Life can leave you so bitter

The Apostle James warned us to beware the power of the tongue. Though it’s small, it can set a whole forest ablaze. For the past few weeks, maybe even longer, my tongue has been out of control. Within in the confines of our home Ray has practically been assaulted daily with constant negativity about this person and that person, and even that person’s mother’s brother’s step-baby. I had something to say about everybody.

A bitter revelation

Last night, as an argument Ray and I had about money led to a time of prayer and repentance, I began to feel convicted about my recent behavior, so I confessed and acknowledged that I knew I was doing wrong and asked the Lord for help. Normally I “confess” and “ask for help”, and then get up and go right back to what I was doing before. It’s no wonder that Jesus never felt inclined to share any insight with me about what was happening or how I could change. But this time my confession was accompanied with tears and a broken heart, so in response the Lord gave me one word: bitter.

Unbeknownst to me, bitterness had crept into my heart, and like a silent killer began to spread its influence abroad. My tongue was only a symptom of my sin-sick soul, of course because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Truth is, I have a lot of reasons that I could be bitter, and when God first gave me the word, my mind went straight to those issues, but none of those things seemed to really touch on the root of my problem. Remember the argument I mentioned that led to the revelation? Remember what was it over?

Money.

Let’s begin again

When Ray and I moved to Kenya, we decided to stay out of ministry entirely for the first year of marriage, so we were just hanging out in Nairobi getting better acquainted with each other and learning how to support ourselves. In the beginning we really struggled financially, but we had both agreed to this lifestyle, and in truth, we were happy. At that time there was no bitterness to be seen anywhere near my heart. I honestly felt a little proud of myself for being able to hack it in spite of what people thought or said I could do.

Finally we started a business and literally made over $1,000 a month. For us, especially in the Kenyan economy, that’s a pretty big deal. It was during that season in our life that we decided we always wanted to work for our living. Even once we got into ministry and I could finally claim my long awaited status of missionary, we agreed not to raise support for personal expenses, only for ministry needs. Yes, we want to serve the people here as missionaries, but Kenya is our home. We’re not just here for a season. We will raise our children here, and we want to build our family legacy here from the sweat of our own brows. It’s just a personal conviction we have.

Moving to Kitale meant we had to start over, and once again it took us a while to get back on our feet. There would be dry spells and then we’d have a bunch of jobs all at once. Before this week we were in a dry spell… for two months. We already had practice living off of 100 shillings (about $1.50) a day, sometimes less, so it was no big deal really. We were used to it.

The inciting incident

The catalyst behind my downward spiral into negativity came as the result of a plan we made to travel to the States to surprise my niece for her 6th birthday. Though we were on track to making that happen when we lived in Nairobi, Kitale proved to be perfect for ministry purposes, but not so perfect for business. Nevertheless, God took care of us and we never went hungry or without shelter. Ray was able to use his skills to do odd jobs here and there that kept us afloat, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many times again, our spiritual parents here have really covered us. God has used them to make this transition bearable in numerous ways. He has shown us time and time again through them that He’s got our backs.

I’ve written before about how I usually try to be overly optimistic or live a faith-filled life instead of admitting that I have a problem, so even though our savings for plane tickets began dwindling away to cover living expenses, I maintained that I had faith that God would work out all the arrangements. Meanwhile, I watched others travel, shop, eat, and spend like there was no tomorrow, and bitterness began to set in.

I promise you I had no idea I was becoming bitter at first. Every once in while I would comment on how I wish I could live like so and so or how it would be nice to be able to afford to get a new cardigan since mine had holes in it, but that didn’t seem bitter, it just seemed like a normal human response. But you give bitterness an inch and it will rapidly take a mile, so here we are today with me coming to the realization that as content as I thought I was, I really was just bitter.

Time to make a change

Now here’s the thing. I know that the answer isn’t more money. No matter how much money we acquire, I would never be able to rid myself of the greenish film that tints my vision. I would still be a jealous, envious, and bitter person; I’d just be a jealous, envious, and bitter person with a fist full of cash. God knows that better than I do, so I know that He’s revealing this to me now so I don’t crumble under the pressure later. Work is picking up again, some friends have helped us get our plane ticket fund restarted, and we’re coming out of the dry spell, but that alone won’t change my attitude. I have to.

Now more than ever I’m feeling the need to dip myself into the permeating presence of a God who is overflowing with love, joy, and peace. I need to take my eyes off of others and self, and put them back where they’re supposed to be, gazing into the fiery eyes of the King of Glory. My hope is not in wealth, but in God, who richly provides us with everything we need.

A more serious symptom of my sickness was a lack of desire to spend time with God. I can’t say that I was bitter towards Him, but I did feel like escaping our situation through movies and mindless Internet activity was a more appealing option than reading the Bible or praying. I was so wrong. It was the very remedy my soul needed!

I know that bitterness doesn’t just go away overnight. My confession kicked over the table it was feasting on, but it will keep trying to come back for scraps. When I hear stories of opportunity that money has afforded other people, I have to make the choice then and there to say no to bitterness. I have to deny it again and again to the point that it becomes starved and is forced to leave in search of a better host. It’s only by the grace and power of Jesus that I am able to achieve that, so I ask those of you that have it on your hearts to keep us in prayer, that you pray for me in that wise. I’m sure there are plenty of other roots of bitterness or whatever in my heart that need to be dealt with, but this is what God is highlighting to me in this season. I’d sure love your prayer support.

I’d also like to say that though my particular struggle with bitterness is centered around money, I believe this blog post can be applicable to many situations: singleness, marriage, children, material possessions, time, etc. As I search my heart and bring its contents to the Lord for illumination, I pray that this post encourages you to do the same.

Much love,

The winds of change are coming

We thought we knew what we were getting into, but we had no idea.

Before Ray and I got together, he had an organization called True Heroes Under God (T.H.U.G.) which purposed to represent talented, vulnerable youth in the music industry. I was a middle school teacher with love for music and dance and a heart for orphans. In our preliminary jabber sessions about what our future would look like, we talked about family-style children’s homes and a compound with a studio, but we really didn’t have a clue about how to turn our ideas into a cohesive unit.

In April we finally got a clear vision and we began writing it down… on our bedroom wall.

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There are many existing children’s homes that would love to provide extracurricular activities for their kids, but only have the resources to cover the basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, and education. That’s where The Joshua Blueprint comes in. We want to come alongside existing children’s homes and schools for orphans and provide access to art and music education.

Our ultimate goal is to provide a facility where the kids from all participating organizations can come and be trained in music, art, dance, film/photography, and acting. There are so many talented kids out here, you’d be amazed. They just need the opportunity. Therefore, our aim is to help these kids develop their God-given talents unto the glory of the Lamb. We want to teach them how the use of their gifts is worship unto the Lord, provide a platform to use their talents to minister to others, start a house of prayer where worship, dance, and art can all be incorporated, and transform the Kenyan music and arts industries for the kingdom of God.

The facility is a long-term goal, but in the meantime we decided to go to a city in the western province of Kenya called Kitale, where there are a large number of organizations that cater to vulnerable children. Rick Strickland, a great friend of ours who works with the Pokot tribe, referred us to three amazing people:

Bill and Patricia Cornell, Vision for Africa

Jeff and Carla Piccici, Rehema, In Step Foundation Children’s Home

Bud and Kimberly Huffman, Mattaw Children’s Village

Our visit began and ended with Bill and Patricia. Of all the new friends and contacts we made in Kitale, they were the most significant. I’ll tell you why in a later post, but without a doubt, they encouraged us personally and spiritually in a way that left a great impact on our hearts.

A glimpse into the beauty of servitude

Under the leadership of the Cornells and the demonstration of Bill’s terrific ability to use four-wheel drive, we arrived at our first destination deep in the interior of western Kenya, Kiminini. Pastor Victor, the founder of Shalom Academy for Orphans, was not available for us to speak with, but we were able to visit the sites of the schools and dialogue with the teachers.

With the help of some generous benefactors, Pastor Victor has been able to take in 472 kids and give them access to education and food they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

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The mud building pictured below is where they started out, but new schools have been built and they are migrating all of the students into the new buildings.

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In the following year, we hope to help Pastor Victor incorporate arts into the students’ curriculum. They also have a desire to compete in music festivals, and they hope that we can help them achieve that goal.

Meeting with like minds

Following our visit to the school, we met with Jeff and Carla in town. Unfortunately, time did not allow for us to get to visit their ministry base, but we had a great time talking with the couple about their vision for the kids that they care for and how we can help them. Their ministry is located in Cherengani, Kitale and currently caters to 153 kids, mostly babies. Although they primarily focus on caring for the basic needs of the children, they also desire to build a medical center and school. In the meantime we would help out with the older kids and get them engaged in some extracurricular activities.

The ones that move His heart

Our final visit was to the Mattaw Children’s Village. Bud and Kimberly Huffman are some of the smartest people we know when it comes to organizing the structure of an overseas ministry. We learned so much from Bud (Kimberly was in Congo pursuing the onset of a dream the Lord put in her heart a long time ago) about how to begin as a fledgling organization, and he answered many of the questions we had been praying about the past few months.

On a tour of the village we got to see the five houses where they have married parents caring for 12 kids (six girls, six boys), a farm where the children are learning to grow their own produce and livestock, a large open play area, and a church where they are currently hosting 24/7 prayer for Kimberly’s safe return from Congo.

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In the future we hope to not only work with training the little ones in music and art, but to teach the kids how to use instruments to engage in the flow of the Holy Spirit in a worship setting. The Mattaw family already has dynamic times of worship together when they meet for church, but in areas such as playing the keyboard, there is a need for something more than the same melody that runs through most songs you hear in Kenyan worship. By simply teaching scales, how to arpeggiate chords, and the circle of fifths, we can unlock keys for these young worshipers to really set an atmosphere for the presence of God.

Gearing up for change

We are still keeping to our commitment as a couple to not get involved in ministry until after a year of marriage has passed, but we will spend the next five months researching, networking, and planning. As we pursue the implementation of this vision, we would love your prayers. Please check out our new Prayer Requests page and let us know you’re standing with us.

Also, feel free to check out the links of the organizations we mentioned and to “like” our Joshua Blueprint Facebook page. You can find tons of pictures of the kiddos there as well as get updates about how the ministry is developing.

We appreciate your love and support through this season of change. God bless.