Today I Saw God

Into the Desert

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The sea has parted forming a wall of water on both sides and a commanding voice booms, "You may paaasss."That's how I have always pictured the scene as the ancient Israelites marched, en mass, through the red sea on their way out of Egypt. I imagine Moses at the helm, smiling triumphantly, exuberantly and perhaps a little relievedly as his magic staff actually accomplished what God had told him it would: Let my people go!

Yet, according to the book of Exodus, the Israelites were none too sure about things, Red Sea parting or not:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and criedout to theLord.They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" – Exodus 11:10-12

"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?"Ironically, this was the phrase that overtook me as I encountered theactualdesert for the first time.The Sahara of North Africa was stark, dry and barren; sand upon sand as far as the eye could see.

I had been looking forward to this family excursion for months. The trip was planned, a guide secured, preparations made, clothing purchased and accommodations booked. All was made ready for our travel to Morocco. This day's journey was the trip's crown jewel: riding camels through the desert to a campsite where we would spend the night in tents under the expanse of a night sky, completely unspoiled by ambient light of any humankind. We would be alone with the stars in the desert. What bliss

But first, the desert. Just mounting my camelwas a bit harrowing as she lurched forward and then backward to achieve her standing, but as the guide led our small family group toward the dunes, I settled into the clippety-clop rhythm of my ride.I even loosened my death grip on the saddle slightly as we started up the first dune.

The setting was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was the purest expression of two complimentary colors: an infinity in grains of carmelized sand piled against an inestimable expanse of sky blue. The line separating them as if a kindergartner had drawn it with a crayon. The scene was miraculous, both breathtakingly beautiful and ominously frightening. Fear and awe all at once.

No greenery. No trees. No water. Only sprigs of dried grasses. Hardly a sign of life of any kind. And we were setting out into it. All I could think was:"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?" Those Israelites had a point. Just imagine being led away from everything you ever knew, all supply, all solace and all resources into a promised land that looked anything but promising. My judgment of those Israelites was premature. I forgive them their doubt.

And yet, the awe and beauty was palpable in its simplicity, quiet and tranquility as we upped and downed the dunes. Silent movement. Slow trudging progress towardHow did our guide know which way to go with no landmarks and no visual cues? Everything looked exactly the same to me. The occasional brave pebble rolled downward, displaced by our camels' hooves, but a brief gust of sultry wind would wipe away the footsteps and remove all evidence that we were here.

We had placed our wellbeing in the hands of our guide, a mere teenager. He was a member of a nomadic tribe whose family had lived and loved this land for generations. He didn't speak our language, and we didn't speak his. Still, we let ourselves be guided and came to trust our sturdy ridesup and over, out and around, over and back, side hill and downhillas one does the mule who carries you along the switchbacks overlooking the Grand Canyon."They don't often lose people on these trips," I told myself.

When the campsite came within view, I confess I exhaled a relieved sigh. Light was growing dimmer and all of me could use a rest. It had cooled off from the daytime 105 degrees to an evening "low" in the upper 90s. As evening fell and stars appeared overhead, we trudged up the nearby dune to get a closer look. Laying back and resting on the fine, dry Sahara sand, we looked up at the stars the same ones that overlooked all the earth's inhabitants and the very same that accompanied the ancient Israelites; still they twinkled down at us. I was completely entranced.

The miraculous always astounds me. With reverence, we set off to see and understand and experience on holy ground. Then we come before God in complete awe and he reminds us of his promise to Abraham and his son Isaac, and through them, to us.

"I will surely bless youand make your descendantsas numerous as the stars in the skyand as the sand on the seashore." – Genesis 22:17

Now, it seems odd that the Lord spoke of the sand on the seashore to a people in the desert. Perhaps, he had in mind to part the sea.

This post originally appeared on "The Kinesthetic Christian."

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Thank You Child Rescue Centre

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"You miss him, don't you, Mommy?" This is the question my daughter asked as she looked at my phone and saw the wallpaper picture of me and a little boy from Sierra Leone.

"I do. I miss him a lot."

I think about him a lot these days. I think about how he and his brothers and sisters at the Child Rescue Centre (CRC) have been out of school while the country desperately tries to stop the Ebola virus from spreading in communities. I am thankful that he's receiving support from Helping Children Worldwide to continue his education at the CRC even if schools are closed. I find myself looking at pictures of the smiling children at the CRC and thanking God that they are healthy. I'm thankful that those responsible for the CRC thought to purchase much of their food in advance, anticipating the economic strain this epidemic would cause.

Had the Ebola virus flared up a few years ago, I wonder if it would have impacted me as much as currently does. Prior to my trip to Sierra Leone this past winter, I did not have the personal connection that I do now to the children of the CRC. They were just names on a page, faces in photographs. My visit changed that. They became real kids that I loved. There was the little girl who lost her tooth, much like my daughter lost her tooth this past week. There were the boys begging to play soccer at every spare moment, much like my sons who are constantly asking to play basketball.

I don't have an answer to the Ebola crisis. Those that do seem to lack the resources to implement a solution. Many reports predict that the situation will get worse before it gets better. I pray that they are wrong, but I fear that they are not.

I don't know when life will go back to normal for the children at the CRC, but I am so thankful that they are under the constant care of loving adults who are doing everything possible to keep them safe and healthy. They've spent these past several weeks staying on the CRC property, being taught academics and participating in the "School of Champions," which includes Bible Trivia and weekly athletic events.

Please join me in praying for the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa. Pray for medical workers who are working tirelessly to help stop this epidemic from claiming the lives of more people. Pray for the children and adults in the CRC that they may continue to feel God's presence in their lives, even during this time.

I am so thankful for the joy that these children bring to the world. They have blessed me so richly. Recently, the younger children of the CRC sang a song with these words: " Sing, sing, sing; we will sing for the Lord. Dance, dance, dance; we will dance for the Lord. This is a Happy Day! Come join us to sing. This is a Happy Moment! Come join us to celebrate!"

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What Difference Does it Make?

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She was sleeping in my arms; this little girl, about 5 years old, sweet as anything, with big brown eyes and soft curly hair. It was pretty hot. It was over 90 degrees in the mud floored, thatched roof hut we were sitting in and she had been sound asleep for about 20 minutes. It was the end of the day and I was waiting for the medical team to finish up from our Village Outreach experience in a village near Bo, Sierra Leone. I had just spent several hours weighing babies and recording their weight so that the hospital team would know how the children were progressing. Were they malnourished? Did they have an illness? We weighed baby after baby that day, with lots of older children running around in the heat. But this little girl didn't have the strength to run anymore. She was suffering from malaria and malnutrition and after discovering that I was not just a scary, white lady she decided we could be friends. We played clapping games and we sang some songs and then she just climbed up in my lap and slept. I was smitten. But as I held her and enjoyed the charms of holding a sleeping child I was struck by the slight weight of her sleeping body. I worried about her future and the future of all the other children in this village and in all the villages in Africa, and around the world. Children who are hungry, who don't have access to health care or school.

So many children, so much illness, so much hunger. It's a classic question; there is so much pain and suffering in the world. How will one person or one church make a difference? It is hardly a drop in a bucket. But then I remembered worship in April. It was one of those surprisingly hot days. No one was ready for it, the men all had their suit coats on and the women were in sweaters and long sleeves. It wasn't terrible at the beginning of the service but soon the sweaters came off and the bulletins became fans. Even I was hot which almost never happens. I slipped out to the controls during the sermon to make an adjustment. I pushed the arrow so that it was only one degree cooler. One degree. In about 10 minutes the fans stopped and people became noticeably more comfortable. I knew to move it one degree because on a previous Sunday I had moved it three degrees and within 20 minutes it was like an icebox in the sanctuary. It is amazing to me how much difference a degree makes.

As I sat in that hot room and prayed for this sleeping girl, I realized that our church was making a difference. She was a degree. A degree that was receiving nutrition, and malaria medication, and not only her but her mother and siblings too. She was just one of several degrees and if we keep at it, if we continue to try to change the world for Christ, then more and more children like her will have hope and a future. All it takes is one person at a time to raise his or her hand and children in a village in Africa will have good food and health care and more and more children will have hope and a future.

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Maternal Health

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Occasionally at my health center, I work in the VCT department. This acronym stands for Voluntary Counseling and Testing and deals exclusively with people who want to be tested for HIV/AIDS.

Normally there are a few people who come in, some with stories, most silently, and almost all testing negative. However, occasionally you get someone who really makes a huge impact on your life; Emmaculee was that person for me.

I was running late so I slipped into the consultation room, ready to help the first patient (normally we have individuals come alone). I immediately stopped in my tracks when an unusual sight met my eyes. A woman sat in the room, surrounded by her four young children, one a young baby only a few months old. My curiosity was soon quenched as she started to pour out her life story to me and the nurse (who was kind enough to translate for me).

Emmaculee and her husband are both HIV positive but because of the stigma attached to it, he refuses to take his ARV treatment and has also forbidden his wife from the life-sustaining drugs. Recently, he has become paralyzed on one side of his body, a result of neglecting his disease, and can no longer work or support his family. Desperate, Emmaculee took a completely taboo route that is almost unheard of in this male-dominated and traditional society. She left her husband.

To clarify how difficult this decision was and continues to be: now Emmaculee and her four small children are living with a man who has been generous enough to take them in. Emmaculee farms for him five days a week to pay the rent. On the weekends, she farms in an attempt to sustain herself and her children. It's clearly not enough. The whole family was obviously not well fed, and she pointedly avoided our questions about the children being in school (I highly doubt they were). Women who leave their husbands in this society are often rejected and lose the necessary support that is essential to sustaining life. Even with a family intact, people in this community are barely eking out a living. Malnutrition is rampant, and many children are out of school, even in families with two parents. When Emmaculee recently approached her estranged husband to ask for food for the children, he ordered their eldest son to attack her. Her head was still bandaged from the wound where he hit her with a rock. There was no police investigation, and even if there had been, the husband probably would not have been punished.

Despite the hardships, Emmaculee continues to be strong. She is taking her ARVs faithfully and brought her children in that day to be tested. She found out that she was HIV positive during her last pregnancy, and her husband (who most likely infected her in the first place) filled her head with fear and lies that now all the children would have HIV and that he was deliberately going to give it to them (myths about how HIV is transmitted are very prevalent). Luckily, the children are all HIV/AIDS negative.

As we wrapped up our discussion with this remarkable woman, we asked her where she lived. She and others in her distant community, have to walk 2.5 to 3 hours to reach medical help. There are no closer health posts or clinics. I can't imagine the desperation that must come from having a loved one who is seriously ill or injured and knowing that help is hours away and often too expensive to afford even if you arrive at a medical facility. This distance is impossible for many people and makes village outreach programs absolutely essential. No one should have to suffer or even die from a completely curable disease like malaria. Those infected with HIV/AIDS should have access to the life-saving treatments they so need. Health is a basic human right that is denied to millions around the world.

Village outreach, like what is done by Mercy Hospital, saves many lives and significantly improves health standards in isolated communities.

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Bringing Hope to Sierra Leone

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One of the greatest perks of my job is that I come across so many stories every day of the amazing things that are being done in the United Methodist Church. This week I was especially blessed to read story after story of the things that the United Methodist Church is doing in Sierra Leone. Rather than retell the stories, I thought it better to direct you to the sources so that you can read these stories for yourself. I hope you will enjoy these articles as much as I did this week.

Welcome Kadija to the Child Rescue Centre!
The Child Rescue Centre Residential family has grown again! Kadija, 6 years old, was accepted in the Child Rescue Centre Residential Program late last month. She joins her two older brothers,Norman and Mustapha Koroma, who came into the residential program last year. Norman, Mustapha and Kadija had been in the care of their aunt under very poor conditions in which they had to work instead of going to school. Read the full story.

Seeing Beauty in Sierra Leone
In 2010, photographer Mike DuBose visited a tiny village in Sierra Leone as part of the Imagine No Malaria effort to share health information and bed nets. He returned to the village recentlyand reconnected with those whose lives were touched and whose stories, and smiles, touched him. Read the full story.

Beating Malaria, One Household at a Time
For Bilyatu Luther, a widow who cares for her four children and two extended family members, malaria has been a constant menace. Luther, who lives in Nigeria and works as a cleaner earning less than the national minimum wage, has felt the financial burden as well as the emotional strain of malaria sometimes taking each child and dependent to the clinic as many as three or four times in the rainy season. Read the full story.

Kissy UM Hospital Expands Mother-Child Health Care
In 1974, Swedish United Methodists laid the foundations for Kissy United Methodist Hospital when they sent a nurse/midwife to Freetown, Sierra Leone, on a health mission. Indiana United Methodists added their ongoing support, and United Methodists in Ohio and in the Baltimore-Washington Conference provided additional help. All of that effort for almost four decades led to the birth of a hospital from a clinic. Read the full story.

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