For the One

Continually people ask me about the mission field. I hear questions of “what’s it like?” “Is it amazing?” “Do you tell so many people about Jesus?” “What do you do?” Mostly, along with each of these questions there’s a statement of resounding, “That’s so cool.” “I would love to do that.” “You get to travel to so many places.”  And I normally smile and laugh and agree. It is amazing, and I do get to go to some cool places, but that’s not the reason I love and am thankful to do what I do. The funny thing is, part of me laughs because most of the people I’m talking to also do these things, but in a different capacity.

 Over the last two years, my faith journey has been tremendous by nothing that I did. To say it was or is ever easy would be completely smashing the immeasurable grace God has poured out over my life. He allowed me to be saved from sin, other’s sin, bad choices, bad consequences, and overall has been in a process of redeeming so much hurt from my past. Recently in a sermon from someone who I hold very close to my heart, we were asked, “Who is Jesus to you?” I immediately said “Savior.” And he continued to press in after a few more answered and said, “if Jesus is all the things we say He is, we need to live that out.”  If Jesus is my Savior, how can I not walk around with joy in my heart wanting to give that gift to every single person?

Therein lies the answer to the questions above about what I do and if it’s amazing. It’s all those things, and more. But, I didn’t have to come all the way to Africa to do it. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years about being faithful where we are. Pressing in. Doing the hard work to love others and really love them in any season and any place of life. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable when our plans don’t line up with what we expected out of life. But one thing I do know about Jesus being my Savior is that He died for my sins, so I could go on living life and loving people how He would have wherever I am.

I’m amazed at grace and redemption every time I open my eyes in Africa.

Immediately when I landed, I felt home. Peace washed over me like waves in the ocean and I felt renewed, amazed, and incredibly thankful of the gift of being here. I walked back into family and friends and it’s nothing short of amazing that God gave me more than I could have imagined or expected to be able to come back to Africa to spread His hope and love.

 Recently, in our farm community of Darling, South Africa we were in a small church service on one of the farms. I counted the number of people at the service that were not the missionaries, or staff of the organization we work with. 11. I kind of stood amazed because a lot of times we think of large gatherings and big buildings for church. I stood amazed that as I heard them worship the songs we know but in a way only you could hear in Africa, that the sound was loud and I could feel God was in there. We drove about 45 minutes to get to this church and it wouldn’t have mattered if it were 11 people or 1,100 people – we would go for them anyway. God was with us, before us, and after us.

As I start life again in Africa and this journey God has brought me on, He is constantly reminding me to live out who I say and believe that He is.  He is my Redeemer, my Healer, my Savior, my Author, my Maker, and so many others. If I know these things to be true, I want to live that out with my whole being. I want to love others so well that they only can see Jesus in me and what He has done for all of us. I want to remember that even if it’s only for one person that I was sent to earth to spread Hope to, I will love the best I can for the one. Wherever we are, we can love. We can remember Hope. We can step forward in faith without seeing the whole picture because the One was sent for us.

 

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One of the farms we were on

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Sunrise in Darling  

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Our farm and ministry center - Jeria Sending  

Oh, He is good

I’ve only been in Africa a few days but I still have to constantly remind myself how faithful God is. I know He is.  Very few know the process of what it took to actually get here. He moved mountains, stood with me in the hills and valleys, but even in knowing that, as soon as I got the chance to sit down, I got scared. I was worried about the future, scared of adjusting to African culture (again), I missed people, my dog, my daily Texas sunset. But in all of those, I am reminded that the price Jesus paid for me is so much bigger than those tiny worries.

None of those comforts, trials, valleys, or doubts can describe what He did for me and you and how good God truly is. His love reaches far and wide even when I’m nearly out of everything it takes to feel love and love in return. God remains when everything good in me does not.

In Romans 8:31- 32 His word says, “ If God is for us, who can be against us? He did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give you all the things?”

Amazing, isn’t it? The God of the universe, the creator of the heavens and the earth gave his son for me. For you. For sinners. For poor and rich. For Americans. For Africans. There is nothing that we can do that can separate us from His love. As I sit here, trying to grasp that, the present worries seem to fade. Life on the mission field brings lots of discomforts, but the big picture of Hope is life giving.

Daily already I’m brought to praise as God shows his faithfulness to me through seeing the people I became so close to and daily I’m reminded if I don’t turn my face to God, I am easily distracted from the purpose He designed me for. God’s love is so vast and I’m so thankful I can see Him in action here in Africa.

Adjusting is always hard. If you know me, you know change is not my thing. But my thing is to follow a God who loves us so deep, cares so much, and is in every detail of our highs and lows. I want to sing of His goodness when things are smooth and I want to be brought to praise and say He is good when life doesn’t feel good.  He is good. 

The last few days have been filled with reunions, hugs, love and returning to show God’s faithfulness to others. To be the person God uses for that cannot be matched. I’m humbled, thankful, and praying to never lose my wonder in a creator who is so, so good.

My team and I are off to Darling, South Africa for a month of farm ministry. I’m thankful for each prayer and person who is there through this process. I am in kind of a twilight zone with jetlag and lack of sleep but I stand in awe of actually being here. As I enter this next month, my prayer is to remain steadfast in love and bear in love with one another – my team, the community, and anyone we come in contact with. 

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Ntombi - such a sweet reunion  

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Street view - Centurion  

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3m South Africa  

Letter to Myself

The following is a letter I wrote to myself when I returned from Africa for the first time, nearly 10 months ago. I read it again today and I cried. Not sad or happy tears but tears because I'm thankful for how God works. I'm thankful that when I feel like a failure, He is there. I'm thankful that when I'm lonely, He guides my path. I'm thankful that for the unknown, He is my home. I hope by sharing this, you can be encouraged to look at what God has done for you, I know I'm thankful He is always there for me in good times and in bad.  

 

"Hey julia,  

I'm so proud of how far you've come since going to Africa and coming back. You just seem so at peace. I want you to remember some things from this experience. Always remember to carve out time with God - your relationship with God means more than anyone else. Remember how faithful he's been during this time and your whole life. Pray without ceasing - God takes care of it all. I also want you to remember to choose love. Choose love when you don't want to. Choose love when you're tired. Choose love even when it hurts. That's how God has loved us. I hope at this time in your life you've figured some stuff out (P.s. I haven't). I know you want to go back to Africa - I hope you make it back. I also hope you are bringing hope to people no matter where you are. People gave you hope when you least expected it but you most needed it. Be that person for someone. Lastly, I hope you forgive more. It hurts to hold onto the hurt. Remember how Jesus and people forgave you. Remember how beautiful you are - how God made you. Remember how much He loved you and also His grace in your life. Be kind, always smile and have joy. 

 

Love,  

Julia."

 

 

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God Just Wants Our Yes

In July 2016, I prayed a prayer that would forever impact my life today. I simply asked God to lead me to His path wherever that was. I prayed and said “God, I’ll follow where you take me.” Over the last nine months, I had a feeling on my heart that God would send me. I knew I wanted to go to Africa. More specifically, I knew I wanted to be in South Africa, working on building the relationships I fought so hard for in the communities I was in. I prayed some pretty bold prayers but over the course of these last nine months, God was doing something even I can’t explain.

I think God sometimes puts desires in our hearts for people and places to draw us closer to Him. Before leaving on my first mission trip to Africa, I had big dreams. I wanted to move to New York, become an Advertising Executive, and live the lifestyle of such. I thought that by doing that, I would have “made it.” I was striving for worldly success because that’s all I had really known; that’s how I gained love and acceptance.

Upon arriving in the desert of Africa, without cell phones, without basic amenities, I really had to come to terms with myself, my past and my future. Was I living for myself or was I really living for God? Now I know He doesn’t do this for everyone, and our stories all look different, but for me to have a wake-up call about my life, God put me right in the middle of a desert so all I could run to was Him. That first month, I spent hours reading the bible, just praying hoping that in some sense I’d find healing or a purpose. When you have nothing to run to, God is right there waiting with open arms.

Over the next 5 months in Africa in late 2016, I started to dig deeper into who I was. I started to realize my identity was not my past, nor my job, nor anything else in between. Christ is in me and that is who I live for. God brought me to Africa to realize His love for me and then sent me back after turning my life and heart upside down. Over these last six months, I’ve had somewhat of an identity crisis. I was so transformed while in Africa that I didn’t know who I was in America anymore. My desire had switched from wanting to gain worldly success to wanting to glorify God in all that I do. But what does that look like here?

Honestly, these last months have been trying. Past hurts, pain and life all happened and I was struggling without a plan or a purpose. I’ve begged and pleaded and asked God to send me but knew I had to be faithful where He put me. I had fallen so deeply in love with people and places but I knew I had to say “yes” to God and not people or places. Honestly, for a time, I wanted to go back because of my own selfish desires but over time, through God revealing my brokenness in many ways, I had to learn to say “yes” to Him and His plan. I decided to keep saying “yes.” I said yes to teach English to International students here in America. I said yes to new colleagues who have now turned into close relationships. I said yes to serving and loving right here, right now. I said yes to God. Wherever He put me, I was going to say yes to His plan. So God put opportunities in front of me for Uganda and I said yes to that too. I went as far as sending out support letters and I was all in for God because I realized I wanted to follow Him, even if it wasn’t what I wanted.

Read that last line again, “even if it wasn’t what I wanted.” I had to come to a place to honestly admit to my heart and self that I wasn’t going to do what I want but rather I was going to desire Him and have Him work on my heart. I have gone back and re-read some of my prayers and I realize how God was changing and working in my heart. He was filling me up to love and serve and all the while realizing that wherever I am, I can spread His hope and love. Wherever I go will be to serve Him and love people.

So, last week when I got a call that was exactly what I wanted, I was confused. I was so dumbfounded that God was literally placing in front of me what I had prayed about. My previous mission organization wanted me to come back to help and work in South Africa. This would mean I get to utilize my skills that I graduated with, all while leading other teams, serving in the communities I had once been and living in South Africa. I wrestled with this idea. I wanted so much to say “YES” and jump right in but I was hesitant only because it seemed too good to be true. I talked to trusted advisors and mentors in my life and I prayed for God to put a peace over which decision I would make. And through that process and prayer, I felt God giving me the choice of two places that He has led me to and would let me serve Him in. I was so amazed that this is exactly what I prayed about that all I could do was thank Him for His faithfulness and thank Him for knowing my heart.

Just like before, I will be leaving for Africa but to South Africa. This time however, God has captivated every inch of my being, He knows my desire is to love Him and serve others and in turn, He is allowing me to return to communities and use my gifts He’s given me to draw people towards Him. My heart is doing back flips with how overwhelmed I am by His power and presence. God hasn’t promised everything will be easy. He just promises faithfulness. Just like 2,000 years ago to today, He is faithful. He is faithful when things don’t go our way, He is faithful in wanting good for us, He is faithful in the trials and pain, He is faithful in knowing our hearts, and He will continue to be faithful with the seeds that are being planted.

I realized something through this process; God just wants our “yes.” I had to get to a place with God where I was all in for HIM. Not all in for what I wanted but all in where ever He led me. He could have sent me to a crowded urban city in China or a suburb in Australia or a small town in rural America. I had to take my prayer to heart and be willing to go where He wants. Something crazy happens when we make God our heart’s desire; we start to desire things that are of Him and for Him. God is such a good God. He wants to give us gifts and He wants to love us. He wants to fill our hearts so we can serve others like Jesus. He wants to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. God just wanted me to say “yes” to Him, “yes” to His heart, “yes” to serve Him and to love others like He does. And through that, He actually gave me immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.

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Abiding in Him

Abide. To remain in place. To wait patiently for. I’ve noticed in scripture that abide is a word used when speaking about God. Abide is especially used when speaking of the promises of God. Waiting is a word we are all familiar with. But, waiting to me seems like kind of an impatient word. I don’t want to simply wait for the Lord. Waiting implies I want everything to operate out of God’s timing, for all of my desires to be met now. That’s how we live today. Everything is in the now. But what I really want is to abide. I want to remain in place, in awe of Him and wait patiently for Him to do His job.  As I’ve read and listened and prayed, the Lord has been teaching me how to abide in Him.

Over the last few months, I’ve had to learn re-learn patience. Patience and abide go hand-in-hand but with abide, prayer is involved. I’ve had to learn to have patience with a Godly mindset which to me was abiding in His word, saturating myself with His love, filling myself with joy because when everything around me is hurting, I am in need of abiding in a constant Savior.

 I’ve realized the importance of abiding in a God worldview and not the different worldviews I’ve lived in. Since returning from Africa almost five months ago, I felt God put me in a waiting pattern. I felt a desire and a strong pull on my heart to be in Africa. Most who know me, know how torn I was at returning. My two worlds were ripped apart and I was left trying to start over with no place in mind.

Now, while my world was confused and messy, God knew what He was doing and I can clearly see that now. But, rewind back to January when I stepped back into Canyon, Texas, a town I had intentionally tried to leave, and I was confused. Why had God brought me back here? What was my purpose?

Living life questioning my purpose seemed to leave me so lost. God was so patient with me as He taught me how to abide in Him. He provided a job that I have come to love working with international students teaching English. He provided a place to live knowing I probably wouldn’t be here long. But, most importantly, the Lord provided comfort. First and foremost, it came from Him, but it also came in every person and place I was. I realize God brought me back to my small town in Texas to show me His love for me through the people He has placed here. From the teachers I’ve worked with, people at my church, to new and old friends—they have all rallied around to support and love me and show me how God works in so many different ways. To say I’m thankful for all the newness is an understatement. I was so resistant at first but my heart overflows.

I was still praying for what God wanted. I took my job knowing it may have been temporary. The pull for Africa never really left my heart and I spent a lot of time searching God’s will in the situation. I prayed, fasted, cried, talked, wondered but it was still there. I had no idea what God wanted but kept praying for His will in every situation. I prayed to remain faithful where I was and to show me His path.

And show me He did, but not in the way I had thought. I had my heart set on the places I’ve been with the people I knew. But, God in His goodness had something different in store. I knew Africa was in my heart but didn’t know the plan and I was okay with that. About two weeks ago, I came to a point where everything kind of hit me hard. I didn’t know what my purpose was here and I’m sure I was being impatient. Someone close to me ended up telling me a story about letting God take control and that same day I prayed to God for Him to take the reins of my life. And take all of them. I was tired of trying to figure out what He was doing. Remember, my job is to abide and let God figure the rest out.

Over the last half a year, God has been revealing His faithfulness in my life in different ways. Prayers have been answered and a lot were not. But the open door and “yes” to a prayer I’d been praying for so long was answered not even a half of a day after I said “God you take my life and let it be yours.” The day after I prayed that prayer, I was accepted into a program to work with abandoned children and women at a ministry in Uganda for a year starting in January. My heart had been so drawn toward this ministry and God opened so many doors, I couldn’t say no.

 I think as followers of Christ we are constantly in an ebb and flow of giving God control. Even with this answered prayer, I still struggled to say YES to God. I realized how in our weakness, He is strong. I doubted whether I could leave so much support and a job. I doubted myself so much. Coming from pain in the past, through depression and anxiety, through battles I could never have imagined, could God really be answering this prayer and desire to follow Him wherever that leads? Could He actually use me? What will people say? I could have tried to talk myself out of it, but I told God I would keep saying “yes” to His plan until He said “no.”

So, here I am, nine months away from stepping out in faith again, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I will be again leaving but this time; I know I have a place to come back to. God wasn’t sending me back here without purpose. He sent me back to find Him in the uncomfortable places, to spread His message of Hope, to realize my deepest desire is to love and follow Him, and He sent people who I am forever grateful for. I want nothing more than to glorify Christ in everything that I do. I want to abide in Him well now and abide in Him well when my world is turned upside down when I leave for Uganda for a year in January. I cannot wait to be in Africa again because part of my heart is there. Part of my heart is also here. God has been so faithful to bring joy in uncertainties. He has been faithful not only in the last year but I can see His faithfulness through my whole life. I have a story to tell, His story, and I pray that His hope can be seen while I’m teaching here this year and when I leave for Uganda in January and even when I return here again. I pray to abide in Him all of my days and to follow where He is leading. I truly don’t want to miss what God is doing and I hope to play a small part in His story.

As excited as I am, I am also nervous but more importantly, I’m expectant. I’m expectant that God is going to work right now, this year, and will always be working. I am expectant that God will teach me things that help provide Hope to others.  I am expectant that He will use past pain, suffering, and hurts to help others. Last, I’m expectant that God CAN use me because even though to the world, I may be unqualified, to Him, I am chosen, loved, and redeemed.  So there’s the big news: I am headed to Uganda in January and I simply cannot wait but I also want to abide in Him while He works.  I’m speaking to myself when I encourage others to keep abiding, keep seeking, keep following Christ and keep on loving to show people Jesus. He hears you and knows your heart and what you need even through the trials life brings. Abiding in Him is worth it. Uganda love it!

I STILL Don't Know What I'm Doing

It is funny I titled this post with the same thing I titled my last post almost two months prior. But, it is true: I have ZERO idea what I'm doing, still. I've been back from Africa almost two months and my heart longs to be there now more than ever. While I pray about being back there, I know it's my job to be faithful in the here and now, which is often hard.  God is so faithful, has always been faithful and will always be faithful. But faith is SO hard to have, especially when you have no idea what God is up to. I've realized this more and more as I go about my day to day life, working, living, and continuing to pray about every decision and the future. In Hebrews 11:1 it says "Faith is the confidence that what we Hope for will actually happen; it gives us an assurance that we cannot see." How beautiful is that truth? 

The root of my Hope is and will always be Jesus and I want nothing more than to spread that exact word for the rest of my life.  It is so encouraging though that this side of heaven with all the hurt and pain, faith means believing, and I mean truly believing that what we Hope for will actually happen and that Jesus will come. God has our best interest in mind and He is a good, good father. So many times in the past two months, I've prayed, cried, and wondered what God is doing with my life and with this life. I wish I had a better answer than just to have faith but it's what I hold steadfast to. 

God didn't bring me, you, or anyone this far for nothing. He didn't die in the worst, most painful way possible to leave us with nothing. He didn't redeem our lives, bring us from our dead, sinful selves, to a vessel for His love to stay silent. While I actually have no idea what each day holds, I know who holds my everyday. And while my heart longs to be in Africa again, my heart will and always will be with Jesus first wanting to spread His love far and wide. I'm thankful knowing that our faith isn't based on anything we do, but just following, living, serving and loving like Jesus would. So, yeah, I still have no idea what I'm doing, and that's okay, but I know with my whole heart that His plan will be immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine for me, you, and all of us. And, Thank God it is. 

I Don't Know What I'm Doing

I'm back in America. It's been a week since I landed but I don't feel home. I don't feel a sense of belonging like I'm back in my home country. I actually feel lost. I've visited friends, been to familiar coffee shops, my old work, I've seen familiar places but nothing feels familiar.  I've been in shock almost because every part of me feels like it belongs in Africa. I thought it while I was there but I feel it more being back. Every fiber of my being misses South Africa, the family I left there, and the communities. While I know I will make it back, I just don't know when. And in this time of waiting, many have said "so what's next?" And I laugh, and I cry a little because I don't know what I'm doing. I really don't. It's taken me a while to be able to tell people my true heart. 

There is so much emphasis on a job and what's next and where to that I almost laugh. If there's anything I've wanted to bring back with me to Africa it's that my fate isn't the job I'm going to have or where I'll live although those are easily the questions I'm asked. What I do know is the message I want to bring back with me while I'm here. 

Hope. 

A simple concept but means so much more. I was able to be in and see a few communities that I realize now are somewhat hopeless. The poverty, the alcohol, the drugs, gang violence or any other situation could hinder the hope in any community. I saw a lot of kids who were going to grow up in the same situation their parents or friends were in unless they were given a different hope. I realized after being in a few communities that I want to be someone who spreads that message of hope and of love of Jesus. If I do anything with my life, it's wanting people to know that He gives hope to any circumstance, any brokenness and anyone. 

So, no, I'm unsure of what is next. My heart has been left in South Africa, and I will keep praying to make it back soon but I also know that there's a message of hope that needs to be spread. I don't know what I'm doing for a job, or a home and that's okay because I want God to put me in situations to spread His love and hope. And in the meantime, I will pray, I will remain faithful and I'll go wherever He is leading for this time in the states.

 

A Heart for Africa

It's a little over two months into my time in South Africa and I can't imagine being anywhere else. With three weeks until I step into a huge unknown of the future, I can't help but think of how my heart beats for Africa.   There's something special about being here, seeing how blessed Africa is but also broken. The people here know how to capture hearts, live for God, and can cook food like I've never had before. The land and creation in Africa is some of the most beautiful I've seen. And, although there are many different religions and beliefs, God is so present in Africa.

In each place I've been: Namibia, Centurion, Darling, Cape Town - God is so present in creation. I've seen stars so bright under the Namib desert, I've nearly been brought to tears. I've walked up part of Table Mountain in Cape Town and got to gaze at the ocean down below. I've lived in the bustle of the city and seen the beauty of how the streets move with business. I've watched the sun set over the hills of Darling and realized that only God can paint something that amazing. The beauty here is simple but artistic and God-given. Many see Africa as mud huts and animals, but the beauty that I've been able to see, live and breath has been appointed by God to this beautiful country. 

The people in Africa rival anyone I've ever met. Africa is so diverse in many different areas. I've seen townships, nice houses, big cities, and small huts and in each place, the people have etched their way into my heart. There is a joy about the people here no matter the circumstances that draws you in. I've had the opportunity to see some of the poorest places but fall in love with the people and how our hearts rest so closely with God. I've also seen some of the richest places and have been able to connect two cultures regardless of color or class. The meaning of relationships to the people in Africa is everything and for that I'm so thankful. There's no agenda but to just talk, get to know someone, and to love them. If there's anything I've learned, it's how to live and love by spending time with people and investing in them. 

God is the God of me, of you, of the people in Africa and of the places. As much as my heart beats for Africa, His heart beats more for me, for you, for everyone on this earth. He wants joy for us, He desires relationship with us, and loves us despite what our circumstances, our struggles, or hurts are. Being in Africa has been a beautiful image of God's love and has made my heart fall in love with people and places I never knew possible. I'll be back, Africa, I'm sure of it. 

Oh, Darling

For the past week, I've been given the opportunity to travel to Darling, South Africa, a small farming community just an hour outside of Cape Town. Most commonly known for its wine and olives, Darling is a little serene countryside town with a whole lot of Jesus.  What's striking about Darling is it's beauty. There are rolling hills, rows and the rows of farm lands and so much green. When looking at such a place, experiencing a sunrise or sunset, it's easy to see that God is here. 

While it's pretty, and has been an amazing change of scene, the people and the work being done here has been the most honorable.  The mission field is so vast and working for the Lord looks a lot of different ways but here in Darling, it's a non stop outreach from schools in the morning, to farm visits at night to twice weekly church services on different farms. Jesus is here with a power and passion. 

My favorite part of any church service is worship. There's just something about being still and being able to worship with hands held high but in Darling, it looks a lot different. The worship is upbeat, lots of clapping and even dance moves. It's so full of energy and joy that it's hard to even remember the brokenness in a community with alcohol and/or drug issues. 

I think that's how God wants us to look at our lives: so full of energy and joy that we don't look at the brokenness but the goodness in Him. God didn't leave Jesus hanging on the cross to constantly remind of us of being broken, He restored Jesus, brought Him back again three days later so we would remember healing, love, and forgiveness. While it's good to remember how far God has brought us out of brokenness, it's also important to remember His Love, His kindness and His joy. And with that, Darling has sealed a special place in my heart, reminding me of the constant joy God gives us, even through the hurts in life.

Beacon of Hope

When looking at the school, Ditshego, that I've been working at, there's absolutely no reason I seem like I belong there. With a large language barrier, completely different culture and way of life, and the people, I look like I don't belong. I've been reflecting a lot on the Kingdom and the picture it paints for God to place me in that particular school for this time in my life.  It's not hard to point out the joy or talk about the joy that the kids and adults have in Africa. It's quite possibly my favorite part. But, I've also been exposed to nearly the opposite of joy: fear. Serving in a community that is very materially poor, I've heard stories that will forever be engrained in my mind. 

Most days the staff and I laugh, joke, pray, teach and work together. But last Wednesday was different for me:  One worker was telling me of her husbands infidelity, a child needed to find clothes to wear because his had so many holes, and some kids during school washed their clothes because they may not get to at home. Nothing in particular happened to me that day but I was shaken. 

I was shaken from the brokenness that I couldn't even imagine. And I was shaken by joy despite any of these circumstances.  I can't say I've had to live like that but I can relate in brokenness and hopelessness in a different degree. 

I prayed. 

I observed the rest of that day and the days following and still saw so much joy despite the circumstances. When hearing stories like the few above, it would be easy to forget and move on but God doesn't forget, he reaches out and loves. 

While I've never experienced brokenness quite like the community of Mooiplaas lives in, I realize that there is so much hope. The same goes for my life. And with that realization, I know I belong exactly in this community because while we come from different circumstances and backgrounds we are loved by the same God. We are cherished, given a future and have hope even in our brokenness. It's a beautiful picture of the Kingdom and how God puts different people together. 

I still won't be able to wrap my head around that kind of experience, but I don't have to because even in that brokenness, God can bring hope. Ditshego in itself is a beacon of hope and life in an otherwise broken and hopeless community. God is present, God is there, has always been there and will still be there years from now. Until then, I'm praying for more hope in the brokenness, for joy to overcome fear and to be a light in a sometimes dark place. 

You Are Welcome 

Without having a total cliche western view of Africa, I want to accurately describe the community I've started working in and have come to love. Mooiplaas is made up of about 16,000 people. It's a place you would not know was there unless you were trying to find it. From the road, you can see the big trash hill that lies next to Mooiplaas. As you venture into the township, you must go via dirt road passing piles of trash being burnt, small tin houses and honestly poverty like you may not have ever seen before. The pre-school, Ditshego, is in a small corner right at the beginning of the township.  Upon entering the school last week, I was smiling in nervousness, thankfulness, and empathy. My heart sank driving in and my mind was consumed with thoughts. I met teacher after teacher who were smiling. The principal was gracious to receive help and my thoughts turned into excitement. 

"You are welcome." 

Out of the 10 or so teachers at the school, each one of them made it a point to let me know I was welcome. Despite our differences in looks, occupations, and even circumstances, they were incredibly welcoming. I immediately thought to the Kingdom. As I tried to hide tears, I thought how intricate our God is to put people like us together, welcoming us all into his kingdom. 

Throughout my first days, kids started to open up. I saw pure joy, imagination, wonder, love, kindness, hard work, and intelligence out of each child and teacher I encountered. Despite any circumstance they may have been in, there was joy in each person at that school and even throughout the kids and adults we encountered in the town. We all shared smiles, laughs and love without questioning anything else. 

God's kingdom is all inclusive. There's no social status, hierarchy, or differences, there are just people like you and me living in a broken world. There is no us and them, there is we. Wherever we are, whether it be the richest place in America, or Mooiplaas in South Africa, God's kingdom is evident and His presence is strong. You are welcome. I am welcome. We are welcome. 

Home

Since getting back from Africa, the in between, and coming back to Africa, home has been on my mind. Ive beent thinking a lot about home, but not in the way that you think. Home is a safe haven, a comfort, a peace-filled place that sometimes we don't always get.  Because of the instability of my life in the last six months, I've struggled with the concept of home. Yes, I have a house I grew up in, but that's not my home. I have a community where I built some of my young adult life, but that's not my home. I have places, people, and things, but none of these are home.

I was in a conversation a few mornings ago and we were talking life, struggles, and joys when home was mentioned. But not the homes I mentioned above. 

"When I go home, I don't want to find out I had missed out on what God had for me." 

"When I go home, I want to be content knowing that was the next step." 

I sat in awe of God and the message he was sending through someone so dear to me. Home isn't a place. Home isn't a building but it is knowing God and His truth. Home is growing deeper in our relationship with God, that we are always at home with Him. 

Home is knowing that God holds the day we're in. Home is knowing our future hope is in God. Home is going through struggles but staying sound in the fact that God is there and He will always send helpers. Home is heaven, and living in pursuit of God until we get there. 

I've been back in Africa for one week. I've been traveling non stop for four months. I haven't had a solid place to rest or call home but today I am resting in knowing God, following God, and pursuing God until I can reach home. Home is where I am right now, not the past, but in Him and with Him. 

He Knows Your Name

I've been back two weeks now with plans of going back to Africa but I'm still reflecting on my time and the lessons learned. For the past three months, I spent time in church listening in Afrikaans. Although I loved the cultural experience, I was thankful to worship in English this morning. The message that stuck out to me brought me back to my time in the desert in Namibia, one of the sweetest times in my life where i grew, learned and loved.  Let me take you back to our first weeks in the desert, quite possibly some of the hardest two weeks: adjusting to a new culture, death in our teammates families, getting used to new people and a whole new environment. The kids were so welcoming and loving. They threw their arms around us and loved us without end. Before long, hundreds of kids were spouting their names left and right. Constantly, they were asking us "what's my name?" The sinking in my heart when I couldn't remember will not be forgotten. As I got to know them, I learned their names, mannerisms, and more about their life. 

I began to think of God. He doesn't need that time to get to know us. Those kids didn't need us to know their names, they had a BIG God who knew their name. He knows my name. He knows our futures, our lives, beginning and end. 

He knows my name. What a powerful message. In church this morning, a song played. "Like the dawn, He is faithful." I thought back to the sunrise in the desert, over kids who didn't have much, who didn't need much but God to know their name. 

As I am lost, unsure of my next step after Africa again, I can rest that I am seated and Jesus knows my name. He doesn't count the time I spent in jail, he doesn't count my life off the beaten path, he doesn't count my faults but He knows my name and He saved me. As I prepare to step out in faith, I want to remember names but I also want to spread the message that Jesus knows YOUR name. And that's the only promise we need. 

Hope in Brokenness

Doctor. That's what one of the kids I met at JP Brand Primary School wanted to be when they grew up. I also heard answers like lawyer, vet, and teacher. I almost couldn't believe the hope I was looking at when I heard those words. These kids, mostly, have nothing compared to American standards. This one kid in particular had all odds against her: divorce at a young age, abuse, death, alcoholism all within her family. Yet, on this day, I saw nothing but hope.  I began to think about my own life. Although in a much different situation growing up with good money, I had experienced those hardships too. There was divorce at a young age, alcoholism, death, abuse, and jail all thrown into my story. But here I was, at a school in the middle of the desert, bringing love and God to kids who have basically nothing. 

In those moments, our stories intertwined. I saw the hope of a young child and the hope of myself and in this was the most important lesson I had learned on this trip: hope in brokenness. Two different stories brought together by this hope. Two stories of brokenness, loss, hurt, pain but triumph because of Jesus Christ. 

This led me to think about the cross. The cross symbolizes hope but for me it symbolizes brokenness too. As Jesus hung on the cross, he was bloody, beaten, bruised and broken crying out for God to help. But in a moment of death and life, all hope was given because of the sacrifice he made. 

In the brokenness of the cross, we were given hope. While this may not seem like much, on that day out in the desert as the sun set, I began to comprehend the hope in brokenness that Christ gives us. A hope so deeply rooted in sacrifice that it didn't matter that a young kid from Africa and a girl from America lived two different lives because we were each given hope in our brokenness. We are redeemed, beautiful, and worthy and Christ did that for us. Without hope, this precious moment would not have happened. Without hope, we have nothing. 

Unexplainable

I've been back in America for almost a week now and I'm having trouble gathering my thoughts. Many have asked how my trip went, some have even gotten some details. It's so hard to put it into words; God moved so big in the school we were at, in host homes and in my own heart. It's almost unexplainable. We didn't go to build anything or give something out, we simply went to be.  While I'm having trouble trying to explain to people what the trip was like, I've had a lot of time to think and reflect. My answer may still not be good but our God is an unexplainable God and the way He moved is just that, unexplainable. I can try my best to put it into words, or I can simply tell you my heart. 

The first few weeks in Africa were so anxiety-ridden. So many questions in my mind like "what was I doing here?" "Why is this so hard?" "Are we doing anything right?" This is quite possibly the hardest concept of immersion because sometimes you do nothing but love and in return learn about people loving us. But what does loving  look like? 

Loving looks like our first week in Africa, meeting our community partners who called us by name and knew about us without ever meeting us. Loving is the first moments at the desert when hundreds of kids ran to us with smiles and hugs. Loving is a teacher who once didn't want you there inviting you into her house to just talk. Loving is sweet kids reading the bible with you and having a hunger for the Lord. Loving is endless dance parties, soccer games, and hikes to the dunes even when we were so tired. Loving is a sweet baby cuddling you at night while having a big sleepover in the girls block. Loving is a high five, a hug, crying and laughing together and learning that although we are different, we can love big. 

There are different ways we experienced love but the love we felt in return was unimaginable. We also experienced growth and change in our communities. We saw hearts soften, classrooms light up and teachers who learned to love because we loved the kids and them. "We love because He loves us first." One of the many lessons I took away from my time in Africa was how to love and what that looks like. 

I went to Africa because I saw a need to help. Yes, we helped in a relational and community sense but the way my heart changed says it all. The way my heart longs to still be there is what our God feels for us. He longs for us to know Him and to love him. Just like we pursued the kids and went to a remote desert community, God longs for us to pursue him in everything that we do. 

So, no, I don't have a good answer yet for asking how Africa was. I can only hope to show you how it changed me. I want to carry the love I received with me and let God shine through me. My heart will forever hold a special place for Africa because it's where I saw God move in all ways for the first time. This time in Africa has opened my eyes and changed my view from negative to one of hope. A hope so deep that it can only be explained as love: The love of a Father for His children. 

Rich

Three months in Africa can't be summarized. The way Jesus worked can't be put into words. The way my life has changed can't be shown. The love that I gave and received will always be held in my heart. People are going to ask me about my time in Africa, and I'm not sure what to say. Africa has changed my view, my perspective, my plans and I'm okay with that.  Coming into this trip, we learned about Africa being rich in many things. While many look at Africa as being poor, I realize what they meant when they said rich. Africa is rich: Rich in love. The love I experienced here is nothing short of the father's love for us. From the minute we stepped off the plane, the relationships we found of people who were praying for us before they even knew us to children who were complete strangers who now hold a giant place in my heart. I've never experienced love quite like I have here in Africa. A full, beautiful, unique, without limits love, just like God. 

Africa is also rich in beauty. I've found Jesus in nature, in the stars, in the sand dunes, in the ocean and just about anywhere. God is present in creation. One night my team walked out in the desert with no lights around and worshipped Jesus under the stars. That night I fully felt God and his purpose. He didn't want anything but for us to realize his love for us in that moment and how not even the sky's the limit for that love. 

Joy. A word that we use too often but you probably wouldn't think of when it comes to Africa. I didn't. But joy is so present in God's people here in Africa. Joy is present when worshipping Jesus but also joy is present in the mundane. I'll never forget the smiles from the kids, smiles of complete joy when we showed up at the school. The kids and teachers didn't know us, they didn't know our past or our hurts and faults but they loved. They loved with the joy the Lord gave them and in turn, taught me how to love. 

I can't exactly put into words what this trip means for me. It's changed my life. I asked for this trip to wreck me and turn my life upside down and it has. "I'm no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God." That verse of a song rings true in my heart. I don't know what my future holds, but I'm holding onto what God taught me here about beauty, love, and joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength and that's what I'm holding onto with an unknown future. I'm thankful to experience Namibia, although I'm not sure where the next road leads. God made us rich and I'll be forever thankful for His love and grace. 

Loved, Known, Cherished, Wanted

These last two weeks at our desert school, JP Brand, were challenging, refining, and the most incredible showing of God's loving grace imaginable. Our team spent time teaching, helping teachers, playing with kids, learning more about the culture and fully immersing ourselves into the relationships we've made. To name all the moments would take up pages of my blog, but I will share my heart.  As the two weeks came to an end, I found that some of the kids closed off. They would stop talking to us, they wouldn't give us our daily hugs or they would act mad. While I knew it was because they were upset that we were leaving, it was an extremely hard concept to grasp. These kids have been left so many times that at such a young age, their defenses go up. Instead of being defeated (which at times I was), I prayed and made it a challenge. 

Before this trip started, I prayed a bold prayer for God to wreck me: I wanted him to wreck my heart to see what He sees. I wanted God to wreck my views, to wreck my worldview, and to completely wreck my heart for His good. While the trip is not over, this time in the desert has refined and wrecked me in more ways than one. Instead of putting my defenses up like I normally would, God chose to work in my heart. He made me want to love more, learn more names, be more present and have more joy. He wrecked my heart to pray for these kids and adults in ways I hadn't prayed before. He allowed me to reach out to teachers and to just be with them without an agenda. He allowed the thirst for His word to be evident in the classroom and in the homes of the teachers. God wrecked my heart to love and to love with everything I had. I wanted these kids to feel loved, known, cherished and wanted in the eyes of God.

Isn't that what God wants for me too? I immediately thought how much God wants me to know I'm loved, I'm known, I'm cherished and wanted. What I wanted for these kids and what God wants are also what He wants for me. I'm amazed at how a God has worked in the school, these kids, and in my own life. We've seen heartache and joy, happiness and sadness, and some harsh realities but we've also seen more love than imaginable. God's love has shone in and out of this place and for that, I'm thankful. 

Little Joy, Big God

Writing in my journal has become an everyday thing. Reading my bible has even become more frequent in digging and searching each day for Gods instruction and Word even through doubt. It's hard to not doubt when something sounds so unreal. Call me a bad Christian but yes, I even doubt God sometimes. God loves us even through our sin, our past, our pain and struggles and that's hard to believe sometimes. God puts people in our life to love us when we don't deserve it and that's hard to believe. There is nothing about this experience or redeemed life that I deserve but God gave it and to have something that good brings doubt. But, I do know He loves us through all of the doubt and questions because He is good.  I'm sitting here and I can't believe there's only about a month left of this time in Africa. God has been patiently teaching me lessons layer by layer and day by day even through trials and hard times. When I first found out I was coming to Africa, I imagined smiles of kids and my life staying practically the same. I imagined I would come back and move on with my life. Now, I can't even imagine coming back and doing anything different than what I am now. The future is so unknown. It's been an eye opening, life-changing experience that is hard to put into words. 

It's easy to get down. Struggling through anxiety and depression have been daily reminders that I'm not fully healed or ok. I've found many don't understand so I'm hiding behind a smile and a laugh. But, I've also learned through a lot of digging into the Psalms that God brings us through hard times, in His time. 

Our first two weeks in the desert were incredibly hard. It reminded me of the many obstacles in life and even reading through my journal, I realize what God has brought me through in some of the hardest times just before this trip. But, like life, this trip didn't pause the hard times or what God was working on in my life. If anything, it exemplified it and made me realize that there are things I can't get around. I've been blessed with some very wise, loving people who have spoken a lot of truth into my life especially during this time. Couple that with the Psalms reminding me that even through trials, fear, doubt, anger, sadness and darkness that God is love. God delivers us (in His time). He redeems us. He walks with us through the valley when we see no way out.

While I may not be there yet, and may never be, I'm learning to wait for joy. A lot of being here in Namibia has been waiting, learning, and humbling myself down to realize we must walk, talk, and act in faith even through hard times. While it's been hard to process this experience, I can see the glimpse of lessons and patience being learned. And with those little lessons, joy comes from the smallest things. 

Psalm 34:6 In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. 

Qualified 

What do I really feel? How do I view myself? Recently I read a piece about being unqualified and it poses the question about how we really feel or think of ourselves. If I had to do a moral inventory I don't think I would like the answer. But I sat down for my self assessment at our school here in Namibia. I think sometimes how we view ourselves has a lot to do with our past, what we are told, who has defined us and what society says.  So, here it is - my own self assessment. I'm Julia. I'm a sinner. I'm broken. I'm unworthy. I am not a leader. I tend to fall into the pack of not qualified. I am lost, a mess, and sometimes feel I am not smart. If I was smart, I would have a job lined up after this trip. If I was organized, I would have a place to live and not be questioning my future. The list could go on about how I view myself. 

But as I look around at our school here, kids run towards me with open arms. They call me friend, "teacha Julia," and they often say how much they love me. They don't even know my past, my future, or even my present but these kids are teaching me more lessons about myself. I can teach, I can love. I can be a friend. 

I've prayed daily to feel qualified enough for the job at hand but I think God didn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called. While there are doubts and struggles, I know and want to truly believe where my truth comes from even if I'm still learning to believe it. So in the midst of the mess that I feel about the hardships of being here, my future or my past, I am Julia. I'm qualified enough because God made me enough. 

Unending Love

Amazing grace. In church this last week, in all Afrikaans, their worship was simply amazing. I cried during amazing grace thinking about sitting next to two people who meant so much to me and have prayed with me through this journey, how I was on this journey, and also how I was in Africa living with a host family and living a local way. I did nothing to deserve the way I was living. I have done zero to deserve the grace I've been given by God to still be alive.  On Monday we traveled to the Topnaar tribe to be with at their boarding school. After saying such hard goodbyes to our community partners, saying goodbye to the comfort of a home with our host homes, and months of waiting, we were finally headed out. Mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted we arrived at the Topnaar community with no expectations. 

We were instantly greeted by waves of children with hugs, teachers who were happy to have us, and a beautiful desert commmunity. Within the hour, we had set up camp and our tents and were able to play with the children. 

Immediately, our exhaustion was done. I was greeted by so many young girls and boys with hugs. I was able to fulfill my dream of playing soccer with kids in Africa. We are here to love on them but the endless love I received was amazing from the kids. I stopped for a minute to listen and just heard songs of joy, laughter and pure happiness. These kids have next to nothing and yet they give everything. 

How great is our God is all I could think. What grace, what love, what joy He gives through the littlest things. I'm having a very rough time here emotionally and mentally and just to be in this presence of God and these kids was amazing. Unending love, amazing grace. 

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." Psalms‬ ‭55:22‬ ‭

Prayer requests: 

Personally for myself and to let go of past hurts and regrets.

For my team to pour out love like Jesus to each child or host family we come into contact with. 

For our team to shine the light of Jesus wherever we go. 

For all of us to grow in relationship with each other and with our God.