Jennifer Camp, co-founder of Gather Ministries, and author of Loop, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy Bay Area with her husband and three kids. A former high school English teacher, she loves to write, but she especially loves to encourage people to seek and live out the truth of their story, their identity in Christ. You can find her writing at her blog, Jennifer J. Camp .You can connect with Jennifer on both Facebook and Twitter. She would love to have you join her there.
The five of us return from Kenya today–a mission trip with a team of twenty-four others people, adults and kids. I scratch out these words on the plane ride home, my thirteen year old son asleep on my right. Two of us in the family are sick now, but they both will tell you the experience was worth it.
When you spend a week with a few hundred orphaned children, ages three to fourteen–and you see how they are loved and how they know they are loved–you can’t help but be forever changed.
The Holy Spirit inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). And a desperation for God is magnified in rejoicing and in truth and in song. Our team leader, Monte, led us with one main objective–give God our heart, trust Him with it, watch Him lead us, and then love on these kids.
And my heart was broken wide, which surprised me. For I remember, before the trip, thinking, how can something so amazing happen with such a simple promise: “Love these kids, and be forever changed”?
How do we let God make our hearts break?
During our time with the kids there were no construction projects, no Vacation Bible School, no set schedule or plan other than this: be open, listen to God’s whispers, let Him lead, notice what He is showing us–about Himself, about His children, about love. And that is what we did.
We joined the kids at their school each morning at 8 am. We visited their classrooms and supported the teachers in the lessons. We played with the children; we joined in their games. We sat and listened and encouraged the teens telling of their stories. And yes, we fell in love with them.
These orphans own nothing of monetary value–their notebooks, filled with hundreds of pages of notes and instruction, are stuffed in weathered backpacks with broken zippers or disintegrating plastic shopping bags stored on the floor underneath their desks. Many wear uniforms ripped and torn or falling apart. Socks have holes in the heels where the foot rubs the back of the shoe.
All of the students have either no family at all who take care of them, or a mom who is unable, due to the difficulty of women getting jobs, to provide funds for her child to go to school. But there is love in this school, and joy here. The kids and the teachers are a family, and they worship God with a gratitude and a freedom unlike anything else I have ever seen.
The children’s passion for learning–their determination to persevere, their commitment to giving everything their all–comes from a gratitude to God for what He gives.
Oh, they are loved and they know it.
Friday morning the team stuffs itself into one of the classrooms to worship with the kids. The children lead–their voices exuberant and beautiful and loud. It is a cacophony of jubilation–of singing, one song blending into another, and dancing and clapping and jumping and laughing. Here, in that room, we glimpse the kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters basking in the delight of the Father.
Behind me, I feel my husband, Justin, place his hands on my shoulders. We feel the Spirit moving and we can hardly stand for the joy that fills this place.
Justin tells me later he asked God, just for fun, how much He loves this moment–this moment of children and teens singing and dancing and shouting out praise. And that is when Justin, the Spirit rushing over him, almost falls down. The Father is ever-present with us. In His kindness, He helps increase our awareness of Him. He pours out His love on His children who know Him and love Him and adore Him– expressing themselves in praise.
Yes, this is when God’s Spirit comes even more, rushing in.
When we are present to God’s love–open and eager to receive it–we will not be disappointed.
Saturday morning, a few hours before we begin the eight-hour bus ride to Nairobi and the 18 hour plane rides home, we sit and process together what God has been doing in our hearts this trip. We listen for God’s voice, and this is what I hear Him say to me about the children and the Achungo School:
“This is a holy place. I am praised here. I am known here. I hold my children close. These children work hard, and they give Me the glory. They know they are loved. They know they are not forgotten. There is no striving–only gratefulness. They respond–the work of their lives–with gratefulness. So their hearts are protected. . . When they leave the grounds of Achungo, it is important that they take Me with them. For they will feel less protected. They will be distracted.
Remember what is true. For in my truth they will carry themselves, my message, as my light-bearers, all over the world.”
And then I ask God what my role is here, in going forward, after this trip. And this is where it gets personal:
“Be protected with my truth. And walk in my truth. And spread and uphold my truth. And be my light-bearer in the world.
Pesilia [one of the teen girls with whom I connected] called you a mother. Be a light in how you mother. Uphold my truth in how you mother. And work from a heart of gratefulness for what I give you. I uphold my name in your home, and I send my angels to guard your home. Keep my name sacred. Practice Sabbath and keep it holy. Rest in Me–and then work hard, with zeal, knowing that you work from a plce of abundance and not scarcity.
Let yourself be filled by Me. This is your main job–and then you love. And you feel freedom–the joy of your Lord in you.”
I come home sleep-deprived and heart restored. Sometimes it takes stepping out of my ordinary, too-busy-for-distraction life to appreciate a different way to see, a truer way to love.
My heart continues to ponder what God has for me to learn from this visit to Kenya. Those children have changed me, and my heart is heavy. I miss them. What more are you doing, God?
Heading off on an adventure with no script, trusting God to guide us, might help our hearts pay attention to what matters most.
What adventure are you saying yes to? What is God showing you?