It sounds cliche but it’s true. Our trip to Africa was life changing. We were a part of an amazing community. Strolling through the airport in Nairobi we both agreed that the world is a lot smaller than we thought. Having traveled half-way around the world, we realized that distance doesn’t have to be something that divides us and now with facebook around the world, staying connected is a lot easier. (FYI, this site proves that we were in fact almost exactly on the opposite side of the world!)
I’d say the 5 most exciting things that happened were: first, our intimate encounters with the God the Father (we’d love to share in more detail so ask us), and these 4 words below:
In 3 weeks I think Hailey and I were both intimately prayed for, and prayed over others, more than we had probably in the past year. If you know us, you know how much we truly cherish community. Iris cultured a great experience of community, perhaps what it may have been like in Acts. There was absolutely zero drama, so much selflessness, sharing, and abundant giving. Several groups of friends poured into our trip with offerings, everything from fruit and cookies, to money for us to celebrate Hailey’s birthday. We both learned to be less stingy and move giving of what we’ve received.
I also learned more about what it means to be in relationship with God. It’s not just about spiritual disciplines but true friendship. Friendship takes time and that”s something I had yet to really value–time to soak in the presence of the Father. We are not entitled to friendship with other people but it is something that is given and built upon a relationship.
Before our trip to Africa I went down to Skid Row to talk with the homeless, pray, distribute Bibles and food. Now I realize that my view was distorted. I’m called to sow the seed in good soil. I think that means more than just planting the word and love with prayers and the Bible. I think it means getting our hands dirty, investing our time to cultivate the soil, sharing water, and maybe eventually identifying the stones and casting them out of the field for God to grow the seed. Now that doesn’t mean what I did was sinful, I just think it was skewed. Heidi described the approach “Low and slow”. What I did was a bit more convenient and fast. My time would have been better spent, if I had focused on making real relationships I tried to follow up with instead of covering more territory. Remember “Low and Slow.” Heidi said, “Let your life be your message.” People say you give a man pole he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish he’ll eat for a lifetime. Somehow we think that teaching means to give someone a Bible and bless them. There is so much more. It means spend time with them and teach by example how to fish or in our case, how to love and receive love.
I realize now that RELATIONSHIP is so important in all aspects of life. That asking for something shouldn’t really happen before relationship is developed otherwise you’re no different than a orphaned-spirit beggar who seeks to receive before giving. This is a childish behavior, that still finds its way into my life. The difference with adults is that they share respect, which propels the other to show respect and appreciation in turn.
On a photographic level, once again I was reminded of the importance of building relationship and honoring what’s shared. In my ambition it’s very easy for me to bypass the respect aspect that’s built into relationship. Respect in the sense that taking or making a photo really is a team effort. If I take for granted the sacrifice of the subject, then I have degraded our relationship to a simple one-sided transaction, a process. Sometimes I forget that being a christian first, photographer second, is not just for life-threatening situations, but really a foundation to every photo. Lip service and a hand shake can easily disguise an unappreciative heart.
The Bible says “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but do no have love, I am nothing.” When I asked Heidi about what was ahead of us for the outreach she said nothing about evangelism, healing, or baptism, but simply, “We’re going to make friends.” As simple as that was, it had a big impact on me and set the tone for the rest of the trip. I was reminded of the priority, showing the face of a loving father, and accordingly my ambition was redirected.
I feel conflicted (apparently this a habitual feeling of mine)…actually more surprised than conflicted that God has let me be in such a peaceful place around the world in such great poverty. A place where I get to work and share my talent but I don’t feel pressured from God to perform, or to shoot a certain amount or at a certain level. It’s as if the pressures of society are replaced with his grace. I am the one who has been trying to hold my own head under water with guilt and shame for not shooting more, not God, not Heidi, not Simon, no one else.
I came here thinking I would shoot for Iris, shoot for Him, and shoot for my portfolio. But what I’ve found out is that what he had waiting on me was different and better than I expected: The freedom from schedule, expectation, and pressure at the base manifested an inner freedom. The abundant supply of grace from Heidi. The significance of stopping for the one. His amazing love working through the staff, the students, and the visitors. The words of love and prophetic words shared with us all moved us into a deeper place of freedom.
In one of the villages where we dedicated a church building, Heidi said, “Iris ministries doesn’t want to lead anything, they just want to serve.” When our intention is to first serve, the pressure and responsibility is transferred from selfishness to our great and capable God.
Off and on throughout this trip, I was conflicted by whether to work or relax…surprised that God wants me to enjoy my time and rest in His presence….and surprised to discover how much time is enough rest, enough for a son. Until the son realizes that he can ALWAYS come to the father and rest when he needs to without feeling guilty.
The significance of no complaining in a group of several hundred people can carry a lot of joy. I never heard an Iris staff member complain or speak with cynical sarcasm the entire 3 weeks I was there. And only a few times did I ever hear it from the students or visitors. Someone asked Rolland what was the hardest or most valuable lesson that he had learned, and of all the major topics I expected he said, “the importance of not criticizing my wife.” I was shocked by the overall attitude, and the presence of true unwavering joy that was not only on the faces but in the hearts of the staff, the students, and the visitors. I was reminded of the importance of not making spiritual disciplines an idol, or something that turns my relationship with God into a chore. I’m realizing that this type of hyperactive mentality easily removes joy from the equation. I’m less aware of the Father’s love for me when I think of him as a taskmaster. I was reminded of how he’s proud of me and wants me to learn more about being his son so I will one day be a great father. When we see from God’s perspective we no longer see with judgment and criticism but with mercy and compassion, like a father. Confusion and a conflicted spirit is replaced with peace and joy, frustration with patience, and anger with mercy.
“If you’re not getting floods of love, peace, and joy something is wrong,” Rolland Baker said. From relationship with the father comes Joy. Rolland sets the bar high with that statement but I think it’s very true. If we are the body of Christ I want to be his smile. So often I, as well as other Christians, are bogged down by things in a way that dampen the Holy Spirit working through us, and diminish the power of his love. A love seeking to spread into our community. Visitors at church should be amazed by the joy we show. Slowly, more and more, I’m experiencing His joy.
God said to Heidi, “I asked you to go and I want you to be joyful about it.” How can we effectively serve without joy? What’s missing? For me sometimes it’s forgetting my repentance. At other times I forget my place as God’s son, and extreme protection and comfort that comes with that role. Most kids smile a lot and they don’t even know the extent to which their parents love them. As adults we have a better understanding of the Father’s love, yet too often we live in despair. Be full of the Father’s JOY!
We went to a few inner-healing presentations and at one of them they talked about the trinity. They suggested that the relationship we have with our earthly father generally determines how we perceive God the Father. The relationship we have with our mother generally reflects the relationship we share with the Holy Spirit. And the relationship with our brother and sisters, or closest friends, affects the way we interact with Jesus. We both were surprised at how true this was in our lives. So later that night we were praying in a small group and I asked the group to think of the best memory or ideal dream of an experience with our earthly father. I told everyone that God wants to love us just like that memory. Hailey and I shared each others memory and mine was of me riding on my dad’s shoulders as a little boy.
Later the next day I was praying with a friend and a girl I had never met, and didn’t even know her name. She prayed over me and shared a vision that God had given her to share with me. She said she saw a little boy on his father’s shoulders!
God loves us so perfectly and uniquely it’s absolutely amazing. We have a few more stories like that we’d love to share so just ask us! More and more I realize how God is the perfect father. He cares for us, loves us and looks after us. He also calls us individually to be obedient and walk in our calling each day. I read this before we arrived to Mozambique and felt like it was from the Father, “You may influence others to give far more than you ever can.” I was overwhelmed with different expressions of the Father’s love for me and how perfect that love is. It’s better than anyone or anything on this earth could offer. It’s a love that compels me to want to share it with everyone, so they can experience it as well!
…or two. We are completely transformed and grateful for how God worked through the generosity of our friends and family members who supported our trip. You all donated $5,775 towards the cost of our flights. That’s absolutely amazing right? We thank you all so very very much! Please consider supporting IRIS and reading Heidi’s book Compelled by Love, Always Enough, Expecting Miracles and especially visiting Mozambique to witness God working through Iris first hand as a visitor or student of the Harvest School.
In the last few days we were there, a little girl came in where I was typing and typed the quote below…it speaks to the way this place has been affected by God.
“helo my friend nathan i love you so much fader nathan jesus loves you”
May all of your lives be transformed to overflow with the Father’s Joy and Love.
God’s Very Best!
Nathan (and Hailey)