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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

.Here Am I; Send Me.

I remember the very moment our plane descended, hovering over the brightly lit city, and then landed on the little runway 30 months ago. I remember the way my heart skipped a beat the moment I sucked in my first breath of African air - dense, thick with smog, diesel fumes, and the smells of more than 3 million souls that call that city home. I had never been overseas. I had never seen a third world country or poverty like the poverty that marked every curb and corner there. I had never been a city girl, yet the hum of the city around me lulled and calmed me with it's magical cadence. For months prior to the trip I had braced myself for heartbreak and hurt, in having to face such a reality for the first time ever in my very safe, very plush life. But what I could never have known to prepare for was the immense joy that surrounded the people nuzzled there, and the joy that flooded my heart while I briefly joined the rhythm of their lives. What I didn't expect was that the moment my American toes touched the dusty, dirty foreign streets, my soul would sigh with relief and welcome me home.

Surely it was just an emotional response to such a life-changing experience. I cannot count the nights I have told myself this as tears soaked my pillow and sleep alluded me.

That January of 2011 we came home, and for 50 some days, all I could think about was the city that had tattooed itself on my heart and the people who breathed life into the city. My two boys were constantly on my mind, but so were all of the other faces that I felt an instant connection with. I fell into a mild depression, trying to wrap my mind around how to live here with what I had seen there, how to live between two very conflicting worlds. Then in March, we boarded a plane once more and once again landed on Ethiopian soil, this time to bring our baby home. It wasn't until I walked back out into that Ethiopian air that my heart settled and peace washed over me again. The Spirit was beginning to weave and gently call. I sobbed for hours on the plane ride home, feeling as if my heart was being torn in two. I should have been so excited to go home to the comfort, safety, and familiarity, as well as to our new life with our sweet baby, Jamesy. But I was miserable and depressed.

Looking back now I can see the fingerprints of God so clearly. When I was a young girl, about my Cadi's age, I remember a missionary from Africa coming to our church. I remember him talking about how God called his family to Africa and how perhaps God was calling some of us there as well. As a girl, living in a safe, comfortable middle class family in America, the thought of moving to "the jungles of Africa" (because in my limited understanding of the world that was all I knew of Africa) was the most terrifying thing that I could think of God calling me to do. For years, unbeknownst to anyone, I laid in my bed at night and begged God not to send me to Africa. Yet, my favorite part of our local church's AWANA program was hearing the missionary stories. The story of Amy Carmichael is still vivid in my memory. I was drawn to these stories and sought them out in our church/school library. I remember attending camp as a child and one of my favorite weeks was when missionaries were the special speakers. I was mesmerized by their stories, photos, songs, and memorabilia brought back from the field. All the while I would squirm in my seat, begging God not to send me. God sent brave people to the mission field, not bashful, awkward, timid girls like me, and in my twisted thoughts I remember thinking that if He sent people like me, it was surely to punish them.

I remember my freshman year in Bible College. One week of the year, our classes would be cancelled, and our college would host a "missions week". The focus would be serving on the mission field, and all of the speakers were missionaries or former missionaries. I was an elementary education major and missions was not on my radar, until I heard a woman passionately speak about teaching missionary children in a school in the Ivory Coast - Africa. My heart pounded and my palms grew sweaty as I listened to her speak of the beautiful country, the people, and the need for more American teachers in her school. Please, don't send me to Africa. I silently begged God, while feeling this gentle yearning begin to root itself in my heart. All week I wrestled against it, but I couldn't shake the idea that I needed to prayerfully consider it. I remember so clearly sitting at my little desk in my dorm room and opening my laptop. I typed a letter to my parents telling them that maybe God was calling me to teach in the Ivory Coast. I don't remember their response, or if there was one. College life continued, and while I prayed about it for a little while, nothing ever transpired. But looking back now I see how the seed was planted. I just wasn't ready. I needed to say yes to smaller things first. God knew my heart so well. In October of 2011, Jim took another trip to Ethiopia, it was then that we both knew that God was calling us to the mission field, but we believed He was calling us for the future - perhaps when our children were teenagers or grown. There were still areas in our life He needed us to surrender before we would be ready.

God took his time with me, knowing how best to draw me along. He allowed me to surrender and say yes to little things that began snowballing into bigger things. We said yes to camp ministry and stayed inside the yes for 6 years learning how to really love people big, and then we said yes to leaving the camp ministry with no safety net. That was my first big, scary yes. And in that short phase when Jim had no job, and we were seeking God's face, missions popped into our conversation for the first time in our married life. We had just read Francis Chan's Crazy Love, and our world was slowly being tilted. We were reading the Bible with different eyes, and seeing things that we had largely ignored. God ultimately led us to say yes to a pastorate, and then only weeks later, when our bank account was dry and it made no human sense, to say yes to adoption.....adoption in Africa. Then a yes to a special needs child, and a yes to a street boy - a teenager.

And this winter everything began to culminate and crescendo in such a way that we knew God was asking us to say yes again. We wrestled and begged God to make our path clear, and he placed the vision of Mercy Branch on our hearts. We know Mercy Branch was born for such a time as this. It was not a mistake. There are so many details of all of this that we look back on and realize that for this - the biggest yes of our life - God had to do it this way. We are stubborn, and we are far too attached to our comfort. He had to take away the security of Jim's pastorate, move us away from our comfortable home and familiar city, strip away our security in a job by allowing Jim to get one and then lose it, erasing our privacy and friendships, and putting us here with these people, in this struggle, for such a time as this. My depression grew, and we struggled with what God was doing. Our house hasn't sold, our bank account is depleted, nothing has worked out the way we had dreamed that it would, but exactly the way HE  knew it would.

All of our excuses as to why now is not the time for our family to serve in Ethiopia have been erased by this one terribly hard summer. So, it is with excited, humbled, thankful hearts that our family announces that we are being called to the mission field of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I could never answer the hundreds of questions as to exactly how we got here - it was all of the above, all of those yeses and a hundred more little ways that God weaved and orchestrated and gently whispered into our hearts. It will probably be years before we even recognize all of the extraordinary ways that God led us to this yes. And for now I am okay with that, and I am okay with knowing that there are questions out there. I am secure in this path and in following Jesus, and for the first time in truly so many years, I feel peace, contentment, and joy. Of course there are very human moments when my heart beats out in fear, and I beg God in my still child-like panic please don't send me to Africa! But overall my soul is at rest, and as a family we are at rest, wanting nothing more than to follow Jesus to Ethiopia. This post is getting much longer than I had anticipated, so I tomorrow Jim will write another explaining the steps that we plan to take to get there - trusting that it is God alone who will pave the way.

Once again, we find ourselves on a threshold, and there is no turning back. This life is fragile and fleeting. This world is not my home, and we are given only a brief amount of time to make a difference. So, I am lightly holding all that we are leaving behind, knowing that my treasure is not here anyway. This phase of our life is ending, and endings can be hard and so can beginnings, but this, this here and now is all that I am given, and I want to live it all in, all surrendered, because in a blink of an eye this moment will just be a memory. Soon I will be at Jesus' feet for all of eternity, and I want this one beautiful life to have mattered for His kingdom. For years I have sought first comfort, possessions, family, familiarity, opinions, reputation, but now, in this moment, my one true desire is to seek first His kingdom, and for our family that means seeking it out in Ethiopia.

Here am I; send me. I am saying, YES.

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:22-34


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