6.27.13

Follow the Zimbabwe Journey Team

Follow the Journey Team to Zimbabwe

6.29.13

Our trip is coming to a bittersweet end.

We spent the past day at a safari game park and saw a plethora of wild African animals - it was amazing and the perfect way to end our Zimbabwean experience.

We embark on our long journey home at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. Our flight takes off at 1:40; we will pass through Ethiopia and arrive in Dulles Intl. Airport at approximately 8:30 a.m. on Monday (U.S. time). 

Pray for us as we travel: for safety, for health and for a smooth transition back into the U.S. 

We cannot thank you, our supporters, enough for your encouragement, for your prayers and for journeying with us in our own way. I speak for the team in expressing our excitement to share our personal stories with you. We have experienced much and learned even more.

Oh, and get ready, social media. A massive influx of photos from our team is on its way.

For the team, Lindsey

6.27.13

James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

RECAP from the day:

Today consisted of morning VBS, afternoon shopping and evening preparations. VBS was full of positive reports today, hinging on the impending final day that we face tomorrow.

Tomorrow is our last day of VBS with our kids. We are all solemnly anticipating the moment that we have to say goodbye to these little ones that have found their way inside our hearts. These children have changed from nameless figures to distinct personalities, from adorable faces to eyes that veil a deep story.

But despite our physical departure, we are able to leave them with gifts. We have been so blessed by generous donations and yard sale findings to have a whole stash of school supplies, books, clothes and materials to leave with the people we have come in contact here. Our aim is not to give handouts, but to equip those who are ministering here to be able to further their service to Christ.

A simple song that has been a theme at VBS this week (and never far from the lips of our team):

I cast all my cares upon You

I lay all of my burdens

Down at your feet

And anytime I don't know

What to do

I will cast all my cares upon You

A song perfectly sung from the mouth of a child with a message for believers of any life stage...

Pray for us as we enter our last day of ministry here in Zim. Tomorrow afternoon we leave for an overnight trip to Imire Game Park (an animal reserve and lodge) for a time of debriefing and experiencing the animals of Africa. Our journey back to the U.S. begins at 11 am Sunday morning.

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I have always heard that music is the universal language that transcends language barriers, and it was no different for us here in Zimbabwe this past week. I taught this week at Wingate Preschool. The teachers translated for us sentence by sentence because the children only speak Shona.  Yet, we all experienced a connection through the music...eye to eye, smile to smile, heart to heart.... as we introduced each new song to them. The joy in their faces will be a memory I will treasure forever. The sounds of their laughter and their voices as we lifted up the name of Jesus with simple messages of God's love will echo in my heart for many years to come. They also shared some of their songs with us, and we were even able to record them on video, which means I can take them back to America and teach them to other children.  I love the idea that American children will sing Zimbabwean songs, and Zimbabwe children will song American songs, as we all praise our Lord together.  ~ Bonnie Gish

6.26.13

VBS is crazy. It's wild. It's difficult to understand the kids. But it's so rewarding. Each day we have new stories to share with each other. By day 3, the kids recognized us as we drove up to the preschools.

Moments of hearing a child softly sing a song we taught them while playing on the playground are priceless.

In the afternoon we again split in 2 groups; the 5 LBC students headed off to the market stands with Kurt while the remainder of the group went to the Shalom House to play with the kids and talk with the moms.

This evening we set up in assembly-line style to prepare bags to give as gifts to the students on the last day of VBS. The bags were filled with pencils, a bouncy ball, a toothbrush, a pencil case, toothpaste, silly bands, stickers, a stuffed animal, a pencil case and a book. 

Our team is continuing to bond and learn more about Zimbabwean culture together.

Prayer items:

+Continued health and safety

+House parents and teachers - for knowledge to be able to deal with the specific needs of their kids

+Praise for team unity

+Praise for Takudzwa, a boy who lives across from Wingate Preschool whose mom died last year, smiled for the first time today

+Praise that the kids are retaining knowledge from the  lessons and songs

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Hello again from the Zim Journey Team! It is amazing what a trip like this can do, not only for those that we are serving, but also for us as a group.  As Lindsey stated before it is truly amazing to be out on the playground or at the Shalom Home and hear the kids spontaneously start singing the songs we are teaching them or start talking about the Bible stories we are telling them.  Kevin had an incredible experience with a child.  Earlier this week, we were told to be cautious about how much physical contact we have with the children when showing affection.  Some of the group helped watch the children after school one day, while the rest of us lead a staff meeting for the Michael project staff.  A small child attached herself to Kevin and he was able to minister to her by giving her one on one attention on the swings, which is something she would not get while there at school with the other 60 children.  Kevin spent the entire afternoon with her taking turns; Kevin pushing her, and then the 2 year old girl would push Kevin.  It is amazing the different ways we have found to really reach out and show love to the children of the Michael project.  

As stated before, we assisted with the Michael projects monthly staff meeting.  Bonnie started the meeting by singing some amazing children's songs with the staff, who participated and had a lot of fun learning new songs they could sing with their children.  Many of the staff asked Bonnie to write down or record the songs so that they could remember them later.  Kurt and Liz then went on to talk about some on the struggles and concerns the staff had for the children, their futures, and how through art therapy, play therapy, and other techniques, the staff could reach out and interact with the children.  The staff seemed to really enjoy the activities and learning new ways to communicate with the children.  The staff are hungry for information all for the benefit of God and the children.  It is not hard to find the love of God in everything the Michael project stands for and strives to accomplish.     

It was a great way to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary!

Kevin & Liz VanPelt

6.25.13

Today was VBS day 2! We were again split up at our 2 locations. 

Our theme at VBS for the week is "FROG: Fully Rely On God." We are featuring different Bible stories throughout the week and using the frog theme with our puppets and games. The kids seem to love the frog theme. They eagerly "ribbit" or "croak" and hop around.

All of us have been introduced to "sadza" an authentic Zimbabwean dish. It's essentially Cream of Wheat (without the flavor) or a white, pliable mush. It's eaten with the fingers and paired with a variety of side dishes. Today we had "rape" or cooked leafy greens. When in Zim, do as the Zimbos do!

The afternoon time centered around a meeting for the staff of The Michael Project. Kurt, Lora and Liz were able to lead the meeting with a time of instruction and discussion about art therapy. Their insights were given to help the mothers of the orphaned children especially. Sometimes, in Zim culture, there is a difficulty with having words to express feelings. The idea of art therapy is to unearth feelings in a manor besides oratory communication.

During that meeting time, most of the rest of the team played with the kids. They scribbled with chalk till the pieces were worn down to dust; they kicked soccer balls around without tiring; they colored with diligence; they fought over who got to ride in the swings. 

This evening, we had the opportunity to hear from Glen Miller, the founder of Hands of Hope. The house we are staying in is part of HOH, and the Shalom House is one of the 20 homes they have planted for orphans. He shared with us the history and vision of HOH. It was such a blessing to hear his story. It's an amazing ministry that is fighting to share Jesus' love with orphans. The need is great; Glen and his wife are passionately working to do all they can - one orphan at a time.

We also had a time of reflection as a team. Even though we still have a few days left here, we began to talk about reworking our focus as we return home. It will be difficult to reenter America and begin to feel our attitudes of entitlement creep back in. But we can fight that by beginning to adjust our thought patterns now. Kurt (I mean, Professor Miller...) encouraged us to solidify an image of Africa in our mind. Not a general image but a specific picture. For him, the image will be a soccer ball made out of 1 plastic bag stuffed with a bunch of other plastic bags. Now, every time he sees a plastic bag or a soccer ball, he will be reminded of Zimbabwe once again.  

God is breaking our hearts. And it's beautiful.

Prayer items:

+Continued health & safety

+The ministry of The Michael Project and Hands of Hope

+The children and moms at the Shalom House

+The country of Zimbabwe

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It has been such a great experience to be in Africa! I love the people and the culture. Having been to Africa before I had an idea of what to expect, and yet this place never ceases to amaze me. The first day we were here I had the chance to play soccer with some of the kids, and nothing filled my heart more than playing with them. Today was yet another great experience! This afternoon I had the chance to hang out with some of the Shalom kids one in particular was Tinashe. I got to play some soccer and basketball with him and record some fun videos of him singing to me! My favorite part was when we were sitting down looking at my pictures on my camera, and I had a picture of my Bible on it. I had the chance to explain to him what I was reading that day and how I talk to God when I need help. I could see in his face that he was taking this all in, and that to me was so amazing to see, knowing that God used that time to plant a seed in a child's life. It has been so amazing to see what God has been doing here in Zimbabwe through our team and through Hands of Hope! 

Thanks for your prayers and support,Danielle (Dee) Good

6.24.13

RECAP from the day:

This morning we started our week of VBS (or Holiday Club, as it's deemed here)! Our team is separated into 2 groups at 2 locations.

Group 1 is at Wingate Preschool: Kurt Miller, Kamryn Miller, Bonnie Gish, Dee Good, Amanda Connor and Heather Hoopes

Group 2 is at Greystone Park Preschool and Learning Center: Lora Miller, Logan Miller, Amy Bergvall, Shy Smith, Kevin & Liz VanPelt and Lindsey Blest

We have different roles of leaders, teachers, crafts, games, puppets and songs. Each person also has their own group that is designated by a different color. The teachers at both locations were incredibly helpful - whether it was translating at Wingate or magically getting the kids to settle down at Greystone.

The great thing about us being split in 2 groups at 2 locations is that when we reconvened later in the day, we were able to share our different stories. Each place presented its own unique challenges. I think it's safe to say that we are all looking forward to the remainder of our VBS days - especially so we can learn those unfamiliar names!

Some name examples: Cheeto (female), Princess, Rejoice, Lovemore, Gift, etc... 

The afternoon was again a split in the group. 

Lora, Bonnie and the 5 LBC girls went to the Shalom House. The rest of the team spent some time shopping. (We will swap later in the week.)

The Shalom House is a place that falls under the umbrella of The Michael Project. It is truly amazing. It is a home for 5 mothers and their adopted children. All of the kids were once orphans and now have a house, a family and security. Lora and Bonnie were able to connect with one of the moms and give her advice on how best to nurture her children in accordance to their needs.

The 5 LBC girls spent the afternoon playing in the yard with the kids. They were so fun to be around - especially with the knowledge that they each have their own story, their own background filled with things unimaginable. Below you will find a personal account from Amanda of this afternoon.

Our day concluded with our group time of dinner and preparations for tomorrow.

Things we are bringing before God:

+Praise for a wonderful (albeit challenging) first day of VBS

+Continued health and safety

+The ability to enter into our 2nd day of VBS with energy and readiness

+That we will continue to be people-oriented

+Praise for Thomas (our driver) and Alice (our chef) for the week 

Your prayers are so treasured...

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I could start writing a novel, but if I could summarize my heart in one line it would be that when people say you leave a piece of your heart in Africa, they're not joking. 

We were advised to be careful not to hold the children due to the fact of them getting attached to us. Can I admit that my heart was definitely sad and kind of puzzled when I heard I shouldn't hold the children? I was then reminded that it's for their benefit. It was hard to wrap my mind around that fact. One of my desires is to just hold children and let them feel loved. Holding a child allows them to feel secure when they're world is a fragile one. If I were to hold the children all week long, I would be breaking and confusing their hearts at the end of the week because they would have grown an attachment to me.

I grew to be content about the fact that I wouldn't be able to hold all these beautiful children. I was learning different ways to love children besides just the physical touch of a hug. God definitely knows my passion for loving children though...today I was able to hold a precious little one named Josiah. He's 20 months old, and he has special needs. The first time I saw him, my heart made a connection. He has a bright spirit and constantly says the word "hi." He fell in love with my sunglasses because he could see his own reflection. He has mild neurological problems which cause him to have trouble sitting and standing.

My heart melted seeing him wobble all over the place. He was quite tired by the end of the day and fell asleep while Lindsey was holding him. I was able to finish my time at Shalom by holding him the last half of his nap. It is truly difficult to put an indescribable experience into words. All I really know is that I was SO grateful for the opportunity to pray for him while his little body was resting. My heart is full of joy and praising God for his life! Please join me in prayer for this beautiful child God created! 

Much love from Africa, Amanda

6.23.13

RECAP from today:

*Church at Greystone Park 

*A trip to the nicer community in Harare - such a stark contrast to how the majority of people here live

*Conversation and coffee with the Hobbs at a nice lil' cafe

*An afternoon of preparation for our VBS's that begin tomorrow!

*Evening church at Greystone Park

*Dinner and prayer

Things we are praying for:

+Team unity

+That we will be event & people oriented rather than time oriented

+A successful (even if it doesn't go as planned!) first day of VBS tomorrow

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Hey Everyone!

I still cannot believe that I am in Africa. I've always wanted to go and found over the years that my heart broke for a group of people that I've never even met before. I have really loved getting to know members of the team better and people within the organization that we are working with. Today we went to the church service at the Greystone Park Church. The church holds about 200 people and looks like our churches back home. The people there were very warm and welcoming. The worship songs that we sung were very similar to songs that we sing back home. The thing that impacted me the most from today was the pastor's sermon.

The pastor preached on idolatry of people. When I first saw it pop up on the screen, I thought, I guess I can apply this to my life. I mean it's not something that I think I struggle with too too much. I mean I don't go around bowing down at people's feet or the food in my fridge or anything like that. 

Meanwhile God's going, "ummmmm....Amy....think again"

The pastor said that "idolatry takes place when [we] allow an image, a thing or a person take the place of God as [our] object of affection of worship"

He dug deeper and used an analogy of if a husband had a picture of another woman in his wallet & vice versa. How would each spouse respond? My guess is they wouldn't go "Oh honey she/he looks nice". He said that this is basically what we do to God when we put something or someone as more important than God. He shared the passage in Matthew 22:36-38, where it talks about the Greatest Commandment. Jesus tells us "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment" then he adds the second, " And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'.

2nd. The 2nd commandment is to love others. Not the first.But how often is this the biggest thing that we often get backwards. It's just it's much easier to share with someone your worries and have them audibly respond to you. When you're upset it's more comforting to feel an arm around you. We can see people we admire for talents and abilities and think "oo I wish I was like "so and so". But God asks us to come to Him and put Him before others. There is nobody on this earth who can even come close to God. Yet, so much we try to come close to God's perfection or hold people as more important than Him. 

He then raised some questions:

1) Who preoccupies or rules my heart, my thoughts, my time?

2)Who drives me and motivates me-who defines my identity?

3) Here's a really tough one: If this person was taken away-would I survive?

Names of people and things popped in my head as I asked myself these questions. Yup, though I thought otherwise-God knew exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe we're not all bowing down at people's feet and tossing gold and valuables at them, but how much time do we spend thinking about other people more than God? Would we be okay, if said person was out of our lives? Unfortunately, I would say-well, no.

I am amazed at God's grace and patience with us as we learn to put Him before all else. My prayer is that I would more actively think about this stuff and be able to say, "no- I would be okay" and make Christ the only image that I strive after. 

I hope that you found this both encouraging and challenging. Personally, learning of how far I have to go-makes me realize how truly incredible God is. Tomorrow we head to the Wingate Preschool and back to the church to run our VBSes. Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare. Thank you so much again for all your prayer and support!

To Him be the glory. -Amy

6.22.13

RECAP of the day: Today was a day of cultural acclimation and team bonding. We woke up at around 8 am after sleeping about 12 hours each (sleep aids are glorious). The majority of our day was spent at Dave and Helen Hobbs' house. They live a walking distance away from where we are staying, so we got to look at the surrounding area a bit. I think we were a bit in awe at the fact that we woke up in Africa and were taking a morning stroll in Zim.

Dave and Helen Hobbs are the head of the main ministry we are partnering with, The Michael Project. When we arrived at their beautiful home, we were given a presentation on the ministry of The Michael Project. It's an amazing organization that operates to provide aid to orphaned and vulnerable children through pre-schools, foster programs and a prison ministry. Want to learn more about The Michael Project? Visit www.themichaelproject.org.

Some stats:

*There are 1.6 million orphans in Zim, or 1 in 4 children are orphans.

*Zim has the 2nd highest rate of HIV positive citizens per population density

The need is overwhelming, and The Michael Project is working to bring hope to those orphans.

We were then given an extremely helpful presentation on cultural "do's and don't's" of Zim. Our aim is to respect the people here as much as possible. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent fellowshipping through lunch, games and conversation with the Hobbs', their two precious daughters, and Rephat (the pastor with The Michael Project) & and his wife Mavis. Oh, and the watch dog, Shumba (lion in Shona). And a gecko. 

As the evening drew nearer, we walked back to our house for a debriefing time, dinner and organization of our supplies. We spent some entertaining moments practicing our songs - with motions - for the VBS.

Some things to pray for (as dictated by our team in a collective time of prayer):

*Thankfulness for the blessing of the hospitality of our hosts

*Focus on the heart change rather than numbers 

*Sensitivity to God's leading

*Continued team unity

*For Zim - a land of oppression and political turmoil 

*For the ministry of the Michael Project

For the team, Lindsey

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Hello from Africa!!

I am absolutely loving it here and truly enjoyed this past day and a half! As Lindsey said, we had an orientation about the Michael Project from Dave Hobbs. Sitting there and soaking up the facts was eye opening to say the least. Although it was hard to hear some of the devastating statistics, it was amazing to learn about the light the Michael Project sheds through communities in Harare. The Hobbs and other leaders of the Michael Project have incredible vision and their faith in God's provision resulted in multiple pre-schools and a children's home. Lindsey also touched on how Rephat shared the "do's and don't's" while we are here in Zim. One of the specific "don't's" that he shared was to be careful with how attached we get to the children. Many members of the team, and myself were slightly surprised by this. Most of us had the expectation that we could give the kids piggy back rides, hold them in our laps, give them hugs, but this in fact can hurt the kids more than help them. As team members we felt that doing those types of things would be ways to show them love. Rephat was trying to explain that teams have come in the past and did those things and after they left the kids felt somewhat abandoned. I can remember specifically when I went on a previous mission trip and gave kids piggy back rides and held them on my lap and I thought I was doing the right thing. Now, thinking back, I am wondering what those kids thought after we left. Did they feel abandoned too?  As much as I would love to allow myself to attach to these little children here in Zim, we decided the deepest attachment should be between the kids and God. Our goal as a team is to show God's love and teach them about their Heavenly Father. Please pray for our team as we try and figure out the best boundaries when interacting with kids. Our team is really getting excited to start VBS and finally be with kids! :)

Thanks for all the prayers and support! ~Shyanne

6.21.13

After driving to Dulles Intl Airport at 4 a.m... flying 14 hours on the first flight... 5 on the second... lugging 2 suitcases and 2 carry-ons per person... and 24 hours of total travel time.... We have reached our destination: ZIMBABWE.

Despite the length of time traveling took, we praise God for the fact that there were no major mishaps, especially with entering into Zimbabwe. We did not have to experience any form of interrogation or have our suitcases searched. (Side note: Kurt and Lora Miller are the most organized team leaders. Their discernment and instructions before we even began our journey helped to make the trip as smooth as it was.) 

Upon arrival and getting through customs (about 3 pm, Zim time), we were graciously welcomed by the staff of the Michael Project and Hands of Hope, the two main ministries we are working with. We then had an adventurous drive through Harare, the capital of Zim, which gave us our first true taste of the culture here.

This is my first time in Africa. I was in awe and shock as I absorbed the sights of the city. We are going to avoid camera usage in public areas, so I took pictures in my mind of people standing alongside the road on the ruddy dirt, surrounded by trash. Pictures of unusual trees that just seem like they belong here. Pictures of bustling roads with vendors that stand on the center line in an attempt to make a sale. Pictures of my team, riding along silently as almost all of us looked at Zimbabwe for the very first time. 

We are all staying on this beautiful property in a big brick structure. The property has a grassy yard, a stone-wall perimeter and even a thatched-roof 'gazebo.'

We are going to take it easy the rest of the evening and get a good night's sleep before we have an orientation-type of day tomorrow.

Will you pray with us this week? We will be praying for safety & health, Christ-like attitudes and the hearts of those we come in contact with.

Thank you for your consistent support. 

For the team, Lindsey

6.20.13 - 7.1.13

Leaders: Kurt & Kora Miller

Team Members: Amy Bergvall, Lindsey Blest, Amanda Connor, Bonnie Gish, Danielle Good, Heather Hoopes, Kamryn Miller, Logan Miller, Shyanne Smith, Elizabeth Van Pelt, Kevin Van Pelt