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More than what meets the eye…

For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for Him {Isaiah 64:4}, and just as our eyes have never met the majestic beauty of our King, human eyes could never see all that Christ privileged to me these past months. What appears to many is that my 9 weeks in Africa were spent playing with precious children and seeing a few animals along the way, but oh how more richer and in depth it was than just that-there is so much more than what meets the naked eye.

A common theme prevailed throughout every divine encounter, from the time I stepped on the plane until I returned to the red Georgia clay. That still, small voice continually pleaded with my heart these three words: invest in relationships. As I experienced a more un-romanticized side of missions without the “Jesus high” of a 1-2 week trip or the fast paced schedule with preplanned activities, I had to be much more intentional with my time. Relationships wouldn’t be built on their own, and they surely wouldn’t happen with me glued to my phone or segregated from the culture in which I was immersed. So with that command, I made that my aim as I lived in the mundane, doing day to day life with people. Whether that was washing dishes (A LOT), cooking chapatti, going to the market, playing with children, or talking about my experience with pit latrines and bucket showers, relationships were priority. Though my intent was to bring encouragement to those I met, I probably left much more blessed by the privilege to be amongst their presence and listen to their God redemptive stories. Though the vivid memories cannot be conveyed well with my limited ability in putting intricate words to a page, I hope to give you a glimpse into those precious moments I greatly cherish.

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Part 1- I was dropped off at the gate and immediately greeted by the warm embrace of two little arms wrapped tightly around me. I looked down and picked up the young boy whose innocent brown eyes glared right into my soul, with pure excitement that a strange mzungu had come to his home. In the doorway stood his mother, with a bright smile across her face, as it became a reality that someone was really coming spend the day with her. Little did I know that was probably one of the only smiles that had crept across her face in a month. She invited me in and I introduced myself a bit as was needed, being one of the very few white people in that town. Shortly after, her story spilled from her lips. The heartache, brokenness, hurt, and loss I cannot begin to fathom her having endured could not be contained; she needed a listening ear. She spoke of having lost her mother, her husband, and a child all within a period of about a year. I was sitting next to the 1-month-old boy who will never know his twin whose heart stopped beating upon being birthed. She spoke of the spiritual battle in which she was in the midst, how Satan had told her to end it all. Living wasn’t worth bearing the pain. But yet, the boy who had embraced me, the sleeping baby beside me, and the God of love and redemption fueled me to try to convince her otherwise. We sat for hours talking while she breastfed, fixed me the largest meal I think I have ever had of beef and matoki, and as we opened our Bibles together. I shared Scripture with her, prayed, and cried tears with her over the pain and suffering of this world; all the while we both agreed our God is sovereign and able to redeem it all.

Part 2- God often changes our plans to align with His, and that was evident in this encounter. I was headed to Rift Valley Fellowship Church one Thursday morning to meet with the pastor’s wife about her ministry for women and children bound in the heavily generational lifestyle of prostitution. I arrived around 10 a.m. and did not end up meeting with her until about 12 p.m. What did I do in the mean time? Well it “just so happened” that the women the ministry caters to meet on Thursday mornings to work on their crafted items which in turn provide for their families and provide an avenue to help them believe in their worth and value. Many times they have been devalued by society and told they are worthless their whole life, but Christ says they are invaluable and worthy of His life. For many there was a language barrier, but I was privileged to offer a smile and some play for the child whose mother was relentlessly working her hands to provide a better life for her precious son. They were at first very startled to see a mzungu in their midst, but after they warmed up to me, I even helped weave a few strands of the Christmas ornaments they were skillfully constructing. Though many words I could have said went unspoken, I was able to give them warm greetings and a simple asante sana as I said goodbye. A week or so later, I spent a day with girls ages 9-14 who had spent their life on the streets, but who are now a part of the same ministry and are being provided shelter, food, and spiritual nourishment as Christ restores the brokenness and hurt they have withstood at such a young age. As we played hair and swang on the swings, I couldn’t help but think about what those deep, brown eyes had seen in such a short lifetime; but now I can’t help but think of all those eyes will see as Christ transforms and liberates them from the bondage and baggage that once plagued them everyday.

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Part 3- Much of my time at Naomi’s Village was spent with the staff, learning from them mostly but also trying to provide some encouragement to them as they work tirelessly and selflessly to provide for the children there. Similar backgrounds kept surfacing in conversation as they spoke of what they have endured in life. The 2007 election radically redirected the life of many of them as they lost all but what they had on their backs because of the opposing political party. Churches were burned, matatus (taxis) were burned while full of passengers, houses were burned, and children were even thrown back into the homes after trying to escape the roaring flames. My wise friend once put it this way: “Man was trying to finish us, but God was giving us a new testimony.” That horrific event brought many of them to Mahi Mahiu, Kenya. Though they escaped complete horror in which all was lost, including loved ones, over 1,000 displaced people moved to less than 2 acres where they called a plastic tent their home and lived on the bare minimum. God’s provision and protection reigns true in how they escaped and where He has brought them to, but this testimony coupled with the abuse of all kinds some have endured or the trial of growing up an orphan does not compare to what most of us as Americans face in a lifetime. Their strength and resilience is far beyond what I possess and the steadfastness of their faith is more admirable than any earthly gain. Though I could never convey the vividness and reality of each individual story I heard, I hope you can see the trailer of the movie God’s directing in their lives. As a sidenote, I was in country for the 2017 election as many of my friends were reflecting on what they had endured 10 years ago. As we prayed for amani (peace) this time, our God heard our cries and saw that through during a time so many feared.

The stories could continue but I know my words don’t do them justice. These letters could never convey the realities of what each person faced, but for now I hold onto the reality that Christ is working all of the pain for His good, He is redeeming and restoring the hurt for which Earth has no cure, and He will be glorified in their lives for years to come. Being present for these moments and stories is something I would never trade and I continually learn that obedience to the pleading of the Spirit reaps a great reward. These are memories I will carry forever and moments that the camera is often not whipped out, thus most of what is perceived by pictures does not include these seconds in time. There is more than what meets the eye.

If you want to continue reading more, please visit naomisvillage.org to read stories of the children there whom I was privileged to love. They will stir your heart and leave you in awe of the God whom we serve.

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