“I didn’t bless the rains down in Africa (they blessed me)” with Jairus Withrow

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LOFT’s own Jairus Withrow went to Uganda in January to spread the good news through music and worship. He shares his testimony and reflects on the week he spent at the camp, creating relationships and watching God work in the people attending the camp and in himself.

Tell us about the missions trip.

Well, I wasn’t originally supposed to go on this trip at all, but as God would have it, I was graciously given the chance! The Reaction Tour team had their male worship leader drop out suddenly, and they were frantically looking for someone to replace him. Through a series of connections, I was given literally one day to make a choice to join the team. But providentially, my schedule was open. So I went to Kampala, Uganda with the Reaction Tour team over New Years. The city of Kampala sits on Lake Victoria (which I’m pretty sure is the largest lake in Africa). We were in Uganda for about 8 days or so.

What exactly did you do in Uganda?

The Reaction Tour team put on a free 5 day camp for adults (ages 17-35). The camp was basically both educational and spiritual in nature–working on developing student’s skills in focused areas as well as providing spiritual direction and times of corporate worship for the entire camp. Students chose class “electives” to do in morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session had electives such as Worship, Media Arts, Fine Art, and Leadership. The afternoon session had hip-hop dance class, sports electives (volleyball, basketball, soccer) and He or She class (dealing with men’s and women’s issues). I was in charge of co-leading the Worship class and co-leading our evening worship times. My partner, Annalise Bush, and I decided to take our class a different direction that in previous Reaction Tours and focused on songwriting.

Was it what you expected? Did God surprise you in any way?

Ha! In all honesty, I was pretty unsure of what to expect. Because I had been thrown into this trip so suddenly, I was behind on all the details. Even in the previous years that Reaction Tour had put on this camp (which have all been very successful, mind you), there was still no written curriculum. I just had to get details straight word of mouth from one of the previous team’s worship leaders. But in any case, the Lord knew I would enjoy the challenge! The songwriting class ended up being phenomenal- to hear the songs these guys wrote was astounding! Many had never written a song before, and some, even though they might have been leading worship their whole lives, had never written in a group setting. So we really felt like we came in and gave them a unique learning experience. You could feel the favor of God over the whole thing and by the end of the week, no one wanted to stop writing! We were all saying, “Week 2, let’s go!”

As far as surprises, I was pretty surprised at how our team banded together so rapidly. It has definitely been the tightest, most complementary mission team I’ve been on. And it seemed God was using the cohesiveness nonstop as we would keep getting these amazing stories coming in all day and night of things that were happening throughout the camp. I was shocked at how close our team got, and by the end of it, we all had that same sad and slightly confused question bouncing around of, “Why does this have to end?”

How did this trip make a personal impact on you?

It was powerful to see the fruit of God’s faithfulness to me in my own life. He’s taken me through all these steps over the past decade– in my career as a teacher and musician, in my spiritual maturity, in leadership– and this camp was an opportunity to see it all culminate in my own life, as my role required someone who had reached a certain skill level in these different areas.

It was like the Lord was giving me a special gift (like a kiss on the forehead, really) in allowing me to find a group of people and a situation where I was able to use the full gamut of skills he’s been working in me for years.

What was your favorite memory from the trip?

One of the most profound and dearest experiences to me from the trip was on the last day of our songwriting class, we split into men’s and women’s groups. They had already presented the songs they had written on the day before, and the last day was really a day for them to process and share what God had done in their hearts as well as to confess anything and be prayed for. This was the time where they guys really opened up. People needed real prayer and direction for so many things– men having trouble leading their worship teams back home, secret sin that needed to come out, people feeling like they needed help in different situations. It felt like the Lord was bringing many things out of darkness and into light.

It was a realization, that for me, the work of teaching songwriting and leading a worship band was doing more than just producing cool songs or music, but God was working on people’s hearts the whole time, and helping us all get to a place where we could be vulnerable and receive healing. So I pray that they can carry what they learned back to their churches and cultivate the same kind of culture of trust and vulnerability.

Okay, how about another one?!

reactiontour-jackfruitSo the double rainbow story…It was late in the afternoon and our team leader, Brad, and another teammate, Keenan, had developed an obsession with finding ripe jack fruit. You could climb the trees, tap on a hanging jack fruit, and know if it was good to eat or not. So here they are, about to go scalping the Ugandan forest for jack fruit, and I’m hanging around the team hut and they come up to me and say, “Hey Jairus, come join the hunt!” So I decided to join. Now, we’re headed towards the football (soccer) fields because we’re pretty sure we’ll sight some new jack fruit in the trees surrounding the field. And as we’re going, the sky has these ominous, dark-lavender clouds rapidly rolling in behind us that are just pregnant with rain. And while we’re headed down this narrow dirt road, of course, it starts to rain- a nice tropical rain. But here’s the thing about Uganda- when it rains, the sky emanates this golden hue. It’s as if the whole country is bathed in a golden essence. And while Brad is up a tree, and Keenan and I are standing below, we look up over the soccer field and behold! The double rainbow in the golden sky over a grassy Ugandan field. Needless to say, Brad got out of tree, and then we began prancing in the field. Here’s a picture that doesn’t quite do it justice…

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Did you have any hard days or experiences during your trip?

It was pretty taxing at first for me and my partner to get into the rhythm of Ugandan band practice and worship prep. It’s just different than in America. Often times, they don’t use chord charts. They just listen to the songs, learn them, and sort of improvise with a band leader calling out chord numbers in your in-ears during the worship set. That was pretty tough for me because I’m so used to referencing a chord chart during our practice times. So if there was a part we were trying to get down exactly, I could get frustrated that no one had the chord charts we’d passed out. But really what it was was just a difference in culture. It’s not that one way is better than the other necessarily, it’s just we were trying to mash our two ways together without realizing that we had different expectations for what practice and learning a song looks like. Ha! Sounds like a relationship 🙂

Was there a Bible verse or passage that kept coming to mind while you were there?

Hmmm…1 Corinthians 4:20 was the one.

“For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.”

 

The word power was definitely highlighted to me throughout the trip. We wanted to see real, tangible life change and learning happening, not just our team being talking heads and the student’s nodding, but real power from God that transforms people’s lives forever.

What should the LOFT family know about our brothers and sisters in Uganda?

First, they know how to dance in worship! If you need a master course in it, go to Uganda. I’m not kidding. If you want to introduce dance in your church, do some R&D in Uganda and you will get what you need. And second, while there are certainly big differences from American to Ugandan culture,

I am always reminded when I visit a new place, that people all struggle with the same root things– sin, difficulties, and pain. And Uganda is no different. The very same things you pray for yourself, your church, and your family can be prayed for your Ugandan brother’s and sisters. So in your prayer time this week, please pray for the Ugandan church. That they will make their first priority to know, worship, and obey Jesus.

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Do you have plans to go back?

I would love to return, but we’ll see what the Reaction Tour leaders decide. I know that they are preparing to take the team to a Native American reservation soon. I and several others from our team are actually traveling to our team leader’s home in Arkansas next weekend to help plan future trips as well as develop curriculum so that we can expand to multiple teams.

A Flashback to Honduras


Nicole Chacko shared her testimony from her first missions trip to Honduras. She’ll hopefully be heading back this year and you can, too. Start praying about going – the dates are August 29-September 2. 

On the first day of the missions trip we went to the Pastor’s house and told him our story and he told us his. We spent half of our day with him, ate lunch and took a tour of his land. After that, we split into groups and went to other homes in the area. Our group went to three houses on the first day. We met some amazing people that day. We went to church that night and unexpectedly found out that we had to sing on stage. We were not prepared at all.

On the second day we went back to the pastor’s house to talk about the people we had met. Then we split into our groups and went to some more houses. We went to one house and met a wonderful person. Her name is Margarita and she is so sweet and kind. It was a joy to spend time with her. That night we had a soccer night, where all the boys played soccer, and we painted the girls’ nails and did face paint. We also did their hair. It was so much fun. That night we went to church and sang on stage again, but we were way more prepared this time. That was the last night we saw most of them so we took pictures and had a great time.

On the last day we went back to the pastor’s house, then split back up to go to a house we had already been to or one other house. So we went to Margarita’s daughter’s house and got to know her. Then we went to Margarita’s house to say our goodbyes. The rest of the day we went to the market and hung out. That night we ate dinner with our missions coordinator and his family, the pastor and his family, and our amazing translators.

I had such a good time on this trip, and I wanted to thank you for the love and prayers you gave me during this trip. On this missions trip God led me to meet some amazing people and I hope to build great relationships with them in the future. I can’t wait until next year’s trip.

The Poor Will Always Be With Us

One thing I’ve learned since leaning into my work at Children’s Relief International is God is very clear that the poor will always be with us

Poverty is a condition that rifles generations, leaving its mark for decades and decades to come.  People are oppressed by other people, by government, by natural disasters, by location, birth status, religious belief, illness, the list goes on.  But God says,

“Open your hands freely and give.”


I’ve always had an inclination toward the poor.  There is something in me that sees the hurting, the desolate eyes of the oppressed, and cries out in righteous indignation insisting that something must be done.  But I had to go on a 20+ year journey to discover God’s purpose behind my heart.

I didn’t grow up poor.  In fact, I grew up in a very comfortable, middle-class, white family in a white suburban neighborhood in farmlands and beauty and wealth.  My mom stayed at home and home-schooled me and my younger brother.  My dad worked a normal 9-5 and came home to a prepared meal every evening.  My childhood was rosy—full of exploration, friendship, and safety.  I didn’t have a care in the world, and I am thankful.

As I grew, some of the deepest wounds of the world began to creep into my own safe sphere.  I went on mission trips; I saw poverty.  I overheard racism at school and learned about the long and harrowing history of oppression.  I wanted to believe that people were better than that.  I thought I was…

I set out for college still with rose-colored glasses half on.  But as I wrestled through my own beliefs about people, God, and the purpose of our very creation, the glasses fell off.  I witnessed the full and complete brokenness that characterizes our world; and I was distraught.

As I’ve grown older still, I’ve begun to see that my distress is exactly what the God of our universe feels when He looks down upon us and the wreckage we’ve made of this beautiful life.

But, He has known forever that this is how we, His children, would be.  And so, in Deuteronomy, He lays out the law for us to care for one another. He hopes that as our glasses fall from our lofty noses, we too will be overwhelmed by the injustices we see—and take action.

It still took me some time.  After college, I was in love with a certain boy from the Midwest and I followed him out there.  I moved from the rigors of the left-leaning Northeast to the conservative, quiet Southern Midwest.  I was challenged by a new kind of ignorance.  God was real to these people too, but their sphere was perhaps even tinier than the one I had grown up in.  There was something so limited from outside experience, so boxed-in from diversity of any kind.  

Sean and I got engaged in January of 2014, and I quickly told him of my desire to follow God’s leading to teach in an impoverished country.  I needed my purpose to be bold.  But as I soon discovered, my boldness didn’t translate into ease.  I battled through that year, full of tears, frustration, and confusion.  

Why didn’t my good intentions seem to matter to the people I served?  Why couldn’t they see the sacrifice I’d made and the impact I was trying to have? 


It wasn’t working.

But it was.  God was working.  He was showing me that His plan is not for all of the pain of the world to be fixed, but for my heart, for our hearts to become “bent” toward the suffering.  That is where the change really is.

Another year later, I finally began to see it.  Maybe this is when my glasses really fell off.  I barely scraped across the finish line of another school year in Dallas before I collapsed.  I couldn’t give any more.  And when I was at my most broken, my most lost, God finally picked me up and set me in the direction that pointed perfectly towards Him.

Children’s Relief International put all the pieces into place.  My inclination for the poor, my heart for the oppressed, my resolve toward change, my eyes for the world.  It is here that I see God working.  My job, every day, is to tell the stories of the needy and the oppressed.  My job is to be the defender of the defenseless, the giver to the broken, the lifeline to the lost.

As I touch the stories of children who grow up working alongside their mothers in rock quarries as near slaves or without parents digging through trash piles for a scrap to eat, I am blasted back to that perfect idealistic childhood I lived.  There is no justice here.  But, I must hold to the promise that there is justice for the oppressed:

“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” –Deuteronomy 10:18

“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!” –Psalm 72:4

God does have a plan.

In the here and now, our purpose is not to change the world or to relieve all the suffering.  Jesus already did that. 

Our purpose is to let our hearts be changed.  To open our hands and give freely, as the Giver of Life has given to us!


What a high call that is!

Our calling as image-bearers of the King of Kings is to give generously.  It is to hear the cry of the downtrodden and offer them care.  It is to devote our lives selflessly to expressing the love of the Most High God to all who can feel it.

I lean into this calling at CRI with joy because it is this that I am privileged to do every day.  God has carefully brought me through experience after experience to teach me this very thing: 

the poor will always be with you, so open your hands freely and give.

Goats, Grace, and Glory: A Reflection on My First International Mission Trip

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Goats…small-ish, but powerful animals with bulging eyes. Not the ideal cuddly animal, but a beloved creation of God nonetheless. In Los Ciles, Honduras their purpose is simple but very much so needed. A staple of sustenance for many Catracho (Honduran) families. In Dallas, Texas, their purpose seems more convoluted. I say this as I sip my $5 artisan coffee and watch a group of smiling Americans participate in an atypical Sunday afternoon activity. Goat Yoga. Yep, that’s right. Goat Yoga.

From what I gather, the goats are put on people’s backs as they do certain yoga poses. For what purpose, I am not really sure, but a part of me longed for the simplicity of a goat’s purpose to wander the green hills of Pastor Laudolino’s backyard, to wander and commune with fellow goats (and chickens) alike, and to perk its ears when its called so that it can give what it has to the forever grateful Honduran family. Brothers and sisters, I long for a simple purpose like the goats of Honduras.

Brothers and sisters, I long for a simple purpose like the goats of Honduras.

(Note: If you’re still with me, I applaud you because I reckon this will not be a three paragraph summary of the Honduras Mission Trip. Sorry, Pastor Sam. 😛 )

Let’s backpedal for a second. My prayer for this mission trip was to be humbled and return back to the States grateful for all that I have. I knew that I struggled with pride in many areas of my life, most notably with ministry and work, so I very much so desired for God to grant me freedom from that struggle. A bold prayer, you may think, but I did not know that at the time. I thought it was a ‘right’ prayer to pray, not a powerful one. But friends, God answered this prayer faithfully and at the right time.

One of the great things about God is that He is good, and with His goodness there is grace upon grace. And I needed grace during those five long and stretching days in Honduras. Like the goats of Goat Yoga, my life’s purpose seemed to be dictated by other people’s demands. In my case, it was more so other people’s “perceived” demands. I had believed the lie that in order to truly have purpose, I needed to be a good servant leader, serve others with a sacrificial love…always disregarding my personal needs. I did not have a choice, it’s what I (mistakenly) thought I was supposed to do.

Like the goats of Goat Yoga, my life’s purpose seemed to be dictated by other people’s demands. I had believe the lie than in order to truly have purpose, I needed to be a good servant leader…always disregarding my personal needs.

That’s why serving in Honduras was so hard. I was there in this foreign country and my purpose was to just be there. To be present in activities that seemed to be frivolous. To be present in sitting with others and nothing else. To be present in conversing with others and nothing else. I just had to be all there, and I felt extremely awkward and inept. Didn’t I have great interpersonal skills? Why did I feel so off? My American purpose ceased to exist, and I felt like I was a pampered Yoga goat trying to understand the purpose of wandering the simple Honduran landscape with my fellow goats. I seemed to forget the purpose of being a part of a family. Of just being a part of the Body of Christ.

Before I left for Honduras, a wise sister in Christ told me, “Things always seem to become clearer during mission trips,” and I will say God’s grace in His great love for us became that much clearer to me. I can just be me, and He would still love me. I can serve Him by just simply recognizing the importance of being just a member of the Body of Christ, and He would still be glorified. No strings attached. I had truly believed the lie that I had been serving solely for His glory, but in reality, I was serving to fulfill my purpose to be needed and give glory to my many accolades.

But by God’s grace, he lovingly humbled me and opened my eyes to see that my purpose was shallow in comparison to His purpose for my life. To simply live my life for His glory. It is all for His glory.