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“Our Hope is that as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand so that we can preach the gospel in the region beyond you” 2 Corinthians 10:15

I once told my Seventh grade teacher that I was going to live in Africa. His response, though he tried to hide it, was one of quiet distain. Like I was too quite and naive to explore beyond the boundaries of my own state never mind that of another country and continent. Dont get me wrong, he was one of my favorite teachers but in that moment I felt as though my hope and direction of where I felt the Lord calling me was too great. Africa was far too different a place for me to step foot in. My love for the culture and my lifelong fascination with missionary work was temporarily hindered. He wasnt the first to question my adamant perusal of a world only understood through pictures and books.

Up until now, I have lived in Africa but I haven’t really lived in Africa. I have lived under the umbrella of organizations and lived on the outskirts of the real Africa. I have been reminded of the four lepers that are mentioned in 2 Kings 7. They lived on the outskirts of the city and were constantly on a two way street of fear and rejection by the people beyond the gates. They had a skin disease that separated them and in reality i think i have developed my own “skin disease”; a yovo complex of sorts. Everywhere I go the color of my skin is pointed out, sometimes in the singsong way taught to young students in the schools and other times its said on a dare or with such malice that I want to respond with the same hint of contempt. I have heard many stories about Africa and many involve the local name for a white person. In Uganda it was Muzungu but here it is Yovo or Oyibo I once thought i would never tire of hearing it but in all honesty lately it is one of the struggles of my day to day. Whats in a name? Apparently more than we know.Just in that name alone, there is a separation between me and the people. The walls are immediately built and fear or past rememberance is quickly established. So many times, especially in our shop I see how people change at the first sight of me. Some immediately become shy and intimated others start demanding things and acting like they have something to prove to me. Its taxing but i realize that its also me that has the built in “yovo complex” because even the Yovo complex has two sides of the coin.

Aside from grocery markets, which I rarely step foot into, everything I buy everywhere i go and everything I do I have to barter for. The problem with that is my french is limited and my knowledge of actual prices is even more dismal. Of course the color of my skin raises the prices to almost double or triple what the locals normally pay. I once had a friend offer to call me a motorcycle taxi to a place i traveled to often. Thanks to my husband i know the acceptable price to travel to this place, but this friend wanted to negotiate almost double the usual price just to make the Kekano (motobike men) happy. Say what? Even our local friends who know that we are missionaries in this country just starting to establish ourselves want me to pay more than I should just to make the people happy. Needless to say I was not happy, I think I actually gave hime a snarky remark just because he became one more person to take advantage of my skin color. I am living here and I don’t want to start off paying through the roof for everything because that will set the tone for the rest of my time here; however long that might be.

Even when I am ministering i find myself relying on my husband to explain things further through

the context of the culture. In prison, everything is translated twice. In french and the local language Fo. Sometimes i have to wait longer before i can begin my next thought because when it is translated things are added to what I said. As soon as i arrive anywhere I am put on the spot to speak because everyone wants to hear from the Yovo. Believe me as much as i try to eat the food and wear the clothes, I don’t blend in well here. This is where my part of the “yovo complex” sets in.

Do you understand why i find myself relating to the lepers yet? In the story of 2 Kings, the lepers ask the question “why stay here until we die?” In other words whats the point of being in a place and not living in it. I mean really living in it. I find myself sometimes so put off by the reaction that my skin color invokes. I can’t communicate directly with the people because of the language barriers as well as an air of fear and intimidation that comes from being a yovo. The Yovo complex is rooted in fear. It is fear personified even on my end.

The Yovo complex is:

Inflated prices just at the sight of me.

The mentality that I have everything and that every picture I take will be used to make me money.

That even though you can speak English you are afraid to because your English is inferior.

Questions of my presence here because why am i in Africa when I have everything I can want in America.

The Yovo Complex is also:

Fear of being ripped off and paying more than you should because of where you come from.

Living on the outskirts of the city and not being able to fully be one with the people.

Washing everything in antibacterial because of a fear or where its been or what has touched it.

It is listening to all the traveler warnings and avoiding the local food.

Being filled with indignation and indifference because of all the above things in the first list.

Even after a year of being here I still struggle with these things. My Name is Rebekah and I am recovering from a yovo Complex. For the first time since my arrival I think I am finally beginning to live here. I am not just living afraid of every outcome. I am no longer going to allow myself to succumb to the fear of the differences. What i did in America I can do here. I can walk around my neighborhood and be free. I can find the same foods to cook with and interact with people. I can just be me.God has called me here and though I don’t always understand it because believe me, as some of you know and have experienced, I can be a shy and quiet person. My personality doesn’t always measure up to the boisterous living of this place. I have noticed that the majority of communication is either loud, louder or loudest with facial expressions to match! As I said, sometimes i wonder why God called me here but I am here and my faith is growing. I want to be all here and I want the love of God to permeate even the darkest corner of this place. I want the lies that have infiltrated this culture and have gone against God’s image of his people to stop. I want the little girl who looks at me with awe and calls me a beautiful yovo to know that she is beautiful, that she is a princess in the sight of the King. I want the prisoners to know that God’s grace is as sufficient for them as it is for me. I want those that feel that they are inferior to

understand that they have what it takes to be more than a conqueror. I want to move past the language barriers and move freely in this place.I don’t want to build something new here, i want to come alongside of these people and encourage them to see themselves as God sees them because His love is being extended to the regions beyond myself. Gods sphere of influence has expanded far beyond my own comprehension.My faith is in action and i want to hear the word of the Lord.Hear what it says; hear it, heed it, believe it and live it out in this place.

“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty of majesty to  attract us to him nothing in his appearance  that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others a man of suffering, and familiar with pain…he poured his life unto death…for he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” Isaiah 53:2-3, 12

It has always amazed me to see life take root in dry ground. Just when you think that everything is forsaken beauty comes from the ashes. Praise is sung when joy comes in the mourning “for the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes the garden to grow, so the sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 63:11)

What do you do when you feel like you have been cast on dry ground?  When the world is falling out from under you will you still be found standing? Will you find a drop of water in the desert?

I went to prison today. Think Prison Break Guantanamo Bay times 10. Men, Woman, and youth all brought here for various reasons. The depravity of the place hits you first and then the competition starts as the majority of the prisoners strive to make eye contact with you. At the same time you have to veil your eyes because you want to restore some dignity in their nakedness. The clothing is threadbare and the smell is beyond illustration. Those who can afford it create castles in their “rooms” that are separated from the reality of their imprisonment. behind these walls,  it seems like the outside world is lost to you. Corruption flourishes here while poverty follows the inmate to this place. If you were striving to survive outside imagine what it looks like on this side of the gate. Abandoned, burdened with guilt and struggling with your own self worth. How does God’s mercy triumph over this judgement?

When I came home, I posted a vague status on Facebook “Spent the morning in Prison.” Literally within seconds, i received multiple private messages of concern. Some people were willing to find the next flight, others were offering connections to lawyers who deal with international affairs while others were just genuinely concerned. I was comforted to know that there were people who would do what they could to challenge this system. There were people who would intercede on my behalf with prayers and petitions. For these prisoners however,  many of their stories are the same they don’t have the means or the resources to defend themselves. Mother’s won’t acknowledge where there child is and they will tell those who care enough to ask ” oh, he’s traveling, you wont see him for sometime.” Of the prisoners we were able to talk to, there were a couple of them who have spent 8 or more years here and they were still waiting for a trial.

Life still takes root here. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him” yet even in this place he still exists. In their confinement the prisoners wrestle with the reality of who He is and the concept of his unfailing love and constant grace.

“Christ bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressions.” He above all understands the pain and suffering of each individual prisoner. He knows them by name and knows every struggle, injustice and chain that binds them. Only He can release them from the confines of their physical , spiritual and mental imprisonment. Their guilt is heavy, but God’s love is heavier. Their temptations are many but God’s grace is sufficient for them. The burdens of their circumstances are constant but so is the display of his splendor. For many this place becomes one where “Glory meets suffering. when grace is ushered in for good and the scars are understood.When mercy takes its rightful place. Humanity is overcome by Majesty and his glory is found even here.” (The Hurt and the Healer : Mercy Me)

Hope takes root even in those moments that wallowing seems like the better option. When they want God to leave them alone but instead they find themselves in the arms of a great God whose love draws them in. Deep calls out to deep and their need for healing is found in an unlikely place.  The great light of the world fills the place with grace. Flowers are seen in the weeds and Even in darkness their is light.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in the house. Test me in this” says the Lord almighty “and see if i will not open the  floodgates of heaven and pour our so much blessing that there will not be enough to store it.” Malachi 3:10

Today I am challenged by the book of Malachi. How many times must we doubt God’s overwhelming love for us? How long must we wait for our blessing?When do we bring all that we have to the storehouse? In our lamenting God’s grace is still offered.

The Israelites were challenged on their journey. Could the love of God be felt or did it have to be shown and spoken? They believed everything their eyes told them and took to heart everything their ears heard. Their focus was on what was immediately before them and even behind them. They were being lead into the promised land and yet they still cried out for the leeks and garlic of yesterday. For them, God was so near yet so far away and they pursued their own solutions to a problem that would have easily been rectified had they just trusted in the one that called them. Like the Israelites sometimes it’s easy to become weary in the waiting and I stand guilty as charged.

Sometimes I want to ignore the bleak circumstances that surround me. I want to pretend that my problems are not there. I want to ignore the flood in my living room, the size of my house and the mouse that I need to chase out of it. I want to shut my eyes and forget that there is a rather large ocean that separates me from my family. I want to flood the Lord’s altar with my tears but all these things are only seen with my physical eyes and they make me question “How do you love me?”

Through it all, God’s word and promises are still a reality. He said I am blessed so I am blessed. 10000 Promises and reasons to praise his name. When these things are seen through a filter of faith, I learn that a flooded living room makes washing the floor much easier. Chasing a mouse out of my house brings unexplained joy and shouts of Bravo from a 19 month old. I learn that distance is bridged through technology and the house? The size of a home doesn’t measure the size of the hearts within.

When Malachi bought the message to Israel, the people struggled with God’s love for them as well as God’s image of them. The Lord did not change and we can’t judge the validity of God’s promises by the circumstances we see around us. God promised provision, it may not come when we want it or where we want it but God will provide for us because we are his treasured possessions. Don’t just remember Gods miracles and provision of the past, but remember his promise to see us through in the future.

When we bring our whole tithe into the storehouse it is and outward recognition that everything belong to God. We are keeping nothing back from him. This includes our families our finances and our fears. We can have joy in the trials because we know that our going out is better than the going in. God has not forgotten. He will and he has remembered us. He takes us by the hand and guides us through the seasons all the while reminding us of the truth of his word. Even in the lamenting Gods grace is still offered and it is sufficient for us.

Genesis 45:24 ” See that your hearts do not become troubled along the way”

It is not a new concept to hear about or experience a winding road or a treacherous journey. The excitement and joy of the first steps are cast aside in some places as the momentary struggle gets in your way. Questions and doubts propel you in a state of confusion. You waver in your steps and without a map and no stars in the sky where do you go? In the pain or devastation what reminds you of the journey? How do you reconcile the distance? Sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking though every step is painful.

The journey, the story, inspires me. Especially when I am reminded of some of the heroes of our faith who held onto and trusted that God’s way would prevail. That each step brought them closer to their destination. They cried, they lamented, they brought their questions to God but they still put one step in front of the other and found God’s manna in each day.

Joseph is one such example. With all he suffered you would think he would have become bitter and angry toward God his family and the people around him but despite his journey he remained positive and faithful through adversity. When his brothers came before him and they were preparing to return to Canaan, Joseph’s advice to them was “see that your hearts do not become troubled along the way.” A dear friend once pointed out this verse and offered a profound thought along with it. (although she has no idea that I have been turning this thought in my heart since February….) She read this verse and commented that it’s as if he he saying ” I told you the truth and assured you that everything is going to be okay. Don’t start doubting me as time passes and you’re far away and things become unreal.” I was moved by this thought and it has held much weight in the current progress of my journey.

We have had quite the difficult month on all areas of the spectrum. It started when my son had a high fever that resulted in a seizure because of Malaria. Then Just when we found out that we were expecting again, i found myself being rushed into surgery because the pregnancy was ectopic and the baby was not growing in the right place. But with every step, I am breathing in God’s grace and seeing more and more that i never walk alone.

I know I am where I am supposed to be and though there have been moments lately where i have to stop myself from becoming bitter and holding everything against this land and from lamenting in the unfamiliar and forgetting that God hung all the stars in the sky. Even on the darkest night, under heavy cloud cover they are still there…God is still there. I can’t start doubting as time passes because God is still the author of this journey and he richly provides for us, comforts us and encourages us to stand on the side of truth.

My family and I are taking it one step at a time in this healing process and there are days that our emotional limits are being reached, or i should say my emotional limits are being reached. But God is faithful and even though we can’t see the reasons now we know that this too is part of our testimony.

“You will be rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God… and in their prayers for you because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks to God for this incredible gift! ” 2 Corinthians 9:11-12, 14-15

If you did not get paid for your job would you still show up everyday? If someone beat you, causing you to lose a child would you still welcome them into your house? If your neighbor did not show love to you would you still welcome them home with bread? I struggle with these  recent examples of grace because there is still a huge part of me that wants to resist the very definition of grace and cry for justice. I want my friends to stand up for themselves and not be taken advantage of. I want those that have wronged them to suffer. I want the rags to riches story to prevail as the unpleasant circumstances are rectified. Then per normal, I am reminded that grace encourages, grace is compassionate and it has no loophole because grace does not stop in our silence or in our own lack of generosity. Grace is unmerited favor that takes the world by surprise and its in grace that we release our grip on controlling our situations and allow God’s grace to speak.

Grace steps in our way and injures our pride. It is not a heavy thing to carry but our guilt trips makes it a heavy burden to bare. Unmerited and undeserved, grace is not hindered by our first encounters. Something so freely given is the hardest thing to receive. Sometimes I find myself trying wrap my mind around the very essence of what grace is, then grace is found in the common place. A word that is so simple yet so rich in meaning should be held in reverence, but God gave it to us so freely. It is in the situations that I mentioned that the impact of grace hits me even more. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “See to it that no one misses that grace of God” (12:15) So in other words, Gods unconditional and unmerited kindness toward us means that our words and actions should reflect God’s grace in us. Grace makes sense when you are not being paid for your job but you still show up. Grace is the bread that welcomes a neighbor home and grace is keeping your arms and house open to those who have hurt you. If that’s not a slap in the face, I don’t know what is. To understand that grace is so much more than 5 simple letters.

Today, my heart is continuing to be strengthened by grace.

“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” Hebrews 13:9

“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” Acts 9:6

I love the progression of how God uses scripture in my life. Sometimes it’s just those gentle reminders that God is in control. When I want to  run, God reminds me that He has prepared the way. When I am frightened he reminds me to cast all of my cares upon him. When I look at the mountain and think in my heart that it is too hard to climb, God reminds me that it is just a step at a time and with only a little bit of faith the mountain will move. In reality I don’t think that it is the actual mountain that moves but in turn my perspective of things changes. With each step I realize that what I am leaving is not better than what I am stepping into. The view from the summit is much better than the view from the bottom of the mountain.

As some of you may or may not know, my husband and I have been reunited after spending 8 months apart from each other. My last post referenced this separation and I knew that I could not run away from my circumstances but I had to run toward where ever it was that God was leading us. And now, similarly to Paul, we have been called into this place unsure of what God is doing here. We now find ourselves once again in West Africa(Benin), a continent away from anything familiar. We don’t know how long we are called here but we have a peace in knowing that this is where we are supposed to be. In some ways it is a little strange for me to be in Africa without a time limit of when I will return home. I think knowing the distance that I had to travel made the transitions easier in the past but this time it is much different. I am now here with my husband and my son, the decisions that I make don’t only affect me but my whole family. I am not under the umbrella of an organization but I am under the cover of an Almighty God and with that I know that God is faithful and He who has called me is faithful to complete the work and even though it may not look the way that I think it should I want my life to reflect God’s life in me.

More and more, I am reminded of some of the differences in both of our cultures. In some ways, I realize the weight of some of my “American” mentality where the pressures of day to day living can be a heavy burden. On the flip side the pressures of living in this new place can be exhausting. The days seem to move quickly here. Time is measured by the Muslim’s call to prayer 5 times a day, 48 hour deodorant only lasts about 6 hours and I know how long I have been here by the daily increase of mosquito bites. As we continue to wait upon the Lord for his direction, things have slowly become “normal” again. There are still many things that I struggle with but I want to be on the same page as the Lord and my husband. From the beginning, my husband and I wanted to put aside our different cultures and focus on the I know this is where I am supposed to be and my heart is excited to see what the Lord has in store for us.

But I am at peace, my family is together and already James and I have been able to minister to different people as a couple, as a team. The seeds that God has planted are being watered. Each day we are closer to understanding the direction that the Lord is leading us. He called us out upon the water to a place unknown and where our feet may fail, only He can carry us. (Oceans-Hillsong reference) We can stand upon this mountain and see a new perspective of where we have come from and we know that God is with us. Everything we have, everything we are is His we will follow him because He has called us into the city to wait to be told what we must do.

Whatever you do, Don’t run!

“Why are you frightened?” He asked, “Why are your hearts filled with doubt?”

Luke 24:38

 

If a Grizzly bear is standing in front of you, don’t run. When a lion stares you down from behind the tall grass in the Sahara, don’t run. In the chance of a moose sighting, don’t run. In every survival guide whether it be from North America, the Tundra or Africa, when something big is standing in front of you the advice is always the same, Don’t run. Similarly what happens when the bear turns into a fiery furnace, the moose into the wall of Jericho and the Lion into a city or situation that we don’t want to step foot into? Why would you go against the odds? In most cases running seems like the better option, but time and time again God has shown me that  when He calls us to something he has already gone before us and prepared the way.

Presently I feel like I am standing frozen while a lion stares me down. That place where everything seems to move forward while I stand still. My heart is beating so fast that sometimes I can’t hear myself think. Every part of me wants to run, especially to a time where this is either before me or behind me and in some ways I just want to be over with it.  But in the midst of this place this verse from Luke continues to challenge me. “Why are you frightened? Why is your heart filled with doubt?” Then my conversation with God continues as he asks “What about me? Have I not brought you to this place? Have I not gone before you and behind you and prepared this way? Am I not leading you to the place that I have called you?”

Why am I frightened? Maybe it’s because I doubt in the dark what God has confirmed in the light. With some recent decisions both my husband and I have had a peace in our hearts concerning everything that we currently face. We both know that we cannot run from what stands before us. We can’t allow ourselves to be discouraged. Our focus remains on the one that has proven himself over and over again in our lives. He is faithful.

“Who can match You, God

Forever, never changed

You remain the same

Mighty, faithful One

Heaven’s Majesty

Throughout eternity

 

You will be faithful, faithful

We declare what You have done

Throughout history

You’ve shown Yourself

Faithful, faithful

In Your name there is power to save

‘Cause You are faithful” ( Faithful by Sean Keith)

 

He is faithful. He can’t be matched. He is the author and finisher of our faith and I have to continue to trust that He has my husband taken care of. He has my son too. He is who He says he is an i am not the first one to step foot into this place with him. Whatever i do,  I can’t run.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward” Martin Luther King Jr