Bearing fruit and growing…An update from the mission field

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”     – Jesus

One of the hardest things about the World Race is having to pick up and start over each month, leaving behind people you came to love. Because of this, I have been intentional about staying in contact with our ministry hosts and people whom God was working in, even after we have left. The beauty of technology these days is that we can stay in touch with people all over the world with only the click of a mouse. I have to tell you, it is amazing to see what God has done within our work in various countries. Check this out:

Ukraine: Remember the summer English camp that we organized? It was awesome to see some of the students start to know God through our bible-centered English lessons. Our hosts have kept in touch with quite a few of the students and some are taking the year-long English classes at the church. Also, do you remember the children’s pirate-themed summer camp that we helped with? Since the camp, the children’s ministry has grown and is now divided into two age groups. In addition to this, the behavior of many children has significantly improved, praise God!

Kenya: In Kenya, we did a lot of preaching in various schools in the area. Pastor Abraham said that he has been very happy to see how the people we reached are growing in the Lord. He also said that we really touched the lives of the police in Migori when we spoke there, and more and more people have been attending the fellowship!

Tanzania: Remember the meetings with women  we started to encourage them in the dreams God had given them? I’ve been in touch with the women’s pastor, and she said that the women have continued to come together and share about their struggles and triumphs. Some of the women have started to take steps to fulfill their dreams, such as one woman who started a small business by selling chicken eggs and meat, using profits to benefit the kingdom of God. Some other women have learned how to sew, a skill they have always wanted to learn. She said, “We will not forget you from what you started here, and the women will remember you always.”

Malawi: Do you remember the brand-new church that I visited and delivered bibles? The church is doing well – they recently had a leadership meeting with nearby pastors. Also, God has really been working within the people we ministered to around the Timothy Harvest Ministries Training Center. Bible studies have been started with the people who had given their lives to Christ, and they have been growing to include more than 45 people per week. God is good!

Nepal: One day, we climbed up the side of a mountain to a village that was mainly only accessible by foot. We shared the gospel with a family who had never heard of Jesus before, and they said that they were going to think about what we had shared. A member of the church followed up with them and found out that they were really affected by the evangelism. Now they are faithfully attending the church each Sunday even though it is about a two-hour walk!

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Also in Nepal, do you remember the young man from the busride whom was seeking truth, and when I prayed for him, God filled his heart with joy? I’ve been in touch with him via Facebook, and just a few weeks ago I encouraged him to talk to God and he said “I want to know you, Jesus.” I know that is a prayer that God loves to answer!

Thailand: Remember Blue, the young woman who left her life as a prostitute and opened a restaurant? In my time there, we loved on her and spent time with here, but didn’t necessarily feel like there was an open door to share the gospel. I connected her with a YWAMer named Sarah who was going to be there a few months, and I’m super excited to tell you about how God has been working in her life since! A few weeks after we left, Blue had a dream about Jesus, where she was in a perfect place and didn’t want to leave. Jesus told her she could stay there in heaven with him forever if she would trust in him. She shared this with Sarah, and Sarah led Blue in giving her life to following Christ. Pray that Blue would continue to be discipled and find a church fellowship to help her grow in her relationship with God. And I shouldn’t forget to note that Blue’s new restaurant is doing really well.

India: Remember the work we were doing with  women and children in the brothels of India? Jaya, the woman who had contracted HIV and TB, whom I sat with and walked to the clinic each day, is not doing so well – some days she looks stronger and other days she is very weak. Thanks for joining me to pray for complete healing for her. Also, we spent a lot of time praying for Indra, the 11-year-old girl who was in great risk of being trafficked by the pimp who runs the area. Praise God – God opened up doors for her to attend a boarding school outside the area, so she is now in a safe place.

As I reflect on these eleven months, I am amazed at the goodness and the faithfulness of God. As we taught others, they taught us, and our lives became renewed together.

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace. (Colossians 1:6 NLT)

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Re-entry

Re-entry is a word that has been used to describe our journey back into America after our eleven-month journey around the world. The word is actually space-shuttle terminology for “the act of re-entering the atmosphere after traveling in space.” The wikipedia article on re-entry goes into great details describing proper designs for the vehicle to ensure that it will be able to withstand the incredible heat and pressure of traveling through the atmosphere.

I have to say that “re-entry” is named appropriately – as it has been much harder than I anticipated. Maybe there isn’t physical heat & pressure, but you sure do feel it emotionally. My friend Sung Yun described it this way: ‘You used to be a round peg that fit into a round hole, but serving in the nations changed you and you’ve become square.’ It takes time to figure out how to fit your new self into the culture where you came from.

I am experiencing America in a whole new way. I’ve noticed that people are taller and wider, and man do they throw away food. I’ve noticed that our culture is centered on individuality – people moving about by themselves, rather than the Asian familial style. I noticed that nearly everyone was engrossed in their lives, in their ipods and iphones, with little regard to others around them.

For a  few weeks, I was still surprised when I saw a toilet seat AND toilet paper inside of every bathroom. I added twelve hours to my phone call to my parents, then remembered we were actually in the same time zone. I had a hard time justifying paying rent for a month, when it was more than some people make in a year. I spoke slowly to a foreigner, then felt stupid when they spoke back to me in perfect English. Here’s a funny video that was put together by previous World Racers to describe some of the crazy circumstances that happen when returning to America:

Project Searchlight: PWRSD from katie rowland on Vimeo.

So today I want to give some pieces of advice for anyone who is re-entering America from doing missions work abroad.

First of all, I’d encourage you to give yourself time. Rest and don’t rush into things. Allow what God has done in you to sink in.

You will feel a loss of community – but that just means that you have to go out there and find it. Catch up with friends. Share pictures and have a handful of stories on the tip of your tongue that you’re ready to share. Community will look different than the Race, but seek out people in your life who will encourage you, support you, and challenge you.

When I went to dinner with my friend Megan, she said, “Kelly, you’re different.” This made me nervous – but she explained, “Yes, you’re different. But God only does good work. They are good changes, because that is who God is. Everything he has made, from the beginning of creation until today, is good.” People will tell you that you’re different – but be ok with that. If you came back the same as when you left, there would definitely be something wrong.

Don’t neglect your time with God during this season – it’s easy to throw yourself into your busy old life and leave little opportunity for some of the seeds that God has planted to take root. Read through your World Race journal and celebrate what He has taken you through. You did it! That’s something to be proud of.

For me, I found a retreat setting to be a powerful way of hearing from God and transitioning to the “next” in my life. After sitting on a log over a stream and singing to Jesus for awhile, I read through my entire World Race journal, seeking to find continuity among everything I had seen and experienced. I let my mind wander to the memories that I needed to process through, but hadn’t taken the time to yet. I asked God tough questions, like “Where were you in the midst of the ladies suffering in the brothels in India?” and “How do you allow these things to happen?” I realized that my idea of God had become misconstrued due to the things I had experienced, and working through these things brought me great peace and clarity.

I realized that I was scared to move on, because I feared that I would forget – that the World Race would just become some sort of ancient memory, like when you look at pictures in old photo albums but have little recollection that you were actually there. However, God assured me that over the course of the eleven months, He had branded me with compassion. That the people I met and the nations I stepped foot in are now a part of my composition, of who I am, and there is nothing that can change that.

Finally, when you are ready, allow God to cleanse you from what you have seen and heard, and speak to you about what is to come.

My last piece of advice would be to seek out opportunities where you can laugh and have a good time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed & depressed by what is happening in third-world countries, but God doesn’t want us to carry around a burden that isn’t ours to carry. As my Aunt Barb says, laughter heals. Here’s a video that always makes me laugh.

So finally, after thirty days, America is finally starting to feel like home. I now appreciate many things about this country that I never noticed before, such as its ethnic diversity and freedom.

I want to leave you today with Ashley’s World Race video. It’s really well done, one of my favs:

17 Best Ways to Prepare for The World Race

17. Once a week, go to an ethnic restaurant, then when you are handed the menu, close your eyes and point to something. Eat whatever you are served happily and graciously.

Our dinner menu in Ukraine

16. At midnight, go to the nearest country club, then practice dropping your trousers and taking a leak in the golf holes without spraying on your clothes. Hole-in-one!

15. Buy a soundtrack of mosquitos buzzing and play it on high volume at night in your room while you crouch underneath your mosquito net.

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Kenyan bunk beds & mosquito nets!

14.  Volunteer in a kindergarten. Tell them stories one sentence at a time, giving room for a “translator.” Tell the kids to point and yell “Mzungu” every time they see you.

13. Live out of your backpack for a month, sleeping on couches and rotating between all of your friends’ houses.

12. Have one-on-one’s with all your closest friends and give them feedback.

11. Go on 8-hour bus or car ride without using bathroom. Use a waterbottle or empty chips bag if necessary.

10. While you are hanging out with your friends, insist that you need “alone time.” Then turn your back to the wall and turn your iPod up.

9. For a month, shower using only a bucket and a sponge and wash your clothes in the bathtub.

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Learning how to hand-wash our clothes in Kenya

8. Gather all your friends and pack yourself into the smallest car you own, then drive for at least one hour.

7. Don’t turn on your faucet for a day. Every time you need to use water, fill up a bucket at your neighbor’s house, place it on your head, and carry it carefully down the street to your house.

Snapshot 1 (6-27-2013 1-09 PM)

6 Speak entire conversations in gibberish with your friends. Smile and nod, even if you have no idea what they are saying.

5. Go shopping, then refuse to pay the full price. Haggle with them until they give or kick you out of the store.

4. For a week, eat only rice and sauce. And no, you’re not allowed to use silverware.

This is how you will eat rice in many parts of Africa and Asia

3. Buy a coke at the store, then insist that they pour it inside a plastic bag with ice and a straw.

2. Volunteer at the local clinic and learn how to pick lice out of hair.

1. Buy all the crazy creatures from the nearest pet store, then release them in your home. When one of them runs across your feet, act like it’s the most normal thing to have in the living room. When the cockroaches start to multiply, host a family game night to kill them.

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My bedmates that I woke up to in Malawi, Africa

This one day…I wrote a song…

Psalm 40:2 “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

I don’t call myself a good singer, and I enjoy making joyful noises to Jesus, but many times that’s exactly what they are…noises. So when during our final debrief a few weeks ago, Bryan approached me and prayed for me for an anointing to lead worship, it scared me a little bit. Especially because I know um, exactly, four guitar chords.

Now you should know something about Bryan – he is an incredibly talented worship leader. Not only does he rock a head-banger bangs-in-your-face haircut, but when he plays guitar and sings, the presence of God comes and fills the room in such a unique way. Bryan continually climbs upward after things of the Kingdom and worships with such fervency, it just makes you want more of God. I was curious to see how the prayer that he prayed for me was going to come forth in my life.

The next morning, I woke up and hopped into the pool, my typical morning routine during debrief. Having a pool to swim in is such a luxury – I sought to take advantage of every moment I could get. As I swam, a song started running through my head “The love of the father…the grace of the Son…the peace of the Holy Spirit come…” It was a song I had never heard before – yet I was hearing it like you would hear your favorite song stuck in your head.

Stroke, stroke, stroke. “We sing – Jesus, Jesus.” Stroke, stroke, stroke. “May your kingdom come…” And so it went.

But – there were a few problems that arose that morning:

Problem #1: The pool was quite small (as hotel pools tend to be)

Problem #2: I had no goggles, so I was swimming with my eyes closed

Problem #3:  I do not swim straight at all

I knew that the pool was ten freestyle strokes long from one end to the other, but I had a hard time counting with the song running through my head. I would get in the groove, singing and stroking, and then get rudely interrupted by when my hands or head smashed into the wall.

Nonetheless, I was excited about the possibility that God had given me a new song to sing. I was able to borrow a guitar that afternoon, and threw some chords together to go along with the tune. I then shared it during our last morning as a squad, where we shared testimonies of what God had done in our lives.

I called it “What the World Needs” – because this year has been a season of humility for me, where I have a fresh revelation that the world doesn’t doesn’t need me, it needs Jesus…There are three verses – each describing the cry of my heart for the women we encountered in three different countries:

Verse 1: India
I’m on the street in India
and the hand of a child reaches to me.
Her dirt-caked face and torn clothes
Are evidence of her need
Bridge:
She doesn’t need you or me.
Her heart is crying out for something more.
Chorus:
The love of a Father, The grace of the Son
The peace of the Holy Spirit come
Light her fire, Fill her desires
You are the one & only King – so we sing
“Je-sus. Je-sus. Je-sus, Jesus.” (Repeat if desired – we sing)
May your kingdom come; May your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Set the captives free, fill our poverty
O Lord, would you use me?  x  x  x  x  (tap hand on guitar)
Verse 2: Thailand
I’m in the bars of Thailand
and the eyes of a woman lock with mine
Her painted face puts on a smile
As a man buys her for her time
Verse 3: Cambodia
 I’m at a dump in Cambodia
And tears fall from a mother’s face
Her children spend all day collecting bottles
And it’s not enough, it’s never enough

The secret to great leadership

“Come, follow me.”

This is an age-old beckoning of Christ to His disciples. The word “disciple” literally means “learner, pupil, to enroll as a scholar,” implying a student learning from someone much more wise and learned. But, at least for me, following can be so hard…

During the World Race training camp one year ago, as we worshipped, God showed me a picture of myself. I was running ahead of Jesus and pulling him along, rather than allowing Him to lead. In that moment, He was revealing to me an aspect of my relationship with Him that needed some work.

I was indignant when I was not chosen as a team leader at the end of our training camp. I cried out to God, asking Him, “Why? What makes them more capable than me?” And His response in my heart was so clear: I can teach you more this year not being in leadership than otherwise. The best leaders are the greatest followers.

I resisted this word, sure that I was going to be put in place as a team leader month three, then month four, and each new time that new teams were chosen. I still feel bad about our first team and how I didn’t trust the leadership that had been put in place. I asked so many questions – Where are we going? What is our ministry today? How much money do we have budgeted for lunch? etc. etc. Not only was this mentally draining for me, but it was frustrating for him. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, my resistance made it harder for him to lead us effectively.

As the months went on, I began to see how my identity was wrapped in being seen in the forefront, in being in control, and making the right decisions. It’s only when I was taken out of leadership that God was able to show me how my difficulty with following is based on the fact that I have a hard time trusting other people.

In order to follow, you must be humble, submitting to the other person’s best judgment and trusting that the other person will lead you to where you need to go. You have to be ok with not having all the answers, all of the time. I began to realize that there are many ways to get somewhere, and my way isn’t the only high way.

The difference between leading and following was really made clear to me during our flight back to the States at the end of the World Race. We had an eight-hour layover during the day in Seoul, South Korea, and had the opportunity to go into the city. Caleb had a friend who lived in Seoul, and we made plans to meet up with her – which is way easier said than done in a foreign country where between the five of us we knew exactly two words in Korean.

After purchasing tickets for the one-hour train ride so we could get downtown, we saw a subway map that was more complicated than most spider webs and filled with the squiggly Asian characters that all look the same to me. As you can see, there are five “blue” lines – and for a moment I wished I was back in Boston, where the entire subway system has only four colors. We stared at it for exactly five minutes, debating which way we needed to go.

We talked to people, trying to pronounce the location that we were going to: “So Dunk Tun” – but on the map there were three locations that sounded exactly like this. At one point we found someone who spoke some English but wasn’t able to help us much because we didn’t even know where we were going.

We arrived at one station, then found out that we had to walk thirty minutes to the station before, and finally found Caleb’s friend. She treated us to an absolutely delicious breakfast of berry crepes, eggs benedict, and cinnamon chai tea. It was an amazing way to end our World Race.

And then she led us straight back to the airport. We followed her like little sheep – where she walked, we walked. When she got off the train, we followed. We didn’t question her because we completely and totally trusted that she would get us to where we needed to go. After all, she knew the route way better than we did. As a result, what took us two hours to get there, took us only one hour to get back.

And that’s what God has been teaching me. When we try to lead in our own strength, we end up frustrated, lost and confused, having to backtrack many times. But when we allow Him to lead, it’s easy. We simply have to follow His footsteps.

So, to sum up what I’ve learned on the World Race, I would say that God has humbled me, allowing me to be ok when I’m in not in control. And as a result, I’ve learned how to follow – I’m more comfortable trusting other people and God with the twists and turns of life. I’ve come to discover that the secret of great leadership is also knowing how to be the best follower.

Ultimately, none of us are in charge anyways, We can dance on our own, but it’s way more fun to let your daddy lead and dance on His shoes.

From caterpillar to butterfly

In the hardest moments on the World Race – when you get served mystery soup with UFO’s (unidentified floating objects) throughout your bowl, when you walk down the street and a putrid stench of rotting trash fills your nose, when you sweat so much through your clothes that someone asks you if you have just gotten out of the shower… in those moments I longed for America. America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where I could communicate freely and everything would be “normal.” 

Yet here I am, and yet everything isn’t normal.These past eleven months have wrecked me. It’s been the most beautiful craziest mess of a year of my life.

Some people ask, “So, what did you learn?” And exactly twenty million things come to mind. Things that I’ve learned about myself. About the world. About God. And about these worlds colliding – myself in the world, and God’s kingdom coming to earth.

I try to explain, but words don’t come easily. Trying to describe the change that has happened to me is like trying to describe on paper the transformation that takes a caterpillar to a butterfly. It’s something that you have to see firsthand, in order to truly appreciate.

I came on the World Race wanting to experience the kingdom of God all over the world. I got that…and so much more. I started to realize that I had a formulaic boxed-in understanding of how I thought God worked – but God is way bigger than our worldly constructs of Him. The words on our tongue do not bring the kingdom of God; rather, what brings the kingdom most is the cry of a desperate heart.

I’ve learned to talk less, and to listen more. That the greatest ministry is not imparting our message to others but simply listening to what others are going through. Because what people need most is not another sales pitch, but to be heard. I’ve learned to be careful to judge, and eager to learn. You can learn something from every person that you meet. And when we take time to listen to others, they will also take time to listen to us. 

I’ve learned that the world is a great big place, with an abundance of needs. But the greatest thing that you can give someone is not money or material possessions, but your time. I’ve learned that ministry is not an event, but a lifestyle. Put simply, ministry is an attitude of serving others, which can happen at any time, and any place.

I’m learning to go to God first and to listen to God before acting. I’ve learned to hear God more clearly, and to be bolder in doing what He puts on my heart, even if I think it sounds crazy. I’ve seen that His strategies end up being way better than my own.

I’ve learned that I’m not a do-er, but a daughter. Jesus calls us friends and lovers before servants. And things always end up better when we do things out of love than out of obligation or duty.

I’ve learned the value of companionship. I’m starting to understand the joy in having someone walk with you through life, through good times and bad. I’ve moved from a place of independence to interdependence, which will make me a better friend and wife.

I’ve learned that living in community can be intensely difficult but incredibly rewarding. In community, others can see many things within you that you would never see yourself. I’ve learned that the truth can hurt, but spoken in love it brings freedom. 

I’ve learned how to receive, and how to be preferred. That others get joy from helping me, even if I think I can do the same thing better myself. I’ve learned to laugh more, and not to take myself too seriously. There are plenty of people in the world who are full of themselves, and not enough who are full of God.

I’ve learned that there are so many people in the world – millions – billions – who have never heard of the name of Jesus before. I’ve seen many places in the world where they have never experienced the love of Christ, and my heart cries out for those people to be brought from ritual to relationship with our loving Father.

I’ve learned the reality of spiritual warfare. You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that you don’t believe in demons, but I’ve seen women who are shaking and screaming cry out to Jesus and set free from evil spirits.

I’ve learned that I’m beautiful, inside and out.

I’ve learned to appreciate America – the uniqueness of its melting pot of cultures, the freedom to worship, the schooling, toilet paper, electricity, and hot showers that are available to all.

I’ve learned that I don’t need as much as I think I need to survive. I’ve learned to be content right where I’m at.

I’ve learned that there is no time like the present. We can’t do anything about the future or the past, so there is no sense worrying about it. What matters most is where we are right now, in this moment. Things which seem like a big deal at the time actually always end up turning out all right.

I’ve learned to be less concerned about time – to live like you have all the time in the world, because you do. After all, who stands in front of you is infinitely more important than what is next on your agenda. There is always enough time to do what the Holy Spirit prompts you to do.

I’ve learned to rest more, and to have more fun.

I’ve learned that God won’t always give you what you want, but He will give you what you need.

I’ve learned that adventures don’t just happen in the “bush” or jungles, but can take place every day, and that there are just as many unreached peoples in cities as in the most remote parts of the world.

I’ve learned that in tough times, my inclination is to look within myself for strength, but true strength comes from Christ. I’ve learned that I am absolutely nothing without Him, and that my brokenness must lead to dependence on God.

I’ve learned the reality of sin in our world. Our world is messed up and is in need of some Jesus. Sin looks different everywhere you go. Some places it’s very in your face, and in others it’s more hidden, but everywhere there are people desperate for love, doing everything they can to fill the holes in their hearts.

I learned how little I actually need to live on. Most things in life are just “stuff” – and although the world will tell you otherwise, stuff is never where our joy comes from. Even electricity & running water aren’t necessities in life. But it’s always good to have a chocolate bar stashed away, just in case.

I learned how to hang out. How to have fun. That not everything has to be about Jesus, and that doing secular things can still teach me a lot about God.

My understanding of worship has erupted. No longer just standing in pews singing, I’ve worshipped my papa with flags dancing on a moonlit field, with spoken words around a campfire, by drumming with spoons and silverware in a cabin on Mount Kilimanjaro, and in a dark room with fifty people each listening to separate ipods shouting our hearts out. I’ve learned that I have a good voice and I can, indeed, lead a group in singing songs to our king. 

I’ve learned that what the world needs most is love. And the definition of love is simple:

1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Here’s a little movie I put together about the love that we shared in the world these past eleven months:

So – have grace with me as I re-enter America. My butterfly feels like it’s just coming out of the intense shaking that happens as it emerges from the chrysalis – but I am beginning to settle and shake out the kinks in my body…

May Christ move each of us from glory, to glory, increasing to eternity.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)