Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trip Highlights: Jake

Thoughts from Jake, President and founder of Kingdom Hoops and Kingdom Cares International, and my husband. :)

Yolked Together for the Purposes of Christ....

She likes details and organization. I thrive off of chaos. She has a place for everything. I like to leave things everywhere. She watches Biggest Loser and House Hunters International. I watch the NBA and the NFL. She likes to exercise. I like to think that someday I will exercise again. She likes the Olive Garden. I like buffets. She wakes up early every morning to read her Bible. I like to read my Bible throughout my bathroom breaks each day. She likes to get dressed up to go out. I like to wear baggy shorts and shirts a size or two too big.

I asked her to marry me. She said, “Yes,” and our journey to God had just begun. As we have walked through marriage together the past seven years we have realized that we really have nothing in common. We laugh at how we balance each other and prevent one another from losing our respective minds. There are times we both wonder how God ever brought our two worlds together because you could count on one hand the things that we have in common.

However, like anything that God does he knows exactly what he is doing at the exact right time. Who would have ever known back in January of 2001 when we started dating we would be where we are at today. But, God knew exactly what he was doing as all things come together for the purpose of God’s plans.

In 2001 when we first met I had a God named “Basketball.” The words that came out of my mouth were certainly nothing Holy and pleasing to God. Janel was also walking with the world as her world was centered around late night college parties and hangovers the next morning. In the midst of us being sucked in by the world God was calling our names and designing a plan for our lives. He put people in our path, a church on our journey, and provided the necessary grace we both needed.

Slowly we turned from our sin and the way we used to live. We got married not really knowing who this God was that we were following. During our first year of marriage we were both struggling to find our identity. We had heard of God’s promises of marriage through scripture. During our wedding our pastor read to us, “That man will leave his mother and father and will be firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4-5) However, I did not really know what God was talking about. It sounded cute and nice, but surely we would not truly become one. I knew that a man should love his wife as God so loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25) but at the same time I was so confused what all this meant. Although there was confusion in mind and on my heart, God was preparing us for quite a journey through our marriage.

Our first year of marriage was bumpy to say the least. God was teaching us a new way to live but we both still desired the ways of the world. We would sin! We would fail each other! We would fight! We would deny each other of communication! However, through it all God began to mature us, change us, and yolk us.

Now it is August 2011 nearly 10 years from when we first met and seven years since God first desired for us to become one. We are now walking through a village on the other side of the world hand in hand that neither of us had ever heard of prior to a couple of years ago. We are in a continent that Disney movies are made of and a place the general population of the United States fears.

As we walk together there are children following us everywhere we go. There are people from the United States who came along with us to use their gifts in this far off land to build medical clinics, put on sewing seminars, and most importantly to share the Gospel.

It is now a cool day in August and as we stroll through the village there is our God ready to use us again. We meet Nana and he takes us around the corner for Janel and I to meet two orphan girls’ that we instantly feel will one day be our daughters. Together God has started to open our eyes to what He sees. We see sick children, we see hopeless men, we see desperate women but together we are also seeing a God that is full of grace and mercy. We see a God that so loved us that he sent his only Son to die for us on the cross. We are stinky, sweaty, dirty, and tired. We are hungry and have not eaten lunch all week because it’s impossible to stare into the faces of the starving children tagging along with us, and then fill our bellies in front of them.

It would be so easy to quit. It would be so much easier to hide out in our little town in Iowa where we can have perfect control over our lives and our family. But, that is not what God wants. Instead hand in hand God keeps us going. We keep moving together through His power and strength. Each day over these past seven years God has led us and led our marriage. We begin to understand what He meant by becoming one flesh. It does not mean that we will have everything in common. It does not mean we will fold the bath towels the same way or read our Bibles in the same way. But, we do know that together He wants to share the Gospel through our marriage. He wants to use us to provide a Hope in something more. He wants to use us to be his hands and feet here on earth. He has allowed us to be yolked together for the common purposes of Christ.

We still have little in common when measured by the world’s standards. However, we have everything in common when measured by God’s standards. He used an adoption, chance meetings, and a world full of unknowns to allow our flesh to become one. He took our fears and our inhibitions and allowed us to rely on his strength and power as we walk this walk together with Christ. I had so many wonderful moments while on this last trip to Ghana and I could not begin to explain them all on a blog. No matter how many stories I could tell and exciting moments I could share, nothing could explain the way I felt walking through Asikuma holding Janel’s hand knowing that God has allowed us to become one flesh for the purposes of Christ.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Trip Highlights: Kellee & Michael

Thoughts from Kellee, CPA at Gegner Company PC, and Janel’s college roomate at Iowa State University:

Deuteronomy 31:20
“and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…”

Why me? Why did I decide to go to Africa? I got this question quite often from friends and family once the word was out that I was going on the trip. And all I could do was shake my head and say, “I don’t know.” I don’t know what I’m going to be doing there. But I do know that God is asking me to do this, and I just can’t say no. I can’t say no even when there’s a possibility the trip may be postponed until 2 weeks before my wedding. So I go. The girl that is terrified of flying (about 4 hours is my limit on a plane) has not one ounce of trepidation boarding a 10 ½ hour, non-stop flight to Africa. No fear, what so ever. I chalk that one up to God and it cements my belief that this trip, for reasons unknown, is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I think back to my days in Asikuma I’ve struggled now that I’m back home with feeling that I should be doing something great, something more. But what? I still don’t know the answer (though I have some ideas). It would be great if God would put that answer on a big, flashing, neon billboard! But I know that’s not the way He works. For now, what I do know is that He did something great inside of me. He opened my eyes, my heart and my mind to the suffering in the world. He taught me patience, compassion, unconditional love, faith, joy, humbleness, grace and forgiveness in ways that I would have never learned by staying inside my 15 mile Urbandale, IA radius. My mind flashes to the beautiful smiles, the gorgeous faces, the big brown eyes of the children I spent every day with. And my heart dances and a smile spreads across my face every single time. I carry that with me and I have faith that something great, something more is in store. For them, through us, armed with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some of my FAVORITE moments :)

Playing with the children! Bubbles, jump ropes, and soccer balls oh my!

The group of girls so eagerly learning how to sew.

Isaiah 58:10 “…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like noonday.”

Pure joy

Bible study

A simple game of duck duck goose


Vanilla ice cream with my college roomie!!

Sweet Nina - her mom was our cook for the week.

Precious. Need I say more? And yes, that's her name :)

A walk to the farm with Dee and the boys.

Thoughts from Michael, owner of Family Chiropractic, construction team member in Asikuma:

Reflecting on the trip obviously a lot of things come to mind: the range of emotions all within a short time span, the eye opening depravity, the lush green habitat, the stench, the garbage, etc. On my flight home, alone, I could only think of one thing the entire time....

From the outside I could not have looked any different from the people of Asikuma but at the heart we were no different. We all are in desperate need for Christ to save us, from ourselves. Sin is sin and while it may look different, in the end my sin and their sin has the same end without Christ - eternal separation from Him and eternal torment. I may be rich in the world's eyes, I have a lot of stuff and enjoy many luxuries. The people of Asikuma are living on probably a dollar a day, sleeping on dirt floors in dirt huts, in sweltering heat and humidity, surrounded by rodents and insects. Simply put, I have more money. It is easy for me, as an American to put my trust in my bank account and my stuff - making me a lover of money and sinful because I am trusting green paper to provide rather than Christ. The people of Asikuma are not rich. They do not have much of anything other than what's on their backs. They do not have money but yet the lack of it can find its way into sinful behavior as well. They love money just like I do, they dont have it but yet want and maybe covet it - they love money just like me. My sin of trusting stuff and their sin of coveting stuff in the end is sin.

They are in need of Christ, and I am in need of Christ. To me, this was a beautiful picture of the Gospel. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Rom 3:23-24

Monday, August 29, 2011

Trip Highlights: Chris

I asked our team members to each consider writing up their thoughts about our recent trip to Ghana so that you could all get some other viewpoints than just mine. A lot of our team has shyed away from the writing aspect in sharing these things, but I know that they have had many opportunites to share verbally in general conversatons. A few written trip highlights have trickled in, so over the next few days I will be posting some of our team members perspective-changing moments and/or what God taught or revealed to them on our trip.

Thoughts from Chris, owner of Bella Homes, and head of our construction projects in Asikuma:

“Ghana and the gospel…”

One of the strongest emotional challenges for a lot of us on this trip was being immersed right into the people of the village. For a lot of the team it was their very first time on a missions trip, first time out of the country, first time to Africa, first time to a third world country, and first time to be face to face with someone that will work their whole life and likely not earn as much money as we do in 6 months. This is very hard to deal with for your first time, though it gets a little less overwhelming each trip. However, it is still not easy, not fun, very uncomfortable and very challenging. I did not prep the team for this as I almost forgot what my first time was like 10 years ago on my first missions trip. In hind sight, I don’t think I could have prepared them for this and perhaps it was best I let them experience it firsthand without any preconceived notions.

Why is it so hard? It varies for all of us, some of the more common reasons I believe are that it makes us feel bad about ourselves, guilty that we have so much and they have so little. It also completely invades our personal bubble being mobbed and surrounded by crowds of people asking for shoes, money, clothes, and food. Here in the US, we all have our own space, we have perfectly staked out boundary lines around all of our yards, we drive massive vehicles for just one person, and everyone knows whose stuff is whose. We ask each other “how are you doing?” and we always answer “good”, even though we are not because we don’t want to share, we don’t want to get into each other’s personal lives and space.

In Asikuma, once you leave the hotel, you have no choice in this matter. As soon as you walk out, you will have 5 or 6 kids grabbing and fighting with each other just to hold your hand as you walk along the street. Then, just trying to work at the job site, you have sometimes 50 people staring at your every move and another 4 or 5 people literally standing right beside you, behind you and in front of you, wanting to be near you.

It is hard. We came on this trip in large part to work, but we could not just simply work. We were not able to do what we do best. We had to find a way to work around, work with, work for and sometimes work under the local people. Local people that had never even seen a real cement truck or a hammer drill, were there to teach us, tell us, force us to learn their local ways of building with the 100 year old technology they had and the materials they had. It was very humbling. Back home, we can produce. We have all the technology right at our finger tips, we have teams of people under us that do what we say when we say it, without question. In Asikuma, we had none of this. We were not able to communicate very well, not able to explain how we build, not able to use our tools because the power did not work right, and ultimately not able to lead them. We were respected on some level, but nothing like we were used to back home, nothing like we felt we deserved. After a few days, we even began to realize a lot of our small tools would end up missing at the end of each day. We would get upset if our tape measure was not in its place when we needed it. For example we started the trip with 9 tape measures and come home with none.

It was easy to question, "Why are we here? Why are we doing this? Why did I come this far, spend this much money to be disrespected, stolen from, begged of, hoarded, surrounded, humbled…. Why? Why? Why?"

There is only one answer – the gospel.

It is Jesus’ example that we are called to follow. If you read any of the gospels, you see Jesus being constantly surrounded by the poor and needy, constantly asking of him, constantly begging, never a moment by himself to have some quiet time, he even had to jump in a boat just to get a little ways off shore to have a moment to stop and - not run away - but stop and teach the crowds and to show them compassion.

Jesus was accepted by a few, but hated and ridiculed by most - laughed at, spit on and ultimately killed by the most horrific, painful death in recorded history.

Our time in Asikuma is nothing like Jesus’ time on earth - we are nothing like Jesus. But, in our little perfect world here in central Iowa, going to Asikuma is perhaps as close as we can get to a real life, modern day gospel. It is just a small little glimpse of the example Jesus laid out before us.

My biggest take away from the trip is the conviction and challenge God has laid out before me. Yeah, I can feel good about donating my time and resources if I were to sinfully compare to others who do nothing for the Kingdom. However, that is not what are called to. Our only example is Jesus, the only judgment we can look to is Him.

We (collectively) have so much to learn and so far to grow in our faith that we react with anger over a missing tool while Jesus, in the middle of being crucified, is asking God to forgive the very people that are torturing him to death….

Being among the needy is not supposed to be easy. If we go thinking we will be worshiped and thanked over and over again for our generosity, we are going for all the wrong reasons. It is not about us, it is about doing what God calls us to do. God does not promise it will be easy and fun, he asks us to give it all, everything we have.

That is my challenge, what God has laid on me….

Thanks, Chris

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sights, Culture & Light-hearted Moments

Pregnant mommas...

Kids headed to fetch water...

Big sister...

Kids selling...


VIDEO: Ophilia's aunts and sisters making fu fu

Obrunis try out the Africa way :)

Who's stronger?

Rusty studies with a local pastor at the pastoral seminar...

Chris learns the penecostal dance at one of our nightly gospel crusades...

Maize cooking on the side of the road...

Women gathering leaves....they make some sort of local dish with these but I can't remember what it is called.

Little ones standing in front of the water well...

Traditional house in Asikuma...

Little girl getting her hair permed. :)

Women dancing at church...

Chief Nana, Esi, me, & Jake...

Little boy with a truck that he constructed out of scraps...

Jake got his hair cut here...

Ping pong...

Chief Nana (pictured far left) gave us each a piece of Kente cloth (the most valuable cloth in Ghana) with each of our names stitched on the cloth. This is a very highly regarded gift in Ghana and was Nana's thank you to our group for helping his village (this was our whole group minus two - Pastor Jeff & Michael).

You would think that going to an orphanage wouldn’t qualify as light-hearted, but this is not so at the Beacon House. The kids there are well taken care of, and are always quite happy and joyful. They are ready to play and socialize with us the minute we walk in!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If You Give a Mouse a Cheez-it....

Going to take a break from all the serious posts today to fit in a little laugh. :)

One night at about 3:30am Jake and I were sound asleep in our hotel room when Jake’s half-eaten sack of Santitas tortilla chips made a little rustling sound. The chip sack was sitting right next to my head on top of our pile of empty suitcases that were stacked up. I heard the sound, but still half-asleep I told myself it must be the over-head fan causing the sack to move a little bit. I rolled over and fell back to sleep. Little did I know that the same sound had woken Jake up and there he lay, wide awake. About 30 seconds later my journal notebook which was also on top of the suitcases suddenly fell to the floor. Jake flew out of bed and turned on the lights screaming, “I just saw something scurry by your head!!!!! Something is in our room!!!” Half asleep I got out of bed and just looked at him wondering what he was going to do. “What do you think it is?” I asked. He said, “I don’t know, but I am not going to be able to go back to sleep until we get it out of here.”

So, we started moving the suitcases off the floor, one by one, knowing that whatever it was, it was under there. Finally, there was just one suitcase left to move. We held our breath as Jake picked it up…..and then…….there it was……..A MOUSE!!!! We both jumped on top of the bed and watched as the mouse scurried across the room and headed up the leg of the table desk. Immediately I knew we were in trouble. Jake is a city boy and hates mice. (In fact, this was not our first adventure together with a mouse in our house. We had this same scenario happen in college, when there was a mouse in our apartment kitchen. As soon as Jake saw it he ran into the bedroom and stuffed a towel under the door so it couldn’t get him. Meanwhile, I stuck our cat on the job and the rodent was done for in less than 5 minutes). But here we stood. Mr. Mernes (our cat) could not come to our rescue this time. I looked at Jake, handed him a shoe and said, “You gotta smash him. Otherwise, he’ll be back.” Jake looked at me and said, “I don’t think I can do it.” So, I grabbed another shoe and we both stood there trying to work up a courageous approach while the mouse waited for his destiny on the cheez-its box.

It was then that I realized we had quite the mouse buffet in our room with the cheez-its, peanut butter crackers, and tostitos chips. No wonder he liked us. Then I had a plan. The cheez-its box had a little flap opening where the mouse was positioned. If I could close him in there then I could carry him outside in the box and we wouldn’t have to smash him bare. Ever so carefully I used a broom I found in the hallway to catch him in the opening and shut the flap. We got a garbage sack and threw the cheez-it box in it and I carried it outside. I wanted to make sure the mouse was in the box so I did a little broom dance on it to knock him silly, and then I opened it up. Wouldn’t you know it. Lil stinker wasn’t in there. I returned to the room where Jake was on guard. I told him we had been defeated. “He’s still in here.”

There was no sign of the mouse on the desk which meant that he must have crawled behind the clothing cabinet when I had tried to maneuver him into the box. Lucky for us the cabinet was on rollers so we scooched it away from the wall and once again the mouse scurried up the desk table (I think what gives me the heebie geebies about mice is all the scurrying). And there he waited for us. Again. I think we heard him snickering.

Enter another episode of us chasing the mouse from here to there and trying to smash him with a shoe, with still no victory. After what had been about 30 minutes of mice Olympics Jake and I were about to lose our minds. That’s when I heard them. Angels in the hallway ~ two macho construction guys just getting back to their hotel room after a late night of working on site. WHAT PERFECT TIMING!!!! I recruited them for the mouse hunt and they excitedly joined in. But the mouse wasn’t through with us yet. And the macho construction guys turned out to be almost as jumpy as Jake and I!!!! The little critter dragged them from the desk,

to the bathroom,

to the bed,

And then back to his favorite spot, the desk. This time though, as he scurried up the leg of the desk Chris’ quick reaction time caught him between the back ledge and the wall. With the smash of the desk against the wall, the poor guy met his fate. Game over just like that.

Lesson learned. If you give a mouse a cheez-it, he’ll want a peanut butter cracker. If you give him a peanut butter cracker, he’ll want a Santitas tostito chip. If you give him a Santitas tostito chip he’ll wake you up when he gets the late night munchies. If he wakes you up when he gets the late night munchies, you’ll have to take part in mouse Olympics. If you take part in mouse Olympics you’ll realize you really aren’t as tough as you thought. When you realize you really aren’t as tough as you thought, you put on your common sense and decide that next time you better add mouse traps to the packing list!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The end.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Familiar Faces

I am sure some of you are curious as to what has become of ‘the boy named Christian’ that I met on our last trip in March. Well, I can tell you that an equally impressive outcome as the one I posted yesterday is on its way for him….I just can’t dish the details yet!!!!!!!! Ahhhhhh…’s killing me, but hang in there, I’ll be able to share with you soon.

For now, I can tell you that Christian was practically part of our team on our recent trip! Doug and Cory got to Asikuma one day earlier than the rest of our team to start on the construction. Doug called me the day the rest of us got into the Accra airport to say that Christian and his buddies had been out at the construction site helping with the demolition! He said Christian remembered all of our names from our last trip and was asking all about us. :) By the time the rest of our group rolled into Asikuma we had a large gathering of village children waiting for us, and of course Christian’s smiling face was front and center ready to give me a big hug!!!On this trip Christian got to know our team very well, and all of our team got used to him ‘hanging around’.

Dee shows Christian some pictures of her sons, and also some pictures of snow!

As we unloaded and sorted all of our donations Christian spotted some paper and a pencil and asked if he could draw. Who could forget this smile?!?!

There he goes............................................................

Everywhere we went, Christian tagged along with us and was always a great help. He insisted on carrying our bags and helping with all our structured activities. He was eager to give some of the gals on our team a ‘tour’ of his house, and Dee told me she was humbled at how proud he was to show them around his little shack. Interestingly, Esi had arranged for some eye doctors to come to town to do the free eye screenings for the village of Asikuma. We had planned on taking Christian there, but the doctors beat us to it and pulled him aside one night after dinner. They were interested to know what happened to his eye. They said that it would be best if he could have surgery soon to get a prosthetic in place, otherwise the muscles around it would atrophy and the bones would start caving in. I know that God often chooses to heal through the hands of doctors, and perhaps this was the sort of healing I had felt was coming for Christian. :) For now, Christian has moved into foster care with Nana and Esi! They have graciously opened up their home to him and have gotten him enrolled in a great school in their town. God has literally picked Christian out of the hundreds of kids in Asikuma, and set his feet upon a rock. God is SO good!

On our last trip in March I had also met a young girl named Ophilia. By day 2 on this trip I ran into her as we were heading down the road to bible study! When we first spotted each other walking along the road it was like one of those airport scenes where two people start running towards each other and then embrace in a hug. :) I love how the kids here look forward to seeing us, and us them. I remember their smiles and our conversations for days and days after we return home. Jake and I were talking about how I am usually the one who identifies the vulnerable children, and he the leaders. But this is not the case for Ophilia. Ophilia is well-known in Asikuma for her school smarts. As we walked on the road many times villagers would see Ophilia walking along with white people and curiously holler out “Ophilia are you headed to study abroad?” It became almost prophetic as I heard person after person ask her. Ophilia’s potential really came to the surface on this trip. In watching her interactions with the other village children it is clear that they respect her leadership….when she speaks, others listen. She carries herself confidently, yet humbly which is a hard combination to find here. Jake and I both started to feel that she would be a GREAT first female host student for Kingdom Cares International to bring over on a student visa. I think we’ll have to wait a few more years until she is older, but she is on our radar.

Ophilia is pictured here in the yellow on the far right. I am holding her little brother Joshua who she cares for each day so that her mom can work.

She would often ask to read my Bible as we walked along the road to our different activities. :)

One of our bible study crafts............................................

Over our time in Asikuma Ophilia started finding delight in helping me hand out pillow case dresses! She loved seeing all the different patterns and sizes and digging through to find the perfect dress to outfit a girl in need. One afternoon when she was taking Jake and I to her school we came across a little boy with no pants (a common find here). I had a perfect pair of shorts in my bag for him and Ophilia was so excited to be able to GIVE to him!

And of course an Asikuma update on familiar faces would not be complete without mentioning our main man Albert. Meeting Albert was Jake's trip highlight from our last trip in March. Here is Albert pictured with his mom.

Oh Albert. Love him! Ask him what he wants to be when he grows up and he will tell you the President of the United States. :) That in itself pretty much sums up his driven personality. He is a leader and proactive in this community at the age of 11! He has a great family, with a father and mother who are intricately involved in his life. He is smart, well-spoken, helpful, resourceful, and yet compassionate. If you ever get to meet him, he will quickly find a way into your heart!

These are the relationships we’ve made here that will always bring us back. I watched these kids standing there on our last morning in Asikuma as our bus loaded up and left the hotel to head to the airport. I will never forget watching Albert try so hard to fight back the tears, and then just let them loose as we drove away. We are now oceans away, but these kids remain in my heart.

It is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle ~Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution~

(Ophilia and I standing in front of her house)