thoughts & reflections
Whether I'm sharing what God is teaching me from my home base, or from some other part of this beautiful globe, thanks for taking the time to journey with me.
“What do you do when you fall in love with a place an ocean away, and every fiber within you is telling you to stay? What do you do when you learn to love the people in that place? When they stop being faces and start having names? What do you do when you then have to look them in the eye and tell them that you have to leave and this moment is goodbye?"
When I wrote this I was sitting in my room in Kitwe, Zambia. Tonight I’m sitting in my room in Kitchener, Canada, asking myself the same questions. I don’t know how to handle falling in love with a destination 12,480 km away, which makes it really hard for me to understand all the feelings that come along with that. I am realizing that I still have so much to process from my time in Africa, so yesterday I cracked open my Africa journal and allowed myself to just miss it all and be sad.
I have been silent on my blog for a while, but today I have decided to share excerpts from my Africa entries because they open a window to my experiences, thoughts, and emotions in a very raw way. I hope that these paragraphs will help you understand me just a little better, and that you will be able to relate somehow and perhaps revisit some memories that you still need to process or remember.
(05.25.17) This morning I woke up at 5:40 after a restlessness night, showered, hugged my beloved Mom and sisters goodbye for the next 7.5 weeks, and headed to the airport with Dad. As we approached knots formed in my stomach and anxiety began to rise, because this is it: this is the day I have been praying for, waiting for, and saving for, for so very long. Before I knew it I was boarding, and the engines were roaring for take off. So I clutched the green pillow I had been given by the flight attendant, and held my breath as the wheels left the ground.
(05.29.2017) At 7am sharp Dennis picked me up to take me to school for the first time. When I arrived the kids were standing in assembly practicing a song to sing to me as a welcome. As I stood there with my instant coffee I almost didn’t have words. I feel so humbled that God let me come here, and that people along the way cared enough to help make this dream a reality.
(06.2.2017) 7 days ago I stood outside Ndola airport wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into, but here I am 7 days later still alive and well. In this weird way I feel like this is a second home that I am revisiting. This is just like what happened in Brazil: a strange culture suddenly becomes familiar, an unfamiliar family suddenly becomes like my own family, and a distant land suddenly holds my heart and changes me forever. This is what is happening with each bumpy drive, each exchanged smile, and each hand reaching for mine. A new home, right here in Kitwe Zambia, 7,755 miles away from everything that has ever been familiar.
(06.15.2017) Today was a good day, even though it went nothing like I expected. I woke up half an hour late because my newly fixed iPhone (yay!!) was reset to Kitchener time, and I didn’t think about that when I set my alarm last night. I got to school in good time, only to find out from Grade 6 that today doesn’t work for them to take pictures. With not much to do, I found myself out on the field with Stacey where she was directing football (soccer). She told me that I should help out the girls team so I ran to the office, changed into pants, and before I knew it I was a forward on the girls team running in my trusty Target sandals. We didn’t win, and after half time I thought I was going to collapse, but in the end I am so glad that I got dirty and made some memories.
(06.30--07.1.2017) I never want to forget my first real glimpse of Victoria Falls or the thunder in my ears as the millions of gallons of water tumbled over the cliff in all its glory. I don’t want to forget running across the bridge and getting absolutely soaked, or the smiles on our faces when we reached the other side. I don’t want to forget hiking down the gorge and the view that we found once down there. Don’t forget sitting on that rock and just taking it all in with awe and wonder. Don’t forget drinking your coffee by the Zambezi River after seeing elephants, zebras, and giraffes. Don’t forget getting strapped into a harness and zip-lining across the gorge from Zambia to Zimbabwe and the excitement of flying across that space.
(07.12.2017) My heart is so full yet so sad. I am sad because today the students were mellow and withdrawn because I only have a few days left. They clung to me, they told me they loved me and would miss me. Then Mapalo asked me, “Ashley, why is it that the people we love must leave us?” And that killed me, because she has given me her heart, I have accepted it, and now I’m leaving indefinitely. She trusts me, and now I am falling off the face of the earth. For all she knows I will never come back again. How do I answer her?
(07.14.2017) Goodbye hurts, but I am glad that it does. Like I told some teachers earlier, I would rather build real relationships and hurt more, than be content with surface level interactions to protect myself. I’m blessed by this pain, because with every heartache I’m reminded of how thankful I am that I have so many people to love and be loved by.
(07.15.2017) It’s over. The goodbyes were said, the baggage was checked, and flight 871 to Addis Ababa left with me on it. It was hard to leave. As we approached the airport my stomach tightened and dread filled me. I hated hugging my newfound family goodbye, and as we embraced tears slipped down my cheek.
So now this chapter has come to a close. I don’t know when I will come back but I will love you forever Africa, thank you for treating me better than I deserve and for changing me more than I now know. There truly is freedom in surrender.
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand...there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…that have taken hold.” –JRR Tolkien
Today marks three weeks since I left Zambia to come back home, and even though I have so much to say I have felt at a loss for words. I have been avoiding blogging because quite simply I don’t know how to express the things I have been feeling lately. But then I heard this quote, and it gave me the motivation I needed to just sit down and start writing, so here I am.
This quote is part of one of the ending scenes of The Lord of the Rings. The setting is Frodo’s study: he has returned from his mission of destroying the ring, and now he is sitting at his desk finishing the book his Uncle had started years ago. And as I watched this ending scene and heard the quote, I felt like I could connect with it because I have been asking myself the same question lately…how do you pick up the threads of an old life—how do you ever move on—when you know that there is no going back? But something that I am learning, is that it is OK to not know how to pick up the threads, which right now means that it’s OK to have many emotions all raging at once. I’m allowed to miss Zambia like crazy while still being thankful that I’m in Canada. I’m not a calloused person for enjoying the comforts of home, and I’m not a dramatic person for hating how we as North American’s take so much for granted.
I am also learning that it is OK to not want to move on. It’s OK to not want to go back to the way things were. Because the truth is my experiences in Zambia (the people I met, the things I saw, the conversations I had), all changed me for the better. So I don’t want my coming home to be me going back, because that would be a regression. I want all of those experiences to impact and change me long term: To budget better so I can give more funds to the school. To set aside time so I can pray for the children. To live my life in a way that isn’t excessive or wasteful—to not forget the realities that I witnessed just a few weeks ago.
So how do you pick up the threads of an old life? I don’t know. Maybe you don’t. Maybe those threads stay where they are and God starts weaving a new part of the tapestry altogether with fresh colours, and in the end both the old and the new will connect into a beautiful picture that I just can’t see now.
I’m three weeks into my stay here, and I am finally remembering a bunch of the kids names now. There is a friendship established—every day I can expect them to come running and we’ll sit together and talk. They continue to teach me Bemba, various handshakes, and they keep trying to get me to dance despite how often I tell them I am a terrible dancer. On Thursday the Grades 5-7 had a Boys vs Girls soccer game, and somehow I ended up in the middle of the field as a forward for the girls. I never want to forget that afternoon: chasing after the ball in the hot African sun, gasping for air and laughing with the other girls by my side.
Friday was a Teachers vs Students netball game for girls and soccer game for boys, which was also a lot of fun. Us teachers won the netball game, but the students beat the teachers in the soccer game. I must say I was very impressed, these kids have football in their blood.
With every day that passes I have this hunger to know these kids—past the handshakes and the Bemba lessons. I want to know where they live, what they do when they get home from school, how they spend their weekends. I want to know their biggest dreams and their deepest fears. But the other night as I told God that, I had to stop and reevaluate whether or not that’s really true. Do I really want to confront their realities? Face the shack they call home? Swallow the fact that some nights they don’t have supper? Acknowledge that some of the very girls that hold my hands and pet my hair, face abuse and live in fear? It's ugly, it's uncomfortable, and it's convicting. But the fact is that ignoring these realities as a child of God, is sin.
And then I had to ask God, what hurts Him more: hearing his precious children crying out for help, or having his chosen saints ignore Him when He calls us to help?
There are a lot of questions I have, and lots of things that I don’t know, but what I do know is that God takes our brokenness aside and makes it beautiful. I know that from the ashes beauty will somehow rise. That no matter how many pieces a child’s life has shattered into, God is a good Father who’s heart is to restore. I know that He wants them to succeed far more than I could ever hope to. I know that He has an individual plan for each child. I also know that His plans for these children involve us, and closer to home, me. My time. My money. My commitment. My prayers. How am I really handling the responsibility I have been given as a child of God to be His hands and feet?
Today marks 2 weeks since I arrived in Zambia, which is crazy. On one hand I feel like it was just yesterday, but at the same time I feel like I’ve been here forever in the best way possible. My mornings are spent collecting information for bios and photographing the children, but when the lunch bell rings I find myself in the middle of a sea of children trying to touch my hair or teach me Bemba. And in every moment of all this my heart keeps getting fuller and fuller, and with each hand reaching for mine I feel my heart growing more entangled with the souls I’m surrounded by.
While all of this is beautiful, there have also been some not so glamourous moments. Yesterday morning my phone fell on the gravel at school and shattered, my shower pressure is almost non existent, and last night there was a rat in my kitchen. But through this God is teaching me that these things are all OK. It’s OK to not have a phone for a week until it gets fixed. It’s OK to have to not have a steady water pressure in the shower. It’s OK to cook in a kitchen that just had a rat run through it. It’s all OK.
Today as I stood outside with some Grade 2 girls, one of them lifted up my hands and began to count my fingers, to check if I had 5 just like her. They pressed my nails to see how they turned white under the pressure, and took turns holding my hands. As I stood there in the middle of this I talked with their teacher, and she explained to me that for many of these kids, I am one of the first white people they have ever been in close contact with. Even though there are different ethnicities in Kitwe, these kids from the Compound almost never enter the city, therefore being unexposed to anyone outside of the Compound or school. It makes my heart sad that things are this way. It makes me sad that many of them have to find their own food over the weekend. That every day they wear the same ratty sweatshirt, because it’s the only sweatshirt they have. But more than sadness, I feel joy. Because these children are not forgotten or abandoned. Not only is Lifesong For Orphans speaking out for them and preparing them for their future through the education they provide, but God Himself is their defender, warrior, and Father.
All in all, these past 2 weeks have been amazing. I am so thankful for how smooth my adjustment has been to life in Africa, and I can’t wait to see what else God does during my stay here!
On Thursday at 11:00am Ethiopian Airlines flight 503 left for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with me on it. The engines roared, the wheels propelled us forward, and before I knew it we were airborne, Toronto falling farther and farther behind.
My trip went smoothly, and contrary to what I expected, Addis Ababa was actually my favorite part of the whole thing. In the midst of all the confusion and chaos the airport held, I found myself sitting on the dusty floor of my gate just relaxing and taking it all in. I never felt unsafe, never felt anxious, never even felt out of place. The only way I can explain it is that there was a firm peace upon me, and I know that it is because of all of the prayers being sent my way.
Friday afternoon I arrived in Ndola, Zambia where Delic’s picked me up and we drove home to Kitwe.
Over the weekend I settled in and adjusted to the time change, and today I finally got to go to the school. My heart was so full as I walked up to general assembly to hear the students singing a welcome song they had prepared for me…they sure know how to give a warm welcome.
I ended up teaching a preschool class, and while it definitely held its’ challenges (especially since they don’t know much English yet) I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to get this opportunity. I love how they reach up to feel my hair, love how they all want to hold my hand or high-five me. I can’t wait to spend every day at the school interacting with the kids whether it be as a teacher, photographer, or just as a friend.
I can’t help but think of myself just a week ago: preparing for the trip with so much excitement yet so much anxiety all at the same time. How would the trip go? What’s the culture like? How will I like where I’m going to stay? Will I get along with the people? But as the trip got closer and closer, so did God. I felt Him, I knew His peace in a way like never before, and instead of fear or anxiety I began to feel so incredibly humbled and thankful that the God who parts the seas and calms the storms cared enough to give me the dream of my heart. Cared enough to place this desire in me so long ago, and to prepare me for this trip before I knew it would ever be a reality. He is good, and I am so excited to see how He works in and through me in the weeks to come right here, in Kitwe, Zambia.
“Though I can’t see what’s in front of me, still I will trust You.” –Steady Heart, Steffany Gretzinger
I wish I was as brave, independent, and trusting as some people seem to think I am, but the truth is I’m not. Just because I am traveling solo, and spending 2 months in a far away country I have never been to doesn’t mean that I am brave. I’m really not, and that’s OK. God hasn’t called me to be brave, He has called me to be obedient.
When I look at my own little story, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and unable. But when I look at His story I feel confident, thankful, and excited. Any fears I once had fade away and the joy begins to overflow, because I am going to Zambia! How awesome is my God, to plant this dream in my heart so long ago and now bring it to life?!
In 3 days I will be on a plane carrying me far away (Toronto --> Ethiopia --> the Congo -->Zambia) and while the anxieties and fears that I feel are real when I think of that, so is the excitement and joy that also floods my soul. My Father holds both the future and my hand, and so with confidence I will walk forward knowing that His steady heart will lead my heart on, through the fear and the excitement, through the anxiety and the joy.
So from Kitchener to Kitwe, here I come!
For years I have prayed, waited, and dreamt of the day when I would embark on a journey to a far away country to serve people I don’t yet know, and on June 4, 2013 while I was asking God what He wanted me to do, He told me: “Go to Africa.” Since that day I have been confident that one day this call would be fulfilled, and now here I am 4 years later, leaving for Zambia in just 3 short weeks.
I have experienced all the emotions…overwhelming excitement, then sudden panic, then doubts, insecurities, and then excitement again. Not too long ago I was going through a panic stage, and as I sat on my bed telling my Father all of my fears, He gave me a beautiful image in my mind: I saw a little girl walking through the Ethiopian Airport with a man so tall I couldn’t even see his head. He was her father. He wore a crisp suit, and every person they passed looked at them as if they knew that this man had all power and deserved all respect. If the little girl had walked alone she would have been incredibly vulnerable, but because she walked holding her father’s hand, she was perfectly safe. “That’s me and you.” He whispered in my ear. “Is the promise of my presence not enough?”
All anxieties were quieted in that moment, because I was reminded of the reality that where I go, He goes. I am not traveling alone, I am not staying alone, I am not serving alone. I could spend my time worrying about all the possible outcomes, but that will only leave me more fearful than before. Instead I want to claim what I know: that He is faithful, and good, and the promises He makes stand true. My Father who has called me to go, will go with me, and that promise of His presence is enough.
I am so excited to announce that as of May 25 I will be going to serve at the Harmony Community School in Kitwe, Zambia, for close to 2 months! During my stay I will be photographing all the needed sponsorship and school pictures, as well as assisting teachers in the classrooms. This has been a life long dream of mine, and I am so thankful that God has opened the doors to make this dream become a reality.
On Thursday I was running some errands, and as I approached a red light where I was going to turn left, I noticed a lady standing on the median with a cardboard sign, asking for money. My natural response is always to avoid eye contact and get in the farthest lane possible, so that’s exactly what I did. I got into the farther left turn lane, looked straight ahead, and quickly accelerated when the light turned green. As I passed her, a feeling of conviction came over me…a conviction that I should have stopped. I drove away thinking: I should have stopped, but it’s too late now. Then, I totally could have offered to buy her some lunch…I have a really open afternoon too…but I’m already getting on the highway now.
But the conviction got stronger, and instead of making excuses for myself, I started asking for forgiveness. I’m sorry God, I know I should have done something, help me to next time.
But as the words came out of my mouth, I felt so frustrated with myself. Frustrated because I’m tired of saying sorry. I’m tired of asking God to open opportunities and then ignoring them when He sends them. I’m all talk, and I hate that.
Repentance in Greek translates to “a change of mind.” If I am stuck in a perpetual state of saying sorry, something is wrong. My repentance isn’t sincere—my mind isn’t changing.
So on Thursday as I drove away from the lady with the cardboard sign, I realized that I need to stop saying sorry, and start changing my mind, beginning with turning around and asking this woman out to lunch.
I am sharing this because I want to encourage you to not avoid eye contact, and to not get into the farthest lane like I do. Don’t dismiss His call with excuses and don’t stay in a state of saying sorry. Please stop, and if you already passed the opportunity He presented, turn around. Thursday really opened my eyes to the fact that I want to be evidence of His pursuit to a world in need. Not because I have much to offer, but because I have been offered much. Not because I’m incredibly loving but because I have been incredibly loved. Not because I have the capacity to care but because I have been cared for in a capacity I can’t even fully grasp.
I want to be that evidence because when I was the lady on the median with a crumpled cardboard sign, He didn’t just get back on the highway, He MADE a highway so He could come take me out to lunch. That is the reckless, committed, persistent, pursuit I have experienced, and I want to be credible evidence of that.
"I'd rather die whispering Your Name,