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.