My Response- Africa 2014

*take a deep breath in, now slowly exhale*

There are no words that can adequately depict what took place between the days of July 9th through the 22nd. I find myself staring at my computer screen on October 18th, three months after my trip, still hesitant to blog about my great adventure. My fear is in the knowing that there are absolutely no words that I could ever employ to my friends and family that would do this life-altering expedition justice. To this day, I am still processing the various occurrences that took place during my time spent in Africa. Whether the minutes were spent under the stars in Maputo or in the stark walls of the local hospital, my heart was stripped of all things temporal and filled with such a hope of the eternal. God took the darkest, dirtiest parts of my heart and planted flowers. He divinely interrupted my walk of life to enrich my spirit with a new, sweet understanding of His love and His grace-- His love that transforms and grace that empowers. I was completely undone from the inside out as I spent my time dancing with Mozambicans (or rather 2-steppin'-- courtesy of my ATL roots), ministering in jails, praying for the sick, and staying up into the wee hours of the night playing Mafia with some of the greatest people. This trip deposited a fiery passion and burden into the deepest caverns of my heart for the people of this world. The resounding prayer of my heart coming away from this trip is that I may be a conduit of His love, discipling others and leading the lost of the world to the Cross. I left challenged by Truth, united with community, and equipped for the greater cause of Christ in my own life and neighborhood.

Alright, so rather than "word-vomiting" every little thought that took up residency in my mind during my many endeavors in Africa, I have chosen to pinpoint some of the most impactful times/take-aways from the duration of the trip. I hope your heart is encouraged as much as mine is in remembering who Father God is through the words that follow in this post. Every reflection of this trip testifies of his sovereignty/grace/faithfulness/love/etc. He is so good.

1. Community. I believe that community is a catalyst for a greater cultivation of God's spirit and revelation in our lives. It was through the unity (community) of the team that ushered in the moments that ultimately transformed me.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. [Eph. 4:11-13]

Something that became glaringly apparent to me during my time in Mozambique, is that together (as a community), we can obey God more fully than any of us could ever do alone. When we work together, the church can beautifully express the fullness of Christ. We were fashioned to live in community, for God Himself is a triune God. It was through the many prayers, worship, laughs, cries, and challenging convos that I grew to be a family with the 10 people that I vaguely had relation with before July 9th. God has been faithful in planting me in a church community, in Cleveland, that I now call family. I credit my trip to Africa, in large part, with my current involvement in NCCOG. I am extremely expectant in what is to come in the future as I continue to grow with these people that I call family. I'm grateful for the leadership, mentoring, and edifying relationships I have found in Elevation @ North Cleveland CoG. I'm eternally thankful.

2. His love. It's the thing we sing about, talk about, pray about, etc. Yet, as much as I would like to say I grasp it, I would be lying. It is unfathomable for me to even think about the great expanse of love that He has not just for me, but everyone. There have been various times in my life where I have encountered the love of God in unique ways, whether the tangible presence or intricate idea, it has been transforming. Whilst in the prayer room, on July 15 (in Maputo, Mozambique/Zimpeto Iris Base), I was completely undone by the picture of God's heart for me. As I was worshipping, the Lord took me into a place where I could so clearly see His heart resting on His sleeve. (Bear with me as I describe this) As I was escorted into His heart, all I could see were different bridges leading to various doorways. Each doorway had a banner above it, labeling each door specifically. There were doors titled "My Destiny for Savanna", "Savanna's Family", "Savanna's Friends", etc. Every bit of His heart was consumed by me alone. I was a weepy, wrecked- mess after witnessing His specific heart for me. The revelation of His heart for me lead to the revelation of His heart for others. His love is so great, so beautiful. It isn't until we receive the knowledge of His love that we can minister out of the place of love. We can't impart what we don't have. Overall, this experience has challenged me to be more intentional with the time I spend with the Lord. Being with the Lord in the secret place fosters a greater intimacy (in- to- me- you- see), which leads to a deeper revelation of who He is, which leads to a greater root in Him, which leads to the ultimate Source of all love, which leads to the place where we impart from. Yeah, dat just happened!

3. The joy of the Lord is my strength, and His perfect love casts out all fear. I feel like now is the time for me to gather everyone around a nice and cozy fire to share this specific testimony. Here's a little background information to bring you up to date: in my last post, you will see that I listed what we did every day while we were in Africa. You will notice that the first couple of days were spent in a village named Gumbane that was located in the bush. During our time in Gumbane, we did everything from create a gardening compost to putting on different services throughout the days and nights. The second night we were in Gumbane, we had quite the disruption during service. Just as Pastor Craig was getting to the meat of his sermon, a (demonized) man decides to waltz on in and disrupt the service. He called us names that insinuated that we were "crazy" and "bats." As much as this experience stirred up our team, we sat still, interceded from afar, and let Pastor Craig finish his message. Later that night as we cozied up in our sleeping bags for a night of rest, the incident from earlier was the last thing on my mind. I fell asleep perfectly fine, but a couple hours into the night, I was woken up by a terrible noise. My friend that was sleeping beside me happened to wake up as well. We sat in the pitch black and listened to what literally sounded like a tribe of humans coming to attack our little village. As fear started to close in around us, the only thing I could do was laugh. This wasn't just a normal laugh though… This was a deep belly laugh that caused a stream of tears to leave my eyes and trickle down my face. I was laughing so much so that I was wheezing uncontrollably (this may be due in large part to the fact that I had a sinus infection, but still, the laughter was ridonkulous). After my laughing fit, my friend and I collected ourselves. We decided to label the noises as animals and forgive and forget. Sleep was then ours. It wasn't until about a week after I got home from Africa that I saw the victory in what had happened that night on the floor in Gumbane. After verbally expressing the emotions I had experienced in the range of that particular day, I saw the evidence of the absence of fear in my life. If you were to know me in high school, you would be quite familiar with the fear I found my being in. What started as a fear of the dark quickly grew into a fear of man's approval, a fear of failure, and so much more. Fear ruled me. It wasn't until about a year ago, by the grace of God, that I was completely delivered of all fear. That's what makes this story gold. As I'm laying in the middle of no where, with no phone access and no ADT security, I am confronted with the fear of death, ensued by the ferocious noises that lurked in the night. My first response to this fear: laughter. I couldn't contain the Truth that had been welled up inside of me, so it came out in the pure form of joyous laughter. His perfect love combats fear, and His joy was literally my strength in that moment. I am so thankful for the situations I encountered while in Gumbane, for they activated things inside of me that I never truly knew were there. God is faithful to His word... Rest in His love and watch fear scatter.

I am so thankful for the time I got to spend in Africa. I was challenged, charged, and changed from the inside out. I pray that I am able to maintain the missional mindset I found to be so present in Africa. May I carry that frame of mind as I serve in my own neighborhood. I cannot thank everyone enough who has been behind me throughout this whole journey. Your intentionality in showing me your love and support through finances and prayer means more to me than you'll ever know. I am eternally grateful. To God be all the glory.

[I'll go ahead and answer the eagerly asked question: "Do I want to go back?"]

Every fiber in my being aches to be back in the place that captured my heart. I am excited to see when I will be able to invest a meaty amount of time in Mozambique again. Until that time, I will devote my time and service into North Cleveland and the surrounding community.

Savanna Brown