2017

I love the new year. New beginnings, fresh starts, new opportunities. Ah, it gets me so excited. 2017 has been wonderful so far, and apart from VOH admin work, here are a couple of newer things that I’ve been up to:

Village of Hope, Chongwe

January marked a new school year, and I have been given the opportunity to teach a new group of grade 5’s. I go into the Village twice a week, and will teach an English class in the morning and afternoon. My goal this January was to really get to know the children in this class, and remember each one of their names. There are kids in the class that I know really well because they live in the children’s homes, and there are kids that live in the community that I just recognize from coming to and from school. Overall, it’s been such a joy to be in the classroom with these precious kids. A joy to be able to pray with them before class starts, work with them, and teach them new games – even though all they ever want to play is 7up.

Taonga School, Lusaka

My friend Abi started a school in Lusaka, and I have been able to help her on Wednesdays to work with groups of children to help them with their phonics. Between working with different groups of kids, Abi and I get to chat, drink coffee and eat home made English muffins. Does it get any better? Oh, yes it does. On the days when they make loaves of bread! Anyways, back to the kids. Working with these groups of kids has been so much fun. The best part of all is working with little Christine. Christine is only 5, and already has been through so much. You would never know when you see her bright smiling face. After hearing her story of abandonment and horrific abuse it’s such a pleasure to spend some time with Christine working one on one with her, helping her to focus on one task at a time. She’s the sweetest little thing, full of life, happiness and joy…and can’t really sit still because she’s too excited about the other things going on in the classroom.

 

Kachimfya Café, Kitwe

My friend Amy started a youth empowerment program a couple of years ago. Her program is called the Kachimfya program, meaning “to overcome”. In Zambia, students have a gap year between grade 12 and college, and the Kachimfya program offers a place for students to attend and learn different trades and skills. This past year she has been given an amazing opportunity to start a cafe. A lodge offered her a space rent free for a year and the goal was to use Kachimfya graduates to run the café. She’s renovated the space, picked the staff and this week I was able to put my Starbucks experience to use, and train them. They were amazing! They learned how to pour espresso shots, steam milk, and become confident in learning a new skill. Of course we had to test everything we made, which made for jittery days and sleepless nights because of the caffeine overdose. While I was there, we were able to do two trial runs and open the café for a couple of hours. It was amazing to see how excited these students were, and how seriously they took their positions. Everyone’s goal for the café is to make it a safe place for youth in Kitwe. A place where they can come, hang out, drink coffee, and feel God’s presence.

Choosing to rest

This morning I read an exert from my favourite book, “Keep a Quiet Heart” by Elisabeth Elliot. She writes:

“Stillness. Perfect stillness. It is a very great gift, not always available to those who would most appreciate it and would find joy in it, and often not appreciated by those who have it but are uncomfortable with it”

That’s me, the second part. When I have that stillness, I’m not comfortable with it for too long. I’m sure all of the busy moms out there are rolling their eyes 😉

In the past couple of weeks I know God has been teaching me through His Word the importance of being still and knowing that He is God (Psalm 46). But the problem is I’m stubborn. When I’m finished my work, I’m always looking for something more. Something to do and people to see. Something to inspire me. Another project to work on, the perfect job for the future – anything! My mind has not been at rest as I search and search and search for things to fill and satisfy me.

About a week ago I hurt my ear and had to take antibiotics. Not that I’m dying, and I know that there are much worse things out there, but that infection caused me to literally have to be still. I had to stay in, and I couldn’t really do much. Plans had to be cancelled and I felt bored out of my mind. Not that I think that God was punishing me, but I really do believe He used this situation to teach me what it means to be still, rest in Him, and find joy in HIS presence – not in things.

This morning, I also read another exert from Elisabeth Elliot. She writes:

“A quiet heart is content with what God gives. It is enough. Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup. Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. My assignment entails my willing acceptance of my portion.”

I read that knowing that I was heading to the doctor’s office to do a follow up appointment on my ear, and was ready for whatever the day would bring.

Long story short, I’m back on another round of medication, the infection is still there, and the specialist I saw…well, let’s just say that the title “specialist” has been given to him VERY generously.

I left that office feeling discouraged and annoyed. But then I was reminded of the words that Elisabeth Elliot wrote. Words that filled me with so much peace this morning before I had to step outside of the house. Words that I’m realizing I need to choose to believe, because that mind set doesn’t come easy.

Each day is so different and uncertain – but at least we know that we can REST in knowing that our Father is in control. The stillness He offers to us is a precious gift, and whatever portion and assignment He has given us this day is one that we know we can handle because He goes before us. Rest in that.

He must increase, I must decrease.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Zambia now for almost a year and a half, and that I only have 6 months left to go before moving back home to Canada. It’s been wonderful, and a struggle and everything in between. I was talking to a friend the other night, and she asked me if I was grateful for all of the time I’ve been able to serve overseas – specifically in Zambia…and of course the answer was yes. She also had spent many years on the mission field and told me that often she would feel most alive when she felt like God was calling her to do something outside of her comfort zone. This was because she knew that she wasn’t able to do those particular things on her own, but instead that God was equipping her. I told her that I felt the exact same way.

I also told her that one thing I have struggled with the most while being in Zambia was whether or not I was actually doing something worthwhile with my time. I think every one has a different definition of what being a missionary is. Whether it is working with orphans and vulnerable children, participating in Bible translation, or running a camp, I have learned that being a missionary is not as black and white as I had always assumed.

I assumed that someone had to clearly hear the call of God – almost as if it was an audible voice, pack up all of their belongings and move to a foreign country. I assumed that being a missionary meant that all of the luxuries of life were stripped away from them and basically the more miserable you felt, the more you were in the will of God. Don’t get me wrong – I know that there are many individuals whose lives look similar to what I have just laid out, and I think that what they are doing is honourable. But out of all of the things I have learned/am learning while living in Zambia it is this: God is more concerned with the state of my heart, then what I am doing. To the world we may look amazing – we post pictures of us taking selfies with a vulnerable child, we buy tomatoes from the side of the road, and none of that is bad. I’ve done it and still do, but why am I doing it? Is it because I want everyone at home to think I’m some sort of Mother Theresa, or am I doing it to please Christ and serve Him?

That has been my biggest struggle over here. Never did I consider myself someone who wants to be in the limelight, but most of the time in the behind the scenes is when I struggle with wondering if this “missionary life” is purposeful and worthwhile.  It’s funny because normally in those moments I think back to what my friend said when I was preparing to live in Kenya. At the time I knew that I would have a driver instead of me driving. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role would entail, and even before I left Canada I was telling her that I wasn’t sure if this was something I was called to do. What if I went all the way to Kenya and nothing big and exciting happened? What if I went all the way to Kenya and I wasn’t able to report back to my supporters of all the amazing things I was able to do? What if I went to Kenya and I wasn’t really called? And she said to me: “Melissa, God may be asking you to spend a year in Kenya to simply encourage that driver you will be with everyday”. Wait – THAT’S IT?

My very wise and humble friend reminded me in that moment that serving God did not mean it was a show, serving God wasn’t about what I could do, but serving God was about humbly trying to meet the needs of God’s people, sharing Christ with them, encouraging them along the way, and witnessing what HE will do. That doesn’t make for the best Facebook or Instagram posts most of the time.

What she had said to me has rung through my head millions of times while being here in Zambia. When I think that I’m not doing enough to look like a missionary, I remember what she said. When I don’t feel like encouraging someone because I’m annoyed because its hot, my hair is frizzy and there is no power, I remember what she said. Thankfully, God has used her words to impact me big time and help me re-evaluate why we are called to serve. It’s helped me to realize that it does not matter where in the world you are – in this moment right now, whether you have heard a call or not, please know that WE ARE ALL called to serve God and His people. Your mission field is your church, your family, your friends and your workplace. Don’t buy into the idea of waiting until you hear a clear call from the Lord to serve Him – hello, you can wherever you are!

Those moments where its been confusing, hard and filled with tears have ended up being the most beautiful times. It’s often in those moments where He reminds me that it’s not about me, but it’s all about Him and what He is doing.

1 week

It’s been exactly a week since I’ve returned to Zambia. Spending the month back home in Canada was a wonderful whirlwind! The weather was nice, cool and crisp, I was able to spend much time with friends and family, and I had opportunities to share about the work I have been able to do this past year with VOH. I was invited to speimg_2124ak at the seniors group at my church, share at a ladies Bible study, and the highlight was speaking at my former schools’ chapel. It was such a privilege to be invited to share about what God is doing at all of our VOH locations, and to be prayed over as I returned back to Zambia. Thank you to all of you who took the time to meet with me, pray for me, and encourage me as I move forward!

Now Zambia…Oh boy is it hot. I’m already about 3 shades darker and my feet are orange everyday because of the dirt. I am going through deodorant at a faster speed then I’d like. It feels a bit like a desert –donut dry. Thankfully there is always a bit of a breeze. Every time I return to Zambia, I am usually approached by someone to let me know that I have gotten fat. Just today, I was told “Ah Maleesa, you have gotten nice and fat!” This happened when I was trying to buy a donut from our little shop at the village. As I put my money away, I assured them that it must be the heat that is making me swollen, right? I decided that maybe today wasn’t the best day to buy a donut, so I walked back to the office. Anyways, that feeling only lasted for about 10 minutes before I ended up getting one. Treat yo self.

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It’s been great being back in the classroom as well. I missed those little cuties, and we were all excited to see each other. At the end of every class we play a game of 7up and man, it gets heated. People are cheating, and people are calling each other out because they had their eyes open – it’s so much fun.

The best part of all is Lawren (aka my special friend) is here with me. He’ll be staying until mid December. Already a week in, and it’s been so much fun to show him my life here, and serve together. He is working on a landscaping project at our Chongwe village…in this crazy heat. I’m img_2243not jealous at all.

I’m excited to see what God has in store for my last chunk of time here in Zambia!

Privilege vs. Sacrifice

I don’t even think I had decided to come to Zambia yet. I was sitting at one of my church’s World Impact Sunday services, and a missionary had come up to the front and said these words: Moving overseas is not a sacrifice. Is it a privilege to serve our Lord. It was simple, not too profound or anything, but those words have stuck with me even now. I went home that day and wrote her words in my journal, and reflected on what she had said and meant. Her and her family were preparing to move to Africa, and in the midst of everything they had sold their belongings, packed up what remained, raised their funds, and were headed to a new home. I remember her explaining that one of her fears was bringing her children into a new country. She mentioned that she had to surrender her fears to the Lord, and trust that even though she didn’t know what their move would bring, God was going before them. It wasn’t a sacrifice, but a privilege.

I think her words have stuck with me because it has been something that I’ve needed to learn and truly understand. Not that I would verbalize it at first, but preparing to come to Zambia, and even being here in Zambia I have many, many, many times thought that moving overseas was quite the sacrifice. For goodness sake, I quit my job, sold my car, moved away from my family, and am living in a place that doesn’t provide all of the comforts of home. Isn’t that a sacrifice? More often then not, I have struggled with a ‘woe is me’ attitude – letting myself believe that coming here has been more of a sacrifice then a privilege.

It’s not a sacrifice. Not at all. To be a part of what God is doing in people’s lives, and to serve along people that love the Lord and would live in a hut with only some rice to eat and yet rejoice in the Lord, has been humbling and eye opening.

Her words of serving the Lord being a privilege not a sacrifice have popped into my head over and over again. I struggle and go back and forth some days between thinking that she was nuts to say that, and very right to say that. I want my focus to be more on how right she was.

God has taught me so much by being here in Zambia. I feel like a completely different person from a year ago – not necessarily better or worse, just very different. He has spoken to me clearer than I have ever experienced before, He has shown me areas of my life that need major refinement, and He’s made grace and forgiveness so much more real to me. But above all, I’ve learned that no matter where you are in the world – if you desire to serve the Lord in any way He wants, you’re exactly where you need to be.  To be used by the almighty King is the greatest privilege! So we have to give up some things, or all things along the way – who cares. Does it even compare? This life that He has given us, is not about us. I think when we come to a true realization that everything we have been given is from the Lord, and it can be gone in a second, it becomes much easier to realize that it’s not about us, but all about Him.

Speaking of privilege, it’s moments like these that remind me of how blessed I am to be here. Visits from my favourite little neighbours last weekend filled my heart with so much JOY!

Burundi

I just had the opportunity to visit Burundi. Located in Eastern Africa, Burundi is a small country bordering Rwanda and Tanzania. Burundi has a totally different feel from what I’m used to in Zambia. French is one of the main languages spoken, there are palm trees everywhere, its humid, and the traffic consists of Bajaj (small taxi’s) and motorbikes for the most part. It’s mountainous and beautiful. And the coffee? Oh the coffee! I would move to Burundi for the coffee alone.

I have now visited all 8 of our Village of Hope locations. It took a little while for us to get to Burundi because there has been a lot of unrest in the country recently, but just days short of being in Africa for a year, I was able to finally visit this beautiful place.

Cyriaque, the head teacher at VOH, took me on a tour one morning through Bujambura, Burundi’s capital city. He told me that outside of the city, people aren’t used to seeing foreigners, which explains the excessive “muzungu” calls. As we drove, Bajaj, motorbikes, cows and goats swerved around us. Cyriaque told me a little about the conflicts between tribes, and the recent unrest in the country. He assured me that Burundians are peaceful people, and explained that it’s very difficult for Burundians when war breaks out. I don’t even know a small percentage of what Burundians have had to go through while all of this unrest was unfolding. I don’t know many details and won’t pretend like I know. All I have heard have been stories about grenades going off, people getting caught in cross fires, and streets being filled with dead bodies. A couple of times during the year, we would get messages from the director at this particular VOH location asking us to pray for the country, or telling us that he was spending the night at the VOH office because it wasn’t safe to walk home that day. When I asked some of the staff about their experiences, they told me that they could hear gun shots and people screaming just outside of the centers’ walls. Cyriaque took me down a street with some really big potholes – or so I thought. He explained to me that the big holes were actually due to grenades. I couldn’t even imagine how awful it would have been to be in Burundi while all of this was happening.

Thankfully, no child or staff at VOH Burundi was harmed during those awful days. We praise God for His protection over the Village.

I LOVED being in Burundi. I’ve been so blessed to travel quite a bit throughout Africa during this year, and Burundi has definitely been my favourite trip. Here are some pictures!

Beta Bricks

Last week I was in Zimbabwe visiting our VOH location. What’s really cool about each Village of Hope is that although each Village follows the same standards and policies, each one is unique, especially in the way that they reach the surrounding communities. All of our VOH locations have an on-site feeding program where they will feed the school and community children a nutritious meal each day. Last week I had the opportunity to visit VOH Zimbabwe’s off-site feeding program.

VOH Zimbabwe provides the meals for the children at a government school in a nearby community called Beta Bricks; a community largely identified as one that manufactures …bricks! A staff member from VOH arrives to the school every morning and helps serve meals to these children. When I arrived on Tuesday, a group of children came running to get into a line to get their bowl of porridge. I asked the staff member how many children were in that kindergarten class, and she simply responded “124 students, 2 teachers”.

I don’t know the exact demographic of that particular community. I don’t know how many meals each family is able to cook a day. What I saw while driving through the community to reach the school were compounds filled with small, shanty homes, piles of bricks everywhere, and people busily walking around. What I do know is that there is a great need in that community to feed children, and VOH Zimbabwe has the opportunity to reach out and serve a community outside of their own walls. It was so amazing to be a part of this program, even if it was only for an hour. It was humbling to see the women cooking and distributing the warm porridge to the children on a very cold day.

That feeding program has been on my mind ever since. It was such a beautiful sight to see how simply a Village, and a group of women could be Jesus’ hands and feet. It was nothing fancy, or loud. It was simply being able to feed children that are hungry, because they have the means to do it. I have been thinking about the life God has given me.  How nothing that I have is actually mine – God has provided it, and He can take it away at any time. He has provided me with the means to help others and I’ve been thinking about how when much is given to someone, much is expected in return. If none of what I have is mine, I should have no problem giving to others. But I do sometimes – sometimes I really struggle with giving money, food, or clothing to someone else because deep down I feel like it IS mine, and that I am entitled to it all. But again, God is lovingly teaching me that none of it belongs to me. I truly believe that God is calling all of us to live a radical, extreme life – where we strive to live lives that actually exemplify less of me, more of Him.

In his book, “The Radical Question”, David Platt summarizes the cost of following Jesus found in Luke 9 where three men approach Jesus wanting to follow Him. Platt writes:

Trust me, even if it means becoming homeless.

Follow me, even if it means letting someone else bury your dad.

Love me, even if that means not saying goodbye to your family.

We can read those words, and convince ourselves that Jesus must not have really meant that! That’s way too extreme, right? Yes, it is extreme but it’s also a reminder that our purpose in life shouldn’t be to please ourselves, but to live for Christ – to tell others of His saving grace, to give of ourselves, and serve Him in every area of our lives.

Ask Him to change your mindset. Ask Him to help you let go of things that you’re holding onto too tightly. Ask Him to help you understand that nothing you have is really yours, but His. I’m asking Him all of that too. It’s hard, but that’s ok. Life was never meant to be easy.

 

 

 

 

24 hours

It’s been less than 24 hours since I’ve arrived back home to Lusaka, and I have a plumber at my house. It’s pitch black, the power is out, and all I can hear are tools clanging together.

When I think of Zambia, I think of constant adventure, curiosity and moments that just make you wonder. Flying here, I somehow got seated right within a Zimbabwean football team, and the whole flight from Nairobi to Lusaka was filled with many questions about Canada, and a rowdy team yelling and laughing. And there I was right in the middle of it. I got home after midnight last night. I found a lizard in my bathtub, and no water coming from my taps. I decided to close the bathroom door, pretend the lizard wasn’t there, and figure out the water situation in the morning.

I asked my neighbour if she had water this morning. She did – everyone in the complex did. I thought that was kind of weird that I didn’t have any, so I went to the security guard and asked him. Its not that I didn’t have water, but instead, they physically turned off my water. I was shocked and embarrassed to find out that I had left my water on while I was away, and everyone found out when they saw water pouring out from under my doors! Right before I had left for the airport 3 weeks ago, the power had shut off at a weird time while I still had the water in my tub running. I turned the faucet off – and then I started to second guess myself, and second guess if I had turned the faucet the right way. The only reason I second guessed myself was because every single faucet in my house is installed a different way, and I couldn’t remember if it was left or right to turn this one off. I fiddled with it for about half an hour, was pretty convinced that I turned it off properly, and prayed that it was correct because I wouldn’t know as I was leaving for the airport in an hour. While I was home in Canada I thought about it a couple of times, but was sure that it would be fine. Even last night when I got home, everything was dry, so I was so excited knowing that I did it right! Nope, it’s just that in three weeks, the floors dried.

When my security guard turned the water back on for me today, and turned on my water pump, everything was good for a couple of hours, and then the pump started going crazy. Loud noises, sounding like it was going to burst. Hence, the plumber.

Honestly speaking, it was a lot harder preparing to come back to Lusaka this time. It’s different when you’re going somewhere and you don’t really know what to expect – that’s exciting! However, I knew that I was coming back to random daily issues like power outages, long line ups, crazy traffic and presidential elections. It was hard to leave everyone that I love and it was really hard knowing I wouldn’t have a Starbucks green iced tea lemonade anymore ;). But when I remind myself that God has called me here for this time, and I am sure of that, it makes settling back in much easier. Reminding myself of Jim Elliot’s quote that wherever I am, to be all there. Reminding myself of that helps me to focus on what I am doing here, the relationships I am building here, and helps me not to let my mind trail off too much where I start thinking about Canada, and all of those things that could be at my finger tips so easily. But really, when I think of it, its such a blessing to love two places so much – I never feel like I’m sick and tired and need to get out of one place, and go to another and I have people in both places that I love dearly. It is truly a blessing, and with that I will choose to serve the Lord wherever I am with joy.

The battle

God has been doing a number in my heart. He is stretching me, refining me, showing me the state of my heart, and pulling me out of my comfort zone. I have always been hesitant to talk about spiritual warfare – I don’t know why. It’s a real thing, but I guess sometimes it may seem far-fetched, uncomfortable or weird; but the reality is, there is a battle going on for our hearts and minds, and it is very real.

This has been one of the things that has been so prevalent in my life since moving to Lusaka. I’ve seen God move in powerful ways. I’ve also seen how the enemy has messed with people’s lives, including my own. I have really struggled with believing the lies of the enemy, and it wasn’t until about two weeks ago when I realized how much I was letting these lies get to me, fill my head, and drive out any truth that was left there. The Lord had literally sent me an angel; that being a friend at church. We first met a couple of months ago when after our church service she came up to me, told me that she felt God telling her to pray for me throughout the service, and she encouraged me by speaking truth into my life about a particular situation that I was facing. She had no clue who I was, what I was going through, and God used her to speak into my life, leaving me FILLED with a peace that I can’t explain. Through that experience we started a friendship. A friendship that I thank God for. Just two weeks ago after chatting about life, she asked me to come over because she wanted to talk to me and pray for me. As I had been talking to her she could tell I was struggling, without me actually saying it. She told me to go home and pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal Himself to me in a mighty way, and convict my heart of things that needed to be changed. That night she also texted me the passage about putting on the full armour of God.

When I went over to her house the next day she helped me work through those struggles – struggles that I didn’t even know were struggles until she called me out on it. She pointed out to me that the things I was saying, and the mindset I was developing sounded like I was believing the lies of the enemy and forgetting God’s truth. So we went through things one by one. We would acknowledge the lie, replace it with what God’s Word says (His promises), give that struggle to Jesus (willingly asking Him to take it), and nail it to the cross (understanding what it meant when Jesus died for me). She prayed over me and reminded me that we need to daily put on the armour of God to protect our heart and mind from the lies that the enemy is trying to throw at us. When the enemy sees something good, he wants to destroy it – so we need to be ready.

I thanked her as I left and told her that I was so appreciative that with her busy schedule of working, being married and having three kids, she would take the time to sit with me and pray over me. And she said to me “Melissa, I don’t even know you that well, but I love you so much”. Honestly, I thank God for her!

We are all facing a battle of some sort. Some are big and obvious, and some are quietly destroying us. These battles have the power to push us to Jesus, or to push us away from Him. It’s all in how we fight. My friend reminded me that the way I need to fight is by reading and memorizing scripture and praying to God that He would fill my mind with His truths, while acknowledging those lies as lies and destroying them. She told me to get rid of anything in my life that was distracting me from God. Even if it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. If it was keeping me from having more of a love for God’s Word, it was a waste of time. Daily put on the full armour of God – why? So you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. She told me that there are some days where it isn’t enough for her to read about the full armour of God, but that she will physically and mentally put on each piece.

I encourage you to be alert, be ready, and fight the right way!

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God,that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God,that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20