From There to Here

It is often hard for me to explain succinctly how God has been leading me to go to Kenya because the process of getting ready to go to Kenya has really taken place over the past fourteen years.  A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with a friend and tell him how God has been working in my life to get me to this point.  It was such an encouraging conversation because I got to remember and rejoice in what God has done to get me to the point where I’m possibly going to be moving to Kenya full-time.  I wanted to be able to share some of the highlights of that journey with you.


Third grade – I read a biography about Gladys Alyward, a worker in China, and from then on all ever really wanted to do was to work overseas.  At first I wanted to go to China just like Gladys.


Age 12/13 I went on my first volunteer trip to Albany, New York and loved it.  I even turned 13 on the trip!


Sometime during either middle school or ninth grade I was praying in my room.  Earnestly, I asked God where He would have me go to work overseas.  In what can only be described as a child-like act of faith I took a pen in my hand, closed my eyes, spun around three times, and drew a circle around East Africa.  {Later in life, because I was older and “wiser” I viewed this as being silly.  For a long time I didn’t tell anyone about it because I was embarrassed.  But now, I genuinely believe that God took me seriously in that moment and that He revealed part of His plan for my life.  That instance alone would not be enough for me to decide to move to East Africa, but God has continually confirmed that this is where I am to go and redirected my heart to that region.}


Summer 2007 -I went on my first overseas volunteer trip to Athens, Greece.  God used that trip to teach me that I should focus on where He had placed me then instead of constantly looking forward to when I would be old enough to move overseas full-time.

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Athens, Greece 2007

Tenth Grade – Just weeks after getting back from Greece and two days before school started my parents and I decided that God was leading me to switch from my tiny private school to public school. This was the first step that I really took to live intentionally in whatever stage of life I was in.  I learned so much about how to relate to other people who did not grow up in the same private school bubble that I had spent so much of my life in.  At first people thought that I was pretty weird.  I made my best friends at my new public school and it’s really funny to hear them talk about their first impressions of me.

During tenth grade my family also switched churches through a pretty messy situation.

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I made my best friends in high school on the cross country team

Summer 2008 – I went on my first trip to Zambia.  I was so excited about a church having a volunteer trip to Africa that my family basically chose our new church because I wanted to go on the trip.

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Zambia 2008 team

Summer 2010 – My second trip to Zambia — instead of going through a church or an organization I went with three friends.  We planned the trip all on our own.  The oldest of us was nineteen, and I turned eighteen on the way there. The fact that my parents were okay sending their seventeen-year-old daughter to Africa is pretty amazing.  I’m really glad that I have the parents that I have.

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Playing a Zambian version of Duck, Duck, Goose

 

Summer 2011 – I studied abroad in Paris and experienced difficult culture shock for the first time.  The entire time that I was there I did not meet one other person who was seriously pursuing a relationship with God.  This experience helped me learn how to follow Jesus even when no one around me was.

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I got to walk past Notre Dame every day on my way to class

Fall 2011 – I joined a sorority!  This ended up being the best preparation that I could have had for moving overseas.  I learned how to make friends and operate in an environment very different from the one that I was used to.   And, as an added bonus I absolutely loved it and all of the great friends I made.

This Fall God also asked me to pray about whether or not I was supposed to work overseas.  I promptly told God that I would not pray about it because he was not allowed to tell me “no”.  Within twenty-four hours I was praying about it and God revealed to me how much of an idol living abroad had been in my life.  He told me that I could not know, at that point, whether or not I was going to go overseas.  The next few months were extraordinarily difficult.  I wept every time I heard a sermon about overseas work because all I wanted was to leave college and go live in Africa, but God had clearly called me to be at the University of Florida and in my sorority.

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Some members of my sorority family.

June 2012 – God revealed that I would get to go back to Africa some day!  He didn’t say where, when, for how long or in what capacity– just that I would get to go back.  (This trip to Kenya is the fulfillment of a promise that God gave almost two and a half years ago!)


 

Fall 2012 – I hear that my campus ministry is sending a team to North Africa possibly in 2013 or 2014 if they aren’t able to fill it for 2013.  I start praying that the team will go in 2014 because I wanted to be able to be on it.  The country boarders the one that I circled on the map and I got really excited wondering if after so many years God actually did reveal where I was supposed to go when I was in middle school.


January 2013 – I went to a conference in Colorado for students in my campus ministry that are also involved in Greek life at their universities.  I got to have dinner with some of the ladies who are in charge of putting together the teams for the overseas program I was interested in.  God continued to grow my heart for that specific region.

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Me and my “little sister” skiing in Colorado

Fall 2013-Spring 2014 – I was exploring a few options of what to do after I graduated, but going to North Africa was my first choice.  I counted up the cost of going overseas for two years, the weddings and graduations I knew I would miss, not seeing my friends or family, the loneliness of being in a new place, not being able to be in a relationship for two years.  I decided that no matter the cost following Jesus was worth it.  I was prepared to give everything up to go overseas.

Then through a rather complicated and difficult set of circumstances I wasn’ t able to go.  I experienced so many emotions during this time– sadness, anger, relief, bitterness, joy, jealousy.  I felt free from the weight of so many expectations from myself and others, but I still yearned to be overseas.  I felt like I had just jumped out of an airplane.  I was so excited to see what unexpected journey life had in store, but I was also nervous that my parachute wouldn’t open in time.  I graduated in May and moved back home having no idea what I was going to do.


May 2014 – June 2014 – In May I primarily spent time at home and with my family.  I applied for some jobs and didn’t hear back from any of them.

In June we went on a family vacation in Alaska.  We had a great time exploring the beauty of creation as a family.  However, by June the excitement of not knowing what I was doing was really wearing thin.  I like to have plans, and the confusion behind why I wasn’t going to North Africa, when I thought God was calling me there so clearly, was really painful.

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Mendenhall Glacier – went on the most fun hike ever to get to it

 


 

July 2014 – We had been home from Alaska for about a week, and I was thinking about taking some time to travel when I remembered that a missions organization that I knew some people from offered a training in July.  I figured that if I was going to travel abroad I might as well have some more training in how to live cross-culturally. I decided to look it up (on Wednesday night) and saw that it started on Sunday.  The next day I emailed the organization.  They had an opening (someone had just dropped out) so on Sunday I was in Missouri for training.  It was during the three week training that God opened the doors for me to be able to go to Kenya on my vision trip.  During this time I realized more fully that  I wasn’t going to North Africa because it wasn’t God’s best for me.  The North Africa trip was to the country neighboring the one I want to work in, but in Kenya I will have the opportunity to work with people actually from that country.  It is too dangerous right now to go to the country I want to go to, but if I end up moving to Kenya I’l be able to start learning culture and language in preparation for going there one day.

This post skips over a lot (like 5 other volunteer trips in the US) but I think that it shows how God has clearly been working in my life to get me to the point where I am thinking about going overseas full-time in the near future.

From death to life

I have thought for a long time about writing this post- about if I should write it at all and if I wrote it what the focus of it should be. This part of my story is complicated and difficult to share, but I believe that it is through this messy part of my life that God wants to bring healing and life to others. So, after over a month of thinking I decided that this should be a celebration.

Today I celebrate fourteen years with Jesus. Fourteen years of abundant spiritual life. Fourteen years of glorious mountain tops and long, dark valleys.  I’ve seen wonderful victories in my life and in others’ lives, and I’ve had times where I have been so mad at God that I couldn’t even manage to pray.  Through it all though, God has been faithful and worked everything out for good so I’m celebrating.

This week I also celebrate seven years of no longer being suicidal on and off. From the time I was ten till I was fifteen I struggled with thoughts of hurting myself. Even though this was very far from the truth, I felt like no one cared about me. But then, because I have such a wonderful family I would feel extraordinarily guilty for even feeling unloved. I had my life completely together from the outside. I was an “A” student, played at least three sports a year, in band, in school plays, very actively involved in my church, the list could go on. But, I used all of this as a mask. When I went home, when the busyness finally stopped, I would break down because no matter what I did it was never enough. During this whole time I never let on to anyone how much I was struggling or how truly alone I felt. Seven years ago marks the beginning of a journey (that I am still on) out of depression and bondage of trying to keep up a perfect image in front of others. Therefore, I am celebrating because I am alive and I get to walk in freedom.

There is some mourning in the midst of my celebrating though because seven years ago today I was in Colorado with my family as we planned the funeral of my Uncle David who took his own life. It was David’s death that made me realize that I could not kill myself, that it would hurt too many people, that suicide wasn’t worth it.

Although the impact of my uncle’s death played a huge role in changing my thoughts about suicide being an option, I realized my sophomore year of college the part that Jesus played in this dark part of my story. In early January of that year I was at a conference, and during the first sermon the speaker was preaching from Luke 7 when Jesus stops a funeral procession and raises a young man from the dead.

As we were responding in worship God revealed to me that that was what He did in my life. He stopped my funeral. Jesus stepped into my life and said and said, “Get up. Not today, you are not dying today. I have plans for your life that Satan wants to destroy, but I will not let him win. I am going to use your life in wonderful ways.” God was the only one who knew I was suicidal. Jesus was the only one who could intercede on my behalf for this heavy burden that I carried alone. During that worship service, I was overcome with emotion as I saw how Jesus had fought for me against the powers of the Enemy, how He wanted life for me when I didn’t even want it for myself.

Until this point, I thought that I understood well that God loved me, after all I grew up in church, and that’s the first thing you learn as a kid. Now, I realize that there will never be a time when I reach a point where I fully understand God’s love. It will always be bigger and more amazing than I can ever grasp. It is in light of this amazing love that rescued me not only from spiritual death but physical death as well, that I celebrate and remember what God has done. It is because God saved me (even from myself) that I now give back every day to Him. Every day really is a gift that I would not have if He did not give it to me. I have been captivated and amazed by His love; that is why I am willing to go to the ends of the earth to tell those who have not heard about Jesus the good news of the salvation He offers.

I am so thankful for this week, both for the outstanding joy and for the incredible pain that rises to the surface during it. Suffering is an inescapable reality of living, but in our sorrow we can live in hope because of what Jesus has done on our behalf.

Much love,

Hannah