I think we can all agree that this is a strange time. No one could have seen this season coming and prepared properly for it... but maybe that is the beauty of it.
As I am back in the states for the moment, two words keep coming up in my mind.
There is nothing normal about this season at all. It really is so different.
It's forced different plans, different routines and different environments for some.
When I landed in Togo on March 1, there is no way I could have imagined getting back on a plane and returning back to America... I probably would have told you that there was nothing that could cause me to get on a plane and leave.
Obviously, things are different now...
I am back in the states, working on French with my teammates and working on projects that are going to help propel the ministry forward the moment we get back.
Different isn't a bad word... it's a great word! Yeah, it can be uncomfortable, but it's usually in the most uncomfortable moments that we see God do the most incredible things.
Here's the deal... when I look back on this season, I want to say, "that season was altogether different... but because of it, I am altogether different because of what God did in me".
I hope that this different today helps prepare us to make a Gospel difference tomorrow.
When I flew back into the states and eventually made it to my hometown in Bradenton, FL, I had to go into a time of "self-isolation".
Isolation sounded like a terrible word to this very extroverted extrovert.
I was reminded of another word when in my "isolation"... "solitude".
If I was going to have to be isolated, I wanted to make it purposeful. The spiritual discipline of solitude completely goes against everything that I am...
I don't like sitting still and being quiet... I just don't. I'm sad to say that it has taken some serious practice to sit still for longer than ten minutes.
Through this time of practicing solitude, I have been blown away by how much the Holy Spirit has been so evidently moving in and around me.
I have written pages of notes from simply sitting, resting and listening to what the Lord wants to do in me.
'For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 'Genesis 45:6-8
I love this part of the story of Joseph!
He has just revealed himself to his brothers and immediately begins pointing to what God did through his circumstances.
"So it was not you who sent me here, but God."
Joseph sees the movement of God through all of his circumstances and God had prepared Him for this very moment.
Joseph was different than when his brothers threw him in that pit.
For me, I want to be different after all of this and I am asking God to do that in my time of solitude with Him.
Today is a day to remember all the amazing mothers in our lives. This is a day that I love to post a picture of my mom and make a very insincere comment about how she worships the ground I walk on. It’s become a tradition for me. I try to make sure my mom actually knows how I feel off of social media but I do have a reputation to keep intact in the social media world.
Though my Mother’s Day experience is one that I get to joke about because I do have such an amazing mom in my life, for some this day is unbearably hard.
I have a luxury that others do not.
Some children are grieving the loss of moms. For them this day can be a day of pain as they do not have the ability to be with their mom and celebrate them today.
Some moms are having to live in agony as they are missing children that have been taken from them far too soon.
This week has been an especially hard week for African American moms. I can't imagine the pain, sadness and fear that comes with this holiday for some. It's hard to think how so many moms have had to have some of the hardest conversations with their children this week about the cold, harsh evil in this world.
Some moms may feel alone today because their spouse is gone.
My heart goes out to the families who have been affected by the death of fathers and husbands. This has been a hard few days as some have to navigate a new reality without a husband and father.
For some, today is hard for you to look at all the social media posts celebrating mothers because all your memories of your mom are of pain and suffering.
I got to spend time with my sister and cousin today. My cousin is fostering 2 little girls and my sister is fostering an adorable 8-month-old. As I watched them and held them, I couldn't help but think of the confusion this day may bring for some as they celebrate multiple moms in their life.... but I was also overwhelmed with joy because these girls get to be loved so well by incredible moms today.
I know today can be hard for some and I am hurting with you.
Let today be about all the moms in our lives. Celebrating great memories, mourning and crying with others, being incredible families and moms for those who don't have any.
We couldn't do life without moms and I don't think we would want to if we could.
So, hug your mom, celebrate her even if it is only by memory. Then look around and cry with those who need to cry, hug those who feel alone, be family for those with none and never forget that there are so many different stories all around us.
Listen, learn and love.
Today may be great for some and hard for others. Let's redeem this Mothers Day and make it a day where we "bear one anothers burdens" while celebrating all the woman in our lives that we call mom.
I am currently sitting in the Paris airport, waiting for the next leg of my journey to Togo.
It has been a pretty chaotic last 24 hours in the states... I had a frustrating day at the airport on Friday when I was supposed to be flying out of Jacksonville and landing in Togo on Saturday evening...
However, what was supposed to be a smooth departure turned into a 2 hour fight with the ticketing agents about a new mysterious visa law for me to get into Togo. After a 2 hour battle and jumping through all their hoops, I didn't make my flight and had to wait another 24 hours to leave.
I had just gone through all the emotions of spending my last couple nights with family and friends and saying all my goodbyes. I had a few friends with me at the airport to see me off and instead had to walk out of the airport defeated and emotionally drained.
I was confused, frustrated and exhausted.
The long journey of getting to this very moment has not been easy. It's been a long 2 years or so with a lot of doubt if I would actually ever make it to where I believed the Lord had called me to go.
This was a moment of true doubt for me.
I mean, I am finally here! The day has finally come to fly out and all of a sudden... nothing.
This drove me to Mark 9 on my second, last 24 hours in the states.
"And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "'If you can'! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"
- Mark 9:21-24 ESV
This man had every reason to doubt that his son would be healed.
I mean this evil spirit in the boy had been with him for years and showed no signs of ever leaving.
I can only imagine this father hearing about Jesus and thinking, "maybe, just maybe, He could do something for my boy finally".
He ran into Jesus' disciples and figured surely they can help.
But they were unable to cast out this spirit...
Again another wave of doubt must have come over this man. This was almost his last hope.
But then the father finds Jesus himself and pleads for his help. He asks with a little bit of doubt in his question... "if you can".
Jesus immediately calls him out! "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes".
Then this man says one of the most relatable, honest things he could possibly say. “I believe; help my unbelief!"
I’ll be honest. I typically pride myself on being hopelessly optimistic the majority of the time. But it always seems to be that whenever we need the most faith to step into what He has for us, doubt creeps in like never before.
Like this man I found myself saying to God, “I want to believe you! I really do, but I am struggling with some serious doubt and fear.”
The enemy always wants us to doubt what the Lord has called us to but all God wants from us is to hit our knees and ask God to help us with our unbelief.
It’s these moments that we see God do some amazing things in our lives and the lives around us.
We get to a point where we say, “God, it can only be you because I’m not sure I can carry on much longer.”
I arrived at the airport extra early on Saturday afternoon ready for it to be a fight again. I was pretty sure I had everything I needed this time... but I had some doubt for sure.
This time when I arrived to the counter, they didn’t ask for anything... the mysterious new rule for visas was gone and I checked my luggage in less than two minutes... What?!
How in the world is that possible when the day before I spent two hours of intense battle to board my plane...
Honestly, I may not ever know why I didn’t board the plane on the day I was supposed to... but if nothing else, it brought me to a place where I had to ask God to help me with my unbelief and He did just that.
I am now on my plane and about to take off for Togo. I get to join an incredible team on the ground and be a part of some incredible things that God is doing there.
I’ll take a little inconvenience and doubt to get to see God show up in my life and those around me.
This journey may be tough but Jesus did say, “in this life you will face many trials, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
Who you do life and ministry with will make or break you.
That is evident in Exodus 17 when Moses and the Israelites go to battle against Amalek.
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
- Exodus 17:8-13 ESV
I don't think there is much to add here!
I think the main question is, who are you going into battle with?
It's not a matter of if you are going into battle... I mean, if you are a part of the Family of God it's pretty clear...
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.
- Ephesians 6:12 ESV
So, it's not a question of if... The question is, are you prepared?
Who are the people in your life who will hold your arms up when the battle is long, hard and ugly?
Maybe that's why life and ministry has been so tough for you lately. You are called to fight the battle... but not alone.
"How does it feel?!"
This has been the most asked question that I have received over the last two weeks or so.
I recently became fully funded and am getting ready to take flight to Togo in the coming weeks.
I have been on this partnership development journey for just about two years now. It's been three and a half years since I committed to joining the 6 Degree Initiative in Togo.
I have been traveling and talking to people for the last two years about what we are doing and how I get to be a part of it for the last two years, but being a couple weeks away from my departure date, I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around what is about to happen.
I am moving to Africa!
I am learning a new language!
These are pretty big things and something I don't want to step into lightly.
It truly is surreal... and to be honest, I'm not sure it will hit me until after I have been on the field for a little bit.
Here is what I am learning while preparing for the launch date and transition onto the field:
1. Ask God to show you transitional struggles
I think these will be different for everyone as they transition to the field or any other new area of life, ministry or occupation.
I have been spending time asking God to reveal to me what areas of life I need to grow in as I step into the unknown of moving overseas. The best way I process through things is by journaling. So, I spend time praying and then start journaling my thoughts.
I know myself well enough to know that stepping into a new country, culture and language is going to be especially difficult for me. I am going to be in a place where I can't add a whole lot of value. I won’t be able to understand what is being said and even communicate at the most basic level until I get a grasp on the language.
That is going to be an identity shaker for me.
This is just an example of a specific struggle for me that God revealed to me. Ask God to show you those transitional struggles and begin praying through those.
Yeah, the transition process will be hard, but our God is a pretty big God and can hold you in His arms while you step into the unknown.
2. Pray... A Lot
Man, I'll be honest... ever since becoming fully funded and starting to talk about the departure date, the enemy has hit me hard with serious doubt and fear. The type that can only be prayed through.
In any major transition in life where you are stepping into something God has called you to, it is an affront to the enemy.
It has brought me to my knees most days, asking God for courage and strength.
The transition process requires you to pray a lot!
Invite some people into this with you. Bearing one another’s burdens is something that we are called to do in the family of God. Share the struggles and go to battle in prayer together.
This has made all the difference for me!
3. Say Goodbye Well
This was brought up a while back for me while I was at a cultural training. I kind of pushed it aside and thought this wasn't a big deal for me.
I was wrong...
It hit me that I will be leaving, not knowing the exact time I will be returning. I suddenly felt a strong conviction to let everyone important in my life know how important they really are. Even thousands of miles apart won’t change that, and I want them to know how much they mean to me.
I have been working on doing this by writing letters. This transition is a big step, but I haven’t done it alone.
4. Step into the Discomfort
Something that I have learned in the past 2 years is that when you step into the discomfort you get a front row seat of seeing God do some incredible things.
Any sort of transition is very uncomfortable. It is so natural for us to shy away from the discomfort for obvious reasons but let me plead with you not to run from it.
It is such a beautiful place to be when you look around you and say, " Father, this can only be by your strength". Discomfort is woven into the lives of those who are obedient to the call of God all throughout scripture... but so is Supernatural movement from God in and through those lives.
Don't shy from the discomfort. Willingly and expectantly step into it and watch God move.
I learned about ultimate generosity in the eleventh poorest country in the world...
I took my first ever trip to Togo, West Africa in December of 2016. This was a trip that affirmed the call God had put on my life to go and be a part of the 6 Degree Initiative and join a team that would help start churches where there are none.
While I was in Togo, I had the opportunity to preach at two different churches. One of those churches was pastored by Pastor Koffi. It was a church in a small village up in the mountains of Togo. Pastor Koffi and his family had served faithfully in this region for years with hardly any resources.
After I had preached, Pastor Koffi invited me and the other missionaries to his house for lunch. We went to his small, duplex like home and his wife and son prepared a meal for us to enjoy. The meal he prepared us would cost more than his ten dollar a month rent that he struggled to pay each month. To put it in perspective, the three bottles of soda that he bought for us to enjoy cost him twelve dollars alone.
They set the table for us, served us and then left us to enjoy our lunch. I was overwhelmed by this family's generosity. I had never seen poverty like this and I had never seen a generosity like this.
Pastor Koffi inspired me to live a life of ultimate generosity! He inspired me to not look at giving as a burden on my finances but as an opportunity to honor and bless someone. He inspired me to not only give generously but to live generously. I think about my one life and the thousands of lives in Togo and Benin who have never heard the Gospel. If my life can be used by God to see many people go from death to life, I will gladly give it all for that opportunity.
One, simple act of generosity changed my life forever. What about you? Is God asking you to give? Or is God asking you to go? Whichever it is, I hope you are as inspired as I am by a family who has nothing but gives everything for the sake of the Gospel!
It's the week of Thanksgiving and like most people, I am spending it with family and friends. The holidays are always a great time to be with the people you love and it creates a place to sit back and reflect over the past year and beyond.
Through the festivities, preparing and eating a Thanksgiving meal together, laughing and joking, and competing at the card table; I find myself reflecting over the past few years.
A lot has changed these past few years. I graduated college, joined a church planting team in Africa, joined a mission board and raised money to move to Africa. I started jobs and ended jobs. Built new relationships and ended others. I traveled from coast to coast and put thousands of miles on my car. I have a niece, a nephew and another on the way! I have a new sister-in-law and a couple of younger siblings growing up before my eyes. I lived in five different homes in two different cities...
As you can see, a lot has changed!
There have been some real ups and some serious downs.
And you know what I realized as I sat and reflected?
I have been living in a season of transition since I graduated college.
One thing you need to know about me is that I LOVE to look ahead to what is next... but that sometimes makes me a bit restless in the now.
This has been one of the best seasons of life and one of the hardest as well!
Here is what I am learning about living in a season of transition...
It is really uncomfortable! Like, really, really uncomfortable...
There is nothing fun about patiently waiting on what you are so excited to do. I mean, have you ever seen a toddler who's been told that she is going to Disney World someday soon? (lessons from my sister)
Yeah, I am kind of like my three-year-old niece...
As I continued to reflect, I thought about how much God has grown me in this season.
And I realized something... He had to move me to a season of transition to show me I don't have as much control as I think I do. I actually have none! News to me...
It is in this season of transition that I am forced to rely on God. And when I finally relinquished control, God moved.
He has broken things in me that needed to be broken.
He has built up what needed to be built up.
He has revealed the ugliness of my sin and showed me the beauty of His grace and love.
A season of transition may be uncomfortable but I am learning to love it and welcome it. Yeah, it's uncomfortable, but when you step into the discomfort, you find Peace, Love, Grace, and Forgiveness all wrapped into one. Jesus.
I am addicted to being uncomfortable, because when I am, I get to see God do incredible things! When I am in a position that makes me so vulnerable that the only way to get through is to trust God more, something always happens.
Idols are destroyed. Sin is broken. Relationships are mended.
I am reminded of the passage in James 1
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
Now, let me be clear... I do not believe that I am facing any trial of the sort he was speaking to when he was writing to this church in particular. However, "various kinds" includes moments of discomfort.
It is these uncomfortable seasons that the Lord is using to make us complete.
In the West, we are pretty comfortable. It is our instinct to run from discomfort but we should be praying for it in our lives.
Nothing will change you more than Jesus. Jesus saw the discomfort and he walked toward it. Nothing will feel more uncomfortable than letting go of your control and trusting Him more. And you will never be the same when all of you, is all of Him.
So yes, I am currently living in a season of transition and probably will be for the next couple of years. I am so thankful for this season and I am excited to see what God will do in me and through me.
Let's stop running from discomfort and allow the Lord to use it to reveal His ultimate Glory.
What are the uncomfortable things that you are running from?
Is it a sin that you are fearful of revealing?
Is it a conversation you know you need to have with someone but you are afraid of what they will say?
Have you felt lead to give to a person in need but are concerned about your own finances?
Do you have a wound that you don't want to talk about because it would be too uncomfortable to deal with?
Get down on your knees and ask God to give you the courage to step into the discomfort... then take a step. Watch what He will do. Then Worship Him for His faithfulness and His Goodness.
Every time I am in Togo, West Africa, I notice something in every village we enter in to.
They all look different. Some look like a blob of cement or clay and others are a little bit more detailed. No matter what, every village has one.
These idols represent a deity that the people in that area sacrifice to. It's like when you enter your neighborhood and there is a sign with the name of your neighborhood on it. This sign represents where you live.
The difference is, you probably don't give up the only meat that you and your family will eat that week, to this stone image.
You don't look at that sign for protection or peace.
You probably aren't concerned with your sign not being pleased with you and as a result becoming cursed.
This is a daily worry and responsibility that these people deal with.
It is so easy to see how the enemy works in this area of the world. I mean we all know the ten commandments, right?
"Thou shalt worship a stone image"?
Kids are born every single day in Togo and grow up thinking that they have to please this stone and the deity that it represents to have a prosperous life. They will worry about not having the proper amount of food to sacrifice to this idol and go without food themselves.
It is so easy to sit back and think, "wow! How could they live that way?". "How don't they see how foolish this is?"
I grew up as a pastors kid and am so thankful and blessed to have been brought up in Gospel centered family that shared the love and hope of Jesus. One day I made my own decision to follow Him and was forever changed.
The reality is, these people have not. They have grown up in a family that clung to the hope of an idol. They don't know about the One True God who created them. They don't know about His only Son who sacrificed Himself for them so that they will never have to sacrifice anything to find favor. They don't know that they can have hope, peace and freedom in Christ.
Romans 10:14-15 says,
"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Can you imagine living a life trying to please someone and never being able to live up to the demands? Can you imagine living in fear and desperation, just looking for some hope? Can you imagine being so lost that you just didn't know what to do any more?
The answer to all of those should be, YES!
Because before you knew Jesus, that was you.
Maybe you were lucky enough to not grow up in the eleventh poorest country in the world. What a blessing!
Yeah, your life before Christ may have looked a little different than someone who has grown up in a voodoo culture.
But the result is still the same. You. Were. Lost...
Now, you're not! Now you have a hope! You have Good News to share with those who don't know!
Never take for granted the gift of salvation.
West Africa has a dark history of wars, colonization and slavery. The coast stretching from Ghana through Togo, Benin and Nigeria was formerly known as the Slave Coast. This area was conquered by the French, British and Portuguese all at different times throughout the salve trade. The countries of Togo and Benin saw over 10% of the entire western slave exportation.
It has been a dark past as you can imagine.
Years removed from this horrible past and there is a different bondage today. This area has become the birthplace of voodoo. Lomé, Togo is the leader of all fetish sales in the world.
Every year on January 10th there is a massive voodoo festival. On the beaches of Ouida, Benin thousands of people will gather together standing in the exact place their ancestors boarded crowded ships to be shipped somewhere to the west.
In their freedom today, they will commemorate their ancestors by sacrificing goats to idols and participating in other rituals led by voodoo priests and priestesses. People come to experience the supernatural and often to participate in it.
As I stood there on those beaches taking in my surroundings, I couldn't help but feel an incredible weight on my body. Things seemed to move in slow motion and those scenes will be etched in my mind until the day I die.
I saw free people celebrate their freedom by worshiping deities in the form of idols. They were seeking a supernatural power that would save them and were becoming enslaved to it.
In this specific area their main deity is the python. People, in service to this deity, will cut slits in their forehead and cheeks to mimic the breathing holes of the python. This is an act to signify that they are in service to the deity of the python.
Even today as I sit back and think about those scenes, I can sometimes feel the heaviness of that day.
These people have overcome years of exportation of precious human life and now choose to enslave themselves to a supernatural power in the form of an object or animal. It is so clear to see the foot print of the enemy here.
This is why I am going. I have been set free by the blood of Christ and I can now live freely! By the gift of grace, it cost me nothing! It is free and I am free in Christ. That is a message that needs to be shared with the people enslaved that have never known or heard. What an opportunity to bring the Good News that they can find freedom in Christ and be forever changed!