Monday, October 20, 2014

A piece of my love for Sub Saharan Africa.

I fell in love with Sub Saharan Africa when I read a book called 28.

It was 2007, at the height of the HIV epidemic, and I read a book that fed me stories of real people - personal, individual stories. Each came with the portrait of the individual whose story I was entering. The stories reflected their strengths, joys, hopes and fears. The stories connected modern lives with their historical context. That book changed my life and left me hungry for more, for actual hands to hold. I wanted to connect myself with those stories and walk into the future with them.

A year later, four little hands entered my life, entered my family. My family adopted two children who were likely orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. Africa became my family, and I was able to visit the place for the first time.

I wasn't captured by the hints of modernization I saw in the capital city of Addis Ababa, but by rural Southern Ethiopia. I was captivated by freedom from technology. I saw what I felt was the very essence of what it meant to be a human - connected with God, the Earth, and other people. I listened to the song "Redemption" by Jars of Clay and didn't feel heartbreak or pity but wonder and longing, for I craved what I found there for myself. I was 18, and I wondered if I was being selfish. But I looked around and saw redemption for all I was disillusioned with in Western society - convenience, obsession with technology, luxury, media, individualism, constant entertainment, disconnection and even destruction of nature, the ever- promised up&up. I saw poverty in these things. Not poverty that was defined by lack of material things, but a brokenness of relationships, self identity, and culture. It bothered me. I know there's a lot of valuable pieces of Western society, but this had been bothering me, as a teenager.

I began to wonder if, indeed, Africa could bring healing to the non-material poverty faced in America.

If their beautiful strength of dependence on community and group identity could touch the deep isolation, loneliness, and self-reliance I saw back at home. If the wide open land and skies and the vital, tangible connection with the produce of the earth could shine light on our addictions to artificial food and entertainment, and neglect of creation. And if the vibrant, growing, African Church could share their wisdom and experiences with the Christians in America, as their brothers and sisters.

When I went to Africa for the first time, I expected to find desolation and heartbreak. And I saw material poverty, sure, but I found a people who didn't find a need for the excess that Westerners often consider to be "not enough." I found innovation and simplicity, deep human connections, natural wonder, simplicity, wisdom and rich history. I wanted to make my life more like that. I started making so many friends from East Africa, and I have learned so much from them. They have spoken into my life. They have prayed with me and for me, and for you (since if you're reading, you're probably my friend). Africa has brought so much healing to my life.

I talk a lot about how as Under the Same Tree we partner with and support communities in East Africa. But the truth is that I want the same for the communities I am connected with here in the US. We work to tell stories of how communities in Africa are building on their strengths and maximizing their potential, because I really want you to know them, because I love them. But also because I believe it can transform you, because I care about you too, and I want the same for you :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


I can't remember a time when I didn't know how to swim.

Still to this day, when others might go to the beach or the pool to lay in the sun or walk around on the sand, I'm running wild into the water. It submerges me and I am weightless, like flying.

I love water.

Many times in poetry and metaphor and even scripture, water is associated with danger, threat, and the unknown. Water can sweep you away, can suck you under and keep the air from your lungs. It is clear that water is not safe.

But the thing about water is that you can learn how to move with it. It can come so naturally, just like walking. Even with the water is raging, you can learn to dance in it. And not be afraid.

My very favorite place to be in water is the ocean. It is my favorite thing to do in the whole wide world. When I am in Missouri, I ache for it every day. My favorite beaches are on the Pacific West Coast.. I'm from California, and I love it. I also like beaches on the Gulf where the water is calm and warm, it's nice.. But on the Pacific Coast, the water is cold and the waves can be huge. There can be dangerous rip tides daily. There are often submerged reefs and rocks that can rip holes in your skin, leaving scars on your ankles and knees. I love shores that aren't tame.

When you come to shores like these, you can sit in the sand and watch their beauty, and that's really nice. I like that. But what I love is swimming out into the big waves. If you don't accept the rhythm and dance of the waves, it's easy to get pushed back to shore and exhausted.. or swept under, spun around, injured, even drowned. But when you stop looking at the waves like an opponent bent on pushing you back to shore, and learn to move with their rhythm and dance, you can go further and deeper. You can learn to ride the waves.

This is what I know about the ocean. The vast, dangerous ocean that is my best friend.

For a long time, I've ridden the waves in ways that came easily and naturally to me, by body surfing and body boarding. I had never attempted standing up on the waves, because I thought it would be really hard, and beyond what I was comfortable with. But for the past 2 summers I've been trying to change that.

I think I started learning to surf at a really poignant time in my life. You can't just run out there and do it (unless you have a 10 ft longboard), it takes time. Surfing is all about trusting the water, and your ability to move in the water. Surfing is all about gathering the courage to stand. I used to say that surfing is easier than riding skateboards (which I do with my brothers and David a lot) because when you fall, you hit water rather than pavement. But the truth is that gathering the courage to stand up when you're riding a wave is hard. It's a lot easier to just give up and let it sweep you under. I have more scars from surfing than from skating, now.

I say that it was a really poignant time in life because the past few years I've been learning what it means to "walk on water" in a spiritual sense, and it's been a lot like learning to surf. Let me explain.

Over the past 2 years, David and I have been pursuing a call to ministry in East Africa. That means willingly stepping into situations that are absolutely overwhelming. Choosing to have the faith to step off of the comfortable shore into the cold and choppy water. Remembering how much I love the water, even though it's not always comfortable.

We often don't know how our own basic needs are going to be met.. basic needs like food and shelter. We get tired. It can feel like drowning. Sometimes we want God to lift us up out of the water and set us back on the sunny shore. But instead He just keeps teaching us how to swim, and challenging us to come deeper.

We come to the place on the shore where the big waves are breaking. They're crashing down, dangerously. But I know if I fight them, they'll push me under and keep me down. I know if I move with them... even dance with them, I will remember how much I love them and be filled with joy. We face setbacks sometimes. We face really hard challenges. I used to let them make me panic, but during the past month or so, I started finding myself laughing in the face of unexpected challenges. That's not me. I started remembering how discontented I always was with a comfortable life. Why God's given me a love of running up against challenging things, then learning that I can never overcome them by fighting them on my own. Like the wave, they will just push me under and keep me down. Only when I surrender and dance in the face of challenges does He pull me to the surface of a crashing wave.

I love to swim, and I feel like God has always been teaching me to be a good swimmer in the metaphorical water we've chosen to follow Him into. But I'm just now learning to ride the waves. To stand up on the raging water. Just like surfing, standing up takes courage and faith.

 I know I will fall off of that surfboard. It's inevitable . I know I might cut my leg on that submerged reef, and a shark might smell my blood and come eat me. For real, that might happen. The board might bash me in the head and knock me unconscious. My faith has to be stronger than that. It doesn't happen right away, I think that it's a learning process.

There's a song that's become popular in contemporary worship music recently, and honestly, I love it. I find myself singing it when I am nervous or feeling panicked. It reminds me God has called me out upon the water, even though it is dangerous. It reminds me that I'm not really afraid of water - that I actually really love it. Here are the words:

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I recently read an article called "Stop Singing Oceans." ( I've always had a bit of a struggle about Christians singing songs that proclaim things such as "I will give everything to follow You" but not living the words, especially when I found myself being one of them. I love that this author identifies that this is a song about huge sacrifice. About laying down all of your reservations and securities, possibly giving up everything, and possibly stepping out into what scares you the most. I love this song because of the huge challenge that it presents, even though the words terrify me. I love that it's about water. I hope I can sing it honestly.