Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets

I have always struggled to believe in coincidences.

When I was growing up, I found it easier to believe in a perfectly orchestrated world where everything happened for a reason (even when I didn’t understand why) and nothing happened by chance.  Over the years, trusting in a faithful and sovereign and loving God has made that small and innocent belief flourish into a confident hope and expectation.

But every now and then, I forget.  I forget who God is, and I forget that He’s ultimately in control.  Sometimes, I even forget how deeply and intimately He loves me.  And when I forget, the Lord is always gracious to remind me… Continue reading “Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets”

Hustled By A Homeless Lady

It’s story time with Sam.

Last Sunday, I had an interesting encounter with a homeless woman. Her name was Joanne, and she hustled me hard.

Let me set the scene. I don’t know about you guys but, when I am feeling a bit “bleh,” sometimes it just takes a little bit of coffee to get the “spiritual juices” flowing.  So Sunday evening before church, I decided to make a quick coffee run at one of the petrol stations in town.  I put my car in park, and before I could even unbuckle my seatbelt, there was a woman standing next to my door.  For those of you who have never traveled to the Western Cape of South Africa, this is happens all the time.  There are homeless people everywhere, and it’s honestly one of the most heart breaking things you’ll see.

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This lady begins to approach me, asking for money in Afrikaans.  Immediately I told her, “no ma’am, I’m sorry but I can’t give you money.”  (I have a policy that unless the Lord specifically asks me to give someone cash, I won’t.  Mostly because that money is usually spent on drugs and alcohol which is what got the person into this difficult situation in the first place.  It may sound harsh, but the pattern is real.)  So, I went inside the shop, got my coffee, and walked back to my car.

The lady was waiting for me, and wouldn’t let me leave the parking lot without trying to convince me one last time to help her out.  I prayed, “Lord, I really don’t know what you want me to do right now.”

I asked her if she spoke English, because the rapid and angry yelling in Afrikaans just wasn’t working for me, and unfortunately, she didn’t.  However, as I was unlocking my car door, I managed to understand enough of her blitsvinnig Afrikaans to realize that she had no money, she was trying to feed her daughters who were at home with her sister, and she was really hungry and just wanted food.  Then the Lord said, “Sam, go buy her food.”  That’s when I flippantly reminded the Omniscient God of the Universe that, “I’m living off of donation money, the cash in my wallet was supposed to be for my TITHE, and I am already running late for church.”   (Priorities. Ha.)

Anyways, I decided to do it God’s way (this time).  I proceeded to leave my coffee in the car, and I went back inside the store with the woman who’s name I finally discovered was Joanne.  She asked if she could pick out a loaf of bread.  “Cool.”  Then she asked if she could buy a box of chicken legs.  “Sure.”  Then with a wry smile on her face she asked if she could get a big package of potato chips to bring to her daughters.  “You can get a small bag Joanne, I’m not Daddy Warbucks over here. Let’s not get crazy.”

I paid. We left.

I asked her if she needed a lift, and she said no because she was going to stay to beg for more money to bring home for her daughters before heading back to Cloetesville.  I said okay, wished her well, and got back into my car.  Then I watched her.  She took the food and walked around the corner.  She met up with a man who had been sitting alongside the curb, he unzipped his backpack and took the food from her, and then stuffed it inside his bag.  Who was this guy?  Her pimp?  Her baby daddy?  Her brother?  Her friend?  Was he even going to share the food with her?  I honestly didn’t know, but I realized that the food I had bought for Joanne to bring home to her daughters was now being given to this guy.  The guy she conveniently forgot to mention.  The guy who was obviously taking advantage of the fact that Joanne was a woman (because he knew that she would probably get more money and food than he would from begging at petrol stations).  The guy who was spending his time sitting on his lazy bum watching this whole encounter take place.

I was angry.  I felt hustled.  I wanted to walk over there and take the bread right out of that guy’s backpack and smack him across the face with it.  But I didn’t.  But I wanted to…

I was roughly 60 rand in the hole, I was running late for church, I was manipulated by a homeless lady, and worst of all—my coffee was getting cold.

But before I could even drive out of the parking lot, the Lord began to address the angry thoughts that were running through my head, and He reminded me of some hard, humbling truths.

“Sam, I have called you to be My hands and feet. I have called you to feed and clothe the homeless, the orphaned, the needy, and the sick.  I have called you to love those who are difficult to love.  All of them.  I never promised that you would receive praise, gratitude, or rewards for those things.  I never asked you to give based on what you would receive in return.  I have shown you what to do by My own example, so follow Me.  Since when was My love ever conditional or earned?  Give generously and cheerfully.  Be merciful and gracious.  Joanne is my priority.  I know her struggles and her needs, and I will provide for her just like I have provided for you.  I love her.  Do the same, and let Me take care of the rest.”

Augh.  My heart was so ridden with filth, and the Lord exposed me.  Lovingly, He exposed my selfishness, my critical attitude, and the judgement in my heart.  He exposed my insecurity of being perceived as a fool, and He exposed my fear of not having enough money for myself.  I didn’t trust God in that moment.  It shouldn’t have mattered what happened to the food I purchased for Joanne because the Lord only asked me to be obedient to His prompting to buy it for her.  The rest was always in His hands.

Joanne didn’t owe me anything.  She didn’t owe me gratitude or praise.  She didn’t even owe me the truth.  My giving shouldn’t have been dependent on anything except the command of Christ to give.  Jesus tells me to love my enemies, my friends, and everyone in between.  He commands me to bless those that persecute me, to serve one another radically, and to give generously.  His only condition: It should all be done freely—without expectation, limit, or constraint.

That day, I learned a hard and important lesson.  

Love others—Period.

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