Monday, July 8, 2013

The Glory in Green Weave, Blue Flip Flops and Fish Heads

I had set in my mind this afternoon that I would simply stop by my friends in the village houses for a quick visit and then come home and work on my computer in the afternoon. But, as we all know, nothing is “quick” in Africa. I walked down the narrow dirt pathway to my favorite little area in the village. Hanging laundry hit me in the face as  I walked there clumsily, tripping over rocks and speaking broken KiSwahili to the people I passed. We rescued three of our girls from this area. Their birth families have now become some of my closest friends.
About an hour later after sitting with some of my friends, kissing many snotty babies and speaking even more broken KiSwahili I found myself sitting in the home of a new friend, Mama ke Katzo. I sat there in the mud hut surrounded by the smell of local beer, men shooting heroin next to me, a gorgeous baby in my lap and I looked down at my lunch. I love how the poor always feed me even when they can’t feed themselves. Lunch was sima (a stable food in many countries, its white soft stuff you eat with your hands), a nice pile of salt, and a one small fish. Even in Mozambique this was one of my favorite meals… minus the pile of salt of course.
I started to eat. One of my small friends (she is three) was eagerly dipping her dirty hands into my plate and grabbing handfuls for herself. She was hungry and this was likely all she would eat all day. I was happy because they always serve me huge portions that I never want to finish, so I was glad to have some help. At one point she dipped those dirty hands into the fish bowl, yanked the poor fish’s head off and carried it across the tiny room to our friend Kelsey. Kelsey is a baby, not quite one years old. Kelsey happily grabbed the head and before stuffing it in her mouth she held it out and laughed with such joy! It was as if the head was a trophy or a gold medal she’d won! I couldn’t help but join in on her laughter which made Mwanajuma (the three yr old) start laughing and Kelsey’s mother was quick to follow suite. We all laughed joy filled laughs from our bellies. Light and joy filled the room.
Soon after we got up and my friend walked me to the road. I looked back at the dirt house, the heroin addicts completely toppled over by this point, the old mamas sitting outside and selling potatoes, and I thought about little Kelsey and the fish head. I smiled. I laughed. I walked away with a new pep in my step. What was so glorious about a dead fish’s head? Well, nothing really. But the simplicity of me and my friends, sitting and loving and laughing, and holding dead fishes heads-the simplicity of the gospel- well, that was absolutely glorious!
I smile as I think about the simplicity of the gospel, the simplicity of love, because our daughter, Serah, should be the poster child for it. She has definitely got it down. When out loving the poor I often just step back and watch the love and generosity of Jesus flow so purely from her little heart. Our family took a little vacation for the girls’ spring break last week. We went to visit a friend of ours who is starting a new ministry base in the bush. One afternoon Serah asked me, “Mama, can we go visit some houses”. I told her of course we could, and before we left the house she wrapped a leso ( traditional piece of clothing kind of like a wrap you wear at the beach) around her waist and slipped her light blue flip flops on her feet. We walked through the bush and found a few little mud houses we stopped at and greeted people. The last home we visited had many children. We sat and talked and played with them. As we were walking away we noticed we had a small crowd of sweet little ones with bare feet following us. We continued to walk along, the kids followed with shy smiles on their faces, Serah went on and on about how we must come back to this village and give all of our stuff away to the poor. I listened and smiled as this, our little princess in the dirt, poured out her heart for the poor. When we reached the house we were staying in we had to say goodbye to the kids. But before we did Serah took off her blue flip flops and gave them to one of the barefoot little precious ones following us. The girl smiled and said shyly “asante” which means thank you. Serah smiled and walked toward the house with a new pep in her newly barefoot step. Glory. There it was again. The gospel is simple. It looks like bare feet and blue flip flops.
Joy and I went to see our oldest daughter (the one who left Bella House) on Tuesday afternoon. For two hours. Not long enough. I guess some things are quick in Africa.

I was looking down at my phone while waiting for her to arrive at the bus stop when I heard that sweet voice say excitedly “Mom!”. I looked up to see her. My heart melted. The familiar feeling of home washed over me. She had braids. Green and black ones. It made me happy because green is her favorite color. Two hours later after hugs, kisses, and deep conversation about Jesus, life, and prostitution it was time to say goodbye. I held her as she laid her head on my right shoulder and wept. Her green braids were in my face and her cold tears fell onto my arm. I held her and I just prayed “Jesus, Jesus….”. As she walked away she looked different. I felt sad, yes. But I smiled because I felt happy at the same time. Because glory, His glory. It’s still there even when the story hasn’t quite reached its happy ending yet. And even when we are at the part of the story when our daughter who we rescued willingly went back to a horrific life, when its easy to focus on the night clubs and mini skirts and johns, I have to remember to look where the glory is. In this case, the green weave. She still has a favorite color. That hasn’t and never will be stolen from her.  Glory!

Christian Girl Rehab? I Feel Very Amy Winehouse About That (June 20,2013)

Can you believe I’ve been back home in Kenya for almost 3 months now? That’s so crazy to me. Time is flying!
Lots have happened since I’ve returned and lots have stayed the same. Jesus is still good. He’s still hangin out up there on the throne and down here with us at the same time. You know, the usual. My daughters are alive and well and just as crazy as ever. I’m sittin here like, “when is my next Honey Nut Cheerios shipment coming in?”. The prostitutes are prostituting. The preachers are preaching. The missionaries are…. missioning? So yeah, everything is pretty much the same here in Mtwapa. Except the fact that apparently, i’m crazy now.
I know what most of you are thinking, at least those of you who know me. “Brittanie, you were already crazy”. I know, I know. But I always thought that my craziness was kind of a secret. Like, before I thought that what I did would be big enough to cover my craziness. So I used my “identity” as an actress to cover up my crazy. “I’m not crazy, I’m an artist”, i’d say to myself. Hey, all good artists are crazy anyway right? Then I tried to use my age as a cover up for my crazy. Back then I thought, “Hey, I’m 21 years old. I’m not crazy. I just have more shots of tequila in me than brain cells”. Hey, all 21 year olds are crazy anyway right? But then both of those phases of my life past and so I tried to use my habitual hopping between two continents as an excuse. At that point it got more aggressive. “Shut up! You’d be crazy too if your life and your heart and your work were divided between two continents!!!” I shouted in defense to my own accusatory “you are crazy” thoughts. But then that phase of my life passed too. And then we reached the point of about 3 years ago when I fell in love with Jesus. “YES!!” I thought, “Jesus is DEFINITELY big enough to cover up my crazy!!!” Well friends, I’ve got some bad news. I love Jesus, but i’m still crazy. The only thing is that now, everyone knows it. (WARNING to all secretly crazy people who may potentially fall in love with Jesus in the near future: even if you love Jesus you can still be crazy)
No, but seriously. What i’m saying is, like most people in the world, I had some pretty messed up crap happen to me when I was a kid. Problems that I help girls here work through are anything but foreign to me. But the thing is, according to all the real Christians and all the real missionaries, those things have made me crazy. So crazy in fact that I need to go to rehab or what real Christians call “a season of inner healing” or “time alone with Jesus” or “a season to be poured into with out having to pour out” or any other really loving Christiany phrase that has the word “season” or “Jesus” in it. Christians are really good at loving and coming up with gorgeous sounding phrases. I really need to step my phrase game up.
Basically the thing is, my daughters are survivors of sexual abuse and they need me to help them walk through the process of healing and recovery from that trauma. The thing is, I never walked through a process of healing and recovery from my trauma, so that’s where it gets sticky. I need to do that first.
The other thing is that I kind of became a mom of 6 basically overnight. I wasn’t expecting that. So apparently that whole thing also kind of traumatized me. And, my own mother is amazing. But there are lots of things I just have never had the courage to bring up to her and work through with her and so those wounds are affecting the way I parent my own children. So, in order to be a better mother I need to work through those things with my own mother and in my own heart with my Jesus.
Speaking of my Jesus and my heart, I experienced a bit of heartbreak a few weeks ago. Our oldest girl decided to leave home and go back to her old life. It felt like having one of your limbs cut off. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk to anyone. It was so painful. I felt like such a failure. I felt like it was my fault. But I know all of those were just feelings. I can’t take responsibility for her actions. I did the best I could to lead her down a better path. The truth is that i’m not the savior. Jesus is. I can’t save these girls. Only He can. So I have just put her in His hands, where she belongs and i’m trusting Him to continue to pursue her and be her Perfect Mother.
All of these things I’ve been writing about are just reminders of how dependent on Him I really am. I don’t know how some people do it. This work that we do, to be honest, it’s so hard. I literally can not make it through five minutes of the day without asking for His help, without talking to him or leaning into His heart. It’s also complicated for me because I was working in Africa before I knew what a missionary was. I was just helping people because I knew it was the right thing to do. But now, you add on this “missionary” title and it just adds a whole new component to life like Christian girl rehab, and real Christians who you feel so inadequate around, and failure that involves life or death, and having to deal with all of your own junk in order to do a good job. It makes me crazy! And that’s the problem in the first place!
I feel very Amy Winehouse about it all. I dont want to go to Christian girl rehab. And i’m afraid to deal with my own crap and I’m freaked out  because my leadership has told me that they want to hire a married Kenyan couple to move into the house with us and help us take care of the girls. Big red button of insecurity! Then what will I be needed here for? Gahhhh thats ugly! And the more ugliness I see in myself the more convinced I am that they are right and I do need Christian girl rehab which really pisses me off and makes me want to lock myself in my room and eat cheerios but I can’t because I finished my last stash which causes me to lean into Jesus’ heart and bury my face in His neck and then all of a sudden everything is ok and if Christian girl rehab is really what I need then sign me up.

Like, I said I knew I was crazy the whole time anyway.

I Don't Want to Change the World Anymore (May 11, 2013)

My classroom is hot and the lessons are long. Who signed me up for this? I've never liked school, and every time my teacher turns her back I sneakily check my facebook on my fancy iphone a missionary here blessed me with. Why, Daddy God? Why am  I sitting in this hot classroom struggling to get the simplest Swahili sentence out? I'm so frustrated I could cry. I sound like a two year old. I'm embarrassed.  I don't want to do this.  I can't speak this language. It's too hard. Do I have to? I'm supposed to be changing the world. I'm supposed to be rescuing sex slaves, feeding thousands, adopting abandoned children, being a world famous actress doing plays all over the world. Why, God? Why am I in this classroom?
"Daughter, you can get up right now and leave and I would still be proud of you. You can go and change the world, honey. You can go feed thousands. I'll bless you. I'd be so pleased with you, still. You could even go do plays, make music. You could go into every bar, every dirty hotel in this village and find little girls to rescue. I'd be so pleased. It's up to you my love, what do you want?"

"Daddy.... I want you. I want to be with you."

"Brittanie, well, I am here. I am right here in this classroom."
I got a huge shock when I arrived back from America. While I was away I made so many plans. I was going to start so many projects. I was going to reach so many people. I was going to do so many things when I got back. But after being home for about three days the Lord spoke to me. He spoke to me so simply and so sweetly. He just said, "stop". He said, "stop and be with me". This was so confusing because since I arrived in Kenya my most intimate times with Jesus have been as I was doing ministry. I encountered him in villages when I was feeding people or in night clubs when I was loving on prostitutes and strippers. I saw Him there. I experienced His love there. And it felt good. It felt really good. It felt so good in fact that I forgot the first lesson God ever taught me. I forgot about the simplicity of His love. I busied myself so much with trying to go out and love others that I never had anytime to just sit and let my Jesus love me. At some point I stopped thinking it was important....

But over the past few weeks God has reminded me. He basically told me to lay everything else, all the other projects and dreams of my heart, down before Him for a season and focus on two things. Being a daughter and being a mother. I ignored Him when He first said it. I had too many big plans. Too many amazing ideas. But, He said it again and again and again. So gently, so sweetly. Like a lover inviting me into intimacy with him. So, like I always do when He speaks to me like that, I said yes.What does "yes" look like right now? It looks like sitting in a classroom and learning to speak Swahili.
After returning from the States I realize that this whole motherhood thing is not just a cute little thing that i'm going to do for a few years. It's not just some missionary project that I'll do until I get over it. I have six children. I am a mother of six children. Six children here in Mtwapa believe deep down in their hearts that I am their mother. They crawl into my bed in the mornings when they wake up just to cuddle for a little bit before they start their day. They use my last name. They fight over who gets to sit next to me at dinner. They show me off to their friends. When they are hurting or in need they scream "Moooooooom!!", and they expect for either me or Joy to come. They think i'm perfect, not because I do everything right, but because I am theirs. I didn't fully understand how deeply they felt this until I left and came back. The director of our organization, my good friend Cassandra, called me while I was in the States and tried to explain this to me, but I didn't see it. Well, now I do. And wow.....
It was honestly a huge shock and pretty scary. Why? Well, because I have no flipping idea how to be a mother. I have absolutely no idea. Even though i've had a lot of practice over the past 8 months, there is still so much that I don't know. Thats where the whole focusing on two things comes in. In order to learn how to be a mother I first have to learn how to be a daughter, His daughter. He told me that if i just stop... If I just stop and be His, that He will teach me everything I need to know about being a mom in Mtwapa, Kenya. He will teach me to speak the language. He will teach me to ride a motorbike to get around. He will teach me how to discipline my kids. He will teach me how to cook Kenyan food, and do it well. But in order to do that He needs me to stop... just stop, and be His.

So this season looks a lot different than I thought it would. I now know that I'm not here to try to change the world and end sex slavery or shut down a brothel town through amazing projects and working really hard. I'm not even here for ministry. I am here for family. Daughters and mothers are not parts of ministry. They are members of a family. I'm not called to a children's home or a rescue home. I'm called to mother my children by being mothered and fathered by my God. I'm called to being His daughter.

It's funny because I look at Joy (our other mom) and I laugh because she does this with such ease. It's like she was created for this. And then I look at myself and I am such a mess. I'm so desperate for Jesus to teach me how to do this.... But maybe that's why He chose me... because He loves to choose the least likely, the biggest messes, and make them beautiful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Confessions of a Booty Shaking Missionary

Thank God for Beyonce’! I sat down to write this blog with the intention of writing about the heart wrenching pain I experienced when I left my daughters last week in Kenya for my 2 month furlough. I was going to write about the tears and how my heart has been ripped to pieces since being away from them. I was going to detail the long  ride to the airport and the look in their eyes as they said “Goodbye Mama, promise us you’ll come back” and then I was going to go into some deep parallel about Jesus. I was then going to share with you about how my first few days here in South Africa were filled with flashbacks of horrific rape stories, paranoia, and just intense reactions from the severe trauma I’ve experienced in Kenya. It was going to be good. It was going to be deep. You might have cried… But then Beyonce’ happened… and I mean, sometimes it’s just not that deep is it? Sometimes its just not about the deep Jesus parallel, sometimes its just about Beyonce’. I mean, it’s both right?… Yes, I did just say its sometimes about Beyonce’ and not the Jesus parallel. Uh oh, I hope the real Christians don’t read this one :/

What I mean is over the past three years since Ive been a Christian whenever I come home from Africa I feel this pressure. It’s like, everyone is expecting me to be this deep Christian missionary lady. And oh God, I guess in some ways I am! But like, I’m still me. I’m actually afraid of the deep Christian missionary ladies. If they found out that im prancing about abusing their title I think they would be very sad, and pray for me for a really long time. Like today, I sat down to write this blog and I got out my ipod and realized oh no! I only have deep Christian missionary lady music! Ah! What is this?! I’m on vacation! I don’t wanna be deep. I wanna dance! So I went and got my friends ipad and turned on Beyonce. Not gunna lie, I felt a little ashamed. As if all the deep Christian missionary ladies in all the world knew that I skipped my worship time today to shake my booty to Beyonce. But as I was cooking my breakfast, Bible closed, deep Christian missionary lady music out of sight, shaking my booty and singing at the top of my lungs to Beyonce I felt happy. And I felt like my friend Jesus was happy too! So I put the spatula down for a minute and listened. And I felt God saying to me that He loves it when I let go of that false responsibility I feel to be like everyone else, like every other Christian, like every other missionary. Yes, I’ve laid down my entire life for Him because that’s what He asked for. I’m in love with Him and I want to give Him anything He asks. But the beautiful thing is when I gave Him my old life, He gave me a new one. And this new life is fun because He is fun! And yes, sometimes its deep and its about rescuing sex slaves and counseling rape victims, but sometimes its also about closing the Bible, putting the “Christian music” away and going into the kitchen and shaking my booty to Beyonce with Jesus while frying my eggs. It’s both!

That’s what this week has reminded me of. I think I got so caught up in my life and raising our girls at home in Kenya that I almost lost my uniqueness. I almost lost what made me uniquely Brittanie and I don’t think that pleases God. He didn’t save me and then make me a carbon copy of most people that live the kind of life that I do. And honestly, its hard because many times I try to be that carbon copy especially at home in Kenya because I feel like that’s what im supposed to do. Isnt that how it goes? The young single missionary goes to a foreign land somewhere, becomes a mother of many, starts wearing long dresses and reads the Bible all day? Maybe for most people, but not for me. I know Him, I know my Jesus and I know that He loves me for who I am because He created me this way. In fact, I know that He likes to dance in the kitchen to Beyonce with me because I saw Him. I see Him. I see Him in the being a mom of rescued child prostitutes and sex slaves, and I see Him in the booty shaking :)

This trip has been so restorative for me. My God is so good, and He brought me here to South Africa and totally spoiled me! Ive had so much fun! And its only going to get better as I leave for America today. I will be there for 6 weeks. I love how when you give your life away to Him He always rewards you even when you least expect it! I miss my girls very much of course and much of my time is spent on the phone and the computer chatting to them and emailing with them about school and swimming and what they ate for dinner. But that is my pleasure. Its what I love. I love my dinner dates being interrupted by my 13 year old yelling into my phone “Hi Mama, what are you doing? Guess what happened at school today”! I live for that. I actually enjoy having to sneak out of the movie theatre in the middle of the movie to read an email from my 9 year old because im just too excited to read it to wait for the movie to finish first. I love not buying that pair of shoes I see in the mall because I want so badly to put our girls in a better school. It actually just really brings me so much joy. And even in the missing them, in the longing for the ones the Lord has chosen to trust me with, my sweet girls who turned my whole world upside down, I am reminded of the both. I also really got joy out of the full body massage and facial that I was blessed with in Cape Town this weekend. I also got lots of joy from meeting up with old friends and laughing and sharing like old times. I enjoyed last night when I had dinner with my girlfriends and we ate dessert, drank cosmos, and talked about boys. I love that its both. I love that its not always that deep, because then when it is its an absolute joy!

"Mama, You're Pregnant!"

Her name is Beauty. Well, not really, but we'll call her that for now. She's ten years old. She's pocket-sized, cute as a button. Her waist is tiny and she dangles her skinny little legs in her blue jean skirt as she speaks to me. The moment we met she looked at me and whispered to my oldest daughter "She looks like my mom". Her biological mother died when she was just days old. She only knows what she looks like because of pictures and because of something familiar that she saw in my eyes the moment our gazes met. I wanted her. I wanted her so bad. I said to God out loud, "Please God, give me this girl for Christmas". My oldest daughter said to Beauty "Tell Mama what happened. You can trust her." She looked up at me so bashfully and didn't say anything. I reached my arms out to her and gestured for her to come sit on my lap. She came and at first she was as stiff as a board. But then she looked in my eyes again and her body melted. She leaned into my neck and she told me. She told me her story. She let me in just a little of what life as a 10 year old prostitute is like. First she lied and said it only happened twice, but the more time we spent together and the more she came to trust me the truth began to come out. Dingy hotel rooms, being smuggled into nightclubs, holding the 50KSH (less than $1) payment in your hand  after its all over. My heart absolutely broke. I looked at her tiny waist, her flat chest, her chubby cheeks and tried to imagine how anyone could ever be sexually attracted to her. She's just a baby. She's a kid. I couldn't understand how a man could even lay on top of her without crushing her to pieces. Then there He was again- Hope himself. I intentionally stopped looking at the tragedy of the situation and switched my gaze back to Jesus. I told myself that I could cry about this later, but for now I had to figure out how to help this little girl, this precious little girl that started calling me Mama after just 2 meetings.

After a few meetings with Beauty my heart began to fill with intense joy. I was hoping and scheming to bring her home with me to live here at Bella House. I'd finally gotten permission from all the necessary people and I was ecstatic! I would lay in bed at night and imagine there being six  goodnight hugs instead of five, sixty goodnight kisses instead of fifty (they like 10 each). Which bed would she choose? What will her favorite color be? How many times a day would I get to tell her I loved her? What will her laugh sound like? What's her favorite food? About two days before I was planning on bringing her home my joy was bubbling over everywhere and my kids noticed that something was different. They sat me down one day in the sitting room and asked very seriously "Mama, why are you so happy?!". I told them that is was a surprise and I would tell them tomorrow. Then out of nowhere one of my 13 years olds blurted out in KiSwahili "Mama, u na mimba!" (Mama, you are pregnant). Then they all looked at me and it was like a light came on for all of them. "Yes! Yes! Yes, Mama! U na mimba! We are getting a new sister!! Ahhhhh!!!" Those words pierced my heart and I broke down and told them the truth, yes, in just 2 days I would be bringing a new girl home. I was in fact "pregnant". They all rejoiced and were so excited.

Unfortunately this story doesn't end the way I'd hoped it would. Beauty didn't come home with me that Friday. I got the news that she wasn't coming on Thursday after doing a final interview with her. I cant describe how that felt. Inside she was already my daughter. I loved her already. Each of my daughters is engraved into my heart forever, I felt the Lord etching Beauty's name in right beside the other five names. I cant describe what that feels like. I guess many of you reading this will understand that because you are parents yourself. When I got the news that she wasnt coming I begged and I pleaded and I did all I could to stand up for my baby girl. But it didnt work. It felt as if someone had ripped my child right out of my arms. After the meeting I had to take her back home barely able to touch her or look into her eyes because the pain of loosing her was just too much. I managed one last glance into her eyes when she jumped out of the vehicle to go home. When I looked up I expected to see a face as sad as mine was. But instead I was met with a huge smile and an excited wave goodbye. I promised her that I would pay for her to go to school and help her grandmother start a business so they could have food everyday without her having to sell her 10 year old body. Then I did the only thing I could do: I left and kept loving. This time choosing to keep loving really hurt because it looked like letting go. It looked like walking into our huge, beautiful, safe, house where we eat three times a day and former child  prostitutes spend their time studying and worshiping Jesus, where we have three empty beds waiting to be filled, and knowing that my Beauty still lives in a small mud house, sleeps in a small bed with four other children, and chances are that she'll still go out at night and sell her 10 year old body when the food runs out and she remembers what she can buy with that 50KSH (less than $1). I considered just trying to forget her. I considered just throwing some money at the situation and running away from the relationship because I didn't think I could bear it because I love her so much.God has given me this crazy supernatural love for my girls that I just cant explain. But, as I was considering running away from love I felt Holy Spirit asking me that same question He's been asking me since this all began. What does adoption look like? Family is forever. You can't be un-adopted. As I was thinking about this I was shocked at my selfishness in wanting to run away from a child that I know God has given me as my own, weather she lives with me or not. I was shocked at how quickly I would choose abandonment over love. I'd rather abandon her to keep myself from hurting than give just a few extra hours per week to going to her home and loving her anyway. Loving her even though it hurts, loving her even when I see her hurting, loving her even when I already know the answer to the question "what did you do last night". I don't want to love with a wimpy love. I want a "love anyway" kind of love. The same love that saved me. The same love that loved me anyway. The same love that continues to love me anyway. I'm such a mess, but He loves me anyway. Sometimes I forget to buy food for breakfast and I burn lunch, but He loves me anyway. Sometimes I pretend to be checking my kids' homework, but really im just staring at the paper and daydreaming about eating a brownie or drinking a momosa, but He loves me anyway. Sometimes i'm impatient and have to count to 10 quietly in my head before answering my 13 year old when she asks me for the millionth time "Mama, when you go to America are you coming back?" or else I will explode... but He loves me anyway. He even loved me before I came home into His heart. He loves me weather I live in His house or not. Little Beauty will not be coming to live with me in Bella House, but that doesn't change the fact that she's my daughter and just like I pour out my life for my other girls, I want to pour out hours and hours and days and years of my life loving her anyway....
For Love's sake

To help me send Beauty to school and help her grandmother start a small business to feed the family please click the "donate" button.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Family is Forever

"Hahahahahaha!!!! You can't catch me, you can't catch me ahhhh!!! Brittanie! Brittanie! Mama Brittanie come here, look! Hey, stop that! Ouch! Help! Joooooyyy!!! Mama Joy tell Em to stop hitting me!! I'm hungry Brittanie, what's for supper? Joy can you please reach that for me? Mama Brittanie why do you have to leave us during the day? Mama Joy can I talk to you about something? Brittanieeeee!!! Jooooooooy!!!!!!!! Mamaaaaaa!!!!"

Welcome to the Bella House! There is never a dull moment. At any given time there's an emergency of some kind, whether its two sisters so angry at each other that they vow to never EVER talk to one another ever again... until five minutes later when they are chasing each other excitedly around the house, or whether its that Mama Joy bought bananas home today! Yay! What a treat, and definitely reason enough for a dance party in the kitchen! Bella House is full of life, laughter, and love. Sometimes the emergency is two tired mamas too exhausted for another game of treasure hunt. That's when the fun really begins because Holy Spirit crashes in and fills in for us where we lack. As you can see, Bella House is not at all what I expected. It isn't a project. It's not a missions field. It's a family. It's a home. It's our family, our home.

A lot has changed since the last time I wrote. Firstly, we have brought five girls home, and hope to be getting 3 more really soon! Just writing that sentence makes my heart leap! As I type this I am watching them all cuddled up on the couch together tired from our pizza and worship party.They look so comfortable, and happy, and loved. Every once in a while one of them glance over at me... just to make sure i'm still here. Wow, this feeling is indescribable. I have never been able to understand the love a mother has for her children. Now I do. Having children changes everything. I love our girls in a way that I wasn't able to love before. The way only a mother can love. I didn't know this kind of love existed. The amazing thing is that what i'm feeling for our daughters is just a portion, just a preview of the love my Heavenly Father has for me. Wow!!!

Believe it or not, our day to day life here is pretty much like every other family. We wake up, eat breakfast, have devotions, the kids have some education time, then an extracurricular activity, play time, dinner time, then family time and worship, then bed time. Then we do it all again the next day. On Saturdays we go on an outing and on Sundays we have a home church. The main differences (pause as our 11 year old just came crashing into my lap because she saw a wasp)... As I was saying, the main differences between our family and other families is that we have to talk about sex and sexuality a lot more than most families do. Our girls all have painful sexual histories. Bella House is a rescue and rehabilitation home for children forced into prostitution, sex slavery, and other forms of sexual exploitation. Therefore our girls are going from being forced to sleep with up to 20 men per night or being stuffed into a suitcase and snuck into a hotel room where beer is forced down your 11 year old throat and you are used as a human sex toy to living in Bella House where you are taught that your body belongs to you and no one has the right to touch it without your permission. The transition has been difficult and is requiring lots of talking, listening, praying, crying and lots and lots of laughing the pain away. Laughter is actually probably the most unique thing about our family. I believe that God is using laughter to heal because our house is almost always so full of laughter. We tease each other, play pranks, have silly dance parties, and make fun of ourselves all the time in Bella House. We have actually gotten two complaints (one from the chairman of our area) that there is too much laughter coming from our house all the time and asking that we laugh less. Haha! We found that really funny!
Another big difference is that our family is all women. The girls sometimes joke with Joy (our house mom) and I and say "Mama, when are you gunna bring us home a papa?" They are always trying to set us up lol. I plan on visiting the States in a few months and they keep begging me to fall in love and get married and bring them back an American dad. These girls are so silly!

But besides a couple of exceptions we are just like any family, where love looks like finding Jesus even in the mundane of everyday life. I must say that this is absolutely the most challenging thing I have ever done, but also the thing that has brought me the most joy. When we were dreaming for Bella House and preparing to open it I just didn't realize how crazy what we are doing actually is. I'm 26 years old, Joy is 27, neither of us are married, and almost everyday at least one of our five kids climbs into one of our beds and reminds us "Brittanie, you said family is forever. So, you're never going to leave me right? You're not going to get tired of me one day and move back to America and leave me here are you Mama Brittanie? Because that's what the last American that came did" or "Mama Joy, you're the best mom ever. I don't want anyone else to come here and take care of us. You're always going to be our mama right?" It's so scary when the true answer to those questions are "I have no idea" but that's absolutely not an acceptable answer to the little girl who you picked up from the dirt, looked in the eye and said "You're coming home with me now. You don't have to be hurt by those men anymore. I'm going to take care of you". Everyday somehow my visit to America comes up and I have to continually reassure them that its only for 2 months and then ill be back home. We have started a family and yes they are right, family is forever. That's huge. It's a huge commitment, especially because I also have another family that I love dearly and miss so much in America. A few months ago I didn't ever even dream i'd ever come to Kenya for a visit, and now Love has tied me to Kenya forever. Whether i'm here or not, there will always be 5 girls who understand the true meaning of adoption. It's a heart thing. It comes from God. Adoption looks like seeing a wasp and knowing exactly whose lap to run into. It looks like being hungry and knowing who to ask what you are eating for dinner. Our girls know that just like Papa God adopted us as His sons and daughters they have been adopted into our hearts. They can't be un-adopted. Family is forever.

I'd love to write more, but the kids are begging to go for a walk. Joy is in Nairobi so i've been here alone with the girls for the past couple days. I've been saying "give me five more minutes" for about 20 minutes now so I should go. To everyone that has donated for Christmas and to all that have been sending me support thank you sooooo much! I have been overwhelmed by your generosity to me and to our girls. Bless you bless you bless you! You have truly been an answered prayer!

Because of your extreme kindness we now have enough gifts to give the girls on Christmas Day itself. If you'd still like to donate for Christmas and haven't yet we would LOVE to accept your donation and it can go toward one of two things 1) a Christmas tree and decorations or 2) gifts for the girls that will not be given to them on Christmas Day but will be spread out over a few weeks and given to them slowly. The reason for this is because we want to love our girls extravagantly, but we also don't want to teach them that Christmas is all about presents. Most of them have never had a Christmas before and we want to really focus on Love himself that day and not get them too distracted by all their fancy new stuff. FYI their biggest wish that hasn't come in yet is a swing set for our yard :)

I'm off to take a walk with my girls :) Many blessings!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

This Whole "Losing My Life" Thing

He who finds his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:39)

I lost my sister's phone number again. It's really annoying. I need to call her tomorrow because tomorrow is my nephew's second birthday. I also lost my black guitar pick. I really need to keep up with my other two because I have no idea where I can buy them here. One of my earrings that Joshua bought me from Zimbabwe is also missing. Ugh! I had already lost the other pair he bought me and was hoping to hold on to this pair for a while... Its seems like everything is going missing lately.

The last couple weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions for me. We have watched dreams die and new ones come to life. We have also watched our old dreams that had died be resurrected right before our eyes. Our little family of 3 has grown by one and will be growing again in just a couple of days. I now feel comfortable and adjusted to living here in Kenya. I know how to get around and am learning the language relatively quickly. Many of our projects that were at a standstill are now in full swing again. When I first arrived here we were doing many home visits to our girls in the village and therefore hearing many tragic stories and seeing such poverty frequently. Because of that we got pretty overwhelmed (and maybe a little traumatized by one too many rape stories) so we stopped doing them for a while. We took some time and rested and got rejuvenated and now we are back at visiting girls frequently and carrying heaven with us! Our Thursday meetings with the girls are also going incredibly well. We've been doing lots of artwork lately which they love! Bella House had also been brought to a halt because we were really struggling to find girls that fit our criteria and then we had resistance from the government regarding our registration paperwork. But Bella House is now back in motion yaaay! We just received approval that we can officially begin moving girls into our home and we have  found some girls that fit our criteria and have very quickly snuck their ways into our hearts forever with just a smile or glance of their eyes. How can we not bring them home with us?

The most exciting progression we have made lately though (in my opinion) is definitely the "Can't Be Bought Campaign". We officially launched it yesterday! The CBBC is a series of empowerment workshops that we are doing in schools aimed at stopping child prostitution,exploitation and sexual abuse before it starts. We use tools such as interactive games, drama, music, movement etc to teach girls about their value and empower them with the truth that they are not for sale, that they are priceless and no amount of money can buy them! We work with each grade level once per week in several different schools for 15 week cycles . Right now the program runs Mon-Fri. Each session is about 45 minutes long. We also touch on themes such as boundaries, self-esteem, sex education, body image and dreams/purpose. My big dream for this project is to present it in every school in our village during the week and on Saturdays hold "Cant Be Bought" sessions in a local community center for girls who can not afford to go to school. By doing this we will be able to reach every single girl in all of Mtwapa with this message. Every. Single. One. And im sure that as a result the child sex industry which is destroying Mtwapa will significantly decrease and freedom and laughter and love will increase. Let it be so!

This is all very very exciting! But as I mentioned above, the last two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions. Roller coasters have their highs and they also have their lows. Since leaving Harvest School I just feel like i've been losing a lot, not just my sister's phone number and my guitar pick, but big things... things that seem huge to me even if they seem small to you. When I came to Kenya I was not planning to stay. I bought one tiny suitcase and my guitar. That's it. But when I got here God asked me to stay. I love it here and so staying is no problem. Its actually a great joy! But, because we are pioneering there is so much work to be done and things that need to be started and nurtured as they grow, so God also asked me to stay here and continue working while Cassandra is in America... she will be in America for 2 and a half months. I have had my heart and my hope so set on going home to the States for the holidays to hug and kiss my nephew and see everyone I love, but I had to loose that. Cassandra and I became good friends and hung out everyday while she was here and really worked and played hard together. I had to lose her too. She left last night. At least its only for a few months. Sometimes when I walk through our big empty house with beds and furniture and everything ready for kids to come I get a bit sad because there are still no kids in it, and it reminds me of something else I lost- my dream for mothering those 42 precious children in Cameroon. I thought id be holding dozens of little Cameroonian treasures in my arms every night by now, but at bedtime I say goodnight to the rest of the team  and I go to my room alone and sleep in my single bed. My best friend of 14 years had a baby before I left the States. Dreams of being there to watch him grow are lost. I lost my boyfriend. I lost the opportunity to be at my nephew's second birthday party. I just feel like i'm losing so many things.

When I think about the loss I get sad, but I try not to think about the loss much. I try to think more about who's sake i'm loosing everything for. The truth is that im loosing these things for the sake of a man who lost His life for me. And its only in losing that I can be found. My greatest joy in life is finding Jesus. I look for Him in everything, every situation, every emotion, every project. I'm constantly looking for my Love. And yes, I truly do find Him in everything. He's a God that likes to be found. But I realize that I find Him most in loss. As I've lost all these things i've gained so much more of Him, and having Him is worth more than having any of these things. Im willing to give up any of  them to pursue the depths of His love any day! On Sunday I was riding through the village on a piki piki (a motorbike used as a taxi) to church and no matter how hard I tried I couldnt hold back tears of joy. As we were driving the hot wind was blowing in my face and my butt was sore from bumping along the dirt road and I was looking out and I just saw Him everywhere. I saw Him in the simple  mud huts we were driving past and the little faces that excitedly yell "jambo!!!" as we pass. I was Him smiling at me as He sat next to an old lady sitting in front of her hut weaving a grass mat. I found Him in all the noise- chickens clucking, piki pikis blowing their horns, children laughing, churches praising, babies crying. I was overwhelmed with joy. We got off of the piki piki when we arrived at church and I tried to look normal before Cass saw me foolishly crying over a scene that we see all the time. We walked into church and there He was again! When all of our girls saw us and smiled and passed out hugs and handshakes I found Him. When the church members welcomed us so warmly and even old mamas got out of their seats in the front to let us sit in the "seats of honor" I was just wrecked. I saw Jesus. I saw His beautiful heart. I wasn't thinking about going home for the holidays, or Cameroon, or my ex-boyfriend, or my nephew's second birthday party. Because none of that can compare to His heart. And its moments like that when the loss doesn't feel like loss at all. For His sake im willing to "lose" anything if only I can have His heart- in the bumpy piki piki rides and in the mud huts and in the rape stories and in the Can't Be Bought lessons and in the warm smiles at church on Sunday- if  only I can have His heart then I have found exactly what i'm looking for and what i'm living for. And no matter what the cost, its worth it!
The thing about a roller coaster is that the lower you go, the more exhilarating the high part is. The high part is only high if you first go low. I'm learning that more everyday. Enjoying the "going low", enjoying the "losing" and then relishing in the high part and in being found.