Friday, March 23, 2012

My Sister's T-shirt

At the beginning of last week I wrote a blog post about a contest that offered a free mission trip as a prize. The rules were simple: buy a shirt that benefits orphans in Haiti or victims of sex trafficking in Moldova and get one entry to win the trip. If you post a link in your blog and someone buys a shirt from it, you get one extra entry to win.

My blog is fairly new and I haven't been trying very hard to get much traffic. I decided I'd post the link to the t-shirt store in a short post and figured I might be able to get a couple extra entries from friends and family.

And I did.

The first person to buy a shirt off the link in my blog was my older sister Aliyah. I was excited and thankful but I knew my chances at winning this contest were still pretty slim. Still, I kept my spirits high and knew that win or no win, I'd find a way to Swaziland this summer.

The next day after Children's HopeChest tracked Aliyah's purchase from my blog, their president, Tom Davis, wrote an article about my post. I was very moved by his article and in the following days I received many messages of encouragement from people I had never met. I began to realize that regardless of if I won the contest, the support I was getting was a true sign that I was on the right path. It gave me more drive to make sure this trip happened for me.

When the t-shirt store closed, I kept talking to my friends and family about ways to fundraise money for my trip to Swaziland. It seemed pretty unlikely that I would win the mission trip contest. After all, 676 shirts had been sold and I only had a few entries. My sister told me not to lose faith and reminded me that even if it seemed unlikely, it was still possible. Still, I felt there was almost no chance my name would be selected. And I ended up being right. My name wasn't selected. I didn't win the mission trip contest.

My sister did.

My sister who had bought a shirt off my blog so I could get an extra entry into the contest, my sister whose purchase drew attention to my blog and subsequently provided me with an incredible amount of encouragement, my sister who told me that winning this was always a possibility no matter how unlikely it seemed, won the contest.

But Aliyah didn't keep the prize. She gave it to me. 

When we were kids and I had to share with my sister, I always wanted "the big half" and Aliyah never complained. She let me get the most of anything we had to share because she knew someday I'd learn better. She knew someday I'd understand my mistakes and turn from greed and entitlement.

So, yesterday, when I learned of the prize she was giving up to me I screamed, laughed, and nearly cried, but most of all, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Aliyah gave up her prize to me. She gave up "the big half" so that I could give it back, not to her, but to people in desperate need.  

I didn't win this, I was given a gift from my sister. Aliyah's purchase brought others to my blog and miraculously, her purchase gave her the winning entry into this contest.

676 t-shirts were sold. Aliyah bought just one. She bought a single shirt but it's going to change far more than just a single life. I am beyond thankful, I am in awe. 

And though I am grateful for all of the heartfelt congratulations I have gotten upon receiving my sister's gift of this prize, I hope nobody forgets about the 675 other t-shirts purchased by people who want to create change in the world. Personally, I want to send my congratulations to them and I pray that each person who entered this contest continues on in their quest to better the lives of others.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jesus On Purpose

The theme for the last few months of my life has been honesty and communication. Through lovely experiences and challenges I have discovered the immense importance of being able to share your heart with the world. I have learned that the most effective communications and the deepest friendships are cultivated when you can be be real, when you can share yourself and your imperfections as easily as your finest attributes. This is what I aim to do in all of my interactions and something I would also like to be able to do on this blog.

So, today I will be sharing some of my story. I will be explaining how and why I chose to make a mission trip to Swaziland my goal for this summer. This is going to be a tad lengthy, but it is something I hope you take the time to read.

I think it's important for me to begin by saying that I love Jesus. I wasn't raised in Christianity and throughout my adolescence I actually put up many walls toward it. I had Christian friends, but absolutely no interest in listening to them speak about their faith. Instead, I used the news as my main source of information about Jesus and Christianity. Media showed me hypocrisy, prejudice, self-righteousness, and hate and I decided that if Jesus was okay with all of that, I most certainly didn't want to know Him.

I assumed every Christian I met was a cookie cutter impression of what the media had shown me. I stereotyped, I made assumptions, I closed off my heart. I felt resentment toward Christians because I believed they were outrageously judgmental. 

But during the summer after highschool, something started catching my attention. I was becoming very close to two Christian girls I had known since childhood and I realized that there was this incredible openness about both of them. I felt like I could tell them anything without fear. Our friendship deepened because of our mutual understanding of our extreme imperfections. They never made me feel like they were above me. They didn't judge my flaws and insecurities, but shared their own with me.

Our conversations began going to faith and I was amazed at how comfortably I could talk to them about my questions and doubts. I told them that I had always believed in God, always prayed to God, but how I felt like I was on a search for Truth where I always seemed one step away from actually knowing God. My friends listened. They never told me I was wrong, they never told me I was going to hell, they simply shared what they believed about Jesus's love and continued to support my journey to find God. 

I saw a kind of strength in both of them, a light that shined through their incredible character and gently nudged its way into my heart. I wanted to find the source of that light. I wanted to know what made my friends so strong. 

And then, one day when I was feeling exhausted from the challenges of life, I looked online for inspirational quotes. The first one I read nearly made my heart stop.

"We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe,
by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are,
but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."
-Madeleine L'Engle

I was simply astonished by how this quote exactly described my experiences with my two Christian friends. I realized then how hasty I had been in my assumptions about Christians. I had accused them of being hypocrites and yet, I too was a hypocrite. After all, I had been outraged at them for being judgmental, of not bothering to understand anyone with different beliefs, but I was doing the same thing. I was judging Christians for being judgmental. I had thought myself to be far more open-minded and accepting than any Christian, but the reality was that I was not at all. I had stereotyped Christians so completely, that I had shut off my heart.

I decided to look into the bible. I read chapters at random and a funny thing happened. I enjoyed it. In fact, I loved it. I saw so much truth in the scriptures, so much wisdom that I had assumed could not be there. And the more I read about Jesus, the more open my heart became. I felt respect and above all love toward Christians. I saw how passionate so many Christians are about adoption and orphan care. I saw how hard they strived to serve others. These were things that had been growing in my heart at the same time as I began reading the bible. Through my reading, I became more and more interested in service, more and more interested in loving my neighbor.

Last fall, I knew I had to act. I could no longer suppress my love for the world, for all of creation. I could no longer sit back and watch so many people live in poverty while I lived a comfortable life. I didn't really think I was capable of changing the world but I decided it didn't matter. It didn't matter if what I did for others wasn't good enough, it didn't matter if I wasn't good enough, I had to act anyway. I had to just begin.

I joined a non-profit organization in my town that does service in Tanzania, I joined a volunteer club so I could help with local community service projects and I began sponsoring a child in Ethiopia. I began to realize that this wasn't just a phase. Service was something I wanted to dedicate myself to for the rest of my life.

 Then one day when I was looking in my Facebook news feed I saw that my friend's mother had posted about a trip to Swaziland some members of her church were taking. I looked at their website and read about what they had done on previous trips and I was inspired by their work. But, I felt something stronger than inspiration. I felt a giant push. I felt like this trip was one I had to take.

I knew I loved Jesus, I knew I wanted to understand Him, but I hadn't become a Christian. Why then, did I feel so strongly about this trip? This was a Christian mission trip. There were a million secular service trips to Africa out there and yet I couldn't shake the desire to go on this one. 

I know it isn't some weird fluke that I feel this overwhelming call to go on this trip to Swaziland. I know it isn't some kind of accident that I sponsor a child through a Christian organization. I know it isn't by chance that the first friends who joyously helped me with fundraising and continue to put efforts toward getting me to Swaziland now, are my two Christian friends. 

It is because of their light. It is the source of that light within my friends that is drawing me in. I want to understand it. I want to understand Christianity. I want to open my heart to the people I judged so harshly and give to the world with them in love. I want to know the God I have always been one step away from.

I know that this trip will change me beyond any expectation. I am already amazed by my experiences. Never in my life have I had so many people expressing their support, encouragement, and respect for my desire to do something. I never could have guessed that I'd be getting so many of these expressions from people I had never met in my life, people who didn't know the journey I had taken to get to this point but saw that I too was responding to Jesus's call for us to love one another.

I am faithful that this trip will happen, but not just because my desire is so strong. If I make it to Swaziland this summer to serve along with Christians who have responded to the same call to care for orphans and serve the world, it will be because of the people who showed love to me. It will be because of the people who knew of my imperfections and shortcomings but also of my potential. But, I guess in the end, this isn't even really about me. This is about the world, about change, about God.

If you have read this far, thank you. I hope you fully understand how non-accidental my choice to go on Christian mission trip is. I am not going on this trip with the attitude of just tolerating the Christian nature of it but to understand it. I chose a Christian mission trip on purpose to learn about the people I judged so harshly. I chose this trip as a way to learn about Jesus through service, completely on purpose and while I don't know exaclty how I will feel after I return, I know that in one way or another, this trip will be transformative. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Soap, shoes, and a blanket...

Two of my greatest teachers share a birthday today. The first is my second grade teacher, Miss Sweeney, who inspired me to dedicate myself to the education of children, and the second teacher is a young woman named Diribe.

Diribe is turning thirteen today. She loves to play group games like hide and seek, her favorite color is green, and her favorite animal is a cat. When she grows up, she wants to be a doctor.

I have never met my teacher Diribe. She lives in a village in Ethiopia. She is a second grade student whose legs have been crippled by Polio. Diribe's father passed away so her mother takes care of Diribe and her siblings. Diribe helps her mother with cooking and running errands.

Every month, $38 dollars is taken out of my bank account to help support Diribe through supplemental food, clothing, and education. When I am able, I send extra money for special occasions like her birthday. I also write her letters as a means to send whatever encouragement I can.

You may be curious how on earth I could call a thirteen year-old girl in second grade who lives all the way in Ethiopia, my teacher. How can this child be a teacher to a nineteen year-old adult, especially when we've never even met?

I can tell you the answer in just a few words: soap, shoes, and a blanket.

No, that's not what's on my weekly shopping list. Those were the items listed in a thank you letter I received from Diribe this year. That's what was purchased for her by the child development center she attends with my Christmas money.

Let me repeat that. Her Christmas gifts this year were soap, shoes, and a blanket.

And here's where my lesson comes in, here's where she becomes my teacher. The letter she sent me in response to receiving those gifts expressed how happy and thankful she was for those items.

Do you know many people who would be content with soap, shoes, and a blanket for Christmas?

Or, like me, do you know people who would feel insulted by those gifts? Do you know people who would scoff and complain about receiving such things instead of the latest Apple technology? Do you know people who would find a Christmas gift of soap, shoes, and a blanket beneath them?

 Diribe has wisdom. She has taught me more than a thing or two about thankfulness. Since the beginning of my sponsorship journey with her, she has taught me how to count my blessings, and through her letters I have discovered how rich and abundant my sea of blessings actually is. Because of her, I notice the little things. Through a little Ethiopian girl who wants to be a doctor, a little girl content with soap, shoes, and a blanket for Christmas, I have learned some of my greatest lessons.

Happy Birthday, my sweet teacher Diribe! May you one day understand how thankful I am for you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Who really wins?

This morning I got on Facebook before heading to class and was very surprised by a post in my newsfeed. It was from Children's HopeChest and it said, "Alexandra just got one extra entry in the mission trip getaway. See what she's going to do if she wins!"  and had a link to a blog underneath.

I had to do a double take. That girl they were posting about was me! I couldn't believe an organization as large as Children's HopeChest would post about my blog on their Facebook page. What an amazing way to start my day!

I went off to class in a good mood but I found I couldn't focus. I kept thinking about the mission trip contest. I thought about how amazing it would be to win the contest, how grateful I would be. But then I caught myself. 

"This isn't about you, Alexandra," I thought, "This isn't about you winning a prize. This is about giving to people in desperate need. This is about serving others."

The truth of the matter is that I committed myself to going on this trip to Swaziland before I found out about this contest. I committed myself to doing the service no matter how challenging it was to get there and as blessed as I would feel to win a free mission trip, I have to remember how blessed I already am. 

I am not in this to win, I am in this to put my whole heart into something I am passionate about. I am not in this to win, I am in this to learn about my world family. I am not in this to win, I am in this to serve. Children's HopeChest has provided us with an incredible opportunity. I really can't say that enough!

 I will lovingly celebrate whoever wins the mission trip because I know that it's much more than one person who is really winning this contest. The prize really goes to the people we are serving. In fact, the prize really goes to the world, because anyone who receives the opportunity to give themselves up in service, will never turn back. They will change because of this experience and will keep on serving. The world will be bettered no matter who wins the contest and therefore, as global citizens, we are all winners in this one.

When I got home from class today I saw another post on the Children's HopeChest Facebook page. The president of the organization had read my blog and had written an article about it. 

I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that act of kindness. I am humbled, in awe, and ecstatic, not because I think this will win me a trip, but because it makes me more determined to give. His post gave me a more powerful resolve to stay in this for the long haul. It reminded me once again that while, yes, my goal is to serve in Swaziland this summer, this trip is not the end of my commitment to the world. I don't take my dedication to service lightly and no matter what happens with this contest, or this trip, my whole heart is still devoted to service.

I may lose this contest, but the world is going to win because of it, and that is the best prize I could ask for.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recently, I learned about a mission trip through my friend's church that takes a service team to Africa every summer. The church who has partnered with Children's HopeChest supports a carepoint in Swaziland where at-risk children and orphans can come for supplemental food and education but the carepoint also serves as a safe place to create a loving community atmosphere for the children. My friend's church and other donors support the carepoint year-round but use their summer trips to create and develop personal relationships with the people they work to serve. During the summer trips the travel team does orphan care work, delivers much needed supplies, performs home visits, and creates fun learning opportunities for the children.

As a college student who has lived a very comfortable life (in the sense that I have always had food, clothes, education, and family support) I feel an intense calling to give back to the world. If your brothers or sisters or friends are struggling, you help them. In my mind, it's really that simple. It doesn't matter where in the world your brothers, sisters, or friends are located, and it doesn't matter if you've never met them. When you learn of their struggles, you don't turn your back.

I want to go on the trip to Swaziland, not for fun, not for a vacation, but to start something bigger in my life. I want to dedicate my life to educating children and eradicating global poverty and for me, the logical first step is to visit the world and experience communities that do not have the luxuries I take for granted. I want to learn all I can from the people there so I can begin to understand what is needed to create change.

In order to go on the trip this summer, I need to raise $3,411. This number seems a little daunting but I know it's possible. Already, I've had friends and family members do bakesales, create jewelry to sell, and donate parties and dance lessons to auction off. I am also planning to raffle off my unopened ipod shuffle and am looking for other things of my own to sell.

I also found out about an incredible opportunity through Children's HopeChest. They are selling shirts to benefit orphans in Haiti and survivors of sex trafficking in Moldova. With every shirt you purchase you receive one entry to win a free mission trip through Children's HopeChest (up to $3,000) and if you don't want to go on a trip yourself you can transfer the win to someone else. Also if you purchase a shirt from the link in my blog, I automatically receive another entry for the free mission trip. 

This is a really fun way to support many good causes at once! Please consider purchasing a shirt from this link:   

Remember, if you click the above link straight from here, when you purchase a shirt it could help me go on a life-changing trip to Swaziland this summer!

Thanks to everyone for your support!

To learn more about the organization I am going to Swaziland with, please visit:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Being Me

Last month I was in a poetry class that challenged me beyond any expectation. At the end of the course, we were required to do a poetry reading at a cafe in my town. I've never thought of myself as a poet and the mere idea of sharing my work in front of a large audience was absolutely terrifying. However, I knew I had to do it if I wanted to pass the class so I forced myself to pick a few poems to read.

When I was looking through my poetry portfolio, I realized how much of it was forced eloquence. Most of my poems were wordy and sounded puffed up like they were trying to impress someone. And perhaps the worst part about them was that I couldn't even hear my own voice in the writing.

Originally, I had thought these poems were some of my best. When I wrote them, I thought they were graceful. I thought they sounded how poetry was supposed to sound. But then it hit me: there is no "supposed to" in poetry. There is either your voice, or a mess of random words. You can either use writing as an expression of your truth, or you use writing to pretend to be someone else.

I wanted to be me, one hundred percent, authentic me. So, instead of picking the poems that had any ounce of eloquence, I picked the three poems that I had written not to impress anyone, but just for myself. I stood in front of the audience, terrified, because I was opening myself up to a crowd of people, some of whom I didn't even know. I was showing them what was inside of me, what was stirring in my heart and my soul. I stood in front of that crowd, completely vulnerable, completely exposed. But, I have never felt so free as I did when I had every single eye on me that night, and every single ear listening to my truth.

The first poem I read was called "Jesus in Disguise" and was inspired by Matthew 25:37-40,

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

In my life, I have witnessed a lot of hypocrisy. Many times, I have been a hypocrite myself. But whenever I read this bible verse, I experience a slap in the face, a wake-up call. It makes me think about what it truly means to love and our responsibility to care for others in the world. I know that many people will not agree with my interpretation of this verse, but I would like to share my poem anyway so that, if nothing else, you can see my point of view and then draw your own conclusions.

I still don't think I am a poet, but my goal is not to become one. My goal is to be authentic and truthful in my experience every day that I live.

Jesus In Disguise

By Alexandra Warwick

Have you found Jesus?
I have.
He’s right there.
Do you see that homeless man you walk past in disgust every day
whose putrid feet stick out of an ancient pair of tattered brown leather shoes?
The homeless man, right there
who you don’t love?

Do you see Him?
That’s Jesus.

Have you found Jesus?
I have.
He’s right there.
Do you see that woman with an elegant blue hijab on her head
smiling sweetly to herself while you carefully avoid her eyes?
The woman with the hijab, right there
who you don’t love?

Do you see Her?
That’s Jesus.

Have you found Jesus?
I have.
He’s right there.
Do you see that homosexual waving a brilliant rainbow flag at the pride parade  
whom you have never spoken to or bothered to understand,
yet took the liberty to condemn to hell?
The homosexual, right there
who you don’t love?

Do you see Him?
That’s Jesus.

Have you found Jesus?
I have.
He’s right there.
Do you see that beautiful, bright-eyed girl,
whose feet wouldn’t even reach the pedals of a car
selling her body on the street?
The prostitute, right there
who you don’t love?

Do you see Her?
That’s Jesus.

Do you see how exquisitely imperfect He seems?
Do you see how exquisitely imperfect you are?

Have you found Jesus?
I have.
He’s right there.
Right in the spot where you turned your back.