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?

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!!

“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.

“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

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Day Two in Kya Sands.

Life updates, Missions

Today was a lot busier than yesterday, but it was also filled with that much more memories and adventures.

After we woke up with only about 20 minutes to get ready for breakfast because we both forgot to set our alarms, we scrambled to get everything together and head over to the dining hall where everyone on the mission team meets. Once we finished our breakfast we packed in the van and drove ten minutes down the road to the “township”.

One of the key things Impact Africa heavily supports is creating relationships with everyone we talk to. Instead of asking if they know about Jesus and turn away if they say yes or lead them through the salvation prayer if they say no, we visit with them and ask them questions, learning more about them. We ask if we can help them with housework, like washing clothes, dishes, or sweeping. One of our team even helped a man paint his house! The priority is to show them God’s love. Especially since most of us are white and because so many of them work for the white man, they’re surprised when a white man comes to serve them. With aparthide only being illegal for 17 years or so, segregation is still common. Many times while a black man charges say, 200[R]and (1 rand is equivalent to 8 U.S. dollars) most people will not agree to his price and bargain him down. A white man can come in, however, and charge the same price and they’ll pay him for it.

We walked through the “squatter” camp and saw the different shops they had set up as well as the children playing in the creek (the contaminated water smells pretty bad), some even filling used syringes with water and squirting them at each other. Some of the kids emptied an old bean bag and Jacob (an employee of I.A.) pulled it above their heads and shook it, the closest these kids will probably ever get to seeing snow in South Africa.

When we begin to walk back to the children’s camp for lunch, Jacob tells us a little bit more about the squatter camps. The term “squatter camp” is actually not properly used for Kya Sands. The government owns the land they live on, they lease to several different people, who then sub-lease it to other people (in smaller portions), who then also sub-lease it (to the people who live there). This results in cramped quarters for those who live on the grounds and the rent for one of these shacks is 300R or more a month. It may seem cheap but for someone who does not have a steady flow of income and possibly even a family to support, this could eat more than half of what you earn that month. How do you buy enough to feed your family?

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Once we get back to the streets after lunch, our group meets a sweet husband and wife enjoying a day off from work. We get to know them better and they tell us they are originally from Zimbabwe, with two children back at home. They are here for jobs to provide for their family back home, living in the squatter camps alone for two years. They’ve been married for ten years and go to a church next door. I ask them what their favorite Bible story is and they can’t tell me in detail. I decide to tell them about my personal favorite story, Job. Once we finish someone else mentions the story of Jonah. I ask them if they’ve ever heard of it and they shake their head. As I tell them the story, I remember watching Veggie Tales as a kid, and I begin to tell the story even more vividly. One of the interns with I.A. chimes in and tells of a moving story in Ezekiel 16. Babies are abandoned often in South Africa because the mothers cannot afford to take care of them; in another squatter camp a few weeks ago a woman wrapped her newborn in bags and left it in the middle of the street. Needless to say, a taxi car drove over it, killing the child. The woman tears up at the story Cory tells her and her walls come down. They want to be in a discipleship group and want to visit our church if we will visit theirs.

The last group we visit are a few men outside talking. They shout out to us, “Sawbona” (meaning, hello) and we ask them how they are, “Kunjani?” they smile and nod their heads. As we ask them about their plans for the day they just explain they are getting ready to go to the store but than can chat for a little while. Eventually, the conversation fades and we’re not sure where to go with it. We ask if there is anything we can pray with them for before we leave. One man wants us to pray for him, the other says no. When we question his answer, he replies, “I do not believe.” Cory turns in response, “May I ask why you do not believe?” He just shakes his head and explains he believes in ancestors, and prays to them.

[There are many different religions in South Africa. Some pray to their ancestors, believing they can change things for their favor and bless them. If they do not honor their ancestors, bad things will happen to them.]

As the conversation continues, Cory asks if he were an ancestor, what could he do to help others. He thinks, and says he would be a good one. She persists, “What would you do to help others?” He shrugs, unsure. She draws a circle in the dirt, explaining this is all the knowledge, everything about the world and space, etc. He nods, indicating he is following her. She then asks him to draw a circle inside the big one she just drew and show her how much he knows. He hesitates for a while but Cory urges him to, so he draws a small one inside of the circle. She begins to explain, if this is all that he knows, could there be a truth that he is missing? Cory draws a cross outside of the circle, pointing to it as she talks about the truth. She explains the hatred satan holds for God, how Adam and Eve were kicked out the garden, how Jesus died on the cross for him. He is compelled, the wheels are turning in his head. She gives him the gospel of John and encourages him to constantly read it. We talk for a little more and he then asks her how long she has been sharing “the good news” he calls it. Impressive for someone who half an hour ago didn’t know who satan was.

It was such an awesome day today. Tomorrow we are going to a church service in a township and we’ll end our day at the mall. A nice “relaxing” day. We are all definitely enjoying our time here!