Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Refresh Africa, Part 3

Aside from the sessions every day, we had lots of things to fill our time.
Meals were a really good time to visit and get to know new people.  I loved it when we'd push a couple tables together, making room for plenty of people to sit around, friends both old and new.  We'd laugh at the ups and downs of serving in our respective fields, share what God was doing in our lives, and just enjoy each other's company.
(On a keeping-it-real note:  It was super cool meeting people - our coworkers - from around the world...the other side of Africa, the US, Canada, and even the Philippines.  The downside for me was that, in meeting so many new people, I had to repeat the same thing over and over again, "What am I planning on doing here in West Africa?  Actually I'm heading back to the States next week.  Yes, I'm leaving for now, even though I've come to love this place so much.  No, I have no idea what lies ahead for me."  I was really struggling with both the goodbyes and the unknown future staring me in the face, and it was not particularly fun to be reminded of that in every other conversation.)
Every afternoon there was a least one ball game (of some kind or another).
Me?  I watched.
In the words of my former classmate Stephen, "I'm a great spectator.  I can watch with the best of 'em!"
Jungle Speed: not a game for the tired, the slow, or the easily distracted.
Like in the games of Spoons, if two people grabbed that wooden thingy at the same time, they could fight over it.  It may have gone flying across the table a time or two.  Thankfully no one fell backwards into the pool...
The girls' hang-out one evening. 
We had crafts - card and envelope making...
Foot massages...
...and good chats.
Countries represented at just our table: the US, the UK, Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands.  Though we don't all serve in the same place, I get to call them my coworkers.  I love that.
Take #3.
Gracie and Gracia were transfixed by the music.  They were so cute sitting there like that, I just had to get a picture.
Twelve drummers drumming.  Or...not quite twelve.  But they were impressive, I tell you.
The girls: Angie, Janel, me, Jen, Anna, Leah, Ruth, Michi, Susie
"Goofy shot now!"
It took us a while to kind of synchronize our whole diving-into-the-pool act.
Eliza pulled Jen into the pool just after that picture.  Susie was pulling from the other direction, trying to keep her from falling in, but when Jen realized it was a hopeless fight, she gave up...and pulled Susie in with her.
And that was the beginning of a free-for-all, where just about anyone within the vicinity of the pool risked being thrown in.
I escaped.  I told them repeatedly, in no uncertain terms, that I do not swim.  (It's the truth.  It's also a little embarrassing.)  It worked.
We cleaned wash houses together for a semester in training.  And that's where it started: the longest-running in-joke I've ever had with a friend.  I've appreciated her humor, her perceptiveness, and her dedication to following the Lord even when it's difficult.
She had finished E2 before I came to West Africa.  I so appreciated her advice about relationships, church, language learning, and a lot of other practical areas.  She was great about cheering us other girls on in our learning.  Oh, and she's so much fun to tease and scare.


This girl has given me advice when I needed it, encouraged me when I was down, let me vent, listened to my stressed-out over-analyzing, laughed and cried and prayed with me.  She's pretty much one of the most selfless people I know - always, always thinking of others.

And there you go.  Some of the cool people I got to hang out with that week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Refresh Africa, Part 2

So, you're wondering what we did at our conference?
We had sessions from right after breakfast until lunch.  The afternoons were free (or less structured, I should say), and then we had a hour-long session just before dinner.
Now if session makes you think boring, well, you'd be wrong.  Quite wrong indeed.
It was such a wonderful of serious and fun, challenging and encouraging, West Africa and world stories.
I mentioned the theme was "Refresh Africa".  At first glance, it might seem that it was referring to us, the WA team, being refreshed by this conference.  But actually, the guy who gave the devotional the first morning explained that the heart behind our time together was...that Africa would be refreshed.  That we would take the refreshment the Lord was offering, and in turn refresh Africa.  Encourage our African brothers and sisters.  Serve them.  Serve with them.  Bring hope to those in Africa who don't yet know the Lord.
Worship -
Getting set up.  It's work.  All that practicing and fiddling around with knobs and repeatedly plugging and unplugging things...
Where is everybody?!
We figured if we started singing, they'd come.
And they did!  Like a rushing tidal wave.  Or...not quite.
Worshipping as a group in English was such a treat.
We did throw a couple French songs in there.  This one is based on the verse, "If the Lord does not build the house, those who build labor in vain." (Psalm 127:1)
Appropriate for us to our church planting or any other ministries, if the Lord is not doing the work, our efforts are in vain.
(Credit for this photo: Kirk R.  I just...sort of had to say something.  Several people made their pictures available to all of us who attended, and I know they wouldn't mind us using them, but I'd feel weird if I didn't mention that they weren't actually my pictures.  End of rabbit trail confession.)
Skits -
Prayer and discussion groups -
We had compiled a list of prayer requests from each of the West Africa church planting teams, and each day we spent time praying through part of the list.
Reports -
We got to hear reports from some of our church planting teams in West Africa.  So encouraging.
Coffee break -
Yay for snacks!
- - -
We talked about a number of different things over that week.
Discipleship was a topic that came up a lot.
I love this definition: Living life with believers with the intention of facilitating growth towards an eternal perspective.
It was a timely encouragement for me, right as I was getting ready to leave the ministry in West Africa.  I don't know exactly where or how the Lord will lead me, but I do know that discipleship is absolutely something He wants me to be involved in wherever I am.
One of our missionaries (serving in Brazil) gave a testimony of how they had learned to work together with the rest of the Body of Christ and not just their NTM team.
We'd invited some West African pastors to join us (they were mostly pastors from our host churches).  This gave us a deeper, richer perspective on what God is doing there, and how we can be involved in that.
Norbert talked about training "program" (if I can use that word) that is being developed.  Think of it as Bible School/MTC in an African context - to train and equip African believers for church planting and discipleship.  It makes me so excited.
We also had others outside of the West Africa team - for instance, our US headquarters.  This added yet another perspective to our week.  God is doing amazing things in West Africa, for sure.  But they're not in isolation from the amazing things He's doing in the US, in South America, and in Asia.  It's all part of His grand plan, which He's been carrying out in every part of the world, throughout history.
We had some great devotionals.  I tell you what, even if I've heard some of these Biblical stories a thousand times, they don't get old.
In closing (for today), meet the West Africa leadership team:
Dan and Sharon
Ron and Heather
Paul and Marina
I was so thankful for them - especially for the humility I saw them clearly demonstrate over and over, their passion to follow God's heart, and the way they constantly centered things on who He is.