Category Archives: Church

sword skills and hiccups.

What I’m about to tell you won’t surprise most of you. I was an avid church attendee growing up. We were there often. Actually – more than often. During some seasons, it felt like we almost lived there! Being there as often as I was allowed me to become skilled at a specific set of repeating events – specifically Bible sword drills.
For my friends reading this who didn’t grow up in church, Bible sword drills were an intense, quick competition geared towards helping kids learn the books of the Bible and locations of those books. The competition began when the on-stage teacher would yell out a reference. Everyone who brought a Bible would then rifle through the pages to find the reference as fast as possible, then stand and yell out the scripture.
Let me tell you. I was amazing at Bible sword drills. When it comes to competition, I will do almost anything it takes to figure out a faster way to win, which in this case, meant memorizing Bible book milestones…and/or having a tabbed Bible. Burgundy leather, red-letter New Century Version. ✌🏼 I’ll be honest. I only used the tabs when I didn’t already know the ballpark of where it was.
Here’s some insight into my psyche. I have a huge need to win. But when it compromises my need to be liked, I will do whatever it takes to try to attain both, even if that means I may not win or that I will curb my skills. This came into play often with Bible sword drills.
All of that being said, I won Bible sword drills often. Whenever we won, we got to pick a prize or piece of candy from the “store” at the back of the room. I decided to go on a streak of acquiring the giant pixy sticks every time I won. The next question then was how to best use these giant sugar troves when I had a sugar averse mother. Naturally, I cut them open and put them in a glass peanut butter jar. Somehow, some way, I figured out that pixy stick sugar powder can be used to cure hiccups.
So, there’s that. I haven’t tested it recently, but it could be a thing.


Joy and Chels - Blast 2013

This one is dedicated to my pal Chelsea. We’ve been through highs, lows, and everything in between. You’re everything a kid could ask for in a pal, and I’m so grateful. Here’s to new adventures, laughing about the past, and the power of presence. I love you!


When I interned at Willow during the summer of 2010, I met Chelsea. Little did I know that she would become one of my best friends. One of the turning points that solidified her in my mind as my kind of human was when we had a project to do in the Lakeside Auditorium catwalks at Willow. During the summer days when no services are planned in Lakeside, the AC is generally kept off. Since heat rises, the catwalks then become quite near unbearable on really hot days.
On this particular day, Chelsea and I headed up to the catwalks to swap out some colored gels on the lighting rig. While up there, we were discussing the heat and how we were sweating. In passing, Chelsea mentioned casually that the catwalks are “the armpit of God.” The hilarity of that statement led from one thing to another, until we made a discovery.
Go with me here for a second. There are many species of animals that have gone undiscovered that are quite real, but until they are found lack a name. The same happened with our discovery, except that instead of discovering an animal, we put a name to a phenomenon that happens often in heat.
My friends, I give you SPSBS.
You know that moment when you’re outside in the summer and your pants start to stretch out a bit? Then because you’re working or playing hard (or just in a hot area), your butt starts to sweat? Never fear. We put a name to it. Saggy Pant Sweaty Butt Syndrome. It affects us all, old and young. No one is immune. But there are things that can be done to prevent others from knowing about your SPSBS. Mainly – don’t wear mid-saturation toned shorts/pants. They show sweat.
That day in the catwalks began something amazing. And that’s my friendship with Chelsea. Thanks, SPSBS!

a great gift.

My sister Janine used to play keyboards in the band at church. As little siblings do, I wanted to do what Janine did…but differently. Because after all, I’m the youngest and am experiencing the world fully at the ripe age of 11. In my clearly (not) rational mind, the whole world revolves around me (even though mom tells me differently quite often). I found my mom’s old classical guitar in a basement closet. I brought it upstairs and showed it to mom, who helped me understand how to read a chord chart. Then I picked up some of Janine’s sheet music and started trying to sound it out. I remember getting so excited about what I was learning that I wanted to stay up late playing. Much to my chagrin, my playing just wasn’t quiet enough to fly under the radar of superhuman parent hearing (I’m still not sure how they managed to hear everything all the time. Maybe it is one of God’s gifts to parents?).
Not long after getting the guitar bug, we went on a family skiing vacation in Colorado. We made a stop at a friend’s house on the way. My parents were so proud of my playing progress that they brought it up during our visit. Janine had played in the band with the oldest son a few years before, so when the guitar topic came up, he was listening. To be honest, I was probably in the “oh goodness, my parents are talking about me again…this is awkward” phase, so I don’t remember what was said. The one thing I do remember was that before we left, something happened that took me utterly off guard. One moment, I was hugging everyone goodbye. In the next moment, the oldest son put something in my hand that rendered me speechless. It was one of his electric guitars. He looked me in the eyes and said that he believed in me and wanted me to have the guitar so I can continue learning.
That one gift – so freely and graciously given, propelled my love of music forward. It led the way to so many experiences that I couldn’t have imagined otherwise.
That guitar is off living its next life at college with my cousin. A gift that good must be passed on. Thanks for believing in me, Jason!

Adventures in Zambia 2.0 – Pre-Trip!


Team Zambia 2016! Back row: Corel, Caleb, Peyton, Kara, Joy, Justin, Drew, Matt.  Front row: Katie, Casey, Olivia, Carly, Colby, Lindsay, Jaid.

In exactly three days, we will be in the air on our way to Zambia! It is crazy how fast this trip has snuck up on us! God has provided for us in so many ways already – in helping us choose the team, get to know each other, and most recently, meet all of our financial deadlines. God is so good!

As we prepare to go, would you pray for us? We’ve got long flights ahead of us, many amazing people to meet, adventures to have, classrooms to paint, and fun to create.

Stay tuned for updates as we go!

•• Joy, Katie, and the Zamfam ••

more than one way.

Hannover Leitungskongress 2016

Hannover Leitungskongress 2016

One of the things I love most about traveling abroad is seeing another way of life.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 5 years since graduating college, it is that there is always more than one way to do things.  I have found this to be especially true as I see how production is done in different countries.

This past fall, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with some members of Willow’s production staff.  We traveled throughout certain areas of the country and held mini tech conferences in churches that we partner with.  In one of our evening team debrief sessions, one co-worker mentioned that before leaving for the trip, he assumed that we would see many churches with a resource gap – lacking the fundamentals to do what is needed.  As the trip went on, he realized that it is instead a knowledge gap – not knowing how to fully use what resources they already have.  I’m finding this to be true not just in production, but in life as well.  I have always had exactly what I needed right when I needed it.  Sometimes it just takes a challenge to help me realize what I already have in my hands.

LK16 Stage Crew

The ever-ready LK16 Stage Crew!

I walked into Willow’s German Leadership Summit this past week feeling like I had both a resource and knowledge gap.  For someone like me who seeks to fully understand as many things as possible before walking into a situation, the fear of the unknown overcame the thrill of adventure.  As has happened so many times before, instead of being overcome by my fears of the worst-case scenario, I found myself able to discover another way to do things.  I was given a crew of motivated and able people, who offered a new perspective and were always ready for action.  Together, we truly were a team, and we achieved more than any of us thought possible.

When I try to explain what the inner workings of my brain look like, I usually end up saying that it is like a room with lots of boxes, shelves, and filing cabinets.  Every time something happens, I have a file for how to react – how to make sure I give the right response.  This week expanded my internal filing system.

Some of the crew ready backstage for one of our biggest stage moves - bringing out 14 signs on large fishing poles to set into bricks that help them stand. All in under a minute or so.

Some of the crew ready backstage for one of our biggest stage moves – bringing out 14 signs on large fishing poles to set into bricks that help them stand. All in under a minute or so.

For example – at the beginning of the conference, I was scared that we couldn’t execute stage moves in under a minute.  There were times when we had to bring out more props than we could handle, get them set, and disappear in what felt like less time than it takes to blink.  But somehow, we began to rely on each other to find new ways to make our job happen.  We had so many shining moments as a team – and it was all due to us figuring out together that there was more than one way to do things.

Adventures in Zambia – A Week Later

Team Photo

It is hard to believe that a little over a week ago, we left our friends in Lusaka, Zambia and headed back home to Chicago!  It feels like this past week has been a whirlwind of jet lag, trying to remember to finish our malaria pills, and re-adjusting to normal life.  It truly is crazy how fast time flies!

Just a week ago, we were painting classrooms and a mural, trying new foods, playing with kids of all ages, seeing joy on the faces of those around us, and we were having a blast while doing it!  I remember the lightness of Pastor Banda as we worked further into the week – we were able to lift a load off of his and Anastasia’s shoulders.  I remember the excited voices of kids as we disembarked from the bus in the mornings, and the sad goodbyes as we went home at night.  I remember intense laughter as we played team games throughout the day.  I remember the sense of community – we were all in it together. What a gift this trip was!

Thinking back a few more weeks to our pre-trip prayer gathering, I am amazed at how many words were prayed that came to pass.  Words like courage, trust, transformation, safety, unity, piercing love, friendships, presence, health, passion ignited, soft hearts, joy, listening, and gratitude.  Many places along the journey, we came into contact with a situation that needed one of these words.  I am in awe again of how God works on our behalf!

I would also like to say a huge heartfelt thank you to each and every person who made our trip possible through prayer and finances.  We are so grateful for your support!


Adventures in Zambia – Thursday!

The team experienced quite a few adventures today as we visited various homes in the George complex area. The students have been so excited to venture into the market, learn to cook traditional Zambian food, and learn more about our Brothers and Sisters here. As an added bonus, a student from each group volunteered to write about their experiences. Enjoy!

Nancy and Dorkas – Written by Christy, Claire, and Drew

We left Grace Christian Centre with Dorkas, a young high school student at the school. The first place we went was the market. It was packed with rows and rows of stands where people sold meat, produce, clothes, chickens, and all other kinds of food. It was hectic, crowded and we got many strange looks and shouts of “Americans! Americans!” After burying the ingredients for the meal, we headed to Dorkas’ home. There we met the rest of her family: Her lovely mother, Nancy, little sister Grace, and little brother, Emmanuel. They were an overwhelmingly welcome bunch and although it took a while for us to warm up to each other, we eventually became fast friends. It started out with a game we made up called bottle cap football (or soccer as we say in America). We started out by flicking a bottle cap into goals that we made with our fingers, which slowly turned into a competitive game of finger football. As we did this, we talked and occasionally dropped into the kitchen to help prepare our meal. We made a traditional dish called N’shima. N’shima is a Zambian dish that most families eat at least two times a day. Its purpose is not flavor, but to simply fill the belly for as long as possible. Its texture is thicker than almost anything we’ve ever had and is made with only two ingredients: water and maize meal (or corn meal). Nancy also showed us how she prepares steak and bone and a traditional sauce used to give the N’shima some flavor. Chicken is easier to come by and less expensive, so it was very touching to us that they served us steak. The meal overall was delicious and we agreed that it was the best we’ve tasted in Zambia yet! We were expecting to have the whole family join us for this meal, but the mother humbly expressed that she was fasting. Later when we sat down after lunch, Joy asked why she was fasting and if we could pray for her. This strong woman told us that she was fasting to ask God to help her lost family – especially siblings who are struggling that need to find Christ. It was our honor to pray for her and her family. Right after we prayed, Nancy and Dorkas told us some of her favorite things about Jesus. This led to Dorkas leading us in the song, “Majesty.” She had such a beautiful voice! This built into more music and entertainment through song and dance. Their simple but beautiful three room house was full of the sounds of our small dance party. Daniel’s dance moves were definitely a highlight of the visit. It was an amazing experience – one that we will never forget. We took a final picture with them and left with full tummies and happy hearts. 

The Banda’s House – Written by Carly

When we arrived, Toko put us right to work and got us washing the okra and the spinach, cutting the watermelon, and peeling the potatoes – all of which we had just bought at the market. The power had just gone out when we arrived, so we had to boil the N’shima and fry the sweet potatoes on hot coals. Toko began telling us about the college that she goes to in India and how in her first few weeks there, she got very sick and lost a lot of weight. Caleb, Katie, and I also played with Ebeneza, who is 5. She’s the most energetic person I know who can dance for five minutes straight and sing the alphabet while somehow adding three L’s into it. The Banda sisters were very humble and welcoming. They made sure we were comfortable but also made sure we were able to help with lunch preparation. All three of the sisters, Toko (20), Sibo (14), and Ebeneza, all have such big hearts for God and were so joyful the whole time we were there. For lunch, we ate watermelon, sweet potatoes, fried okra, n’shima (corn meal and water), and visachi (lumanda and ground nuts). In the end, it was a great experience that really got us thinking about the every day life of a Zambian.

Elizabeth’s House – Written by Ivana

The day I was anticipating most finally came. We were off to experience a day in the life in the George complex. After picking out our very own live chicken (which we named Chickira) at the market, we were graciously welcomed into the home of Elizabeth and her daughters. As we were talking about her life and experiences, Elizabeth told us, “Life can be hard, but we enjoy it.” Her happy spirit along with the great attitudes of her daughters was so enlightening because even though we saw they had little, their happiness was abundant. As we prepared the meals side by side, Lily (daughter of Elizabeth – 19) told me that she had been preparing meals for her family since the age of 14, when she left childhood and became a young woman. It’s so strange for me to see how on our side of the world, people barely know how to cook in their college years, but here in Zambia, they start learning so young. While we were cooking, a neighbor stopped by to say hello to us all and she appeared to be very close with the family. Justin inquired, “Are neighbors over here close? Is it normal to be friends with each other?” Elizabeth met this question by saying that if she needed salt, she would ask a neighbor and if a neighbor needed food, she would give them a plate. I can only assume that this is exactly what Jesus would have wanted among humanity – love and support for each other. The wonderful day was full of laughs, love, and learning as we helped prepare a meal with our family in Christ across the globe.  

Memory’s House – Written by Colby

Maddie and Colby went to a youth in the church named Memory’s house. On the bus on the way to her house, we asked her about her family and she told us about her mom – Elizabeth, dad – Andrew, five siblings- Calvin (22), Abigail (13), Wise-Man (11), Blessing (11), Purity (9), and Hope (8 months). They had her cousin and a few neighbors at their house to help us cook the food also. She had a beautiful orange house with a water pump out back. She said it was helpful that her water was a couple feet from their house and the market was in short walking distance. Memory told us that her family was born in the church and she told us one of her favorite Bible verses was in Ecclesiastes and it reminds her that God has a plan. She loves fashion, so her room is full of clothes and interesting skirts. Every night, Memory’s family has dinner together and prays together but they are not able to have breakfast together because of their busy schedules. On the back porch, they have three coal burning stoves that we cooked many different foods in – including N’shima, rice, sausage, and many tiny fish. It was so amazing to be a part of Memory’s family for the day. She has such an awesome heart for God and never stops smiling. It was so cool to see what a Christian family in Zambia does throughout the day. We were very blessed to experience such happiness that has been fueled by God’s love.  

Once we arrived back at the church, we were able to eat together, then re-arrange seating inside of the church for another heart filling and eye opening experience. Reverend Banda arranged a huge group of students and teachers from the area to come in and learn more about dreams. He asked three questions – 1. What is your dream, and how does your country help you get there? 2. What do you love about your country? 3. What do you hate about your country? 

In the time that we answered these questions, we came to realize that we are all quite alike. We are all inspired and called to make a difference in the lives of those around us. Reverend Banda put it so well when he said that our dreams are not for us. We were not born for us – we were born for others. After answering question three, we began a discussion about how we can begin to change the things that we don’t like about our countries – because so often the thing that irritates you most is just the thing you can change. It was such an inspiring time!

Coming out of this, the realization that our trip is more than half over settled in on the team and our new friends. This was our last full day at Grace Christian Centre – many bittersweet exchanges happened as we headed out. It is amazing to notice how quickly we can bond and make new friends!  

We are looking forward to our last few hours at Grace Christian tomorrow, where we will meet with the Bandas and some students before heading off on our fun day adventure – a safari at a game park!!  

In the meantime, we are continuing our evening tradition of group games, and maybe adding in a few of our newly learned dance moves from Daniel. 🙂