Sunday, August 31, 2008

This Is A Reality . . .

As I said in my last blog, when the herds of goats crossing the highway, the butchers shop under the tree, the woman carrying 5 watermelons on her head and mass of motorbikes weaving in between all of it becomes normal, it's easy to forget that I am living in Africa. It's when I see first hand people who have survived trials that I will never enduring during my life time is when I am reminded that I am living in Africa.

This is a place of so much contrast. A place of beauty, culture, love, family and community, but also a place of so much need, poverty, sickness, sadness, loneliness, abandonment and fear. Over the past few days, God has been painting a picture of this contrast in my heart. I have had the privilege of hearing and seeing the stories of Nigerians around me, and God has broken my heart for them. I will do my best to put these stories and feelings on paper, but nothing I write will truly convey what these children of God have actually experienced.

Think back to when you were 15 or 16 years old. The middle of high school, around the time of drivers licenses, football games, school dances and maybe a small part-time job at the local coffee shop. Family and friends, teachers, and coaches to support and encourage you. Dreams maybe of traveling to the world, attending university, developing a career and having a family. Now instead imagine your life like this. . .

You have spent your whole life growing up alongside your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and parents on your family compound in Sierra Leone. Suddenly due to a military uprising in your country you are forced to flee Sierra Leone, most likely on foot. You become separated from your entire family and find yourself alone as a refugee in a foreign land. Several months pass by as you struggle to survive, and eventually you find yourself in Nigeria. You pick up odd jobs anywhere you can just to have enough food to survive. Eventually a man much older than you asks you to marry him. Realizing that marriage would mean a place to live and some stability for your life you agree. Soon after your marriage, you become pregnant. Your husband decides that he no longer wants anything to do with you, so he leaves. Thankfully your in-laws let you stay with them for a few months, but soon, blind to the fact that you could give birth at any moment they get tired of providing for you and kick you out of the house.

Thankfully a neighboring family realizes that you could give birth at any moment, and takes you in. A few days later your little boy is born. The family allows you to stay with them for about 6 months while you and your child regain strength, but soon they cannot provide for you any more so they kick you out of their house. With no one and no where to go, you spend your days begging on the streets. You and your child become more and more weak with hunger and sickness. Eventually a someone seeing your physical state, takes pity on you and takes you to a local television station hoping the television station will do a story on you and that someone will help you.

This is the true story of a young woman probably the age of 18 or 19 named Sophie. Thankfully instead of the television station doing a story on her, they brought her and her son Matthew to Gidan Bege. When she first arrived at Gidan Bege, everyone thought she was going to die because she was so sick. Within hours of arriving at Gidan Bege, Sophie was taken to the hospital. She stayed there for several days while she was treated for typhoid among many other things. While at the hospital, it was also discovered that Sophie is HIV positive.

Sophie and her son Matthew have been taken in by another ministry called the Mashiah foundation. Mashiah ministers to HIV positive women and their children. The ministry provides housing food and medical care as well as schooling for the children. While the children are at school, the women attend classes that teach them how to sew and quilt. Eventually the women can sell their projects in the Mashiah store and begin to earn their own income and provide for their families.

What a life so different from what many of us have experienced. When I heard Sophie and Matthew’s story my heart was broken. Although I know we all experience pain and suffering no matter what country we are from, and I know that pain and suffering is difficult no matter what form it comes in, it is difficult to imagine a life like Sophie and Matthew’s.

Praise the Lord that he can redeem stories such as Sophie and Matthew’s story. God is so much bigger than all of our pain and suffering and he can bring redemption to each of our lives if we just give him the chance.

“He changes rivers into a wilderness, and springs of water into a thirsty ground;
A fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.
He changes a wilderness into a pool of water, and a dry land into springs of water;
And there He makes the hungry to dwell, so that they may establish an inhabited city.”
-Psalm 107:33-36

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thrill In Arrivals Part 2 . . .

Yesterday we took three more boys home to be reconciled with their families. It was quite the adventure seeing as it is the height of the rainy season and a few of these boys lived in the bush! When I say the bush, we are taking, WAY out in the middle of nowhere! One of the boys, Fidelis, lives so far off the main road, that we had to buy him a bike so that he could get to school . . . Praise the Lord we didn't have any car trouble, and didn't get stuck in the mud as we drove though a HUGE rain, wind, hail, thunder and lightening storm . . . It was an adventure to say the least, but a fun one! Uncle Alex and Uncle Aday kept us laughing the whole time! They are just like big kids themselves! Here are a few pictures from our adventure . . .

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thrill In Arrivals

I have just passed my two month mark here in Nigeria. It is strange to reflect on my time spent here so far because in some ways it feels like I have always been here. The sounds, smells, tastes and sights are no longer new, but are now a normal part of my everyday life and a normal part of me. Yet, in other ways I am still overwhelmed by new experiences and feel like I have just arrived in this strange foreign land. Because so much of the daily life in Nigeria has become normal, it's easy to forget that I am living in Africa working with orphans, but today was not one of those days. Today was a day when I was reminded of how different my life here is from my life at home.

As I have mentioned before, a goal of City Ministries is to reconcile as many children as possible back into their families. Although the ministry care centers are great and provide in many cases better food, clothing and schooling for the children than they may be able to receive at home, nothing can replace the love and support of a family. So after a time of discipleship in the ministry, if children have a family to be reconciled with, the ministry will check out the family situation, meet with the family members several times and work towards sending the children back home.

Today, I had the opportunity to go along with Nicky and Pastor Jege as we took five boys home to be reconciled with their families. Although the whole day was filled with wonderful moments, watching mothers being united with their sons after 2, 3, and even 4 years, neighborhood friends being reunited with their playmates, sisters having a big brother again, or aunties having a nephew again, I was struck mostly by our last stop, at Pam's house.

Pam has been in the ministry for two years now. His mother brought him to Gidan Bege after he suddenly began stealing from his family, neighbors and friends surrounding the time of his father's death. As a result of his stealing, he couldn't live at home because his community wouldn't accept him any more. After being cared for and discipled by the ministry, Pam is now a kind, responsible young boy who is at the top of his class in school. After a few visits with his family earlier in the year, the ministry decided that it was time for Pam to be reconciled with his family.

Although Pam was emotional and has a lot of fears about going back to his family, he couldn't help but smile when his auntie came running out yelling his name the moment we arrived at his house this afternoon. We waited for his mother to arrive home from church while we talked with Pam's aunt and uncle, and his younger brothers and sisters played outside. When his mother arrived and came in to greet us, I was overwhelmed by her thankfulness. She was on her hands and knees thanking Pastor and Nicky for what they and the ministry had done for her son, Pam. It was incredible. She was so thankful that she had her son back and so thankful that God had provided for him and changed his heart.

There was nothing normal about sitting and watching this woman who was so overcome with joy, who was telling us that she was "the happiest woman on the Earth." What a reminder of God's love for each of us, and what a reminder that it is a gift, blessing and honor to be serving the Lord here in Nigeria.

"To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: 'A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die. So the father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later his younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs. The boy became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding to the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself ' at home even the hired men have food enough to eat and here I am dying of hunger.' I will go home to my father and say "Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man." So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him."
- Luke 15: 11-21

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This is America . . .

I have a few more stories to share with you all . . . hopefully they will make you laugh . . . :)

Monday I headed down to the post office to pick up two packages that had arrived for me!! Thank you so much for the packages!! I have received some fun and wonderful stuff for myself and for the girls! Who knew that ranch salad dressing could taste so wonderful!

Anyways, upon arriving at the post office, I greeted the mail man. He had remembered me from a few weeks ago when I had picked up another package. We were talking for a few minutes when another lady walked up. I greeted her as well, trying to be nice and get on her good side (they don't have to give me my package if they don't want to . . . :). After exchanging the usual Nigerian greetings such as, "How is your work?", "How is your house?", "How is your body?" (the response to all of these is "Lafiya" which means "fine"), the woman looked me up and down and said "How old are you?" I told her I was 25, and she responded with a very controling voice, "Well, you don't look like it." I said "I know, I know, I look much younger than I am, but I am 25." Her next question took me a bit off guard "Are you married?" I responded with "No, I am not married." She quickly asked me "Why not?" I said, "Well, God has not called me to be married yet."
If her questions hadn't caught me off guard her next statement sure did "Well then you should marry my son." After she said that I sort of just stood there, not exactly sure what to say . . . for the next few minutes she proceeded to tell me about her son that he was 22 and that I needed to marry him, she was sort of demanding that I marry him. After a few minutes I finally decided to say, "Well, actually I have a boyfriend back home in America and I don't think he would like it if I married your son." Her response to that was "Well your boyfriend is already engaged to someone else." "Really?! . . . I don't think so" was my surprised response as I tried really hard not to laugh . . . she then spent the next few minutes telling me that my boyfriend was already engaged to someone else and that I needed to marry her son (How she would have any idea that Sean was engaged I'm not exactly sure, but she sure sounded like she knew what she was talking about). After telling her that I was pretty sure that my boyfriend wasn't engaged to someone else since I had just talked to him that morning, she finally stopped trying to convince me that Sean was already engaged to someone else since I had left him back in the states. . . As I was leaving, she reminded me about her son and then said that if I wasn't going to marry her son than I at least needed to invite her and her family to my wedding when my boyfriend and I got married. My response was "Well, we will see." So, Sean you better not be engaged to someone else! :)

As if that post office experience isn't enough, today I headed down to pick up another package and have another funny story. The same man was there today, so we chatted for a few minutes, before another man joined the conversation. He asked me where I was from, so I told him I was from America. He eventually asked me where in America I was from, so I said "Seattle, Washington, in Washington State." People here don't know that Washington state exists, so every time I mention Washington, they immediately say "OH Washington DC I know that place." Then I have to inform them that actually I am not from Washington DC and that Washington State is on the entire other side of the country, usually I end up saying something like it's above California since most people have heard of California . . . so after going through this discussion with the man, he said "Washington DC is the former capital of America". My response was "Yes, Washington DC is our Capital". He then proceeded to explain in a very complicated manner, that actually Washington DC is the FORMER Capital of America and that NOW New York is the capital of America . . . I kept correcting him, because I thought he was asking me a question, but about half way though I realized that he was INFORMING me that New York is the new capital of America, and that Washington DC is the old capital. After trying to explain that Washington DC is still the capital, and him totally not understanding I finally just said, "Oh, yes, wow, great, thank you" and walked away with my package . . . :)

Tired In Africa . . .

Friends and Family,

I'm sorry it has been so long since my last update. We have been BUSY around here, with camp, with hosting our team and getting ready for school, among many other things. I have plenty stories to tell, but I will try to keep it short, and tell most of them through pictures . . .

Boys Camp went very well. Given the fact that we had 71 boys in a small space for a whole week, we had very few problems. The Moody Team did a great job teaching our boys! The boys ate up the attention and the Bible Teaching! We had a wonderful worship team and it was great fun getting to sing and dance along side the boys!

One camp highlight was our Talent Show on Friday night. We had a church band come and play, we had a BBQ and our boys had an opportunity to show off their talents . . . ranging from singing, guitar playing, dribbling a football to putting on dramas describing the Bible lessons! It was great fun to laugh and just be with the boys!

I also had my first experience of a Nigerian swimming pool during camp. We took the boys to a local swimming pool for a camp activity in the afternoons . . . swimming pools in Nigeria are very different from swimming pools in America . . . the water in the pool was GREEN because it hadn't been cleaned in so long! So after saying a quick prayer for my health, I jumped on in realizing that when God calls you to be a missionary, part of your job might be swimming in a green pool in the rain . . . the boys enjoyed it and it was cold, but fun. I was SO thankful for my warm shower at the end of the day! Praise the Lord for that!

God taught me a great deal about serventhood during the week at camp. Since our job consisted mainly of facilitating and organizing camp and the team, we didn't get to do the fun stuff like Bible Studies with the boys. I did have the opportunity to spend a great deal of time peeling potatoes and washing dishes in the kitchen with our wonderful kitchen women. Although it was challenging, being more of an organizer than a participant, it was a humbling experience, and good look at what it means to truly have a servant heart.

We could use prayer for energy and strength for the next few weeks, which are going to be very busy. We have several children moving centers, we are reconciling a few boys, school will be starting, we have a few changes in leadership, we are planning a trip to our outside centers and a camp of our girls all before the end of September . . . crazy, but all good! Thank you all for your support and encouragement!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tuow, Insights, & Amazing Strength

Today was the first day of camp! Boys from our centers in Jos and centers in other villages several hours away came together today, to spend a week learning to love one another and learning to grow deeper in their faith. I am spending the week at our senior boys camp where our short-term team from Chicago is using the theme "Walk Worthy" to teach our boys about six different characteristics that are important to followers of Christ. Today we learned about how to be courageous in our life and our faith. It was a wonderful day. I was able to talk to some new boys, learn some new names, do dishes and I even learned how to cook Nigerian style . . . well sort of. :)

Ever heard of the phrase "Too many cooks in the kitchen"? Well today I was convinced there is no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen, the more the merrier! I was able to spend a few hours in the kitchen today with our amazing cooking staff. These women are not only hilarious, full of faith and joy, but VERY strong! They were making a gigantic pot of tuow tonight (something resembling mashed potatoes in consistency and color), and they let me try and help them stir . . . I was useless . . . I couldn't do it at all . . . I was not strong enough! We all had a good laugh and I handed the large wooden stirring stick back to Rifkatu, a woman much shorter than myself and went back to peeling potatoes! :) I will take some pictures tomorrow! It was quite a sight!

Although camp is exhausting, it is wonderful and I am really enjoying having the opportunity to get to know the boys and the staff on a deeper level. Please keep us all in your prayers!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Things I'm Aquiring

As I have mentioned before, Nicky, the woman I work with is from England. One would naturally assume that because we both speak English that we would be able to communicate and understand one another clearly . . . most of the time this is that case, but on occasion Nicky will say something to me and I will have NO CLUE what she is talking about. For example, when Nicky asked me to please go and open the boot. I stopped and looked at her with a very confused expression. It was then, that she remember that us Americans don't say boot, we stay trunk. I have since been educated that the boot is the trunk and the bonnet is the hood of the car . . . go figure. In addition, when Nicky reminds me to grab my costume, she is not talking about a Halloween costume, she is actually referring to my swimming suit. Likewise, pants are actually underwear, if you are talking about pants you must refer to them as trousers. Tennis shoes are canvas, rubbers are erasers and a vest is actually a tank-top. In British English, the word "bit" replaces the word "like" in American English . . . I am finding myself using the word" bit" a little bit too often now . . . :) So far my favorite British word I have learned thus far is "manky!" "Gross look at that manky toe!" "Gross look at that manky dog" are common ways one would use the word manky. It's a good word . . .

In addition to learning British English I am also learning a bit about British culture. For instance, 4:00pm is tea time . . . Beans on top of toast is a common choice for lunch, along with a jelly and banana sandwich ( I went for peanut butter and bananas . . . ) and baked potatoes are actually called jacket potatoes.
As you can see, I am being well educated in the British ways :) I can't wait until I can go and visit Nicky in England and experience all I am learning. :) I really enjoy working with Nicky, we have a lot of fun together. We often make each other laugh, especially during potentially stressful situations . . . it's always good to have someone with you, so when you see things like three people and two goats on a motorbike you can say, "Hey did you just see that?!?

This is a picture of Joseph's manky toe . . . (a good use of the word)

This is a picture of Joseph . . . His toe is better now . . . he can play football at camp!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Timing, Incomprehension & Answers

This Bible reading for this morning is Luke 6. Part of that reading is the Beatitudes. I flipped back to Matthew 5, so that I could read the whole Sermon on the Mount. God has such amazing timing.

Although foot washing was an amazing and joyful experience yesterday, it did come with it's own set of challenges, the largest being that we could not provide shoes for the whole village and had to turn people away. Having to turn a small child away from a new pair of shoes is no easy task, it's a pair of shoes. I have like ten pairs of shoes, these children are walking around barefoot for lack of one pair of shoes. It was a huge struggle to reconcile the idea within my head and heart that we cannot provide for all of these people. Turning mothers and children away makes you feel guilty and caused a lot of confusion in my head and heart on how as a missionary I could say no to these people. "Aren't we here to love and serve these people?, They have legitimate needs . . ."

When I read the Beatitudes this morning I was reminded that although these people need shoes, what they really need is the love of Christ, and although they might be begging for shoes, what they are truly begging for is love. God will provide for all of our needs, physical and spiritual. It isn't up to us to provide shoes for everyone. God will provide what these people need, we are called to be willing to serve and love.

"God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.

God blessed those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.

God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full.

God blesses those who are merciful, for they Will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs."

Matthew 5:3-10

PS: This is a picture of Isaiah and I holding one week old goats! :)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Teaching in Action

"Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him. . . . After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, 'Do you understand what I was doing? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things-now down them! That is the path of blessing."
- John 13:3-5; 12-17

Today over 100 children at our Gyero Care Center, had their feet washed, were prayed for and received a new pair of socks and shoes. Our short-term team from North Carolina teamed up with a non-profit group called Samartian's Feet, to bring shoes to all of our kids! What a huge blessing! Samartian's Feet ( was created by a Nigerian man who came to know Christ after a missionary gave him a pair of shoes. He now travels around the World bringing shoes and the gift of Christ to children.

Words cannot describe the joy of praying over a child and watching their face light up when they put their new shoes and socks on! The dances, laughter, smiles and hugs are something that you can only experience first hand. Instead of writing a long blog tonight, I will post many pictures that I think better describe what happened today in Gyero. Praise the Lord!

"Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me."

-Psalm 51:10

Friday, August 1, 2008

Thoughts in Adventures . . .

I am so exhausted. I left the house at 8:30am this morning and didn't arrive home until 9:40pm. It was a crazy, busy, fun day. I am so thankful for Nicky. We are so alike and have SO much fun together! She makes me laugh a lot. One of our girls (little Faith, she is so small, and only 6 years old) ended up in the hospital today. We think it's Malaria, but not exactly sure. We drove all around the city, ran tons of errands, sorted piles of clothes, brought lunch to a sick missionary, among many, many other things. Although it is extremely exhausting I love the adventures that each day brings here. Simple things become so crazy, and you can't leave the house without seeing something that catches your eye as odd, like army men with guns arresting a man on the side of the road, car accidents which make you wonder how the cars could have possibly ended up in the position you saw them in if they were driving on the correct side of the road (with to be honest probably wasn't the case, they were probably driving on the wrong side of the road, the cause of the accident in the first place), there are just too many crazy things to even begin to list. I wish that everyone had an opportunity to experience life like this at least once. It blows your mind. It also shows you how big God is.

Every Friday night the director of City Ministries and his wife have all of the City Ministries missionaries to their house for dinner. Well, tonight is what was called "first Friday". The first Friday of every month, ANY missionary in the area (not just city ministries) is welcomed for dinner and worship. There were over 100 people for dinner tonight. Although it was extremely overwhelming, it was wonderful to sit in the presence of so many people and spend time in prayer in worshiping the Lord. There are so many amazing stories of God's faithfulness. It's amazing what you see God doing when you are in a place where you have no choice but to rely on him for everything . . . in a place where you have to pray ALL the time as you are driving down the street, or walking down the street for that matter. Not that God works more here than he does at home, I think that at home we don't realize our need for him as easily because we have power all the time, our Internet works most of the time. People don't drive the wrong way down the streets. You don't see people with machine guns arresting people on the side of the road. You can grab food or coffee or pretty much anything you would possibly want at any possible time . . . it's easy to not pray and to forget your need for God when you can do and get all those things yourself . . . God works just as much here as he does there, and sometimes it's even more of a challenge to remind yourself of this when you are at home. But tonight it was wonderful to be reminded that God can do it on his own, he just invites us to help him. He is SO much bigger than we are. I am more and more thankful each day that I know Christ. I am so blessed to be able to serve God here in Nigeria, and blessed to serve God at home in Shoreline. I am just thankful that I get to serve him.
The picture is of little Faith who was sick today. Keep her in your prayers. She is doing better, and after the Dr. visit, we practiced spelling in the car . . . :) She wanted to know how to spell television, among many other things! :)