Day 1: Austin to Newark to…well, Newark

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It is so hard to describe how I felt the morning of our departure.

Excited? Yes. Nervous? You betcha.

When I ran my first half-marathon, I remember standing at the starting line and feeling such a weird mix of emotions: excitement that all of my training was complete and I was about to embark on what I’d spent months preparing for, nervousness and uncertainty that I didn’t really want to acknowledge..would I actually make it to the end without dying? Would both legs still be attached?….and this thrumming anticipation.

let’s get going…let’s get going…let’s get going…

The trip to Rwanda was going to be long: a three hour flight from Austin to Newark, NJ, followed by a three hour layover, followed by an eight hour flight to Brussels, then a two hour layover before our eight hour flight into Kigali, Rwanda. From there, we would travel by bus for 2 hours in order to arrive at our temporary home in Musanze.

Twenty-six hours total travel time…whew. And, as I stood in the baggage check line, I had that same thrum of anticipation…

let’s get going…let’s get going…let’s get going…

Because, once you’re going you no longer have to worry about it starting. The experience doesn’t begin at the destination.

It begins with the getting there.

Each member of our team had two bags to check: a bag of our personal luggage and, in order to cut down on shipping costs, a bag of supplies for True Vineyard. Some of us were carrying giant cans of chicken or econo-sized jars of peanut butter which would be used for our meals. Others had pieces of a stove we would be able to use for cooking meals or had components of a water filtration system that would ensure we had safe water to drink. We were also allowed to take two carry-on bags and could use those to transport supplies or as a safety net in case our checked bags exceeded the 50lb weight limit.

Once everyone had their bags checked, we said goodbye to our families and made our way through security…where I learned a valuable lesson: you cannot carry canned chicken onto a plane. Who knew? Not me. I had tucked a couple of cans into my carry-on bag for fear they were going to make my checked bag too heavy. I stood there, red-faced with the witty fellow behind me announcing to the rest of the line that I was a “bona fide chicken smuggler” while the security guard patiently explained that, as there was no way to know how much liquid was in the can, they could not allow it on the plane. A teammate in the line next to me learned a similar lesson: no econo-sized jars of peanut butter in your carry on bag as it is considered a paste and therefore a no-no on board.

Thankfully, everyone else had an uneventful trip through security and we left Texas down only two cans of chicken and one vat of peanut butter.

We arrived in Newark, found the gate for our connection to Brussels and settled in to wait for our next flight. Unfortunately, we were unaware of tropical storm Arthur swirling just off the Jersey coastline. About an hour before we were supposed to begin boarding we received the first notification that our flight was delayed an hour. Then it was delayed another hour. Then another.

And they just. kept. coming. And it kept getting later.

But, in the midst of the continued delays and rising frustrations, I couldn’t help but notice our group of 14 travelers felt like an island of peace in a sea of discontent. I watched people in our group, who knew each other casually, learn more about one another. Others passed the time playing Fan Tan (note: I will never again travel without a deck of cards!).  Still others, kindly offered to watch the bags of fellow travelers who were not part of our team so they could stretch their legs or grab a bite to eat. As the delays kept coming and tempers flared around us, I appreciated the spirit of calm and selflessness that seemed to dwell within our band of weary travelers.

At 11 p.m., after eight hours of waiting, the airline made the following announcement:

“Flight 123 to Brussels has been cancelled. Thank you for flying United.”

thanks for flying

And chaos ensued.

The picture above does not capture the unadulterated fury that was aimed squarely at those poor souls working  behind that United counter. If I superimposed some torches and pitchforks into the crowd, it would give you a better idea of what those folks had to face. They were mobbed, shouted at, and insulted as exhausted passengers came to grips with the idea that they might not leave Newark at all.

But not my group. Prepare for some unabashed horn tooting, y’all.

As the crowd swelled around the gate counter, our group chose to divide and conquer. Some jumped immediately on their phones to call United and see about alternate flights (spoiler alert: there were none. I suppose that’s what happens when a tropical storm cancels every flight in the airport) while others stood in various lines trying to figure out what our options were (spoiler: no options, no flights). Time and time again, I watched team members handle disappointment with mercy and grace…like the sweet woman who waited on hold for an hour while a United representative checked into other flights only to have said rep pick up the line, ask “Are you still there?”, then hang up on her…twice. Others stood in mile-long lines, trying to secure hotel rooms for us as the airline cheerfully announced:

“All counters will close at 1 a.m. Counters will re-open at 5 a.m. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope you will choose United again in the future.”

Ummm…not likely, buddy.

But, once again, in the midst of all the disappointment and frustration, I found pockets of grace. To their credit, those poor souls in the picture above, who were also tired and frustrated, stayed long past the announced closing time and made sure we had a place to stay for the night.

God bless them.

In the end, after 12 hours in the Newark airport and 24 hours on my feet, our band of weary travelers stumbled into the Ramada hotel at 4 a.m….exhausted, disillusioned and uncertain as to how in the world we were going to get to Rwanda.

My last thoughts as I fell asleep that morning were:

1. This day, as frustrating and disappointing as it was, was part of the journey.

2. Ramada beds were the most glorious beds I’d ever laid upon.

3. The group of people I was traveling with had turned out to be pretty spectacular.

4. Thank you, thank you, God, for tucking pockets of grace and mercy into hard days.

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People may make plans in their minds,

     but the Lord decides what they will do.

Proverbs 16:9

 

When I was twelve years old my family loaded up the car and headed out on a road trip. My sister and I were excited to get to spend a part of our summer with our cousins in Waco, TX…so much so that we hardly even fought with one another in the back of the car. We played “I Spy”, engaged in thumb wars, read (in my case) and slept (in my sister’s) in order to pass the time.

At some point, however, the trip began to feel unusually long to me. I swiped the map from my parents and, upon close inspection, realized to my horror that we were traveling in the wrong direction. Not only were we nowhere close to Waco, we were only an hour away from the Texas/Louisiana border.

Not wanting to process the magnitude of my parent’s error alone, I leaned over to my eleven-year-old sister and pointed out our location on the map. Let’s call this mistake number one. As it turned out, mistake number one was not that big of a deal…Emily looked blankly at the map…which led to mistake number two. Keeping my finger on our current location, I used the other hand to point to the home town of our beloved cousins and said, in my best-soap-opera-cliffhanger voice:

“This. Is. Waco.”

What followed was a tantrum of epic, and possibly biblical, proportions. To be fair, the perceived ferocity could be attributed, in part, to our proximity to one another in the backseat of the car. But, let me tell you, it was a humdinger: angry rants, hot tears, thrashing, sobbing, gnashing of teeth, the whole nine yards. Don’t get me wrong, I was equally furious at the thought of all of the wasted time we’d already spent in the car and the idea of driving allllll the way back to Waco was unbearable to me. I just wasn’t as….expressive?…as my sister.

Finally, my dad had enough and pulled onto the shoulder of the road to get control over us. Once my sister’s outrage had been reduced to lip-sucking hiccups, my parents broke the news to us: we were not going to Waco to visit the cousins.

We were going to Disney World.

In Orlando.

Surprise!

<crickets><crickets>

My sister and I sat there in stunned silence. We were so full of righteous anger over things not going our way- not going the way they were supposed to go – that we couldn’t process what they were telling us. As it turned out, my parents had hoped to get farther along in the trip before announcing the surprise to us. While visiting family was always wonderful, they had other plans for us, different plans for us, experiences that we hadn’t even thought to dream about.

They wanted to give us more.

It’s been a little over a week since  I returned from Rwanda and I’ve spent that time processing all of my experiences. At times, it has been overwhelming and every time I thought about consolidating those experiences into a post I became overwhelmed.

Because it’s impossible.

There is just no way to get it all into a single post. Every day offered its’ own story. Some were hysterical. Many were beautiful. And a few were almost unbearably heartbreaking. But each story held meaning and deserves to be shared. So, I’ve decided to write each day (maybe two) as their own post. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post the activities and pictures. I hope, in the end, you’ll feel as if you were there.

Going is always better when you’re with friends.

I have to admit, I had my own ideas about this trip – how it would happen, where I would go, what I would experience – and, from the get-go, God took that map I’d written in my heart, crumpled it up and tossed it over His shoulder.

For God had His own map, you see.

And it was so, so much more.

 

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Fields along the path to the True Vineyard sheep farm in Kinigi.

 

Commissioned

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“….Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

 

I leave for Rwanda. Tomorrow. Holy moley.

On Sunday, the Rwanda team was commissioned in front of the church, sent off with their blessings to act as their representatives in a land far, far away.

As part of the commissioning, I knew that my family was going to have the opportunity to come up to the front of the church while I knelt at the railing and place a hand on my shoulder while the pastor prayed for us. Unfortunately for me, both Lee and John were off at Boy Scout camp and could not make it back for the service.

As I got ready for church that morning, I kept having to talk myself out of the sadness I felt over not having my family there for the commissioning. I told the younger boy that he would be attending both the 8:30 and 9:45 services with me. I explained what was going to happen and told him that he could come up when they called the family…or not…whatever he wanted to do was fine…no big deal.

When the time came for the commissioning, I walked to the front of the church with the rest of the team, turned to kneel at the railing…and waited.

And, sure enough, before long I felt the tentative touch of a little hand on my shoulder. Then it slowly moved to up to rest on the crown of my head. Then it slid over the top of my head and finally rested  somewhere between my eyes and forehead…with half of my hair smushed under it. Oh, how I wish I had picture of it.

But it wasn’t just Will praying for me, with his hand covering my eyes like a meaty little sleep mask. Other friends came up from the pews and hugged me, prayed for me, and whispered in my ear the exact times of the day they would be praying for me and our team.

And I realized, what do you know, my family was there after all. I have the best church family in whole world.

I am so grateful for every donation I’ve received and every prayer that has gone up for myself, the Rwanda team, and the women we will be serving.

I am so full of love and mercy and grace…and I cannot wait to pour it over the people of Rwanda.

bracelet

The two amazing girls from church who raised over $200 for our trip by selling loom bracelets gave me one to wear while I’m away. It will not leave my arm and will serve as a daily reminder to me of the love and support I’m bringing with me to Africa.

We will be offline while we are in Rwanda…no Facebook updates or blogging. We won’t even be calling home.

If you are on Facebook and would like to receive updates about our progress, click here and like the True Vineyard Ministries Facebook page. They will be posting for us while we are gone.

I will be home July 16th. I can’t wait to share the experience with you, friends!

Ok…deep breath…it’s time to go.

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

 

 

 

 

 

Stretch…

Your loving kindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Psalm 36:5

 

stretch: v. \ˈstrech\ 1. to lengthen or extend (the body or limbs) to the full length 2. to cause to extend or reach from one point to another 3. to reach out or extend (the arm or hand) 4. to amplify or enlarge beyond natural or proper limits.

Stretching has never been one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy physical activity – hiking, going to the gym and, up until I turned 40 and my body thought I’d turned 80 and decided to gift  me with bursitis in my heel (who knew bursitis was an actual thing?), road  running. But stretching has never really been in my wheelhouse. I know it’s good for the body but, for me,  it has always been a challenge because:

  1. It’s hard – By definition, stretching means to push something beyond its’ natural limits and, let me tell you, any time I participate in yoga I am reminded of my natural limits and left feeling sore in places on my body I didn’t even know existed.
  2. It requires discipline – Proper stretching requires focus…something I often lack. I am easily distracted…by the everyday chaos of life, work responsibilities, shiny objects…and in order to stretch correctly you really have to be in tune with yourself. You have to find your limit in the stretch, breath and then carefully extend, ever so slightly, beyond that limit. Which leads to …
  3. It can hurt – pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits stretches your insides and leaves them, well, sore. I once woke up after a yoga session convinced I should be in traction. Seriously, the parts of my body that weren’t sore were stiff and I could barely get into a sitting position without groaning.

Luckily, there are benefits to stretching…I mean, if there weren’t why in the world would we put ourselves through it? We do it because:

  1. It makes us stronger – Eventually, the soreness fades and we find that what was beyond our limits before is now within the limits of what we can comfortably do.
  2. It makes us more disciplined – By pushing our bodies, we obtain greater control over ourselves.
  3. It generates confidence – As we see our bodies do things they couldn’t do before, we develop confidence that they can do even more. Stretching gives us hope.

At some point during the preparation  for this mission trip I realized that this time in my life has been a loooong spiritual stretching session. It has been difficult turning over control of the details to God and trusting that, if He wants me in Rwanda, He will make a way. Resting in that trust has forced me to become disciplined….at least in terms of saying “Turn it over to Him, Amy…..stop worrying, Amy….quit looking at shiny things and focus, Amy….He’s got you….let go…stretch” over, and over…and over again. Oh, and let me tell you, spiritual doubt causes a very real physical pain that can become so distracting  when I start to focus on leaving my family, when I watch news reports about conflict in Africa…

…when I let fear creep in.

But, as the days roll on and the time to go draws closer (we have an official departure date of July 2nd), I have found myself pushing through my perceived limits, little by little. This is due in no small part to the support of my True Vineyard team. We meet on a bi-weekly basis and it is so helpful to know others share my same worries and are pushing through their own limitations. Stretching with friends is a beautiful thing.

I continue to be  blown away by the outpouring of support our team has received from our church family. They have organized mind-blowingly huge fundraisers. Folks have donated hours and hours…and hours….of their time to support this cause. There have also been smaller campaigns that have stretched me “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”-style.

Which brings me to these two young ladies.

F and L

I’d like you to meet Francesca and Leila. Seriously, are these not a couple of cuties? Not only do they have beautiful outsides, tucked away inside are a couple of sweet, loving souls and two big ‘ol hearts for Jesus.

A few weeks ago, I was selling team t-shirts in the church welcome center along with other TVM team members when these two ran up, breathless. Francesca proudly pressed a handful of wadded up bills into my hands and announced, “We raised money for your mission trip!!!”. I stood there, looking back and forth between the cash in my hand and two sets of beautiful brown eyes, doing my very best not to burst into tears as their mother explained where the money had come from.

When Leila and Francesca heard about our mission trip, they decided to kick off their own fundraising campaign. The girls made and sold loom bracelets and gave every last penny to our mission trip. To date, they have raised about $150.

They even created a promotional video and a  campaign slogan – “Stretching the Love of Christ All the Way to Rwanda, Africa!”

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There are times when stretching happens slowly. We work through the discomfort gradually, over time, and find ourselves stronger than we were before…eventually.

But there’s another kind of stretch…the kind I call the “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”-type. Where all of a sudden God puts something so lovely, so true…something that is such a perfect representation of His perfect love right in front of you…that it simply takes your breath away. Your spirit sings, your heart grows two sizes and suddenly you are left with all of this extra love space. That’s what happened to me that Sunday in the welcome center, looking at those two beautiful, love-filled faces, and it was one of the sweetest spiritual aches I’ve ever experienced.

I heard the director of True Vineyard say that people sometimes ask if she would rather have $5000 to put to the TVM cause rather than have it support a missionary. To their surprise, her answer is no. She said money can not provide the hope that is instilled in the Rwandan widows when they meet missionaries face-to-face, when they learn about how hard each missionary works to get to them, and when they are told that, behind each missionary, there are about one hundred people who have donated, worked and sacrificed in order to get those missionaries to them.

In the end, this mission trip is not about me.

It’s not about the team of twenty men and women traveling to Rwanda in July.

It’s not about money.

This trip is about God’s people helping God’s people.

It’s about hope.

It’s about stretching the love of Christ…all the way to Rwanda, Africa.

 

 

Surrender…and Vaseline Jeans

Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Psalm 36:5

 

Hello, friends! I know, I know, it’s been forever since my last post here. So much has been happening in regards to this mission trip and I’m excited to share it with you.

But first, a story.

When I was seven years old, I was shamelessly obsessed with Leather Tuscadero…anyone remember her?….Anyone? Leather Tuscadero was a character on “Happy Days” in the late ’70’s. Cool, brave and tough, she had this awesome, hand-jivey, signature move that I found to be the best thing ever. She also wore leather pants. All the time. Every day. Winter or summer. Leather pants. And I wanted leather pants so badly I was sure I would die from the ache. Because, with leather pants, I would be all those things I thought I wasn’t…cool…brave…tough.

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Now, for reasons still unknown to me, my mother felt that investing in leather pants for a seven-year-old would be…ill-advised? Perhaps. A huge waste of money? Possibly. At any rate, despite my begging and pleading, my mother refused to purchase me the tough-girl pants of my dreams.

One day while we were visiting my grandmother, I was killing time in the bathroom. A favorite hobby of mine involved rummaging through the cabinets of others to see what treasures I could find. Yep, I was that kid. As I looked around, I came across a tub of Vasoline. I looked at the tub then down at the Jordache jeans I was wearing and thought, Huh. I carefully opened the lid, scooped out a small amount of goo and slowly smeared it over the knee of my jeans.

I wish I could tell you where the voice of reason was at this point…that inner Jiminy Cricket who should have piped up said, “Amy, this is a terrible idea.” I did not hear the voice of reason that day. Instead, I heard myself. You know, I thought as I evaluated my work in the bathroom mirror, if you squint your eyes, and turn off the lights, that almost looks like….leather! Ok, it didn’t look exactly like leather…but my jeans were definitely shinier..and leather was shiny. They were also super-slick…just as I imagined Leather Tuscadero’s pants were. And so, full of denial and a very misplaced confidence in my own ingenuity, I scooped out handful after handful of Vasoline and proceeded to coat my jeans from front to back and hips to ankles. And when I was finished, I set the empty jar on the counter, looked at my reflection in the mirror, performed the signature Leather Tuscadero hand-jive and thought, “Awww, yeah…this looks great!”

I wish I could say that seven-year-old me was prepared for the reactions of my mother and grandmother when I finally left the sanctuary of the bathroom. I was not. I was so focused on fixing my problem myself that I’d never even considered checking with my mom…or my grandmother…to see if this idea was as fantastic to others as it was to me.

I just wanted what I wanted.

On my time.

At my convenience.

I believe I might’ve squelched and slid a full foot out of the bathroom doorway before my mother squawked, “AMY KATHLEEN, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?”

To which I replied…

“nothin.”

“WHAT IN THE WORLD IS ALL OVER YOUR PANTS?!?”

“nothin.”

God bless mothers. God bless my mother in particular.

Now, let me jump back to the mission trip. Since coming to the conclusion that I was supposed to be a part of this mission trip, I have known that I would need to raise $5000 to cover its’ cost. Five. Thousand. Dollars. That number has loomed in mind since I agreed to go on this trip. How in the world was I going to raise that money?

Did you catch that? I. How was I going to do it.

And that, my friends, has been my problem. Regardless of how many times I tell myself I’m going to give this trip, its’ organization and its’ funding over to God, I find myself drowning in a sea of chaos…of my own making. Even though I am a small part of an AMAZING team of men and women, even though we planned a ton of fundraisers over the course of 3-4 months, even though I sent out donation letters asking others to consider helping with the funding of this trip, I refused to turn it over to the One who’s been in control all along.

I decided to hedge my bet by taking on every free-lance work assignment that came my way. Need four literary and informational passages in a week? Done! One hundred and fifty social studies items, you say? You’ve come to the right place! Nine sets of English/Language Arts items? Come now, let’s make it an even ten!

I took on so much extra work…for what? In case God was too busy to remember I needed Him? Just to cover the bases on the outside chance He had other, more important things going on? I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t even had time to mull over the reasoning behind my frantic grasping of any assignment pitched my way. But, as I look back I can see it’s the same issue seven-year-old Amy had that day in the bathroom.

I just wanted what I wanted.

On my time.

At my convenience.

Are you ready for the good news? The great news? The totally confusing but undeniably true news? The good news, my friends, is that God has been watching me these past few months. He’s been here each time I’ve turned to myself rather than to Him. Though I’ve acknowledged it too few times, he has been right here, likely shaking His head as he’s watched me fret…and rush… and worry.

At each fundraiser event we’ve hosted, our church family has shown up in droves…many of them doing so over…and over…and over again…a beautiful, physical representation of God’s love. Our church has given so generously to this mission trip. People have responded to donation letters with mind-boggling, overwhelming generosity. People who I didn’t send letters to have sent donations to me out of the blue and reduced me to a sniffling, humbled puddle of gratitude.

As of today, I have raised enough money to pay for the first installment of the trip, which is due in May.

As for all of the work I took on in order to cover my own expenses…wanna take a guess on how much of my own money I’ve had to use?

You guessed it…

nothin. Not one single dime.

I am so grateful. So grateful that when I am faithless, He is faithful.

That when I put myself on the hamster wheel and run myself ragged, He says, “I’ll wait until you’re too tired and remember to turn to Me.”

That when I work myself up and scatter myself in a hundred different directions, He picks each piece up, gently fashions them back together and says, “You’re tired. Let me carry you for a while.”

Sometimes you have to wear yourself out in order to remember how very nice it feels to be carried.

Be still…

 

 

 

 

 

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Be still, and know that I am God…

Psalm 46:10

I spent the early years of my life growing up on a cattle ranch in the tiny farming community of Coughran, TX (looks like Cough-ran, sounds like Core-uhn), just outside of Pleasanton. I loved it. My grandfather thought we should experience true farm life and ensured that we had cattle, horses, chickens, pigs, ducks and goats to entertain us.

Of all the fun things life on a farm/ranch offered, one of my favorite pastimes was swimming in the tank on the property. Now, If you are picturing some idyllic pond, with lilly pads floating on crystal clear water and fire flies circling above , you would be dead wrong. I’m talking a murky, muddy, cow-slobber-filled stock tank complete with catfish, also provided by my grandfather. I can remember wading into it and, as the mossy bottom of the tank reached up and wound itself between my toes, thinking, I must be the luckiest kid in the world…a carpeted pool reserved just for me.

During one of these trips to the tank with my dad and sister (somehow, Mom always managed to stay on shore) we all jumped in and, since I was wearing a life jacket, I leaned back, closed my eyes and started to float into deeper water. It was great fun…until it wasn’t. At some point, I realized I couldn’t right myself. Maybe the life jacket was designed to keep the wearer on his or her back. Perhaps I was just a puny kid who lacked the core strength to pull myself out of the water once my feet could no longer touch the tank carpet. Feeling completely out of control, I lay there, no longer relaxed. Have you ever seen a cat go rigid when it realizes it’s being carried toward water? That was me. I lay there panicked  in the mossy, murky, cow-slobbery water with my eyes squeezed tight because I didn’t want to see how far I’d floated from the shore. I imagined that I was all the way out in the middle, in water too deep for me to stand in and too far from my family for them to hear me if I cried out to them.

So I didn’t. I tried to fix it myself by grunting and groaning and whimpering, all the while keeping my eyes squeezed firmly shut.

And then I heard my Dad’s voice.

“Amy, open your eyes.”

So I did. I was perhaps 10 feet from shore and my Dad was standing over me with this half grinning, sort of confused look on his face that, looking back,  I would guess could be interpreted as follows:

What’s wrong?

Why are you fretting?

Don’t you know I’m right here?

And, even if I wasn’t, don’t you know that you could never get so far from me that I couldn’t get to you?

This memory came to mind as I was thinking about my reaction to that itty-bitty idea that presented itself to me while sitting in church in December.

Wanna go?

Because my initial knee-jerk reaction was…

Nope.

If I’m being completely honest, it might’ve even been…

Aw, hell no.

When the service was over that day I jumped up and told Lee I was going to buy some items from the trunk show True Vinyard Ministries was hosting in the church welcome center.

That’ll show you, stupid itty-bitty idea that’s scaring me to death, I thought. So I bought some lovely free trade items, happily accepted a brochure with additional information about TVM and left feeling smugly confident that my purchases would take care of that oh-so-tiny seed which had been planted gently in my heart.

Over the next few weeks, I baked and purchased and planned visits for the upcoming Christmas holiday. And every so often, during the baking…or after the purchasing…or in the midst of the planning, the brochure from TVM would turn up and I would find myself reading a snippet of information that would tug at my heart. This was immediately followed by a frustrated, sometimes angry thought.

In 1994 one million Rwandans were killed in 100 days.

I can’t go there.

During this time an estimated half a million women were victims of a concerted rape campaign.

I am not qualified.

In a country of 10 million people, 34% of Rwandan households are headed by women.

My family will think I’m crazy.

Today 600,000 widows remain in Rwanda.

Why are you doing this to me?

Coming to the decision to go on this mission trip has already taught me an interesting fact about myself; I am a big ‘ol control freak. Huge. I’m not even kidding. If I’m going to do something it has to be: 1) my idea, 2) something I am either good at or think I can become good at and 3) something I can do myself without burdening others.

This mission trip flies in the face of every one of those rules and has taught me what my reactions are to an idea planted in my heart that is not my own: 1) panic, 2) denial and 3)anger.

Crazy, huh? To get the feeling that God is giving you a nudge and to respond with anger? With the eyes of your heart squeezed stubbornly shut?

I imagine God watching me as I denied, ignored and attempted to control the struggle in my heart over the Christmas break in much the same way my Dad watched me that day in the tank. I wonder if He was thinking the same thing:

Amy, open your eyes.

Why are you fretting?

Don’t you know I’m right here?

Don’t you know you could never get so far from me that I couldn’t get to you?

I have heard it said  (usually within the context of a conversation about mission work) that if you’ve never felt yourself spiritually compelled to go to China/Africa/South America/foreign land of your choice, it means it’s not your time to go, and I can now say I believe this to be true. In the past I have heard people talk of international mission work and thought, without guilt or hesitation, That’s wonderful, but not for me. And it wasn’t…until it was.

I am still struggling with letting go of trying to control the details of this trip. I have started getting some of the basic work out of the way. My passport application has been sent in and I started the vaccination process this week.

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Five shots down. (Is that not the most pitiful smile ever?)

My goal moving forward is to work on letting go of control in regard to this trip, to take care of the things I can take care of and, when I find myself struggling with the whens, whys and hows, to remind myself to open my eyes, stop fretting and know He is right here.

But He is also in Rwanda…

Be still…

Go…

I lift up my eyes to the hills~ where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

Go… Such a little, itty bitty word, isn’t it? Short….sweet…benign….”Go see why the dog is barking.”……”Go get me a sandwich.”….or, occasionally, for the benefit of my children’s character and my sanity…”Go to your room!”. Regardless, it always has the same meaning.

Move.

From one place to another.

For me, I don’t think this itty bitty word has ever had as much meaning as it did on the day in December when I sat in church and listened to Diana Wiley talk about True Vinyard Ministries (TVM), an organization dedicated to empowering African women in Rwanda by hiring local women, providing them with meaningful work, paying fair wages so that they may educate their children…and offering hope. And as I sat there listening to Diana speak, I had what I’ll call a moment. A moment where I felt that itty bitty word.

Go…

A little back story here. I have never thought of myself as a super “churchy” person. I’m not a hands in the air kinda gal. The idea of evangelizing to others makes me want to break out in hives. And those moments other people talk about where God called them to do this or the Lord told them to do that? It’s never happened to me. Not once. I’ve never heard a voice in my head telling me to go left instead of right on the way home. I’ve never prayed and received an audible answer. I’m not saying these things don’t happen…they just don’t happen to me. And they didn’t happen that day in church. There was no angelic of chorus of voices. No glorious trumpet call followed by a booming voice. There was no voice at all. Instead, it was a small, gentle, almost imperceptible and certainly easily ignorable…what? Nudging? Maybe. Stirring? Possibly. Just the itty-bittiest of feelings that said…

Wanna go?

I think the presentation of this nudging in the form of a question is important. There are many times when the direction in which God wants our lives to go is easily discernible (Feed and clothe the children today? Yes. Rob a bank? No.), when He makes clear to us that we should do this rather than that. But I believe there are also times when He approaches us more gently and says, “I want the best for you. I want this for you.”  We are then in a place where we can decide if we are going to jump in or walk away. Gotta love free will.

I will post more later about the emotional roller coaster that followed as I wrestled with this itty bitty word but, long story short, I decided to jump. I will be traveling with TVM to Africa in July of this year to serve the women of Rwanda as they break the cycle of poverty (more details to come later!). The ups and downs of coming to the decision to join this ministry team inspired the title of this blog, as did the scripture from Psalms. Rwanda is often referred to as The Land of a Thousand Hills, due to it’s undulating terrain. Coming to the decision to take this leap of faith has been filled with ups and downs, lots of praying and a few tears. I have to give credit for the idea of starting this blog to Lee, who suggested I try blogging for the first time. I figured…what the heck….I’m going to Africa for goodness sake. Blogging will be a cake walk.

I hope to use this blog as a place to share my experience as I prepare for this trip over the next few months, and my experience in Africa once we get there. I also hope to bring awareness of TVM (and the phenomenal work they are doing to restore dignity to and empower the women of Rwanda) to people who may not have heard of them or who are looking for a charity to support.

I look forward to sharing this experience with you.

Going is always easier when you’re with friends.