When You Talk to an Honest Kid

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There’s something strangely magical about traveling alone. Maybe it’s because of the sense of independence I feel. Maybe it’s because of the alone time I enjoy. Or maybe it’s the fact that the experiences I’m gaining are solely mine to cherish until I choose to share them.

I want to tell you about the honest little girl that I sat behind on my flight yesterday. Her name is Andrea.

I settled into my seat and immediately took out my book. No wifi, no cell phone, and no one to interrupt me – it was perfect. All of the sudden a little head appeared in that crack between the seat and the window to say hi. I unhurriedly peeled my eyes off the pages of my book to look up at the kid. Her big eyes and sincere grin directed towards me practically forced me to return the hello. I dropped my head back into my book, but could still feel her stare.

Slightly annoyed, I looked back up at her with an insincere smile. She stared at me for a second and then said,

“My dad died, so we might see him while we’re up here.”

I was so taken aback by her words that I could hardly hide my puzzled expression. She then kindly reached back to open my window-shade so I could look out with her.

“Do you think we’ll see him?” She asked.

“I hope so,” I answered.

She paused for a moment, looked back out the window and said,

“Me too. He might be in that cloud.”

We spent the next few moments looking out of the window. We were looking for her dad. Once I realized what I was doing, I turned my head away and back to my book. In that moment, I had child-like faith. In that moment, I forgot the emotional pain that comes with death. And in that moment, I was invited into this kid’s feeling of hope.

I pulled out my notebook to write down the details of what had just transpired when she interrupted me again to ask me what I was doing. I told her I was writing.

“Can I borrow your pen? She asked.

“…..sure,” I said.

I gave her my pen and tore out a sheet of paper from my notebook. She disappeared into her massive seat, and I waited for her to appear in that crack once again. Her little hand appeared holding the paper, and once I grabbed it, her head popped in to see my reaction. The words on the paper read, “Can we be BFF’s? Please say YES or NO. Circle a awenser.” I sat laughing quietly to myself as she passed back my pen, expecting an answer. I circled yes and handed the note back to her.

The rest of the flight, we chatted about Taylor Swift, dogs, and our homes until her mom told her to leave me alone and stop annoying me.

This little girl’s honesty showed me what it’s like to be hopeful when life is tough. It reminded me how easy it is to make new BFF’s. It encouraged me to start each day full of joy and hope.

I will forever cherish the moments of looking for your dad out of our airplane windows. Andrea, I know your dad would be so proud of you.

When You Face Your Fear of Public Speaking

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Learn more about this photo at http://www.zanaafrica.org/

I hate public speaking. Like I’d rather run 10 miles or eat an entire jar of pickles than stand in front of people and speak. I don’t know what it is, but the moment I get up in front of a group, I freeze. Well, actually I start sweating and my voice sounds like I’m riding a wooden roller coaster. It’s actually quite pitiful. The only thing worse than public speaking, I’ve discovered, is public speaking on the spot.

When I was invited to observe a group of nonprofit workers facilitate a “Pad-Giveaway Day,” I assumed observing would be my only role. Lesson learned: don’t assume things. Within moments of my visit, the guest was invited to share a few words with the girls. We all sat there awkwardly waiting for the guest to stand up and share. NO! When I realized that I was the guest everyone was waiting on, I wanted to play dead. I hesitantly stood up and began moving my mouth attempting to form words. Pretty sure Jesus put words right on my tongue because I can only remember the sheer terror that came over me when tons of silent eyes were fixated on me.

My moment of fame passed (praise God), and James, the man of the hour, took over. Side note: James travels around Kenya building relationships with girls and boys in school and acts as a positive mentor in their lives. It’s really incredible seeing him interact and tackle some “awkward” subjects that most people pretend don’t exist until they have to. You can check out his organization here. The topic of discussion today was Role Models.

“Who is your role model?”

I was expecting answers like, “my mom,” or “my sister,” when James asked that question to a classroom full of 13 and 14 year-old girls. A girl near the middle of the room raised her hand, and once acknowledged, stood up and told the class her answer.

“Julie is my role model.”

“Why?” James asked.

“Because she traveled here from the States to bring us pads.”

Are you kidding me?! That was the last thing I was expecting to hear when James asked that question. Her words were so sweet and so sincere, but I couldn’t help but feel frustrated by them. How can I be her role model? I don’t even know her name. I was nothing more than a nameless visitor prior to my little speech.

For the rest of the day I thought about role models. I thought about how I didn’t want to be a role model because even on my best day, I’m still a messed up sinner. I thought about how badly I wanted these girls to know Jesus and imitate his life, not mine. All this internal conflict because I had to give a speech to a room full of strangers.

Jesus as a role model. I think I’ve glamorized what that looks like to imitate Jesus, but in reality, there’s nothing glamorous about it. He did things that made people uncomfortable. He preached a message that offended many. He loved and loves a lot of people that are really hard to love. Like me. I’m a messed up sinner, but Christ loves me anyway. I’m constantly putting things before Christ, yet he pursues me like I’m the only living being on this planet. I’m incapable of public speaking, but he uses my weaknesses for his greater purpose.

That’s pretty amazing.

And you know what else is amazing? That Christ in you and in me is worth imitating. Yes, Jesus is my role model. But so are my family, friends, professors and bosses. That’s because the Jesus in them makes them worth imitating.

Face your fears, friends. Because even when you face them pathetically (like I did), God still shows you something gold.

When You Walk through a Slum in the Rain

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Yesterday we walked through Kibera Slum…in the pouring rain.

In that sort of situation, I have to consciously decide to suppress any emotions I may be feeling. So I turned off my emotion switch and trudged through the muddy slum, slipping at every other step. No one else was walking through the slum..just our small World Next Door team of five white people (mzungus). I honestly just wanted to cry the whole walk to Tumaini Church (a small church in Kibera that WND is partnered with). I wanted to cry, I felt sick, tired and overwhelmed with anger and sadness at the same time.

When we got close to Tumaini Church, Fred had all of the children of Hope Academy waiting to greet us..literally standing as a crowd watching the 5 mzungus attempt to walk up a muddy hill. Right as we reached the top, one of the interns slipped and fell. Laughter from the crowd. I don’t blame them..we looked ridiculous with our rain coats over our bags giving us hunch backs and belly bumps. At that moment, something switched in me and although I appeared to be laughing along with the children, I had to fight back the tears. We entered Fred’s small office, and talked about his ministry. He’s inspiring. Something he said stuck with me. “The children are really happy. They have a place to play, so they are genuinely happy.” While I walked through that slum seeing and thinking about all of the brokenness and nastiness (for lack of a better word), I missed the hope. Fred reminded me that Jesus is in Kibera and Jesus is changing lives in Kibera. (Stay connected with WND’s intern Joe this summer to hear more about this ministry in Kibera, as Joe will be interning with Fred and even living in Kibera for a week!)

After our visit with Fred, we had to head back to our home before it got dark. The rain had stopped so there were many more people walking through the slum. As we walked, many children would see us, smile, and looking us in the eye would say, “How are you?” in their best English. The entire time we were in Kibera, I realized that I only interacted with children (minus Fred). Even saying interacted is a stretch, as we just exchanged smiles and I answered their “How are you?” with “Mzuri,” meaning “fine.”

Reflecting back on my short experience in Kibera, I couldn’t help but think about the children. Why were they the only ones who looked the wazungu in the eye and spoke to us? Why did they so openly receive us?

Luke 18:16 says, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

This passage took on a whole new meaning after visiting Kibera. I undoubtedly felt received by the children, and rejected by many adults. What is different? Maybe it’s because the adults have experienced the pains of life. Or maybe it is because they have legitimate reasons not to trust the strangers walking through their home. Even though I know my intentions were pure in visiting Kibera, they did not. They may have seen me as a threat because it was so painfully obvious that I didn’t belong.

How often do I do that to Jesus? How often do I see him in my slum and feel threatened by his presence? Do I see him and sometimes think that he doesn’t belong? I need to receive Jesus’ presence in my life like a child receives. I need to not look away from the kingdom, but embrace it. I need to look Jesus in the eye and greet him, even if He is speaking a language I do not fully understand.