Because I Can’t Get Him Off Of My Mind

So there’s an 8 year-old little boy named Alexander who lives in Kenya.

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He’s a Compassion child, and he needs heart surgery. The surgery costs $8,303. Since his family lives on $13.70 a month, they can’t afford it. You can read all the details on the Compassion blog.

The people at Compassion didn’t ask me to post about this. I actually ran across a link to Alexander’s story yesterday when I was catching up on Twitter, and he has been all over my heart ever since. Maybe it’s because he has the same name as my little guy. Maybe it’s because I feel particularly burdened for the people of Africa. Maybe it’s because I know that WE CAN HELP HIM.

Here’s the thing: if each person who reads this post will donate one dollar – ONE DOLLAR – we can make a pretty good dent in the cost of Alexander’s surgery.

I know some of you are already Compassion sponsors. I know some of you contribute to World Vision and Mocha Club and all sorts of wonderful organizations that do incredible work in third-world countries. There’s no question that y’all are a generous bunch.

So today, if you’re willing to go one dollar beyond what you normally give to charitable causes each month, and if you feel led to participate (NO PRESSURE – I promise), would you please help Alexander in Kenya get the surgery he needs by making a one-time donation of one dollar to a special surgery fund that Compassion has set up for him?

I figure it never hurts to ask.

And thanks in advance, y’all.

Edited to add: Thanks to the efforts of LOTS of different bloggers and Facebookers and Twitterers and whathaveyou, Compassion met the goal for Alexander’s surgery in just three days (they started raising money on Monday). You can read the details here. Yay, internets – thank y’all so much!

One Year Ago

A year ago today I was getting my first up-close-and-personal look at poverty in a third world country. I was in Uganda with a group of bloggers who turned out to be some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and I came home from our trip rattled, sad, grateful, unsettled, burdened and angry. I feel like in so many ways God is still using the Uganda trip to change me and show me how my perception of “comfortable” is totally off-base – I don’t think I’ll ever get over what I saw and heard and felt over the course of those eight days.

So, in short: Uganda MESSED ME UP, and I am so thankful.

Many of you sponsored children through Compassion during that Uganda trip, and I can tell you without hesitation that you are changing a child’s life through your sponsorship. Remember, you can send your child letters via email, and this post of Melanie’s is a great reminder of how important our letters are to our Compassion kids.

In about nine weeks another group of bloggers will be heading to Calcutta, India (Angie, Anne, Melissa, Pete and Robin are on board so far), and I encourage you to pray for them as they prepare for their trip.

Here’s a post I wrote last year after we spent the day in a little village about ten miles outside of Kampala. And if you’re interested in releasing a child from poverty, you can find more info on Compassion’s website.

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Internets, today I played Throw The Ball And Run AGAIN.

ME! PLAYING SPORTS! TWO DAYS IN A ROW.

I’m telling y’all: somebody needs to read Ephesians 3:20 out loud for the class. Because if I am throwing and catching and running and whathaveyou IN THE MIDDLE OF UGANDAN FIELDS, we need somebody to TESTIFY to the Lord’s faithfulness up in this interweb right now. God can do anything, oh yes He can.

Hallelujah.

We spent most of today in a village about ten miles outside of Kampala. To say that the ride was bumpy would be a huge understatement; in fact, at one point I looked over at Shannon and Anne and said, “Funny. I didn’t know that my calves could jiggle.”

But let me assure you: they most certainly can.

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We visited a Compassion project that’s run through a local church (all Compassion projects are run through the local church), and the children there absolutely made my day. In fact, we had no sooner parked the bus than this little fellow ran over to us and reached up toward the window for my hand.

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Just try to look at his sweet face and NOT smile. You can’t do it.

There’s a remarkable difference between the children we’ve seen who are sponsored through Compassion and those who don’t have a sponsor yet. The Compassion kids have light in their eyes; they have hope. They have adults who love them and disciple them; they have a support network for their families; they have food and medical care and clothing – all provided through their sponsorship.

These kids live in unimaginable conditions, but I’m telling you, when you see their faces? It’s like God turns up the sunshine to full blast.

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We were able to play with the kids for most of the afternoon. Shannon and I actually sang “Jesus Loves Me” three or four times with a group of about ten kids, and they knew every single word. Then I showed them how I like to say “YAYYYYY” once I finish singing a song and how I sometimes take the “YAYYYYY” to new heights by clapping for myself.

Needless to say, they thought I was absolutely insane. But for whatever reason, I think this particular group of Ugandan children appreciated my crazy. So obviously I will be moving here in the near future, just as soon as I can get home and round up my people to come back with me.

And by the way, we yayyyyed and clapped like nobody’s business.

Because the children, they need to know these things.

A few hours after all the yayyyying, when we were just about to leave the project, a little boy – he was about 11, I’m guessing – ran up to me and started saying a name over and over.

At first I thought he was introducing himself to me, so I smiled and told him my name.

He shook his head – and then continued repeating the name.

I finally realized what he was saying, so I looked at him and asked, “Troy? Are you saying ‘Troy’?”

He nodded like crazy – with a smile so wide that I wondered if his face could even contain it – and as he looked me straight in the eyes, he said, “Yes. TROY. USA. Is my sponsor.”

And in that moment, it hit me.

Troy – whoever he is, wherever he is – is that boy’s link to the world. Through his sponsorship, Troy bridges a gulf of human indifference that separates those of us with the means to help from the kids who so desperately need it.

And while Troy has no idea, make no mistake: there was a child in a remote village of Uganda today who was shouting his name in gratitude.

I just think that’s extraordinary.

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Every child needs a Troy. Every child deserves that.

Every single one.

I Need Africa, Part Two

Remember when I posted about Africa last week? And encouraged you to come back on December 1st to see what Mocha Club is doing?

Barrett from Mocha Club sent me this yesterday:

When I think of Africa, the following images immediately come to mind: Starvation. AIDS. Child soldiers. Genocide. Sex slaves. Orphans. From there, my thoughts naturally turn to how I can help, how I can make a difference. “I am needed here,” I think. “They have so little, and I have so much.” It’s true, there are great tragedies playing out in Africa everyday. There is often a level of suffering here that is unimaginable until you have seen it, and even then it is difficult to believe. But what is even harder is reconciling the challenges that many Africans face with the joy I see in the people. It’s a joy that comes from somewhere I cannot fathom, not within the framework that has been my life to this day. [read more]

And this video – ohmylands. It says so much about Africa that my feeble little words cannot. It also echoes a conversation my sister and I had this past weekend about the tendency to always be looking for “the next thing” – and the vast emptiness of that approach to life.

So to see how you can make a difference in Africa, just click right here:

In Which It All Makes Sense

I have never been on an overseas trip in my life. And for the last couple of years, even though I’ve been confronted over and over again with the enormity of people’s needs in other parts of the world, my reaction – though I’m not proud of it – has been to cross my arms, shake my head, close my eyes, and say, NOPE, NOT ME, NOT GOING, HAVE A PRESCHOOLER, STAYING HOME, THANK YOU.

Honestly, I have no idea why I wrestled so mightily with the idea of serving overseas or why I felt like it was an issue I needed to address rightthatverysecondplease. I mean, I wasn’t picking apart sections of Proverbs 31 and then stressing that I wasn’t MAKING MY OWN FLAX, for crying out loud. But the “go / make disciples / all nations” stuff confounded me; somehow I had gotten all bound up in some freaky legalism of my own making.

For the record: I do not recommend the freaky legalism. Because it will WEAR YOU SLAP OUT.

But at some point – probably around the beginning of 2007 – some of that resistant worry in my heart began to give way. I started to pray that God would help me to not be so closed off (and dare I say BITTER) about what I was or was not willing to do. And regardless of where He wanted me, I prayed that I would serve out of obedience, not obligation.

And yes. There is a mighty big difference.

On August 7th of last year I checked my email email right before Alex and I headed out for round two of what had turned into an Errand Day Extravaganza, and I found a note from Brian Seay (who is totally one of my heroes now, just in case you were wondering) waiting in my inbox. Brian told me that he worked with Compassion International, was looking to put together a bloggers’ trip to Africa, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in going.

Suffice it to say that I bawled my eyes out.

And to my complete and utter surprise, I knew that I was supposed to go. I knew I had to go. My husband knew it, too.

And I tell you all of that to tell you this: yesterday, at a restaurant in the middle of Kampala, Uganda, all the spiritual wrestling of the last two years suddenly made perfect sense.

Internets, meet Derrick.

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He’s 11 years old. My brother and sister-in-law are sponsoring him through Compassion. They will be able to directly impact his life through their sponsorship until he reaches adulthood – and even on through college.

Today he sat beside me at lunch and spent at least 15 minutes looking at their names on a sheet of paper. I showed him pictures of my nephews and told him all about their family. His extended family. Even though they’ve never met.

And this is Sharon, our family’s Compassion child. She’s three. And I absolutely fell apart the second I saw her.

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Sharon lives with her mother and three siblings in one room. She is very shy, very reserved; in fact, she was reluctant to even let me hold her when we first met.

But by the end of our lunch? She was asleep in my lap. It was one of the sweetest, most unforgettable moments of my whole life.

And because she’s so young, our family will have the opportunity to invest in her life for many years to come.

Two years of wrestling. Two years of questioning. And God used two precious children I’d never met – in a country I never dreamed I’d visit – to answer every single one of my prayers about what “serving globally” can look like in my life, in my family’s life.

In fact, it looks a little bit like this:

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And I think that’s a mighty cool thing indeed.

This post was originally published on February 15, 2008.

As Michael W. Smith Plays Softly In The Background

I’m in Nashville for a couple of days (not for the CMT awards, I promise), and yesterday afternoon I met Keely, Spence, Randy and Chris for coffee in downtown Franklin.

It was the first time I’d seen any of them since we were in Uganda, and I have to tell you: hanging out with them did my heart a world of good.

Because I enjoy All The Laughing.

I haven’t talked about the friendship side of the Compassion trip very much, mainly because it’s difficult to explain why I feel so connected to the people who were there. But there’s no question that part of the connection (now I’m feeling like a contestant on “The Bachelor” because I keep using the word “connection.” Next thing you know I’ll be using the word “amazing” repeatedly. And then I’ll be saying “amazing connection.” And then SOMEONE WILL HAVE TO MAKE ME STOP.) is just that we went through a very emotional experience in each other’s company. I think it’s normal to bond under those circumstances.

But there’s another part of it, too – for me at least.

Because what absolutely blew me away about the other people on the Uganda trip is how inspiring they are – and yet they’re completely unaware of it. They’re smart and creative and funny, and they love them some Jesus like nobody’s business. And because they’re all so totally humble, there was a freedom and an openness in all our conversations that sort of made me want to stand up and tap dance.

I think you’ll be relieved to know that I stifled that particular inclination.

And then to hear everyone talk about the creative outlets they love – songwriting, painting, worship leading, cooking, WHATEVER – well, I can’t even tell you how much it encouraged me.

The last day that we were in Africa, I sat on the balcony of the lodge where we were staying, I looked out at the Nile River, and I bawled my eyes out. I think we all have moments in our lives where it becomes crystal clear that ONLY GOD COULD HAVE DONE THIS THING, and that morning in Uganda was one of those times for me. Even in the midst of wrestling with the emotions that come from witnessing deeply profound poverty firsthand, I was completely overwhelmed by God’s grace. His mercy. His faithfulness.

And – even though I wasn’t expecting it at all – how He used all the people on our trip to show me more of who He is.

I will never get over that.

So last night, I sat at supper with Shaw-awn, Keely and Spence. And we talked about all the normal stuff: families and church and music and blogging and Compassion. We talked about the evil Ugandan stomach parasite that WOULD NOT LEAVE SHAUN AND ME ALONE AFTER THE TRIP, OH MY SWEET DIGESTIVE MISERY, and we talked about the carrot cake that we had for dessert that was really more like a doughnut dipped in butter and then covered with cream cheese icing.

THE CAKE, IT WAS TASTY.

And you know, I held it together really well at dinner, as I typically do in public settings. I held it together really well when we were having coffee yesterday afternoon, too. There was so much stuff I wanted to say, but I was scared that I’d go into the ugly cry, and really, nobody wants to see that.

So instead I had a little conversation with each of them in my head, and the very one-sided conversation went a little something like this: “You have no idea how much I love you. You have no idea how much you inspire me. You have no idea how profoundly grateful I am for the blessing of your friendship.”

That’s what I wanted to say.

And you know what?

I guess I just did.