The last 30

30 days. That’s all I have left in my beloved country, with my beloved people. In 30 days I will say goodbye to people that I thought I would serve alongside for the majority of my life. In 30 days I will say goodbye to the man I love for an indefinite period of time. In 30 days I will use a one way ticket to board an airplane to re-enter a life that I don’t know anymore. In 30 days I will have to embrace a great deal of uncertainty and live in that uncertainty until…well…I don’t know until when.

And there is great grief in each of these things. A deep grief that few people truly understand.

As most of you know, my time with Bethesda is coming to an end and I have been trying for literal weeks to figure out how to write this update. Weeks. And I still don’t know what to say. I can’t summarize. I don’t know what to share and what to keep in my heart. So here’s what I will do. I will share with you some of the joys from the last 3 years. Because I need to start to heal. Because I need to re-learn how to focus on the joy. Because otherwise, the option is bitterness and remaining wounded. So. Help me focus.

  • “Family dinners” with some of the older guys at Bethesda at Ben and Megan’s flat on Friday nights.
  • Seeing the excitement and curiosity in my student’s eyes as we learn about the moon.
  • The relationships that I was able to build here, the people that became my family.
  • Meeting my guy and starting to walk through life together.
  • Witnessing countless sunrises and sunsets – some of the most breathtaking ones I have ever experienced.
  • Having the privilege of diving into God’s Word each morning with my students.
  • Heads of kids here popping out of windows to greet me as I walk past.
  • Spending Thanksgiving with my RSA family at Blyde River last year.
  • My parents coming to visit me and getting to show them the country I love.
  • Hearing ‘I love you, Ma’am!’ as my students leave for the day.
  • Random Friday dance parties with my kids.
  • The simple pleasure of finding an American treat – like Dr. Pepper – in a shop here.
  • South African thunderstorms – one of my absolute favourite things.
  • Walking out into the township across the street to buy some Kotas, South African street food, with some of my favourite people.
  • Making a tent/fort in my classroom (2 times) as a treat/surprise for my kids.
  • Making thumbprints on my ‘Student Family Tree’ each year.
  • Games in the courtyard with the kids.
  • Long talks and colouring at the stone table or in the lapa.
  • The ‘Door of Wonders’ that led from my flat to Ben and Megan’s flat so I didn’t have to go outside to get to them!
  • Meeting my first snake with Gabby and Megan one night in the team center and Megan jumping up onto the countertop while Gabby says, “we can handle this…”
  • 4:12 – a Bible study group we had for a little while with the older kids at Bethesda and the joy it brought to learn and grow and worship together.
  • Mama Dorah and Elvis – A married couple who work at Bethesda – my dear friends.
  • MaPhiri’s Magwinyas – delicious fried dough
  • New Year’s Eve in Hammanskraal.
  • Saturday morning grocery shopping with Megs and Gabs.
  • Being given my African name – Omphile – by some of the older guys here.
  • Learning about the culture here and the moment that I recognized my first Tswana word in conversation. It was ‘Cow’!
  • Stargazing every night. Finding Orion’s Belt and the Southern Cross – the two constellations that connect both my lives.

These things might seem small, or confusing to you all, but each of them comes with good memories, laughs, and smiles for me.

I wish that I could thank each of you in person for the ways in which you have supported me in both prayer and finances. You have sacrificed much for the gospel to be shared here in South Africa. And I am deeply grateful for your partnership.

I would appreciate your prayers for me as I transition into whatever comes next. Pray for healing. Pray for peace in uncertainty. Pray for direction. Pray for a heart that is open and ready to hear from God and follow his guidance.

Love from South Africa

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Certainty in an uncertain life

If you are familiar at all with me, you know that I am a ‘planner’. I know the next 10 steps (or at least I like to think I do). I think ahead. I see what’s coming down the road and I try to prepare for it. That’s who I am – a planner to the very core.

God likes to challenge us doesn’t he? He takes those things at our core, things that we often find some of our identity in, and he pushes on them. He builds our trust in Him by stripping away what we see as our ‘strengths’.

I walked into the year 2018 with a lot of fear and feelings of uncertainty. Five months in and I still have no idea what this year will bring. I can’t see 10 steps down the road. I can’t even see the next step all the time. And that has been incredibly hard for this ‘planner’. I feel like I regularly have to fight against panic. It’s not easy or simple. It’s often exhausting.

But as God is pushing on these parts of me, he is also providing who and what I need to grow through the uncertainty and lean into the faithfulness of my God. Let me share those people and blessings that I am leaning on and learning from. 1) Ben and Megan Craig and Gabby Sanfilippo – my teammates here. They have been such good good gifts from the Father. Every time they heard me say ‘I have no idea what this year holds’, they were/are faithful to remind me that ‘God knows what is coming’. And not only does He know, he’s planned each part of my future for my good and His ultimate glory. 2) Another one of my wonderfully good gifts is Eddie. He is patient and kind, even in my panic. He is the calm in my storm. The steady in my unsteady. I am looking forward to see how God works in and through both of us in the coming months and, Lord willing, years! 3) I have been reading through the Psalms in my personal devotions for a while and recently re-read through one of my favourite Psalms again.

Psalm 62:5-8, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

There is life in those words. I am thankful for the lessons I have been learning this year. It hasn’t always been fun, but the Lord has continued to show himself faithful and steadfast.

Changing gears a little bit, I wanted to make sure I added a ministry update as well, since it has been so very long since my last one. My apologies.

I began my third year of teaching here at JCA in January and I have jumped from Grade 3 to Grade 1! It was a massive transition! I honestly felt like a new teacher all over again, but I am finally starting to feel like I have my feet under me again. I am really enjoying this new change of pace and I am loving my cute little kids this year! It’s exciting to be able to teach small ones to read and grow, and it’s hard to believe that we are almost halfway done with our school year.

I have only students from the community this year, as Bethesda only cares for one Grade 1 child and he was placed in the other Grade 1 classroom. It has been such a joy to be able to work with these children and help them grow in their knowledge of their Creator and the Gospel. Please be praying for their hearts to be soft and open to hearing the truth. They are so young and have so much to learn. Pray that God changes their hearts even at such a young age. You can also remember me in prayer in this season of uncertainty. Pray that I would continue to remind myself that my steps have already been ordered and that my job now is to trust and obey the directions of the Lord. I thank God for each of you and the support you so freely give me through prayer and encouragement. Love from RSA.

New Life

We burn things here in South Africa. When my parents were visiting in March, I jokingly made the statement that “At any given moment, 30% of South Africa is on fire.” It’s a massive exaggeration, but it is very common to see bush fires as you travel down the roads. And around this time every year, we burn the bush – the tall grass – we burn it to the ground. And for weeks, the ground is blackened and charred.

But then, something seemingly miraculous happens. Up through the charred remains of the bush, you begin to see new life. Beautiful, bright green grass, healthy and thriving, even though it is surrounded by blackened earth.

And then, almost overnight, our bare trees flower and are full of green leaves and beauty. New life.

I love this time of year in South Africa. It never fails to take me by surprise and take my breath away with its suddenness.

I have been rather quiet this year. And I am very sorry for that. But I want to share some things that I have been learning in my quiet. And I want to have you pray with me for renewed life.

This has been a hard year. And please, as you read this, don’t think that Ellie is coming off the field or her ministry is falling apart. But when I embarked on this journey of full-time foreign missions, it was my heart and desire to always be honest with those who love and support me all over the world. So this is me being vulnerable with you. It’s been a hard year. The road has been filled with hurts, conflicts, frustrations, sadness, and painful/difficult news. There has been a fair share of joys, excitements, and wonderfully good days too. But as I look at the year as a whole, I see a lot of ‘scorched, blackened earth’.

But God. I love those words. But God. He is faithful. And he has allowed this ‘scorched’ time in my life. He has given me this gift. And I believe he has given me this gift because he loves me and wants new life to spring up from my scorched heart.

This year has been filled with my failures. It has been filled with me choosing selfishness instead of love. Indignance instead of forgiveness and grace. Looking for the flaws in others and ignoring the sins in my own heart. Scorched earth.

But in His faithfulness, God has been opening my eyes. Prying them open, really. And it’s painful. But from the scorched earth, I am beginning to see new life spring up – bright and filled with hope. And here is where you, as the body of Christ, come in. Pray for me. Pray for a soft heart, open to correction. Pray for a spirit of humility and unity to flourish here. Pray for new life.

Since I haven’t sent an update in so long, please allow me to close out this update with a recap of some of the things that have been going on here. The beginning of term 2 at JCA brought with it a terrible case of pink eye for me…bad enough to keep me out of school for 4 days. It took 2 trips to the doctor, 3 different strength eye-drops, and antibiotics to heal. Since then, I have essentially just been flitting from one illness to the next it feels. From pink eye, to head cold, to chest cold, back to head cold, and finally, ending out the term with pneumonia. Term 2 was difficult. But the most difficult part came right after the term ended. The Monday following the end of term, my dad was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am by no means the first missionary to experience something like this…a loved one getting sick, or even dying. I have a teammate who lost her sister less than 3 weeks after she got to the field. Everyone has a story. And everyone experiences hard things – whether on or off the foreign mission field. But for me, this was big. My dad is the rock of our family. And the prospect of cancer was a scary one. I am so thankful that his diagnosis came during a long break for me from school. I was able to go back to the states for almost 3 weeks, attend doctor appointments with my parents, spend quality time with my family, meet a new niece and nephew (another nephew was born while I was there, but I wasn’t able to travel to meet him at that time), and worship with my home church.

After 3 weeks, I made the trek back to my Africa, which I had missed very much, to begin Term 3 of school. In going “home” (to the States), I realized just how much I have grown into my life here in the last 20 months…how many roots have been planted, and how much I love this life. During the first week of Term 3, my dad has a double mastectomy. When the pathology came back, it revealed that the cancer had not spread! We were (and still are!) praising God for his kindness to us!

We are now more than halfway through Term 3! It is so hard to believe the end of the year is coming so soon! And before I know it, I’ll be back on an airplane for the month of December, having completed my first 2 years in South Africa. I’m looking forward to connecting with a few of my supporting individuals and churches!

Dear friends, please continue to pray for me, Bethesda, Jabulane Christian Academy, our team here, and the children and students who need to understand the love offered them through Jesus.

I love you all and praise my God for your love, support, and influence in my life.

Update from an American-African Redhead

Friends! It has been far too long since I sent a formal update out, and since I am booked off work for the rest of this week because of pink eye (yay…), I am trying to redeem this unexpected time off.

The first term of the new school year flew by! I met my new class in January and they are a very different bunch of students then last year. I have 25 students this year, and my class is comprised of 9 girls and 16 boys! They are proving to be a challenge, but I am enjoying getting to know them as we learn and grow together.

Three days before the end of term 1 my parents arrived for a visit! They joined my class for the last three days of school and my dad conducted interviews of different staff members here at Bethesda in order to ‘assess’ me and gain a deeper understanding of the ministry as a whole. One of the ways my parents helped me in those 3 days was setting up a blanked fort in my classroom! During the first term, we worked together as a class towards the goal of a ‘blanket fort and movie day’ reward party for making right choices and choosing to work hard. We reached our goal and were able to enjoyed a day together in a fort watching “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” – the book we had just finished reading as a class. They way my kids’ eyes lit up when they came to class and found the fort was definitely worth the effort!

After school closed for the term, we were free to spend time together exploring Hammanskraal and Pretoria. It was a delight to be able to show my family life here in South Africa. We drove down to Durban for a quick adventure together and enjoyed seeing the Indian Ocean and being ‘tourists’! We packed the 12 days we had together and tried to make the most of our limited time. It was a great visit and it made me very excited to come back to MI for a visit Lord willing in December.

On a more personal front, my roots here have been growing deeper still. It is such an encouragement to see relationships begin and continue to grow. I am loving my church here and have started singing on the worship team and teaching Grade 1 Sunday School. It is so fun to see my SS kids and have them run to say hello and give me hugs. One of the most difficult parts of moving to a new place for me has been being ‘unknown’ in a church. When you grow up as the pastor’s kid, you know everything that’s going on at the church…you know everyone and everyone know you. But that’s not so here. I am slowly developing relationships and friendships at my church and it has been refreshing! I also joined a wonderful small group and am thankful for the added fellowship every week.

I am planning to be back in the states for a visit at the end of this school year! I am still getting all the details settled, but am so excited to meet my niece and 2 newest nephews and spend some time with my family! I hope to make it out to some of my supporting churches, but I won’t be able to get to everyone this trip. I plan to be back June/July of 2019 to meet with all of my supporters! I am looking forward to catching up with life in the states soon!

 

I have a few new requests for you all to pray for as you think of me. My younger brother had to have his second back surgery about a month ago. A few days following that surgery he was taken back to the hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia, sepsis, and blood clots – in his legs and lung. He spent the next 12 days in the hospital and was finally released on oxygen to recover at home. On Easter, he was once again taken back to the hospital with pain in his other lung and it was found that he now has blood clots in each lung and will be in the hospital several more days. All of this on top of recovering from a back surgery. Please be in prayer for our whole family, but especially Ethan and his wife Sarah. You can pray as well for a quick recovery for my lovely pink eyes! Finally, please pray for my students this year, some of whom are relatively unfamiliar with anything Biblical. Pray that God would use this year to shape them and make them His own.

As always, thank you so much for your love, support, and encouragement. I am thankful for each one of you and could not minister here without you. Thank you. I pray often that God would use you all for his glory where he has placed you, just as I pray that He would use me for His glory where he has called me. I am grateful for all my ‘family’ across the ocean.

Snakes and Milestones

525,600 minutes. 8760 hours. 365 days. 12 months. No matter how you’re counting, I have been living, loving, and serving in South Africa for 1 YEAR!!! I still feel like a newbie, I am still learning and making mistakes, I still get lost, I still have a long way to go, but I am celebrating this milestone in my life!

I am sitting under our lapa (thatch-roofed, open air structure with picnic tables under it), listening to music, trying not to get heatstroke, and thinking about the last 12 months. At this time last year, I had only been in country for a few days and I was honestly wondering what in the world I had done. I was doubting the decision to follow, I was missing my family, I was HOT! But as I sit here today, I can’t imagine saying goodbye to this place…these people. I go away for a weekend and I miss this community desperately. My roots are going deeper. My heart is settling here. And that is all God’s work in my heart…helping this to become a home for me.

It’s hard to believe that I have completed my first year as a teacher! As with much in life, some days dragged on, but as a whole, the year with my students flew by. Those 23 children will forever hold a special place in my heart – my first kids. I loved them, learned so much from them, made tons of mistakes, would have done so much differently, and have grown as a teacher because of them. Our next school year will begin on 11 January, but for now, I will enjoy my holiday…even though it’s hot!

It has been a few months since I’ve written an update. Forgive me for that. Life happens and it gets hectic and I fall behind. Let me catch you guys up! In October I got to attend a missionary women’s conference in Cape Town with about 45 other women serving in southern Africa. It was run by THRIVE ministry and it was a wonderful, refreshing, and encouraging weekend with 2 of my teammates!

November was the month of SNAKES and animals! I met my very first snake here in South Africa while filling up my water bottles one night. Some very brave young men came to the rescue and disposed of our little friend for us. And then there were 2 more snake experiences in the following week. Again, the young men to the rescue! I’m thankful that there are a number of things here that I know I can count on not having to take care of…like kill snakes! For Thanksgiving, a group of my coworkers and myself spent several days in Kruger National Park to celebrate! We spent much of our days in the car, searching for animals and we saw some incredible sights! Each evening we would come together and cook and enjoy supper together. It was a great time away!

December brought the end of our school year and everything that comes along with that. I closed out my classroom, helped plan and run our end of year fun day, and then participated in Honours Programme. And now I get to rest! Until January and then we will start all over again!

I thank God often for all the partners I have in this work. Some of you will never be able to visit or experience life here, but you are making an impact for the Gospel nonetheless. Please continue to pray for me and the ministry of Bethesda! You are important to this work!

The night the elephants broke in…

Can I be real? I always thought of myself as a very strong, independent woman. I did not think there would be so much here that would make me ‘emotionally unstable’…which is mildly laughable because I sincerely don’t cry often here, but I have cried more often in the last 8 months than I did in the states. There are some crazy hard things about just starting to put your roots down in a new place. For instance, I have felt incredible grief over the fact that my newest nephew, now 4 months old, doesn’t know the sound of my voice and I will never have the opportunity to snuggle him as a newborn, won’t be able to feel him in my arms, won’t be able to meet him in person until he is almost 2 years old. My sister is about to give birth to my very first niece. A little girl who is enormously loved by an Auntie she won’t see very often.

And my heart hurts.

Did you know that when I moved here, I brought all of my movies with me, including the movie “UP” where one of the main character’s name is Ellie? I did. And I have watched all of my movies over and over again. Except that one. The reason? While my dad writes his sermons and works in his office, he listens to Pandora, and whenever an “UP” song comes on, he stops and shoots me an email letting me know he’s praying for me and loves me. And so, I may never be able to watch that movie here. It hurts too much.

But you know why it’s worth it, even though it’s crazy hard? Because of the curiosity I hear in my students while we learn about Lazarus and Jesus raising him from the dead. Because I get the opportunity to help young hearts realize that God has a plan for their lives, even when horrible things happen, like losing a parent or sibling, and that that plan is for their good and His glory. It’s worth it  because I get to not only help teach these children that God is in control of all things, but I get to see it worked out in my own life on a daily basis. It’s worth it to be able to build Gospel relationships with children whose lives have been anything but easy so far…to help them see that our God is a Father to the fatherless. Hard, but TOTALLY worth it!

Ok. So enough of the stuff that makes me want to cry!  I wanted to share with you all some updates and new prayer requests. Some of you might have heard, or seen my posts on facebook already, but we’ve had some unexpected visitors on our property recently! For about a week and a half, every night, a group of elephants were breaking onto our property to eat our trees and play on our playground! Dead serious. I was walking home from a friend’s house late one night and turned the corner to get to the door of my flat and there was an elephant…right next to my door! And the next morning, I opened my door to go to church and they were still there. Munching away on our trees. Just meters away from my front door. We had to cancel school one morning because of elephants. Oh Africa. How I love thee! The problem has been taken care of with electric fences and we haven’t had visitors in a while, but it was exciting while it lasted! (See pictures below – all taken from my front door!)

I wanted to thank those of you who prayed for this nation at the beginning of August during the elections. Everything seemed to go smoothly and we have been riot-free for several weeks! A great answer to prayer! Please continue to pray for South Africa to be gripped by the Gospel, for hearts to be transformed, and souls to be redeemed!

Each of you, my rope holders, matter to me. You’re prayers are coveted as I finish out this year of teaching these 22 hearts. Pray for them. Pray that they would know personally who Jesus is and what He has done for each of them. Pray that they would not waste another day as an enemy of God. Pray that they would genuinely repent and live the rest of their lives passionately serving God. Pray hard. Pray often.

Life and Times…

““Why aren’t you married yet?”

“Are you getting married soon?”

“Why is there a ring on your hand if you aren’t married?”

“Why haven’t you found a husband yet?”

These are the questions I am asked on a nearly weekly basis. As if my worth here is directly linked to my relationship status. I’m mildly tempted to just go find a man and ask him to marry me so that I can stop fielding these questions!!! Kidding. Mostly.”

“I told myself that I would be a better communicator than this. I promised that I would write more. I was determined to send regular updates. But I have failed once again. Do you want to know one of my great fears? Despite knowing that the people in the states that are partnering with me, holding me up in prayer, are gracious and kind people, I am desperately afraid that I will be a disappointment. That I won’t meet expectations. That I won’t keep up with communication well enough and that you all will get fed up with me.”

These are just a few ways I tried to start this update. Sometimes it is difficult to write. So much is going on that it is hard to condense it all into a blog post.

Term 2 at JCA flew by! I am now two weeks into my holiday and I almost miss my kids 🙂
I am so thankful for the 22 little hearts that God has put into my class. They are a sanctifying challenge and I have enjoyed seeing them grow and change over the past two terms. Please continue to pray for their hearts!

June 10th came and went quickly and quietly with very little notice. I was teaching and finishing out term 2. A few days later I realized the forgotten significance of that day. The 10th of June marked my 6 month anniversary here at Bethesda! And I was too busy to notice J I have now been in South Africa longer than I ever had been before. Now here we are and I am almost to my 7 monthaversary!

In the last month, many of you have seen prayer requests for unrest here in Hammanskraal. We have had a number of different riots and protests because of the upcoming elections (On 3 August) as well as fights over land near us. Please continue to pray for this nation! We are safe here on property and we are working to make wise decisions. I am thankful for a village manager and housedads who are diligent about keeping us all safe!

We are in the middle of team season here at Bethesda and I have really enjoyed being able to help in a variety of ways with the teams and interns that have come here to serve! I get to participate a bit more with the teams that are here during school holidays. I have helped with many meals and during the last team I got to run a ‘Jewelry Day’. We give our older Bethesda kids the opportunity to learn about business and earn a little money by making jewelry to sell to the teams that cycle through. Our kids pay a small fee for the supplies to make jewelry and then they receive a profit once their piece sells. This last day that I was in charge of, we had 12 children come and we spent several hours making jewelry to sell. It’s always fun to see how creative our kids are and to see them working hard to make a beautiful product.

Last week I was also able to have some older girls over to have a pizza/nail painting party! It gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk with and get to know some of our kids here that I don’t always get to spend time with. I loved the evening. While I was painting one of the girl’s nails, she asked me about my testimony and then I had the opportunity to ask her if she had been redeemed. It was a sweet conversation and I was thankful that God opened up those doors for me to talk with her.

I spent much of last week helping with my church’s holiday club (VBS) and driving 4 of our missionary kids to and from every day. It was a week that afforded me the opportunity to begin to build relationships in the church I have chosen. It was also a week that brought a few firsts…first time building a ‘boat’ and using oobleck as an illustration, first time cleaning up vomit from a car, first time getting pulled over for speeding in SA…lots of fun times!

Thank you so much for your prayers and partnership! I am filled with thankfulness for each and every one of you. Truly. Please continue to bring me and Bethesda Outreach before the Father!