This past Sunday, I had the privilege of speaking at St. Mark’s Chapel on the UCONN campus. Earl, along with our good friends Kris & Jen Allen, Amanda Hanzlik & Aaron Nebbia lead worship in a jazz style as a group called the “Jazz Lauds band.”
For those of you who couldn’t be there, here is my message:
As some of you may know, I will be heading to Malawi in August for two weeks with Little Dresses for Africa. Little Dresses for Africa is a non-profit Christian organization that provides relief to the children of Africa. They have sent over 1.5 MILLION LITTLE DRESSES to 43 countries in Africa. 1.5 million dresses going to 1.5 million children, sending the message that they are worthy. Dresses have come from all 50 states and beyond and in bringing awareness to this cause, I have seen our community come together like no other to support my mission and these little girls!
Here are some facts about Malawi:
- It is a small land-locked country in Southeast Africa, about the size of New Jersey.
- It is one of the least developed countries in the world.
- There is a huge AIDS pandemic there. Half of the population is under the age of 14, which means we have babies raising babies.
- Malawi has low life expectancy and high infant mortality rates.
- Despite its troubles, Malawi is often referred to as “the warm heart of Africa” because of the warmth and friendliness of its people.
I’ll give you a little background as to how I got started on this journey. I am the mother of two young children. In our house, it can go from 0 to 60 in about a millisecond. Parents here can relate, right? The human tornados whirling through your house. The teasing, the poking, the cartwheels in your living room. Nevermind the schedules: the homework, the after school activities, the ensuing anxiety that has you reaching for another chocolate chip cookie. Yeesh! All of this busyness can make your house seem small and your world feel very cluttered.
About a year ago, God had been pressing on my heart this whole idea that less is more. I started to take a look at my relationships, my schedule and my stuff. I felt that if I was choosing to walk with Christ as an authentic follower, my life should reflect that. I started saying ‘no’ to things that didn’t benefit my family or the Kindgom of God. I started purging our tiny house of stuff. When I once thought I needed a bigger house, I now realized I just needed less stuff. And purging stuff felt good. I called this whole process my “quest for less.”
Here’s the deal folks: We live in a consumer society and we have a lot of stuff. I went to hear Jen Hatmaker speak this past weekend and I heard some alarming statistics. If you make $35,000 per year, you are in the top 4% of earners in the world. If you make $50,000: the top 1%. We are blessed people and sometimes we don’t realize it because we live our lives with other blessed people. But this puts us in a great position of responsibility. A responsibility to give back…with our hearts, with our time and with our dollars.
So about this time last year, I was purging my stuff. Now fast forward a few weeks to a kitchen table squabble with my husband, because I’m not perfect: Our seven year old son is now taking piano lessons. Our piano is currently in our studio which is separate from the house. (It’s really a glorified shed with heat and electricity.) That’s where we practice and teach our lessons. We thought it would be a great idea to move the piano inside the main house, only when I measured, it didn’t fit. I mean technically it would fit, but that would mean giving up precious square footage. I had just finished purging my house of stuff and I wasn’t about to pour more things back into it. I had to have Earl cancel the movers and we were disappointed. I started complaining & grumbling about my house. It’s too small! We need a bigger house! But then I started feeling pretty yucky about myself when I remembered that half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day.
$2 a day! And I’m concerned that my piano doesn’t fit in my house.
I began to feel spoiled even though by American standards I live a fairly modest life. I wanted to meet those people. Those people who live on less that $2 a day. Those people who still feel joy with much less. I wanted to meet them. Serve them. And learn from them.
God has given me a heart for Africa. I’m not sure why. For a long time I had felt drawn to its culture & its people. I knew I wanted to go there someday, but I always thought it would be when my kids were grown. I mean, who has time for Africa in the midst of this busy life? But that day, at the kitchen table, I felt this strong push to just go. I mean, what if I never made it to see my children grown? The mortality rate is still 100% and frankly I’m not guaranteed another day. With my husband’s encouragement, I decided to go.
So I looked into Christian organizations and decided to go with Little Dresses for Africa because I had supported them in the past. I contacted the founder who said she would be leading a team this summer. I filled out an application and she accepted me just like that. I thought, really? You don’t want to meet me to find out if I’m crazy or something? We have been in contact over the last several months and she has been such an encouragement to me in this process. I am so excited to serve with her and the team of 12 others.
This is my first mission trip. Up until recently, I was leading a very comfortable Christian life. I wasn’t well informed about global issues. In some ways I was much happier in my own naivety. But Jesus stirred my heart for Africa. And He broke my heart for His people and for the injustice in the world. There’s no reason people should die from hunger when we have enough food. There’s no reason people should be dying from disease when we have inexpensive vaccines. There’s no reason why girls should be walking around in their only tattered dress when my closets are full.
Jesus came to Earth and wasn’t interested in religious law, He was interested in people. He didn’t get all cozy in his local temple. He traveled, searching for the sick, the lost and the broken. I think so many times, we as humans have made church so complicated. But He broke it down and made it real simple for us. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
Love God, love God’s people. What if we all lived that out? What if we just followed that one command? What if we woke up each morning and said we’re only going to do this one thing? Love God, love God’s people. It’s a radical idea that has the power to transform the world!
Now let me fill you in on a little secret here: loving others is not always a strength of mine. I have friends that ooze love. The ones that are sentimental. The ones that cry with others. The ones that are comfortable giving big ol’ hugs to anyone and everyone. That’s not me. I like my space. I like to protect my time when I should be giving more freely. I’m guilty for getting too absorbed in my own world, that I forget how even a quick phone call could bring so much joy to someone. I’m a work in progress. But I know loving people is important to God. So I am mindful of that and, as imperfect as I am, I try my best to live that out.
So what will we be doing in Malawi? We’ll be travelling to orphanages, feeding the children and delivering little dresses to the girls and britches for boys. These girls often only have one dress that is badly tattered & worn. It brings them so much joy to get a new one. We will be working alongside the locals, repairing hut roofs out of local grasses. We hope to distribute at least 200 Buckets of Hope, which are supplies that are given to the caregivers of AIDS patients. We hope to conduct two medical days, giving medication and performing malaria tests. We will also be opening a well that has been built there, and conducting a VBS camp.
Becoming a Christian means more to me than the destiny of my soul. It also involves the way I am called to live my life. I’m no longer okay living as a comfortable Christian. I’m not okay warming up a church pew and wondering what the church can do for me. I’m not okay with serving the saved and ignoring the lost. There’s too much to do. Too many people who need to experience the power of God’s love. And when my spiritual life becomes stagnant (because it does), when I become paralyzed by the magnitude of the task at hand, when it becomes overwhelming because there’s so much to do, I just remind myself to keep moving. When I take just a few steps, God always leads.
So as I close, I want to ask you: What makes you undone? What stirs your soul? What breaks your heart? What makes you angry? That’s God’s whisper. He’s inviting you to act. So go ahead and do something. Take a few steps and God will lead.
** If you are inspired to contribute toward my trip or any of the projects we will be doing, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out how to give online. Your gift is tax deductible and any amount is greatly appreciated! Zikomo! (thank you!)