Fuego

Prostitution has been the main source of income for the women at Casa de Esperanza. Leaving prostitution means these women must find another way to support themselves and feed their families. So the past four days I’ve been training women how to batik fabric. And they’ve been teaching me how to put out fires. Literally.

Yesterday while melting wax, the heat burned a hole through the pot. The wax caught on fire and within seconds the flames spread beyond my control. I was panicked. Thankfully, several of the women in my class (along with Jan) were able to quench the flames. Nothing was lost that can’t be replaced and no one was hurt. And I learned a valuable lesson: water isn’t the solution to an oil-based fire.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s a primer on how to batik:

Heat candles over the stove (try not to set them on fire)

Dip tools in hot wax

Create a pattern on muslin

Soak muslin for 1 hour in dye, stirring occasionally

Rinse in clear water and hang to dry

Iron fabric between newsprint or paper towels to remove wax

Ta-da!

Marisol’s face

Marisol tugs on my hand and looks up at me with her big brown eyes asking me to hold her in my arms. I reach down to pick up her tiny frame, just six years old, and I can see the sadness on her face.

“¿Qué comiste ayer, Marisol? Estas tan pesado!”
(What did you eat yesterday? You’re so heavy!)

She giggles; the dimples frame her toothy smile. But my joke is short-lived and can’t disguise the pain behind her eyes.

Marisol came to Casa de Esperanza last year after she and her sister, Carla, were rescued from a child brothel.
Marisol was only 5 years old at that time. Carla was 7. Their aunt had sold them into prostitution.

When I look into her eyes, there is something missing. The innocence of childhood is lost.

My heart is heavy. Before this trip I knew human trafficking existed, but now it has a face. I wish I could show you Marisol’s face, but to protect her I cannot.

Prostitution is legal in Nicaragua, but child prostitution is illegal. Managua is considered one of the largest export cities for human trafficking. An estimated 60% of the trafficked women in the Western Hemisphere are Nicaraguan.

There are 139 registered brothels in Nicaragua.
There are 11 declared child brothels, but numerous clandestine brothels.

These are the harsh realities of this place, but Casa de Esperanza is a light in the darkness. It is a refuge, a family, a training center, and a home for these women, young girls, and a few young boys.

;

Sneak Peek

Still processing the first two days; when my thoughts can form a coherent sentence I promise to write a reflection. In the meantime, here are a few photos…

hanging the batiked fabric out to dry

the young girls returning from primary school

afternoon siesta in the girls dormitory

campus housing at Casa de Esperanza

Elizabeth and Hillary (wearing a dress made by our sewing team)

Hiking Through Life

En route to Nicaragua I’ve had a few hours of silence to reflect on life. And musing about the unconventional path I’ve been walking along stirred up memories from my childhood.

Its early in the morning and someone is shaking me awake. “We’re going on an adventure hike. Get dressed and come downstairs.”

We gather in the backyard, grab walking sticks, and set off into the great unknown.

We live in predictable suburbia where streets look more like the grid on my graph paper than the undulations of trails in the natural landscape, but on this adventure hike, you’d never know there were any rigid lines at all.

Dad bypasses the street blocks and suddenly we’re on a grand detour through the wilderness, venturing through culverts below the highways and weaving amongst tombstones in cemeteries or stumbling over wooden crates dying in an abandoned building.

At times I close my eyes or abandon the walking stick so I can hold more tightly to Dad’s hand, frightened by the dark, damp, and unfamiliar spaces. But I’m never in any real danger and by the time we arrive back at the house, I’m exhilarated. Exhausted, but exhilarated.

The spontaneity of Dad’s adventure hikes used to thrill me. Age has tempered that thrill of risk and uncertainty with a strong desire for structure and routine. I’d prefer to map out my own plans.

But no matter how hard I try to control it, life seldom colors within the lines of my own pretty pictures.

Right now, life looks more like a scribble than a neat and tidy picture. I can’t make out the final image.

And since I don’t know the details of what life will look like next year, my life feels like its in-flux and in-between.

I’m trying to rewind the clock far enough to recall those adventure hikes of my childhood. To remember what it felt like to follow with reckless abandon because I trusted Dad to lead me.

I’m not sure if Dad was trying to impress a lesson upon me but I’m struck by this thought:

God’s leading me on an adventure hike right now. I may not know what the next step is and I may need to hold on to His hand a bit more tightly, but what if I chose to release my control and find joy in the uncertainty?

Whirlwind

Do you ever feel like the world around you is spinning and each day is a struggle just to keep your head on straight?

So many wonderful things have happened since I returned from my latest visit to Congo, but most notably, I am engaged to be married to a wonderful man who loves me despite the ways I am often unlovely. I am eagerly planning a wedding and looking forward to being Mrs. Christopher Walker.

The other exciting news is that I’m traveling to Managua, Nicaragua today! It may seem last minute, but I’ve had it booked for over a month. I just haven’t had time to blog about it. I’m doing very similar work to what I was doing in East Africa, providing artistic training to women and children who have been rescued out of prostitution.

I am joined by a small team of teachers, artisans and medical professionals who will work with me to meet the practical and spiritual needs of the 40+ women and children currently living at House of Hope (Casa de Esperanza).

My focus is sewing instruction, fabric batiking, and jewelry making. One of the artisans joining me, a professional potter, will be building a kiln and teaching women to make beads out of local materials for their jewelry business.

Please PRAY

  • that God will shape my attitude toward the women and girls to see them as He does, precious and valued
  • that my time will be profitable to the women in both economic and spiritual growth so that they can provide for their families
  • that God will keep the team safe and healthy
  • that this whirlwind will slow down long enough for me to really enjoy the journey and be fully present in Nicaragua

More posts coming over the next few days…

Chai Tea Latte

Starbucks  may list it on the menu, but their baristas fail to serve authentic chai.

Chai originated in East Africa. In fact, the Swahili word for tea is chai.

And here, chai is more than tea, spices, sugar, and milk.

A cup of chai. A drink to nourish the soul.

The aroma of the spices wafts, “welcome home.”
Milk strengthens the sick like salve to a wound.
Warmth washes away the worries of the day.

Chai says, “be fully present”.
Never consumed alone, chai is community. Turn off the phone, ignore the distractions. Share a cup and share your heart with the company around.

Chai says,“slow down, breathe”.
Hurry only hurts the soul. Chai provides the anecdote by offering rest.

Chai says, “give thanks”.
For God’s providence in this cup. For the life you are living. For the guests you are visiting.

Tea Time
Next time you order a chai, channel its African roots.

Embrace the culture of chai. There is no such thing as a “to-go” cup because in and of itself, chai says “stay”.

Calm your spirit. Savor the moment. Drink up the blessings.

 

Worth it

This morning my alarm clock sounds different from normal. Instead of the beeping, I awake to a choir of tropical birds backed by clanging pots and a crowing rooster. The cries of a baby are the descant; the bass is sustained by a man’s deep voice singing along the path outside my window.

Sitting up in bed enveloped by a mosquito net, my soul smiles as it finally registers: I’m back in Congo.

Arriving late in the night and weary from the 42 hours en route, I must have been delusional, stumbling to bed in the darkness of a home without electricity.

Now in broad daylight using solar powered internet, I open my journal and share my heart.

Contemplating my return, I remember all the illness I suffered last time.
Is it worth it?
With increased danger due to Congo’s elections, I examine the risk.
Is it worth it?
Spending nearly equal time traveling as I will visiting, I wonder,
Is it even worth it?

But something in my gut told me to go.

So, 5 days in transit and a mere 7 days in Beni.

  • When the Mamas welcome me with smiles and songs, praising God for bringing me back, I know its worth it.
  • When I arrive at UCBC and see the look on students’ faces when they realize I have not forgotten about them, I know its worth it.
  • When Bethany and Chelsie (volunteer staff) need assistance with English courses and I can help instruct, I know its worth it.

Anselme replacing guitar strings and receiving drumsticks for the band

  • When the chapel band drummer is playing with literal sticks (as in, twigs from the forest) and I surprise him with several pairs of drum sticks, I know its worth it.
  • When Anselme shows me the worship band’s guitar with only 5 fraying strings and I’m able to exchange him for a brand new set, I know its worth it.

And even if I accomplish very little by American standards, my presence is accomplishing more than I ever imagined it could.

 

A Deeper Longing

deeper longingDo you ever have one of those days when your soul longs to be someplace else? When, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, there remains a disconnect between you and the place you are?

Maybe you’ve moved to a new house or a new city.

Maybe your ideals and values have changed and so you’re struggling to connect with a former group of friends.

Or perhaps your church is morphing and even though you’re in the same place, the body of believers is in constant flux.

Today has been one of those days where I long to be back in Congo. Although the reverse culture shock comes and goes in waves, there is one constant feeling which never seems to dissipate.

It is an unrelenting nagging which reminds me that I’m a stranger in America, this land I call home.

I wonder if this isn’t God’s nudging. A gentle whisper reaffirming that my soul was never designed to live in America. Nor was it designed to live in Africa, Argentina or Southeast Asia.

This world, as I know it, was never meant to feel like home. This land is temporary and I’m a stranger here.

I was meant for so much more. I was created with a longing to live in God’s kingdom. And only with Him will my heart finally feel satisfied because my citizenship is in Heaven.

So until that day comes, I struggle to fit in. But if I desire to see His kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven, I must figure out how to live for the sake of God’s glory whether in America or in Africa.

I must figure out how to live in the now and not yet.

The People in Your Neighborhood

Milwaukee, meet your new neighbors…

In Milwaukee, there are an estimated 1500 faces like these. The faces of Burmese refugees who have fled to the United States seeing asylum. Their country, Myanmar (Burma) has been in conflict since 1988.

Twice per month, my church opens its doors to 50 Burmese refugees and I’ve had the privilege of ministering to these faces. We’re meeting practical needs such as teaching English and instructing about transportation, home safety, banking. We’re also providing homework help and tutoring for students, activities and songs for children.

Last week after our session, one woman embraced me and with tears in her eyes, thanked me for teaching her…

What a beautiful way God is using the skills He developed within me this past year in Africa to serve others in America.

 

Purpose Driven Job

woman windowAuthenticity has become a buzzword in the business community. Authenticity is the new black.

But I’m discovering that in America, genuine authenticity is hard to find.

Part of my struggle since leaving Africa and returning to America has been discovering my mission here. What is my purpose?

How do I unite the lessons I’ve learned with the passions of my heart while residing in America?

But most of the job opportunities I’ve received over the past several weeks have left me dismayed.

▪ Dismayed because the goals and missions of many companies don’t align with my purpose and passion.
▪ Dismayed because the few companies with which I might align well don’t achieve alignment with their own stated goals and mission.
▪ Dismayed because the companies which tout authenticity don’t actually practice what they preach.

Yet amidst all the rubble, there seems to be a gem.

From the first time Performa Higher Education contacted me and began the recruiting process, they cast their vision…a meaningful mission: helping small, private colleges and universities become healthy

One way they do this is by ensuring student success. If students thrive, the university thrives. I was introduced to the four stages of student success: attraction, belonging, engagement, community.

In a similar manner to how a college might recruit a new student, Performa began wooing me. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself emerging through those same four stages.

1. Attraction

Please consider meeting us to discuss the opportunity at a quaint cafe not far from Milwaukee.

Caffiene and a convo? I can do that.

Over a hot cup of coffee, they inquired about my passions, interests, and goals. They helped me conceptualize how I could utilize those passions with Performa.

I was intrigued. Eager to see how this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Attracted enough to visit thier Green Bay office the following week.

2. Belonging

Come spend a day at our office. Join us for a workshop with innovative consultant and pioneer of residential colleges, Frank Shushok.

During introductions, I was presented as Performa’s new recruit. But rather than a bystander content to watch from the sidelines, I found myself quite vocal in the consulting sessions, brainstorming ways to translate research findings into architectural solutions.

I could see myself fitting in with Performa and providing meaningful contributions to their work.

3. Engagement

Travel with us to a job site. Observe what we do. Interact with students. Offer insight and suggest a few practical design solutions.

At a reputable college in Iowa, I was introduced not as a recruit, but as a consultant. Even more, I felt like a team member. Touring the campus and chatting leisurely with students, I listened to their stories that I might speak on their behalf to resolve some of the campus issues. My mind continued to ponder concepts which would promote the goals of this college for several days following my visit.

Fully engaged, I was ready to come on board.

4. Community

Come and work for us. Use your talents at Performa and help influence the world by impacting higher education.

Before long, I had become a case example of student success.

So in just a few days I’ll be joining Performa Higher Ed as a campus planner and designer working to enhance environments and hopefully, affect lives. Ready, set, go! 

Ideally, this opportunity might merge my two worlds (Africa/America).

And I wonder, could we at Performa provide an even greater impact by sharing our knowledge and success with higher ed institutions in the developing world?

Maybe someday we’ll help institutions in Africa. Institutions with an incredible potential to produce students who desire to be transformed and in turn, will transform the world around them. Institutions like Congo Initiative’s UCBC. Maybe someday…