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In Freetown, Sierra Leone summer of 2009. From left to right: Miracle, Brittany, Dinah, Triumph, Me, Papa, Mummy, Eugene, and Winner.

This morning I received a phone call. I didn’t pick it up because at first I didn’t recognize the number but something within me told me the call was coming from Africa. I went on about my morning and didn’t really think to check my messages till a little later during the day and when I listened to my voicemail, the sound of a sweet, broken cry hit my ears. “Lauren, this is Pastor Wellington, Papa and Mummy from Sierra Leone. Please pray for us. We need help. It’s Ebola. Call me if you can. Love you.” After hearing Papa’s voice, I broke down in tears. I was not ok. Here I am carrying on in my normal day while lives are being lost every second. I prayed so hard for these beautiful people who are still fighting for their lives in the midst of a deadly disease that is ravaging their country. I was angry and upset and frustrated that these people are living in constant fear while watching their friends and loved ones die right before their eyes. They can’t even walk down the street without seeing massive grave sites where bodies are just thrown because Ebola is out of control.

A couple years ago, two other girls and I lived in Sierra Leone with an amazing African Pastor and his family. We lived right in the middle of Freetown in Sierra Leone, one of the places Ebola has hit the hardest. In Sierra Leone there is only about 2 doctors to 100,000 people according to the World Health Organization. I don’t really get to talk to them very much but when I do, my heart hurts for them and my cry gets louder for God to rescue them and keep them safe from Ebola. Papa, Mummy, Miracle (oldest boy), Winner (oldest girl), Triumph, and Eugene (baby) all stole my heart while in Sierra Leone and they need our prayers along with everyone else in West Africa. I remember walking down the streets in Freetown, holding Miracle’s hand with Eugene strapped to my back, in search of water to drink. On the weekends we would walk through some of the poorest villages and rally up all the kids (by the hundreds) to play with in a big, dirt field. We loved on them, fed them, and showed them the greatest LOVE they could ever know… the love of Jesus. The nights were long and hard as I remember crying myself to sleep because of the conditions we were in but I would wake up to these beautiful people who had so little but had so much because they lived their lives so thankful. They impacted my life in so many ways and I have never been the same.

It’s so easy to forget and to become comfortable in the security of our own safety. I have watched over the past month our nation slip into an overwhelming fear where we have taken our eyes off Jesus.  My fear is not Ebola but that we who claim to follow Christ are being swayed by the enemy’s tactic of FEAR and listening to the media more than we are looking to Christ, a perfect love where there is no fear. I can see us easily turning our backs on the nations, the orphans, and the “least of these” for fear of the Ebola crisis or even terrorist groups such as ISIS. We are headed in the direction of becoming afraid to help, focusing inwardly on ourselves, and forgetting about the assignment God has given us to go to the nations. It’s easier to remain in our comfort zone where we are secure in the fact of our own safety. But what about Jesus’ heart for others? Do we just sit back and watch while the continent of Africa is being overtaken by a deadly disease? Those are our brothers and sisters. What about the 4,000 children a week that are becoming orphans, living on the streets and dying of starvation? They may not be our own personal children but they are God’s children.The Ebola crisis should be more reason to GO, to support, and to pray for those that are risking their lives to help rather than looking down upon them for fear of them coming back here. It should place an urgency within our spirits to pray more than ever for the souls and lives that are being lost every single day in Africa because, what if they don’t know Jesus?

It is not my goal through this post to convince you to get on a plane and go to Africa but to remind you of our assignment as God’s chosen. What would our nation look like if we as Christians were fully convinced of these truths? My God is sovereign (Psalm 103:19.) He is in control (Isaiah 41:10.)  He ordains every one of my steps (Proverbs 20:24.) He is for me and not against me (Romans 8:31.) I will not die until God is done with His plan for my life (Philipians 1:6.) I will remain safe and preach the gospel to the nations because they need to hear (Psalm 18:2.) No sickness or disease will touch me. God will protect me (Psalm 121:7.) He will go before me (Deuteronomy 31:8.)  I will not fear (Psalm 118:6.) Our steps are ordered by God and if we are living a life in total pursuit of the ONE who loves us so much, nothing can touch you or your family. God’s plan for your life will not end unfinished. He has ordained your steps as He goes before you.

When Papa called me this morning, my heart was gently reminded not to forget the nations in the midst our own fear. It was a reminder of how truly blessed I am to be here in the US. I read this quote off Instagram this morning from @keepingupwiththehaneys.

“With BRAVE wings, she flies.” 

Today I choose to fly. Today I choose to fix my eyes on Jesus and not be bound by fear. Today, I will be BRAVE, not only for myself but for each child, orphan, woman, and man who is fighting the Ebola battle in West Africa this very second. Will you join me?

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Beautiful Winner and Baby Eugene.

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Sweet baby Eugene in Sierra Leone that needs our prayers.

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Triumph was such a precious girl.

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The place in Freetown, Sierra Leone we lived for almost a month. Pray for this beautiful village as they continue to fight Ebola.

November 4, 2014 0 comment
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Happy Birthday Empty Bucket Ministries!!! 

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Little did I know, two years ago today would be the day that changed my life forever. As I look back, it is only by the grace of God that we are where we are today and I’m so grateful. I took some time yesterday to read through my journal from September 15, 2015 and the pages took me back to the emotions I was facing that very day. I was scared to death. I didn’t know what I was doing. Part of me questioned if I was even hearing the voice of the Lord correctly. Was my mind dreaming too big?? Was this even possible? Insecurity rose. I felt inadequate and questioned why God would choose me. But God gently reminded me of the moment in a little village in Haiti with a bucket of clean water when He spoke to me. He developed a passion and strength to fight for others down deep within me. A passion that drove me to press on. It encouraged me even in the midst of all my circumstances saying “you can’t do this.” And so with the little courage I had along with my best friends, we took a giant leap of faith.

On September 15, 2012, we decided to throw a launch party to share our vision with our friends and whoever else would come.  I remember laying face down in my room a couple hours before our big event and with tears running down my face I wrote in my journal and prayed a BIG prayer, “Lord, I don’t know who is coming to this event, I don’t even know if anyone will show up but I know you can do the impossible and I am asking that you help us raise $20,000 to fund our water well projects for the year.” And that very night we raised a total of $20,000.31 with just 75 people present. God is faithful to his promises!! Stories like this are beautiful and it brings my heart so much joy to write about because they can’t be explained any other way but “Only God.” I believe that if we live our life in complete dependence upon the Father and take steps of faith that are in alignment with His word, our life will be defined by “Only God” moments. Now that’s a life worth living!!

To this day Empty Bucket Ministries has had the opportunity to be a part of so many life-changing projects around the world.

Here in Nicaragua, Empty Bucket Ministries put in a water irrigation system on 20 acres of farmland where we were able to plant 64,000 little pepper plants exporting them out of the country to generate an income for the village.

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Our FIRST Vision 414 team of 20!! We had one of the most amazing teams and we each formed relationships that we will never forget!

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Fed over 200 children in the poorest villages in Nicaragua.

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We sponsored over 40 children at the Donna-Holland School in Diriamba, Nicaragua. Sponsors had the opportunity to meet their child for the very first time.

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In Osula Village in Nigeria, Africa we broke ground and dug our first two water wells!! Watching a village experience the power of clean, purified drinking water will change you forever. This picture is when we turned on the well for the very first time.

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We had the opportunity to visit the NICU and PICU in a hospital in Benin City. We were able to hand out children’s books to sick babies and their beautiful familes. We prayed over these children and proclaimed healing in Jesus name!

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Dewormed and treated over 200 children for Malaria at a school in a poor village in Benin, Africa.

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Traveled to Oklahoma to provide relief for those affected by the Tornado.

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Cooked for over 75 families at the Ronald McDonald house.

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God’s been good!! Today, Empty Bucket Ministries is growing and God is blessing us beyond anything we could ever imagine. Each day is a walk of faith and each day God proves himself more and more faithful. We are excited about what the future holds but we never want to forget to look back and praise God from thankful hearts for all that He has done. So Happy Birthday Empty Bucket Ministries!! It’s been a life-changing journey and incredible two years!!

Empty Bucket Ministries would not be what it is today without those who faithfully serve and give their time to loving and serving the least of these. We have the most incredible team, whom of which I can call my best friends. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all these girls: Brittany Hall, Stephanie Robinson, Natalie Shurley, Brittany Sales, Kelly Law, and Megan Buck. Because of you EB is Changing the World!!

If you are reading this I pray that it encourages your heart to trust Jesus a little more with that dream inside you. If He is prompting you to do something borderline crazy, GO after it!! He will never leave you or forsake you! Remember that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and when He gives you a vision, He will give you the provision.

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zeph 3:17

 

September 15, 2014 1 comment
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I want to tell you a story of a beautiful family I met while in Nigeria. I pray this story challenges you to listen more and speak less.

While in Nigeria, I went to help out in a hospital in Benin City. When we first got there, I made my way to the post-labor ward where a beautiful family changed me forever.  As I walked into the room that day, the eyes of a young mother caught my attention and penetrated my heart. I knew something wasn’t right and behind her tired, depressed eyes, she had a story and I wanted to hear it. I made my way over to her and sat next to her on the hospital bed. And with a smile on her face, she placed her sweet baby boy in my arms. He was so beautiful. I held him for a second and prayed over his little body. But I immediately knew something was off. He seemed older than a newborn baby and questions in my head started to rise of why they both were still there?  He seemed healthy and everything looked good. My NICU nurse started to kick in and I began to scan his body trying to figure out what could be wrong. His mother continued to sit next to me and I felt the Holy Sprit tell me to just listen. And so I looked her straight in the eyes and asked her to tell me her story. Her eyes said, “You want to hear my story?” I put my arm around her with reassurance that it was ok to talk. In that very moment tears fell from her eyes and she told me, along with my team, her story. She said she has been in the hospital for over 3 months, not because of any medical condition but because she couldn’t pay her bill. In Africa, if you can’t pay your hospital bill you are not allowed to leave because there is no social security or any way of keeping track of you. Therefore, you sit in a corner, with not much more than an old cot, and hope and pray that your husband doesn’t leave you and sticks by your side doing everything he can to earn an income so the bill can be paid.  I had to fight tears as I held this beautiful mother in my arms. I could not come to terms with the fact that she has been living in this hospital for 3 months with a healthy infant because she didn’t have the $500 she needed to pay her bill. Depression covered her and her self-worth had left her. Scripture began to come to my mind and I was fully confident in the promises of my God: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps 147:3), “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29), “In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear” (Isaiah 54:14). I began to speak Isaiah 61:3 over her life that God can give her “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” I knew the worth of this woman and how much God so desperately loves her, how He has a plan for her life, and that even though it seems He has forgotten her, He is ever so close to her. With everything inside of me, I wanted her to know that.

For a moment, I stood up from the bed and gathered my team together. I knew God had invested the power within us to meet this need (Proverbs 3:27) and through Empty Bucket Ministries we were able to pay the rest of her hospital bill so she could take her baby home. As we told her the news, she fell to the ground at our feet in tears and thanksgiving. A few minutes later, her husband walked through the doors and upon hearing, “You are free to go with your wife and new baby boy,” he hit his knees and cried. He couldn’t believe it. He had just come in from a long day of working on the streets, trying his hardest to make any money that he could. He was lucky to make a dollar a day and had started to lose hope in ever getting his wife and baby boy out of the hospital. All he knew is how much he loved them and would continue to work with all his heart. That day I saw a man who loved his wife just as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). A man who would give up anything for her, fight for her, and never leave her side no matter the situation. It was a beautiful God-written love story right before my eyes. A REAL love, the way God intended it to be.

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As I watched that family walk out of the hospital that day, a portion of scripture came to mind.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down from the father, who created all the lights in the heavens, he never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word, and we out of all creation became his prized possession. Understand this, you must all be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires so get rid of all the filth and anger in your lives and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” – James 1:19-21

Everybody has a story to tell if we would just stop and take the time to listen. We need to be ‘quick to listen‘ and ‘slow to speak.’ As a follower of Christ, we need to realize and start believing that we are God’s ‘prized possession‘ and the word that God has planted inside of our hearts, has the power to save souls. Can you imagine if we all walked in this power? That POWER has been given to us and lives inside of us. God wants to use you and me to change the world. Through this family in a little city called Benin in Nigeria, Africa, God taught me the power and value of just listening. I realized that I didn’t have to have words to say but just a heart that wants to hear. A life can be changed by you simply taking the time to listen and allowing the power of God to work within you. You never know the need that God has placed before you to meet. Through obedience, this one family is living in the freedom and love of Christ. God placed them in our path to invest in them and meet their need. We did it for the ONE because Jesus would have done it for the ONE.

When people talk with you, do they feel like their words have value and that you are truly listening to what they have to say?  Wherever you find yourself this week, take some extra time to listen and walk in the POWER that God has invested within you. Don’t pass the ONE by when you have the word of God planted in your heart that has the power to save their soul.

April 16, 2014 1 comment
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“We must never see poverty or justice as “issues” that need solutions; rather we must see the human beings at the heart of those issues as people who need and deserve our love and respect. I believe that we really can alter the world, but we can only do it one person at a time. And when enough people choose to do this, even a crisis on a global scale can change.” –Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

I love this quote from Richard Stearns because a lot of the time we see poverty as an “issue” rather than looking beyond the poverty to the people who simply just need our love. Poverty is a way of life for many people around the world BUT it does not take any value away from each person that is trapped by it. They are just like you and me. Their hearts are so full of life, love, and HOPE. Just because they don’t have much doesn’t disqualify them or place them in a category of “less than.” Because if you ask me, these people have some of the greatest FAITH I have ever seen. No matter how hungry or thirsty they are or how much pain they feel in their bodies or if they have a roof over their head or not, they still have such life in their hearts and on their faces. They laugh and sing and dance. They don’t dwell on their conditions but press on knowing that God has everything under control. We can learn a lot from these beautiful people.

Two days ago I returned from a life-changing trip to Nigeria, Africa. My body obviously thinks I am still there because I keep waking up at 4am unable to go back to sleep. Lol!! There is a 6 hour time difference which makes this jet lag difficult to get over. This morning, I went ahead and got up and had some quiet time, trying to process through all my thoughts. There is so much in my heart that I want to share and write down I don’t even know where to begin. Over these next couple of weeks I want to share some of the incredible stories through words and pictures of what God did in a city called Benin, Nigeria and a village called Osula. And I want those of you to know who are reading this what a support you have been to my life and to Empty Bucket Ministries. Whether you have donated or prayed for my team and I, it is because of you that Empty Buckets is able to do what it is doing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and I love each of you. May God richly bless you.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about Osula. Osula is a remote village in Benin City, Nigeria. In order to get to this village you have to travel on an unpaved, dirt road for miles. The ride is uncomfortable, hot, and often times makes one car sick. In Osula, there is no electricity, their only water source is a stream that requires a 3 mile walk through the jungle, no bathroom facility, no phone service, no access to a hospital or health clinic, the houses are made of mud and have dirt floors and no transportation. Most of the children don’t go to school because their parents can’t financially afford it (to send a child to public school in Africa for an entire year would cost us just $35 a year). As I played and held these children in my arms, I realized how much malnutrition and dehydration was robbing them of life. I held them a little tighter as tears fell from eyes knowing that malnutrition could so easily be treated back in the United States. I rummaged through my backpack to find my protein bars to feed these children hoping and praying their little stomachs could hold down the bar. The main meal these children eat is one plate of rice a day, normally around 4pm after mom has walked to fetch water and then made her way back to fix rice. This is life here every single day in Osula. Their whole purpose for the day is to make the journey to get water and find food to eat. No schedules, no agenda.

When I arrived in Osula for the first time I didn’t even know what to do with myself. I felt like a celebrity. I could barely get out of the van because the village people had surrounded it with singing and dancing. They were playing little handmade instruments and joy burst forth from their beautiful faces. They wanted to make sure I felt welcomed and how grateful they were that I and my team were there. They ushered us over to one of their open huts and a 75 year old man (one of the village leaders) said with tears running down his face, “I have only dreamed of clean water. When someone told me you were coming, I didn’t believe. I had lost all faith in ever having clean drinking water. But then I saw you beautiful people, something leaped within me and now I believe. My faith is back. What was once a dream is now a reality.” Another 40 year old man said, “In all my life I have never seen generosity like this before. And I am grateful you would do it for us.” As I sat there and listened to these men speak I had to fight tears; I was so humbled and honored and the love of this village changed something within me. These people may not have much but they are human and they matter. They have value and worth and God has a purpose for their life. Their dreams CAN become a reality and I want to make sure they know that, even if it is just for ONE, I will give all I have. I know that God has blessed my life more than I could ever ask for and has placed his favor on Empty Buckets that as an organization we want to do everything we can to see this community come back to life.

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The rest of that day we started the process of building our first water well. I really couldn’t believe it was happening. For me, one year ago, Empty Bucket Ministries was just a dream. I knew the value of clean water and I thought it would be incredible to build a water well one day. To be honest, at that point in my life, my circumstances told me that was never going to be possible but I held on to the promises of God and kept praying BOLD prayers. I wasn’t really sure how it was all going to come together because starting a non-profit was way bigger than myself and I had no idea what to do. But all it took was one small step of faith and with every step after that, God has grown a faith within me that believes “All things are possible!” And there I was that day, standing in the middle of a remote village, watching the people break ground for our first water well. The very next day we hit water!! Praise the Lord!!

Below is a beautiful picture of the very first time we turned on the water. It was life-changing. What I saw I have never seen before or ever imagined. That day I realized how much I take clean water for granted. The people fell on their faces with tears running down their cheeks in thanksgiving.The children played, laughed, and drank from the water as if they have never seen it before. I stood at a distance and watched life be returned to these people. Now they were finally free from the daily struggle to find water. They wouldn’t have to use the same water to cook, clean, bathe, and drink with. They had more than enough; they will thirst no more.

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IMG_0821IMG_0584“We love each other because He first loved us.” -1 John 4:19

March 27, 2014 1 comment
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“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliever them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

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In less than two weeks, I will embark on a new journey to Nigeria, Africa. In a little village called Osula (pictured above and below), my team and I will dig two water wells, feed over 600 children, medicate children and orphans with anti-malaria medication and de-worming pills, speak in schools and orphanages, host two medical outreach clinics, work in a Neonatal unit, and walk through villages simply loving the people that live there. While I could sit here and give you countless statistics on the poverty in Nigeria, my view on statistics has changed. Richard Stearns challenged me to see “statistics” in a different way in his book ‘The Hole in Our Gospel.’

“While statistics aid us in finding both causes and cure, they can also numb our sensibilities. You perhaps have already heard the most shocking statistic of all: that 26,575 children die each day of largely preventable causes related to their poverty. But that very statistic, so critical to our understanding of the extent and urgency of the plight of the world’s children, also begins to obscure the humanity, the dignity, and the worth of each of those children. It takes away their names and their stories, homogenizes their personalities, and cheapens the value of each individual child, created in the very image of God. Statistics can become just another way to look away form the faces of the poor, just one more way to walk by the side of the road.” 

Reading this completely shocked me. It’s so easy to throw a statistic out there to try and catch people’s attention. While statistics may raise awareness, it doesn’t push people to action; it may shock them for a second, but the depersonalization of a large group of people in a statistic, causes them to respond with much less compassion. Therefore, that “one” child whose life could have been changed, is now lost in a statistic. Their identity is gone and to us, they don’t have a name or a story. I believe so much in the identity of the lost, lonely, poor, and brokenhearted and I want them to know that they are not just a statistic or a number, but that there is a God who values and loves them more than they could ever imagine. In Him, they have a purpose and a destiny. In Him, they can do anything. As a disciple of Christ, I want to give it my all for that “one.” My prayer is that we would start a movement in the village Osula, restoring their dignity and their worth one person at a time. It’s not about the number, but about the “one.”

Think about this. In Deuteronomy 15:11, the Lord says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”  There is purpose in the poor. If the poor will always be with us, I believe God wants to transform His world through the poor.

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In one of our meetings the other day, Pastor Ojo brought me some pictures of the Neonatal unit I will be working in while I am in Nigeria and I wanted to share these pictures with all of you. As he handed them to me and I began to look through them, my heart became so full and tears just fell from my eyes. Working as a neonatal nurse here is so different than in Africa. I can’t imagine working in those type of conditions. Each day on my unit we fight to save the lives of babies born at 23 weeks where as in Africa, a 23 week baby doesn’t make it and most of the time the mother doesn’t either. The majority of babies in the NICU are there because of malnutrition and dehydration, something so easily treatable here. Babies are born sick and very small (average birth weight being 3-4lbs)  because throughout the mom’s pregnancy, she didn’t receive adequate nutrition. Feeding tubes are placed and nurses frantically try to start IVs as the infants cry with no tears and can’t suppress the overwhelming sense to vomit. Babies lay in cribs for days with crying mothers at their side praying for a miracle. A sweet mother tries to cup feed her infant, but food to a starving infant is foreign and the infant can’t keep it down. Malnutrition and unsafe drinking water are the leading cause of death, coupled with poor sanitation and lack of medical knowledge makes conditions even worse. Being a NICU nurse my heart beats so deeply for these babies. It’s a cry within myself to “DO something,” even if that something is holding a crying mother in my arms with the love of Jesus as her baby fights for his/her life. As I prepare to “Go,” I’m holding onto God’s word and His promises! “He that is in me is greater than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Help me pray over these pictures and this unit as I begin my journey to Nigeria, Africa next week.

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“It’s not what you believe that counts, it’s what you believe enough to do.”
-Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

As we GO, praying God gives us a boldness to walk with authority and power claiming “Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done and even greater works..” (John 14:12-14). The oppressed will go free, chains will be broken, the hungry will be feed, the homeless will find shelter, the naked will be clothed, and the sick will be healed (Isaiah 58).

March 3, 2014 1 comment
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