Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Coming Home

So, if you've been following my blog, or maybe stalking me on facebook, you know that I've been on a bit of an adventure over the last 18 months. I have had the honour of living in Australia, Cambodia, Hawaii, Ghana and Togo all in the space of a small number of months, meeting and growing with some really beautiful people. I recently calculated that, if you stick all the flights I've been on end to end, I flew 2.62 times around the earth in 15 months, and just before Christmas, that string of flights brought me back to Montreal.

And now, I'm home.

Obviously, there's a lot I could say about how much I've grown because of the things I've experienced, how living in Africa has affected the way I live here, how I've learned so much about leadership and people and myself. And I probably should say all of it.

But some where in the midst of everything that was going on, I stopped writing. And that's kind of a big deal. For whatever reason, I stopped doing something I love. It's not that I stopped loving it... I just stopped doing it. Then a few weeks ago, I started again, finding myself with a whole pile of stuff I wanted to write about, fully inspired.

"How come it's taken you this long to post this then?"

Good question. When I stopped writing, I guess I kind of felt like I failed at something I had originally resolved to do. I think that we as people do this thing where if we feel like we've failed at something, or if we've left something for another thing, we allow that to stop us from EVER going back to it. I'm not sure if it's a pride thing, a fear of failure thing, or maybe just a thing, but I see it over and over again in my life and in the lives of other people.

This season in the church is called Lent. As a reflection of the 40 days of temptation Jesus spent in the desert before he was put to death on Good Friday, many christians give up something for the 40 days prior to Easter. I can't even tell you how many times I've heard of people starting out with a great resolve to give up facebook or to give up junk food or to take on excercising or to do other crazy things. But when they mess up, they give up.

There's something about messing up that traps us into giving up.

Giving up facebook would be a good thing (for lots of us).
Giving up junk food? A good thing.
Giving up smoke or taking on excercising or reading the bible? good things.
Writing about life and love and success and failure? A good thing.

There is something that seems to creep in with our mess-ups that convince us that when we're down, we should stay down. That when you're hurt, you're broken beyond repair.

I met someone recently who feels that she will never be able to give herself fullly in a future relationship because after reseolving to wait for her husband, a few months ago she slept with her boyfriend. They broke up shortly after, and she regrets doing it, but is now left with this thing that's telling her she's unworthy. It's consuming her and it's governing the way she thinks about herself, her future relationships, and her relationship with God. But here's the thing: She's this beautiful girl who was a beautifully pure heart, who speaks life into others, and who has a brilliant future.

I guess what I'm saying is that we get stuck in our mess-ups and it doesn't make sense. The mess-up is usually a teeny little blotch on what is a really beautiful painting. The Artist can touch it up with ease, but here's us, insisting that we scrap the whole piece.

From the Gospel of Luke:
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

This is obviously about way more that not writing for a few months. This is about how I am growing. When you mess up - and believe me, I know what that's like - you get back up and you get back into the game. You who are now is by no means determined by where you've been and what you've done and how you've messed up.

You press on. You rebuild, recommit, and jump in again. You allow yourself to be touched up and, perhaps, made more beautiful.

Here's to writing again.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Wild Ride and a Worthy Cause

Serving God is crazy. When people tell you about Jesus and ask if you want to follow him, they don't ever tell you what He Himself says following Him will actually be like. 

He actually tells us we'll have to give up everything. He says that we'll have to leave everything behind. He says that people are going to mock and persecute us, that they won't understand... He says it pretty straight up: This is going to be HARD. 

And it is. 

I've been walking out Lordship for almost a year now. That is, I've been giving God every aspect of my life: My right to being at home with my family, my right to earn money and be self-reliant, my education, my lifestyle, my friendships, my pass-times. Obviously, it's a process. And some days, it's harder than others. As I walk into the giant task of leading this outreach team, I've found it becoming more and more of a very real choice to keep going. I miss my family, I am believing for $2500 and two visas in 11 days, I keep asking God to add hours to the day so i can fit everything in.  I love what I do, but the process can be overwhelming at times. There are moments when I consider how much simpler it would be to go home.

But here's the thing:  He also says it's worth it.

In those moments where I've gone home in my heart (and there have been those moments) I come face-to-face with a man who was willing to give up everything for me. And I look at my life, and see where my pursuit of God has brought me, and I realize that there is in fact, even in the midst of crazy hard chaos, no place I'd rather be than right here, serving Him. 

My name is Natalie Richards. I am a 20-year-old missionary who grew up going to Trinity Anglican Church in Saint-Bruno. I have spent the last three months at the University of the Nations in Kona Hawaii training a team of young people in discipleship and media advocacy, readying them for a three-month mission trip to the West African nations of Ghana and Togo. 

My journey as a young missionary began one year ago when I moved to Australia to be trained in Mercy Ministries with Youth With A Mission. After ten weeks of intensive training, I went with a team to Cambodia for two months. There, I witnessed the daily struggle of extreme poverty, the ugliness of child sex trafficking, the destitution of broken families. In a slum outside the city of Phnom Penh, I met a ten-year-old boy named Som. He and I spent every day together for two weeks. He’d take me by the hand and show me around the dirty streets of his makeshift neighborhood. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, he became like a little brother to me. Som’s mum works 16-hour days in the near-by factory, earning less that two dollars a day. He has eight younger siblings, whom he takes care of as his dad drinks the days away.  On our last day with that particular ministry, I watched my little brother run after our dusty old van as we drove away. He was crying because he knew I wasn’t coming back. With tears on my face and my heart in pieces, I made a promise: I’m going to make the rest of my life about doing everything I can to change the circumstances that people, especially children, are up against in developing nations. 

Som, and all the other beautiful people I met, are the reason why three months ago, I chose to become part of Voice for the Voiceless. We use media to expose justice issues around the world. My journey has now taken me into leading a team to the beautiful continent of Africa. I am leading five media-savvy individuals into Ghana and Togo where we’ll spend a total of three months. Our vision is to produce short documentaries on HIV/Aids and on the issue of unclean water, as well as helping practically with health education seminars and the building of rainwater tanks that provide 150 people with clean water every day.  We will also spend a month in the northern region of Ghana living and helping at an orphanage that serves about 35 children and is run by one man.  Our goal is to set up a website with individual biographies of each child, that will facilitate the adoption process as there is currently no system in place. 

All in a year, my life has taken on greater purpose. I live right in the middle of a crazy adventure. I get to tell incredible stories. I get to know the most amazing people. I learn from the best, and I have the chance to make a very real, very tangible difference. I'm walking in the things i used to dream about. 

My friend Cookie said "It will cost you your life... but is there anything you'd rather die for?"  and the answer is no. Everyone gives their life to something, and I'm giving mine for this.  

"Whoever clings to his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life will find it." [Matt 10.39]

And when they do, it will be incredible. 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Greater and Greater Things

Hello everyone,

Just a general update, since i realize it's been a while since I was in touch. It's been crazy busy, but that's no excuse!

Last weekend, some of our students were told that, as they had not met the financial deadline for their lecture phase, they would be asked to leave if there was no immediate breakthrough. We immediately pulled together as a DTS and began to ask on behalf of our brothers and sisters. One of the School leaders' contacts felt to give a huge donation to three of the students who were at risk of leaving, and it was enough to pay their debts. It was nothing less than a miracle.

It's now week 8, and we're hearing on the Holy Spirit from a beautiful woman of God named Amy Sollarz. Several people have spoken out that they feel that this week will be SIGNIFICANT for  many of our students, and so I am waiting with great anticipation to see what that will look like. I'm excited.

I am doing really well considering the magnitude of the things God has set before me. The logistics of planning and leading outreach to Ghana and Togo are huge tasks, and with God's help I am taking them on. We're on our way to having our visas granted and our plane tickets purchased, and we're in the process of getting VISION for our time in west africa. I can't believe we're leaving our  home in Hawai'i in just under four weeks... It's exciting, and also sort of scary.

On a personal financial note, to be perfectly honest with you guys, I am not fully funded for outreach. By some miracle, I have enough to finish paying my rent, and I have been able to make a $500 dent in my outreach costs - praise God. I still need about $1500 in order to go on outreach. The deadline is this thursday. If you can, please give, and if you can't give, please pray.

Actually, pray anyways... :)

I am LOVING being on staff. I get to watch as my students begin to realize who they are in Christ and what that means for the world. I'm watching as they explore how they can harness the gifts God has given them in order to release them in such a way that they bring heaven to earth. I get to watch as God takes over their lives and encourage them as they grow, and all the while God is blowing my faith out of the water. He is releasing me into greater and greater things. He's stirring something up inside of me that I am getting really excited about, even though I don't know exactly what it's going to look like yet.

I'll try and be better about updating you guys on everything that's going on. Thanks a million for your interest in what's going on in my life, and for your support.

Be blessed!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Learning Leadership

The quality of your leadership hangs on what you do when those you are leading are not around.

The other day, I was taken by surprise by an afternoon off. Somehow, we had finished our classes for the day and, for maybe the first time since I got here, I was firmly on top of things. Ah, the gift of a moment to breathe. 

You know that moment when you've been slaving away through exam period, and all you've known for weeks is textbooks, tea, memory aids and cereal, and you finally finish your last exam and you're brain automatically jumps to the next one... only to realize there is no next one? You just sort of sit there.. and don't know what to do with yourself for a moment? That is basically how I felt thursday afternoon. 

I love staffing this DTS. People ask me if it's worth it - giving up everything that is known and normal to do this - and all I can think to say is that I am exactly where I was made to be. There is nothing I would rather be doing with my life at this moment. That being said, this position is more than full time. I am learning that discipling is a lifestyle, one that does not only require constant, consistent output but also a standard for yourself that calls others to a new level. So when I find a moment to myself, I usually spend it pressing in and processing everything that is going on around me. 

On Thursday afternoon, I wandered over to the organic farm on campus, thinking I'd just take a casual look around. I found my friend (and self proclaimed african brother) Jackson working on his Master's degree project on agricultural techniques that can be reproduced in developing nations. He asked me to help him out for a few moments, so I grabbed the pitchfork he pointed to and tried to help him shovel the compost without much luck. He proceeded to change my life with his words in the following fifteen minutes.

Jackson took the opportunity to show me something about what I have in my hands. "When all you have is the "wrong" tool for the job, you have to get creative" said Jackson. He taught me in his words about how leadership is really just about being willing to step out first. It's about going where you want others to follow. It's about sticking yourself out there, being real and vulnerable, and striving for right relationship no matter what. I have these gifts; not necessarily a gift of leadership or even administration, which seem really important to leadership, but I am good at encouraging and at taking copious notes. I am designed with a knack for building relationship and for pursuing people. Those are a few of the elements that God has built into me.

And in this season of my life, I get to put those elements forward into a leadership role. I get to step out, in my gifts, my weaknesses, my choices and my annointing and go ahead of individuals that i care very much about. My gifts will determine what leadership looks like. And I'm excited, because in the same way as Esther was, I have been anointed for such a time as this. I have faith for such a time as this. I have wisdom for such a time as this. I am a leader for such a time as this.