Uganda: Loving Simply and Simply Loving

Did you know that missions trips have a lot in common with surprise birthday parties?

Yeah, me neither.  Until now.

Think about it.  Sometimes the events of the day catch you totally off-guard, sometimes you experience anxiety, excitement, and fear all at the same time, sometimes you stay up until the wee hours of the night enjoying great conversations with great friends, and sometimes you just can’t wait for everyone to leave so you can be alone to sleep.

Oh, and sometimes there’s cake.

I just got back from my trip to Uganda, and it was totally like a surprise birthday party—full of excitement, exhaustion, and every other emotion you can possibly imagine. Continue reading “Uganda: Loving Simply and Simply Loving”

Walking the Walk

“Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.”  – Joyce Meyer

It’s finally here—the time when I get to put feet to my faith.

I think this is one of strangest days of a missionary’s life.  D Day.  The Day just before Departure.  Imagine being filled with sadness, excitement, joy, anticipation, uncertainty, and bewilderment all at the same time.  Now multiply that by a hatred for packing and a lack of sleep from anxiety.  Now multiply that times 10.  Perfect.  Now you can understand how I feel.

It’s been about four months since I came home from South Africa, and the time has flown.  I spent time catching up with old friends, hanging out with my awesome family, doing ministry in Canada, growing with the Lord, training for soccer, worshiping at my church, and strategizing for this coming year.  It’s been a jam-packed season filled with laughter, stress, tears, and lots of Chipotle burrito bowls.  I’m grateful for it all.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when I feel “perfectly equipped” or “ready” to serve God.  Because let’s face it, I’m a hot mess.  Thankfully, all of my equipping, preparing, molding, and shaping is being done by the Spirit of God who loves to make masterpieces out of mistakes and messy hearts.  All I had to do was answer God’s call for me to go.  Which sounded something like… “God, are you serious?  Because I’m kind of freaking out a little bit over here.  I really don’t think I’m qualified for this.  I barely know how to do my own laundry.  What about EBOLA?  I’m only 24.  But if You’re sure and if You promise to go with me… then I’ll go.”

It’s so easy to talk the talk.  Believe me, I did it for years.  It’s easy to sing worship songs played by a live band in a comfy air-conditioned building surrounded by familiar faces, praising God with one hand while you hold your Starbucks coffee in the other.  It’s easy to attend bible studies, to write blog posts, and to pray for people on your “nice list.”  It’s easy to say that you trust God for provision when you live in a safe neighborhood, when you have a steady income, and when there’s plenty of food in the fridge and a car in the driveway.

But I am going to get real with you guys, I don’t want easy.  I want dirty.  I want challenging, and on some days… I want dangerous.  I want to see God show up (partly because my faith grows weak at times and I need Him to show up, and partly because I love being blown away by God’s awesomeness).  I want to fail and fall so that I can grow and change.  I want to give generously, to speak boldly, and to love recklessly—no matter what the cost.  Because if Jesus could give up everything (including His life) to rescue and love someone like me, then I should be able to do the same for others.

And let me tell you this very second, I already know that there will be days when I regret writing the paragraph above this one.  (And you guys will probably hear about it, so brace yourselves.)  Yes, the Lord promises that those days of discouragement and trouble will come, but more importantly, the Lord promises that He will forever be faithful.  Any trouble or trials that I may face have already been conquered by Christ and nailed to the cross.

FullSizeRender.jpg

So tomorrow I leave to embark on a new adventure, and I want to ask you for prayer.  Prayers for open hearts and open doors.  Prayers for strength and courage.  Prayers for love and grace to flow out of my heart and into the lives of everyone I meet.  Prayers for dependency on the God who never fails nor abandons me.  Prayers for my family: that they will be comforted and at peace as I travel 7,000 miles away.  And lastly, prayers for the people of South Africa: for young girls to be set free from insecurities, fears, lies, and oppression—and for them to be strengthened and built up as princess warriors who are loved by the King of Kings.

Love you all.  Flight leaves tomorrow, Monday at 9:30 pm.  Let’s do this.

It Takes A Village (To Raise a Missionary)

There is an old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  But, over this past year, I’ve realized that it also takes a village to raise up and send out a missionary (especially a crazy and injury prone one like me).

IMG_3869.JPG

I was raised by a hard working, soccer playing, and joke telling dad who always has a knack for putting others before himself.  I was raised by a generous and caring mom, a teacher who has such a great love for her children – both blood and in her classroom – and who has an incredible ability to influence and inspire the people around her.  I have grandparents that taught me how to serve, how to pray, and how to go above and beyond for those in need.  I grew up in a community where your skin color didn’t determine your worth, where everyone spoke a different language, and where little girls could play sports with the big boys.  I was constantly surrounded by people that loved me, and I was given plenty of opportunities to succeed.  None of that had anything to do with me.  I didn’t pick my parents, I didn’t pick my neighborhood, and I didn’t pick my talents.  (Lord knows that I wish I could sing.  Unfortunately, for those who ride in the car with me – I can’t.)

IMG_1682.JPG

So, my job is to make the most of what I’ve been given.  It’s my responsibility to use my gifts, talents, and abilities for God’s glory.  He gave me everything I have, and He gave it to me freely, in love.  So how can I show my gratitude and how can I give back to a God who already has everything?  I ask myself daily what it would look like to live a life surrendered to God, and I think 1 Peter 4: 8-11 sums it up quite nicely,

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another.  Do you have the gift of speaking?  Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you.  Do you have the gift of helping others?  Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.”

IMG_3213.JPG

Frederick Buechner eloquently said that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  I’ve learned that my life isn’t just about me.  My experiences, my wisdom, my failings, my abilities, and my successes are all meant to be shared with others – to bring growth, freedom, wisdom, love, understanding, and friendship.  Every single one of us is unique, we all come with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, gifts and talents, and passions and desires.  Not to mention, we are all created in God’s image.  So when I meet someone new, I am given the opportunity to experience God in a whole new way as well.  While I grow closer with others, I also grow closer with Him.  I get to see a different side to who He is, and I get to learn something about His heart that I never would have known before.

IMG_2022.JPG

We are all different, and I want to stress that different doesn’t mean wrong, it just means different.  (Hallelujah for that!)  We all have something to bring to the table, something of value to be shared and spread far and wide.

Now to bring this blog full circle…

I am going back to South Africa.  I am going to put my feet to my faith, and actions to my words.  I want to make a difference, I want to change lives, and I want to bring hope and love to the people in this world that need it most.  But like I said earlier, I can’t do this alone.  I need your help.

As a missionary, my mission is my job, my donations become my salary, and my workplace becomes my home.  It’s a 24/7 lifestyle that doesn’t have an expiration date.  It’s risky and exciting, and I couldn’t imagine doing life any other way!

So here come the logistics.  I have a charity visa that allows me to do volunteer work in South Africa, but that means my only source of income must come from the money I raise here via donations.  Before I am allowed to head back overseas in March, I need to have at least 50% of my total required amount to live for a year in SA in the bank.  (Just to give you guys a quick example, it costs $25 to pay for electricity, $35 to buy groceries, and $450 to pay for my rent… every single month.)  I will need about $1,000 monthly to cover absolutely everything to live in South Africa for this next year, which is pretty incredible because of the exchange rate.  So any amount helps – big or small, even if it’s a $5 monthly donation or a one time gift of $15- I can put it to good use!

I always struggled with guilt when it came to asking others for money, but I quickly learned that if I don’t ask, I won’t receive.  Wayne Gretzky was right when he said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  I also learned that by asking, I am giving others a chance to participate in the awesome work that is happening in South Africa and the awesome things that God is doing (rather than selfishly keeping the experiences to myself), and that’s pretty cool too!  The Lord has taught me so much about His faithfulness through the donations that I have received.  It’s been a challenging experience for me, but it’s one that has grown my faith and trust in Him in more ways than I can describe.

So I am taking a shot, and I’m humbly asking…  Will you come alongside me on this journey?  Will you walk with me through the dark places?  Will you help me to share hope and love and grace with the brokenhearted and hurting in South Africa?  If so, let’s do this together, as a village and as a family.  Even though you may not be with me physically on the mission field, you play a significant role in everything that happens there.  Through prayer, donations, and encouragement, things get done – great and life changing things!

I want to thank you all for the love and support that you’ve continued to give me as I walk this journey.  Through all of the up’s and down’s and triumphs and difficulties, I have never once felt alone.  Thank you.  Lastly, I want to end this super long blog post with a passage from one of Paul’s letters (Philippians 4:10-17).  His words connect with all of the emotions and thoughts racing through heart and mind so perfectly, and my hope is that it will connect with you as well.  He writes:

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.  As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.

If you would like to make a donation online, please visit:

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

If you want to donate by mail, then please make a (tax decidable) check payable to Shepherds Staff and write my account number #6020 in the memo section, then mail it to:

Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators

6739 Academy Road NE, Suite 320

Albuquerque, NM 87109

 

Preparing for a Porn Conference: This Christian’s Walk on the Wild Side

I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth, but here it goes… In exactly one month, I will be attending a porn conference in Vancouver, Canada.  

Now before anyone freaks out – or rushes over to their cell phones to call my parents and tell them that their 24 year old daughter has fallen off the deep end – let me tell you why I will be attending this conference.

First things first: Jesus loves porn stars.  No, really – He’s crazy about them.  He doesn’t just like them, He loves them.  And you know what else?  Jesus loves people who watch porn too.  Yes, you read that correctly.  While I was in South Africa this past year, my faith and knowledge of “who God is” was challenged immensely.  I realized that His love ran deeper than I ever could have imagined and that His healing power was greater than I ever could have anticipated.  He is a God of inclusion, and His arms are always open to receive anyone who runs to Him (no matter how dirty or how sinful that person might be).  Isaiah 59:1 says, “Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.”  

1167179.jpg

Jesus had a talent for drawing in the people that everyone else pushed away.  The whores, the murders, the diseased, the liars, the cheaters, the arrogant, and even the dead.  Not only did he draw them in, He made it a point to chase after them.  When the religious leaders looked at a deadbeat or a criminal, they saw a waste of space – but when Jesus looked at them, He saw a daughter or a son who needed restoration and freedom.  If Jesus, brimming with perfect holiness, was willing to walk into the most dimly lit and shameful places of the world to find the people who needed Him desperately, then I must be willing to do the same.

Only God can turn our ashes into a thing of beauty.  The Lord has an amazing way of redeeming our pasts.  He can take something that was once ugly and disgraceful and He can turn it into something worthy and full of hope.  It’s my turn to get free with ya’ll.  I had a really bad porn addiction in high school, and I had an incredible talent for hiding it from the people closest to me (which meant that no one knew I needed help).  I used porn as an escape, as a coping method, and as a way to “take the stress away” until it finally began to consume me.  Some serious damage was done.  My perception on love, sex, and “healthy relationships” became completely disfigured, I felt so much shame and guilt that I started to lash out on my family members and I distanced myself from God, and I started buying into the lies that I was worthless, broken, and most definitely gross.

BUT GOD.  Those are two of my favorite words in the universe.  But God… put me back together.  He reached out to me when I was deep in my self-made pit of despair, and He pulled me out and grabbed ahold of me (despite the fact that I had no strength at the time to hold onto Him).  Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He cleaned me up, set me free, healed my hurts, and He told me who I was in His eyes: valuable, beautiful, righteous, blameless, cherished, loved, and most importantly… His.  He’s given me a heart to reach out to those who struggle like I did, to reach out to the women who think they aren’t worth something (or someone) of value, and to reach out to the brokenhearted and abused.  He had taken the messed up pieces of my past, and He redeemed them for His glory and for my benefit, and let me tell you… it’s the greatest feeling in the world! Now, I get to find others who are in need of hope and healing.  I get the opportunity and the honor of sharing the love of Christ with those who have never experienced love before, and it’s all because of His mercy and grace.

Even though this trip (with Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale and xxxchurch) will only last for a short week in February, my mission to create change and to bring hope and love to others will last for my entire life.  It’s not going to be an easy journey.  It will be dark one, a dangerous one, and the fight will be a spiritual one.  Sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography are all over the world.  The battle is a big one, and it’s one that ends in death, both spiritually and physically, for so many.  I was recently challenged with the thought… “What would happen if I loved those people (the johns, the strippers, the porn stars, the addicts, and the pimps…) as much as Jesus loves them? How might the world be different?  

I’ve decided to give it a go and find out.  Partner with me in prayer and with steps of faith.  Let’s be bold together as a community (all over the world) and as a united church.  We are commanded by God – Who is the Mighty Warrior fighting on our behalf – to not be afraid, so let’s be strong and courageous, and let’s inspire change. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Nothing is to hard for Him.”

If you’d like to donate and support me in this fight, please visit:

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