Thursday, September 22, 2011

God is my judge

I've been thinking about a new tattoo...maybe that will be it?  Probably not in English, and not sure where, but I really like that phrase right about now.  Maybe it won't end up as a tattoo, but who's why I really appreciate it right now:

For quite a while now I have seen some pretty negative Facebook comments regarding "the church", I now know without doubt that these comments have been directly targeted at my home church, Providence.  Finally, I had to question something, as I know this person.  I have sat down with him on several occasions, loved his heart for ministry and his passion for the less fortunate.  I've prayed over him as a member of Providence's prayer ministry team.  I've sat at a bible study and had deep conversations with him.  I thought that I could have a rational conversation regarding a comment that basically stated that bar tenders cannot lead a bible study.  Through the conversation Providence was again attacked, as was my "moral compass".  I was told that I am not a Godly man, nor do I know what one looks like because Providence doesn't have a single one.  Because of some recent history I have in prayer ministry I was able to see through the comments and see that he has a deep wound.  I was able to maintain what I thought was a conversation.  Until one comment was made, followed by what I consider a false prophecy about my family.  

The comment that ended the conversation for me was telling me that I am working with satan.  Now, I know of course that this is certainly not true at all.  But I was still pretty ticked off.  I fully expect that my Christian brothers and sisters will judge my actions.  If I am doing something that is hindering the ministry I am a part of, I would expect them to call it out.  At the same time, there is only one that can judge my heart, and that's God.  If someone has an issue with the way I act, I welcome them to tell me.  It may be an issue I am not even aware of that is hurting another.  But when someone lumps me in the category of working with the devil, I cannot continue to have a dialogue.  

I have been attacked by others before for my actions.  Not everyone was thrilled that I am spending 4 months in Kenya and they were not always quiet about it.  My grandparents told me often since they knew that they think I shouldn't do this.  In essence, they judged my actions.  And I'm okay with that.  They did so out of fear of what could happen, fear of losing me and a true and pure love for me.  But as much as they vocalized their opinions on the subject, they also told me how proud they were.  They never once judged my heart or my motives.  

I was talking with my friend Daniel the other morning about this.  I had a very long and sleepless night.  Truthfully, I felt powerless for some reason.  In the little sleep I got, I had dreams of being weak and unable to do anything.  Somehow, the very fact that my character was now attacked really tore me down.  Daniel said something profound to me:  "the fact that your character has been attacked means that you're doing something right.  And that scares people".  Another friend, Clint, sent me some passages from Romans 8 that reaffirmed who I am.  A verse that stood out to me so much was verse 33:  "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ...".  Again, God is my judge.  He and He alone has the right and authority to judge my heart.  And I am 100% confident that when I reach the end of my life, it is He who will say "well done my good and faithful servant".  

God is my judge.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A man's heart

I love that I can write this blog while on a new adventure in Kenya.  As the men on the compound we are going through the book Wild At Heart, by John Eldredge.  I read this book for the 1st time after my first trip to Kenya.  It changed my way of thinking and behaving greatly then.  Going back through it is amazing now.  It's awesome to see so many changes and even more neat to see new things that I missed the first time.  I think that the first time I read it was good as a "first step".  Now that I have grown in different areas of my life, I am able to look a little bit deeper and begin to answer some other questions.

Early on in the book Eldredge makes a point that "a man has to get his heart back".  I paused for a moment on those words.  Okay, for many moments actually.  And I've been thinking about that phrase for a few days now.  The first question that I asked is if a man has to get his heart back, who took it in the first place?  Then, I got to thinking some more.  If I have to get my heart back, who took my heart in the first place?

Before that question can be answered, I guess one must ask "what is my heart?".  In order to get something back, we need to first know what it is.  I think that the heart of a man is lacking in our culture.  I won't start stealing all of Eldredge's book (though I do highly recommend it to all men), but I will say that I think that a man was designed with purpose.  We were created for adventure, and that is in the very core of all men.  We are designed to desire to protect others, especially women.  One thing that I love about being in Kenya is that very opportunity.  Walking around town as a man I have had men offer to buy the women in the group to be their wife.  Now, I'll admit that us men over here have been joking that if someone offers us 2 elephants, or one lion, we're totally going for it!  Obviously that is nothing more than a joke.  It actually speaks to a man's very being to, with no romantic thoughts at all, stand up for and protect the women.  My friend Daniel once said that "Kenya is a place that allows a man to be a man".  I think that this is one of the reasons why.  Our sense of adventure is found in most of what we do.  It was an interesting bus ride from Nairobi to Kitale as a few of the women in the group were talking about different hobbies and such and the men talked about ours.  Most of the "men hobbies" involved flames, explosions, or something considered "extreme".  At one point one of the women said that "boys just like anything that has to do with guns and explosions".  While certainly not every man enjoys going to the shooting range or standing around a bonfire, that sense of adventure and excitement is in us.  It may be buried deep, but it's there!  It's why after the hurricane came through camp I so badly wanted to go kayaking down the DE river when it was so flooded.  It's why I enjoy going camping, watch action movies, love to go biking.  It's why when at one point in West Chester a storm knocked the power out and I was home alone.  Do you know the first thing I did?  I took my Smith & Wesson .40cal out of the gun case, popped in a magazine, grabbed a flash light and did a search of my house.  I knew without a doubt that it was the storm.  I didn't really think that someone cut my power and broke into my house.  But you know what?  It was fun!  It gave me an adrenaline boost!

At a later chapter in the book Eldredge talks about how his first grade son got pushed by a school bully the first time.  Eldredge looked at his son and gave him permission to,the next time it happens, get back up and hit the kid as hard as he can.  Awesome advice!  I know, some disagree.  My mom was one to disagree.  When I was bullied my mom told me to "turn the other cheek".  Yes, this is also good advice but it's so often not the right advice.  Yes, Jesus did teach that.  But he also taught us to take a stand.  There are times to man up and fight back.  After all, isn't that what Jesus did on the cross?  he fought back.  I had it in me to want to fight back.  But I wasn't given the permission.  I wanted to take karate lessons and learn to fight back, but my mom wouldn't approve.  Rather than giving me permission to be a man, she instilled to back down.  Not to take a stand.  I think that if that young middle school kid who was bullied came to Africa right now, he wouldn't have a clue how to stand up to anything.  Standing up for the women of the group? Forget it.  Bargaining to get the fair price?  Definitely not.  It took a long time to get over that.  To finally learn what a real man is, and that I can be that man.

The man's heart is brave and adventurous.  But it's also so fragile.  How many other men are out there afraid to live out their dreams?  I made a decision last October that I was going to quit my job and come to Kenya for a few months and see where it leads.  Since then, I heard so many comments like "I wish I had what it takes to do that too".  I saw my mom before I got on the plane and she made a similar comment.  Let me respond to these comments, especially to men, all at once:  SHUT UP!  You do have what it takes!  but men have been so badly wounded that they refuse to believe this.  It would have been so much easier to stay in West Chester and keep working my job.  Financially, that probably would have made sense.  But it wasn't the adventure I was looking for.  There was a lot of fear.  There still is.  The heart of a man is not one that doesn't feel fear.  Every time I stare at a cop on the road taking a bribe, there is a little fear in me that he could smash my face with his night stick.  Every time I get on the back of a bicycle taxi I feel my life flash before my eyes multiple times.  But it isn't about being afraid.  The heart of a man feels fear.  But the heart of man doesn't let the fear hold him back.

So, I've been slowly taking back that heart.  Since I got here I've realized a few areas that I need to be more bold in and take more of a risk.  And I'm doing that.  And it's not because I have some magical gift that you don't.  That heart is out there, waiting to be taken back.  You just need to want it bad enough to fight for it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I sat slightly ashamed...

Warning:  This may offend you.  There, you've been warned...

A few months ago I wrote this blog about "the value of a dime".  In it I wrote about a man in Kenya named Daniel Juma.  And, yes, I do still have that dime!

Today, we went out to Juma's place to see how and where we can help him in his ministry with orphans.  Juma recently purchased a new farm about 15-20 minutes from here.  He now has about a 5 acre plot of land where he can farm to fund his mission of taking in orphans.  I love this man and am so encouraged by him and all that he does.

As we sat at his kitchen table this morning I was kind of ashamed.  He thanked all of us for coming to help him out with some free manual labor.  He started by saying how so many in Kenya see America as the land of opportunity.  He said, "I don't see America as the land of opportunity.  More so, I see America as the land of God".  He went on to say how we even have the phrase "In God We Trust" on our money.  He told us how he sees Americans as unlike any other country in that we will give up our time and come to Africa to help those in need.  Another Kenyan present told us how we as Americans, even though our economy is bad, are taking what we have and offering it to others.  He said that we are basically taking food from our own tables and coming to Africa to share it with orphans here.  Together they painted such a beautiful picture of Americans.  They were not talking about the government aid that is sent.  They were speaking about us as individuals.

But I sat there nearly in tears, a bit ashamed.  Ashamed because I don't know that he was right.  First, we are becoming a nation that is taking "God" in any sense out of the public.  There is even a push to have it removed from our money.  We take God out of our schools in every way possible but allow other religions the freedom to practice their believes.  All because God may be offensive.  I am by NO MEANS saying that we need to be pushing Christianity on everyone in school!  But I am saying that it offends ME that schools are saying that a Christian cannot even have a time of prayer but someone of another faith can.  Then, when something bad happens, we are the first to blame God for it; "why didn't God stop...from happening?".

Then I wondered is he right about us as a whole?  For much of my life I had no desire to come to Africa.  Nor did I have the desire to know about conditions over here.  Yes, I understand that we have poverty too. But, seriously!  Look around the US and you will not find even close to the level of poverty over here!  I have never once walked through an area of the US and seen raw sewage floating in the streets be the norm.  I'm not talking about the aftermath of a disaster; I'm talking about real life.  Face it:  America is NOT as impoverished as so many other places in the world.  And so many of us in the US don't even want to know about it.  It's far easier to live in ignorance to it.  Some years ago a college friend of mine wrote a blog about how he and his wife lived in Mozambique, South Africa.  There was a hold in their fence and behind it was a garbage heap where street kids would scrounge for food.  They wanted to cover the hole but ended up leaving it as a reminder of why they were there.  You see, so many times we want to cover it up and pretend it doesn't exist.  We do the same in the US too.  We see the homeless person and we want to turn away and pretend to look at a poster, street sign, or our phone.  Please, know that I include myself in this mix.

I'm not saying that everyone should jump on the next plane and go to another country.  And I know that there are some that do.  Many, in fact.  But I also know that as a whole, our nation doesn't want to know.  You can call me a liar if you want.  But I've seen it.  Each time I've been back from Kenya I'm met with many of the exact same questions:  How was the food?  What animals did you see?  How was the weather?  very rarely have I been asked about the people; the relationships formed.  In more cases than not, when I tried to talk about the conditions that some live in here, it's met with resistance.

So, yes, I felt a bit ashamed today.  I am by no means ashamed to be an American.  In fact, I'm very proud to be one.  Extremely proud.  But I don't want to look at people as some being Kenyan, some being Afghan, some being American.  I think that it's time we understand that we're all in this together.  We may be from different parts of the world, but our hearts are so similar.  We all have the same basic needs.  And sadly, there are parts of the world where those basic needs are far from being met.  I'm not asking anyone to necessarily change how you live or to give money or anything.  But let's at the very least be willing to learn.

While I may have felt a bit ashamed, I also felt encouraged that right now there are 9 of us Americans living at this compound who are living out what Juma talked about.  Right now, we're all here in Kenya.  In a few months some will be in India, others will be back in the US and others may be anywhere.  It is awesome to walk in town and see so many that have given up far more than me to do what they felt in their hearts to be right.  Yes, shame.  But also joy.  A strange mixture of both.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I've traded up

I left the US on Sept 5th and arrived in Kenya on the 7th.  By the 8th I was at my new home in Kitale.  This morning I took a bicycle taxi into town and have been sitting at The Coffee Shop for a while.  

On the ride into town I put thought into what I traded.  I traded my nice 3 story home in West Chester with my attic bedroom and then at camp for a small man shack that sleeps two.  I traded my nice showers that have hot water on demand for an outdoor shower surrounded by bamboo pieces.  A shower where the hot water is lucky to be warm.  And I sure don't want to shower outside in the morning when it is cold outside!!  I traded my nice porcelain toilet that flushes for another bamboo room outside that has a 30 foot hole in the ground (okay, I'll be bold and admit that I actually prefer this!).  I traded my car for overcrowded town taxis and matatus and boda bodas (bicycle taxi) and piki pikis (motorcycle taxi).  I traded the comfort of walking safely around town at night with the need to be vigilant of my surroundings in the day time as well.  I traded the crossing of a street knowing cars will stop for know that here, the larger the vehicle, the more right of way they have.  I traded in a set salary that I could depend on for having to raise support and live on more of a faith.  I traded in reliable internet for one that works best after 10PM.  I traded in safe drinking water out of the sink for bottled or boiled water.    

Yet, I still say that I traded up.  As I sat on the boda boda this morning I was at peace with where I am.  Not so much peace on the ride itself though!  This is the cheapest transportation into town (other than walking) but it's weird.  Imagine sitting on a cushion on the back of a street bike.  You have a small piece of rubber or metal under the rider's seat to hold onto that barely fit your hands IF you an get on it under the seat.  This morning, I had my thumbs and two fingers on each hand around it.  I think that I'll take a piki back.  

But what I saw and heard was beautiful.  I woke up this morning to tons of birds singing.  The air was a bit chilled still.  The sun so bright and warm when you walk into it.  I had a cup of coffee on the gazebo with the sun to my back as I checked my email and spent some quiet time.  The ride into town was intense as motorcycles, cars and trucks flew by my boda boda.  Yet there was peace knowing that I am where I'm supposed to be at this moment.  As I sit here in The Coffee Shop sipping my coffee and eating my breakfast I feel at peace as town is slowly getting busier and I will very soon venture out into it to walk around.  

I spent yesterday at the Veronica Home, a home that Transformed International runs for children with HIV/AIDS.  We spent the morning and early afternoon there.  I gave my camera to one of the kids, Asha, and she took photos for the day.  One photo that I love is in this blog.  It's just of the sky and a tree in.  Yet this photo screams peace to me.  I've learned over and over again contentment in this place.  I showered last night and it was getting a bit chilly.  The cool night air made the water feel that much warmer.  As I turned off the water I was met with an instant chill.  Still, it was so good to have a shower!  I had to be careful not to swallow water as I brushed my teeth this morning, but how great it was to wake up and be able to clean my face and brush my teeth.  So, yes, I've traded up because I can be content in what is here.  I can't even begin to describe just how beautiful it is to just allow yourself to exist.  Sure, those things back home are great.  And I enjoyed them.  But I don't NEED them.  I can be just as happy with little.  I guess it comes back to relationship over materialism.  I know that when I go back home in January I will not have all that I had before (I sold many things).  But what is important is not what I sold or gave away.  What is important are the friends and family waiting to greet me.  What's important are friendships like Liz whom I cannot wait to see and hug.  Friendships like Chris at camp who are eagerly waiting to sit in silence and listen to stories for hours when I get home.  When relationships become the center of our lives instead of what we own, life becomes more beautiful.  We can learn to take pleasure in the small things.  We can go back to childhood and lay under the clouds looking at the shapes they make.    

Monday, September 5, 2011

The journey begins

I'm sitting here in the Newark Airport in NJ waiting to board my flight.  I managed to get everything washed and packed in time before leaving camp.  I even managed an extra trip to West Chester to pick things up from church and see my friend Liz one last time.  Then, I was able to squeeze one more trip in on Sunday morning to spend some time with my church family.  What a blessing it was to be sent off by this family!  My heart was just overflowing with joy as I was blessed by this family.

ALL of my support that I needed came in, and then some!  So, praise God for that!  There were a couple of issues with some last minute prescriptions that I couldn't get filled, but nothing major to worry about.  I should be able to get what I need in Kenya.  My bags are packed to the brim!  My one bag was 47 pounds and the other was 53 pounds.  They were okay with it as I checked in and let my bags on with no extra charge.  My one carry on is actually developing a hole near the zipper; I'm really praying that it makes the trip.  I did end up spending $50 to upgrade my seat to get a 3 inches of extra leg room.  It doesn't sound like much, but i have long legs so three more inches will be lovely!

I intentionally stayed up late last night and got up early this morning.  My plan was that by the flight tonight I will be so tired that I can fall right asleep on the plane.  So far, that plan is working.  I'm having trouble keeping awake already and I still have 20 minutes until we board.

I killed some time in the airport with dinner and Skypeing with Liz.  Now, just juicing up my laptop and I'm ready!  People keep asking if I'm excited, scared, nervous, etc...truth is, the answer is all of the above.  But overall, I feel extremely excited for this new season of my life.  I will greatly miss so many people, but even Skypeing with Liz tonight reminded me again of just how small the world has become.  I'll be fine.  My relationships will be better than fine.

So, I'm off!  See most of you in 4 months!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Processing goodbyes (I'm not leaving. I'm just going away on an adventure for a little while. )

Sorry...this one's a bit longer...

I feel like I've been saying a lot of goodbyes since May.  I left West Chester on May 31st.  That time was a lot of goodbyes to friends and coworkers.  Many of these friends have become family to me over the past few years.  When I came to camp I was able to make so many new and awesome relationships with staff here.  Old friendships were renewed and strengthened.  A few weeks ago we said goodbye to our summer staff as they parted ways to go head back to their lives away from camp.  This summer I got close to some of these guys.  I was blessed to know guys like Jared Reed and get to spend time chatting with him.  We were able to hang out one night after the staff left and had a real heart to heart.  At the end of the night we said our goodbyes as he was leaving for his first year of college.  Guys like Chris Gigiel were difficult to say goodbye to.  He is one of the very few staff guys that was here at camp the last time I worked here.  As we spent a summer reconnecting I was so often encouraged by him.

Last weekend I had dinner with some family in Reading.  As I watched my little niece Olivia run around, I was hit hard with knowing how much I will miss her along with the rest of my family.  As I drove to the restaurant with my cousin Amanda and her fiancĂ©, Nick, I was encouraged by her comments.  As we sat through dinner I could see how proud she was of me.  As my uncle introduced me to the owner of the restaurant (he's a regular there) there was joy and pride in his voice as he announced that I was about to leave for Africa to work with street kids.  Even after dinner I was encouraged by our conversation as I drove back to his house with him.  Aunt Shelly and Uncle Neil had so many kind words that I hold so dear to me.  As I hugged my cousin Kelly goodbye I didn't want to let go because I love being around this family so much.  Saying goodbye to Olivia and Landen brought tears to my eyes.  Saying goodbye to my grummom was really hard.  I know that she loves me and wants what is best for me.  But at the same time, she is really not happy that I'm going away for 4 months.  I wish she could see Kenya and understand why I'm so passionate about being there.  I pray that as I'm away we will be intentional about our communication.  I pray that she knows I'm not running away from her but that I AM coming home in a few months.

This week was more of these goodbyes.  I drove down to West Chester yesterday to spend some time with Liz.  She is one of my very closest and safest friends.  I love that we can sit and talk for hours or sometimes sit in silence and enjoy being around one another.  I was so blessed by the offer of her family to allow me to spend the night in their guest room.  We spent this morning and part of afternoon with each other.  Saying goodbye to her was difficult.  Possibly one of the most difficult goodbyes I've had.  Yet, at the same time, also one of the easiest.  I say that because I know that I know that I know that we will continue to grow in relationship as we are apart.  We made it through 2 years that she was in CA and grew so much closer as our communication was more intentional.  Still, it was a very difficult goodbye for me.  A goodbye that I would rather not have to say.

I had to leave Liz this afternoon because Chris and Jay from camp wanted to take me out to an early dinner before Chris left for the poconos for the weekend.  A few moments go Chris headed out.  He has been a good friend for years.  He was the camp program director when I first met him.  Now he is the camp director.  And he is the main reason that I started coming back to camp again after I left 5 years ago.

I know that this is far from everyone.  The list could go on and on much longer, and more are yet to come.  More family members, more friends like the Gyza's, the Reigners, the Atkins, the Roche's, so many many more.

I'm not good at goodbyes.  I hate them.  So I'm trying to look at this as an opportunity to grow.  Just like Liz and I grew and strengthened our relationship, I now have the same opportunity with her again and with so many others.  Will it be as easy as a phone call and setting up a time to go for dinner?  No.  No it won't. Communication will need to be very intentional and it will take some work.  But I'm willing to put in the effort because it's important.

I'm not leaving.  I'm just going away on an adventure for a little while.  

I will be back in four months.  Approximately 120 days.  I will miss Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years' in the States.  It's going to suck.  I know that.  But I'll be back right after.  And this is a great opportunity.  Liz made the comment to me recently that I look happy.  And I am.  I'm chasing after a passion and seeing where it leads.  I have other passions too.  And I have options for what to do when I come home.  I've put some very serious thought into some serious decisions.  I was given some half serious/half joking advice from a long time mentor of what I should do when I get back (Mrs. Dallmann...that's you!) that I'm taking pretty seriously.  Right now, the options are limitless.

I'm excited beyond belief right now for this adventure!  At the same time, I'll be honest and say that I'm also scarred of the unknown.  But as Pastor Phil said a few months ago, it's not about being afraid.  It's about what you do with that fear.  I'm am choosing to push that fear aside and to receive the blessings that await me on this new journey.  I can't wait to share these new blessings and lessons with you all when i return in January.  So please, do not say a final goodbye to me.  Save that for when I'm in the casket!  Instead wish me well, pray with me, encourage me.  But don't you dare speak negativity into me.  Do not ask me to let fear hold me back.  Because it won't.  I refuse to allow it to.

I'm not leaving.  I'm just going away on an adventure for a little while.