Monday, September 17, 2018

Just a game?

Can God shine through sports? That seems like a ridiculous question, but in this world of million dollar players and self-glorifying social media posts it’s a real question.  The reality is God can shine through sports, but we have to let him.  

This weekend we had a soccer tournament for the U16 girls team.  They played hard and against some good teams.  The championship game they were up against their rival team and a team that happens to play dirty.  Our girls played their hearts out shining in their sportsmanship but the game ended regulation with a tie taking them into penalty kicks.  In preparing for lining up for the kicks, the girls huddled together with arms wrapped around one another.  What came out of that huddle wasn’t a chant about how great they were, there was no shouting to pump themselves up, but what came out was a quiet prayer.  Our girls put the focus on God’s power, not their own and that is what won out.  While the other team pumped themselves up chanting and shouting, our girls turned their focus to the one who really matters.  

Now, this is just a game of soccer and it was just one tournament, but there are girls on that team that don’t know Jesus and hearts that need him.  While it was a prayer for penalty kicks and the keeper there are girls on that team that heard what faith is and they that heard others admitting that God is the only true power in this world. 

Our relationship with God isn’t just for Sunday morning and maybe Wednesday night.  It is in everything we do.  We don’t go to church to have faith, we go to grow in our faith.  You gotta have faith in every other part of your life and constantly be putting Him in your life.  God is on soccer fields, he’s on the sidelines, he’s at the store, in rush hour traffic, he is everywhere.  

1 Kings 19:11-13 says  ‘And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”’

Thursday, March 29, 2018

God's Story

Binta comes from one of the poorest families in Catel, Guinea Bissau.  She is married to Ciga and had three boys.  In Guinea Bissau culture having a large family is important, as well as having girls.  Having boys are important, but girls are who help you around the house and when it is time for them to get married, the husband will pay the family for her hand in marriage. Binta very much so, wanted a girl.  She has no one to help is left doing everything around the house, as well as being left as a single mother throughout the week.  Ciga's only work he could find is an hour away and therefore allowing him to only be home on the weekends.

In 2013 when our family moved to Catel, I got to know Binta.  She was one of the women that attended the weekly women's Bible study.  She stood out to me, but not in the usual way.  She seemed sad, barely smiling. There was something about her I wanted to know. I wrote a previous blog detailing her transformation from darkness to light that you can read here. Reading her story will help you to understand the depth to what God has done and is doing in Binta and what He did while we visited Catel this past week.  

Living in Catel, Guinea Bissau is a hard life.  Every day is spent just surviving.  As missionaries, we had work we wanted to do, but I was often left trying to keep up with the demands of housework, teaching my children and kid patrol in our yard. Michael and Djibi (the pastor Michael discipled) knew I needed even more help than I already had received.  Michael, Djibi and I started praying about someone cleaning our house.  We wanted it to be someone the Lord wanted. After praying about it, we all knew we should ask Binta. God clearly laid Binta on all of our hearts and I am so glad we made that decision to listen to God so many years ago.  

We could go even farther to say I am so glad we and many others made decisions to obey God, going wherever he called us.  Binta's story doesn't just start with our family. Her story starts with other missionaries that have walked beside her through miscarriages and still births.  Here is a recount from former missionary Pam:

"We arrived and settled in on a Saturday in October of 2012. The next day we went to church and were called out of church because a woman, Binta, was having trouble in labor.  Beryl (the long term missionary), Steve (my husband), Megan (a short term missionary serving with us), Katja (our daughter) and I all rushed over to the compound.  Binta was in hard labor in the outside sheltered garden.  She wasn’t sure she wanted us to see her, but her family begged her.  We took her vital signs, Steve asked many questions about her pregnancy and labor and we observed her.  She had been in hard labor for a very long time, I forget now how long.  We urged her to go to the hospital, as we couldn’t help anymore than that.  After we prayed for her, Beryl took her and we found out later that the baby was still born, and this had happened to her before."

God has used many people in Binta's life; I am blessed God chose us to be one of those people. Binta worked for us and because of that she became very comfortable around us and opened up about many things.  One thing she opened up about was her desire to have another baby, specifically a girl.  It wasn't just a desire but a deep ache.  She silently watched other women in her compound, and in our church, get pregnant and give birth to healthy babies, all while aching inside for just one more.  Many times we would stand together in my kitchen praying for God to bless her with a baby girl.  One Friday, after she finished cleaning our house, I paid her, she thanked me and said she'd be right back.  Typically, she would leave for her house and I wouldn't see her until later in the day.  This particular day, she didn't take the path to her house, but the path to the clinic.  About 15 minutes later she came bounding into our house smiling from ear to ear with a pregnancy test in her hand. It was positive! As months passed by, I noticed her belly was not growing.  Our plan was to go together to the hospital in Senegal for a check up.  When we made it to the border, we discovered that what I thought was my passport was actually Michael's, leaving me at the border while she went on to Ziguinchor.  That turned out to be a very sad day for her as she had had yet another miscarriage. We had nothing left but prayer.  It was all we could do, pray continuously.   

In May of 2016, our family returned to the states. With our leaving Guinea Bissau, Binta insistently asked for me to continue praying for her to have a baby girl.  Each time we called and talked with her, she would ask me to continue praying for her. Binta was a steady part of my prayer life. When we visited in 2017, we prayed together and still were waiting for her to become pregnant.  Later in 2017, I received word that Binta indeed had gotten pregnant and to pray she could keep the baby. 

Our famiy was preparing a return visit to Guinea Bissau in March 2018 and we had agreed to take a few people with us.  The few turned into 10 making our team 17.  I was apprehensive, to say the least, about having such a big team, but God is so good.  God chose each one of those who came along for an exact purpose. On the team was Gwen Marie, a labor and delivery nurse, and Steve, a physicians assistant and Pam's husband.  I had told Gwen about Binta and that I wanted her to give her a check-up to make sure she was doing okay in the pregnancy.  We arrived in Catel on Wednesday late afternoon, Thursday morning Gwen measured Binta and she measured at 30-32 weeks.  I asked Binta when she thought she got pregnant in which she said during Ramadan.  We had no internet, so based on the measurement, I guessed July, putting Binta with 6 weeks or so to go.  Around 7:30 AM on Friday we received a call that Binta was in labor.  Gwen, Steve and I headed straight to her house to find that she was indeed in labor.  I quick prayed internet would work and looked up when Ramadan 2017 was, and low and behold, it happened nine months prior, making Binta full term.  We prepared to take her to the clinic in a village about 15 minutes down the road (keep in mind flagging down a vehicle), but she progressed rapidly with this being her 5th birth.  By the time we were all ready to go to the clinic the baby was no longer waiting. We took Binta back into her house and by 9:22 AM we were praising God for bringing into this world a living and breathing baby girl! Binta's house erupted with hallelujahs and praises to God. God answers prayers! We cried out to him for a baby girl and God heard his people and answered.  Binta didn't just have a baby girl, God had her get pregnant at the perfect time to be able to give birth when we were there. God is so good!

Gwen and I with Teresa (a local midwife) and  Binta shortly after baby's birth.
Her story does not stop there.  With Gwen being there, we were checking the baby and mom daily.  On day two the baby had a 102.4 fever.  We called Steve and he quickly said the baby needed to go to the hospital.  It was close to dusk at this point so Michael, Steve, Gwen, Binta, Ciga and baby loaded up into a transport car and headed to the hospital 30 minutes down the road.  The baby was quickly admitted and given IV antibiotics.  The baby had sepsis and would have died without medical attention.  We continue to praise God for His perfect timing in having us there to encourage proper medical attention. The baby was admitted Sunday night and stayed until Tuesday. 

Baby after being admitted in hospital for sepsis

Typically, the baby's naming ceremony would have been one week after the birth making hers to be on Friday. Since our team was leaving Friday, the family decided to have the celebration on Thursday. We were so blessed to be present for such a celebration and for the naming ceremony/baby dedication.  The name they gave the baby was Maria in honor of Gwen as well as Ciga's brother's mom, who had passed away years ago. During the celebration and dancing, Binta placed baby Maria in my arms.  Shortly after, a song came on that said "Come and see what God has done." All the women came over to me and I held up baby Maria.  It was true, come and see what God has done!   

Djibi is holding Maria after announcing her name and committing her to God
We serve a very alive God. I was personally so incredibly blessed to be in Catel when Binta gave birth to a baby girl.  God does listen, he hears our cries and he answers.  It is not necessarily in our timing, but His absolute perfect timing.  I cannot put into words what my heart feels and how full I am of God, nor can I write about all the little details because it would create such a long post.  The only thing I can say or do is praise the only true and living God! If you are feeling unheard or alone, take heart, God is listening and He is there for you.  See what God has done and how He can do so much more! God allowed Binta to get pregnant and give birth the exact time we were visiting AND she gave birth to a girl!!! GOD IS GOOD.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.   Ephesians 3:20-21