Scholarship VOTE!!!

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Hey guys! I posted a short essay for a scholarship, if you can vote and share, I win by accumulating the most votes! THANK YOU!!!

http://takelessons.com/blog/2014/08/living-to-give/

 

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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.

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.

Botswana Adventure!

Missions

It was 5 am. I woke up to do my devotions and started beginning my day. 5:45am our leaders pull up into the driveway with a bullhorn to announce we are going on a surprise trip to…Botswana! We have 15 minutes to pack and fit whatever we can in our backpack. The house becomes ablaze with activity, girls scurrying from one room to another, gathering toiletries, sleeping bags, and clothes off the line from doing laundry the night before. We finally make it in the van and start the 5 hour trek to the South African/Botswana border. We finally reach it and go through customs, then walk the border to Botswana!

Impact ME 2013

The first afternoon spent there we get to know our hosts, Michael and Heather Walker. They are missionaries with Word to Africa and specialize in discipleship (bible study) with those who have a hunger for God. They drive us through some of the “neighborhoods” essentially that they work in. We spend the rest of the day getting to know them and understand the ministry. The next morning we wake up and ride up to one of the mountains, clearing a picnic area for Word to Africa’s 21st anniversary picnic! With blisters quickly forming, we finished the job and broke for lunch. After lunch we set out to clear a field and pitch a tent for church. It was sweaty, hard work but with teamwork we accomplished it with enough time to go back to our rooms and clean up for a big dinner with all the local missionaries working with Word to Africa! Many of them poured years of experience into us, opening our eyes to see the different strategies and many different viewpoints of a missionary.

 The last day of ministry we went out into the neighborhoods to get to know the people in this culture and it was so good to talk to them! As we approached three woman washing dishes we began to talk to them and they opened up to share they all needed healing. When it came time for us to pray and we had finished, one woman spoke up to say, “We are blessed because you came to visit us.

“It was like a place where people had lost hope.” Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Jesus went to the place of no vision, no hope, spreading the truth to all who would hear it. When we went out to do ministry that is exactly what we did. It was such an anointed time! We were able to share with several people, learning about their community. We poured into one woman who by the time we left she not only understood God’s love for her but also acknowledged his ability to heal her!

God did amazing things in Botswana and Impact ME not only made a difference but I personally saw how it changed me as well!

The Refining Flame

Challenge & Revelation

After so quickly finishing the book of Hosea I read the next book, Joel, just as hungrily. My soul cried out as I read the words on the page.

1:19 “The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures and the flames have burned up our trees!”

He is our only source! He took the nothing I had and burned it, only to replace with something better. No other place of rest is better than His.

2:3 “Fire burns in front of them and flames follow after them.”

Burn away all my impurities, Lord.

“Ahead of them the land lies as beautiful as the Garden of Eden.”

He takes us away for a purpose, only to lead us to something better.

2:4b “They charge forward like warhorses.”

Ready for warfare, fasting is a time of intercession; in our physical weakness he makes us spiritually strong.

2:12b-13 “Give me your hearts. Come with fasting…Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the Lord your God. For He is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.”

He wants your heart, longs to know your every desire. Don’t always deal with things outwardly, look at where God has been working on you. He does not want to hurt us or be an evil father! All he wants to do is talk to you!

2:19,26 “Look! I am sending you…enough to satisfy your needs. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you.

Every day I’ve been hungry and He fills me with His words and with His grace. When I’m physically hungry He fills me as well. It really is a miracle!

Hosea has become my favorite book in the Bible (up to date). The restoration and love He pours out on Israel, even after deserting Him, is inspiring.

The Lord has shown me so much and I wish I could share even more but with the whirlwind of a surprise trip to Botswana its taking me a little longer to show you all God has been showing me. Next time I have internet I’ll be sure to tell you all about Botswana and the amazing time we had over there!

Lots of Love,

Ashley

His Relentless Love

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

The fast is going so well! Here is all God has been showing me the past couple of days:

Hosea 11:4 “I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love.”

The Lord is literally plowing up the ground of my heart while I seek Him. This verse I clung to, just as I held onto His love. So many Christians hold hope in His love and kindness. What would you do if you had nothing to hold onto? Many people literally have nothing. Those in the squatter camps don’t even have a job to provide for themselves. What a place of desperation. I can only image being that desolate. We hold onto his grace, his kindness, his love. That is what gets me through my day, knowing He is beside me at all times giving me wisdom and guidance. But what if I didn’t have that?

Hosea 11:8-11 “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you..or demolish you? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. For I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return…I will bring them home again,” says the Lord.”

12:6 “So now come back to your God. Act with love and justice and always depend on Him.”

13:5-6 “I took care of you in the wilderness in that dry and thirsty land. But when you had eaten and satisfied, you became proud and forgot me.”

We are always depending on Him. Not just when we are desperate, not when we need him at a dire moment. Without the grace He supplies none of us would be where we are now. It was not our hard work that got our foot in the door to the position we are in now, it was God’s favor. He took care of us when we had nothing, nursed us to health and yet so many times we take what we need and walk away. We say we are where we are at now because of ourselves and what we did yet we would have nothing without Him. God still pursues after us and desires a relationship, though.

Hosea 14:4-5,7-8 “I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever. I will be to Israel {Ashley} like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel {Ashley} will blossom like a lily; it will send roots deep into the soil. My people {Ashley} will again live under my shade, they {she} will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines. I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.”

All of us have strayed from God’s voice at one time or another. But God heals our hearts from the wounds we’ve incurred running from His sweet voice. He renews us and cultivates us as we grow and our response is becoming closer to Him. He takes us to that place of rest and answers our prayers. He cares for us, always supplying nourishment and tangible evidence that we’re growing in Him. Seeing where He is taking me in my relationship with Him is astounding. Every day He showers with more love than I can imagine. He supplies all my strength; He gives me the words to speak when I know nothing.  While fasting it can be hard when you don’t have very much to eat. The hardest part of this fast was being in the squatter camp having only juice and water that day with little strength. Your energy can become very low after trudging on the uneven ground, up and down steep hills, back and forth through the rows full of shacks, occasionally crossing a river to the other side, leaping from rock to rock. Thank you to all my supporters, friends, and family for your prayers and donations as well! There are so many testimonies I’m ecstatic to share the testimonies we’ve had already with you, they are coming, I promise!!

Who I Am in Him

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Last night God led me to Hosea. He not only broke down walls but healed my heart as well.

Hosea 2: 14-20 “I will win her back again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.”

He is jealous for me, eager to pull me away from all that distracts me from Him. Even something as simple as food can pull me from time with Him. This week he is leading me to a dry place where He can speak tenderly to me, telling me all His intimate secrets, like a Lover’s whisper.

I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.”

The very place that is dry and empty He will turn into an oasis, open to others to receive peace, healing, and restoration.

“{18-20} You can live unafraid in peace and safety. I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine.”

He supplies peace to relieve my stress and safety to battle all evil that may befall me. He will always be just, ruled with relentless love and compassion towards us. He is faithful – every promise He makes He keeps. I am His and just as He proudly proclaims it over me, I boast of my dad who never lets me down.

This morning He continued to work in me and open my eyes.

Hosea 6:6 “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”

8:13b “to me their sacrifices are meaningless.”

What an amazing verse to meditate on all day. So many times people go on a fast and just sacrifice the food. They work on their self-discipline rather than their identity. Something we learned in leadership class today:

Character: our identity + our emotional security + our core values + self discipline

Our priorities should be in that order because we are human beings not human doings.

Identity: being before the Lord, becoming like Him.

Self-discipline: out of the overflow of my heart is connected to my doing.

God has been working on my identity in Him immensely. I’m beginning to know Him even better. After reading this verse I was challenged – God doesn’t want this to be a situation where I go without. He wants me to grow. A lot of times, when I’m hungry especially, I can be grouchy. The Lord really challenged me to walk in love even when I’m irritated, even when I’m overwhelmed, even when I will be hungry.