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

 

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

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.

Ready, Set, Wait?

Waiting.

It’s a tough thing to do.  Like for example, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the work day to end, or even waiting for your favorite TV show to start it’s next season.

But what about waiting to leave the country to begin an adventure of a lifetime?  Yeah. That’s really hard.

About a year ago, the Lord used close friends, scripture, and prayer to reveal to me a new and radical mission for my life.  It was a mission that I never would have dreamed up on my own.  To be honest, I was scared to death.  God was calling me to become a missionary.

I have aways had a passion for soccer, and I loved being able to play it as a kid and coach it as an adult.  In college, majoring in Sports and Fitness, I was given the opportunity to partner with the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) on a summer missions trip called IMPACT.  The first time that I attended the trip I was a student, but I knew God was calling me back so I returned the following summer as a co-leader.  This was the first time the thought had crossed my mind that maybe the Lord was calling me to become a full-time missionary.  We learned about using sport to share the gospel and how it can be used to impact the lives of people around the globe.  Daniel Thomae, a current missionary in South Africa and partner with IMPACT, approached me about joining his nonprofit “training4changeS,” and he invited me to come alongside him and his wife Kendra as a coach for the young girls.  Daniel’s mission has been to open a futsal academy for the local primary school kids in the Western Cape of South Africa.  He has wanted to raise up young leaders and coaches to impact the nation, which he hopes will help to prevent the cycles of poverty, fatherlessness, and violence from reoccurring amongst the people.

My heart felt right at home.

I have this dream to help young girls all over the globe realize their worth and value.  I want them to know that they are loved beyond measure by a Heavenly Father who will never let them down or disown them.  I want them to develop life skills and values that will change their lives and their families lives forever.  I want to share the grace and love of Jesus Christ by teaching them about the Bible and using the sport of futsal to do it. (By the way, futsal is a 5-a-side version of soccer that is played on a hard court without walls, using a smaller ball than regular soccer and a standard match consists of two 20-minute halves.)

The crazy part?  The Lord has blessed me by giving me an opportunity to do it.

The journey begins now, by spreading the word of this mission, by raising support, by prayer, and by letting the Lord lead the way.

The wait is almost over, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Join me on this adventure.

Donate to the cause at: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

Learn more about training4changeS and their mission at: http://www.training4changes.org/

Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Habakkuk 1:5 “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

 

– Sam