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On Bookshelves and Babies and Believing in Hope

Last month I traveled to Kenya with Mercy House. I had grand visions of posting every day during my trip — but spotty (at best) WiFi made that impossible. So I revised my plans and took notes for all the posts I’d write as soon as I got home — but my heart or my head or my something has made that also impossible. This post is the first thing I’ve written since returning less than two weeks ago, so it’s a bit rough. Thank you for sitting with me, anyway, as I work out some of what I saw and learned in Africa.

As we stood in line at the airport, we took turns filling out luggage tags, glancing at the Homeland Security guy and his dog, and asking each other what we were supposed to do next. It turns out getting 15 people with nearly 60 bags checked in for an international flight is, well, just about as difficult as it sounds.

But we were excited, and even hearing that our flight was delayed didn’t faze us much. (Learning our carry-on bags might have a weight limit did, however, as most of us were packing a week’s worth of snacks in our backpacks.) We worked together and breathed deeply and smiled as we figured out how to get all the right bags on the right plane.

It was easy to be patient with the luggage situation, I think, because half of the bags weren’t ours. Those suitcases and duffel bags belonged to Mercy House, and they were full of supplies for the girls and babies we were going to visit. No matter how confusing the process seemed, it was hard to stay worked up about doing what was required to transport things that would help people. After all, it’s why we were there.


When we drove through the gate and around the corner, I gazed up at the ivy-covered brick house. The irritating tears I’d been holding back all day burst forth again, slipping down my cheeks before I could even register their source. It was our first day in country, and we’d only begun playing the Song Lyrics game — the one I delighted in well past the point I was entertaining anyone else in the slightest, the one that kept us laughing-not-crying during a lot of Moments-with-a-capital-M over the next several days.

If I’d already dedicated a corner of my brain to constantly search the song lyrics archives, at that moment I’m sure I would have inappropriately thought of — and then sung — a bit of the Loverboy chorus: “Almost paradise, we’re knocking on heaven’s door. Almost paradise, how could we ask for more . . .”

Paradise? {A love song?!} Inappropriate, given where we were and why we were there and why anyone was there at all. Still, I won’t deny that my first thought as my eyes took in the colors and the trees and the front porch was, “This must seem like paradise to them.”

We’d driven to this haven straight from the slum, and the dichotomy was too much for my eyes, for my heart, for my brain to compute. They go from THERE to HERE? And then they go BACK THERE?

Too much. It was too much.


After we ate a lunch of food I nearly recognized (but not quite) and all the Coke products our exhausted bodies could handle, our group was given a tour of the house. Again, my brain felt like a broken record as my eyes, blurry from exhaustion and confusion and more of those tears, took in the warmth of this home and the chill in my heart as I saw everything they lacked. Well, every [material] thing. Though I’ve heard some of their stories or stories of girls like them, I realize I can’t possibly grasp what intangibles they lack.

But I could see their bare bookshelves.


In the one post I was able to share on my own blog during the trip, I confessed — with no little amount of shame — that I wasn’t moved by the babies at Mercy House. I’m not a monster; I know they are cute. I held a few at various points during our visit, and I smiled and cooed and told their mamas how beautiful they were. Because they are. They are miracles and beautiful and testimony to the work God is doing and every reason I left my own babies for ten of the longest days of my life.

But those bare bookshelves moved me more than the babies. I’m crying as I think about them right now, in fact. But probably not for the reason you think.


It’s no secret that I am a book nerd. My first job as a teenager was at our local library, and my current job includes writing books. (Fine, just one book so far, but the plan is that it’s the first rather than the only.) My favorite thing to do is read — to relax, to learn, to be entertained, to get lost, to hide. Since I came home nearly two weeks ago, I’ve read more than a dozen novels, hiding in the electronic pages of my Kindle. Electronic because paper books are too close to the notebook I scribbled in, with plans to share all the Big Things I was learning there — but can’t seem to force out of my fingers or my mouth when deadlines loom (and pass) or friends ask, “How was your trip?”

I love books, but that really has nothing to do with the way I latched onto those shelves and the empty space that I just knew needed to be filled. Filled with books, all the books I don’t need anymore or maybe the ones I intended to read but never got around to or possibly the books in the discount bin or the ones on sale before school starts. Those shelves are so empty, and they need to be filled. I need to fill them!


It’s been said by some that I’m overly sensitive. That I take things too personally and I get too invested and I cry too much and why do I cry so much and I need to calm down. That you can’t save them all and it’s not that bad and it’s just how the world is and why do you read it if it’s just going to make you cry. It’s been said by some.

It’s been said by me.


I can’t be moved by those babies.

I can’t be moved by those babies because if I’m moved one bit, then every bit of me will fall to pieces. I can’t look them in the eye because I can’t handle it. I can’t wrap my mind around it — not because my brain isn’t able, but because my heart isn’t. I know myself enough to know that if I face those girls and those babies and those stories and that part of the world head on, I won’t be able to stand up. If I start crying about the babies, I may never stop, and how is that helping anyone?

So I keep thinking about those bookshelves and how many books I could ship to Africa. I keep remembering that I never asked if they really even need the books and that we’re not supposed to hurt with our help and that I was supposed to be there for the babies.

And in the split second that I’m brave enough (when the deadline I flew past is holding my face and staring into my eyes and demanding an answer), I think about how all the books in the world won’t solve a thing and about how the 15 bags full of supplies aren’t what they need, either.

Do NOT, for one second, misunderstand me. The clothes and money and books and diapers and WHATEVER it was you gave that we carried is VITAL to the healing and living those girls and their babies are doing right now. But what my heart is barely beginning to understand, after walking into their home and holding their babies and looking into their faces as they shared their dreams, is that what the young mothers living at Rehema House in Kenya need most is the thing we all need: hope.

2016 Mercy House Vision Trip Kenya - Day 6 011-X3

We all need hope.

They need hope that someone will hear their stories and care. They need hope that someone will care enough to buy earrings or send money or donate clothes or get on a plane. They need hope that someone will join their cries to God, will whisper their names, will remember them tomorrow.

I need hope that my journey was not for nothing, that God will use my time and my experience to accomplish even a small part of His purpose. I need hope that I’m not a broken person for being more moved by bookshelves than babies, that even my admission of this whole thing will make a difference to someone. I need hope that what’s being done in Kenya, and in all the dark corners of the world, makes a difference, that it’s more than a drop in the bucket, that one person really can start an avalanche of change.

We all need hope.

Don’t we? We desperately, deeply, need hope that we can make a difference, that the worst things are redeemable, that God can turn ashes into beauty. Hope that we are enough, even when we are not what we — or others — expected. Hope that saying yes to God is never a waste of time or money or heart, and hope that He will finish the work He’s doing when it’s the exact right time.

I’ve read some about hope and thought about it some as well. I’ve highlighted the words that say hope is the one thing we cannot live without. I’ve considered that and been both devastated and encouraged by that. I wish I had more coherent thoughts, more thorough explanations or compelling exhortations, more resolutions or ideas or plans. I don’t. But I have hope.

And even when I brace myself and think about those babies and all of the pain that hovers in the background of my memories of a trip that was too short and too long, I have enough hope to share.

mercy house global logo

If you would like to share hope with impoverished women of the world — including teen mamas and their babies in Kenya — please do not hesitate, do not pass go, and do head straight to Mercy House. The work they are doing is real and necessary and incredible. I’m praying (and hoping!) I find words to describe it better for you in the near future. Until then, you can read about how (in)courage has partnered with Mercy House over the years. I’ve been re-reading those stories myself. They are beautiful . . . and full of hope . . . and helping me open my shaking heart to babies as well as bookshelves.

The sunrise photo is courtesy of Darren Pedroza, my new friend, fellow traveler and talented photographer.

The post On Bookshelves and Babies and Believing in Hope appeared first on (in)courage.

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About Susie Jones

Susie Jones
The administrator of this blog, Susie Jones, is passionate about helping others unlock the full potential of who they where created to be through knowing God intimately and believing that He is who He says He is. The purpose of this blog is to nurture the truth that Christianity is all about a relationship with God, not just another religion.

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