Memorial Stones

I remember the morning that I left for Zambia so clearly. My flight was later that afternoon, and very uncharacteristically of me, I woke up filled with so much peace. The night before at church, we sang “It is Well”, and I woke up singing that song in my head, and feeling this complete peace in knowing that whatever would come my way during those 2 years in Africa would all be a part of God’s plan. God knew what was ahead. Maybe if I knew the details of it, I would never have gone. But that’s the beauty in not knowing everything – He gives us enough grace to handle things day by day, with His help.

I am now in my last month here on the continent, and I can’t help but to be in this constant mode of reflection. I keep wondering if I’ve seen and done everything that I wanted to, if I’ve grown as a person when it comes to day to day tasks, if my faith has grown, if I have become braver or stronger. I think about how so many situations have changed the way I think about people and the world (in a good way), how certain situations have made me be more patient and compassionate, where other situations have brought a lot of ugly to the surface.

But most of all, this state of reflection has caused me to look back and meditate on what the Lord has done. In moments that are stressful, it’s very easy to focus on that moment. It’s very difficult to turn your thoughts away from that moment and remember what the Lord has done for you before. I’ve learned that it takes a conscious decision to stop, think back to how He has proved Himself faithful over and over again, and worship Him in the midst of a storm.

I often think back to the Israelites in Joshua chapter 4, and how they were commanded to lay down twelve stones taken from the Jordan River as a memorial. Their children would ask “what do these stones mean?” and the Israelites would tell them about how God dried up the Jordan River, and the Red Sea for them to cross, and how His hand was always on them. Joshua 4:24 says “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever”.

When I meditate on the things that God has done in the past, in the midst of a current difficult situation, it reminds me of His power – and that increases my faith. There have been times in the past 2 years where I have seen God’s power, I have felt His protection, I have sensed His leading. When I make a diligent search to remember what God has done for me, it’s like I begin to lay down memorial stones, one by one. The more I remember, the more that mountain of stones grows, and I am able to look back and say “the hand of the Lord is mighty!”.

When we remember what God has done, we are able to move forward in faith knowing that He will never leave us, that He will provide and that He is our rock.

Blessings in disguise

The power has stayed on for a couple of weeks now, and I have really gotten used to just going about day by day, not wondering when it’ll turn off. I haven’t even been charging my lanterns. Tonight, the power went out, one of my lanterns is dead and the other two are very weak. Candles will have to do.

There’s something about not having power that completely calms me down. Mind you, there are days when I’m cooking, or in the middle of something, and the power goes out and I’m ready to scream. But there is something about embracing the fact that there isn’t anything I can do. So, in moments like this, I usually resort to things I don’t often do when the power is on (reading, knitting, journaling)– sometimes I just lie there and listen to nothing. It’s so quiet – except for the sound of generators in the distance.

When the power turned off tonight, I actually felt this sense of relief. I felt so calm. I sat on the couch, knitted, and listened to some music. I just downloaded the newest Hillsong album, and there is a song in particular that I have been listening to on repeat. These words have actually caused me to pause and really examine the way I have been thinking lately:

I lift my hands to Heaven

Here my heart surrendered

I tell my soul again, You are Lord of all

Though the seas are raging, You will speak and tame them

In you I find my rest, You are in control

Lately, there’s been a lot of bad news. Lots of things going on in lots of peoples lives, and I kind of feel like I’m at the point where if I hear one more bad piece of news it’s going to be too much. My mind has been really unfocused. I try to pray and read my Bible, and my mind is elsewhere. You know when you pray, and you remind yourself that God is greater then the problems that we face, and that God is in control, but you still feel uneasy? You feel uneasy because even knowing that God is in control doesn’t always mean your prayers are going to be answered the way you’d hope.

Truly understanding that God is in control means that I truly understand that I am not; and depending on the day or the situation, that can bring such a sense of relief, or such a damaging sense of anxiety.

I think the most important line in that song is I tell my soul again, You are Lord of all. To me it’s the most important line because it reminds me of the only control I should have. I have the control to remind myself of His power. I have the control to choose to surrender. I have the control to understand the role of my Father.  It’s so easy for us to forget, which is why we need to tell ourselves that every day – even moment by moment.

It’s taken me almost two years, but I think that I have finally started to realize that no power is maybe a blessing in disguise.

2017

I love the new year. New beginnings, fresh starts, new opportunities. Ah, it gets me so excited. 2017 has been wonderful so far, and apart from VOH admin work, here are a couple of newer things that I’ve been up to:

Village of Hope, Chongwe

January marked a new school year, and I have been given the opportunity to teach a new group of grade 5’s. I go into the Village twice a week, and will teach an English class in the morning and afternoon. My goal this January was to really get to know the children in this class, and remember each one of their names. There are kids in the class that I know really well because they live in the children’s homes, and there are kids that live in the community that I just recognize from coming to and from school. Overall, it’s been such a joy to be in the classroom with these precious kids. A joy to be able to pray with them before class starts, work with them, and teach them new games – even though all they ever want to play is 7up.

Taonga School, Lusaka

My friend Abi started a school in Lusaka, and I have been able to help her on Wednesdays to work with groups of children to help them with their phonics. Between working with different groups of kids, Abi and I get to chat, drink coffee and eat home made English muffins. Does it get any better? Oh, yes it does. On the days when they make loaves of bread! Anyways, back to the kids. Working with these groups of kids has been so much fun. The best part of all is working with little Christine. Christine is only 5, and already has been through so much. You would never know when you see her bright smiling face. After hearing her story of abandonment and horrific abuse it’s such a pleasure to spend some time with Christine working one on one with her, helping her to focus on one task at a time. She’s the sweetest little thing, full of life, happiness and joy…and can’t really sit still because she’s too excited about the other things going on in the classroom.

 

Kachimfya Café, Kitwe

My friend Amy started a youth empowerment program a couple of years ago. Her program is called the Kachimfya program, meaning “to overcome”. In Zambia, students have a gap year between grade 12 and college, and the Kachimfya program offers a place for students to attend and learn different trades and skills. This past year she has been given an amazing opportunity to start a cafe. A lodge offered her a space rent free for a year and the goal was to use Kachimfya graduates to run the café. She’s renovated the space, picked the staff and this week I was able to put my Starbucks experience to use, and train them. They were amazing! They learned how to pour espresso shots, steam milk, and become confident in learning a new skill. Of course we had to test everything we made, which made for jittery days and sleepless nights because of the caffeine overdose. While I was there, we were able to do two trial runs and open the café for a couple of hours. It was amazing to see how excited these students were, and how seriously they took their positions. Everyone’s goal for the café is to make it a safe place for youth in Kitwe. A place where they can come, hang out, drink coffee, and feel God’s presence.

Choosing to rest

This morning I read an exert from my favourite book, “Keep a Quiet Heart” by Elisabeth Elliot. She writes:

“Stillness. Perfect stillness. It is a very great gift, not always available to those who would most appreciate it and would find joy in it, and often not appreciated by those who have it but are uncomfortable with it”

That’s me, the second part. When I have that stillness, I’m not comfortable with it for too long. I’m sure all of the busy moms out there are rolling their eyes 😉

In the past couple of weeks I know God has been teaching me through His Word the importance of being still and knowing that He is God (Psalm 46). But the problem is I’m stubborn. When I’m finished my work, I’m always looking for something more. Something to do and people to see. Something to inspire me. Another project to work on, the perfect job for the future – anything! My mind has not been at rest as I search and search and search for things to fill and satisfy me.

About a week ago I hurt my ear and had to take antibiotics. Not that I’m dying, and I know that there are much worse things out there, but that infection caused me to literally have to be still. I had to stay in, and I couldn’t really do much. Plans had to be cancelled and I felt bored out of my mind. Not that I think that God was punishing me, but I really do believe He used this situation to teach me what it means to be still, rest in Him, and find joy in HIS presence – not in things.

This morning, I also read another exert from Elisabeth Elliot. She writes:

“A quiet heart is content with what God gives. It is enough. Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup. Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. My assignment entails my willing acceptance of my portion.”

I read that knowing that I was heading to the doctor’s office to do a follow up appointment on my ear, and was ready for whatever the day would bring.

Long story short, I’m back on another round of medication, the infection is still there, and the specialist I saw…well, let’s just say that the title “specialist” has been given to him VERY generously.

I left that office feeling discouraged and annoyed. But then I was reminded of the words that Elisabeth Elliot wrote. Words that filled me with so much peace this morning before I had to step outside of the house. Words that I’m realizing I need to choose to believe, because that mind set doesn’t come easy.

Each day is so different and uncertain – but at least we know that we can REST in knowing that our Father is in control. The stillness He offers to us is a precious gift, and whatever portion and assignment He has given us this day is one that we know we can handle because He goes before us. Rest in that.

He must increase, I must decrease.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Zambia now for almost a year and a half, and that I only have 6 months left to go before moving back home to Canada. It’s been wonderful, and a struggle and everything in between. I was talking to a friend the other night, and she asked me if I was grateful for all of the time I’ve been able to serve overseas – specifically in Zambia…and of course the answer was yes. She also had spent many years on the mission field and told me that often she would feel most alive when she felt like God was calling her to do something outside of her comfort zone. This was because she knew that she wasn’t able to do those particular things on her own, but instead that God was equipping her. I told her that I felt the exact same way.

I also told her that one thing I have struggled with the most while being in Zambia was whether or not I was actually doing something worthwhile with my time. I think every one has a different definition of what being a missionary is. Whether it is working with orphans and vulnerable children, participating in Bible translation, or running a camp, I have learned that being a missionary is not as black and white as I had always assumed.

I assumed that someone had to clearly hear the call of God – almost as if it was an audible voice, pack up all of their belongings and move to a foreign country. I assumed that being a missionary meant that all of the luxuries of life were stripped away from them and basically the more miserable you felt, the more you were in the will of God. Don’t get me wrong – I know that there are many individuals whose lives look similar to what I have just laid out, and I think that what they are doing is honourable. But out of all of the things I have learned/am learning while living in Zambia it is this: God is more concerned with the state of my heart, then what I am doing. To the world we may look amazing – we post pictures of us taking selfies with a vulnerable child, we buy tomatoes from the side of the road, and none of that is bad. I’ve done it and still do, but why am I doing it? Is it because I want everyone at home to think I’m some sort of Mother Theresa, or am I doing it to please Christ and serve Him?

That has been my biggest struggle over here. Never did I consider myself someone who wants to be in the limelight, but most of the time in the behind the scenes is when I struggle with wondering if this “missionary life” is purposeful and worthwhile.  It’s funny because normally in those moments I think back to what my friend said when I was preparing to live in Kenya. At the time I knew that I would have a driver instead of me driving. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role would entail, and even before I left Canada I was telling her that I wasn’t sure if this was something I was called to do. What if I went all the way to Kenya and nothing big and exciting happened? What if I went all the way to Kenya and I wasn’t able to report back to my supporters of all the amazing things I was able to do? What if I went to Kenya and I wasn’t really called? And she said to me: “Melissa, God may be asking you to spend a year in Kenya to simply encourage that driver you will be with everyday”. Wait – THAT’S IT?

My very wise and humble friend reminded me in that moment that serving God did not mean it was a show, serving God wasn’t about what I could do, but serving God was about humbly trying to meet the needs of God’s people, sharing Christ with them, encouraging them along the way, and witnessing what HE will do. That doesn’t make for the best Facebook or Instagram posts most of the time.

What she had said to me has rung through my head millions of times while being here in Zambia. When I think that I’m not doing enough to look like a missionary, I remember what she said. When I don’t feel like encouraging someone because I’m annoyed because its hot, my hair is frizzy and there is no power, I remember what she said. Thankfully, God has used her words to impact me big time and help me re-evaluate why we are called to serve. It’s helped me to realize that it does not matter where in the world you are – in this moment right now, whether you have heard a call or not, please know that WE ARE ALL called to serve God and His people. Your mission field is your church, your family, your friends and your workplace. Don’t buy into the idea of waiting until you hear a clear call from the Lord to serve Him – hello, you can wherever you are!

Those moments where its been confusing, hard and filled with tears have ended up being the most beautiful times. It’s often in those moments where He reminds me that it’s not about me, but it’s all about Him and what He is doing.

1 week

It’s been exactly a week since I’ve returned to Zambia. Spending the month back home in Canada was a wonderful whirlwind! The weather was nice, cool and crisp, I was able to spend much time with friends and family, and I had opportunities to share about the work I have been able to do this past year with VOH. I was invited to speimg_2124ak at the seniors group at my church, share at a ladies Bible study, and the highlight was speaking at my former schools’ chapel. It was such a privilege to be invited to share about what God is doing at all of our VOH locations, and to be prayed over as I returned back to Zambia. Thank you to all of you who took the time to meet with me, pray for me, and encourage me as I move forward!

Now Zambia…Oh boy is it hot. I’m already about 3 shades darker and my feet are orange everyday because of the dirt. I am going through deodorant at a faster speed then I’d like. It feels a bit like a desert –donut dry. Thankfully there is always a bit of a breeze. Every time I return to Zambia, I am usually approached by someone to let me know that I have gotten fat. Just today, I was told “Ah Maleesa, you have gotten nice and fat!” This happened when I was trying to buy a donut from our little shop at the village. As I put my money away, I assured them that it must be the heat that is making me swollen, right? I decided that maybe today wasn’t the best day to buy a donut, so I walked back to the office. Anyways, that feeling only lasted for about 10 minutes before I ended up getting one. Treat yo self.

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It’s been great being back in the classroom as well. I missed those little cuties, and we were all excited to see each other. At the end of every class we play a game of 7up and man, it gets heated. People are cheating, and people are calling each other out because they had their eyes open – it’s so much fun.

The best part of all is Lawren (aka my special friend) is here with me. He’ll be staying until mid December. Already a week in, and it’s been so much fun to show him my life here, and serve together. He is working on a landscaping project at our Chongwe village…in this crazy heat. I’m img_2243not jealous at all.

I’m excited to see what God has in store for my last chunk of time here in Zambia!

Privilege vs. Sacrifice

I don’t even think I had decided to come to Zambia yet. I was sitting at one of my church’s World Impact Sunday services, and a missionary had come up to the front and said these words: Moving overseas is not a sacrifice. Is it a privilege to serve our Lord. It was simple, not too profound or anything, but those words have stuck with me even now. I went home that day and wrote her words in my journal, and reflected on what she had said and meant. Her and her family were preparing to move to Africa, and in the midst of everything they had sold their belongings, packed up what remained, raised their funds, and were headed to a new home. I remember her explaining that one of her fears was bringing her children into a new country. She mentioned that she had to surrender her fears to the Lord, and trust that even though she didn’t know what their move would bring, God was going before them. It wasn’t a sacrifice, but a privilege.

I think her words have stuck with me because it has been something that I’ve needed to learn and truly understand. Not that I would verbalize it at first, but preparing to come to Zambia, and even being here in Zambia I have many, many, many times thought that moving overseas was quite the sacrifice. For goodness sake, I quit my job, sold my car, moved away from my family, and am living in a place that doesn’t provide all of the comforts of home. Isn’t that a sacrifice? More often then not, I have struggled with a ‘woe is me’ attitude – letting myself believe that coming here has been more of a sacrifice then a privilege.

It’s not a sacrifice. Not at all. To be a part of what God is doing in people’s lives, and to serve along people that love the Lord and would live in a hut with only some rice to eat and yet rejoice in the Lord, has been humbling and eye opening.

Her words of serving the Lord being a privilege not a sacrifice have popped into my head over and over again. I struggle and go back and forth some days between thinking that she was nuts to say that, and very right to say that. I want my focus to be more on how right she was.

God has taught me so much by being here in Zambia. I feel like a completely different person from a year ago – not necessarily better or worse, just very different. He has spoken to me clearer than I have ever experienced before, He has shown me areas of my life that need major refinement, and He’s made grace and forgiveness so much more real to me. But above all, I’ve learned that no matter where you are in the world – if you desire to serve the Lord in any way He wants, you’re exactly where you need to be.  To be used by the almighty King is the greatest privilege! So we have to give up some things, or all things along the way – who cares. Does it even compare? This life that He has given us, is not about us. I think when we come to a true realization that everything we have been given is from the Lord, and it can be gone in a second, it becomes much easier to realize that it’s not about us, but all about Him.

Speaking of privilege, it’s moments like these that remind me of how blessed I am to be here. Visits from my favourite little neighbours last weekend filled my heart with so much JOY!