Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm welcomed back with open arms.

Hello all!
It's been quite sometime since I blogged. I apologize because I wrote in my last entry that I would summarize my journey but the truth is, coming back to my "normal" life means I'm coming back to being busy. As soon as debrief was over with MTW, I had only a week to be at home before I was at band camp for the Auburn University Marching Band. And as soon as that ended, school started, and that led to football season beginning. Which leads me to today. This has, without a doubt, been my busiest and most stressful year. I'm juggling school, band, my music sorority, working at a frozen yogurt place, and doing my various extra activities, like RUF and being with friends. Things like blogs have been put on hold because I'm not getting a grade on a blog, or will be late to a blog. My classes are all very demanding and the worst part is the stress that comes with these classes. But, God always wins over my tired heart. My title to this blog is called "I'm welcomed back with open arms" because every thing that has happened in this short semester so far has pointed me back to God's open arms. I am adored by Him. Recently, I had to interview with about 45 other girls for a select cohort into the College of Education at Auburn. I was pleased with my job, however, I was so nervous about what would happen if I didn't get in. So many questions ran through my head that caused me to doubt God's good plan for my life. When I realized what I was doing, I turned to see peace and comfort waiting for me. God knows that I worry about money and my future and if I'll ever be happy. What he wants me to do is rest. And that's something I've learned over the years I don't do very well. Kenya 2011 taught me to believe that God will always take care of me, even when money is tight and life is busy. Coming back home from Kenya, I sometimes wonder if God taught me these lessons because He knew that life in school, as a junior trying to figure out the last half of college, would be so difficult.
My family has been so supportive, doing everything from praying constantly to being patient with me as I vent using tones of frustrations onto them to writing blogs that encourage me to be real. I love them so much and I know that my walk with the Lord has a lot to do with how I've seen them walk. I'm going to end this blog early, mostly because of an early morning tomorrow, but I want to end with a verse that speaks to my heart:

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." -Is. 43:1


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Last of my days in Kenya

Dear Friends and Family,
This might be one of my last few posts in Kenya because I don’t know when I’ll have internet again. I’m having a hard time writing this blog because I simply don’t know how to summarize a two month trip that literally changed the way I view missions. I mean, the Lord took all my struggles and pains and sufferings and pushed them into my life and the lives of my team. I’ve blogged about it before, and I’ll blog about it again. God took the crutch that I had been using to support myself and kicked it aside, causing me to fall. And as I was falling, I grabbed his hand and just held on because I knew that His way was the right way. When I think that I know what I am doing, and that I can make it on my own, that’s when the Lord proves me wrong. The Lord has taught me to rest in him because his plan for my life is so much better than my plan for my life. He knows the whole world and everything that happens to every creature. He created everything in his power and might and that includes everything about me. He knows my heart and my needs and what I want out of life and what I struggle with the most. One of the hardest things I’m having to deal with at this time is adjusting to the end of the trip. This week begins the week of goodbyes. And the weird thing is just the fact that it’s already here. I’ve been looking forward to this internship for months, and now, it’s done. What I’m going through now is that I don’t want to leave at all but at the same time, I’m excited to get home, start a new chapter, and take all the knowledge and things I’ve learned here and apply it. I don’t want to be leaving but I’m not upset about coming home either. I don’t want to say goodbye at all to all the people and friends I’ve made here. I’m really going to miss my first graders and the girls at Shunam. But, like high school graduation, I refuse to say goodbye. It’s more like “see you later.” First of all, I’ve been praying a lot about whether the Lord would have me return to Kenya sometime later. I don’t know yet because honestly, I have to pay off student loans after college before I can come back. And yet, how cool would it be to come back and spend a year or so working as a teacher somewhere. Second of all, we’re all a family in Christ so the encouraging thing about leaving is knowing that someday I’ll see my Kenyan brothers and sisters again forever. We are all united under the blood of Jesus and that’s a powerful and wonderful thing.
Today (Monday, July 18) me, Rachel, Jacob and Dot (woman living with us) went on an adventure. We walked down the road that our house is on to the end of it and waited for a matatu (taxi) to pick us up. Then we went to our local market and bought fresh fruit. Mangos, pineapples, bananas, and other little goodies that are fresh and wonderful. Well, fruit is heavy, and suddenly, we realized we didn’t want to walk all the way back to our home. It took us at least 30 minutes of just walking to get to the end of the road. Imagine holding really heavy fruits in plastic bags. So, we chose a different mean of transportation. Motor Bikes!! That’s right. We called a man that Dot knew and trusted and he brought 3 of his friends and rode us back. Amazing! I could have ridden it all day. I was able to see more than I see in a van, and it was just incredible feeling that wind in my hair. It was so awesome! If I could have the opportunity to do it again, I would in a heart beat.
The most beautiful thing about this trip that I’m both really going to miss and really excited to take with me is the natural features of the land. The sun rises are breath takingly amazing and the sun sets are gorgeous. And God is in all of that. He created the whole world and everything that is in it. He made it all, and knows all, and loves all. He loves seeing his creation at work. His heart smiles when he sees the sun rise, and he laughs when the chickens freak out over food. What a beautiful thing it is to know that the God I serve and love is all about laughter and joy. I love laughing, and throughout this trip, my team mates have seen that. I laugh at everything, even if I don’t understand what’s happening. Laughter is my automatic response to everything. And you know what, God loves that. He made me to love laughing and he loves that. When I am in awe of the power and beauty of a sunset, God is pleased by that. He loves it when I am in love with his creation. What I am excited about is coming home and treating Flowery Branch sunsets or Auburn sunrises with the same awe and respect that I have here. Also, one thing that still blows my mind is the extreme generosity that is shown by the Kenyans who go to Kibera Reformed Presbyterian Church. The teachers and staff that work there don’t make nearly enough money to stay afloat. They work so hard, and sometimes aren’t even noticed. Their work is in secret, and that makes them so humble. The women in the kitchen give a part of their salary (which is little) to a pot, and then they use that money for those who are in need. How humbling is that? They have nothing as it is, and yet they give what they do not have. Excellent examples of the Good Samaritan. The teachers are so wonderful and Godly, and yet half of them live in Kibera. They themselves don’t have anything and yet they give so much time away for the children. I have been incredibly blessed to have had the chance to shadow them and learn from them. They are all amazing people with incredibly big hearts for the Lord.
I’ll blog again to tell you guys that I am home and to fully summarize my feelings on this trip. It will be a final Kenyan blog that I’ll use to thank everyone for praying for me these past two months and to again, thank the Lord for such a wonderful summer. It will be tough to leave this wonderful country but I am confident that the Lord will strengthen me and keep me safe. He is my rock and my redeemer. He sees me when nobody else does. He loves me when nobody else does. He hears my cries, my tears, my laughter, and my joy.
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” - Psalm 16:11


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Awkward Colored Bowls

Dear friends and family,
This past weekend (July 8-9), us interns got to go on a safari! We were picked up in the morning, and drove for about five hours to this land called Masi Mara. We stayed at a nice camp ground with really cool tents that had bathrooms and two or three beds inside. It’s difficult to describe but, it was really cool. We had lunch and were off to spend a good five hour safari tour. The tops of our jeeps popped off and we could stand up in the middle of the car. I had to stand on top of a seat to see out and it was kinda painful at times due to random bolts and bars but it turned out to be really worth it. We were able to see so many animals in one afternoon. Elephants, zebras, wildebeests...oh my! :) It was awesome! The sunset was beautiful, and the weather was pretty much perfect. I honestly could not ask for a better tour. Then, add to it, we were able to go for a sunrise tour at 6:30 am the next morning! Oh, my goodness. It was the best thing ever. More animals, but this time, we saw cheetahs, a family of lions, hippos, and more zebras, wildebeests, and elephants. The sunrise was gorgeous, and again, the rest of the morning was so perfect and beautiful.
I realized during our weekend of safari that God must be incredibly beautiful. How could he not be? The animals were all unique and yet the same, and the way they do the same thing everyday, so schedule and structured, has to be made by a Creator. And, how beautiful the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the trees. Someone with artistic taste and beautiful hands had to make all of that. Everything that I saw was natural, beautiful, unique, and hand created by the Lord. And then there is me. Small, weak little me. Totally insignificant compared to other things or sometimes other people. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet...Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”-Psalm 8: 5-8 And yet, here, in his word, He has made me more important than all the animals that I saw this weekend. How encouraging is that to know that above all else, God favors me.
The Sunday after our Safari was kinda tough because everyone except for me, Justin and Rebecca got some kind of food poison/stomach bug. People were throwing up everywhere you looked. Not to be gross, but it was a mess. I hate hearing, seeing, or even thinking about people getting sick, but I had to push that thought out of my mind because it was suddenly my turn to take care of all my sick friends. I figured something like this would happen but I didn’t think it would skip me. God had me in mind, and protected me from the terrible curse of throwing up. I remember Courtney looking at me and saying “I just wish I could die.” Sounds terrible right? Yes.
Our team has been extremely blessed by not having a clear period of conflict. We have all joked about little cases where we did have one, like the colored bowls. They are organized into two different categories: red and yellow and blue and green. For a whole month they were sitting like this and that was good enough for me. And then, somebody messed up the pattern. I don’t know who and I don’t really care but the point is they messed up the bowls. And then, to make everything worse, they put them on top of the highest part of the shelves where I couldn’t reach them, even standing on a chair. I mean, it’s not a big deal, but, it kinda is. But you know, other than that, everything has been peachy-perfect. And that’s only due to the grace of our Lord Jesus. :)
We only have 2 weeks left in this wonderful country and none of us are really all that happy to be talking about it. We all know that it will happen, and that we’ll walk into 10 different directions but at this point, I can’t imagine my life without them. 2 months with 10 people is a significant amount of time in my life. And, I can’t imagine my life without the wonderful Kenyans. Goodness, there’s my precious little first graders that make me laugh every week. And then there is the girls at Shunam, and Purity and Caroline. They are a feisty group of women and they have captured my heart. The teachers are all awesome and fun to be with. I always hate leaving Kibera at the end of the day because I want to spend more time with them. How on earth am I going to be ok leaving a country of friends not knowing if I am going to see them again? I’m not ok with that.
“ In your presence there is fullness of joy and at your right hand there are pleasures forever.”


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Has it really been a month?

Dear Friends and Family,
I hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July! It felt weird celebrating my nations birthday in a different country but we had an awesome celebration with some of the workers who have been working on the land with us. We cooked hotdogs (rather, smoked chicken sausages) and had fresh fruit, french fries, ice cream, and lots of great dancing music. I had the best time simply dancing really awkwardly and laughing with everyone. It’s been a little bit more difficult to get to know the workers as a woman because I’ve been told scary mission stories. But, none of that have has happened, and I feel kinda bad about keeping my distance. Some of them mentioned that they really want to know us girls better because we are sisters in Christ. So, we’ll start talking to them and getting to know them as brothers in Christ. :)
Today is Tuesday which means we were in Kibera today. I did my teaching, and today I got to teach the kids about Christmas, and the reason we need to be thankful for the things God gives us. I asked them “What are you thankful for?” and I expected answers like “My mom”, “My dogs”, or “My teacher.” But the answers I got were, “Prayer”, “Worshipping the Lord”, and “Faith”. What I wanted them to say were straight up good material things, and instead, I got a conviction as to what is more important to me. These little kids mean so much to me. They love seeing me, and love calling me by my Kenyan name, “Kanini” which mean “short one.” :) I’m dreading the week when I have to leave them. After lunch, I got to go on a house visit, and meet this wonderful sister in Christ. She is a single mom but has lost the custody of her children because she doesn’t have a job to support them. So her kids live with her parents and are struggling to make ends meet. Her husband died, and she doesn’t have anyone that lives with her. She is tired, like all Kibera Kenyans, and is simply trying to live to each day. But, she love the Lord so much, and goes to a good church. She loves singing, and sang me a song that she wrote. I don’t remember all the lyrics but one line said “ I trust you to take care of me when I can’t.” How true! She made me tear up because her life is so much more of a challenge then mine is, and yet, she puts all her hope and trust in the Lord. The Lord is using so many different people and situations to get ahold of my heart.
Things have been challenging to me lately. It seems like my sin has been appearing up more and more in my life. It stays hidden so well when I don’t have a phone, or a constant ability to get online. I’ve really been struggling lately with the perfect plan of God. I’ve been praying so much about my future and how to deal with the questions like “Is there going to be a job for me when I graduate?” “Should I teach in Kenya?” “Am I going to get married?” These questions may seem silly, but I’ve been plagued by them. Kenya has changed the way I view the Lord and my service towards him. But, my doubts have been in the way of everything. My perfect game plan would be to graduate, move to Kenya for two years, and then get married to mystery man. But, I don’t know what’s going to happen. If you want to keep that in your prayers, that’d be great. I want to serve the Lord but I just don’t know how yet.
I love you guys so much. I’ve experienced God’s love in such a deeper way than ever before. He has showed me my sin, and pushed me to fall into Him because of it. He says “Virginia, you want to get married? You want a soul mate? You better trust me first. You have to believe that my will for your life is good, perfect, and pleasing. Sweet child of mine, trust your Father’s will for your life. Trust that I will take care of you, even if I never give you what you want.” I don’t want to leave Kenya at all. I love this culture, and the friends I have made, and the children I have taught. But, I know that home and being back in school will be good because I can take all that I’ve learned this summer and apply it to the rest of my life. I love you guys, and I really miss all of your smiley happy faces. I hope that everyone is having a great summer. Talk to yall soon!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Love that Will not Let me Go

Dear Friends and Family,
I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but the other day, I challenged the Lord to prove something to me. Challenged isn’t even the right word. I boldly asked the Lord to show me something about him. You see, the other day, I kinda felt like I had hit the bottom level of tiredness on this trip. My heart was tired of searching for something. And while I knew the Lord would be what I was searching for, I was too blind to even notice. One evening, all the emotions, and exhaustion just fell on my weak little heart, and I couldn’t help but cry out to the Lord for help. And in the midst of all of it, He spoke to my heart. That night I was looking at the stars, and that night was one of the most beautiful nights to look at stars so far. God made all of those stars and knows every single one of their patterns. He also knows me, and knows every single thing about me. I realized that only God can make stars shine and twinkle like that do, and only God can know every detail about them. So, that night, I prayed that Jesus would be my romancer. That He would prove to me that His love and kindness and romantic ways are better than what I was looking for in other people. I challenged Him to be what I need.
The morning after I prayed that, there was a beautiful sun rise. Probably the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The rest of the day was sunny, warm, and happy. In the evening, there was without a doubt, the most beautiful sun set I have seen so far on this trip. The way the colors mixed together and the way the sun rays shone through the clouds were obvious that I serve a God who is an artist. Jesus answered my prayers on the first day with the most wonderful and beautiful day I’ve ever seen. My God is a creative artist who can put together the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. And, my God is a creative sculpture who has made me, and is proud of me. He loves everything about me, and wants my heart more than anything else. How wonderful to know that I belong to a King who not only knows everything about the world, but everything about me.
Each morning I’ve been reading a Psalm and today I read Psalm 6. It’s a tough one to read because the psalmists is really struggling. He says “heal me O Lord, for my bones hurt.” His whole body is aching, and he is tired. So tired he weeps at night from exhaustion. People are evil to him, and it’s taking everything he has to love them. But the best part of this whole psalm is when he says that the Lord knows “the sound of my weeping.” The Lord knows the sound of my tears! He knows the way I cry, the way I laugh, and the way I burden myself with guilt. The psalmist ends by saying the Lord heard his cry, heard his prayer, and answered it. All of his enemies shall be put to shame, and troubled. “They shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.” Despite the sadness in this psalm, it hits me in a deep way. This man was clearly struggling, and the Lord heard him. All this man did was proclaim his problems to the Lord and wait in patience for peace. That’s all I need to do. Tell the Lord that my biggest desire is to be wanted, desired and be worthy for someone and wait in patience for peace. The Lord knows my heart.
I’m going to end this blog with a small update on what’s going on here, since I really didn’t even mention the ministry in Kibera. :) This week Paster Imbumi had a pasters conference this week so we haven’t seen him in a week. The school is doing well, and I’ve really really enjoyed teaching and being with my first graders. The other day, I brought in construction paper and crayons and had them draw pictures of them and their families at Christmas time. All of the kids lit up with pure happiness to be able to draw and some of them drew me in the pictures with their families. Sometimes it feels like I haven’t really been doing a lot for these children. I just show up and hang out with them. But through my love for them, Jesus is working in their little hearts. Some of these kids come from bad homes, broken homes, or poor homes. One of my little girls was ironing and burned about half of her hand. Now she is scarred and will forever have this on her hand. And yet, despite that, some of them have asked me for Bibles. So, even though sometimes I feel like I’m more of a distraction than actual help, Jesus is working, and is in their heart. Another little thing that’s been going on is with our team. From the very beginning, we made fun of the idea of having conflict. We would joke about when people were tired or irritated that we had entered the conflict stage. But really, what I think has been happening is little tiny tensions have been building and nobody is willing to bring it up. Pray for our team. We need to be willing to open up about our feelings and if we’ve been hurt. The devil is cunning, and used our pride of not having conflict to actually stir up tensions to create conflict. Pray that we will trust in Jesus for our needs and hopes and desires. The last thing that’s been going on around Kenya is the friendships we’ve been making with the girls in Shunem. The stories these girls have are shocking. And yet they are all saved and redeemed. They are beautiful, laugh so much, and are tricky little things. If you’re in their way, they’ll pinch you. The joy they have in the Lord is convicting. I’ve loved being with them and laughing about nothing and everything with them. It’s going to break my heart to have to leave.
Hope everything is doing great in the States! I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July! We’ll have our own little celebration here on Saturday July 2 with the girls. We’ll show them how Americans celebrate our nations birthday with hot dogs, backed beans and ice cream sundaes. I’ll leave yall with my dad’s famous quote from church that has been more beneficial than ever: “Your sin is not an hindrance to the work of Jesus in you; your sin is the very reason for the work of Jesus in you.”
Love you guys!
Virginia Jo.
Today (Friday, June 24) we went to into the city of Nairobi and did a little touristy-shopping. It was fun, but it was getting there that was exciting. We rode in a van to about half way there and then had lunch at a Javahouse. Ironic yes. And then we did public transportation until we got to the city. Now, the thing about Kenya is they don’t follow the idea that people have the right of way. If you cross the street, you better have enough time to cross because the cars will not stop for you. And that’s what we experienced. Once we got into the city, we did a little shopping for gifts and stuff. The guys are making dinner for us tonight, and I think it’s going to consist of fruit and marconi and cheese :)
This week has been tiring to me. I feel like there are days when my heart is just tired of repeating the message “Am I satisfied with where I am? Can I let go of my dreams and give it to the Lord?” On Wednesday, Caroline ( mother to the rescued women), Jacob and I went into some of the homes of those suffering in the Kibera. It was heart breaking at times. One women we visited was so tired. Her husband was no where to be found and she had two children to feed and clothe. Another was an old woman, close to 90 years old. But instead of breaking my heart in a sad way, she broke my heart in a spiritual way. Her name is Mary and she loves the Lord. Mary told me that she relies on the Lord for every single one of her needs. She knows that if she even thinks that she can do things without the Lord, she will fail. The Lord used Mary to show me how little my faith is. I don’t rely on the Lord for every single on of my needs. I don’t even rely on him for half of my needs. We only visited 4 homes, but I was exhausted. I think another reason I’m tired is I’m trying so hard to be the girl everyone wants to be friends with. It’s a terrible desire to want this. I start to listen to the lies that whisper terrible things about me, and why nobody would ever want to be my friend. And because I’m so weak, I listen, believe, and try to change it. Sometimes it doesn’t even cross my mind that Jesus wants to be my friend. Jesus wants to be my friend. And, all I can think about is whether I’m being paid enough attention. Why would anyone want to be my friend if they knew this was what I wanted? But, Jesus wants to be my friend. And more than that! He wants my heart to belong to him, and not to anyone else. He doesn’t want me to chase after guys because He knows they will let me down. He doesn’t want me to chase after friendships because He knows they will let me down. He doesn’t want me to chase after myself because He knows I’ll fail myself. He wants me. He has always wanted me.
Everyone knows that I am a romantic, cheesy kind of girl. In fact, the girls I’ve been living with here asked me what will I do once I’m married, because I’ll have lived the day I’ve been waiting my whole life for. I’m just that girl. And it’s bringing tears to my eyes to know that Jesus longs to be the person I’m desiring. He wants to fill that spot. He wants me to be comfortable in my singleness because He is here. My whole life has been a constant search for what will satisfy the craving my heart wants.

“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.”

Virginia Jo

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kenya Dig it?

Dear Friends and Family,
This past Saturday, the Kibera Church hosted a VBS day for all the children who go to the school, church, or live in the community. It was such a success! We had around 215 children that showed up. And those who knew me were so happy to see me. Mark, my team leader and I were on the story telling committee and we told the story of Noah’s Ark. Those kids just ate it up. They loved hearing about it, and asked questions about it. It was really fun! Then on sunday, Travis did the sermon. And it was the first time all summer I heard an English sermon. I’ll never take it for granted again. Travis did a great job talking about James 1, and I think all the people liked it.
This morning was a little rough for me. I woke up to make breakfast at 6:20 am, and I get there, and one of the women who is living with us was there ready to help me. Except that instead of helping me, she critiqued everything I did. And everything I did was wrong and needed fixing. What I wanted to make for the group was scrambled egg sandwiches. But that wasn’t on the menu for today’s breakfast. I’m not going to rant about this, but the Lord, through in my sin of thinking I have patience and love towards people, said “you don’t.” Because the whole time she was correcting me, I was not loving. I was not patient. I was upset, frustrated and hurt. And that’s my sin just messing up my life. Thank goodness I have a God who is so eager to forgive.
Yesterday, we went to a legit Kenyan market. Us girls were given money and a shopping list and we went out ready to bargain. It was such an experience! I loved it because everything smelled so fresh and natural compared to Publix. I was told how beautiful I am on several occasions, and that just made me feel so much better about myself. :) But it was good for me to get out of my zone, and see how the real Kenyans shop. We bought carrots, peas, green plants, and a ton of fresh fruits.
I don’t have a lot to say about this blog, which is kinda weird. There hasn’t been a lot that has happened since I last posted. Some of us are getting head colds and coughs. We’re half way done with our trip, and none of us are really happy about that. I know for me that I really want to stay here, and just have all my friends come here and visit. Kenya is beautiful and the ministry is just so needed. Hands are needed to serve and hearts are needed to love. The children have captured my heart and all I want to hold them and laugh with them.
Keep on praying friends. The Lord is all we have here.

In Christ,
Virginia Jo