Finding freedom in Kenya

About every 6 months or so, Lee (my husband) and I have the same conversation.

Me: “I just don’t feel like I’m doing anything with my life.”
Lee: “what do you want to do? Lets make it happen.”
Me: “I don’t know – I just want to do something BIG, something that matters.”

Since I am a stay at home mom, my world can seem a bit small at times- limited to PB&J’s and Curious George. My freedom comes in small increments of time, savored when my kids are sleeping. So when the chance to go to Kenya came up, both Lee and I were excited for me to go—me for the adventure; him so we could end, for a time, our bi-annual conversation. Perhaps this could be my “something BIG.”

And something big did happen in Kenya, but not at all what I would have expected.

For some time now I have been a faithful believer, constantly in the Word, doggedly memorizing Scripture, trying to listen and obey the Spirit. But what I didn’t know was that I was entangled in a web of legalism.

When I went to Kenya, I saw a people pure, I saw a people joyful. And – surprise! They didn’t have anything. I mean anything. And when I saw that purity and joy, untethered to rules and expectations – something inside me broke.

watercolors-1I can pinpoint the moment even. We went to a very poor school to teach VBS. Part of the arts and crafts included watercolors. Our 15 year old girls had never seen them before. We watched as they dipped their brushes in the water and began, with quiet concentration, to paint their masterpieces on unworthy paper plates. As they painted, one began to sing, then another, until the room was filled with confident voices, “You are so faithful, so faithful, so faithful. You are so faithful, so faithful all the time. That’s why I praise you in the morning, that’s why I praise you in the day time, that’s why I praise you in the evening, that’s why I praise you all the time.”

I liken the effect to a Glo Bracelet. Faced with that pure joy, the legalism – which at its base is fear- broke, and something bright began to spread into my heart, taking it over completely and making it something new.

You see, He didn’t just set me free from legalism. That would be enough right there. He set me free, then he showed me joy. He gave me joy instead. Ha! What is that? Who does that?

I am convinced that what He wants for all of us is FREEDOM. Freedom to not live by expectations of others, to not have to strain to some self-imposed invisible ideal, to not fear tomorrow; and most of all, the freedom to see Him with unveiled eyes.

Another conversation brought this home to me. While in another school an 8th grade girl approached me with this:

Irene: “You have something I want.”
Me: “What is that?” Irene: “The Holy Spirit. How do I get it? How will I know if I have it?”
Me: “How did you know I had it?”
Irene: “By the way you were misbehaving—in a good way.”

You see, there is no Christian Julia and Regular Julia. The Holy Spirit manifests Himself in me just as I am. When I am playing soccer with the kids or singing a silly song about bananas, or holding a baby. The Holy Spirit is in me and He is evident. No legalism – no Christianese required.

And He has set me free because of JOY! Because watercolors are beautiful and a Kenyan voice has strength like I’ve never heard. Because glory is unfolding constantly if we would only let Him open our eyes to it. And to come full circle, I came home to my little boy’s soft cheeks and dimpled hands and I could weep at the beauty of them. To feel my daughter’s hand in mine is almost too much to handle. He has shown me my “something big,” and here it resides in the small.

My biggest desire upon returning is to set up an altar, as Abraham would have done. An “Ebeneezer” as Lee informed me. Because I think there is a discipline here- not a legalistic one- but a Spirit discipline to remember. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1). I am familiar with the youth camp, mission trip bubble. And I am fully aware that I am in one now, but I will not accept the lie that the bubble has to pop. There is a discipline to remember what God has done, and to forget would be to yoke myself in slavery. He has set me free in Kenya, and I intend to stay that way.



Julia Casterline and her dad, Ken Cunningham, were part of the VBS team that went to Kenya in June. She is married to Lee and they have 2 small kids, Evie & James. Julia was a songleader on the trip, as well as teaching the middle school age girls at the various schools we visited. You may also recognize her from the times she has helped lead worship at FN, singing and playing her cello.

Categories: Kenya Relief, missions, News