07 July 2010

My Next Adventure

In my last blog, I wrote that I would later share what God has been teaching me in the months since returning to America. I don't really know where to begin as there is SO much, so instead I will write a short bit and then share with you an article I found that summarizes most of what I have learned in the past months. I found this article by fluke, but it lead me to an organization whose mission aligns directly with the convictions God has been placing on my heart.

The organization is called Mocha Club, its premise is that for the cost of two mochas a month, anyone can make huge strides in helping the needs of the third world. I was so impressed by the group, and amazed that God had lead me to a group that fit perfectly with my convictions, that I immediately decided to join. I have been so amazed at how many Christians, young and old, ignore the call in James 1:27 to give to the widow and orphan. Many excuse themselves by saying they don't have the money to help, or that they are waiting for God to call them personally. But if a teenager can afford to buy themselves a fancy coffee on a regular basis, what excuse do they have to not help provide water to those with NOTHING to drink? And if God says that the job of all Christians is to serve, then what more personal call does one need to serve Him?!? Unfortunately far too many people have become consumed with the need for more money and rather than experience the abundant blessing through giving it back to the Lord, they choose to hoard it for themselves and find excuses as to why it is not enough. I have asked the Lord to break me of this temptation in my own life, and I feel now that He has called me to speak out to others in hopes that they too will experience the same conviction.
The unique thing about the Mocha Club is that you do not just join personally and support them monthly on your own. Instead those who join are challenged to share the work of Mocha Club with others and encourage them to join as well. The work of God is not something each person can do individually, we must work together to serve the Lord and serve His people. The Mocha Club works to break the temptation to stand alone in service. I believe that this is crucial when hoping to make a difference in the world, and also in allowing God to make a difference in one's own heart, but it is so often and easily forgotten. If you would like to learn more about the Mocha Club, go to www.mochaclub.org. To join my team, go to www.mochaclub.org/joinme/kvslice.

And now here is the article that so eloquently describes what the Lord has taught me:

I Need Africa More Than Africa Needs Me

When I think of Africa, the following images immediately come to mind: Starvation. AIDS. Child soldiers. Genocide. Sex slaves. Orphans. From there, my thoughts naturally turn to how I can help, how I can make a difference. "I am needed here," I think. "They have so little, and I have so much." It's true, there are great tragedies playing out in Africa everyday. There is often a level of suffering here that is unimaginable until you have seen it, and even then it is difficult to believe. But what is even harder is reconciling the challenges that many Africans face with the joy I see in those same people. It's a joy that comes from somewhere I cannot fathom, not within the framework that has been my life to this day.

The images spilling out of my television showed circumstances that could seemingly only equal misery, and I was fooled. I bought into the lie that circumstance defines happiness. The truth is, in Africa I find hearts full of victory, indomitable spirits. In places where despair should thrive, instead I find adults dancing and singing, and children playing soccer with a ball crafted of tied up trash. Instead of payback, I find grace. Here, weekend getaways are not options to provide relief from the pains of daily life. Relationships and faith provide joy. Love is sovereign.

My new reality… I know now that my joy should have no regard for my circumstances. I'm ashamed by my lack of faith, but at the very same moment I am excited by my new pursuit. I'm forced to redefine the meaning of having much or having little. I'm uneasy with the prospect of change and of letting go, but just the thought of freedom is liberating. I want what I have learned to trickle down from my head into my heart - I no longer want to need the "next thing" to have joy.

I'm not saying that Africa does not need our efforts. It absolutely does need our partnership. But for me, I've come to understand that I NEED AFRICA MORE THAN AFRICA NEEDS ME. Why? Because it is Africa that has taught me that possessions in my hands will never be as valuable as peace in my heart. I've learned that I don't need what I have and that I have what I need. These are just a few of this continent's many lessons. I came here to serve and yet I've found that I have so much to learn, and Africa, with all its need, has much to teach me.

It has taken me months to be able to understand for myself and then verbalize what I learned while overseas, so I hope that this blog has been able to effectively share a tidbit into my heart and mind at this time. MyMocha Club page also shares a bit more as to what God has been teaching me and doing in my heart, so please look to that page if you would like to read more. I hope you will join me in my next adventure as I see where the Lord leads me and what He teaches me as I give to the work of the Mocha Club.

18 June 2010

a long awaited update!

I'm sorry to say that it has been nearly 5 months since I have last written a blog. While multiple times I told myself I would write a blog, a few times I came up with creative blog titles in my mind, and once or twice I even sat down and began to write! Still, I never actually finished a blog post and published it. I know, I am a failure. So here is an update on the past 5 months, and hopefully the first of many regular blogs.

During the sail to Togo, I became very close friends with another crew member, and student who had spent all of her high school years on the ship with her family. Bethany Lyon, a fellow homeschooler from Virginia, served in the galley for four months and Emma Cole, a high school senior from England, had worked with Mercy Ships with her family for ten years. While the three of us had all been on the ship together for a while, it was not until the sail to Togo that the three of us really began to bond. Each of us are completely different in almost every imaginable way, but within a week we were practically inseparable. However, two weeks after arriving in Togo, Emma and I had to say goodbye to our dear friend Bethany. The five weeks between saying goodbye to Bethany and leaving the ship myself, Emma and I spent multiple nights together in a small closet on deck 7 where we could phone Bethany. At times we sat on the phone as long as 3 hours, into the wee hours of the night! The Lord has used our friendship over the past 5 months to grow me and teach me in incredible ways. To this day, we talk regularly on Skype, our conversations still lasting 2-3 hours! Without a doubt, Emma and Bethany have become two of my closest friends, and I absolutely cannot wait until the day that we finally get to see each other again!
Above is a photo of the three of us taken during the sail from Tenerife to Togo. I am on the far left, Emma in the center, and Bethany on the right.

During my time in Togo I also got to know several of the youth on board. After "chaperoning" a junior high and high school girls' sleepover, I fell in love with the energy and excitement of the ten 8th-12th grade girls on the ship. Most every afternoon and evening in March I could have been found assisting in pranks or watching movies from the youth room while quickly becoming best friends with these girls. When it was time to leave the ship, the ten of them were no doubt the hardest friends to leave. We still stay in contact due to my wonderful friend Mr. Facebook and I think about and pray for each and every one of them on a regular basis.

Above is a picture of me with the high schoolers. I helped them to throw a pizza party in celebration of the end of midterms!

On the right is a picture of me with most of the 8th-12th grade girls celebrating Emma's 18th birthday. We made matching t-shirts saying "Today is Emma's 18th Birthday!" and found party hats at a local Togolese grocery store! With the help of a few nurses, we surprised her
while she was in the middle of work experience down on the ward.

Part of the reason that I failed to blog so much in Togo is because during that time, I felt that God's purpose for me on the ship was not so much to focus on those we were serving in Africa, but isntead to focus on my relationships with those living long term on the ship. This led to less stories about how I was working in the country of Togo, and also less time to write a blog as I spent most of my free time building these relationships. In some ways I at first felt that I was disconnecting myself from Africa and allowing all of my fun to cause me to lose sight of my mission for my gap year. However, I soon realized that rather than losing sight of my personal mission, I was following God's mission for me during that time. I was blessed so much by those friendships and I hope that I too was a blessing to each of them. As my time on board drew to an end, I also began to realize that this "new" mission God had given me would cause my departure to be much more painful.
On April 1 (ironically, April fool's day) I walked down the gangway for one final time, followed by a throng of over twenty friends wishing to wave me off. I was crying so hard that I could barely see my way down the steps. Once we stepped on the dock, my friends gathered in a circle and each took turns praying for me. Several of them proceeded to present me with cards and letters to read on the plane. As I hugged each friend goodbye, my heart continually sank lower and lower, still having difficulty comprehending the fact that I was actually LEAVING the ship for good! Heartbroken, I climbed into the Land Rover and we began to pull down the dock. All of the youth girls lined up down the dock and as the car drove past them they chased it down, waving and yelling until they reached the security guards. "They are like the Von Trap family!" Emma laughed as we pulled away. Emma and another dear friend, Kim Anna Kronester, a long term student serving with her family, came with me to the airport. They held my hands as we drove away; unable to speak a word, I sobbed silently throughout the difficult drive. Upon arrival to the airport I bid Emma and Kim Anna a final farewell, and my time with Mercy Ships drew to a close.
To the left is a picture of a few roomates and youth right before I left the ship.

The next two weeks were a blur of tears, depression, frustration, and confusion as I attempted to deal with culture shock as well as the pain of leaving all of my closest friends. Thankfully, the last week of April I got to take a road trip to visit Bonny Jean, one of my former roomates who left the ship in December. The four days we spent together were unimaginably paramount to my recovery of culture shock. After returning home from the road trip my brother told me, "Kendall, I am glad you are normal again."

Three days after coming back from my road trip, I was off for more traveling! Due to the discovery of an incredible airfare deal, and hours of hard work around the house, I was able to buy a plane ticket to visit Bethany in Virginia! I spent a week with her family in Danville, and they quickly began to feel like my own family. Over the course of that week I felt like the Lord finally gave me peace about being back at home, and really began to help me understand why April 1st was my time to leave the ship, not May 1st, or even August 1st. On May 11th, I flew back home to St Louis, finally feeling like I was ready to begin the next phase of my life.

This summer I am working as a camp counselor at a local YMCA. While the long hours have been incredibly exhausting, my work is fun and rewarding. Every day I come home with new stories about the silly things that kids say. I am also taking a couple of college courses online to get a head on my college work before entering as a freshman at Wheaton College in August. On top of school and work, I have decided to teach myself guitar as well as to begin piano again. I am also training for a triathlon with a few friends. This summer has quickly become a busy one, and I'm sure it will fly by! It has been encouraging to see that while it was hard to leave my work in Africa, God clearly had plenty of incredible things planned out for me back home.

Because this blog has become so long (5 months is a lot to catch up on!!) I will write another time to share what all the Lord has taught me over the past 5 months. Until then, I am just relieved to have FINALLY written what should have been done months before!

01 February 2010

I Could Sing of Your Love Forever

Yesterday afternoon the Africa Mercy set sail once again for her week and a half long trek to Togo, prepared to start the 2010 field service. Around 1 pm the alarms went off to practice an at-sea fire drill, necessary in order to muster the crew and make sure everyone is present and prepared to leave. Within half an hour the gangway was lifted and the ship was leaving port! While setting sail from Tenerife was not nearly as exciting as from Benin, I am ready to head towards Togo for the final stretch of my time with Mercy Ships.
Last night a few of my close girlfriends all decided that we would go up to to Deck 7 for some time of worship since we did not have our usual Sunday evening church service. Around 8:15, three of us headed up there with just a small booklet of sheet music. Within fifteen minutes, about three more friends had arrived, one girl bringing a guitar to accompany our singing. By an hour's time, the group had grown to nearly fifteen people! Everyone heard our singing and came to join in. Sitting outside, feeling the wind brush against my face, hearing the waves crash against the ship, unashamedly singing praises to my God, I felt so alone and enraptured by His incredible creation, but at the same time so comforted by the community of believers surrounding me. We kept singing song after song, praising the Lord for the work He has done, thanking Him for what He has created, crying out to Him in our distress, and seeking His protection as we head into the mission field once again.