Can you feel it in the air? It’s momentum as the anticipation of the holiday season builds and people begin to make plans. Decorations go up, calendars fill and some, like me, pray for snow. Many of us have waited all year for the season that makes hope contagious.
One of my favorite things about this time of year is the beginning of Advent kicking off a week long reflection on hope. And lately, I have needed to hold on to a whole lot of hope and a decent amount of coffee.
I am hoping for some hard things as we come to the close of the year. I am learning that hope and joy have to be rooted deep down inside of me. They are not feelings or emotions sparked by external circumstances. Hope and Joy propel me to keep going as cases come across my desk of need. The weight of needing answers, strategy and solutions can pull oh so heavy on my mind and heart.
There are stories that fill my days right now of how desperate people are for a miracle, an answered prayer, a warm meal or a safe place to sleep. And I am right there with them, linking my arm to theirs and praying and hoping.
It’s why I started the Holiday Campaign. It’s why I was crazy enough to believe for $15,000 by December 31st to help my friends in Jordan, Costa Rica and the United States.
It feels like the perfect time to hope like crazy. You know why? Because right now people around the world are celebrating Advent by lighting the first candle-the candle of hope. And when I think about that, my heart wants to explode with hope at the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of candles interrupting darkness. We need hope to keep burning. I need hope to keep burning.
We are all interrupting darkness when we take time to listen to one another instead of shouting over each other. Darkness is interrupted when I share a cup of coffee with my friends in the red light district. Darkness is interrupted when my Christian teammate breaks bread with a Muslim family. Darkness is interrupted when a child receives a warm meal. Darkness is interrupted when time is taken to hear the story of one who is incarcerated. Darkness is interrupted when time is taken to hear a victim’s story. Darkness is interrupted every time a refugee is welcomed. Darkness is interrupted every single time we love without agenda.
Can I share a story with you that has just marked my heart lately?
One of the stories from the holiday campaign is of a family affected by the Syrian war. Like most families who crossed over into Jordan fleeing government troops, this family left Syria with very little to their name after the mom was struck in the back of the head by a rifle, suffering brain damage due to the blunt force trauma.
Decisions have not come easy for this family who’ve spent some time in a UAE-sponsored medical camp in Azraq, Jordan where the mom received medical attention. Having a daughter with cerebral palsy, a wife with permanent brain damage, and young children dependent on his care- you can imagine the challenges this father faced in leaving everything behind.
Now outside the camp, the family lives in a poorer neighborhood in an urban area. They maintain a small home of their own by sifting through plastic and other materials from the dump to sell but it’s not enough to protect them this winter from the cold.
This Christmas, I am hoping hard to fix their roof.
I have thought of all of the things I am hoping hard for as I have lit the candle each night this week. As we come to the end of the first week of Advent, I think of the wonder it is to step into the center of what feels like a hopeless situation and make hope contagious. And my heart burns hard for hope to be loud.
May we all continue to interrupt darkness and hope hard this season.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
I have been thinking about the incredible value found in learning to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to great things. When I first started out in full time ministry, I did not understand how to say no to good things or steward my time well. I felt I had to be available for everyone, all of the time. This kind of lifestyle, as you might imagine, did not leave much time for self care and time alone with the Father.
I remember a particularly busy season where I had been pushing myself pretty hard. Between deadlines, meetings, travel and speaking-I was busy. One morning, I woke up and could feel my heart needing time with Jesus. As I was sitting there in the quiet with Him, I heard God speak to my heart that I was running on fumes. I instantly had a picture pop into my head of a fuel gauge on a car where the dial was on empty and a red light was flashing a warning. I realized that God was warning me that in all of the busyness, I had not carved out space to refuel and instead my internal gas light was on and I had been cruising on fumes.
Have you ever been driving your car on empty where the “fuel is low” light is flashing and you’re just praying you make it to the first available gas station? You panic, pray and try to coast until finally you arrive at a gas station. And what a relief it is when you fill up that gas tank and drive off with a full tank of gas-oh the peace you feel! I think we all know that gas game and I have been guilty of playing it more times than I care to admit. The thing is, in the long term, that’s a terrible thing to do to your car.
Most cars have an electric fuel pump and this pump rests inside the tank actually submerged in the fuel. Submersion helps the pump to stay lubricated and therefore cool. Without this submergence in fuel, the pump can self-destruct from overheating. The reserve fuel inside your tank helps to prevent the overheating but reserve fuel only lasts so long. Obviously you can’t run on an empty tank forever but even if every time you get low and put in just enough gas to get by- your pump can fail earlier than normal. Not to mention that the fuel pump is also taking in the bottom of the barrel-literally and it is full of debris.
I can’t help but compare this situation to our spiritual gas pump. I find that in the busyness of ministry we are often running on reserve fuel or yesterday’s revelation and last week’s time with Jesus. Or we can be scraping the bottom of the barrel for energy or any remnants of spirituality. But just like the car, the reserve fuel will run out and fumes from the reserve fuel will only get you so far. But a long term preventative measure to pump breakdown is to put gas in the tank of your car before the reserve fuel kicks on.
I believe it is the same way for our spiritual life and that a preventative measure is to be intentional about time and rest with God rather than pushing ourselves on empty and coming to a desperate breaking point. It took me some time to come to understand how important and honoring it was to manage my time well. God invites us into rest, it’s important to Him.
The verse above in Psalms is one of my favorite verses and it was written as a prayer from Moses. I often wonder what it would be like to go back in time and speak with Moses on the subject of leadership and time management-I would have loved to pick his brain! Here is a man leading an entire nation out of slavery and into freedom. Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 gives us a glimpse of his heart and his wisdom to understand that life and freedom are a gift from God. We must choose wisely how to live.
Several months back, I had the incredible privilege to travel to Cambodia for work. My colleague, Fabiola and I went on behalf of LFI to attend an anti-trafficking coalition conference in Phnom Pehn. It was an encouraging experience to sit around the table with so many amazing people working for human rights in Cambodia and around the world. We were also able to take in some history and culture in between conference days and networking meetings.
We traveled from Costa Rica to Cambodia and after what felt like the longest trip I have ever taken, we still managed to take in the city of Phnom Pehn and the royal palace. (Coffee played a huge roll in our survival this first day.)
I found Cambodia easy to navigate especially the capitol city where streets are marked and while I didn’t encounter many people who spoke English, most taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers were able to understand where we needed to go. We often chose to negotiate a price with a tuk tuk driver and used that as our main source of transportation around the city. A ride could range in price from $1.00-$5.00 depending on how far you trip would be. I personally enjoyed taking tuk tuks because they weren’t costly, allowed such a great view of everything and supported local drivers.
I highly recommend visiting the temples in Siem Reap. A friend recommended we save Angkor Wat for last as most tours start at Angkor Wat, so this gave us a chance to cover much distance with less crowds in the time we had allotted for touring. The temples are an incredible site with much still in tact after hundreds of years. Be prepared to do a great deal of walking!!! We hired a tuk tuk for the day as most know the tour and where to stop, I recommend doing this because it saves on time and some temples are spread out very far apart.
Cambodia is a beautiful nation, everyone was so friendly and the food was incredible. The whole trip was an amazing experience and the nation has made wonderful strides in fighting human trafficking. I had the opportunity to see first hand all that organizations are doing in tandem with the government and I think they are a great model of collaboration and what can happen when everyone works together!!
All in all, I loved visiting the Kingdom of Cambodia with it’s fascinating and rich history.
I have written this post a thousand times in my mind. It’s my eighth year as a full time missionary serving internationally. I am asked often if I could go back in time eight years ago and give myself advice about missions, what I would say. So I wrote a letter from myself in present day to myself in the past. However, if you ever wanted a better description of life lessons or thoughts-I am much better at sharing my heart, in person, over a cup of coffee!
It is the summer of 2009. You are selling your stuff, have turned in your notice at work and you are slowly packing up your Kentucky life. Over your last few weeks Stateside, you will come to realize that you are leaving Kentucky for much longer than your original commitment of six months. As this realization hits you, you will end up keeping it to yourself because you will find it hard to explain to friends and family that life as you know it will never truly be the same. You know that not because a nation and culture will change you but because the journey of obedience that God will take you on will change you. You didn’t choose Costa Rica and in fact had other countries in Africa and Asia burning in your heart. You are not sure why God asked you to go to Costa Rica and many people were surprised you chose to go. You are not surprised but you are curious. It will be a few months after serving in Costa Rica that you will learn why He sent you but it will be a few years before you understand the deeper purpose. Be patient and trust Him even when so much goes wrong or doesn’t make sense because everything God does has a specific purpose.
Years three-five will be some of the hardest experiences of your life on the field. You will come close to giving up more times than you will be able to count. You will make mistakes that will teach you some of the greatest life lessons you will ever come to learn, you will disappoint people and you will question the goodness of God. However, you will learn in these tough years that God is not afraid of an honest why, that no amount of education, experience and programs can save a person more than Jesus and that your theology and resolute faith on the the goodness of God will always be your sustainability.
Years five through seven will bring you to a deep place of surrender and you will feel a peace like you have never known in the midst of heart breaking circumstances. However by year seven you will feel more contentment than you ever have and your journey will have made so much more sense. You will have learned how much it is not about you and how much it is about Him. You will learn that when He comes to you with a request, you will weigh out your yes to Him because you will have understood the importance of commitment and being decided.
And by year eight(yes, you’ll make it this far) you will see God bring some things full circle and open new doors. You will begin to sell your stuff in Costa Rica as the all too familiar tug at your heart will begin to pull you into new directions.
There is much I could tell you, Anna, but it will be better for you to walk through it all and realize that God is not about the destination but the journey. Don’t be afraid to take risks and don’t fear failure. You will fail from time to time but you will learn from those failures and you will pick yourself back up and keep going. God will use Costa Rica to send you to many other nations. You will collect so many stamps in your passport that you will have to add pages. This journey will be full of amazing people, friends, connections and victories. You will come to love Costa Rica, its people and its culture and you will realize that God still has more nations ahead for you.
You will come to learn and understand that when God sends His kids all over the world to serve its because He wants His kids to know each other, love each other, to understand each others culture and recognize the importance of adding to and building His family. Missions is not about fixing a nation, every nation is broken but you will eventually learn that God connects His kids for acts of service not so that they can be known but so that He can be known. It is always about the message of the gospel and while God might use His kids to serve in orphanages, churches, non-profits, outreaches in red light districts and so much more. His desire is that all would still point to Him and building His kingdom and never the other way around.
Remember that intimacy with God will be your lifeline. Your private world with God will always directly affect your public world. God will never fail you and He will prove His faithfulness over and over to you.
“Cuba has seen a spike in outward migration since last year’s announcement that it and the United States would restore diplomatic relations. Many Cuban migrants say they have chosen to leave now out of fear that detente could bring an end to the U.S. migration policies that benefit them, although U.S. officials say no change is in the works.” (ABC News)
In mid November, as Cuban economic refugees were making their way through Central America in hopes of reaching the USA, Nicaragua closed it’s border refusing to allow any Cuban entry. This response forced the Cubans back into Costa Rica, thus invoking a political battle. Costa Rica had no choice but to find temporary solutions for the close to 3,000 Cubans now in their nation. It was and has been a mess with tensions high between Costa Rica and it’s neighbor, Nicaragua. As Nicaragua sided with it’s ally, Cuba and denied entrance to the Cuban refugees, these refugees, went from being economic refugees to political refugees overnight.
So this past Friday a small team of us from San Jose drove the six hours to a little town close to the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua where the majority of Cuban refugees were staying. It would seem now that at least six or more shelters/camps have been set up for the Cuban people until Costa Rica can reach some solutions. So far sending them back to Cuba is not an option much to the relief of the Cubans. Our hearts were hurting for the Cubans and we wanted to serve and help in any way possible. We were told we would help the national emergency response teams on the ground. In the hopes that we could bless a few kids with Christmas approaching, we bought some toys to give away in the camp we would be helping.
When we arrived to this tiny border town, we were caught off guard by the chaos ensuing and the amount of people everywhere. The schedule that had been set, changed and we wandered around being unable to help. Workers were bogged down with work and police were everywhere.
The needs were overwhelming and there seemed to be an atmosphere of shock and hopelessness that met us. Our team walked around the little town to get a sense of what was happening. We went back to the place we were staying to wait for instructions, when none came, we gathered together to pray and seek God’s direction. That night we went out into the town to pray and meet people who were in the streets. Some of our teammates were able to talk with some of the Cuban refugees and they appeared hopeful. To them, the camps and the lack of resolutions to proceed on their journey to the USA were still much better than the conditions they left behind in Cuba.
The next day came and while we were encouraged to have shared in conversation with a few people, we still wondered why we had not been able to accomplish as much as we had initially anticipated. It was an hour before our team was due to depart and return to San Jose when the phone rang. Our contact to the national emergency response unit had called to say that we were granted permission to visit not just one but all of the shelters! Not only could we visit but we could bring the toys we had previously purchased and we could pray with whomever wanted prayer!
Each camp we visited, the kids would spot the toys instantly and before we could say anything they would come running towards us with huge grins and shouts. It gave us so much joy as we watched delight spring to their faces and it seemed to spark joy even in the adults all around the camps watching the children receive the gifts.
At each camp, we offered prayer for anyone who wanted to pray with us. At one particular camp, a few people came to us wanting prayer, so we joined hands and made a circle. As we started to pray, more people began to join the circle and the circle kept growing. By the end of the prayers, I opened my eyes and realized the circle had grown much larger and we were now praying almost in the center of the camp. Our little circle of faith and hope had grown and when we hugged goodbye, the atmosphere felt lighter. As we drove away, I reflected on the wonder it is to step into the center of a seemingly hopeless situation and make hope contagious.
I am all too aware of how contagious fear is in our world right now. Social media and world news have seen fit to remind us of this daily. However, there is this amazing anecdote to fear and it’s the powerful combination of faith, hope and love. This combination is fear’s undoing and when this anecdote is put in motion, fear becomes powerless.
That day in the camp so many of us representing different nationalities, joined hands and made a very strong statement to hell. We all chose to embrace faith, hope and love and cling to the fact that God is good always.
I may not fully understand why so much tragedy seems to be in our world right now but I do know this one thing-God created his kids to contain the capacity to bring faith, hope and love into ANY situation.
The room was filled with whispers and giggles. As I looked around me, the kids were all sprawled out on the floor of the church sanctuary. Some had concentrated looks, others were squealing in delight at the progress being made-yet others were waiting anxiously for me to come and see their poster boards they had just finished.
You see they had all just learned about other kids across the globe-kids just like them. Except there was a huge difference, the kids they had just learned about were living in refugee camps, or fleeing as refugees to other countries-leaving behind clothes, toys, friends, a life.
My friends-the kids in Tres Rios community do not have it very easy either. They are growing up in a neighborhood where poverty, drugs, and crime are the norm. But I wanted them to know that the atmosphere surrounding them does not have to define them. They can be world changers, right where they are- even in this neighborhood.
We explained as gently as possible the crisis in the Middle East to all of the kids. At the end, I asked them their thoughts on what they had just learned. One child raised their hand and said- “We need to pray for them.” Yes, oh yes how spot on.
I asked them if they knew of ways we might help make a difference amidst the crisis. Shouts of ideas began to bubble up out of them as they took turns talking over one another. “They need clothes, we can fill a big truck with clothes for them!” Others said, food, toys, water, medicines, etc.
I was grinning from ear to ear as I heard their ideas. I loved them all. However, one very sweet voice suggested the one thing we all know is needed most. It’s the one thing that makes all the difference. It’s the one thing that shatters darkness.The sweet voice called out ever so simply- “love.”
Doesn’t that just mark you? No long winded answer on love and how and why-just simply stated. It came from a place of pure innocence, a perfect resting place of hope.
So we got out the poster board and crayons and let their imaginations take them away.Tears sprang to my eyes as they were met with smiles, enthusiasm and creativity.
The kids came up with ideas to host fundraisers in order to send money to organizations we knew who were doing something for the kids, just like them-across the globe. All their own ideas! We gave no hints, help or suggestions. I genuinely wanted to know their thoughts and if they could respond, what would be their response. A child’s response to a hurting world is powerful.
I was so impacted. They weren’t sad, scared or consumed with a dooming sense of helplessness. There in the midst of glitter and glue, crayons and markers- change was happening. A change coming from little minds working away and I saw what He sees- faith like a child.
To a child, faith is so easy- so simple. In one child’s mind, why not drive a truck full of clothes to Syria from Costa Rica?! To him, this child-distance, money and time have no factor. Their hope was contagious. They were not focussing on their own lack of clothes, some even suggested they could run home and grab (what little they had) of their own clothes to give away.
What would the world be like if children were consulted more on world affairs? The innocent responses while so simple, are often the most accurate. We forget that some of the greatest answers are found within a simple idea.
Oh I know there seems to be a lot of complexity in the world today. Between social media, world news and local news-anger and hate are loud. But not this day, this day the kids chose hope and love. At the end of the day-hope and love are louder.
The energy in the sanctuary was exciting as the kids of all different ages were full of ideas, of hope. And there, I felt it. I mean I really felt it-the energy in compassion. It’s transformational. We stop thinking about the sadness and the despair. We stop thinking about the lack and the worry. We simply start thinking like Jesus. Our hearts beat hard for Him-for His hope.
We are praying and loving our family from Syria and Iraq all the way from Tres Rios, Cartago, Costa Rica.