Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tears of Joy

Little David ran away from home over 3 years ago and has been living on the streets ever since. He recently decided he was ready to return home so we drove him there yesterday. His house is in a very remote village about 2 hours from the city. We drove to the house that his family lived in when he left 3 years ago but no one was home. After speaking to a neighbor, we realized his family had moved to a new house. Thankfully, David knew where this new house was located.

Upon arriving at the correct house, David's aunt gave us chairs to sit in. One of his little cousins was quite scared of us because she had never seen white people in her village. She ran away when we first walked up but soon came back to see why we were there. Luis, my coworker, began introducing us to the aunt...."Sarah, Lauren, Luis." Lastly, he pointed to David and said "and this young man you already know." The aunt shook her head no and took a better look at David's face. About the time Luis said the name "David" you could see the look of recognition registering on the face of his aunt.

And then the tears of joy started falling.

David was crying. I was crying. Lauren was crying. The aunt was crying. And shouting. And jumping up and down. And running to call other family members.

It was beautiful.

Another prodigal son is home.

(David in the white jersey with his family)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Welcome Home!!!

I'M BACK IN MOZAMBIQUE!!! When I arrived this past Sunday, I was greeted at the airport by a group of the Masana boys holding a banner they had made spelling out "Tia Sarah." It was a beautiful welcome. We had a dinner that night with the 6 boys living with us and a couple of other missionaries who have become dear friends. Monday was a super fun day at Masana to celebrate my return. There were 40 boys here to celebrate! My housemates and the Mozambican staff had planned a special lunch and even put together a drama about my time in America so that all the boys would understand a bit more about my cancer treatments.

It's so great to be home!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cancer: Done!

It is 8:00 in the morning and I am sitting in the Washington Dulles airport waiting to board an Ethiopian Airlines flight bound for Maputo, Mozambique. My heart is full of so many emotions. 227 days ago I called my doctor in South Africa for my biopsy results. Breast cancer. Then I made the hard decision to leave my home in Mozambique and return to Georgia for treatment. When I left Mozambique on March 13, I thought I'd knock my treatments out quickly and be back in June. Guess I was wrong. Today is October 8. My last radiation treatment was yesterday. 7 months in the States going through treatment.

So here I am. I just said goodbye to my family and friends who have been so amazingly supportive these past 7 months. I'm so excited to be on my way back to Mozambique but I'm also a bit nervous. 7 months is a long time to be gone. I mean I definitely look different than I did in March when I left! Gone is the long, curly, red hair and I am currently a very short blonde. What will the boys think and say when they see me? Will I remember their names? Will I remember how to speak Portuguese? Will my limited knowledge of the language allow me to communicate how deeply I have missed them all and to share about my journey through cancer? Will I remember how to drive on the opposite side of the road with crazy, aggressive drivers? Will I remember the names of roads? Will I be able to pick up right where I left off in March? Will Maputo still feel like home?

So many questions. But not one that can be answered until I am there. I can choose to continue dwelling on these worries for the next 20-something hours or I can give them to God and trust that He is walking this out with me.

I choose the latter. I take comfort in my Father's voice. "Fear not. I am with you."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Journey To Mozambique (part 5)

In January 2009 I began working with Masana. I was the only non-Mozambican on staff. And I loved it!!! I love that it was a group of Mozambicans with a passion for their own children. In the years since I began working with Masana, the project has grown and changed a bit. In 2010, Ian Krohn, from America, and Lauren Nixon, from South Africa, joined our staff. We moved the project to the house that Ian, Lauren and I live in where we have much better facilities. But our heart remains the same: to help street kids reach the place that they are ready to leave the streets and return to their families . . . to see their hope restored.

Each day, around 30 boys ages 8-18 show up at Masana as soon as the sun rises. They get breakfast and lunch with us. We provide them with a place to shower and wash their clothes. We teach basic literacy classes . . . the first schooling that many of them have ever had. We provide basic first aid and medical care when needed. We have a soccer program for the boys, to allow them time to just be boys and play. Each day, we have a worship service and a time of teaching from the Word of God. We use this time to talk about life on the streets and how God has better plans for their lives. And then we leave it up to the Holy Spirit to really move in the boys and bring them to the place that they are ready to change.

When a boy decides to return home, we go visit his family. The majority of the time, the boys have run away and have decent families that they could be living with. We meet with the family members to discuss why their son is on the streets and whether or not he is welcome to return home. The boy then enters into a one month transitional phase in which he lives at the project. We use this time to help the boy get use to having some responsibility again as opposed to the complete freedom they are use to on the streets. We also spend time together in the Word with a focus on God’s heart for family and teaching the boys Godly characteristics they need to work on in order to succeed back at home.

At the end of the month, we take the boy back to his family with a suitcase full of clothes, blankets, a sleeping mat, and other basic necessities he needs to adjust back to life with his family. We register the boy for school in his community and provide his uniform and school supplies. For the older boys, we help them start up a small business. We visit the boy and his family on a monthly basis for the next year. We make ourselves available anytime the families need us. Our hope is that, rather than running back to the streets when something goes wrong, the boys will learn to work through their problems. Time and time again, the families call on us to be there and help mediate through family issues.

Since 2009, we have helped over 30 boys return to their families. Not all of them are still at home today but the majority of them all. That is the heart of Masana. Restoring the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers to their children (Malachi 4:6).

We have dreams for the future . . . ways we want to invest in the lives of these boys and their families on a deeper level. We want to have a skills training program so that we can help the older boys get jobs. We want to start a farming project, employ some of the boys, use some of the produce for the daily meals at Masana and sell the rest. We want Masana to be self-sustaining rather than dependent upon foreign funding. As I think about these dreams for our future, I am encouraged by God’s faithfulness already. And I have hope that these dreams too shall come to pass.

My Journey To Mozambique (part 4)

About halfway into my first year in Mozambique, I found myself wanting to spend more and more time among the street kids. The weekly church service with them and the afternoons out in the city when I would run into some of the boys became the moments when I felt most alive. Though working with Iris Ministries was a safe place, I knew God was pushing me out of that comfort zone. I met with the directors at the Iris center and shared my heart with them. At the time, I did not know of any projects working with street kids full time but I knew God was calling me to step out in faith. Within a week of telling the directors I would not be returning for another year at the center, I was invited to a meeting with a friend. She was in Mozambique from New York and was trying to connect with different projects around the city. This particular meeting was with a pastor she had been told about that worked with street kids.

At this meeting, Pastor Paulo, told us all about Masana, a day center for street kids that focused on helping the kids return to their families. As he described the project, it was word for word my heart. I felt God opening the door. And, as if it wasn’t clear enough, Pastor Paulo said that they had been praying for a missionary to work with them. I was blown away by God’s faithfulness! I had decided in my heart that I would just move to the city and start hanging out with street kids, seeing where they went each day, and looking for opportunities to help out. But again, God in his kindness had such better plans for me!!!

Now if you'll remember from part 1 and 2 of my journey, I had often questioned whether God was calling me to the nations or the inner city. I was passionate about both! In moving to Mozambique I thought I had chosen the nations. But God, in his faithfulness, was giving me both of my passions....the inner city in Africa!

My Journey To Mozambique (part 3)

So here I am about one month after moving to Maputo. One of the other missionaries, Brooke (who became a dear friend!!) and I decided to check out the street outreach. We loaded up in the van with some visitors and older youth from the Iris center. When we got to the city, we gathered street kids and had a church service. That night I met 2 little boys, Gaspar and Zacarius. These brothers became a huge part of my life. At the time, Gaspar was 7 or 8 and Zacarius was around 9 or 10. They were new to the streets. I was drawn to them because they were so little and you could just see the fear in them. We ended up taking both of them back to the Iris Center with us that night. Brooke and I let them shower in our house and found some clean clothes for them to wear. The joy on their faces was like a child on Christmas morning!

The next day, some Mozambican workers spoke with the boys and tried to sort out their family history. It turns out they had both run away from home. The workers made contact with the boys’ father and he agreed to take Zacarius but refused to take little Gaspar. He said Gaspar was just too much trouble. So Zacarius went home with his dad while Gaspar began living at the Iris Center.

A few weeks later, Brooke and I were in the city and saw Zacarius on the street. We spent some time talking to him about why he had left home again. He claimed his father was abusive. Though it saddened me greatly, I knew we couldn’t take him back to the center since he had already been placed back with his father. I began looking for Zacarius every time I went to the city. We found out his mother lived not far outside the city so we began offering to take him there. Eventually, he said yes so Brooke and I took him home and met his mom for the first time. That day began a cycle of Zacarius staying home and returning to the streets that continues to this day.

With the company of a couple of Mozambican youth from the Iris Center, we began visiting Zacarius every few weeks at his home. Every time we went, the kids from the village would come from everywhere to see us. With such a captive audience, we began teaching Bible stories. We discovered that, as long as Zacarius knew we were coming back, he wouldn’t run away so we began going every other week and then every week. Eventually it turned into weekly children’s church sitting on a mat outside of Zacarius’ house with anywhere from 10 to 30 children.

My Journey to Mozambique (part 2)

After returning from my first trip to Mozambique, I knew I’d be going back and I began to plan for that. It wasn't a grand, supernatural calling from God but simply a knowing in my heart that that was where He was directing me.

I had already committed to being at the Wesley Foundation the next school year so I knew it would be almost 12 months before I could return . . . a season of preparation. And it was a wonderful last year in Athens and at Wesley. The Lord renewed my passion for my ministry in the inner city. God, in His kindness, brought me to a place that it was actually hard to leave Athens. And this was a gift as my years at Wesley had been so instrumental in my walk with God and it’s allowed me to continue to carry Wesley in my heart. Though Wesley is not really a place you go back to after leaving, I have continued to consider it my home church and have been blessed by my continued relationships with Bob and a handful of the directors. As the year ended and my passion for the children's ministry in the housing projects was renewed, I again found myself questioning whether God was calling me to the nations or to the inner city.

In May, 2007 I took a second Wesley mission team to Mozambique and we spent 3 weeks at the Iris Children’s Center just outside of the capital city. This time, when the team left, I traveled to northern Mozambique and attended a 3 month ministry school led by Heidi and Rolland Baker. It was an incredible summer of really learning about the heart of this woman that had been the focus of life changing prophecies spoken over me.

After the ministry school, I spent 4 months in the States raising support before moving to Mozambique in December. My first year in Mozambique, I was working at the Iris Children’s center near the capital, Maputo. I started helping out with a weekly outreach among the street kids. So less than one month after moving to Maputo, I had my first interaction with street kids and, little did I know, it would be the beginning of what is now my full time ministry!!

My Journey To Mozambique (part 1)

In anticipation of my return to Mozambique in just a few days, I thought I'd take some time to share how I ended up as a missionary in Mozambique. As I look back over the years and steps that led me to where I am, it is a beautiful journey orchestrated by God.

I pray that as you read of God's faithfulness in directing my steps, that you will be encouraged. His Word says, "Lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path." That promise is for you!!!

My journey . . .

In 2005, I was working at the Wesley Foundation. I was the director of children’s ministry and oversaw 3 programs in the low income housing communities around the UGA campus. The 2004-2005 school year was my 4th year leading these ministries. My job had become so administrative that I was beginning to lose my passion for it. In the summer of 2005, I went to a service at Daystar Church in Atlanta where I received a prophetic word about a ministry among the poor similar to that of Heidi Baker. I had never heard of Heidi Baker at this point so I called a friend, Clay Kirkland, on the way home and asked him who she was. He just kept saying “Serious power! Serious power!” When I got home, I looked her up on the internet and found links to her ministry in Mozambique. Right away, I emailed about the possibility of bringing a team from Wesley.

A couple of months later, I was at a random church that met in a barn in Social Circle. They ended up prophesying over my friends and me. The words given to me were again relating to Heidi Baker and a calling to sit in the dirt with the poor.

In May, 2006 I took my first trip to Maputo, Mozambique and spent 2 weeks at the Iris Ministries children’s center. As both a student and staff member at Wesley, I had been on mission trips all over the world. But this was the first trip where I really fell in love with the people and had a hard time leaving. From the moment I returned to Athens, I began wrestling with the Lord about my calling. I was drawn to the passage in the Gospels about the woman who anoints the feet of Jesus with the expensive perfume and the verse in 2 Corinthians that says, “We are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved.” For the first time ever, I found myself questioning what my life was being poured out for and whether or not I was where God wanted me. Was God calling me to the nations or to the inner city?