23 04 2015

IMG_1344“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I spent two weeks in the Horn of Africa. By the numbers, thirteen flights landed in ten different cities at eleven different airports in six different countries. From jumbo jets to prop planes on dirt runways, every flight was on time. No connection missed. No piece of luggage lost.

Our small team got along great. No one got sick. (Or kidnapped or robbed or murdered.) No one even got cranky.

We found favor with visa and customs officials, received unbelievable hospitality, enjoyed a wide variety of local foods (including camel, goat, and a few dishes I couldn’t identify), slept well, and drank deeply of the wells of grace God supplies when His children connect around His faithfulness and eternal purposes.

We were sustained, protected, led, and encouraged, and I have no doubt we were upheld by thousands of answered prayers.

We received mercy upon mercy, and we are grateful beyond words to express it.


IMG_1358I promised stories upon my return, and there are plenty of stories to tell. But one is burning like a branding iron in my soul, and even though it happened near the end of our adventures, I need to begin right here.

Our God is kind. Much too kind to let us walk in pride. And sometimes when we think our obedience is just about as complete as it could get, the kindest gift He can give is to expose the true condition of our hearts. Like Peter at the last supper, we declare our allegiance. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death,” (Luke 22) and Jesus simply sets us straight. No, He says. You will deny me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I promised you a story, and a story you shall have.


IMG_1406The small village of Doro is located on the northern border of South Sudan. What was once the undisturbed home of the Mabaan people is now a refugee camp housing 130,000 people from a wide variety of tribes — people who’ve fled across the border from Sudan to escape violence, many of them leaving all their possessions behind. There are a number of agencies and NGOs working in the area, and one of them is SIM.

Ruth is a young, single nurse practitioner, an SIM worker stationed at the Grieve Memorial Clinic in Doro, serving the medical needs of the refugees. We traveled there to see her world, bring some requested supplies, and spend time hearing her heart and speaking into her life. Ruth being Ruth, we also ate well, laughed a lot, and played a card game or two. And there may or may not have been a late-night dance party in the hotel room Ruth and I shared in Juba. You’ll have to ask her.


IMG_1301Ruth with a Nubian child

One of the highlights of our time in Doro was a feast held in our honor and hosted by Nubian refugees. Ruth attends the Nubian church and has gotten to know many of these dear souls well.

IMG_1359Ruth walking past the Nubian church building

The women began cooking early in the morning, preparing mountains of their traditional sorghum bread (like very thin injera). Working over open fires under a massive baobab tree, they also prepared various sauces for dipping, including a goat-and-potato dish, noodles in oil with tomato, a green leafy vegetable/herb concoction, and another thick sauce that I believe contained lentils.



IMG_1379When we arrived early in the afternoon, they began serving their traditional beverages. First we drank hot tea poured over sugar. A lot of sugar. Then, after they roasted and ground fresh coffee beans, they mixed the thick, strong coffee with a generous infusion of ginger and another shock of sugar. It was delicious, but intense. A few sips went a long way.



IMG_1388As we sat sipping hot beverages in the 100+ degree heat and visiting with the women, we were surrounded by a couple dozen children, at least as many pigs, and the occasional chicken or dog — a sort of happy chaos as babies were passed around, toddlers squabbled, and older children played games or sang and danced.

Everything was dust and sweat and pots boiling on hot coals and chatter in a language I didn’t understand.



IMG_1310Ruth and her teammates cuddled babies and conversed with mamas. Pigs were shooed away from food. I sat on a bench, taking it all in, when I felt a small presence crowd in beside me and looked down into a dusty little face.

I asked Ruth if she recognized the boy, and she said no. She also said that a feast like this is rare in the refugee community, and it’s not unusual for uninvited guests to wander in and partake.

The child didn’t look well. The whites of his eyes were thick and yellowed, and his clothes exceptionally tattered. He reached out his hand and pointed to my water bottle.

During my entire two weeks in Africa, I was never without my water bottle. And this particular afternoon, I knew it contained the only water I would have to drink until well after dark. I instinctively pulled it away and said, “No.”

Then I looked at him again. His eyes locked on mine, and he simply opened his mouth.


I don’t even know how to describe my internal reaction. It was surprise, revulsion, and perhaps a small twinge of guilt. But I still shook my head no. Undeterred, he reached across my lap, placed his hand on the bottle’s mouthpiece, and opened his mouth again.

Now I was annoyed. I wouldn’t be able to drink any more until I got a chance to wash it. But I still didn’t give him a drink. I suppose I subconsciously equated it to awarding misbehavior — like letting one of my children go ahead and eat a cookie they’d grabbed after I’d already said no cookies.

So I simply turned away and ignored him until he left.

IMG_1285I didn’t think much about it again until a few days later when we were making our way home. Our return journey included five flights spanning 36 hours, and I decided to pass some of those hours reading the remarkable and inspiring book, Kisses from Katie.

If you’re not familiar with Katie Davis’ story, the short of it is that Jesus captured her heart for Uganda at the age of eighteen, and she never looked back. Not yet twenty-five, she has adopted fourteen daughters, founded Amazima Ministries (a nonprofit providing sponsors for other needy children), and lives with an open door and heart, welcoming and serving whomever God brings to her. Her philosophy in a nutshell is this: love the one God has placed in front of you right now.

I was reading along, feeling moved and blessed, when I came to this:

“…for me, the whole situation could be reduced to one question: Did I believe that Jesus was serious? Did I believe what He said was true? The answer was yes. I believe He was serious when He said to love my neighbor as myself. . . . I kept going back to Matthew 25, where Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats . . . . Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink . . .whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

And there it was. Like an arrow to the heart, almost knocking the breath out of me. In an instant and with perfect clarity I saw that boy’s pleading face. I knew Jesus had asked me for a drink, and I in disgust and irritation had pulled my water away.

I said no to Jesus.

I knew this beyond doubting, and my heart was crushed. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” It was grief like that.

Any sense of self-righteousness I might have been feeling after our two weeks in Africa evaporated. I was a noisy gong. A clanging cymbal. And for a horrifying moment, I wondered if Jesus would forgive me.

IMG_1394In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter was restored and commissioned. He received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and preached a sermon that launched the newborn church. But no matter how many visions he had, souls he reached, or miracles he performed, I wonder if he always kept the memory of Jesus’ face the night he denied Him.

I think he probably did. And, like me, I expect he came to consider it a gift.

My broken-hearted prayer on that airplane was simple. “Please, Lord. Please forgive me. I never want to say ‘no’ to You again.”

IMG_1235I returned from the Horn of Africa with many images seared on my mind, but one stands out, and I’ve asked God to keep it front and center.

By God’s grace, a refugee child in South Sudan will help me keep my promise to say yes.

* * *

You can support SIM’s work with refugees in South Sudan.
Click here for more information.

Thank you!



16 responses

23 04 2015
ro elliott

Oh Jeanne… Thank you for your honesty… I know this well… It just breaks us in pieces … But it really is His kindness… And it His kindness that brings us to repentance. And when I come through one of these breakings…I am more amazed by His grace and His longsuffering love for me.

24 04 2015

Yes. He is pure unbounded love and infinite grace. As C.S. Lewis put it, “The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.” Amen.

Thank you, Ro. Love to you, friend.

23 04 2015

Thank you so much for sharing this and with such honesty and transparency, too. It really impacted me and I will carry this in my heart as a very powerful lesson not to be forgotten.
I even passed it on to others.
Blessings to you.

24 04 2015

You’re welcome. I know it would be easy to forget — to let the distractions and busyness of this world numb me once again. I’m praying that won’t happen. May our yes be yes, Lord.

Blessings to you, too.

23 04 2015

I remember well the first time my Bride and I traveled to Haiti, February 1991. “Baby Doc,” Duvalier, had just been deposed as dictator.
First of all, You are right, just getting there was an ordeal in perseverance. With us it was a fairly easy airplane ride from Portland, to Miami, to Pourt-O-Prince. When we arrived, at about high noon, we were greeted by oppressive heat, humidity, dust and blowing dirt, with the stench of decay, which would remain until we arrived back in Portland. Another greeting were very sinister looking guards by the entrance to the terminal, with, “Oozy,” machine guns over their shoulder, eyeing each arriving passenger as though we were a sworn enemy.
Inside the terminal, once You went through having Your passport scrutinized and stamped, You were greeted by a bedlam of humanity, each one trying to hire out to get Your luggage from the delivery cart to customs. Even if someone touched Your luggage without moving it, he demanded to be paid.
The same scene, with a different torrent of men were waiting on the other side of customs trying to earn, for them, a huge payment in U.S. cash from a rich unsuspecting, “blan,” American.
Once outside the terminal, we were, not psychically, but visually and mentally assaulted by the most amazing scene of poverty and begging and pleading and hustling imaginable. Thank our Lord, there was our host waiting for us with a troupe of trusty porters to greet us and get our luggage packed and tied on vehicles.
The vehicle ride from Pourt-O-Prince to Zanglaise, Haiti, 125 miles, was 6 1/2 hours, a ride that would have taken maybe 2 hours in the States. The road was worse than non-existant; sorta built by the French about 10 years earlier, It was a series of holes with pavement around them.
The next morning we traveled from Zanglaise to Les Anglais, a distance of 75 miles. It took us another 5 hours. Needless to say, we had time to admire the local scenery; such as it was. Haiti is an ecological disaster; along with being the one of the poorest countries in the world.
Jeannie, I tell You this to say that we were in total shock by the time we arrived in Les Anglais. I have since returned to Haiti, about 20 times over the years. I still am assaulted by the scene of poverty and deprivation each time.

I have come to understand that my Lord chose me to go to Haiti for a specific purpose and a specific reason. I could have given away all of my resources at the airport, turned around and returned home, had He chosen me to do so. He spent all of my life, I traveled to Haiti for the first time when I was 50 years of age, training me for what He wanted me to do.
I wonder if the little boy in Your story was truly sent by Christ? You were called on a specific mission and given just enough water to get You through the day.
Well, I won’t and can’t second guess my Lord. I am so Grateful he has chosen me.
My Wish for You,,,
A Fantastic Journey!!
His and Your Very Grateful servant, Paul Smith.

24 04 2015

Thank you, Paul. I hear what you’re saying. Certainly it’s not possible for any one of us to meet every need we encounter, and if we thought that was God’s command, we would spend our whole lives wallowing in discouragement and false guilt. In this case, I do believe Jesus meant to use this child to reveal a lack in my heart, and I’m eternally grateful that He did. My prayer is that I won’t forget and will learn to abide in Him to such a degree that I will know when the need I see is meant for me or for someone else. The beauty of true conviction is that it leads not to shame but to repentance, and I thank God for this sweet gift. It is all kindness.

Blessings on your beautiful service to Him. And thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

24 04 2015
Patricia @ Pollywog Creek

Oh, Jeanne…this is painfully beautiful. It is a gift to receive God’s kindness in repentance, but oh what grief . I love you dearly, my sister and friend.

24 04 2015

Thank you, Patricia. Yes, it is a gift. All gift. He is so good.

Love you, too. xo

24 04 2015
Caroline Coleman

I’m can’t stop crying, Jeanne. I’ve dreamt the past two nights about gathering in children. They keep flocking around me. They’re orphaned and all different races, and no one is looking after them so I feed them. I loved your title Thirsty, and the juxtaposition with the 1 Cor. 13 quote. It’s really compelling and speaks volumes. Thank you for a beautiful post. I will be sharing it, too. Xo love, Caroline

24 04 2015

Dear Caroline, what a beautiful, heart-breaking dream! May the Lord reveal all that He intends for you to receive from it. Thank you for your kind words, for entering my story and for sharing yours. Such sweet fellowship in this journey with the Lord! Much love to you, friend. xo

25 04 2015

As the others have said, Jeanne, I love your open, honest heart. If I am honest, I too have said “No,” to Jesus when He was standing right there in front of me. I’m so thankful for grace and mercy and such patience with my stumbling, bumbling self.
Your pictures alone tell such a poignant story – but your words. Oh how precious. Thank you for taking us along on this journey.

P.S. Our daughter’s dearest friend is preparing to be sent to Africa through SIM.

25 04 2015

Thank you, Linda. Yes. His grace, mercy, and patience know no bounds, and our gratitude shouldn’t either. Blessings on your daughter’s friend as she goes. I pray she’ll sense God’s favor and presence every step of the way. xo

25 04 2015
Meghan Miller

Thank you so much for writing this, Auntie. It’s scary to me when I think about just how little we know, see, understand our self-centerdness in this utterly poor and desperate world. And then I remember that God is merciful and forgiving… hallelujah! But still I would rather always say yes to Jesus every time, just like you said. Thank you for placing yourself on a trip like this to be among the poor and those serving the poor, and for allowing Jesus to speak a hard word to your heart. Conviction is such a fruit of his mercy and I’m thankful to be humbled with you. I’m hungry to read as many stories as you’ll post about your trip, so please write away. Also I love the book Kisses from Katie… She’s my hero!

1 05 2015

Thank you, sweet Meghan! I love you and your beautiful heart. It’s a joy to walk alongside you in this adventure with Jesus. May we both grow in our obedience and delight in Him. xo

26 04 2015

Ouch….I heard someone say recently, “when you tell people your story, don’t show them your wounds, show them your scars.” Thank you for showing us your (newly inscribed) scars. We can all relate.

1 05 2015

Thanks, Jody. I’m praying these particular scars will remain visible to me — a constant reminder of what matters most. Love to you, friend.

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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