Tuesday, March 31, 2015

But God

The best way I know how to describe our circumstances right now is by saying that we feel like we were on a freight train that was going full-speed in one direction and then unexpectedly changed directions. With no warning.

The last three weeks have been spent trying to figure out which direction the train is heading now and why it had to make the unexpected change. Like stewardesses scrambling to find answers to patrons' questions, we have felt frazzled to try and make sense of it all.

I am a person who likes stability. I like to know where I will be sleeping and when I wake up in the morning, I like being able to predict what the day will be like (living in Africa has thought be to be flexible on that one, but I still like things to be predictable). Our last three weeks have been anything but stable. We have slept in 8 different beds over the course of 3 weeks. We are constantly trying to figure out what we will eat each day and if we have a fridge available to store food in or if we need to get transport to go out and get something to eat.

We continue to get news about the deteriorating state of South Sudan right now. We read articles like this and this and honestly, I start to lose hope for the country. I start to wonder why God hasn't redeemed this horrible situation. I wonder how and if it will ever get better and plead for God to protect our friends in Mundri in the meantime.


My favorite verses in the Bible are verses that have "but God" statements in them. The verses that start by lamenting a (usually very serious) concern and then interrupt the concern with, "But God...". For example, Genesis 50:20- "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." And Acts 3:15- "You killed the author of life,  but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this". 

I love these verses because to me, it is a like a holy interruption. It is saying, "here is how I am really doing, it's messy, it's difficult, I don't know a way out... BUT God is good. God will help me because that is His character. He has not forgotten me." 

Here are some "but God" statements that are currently on my mind.

We are stuck in Kenya and don't know how long we will be here or if we will be able to return to South Sudan but God had been incredible faithful to provide while we have been here. He has provided generous people who have welcomed us in and given us beds to sleep in and food to eat. 

The conditions in South Sudan seem to be getting worse and worse with no end in sight, but God is there. He has not left or forsaken His people and He is continue to move and breathe life into Mundri and South Sudan.

A part of me wants to be angry at God for leading us to a place that is so unstable and difficult, but God continues to remind me over and over again that He has a purpose in all of this and His calling was not a mistake. He is redeeming this and is remaining in control over our circumstances. 

What the "but" does in these statements is remind us of truth. It gives us the time to pause and remember God's character. It also gives us space and reason to praise the Lord who is in control of all things. 

I'm grateful to serve a God who interrupts my lamenting. A God who allows me to feel deeply and fully, but then gives me reason to praise and trust in His holy name. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Uphill Adventures

"Killer Hill". I promise, it's bigger
than this picture makes it look...
We are currently in Kijabe, Kenya. It is about an hour and a half north of Nairobi and is set in the Rift Valley. I went on a run the other day and came to a hill that the people who live in this area have named, "killer hill" because, well... it is killer! It is a straight uphill for longer than a healthy distance (that is how I measure things...). I huffed and puffed going up the hill the other day. As I was trudging my way up the hill, I thought, "this is a perfect metaphor for our life right now! It is like going straight up a very steep hill where we are not sure where it will end or if we will make it up before collapsing".

So, if you can't tell, I was feeling a bit dramatic at the time.

And then, the next day, I went down the same hill. You know what I learned? Going down a "way steeper than necessary" hill is just as difficult as going up it. Because you know what? Whether you are going up or down, a hill is a hill. It takes effort.

While I was going down the hill, I was thinking about the metaphor again and how the steep downhill was still a representation of our life (yep, a day later, but still feeling equally dramatic...). I was thinking about how at any second my knees were probably going to collapse and I was going to ride down the hill on my buttocks. I thought, "well, that's just perfect because that is how I feel right now. Just like the hill is too steep and I'm riding through life on my backside".

Luckily, in the middle of my dramatic pity party, I looked past the fence to my right. 5 feet from where I was (luckily, on the other side of the barbed wire fence), was a family of baboons! BABOONS! There were about 7 or 8 of them and they were playing in the tree, running and grooming each other. It was amazing! I had never seen anything like it outside of the confines of a zoo before.

After enjoying the baboon family for a few minutes, I continued my walk (or butt-scoot) down the hill. Immediately, I felt like God said, "Theresa, you live in Africa! Life is going to be difficult, but take time to look off to your right and enjoy the baboons every now and then- this life is an adventure!" Yes, that is what I have forgotten in all of this! This life is an adventure. It is difficult, yes, but isn't every adventure difficult? Isn't that part of territory? The beauty of an adventure is the unknown.

I have a renewed hope for the unknowns at the moment. I am reminded that this adventure will not be easy. There will be times when I feel like I'm coasting down hills on my booty with no hopes of flat ground. However, God created the hill and you know what, He also gave me the legs to withstand the inclines and declines. He gave me the ability and strength to sustain the movements and the falls.

And since He is a loving and creative Father, he also provides baboons along the way to makes us laugh and remind us that we are on an adventure and He is right there with us.

So today, I'm grateful for baboons (and fences in between me and the baboons).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Stability in Instability

Nothing in our lives is set in stone at the moment. We are still in Nairobi and are not sure what our future in South Sudan looks like right now. With so many things up in the air, we are trying to make sense of it all somehow.

The day after we arrived here in Kenya, I flipped to a recent entry in my journal. The entry was from 8 days prior to us having to evacuate and I had felt like God was saying the following:

“I am calling you to a new place of security in Me. Trust and believe that My love is enough…Your security is in Me. It is not in your comfort or your circumstances. You are okay because of my constant love. Keep your eyes steady on My gaze. It is the only way you will be able to keep standing when the waves come. I am the only thing that doesn’t change. I am the only consistent source of stability. Look to me for your equilibrium. Stay secure in my consistency and in my love. I am enough for you.”

What a kind God! He spoke this to me before I had any idea that the waves were coming. He was preparing my heart for what was it come. That is exactly what this time is looking to be- looking to God for our equilibrium. It would be very easy to get distracted and angry in this time where we don’t have many answers. However, we are being reminded over and over again that God is enough. He is the only stable source in the midst of a world filled with instabilities.

When I first started to be interested in missions, I remember my dad sharing an Oswald Chambers quote with me. The quote is. “We are called to God first and ministry (people, country, work) second”. My dad wanted to make sure I knew when you are a missionary, it is easy to fixate on the “work” you are doing and even on the people you are serving more than on God, but the purpose of missions is God. He is where our devotion needs to rest.

This evacuation has been another reminder of that. We are called to serve God. Whether circumstances have us in Mundri, South Sudan, Nairobi, Kenya, or Australia (not an option, I just thought I would throw that out there ;)). our calling is to God first and ministry second. While we are in this limbo period, I am praying for a new understanding of what this fully means. All that I know now is that God is the same “ yesterday, today and forever” and everything else seems to change by the second.  In order to “stay standing when the waves come”, we need to keep our eyes fixed on the One who does not change.

This is our goal right now- to trust in the stability of our never-changing God. He is enough and He will provide- even when we are surrounded by instability.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Solid Ground

I have not posted in a while because 1. the past 5 days have been a whirlwind and 2. I have not known how to put that whirlwind into words. So, here is my attempt to do so.

We had to evacuate South Sudan on Saturday. That statement is much weightier in my heart than I think it looks when it's typed out on this blog. Let me put it another way to see if the "weightiness" comes out a bit more: We had to leave the place that we struggled to adjust to, but have come to love within 24 hours of finding out we needed to leave.

Since we live in South Sudan, we knew evacuation was always a possibility. This is a country where war is their history. They are trying to build their own independent country, but all they have know is war. We knew things were getting worse and we might not remain safe forever.

To find out a little more about what is going on in South Sudan right now, click here. In general, South Sudan has been working through "peace talks" between the president and former vice president to try to come to an agreement and stop the fighting that has taken place. However, every one of the peace talks have failed. There was finally a deadline put on them that they needed to come to an agreement by March 5th. They held another peace talk, and it failed once again. Since they were not able to come to an agreement by the deadline set for them by outside countries, we knew this could only lead to more war and fighting.

We left Mundri as a precaution. There has not been fighting in our little town yet, but we are not sure if it will stay that way. There was a significant increase in military personnel when we left on Saturday and tensions seemed to be increasing. We are hoping and praying fighting does not come to Mundri (and is stopped in South Sudan in general), but we knew it wasn't going to be helpful for us to be around if something did happen. There is a point where we quickly would become more of a burden to those around us than a help. They would be concerned about protecting us and getting us to safety and would be willing to risk their safety in the process.

The best way I know how to describe my emotions about evacuating is that it felt like the carpet was ripped our from under our feet. Everything happened so quickly and changed so fast...it was hard to figure out which way was up.

However, the beautiful thing about God is that He is our solid ground no matter what "cushioning" is taken away. The "carpet" of our life in Mundri might have been taken quickly, but we are still standing (or laying in a frazzled pile...) on solid ground. He has not changed. His promises for us have not changed, and he is not surprised by this.

A friend sent me a verse that has been very fitting in this time. It is Isaiah 26:3-4 and it says, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal."

To be honest, our hearts do not feel at peace yet. We are still very concerned for our friends we left behind and we are coping with the losses of not being able to be present for our friends in Mundri as well as mourning the ministry we cannot do there right now. However, we have complete access to perfect peace. It is ours if we chose to embrace it. So, we will continue to remain steadfast in Christ and trust that peace is ours. We will continue to entrust our friends into God's hands and know He loves them far more than we do. We will trust that God is not finished working and He has the power to end wars and protect His people at any moment He choses to do so. We will also trust that in the midst of all of this, God is our advocate. He is working on our behalf and on behalf of our friends in Mundri. He has not forgotten or abandoned any of us.

As I think about Mundri, these sweet faces come to mind. These are our neighbors who come to get water from our compound multiple times a day. Please join us in praying for them, and for the other people in Mundri. Pray for protection over all of them and that they would experience God's perfect peace. Please hope with us that God has the power to end this war and create peace in South Sudan. We can be confident of this because, "He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world." Believe with us that peace can happen and that God has the power to change hearts and protect lands.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mango Rains

As I mentioned in a recent post, we are in the midst of Dry Season here in Mundri. Dry season lasts from October/November to April/May. When the rains stop completely and when they start again consistently varies, but one thing that is predictable is that sometime in February or March, there will be a “Mango Rain”.

The “Mango Rain” happens once during dry season. It is a long day of rain and it is what ripens the mangos that have been growing for the past couple of months. The mangos depend on this rain in order to ripen and be ready to eat.  There are not many plants that are able to grow here during dry season (without consistent watering from the farmer) due to the extreme heat and dryness. However, the mangos can grow and only need one good rain in order to develop they way they were intended to.

Every since I heard of the mango rains, I have been amazed by God’s creativity! I love the fact that in the midst of a season of complete dryness, He cares enough about the mango trees that He sends one good, long rain just so they can develop. Obviously, God doesn’t do this miraculous thing each year just for the health of the tree, He does it to provide for His people. What a great Father!
Will running to escape the rain in the midst of the downpour

We received the mango rains last Saturday. It rained all evening and into the night. It was refreshing and things instantly felt cooler and more manageable.

Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and steams in the wasteland.”

This is what Our God does for us. He sends rains in the midst of a season that does not produce rain in order to provide. I think that this is His way of reminding the people here that rainy season is coming- He has not forgotten about them and will not leave the land dry forever. The rain brought a welcomed relief and reminder of the coolness and refreshment that water brings.

I think the mango rain is also a way that God shows us He is in complete control. He can send rain to refresh dry land whenever He wants. He has the power to hydrate and refresh His land and His people at any given moment.

I’m grateful for this reminder that God is in complete control. I’m grateful that he refreshed dry land (and dry souls) and brings nourishment to dry places. I’m also grateful to be able to eat lots and lots of mangos in the coming weeks :).