What if?

“Opportunities, many times, are so small that we glimpse them not and yet they are often the seeds of great enterprises. Opportunities are also everywhere and so you must always let your hook be hanging. When you least expect it, a great fish will swim by.”

This quote, said by Og Mandino, is taped next to my bedroom door in hopes that I will read it before leaving my house each day. I have been home from South Africa for a month now and I have had somewhat of a chance to process the things I have learned and experienced. Recently the idea of pursuing every opportunity placed in front of me has weighed heavy on my heart. This concept isn’t hard to understand but as I have mentioned in earlier blogs sometimes it takes being thrown into a new place where you do not know a soul for the light bulb to turn on. In South Africa I was given a choice. I had to choose whether I was going to be intentional about building relationships, meeting new people, going out of my comfort zone, making the most of every opportunity OR to ignore opportunities, shy away from taking risks, and leave without having learned a thing.

This concept is easier said than done. I am not an overly outgoing person and I think more than anyone I hate to be embarrassed. It took all of me to shake that little feeling that keeps us all from leaving our normal tendencies behind and forgetting about the comfort of staying in the background. I would constantly be in my head but so would God. He was always telling me to just ask that question, dance with that kid, play that game, and talk to that stranger. Once I took that initial step I never looked back. I was left with a new friend, a great memory, and the question, what if I didn’t take that step?

Lately I have been asking myself that question a lot. What if I DIDN’T talk to her? What if I DIDN’T ask him how he was? What if I DIDN’T play that game? What if I DIDN’T reach out to them? To be honest I am overjoyed that I am able to ask myself those questions. Though the answers to those questions are scary to think about in reality nothing will change the fact that I DID do those things therefore I do not have to ponder for long. This realization quickly led to a not-so-comforting one. The question we often ignore, what if I DID? 

I simply can not stand that dreaded question. I do not miss the times when my mind would be fogged with, What if I was just a little nicer to the guy serving me coffee? What if I had taken that job that I was perfectly capable of? What if I did go see that movie with them? What if I went on that trip? This question scares me so much that I have decided I no longer want to be able to ask it. The idea of missing any opportunity that God has placed in my path is absolutely terrifying. Opportunities as big as going to Africa to just asking someone to grab a cup of coffee are important. I have yet to regret taking an opportunity that I have felt God place in my path. The idea of never having to ask myself, what if I did?, has been helping fill my journey with countless astounding and new things.

We are called to pursue Christ with every waking moment as well as pursue the things He has placed in front of us. With every moment that you are pursuing new opportunities and Christ, God is working within you. He is changing your heart to be more like His. He is walking alongside you every step of the way. God does this on purpose! There is no such thing as a coincidence, let me assure you. When you find yourself in a situation where one thing just seems to lead to another for the greater good of your life and others, I promise it is the work of God’s orchestrating. I have been practicing reminding myself this each morning. I tell myself that it is the Lord’s day, that every conversation, every moment, every unexpected turn is an opportunity. I remember to not shy away from the kindness of a stranger, to always smile even when it is not necessary, to love EVERYONE you meet whether you want to or not, and most importantly live life like Christ.This has made all the difference in my life at home and in South Africa.

I know that what I am writing down at this very moment may sound crazy. Believe me I know that it isn’t possible to be in a good mood all the time. Some days I am so overwhelmed with how much I miss Africa or frustrated with this broken world that I just can’t make conversation with everyone I meet. Sometimes I am too tired or don’t feel good enough to say yes to absolutely everything. Let me assure you that I am not writing this to persuade myself or anyone else that we are required to turn everyday into something exciting and new. There will always be days of routine, filled with thing that seem mundane, but sometimes those days have the most opportunities. Even just going out of your way to carry someone’s groceries or asking someone how they are can be an opportunity that we have the option to take. Don’t look past the mundane, don’t let a routine get the best of you, and don’t forget that God is walking with you everyday so there are bound to be little amazing moments everywhere. You just have to open your eyes enough, be intentional, and never let yourself ask the question, what if I did?

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What did you do in Africa? 

As the end of the trip rapidly approaches, I catch myself trying to figure out how in the world I am going to explain my experience in South Africa. I was often asked before coming on the trip, “What will you be doing in Africa?” I truly didn’t have an answer to this question. Experience Mission does an incredible job at keeping members from having little to no expectations by very briefly explaining what we will be doing. For this I am thankful because it made my experience that much better. I learned to not ask questions, trust my leaders, and live in the moment. But now I am on the other end of the trip. Now I know exactly what happens on South Africa immersion. The challenge is finding a way to sum up what my team, my new friends, and God did with words.

When going on a mission trip, particularly in another country, doubts are bound to cloud your mind at one point or another. Will these people like me? Are we making a difference? Am I really supposed to be here? God, are you sure this is the right path for me? What am I even doing here? All of these questions have crossed my mind at least once throughout the last few months. On immersion we shy away from your stereotypical mission work. We don’t paint buildings, build schools, give money and clothes, or stay for short periods of time. Sometimes outside opinions about not completing work that you can physically hold can make you ask yourself those questions. I can’t send pictures back home of a new church we built or all of the kids holding gifts. What I can send home is pictures of the new friends I have made. I can write down their stories and share them with my family. I can pray for the people I have met because I have learned their names and their stories. I have built relationships; relationships that will have a long term effect on myself and my new friends. Much more of an effect than a building they could have built themselves or gifts that give kids the wrong idea about why missionaries visit them.

I wish I could express in words the difference it makes when you become friends with someone and do life their way. They become important to you and you them. I have had countless wonderful conversations with men, women, and children and in each one I have learned something new. We are kind to one another, we help each other out, and we give thanks whenever necessary. That is friendship. Friendships that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Well what does being friends with someone do? Why did I fly half way across the world to make new friends? It is because of the Kingdom. Bringing the Kingdom is a concept I couldn’t understand until I came to South Africa. Romans 14:17-19 tells us,

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.”

If we do this, if we love everyone the way Christ loves us then we’re bringing His Kingdom down. That is what my team did. That is what immersion does! We just make friends, we laugh, we talk about Jesus, and we listen. I love my friends here and I have learned so much about myself, life, and culture from them.

The best part about creating these relationships for me is the fact that I get to return. I have been giving the opportunity to continue to get to know these amazing people and love them like Jesus does. I am so ridiculously excited to see them all again in a few months. I get to continue to bring His Kingom to this beautiful country with a new team and I pray that I will continue to see a difference in people as I open up to them and vice versa.

https://experiencemission.org/sponsor/improfile.asp?sponsoreeid=0F24D679-F809-443A-940F-884960489763

Fallen in Love with Grace

What is grace? We hear about on Sunday mornings, sing about it in worship, and see it painted on our Christmas ornaments. We pray for God to have grace on us and on others. We get the concept but do we really understand grace? Have we forgotten the depth of what it is? 

We can find the basic explanation of grace in Ephesians 1:7…

“He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins.” 

We know this right? God sent his one and only Son to earth to die on the cross for our sins. Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor toward sinful humanity. Basic Sunday school lesson, right? Then why do we so often overlook it? 

Before coming to South Africa I struggled to understand. Like most kids who grow up in church, I could tell you the definition. I could give you examples but I didn’t know what it was like to look around and see God’s grace at work. It was everywhere I was I just didn’t pay any attention. 

Over the last few months I have witnessed brokenness and hurting like never before. My heart has been shattered and my spirit crushed by some of the things I’ve seen. I have become angry and saddened by the world we live in. Justice became a struggle within that no one around me could help resolve. 

One day in particular brought me completely to my knees. I could no longer hold back the tears but I didn’t feel angry anymore. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and the only prayer I could mutter was a thank you to Jesus for leading me to the people I had met. But that didn’t make any sense. The hurt I had just witnessed was the most raw and real thing I had seen in this community. My heart was broken but I wasn’t mad at the world anymore I was just thankful. Why was that? 

I then realized that I had seen grace! I felt the grace, heard the grace, fell in love with the grace. God showed me that He loved these people despite their situation, despite the things they had done and will do. He loved them so much that he gifted his grace to them. In the darkest places on earth God’s grace is at work. 

Realizing this was like putting on a new pair of glasses. Grace became a hidden gift in every horrible situation. Don’t get me wrong, witnessing the brokenness doesn’t get easier. Your heart will still break because His does too. Only now I allow Him to show me where He’s working. I see this incredible amount of grace in every life around me and my own. I get excited, I jump up and down, I praise him for His grace everyday. I do this because grace is everything. It is by God’s grace that I am in Africa. It is by His Grace that I have anything at all. I don’t deserve one minute of the life I have lived and loved so far but grace has gotten me here. It all goes back to that one act of grace we often forget…

“He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins.” 

https://experiencemission.org/sponsor/improfile.asp?sponsoreeid=0F24D679-F809-443A-940F-884960489763

I’m going back!

I’ve got some good/crazy news! I just wanted to share it with everyone as soon as I could. 

My time here in South Africa has flown by. I’ve lost count of the incredible people I’ve met and I continue to meet new people everyday. Each morning I wake up with anticipation for a day even better than the last. God has shown me what grace is, taught me what it means to serve like him, and opened my eyes to a world so different from my own. God has also placed a somewhat crazy plan on my heart that I am excited to jump into. 
A little over three weeks ago my team and I were preparing to leave for our next community. I sat with two other teammates as they discussed future Experience Mission trips and I overheard someone mention something about another 3 month South Africa team that arrives in January. Immediately I piped in and asked about the trip because I had no idea that there was another 3 month team coming so soon. As he told me about the trip I felt like God was prompting me to go. 

Although my immediate reaction probably should have been to jump on the opportunity to return to this amazing place, what I actually did was quite the opposite. I ignored God’s prompting and went to bed to avoid any “real signs.” The following morning it was my first thought so I responded “No, Lord, I can’t leave home again for that long.” 

As I went about my morning I couldn’t think of anything else so I finally sat down, opened my bible and began to search for answers. I received an overwhelming response of Jesus filling me with excitement and also the feeling that if I have faith He will make it happen. 
In that moment I decided that I had to surrender my fears about fundraising and leaving home again. Still, I had my doubts and began praying that God would give me a clear sign that this is what I need to do. Not two days later did he give me that clear sign. 

Our second day in the new community was a Sunday so we had a meal with the team from the church that we work along side. Following lunch I went to wash dishes with a woman on the team and got the chance to ask her a little about her story. I asked how she got involved in the ministry and she shared with me exactly what I needed to hear. She told me that when she was younger she felt God push her to do ministry but she already had her plan laid out and chose to do what she believed made sense. As she continued her studies things began to go wrong and she eventually realized she needed to surrender to Jesus and follow his plan for her whether she wanted to or not. She agreed with me that there is nothing better than the joy that comes from serving him and doing His will for your life. 

After this conversation I knew I had to wholeheartedly jump into this next adventure. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared to take on the fundraising process again and also leave home such a short time after returning but I’m also so excited. I can’t believe that this is the life Jesus wants me to live. 

So I am returning to SA in January! It’s not going to be easy but God in all his glory will make it happen. I am so excited to continue to share with you want Jesus is doing in this beautiful country and to have the chance to see even more of it. 

https://experiencemission.org/sponsor/improfile.asp?sponsoreeid=0F24D679-F809-443A-940F-884960489763

I’ve Never Seen Anything so Beautiful. 

I’ve never been a hardcore outdoor type of girl. Don’t get me wrong I love nature but I’ve never taken time to really appreciate the natural beauty around me in a real way.    Right now my team and I are living in a very small farm community in South Africa called Darling. When I say small I mean you blink and it’s gone before I you can even open your eyes again. Nevertheless it is adorable but the land surrounding it has left me speechless. 

On our ride down to the Western Cape the scenery left more than just one of us in tears. It was so beautiful that I didn’t look away for the entire ride. Surrounding me is miles and miles of fields and farmland along with huge mountains and a few flower fields here and there. I really don’t have words to describe what it’s like being around this much beauty. On Monday morning my teammate and I woke up and dragged our sleeping bags outside to watch the sunrise. In that moment I was reminded of God’s creation and how important it is. 

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and get their words to all the world.” Psalm 19:1-4 

God put so much work and, as stated above, craftsmanship into his creation. He placed each flower petal, shaped each mountain, and painted each sunrise by hand. Still none of those things are his masterpiece. We are his masterpiece! That is so cool! Being among the quiet creation in Darling has of course reminded me of this but even more so being around the people. 

If I come home and speak nothing of the fields and mountains it’s because my heart is full of memories of the even more beautiful people. Each person I have had the chance to meet has a bigger heart than the last. I can’t help but think that the people of Darling represent God’s masterpiece well. 

I have only been in this community a week but their kind hearts and love for Jesus has lit a spark of excitement in me for the rest of the month. I am so thankful for the place I am and the people that I am surrounded by. I wish to thank the Lord a million times then a million times more for placing me here. 

As we enter the weekend I catch myself looking forward to Monday. To rising with the sun and being greeted by my new friends. Thanking God every morning for each mountain, every flower, and his incredible masterpiece. 

Do you know how loved you are? 

I am very aware that I have only been in Africa about a month but I feel as though God has taught me enough lessons to last a lifetime. In these past few weeks God has shown me so many new things. Things I didn’t understand before as well as things I had never took the time to think about. The lesson that is on my heart most often and stands out above the others is the fact that God loves me. 

Now, when I say this outloud or even type it my immediate thought following is to take it back. How does it make sense that in the place and situation I am in that God is revealing how much he loves ME? Shouldn’t I have known that before jumping on a plane and flying across the world for a mission trip? Shouldn’t I be preaching about the big miracles and changes that are supposed to go on during these kinds of trips instead of what is happening in my own heart? The truth is I did know God loved me before hand. I have been reminded of that my entire life but never have I been able to comprehend the extent of this love. 

As I am sure many do, I have spent most of my life attempting to earn God’s love in its entirety. I stressed constantly about where I stood with God and whether or not I was doing a good enough job as a Christian. This is draining and also wrong. Christ did not come to earth and die on the cross for me or anyone else to believe anything other than the fact that we are all so deeply loved by Him. This love does not have to be earned it is already there. From the moment we are created God loves us so incredibly much. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:17-19…

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand as all God’s people should how wide, how long, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

Apparently I had to come all the way to Africa to grasp this idea but for that I am so thankful. Jesus has revealed this in a way that has changed me forever. Every single day at the school without fail I am greeted with a ridiculous amount of love from the kids. This love remains throughout the day and then the week. One young girl in particular has just stolen my heart and become my best friend. Last week she slipped a flower in my bag with a note that read “I love you so much ma’am Madelien. When your there you make my hart nice.” I was of course immediately overcome by emotions. Here is this little girl who knows nothing of my past, where I’ve been, or where I am going but still tells me she loves me and couldn’t care less about all those details. 

As I continued to read Ephesians and think about the love of these children I finally got what God was trying to show me. He loves us the way the kids do! He doesn’t care where we’ve been or what we’ve done. We don’t have to earn it or even ask for it. He already decided from the day we were created that he was going to love us endlessly. 

This has easily been one of the best changes I’ve ever made in my life. Waking up each day confident in the fact that Jesus loves me  rather than taking on the day trying to earn what is already there is, as you can imagine, much better. Still when I thought about it I didn’t understand why God was trying to make a point to ME that I am loved by Him while I’m on mission in Africa. Shouldn’t I be teaching others around me that exact same thing? This shouldn’t be about me, right? 

Wrong. Everyday God is showing me that if I’m not convinced that He loves me then how can I convince others of the same thing? The truth is that God loves every single one of us to an extent that we will never understand. How exciting is that? This lesson is fueling my passion for telling others about Christ. I want everyone to know! What a perfect time to realize what an amazing thing God’s love is. Paul wrote in Roman 8:38…

“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love…” 

I am overjoyed to say that I am convinced as well. I pray that God uses this joy as a way to show others how incredible He is. I pray that His love shines through me when I am serving, playing with the kids, or having a conversation in any place or time. I am so grateful for this change and for God’s timing. I can’t wait to experience more incredible lessons in the upcoming months.

So, how’s Africa? 

At this point in the trip I am only able to get wifi on the weekends. This last Saturday when I arrived to our community partners’ home and connected to wifi my phone blew up with the same question over and over again, “How’s Africa?” 

If only I had words to answer that question. I want to say amazing, incredible, life changing but those answers aren’t big enough! I find myself at a constant loss of words in most situations here in South Africa. I wish to constantly be hugging and thanking every single person I meet but I struggle with the fact that saying thank you just doesn’t express the gratitude I really feel. My everyday life here in this beautiful country is an absolute dream. 

Every morning I wake up and head to the school in Olivenhoutbosch. I start out my day by helping out in a 1st grade classroom. I get the chance to read stories, teach lessons, learn about their lives, and love on them. When the afternoon comes around my team and I meet up with the volunteers that run the after school mentoring program for the kids who are not able to go home right after school. Together we do devotions and have the chance to hear each others stories. The guys running the program are for the lack of a better word just awesome. They serve with their whole heart and it shows so much. The kids absolutely adore each and every one of them. I feel very blessed to be serving along side them. 

Following devotions we head back outside to meet the kids as they’re getting let out of school. This is my favorite part of the day. The kids, without question, run up greet each of us with hugs. We get to ask about their day, play soccer, or just hang out and get to know one another. This is where we started building relationships with the kids. Learning about their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their opinions, and what Jesus means to them has been the best part of this experience so far. 

Everyday when we leave the school I feel so overcome with gratefulness and love. These last three weeks I’ve been making a point to always remind myself what a privilege it is to be living this life. This verse from Ephesians has weighed heavy on my heart. 

By God’s grace and mighty power. I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.                               Ephesians 3:7 

Lucky for me God handpicked South Africa as my place to spread The Good News and I am loving every minute of it. How incredible is it that God gives us this privilege that we are so far from worthy of? Everyday I am learning more about Him and myself. Everyday he shows me something new and I wish I could write it down in words so you could see as well. But I can not put it into words so I will do my best to reflect the changes he’s making in me here and when I head home (if I ever do).

SO, Africa is too good to put into words. All I can say is I am blessed, grateful, and overcome with love. I wish time would slow down so I could avoid the dreaded goodbyes for as long as possible. But as for right now I am soaking in every minute of beauty and heartbreak and taking in every lesson God is teaching me.