Return, Rise, Fight

I’ve been back in Swazi for a full month now. Already so
much has happened! I can’t possibly summarize it in writing (nor in my head), so here are the highlights:
1)    It
feels like home to me.

2)    When
I returned, my mom graced me with her presence for 10 days. It was so wonderful
not traveling alone for once, and it was an immense blessing to have her by my
side for my first 10 days back. I think I only washed one dish the whole time
she was here with me, and I didn’t have to wash or hang or fold any laundry of
mine, Benji’s or Lucia’s. Oh, that was such a treat! She jumped right in to
ministry and was such a champ staying up late and running around on crazy
errands or last minute urgencies that ministry demands of me. I’m amazed at her
strength and grace. Thank you, Mom!
3)    Two
of my friends, Kirsten and Ryan, were in Swaziland while I was in the
States. They helped take over my homeschooling of two high school girls. Ryan
is a math teacher in the States, and the girls were amazed at everything he
taught them. One of the girls told them both that they were the first people to
show her that she could understand and even ENJOY math and that they helped her
discover “the hero inside.” It was a gift to have friends join me on this side
of the world! 
4)    The
summer ambassador team was also here during the time that I was in the States, and they were an AMAZING group of young women! Kiley, a previous intern, returned to lead the team and one of the team members was an old
student of mine, Liesl! Oh, what a joy! It was amazing to see the way Liesl so
easily fit into life here. She even befriended one of the girls who is very
apathetic and likes to keep volunteers at a distance; but she couldn’t resist
sweet Liesl. Being with Kiley again was bittersweet. It was almost a tease, as
it brought back incredible memories of our times together a year ago. It’s hard
to explain, but life felt fuller with her here. It was hard to see another
friend leave.
5)     I recently played in a basketball tournament in South Africa! My basketball team is phenomenal. They know how to work hard and play hard. They are full of laughs and hugs; they never make me feel like the odd one out. I am forever grateful for God’s gift of basketball and for this amazing team I get to be a part of.

6)    Ali
and Tara, our two Project Trust volunteers who were here all year, said their
goodbyes this week. There were many, many hard goodbyes, as Ali and Tara were
sister-like figures the girls desperately needed this year. We had to
homeschool a few of our primary level girls for different reasons with the hope
that they could go back to school next year. Ali and Tara took the lead in
teaching the primary-level students while I did the high school. Two of the
girls were not happy that they had to be homeschooled this year. However, it’s
these exact two that verbalized just last week that they prefer to stay in
homeschool because they learned so much more in one year than they have in
several years at regular school. Also, our 15-year-old who couldn’t read now
reads aloud during bible study! We will all greatly miss Ali and Tara.

7)    Our growing team! Lora, our new intern, arrived in Swazi while I was in the States. So I had the divine pleasure of meeting her and getting to know her this past month. Rachel Palmberg, who was our intern last year opted to stay with us for the next year as well! I am so thrilled to have them both onsite. We await another intern, Alyssa, who arrives next week, AND we get to add a fifth member to the team in October when Brittine returns to be our house sister! Wow! Five years ago… FIVE years ago I said a prayer—okay, actually, I was somewhat angrily scribbling out my frustrations to God in my journal—and I asked, “Where is the TEAM? I feel like you are calling me to an impossible task, because I cannot do this alone. I need a team!” Little did I know God was well-prepared for what I needed before I even said it. Over these past years, God has built an incredible base team in the States and is now building an incredible onsite team as well, which also includes an American family, the MacLellan’s who volunteer their time and energy and wisdom and love to pour into our ministry.
8)    Lastly,
we celebrated umtfwana wami’s birthday today!
While writing her a birthday
letter, it occurred to me that at this exact time, on her birthday one year
ago, she was still in the streets (by her choice), but God was about to bring her home. Over the course of seven years, she had
proven true what many people had originally told me, “Once a prostitute, always
a prostitute,” “Don’t exhaust yourself on one person,” “She’s not worth it,” “She’ll
keep running away.” She did all those things. But the Voice of Truth still won
me over. The voice that says, “The Lord sets prisoners free” (Psalm 146:7), and
“Return to the Lord…I will heal their defection, I will love [her] freely…[she]
will blossom like the lily,”
(Hosea 14:2,5-6) and lastly:   
What man among you having one hundred
sheep and losing ONE of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and
go after the lost ONE until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it
on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together
his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have
found my lost sheep.’ In just the same way there will be more joy in heaven
over ONE sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no
need of repentance.
(Luke 15:2-7)
Indeed she had returned! She had been found and redeemed
and restored. She had been set upon His shoulders and then mine with great joy, and it still brings me to tears. One year ago. In September of last year, she
returned for good. I’ve never spent this much time with her before, because
when faced with the fight or flight in the past, she always chose flight. But not anymore.
She’s here to stay, she’s here to fight. Actually, while I was in the States I
had a vision of her. She was crumpled down in the middle of a battlefield, her
head huddled to her knees, her knees on the ground. An angel came to her and
lifted up her chin. “Rise, child, and fight,” he told her. That was the end of the
vision. But its meaning is everlasting. It’s her time. She’s no longer the
wounded one on the battlefield, the one without hope, the one left for abuse.
She’s now the fighter, the one called to heal others, to mend, to give. And she
has! With a recent job she got as a cook, she’s been saving money from her job
and giving it to people in need. It’s incredible to watch the way that Grace
has changed this girl’s life from the inside out in the most magnificent, yet
simple ways. Oh, indeed, we have MUCH to celebrate on her birthday! A day that
once brought pain and anger, as she was rejected by her birth mother, but now a
day we celebrate because even so God CHOSE her. And God somehow chose me to
pursue her. I’m not deserving of this life-altering journey He has called me to nor am I equipped on my own, yet still He calls to me, he calls to you: “Rise, child, and fight.” It’s time. 

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