Looking around you think.. she’s got everything

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First off, I must say, forgive me for the long blog hiatus. In the crazy whirlwind of moving to the city, making my first apartment a home, teaching full time, and interning with a Christian non-profit in Chicago you could say I’ve had my hands full. I’ve been writing blogs for Empower Chicago and usually all my “revelation” is posted there. This however, is a not-so-spiritual outlook and I figured it would be more appropriate to be read here, amongst peers and supporters. (Thanks for reading by the way!!)

I have had the Little Mermaid’s song “Part of Your World” stuck in my head for a week. Ask my coworkers, apparently I’ve been singing it for that long, too. (whoops.)

While in the middle of humming the lyrics, “Flippin’ your fins, you don’t get too far..” I immediately saw how the character, Ariel, was comparing her life to an unknown one and believing it to be better than her own.

Friends, we are plagued by this “grass is greener on the other side” mentality every day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped away from friendships because they have become so consumed with materials or social status. Life is about exploring, relationships, and shouldn’t depend on what we have or others have. Life is not about looking Pinterest perfect or how many likes you got on the thousandth selfie you posted on Instagram.

As this obsession grows in our culture I’ve been drawn to becoming more simplistic in my way of living. (Granted, my simplifying things could be complicating it for others.) It’s the little things we do that show where our priorities are. Sometimes, you don’t have to look picture perfect before stepping out of the house. We live in a world where no one is perfect. And in my case, if you live in Chicago, everyone is a little weird. Even the girl on the train sporting her Michael Kors bag and Hunter rain boots.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been using the time I’d normally be doing my makeup or hair in the morning and adding 15 minutes to spend time with the Lord. It’s not a big amount but it helps me focus on who is really in control of this day. It’s not me. It’s not others. God is my center.

We all can lose our focus and think if we just had a little larger salary, we’d be able to really make an impact. Then things would be better. But what if you get that job and you work with people you despise to sit around all day? There is no perfect job other than the one you’re meant to do. And even then, every day is a choice. Yes, dare to dream! But don’t compare and imagine it to be perfect. We’re human. *laughs* We’ll never be perfect.

If you are not happy in the now with what you have,

When will you be satisfied?

“Looking around here you think
Sure, she’s got everything

I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs?
I’ve got twenty!

But who cares?
No big deal
I want more

Flippin’ your fins, you don’t get too far..”

Re-calculating En Route…

Challenge & Revelation

Sometimes I feel like a GPS as I acclimate to America and my new surroundings. “Re-calculating, re-calculating.” It has been a joy to experience America and all it offers with eyes wide open. Every time I have come back from missions trips I have been preparing to go on the next one. After a year and a half of ministry (including my month back home of preparing for school and fundraising) it is great to rest where no agenda wipes me out.

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The strangest thing to re-adjusting is how I remember places differently than they are now. Two years have passed and the place I once remember has completely changed! I find myself becoming more of an introvert and pulling in to avoid repeating myself by answering everybody’s same questions. Don’t misunderstand me, I love meeting people and swapping stories of the lives we’ve lived, ministry moments, and missions. The phrase I hear all too often is, “That is so great. I wish I could do that.” I want to shake them by the shoulders and say, “You can!!!” If an 18 year old can go for a few weeks (or years), please consider taking a week and go evangelize! You don’t even have to leave the country!

The first week of being back in America was difficult as I fought relaxation and yearned to go and minister to others. God showed me how much I needed to be ministered to and rest in His presence. A few days later I was able to pray for a young girl I met (some of you may have seen my Facebook post.) It was so fulfilling and I was extremely thankful that I had set aside that time for the Lord to re-coop. What an exciting journey ahead of listening to His voice and discovering new things along the way! My heart for missions will never dull and the cry of my heart for more Christians to fulfill the great commission will never be reticent. I am really excited to go to ORU and meet more young adults my age who are crazy about missions and inspire others about God’s work, too!

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

Can’t Say Goodbye

Challenge & Revelation, Photography

Wow. The past year and a half has been quite a whirlwind! Thank you to you all who try and keep up with the small notes I have time to put up (as you can see, it’s been a while!) I’ve missed blogging about the events and people that I meet here in Africa but God has been teaching me a lot this season about living  in  the  moment.

Some of you may know but I’ll summarize for those of you just jumping into this quirky girl’s life of adventure. I have been with Impact Africa for a year and a half as an intern. My job is a bit of a catch-all but in my time spent in South Africa I have not only made friendships that will last a lifetime as well as organized trips for the orphan-vulnerable children we have at our schools in several communities and planned weekly crafts, stories, and picked up the large amount of food that feeds all (close to) 200 children! I’ve learned much about blog writing as I wrote blogs for the organization as well as leadership through leading mission teams and coming back to “guide” this year’s interns. (I say guide in parentheses because there were definitely times they were guiding me!) I’ve helped teach an English class we set up for people in the community to help provide better job options and battled through wanting them to desperately know English as well as questioning if teaching was in my future. I’ve grown in compassion as I watched people try to hold their lives together without Jesus and then turn to Him and begin the journey of learning to trust how great He truly is. I’ve also struggled with the thought of never leaving and keeping these people under my wing forever, but I know that’s not God’s plan.

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Today I am returning to the States to prepare and begin college at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Part of me can barely contain the excitement, the other can barely hold in the tears. As I alluded to before, this season has been a bit of a tricky one. I feel that every time a season ends God’s grace seems to pull back a teensy bit so you can see what living life outside of His will is like (just in case you decide to change your mind and do something else.) Even in the moments I wanted to run away from the situation at hand, God always provided strength. While I was humbled, He was exalted and that is what I live my life for: His glory.

Some people say when God shuts a door He opens a window, but I believe God gives us the choice at times. Both will work just fine, but one is closer to His heart. These past six months have been difficult, but God refined me in so many ways. He gave me the choice to come back or to go back to comfortable Ol’ America and I didn’t come back because it was easy. I came back because I knew this is what God has planned for the rest of my life: missions. In whatever aspect that may take. Thanks for journeying with me during my time in South Africa. So this is not good-bye. Missions is an overflow of the heart and that’s how I live my life now. And for South Africa? It’s just a, “See you later :)” Can’t wait to see the new adventures that await us!

Sangoma Meets Jesus

Missions

Two long weeks had passed in anticipation. The excitement was so thick you could feel it in the air as the interns walked into Kya Sands. Short, quick conversations and prayers were had with many people we came across. Two hours later, we had one more hour on the field and I knew just how to spend it.

After being in the community for a year, you quickly learn the places to avoid and who is where. Just before we left last year someone mentioned to me a sangoma (witch doctor) that lived right off the main street. At the time, a mental note had been made to avoid the house. It was scary at the thought of opening myself up to demonic activity because of what I had been taught years ago.

After leaving South Africa last year, something in my spirit whispered next year would be different. While on break Life Church prophesied over this year for increased flow of the Spirit and if the Lord healed last year, there would be even more healings for 2014! Taking a hold of that prophecy and speaking into 2014, this year began to be declared one of more healings, breakthroughs, and deliverance than last year. I stood in faith for increased faith and deeper relationship with Christ.

 As we began to walk back through the community we stopped at the same house I had run in fear from last year. Determined to not only show the interns what they were up against in the community and minister to this woman, a translator was quickly found once we realized she didn’t speak English. As we made small talk she mentioned she was a “traditional healer”. When we told her (us) the Americans did not know what that was, we asked if she would like to show us. She happily invited us into the corner where she would sit her clients while taking to the ancestors to “discern” what was wrong with them.

Questions were asked to extract information for the interns who were still a little shocked this was real life. She showed us her certificates and told us how and what she exactly did. When most people become sangomas it is usually because they have a dream of an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14b-15) or their family insists. When I asked her why she became a sangoma she told me it was because her grandfather’s spirit appeared to her and told her to become one. Later she told us any messages she “discerned” from the spirits were visions. When the question was asked if she believed in God and she said yes and then we asked if she believed the Bible was true she nodded her head. We shared the verse in (Ecclesiastes 9:4-5) where it explains the dead have no involvement with the present on earth. Nelly resisted a little and defended she did not dabble in those kind of things.

Like a light switch flipped on, God began to reveal the direction of the conversation was all wrong. We began to tell her of the one true spirit and what He did for her. As we told the story of the perfect man that God had sent, she was glued to the speaker, eyes fixed on me even though the translator was the one speaking her language. After the gospel was shared, she still was not entirely convinced. Our overpowering heart cry was for God to open up her eyes to see what was separating her from the Truth!

We told the story of Adam and Eve and how what looked like they weren’t anybody, separated them from God. As she heard about the snake, her eyes widened and her face fell when God told them they had to leave the garden. As I told her the plan God had and how he had sent his perfect son to die for her, she became more excited and drawn into the story.

We asked her questions to ensure she understood the story. She really connected with the story and began to tell us that she could now feel spirits fighting for her. “Pray for me that I would have a deeper desire for Christ and that he would show the True spirit.” As the group huddled around her, people began to come to her store to purchase things. She so passionately wanted prayer she did not stir to respond to the customers waiting at her shack. It was surprising because even the most earnest people we minister to answer their phone or talk to their friends while we talk with them.

What a divine connnection! So thankful for the amazing things God is doing in Africa!!

Fire in Kya Sands

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We had been working for over a month looking for people that our summer teams had met and had ministry conversations with. We now

stood there at the top of the hill looking at where we once had weaved in out of, looking for shack numbers and people, left in ashes.

Some of our Bible study friends lost their homes, their clothes, their money, everything.

Many people lined up to register how much land they once held, where they home had once stood. I began to walk around the site along with these now homeless people. They already have so little and now even that is gone. Even though they had lost everything, they were all pulling together, attempting to rebuild and prod the process along as quickly as possible.

After the land had been cleared a large bulldozer drove in and started clearing the land, crushing everything in it’s path and demolishing whatever was left behind. All I could think about is how difficult it would be to watch where my home once was, any fond memory I had of where I lived was now being erased. These people are so used to suffering that they have become numb to the pain yet still find a way to be joyful in their circumstances. That was the most difficult thing for me to process through. The most unfathomable to me, consistently, is how the people who live in these informal settlements continue to find the positive in their difficult and uncomfortable situations.

Many of the people who live in these settlements are from a surrounding country in Africa. In December, most leave South Africa and travel home to spend a month or two before returning to find work. They save up the whole year (and sometimes years) for the expensive trek home. When Americans experience a house fire, they list off the expensive electronics and maybe the precious family photos they lost. These people were devastated at losing a pair of shoes or all their money that had kept in a tin can inside their shack.

When we found out that our friends had lost their homes, we decided that although we couldn’t help everyone who had lost their homes, we could help the ones we knew. Some of us interns along with Impact Africa staff came together and put together bags with soap, snacks, bottles, clothes, and blankets, along with a Bible for each mother. They were most excited about the Bibles and continued to thank us! Even though this fire happened at the beginning of the month when they had been attending our Bible study for only a few weeks, they still come and one of the women rides a bus from a separate community because she loves it so much. They all have homes and I am so thankful they are safe!!

“I know Jesus died, but why?”

Missions

I held a salvation card with a woman’s phone number but no house number. After calling her many times, learning she has a different name than the one noted, and finally finding her shack I was relieved to see someone at home that I could have a conversation with!

I started to talk to her and I learn she is in a completely different profile than I thought. I don’t know how to relate to her and begin to hesitantly share the gospel, praying God will show me an open door. All I was confident in was that God was telling me to push through this rough conversation.

After talking about her family back home I begin to ask what she knows of God. She explains she knows Jesus died for her. I ask, “Do you know why he died?” She shakes her head no.

I began to share the creation story of how Adam and Eve sinned and that’s why God sent His son. She nodded her head and understood. I brought out a Gospel of John and gave one to her. I opened it to John 4 (one of my favorite stories to share). Up until this point I had needed a translator to explain what I was saying but as I told the story she completely understood English – The Gospel Came Alive!

I continued to tell her about how Jesus (a single man from a different tribe) sat down with this single woman from a disliked tribe. He wanted to talk to her and offer her something so special, even though he knew all of the bad things she had done. He didn’t care about the bad things, he still loved her. Porciah was shocked at how much Jesus loved this woman and as I told her how much he loved her, her eyes grew even wider.

As I asked if she wanted to know Jesus more, she grew hesitant. “Give everything to someone I barely know?” I understood where she was thinking because I had thought the same thing just a year and a half ago. I reassured her she could learn more about Jesus in the book of John I gave her, told her where our Bible study was in her area, prayed for her, and left.

God has a plan for Porciah and so many other people in the communities we work in. I am so grateful that I listened to what God was telling me and she now knows why Jesus died for her and that it is not about what she does for him or the bad things she’s done in the past, because all He wants is her.

Transitional Seasons and Growing Pains

Challenge & Revelation

As many of you know, I’m in a transitional season of life as I make bigger life decisions and follow His voice. These past couple of weeks I have been asking questions like, “what is really my purpose in life?” and, “Is what I am doing even making a difference?”

As a young, single woman the question, “Am I wanted or needed?” has become a very big one. While it has been a subconscious struggle more recently the questions has come to the surface, paralyzing my emotions in a constant state of confusion and rejection. This weekend the Lord healed me by showing me how he has redeemed and restored me. He is the one continually pursuing me and interceding for me. He delights in me! A scripture that has ministered to me a lot is Isaiah 62:1-5.

“Because I love Zion,

I will not keep still.
Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
The nations will see your righteousness.
World leaders will be blinded by your glory.
And you will be given a new name
by the Lord’s own mouth.
The Lord will hold you in his hand for all to see—
a splendid crown in the hand of God.
Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City”
or “The Desolate Land.”
Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight”
and “The Bride of God,”
for the Lord delights in you
and will claim you as his bride.”

One of the things we talked about in chapel this morning was the only thing you take from this earth to heaven is relationships. What a lie from the enemy that we are unwanted and lonely – destroying ministry moments and friendships that pulls us closer to the Father’s heart.

2 Corinthians 1:4

 “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

You were created for His delight and as you grow in your intimacy, you want to shout His goodness from the rooftops! Hope this ministers to you and encourages you 🙂

Love in Christ,

Ashley

Team Season – Blasting Past!

Missions

This past week there was a team visiting from North Carolina. They were a blast to work with and because they were only here for a week we quickly jumped into ministry! One of the women from the team, Michelle, and I started talking with two women standing outside of their shacks. Both from Limpopo, we began to share life together. Mary claimed she knew God but as we delved deeper into explaining having a relationship with God she began to become quiet. I learned Elizabeth, the other woman had a son back home in Limpopo. “Elizabeth, how would you feel if a man came and tortured your family, killing them?” I asked. Elizabeth confidently replied, “I would be sad but I would survive.” “How would you feel if the man came back years later and said to you, ‘Elizabeth, I know I brutally hurt your family. Will you forgive me for hurting you? My heart is dying, I need a new one.. will you give your son’s heart to me so I can live?” After Elizabeth expressed the choice words she would share with him I nodded. “Of course we wouldn’t want him near us! He hurt us, why should we help him? Elizabeth, that’s what Jesus did for us. Even though we hurt His son and the bad things we did sent Jesus to die, God forgave us. Our words and decisions were the nails in his hands but God raised Jesus from the dead so we could know him.” Elizabeth gasped and sat back, taken back by what I had just expressed.

Ashley, Elizabeth, Michelle, Mary

Michelle jumped into the conversation, “Mary, Elizabeth, I know you know about God, do you have a relationship with him? Have you ever said with your mouth that God was Lord over your life?” Both of them shook their heads, still in shock of the realization of all Christ has done for them. They both gave their lives to the Lord and were so excited! We took a Polaroid shot of us all four together, celebrating the day the turned their lives to Christ: August 6th, 2013.

There are many things that make me love living in South Africa but my most favorite is when the teams from America share their faith with those in South Africa and they give their lives to the Lord! Praise God for the hearts He softens and ministers to!

Yes, I’m Still in South Africa!

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Hello friends and family!

Some of you may be joining in as a result of the articles written about me in the Beloit Daily Newspaper (and an article coming up in the Janesville Gazette as well!) Thanks for visiting the blog and reading about my story!

The past two months have been considerably hectic with many teams pouring in from all over the world but have grown me in so many ways! Seeing lives changed in the communities (and on the teams) is an extremely humbling experience as well as eye-opening. Watching others as they journey through the struggles of sharing their faith and relating to others has given me more of a passion to share and determination to encourage them as they dig deeper in their walk with God.

Towards the end of May I met a woman named Sharon living in the communities. She had a four year old daughter tied to her back and wove through shacks to bring me to her home. It was the smallest shack I had ever seen, fitting only a full sized bed and a cardboard box to stack her belongings on.

For a long while we sat and talked, she gladly opened up to me about what was going on, thankful for a listening ear. Staying with a “boyfriend” in order to have a roof over her and her daughter’s heads, she wakes up before the sun to collect garbage and hopes to turn it into the scrapyard in order to feed her and her daughter. Stuck in the thought process of only relying on herself in order to do anything, hearing about the gospel and what Jesus did for her was shocking.

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About a month after Sharon had been coming to Bible study regularly we were able to give Sharon a Bible. At first, she was scared to read it often because she didn’t want it to get dirty. It took a little bit of time but she began to read it and discovered the truth for herself. She used to talk about “cleaning herself” but now she is pointing out that because Jesus forgave us we should forgive others!

The other day I was talking to Sharon and she began to tell me that there are days she is tired and doesn’t want to go to Bible study but goes anyway; how even when she has a bad day she reads her Bible or prays she feels a peace. “Even if I have nobody to talk to, God is always listening. Even if I have nothing, God is always listening.”

This is the reason I’m here in South Africa. To change lives like this. To see God tangibly taking a hopeless situation and filling it with His life. This is what happens when you are motivated by the Love of God!