Ponderings

Some Pick a Word, I Pick a Phrase

Are y’all into the “Word for the Year” trend? I truly enjoy hearing what word people choose and why, but as for myself? My first thought is how I can’t handle the pressure of picking one word for the year and second? Having to remember it the whole year kinda stresses me out too. Totally ridiculous, I admit. But nonetheless, welcome to my brain. But apparently I’ve become all about phrases.

Last year, while it was nothing official, “Aslan is on the Move” became my phrase for 2016. In January, I kept thinking of it and remember telling my community group how I felt that “God was going to move this year, you know, Aslan is on the Move!” I had quite a different idea of how that might have turned out, but as He often does, God totally blew my expectations and dreams out of the water with the move to Colorado (among many other awesome/hard/stretching things).

I wasn’t planning on picking any words or phrases for 2017, but then one of my favorite phrases and quotes kept popping up in different ways, so I went all in.

So for 2017, here’s my phrase.

“Courage, Dear Heart”

I promise I didn’t pick another Narnia quote on purpose. Although, I’m not shocked it turned out that way.

Not only for courage in my career and my writing (I made quite a few changes in my blogging schedule, newsletter, etc), but also for the great unknown. I know God is moving (thus why “Aslan is on the move” has officially become my life motto 🙂 ), but more than knowledge, I want to have the courage to trust that with all my heart.

I want to have courage to not be overwhelmed by what’s happening around me, but bravely step out and reach out to those in need, speak out against injustice and love like Jesus does. And like Jesus often does, a few days after I decided this, I came across this verse:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

What’s your word of the year?

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Changing the World

Why I Won’t Remain Silent About Racial Reconciliation

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin

I believe we are called, as believers, to reach out and fight for the marginalized and against injustice. Not only from around the world, but also those in our own society and culture. I know it can be touchy, it makes many defensive and is a hard topic, but we absolutely need to continue to educate ourselves on these topics and examine our hearts and continue to be the voice (and peace) of Jesus. When we stay silent, I believe we lose some of our witness and miss out on seeing God work in incredible ways.

It will come as no surprise that I’ve been burdened by what is happening in America right now. It’s a dark time for many people.

A couple months back there was a video that went viral and I decided to post it on Facebook (when it’s something closely connected to political views, I always pray before posting. It’s far too easy to post in anger and I don’t ever want to do that). It’s disturbing for lots of reasons, including this one quote that received a standing ovation and the Nazi salute: “America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance and it belongs to us.” (You can see the full video here), but I was surprised by some of the reactions. Instead of denouncing the video (which most people did), there was the “well this has been around forever, so…” as if that was enough reason not to call it out and stand against it. There were also comments that I was spreading hate by posting the video. I was genuinely confused as to how calling out hate was instead inciting hate.

Another recent news story was that of the hung jury from the Walter Scott Case. The trial for the officer who was caught on tape shooting an unarmed man running away ended in a hung jury. Sometimes I don’t even have the words, so I’ll steal them from this article written by Steven Hale of the Washington Post.

“Still, this case had video footage of a police officer calmly raising his gun, carefully taking aim and firing multiple rounds into the back of a fleeing, unarmed man and then handcuffing him as he lay on the ground. Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager claimed that he was in “total fear” during a struggle between the two men and that Scott had grabbed his Taser. But he was captured on video placing his Taser next to Scott’s lifeless body after the shooting.

One must wonder: What detail could be added to make Slager look more guilty of Scott’s murder — or at the very least, of manslaughter, an option that was available to the jury?”

My parents were in town visiting for Thanksgiving and we had many conversations about this (We also watched 13th, which I highly recommend). I asked my Dad about his experiences when he was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and how did he not lose hope? (He had to sit in the back of the bus, use “Colored Only” entrances and all the things you hear about. This isn’t something from the distant past. This is my Dad, only one generation before me). As MLK Jr. once said, it’s not the blatant racists who impede progress of moving forward, but instead those who are indifferent. My Dad shared about continuing to fight for what’s right and now that he is a Christian, also praying for the hearts of people and justice. It’s both.

I do not understand the justification, the brush off and the complete denial that our racial history doesn’t have deep impacts on our society today. I don’t get a lot of things about this, but most especially the silence. If we’re not talking about it in a loving manner, then the opposite side is only going to get louder. (Also, please read Just Mercy. Please.)

“Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.” Reinhold Niebuhr

But as always, the Lord is good and He gave me a word.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God doesn’t ask us to sit back and be silent about the things that matter. He did not make me timid (I don’t have to rely on my own strength. Yes and amen. “He makes us strong, brave, and unafraid”*) He gave me power (The Greek word dunamis means “miraculous power, might, strength”*), He gave me self-discipline (so I don’t become a loud unhelpful voice) and most importantly He gave me love, which covers all things.

And that is what I’ll continue to move forward in. The Gospel is true and God promises His Word won’t return empty, so I hold onto that and keep on fighting for justice. As Walter Brueggemann once said, Justice is “the re-ordering of social life and social power so that the weak may live a life of dignity, security, and well-being.”

Ann Voskamp (in a podcast with Jamie Ivey that y’all should definitely listen to it here) said something that stuck with me as she was talking about the Church and her new book, The Broken Way. She said that “we are the Esther generation.” An oh how we are – we are called for such a time as this. To care for the orphans, the widows, the refugee, our brothers and sisters who fear for their lives.

We can and need to be the light in this darkness.

“And [God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:19‬

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ll end with this:

*From Liz Curtis Higgs’ 31 Verses To Write On Your Heart, page 43.

Women of the Bible

Anna of the New Testament | Women of the Bible

A few months ago, I read an article that featured some women of the Bible, lesser known women and what their stories mean for us today. I loved it. Not only because there were quite a few I didn’t remember (or know #honesty), but I was encouraged by the fact that God doesn’t waste space in the Bible. They were very short features, but none the less, it got me on this kick to study lesser known women in Scripture.

Enter in a new “series.” Y’all know me and my “series.” Sometimes they are on point and consistent, sometimes I forget I started them and sometimes I have nothing more to say on the topic – ha! But anyway, I think this will be good for me….the whole studying scripture thing is always good for my soul. 🙂 (If interested in more Women of the Bible posts, check them out here!)

I have never understood how people who have read the New Testament miss the way Jesus interacted with women. Even stories of women from the Old Testament are inspiring. What I see is women leading, serving, being loved deeply by Jesus.

Some the biggest inspirations over my life and faith come from the bible. Of course there are the big names, like Esther, Ruth and Mary, but I love how God also weaved in so many other stories of women. Lesser known women who may have one or two sentences in scripture, but still have an incredible story to tell.

One such woman? Anna of the New Testament. This was what we know of Anna from scripture from Luke 2:36-38:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

She gets two verses in the entire Bible. Just two. At first glance that may not seem like much and that there might not be much to learn from Anna. Yet.

Isn’t that just like Jesus? What we might see as insignificant is far more than we can imagine. Plus, if you’re mentioned in the Bible that’s legit. Unless, it’s for shady reasons (where to even start with this list?), then totally not legit.

So Anna. She got married as many young women back then did. Only seven years later, her husband died. That in itself is terrible, but in a culture where women depended on men in many ways, I can only imagine the extra grief that was set before Anna.

Yet.

She chose joy and serving the Lord. For 84 years! Fasting, worshipping, praying. Just think about that. I mean, real talk for a quick minute, I sometimes fall asleep after 3 minutes of prayer. But Anna was committed and because of this, Anna is the New Testament’s only named female prophetess. #Status

I would say Anna was content with her life. She had dedicated her life in service to the Lord and never gave up on that mission. I really believe she could have gone on to glory and that would have been more than enough for Anna. But the Lord wasn’t finished with her. Because then, Baby Jesus was born (Can I get a Hallelujah and Amen?).

What she thought was another day of praying, fasting and worshipping at the Temple, was much more. Instead, Anna was gifted with perfect timing of seeing Jesus and witnessing Simeon bless baby Jesus.

What an incredible gift! What was Anna’s response? Telling any and all about Jesus and the redemption of Jerusalem.

So yeah, I would say there’s a few things to learn from Anna and her two verses.

Life doesn’t always turn out how we expect
But we can cling to the hope that God still reigns, He has a plan and His timing is perfect.

When we trust Him, He blesses us more than we can imagine
And in ways we couldn’t dare to imagine. But do not dare not to dare friends.

When we draw close to the Lord, He draws near to us
Lord, may I never lose sight of this!

I hope you were encouraged by Anna’s story as I was! Have you read much about Anna before? In what ways has life turned out a bit different than expected?

Difference Makers

Generation Next | Difference Makers Feature

(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about! Find previous entries here).

Hello friends! I have another fabulous post and Difference Maker Feature. I had the chance to read Riley’s book and I love the heart and mission of Riley and her organization Generation Next. I hope y’all are inspired!

Supplying underprivileged children around the world with the necessary equipment for life. From school supplies, to hygiene kits to young girls. Simply loving kids to Christ!

1. How did you get involved with this organization and what is your specific role?
I founded Generation Next was I was 14 after my first trip to Kenya when I was 13. While I was there I served in a classroom of 1st graders and while I was helping them spell English words on their paper I noticed they all shared one stub of a pencil. Generation Next was founded in the beginning to supply kids with school supplies and now also does hygiene kits to keep young girls in school, has a school that gives a free education to 40 students in Kibwezi, Kenya with a meal a day, and has just purchased a 7,000 square foot community center with 5 farmable acres that will be used to provide jobs and a feeding program in the area.

2. What do you want people to know about the work that is being done?
I would like people to know that the work we do in Kenya allows so many opportunities for the people we are able to help. Many may not think that the school supplies or hygiene kits that we bring add up to much here at home but for the kids of Kibwezi it means a future.

3. What’s one of your favorite stories from recent work?
Just this summer we met a boy Named Muthoma who was ten years old and had never been to school because he had to take care of his baby sister while his mom went to sell produce during the day. As we spoke to his grandmother about him coming to our school and her watching the baby during the day she told us he had a “heavy tongue”. Which meant he couldn’t speak. As our translator talked to him more Muthoma, although shy, never had any sort of problem communicating with him. We were able to talk to the grandmother and work it out so that Muthoma could come to school and get a free education.

4. What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
Some ways people can partner with Generation Next is through going on trips to Kenya with us during the summer, praying for our organization, by supporting us financially, or by collecting items for our backpacks and hygiene kits. You can also read more about my story and Generation Next in Riley Unlikely that just released.

I hope y’all enjoyed learning more and be sure to connect online!

Facebook | Website | Twitter

Family Life, Love and Faith

Aslan is on The Move….And I’m Half Terrified/Excited/Can’t Wait!

“When the time is right, I, the Lord, will make it happen.” Isaiah 60:2

I quoted this verse in a post I wrote recently about being a hot mess. I talked about trying to figure out if I was doing life right. Questions like “Am I pursuing what I should be or do I need to let go of that dream?” You know, simple questions.

(Side note, I do believe there are dreams we have that are never meant to be realized and instead its the journey we needed. Like, I was supposed to marry Keanu Reeves. But y’all, I finally let that one go because I accepted this would never come to pass. But don’t worry I can quote Speed like a boss. #TheJourney).

That weekend I also decided to apply to more publishing jobs (true story, about every quarter for the past couple years I would do this. We’re talking ALL THE JOBS in ALL THE CITIES, except really cold states because no) with the thought process of “well, let’s just keep trying.”

You can imagine my excitement when I had a phone interview that very next week and then an in person interview the following week and then a job offer. Y’all WHAT? Was this my life?

And y’all, it was and now is. I am moving from the great state of Texas to the insanely gorgeous state of Colorado to take a position with Waterbrook and Multnomah Publishing.

Internet.

My job will now involve books. All the time!

Yes, I am soooooooo excited, but totally terrified too.

Moving from Texas is different than when I moved from California in so many ways. Leaving California was hard, but I knew I’d always visit. In the 8 years I’ve been in Texas, I’ve created my Texas family. When I think about leaving them, I start crying. #RealTalk. I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit, when they’ll be able to visit (although COLORADO MOUNTAINS FOR THE WIN!), so it’s different leaving. (Plus the food internet. THE FOOD).

Going on an adventure is exciting, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Does that stop me or shut down my excitement? Not at all, because I have seen God’s hand in so many ways through this whole process, He really is just showing off at this point. I LOVE IT.

Being brave and courageous isn’t the absence of fear, but as many have said, it’s the willingness to fight that fear head on. It wouldn’t be courageous if there wasn’t something a bit scary about it.

And so begins the new adventure and new chapter in my life!! #PrayForMeDuringWinter

I can’t wait to share more, the pictures and the all around awesomeness as I explore my new city. Aslan is definitely on the move y’all!

Ponderings

5 Things 34 Year Old Jamie Would Tell College Jamie

First off, I need to say I totally stole this idea from Wesley. You can read her’s here, but it was so fun to read!

This past month has been all about graduations (naturally) and it’s so fun to see these kids graduate high school and college. While it’s been a few (or more – high five for Class of 2003!) since I’ve walked across a stage, I remember those years so clearly and the fun I had at college.

Oh the things I worried about and the things I thought I knew! I wonder what I’ll tell myself 10, 20 and 30 years from now? I can’t wait!

Walking up with no clue what was coming next. Whoop!

Alright, here’s five things 34 year old Jamie (well, in a month) would tell college Jamie:

1. Can we talk about what you were wearing? I kid! But trust me, you’ll have some laughs at all your fashion decisions. But every time you laugh at those pics, you’ll usually be with your friends you met during those bad fashion years and it’s always awesome. Those people you met during that first year…you’ll still be hanging out 16 years later. Plus, you’re still b/f/fs with your friend from 5th grade and you write each other all the time in college, like letters that go in the mail and require a stamp. Also, this email thing really takes off and that first email address? Totally not cool (lapdogghizzy@apu.edu? Jamie…..). But FOR REAL. The Lord really blesses you on the friendship train.

2. Even though you didn’t study abroad (you’ll have a teeny bit of regret on that), you’ll still get to travel quite a bit and it will be so much fun. You’ll travel with your friends, your family and even by yourself. But just know there’s lots of adventures to come, so don’t worry that those trips in college were it.

It’s official when you walk across that stage!

3. You won’t be married by the time you graduate. OH THE HORROR. And by that I mean, you have several years ahead of you where you’ll make mistakes, learn more about yourself and God’s goodness and trust in the journey and path the Lord has you on. It’s really fun and awesome.

4. You’ll still be a nerd. You just become more hardcore when you hit your 30s and won’t care what people think. Also, why didn’t you discover Tolkien earlier? #Rude

5. There’s this thing called social media that will blow up and you’ll daily THANK SWEET BABY JESUS it did not exist when you were in your education years. Like truly, “praise Jesus with both hands high up in the air” kind of thankfulness. I know you can’t imagine things called “blogs” and “social media,” but it will change the world. Also, it gives you a chance to write and you know you love that (remember the sports column you wrote as editor? Lap’s Low Down? See…you were a trendsetter). It might take you a few years/decade to really *get* what you want to do, but trust me 20-year-old Jamie, it will be awesome and through it all, you’ll learn so much!

I call this REALLY HAPPY JAMIE and my pretty Mama!

How about y’all? What would you tell your college age self?

Love and Faith, Ponderings

The Days of Being a Hot Mess

So true story, I’ve never had just one job. After college, I got a “big girl” job at my church (the 8-5 type) and then built up my photography business on the side. Early on, I also worked for a large photography company on the weekends.

I decided to close out on wedding photography a few years after my move to Texas and then I started book blogging while working full time. And that’s where I am today; two blogs, a Shoppe and podcast. Working a job to pay the bills (although I have to say I love my coworkers – That makes such a difference!), but also writing, blogging, entrepreneuring (having no idea what I’m doing most of the time) after hours and most weekends.

All that to say I don’t get “being bored.” I think the last time I was truly “bored” was maybe at the age of 12 during a long road trip. This was pre all-the-technology and I could never read (and still can’t) in a car because if I did for more than 3 minutes, the driver better be prepared to pull over and let me almost die.

And I’m not claiming this is a good or bad quality, but it’s mine. I don’t know how to not be working on some project or new idea. Blessing or curse, just depends on the day. I guess there’s so many things I want to try and places I want to go, so my brain doesn’t slow down. Also I am my father’s daughter. (He’s amazing. He’s retired and does so much with ministries, being Gramps and changing the world. I’m seriously so inspired everyday by him and my Mom)

And in case I haven’t mentioned I feel like I have no idea if I’m moving in the right direction and feel like I’m a hot mess most of the time. Do I love writing and blogging? 100%! I’m not going anywhere, but I’d being lying if I didn’t admit I question if I’m doing what I need to be.

I think this was brought on by this current very busy season I’m in (both work and personal), but I ask “Am I doing the right things? Is this what God truly wants me to be doing, or am I fighting for something I shouldn’t be?”

HOW WILL I KNOW IF I’M DOING THIS LIFE THING RIGHT?!

Have I mentioned being an adult does not come with the confidence I remember my parents and other “old” folks had when I was 10? Because IT DOESN’T.

I know all the Jesus answers and I believe in them with all my heart, but y’all it’s still hard. Am I chasing a dying dream? Yet, the other side of it would be to only work my “real job” and the thought of that is terrifying. I love writing, photography and everything I do around the internets. But will this be forever ever? Will I be working two jobs for all of my days? Will I one day be able to focus on what brings my heart so much joy?

“When the time is right, I, the Lord, will make it happen.” Isaiah 60:22

Recently my church did a sermon on the Sabbath and I was reminded that everything is only a season. The good, the crazy, the bad, the awesome, the mix, the in-between. Let me tell ya, I grabbed on to that drop of wisdom like nothing else. Do I 100% know if I’m doing exactly what I should be? Let’s just say “not really,” but God is faithful and provides my heart with peace when I need it most and reminds me sometimes trusting in Him doesn’t mean we get to see where He’s leading, but we can trust the Guide.

And more than that, I’m thankful that each and every season of life the Lord uses to draw me closer to Him and maybe even use my life to draw people closer to Him as well.

How do you get through the busy and uncertain seasons?

Movie Musings

Movie Musings | Shawshank Redemption

(Moving Musings are my thoughts on some of the all-time greats in cinema. I love story and the power that comes with it, so I thought it would be fun to occasionally post about them. Also, there shall be spoilers. If interested in past Movie Musings, just click here!)

“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Andy in Shawshank Redemption

I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it (which I think was in college). Why is this one of the best? The storyline is incredible, it’s portrayed so well, the ending and the underlining theme of hope. It’s one of Stephen King’s finest (sidenote: how does he write a story like this and then some of the most nightmare-ish horror films?!!).

It’s still one of my favorite movies of all time.

There’s one scene where, after one of their old time buddies, Brooks, kills himself after getting out (he’d been there for decades and wasn’t able to cope with the new outside world), Andy was in the Warden’s office and played music over the speakers that belted it out to the fields and all the inmates. He locked himself in the office, so they had to break down the door to get in, but for a few moments those inmates heard something beautiful. He ended up getting a week in solitary for the act.

When he got out all his buddies asked him why he did it.

Andy: “Hope.”

Red: “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.”

Andy” “Like Brooks did?”

Red gets up from the table angry. Andy later gives him a harmonica, but that was a profound moment, showing what people can become if they give up on hope. Yet, even with it all Andy never does.

Later, Andy continues to struggle, especially after his young friend Tommy gets murdered by the Warden because Tommy had the evidence needed to prove Andy was innocent (he was in jail for the murder of his wife and the man she was having an affair with).

Andy gets two months in solitary and after threatening to stop helping the Warden with his shady schemes, the Warden comes back with more death threats on his friends.

He finally gets out and Red immediately knows something is different. Yet, even with that Andy tells Red about Zihuatanejo, the little town he’ll go to when he gets out.

Red tells him to stop with his pipe dream since they aren’t getting out. Andy’s response?

“It comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living or get busy dying.”

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

He makes Red promise him to find the a volcano rock and box in a field. He gives him nothing more than how to find it, but he gets him to promise to find it. Andy does escape in his brilliant dig through the walls scheme and makes it to beautiful Zihuatanejo.

A little time later, Red gets paroled after decades locked up. He follows through with Andy’s promise and heads out to Mexico to meet him.

Red’s final quote heading out to Mexico to meet his friend Andy is a perfectly fitting one:
“I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.
I hope.”

Sidenote: I absolutely love Red’s character. It helps that Morgan Freeman portrayed him masterfully, but the character himself is great and I love him as the narrator.

“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

While I know this story wasn’t written with the Gospel in mind, I love that a story will still draw you to THE Story our hearts are all longing for and the HOPE we have in that.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7

Hope is a beautiful beautiful thing friends.

Have y’all seen this movie?

Love and Faith

This Easter We Can Still Sing Hallelujah

Do y’all feel the darkness that seems to be growing in our world? From all that is happening on our own soil (Y’all, Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the GOP and if I start with all he “inspires” to fellow Americans, I won’t stop, so I’ll just say Lord Jesus HELP US) to persecution, slavery, trafficking and terrorism around the world. The news of Brussels this week broke my heart all over again. So much darkness.

There’s times when I can feel the heaviness and burden in my soul. Pain, hurt, loss. But recently, God has reminded me of His goodness and His hope.

And hallelujah there is a hope that will never be loss!

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
Psalm 28:7

We sang “Forever” by Kari Jobe recently at church and y’all it hit my heart at a time I desperately needed it.

The moon and stars they wept
The morning sun was dead
The Saviour of the world was fallen
His body on the cross
His blood poured out for us
The weight of every curse upon him

One final breath he gave
As heaven looked away
The son of God was laid in darkness
A battle in the grave
The war on death was waged
The power of hell forever broken

The ground began to shake
The stone was rolled away
His perfect love could not be overcome
Now death where is your sting?
Our resurrected King
Has rendered you defeated

Forever He is glorified
Forever He is lifted high
Forever He is risen
He is alive, He is alive!

My heart is reminded on this beautiful story we are all a part of.

Psalm 39:7 shares this blessed truth:

“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.”

I know Who goes before me and Who stands behind, so come what may, I’ll never lose my hope.

No matter what happens, I can fully trust and believe that the Lord is fully and wholly in control. Even when He hands this nation what they want (even when it’s so far from what these people need). Even when I’m living in a culture turning further and further away from God, I still have hope (and I can still fight for goodness).

No matter how great or how dark the circumstances are around me, the truth of what we celebrate this Sunday never wavers and never will. We can still loudly sing Hallelujah.

What hope and what joy!

So Happy Easter friends and may you be blessed by the truth of the beautiful Gospel. That Jesus came, died and rose because of a love so deep, so amazing and so divine!

Difference Makers

Exile International | Difference Makers Feature

(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about! Find previous entries here).

Happy Friday friends! I’m soooo excited to bring you another Difference Makers Feature! It’s been oh just a year since my last one, so I’ve been on top of things (#mybad). But I promise this one makes up for it because I had the chance to chat with the Founder of Exile International, Bethany Haley Williams, PhD on the phone recently and not only is she amazing (just catch this video), but I absolutely love the work Exile International is doing. Y’all – it’s so awesome and so encouraging.

I hope you’re inspired as much as I was with this feature!

Denis – a rescued child soldier AND future peace leader. Now back with his family, he is driven to become a leader for peace to positively influence his community and country. Photo courtesy of Exile International

OUR MISSION
Restoring rescued child soldiers and children orphaned by war to become leaders for peace through art therapy and holistic, rehabilitative care.
Action
Restoring hope and empowering survivors through comprehensive rehabilitation programs, equipping local leaders and counselors to provide quality care programs, and providing a sponsorship program for children orphaned and abandoned by war.
Advocacy
Amplifying the voices of war-affected children. We are committed to raising awareness of war-affected children, child soldiering, and those oppressed in Africa by sharing their drawings, letters, and stories with national and international government representatives.
Awareness
Raising awareness of the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda — wars that have oppressed millions. By introducing new audiences to the effects of these conflicts, we inspire action and promote involvement that will restore and empower war-affected children.

How did you get involved with this organization and what is your specific role?
I founded the organization, so I was involved from the very beginning. I went on a trip to Congo in 2008 and it radically changed me life.

I’ve been involved in short term missions work off and on since I was 18. I’ve always had a heart for missions and for Africa and in 2008 I went over and was involved in a trauma care workshop for women who were sexually violated from the war in Congo. I also worked with kids who had been really traumatized from the war there, rescued child soldiers and heard some of their stories. I saw some kids who were so traumatized that they couldn’t speak because of what they had seen.

It broke my heart.

I had to go through my own journey of depression and trauma, PTSD prior to that so I think I connected to survivors there on a very personal level, even though the trauma I went through paled in comparison to what they’ve gone through.

There was just a connection there. I came back and I was just broken. I found out that for the kids there, the rescued child soldiers and children who survived war, there weren’t that many programs out there for them. So they would end up back on the streets.

I was only back a couple of weeks and then founded Exile International. I dove head first into it and didn’t know what I was doing and figured it out along the way.

What does the organization look like now?
It’s grown so much. It started out with just me and a couple of friends. We started by connecting with local leaders on the ground. Our sponsorship program started because it was my birthday. There were kids that not only needed trauma care, but also education, food and clothing. We quickly realized they needed heart healing, but they were also living in huts by themselves. They were street children, they didn’t have education, food or clothing or medical care, so that started the sponsorship program.

It started with five kids, and on my birthday I put out on social media to get the five kids sponsored and by the end of the day the five kids were sponsored. Now we have around 220 kids sponsored. We work with around 1,000 kids in our program in Northern Uganda and Eastern Congo.

Art and expression are empowering mediums, especially for children — they provide a safe avenue to express and process emotions and experiences that children do not yet have the words to share. Photo courtesy of Exile International

What do you want people to know about the work Exile International is doing?
There’s so much, but I would say there’s such a beautiful story of redemption that is happening. Most of these kids didn’t even think they’d survive. They were captured in the bush and a lot of the girls captured were sex slaves.

What we’re seeing is that they’re not only surviving, but they’re going back into some of their villages and teaching others, teaching villagers, about peace and reconciliation and forgiveness. We have 17 in our program that are in university. Some of them are becoming counselors and they come back and work at the center.

It’s such a beautiful redemptive thread woven through the work that we do.

The cool thing we’re finding is it’s not only effecting the kids, but when people get involved and hear what God is doing in there and how their pain is becoming purposeful, people in the West see that in their own lives. They’re able to say “if God can do that in their lives, what can He do with my pain? And how He can turn that into purpose and meaning.”

It’s really beautiful to see what God is doing through it all.

What’s one of your favorite stories from recent work?
It’s Baracka’s story. Baracka means means blessing in Swahili. Baracka was abducted twice by two rebel groups. Once when he was 10 and once when he was 15. He came to our program in Congo really broken and really teary, but also just loved the Lord. He had a really really deep love of Jesus. He had a hard time graduating because he had a hard time with school because of the trauma he’d gone through.

Last year, my husband and I actually had a second wedding in Congo. It was really fun, it was a surprise wedding. It was a full on African wedding that went on forever, which was great! Baracka had come down from his village he was living in and of course wanted to come to the wedding.

So we welcomed him and asked how he was doing, he said he was doing good, but that he needed a bible. So I asked him, “Baracka, well what happened to your bible?” (We always give them bibles, that’s one of the first things we give since most of them have never had a bible). He said “Well, I gave my bible to one of the rebels that I was studying with and he wanted to know about Jesus and forgiveness, so I gave him my bible.”

After I asked him what he meant, he said “Yes and I’m actually meeting with a group of rebels and I’m studying the bible with them and the empower program [which is the trauma care and forgiveness program that we use]. I’m using that to teach them about healing their wounds of trauma and the power of forgiveness.”

I was blown away! He went on to say he needed more bibles because the rebels wanted more bibles to learn about Jesus. So we gave him more bibles!

Now he’s meeting with a group of rescued child soldiers all on his own. He’s leading them through the very program that he had been a part of.

It’s great because the other kids in the program can look to him as an example of what their lives could be like and how they can actually change the nation and be young leaders in their country.

What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
We have a couple of different ways. Prayer is always number one. We take that very seriously. Our kids live in a war zone in the Congo and Uganda and are recovering from war. Our kids and our staff live off of prayer. So please be praying.

We also have an Ambassador Program. The Ambassador Program is for people, wherever they are, who want to get involved and tell the stories of the kids. They can invite their community, their loved ones together to hear more about our work and see how they can get involved. Some of our Ambassadors have fundraisers – they have a “Party with a Purpose.” They provide food, show some videos and amplify these kids voices.

We also have our child sponsorship program. This is making sure the kids in our program are able to have everything that they need. We look at it like these could be our children. 80-90% have been orphaned and we take that very seriously. So that child becomes the child of the church.

Finally, there’s Restore partners. Restore partners give as much as they can each month. Sometimes that’s $5.00 and sometimes that $700.00. That helps us do what we do on a regular basis.

Thank you soooo much for sharing! Wasn’t that the best readers? I love stories of redemption!

Also!! The lovely Bethany released a book (and it’s in my TBR!), The Color of Grace and I think y’all should go and buy it right now. I know you’ll be incredibly encouraged by God’s story through Bethany and the children of Africa. Plus the book has letters the kids wrote and every single one of them talked about forgiveness. The best.

Where to Buy: Amazon | BN.com | CBD | Goodreads

Northern Uganda. Photo courtesy of Exile International

Thank you Bethany again SOOOO much! I hope y’all we’re truly encouraged as I was! If you want to find out more, support, and all that good stuff, you can find them around the web below.

Where to connect
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

“Every child should belong to someone.” Bethany Haley Williams, The Color of Grace Photo courtesy of Exile International