So You Hear It From Me

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The Ouibangi River. Impfondo, Congo 2013

I resigned from Mercy Ships today. My last day is December 21 –  the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year.

Am I out of my mind?

Maybe.

I’m leaving because I have books to write and friends to help and some wrestling to do with God. Not necessarily in that order.

This feels both brave and crazy, but here’s something I know: You can’t steer a horse who won’t move his feet. You must first drive him on.

I too have to walk on, even, and perhaps especially, when the path is hazy and I’m a little nervous. Following Jesus requires forward motion, and at the moment, that’s what I lack.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not afraid to step off this cool platform though.

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Tanya. Jenny. Stace. Haiti. July 2014

The opportunities I’ve had with Mercy Ships are unlike anything else. I’ve watched fireflies in Congo and brought 50 orphans to the ship for Easter. I’ve worked with hundreds of incredible Jesus followers from all over the world, and invaded their privacy on a regular basis. I love that ship and her people so much it makes me ache, but as my friend Krissy says:

In the Kingdom of God, your best days are never behind you.

And that has to be true because the Lord Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is like leaven. The only thing leaven does is make things grow and rise.

What do you want to grow? What would you like to see rise in your own life? Think about it because the world needs you operating from that place. Like asap.

For me, it’s writing books and helping stoke the fire that is burning inside you. I want to push you toward your purpose in the Kingdom of God and see you for who you are becoming, not who you currently are. Then help you get there.

But to do it, I’ve got to be brave and walk on, away from my familiar. Put bluntly, I’ve got work to do. But how many times have I demurred because I was overwhelmed by the loss of whatever I had to leave behind? What opportunities did I miss because I, perhaps rightly, didn’t trust my own judgement.

The fact is, my judgment is limited and faulty, but His is perfect. I can’t imagine how I ever did anything brave or crazy without Jesus. It’s ironic that for most of my life I thought my big, broad reach would shrink under His authority, but when I finally submitted to Him, the opposite happened. When I humbled myself enough to follow Jesus, He led me places I never dreamed I’d go.

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Me and Mrs. Jones. Madagascar 2015

A friend of mine has pointed me to this scripture many times.

Enlarge the place of your tent; Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; Lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs, for you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities, says the Prophet Isaiah.

So that’s what I’m doing.

As long as I stay close – abiding, letting his sap run through my veins, I can walk on, trusting and following the Good Shepherd through what may be green pastures or the valley of the shadow of death. Who knows really?

Want to come along?

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The Esther Project Announcement

One thing we worried about in announcing to the girls at Akany Avoko that they were going to the ship for Easter weekend was: “What about the 90 or so other kids who won’t go anywhere?” The last thing orphaned, abandoned and abused kids need is exclusion.

Last week director Lalasoa said to me: “Guess what?! You’re not going to believe this. Another organization has invited the remaining kids on a trip to Antisrabe after Easter. So everybody gets to go somewhere.”

Lalasoa said that invitation came out of nowhere. And that, my friends, is exactly the sort of thing Jesus does. You just have to get yourself into an impossible situation first. 

So all week Lalasoa baited the kids with a “surprise announcement.” My pal Mampionona and her buddies kept trying to wheedle it out of me, but I just pretended not to understand their French – which is not hard for me to do.

 

This is her wheedling look.

 

On Friday Lalasoa got all the kids in a room for the big announcement. She started with the little ones and had them all stand up one by one. When they were all standing, she told them they were going away for the weekend.

Chaos.

Then she did the same for the older girls, and here’s how that looked.


My team and I arrived yesterday on the Africa Mercy – the girls arrive Friday afternoon.  On the dock is a vinyl sign with our logo and a note written in Malagasy, welcoming the girls to the ship. It is signed by hundreds of Africa Mercy crew members.

Happy Easter indeed.

On Midair and Miracles

The hardest thing about needing a miracle, I think, is the position required to receive one. It looks something like this:

I promised I would write about the signs and wonders I’ve seen during the birth of The Esther Project, but it’s important to note, I never would have seen them had I not skied off the cliff in the first place.

You could say, any plan that requires divine intervention to prevent a spectacular failure, is foolish.  That’s true, unless you believe in a God who sends a murderer into Pharaoh’s court to demand the release of half a million Jewish slaves.

Moses argued with God about that. “Who me?”

I did the same when my partner at Mercy Ships kept suggesting the best way to impact a bunch of abused and abandoned girls in the worlds’ 6th poorest nation, was to bring them to the Africa Mercy. 

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“No way,” I said. “I’ve got no back up. It’s too wild. Too hard. Too much work. And how do I even ask for such a thing?”

Then my friend Joy reminded me of God talking back to Moses.

So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

“All right Lord, I’ll go,” I said. “Just so we’re clear though, I can’t make this happen, you have to.”

Roger that.

Anatomy of a Miracle – Seven Easy Steps.

Step One: Somebody, somewhere mentions the Africa Mercy recently got new mattresses, and the old ones are still stacked up in the warehouse.

And that warehouse, someone else adds, will be unused the weekend you might bring the girls down, because that happens to be Easter weekend – a fact you overlooked.

Step Two: The next day you discover, the bus you normally take to the port doesn’t run on Good Friday, so you have to come two days early, giving you enough time to say, dress up a warehouse with 50 mattresses on the floor.

Step Three: That same day, someone else mentions, in passing, the Chaplaincy department at Mercy Ships has chosen to focus this Easter season on the Old Testament Book of Esther.

And you remember, 18 months before, when you nicknamed your work with these girls,  “The Esther Project,” and the hair stands up on your neck. 

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Step Four: Soon after, you take a deep breath and hit send on a proposal to the management team of the Africa Mercy, explaining how you plan to, from the United States, organize a beach trip and two-night slumber party on the dock, next to the ship, for 50 Malagasy teenagers, who live ten hours away, don’t speak English and have never seen the ocean.

And you apologize for how crazy that sounds.

But before you hear back, the Captain lets it fly that he’d like to invite the girls up to the Bridge. You laugh because in your three years with Mercy Ships, you’ve never been invited to visit the Bridge.

Step Five: The management team mulls it over. There is yes. There is no. You cry in the parking lot. There is yes again. A small no. Then a green light. Your friends on board pull weight for you, and you cry about that too.

Step Six: You build a Go Fund Me page to beg $2500 for transport, pizza, ice cream and other teenage girl essentials. Typically, you’d rather take a beating then ask people for money, but you do it because the Lord is setting bushes on fire everywhere, and you dare not ignore a burning bush. Right Moses?

The first donation arrives 30 minutes later from a woman you don’t know named Ruth. It is for $500. You cry again.

Less than 22 hours later, the campaign is overfunded by 10% and you’re still scheduled to take an offering at Mercy Ships. So, two days later, you do and now you’re overfunded by 90% because your colleagues want to bring heaven to earth too.

Step Seven: With some of that extra money, Tom, your partner on the Africa Mercy, suggests you buy fresh coconuts with the tops lopped off and a straw stuck in them, so the girls can sip fresh coconut water with their toes in the sand.

And you remember the first donation you received when the Esther Project weekend was still a dream – a crisp twenty, sneakily left on your bathroom counter, with a note attached that read:

“Everyone needs the beach.”

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Friends listen….Jesus said follow me but he rarely led his followers to safe and manageable places. He led them into storms, fights, mobs, trials and demonic neighborhoods. He did it to make them at once fearless and hopelessly dependent on him.

I understand something now that I didn’t before about people who are humble after doing cool and selfless things to benefit other people.

It’s not them doing it.

It’s Jesus at work in them, making impossible things happen so nobody could reasonably claim credit. And Jesus does this most often when we are off the cliff and fully midair.

The Esther Project happens March 25th – March 27th, but we leave for midair Wednesday morning.
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