What is Coronavirus When…..?

What is coronavirus when rainy season is knocking at your door,

And overnight you now have a river for a floor?

What is coronavirus when you have nowhere dry to lay your head,

 And when there are 8 people stuffed together sleeping in one bed?

What is coronavirus when your stomach churns and growls,

And there is nothing but air and bile inside your bowels?

What is coronavirus when your daughter looks like she is just skin and bones,

And the tension and pain from typhoid are making your son moan?

What is coronavirus when illnesses are perceived as curses of the spiritual realm,

And when the country’s medical system was already woefully overwhelmed?

What is coronavirus when the only way to travel to your job or family is in a cramped city bus,

And when your babies are crying of the heat inside the house and making such a fuss?

What is coronavirus when thieves come at you in the middle of the night with a knife,

And when people jump you on the street for just a bite?

What is coronavirus when you were already afraid that you wouldn’t make it to the next day,

And when you feel there is nothing you can do to keep death’s kiss away?

What is coronavirus when you already haul water from two miles away just to drink,

And when the water [and soap] you have is gone in the time it takes to blink?

What is coronavirus when you know that your government has lied so many times before,

And when you feel like they are using you as nothing more than just a lure?

What is coronavirus when malaria has already stolen your mother, your father, your brother,

And when the tears you cried have long ago been smothered?

What is coronavirus when there is no school to occupy your children’s time,

And when the football field is right there on the other side of the law’s line?

What is coronavirus when they tell you to stay away from large groups,

And when you’ve got 30 or more people living under your roof?

What is coronavirus in a country where truth is usually found through the idea that seeing is believing,

And when the systems are known for nothing more than deceiving?

What is coronavirus when the money you make today is the only thing that keeps hunger at bay,

And they tell you to stay inside for just a couple more days?

Release

Lord, Give me patience during this time. Give me peace. Give me rest for my weary soul and body. Give me wisdom and discernment so I know what to do. Give me boldness and courage to do your will. Give me joy amidst this heavy sorrow. Give me love for my neighbor. Give me a heart to obey, even in times of trial. Give us, and the rest of the world, protection from this pain and suffering. Give me more of you.

How many of us are praying a similar prayer right now?

Before coronavirus and amidst coronavirus, in my prayers, I’ve noticed that I seem to always be asking God for more. I mean, generally speaking, what human being isn’t?? While I think we can all agree the above is a solid list of things that we should not hesitate to ask for (since God Himself calls us to ask for these things), I think there is one key thing missing that needs to come before all the others. You see, I want God to keep adding, adding, adding to my life but rarely do I ask Him to take anything away.

I want patience, but how often do I ask Him to take away my impatience? I want peace, but do I ask Him to take away my anxious thoughts? I want rest, but do I offer my time up to Him? I want to obey, but do I ask Him to take away my rebellious spirit? I want to be loving, but do I ask Him to take away my hard heart? I want wisdom, but do I ask him to take away my pride?

I’ve realized something about myself. I want to take, take, take from God without ever giving anything up. I want to be filled up, without first being emptied. I want to receive, without release.

Release.

This word has been on my mind for months. In January it was on my mind as I was meditating on a word for the new year and coming up with resolutions; the word release was at the heart of it all. In February it came to my mind again as we entered into the season of Lent, generally known in the church as a time of release in which we prepare our hearts for what is to come. In March with the explosion of COVID19, it seemed the whole world was called to ponder and take part in a season of release as well…release of comforts, schedules, and most of all, control.

And now, we are in April and it is the day before Easter. Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus being tortured, hung, and nailed to the wooden cross for our sins, was yesterday. His body was buried and placed in the hollow grave deep beneath the Earth and collectively Creation mourned in sorrow while taking in a deep breath, not knowing exactly if or when the release from death would come.

Thankfully, three days later it did.

All of Creation was released from the grip and sting of Death itself.

We who were prisoners, bound by the chains of sin and powers of darkness, were set free.

It is finished.

Creation exhales.

The battle is won, now what is to come?

As I lift my eyes and hands upwards in prayer and ask for Him to give me more of His spirit, His love, His wisdom, and His peace… God leans in and whispers back down into my ear.

“It is yours already, RELEASE and take hold.”

How can that be? That He who has released me, calls me too to release? Release what?

“Release the bitterness, the fears and anxiety, the jealousy and pride, the insecurities and shame, the self-righteousness, “your rights” and the things you think are owed to you, the need for control, the expectations of your future, the unrealistic standards of perfection, the desire for the temporary pleasures of this world. Release.”

He has surrendered His life for me, but I still must surrender my own to Him.

He has set me free from bondage, but I have to choose freedom for myself.

The chains are surely broken, but I still have to put them down and let go.

It seems like it would be such an easy decision–choose freedom! So why then does Paul need to remind us not to go back to our captors?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Because we are human and our understanding of the world is severely limited. Sometimes, we are like the prisoner who finds out they have been set free, yet meanders back to their cell, reasoning that bondage, because it is familiar, feels safer than the freedom. We cling to our filthy old rags and cold metal chains, afraid to inch out of the darkness, afraid of the light because it is unknown and shows us things outside ourselves. We cling to them, thinking we can keep some of the old and familiar things with us as we walk into the new. We cling to them not believing ourselves to be truly free…not believing ourselves worthy to wear anything other than this. We cling to them thinking they offer us something that He cannot.

And while I am still clinging onto these broken chains and filthy rags, My Father, My Redeemer gently reaches down to help to pry them from my hands, giving me confidence and strength to let go, while offering me something entirely brand new, clean, and beautiful…something priceless and infinitely better, a robe fit for the daughter of The King.

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Take off and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24).

God doesn’t want to just to just put a new robe over old rags, He wants to remove them. God doesn’t want to just add to what we already have, He wants to transform it. God doesn’t just want to make us better people, He wants to make us His people. God doesn’t want us to just have a changed life, He wants to give us a new life.

To receive this amazing gift, we must first have a heart that is willing to release.

Scripture is filled with these calls to release.

In the gospels, a rich man asks what he must do to receive eternal life and Jesus tells him “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor.” Later Jesus reminds the people that “No man can serve two masters…or he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” You must release one.

In the Year of Jubilee (also known as “Lord’s release”) described in Deuteronomy 15, God reminds the people of Israel every 7th year of the importance of releasing their grip on power, property, and people in order to maintain harmony and closeness in their relationships with each other, creation, and with God.

In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus told the crowd and his disciples “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Our prayer can’t just be “more of Him”, it must also be “less of me.”

More of Him, Less of Me.

He has set us FREE, not so that we can return to the yoke of slavery to sin and the flesh or to the rags of self-righteousness under the law or to shame. But, so that we might walk forth boldly out of the darkness, arms raised in surrender and ready to receive, toward the light of the Son, who long ago orchestrated our release by allowing Himself to be bound and tied to the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

His torture for my freedom. His death for my life. His capture and bondage for my release.

It is here, at the foot of the cross and the feet of my Savior, that I am called to my own sort of daily release. A daily release of self. It is here, in the shadow of His earthly body, that I am called to release control and ownership of my own, offering my body instead as living sacrifice and temple for His Spirit to dwell. It is here that I am called to not only release (let go), but to repent of (turn away from) my selfishness, my pride, and my fears that threaten to bind me once again under the yoke of slavery.

It is here that I myself was released, and it is here that I in turn release my self to Him.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection…when Christ defeated the grave and in turn gave us the chance for new life, eternal life.

It was His choice to lay His life down for us. Will we in return choose to lay down our lives for Him?

Liberia and COVID19

How are things in Liberia right now with COVID19??

This is a question that I’ve been getting a lot recently and I’ve struggled back and forth between giving the short version and the long version of the answer. On one hand, I don’t want people to worry about us nor do I want to overwhelm people with a response when I know how much they themselves are going through.

On the other hand, a some people are genuinely curious and want to better understand the nitty gritty details of how this COVID19 crisis is affecting people’s reality in other parts of the world so they can know how to help and pray. I’ve had a lot of positive and truly humbling and awe inspiring responses from people with whom I’ve shared the “long version.”

I also know that many families are looking for resources to be able to share with their kids that help to paint a picture of what life is like in other countries, especially now.  I actually used a lot of the information in this blog in a presentation this past week with the University of Maryland students in the online course that I am still co-teaching and many really appreciated it. Therefore, I’ve decided to share here on our blog, for those who are interested and want to read through the details, about what life in Liberia is like amidst COVID19. As of today, April 6th, 2020, we have 13 confirmed cases total.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list by any means. Also, this is not meant to overwhelm anyone, it’s OK to not read through this if you don’t feel you have the emotional capacity to do so right now (trust me, I’ve been there too). This is not meant to make anyone feel guilty. This is not meant to compare and in doing so invalidate or diminish anyone else’s feelings or present reality. The struggle for everyone IS real. Every single person on the planet is struggling right now in their own way. I understand that and I know that God sees and cares for them ALL. He sees and cares for those who are struggling financially, those who are struggling emotionally, those who are struggling physically, and those who are struggling spiritually with knowing that He is there. He cares and He is holding close the worries and fears of all His children around the world.

This is merely meant to show what life is like here right now. Each country will have their own unique challenges to addressing this virus (political, financial, cultural, etc) and these are simply Liberia’s challenges (as well as a couple noteworthy assets) that will factor into the fight against this COVID19 virus:

I’ve broken all the information down into categories. Just hover over the image to see the category (healthcare, transportation, livelihoods, etc) and then click and scroll down to read the description of the situation underneath each photograph.

I tried my best to capture both the challenges as well as assets that Liberia has in overcoming this virus. I don’t like it when Liberia, or any other country for that matter, is portrayed as entirely helpless. Liberians are strong, resilient, creative, and hopeful. I have no doubt that ordinary people will be used in extraordinary ways here in the fight to educate, protect, and care for the communities. There are some challenges that seem overwhelming, and that I as an outsider can’t really come up with any good solutions to. But I have confidence that through teamwork and collective brainstorming and resource sharing, along with the precious intervening Hand of God, there will be new ideas shared and that we will all rise together out of the ashes, transformed and hopefully changed for the better. Like many of my Liberian friends are reminding me “God carried us through Ebola, surely He will carry us through this.”

Above all, we know that He will carry us through and be with us in our times of trial. I pray that as we remember these truths and hear these testimonies, that we too will be encouraged to continue trusting in Him and boldly living out our faith in new ways each and every day so that more might come to know Him and rejoice in His Name.

Where does our peace come from?

Where does our peace come from?

(two weeks ago)

Me: “I’m feeling good, surprisingly good. Although it feels like the world is pretty much imploding all around us right now, I feel like I’m handling it better than I expected myself to.” (Go me!)

Husband: “Oh yea?” (his eyes eyebrows raised like “are you sureeeeee about that?”)

Me: “Yea, totally. I’ve just got this feeling of peace, ya know?”  (my brain apparently blocking out all the previous times I’d had miniature freak outs over the past week and he’d been there to witness them ALL)

Husband: “Uhhhh huuhhhh.” (not convinced)

Me: (talking to myself in my head as I walked away): Maybe through living in Liberia, I’ve grown so accustomed to the absolute unpredictability of life and that’s why I’m not stressing? Or, maybe I finally developed that rock solid faith I’ve been aiming for? Must have been that Bible in a Year program. Yep….gotta be it. Thanks, YouVersion. Oh no wait, maybe I’ve just become completely emotionally numb? Maybe the “compassion fatigue” that many international workers struggle with has finally robbed me of my ability to feel emotions? Oh crap, what’s wrong with me? No only is the world falling apart, so am I!!

Yep, totally sounds like the thoughts of a person who is “at peace,” right??

The moment passed, but these thoughts about where this “sense of peace” was coming from and the question as to whether it was even real at all, kept rumbling around in my head over the next few days. In my mind, I actually did feel like I felt good. I wasn’t losing sleep over this, I hadn’t started biting my cheeks or running my hands through my hair endlessly (telltale signs I’m feeling anxious), and I was going about my day-to-day activities the same way I always had.

With no more teaching to keep me occupied (since schools are temporarily closed and online education isn’t really an option here), I had time to reconnect with a lot of friends back home. A couple days later, I was chatting with my one friend and asking her how she was when she sent this back as her reply:

“I’ve had surprising peace about the virus, but I think a large part of that is due to being hunkered down with plenty of groceries and nowhere to go. I’m trying to remind myself that my faith belongs in the Lord, not in social distancing!”

And then I realized. It finally clicked where some of that “peace” I felt might have been coming from.

You see, every time my mind would start to get slightly anxious about the virus, I’d calm it down quickly by reminding myself that 1) My life and soul are in His Hands AND 2) it’s going to be fine because….

  • I don’t live in China…. USA…. ok, fine… Monrovia? (I might not have to deal this)
  • I am young (I’m unlikely to have complications)
  • I am healthy (I can fight this thing off)
  • I’m not alone (there are lots of missionaries still here in Liberia)
  • I live on a farm (we can feed ourselves with what’s here for months)
  • I have decent medical insurance (I will be taken care of if I get it)
  • I have electricity (I can store food and pump water into my house)
  • I can afford to buy soap (I can wash my hands enough that it will never get me!)
  • I have a flexible job (I can “social distance” and not risk my life by going out frequently)
  • I think they will find a solution before it gets too bad here in Africa (I have time)
  • It won’t spread here because of the heat (finally, theses stupidly hot temperature will save me!)
  • I have a US passport (surely, my country will come rescue me)
  • And sort of jokingly (sort of not) at least I have plenty of chocolate (I am comfortable)

While these things are partially true, these things don’t bring true peace. At least not the kind the Bible talks about at least.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isiah 54:10)

These things that I was telling myself made me feel better because they reduced my risk of contracting and the subsequent impacts that getting the virus might have on my life. But it was fleeting. Because guess what happened next? The news started to report that young people were getting the virus too, that healthy people were on ventilators fighting for their life, that famous people with loads of money and connections were dying from the virus, and that Americans were getting trapped abroad. Gulp.

I said I trusted God, but I was also looking for peace in myself, my circumstances, and my status. The peace I felt was was mostly coming from me, myself, and what I thought I could do or had to avoid it or get through it.

I had confidence that my soul’s fate in eternity was secure in His Hands either way, but I felt the need to add on to that apparently…at least to get me through my present reality.  And pretty soon, that list of “ANDs” became more of the foundation for my peace, rather than just an “add-on” at the end.

God’s peace doesn’t require any “AND” to follow it up. Who. He. IS. is more than enough on its own.

If you find yourself tacking on a bunch of “ANDs” to try to bring about your own sense of peace, might I suggest a different list to run through in your head instead?

I’m a visual learner, so drawing this all out in a “this vs that” chart has helped me redirect and recenter my thoughts a lot.

Where I am tempted to find peace: Where I will actually find peace: Bible Verse
Health

Age

God is My Strength Exodus 15:2 The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
Location God is My Fortress Proverbs 18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.
 

Social Distancing

 

God is My Hiding Place Psalm 32:7 You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.
Money God is My Provider Philippians 4:19. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Social Status

Passport

God is My Deliver Psalm 34: 17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.
Temperature

Time

Insurance

Money

God is My Healer Jeremiah 17:14O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed; if you save me, I will be truly saved. My praises are for you alone!
Hygiene Practices

Money

Health

Age

Social Distancing

God is My Protector 2 Thes. 3:3-5 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
Chocolate

Friends

God is My Comforter 2 Cor.1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Friends God is My Constant Companion Duet. 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Every time I catch myself trying to soothe my thoughts with one of the things in the first column, I try to be intentional about shifting my thinking to one of the things in the second or third column.

The key to the switch: “God Is” not “I have” or “I am.

When we turn away from folly (which is maybe the giant list of “ANDs” that we tack on in our heads) and instead listen only to what He says about Who He Is, “He promises PEACE to his people, his faithful servants” (Psalm 85:8).

Do I know whether or not I will get COVID19? No, God didn’t promise me that.

He promised me His peace. Peace that flows endlessly and deeply like a river, peace that rules in our hearts.  Peace that does not vanish when circumstances change. Peace that is with me, even in the valley of uncertainty and the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).

Where does our peace come from?

Our “help [or peace] comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2). Our peace comes from Him, and nothing else. 

This song from Casting Crowns is on repeat in my head, so I thought I’d share with you too. It’s an oldie, but a goodie!

Six Books That Challenged & Inspired Me in 2019

Ever since being in Liberia, the amount of reading that I do each year has increased exponentially. There’s not a lot to do after it gets dark at 6:30 pm each day, but I’ve found so much joy in reading over the past few years that I figured I would share some of my top picks from 2019. Maybe you will see one that you want to check out or maybe it will make a good gift idea for someone on your list. Here they are:

The 3D Gosepl: Ministry in Guilt, Fear, and Shame Cultures. By Jason Georges.

This book was recommended to me by a friend here in Liberia. It is a short book and very easy to read. In this book, the author suggests that there are three main types of cultures in the world and that most societies (as well as individuals) tend to resonate closely with one of the three : 1) guilt-innocence, 2) shame-honor, and 3) fear-power. These categories were based on Christian missiologists identification of three common human responses to sin: guilt, shame, and fear. Coming from the US, I’ve always heard the goodness of gospel presented to me in terms of  “forgiveness of sins” and “being made innocent or washed clean again.” In coming to Liberia I’ve found that the culture here places much less emphasis on guilt/innocence, and a lot more on these ideas of fear and power instead (secret societies, politics, juju, etc). In reading this book, I came to see the gospel in a whole new light and it indeed began to take on more dimensions and depth than I had originally seen. There are so many verses about fear, power, shame, and honor that for the most part I have just been skimming over, but these might actually be the verses that my friends need to hear because they relate so much more deeply to their own cultural upbringing and identity. Not only has this book helped me in framing and explaining the gospel within a certain context, it has also helped me to better understand other aspects of God’s character, better rounding out my awareness and appreciation of who He is.  If you don’t have time to read the whole book, you can at least check out the video summary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2XNoAFtqOw.  I highly recommend this for anyone who is already involved in or who is interested in sharing the gospel cross-culturally, whether that be on a mission trip to a different country or with your neighbor in your community.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. By Nadia Bolz-Weber 

I don’t know about you, but time and time again when I read the Bible I always unfortunately find myself in the stories about the pharisees. You know, the ones who think they can earn their way into Heaven and are better than everyone else? Yea, that’s me way more than I’d like to admit. I was skeptical when picking out this book because on the cover it said something about how the author was a pastor who cussed (and pharisees definitely don’t like cussing lol) but I also was looking for something new and different, something to challenge me and get me thinking out of the box and this this definitely did the trick. The author Nadia is a hilariously honest story teller who has encountered, befriended, and been transformed by her fair share of “accidental saints”…ie. the types of people the pharisees typically avoided: addicts, prostitutes, terminally/mentally ill, poor, minorities, refugees, etc. Through her stories and her deeply personal inner reflections that exposed her own sins, vulnerabilities, inconsistencies, and needs, I was reminded of just how flawed, desperate, and broken of a sinner I am too. I too am an “accidental saint,” someone whose “saintliness” depends wholly on the GRACE of God and His ability to work through flawed human beings and not at all on my own “goodness” or “power.” This book was full of uncomfortable truths and stories that hit super close to home. It definitely challenged me in ways that I was not expecting  and most of all it reminded me to look for the beauty that can always be found in even the unlikeliest of places and people. “Sometimes the fact that there is nothing about you that makes you the right person to do something is exactly what God is looking for.”

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale. By Ian Morgan Cron 

So apparently this book was completely fictional, and yet the entire time I was reading it I legit thought it was someone’s own account of their pilgrimage throughout Italy. That tells you either how good of a writer this guy is or how gullible I am, take your pick haha! But seriously though, this book is about a pastor of a mega church in the US who ends up getting completely burned out and disillusioned by the modern day church culture in the US. He embarks on a journey throughout Italy, following the life and ministry of the Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi. I never knew much about this saint (or any saints for that matter), but coincidentally I have a necklace with the St. Francis cross that someone gave me right before my move to Liberia. The necklace means so much more to me now that I know the story behind this incredibly fascinating, deeply compassionate, environmentally-minded friar from the 12th century who totally revolutionized the church by simply living his life a different way and inviting others to do the same. In retracing the footsteps of St. Francis, the main character looks back on the church of the Middle Ages and considers how culture has influenced the growth and direction of church over the past few centuries. “The deeper I plunged into the heart of Francis, the  more courage I found to dive into my own. The more I saw his love for the church and the world, the more I inspired I was to follow his lead.” As someone who has often found themselves disillusioned and discouraged by the institution of “the church,” this book breathed new life into me as it made me consider my own flaws, baggage, hurts, and skewed thoughts and how they’ve often gotten in the way of me appreciating and claiming this broken and yet wonderfully beautiful body of people doing their best to share Christ’s love in a complex and hurting world.

Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack. By Alia Joy. 

Man, this book. I think I pretty much highlighted every other sentence? I was definitely not expecting to relate to this book in the way I did. When I read books about faith, I’ve in the past tended to learn toward apologetics, logical arguments, and books that help to categorically organize and definitively interpret scripture and God Himself….as you know from my previous blog, I’ve tended to generally want to shy away from the “gray” and emotions and messy things like that. This book was anything but, and yet I found that each time the author dove into another one of her own personal stories of struggle, hurt, and pain, my heart was melting and becoming a whole lot more like flesh and less like stone. This woman, Alia Joy, has been through SO MUCH in her life. I honestly don’t know how she was able to get up each morning and continue to see the goodness of God, her testimony is truly inspiring. She could have cursed God for all that’s gone wrong in her life, but instead she has chosen to embrace the power and strength that God gives in our times of weakness and distress. She has chosen to dig deep into the theology of suffering and in the process has used her glorious weaknesses to  grow closer to the heart of God. Maybe you are going through some hard times and looking for someone to relate to or maybe you are looking for something different to say than “God works everything for good” to your friend who is grieving or suffering through something deeper than you know how to handle. This book will help. Such an amazingly talented author, I cannot recommend it enough!

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. By Rachel Held Evans 

I originally picked this book up for a friend, a friend who had shared they had been having a lot of doubts recently in regards to God and how He was or wasn’t working in the world. I had heard this author was well-known for not shying away from difficult truths or conversations and so I was intrigued to read my first book by Rachel Held Evans. In the first chapter she shares, without hesitation, how her faith journey has always been a winding road full of ups and downs, times of belief, and times of immense doubting….mostly doubting actually. My first thought was “Can I even trust her? This lady seems a little too wishy washy for me. Maybe this is not a book I want to share with my doubting friend. I need to find a book about a person with a strong faith and no doubts!” (There’s that pharisee coming out in me again). But I kept reading and I realized that maybe this book wasn’t only for my friend, maybe there was something in it for me too. You see the book explores the stories of the Bible…. stories that, to be honest, are actually really hard to read and explain; stories that our modern day culture tends to gloss over, clean up, or simplify; stories that really make you question what on earth God was thinking and if He is actually who He says He is.  Stories about resistance, doubts, racism, war, rape, deliverance, pain, sin, the church, etc.  It was such an captivating read and opened my eyes to new ways to engage with and interpret the scriptures. There are so many things from the Bible that are not 100% easily resolved, immediately understood, or neatly packaged up into black/white answers. This book helped me to learn to be more OK with that and with just allowing myself to just sit in the presence of God while asking Him for answers/guidance rather than striving to create my own in order to distill and numb my own uncomfortableness with the unknown.  Reading the stories of all the bible characters better helped me to connect better to my own story as I saw myself in so many them. Definitely an thought provoking read that gave me new eyes and heart for the Bible and it’s wide array of characters!

A Hope More Powerful than the Sea. By Doa Al Zamel (faith, war, culture)

If you’re like me, you’ve probably felt a little lost when it comes to understanding the complexities of the Syrian refugee crisis that is still ongoing today. When I came across this book about a young woman about my age and her journey in escaping to a land of safety, I knew I wanted to read it. I had tried reading so many technical news articles about the civil crisis and the refugee boom in Europe, but now there was finally an opportunity to read the personal story of a real life survivor. This book wrecked me….reading about how in one minute she went from living an innocent carefree childhood to the next being a victim in the middle of a war zone. Reading about how she got separated from her family, watched her loved ones die right in front of her, got arrested and abused multiple times on her journey, all just for the chance to just live in peace…oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine. Her story is heart-breakingly beautiful and it captures incredibly well the more human side of the refugee crisis that is continuing to escalate throughout the entire world. It is a perspective that needs to be more wildly shared and considered as we think together about how best to care for and serve our neighbors who are doing their best to restart their lives as they escape from incomprehensible levels of suffering and oppression.

Well that’s my top six books from 2019. Have you ever read any of these books? Does anything look interesting to you? Do you have any recommendations for ones that I need to add to my list for 2020? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.

***For a complete list of the other books that I’ve read over the last few years, check out this page on our blog: https://glennsgoglobal.wordpress.com/books/.  I’ve tried to tag each book with a category or two to make it easier to search through.

The Poor Will Always be with You

Every time we open our phones or watch TV or listen to the radio, we are bombarded with the overwhelmingly heavy needs of this world….story after story and image after image of hunger, disease, war, earthquakes, religious persecution, refugees, earthquakes, etc.

SO MUCH poverty.

SO MANY needs.

It can be overwhelming to the point that it feels like the problem is too big and we are too small and that nothing we can do will even make a dent…and so we start to shut down and tune it all out.  Why bother?

After all, didn’t Jesus say something about how the “poor will always be with you?” in Matthew 26? Wasn’t He saying that we should just accept the fact that poverty isn’t going away? That perhaps we shouldn’t worry about it like disciples supposedly were? Is this really what Jesus meant when He said that?

The disciples and Jesus were dining at the home of Simon the Leper and the disciples were indignant when a woman came in and poured an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus’ head. “Why this waste?….She could have sold it for a fortune and given the money to the poor,” they said. Then Jesus, in responding back to the disciples said something strange: “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” It seems sort of arrogant of Jesus doesn’t it?  Is He saying the poor don’t matter in comparison to Himself? Is He saying we have to pick between loving Him and serving the poor? Is He condoning poverty? These words always confused me….they didn’t seem to quite fit the character of Jesus that I knew.

A couple years ago I read a really interesting sermon by Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in which she discussed this very topic and it helped me to see things in a whole different light. Jesus is not condoning poverty, rather He was highlighting His role in reducing poverty and rebuking the way the disciples wanted to address the poverty…which in this case was by simply giving money. In saying that “the poor will always be with you” Jesus is referencing Deuteronomy 15:11, a scripture to which the disciples would have immediately made a connection, though many of us today do not.

Duet 15: 11 “There will always be poor people in the land.” Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” 

Duet 15:4-5 there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you,  if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.

In saying “the poor will always be with you” Jesus is not excusing poverty, far from it.  According to Rev Dr. Liz Theoharis’ sermon, “it is actually one of the strongest statements of the biblical mandate to end poverty. ” If we read deeper, we see that Jesus is pointing the disciples toward what they should be doing to address the poverty. Giving charity to the poor in the form of money, supplies, food, etc is obviously good, even essential. The Bible is full of stories that show us and commands that tell us to give to and provide for the needy, we cannot ignore this as part of our call. However, God also calls for, commands even, for us to do something more… to go a step further…to work toward a total revolution and upending of the systems of injustice that allow poverty to exist in the first place.

In Deuteronomy 15, the Lord is giving the Isrealites the laws regarding the year of Jubilee and reassurance that if His people were to follow these laws, there need be no poor among you. The laws of the Jubilee states that after the end of every 7 years, the captives are set free, creditors must cancel debts, and wealth is distributed evenly among all the people.  The year of Jubilee completely upended and transformed the status quo. This year of Jubilee was a way of highlighting the values of God as well as foreshadowing all that was to come when the Messiah arrived: freedom. It was also perhaps a safety measure that God put into place for their own good, helping them guard against the tendency of the human flesh…to not trust that God would provide, to instead gather and stockpile for themselves, no matter the cost to their fellow people. It was a way to break all chains of oppression that might have formed among the people over time, oppression that inevitably is created when human beings get involved doing things their own way. It was a way to draw them closer to Him in dependence, so that they might know that He was God and that He was good…that He was in control and responsible for providing for ALL of them, not them for themselves.  It was a way for God to clearly demonstrate that in the end, we are all equal in His eyes…there are no rich or poor in His Kingdom. 

Jesus is reminding the disciples that they shouldn’t stop at simply “serving” the poor (ie. selling the perfume and giving money to the poor). He was telling them that it was their responsibility, as it is ours still today, to help break the chains of poverty completely so there are no poor in the land at all.

This seems like a big call, mind-boggling big actually. So what does that even look like? How do we do this as a church and as individuals in ministry? How do we honor God in this? These are some thoughts:

  • First, I think it always has to start with a time of humble self-reflection and prayer as the Body of Christ, asking God to open our eyes and hearts.
    • Have we become apathetic/overwhelmed to the plight of the world’s poor? If so, how and why is that? Why are our hearts not breaking for what breaks His? In our giving, have we unintentionally propped up systems that perpetuate injustice or the poverty cycle? 
  • Secondly, I think it means sharing and calling out on the name of Christ. In 2 Corinth 3:17 it says “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” People need more than just our good deeds or material gifts, they need to encounter Christ. A transformed life, starts with a transformed heart.
    • What good is it to feed someone’s stomach and leave their soul aching and empty?  Are we pointing people toward Christ’s goodness and love or toward ourselves and our own generosity? As we are sharing our money are we also sharing our testimony? Are we relying on ourselves to do the work or surrendering to God and asking for His help?
  • Thirdly, I think it means an in depth analysis of the complex systems that can lead to poverty, as well as our own part in them. 
    • Have we looked at the various forces, internal and external, that create chains of injustice and oppression in our society? Are we putting band-aid fixes on things rather than doing the hard work of digging deep down to discover the root of the problem? Do we consider that poverty is actually a result of sin, our collective sins as a society and not just one individual’s sins? Do we believe that not every person in poverty has the same story? Do we take the time to listen to each person, to understand each story? 
  • Lastly, I think it means by empowering people with skills/opportunities to escape the cycle of poverty. Equipping people with tangible skills and/or opportunities that allow them to engage in the good works that they were created to do. We, the economically privileged, are not the only ones Jesus created to do good works. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Each of His children were made for this, every part of the Body has something to contribute to the whole.  
    • How can we help others to be able to work and feel the same pride and dignity that we do when we provide for our own families and our own communities? If it is a blessing to be able to give and not receive, how can I bless others? How can we involve others in the work of bringing God’s Kingdom here on Earth? What gifts has He given to others that the Body needs right now? 

This all seems so simple, and yet it is so messy and complicated. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and want to use Matthew 26:11 as a justification or excuse, rather than as a command to do more.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” method. We cannot judge or chastise those who go about this differently than we do. The beauty is that there are so many ways of doing it, so many different people that need help in so many different situations, so many different opportunities for each of us to be a part in some small way. All we can do is continue to ask ourselves these questions and ask for God’s guidance along the way. This has to start on our knees in prayer. 

Before we pray, we want to leave you with these quotes, one from Martin Luther King and one from Paulo Friere (a Brazilian philosopher and educator), bo :

On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice [or system] which produces beggars needs restructuring.” -Martin Luther King Jr, “A Time to Break Silence”

“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands–whether of individuals or entire peoples–need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Gracious God, we come to you humbly asking for your blessings over our church’s or our individual ministries to the poor, both local and foreign. Jesus, you demanded that in everything that we do, we practice holistic development and work that address the spiritual needs of people without neglecting the physical needs and vice versa. We ask for you, Father God to open our eyes, hearts, and minds. We ask for humility and courage and grace. We ask for wisdom and compassion. We ask for unity in working toward meeting the immediate needs as well as ending the cycles and systems that unjustly and unfairly continue to contribute toward holding our brothers and sisters in oppression. We ask that you would give us the desire and the strength to do more, even when it seems daunting. We trust that you will work through us and in spite of us to bring freedom to your people as You reconcile Creation back to Yourself. In Your Son’s Name, Amen.

Note: This contents of this blog originate from a video devotion that Nathan and I did with Freedom Church’s “21 Days of Prayer” series. The link to the original video can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/myfreedom.org/videos/868355873558997/.

Grateful for the Noise

The pigeons are cooing incessantly, people are shouting across the swamp. I hear one child wailing while the another is screeching. Motorcycles are shrieking and honking, the roosters are crowing and pigs and squealing, the generator is grumbling, the church is blasting something out of their crackly old speakers and the video club next door is cranking their bass music to compete. The grinder is churning, the flies are buzzing around my face, someone’s phone has been ringing in the hallway for 3 minutes, students are knocking on my door, and dogs are barking….all at 3pm on a Friday afternoon.

I want to put my hands over my ears and run upstairs and lock myself in my room and close all the windows…but then I would be hot….really really hot and even more miserable. Somehow the noises are even louder up there in our room? I don’t know why…

There is nowhere to go and hide and get some peace! I want to scream, maybe that will at least drown out all the rest of it. I’m about to and then I’m reminded of something I saw on Facebook earlier that week. It was a “30 Days of Gratitude Challenge” with prompts each day to help you think of something you are grateful for, besides the typical ones we usually think of like house, family, food, etc. One of the days asked participants to ponder “what sound are you grateful for today?”

Haha ironic…I laughed…are there actually any sounds I am grateful for in this crazy noisy country right now?!? I rolled my eyes, looked up at the ceiling, and thought to myself… “I would have something to be thankful for God if you could just give me a little peace and quiet every now and then! How about that?”

After I calmed down a little though, I got to thinking more about the idea of being “thankful for sounds.” It seemed a little weird to me, given that I am a very noise-sensitive person and it feels like 90% of sounds in this world just bother me to my wits end. But I tried to sit and think about it in a different light…God gave me the ability to hear sounds and God created all these things that make sounds…so there must be a little more good or meaning in all this noise than I have been realizing.

I grabbed my journal and started listing out the sounds of Liberia…all the sounds I could think of…good, bad, ugly, boring, stressful, peaceful, and everything in between. The sounds that made me smile, squirm,  laugh, and the sounds that made my skin crawl and heart break.

The high-pitched squeaks of the wheelbarrow as it passes by on the street, somebody shouting as they sell heaps of used clothing…bras, underwear, t-shirts, socks.. anything you could possible need, but none of which I actually need. I have been given so much more than I need, none of it was earned.

The constant tired grumbling of the generator on those days (or weeks) when we lose power and the ticking of the voltage regular box every 2 seconds as it tries to keep up with the ever-changing volts that are coming into the house, making my eyes twitch. But I have electricity AND a form of back-up electricity in a country where more than half the people here have none.

The gurgling and sucking of the water faucet as it struggles to pull water out of an empty tank, telling me that for the third time today we are out of water and it’s time to go start the pump. The distant shout of “col wata” somewhere in the busy market, beckoning me to chase after whoever it is that made that sound so I can quench my thirst with an ice-cold water sachet. I am able to afford to drink clean cold water whenever I want, what an insane luxury!

The deep agonizing almost daily sound of a woman screaming in the town across the swamp as someone beats her yet again, just as the sun peeks its way into the swamp. And then there is the higher pitched but just as agonizing sound of a child wailing as someone whips a palm switch over their bare bottom. My heart twists and rages inside my chest and I wonder how God can possibly be good. I remember it’s okay to cry out to God when I don’t have the answers and I lift my hands in acknowledgement of my helplessness in these situations and I am reminded to pray and speak up more for all the women and children in this country and world who have been sexually assaulted and physically abused.

The loud slap of my sandal as it comes down hard on a cockroach’s back and the subsequent squeal of joy that escapes my mouth as I congratulate myself on another job well done. I remember to thank God for even the littlest of victories, no matter how stupid they may seem.

The distinct joyful trill of my friend Konah’s daily laughter. The screeching of the trampoline as the neighborhood children jump on it all afternoon, never tiring or slowing down at all. Life is too short to worry like I do, remember to have fun!

The crashing of the waves as I lie on a totally isolated beach with my husband. The sound of the breeze gently rustling the leaves on the palm tree before the rains come in, strong and heavy on the tin roofs. I am in awe that such a “big big” God who made the wind and the waves could love such a “small small” thing like me.

The aggravating screeching of the parrots and the chatter of the monkeys as I try to teach. The deafening ribbits of the thousands of frogs in the swamp as I try to sleep. All creatures in heaven and earth shall bow down to worship Him our Lord.

The annoying echo of my own words as they bounce around the walls of the concrete classroom. But then again, there is also the beautiful sound of acoustic worship bouncing off those same walls as it makes its way up to the heavens…one of the purest and most beautiful sounds in the world, all in a language that I do not understand but that speaks to my heart anyways. We are all one Body.

The sound of somebody’s phone going off in class, church, or any other important meeting, I think it is impossible to have any type of meeting without this happening in Liberia lol. I used to get so mad, now I’ve just accepted it. There are many things out of my control.

The “ya ellooo ma” greetings from teeny little neighborhood children peeping out behind brick walls and the satisfying snap as two hands release from the classic Liberian handshake which is used to greet friends and strangers alike. It makes me smile, reminds me that I have family here.  

The honking of the motorcycle horns as they buzz all around you in the city streets, threatening to knock you down of your face if you don’t pay attention.  I never used to take it seriously when people said “pray for safe travels.” I do know, I’ve seen way too many people die from accidents here.

The bubbling of thick red palm butter soup on a coal pot or the sizzling of the scorching hot oil as the “ol ma” drops wet dough into the pot…my mouth waters in anticipation. I am grateful for my daily bread and reminded of the so many around me do not have enough to eat….reminded of why I am here in the first place.

The whirling sound of the cutlass and whipper as the farmers bend down to manually cut the grass or weeds before preparing their fields for planting, it is backbreaking work. I am reminded that though we plant the seeds, God causes the growth. How dependent we are on Him.

The constant buzzing of mosquitoes all around my ears as dusk begins to fall and I try to soak up the last few minutes outside with the cool breeze before retreating into my stuffy room for the night. I have a house with screens to protect me from the mosquito that carry malaria, a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year on this continent.

The distinct pinging sound of a call or text coming in from sponsors/partners/friends back home that makes my heart leap with joy every single time. Though I often feel alone, I am not alone. I am part of a community through this ministry and we are all in this together.

The soft sound of my mom’s voice as she gently quiets my sobs after another hard day in Liberia. My mom is alive and healthy and technology is amazing because it allows me to hear sounds from thousands of miles away.

The familiar sound of country music as I dance with my husband in our room, reminiscing deeply about home. I am so thankful for this man, he is my home away from home.

The hollow wailing of the village women crying out to God in agony as they throw their bodies on the ground around the grave as they mourn the loss of a life taken way too soon from this earth. I am reminded that God hears our cries and of his call to mourn with those who mourn….most days I’d rather turn away because I don’t know how to hold it all together.

The sound of clothes being pounded and stretched on the washboards every Saturday morning. The thud of the hook as it hits dry dirt while we attempt to dig up our potatoes during dry season. The sound of water being dumped after dishes have been washed. God is present in the small everyday things of this world, whether I hear him or not.

The swooshing sound of women sweeping the bare soil around their houses, a sound heard millions of times a day in this country. Ashamedly, I used to think it was such a funny/strange/pointless thing to do. That was before I heard and saw it for what it really was… a daily act of love for their families, a daily act of restoring order and creating beauty in their homes, a daily act of reclaiming dignity in a hard and unforgiving world that has tried to snatch it away from them. And perhaps, if they are believers, it may also be a daily act of giving thanks to God their Provider, an act of stewardship over all that God has given them the honor to care for, whether big or small.

I can choose to throw my hands over my head and scream at God for not giving me any “peace” or I can choose to listen and allow the sounds, every single one of them, the chance to speak to my soul and draw me in…reminding me to pray, to call out, to beg, to thank, to worship, and to rely on God for all that I am and have. While the lightness and beauty of the wind and the waves, the laughing and the songs, remind us that our Creator exists; it is the heaviness and uncomfortableness of the wailing, the screeching, the honking, the buzzing, the tears, and sobs that force us deeper into His arms and remind us of our innate need for a Creator in the first place.

It is because of this that I will choose to be grateful for the noise, ALL the noise.

Are there any sounds that are you grateful for??? Any sounds that maybe you can learn to be grateful for?

The Hardest Thing

People often ask me what the hardest thing about living in Liberia is…

Is it being away from family and friends? Is it the “strange” food? specifically the lack of cheese and bacon? Is it the bad roads? The unstable electricity? The lack of clean drinking water in your faucet? The lack of healthcare? The different languages? The heat? The mosquitoes? The tropical illnesses? The snakes?

The truth is, it is none of those things. Don’t get me wrong, those are very real challenges (even the one about the cheese….) but if you want to know the one thing that makes living in Liberia hard…the one thing that keeps me up at night and makes me question whether I belong here or not and makes me feel so so tired and weary and like I just want to give up and go home…it is the gray.

Learning to navigate all the gray.

Growing up I used to be so confident in my view of the world, my opinions, my beliefs, the way things were and that was because I so clearly saw a lot of my world around me as black and white, there was right and wrong and there was good and bad and there was nothing, absolutely nothing in between for a rigid and “holier-than-thou” youth-group-going rule-follower teenager like me.  Everything had an explanation and everyone and everything about the world could be categorized and organized. Borrowing from the words of Pastor Chase Falson in his book “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale “I’d considered myself one of the privileged few the heavens had endowed with a perfectly true compass… Every question had a logical answer. Every mystery had a rational explanation…I thought I had God [and the world] pretty well figured out.”

[Hehehehehe I know, I know….I’m sorry….I’ll wait as you retrieve your eyeballs from the place in the far back of your head to which they must have just rolled]

You see, viewing the world as black and white is comfortable, it makes it so easy to understand things and so much simpler to process our experiences, to quickly and efficiently judge our actions and the actions of others (though this is not really our business), to categorize people into little boxes, and organize our ideas and responses to certain situations … “if this is the problem, then this is the only option” or “if a person does this, then they are that” and so on and so forth. It allows us to escape thinking about how our outlook on the world may possibly be… wait for it….incomplete…or dare I say, wrong!

[Sorry again…take a deep breath, pick your jaw up off the floor… I know this is a pretty wild thing to realize, for myself especially!!.]

As I grew up in the US, one of the most diverse countries in the world, there were obviously plenty of things to challenge my mindset and my understanding of the world every day, thrusting me into the land of the gray. I luckily had many more of those experiences when I went to college, started my first real job, and while on church service projects and mission trips. But at the end of the day, I could always look around and find plenty of people who looked, believed, behaved, or thought just like me and if I tried hard enough, I could always use this bubble to escape the gray.

Being in Liberia, that’s just not the case. Every day I experience so many things that are so new to me and so foreign and 99.9% of the people I see or meet every day are very different from myself in terms of looks, culture, beliefs, etc. I meet so many people here whose way of life and thinking are so different from my own. Their childhoods wildly different from my own, their pain/suffering much deeper than I can comprehend, and their values systems about family, money, community, gender, education, truth, and spirituality/faith that are more complex than I can still explain. Every day I feel like I’m walking deep within the gray, not a crisp clear line in sight to distinguish between the black and white.

Soooo many times a day I have to reconcile my old view and understanding of the world with these new experiences and these new people…I have to figure out how my views fit (or don’t fit) with theirs, how each of our views holds up against the truth in the Bible….somehow finding a way to add all these things to the mixture of chaos in my mind and then re-calculate, re-evaluate, re-plan, regroup. Everyday my mind is swirling and I am overwhelmed with questions like:

  • Am I missing something here because I am looking at this only through my cultural lens? How does their culture, religion, race, poverty, beliefs, pain/trauma, personality, background shape their values and thus affect their actions? How does my wealth and privilege and nationality affect my own?
  • Are my thoughts being influenced by underlying prejudices? Am I making assumptions about or devaluing someone because of their race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or education level? If I am, why? And how do I stop?
  • How do I know when the tension we are facing is simply related to cultural and individual differences and not a matter of right or wrong? When should I step in and say something and when should I keep my mouth shut?
  • Is what I’m doing truly out of compassion or my desire to control situations and produce tangible results? What does real genuine love look like in this situation? Am I striving for dignity or development?
  • Should I give money to this person/situation? If I am giving money, why am I doing it? Because I trust God or because I don’t? Have I thought about how this money might change the relationship between me and this person? The power that money carries?
  • How many times do I watch someone fail rather than stepping in myself to help? Am I creating dependency by doing or giving too much? Am I becoming lazy and saying I don’t care by doing or giving too little?
  • How do I know when to adjust my behaviors/action to fit into and show respect for the culture vs when it’s ok to just be myself? At what point do I lose myself and my own identity for the sake of respecting culture, a culture that often undervalues my own voice as a woman?
  • Where’s the line between grace and justice? Where is the line between letting someone’s past experiences or poverty become a crutch and holding them to unrealistic expectations and setting them up for failure? How can I even know if I’ve never walked in their shoes?
  • When should I say “no” and when should I say “yes”? When should I hold fast to my American ideal of “boundaries” and when do I need to just let those things go?

Maybe you can relate? Maybe you’ve asked yourself some of these questions before in your own everyday cross-cultural experiences? Maybe you’ve even had to ask these questions as you navigate conversations with someone who on the outside may look just like you, but who comes from an entirely different background? Maybe you’ve had to ask these questions of yourself as you talk with your own sibling who grew up in the same house as you and yet wound up seeing the world so differently than yourself.

It can be so exhausting to go through these conversations over and over again in my head, especially because more often than not it is during these inner dialogues and times of reflection and prayer in asking God for guidance that I am confronted with my own sin and misunderstandings of who God is and who I am.  Basically, it’s exhausting to be wrong all the time!!

The world is not what I thought it was, people are not always who society told me they would be, I’m a much bigger sinner than I had feared, and God’s love is so much deeper than I could have ever dreamed. What someone does doesn’t always define who someone is. Just because someone’s opinions, ideas, or feelings are different than my own, does not mean that they are not equally valid or valued by Our Father in Heaven. 

It’s not required that we all travel to Africa to discover these truths. These are things that each of us can learn and discover where we are right now. These are truths that I  had probably already started discovering before coming to Liberia, but were no doubt accelerated by my move to another continent and culture. The more we get out of our comfort zones and intentionally engage, listen to, and get to know people who come from different backgrounds than ourselves, the more opportunities you will have to screw up…yes, that much is true. BUT ALSO the more we will learn about ourselves, each other, and God…and that’s a good thing…a really good thing.

The world is so much grayer than I originally understood and I’m learning how to be OK with that now…..more than OK actually.

You see, I’m beginning to understand and even believe that the gray is ultimately where the sweetest parts of life happen.  The gray is where we are stretched, molded, pulled, squished, smoothed, shaped, and changed. The gray is where innovation and new ideas are born.  The gray is hard and painful but it is where healing happens, where relationships form, and where barriers are broken down and prejudices torn apart. The gray is raw, fresh, vulnerable, and human.   The gray is where the threads of our common humanity and our oneness is made clear and tangible, if even for the briefest of moments. The gray is where questioning/doubts/fears have the room to breathe. The gray is messy, but the gray is exactly what Jesus entered into when He stepped down from Heaven to live among us in this fallen world. The gray is where truth is revealed and where understanding begins. The gray is where we develop faith, it is the area in which God invites us and promises to walk with us, revealing to us both the brokenness and beauty of His creation. The gray is where we can find God.

Even though I said that this “navigating of all the gray” is definitely the hardest thing about Liberia, it is also undoubtedly the thing that has deepened my walk with God the most over these past few years. The more I realize how many things in this world I simply don’t and can’t know on my own, the more I realize I how much more I desperately need God.

I titled this post “The Hardest Thing” in regards to living in Liberia…but it could have also been titled “The Hardest Thing About Living in a World with People Who are Different Than You”….which hey, coincidentally is a world we all live in 😉

May God grant us grace and wisdom as we enter into and traverse the gray of life together!

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Corinthians 12:9

When God’s Blessings Purr Instead of Bark

Anna and cats…cats and Anna. Two things DO NOT go together…or so I thought.

My whole life, I have pretty much despised cats.

First of all, they make me sneeze…so I mean, you gotta give it to me…my hatred for them was pretty much justified. Cats make my ears throat and eyes itch, my nose runny, and my head stuffed. Second of all, most of the cats I’ve known act like they are way too cool for school. They just walk by you casually, nose in the air, acting as if they didn’t even see you standing there. When you reach out to pet them, they accept momentarily or they just pass on….they are pretty much all little snooty princesses. I’ve basically always found them despicable and we haven’t gotten along well. My friends with cats are never very happy about the snarky comments and dirty looks I exchange between myself and their cats. My claim that “they started it!!” usually gets a disapproving look (but between you and me…the cats always were the instigators…not me, I’m innocent…they made me sneeze and so yea, I’m gonna give them some side eye every now and then).

Me, I’m more of a dog person. I grew up with dogs, for one. But also, I much prefer their attitude….Dogs are not ashamed or embarrassed to show the depth and width of their love to you. They will follow you, beg after you, fetch something for you 3000 times, look into your eyes for approval, never judge you, and give you the sloppiest messiest kisses that you never even asked for. They are fiercely loyal creatures and they don’t make me chase after them, they usually come right to me. I don’t like to be coy and play games, I’m usually a “say it straight” kind of girl, not afraid to be a dork for the things I love.

Cats on the other hand…..ugggghhhh they are so pretentious.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envision that I would have a cat…it had NEVER EVER once crossed my mind.

A few months ago, Nathan and I started talking about getting a dog. We work such long hours and are so tired emotionally when we get home. We thought hanging out with a little fur ball might help us to forget some of the stresses from the day and just remember to slow down and just enjoy life. We both missed having a dog.

We wanted a dog, but at the same time we started thinking about getting a dog….this random farm cat just starts hanging around our room….as if it had decided on it’s own that it now belonged to us. At first, when it started hanging around we would clap at it and hiss at it to go back downstairs far far far away from our room (we live above the classrooms in the agriculture building). We didn’t even want that thing on the second floor of the building. For months, we shooed it downstairs and even out of the building entirely.

Then one day I found it sleeping in the flower pots on our porch and I swear my heart just about melted…I didn’t want to think it was cute…I’d never thought a cat was cute before…but dang it….

So then, we thought OK….what harm is it to have it hanging around upstairs…so long as it doesn’t come into our room. THAT’S THE LINE! Fast forward a couple weeks….we noticed we hadn’t seen the cat in a few days. I began to get really worried that maybe it had died or something. The thing was really scrawny and at this point we hadn’t started feeding it yet (yet*… you can see where this is going) and so I was worried it had gone off and died somewhere. I was surprisingly pretty sad about the supposed death of this random cat that had no name and that I had never actually shown much love towards. It was weird…

Then, after 5 days of not seeing it, the cat showed up on our doorstep again and I was so relived and happy to see it that I quickly went it to the kitchen and fed it some scrambled eggs…not eggs I already had in the fridge…I literally made eggs for the cat and the cat only. WHO IS THIS PERSON??

Long story short….we obviously have a cat now. You can’t feed a stray and then expect it to go away. So we have a cat.  A cat that waits by our door every morning. A cat that comes into our room every evening when we come up after work. A cat that we take snapchats and pictures of at least once a day. A cat that we say “good night” and even “i love you” to every night. A cat that we even let sit on the couch every now and then and sometimes, sometimes, even let sit on our laps?!

And for some wild unknown reason, I am not allergic to this cat. I don’t understand why or how…but she is not making me sneeze or itch or anything. I mean, I don’t personally snuggle her up in my lap or anything but she is hanging around pretty much all the time. In the US, when I go into someone’s house that has a cat, my eyes and throat and nose know it within 5 minutes. But she hangs out in our room every night and nothing…..

How on earth did this happen? I prayed for a dog…and somehow I got a cat. I really don’t know how God mixed this up so badly this time…I mean, He literally made dogs and cats and yet he has somehow forgotten the difference between these two? Thinks he can just substitute one out for the other and we won’t notice? Thinks it’s ok just to send someone a cat when they ask for a dog?! The nerve!!

It’s astonishing and it’s appalling and strange and disconcerting. And yet, it is God.

I swear, God has a funny funny (not so funny) way of leading me down paths I swore I would never find myself on. If I ever catch myself saying “I will NEVER be able to do that, God” it’s pretty much a guarantee that one day, a few years down the road and without realizing it, I will be doing that very thing. Anyone else ever experienced that?? “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans [and act like you are the one who is in total control of them coming to be].”

When that time comes, the time when I realize I ended up somewhere I never thought I would, surprisingly I don’t really find myself mad at God for supposedly duping me and pulling a fast one on me. More often than not, I find myself thanking Him. Thanking Him for sparing me from someone or something; thanking Him for providing for me in the way that He knew was best; thanking Him for leading me in the direction my stubborn/fearful/unconfident heart didn’t originally want to go; thanking Him for opening my eyes, softening my heart, and opening my ears to be more attentive to what His Spirit had to say rather than what my flesh had to say; thanking Him for saving me from myself and my own [usually small in comparison] plans.

God didn’t just give me a cat, because if He had only done that…I would still be pretty miserable and still be hissing and casting evil eyes to the little thing. He also somehow managed to soften my heart toward this little creature and open my eyes to a possibility I had never thought of before (and somehow do it in a way that also spared my poor sinuses!).

I don’t think God is ever really trying to drag us anywhere kicking and screaming, as we claw our hands into the ground in resistance. We all know that’s not really how good leaders lead and that is not the way that I think that God is trying to lead those who love Him and seek Him. Some people think that following God means always having to choose the opposite of what you actually want to do. Sometimes following God means you end up doing the opposite of what you originally thought you wanted to do (ie I somehow have a cat now rather than a dog). But, because God is usually changing our hearts at the same time He is is changing our circumstances, it doesn’t really feel like a compromise or sacrifice at all by the time you find yourself on that path. It just feels like you are right where you are supposed to be. 

The same things happened with me and this chocolate business that we are still a part of here in Liberia. I think many people have heard me say that doing business was NEVER EVER part of my plan. I love education, I love teaching. I feel confident teaching because that is what I have my degree in and it is something I feel comfortable doing. I also love the field of education because I see it as one of the most noble, unselfish, worthy professions in the world. Frankly, my outlook on business people has always been that they are greedy after money and they have no place in the Body of Christ (yea, I get that the Bible says otherwise but this was my impression for the longest time, oooops). And yet, here in Liberia, God has me helping to oversee, mentor, and support a growing business. God didn’t just change my circumstances though, somewhere along the way He also changed my outlook and my heart. I can see SO CLEARLY now how business can be used to share the gospel, care for the poor, empower people, and disrupt systems of inequality and poverty.

I had asked God for more opportunities to teach, and no doubt He answered that prayer but not quite in the way that I thought He would. And, actually I’m not mad about it, I’m somehow pretty excited about it. So strange!! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a little scared of it all, but not in a way that makes me want to run the other direction and give up….My fear just makes me to realize how small I am and how much I need God and it sends me running deeper into His embrace, and it is only there in His arms that I can finally start to appreciate and see the blessings that He is pouring down all around me…. Blessings I would have previously tried to send back up to Heaven saying “No thanks, God. This is not what I ordered.” But, that’s God sometimes.

God blessed me with a cat. I asked for a dog. A year ago, I would have thought you were joking or crazy if you had said I would have such strong feelings for a little thing that purred instead of barked. And yet, here we are….and I am thankful.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

PS. I can’t believe I just wrote a blog post about a cat…..

PPS. She has a name now, after months of just being called “the cat” or “it.” Her name is Sophia. She is fully grown and still only 3.5 pounds of cuteness.

Headed back to Liberia TODAY!

Today (Aug 27th) is the day we head back to Liberia!

What an incredible two months it has been at home! As we head back, we just want to give a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has helped make this past trip home an amazing one and to all of those who have supported and continue to support us and the ministry in Liberia along the way.

Thank you to those of you who came up and hugged us just to tell us how happy you were to see us home; it made us feel so welcome and reminded us that we belong to such an incredibly amazing community here.

Thank you to those who listened to us talk about Liberia endlessly and asked such intentional and meaningful questions about Liberia that allowed us to continue to pour out our hearts with you; we walked away from those times feeling so encouraged and refreshed.

Thank you to those who invited us to share a meal together; breaking bread (or pizza in many cases!) with family and friends is one of our love languages and it filled us up and nourished us in more ways than one.

Thank you to those who invited us into their homes and let us have a place to rest our heads amidst the constant spinning of everything else going on around us; it made us feel grounded and settled.

Thank you to those who walked right up to us at various mission events and introduced yourselves, we love meeting new people and seeing all the various ways that God puts puzzle pieces together as He works good for His Kingdom; it reminds us we are part of something so much bigger.

Thank you to those churches and individuals and organizations that have loved us so well while we were home; your love has carried us through so many valleys/storms and we are thankful to be able to carry you with us as we head back.

Thank you to those who have prayed tirelessly every single day for the ministry in Liberia; those prayers strengthen us in ways we could never put into words.

Thank you to those who support the ministry financially, we are in awe for your heart for missions and humbled by your generosity and sacrifice for us and for those that we love back in Liberia; you are truly the hands and feet of Christ.

We love you guys and have loved our time home and we can’t wait to see you all again next summer 🙂 Please continue to pray for us as we head out today that we would have smooth, uninterrupted travels all the way back to Ganta, Liberia and a smooth transition to the work and life as we return. We fly out tonight at 5:40pm and should land in Liberia tomorrow at 3:00pm EST (7:00pm in Liberia). We will probably spend one day in the capital and then start our 4.5 hour journey back up to Ganta on Thursday or Friday.

Reminder to all our financial partners: if you haven’t already, please remember to check and make sure that everything is up-to-date with your online donations. Occasionally, addresses or card information needs to be updated so please let us know if we can have our Hope in the Harvest administrative assistant help with anything. If you still need to set up your online giving, you can do so here: https://www.hopeintheharvest.org/donations/glenns/. It would help us out a lot if these donations were set up as soon as possible as we are heading back TODAY. As of Aug 27th, 2019, we are at 81% of our fundraising goal for the upcoming year of ministry. If you feel led and are able to support this ministry, please consider joining us as monthly partner or making a one-time donation to help us reach our final goal. Thank you