Christmas Gifts

After too few hours of sleep, I awoke and quickly remembered, today is Christmas! 

A day usually characterized by hope, joy, peace, family and good food. 

Unfortunately, my heart was on the heavy side with a variety of thoughts, emotions, questions and uncertainties. This set me on a path of seeking. I saw something on a post that asked ‘Are you above or below the line?’ It showed a listing of thoughts, behaviors and beliefs above the line that represent an attitude and identity of Acceptance and Trust as a result of curiosity, responsiveness, growth and learning and then a listing below the line showing thoughts, behaviors and beliefs that reveal an attitude of resistance and threat as a result of reactivity, defensiveness and recycling drama. More check marks landed on the ‘below the line’ descriptions than I care to admit. Seeing my reflection in a mirror like that is not so fun. 

More often than not, I my most treasured times of interacting with the Lord happen on long walks in nature. Today, however, it’s dancing around the freezing line and I can hear the wind outside howling…so, it is just me and God with His book, a journal, a pen and a pillow. To my delight, after some minutes of telling God the hows and whys of the feelings I could put words to, moments of nodding off and waking again (yes, I used the plural as it happened a few times), a few tears in the corners of my eyes and a bit of time reading some verses in the Bible, I started to see the beauty of the gift of Jesus in a sweet new way. 

I am a gifts person. It may seem superficial and greedy to some, but I’ve come to recognize that it is just how I am wired. I love the fun energy and thoughtful, caring process it takes to listen to people and recognize what small, practical or special thing might bring a smile to their face and joy to their heart. Equally so, when someone gives me something and I can recognize the thought and care behind it, I am deeply touched. I am aware that not everyone thinks like I do, so I have to adjust how I show and interpret love, but that’s another story for another time. Today, God seemed to be speaking my love language to me very personally as I opened His Word and found so many gifts just sitting there, waiting to be unwrapped and received. So let me tell you what gifts I found as I read these passages. After pondering on these gifts, I just had to take a picture of the gifts where I am this Christmas. Beautifully wrapped gifts for and from several different people…and I have a sneaking suspicion the gifts I’ve started unwrapping from Jesus don’t only have my name on the tag…

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” 

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me, To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

On to the Gifts…

The gift with the beautiful red ribbon and bow: Salvation…Jesus, came to save us from our sins. Oh what a Savior! It’s so sweet to consider that even when I run headlong into sin, thinking that it is ‘really’ the thing I want and what will satisfy whatever the longing or craving is in me at that juncture in time, Jesus is there, ready to save!

The tall thin box wrapped in shades of green with a gold bow: Peace…the angels declared it for all who would hear: ‘peace on earth!’ Peace that surpasses our understanding, wrapped up in strips of cloth in an animal’s feeding trough, Jesus-Prince of Peace. 

The shimmery blue box: Good will and Good news! I don’t know about you, but good news to me is always refreshing. A word of cheer, a word of hope at the right time, priceless. Knowing that someone is on my side, has good intentions and good desires for me, that is a real gift.

The little tiny box with the bell on the top: Healing…this one is for all of us who have been brokenhearted, hurt, disappointed, misused, abused, ashamed. A tender, caring Friend is here to listen, to bind up the wounds we sometimes don’t even know we have. Jesus was anointed, set aside by God to do work for God, and the first job on the list is to heal the brokenhearted. What a sweet gift.

The short, fat box wrapped in paper with swirls of snow against a blue backdrop: Freedom, Liberty, an open door. For those of us who are feeling like we are imprisoned in our hearts, minds or otherwise held captive in some way, Jesus offers the gift of freedom.

The big box with the gold bow: the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God…this one had me a little puzzled, but this is what the gift means to me…the word for acceptable means that it is someone’s pleasure, delight, favor and desire, a declaration of the Lord’s delight and pleasure in, favor over and desire toward me is something that I can hardly grasp…and a declaration that all the things that have been ‘wrong’ in my life, whether because of me or someone else, will be made right by the Lord, what hope and release that I don’t have to get revenge or hold on to bitterness or pain. He has given me the gift to know that He will make all things right in the end.

The vibrantly colored box with a strips of curled ribbon cascading down: for those who are sad, who have experienced loss, four beautiful things He has given: comfort, beauty, joy and praise. He offers us a bouquet of beautiful roses for the ashes in our lives, a warm, strong embrace, comforting us so we know we are not alone, a deep abiding joy because we know with Him it will all be okay in the end and a praising heart that gains strength from seeing Him in the midst of the pain and loss.

I don’t know what gift you want or need this morning, but I don’t want to leave any unwrapped. It is breath-taking to see them sitting there so beautifully, but let’s receive what He so generously gives and experience the gifts He has made available because of His great love each and every day.

A Great Conversation…(thoughts from 2016)

How many words?

Being thirsty and hot drove me off the beach and into the village near where we were staying in Kilima Juu Pwani in Zanzibar. Everyone told us that the water wasn’t drinkable and that we should only drink bottled water, so as much as I love to defy ‘advice’ like that, I didn’t want my few days on the island to be spent with a runny tummy. I took their advice and bought water.

Water was half the cost in the village at the local shop run by the mama than it was at the bungalows where we were sleeping, so off I went. We had taken this walk the previous afternoon and although the shop was closed, we were able to find words and actions that prompted the group of men sitting on mats in the sand across the dirt path from the shop to find the mama so she could sell us some bottled water. The great thing about her water is that it was kept in a freezer, so it stayed colder much longer than the other bottles of water. The price was also very reasonable, only about 50 cents for 1.5 liters.

Back to this afternoon. I headed off down the beach to the little shop and a little old man that I had seen walking up and down the beach a few times was struggling to pull behind him 2 large palm fronds. He was only about four feet tall mostly because his shoulders curved forward and he walked in this position wherever he went.

Currently his walk down the beach went something like this: about 10-15 steps of pulling the fronds with his left hand while holding to a few fairly empty bags with his right hand, a break to gather energy and strength for about 2-3 minutes and then try a few more steps. As I walked behind him and quickly reached him at one of his break stops, I greeted him in Swahili, Jambo, and quickly reverted to English and hand signs to ask him if I could help carry his palm fronds and how far did he have to go. He rattled off something in Swahili and I pulled out my most well known phrase, ‘Pole sana, Sije alaywa’ (I’m sorry, I don’t understand.) He just kept talking and I decided that no matter how long the walk home was, I was willing to commit to helping him. We walked along the beach in silence mostly until he raised his hand to indicate a direction. We made it to his place much sooner than I expected.

When I dropped the palm fronds at his ‘front door,’ a lady started talking to me in Swahili. “kate, kate” (kahtay, kahtay). and pointed to a lady sitting against a palm frond woven wall on the side of the house. At this point I thought she was introducing the lady to me, but I also wondered if she was asking me to sit, I went with my first thought and responded as though it was an introduction…wrong…

After the children and the lady had a bit of a chuckle, she got up and sat next to the grandma, then patted the mat she was sitting on and said ‘kate’ again. I got it this time and sat down next to the grandma who I later learned is called Patima. How much of a conversation is possible when you speak two TOTALLY DIFFERENT languages? How many words does it take to have a conversation? Well, I stayed there for at least 30 minutes and had a great time with the ladies sitting there and the children that gathered.

I learned that the man I helped had two wives and that Patima was almost blind and that the young lady who walked up carrying a baby was not the mother to the child, but the aunt. I learned that children in Zanzibar like to give high fives and get tickled just like kids almost anywhere. I learned that laughter and smiles make people feel close even if they don’t understand each other. So, how many words does it take to communicate? I don’t know if I can answer that entirely, but I know a smile, a caring heart and time together goes a long way.

Oh, I did manage to get some frozen water bottles after that visit, but the focus of the afternoon had  definitely shifted when I sat on that mat. I’m glad I stopped to help the man, it showed me that great conversations don’t need too many words really…

A Different Season…

In Africa the seasons are basically the dry season and rainy season mixed with warm, hot and hotter. One season highlights all shades yellow and brown while the other all shades of wild and overgrown green. For a few weeks a year the temperature drops enough to put on a long sleeve shirt and maybe even a sweatshirt in the evenings, nights and mornings. If the wind battles the sunshine in the middle of the day you may keep your sweatshirt on through the afternoon for a few days of the year.

I have found myself in a completely different season the past two months. A brilliant explosion of reds, yellows, oranges, greens and browns in the forests and hillsides of southern Germany accompanied by hours of rain, hours of sunshine, and crisp cool breezes that have recently morphed into bare branched brown trees and frosted earth that leaves toes and fingers and noses tingling with feelings of needle-pricked chilly numbness!

In early October I came to Germany for a training to be a trainer for a course called Face to Face. As you know, I started experiencing intense back pain in mid-August. Through my trip to Malawi and Tanzania, hosting a trainer from the UK in Zambia, as well as the people care training in SA, I struggled with electric fire-down-my-leg and sharp stabs in my lower back that seemed relentless. Aside from the moments of relief during small portions of my daily 45-60 minute walks, it seemed I had made a constant, loyal, never-leave-your-side kind of friend and her name was PAIN. For me, she found her entrance into my life by way of a herniated disc between vertebras L4 and L5 pressing firmly against a nerve.

Pain is a funny thing. It opens your eyes to your need for help, your inability to function solo, your utter dependence on God and His grace and your natural tendency to find comfort in things that ultimately leave you comfortless. The hours upon hours of numbing, throbbing, burning pain throughout my back and left leg seemed to leave me with only a few options. Stand and work for bits of time interspersed with walking and laying down. Work feels productive and useful, so I do what I can to hold that position as long as possible every day. Walking starts out energizing and allows for large chunks each day of listening to audio books that stimulate thought, prayer and personal growth and development. Eventually, the pain and weariness shouts out “it’s time to lie down,” and all strength to focus drifts away. This is when the battle for my attention between the Hallmark Channel and the Holy Spirit begins. Although I know choosing Hallmark isn’t God’s best for me, I’m humbled and grateful that He continues to draw and invite me to Himself and give me another opportunity to find comfort in His tender care for me.

I am also incredibly grateful to how He has used this season to open my eyes to see the many people in pain around me. Sometimes I can see it in a limp or a quick diversion of the eyes in a downcast manner. Other times I see it racing down the highway with lights flashing and siren blaring. Sometimes I hear it in a gulp and the following silence when a friend waves away her response to my ‘how are you today?’ then musters an, ‘I’m fine.’ Each moment like this has tugged at a tender chord in my heart and made me much more aware of the love and compassion of the heavenly Father for those in pain. I’m beginning to believe that I’ve been granted just a glimpse of what Paul (and I have) cried out for…that I may know Him…in the fellowship of His suffering…

My ‘suffering’ is nothing to be compared to what Jesus went through for us or what many other people go through every day. However, no matter how minimal mine is in comparison, somehow I have also been invited into the beauty in the fellowship of His suffering, the feeling of His heart, the sense of His care. What a joy!

In one of my recent trainings, this quote struck my heart and really captures this season for me, ‘The Bible does not encourage us to feel joyful about pain, but rather joy about God’s caring presence with us as we go through suffering and anticipate transformation.’

Through praying, walking, swimming, doing back strengthening exercises, physical therapy and traction for the past 7 weeks, my ‘friend’ has become a bit less prominent in life. She still makes her daily appearances, but they are definitely shorter and less ‘loud!’

During this time, I have also been blessed to add a variety of other beautiful people to my list of friends. I have experienced the church in all her glory and have been blessed to be a part of both ministering and being ministered to. I am grateful for all the Lord has done, through people and circumstances to care for me in this particular season of life.

A Mazungu Walk…

Nothing was familiar to me and I definitely wasn’t a familiar sight to the deep brown eyes of people in this community. One week in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people that speak an unfamiliar language included many walks passing unfamiliar homes, shops and people.

One word echoed in my ears over and over as I passed through the new-to-me streets. Sometimes in hushed voices between friends and sometimes from the excited high-pitched voice of a toddler with a big smile. Sometimes in a greeting from a total stranger, welcoming me to their shop or even to their home.

Mazungu. (White person.)

Within minutes of the first morning walk I realized I would have a bit of a unique experience here. Some moments stand out a little more clearly than others.

Early in the week we turned the corner and a mother with a small boy stepped into our path, the mother quickly greeted, ‘shikamo, mazungu,’ (I give you my respect, white person) and the young boys arms wrapped around my legs in a hug.

When we stopped at a local shop to get some water on the way back to where we were staying that afternoon, I heard ‘mazungu’ in some chatter as we walked away. My friend told me that they were just talking about how things would go better for the shop owner now since a mazungu had purchased something there.

One rather warm afternoon, in a hurry to get something I had forgotten for my training, I was walking by myself and a boda-boda (motorcycle) driver stopped and said, ‘Mazungu’…followed by words that I guess asked me where I was going or if I wanted a lift. I tried with actions and the little Swahili I could manage to tell him I liked to walk and didn’t need a ride. Clearly my efforts didn’t communicate my meaning fully. He proceeded for the next 200 meters to walk his motorcycle beside me and converse; me in very limited Swahili and him in a bit better English until I turned into the gate where I was staying.

A few days later a group of giggling teenage girls were stopped about 20 meters ahead of us on the path and when my friend asked why they were standing there, they said they wanted to greet the mazungu. Unbeknownst to me, my friend said, go ahead, give her a hug and within seconds 5/6 giddy teenage girls were laughing and embracing me, rattling off greetings in Swahili.

Somewhere in the middle there is a clear picture of two pre-adolescent boys with a bit of a twinkle in their eye and and what I perceive as an expectant/entitled tone with their hand out saying clear as a bell, ‘Mazungu, give me money.’

As you might imagine, this word has a variety of effects on me. I suppose it depends on who says it and how they say it or maybe it just depends on how tired I am or what time of day it is or how high the bright hot sun is in the sky.

Not all my thoughts are great ones.

Sometimes a sweet small joy jumps up from within-especially when I hear the word come from a small child with a shy smile on his/her face that grows into an even bigger one when I stop and respond to them in the few words I know in their language. It feels a bit like somehow me just existing and interacting with another human heart brings joy and affirmation to both of us. Other times a desire to instantly disappear into the dusty road with the words ‘why am I here?’ as the headline thought running in bold letters through the ticker tape of my mind is what ‘pops’ up. Sometimes hearing this word validates that I am who God made me to be and other times it puffs me up to think I am something more or reduces me to feeling worth only the shillings in my wallet. In one instance feelings of isolation and loneliness splash their dark colors across the canvas of my mind as I look around and recognize the many differences between myself and those I am with. Differences in thought, experience, skill, values, culture and so much more. While in the very next encounter, the warmth of such a welcoming greeting stirs a rare sense of care, acceptance and belonging.

The walk of this mazungu during this week and the subsequent days in this land will likely continue to include such contemplations. It is my hope that somewhere in the midst a celebration of God’s goodness, grace, diversity and creativity will arise brighter and stronger with each step.

Serving with joy, Shirley Ann Turner

Why education?

After being out of Zambia for almost two months, I have resumed my routine of walking and jogging down the nearby path I highlighted in a blogpost some time ago. I am enjoying the crisp morning air, muddling through the deep sandy ruts and rather amazed that there is still water standing in some low places along the path…we must’ve had a good rainy season since our last rain was in April.

One morning this week as I was making my way back home, with headphones reminding me that…not for a moment has God forsaken me…and my heart recalling the faithfulness of God through such a variety of difficult and joyous moments, I was stopped in my tracks as I jogged passed a young girl with tears rolling down her face.

‘Mwashebukeni,’ (good morning) I said as I pulled the headphones out of my ears. Tear moistened big brown eyes just stared up at me. ‘What’s wrong? Ici sungu?’ (do you speak English?-at least that’s what I thought it meant)’ Bewilderment was on her face as she tried to wipe her tears away. Since she clearly wasn’t talking about what was troubling her, I decided to make things lighter and walked with her asking her about her family and school. We walked and talked for some time and eventually she shared why she had been crying. She also explained that she was late to school and very hungry. As we got back to where I live, I decided to get some fruit and bread from my house to give to her and then drive her the remaining 2 km to school. She was happy for that to happen.

I dropped her off at the road to her school, told her Jesus loves her and that the food was from Him. As she hurried past a fellow student to get to class, my heart was happy, but heavy.

When she was in the car with me, it hit me that I could’ve been anyone…and because she is hungry and in need, she could be a target for anyone to take her and do whatever they would want with her. I remember when I was a kid how we were told, ‘don’t get in a car with strangers, don’t take candy or food from strangers, run as fast as you can if a stranger comes up to you.’ We were taught that and that helped, it also helped that even if we were offered something nice, we knew as kids we didn’t need it, we had a home to go to, parents to feed us, a bike or bus to ride to school, teachers to teach us and so much more, we were only vulnerable to being ‘tricked.’

Here I was, a stranger and very welcome in her life because she had a great felt need, she was vulnerable-hungry, late for school and still 3 km away-

For me, this experience highlights the importance of education. Schools can raise awareness for students about safe ways to interact with strangers, schools can provide meals for kids who don’t have consistent meals at home, schools can provide teachers who can be role models and advocates for children who are in these vulnerable situations. At school, children can learn so many things that will help them grow in confidence and wisdom.

Especially in the wake of recently completing the Bryce Canyon/Zion National Park hike in Utah, this little encounter has stirred in me a fresh awareness of the importance of raising up well trained teachers so children have safe places (people) in the community to learn from and share their vulnerabilities with. Teachers can help empower, strengthen and walk with kids in so many ways. I’m so glad the Lord has allowed me to be a teacher and given me the privilege of helping to shape the hearts and minds of current and future teachers to care for kids beyond just education. Together we can be an extension of His hands and heart allowing the little children to come to Him.

Serving with joy,
Shirley Ann Turner

Living Water

The high for the day was predicted to be 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It was six in the morning and I could already tell it was gonna be a ‘warm one.’ I had over 4 liters of water in my pack and hoped it would last.

Our team took on the cool and shaded 21 switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles at a steady pace with a few breaks here and there. At Scout’s landing the terrain changed completely. The last half mile to the top was lined with chains bolted into the rock formations so hikers had a steady hold over the narrow, steep and drop-off lined footpath to the top. At this point all poles, water bottles and cameras were stowed so hands could be free to grip as needed.

Our team, the ‘Scarlet Warriors,’ started off, each with our own personal challenges to face along the trail. Some facing a fear of heights going up, others facing the fear going down, a mother was nervous for her daughter, some nervous about the balance and strength needed on the trail…we each had our own individual trails to hike…but we were doing it together. Well, most of us were. After offering to help one team member face her fear as far as she could and turning back once she had gone her farthest, I started up the trail a bit behind everyone else.

I have been a fairly independent person most of my life. Experiences during this Freedom Challenge hike had begun to crack a bit of that and show me the beauty and joy of sisterhood and doing life together. Although I still had an inner determination to make it ‘on my own’ as I followed about 20/30 minutes behind the group, I was also keenly aware that I would really enjoy hiking with my teammates. I knew I was missing a dimension of life while on the trail ‘alone.’ I did frequently remind myself that I am really never alone because the Lord is with me and that truth brought steadiness, strength and joy all along the way!

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To get a peek at the hike here’s a YouTube link.
No, I wasn’t even close to crazy enough to try to take videos or pictures along this route…so it’s not from my perspective…mine would have a lot more wobbles and ‘gotta catch my breath’ stops!


Reuniting with my team at the top with a shout out of ‘Scarlet’ from me and a surprised (somewhat confused, where is that voice coming from looking around before seeing me) and enthusiastic call back of ‘Warriors’ from them followed by big smiles and hugs was a moment I’ll never forget.

We enjoyed the stunning views, had lunch, took our selfies and photos, set our justice doll free, prayed together and began our descent. This part of the trail had its unique challenges as well…fears, wobbly legs and all. We regrouped at Scouts landing and began our final descent. What I thought would be a ‘breeze’ was actually the most challenging part for me-with absolutely no breeze. The sun came out in all its fury and seemed to draw out every bit of energy and strength from me. I felt like my arms were literally frying and I finished my water completely, leaving my mouth dry as a desert. Even though my body didn’t have to strain to manage this part of the trail, the heat took its toll on me every step of the way. Once we got to the bottom I refilled my water bottles and took a bit of a break before we hit our next trail-the Narrows.

We only had one mile to walk on fairly flat terrain, but I felt I could completely relate to David when he said, ‘God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for
thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;’ even though I was drinking water my mouth and throat continued to feel dry and I kept thinking, ‘How in the world am I gonna make it back?’ As I looked around most of my team members had a similar expression-we were exhausted, heat-seared, sapped of strength and wondering why we didn’t just take our Angel’s Landing hike as a win and call it a day. One more step and then another, with no idea why, we kept going. When we reached the river many of us made comments like, ‘let’s just walk in the water about 5/10 minutes and then head back.’ We began wading through the river, filled our caps with water, doused ourselves and splashed each other. As we took step by step on unsteady stones into the water past our ankles up to our knees, even to our thighs in some places… something changed. We started smiling and laughing and playing. Our weariness faded and our joy and energy and strength were restored. It was mind boggling.

It was a very eye opening moment for me as I saw the effects of water. What a very physical and visual reminder of an invitation Jesus gave…if any man thirst let him come to me…and again a declaration…I am the Living Waters…

Many times we feel weary in our hearts and minds and this amazing experience reminded me of the beauty that Jesus is always accessible, His invitation is open…in the midst of the dry days we experience choosing to be in His presence does the very same thing for our hearts that the Narrows did for our bodies. May we continually seek and find the Living Waters and find refreshment for our souls.

Scarlet warriors in The Narrows!

Serving with joy, Shirley Ann Turner

The Difference is the Same…

Last Saturday started with a short hike to Mzogoti Mountain with friends, beautiful scenery, lots of stories, laughs, photos, fresh air, a sense of joy, peace and adventure…a bit of sweat and some labored breathing from time to time as well…overall it wasn’t hard for me to feel connected to God…for me places like that naturally invite His Presence or at least make me happily aware of it.

This weekend brings a very different experience. The morning started with a change of plans that I somehow expected, but still had hoped wouldn’t be…it’s not always easy for me to shake the feeling of frustration and disappointment, so I’m learning step by step to take moments like these directly to the Father and sort it out with Him. The change wasn’t really earth shattering, it just left me with jumbled thoughts and feelings to sort out and with a choice to make about how I would respond…so, as the thoughts tumbled around inside and I did my best to express them to the Father, I found my feet walking to the bus as we made our way to Kariakoo-a huge, crowded, busy, bustling area in Dar Es Salaam. As I sat there I pondered the differences between this Saturday and last…

This Saturday we were headed into a overcrowded area and my heart and mind were unsettled at best…

As the smell of fish wafted up from the newspaper covered plastic pail at my feet…

and a strange silence hung in the air as the rumbling engine of the city bus is switched off in the middle of the street…

As brightly colored shirts and kitenges surrounded me closing in tighter with ever stop the bus made and the conductors deep rich voice called out ‘kariakoo’ along with other Swahili words I don’t understand…

The words of a song from childhood drift into my mind…

Did you ever talk to God above?

Tell Him that you need a friend to love.

Pray in Jesus’ name believingthat God answers prayer.

Have you told Him all your cares and woes?

Ev’ry tiny little fear He knows.

You can know He’ll always hear and He will answer prayer.

You can whisper in a crowd to Him.

You can cry when you’re alone to Him.

You don’t have to pray out loud to Him; He knows your thoughts.

On a lofty mountain peak, He’s there.

In a meadow by a stream, He’s there.

Anywhere on earth you go,

He’s been there from the start.

Find the answer in His Word; it’s true.

You’ll be strong because He walks with you.

By His faithfulness He’ll change you, too.

God answers prayer.

My thoughts begin to change a bit…

I’m blessed to be sitting near a window as both the bright sun and faint breeze find their way to my face.

I wonder if Jesus felt this way when he walked through the crowds…people pressing into him on every side…

Is there anything of virtue that can pass from me to these sharing this space with me for now?

Something cool rests on my back and I wonder what could possibly be in the plastic bag the lady is carrying…my thoughts are stuck on raw fish…maybe because of the smell coming from the bucket…thankful it’s cool anyway

I take a photo out the window and i hear a couple people say ‘piga picha’ I try a little Swahili…smile and have a smile returned to me by the wrinkled face of a man whose head is topped with a gold trimmed hat called a ‘kibaga la shia’

Kidogo kidogo (little by little) the last couple words of the song become more of a reality…

By His faithfulness He’ll change you (me) too…God answers prayer…

As the sun sets and I reflect on the day, I’m so grateful that although this Saturday and last were very different…God is the same…He is always there and always ready to hear and engage with us…

And just as I read and declared this morning, I again echo the words spoken by David so long ago…O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust…

The Cross…a reflection…

Earlier in the year I was blessed to go to a training on a beautiful property in Georgia (USA). One of the most prominent features for me on this acreage lush with trees, flowers, vines and other such flora was the large wooden cross pictured below.

My mental and spiritual mindset at this particular point in the year…and much of the year if I’m quite honest…was nothing to write home about…’if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all’ often went through my mind…unfortunately my brain (and heart) really needed the message-’if you can’t THINK nothing nice…don’t think nothing at all…’ and how I wish I could’ve just turned my brain off on so many occasions. A mixed up muddle of emotions, doubts, fears, frustrations has characterized more days than I care to count this year, so here I find myself, at this cross…just as I am.

‘Well God, the CROSS is supposed to be ‘THE thing’ in Christianity—the focus, the big deal, the equalizer, the point of hope, the central theme, the reason, and all other phrases that indicate something of significance and importance…so if I’m gonna get fixed, find healing, find hope…here I am…I’m waiting…’

In the mean time gnats are annoying me, it’s pretty warm outside so I’m a bit uncomfortable, I kneel to see if my posture might change my ability to hear/receive only to find myself distracted by the twigs and rocks and leaves and dirt that are now leaving their impression on my knees and shins…

‘It’s getting late Lord, I better go…a glance back with a sigh…a bit resigned and disappointed…nothing today…but I will be back (to the cross).

My time on this property included many classes, group discussions and activities, times of prayer, walks through the woods and times of worship. I went several times to ‘the cross’ hoping that something would ‘hit me.’ I walked away several times wondering…why don’t You say something…anything…or why can’t I hear You…

My last day at this property left me with a very small bit of free time between class, packing and saying goodbyes. I decided to go to the cross one more time.

My swirling thoughts took me in the direction of what I have always felt like God’s first promise to me was…be content with such things as ye have, for He hath said, I will never leave you nor forsake you…

The be content part hasn’t been easy lately. In fact, I’ve even felt at times that I’ve gotten the raw end of the deal…God promises everyone that He won’t leave them…why does He also promise others so many other things that seem to have so much earthly blessing connected…good jobs, spouses, children, nice homes, promotions, financial stability, etc. and on top of that, it actually feels like I am alone God, alone in this dark pit, far from love, far from hope, far from joy, far from light…

The cross…what happened there? What was the result? The immediate result was Jesus in the most broken state His earthly body could endure, crying out with the question of ‘Father, why have You forsaken me?’ Giving up the ghost and being shut up in a dark tomb…away from love, from joy, from hope, from light…

Why? Why did You go through all that Jesus?

So you, my child, in your dark hours, in your hours of feeling hopeless, unloved and lost would know that I have been there and I am there with you…I will NEVER leave you nor forsake you…

Paul said, That I might know You…in the power of your resurrection and the fellowship of your suffering.

I’ve most often thought I’d much rather be acquainted with the power of Jesus’ resurrection…

On that day, at the cross, a bitter sweetness, an incomprehensible peace filled my mind and my heart as I contemplated with undertones of joy, the fellowship of His suffering…an assurance of His presence in the darkest moments is really the best promise ever!

Serving with joy,
Shirley Ann Turner
OM College of Education
Psalm 84:11-12

Friend or Foe?

‘Did you feel that?’ I tried to holler back to my friend, Kotie, as we were cycling back toward home on the Great North Road. The Great North Road links Capetown in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt, running basically the entire length of the continent of Africa. We are located just a few meters off this thoroughfare. As you would imagine, traffic on this road is pretty non-stop and varied in sort from little Toyota corolla taxis to mini-buses designed to fit 15 people clearly overloaded with 20+ people on a regular basis to coach busses moving at a daredevil’s pace to massive tractor trailer trucks with pups in tow hauling copper or charcoal or any variety of goods being moved north to south or south to north to 4 x 4 personal vehicles fully equipped with luggage racks loaded with all things necessary for ‘safari and survival’ to just about anything in between. We typically limit our cycling to less than 5 km on this road and stick to the windy-up-and-down-sand trap-laden dirt roads that twist and turn through the countryside. So after about our first km on the pavement and into about the third or fourth passing of one of those massive semis my question, filled with awe and wonder, fought the burst of warm whipping air and moved through the still vacuum-like moment that makes up the draft we were experiencing to try to find its way to Kotie’s ears. Her exasperated reply was quickly returned, ‘yeah, I feel it.’

‘It’s like a calming still while this giant hand reaches out and gently yet forcible gives us a little push forward, it’s awesome…’ My heart and face both smiled as I tried to describe how much I enjoyed it when these giant trucks rumbled past. She wondered aloud at how we could both be experiencing the same thing-this being caught in the slip stream of these 18-wheelers-since her thoughts were quite the opposite. She described more of a fearful bracing of handlebars and muscles tensing to resist getting blown over or sucked into the draft of this seemingly angry giant as it noisily passed by.

I definitely saw these trucks as our friends…and she saw them most assuredly as a foe. We were literally only a few feet apart, experiencing the same sensations, sounds, motions just seconds apart from each other, yet our hearts and minds processed these experiences quite differently. It gives me pause, to wonder, is it possible for two glaringly opposite ‘truths’ to coexist, why is it like that, how often is it like that?

My thoughts drift over this year as I contemplate the experiences I have been privileged and blessed to have, yet simultaneously felt a resistance toward, a sense of sorrow, self-pity and even fear about. I’ve found myself frustrated at my own responses, as the rumbling of another disappointment or loss seemed to come from behind and reverberate through my whole being threatening to knock me down or pull me under to be flattened. I tense up and do my best to shield myself from the impending blow or I relinquish myself to the fate of being trampled by the massiveness of it all. Is it possible that in those very moments, though I was too resistant or fearful or angry or broken or weak or hurt to recognize, unperceivable to me, God’s gentle, firm, kind and loving hand reached out to guide and give me the push I needed? Did He really create a moment of still flashing by in a millisecond as He passed?

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”

Reality as far as I can understand is that both of our experiences on the Great North Road are valid. Those big trucks can do major damage to little cyclists on the side of the road. Yet, in the wake of their passing, a cyclist can also experience something that refreshes and energizes him/her.

Limited though the analogy is, I found myself considering these possibilities in relationship to God. He is HUGE, all-powerful, One to be honored, respected and obeyed, even feared in a trembling sense of wonder sort of way…and at the same time, He is the One who comes alongside to bring rest, peace, grace, and love.

How often in these past months have I allowed my experiences to paint the picture of God as my foe? Too often. Even once is too often. Although it is necessary to recognize God’s greatness and to be in awe and even tremble at the thought of Him, my eyes are just beginning to open to the reality that in the very same breath, very same moment, He is the merciful, gracious, guiding One…where I can find peace and rest, where my soul can be restored and revived for the journey…

Why Do I Climb?


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Yesterday I took some time out to physically prepare for the upcoming climb in Estes Park Colorado. I kept asking myself, why do I climb? Step after step…why do I climb? The faces of the women I have been a part of training to become teachers come to mind, the students in their classrooms, every single one, so precious. Burning lungs, wobbly legs, up the little hill…why do I climb? Thoughts of Cathey Anderson, the founder of Freedom Challenge—live big, love big, pray big prayers… you-can’t-do-it, you’re-not-strong-enough thoughts to fight with each step… WHY DO I CLIMB…

In the afternoon I went to visit one of our teachers who had been ill with Malaria for the whole week, and God gave me a very clear answer to my question…why do I climb? In the limited way I know how, I have put the answer to my question, ‘Why do I climb?’ so you can also get a glimpse of why I and so many others climb and so that you can take a few moments to join us on this journey if you so wish.

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For Idah and teachers like her! For Taonga and children like her! Wanna climb with me? Visit the website below to make their challenge our freedom:

Meet Teacher Idah and little Taonga:

In 2009, a little girl was born to a Lozi family in Zambia. Her name is Taonga, which means, ‘we are grateful.’ In a very short time, Taonga’s life took a terrible turn. At 9 months Taonga’s mother was brutally murdered by her father. All of her female parts were removed and she was left for dead, found in some bushes outside the village. Taonga’s father was a drunkard and left Taonga to fend for herself. Taonga’s aunt took her in, but she was also a drunkard and as Taonga grew up, the aunt would beat her and yell at her telling her she was cursed and that is why her mother was murdered.  As she would hit her and scream at her, she filled the little girl’s mind with images of what happened to her mom and laid all the blame on her. The beatings were so harsh that Taonga lost a significant amount of her hearing. Often Taonga would be left alone at night while the aunt went drinking and sleeping around with men. Such a broken family. When Taonga would wake up and realize she was alone she would awaken the whole village area with her cries. Our teacher Idah, whose home is about a kilometer outside the village would hear this and send an older child in her home to fetch Taonga to bring her to Idah’s home for the day.

The people in the village didn’t take a second look at Taonga, nor did her ‘family.’ Taonga had a history of taking eggs from the village chickens and taking ears of corn from the neighbors field. She was doing her best to survive and the outcome was rejection. The village saw Taonga as a thief and a trouble child and even wanted to change her name to the Lozi word, Manyando, meaning ‘troubles.’ When Teacher Idah would hear people call her this , she would quickly correct them, reminding them that her name is Taonga. Even though teacher Idah would help as she could, clearly, Taonga’s days were filled with trouble.

One day Teacher Idah went to the father of Taonga’s father and asked if she could take Taonga to live with her. He gladly gave Taonga to teacher Idah, easily wiping his hands of her. He wasn’t even able to remember Taonga’s last name to tell teacher Idah. In their conversation he said, ‘it’s Daka….no, no, now wait, maybe it’s Nkhata…no, it must be Daka…oh I don’t know, I don’t remember.’ No family member has kept a record of Taonga’s birth and the local clinic did not keep records as she is older than 5 years and their records are only kept for five years at a time. Teacher Idah has cared for Taonga now for over a year. Not a single family member has ever come to visit Taonga now that she stays with teacher Idah. This precious little girl has lost so much, her mother, her hearing, her family, even her name. In the process, through the challenges, however, there is hope.

Yesterday, when I arrived with some soup and bread for teacher Idah, Taonga came joyfully running to the car, gave Taiwan and I big hugs and tried to talk with us as best she can. She held our hands, smiled, jumped with joy, it was truly a warm welcome from a beautiful little girl. When we went inside, Taonga, as she usually does, asked if she could pray for the guests. In sounds leaving her lips that could not be understood by my ears, but I know we’re heard clearly and lovingly by our Heavenly Father, Taonga bowed her head and held her hands together in a prayerful stance. It was a precious moment for me. I couldn’t help but watch as Idah, sitting on the sofa, had drawn Taonga near her as she stood in front of her…Taonga was wrapped in teacher Idah’s loving arms, standing secure as she offered her requests to a loving Heavenly Father, His ears bent intently listening to this child who can’t hear herself.

Taonga then proceeded to sing a worship song for us at the top of her joyful lungs. To us the words were unclear, but Idah could understand, so she told us she was singing ‘Mwe Ba mushilo’ which in English is translated ‘You are HOLY.’ Taonga then excitedly showed us the colouring book she got to use each day. Each page was carefully and brightly colored and she was so proud of her work and so was I. After this, we gave Taonga an m&m cookie and she went off to play with her friend.

I rode my bicycle to Idah’s house quickly this morning to give little Taonga a new colouring book and some colouring crayons in a little Hello Kitty pencil bag. She greeted me with the same enthusiastic smile and smothered me with hugs…which I love! She was so happy about her coulouring book, she went right over to show Nana at the fire her new gift.

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A few minutes later a big grin crossed her face and she pointed to her shirt which also had a Hello Kitty emblem on it. Idah said she had found it for 5 kwacha ($0.45) and bought it for her some time ago. It was so sweet to see her excitement.

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Freedom Challenge has been a positive influence in Taonga’s story. Teacher Idah was trained at the OM College of Education with the assistance of Freedom Challenge funds. She is not teaching at Nakoli Grace Community School, which is also supported by Freedom Challenge. Taonga is attending school at the Bethesda Community School in Nakoli, a school for children with disabilities. This ministry is also supported by Freedom Challenge.

As I face challenges in this journey, I am reminded why I climb, why I pray, why I fundraise, why I make people aware of the cause of Freedom Challenge. We can all pray and believe God to reach out to those facing life’s harshness and abuse, rejection and pain…when we do, we are taking an active role of standing in the gap in our challenge—trusting God to meet us and to respond by sending another ‘teacher Idah’ to another Taonga somewhere in this broken world…

Will you climb with us? Will you face the challenge with us? Will you pray with us? Will you give so that the challenges those like Teacher Idah and Taonga face can be more overcome and they can experience FREEDOM?

When you click on the link below, you can learn more about letting your challenge be their freedom. When you give to the cause, we will be happy to send you little elephant made by teacher Idah as a thanks for journeying with us, so please email your mailing address to Thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support!

That’s me with Cathey Anderson’s visor…I will never forget the impact that woman had on my life and so many others…she was an inspiration and a joy and I want to follow in her footsteps up many more mountains until we meet again with Jesus!

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