I said yes to orphans in Africa – I got Celebrate Recovery

watching tvIt was 1985 in small town USA and I was just a blonde-haired, pony tailed, freckle-face little thing watching one of our three tv channels thanks to the bunny ears sitting on top of the T.V.

Even as an 8-year-old, the televised USA for Africa concert featuring all of our favorite ’80s voices just moved me.

You remember the song, I’m sure: ‘We are the World.’

And you remember the faces of people like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Cyndi Lauper.

They were singing to raise money after famine devastated Ethiopia.

(If you’re too young, don’t worry, I’ll post the link below, but a similar concert was held to benefit Haiti in recent years using today’s stars.)

One million people had died.

Millions more were starving. The gravity did not escape my 8-year-old conscience.

I remember the faces of the Africans on T.V., especially the children and especially those who had been orphaned. The human suffering was unbearable to imagine.
And I remember thinking that someday, I wanted to help them.
So in the back of my mind, when I thought about how I could make a difference in the world, that was the image I had in my head.
At the age of 8, I mentally said yes to orphans in Africa.
There was a song that I would grow up singing in church, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ Here are the lyrics:

isaiah 6 8“I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my Word to them.
Whom shall I send?

I the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.”

I LOVED to sing that song. That chorus still plays in my head often.
It was my theme, my anthem.

I loved going to church just to sing that song, that promise to God that said, ‘Pick me! I’ll go!’

Now, pushing 40 and what feels like a lifetime later, I look at all the times I’ve said that.

pick mePick me! I’ll go!

It was sometimes the little things like taking dinner to the sick, ringing bells for the Salvation Army or just welcoming a stranger to town.

It was sometimes a little bigger like foster care and adoption.

But that’s always been my theme. ‘Here I am Lord…I will go.’

And all these years, I’ve been waiting for Africa.

But that’s not the door that has been opened for me. At least not yet.

(A girl still has dreams!)

For some reason, God’s given me a different assignment. One that I wouldn’t have picked.

When I was first asked to be one of the new ministry leaders for Celebrate Recovery at my church, I can remember thinking, what about these other plans I’ve made? What about things like marriage ministry that had been embedded in my heart?

And what about Africa?

It was something like this:

“But God, this isn’t what I have been waiting for.  And really, me? I’m not qualified for this.”

But like all the other God things in my life, I just knew. I just knew it was me. In fact, we knew it was us. My husband and I. We didn’t have to weigh the pros and cons. There was no, ‘should we?’ It was more like, ‘here we go!’

We knew we would do ministry together someday. We knew our story and stories would be used to help others.

We just wouldn’t have guessed it would be in the recovery realm.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.

I’m all in.

But this is scary.

Recovery is messy.

People are complicated and delicate and must be handled with care.

There is a reason that people say Celebrate Recovery is a life and death ministry.

We care for people who are broken and hurting – bad – the addicted, abandoned, abused, grieving, stuck, desperate or hanging on by a thread.

People dealing with any of life’s hurts, habits and hangups who just want a better life than the one they had before.

The truth is, an orphanage in Africa sounds a whole lot easier than traversing the depths of hell that is recovery.

Or at least was mine.

This is not for the faint of heart.

But, I know — neither is the orphanage.

Because people are real.

Their stories are real. Tragedy is tragedy and sadness is sadness and desperation is desperation.

And it takes guts to take it head on.

So I’m starting the new year with a new mission field.

And I would say that it’s no coincidence that this is the verse on the back of the bronze Celebrate Recovery service coin:


Thanks for letting me share.

Here’s that link I promised! 

About Melissa Smith



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