Humble Beginnings/Restarts

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

I made a few decisions in the past year that I am not proud of. I negated the strong choices I made for my life as a youth and growing Christian. At that time, I was listening to the wise counsel around me and absorbing all that I could. But as I grew calloused to those words and my heart wasn’t being fed with Truth, I stepped away from those choices.

One of those choices came back around the other day and revealed to me how much of a hypocrite I was being. I knew I was but I didn’t want evidence to prove it. And there it was, in full color. Dang.

The past 9 months have been an insecure time for me. I didn’t like that I felt so alone and I also wasn’t trusting God with my future. Part of me figured I needed to go look for the man I was supposed to be with. The most stupid part of this was that if I hadn’t made the decision to go on the first date, a lot would have been avoided. The hurt, the insecurity, the pushing farther away from the only One who could heal my heart.

I remember giving tidbits to my dad as I explained how frustrated I was with my dating journey. I felt like I had let him down. He shrugged it off and said, “Ashley, I was praying for you, especially this season in your life. And I just felt like God was saying He was protecting you from a lot of men who didn’t have good intentions.” Part of me agreed, and part of me scoffed but boy, was he right! As he began to talk about his dreams for my future husband, the knot in my stomach tightened. “I can be happy without a guy..” I began, spouting off what I had already known but had yet to hear someone tell me as I pushed onto the path of “Do-it-myself.” Believe it or not, that was the moment I knew I was done with dating. No more playing with fire. I didn’t need it or these Bosos that kept trying to butt into my life.

So here I am, a humbled 22 year old girl, a little wiser, a little hurt. I found out someone I was seeing had a girlfriend – while we were dating. I immediately grew furious. Then I took a breather and said, “Wait. You lied more than he did. He didn’t fess up to the truth, but he mentioned and you ignored it. He asked if you were friends or more and you hesitated. You knew in your heart friends but you didn’t want to lose him if it wasn’t what he wanted. Once again, you changed yourself so someone else would like you. You’re the hypocrite. For saying you would stand tall and then crumbled when the actions called to be taken.”

I began to get discouraged. I felt like how I imagined Samson felt after he looked back at some of the stupid decisions he made. “I set myself apart for something better! I made God-honoring decisions to only throw them away later! How do I get that honor back? How do I stir up my hunger for God again when I feel like I have been so distant for so long?” I could have let the enemy defeat me right there but then I remembered something I read in Craig Groeschel’s book, Fight. (Later realized it’s a guys’ book, but hey, we’re all warriors. And it’s Craig Groeschel! Win win.) God graced Samson with his gift, even after every time he dishonored God. What does that tell me? That each time I turn back and say, “God, I was wrong. Those actions didn’t honor you and I don’t like what was in my heart. Please refine that part of me and make me more like you.” He gives me grace and mercy, erasing all memory of my mistakes and renewing my blessing and call to serve Him. One of Groeschel’s deep thoughts continued, “Samson gave into his emotions instead of God’s leading. He lunged after immediate gratification instead of obeying God. And he lost sight of his blind spots: which ultimately cost him his sight. (Judges 14:8-9) The only reason Samson kept making mistakes was because he kept going back to where he shouldn’t be.

 

So where are you supposed to be? Do you know?

I reflected on this for a while and remembered the vows I had made about how I wanted to live my life. I was in awe of how God protected me from it all but I didn’t know where to start taking steps back towards Him. So I picked up my Bible. I talked to God (even though it felt so hard!) I began to check out Christian books from the library, whatever I could get my hands on. I reached out to community groups in my church, to build a network of other believers around me. These decisions didn’t fall into my lap, they were steps I chose to make. Just like the ones I regretted, but these had passion and conviction behind them.

I hope my story encourages you. Those people who spoke wisdom into your life that you’re ignoring? Don’t ignore it. It will save you a lot of pain and time. Those vows you made? Stick to them. Even when they seem out-of-date with the choices everyone else around you is making. We get knocked down, but we get up again. Each day, God makes us new. The old is gone. The past is the past, but God is calling us to a higher standard. Christians = Christ-like, right? How are you reflecting Christ to others?

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How I Lost 30lbs Accidentally: Lifestyle Choices

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Once I moved from overseas to America, I hit the gym as soon as I recovered from jet lag. My Mom became my personal trainer and I pushed through the frustration of re-gaining ground I had lost. 

When I set foot in Chicago on my own, I had no car and walked over a mile a day. Running up flights of stairs every day to catch a train took its own toll.  I made the resolution when I moved out on my own not to have junk food in the house because I saw the weakness I had towards mindlessly eating. Eating out was a rarity since my budget didn’t allow it and I purposefully chose low-in-fat recipes.

I accidentally lost weight by setting standards for myself. I didn’t intentionally workout and kept eating out to a minimum. It’s not a magic pill, it wasn’t easy, but it made ground that I was able to continue going harder after weight loss and the fit image I had for myself.

I am in control of what I put in my body. Choosing healthy foods to consume rather than eating out every week is a choice. I don’t eat organic but I always eat a home-cooked meal. Packing my lunches also keeps me from over-eating or over-indulging. It’s about the small steps. Working out keeps my body fit but eating well keeps me healthy.

  Once I discovered how much weight I was losing, I reconfigured my budget and joined a gym. During my consultation the physical trainer gave me the most haunting advice that I will never forget. “The fat on your body is from unhealthy, processed food you’ve consumed.” You know what that told me? I am responsible for what I put in my body. I am not controlled by what I eat. Or how I look. Or how I feel. Once the weather warmed up, I began to ride my bike to work, a 12 mile trek. That was hard at first but it soon became something I craved! Weight training at the gym continues to build the muscle I need and the cardio I do during the day provides the necessary exercise.

Waking early in the morning ensures I work out and making it a priority has been a huge lesson in discipline for me! I don’t work out to fit a size; I work out to stay fit and healthy. 

In my first post in this series I talked about how my mom was my inspiration to start losing weight. I had thoughts of insecurity and was upset about how my mom was going to be smaller than me. There is nothing wrong with that. The thought was a subconscious revelation of the jealousy I felt at how happy I saw my mom had become. She was no longer controlled by her desire for food, or to be skinny! She was simply living healthy and working towards being fit.

Going through photos of myself and discovering my journey through pictures was hard. We all love the before and afters but what about the durings? Seeing my low valleys and high mountain tops saddened me a little. It was hard to see and remember how I had felt: so uncomfortable in my own skin because I had already seen my potential. I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to lose weight and accounted it to not being able to go to the gym.

If you’re just starting this journey or my story has inspired you to live a healthier lifestyle, take baby steps and stay firm.  Allow cheat days and if you’re not ready to go it alone, bring a friend! Most gyms allow guest passes and LA Fitness gives ten of your friends a two week membership at the gym for free! Don’t get discouraged and keep an accountability partner to kick your butt in gear when you fall a little off track. 

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!

“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.

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!

Testimonies From George, South Africa!

Challenge & Revelation, Missions, Photography

Victoria Bay

Sedgefield Community

Photo Credit: Cori Bridgeford

Knysna, South Africa is a beautiful place and I’m privileged to have traveled there. While it has many accommodations much more like America’s it still has squatter camps. These were not just any type of squatter camps. Shacks built on hills overlooking the grand homes closer to the beach, the mist of the ocean waves visible from their very front door. In the three and a half months I’ve been doing ministry in squatter camps I had never seen a community so desperate for God. The very first house we visited that week, God did a miracle. We met three women, sitting outside the door and we told them about the crusade. When we asked if we could pray for them, they led us to their mother who couldn’t walk. A frail old woman, named Sarah, lay curled up in her bed, muttering a few words to her daughter which she would translate to us. It had been thirteen years since she had walked. Sarah was in a lot of pain and had many medications trying to take it away. “I believe in Jesus.” She told us, “I believe He can heal me.” Excitedly we prayed for her, expecting the God of the Impossible to do a great miracle.

When we finished praying we asked if she felt any different and she said some of the pain was gone. She walked from her bedroom to the sitting area – a walk she had not made in 7 years! Two days later we stopped by again and were able to get to know the daughter, Sophie, better. She told us of how she took care of her mother Sarah and her son who was deaf and had a type of autism. With no job, she trusted the Lord for everything she had. Selflessly laying down her own needs for those of others, the stress on her face was evident. We began to pour into her the strength the Lord has for her, sharing scripture after scripture, her countenance had changed from burdened to joyful by the time we left!

The last night I saw Sophie at the crusade with a little girl who had been with us since the crusade had started earlier that week. We all knew her well, seeing her and playing with her so often. “This one is a soup-kitchen child.” Sophie told me, “I gave her a piece of bread.. I have my own problems!” While this woman had compassion she seemed quite irritated, still holding the little girl. When I asked where her parents were she responded saying the father was dead and the mother had disappeared. “Is she staying with you?” I asked. “No!” “Where does she stay then?” I asked. Sophie continued to talk about the soup kitchen and all I could think about was how this four year old girl had no family and was apparently getting food from the soup kitchens.

There are children who have no homes. Who don’t know where their family is or where their next meal is going to come from. This trip not only made me grow into the faith God gave me for his healing but opened my eyes to see the deeper reality that these people live in every day. Please be praying for the seeds sown in our times of ministry and that the Lord would continue  to work on their hearts!

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“God Hears”

Missions

As I walked through the streets, looking for someone to talk to I spot a young man sitting outside, having just come home from school. I stepped out in faith and went to go talk to him. We talked about school, friends, and family, I quickly learned this sixteen year old boy’s father was not in the picture and his mother was often working, leaving him to take care of his younger siblings. I told him of how I had often watched my younger siblings, caring for them as well. We talked about the different churches he had been to and I listened as he expressed his dislike for some of the churches – cult churches unbeknownst to him.

He walked inside his shack, showing me his and his little brother’s room and where his mother and sister slept. I asked if I could help him wash the dishes he was starting on and he agreed. I had learned early on he could read English and was excited to have this unique opportunity of telling this young boy about Jesus, who could understand even more! I contrasted the dish soap to how Jesus cleaned our hearts. He became intrigued and wanted to know more. I began to tell him the gospel story, from Genesis to Jesus laying his life down, we washed and talked, his expression changing throughout. After I had finished telling him about how Jesus had laid his life down he looked at me with tears in his eyes. “How does that make you feel, Ishmael?” I asked. “I just keep thinking of all the bad things I have done.” He replied. To be honest, I had not even respected the response. I looked down at the time, seeing I only had 15 precious minutes left with this young man. “Lord, if you only had fifteen minutes with this one whom you love so much, what you tell him?” I showed Ishmael John 5:24, telling him of how God did not come to make us feel bad, but to save us. “Good things can’t save us,” I tell Ishmael, “It says in Matthew 7:21 that when we die and go to heaven we will see God. Many people will say look at all the good things we did for you! But God will say, get away from me, I never knew you. The only way we get to God is through Jesus.” I flipped over to Romans 10:9-10, and let the truth sink into this young man’s heart. “I want to believe in Jesus.” Ishmael adamantly told me. My heart soared!

After he accepted Christ we talked about how Jesus killed sin on the cross. It has no power over us! I shared how earlier that day it had been difficult, but I prayed for God to give me strength to come to the community and share. “God gave me strength just so I could talk to you! God gives you strength, too.

I left the shack that day, knowing his life was changed and excited to be able to give him a gospel of John, leaving something for him to read and begin his walk with the Lord. Please be in prayer for this young man. He has the potential to have such an influence over his friends, family, and neighbors. I look forward to catching up with him again soon and am praying the Lord continue to move in His life!

He Brings Hope to the Hopeless

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates, Missions

On a windy, cloudy day in Kya Sands, most people are huddled around fires or in their shacks staying warm. Our team walks in between the alley ways looking for an open shack or anyone for that matter. As we stand in front of a shack, looking to see if anyone is there, we notice they are all locked. While we discuss where we should go next, a woman approaches and greets us. She introduces herself as Marciah and we learn more of her life. Her four daughters are back at home; oldest is 16 and part of a Muslim church. She shares her disappointment and prayers for her daughter. We relate life with her, me sharing of my two younger sisters and family in America, the difficulty of being away. “But I call my mom and I feel better.” Marciah, the thirty-eight year old woman, tells me.

I ask if she lives with her family and she tells me she lives by herself. I was a little surprised because very rarely will you find a woman in a squatter camp living on her own. If she’s not living with a sister or mother, she usually lives with a boyfriend or husband. “My boyfriend died on October 26 last year.” She solemnly states. Once again, my heart is pulled for this woman. So many times you’ll hear of difficult situations occurring in a squatter camp, of death and sickness, unthinkable realities hit you like a tidal wave. These situations, as terrible as they are, have become the norm in hopeless desperation to cope.

She tells of visiting her children for holiday and the joy of being able to spend time with her little ones. We learn of the church she attends and she shares even more about her life. She invites us inside her house, unlocking the door and motioning for us to come closer. She shows us the places her families once lived before they moved back home, leaving her by herself. I ask Marcia if she likes to be by herself or with others. She tells me she likes to be with others but it is difficult because her neighbors come home late, through the emphasis in her eyes I can see the loneliness. As if a wall had come down, she opened up and spoke softly of her deceased boyfriend. “He committed suicide here.” She tells me. Rather than tugging at my heart, it broke right in two hearing this. “I am so sorry, Maricah.” I try to console her in the best way I know, sympathy and a listening ear. She continued, “He hung himself. He didn’t even leave a note.” Trying to still wrap my head about the pain she must be feeling I ask another question. “You found him hanging?”

“We came home and he had locked it from the inside,” she said. “I knocked and knocked but no one would answer the door. We had to break part of the door and crawl through.” As she told the story, I mentally walked through the process, experiencing the stress and exhaustion after a long day’s work, not being able to enter the only place that could be labeled your oasis, crawling through the door to find someone so close to you, had killed themselves. “I couldn’t sleep or stay here.” She tells us. “All I could picture was that was where he died. I would think I saw him when I woke up at night. So many people told me to get counseling. But I told them I could counsel myself.” Marciah continued to tell of getting counseling and how she was okay now. I could still see the oppression over her life, the heaviness that burdened her whether she knew it or not. I began to relate to her, through circumstances I had gone through with friends. I told her of how I felt when I found out the people I was close to told me of how close they had come to suicide and the questions I asked myself. “How could I have noticed? Why was I not there for them?” She agreed with me and I asked if she had a bible.

She took her Bible out, excited to show me. I see her bookmark is in Psalms and I ask if she likes the book. “I must be honest; I did not read my Bible while I was on holiday.” She admits to me. I nod my head and tell her of my new found love for Psalms. As I flip to show her where I have been reading, I read her 55:1-8,9b,11b,16 and ending with v22 “Give your burdens to the Lord and He will take care of you.

She soaked it all in. She agreed to start attending our bible studies and is so excited to be able to see people and talk to them about God! I am so excited to journey with Marcia. Please be praying with me for healing, peace, and deliverance in her life.

Recently, I’ve had to rely on the Lord for his provision. I am still fundraising while in South Africa to fully fund the year. Trusting in His timing is not easy, especially when deadlines fly by as you’re out in the shacks and in the office, day by day. Just as I encouraged Marciah with Psalms, it has been encouraging me especially in this season of life.

 “But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. (v20-22) We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name..Lord, our hope is in you alone.”

Psalm 33:18

If you would like to donate follow this link. The donation information is towards the bottom of the page. Thank you for your prayers and partnership in reaching those who are hopeless and broken in South Africa!

Salvation in the Shacks!

Missions

We crossed the river in Kya and as we passed through a small walkway I met eyes with a woman. When she greeted me, I felt in my heart it was a divine appointment. She was an older woman from Limpopo, with her two granddaughters, listening to the radio to pass the time. I sat down and began to exchange life with her, learning her name was Katie and she had been here for three years. She turned off her radio and shared with me she used to attend a cult church back at home. “Do they give you Jocco tea?” I ask. {Many of the cult churches will pray over a tea and have you drink it – to heal what they said you were sick with. They also give bracelets, prayed-over Vaseline, and holy water to scare away evil spirits} She nods her head and I continue, “Does it make you better?” She contemplates for a moment and then shrugs her shoulders, “It makes you better from what they say you’re sick with.” I point out some people lie. “How do you know the “prophets” are telling the truth?”  “Some people make things up,” She tells me, “But others tell the truth.” I ask how she knows what is true and what is a lie. “Sometimes they tell me something will happen and when it doesn’t I know it is a lie.

Did Jesus ever use tea or bracelets to make people better?” I continued after a moment of letting her think, “Jesus prayed to God, right? He didn’t need any of those things because He knew God and His power.” I flipped over to a passage in Matthew, showing her how Jesus prayed with people, and because they believed in him, they were healed.

“Katie, do you know why Jesus died?” She responded, “For us.”

He saw Katie’s face when they beat him, he saw Katie’s face when they hit him with whips, he saw Katie when he hung on the cross. He did it for you, Katie.”

She looked at me with an expression of hurt, compassion, and slight confusion. Her face seemed to say, “For me?” I continued, “He died so that you could know him. He wants to talk to you and be your friend. When we sin, it makes a wall in front of our heart and keeps us from talking to God. God sent his only son, to die, so that he could talk to us. When Jesus died, he broke the wall that kept us from talking to God. He killed our sin!” A look of relief overtook her face as she sat back in astonishment. I waited a moment and then asked again, “Katie, do you know Jesus?”

“I’ve never seen him!” she replied. “I’ve never seen him like I can see you,” I touched her hand, “but if I called you on the phone, would you say, ‘You’re not real!’ because I wasn’t right in front of you?” She shook her head and laughed. “Because you can hear me, right?” I ask and she (still chuckling) agrees with me. “I’m real but you can’t see me. If I called you on the phone would you not talk to me because you couldn’t see me?” “No!” “Jesus is real even though we can’t see him. He wants to talk to you! But when we hear the phone ring we say, no, I don’t want to answer, it’s not real. It hurts him. We’re saying I don’t believe you.” “Mh, I understand.” She replied.

Katie, do you want to know Jesus? I opened to Romans 10:9-10 and read it, “That’s how we get to know, Jesus, Katie. We ask him into our hearts, we give our lives to him. Without God we would not be breathing right now, he is our life.” She nods her head and says, “Yes, I want to know him.” We were so ecstatic! As I prayed with her, introducing her to Jesus, her new life-long friend, she smiled.

Please be praying for Katie and the others that have accepted Christ this week. Pray that they are constantly being drawn closer to His heart and the lies of the enemy would not sway them in their faith of our amazing creator!

The Sweetest Birthday Gift

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates, Missions, Photography

I wake up to my favorite girls surrounding me, singing happy birthday with a plate of eggs, cinnamon pull apart bread, along with coffee made just the way I like it. I spent an hour in the Word and dressed for the day, doing my hair and make-up all in enough time to be out the door at 8:30. It was the last day of Holiday Kid’s Club (VBS) at Impact Kids and I helped run it with a few of the other interns. I was exhausted by lunch and the day wasn’t even half over! Rich and Michelle Franzen (founders of Impact Africa) surprised me with a triple chocolate mini-cake and all the kids sang happy birthday to me, I felt so special.

But that wasn’t all God had planned for my birthday.

That afternoon we visited a children’s hospital. What I saw was gut wrenching, jaw dropping, and tear spurring.

Row after row of cribs resembling cages full of children connected to oxygen tubes, many with stitches on their head and broken legs. While in America we would elevate your leg, South Africa is drastically different. With the kids here a bracket is screwed into each child’s knee to keep it elevated, restraining them from most movements a child would want to make. The extra crib piece on top holds the leg elevated but restrains from a parent reaching to hug their child, only a hand can be held. As we gave them simple toys and gifts their entire face lit up like Christmas morning for many of your children (or sometimes how you feel yourselves.)

Children's Hospital

These photos barely scratch the surface of how I felt that day. I hope they move you as much as they moved me to take them.

My favorite part of the day, though, was meeting a little boy whose name is so long and mispronounceable I will simply name him Samuel. This little boy looked at me with the biggest droopiest brown eyes, moaning as he breathed. I stuck my hand through the crib and rather than grabbing my finger, he clutched onto my arm. I couldn’t leave this little one, this was the reason I was here. I approached a nurse and asked her if I could hold him, she quickly replied, “Of course!” I turned around and picked this little boy up, his eyes lit with hope. I held him close to me and his arms wrapped around mine, I’d never felt a clutch so strong from someone so young before. He reached up and stroked my neck and his eyes began to droop. How long had it been since this little one had been held? Before we left I fed him, the other nurses tried unsuccessfully and nodded for me to try. I picked up the spoon, scooped up the food just the same as them and Samuel opened his mouth, willing to receive from a loving hand. Having the opportunity to pray over Samuel’s life and speak into it was the best birthday present I could ever have received. I know that this little one’s life was changed, but so was mine.