The Work of God’s Fingers

It has been a little over one month since we arrived in Cameroon and a lot of things are happening, it’s amazing! We have been settling in to the schedule and lifestyles in Africa and the children are opening up and receiving us more everyday. The Holy Spirit has been softening hearts and speaking to souls; quickly bonding us together as one family full of love and growing in unity. With Ken’s leadership, we have been making great progress towards bettering the children’s lives at Shaping Destiny. God has been working mightily on our behalf, both physically and spiritually. Every time we feel overwhelmed or confused where to go His tender hand is there guiding us, encouraging us to press on. Every time we pray and put our faith in His gracious supply He provides and sustains us, whether through monetary donations or community support. We praise Him for His goodness and love that never ends, His faithfulness that continues to astound us day by day! We are building strength and faith as we put our hope in Jesus and wait patiently, full of expectation and joy that He will hear our prayers.

Here are a few updates of what is going on at Shaping Destiny Cameroon:

In my last few blog entries, I’ve shared the new project we’ve begun of building a wash house for the kids in the back of our compound. The process has already started even though we don’t have all the fund necessary to complete it. We are walking by faith and not by sight, trusting that God will supply all we need through His people. It’s amazing to see donations coming in here and there, that only increases our faith and brings Him more glory. But we are not just sitting idly by and waiting for things to fall in our laps. Oh no, we are working just as hard to ensure this project progresses smoothly and quickly. Everyone, both staff and children, got together one evening a few weeks ago and used wheel barrels, buckets, and shovels to transport and pack enough dirt into the foundation for the workers to come pour cement the next day. It was a nice family experience; full of hard work, sweat, and an occasional dirty-ball fight or two. Everyone is anxious to contribute and see conditions rise from the current second-rate situation. So far, the foundation is laid, the walls are almost complete, and soon a roof and a few doors will be added to finish the work. Like I said before, we have begun this project without the means to completely finish. I am learning that most, if not all, things here require complete trust that God will provide and His glory will be shown throughout the nations. He uses people like you and me to act as His hands and feet; not only obeying His commands to care for the poor and needy, but also living as servants of the Most High and dedicating all our possessions to His disposal. If you would like to partner with us in this project and help give these orphans a clean, stable place to bathe themselves, please visit send checks or money orders to Shaping Destiny P.O. Box 200700, Austin, Texas 78720-0700 and specify it is for the wash house project. Please donate whatever God is asking of you and know the money will not only build up these brick walls, but more importantly, it will build up our childlike faith in Jesus. Your donation will be well used, effective, and proof that our God is good and faithful to those called by His name.

Another way we are better the lives of the children here is by providing new clothes. In case you are thinking that all we do is ask for donations and sit on our own hands and wallets, simply waiting, I’m happy to tell you that you’re absolutely wrong. All of us Aunties have donated $100 or more to hire a tailor, provide the material, and pay for the labor of hand-sewing at least one, if not two, new sets of uniforms for all 27 children. You should see how tattered and worn their current shirts, pants, and dresses have become. In America, we throw out clothes that we don’t like anymore, get new outfits during back-to-school shopping, and have packed closets full of things we didn’t even know we had. Here, it’s been years since they’ve received new clothing and they’ve resorted to crudely stitching them back together with mismatched thread or using torn pieces of cloth as patches. Many have told us they get teased at school or while walking through town because of their tattered outfits. Most of them hate the word “orphan” because they are looked down upon and judged harshly in the community. A few of our youngest children, Godwill and Kester, have told us some of the cruel things yelled at them while walking home from school. Auntie, they say, “Orphans for sale! 100 francs!” How terrible! 100 francs isn’t even 50 cents, chickens here are sold for more than that. It breaks my heart to see them being so mistreated and to know they hate their own social status. Jesus loves all people and children, but He has a special place in His heart for orphans and widows. He holds them close to His chest like a good shepherd and commands His people to care for the needy such as these. I would never want them to hate who they are and be so negatively affected by piercing words hurled at them out of arrogance. Although their status is already known, brand new clothes will give them a sense of pride and confidence rather than shame. They can walk around in clean, well-fitting clothing rather than torn pieces with gapping holes. It was such a joy to see them all standing anxiously in line when the tailor came to measure them. In another week or so, the work will be done and it’ll be like an early Christmas!

It’s obvious things are improving, some quicker than others, but all exceedingly better off than many other living condition in Batibo. Us staff are working hard to teach the children gratitude for their many blessings and how to be good stewards of the things God has been giving them. We have devotions every morning and evening and have been teaching a lot from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew. It is important to not only thank God for His goodness, but also to be responsible for what He has already put in our care. Kids will be kids and many times shoes are misplaces, tables are colored on, or laundry is left out too long on the line and disgarded, but it is still essential to teach proper stewardship. If we are wise with the little God has given us, He will see us as faithful servants and give us even more to look after. We have been constantly seeking ways to prevent the misusage of things around the home. We have been creating more accurate meal portions and measurements when cooking so no food goes to waste, turning off lights to save electricity, and locking up the kitchen and store room so thieves (or mischevious kids) don’t steal food. Just in the last month, we have seen the amazingly positive impact of being faithful stewards. Normally, near the end of the month, the orphanage is aching for more food because they have quickly run out before it’s time to grocery shop. This past month, however, a whole bag of rice was left over that previously would have been long gone! Because we are implementing preventative measures and responsible planning, the blessings God is giving us are not only lasting much longer, but allowing extra monetary savings that can now be put towards school fees or new pairs of shoes. As the children’s lives are improving daily, even in the small ways, they are becoming more appreciative of God’s blessings and aware of His active role in their lives.

God has also been doing wonderful thing in the hearts of the children as they are opening up to us new Aunties and Uncles. It has become apparent that a lot of bitterness and resentment planted by miscommunication or ignorance has taken root over the last few years. On many occasions, children have been filled with anger and causing division in the home because they felt treated unfairly or disregarded. Instead of respectfully dealing with these conflicts, gossip and arrogance have blinded the children and burned bridges of trust between them and their loving authorities. These issues were emotional and heavy, but it was by God’s grace they came to the surface and His gentle healing began to soothe the pain. After hours of family meetings and open forums, all the disagreements were revealed and we have responded with grace, allowing the Holy Spirit to work and reunite everyone infected. Every time darkness begins to creep up over Shaping Destiny, the staff is there to fight off spirits of evil with God’s light and gracious love. It is not just a learning experience for the children either, us adults are learning how to be teachable and discern God’s will also. As we are being taught repentance, proper confession, and conflict resolution we are then turning and sharing this newfound wisdom with those under us. After a few lessons during devotions and consistent, caring guidance, the children and staff wrote out confessions and shared them, specifically with those they have wronged. It has been incredible to see our God work in divine power to restore relationships, soften anger, and move once hardened hearts towards repentance. There has been such an obvious weight lifted off Shaping Destiny in the last few weeks; a hidden burden that God has gently removed and replaced with forgiveness, love, and grace.

As a ministry, Shaping Destiny is aching for more long term staff! Many volunteers come and go, but the children really need someone who is committed to them for the long run. A lot of projects are started and then abandoned half way through because the volunteer leading the change has left. Many times, new ideas are presented and implemented but run soley on a primary person who is passionate about seeing them through. Once that person is gone, although beneficial, the new practices fall away and the orphanage goes back to its old ways. Currently, there are only 2 local managers who lead 27 kids…every day, all day, for years. Can you imagine how exhausting that is?! They desperately need reinforcement! For now, they will have a handful of volunteers here to help, but only for another year or so. This ministry needs people who feel called to serve orphans and can be committed to laying down their lives in order to ensure others lives benefit. We greatly need male volunteers as well! Many of the children have loving Aunties to guide and teach them, but a majority of our children are boys. They really need a good, strong, godly male figure to not only show them how to live and strive after the Lord, but who can keep them safe and build them up in physical protection. Please join in our prayer efforts to ask God to move in the hearts of His people and call them to Shaping Destiny. In order to grow and expand as a ministry, we need volunteers who are following God’s calling in their lives and willing to spend themselves on behalf of others. These tasks, as any, are overwhelming and cannot be put on any one person’s shoulders. But if we continue to contribute one little donation, one powerful prayer, one life at a time –we could pull together and do amazing things for the glory of God. Thank you for walking with me so far and please continue to keep us on the fore front of your heart and mind as we all seek to obey and pursue after God’s will; His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

A Quick Peak At My Life Map

It’s 7:44am on Wednesday, November 6 and I’m sitting in the darkness of my room snacking on sweet groundnuts, a local Cameroonian treat. I have been up for 3 hours now; studying the Bible, praying, reading a few chapters of Living in the Light of Eternity by K.P Yohannan, and working on this latest blog entry. The past few weeks I have had practically no internet access unless I drive 45 minutes into Bamenda, the nearest town, and find a good WiFi hotel or internet cafe. Even when we make those trips into town, we normally have such a long list of things to get done that my internet gets pushed aside to make time for more important priorities. I’ve been extremely busy and a lot has been happening…it’s been hard to keep up with African life and personal care plus writing to inform everyone, blog entries, and then intensive orphanage training and Bible College. Ahhhh! But God has been good to me and I’m surviving, and learning so much its literally transforming my life! I wanted to share a very important opportunity and a huge shift in my life as I seek God’s way to fulfill my calling. I’ve been praying and seeking God’s will with a particular opportunity and I’ve come to a peaceful, confident decision that I’m now willing to make public.

You all know my heart for serving children. I fell in love with Africa over 17 months ago and since then have been searching for where to begin serving and how God wants to use me. I felt most called to Shaping Destiny because of the training programs they have through Glory Bible College. Currently, we are receiving 3 months of training while Ken, our leader, the director of Shaping Destiny, and a great man of God, is here and then he is returning to continue the organization in Austin TX from the headquarters. It is a small organization right now, a start-up project if you will…founded in 2005 and in the initial stages of take off. Just like all organizations or ministries, it has to start small and will hopefully begin growing as God blesses us.

So, it was within the first or second week of arriving in Cameroon that I was meditating on a hill near the orphanage. I was trying to hear God and I believe I did. Since finding my calling and striving to fulfill it for the last year or so, I’ve been hearing God telling me to “wait”. That would be all I would hear form him, “Just wait, Stephanie.” It’s been a struggle to find patience and I’ve definitely had my ups and downs. As I was meditating, I was listening to the nature all around me and praying for God to show me His will. The insects were buzzing all around my head. The ants were crawling over me. One of the children even walked by and, with my eyes closed and head bowed, I listened to the sound of their steps. All of a sudden, I felt God speak to my heart, “Now is the time to work. I want you here and when it is time to leave I will tell you. Stop your waiting and begin to work.” I was in awe! I’ve been waiting for these instructions since April of 2012 and now they have come! See, in the first few weeks of being here, although I have loved it for the great learning experience it is, I felt trouble in my heart and couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t necessarily feel satisfied like I did the first few trips to Africa. At first, I attributed it to the huge change and biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, and was praying for endurance and direction. My biggest insecurity is that I feel inadequate in service. I don’t have any specific skills and no specialized training so I have been unsure how I can help better children’s lives. All of the other volunteers here have some sort of college degree that has helped them know a specific path they want to take to contriubte. One is a music major and feels called to stay long term and teach the children music. Another is a clinical child therapist and specializes in trama cases. Still another is in pre-med and is acting as a nurse and caregiver to the sick kids. So in the midst of trying to settle in and find my place, I’ve been anxious to know which path God wants me to take to follow my calling. And sometimes I get very frustrated and discontented with my lack of insight, but I have decided to surrender it all to God. In one of the books I’ve been reading here for class, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, there is a section about serving. Foster talks about how important a heart of servanthood is and how sometimes the best way to give is from “behind the scenes”. It’s easy to want to serve when you are in the lime light and getting attention and praise for your sacrifice. Not that being on the front lines is a bad thing, but there is a need as well for those organizing and equipping and sending others out. Those passages spoke to me and I considered that maybe if I didn’t have a particular skill or talent, I could be used to identify them in others and place those who are called by God into the right place for them to serve. After receiving these instructions to begin working and cease my waiting, I responded with, “Yes, Lord.” All of a sudden I felt the peace of God that transcends all understanding begin to fill me and all the trouble vanished from my heart. I knew who I was following and what I needed to do. It was like God showing me a peak at my life map and seeing the glorious path set out before me, I returned to the orphanage to continue my studies and reading. Within 15 minutes Ken approached me and asked to talk privately.

He told me that he sees my serving heart and desire to make a career out of my heart for orphans. He said that right now in Africa, although it is good I am willing to serve, that I am disposable. A local African can volunteer, like I am doing, and probably do a better job (he was gentle and meant no offense so I listened openly). He told me that he wants to personally invite back to Austin with him after his 3 month stay here (so in mid-December 2013) and continue my training with Glory Bible College as I work with the headquarters to continue bettering the orphans lives. If interested, which I definitely am, I could continue schooling long enough to get a BA in Orphan care; Glory Bible College is the only school to offer such a degree. I would learn many things when earning my BA in orphan care such as proper nutrition for how to care after malnourished or ill children, how to financially run a non profit, grow spiritually, learn leadership skills and be qualified to continue this long term…actually make a career out of my passion! I would travel back and forth (at least once, if not more) to Cameroon during the years to help oversee the facilitating of this place and as we grow and plant other churches, orphanages, or schools I would be in charge of those as well…both in Cameroon and around the world. He said I would learn to teach and equip others who want to be trained and work behind the scenes; being hired by Shaping Destiny as an “owner”, teach furture classes, obtain new sponsors, and share the vision with others to recruit partners and donors.

This would be amazing!!! And in many ways plays into the feelings I have been experiencing, enables my dream, and teaches me everything I need to know to follow my calling. It also works well with previous time limitations: my flight itinerary is only for 3 months, my malaria meds are only enough for 3 months, and we have experienced visa issues that threathen more fees and potential deportation…in 3 months. I also ran into major issues right before leaving that thwarted my plans to lease my car and was forced to sell it, leaving me liberated from any responsibilities back in California. God was working in ways to put me exactly where He wanted me. Ken has said he sees great potential in me and feels that God would use me more if I returned and served in TX. Obviously he encouraged me to take time and pray about it. It’s been about 4 weeks now and every day I have been keeping it in the back of my mind, but at the front of my prayer time. I didn’t want my desire for comforts and nearness to familiarities to sway me, but I also saw this as a bigger opportunity than the one I would have here. I genuinely know that God has called me to work with Shaping Destiny as I pursue my calling so I have now decided to gladly take this opportunity to devote myself to caring for orpahans and expanding the kingdom of God through this ministry from the headquarters in Austin, Texas.

So….I’ll be home for Christmas!! It’s good news because I will be reunited with my family and friends that I’ve missed so much and be able to fully explain everything happening in my life. It’s also bad news because the orphans here have become my new life; the relationships I have built mean so much to me and the calling and passion I have developed for them specifically is so strong that it breaks my heart to think of being seperated from them for months at a time. I both look forward to going home to America and dread leaving my new home here at the Shaping Destiny orphanage. I have been changed again, as African tends to do to me, and my life is being molded over and over by my magnificent Potter. I’ve been destroyed once more and I can’t just return to my previous life back in America and continue how I was before. My life is now dedicated to God’s will and these children who have become my new passion. I plan to leave Batibo, Cameroon the evening of December 15th and drive 6 hours to Douala in order to depart the 16th at 1am. After 27 hours of in-flight movies, plane changes, and airline food (which used to disgust me, but now I’m rather excited about), I will arrive in Sactown, California on December 17th around 11pm. I plan on being in California for about 3 weeks in which I will spend as much time with loved ones, share my on-going story, pack up my things to send to Texas, and then around the second week of January I will follow God’s instructions and move to Texas for however long He wants me to remain there.

I would greatly appreciate prayers for guidance and any advice or encouragement you may have. If interested, you can find out more specific info about the school at www.glorybiblecollege.com It is amazing how God is working and maybe opening new doors. Please pray for me! If possible, I hope it works out to see as many of you as I can while I’m back in California. See you in a matter of weeks!

-Auntie Steph

Week 4

With every day that passes, I am seeing new things and hearing new lessons and feeling new emotions…in every way. I am getting to know the children more and with every experience we share, I am falling more in love with them. Each one is unique and different in their own ways and I am beginning to see them just how God does…as precious and beautiful and set apart just for Him.

Donalise is a strong headed, funky little 9 year old. She loves dancing for the Lord and greets me every morning and evening with a huge hug! She enjoys burying her head against my stomach and giggling as she listens to me whisper God’s love in her ears. Maureen is responsible and loving. She is the only older girl who shares a room with the 3 younger children and takes care of all of them by herself! She is gentle and caring and they love her because she puts their needs first. We love her for helping us in every way as we adjust to life here. Emmanuel is one of the older boys, 16 according to his birth certificate, but he claims to be 19. I would believe it because he shows wisdom far beyong his years. He talks to me about how he doesn’t have many friends at school because the boys are sometimes into bad things and he doesn’t want to get caught up with the wrong crowd. The girls like being around him, but as he is growing into a handsome man they are desiring things from him that he says “will only tempt me to be distracted.” Wow! I adore him and hope my own sons will show that same level of maturity. He and I talk a lot about our dreams and I hope that he will continue having high expectations for the amazing future I see ahead of him. Each of these kids have their own passions and gifts and I’m enjoying seeing them grow and learn everyday. It’s amazing that someone like me would have the opportunity to influence and shape the destiny of such valuable gifts from the Lord. I’m constantly humbled by His grace.

I’m beginning to find my place in the children’s lives and schedules. I’m learning that the best way to relate to them is to spend time doing the things they do, walk a mile in their shoes. And it is not only helping my relationship with them, it is benefiting my growing relationship with Jesus. Every Saturday is full of cleaning, washing, and working in the garden. Last weekend, I joined them in the farm and worked on weeding so that our cassavas, yams, and bitter greens would grow big and strong. I got in my work clothes, threw on a hat, and began pulling up these weird fern-looking weeds and overgrown grass. The kids taught me what to pull and how to pull it — tight by the ground so the root would come up out of the soft soil, then we throw them in a pile. There were so many weeds, it must have been months since they pulled them last! I got straight to work with the younger boys as the older girls began singing to help the hard work pass faster. The sun was beating down on our bent backs and I was happy to feel it, since the last few days have been nothing but thunder storms. As I panted and dripped with sweat, trying to keep up with these hardworking kids, my mind began to wander…but to such a beautiful place. Even in the most simple settings, God was speaking to me and I was listening.

Stephanie, you are like this garden. You have many good things that have been planted in you; crops that need to grow and flourish in order to develop fruit. I, God, am your gardener, constantly working on you so that you stay healthy and continue to grow. The soil is your heart, your soul. I plant seeds deep inside you and with water and nutrients, a little sprig will eventually sprout…getting bigger and stronger as time goes on. But, just like this garden you are working in, there are weeds in you that I have not planted there…they have come on their own. These weeds will choke the good plants, taking their nutrients and robbing them of life. They could be bad influences, evil habits, or sin that has taken root in your hearts and minds. I want to weed those things out of you, allowing only the good to live and bring further life. I will grasp them by their roots and yank them out completely, leaving no trace or ability for them to return.

So there I was, bending and pulling and straining to remove all the bad from our garden so that the good plants would have room and freedom to thrive. And I’m hearing these words in my heart…words that wouldn’t come from my own mind, thoughts that I have never had before. So I began thinking, if God is our gardener and He desires to pull out the weeds for our own good…what would make this process easier, on both the Gardener and the garden? If I am the soil then wouldn’t it hurt to have things, even bad things like weeds, yanked from me? I want God to work and remove my weeds…what could I do to help? And as if the Holy Spirit spoke in direct response to my pondering heart, a thought began to form: “I’m so glad this soil is soft and vulnerable so I can easily get to the root of these weeds.”

I paused for a moment and stood up straight, still staring at the ground in front of me. The soil was soft. That’s what made this otherwise difficult process easy. It wasn’t hard and cracked like recovering from a drought. No, it soaked up the rain that has been falling for days and was almost like sand, falling effortlessly through my hands. It was healthy and soft, willing to be molded and manipulated by the gentle gardener. The soil has to allow itself to be softened. My heart needs to be soft before God in order to allow Him to weed me. If I stray from my Savior and begin to seek my own direction and nutrients…my soil, my soul, will grow hard and shrink up like during a drought. If I want the pruning process to be easy and less painful, I should remain soft and vulnerable before the Lord. That way, He can easily remove the wrongful things in me and I won’t be so torn apart from the weeding.

As I began to find enlightenment in this simple task, I found myself enjoying it more and more. The worship songs coming from the older girls were sweet and beautiful to my ears. The hot sun that burned the back of my neck and shoulders was like the strong hand of God willing me to continue my hard work. I wasn’t burdened by this exhausting chore, I was actually delighted. I was acting like my God; I was being the gardener. Even the vast amounts of weeds that remained did not discourage me. I knew this was a process, it would take time. Even with 7 of us working in the garden, yards of weeds continued down the rows of crops and beckoned for many more Saturday work to come. But just like my Gardener, I would patient and return again to keep pulling up the bad so the good can grow and multiply.

This week has been such an eye opener! I am not only bonding with the children and the other staff, I am learning a lot about myself and beginning to hear the voice of God more clearly than I ever have. In my quiet times, I can feel the Holy Spirit sustaining me. In class, I am finding myself starving for training and satisfied after every lesson. And every morning and night, I am surrendering myself; opening my heart and mind for constant renewal and cleansing. The Lord continues to bless us in many ways and answer our calls to Him. My faith is being strengthened as I seek His will…and am finding it. Don’t get me wrong, life here is not easy! Things fall apart and go wrong all the time. And our staff meetings centered around bettering the children’s life continue to grow in length and topics that make our heads spin and threaten to damper our excited initiative. But in every way we are weak, Jesus is proving Himself strong. In every disappointment or set back, He is gracious and generous in favor. And I will continue to put my hope in Him, for He is strong and mighty and worthy of my trust. His eternal love for me is as constant as my never ending need for Him. I am so amazed my Him…how He loves me.

Seeing Beyond the Scars: Bridggidit’s Story

There I am, sitting on the cement steps outside and looking out over our deep red dirt yard and lush forest that surrounds our home. Its overcast, but hot and muggy, and I’m sucking on the last of my Starbursts…a sweet treat and reminder of America. 7 year old Bridggidit (Bridget), just returning from school, comes bounding up to me, book bag over her shoulder and looking adorable as ever in her little sky blue dress. “Good afternoon, Auntie!!” she squeals as I sweep her up in a hug and squirms as I tickle her playfully. “How was school?” I ask. “Did you learn much?” She nods her head in agreement and pants quietly, recovering from our giggling greet. But as I watch her face, I can see her smile beginning to fade as she recalls her day and lowers her head to look at her left hand.

Bridggidit’s father died when she was very young and her mother suffered from her own physical illness, epilepsy. One day, while Bridggidit was home, her mom had an episode and in the midst of the chaos a fire started in the kitchen. Trying to help put it out, this young girl got caught up in the flames and severely burned her hand and arm. She lost one of her pinkies and the remaining hand tissues on her left side now connect from her wrist directly to her ring finger, pulling her whole hand sideways and creating an obviously disfigured sight. I notice her looking down at her hand as we sit on the steps and I am filled with so much emotion for this precious little girl. Who knows the kind of bullying I’m sure she endures…more than I could ever imagine.

“Bridggidit, did something happen at school?” She won’t look up at me, or respond to my question. I try another approach. “Hey sweetie,” I lift up her face to see her eyes, “Do you remember what happened to your hand?” She nods.

“There was a fire…I was help put it out…it was hot.” Her brow begins to furrow as I can see the memories coming back.

“Did you burn your hand in the fire trying to help Mama?” She nods again. “Tell me Bridggidit,” and at this point I take her scarred little hand in my own and begin stroking it, “Do the kids at school laugh at your hand? Do they hurt your feelings because it looks like this?” For a long silent moment, neither of us move. I see her eyes swelling with tears as she looks away, out over the dirt yard…then nods her head.

“They say I’m ugly. Please Auntie, my hand…I want new.”

My own eyes begin to swell and I have to close them to keep tears from falling in front of her. I inhale deeply and my spirit breaks for hers. I know what that pain feels like. I was born with club feet — I kicked too much in my mother’s womb and my feet didn’t develop correctly because they got stuck between her ribs. I had many reconstructive surgeries as a child and went through casts, and physical therapy, and braces before eventually learning to walk very late in life. My feet are covered in scars; they line the sides where my skin was cut open and mark the top where the needles were inserted to keep my bones in their proper place. My left foot arches significantly from the crowded bones and both feet have been a source of embarrassment my whole life. Eventually, the doctors say they will cause severe arthritis and I may not be able to walk. For now, I’m fortunate enough that my scars can be hidden and I never have to show anyone against my will. The cruel words little Bridggidit hears every day have never entered my ears or pierced my soul, but I have looked upon myself with the same disgust I’m sure she does. I have covered up when I’m nervous people will comment on my feet or compared them to others in pictures, at dances, in high heels. I have seen ugliness on a part of my own body and wished to look a different way. My mother used to see this pain and would sit me on her lap and tell me that Jesus thought I was beautiful. She would sing me this song based off of Isaiah 52:7, “Beautiful feet, beautiful feet, you’ve got beautiful feeeeet”. I will never forget the love I felt in those moments with my mom, how I would forget my own insecurities and focus only on the acceptance I knew right then and there. Even now, recalling those times as I write this story, my heart is full of gratitude and healing.

“Bridggidit, do you want to see something?” She looks back at me and wipes one of her eyes. Without hesitation, I remove my shoes and peel off my socks, revealing my own scars and painful insecurities. “See, I hurt my feet like you hurt your hand. And I don’t like the way it looks either.” She strains her neck to look over my lap and examine the scars for herself, then looks back at me. I pull her closer, continuing to stroke her disformed hand. “My mama used to tell me that Jesus think I’m beautiful! He made me just the way I am…and He knew that your hand would be hurt in that fire. But He looks at you and thinks you’re beautiful! Don’t listen to what the kids at school say, because they don’t decide what God thinks. He already loves you.”

And with that, I kiss her hand, ever so gently, but confidently enough that any trace of embarrassment in her heart would be wiped away. And as if the Holy Spirit filled her and took away her shame, a smile grew on her precious little face…so big that she began to laugh. For a moment or two, our eyes met and our hearts were one, in sorrow and in joy. Then she turned and ran upstairs to change from her school uniform and eat lunch.

I was left alone again, sitting on the steps thinking about my life and the experiences I have gone through. If it wasn’t for my own scars, I don’t know if I would have been able to connect with Bridggidit in such a profound way…and I’m not sure if the love I lavished upon her that day would have ever been poured out on such a personal level. I hope that when she looks at her hand and feels ashamed, that she will think of Auntie Stephanie telling her about Jesus’ love and how beautiful the Father thinks she is. I pray that we can get her the surgery she needs so that when Bridggidit is old enough she can be confident on her very first date; braiding her hair the way she does mine, but without struggling or fumbling. And when that lucky man falls in love with her and slides a gorgeous ring on her left hand, that she can look down with pride and joy and remember the love that was once spoken about that very same hand…before it was made new.

I hope that after God supplies the needed funds for reconstructive surgery, she can use her own heartache and recovery to reach out to someone else who is in the same lowly place she once was. Isn’t that why God puts us through difficulties anyways? So that the testing of our faith can develop perserverance? And through that perserverance we can encourage others to keep going; not to give up or give in to the harshness of this world but to endure the heartache, keeping in mind the joy that is set before us. That there is a light at the end of this long tunnel…a light from a God who accepts us just as we are and adores us despite how dirty or misshapen we may be.

 

Bridggidit

Week 2

‘Twas the night before our second week and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for our pet mouse (who we have named Carlos and are plotting to kill instead of allow him to keep us up at night and eat through our Tums). The missionaries are sleeping, snuggled tight in their beds, while visions of cheeseburgers and  milkshakes dance in their heads (maybe just mine…I am actually becoming dillusional and think I can smell McDonalds at random times throughout the night). Hahahahahaha :)

Hello America! Do you miss me? I miss you all! So so so much! Week 2 is drawing to an end and it has been a busy one! It’s crazy how the first few days seemed to drag on, but now that we are settling into a routine the hours are flying by quickly. Before we know it the day is over and we’re climbing back under our mosquito nets, fast asleep within minutes. I am adjusting well to life here and with internet improving, I am filled with peace and contentment as I don’t feel completely cut off from my loved ones back home. My appetite is growing (which is shocking because the mash, rice, and brown soup hasn’t improved in any way). I have learned how to start the fire in our little brick kitchen and after an hour or so can enjoy a hot shower, although it is still from a bucket. We haven’t yet mastered burning our trash, as everything outside is wet, so we have only added to their already huge pile. I washed my clothes from a bucket (for the first time in my life) and hung them out to dry on the line (but my family used to do that back home so that part wasn’t very difficult). It took 2 days for everything to dry because half way through day one it began raining, and we had to rush outside to gather everything before they got an unneeded extra rinse.

There is a set schedule, which varies a bit on the weekend, but overall is consistent. We are all up by 5am everyday (6am on the weekends). Worship and devotions for about 30 minutes and then the children have morning chores to do such as mopping the floor, cleaning the yard, and sweeping. On weekdays, by 6:30am, they should all be washed and dressed, eating a quick breakfast and out the door walking to school by 6:45. We have morning staff meetings at 7:15 and, for those of us in training, class is from 8am-noon (Mon-Thurs). Then we have lunch (more rice and maybe some beans) and free time to study, read, write our book reports, or nap. The rainy season is coming to an end and the weather is improving enough that I have been spending a lot of time on our front porch, soaking up the African sun and the beautiful land it shines down upon. On Saturdays, we go to our farm to weed or gather crops which currently consist of cassavas, yams, sweet potatoes, and some sort of bitter green leaves. We then have another staff meeting every night from 5-6 and dinner is from 6-6:30. The children are expected to do their homework from 6:30-8:30 every evening and we have our nightly worship and devotions with them until bedtime at 9:30. Obviously, on Sundays we attend church…for 4 hours in the morning…and take the rest of the day to relax, play games, or prep for school come Monday. When we fast, we spend most of that free time in prayer and worship, as a group or individually.

I know all the kids by name now and, in fact, was “on call” for the first time last night. I am, in a sense, a mother of 27 now. Being on call means that I am responsible for ensuring the kids follow their schedule and are behaving correctly. We all rotate the schedule so the duty of being “in charge” falls on us all equally. For my on call night, I have to sleep upstairs in a room with the older girls and enforce our “lights out at 10pm” policy. The boys are difficult to control, but they are learning what my I-Mean-It Face looks like haha. The girls, as usual, are less rowdy and more obedient, but also sassy at times. Around 1am, whoever is on call has to get up and take the younger children to go potty, otherwise they will wet themselves. For some of them it is expected because they are very young, Evena for example is 4. Others are as old as 9-12, like Genesis or Kester, and we have attributed the lack of potty training to possible emotional trauma. Since we have begun getting them up in the night, however, everyone is dry in the morning. Yay! Other on call duties include waking everyone up (some of these kids are out like  logs!), making sure they’re doing their chores, and chasing them out the door so they aren’t late for school.

Classes have been awesome and I am greatly enjoying my studies! This 12 week course of Theology 101-105 counts as 15 units of accredited Glory Bible College classes. I just finished the first book in our curriculum: “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster and I loved it! Many of you who know me well are aware of my hesitancy towards schooling. I never cared for it and never planned on attending college because I didn’t think that any of my specific interests would be addressed. I want to pursue a career in serving orphans, in humanitarian work, and in following God’s plan for my life. Tell me what typical college has classes for that?? This training, however, is altogether different and deep and real. “Celebration of Discipline” is only the beginning, but it has introduced to me many ideas–principles of spiritual growth, and I’m soaking it up!

I’m learning about inward disciplines such as meditation, prayer, fasting, and studying the Bible. I have already begun meditating regularly and it is strengthening my prayer life. As a family (because that’s what Shaping Destiny is) we fast every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month and I am seeing the importance and proper perspective that comes within that sacrifice. There is so much more to studying the Word than just reading and not only are my Bible pages becoming filled with notes and markings, but I am asking questions and seeking answers that previously I never considered. Other chapters in the book discuss and instruct on outward disciplines such as solitude, servant hood, and humility as well as corporate disciplines like worship, confession, and celebration.

God is already blessing us and we have collected enough donations to make significant changes at the orphanage! There used to be no toilets or sinks, those have recently been installed for staff use…and we are immensely grateful! The children used to have to walk miles to the nearest brook to draw water, but just in the last few months God has provided enough for us to build a well with a huge tank that fills daily and is used for drinking. A tiny spout allows them to fill buckets for showers or cleaning and saves them hours of hard labor.  We are also already building another tank in the back of the orphanage (5 times the size of our current one!) that will provide easier access and more water for the washing and cooking. It will also pump into the orphanage, as our toilets and sinks don’t currently have running water. When we need to flush, we have to get buckets of water from the tanks outside and pour them into the bowl so it drains. There are pipes installed and we are working on the engine to power water through them.

We are beginning new projects to better the lives of the children here. Currently, the children fill buckets with water from the tank and go into a “stall” outside made of dried branches to wash themselves.  They stand on rocks under the open sky, but don’t even have enough towels for everyone to dry off and stay warm. These “stalls” are not private at all and those on the hills above us or behind our land can see right in on these naked kids. We want to provide a sustainable wash house for the kids to bathe. That is our next project and where a majority of donations are needed and will be specifically designated.

Our contractor, Bona, comes and meets with our director and leader, Ken, almost every other day. We have plans for a new wash house already drawn up, workers are being hired, and costs calculated. The wash house will have two divided sides; one for boys and one for girls. Instead of 4 kids washing at a time (our current max) we will build enough space for up to 10! We will use some left over materials from previously abandoned projects and our remaining balance is approximately US$4,500. We have shared our visions and plans with the children and they are ecstatic! They feel loved and cared for that we are noticing their needs and planning to improve them. As a family, we pray for God’s guidance and provisions every day! The Bible says that everything we have is from God and to acknowledge Him in all our ways. I know that funds will be supplied because I serve a God who knows our needs and if we are following His will (caring for orphans in their distress), He will bless us.

God works through people, the body of Christ. I am asking for those reading this to consider what they have been blessed with and pray that they are moved to contribute to this cause. I pray that God will move hearts of people around the world to see those in need and feel compelled to reach out in love. I pray the He will continue to overflow blessings into your cup until it runneth over–into those around you who’s cups are still empty. This task, as any, is overwhelming and cannot be put on any one person’s shoulders. If we could all contribute one small part, one little donation, one drop of water—we could pull together and do amazing things–fill enough buckets to wash over all these precious children until they are new and clean.

I am trying to upload pictures of our current blessings from God and remaining needs, but internet is fighting me and our connection isn’t strong enough:( I will seek out ways to share these images with you, but until then please pray and consider helping us.

Please donate whatever amount, big or small, and know that it will be used for the glory of God and the benefit of these orphans! I will continue to try to post updates and photos of progression whether on here or another site. The best way is to send checks or money orders to

Shaping Destiny
P.O. Box 200700
Austin, Texas 78720-0700

and specify that the money is towards our Wash House Project. Thank you!!

Week 1

It’s 5am. Of course I don’t know that at the time, I’m fast asleep in my bunk bed. It’s muggy under my mosquito net canopy and I’m in complete darkness in the room I share with 2 other girls. My skin is clammy from not showering for 2 days. I’m dreaming…I can’t remember what exactly, but probably of how beautiful all the children are here. We should be getting up soon, even before the sun. I might have drifted back to sleep momentarily waiting for our alarm to sound, but before I know it I’m being shaken awake. Not by my roommates, not by the urge to pee that I’ve been holding all night, no…I’m awakened by a booming sound that literally shakes my beds wooden frame. It’s the sound of feet stomping and hands clapping and children’s voices echoing through our dining hall. It’s worship! It’s the Holy Spirit exploding from their hearts and sweeping down the hallway, whispering in my sleeping ears, “You’re missing the good stuff…hurry up!”

It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard: the best wake up call that’s ever interrupted my slumber. It brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart and I’m anxiously running to wash my face and join them. Every day begins and ends with worship and devotions with the children. One hour at 5am and one again before bed at 8:30. I’m learning to grow in my spiritual walk already in the first week; beginning and ending my day with Jesus. Listening to them sing with such passion and love, it both humbles and challenges my own way of worship. How can these children who come from such hardships and pain dance and sing at 5am as if they are on top of the world? And how come someone like me who has so much and knows nothing of hardships sleeps in until 10 and goes about their day with very little praise? I found myself weeping in the back row and listening not so much with my ears, although their harmony is amazing, but more with my heart. Like I said, I was being shaken awake.

Our first week in Africa has been great! We had our first staff meeting with Ken (our director who will be here with us for 3 months) the 5 of us girls, 1 local African who is new to the staff, Franklin, and the 2 local women, Jackie and Loveline (who oversee the orphanage.) We discussed our initial plans, internet connections, cultural duties, training, and how the orphanage is run. Our meeting was cut short, though, when the power in the orphanage went out and we were left scrambling to find our flashlights. Typical Africa haha.

I’m so anxious to learn everything and feel comfortable. I won’t lie…the transition has been hard for me. Some days I am singing worship songs as I splash myself with cold water from a bucket (and call it a shower) and other days I am crying myself to sleep from severe loneliness and homesickness. I have to keep reminding myself it’s only the first week and that everything will come in time. It’s interesting how things work here. The children do all the chores, including cooking and cleaning. It is actually considered disrespectful if we, as their elders, tried to do household work. The children are responsible for simple duties around the home and in turn we are responsible for taking care of bigger duties; their school fees, finances, and health. The food….well it makes me miss America a lot haha. It is mostly rice, beans, yams and some sort of brown soup they pour over it. One day we had chicken, gizzards and all. Where are the cheeseburgers at?? Just kidding. I am learning what it means to really thank God for every meal and as time progresses, I am adjusting. The weather is much like back home in California. It gets cold at night and warms up during the day. Right now it’s rainy season so, as you can assume, it rains all the time! It poured so hard on our second day that the power went out at 3 in the afternoon and by devotion time at 8, we were still in pitch blackness, but giggling over shadow puppets on the walls. Their innocence is both shocking and refreshing.

The kids have definitely warmed up to us. The first few days they were shy and barely smiling, but now we have them bouncing on our laps and kissing us goodnight. They call us Aunties even though we are not related, they see us as family. We love them and care for them like they are our own. It’s hard to keep track of all of their names, but they are being patient with us. We ask them over and over and they laugh at our short memories. We have taught them games like Red Light, Green Light and Tag and they have taught us how to sing what I think is Ring Around the Rosy (with different motions and maybe a few extra verses) in Mugamo, their local dialect. We laugh and play and we’re quickly becoming good friends!

Our training program began Monday, September 23rd and so far I am enjoying it greatly. We are learning how to be missionaries and care for orphans, which is exactly what I am wanting to learn. I’m very excited for what God is going to teach me and how I will grow spiritually, emotionally, and as a missionary. This is stretching me in many ways and I feel my flesh fighting against it constantly. A part of me wants to sleep in, pig out, be comfortable and reckless again. Another part of me is flexing and growing with every day of meditation, every book I read that teaches me how to pray, and every paper I have to write analyzing Spiritual Disciplines. I have had many talks with Ken and Jackie about areas of improvement at the orphanage–ways to raise their own funds, reasons why things are how they are and how they can be made better, possibilities of getting goats or pigs for food or payments. We have many ideas, but of course everything is based on sponsorships and donations, both for the kids and towards the organization as a whole. I know that many people back home in America want to help these struggling countries, but are not available to come and serve personally or do not know how to contribute. Never fear! I am here to share with you the great commission that God has placed on my heart and that I pray will penetrate your own. There is a way for you to impact the lives of those less fortunate. I am working on finding sponsors for the children and will post information on how to contribute VERY SOON!

I have many prayer requests! Please pray for guidance and direction as we make important decisions. Pray for unity as a team and success as we begin to carry this glorious burden of caring for Jesus’ little children. Pray that God will provide, as we are hopefully anticipating His favor. There are many things that over time have been neglected at the home and need to be fixed for the benefit of the orphans. Walls have begun eroding and need to be repaired. Pig pens have been torn down and used for wood when the pigs died, but now are needed if we want to buy more animals. There are no mosquito nets for the children. All these things cost money! Money that comes from generous donations from those of us who have been blessed and are called to bless others. It is my hope that eventually we can begin earning our own funds here from the home, whether selling crops or potentially animals that we will raise. It will help in many ways; teaching the kids responsibility and business, helping support the community and orphanage, and developing their own skills. It is very much a work in progress, but God is blessing us and I will continue to let you know how you can help.

Forgive me, but the internet here is ridiculously slow! Half the time it doesn’t even work. We bought a USB drive and put internet time on it, but when there is no network it is useless. And talking on the phone? Yeah right! They rob their people of communication. I can spend US$40 and only get 1 hour of minutes!!! We plan on making weekly trips to Bamenda, about a 45 minute drive from us, in order to go to an internet cafe and use their connections. It is much cheaper that way. Recent developments have been made and we are hoping to have more access to internet…it is a day-by-day process. So, as per the lesson God is trying to teach me…nothing is going to go as planned and I need to trust His will that everything will work out. It is so hard not having connection back home and I miss everyone so much! Continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I struggle, learn, grow, and hopefully thrive.

P.S. If anyone can mail some In N Out asap that would be much appreciated!! Haha I don’t know how much longer I can eat mash and bland rice.

SD Orphanage (2)Boys Walking Home From School

September 14

The time has come! I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life, dreaming about it for over a year, and planning for it the last 7 months. I can’t believe its finally here! This is the beginning of an amazing year for me, one that will outweigh all the other years of my life put together. I’m standing on the cusp of anything and everything and the fact that I’m waiting in hopeful anticipation of the absolute unknown hurls me over the edge. Its been a hectic, stressful, emotional week as I counted down my final days in California, but God didn’t get lost in the mix. Oh no, He made sure of that. I had everything scheduled and planned and set perfect, or so I thought. It’s clear God had other plans for me that, despite the inconvenience they caused in my “perfect” check list, I know are for my benefit and to secure my hope and future.

You’re safe to assume that this past week was NOT AT ALL what I expected. Monday was supposed to mark the beginning of my final week: goodbye and packing. I needed to get some last minute supplies, but overall I had everything I needed. My prescription should have been at the pharmacy waiting for me to pick it up, I had my car deal agreed upon and we just had to sign the contract, and I had plans to enjoy the remaining days with family and friends. Awesome, everything was going smoothly right? Wrong!! Monday did not mark the beginning it was supposed to, still a beginning but not what I was expecting. I was hit head on with obstacle after let down after frustration, over and over again. I had made an agreement with God that as long as He kept working everything out, I would keep following Him. But now, I couldn’t help but doubt whether this really was God’s will. Maybe I just wanted this so much that I had gone and committed to something that wasn’t working out anymore. What, was I being tested or something??

So Monday rolls around and the “friend” who had agreed months ago to lease my car backed out and left me high and dry the week of my trip with no plan b, no explanation, and no apology. He abandoned me in my most dire time of need and has yet to even respond to my attempts of communication. I was crushed! My whole trip was in risk of being cancelled and after so much work! I hadn’t felt that anxious in a long time. But I knew God was aware of my needs and trusted that He would come through like He always has, so I continued in hopeful expectation.

Wednesday rolls around and I’m in a frenzy! I was posting vehicle for sale ads on Craigslist and figuring out everything with DMV and insurance (which were expenses and hassles I had hoped to avoid). Then I was trying to get the right anit-malaria medicine sent to the pharmacy because the doctor had now sent over 2 incorrect prescriptions and I still had to cordinate paperwork and authorizations for my dad who will be looking after my bank accounts, will and testimate(sp?) emergency funds, and assests.

Thursday and Friday roll around and I’m going insane trying to get everything sorted out. I got a good appraisal from Carmax, but I needed to pay off my loan from the bank before I could sell my car. I got a credit card from my primary bank to pay my loan off, but the lein holding bank wouldn’t accept it because it wasn’t specific to their branch. I got a cashiers check after a cash advance from my primary bank and was finally able to pay off my lein, but, and only because I was on a bad luck roll, still couldn’t sell my car until my title comes in the mail in 3-6 weeks! Uggghhhh!! Why is this happening?! Every day was filled with so much unwanted stress and anxiety. Not what I wanted. But I’ve been learning to go to God when things get rough and ”

be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Every diappointment was responded with vulnerable prayers with desperate pleads for God’s peace.

I just about pulled my hair out this past week trying to orchestrate everything and I feel like most of the days flew by so fast with such little progress. I have probably talked to every single online bank respresetative for both my banks and I’m sure they know me by name. I know everything there is and can recite to you the policies for outside account payments, prescription costs and effectiveness, DMV paperless title duplications, and the requirements Carmax has in order to sell them your vehicle. I’ve been to two DMV offices three times this week…that alone is enough to make any sane person lose it!!

In the moment, I was a wreck! But thankfully I can laugh at my breakdowns and smile knowing that even though I lost faith, God did not. He was always aware and always present. His ways and thoughts are higher than mine and in the end everything got solved. I did finally get the right prescription, pay off my loan, and get everything I needed to pack so as far as my side of resposibility goes, I’ve done everyting I can. But in the meantime I was forced to cancel quality time with handfuls of people who have supported me and are important to me. (ps. I want to apologize to anyone who felt neglected or brushed off in the midst of my chaos. It definitely was not my intention and broke my heart as I had to focus on emergency priorities) I’ve put $6,400 on a 4 day old credit card. I’ve been turned upside down as I prepare to walk through the biggest and best door that has ever been opened to me. I spent an unplanned $400 out of budget because of technicalities and lack of time. It was one of the worst weeks of my life and I hated every minute of it! At first I thought Where did you go God? Why have you led me this far only to let it all fall apart last minute?? But as I’ve had time to reflect, I can see the foreshadowing to my upcoming life. Things are not going to go as planned with every single thing and I need to be able to remain calm, surrender my worries to the Lord, and perservere with hopeful expectations. I was pushed to the edge of missing out on my dream and it flexed my faith like nothing before. I clung onto Jesus and daily, even hourly, confessed my dependence and need for Him. I really saw who my true friends were and was humbled at the length and cost the people around me endured in order to help carry out His will.

“I am so weak, but His spirit is strong in me. My flesh may fail, my God you never will” (Elevation Worship, Give Me Faith).

Everything happens for a reason and although I may not be able to see the bigger picture, I need to trust that the God I serve knows me and cares for my needs. This past week didn’t go as I had wanted and it sucked in a lot of ways…but I know it ended up better than I could ever imagine. Whether it was to strengthen my faith, challenge my desire, or just God showing me how little control I really have, the message was received loud and clear. When troubles arise, I can think back on this and all the ways God has proven His abundant favor.

I have been working on this entry for the last few days and it has been a constant recording of my reflections as I travel from airport to airport, wake up over different countries and across seas, and cry as I watch my little digital plane on the screen in front of me move farther and farther away from my loved ones. Its nerve racking and scary, but exciting and invigorating at the same time. I hope that everyone reading this knows how much it means to me that you’re following my journey. Please continue to pray for me as I trade out dillusional securities and conveniences for eternal relationships and spiritual growth. I’ll post again as soon as I’m settled in and hopefully have some pictures to share.

Love and miss you all! Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

On the Water

T minus 10 days and counting! Life is changing quickly for me and I can barely keep up. I’m so overwhelmed with things to do, places to go, and people to see that I wonder at times how I’m doing…ya know, on the inside. Although I will only be separated for a little longer than a year I feel like I am saying goodbye forever. Maybe because I know this calling is more like forever and less like only a year. Maybe because I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve never said goodbye, left my comfort behind, quit my life, and allowed myself to be completely transformed. Maybe that is why it seems so permanent. I’m literally quitting my life. No more dates and trips to the mall and girls nights out. No more vacations and conveniences and easy, lazy days. No more I want, I need, give me.

I’m quitting!

I’m quitting sleeping in and grabbing overpriced Starbucks on the way to a mediocre, entry-level job. I’m quitting hustling tables and living paycheck to paycheck finding myself completely unsatisfied. I’m quitting passing through life half asleep in the drone of ease and half distracted by a world that tells me more, more, more will make it all better, bigger, faster. Africa is the most terrifying thing in every way because it goes against everything I know. The love I feel for this distant land in unnerving. The depth of which my inadequacy measures, or fails to measure, is overwhelming. The need in which I’m called to remedy is unbearable. And yet here I am. For the first time in a long time, awake! Preparing to give up everything I have and know and rely on for everything that is unknown and new and sacrificial.

Welcome to the chaos. My heart is like the ocean; calm and smooth when I’m encouraged and strengthen, but rocky and full of angst when I’m caught up in the nervous waves of worry. Sometimes I ride the waves, finding raw emotion, proof of life in the natural fears that change brings. Sometimes I feel like they are towering over me, ready to capsize my little raft at any second. Sometimes I want to just row back to shore and forget this whole stupid, scary, amazing, glorious journey altogether! It reminds me of the story of Jesus walking on the water in Matthew 14. I can’t help but see myself in Peter, in his struggles and fears and natural reactions. I’m humbled, not only because I can relate to an amazing follower of Jesus, but more than that…because I can relate to the amazing grace of Jesus shown to him.

The story begins when Jesus sends the disciples ahead of Him to the other side of the sea.  Just like them, I’m being sent out in a way too. Its also night. I think that’s important to the story. Its dark and cold and the disciples can’t see where they’re going. In fact, when their Lord comes to them out on the water it says that they were terrified and cried out in fear. They’re starting to sound a lot like me now. But Jesus said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” You would think that would suffice. Alright guys, its Jesus, cool. We’re all good. But Peter has to pipe up, “Lord, if its really you tell me to come to you on the water.” Great. Good job, Peter. Couldn’t leave well enough alone, could ya? Just had to get your proof, huh? Had to go a step out farther than this little comfortable boat and see what this Jesus guy was all about. Had to challenge yourself, your life, your direction and see what He was going to do with you. And before you know it, you’re staring up at the African night sky crying out to God telling Him, “If its really you, if this feeling is really you, if this love I’ve discovered is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Oh wait, that was me. I guess I couldn’t leave well enough alone either.

“Come,” Jesus said.

Oh. Crap.

I wonder if Peter was expecting Jesus to say that? I wonder if Peter said those words before he even understood what they meant. Signed up for something before he read the fine print. Regardless, he gets out of the boat and sure enough starts walking towards Jesus on the water. But when he saw the wind and the waves, he was afraid and began to sink. Why? Why did he sink? His eyes were on Jesus at first, what happened? Peter started focusing on the waves around him, on the situation he was in, the fears, the problems, the stress. And then his mind became flooded with turmoil just as quickly as the ocean was swallowing him up. “Lord, save me!” he cried. The Bible says immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Not that He ran to grab him just before his head disappeared under the waves. Not that Peter flung himself at the Lord and was lucky enough to grab on to His garment. No. Jesus reached out to him.

Just an arms length away and Peter was already distracted by life’s problems. “You of little faith,” Jesus said, “Why did you doubt?” So gentle, so gracious and loving. No condemnation, no insults. Just a pure, heart piercing question: Why did you doubt? Peter knew Jesus was there. He could see Him just as well as he could see the waves, feel Him just as much as he could feel the wind in his hair or ice cold water under his feet. But he doubted anyways. Jesus had done nothing to cause Peter’s trust to quiver at the sight of a challenge, yet his eyes turn away at the first sign of trouble.

Silly Peter.

Silly Stephanie.

I know full well that God will never leave me nor forsake me, yet my eyes dart here and there like a frightened squirrel. Its so hard not to fall into the doubts, fears, and lies that are constantly being hurled at my fragile soul. I find myself lost in terrifying thoughts of homesickness and loneliness I’ve yet to experience. I’ll pull over in my car to cry when a moving song comes on the radio or suddenly become aware I’ve been staring a little longer than normal at my best friend as she gets ready for our night out on the town. The days are flying by faster than I can catch them and its becoming more important than ever to focus my eyes on Jesus, my Rock and Safe Haven.

See, I was sent out to the other side of the sea over a year ago when I first went to Africa. And for the past 12 months its been night and I’ve been sitting in this boat for quite some time. It’s cold and dark and I can’t see where I’m going. I know I saw something in the distance and at first I was afraid. But it was Jesus. I see Him. I see Him just as well as I see the waves rocking my little boat. I hear Him call me out upon the water. I’m terrified and unsure and I’ve never done anything like this before, but the hope I hold onto overcomes it all! The faith that I know will be stregthened pushes me forward. This will change who I am, what I see, how I think. Every step on the water will radically recreate me and I need it! I ache for it! I long for the presence of my King in the humblest of shacks when I’m dirty and hot and lost in the waves of unknown languages and cultures and difficulties–a tiny dot on a map where no one even looks but my Savior. I feel Him there. I feel Him just as well as I feel the wind in my hair or the ice cold water under my feet. I know when I lose my focus, He will reach out and catch me. I know He will be gentle and reassuring. I know because He has never done anything to cause my trust to quiver.

The story of Jesus on the water ends in a beautiful way, only a way that He could create–so perfect and purposeful. When Jesus and Peter get back in the boat, those who were there worshipped Him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” How amazing! Even when Peter messed up and failed to trust, he was used to bring God glory! His weakness was made strong in Jesus and others who saw this believed, and their hearts were opened to the majesty of God. So even when I mess up, because I’m sure I will, I can be confident that God is still in control and His plan will still come through despite my flaws. I don’t understand it all, I can’t see it all, and there’s no way I will ever know it all. But I’m walking towards Jesus; my Beacon, my Lighthouse. I’m trying so hard to keep my focus on Him and not on the waves. It’s almost impossible, but I find confidence in His abundant grace and ever-present arms, even in the deepest waters, reaching out to catch me when I sink.

The Leap

I leave in less than a month. My last week of work is quickly drawing to an end and it’s almost as if its just now setting in. My excitement is growing in leaps and bounds and I see my fears begin to shake and quiver at the sight of such courage rising up. These are my last few weeks in America and the experiences that I have now will soon be precious memories that I dream about late at night in my lonely, dark room. These days spent with my friends and family have be the most beautiful, appreciated days I’ve had in a long time, and I will hold on to them dearly while they are missed.
But I can’t even begin to express the joy that I have found deeply rooted in my heart for this foreign country! I feel like I am going home! I look at these pictures on the website and I see these children and I already love them! I know that what is happening is so much bigger than me and the little world I have been consumed by. This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had to really make a difference and show the world Jesus’ love.
I’m not perfect. I’m far from that! And I fail my Savior everyday, but He never fails me! I know He’s going to do something great for me, for I can feel the winds around me changing! Every time I feel fear or doubt creep in, I hear His gentle, loving voice tell me the Truth.

Imagine being on the brink of the greatest thing thats ever happened in your life.
Imagine knowing that it’s a time to take a leap of faith, but not really being able to see the ground your landing on.
Imagine knowing it’s going to change your life all over again.
Its going to shake you.
It’s going to break you.
Its going to make you.

It’s pretty amazing! And none of it is in my control. None of it was done by my merit or my expertise or my great deeds, for that, I have none. It is all because of a great God with a glorious plan that I am invited to play a role in. It’s exciting and mysterious and majestic and all for the glory of my King!
May He do wonderful things with me.

Support Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

I have been sitting in front of my computer for some time now, staring at the blinking line and stark white page, and wondering where to even start. It feels like just yesterday that I was here writing my first support letter; asking for prayers and donations as I go on a random trip that somehow caught my attention one Sunday morning at church. Then it was only a few months after that, when I was back knocking again, like an annoying sales man, talking about a second trip to this dirty, stinky, third-world country that I had somehow managed to fall in love with the first time. It sounded somewhat crazy, somewhat radical, but you were for it! You rallied behind me, showered me with encouragement, donated funds on my behalf, and listened to me go on and on about a distant land that I considered home. I told you that Africa changed my life, that it turned it upside down and inside out, and I loved it! Jesus was doing something in me, I just did not know what at the time.

So here we are again. All along, I think I knew this day would come; when I would sit down to write a letter telling my friends and family that I am leaving on a great adventure. God has shown me what He wants me to do and I am choosing to follow my Him and my passion! I need now, more than ever, to feel loved and fortified by the people closest to me. In case I have not already shared with you, I have applied and been accepted for a job position as an Assistant Orphanage Manager in Cameroon and in a few short months, I’LL BE MOVING TO AFRICA!!!

 

When: September 2013-December 2014

Where: Batibo town, NW Province, Cameroon, Africa

Job purpose: Transform the lives of orphans from homelessness, hopelessness, poverty, and exploitation to children who are successful in school, filled with hope; by supervising the recruitment of qualified abandoned orphans from the villages, and putting them into one of our three programs; providing counseling, meeting needs, and sponsorship

Cost: approx. $5,000; however room and board are free and I will be a paid, contracted worker

Who: Change Volunteers Org –under the Shaping Destiny Movement (www.changevolunteers.org)

Blog: I will be keeping an online journal  www.stephanie.shapingdestiny.org

Email: Feel free to write! Best way to contact me directly sleitzen91@gmail.com

Donations: If you feel called, you can show financial support by mailing checks or money orders to

P.O. BOX 200700, Austin, TX 78720

(Please, be sure to make out to Shaping Destiny and indicate that the funds are for me specifically)

Prayers: Please keep me in your prayers, as this exciting adventure is just as equally terrifying! I need strengthened faith, spiritual courage, and unity with a new team, guidance as I walk an unknown path, and wisdom as I grow and learn with Jesus.

I cannot even begin to express what is going on in my heart right now! I am so excited to have this life changing experience and humbled that God would allow a sinner like me to participate in something so glorious! This is bigger than anything I have ever done in my whole life. This is what I feel called to do, what drives me, what burns inside my heart and I want to thank you for walking with me thus far. I don’t know what I would do without the advice I’ve received, backing I’ve felt, or shoulders I’ve had to cry on. I am in no way ready or qualified for this journey I am about to embark on, but I am confident that God will be with me all the way. It’s funny how he uses the smallest “no-bodies” (a young girl from Elk Grove, CA) to make the biggest impacts in the world. I know that if I “trust in the Lord with all my heart…and in all my ways acknowledge Him” that “He will make my paths straight”. (Prov. 3:5)

Praise God for all His wonderful, mysterious, majestic plans and the grace He has shown us all!

-Stephanie Eitzen