If: Gathering

It's hard to talk about IF; Gathering without tears being brought to my eyes. What IF is to me is difficult to articulate into words.. IF is a Gathering. A gathering of women from different denominations, races and cultures. We gather and we seek Jesus. Together. To wrestle with belief that God is real, to wrestle with the places in our lives where we are struggling with unbelief, to wrestle with how can we overcome unbelief and then what God can do with our belief. Years ago I sat with this woman at a diner in Austin. I hardly knew her. We had mutual friends and decided to get coffee together and talked for hours about the need that we both saw. The women that we saw burdened, fearful and holding back from who they were made to be. We talked about our own journeys of stepping out to where God was leading each of us and how scary that was.  I remember dreaming with this new friend, Jennie Allen, about what it would look like to gather women. I had a burning in my heart for this to happen, but also had negative thoughts about what gathering women into one place might look like because of what I had known in the past. It's honestly something I would stay far away from  -  In my mind I saw lots of pink flowers, balloons, cliques and surface conversations with each other. I didn't want a part of that. The thought of doing something different drew me in though. The question of 'What IF' stirred in us.. What IF God is real? How would each of us live differently?  How would we face our fears  if we truly believed that with every part of our souls? What if we trusted where God was leading us even when we didn't see the outcome? What If we were honest with each other?  What IF we trusted God instead of ourselves with what He was doing with this gathering? 

IF: Gathering is a place women are RAW and REAL with each other.  I know what it feels like to be lonely. I know what if feels like to feel unseen. I know what it feels like to not have community. I know what it feels like to be afraid of stepping out. I have cried my eyes out in the seat of isolation and I have soared with joy on the other side of doing life with others. People ask me all the time what IF: Gathering is, I've thought long and hard on what I believe it is. I simply open up my hands, palms facing up in front of them and say "this" motioning to my hands being open. It's something that God is doing and we are along for the ride. Women are being gathered across the world and they are seeking God together. Not alone, but TOGETHER. They are finding healing, freedom and community by seeking God together. They are walking in faith and believing. They are being released and shining in who they are made to be. We so easily forget the battle that we are fighting. The battle that is all around that beats us to the ground. That makes us isolate ourselves and feel alone. We listen to the lies that the enemy speaks over us rather than read the truth that God has given to us in His word. It's time to change this.. It's time to equip ourselves and go to battle for each other. To find the women that are running this race alone and link arms pull them in. This doesn't just happen at a gathering in February. This happens where we live. In our neighborhoods, our work, our churches. 

IF: Gathering is something that has become "cool"  very quickly. I get it. Only 1500 women can come to Austin in February. But IF: Gathering is not about being 'cool" or being "in" -- That is the farthest thing from the vision --  IF is not even about an event in February. We want women all the world to gather with their friends and strangers. February 6th & 7th you can host a gathering in your home and invite women to join and watch the simulcast on the web. God is doing something huge in hearts right now and i've seen it all across the globe. Women want to be invited to the table.  I recently had an IF: Table at my house where I had 5 women come (most of who didn't know each other) -- by the end of our time together tears were flowing, truth had been spoken and we each left challenged. Just one simple dinner. Now I can't wait till the next one.  I know many of you don't feel like you could lead a gathering in your home.. Maybe it's because you feel scared or you think you might mess something up -- I want to challenge you to push those thoughts out of the way. If you are waiting for people to reach out to you and invite you. Stop. I did that for years and kept waiting -- instead be the one who does the inviting or just shows up.

Yesterday I came across an image below that I captured in India and I posted it on instagram. It stopped me in my tracks as I thought about the murky water this boy was  jumping straight into. He didn't think twice about it. He just jumped. Sometimes that's what we've got to do instead of questioning everything all the time.. I don't know where you are at, but if you are feeling a nudge on your heart as you read this.. Read the interview below from Sara Hay and learn about how she is stepping out to gather women around her. She is just like you and me taking one step at a time trusting Jesus. You can also visit the IF: Local website and join a group that is being hosted in your area. Don't be afraid. Jump in! 

 

Sometimes you just gotta JUMP even when the water below isn’t clear. Years ago I remember having several friends pray for me and they all had the same vision. I would walk up to the edge of a cliff and stare off the end and then walk back. God was telling me to jump and that I had to trust He was there to catch me. But I was too scared to jump. I let fear hold me back from the unknown. I remember when I made the decision to jump. To trust. To see what was past what felt safe to me. God didn’t let me fall. He caught me and carried me all the way. I’ve taken so many risks since that day and I’m thankful for each one.

Don’t let fear hold you back from what God might be calling you to do

 

Interview with IF: Local Leader - Sara Hay 

 
 
God has awakened me to seeing people for their own unique worth. My heart had been locked in seeing people from the outside instead of really knowing them and knowing their heart. My perspective on living out my faith has done a complete make-over.

Q: Who are you? 

I am a Jesus-loving hot mess of a wife and mother.

Q: Where do you live?  

Hendersonville, TN north of Nashville

Q: How have you used IF's tools & resources to lead in your local contexts?

Last year I gathered 5 women in my husband’s conference room to watch IF on Friday night and Saturday.  I knew 2 women and 2 were strangers.  After the IF weekend, I had a very different perspective on being with other women outside my typical stereotype.  We had an amazing time of worship, growing, sharing and being challenged.  I had become locked into a circle of like-minded friends who were exactly like me and wasn’t open to being around others who lived out the same faith in Jesus differently than I did.  I had lost sight of what being a Christian meant.  Through the year I did the IF:Equip Bible study and loved how it challenged me.  When the IF:Local leader map came out in August, I emailed the Nashville area leaders to see if anyone wanted to do an August IF:Table.  I was invited by 3 complete and total strangers to share in their groups.  Until I got involved with IF, I would have never EVER considered going to a stranger’s house to eat with even more strangers.  IF helped open my eyes and heart to true Biblical hospitality, non-judgmental relationships and living out the love of Christ in so many ways outside of my comfort zone.

Q: What has been the scariest, most challenging aspect of leading for you? 

The scariest part of being an IF local leader is that my messiness might hinder others from seeing Christ’s love played out.  I want to be effective for the right reasons.  There is no reason to gather a large group of women so I can be in charge of a successful women’s event.  I want people to come to know the Lord and learn to love others with no judgment or partiality.  My heart is to gather a group of women who can challenge each other to grow, learn and love people for the right reasons – not because it is what we are supposed to do but because our love for Jesus is so pure and real that we just have to share it.

Q: How has God awakened you?

Ultimately God has awakened me to what a real relationship with Him looks like.  God can handle my fears, my questions and my insecurities and can show me who I am in Him.  God has awakened me to seeing people for their own unique worth.  My heart had been locked in seeing people from the outside instead of really knowing them and knowing their heart.  My perspective on living out my faith has done a complete make-over.  I want to love God well, not only in my words but I want my life to be proof of a love for my Savior.  To please God by living in His will is what I want most.

Q: How have your relationships with others deepened?

I have gotten to know so many wonderful women through IF:Table.  As a woman who loved to live in her own little world and not bother getting to know anyone different, I have learned to love embracing our differences and loving the way God has uniquely created us.  My old self would have never sat around a table with 6 strangers sharing precious discussion time for almost 5 hours on a Saturday.  And with those women I will be beginning and Advent Bible study to keep us all accountable to keeping Jesus the focus of Christmas for our families.  God has woven a love for others into my heart and opened my mind to all of the possibilities He has in store for my life.

Q: How have you seen God show up in your life and the life of the women you are gathering, equipping, and unleashing? 

Upon returning from the IF Lab at Catalyst in Atlanta, I was fired up and ready to plan an event for 300 people.  There were women I had met there that were praying with me for approval of using my children’s conservative Christian school to host IF.  Initial approval was given and then…taken away by a political move that I just couldn’t imagine how an injustice that great could be God’s plan.  So after prayer and counsel, I approached another “venue” about hosting IF for our area.  When no response of interest became an obvious “no”, I began to question whether or not I was even capable of being used by God for this.  Why on earth would a church not want an event where women could come together to learn more of Jesus??  God checked that attitude very quickly and pushed me forward because it is not about me.  As I moved on with another IF sister, we thought we had finally found our place but…another “no” for IF:Local.  So as of right now, we do not have a place to gather but I will not give up.  This has become a time to continue to pray and wait to see what God is going to do.  I don’t know how it will play out but God does, so I will continue forward.  The women around me are all praying and waiting.  Friends are gathering for Bible studies and seeking God’s will.  In the end, if we all grow closer to God, mature in our faith, and learn how to live it out, a gathering may just look like the life we are already living.


We are a generation of women that believes God at His Word that He called us to our places and will use us for His glory and for the good of His people. We have seen God move in incredible ways already and believe it was only the beginning. We will come together around the world on February 6-7, 2015 in a spirit of humility and unity to pray that God will work in even greater ways.

How do you get involved?

If you want to attend an IF:Local in your area, you can search here

If you feel led to host an IF:Local, register here and we will send you resources to guide you every step of the way. Here is the hub to get equipped.

If you’d like to learn more about the vision for IF:Local and the 2-day gathering this February, watch the vision cast  hosted by Jennie Allen and a few friends.

We have chosen to forgo a set ticket price, and are asking you to partner with us, by making a donation to the vision of IF. We are half way to raising our event. If everyone gives at least $25, then we will be able to pay for the gathering in 2015. 

We know that some of you cannot afford to pay a lot and that is okay. But we also know that some of you can, so would you step up and give for you and someone else? Register for IF:Local now. 

Arizona

This past week I went to Arizona for the Barefoot Gathering. I loved the conversations that circled around social causes, how to love people more and photographing with dignity and more. We had some incredible speakers take the stage - Dr. John Perkins, Bob Goff, Rachel Held Evans, Erwin Mcmanus -- It's so cool to see a church come together to put on such an awesome gathering of people. Dr. Perkins sitting in his chair pointed at me after I spoke and used his pointer finger to call me over. I jokingly asked him if I was in trouble for something. I got down on my knees to his height and waited patiently for what he might say. He looked at me seriously and said, "Your story, it burdened me, it affected me". He then told me a story about his Mother and how the story of the woman I talked about reminded him of her. He is a very wise man who has lived through a lot of life and I was honored that one of my stories stayed with him. I love that he is in his 80's and still speaking. He is still using his platform to share about God and challenge people.. My brother Josh Havens is the Worship pastor at the Grove in Chandler, Arizona and we decided to go for a hike in the Superstition Mountains. There is a neat hike called the Hieroglyphic trail -- I couldn't believe how much the sky changed colors in the couple hours we were walking -- reds, blue's, purple's, orange's and yellow's. The sky was like it was being painted by God. His beautiful artwork. On our walk back to the car, the rains began to pour which is apparently one of the 8 times it's rained in Pheonix this year. A rare moment that i'm so thankful for. All of the images are photographed with the iphone 5s -- if you are interested in prints you can send me an email below with the image size you want. I work closely with a great printer and will put in an order right away, sign the image and mail it to you directly.


 
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Gorillas in Rwanda

My dear sweet cousin Karen took me on an adventure of a lifetime last month. I"ve known about Karen my whole life, but only recently have I gotten to actually know her. She is my late Father's first cousin and while he had a relationship with her, I did not. I always felt like we were a lot alike though.  I kept hearing stories of Karen traveling the world to see exotic places like Machu Picchu in Peru, climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and seeing the Great White Sharks in South Africa. IT was last fall that we saw each other in India for the first time in years. She mentioned something so special to me at our dinner in India. She said one day she was walking along the beach with my dad in San Deigo and she was asking about all of his kids. He was describing each one of us and said, "Esther, well Esther I think she has my wanderlust'. I had never heard my dad say that. It brought tears to my eyes. My dad loved to travel and saw a lot of the world before he had cancer. I loved coming back from my trips and telling him all the stories I had. I remember when I had just gotten back from Tibet and he was sick, he would be in bed listening, eyes sparkling as I told him about my adventures.

I had always wanted to see the world since I was young girl, but I think I wanted to see it so badly because he would tell me stories about it and take me to see it. I was a toddler when my parents were traveling through The Alps in Europe with me. I loved growing up in a home where we learned about other cultures. We would have french night where he would put on some Edith Piaf music, my mom would cook french food in the kitchen and sometimes it would be accompanied by the family huddling in the living room to watch a french film . Other nights included Indonesian night, dutch night and Indian night. This was very normal in my house. I don't think my parents intentionally thought this would do anything to us. They just really enjoyed other cultures. -- but I know that contributed to me having a desire to travel and see the world.

One of the things i've had on my list to see for YEARS is the Gorillas in Rwanda. I have been to Rwanda multiple times now and never had an opportunity to go. When I met up with Karen at a hotel in New Delhi, India last year she said that she's been wanting to go see the Gorillas with me and wanted to take me to see them. It's something that had been on her list of things to do for years as well! What Karen didn't know about me is that i'm not a talker, but a doer. if I have an idea, I like to get it done. So I immediately invited her to join me for a trip in March. She wasn't able to do that so we settled on a trip in September. I can honestly say that in so many ways it was a dream come true. The hardest part of the day was trekking through the jungle and feeling stinging nettle attacking my legs. It was like they were on fire. I mean you couldn't get away from that stuff. There are only 80 people day that are able to purchase permits to see the Gorillas on the Rwandan side of the National Park. They split everybody up into groups of 6-10 and we then set out on a hike into the Volcano National Park. There is a group of trackers who stay near the each Gorilla family in the forest so they always know their whereabouts and also to protect them from poachers. Our guide talks with them over the radio to know which waywe  should hike. After walking for a couple of hours, we had to leave our backpacks under a tree and head into the thick vegetation of the forest. I gave an extra camera and lenses to almost every one of the trackers as we walked from that point. There hands were full! I wanted to have all my options and I wasn't allowed to carry a bag. ha! We walked a short bit and suddenly there they were around us. Mama and the baby at first and then the Daddy Silverback showed up just playing with each other and eating.. Watching them  just hang out in the jungle before my eyes was unreal. At one point which you'll see below, the mama started tickling her baby. We were so close to them! Our guides used Gorillas grunts to let them know we were peaceful. I tried to speak Gorilla but failed miserably. I mean by now the Gorillas have to be use to seeing a group of humans for an hour each day. They are still Gorillas though and have instincts to protect their family. I highly recommend to anyone who visits Rwanda to go and see the Gorillas. I am so thankful Karen took me on such an awesome adventure. Once in a lifetime for sure. Now to conquer the next item on my bucketlist......Antarctica? 

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Reunion with Jean Bosco

Many people know about the Jean Bosco Story that Scott Harrison has talked about for years......I wrote a a blogpost for charity: water that launched this past weekend about finding Jean Bosco 6 years later in Rwanda!

 


 

It felt like a dream. 

It’s been four years since I've seen Jean Bosco -- the shy, sturdy boy I met in Murinja Village in 2008 when charity: water funded a well his community. I have traveled to almost 60 countries capturing people’s lives over the years and his story has never left me. One day, he was filling his jerry can with murky brown water and a few days later I rejoiced with his whole village as they drank clean water for the first time. It was then that I realized that I wanted to capture that story around the globe -- the story of change.

I’ve been to Rwanda many times now working on photo stories for various nonprofit organizations. Each time I have visited, I've thought about going back to see Jean Bosco. I wondered if he still lived in the same mud home with his family, I wondered if he still walked for water. I wondered if he still remembered me. This last trip, I had to find answers to my questions. 

I drove down the same bumpy road I remembered, but unsure if the driver was headed in the right direction. We met a woman under a tree with three children and I showed her the photos of the 15 year-old Jean Bosco on my phone. She said she knew where he lived and joined us in the van to direct the way. We arrived at the top of a hill and then walked down the narrow pathways lined with banana trees and maize plants. Memories flooded from years ago. 

I arrived at his familiar family home, but Jean Bosco wasn’t there. There was a young boy nearby who raced down the hill with his wheel toy to go find him. I waited excitedly and talked with his father and siblings. Even though I was expecting him, when the now 22 year-old Jean Bosco arrived with a yellow jerry can on his shoulders and a huge smile was on his face, I couldn’t believe it. He opened his arms wide and hugged me. 

The last time I saw him, he was a boy. Today, he is a man.

We sat in the shade of his childhood home and talked about life. He said he thought I had forgotten about him. I tried my best to explain that I could never forget about him. I told him that prayed for him often and that I had been telling his story to the whole world. I have shared his photo story at almost every conference i’ve spoken at over the past six years. His story has changed the story of so many others by raising money for clean water projects in their villages and helping them go from dirty water to clean water. I also shared with him that his photo was printed in New York and is as tall as his house. He beamed that familiar smile. We talked about what his goals and dreams were and possible ways for him to achieve them.

He was excited to share with me that he is now a father and lives next to parents house with his wife and baby girl, Jean Marie Vianey. “She is beautiful!” I exclaimed. He was very proud.

I didn’t want to leave Murinja that day, but I know I’ll be back. I’ll continue to check in with him in the years to come and stay involved in his life. I am thankful for that day I met him six years ago because it changed the way I photograph people. Jean Bosco’s story made me an advocate for others. It challenged me to not just photograph what is, but also photograph what can be. I saw what a photograph could actually do --  challenge thought and evoke action. Photos can change the way people think and see the world. I’ve come to realize that photographing humanitarian stories isn’t about getting a great shot for a portfolio; it’s about being an advocate for others so lives can continue to be changed! When charity: water provides clean water for a village, it has a profound impact on a community's health and well being. I got to witness this transformation firsthand in Jean Bosco, and it changed me too.

 

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Jean Bosco summer of 2008