Archives for May 2012

The normal that is

I didn’t have the chance to speak to my kids at all last week while I was gone. Really, it was for the best. It’s easier on them if I don’t call and…well, it’s easier on me.

Upon landing in Atlanta, I called my family and for the first time in eight days I heard my first born’s voice over the phone. He has always has the sweetest voice and this phone call was no exception. On the phone he is still little, the high pitched nature of his melody singing through the phone and straight to my heart. I would have cried if he hadn’t made me laugh.

“Hey Mom,” he said. “You sound different.”

“I do?” I asked. “How do I sound different?”

“Well…,” thoughtful pause, “You sound Chinese.”

Boys. No matter where you are in the world, boys know how to have a good time and make you laugh.

Scott Williams had all of us fist bumping all week long. Is there anything more universal than the fist bump?

I’m slowly reintegrating into everyday life. We started school today, much to the kid’s chagrin. We’re almost done with the year, but there’s still work to be done.

As we prepared to come home, Shaun warned us that we may experience feelings of frustration, confusion, anger and sadness. I’m so happy to report that I am apparently totally normal because I have experienced every single one of these emotions.

Every. single. one.

Prayers are coveted. For me, for my children, for all the bloggers who went on the trip. Shaun laid out some specific prayers in his post today. My poor children are, unfortunately, bearing the brunt of my emotions. I may, OR MAY NOT, have plopped a glass jar on the counter yesterday and told them they will have to pay me .25 every time they complain about something.

My nerves are a bit frayed.

 Jet lag hasn’t helped.

We will adjust to this change. It’s funny, every single thing around me is exactly the same as when I left (well, except for my house, because my mother-in-law, who is an awesome decorator, redecorated and organized my house while I was gone and Sweet Mercy it looks nice around here). But while everything looks “relatively” the same…

It all feels so different.

Even blogging.

Bear with me Pray for me as I adjust.

Oh, one more thing…

We ran out of Nutella today. THIS DOESN’T HELP THE SITUATION!

That's 12 pounds of awesome that somehow disappeared...

*sigh*

Photos of everything but Nutella by Keely Scott

The Ugly Beaver

Photo by Keely Scott

Yesterday I stood inside a beautiful building with a thousand other believers. Lights flashing, hands raised, sounds blaring, we joined together in praise of the One who created us all. The one who still works miracles. The One who has not forgotten, has not let go, has not surrendered His creation.

But worship was different for me. As we entered the sanctuary with it’s four solid walls, high, vaulted ceiling and cushioned, comfortable seats, I told Lee that I feel different. Not different in a “I want to sell all we have and live in a hut eating bananas and tangerines” sort of different, though. It’s more of a, “I’ve seen God’s power and ability to move in and through His people and I don’t ever want to lose this feeling of awe and gratitude for who He is” sort of feeling.

Then the music started and instead of singing along, I cried. Not a cute, trembly chin, single tear rolling down the cheek cry, either. It was the kind of cry where you bite your lower lip hard, shoulders trembling, BOOHOOHOO ugly cry.

Kind of like a beaver. I was ugly beaver crying in church. Thankfully the music was loud so no one could hear my blubbering. But I kind of felt sorry for the people sitting beside me. I think I shot out projectile tears that showered them completely.

The words mean something different now. I hear “How Great is Our God” with the image of a family living in squalor running through my mind. I hear lyrics like, “You take our suffering,” and “I have freedom now through You,” and they are filtered through a different context.

I don’t know what suffering is.

In the grand scheme of things, I really don’t. My perspective has shifted mightily. As we celebrated Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help thinking of the mothers around the world. The ones who love their children just as much as I do, who want great things for their babies, just like me.

Photo by Keely Scott

We aren’t that different. And yet, we are so different.

I don’t know how this trip will impact our family long term. I don’t know how it will change us as a unit or what direction it will lead us in the future. What I do know is this: The emotions of last week will fade away. With time, I will become less moved.

I won’t look like a beaver in church forever.

But the conviction behind those emotions? Oh how I long for it to remain. That’s the thing I don’t want to change – I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want it to fade with the passing of time and the continued pressure of commitments and desires.

Right now, I look a little like this:

A deer (with bloodshot eyes) caught in headlights. I woke up yesterday morning (after sleeping for eleven hours) and my first thought was, Did that really happen or was it a dream?! I feel like it went by so quickly. In the blink of an eye, eight days passed and I was a changed person filled with distant memories of sitting in a Maasai hut, helping a Tanzanian family prepare dinner and slamming Cokes with tiny Tanzanian girls.

Whaaaaat?!

I stumbled to my kitchen and had my first cup of real coffee in over a week and then my senses kicked in. It was real. I was there and for the first time in a long time, I came face to face with my Savior. He was dusty and dirty, sleeves rolled up serving and loving the least of these.

He was a mother leaving her children while it was still dark so that she could give them the food they needed to grow.

Photo by Keely Scott

He was a pastor with  a calm, gentle spirit laying out his vision and hope for a future that allowed the church to fully support and love their own community.

Photo by Keely Scott

He was a young man with an infectious grin and a heart so big for those in need that he spent his days singing and dancing with them.

Photo by Keely Scott

He was an older man, walking the dirt paths greeting everyone he passed with a grateful Praise God or Hallelujah!

Photo by Keely Scott

I went to Tanzania with the idea that I had something to offer, as though somehow I had words powerful enough to make a difference in this world. Upon returning home, however, I received an email from someone who handed me my bag out of the overhead bin on the airplane. He saw the Compassion tag and looked it up online and eventually found my blog.

He’s now interested in sponsoring a child.

See, God didn’t need to use me at all. I’m grateful and honored that He did, but He really didn’t need me. He’s got this all under control. The widows, the children, the hungry and sick. He hasn’t lost control. He was in Tanzania long before I got there.

*cue ugly beaver tears*

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Click the above photo to sponsor a child from Tanzania, or click this link here. You can also check in with the other bloggers here. I promise I won’t talk about my experience in Tanzania forever, but as I slowly begin to process a few emotions, I may mention it a bit more. Thanks for reading along and taking this journey with me…

The Many Ways to Be Involved in Compassion International

Hey guys!

So here’s the deal. We’ve talked a lot about Compassion this week. Um…actually we have talked exclusively about Compassion this week. I’ve talked so much about Child Sponsorship, which is the core of what Compassion does, but there are SO MANY ways for people to get involved with this ministry.

So maybe you already sponsor a child and you want to take it a step further. Or maybe you don’t yet sponsor a child, but you would like to help contribute to the work Compassion is doing all around the world. Here are a few ways you all can be involved in Compassion International.

Child Sponsorship. For $38 a month or, as Scott Williams explained it, for 5 quarters a day you can change a child’s life. Through sponsorship, your child will have a lifeline to the world outside of his own. He will know that someone all the way across this great, big Earth cares about him and wants to see him succeed. Sponsorship is freedom.

The Nester and her sponsored child. Both are equally adorable...

– If you already sponsor a child, perhaps you would be ready to take a next step and sponsor a second child? Or, a step further, Compassion has an amazing program aptly called the Leadership Development Program. This is designed to prepare students to be the leaders of tomorrow. The commitment is higher, but the reward is so very great. For $300 a month, you can provide the funds for a student to attend the University. She will also receive discipleship, mentorship and leadership training by a dedicated Compassion staff member.

– Compassion International also has the Child Survival Program, which works alongside the local churches to help at-risk mothers, infants and toddlers by offering nutritious food , prenatal care and extended health care after the child is born. They also provide infant survival training (24,000 children under the age of 5 die from poverty related causes every day) as well as spiritual training and education. This program can actually help give parents a leg up and keep their child from needing assisstance through the Child Sponsorship Program.

– You can become a Compassion International Advocate in which you “use your gifts and influence to raise awareness of the needs of impoverished children and encourage others to respond to the biblical mandate to love the poor.” In order to become an Advocate with Compassion you must first sponsor a child.

Are you a sponsor who has the gift of letter writing? You can sign up to become a Compassion Correspondent and write to children who have not yet received a sponsor or to children who are already sponsored but haven’t received any letters. As we’ve all seen this week, letters are an amazing tool of encouragement in a young child’s life. This is a priceless way to minister to children in need.

If you aren’t ready to make a regular, monthly commitment but would like to give a one time (or more) gift, please look through the Compassion Gift Catalog where you can purchase anything from a Drought Survival Kit, to Chickens and Goats to entire computer labs. Every one of these gifts is invaluable and needed and will be met with an enormous amount of glee and gratitude.

There are so many ways to be involved in Compassion and please know that each gift of time, resources, love, prayer and encouragement makes a huge difference. Want to see another video of how Compassion is changing young lives?

I thought so!

Sponsor a child today. Or, ya know…do one of those other things I mentioned up there.

To sponsor a child, click here or click the image below. And, as always, please follow along with the other bloggers who are here with us. Nester met her sponsored child today. You’ll want to see it.

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On Zebras, Donkeys and Speaking Swahili

I tried to think of a brilliant way to start this post. I desperately wanted to channel my inner Ann Voskamp and write something eloquently beautiful and poetic about all that I saw today but, honestly, all I’ve been able to come up with is…

HOT DOG, I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AFRICAN PLAINS AND IT WAS FLIPPING AWESOME!

This is a beautiful country. In every sense of the word, Tanzania encompasses the majesty and beauty of Creation. Mt. Kilimanjaro opens up to rolling hills and wide, open valleys surround plains rich and green. Cattle lumber slowly up the hillside, their shepherds walking beside. It was all so peaceful, driving through that wide open countryside.

At one point, we made out a herd of white-ish animals dotting the distant horizon. Our trip facilitator, Mary (who is fifteen shades of awesome, by the way. I’d like to adopt her…) told us they were probably just donkeys. But we felt certain they looked like Zebras so collectively we decided to tell you that WE SAW DONKEYS THAT LOOKED LIKE ZEBRAS TODAY! (Zebronks? Donkbras?)

Imagine that there are Donkeys that look like Zebras (or Zebras that look like Donkeys?) on the horizon and it'll be like you're right there with us.

In a lot of ways, today was totally refreshing and in other ways it was another glimpse into a world that has left me with eyes wide open. I fell in love with this country today and I won’t be the same.

When we stepped off the bus, we were once again swarmed by a sea of brown faces, only this time something was a little different. I could understand them. I kind of wondered for a second if I’d learned Swahili overnight while I slept. My mind automatically wandered down a rabbit trail (because it does that sometimes often) and I imagined a big computer downloading all this new information into my brain kind of like the Matrix.

Then I realized they were speaking English, which is way less cool than if I’d told you I woke up speaking Swahili fluently so you’re welcome to now imagine that I speak Swahili. There…isn’t that fun?

 
 
 

Look at me speaking Swahili! Oh wait...

We spent a couple of hours with these beautiful children and they so ministered to my heart. They are precious and darling and good and sweet and smart and oh so funny.

He's got the moves like Jagger

I’ve been struck often by the ease and exuberance with which everyone speaks of faith in this country. When you truly know and understand what it means to have to trust God for your daily bread, the nature of your praise to Him comes out with an authenticity that left me feeling ministered to by these children – not the other way around.

We left the center in Longido, where 244 children are currently served by Compassion, and we drove out into the countryside to visit some of the homes. But these were not just any homes. Many of the children in this particular program come from the Maasai tribe, an ages old group that has kept many of their ancient traditions.

The driver dropped us off on the side of a deeply rutted dirt road and we marched quickly through the brush to a round village settled in the African plains. The small, thatched houses stood in a circular fenced area. They are traditionally built by Maasai women and are constructed of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, human urine and ash.

Ducking inside a low roof, (read this post that Shaun wrote a couple of years ago about why you have to duck down inside a Maasai hut. It’s well worth the read…you just have to promise to come back here and finish reading this post too, deal?) we made our way to the center of a very small, circular room. The only light came from a square in the wall no bigger than my fist and the slow burning embers of a fire. Crowding together, I tried to discreetly swat away the flies (thousands of them…I may have nightmares tonight) as I took in the sights.

Keely wasn't with our group today so I had to take my own pictures. Try not to be jealous of my mad indoor photography skillz...

The home belongs to Lema, a beautiful girl of thirteen. She was painfully shy and I found myself wondering if she was only that way at home, or if she came out of her shell more when around her schoolmates.

Lema’s mother spent the first several minutes of our visit looking desperately for the few precious sponsor letters her daughter had received. She finally pulled out two tattered pieces of paper, one torn in half, and showed them to us. Letters written long ago, but kept as a reminder of grace.

The visit was distracting, mostly due to the fact that a neighbor, who had been taken in by Lema’s mother, sat in the corner blurting out words and songs repeatedly. After the recent birth of her child two months ago, this woman had had a psychotic breakdown. Lema’s mother was looking after her, protecting both her and the baby.

The sense of community was palpable and real inside those walls.

The Maasai are good and loving people. Many have become Christian, yet they still maintain some traditions that I, in my very Western mind, cannot wrap my mind around. Girls can be married at the age of 12 and when they are chosen by a man to be his wife, they have no choice but to comply.

The Compassion Office in Longido is working hard to educate the Maasai about the dangers of some of these customs while also maintaining respect for the valuable and unique qualities of who they are. Though the conditions were primitive and a bit shocking, it did not feel wrong. Compassion recognizes the beauty of this long-standing tribe and only intervenes if the customs will interfere with the health and well-being of the child.

I love this about Compassion.

I feel like there are too many things to say and not nearly enough space or time to say them. When I agreed to come on this trip I was told from the beginning that I had complete freedom to write what I saw and felt about this ministry. I already had a love and an admiration for Compassion before I took this journey, but now I adore it so much more. I want to tell you everything I can, every way you can give, every way you can be involved.

But it would take too long so…tomorrow?

Tomorrow I will tell you some of the ins and outs of Compassion International and different ways that you can be a part of the miracle that God is working worldwide.

But today I just wanted to tell you one last story. I wanted to tell you again, thank you. Thank you for reading and encouraging me. Thank you for supporting this ministry and for helping to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

To sponsor a child, click here or click the image below. And, as always, please follow along with the other bloggers who are here with us. Nester met her sponsored child today. You’ll want to see it.

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The Faces and Places of Tanzania

Because I have so many stories to tell and so many pictures to share. A wordy post will be up later.

Because there aren't enough pictures of Keely Scott. Or that adorable baby...

Too cool for school

Beauty

Gorgeous countryside

Again, because I kind of feel like we all need a little more Keely in our lives...

More to come in a bit! To sponsor a child from Tanzania, just click here or click the banner below.

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Miracles So Great

We walked around the corner, feet covered in red dirt. The squared off section of houses surrounded an open courtyard where two tiny little girls greeted us with wide grins. They held dry rolls in their hands and they squealed with delight at a black duck waddling around their bare, dusty feet.

They looked up at us in wonder, our white faces a stark contrast to everything they’re used to seeing. Laundry hung in long, damp lines and we waited for the girl’s mother to leave her station selling fish so she could join us.

Ducking into her home, it took a second for my eyes to adjust and my heart beat to slow. We stepped into a room that was roughly 7×7. A bed, crudely built out of long wooden planks and filled with rags, sat beneath a strip of cloth hung hammock style across the room. A bed for four.

And that was it. That was the house. Meals are cooked in a pot outside over a fire. A small pot of potatoes sat on a stoop outside the door. Fabric hung in place of window panes. This is a life I have never seen before.

It has wrecked me.

I’m struggling a bit to find the right words tonight. I saw absolute poverty today. A mother with three small children and no family nearby to help. She gets up before the sun every day and leaves her babies alone. It’s a necessity if she wants to feed them.

I didn’t know or understand how to take in everything I saw and heard. We left and walked the short distance to the local market where this mother works long, hard hours every day buying and selling fish. Enough to pay the rent and hopefully buy food for the waiting mouths.

Janet, who could not have been more than three years old, clung to my hand and lead me down the rocky path with such confidence that I found myself amused. But also sad. She’s a toddler with a wide, mischevious grin. How does she know this well worn path so well?

Sweet Janet and the Jolly White Giant

This sounds like a hopeless story, doesn’t it? I assure you it is not. Because there’s more. The home we visited belonged to Mwajuma, a spunky ten year old who has had a loving and faithful sponsor for five years. As soon as we all sat down, Mwajuma proudly pulled out a smooth white envelope and reached inside, pulling out the precious letters and photos.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” we asked Mwajuma.

She grinned shyly. “A doctor,” she answered, almost in a whisper. “I love science and math.” Looking through the letters, I noticed one line written by her sponsor. “I’m so glad to hear you like Science,” the letter read. One simple phrase, written by faith.

Hope for a future.

We left the small city of Mwanza today to fly across the country to Arusha. As I sat on the plane, my head pressed against the cool glass, I watched in awe as we flew past Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the hot tears fell.

Our God is a God of miracles. The very God who fashioned that snow capped mountain in all its glory, lovingly fashioned Mwajuma. He knew her frame and the way that her lips would press together when she smiled. The God of miracles hasn’t forgotten Mwajuma. He does miracles so great.

When we landed, I wiped my cheeks and followed the group to the van where I continued to watch in awe as we drove past the African countryside. We came to the Country Office, where a staff of 66 people are dedicated to serving well the 65,419 children being served by Compassion in Tanzania. Before we began, they led us in a few songs of worship. One of the choruses went like this:

For you are great

You do miracles so great

There is no one else like You

There is no one else like You

Before leaving Mwajuma’s house, we asked her mother how we could be praying for her and the children. “Please just pray that Mwajuma will continue to learn so that she can one day follow God and become a doctor.”

Miracle.

We prayed and asked God to specifically pave the path for Mwajuma to become a doctor. When I lifted my head, I looked into the eyes of her mother who sat still on the bed, her hands folded beneath her chin. Her eyes were bright and wet and do you know what I saw in them? Just…take a guess.

Hope.

Mwajuma has hope. I know I’ve talked about hope a lot this week, but it’s alive. It is alive! I didn’t leave Mwajuma’s house feeling hopeless. I was shocked and I was sad, but I was not without hope.

Mwajuma's baby sister, Jackie. Eat. Her. With. A. Spoon.

I left the head Compassion Office even more buoyed by this idea of hope. The staff exudes the emotion. Praise spilled forth from their lips, not hopelessness. The hands and feet of Christ Himself in Tanzania, the staff are under the leadership and direction of Joseph Maila and they are living hope every single day.

Absolute poverty amidst absolute hope.

I confess, I’m still trying to reconcile those things. I want to do so much more now. For thirty-three years I’ve lived with the awareness of extreme poverty and I’ve prayed about it. I’ve given here and there. We’ve sponsored a child. But I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.

And now? Now I do. I’m without excuse anymore. The gap between awareness and action has to close. What does that mean? I’m not really sure. It feels a little cliche to sit here and write these things. Of course I’m going to feel a greater call to action while I’m right here in the midst of it all. I mean, I’ve been to church youth camps. I’ve seen how these things work…

But what happens when I return home to my comfortable bed, my large house, my grocery store and the steady paycheck that allows me to get whatever I want whenever I want?

What then?

Honestly, that is my challenge. Hope is slow. Even for me…

But I can tell you with confidence that I know where I’ll start. I will start by writing our sponsored child more often. I will encourage him and build him up and love him like he’s one of my own. It’s a start and though it feels so small, I promise…it’s not.

Because we have a God of miracles and He is still moving and working. There are an estimated 22,000,000 children under the age of 18 and the percentage of those children still living in extreme poverty is high. 65,419 children are already registered in the Compassion program here. Do you know what that means?!

It means God has a LOT of room to work miracles. Miracles so great.

So what about you? What is your call to action? Won’t you be a part of the miracle?

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Photos by Keely Scott

Follow along with the other bloggers here. Seriously. You want to read their stories…

Following the Dream

I ripped the heads off of fish today. In case you didn’t read that right…

I RIPPED THE HEADS OFF OF FISH TODAY!

Want proof?

I sat next to Moses, digging my hands into a basket of dried fish and tearing the heads off one by one. He does this every day so I figured I could conjure up the courage to do it just this once. (Conjure. That’s a great word. We should use it more…)

Moses has been sponsored in the Compassion program for one year but, unfortunately, he has never received a letter from his sponsors. He doesn’t know who they are, but it hasn’t diminished the gratefulness he and his family feel for their gift.

Sponsorship means that Moses can go to school now and so much more. He can play soccer with his friends in a spunky red uniform. He can learn songs and scripture and he has hope for the future. When times were tough and famine hit, his family received much needed assisstance. It’s amazing what $38 a month can do.

While sitting with Moses and his mom, we asked what she hoped for her son, the youngest of four children all living with her and her husband inside a mud house no bigger than my kitchen.

“I hope that one day Moses will grow to be a great and wise man who knows God and follows the dreams God places in his heart.”

I wish the same thing for my children. Two mothers, worlds apart, but really not all that different.

We walked with Moses to buy water so we could help him wash dishes – a chore that he performs every single day for his mother. He is a shy, sweet boy who rarely smiles, until…

His older brother, Lousobya, pulls out a beautiful Butterfly sewing machine. Their father used to be a tailor before the work disappeared. And now Moses learns the trade of his father and big brother. Lousobya helps Moses thread the needle, tongue peeking through the teeth in fierce concentration.

And as the sewing machine whirs to life it happens. A smile spreads slowly across his face. Pride. He is participating in the trade of his father, the skill of his brother. He’s happy to show us that he, too, is learning these skills.

Hope is alive, friends. It may be slow, but it’s alive. It’s alive in the smiles and laughter and the joy of the boys and girls at the Evangelistic Assembly of God Church, which hosts a Compassion program serving 238 children. 42 of those children are still awaiting sponsorship.

They’re waiting for you.

But it’s more than just sending money. They want a relationship. These kids are just like my kids – like your kids. They need to be told they are worth something. These children are not defined by where they live or the circumstances that surround them. They are more than that.

They are smart.

They are joyful.

They are happy.

They are hard working and full of life.

When you sponsor a child you have the opportunity to speak wisdom and grace and encouragement into their lives. You have the ability to build in them the confidence to look beyond where they are and reach for the dreams God has placed in their hearts.

Letters mean the world to these children. Don’t forget that component.

Do you want to see who it is you are writing to? Trust me. Your answer to that question is a resounding yes.

 

 

If you are on the fence about sponsoring a child, let me encourage you that it is a decision that you will never regret. It is the best investment of time, prayers and finances that you could possibly make. If you at all feel a tug of the heart, then click the picture below and sponsor a child from Tanzania today.

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Follow the journeys of the other amazing bloggers on this trip here.

Because pictures speak volumes

I wanted to throw up another post because I felt like so much happened yesterday and it was too much for one post. This one is mostly picture heavy, because I’ve heard pictures speak a thousand words.

And also because it’s almost 1:00am and the last time I wrote a post on little sleep I ended up rambling on and on about Turkish Fish) which you guys should totally scroll down the comments because someone found the metaphor. She won a cyber high five from me for it…).

Me, leaping to victory. Have I ever mentioned that I'm a tad competitive?

There was a lot of fun to be had yesterday amidst the yanking and tugging of my heart. We played games (some form of Simon Says that I lost at and ended up in the mush pot because I swear the teacher was changing the rules during play…), we raced (let the record show I beat Shaun Groves), we taught the children the Macarena (you wish you were as cool as we are) and I stood in awe of Nester’s wicked Justin Bieber dance moves.

In the mush pot

This is us teaching the Chicken Dance AFTER we taught the Macarena. The parents of these children are probably soooooo glad we came and taught these.

Sure she can decorate your house on a dime, but her REAL talent is dance and Bieber is her muse...

We even put on an impromptu concert when the director asked us to sing a song. Shaun was all, “Oh they always ask us to do that.” I have to say, we rocked it. We may need to go on tour. Lord I Lift Your Name On High” has never been more moving.

Again, you wish you were as cool as us.

Pictures. I came here to show you pictures. I’ll stop talking now…

Slamming coke. I'm pretty sure they could have beat me at this game...

The parents of the children sang and danced for us and presented us each with a unique gift that they had either made themselves or purchased.

Receiving a small wooden giraffe made her a happy Nester.

Samson, the director of this particular Compassion project, is a man of great vision and has so much love for the children. I deeply admire him.

This is what it's all about.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a child from Tanzania, click the image below. As always, you can follow along with all the other bloggers to hear what everyone else is seeing and learning. Thanks for all your support and encouragement, everyone. It means more than you know.

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All pictures by Keely Scott.

Hope is Slow

As we ambled back up the rutted dirt path it finally happened. I knew the emotions would take over at some point, but I honestly didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed my second day here. On both sides, children scrambled about watching us with bold curiosity.

“How do you handle seeing this all the time?” I asked Shaun as we stepped gingerly over a stream of muddy water flowing through the red soil. My throat burned and eyes watered as the images of the family we just visited ran through my mind. It wasn’t the condition of their home that left me so affected, though the small, concrete structure that housed two adults and nine children did leave me a bit shocked.

The situation this family lives in is dire in more ways than just physical. There was a hollow emptiness in the eyes of the mother that struck me. A desperation in the grandmother’s voice that tore through me. Abandoned and alone, these women now work only when they can and pray for daily bread in the most literal sense.

Currently, two of this young mother’s five children are being served by Compassion – twins, Doto and Kuluwa. One is sponsored, the other is still waiting. They were all quiet, eyes downcast, shy. When asked what she hopes for her children, this mother replies, “I hope that they can grow up and do business so that they can take care of me.”

Doto is sponsored. Her twin brother, Kuluwa is not.

I left this home with a quivering chin. “How do you see this all the time and not feel overwhelmed?” I asked. “It just all seems so much, like it’s impossible to ever meet all the needs.”

“Hope is slow,” Shaun replied softly.

There is hope for the family we visited thanks to the Compassion center in Buhongwa, Tanzania. But what about the others? There are so many needs. So much that can leave you feeling hopeless, but…hope is slow.

There is more need in this world than any one person or group or organization can handle. When we’re far away from these situations it’s so easy to keep an emotional distance from the desperation. But even being here and seeing it firsthand, I find myself shutting down a bit. It seems impossible, insurmountable.

But hope is slow.

The hope to eradicate extreme poverty is not unrealistic. But it’s also not going to happen overnight and it absolutely won’t happen without the mobilization of masses. Hope is real. It is alive. But it is slow.

I will be completely honest with you. I felt a little hopeless this afternoon as I walked through the back alleys. This country, along with the people that inhabit it, is beautiful and stunning, but the dichotomy of how so many people live against the backdrop of brilliant rock formations, mountains and a lake that gleams like a million crystals in the sunlight leaves me with a bit of vertigo.

But…

Back at the Compassion center at the Africa Inland Church I saw hope. I saw it and I heard it. I hugged it and let it play with my hair. Hope revealed itself in the form of giggling faces, curious stares, sweet songs and a sermon from a ten year old named James that would put the greatest communicators of the pulpit to shame.

Hope. It’s slow. But it’s there.

Currently there are roughly 1.2 million children sponsored worldwide through Compassion International. That’s 1.2 million families who now have a hope for the future.

For the children who are sponsored with Compassion, hope is real. It means a future. It allows for more than just a meal now and then. It means education, health care, spiritual and leadership training. Sponsorship with Compassion is the birth of hope.

So far it appears that the theme of what I will learn this week is what it means to hope. I so often lose myself in the big picture. I see the need and feel paralyzed because how can I possibly do anything that will produce any kind of lasting effect? But though the need is great, hope is greater. It’s easy to get discouraged, but we cannot give up. I cannot give up.

I won’t give up.

Because hope is slow…but it’s also real.

Will you join the fight?

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Clicking the above photo will lead you to a page where you can sponsor a child from Tanzania. If you are interested in sponsoring a child from the specific project center we visited today, there are 53 still waiting. You can click this link where a few of those children are listed as available for sponsorship.

There were so many experiences that we all had today. It seems every blogger gleaned a little something different from this visit. To see this experience through their eyes, click here.

All photos courtesy of the lovely and incomparable Keely Scott.

On Turkish Fish and Hope

It’s only fitting that I begin this first post from Tanzania with a metaphor. This metaphor involves flesh eating Turkish fish but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

I’ve been awake for a solid 48 hours with a couple of hour-long dozes here and there. So it’s safe to say that anything I type in this post could potentially be marred by the fact that my brain is moving about ten seconds behind my fingers.

Or maybe my fingers are moving ten seconds behind my brain. It’s hard to say, honestly…

After missing our connection in Amsterdam due to a weight/balance issue in Detroit, we spent a solid eight hours in the Amsterdam airport (or maybe ten…I dunno). While there, we came upon the aforementioned Turkish fish and our fearless trip leaders, Keely and Shaun, decided to allow the little flesh eaters to rid their feet of all impurities.

(And when I say Turkish fish, I mean that literally. They were imported from Turkey. I mean, I guess they could have been snagged from the pet shop down the road, but the lady was very convincing that these were, indeed, Turkish fish and that really sounds so much better for the story I’m telling.)

Our leaders allowing the dead flesh of their feet to be gnawed away by Turkish fish is where the metaphor comes in. I don’t actually know what it represents metaphorically because my brain is completely fried, but I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

If you figure it out you can share it with us in the comments.

We were rerouted through Nairobi (bonus country – whoop!) and then Kilimajaro and then Mwanza. That’s like 67 hours of flying time, which is only slightly an exaggeration. Okay, it’s a big exaggeration, but it felt like the longest day ever. And I LOVED every minute of it.

Half of our bags did not arrive in Kilimanjaro, which means that I smell and will for at least one more day. But that doesn’t matter to you since you can’t smell me through the computer so consider yourselves twice blessed.

Upon arrival we got to experience our first Compassion site and it was every bit as moving and sweet and awe-inspiring as I hoped it would be. My prayer in preparation for this trip was, “Lord give me eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart open to knowing You more.”

I feared coming here and being calloused to the work of Compassion. I’ve read the blog trips before and I worried that I wouldn’t have anything new to share. How would I write and what would I say? As we rounded the corner, though, and were greeted by dozens of faces smiling and grinning and waving, I knew that this experience would be unique. How can you not be moved by smiles like this?

With tears in my eyes I can tell you that Compassion International is doing amazing work. Maybe you already knew that and maybe you didn’t. On a base level I understood this, but to see first hand the gratefulness in a grandmother’s eyes as she stood in her stone walled home, looking into the eyes of her cherubic granddaughter who now has hope leaves an impression.

This same grandmother has received her own lifeline of hope through Compassion’s Complimentary Intervention Program, which provided food at a crucial time when drought dried the land and withered the ability to meet the most basic need of food. Grasping my hand as we walked down the rugged path, she thanked us repeatedly for our help.

Hope.

This grandmother longs to own a home of her own, rather than rent a stone room with holes in the roof for herself and eleven others. And as long as there is hope, and a church body willing to stand in the gap and provide the resources needed to give them a leg up, lives will be changed both here on Earth and for all eternity.

When you sponsor a child through Compassion International, you are creating a vehicle for an entire family to climb out of the pit of extreme poverty. By providing for the physical, emotional, educational and spiritual needs of one child, you have the potential to forever impact that child’s entire family.

As we walked back up the stairs of the open air church building, my eyes widened to see the entire room packed with men, women and children all gathered to say thanks. They are thanking you, the sponsors who have opened wide the doors of hope. And there is more to be done. There are children still waiting to be sponsored, lives clinging to hope. Beauty in action.

Hope.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a child in Tanzania, click this link and follow the prompts. Or you can click on the photo at the bottom of this post.

(PS- I totally tried to find a way to link the flesh eating fish ridding feet of impurities to this post, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it work….and somehow I have a feeling you’re kind of grateful for that.)

(PPS- I promise I’ll be more alert tomorrow.)

(PPPS- Last one, I promise. You can follow along with the other amazing bloggers on our team here.)

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Photos courtesy of Keely Scott