Monday, October 14, 2013

Update On God's Faithfulness: New Direction

Since I first went to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in August 2012, I have had it on my heart to share a story of the diversity, beautiful people, the health care situation, and community development. While I wrote articles and stories for the missions organization I am a part of, it was not to the depth I wanted to cover.

Since I was about eight-years-old, I have wanted to be a writer. First write books, then foreign correspondent, then a sports writer..... on and on and on. 

After not getting to return to PNG this year on our medical ship, I was a bit heartbroken and longing for the Land of the Unexpected. August rolled around and I Skyped a dear friend who recently moved to remote Gulf Province of PNG to be a doctor at the local mission hospital.

I could tell she was smitten with her work and patients. She gushed over the wide variety of work she did while getting to build a relationship with the people she saw. She told me story after story of surgeries by headlamp/torch when electricity cut, patients arriving in their dugout canoes, miraculous healing from Tuberculosis, and the 80+-year-old woman who helped start and was still running this hospital.

I could hardly contain my excitement on the other end of the line! This was The Story. The story I had been waiting to tell. 

"Beth?" I asked, "How would you feel about me coming out to Kapuna and writing a book about your work there?"

"That would be awesome!"

At the time, she did not understand the magnitude of how serious I was, but we talked and dreamed of me coming for a visit.

The only thing standing in the way was my current commitment to the organization I am a part of. My original commitment was almost up, but I had staffed a school with the understanding I would do a second one.

I was in a bind. I wanted to move forward with the book and believed it was right, but I also wanted to keep my word and promises. So, I prayed.

A few weeks later, I was pulled aside by one of my leaders and told he felt it was right for them to release me from my commitment. I had not told him about my desire to move-on, so I took this as God answering my prayer! I knew then, that I was free to follow God into the new direction.

I still needed so many answers and gaps in planning to fill in. Money was also a big necessity since I live off of support and barely pay my bills, how was I to get extra money for a flight to and from PNG, plus visas, etc...

Recently, I found out I could apply for a free six month visa. Then, to top it all off, I was given double my normal support by a few people. Financially it put me at half my goal, in less than a week.

I'm excited to be moving forward in a new direction! Not only do I believe it is right to proceed, I feel the provisions and answers along the way are proof of God's faithfulness in His calling.

If you would like to receive regular updates or hear more about my crazy life in missions, feel free to contact me at I LOVE MY LIFE!

(Side note: Many of you may be asking, "What happened to Cambodia and your dreams to work there?"

Answer: I am still proceeding with the Cambodia plans. PNG will be 4-5 months of serving, getting to know people, and writing. Then, it will end in perfect timing to return to the States for a friend's wedding. Here I want to spend a few months wrapping up my book while reconnecting with family, friends, and church. After that, I believe, it will be time to proceed on to Cambodia. There will be a lot of work that needs to be done getting to Cambodia for the long-haul.

I am trying to hold all of my plans with open hands. I want to take steps of faith forward, trusting that God will guide. If He adjusts my heart and my plans along the way, then I want to be willing to follow.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

How Beautiful Are the Feet: A Tale of A Girl's Shoes

Staring at my purple, painted toe nails today, my mind flashed back to my five-year-old self. With my blond curly head bent down, I was tapping my purple jelly shoes together with delight. My tanned little toes peeked out. 

I was waiting for my dad to come home. He’d been in Venezuela for a month.  I remember running up as he emerged from the car, showing him my new shoes. I was so proud of those shoes, but more than anything I was proud of my dad. 

A girl’s shoes mark out important moments, phases of life she passes through. Each pair has a story to tell, unique to the female who wears them. 

My generation is marked by the white high-tops and rainbow laces I had when we moved back to America in the mid-90’s. Soon after, I wore saddle shoes with my dresses. 

We move forward to that incredibly awkward stage of middle school. I am blushing at the thought, but I must be honest, I had sports sandals. This is even harder to say….. here goes…. I sometimes wore socks with. They went with my tucked in t-shirt, tapered jeans, big bow in my hair, and the TrapperKeeper I carried to every single class. 

Let’s move on. 

Then came an absolute saving grace in my life, my first pair of running shoes. These marked me leaving the “smart, quiet, nerd” phase of my life and entering the “athletic, smart, quiet, nerd” phase. Until I had that pair of running shoes, I really did not belong. I had few friends, little confidence, and I hid behind my books because I knew I could. No one questions an anti-social smart person. But, in my heart, I wanted people to see me. I just did not know how. 

My running shoes took my feet over miles and miles of country dirt roads. They helped me run through severe anxiety and depression in my high school years. They helped mend a broken heart. They took my legs on a journey while I worshiped God in my heart. 

After getting a runner’s body, noticed for being a decent athlete, and a lot more confidence, I entered into the “boys think I’m cute, athletic, smart, a little less quiet, nerd” phase. Thank you, running shoes! 

I’ve been through hard-worn serving shoes, grass clipping and paint covered old runners, life guard’s flip-flops, and (on to my favorite work shoe) the corporate world’s gorgeous stiletto high heels and patent leather pumps. These marked my many hours labored, many hard earned dollars, and my adult life emerging. So many important lessons took place in those shoes. 

Now, let’s squeeze our feet into the tight (and ironically enough purple) rock climbing shoes. These afforded me hours of great fun, much sweat, and building great friendships while working off stress. This is my mid-20’s where now the rock climbing, running shoes, and snowboard boots are next to shiny, designer heels. Becoming much more comfortable with who I am. 

Two years ago, I was staring down at my fuzzy socks, with a pair of flip-flops slapped over them.  Yes, I COMPLETELY REVERTED to socks with sandals! 

But, in these shoes, I entered my best phase yet. You see, my feet were cold in the night, our sleeping shed positioned on the side of a hill in this small East Timor village. It’s where my heart became full with a passion to see communities developed, lives changed, injustice and poverty struck down. 

A year later, I completely abandoned shoes as I trudged and slipped through the vast, muddy river shores in Papua New Guinea. Any shoe would have been suctioned off my feet in the knee deep sludge.  

Then, I think of the bright colored, high heels of the girls who I met in Cambodia. There are girls who would trade in their pretty shoes for a life of freedom; shoes that do not take them into the night. 

I have begun to realize how important shoes are. They keep so many disease and injuries at bay. (And, just this minute I found a shoe useful for killing a cockroach). They tell a story of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. 

I recognize the privilege of not only owning pairs of shoes, but getting to learn so many lessons in them.  

Isaiah 52:7 says, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace, and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

I recognize how important shoes are, but my prayer is that no matter what is on my feet. In poverty, in wealth, in good times and bad, my feet will always lead me in God’s ways. That no matter what mountain or terrain in the world I tread upon I can proclaim, “Our God Reigns!”

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lessons in the Red Light District

As I reached the top of the hill, my senses were overwhelmed. Below me the city hummed with motos and tuk-tuks circling thoroughfares; miniature vendors peddled their wares below. A man beckoned me to pay the meager sum of a dollar to gain entrance to the temple grounds. I paid it, shoving my ticket into my bag. 

I was not there as a follower of Buddha. I was there so I could look around, get a sense of culture, as well as a view of the area. The cloying smell of incense filled my nostrils. Through its haze I watched a woman bent in prayer over a shrine, as tourists, worshippers, and orange-clad monks mixed.  Monkeys played along the walls. 

I was standing at Wat Phnom, a large Buddhist temple in the midst of Phnom Penh. Across the circular park surrounding the temple sat an affluent hotel. Right next to it was the United States Embassy. 

I wiped the sweat from my face, fanning myself trying to relieve the horrid afternoon heat. Not succeeding at it or removing the ache from my heart. 

This was a business and government hub, looking innocent enough to an untrained eye. In the midst of the city chaos and resplendent temple, I stood deep in the heart of injustice.  This was the location where young girls were sold for the price I pay for coffee. Their pretty, make-up covered faces a cold fa├žade for deep-seeded pain. Whether by force or deception, these girls were stripped of their human value, sold as commodities. Sullied, devalued commodities. 

Many of them were teenagers, some even younger. 

At night, the area was transformed. Locals were scarce. Foreigners would not dare to venture there without good cause. 

I watched as close guard was kept on my native embassy. What great protection and value was given to that stately building! What little protection was given to the women who now lined the street in front of it. 

An entire strip of benches and dim lighting were dedicated to prostitution. Women came and went via moto with clients or pimps carrying them off into the night. 

As I walked down the street, I soaked it in. A young girl clad in heels and a short skirt cowered in a shadow. A woman cozied up to a client, flirting on a park bench. Some avoided eye-contact and walked away. Some stared in open interest. Others’ dark eyes pleaded with me, hungry for hope. 

The ache in my heart returned. I wanted to weep for them. 

Their life consisted of the night. The most vulnerable, impoverished women and children, were exposed to this dangerous avenue with its gangs and drug dealers. They were left prey to the greedy and perverse. We guard our embassies and temples but expose our most precious, even exploit them for selfish gain.

My heart cried out. What can I do? I am just one person. 

I prayed. 

Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” 

God’s Spirit is upon me. This scripture is not just for a prophet thousands of years ago crying out for his people. His Word is so valid, still today. 

In Acts 1:8 Jesus states, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witness ….. even to the remotest part of the earth.” 

Not only is God’s Spirit upon me, but I will receive power to be His witness. 

In the heart of the Red Light District of Phnom Penh, it was very possible to reach a state of hopelessness. I knew that it would never be by my might or strength any of this would change. I, an incredibly imperfect person, alone cannot bring about justice to this world. 

What blossomed inside of me, however, was hope. A hope that told me I had authority to change the world. A hope that saw the church in Cambodia rising up, loving those around them, and bringing freedom to captives. A hope as people dedicated their lives to organizations like International Justice Missions, SHE Rescue, and Daughters of Cambodia. 

The reality is, some of the women I saw near Wat Phnom will die of HIV/Aids related illness, some will be killed by a pimp or gang member, some will waste away of a broken heart and hopelessness, but some will be rescued, restored, and given Hope. 

In that moment I knew it would be worth it to give my life so that not just some, but one day all of the vulnerable would be given a chance: protected, loved, and valued.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Where Do We Start?

I watched as she dove head first into a box of donated stuffed animals. She pulled out a plush seal about half the size of her tiny body, looked at it, and squeezed it tightly. She then set the soft toy aside and pulled out another one, giving it love as well.

Her big dark eyes were alight. Her dimples deepened on her little brown face when she looked up at me with a smile.

When I was a child, I loved my plush toys.... more than anything in the world. (I still love them!) She exuded pure innocence and joy as she played. So much like me at six-years-old, but nothing like me.

The harsh reality hit me as I watched her delight in the small things. "This little girl was rescued from prostitution." It sounded in my mind but I struggled to comprehend it.

Months earlier, men would have raped her on a daily basis. Someone would have made money off of it. Quite possibly she was sold by her own family.

My stomach dropped as I looked at her bright face. I could not.... could not comprehend. I wanted to catch her up in my arms, protect her, love her, erase everything that had happened to her.

My mind fails to grasp at it. It is a reality I struggle to face, even as I look into the eyes of prostitutes here in Cambodia. I watch a 12-year-old on a street getting dropped off by a John (a client).

I thank God I cannot comprehend it. The overwhelming pain that floods my heart would jade me for life. I thank God I had a Dad and Mom who understood my value and would have died before allowing me to undergo such harm. I am one of the fortunate ones. I am not more deserving. But, I recognize the grace when I see it.

So where do we start?

Human trafficking goes deeper than a criminal network. It is more than someone trying to get a dollar. If we want to stop it, we have to dig it up at the roots.

It starts with culture. If a culture devalues a set of people, then it is at risk.

It starts with poverty. When you have no money, no security, no assurance of how you will make ends meet, sometimes sacrificing one child to save everyone else seems like a positive option.

It starts with the Johns. If the hearts of the consumers were to change, there would be no need for the human product.

It starts with pimps (both men and women) and business owners. If greed could be cut-off in the hearts of people, where their income trumps a human life, trafficking would cease to exist.

It starts with us. We need to be wise consumers. Do we pour our money into businesses that exploit people?

I think it gets down to one thing in each of us. Do we value others? Do they matter more than we matter to ourselves? Are we willing to be uncomfortable in order to see trafficking end? This is where we start.

Staring into those bright brown eyes, I caught myself from getting overwhelmed at the task of seeing sex-trafficking end. I stepped back and chose to revel in the healing. Her horrific injustice does not define her, but rather she walks free as an innocent six-year-old.

I choose not to forget. I know there are some like her who will never find freedom. Who will die from infection of HIV or be murdered or succumb to drug or alcohol overdose.  

I will take the uncomfortable truth; the retching in my gut in a moment of realization. I will fight for them through prayer, through advocating, and through helping to the best of my ability (my strength being gleaned from God.)

More than anything, I will love. I will love them. I will love their sellers, their buyers, their users.

Where will you start? 

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

I Was Not Made For Here

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” -C.S. Lewis

I raced my sister to and from the gumball machine. I remember asking once if we could have one. My father said, “No.”

I quickly got over my sorrow of missing out on the sweet gumball and continued to race Bethany.

 If my dad said, “No,” I knew it was final. No use arguing. 

My bare, tanned feet padded against the carpet, as I chased my little sister around the Miami International Airport. She and I were dressed in matching pajama dresses with silk ribbons woven in the bottom.  I remember my ribbon was purple.  I loved purple as a little girl.   

Purple was the color of my jelly shoes I showed off to my dad a few years prior, when he returned from a month in Venezuela. My five-year-old self was so proud of those shoes. 

Incidentally, Venezuela was why we were in the Miami International Airport. We were headed to yet another country. Hopefully, this one to stay for a while. 

I was an MK. Better known as a missionary kid. When I was three or four-years-old, my parents left their jobs, house, and most possessions in Arizona, driving to east Texas to start a new life training for foreign missions. 

We were in Grenada for a bit. I liked the beach and jungle. My fond memories entailed jungle adventures, fresh bananas, crystal clear beaches, and giant seashells. Well, in my tiny hands they were huge. Grenada was an ideal place for a kid to flourish. 

Then there was Mexico. I remember it being hot. Really hot. Dusty. I remember waking in the middle of the night, fearful of scorpions. Fondly, I remember the ice cold, bottled Coke. My siblings and I would share a bottle as a special treat. 

This time, we headed to Venezuela. Soon after taking flight, I was sick on the plane. I always got sick-to-my-stomach. It did not evoke much sympathy from my parents. I was miserable.  

Caracas, Venezuela was like nothing I had experienced in the world. Horns blasted day and night. Armed guards stood outside the post offices. The tiled houses stair stepped up hillsides, with metal gates and bars keeping the residents safe from rampant crime. 

I liked it. Despite picking up every stomach ailment in the tropics, I was happy there. I liked the brightly clothed women with huge earrings, bigger high heels, and florescent lipstick. The Spanish language was music to my ears. And, I liked the dog with the homeless man we gave food. 

The barrios were a whole other world in Caracas. They had no gates. Most had no doors. Pounded flat tin cans shingled the roofs. Eroded streets filed with kids in dirty clothes. You could smell burning in the air. Smelled like exhaust and burning wood. 

I still love that smell today. It’s the first thing I notice in all of the developing world nations I have visited. 

Unfortunately, we did not stay in Caracas long. In less than a year, we headed back to the States, my parents dreams in missions fading. 

In the States, we moved every few years. Never quiet settling. There was something in me longing to go back to the developing world. I never fit-in. America confused me. I was shy and quiet, so people assumed I was snobby. My world-view far outweighed that of most American adults. So, I buried my head in books. 

I would study maps for hours, I read National Geographic to learn about cultures and people all over the world, and I soaked up history. I longed to see the world. I dreamed of traveling the world. 

Somehow college and getting a degree set my travel back a bit. I still dreamed of being a foreign correspondent or documentary photographer. 

Life after college set me back further. I could barely pay bills, keep up with a broken car, afford furniture and starting out, let alone seeing the world. But, I longed. After many closed doors on short-term mission trips and six years of work, I finally felt like it was time to go. 

After a short trip to Nicaragua (where, of course I picked up a stomach bug), I moved to Australia, as a full-time volunteer with a Christian organization. Since then, I have traveled to East Timor and Papua New Guinea to work with community development and medical care. (I, of course, was the media for the medical ship, definitely not delivering the treatment.) 

Yet, I do not feel like this is it. This is not the end of my road. 

I was suffering from an incredible bought of “wander-lust” today when it struck me; it was not lust at all. I have this incredible longing in me for more. For more of seeing people’s lives impacted positively through community development. For seeing villages rebuilt after genocides. To see hope implanted on the faces of people who use to have none. 

I long for the smell of burning wood and exhaust, for washed out city streets in a ghetto, for children in rags playing in the street. I long to share with them a knowledge I have. A deeper knowledge of the world God designed for them. 

As long as I draw breath, I will long because no matter where I am, I am not home. Nothing in this world can satisfy. By this, I can only conclude that I was not made for here. I was made for another world. Heaven.