Saturday, July 12, 2008

Africa...some final thoughts

We flew out of Malawi on Wednesday, July 9, 2008 and flew first to Nairobi, Kenya. After a 12-hour layover we flew to London, then Chicago, then finally to Los Angeles. We arrived home in Fresno on Friday, July 11 at about 4:00 in the afternoon where we were greeted by a throng of family members and supporters. It was good to be home.

I wanted to share some of the general impressions and thoughts about Malawi, Africa. Malawi is called, "The Warm Heart Of Africa" because the people are very friendly and kind. That, in fact, was our experience. We were treated with so much respect and love. Wherever we went throngs of people followed us, touched us, and just simply wanted to be close to us. I pondered all the photos of Hollywood celebrities who travel to Africa and I've seen the photos showing the sea of people that follow the entertainment elite from place to place. Well, we are "nobodies", but still we were treated like rock stars simply because we were Americans. It sort of put all those celeb pics in perspective!

The fresh fruit in Malawi is the BEST I've ever tasted, although we didn't have it very often. The papayas are so sweet and juicy; the bananas are small, but very sweet. The avocadoes were as big as cantaloupes and amazingly delicious! No matter where we went we were surrounded by sugar cane, and we often saw people (even students in classrooms) chewing on the sweet treat. Every street, every path, every road, and every trail was littered with dried cane, and chewed up, spit out, dried up pulp.

The villagers truly seemed to support and defend one another. They worked together and were a loving example of community. I was humbled by their kindness and deep appreciation for the simplest of things. The population of one nearby village had been walking a mile and a half each way to the nearest water well, and they make that trip sometimes several times a day. They had to do this because the well in their village had been broken for a year and a half. It cost 15 American dollars, and about 30 minutes of time for our guys to repair that well! It doesn't take much to make a real difference in these communities.

We here in America seem to often think that everyone in the world wants to be an American, or that everyone wants to live here and have what we have. That isn't really true. The Malawians definitely struggle and they could use some help and support, but it takes SO LITTLE to improve on what they have. The appreciation runs so deep!

Everything about the trip was beautiful and fulfilling. It was only 4 short years ago that Giana was addicted to Meth, a runaway, and sleeping on the streets. I will forever be grateful for the gift of spending three weeks in Africa with my strong, confident, brave daughter. She is a living, breathing miracle and she's the strongest person I know.

After hearing Gia's testimony and then hearing what I went through to rescue and save Gia, one of the young women on the trip said, "Liz, you are the strongest woman I've ever met". In so many ways the trip was a time of emotional healing for me. A "friend" of mine told me a few years ago that she no longer felt comfortable being my friend because I was "too weak". For a long time I believed her. Isn't it amazing how we believe the negative, but dismiss the positive words of encouragement spoken to us? I've had to walk through unimaginable trauma and grief, but I am still here. I have NOT always handled the stress well, and I've lost big chunks of my heart and soul, but I am still here. I've survived things that have destroyed many a human being and I need to trust in my strength.

I shared in one of the earlier blogs about the spiritual warfare that went on in Africa. The warfare is very subtle here in America, but it is often obvious and in your face in Africa. The team spent time before and during the trip talking openly about how Satan might attack, and John was transparent in his struggle, and in his faith. While the guys were visited by an evil physical presence, Satan's attack on me was way less obvious. My attacks came in the way of fear, bad dreams about my children, and painful words from my past. In the quiet of the African nights, the words from my past held wild parties in my head.

So, this is what I learned and know... God hates sin and He hates gossip and lies both about and among His people. If you defend gossip or make excuses for it, you are going against God. Being imperfect makes you human; defending sin makes you an enemy of God. If you aren't a Christian, I'm not talking to you here. I know and love many non-Christians and I have a great deal of respect for your unabashed honesty. However, if you claim to be a Christian then God holds you to a place of high accountability. Do not defend gossip ("you can't stop people from talking") and do not defend sin. It is our responsibility to hold one another accountable. We do, however, need to not judge someone just because they "bug us", but rather we need to be sure that we are addressing real sin. If God hates it, why do we defend it or make excuses for it?

I can’t wait to go back to Africa. The warm heart of Africa holds a piece of my heart. Thank you John Richardson and Northwest Church for the incredible gift of ministering beside my daughter for a few weeks during the Summer of 2008.

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