Saturday, December 22, 2012

Finally Deliverance.

For the first time in my life, I can say that I have read through the entire Old Testament.  And also, for the first time, I can say that I understand what it meant for Christ to be born here on earth. 

Though Israel had continually turned away from God, He continually brought them back to Himself.  When I look back over the agonizing story of Israel, throughout the Old Testament, turning away over and over again and longing for deliverance, I start to long for the promised Savior along with them. 

I feel their joy when, in the book of Ezra, King Cyrus tells the people that they may build a temple in Jerusalem.  Once the foundation was laid, those who had seen the original temple actually wept aloud and shouted for joy.  Ezra 3:13 says that it could be heard from far away.  Finally, once again, a place for God to dwell on earth.  Yet what was to come was far greater.

When Zechariah prophesied, “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion.  For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord (2:10), I wonder if they thought He would come to live in a physical temple once again, one that matched the splendor of that King Solomon had built.  Yet his later words seem to say otherwise: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” (Zech.9:9). 

And I imagine that when Esther was appointed as queen, and she was able to save the Jews from annihilation because she held the love of the king – God was giving his people a taste of what salvation would be like, when he later sent His son, whom He dearly loved to do the very same thing.

After Nehemiah had led the people in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, they all came together and recounted their ancestors’ story.  Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness,” (9:19) they prayed aloud to God.

I imagine that some realized in that moment, what Lamentations 3 says, “His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness,” (v.22-23).  Over and over again, the only explanation for God’s goodness to his people was compassion, defined as “a consciousness of another’s distress and a desire to alleviate it.”

And just after Malachi reminds Israel that they have broken their covenant with God, he prophesies these words: “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty, (3:1).

This King, this Savior, has been sent to us because God’s compassions never fail.  He came to alleviate the distress of His people, to shower compassion on our sinful hearts, once and for all.  He did not build a physical temple, but He did come to dwell in us, in the temple of our human hearts.  He came in a way foretold by the prophet Isaiah (7:14), written in the history books, “and they will call him Immanuel”, which means ‘God with us’,” (Matt. 1:23). 

His name is Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The (un)familiar.

Goodbye.  That is the world that I hated saying the most.  It’s almost as if, the closer I was to the person, the harder it was to get out.  Then, a week before I left, we had a party so that people could say just that – “goodbye”. 

We all sat in a circle.  I whispered to Mai, my Ivorian sister, “Should I sing a song?”  “No, just wait and see what Lea will do,” she replied.  Sure enough, Lea, one of my closest friends, was wheeling my bicycle towards the gathering.  She yelled out, “Aahh!  I’m so tired!  I just biked all the way from town!  I was at Centre Providence ALL day,” and I quickly realized that Lea was pretending to be me!  Joy flooded out my embarrassment and discomfort.  My sisters, Lea and Mai, had seen my uneasiness with saying goodbye, and were doing their best to put me at ease.  As they acted out stories of the day we planted rice and the first time I told Lea about Chazz and I, I laughed and thought, “what a great family I have here.”

Fast-forward.  Over a month later, I find myself in Pennsylvania, far away from that world of dirt markets, multiple languages, and dancing with your butt in the air on Sunday mornings. 

“The familiar became the stuff of dreams – the jungle, thatched roofs, campfires, a strange unwritten tongue – and the stuff of former dreams became familiar.” – Elizabeth Elliot.

The familiar things are the thatched roofs, strange tongues, and the dusty market.  The unfamiliar things are my family’s wooden, insulated, heated house, the English language, and Walmart.  I tell people it’s like learning to ride a bike again.  The problem is, in Cote d’Ivoire, you just swerved around the potholes.  Here, in the US, you have to stay on your side of the road and obey traffic laws.  I forget how to do life in my own home country!

But little by little, it’s coming back.  And little by little, I’m more at peace, knowing that God has me right here for a reason.  It wasn’t a mistake that He made me leave Africa.  It’s not a mistake that I’m in unfamiliar territory once again, learning to trust in Him, once again.

On Saturday, I organized an African rice and sauce dinner at my church (Bethel), here in Pennsylvania.  Like riding a bike, the only way I know to organize an event is the African way – where everyone gets involved.  And to my surprise, it worked!  At 10 am, several people came to help me cut up vegetables, decorate, and set up tables.  I threw meat, veggies, and spices into a pot in a such a way that would have made my Ivorian big sister Sara proud. Others came at 4 pm to help make rice, set tables, and serve food.  EVERYONE helped clean up. 

And as I shared pictures and told them about that goodbye party in Cote d’Ivoire, I thought once again, “what a great family I have here”.

Because the truth is, God is blessing me more than I could ever deserve or imagine.  His blessings have chased away the uneasy discomfort that I felt in coming back to this unfamiliar place.  Not only do I have a supportive church, but I have a supportive family, friends AND a best friend and fiancé – Chazz. 

Yeah, sometimes, I’d really like to dance with my butt in the air at church, swerve around the potholes, or buy veggies in that dusty market (because Walmart lines are RIDICULOUS!).  And I hope I can do those things again someday, but for now, I’m where I am for a reason.

Now, this is how we do it in Cote d'Ivoire..

And this is how you do it in the US.  Photos from Saturday!

 Cheri Ponziani, carrying it like an African woman.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to ask for the road

On Sunday afternoon, I sat outside with Zanga and his wife. He’s a member of our church committee, a man whose stories I can listen to for hours. I’ve heard him recount tales of the early church here in Cote d’Ivoire and the persecution they faced, personally and as a community. This particular afternoon, I came to “ask for the road”. He asked for the news. “No, it’s nothing serious. I just came to say hello,” I told them. But as conversation progressed, he said that he’d heard I’d be leaving soon. “Yeah, that’s the second news,” I looked down and nodded my head.

Here, in Cote d’Ivoire, you can’t just leave. You need to visit people, show them that they matter enough for you to travel across town to see them personally, and inform them of your departure (even if they’ve already heard).

But as I looked down, holding back the tears that came with the reality that I’m leaving, Zanga recited a huge list of why they have appreciated my presence here and why I will be missed. Zanga thanked me for my heart for the widows here in our churches – he said that I saw a need that no one else could see. He told me that I had left an imprint on the kids’ hearts in Sunday school, including his daughter Lydie. Over and over again he thanked me. I felt honored and surprised that this man of God who had faced persecution, war, and had continued to remain strong in his faith – that he was thanking me for what I felt was nothing special.

You see, you come to Africa, and you think that you are going to do great things. You think that you must have something to show for your time. You imagine that it should be something big – like a business or a building. The truth is, after 2 years, I haven’t started a business or constructed a building. I have, however, contributed to existing projects - such as my church’s new building, a school for at-risk teenage girls, Sunday school, and a widow’s fund. And in doing this, I have built relationships. My testimony has made an imprint on people’s hearts.

I have been asking myself, “What do I have to testify for?” That question is answered every time that I sit in someone’s home and tell them that my 2 years are finished and I need to return to the United States. Automatically, they shower me with the reasons that they can’t imagine life here without me.

My friend Josue said that he doesn’t believe I’m leaving. Mai asked me who will wake her up in the morning. Marie Louise told me that she can’t even handle telling me goodbye, so she won’t be there the day I leave. Lea and Timothee ask me if anyone could possibly fill my shoes. Many tell me that maybe one day they’ll get to see my house in the US. I tell them, jokingly, that I’ll organize a boat to bring them all over the day that I get married. I wish that were possible.

At the end of a Senoufo worship song, the music escalates until all of a sudden, people stop dancing and sit down as the last few notes of the balafone are played. I feel the days flying by and the music growing stronger, and I know this means that the song is about to end. I’m exhausted and ready to sit down, but there’s a large part of me that would rather just dance all night long – to hold onto these people and this place and never let go.

The hope is that I will come back here one day. God willing, next time, I’ll stay for longer than 2 years. But I can’t tell my friends for sure what will happen. So, for the moment, I am soaking in these last few days. Every day, I visit people. We laugh and reminisce over the past 2 years. Then we sit and wonder when to say goodbye, knowing it may be the last time. The process has almost become as habitual as brushing my teeth.

Ten more days before I get on a plane. Ten more days to soak it all in. Ten more days until I get to rest and see my family in the states. Ten more days until I miss this place and these people like crazy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A crazy amazing past month

It's been awhile since I posted one of these.  Lots has happened in the past month.  We have a new Journey Corps team!  5 Americans and 5 Germans have joined us, as well as 2 Ivorian culture guides, making our family much bigger than it was before.  Every night is a party in our dorm!  Here are some pictures from the past few weeks.  I included a few from the youth conference with our church association, back in August, as well as a HuD group conference in September.  Enjoy!

Tricia's birthday.  We made pazookie.
 Getting ready to go to the Rock Quarry.
 Julia, Rebecca, Haylei, Lina, Carina, and Emily - our new girl volunteers.
 Lukas and David - playing "Dynamite" in the back of the land cruiser.
 Eric, David, Emmanuel, and Lukas
 Tricia and I

 Lea, Mai, and Tricia

 Lea and I

 Birds nests in the tall grass.
I love discovering new things in God's creation

 We ate Rod's traditional meat sandwiches.  YUM.
Cross-cultural charades.
 Seminar with Glenn and Linn Boese - missionaries in Ferke.
Chazz came back to visit and do some filming :)

Our week-long youth conference in August.  Students came from all over Cote d'Ivoire to participate.

The HuD group conference, in September.  Learning what it means to be Godly leaders.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


When an Ivorian who has become my brother comes to me for advice on an important decision.  “I am afraid to disappoint you,” he says.  “Don’t worry about that.  The only one you should worry about disappointing is God,” I tell him.

When I hear my name yelled from across the field of the women’s conference – it’s Korotoum, the Ivorian host mom of one of our volunteers.  I ask about her family and her trip to Abidjan.  Then a woman runs up to her, and says, “Korotoum!  Finally!  We have all of your CDs at the house!  Two of them are even broken we’ve watched them so much.  Is that your new one?  How much??”  Korotoum is also a well-known Christian, Senoufo singer.  I suddenly realize this would be like if Kari Jobe or Rebecca St. James yelled my name across the floor of a women’s conference in the US. 

When, as I sit in church, listening to the announcements, the girl next to me reties the strings on my sleeve.  A few minutes later, as I try to push my bra strap under the sleeve of my African pagne outfit, a woman behind me takes the liberty to help me out.  I smile, realizing that I really am part of a church family. 

When my good friends Lea and Marie Louise walk me home after our regular evening visits.  We laugh and carry on, walking as slow as snails, secretly hoping the night won’t end.  And then it happens.  Not even 5 meters from the door, I feel something bite my foot, then my left calf, then my right thigh.  “Ils sont monté!” (they’ve climbed up!) I yell, quickly shake their hands while jumping up and down like a crazy person, say goodnight, and run for the door.  I can hear my friends’ laughs continue until they reach their homes.  The driver ants had decided to attack me again.  We sort of have an unsaid rule: it’s ok to laugh because you already know it’ll happen to you another day.

When Ephraim, my pastor’s 3-year-old son runs up to me after church, wraps his arms around my legs, and puts all his strength into trying to pick me up.  “Mon petit mari, tu fais quoi??” (my little husband, what are you doing?)  “Je veux te soulever!” (I want to pick you up) he says, trying again.  “Tu ne peux pas!” (you can’t!).  “Je peux!”  He says as he tries a third time. 

When I sit in the kitchen at the women’s conference with my sister Mai.  We sit and chat, working alongside each other.  I cut ignames with a small, dull machete, hacking right through the center without fear of cutting myself.  I forget that there was once a time that my French couldn’t keep up with the small talk and I had no idea what to do with an igname. 

When I hold an adorable 1-year-old little boy, and after his mother sees that he smiles and laughs when I make him dance, we decide that he’ll marry my first daughter.  From then on out, I call him “mon beau” (short for my son in law).  Joking about arranged marriage no longer takes me by surprise.

When I lay in bed next to my sister, talking about how hard it will be to say goodbye.  She tells me she has “chicken flesh.. no, goose flesh”.  I laugh so hard, and ask, “do you mean goose bumps?”  She’s learning English.

When these moments happen, I’m reminded of how much I love this country and these people.  I praise God for what He’s blessed me with here.   I’m full of joy overflowing.  I know that I’m part of something.  It’s something bigger than myself, something that I couldn’t dream up on my own.  It’s just that good.

Check out these photos from the women's conference last week!

Florence and I - I mentioned her a few blogs ago.
Dancing to the balafone.  This looks pretty akward in still form.
And again

Jess and I
Madame Clana (Silvie) and Madame Philippe (Mimi)
Getting ready for the march around town Saturday morning

This is what 1,100 women looks like, marching across Bouake
The five person marching band that kept us dancing the whole way
Lea and I

With Ephraim, "mon petit mari".