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).

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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.)

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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.”

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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.

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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

 

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)