The Stories of My Dreams

I’m back in the west! I drink Chai Latte’s, I eat cereal for midnight snacks, I wear shorts that show my knees and I’m starting to get caught up on everything I missed with my friends.

IMG_4550.JPG

It’s the most bizarre transition as this season I know my time in the west is extended and I’m not just “popping in” for a quick shower and a shave before heading back to Africa.

Truthfully I go back and forth between being ecstatic over this period of time with “I love my fiancé and my friends and I can’t wait to get marrieddddd!” and then… dropping slightly and just missing my kids. Missing the adventure and house visits and cuddles and hearing their little voices yell “Sandra! Sandra!” whenever I walk between the mud huts.

I’ve only been back a couple of weeks so everything is still fresh and the stories seem like they still happened yesterday. So in order to not forget them all as my mind gets lost in traffic, I decided to blog a couple of them.

One thing that I’m so proud of is the love that our Leadership League boys have for one another. I’m undone watching them.

Again, our Leadership League is a soccer league we have for boys who because of war “spent more time with guns than pencils” we describe it. Some were abducted by the army as children and over the years escaped or were released. Others spent years living in the jungle running from war in fear of those abductions. Either way, the boys have incredible resilience and are now united with us and the common love of soccer.

Well, this time we were there for an extended weekend in their village and we had scheduled an all day Saturday with them. Soccer, games, teachings and mentorship. Brilliant.

But that morning, while western kids would be flipping on the early cartoons, our boys came to us with a game changer.

“A boy from the village was abducted this week” they started… “He was taken by soldiers and told he had to work and cultivate their land for them. The boy was young however and got scared that they would kill him, so he ran away in the night. When the soldiers woke up and saw that he was gone, they were very angry. They couldn’t find him anywhere. So they came to us.

His brother is in the League and they told him that if he refused to work and “pay his brothers debt” by cultivating the land, they would kill him and his family.”

“So” the boys continued, “We are also his family. One brothers burden is all of our burden so we will go together with him to help him cultivate the land of the soldiers. So we are terribly sorry, but we cannot come and be with you until this afternoon.”

I wanted to cry. The emotions of what these boys go through on a daily basis and constant fear of re-abduction is beyond me, but this time I wanted to cry not only because of sympathy but because of pride. Not in anything we had done, but simply in who they are. They love SO WELL.

That morning they went off together and cultivated the land and returned to the base just in time for a surprise lunch we had prepared for them and time together talking, dreaming and praying for their future. They are my favorites.

 

Another story is how Jesus moves so perfectly. Always. One day at the end of a session with our Leadership League, a man came up to us looking very… “down and out”.

His eyes were cloudy and they stayed glued to the floor at all times.

We started asking him questions, basics at first “What’s your name, where are you from?” trying to bring ease to his obviously nervous self.

Eventually his story came forth.

“I’ve been cursed. The witchdoctor’s of the village were paid to put a curse on me and it makes me go blind. Everyday at 6pm my eye sight leaves me and I cannot see until morning. I heard your God might be able to heal.”

Sometimes I have all the confidence in the world that God will heal on the spot and sometimes, I honestly don’t know. I just know that my job is to love and to pray and Jesus does the rest. But this time, looking at this tender man and his mustard seed of faith that God could be bigger than the witchdoctor, I just kneeeeew that I knew, that God had something for him.

So we prayed hugged him and told him to come find us in the morning and let us know what the night had brought him.

Sure enough, waking up at the crack of dawn, we went outside to use the latrine first thing and there was the man waiting to tell us the news.

“6pm came and 6pm went and I could see.”

Jesus is faithful.

Hugs. Laughter. More hugs. And prayers of thanksgiving.

Jesus is bigger than the witchdoctor! And I am so in love with this God who loves to heal.

So though my life feels like just a constant of transition and opposites, I'm holding on so tightly to every moment and savoring the memories of my babies and looking forward to a wedding that is less than 6 weeks away. What a dream life is and if we choose, such a beautiful series of unimaginable wonder! 

Education Month!

Most of the time my blogs are all emotions and what it's like to live between really crazy places. But this time, I just wanted to announce that September is Education Month!

We're taking the month to honor our kids and be a voice for them. They grew up in either active conflict or sexual abuse but because of the generosity of our donors, we've been able to get a lot of them in our schools. Nearly 1,000 to be precise! So this month we're dedicating all of our funds raised to them and then some.  We're aiming to raise $10,000 this month to go towards our schools.  

Here's the fabo low-down on it:

 

Justice Rising currently provides education to 700 primary school students  living in conflict or post conflict zones, as well as partners with 40 primary school students living in a high sex-trafficking areas.

This September, we’re excited to announce that we have just opened our newest Recuperation School in Congo! This school will provide schooling for over 50 youth who, because of war and abductions, have missed out on their education.

So here’s what we’re doing…. We are dedicating this month to one of the greatest tools to bring peace, empower dreams and to protect children: EDUCATION.

We have seen first-hand the impact that education is having on the kids already in our program. Not only can it give them the tools to build a better future for their nation, it has the power to protect children from such traumas as rape, child soldiering and early child marriages. After seeing the impact that education is having on the lives of our kids, we are more motivated than ever to act. Our long-term vision is to expand, build, reach out and grow! To start that, we are going to focus on our current group of kids.

This September, our goal is to raise $10,000USD to go towards our Justice Rising students.

Considering the impact of education, the costs are surprisingly low:

  • $50 for basic primary school for one child for an entire year
  • $100 for our youth in specialized Recuperation School for an academic year

If you’re interested in joining us to stand with a child in war zones donate online and spread the word how YOU are making a change.

Stay connected with us on Social Media! All month we’ll be featuring our schools, our kids and the power that education has on a generation so click on the links to find us on Facebook and Instagram, and use the hashtags #justicerisingschools and #studentsnotsoldiers

Donate Here

My African Wedding

I should have written this blog a while ago when the events were still fresh in my mind. Oops. Life happened. Fiancés happened. And next thing you know, a month has passed.

Semi funny looking now at my last blog post and how I ranted that I was a million miles from the man I loved and still had it that way for another six weeks.

Since then however, we see the true colors of my future husband.

The week before that blog, Edison ended his job with his then company and was transitioning to a new job. We had talked about the possibility of him coming out to visit but finances were tight, we weren’t sure what the overlap of his old job and his new job was and details kept piling up.

Finally though, it just hit the point where our broken conversations weren’t cutting it. After some prayers and shuffling money around, he made the decision, booked a ticket, confirmed that he could push his start date for his new job and in less than a week, was on a plane to Africa to come visit me.

It was all very exciting and romantic and as I told me Congolese family about it, they seemed more happy than I was! They told me “Sandra, you are Congolese, it is only fitting you have a Congolese wedding.”

“Ok….. what does a Congolese wedding look like?”

And so began the next weekend and my half marriage to Edison Lee.

He arrived in Congo Friday evening and early Saturday morning we started the preparations.

“In Congo we begin with the Dowry ceremony” We were told.

“Edison must go with his best man… we’ll say it’s Jimmy! Jimmy will take him. He will buy a suit for Sunday and then they will go to a farm and buy a goat!

For my daughters a man must pay 12 goats to the father if he wants to marry her.”

So Edison went off one way, and myself and my “African bridesmaids” another. I found shoes with a heel, (apparently a must) we organized the invitations, picked out a “meal” and found a place for “wedding photos”.

When we got home that night our house was already filled with guests.

With clear instructions of what sounded more like a theatrical performance than a simple dowry ceremony, we were given things to say, ways to walk and places to sit in order to be culturally accurate. Then myself and my girls were shuffled to the hall as we peaked in the window of the living room to hear Edison speaking with my “Father” sitting on a couch next to his “father” (both I’d consider my Congo fam) as the performance began.

“I have come to ask to marry one of your daughters” He announced.

“Really? Which daughter have you come for?”

“I have come to marry the one I see most beautiful”

“I have many beautiful daughters” My Congo father said. “Let the aunt bring them out to you”

Then one by one the oldest aunt in the family came to the hall and grabbed one of the 5 sisters hovering by the door to present them to Edison.

The girl would strut out in front of the audience and say “Is it me!? Have you come to marry me??”

Everyone was such troopers as they walked like a model on the catwalk in front of family that had traveled long distances to watch their muzungu daughter wed.

Edison too as he said over and over again “You have many beautiful daughters, but she is not the one”

Finally after my South African, Scottish, American and Congolese sisters had all paraded the living room and finally I was fetched to come and meet him.

“This is my last one. Is this her? Is she the one you want to marry”

“Yes” Edison finally said “She is the one I have come to marry”

We then were allowed the first public contact since arriving in Congo as we had to hug in front of everyone to prove this we both wanted the engagement and everyone screamed and cheered.

He then presented the live goat (that we named Bageera, cause I thought he looked like a panther) (Jungle book anyone!?)

And his “best man” took the financial dowry and counted it out loud for the family to see. With more cheering and screaming.

From there speeches were made from both “his parents” and mine. They went something like “From the time I birthed you….” To “now with this dowry, you are making up for my labor pains”

It was epic.

Cooked goat was then served for everyone as a sign that blood had been shed, there was now a covenant made between families and a wedding was able to take place.

It lasted hours until every smiling face was stuffed full and we were all ready to crash.

The next morning the next festivities were suppose to start by noon.

They call this ceremony the “Going away ceremony” in Congo culture the bride is taken into the grooms family and is usually required to leave the home for about a year. If she returns more than once or twice, they assume she has marital problems. I didn’t like that….

So we renamed this day “The Welcome Ceremony” Saying that our family is embracing a new son. (slight mix of cultures for that one)

As 3pm rolled around we were finally ready and wedding party along with the families were stuffed into elaborately decorated vehicles and driven up and down through town. We were taken for the most awkwardly staged wedding photos and then finally, several hours late, arrived at a feast. Complete with a THREE TIERED wedding cake.

We ate chicken and goat. We were presented with a full cooked chicken, complete with beak and eyeballs still intact as were both sets of parents. We were required to give speeches. Many speeches. And then stood at the front as our guests danced up the aisle to present us our wedding gifts!! I was so humbled. We got pots and spoons. Some people gave us a dollar here or a dollar there. Edison and I are literally going into marriage with nothing more than a muffin tin to our name, so receiving their humble gifts (though we can’t use it in America) meant SO MUCH to us! Uh. I am blown away by the act of wedding gifts and people celebrating our lives.

Technically after that, we should’ve been gearing up for our last and final ceremony that makes the wedding official, but we decided to hold off and do that one in the states. 87 Days to go! But who’s counting.

So as I finish off my last couple weeks in Africa before leaving the continent for a while, I am SO HAPPY I got my traditional wedding in. Even though they still ask us to do the final ceremony (day 3) in the mud hut village when we return next year, for now my heart is full. 

(I was going to fill this blog with photos from the day BUT unfortunately, my internet is from the dark ages and won't load a thing-- sorry!)

Wedding Planning and War Zones.

The car stops. I’m covered in dirt, someone wants a bribe, our engine is smoking and I think our tire is flat. Our shoulders are aching from the long car ride, someone groans about how hard they hit their head over the last bump… and yet in the midst of it all, I can’t help myself. While I know we’ve got time, anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, I feed my boredom with my latest craze: Wedding Prep.

IMG_2629.JPG

I got engaged in May. (Yay!) It was my favorite weekend. My boyfriend planned the most romantic proposal and utterly swept me off my feet with a surprise flight to San Francisco where he was waiting at a beautiful look out point with a ring and a couple of days planned of exploring one of my favorite cities. The “love of my life” and every other cheesy cliché in the book, we’re pretty much obsessed with each other. (In a non- Swim Fan kinda way)

Though the only catch is, we got engaged and then 3 weeks later I moved back to Africa. A post conflict zone no less. The plan was to be apart for just 3 months and then come back to LA, plan the rest of the wedding and get hitched in November.

Now here though, we’re living out the non-glamorous reality of what that really looks like. The dropped calls, the busy schedules, the different time zones… Before I left, when we’d tell people our plan, most thought we were crazy. “Three months apart from your fiancé?! Isn’t that going to be horrible!?” Which I understand, but in my mind, we’re not really normal. We’re “us”, we live in active war zones, we love a good challenge, we’d be fine. (And it’s not like it hasn’t been done before!)

But Oi.

Everyday feels like an eternity as the separation has been much harder than we thought! There’s always such grace, no doubt about that, but see, in Congo, internet pretty much sucks. A lot. In the bush, it is 100% non-existent. So that means, Edison (my fiancé) and I, though have liberal texting for a few hours every day (when we’re awake at the same time) we only actually get a real conversation in about once a week. If we’re lucky. And unfortunately… it costs him about $40 to do so.

(I know, the drama ;)

Planning your wedding and having millions and trillions of miles between you and your fiancé, while living in a war zone, though it’s not going to kill me, definitely has it’s challenges. So over the last month, knowing I still have two more months to go, I’ve been learning how to embrace the two worlds and have come to sincerely love the contrast of it!

Sitting in our mud hut community, my girls and I take a break from war stories and pull out a wedding magazine to sort through flowers and table settings. We look at invitations and question fonts and colors… real decisions, though they feel completely abstract to my surroundings.

IMG_3163.JPG

We come home from the jungle and though I was just eating with my hands because the rebels stole our spoons, I go to our wedding registry and make sure the right cutlery is marked down on the list.

That one was tricky at first! Oh The contrast of living with people who have nothing, and being grateful for literally everything, and then knowing if I don’t want to eat on the floor forever, I have to pick out some chairs.

I secretly love it, even though I wrestle through it. Getting to shop for pretty things that I want but can also completely justify them as things I need? Brilliant.

After much contemplation, I realized if you’re going to do contrast well, you must fully embrace the extensiveness of each entity. Mud huts and new apartments.

You have to stop working out in your head how many children you could feed if you didn’t feed your wedding guests, and you have to just accept that your wedding dress will be the most expensive outfit you’ll ever purchase.

So I take the extra seconds and choose the bed spread I want, from the store I want.

One that won’t have bugs or mystery stains.

I pick out the dishes that will serve food from every food group, and the towels that will be used after I shower with HOT, RUNNING water.

I balance “White chairs? Or natural wood chairs at the ceremony?”

with “Desks that fit three students? Or four students for the Leadership League school?”

I sit in pure torture, deciding on the menu for our reception when all I’d eaten for the last week was beans and rice. I’m convinced if my fiancé didn’t intervene our wedding food would be completely random with all the odd foods I’m currently craving.

And I plan with my team, through belly aching laughter, how many goats Edison is going to have to pay for me. Their “Congolese daughter” after all. It would be disrespectful to take me as his bride without at least leaving half a dozen livestock.

It’s my life. And I love it. Though it seems entirely crazy at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

So, one month down… two months to go! Thank you for your prayers and endless support!

For more details of our November 1st wedding or how I wound up with such an amazing stud of a man, here’s the link again to our wedding website. -> http://www.theknot.com/wedding/Cassandra-and-Edison

[And please Save our Date! Our California wedding will be actually have to be quite small but please follow the journey as we SO appreciate your prayers! We’re also hoping to do other mini celebrations in Canada, Seattle, Kenya and DRC within the 2015 calendar year!] 

When days are lost, we remember the moments

There are a few moments I dare to hope I never forget.

Sitting in the dirt I try to take a “mental picture” of my sweet times in our mud hut village. I close my eyes tight and for a moment, pray these memories will stay with me til my hair is grey and my wrinkles can be counted like rings at the base of a tree stump. Here are few randoms I collected over the week.

The moment… The moment I drive into the village and my name is called by children throughout the main strip of town as they bounce up and down and clap their hands: “Sandra, Sandra! She’s back! Look at her, she’s back!”

The moments, with our boys, as they share their experiences from war. With courage they defy the normal culture of silence and encourage each other with handshakes and empathize with the massacres and beheadings they’ve all witnessed.

The moments, that our 10 year olds choose to act out (by their own initiative) a raid in which their parents were killed before their eyes. Though I fight back tears, the freedom we see that comes in partaking in their journeys, opens up their hearts to vulnerability and leaves me a puddle as they wink, hug and with great sass kiss my hand goodbye at the end of the day.

The smile, the size of Timbuktu, as the captain of our team receives their new soccer ball to replace his plastic bag ball and whispers “It’s the best quality I’ve ever seen, thank you. Thank you so much.”

The dirt. The dirt that covers my feet like glue from kicking off my flops and proceeding to play with our boys and the new ball on our school’s soccer field. (They’d popped the last one)

The left over food that stuck to my elbow. Odd, but I hope I never forget the mystery paste that clung to my skin while sitting around a table in a mud hut brothel. Four Congolese women, including the head mistress, sat across from us in a dim light while we prayed for them after they expressed their desire to give their lives back to Christ.

And finally on the other side of the mountain sitting in the tall grass, a woman in labor fought with the agony that she was still a 15 minute walk down the mountain, over the bridge and 20 more minutes up another mountain away from the maternity clinic. Our team went over every option, “Where does she deliver?” “Can we carry her?” “Does she want to be carried by the random foreigners?” (She eventually made it to the clinic and delivered a healthy baby girl later that day! Please keep her in prayer as she suffered from malaria among some other health issues.)

I could go on forever. We have such incredible stories from this last bush trip. Our times with the Leadership League continue to wreck me for life and motivate me to get our school ready for them by September.

We’re redoing the walls, building desks and all the Justice Rising teachers, staff and main leaders will be coming into Goma town for a mass conference to prep for the upcoming school year.

Raising up healed and whole world changers to replicate and produce more world changers. I’m undone.

Some stories feel too precious and too tender for a blog. I feel like I can’t do them justice. Some feel like I would just be rambling and oozing out more babies and brothels, soccer stories and massacres.

Thank you for your support. I guess that’s what it comes down too. Thank you for standing with us and though you may not be eating beans and rice from the joint plate and same spoon, you are investing in these young men. You’re standing with their rehabilitation process. With their education. With their future families that they will father and wives they will love with a love that lays down one’s life. So thank from the bottom of our hearts! Your prayers and contributions mean the world to us!

 A drum circle at our school where students sing and dance and celebrate this beautiful life we get to live

A drum circle at our school where students sing and dance and celebrate this beautiful life we get to live

Dehydrated milk: Luxury in a powdered form

“And then they took everything I had...”

“I saw many who were beheaded when I went to see my village...”

“They burned my house. My cousins were inside…”

“They raided our village and went off with my brother…I followed him to bring him back…but I couldn’t”

The stories poured out this weekend in our sessions in the bush. Travelling over 6 hours over the road that thrashes you like a ragdoll in a drying machine, when at last we arrived in my most favorite place in the entire world-- the war torn bush, formally known as the “Red Zone”.

It was late when our car finally rolled over the last rocks before stopping between three mud huts and small wooden house. Though dark out, everyone seemed to still recognize my blonde pony tail and calls of “Sandra, Sandra!” came from every which angle. Including, (in her own way) my very thrilled puppy who showed her love by doing her best not to knock me over with her excitement that I had returned home.

Bliss! In an instant (that was anything less than sudden) I feel like I entered another world. Our beautiful village that we’ve been traveling to for the past 4 years has been ridden with war for roughly two decades. In future trips it’ll seem like second nature, but having been away for so long I notice the differences more clearly right now.

  • For instance, cooking over charcoal, in a dark, smoky hut with chickens and rats scurrying at your feet, not the same as running down the road to Trader Joe’s and popping dinner on the stove.
  • Latrines in the middle of the night. Still not fun.
  • Freezing cold shower, absolute perfection after not having bathed in days.
  • A granola bar can absolutely change your life.
  • Cuts on your body quickly make you question if you hit something wrong or ticked off a rat in the middle of the night.
  • And of course, a soccer match in the most beautiful valley with young men who have laid down arms to pick up futball cleats, beats the World Cup any day.

I’m obsessed with our boys. And our students. And our mamas! It’s just a whole lot of happy out there.

We have our beautiful Justice Rising psychologist with us right now, Dr. Sarah, as I like to call her in public. She’s actually a real live genius and did basic trauma counseling with about 50 leaders in our community as well as our Leadership League (our boys) and the Justice Rising teachers. It was incredible and so powerful to see people grabbing hold of freedom. Like a light switch turning on in their heads, it’s as if for the first time in their lives, they were laying hold of a new truth that acted as healing balm for their hearts. So beautiful!

Tears filled my eyes several times as people shared their stories. Kind of like a listening circle, individuals would share painful moments and Sarah would work her magic and we’d invite Jesus. It was beautiful but I can hardly imagine the stories we heard. Wearing our professional hats you nod and listen, trying not to look shocked in order to “normalize what they’re going through” and assure them their trauma symptoms don’t make them crazy. But everything inside of me aches for humanity. Oh Jesus how we need you! Our source of hope, joy and the only thing I can understand for a future for a place with such a history of pain.

At night we’d debrief and dream a little, imagining other war zones that could use this freedom. Though we process and cry and lean on Jesus to carry the pain that’s too heavy for our own strength, I still can’t help but get excited. There’s so much he can do. The way he takes our pain and sculpts it, I am blown away by my perfect savior who’s faithfulness exceeds every “rumor”.

Trying to end my ramblings, I think where I get stuck the most is how can I communicate properly what’s really happened here.

In times when hearing horrific stories, the kind that make your stomach turn and your head spin, becomes my daily routine… how do I hear their story and not stand impacted alone? How do I turn it around for others to see, that others too may have compassion that turns to action to bring a worldwide movement of peace? I haven’t yet figured it out.

I guess until then you get my wrestlings during the late night when I should be in bed, but rather I’m blogging…

Blogging and drinking tea.

Back in Goma and all week long we’d been imagining and dreaming for the time we’d get milk to put in our clean water tea-even fake milk. It’s heaven! Normally I’d think powdered milk is kind of gross, not now though! Amazing how the simple things turn into extravagance so quickly when they are absent.

Peace, in times of war.

Joy, after so much sorrow, or powdered milk when comfort food is rare. :)

Where Words Run into One


I’m speechless. Without words to voice I’ll let my fingers do the talking.

 

Just a week back in Congo and I feel a bizarre combination of emotions.

This “horse chomping at the bit” of possibilities. I’ve been away for so long that every mouth that comes to me hungry, I’m determine to feed. It’s that feeling where nothing seems hopeless, nothing seems too much. We. Can. Reach. Them. All!

And then there’s this other emotion, a holy “step back”. Everyone is hungry. It’s strange to be back living in a world where everyone is starving. And to step back and say, ok papa. What’s your plan? What’s the strategy for today? Teach a man to fish, or give him my lunch?

We hadn’t even reached the border and in anticipation I was on the bus texting my fiancé saying “I want to have 300 kids in a feeding program by September. Any ideas how we can fund it?” For the man I left attempting to plan our wedding on a dime…. haha... Oh I love him. ;)

I feel so hopeful. I’ve been furiously pouring through Martin Luther King Jr.’s biography and I’m constantly wrecked. (Thanks Lance Jacobs!)

I started fighting back tears when Rosa Parks hit the pages and I haven’t stopped.

Her refusal to comply with the standard of the day. Uh. Amazing. Tired of the abuse and injustice black people were suffering everyday, it seemed she just didn’t have the energy to give in to the system any longer.

As MLKJ put it [that we’d] “be saved from patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice”

My heart might explode. To my generation born in the west! With dreams for days … I pray that we would continually tire of giving into the routine of acceptance and rebel against the comforts that cause us to forget the poor.

Comforts. I’m not saying that the world should live without running water or the electricity that fuels are tea kettles and coffee pots. Oh no, no, no! Everyday when the freezing water of my bucket shower hits my body, I remember how thankful I am for technology. But rather, that we wouldn’t be bound by it. Slaves to four walls that keep us “safe” and the distractions that allow us to live forgetting that to love on Jesus, is to love on the poor. (Matt 25

Being back my heart fills with a joy that overtakes me. War has settled down here in Congo and for the first time in… a couple years, we’re able to look at construction and planting in a different light. “Our kids won’t sleep in the jungle tonight, we should set up a new play station for them while they’re at school!”

It’s exciting! In the midst of it, our Leadership League is going strong in the bush.

No longer child soldiers, we wooed some boys into our world with a soccer ball last fall. Six months later and their lives have been rocked and I’m blown away by the stories of their ongoing transformation. So, now what? What are our next steps for these young men?

Well, I’m destroyed by MLKJ and researching more of his “non-violent love movement”. What we’re dreaming for isn’t anything new. How do we raise up a generation that loves so well that it stops war for generations to come???

Uhhhhhh. Can you imagine!? Congo’s decades of ruthless war, now put to a stop by kids who love much?

So this fall, we’re taking our Leadership League to the next level and starting one of our Excellence Rising School, specifically catered to dozens of young men who’ve come out of the army. 

This is actually just my teaser and more details will be coming! We’re needing more desks, paint, little bit of cement to finish classrooms and more books and then we’re ready to go!

If you want to get involved you can give online. We’re also going to hopefully be launching our summer Peace Movement Campaign coming soon!! All proceeds will go into the school for ex-child soldiers. :)

We're Back Jack.

Here we go! I’m back on African soil! As soon as I stepped off the plane, the hot muggy air with it’s sweet beachy scent reminded me that I was home. And, as I was funneled into a stuffy room pre-customs, the overwhelming smell of trash and B.O actually made me smile. It’s this weird thing that I’ve actually come to relate to pure happiness.

 

I’ve had just a short time in Kenya spending my days with family here, I can’t express how dearly I love them all. Final meetings before heading out almost made me miss my flight as the team and I dreamt together how we can “end prostitution” and “stop human trafficking”. Oh Jesus. And then from here it’s Congo bound! I’m so excited to be back in the dirt in the red zone. My heart’s delight.  All I want to is to be dropped off in a mud hut and picked up a few weeks later…

 

 

 

This is one of my shorter chunks of time in Africa, I’ll literally be here 3 months and then it’s back to the states to gear up for a wedding! Oh yes, since the last time I’ve blogged (if you don’t follow me on any social media) I got engaged! He’s amazing and I’m smitten.  (#weddingplanningandwarzones for my current craze)

 

It’s kind of an interesting season for us, though we just got engaged (May 3rd) we’ll probably be apart the entire summer… He’s got a great job in the states but my work takes me to Africa, so though the only reassuring news is that this won’t be our life forever, we’re currently separated by a gazillion miles.

(For more on our story, we finally have a wedding website up! www.theknot.com/wedding/cassandra-and-edison )

 

SO, now. Three months. Three. That feels so short. My goal is to spend as much time "in the dirt" as possible. And return to the basics: How can I love extravagantly? In the midst of active conflict, how can I love myself well, love my team well, love the mama’s well, love the soldiers well?

What does it look like to live successfully? That while having no water, electricity, comfort food or privacy, in the midst of all the demands that war and poverty and bring…. how can we be full and live refreshed?

Jet lag woke me up at 4:30am today and as I watched the rats scurry around the windows I couldn’t help but smile. There’s something in me that comes alive between the high pitch squeals of trying to pee without being attacked by cockroaches. Life makes no sense sometimes but there’s a beauty in it that I can’t deny.

For your summer reading over the next few months, hopefully you can tune in to more regular blogs as I will be aiming to get them out weekly! “ish”.

 

My current normal of planning a wedding and trying to figure out how to replicate our Congo projects to other war zones... (Curriculum writers-- this is my shout out to you!) We’re also dreaming this summer of expanding more in our schools, more desks, feeding programs…. Etc. We’ve pretty much finalized our wedding registry and oh- bridesmaid dresses just came in. This. is. my. life.

Thanks to everyone for your epic support while I was stateside, the continued love while I returned to Africa and the wedding advice as I gear up for the next season! You are all my heroes and your personal notes (though sometimes go unreplied to) mean the world to me! Until next time! 

 

Looking for God

I wrote this blog in an airport coming home from Africa last fall. After a hard year I scribbled down a moment that papa and I had had on the plane together and this is what came out. Raw. Very raw, but a simple picture of how my process from war zones and… other pains.

I had kept this tucked away for a long time, occasionally sharing at meetings or church events. But as I gear up for heading out to the nations again, and my team and I dream for conflict areas and how to do life in them… In our process I thought I’d give you a freebie pass behind the curtain. This is my process. The vulnerable kind.

Thank you so much for your support for the Justice Rising family as we believe that love really is enough to mend a broken world.


“I feel a genuine vulnerability from the depths of my core. A comforting yet challenging peace in my inner most being as papa and I begin to look back at the last year.



If feelings were painted in pictures, the scene would be Jesus and I in a plain, empty room with stories scattered across the floor.

Stories of war, stories of pain. Let’s be honest, some stories of disappointment and stories of frustration.


I feel imprisoned with dreams for what love could really do for war zones.


But it’s not that simple. It’s not all glory stories and *poof* there’s transformation! Sometimes there’s a “hashing it out” with Jesus that really hurts.

Papa, they were raped SO many times.

Papa, she’s now losing her mind from the trauma and can’t feed her family.

Papa, they were all massacred.

Papa, they were all tortured.

Papa, where were you? Why didn’t you fight for them?


I was on the plane leaving Africa and my heart started to go there.


My papi… my sweet papi… why didn’t you fight for them??


Maybe we’re not suppose to admit that as Christians but gosh, if I didn’t have those moments, there’d probably be a bigger issue. In my own heart as I process what I see, I usually have to go through every story and get a visual of where he was in the middle of it all.


Where were you in their pain?

In mine?


And then in seat 18J he came. It was the most raw thing I’d seen in a long time. Jesus, fighting for us at Calvary. With the most determined look in his eyes, he was beaten. And he fought. With a cord weaved with stones, he was whipped. And he fought. A crown of thorns was smashed into his skull. And he fought.

He fought for me. He fought for them. So that she could be free from the pain of her life of rape. He fought.


“For the joy set before him, he endured the cross.”


I saw the look in his eyes, as if the physical pain meant nothing compared to the determination to FIGHT FOR ME. Blood running down his face, his arms. Though they were “taking his life” there wasn’t an ounce of weakness in him. He was fighting for my life.

In his ravishing strength and power. He fought in a way they could not see.


In the midst of war my Jesus fights.


In the midst of torn up vaginas and botched up “hangings”. My Jesus fights.


Through my tears I dare to look at his eyes. Surprisingly, this takes courage. I can’t do the fake smile “I’m ok” with him. I’m utterly stripped with him. Just me and my God in an empty room.

But if I’m going to look at a war zone, conflicts at large, I’m gonna have to look into him first.


But papa, there’s SO MUCH PAIN. There’s so much death. There’s so much sexual mutilation. There’s so much INJUSTICE.

Papa, did you see that soldier? He was so sad. He looked so tired and so hopeless.


Together we cry. And there’s no fighting. Just swollen eyes. But with every tear that falls, I see how badass my beautiful savior really is.


I feel so humbled and so small that he would think to use me. Even when I screw up. Which I do a lot sometimes.

I feel so safe in him. So secure when I look back to where we were. He is the very embodiment of “perfect”, and I get a little bit more of the “no fear needed” thing.


And I scroll through it like a movie or an old-school slide projector. And he is there. When I look at war zones, I don’t see impossibilities. I don’t see hopelessness. I see a savior who fought and won the battle a LONG time ago.

And I see his children, his favorite ones as kids on their daddy’s shoulders, laughing in the freedom he paid for.

Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful, absolutely beautiful savior we really have. I am forever grateful that I get to sit with him among the bombs and bullets and countless stories and be the peace this world so desperately needs.

Justice Rising Canadian Gala

This February we have the privilege of hosting a Gala Dinner and Silent Auction Event. 100% of the proceeds raised from this event go directly to our projects on the ground in War Zones and Brothels. That’s right –100%!

(aka: Thank you to our volunteers!)

Come hear about the hope oozing from these nations and the joy that bubbles up out of our team. We’re excited.

February 4th

Saskatoon, SK. Canada

For tickets call: 306-975-3745


 

.Come Celebrate Love.

I want to burn my wardrobe... (What missionaries really think during re-entry)

{Written a few days before I left the Congo to head back to America}

 

It’s the moment you look down are notice your “white shirt” isn’t white anymore, that your “black pants” are now your “grey pants” and somehow 3 of your favorite tops are now see-through. You hold up your thin cotton outfit and debate how the holes got there. Was it a bug? Standard wear? Can dust mites do this??

….Any other missionaries hear me? (And the chorus chimes in ;) )

I don’t know how everything is so…altered. If all else fails, I blame the water. After all that’s what happened to my hair, right?

Thank JESUS for the Moroccan Oil that my sweet teammate brought me in Congo to try and fix my severely damaged locks before the trek back to Los Angeles.

 

I’m in transition, emotionally preparing for the journey of war lords to high heels, and letting you in on the process.

 

These are the moments when I joke that I’m not a very “good” missionary. I really love pretty things. And I hate moo-moos. Last month, I went several dinners without food so I could splurge on an outrageously expensive InStyle Magazine. (that I’ve now memorized cover to cover) It happens. I love looking at the pictures of the beautiful boots when my feet have seen nothing but flip flops for… a long time.

 

But soon it’ll happen. In two weeks from now I will dote a dress and some stunning shoes, I will curl my hair and spray a little perfume and I will attend the wedding of two of my gorgeous friends saying “I do”. Among the crowd, I’ll look like everyone else. Nobody will stop and stare. Nobody will point and shout “Foreigner!! Look, there’s a foreigner!!!!” (lol)

Nobody will guess that I dine with soldiers, that my kids carried AK-47’s or that I had a small greenhouse of parasites living inside of me just weeks beforehand.

 

I know it sounds strange, but that’s the weirdest feeling for me. For the first couple weeks I always feel like I stick out like a sore thumb, that everyone can see it. Though all the food we could dream for is now at our fingertips, they’ll know something is up and that I don’t see dinner, I see the faces of those whom I just held, dying of malnutrition.

 

I’ll smile politely as I meet a stranger and they ask “And what do you do for a living?” A quick evaluation of the situation, do they really want to hear how our kids are being abducted? Or how our mama’s are used as pin-cushions in a war of sexual violence? “I work in development,” I’ll say with a smile. My safety net until transition passes.

 

Sometimes that’s just the feeling. The feeling that you could possibly be the square peg trying to fit into some wedge boots.

 

Transition.

 

(Can I hear that chorus again?)

 

Now, part of me doesn’t mind it. It’s actually quite beautiful. To have the privilege of living between such opposite worlds in attempts to bring more life to one and awareness to the other. Living for love, in the big picture kind of way. It’s just the initial change between the two secretly feels, really awkward. Haha.

 

Don’t worry, the feeling goes away. Along with the jet lag, you eventually fit into a new routine and the heels don’t feel quite so high.

 

But until the passes, don’t say I didn’t warn you! Missionaries in transition… The awkward jokes, the epically long hot showers, the excitement over super soft Kleenex and the random foreign languages that occasionally pop out of our mouths… it happens. So when you see us wide-eyed, staring strangely into your refrigerator, don’t worry, just give us grace and well, maybe some ice cream. 

Our White Picket Fence

I normally have a rule that I don’t write until a day or two after our bush trips as I’m usually too raw and unprocessed if I hit the keys to quickly.

But this time I’ll just put up a caution sign as I wrote this as a means TO process the everyday while on the ground and in the dirt…


I can feel a few drops of rain. First on the top of my head, then my face. They start falling faster but I don’t flinch. None of us do. I’m with my Pastor in the bush and we’re speaking to a man who’s son we rescued from the army. The father’s eyes are sad. So sad. And hopeless. I tell him how much we love his boy and a few stories to try and make him smile but nothing works.

“All of our boys in the village are joining the army. Maybe mine was rescued but our village has lost it’s sons.”

The rain continues to fall but the weight of the mans words stops us on the street. Immediately my mind gets thinking… How do we rescue them? All of them. Or at least give them an alternative.


Many of the boys in the village join the army out of “lack of vision” or “restlessness”. In our area many boys, aged 10-18, are not in school. They have long days and sleepless nights due to running from conflict and rebel attacks. Soldiers often come into the village by day and the young boys are forced to be porters for them, carrying water or artillery etc. With nothing better to do, they watch a power struggle of gun=authority.

With no real vision for their own life and a confused version of “life to the top” they often willingly join the army. It’s not long after they often confess their regret but it’s to late, enrolment is hard to break free from.

We have a primary school but we haven’t yet finished our 3rd school block that will move us into secondary schooling and a vision for the idle young men…


We’d just arrived in the village maybe 15 minutes before the stories had started saturating our hearts.

And so the week began and it was on to making dinner in the smoke filled kitchen, when two men interrupted our program to greet us.

The one had been abducted with his wife and children the Saturday before and had escaped. With hands tied behind their backs, they couldn’t risk the unknowing fate of death or rape so the man and his family ran and ran and finally hid all night in the river. The flowing, gushing, powerful river. They now live thankful to have made it through that raid but the man confessed utter hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

Maybe it’s a tad heavy. But sadly, this isn’t the half of it.

The entire village has story after story and we catch a small window into their lives Monday- Friday.

How can we let them live like this?

I was asked the last time I was in the bush, “Where are all the missionaries? Does your country not send them out anymore?” Uhhhh. Heart drop.

You are not forgotten! You are not alone!


That night I zipped up my sleeping bag and pulled the cover up to my eyes. More often than not the rats crawl on you at night and I don’t mind them getting my feet but my face— bleh, that’s when it becomes a bit much! (Did I mention we’re calling all those missionaries? ;) )


Every night, though believing for peace, we semi plan for a raid. You carefully pack up your stuff and memorize where the importants are: flashlight, skirt, bra, protein bars.


Nights are the biggie here. I’ve fallen asleep many times to the sound of gunfire, but I’ve never been in a night-time raid. I couldn’t imagine anything more inconvenient.


All week, once again, we slept soundly and are always happy to wake up in our beds and not under a tree. Most of the village fled to the bush, but this week like last… our team stayed put. However, this time, so did our Congo family. “We feel safe with you here.”


Keeping a constant ear out for safety reports, they’ve said there were outbreaks of conflict yesterday and this morning just outside the village, everyone’s on deck, as were we. Our version is slightly different though… Conference time! It’s such a humbling and beautiful time calling the village for “War Prevention/ de-traumatization” classes. Haha. Aka: “Bringing heaven- 101” or “Developing Authority to Stop Wars” We’re just as much students as we are teachers.


In these classes though, reality hits. It was a good idea in America but it’s life and death here. They NEED Jesus to come. They’re sick, starving, severely traumatized and in NEED a savior. So glad we have the perfect one. You could feel the hunger in the room.

We got rocked, they got rocked. Everyone got fed. It was great.


By the end of the week I’ve more than come up with a strategy for the boys. Through prayer, conversations, more conversations and interviews, we’ve put together a new prevention program for the young men of the village.

The “Leadership League” we call it.

What better way to give boys a hope and a vision then to empower them with the opportunity to do what they love most. And what do they love most? Futball (AKA: Soccer)

That’s right, we’ve started a soccer league.

Every boy enrolled will get a jersey, shoes and a super water bottle. Along with a guaranteed dream team, they will be required to learn basic reading and writing (as we keep putting together plans for secondary school) and attendance to discipleship courses.

We may not be able to stop them from being abducted but we can give them a reason to hold off being enrolled.


We already found our captain who couldn’t have been more excited. “You want to hire me to play futball?!?! This is the best idea you could think of” –haha. Of course it is.


So now! If you’re interested, we need two things: One, obvious sponsors for jersey’s (We’ll buy the immediate ones in Congo) BUUUUUT, if anyone wants to sponsor a team!! When I’m back in the west I would LOVE to get our boys awesome looking jersey’s and soccer bags!! Including shin guards, socks—the works.

“Without vision, the people perish” Literally.

Help our boys get balls, not guns!

Well, still working on a tag line ; )


 This young boy holds his gun and a photo of a chimpanzee he wants me to buy from him. The bizarre moments in life…

This young boy holds his gun and a photo of a chimpanzee he wants me to buy from him. The bizarre moments in life…

 

(Along with that, though not quite as sorted is a girls Volleyball League we’ve started developing on paper. It will have a similar goal, though rather than gun prevention we aim to decrease rape and abduction/recruitment of girls to be young wives or sex slaves.)

War Zone Immersion

It started out like a normal day. I woke up before my alarm, sat up, looked at my roommate and loudly gasped: “We get to go to the bush today!!!”

 

These days always involve a lot of excitement, I love visiting our village in the red zone. But a cup of tea or so later the plan had a kink in it.

 

Our Pastor came upstairs to our little loft and shared that 13 cars had been shot out and stoned the day before. Thirteen. Yesterday. Awesome. His phone had now been ringing off the hook with caution for us not to go.

 

Understandable, I guess. But my first heart cry was the opposite. NO! We were born for this; to penetrate the darkest places, the regions most ridden with war, and bring heaven’s peace.

 

In these moments you have to still your heart. And listen. “Papa? Where are you and what are you saying?” We spent the next couple hours worshiping and making phone calls. In the end, we couldn’t shake it—this is what we were born for! Bringing “heaven to earth” isn’t just a catch phrase, it requires real love in real action.

 

So we carried on as planned, however, because it had taken so long to make our decision we were running hours behind schedule. That and our goal was to bring beauty/creativity to our facilities so we still had to go buy paint, pick up the extra desks, purchase cement and the list went on… By the time we all piled in the land rover and sent off the truck we had 5 hrs to make a 7 hour journey, if everything went perfect. Rebels and war pending. Hm.

 

From here we are thankful. The road was quiet, almost eerie quiet without many cars, no extra soldiers, no lifted guns. That is until it got dark. We were stopped a few times by yelling soldiers just before reaching the village but once they noticed it was us, we were free to pass. Arriving at the house we dumped our things and as “the woman” I got to work with my other female teammate and started making the men dinner over our charcoal fire as they discussed security. (Some cultural things don’t change lol.)

 

It was then that the action started. Exhausted we climbed into bed early only to have the village waking up. There had been a revolving door of rebels since our last trip and the rumor now had it they were on our doorstep. With everyone carrying their mats on their heads, people started leaving house and home to head to the jungle. A regular occurrence here, where life stops and you look for the tallest tree to sleep behind. And now, we were faced with another decision and I am so proud of my team who took over with the final verdict: “We will not listen to the rumors of man, but only to the voice of God” and while the village cleared out, we listened to papa and in trust, went back to bed. I know—many may think this is absolutely absurd and extremely dangerous but with a constant threat of war, you must be like a reed firmly planted not swayed by every gust of wind, just with your ear pinned to his chest. The saying is, “You die quicker from the rumors than the gunfire.” That, and which is greater, standing on the peace of our sweet Jesus, or hiding a blonde in the bush? ;)

 

Thankfully, we made it through the night without war. In the morning we laughed around the breakfast table, “I slept great! You?! –YUP! Great!” Oh the peace of Heaven!

It felt so bizarre being there however. As the start of a new school year had just begun we had a lot to do. Talking with the teachers, educational trainings, going over our values etc. Painting and decorating also felt strange. Again- we are either absolutely brilliant and on to something earth shattering, or out of our minds crazy. Our school is slightly outside of town so often when the village gets emptied the people flee to our school as the safe haven. So beautifying, though partially felt natural and like a great idea, also felt odd as we watch the world give up hope on the region and we go in and… plant flowers? De-traumatization is often fed with beautiful things. I loved it.

While doing that we also made sure to take every moment we could to sit and talk with the people, having our hearts ripped from our chest and tears streaming down our cheeks. Stopping to hear the stories and pray the with the people they were all quite similar: “Everything has been taken. They ransacked EVERYTHING” That weekend the rebels had hit the hardest and as people had left, many returned home to empty houses.

“I have nothing but this one wrap” the head of our woman’s sewing program said. “They took my pots, my pans, they left me with nothing.”

 

Any chance to open our mouths we were declaring peace and proclaiming blessings—HOPE HOPE HOPE to anyone within ear shot. This is what we were made for. To shift atmospheres. “Joy is not an option.” It’s not dependent on our circumstances. Such a contradictory time of so much pain and so much joy wrapped into one week. It’s so heart wrenching to sit amidst their reality. To hold the sick and dying and hear how they ran all night in hopes of avoiding a raid. But this is where we see papa at his finest. Though SO much pain you could feel it in the air, papa’s beauty pierces right through it. He brings laughter in the middle of it all and lifts spirits that had sunken so low to the ground. I say this all the time, but in weeks like these I never fail to fall more in love with him.

One mama said to us “We had become utterly hopeless” and then peering deep into my eyes finished with “Thank you, thank you for coming and bringing peace.”

I just cried. She’s elderly and would be in a special care home if she lived in America. Instead, she sat on the floor of dirt hut, shaking and preparing for another dash to the bush.

It’s amazing what a smile from an outsiders face can do. Knowing in the midst of war, they are not forgotten. Picked up when they are too tired to stand on their own. Jesus in the middle of war, sometimes just looks like showing up. Standing for love. Risking it all. And knowing that our sweet papa is not only enough for a war zone, but bigger than any conflict of hopeless measure out there.

For the Wonderland in All of Us

What’s an impossibility? No, I’m not going to go all Webster on you (though I do often appreciate when others do) I’m just curious about our scope into what is “doable” and how we define things that apparently “aren’t”.

I thought bringing a few thousands books into a war torn state would be crazy. And hey- if not crazy, at least difficult…

 

 

The process was about 14 months. I had preached at a church in Canada and mentioned Albert Einstein’s quote:

“If you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairytales. If you want them to be REALLY brilliant, read them a lot of fairytales.”

 

It was then that I expressed my dream to have every one of our schools containing a library. Realizing I only work in war zones or brothels, I guess it could be seen as “ambitious” but my audience didn’t think so. (Thank you ROA!) They got it. “Brilliant kids!” Makes sense. They became set on a mission and raised 3,000 books for the dream and shipped them over to Africa.

It wasn’t quite that simple but you get the gist. Over a year later and I stood at a Food For the Hungry storage facility (thank you guys too!) and looked at the containers carrying so many dreams for so many of my chiclets.

That’s when it hit me. Hmm. I wonder how we do this? Bribes, harassment, logistics, finances… any of these obstacles could seem daunting. One step at a time I guess?

 

So one foot in front of another, my team and I rented a truck, bought some sandwiches and a coke and drove through Rwanda to the DRC border. It was a SLOW ride up and down Rwanda’s thousand hills with country music cutting in and out of the half broken car stereo. Bad, country music.

Because our ride was SO slow we arrived at the border late. It was getting dark, pouring rain, we were 15 minutes away from it closing for the night and books aside, I didn’t even have my visa yet.

There was talk of me sleeping in Rwanda, though I had no clue where, there was talk about the books sleeping in Rwanda, though we didn’t have money for that. One foot in front of the other? We decided to move on tiny leaps of faith and pray all the right doors opened. I left Rwanda listening to the guy lecture me about “If they don’t let you in, I’ve stamped your passport, you can’t come back. What would you do?!” Great question.

 

Arriving like a wet poodle on Congo’s doorstep for some reason I was greeted like family. Literally embraced by the authorities as they apologized for my dripping clothes. “It’s the rainy season!” they explained.

 

 

Our books had the same welcoming. One after another a porter carried box after box of children’s books across to their new home. It was brilliant. I literally squealed with delight as the containers were dropped into the puddles at my feet. Paper work—easy. Finances, a breeze. It couldn’t have been more simple. (Not to mention, we got MORE hugs and tons of thanks for thinking of Congo’s children)

 

So what is “impossible”? Because we haven’t done something does that mean it can’t be done? Who are we to be hopeless?

Just because we haven’t seen a nation changed in a day, does that mean we should see it as a daunting task?

DRC, Somalia, Syria, North Korea… Who’s to label them “impossible” and who’s foolish enough to believe that?

 

I know, I’m starting to go all soapbox on you. But if his strength is found in our weakness, it’s as if we’re set up for this. Like we were born with it in our DNA. So “impossible” really isn’t “impossible” it’s just a task waiting for an adventurer to put one foot in front of the other and discover, we actually have really little to do with it. We just dream and trust. Dream and trust. Like children in our papa’s arms. And although I guarantee that there will be bumps in the road and the occasional twangy country music, in the end—it’s just all part of the adventure so seeing the impossible, made possible.

Between a Brothel and a War Zone

I remember as a kid at the jungle gym playing around on the monkey bars. Unlike most kids however, instead of hanging from the poles the conventional way, I remember climbing to the top and practicing my gymnastics beam routine from the wooden slats. With highly unfortunate dreams of becoming an Olympic gymnast, (definitely not my calling) I was used to trying “daredevil moves” many times with the help of my older sister, and many times, losing my step and crashing to the ground. This time was no exception.

Falling from the height of the bars I landed flat on my stomach and had the wind knocked out from my core.

Unsuccessfully gasping for air, it was the first time I remember that feeling lasting for so long. Then finally, as I began to relax, my body re-aligned itself and I found my first breaths.

Now here I sit at a coffee shop in Nairobi. I have 3 days. Three. To fully relax and catch my breath before heading into a war zone.

I’m on the home stretch of a crazy 12 months. A beautiful year September to September. But also a semi-sleepless year. A pioneering year. I know I’ve mentioned it before so this is the last time- promise, but a learning year. I know, many times when we talk about all the “life lessons” we learn, it’s like looking at the positive side of dirty cup of water. But I really believe it and am thankful for the moments I got to dig my roots in deeper to find water. (“Home Stretch” as in I’ll be taking a MASSIVE long weekend for the whole month of November, gearing up for some fun new things post-Christmas)

Looking back at this past season I am in awe.  I know, I know, last time- but to give you a small idea… at one point, in the middle of exhaustion, we had a robbery, mugging, sexual assault or break-in EVERY WEEK for over a month. It seemed like in our natural circumstances we moved from crisis to crisis. We claimed “glory to glory” knowing that usually, it’s an inside job first but it was bizarre. We prayed. We fasted. We cried and we eventually settled on rest. Trust. And let’s just be real, episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, sent all the way from America… :)

Sure enough, as the saying goes “this too shall pass,” and it is… Papa God is the most faithful he could ever be. Sweet to be strong when I am not, and give hope when my vision is too narrow to see it for myself. As I type it’s September 13th. Yom Kippur on the Jewish New Year and while sipping my usual BIG FAT chai latte, I dream for the future.

Going into Congo our plan is “Education month”. Pretty much. Our vision is to start the week off by setting up our children’s library! One of Goma’s first to grace the city!

We’re expanding classrooms, finishing painting, completing desks (which we are still in need of 15 desks @ $60/a pop if you’d like to donate!)

We’re educating hundreds of kids in some of the toughest regions, constantly fighting the cycle of active conflict and we’re excited. By educating these kids, we (YOU) are providing children with the safest option for their future.

You’re lowering rape statistics for every girl in the classroom.

You’re increasing the days each boy goes without a gun in his hands, AND you’re pouring into the future of generations to come as you educate kids for a future, hopefully without war.

Like I said, we’re excited.

 

After my time in Congo I’m planning my time back in the west for a bit! It will be great. I am excited, to say the least, for the last chapter of 2013.

Until then… here are a few highlights I’m looking forward to over the next few months.

 

Seeing our Freedom Boys!!

Hearing the testimonies of life from during the last conflict outbreaks

Seeing my puppies (I may or may not have 5 dogs in Congo. I love puppies)

Catch up with my staff about their 2-week adventures in Mozambique (we bused them over for the Iris Global Team Meetings)

Hugging our Freedom Boys

Rubbing the very pregnant belly of one of our head of staff’s wife

PAINTING our schools! (the fun part of construction)

Planting flowers (the fun part of “agriculture”)

Chatting with our Freedom Boys

Family worship nights with my team

Launching our library

New teammates

“Homegroup” in the bush bush. My newest favorite thing.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

                                                And then…. Hot showers everyday

                                                No more bed bugs

                                                No more parasites

                                                No more stomach infections

                                                SHOES!

                                                Catching up with friends

                                                Loving my sweet nieces and nephew

                                                Shopping!

                                                Comforting my mom (I’m still alive!)

                                                Breakfast at my housemate’s massive dining room table

                                                Eating in general

                                                Etc. Etc. Etc.

 

 

In the midst of the last few months, I’ve said it before but I will say it again—I am SO thankful for the overflowing handfuls of beautiful friends and family who have stood with me in every capacity. I could not be more honored to have such great community around me!

Annnnd I can’t wait to update everyone on the fun progress to be had while I’m in Congo! Hopefully I will get the occasional Internet slot to fill you in on the beautiful developments!

Caution: FB posts aren’t always as they seem...

So it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. A long while. To be honest—I’m in one of “those” seasons. Yeah… the ones where you want to nod your head, shut your eyes and “I dream of Jeannie” your way out of it. But rather, with my eyes so tightly shut, nervous to peek, papa came in a while back and whispered (not so quietly), “This season is setting you up for every dream in your heart to come to pass.”

Uhhhhhh. Fine. 

And I know you’ve all been there. At the mercy of a good God, who is working his butt off to give you his best, knowing that the only way forward is OVER the mountain.

Sometimes pioneering is hard. Let’s just be honest. And pioneering as a leader? Sometimes extra hard. Paving new paths at one point seemed glamorous as I pictured a hunky young Harrison Ford. But a few dozen twigs in the eyes later… I can sometimes second guess things.

 

 

Even just the emotions that come with the dodgy jungle paths!

In Congo hearing stories of our Freedom boys (child soldiers) who have indeed been rapists, to Kenya working with our sweet Bella girls who have been raped. Emotional yo-yo.

But then I exhale. And you know what? There’s an absolute beauty in these learning seasons. Or “growing season”……“Self development” anyone? Whatever language you can relate to most, this season is stretching me.

The beauty though.

First- when you are thirsty, and water is scarce, you will dig deeper and more ferociously for proper hydration than ever before. You will stay up late, wake up early, you will fast when you haven’t fasted in… a long time, and you will posture your heart, doing whatever it takes for just even a smidge more of Heaven. Then, alone in those secret places, he will always, always, always come in crazy extra amounts. And for these extra times with my sweet papa God, I wouldn’t trade a minute of this season for another one. (not that I still wouldn’t want the acceleration button pushed… 

 

Second- you’ll do things you never would’ve have done before. It’s that desperation thing. I have no clue how to handle some situations that we’re in with our boys and girls. But instead of just casually inquiring about an answer, I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, I’m having non-stop Skype dates with anybody who’s gone before me and I will not stop until I get the answers I’m looking for. This awkward, persistent, focused passion, probably wouldn’t be there had I not been placed in this “position”.

 

So it’s weird, but I’m thankful. I’m learning again, the absolute beauty of my papa. Rivers flow to low places, and you can’t go wrong with going low and letting him refresh you. And what I keep seeing, is while I’m weak, this whole “I am strong” thing he mentions—TOTALLY TRUE.

 

While in Congo last week papa opened some… pretty fabulous doors with the army. I can’t go into details on the internet, but it was everything I’ve been dreaming for. The kind of stories I used to lie awake in bed asking God to bring about. Yup, and in my moment of exhaustion (with a cherry on top that I’d been sleeping on a cement floor with no pillow) my beautiful papi showed up in the jungles of the red zone and gave me one of my greatest hearts desires.

Cause he’s just that good.

 


So, sorry I haven’t blogged in a while. I am still alive and well, enjoying the simple moments of life, just with fewer words than usual.


(PS- Extra massive thanks to all my beloved friends, family and stunning mentors! I am blown away beyond words at how you always stand with me, support me and love me better than I could have EVER dreamed for.

I say this to anyone who wants to impact the world in any way—invest in relationships! Fly, bus, walk through the rain at night uphill both ways, whatever you have to do (!!) to get lasting deep covenant people to do life with. Worth it for every message I received this week alone 


Joys of the Heart, Syrian Refugees

Wow. Here I sit, in a coffee shop in Jerusalem, finally able to try and wrap my mind around life. Refugees, torture, war, bombings and the beauty of heaven’s invasion in the midst of it all. Wow.


I don’t even know where to start. I feel so blessed. So absolutely privileged to have had the opportunity to sit with Syrians who have recently fled the terror and sheer horror of war and see Jesus come and embrace them. Wow.


Walking into Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan felt like a dream. We were told the entire time prior that it was closed and we wouldn’t be allowed in, but then favor showed up and waters parted. A camp with over 150,000 people. 150,000! It was surreal and hard to comprehend at times. Syria is being emptied of Syrians one dangerous trek across the border after another.

As an Iris Relief team we connected with some men in the camp (and eventually the UNHCR) and they became our tour guides as we visited families who’d recently fled the war.

Most camps are structured that you can’t bring in informal supplies and Zaatari was no different. So once we passed the army guards clutching their AK47’s, we had nothing to give but love.

“As-salam alaykum!” (Hello!)

We’d greet a family and then enter the refugee camping-like-tent and sit with an inquisitive family. We’d say we were there to listen, to pray and bring hope, and then… the stories would flow.


“Our city had a massacre of 400 people”

“Our city had a massacre of 500 people”

“In our home town, children were used as a human shield against the opposing side and 250 were killed, most under the age of 10 years old.”


WHAT?!


“My husband went to the market and never came home.”

“I was captured and tortured for information I didn’t have.”

“I was taken and locked in a room, no bigger then this tent, with 100 other people. Body, was on top of body, on top of another body…”

The stories went on as we discovered more about the blood spilling out from Syria. Looking into the hopeless eyes of so many refugees I couldn’t stop what was bubbling up from inside me “THERE’S HOPE!” I would blurt out almost uncomfortably sometimes. Really uncomfortably at other times.

“There’s hope and it’s tangible and he’s ALIVE!”

Those are the moments that if you don’t back it with action, you look like, well, a jerk. These people have had war in their country for the last two years. Massacre after bloody massacre. Their homes have been blown up, their bodies at times ripped apart, and then this random group of people shows up and says “There’s hope”?!.

But it felt like second nature. Listening to their stories half of me wanted to cry while the other half couldn’t silence heaven’s cry of response.

So, we would invite Holy Spirit and he would make sense of that controversial four letter word.



To paraphrase papa Rolland Baker: “If the gospel doesn’t work in a war zone, it doesn’t work.” So why not trust wholeheartedly and let our beautiful papa God do the rest?


In one tent praying for a man his knee was completely healed from pain. The first of many miracles. Backs, heads, hearts. Blank eyes were revived with life, laughter filled the mouths of children and echoed everywhere we went.


We were hopeful going on the trip but to see as much response as we saw, I think we were all quite shocked! Haha. Hope to such hopelessness is TANGIBLE. You can see it, touch it.



You can walk into a home of those who have never desired Jesus but within moments of a few sips of tea, or disgusting Turkish coffee, they could see what you have and reach out on their own for the love that you carry.


It was amazing. I felt like I came alive all over again with a little hand tucked in mine, walking through a sea of tents. This is what the gospel looks like; compassion to action, leaping into unchartered territory and finding heaven’s already been there waiting, longing to break forth in love.


Though Syria is still contracting with the pains of war, after our time in the dirt, I couldn’t be more confident standing with papa and his dreams for peace. Be watching for more stories and ways you can link with other’s traveling to love on the Syrian refugees in the future.