a week ago today | tanzania, africa

A week ago today I was sitting on a plane. Laughing, already reminiscing the trip, but anxious to see my family. Planning my trip back, but excited to take home and share what I saw, what we did, and what God was/is showing me about Himself that is humbly causing me to see myself and others differently.   In case you didn’t know, or aren’t friends with my mom on Facebook (love you, momma), I just got back from Africa! What grace it was to be there and what grace it is to share it with you all!

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On a separate issue, I’m trying to work on a little pride problem I have. I struggle to know what to say/share on any sort of social media. Nothing is ever quite good enough when I write, and I dread honestly showing my life or letting too many people in on it. I cringe a little at the hours I will probably spend writing this post, worrying about how much I should say, or if I’m properly conveying my feelings & thoughts appropriately, and second guessing my grammar. My backstroke key may give out before this is all over. But for the sake of time, my pride, and you all, I ask you bare with me through my grammatical mishaps, and my tendency to blabber and share.

Though half of this post is about the basics of my trip, where we went, who and how we served, the other half  is a little more personal. I’ve been praying about how I can openly and honestly share about what God is doing in my life, I tend to not do that often in large groups, or especially on any social media. But I’m excited, hopeful, and humbled by what God is doing in my mind and heart right now through life and about what He did on this trip. He’s worthy of all praise, and His work and grace is worthy of being shared openly. Even if that means I have to post a little more transparently than I’m normally comfortable with. My attempt at sharing the deeper part may not mean much to y’all, or even make any sense, but if you care to hear or are just bored, I invite you to keep reading.

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It’s a really neat thing to be able to travel so far, yet feel so at home. I’ve never been so far in the world, never traveled over the ocean (a daunting thing to do for the first time when you stop and think about it), never seen that kind of a culture in action, never eaten so many tangerines or had so many sodas. I’ve never had so many bloody blisters or whacked my leg with a dull machete, had so many mysterious bruises, felt that kind of dry heat, or been bit by so many horse flies. I’ve never seen such a landscape that made my heart leap; I’ve never heard the stories that were told, or loved a people so much that I knew so very little about. I’m sure it’s well known and expected that a common thing to happen to one who goes on a missions trip, is to fall in love with the first place God takes them. I certainly did. I don’t know that I’ll ever go back (though I want to terribly), but Tanzania, and Mavuno Village specifically, took a piece of my heart.

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May 20, 2015 a group of twelve of us left from the Joplin airport to Mavuno Village in Tanzania, Africa. Mavuno is a small little village an hour or so outside of Mwanza, on the edge of Lake Victoria. Dan and Bethany Tanner founded Mavuno Village in Tanzania with a desire “to bring glory to God by placing vulnerable and abandoned children of Tanzania in Christ-centered homes for the purpose of showing them Christ’s love with the hope that they too will come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus in order that they might be His disciples.” (check their website out here)

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 (photo from Caleb Clark)

Mavuno, which means harvest, serves many different purposes in their “community”. They do a lot of literal harvesting, Mavuno produces all sorts of crops which provides jobs for local men and women, but they also are doing a lot of harvesting of individuals minds and hearts as well. Not only do they serve as a place of refuge for children, but a home for them. They are no longer orphans as they are each given parents who live on Mavuno’s property. These precious kids, who we got to love on and enjoy this last week, are brought up in family style homes and are raised learning about what a Biblical family should look like. They’re given education and taught the value of work and through farming, and they are shown the love our Savior has for them, and others in their country, in families that are focused on the cross. Mavuno also serves as a place of employment for many men and women from surrounding villages. While given a stable and fair job, Dan, Bethany, and others who are apart of Mavuno, are also able to reach out and disciple to the many people who are living or working of Mavuno’s property everyday.

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There is always something to do at Mavuno, there was never a moment when I couldn’t find something to do. While we were there, we had two “assignments,” if you will, one being to love on those kiddos and do a craft each evening. The other project for the week was to help pour a concrete pad and start a roof on a pavilion-type structure that will be used for a million different things: a church, a place for the kids to run around or skate and play, a market place, or just a place of fellowship, pretty much just anything they need it for.

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So, during the day while the older kids were at school, our team and other Mavuno employees mixed and poured a lot of concrete, painted, welded, and used a machete quite a bit, which honestly I enjoyed a little too much. We all had some pretty gnarly blisters after knocking all of the knots off of the trees that would serve as the beams for the roof. I was a bit of a soup sandwich that week… on the first day alone I broke a plate, gave my leg nice smack with the machete (no worries, it was pretty dull by that point and just left a bruise), then broke one of the few power tools they had, the plainer, after I got it caught in my skirt. Breaking the plainer led to a week long, tedious job of hand plaining those 36 (37ft and 4inches to be specific, right Jade?) foot long poles, that only the people who worked for Mavuno seemed able to do efficiently. I felt super bad about that one, I’m surprised they didn’t ask to send me home. As the week went on, the guys, who worked especially hard (I’m so proud of all of you), continued to mix and pour the concrete pad and on the last day attempt (very, very dangerously) to raise the trusses. You should ask me to explain that in person sometime.

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(Photos by Caleb Clark)

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The ladies on the trip worked a lot on the construction site, but we also did various other jobs (organizing, painting, running around where ever needed really), and my sweet niece, Grace, who was also on the trip, got to play with the young kids running around during the day. I know that week was absolutely physically exhausting for the men on our trip, one of them being my older brother (who loved every second of that labor, he does it for a living). But, it was really neat for me to be able to watch them each individually serve to the best of their ability. To watch them learn a lot from each other and learn so much from Dan (who is a powerhouse, I’m sure from no other source than grace of God). To watch them interact through the language barrier with the young Tanzanian men working with them, and to watch them just be worn out. That sounds like a strange thing to think is neat, and I know that was tough for a lot of them to be so tired and hot all day, but watching them push through all that and serve with “happy hearts” and with very little complaints was really cool. You did strong work, guys, and it was a serious blessing.

I was also immensely blessed by, one, the girls who were on the trip with me. I have never laughed so much while working, or laughed so much at absolutely nothing. Ever. I’m pretty sure being so close to the sun was seriously getting to our heads, because no one could say anything without hysterical laughing to follow. It went on all week, and not only that, but hearing their stories, hearing what was on their minds, and their perspective of the trip was a big highlight of being there for me. I was also incredibly blessed by Bethany. I have nothing but high respect and admiration for her. She graciously welcomed and served a motley crew of twelve into her home, and throughout the week continued to be a pleasure to be around. Sharing stories, personal experience of what its like to live in Tanzania, what it looks like for her it be a missionary and also the wife of one too. She listened intently and patiently to anyone who was with her. Whether she realized it or not, while humbly sharing her own struggles, it in turn gave us a lot of counsel and inspiration to be a woman after God.

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When about 4:00 rolled around everyday, the older kids would be getting back from school and we’d do a craft with all of the kiddos (about 23 total, it fluctuated) . Honestly, I didn’t deeply connect to any of the kids, though I love all of them and would have taken any of them back with me. I’m used to being around kids in large groups and having to control what was going around us, and this week I got to just step back and enjoy them. One thing I’m bad at is just being where I’m at, listening or just watching and soaking moments in. My mind is usually going a hundred miles per hour trying to keep up, but this week I really felt like God, through some circumstances, helped settle my spirit and my mind a bit. By His grace I think I was able to just be quiet, and enjoy those kids that joy just abundantly flows out of. Every evening I got to watch them play, or talk and interact with each other. I got to watch my team get to love and bond with them. I got to see those precious children of God, who know very well that they are children of the Father, just be happy to be. And it was so, so good. Thank you, Jesus, for them, and thank you for those moments.

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I have so much more I could say about being at Mavuno, and I’d love to tell you more if you ask. Overall though, I was blown away by so many things: the people, the landscape, but mostly just how big God is. How much He covers and takes care of. He is doing such good work everywhere, but especially through the Tanners at Mavuno. He is moving powerfully there, and all the while taking care of his people and His land. Dan and Bethany do need help though, you can see on their website how to support financially, but they need prayer. God is always faithful to provide for them, pray that continues and grows. They are also sorely in need of people. They need Godly parents, so they can continue to take more children, and need parents for the kids they have now. They also need qualified, faithful employees for their offices. God knows and is already preparing someone to fill those roles, but we ask He bring those people quickly.

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By the end of the week we were given the opportunity to spend three days and two nights in the Serengeti and in the Ngorongoro Crater. A lot of us were excited, but I know a lot of our minds were still back at Mavuno and we had a slight pull to be back at the village. It was hard for some for us to get over the guilty feeling that we were on a missions trip, we shouldn’t be here, myself being one of those. But what became clear tome later is that we didn’t need to felt guilty. What an opportunity! I mean, how often do you get a chance to see something as spectacular as what we saw? God’s creation is literally breathtaking. He created it for our delight! What a kind Father we have, to give us something like that, to softly point us back to His glory. He created something so miraculous that we can completely stand in AWE of it. So we could see and feel and smell and be blown away by His brilliant craftsmanship. He’s not only made (from absolutely nothing, I might add) a piece of art that can in no way be recreated by man, but it functions and works, it moves, and grows, and changes, and has purpose. Again, all while looking beautiful! I personally started to understand that, seeing in a different way just how big, how awesome our God is, was just as important as serving back at Mavuno. They go hand in hand together. They both bring such glory to God, and are both needed to help us begin to see Him and know Him a little better.

I had two favorite parts of those three days, the first was the moment we pulled up to the top of Ngorongoro Crater. Pictures and words do no justice to that place. It’s one of the seven wonders, and there is no doubt it should be. I have never seen anything like that, and it was hard to see with the tears it brought on, fogging up my vision. Oh, to think about how amazed I was just to be standing in the presence of God’s creation, makes imagining standing in His actual presence something my heart flutters at, how much more will I be amazed?!

My other favorite part, and might very well be one of the hardest parts that week to swallow, was pulling out of the Serengeti. What was hard to swallow was the contrast that there was leaving the park, it goes straight from God’s stunning creation, to poverty stricken and broken villages lining each side of the highway all the way home. It was hard to drive by all those people, many who are lost and hurting, when we just came out of something that seems so perfect. This was still God’s miraculous creation, but the more evidently fallen side of it. The side that feels, the side that hurts, longs, breaks, and sins. But the side that can be redeemed, its the side of His creation that is loved and cared for far deeper by God than the side we just drove out of. These people, just like you and I, live in just as fallen of a world, are just as filthy and stained, struggle with the same sins, and who are inherently evil just like you and me, are not only created… but loved by the same man who created all of that the jaw-droppingly beautiful Serengeti. And that, friends, should make us stand in awe. That is far more miraculous and far more spectacular than anything I could have ever seen in the Serengeti or anywhere on earth. What mercy He has for us all! So as we drove in that car, I think each of us were feeling an overwhelming sense of Christ’s presence in a different way. We had music playing softly, and without ever saying a word to each other, we all sat and just worshiped quietly. I know a lot of tears fell and a lot of hearts were softened a little more by His faithful work in our lives. I am so grateful for that time all the way home, and I wish I could describe it better.

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If I’m honest, nothing that happened on the trip was an “ah-ha” moment for me. I don’t think anyone really had that this trip, some of us even shared that with each other. Which truthfully I think is okay! I think too many go into mission trips, or just walk through life in general, waiting and looking for that life-shattering thing that’s gonna change us, when sometimes God doesn’t work that way. Don’t get me wrong, He uses BIG things to stir us up for Him! But you know, sometimes God just doesn’t let us experience those big things. Some days, and if we’re honest probably most days, God just lets us live in the dull parts of life, we have boring painful, numb days where the zest and desire for God are hard to summon up. Sometimes we don’t have those ridiculously passionate bursts for Christ, sometimes we don’t feel things at all. Its those time though, that we can’t let consume us. Those times where we’re either searching for God’s hand in our lives because we don’t feel like He’s there, or those places where we know He’s there we just don’t want him, the fact is that He’s still there. God uses those times when we’re spiritually low or dry just as much as He uses those high, passionate moments. He is still shaping us and transforming our minds and hearts to be more in his likeness. My dad always says our feelings follow faith, and I’ve only found that to be more and more true. It’s a test of our faith, those dry spots, and His strength in us enable us to continue to pursue Him through the mucky, desireless, trials of life. He is still just as good and just as worthy to be praised in those times. For those on the trip that really struggled with seeing what God had for them, I think one thing may be that he was showing us was that sometimes its okay just to sit, and have to just go off of what we know, not what we feel. Be encouraged friends, He’s working in you!

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About a week before I left for Africa through some particular circumstances God had already begun a work in me. And if I’m honest I learned more that week and a half before the trip, than I did on the trip itself.  The work continued through Africa and my mind and heart were and are still being reconstructed, in a sense. God, the week before, had begun to draw and bring to light some serious sin inside of me that I hadn’t seen. He made clear how broken I was, and through a really rough and painful process He began to prove how filthy I was, down to the core, but in turn was proving just how good He is. How faithful and how caring He is. He dug deep, and I realized that the hurt and the pain I felt which was almost more than I could bare, was all grace. He reached to the depths of me and His mercy pulled my sin of idolatry, unbelief, hatefulness, bitterness and a lot more out so I could see it, so I could see me for who I was. And in turn, I saw Him for who he was. I, for eleven days, laid there and felt empty, felt grief beyond what I knew I could feel. I begged and pleaded in prayer after prayer that He fill and put together my heart which felt left in shattered pieces, and He did. He held me and put together in grace. He cradled me gently when I didn’t deserve it. He filled what felt like a chasm inside of me. What a Father! I for the first time began to see His grace that He extends so abundantly, His mercy, his faithfulness, care and love so very differently than I had before. I, coming out of a time in my life of feeling so spiritually dry and numb, began to have a desire and thirst for Him and His word spring up again. I used to recognize my sin and recognize grace, and pound and beat myself with my sin and shame just in the hopes to feel something again. To feel bad enough, because I wasn’t worthy, and my lack of feeling meant I was ungrateful or really unaware of how big of a deal my sin was and how big of a deal the cross was. But, the fact of the matter was, that our faithful, loving Father, in all His mercy and grace and power, did save us and give us grace. And because of that, I no longer have to feel guilty or shame, but He lets us feel those thing so that we can rejoice and praise Him because He’s paid the price for that! He’s paid in full, we are wiped clean and made new, without the weight of sin and death on our shoulders anymore. What joy should fill our hearts, and what joy I am so grateful I finally feel. He is good. Oh, He is good.

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And so is his timing! At first I was dreading Africa, the trip looked a lot differently after the events from the week before. But He knew what He was doing. Throughout the trip He solidified so much that I had been learning about Him. His faithfulness and care for Mavuno, for those people that He loves and cares for just as much as he loved and cared for me that last week. Even His care was shown in the sense of putting people in my life who love me and care for me. Many of you sent cards and words of encouragement, and I know were praying back here at home, and I am so thankful for each of you. His purpose and design in the Serengeti where every blade of grass is accounted for, every stripe on every zebra (which we saw thousands of) was purposefully placed there by God. Those things, whether placed there just for our enjoyment, or with a purpose to function and have a part in an environment. He cared so deeply for all of those animals, specks of dirt on the ground, and millions of other little details. That it makes it crazy to think how much more He cares and loves us who were created in His image!

He loves us deeply, feverishly, passionately, and powerfully! Can you believe that?!

(pictures to come on Facebook and eventually in another post)

If you’ve made it this far congratulations, I’m sure you are one of few, I apologize that this was so long. I don’t even feel like I covered everything I wanted to say, believe it or not. So if you have any questions about anything, from serious stuff, down to what I ate, I’d be thrilled to talk with you.

I’d like to end with sharing some scriptures, and actually, just lines from songs that either were sent to me, or that God has laid on my heart for the last month.

Thanks for reading!

Blessings and love to you, and to God be all the glory forever and ever,

Ruth

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.  He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!  For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.  ”

Psalms 107.9-16
“The Lord your God is in your midst, I’m arty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you buy his love; he will exalt over you with loud singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

“I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you to give you hope and a future”

Jeremiah 29:11

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ”

Ephesians 4.32

“For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? The God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on The heights”             Psalms 18.31–33

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!… they are more than the sand…”                               Psalms 139.17-18

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”               1 Corinthians 1.27

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

2 Corinthians 9.15
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him”

Philippians 2.13
“The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope”                      Romans 15.13

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;”      Isaiah 40.11
“But we are out of those and shrink back and I destroyed, but of those who have faith and persevere their souls”          Hebrews 10.39

“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus”
“Jesus, lover of my soul, 
Let me to Thy bosom fly, 
While the nearer waters roll, 
While the tempest still is high. 
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, 
’Til life’s storm is past; 
Safe into the haven guide”
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my That caused the Lord of blissTo bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

When I was sinking down, Beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;

To God and to the Lamb I will sing; Who is the great I AM, While millions join the theme, I will sing.

and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on. I’ll sing His love for me, And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,”

“I need thee every hour, most gracious lord”

“ev’ry condition–in sickness, in health,

In poverty’s vale or abounding in wealth,

At home or abroad, on the land or the sea–

As thy days may demand, as thy days may demand,

As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.”
“Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He: Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear, And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears; Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see; Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies, I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.”

” O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.”

“No day in my life has past, That hasn’t proved me guilty. Prayers are uttered too fast From a heart that’s cold and empty.

Oh, all in me calls for this It calls for my rejection This heavy unrighteousness, Oh is there no protection? My best services are rags, my best deeds are filthy. 

Grant me hear thy shoring voice, That in thy wounds is pardon Grant me see thy willing choice To make my hard heart softened  Keep the broken-hearted sure, Clinging to thy cross, our cure.

Oh Blessed Jesus, May we find a covert in thy wounds 
Though our sins, they rise to meet us, How they fall next to the merits of you”
” Hast thou heard him seen him known him, is not thine a captured heart?… joyful choose the better part. Captivated by his beauty”

“Be still my soul, the lord is on your side, bear patiently the cross of grief and pain”

“O love incomprehensible ”
“My raptured soul will rise up and give a cheerful spring”

“Thy mercy, my god, is the theme of my song, the joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue”

“How deep the father love for us, how cast beyond all measure
“Oh to be loved, by Jesus”

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