significance of any of those memories at the time, but looking back it's so obvious isn't it?! And while I still have major areas of uncertainty in my life, that could easily seem overwhelming, in my work with Hands I am content.

God made us all uniquely. Maybe you don't want to go to Africa, maybe you like your creature comforts. There's nothing wrong with that! But are you living for what God created you for? Have you even stopped to look at the seemingly inconsequential moments in your life? Sometimes those are the times when God was directly guiding you, but because they are so small, we don't even notice!

"This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” -Jeremiah 29:10-14 [NIV]

I know where God is guiding me the next two weeks! Zambia will surely be an unforgettable experience. They are having a power crisis, which you can read about here. Ashley and Mel say power has been out nearly every day for 6-8 hours at Kachele. When we are not at Kachele, which is in Luanshya, we will be staying in Lusaka (the capitol.) Who knows what the power situation will be there. From Lusaka, it is about an hour and twenty minutes to Kabwe. I'll try to update everyone on our time in Zambia but, depending on the power, that could be very difficult. Thank you for your prayers throughout the next two weeks!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Value of 'No'

Well, the time is almost here!!!

We leave for Zambia NEXT SATURDAY!!! Can you believe it? I'm not sure I can!
I finally sat down to update you guys on what is going on. You can check out the prayer requests here and a little information about our trip here.

Can you believe it's July? (the end of July at that!) I just don't know where time has gone... and spending the first two weeks of August in Zambia, celebrating my birthday, and then celebrating one of my dear friend's weddings... Before I know it, August will be gone and it will be fall!

I don't mind necessarily that time is moving so fast, but I have to admit: I'm over-committed. I'm a 'yes' person. Sometimes even when I'm really thinking 'no thank you.' Earlier this year I was part of a ladies Bible study/book study. A recurring theme we discussed was the topic of self-care. Not self-care in a selfish way, but really how we should think of it. As we go through life with coworkers and children and really anyone other than ourselves who does not understand exactly what we mean at every second of the day...we can get a little run down, and dare I say, grouchy. Crabby, frustrated, angry, hangry... *insert your favorite Snickers commercial here* You get the idea. We need to practice self-care because when we get enough sleep and eat actual food that we didn't get in a drive through or from a box, we can react to the world with more grace. At the end of the day when you're emotionally spent, if a cup of tea and a piece of dark chocolate fills you up, then drink some tea and have some chocolate. How we care for ourselves and fill ourselves up impacts how we pour ourselves out to others, and that is important. We talked about the same theme in May during International Office Celebrations in South Africa. We talked about how the way we fall on each other is important. I can't fall on (make an impression on) everyone well every single time, but if I can fall consistently well on one person, and they fall consistently well on one person, and so on, before you know it people have been impacted!

I'm supposed to be on my way to a concert right now. I knew it was risky going to a concert on the last weekend before I leave for Zambia. Like I said, I'm a 'yes' person. And I'm a little dense sometimes, ya know? I like to trudge forward at all costs. Maybe it's all those civil war battlefield visits from my childhood... You know the guy who didn't successfully trudge through the battle got left on the battlefield, but I digress. I have a long list of things I would really like to get done in the next week, plus I still have to go to work like a grown-up. So I went to sleep at a semi-reasonable time last night, and woke up with optimism about all I could get done before the concert. But my body had other plans. I ended up with a terrible, throbbing headache. Because I have mixed degrees of relief when I do get headaches, I opted to stay home from the concert. Who wants to be that person who isn't feeling well, and therefore miserable, at a concert? I didn't want to ruin anyone else's fun. And I didn't want to be stuck at an outdoor concert with 2,000+ people and 8 artists/bands if the headache did persist. So I stayed home to do more quiet activities, including blogging (a very quiet, low-impact activity, eh?)

So I need to learn to be less of a Martha and more of a Mary sometimes. And breath, and take time to enjoy the quiet instead of rushing through life all of the time. I need to learn to value of saying 'no' - not all the time, but at the right times. Sounds like the perfect time to go back to Zambia! Life is so much harder and more challenging in Africa, and yet it is so much simpler. They wrestle with what is in front of them and don't worry about the rest. A lesson I could take to heart.