November Newsletter: Tanzania

Highlights from this month:
Women’s ministry in Mwanza, Tanzania
Climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro!
Next month: Church planting in Malawi
Women’s Ministry in Tanzania
The past month, we have been in Mwanza, Tanzania. On one of our first days in town, we were on a run through the area, and the Holy Spirit compelled us to stop and pray for a young woman lying on the street. It was amazing to see what God did with this simple act of obedience – read about this on my teammate Meghan’s blog  “To Breathe Out Holy.”
We lived in a small community on the suburbs of Mwanza, where our main ministry consisted of hut-to-hut visits. Just like the first disciples in Acts, we traveled from home to home, offering prayer to women and families and sharing Jesus’ love any way we could. And just like the first disciples, God showed up in mighty ways, answering our prayers with salvations, healings, and deliverances. Read more about this on my blog post entitled “The kingdom.”
Over time, Meghan and I began to develop a heart for the women in the community, and God birthed a desire in our hearts to see them dream with God again. We organized three meetings where we gave chance for women in that community to share their dreams and encourage one another in pursuing these dreams. At the end of the month, we even washed the women’s feet as a symbol of serving them and empowering them in the future God has for them.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
We had a few days off at the end of the month, so twelve of my squadmates and I organized a 5-day climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa and the world’s highest free-standing mountain. It was an incredible experience – both the hardest and most glorious thing that I have ever done. We had to hike to the summit (19,305 feet tall) at midnight, where we fought hypothermia, exhaustion, and incoherence due to the lack of oxygen. I documented our journeyhere – check it out to see some awesome photos!

Next Month: Church Planting in Malawi
Next month, we’re working with Harvesters International Ministries, where we will be traveling around the country of Malawi and assisting with planting churches. I’m really looking forward to this, as it will be fascinating to compare church planting in Africa with my experiences helping to plant Journey Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This month, I’ve just been overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness. He is here, speaking to us in the wind, the weather, the sky, the laughs, as well as the hardships. Our squad’s biggest prayer need continues to be health and safety as we travel through Africa. Many are continuing to battle malaria, typhoid, back pain, and other illnesses.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to let each of you know that I am truly thankful for you. Thank you for your continued prayers, encouragement and support. It makes all the difference – I truly couldn’t do it without you!

In Christ’s amazing love,

Kelly

The hardest thing I have ever done

was making it up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. And that’s saying a lot, because I’ve done a lot of tough workouts before, being an athlete for eleven years of my life and rowing at the pre-elite level.

Yet there was something about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro that topped every other thing that I have done. When you are doing a tough workout, you feel like you are dying physically. But when I was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, not only was physical exhaustion involved, but also the toughest of nature’s elements – extreme cold which made it so you couldn’t move, as well as high altitude which made it so you couldn’t breathe. The cold, exhaustion, and altitude combined to make you a little loopy, quite incoherent, and lose all motivation for going on. Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

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Having a few days off of ministry at the end of this month, thirteen people on our squad decided to take on this challenge of climbing to the top of Africa and the world’s highest standalone mountain. Although many peaks can be done in one shot, Mount Kilimanjaro takes multiple days in order to let your body to adjust to the high altitude – the summit is 19,341 feet tall. While the recommended length of time is six days, we chose to do it in five days, naturally.

The first day we started at the Park Headquarters (5,905 feet,) were treated to a delicious lunch, then trekked up the mountain to Mandara Hut (9,000 feet.)

Here is a photo of Katy and I, with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background:

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The next day we woke up and hiked to Horombo Hut (12,335 feet), and then the third day we hiked to Kibo Hut (15,518 feet).

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That night was the epic night, the night that made us say that hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro was the stupidest and yet most glorious thing any of us have ever done. I’ll give you the play-by-play:

11:01pm – Alarm goes off. Seriously? I don’t think I even slept. I wonder if it counts as a night’s sleep if you wake up at 11pm. Put on hiking clothes: Five layers on top, Four on bottom. Watch Charlie put underwear around his arms to keep them warm. Yes, we’re that desperate and underprepared. I wonder how badly I’m going to freeze.

11:35pm – African tea & ginger cookies. The hot water feels so good in my throat and stomach…Super thankful for the way that caffeinated tea wakes up my body.

11:50pm – Finish packing my pack. Really excited and nervous. Steal Matt’s idea of stuffing his down sleeping bag inside of his outer jacket to keep warm. Guides look at my jacket as if I am crazy and try to convince me not to wear my sleeping bag up the mountain. Wait for others outside.

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12:10am – Hold hands and pray for our journey. Take our first steps up the mountain. We’re really doing this. We’re really climbing the highest mountain in Africa. I concentrate on following the footsteps of the person in front of me. Step, step, step. Guides keep telling us, “Pole, pole” – slowly, slowly. Is it possible to walk any slower? I despise marching in a line like this.

12:34am – Hands feel like they are going to fall off. Guides help me put on my big gloves.  This is really hard. We have at least five more hours of this? I wish I could just get zapped to the top of the mountain.

12:45am – Water break. My gloved hands can’t undo my backpack, so the guides have to unzip it for me. Then I can’t unscrew the bottle, so they do that too. I feel completely, utterly helpless – I can’t even give myself water.

1:08am – Turn on my ipod: worship music – gotta love Will Reagan. Feeling really good. Energy rising within me. Take a deep breath, then sing along to the words “There is power in the name of Jesus.” Have to stop to breathe for a minute. Note to self: don’t sing songs at 18,000 feet altitude while hiking up a mountain.

1:39am – Thank you, God, for the full moon that is guiding our steps. It’s so light that we don’t even have to turn on our headlamps. Stunningly beautiful. But the moon also lights up the mountain behind us – it is so tall. It doesn’t even seem like we’ve made any progress. How am I ever going to make it?

2:07am – Water break. Get real cold. I see others keep going up the mountain, so I follow them. Realize it’s the wrong group so sit down on the hill and wait. I am alone and thirsty and yet can’t open my waterbottle. This sucks.

2:34am – Water break. Shivering. Sit down and don’t want to get up. All my body wants to do is rest. Dream of laying down and sleeping.

3:00am – Ipod battery runs out. Motivation is dwindling – Now you’re going to have to fill me up, God. Hear that Travis and Caleb are puking. See one of our guides stumble. Say a prayer for each of them.

3:34am – Moon goes behind the horizon. I can’t see anymore. Breeze picks up; getting frigidly cold. I notice Megan’s waterbottle has frozen solid. Whose idea was this? I wonder why I ever thought this was a good idea.

.4:00am – I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I feel like I’m dying. This was stupid, really stupid. Repeat “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in my head. It kind-of helps. Or does it?

4:48am – This is torture. How much money did I pay to do this? Someone says, “This is hell on earth” and I tend to agree…Everyone keeps asking how much farther we have to go and somehow the numbers keep increasing. I wonder how that is possible or if my mind is just not working anymore.

5:08am – Dizzy. Very dizzy. Stumbling. Thankful for my poles to help me so I don’t fall completely over. Walking, one foot in front of the other. Wanting nothing more than to stop and catch my breath…Then when we do stop, my body starts shivering and I want nothing more than to keep going. I can’t decide if I want to stop or go. Go or stop.

5:13am – Porters help me to get out my caramel/chocolate candy from my bag. Sugar tastes good in my mouth and gives me a little energy. How much longer!?!

5:37am – Faint blue in the horizon. That means that the sun is coming, which means warmth. Praise the Lord! Every few steps I look behind to the ever-changing colors, which diverts my attention from the pain inside and outside my body.

6:00pm – Porters say we have fifteen more minutes to the top of Gilman’s Point. We can do it! Then they lead us up, over, and through massive boulders. Seriously!?! It takes so much energy to pull your body up even one step. Yet we have to make it for the sunrise…

6:18am – Make it to the top of Gillman’s Point – hallelujah! The reddish orange clouds are so beautiful. The sun comes over the horizon, bathing everything in beautiful glorious light. I’ve never been so happy to see the sun. Just like Jesus – from dark to light. I feel like laughing and crying at the same time but my body can’t figure it out. I eat another piece of candy and leave some for the others.

6:30am – Have to pee but my fingers are so numb that I can’t undo the button on my pants. I have to ask one of our guides to help and somehow I don’t care how awkward it is.

6:43am – Set off for Uhuru Peak, the actual mountain summit. The guides say that our journey from here is relatively flat, thank goodness. Feeling a little better now.

7:18am – Who said that this was a flat walk? There are so many hills. Up, up, up. This place looks like Mars. My body wants to stop. I don’t care anymore. Can’t I just turn around now? P1030328 Stitch

7:49am – Others pass us coming down the mountain. They tell us, “Good job! You don’t have much longer.” I wonder how they can be so cheerful when I feel like crap.

8:08am – Make it to Uhuru Point. It’s the end but it doesn’t even matter anymore. Eat some peanuts. Give some to Ashley but she can’t figure out how to get them from her glove to her mouth. Try to smile for a picture but fail miserably

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8:45am – Start our way back down. Feel terrible and want nothing more than to feel better. Eat an apple at Gillman’s Point and stare at the massive cliff in front of us – We came up this whole way? Did last night really happen or was it just a terrible dream, a nightmare really?

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9:38am – Slide down the mountain “skiing” down the gravel slopes. Guides tell me to go “pole, pole” but I ignore them. The only thing on my mind is laying in my bed and sleeping

11:00am – Pull off my shoes. A layer of gravel pours out onto our floor. Crawl up into my bed and sleep…

1:00pm – Wake up. Have soup and fruit for lunch, then head back down the mountain. Walk for 2.5 hours, then sleep at Horombo Hut.

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All in all, we hiked for about fourteen hours that day. I’ve never been a part of something that was so paradoxical – It was miserable, and yet glorious. Tiring, yet life-giving. When you’re climbing, you want nothing more than to die, and yet afterwards you want to do it again. As we discussed our experiences, Bryan put it best: “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, yet worth every penny.”

I’m learning that there’s something about trials and hardships that is surprisingly addicting. Romans 5:3 says “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” When we engage in trials, in pushing ourselves beyond our limits, God does something in our hearts that does not leave us unchanged. Indeed, trials are God’s tools for molding us and building us into the people that He wants us to become. Some hardships are small and some are 19,000 feet tall, but when there is none of you left, you have no other options than to invite God into the equation.

Personally, I know that I couldn’t have made it up the mountain without Christ’s strength within me. Because when I was weak, He became strong. Yes, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was the hardest thing that I have ever done. But I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world.

Here’s the awesome video that my squadmate KJ made about our journey up Kilimanjaro:

WR Month 5: The Adventure from KJ Blair on Vimeo.

Dreaming with God

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

-Langston Hughes

This poem ran through my mind as our team sat on wooden benches, circled by about thirty African women. This month, our team had been going hut-to-hut to women in the villages, offering prayer and encouragement. In doing this, Megan and I began to gain a heart for the women, as many of them had stopped dreaming with God for His plans for their lives. Many felt “stuck” in the daily life of an African woman – eating, cleaning, and cooking for their families – and weren’t given the opportunity to pursue personal interests or ambitions. Although these women didn’t have much, I’m learning that poverty isn’t just necessarily a lack of material possessions, it’s also a mindset. Many of the women believed they didn’t have any way to affect their situation, which Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen defines as the distinguishing feature of poverty. Megan & I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to meet with women in this community to encourage them in their God-dreams.

After speaking with the pastor, he gave us three afternoons that we could meet with the women, which is how we ended up in the room that day. Megan and I had the big picture – we knew that we wanted to encourage women in our dreams – but we had no idea how exactly to do this. So we just prayed, wrote a brief outline, and were trusting that God would take care of the rest. When we were praying, God showed me a picture of the benches arranged in a circle to encourage community, rather than an us-versus-them mentality that we were there to preach at them or give them all the answers.

So, we showed up the first afternoon, set up the benches in a circle, and waited, not really knowing what to expect. To our surprise, about thirty women showed up. We began by sharing one of my favorite scriptures: Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.” For the first fifteen minutes, we gave each woman a pencil and paper, and encouraged them to ask God to show them the plans that He has for their lives. The Holy Spirit speaks in many ways, so we told them to write down any words, phrases, scriptures, or pictures that He showed them during the time of prayer. We then went around the circle and shared our God-dreams. It was amazing to hear each person share from their heart: dreams to get an education, to become a seamstress, even to start a store whose proceeds would help widows and orphans. One woman saw a vision of a bird tied to a pole, but she wasn’t sure what it meant. God gave me the interpretation that He wants us to take our dreams– which many times we have attached to a pole – and set them free. I also believe that the bird symbolized hope, just as the dove in Noah’s Ark symbolized hope for a better life, for a future. Megan then concluded our first day together by sharing about the three tools that you need to accomplish your dreams: A relationship with God, perseverance, and community.

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The second day, we gave more time for the remaining women to share their God-dreams. However, as the gathering went on, I noticed something different in the dreams that the women were sharing – many were focused on the lack (how much money they needed) rather than on God who provides all. Also, many of the dreams were self-centered, on me making enough money so I can live, rather than God-centered, on doing something to benefit His kingdom. I felt like a stronghold in this area was hopelessness…We spent a few minutes praying to overcome this. When God gives us a dream, it will happen, as long as we continue to seek Him, because He is God and what He says happens. Megan also shared about about our identity as women of Christ and what it means to walk out that identity.

Our last afternoon together, we met and talked about community: What is a community? What does a community do? What would it look like for this group of women to live in community?  I shared about how I believed that within this group of women existed everything that each person needs to accomplish their dream. But the biggest problem is that resources within a community are not effectively matched with the needs. One of the things that characterized the first church was their willingness to share with one another (Acts 2:42), but today we live in a very individualistic society. As we continued this discussion, each woman spent some time writing down their biggest needs to accomplish their vision, as well as their greatest skillsets that they bring to the community. We then went around the circle and shared these. As this happened, it was awesome to see how the community came together as they learned new things about one another. 

Megan felt led to end our time together by our team washing each woman’s feet. We felt led to do this as a symbol of empowerment, of commissioning them to live out the dreams that God has for them. As we placed their feet in the small water basins, some women had tears in their eyes and they expressed how they had never had anyone serve them in this way. The life of an African woman is a humble life of servitude; yet seldom do they get the opportunity to be served and cared for.

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I wish we would have had more time to meet and get to know each woman on a personal basis, but unfortunately our team had to leave to travel to Moshi. Despite this, many of the women seemed extremely encouraged by these gatherings. We established two of the women to continue leading this discussion as a continuation of the regular women’s Tuesday afternoon bible study. Our hope that this would be a time where women could continue to share their triumphs and hardships of pursuing their God-given dreams. We also left a small notebook describing this initiative for future World Race Teams, so they can continue to journal how this initiative builds and progresses.

In addition to this, Megan and I are planning to stay in contact with the women and support them in any way we can. However, we do feel that our role is not to provide financially. So many times westerners have seen needs within third-world nations, and then came in to rescue them and “save the day.” In reading the book When Helping Hurts, I’m discovering that many times we funnel money into causes, but unfortunately it actually hurts more than helps.

As these women continue to grow in their relationship with God, perservere amidst the trials, and serve others within the community, I believe there is nothing that will stop their dreams from becoming reality.

What about you? Have you asked God for His plans for your life? Will you take a moment today and dream with God?

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The Kingdom

“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’

-Jesus

I can just imagine the look on the disciples’ faces the first moment that Jesus told them this. “We have to do what!?!” might have crossed their minds. Jesus then went on to describe what this looks like:

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

Essentially, The disciples were to go and proclaim a kingdom that was greater than the world. A kingdom that breaks through evil. A kingdom that cures diseases. A kingdom that redeems things that sin has ruined.

Sometimes people think that Christianity is boring. But I believe that these people haven’t truly experienced the kingdom of God breaking forth. Because casting out demons and seeing people healed by the power of the Holy Spirit is anything but boring.

In Acts, the first disciples went out, declaring that the kingdom of heaven was near. It struck me that this is essentially what we have been doing this month as well – going hut-to-hut, offering prayer to women and families that we come across in this community. And just as Jesus has confirmed His message with signs and wonders when the first apostles went out, our team has been rocked to take part in healings and deliverances this month. I’ve found that my  western understanding of Christianity – where being a Christian means attending a one-hour church service on Sunday mornings – is being radically challenged. Here are three stories below.:

HEALED: MAMA SALOMA’S STORY

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One morning, two of the translators we work with took us to Stella, a woman who had just become a member of our church in January. She had a small business in which she planted fruits and vegetables and sold them to the community. God had been radically working in Stella’s life, and her main prayer request was for her children and husband to come to know Jesus. Her children were there playing in the dirt, and we were able to explain the gospel to them and pray with them. My teammate Katie McNeil, who is a talented worship leader, then led us in a few songs with her guitar. As we were singing, an elderly women slowly made her way out of the mud hut behind us. We found out that she was Stella’s mother, named Mama Saloma – she was very sick and had been bed-ridden for three days but came out when she heard us singing. Although we weren’t able to determine the exact type of sickness due to language difficulties, we knew that Jesus knew exactly what she needed.

As we laid hands and prayed for her, declaring healing over her body, a confidence in my spirit rose. “Thank you for healing Mama Saloma today, Jesus. In your name, Amen.”

The prayer ended and we opened our eyes. I asked her how she felt. “Mzuri,” she replied, which is Swahili for “good.” Good!?! I thought. How good was good?

As I was trying to determine how to communicate this, Mama Saloma then burst into song, singing and worshipping Jesus, praising our God who heals. Her face was filled with joy and peace. We sang together for a few minutes…

Her spontaneous worship had answered my question: Mama Saloma felt good, really good. God had healed her completely, and the translators were able to confirm this. She told us that she knew that God sent us to her that day to pray for her. Praise God that He is a good who heals!

SAVED: ATNUS’ STORYSnapshot 1 (11-18-2012 12-47 PM)

One afternoon, Megan and I went to purchase a bottle of soda at a small shop. It was SUPER hot and humid, so the only thing on our mind was a nice, cold soda. Unfortunately, the power was out…which you will find is a more-than-common occurrence in Africa. We went from neighborhood store to store, then finally came across one family-run store where they did have soda that was not lukewarm. A young man named Atnus was running the shop that day, and after we finished our sodas, he invited us into his yard to meet his family. As we stepped behind the gate, a delicious warm white roll with jelly was placed into our hands by Mama Modesta, We were invited to lunch at their house the following day, where we met the whole family and were served chicken, fish, rice, and cabbage, a true smorgasbord by African standards.

As conversation developed, they asked us what had brought us to their small community near Mwanza. We said we were missionaries from America and had come to share Jesus’ love with this community. They had been strong Catholic believers for years, but had many questions about faith, God, and what happens when we die… Over the next few days, we spent time visiting them – loving them, caring for them, and discussing the matters that were on their heart. Attnus, their 18-year-old son, was particularly interested in following Jesus; we asked him if he would like to pray and surrender his life to Jesus and he said yes!

That afternoon, I asked Attnus what he was going to do. When he replied, I thought he said something about washing his clothes. But then I realized that he said that all he wanted to do that afternoon was to be close with God. That truly warmed my heart. He said that after we prayed, he felt clean and holy as he had never felt before. I encouraged him to continue to draw close to Jesus every day of his life.

DELIVERED: TATU’S STORY

On our second day here, we came up to a small hut.. A young woman was outside of her hut, cooking with a pot on the coals. She invited us to sit down, and as conversation developed we asked her if there was anything she needed prayer for. Tatu said that her biggest concern was that demons came into her home and disturb her at night. We asked her if she ever went to church, and she told us that every time she went she would fall over when people prayed for her.

I wasn’t really sure what to think of this, as I’m the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about the demonic realm. I know that the bible talks about followers of Jesus casting out demons but had never experienced what this might look like firsthand. I’m thankful that God uses us in spite of our inadequacies and I said a quick prayer that the Holy Spirit would lead us. As we started praying, she started thrashing around, which is what some people called “manifesting a demon.” Jesus is the name above every name so as we prayed in Jesus’ name, anything that is not of Christ must leave. In the next minute, as we prayed for her, something in my spirit rose inside of me. I said loudly, “In the name of Jesus, I rebuke you and command you to come out!”

She slowly collapsed to the ground. After a minute, she came to. We asked her how she felt. She said she had a little headache, so we prayed against the headache and released God’s healing. Then she said she felt really good. Really peaceful and free.

The good news is that we were then able to lead her to Jesus and she gave her life to the one who had just set her free. I felt compelled to give Tatu a beaded necklace as to continually remind her of what God did for her that day. P1030069

Tatu started coming to church, was given a bible, and was connected with a mentor at the church to help her grow in her walk with God. I felt really good about how the church really empowered us to come alongside what God is already doing and further their disciple-making efforts.

Yes, Jesus sent his followers out to declare that the kingdom of heaven was near. A kingdom in which there is peace and freedom, where there are no demons and no sickness. Our role as followers of Jesus is to bring Christ’s kingdom near, down to earth by the power of prayer. Would you do something today to bring Christ’s kingdom near? Who knows how God might show up…\

Here’s a video that my teammate Megan made about our time in Tanzania:

 

Recipe: African Chapati

Our African friends have been cooking up some amazing meals for us…when we get served our meals, we never get as excited as when we see “CHAPATI!”

Chapati is basically the African version of a homemade tortilla. They are super simple to prepare and cheap to make, which make them a common component of the African cuisine. Here’s how you make them:

Ingredients:

  • 1 Kilo (2 pounds) flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Cooking oil

*Note that ingredients are approximate – the African women have been making Chapati since they were very young have a hard time converting the amounts to our American standards.

1. Mix the first three ingredients together in a large bowl.

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2. Add water until dough is only slightly sticky.

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3. Roll out dough on floured surface

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4. Put two teaspoonfulls of oil on the stove; then place the dough on top

5. Cook until lightly browned; then flip chapati over

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5. Serve with beans, sauce, or beef. Enjoy! P1020757

Hand-made: An exercise in discovering beauty

I’m not being arrogant when I say that I’ve gotten more compliments on my looks the past 24 hours than I have the first 27 years of my life. Nearly everyone I have talked to has said something about how they think I look beautiful. Why? Nope, not a makeover, nor a brand-new pair of jeans. Ironically, I had actually just gotten my head shaved…

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So why this drastic change in my looks? Two days ago, I had been spurred to action when one of my squadmates, Emily, had to leave to go home back to America. I felt so much compassion for her in my spirit that I wanted to shave my head to symbolize the freedom that God was going to release in her life. Cutting my hair has always felt so freeing to me, so off went my hair…

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What has surprised me the most is how God has used this decision to speak to me about my identity and set me free as well. As people told me that I was beautiful, I didn’t actually believe them. But God kept sending people in my midst to tell me this, to the point where I actually thought the rest of the squad must have a conspiracy going.

That night, at our girl’s night, our squad mom Rynette shared about the beauty we have in Christ as women. She talked about how in Genesis 2, men are “formed” from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7), but women are “hand-crafted” from the man’s rib (Genesis 2:22). Truly, women are made to display Christ’s beauty! As she prayed to close out the evening, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “Kelly, when people say that you are beautiful, it’s not just because of your hairstyle. You ARE beautiful – it’s how I’ve made you. Do you believe it?”

I sat there, stunned. Really, God? I realized that in my head I believed I was beautiful but somehow this didn’t translate to my heart. Throughout my upbringing, I had always been told that the most important thing was being beautiful on the inside…which is true, but over time I had come to completely disregard my outward appearance. When I really thought about it, there were are a number of things I disliked about myself: my height, broad shoulders, the large brown freckle on my cheek, and more.

Later that evening, as I discussed this with some of my friends, our squad leader Rachel said that I should ask God to show me the parts of me that He made most beautiful. What He told me rocked me!

  • God’s favorite part about me is my eyes…God made them green because when I talk to another person, it brings them life, and He put a yellow ring around my irises to symbolize God shining His light

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  • My shoulders are broad because they symbolize my fighting spirit; I’m a warrior for the Kingdom of God

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  • God has put a freckle on my right cheek to remind me that no one is perfect, so I shouldn’t try to be… This is so significant for me as I tend to be a perfectionist

And these are only a few of the many truths that set me free…I actually sat there praying for about an hour, asking God to speak to me about the way He created me, and to reveal His truth about my insecurities. I began to understand what God means when He says that we are hand-crafted, and how intentional we have been put together. Indeed, in Psalm 139 it says that God knit us together us in our mother’s womb and that every hair of ours is numbered. You are not an accident. The freckles on your cheek, the bump on your chin, your bony knees…did you know that God has a purpose for each of these things?

This time of prayer was so freeing for me, that today I want to encourage you to do the same. So if you’re reading this, grab a pencil and paper, find a quiet spot, and write down all of your greatest insecurities about your body on the left side of the paper. Then, ask God to reveal His truth about these things – why He created you that way – and write them on the right. Ask Him to tell you the parts of him that He made most beautiful.

In doing this, it will help you take your focus off of what you or others have told you about your body and replace the lies with God’s redemptive truth. I’m convinced that our biggest insecurities are things that the enemy has tried to steal from us, but as you allow God’s truth to invade in your heart, the truth will set you free…

After you try this exercise, write your reflections below – I can’t wait to hear how God speaks to you!

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Folicles of Freedom

Em –

I think the biggest thing I learned from you is what it looks like to serve selflessly. You never stop thinking of others. When we went to the store, you bought seven things: carrots for yourself and six candy bars for others, which you then hid in backpacks and underneath pillows as a surprise for us to find later. Your old teammates told me that there were many times they were searching for their electronics, only to find that you had already discovered that they needed charging and plugged them in.

Because of you, I also learned what it means to be pursued. You were the first person from our squad who reached out to me; I got a Facebook message from you months before training camp. You sent us “You are enough” bracelets in the mail; you also brought us each matchbox cars at launch. You always took time to make every single person on our squad feel loved and appreciated.

Because of you, I’m not the same…and neither is anyone else who meets you.

When I heard that you had to go home, I felt in my spirit that there was something I had to do to symbolize the freedom that God has in store for you. Whenever I cut my hair, I feel so free, so I decided to shave my head…Never would I believe that dozens more of our squadmates would choose to donate small locks of their hair as well. As we placed them in a bag, they became folicles of freedom…May they remind you of the many people that believe in you and God’s mighty plan for your life!

Something that God spoke to me during this time is that freed people free people… As you are freed from this, you are going to be a powerful influence for the kingdom to set other girls free. God always uses our deepest struggles as our greatest ministries, and I see a mighty ministry in America ahead for you, where you can speak with thousands of young girls and bring them to a place of freedom in Christ – Praise God!

Em, never forget how much you are loved by me, our entire squad, and most importantly our Father. Whenever I look in the mirror, know that I say a prayer for you and your freedom.

I love you,

Kelly

John 8:36 “He who the Son sets free is free indeed!”