Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Swazi Update: FUNDED!!!


(This post is an update on where our Swazi finances are and the amazing things we have seen take place. We are still taking donations to make the Uganda goal for the follow-on trip Brittney and I are making. Details below.)


Last week we witnessed a miracle... 


Wednesday morning we launched a matching campaign for our Swazi trip. An extremely generous donor said they would match, dollar for dollar, all donations up to the cost of one trip ($3500, which has gone up from $3300 since we first started on this journey). We were blown away at this amazing opportunity!!!
That meant that if we could somehow max out this matching gift, we would raise $7000 for our family's trip to Swaziland!!!


When we started this journey back in January, we had an estimated $27,000 to raise for our family of six to go to Swazi, for me and Brit to follow onto Uganda and for my Wales trip (that I took in early May).
***Get those full details here.***
We had no idea how the funds would be raised, but we knew that we knew that we knew God was calling us into all three of these trips.


My Wales trip was covered about a week before I left, which was amazing and miraculous in and of itself.
When I returned we looked at the $12,000+ balance in our Swazi account and said, "Okay, Lord. We can't do this... we knew that when you called us into it. But YOU can. ONLY You can."


SO many incredible people had given to put that $12,000 into our account. We were humbled and beyond thankful at the generosity of our friends and family. The tutu sales and fundraising nights at Marco's Pizza had been helpful, but we knew we couldn't stop there if we were going!


Last Wednesday morning when we launched the matching campaign, we were two weeks away from leaving...

...AND WE WATCHED A MIRACLE HAPPEN!!!!!!!!!!!!


Donations came into paypal, and we received messages and emails from people committing to give.
Thursday early afternoon we received an updated donation report from the church that told us we were getting closer to maxing out the gift, but we still had a bit farther to go.
I spread that news via emails and facebook, and we said, "Okay, God. You know what this is supposed to look like."


And we waited.


More messages and emails came in indicating that people would donate. And we received paypal emails saying that people WERE donating!!! People were pouring out their hearts into this Swazi trip and coming alongside of our family!
And in the midst of that Thursday so many other immediate things were clamoring for our attention with kids and doctors appointments and school ending. We knew God had it... and that we wouldn't receive a report from online donations until sometime Friday.
My parents flew in that night, and we prayed and waited.


Friday morning came and went, and we cheered on Brit as she walked up to receive her 5th grade continuation certificate and officially move into 6th grade... and middle school.
Friday afternoon came and went, and we jumped between classrooms and schools as the kids got out for summer break and celebrations were had.
Friday evening came and we went as a family, with Mom and Dad and Hanna Who Is Most Awesome (our very own School of Worship Intern) to the kids favorite restaurant to celebrate the end of another school year... Golden Corral. 
I kept glancing at my phone, looking at email every so often... and then it came.
A text message from the Amazing Melissa: "I just sent you an updated report."


I looked at Nate and clicked into email. It started downloading. He took the phone from me. "Honey!" I exclaimed. He opened one email... opened the attachment... a grin spread across his face...
"Our Swazi trip is covered."
"WHAT????" I called out in the middle of Golden Corral.
"It looks like our Swazi trip is fully covered and the plane flights for you and Brit up to Uganda are probably covered, too, with some left over for the Uganda ground costs."
"AAAAAAAA!!!!! HONEY!!!! Really??? REALLY???
He showed me the amount, and between the church's online giving site, paypal, and the checks that had come in and we knew were coming, we not only maxed out the matching gift, but we raised over $10,000 in 36 hours!!!!!
Enough to put our total to around $23,000!!!!!!! 


And in the middle of Golden Corral we cheered and celebrated and rejoiced in the faithfulness of our God and the amazing hearts and generous spirits of our friends and family... some who hardly even know us, but believe so deeply in what we are stepping into.


We are blown away. Absolutely blown away. For the past few days I have been walking around with a somewhat dazed look and a slight smile. 
Sometimes laughing,
sometimes with tears pooling in my eyes,
sometimes randomly squealing (which I'm sure is hard to imagine). *wink*
Because one of the huge things with our Swazi finances being covered right now is that we didn't have to spend our last week and a half scrambling to fundraise the remaining money.
We leave a week from tomorrow, and we are able to focus on packing and prepping... get everything laid out, wrapping up loose ends.
This going-across-the-world-with-four-kids thing is no joke! Man. And because of all of you who have stepped in to be a part of this, we can breathe and take these last few days to focus on our family being ready.


You are all SUCH a blessing to us!!! When I say that, I hope you can hear the sincerity in my words. From giving throughout the months, to giving during the matching campaign, to praying fervently for our family and our trip... SO many of you stepped up and into our Swazi story. Not only have you come alongside of our family in this, but you have come alongside the story of these beautiful Swazi people. YOU are going WITH us in carrying the hope of a future to this AIDS-ransacked nation.
YOU have invested in them... and us.


So many of you have invested financially, with sacrifice... THANK YOU!!!
So many of you have invested with your prayers, putting our picture on your fridge or mirror or car dashboard and covering us in the most foundational aspect of this trip... THANK YOU!!!
And so many of you have done BOTH... THANK YOU!!!


Our Swazi trip: funded.
Mine and Brittney's plane flights up to Uganda: funded.
Our Uganda ground costs: we still need to reach that goal, but we're getting there!
Donations keep coming in, and if you still have a heart to join this story and help us go, we do still need help covering the rest of our Uganda costs. I don't have an actual amount on that, because with group fundraising and other elements, it's hard to nail down what remains.
But, we're going to keep moving forward, knowing that just as God has provided for everything else, He will provide for this, too.
(Just follow the giving guidelines on our Africa page.)


Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone that has come alongside of us.
We're so excited to frame that picture of our family in Africa and write every single one of your names on the mat, to be hung in our household and remembered in our Swazi story... in our family's story... that has become part of your story.


God is faithful. He does provide for what He calls us into.
Thank you for being part of that provision for our family.
Many said it couldn't be done, that we were launching into the impossible.
Good thing that's what our God specializes in... making the impossible possible.
We hear, we obey, and we do it with confidence in the One who calls us into the adventure.


Africa, here we come...


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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wales: The Why & The What


BREAKING NEWS: Until midnight this Thursday, May 25th, ALL DONATIONS will be doubled, up to the cost of one trip! We have a benefactor who has very generously offered to match all gifts, dollar for dollar, up to $3500!!! That means your your $25 becomes $50 for us, your $100 becomes $200. NO amount is too small! Can you give $10? That will be an investment of $20 towards the lives and futures of these Swazi people!
Your money will count as double!!!
For more information and to find how to donate, go to our Africa page.
Thank you for coming alongside our family in this grand adventure! 

***************************


"But, why go? You can always pray for them from here."

"I don't really think of the UK as somewhere we need to send people. They have plenty of churches, right?"


I've received more than a few comments and questions about why our church would send a team to a church in Cardiff, Wales. The two above are probably the most common, I think from a lack of understanding about why we go in the first place, as well as a misperception of Christianity throughout the world.


The great thing about being a follower of Jesus is that He doesn't just call us into relationship with Him, He calls us into relationship with each other. We are not meant to walk this life out on our own! That's why one of the last things He said was, "Go..."
It's also why disciples in the early church (and ever since) have sent people to other congregations to encourage, support, equip, come alongside of.


I had the honor of being on a team with four other amazing women: Kim, Lidia, Kathy and Madeleine. How incredible it was that, without us even realizing it, we were going to pour into the women of City Temple with someone from each decade in our group: 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's. I am so passionate about women reaching women, and generations joining together, pouring into each other. God is just SO awesome like that!


We had the privilege of visiting the different women's groups, sharing with them and gleaning from them.





Kathy teaching wonderful truth at the Friendship Hour with the beautiful older women of City Temple. Some of these girls have been in the group for 40 years!
I was THRILLED to get to lead them in some worship. Hymns accompanied by piano. There are few things more precious.


We got to spend time with the women of Refresh, led by the incredible Teresa. I got to lead some worship again (LOVE!!!) and Kim gave a great message on what our role is and how we walk it out. (Just a bit inspiring and challenging. Wow.) I don't have a photo of that to share with you, but I DO have a fun photo of me and Teresa!





I had the honor of sharing my testimony with these incredible young women. They are so ON FIRE for Jesus!!! The UK is extremely post-Christian (where the US is fast heading), so you are either Christian or you're not. There is no lukewarm. There is no middle ground. And amidst that darkness the light shines so brightly.
And do these girls ever SHINE!!!
I was captivated by the atmosphere of their group, and blown away by the fierceness of their commitment to spreading the Gospel. They are praying and believing for revival in their generation. And it is on it's way, this I know.

Of course, there is always the silly picture when I'm around...



Our team was part of City Temple's women's conference the first Saturday we were there.
The awesome Sonflowerz from Colorado Springs (hey! hey!) led worship...



And the impactful Kim Trobee gave her moving testimony.
It was such a wonderful time together, and the relationships between all of us just continued to build and build.



Steve & Myra pastor church called Beacon Hill a little ways outside of Cardiff in St. Mellons. The first Sunday we were there Lidia and I were so blessed to be with them! I got to lead worship for this sincere and heart-warming congregation and Lidia preached on the love of God. (Kim preached at City Temple that same morning. Kathy and Madeleine stayed with her there.)

What an awesome thing it was to lead these people in a song they had never sung, never heard... but all of us completely engage and cry out, "The mountains shake before Him, the demons run and flee..." as we sang Jared Anderson's Great I Am together.
God is SO AMAZING!!!

Meet Steve & Myra:
(I smell very nice now, thanks to Myra's lovely taste in perfume and desire to bless me.)


(Yes, I know I look quite awkward. I was talking. Go figure.)


Both weeks we were there we got to visit City Temple's food bank. An incredible ministry started just a couple of years ago by a man named Ian. He saw there were so many people in Cardiff with a dire need for help in this area, so he decided to do something about it! Now they have a handful of locations and are making a huge difference for those in need in their city.
The first week we had a tour of how things operate and met the amazing volunteers that pour out love to everyone who walks in the door.


The second week we got to go and pray for the people that walked in the door! (I have a super cool story about this experience that will come in a later post.)


The trip was originally planned around the Ignite Hope youth event that took place in a park adjacent to City Temple. Different members of our team were there different nights, and it was so amazing to see the youth from around Wales come together to worship God and pray for revival in the evenings and go out and spread His love through acts of kindness during the day.

Praying before the event...





It was VERY rainy nearly the entire time we were there, which made for a much more adventurous (ie, muddy) youth event...



And here is where I am TOTALLY going to brag on our Desperation Leadership Academy. We had a group of over 20 second years come over to set-up, help facilitate and tear-down for Ignite Hope. They did not anticipate the rain or the cold, but worked hard with smiles on their faces the entire time. They radiated joy and servant's hearts, and I have never been more impressed with a group of volunteers.
Blown away. Just blown away by the heart and commitment of these DLA students, never relenting for one second.


The last night of the four day conference, kids came forward to pray for strength as they carried this Hope back to their families and communities. They chose to kneel in the mud, as an outward expression of their inward commitment to enter with love into the mud and muck of people's lives.
It was beautiful and moving to watch.
(I had the honor of praying with those three girls in the center with their arms around each other.)





Another way City Temple is pouring out is through their Charity Shops (what we call Thrift Stores). I KNOW!!!!!!!!! Seriously, God KNOWS my heart. (He is the One who created it, after all.)
Alun & Kathy have just started renovating a shop in Lanishen, outside Cardiff, with the goal to pour into that community with the light and love of Christ.
And WE got to SEE it!!!
Some of the DLA team was also there painting and sorting.
This whole thing was so inspirational for me. For a long time I've had a dream deep in my heart of opening a quality thrift store where the environment is welcoming and people come just to hang out. We would be more than a store, but a place where women came for friendship, for counsel, for help rebuilding their wardrobes and rebuilding their lives.
And I would serve great coffee.
Seeing this Charity Shop reawakened that vision and the hope that it will someday be a reality.





Ummm... I may have done some shopping. And I may have found some really great items from higher end boutiques, as well as a little store called TopShop. *ahem* (Come ON. I'm helping them get started!) 
Isn't Kathy adorable? She was so sweet to have us to her house... twice! And put up with me when I was droopy-eyed and falling asleep from jet-lag.



The way God arranged our time in Cardiff was incredible. The first half of our trip was a lighter schedule, but spent building relationship and really hearing what was going on in the lives of the women.
The second half we had more concretely scheduled, and when it came time for our leadership and counseling training, we already had formed amazing relationships with everyone! That made it so much more effective and incredible, knowing you can trust, knowing you get each other.

Lidia, bringing it again as she speaks on the importance of the missional element of leadership:



Praying over the women...



Kathy, Madeleine, and... Kim. She looks like she's giving me "The Look," but she was really joining in the fun and providing a great photo op.  (I love you, Kim!!!!!)


Goofing around with Claire while Lidia is speaking. Okay, I was goofing. Claire was telling me to cut it out.



The second Sunday we were there we went to City Temple's service one last time.



Steve, City Temple's Senior Pastor...
(Lidia had to leave a couple hours early. Boo.)


Amazing people with amazing hearts.
We're so thankful for the relationship that has begun and that will continue! This is what it means to be walking life out together, even from different parts of the world.
Encouraging, supporting, equipping, coming alongside of each other... this is Church... the followers of Christ... how it's meant to be.


I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!









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Monday, May 21, 2012

Wales: Beginning at the End



I feel like I don't even know where to start.
But, isn't that how it is with any great story? Okay, maybe only for the author. 
So many wonderful things to describe. Divine appointments, fabulous new friends, God-orchestrated moments around every corner.
I know the old adage goes something like, "It's always best to start at the beginning." But I think I will take some creative license.


I'm going to start at the end.


We spent two glorious weeks in Cardiff, Wales. Then one day in Paris (to celebrate the incredible Kim Trobee's birthday) and one day in London.


Our last full day being in London, I set off by myself to go see Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey, all within walking distance of our hotel.
As I started walking I said a little prayer. Something like, "Lord, would you help me find something to remember this day by? Something special. Something that will be meaningful to me."
There are so many touristy things and trinkety-trash, it seems. Some cool, yes. But most not.


I was only a little ways down the street when I spied a *pause for effect* Vintage Charity Shop, which is what they call Thrift Stores in the UK.
I know. I KNOW!!!!!!!!!
Most things were lovely and old and a little spendy for me. Then I saw the sign: Basement Sale.
A winding stair took me to a hodge-podge of vintage treasures, and in the corner were old books atop a cabinet. I pieced through them. Nothing of note.
But there was an unmarked box at my feet with more books, spines up. I pulled them out one by one, and gasped outloud when I pulled a thick red leather spine upwards to reveal on the cover one word:
Tennyson.


Other than the works of A.A. Milne, one of my most favorite poems of all time is The Lady of Shalott, by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson.
And in the contents of this 1904 volume, I found exactly that, along with an inscription:
For Miss Connie with my wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
London 25th December 1907


There was also a red covered Charles Dickens Reader. No date, but was stamped to look like a gift from a publisher to a grade school.


I just love the ways that God loves us! He knows exactly what will make our hearts sing, and He longs to bless us with that!
A 1904 volume of the works of Tennyson. And it's even red.


****************************


I spent some time walking around the grounds of Westminster Abbey. She is so beautiful in her soaring majesty! (Details in another post.)
Around back there is a kind of courtyard area. I was looking up at the trees and amazing architecture and thanking God for giving me the gift of coming on such an awesome trip, seeing such amazing things and forming relationships with such incredible people.
Something caught my eye. I looked down to see a heart-print scarf blowing across my feet in the breeze.
But, no one was anywhere near where I was. I tied it to a bench nearby thinking the owner might come along looking for it and continued on to the Jewel Tower behind the Abbey. (Built in the 1300's to store the King's treasures.)
When I came back out a while later, the scarf was still there.
I untied it from the bench and tied it to my purse, where it will live for a while...
a reminder of the amazing ways God tells us He loves us.


A heart-print scarf... in the courtyard of Westminster Abbey... from God to me.


He is so good in the ways He loves us.




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