Saturday, October 24, 2015

Refining Fire

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” Job 23:10
I’ll admit it. Coming back to Los Angeles after a year of traveling has not been easy. Somewhere in the middle I ceased to know where home was anymore, because Los Angeles became no longer home, but a rest stop for me to gather my life back as much as I can, and run off in another direction.
In Counterfeit Gods Tim Keller wisely states “You don't realize God is all you need until God is all you have.” I would like to add an asterisk that it’s not so much what I don't have, but the hurt over what God has taken away. Technically, I still have a lot compared to some; but I am brought to my knees when, in one week God stripped away my stability, future dreams, international community, a healthy relationship, and quality of life. I returned to an arid Los Angeles a little shattered and frantic to piece a different me back together. In these moments how can I do anything but to cling onto the fact that my identity is not dependent on my talent, success, wealth, or love life? How can I, when situations are out of my control and God (unfortunately) insists on reminding me that when everything else falls apart, He remains faithful? And He is.
These days, knowing that Jesus (not me,) gives me strength for every new day, is the only thing that makes me brave enough to face anything. Paul says in 2 Corinthians: 
“He said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 
In tough periods such as this, being thankful is the best way for me to witness how God continues to provide for me. I have amazing roommates, international friends who constantly encourage me, incredible friends in LA who care for me, and landed a few animation gigs that I could not have gotten on my own. And perhaps the best part is that in my brokenness God is still teaching me to love others by highlighting the beauty in every person I see. Through Jesus I am retaining my capacity to love, find joy, and be at peace. Never once did I ever walk alone.
It’s been a tough transition to jump from paradise into a wilderness. As reflected in my excessive Facebook posts, summer 2015 was a brilliant star that burned in me a passion for life and expression. Upon landing in LAX, autumn announced itself as a painful season of change that threatened to quench whatever flame was ignited in the summer. Yet I’m beginning to understand that God is bringing me through a different sort of fire. In sports people have a saying that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Likewise, the Bible often refers to God as a metalworker: "I will... refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people'; and they will say 'The Lord is my God.'" Perhaps it’s God’s strange sense of humor after all, that my surname is AU- the chemical symbol for gold.
I’ve still got a lot of fight in me, because I know God is faithful.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tutaonana: Goodbye, Tanzania

"All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

on the road to Maasailand
This was the quote I took away with me as I graduated from USC almost exactly a year ago. In a flurry of graduation caps, cardinal and gold, I was sent off into the world—wide-eyed, excited, and unsure. Life up until this point had been so structured for me, and for the first time my future lay before me: wild and unchartered. God gave me a nudge and so I jumped, hand held firmly in His, into a strange new adventure… and here I am in Tanzania a year later, begrudgingly counting down the days till my departure.

The past few months with Pamoja have been quite steady: Work all week and hang out with the Pamoja community, rest/homegroup on Saturday, and church on Sunday with an occasional town trip. But every once in a while, I get to go somewhere awesome and spend the rest of the month reflecting on it.

During the month of March I had the incredible experience of going to Maasailand out in Simanjiro to visit some of Pamoja’s Maasai friends. (Honestly, had I not been slacking on my entries this trip should have deserved its very own post lol.)

packing for the trip
Maasai are a tribe of herders who usually live out in the bush (aka the middle of nowhere,) and spend their days taking care of their goats, cows, and families. Getting out to Simanjiro in the first place, however, was already a doozy and made me realize how much I took the paved roads in the U.S. for granted! 
busted tire
cow crossing
Apart from hours of feeling like I was sitting on a bucking bronco for 6 hours, there were so many things I took away from the trip to Maasailand.
  1.  Having to do your business in the bushes is actually quite freeing: You know initially, having grown up with toilets to pee/take a dump in nearly my entire life, the idea of squatting and potting seemed kind of gross. However, since there are no rest areas along the roads of Tanzania, but tons of trees and bushes, I quickly realized that no toilets meant I could go whenever I want, wherever I want!

  2. Freshly roasted goat meat is awesome: The Maasai slaughtered a goat for us the nights we were there, and Kirsten and I were invited to watch. This is a huge testament to God’s work in the community, because originally Maasai men wouldn’t even eat meat that was seen by a woman. I felt a little bad for the goat, but not too bad because honestly she had a way better life than the factory bred animals we eat at home. Maybe that’s why she tasted so yummy- I don’t even know the words to describe what it tasted like! Chewy, smoky, rich in flavor, with a hint of wilderness and Maasai to it.  Just thinking about it now makes me hungry, but I’m not sure when I’ll ever have the chance to taste similar roasted meat again.

    leading goat to slaughter
    dinner :P
  3. Smiling, and trying your best to communicate goes a long way: Some of my fondest memories in Maasailand was trying to communicate with a couple Maasai women. Both of us speak very little Swahili because my mother tongue is English, and theirs is Maasai, but once I got past laughing and figured out how to say “God bless you” in Swahili, their smiles and hugs and grasping of hands said much more than words could ever express.
  4. I became particularly fond of this kid named Samson...
    it probably helped that he spoke a little more Swahili lol
    we couldn't communicate well with each other,
    but the women and kids hung around us and were so welcoming!
  5. Life isn’t better out here in the bush, but it certainly points out some flaws from my culture, such as the lack of community and happiness: The Maasai have a really simple lifestyle compared to mine—stripped to the core with only the bare basics, and yet they have such a joy and depth to their community. When asked if they would ever like to live in the west, for instance, the Maasai immediately answered “no.” Even though many of them have traveled to North America, our material wealth cannot make up for our lonely souls, nor can it make up for our constant desire to search for a higher purpose.
  6. building a house out of mud and cow dung
    maasai kids LOVED photos!! (except maybe not that particular baby)
    I usually had to sneak pictures unless I wanted to be lost in a crowd of kids
    tents we slept in
    watching a cow give birth (it miscarried T.T)
    scenery out here is beautiful, but the winds can be brutal
  7. God is moving in the Maasai and raising up local leaders: It’s incredible to hear some of the testimonies from the men and women here who discovered Christ for themselves (not foreign missionaries) through dreams and are now centering their lives around Jesus. They are now growing into a community that promotes education, encourages more respect for their women, opposes FGM (female genital mutilation,) and strives to be a light to other Maasai communities.   
    Maasai leaders meeting about their school system

Lastly, here is an audio clip (this was recorded at night) of the worship songs they sing at night. They write their own praise songs that apparently change quite a bit over time, but it’s beautiful!


With my last days in Tanzania ticking away, I find myself reflecting quite frequently about what I have learned my first year out of college, and I think it can be summed up into two points: that 1) missionaries are not exempt from the struggle bus, and 2) God can still work through us despite our struggles.

Chapter One of my post-grad story kind of became a "wilderness" experience, and much of this came with unrealistic expectations of what it meant to be a missionary. I think that sometimes, when we (myself included,) think of missionaries, we think of stellar, superhero Christians who perform above and beyond. Missionaries are the people who punch Satan in the face with powerful prayers, cast out demons, bring entire communities to Christ and stay on top of their quiet time, right? But I’ve realized that the danger of that misconception is that as a missionary to Skid Row LA and Africa, I hold myself to the same unrealistic standards. And when I fail to meet them, I begin believe in the lie that I have also failed God.

But thankfully, when one is surrounded by good community and seasoned missionaries, I’m reminded in tough moments that God never intended for us to journey alone. Ecclesiastes 4 says "Two are better than one, because they have return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" I have been blessed to live with people from such diversity of cultures, academic backgrounds, personalities and lifestyles—to whom I can learn from and lean on. Living in community also produces a beautiful vulnerability that demonstrates our need for God’s grace to unite and strengthen us. I may not have poured out my heart and soul here at Pamoja, but just knowing that we are a community that constantly prayers for and serves one another is often encouragement enough.

celebrating one of the kids birthdays!
going to miss these girls when I leave
goofing off :3
poor fuzzface got spayed last week lol, but she's back to being her silly self again now!
Despite months of spiritual wrestling, I look back on Africa and see God’s grace working through my skills despite my shortcomings. It amazes me to see what I have been able to accomplish, and what Pamoja has accomplished in 6 months. By the end of the month I will have completed thirteen 40-page full color comics for distribution. Pamoja is currently in a state of expanding, and we are taking on new media projects, partnering with local east African churches, building more housing for future missionaries, and recruiting new members to our team. Our God is able! Even on the days when I don’t want to talk to him, or feel totally unproductive He has surrounded me with awesome community, solitude when needed, and the cutest furry friend. In a few days I can leave the country knowing that we have helped make financial literacy more available to hundreds of thousands of people.

on set with Wewenami- our kids puppet show
screening Nipe Jibu- our film musical, to Maasai at night (photocred to Steve Wozny)

Jeremy partnering with a Kenyan pastor to distribute 300,000 copies of a discipleship curriculum 
Mwanangu, our puppet show's main character

a newly tiled tree from Kirsten that I like to call the tree of Gondor :3

This mid-term mission was humbling because it’s long enough that my project will make a difference, but short enough to know that most of the heavy lifting is still done by those who have spent decades on the field, and those people deserve medals. Nevertheless, I love the fact that regardless of how long I’ve been here, every day, every second we live for God’s kingdom adds a tile to His mosaic of a redemptive story. After I leave, Pamoja will carry on with it’s media work and community building, but it has been an honor to see God’s hand in this ministry and be a part of it. I hope to return again.

sunset over Pangani beach in Tanzania
Catch you on the flip side, fabulous friends :)

p.s. for any of you going to Urbana 2015, I’ll be there with the Pamoja team so come say hi!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Small Missionary, Big Mission

Hello everyone!

I apologize for the delay in posting- I have added a few things to my schedule so life has started to become busier for me. I’m happy to say that after 3 months of trying to figure out how to best make cost-efficient, yet aesthetically pleasing comic books, we have finally figured out the workflow and I finished Comic Book 1 out of 13! Although this first book took me 3 months to complete, the weeks and weeks of troubleshooting and planning have paved the road to efficiency, so now I am able to complete one comic book in about a week. Here are some photos:

My fuzzy cubicle buddy has multiple sleeping positions in a day

These comic books series will be distributed all throughout East Africa, to be accompanied with 13 30-minute animated episodes! Our partners, VisionFund and World Vision have been really stoked about the quality of our projects ☺ It’s really quite something to see what a small group of dedicated, passionate people can do.

And if you’re curious, here are some of the other projects Pamoja has done, including one of the first Swahili television series for children, and a beautiful Swahili musical about a girl choosing freedom and love over enslavement to spirits of witchcraft (a very real issue here in Africa.)

Apart from work, I have also been exploring a lot more of Africa- I went to some safari trips, I went hiking a few weeks ago with a friend, joined a community group from church, and I also made a dress out of some traditional fabric that I bought!! My language skills are also improving- I wish I had more time/discipline to practice on my own, but I’ve also realized that the best way for me to learn is just to go out there, speak Swahili, and not be afraid of sounding like an idiot. But above all, I have also been reflecting a lot on why God has placed me in Tanzania, and the lessons I have learned here since.

Sunday outing with church friends
I made a kitenge dress!!

Tash photobombing me
some of the awesome feser kids

waterfall hike in a national park!

natural hole in the middle of a hugeee fig tree
we were sooo lucky to see lions in the national park


Small Missionary, Big Mission 

When I hear the word “missionary,” one of the first images that come to mind is a radical evangelical Christian—actively proclaiming the gospel in a third world country. Maybe she runs an orphanage, takes bucket showers, and lives in a hut with the people she is trying to reach. Maybe he has to keep his faith a secret in order to avoid persecution from the government. I sometimes think of John the Baptist—arguably one of the first missionaries, and envision some crazed hippie dressed in camel hide eating bugs and honey—screaming “REPENT!” and baptizing anyone who would listen.

And here I am, sitting on a queen sized bed after taking a hot shower, typing on my macbook pro with unlimited Internet in Tanzania, trying to decide if I want to keep my hair green or not (although the power did just go out). Unlike John the Baptist, it is highly unlikely that I will be beheaded here, or significantly persecuted for my faith—but I too, am a missionary.

Over the past few months, I have been musing over why God chose to place me here, in the relatively peaceful country of Tanzania. Instead of traipsing through jungles or wandering LA’s skid row, I work in an office. I am not actively fighting against homelessness, human trafficking, or injustice, or poverty. On a normal day you will find me staring at three screens rendering out gazillions of comic-book images. I have no heart-wrenching stories of “starving African children” to share, but I can tell you about the frustrating hours I have spent wrestling with Autodesk Maya and reorganizing computer files. I can tell you about the tight-knit community that Pamoja shares and the dreams we have dreamed together, in unison, for East Africa. They are lovingly and painstakingly pieced together with visions of Swahili musicals and stories; intertwined with the hope of weaving more of Jesus into Tanzanian culture. And I begin to wonder whether God’s intention of leading me here was.

one of Tanzania's beautiful national parks
I’ve learned that missions work isn’t always explicitly “humanitarian” or “charitable” –nor should it be. In fact, when missions is run purely out of “passion” without education and professional expertise, it often does more harm than good. Our popular Christian culture has done us a disservice by convincing us that the ideal missionary runs an orphanage in some developing country. As an animator with a heart for missions therefore, I never dreamed that there might even be a place for me in the mission world outside of sharing with coworkers—and I am sure that I was not the only soul feeling misplaced.

But one does not build connections with an elderly, traditional Hong Kong woman and an educated Muslim Tanzanian in the same way. Likewise, to spread the hope of the gospel means that different people must approach this task with different tactics. Admittedly for quite some time, I was having internal conflicts because unlike the Los Angeles Urban Project where I lived in unsafe neighborhoods and befriended people in shelters—efficient missions at Pamoja means getting the comic books printed and distributed. Our different focus and goals require different strategy. If I took bucket showers, hand washed my laundry, and had no electricity, nothing would be accomplished—and I daresay we would even be laughed at. If we don’t come up with creative ways do missions outside the box, we will only ever reach people in the box.

There are a number of things I’ve learned since coming here, and perhaps the biggest blessing and challenge was knowing that animation is needed in missions—that creative skills are so useful in bringing stories filled with truth, hope, and love. Sometimes making financial literacy comic books feels small, because this isn’t the grand, cinematic, spiritual-warfare-ridden mission that I envisioned. But in addition to curbing my ego, I am blessed that I don’t have to live in fear due to my faith, and that I can come home to a clean apartment, hot shower, and warm bed every night. This is the missions field that God has called me to for the past few months—a softer, more comfortable place for me to experience God’s quiet majesty—but missions nonetheless. Maybe in a few years my missions field will be elsewhere—safer, or more dangerous—who knows? For the moment I am learning to delight in my role as a small missionary, taking part in God’s big, big mission.

Coffee tour- and yes now I have green tips in my hair ;)

Prayer Requests:

Container shipment 
In order to print and distribute the financial literacy comic books I am making, we need the huge shipment of printers we ordered from the states 6 months ago. However, they are still in government custody and we are waiting for them to release it to us, which can take anywhere from a few days to months. We are already delayed in delivering the comic books to some of our sponsors, and we cannot do much without the printers. Please pray for a speedy delivery of the printers to Pamoja Ministries!

Software issues 
One of the annoying things about working with the animation software Autodesk Maya is that it is such a deep program with such a high learning curve, that when something goes wrong it can hours to work out. I am much more familiar with the workflow now so many of those issues are minimized, but prayer for problem-less days with the program would also be greatly appreciated.

Lately many of us have been getting sick with some type of flu- I was sick briefly last week and just got a minor fever again today. Please pray for health for everyone- our staff, volunteers, missionaries, and local friends. There is a lot of work to be done already without sickness.

elephants for days :D
Asante sana everyone for your support and prayers! Sending love to everyone back home.

Con tanto amore,

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Time to Celebrate

Hello, family and friends! 

I realize I haven’t updated in a while—I had been telling myself that I would post updates for a while now, but the weekends keep getting away from me! It’s hard for me to believe that it’s February already, which marks my two full months of being in the country, with only four left to go.

January has been a particularly pleasant month for a number of reasons, some of which include getting more used to life at Pamoja, slowing improving in my Swahili, and having opportunities to experience more of Tanzania. And for some strange, delightful reasons, a plethora of celebrations happened to occur all at once in this month, including my 23rd birthday, a Tanzanian wedding and sendoff, Australia day (in honor of our one Australian,) and the birthdays of two kids on base. Here are some pictures of the celebrations and the wedding we attended.

Diana put up a the Happy Birthday banner for me!
borrowed a mosquito net to keep those nasty things away
Pamoja celebrating Danny's first birthday
I caught a baby gecko! Seriously look how tiny it is
Ben Feser celebrating Australia day with a watermelon hat!
Selfie with the Pamoja crew- Natasha, Martina, Me, Justin, and Angela :D
Some of the Pamoja staff at Florah's wedding send-off
Wedding day!
Bride and Groom- I think Tanzanians don't smile so much in formal events to be more respectful 
All the single missionary ladies plus Natasha Feser :)
In between days, I have also had the chance to go to town and market more often now. Even though I’m barely conversational in Swahili, it’s good to immerse myself in the environment and become more familiar with the sounds of the language. This past Saturday I even went with Pamoja to an absolutely stunning waterhole! It had a rope swing where you could swing yourself into the water. IT WAS AWESOME. Unfortunately, I cut my foot on one of the rocks and got it mildly infected for half a day- oops. But thanks to Polysporin it’s all better now so don’t freak out mom and dad.

check out this bomb diggity waterhole
In the middle of nowhere
Lucy and I
That white blob is me swinging into the waterhole
In the midst of all this, I have been frequently reminded of the best reason to celebrate no matter what- because compared to the constant hope we have in Christ, life is merely the appetizer for the infinitely better kingdom to come. And when groups of people work together in anticipation for that hope, beautiful things happen. Greater purpose gives us greater reason to love, hope, and rejoice deeply.

Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Communities such as Pamoja are a testament to the impact such a small group of people can have when we work together for a greater purpose. With a company of less than 20, we are creating the first Swahili animations for children, filming 26 episodes of Swahili puppet shows, printing a series of 13 financial literacy comic books that will be distributed all throughout East Africa, animating 6.5 hours worth of the financial literacy curriculum, and screening our Swahili movies and musicals all over Tanzania!!! And the response I have seen has been overwhelmingly positive. Praise the Lord indeed ☺

progress! The color comics are coming together
Shiner became part of the experimental process in dyeing cloth for the puppets
Sarah and Raha :D
Lastly, prayer requests for this week/month include:

Efficiency and smooth workflow: We are all very busy juggling multiple projects, which is particularly difficult in a different country. Please pray for less unexpected problems, grace when importing materials/going through customs, and fresh bursts of creativity.

Strengthened community: With things getting busier, it’s also easy to forget the importance of community or become impatient for each other. Even though I think we’ve been doing a good job of looking out for each other and reminding ourselves of our purpose here, please continue to pray that we would be able to maintain a positive attitude towards each other.

More cultural/language growth: Thank you for all your prayers last time about my growing culturally! I am now able to understand a fair amount of children’s televisions shows, and have been venturing out more. However, I would still like to be much better at Swahili than I am right now (I have the talking level similar to that of a 2 year old), and I would like to go out into town more. This is difficult because of such long workdays, but I hope to have more chances to push myself out of my comfort zone on the weekends, and maybe even weeknights.

My first view of Kilimanjaro at a Nipe Jibu showing :)
Con tanto amore,

p.s. I got twists in my hair today with pink tips! so now I look like a rasta girl. But that will be a post for next time ;)