sports day at the embassy.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my second full day in Gabon, I happened to meet a team of people from the US Embassy (including the wife of the US Ambassador) when they came to visit Hope House. The funny thing is, I had originally planned to wait until the next week to visit Hope House, so I'm convinced that this was a God-appointment.

Last Saturday, the Ambassador and his family hosted a sports day at his residence for several local orphanages and homes for abandoned children, including Hope House. They invited me to come along with them, and I offered to bring several interns with me to help.

Hope House was by far the largest group there, and all of the kids seemed to have a blast. They played games and did crafts in the morning and pigged out on hot dogs, popcorn, fruit, and a ton of sweets at lunch. After lunch a self-defense expert showed them several ways to defend themselves (a few of them paid very close attention, so I'll be watching them!) and then they watched a dance group perform. The kids even got to perform a few songs, including one they've written just about Hope House (someday I'll post a video and translation for you). Anytime these kids get a chance to sing and dance, they love it! And it was so much fun for me to just hang out with them and enjoy them. Its only been a few weeks that I've been here, and I'm already surprised by how much each of them, with their individual story and personality, has captured my heart.

I was also able to make several contacts with people who wanted more information about Hope House and asked about ways that they can help. Unlike some of the other groups there, Hope House receives no government funding, so we're happy for any help we can get.

I also wanted to share a few praise reports and prayer requests with you. I know that there are so many of you praying for me, and I thought you might like some specifics.

  • I continue to see God's hand each day, which is good because I desperately need him!
  • We've been able to get some medical care for quite a few of the kids, including multiple ear infections and tooth pain. A lot of people have come together to help make this happen!
Prayer requests:
  • There are some medical concerns that need to be addressed, and we need to find funding for these things. Please pray for wisdom in the best way to handle them, and for the necessary funds.
  • Though I'm understanding more French all of the time, the language barrier is still frustrating. Please pray that I will quickly be able to both understand and speak at least some French, and for patience on my part when I can't.
  • I'm continually trying to make sure that anything I do is sustainable - that is, that it will be able to continue even after I've gone. This is probably the most difficult part of my work here, so please pray for wisdom.
  • Pray for local Gabonese believers to rise up in support of orphaned and abandoned children, especially those at Hope House, and be willing to give of their time to help. Pray also for wisdom and creativity in how to engage them.

what it looks like to give out of your need.

When I worked for CBN, we held a telethon three times a year, to ask people to partner with us in the work we were doing. Always, the most meaningful responses were from those who gave, not out of their abundance, but out of their need. It was always humbling. And today I learned what that means in a new way.

Mama Nathalie runs Hope House with her husband, Pastor Israel. Every day they live on faith, trusting that God will provide the money they need for rent and the food they need to eat. The kids all pray together that God will move someone's heart to give them even the basics that they need for survival.

Today when I arrived at Hope House, a young woman was there with her two small children. Mama Nathalie explained that her husband was a pastor in a village out past Bongolo and that the family is suffering. THen I watched as she and the kids filled a bag full of clothes and toys and gave the woman money for a taxi. Even 4-year-old Kenah, the youngest child at Hope House, helped by bringing out some of her own shoes to give away. And she seemed delighted to do it.

This isn't the first time that I've seen them do this. They continue to take in more children, even though they don't always know how they're going to feed or clothe the ones that they have. They pay a 17-year-old girl from their church to help cook and clean, even though they can't afford to, because they know that she is solely responsible for herself and her three younger siblings, and because without the money they give her, prostitution might be her only other option.
Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians. This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives.2 Corinthians 8:1-5, The Message

when you need to start with the necessities.

I'm still here, enjoying being here but at the same time struggling to know how to talk about life here. The truth is, it is just so different, that its a bit overwhelming trying to figure out how to describe it.

Instead, I'm going to focus on one story at a time.

Today, after arriving at Hope House, Steve (an Envision team member) and I, along with a few of the kids and my translators, walked to the local grocery store to purchase some cleaning supplies. Here in Libreville, at least, there is a grocery store that will carry lots of food supplies, but most of the fresh fruit, meat, and bread comes from the vendors set up on the side of the road. Steve wanted to purchase gato balls (like donuts) as a treat for the kids, but they told him that they would rather have bread (french bread is a food staple here, and very often people will eat it with butter for breakfast). 

It was a good reminder for me, that while I love the idea of giving these kids something special, the necessities must come first. A child who hasn't eaten breakfast, lunch, or dinner has very little use for candy. I'm proud of them for saying so (though in a more tactful way).

I'm also reminded that too often, when we give, we want to dictate exactly how that money will be spent. Sometimes there is wisdom in this, to make sure that when we give money it is going toward the things that we want it to. I believe strongly in financial accountability. But I also believe that sometimes we can be a bit arrogant, giving and assuming that we know exactly how the money should be spent, without giving those who are in the ministry day in and day out the authority to spend it where it will be most needed.

What do you think? When we give, how much should we dictate how the money is spent?

how to tell the stories.

I have to admit, I'm struggling a bit with how to share these stories. And there are so many of them.

I could try to describe what daily life is like in Africa - about the food and the driving and the sounds and smells of the city.

I could tell you about meeting all of the kids at Hope House on Friday, one by one, and how I was just overwhelmed at the amount of loss represented there. Or I could tell you about having a team from the US Embassy come to Hope House at the same time I was there, and how I'm convinced that was a God-ordained appointment.

I could tell you about going to the village church at Okalassi on Sunday (I mentioned the story of the church, just not the name, in a blog I wrote during my trip with Kelli last year). Two years ago, short-term teams helped to dig a foundation for a church building (they previously met under a mango tree), and some of those team members came back to Gabon this year. They shared with the church about that time, and how their church had been partnering with and praying for them for two years. (Soon, Okalassi will be holdings its first baptism).

I could tell you about the teams that are here now, about their time at Hope House and how we're being very intentional about that, and how I'm so excited about what I'm seeing already.

And sometime soon, I will. I'll tell all of these stories and hopefully more. But I'm also finding it difficult to put into words what it is like to be back here, to be surrounded by these people and their dreams and their need and their strength and resilience and their big, big faith.

So, I promise...there will be more posts and stories coming soon. Right now I'm still finding my feet a bit.

day one in Gabon.

Several weeks ago, Kelly and Victor and I sat outside my house and debated whether or not the neighbors across the street were drug dealers. Two weeks ago, Katie and Vince's next door neighbor shot a groundhog out his front door in the morning. And today, I hear roosters crowing (they do it all day long) and a lot of people outside speaking a language that I don't understand. It's a bit of an understatement to say that there's been quite a few changes in the last month.

I arrived in Gabon early yesterday evening after two very long but uneventful flights, then we headed straight from the airport to Mama Janine and Pastor Jean-Marc's house for dinner and a Gabonese dance party. I got to see lots of the people we met last year (though some needed a few hints to remember me) and also meet some of the interns who live here at the Envision house. It was fun, but I'm looking forward to doing it again sometime when I'm not quite so exhausted.

This morning I met with Pastor Israel (he runs Hope House) and the man who will be my driver while I'm in Gabon, then I'll be spending the rest of the day unpacking and getting set up. Tomorrow morning I'll spend a couple of hours at Hope House, and then next week I'll start a regular schedule of being there most of the day, five days a week.

Right now I'm feeling a lot of emotions all at once. I'm excited about being back here, and overwhelmed by the size of the job that I'm taking on. I don't think the enormity of the step that I've taken hit me until I arrived last night. And though things are far from difficult here, and though I am excited about the adventure ahead, if I'm being honest there's a small part of me that misses my easy, comfortable life. And of course, I'm still dealing with a bit of jet lag on top of all of this, too.

If you think to pray for me, please pray for wisdom and discernment here. And please also pray that God would continue to remind me that I'm exactly where he wants me to be.