renmen

Love.

If I use it I mean it. I don’t throw it around easily, so when I say it I care about that person a lot.

I’ve been the one on the other end of ‘I love you’ who awkwardly goes, ‘uh, yah, well…me too.’

I think that too many people throw around that ‘L’ word without even thinking about it.

We are not talking about a word that conveys just liking something, or kind of thinking that you are probably at a point that you love someone. Or worse, they said it and I have to say it back.

We are talking about real love. Love that asks for nothing in return. Humility. Surrender. Unconditional. Sacrificial love.

Love manifested as human, crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ALIVE.

That definition of love far exceeds any version used in describing ice cream. No matter what country, or how hot it is!

Many languages use specific words for specific types of love.

In Creole there is love, love for each other and being in love with someone who is a bit more than a friend.

In Hebrew there are seven different ways to refer to love. The main three are love for God, love for a friend and love for someone who is well…you get the gist.

But in English, there is only one word for love of all forms. See where we get confused with our uses of love?

Several weeks ago, I was at Leogane at one of the villages we support. The kids were playing a game with me and asking, ‘Renmen Jezi?’ Love Jesus? Well yah! ‘Renmen Dieu?’ Love God? Of course! ‘Renmen Satan?’ Hold the phone, what? Non!!!! Which was heard with a resounding cheer by the kids. Over and over we went, other kids would get called over, “She understands! Ask her!” they would tell them.

I got a crash course in the word for loving another in Creole that day.

The next week I was in one of my favorite places, other than the villages, I get to take teams near Petionville in Port-au-Prince. Papillion had started screen printing shirts, and I found one that said ‘Renmen Ayiti.’ All because of the kids at Leogane, I immediately knew what it said. ‘Love Haiti.’ It’s a safe bet that I now own it.

The reason I don’t use ‘I love you’ carelessly is not because I have a cold, black, crusty heart. It is because the intent behind it, and the belief, should not be tossed around as if all love by our American definition is equal. I am intentional with my love. I don’t just say it to make someone feel good, I say it because I mean it and every element that should be backing up those words will be the relationship I have with that person.

I love Jesus, with every fiber of my being actually, and most days, my love for him is completely backed up by my actions. Most days.

Last weekend, I was at the village next door with a team and hanging out with some of the kids that I’ve gotten to know over the last couple of months. Takyra is one of those fellas, although I most often refer to him as the bubble ninja from my first weekend here. He’d been standoffish the last couple of times, but I’d also been spending intentional time with a special kiddo while his American friend was in the States.

There I was…in the heat of the day, spinning Takyra around until we are both so dizzy neither one of us could stand upright. But his laughter, oh, friends, his laughter…it is contagious. You cannot hear his giggle and not join in the fun. For the first time since I got here, I had to use our bus as a safety zone so my head would stop spinning, because Takyra kept wanting spin after spin after spin. Giggle and spin. Giggle and spin.

I got off the bus, spun him again and he landed giggling and came in close for a hug. He looked up at me with these beautiful brown eyes and whispered something I couldn’t understand. I leaned in closer so he could repeat, and still could not hear him. I said, ‘Mwen pas comprend.’ I don’t understand. He repeated and I still wasn’t getting it.

Laughing…I repeated, ‘Mwen pas comprend!’

He looked at me. Smiled that gorgeous smile of his, stepped back confidently and said loudly, ‘Mwen renmen ou.’ While gesturing with his hands at himself, then pointing at me.

All of a sudden…it clicked. I knew this word! Renmen. Love.

I love you.

My mind scrambled. Did he want something? I didn’t have anything, we’d been spinning in circles for about 20 minutes and he knows I don’t bring ‘stuff’ with me. Just myself. He’d said it so quietly at first…did he know what he was saying? Of course he did. He speaks Creole. I’m the language idiot.

After all that finished racing through my head, I just leaned down, wrapped him in my arms and whispered, ‘Mwen renmen ou.’

IMG_3330His grin sparkled as his small hand wrapped within my own while he led me to sit down on the steps…in the hot Haiti sun. Some things you just have to sacrifice a piece of yourself for and in this instance it was redhead skin in the hot Haiti sun. With our sweat joining into one big stream, he landed in my lap, and we sat there until it was time for me to head back home…just over the wall. I’m overjoyed to see where God will take our friendship, and what our friendship will look like over the next year. I never imagined I would feel this attached after just two months. But then again, I know my God does crazy things once you surrender the pieces of yourself that don’t reflect him. And however many times it has happened…in Haiti or Russia or wherever…it is completely supernatural, and it asks for nothing in return.

Love comes down to our ability to let God supernaturally flow through us so we are reflecting God in all aspects of presence, time and sacrifice in all forms. Some more extreme in the case of our Savior’s sacrifice, and others are simpler when it is a sacrifice of comfort or time. Real love requires a lot of surrender, and an ability to be honest with who you are when the other person is around. Somehow, God strips off every layer of who I am when I am among the orphans of our world. What is left behind is a woman who chooses her Savior every day and chooses to share the love of her Savior with others.

It all comes to love, and really meaning what you convey. Asking for nothing in return. Constant. Reliable. Intentional. Unconditional.

Renmen.

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presence

Presence is a powerful thing. Absence is heartbreaking. But in order for the reality of presence to be the most powerful, absence in some form has to be realized.

In mid-March I stepped off of a plane onto foreign soil, and into a new normal full of presence, love and a consistent outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is overwhelming at times. A good overwhelming…one I have been aching for over the past several years.

On my first weekend in Haiti, I got out of the van at Leogane and there was a small fellow that chose me. It is an intense emotion to be chosen, and I’ve been honored to experience it before in other places where I have been stepping into the world of an orphan. The first time was 10 years ago when it changed me, and I thought it would never happen again. It did, and it has again…a few times over.

I wasn’t expecting it so soon. I thought it would take time, since I’ve got nothing but time to invest and love over the next year or so.

But this little guy stood out like God had placed a neon sign over his head…just for me.

We colored, we put stickers on a foam sheet and we were present. He was content to just sit in my lap or climb in my arms, and I was content to let him.

God marked that moment…my first village, my first weekend on the ground, my first experience with Global Orphan Project in Haiti as well as the amazing realization that I get to come back to this place and these kids every other week, if not every week. God marked all of those moments with the presence of Chales.

The next week as I accompanied another team out to Leogane, I didn’t see him and other kids were pulling on me. I had given myself a pep talk that morning, “It’s not about forcing relationships. He might not remember you. This isn’t about me, it about supporting local church who are giving these kids what they need.”

I had no expectations, which meant when I walked out of the bus last Friday at the same village…I had no expectations when Chales was the one who hopped into my arms first.

Honestly, I had the humorous conversation in my head of “Is this is the kid I think it is? I’ve met A LOT of kids…”

IMG_3152Then I pulled out my phone and brought up the photos from the first weekend of the two of us when he was making faces in my mirrored aviators and making himself laugh. Chales looked at the phone, looked at me, looked back at the phone and exclaimed, ‘Me! Me!’ quickly followed by ‘You! You!

He never left my side the whole time our team was there. He wanted to be held. He kept touching my arms to make sure I was still there. He played with the other photos on the phone. He was so excited when he saw himself from 3 weeks earlier and kept wanting to see that first photo. That day was a blessing. A huge blessing…the blessing that is the tangible touch of God on us.

Last Monday found me dropping one team off at the airport, and joining another for their day…to Leogane.

I had one foot on the ground and wasn’t even out of the bus before he was in front of me with his arms up begging to be held. We walked the property with him on my hip, on my back, back on my hip before I was told to ‘Sit down.’ in Creole, at which point he climbed into my lap.

Just to be clear, when the kids want to be held then fall asleep in our arms, it is HOT in Haiti, and the kids start sweating when they sleep. That’s right, go for the mental image of how sweaty we are combined with how sweaty they get…mmhuh…there, you got it.

I am in Haiti, because God’s story intersects with my own. I am here because God’s presence in my life give me opportunities to make choices to obey his calling. God’s story is massive. He is the God who reigns over the entire universe. We get to be present within God’s story and live in God’s truth. My story gets to claim a piece of God’s story, and God grafts it into his overall story. Each person that travels down here gets to claim their part of God’s story in Haiti. These kids transform lives. Haiti transforms lives, and sends teams back to tell the story in their home congregations and groups.

God calls us all to be story tellers wherever he might have us in the world. It is exactly how Jesus sent the disciples out to bear witness to what they had seen. If the disciples had not been story tellers…we would not be believers.

IMG_3392Our world is beautiful, but it is most beautiful in the moments that God graces us with a picture of his Kingdom. His Kingdom was alive and present when my story and the story of an orphan named Chales collided as he fell asleep in my arms in the exact place he was in my arms 4 weeks earlier. And then God brought the revelation that I would be back in that place…soon. It was not a 5 day trip, or a 10 day visit to some amazing kids for me. I get to come back, and that is something I have been felt called to for a long time.

As I was leaving I was thanking the pastor for allowing us to come, when his immediate response was, ‘We wait for you to bring more friends to us!’

Then I asked, ‘Pastor, what is Chales’ story?’

Pastor responded with, “Oh! That boy there? He is from a village far, far away on the coast of Haiti. Water came in, and took his whole family out and he was the only one left. A pastor friend of mine called and said, ‘Can you take this boy?’ and I could not refuse even though it was so far, far away.”

As Chales slept, combining a gargantuan amount of his sweat with my own, he would startle in his sleep and his little hand would tighten around my neck to make sure someone was still there. Holding him that close all day made me very aware of the smell of urine on him. Nightmares? Bullying? Only God knows. I will never forget that tight grip of a boy who saw his family taken away, lost everything he knew and found himself in a place with 80 other kids far away from home.

It is the telling of the moments when our stories collide in this world, when God marks us and allows us to see glimpses of his Kingdom, that further the Kingdom of God more than a sermon (sorry, Shawn!), a worship song (sorry, Jules!) or conference. In the absence of God through our sin, we find the presence of something powerful through story telling that brings us face to face with salvation which always pushes us back to the heart of God and into his presence.

It is in your willingness to be present, and not distracted by the things of this world, when God is showing up that finds your story to colliding with his. It is being obedient to God. It is loving him so much that it physically pains you to be separated from him. It is believing that God shows up in relationships and community.

Be a story teller. Be willing to share yourself with others. Be open to loving unconditionally. Be a risk taker. Be a Kingdom walker. Be present.

good, right & true

What is good, right and true? Not much in this physical world, right?

There is sin, and in sin is brokenness and in brokenness is hurt, and in hurt is where we peel back the layers of ourselves and bare all before God. But who wants to take the surrender and pain that bareness brings?

However, it is definitely not good, right or true that orphans exist in our world.

It is not good, right or true that parents feel their only choice is to give up their children simply because they cannot afford food, clothing or education…or a combination of all three.

It is not good, right or true that Haitians earn on average $4 a day. Do the math, even IF they worked every day of the year, which they won’t, it is less than $1,500 a year…on AVERAGE.

There are a lot of reasons that Global Orphan Project is an excellent fit for me. Just one of them is their intentional work in orphan prevention.

I say intentional, because orphan care is messy and orphan prevention is even messier. When you are dealing with broken people in a broken world living in a broken system with no long-term outlook…it is just messy.

GO Project partners with businesses in Haiti that are intentionally creating jobs, and hiring parents in order to keep families together. A steady job, some with health insurance, is a huge step in keeping families together in Haiti.

The key is helping these businesses create profit by getting the word out regarding what they are doing. If they are not selling, or do not have orders to make…there is not a need for more workers, or even the employed ones. Check out GOEX.org for who we work with, because there are some amazing people running these businesses. We want to see them succeed, and they are inspiring in their ability to be stubborn against what people say can and cannot be done in Haiti.

Even better? Not only is GO Exchange able to partner with those that we are inspired by, but all of the profit from GO Exchange goes back into orphan care…creating a great visual of what sustainability could look like for Haiti and a multitude of other places.

It is not always about throwing money at a situation. Money helps in the right context, but when you are looking at things on a global scale…so many avenues get corrupted and money being brought in without an effort for sustainability within that country is key.

It breaks my heart when governments are apathetic to not just the rights of their workers, but keeping those workers employed. The reality is that believers have an opportunity to make more of an effort to stand in that gap to not only create jobs with dignity, good pay and working conditions, but also support those creating jobs to ensure those being employed are consistently employed.

It is good, right and true to care about the sin in our world on a personal, local and global level, because things are not right in this world. The heart of God is for all things to be set right and restored in our world. The real question is are we supporting those who are making that effort in risky, inspiring and sometimes persecuted environments?

calling

When I was in college, before I left for China for the summer, a friend wrote a scripture out for me on a piece of paper the size of a fortune that would be in a fortune cookie.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28]

I’ve been reminded of this verse many times over the last 13 years since she gave it to me and I taped it into the front of the smaller Bible I take on mission trips.

I was reminded again when I randomly found this verse crafted into metal art at a store a week ago when I accompanied a friend who was buying items for the souvenir shop at Jumecourt. Obviously, I bought it. Worth every penny.

But reminders are not enough when it comes to a word imbedded into the verse.

More specifically…

Called according to his purpose for them.

I love this word and I love this verse, but for a lot of people that is intimidating. It could be because they haven’t invested the time with God to know what their calling is in his Kingdom. It could be that they are in denial of something God has called them to in his Kingdom. Or even that they know what God is calling them to, but it seems too risky and difficult to do while living comfortably with a good job that takes care of a family.

Acknowledging your calling from God requires a massive amount of faith, even more self-awareness and most of all a strong commitment to prayer and discernment consistently.

And those things take time and deep trust with the one who created us.

Although having that answer of what your calling is doesn’t make everything complete and your  life easy. There have been a multitude of times that I have questioned that everything was actually going to work together for the good of my calling. There are always people who will question your calling, and even tell you that you are not good at what you are called to do. Then others who don’t approve of choices you make within your calling, and heap negativity onto it. In those moments, the only voice you need to hear is the one who has called you. I have many failures under my belt, along with a pretty healthy amount of bad habits and people I have offended with my words and actions. I am the farthest from perfect you can get…but it is within those imperfections that God has not only affirmed my calling, but sharpened it to a specific area.

Since I became a believer there was a strong pull to God’s mission. It was never separate for me. Always hand and hand. It wasn’t until a few years ago I realized that wasn’t true for everyone.

After a decade of living a calling to global mission, God moved me into a place of learning and trusting him through massive amounts of surrender. It was hard. It was painful. But it was worth it. Through that time, God showed me a specific area of brokenness that he wanted me to focus on in his Kingdom.

He chose me to fight for those that have no voice. For those that have been abandoned. For those that cannot trust or love easily, because they have been hurt by broken people living in a broken world. For those that have no one to champion them.

He chose me to be passionate about orphans in a global context.

The most thrilling part of all this is that he also landed me in an organization whose sole focus is orphan care through the local church. It is what brought me to Haiti, and it is what will sustain me on the days that living here is hard.

Only the God I serve with everything in me could have orchestrated this amazing timing, place and people I get to work with to be so specific to my calling in his Kingdom.

It’s more than exciting…it is life giving. When you experience living in the middle of what God has called you to, it is the most incredible feeling in the world, which makes every single word of Romans 8:28 the very breath of God to a soul that is craving their piece of God’s Kingdom life.

stories

I love stories! I love telling them, but more often I love hearing them. I have random stories that like to pop up in conversation, then I have the stories that are a bit deeper and are more likely to share when I am asked.

Stories of the places I have been in the world are one of those that I typically get asked questions. Several months ago, I had a student that asked about my last trip to Russia. She asked at a point in time where student ministry chaos was abounding, so my response to her was ‘I would love to tell you, let’s get together and talk about it!’

The next month I get a text from her: ‘I want to get coffee, and just sit and talk.’

First…I do that really well. Coffee and talking. Talking and coffee. Second, though, in the many years I’ve done student ministry…this is a loaded text. Let me assure you that those conversations can range anywhere from ‘I got a bad haircut and my life is ending.’ to struggles with suicide.

But this time, it was story time! We sit down and she says to me, ‘Tell me everything about your last Russia trip!’

Obviously, I could never pass up that invitation…and the conversation carried on for almost 3 hours. Get me started on the things I am passionate about and this is what happens! I would say one thing and she would ask five questions about it, I would head into a different story and she would again ask me several questions.

One of the things I love about students is their curiosity, and their ability soak so much in and work to digest it. They ache to see God’s at work. They desire to know what it feels like to have the Holy Spirit leading them. They are thirsty for God’s word to be real in their lives. They want truth, and if you try to BS them…they will call you out. They scream out at the injustices in the world. They are a passionate bunch, and they are seeking relationships around them that are loyal, trusting and PRESENT.

A few weeks later, I was walking into the Student Ministry Building and my friend jumped up off the floor and ran to be yelling, ‘Steph! Steph! I have to share something with you!’

She had led a group at school in a devotion, and had used my stories about orphans in Russia to open the eyes of other students to the ways God is at work in our world and how the Kingdom is alive around us. She was so excited that she was able to share the stories that I had shared with her in order to push the truth of the Gospel forward.

Jesus told stories. A lot of them actually. After his death…how did the Gospel spread? How was God’s truth carried forward? A ton of Holy Spirit…but by stories being told. Witnesses actually baring witness to what they saw.

Too often we contain the ways God is working in us so that it is only ours.

That makes me incredibly sad, because stories are still worth their weight in the Gospel. I see it every day, as well as the impact of a story being told.

Stories are a beautiful thing, but the beauty of a story cannot be realized unless someone is willing to give it a voice.

awake

I strongly dislike mornings. If I am awake early, it is purely strong black sludge in a mug that makes me appear human.

Which means I am a night owl. I love the quiet of night, and if you look at the time stamps of when I post you will notice a pattern of time of day when I get my inspiration to write.

There are times that I have the best intentions of going to bed early, then the next thing I know I am still awake past midnight.

I watch TV. I listen to music. I read. I pray. I write. I ponder…a lot.

My brain tries to process the day and who I was with, who did I not see that I need to check in with, what needs to be done tomorrow…the list goes on and on.

But one of the last things that play through my mind while I am still awake are the places that have made a mark on my soul, and changed me.

They take turns. China. Russia. Haiti. Liberia. College. Friendships. Arguments.

Tonight I find myself doing the math as to what time it is in Russia. Right now, the kids are probably studying and it’s almost lunch time. How was their morning? How much snow did they get last night? (This thought is normally followed by a quick check of the weather, which is a snowy 17 and feels like 7 during the day while it is 11 and feels like -3 in KC overnight.) Did they wear the hats and gloves they were so excited about last month? It’s banya (bath) day, who will try to skip and not get caught by caregivers? Sergei is the best bet or maybe Dima S. Is Valya still in the hospital with pneumonia? Has Danil decided to not be as psycho today? Did someone tease Lena and make her sad? Who made Gera smile today? What has Vika drawn? Was Larisa more of a kid or mama today? What new poem has Stas memorized and did the superhero cape get pulled out and worn? Have the boys seen the soccer world cup groupings that came out? Has Dima kept control of his anger issues? Which Americans wrote a letter that might get delivered today by Yulia, our discipler?

These are orphans I know by name. They struggle with most of the same things our kids struggle with, but with the added scars of not being accepted by their culture and living with abandonment issues.

I was being obedient in my calling to international mission when God woke up a huge part of my soul in a small village orphanage with 50 kids, and he’s kept my passion alive for justice ever since.

One of my favorite songs is ‘Wake Up’ by All Sons and Daughters, and it always reminds me of this verse in Ephesians:

‘Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”‘ [Ephesians 5:14]

The chorus of the song is ‘Wake up all you sleepers. Stand up all you dreamers. Hands up all believers. Take up your cross…’

When you lie awake at night, what are you thinking about? What has God made you awake for?

Or better yet…what is God trying to wake you up to…or have you been choosing to press snooze?

The truth is this world is waiting for a lot of believers to wake up. Whether you have believed in the truth of the universal reign of God for an hour, a day, a month or 50 years…too many believers are asleep to the mission impulse God put in each one of us.

It’s there. Dig deep. Maybe chisel down to lay some of your scars bare to find it.

Because this world desperately needs your compassion, discerned words, unconditional love and faith in the world beyond this one.

Choose to be awake.

This post is part of a blog series using the Rethink Church Advent photo-a-day word. If you use Instagram follow #rethinkchurch or #rethinkchristmas.

peace

I struggle with peace. I think it is because I crave it so much.

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A cross cut out of a bullet from the wars in Liberia, West Africa.

Everywhere I look and every situation that blocks my path is conflict, selfishness, gossiping, people hurting people, and then expanding into countries fighting countries and the injustices around the world. My heart breaks for those struggling with thoughts so plagued with being alone that their mind convinces them they should end their life in this world. There is so much pain in this world.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just what comes up every year at Christmas. This is not a guilt complex I get once a year. This is what I think about, and the things I have to yell at to be quiet so I can fall asleep at night. Things are happening to people I love that shreds the fabric of my soul.

I don’t just say I am passionate about orphan ministry in our world. I know the names of orphans in our world. They are real to me. They have personalities and characteristics…they like to make me laugh and trust me with their words. But it is not them I worry about, because I know they know we love them and they are not alone. My mind drifts to orphans in all countries who have no family to guide them, or worse…abandoned by family because they think that is the best way for them to survive. No child should ever face those issues. Where is their peace?

I have held children with discolored hair due to malnutrition. It is impossible to walk away from those moments unchanged…doing your best to not punch someone in the throat with the anger that bubbles up. There is plenty of food in our world to sustain our population, and we have children and whole families going hungry. Where is the peace in hunger?

I get nauseous when I think about the young girls that are sold into sex-trafficking. Doesn’t anyone realize that if the industry demanding those girls ended…they would no longer be sold? Is it really that hard to keep it in your pants, so these girls would never know that pain and could stay with their families? It seems so simple, yet in a world plagued and suffering under the temptations and realities of sin…this is our world and where is the peace?

Peace on earth is unrealistic until the day all evil is wiped out. Anyone else ready for that day?

Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ He knew that belief in him would cause division, and he knew it would come at a price. He was more aware than anyone at the evil in this world as he hung on a cross, put there by the religious people of that time.

But he also knew what belief in his father’s Kingdom meant…

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [Revelation 21:3-5]

Jesus himself knew the struggle we would have, so he points us toward the coming Kingdom. He says a day will come that this will all be cleaned up, and while I am gone you can do something about it. Hear that, because we are not meant to sit on our asses and do nothing until that day comes.

I see peace in beautiful sunsets, mountains, oceans and lakes…because I see a reflection of the beauty of God. The same reflection we are supposed to be as believers.

I see peace in the laughter of orphans.

I see peace in the smile of a child holding a bottle of juice as though it is liquid gold.

I see peace in a community that is committed to fighting together for injustice…setting aside their differences and arguments to fight side-by-side for God’s Kingdom.

I see peace in messages from International Justice Mission when they have rescued more girls out of brothels.

I sense peace in the quiet moments God knows I need to rest…even when it is forced rest.

But I will never be at peace in this world. No one will. It’s impossible. There is too much war, suffering and indifference at both to bring peace. God is the only one who will bring real peace. But there are so few in the world who are willing to stand for change…real change. God-directed, Kingdom-focused change that will transform this world. I ache for the peace of that transformation. We all should, because too much is not right in this world…which is why each of us needs to figure out where God has called us individually and as a community to make things right where it has gone so very wrong. Let us be agents fighting for peace, so that we are seen as a reflection of the one we serve.