Friday, December 27, 2013

365 Days and a Drastic Change

I do not at all feel ready to write this blog post. I can't believe that today is the day, but it is, and so I must write.

A year ago, I got on a plane headed for Africa. I'd travelled, but I'd never been to a developing country before. I knew that this trip would change my life forever, but I had absolutely no idea just how much.

I was still new to the whole "Jesus" thing. I was teaching Sunday school, but I didn't know what it looked like to "love the least of these." I was volunteering with a ministry, but I had no idea what "self-sacrificial love" really felt like. (Hint: it's hard)

I knew that I needed to see the world in order to better serve as an advocate. I've always had a desire to travel, but I can't say I ever really saw this one coming. The atheist, pill-popping, flirtatious (read: slutty) party girl of 2011 would have never predicted that 2012 Abby would plop herself in Uganda and Kenya. And yet, she did. And boy, did it rock my world.

The minute I set foot in Bugabo, Uganda, I knew this place was different. My heart is still there.
It was impossible not to fall in love with the children. So much joy.
This picture will go down in history as one of the top 10 moments of our trip. We didn't understand them, and they didn't understand us, but we just sat together and enjoyed each other's company. It was bliss. It was love.

My feet are still missing this Ugandan red dirt.
I mean, is it possible to NOT fall in love with this face? 
This little man stole my heart forever. Solomon is 3 and looked about the size of a 1 year old. I will never forget giving him water from my water bottle, and he just couldn't stop drinking. His poor little body was so dehydrated. That was the first time I saw true poverty represented in a child. It was no longer an idea. It was real.

We had an overnight stay at the Haven in Uganda. I have always had a deep love for hammocks ;)

At the Haven, I shared my testimony with the 26 other trip members. They prayed for me after telling my story.
And then I got baptized in the Nile River. Such peace.
My sweet girls Catherine (left) and Lillian at Lake Elementita in Kenya.

This sweet little man was too cute for words. That smile stole my heart!
In addition to snuggling sweet orphans for two straight weeks, I also made some amazing friends. Sara (left) was one of the girls I went on the trip with. She was family before, but this trip solidified our friendship. We also met an AMAZING friend named Bethany (right) who has such a loving, fun Christ-like spirit. We still keep in touch as much as possible.
Saying goodbye was the hardest part. I miss my Teresah immensely.
One of the best parts of the trip for me was meeting and getting to know these incredible mentors. Michael and Merrill are a young married couple who are so inspiring! They were trying/hoping to get pregnant while we were in Africa, and now they have a beautiful baby girl Genevieve. Being a part of their journey to parenthood was an amazing gift, and I'm so thankful for their friendship! 
I couldn't resist the opportunity to share a picture of Merrill, Michael, and Genevieve Lark at Christmas. Too perfect.

In some ways, it seems like this all happened yesterday. I can still feel the Ugandan dirt under my toes, and hear the rush of the waterfall while I was being baptized. I can still hear the Kenyan accents singing "It Is Well" and "Come Thou Fount." I can still remember Bethany's laughter teasing me about who-knows-what. I can picture perfectly the look on Sara and Katie's faces when they tried to play a trick on me by putting a bunny in my bed while I was in the shower. Much to their surprise and chagrin, I was elated with this bunny surprise, not scared! I wanted to snuggle it all night, I was actually kind of sad they took him away!

This journal entry doesn't seem so long ago at all (but hilarious now that you consider my current circumstances):

"Africa is very humbling. I am dirty, sweaty, smelly, sunburnt, and my nails are a MESS. I haven't taken a warm shower in two weeks and I'm convinced they are lying about not having ice- they just misplaced it where the hot water heater is supposed to be! I haven't worn makeup in days. All of my creature comforts flew out the window when we arrived in Entebbe. And yet, I am closer to God than I have ever been. Despite the poverty and heartbreaking situations we see every day, there is hope in this place! The African people have an unshakable faith. When hope is all you have, you have all you need." 1/7/13 Nakuru, Kenya

I got back to Beaufort on January 10th, 2013. I hit the ground running. I was not going to be complacent. I went in to talk to my advisor (and hero) Pam Cooper at USCB. I told her that I needed to graduate in May, or at the very least at the end of summer. I was applying for the Young Adult Volunteer program through PCUSA, and I wouldn't take no for an answer. It wasn't going to be easy, Pam told me. After all, I was in my fifth year of college at my third university. Getting all (if any) of my credits to transfer would require a miracle from God. 

And that's what happened. A miracle. Pam finally found a way to make every. single. one. of my credits fit in my transcript. I was going to be able to graduate in May, but I'd have to take 22 hours to do it. Oh, and I'd also be working part-time. And volunteering. Perfectly reasonable, right? I spent most of my college years slacking majorly. I've always been a smart girl, but I have never cared about school. I think the best GPA I got at Bama or USC was a 3.2. But spring semester? I got a 3.9. With 22 hours. And 2 jobs. And the best part? It had been 5 years since I graduated from high school, but I took a year off in Columbia. I graduated in 4 academic years. If that ain't a miracle, y'all, I don't know what is. 

In March, I found out that I was placed in the Philippines. In May, I graduated with a 3.9. God's timing, y'all. Not mine.

I think the real miracle here is me getting an A in math. Just sayin'.

Thanks, Pammy. I wouldn't be here without your friendship, support, guidance, and love.

Fast forward 365 days from my departure to Uganda and it is my 4 month anniversary of living in the Philippines. I'm not great at math, but I'm pretty sure that means there were only 8 months in between me leaving for Africa and moving to the Philippines. God works in mysterious ways, y'all. 

I can't believe I've already lived in this beautiful country for four months, and I only have seven more to go! How did that happen?! Even crazier, my parents just left here! If any of you would have called the Kraft family spending their Christmas in the Philippines in 2013, let me know so I can laugh in your face. While it was certainly unexpected, it was an absolutely incredible gift to have my parents here for Christmas. 

I took them on a tour of Dumaguete, my favorite city. We participated in the blessing of the playground I was fortunate enough to facilitate building. They met my host family in Mabinay. They helped me move into my new home with Mallory. They saw (as I did just a year ago) what poverty really looks like. 

For the last 365 days, I have been trying to explain to my parents the deep love I have for the developing world. As a perfect Christmas present for me, my mom looked at me earlier this week and simply said "I get it." I watched my parents be humbled, amazed, heartbroken, overjoyed, and overwhelmed this week. I got to share me with them, and I just can't imagine a better gift. 

Watching my mama fall in love with my goddaughter was bliss. Just BLISS.
Precious moments. There are just no words.
HAHAHA! At first, Neka really didn't know what to make of John (big scary white man), but she fell in love with him after a few major crying sessions due to his presence. She even sat on his lap for a long time! :)

As much as I can use my words to try to tell you how much my heart and my life has changed in the last 365 days, there's simply no explaining it. I can't believe I've been here for 4 months. I can't believe I was baptized almost a year ago. I can't believe Africa was only a year ago. I can't believe how hard life here is. I can't believe how rewarding it is either. I can't believe my parents really came here. These are the things that make me certain that there is something bigger in this world. I couldn't tell you if it's God, Allah, the universe, love, whatever. But I can tell you that the moment I started believing that there was something out there and started molding my actions to (try to) be like Jesus, my life changed for the better.  

I can't wait to see what the next 365 days will hold. Bring it on, Jesus. I'm ready!


  1. AMAZING! You are such a wonderful writer, Abby - being able to transform and express so much of your feelings into words - amazing gift!! Thanks for sharing - it's been fun watching your journey - stepping stones and stumbling blocks - - wishing many times I could come and participate with you or hug you or serve alongside you. But, alas - there's a time and season - IT'S YOUR TIME - YOU GOT THIS!!! Keep on spreading the love - making a difference!! Hugs, Lisa

  2. How wonderful! You are doing wonderful work and I am so very proud of you! Much love--Pam