I’ll be honest: Today’s news about Invisible Children’s Jason Russell being arrested and then detained for psychological evaluation felt like a sucker punch. I love Invisible Children’s premise – that they fill a void and meet an actual need. Where so many organizations focus solely (and rightly) on individual rehabilitation and on-the-ground programs, IC is and always has been an awareness campaign. They exist not only to work on the ground, but equally to educate, energize, and mobilize young people to do something (lobby for justice) in a part of the world most will never see (Uganda, DR Congo, and CAR) for people most will never meet (literally countless young men and women who were abducted and forced to live as murderous soldiers and/or rebel sex slaves) in an effort to rid the world of one of it’s most horrendous and yet unrecognized genocidal maniacs (Joseph Kony).
I’ve participated in many of IC’s campaigns. They are why I knew about Kony, the LRA, and their evil tactics years ago. They are why I searched for a way to get more deeply involved with victims in Gulu. They lit the fire in my soul that got me involved with Mocha Club and put me on a plane to Gulu, where I met the recovering, owned their stories, and in whose keeping I left half of my heart awaiting my return.
So you can imagine how excited I was last week to see #KONY2012 trending on Twitter, to see his name and the now-infamous video on every major media outlet’s front page. I was ecstatic that the world – yes, THE WORLD! – was finally taking notice and committing to capture and finally defeat this man whose pure evilness can only be compared to Hitler’s.
But then…a different firestorm started. Invisible Children started becoming more famous than the guy they were trying to make famous. Rather than talking about Kony and the horror he’s sprayed on Uganda, DR Congo, and CAR for nearly three decades, people were talking about Invisible Children’s “questionable” finances, political relationships, and the maturity and seriousness of its leaders. Because some were legitimate questions, and because they’re on the up and up, instead of dismissing and ignoring the charges leveled, IC chose to address them succinctly and clearly, in hopes of redirecting the focus back where it belonged: on Joseph Kony.
But it didn’t work. The bullets kept flying. And yesterday, it came to an even more explosive head when Jason Russell, the face of Invisible Children on the video in question and on almost all media interviews, was detained for public intoxication and masturbation and when, instead of pressing charges, San Diego police had him committed.
My immediate response tricked me, though.
I would have expected myself to say, “Oh, come ON!” I’d be angry with Jason for drawing more negative press to an already bogus situation. I would have immediately questioned my own defense of IC up to this point. I would have imagined the firestorm awaiting me on Facebook for defending them so strongly.
But what actually hit me immediately was this: This is bigger than Jason Russell, or Joseph Kony, or gossip. There is a battle of epic proportions going on, and it involves deeper and darker things than mere humans. I don’t say this lightly, and I’ve rarely said it before, but I believe it to be truer than anything else today: I am witnessing a battle between the principalities, between Light and Dark, between the Enemy and the rest of us.
I believe the Enemy is attacking.
He would have us believe Kony is no big deal; that perhaps he’s not even a legitimate bad guy. He would have us believe the problem was solved years ago. He would have us believe Kony is weak and powerless. He would have us believe those who have been working tirelessly for years to capture and bring Kony to justice are of lesser character than Kony himself, and that rather than serving Kony’s victims, they’re serving other evil warmongers. He would have us believe leaders of Invisible Children are a bigger problem than leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
He would have us believe salacious gossip is truer and more relevant than capturing the ICC’s most notorious fugitive.
He would have us distracted.
And, if today’s twitter trends are any indication, we have played into his hands.
I don’t know what I would do if I were Jason Russell or any of Invisible’s other leaders. I can’t imagine giving my life to building an organization from the dust and watching it explode into an incredible global effort, only to then feel it collapse at its pinnacle. I can’t imagine the massive pressure they’ve all recently been under from every side. I think it must feel something like being thrown into the deepest end of the ocean with ankle weights and bloody guts for shark bait. So while I can’t explain or defend Jason’s actions, neither can I condemn him.
Not when God has been so historically adamant about using the chiefest of sinners to do His work, to bring His Kingdom.
And not when such an important, generation-defining issue is staring us in the face, begging for a response.
After all, if the Enemy is at work, God is in the process of accomplishing something massive.
Whatever you may think about Invisible Children or Jason Russell…
Let it not distract you from the real monster, Joseph Kony. Let it not distract you from his real victims who, somehow, still remain invisible to so many micro-blogging gossip mongers. Let it not distract you from the real story of 26+ years of genocide and abduction and slavery and violence waged against children who are only now beginning to recover and heal.
No matter how tempted you may be…
Give them your attention.
Filed under: Activate, africa, Baby, Faith and Faith Life, Home Life, Music
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” -Shel Silverstein
I ran across this quote this morning. I pondered it. I thought about it along with something I’ve been considering for a few weeks now: that perhaps my fear and paralysis, my eternal worry about my professional life, is my own doing. My own responsibility. My own failure to believe and really internalize what is both simple and true… that I am meant to dream inconceivable dreams so that God can out-do them and so prove Himself bigger and better than I’ve ever imagined.
“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis
I’ve spent a long time being afraid I’m asking too much, expecting too much, wanting too much, hoping too much. I should know better. In one year – 2010 – I watched, in stunned jaw-dropped-ness, while God brought me home from Africa (where He taught me what it is to surrender) only to meet and tour with my two musical heroes, Jennifer Knapp and Derek Webb; then, for the first time ever, gave me exactly what I asked for in the exact context which I asked: I got pregnant “accidentally” and found out on my birthday.
So I ought to know better than anyone why we should ask for more than we can ever imagine having…because God is in the business of doing the inconceivable for those who love Him and ask it, with hope and expectant confidence.
But it’s taken so long to even recognize the concept, much less believe it. It is still a struggle for me to actively believe that God wants to give me amazing things. But if the Apostle Paul was telling the truth, then He has already planned the inconceivable for me.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind conceived what God has planned for those who love Him…” - 1 Cor 2:9
The only question, then, is what I find inconceivable. I’m beginning to believe that the less inconceivable it is to me, the bigger God is allowed to be.
In all of this, my dreams are shifting. They’re not as much for me anymore, but for Elijah.
I may never change the world. But my son can. And the most powerful thing I can give him is a taste for the Inconceivable.
May Elijah ever know that the impossible is always possible; That he can literally be anything he wants to be, and do anything he wants to do; That what’s inconceivable to him is small potatoes to his Infinite God whose dreams for him are bigger than even mine.
And may I only ever empower and equip him with tools of courage, hope, faith, fearlessness, boldness, confidence, and above all love – for God and others – that he might dwell in the truth that no matter how small he is or may feel, his God is infinite.
“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” - Maximus
Oh, that he would echo.
Filed under: africa, Baby, Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Home Life, Humanitarianism, Media & Art, Missions, Music, Politics
Having realized January 1, 2011 was not only the beginning of a new year but a new decade as well, I feel obligated to contribute yet another top ten list to the great expansive black hole that is “Top Ten Lists From Random Users of Facebook, The Blogosphere, and Other Social Networking Utilities.”
Now, of course, because 2010 was a rather significant year in my personal history, there will inevitably be some carry-over, and the year will provide two equally significant memories, which do not “tie” for first, but which cannot be discluded here either. The same thing happens in 2001 and in a couple other years. But only because each of the significant happenings of those years are too significant to leave out of this story.
This will surely be an exercise in both memory (which will be entertaining not only because it’s fun, but because pregnant-woman memory is notoriously hole-y) and creativity (as I will try to only choose the best of the best and/or most significant of the significant memories, and find an accompanying photo to boot. Disclaimer: There will be times when no photo is retrievable aside from me digging through my attic and employing the scanner…in which case no photo will be applied. Because I am lazy today).
So once again, here goes.
IN THE YEAR 2000, I was half-way through my freshman year at Oak Hills Christian College, during which time I not only neglected to vote in the first elections for which I was actually eligible to vote (bad news), but I also performed for the first time with a band (good news). I tried my best at (and did an OK job of) rocking out to Jennifer Knapp’s “Into You” from her second studio album, ‘Lay It Down.’ This was the beginning of what would later become “something.”
IN THE YEAR 2001, some rather passionate and – if I may say – crazy men crashed three planes into the Twin Towers and near the Pentagon, and I paid $5/gallon for gasoline. No one wants to remember the gruesomeness of 9/11/01, much less the snowball of events it set in motion…least of all me. But in reality, this was the moment of the year. This was the event they were all referring to when they told me, “For every person, there will be an event so culturally and socially significant that she will be able to look back and remember exactly where she was, what she was doing, and what thoughts crossed her mind when the event struck.” For many in my parents’ generation, that day was – until 9/11, anyway – the day JFK was assassinated. For all of us, 9/11 will forever be that day.
Later in 2001, I met Jennifer Knapp for the first time. She does not remember meeting me then. I would not expect her to, but I nevertheless have the picture to prove it. It is significant for reasons to come.
IN THE YEAR 2002, I made the first record I was ever going to make of some pretty amazingly crappy songs. And thanks to my fellow Oakies (that’s what we students at Oak Hills Christian College called ourselves when we were feeling particularly sentimental and/or stupid), the word got out that this girl Amy Courts made music. (I pray, to this day, that all copies of those early recordings have been either lost or destroyed. God forbid anyone should ever be subjected to that awful noise ever again.) (And once again, no photo can be provided. You’ll just have to trust me: it happened. And it really was that bad.)
IN THE YEAR 2003, I graduated from college. I don’t have a picture to prove it – well, actually, I’m sure I do, but I’m not going to dig it out. I do have a diploma to prove it, which I’m also not going to dig out and scan. But it did happen. And I have made little use of my college education since. After that, I moved to Nashville TN to begin the career I was never meant to have…in professional musical performance. For the previous four years – all throughout my college career – I was dead set against a career having anything to do with music. Never mind that writing songs was easily the most satisfying and natural thing to do. Never mind all those Oakies who said, “you really should think about doing this for a living.” Never mind all that. Because I was NOT going to be “that girl” who moved to Nashville to become a singer and became a waitress instead. But alas…when God closes one door… Or rather, when God slams every. single. other. available door in your face, you go through the lone open door. So when the Denver doors slammed…and the Nebraska doors slammed…and the other doors slammed…there stood one lonely open door, behind which stood this rather amazing girl named Katie Spain who willingly offered a home to a perfect stranger. She is now my best friend. (Sorry, no photos of those early days in Nashville, or of me and Katie, so a picture of me with Katie’s daughters will have to suffice.)
IN THE YEAR 2004, I met Paul Koopman, the unbelievable singer/songwriter who’s voice and songs so immediately melted me that I felt compelled to fearlessly approach him (which I NEVER do…or did…until then) to praise his undeniable talent. This began a professional relationship that would later turn, uh, well, pretty personal. He was, after all, the man who would later become my husband. That’s pretty significant…and (lucky you) self-explanatory.
IN THE YEAR 2005, after nearly 18 months of dating – nine of which were long distance (which, might I add, is not for the faint of heart) – that man proposed to me. Also significant and self-explanatory.
IN THE YEAR 2006, a number of really significant things happened, so I’ll only tell you the top two. First of all, we got married. This is a big deal. So big, it was the biggest thing to ever happen to me up until that point. It was the best day of my life up til then, but – I’m happy to say – has been exceeded by even happier days in the nearly five years since then. Amazing, eh? OH! And guess what else I got when I got married? Not just a husband…a stepson too. Who is, for the record, the greatest 14 year old on the planet (and I dare anyone to challenge that).
And the other big thing that happened in 2006 was that I (finally, after nearly two years of working on it) released my debut EP. Again, a significant accomplishment not only because it was the reason for which I moved to Nashville in the first place, but also because these were seven songs I was truly proud to give to the world (for $.99/each or $10/album, thankyouverymuch). As it were, that album is still available for your purchase and enjoyment today. (Like how I did that? What kind of artist would I be if I didn’t slip a sale or two in here…? On that note, if you want to purchase the album or individual songs, simply click on the photo to be redirected to my store. MAN I’m good at this!)
IN THE YEAR 2007, having decided (with the blessing of my husband) to quit my job and do this musical career full-on, balls-to-the-wall, I went on my first tour. This was a very big, impressive thing for me. I sent out hundreds of emails, made hundreds of phone calls, and (with the equal effort and help of my enduring tour mate and fellow indie artist Katy Kinard), set about playing something like 10 or 12 shows in 14 days…over Easter…in Kansas and Colorado. It was a rather huge step for us both, and more fun than I can say, despite that I somehow caught a cold that nearly killed me by the end (and despite that I returned from those 14 days with nodules on my vocal cords). What an incredible experience!
IN THE YEAR 2008, I released my second album, a full length record with 10 of my most favorite songs. It was a bit of a bigger deal than the first (if you can imagine) simply because of everything we invested – time, energy, soul, money – to make it exactly what I wanted and needed it to be. It was also the first time I even considered – much less followed through with – recording a song written by someone else. But not only did I record the song; I took the album’s title from its lyrics. So if anyone is wondering why the song “Breathe” is so outstandishly brilliant compared to the other nine songs on the record, now you know: It’s because Paul Koopman (yes, my husband) wrote it. (Again, if you’re curious to hear and/or purchase the record, simply click on the album cover below. Wink, wink.)
IN THE YEAR 2009, once again, two pretty amazing things happened, neither of which can be left out of this. Actually, three incredible things. I’ll start with the least incredible. First, in April and September of 2009 I ran my first half marathons (13.1 miles). It doesn’t sound that exciting, considering that literally hundreds of thousands of people cover this distance at hundreds of thousands of races every year. But for me – the girl who never even ran until 2004, and who certainly never saw herself covering any distance greater than 3 miles at a time – it was pretty huge. And it was the gateway into one of the most satisfying and rewarding things I do: run distances. Running long distances has saved me from a) going crazy, b) getting morbidly obese (thanks to the way too much food I consume; again: I run to eat), and c) devolving back into a grossly insecure person who controlled her life by anorexia. Running is perhaps the greatest lesson one will learn regarding what the body can do, and even more significantly what the mind can do…with the proper training and care.
In October 2009, I finally traveled to Gulu, Uganda…a place to which my heart had been aching to journey for three years prior. There’s no short way of telling that story, except to say it did exactly what I expected and feared it would do: change me, utterly and irrevocably. (The long story, for those who are interested, can be read here or by clicking on the picture below.)
And finally, upon returning to the States after those 10 incredible days in Gulu, the third significant thing happened: Jennifer Knapp – my favorite singer/songwriter of all time, who seven years prior simply vanished from the earth (well, OK, from the music scene anyway) – reappeared. She started following me on Twitter; she added me to her top friends on Myspace; and then – miracle of miracles – she came to one of my shows, specifically to see me, and liked it. She liked it so much that three weeks later she invited me to join her on stage at the Belcourt Theater here in Nashville and sing with her on some of my favorite of her songs. It was surreal. It was magical. And it really. Did. Happen. And THEN we became friends. (And I pinched myself about ten times daily, thinking, “What is happening? To what magical universe have I been transported where dreams really do come true!? This MUST be some hidden-camera Disney movie…”)
AND IN THE YEAR 2010, well…you all know the Top Ten (and Top Two) happenings last year! I went on tour with not just one, but TWO of my musical heroes: Jennifer Knapp AND Derek Webb (you can see that post here, or click the photo below)…
…And I made a Baby with Paul Koopman!
I HAVE NO IDEA what 2011 or the decade ahead holds. But if it’s even half as good – and I trust it will be, given that the God I serve and am continually amazed by makes a habit of outdoing Himself all the time – I will be an evermore satisfied woman. And that’s really all I can hope for.
Cheers to the next ten years!
Filed under: africa, Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Missions, Music, Video
I believe I’ve used the word “beautiful” more over the past two weeks to describe what I saw and experienced in Gulu and the Acholi than I have my whole life over. And part of me wishes for a new, better, more powerful – or just different – adjective.
But the truth is, no other word does them justice.
The first video above (created by the brilliant Stephen Proctor of gi*inc) is just a splinter from the Sunday church service we attended (to which some incredible Faithful’s walked 50 miles). It portrays the simple honesty and incomparable joy inherent in their worship. It was unequivocally the most vibrant celebration I’ve ever seen happen among the people of God on any given Sunday. The Acholi know joy.
This second is a piece Stephen put together using only flip camera footage, which captured the reality of their beautiful light and tuned me in to my shadowy life. I still can’t avoid tears when I see it and remember their perfect faces.
To be sure, True Light is brighter than it ever was, and “Beauty” has never been more perfectly defined.
Filed under: Activate, africa, Culture, Humanitarianism, Missions, Music, Uncategorized
This has been such a difficult blog to write. I want so much to share everything about Gulu and the Acholi people, but feel a need to give you the brightest highlights and keep the rest to myself until it rises to the surface of circumstance. Not because it’s not worth sharing, but because I fear in sharing it without context, it might lose power. I don’t know, but I don’t yet want to take the risk. I am certain, though, that as time moves us forward, stories will be shared as they relate to circumstances and my experience will prove itself something beyond time.
For now, I’ll share the part that changed me at my core.
God began something early on that I knew would break me by week’s end. Traveling with a team of artists and musicians whose experience and notoriety far exceeds my own, I confess the desire to prove myself equal. Though my stage and audience are considerably smaller, I wanted to clarify that “I’m just as good.” Quite shameful on its own, even more in light of where we were and why.
So on Sunday, after an indescribable morning church service attended by 150+ Acholi from distances as far as 50 miles, we went to the Home of Love to spend the afternoon sharing music, playing our own guitar-based American songs as the kids giggled with delight, and watching them sing and dance to their own rhythms and melodies. It was both beautiful and terrible, mostly because after sharing my own song and declaring it utterly suckful, I sunk into myself and allowed pride to overwhelm me.
That evening as I prayed and scoured the Word for some kind of encouragement or affirmation, a promise from God that I am, indeed, good enough for both my team and the Acholi, God slapped me across the face saying, “Who exactly do you think you are? Why on earth would your songs matter more here than mine, and why should I share my glory and honor and approval with you? Have you learned nothing of these people? Do you still not realize that they recognize and crave what’s eternal, and the only eternal thing you can offer them is Me and whatever comes from Me? I brought you here to love them with My love, to serve them, to give of yourself without condition and for My glory, that they may see Christ. And here, still, you seek an ego massage.”
I cried myself to sleep that night, overwhelmed but determined to put myself away. There really was no other choice. God is right: whatever I give, in song or deed, if not for and to Him is utterly without and will waste away and be forgotten. And so I would spend the rest of my time seeking only to be a tool. Whether He spoke to or through or around or about me didn’t matter, so long as I was surrendered to Him and lifting Him up. Even if that meant just shutting up.
Monday was a new day. We went back to the school to share songs with the kids and paint their handprints on a mural, and as we sang together and taught the kids American praise songs with all the motions, I felt a clean wave of liberty wash over me. What mattered was that I engaged. Whether or not my vocal or guitar playing abilities were up to par wasn’t the point. They loved that I was there, and so I was ALL there.
And on Tuesday – our last day – Missy, Genevieve, and I had the extreme honor of attending the Women of Hope meeting and sharing songs and the Word with 200+ women living with HIV/AIDS who meet weekly to hear Scripture and to love, encourage, and comfort one another. They sang their welcoming song when we arrived, and I was immediately asked to sing a couple songs, which I did with relish. They applauded, but I think by the end of the second they were ready for the Word. My English songs may have sounded pretty, but still unintelligible to a group of women who don’t speak my language.
So, after being asked to “give the message,” Missy and Genevieve each read to the women from the Psalms. What’s beautiful about these people is that when they ask for the Word of God, they aren’t asking for a sermon. They believe the Word speaks for Himself, so they read the Word together and applaud and celebrate God for His goodness in teaching them. They don’t need all our hoopla of exegesis and application.
When Missy and Genevieve finished, I was invited back up. I wasn’t sure if they wanted more songs or more of the Bible, so I asked. And, to my good humiliation, they made abundantly clear they did not, in fact, want more music, but more of the Word.
So, having just been over this with God, I said, “Sounds good.” And I began to read from Isaiah 54. I’m not sure why I chose that passage, and I admit I was unsure whether it would mean anything to them. But the day we arrived I remember reading it and thinking, “this is for these people.” For a people who’ve been torn by war for 23 years, ravaged by disease and poverty, homeless and so often hopeless.
So I read to the women.
“Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. “O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace. In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you. See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc; no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.”
As they heard the chapter in their own language, I watched something amazing happen. Throughout the reading, women cheered and hollered and shouted their “Hallelujah!”s and “AMEN!”s. One woman in the front kept looking at me with tearful eyes, smiling and giving a thumbs-up, apparently pleased with the passage.
And afterwards, when the women gathered to hug us Mzungus (white people) and introduce themselves, many explained their cheers. They are barren women, sick with HIV/AIDS and unable to conceive, abandoned by their husbands and scorned by society, riddled with worry about their children’s futures. They said these verses were indeed from God, a gift for them. They celebrate and revel in the promise of an Eternal Husband, a Redeemer who re-purposes the sick woman’s life, who Fathers her children and establishes them in peace and righteousness, protecting them from danger, terror, and even death.
I was moved to tears, overcome with gratitude to God for letting me deliver good news that day. It was as if clouds opened up and He pointed down and said, “See! I told you!”
I was even more moved when, in thanks to me (for what?), the Women of Hope gave me a new Acholi name.
“I love God.”
Filed under: Activate, africa, Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Humanitarianism, Missions, Music
I can’t recall ever taking so long or expending so much energy and patience to write a blog. But what I want to tell about Gulu – and more specifically about my experience and why I’ll hopefully never be the same – deserves more time, more editing, more energy. I want to give you the best of what they gave me, with as few errors or potholes of distraction as possible. :)
Or maybe I’m just an obsessively compulsive perfectionist. Wink, wink.
Either way, until THE blog is ready, I’ll share a few pearls I’ve threaded into a necklace I intend to wear daily.
The Acholi people (the largest tribe in the country, who occupy most of Northern Uganda, and who have for the past two years enjoyed the first tastes of peace after a 23 year civil war waged by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army) are eager and generous with their love and kindness. From daily half-a-block walks to and from the internet cafe marked by countless toothy grins and “How are you? I’m fine!”s, to giggling children who are simply overcome with joy by the fact that Mzungus (white people) want to hear them sing their songs and dance their dances, their love is an effortless and unconditional kind unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They expect and want nothing but a genuine smile.
Having all lost so much and so many to terror, violence, disease, and disaster, they know how fleeting a moment can be and embrace each with ferocious joy. It’s hard not to define them as a dizzyingly happy people, because it’s rare to see anyone without a smile. Even when they’re feeling ill and asking for prayer, they do it with a smile.
But still, you know they carry the burden of recent history and understand in a special way that life can change or end at any second, so if this one is good, it ought to be celebrated. And celebrate they do.
For me, just being an observer among them for a week was liberating. It may be because the economy won’t allow for it, or more likely because they just know better than to waste time with such pettiness, the Acholi have little time and patience for vanity. Clothes don’t match and are rarely perfectly clean. Cosmetics are an expensive luxury, one most refuse in favor of covering their feet or feeding their families. Self-expression through fashion or hair style seems unlikely, as their clothing is either the “imported” castaways from America’s thrift stores or made from cheap materials; and most men, women, and children alike wear short or shaved hair. It’s better to keep away lice and other bugginess. And deoderant? What’s deoderant?
I can’t describe how freeing it was to be among people who aren’t silently analyzing my fashion choices or checking my legs to see if they’re shaved. It was nice to know that if, after a long day of painting, my Secret was all worn off, no one would notice much less care. I’m white, so I’m going to I stand out. Any details beyond that aren’t worth following.
What’s more, I saw in them a desire simply to show us they’re kind and warm, forward-moving and modern; That they’re cheerful and can find beauty and humor in nearly anything; That they’re resourceful and creative, hard working, intelligent, and most of all good. They love and crave God and His goodness. They have much more to offer than war. They want to learn and teach. They want to create.
Above all, they are a community-driven people. They’ve all lost family and friends to war, so they ferociously grip the relationships they now have as a life source. It was rare to see anyone walking anywhere alone. And in the evenings, when most Americans are holed up in their giant homes on acres of “private property” watching fake lives play out on flat screen TVs, safe from the annoying distractions of other humans, the Acholi are hanging out and enjoying one another. One evening, we saw a group of at least 50 people gathered around one small TV for a major soccer event! They don’t go home until the restaurant’s generator is turned off and they’re sent away. And whether they’ve known you for years or you’re meeting for the first time, they treat you as a kindred soul and intimate friend. Even the Mzungus.
The children are no different. Whether walking home from school in groups, navigating the market for dinner, giving you the tour of their school or orphanage, or selling sugar cane across the street, they’re quick to extend a hand to shake and even quicker to offer a wide grin to a stranger. I guess, to them, no one is a stranger.
Quite simply, they want to love and be loved.
They were concerned not with appearances – with impressing us with fancy clothes or fresh scents, huge hotel suites, or five-star meals (though they did an incredible job at making our stay as comfortable and upscale as possible within the context of their culture) – but with making us, the Mzungus, feel welcome, comfortable, and at home.
And I did. I felt as at home with them as I ever have in America.
Toward the end of the week I took a moment to sit down with Judith, one of the hotel staff who seemed to rather enjoy my silliness and my inability to speak their language correctly despite both our efforts. She thought my self-depricating jokes were hilarious. She liked that I wore crazy-looking shirts. And, pulling me aside, she said, ‘Miss Ahh-mee, you are very down to ground. Most Mzungus don’t like us…they think we’re bad and useless, just full of war and disease. But you…I like you. And I like that you like me.” I told her she was quite easy to like, and she liked that too. We both decided we were soul sisters, and that one of us – most likely me – was just born the wrong color and on the wrong continent.
One of our team later told me that Judith told him I’m actually African.
And recalling that makes me miss my other home, my other family, even more.
I’m so excited to report flights are booked, schedules are being finalized, and I’m finally, Finally, FINALLY (!!) heading to Gulu, Uganda (Africa) September 22 – October 3 to Mocha Club’s Child Mother’s Village of Hope. As many of you know, I’ve been longing to visit Gulu for the last four years, and am convinced that God has saved me for this trip specifically, as I’ll not be going “just to go,” but will be joining the people I and many of you have been supporting and gathering support for in the Village of Hope over the last two years through my artist partnership with Mocha Club. It seems that what began as a small seed planted by Mercy’s tragic story and my never-quite-enough involvement with Invisible Children has grown inconceivably bigger. This isn’t just about taking a missions trip; it’s about traveling to the other side of the world to meet my heart-family and gather up a piece of myself I didn’t ever know had been planted in Africa long ago. I’m leaping for joy over this opportunity! (If you want to know more about the lead-up to this trip and my “history” with Africa, check out this blog!
Gulu, Uganda is replete with people who have lived in fear for over 20 years. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel paramilitary group in Northern Uganda, has terrorized villages, raiding homes, stealing children either to add to their army (boys as young as 5 years old) or use as sex slaves (women and young girls), killing villagers, and destroying the village. While LRA leader Joseph Kony denies it all, the women of Gulu, aptly named “Child Mothers,” tell a different story of abduction, soldier training, and sexual slavery to rebel soldiers in the LRA. Now that they’ve escaped or been excused as expendable, the community at large rejects them and their children. But through The “Village of Hope” in Gulu, over 500 of these child mothers live in a safe community with shelter, job training, a medical facility, and a school for their children. And they have “The Butterfly Center” a refugee center where receive love, acceptance, support, Christian counseling, and a safe haven.
Thanks to our artist leadership team at Mocha Club, a group of seven passionate artists (including yours truly) from across the U.S. will be traveling together. Once we reach the Village of Hope, we’ll be spending our days painting murals in the Village’s various facilities, teaching the kids how to paint/sing/dance, worshiping and leading Bible studies with the men, women and children, and doing whatever else may be helpful to the ever-growing ministry in Gulu. We pray this trip will be a foundational one on which we’ll build a lasting partnership with Ugandans and the leadership at The Village of Hope!
I NEED HELP!
As always, I need your help to get there and back! In the next few short weeks leading up to September 22, I need to raise $3500 to cover travel expenses, room & board, and to purchase supplies we’ll need while we’re in The Village of Hope. There are a number of ways to offer financial support:
>> Send in some cash (well, more accurately, a check or money order) to the address below, or send a quick donation online via Mocha Club’s parent organization, African Leadership. Simply scroll to the bottom, select the “Other” option, enter your amount and put “Amy Courts – Mocha Club Uganda Trip” in the ‘note’ field, and they’ll make sure it goes to the right place. It’s quick and easy, and helps a LOT!
>> Sponsor me in the USAF Half Marathon I’ll be running on September 20 in Dayton, OH! You can sponsor a mile for an amount of your choosing (which will inspire me to RUN the full race!), pledge a specific amount per mile run under 9:00, 9:30, or 10:00, or pledge a specific amount based on my finish time (i.e. $100 if I finish under 2:00:00; $75 if I finish under 2:05:00, etc)…and invite your friends to do the same. It’s an easy way to support me and keep me healthy and fast! If this is your method of choice, shoot me an email and I’ll send you the forms.
>> Buy Amy Courts Merchandise! We’re past the 6-month marker for 2009, so buy some stuff – CDs, tshirts, stickers, posters, etc. – from my online merch store to give away as Christmas, Birthday, or “I Like You” gifts.
>> Make up your own method – host a garage sale; form a kazoo band and play for tips on street corners and send in whatever you earn. Feel free to get creative about it; I know I am!
Of equal importance, I’ll need ground support – your prayers on a daily basis while I’m abroad. We’ll be facing more than just your typical speed bumps, as this journey will take us to places that are incredibly dark, where evil is often a palpable, physical thing. As Jesus once prayed, our prayer is not to be removed from the world but protected from the evil one. We’ll need constant prayer, for each individual and for the team as a whole: for health, strength, unity, clarity, and simple steadfastness of spirit. I’ll keep you posted as much as possible on specific prayer needs!
I hope you’ll prayerfully consider how you might be part of my team. It is overwhelmingly exciting to be finally making this journey, and I am humbled by how dependent I must be on God and His people to provide. But I’ve never been more confident of His wondrous will, and am resting peacefully in His ability to provide in abundance! And I so look forward to sharing the stories of hope, redemption, reconciliation, and resurrection I’ll undoubtedly bring back from my ten days in Africa!
With Love and Increasing Excitement,
All contributions are tax-deductible. If donating online, please choose the “other” option and specify “Amy Courts – Mocha Club Uganda Trip” in the note. If donating by check/money order, please make checks payable to Mocha Club, with “Amy Courts – MC Uganda” in the memo. They may be mailed to:
MOCHA CLUB | 233 WILSON PIKE CIRCLE, STE 2A | BRENTWOOD, TN 37027
I decided to go ahead and make a little home video of it. Not sure why, since that’s not something I typically do. Usually, I just say “Catch it at a live show.” But this song is special. Not just because it’s been waiting to be written for over a year, but because of where it comes from in my own heart.
So I’m going to break my own rules and tell you the story behind it. It begins with the simple fact that , for reasons totally beyond me, God has chosen to graciously (and I mean that) surround me lately with women who have suffered abuse that I can’t fathom. Two of them are particularly close to me; close enough to get under my skin and break my heart in a very personal way. Abuse has always been something I’ve know about. But now I think I’m truly aware. Not just of what happens, but the aftermath. The shame and fear and perfectionism and fear of rejection so many of them live their lives with. This song is as much about them as it is about the two girls I’ve named.
And these two girls are real. Though separated by thousands of miles and twenty years, their stories are the same, and have both changed me.
The first girl is one a friend, Mark, blogged about after returning from a trip to Africa. Hers is actually the story by which God initially broke my heart for those people. She was a five year old who attended the Compassion school in her community. But, as Mark told it, she was unlike any of the other kids in that she rarely smiled and almost never spoke. He learned that it was most likely because, at her young age, she’d already been raped many times, often multiple times each day, on her way to and from school. Five years old.
So, during his week there, Mark took it upon himself to try and earn her trust enough to tell him her name. He spent the week holding her, loving her, smiling and playing with her, and showing her the kind of righteous love Christ meant…the kind that defeats the darkness. And at the end of the week, just before he left, Mark picked her up and asked her once more if she’d tell him her name.
She leaned in and whispered in his ear, “Mercy.”
The second girl is Dusty, a neighbor of mine who was the first to ever earn the title “Amy’s Best Friend.” We played around the neighborhood all the time. From everything I can remember – though, granted, I was five when we moved away, so my memories of her are only so clear – she was one of my only friends. She was always nice. And she always came over to my house. After we moved away, I didn’t see her again until 7th grade. And even then, our reunion only lasted a few months, until she unexpectedly left.
Anyway, I learned a couple weeks ago that she was repeatedly and violently abused by her father. As it turns out, the reason she left school in 7th grade was because she was pregnant. With his child.
When I heard that not two weeks ago, I fell apart. I was angry. At myself for not knowing better (though, at five years old, I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – have known better). At my parents for not kidnapping and then adopting her, and letting her live with good parents. At the system, whose cracks she fell through.
And I started wondering where she is today. Is she still a victim? Has she ever known her true value? Or is shame the only thing she’s ever been able to own? I don’t know.
Stories like these make me want to throw away my guitar, go back to school, and become a human rights activist or a lawyer for Amnesty International or simply a full-time social worker in the States or missionary in Africa.
But God has made abundantly clear that I am most effective operating within the gifts He’s given me. Using the stage and my voice to speak for those who have no stage and won’t be heard.
And so I sing.
“I Wanna Know”
(c)&(p) 2009 Amy Courts (amalia musica, SESAC)
Dusty lived right down the street
With her brother and a dad who beat him blue
And I know he hurt her too
But I couldn’t see the haunting in her eyes
I was too young to recognize
And much too young to do anything
And so I sing
I wanna know where she lays her head tonight
Does she sleep in peace beside
Someone who knows to love her right
I wanna know can the damage be undone
Given freedom would she run
Can the past be overcome
I wanna know
Mercy won’t tell you anything she knows
She keeps her secrets close beneath her skin
I know it’s crawling from within
She’s just a child, but carries sordid memories
Of things that I cannot conceive
Or in my darkest nightmares dream
And so I sing, I sing.
I wanna know where she lays her head tonight
Does she sleep in peace beside
Someone who knows to love her right
I wanna know can the damage be undone
Given freedom would she run
Can the past be overcome
I wanna know
And now it burns beneath my skin
And I don’t want to let it in
I wish I’d been a better friend
I wish I could go back again
Cause I would fight
I would carry her away
Or I would find the means to stay
Help bear the burden and the shame
It wouldn’t end this way
I wouldn’t let it end this way
For some the sun shines,
We’re the lucky ones
For them the rain fall
Seems like an endless flood
I wanna know where she lays her head tonight
Does she sleep in peace beside
Someone who knows to love her right
I wanna know can the damage be undone
Given freedom would she run
Can the past be overcome
I wanna know
**please forgive the homemade and new-out-of-the-box-utterly-unpolished nature of this song. it’s still becoming. just like me.**
Filed under: Activate, africa, Humanitarianism | Tags: africa, I Need Africa More than Africa Needs Me, Mocha Club
As you all know, my involvement with Mocha Club has become the biggest reason for doing what I do on stages across the country. The work we’ve done throughout the continent of Africa – from building orphanages in Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, and more, to providing new hope to the people by providing medicine, education, and basic life-saving items like mosquito nets – is only possible because of people like you and I who have decided to give up two mocha’s a month and lend that $7 we’d otherwise spend on coffee to a better cause. But there’s more to our effort than being beneficiaries to the masses. What they give to us through their embrace of hope and their humility to receive us with open arms, lead us to say…
I NEED AFRICA MORE THAN AFRICA NEEDS ME
“When I think of Africa, the following images immediately come to mind: Starvation. AIDS. Child soldiers. Genocide. Sex slaves. Orphans. From there, my thoughts naturally turn to how I can help, how I can make a difference. “I am needed here,” I think. “They have so little, and I have so much.” It’s true, there are great tragedies playing out in Africa everyday. There is often a level of suffering here that is unimaginable until you have seen it, and even then it is difficult to believe. But what is even harder is reconciling the challenges that many Africans face with the joy I see in the people. It’s a joy that comes from somewhere I cannot fathom, not within the framework that has been my life to this day.” [read more]
Please consider lending your cash to buy the shirt and make the statement. Then use your voice to tell the story.
Filed under: Activate, africa, Humanitarianism, Uncategorized | Tags: africa, African Leadership, Humanitarianism, Missions, Mocha Club, Uganda, Village of Hope
I have brothers and sisters in Gulu, Uganda whom I’ve never met but have come to love more than I love my own life.
Brothers and sisters who’ve experienced more grief, loss, disappointment, terror, fear, and hopelessness than I could ever begin to imagine from my cozy little townhouse in South Nashville.
Some have been forced to kill their own brothers and sisters, parents and cousins.
My sisters and brothers have been forced by fire out of their homes that burned to the ground as they ran. Many of them were captured and made to be young wives who bear the children of rebel soldiers, or young boy soldiers-in-training, donning their enemy’s uniform in an effort just to survive.
But these sisters and brothers know a God I’ve never dared to ponder.
A God who is able to keep some of their bodies clean of disease, despite having been born to a family suffering of AIDS and malaria.
A God who is able to rescue and renew and revive even the bleakest of lives.
A God who restores hope and life, who provides all needs in abundance.
A God who is always present, in rain or drought, war or peacetime.
Most of my brothers and sisters have never known peacetime, outside of the presence of this great and mighty God.
Last night, I heard a story of one young man who boldly walked into a Rebel camp with two of his brothers to teach soldiers about the love and peace of Christ. They were captured and forced to choose between giving their own lives or taking life from a young, 9-, 10-, or 11-year-old recent captive. The first chose Christ, peace, and ultimately death, and his captor, a Rebel commander, willingly complied. The second chose the same, and a bullet found him dead seconds later. The third echoed his brothers saying, “no, I will not kill. I’ve come with the Peace of Christ’s gospel. I am here for Him and will go to Him.”
But when shot, the gun misfired. And a second time…and a third time…the gun misfired. Shot blanks.
And finally, another Rebel soldier told his commander they’d better leave, because these guys were tapped into Something they didn’t want to mess with.
Certainly his is a God much more powerful than my North American God of wealth and prosperity.
That man was freed and went on to become the leader of Men’s Ministry at the Child Mothers’ Village of Hope in Gulu, Uganda.
He went on to help rescue my brothers and sisters from sexual and spiritual slavery, and lead them into freedom. And now they are leading even more displaced brothers and sisters into similar freedom, carrying the torch of Christ’s love and mercy, the promise of medicine and education and HOPE to their neighbors into the surrounding IDP camps.
These brothers and sisters…They’ve started a revolution.
Most of you know that over the past few years, God has planted and watered what has become a rather consuming passion in me for those living in the aftermath of war in Gulu, Uganda. What began as a tearful response to hearing about night commuters – the nightly groups of 30,000+ children who were forced to leave their home villages and travel in the dark to refugee camps, in an effort to avoid abduction – has grown into an uncontrollable love for people I’ve never met face to face.
I don’t know any other way to describe it, but to say that I feel a connection to those people unlike any I’ve known outside of my biological sisters and to my husband and step-son. It’s as if I’m tied to them, and they to me. And this not being able to share my life with them, to touch and hold and love and be next to them, is a burden I can sometimes hardly bear.
But over the past six to ten months, God has whittled down my passion from a desire to simply “GO GO GO! It doesn’t matter where or who with!” to a place of patiently waiting for and seeking out the right opportunity with the right group of people.
As I’ve prayed and considered my options, there seemed only one left: to travel to Gulu, Uganda, to the Child Mothers’ Vilalge of Hope – the project I’ve been supporting and rallying support for through my involvement with Mocha Club – without the cameras that inevitably accompany artists on the job, but on my own, for the sake of learning the lay of the land and establishing relationships to be watered and nurtured in the years to come.
And finally, over the past two days, it seems this overwhelming and at times all-consuming dream of meeting my family in Uganda is beginning to find form.
I met with Jerry and Candis Bingham, the lead Missionaries at the Village of Hope, and was able to share with them my heart and my desire. And – amazingly enough – they were as overjoyed as I about the prospects of me spending the whole of next October with them and the Child Mothers in Gulu.
And so now, the planning begins. I don’t know how I’ll raise all the money. I don’t know exactly how my time will look. I’m scared to death of being away from my husband for a month, in a foreign land, and of living in conditions I can scarcely fathom, much less describe.
But I’m finally going to meet my family.
And that’s all that really matters.