Dear Future Missionary…..

I have written this post a thousand times in my mind. It’s my seventh year as a full time missionary serving internationally. I am asked often if I could go back in time  seven years ago and give myself advice about missions, what I would say. There are so many people who write much more eloquently on the topic of foreign missions (like my good friend Sarita Hartz) than I ever could! 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!

Dear Anna,

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. 

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.

 

Sincerely,

Anna

The Circle Kept Growing

“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.

 

 

Sending love across the globe:The energy in compassion

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.

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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.

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Grace-My Compass.

“Grace is a painting God’s still completing over our torn canvases.” Bob Goff

It was an unusually cold night, that night in San Jose. As we drove around the city serving coffee and cookies in the red light sections-I spotted her. Even from a distance, in the dark-I saw her determined jaw. She and I had settled into sort of a routine-each week I offered her coffee and cookies, each week she refused. However, with every refusal, her eyes would betray her words.

This particularly cold night, I approached her corner and found her sitting on a stoop near the street alone. I asked her if I could sit next to her and she nodded. We sat in silence for one whole minute. The lines in her face made her look angry but I saw she wasn’t angry-she was sad. I waited for her to speak. I could have sat in silence for as long as needed. Finally, she peered sideways at me, “Girl, do you know what I do? Do you know why I am out here?” I replied, “Yes, I do know why you are here. Do you know why I am here?”

She shook her head no and waited for my explanation. I opened my mouth to give a little synopsis of why I come to the streets but something stopped me. I saw deep within her eyes she held shame. She was waiting for me to say I was a Christian. She was waiting for me to tell her God wanted different for her life. While both of those are true, her context would  take these two truths as condemnation. In that moment, I was overcome with love for her. I wanted to be her friend. So the words came out, ” I just really want to be your friend.”

She peered at me suspiciously-“I don’t have friends.”  I smiled back and didn’t reply. It was the beginning of an unlikely friendship. She would often speak of desiring to leave the streets but how fear would hold her back. But one day she found the courage to leave the streets and make peace with her family. We lost touch but every time I pass her old corner, I smile to myself. God softens hearts-the hardest of hearts-by His unrelenting love.

God makes crooked, awkward and unforgiving paths become straight. He turns the seemingly impossible into possible. Enemies become friends. Dark becomes light. Hopelessness transforms to hope. All because of this thing called, love.

Love is a funny thing, isn’t it? We all crave it yet struggle to truly understand it. Our definition of love is often defined to us by our past or present circumstances. We want to receive it so easily but sometimes we can’t. We want to give it so easily but sometimes we can’t.

Love is an incredible weapon though against shame, hate and violence. Love brings freedom.

It takes time to grow in our understanding of love. God gave us this incredible tool to help us better understand how love works-it’s called grace. We have to have grace for ourselves and for others. No one wakes up one day and all of the sudden perfects loving well.

Love is a journey and grace is my map.

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The Energy In Compassion

“This is a time when we have a great fear amongst us in the city of Amman, and in Jordan. We see it coming[ but] we have an energy among us-it’s an energy of compassion.” Mayor Biltaji

You could have heard a pen drop when Mayor Biltaji began to address the battle of fear and the number of refugees flooding Jordan’s borders. One third of the nation’s population are now refugees from Syriah and Iraq. Jordan is turning no one away. While fear, sadness and uncertainty are stirring in the hearts of people, so is compassion.

As he spoke, he looked off into the distance, weighing his words.

I weighed his words too.

Is the energy of compassion enough to combat the energy of fear? Fear can be a really loud voice-if we let it speak.

Can compassion speak louder than fear? I think so.

Compassion will give way to love and perfect love casts out fear. The closer I get to Jesus, the more compassion turns to a radical love-it’s unrelenting. A love that refuses to give up.

The God of an all consuming love-inside of me-pushes me with an energy that is unexplainable.

There are a lot of thoughts, talk and anger when it comes to the subject of ISIS. But the truth is that the fight is not against a group of people . The fight is against a deep lie that takes life, rapes little girls and produces martyrs on both sides. What is the solution? How can this violence be stopped? I feel helpless at times when I read the news.

And it is not just the Middle East. Recently two little kids in Costa Rica were walking to school, they were kidnapped and raped. One got away. One did not, he died. I felt overwhelmed with sadness at the news all around me. While many emotions have stirred inside of me these past few days- I choose to operate from compassion. It brings peace. It brings ideas. My heart begins to lift-I remember that God is Perfect Love. I have perfect love inside of me.

As love begins to speak louder than fear and sadness-an idea begins to take shape. I pray. A question forms out of prayer-How can the kids in a poor community of Costa Rica use their voice for the kids in Iraq? How can we send love from one side of the world to the other?

I write my friend, Canon Andrew White. His organization, FRRME helps children in Iraq and Jordan.  A partial plan is set into motion. Hope begins to rise and I see that the energy of compassion is loud. It will grow louder from the hearts of our kids here.

Stay tuned. Watch as we shine a light of love from Tres Rios, San Jose, Costa Rica to Iraq and Jordan.

Our little plan of love, details coming soon!

Getting Acquainted With Jesus

I stood on top of Elijah’s hill where it is believed his ascension to heaven took place. I looked at the cave that is believed to be a place where John the Baptist lived. I caught a view of the wilderness around as it was when John lived and Elijah ascended. I saw where Jacob wrestled with an angel and his name was changed to Israel. I looked out at the view of the promised land as Moses once did atop of Mt. Nebo.  I walked by the Jordan River and saw the baptismal site of Jesus-the birthing of Christianity. I connected deeply with Jesus as a man who once walked the earth. It is important to learn and understand the heritage of faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. The most amazing part of all that I have mentioned is that these encounters took place in a nation where Christianity is a minority and their neighboring nations are seeing Christians killed.

To be in that part of the world would seem to be a scary and dangerous thing to do these days-yet I felt safe. Even more, I felt freedom. Jordan is safe for a Christian-not easy, but safe. While there may be social persecution or pressure, Christians are accepted and encouraged to come and see the history of their faith. I didn’t expect to encounter the person of Jesus Christ in such a profound way as I did. To walk where he walked and learn the culture of his time in a deeper way connected me to the man who lived and died so I could be free.

I couldn’t stop thinking about freedom everywhere I went in Jordan. I knew I wasn’t experiencing freedom because Jordan was safe, I was experiencing freedom because every piece of history from the bible that we explored was a reminder of the reason I exist.

As I reflected on the reason of my existence as a daughter of God, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmingly aware that I come from a nation that freely allows me to worship God openly and share of Jesus to anyone I meet. I can go out my front door right now and tell everyone of Jesus and I won’t be arrested or be killed. I have that freedom. I teared up a bit at the Jordan River, not for nostalgia and the thought of Jesus being there but because of the reason he came. And standing in the place that most likely He stood, gave me chills. It was real-his life, death and resurrection, it was real. It had a purpose and it was not just a story for Easter.

On one of our final days, I had a quiet moment alone on top of the Castle where John the Baptist was held prisoner and later killed. I looked out to the vast hillsides and the serenity around me. Then a gentle breeze blew and a still small voice reminded me-freely you have received, freely give.

I had a lot of ideas and guesses as to why God had purposed for me to go to Jordan but I never would have guessed that it was to get truly acquainted with Jesus. We claim to know him, we sing about Him in our church services. A few weeks ago, churches everywhere in America celebrated His sacrifice but do we know Him? His life, His culture then and now? Do we know how to portray Him to a world He died for? To be a follower of Jesus means to be acquainted with all of His ways-your identity mirroring His. Can that be said of me? I want it to be the thing that defines my life-a follower of Jesus.

Our guide Raed gave us these parting words: “The world is starving for love and true friendship. We must recover Christianity because Christianity is suffering. Let’s love the world.” Raed knows all too well the suffering of Christianity, please read this interview with him here.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Jesus changed history forever for you and me. He made a way for all of us to change the world through a message of radical love. I am challenged in my display of His love. I want to love better, I want to love well. I want to be Jesus with skin on to everyone I meet.

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Revelation 12:11

 

My Jordan Journey-  The  Journey’s  End  (or is it?)

Every day of this trek brought spectacular scenery, incredible food and beautiful hospitality. I came into this trip unsure as to what to expect. I did not know much about Jordan, its culture or its biblical history. Now, I find myself coming away with a love for the nation, its people, food and culture. I learned on a greater magnitude, the heritage of my faith and the birthing of Christianity. I discovered that as a Christian, I could feel safe and accepted in a predominantly muslim Jordan.

On one particular day as we were out seeing the sites, our tour guide announced that there had been a change in our schedule-we were crashing a wedding! Okay, technically we were last minute invited guests but it is so much more exciting to say we “crashed” the wedding. Time only permitted us to attend the ceremony but it was fascinating. My favorite part was when the bride arrived, everyone was outside the church waiting-including the groom. Upon her arrival, he went out to greet her and walked her to the church. I have never seen that before and it was beautiful.

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( photos courtesy of http://denisebossert.com/ )

 

In our final leg of the trip, we took a jeep ride through the desert of Wadi Rum, also known as, “The Valley of the Moon.” We drove through miles of desert and took in the various Bedouin camps, stopping at one for lunch.          

The only animal I ever saw was a camel! So much of the vast, open space seemed virtually untouched by anyone. God is an amazing artist and I couldn’t help but dwell on that fact as we drove around.

The exciting part of the day came as we pulled over to a group of men and a pack of camels. And the opportunity I had been hoping for came-I could ride a camel through the desert.

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Later on. we took a little hike up to Herod’s Hill. Also known as the location where John the Baptist was held and beheaded. I took a moment to sit on top of the hill and take in the quiet scene laid out before me. I could hear sheep in the distance and the wind as it lazily blew across the fields.

Our journey came to an end with a few days spent at the Dead Sea-World’s Largest (natural) Spa. We had time to explore, rest, write and fellowship with one another.

When one visits the Dead Sea- a mud bath is a must!

I covered myself in mud, waited until it was dry (such a weird feeling) and then I washed it off in the sea. It was the best and cheapest spa day I have ever experienced.

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This sunset was such a perfect ending to a spectacular journey.The people I met, the stories I heard and the places I stood are forever etched into my heart. Jordan was life changing and while the “My Jordan Journey” segment of the blog is done-I have a few more posts coming with final thoughts and reflections of lessons learned.