One of my most memorable moments to date took place this past spring. My daughter and I had the opportunity to travel with two other mom/daughter duos to Arusha, Tanzania. As God arranges everything, my friend’s sister had a friend in that very town and encouraged us to connect with her. Turns out, she and her family moved to Arusha to work with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Under this umbrella, they minister to the Maasai tribe.
A two hour drive with our new friend planted us right in the middle of a National Geographic magazine.
On the Maasai plain, lions roam, zebras run with donkeys, and little kids dressed in blue and red herd animals from dawn to dusk. The peanut butter colored dirt decorated with flat-topped Acacia trees serving their leaves to beautifully designed giraffes is forever embedded in my memory.
At the YWAM compound, we were given a tour of buildings where schools are teaching and girls are learning about a Father who loves them purely. Awaiting Seminar, the meeting held for girls who are not yet married, to begin, we stood in a bare room watching the attendees who had arrived early recite Scripture. Curiously, they would steal glimpses of us as we milled around soaking in the foreign atmosphere. The babies revealed the truth of how most may have felt about us being there—they would catch our eye and cry. Most did not cease their lament until the older sibling in charge took the wailer out of sight of the Mzungu (white people).
I walked over to the dusty window to seal an impression of the horizon in my mind. The land was spotted with girls of all ages walking to the building where Jesus can be trusted. The room continued to fill with girls as the next segment of the meeting began. A few of the older girls came to the front and began singing phrases signaling the girls to rise from their plastic chairs and echo the phrase. Then the dancing began. My heart jumped to life as my sandals pounded the cement floor. Upon interpretation, I realized the phrases they sang with their whole bodies were really quite simple. “God is our strength.” “He keeps us safe and He loves us.” “God is real and our protector.” They sang with such force and volume.
I wondered, what would happen if the 1000+ people with whom I worship on Sundays in my home church sang with such enthusiasm? I dare think our city would be changed forever.
Following an hour or so of prayers, reciting verses, and singing, Mama Praise began her sermon. Mama Praise, a native Maasai, began sharing a message to the girls in their own language. I could not engage with her words, as I do not know Maasai, so I prayed. I prayed that God would give them spirits like Esther-they would be strong and courageous in a culture that trades them as young as eight years old to be a wife. Later, I asked Mama Praise what she preached about with such conviction. She confessed, “I was telling the girls they needed to be like Esther in the Bible who made really hard choices and risked her life, because God had raised her up for such a time as this.”
Thank you, Father, that when my westernized brain felt so disconnected, you folded me into Your work through Your Spirit speaking to mine.
Three hours later my body was tired, yet my spirit vibrated with LIFE. I watched the girls with beautiful dusty feet, shaved heads, and eyes teaming with Jesus trickle out of the cement square building onto the African dirt back to their dung huts and Animistic traditions.
Walking around Maasai Land following Seminar, I questioned Mama Praise. One query’s answer pierced my soul.
“Why are you called Mama Praise?”
Her answer uprooted a weed that has been thriving in the garden of my heart my whole life.
She asked, “What is your husband’s name?”
“Before you marry, you have a name. When you marry, you become your husband’s name because you no longer belong to yourself. What is your daughter’s name?”
“Then you become Mama Lily,” she explained.
A verse I have read countless times sprouted new life in my heart,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.” (John 12:24)
Simple, elegant truth. My life is not my own.
Completely applicable to a missionary’s life, a wife’s life, the life of a mother, the life of a friend, the life of a CEO or CFO. Countless books written by adored leaders worldwide pontificate a life of service to those within their realm is foundational to extraordinary leadership. I love when God’s truth is written about by secular authors, His truths validated by real lives.
Makes sense. If I keep MY own agenda, guard MY own life and strain to make MY dreams come alive, I remain isolated.
If I fall into the soft, welcoming earth that is my husband, children, family, friends, etc., yes, my identity may die-who I was, what I was known for, but LIFE springs forth in these relationships and surprisingly in my own soul as well. Jesus said “verily” twice in this verse; this truth must be important.
I smiled when she told me my new name. The smirk emerged as I thought of the dichotomy of our lives. Me, in a culture where women keep their last names when entering into covenant marriage; their roots remain alive, individualism expressed in their new three name name. No judgment in these words, just observation. Conversely, Mama Praise is dwelling in this seemingly primitive world living out agape love truths that bear meaningful, abundant fruit as she gives up her original name and life forever.
Here’s the kicker, unlike the countenances of most women in our society, Mama Praise’s face speaks of a peaceful heart-a satisfied soul.
Once firmly planted back at home, I began an experiment to change my thinking. Rather than being frustrated at my yet again thwarted agenda, I am attempting to choose thankfulness at every bend in my day, grateful for the little feet who made the mess, thankful for the opportunity to sit with my daughter as she struggles to read.
It may sound severe, tragic even, pouring all my energy into serving those entrusted to me to the detriment of my own hopes, dreams. Thus far, it has been quite the reverse. I find I am more content in my Groundhog Day type of life when I take my thoughts captive, lay aside my contemplations of greatness replacing them with prayers for the greatness of God to be evident in the lives around me.
Liberty is flowing in this transformation from Johanna to Mama Chris. My heart actually finds joy in realizing it is fulfilling to be Mama Lily, Mama Clara, Mama Asher, and Mama Landon. A work in progress? Yes. Are there still difficult days when I am sledge hammering the walls longing to find a more adventurous life on the other side? Yes, yes there are. Are my friends and family always greeted with a peaceful, joyful being when I walk into the room? No, not by a long shot. Nonetheless, I am praying that God is chipping away more of my rough edges with each passing day.
May the God who is so very patient with me and my stumblings through this life remind me of this precious truth-to die to myself that He may become alive in those around me, because I belong to Him ultimately-not myself. May all who can identify find an abundance of joy and peace as we let go of the grain of wheat that is our lives in hopes that our Father causes the sacrifice to bear much fruit upon entering the earth.
After all, is this not where Jesus’ mission was brought into fullness? When He chose to die on the cross, LIFE burst forth three days later conquering all.
1. DIE TO SELF (again), for my life does not belong to me.
2. Choose BRILLIANT names for my children.