Let me warn you right now… to try to sum up all that happened these past few weeks would be impossible so you are going to get quite a random review of the events, but if you’ve read any of my updates so far, this one is worth the read!
Week Eight started out very rough with food poisoning/other sickness hitting me really hard. This was definitely my lowest point so far because I was basically bed-ridden struggling to figure out how I was going to make it to the outreach. I decided to push myself and after a 32-hour bus ride, we finally made it to the FCE base in the village of Kalungu, near Isoka (border village to Tanzania and Malawi).
So you can imagine how I was doing in this, lots of walking and hard work and sickness all blended together with the typical struggle for contentment. Then, finally, Jesus intervened. He started by giving me some clarity on some of the deeper things He was working on in my heart for the duration of my time in Africa. I had been reading a book called “From Fear to Freedom” and felt like God was trying to tell me something big in it, but I wasn’t able to figure it out amidst all of my overwhelmed emotions. After waking up one night, I felt like I had been given in a dream the exact words for what was going on. Here is my journal entry from when I woke up:
“I am very critical of others because I am, in essence, not able to extend grace to them. This is because I have not fully received grace from the Father myself. How can I receive grace for faults I do not admit? I tend to be overly critical of myself for things that shouldn’t actually be condemned, but in terms of sin, I hardly ever admit fault. I’m a blame-shifter with an orphan victim’s heart. In addition, this orphan heart causes me to be overprotective of myself—filled with such fear of everything (especially that which might expose my imperfections/how I’m different/or anything where I am uncomfortable) with no hope of any sort of intervener or protector. Who is it that I serve? Is it not the very intervener of all mankind and the protector of His children? Even more, as this is the heart and mindset that I am so passionate to see breakthrough in for other people, I have been too blinded and ashamed to notice/admit it in myself.
Father, I trust you for every step from this point forward. To intervene. To protect. To guard my heart for what needs to be protected and to allow sin to be revealed only to the amount that I will receive grace (aka fully). Teach me to be honest with You and with others and with myself, seeing my own depravity and receiving the fullness of your grace—that I may pour it out on others instead of the judgment and bitterness and expectations I have poured out before (since that’s all I have allowed myself to receive, it’s all I’ve had to give). Take this victim mindset and orphaned heart and give me my adopted one. Do it, Lord, in full. I’m ready to better understand your grace, your love, and everything that you are, and then everything that I am.”
Yep. Bold move, God, dumping all of that on me at once. So, after that, I could see my mood start to change. It wasn’t perfect, yet, but there was something I was fighting for and someone who was fighting for me. It was so challenging for me to deny my previous mindsets, going into daily challenges that my flesh thought was impossible, but my willing spirit trusted that they were in the hands of my intervener, and intervene He did. My consistent prayer (with the sickness, especially) was, “Lord, either give me the strength to do this, or change the task to something I have the strength for.” Over and over again it was answered, with unexplained strength and with unexplained changes to schedules. I started genuinely trusting my Father for more than just the “normal things” but for every big and little thing in my entire day, as a daughter should.
In this time, I also found myself craving the Word (for possibly the first time ever, and it hasn’t gone away!), being led to different passages and wanting to spend time diving into them and even more.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor (Trouble) a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came our of the land of Egypt… And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.” (Hosea 2:14-15, 19-20)
So this time basically continued like this for a couple days until the biggest challenge of our 3 months came: a 3-night stay with families in the village. I was paired with my teammate Olivia and together, we stayed with the family of Mr. Derek Skolonga. Our whole team spent a lot of time praying beforehand, including myself, for God to show up with little things like food that we could eat, electricity, a mattress to sleep on, a working toilet, English speakers in the family, things like that. None of these prayers were answered for me. (It was funny afterwards to hear that almost the entire team did have these prayers answered and how encouraged they were to see that God answered them and saw Him faithful, even in the little things. I’ve realized that for me, it was more important that He got to my heart than proving Himself faithful in the little things. He’s still faithful, but He saw it more fit to change my prayers rather than answering them in this time.). I found myself the first night, having just attempted to be polite by trying to force down a meal of cassava nshima and partially raw scrambled eggs mixed with green beans, sleeping on a mat on the floor with two other girls, surrounded by walls with cockroaches and large wall spiders crawling up and down them. The toilet was a hole in the ground behind the house with the same story of creepy-crawlies, so you couldn’t use it at night because they would just crawl all over you. The water we had to fetch was pretty far away, so the family didn’t always choose clean water sources. The family spoke no English except for Derek (slightly) and he was usually gone all the time, so our conversations had to come through Olivia who partially spoke a tribal language that the rest of the family partially understood. I was furious with God and also begging for the strength to last or that by some miracle it would be cut short. And yet, I woke up in even more pain than before. Some of our leaders had come around for visits the next morning with each group and I found myself upset with them on all accounts for not having a solution other than “sticking it out”. After they left, I found time to pray and I raised up one of my most helpless prayers ever.
“Father, you HAVE to intervene! I can’t do this, but YOU can. Don’t just fix my attitude, BE my attitude. Don’t just heal my body, come and fill my body. Make me like you and filled with you in every way possible.”
And intervene He did, once again. It all started with my attitude. I can’t explain it, but within an hour, I was ready for any challenge that came my way. I was still in a lot of pain, but for some reason, I didn’t really care. I felt like all of a sudden I had some sort of superpower called “contentment”.
Finally my heart was in a place where God could remold it and He took full advantage of it, because within just another hour, I met a very special boy. His name is Zechariah, and he is changing my life.
“We were walking through the village and up ahead walked this boy who was maybe in his late teens or early twenties. He smelled, even from far away, and was walking strangely and making funny noises. I braced myself for our passing because I could tell he had some sort of mental disability.
Some back story here for you, I have always been one to hate standing out, and to me, even reaching out and loving someone different than the majority was too much. Before today, I’d be ashamed to admit even associating with someone different was a task I was usually not willing to do, because I felt like it would highlight and exaggerate my own differences, and I didn’t want that to happen at all costs. This always showed when I was around my mom’s students. She worked with special education students and sometimes had them in our home, too. My mom and I were very close in some ways, so when she worked in my high school, I would usually visit her in the day. She loved welcoming me into her students’ lives, but I always shied away from it, scared of highlighting my own differences. I, of course, admired her ability to selflessly love in this way, I just couldn’t get myself to do it, wondering why God skimped out on giving me those genes. (Remember how I prayed that God would reveal sin in my life and then correct it? It’s happennnning. Praise the Lord for His grace I’m receiving in FULL measure!)
Fast forward back to Kalungu. As we approached him, he was in the middle of our path and the members of the family we were with gave him a big shove out of the way without saying a word accompanied with a disgusted look on their faces. My first emotional response to this interaction? Relief.
My heart sank. ‘Who am I right now?!? Who am I at all? What is wrong with me???’ I thought. I found myself going through the quickest heart change probably in the history of forever. I turned around and looked at him as he stared at us passing by. ‘This is what the community thinks of you, huh? You must be lonely and so hurt inside, but I can’t help you, or I would stand out… especially here, by the looks of it, but I want to. How can I love you without standing out?’
Then the voice of Jesus, simple and clear per usual: “Brooke, love stands out.”
I turned around again and smiled really big and waved. He followed us all the way to the church where we were headed for a choir rehearsal and everyone around seemed incredibly annoyed. I was excited. I asked if anyone knew the boy’s name and one woman said that it was Zechariah. I greeted him by name and watched perhaps the biggest smile in the world appear on his face. I came and sat by him and when the choir started singing, joyfully dancing with him around the room. I looked like a goofball, many eyes on me, and for once, I didn’t care. Because Zechariah might be different, but he’s a person first, and there are things like joy and laughter that Zechariah has more of than any person I’ve ever met.
I think there’s way more to life than not standing out, especially if you follow Jesus. I don’t know when or where I started living under the delusion, but one thing is for sure, I refuse to anymore. Love stands out. Jesus stood out on the cross in both the greatest stand apart event and the greatest act of love of all time. Why do I curse God for the things that make me stand out? Whether or not those things are from or of Him, the understanding and permission it gives me to stand out in love is worth it all and more.”
He knows what He’s doing, that’s for sure. Because in the middle of my hardest struggles there, He was teaching me deep down lessons of the kingdom that will never be moved. (Which aligns with a word I received a few weeks back that said before bringing the kingdom through me, He wanted to build it in me, first.)
Still at the church, while I was journaling the above story about Zechariah, two leaders from FCE (Sulene and Martha) found me so we could talk and pray. They had heard about how miserable I was and wanted to give me someone else to talk to. I explained to them the massive heart changes that were going on and how physically, I still didn’t feel great, but how emotionally and spiritually I had never been better. They were excited for me and proceeded to pray for physical healing. That’s when things got even crazier.
I’ve always been terrified and ashamed to be open about the fact that I have a disease called PCOS. Just a couple months before this trip to Zambia, I started being a little more open about it with a few friends. It has come up a lot on this trip in a lot of ways, and some of my friends here and I have wondered if God wanted to heal me of it while here. This made things very interesting when Sulene was praying for physical healing for me and started using exact words and phrases in her prayer that aligned exactly with words in the diagnosis of the disease. She had no idea that she was saying was awakening a great hope and faith, but as she was praying, my heart asked my Father, “Are you really doing it?”
I let Sulene and Martha go back to base without telling them in that moment how crazy their prayer was hitting more than they realized because I was hesitant to see if the results would meet my hopes. Starting in a matter of hours though, not only did my body physically start to feel better, but I also watched symptoms of PCOS slowly start to disappear. It was very gradual and nothing completely went away. I was still in pain throughout the entire stay, but it definitely improved and I was able to finish my village stay with great joy. (I should mention, the symptoms I saw disappear came back a couple days after my village stay. “Old Brooke” would have lost faith in that moment, but “New Brooke” completely believes that she is still being healed, even when the symptoms are still there. Makes no sense? Well that’s faith, and for once I have a heck of a lot of it.)
After being back at base, I finally did get to share with Martha, Sulene, and the rest of my team the crazy things that God had been up to in me. One of the leaders then asked me to share my experience with the entire FCE Kalungu base as well as the FCE leaders from the other training centers around Southern Africa. I realized when reciting my experience that we may have spent most of every day cracking open ground nuts (peanuts) and I may have swallowed a lot of food that I never hope to again. I may have been referred to as “Muzungu” for four days while the family learned my African partners name and story and I may have been in extreme pain sleeping on hard packed dirt/concrete every night, but I’m so thankful for all of it. This is how the Skolonga family lives. This is how a whole lot of families live. What looked unhealthy was probably the most healthy way I could live in my whole life: getting out of my comfort zone and my way of life and into somebody else’s. I can tell you thankfulness takes on a new meaning when all of a sudden you have a mattress again (and it feels like a freaking cloud from heaven) and a shower and a toilet and clean water and friends who speak your language, etc. etc. etc. I’m also thankful for my experience in the village, because it allowed God to reach a whole new part of me that I think He’s been waiting to get to for a long time.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brooke Jeries • 2015 International Immersion Intern