Africa (Pt. 2): Kisses from Katie

“…even though I realize I cannot always mend or meet, I can enter in.  I can enter into someone’s pain and sit with them and know. This is Jesus. Not that He apologizes for the hard and the hurt, but that He enters in, He comes with us to the hard places. And so I continue to enter.” —Kisses from Katie, p.23

Katie Davis’ New York Times Best Seller, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, was the first book that began to puncture and crack my preconceived notions of Uganda. So many of the powerful words that danced through the dusty red pages of her book captivated my attention–none moreso than the simple excerpt above. And while the beauty and tragedy of her story cause one page to constantly contrast the next, I found that as I read, this contrast became unavoidable. Real. Beautiful.

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When I awoke the first morning of our journey, I was greeted by the first of many  jarring contrasts that served as a mallet to my presumptions–shattering all that I expected to find.  As I slid back the shadowing curtain and twisted open the rusted lock of my balcony door, I found myself face-to-face with a surreal paradise. Katie writes often about the vast contrast between the beauty of the land, and the ugliness of suffering for many people. Her words had painted a picture in my mind, but the sunrise splashed color and life and vibrance into my expectations.  The land of Uganda was lush, tropical, and electric. The vibrant green of the rich foliage splashed itself against a cloudless blue sky.  Tropical trees stretched towards the sun and Lake Victoria shimmered and waved in the distance. The hoots and whistles of birds spun a song of life through the twists of the breeze, and sharp red dirt roads wove themselves like thin veins across the panorama. I was breathless–overwhelmed by the raw beauty of God’s continent.

I continued to marvel and gawk at the land as we drove a few hours to the town of Jinja. The sun seemed to shine brighter on Uganda. The colors seemed to radiate more energy and joy. The now familiar scent of the land seemed to follow me, lead me, and welcome me to each new place. We bounced and bobbed down the streets, often waving down strangers for directions and finding friends in their soft eyes. There were no street signs, no traffic lights, no police wielding radar guns. There was just simplicity. And life. And the milling and stirring of activity abound. Our greatest means of asking for directions was, “We are looking for Auntie Katie.” And in a town of tens of thousands, they knew right where to point us.

AmazimaBoyWe pulled up to Amazima Ministries and parked just within the thin fence that separated the ministry grounds from a local farmers growing garden.  The expanse was easy and inviting–there was a large concrete gazebo with a straw thatched roof neighboring a few one-room buildings. Behind the buildings stretched a huge playground littered with kids.  Just as we climbed out of our vehicle, the echoes of a bell rang through the open, grassy field and kids came running from the playground and out of thick brush surrounding the area. A few children danced in from the same fence opening we had driven through, and all quickly congregated to the gazebo and lined the empty benches. It was time for “chapel”, and you could watch as the kids squirmed and rustled with excitement. They were entering in with open hearts, excited minds, and thirsty souls–they glowed with anticipation of worshipping the King they had come to know. It was time to praise Jesus.

I watched and listened in awe as these thin, dirty children raised their hands and sang and swayed. Some danced, some played, some laughed. They sang and sang and sang. And smiled. It was both enchanting and convicting to see these tiny children worship so freely. Some wore nothing but rags. Hundreds of tiny, shoeless feet dangled from the chapel benches.  Hundreds of dark, bald heads bounced and bobbed, speckled with white worms and fungus. Yet despite their circumstances, despite the unimaginable things they’ve undoubtedly seen and experienced in their short lives, despite the material things and basic necessities they’ve lacked–they praised!

I was spellbound and eager to spend time with the young woman, no older than myself, who had been so daringly obedient to God and who had built this ministry in His name.  To tell Katie’s story would take me far more space than this blog allows, so I urge you to read her book and dig into her captivating website (http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com).  At 23 years old, Katie is an adoptive mother to 13 Ugandan daughters. She has built a ministry that provides for hundreds and hundreds of children in the neighborhoods of Jinja–covering their school fee expenses, providing them with nutritious food, addressing their medical needs, and giving them a place to gather on Saturdays and praise the King who lovingly led a faithful servant to enter in to these children’s world. A very hard world. A very real world. A very beautiful world.

Amazima

And while my time spent with Katie was moving, the hours spent with the children were moments I will never forget. From worshipping and singing along with their sweet voices, to climbing through playground tunnels and playing “house” with a dozen sweet girls, I found myself in perfect peace and abundant joy. We danced and laughed. We ate rice, hot beans and chicken with our fingers. We tip-toed barefoot through the grass and spoke for hours through our eye contact, alone.  The language barrier was vast, but the translation of a smile was simple. After hours of tickling and hide-and-seek and silly animal impersonations, we sprawled out on the grass and basked in the sun together. A dozen tiny, dirty legs tangled together with mine in a sweaty pile. Sweet hands pulled and rubbed on my clothes, my face, my arms. Before I knew it I noticed what felt like fifty tiny fingers dancing through my hair.  The girls had sat me up and were busy at work braiding and twisting my “mzungu” hair. They toiled and worked and gossiped together in their native language. Every now and then they would giggle and laugh and swat away any boys who tried to join in the activity. I closed my eyes, breathed in a deep whiff of their sour, sweet smell, and praised God in that perfect moment of peace. This must surely be a taste of heaven. This must surely be a glimpse of Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.

What was unique about Amazima was the beautiful contrast that continued to echo so loudly.  The children who filled the playgrounds, danced in the chapel, and tumbled through the fields were, by America’s standards, filthy. Amazima reaches out to the children in the community with the most need. Many, if not all, come from impoverished homes, heartbreaking conditions, and jaw-dropping hardship. Yet through Amazima, some of their physical needs, and many of their spiritual needs are met. They find friendship, love, and hope. Through the selfless provision by Amazima, they find Jesus. And for these precious children, that is enough. Abundant joy and life flows through them. Smiles never escape their faces. Gladness never evades their hearts. They are so very appreciative, so very polite, and so very eager to share with you the love that has been shared with them. Radical need contrasted by simple provision. Radical hurt contrasted by simple trust. That is what defines their radical faith. Simple love.

I want to be a believer who recognizes that deeply that Jesus is ENOUGH. I want to be that grateful for every day and every blessing. I want to shine light like the Ugandan children. I found myself envying their lives. Envying the simple, unobstructed, fervent love they felt for God.  Envying how clearly God moves there. He is present, He nurtures and kneads their tiny hearts, and He comforts them. He holds them, He laughs with them, and He loves them.  As Katie so eloquently said, He enters in. And He loves fiercely.

I so deeply admire Katie for following in His example and doing the same.

(to be continued…)KatieDavis

Africa (Pt. 1): Stepping Out

I paused for a moment at the lip of the plane door.

One last moment to feel safe and secure and clean.

One last moment in my comfort zone.

I sucked in a deep, hot breath of sticky air as an unfamiliar scent encircled my head and tickled my senses. It’s hard to find words to describe the smell of Africa–it is sweet and spicy, a sort of smokey scent with dull hints of pastureland that waft in and out with the wind. The scent is aged and natural and rich. It is relaxing, and ever-present–weaving it’s way through your clothes, your hair, your being. It has a way of welcoming you, and all the while reminding you that you are far from the land you know. It is sour and sharp, yet comforting. The hot breeze steals your worries and robs you of your distractions. I long for the scent of Africa.

The smell of Africa was a perfect stranger to me, and yet it was the first hand I held as I stepped off the plane into a world unfamiliar. I found, quickly, that the hospitality of the land was a beautiful precursor to the hospitality of the people. Warm, sharp, and different…yet inviting.

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We wove our way through the Ettenbe Airport, the streets of Uganda, and the neighborhoods of Kampala. The night was deep and dark–darker than I was used to. It was impossible to survey the land as we bounced and jolted down rough streets, jerking our way through twists and turns of the city. I gazed out my window and watched shanty shops and roasting fires and busy people wiz by. The town was very much alive and milling, and I longed to interact. I longed to enter in to the lives and circumstances and thoughts of the people.  My nervousness faded as quickly as the moon in our rear view as we found our way to our first guest house and tucked in beneath mosquito nets and stirring fans. I dozed off into dreams of what our coming days had in store–thanking God for guiding my days and guiding my way to a continent I had always longed to know.

I carried much with me into Uganda–including many preconceived notions. I had a grand picture in my mind of exactly what Africa was–a picture painted by years of hearing and seeing and learning about Africa from afar. From the heart-wrenching sponsorship commercials on tv, to the stories of adoption, to the Americanized marketability of fundraising for countless initiatives. All of which had been laced with images of malnourished children, haggard women scooping drinking water out of muddy puddles, destitute conditions, and dry, lifeless land. Viewing a continent from halfway around the world through Americanized goggles and over-dramatized insight left me with, in my mind, a pretty clear image of what this place was struggling with. And it left me with a pretty bold assumption of what this place needed: Americans to sweep in and save Africa.

I entered in with this perspective. A perspective reinforced by our media, my imagination, and my westernized ego. Surely we were coming here to be a part of saving Africa. Surely we were going to be messengers of a grand call to action. Surely we were going to have all of the answers for all of this crisis. These poor, poor people. This poor, poor place. Surely we were wiser, stronger, more equipped. Surely Africa needed us.

Surely I was wrong.

The realizations of my ignorance hit me often, and hit me hard. I felt like an untrained, blindfolded boxer standing center ring, with an opponent circling me, popping me and jabbing me without mercy. Then again, there was no time or room for mercy. I had a wildly inaccurate perception of an unfamiliar land, and the continent only had three short weeks to shatter my perceptions and rebuild a reality. There was no time to waste–and I felt, often, like the land knew this. My perspective of Africa was rocked and robbed constantly throughout the trip. I was popped and punched with truth before I could even catch my breath from the jab of realization that had come before. The land swung, the people thumped, and the children tugged at my heartstrings and my insight into a very different Africa than I assumed I would find.

The sharpest and most stinging realization coming with the very first sunrise on the very first morning of our adventure…

(to be continued)

The Adventure Continues…

I’ve never camped a day in my life.

When I was 11, I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and convinced myself I was the reincarnate of Tom Sawyer.  I ran through the woods around our house, bare-footed, building forts out of branches and trying to fashion a make-shift raft for our creek.  I sweat and I climbed and I crawled. But when I heard my dad’s voice echo from our front porch, I ran home to a hot shower and a cozy bed.

That’s the closest I’ve ever come to “roughing it”.

You can imagine my surprise when my cell phone buzzed in early December and after an hour long conversation I realized that I had just committed to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. More notably, I had just committed to 8 days without a shower. In the hot season. In Africa. Did I just say yes to that?

I’m a firm believer that God has a wonderful sense of humor. And I’m a firm believer that He is going to be cracking up at the end of this month as He sits back and watches me brave the wild wilderness. Heck, I’ll probably be laughing at myself most of the time, too. But I’m more than willing to swat mosquitoes, sleep on the ground, and trek the highest free-standing mountain in the world in order to make the Gospel known.

If you’re as confused as I suspect you are at this point, allow me to rewind a bit and share with you what God is doing in my life right now.  Are you ready for the run-down? I will try to keep it concise…

After I did not make the LSU football in August of 2012, I sold all that I owned, donated the money to my sweet friend Kate (Check out her website & support her here: http://kategoeler.theworldrace.org), packed up my pups and moved back to my hometown–Atlanta.  It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the college town that captivated my heart, but I knew that God was calling me back to Georgia. And I knew that I’d always have a home away from home in the beautiful bayou.

I moved into our new house in Vinings and found myself dizzied with joy as I finally had the opportunity to spend daily time with my magnificent mom and hilarious sister.  I had forgotten how much I loved their regular company.  Through every one of the adversities and hardships our family had endured through the past 4 years, I had always been 500 miles away.  Now I had the opportunity to hug my sister, kiss my sweet mom whenever I pleased, and relish in the small daily splendors of “family”.  My heart overflowed.

I took time to settle, rekindle old friendships, and build new relationships with so many wonderful people.  I found a new church home in Passion City Church and have loved learning and growing under Louie Giglio. There are few people in this world who I believe are truly anointed communicators. Not only is Louie one of those people, he is also a beautiful example of a humble, wise, and God-fearing leader who wants nothing more than to make Jesus known. It’s been an absolute joy seeing the church-body at Passion City move in response to God’s overwhelming presence at PCC. (Plus, it doesn’t hurt to praise and worship with Chris Tomlin’s band every week!)

I started my own business–BOLDLIFE,llc–and began navigating the many obstacles of building a solid professional platform, and associating with the right people.  BOLDLIFE is a managing and marketing entity that handles all of my professional endeavors.  The largest of which being professional speaking.  I have been blessed to have the opportunity to travel the country speaking and sharing my heart with businesses, churches, youth groups, athletic teams, young leaders, and more! I have bounced from Georgia to Alabama to Colorado to Florida to Louisiana–requests have poured in and God has been so faithful in seeing to it that I have steady work and a wide reach.  2013 is booking up quickly and I am in the process of building a full website, starting a non-profit organization, and continuing to be sensitive to God’s will and direction in how He wants to use me and how I can honor Him with my days.  It is my heart to inspire, empower, and encourage this generation to live BOLDLY for the Gospel.

I have also been working some with ESPN.  While we are in the brainstorming phase of what exactly my role may look like with the network–whether we may pursue a continuation of the “Meaux Vs.” series, or structure my involvement in a different way– it has been a fun adventure visiting their headquarters in Bristol, seeing how their systems operate, and getting an opportunity to shake hands and have conversation with some influential people in the sports media world.  I have had the privilege of appearing on ESPNU’s college-geared show, UNITE, several times in the past few months.  And while I have always been a guest in the past, I am thrilled to announce that they have hired me to co-host two episodes this coming week (Monday, Feb. 4th and Tuesday, Feb. 5th). I look forward to learning and growing through the experience. I hope you’ll tune in!

It has not been easy following God’s calling in my life.  There are so many times that I–a creature that craves organization and structure–have found myself drenched in tears, frustrated, tired, and desperately bargaining with God to just show me the 5-year plan. Sometimes I wish He would just lay out what my finances are going to look like, what course I’m going to take, and the detailed checklist of what He wants me to do.  It’s hard waking up each day and trusting that He is orchestrating a bigger picture.  Yet every time I doubt His presence and His provision in my life, He never fails to gently remind me that He has a perfect plan.

Case in point: the early December phone call.

As some of you may remember, last year I had the special opportunity of sharing my testimony as a part of Next Step Ministry’s video series.  (If you haven’t seen the video, you can view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7ptcSmKIihA ) Next Step is an organization passionate about getting kids and teens involved in missions work.  They have several locations around the U.S. that they host mission trips to throughout the year.  Each week-long mission trip hosts nightly gatherings in which a video is shown as a part of the program.  My testimony happened to be one piece of the video puzzle last year, and I was thrilled to learn that thousands of kids were impacted by God’s brilliant message of hope through my messy, broken words.

I was also thrilled when Next Step reached out AGAIN and asked me to be a part of their 2013 video series.  My thrill turned to intrigue when they continued on to explain that this year’s video series was going to be slightly different and that I would be woven through each video in the series, rather than just one. And my intrigue turned to shock when they said it was because this year’s video was documentary-style. And that the documentary was going to be shot in Uganda. And Tanzania. And, oh yeah, on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro–19,341 feet above sea level.

(My inner Tom Sawyer was giddy!)

I’m proud to announce that I will be partnering with the Next Step Ministry team as a contributor to their 2013 video series. We will be leaving February 14th and traveling first to Uganda. While there, we will be highlighting the work done by several missionaries and ministries in the cities of Kampala and Jinja.  This includes Fields of Life (http://www.fieldsoflife.com) , Sole Hope (http://www.solehope.com) , Light Gives Heat (http://www.lightgivesheat.org) , Charity Water (http://www.charitywater.org) , and New York Times Best-Selling Author Katie Davis’ Amazima Ministry (http://amazima.org). I would love if you would take the time to click each of these links and learn a little bit more about the heart of these amazing ministries.  I am so excited to have the opportunity to spend time serving with these organizations and learning more about the nation, their needs, and how these missionaries are impacting people’s lives as the hands and feet of Christ.

After a week in Uganda we will hop a flight to Tanzania and prepare to climb Kili.  This will not only serve as a beautiful portion of the documentary–interwoven into each video within the series–it will also be a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual test of endurance and fortitude.  Preparation and training for the climb has already been taxing, and I have no doubt that the 8-day endeavor will be one of the most challenging and exhausting feats any of us have ever attempted. (I’m not quite sure weight-lifting with a bunch of football meatheads is anywhere near as overwhelming as facing Mother Nature’s grandeur and finding a way to navigate terrain, climate, energy, and will. But don’t tell the big strong boys I said that…ha!)

And so I find myself here. Two weeks away from embarking on a journey I’ve always dreamed of taking. I find myself in the grip of a King who reminds me, in tiny ways and in MASSIVE ways, that He is ordering the days of my life. I find myself recklessly following the footsteps of my Lord with an eager heart and an open mind.  I find myself challenged, sustained, anxious, and eased.  I have no idea what the Lord has in store for my heart during this time, but I cannot wait to find out.  And I cannot wait to share the journey with YOU.

Would you like to join me? Your support would mean more to me than I can express.  Above all else, I would appreciate your prayers.  I am seeking, whole-heartedly, God’s purpose for my life. I trust that He is guiding me and using me as He sees fit and that, through my ministry, lives are being touched by Him.  I am just a vessel, and I want to remain a vessel that is unobstructed, flexible, and pliable to His will. I would appreciate your prayers that He continue to shape He into the woman He has designed me to be–no matter what that calls from my life.

If you feel led to support my ministry in any other capacity–whether it be through written encouragement or financial contribution–I would be honored to connect with you.  I am working to raise funds to cover my expenses for the trip (medical expenses for specialized vaccines, appropriate clothing and required climbing gear), as well as funds to allocate to the various ministries we are connecting with. If this sounds like a way you may feel led to bless the work God is doing through my journey, I would love to hear from you.  Please don’t hesitate to email me at:

moisomspeak@yahoo.com

I hope that is a sufficient recap of the past 6 months for my wonderful family, faithful friends, and fantastic followers. Thank you for your constant love and your loyal readership. I am so grateful for YOU!