[Be]loved – A Poem

Hi all.  I wrote a little poem for you (but mainly for me).  Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our past mistakes do not define us, so I wrote this as a little wake up call.  I wrote this poem to remind me of my name, which is Beloved.  And I wrote this poem to remind others of who God has redeemed them to be … which is loved and blameless.

(*I need to get free real quick: This poem comes from the deep places of my heart, so it’s a bit scary sharing it with the world.  Literally sweating as I sit here typing this, haha.  My hope and prayer is that God will be stronger than my weaknesses, and that He will use these words to make an impact, even if it’s only for one person.  Enjoy it.)

 

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[Be]loved

Oh lust, my old infatuation, my persisting temptation,
I can still remember the way that you tasted.
So sweet on my lips, but your taste was short lived – I continually craved it.
I could never get enough of you.
You dominated my thoughts, you would catch me off-guard, and you had me persuaded.
You coerced me with your words while seducing me with your eyes,
And you know what, it worked – I was fascinated.
Constantly hooked on a feeling that penetrated me deeply, it was so stimulating.
You made me feel things that I’ve never felt before,
Igniting sparks within me that made me want more.
And together we explored a new world that was full of adventure and so much allure,
But what I remember the most… was feeling remorse.

Oh lust, you betrayed me.
You served me your glorified lies on a fancy plate of strife, and I digested them gladly.
I believed you when you said you loved me,
But that was nothing but a fantasy, a fake idolized reality.
While I was sharing my heart, you were shamelessly committing perjury.
You stole a piece of me and that piece was never yours to keep.
Incomplete and lonely,
That’s how you left me – haunted by those old and dark memories.

You got bored, said farewell, and you left me to fend for myself.
But I have news for you lust, Someone else found me…

That’s when You showed up, dearest Love.
You set me free and You confronted my lust,
You uprooted the lies that were planted in my head,
And You watered my soul with the truth instead.
“I will be faithful and make you Mine,” You said.
“I will show you mercy and grace despite your mistakes,
And wrapped tightly in My arms, you’ll always be safe.
I will call you precious, beloved, and treasure – My very own design.
And My love for you will endure until the very end of time.”

So I asked my dearest Love, “Why did You choose me?
I’ve been broken and used and I’m terribly sorry,
But no matter how hard I try to get clean, my body feels shameful and filthy.
How can you love me, a girl marred by impurity, worn down and weary?
How can you want me?  I feel so guilty… so unworthy…”

Then You spoke, dearest Love, and I heard Your voice.
You spoke gently and softly, but clearly.

“How beautiful you are My darling, how beautiful!
You have captured my heart – it’s indisputable.
Nothing can separate My love from thee, not lust, not doubt, nor the deepest depths of the sea.”

Then my dearest Love said to me, “Tell the world and share our story.”
So there it is, my testimony – written in rhyme, bold yet brief
About a girl who was lost, but came to believe.

And if you’re someone who is struggling to see
Why a perfect God would love an imperfect girl like me,
It’s simply because of His Son who died on the tree.

A death He died so lovingly – unlocking the chains… setting me free.

Hindsight 20/20

Is anybody else (besides me) afraid of the unknown?

I think my fear of the unknown greatly surpasses my other fears – like
spiders, sharks, and creepy clowns that laugh obnoxiously in your face (and try to give you lingering and unwanted creepy clown hugs).  When I was younger, every time I entered into a new and unknown situation – like soccer tryouts, a new job, or my first day of school – my palms would start to sweat, my stomach would get all tingly with butterflies, and I would talk my mom’s ear off about how nervous I was until she finally “woman-ed up” and kicked me out of the car (because that’s what awesome moms do).

Before I moved to South Africa, I was a planner, I was a strategist, and I was a woman who always tried to think ahead. Well – ever since I left Florida – that side of me has vanished into thin air.

God and I used to have these little “heated discussions” every now and then that sounded something like, “Lord, I seriously have no idea what the heck I’m doing. What do You want me to do?  Where should I go?  Can You just yell Your answer loud and clear in my ear or write it on a billboard sign next to the highway?”  Then the Lord would lovingly say, “Oh Samantha, My fearful and anxious little child, relax and be still.  Walk with Me, and I will lead you in the way you should go.  Listen for My voice.”  Then I would say, “…but Lord, how will I know when the time is right?  What if I miss it?  Will I have enough money to even work in ministry? This is stressful.  I don’t like this.  What if something bad happens?  How will I know what Your voice even sounds like?”  Then the Lord would respond, “My daughter, why do you have such little faith? It’s all going to work out, just like it always does.  Have I ever let you down before?  I am the same God Who was with you from the beginning.  Take one step at a time, I will be with you wherever you go, and I will never leave you.  Be strong and courageous.  Trust Me, and you will not be put to shame.”

Then, after pouting like a 5 year old for several minutes, I’d finally humble myself enough to thank God for His patience, grace, and love towards me (despite my stubborn and hardheaded ways), and I’d go about my day.

I used to hate “not knowing” until I realized that God has used it as a way of protecting me.  It also encouraged me to spend a lot more time talking with Him, because when I didn’t know the next step… God did.  Here’s an example of what I mean: if God would have told me ahead of time that I was going to fracture my wrist, that I was going to suffer from some long nights of homesickness, that I was going to work in a men’s prison, and that I was going to join the heart-wrenching and dangerous fight against human trafficking, I probably wouldn’t have gone to South Africa.  No, seriously.

Knowing the future would have prevented me from living out God’s incredible plan for my life.  There were so many things that happened while I was in South Africa – some that caused me great pain both emotionally and physically, and some things that caused me to erupt with laughter and joy.  To miss out on those amazing adventures because of fear would have been a huge disappointment.  During my time in South Africa, Romans 8:28 (AMP) started to make sense.  It says, “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”  The words “all things” really mean ALL THINGS.  The good things, the bad things, the happy things, and the sad things – they all worked together for my good.  Every experience I went through has molded and shaped me into the person I am today, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Alright, let’s fast forward to now.  I’ve been home for about a week, and I have no idea what these next few months have in store, but I do know that God’s still in control.  He’s in control of my finances, my health, my family, my friends, and even my persisting jet-leg.  He has an awesome plan that’s already been set in motion – a plan that I don’t know much about (yet).  However, I do know that I can trust Him, and I know that He will lead me in the right direction.

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In moments of uncertainty and doubt, God tells us to remember.  He wants us to remember the moments when He’s provided, He’s been faithful, He’s comforted, He’s healed, He’s spoken, and He’s conquered.  When I recall all of those times in my life, I am encouraged because He’s never let me down.  God has stepped up and proved Himself worthy every single time!  When I didn’t have a car or a place to live, He provided through friends and family.  When I didn’t have enough money to pay my flat rent, a donation would show up in my bank account.  When I needed an emergency wrist surgery, the Lord made sure the doctor had stable hands and that it was a complete success.  When my visa didn’t arrive in the mail, the Lord hand delivered it to me by a good friend just hours before my flight.

Even though I don’t know what these next few months have in store, and even though my emotions and stress sometimes get the best of me, I will wait and I will worship.  I will do my best to make the most of where I’m at in the moment, and I will enjoy the people that I am spending those moments with.

And finally, over these next few weeks, as I take some time to readapt to the Miami traffic, the Spanish language, and the American football games on T.V., I will try to show myself patience and grace… because that’s what the Lord has chosen to show me.

(To donate: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/)

Chasing What Matters: In Honor of My Running Friends

Over these past few months, a few of my friends have called me crazy, insane, and ridiculous.  They have also questioned my sanity (cough, you know who you are Rencia, cough).

Why have they done these things, you ask?

Because I started trail running.

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I don’t blame them, it is pretty crazy, but I absolutely love it.  I love being able to wind my way through the flowers, the rocks, and the shrubbery as a sweet South African breeze accompanies me down a single track.  I love hearing the birds chirp above me and the creek flowing beside me as I weave my way through the trees next to the Coetzenburg fields.  Because for me, running is a breath of fresh air.  It clears my head and it calms my spirit.

Not to mention, the races I attend provide me with a great opportunity to bond with all of the other “crazy and insane people” who plan on running beside me.

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To be honest, I think I love those people more than I love the running itself.  Every single one of my fellow runners is different from the other.  They break the typical “runner’s mold” when it comes to stereotypes, and they bring a whole lot of excitement and laughter to the starting line.  Each runner has a unique story to be told filled with varying amounts of hope, joy, pain, and trial.  I have already learned so many things from these incredible and inspirational men and women… and my running journey has only just begun.

I used to think that being a “good and successful runner” meant that you were fast, you wore Nike’s, and your body was as skinny as a rail (I don’t know about you, but I have thunder thighs thanks to playing soccer and my mom and dad’s genetics).  I used to think that you had to receive a medal every time you crossed the finish line, and that you had to get a “personal best” after each run.  In year’s past, I was always too focused on “me and my race” to even notice the amazing people around me.  I wanted to be good enough, fast enough, and fit enough, but I was missing the purpose of why I loved running in the first place.

We all run for different reasons and we all run at different paces.  We sprint with different strides and we breathe in different rhythms.  We represent different ages and we speak many different languages.  Some of us compete against each other, while others compete against themselves.  Some of us talk while we run, and some of us are too busy just trying to breathe so we don’t pass out in the middle of nowhere.  But we all run the race with the same goal of finishing (and we run the race together).  And honestly, I think that’s beautiful.

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I realized that my success as a runner, as a human being, and as a Christian isn’t dependent on how well I perform.  Similar to my running ideology, I used to think that to be a “good missionary,” I had to perform exceptionally well to win the approval of God and those around me.  I thought that I needed to attend hundreds of outreaches, have most of the bible memorized, and get a whole bunch of people “saved.”  I thought that I needed to be better, work harder, and pray longer than those around me, but again I was missing the point.

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Deep down, all I really craved from God and from people was recognition (both as a Christian and as an athlete).  I wanted to be noticed and I wanted to be seen and loved as a person of value.  But God reminded me that I am loved and valued not because of what I do, but because of who I am.  I am loved for being “His Sam” (no questions asked).  So whether I come in first place or last place, or whether I pray for hours or pray for seconds, I am loved.  I don’t need a medal, an award, or a certificate to prove my worth.  My value isn’t something that needs to be earned, it is something that is bestowed, and that takes all of the pressure off of me to “do well.”  This means that I am totally and completely free, and because of that freedom, I get to experience the abundant joy of living as a Daughter of the King.

Oswald Chambers said in My Utmost For His Highest, “The true test of a saint’s life is not successfulness but faithfulness on the human level of life.  We tend to set up success in Christian work as our purpose, but our purpose should be to display the glory of God in human life, to live a life “hidden with Christ in God” in our everyday human condition.”

I don’t want others to see Christ in me only when I’m at church or only when I am on the streets spending time with women in prostitution.  I want people to see Christ in me all the time.  This means that His light should shine through me while I am:  running on a trail up in the mountains, drinking a beer while I watch a rugby match, speaking to high school kids about human trafficking, playing video games with my little brother, or kicking some serious booty on the soccer field.  Colossians 3:17 (the MSG) says, “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” 

So, to sum it all up…

I no longer run to prove my worth (and it’s the greatest feeling in the world!).  I run to bring glory to God both in life and on the trails.  He gave me two healthy and muscular legs, and I want to use them to their greatest potential before it’s too late.  My goal now is for others to see and to know the grace and forgiveness and love and mercy of Christ through my actions and words in everything I do.  He is the reason why I wake up with a smile on my face, and He is the reason why I run through the mountains with joy in my heart and peace in my soul.

So, I’d like to end with a quick shout out to all of my fellow running friends:

Thank you guys for being 100% you, for not compromising who you are, and for being brave enough to step out onto the starting line.  Thank you for teaching me that there is beauty and strength in diversity.  Thank you for welcoming me in as a part of your family, and for sharing your stories and your struggles with me.  You all have inspired me and motivated me to tell my own story and to use it for the benefit of others.  I am beyond blessed to know you and to run beside you.  See you at the next race!

To Sin Less or to Be Sinless: That Is the Question

Sometimes, I get so tired of being a Christian.  Literally, I get exhausted to the point of needing multiple power naps a day.

This week I finally decided to sit down and ask myself, “Why the heck do I feel this way?”  If the Christian life is supposed to bring freedom and abundant joy, then why do I constantly feel worn out and enslaved?

I finally got the answer.

For so long, I believed that being a Christian meant that it was my duty to “sin less.”  I don’t know if anyone else has tried that, but for me, “sinning less” is absolutely draining.  It usually lasts about 5 whole seconds from the moment I wake up, and then it’s all downhill from there.  Heck, I’m pretty sure I even sin in my sleep.

But here’s what I learned (and this may sound radical so bear with me).  Jesus never ever asked me to “sin less.”  He asked me not to sin at all.  Jesus never demanded progress, He demanded perfection.  After Jesus taught the famous beatitudes, He said in Matthew 5:20, “But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Oh, snap.  If my salvation is dependent on my level of perfection and my good works, then I am in big trouble.  (Houston, we have a serious problem.)  I can tell you right now that, even as a missionary who’s walked with the Lord for just over 8 years, I do NOT measure up.  I will fail the test of righteousness every single time, and that’s a promise.  So if Jesus demands perfection, (and if I am an imperfect person) then how is the Gospel “good news?”

Here’s where I got my answer.

In Matthew 5, Jesus was preaching to the Jewish people.  He knew His audience from the inside out.  He knew their thoughts, their hidden agendas, their traditions, and their mindset.  Jesus knew exactly what He was teaching, and it must have sounded insane to those with listening ears.  The Pharisees were some of the most legalistic, religious, and obedient people alive in that day and age.  Jesus knew that no one could be as righteous as them in terms of lifestyle.  They set the tone for perfection.  The Jewish Pharisees were only concerned with the external appearance of their actions, but Jesus wasn’t stupid.  It is written in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord doesn’t see the things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 

Jesus was making a point.  He saw what was hidden in their hearts.

Their obedience to the law wasn’t good enough.  They still fell short because their hearts were impure; every good thing they did was tainted with nasty sin.  But before I get prideful and start judging those guys for being so ridiculous, Paul makes it very clear in the book of Romans that we all fall short of the glory of God too.  In Galatians 2:21, Paul says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.  For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”

Halle-flippin-lujah.  There’s hope!

Then it hit me (like an overly pumped up soccer ball to the face).  I realized why I had been so tired.  I was trying to live in perfect obedience to a law that I was never required to keep.  The law condemns me every time I try to live up to it.  All it does is reveal how sinful I am.  I was trying to work harder, seem wiser, look purer, be better… and sin less.

When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished,” and Jesus always means what He says!  If He says is it finished, then it’s actually finished!  It’s done.  I like to think of it this way:  Imagine me walking up to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and finger-painting smiley faces all over it.  Then imagine me looking him straight in the eye and saying, “Check this out Leo!  Doesn’t your painting look so much better now?  Talk about a masterpiece!  Those smiley faces are flawless!”  I could’ve just as easily slapped him in the face.  (And I do the same thing to God every day when I try to add to the finished work of the cross.)

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Does that mean that my salvation is a “get out of jail free card?”  No, God is (and will always be) a representation of perfect justice.  Someone had to pay the price for my disobedience and my unrighteousness; a debt was still owed.  Jesus took the punishment that I deserved by living a perfect life that I couldn’t live.  He fulfilled the law that I could never fulfill (Romans 3:23).  He nailed my sins to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and died a terrible and shameful death in my place (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He loved me enough to meet my unreachable requirements of perfection, knowing ahead of time that it would cost Him everything.  This is the Gospel.  This is good news.  This is love.

Let me share one last thing that convicted me this week about the character of God.  The man on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23: he didn’t have a holy resumé to hand over to Jesus, he didn’t try and convince Jesus that he was good enough to enter heaven, and Jesus never gave Him a penance requirement before he died.  The man’s belief was enough.  The man recognized his sin and his need for a Savior, he acknowledged Jesus as his only hope, and he called out to the Lord in faith.  And Jesus saved him.  That is grace.

Just like the criminal on the cross, I was justified (undeservingly), and now I am being sanctified.  The good works that I do now are not what make me righteous before God.  Instead, those good works are responses to the love and mercy and grace that I have received from Him.  They aren’t the means of my salvation, they are the outflow of it.  God loved me while I was a mess.  He saved me when I had nothing to offer Him, and that’s what makes grace so amazing.  C.S. Lewis said it this way, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

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So now, instead of wasting my time trying to “sin less,” God calls me to believe that I am sinless.  And instead of growing tired and worn out from failing to measure up, God calls me to rest in the fact that Jesus measured up for me.  I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Steve Brown:

“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance… and we’ve turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.” 

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Homeward Bound

In roughly two weeks, I will be standing in a long line at the Cape Town International Airport boarding my plane back to Miami.  I will get to see my family for the first time in almost 10 months.  I will get to sip on an overpriced Starbucks coffee beverage, and last but certainly not least, I will get to devour a steak burrito bowl from Chipotle (after suffering from some severe withdrawal symptoms due to the lack of quality Mexican food in South Africa).

This is surreal.

So much has happened since I moved to South Africa in January, and about 90% of “what actually happened” wasn’t planned or even anticipated.  I am finally beginning to understand why Jesus told us to not worry about tomorrow.  Because let’s be honest, most of the things we decide to worry about, don’t even happen.  However, despite the uncertainty of the journey (involving the good, the bad, and the ugly), I am beyond grateful for it all.

Let me quickly summarize some of the crazy adventures that the Lord walked me through up until now:

  • I moved to Stellenbosch in January with my best friend, a girl who has been with me through the ups and downs of these past three years.  We shared many laughs together and we’ve shed many tears together.  If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
  • I coached a high school futsal team in Cloetesville (a colored Afrikaans community) with training4changeS, and that lasted for only a short time.  I learned a ton about adapting to the culture, building relationships with the youth, and identifying the common problems that the girls were facing each day in their community.  Even though the program didn’t flourish, I am grateful for the exposure, the new friends, and the experience.
  • I started playing professional women’s soccer for Stellenbosch University.  I met some amazing girls from all over the Western Cape, and became a part of the “Matie family.”  I learned so much about acceptance, grace, and forgiveness because of this team.  Breaking my wrist during practice and undergoing an emergency surgery was one of the hardest things that came out of playing soccer this season, but I was surrounded by friends who loved me enough to sacrifice their time and effort to make sure that I was okay.  The support of my teammates and my coaches over this past season (both on and off the field) is something that I will forever appreciate.  I’ve learned how to love better because of their love for me.
  • I took a college course in Afrikaans, and dit was baie lekker! I really look forward to learning more and more of the language so I can communicate better with the incredible people around me.
  • I spent a few months partnering with Ambassadors Football at Drakenstein Prison, and we worked with the boys in Hope Academy to teach them life skills, bible concepts, and soccer.  I was inspired by the camaraderie of the soccer team and by their depth of character.  These boys set the standard for respect, discipline, and success within the prison.  Several of the inmates gave their lives to Christ and now they live with a renewed hope for their futures that cannot be shaken.
  • I became a volunteer with the STOP (Stop Trafficking of People) team in Stellenbosch.  I was blessed with the opportunity to learn about the “Traffic Proof” and “Valuable to Jesus” programs, which are two programs we use to teach the kids in schools about human trafficking prevention and respecting/caring for their bodies.  I was given the privilege of representing the STOP team at several high school and primary school assemblies in the Western Cape.  It was such a humbling experience to speak to so many students at one time about such a significant issue.  (Bonus: They loved my American accent.)  As a team, we also had the opportunities to share hugs, hope, and handmade toiletry bags with the sweet women who work in prostitution on the streets of Cape Town.   This past week, I was able to attend the MeCAHT conference, which educated me on the local issues involving sex trafficking within South Africa.  It also helped to equip me to fight against the human trafficking problems that are happening globally.

There is so much more that I can share about this past year, but it will most likely turn this into a novel, so I will keep it brief instead!  I wanted to reach out to all of you now since I will be returning home November 4th.  However, (to my fellow South Floridian friends and family) I would love to meet with you in person or (to my friends and family living elsewhere) I would love to chat over the phone when I get back.  It will be wonderful to reconnect and catch up on all of the things that occurred over this past year.

Also, I wanted to present you with a “possibly maybe” plan for the future.

During my furlough in Miami, I plan on spending significant amounts of quality time with my family (until I drive them crazy and they threaten to send me back to South Africa prematurely).  That will be priority number one for me.  My next priority will be to fundraise as much as possible for next year’s adventures.  God has provided abundantly (through all of you) for all of my needs over the course of this last year.  I was able to live within my allotted budget, and I even have some money left over to put towards my return to South Africa!  (Hallelujah for the exchange rate!)  My goal will be to raise enough money to live off of about $1,800 a month for at least twelve months.  So far, I have three months saved up, so I have a long way to go, but I know that the Lord is faithful and if He wants me to return to South Africa… then I will.

There are a few up and coming “events” that I am praying over, and I would love some prayer support from you as well concerning these great opportunities.  I’ve learned over this past year that not every “open door” is meant for me to walk through (no matter how attractive it may be).  There’s been several times when a seemingly great opportunity presents itself and the Lord says, “Sorry Sam, this one isn’t for you, I have something better in mind so be patient and wait on Me.”  With that said, I am praying over a trip to Vancouver with Calvary Chapel that will be happening February 4-10th.  I was offered the privilege of attending this trip as a co-leader, which will thankfully cut the cost of the trip in half (I would need to raise $875 instead of the full amount).  The purpose of this trip will be to reach out to the women within the Porn Industry at an expo taking place in Canada, and also to reach out to the women working in prostitution during the evenings on the streets.  We will be working with one of my all-time favorite organizations, XXXchurch; they work to help those who are struggling with addictions to sexual immorality and/or pornography, and they also do ministry with the women in strip clubs and brothels.  My heart longs to love on those women in Vancouver and I have a desire to help them recognize their worth and beauty.  I would absolutely love to go on this trip, so we will see if I get the “green light” and the funds to go.  My plan would be to return to SA after this adventure (but I am still waiting on the Lord for an answer).

Lastly,  I am praying about attending a trip to Uganda in March of next year with the STOP team.  We will be there for about a week traveling around to different communities and speaking to the army wives and children about the dangers of human trafficking.  We are also planning on going to the Northern part of Uganda to reach out to the refugees in the refugee camps within that area.  We want to offer those people everything we have when it comes to love, grace, wisdom, and knowledge.  This trip will be a bit dangerous because of the location and it is definitely outside of my comfort zone, so prayer for this trip is vital.

One final note, I want to thank you all so much for your encouragement, your support (both financially and emotionally), and for your constant love.  I have had so many days that discouraged me to the point of wanting to give up and come home, but each time I saw an encouraging comment on Facebook or an email with kind words, I’ve been motivated to keep pressing forward.  I would not have been able to do this without you.  I hope that you all are as encouraged as I am because every single one of you left a mark on South Africa.  Even though you might not have been able to step onto this soil, you made a human impact on me and on everyone that I met.  For that, I will forever be grateful and amazed!   I can honestly say that I have so much love for you.  Thank you for believing in me and thank you for allowing me to live out the passions and the dreams that God has put in my heart.  (And thank you for taking the time to read this because I know it was long!)  Hope to see you all soon!

2 Chronicles 15:7 — “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”

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To donate online visit: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

To donate by check via mail: 

Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators

6739 Academy Road NE, Suite 320

Albuquerque, NM 87109

(write #6020 in the memo section)

Finding My Identity In the Midst of Idolatry

“Your pain could be God prying open your life and heart to remove a gift of His that you’ve been holding on to more dearly than Him.”  – Tullian Tchividjian

Let go.

Two words that are simple to understand and simple to write.  Two words that can change a life – for better or for worse.  Two words that have caused me to lose countless hours of shut eye during these past few weeks (maybe even months). Two words that instill a deep desire within me to sing a particular song from a particular Disney movie at the top of my lungs.  “Let it go, Let it go…” 

Letting go is hard.  It almost always requires a step of faith, a burst of courage, and a heck of a lot of discipline.  Three things that are nearly impossible for this 24 year old girl living in South Africa to muster up simultaneously.  So what’s the big deal?  Why is the struggle so real?  Well, God has asked me to let go of the one thing that I love most.  The one thing that I may have started to love more than Him…

Soccer.

Agh.  Just typing that word out on this page gives me a nasty stomach ache.  I’ve played soccer since I was 4 years old; it fills my life with passion, purpose, and pride.  It’s a part of who I am.  I am “Sam, that girl who plays soccer.”  But you see, that’s the problem…

About halfway through my soccer season this year, I started compromising.  My identity became: athlete.  My value was being measured by what my coaches and teammates thought of me, and my worth was determined by how well I performed in each game.  My standard of integrity declined to appease my friends, and I had forgotten the real reason why I stepped out onto the field in the first place.  Not to prove myself.  Not to please my parents or my peers.  Not to impress my coach or the spectators.  Not even to stay in shape.

I played to worship.

So, God challenged me with a question, “Samantha, my beloved daughter, who do you play for?”

My response:  “Not You, God, at least… not anymore.”

His response: (*with a smile and a gentle nudge) “So what are you going to do about that, My child?”

My honest response: “Agh…”

I used to think idols were artifacts of the past.  Golden statues that people bowed down to and danced around, but little did I know, idols are alive and well today (especially in my own life).  It’s so easy for me to idolize people, meaning that I depend on them to fulfill my needs for love, security, comfort, and affirmation.  I didn’t realize that my Heavenly Dad (who already offered me all of those things perfectly) was being replaced by counterfeits, by things and people that can never satisfy me.  And I think this truth hurts Him more than it hurts me.  He has a love for me that is so wide and so vast.  He has a desire for me to know who I am according to Him and not according to the fleeting opinions and imperfect judgements of this world.

My friend Rencia shared some wise words with me the other day.  We both were fighting this same battle around the same time, and she spoke these words to me with humility and conviction, “Sam I haven’t just been committing idolatry with God, I’ve been committing adultery against Him.” 

Woah.  Her words hit me hard. If am supposed to be in a committed love relationship with the Lord, then He is supposed to be my everything: my source of joy, my provider, and my strength.  And I’ve been cheating on him with men that can’t love me unconditionally and with material things that can never satisfy.  Not to mention, I’ve been taking the abilities and talents He freely gave me, and I’ve been using (and abusing) them for my own selfish gain.  These things have taken God’s place in my heart, and it’s left me feeling insecure, empty, and desperate (things He never intended for me to feel).

So, with 5 games left in the season, I have to walk away.  Do I struggle with the thought that I can just “tough it out, suck it up, and finish?” Yep.  Do fears and worries  constantly flood my mind as I step out in faith? Oh, yes.  And as I battle with the concerns that my teammates will hate me, that I’ll be deemed a quitter, and that I will regret my decision to step back, I also know that God is faithful and that His promises are true.  So, during this season of separation and extra spare time, I will walk hand in hand with the God of the universe who calls me His.  I may try to run ahead of Him when I think I know the right way to go, and I may try to unlink my interwoven fingers from His when I want to go faster or further than He intends, but I find rest in knowing that He will always be patient enough to put up with my rebellious shenanigans.  

Who knows?  Next season is an entirely different story, and by that time, my heart may be in the right place to play again.  God knows the desires of my heart:  to serve, to marry, to play, to teach, to laugh, to adventure, and to grow (just to name a few things).

So for now, while I am confronted with this difficult season of sacrifice, I will do my best to “let go” of the fears and worries that come from this world, and I will choose to hold on to these unshakable truths instead:

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Deuteronomy 31:8 Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

And Let Us Run with Endurance

Yesterday, I ran my first trail race.

I can describe the experience in two words: terribly wonderful.  “Terribly” because it was freezing and I could barely breathe the entire time.  “Wonderful” because of the adrenaline rush, the incredible views, and the satisfaction of finishing 5th out of 40 women.  

While I was striving and struggling to put one foot in front of the other (without tripping over rocks or getting lost), I had some revelations.  The first revelation was, “Dang, I definitely should not have tied my shoelaces this tight because I can’t feel my toes,” and the second revelation was, “Life is just like a long distance trail run.”

Throughout the race, God was reminding me of bible verses that perfectly correlated with what I was going through over these past few weeks.

Psalm 18:32-36 – God arms me with strength, and He makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You have given me Your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; Your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.

The hardest parts of the trail run were the single tracks that weaved back and forth up the mountainside.  Only one person could travel up the path at a time because of it’s narrowness, and it was much harder to see where you were going because the path wasn’t straight.  When I ran on the single tracks, I couldn’t look up to enjoy the view of the vineyards because I was too scared that I would twist an ankle or take a wrong turn.  I ran with hesitation and I doubted my ability as a seasoned athlete.  But I was reminded that in the moments when I am weak, God is strong on my behalf.  When my feet falter and my legs grow tired, He carries me and establishes my steps.

As I pushed the branches out of my face and carefully eyed every step, I was also reminded of how important it is to focus on being “in the moment.”  Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  If I spent too much time trying to find the next turn sign past the endless amounts of shrubbery, I probably would have fallen flat on my face or stubbed my toe on a rock.  I needed to be content with focusing on one thing at a time by making the most of my situation in that moment.  I have to laugh because I am such a planner (aka: control freak).  I love to think ahead and strategize about the future,  so this part of the race not only slowed me down… it convicted me as well.

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Proverbs 4:11-12 – I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble.

Just call me Samantha “Stumbling” Stokesberry.  Ask my mom, I am a klutz.  I broke my toe by tripping into a wall for goodness sake. How does that even happen?  Anyways, I probably rolled my ankle 4 or 5 times during this run.  The track was a dirt road that went through a vineyard and up a mountainside, so it was full of gravel, dips, and tree roots.  I honestly don’t know how I didn’t face plant.  I’m sure the woman running behind me wondered the same thing.  I somehow managed to “catch” myself before I twisted an ankle, and each time I would let out a nervous chuckle under my breath followed by a, “Whew, thank you Jesus that was a close one.”

There have been so many times in my life when I deliberately chose to take a wrong step in a very wrong direction, and the Lord was always there to meet me in those moments.  He has never met me with anger or judgement.  Instead, He continually rescues me with love and mercy.  I’ve lost count of how many “close ones” I have encountered overall, but I can say that I’ve grown and matured through all of them.  Every time I make a mistake, God is there to teach me wisdom and to set my wandering feet back on His straight path.  Sometimes, it takes multiple mistakes for His wisdom to sink into my thick skull, but eventually… it resonates.

My favorite parts of the run were the sections where the single tracks opened up into broad and smooth downhill roads.  I could run without holding back, I could pick up speed without difficulty, and I could look up to admire the beautiful landscape in front of me.  In those moments, I was reminded of God’s grace.  There will always be tough times in life when we are forced to trek up a steep and hazardous incline (uncertain of what we will face once we get to the top), but God is also gracious enough to give us the easy and exciting downhill portions to enjoy as well.  I believe both types of circumstances are meant to be savored and cherished, and we should praise Him for them all.  I mean, how can we ever really appreciate the good in life without having experienced the bad?

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Lastly,  I realized that “how I run my race” plays a significant role in how I finish.  I could have cheated and cut corners, I could have turned back around when things got difficult, or I could have pushed one of my competitors into the lake next to the trail so they wouldn’t beat me to the finish line (I may or my not have considered all three of those options by the time the race was over).  The “long distance trail run” of life is where we are meant to grow and develop.  It’s where our character is reveled, where the steadfastness of our spirit is tested, and where we face challenges and victories of all kinds.  It’s where we learn from what is behind us and look forward to what lies ahead.

So, my conclusion: Above all else, I want to be known as someone who ran her race well.  Someone who ran with integrity, passion, love, and grace.  Someone who finished strong and someone who helped others to do the same. Who’s with me?!

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Hebrews 12:1-2a  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.

To Donate towards my mission in South Africa: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

Most Definitely Quite Possibly

I can’t keep track of the number of times I’ve heard (or said) the phrase “God opens and closes doors,” but last night the Lord challenged me with a question that rattled my brain a bit:

Why do I limit Him to the confines of a house?

I have kept God in a metaphorical “one bedroom flat” my entire life.  The flat has two doors and one small window incase of emergencies, and it has limited His power and His ability to work in my life for years.  But, last night while I was lying in bed having a minor panic attack about how my money is running out and how my plans for the future keep getting screwed up, God told me to burn the metaphorical flat down.

So, I did.  I set a fire to my expectations, my fears, my worries, and my 5 year plan.  I set a fire to people pleasing, to following the crowd, and to stereotyping Christianity.  I set a fire to who I thought God was and to who I used to be.  Now, I stand out in the open – vulnerable to the world – ready to be used and lead by my Awesome Dad. There’s no turning back now.

It’s a really scary place to be, but when I look back through the bible at all of the other crazy people who decided to follow God in reckless abandonment, I am comforted by the fact that I’m not alone.  Abraham almost had to kill his only son after God promised him decedents that would number the stars, Gideon had to fight a battle against over 100,000 men with only 300 soldiers, and Paul was thrown in prison and beat up because of His hope in Jesus.  If they can move forward in faith, so can I.

I moved here 8 months ago, and within this past year God has turned my entire world upside down.  I came to coach soccer and impact the lives of little kids, but He had something much greater in mind.  I’ve worked with the training4changeS after school futsal program to keep kids off the streets and to equip them with life skills and a safe place to play and grow. I’ve partnered with STOP human trafficking South Africa to teach kids about love and purity along with the dangers of sex trafficking and prostitution. I’ve spent time in Drakenstein Prison building relationships, sharing the Word, and playing soccer with the boys from Ambassadors Football. Not to mention, I’ve been given the amazing privilege of playing the sport I love for a team that has become my second family.

Whew. Ok. Fast forward to today.

Well, a lot of things have changed.  Firstly, I am no longer coaching, and to be honest, I never saw that coming.  However, as more stepping stones are being lit up on my path, I’ve realized that the road looks a bit different than I thought it would.  But, it’s a road that is better than anything I could have imagined, and God knows the desires of my heart better than I do, so my only responsibilities are to be willing and available.

I am investing more and more of my time working with the youth, especially girls.  God keeps putting me in situations where He uses me to speak and teach about the things I struggle with most, and it is absolutely insane.  Purity is a huge area of weakness for me, yet He has me working and speaking at girls conferences and churches and schools about sex and love and lust.  Every time I speak, I know that He’s really the One doing the talking, and every time I feel accused and judged by the enemy for not being “good enough,” “pure enough,” or “holy enough,” I am reminded that Jesus loved me even in my darkest times.  His power is made perfect in my weakness, and His grace shines brightest in the darkest places of my heart.  And that’s enough to make me fall on my knees in worship.

I am going to be spending much more time working alongside STOP human trafficking who’s aim is to save girls who are being sold, abused, and used for sex.  I have been given the opportunity to write STOP’s blog posts and to speak in front of the hundreds of kids we reach out to when we present the Valuable to Jesus and the Traffic Proof Prevention programs to them.  Also, (and this is a HUGE also) I have been asked to join the STOP team on a week long trip to Uganda next March to help train up the army staff and their wives in human trafficking prevention.  We are also going to do an outreach to a refugee camp in the North of Uganda, and I may even get to teach the girls soccer!

To help equip me for this adventure, I am hoping to attend an International Human Trafficking Conference for Africa in October in Simon’s Town, SA.  It’s a three day long conference that will teach us about Illegal Migration, Human Smuggling, and Trafficking.  I am pretty pumped up about the opportunity!

The more steps I take forward while holding the Lord’s hand, the darker and riskier it gets.  But, the beautiful thing is that the tighter I grip my Fathers hand, the softer my heart gets.  I am led into places where most people would never dare venture, but I am comforted by the fact that I don’t go there alone.

Alright, now this is where one of my biggest steps of faith comes in.  I need your help.  As you guys know, I am here in South Africa on 100% donations.  I cant work because I am on a charity visa, so I need to be supported by my friends, family, and anyone else with a giving heart.  I am planning on coming back to South Africa in January to finish what God has started, so here are practical ways you can help:

  1. The International Human Trafficking Conference in October is 125$ for me to attend.  This will really equip me to fight human trafficking in a more efficient way.
  2. I don’t know exactly how much the Uganda trip will cost, but I do know that I will need to pay for food, accommodation, and travel. The estimation is about 10,000R. which is about $800.  I am totally trusting God with this one because it is going to be a dangerous trip, but the Lord promises to be my Protector and Provider so I’m going to walk by faith here!
  3. I plan on staying in South Africa for at least another year, so my monthly budget is about $2500 to cover rent, petrol, food, electricity/water, healthy insurance, phone bills, and ministry expenses/tithes.  Thank the LORD for the amazing exchange rate (10R = 1$).  I owe Him big time for that, haha!
  4. There is a girl here in South Africa who is a good friend of mine. She has a heart for God and for serving the girls as a football coach in South Africa.  She is an overcomer, but her dad lost his job, her brothers and sisters are addicted to drugs, she has a daughter who she can barely afford to keep in school, and she is trying to move out of her home because of the dangerous environment surrounding her with drugs/alcohol and violence.  I would love to be able to help sponsor her monthly because I know that she has so much potential to change lives, so if any of you feel the Lord nudging your heart to specifically support her, please let me know!

To donate: 

Visit   http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

Or send a check payable to Shepherd’s Staff by mail to: 

Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators 

6739 Academy Road NE, Suite 320 Albuquerque, 

NM 87109

(Put my account number #6020 in the memo section)

I never would have made it here if it wasn’t for you all.  I wouldn’t have had the courage to step out of my comfort zone and move across the world if it wasn’t for the constant love and support that I have received from my family and friends.  I am so grateful for the army of loved ones I have standing with me.  I want you to be blessed by what God has been doing, because without your financial support, none of it would have been possible.  I know that things are about to get hectic, so please keep me and the ministries (especially the STOP team) in prayer!  Even if you don’t have the means to support financially, prayer support is something that I will need even more!

I’ll end this letter with these honest words…

The plans I have for my life will most definitely quite possibly come to fruition, but even though I can’t and won’t put my faith in my own plans, I can and will put my faith in a God Who’s love will never fail, Who’s plans are for me to prosper, and Who’s never going to leave my side.

My Heavenly Dad gave me these verses to hold onto in tough and nerve-wracking situations, and I want share them with you.  Hopefully they will encourage you as much as they have encouraged me:

“I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you; don’t be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I’m truly helping you. I’m surely upholding you with my victorious right hand.” 

-Isaiah 41:9-10

Love you all.

Sam

“An Other” Kind of Love

There are days when I would love nothing more than to throw my bible off a cliff. A really high cliff.

Let’s be real.  Sometimes I don’t like what the bible says.  However, just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.  The bible commands me to do things that I don’t always want to do, and the reason I don’t want to do those things is probably because performing them often requires a significant amount of humility and/or courage.

Forgive.  Love.  Be kind.  Be honest.  Confess.  Let go.  Wait.

Those things are tough.

Loving people that you don’t want to love is especially hard.  I may not have a husband to experience this truth with yet, but I do have a mom and a dad.  Just ask my mom about all of the “lovely conversations” we’ve had from across the house when I was a teenager (I dare you).  There were moments when my mom and I desperately wanted to send each other on a one-way trip to the tropical island called  “Stop Giving Me Such A Hard Time.”  Maybe you’ve heard of it?  It’s only 200 miles from the “Because I Said So” Rainforest.  Despite those rough patches, there were plenty of moments when loving my family was easy.  It came naturally and flowed out of me without a second thought, and those are the moments I cherish the most.

My boss from Ambassadors Football, Ben Marais, spoke about what it meant to love one another while we were hosting a bible study in prison this past week.  During the study, he did something so simple, and yet so incredibly profound.  Ben broke down the word “another.”  Instead of solely identifying the word as a reference to “an additional person or someone of the same type,” he challenged us to think of the word as “an other.”  Someone who is different from us in one or multiple ways, someone we may not agree with, and/or someone who may not even like us.

For example, it’s really easy to love my little brother Brian because he’s just like me (sorry mom, I feel your pain) but in lanky boy form.  We both enjoy playing video games, watching sports with Dad, drinking Starbucks coffee with mom, playing practical jokes on our unsuspecting sister Melissa, and laughing over the fact that Grandma is so terrible at texting.  Loving him doesn’t take much effort.

But what about loving a friend who “stabbed you in the back” or the boyfriend who cheated on you?  What about loving the racist who lives next door or the Christian with the cardboard sign on the street condemning everyone to hell?  What about loving your opponents on the soccer field or the kid who broke into your car and stole your favorite handbag?

The Bible doesn’t just say to love those who are easy to love, the Bible also says to love your neighbor (which is everyone), to love your enemies including those who persecute you, and (drumroll please) to love each and every person as you love YOURSELF.  Yep.  It says that.  I’m dead serious.  You won’t find that in the Book of Sam’s Opinion’s 4:2.  You can find it in Matthew 22:37-39, John 13:34-35, and Matthew 5:44.

When I love myself, I don’t hesitate.  It’s practically reflexive in the sense that I don’t have to second guess what I am doing or why I am doing it.  If I am hungry then I will eat, if I am tired then I will sleep, and if I am bored then I will watch a movie or sketch.

So what does this mean in the life of Sam?  It means that if I see the girl who “wronged me” on the side of the road in desperate need of a lift, then I will immediately pull over and welcome her into my car (instead of speeding past her in raging fury).  Not because she does or doesn’t deserve it, not because I am trying to make her feel guilty for how she hurt me, and not because I am trying to prove what a wonderful person I am.  None of the above.  I do it because Jesus commands me to.  If God is love (1 John 4:7-8), then I have the opportunity to share Him with anyone and everyone I meet through what I say and what I do.  Since His love is powerful enough to shine through the broken cracks of my life, stifling it would mean hindering another from being able to experience God through me in a beautiful way.

Quick reminder to all of my fellow imperfect human beings out there:  I will fail.  There will be days when it may take me a lot longer to love or forgive, and there will be days when I don’t do it at all,  but that’s what grace is for.  It’s also a great reminder that even when my love fails, God’s never will.

So as I enter into every situation, I will strive to love with an open heart and without fear because I am reminded that in my “unlovable moments,” God never stopped loving me.

A Season in the Slammer

“The Lord gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.”  -Charles H. Spurgeon

When I used to think about things that were holy, pure, and lovely, my mind never drifted to prisons.  I never associated the love of God with a criminal or a place of worship with a jail cell bathroom.  My distorted understanding of purity and holiness revolved around vintage church pews, slow organ music, and priests who wore funny outfits that looked like tablecloths.

Then God broke my heart and renewed my perspective.  My hands and my feet first needed to get dirty and sore before I could experience love in it’s truest, purest, and freest form. He had to send me to some dark places in South Africa to finally wake me up to the truth of the gospel, and one of those places happens to be a venue where freedom isn’t supposed to exist.

One of my favorite sayings as of late is, “Hey, sorry friend, I can’t hang out today because I’m going to prison,” and then I savor the look of surprise and concern on their face before I explain why.  I love going to prison.  I love it because it makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  I love it because every time I am willing to get in my car and drive 40 minutes to meet with the boys, God goes before me to pave the way for something amazing.   I love it because I’ve gained a bunch of new brothers to do life with, and I love it because even though I go with the intention of teaching and pouring out my own wisdom and knowledge, I am the one being taught and poured into by the boys.

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When I spend time with the guys, I am surrounded by so much love to the point where it’s almost overwhelming.  I get to witness changed lives, freedom from past mistakes, and hope.  Hope Academy (the name couldn’t be more appropriate) is only one small section of Drakenstein Prison, and before I am able to go into the boy’s room where we do bible studies and life skill sessions, I have to walk through another section of the prison first.  It’s usually in that place where I am faced with some loud whistling and hollering by the other boys who aren’t staying in the Academy.  But once I cross over into where our team stays, I am greeted with respect, gentleness, and kindness.

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The boys in Hope Academy are a part of the Ambassadors Football program.  They teach and uphold important values that focus on Faith, Football, and Future.  Most of these guys know Jesus, and when I walk into their room, I can feel it and see it in the smiles on their faces.  I get to leave that prison each afternoon with a full heart because it’s a place where grace and forgiveness reign supreme.  I am humbled to have the privilege of building relationships with men who were once known as murderers, robbers, and gangsters, but are now godly warriors and men of integrity.  Playing football (aka. soccer for the Americans) with them twice a week on their rocky and uneven field in the back of the jail is an honor and a joy (even though I can barely keep up with them).

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I have been asked by a few friends if I am ever afraid to go into the prison, and my answer is always the same.  No, I’m not afraid because love always casts out fear.  If love is present, then God is present (because God is love), and that means there is nothing for me to be afraid of.  I think it’s so cool that someone I might have feared or steered clear of in the past can now be called my South African brother (from another mother).  It’s beautiful, it’s redemptive, and it’s eye opening.

The team of guys at Hope Academy remind me that no one is beyond the reach of our God.  No one is too far gone to be healed or forgiven.  No one is too broken, too dirty, too sinful, or too guilty to be known and loved by the Creator of the universe.  And I’ll be honest, that truth punches me in the gut every now and then because I can be so quick to judge others for their mistakes.  Not only am I hard on others, I can also be incredibly hard on myself.  So, lately, I’ve asked God to strip me of my judgements, my stereotypes, my criticisms, and my generalizations.  I have asked Him to help me see the world (including myself) through His loving and perfect eyes.

And I must admit, so far … He’s been faithful every step of the way.