Missions

pleading not guilty

I was worried I'd grown numb to it. Maybe I'd become calloused. Hardened. Immune. Because poverty wasn't affecting me like it used to.

When I faced it as a teenager—on mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Botswana—my eyes and my heart were opened to things I never knew existed in the world. I was wrecked to discover such unimaginable and inescapable poverty, and it messed with me at a deep level.

I'd return home and make all kinds of extreme commitments. I vowed to be less materialistic. I took radical stances with my "self-absorbed" Christian friends. I soapboxed about America's obsession with excess. I volunteered more, and served wherever and whenever I could.

But as the aftershocks of my experiences with poverty wore off, so did my radical life changes. Until my next mission trip.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It was a vicious cycle of the best intentions that did nothing more than fuel my need to continually strive to be better, do more, and—somehow, hopefully—be enough.

I'm not saying I didn't genuinely have compassion and conviction and passion to live a life that makes a difference. I did. But it translated into a guilt-driven reaction to the extremes I saw and experienced.

It was a nauseating roller coaster ride as I tried—and failed—to reconcile the poverty I witnessed with the life I lived everyday and to bridge the disparity between my abundance and their lack.

It was years after I moved to South Africa to serve in the poorest region of the country that I finally realized that those things can't be reconciled or bridged. The contrasts will never make sense.

And I mustn't allow my guilt to force-feed my insatiable striving complex. Nor must I allow it to paralyze me into inactivity or apathy.

I had finally learned to step off the roller coaster and actually engage in doing something that would truly make a difference. Not fueled by guilt, but by hope.

I realized that it isn't about being apologetic for what I have, giving everything away, or looking down on how much people spend at Starbucks. It is about stewarding what I have well, using it to serve, strengthen, and love others.

People often ask me how I could live and work for so long in a community of such dire poverty. "Do you just get used to it?" What they are really asking is the same thing I've asked myself: "Did you grow numb?"

And I see now that I didn't. But somewhere in my 13 years of living in Africa, something did change in me.

I stopped feeling guilty about what I had and the "luck" of being born an American, and I started to feel grateful to be part of the solution.

The problems and challenges are enormous, but we can all do something that makes a difference. In our own unique ways, with our own individual passions and talents, we can bring hope into places and hearts that gave up a long time ago.

Not because we feel guilty, but because we are compelled by the hope we ourselves have been given.

What's been your experience with responding to poverty? How can we move past guilt into being part of the solution?

{photos by Daniel White}

gallstones & ethiopia: an update

Some of you probably saw my updates on Twitter and Facebook last week, but I ended up in the ER early Thursday morning. With gallstones. Over 40 of them. o_O I didn't even know it was possible to accrue such a huge collection, but apparently it is. (And it's confirmed: I'm an overachiever.)

I took it easy for a few days until all the pain subsided, and I'm now back to normal. (Well, my normal). Surgery is scheduled for a few weeks from now and I've got meds to bring with me to Ethiopia in case I have another attack there. (Pray with me for that not to happen?)

We leave in a week. A week!

Oh, we are going to host a live Twitter Chat while we're in Ethiopia, and I don't want you to miss it. I figured I'd tell you now so you can mark it down on your calendar or sticky-note or whatever you do to try to remember stuff. Because this you need to remember!

1-Hour Live Twitter Chat with the FH Bloggers Thursday, July 12th 2 PM Eastern / 1 PM Central #FHBloggers

We're going to be answering your questions, sharing our experiences, and giving away local Ethiopian crafts. It's gonna be fun! Help us spread the word on Twitter and Facebook??

Click the text below to tweet it out:

Join the #FHBloggers in Ethiopia for a live Twitter Chat on July 12th! More info: http://bit.ly/N5DgXg

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This video is a great introduction to Food for the Hungry. It's less than two minutes long, so push pause on life and watch this real quick:

 

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Click here to see some of the beautiful children up for sponsorship in the communities I'll be visiting. For just $1 a day, you can make sure an Ethiopian child will receive meals, clean water, medical care, and education. More importantly, you can make sure a child knows he or she is loved, valued, and believed in.

Will you join me for the Twitter Chat on July 12th?

out of africa

{Hello? Is this thing on? Can you even hear me over the sound of crickets?} Hi. It's been a while, I know. And while I could never do it justice, I'm gonna try to fill you in on the past couple months...

My first week or so in Africa seemed like an emotional roller coaster. Experiencing so many conflicting emotions, sometimes all at the same time, made my heart feel like she had whiplash. I was glad to be back, and yet familiar things brought equal measures of nostalgia and heartache. The acuteness of it all faded with each passing day. I feel like the length of my trip -- though long in every respect -- was a gift in that it gave me enough time for things to become "normal" again. In a way they hadn't felt in a long time.

I hit the ground running and was extremely busy with work. Long, full, tiring days were a distraction for my heart, which was both good and bad at times. And then, right when He knew I'd need it, God forced me to process rather than push it off.

I am a contributing author to a book being published in September. (Crazy, right?!) My portion of the manuscript had been turned in a month or so before I left, causing the editing process to fall smack in the middle of my time in Africa. Ummm... Wow. It was no coincidence that God had me revisit my memoir-style piece about following Him to and eventually from Africa while actually in Africa. It was h-a-r-d. So very hard. But so, so good.

I really enjoyed the whole editing process, though it was strenuous and heart-stretching in every possible way. I am excited about the new direction my writing took because I worked on it on my first trip back to Africa. And I am really thankful for the forced outlet of processing. My heart is stronger for it.

I had an amazing time with Love Botswana and Bridge for Hope. I am beyond grateful that I get to work with these incredible organizations, and I'm already looking forward to my next trip back to Southern Africa at the end of August.

I'm pretty sure my body has no idea what timezone I'm in. I arrived back in Nashville on Thursday. Less than 24 hours later, I hopped a plane to Oregon to surprise my Best Heart's Friend Cathi with a weekend visit. Her awesome husband helped me plan the whole thing so I could be there for their son's first birthday. Lincoln is my godson, and I didn't want to miss his big day! We had a blast of a weekend, filled with couch time and laughter and hugs and cake. What a gift it was to be there and to have my heart filled up with friends.

And now... I am really happy to be home in Nashville. I love to travel and feel crazy blessed that I get to, but I also love having a home to come back to. I'm a roots and wings girl after all.

From Africa to the west coast and now back in Central Time... Here's to the joys of jet lag (and NyQuil)!

Oh! I've been let out of Twitter purgatory! After 30 days -- with 7 support tickets filed and 0 contact from Twitter -- my account was reactivated just as randomly and explanationlessly as it had been suspended. So weird. (Thank you to all of you who implored the powers-that-be on my behalf!)

Well, I've got a suitcase to unpack and laundry to wash and a roommate to catch up on The Voice with. I'll talk to you again soon.

I promise.

turning the tide

break the silence

A huge part of what we do at Thrive Africa is AIDS prevention. I love our strategy for combating HIV because I know we are making a difference. The fruit speaks for itself. And I don't mind shouting that from my blog. Because it's not a pat on my back, it's a pat on God's.

There are a lot of agencies focusing on the effects of the AIDS crisis--building hospices to care for the dying, establishing orphanages for the scores of children left parentless, and providing services to those infected and affected by HIV. I believe in the urgent need for each one of those things. But I also know if we don't start focusing on the cause of the AIDS crisis, we're going to lose an entire generation in Africa.

The vision God's burned into my heart is to mobilize next generation leaders to live God-honoring lives. The only thing that will truly turn the tide of the AIDS pandemic is lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Long-lasting behavioral change comes from the work of God in a submitted heart. So we teach thousands of students each week in public schools about the purpose God has for them and how to avoid getting HIV so they can actually fulfill that purpose.

Our reason for teaching students isn’t just to prevent them from getting AIDS. Our primary purpose is to lead them into growing relationships with God. As they grow as Christ-following leaders, they'll learn to make wise choices in every area of their lives.

You can learn more about our AIDS prevention program, how you can invest into Africa, and opportunities to serve with us on Thrive's website.

i am only one, but i am one

aids ribbon"I am only one, but I am one.I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do." -Edward Everett Hale

Everyone can do something in the fight against AIDS. Don't let the enormity of the task keep you from doing the something you can do.

Learn as much as you can, discover what you're passionate about, and throw your full weight into that passion.

  • Discover which aspect of the AIDS crisis resonates with your heart. It will be different for different people, and that's okay! You may not know yet what you're passionate about in regards to fighting the AIDS pandemic. So begin by reading about the multi-faceted issues involved. Your heart will be gripped by something as you research. It might be orphan care, or medical intervention, or prevention/abstinence programs. Whatever it is, find your passion.
  • Find an organization that shares your passion. Again, this may take some digging. But there are plenty of solid ministries out there targeting the various aspects of AIDS.
  • Connect as much as possible with the cause/organization you believe in. The more you know and understand about their vision and strategies, the more you can be a megaphone for them.
  • Interact with the organization and its team. Visit their website, comment on their blog posts, ask for specific prayer requests. Passion grows when you truly become part of something. Family members have the same blood in their veins. Join the family. Get the vision coursing through you till you bleed it.
  • Use your voice and influence to promote the cause you believe in. You can do that through blog posts, sidebar widgets, twitter updates, and personal conversations. You could commit to a monthly megaphone day on your blog where you highlight different aspects of what’s being done, what the needs are, and opportunities for others to get involved.
  • Be passionate about it. Anyone can plug something, but passion is unmistakable. People will know how much you really believe in what you’re saying.
  • Pray. Prayer really does change things.
  • Contribute financially to support the work that's being done.
  • Get off your "but" and go. Drop the excuses and go see for yourself. Travel overseas to not only see the work in action but to participate in it. The best advocates are those who’ve been involved. And I guarantee it will change your life forever.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What are you currently doing to help in the fight against AIDS? What are you going to start doing? What other suggestions do you have for ways people can get involved?