One of the best gifts God can give someone is to take her out of her comfort zone and drop her smack in the middle of moment-by-moment dependence on Him.
It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Daunting and delightful. And humbling in the best way.
There’s something desperately wonderful about knowing that, unless God keeps, we will not be kept. Unless He gives endurance, we will collapse. Unless He guides and empowers our words, they will not be truly heard.
We absolutely know we are not sufficient. Not equal to the task. Not in control.
And we also know that He is all of these things.
I went to Kazakhstan knowing I would be placed in situations where people who suffer in ways I can’t begin to comprehend would have the opportunity to ask me any question they wanted to ask about God, what I believe, and how I deal with my own suffering.
There was no way I could prepare answers in advance, because I had no idea what the questions would be.
My portion for the duration of the trip was utter, moment-by-moment dependence on God.
And it was amazing.
God didn’t remove the difficulties and challenges. I battled jet lag. I couldn’t speak the language. Everything from food to currency to local customs was foreign. “Taking a taxi” equaled hitchhiking (and we did this often), and roadway lane markings were more like suggestions than actual boundaries. The heat index soared in a country where many homes, businesses, and cars lack air-conditioning, so I wore the same sweat-dried clothes again and again, living for two weeks out of one small suitcase. I needed a translator to carry on even the simplest conversation, and I never ventured out alone to do anything for fear someone on the street would say something to me and expect a response.
Once we got to camp, my job was to lead morning exercises on the beach, speak four times, teach and perform a dance with the moms, engage with them at meals, and help teach a cooking class using a recipe that was written in Russian.
Rest was not a priority.
But all of these things were gifts to me, because they bowed me low, and that’s exactly where I needed to be. I knew that I knew that I needed God.
And God was there.
Our team gathered each morning for debrief and prayer. And in the stillness of those moments, as Russian and English words mingled in a chorus of praises and petitions, God’s presence was tangible. Every single day, He filled our meeting place with the sweetest peace, like a tiny foretaste of that great Someday, when every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship around His throne.
I never felt sufficient, but I never felt nervous either. I felt . . . held.
And maybe this is what “become as a little child” means. We know we’re small and weak, but that just lets Him be big and strong. We stand at the edge of opportunity and fling ourselves into space, laughing with utter abandon. It has nothing to do with knowing what’s about to happen and everything to do with the faithfulness of the One who beckons and waits, arms outstretched to catch us.
As I looked into the eyes of those beautiful moms, I knew without a shadow of doubt that each one of them was made in His image, and all of our stories were written in His book before any of us were born, and here, on this page where a most unlikely cast of characters had assembled, I stood in awe of the glorious promise of God’s goodness and grace. Not one word He has spoken concerning a single one of us will fail. From the American visitor who grew up in suburbia, to the strong Russian woman raised under strict soviet law, to the soft-spoken Uighur wife who rises at 5:30 AM to milk the family cow.
As different as our life stories may be, here in this place, we are the same. We’re women who love our “broken” children — who see them not for what they lack but for who they are — and we all long for the world to see them and love them the way we do.
So I let myself be small. Just small and present and aware of this greater grace. Because it wasn’t about me at all, and it never is, and the more I understand this, the more life becomes one grand adventure. We’ve been given this string of days, each one made up of moments, and each of those moments packed with purpose, whether we’re seen or unseen by the world. It doesn’t matter if we’re ministering to millions or washing dishes or wiping noses or waiting long beside a hospital bed.
Now that I’m home again, I want to keep living small and present and aware, constantly leaning into Him. Because life is short, and I don’t want to waste the gift.
Every day is holy.
Every encounter brings me face to face with the Imago Dei.
And every single breath is grace.
* * *
Dear friends, thank you for your patience.
I do have more stories to tell —
glorious stories of God’s redeeming grace —
and I promise I will tell them here. I will.
Meanwhile, I can’t begin to express how much I admire this
amazing ministry to these young people with special needs
and their strong, beautiful moms.
The dear souls behind A Friend at All Times serve with such tireless joy,
but the needs are many, and the resources are few.
Would you consider a small donation to
You can give online through Orphanos.
Scroll down and select “Partners in Asia”
then, from the list immediately below,
select “Kazakhstan Young Life.”
Thank you. With all my heart.
(all photos by Catherine Burns)