Writing: Louie Zamperini

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I wrote this speech for an NCFCA (competitive speaking) tournament. It was such a joy to give it throughout last year’s competitive season! It’s a story that I love, so presenting it (though nerve-wracking at times) was one of the highlights of my last year of NCFCA. I wrote it the day before the tournament (not recommended). But God has grace even for procrastinators.

They were falling.

26-year-old airman Louis Zamperini braced himself for impact as the plane, Green Hornet, rolled onto its left side. The pilot wrestled with the controls, fighting to save the plane as it twisted in a deadly nosedive toward the ocean. In the last, horrible seconds before impact, Louie pulled in a final, deep breath and thought: Nobody’s going to survive this.

From the moment I first encountered Louie’s story as told in the biography Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, I was captivated. Unbroken is the story of a fiery, courageous young man who was by turns a delinquent, Olympian, airman, castaway, prisoner of war, and hero. But the most extraordinary part of his story is what happened in Louie’s heart and mind, when God saved him from an all-consuming hate more deadly than any prison camp. I hope that you will be inspired by his character and courage — but above all, his discovery that only Jesus Christ can bring forgiveness and healing to the darkest reaches of the human heart.

Born in 1917 in Olean, New York, Louis Zamperini, better known as Louie, was a firebrand from the very beginning — a wild boy who fought, smoked, and stole. Years later, he ended most of the stories from his youth with “…and then I ran like mad.

Louie was fast. Desperate to give him an outlet for his energy, his older brother Pete convinced him to join the track team. Though defiant at first, Louie soon fell in love with running and streaked through track season unbeaten, even setting a national high school record. He followed these successes by becoming, at nineteen, the youngest distance runner ever to make the Olympic team.

Though he did not win a medal in the 1936 Olympics, Louie accomplished a feat that earned him worldwide applause. According to Runner’s World, he ran the final lap of his three-mile race in the almost un-heard-of time of 56 seconds.

Louie planned to do even better at the next Olympic Games. But on December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the United States officially entered World War 2. The Olympics were canceled, and Louie enlisted as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps.

Louie joined a crew headed up by pilot Russell Phillips, whom he called ‘Phil.’ They became fast friends. Soon, they were transferred to Oahu, where they took part in several successful bombing runs.  But one day, they were assigned to the plane Green Hornet for a rescue mission. Phil protested that the plane wasn’t airworthy — in fact, its parts were often used to repair other planes. But the crew followed orders and reluctantly set off in the droning aircraft.

High over the ocean, Engine 1 suddenly died. Another engine followed, sending the plane into a leftward spiral, directly toward the water. The men braced themselves, clutching their life jackets as the Green Hornet stabbed into the ocean and blew apart.

Louie came to his senses deep underwater.

Wires coiled around his chest. He thrashed around, desperate to free himself, but blacked out as the plane bore him down. Suddenly, he awoke in total darkness. After realizing that he wasn’t dead, he reached out and found that the wires were gone. Moments later, he was gasping for breath as the surface.

He’d survived.

Out of the eleven men who had gone up in the Green Hornet, only Louie, Phil, and one other man, Mac, ever surfaced. Louie took charge and became captain of their small emergency raft.

But days turned into weeks, and no rescue came. As the men’s bodies wasted away, they tried to subsist on rainwater and the occasional fish. During the long, lonely nights, as sharks circled the raft, Louie began to pray for the first time in his life. He vowed that if God would save them, he’d serve Him forever.

On their 27th day adrift, a plane did come — but it was Japanese, and it came to kill. It passed back and forth over the raft, strafing them with bullets. But when the plane finally left, Louie found that by some miracle, despite bullet holes all around and in between them, none of the men had been hit.

Finally, on their forty-seventh day adrift, the castaways struck land. They were in the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands — they’d drifted over two thousand miles.

The men were captured by Japanese sailors. Louie was separated from the others and soon found himself at a ghastly slave camp outside Tokyo — Omori.

As the new prisoners lined up in front of the camp, a trim, powerful Japanese corporal looked them over. He zeroed in on Louie, who stood tall and straight, eyes blazing.

The man’s name was Mutushiro Watanabe, but the prisoners called him ‘The Bird.’ Of all the camp guards, they feared him the most. He could go from serenity to rage in an instant, even punishing prisoners for disobeying imaginary rules. He hunted those who resisted him with unrelenting cruelty, and as Hillenbrand puts it, “From the moment [he] locked eyes with Louie Zamperini — an inherently defiant man — no one obsessed him more.”

A mania seemed to possess the Bird. Daily, he almost beat Louie into unconsciousness. But when Louie was beaten, he got back up. When the Bird tried to knock him down, he resisted. A battle of wills had begun.

One day, Louie was ordered to lift a heavy wooden beam, about six feet long. Despite his emaciated frame, Louie managed to hoist it over his head. The Bird threatened to beat him if he lowered his arms, so Louie resolved that he would not. Five minutes passed, then ten. Everything began to swim around him, but he held on to a single thought: He cannot break me.

Finally, in frustration, the Bird knocked Louie to the ground, where he lay unconscious. But when he awoke, the other men were crouched beside him, faces lit with awe. He’d held the beam for thirty-seven minutes.

Though Louie outwardly held his ground, the Bird began to loom over him even in his dreams, and he knew that his disease-ravaged body would soon give out. He spent hours in prayer, begging God to save him, and held on to hope that the war would end before the Bird killed him.

The prisoners began to hear bombs falling at night. Whispered rumors passed though the camp that a new weapon had leveled an entire city. Finally, on August 20th, 1945, the camp commander announced that the war was over. The Allies had won.

The men went mad with joy. Louie stood still, only one thought running through his weary mind.

I’m free.

When he finally arrived back home, Louie’s family was surprised. He seemed fine, acted cheerful, and spoke briefly and calmly of the war.

But four years after the war, Louie was no hero.

The Olympic champion who had braved the war and conquered his captivity could not win the battle against himself. He was tormented by dreams of the Bird, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Rage consumed him. Loud noises made him dive for cover under tables. He became obsessed with killing the Bird, and finally satisfying his revenge. Desperate, Louie flung himself into a downward spiral, leaving his new wife, Cynthia, each night to drink himself senseless. He and Cynthia fought bitterly, and she planned a divorce.

But one night, she came home with a new light in her eyes. She’d gone to hear a young minister named Billy Graham, who was preaching in town. She told Louie that she’d been saved, and pestered him to go until, finally, he agreed.

He sat under the huge tent in sullen silence, ignoring the sermon, until Graham said something that caught his attention. “God does not stay silent while good men suffer. He speaks in creation. God works miracles one after another…He says, ‘If you suffer, I’ll give you the grace to go forward.’”

Louie shook in his seat as memories swept over him — the wires wrapped around him had vanished. Bullets had strafed their raft but left them unscathed. He’d survived the Bird’s unthinkable cruelty.

Spooked, Louie jumped up and made for the exit. But suddenly, he was back on the raft, drifting, dying, as he whispered through parched lips, “If You save me, I’ll serve you forever.” As Louie faltered back to reality, he knew that he’d made a promise. He turned toward the stage and started walking.

As he later told The Atlantic, “That night…I asked God to forgive me. While I was still on my knees, I knew there was a change. I felt a perfect peace.” Louie thought back to the war and “…the divine love [that] had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken…man that the Bird had tried to make of him. [Louie] was a new creation.”

A year later, Louie was standing inside Japan’s Sugamo Prison, where the guards who had once tortured him were now imprisoned for their crimes. The only one missing was the Bird. Puzzled, he inquired after him, and was told that the despairing corporal had committed suicide and perished miserably.

Instead of a monster gone to a fitting end, Louie saw a man, a life – irreparably lost.

At that moment, as Hillenbrand tells us, “Something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.”

His battle won, Louie went on to live a long and happy life, cherishing his wife and children, reuniting with Phil, and remaining adventurous and unstoppable until his death at age 97.

Louie battled his way through near insurmountable odds with courage, hope, and determination. The experiences he went through make him a hero in their own right. But I admire him most for his surrender — for the way his life was transformed when he finally admitted to God that he was helpless to save himself. As the Lord tells us in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Louie’s life proves that God is in the business of renewing this world, ransoming his beloved creation from our own twisted paths, and replacing our sorrow with joy.

Hillenbrand closes Unbroken’s story with a transformed and triumphant Louie.

“On January 2nd, 1998, snow sifted gently over Naoetsu, Japan. Louis Zamperini extended his hand, and in it was placed the Olympic torch. Louie began running — through the place where cages had once held him, where a black-eyed man had crawled inside him. But the cages were long gone, and so was the Bird. There was no trace of them here amid the falling snow, and the old and joyful man, running.”

I hope you enjoyed reading my (very condensed) version of Louie’s life! If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (my main source for this speech) to learn even more about what an amazing man and hero he was. Thank you for reading!

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Hello Again

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First of all, if you’re reading this – thank you. This happens to be a deeply heartfelt but inconsistently updated corner of the internet, and so I’m so glad that I finally have the chance to post again!

Life has been full. In the past few months since I last posted, I’ve graduated from high school, spent six amazing weeks as a Frontier Camp counselor (the depth of fellowship and love I experienced there defies description), traveled through England and Scotland with my family (a lifelong dream!), and am now preparing to leave for college in a week!

I’ve been savoring time with my family – snuggles with my little sisters, reading Narnia together at night, traipsing over mountains and through museums together. I’m hanging on to the little things, doing my best to internalize just how good it is to do life with my family. Sometimes my thoughts about them get bogged down in past mistakes or present frustrations. But my family is what really makes home home – and I’m glad I’ll have it to come back to.

I’ve been reading, too – more than I’ve been able to in a while. I re-read The Lord of the Rings while we were in England and almost cried (again) at its sheer, piercing beauty and grief. I just finished C. S. Lewis’ Surprised By Joy, and find myself utterly dumbfounded. It’s just so refreshing to seek out both new friends and old among my bookshelves, not worrying about reading deadlines or reluctantly passing them by because I have schoolwork to do.

All this to say that writing has, in many ways, fallen by the wayside for the past couple months. I’ve poured out a few thoughts into poem fragments or Instagram captions, longing to write more but not having the time or mental energy to do so. I have a few posts planned, though – so Lord willing I’ll be writing more regularly again!

It’s been a good summer, and I’m so grateful for it.

Again, thank you so much for reading! What were you up to this summer? Let me know in the comments!

Abundant Life

Recently, I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for Anna Berens’ blog, Conscious Dreamers. Here’s an excerpt:

“Do you ever feel like God is holding out on you? That Christianity is such a narrow way that it suffocates? Do you wonder if, somewhere out there, is a life of enjoyment and rest that God doesn’t want you to have?

I have never thought those things so bluntly or openly, but sometimes I live that way. Sometimes I feel like following Jesus is only self-denial and drudgery. I keep following, but with dragging feet and a grudging spirit, and my service and self-denial loses all its sweetness. Sometimes I forget the truth.

Jesus Christ came to bring abundant life.”

You can follow this link to read the rest of my post!

Thank you, readers, for your support! It is much appreciated. I hope to have another post up soon!

Running the Race

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It’s Olympic season. People all over the world are on the edge of their seats, watching historic events unfold as athletes push themselves to their limits in hopes of earning a gold medal. Most have spent almost their whole lives training in their sport, sacrificing leisure and comfort in the single-minded pursuit of excellence and possible glory.

It’s truly amazing to see what one person can do when they are wholly devoted to their chosen sport, bent on one purpose. Something about that single-mindedness resonates with us, stirring our souls to be more and better.

As I pondered the Olympics and wondered what it would feel like to be an Olympian athlete, it hit me – as Christians, we are called to be that single-minded in our pursuit of God’s kingdom and the righteousness of Christ.

Paul compares the Christian life to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to obtain the prize. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They do this to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

He then make it clear what our prize is in Philippians 3:13-14:

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The Olympians that win their events receive the gold medal they’ve dreamed of. But as Christians, we are called ‘further up and further in’ – to be like Christ, knowing that we will one day see Him face to face and eternally rejoice in His presence – a far greater reward that is, in the words of 1 Peter 1:3-4, “imperishable and undefiled…reserved in heaven for you.”

With this ultimate prize in mind, we are called to follow God with everything we’ve got – our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. “…Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord,” is the way Paul puts it in Romans 12:11. We are to run the race of our lives ‘so as to win,’ disciplining ourselves to obey God’s commands, persevering through trial, and sharing God’s love with all we meet.

Some days, I am filled with the passion to be like Christ above all else, to serve Him humbly in every situation, and to proclaim His glory. Some days the miles fall quickly and easily behind me.

But if you’re anything like me, sometimes your zeal for the Lord dies down and wavers. More often, I lose sight of my goal amid the weight of duties and commitments. I forget that I am called to ‘run my race with excellence’ not just on mission trips or during service projects, but also in mundane tasks like doing schoolwork or taking care of my siblings.

I settle for good enough and getting by.

I stumble in my race. Sometimes I fall.

But as Christians, we have a great Forerunner, Jesus Christ, who has experienced the same temptations and struggles as we do, yet stayed the course and completed it perfectly. He offers us grace, forgiveness and encouragement. When we stay in communion with Him through scripture, worship, and prayer, He gives us His strength and sets us on the right course. We can continue running the race.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

Onward and upward, then, for His glory!

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I’m sorry for the long gaps between posts – I absolutely love sharing my thoughts here, but life is extremely busy at the moment, and sometimes I sit down to write and the words just won’t come. I hope that you enjoyed this post, and since I have about six posts in progress, hopefully you’ll see more from me soon!

Is Fantasy Literature Worth Reading?

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In a world fraught with problems and harsh realities, does fantasy literature matter? Or is it mere escapism and time-wasting?

There are varying positions on this question, even within my own family. My mom has a hard time engaging with something that is not real. My dad and I, on the other hand, can talk about Tolkien and Lewis and their respective worlds for hours. While our love for fantasy literature has rubbed off on her, in some ways, and she’ll join in on our conversations, we’ll always think about it a little differently.

I think fantasy literature is a powerful way of telling stories that, while not ‘real’ per se, still demonstrate truth and important concepts in a way that other genres cannot. I could wax lyrical on the subject (and perhaps I will in another post, sometime), but for now, I’m excited to share with y’all a speech that my amazing sister, Catherine, wrote on this topic.

Here’s her introduction:

“‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.’ (The Hobbit) Most of us recognize these iconic lines from The Hobbit, in which J.R.R. Tolkien unveils a world very different, yet in some ways similar to our own. The Hobbit falls into the literary genre of Fantasy, one that is both praised and criticized by readers. Fantasy, like Fairy Tales, usually incorporates some magical element, but unlike Fairy Tales, the setting of the story is often in an alternative world. Because of its fictional nature, critics often dismiss tales of this genre as mere escapism, or distraction and relief from unpleasant realities.  But good Fantasy is so much more. Fantasy is worth reading because it can reveal truth, and can inspire us to live by the Truth and for the Truth.”

The rest of her speech is just as good (in fact, better – since this is only the introduction!). I encourage you to go read the rest of it here: https://creatingfantasyblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/the-power-and-purpose-of-fantasy-literature/.

My favorite quote from her speech:

“When I first read The Lord of the Rings, I was inspired by the adventures and trials of the characters, whether they were a hobbit gardener or the heir to a kingdom, because even if there was no hope of winning, at each moment they stood and fought. They fought knowing that they were protecting the places and people they loved. Stories like these always stir an ache inside me, a desire to adventure and conquer, to draw a sword and charge into the fight against the enemy, and to protect all that is good.”

I whole-heartedly agree.

I hope that you’ll enjoy reading her speech and perhaps learning something new about the value of fantasy. Hopefully, you’ll also be hearing from me again soon in another post!

Faith and Fear

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It was a dark and stormy night.

My nine-year-old self huddled in bed, trying not to hear the crashing thunder and hiding my eyes from noon-bright flashes of lightning. As the wind came whistling around our house, timbers creaked, and I felt a quick stab of dread race through me. In my mind’s eye, I could see black clouds mixing with the wind, twisting, spinning into terrible tendrils that soon touched earth and headed straight for our house. The tornadoes would destroy it and hurt us all.

I was petrified.

In reality, the storm was far from dangerous. But what could turn a summer thundershower into a life-threatening tornado that might sweep us away at any moment? What awful power could distort my mind and hold me captive, powerless?

Fear.

Mine was not a healthy fear – the sort that keeps you from jumping off buildings or putting your hand in the fire. The fear that squeezed my heart and petrified my bones was mostly irrational, and often debilitating.

It held me back from enjoying life and the adventures set before me. I was terrified of waterskiing and hesitant to embark on our family’s boat. I spent much of our family ski trips plagued by nightmares or frozen at the tops of steep slopes, afraid to move. I set the boundaries that defined my comfort zone (easy ski slopes, for example), and was afraid to cross them. Afraid to fall. Afraid to fail, or experience some mishap beyond my control.

And there’s the heart of the matter. I did not trust.

I knew that God and my family loved me. I knew of God’s providence. I didn’t want to be trapped by my own fear.

But I did not believe, truly, deep inside, that there was grace for all my failures – that when I fell, Love would catch me and set me right again.

My healing started with a verse.

My mom and I are cut from the same cloth, and she saw in me the same fear of failure that had once held her, too. So she taught me the verse she’d learned to yell while barreling down ski slopes:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

The truth and beauty of that verse seeped into my mind and heart each time we said it to one another. Relief washed over me. And slowly, my tears and frozen muscles were replaced with confidence, laughter, and adrenaline as we sped down the slopes together.

God has not given us a spirit of fear!

His Holy Spirit is with me. He has not made me to cower away from the adventures and challenges of life. He has given me the power to press on, to face my fears and overcome them. He gives me His everlasting love and renews my mind that I may know His will and trust His ways.

The Lord knows my weakness, and He supports me with His promises.

“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) 

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

“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)

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to the Lord. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I won’t say that I’m fearless, by any means. There are still moments when I pause at the top of a ski slope and wonder if I really can do it, when my heart quails at the thought of possible tragedies and trials, when I forget the height and width and depth of God’s love.

But fear does not hold me now. Nor can it keep me from enjoying the adventures, challenges, and experiences that God has set before me. For He did not leave me lamed, trapped, terrified. He helped me to grow, to begin living and internalizing the truths I already knew in my head, but that had not yet worked their way into my heart.

I can now enjoy life for the wild and wonderful journey it is. I love seeing God’s awesome display of power in thunderstorms. I eagerly look forward to our family ski trips, boating on the lake, and waterskiing. I’ve tried so many other things that I once feared (like rappelling!) and loved it!

Most of all, I hold on to the truth that I am a servant and soldier of the King, and fear has no claim on me when I am wrapped in the strength of His love.

“I called upon the Lord, and he answered me. He delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Our God is a God of deliverance.

Call out to Him. He did not leave me, and He will not leave you, trapped by your own sins and failings. His grace, compassion, and love are great enough to forgive you, change you, and make you whole.

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This has been a very personal post, but I felt the need to share one of the great things that God has done in my life. Until recently, I hadn’t realized how much of a problem fear used to be for me – and how much I have to thank God for. Internalizing the truths I knew was a lesson that I needed to learn then, and still do, in other areas of life. I look forward to continuing this journey with His help!

Thoughts from Haiti

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I just returned from a short-term mission trip to Haiti. This was my second time going to Jacob’s Well Camp in Limbè, Northern Haiti, with a team of fellow staffers from Frontier Camp. Here are my thoughts from the trip…

So. I’m back.

It’s hard to know what to say, or even what I want to say about this trip. As I sit here trying to gather my thoughts, memories and emotions flood my mind and tears prick at the corners of my eyes. It was a trying and wonderful week, so different from what I expected.

The general framework of our trip consisted of two days of work projects (or in this case, preparation for and then hosting a wedding reception!) followed by three days of VBS-style camps for the local kids (one at the Jacob’s Well campus and one at Psalm 23 Church  nearby). We wrapped up with a final day of team bonding.

This year, we faced a series of unexpected challenges to our plans.

We lost 1/3 of our team’s baggage (and didn’t get them back until the last day we were there…oh, and one bag is in Nicaragua for some reason?). We spent eight hours fixing a ruined wedding cake as the icing melted off of it in Haiti’s tropical heat. Four of us got sick (including me…more on that later). I missed our team’s group hike and excursion to the beach.

But through all these struggles, we saw God’s provision all the more abundantly. We made do with the supplies we had – and now the extra supplies (which we would have used if they weren’t lost for a week) are being used for more kids’ camps at Jacob’s Well! We actually really enjoyed fixing the wedding cake and learning the secrets of icing from the local kitchen staff. The cake was held together by the mercy of God throughout the wedding reception, and we were able to host a beautiful and memorable evening for our guests. And while I did not enjoy being sick, the Lord used those very hard days to teach me some much needed lessons.

Before I attempt to explain what I learned from this trip, however, I want to touch on a few more favorite moments from my time in Haiti.

Our first night in Haiti, we had a very long tap-tap ride to Jacob’s Well from Cap Haitien, where the airport is. The tap-tap is a flatbed truck with sides built onto it and a center bar to hang on to. It’s only about 17 miles from Cap Haitien to Jacob’s Well, but the drive took 3 hours due to high traffic, road work, and a police blockade. We were all in very high spirits, though, and I was so excited to be back. The sunset that night was captivating, and we ended up singing Christmas songs and other hymns for nearly the whole way, as we passed honking motorcycles, small concrete huts, and lush green fields dotted with cows and goats.

On Sunday, we attended the local church, Jacob’s Vision, and did our best to sing hymns in French and Creole alongside our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ. The beauty of their singing, complete with echoes and harmony, is almost unmatched, and it was a great privilege to worship with them.

For our first day of camp, I went with the mobile camp team to the VBS-style camp at Psalm 23 Church, about 2 miles away from Jacob’s Well. We waited for about two hours while each group of kids learned memory verses by chanting and clapping with their counselors. It is very encouraging to see their enthusiasm for God’s Word, and how the counselors (local Haitian believers) spend so much time making sure that they understand it. After memory verses, I helped run parachute games for rotating groups of kids. They loved counting “En, de, twa!” and using the parachute to launch a rubber pig high into the air (it actually went in a neighboring house a few times!). After activities were over, we watched the counselors act out the Bible Drama (from Moses’ story in Exodus) with great enthusiasm. After drama, a lot of the kids noticed our phones and cameras and clamored for a “foto!” Their sweet smiles and hilarious poses were very entertaining. It was so good to be back, working with them, conversing in broken Creole, and speaking the universal language of laughter.

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One other morning, most of the girls on our team went up to a hill overlooking Jacob’s Well to watch the sunrise, read Scripture, and sing a little. Haiti’s countryside is arrestingly beautiful, and it was such a sweet time of fellowship for us. It’s hard to explain, but there are few chapels more lovely than that spot on the hill, with a clear view of the sunrise, mist rising from the valley, and terraced hillsides in every direction. It’s a place that lends itself to reflection, sharing of hearts, and quietness of soul.

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That particular morning, I was actually right in the middle of my sickness, and it felt so heavenly to get up there into morning light and beauty after a long day of stomach pain and high fever in my cabin. It was hard to get up the hill in my weakened state, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

One last thing that I must mention – my team. At first, I was worried that eleven people wouldn’t be enough, after last year’s successful team of 25. But our smaller team allowed us to get to know each other better, and we had so much fun together – holding enormous toads, playing card games and Assassins, singing on the tap-tap, playing with the kids, telling jokes, and enjoying each others’ company. God helped us stay together in unity, which was something  that I had earnestly prayed for. I am so blessed to have been part of a team with them. Mr. Hans, Mrs. Autumn, Deborah, Ellie, Edie, John, Caleb, Emily, Cosette, and Kristen, thank you for being a terrific team. God blessed me through each one of you.

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And now for the hard part.

Basically, I got sick right after the first day of camp for the kids. I was in bed for most of the next two days with a fever and other issues. I haven’t felt that awful in quite some time – and it was so hard to lie in bed, hearing the kids playing and laughing outside my cabin, knowing that I wouldn’t be well enough to play with them. I felt useless – unable to do the very thing that I’d come to Haiti to do.

Sometimes I was optimistic enough to concentrate on getting better and having a good attitude. But deep in the dark of night, as I stumbled back to my cabin, I asked God, “Why?” Why did He allow me to get sick – and stay sick longer than anyone else, right in the middle of camp?

I prayed. A lot. I asked God to help me recover, to keep me patient and faithful, to show me why I was there and what I needed to learn from this.

He answered.

During one of our final Bible studies as a team, Mr. Hans touched on a point I’d heard before – but this time it struck deep.

He told us that that in America, with plenty of infrastructure, technology, and other things that make our lives comfortable and predictable, it’s easy to feel like we have so much control over our lives. We confidently say that we’ll go there and do that, without so much as a “Lord willing.”

But in Haiti, it’s much clearer how little is really under our control. The tap-tap could break down, as it often does, and you wouldn’t get to your destination. Important baggage could be lost. Sickness could strike and lay you low in the middle of camp.

That’s when I realized how much I needed to learn that lesson anew.

I was willing to give God all the other aspects of our trip – our transportation, luggage, activities – everything but my health. I’d taken it for granted that I would be there doing all the things we’d come to Haiti to do.

And when that was taken from me, albeit temporarily (thank God!) I had to actually trust that God knew what He was doing. That He didn’t need me to be there for camp. That everything is in His hands.

Including my future. Including all the decisions ahead.

Yes, I needed that.

So, this year was a different trip. I did less. But I was loved and supported by my team, by the kitchen staff (who made any number of Haitian remedies for me!), by Pastor Valcin and his wife, Betty (who run Jacob’s Well), by the local Haitian counselors, and by my Lord. I learned a lot. I laughed a lot. It was a good trip.

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Haiti is full of contrasts – crowded streets full of trash and honking motorcycles, lush green fields and terraced slopes, dark voodoo temples and painted priestesses, vibrant local churches full of singing. There’s so much work left to do, but so much that God has already done.

Jacob’s Well Camp is a big part of God’s work of transformation in the Limbè area, and I am truly grateful to have been given the chance to, yet again, participate in its mission. I hope to return next year – to once again play games with the children, hug the kitchen staffers, improve my Creole, hang on for dear life to the tap-tap, fellowship with my team, and labor alongside fellow Christians from Haiti. That little island has a big part of my heart.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my experiences in Haiti. If you are one of those amazing people who prayed for or helped finance my trip, thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping make this possible! God blessed me immensely through this trip, and He daily uses the ministry of Jacob’s Well to spread the light of the gospel in Haiti. Glory to God!

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A final piece of news – Jacob’s Well may soon begin work on a satellite campus in Port Margot, Haiti, about 2 hours away from Jacob’s Well. Please be praying for God to guide Pastor Valcin and his wife through this possible expansion, and show them how our team can be of most help next year. This is a very exciting opportunity!

Cover Reveal – Song of Leira

My friend Gillian Bronte Adams writes Christian fantasy. She’s a great author, and I consider myself fortunate to know her personally. I’ve been reading her blog for years (and she’s actually one of the people who inspired me to start a blog of my own!). Today, I get to share the epic cover of her fourth book, Song of Leira!

Song of Leira is the third book in Gillian’s Songkeeper Chronicles series. I loved the first two books, Orphan’s Song and Songkeeper. They are set in a well-realized, interesting fantasy world that feels original (no overabundance of medieval castles and feudal systems), yet familiar. The series (so far) is action-packed, gripping, and well-written, with several different viewpoints and storylines that intersect and flow smoothly. The books have hints of Christian allegory throughout, in a way that makes them redemptive  and uplifting, not trite or predictable.

One of the many things I love about the series is its emphasis on music. Music is one of the things I love most, and I really enjoyed seeing it used as a form of magic, but also as the voice of the Lord (in this case, Emhran, the Master Singer) and an echo of His creative power.

Both of the first two books, especially Songkeeper, take the reader into some dark places alongside their heroine, Birdie. However, the series balances sorrow and suffering with hope and healing, as well as a strong undercurrent of biblical truth. I would highly recommend it to readers 13 and older.

Here are Gillian’s descriptions of the first two books:

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HER SOLO IS A DEATH SENTENCE.

Deep within the world of Leira flows a melody that was sung at the beginning of time by Emhran, the Master Singer. Now it is broken, buried, forgotten. But in each generation, a Songkeeper arises to uphold the memory of the Song against those who want it silenced forever.

When Birdie first hears the Song coming from her own mouth, her world shatters. She is no longer simply an orphan but the last of a hunted people. Forced to flee for her life, she must decide whom to trust—a traveling peddler, a streetwise thief, or a mysterious creature who claims to know her past.

With enemies at her heels and war threatening to tear her homeland apart, Birdie soon discovers an overwhelming truth: the fate of Leira may hinge on one orphan’s Song.

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WAR RAVAGES LEIRA AND THE SONG HAS FALLEN SILENT.

Freed from the hold of a slave ship, Birdie, the young Songkeeper, and Ky, a street-wise thief, emerge to a world at war. Hordes of dark soldiers march across Leira, shadowed by whispers of plague and massacres, prompting Ky to return to his besieged home city in hopes of leading his fellow runners to safety.

Desperate to end the fighting, Birdie embarks on a dangerous mission into the heart of the Takhran’s fortress. Legend speaks of a mythical spring buried within and the Songkeeper who will one day unleash it to achieve victory. Everyone believes Birdie is the one, but the elusive nature of the Song and rumors of other gifted individuals lead her to doubt her role. Unleashing the spring could defeat the Takhran once and for all, but can she truly be the Songkeeper when the Song no longer answers her call?

And now, for an epic cover!

Behold:

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Wow. I’m so excited – clearly, this book has even more awesomeness in store!

Here’s what Gillian has to say about Song of Leira:

THE SONG BIDS HER RISE TO BATTLE.

Reeling from her disastrous foray into the Pit, Birdie, the young Songkeeper, retreats into the mountains. But in the war-torn north, kneeling on bloodstained battlefields to sing the souls of the dying to rest, her resolve to accept her calling is strengthened. Such evil cannot go unchallenged.

Torn between oaths to protect the Underground runners and to rescue his friend from the slave camps, Ky Huntyr enlists Birdie’s aid. Their mission to free the captives unravels the horrifying thread connecting the legendary spring, Artair’s sword, and the slave camps. But the Takhran’s schemes are already in motion. Powerful singers have arisen to lead his army—singers who can shake the earth and master the sea—and monsters rampage across the land.

As Leira falters on the verge of defeat, the Song bids her rise to battle, and the Songkeeper must answer. 

Song of Leira comes out on June 5, 2018, but is available for pre-order right now on Amazon. I’m eagerly awaiting the release (Songkeeper ends with a cliff-hanger, so beware! The wait will not be easy).

 

I hope you enjoyed learning about this amazing series (if you hadn’t already). Be on the lookout for more book reviews in the future!

Youth Group, Hope, & A Christmas Party

Tonight, I was truly, entirely, brimful of joy. I couldn’t stop smiling.

It was easy to be happy, of course – my youth group was having our Christmas party, our youth leader’s small house was full of people I love, and there was plenty of fun in store.

But I was struck, once again, by just how important times like these are.

Because it’s not always easy to be joyful. There are days when the tasks appointed for me seem too hard, the fight too long, the climb too steep. When I’m almost ready to believe that God has appointed me to a life of exhaustion and struggle.

Times like tonight, filled with easy fellowship and genuine laughter, undergirded with a strong love for Christ and each other, give me the hope I need to carry on. They tell me the truth – that I am loved, supported, and richly blessed.

Hope isn’t hard to find.

Sometimes it’s as simple as a living room crowded with teenagers, frisbees flying down the street, riotous ping-pong matches in the garage, and Christmas carols sung with the door wide open.

Hearts full of love and hands lifted in praise.

 

Tonight, tomorrow, and always in Christ, I am blessed.

Disturb Us, Lord

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“Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.”
(Attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577)

 

I’ve been thinking of this prayer a lot lately. As I prepare to leave for college next year, I have often caught myself thinking of the future with uneasiness and even dread. Yes, there’s excitement, too, but I’m finding it hard to make plans to leave when I love my life just the way it is. I love my church, friends, activities, and home, and I don’t want any of that to change.

But God is in control. Perhaps my dreams have been too small. Perhaps I have let myself cling so closely to the dear things of home that I am no longer seeking God’s best for me – trusting in them to make me feel loved and safe, when I should be finding myself in my Heavenly Father. Perhaps I am too comfortable in this world, for it is not my home.

A ship is safe in the harbor. But that’s not what ships are made for.

Perhaps I have not surrendered to God enough to trust His plans above mine.

I have been blessed with a loving family, close friends, great fellowship, and a strong church. But if I let those things take the place in my life that only God deserves, they have become idols. I must not hold on to the things I love more than I hold on to God and His plan for me.

So, I’ve been praying. Asking God to “push back the horizons of my hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

I’ve felt my excitement growing, just a little.

And though I’ve never been the kind of person that boldly leaps into the unknown or unfamiliar, I’m beginning to desire those wilder seas.

 

In what areas of your life do you need to trust God more? Do you have a story to share of a time when He called you to do something out of your comfort zone? How can I be praying for you? Let me know via the contact page or in the comments!