Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Africa Years


Just a little sampling of a picture from my third trip to Africa. 
Just wanted to wet your taste buds:-)

The materialism, the love for metal hoop earrings, the declaration of name brands that I boldly boasted of when complimented on a shirt, purse, or scarf began to sicken me.  I hated who I had become.  I bought into the lie that my identity would only be found in being “hot” from head to toe.   After nearing death through addiction at such a young age, I realized NONE of it mattered.  It didn’t matter if my toes were pedicured.  It didn’t matter if my shoes matched my purse or didn’t depending on the fad.  It didn’t matter how my hair was cut or even if I had six pack abs as long as I was healthy!  None of it mattered!  And yet, I was stuck.  I was stuck without an identity apart from those stupid hoop earrings.  I longed to be free.  I longed to know the simplicity of Christ.  How was I to change after feeding my mind and heart with this lie for so many years?  There were two simple answers in my 22 year old mind: remove the toe nail polish and go to Africa.

The story of how God brought me to Africa not once, not twice, but three times in a six year period can only be described by one word:  miracle.  I don’t come from a wealthy family of prominence.  I have never played nor won the lottery.  At first, I didn’t have any experience in financial management, my name was not and is still not followed by the letters CPA, nor did I have a savings account or ROTH IRA.   I didn’t know how to fundraise and there wasn’t a rich uncle in the picture.  My job paid well for my age and especially without a degree, but by no means was it enough to travel the world as often as I wanted! 

In the winter of 2003, I sat in my church still consumed with a longing to change and be changed in Africa.  I longed for freedom from the American Dream.  Africa was tugging at my heart and had been for over a year.  Now was the time.

 I looked at a friend sitting next to me and said, with visions of banana trees in my eyes, “I want to go to Africa.” 

Surprisingly, her response was an elated, “Me, too!” 

“I want to work with Orphans.” I implored.

“I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.” She responded.

“Let’s go work with orphans and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro!”  I declared.

“OK!” She responded.  God took notice of this one quick conversation.   He teaches in His bible that His eyes roam to and fro the earth searching for a heart that is seeking Him fully.  My friend and I were.  That night as we worshipped the Lord at our young adult’s church service, I knew in my Spirit that the Lord was sending me to Africa and I’d be gone for nearly a month, returning in time for school to begin again.  It was such a specific Word from the Lord that I shared it with a spiritual mentor of mine.  Her response: “If it is God, it will happen.”

The next day at school, the pulling of Africa remained heavy on my heart.  I sprawled on the couch in the lounge, looking at the ceiling with orphan children surrounding my heart.  Sighing, I said to anyone who would listen, “I want to go to Africa.”

Immediately, a voice piped up, “You can go with me.”

No, it wasn't the voice of the Lord; it was a young woman who was also studying Hi Tech Youth Ministry with me.

“Really?”  I questioned, almost blinking back shock that I had just heard the words.

“Yes, I’m going to Kenya for three weeks in July.  We’ll be back in time for school to start again.”

“How much does it cost?”

“$2800 and the deposit of $250 is due in two weeks.”

Since we were going on Christmas Break, I would be able to work extra to have just enough for the deposit.  When I told my other African-dreaming friend about the trip, she was on board, too.

Later that week, I walked through the halls of my church, speaking with Pastor Rick.  He was on fire for God and the leader of the Spiritual AA I was in called “Set Free.”  As I excitedly told him of all God was doing, sending me to Africa, I explained the ways I planned to fundraise.  He exhorted, “It sounds like you’re trying to answer your prayers on your own.  Just let God do it.”  He encouraged me with Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  I began praying harder and planning less.  I hung the verse on my computer at work to remind me of God’s promises.  I wrote letters describing my mission, and then left the results in God’s hands.  Money started coming in here and there from people hearing of the trip.  The first major gift was from a friend whose Uncle had passed away.  She gave me $700.  Another young lady handed me a card with $5 in it.  I was grateful for every gift.  While my mom was having friends and family over, an older, Jesus-loving Hippie couple gave me $25.  It slowly, but surely came pouring in as I asked the Lord to do what only He could do.  One particular gift that touched my heart was from a middle aged man in our church.  This was not a well-to-do man; in fact, he worked with the elderly, barely making above minimum wage.  He was not well-spoken; an awkward gentleman, but with a heart of gold, the gleam of Jesus in his eye.  He handed me an envelope with a $50 check in it.  There were people I had written, making well over six figure salaries that didn’t even respond, yet this humble man was giving out of such need.  It touches my heart every time I think of it and challenges me to give out of need or abundance.  After the first wave of money came in, the blessings started to trickle, leaving me in a faith crisis.  I still needed $1350.  I had sold about $200 in fundraising items already, but felt convicted that I was to wait on the Lord.  This was a major test of faith for me.  I sought God’s face hard, fasted, prayed, and waited. 

In the meantime, I made a trip to the aviary with my dad.  It was so good to have a clean, sober Dad.  I enjoyed being in nature with him, even if it was within a building.  As we walked through the Aviary, I admired the globes showing where each bird came from.  I slid my hand over the gold and black globe and prayed, “Lord, I’d love a globe.”  We continued our day, enjoying our daddy/daughter time.   Upon my return home, I found a black garbage bag sitting on our dining room table.   “That is so disgusting,” I thought, “who in their right mind leaves trash on the table.”  Mom walked in at that moment and said, “Dawny, that’s for you.  It’s from Philip,” the deacon at the Second Baptist Church in Carnegie.  I opened the garbage bag to find a globe.  I stood in awe of God, and sensed the Holy Spirit, “The same God that heard your cry for a globe will provide for you to go to Africa.”  At that moment Philip walked in with a huge smile, “Hi, Dawn!  Do you like that globe?  Someone was throwing it away and asked if I knew anyone that would like it and I thought of you.”  No one knew I prayed for a globe just hours earlier.  I shared with enthusiasm my excitement of what the Lord had done and Philip handed me an envelope.  On the outside was written, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His Glorious abundance in Christ Jesus.”  Inside was a fifty dollar check.

I continued to spend time in prayer while the deadline for final payment loomed.  To be honest, I was scared.  What if God doesn’t come through? What if I should have been fundraising this entire time? While in prayer, the Lord showed me a business owner that would be paying off my trip.  Was I hearing right?  Tony, the owner of Tennis Roofing was to pay off my Africa trip?  I prayed, “Lord, put it on his heart to pay for this trip, if this is from you.”  Over the next several weeks I continued to pray for Tony.  Early one Saturday morning, I woke up to a prompting from the Holy Spirit, “Go to Set Free class.  If not, you’ll miss your blessing.”  Upon arriving to class, I was met by several people I loved that had experienced freedom from addiction through Christ.  I smiled, reached my hand across the table and shook Tony’s  hand.  I silently prayed the entire class, well, I screamed prayers to God, “Tell Him to give me the money!  I needed it yesterday!” 

At the end of the class, Tony asked, “Dawn, how much more money do you need to go to Africa?” 

“$1300,” I answered. 

“See my wife tomorrow and she’ll give you a check.” 

I was blown away, “Thank you!” I shouted. 

“I kept sensing that I was to give you the money, but I wanted to make sure it was God.” 

I laughed saying, “I knew you were supposed to give me the money, too and I kept asking God to tell you if you were supposed to!” 

The next day, I met up with Rhonda who said, “How much do you need, $1500?” 

“No, $1300,” I replied, yet I took notice that the amount she offered was the exact amount I would have needed had I not fundraised.  Nothing is Impossible with God.