God Has a Plan For You (Me!)

God Has a Plan For You (Me!)

One year ago my daughter, Malea experienced Ethiopia for the first time. As a father you are always looking out for, protecting and guarding your little girl. Ethiopia was not the plan I had for her. Yes, even though we planned for this trip, it was not supposed to be this way! Three   weeks prior to her leaving the tragic death of my son and her older brother, came to be. This wasn’t the plan! Her Ethiopia trip was supposed to be the culmination of excitement and preparation. One year later I’m here with my wife and daughter wondering what’s the plan? Why am I here?

As we were visiting the children, on the second day at Bring Love In, I was asked to teach the Bible lesson. The lesson for the day: “God has a Plan for you” and “You are God’s Masterpiece”. So humbling to try to teach kids who have lost way more than me the truth that that needed to hear. I hurt as I realized the pain they have gone through yet telling them that this God’s plan for you and you are God’s masterpiece! Wow, am I believing this? Truth be told, NO! But that’s God’s plan for me. To take me way across the world, to an unbelievable place (I would explain but you wouldn’t understand) called Addis Ababa. He took me here to teach me the lesson I was teaching so I could relate with these beautiful kids, so I could truly break with them. All these thoughts and emotions hit me hard while I was teaching them.

I know the lesson is pretty elementary, right? Sorta “Sunday School-ish”. But truth is, when I saw these grade schoolers repeating back to me in unison: I am God’s masterpiece and God has a plan for me, I realized, that was God’s plan for me to hear that. Even if he had to take me worlds away from comfy Bozeman.  Do you believe: You are God’s Masterpiece and that God has plan a PERFECT plan for You? How’s about when life gets tough, REALLY TOUGH?

If not, I know a group of kids, wait. I know a group of God’s Masterpieces that are willing to teach you!

The plans of the Lord stand firm forever

Psalms 33:11

(HAPPY 50th LISA MY LOVE!)

– Jim

Control

Control

Driving in Addis is like nothing I have experienced. The cars all drive so close to each other, there are no traffic lights or signals, and if traffic is jammed the vehicles just hop on the sidewalk and move forward down the road. It’s wild – I watch just waiting for someone to collide with us, but the river continues to flow. It looks like chaos from an outside perspective but it works.

As we continue there are cars coming in and out of the lanes, barely missing each other, what is happening? I am constantly fighting the idea that this works. How can something work like this without structure or control? You watch them drive and there is no anger, no stress, no road rage, they just work together giving each other a courtesy honk and letting them in. It is like nothing I have ever seen before, but amongst what seems like chaos is actually nothing but love. Time is not relevant here, it’s beautiful. As I sit and watch all that is going on around me, God’s presence overwhelms me, it is so real. I find myself wondering what can I learn from these amazing people?

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it whenever he will”      Proverbs 21:1 

I watch this river of traffic wind around and snake through narrow side streets, and I think to myself, “there is way too much control in my life”. Time controls my life. I always try to work hard and carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I am strong. I can handle it. But in the midst of it all, I am left forgetting the strongest part of my life. God. He is always there and he has a plan for me, instead of gripping the reigns and trying to be in control, I just need to let go and pray for guidance. 

As each day fades, I see God’s image in all of the people we see, and in everything they do.  I see it so clearly now. The time they take to truly listen, truly be part of the conversation. riding with Ephraim has been such a bonus to this trip. He has so much to tell us about his beautiful country. One day while traveling down their busy streets, he turns back so excited to tell us this story. Right in the middle of the best part, his phone begins to ring. One ring after another, he continues his story. I begin wondering to myself is he ever going to answer it? He doesn’t skip a beat, our conversation continues. The time spent together was more important than any phone call. There is something we can all take from that. Take the time, it can wait, God is with all of us and the relationship we have with each other. Loosen the grip time has on our lives, shut out the world and find the love and spirit within each other. Put time and control in the rear view and truly be a part of the relationships we build together!

– Dakota

Be. Not. Afraid.

Be. Not. Afraid.

“Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous, do not be afraid. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9

Be. Not. Afraid. Growing up, we all have our security blankets. Whether it’s a literal blanket that we carry around, or maybe a parent or a sibling, we all feel a constant need to feel safe, comfortable – in control. For me, my security blanket was my family. I was extremely blessed to have two very Godly men as my role models in my Grandfather and Father. I spent countless hours playing catch with my Dad, and spent days doing nothing but playing games with my Grandpa. I’ve taken trips to hardware stores, banks, and more notably – carwashes. See, my Grandpa had this old 90’s blue pickup truck with a black topper on the back; I can still see it like it was yesterday. Well, he would go to the carwash, all us kids would pile in the back of the pickup so we could watch the water as it hit the windows. And I remember, going through the wash, water would begin to spill into the bed of the truck through the bottom of the topper. We would all scream and scream and bang on the windows, telling my Grandpa to stop (this was one of the self-use power sprayers). He just smiled, whistled and kept on his way pretending like he’d forgotten all about us. We all just screamed with glee – no fear, just carefree abandon because we knew that my Grandpa was in control.

I think we often forget that, just as my Grandpa was in control that day, we always have a heavenly (Grand)Father who is in control of our lives at all times. I know for me, two weeks prior to this trip, the reality really started to set in, and with it came all of the fear and anxiety. Fear of not fitting in and having a place with the team, fear of leaving the country for the first time, simply put – fear of the unknown. For months and months this was just a date on my calendar and suddenly it was becoming real.  I started having minor panic attacks, couldn’t sleep; I felt so overwhelmed. I didn’t have any control, I no longer had my security blanket.

Luckily, we serve a God that knows us intimately, and knows our every need. Jesus reminds us in Luke chapter 11 that we need only “seek and we will find, knock and the door will be opened to us”.  As I prayed and countless others prayed over me in preparation for this trip, I felt like my anxiety couldn’t be overcome. But I continued to seek, and I continued to knock, and boy was he faithful to his word.

As I said before, my Grandpa has always played a huge role in my life. And in the past ten years or so as his health was beginning to fade I got the idea to get a tattoo of a cross with his birth year and death year on my shoulder when he passed away. For a long time, that day seemed like it would never come, but eventually his health gave out and he passed away in May. I immediately started thinking of my design, and I really wanted to incorporate a scripture. For some reason, the verse Joshua 1:9 kept coming to mind. It was God’s reassurance to Joshua as he took over for Moses that he needn’t be afraid – he just had to trust in God. God would be his security blanket. Just like my Grandpa with the sprayer, Joshua could take comfort in the fact that his heavenly Father promised to be in control.

Now, I’m not normally a reader – I think the last time I finished a whole book without the help of spark notes was my Freshman year of High School. But I also know that I can’t sleep on flights and I didn’t want to waste a 14-hour flight watching movies and likely getting motion sickness. So I decided I would take on the challenge and read an entire book by the time our flight landed in Dubai. As I was scrolling social media, I had seen a friend reading a book by Bob Goff called “Everyone Always”. I had seen lots of his TED talks and loved his message, so I figured it would probably be a good bet. It’s funny how what we often times view as a subconscious decision, God has as a major part of his plan – this book was a perfect example. I was immediately drawn in by his description of living an authentic life of love. It was as if every thought floating in my head that felt trapped and inexplicable was right on the pages in front of me. Story after story, I read of what true Christ-like love looks like, and witnessed an example of an authenticity that I’d never seen before.

People describe “God moments” in a number of different ways. Some hear an audible voice. Others describe a calmness coming over them. For me, my God moment was three words: Be. Not. Afraid. As I read those words, tears instantly began streaming down my face. It was as if my Grandpa was right there with me, at the start of this new unknown journey – God had given me my security blanket.

Fear is an interesting concept in our society. When we hear that word, we often think about scary movies or being frightened, but it’s so much more complex than that. We fear failure. We fear rejection. We fear love. We fear one another. It’s almost ironic if you step away from it – we live in a society that covets control and yet we let fear control our entire life. How often do we let fear stop us from living out a Christ-like life? Instead we resort to keep our head down, drive from work to home without making any eye contact with anyone because Lord forbid we look at them the wrong way or maybe even exchange a smile. You always hear that we should make it less about Religion and more about Relationship, but that has never been more clear than my time here in Ethiopia. Living a Christ-like life is really quite simple when you boil it down – it’s about love. Jesus lays it out perfectly in John, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Be. Not. Afraid.  As you read this post and go out about the rest of your week, I encourage you to remember those three words. Remember that we are called to love, and no matter where you are, you always have your ultimate security blanket with you; even all the way in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“One day you’ll make sense of it all, Jesus. One day every question resolved. Every anxious thought left behind. Not more fear. When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”

– Beau

Connecting Without a “Connection”

Connecting Without a “Connection”

Fear built up inside me while sitting in room 3 of the Guest House, my bedroom, when the lights suddenly went out. Just moments before, I was i the middle of a text message to my mother. I was about to press the send button when the WiFi bar usually placed at the top of my screen vanished. A lump developed in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes as I realized I had lost connection to my loved ones back home.

This is how the morning of my first day in Addis Ababa began. In a house full of (at the time) strangers in a completely foreign country, I sat on my bed holding back tears feeling more alone than ever. I struggled to pray and regain comfort because all I could hear in my head was my own voice saying “I shouldn’t be here, I need to get out some how.” My morals kept me from leaving, but my instincts screamed at me to buy the first plane ticket home. At this point I had yet to actually let a tear drop from my eyes. I couldn’t let a team who barely knew me see how broken and weak I was without my family.

I continued to get ready for my first full day in Addis and stayed pretty quiet all morning. At 6:45 we separated into our two teaching groups for daily devotional. I quickly realized everyone was expected to share even a small bit during this time. More anxiety washed over my mind and heart. I wouldn’t be able to share even the slightest bit without crying. When I felt called to share, I didn’t just speak, I poured out every feeling I had balled up since our plane left the runway in Belgrade. Stephanie placed her hand on my leg and Beau’s hand rested on my shoulder as I began to weep. Without even trying, my first few connections were made.

Later that morning we piled in the vans to transport ourselves and the supplies to the school for the first time. Although I was beginning to feel better after opening up to my team for the first time, I still felt anxious about the remainder of my trip. That lasted a short lived 40 minutes in the van and was swept away immediately upon entering the school. 

A bus full of kids poured into the halls. Some running, some walking, the kids approached us outside the classrooms. Keep in mind, this is my first time in Addis and unlike many others on my team, these kids do not know who I am. 

Nevertheless, the first kid, a boy named Akele, grabs my hand and pulls me towards him for a hug. 

Connection made.

Another boy repeats the same actions, his name being Fares, and asks me my name.

Connection made.

The next is a sweet girl with glasses and a purple shirt who grabs me and yells with a big smile on her face, “I am Bamlak!” 

Connection made.

This pattern continued until I had met and hugged nearly 25 children in a matter of minutes. All so eager and excited to see me without even knowing my name or who I am. I was a stranger to them yet they immediately let me into their lives, let me make a connection with them.

Over the course of a week I have gained a new family consisting of every single one of my teammates. I have let two dozen children into my heart, all of which I will never forget. Meanwhile, the majority of the time there was no cell service, no social media, even no light at times. However, I know all of this was supposed to happen because He needed me to learn an important lesson:

The most important connections are made when there is no “connection.” 

Kiersten Miller

Unexpected Results

Unexpected Results

This has not been the trip I expected. But it has been the trip I deserved.  What that means is I have been sick from the moment we have landed.  Unable to hold down any food and unable to eat the dinners for the first few days. I tried to tough it out. Until I finally had to wave the white flag. Take my Zpac. Rest and recuperate for a day. And that was the last thing I wanted to do. 

The reason this is the trip I have deserved does not come from the sickness, but I have been closed off to My Savior for a long time. Not in the sense that I don’t want to be in a relationship with Jesus. But that I haven’t felt the need for Him. 

During one of our morning devotionals where I was feigning health and positivity, a leader said so simply that on missions trips or in ministry, anything you do over again will not be the same as the first time. 

Returning to Ethiopia, I was expecting to be easy-going and care-free when it came to the food and culture of Ethiopia again and instead I feel like some of my teammates probably did last year, sicker than they hoped to be. Naturally tearing up, having to stay behind and watch as the rest of the team left for the day to see beautiful smiles and unwavering love. And where as I didn’t have the compassion for them last year. I do now. But as for God. I do not pass blame or ask for simple healing. I just know that this soon will pass. And pass it did. 

More pertinently, the lesson I have learned from my time under the weather here is that I have to turn to Him. In the U.S., I can so easily work out if I feel negatively about my body. I can relax if I feel stressed. I can show affection to my wife (or dog) to feel loved back. But what I was missing was a true healing. A daily healing. Where my sickness is not something I can just lay at home in Bozeman and ease through.  This situation has shown me that though God’s plans are firm, they are by no means fun all the time. 

I had to rely on prayer that I would be able to spend time with the kids, with the team, and not just in my own sickly confines.  My prayers have been answered. I have a week left to pour love and affection into the kids of Bring Love In, my teammates experiencing this place with me, and back into my God. 

– Carl

A precious gift

A precious gift

Driving to the school on our first day with the kids filled me with worry. I was so excited to see the children, but my anxious mind wandered to questioning whether or not these kids were feeling the same way. I was scared that the kids would cling to those on our team who had been previous years. I knew it was a silly worry, but I couldn’t push it out of my mind. So I prayed. And I prayed. And I prayed. 

God heard my prayers. 

Within a minute of the children arriving I knew that my frantic, scared mind would be put to ease. The tiniest girl came running up to me and wasted no time making me her best friend. We HAD to sit together every day, no exceptions. Our pictures HAD to be color coordinated. We became inseparable. 

Sitota is a ball of fire, energy, joy, and LOTS of sass. Her facial expressions are second to none and her smile… the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t believe that I could love a child so much, yet here I was, tearing up with every goodbye. 

As we left the school one day, Sitota and I wandered over to our driver Ishy, and he explained to me that the name Sitota meant “gift”. It’s impossible for me to imagine a greater gift than this child and her relentless love. This child stole my heart (and my watch) a million times over. God’s timing is always perfect, and tiny little Sitota was the most precious gift I will ever receive. 

All I can say is God is so good and I am beyond blessed to be here!

– Melissa

Walls and Gates

Walls and Gates

Addis Ababa, July 2018

Addis is a bustling hub of Ethiopian life. Everywhere you look there are people, animals, cars, and trucks going about their daily lives in an indescribable harmony that becomes oddly comforting after soaking it all in for a third year. What I’m struck by this trip as we go about our travels are the walls, and the gates. Houses, huts and businesses are stacked side by side and back to back separated by a wall, and a gate. Everywhere.

I look and wonder. Wonder why all the walls and gates? To keep things in? To keep things out? To indicate ownership, to define boundaries, for privacy? Yes, I realize, all the above.

The families of Bring Love In (BLI) live in houses behind walls and gates in the neighborhoods around BLI headquarters. This creates a sense of family independence while, at the same time, proximity (walking distance) to allow the incredible staff at BLI to do their critical work helping the kids and families thrive. And, thrive they do. It’s inspiring, humbling, and evidence of God’s hand is everywhere.

But, I wonder what God thinks about all these walls and gates? I suppose that depends on what they protect, what they keep in and what they let out.

Back home, someone on our team shared they wanted to feel the God they feel when they’re in Ethiopia. At the time I thought it was a nice thing to say, but, really, isn’t the God in Ethiopia the same God in America? The answer is yes. But, He has a lot more competition for our time in Bozeman than here. We’re very busy people with deadlines, calendars, bills to pay and Jones’s to keep up with; not all bad of course, unless all that stuff gets in the way of our relationship with Him. I suppose that’s where walls come in.

Lord, build walls in my life to keep the busyness, competition and desire for more away from my heart as I long to know you the way these families know you.

We are here with these kids for two short weeks. But in that time with intermittent electricity and dial-up speed some-of-time Internet, you feel many of the distractions of life back home slip away. You rejoice when there are a few drops of lukewarm water in the morning shower. In fact, it’s praise time that you get a shower! But, what fills that void left by the absence of TV, smart phones, pets and Facebook are relationships. Relationships with the people around you, the families you spend time with, and, most importantly, God. There is a difference between how I experience God here and how I do back home. But, I realize now that He’s been the same all along, it’s me who’s different. It is, at the same time, wonderful and a bit sad. I need a few gates to open and close.

Lord, I pray that you will close the gates to distractions and things that keep me from knowing and following You in a more meaningful and intimate way and, to open the gates to meaningful relationships that really matter with family, friends and You.

So, what’s my plan? It’s simple but difficult; prayer and choices. Prayer for strong walls and well-oiled gates that I open and close as the God I experience here in Ethiopia desires me to do back home.

Here we go.

– Chuck

My husband Brandon has gone to Ethiopia the past two summers.  Whenever he left I would lay on the guilt trip about him being gone for two weeks.  He was always very gracious and kind toward me during my childish episodes but what he should have done is taken me by the shoulders and shouted at me, “You have no clue the difficulties of the world and the grace with which they handle them.  Two weeks is nothing in relationship to eternity.”

This year he asked me to come along.  My initial response was “No”.  How could we possibly leave our four children for two weeks?  How would they survive without one of us to parent, to take care of their every need or control how their days went?   Really what I was more concerned with was controlling my life.  After many discussions, much praying and planning and a bit of worrying I said “Yes” to accompanying Brandon to Ethiopia for his third trip.

God in His infinite wisdom knew I needed to be here and see this remarkable country and meet these beautiful people.  I am humbled that I get to be here.  I have cried tears of joy as I am experiencing this place and its people, being with the Bring Love In children.  I have wept in my bed at night as I think of the Ethiopian people who have humbly served me.  I am praying for God to continue to soften my heart.

I see the ugliness within me that comes out daily and it makes me want to weep.  How can I be so shallow about this life?  The desires of my heart are not something I want to publicly admit.  My desires and daily prayers have not been for more love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness or humbleness. My desires reflect where my treasures lie.  Jesus warned me, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moths and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

Recently, back at home, I was quite upset by what was going to be built across the street from our home—it will block my view of the mountains.  Ugh.  How gross. My easy life has given me a very warped view of reality.   Is this the reality that God wants for my life?

Speaking of my daily life, I love my children very much but as I reflect on my parenting many times my prayers have been for success and ease of life.  I am more concerned with what extra-curricular activities my kids should participate in than how to disciple them and show them the fruits of the Spirit.  Again, ugh.

In Jesus’ Sermon on The Mount he calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  He says, “In the same way let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.”  I want our four kiddos to see us live out a faith that follows what Jesus called us to do, love people, love widows and orphans and “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  This will be impossible but it is what I want to pursue.

A sermon I recently heard, the pastor said “Love is how success is defined in the Kingdom of God”.   Sadly, I miss the chance to love others, more often than I would like to admit because I make up lame excuses or chicken out because it could be awkward or ignore things because it will get in the way of what my heart desires.

On the 14-hour plane ride to Dubai, I sat next to a kind Ethiopian man named Solomon.  He was talking about the humanity in their new Prime Minister.  Humanity.  I have been stuck on this word since then.  Humanity means “the quality or state of being human•compassionate, sympathetic or generous disposition”.  These are the traits that are to define us as human beings.  How do I get it so wrong? Is my life defined by these human qualities?

Dear God, Forgive me for not loving people well.  Forgive me for not being compassionate, sympathetic or having a generous disposition.  Forgive me for my fear.  Forgive me for storing up my treasures on earth.  Please change me into a person more like your Son.  You are a good, good Father.  You are perfect in all of your ways.

– Stephanie

Anticipation

Anticipation

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope!” 
- Jeremiah 29:11

Today we made our final leg of the trip and touched down in Addis after two full days of travel – after circling Addis a few times, we landed amidst a bumpy thunderstorm.

The feeling of being back is truly indescribable. The first thing that came back to me when I stepped off the plane was the smell; the smell of Ethiopia is so incredibly unique – there is no way to really describe it, but I love it, and I missed it. As we walked out of the airport and started to see familiar faces such as our drivers; Ephraim and Ishy, everything finally became so real, that we are here! We finally arrived in this perfect place! We loaded 35 bags of donated luggage full of clothing and shoes for the children on top of our vans, loaded up and headed home. The feeling of being here was surreal, it felt as if we almost never left. Adjusting into simplicity here takes no effort.

We arrived at our guest house and so many familiar customs came back to me, things like not being able to flush toilet paper, carrying a bottle of clean water to the bathroom with me when I brush my teeth, and electricity to name a few. All of which I take completely for granted in my everyday life.

These next two weeks I get to experience a God fully present in front of me in every single moment every single day. I get to experience life, love, friendships, hardships, faith, personal and spiritual growth all with no distractions. As we prepare to see the Bring Love In children tomorrow my heart is nearly overwhelmed by the amount of joy that I know is to come. To keep this simple, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here! I will be still in the waiting as I watch God work through me, with me and beside me during this once again life-changing experience.

Love,
Kirsten

Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11

In preparation for this trip, I reread my journals from 2016. One sentence said, “Relationships are what matter.” Man, what a reminder that was. A prayer I continue to have throughout this journey is a mind that is open and intentional. As we entered the town of Addis all the familiar sights and smells brought me back.
Though it was the same, it all also seemed so different. This time I wasn’t just seeing all around me, but I had an eye locked on the people. I forgot how many there were. They wander the streets all day and night. I couldn’t help but tear up as I thought about the 6 million stories and lives here in Addis, now mine included. But where does mine even fit in? On the first day back I found myself thinking, “what in the world am I doing here?”

This is a scary thought when you have just spent 3 days traveling to get halfway across the world to a place familiar yet so unknown.
During this trip I have so far questioned my purpose in every way, but have remained focused on trusting God, knowing He is in control and taking in all that I can.

Today, our first day with the kids, was one of excitement, love, and learning. Not only was the learning done through what we are teaching them (English and Bible stories) but it was done in rebuilding relationships with the kids. It took a bit for our group to warm up, but once we were started, the kids began their ruckus. After school, we had the opportunity to visit one of the families’ homes. The mother prepared a coffee ceremony for us. This included corn on the cob, eaten mostly piece by piece rather than big bites, mixed nuts, popcorn and dark, rich coffee. It was amazing to see all she did to provide us a welcoming and how she so selflessly served us while we visited. On the way walking to the house I walked with Aida and we chatted quite a bit.
Though there was a significant language barrier, I enjoyed sharing stories and laughing with her.

Following the gathering, I spent the car ride conversing with our driver Ishy. He told me his story of coming to Christ and how it has affects him today. He said that it was a mission group that returned year after year that showed him the love of Jesus, and he realized that was what he wanted all along.

Today gave me some purpose.

The song lyric that keeps reflecting in my head is, “God you don’t need me, but somehow you want me.”

This is so true regarding the place I am in. The weight of the world is off of my shoulders in knowing that God’s will can be fulfilled no matter if I am here or not, but I want to be a part of it and so does God.

So, as I end my day, I no longer ask, “what in the world am I doing here?”, but rather, “what in the world are you trying to do through me, God?”

This question may never be answered, but I know God has a plan in it all.

– Josie