A phileo kind of trip

crowd reflection color toyChristians are supposed to love each other. The Bible says a lot about that and Jesus Himself not only commanded us to but also set an incredible example. The well-known verse about knowing we are Christians by our love is actually referring to the love between Christian brothers and sisters. When we look at the reality of pettiness and bickering within the church body, it’s easy to get discouraged. I’m also keenly aware of how this particular hypocrisy has discouraged nonbelievers from exploring Christianity , and for that my heart is deeply grieved.

Because of who we are and what we do, we regularly interact with Christians of differing backgrounds, cultures, denominations and perspectives. And whereas we’ve encountered some cringeworthy and even downright mean folks who identify as Christians (just trying to be real), we’ve also overwhelmingly interacted with Christians who have been kind, generous and hospitable. I sometimes feel that, in the Western world of affluence, many Christians desire to show generosity and brotherly love, but just don’t know how. Like all missionaries, we could always use some phileo love. I’m

Goodbye Michigan!

happy to say that during our trip from Michigan to North Carolina we were continually reminded and encouraged that the brethren is still out there with a desire to love one another and stand united in heart.

Prior to leaving in Michigan, our home church generously offered to let us park our camper and even live out of it behind their building. They said we could use their electric and water and asked for absolutely nothing in return. We hadn’t asked for it, they proactively offered.

With three kids and three dogs we try to stop and play/hike regularly to avoid too much pent up energy while traveling. On this trip, however, we faced the challenge of what to do with our camper when we wanted to stop. Churches helped us to solve this predicament. We looked one up on Google and they let us park our camper in their parking lot over the weekend while we visited my sister in Lansing. After that we decided to stop outside of Columbus, Ohio to do some hiking. We called a local church and explained who we were and what we were doing. Without hesitation the gal at the front desk said, “Sure! Just drop your camper in our parking lot. We’d love to do anything we can for you so let us know if there’s anything else you need.” As soon as we pulled in she came over to meet us and chat for a while. She told us that we could stay as long as we needed and invited us to a church gathering the following day if we were still around.

A nice waterfall but somehow less gratifying since we didn’t have to work to see it

After we dropped the camper in the church parking lot, we set off to find a waterfall. Unfortunately I misread the map and, after getting on the trail, we realized that the waterfall was only .15 of a mile from the trailhead. It took us less than five minutes to get to it. The funny thing was that the waterfall itself was beautiful, but it was somehow less rewarding and gratifying because we didn’t have to work for it. What do you suppose that reveals about human nature? Anyway, since we unexpectedly had the rest of our evening free, we returned to the Expedition, kicked back the seats, covered the windows and had a family movie night. We watched The Aeronauts and even though it was so loosely based on historical events that it bordered historical fiction, we loved it.

I was going to take a picture of us at the bottom of the crazy hill that froze our brakes, but it turns out that folks who live way out in the Appalachians don’t like random strangers taking pictures on their property. So instead, here’s a picture of a neat cafe we found that someone made from a double-decker bus.

While I’m off-topic and bird-walking about our trip, allow me to share another event. Somewhere in the Appalachians while looking for a good hike, I navigated us down a pretty rugged backroad. The turns were so sharp that I believe one side of our camper tires came off the ground and the hills were so steep that our brakes froze up as the weight of the camper pushed us the rest of the way to the bottom. Luckily there was a driveway at the bottom of the hill where we pulled in and Sal fixed the brakes and then masterfully drove us back to the highway. When he started giving me a hard time about almost tipping all of our worldly possessions over a cliff, I reminded him of the numerous times he has made decisions that have taken us within inches of our lives. We agreed that I was occasionally entitled to make a lack-of-judgment call and since it lead to an unexpected adventure we’d probably be laughing about it soon. After all, what is the worth of an adventure if it doesn’t test your courage and demand that you rise to the occasion?

Now, leaving you with that thought, I return to the main theme of this post…

20200211_162438-EFFECTSThe following morning we checked the weather channel as we headed out and discovered that the south was expecting heavy rains and flooding. We decided that our original plan to spend the night in the Jefferson National Forest was probably not a good idea. However, we didn’t want to end our trip just yet so we headed over to Asheville, North Carolina.

Having gone several days without showering we decided to spring for a hotel. No sooner had we pulled in in front of our room when a young man who was quite obviously drugged up met us at our truck door with a big old smile. He wanted to chat my husband’s ear off and play with our dogs, both of which he did while I unpacked for the night and got our room set up. I’m not sure why, but everywhere we go Sal attracts drug addicts. Seriously, they flock to him. At a rally in Uganda led by a good South Sudanese friend of ours, Anthony, one man

Day one of a rally in Rhino Refugee Settlement organized by a good South Sudanese friend of ours

in particular decided to give his life to Jesus. Of all the folks he could have approached, he ran over to Sal and poured out his life story of how drugs had made a mess of everything. He then proceeded to empty his pockets into my husband’s cupped hands, overflowing them with all sorts of contraband. Sal prayed for and celebrated with him and then he ran off leaving my husband with two hands filled with drugs at a large and heavily policed rally. Luckily Sal found an appropriate way to dispose of them before he bumped into a Ugandan police officer.

My husband is a good man and treats everyone with dignity and respect regardless of what state they are currently in. He’s also a tireless evangelist and won’t leave a situation like that until he’s let them know that, no matter what they are facing, Jesus loves them still. And even on nights when I am tired and just want my husband to send them away and come snuggle up with me on the couch, I am still so deeply proud of him for it.

20200213_132619Anyway, we did settle in for the night and slept blissfully on our queen size beds. In the morning we were just on our way out when Sal started up a conversation with a fellow random guest at the hotel. The man turned out to be a pastor and invited us to stay on his property with our camper if we ever swing through Tennessee. After that we visited the YWAM (Youth With a Mission) base in downtown Asheville. Even though they weren’t expecting us and were in the middle of several things, they welcomed us in and we had great conversation together. All in all we had a delightful visit. We ended our time in Asheville with a muddy but enjoyable hike where the girls caught a salamander and a crayfish.

All tuckered out

We finally pulled into our new home just south of Charlotte after dark. Both our dear friend (who we met through our work in evangelism) and the son of the owner of the farm we are staying on came out to help us get the camper hooked up and situated. Our friends had a warm dinner waiting which we thoroughly enjoyed before returning to the camper and sleeping like the dead.

From start to finish, point A to point B, we were welcomed and aided by fellow Christians. Some were from our home church, some were fellow YWAMers, some were friends, but others were complete strangers. Only our dedication to Christ united us, but that was enough, as it should be. Anyone involved in church leadership or who has had to deal with church/organization politics will tell you that, sadly, petty arguments are causing far too much havoc on the church body of believers. However, this trip has again reminded us that there are plenty of Christians out there who are still following Jesus’ example and mandate to love our brothers and sisters in the faith and take care of one another.

And so, we have arrived; a little tired but excited and filled with hope and anticipation for the future.

As always, thank you for reading my blog and tracking with us in this journey, and may God bless you and yours.

Modern nomads

Hello again! My goal with this relaunch is to post weekly updates. Thank you for your patience as I get this whole blogging thing figured out and start building momentum.

Our modern Gypsy wagon

So, without further adieu, let’s jump in. We are a nomadic family. It is a challenging but awesome lifestyle to live. We have learned to understand and sympathize with different cultures, worldviews and perspectives, not through textbooks, but by a real working experiential kind of knowledge. My girls are multi-lingual and have received lessons on things like honor, courage, faith, humility, integrity, generosity and responsibility from varied cultures with completely different ideas than their own. They pride themselves on being “TCKs” (third culture kids).

Once, in a tribal community in southern Mexico, my husband, Sal, was trimming trees for a missions base. As a particular branch hit the ground, an angry buzz suddenly filled the air. There had been a wasps’ paper nest hiding in the foliage of that branch and a cloud of perturbed black wasps emerged in search of the perpetrator. Sal leapt from the ten foot wall he’d been sitting atop and ran inside, slamming the door behind him and luckily sustaining only a handful of stings.

Fresh honey just cut from the tree
Sal back in 2009 getting back to work after upsetting the black wasp

Our neighbor Jorge, a member of the Zapoteco tribe, came over to investigate after hearing the commotion. Once the wasps had cleared the area, he showed us how to break the nest into pieces and set it in the sun to harvest honey from it. Our whole family got to work extracting and collecting some of the most delicious honey I have ever tasted. (Meanwhile, back in the US, an Entomologist from MSU assured us that there was no such thing as a honey-producing wasp.) When we took a cup of it next door and offered it to Jorge, his face split in an ear-to ear grin and he put up his hands and shook his head. “You have fought and prevailed against the black wasp. This was your battle; now, you alone must eat from

Milagros sneaking some honey.
The black wasp paper nest filled with honey. According to an Entomologist at MSU, this is unheard of.

the fruit of your victory,” he said. It was a lesson in perseverance and taking pride in your accomplishments from a Mesoamerican indigenous man from a tribe with a long history of warrior culture.

Being nomadic really is a spectacular way of life, but right now is moving time which is one of the most difficult aspects of it, especially with children. For the past couple of weeks the girls, who are homeschooled, primarily self-taught and watched learning videos as my attention was consumed by sorting and packing. Keeping a consistent schedule in their schooling is always a challenge before, during and right after a move. During this time Sal has pretty much lived under our Ford Expedition, which we bought at a Detroit Auto Auction. He is preparing it for the long journey hauling our 24-foot camper.

20200126_191452Maybe it’s because we’re getting older or maybe life’s experiences have matured us, but Sal and I decided to finally clear all of our childhood belongings from our moms’ homes before leaving again. It never ceases to surprise me how deeply rooted the materialism from my culture and childhood are. Somehow we can spend years living out of a couple of suitcases without so much as a thought for those things packed away in a basement back in the US, but then I go to throw them out and it is so difficult. From hand-made cards from my girls back when they were little to handkerchiefs from my great-grandma, I wrestled with the sentiment they held. But in the end I managed to clear out our belongings so that everything our five-person family own fits nicely in our camper and one small closet at mom’s. It was grueling, but there is

Getting close to the end of downsizing

something truly exhilarating about getting rid of stuff. It’s like cutting the ropes to the sandbag weights of a hot air balloon so that you can soar higher (and yes, I know that’s not really how they work anymore, but you know that’s the image our brains conjure up). The downsizing has left me with a lingering sense of liberation.

So, here we are stepping into the next chapter of this grand adventure. Sal and I are tired and the girls are rather snappy with each other having spent too many hours unsupervised in each other’s company over the past couple of weeks. But then, some of the best adventures begin when we are at our weakest. Our ultimate goal is to return to Africa, specifically Ethiopia, but what lies between here and there is a bit of a mystery. All we really know is that the next step to get there involves getting to Charlotte, North Carolina. And so, having hugged and waved goodbye to our mothers, brothers, sisters and my grandma in northern Michigan, we set out south.

We finally got the camper hooked up and ready to move when we realized we would have to remove the half foot of snow and ice off the roof before we left.