The Nature, The Wildlife, and The Image Bearers of God

I’ve mentioned several times that Compassion always tricks you into a hike. Yesterday was no exception. Our group made our way down the hillside adjacent to the church we visited, and when we reached the lookout, there was just a smidge of a drop off.

I’ve never been more prayerful that I left all my clumsy back in Alabama.

But the view, y’all. My goodness. It was – it is – absolutely stunning. And as much as I kid about being tricked into hikes and preferring to see nature from the air conditioned comfort of my home, I really do love and enjoy God’s creation. I don’t know if you’ve seen my Instagram feed or not, but I sort of have a thing about sunsets. I lose my fool mind every spring when baby leaves sprout from the trees because I think they’re so beautiful. I stand next to pretty much any body of water and feel overcome by the goodness of God. I absolutely believe that our Creator shows us more of who He is through the world around us; like Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”

God made it. And it is good.

*****

Today our group went to a local elephant orphanage with some Compassion folks. Jamie and Patricia had sponsor children with them (I wished several times that little Joseph could have been there, but at eight months old, I think the appeal of the elephants would have been lost on him). Some Kenyan Compassion staff members joined us as well – along with Eliud, a former Compassion kid who is now in his 20s (and one fantastic daddy); Mildred, a university student (at 17!) who has been enrolled in her local church’s Compassion center since she was 10; and Jaiden, Eliud’s three year-old son who gives the word “cute” a whole new meaning.

I MEAN.

I didn’t know anything about an elephant orphanage in Kenya, so I was surprised when we arrived there and found ourselves in quite a line. Apparently the orphaned elephants garner quite a bit of interest.

This is understandable because they are in fact adorable.

There were hundreds of people lined around the elephant area (corral? pen? I do not know the appropriate elephant care terminology). The gentleman who narrates the presentation at the orphanage is actually a former Compassion child, and he did such a good job of telling us the animals’ stories and letting us know how the orphanage prepares the elephants to return to their natural habitat. He even gave us the scoop on which elephants are a little naughty. And about midway through his talk, he asked the audience to consider sponsoring one of those orphaned elephants, to invest in their care and rehabilitation.

People were all in with the elephants, y’all. At least half of them were taking pictures or filming videos, and they asked lots of questions. When our time with the elephants was over, people were standing three-deep at the adoption information bulletin board. I smiled as I walked past the crowd, because people really do have so much compassion, don’t they? We all want to care for something; plus we have an innate desire to make a difference on this earth – whether it’s for the environment or wildlife or the local church or whatever makes our heart beat a little faster.

We long to be a part of something with purpose.

God made us that way.

*****

Earlier this week Shaun, Alex, and I visited a Compassion child’s home in the Rift Valley. The boy’s mom was delighted to have visitors and quickly invited us inside.

There were about seven of us who squeezed into the home’s one bedroom; some of us were standing, some were sitting. The mom asked Shaun and me about our families, and as I explained that I have one son (the tall guy sitting beside me), a husband of 20 years, and a dog named Hazel, the Kenyans in the room immediately wanted to know if the dog lives in the house with us. When I told them that she does, they couldn’t get over it, and we all got sort of tickled, to be honest. Alex even pulled out his phone to show them her picture.

You know, the one where she was laying on the ottoman in our bedroom. Like a princess.

I certainly didn’t tell them that, you know, SHE GOES TO THE BEACH WITH US.

And I’ve thought about that conversation all week.

It’s certainly not that I’ve decided that we no longer need to care for our dog. Oh my goodness, no. We love her. We’re responsible for her. God made Hazel just like he made you and me. God created every animal, every insect, EVERY LIVING THING with intention and with purpose. In God’s economy, every creature in His kingdom is valuable. Every creature in His kingdom should be treated with care. After all, He made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24).

However. Here’s what’s really been challenging me today.

As gorgeous as nature can be – and keep in mind that I have shed many a tear while beholding a summer sunset – I’m all too aware that we can get pretty sideways about its importance.

As wonderful as our animals can be – and keep in mind that there have been times when I have attempted to talk to one of our dogs ON THE TELEPHONE – I’m all too aware that we can worry more about the fate of, say, the Alaskan goldfinch (which I’m sure is a lovely bird – I hear wonderful things about it) (I’ve never really heard anything about it) (but yay for levity!) than we do about people.

It’s so easy to forget, but Scripture is clear about how we order our priorities:

“‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31

God first. People second.

Yes, we want to be good stewards of God’s creation. Yes, we want to take care of what He has entrusted to us – whether it’s the Rift Valley or orphaned elephants or a neurotic mutt named Hazel who really prefers her dog food with a little bit of scrambled egg on top. All of these things are wonderful – such good gifts from our Heavenly Father.

But they aren’t made in His image.

Creation deserves our care, absolutely. But image bearers deserve our honor (Romans 12:10).

So if I find myself more protective of a certain variety of tree than I am of, you know, people, it might be time for a gut check. It might be time for some perspective.

Because when people are our biggest priority second only to God, you can bet that we’ll look out for one another, y’all. We’ll step up for one another. We’ll love one another well.

“It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.” — Proverbs 14:21

“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” — Proverbs 14:31

I never, ever want to lose sight of the good gifts God has given us. I want to soak up all the sunsets and snuggle with the aforementioned neurotic dog and maybe even get to know the Alaskan goldfinch a little better.

But here’s the thing, y’all. We bear the image of God. And He deserves all the glory. I can’t think of anything that would honor Him more and honor His people more than taking care of each other. We have the privilege of being able to step up and speak up and fight for children who don’t have a say in their circumstances, children who are so precious in His sight.

You can be a part of honoring God’s image bearers by sponsoring a child through Compassion for only $38 a month and releasing that child from poverty in Jesus’ name.

God made every one of them.

And it was very good.

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This Right Here Is A Real-Live Giddy Up

Okay. Before I tell you about the biggest parts of today, there are two things I need to mention.

1) Yesterday, right before we left the Rift Valley, I met a little girl.

Her name is Eunice. And I was just a little bit beside myself when I found out her name because A) I don’t think I’ve ever met a child named Eunice and B) I’ve spent a minute or nine thinking and writing and talking about Eunice (the one from the Bible) over the last couple of years.

Meeting Eunice basically helped me muster the will to get back in the truck and endure the dirt road once again. And after meeting Eunice yesterday, today I met Lois, Mary, Elizabeth, Naomi, and Ruth. So if you’ve read Giddy Up, Eunice, please join me in pondering WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

2) Today when we were touring the church we visited, Alex wandered off from our group. Here is where I found him.

He didn’t win, but he said he made a pretty good comeback towards the end of the match.

So. Anyway.

Today was amazing, y’all.

This morning our Compassion group traveled to a rural part of Nairobi. We drove about thirty minutes down a dirt road (it wasn’t nearly as bumpy as yesterday’s travel situation, so feel free to pause for a moment of praise) to visit a church that overlooks the Rift Valley. Our vans stopped right outside the church’s gates, and as soon as we hopped out, we could hear the ladies from the church singing to welcome us. Then we saw them.

They walked in our direction, grabbed our hands, and literally danced us into the sanctuary. It was the most joy-filled welcome I’ve ever experienced.

(Listen. Alex was all about it.)

The women participate in a Compassion initiative that teaches and cares for moms of young children. Because of Compassion, those moms and their kids receive regular medical screenings and nutritional supplements. They learn how to take the kale and spinach seeds that Compassion provides them and grow crops that will feed their families. They have the opportunity to receive training in several different fields – cosmetology, rug making, beading, and computer skills – so that they can learn trades that will enable them find work in their community.

Those women and their babies – all between 1 and 3 years old – gather regularly at the church, and y’all, their sense of community was palpable. They know each other, they know each other’s children, and they live real life together. In an area of Nairobi where they could easily feel isolated and alone, those women have real, genuine community.

They also have some incredibly adorable children.

And as I watched the mothers and their children today, I thought about my “mama friends” back in Birmingham. Motherhood brings so many opportunities to worry and stress and doubt and second guess, and if you add impoverished living conditions to that list of concerns, you can imagine how overwhelmed those moms must sometimes feel.

But they have each other. They’re learning together, growing together, and raising their babies together. And as someone who is *slightly* passionate about the church esteeming and investing in women – equipping them to love each other really well across generations – seeing how that local church partners with Compassion to serve those families pretty much fired me ALL THE WAY UP. I was tempted to break out my praise dance, but I didn’t want to frighten the children.

(I don’t really have a praise dance.)

(I’d be happy to learn one, though.)

Another thing I couldn’t help but notice? The women who participate in the Compassion initiative have FUN together. At one point this morning Bri and I went with the Compassion center director to visit with some of the women in their training classes, and as we were walking out of one of the classrooms, we heard women laughing hysterically several yards away. We walked in their direction and discovered that the women in the kitchen were having all manner of fun as they prepared lunch for everyone. Their babies were in the nursery area, so the mamas? The mamas LET LOOSE.

I loved them instantly.

We talked for several minutes about cooking and butter and friends and fried chicken, and their affection for each other was so evident. Their joy was contagious. Their comfort in each other’s company was flat-out encouraging. As women, we crave that kind of connection, you know? And thanks to Compassion, these women have it.

Their children’s lives will be all the better for it.

Which brings me, finally, to this.

This afternoon Alex and I visited the home of one of the moms, Ruth, and her son, Joseph. Joseph is only eight months old, so technically he isn’t eligible for sponsorship yet, but in four months, when he turns one, he will be. The Compassion workers at the church have already identified this particular family as having great need, and his mother, Ruth, is part of the community I’ve been talking about.

We were so honored to get to spend some time with them.

(I KNOW.)

Alex and I felt an instant connection with them. First of all, there’s the shared family name (my uncle Joe and Alex’s cousin, Joseph). Second of all, you can imagine that I felt some kinship with a mama named Ruth – my Giddy Up radar was strong. And third of all, we were a mama and a son visiting a mama and a son. Two women and their babies. It’s just that one of those babies is more of a man at this point.

The time, y’all. It flies.

Ruth showed us her chickens, her garden (oh my goodness at her garden – she actually sells some of her produce to neighbors), and her kitchen. She showed us how she starts a fire when she needs to boil water or cook rice or fry some ciabati bread on the griddle.

And she showed us – through her kindness, her gentleness, and her commitment to caring for her people – how deeply she loves her family. How much she hopes and dreams for her son.

At the end of our visit, we were standing in Ruth’s garden, watching her with Joseph, when Alex looked over and caught my eye. We stared at each other for a few seconds – and I knew exactly what he was thinking.

“Do you think,” I asked, “that, when Joseph turns one, maybe we should be his sponsors?”

Alex practically interrupted me to answer: “YES.”

We weren’t planning to sponsor a child today. When we got to the church this morning, we had no idea that we’d be at Ruth and Joseph’s home this afternoon. But I was in absolute agreement with Alex’s “YES.” And I’ll tell you something else: it was the sweetest thing to say good-bye and know that our families will be connected for years to come.

Lord willing, our family will be Joseph’s far-away family when he learns to sing along at church, when he starts first grade, when he learns to ride a bike, when he starts middle school and gets a little awkward and gangly, and when he goes to high school – all the while growing into the man the Lord is calling him to be.

Lord willing, Joseph’s sponsorship will encourage his mama to stay connected to the local church and to her community there.

I’m so grateful for today’s up-close look at a church that’s fiercely committed to the physical and spiritual well-being of women and children. The church’s partnership with Compassion enables them to meet the physical needs of the women in their community effectively and with great integrity. It enables them to offer mothers consistent, loving, supportive fellowship.

I am ALL ABOUT IT, y’all. And I’m convinced that many of you are, too.

Right now there are 17 unsponsored children in Kenya between the ages of 1 and 3. I’m convinced that this community – the people who read this blog – can sponsor those children and partner with Compassion to release them from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Let’s step up for those children. Let’s step for those families. Let’s step up for the church.

Giddy up.

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