Tuesday, July 31, 2012


See that happy smile? It is the symbol of the scores and scores of amazing God stories that Anna has stored up inside her that are coming out, sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in a rapid rush.

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And it is the reason I'm not blogging much this week. She'll be gone in just a week and a half to begin her new chapter as a college student in New Orleans so I'm spending lots of time just talking to her and enjoying her while I can.

Over time, I'll start blogging more and sharing anecdotes from her trip, news about our upcoming move, family happenings, and updates on her Louisiana life, but for now, I'm concentrating on this beautiful little chick who has momentarily flown home to this mama's nest.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Anna and her team have been back from Africa for two days now. They've been sharing stories, answering questions, and beginning to process through what they saw and learned and did and how it affects the now and then the future.

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This summer was huge for Anna. I asked some of her teammates at the airport to tell me something about the trip that Anna wouldn't perhaps tell me on her own. They said that she had grown more than anyone. God did truly big and incredible things in and through her.

I asked Anna if she would give an overview of what her summer was like and what God did for my readers here at Graceland. Here's what she had to say:

In January I asked God for a word for the year. The word He gave me was Surrender. Total surrender to Him in everything. That surrender was what propelled me to go on this two month trip to Africa.

I could probably write a book about everything I saw and everything God did on this trip, but since I'm trying to keep this short I'll just share a little about how God opened my mind and heart.

Despite my many trips to Africa, I'd never had any kind of heart or passion for Africa. God definitely changed that in me.

We arrived in Kenya, our second country, and almost immediately after arriving, I started to get this weird feeling of, "I could live here." I didn't have any reason for it, that was just how it was. Then we went to an orphanage, and I met a little girl named Shayla. She was about four and had some obvious abandonment issues. We visited that orphanage twice and she clung to me each time we were there. When we had to leave the last time, I had to have a teammate pry her off me so I could get on the bus. Leaving her was the hardest thing of the trip at that point, but it was only going to get harder.

A few days later I met Maddox. Maddox is a ten-year old boy living on the streets and his story broke my heart. Nearly four weeks later I still can't get him, or Shayla, out of my head. God brought those children to me to wake me out of my too-focused mindset and show me that there are people all over the world, in all kinds of situations, that I can and should help and be broken for.

Kenya is not my Swaziland (what I mean by that is that I'm not gonna spend my whole life there, and I don't have the kind of feelings towards it that my mom does for Swaziland) but I do love it and I will live there at some point. My heart has learned to be open to God in all new ways, and in that to also be open to the world in all new ways. And not just Africa, but New Orleans too. Watch out Holy Cross, a crazy, empowered and FREED Jesus lover is about to be leashed on y'all.

See? As I said, God has done amazing things and this mama couldn't be happier.

Thank you all who have prayed for her and supported her in other ways during this journey. You are a part of what God has done and what He will continue to do through my Anna.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


What does mommy bliss look like? 

Having all my chicks back together again after two long months.

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Praise God! My girlie's home from Africa and God has done amazing things in her life and the life of her teammates. I'm bursting with joy and gratefulness. What a good, good God we have.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


As this is being posted, Anna and her fellow X-Men, and women, are still en route from Africa to America.

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Six months ago, we were all in Amsterdam together on our way home from Africa. Now she's having a layover there with her Expedition Team. They're just a little bit bigger in number than we were, but I bet they're not any louder than we were. Okay, maybe a little, but I bet no one on her team will fall over as often as Travis did.

Anyway...please keep praying for them. Pray for safety as they travel, ease as they make their transfer and go thru security, and spiritual discernment for ministry opportunities along the way.

Friday, July 27, 2012


The popcorn is made, the Swaziland Olympics Team t-shirts are on, and the telly is turned to NBC.

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Let the games begin!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Nothing makes a missionary mama smile like starting her day hearing from her far away kid. Today was one of those days. Since my daughter Anna's team is staying at a hostel in Nairobi with wifi, she was able to communicate with us.

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Anna posted this on facebook: "2+ days on a bus (with, ironically, the best sleep I've had in over a week) to get to Nairobi. Rewarded by a bacon cheeseburger, cookie dough milkshake, french fries, garlic bread and black currant soda. And yes, I'm about to do that all over again. Thank you Jesus for food."

Yes, God speaks Anna's love language.

Anna and her Expedition teammates are staying at Milimani Backpackers til tomorrow night African time. Then they'll fly out and, after a layover in Amsterdam, they'll arrive back in the States on Saturday.

Please keep on praying for them as the end of their trip is in sight. Pray for safety and ease of travel, but also pray that they'll keep on ministering to those along the way and those they are returning home to. They needed prayer during their trip but they also need us to pray for them as they start walking out what God has for them in their after-Africa life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


"God does not give us everything we want,
but He does fulfill His promises...

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leading us along the best and straightest paths to Himself."

--- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Whew! What a long, long day. Left this morning for We Will Go and just got back a bit ago.

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We helped with church group teams, worked around the We Will Go base, met with missionaries from Atlanta, visited what will be our new neighborhood library, grocery shopped at what will be our new Kroger, and ended up the night with a We Will Go Family party saying goodbye to interns finishing up their commitments and blessing three birthday people.

It was a good day full of Jesus love, prayer, worship, good food, new friends, work, laughter, and even some tears. It was a day of joyful blessings and hard realizations. It was a day ordained by God and I'm thankful that I get to be a part of it all.

And now I'm thankful that I'm putting myself in the bed and am going to sleep really well tonight.

'Night all and please pray for us as we have another day of ministry ahead of us! We want to do it all through Him and for Him.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I think, though I can't be sure, that Anna and her team have now left their ministry site in South Western Tanzania on their way to Nairobi, Kenya. I can't guarantee that, but since it took them 50 hours to get there by bus last time (when it was supposed to be nearly half that), I have a feeling they'll give themselves plenty of travel time to get to the airport. Yep, the two months is almost up and she'll be home this weekend.

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In some ways this time has seemed so very long. In other ways, it is hard to believe it is coming to an end. For her sake, I've wanted it to last a long time. I know that she's loved her team and been a part of some amazing God adventures. But for our sakes, we're glad she's heading home. We've truly missed her. Even her brother David, who at fifteen isn't given to spoutings of sentimentalism, told me over the weekend, that he's begun to miss her.

Of course, we've got to squeeze a whole lot of talking and laughing and loving into the first couple of weeks of August as she'll be moving to New Orleans two weeks after getting Stateside. Then the missing will start all over again. I'm afraid that the whole saying goodbye to my kids and dealing with their absence is something I've just got to ask God to help me deal with because, short of discovering a time machine, there's no cure. With seven kids growing up, there's just a whole lot of this in store for me in the years to come.

Okay, before I've worked myself into a good cry, let me tell you what I'd like you to pray about.

Please pray for Anna and her team as they travel. Pray they'll be safe, be blessed, and be a blessing to all those encounter.

Pray for them as they go through reverse culture shock and adjust back to life in America.

Pray for them as they look to the future and walk out the plans the Lord has for them. Some of them are going to be making huge changes. Some of them are facing hard decisions. All of them now have a different outlook than what they left with and that means a different future than maybe they had planned for themselves.

Pray for their families and friends back in the States, that they'll have grace and understanding as they welcome back Expedition members who aren't the same as when they left two months ago.

And pray that we'll help make Anna's arrival and then last two weeks in her childhood home what she needs it to be. After she leaves for college, we'll be moving to inner-city Jackson and she'll never be coming home again to our farm. Graceland will no longer be sitting on the corner of two narrow, country roads. Graceland will then be on the corner of two city streets lying in the shadow of the capitol building's golden dome.

Lots of changes, lots of happenings, lots of things to talk to the Father about.


Sunday, July 22, 2012


Today is the birthday of my beloved husband. He is now forty-seven years old. We've known each other longer than we've not known each other since we met during our college years. When I met Jim, he was a brand new Christian. He was already serious about growing in the Lord and seeking an authentic faith. He was a learner from the very beginning and was committed to not just gaining knowledge, but applying what he learned to his life.

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Yesterday, Jim chose to celebrate his birthday in a way that blessed not just him, but his kids. He fought a muddy Nerf battle with them in the morning and then took them to see a Pixar cartoon later on.

Today, he chose to celebrate his birthday in a way that blessed others outside of our family. This morning he taught his boys' Sunday School class at church and this afternoon, he lead the opening prayer at We Will Go and helped serve the meal after the worship service. He also spent time encouraging a homeless man to quit focusing on his past sins and failures and instead, just keep going hard after Jesus.

And Jim's not just speaking hollow words, he's speaking words that are real for him personally. He's not perfect. He's got his sin areas he struggles against and personal weaknesses he's still working on. He's done things he isn't proud of, things he has confessed and received forgiveness for.

But what makes him one of the strongest Christian men that I've ever known isn't that he's perfect, but that he is doing what he told Jimmy to do. He is going hard after Jesus and not letting anything stop him from being and doing what God is calling him to.

And seeing him serve his kids, his church, and the homeless, addicts, prostitutes, and hurting at We Will Go is just evidence of what's in his heart. For indeed, Jesus rules and reigns in this man's life and I'm very blessed to be sharing this life with him.

Happy Birthday, Darling! I love you so much.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Jim turns forty-seven tomorrow but since we'll be busy with church and We Will Go, we celebrated today. And how did Jim choose to celebrate? He chose to celebrate bravely....well, BRAVE, THE MOVIE themed that is.

MacLellan is a Scottish clan and so we had lots of fun planning --- and implementing --- this day.

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It started out with oatmeal for breakfast, with bagpipe music playing in the background on Spotify, followed by a muddy, wet, Nerf battle between Jim and the three little Macs.

Then it was on to see BRAVE!  Yes, we loved it.  So glad Jim took us to see it.

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And in keeping with the BRAVE and Scottish theme, Jim picked out Rumbledethump, a dish made with potatoes, cabbage, and cheese.  He also wanted bangers (sausage) and sauerkraut.  Not purely a Celtic dish, but it was still yummy.

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After supper, it was present time!  Each of the kids gave him something good to eat --- Arabic coffee with cardamon, coconut  and dark chocolate M&Ms, some Middle Eastern cookies, a dark chocolate Mounds bar, and an Arabic chocolate bar.

Even the Gammill Cousins got in on the action.

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Betsie bucked the trend.  She actually gave him a gift certificate to get the dent in his truck undented since she was the one who had put it there a few months ago.  Jim negotiated and she's going to pay to get the cd player fixed instead.

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And I gave him a Josh Garrell's cd, JACARANDA.  Plus a bowl full of yummy birthday sweetness, white chocolate bread pudding.  Well, Betsie and I actually both made it.  It was an encore performance of the dessert Jim had picked out for Father's Day.  It was good last time, and it was good this time, too.

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Which is a good thing, because my hunky hubby deserves only the good stuff for his birthday weekend.

I love you, Honey!

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Prayer isn’t a substitute for action — prayer is the source of action." --- Ann Voskamp

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As fast-paced, goal-oriented, efficiency-matters, check-list Americans, we often forget this simple but very crucial truth.

I see it time and time again in Christian circles. We gotta hurry up and say the blessing because people are getting hungry. We have to say quick sentence prayers so we can get on with the full lesson and activities that have to be squeezed into our allotted Sunday School schedule. We need to do a quick "bless this day" prayer so we aren't late getting to work or school or church. And goodness, if we're on a mission trip and we've spent a lot of money getting to where we're going to be working, we need to make the most of our time and not spend too much of it praying or worshiping.

I know.

Written like that in black and white, it seems silly.

After all, isn't supposed to be about the Lord?

Aren't we saying thanks, teaching Sunday School, going to church, and taking part in that missions trip because we love God?

Instead, all too often --- and I'm preaching to myself here, as well --- we view spending time with Him as a waste of our time, energy, and resources and get totally focused on the doing for Him. In our American view, actions speak louder than words. And in many ways, that is true.

The Bible does say that it isn't just enough to talk about love, but that we should show love with practical actions. I get that. After all, we spend several times a month at We Will Go Ministries giving out clothes, working in the food pantry, and serving meals. And every day, I strive to show my family and friends that I truly love them as I cook meals, wash their clothes, read them a book, or take a walk with them.

So most of us totally get that love has to be demonstrated to be real love.

But we have let ourselves so get wrapped up in rat-race Christianity that we've forgotten, all too often, that prayer isn't just a nice little tradition to stick somewhere into an activity. Prayer is the source and prayer is action.

Without spending time with the Lord, we are serving Him out of our own strength, out of our own intellect, out of our own wisdom, out of our own giftings. Without spending time with my Father just loving Him and letting Him love me, without asking for His help and provision, without spending time letting Him speak to me and empower me, without just getting to know Him better, then I'm never going to do the kinds of loving actions that He really wants me to do. Sure, I might stay busy doing a lot of good things, but they won't be the best things.

And I can guarantee me and you, that when we try to do it on our own strength, it just doesn't have the impact that He wants it to have. We burn out or do useless things or ineffective tasks or get self-righteous or just totally mess it up completely and end up causing a lot more harm than good. We might accomplish a lot of nice religious looking things, maybe even impress the people around us, but if our actions are not fueled by His love and His spirit, then they are just like dirty, nasty rubbish not worth much at all in the light of eternity.

It is when we feed that beggar, teach that class, counsel that addict, and comfort that mourner not out of our provision but out of God's provision that God's spirit can birth the miraculous.

It is when we speak the words we've heard Him speak to us that our words can bring life to a dying situation. It is when we pour out love that we've first received from the Father that a hard heart can be made soft. It is when we show forgiveness to our enemy because we heard God say that we were forgiven that radical restoration can occur.

And it isn't just that prayer equips us to do service, to act, to move, it is that prayer is service, prayer is action, prayer is movement.

When teams visit We Will Go in downtown Jackson, we spend a good bit of the time upon their arrival singing songs of praise, reading the scripture, sharing testimony, and praying. We might do that 30 minutes, an hour, even two hours. And sometimes those groups may only have a couple of hours to serve with us. It is easy, even for us who are part of the We Will Go ministry, to get anxious. We can so easily start looking at our cell phone's clocks and thinking "we need to get on with this so they can get the stuff done that they came to do". But prayer is doing.

It is loving the Lord --- and if that's not an action, I don't know what is --- but it is also serving our neighborhood.

As we pray and sing songs of worship, the spiritual atmosphere of that community is changed. At the name of Jesus, demons have to flee. As we exalt Him as King above all of the princes and principalities of darkness, the darkness is pushed back in the spirit world. For the Bible tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but we too often forget that. Yes, we need to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those in prison. Jesus told us to do those things. But we mustn't ever forget that the time we spend in prayer and worship is just as vital.

After all, to go back to Jesus, He knew that He needed time with His Father to be ready for the task set before Him. He often retreated to private places to spend time with His Father. And as He prepared for the cross, He went to the garden and spent time being strengthened for the torture that was to come.

And let me tell you, if Jesus, who was fully human yet fully God, needed to spend time with the Father, then you and I need to spend time with the Father.

Our American culture of efficiency and hard work has accomplished some great things. We are one of the strongest economies in the world and we are leaders in technological and scientific developments. We're known for our get-it-done attitude and this has its place.

But we mustn't ever lose sight of the fact that our relationship with the Lord and our relationship with those He sends our way don't need to have the same principles applied as a Fortune 500 company or successful restaurant. When I worked at Chick-fil-a as a teenager, our goal during the lunch and supper hours was to get a customer their food to them within one minute of taking their order. We were to be friendly, fast, and accurate. We needed to move them in and out as politely but as quickly as possible. After all, we were a fast food restaurant and customers want their food fast in that setting.

But at We Will Go, we're not a fast food restaurant. It isn't about getting their food to them as fast as possible and getting them off our porch and on their way. It is about relationship.

When a hungry neighbor or homeless person knocks on our door, we could grab a bag, shove it in their hands, and with a smile wish them a "blessed day", but that's not why we are there. We are there to share God with them. We are there to love them as people, not as customers.

So when someone knocks on our door and says they are hungry and ask for a snack pack, yes, we usually give them one. But unlike a profitable fast food restaurant, our goal isn't to get them the food in less than a minute. We sit down with them, we ask them about their life, we find out --- if possible --- where they stand with God, and we pray for them. Even on our day when we're focused on handing out lots of food bags, we have started scheduling them so we have at least fifteen minutes of time with each person. And if they arrive on a day when it isn't a scheduled food-handout day, we still take the time to sit down, talk to them, and pray with them.

Yes, sometimes that means we are interrupted from doing very important things. Yes, sometimes the missionaries even run late getting to appointments or maybe they don't finish a task they had started.

But I think we all could learn something from our African brothers and sisters. They know that people are more important than schedules. That can be terribly frustrating for us Americans who probably should change the pledge to "I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of On-timeness for which it stands".

I'm, not saying that schedules aren't important, that efficiency doesn't have its place, and that organization isn't a good thing, but those things should always, always, always take second place to what the Spirit of God wants to do in a situation or a person's life, and we can only really know what that is if we have spent plenty of time with our Lord.

Prayer time is not a waste of time. Prayer time means that we don't waste the time, the precious, limited time that the Lord has ordained for us here on this earth to accomplish His eternal purposes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


While Anna's team in Tanzania is finishing up their last few days before heading back to the States, my sister-in-law and her husband are starting the last part of their trip. They spent their first week in Kenya at an orphan ministry, The Challenge Farm, before heading to a pastor training center. Deidra has this to say as she reflects on what she's experienced so far:

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This is Africa --- By Deidra MacLellan Gammill

Earlier this week, I lay looking up at a night sky that was as unfamiliar yet as breathtaking to me as the landscape of this new country. It was as if the Almighty had taken handfuls of silver, crystal, and ice and scattered them across a boundless sea of inky darkness. Familiar Orion was missing but in his place the Milky Way, wrapping twin celestial arms around constellations I could not name.

Perhaps I caught a glimpse of the majesty that must have inspired the words, "O Lord my God. When I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. And there proclaim, My God, how great Thou art."

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I have spent much of my first week in Kenya in varying states of awe and wonder. The beauty of the land is immense. As Mount Elgon rises from the morning mist, more bird species than I've seen outside an aviary flit and swoop around the porch where we sit, drinking coffee, soaking in the kind of tranquility that can't be bottled, prescribed, or purchased. It is simply a gift from God. There is a heartbeat thrumming from somewhere deep inside this land; if you are still, you can almost feel it. According to Biblical history, God populated Africa first. Perhaps the richness here is what remains of Eden.

My first day in Kenya was full of extremes; juxtaposed images of beauty and poverty that left me unsettled. In many ways that hasn't changed, but my perspective has shifted in unexpected ways and I find that I am unable to look at anything with my former eyes. I have seen that there are beautiful sides to Kenyan villages and towns, just as there are slums and trash piles, and that beauty can be found in unexpected forms. In a Kenyan town, a piece of trash may be dropped. There is no department of public sanitation to come and take it away, so there it sits. In America, a piece of trash is dropped in a plastic can and taken away to be dumped in the earth or in the ocean. The result is the same; in America I just don't have to live with the trash I produce. I walk through the girl's dormitory here and see a home, a place that provides safety from the terrors of the streets, warmth, security, and a place to call home. In America, I would look at this building with critical eyes; I would focus on the holes in the walls, the peeling paint, the uneven floors. But here, I find it a place of beauty, a place I am honored to be invited to enter. I've not felt such honor anywhere else.

While cleaning and kitchen work are chores I gladly avoid at home, I've sought out opportunities to do them here, much to the surprise of the Kenyans (and even myself). I may not know a great deal about Kenyan culture, but some kinds of work aren't defined by borders. Emily, one of the teachers at Challenge Farm, was scrubbing sinks Saturday morning before the big party. These three sinks are set in concrete and are situated outside the dining hall. Three times a day, dishes and spoons for about 125 children are washed here, in cold water. The ground all around the sinks is red, Kenyan soil. I asked if I could help. She put her hands on her hips and looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "You'll get dirty," she says. "I'll wash," says I. And so began a really pleasant, rather muddy (for inexperienced me) hour. We talked of the children, the classrooms, her family. I learned that her husband is also a teacher, but he works far away in another town. They do not see one another often because travel is expensive. Her mother helps her with their two children, aged 7 and 18 months. This is just how it must be. Jobs are difficult to find. This is Africa.

Later that evening, after the festivities, I happened upon Mary who was cleaning beans in a large outside sieve for the evening meal and began helping her. After some time, she carried a bucket full into the kitchen where she poured them on a stone counter. The kitchen was warm but filled with other girls, laughing and chatting, mostly in Swahili. Some where chopping greens, others tending the ugali, cooking on the stoves. Mary and I began the final inspection of the beans before they were cooked. It was an peaceful time, working quietly with the girls before dinner. Then Elizabeth began singing "God will make a way, where there seems to be no way, He works in ways, we cannot see, He will make a way for me." A lump formed in my throat as this a powerful testimony coming from the lips of a girl living at Challenge Farm. Then Mary began softly singing "Here I Am to Worship" and for inexplicable reasons, as I am a terrible singer and self-conscious to boot, I felt free to quietly join in.

How it is that my heart is to serve and yet I feel that I am the one who is being constantly served I cannot fully explain. Perhaps this is part of what it means to be in Africa. I only know that I have more questions now than answers; I question my God constantly, seeking to understand His purposes in bringing me here. There has been nothing of what I planned or imagined. Everything has been more vivid, more stirring, more painful, more extreme. For an English teacher, this experience has been the greatest oxymoron- exquisite agony.

Today is my last day at Challenge Farm. Tomorrow we leave for KMTI (Kenya Ministry Training Institute), the leg of our journey that is more for Michael than for me. I will teach my last class; I never worked to teach teachers as I thought I would, rather I had the unique privilege of teaching English and Christian Education to a group of level 7 students on several occasions. I will meet once more with the Challenge Farm teachers to collect the last of their articles and to take pictures; God has allowed me the opportunity to help them realize a dream- creating a school magazine. I'll work on putting together the first issue while we are at KMTI and bring it to them (Lord willing) before we return to the states. Today I'll spend my last few hours playing with the children and holding little Brittney in my lap. Saying good-bye to her is perhaps the hardest part of the whole day. I cannot explain, even to myself, the love I have for this child. There are many precious children here, and I have loved my time and my laughter with them. I thank God for the gift of meeting them and the richness they have brought to my life, and I am already fervently praying that He will allow me to return to Kenya, soon. Yet, this one child, this one precious child, has taken hold of me. I weep as I write this, knowing that somehow it's all part of God's big inexplicable, wonderful plan for our lives. Michael told me last night ( as I was weeping) that God was showing me just a glimpse of how much He loves each one of these children.

As has always been, I do not know what tomorrow holds. Only now, I see that I do not know. I see beauty in what I would have once scorned, and I feel a pain and joy that are so tightly interwoven that I do not know if one could exist without the other. Perhaps I am getting just a small glimpse of our Father's love for His people. This is Africa.

To read more of Deidra's writings, visit her blog: http://30daysofgracechallange.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Please keep praying for Anna and her ministry team in Tanzania and for my sister-in-law Deidra and her husband Michael who are on a mission trip in Kenya. They all have about a week left in Africa before heading back to the States and I know they want to use these last few days fully for the Lord and those He has sent them to love.

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"I don't know what your destiny will be,
 but one thing I know:
the only ones among you who will be really happy
 are those who will have sought and found how to serve."

Albert Schweitzer

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


One of my favorite bloggers, Jeff Goins, has written a brand new book --- his first --- that I'm really looking forward to reading.

Jeff lives with his Mrs. and their baby boy in the Nashville area. I had the chance to first get to know Jeff when he came down to our church a few years back and spent the weekend teaching our youth and leaders about serving the least and the lost. It was during Jeff's time here, that we first served at We Will Go. Jeff is on staff with Adventures in Missions and spends a lot of his time encouraging people to live beyond the ordinary, to allow God to wreck their lives for His glory and the good of them and the ones He wants them to serve.

Jeff's book is described this way at his website:

"Wrecked is a book about the life we’re afraid to live — one full of radical sacrifice and selfless service. It’s a look at how we discover fulfillment in the least likely of places.

This is a guide to growing up and learning to live in the tension between the next adventure and our daily commitments.

We all need to be wrecked, to allow the pain of a broken world to slam into our comfortable lives—and let it change us. But that’s just the beginning.

Wrecked is a journey of unbecoming, covering the stories of people whose lives have been turned upside-down in the best way possible—and what they decided to do afterwards.

Jeff Goins leads the charge, sharing the experiences of missionaries, storytellers, and entrepreneurs whose lives have been beautifully ruined by a larger purpose."

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Just reading the description gets me fired up!  Because believe me, I have often felt like the book's cover tortoise more than once over the last few years.

Visit his website for more details, and listen, if you sign up at his blog for updates, he'll actually send you the first fifth of the book for free. That should help hold you over til you can actually get your hands on it. 'Cause believe me, as someone who knows Jeff personally and has been reading his writings for over four years now, you're gonna want this book.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Today I give thanks for all the volunteers who come to We Will Go and bless us and the ministry as they cut grass, sort socks, paint walls, wash floors, rake leaves, serve meals, organize supplies, pack snack packs, and plant gardens. Your service is vital to us as we seek to serve the Lord and His precious least and lost ones in downtown Jackson.

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A good many are kept out of the service of Christ, deprived of the luxury of working for God, because they are trying to do some great thing. Let us be willing to do little things. And let us remember that nothing is small in which God is the source. --- D.L. Moody

Thanks to each of you who is willing to do the "little things" so that that the ministry can achieve "great things" for God's Kingdom. For truly, those "little things" aren't really so little after all.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


My husband's sister is in Kenya for the first time ever on a mission trip. She has shared about the ministry she and her husband are working with this month on her blog. It was so powerful, I wanted to share it here at Graceland.

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Extreme Grace in Kenya: Challenge Farm
Deidra Gammill
July 15, 2012

"As the morning sun begins her ascent, dividing the mist from the darkness and offering the conductor’s tap for a symphony of bird calls, another sound gently floats across the Kenyan landscape, sweeter than the birdsong, warmer than the sun. This melody emits from a ring of rich purple and brown hues gathered to greet the day and give thanks to God for blessings received and blessings yet to come. A circle of children, heads held high, dressed in uniforms of soft lavender, royal blue and deep purple that speaks of their regal African heritage, sing the Kenyan national anthem as their flag is raised, then encourage one another to cast their burdens, onto Jesus, for He cares, for them. One of the teachers praises the children for their cooperation during the week, for their hard work and diligence in their studies, and then calls them to good stewardship of their time and talents during the approaching weekend. The headmaster, his wise eyes tender with compassion, greets his charges and receives an enthusiastic and respectful “Good morning, sir” in response. He gently reminds them that two new children have joined their family and admonishes the group to embrace and look after these girls. After prayer, students are dismissed to class and the day, still early and wet with dew, begins. Excepting the name, there is little to indicate that Challenge Farm is anything other than an ordinary boarding school.

But there is nothing ordinary about Challenge Farm or the children who call it home. These are children who have come from the Kipsongo slum on the outskirts of Kitale. Their parents, if they have any, have come to Kitale to escape the war and famine further north in Lodwar and have set up residence in makeshift homes made of cardboard and rusted tin, with remnants of paper, rags and trash stuffed in openings to keep out the wind and rain. Unemployment rates are as high as 80% in Kenya, which means business is slow for those who beg for a living. Idle hours are filled with the oldest form of recreation, resulting in a booming population for this area of Kenya.

The newest citizens of the Kipsongo slum are the youngest and most vulnerable. Children as young as four roam the streets, begging for food and selling their small bodies for a few shillings. Kenya, like most African nations, lives under the shadow of AIDS, and superstitions still permeate much of the culture. One such belief is that an HIV-positive man can free himself of the disease by having sex with a virgin, so the demand for younger and younger prostitutes grows, as does the number of little girls who fall victim to rape at the hands of HIV-positive family members. So whether they are forced to beg and sell themselves on the streets in order to survive or because their families demand it of them, children of the Kipsongo slum are victims of unimaginable abuse and neglect. Most seek relief through forms of drug abuse, the most common being glue sniffing. Whiffs of shoe leather glue deaden their senses, numbing them to the cold, the hunger, the pain.

To an observer, Challenge Farm seems like an ordinary school. If you looked closely, it might even begin to look like an orphanage. Spending the day with the children would only convince you that this was an excellent school with superior students, challenged by caring teachers who have high but appropriate expectations for their students. And if you were to spend another day at Challenge Farm, you would observe the children working industriously, washing their own clothes, tending to the garden, washing their classroom floors, spending time in prayers at the chapel, and of course, playing football (Kenya’s national sport). You might see a child not dressed in the traditional purple uniform, playing while other students were in class, but even that would not surprise you because the child would not be alone. What you would not see would be signs of self-pity, bitterness, or rejection.

Challenge Farm offers these children a refuge, a sanctuary where they can learn to be children, learn to trust, and learn to receive love. It functions as a school, an orphanage, a working farm, and a thriving community. It is a family to those who have no family. But while the distance in miles from the Kipsongo slum to Challenge Farm is not far in miles, the journey is not an easy one for the children or the staff who accompany them. Challenge Farm was named so for good reason.

Short-term mission teams from America and elsewhere come to Kitale and perform street ministry, bringing children from the Kipsongo slum to Challenge Farm, offering them food, baths, clean clothes, and the opportunity to be children for a day. In this way, the children of the Kipsongo slum come to know Challenge Farm through experience and reputation as a place of warmth and safety, provision and fun. At other times, when a child is brought to the Farm to stay, either by the police, another adult, or by his or her own volition, a process begins that can take months to complete and is different for every child. Residency at Challenge Farm is voluntary, no child is ever forced to stay; however, no child is ever given up on easily. Those who run away and return to the streets are sought after again and again by the staff. The challenge for the child becomes trying to outrun the love freely offered, much as mankind can run from God but He never stops offering His love and provision. The gates of Challenge Farm are never shut to children in need.

Children of the Kipsongo slum become sexually active at a very young age, many by the age of four or five. For some, they are simply imitating the adults who openly engage in sexual acts on the street, without regard for privacy. Others have been forced into prostitution either for their own survival or by family members seeking money. Still others are raped, most by men with HIV seeking a non-existent cure. By necessity, children who come to Challenge Farm must first be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and treated. Most come addicted to drugs as well; the most common being glue. The staff at Challenge Farm uses natural remedies to combat the withdrawal symptoms: sugar cane, black sugar, and strong tea with lots of tea leaves are administered regularly and liberally as their small bodies slowly adjust to new diets and begin to be cleansed of the toxins that have poisoned them.

For all the physical damage these children’s bodies have endured, it is the emotional and spiritual wounds that present the greatest challenge these little ones must surmount. Before a child can be fully assimilated into the Challenge Farm community, he or she must undergo a healing process that is unique to each individual. There are general parameters that define the process each time, but the social workers and caretakers tailor their responses to the needs of each child. For some, like a five-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her HIV positive step-father, this meant that the entire staff of the school was mindful of the child’s fear of men and worked with delicacy and sensitivity to earn her trust over the course of a year. It was not just the social workers who were careful with this child; the entire staff of the school, the orphanage, and the farm worked to make sure this child could heal.

A child who comes to Challenge Farm is treated as a gift from God, and as such, is afforded the time and grace our Heavenly Father shows His children as they struggle to overcome sin and doubt in their own lives. This particular grace is one characteristic that sets Challenge Farm apart from other ministries that are similar; it is also, I believe, the driving force behind the tremendous success rate Challenge Farm has with their children, not just success in rescuing children from lives of poverty and abuse, but in raising young men and women to love God and to believe that they were made for a purpose; that God has a plan for their lives.

The initial process of healing and rehabilitation usually takes most children approximately three to six months, but those who work at Challenge Farm recognize that most children will need months and even years of continued prayer, counseling, and loving support as they heal. The rules and procedures of Challenge Farm are gradually introduced, and infractions are met with grace and counseling. The staff recognize that street children have spent a lifetime, no matter how short, surviving on their own; conforming to the rules of a family, of a community does not come easily or naturally to them. Again, this approach reflects the grace of God rather than a more traditional school and institutional form of rules and regulations.

As a new child at Challenge Farm begins to heal physically, the social workers begin the work of spiritual and emotional healing. Children are not forced to share their stories until they are ready; sometimes the staff knows that a child belongs to a particular family and alerts them that the child is at Challenge Farm; other times the child is an orphan or does not identify his or her family until after having been there for many weeks. A new child is never left alone. An adult caretaker is assigned to each child, as well as an older child who acts as a friend and mentor. The children are involved in activities and kept busy; idleness often contributes to a return to the streets since the process of learning to trust and drug rehabilitation is very difficult. Emma, one of the two social workers at Challenge Farm, shared that children are encouraged to share their experiences and receive counseling, but they are also prayed with and prayed for – there is a tremendous need for these children to be delivered from low self-esteem, bitterness, anger, and rejection after having experienced abuse and degradation at the hands of their families and community members. Any member of the Challenge Farm staff will affirm that it is the power of God that transforms these children, His power that comes through prayer, grace and love.

As an American, observing Challenge Farm for the first time, not knowing the horrors these children had endured before coming here, I was not surprised by the smiles and warmth I enjoyed from the children as I explored their campus. I knew from reputation that Kenyans were a warm and gracious people. After my interview with Emma, I found that I could not look at each child with the same perspective. Their smiles, their willingness to meet my eyes without resentment, animosity or distrust, stirred something deep inside my being because I knew that I was looking into the eyes of children who had been touched by Christ and were radiating His love and peace, not a facade dependent on therapy or drugs or a persona hiding the real child, fearful of being hurt again.

There is no secular explanation for the change these children undergo; the redemptive power of the Lord Jesus Christ is evident in the smiles of these children. Had I known their stories before coming here, I might have looked for evidence that something was amiss in their hearts, that something was not genuine in their smiles and laughter. But in fact, a guest visiting Challenge Farm who has no knowledge that the farm is anything other than a typical boarding school would have no reason to think otherwise; the children are genuinely loving and friendly; they take time to greet newcomers, looking them in the eye, shaking hands, warmly welcoming them to their home. The spirit of community and love is evident to anyone who observes for even a short time; the children can be seen carrying one another’s burdens, helping each other with chores, singing as they skip to class, and smiling broadly, without guile, as the go from class to class. They are truly children. They are not perfect, and they have hurts and misunderstandings just as all children do. But there is not the spirit of fear and rejection that accompanies the abused and neglected here. These children could not be poster children for a television ad. They have physical needs, just as all orphans all countries do. But they are not haunted by their pasts. They have a future and a hope. They know that the Lord has a plan and purpose for each of their lives.

In my short time here, I have found Kenya to be a land of extremes; it is a land of unparalleled beauty and fierce dangers; lush, tropical vegetation and barren deserts; majestic elephants and lethal mambas; the regal Maasai warriors and the deadly shadow of AIDS. Challenge Farm is also a place of extremes. Extreme love. Extreme grace. Extreme miracles. The teachers and staff members of this place are blessed with a grace and strength from God that is necessary to reach and help the children of the Kipsongo slum. The difference in these children is also extreme; how a boy addicted to glue, who had only known hunger and begging his entire life, could come to know the saving power of Christ and the realization of God’s purpose for His life, a child who should have ended up in prison or dead but is now studying at the university, is a miracle. Knowing that this miracle happens day after day, year after year, child after child is a testimony to the grace and faithfulness of our Lord and His servants at Challenge Farm.

Before I came to Kenya, I asked the Lord to change my heart. I didn't know this change would mean a break so complete that only He could mend it or replace it. As someone who has spent a lifetime battling demons of rejection and anger, I find that I can no longer accept them in my life. Not because I have not endured the horrors these precious children have endured, and therefore, by comparison, I have no right to feel these things. No, my intolerance now stems from a broken heart, broken with the realization that I have spent so many years not allowing Christ to complete the work He began in me. These children are free in ways I have never been because they have accepted that they cannot do it on their own; they know where they have been and from what they have been saved. From the depths of their extreme poverty they have embraced extreme grace. I pray that God give me new eyes to see my own poverty so that I might never again be so foolish as to believe that I am able to save myself; may we all embrace the extreme grace and mercy He so freely extends all His children."

To read more about Deidra and Michael's ministry trip, visit her blog:   http://30daysofgracechallange.blogspot.com/

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Anna's team is now serving in Tanzania, but just before they left Kenya, her teammate Rebecca Gonzalez wrote this blog post:

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We have about 18 days left until we're all home again. 18. I don't know how I feel about that.

Don't get me wrong --I can't wait to once again meet up with hamburgers, ice cream, hot showers and my family and friends. And I know that is the consensus of the team. But at the same time, I've lived my whole life dreaming of holding African babies, helping them for the sake of my Savior, and this place has offered so much more than that. There has not been one day here that hasn't taught me something, humbled me, poured into me and/or allowed me to step out in boldness and minister to someone else.

I held a tiny, sick baby in a hospital and prayed for him...though tiny, his life felt so heavy as I lifted it up to Jesus. I held the hands of smiling street kids as we walked them to the church for some fun and a meal. I spoke truth to people in tough situations, and when I was attacked I had truth graciously poured into me. I painted the nails of my little friends Faith and Lucy in our blanket-fort. I talked to their father, a great man of God, about how wonderful and good it was for God to make us human...he could have made us goats! I had my hair braided by our pastor's daughter. Africa -- Uganda and Kenya -- have been awesome to me. God has done AMAZING things here, and we're only just leaving our second country.

With that perspective, I know He could do SO MUCH MORE...but is there time? As much as I love home, I'm haunted with the count-down. I want to do more, be used more, to learn more, step out more, know people more, be known more and grow more -- and there is such little time! But I'm grateful for this knowledge. God uses it to teach me the reality of my situation and really, the reality of life here on earth.

I'm reminded that, first, to God a thousand years is as a day, and a day as a thousand years. He has done more than I could fathom in a month and a half...what more can he do in our last (about) 3 weeks! I am excited to see all that is still to come, and how the effects of this trip will carry on long after we leave African soil. But, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I'm reminded that we do have a limited time. That should not paralyze us; on the contrary, that should make us move, and move fast. If we want to grow here, we must step out more. If we want to be used, we must step up more. As a friend from the World Race in Uganda said "When you leave a country, you never regret the days you got out and did something, but you do regret the days you hung out in your room." As excited as I will definitely be when I am home with my family, I have a little time left here, and because of God's grace it will not be squandered. But God reminds me, this is not just an "I'm in Africa" mindset. The truth is, we have a very limited time on this earth, and as sweet as it will be when we get Home to our Father, what are we doing right now? Are we touching people's lives? Are we growing and learning? Are we letting people in? Because we're leaving soon...

A big price was paid for me to come here to Africa, and I will not waste that. I will be present and use every minute. :) But a bigger one was paid for our lives here on this earth. Let it not be wasted. I'm excited about all God is doing, all He still will do. Pray that absolutely no time here is squandered. We leave for Tanzania tonight. Also pray for safe travels and sweet ministry in our last country! Love you all and thank you for ALL the support!

To read more blog posts by Anna's teammates, visit their website:   http://expedition.adventures.org

Friday, July 13, 2012


"Reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me.

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The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet."

Thomas Merton

Photo taken in New Orleans, Louisiana, on July 11, 2012.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Yesterday, I left you hanging with not much to go on.  But after a quick day trip involving a good deal of driving, I was too tired for much blogging.  But today's another day, with plenty of sleep and plenty of chocolate.

So what did we do yesterday?  We went to my favorite American city, New Orleans!

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We drove down to pick out Anna's apartment and pay the deposit, but who can go to the Big Easy and just pick out an apartment and pay a deposit?  Not us!

Jim and I grabbed the opportunity to make it into a fun get-away date.  After we got the housing situation settled, we headed to Mother's Restaurant featured on MAN VERSUS FOOD.

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We did actually look at the menu, but we both quickly decided that we wanted to try their famous po-boy, The Ferdi, that MVF's Adam Richman raved about. I actually had some Swiss cheese to mine which made it become a Ralph po-boy.

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The po-boys feature their famous baked ham along with roast beef, "debris" and gravy, shredded cabbage, pickles, mayo, creole and yellow mustard. And what is "debris"?

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It is the bits and pieces of roast beef that fall into the gravy while the meat cooks.  It is really tender and adds to the moist yummyness of the sammie.  Besides the delish po-boys, we also had bread pudding.  Yeah, bread pudding was our side dish.

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And as you can see from the photo below, it was all plate-cleaning worthy. 

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We got rained on and had to deal with trying to figure out the parking situation, but as you can tell by my happy face, it was worth it.  And by the way, if you go to Mother's, there is on the street parking that just costs a couple of bucks.  Much cheaper than the parking lots which charge about 7 times that much.  Believe me, we know.  Yeah, we know now after the fact.  But as I said, it was worth it.  And we did take advantage of having plenty of paid parking time left over after the meal to walk around a bit.  New Orleans really is a wonderful city to explore.

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After our wet walk, it was dessert time!  You might be asking about that bread pudding.  Don't you remember?  I said that we had that for our side.  We still wanted our sweet ending for our Crescent City afternoon so the hunky husband, fabulous man that he is, all on his own decided we needed to go to Blue Frog Chocolates.  He had taken me there for the first time when we were in New Orleans for Valentine's Day.  We loved it then and we loved it this time.

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We got the kids some chocolate rocks; a blue frog for Betsie who had been taking care of her siblings back home; peppery chocolate bits, espresso truffles, and Zapp's Cajun CrawTaters dipped in dark chocolate for us love birds.

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And with Jim's coffee added to the mix, we were set to road trip back home. I don't ever like having to leave New Orleans, but at least we had some goodness to make the parting a little easier.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Besides getting rained on and my big Southern hair flattened, that is.

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Well, I'm afraid the answer along with details and more pics will have to wait til tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm going to sleep one happy and well-fed mama.  Hope you are, too.  Unless you aren't a mama.  If you're a guy, that would just be awkward.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Would you join with me in praying about some things?

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The Sims Family: They are a family we know through We Will Go. They are currently attending Iris School of Ministry in Mozambique. Pray for them as they continue to adjust to the culture and being so far from home, take in what all the Lord wants them to learn, and seek His will for life after Africa.

The sale of our home: As most of you know, we have a family that wants to buy our home. We are in the process now of working out all the details. Would you pray that it goes smoothly for all involved? We are eager to be at We Will Go full-time but we also want to do things right for the buyers. They are lovely people.

The sale of the Hamilton's home: The Hamiltons are another family moving to serve at We Will Go. Their home is also for sale. Would you pray that God will send buyers and in the meantime, that they will have perfect peace knowing they can trust their God and His timing?

Anna's team: As I mentioned in a previous post, Anna's team will be leaving Kenya on Wednesday and will travel for about 30 hours via bus to Tanzania where they will spend their last couple of weeks in Africa. Please pray for safety but also pray that their hearts will be prepared as they face many unknowns.

Anna's New Orleans home: We will be picking out and paying the deposit on Anna's apartment that she'll live in while attending Holy Cross College. I've just really felt an urgency in my spirit the last couple of days to pray about the location of the apartment. We've got the complex picked out but I feel that God is telling me that the placement of it is going to be important.

Our friend Jessica Warren: She's leaving this month to go live in Honduras as a missionary. She'll be teaching school and just doing whatever she can to show the love and light of Jesus. She has been serving as an intern at We Will Go. Please pray for her as she says her goodbyes, raises funds, and sells her vehicle.

My in-laws in Africa:   Anna's not the only one of our family in Africa right now.  Jim's sister and her husband are in Kenya (yes, and only about an hour away from Anna) serving for a couple of weeks.  This is MIchael's 2nd mission trip to Kenya and Deidra's first mission trip ever.  Please pray for them as they minister but also as they seek to hear from God.  I am so excited for them.  I can't wait to talk to them when they get back. Already, I'm loving Deidra's photos and short little text messages she is sending.

Our cats: I know, but hey! If God knows about the sparrow that falls, then He cares about our cats. We've found homes for all our animals except our cats. We have about half a dozen barn cats that need new homes and three kittens, one of them is blind in one eye. Getting our animals taken care of is just one more step along the path of moving to the mission field.

Thanks for your prayers. They are so very appreciated.