Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boma Reflections: God's Love

I'm finally able to sit down to write about my trip to Boma, South Sudan. I never would've imagined how much catching up there would be after the trip: sleep, pictures, friends and family, work, bills/income, etc.  It's been pretty exhausting and I wish I could've just returned and begun writing immediately, but God has definitely been graceful in giving me opportunities to reflect quietly in my prayers. So here I am now to make some of that public... likely the first of a handful of various posts. The first and most significant thing that I experienced from the mission trip was God's love.
The slums of Nairobi, Kenya from the air
It started when we left Nairobi, Kenya on a small 9-passenger MAF flight (I definitely recommend you read about their incredible ministry). On our way to Boma via Lokichoggio, we flew over the slums of Nairobi. I saw hundreds if not thousands of run-down homes where the poorest people of the city lived. My heart sank at the sight.

Outside of the city, however, there was nothing. The landscape was beautiful and flat for the most part, comprised of trees, bushes, small streams or creeks that looked dried out from the air, and that's it. For miles and miles, this is what we flew over. I began wondering to myself "What are we doing? There's absolutely nothing out here. Why are we spending so much money to go to the middle of nowhere?" It was such a feeling of isolation that got to me for a brief moment.

Thankfully, those thoughts were quickly overtaken with messages of God's love that told me He created this land and these people, and He knows them by name; He died for them and desires for them to know Him eternally just as much as He did for me. This, I discovered, was the mission. The beautiful news of God's relentless love had not reached this distant and forgotten corner of the world, and I was being sent on a team to bring it.

Now, this may seem pretty basic to most people. It certainly seemed that way to me. I realized, though, that in America we have so many resources and access to all kinds of information - nearly everyone has heard or has the potential to hear God's message of hope in our country. Out in South Sudan, however, those opportunities are very rare - especially in Upper Boma. This became quickly apparent to me 30 seconds into the ride up the rocky and curvy mountain from Lower to Upper Boma that this place was hard to get to (this was after nearly 22 hours of flights). But the welcome from the children immediately grabbed hold of my heart strings and has not let go since.

The most memorable welcome!
The kids had run from their classrooms to welcome us, the visitors. This was a very special occasion for them. The teachers held an assembly so we could introduce ourselves and then Micheal Harris, the U.S. Executive Director of SEA Partners, delivered an important message that captured my feeling. He taught them, very simply but powerfully, "there is nothing more important to God than you!" He repeated this several times so they could remember it, and each time I cried a little more. He was relaying, as an ambassador for Christ, God's message of love for the children - all the way from Oregon.

I felt a lot like the Grinch: my small heart grew (at least) three sizes during my 7 days in Boma! I spent most of my time doing Pastor trainings with 5-7 local guys, and fell in love with all of them. God put a special burden on my heart for a couple of them, and I had an opportunity to pray over one of them at the church service on the Sunday we were there. As we were getting ready to leave, the other man hugged me and said simply, "Pray for us." Echoes of generations of desperation, darkness, and depravity rang in his voice. He needed my help, encouragement, knowledge, and love. But I also needed him; I needed to see his simplicity, his heart, his reaching out, and his honesty. It was a key moment that permanently enlarged my heart.
The men in our pastor training
Now that I'm back home, I reflect on these memories very fondly. In fact, it's painful at times because God gave me such great love for the people of Boma and yet they are literally on the other side of the world. How can I love such beautiful people from America while they struggle on so far away? Thank God for prayer! And thank God for organizations like MAF and SEA Partners! Thank God for all of the abundant blessings He has given us here in America! I didn't see it before in my own life, but now I have a clearer picture: I have so much because God has given it to me to give to others. I can use what God has given me to make my life more comfortable and "secure," or I can give it to a place like Boma where an entire community can go from helpless to hopeful.

The piercing truth of God's love was revealed to me in Boma like I've never experienced before here in America. I think it's partly because we have so many distractions/things, whereas the Sudanese literally have nothing and depend on God daily. Without these, the people are free to invest in relationships with one another and have conversations about things that are truly important. Even despite the language barrier, I felt so connected with the people because of SEA Partners' Gospel-centered mission. It truly reflects God's deep love for the world He created and died for, and I'm so thankful I He allowed me to participate in it.

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