Dr. Gin Gin Diokno returns to Jos

Dr. Gin Gin Diokno, a great friend of HFWA and a pediatric sports medicine specialist, recently returned from a month volunteering her skills to the medical teams at the Faith Alive Foundation - Nigeria. Below is a reflection on her relationships with Dr. Chris Isichei, Founder of the Faith Alive Foundation - Nigeria, and Sister Oresoa, Founder of Anawim Home and the Missionary Sisters of the Poorest of the Poor, and her most recent experiences in Nigeria.

Dr. Chris, Sister Oresoa, and Gin Gin at Anawim Home in Gwagwalada, Abuja, Nigeria
Reflections by Gin Gin Diokno

It is a rare opportunity to be in the same place as Dr. Chris and Sister Oresoa so when I had the good fortune to do so back in December, it was definitely an Instagram moment to cherish.  They are two of the most amazing human beings I know.  It is very humbling to be in their presence especially as a witness to God’s work through them.

            It all started in 2009 when I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip through our Church of the Nativity.  For two weeks, we visited Faith Alive Hospital in Jos, Nigeria and got immersed on the day to day activities on this facility that provides wholistic health and social services to HIV/AIDS patients.  In 2011, I had the chance to return but this time to Abuja, and stayed with the orphanage community of the Anawim Sisters led by Sr Oresoa.  We literally slept, prayed, played and ate with them.  We got to be a part of the lives of the Sisters, the abandoned infants, young boys and girls, the mentally disabled, young mothers and the men and women they reach out in their community.  Our missions are about connecting with people and building relationships with these partners.  As cliche as it may sound, we missionaries have received more than what we have given to these trips. For me personally, the experiences have made me more grateful for the blessings I have received and continue to receive in my life.  With that gratitude comes a calling to serve even more, not just in mission trips, but in everyday life.

            Fast forward to fall of 2013 when I had a little bit of margin of time, another opportunity came across my path.  During Dr. Chris’ visit to the US, he invited me to return to Faith Alive and after much thought and prayer, I decided to volunteer to be part of the medical team.  It was a very fulfilling time as they even welcomed me more like a family member.  As always, the FA community is very loving and hospitable.  Between morning devotions, pediatric clinic, staff meetings, World AIDS Day celebration, visit to outreach sites, Christmas festivities, getting to know more staff members, sampling Nigerian cuisine, morning runs around the soccer stadium in spring-like weather, the month flew by pretty quickly. I felt when I left in 2009, I have become their friend; this time, I have become a family member.  I have warned them if that’s the case, then I can just drop in any time to visit.  I hope to be given more chances in the future. 

            People sometimes tell me how brave and courageous I am for doing these. Then I get to witness the work that Dr. Chris and Sr Oresoa have committed their whole lives to-- talk about faith and courage!  To be a small part of it is a tremendous blessing.  God does not call the equipped; He equips the called-- a quote from our pastor which I pray I take into heart if and when I get called again. I know that every single time I have answered, despite my doubts, He has never failed.

Dr. Chris and Erika Nossokoff Visit the US

What a busy September! Dr. Chris and Erika Nossokoff came to Maryland to attend fundraisers hosted by friends of Hope for West Africa for Faith Alive. The fundraisers brought old and new friends together with the hopes of raising money to fund doctors' salaries. We are close to our goal to provide salaries for five doctors for one year. These doctors provide free care to ten thousand patients at Faith Alive Hospital in Jos, Nigeria.
Erika gave inspirational talks about her new book, Faith Alive Stories of Hope and Healing from an African Doctor & His Hospital. Dr. Chris shared his story with passion and humility. 
            Dr. Chris with author Erika Nossokoff and Sara Kennedy, President of HFWA Foundation.
                                                    Dr. Chris attends HFWA board meeting.
                                                      Dr. Chris greets his old friend, Pacha.
                                Faithful donors celebrate with Dr. Chris at one of the fundraising events.

Thank you to all the donors who made this fundraising event a huge success. If you'd like to make a donation to HFWA, clink on the Donate Today link and HFWA will send you a complimentary copy of Erika's book.

Anawim Quintuplets

On November 28th, the sisters, volunteers and residents of Anawim Home joyfully welcomed four new additions.

Sister Oresoa and the Anawim family would like to introduce to you Catherine, Anna, Emmanuel, and Emmanuella.

The Anawim Home is known across Nigeria as a place where the orphaned, the abandoned, the ill and the otherwise destitute are given hope. The sisters provide home, temporary shelter, necessary education, medical care, nutrition and any other basic necessities to people who are most in need. Even for Anawim however, it is a rare day when they welcome four babies at once.

On the morning of November 28th, two little girls, Catherine and Anna, were born within hours of each other to two of the ladies living at Anawim Home. One of the new mothers is a mentally disabled woman who now lives with and is cared for by the sisters. The other new mother is one of the unwed young girls who Sister Oresoa and her nuns took in when she found herself pregnant with nowhere else to go.

Hours later that same November day the sisters found two separate babies left at the gates of their two compounds in Gwagwalada and Kaduna. Immediately taking in these abandoned infants, the sisters named them, a boy and a girl, Emmanuel and Emmanuella, Hebrew for “God is with us.”

The Anawim Sisters are working tirelessly in shifts around the clock to care for the beautiful children who they fondly call the “Anawim Quintuplets.”

HFWA is working with the sisters to determine how best to help meet the medical, nutritional, clothing and other necessities of these four babies.

Please consider making a donation that will go directly to help the sisters at Anawim Home support these children who, with great help from these untiring and determined workers, have lived against all odds.

Joy at St. Pius X

The Foundation recently funded projects with our newest partner in Nigeria, St. Pius X. This is a Catholic school for boys run by Fr. Abel.  The projects included the addition of the school library and the acquisition of a new generator and a copier. Once completed. the new library will provide a most welcome resource for the school. Fr. Abel said "Thank you, Hope For West Africa Foundation for the joy and hope that you have given us."    

1. Fr. Abel and the happy students of St. Pius
2. Fr. Abel
3. New library shelving.
4. New library desks
5. Students unpacking library furniture
6. New copier


More on Sr. Oresoa's Visit

While here Sister Oresoa met with the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano in Washington D.C. His Excellency has been to the Anawim Home in Abuja, Nigeria and values the work being done there for the poor, sick, and vulnerable women and children. Sister Oresoa was accompanied by Bill and Diane Blattner and Brian Crook. He enjoyed hearing news of Sister's current programs at the Anawim Home.

Sr. Oresoa's Visit

After being blessed by a visit from Dr. Chris Isichei, founder of Faith Alive, we have been blessed again by a visit from another one of our partners. Sr. Oresoa, founder of the Anawim Home and the Missionary Sisters of the Poorest of the Poor, made a surprise visit to Baltimore. She was in the area to attend a meeting at the Vatican Embassy in Washington DC. She attended mass at the Church of the Nativity this past weekend. She also enjoyed a dinner with a group of Nativity Nigeria missionaries which was hosted by HFWA founder and board member Diane Blattner. At that gathering Sister shared photos, videos and stories of the Anawim Home. She spoke of her vision of the future for the Anawim Home. She said her heart would not rest until the work is done for the orphaned children, the mentally ill, the sick and suffering and young mothers in need. Those at the dinner said that they were humbled and inspired by her. Sister Oresao left Baltimore yesterday to return to Nigeria. We are so thankful to Sister Oresao and the Missionary Sisters for doing God's work and for being such an example of God's hands, feet and heart to us.


1. Sr. Oresoa and the Nativity Nigeria missionaries
2. Bob Barczak (Nativity Missions Ministry), Sr. Oresoa and Brian Crook (Nativity Missions Director)
3. Sr. Oresoa and Nativity Nigeria missionaries
4. Poster heralding the hard working Nigerian women

Mission Ministry Blessings

We live in a world of high tech. communication. The news is every second and it seems as if most of it is bad. God seems mostly to be portrayed as a punisher or as apathetic. People see poverty, sickness, suffering, terrorism, and violence like the senseless shooting that happened in Colorado this summer. People think that it is all hopeless. They are arguing over who is responsible and what group of people God is punishing. They are judging instead of loving one another like God asks us to do. This is just what Satan wants. If the message is of a God that is punishing them, what will make people want to come to a God like that? Our God LOVES us. We have to understand that we do not have all the answers and our God is in control. Our God IS a God of grace and mercy waiting for us to come to Him. He wants us to have faith in HIM. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast."

When we do have faith He wants us to do good works, but to do them out of love for Him. In faith with the Holy Spirit, we can share Christ's love and serve with love in our hearts. We are going over the Holy Spirit in our message series in the church that I attend right now. We are being helped to understand how we can not do all the good things God wants of us with our own strength. That is why Jesus. That is why the Holy Spirit. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. We can not serve others with love if we feel we are being punished or that God is condemning us. So many churches' messages seem to be about condemnation. Of course we are sinners. I think most of us know that. I think what most of us lack is that we don't really believe we are LOVED by God. We don't feel good enough. I have worked at this myself. It is hard when the negative voices of condemnation come at you. But we have to know it is not God's voice. No one wants to admit that they are not feeling good about themselves in our society when it is all about being perfect and successful. But the most common thing that I hear admitted in small groups and ministry I have been in at my church is that people spend a lot of time feeling guilty. They have also told me that they believe in Jesus but that they do not feel passionate about Him because they are confused. I am no expert but I do not understand why it can not be grasped that one has to know Him and that they are loved by Him before they can truly give love to others. How can you share Christ's love if you do not know Him and you have not received His love yourself yet? And how can you feel passion about someone you really don't know or you are confused about? Why aren't churches trying to help people know and FALL IN LOVE with Jesus Christ? God told us He is THE WAY to HIM. I am just wondering...

Four years ago I left my home and family to serve in Nigeria. I do feel I had the help of the Holy Spirit giving me the courage I needed. I was not afraid. I had never left my family before even for just a weekend. I just did not want to do it. I really did not like being away from my children. I certainly have nothing to boast about. I still feel like I did not do very much and that I received much more than I gave. I had thought about going to Africa on a mission trip for a long time. I would read about mission trips to Africa or see documentaries about them and say to myself, I am going to do that someday. I decided in the summer of 2008 that the time had come. My church had just started sending mission teams to Nigeria. They were making it easy. Anyone who had a heart for it could apply, no experience necessary. Anyone, I thought? I had just turned 50 years old. My family decided the trip would be my birthday gift. I filled out the application and went through the interview and waited what seemed like forever, but it was only about 2 weeks. I will never forget receiving the phone call from the Faith Alive team leader telling me I was going and that I would be on the FA team. I was so excited!

Both of the mission trips I went on were in August, so while I was gone, my husband took our children on vacation. This helped me to know they were having a good time while I was away. I was the first mom with young children who went on a mission trip from our church. My children were 10 and 11 the first time I went. I will never forget how happy they were to see me when they greeted me at the airport when I arrived home. They had made a big welcome home sign for me. They were proud of their mom as they stood there with all the other family members of the other missionaries. I came home bursting with stories and pictures to share with my family and church community.

I am so thankful to God for this privilege to serve in another part of the world where people do not have what we have in America. The experience WRECKED me - in a good way. It took me out of my comfort zone and showed me things that many people never see with their own eyes. I feel I saw God's love manifested there in a way I would never be able to see somewhere here. I often wrestle with what to do with this and have to fight the feeling of not doing enough. We all cannot be a Mother Teresa - but we can support those that are like her. That is what we do at HFWAF. We support and empower our partners who have leaders like Dr. Chris, Sr. Oresoa and Fr. Abel. The experience is still vivid. I am grateful to now serve on the board of the HFWAF and in some small way still serve my brothers and sisters in Nigeria. Even though it is hard to witness poverty and sickness, my teammates and I saw an abundance of God's goodness in the people, in their faith and in the land itself. In fact we were stunned by the people!

Short term mission trips are really about relationships. You are there to support and encourage and share Christ's love with the people and staff you go to serve. They wanted us to listen to their stories. They want to educate the missionaries about their organization and their plight. One man who is staff at Faith Alive and is seen as a leader told some of us on the 2008 team to please share their stories when we get back to America. He said how important it is to them that we come to visit them and how much they appreciate us leaving our families to do this. He let us know how much it raises the morale of not only the patients but the staff too. He said it lets them know how much people care and that it is different then sending only money. Of course they need money! But he let us know how important it was for them to form relationships with the churches and communities that were supporting them. He said we want to be friends with you! We will pray for you! Missionaries on both teams did make friends and shared emails before leaving. They were genuine and many of us have kept in touch. This is such a special blessing in our lives. And how great is it to have them praying for us!!

There is only so much that can be accomplished as far as physically serving on a short term mission trip. You do whatever you can depending on the site. At Faith Alive during this time, they needed help with data input for the computer that the whole team could participate in. Then it depended on what you thought your gift was. This could have to do with your occupation but it did not have to. Dr. Chris and the staff always helped with this. There was something for everybody. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I was given praying for patients and going to the Social Services Unit to help with pastoral care and also enjoyed talking to people and writing their stories in my journal. Dr. Chris nicknamed me their "Prayer Warrior." I will just give you a little synopsis about my 2009 teammates to give you an example of all the different things one can do when serving at an organization like Faith Alive. They did more than I can mention here. One hears hospital and they feel intimidated because they think they have to be a doctor or nurse. Or maybe you hear orphanage like the Anawim Home and you think you have to be a social worker. Gin Gin was the only doctor on our 2009 team. She is a pediatrician so she was assigned to that doctor's team. She was an enormous help to the team. But she also made a lasting impression for her constant positive attitude and big smile. Marina, also a mom, has teaching experience so she was given the assignment of helping to begin a new "Kid's Club" for children. She was also great with the women in the Social Services Unit bible study class. The bible study women nicknamed her Joy in Housa because she was so joyful. This was a class that could be attended by the missionaries every morning. Rob was the computer whiz and helped the staff out and our team with technical issues. He also logged in many hours in the lab filling bottles with pills. This is something there that was also available to anyone and we each participated some in this too. Greg was the youngest of us. Only in his early 20's at the time. Greg's occupation was in construction so he was deemed the handyman! He also was very good with people and got nicknamed "The Mayor." He loved listening to stories and could often be found writing them down in his journal. Ed (the eldest) sorry Ed! - was our team leader. His last name is King. So because of this and since he was the leader, Dr. Chris nicknamed him "The King." Ed did a little bit of everything. As our leader he had to keep us on track which was not easy! We did have a schedule at Faith Alive. We attended prayer meetings, HIV/AIDS support group meetings, and traveled to see their outreach clinics and home based care patients. We also each shared some public speaking that was appropriate to our roles. This was for leading prayers, talking about the importance of HIV/AIDS patients taking medication or just introducing and sharing about also our team. So as you can see there was enough to do and in many different capacities.

The mission trips from our church to Nigeria are for approximately 12 days. What we learned is you form a relationship with the partner you are serving and then you bring back their stories and information to your church or community. That is when a commitment can be made to raise funding for a project that the partner needs. While you are serving there it is really all about forming a relationship just like the Faith Alive staff person was explaining to us. You are not there for yourself. It is not a vacation. You are there to serve God and be loving Christ followers. We feel there have been many blessings bestowed upon us since our return from Nigeria. I would like some of my teammates to share their stories of how the mission trip impacted their lives in the future.

Maybe you will choose to serve an international mission ministry at your church or donate to help our partners at HFWAF (see side of blog for Donate Today!). I do believe there is nothing that compares to international ministry service. It is something I wish everybody could do at least once in their lives. I know there is much need in America too, as many people put it, in our own back yards. But, in third world countries the need is different. It is a life and death struggle everyday. Most people do not have basic needs that we take for granted like clean water, electricity, and enough food. It is also a problem to receive proper affordable or free health care and their public education is extremely inadequate. Many children do not even live close enough to a school to attend one. Dr. Chris told me that the public schools that are open do not have enough teachers or books and supplies. He said it is also a problem that the schools are constantly closing for days off due to these problems.

Or maybe you are serving in some other capacity that you are passionate about. But I think we can all do a small something for people who do not have as much as we are blessed to have in America. Whatever you can do to help our brothers and sisters in Nigeria will be appreciated. You will not regret it. You will receive and be blessed much more than you know.

Counting Mission Ministry Blessings - Part of #1000 Gifts:

(#34) Thank You God, for the blessing of serving in Missions Ministry.
(#35) Thank You God, for Dr. Chris's successful visit in Baltimore and his impactful stay in our home.
(#36) Thank You God, for Dr. Chris's safe arrival back home in Nigeria to his beloved family and to Faith Alive where he can continue to do good work.
(#37) Thank You God, for the special people that have been brought into my life from serving in Missions Ministry, the ministry's missionaries and home teams, the incredible staffs at Faith Alive and the Anawim Home, and inspirational leaders Sr. Oresoa, Dr. Chris and Fr. Abel.
(#38) Thank You God, for the HFWAF team. These are more women who inspire me by volunteering their time and gifts for a special cause. When I look around the dining or kitchen tables where we meet, I am still amazed at what this small non-profit of 5 board members and what I call team (7) is managing to do. It is definitely You, God - Your Power - not ours, that is allowing this to happen.


1. Faith Alive Hospital
2. The 2009 NN Faith Alive and Anawim Home teams with Sr. Oresoa and our driver
3. The children at Faith Alive Community School
4. Dr. Chris and my daughter Sophia at Shagali

More on Dr. Chris's Visit

Dr. Chris departed from our home very early this morning. We were sad to see him go but we knew he must travel on. He is going to the Mayo Clinic, where he completed a fellowship, before finally leaving for Nigeria.

It was still dark out when Dr. Chris called us together to pray with him. He prayed for our family in such a beautiful way. After praying he wanted my children to know that he was like a Dad to them now and a brother to my husband and I. He called us his family. This is the kind of man Dr. Chris is. I was crying thinking to myself how blessed we are to be a part of his life. We certainly think of him as family too and let him know that he is always welcome here. We will pray he stays here again! What a wonderful thing for my children! I have been praying to God about some things and feel that this visit was an answer to prayers. Our God is such a wonderful God! Sometimes we just see things as coincidences. We have to remember that God has a purpose and a plan for our lives. When I went to Nigeria to serve I never had any idea of where it would lead. I remember Bill Blattner (who served in Nigeria & husband of then HFWAF President Diane Blattner) saying to me that when you serve in Nigeria you will get back so much more than you could ever give. This is so true.

More on Dr. Chris's visit - on Tuesday night Sara Kennedy, HFWAF President, organized a night out for Dr. Chris to try some Maryland steamed crabs. We went to Bo Brooks in Canton which is located on the waterfront. Everyone had a nice time. He enjoyed the crabs. Dr. Chris likes spicy food. Nigerian food is served spicy. While at our home he put hot sauce on most all the food he ate!

Dr. Chris had a busy day on Wednesday. He joined Sara where she is employed at the University of Maryland Medical Center. In the morning he met with the hospital's human virology HIV/Aids support group. He shared with them about Faith Alive Hospital's HIV/Aids support group and how important it is for them to take their medication. He encouraged them to join him in some dancing! Everywhere Dr. Chris goes he spreads joy. Afterwards he and Sara met with Derek Spencer Executive Director of the Jacques Initiative. The Jacques Initiative stands for Joint Aids Community Quest for Unique and Effective Treatment Strategy. Dr. Joseph Jacques, a compassionate teacher, devoted his life to improving the health and well being of people living with HIV/AIDS. He left a large sum in his will that is used for the Jacques Initiative. Derek Spencer has traveled to Nigeria to visit Faith Alive Hospital. Dr. Chris says Derek has been a source of great spiritual encouragement to him.

Wednesday evening was the Shagali celebration at the Church of the Nativity. There was worship music and missionaries told stories of their experiences. Then we all feasted with an outdoor cookout and enjoyed some more music with the talented Al Walsh band. Dr. Chris spoke and graciously thanked everyone. He danced with some of the children! There was a very nice turn out. It was a very enjoyable evening. Hopefully the violence will stop in time for a missionary team to be sent to Nigeria next summer. Unfortunately, there was more violence in Nigeria this past Monday. A gunmen stormed an evangelical church in Okene (central Nigeria), cut the electricity and opened fire once the building was dark. Nineteen people were killed. We have to keep praying for peace. Please do not forget about our brother and sisters in Nigeria now that the fast is over and Dr. Chris has gone home. I know it seems hopeless sometimes but we must persevere. Like Dr. Chris says: faith is moving ahead and believing in God's goodness even when you can not see it with your eyes.

Dr. Chris let us know that he has arrived safely at Mayo Clinic and everything is well. We hope to see him again when HFWAF does fundraising at local high schools during the 2012/13 school year. We will keep you informed.

We love you Dr. Chris! Thank you for everything you did here in Baltimore.

1. Sara Kennedy & Dr. Chris at Bo Brooks restaurant
2. Sara, Dr. Chris, us, Sara's parents, & Brian Crook Director of Nativity Church Missions at Bo Brooks
3. Dr. Chris speaking at Shagali
4. Guests at Shagali enjoying food
5. Dr. Chris at Shagali with guests
6. Dr Chris at Shagali dancing with children

Dr. Chris's Visit

Last Friday evening Dr. Chris Isichei from Faith Alive Hospital in Jos, Nigeria arrived at the doorstep of our home. There he was -  a friend I had made from a place so far away - the kind, generous, encouraging, small, humble man with the big smile. My family and I were eagerly awaiting his arrival. He has been traveling in the USA since June 30th through 14 cities to attend conferences and to promote Faith Alive and Baltimore is his second to last stop.  His presence in our home has been such a blessing. He is grateful for everything little thing that is done, repeatedly thanking us. He has many words of wisdom and pulls us together to pray a lot.

He says his visit here in Baltimore has been very good so far. On Saturday evening the HFWAF board members hosted a dinner party for Dr. Chris with the Nativity Nigeria Faith Alive missionaries and some other friends. The dinner was held at the lovely home of board member Melinda Capone and her husband Chris. Everyone had a good time catching up and reminiscing about their trips to Nigeria. Dr. Chris spent Sunday at  the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland greeting parishioners after mass. We had a nice dinner at my home Sunday evening joined by Dr. Chris's traveling companion Russ McCahan (President of Faith Alive Foundation USA) and Erika Nossokoff's (International Coordinator Faith Alive Foundation Nigeria & author of Notes from Nigeria blog) son who came into town. Monday Dr. Chris got some shopping he needed done. Later we had a wonderful dinner again at my home with a missionary friend and her son and then went to Tutti Frutti's for yogurt.

Dr. Chris will be staying until Thursday morning. He will be attending the Shagali celebration that will be taking place for the breaking of the fast for peace in Nigeria. This will be at the Church of the Nativity this Wednesday August 8 at 6pm.

1. Ed King FA NN Team 2009 & Dr. Chris
2. Dr. Chris, me FA NN Team 2008 & 2009 & Gin Gin Dionko FA NN Team 2009
3. Dr. Chris & HFWA President Sara Kennedy
4. Jonathan Sanchez FA NN 2011 Team & Dr. Chris
5. Dr. Chris favorite bar desserts made by Sara Kennedy w/ FA Found. & HFWA logos
6. Cake made by Gin Gin Dionko w/ NN logo
7. My son Chris, me, my daughter Sophia, Austin Nossokoff, Russ McCahan
8. Kevin Lynch, Chris, Sophia, Marina Lynch, & Dr. Chris

Off To The Beach

My family and I are getting ready to embark on our vacation to the beach. I planned on getting a post out this week but we experienced an unusually bad thunderstorm here in the Baltimore area last Friday night and I have been out of electricity ever since. A large number of us were out of service - approximately 400,000 - this afternoon it was down to 30,000. So, the week was a little out of the ordinary to say the least. You could say we had our family bonding time start early! It was just a little different then we had expected. Please excuse the lack of post this week. We did not have our usual technology at hand. It was the most we could do to keep our phones charged! Right now I am someplace that I can use the Internet.

I will be away for the next two weeks and then I will return with more stories, news, and the thankful # 1000 gifts series.

One bit of news to tell you now is that my family and I will be hosting Dr. Chris of Faith Alive Hospital when he comes to the USA! He is coming to visit several different churches and he will be stopping in Balto. the beginning of August. We are so blessed to have him! I will give you the details in a later post.

Hope everyone is having a good summer. Be safe. Enjoy your family time. Talk to you soon.

News From Our Partners

Last week Erika Nossokoff , author of the blog Notes from Nigeria, posted news of the recent bombings that occurred in Jos. Looks like the bombings did have an affect on some family members of a coach of the youth soccer team. Read Erika's story.

Also, Erika has announced the release of her long awaited book depicting true life stories of those at Faith Alive Hospital. Erika is the USA coordinator for Faith Alive Foundation-Nigeria. She also coordinates the Save-A-Life personal sponsorship program for peoplle in Nigeria living with HIV/AIDS. Erika has traveled to Nigeria as a missionary numerous times. The book is scheduled to be released on Dec. 1, 2012 which is World AIDS Day. All profits will go to Faith Alive Foundation - Nigeria. This is very exciting news. I know I will be buying a book! She will be taking pre-orders. I will keep you posted.

There is also news from the Church of the Nativity, one of our partner churches here in Timonium. They had regretfully stated earlier that due to the current violence in Nigeria they would not be sending missionary teams this summer. Now they have announced a special summer event "Shagali." This will be a special evening on Aug. 8 of worship, prayer, and fellowship for the church community to celebrate missions and show solidarity for their strategic partners (The Anawim Home and Faith Alive Hospital) in Nigeria. The evening will culminate a week of fasting and praying for God's guidance in the missions program, for peace in Nigeria, and thankfulness for God's grace and goodness. We hope you will join us in prayer. See the Nativity Nigeria blog post details: NATIVITY:NIGERIA: Shagali: Partners in Prayer

To Live Fully

I was getting ready to post the thankful series again this week. My mind was wandering. I was having a hard time focusing. Then I opened my email and there it was. This email from Benjamin Ochenjele. Ben is the Head of Administration of the Faith Alive Foundation. Ben is also a Pastor at a church that is close to the Faith Alive Hospital and leads prayer gatherings that are held at the hospital for patients and staff. All of us on the missionary team I traveled with respectfully and affectionately referred to him as Pastor Ben. Pastor Ben is one of the people I met at Faith Alive that had a great impact on me.

I was wondering why I had not heard from my friend. Then I read this and my heart broke.

Dear All,
It is indeed amazing for the long period of silence. It was never my intention but due to some stuff I never had control over. I have been away for ZAMBIA, East Africa since April for a peace courses with Africa Peace Institute. My initial thought and plan was to communicate from there but to my disappointment there was internet break down in the Institute. I could not afford the exorbitant cost of getting it done at cafe in the city far off. So I was off communication with ALL till my returning couple weeks ago. As soon as I returned Doris my wife went into labor for our 3rd child which came up successfully but after three days the child took ill and was diagnosed with acute jaundice. We were admitted in University of Jos Teaching Hospital (JUTH). With every effort, up and downs, prayers and spending for us to have the child, but as God would have it the child passed unto glory in the morning of Sunday 18th. We could not found it easy at all for the child was very attractive and won the love of all who saw him both at the hospital and at home. More also, my wife went through much pains during his pregnancy.

The experience was a proof of the Bible as recorded in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
We only had him for just a week. God who gave became more interested in him and called him back home expertly after a week of birth. I named him "GODSWAY" and God indeed did it in his way. His way is not our way and its unquestionable. Glory be to Him who knows and have the best. Pray for my wife to recover.
We have learnt to accept it ALL since God permitted it because His way is always perfect.
Today is my official day in the office after a very long time of trauma.

Benjamin O. Ochenjele
Head of Administration

Faith Alive Foundation

The scripture that Pastor Ben references has always been a favorite of mine. The verses were used as lyrics for a song in the 60's. "For everything there is a season,a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die...A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance..." 


Your will not ours. Somehow bad into good.... Somehow.... 

Acceptance of this. We must accept this....It will be good. It will be..... 

You will make it BEAUTIFUL! You will....We believe.....

There will be a day. There will be a day....There will be a day when everything is beautiful.... 

When we will all be together again. We will....And there will be NO pain....only JOY.... 

Until then Lord let us do your will....your will....your will for us....

To love one another....to LOVE...to BE LOVING to everyone....

The lost, the sick, the lonely....the least of these....the least of these....

Are we not all this?....Have we not been lost, sick, lonely, the least of these....Have we not? 

Help us to stop judging....STOP judging and have mercy....Oh to have mercy and..... 

Break our hearts Lord for what breaks Yours....for what breaks Yours...Oh for what breaks Yours! 

Open our eyes Lord to what You want us to see....and remind us to look up....to look up..... 

You are a loving God just waiting....just waiting....for us to trust You...to trust....

So we can live .... so we can live....

TO LIVE FULLY.... the ABUNDANT life You offer!

(#31)Thank you God for Pastor Ben and all he does for the Faith Alive Community. (#32)Thank you for the inspiration he has provided me and all the other missionaries who have served at Faith Alive. (#33)Thank you for giving him the strength to be a husband and father, to persevere through trials and accept your will while also serving others as a gifted Pastor.

Praise to You Oh Lord, Oh Wonderful Savior!

Please join us in prayer for Pastor Ben, his wife and children at this time.

Photo: Pastor Ben, his wife and child (August 2009).

You Are A Wonderful God

I have been talking to you since I was a little girl.
So many sweet memories of giving you my world.
You are wonderful.
A friend to the weary.
You have been so faithful.
Your goodness it follows me.
You are beautiful.
Your love is never ending.
All these years we've been walking...
My Savior, My friend...

You Are Wonderful by Sara Groves

God never fails. We are told you will believe it when you see it. But living by faith is knowing it is the other way around. You see it when you believe it.

Last week I named gifts of ugly to beautiful that God gave me. Some gifts from God that should have been included that I am sure our friends in Nigeria would certainly agree with me on are the gifts of the Anawim Home -The Poorest of the Poor Orphanage, the gift of the Faith Alive Hospital, and the gift of St Pius X School for Boys. These places were built from nothing and in places where some might say it could not be done. But that is not how people of faith saw it. They believed. The ugliness of poverty, disease, hunger, homelessness and hopelessness became the beautiful gift from God of places that provided healing, food, shelter, education, hope and love. The stories of how these places came to be are wonderful and inspirational. They are similar to Mother Teresa's story. You can read about them in detail on our website. (#15) Thank you God for these great gifts. (#16) Thank you for the courageous faithful followers of Jesus who helped these places become a reality. (#17) Thank you God also for the faithful followers of Jesus who prayed for these places and those people.

Thank you wonderful God, my Savior, my Friend.

The gifts to give thanks for this week are gifts of smell:

(#18) Thank you God for the gift of smell. There is such an abundance of good smells to be thankful for that it is hard to chose. I will chose summer smells since I am enjoying some of them right now. Summer is my favorite season. It is when my family and I get to spend the most quality time together. School is over and there is that special freedom of no homework, the pool opens, vacations happen, etc.

(#19) flowers in gardens or hand picked bouquets
(#20) chlorine pool water
(#21) sunscreen lotion
(#21) food cooking on outside grills
(#22) the ocean breeze
(#23) babies necks
(#24) cotton candy
(#25) Christopher's deodorant
(#26) Sophia's scented sprays

The sweet perfume of flowers blooming everywhere is so wonderful! The best flowers to put on the table are hand picked bouquets straight from the garden or bought at the market if you can not grow your own. My favorite summer flowers are the blueish purple hydrangeas, peonies and zinnias.

I love the smell of chlorine water at our community pool. I watch the children splashing around and playing in the pool every summer. This brings me joy. My children are teenagers now. They are too cool for the pool! They spend their time now, if they go to the pool on the chairs suntanning! (#27) Thank you God that we are able to belong to a community pool.

Which brings to mind the smell of sunscreen lotion. This is an ultimate summer smell. This says summer has arrived! Everyone is enjoying the gift of the warm rays of sun from God slathering on the lotion to make sure they do not get sunburned. (#28) Thank you God for allowing us to enjoy relaxing days in the sun with our families that You provide for us.

Enjoying time outside with our families means grilling food outside. This produces a fabulous sensational scent. There is just something about dining alfresco. Food not only smells better - it tastes better. Our family loves to roast marshmallows by the heat of the grill when we are done dinner. When daylight turns to dusk and we turn to candles it is so special. Here it is again - it is in the simple moments - the simple moments are what we relish in life.

Another glorious scent we get to partake of in the summer is that of the ocean breeze. (#29) Thank you God for our many blessed beach family vacations. As soon as our car nears the beach town we enjoy I can smell it...that ocean breeze fragrance. It announces the beginning of our vacation. We have been going to the same beach since our children were babies. I remember the smells of my children at the beach when they were babies. They would nap under the beach umbrella. Then when they would awaken, the smell of their necks was so sweet as I kissed them and held them tight. Then soon they were toddlers and I remember the smell of sticky cotton candy that they loved so much but seemed to have more all over their face and hands somehow than ever got into their mouths! Now....now the smells of them in our house this summer.... My son, Christopher has this male scented deodorant (actually advertised as fresh scent) that is permeating the air. My daughter Sophia, has many scented body sprays that she chooses from daily. Today's choice is some fruity blend. Our house is quite "perfumed." I am sure we will bring home new and interesting memories of smells from our vacation at the beach this summer with our teenage children!

Thank you God for all the smells of summer. Thank you God for all the blessings you continue to pour upon our lives like belonging to a community pool and going on a vacation to the beach. There are those in this world who do not get to do this. We must remember this always.

Thank you wonderful God, my Savior, my friend.

As I write this post, I think of the people in Nigeria who do not have much and those who have much devastation. The people there certainly do not have the material things I write about in this post. I started this thankful journey in honor of the Nigerian people I met. Their strong faith and perspective of seeing what was important in their lives and being thankful to God despite their many hardships was so inspirational to me. I feel that if I never mention any material gifts in my posts at all I would not be authentic. I thought of never mentioning anything that did not refer to nature or people but I decided against it. This is my life. The people in Nigeria know the life we live here in America. They told us they love America. They were so grateful for every little thing that was done for them. They are not bitter. They know that none of us are perfect and that wealth in itself is not success. They just "get it." That is all I will say for now. I remember always crying as I was writing stories about them in my journal! I did not know what I was doing, but they loved me anyway... this strange middle aged woman who cried a lot, kept losing her stuff, got sick and seemed to always be praying. They were very kind. They wanted to know about my life and all of the missionaries lives and asked us to share stories and show them pictures of our families. They would love to hear from you too.

My thoughts are with you this summer. Dr. Chris, Mercy, Sr. Oresoa, all the sisters and the children of the Poorest of the Poor, Pastor Ben, Pastor Esther, Blessing, Amos, Daniel, Little Chris, Rhoda, all the hospital staff, counselors, sewing school women at Faith Alive Community, and Fr. Abell ....How are you? Please take care of yourselves. We at HFWAF are praying for you. I am so grateful to God for meeting and getting to know YOU. (#30) Thank you God for this miracle. This is the truth - you are the most loving, accepting group of people I have ever met. I have made another new commitment in my life in honor of all of you. I will share it in my next post.

I am grateful to you wonderful God, my Savior, my friend.

Think of at least three gifts of smell that you are thankful for in the upcoming week. If you would like to, share with us in the comments section below.

Singing songs of praises to you God for the scented gifts of summer...and for all of your endless gifts...

You Are Wonderful!

From Ugly to Beautiful

Joy is the fruit of gratitude.

And gratitude is rooted in perspective.

And when one's rooted in Christ, one has been given the gift of the eyes that really see.

So joy is always possible.

As long as thanks to God is possible, then joy in God is always possible.

Joy is always possible.

Ann Voscamp ~ One Thousand Gifts

I hope everyone has had a good week. I have had a very interesting one after counting my blue blessings. The color blue has kept popping up all over the place. Have you ever had that happen? When you are meditating on something or maybe after hearing a sermon on a certain topic, the main subject seems to keep reoccurring somehow. I will hear about it on the radio, television, a friend will bring it up in conversation that did not hear it, or I will suddenly read about it. During the past week I have become more interested in Pinterest which is a a popular form of visual social media. I found that I kept coming across so many beautiful blue things that I started a whole board dedicated to the color blue. I enjoyed doing this since blue has always been my favorite color. I couldn't believe the absolutely gorgeous blue ocean and sky pictures I was coming across without searching for them. It is like they were exploding across the screen at me. I actually got teary! And how could it be a coincidence that then there it was.....a huge blue eye staring right at me! I will be honest when I got this prompt I thought; Oh this is a lightweight one. I did not know how this would work to come up with three things to be thankful for that are blue. The ocean and the sky thing - we can all think of that one. It just did not feel personal enough to me and yet I was very thankful. One of my true loves is the ocean. My children's blue eyes were more personal. But, I was wrong. God has His ways when you give it up to Him and really thank Him. Just like Ann says in her above statement "gratitude is rooted in perspective." When yours is rooted in Christ, God will give you the eyes to see.

I had gotten uncertain news about my health about three weeks ago. I had to have a test done last week. So, I started this thankful journey while I was waiting for the test results. If the test results were to come back positive, it would be serious. So, I waited and prayed. It helped to be doing this while I was waiting. Our blessings become magnified in times like this. It should not be this way. But it is for us humans. We need things like this to happen in our lives to knock some sense into us. I feel like God was talking to me. He was reminding me of the simple yet magnificent beauty that I had just stated in my blog post. There is so much joy, so much beauty that surrounds us every day.

I had another event to help take my mind off of the test last week. My Nativity Nigeria 2009 teammates organized a get together for dinner Friday night. We have not all been together as a group (just us) since we first got back from our Nigeria trip. I was SO grateful. It could not have come at a better time. We caught up with what is happening in each others lives. As it happened, there was a huge thunderstorm here Friday night. The power went out in our area. I had to call to make sure the restaurant we were going to was still open. The power was still on there so our plan was still set. Why this is all relevant is we traveled to Nigeria in August. The month of August is part of Nigeria's rainy season. So most of the time it is raining. Also, in Nigeria there is very little electricity. We couldn't believe we were having dinner together on this night. It was actually perfect. We called it our "Nigeria weather night!" We laughed, shared our stories, our love for Nigeria, the people, and the friends we made there. We all said how we would love to go back one day. We said we would not only love to go back but how much it would mean to us to go back together as a group again. We share a special bond.

(#4) Thank you God for these wonderful people who went to Nigeria and supported me while I was there. (#5) Thank you for them showing up in my life Friday night when I needed them. (#6) Thank you for these old friends who can share and remember those special memories with me of Nigeria and our dear friends in Nigeria. Three things not even on the list!

(#7) Let me not forget this - The test result came back negative yesterday. I am okay! Lord help to keep me thankful and may I always be rooted in You so that I have "eyes that really see."

Grateful to You Oh Lord for this.

This week's thankful prompt is what gifts have you been given in your life that have gone from ugly to beautiful? Have there been circumstances in your life that God has turned from bad to good? Sometimes we have such hard difficulties in our lives and while we are going through them we certainly find it hard to see any beauty in them. But later, we find a gift in the difficult circumstance in that it has somehow brought us good maybe even joy.

My three gifts from ugly to beauty that have happened in my life are:

1. Difficult Circumstance ~ Blessing

I had a "different" kind of family as I was growing up. I always felt different. Growing up in the 60's and 70's (yes, I am that old :) ) I often felt out of place with divorced parents. Each of my parents are actually divorced twice. I had a difficult childhood and teenage years. Without going into too much detail here, there was a lot of chaos in my life. I did not want anyone to know what was going on in my home so I did not have many friends. There were family broken relationships, friends of our family who did not stick around for the mess, my Mom got sick, my younger brother got sick....by the grace of God I did not. I needed to work to help my Mom out and somehow take care of myself and pay for my college education. I NEVER thought I would see the light at the end of this tunnel.

(#8) Thank you God for this "different family" because it made me who I am today. The circumstances were so hard. But because of this I know there is such a thing as God's grace. I received it. I love my family. My family and I have learned, grown and healed together. (#9) Thank you for the beauty - the gift of good that I became a stronger person by going through those struggles because I believe it has made me a more empathetic person. (#10) Thank you for the bigger heart I grew. It is why I love the broken hearted people of this world. I want to help people. I feel it is why I wanted to go to Nigeria. I was so determined to go there and I was not afraid. This was a huge blessing in my life.

Grateful to You Oh Lord for this.

2. My Will ~ God's Will

I could not have biological children. After being married I could not wait to get started on having children. I had a dream or you could say a plan of starting my own family. After trying to have a biological child for five years and after much tears and frustration I was worn out.

(#11) Thank you God for showing me that your plan is more beautiful than mine could ever be and to remember that relief comes with surrender of even our most precious dreams when they are not meant to be. (#12) Thank you for showing me how You are so faithful. My husband and I realized that we would love to adopt children who were in need of parents who were in an orphanage. We now have two beautiful wonderful children. Our son will be 15 in about 10 days and our daughter is 14 years old. God had a better plan in store for us then our own. His plan was more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. We would never trade our experiences of going to Russia to seeing them for the first time, bonding together with them there in the small apartment in the freezing cold temperatures. We will never forget the wonderful families who hosted us. We did not care that it was 40 degrees below zero! We were together at last! We were with each of our babies! In the end, we were with the babies we had dreamed of! It is true what they say...born of your heart. (#13) Thank you God for our amazing children and our unique unforgettable experiences.

Grateful to You Oh Lord for this.

3. My Sins ~ Fully Forgiven

Thank you God for the best gift of ugly to beautiful - the forgiveness of my sins. You make me new and beautiful from my ugly sinful self.

Grateful to You Oh Lord for this.

This week try to think of three gifts that you can thank God for in your life that has changed from ugly to beautiful. Please share with us in the comments section below.

...counting more of His endless gifts...thanks be to God.

Book Cover by Gin Gin Dionko

Thankful Wednesdays

Starting this Wednesday, I would like us to start participating in "Walk With Him Wednesdays" per writer and blogger Ann Voscamp. She wrote the best selling book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. It is a beautiful, inspirational book that I highly recommend. She also writes the blog A Holy Experience. In the blog she asks everyone to name 3 things that they are thankful for everyday or at least once a week. She suggests this is always best to do in the morning to start your day off. She posted in her blog, "When your heart's grateful to God at the start of the day, you can trust God in the hurtful of the day."Being grateful fills our hearts up like teacups so that they are not dry for the hard parts of the day which is bound to happen to all of us.

I thought the naming of the 3 things for which you are thankful, which she calls "Joy Dare", would be a nice exercise to share with the readers of this blog. People who have participated in this said it has been life changing. I have been posting how our Nigerian friends hold onto their hope and joy amidst difficulties. They are grateful for the small things. I think this is the key. I am so thankful for the simple, relaxing Memorial Day weekend I enjoyed with my family. On Memorial Day evening, we hung out together on our backyard patio, enjoying the summer weather and our favorite summer food of Maryland steamed crabs. We laughed together, the kids swinging on the tree rope, the dog playing with fallen tree branches and I just sat back taking in the moment. As I get older, I realize it's the small moments that mean so much and go by so quickly.

Each Wednesday, I will post Ann Voscamp's prompt for what we should say we are thankful for. Then you will respond by posting in comments. I hope everyone will join us in our thankful journey. I am asking our Nigerian friends to please participate with us. We would love to hear your voices because I believe we can learn so much from you.

This Wednesday's prompt is what 3 gifts of bluelare you thankful for? #1000gifts #JoyDare

Blue is my favorite color. Blue is peaceful and serene. In nature it is the color of so many glorious things. Here are mine: 1.) I am thankful for both of my children's amazing, beautiful blue eyes. Our son was adopted at six months old. As soon as we first saw him, we could not help but notice his eyes. They were round saucers and so inquisitive. He has deep blue eyes that we called ocean eyes. Our daughter, who we adopted at eleven months old, has pale, crystal blue eyes that were just as mesmerizing as soon as we looked upon her. Oh yes, my children's blue eyes...2.) I am thankful for the blues of summer vacation. The gorgeous blues of the ocean water are in my mind. The ocean is my favorite place to go and I am grateful to have a vacation with my family. I love and am thankful for everything about it even if these things aren't blue - the feel of the sun, the sand, the smell of the ocean, shells, beach houses, saltwater taffy, roaring waves, beach breezes, boardwalks... 3.) And finally, the blue that I am thankful for, one that I am enjoying this summer, one that has always been there, but sometimes I have taken for granted, is the wondrous blue endless sky, that God has given us.

Now it is your turn. You do not have to go into detail like me. Just list 3 things in the comments and use the hashtags above that are given after the question with your answer. Please share and give thanks to God.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.

Ps. 73:25-26

Eyes of Your Hearts

"May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones..." Eph 1:18

 I love this line of scripture in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Paul speaks to the Ephesians about unifying belief and behavior when they are torn apart in this broken world of sin. He says to have faith we must look through the "eyes of our hearts." To accept what seems unacceptable and in time to forgive what is unforgivable we must pray for enlightenment that can only come from Him.

 Paul's words in the Message are this: "I ask - ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory - to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him - endless energy, boundless strength!" Wow! How beautiful. That pretty much sums it up. If we as Christians could "grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life" and basically just trust him what a difference it would make.

 I witnessed this faith lived out in the people at the Faith Alive and Anawim communities in Nigeria. As I departed on my first mission trip to Faith Alive, I planned to bring the Nigerian people a strong hope for the future. What actually happened was the Nigerian people instilled me with much hope from observing how they lived their lives.  I watched them rise very early in the morning every day happy to greet that day. They knew their purpose. They set about doing the work that they felt was God's work. At Faith Alive it was all about serving God and serving others. This was true at the Anawim Home too. There were people there to serve us - any missionaries that were there. One of the first things that was done everyday was to retrieve the clean water from the well. They had to take a truck down to the only working well and fill up big plastic garbage cans for each room of the guesthouse to have where most of us stayed. This has since been improved thanks to the Nativity Nigeria Advent Water Project. Three large hot meals were served to us everyday. They worked hard for the meals to be something that we would find appealing as Americans. I will never forget the cook whose name was Babba. He was an elderly man who had served as Faith Alive's cook since it started and also had been a cook since he was a young man. He was a sweet man always smiling asking if everything was okay. Most people there have malaria. One day he was sick with malaria symptoms. He did not stop working. He said having malaria is normal here. You just keep going. In between cooking and serving the meals for a few days he would lie down on the sofa. He did not make a fuss. Something about this touched me. I often make a fuss when I am sick. I can be quite noisy! When I am nauseous you know it! They made sure we were comfortable giving us all the bottled water we needed and offering us rides to the American style drug store for any medicines or snacks we needed. We were taken to church on Sundays by Goddy our faithful driver. They also offered to wash our clothes and towels. We declined this offer. They would have had to do this by hand. Electricity service was sporadic. They kept asking us if WE were all right! We were so humbled! They did all this while working at the hospital and taking care of so many sick patients. The important thing is that they did it joyously! Their belief and behavior were unified! They grasped the "glorious"life and they obviously had "boundless strength!"

There in this far off place from my home in the world, with no clean water and hardly any electricity (some living in mud huts) - extreme poverty that I could go on and on about here -  how can I explain to you how I felt so close to God? I did not see this place as God forsaken as some did. As I stated in my previous post, I did feel like my eyes had seen something holy. I saw so much more than can be explained in a few posts. I do not have any answers for why some people suffer more than others. But I do feel changed somehow for what I saw. It did feel like I was seeing things through the "eyes of my heart." Although my Nigerian friends lives were hard, most of them were very poor, sick and even HIV patients, they were able to grasp the "glorious" in their lives. It is amazing how even during times of great struggling and suffering, people of faith continue to survive, grow and even thrive. What I was able to witness were people living out their faith and defying darkness, being a beacon of light and source of hope not only for the visiting missionaries - but what I want to share here -  for all the world.

Top photo: Babba, the cook at Faith Alive guesthouse
Bottom photo: the sitting room at Faith Alive guesthouse

My Eyes Have Seen Holy

One part of our everyday schedule at Faith Alive was called "projects". This was the time you could serve in the area in which you were interested. As mentioned in the previous post, Dr. Chris had helped me realize I could be useful in the pastoral area of prayer and listening to patients' stories. I used to like spending this part of the day walking around trying to comfort people. There is a counseling unit that is part of Faith Alive's social services. The counselors inform patients how to prevent spreading diseases and how to cope with having a disease.

One day I met a counselor who touched my heart. She was a pretty woman wearing a beautiful African dress. She was sitting at the desk in her office and waved to me to come in. After noticing an article on her desk by Rick Warren, who wrote The Purpose Driven Life, I knew she was someone I wanted to speak with. "I am new" she told me. "You are new?" I asked. "Yes, I am new at this," she said. I emphasized "I am new new too! I have never been to Africa or any mission trip before." She told me she was nervous. I reassured her. I told her about our church and how most of us had read The Purpose Driven Life together. She said "I know my life has a purpose now." She then told me her story.

Her husband had contracted AIDS. She took care of him and her three children. It was very hard for her to watch her husband get sicker and sicker and eventually die. Somehow despite her best efforts, her youngest child caught the disease and died. She cried to God how can this be! She felt guilty and ashamed. She felt like she didn't want to live anymore. She told of how the Faith Alive Family helped her regain hope and how they showed her God's love.

She said she had always had religion in her life. Her family took her to church as a child. But something was different now. She now knew Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. All she wanted to do now was to share her faith and to help other people who are suffering like she had been herself. She said He did not mean for us to be alone. We have to go out, share our faith and try to help people.

I was amazed by her story. As I walked back to the guesthouse that afternoon, I thought of how the AIDS disease leaves women and children alone. There is still a very strong stigma in that country concerning AIDS. So most of the men who get the disease do not seek medical help. Then sometimes the wives get it and also the children who have weaker immune systems then also get the disease. They have nowhere to go. There are no shelters or clinics run by government agencies or non-profit organizations. There are no nearby wealthy neighborhoods for donations or handouts. There is only Faith Alive - an oasis in the desert - and Faith Alive depends on the mercy of other countries' donations. I wondered how would it feel to have to depend on the charity of another country for survival instead of it coming from a surrounding neighborhood, community, city or state.

As you walk down the street you see storefronts and houses that are little more than shacks. The Nigerian people wave to you, children run up to you. Everyone is saying, "You're welcome!" and "Thank you so much!" They are so grateful for the help they receive from America. I would have to just stop sometimes and catch my breath to keep from crying. They do not want pity. They need support and encouragement. They look up to our country. I think I was so blessed just to be born in the United States.

After a few days you know the path very well from Faith Alive to the guesthouse. As I looked down the street before entering the guesthouse, I saw some children playing in the street. I remembered when Fr.Emmanuel (born in Nigeria) celebrated the mass at our church and gave the Nativity Nigeria team a blessing a few days before we left on the mission. During his homily he asked, "When you see a dirty little boy playing in the street, will you be able to see Jesus Christ in that child, or will you only see a dirty little boy?"

Well, I saw Jesus Christ in the poor, Nigerian children playing in the streets. I saw Jesus Christ in the soulful eyes of poor and hungry children, in the patients with their bowed heads as we prayed together, in smiling and welcoming faces of the Nigerian people, in the caring, dedicated service of the staff and in the sacrifices that Dr. Chris makes for Faith Alive. I had such a strong feeling that my eyes were seeing Holy.

I played this song over and over on my CD player while I was there: My Eyes Have Seen Holy by Bebo Norman. Here are some of the lyrics and video:

...Mercy, weep over me.
Let your tears wash me clean.
Majesty, be merciful with me,
For my eyes have seen Holy.

Top photo: Some of the Faith Alive Social Services Staff
Bottom photo: The entrance to the Faith Alive Social Services Unit with the welcome banner for visiting missiionary teams.

A Mother's Day Prayer

It is Mother's Day on Sunday and this mother's heart is breaking for hurting children. I do not want candies and flowers this weekend. I want my Mom's Day prayer to be answered. I want all children's hearts to be healed. There are hungry, abandoned and stolen children in this world. There are spiritually wounded children right in our own community. Then there are the mothers hurting for their children. I have a special place in my heart for the broken-hearted, for the left out and lonely ones. I have been like this since I was a small child. I do not know why. I have found that it is part of my purpose here on earth. It is why I am drawn to missions ministry.

All of this rain we are having here in Baltimore this past week is reminding me of my trips to Nigeria. I went in August, which is the rainy season there. It would rain almost every afternoon. Dark clouds would roll in and the rain would come pouring down, making huge drumming sounds on the tin roofs of the buildings. It would be so loud that it was too hard to talk to each other. So everything was quiet except for the pounding, drumming of the rain.

On my first trip to Nigeria at Faith Alive Hospital, I did not know what I would be able to do to help out. I had felt called to serve and was very excited about going. I was so surprised that I was not scared to go and leave my family. However, when I arrived there I got nervous. The first night my team and I were sitting around together at the guest house having conversation and dinner with Dr. Chris, the Medical Director at Faith Alive. Everyone was discussing what they were going to do to serve at Faith Alive. My team consisted of a nurse, a lab technician, a few medical students and then there was me - a stay at home mom with no medical experience. There was also another missionary team at the guest house having dinner. Someone made an unkind remark about me that had something to do with "older" women not being much help. I thought: really, did anyone tell that to Mother Teresa? And when had I suddenly gotten so old? I laugh at this now, but it wasn't funny then because, after all, I was nervous and in Nigeria away from my family. Would you believe for the first time? Of course I chose Africa for my first time away from them! Anyway, the person continued to tell me what I couldn't do, to help explain their remark. I got upset. I let the negative remarks affect my focus. I thought what WAS I doing there? What could I offer at this hospital? When Dr. Chris was sitting by himself, I had a chance to speak with him alone. I told him I did not know how I could help. I do not remember the exact conversation, but he said something about everyone having a purpose for God's work and that everybody that comes to Faith Alive can use that purpose to serve. He asked me a few questions. Somehow he found out that I like to pray and that I believed in the power of prayer. That's great!" he said. I said, "It is?" Foolish me. He said, "It is one of the most important things. We need someone to pray for us confidently. You will pray for us. That is your purpose. Thank you for bringing Jesus Christ here." He got up after that. I remember just sitting there letting this sink in. Thank you for bringing Jesus Christ here. A simple sentence that said so much. Could I believe that? Can we believe that? Isn't that supposed to be what we do as missionaries - as disciples of Jesus Christ? Aren't we supposed to be the light? If we have accepted Jesus Christ into our lives and turn our lives to Him, then He will be manifested in us and we take Him wherever we go. How does it feel when you think about taking Jesus with you? That He is right there in you? Not just watching you from afar, but inside you. Instead of a detached, distant God, He is a close caring God, that we can become one with. Dr. Chris gave words of encouragement and love that day. You can choose your words to be a loving ,blessing balm to someone or a judging, condemning curse.

So now I had a purpose and was able to find my niche. I prayed for the patients at Faith Alive and I felt so humbled by it. The patients wanted prayers and they would hold my hands tight when I prayed. I will never forget it. I especially loved praying and spending time with the mothers and children that were in the sewing class at the Social services unit of Faith Alive. I was blessed by this experience. It might have never happened if someone had not encouraged me. Encouragement is God coming through you. It's His inspiration, beauty and love that will lift someone up.

Negative comments, of course, are not of God and produce negative feelings in others. I think we just all talk too much. I know people don't always mean to say hurtful things. But sometimes they do. Maybe it would be good if we could have the rain come down hard and have tin roofs like in Nigeria so it will be so loud we will be forced to have silence every afternoon. We should use that time to stop and pray.

Last August I went to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit where I heard a powerful, moving presentation given by Mamma Maggie Groban who started the Ministry for Stephen's Children in Egypt. This woman is a "mother" to many poor, forgotten children in her city much like our Sister Oresoa at the Anawim Home in Nigeria. This tiny, soft-spoken woman projected so much love and wisdom with her words. We were all amazed when she finished speaking. This is what she left us with:

I believe silence is the secret.
First, silence your body to listen to your words
Silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts.
Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart....beating.
Silence your heart to listen to your spirit.
Silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit.
In silence, you leave many, to be with the One.

Let's make time for some silence and prayer for mothers and children in Nigeria and here at home this Mother's Day. If you know a mother or a child who is hurting, please reach out to them. The least we can do is encourage, inspire, love and lift one another up.

Serving Hope from a Kitchen Table

We have quite a few new announcements for you. We have launched our new updated website. You can now easily visit the website or find out about me, the author of this blog, under Learn More on the right hand side of this blog. Also, there is a new Donate Today that will take you to directly how to donate. If you enjoy these blog posts please subscribe to this blog. If you are interested in reading and learning more about Hope for West Africa by the website and blog then become a fan on our Facebook page.

One new announcement our website includes is the addition of a new partner in Nigeria. In addition to the Poorest of the Poor Center (The Anawim Home) and the Faith Alive Foundation (Faith Alive Hospital) we are happy to be adding St. Pius X College school for boys ages 11-18. The school is lead by principal Fr. Abel Agbulu. It is located in Bodo City, Rivers State, Nigeria. There are 23 boys residing at the school which is in great need. See the website section About Us for more information. Some of you will be familiar with Fr. Abel from when he served here in Balto. communities. He did wonderful work here which included serving at St. Cecelia's in Balto. City. The community there has a large Nigerian population. I was blessed to attend his farewell mass there as he was leaving to go back to Nigeria to serve at St. Pius X where he is now. It was a very moving mass full of love. See my previous blog post to read about this mass and what Fr. Abel believes about God's call. We look forward to working with him and helping the boys to have a better school and education.

We also have had board and team member changes. Our beloved President and Co-Founder Diane Blattner has stepped down. Since the day in 2004 when she visited Nigeria and then decided to start a foundation she has not stopped faithfully serving the people she met. Diane is in a transition phase of her life. She and her husband Bill are looking forward to spending more time with their children and grandchildren. What is now the Hope for West Africa Foundation has thrived under Diane's leadership. The beginning of the HFWAF meetings were around her kitchen table with another co-founder and other caring friends. There at the kitchen table the journey began of serving hope! One of the main goals that remains very important to us is to maintain a personal relationship with our partners in Nigeria. They are not programs or statistics. They are people that we know and care about. They submit specific proposals for what they need and we attempt to meet those needs. Diane also instilled the importance for donors not just to give money but to feel involved and perhaps even one day volunteer in Nigeria. We are thankful to Diane for all she has done. Wait did you think this was a good- bye? Then you do not know Diane! Diane has work left to do! Diane is remaining on the board as Treasurer.

Sara Kennedy is our new President. She is the daughter of board member Karen Kennedy who has now stepped down. Karen was one of the original board members who visited Nigeria and sat around many kitchen table meetings. She was known for her great cooking skills and would always bring dinner for the crew. Many thanks to Karen for all of her kindness and generosity. We are excited to have her beautiful daughter Sara as President. Sara is an Epidemiologist at the National Institute of Human Virology U. Of Md. She has lived and worked in Nigeria at the Institute of Human Virology in Abuja. She served at both Faith Alive Hospital and the Anawim Home. This background and experience makes her a wonderful President for HFWAF. She feels it is important to continue the work that the foundation started. She believes in helping our partners in Nigeria support local solutions. Our partners are lead by people who are empowering others. Thus the giving never ends. You are serving up hope that can lead to more and more changed lives. And what is better than that? You can read more on Sara from my previous blog story which is a talk Sara presented at John Hopkins University on her visit at Faith Alive Hospital.

We are also happy to have Melinda Capone (Corresponding Secretary) and Carol Weymer (Accountant) join us. Melinda is keeping us very organized and Carol is on top of all our financial information. Roberta McClimens is our techno-miracle worker, who has been tirelessly working on our website. She will continue to update the site. We are blessed to have these new members on our team.

We are looking forward to serving and praying together in the future for our Nigerian friends. The journey continues...we still enjoy meeting and serving hope around a kitchen table!

Top Photo: Orphans...watching and waiting for hope.
Middle Photo: Fr. Abel in front of the roofless dining hall of St. Pius X.
Bottom Photo: Our new kids - the boys of St. Pius.

Happy Easter

Christian worshippers visit the Church of Holy Sepulchre during Easter celebrations in Jerusalem's Old City, April 7.

I love Easter. Christians are celebrating Easter all around the world right now. Our friends in Nigeria celebrate Easter much like us. They go to worship at church and spend time with their families. Here at home the children are off at school and we have been enjoying a special week together. For us there is a special week called Holy Week that is observed that precedes Easter. I like that this holiday is not as consumer driven as Christmas. I think this is my favorite week of the whole year because this is the core of our faith. Jesus died on Friday. This was not understood then. All hope was given up. A tragic end had come? Evil had won? But no...on Sunday he rose from the tomb. Sunday was victory! He did this so that we may have new life. I always think of this week as a huge renewal. It is spring and usually pretty weather. Trees get their leaves again, grass comes back to cut again, and the flowers bloom. It is all so beautiful. I find myself coming out of my winter rut (although we didn't have very wintry weather here this year) and being very grateful every year.

Our friends at the Anawim Home and Faith Alive Hospital are on my heart today. We at the HFWAF pray for God to bless them. I will never forget the people I met there. It is remarkable how they changed my life forever. I miss them. I think of them when I go through hard times and it helps me. They showed me what courage is really all about. I saw people suffering everyday and making a choice to go on to live and be full of love instead of bitterness. They were grateful for what they had just to be alive to love others. I will remember them always.

Happy Easter to everyone.