Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beauty from Ashes by Anna Marie Sumwalt

Good morning. My name is Anna Marie Sumwalt. I am 20 years old and I have grown up in this church. I am a junior at Clemson University and I am studying nursing.
In case that’s not enough, I can continue to tell you about my non-existent seminary background to continue to prove to you that I am completely inadequate to be up here preaching for God. The beauty of this is, I am up here with God. And thus I am perfectly inadequate. The same goes for Him sending me to Kenya. He took my ashes (my testimony, my sin, my inadequacy) and chose to use me, which is beautiful.
For those of you who do not know, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya with an organization called Love Africa for three weeks in May. Today I am going to tell you about what this trip taught me. I am not up here to tell you all of the stories and logistical details of my trip because if you haven’t already heard those, I would love to get together and talk about them in a smaller group. It is easier in my opinion to talk about it and to share adequately what he opened my eyes to that way. Behind be I have some pictures scrolling that will begin to give you some insight as to what I got to experience while immersed in the Kenyan culture. Also, I am not up here to try to change your heart to love missions in Kenya. The Lord calls us all to serve in different ways and through that service He grows and teaches us. Mission work and serving is a necessity all over the world if we are adequately living out our faith. Today I am going to tell you a little about what God has been teaching me through this experience about being obedient to His calling for us.

Calling and Obedience
A big step to getting me to Kenya, was me learning to be radically obedient and to trust to the Lord’s calling. Nathan Smith, who is head of the Love Africa Mission, gave a message at Clemson FCA one night. He did not talk about Kenya and I did not take the time to stop by the missions table they had set up outside. Later that week I had a friend tell me that as a nursing major who loves Christ, I should look into the trip because it would be an awesome opportunity to serve in a children’s hospital in Kenya. I brushed it off. Numerous times after that, the trip continued to come up in conversation. I decided that I didn’t think it was for me because I did not think I would be able to take that much time off of work in the summer. God kept bringing it to my attention and I finally told him that I would run it by my parents. When I did, they were completely fine with it. Check. Well, I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to take time off work, but God made it clear really quickly that it would not be a problem. Check. Finally, I was worried about raising the money to fund the trip, but God proved me wrong there, as well. Check. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Kenya!
Galations 5:13-14 “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Everyone who has been saved by the Lord’s grace is called to serve and to love one another. This is actually so important that Christ came to earth, from His comfortable throne in Heaven, to help teach us how to do this.         
I think we as humans have a common misconception that our God is not powerful and sovereign and perfect in His creation. Our mighty God did NOT create too many people and not enough love to go around this planet. Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” When we look around this church, or your workplace, or your neighborhood, or our world, these people are your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is very easy for me to pick and choose the people I want to serve (white women who do not have contagious diseases, or elementary school children who do not yet has access to weapons or strength to hurt me), but what does Jesus think of that. If your own sister (as in same mother) came to you in need, would you set a boundary for her? Well Jesus wouldn’t. Jesus came to earth and spent the night with poor people, He touched lepers, He spent time with people we would put in jail. He trusted the Lord and loved God’s children. He came and showed us how to love one another well. He came to earth to paint a picture of how he loves us- bringing our ashes (sin, imperfection) into beauty. And He calls us to do the same.
The Lord has been teaching me a lot through Isaiah 61 this summer. It paints a beautiful picture of what it should look like when we serve. My favorite part of this verse talks about the Lord working through us to turn ashes into beauty. He calls us to love people- ALL people well. This can be a pretty scary realization. But, We are walking WITH our God, not FOR Him. We are walking with a global God who provides and redeems, how dare we doubt Him. I know I sure need to be more expectant of Him provision.

Global, Provider, Redeemer
In Kenya I learned the extent of our God being a global God. We had the opportunity to worship at a Massi church. The Massi tribe is the fiercest tribe in Kenya and their primary religion is not Christianity. Nevertheless, some of the tribal members walk a good distance on Sunday mornings to come together and worship in their tribal language. During the amazing worship service, our team took a turn to lead a song in our language. We chose to sing Amazing Grace. As we sang, the Massi people recognized the tune and sang along in their tribal language. It was the most beautiful worship experience I have ever participated in. That is what the Bible tells us Heaven is going to be like! All of us will come together from our different cultures to worship our God!
I got to see the Lord’s provision in a whole new light. On a daily basis I pray to him for things such as, to provide for my education, take away my stress, or keep me safe in my car. And there is nothing wrong with that! The Bible commands us to be in constant communication with the father and to place all of our burdens on His shoulders.  But I must realize that around the world people pray for rain for their crops, for a bucket to carry water in, and for their baby to stop crying because they don’t know why it is crying. And God provides for both of us.
Finally, The Lord redeems people all over the globe from the darkest of places. But the crazy thing that I am learning is that these places look scarily similar regardless of our culture. Whether He redeems of from a broken family caused by divorce or by violence. Whether he heals us from prostitution or seduction. Whether he forgives us from stealing food, lying, using drugs to escape pain, or pornography.
In Kenya our team spent some time at Naomi’s Village children’s home. On our first day there, I got to go pick up a new baby to bring back as the newest addition to their family. This baby had been abandoned and left “near a place where they sell coal.” Some one walked past him the morning after a 50 degree night and found him lying on the ground with the placenta still attached.  They took him to a nearby hospital, which was really more of an outdoor, open, airy clinic. For some strange reason a nurse at the hospital decided to care for the child. Typically, in Kenya, treatment is not provided unless people can prove that they can pay. This nurse named the baby Moses (okay… not an accident), called Auntie Julie, who runs Naomi’s Village, and asked her if they could take the baby in. Not long before that phone call, the children in the baby room at Naomi’s Village had graduated to the toddler room. Auntie Julie and the other staff were aware that babies are often abandoned in their area so they began to pray that if a baby was abandoned, that the Lord would bring it to them. Of course, we got in the mattatu (vehicle) to go pick up this answered prayer.  That day I got to hold a living miracle. As I looked down at the precious six-pound baby (this was very exciting because that is healthy for a Kenyan baby!), I thought to myself, “You are a miracle. We could write another book in the Bible telling your story. God wanted you to live.” God brought Moses from the darkest of places and provided him with comfort, care, and hope. He globally redeems and provides for ALL of his children.

Worth It.
Have you talked to God lately about how you love others? I think we have this American fear that we need to get over. The fear that if we give, we won’t have enough for ourselves. God provides and redeems, globally. He loves all of His children well. And to do this, He uses us to love one another. We are the least of these. Look how Jesus treated us. It is time we start being expectant and trusting Him with control over our lives.
God didn’t call us to an easy walk. But he promised it would be worth it. Two wonderful people that I met in Kenya are Bob and Julie Mendonsa, who run Naomi’s Village. Bob was an orthopedic surgeon in America. God asked him to go on a short term mission trip to Kenya to train Kenyan residents to do orthopedic surgery. One thing led to another and after their fourth two-month mission trip, Bob and Julie decided that they needed to obey the Lord’s calling and move to Kenya and open a children’s home. So they picked up from what they describe as their “very comfortable American life,” and they along with their two teenage children, moved to Kenya. After two and a half years, they have taken 44 Kenya children into their home. As they recall the details of their story they emphasize over and over that for one child, all of it was worth it. It is amazing to see God work to save lives through normal people being obedient like Bob and Julie.
Four children who they have now adopted were orphaned by a tragedy in their hometown. Their town had a gas line running through it that line developed a leak. People of the town would go to the gas line and fill up buckets with the gasoline and take it back to their homes (drip, drip, drip) where they could sell it or use it to cook. Trails of gasoline formed all over their town and caught fire when someone threw down a lit cigarette. It was a huge tragedy and those four children were able to escape. Their last memory of their families is watching them burn alive. That is horrifying. But God had a plan for their lives and he brought them to the Naomi’s Village to provide them with comfort and hope. God redeemed them from that hard time in their life. Talk about beauty from ashes..
Another girl that I met in Kenya was actually the child of another American missionary. She was 17 years old and as she told me her incredible testimony or how the Lord had captured her heart, she ended by explaining that her heart was for the people in Afghanistan because they truly need Jesus. And if she had it her way, she would move over there today to share that with them. But she is at a point in her life where she is learning to accept that if God calls her to be a housewife in Midwest America- she has to be content and do the best she can to live her life for Jesus. That conversation really had me starting to evaluate me outlook on life.
Walking with God is about serving and being selfless to that He can work through you. It will be WORTH IT.

Are You Doing Your Part?
There are 143 million orphaned children; 11 million die from starvation or preventable disease; 8.5 million work as child slaves, prostitutes, or under horrific conditions; 2.3 million live with HIV. That totals to 164.8 million needy children. Now, there are 2.1 billion people on earth that claim to be Christians. If only 8% of Christians would care for one more child there would not be any of these statistics left.

Are you doing your part for God?

But not everyone’s heart has to be for children. God broke mine for the women in Kenya. I know many people in this church have hearts for Nicaragua, or Salkehatchie, or Epworth. That is the beauty of this perfect puzzle- He doesn’t call us all to an orphanage in Africa.
I was incredibly blessed to be called to serve in Kenya this summer and I will be estatic if he asks me to go back at some point in my life. But I have also been blessed to be called to serve at Salkehatchie 5 times, locally. That is key. Now speaking of being inadequate to serve, 15 year old Anna Marie Sumwalt sure did not know how to put in a window, reload a nail gun, or shingle a roof. But God used me there.
God placed people all over this earth to love ALL of his children. He did not create to many children without intentions of loving each of them. There are people in this town and church who live in poor conditions, don’t have enough to eat, don’t have a family to love them, and who don’t know Jesus.
Like Jesus, For not About
Part of God’s plan for these people is for us to care for them, not care about them. Matthew 25:40 says “whatever you DID for one of the least of these, you DID for me.” DO is a verb. We can sit here and have this discussion all day about all of the need in the world and care about the least of these, but guess what? At 12:30 when you are late for lunch, or at 9pm when it’s time for you to go to bed, and we are still talking, they are still poor. Jesus called us to care FOR them, not ABOUT them. It is WORTH IT.
Jesus cared for the poor spiritually, mentally, and physically. He introduced them to the father’s grace and redemption, he showed them friendship and love, and He healed them and provided for them. And when He did this, He went to find them. He never expected them to find the church. He listened to His father, and took the church to them. He touched them, and he got on their level. Galations 5:13-14 “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we serve like this, and we are communicating with the Lord; when we are walking WITH our God and not FOR Him; when we are being radically obedient to His calling; He takes the ashes of this world, and turns them into something beautiful. You are so blessed. Do you look at your life and realize that? Matthew 10:8 reminds us that “freely you have received; freely give.” You can’t out give God.
I want to challenge you and myself this week to step it up a notch when you serve and when you love the people God puts in your life. I mean Why Not when you are walking WITH OUR GOD? I promise you it WILL BE WORTH IT. Has God ever left you hanging for no reason? Allow God to make ashes into beauty through you. What if the day comes when you meet God in heaven, and He looks at you and as He says in Matthew 25:21 “Well done my good and faithful servant...”

Let us pray.