God, I think I left my Heart behind…..Again!

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It happens every time!
Without fail, every time I leave the USA to come home, I leave a huge part of my heart behind!
The rest of the family gets so excited when hopping on that last flight home. They chat and talk excitedly about all they have missed and what they are going to do as soon as they get home!

Me? Well, I sit there listening to their cheerful chatter and wish to myself that we weren’t actually getting on a flight back to New Zealand.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I love New Zealand and I love my life I have here, but there is something about the USA that pulls at my heart every time I am there.

I’m not sure quite what it is? I don’t know if it’s the food, how cheap everything is, how big everything is, the American accent, or what it is that pulls at my heart, but whatever it is, it is very real and makes settling in back home super hard for me. And for some reason I seem to hear God a whole lot clearer when I am over there!
I have to fight the negative thoughts that jump into my mind and remind myself daily that this is where God has called us to live for now!

It has been a hard week for me, but this morning, I decided to make a change! Instead of sitting and wallowing about the way I wish things could be, I have decided to check my attitude, give myself a slap, and look at all the things I am thankful for. There is nothing better for the soul than to sit down, make a list of all my Blessings and thank God for all I have instead of focusing on what I don’t have! And I can tell you, I am one super Blessed Chick!

You know, it is so easy for us to look at all we don’t have, or what other people have, or what we think we want and focus on that. We can find ourselves on a slippery slide of negativity and if we don’t watch ourselves, it will start to not only affect ourselves, but also affect the people around us. I for one, don’t want to be known as a negative pants, that is not the way God has called me to live, and so today I have made a stand!

Today, I am choosing to be positive. I am choosing to see the good around me. I am choosing to count my Blessings and I am choosing to be happy! What about you?

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Because They Matter, That’s Why!

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It is the Eve before we leave Mexico and I am sitting here with mixed emotions.

Even as I type, the tears are rolling down my cheeks with so many thoughts and feeling swirling around my head.

Above all I am so thankful to God for this incredible family adventure He has blessed us with. From what started out as a random comment a couple of years ago, to becoming a God dream and now finally into fruition, it has been an amazing journey of strength, sacrifice and above all faith!

18 months of planning and fundraising and now 2 Mexican families  have a roof over their head, a bed to sleep on and a home to call their own. It is still surreal when I really think about it.

It is so humbling that God chose Team Strong to bring His love to these families half way across the world. With the 3 other families we have imagetravelled with, we have changed the lives of these 2 Mexican families and hopefully their destiny as well. My prayer is that as the local community asks about their new house, they will tell them the story of how 22 crazy kiwis came over from NZ to show them how much God loves them!

As we finished the second house and handed the keys over to the family I was overwhelmed at seeing the gratitude on their faces. Again, we couldn’t understand them, nor they us, but no words were needed, a smile and a tear can convey more than a thousand words ever could! As they walked through their house and saw all God had done for them, through us, they too were overwhelmed and I stood there, sweat pouring off me in the 36 degree heat, exhausted and every bone in my body aching, with muddy tears flowing down my face, I thanked God again for allowing me to be a part of this moment. I can not even comprehend how different their lives will be now.

As I watched their faces God whispered to me “They matter. These people who live a completely different life to you, these people who live thousands of miles away from you, and who don’t know me yet…..they matter.” And I knew at that moment why we were there. It wasn’t about the food and furniture we bought them, it wasn’t about making their lives more comfortable, it wasn’t even about building them a house. All these things are great, but it was all because they matter to God. They may have been overlooked and looked down on by people but God sees them and He longs for them to know Him.

To see the poverty here has been hard. There are so many families who live with nothing to their name but a broken down shack (if they are lucky) and literally the clothes on their backs. They live on a diet of beans and tortillas, literally every meal 365 days of the year, and fresh water is considered a luxury. There are not even basic things that we would consider a necessity… A toilet, running water, a shower, let alone things like an oven, a bed and pillow or even a comfy chair to sit on!

I have a million questions running through my head for God, but I know that even if I had all the answers it wouldn’t change things for the people here. God has called me to do my part, and I have been obedient in that. Only He knows if He will call me back here but the 2 families we built houses for will be forever in my heart and forever in my prayers.

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House 1 is Complete!

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I Am Exhausted!

As I sit here and type this I am sipping on a coke zero after I having had a long cold shower and taken some panadol for this tired dull headache I have! I can’t remember the last time I have been this tired or my body so achy, but In saying that I can’t remember the last time I have felt so fulfilled!

The last 3 days have been an emotional roller coaster and I am beyond grateful to God for this adventure He has us on.

Day 1 started with breakfast at the base before loading up the ute and vans and heading out to the Colonia, where we would see the harsh reality of life here. As we left Mazatlan and headed into the “suburbs” we were met with the reason why we were here. The streets went from concrete to dirt, the buildings went from nice to ruins and the nicely clothed people soon become people without shoes and tattered clothing.

The houses became shacks and lean to’s and rubbish was littered everywhere. In between the sadness were little pockets of happiness where people had planted gardens and children ran around with big grins on their faces, not knowing any other way of life.

We pulled up to where we were building and I couldn’t hold back the tears as we met the family we were building for. Diego is 75, his wife Gabby is 63 and they share their shack with their 18-year-old grandson Jesus and his 14-year-old wife (and no, that is not a typo, yes she is married at 14!) Diego and Gabby have lived on this piece of land for 23 years, through the heat, through the tropical storms and everything in between! They have a small lean-to for shelter but when the storms hit they sleep under a tarp.

imageThe concrete pad had already been laid and so once everything was unpacked we were into it…….
Within minutes, people were painting boards, metal framing was being screwed together, and everyone, yep all 22 of us, were busy doing something! As the sun beat down there were few places for shade and so we sweated in the 38-degree heat. All dignity and caring what we looked like went out the window, as we all worked hard for this family who needed us.

We welcomed the snack breaks and our lunch of tortillas were finished within minutes. The litres (and litres) of water in the big coolers were guzzled like there was no tomorrow, as we sweated under the hot sun.

imageThe boards were painted a happy shade of green, and because the weather was so hot, they were just about dry as soon as we painted them, so they were pretty much put straight on to the house!

By 4pm, we were all exhausted so called it quits for the day and packed our gear away into the trailer for the night. We went back to the base for dinner and I think we were all in bed asleep by 8.30pm!

Day 2 was a little disappointing as we had a tropical storm the night before so the site was pretty muddy so not suitable for 22 people. It was decided that 9 of us would go to the site and the rest would stay back at the house for the day.

Today we finished screwing the outside on and put up all the Sheetrock (gib board) as well as mudding it (stopping it!) and putting the roof on. Again it was an exhausting day but so rewarding.

imageDay 3 and we were all back on site again. It was a crazy day as it was our last day and so we wanted to get everything finished for Diego and Gabby.
All hands were on deck as we fitted windows and door frames, finished gib stopping and painted the inside, got the electricity working and did all the finishing touches, to make this house into a home.

As part of our fundraising we had raised enough money for a furniture package, so the truck arrived with beds, fridge, stove, shelving, table and chairs, sheets, towels, plates and shelves full of food! It was exciting to set up home for them.

Finally at around 5 we had finished and so we all gathered around and prayed for the family and handed them the keys. It was emotional to say the least, and again the tears flowed as we watched them walk into their house for the first time. Even though we couldn’t understand them, and they us, no words were needed for us to see what this meant to them. To finally have a bed to sleep in and a place to call their own after 23 years of living in a shack was more than I could comprehend and again the tears rolled down my cheeks with what God has allowed us to be a part of.

I am exhausted, my body is sore and my head hurts from the heat, but my heart is overflowing with thankfulness for this incredible opportunity.

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We are in Mexico!

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We are in Mexico!

As I sit in the shade and type this, it is around 38 degrees and the sea breeze does little to take the heat away, although I am not complaining as I look up from where I am sitting on the balcony and watch people walk along the boardwalk and can see ocean as far as my eye can see.

It is still surreal to think we are finally in Mexico after the journey it has taken us to get here.

We had a great flight to LA, watching lots of movies and imageeating loads of plane food, and arrived at around lunchtime at our hotel which gave us plenty of time to explore before our flight to Mazatlan the next day. We all changed out of our jeans and sweatshirts and put on shorts and singlets and caught a taxi to Manhattan Beach. Wow, what an absolutely gorgeous place. The boardwalk was buzzing with people surfing, playing volleyball and hanging out in the Californian sun!

We decided to be like the locals, so hired bikes and biked along the boardwalk. It was a great way to see the sights and look at all the incredible houses along the boardwalk. As the sun was pounding down, we decided that a trip to the local creamery was in order. Gracie had a frozen chocolate yoghurt and the rest of us had the biggest cookie ice cream sandwiches you have ever seen in your life! After having a wander round, we caught a cab back to our hotel where the kids went for a swim in the pool. After a bit of a rest, we walked down to IHOP and had burgers and soda’s for dinner…..oh how the memories came flooding back of our trip in 2009!

imageWe were all pretty tired so were in bed asleep by 8pm!
The next morning we were up early, enjoyed our free continental breakfast at the hotel and headed back to LAX.

Our flight to Mazatlan was 2 and a half hours so we were landed after we had barely finished our coke and pretzels!

Man, if we thought LA was hot, we were in for a rude shock….Mazatlan was WAY hotter! The heat greeted us as we hopped off the plane and the sweat started to pour off us the minute we landed and I don’t think it has stopped! We were met by some of the staff from YWAM who took us to the house where the rest of the team were waiting for us.

The house in amazing and has plenty of room for all 22 of us.

After unpacking and having an ice cold drink, we all walked into the town centre where they were having night markets, local street dancers, rock divers and was buzzing with families who had come out for the night.

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imageimageWe found a local taco bar where all 22 of us had dinner and were introduced to the local cuisine, which I can tell you is absolutely delicious! On our way home we stopped at the “Looney Bean” cafe for coffees and frappe’s and continued the walk back to our house where at 9pm the locals were all still out in full force!

We went straight to bed as jet lag was now taking over our bodies, so between that and the heat we were all pretty knackered.

The next day we headed to the YWAM base to start the day with Praise and Worship and then had orientation to help prepare us for our house builds. Again we were introduced to more local cuisine which I am absolutely loving!


Team Strong is off Again…..

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Normal? Who wants to be normal?
It’s a question we often ask ourselves as a family.

God has not called the Strong Family to lead a life that is “normal” Now some would argue that there is no such thing as normal and I guess I would have to agree! What’s normal for me, may not be so normal for you and visa versa. But what I do know, is that God has called the Strong Family to live outside of what most people would call “normal”.

We tend to do things differently to a lot of our friends, and after 18 years of marriage, we are ok with that! Our kids have learned from day 1 that we never use the word can’t in our family. We are not quitters and will always find a way to make things work. We live by faith and some weeks that is exciting and some weeks it is outright scary, but either way we are living the life we know God has called us to live.

So when God says to you “Go to Mexico and build houses for families that are living on the street” We say “Ok, God….. Of course we will!”

Now that may sound simple in itself, but I can tell you this is a (another) real step of faith for us! For one, it is not cheap to travel half way around the world and live for 2 weeks. Secondly, it’s one thing for Phil and I to step out of our comfort zone, but it’s a whole other thing to take our kids completely out of their comfort zone!

After taking the kids to Uganda last year to meet our sponsor kids, (you can read about that here) I thought we were done! Yep, we could tick that off as our Faith journey and sit back, relax and live a mundane day to day life…...Yeah, Nah! What was I thinking? I should have known better than to think God was done with us!

And so we are off again! Team Strong leave in less than 3 weeks for another Family Adventure. We will spend 2 weeks building 2 homes with Homes of Hope for families that are currently living on the street. We are travelling with 3 other families and as the excitement and the nerves escalate, we are excited to see what God has in store for us, as a family and for each one of us who is taking this step of faith.

You can read more about the 4 families travelling together here and also how you can partner with us!

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The Complexities of Simple Living!

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Uganda CollageWhile in Uganda we spent quite a lot of time with some kids that had been rescued from the street.

What an absolute humbling experience. The  8 kids lived in a home with a house mother who took care of them.

The kids had all been taken off the street. Some of them were on drugs, some had run away from home and one of the young girls had things happen to her that I can’t even bring myself to mention on here. Each had their own story of heartache, of loss of innocence, of unspeakable sadness, but most of all, each had a story of wanting to be loved, to belong, to be part of a family.

These kids were all taken off the street, cared for, put into school, fed, but most of all they are loved upon…...unconditionally.

The moment our car arrived on the first day, they all ran out to meet us and greeted us all with hugs and the biggest smiles you have ever seen. We were shown around the wee complex, shown the outside kitchen which consisted of an open fire, their sleeping quarters (the girls share a room and all the boys share another room) and we were then invited in to hear the children’s stories. These made me cry, to think of these gorgeous kids being left to fend for themselves, to feed themselves, to find their own clothing and shelter, to basically survive on their own, some as young as 5 or 6!

The kids welcomed us by singing us some songs. I was in tears (yes, I don’t think they stopped flowing that day) the whole time listening to these kids,  singing their hearts out, praising God, grins as wide as the Nile, all the while knowing that all their worldly possessions were at the end of their bed in a tiny box, knowing that they had fewer worldly possessions combined than I had carried over in my suitcase, yet genuinely thankful for all they had.

At the end, they prayed for us!

Us! I thought it was us going to pray for them, not the other way around! Again, I couldn’t stop the tears flowing as they praised God for us and all the blessings they had in their lives.

As a gift, we gave each of the kids a balloon which we blew up for them and started hitting around the room. Honestly, I have never had so much fun in my whole life! To see the joy on these kids faces as we bounced the balloons around the room. They were belly laughing with something as simple as a balloon! To hear their laughter was priceless.  To find joy in the midst of so much heartache is something that is etched in my heart forever

That is why I went to Africa. To experience the simplicity of life. To understand things which I cannot learn from the comfort of home. To try to comprehend the plan God has for my life and how those kids fit into that plan. To understand the complexities of such a simple life! To see how much joy a balloon can bring to a child.

 


Stop Whinging and just Accept It!

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I got to spend time with some absolutely incredible people in Uganda, but I think one of the people that touched my heart the most was one of the Mum’s of a sponsor child. She brought her daughter to the craft and sports day we held for the sponsor kids. I absolutely fell in love with her daughter so spent quite a bit of time with her. She was a little afraid of us whities at first so her Mum came over to sit with us while we played. Image Her English was quite good and I was asking about her family. She told me that her 18-month old son had died 3 months ago. I told her how sorry I was and asked if it was from an illness. She then started to explain that he was playing in a pot of water and had accidentally drowned.

I could see the tears starting to well in her eyes as she told me her story. She went on to explain that her husband had blamed her so had thrown her out of the family home along with her daughter. Now, in Uganda they don’t have a welfare system. If you have no money you are on the dirty and very dusty street (literally) and fending for yourself. So here was this gorgeous woman on the street with her 5-year old daughter, the clothes on their backs and absolutely nothing else. My heart broke as I listened to her story and tried to stop the tears which were by then streaming down my face. I could not even begin to imagine what she was going through. She was thankful some family had taken them in so they at least had a roof over their heads.

The thing that really struck me while talking to her was there was no anger or bitterness in her voice for what had happened, just sadness. Sadness at losing her son, her husband and her family home, but not one hint of anger.

She praised God for all she did have! Holy Cow, I don’t know how she was so peaceful about her circumstances. If that was me, I think I would be mad at my husband, mad at the world, mad at myself and especially mad at God!

There were a hundred things she taught me that day in the short time I spent with her, but I think the biggest  lesson I learnt was to accept where you are and accept what has happened to you. What good was it going to do her getting mad at herself or even God? It wasn’t going to change things for her, it wasn’t going to bring her son back, but by her accepting her circumstances, gave her and her daughter a peace they would otherwise not have. I could see in her eyes that it didn’t take away the sadness, but it helped her cope with it.

How many times have I got mad at myself (or to be really honest, gotten mad at God) because of something I was going through that I wasn’t willing to accept? How many times had I blamed God for things not going to (my) plan? How many times had I thrown a tantrum and pouted because I hadn’t got my own way or “it wasn’t fair” How much easier would things have been for myself if I had just accepted things as they were and made the best of the situation I was in?

My prayer for all of you reading this is that you would accept where you are. Now, I’m not saying to settle for where you are, God always has more for us.   But no matter where you are at the moment, accept that you are where God wants you to be for the moment and be content!


Me Royalty?

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While we were in Uganda, we felt like royalty!

As we drove along the roads, kids would wave out to us and smile the biggest smiles in the world.

As we turned up to see a school, the kids would all hang out of the windows just to get a glimpse of us. At one school we went to, we were walking through the grounds and waving at the kids in the classrooms who were just so excited to see white people. One poor teacher was trying to get her 250 students (yip, they can have 250 students in a class) back into the classroom with a stick, and once she had them all inside, proceeded to lock the door!

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Just as we were leaving the lunch bell rang, and we were literally mobbed as though they had never seen a white person before….. Actually, I don’t think most of them had! There must have been 1000 kids all around us just wanting to see us. When I started shaking hands with some of the kids, I was totally mobbed and all the kids were swarming just to touch my hand. My hand! These white hands that often sit idle, that use a knife and fork to eat dinner, that type on my computer. These white wrinkly hands with short stubby fingers, hands which could be used for so much more, were now the most joy these kids had seen in months. My hands!

It was a very unreal experience and I was brought to tears (yet again!) to think that I could bring so much joy to so many kids by just being white.

The poverty there is extreme and like nothing I have ever experienced before. It completely broke my heart into tiny pieces when you saw their smiling faces knowing that they probably hadn’t eaten that day and may not for the rest of the day. Yet they find joy in the simplest of things. To think they could find joy in shaking the hand of a white girl who was completely out of her comfort zone! If only they could have realized how much joy they were giving me.

I think one of the biggest lessons I learnt was to find joy in the simplest of things. Not to come home, sell all my worldly possessions, and live poor. What good am I to anyone then? But to really appreciate all I have, and believe you me, I have SO much! I am not just talking about money and the stuff it can buy. I am talking about so much more than that. For health, for kids with full tummies, for a husband who loves me and allows me the time to write from my heart, for extended family and friends who support me unconditionally. For a heart that continues to grow and for a life that is truly Blessed.

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I think that day at the school was the closest I will ever get to be like Kate!


Same Problem, Different Country!

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One morning in Uganda, I had the privilege of sharing a devotion with the Team. I shared how I was hurt as a child and how broken I had become because of it. I wondered how God was ever going to love me or use such a broken vessel. How could something so broken ever be fixed or used for good? How could there be beauty in something so cracked? I went on to tell them how God picked me up out of the miry clay and set my feet upon the rock. How God had used my experiences to be able to speak into the lives of many young women who had experienced heartbreak like myself.

Richard, a sponsor child who was now grown and working for the organization who had helped him, held my hands, with tears in his eyes and thanked me for sharing so personally with him. He told me how it had touched him deeply, and how they have the same problems in his country. He was greatly encouraged by my story and now held a renewed hope for girls in his community.

So there I was, this joe average, nothing special about her, white girl sitting in the middle of Uganda, completely out of her comfort zone, never thinking she could do anything like this, but touching the lives of people around her with her personal testimony!

Same problems…….Different Country!

You know, we so often think we are the only person in the whole world going through what we are going through. But I can tell you everybody goes through stuff, whether you are sitting comfortably on your sofa, eating takeout with your air conditioning on, or if you are sitting in a mud hut in the middle of Africa, sweltering in the heat and wondering when and where your next meal will come from.

At some stage in life, we all feel worthless and wonder what we are doing on this planet, wondering why God would create us and for what purpose?

But you know what? We also all have a choice. We can choose to be a victim of our circumstances, or we can choose to rise above them and do the best we can with the cards we have been dealt.

Many years ago I made the decision that I was not going to be a victim! Sure, I had every reason to sit and wallow in my self-pity, but how was God going to use me in that state?  I picked myself up, dusted myself off and told myself, even though I am cracked a little, I am still usable!

“God please take this messed up life and use it for good.” I could never have imagined that I would be sharing my story with a young man in Africa who was brought to tears by my truth and honesty.

Maybe I wasn’t so far out of my comfort zone, after all. I can speak truth and encouragement into a life, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, living comfortably or just surviving.

I can speak of God’s love. No matter where I am in the world.

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God, I think you picked the wrong Girl!

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Well, we are home from Uganda!

This trip that we had been planning for the last 2 years has come to a close and we are now back in our comfortable lives, getting back to some sort of normality….. If there is such a thing!

We had the most incredible time and we are forever changed, but, to be honest, the first few days were super hard for me!

We arrived at the Airport, met by lots of Military Men all carrying the largest guns you have ever seen in your life. I did wonder for a moment if they were real or not, but didn’t actually want to find out first hand, so kept my head down and tried not to draw any attention to the 4 whities whose eyes were bulging out of their heads at the different world they had entered!

As our plane arrived at our final destination on to red dirt, I did begin to wonder what I had gotten myself into! Long gone was the internet, McDonalds, hot showers and all the other comforts of home that we so take for granted.

We were met by some locals and driven through town to our accommodation. Now when I say town, you are probably imagining shops, sealed roads, cars and pedestrians…...yeah, not quite!

Yes, there were shops, but not as we know them. They were more like small tin sheds all lined up along the road, some of them lucky enough to have a door and windows. Yes, there were roads, but they were again red dirt and there were literally thousands of people everywhere! There was 1 car to 100 bicycles and women walking down the road carrying 20 kilo’s on their heads and babies on their backs! Not to mention the slight colour difference of the locals, this was definitely not life as we knew it!

Once we had arrived at the Base we were generously given dinner, I had no idea what I was eating and to this day I am still unsure of what it was….. which I think is probably a good thing!

As I lay under my mosquito net that night, listening to the bats outside, the monkeys running all over the roof, I shuddered every time I heard the gecko’s and crawly things in my room, and it was so pitch black (of course, there were no street lights, what was I thinking!) I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I lay there, hyperventilating, almost in a blind panic (well, I pretty much was blind!) and saying to God, “God, I think you have picked the wrong girl, I don’t think I can do this!”

I knew this trip was going to take me out of my comfort zone, but I didn’t realize it was going to take me this far from it, this quickly!

2 years in the making and I was planning my quick escape! I hadn’t even unpacked my bags (just in case crawly things crawled inside!) so I was ready for a quick getaway! We all make mistakes and maybe this was one of mine, thinking that I could last 2 weeks in Africa. Ok, so it was a biggie, its a lot of money to fly to Uganda for one night, but hey, I could at least say I have been!

God must have been having a wee giggle to himself and when I woke in the morning, I had a new perspective on things. Yes, there was still wildlife all around me, yes we still had no hot water, yes, we were still eating things we didn’t have a clue what they were, but it’s amazing how a good night’s sleep and some prayer can get things into perspective. This trip wasn’t all about the food and the crawly things, in fact, this trip actually wasn’t even all about me!

I got up, ran myself through the shower (again, not like the showers we know and love!) and gave myself a pep talk as I threw cold water over myself. “C’mon Kathy, get over yourself, this trip isn’t about you and your fear of crawly things. This trip is so much bigger than that! Don’t miss what God has for you cause you are afraid of gigantic spiders and scorpions! You can do this. Yes, you, the white girl from NZ who is so used to your creature comforts, you CAN do this!”

God had a bigger plan for why we were there and he wasn’t going to let my wee panic attack stop us from experiencing all He had in store for us.

I was about to find out just how impacting this trip was really going to be……