For the sake of punctual updates, I find myself obliged to temporarily forgo my typical perfectionism when it comes to the copy-editing and formatting of my blog posts (which is extremely difficult for this ex journalist). So, please be patient with me and don’t judge too harshly.
Our family is moving to Ukraine. Let me start with saying that we are very happy, excited and blessed to be a part of this assignment. Yes, we have our own concerns; yes, it is a change of plans; yes, we have thought it through; yes, there are a myriad of challenges. However, we feel that God has given us a clear “Go” and already the pieces are coming together. And of course, we love the feeling that we’re actively doing something in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. We had desired to go to there when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula to offer aid, but in the end decided that it was not the Lord’s intent for us and so we’re excited for a chance to help the Ukrainian people this time.
I really hope that I have time to return and share the story of how we came to this decision, because it is a great story, but for the moment people are requesting information from me. So, with time pressing in on all sides, I will start with answers. Please understand that the situation on the ground in Ukraine and the entire region is very fluid, which means that everything is subject to change and specific details are continually developing. I’ll keep you guys posted.
Also, this is primarily a blog for the telling of our story as it relates to eternity and the world around us. If you want something more detail or business oriented, please sign up for our online newsletter by contacting me through the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page.
So, without further adieu…
Where are you going?
To the Ukraine, specifically within the country.
Why? And why inside of the country?
We are internationally certified counselors by trade with a specialization in trauma care. For almost 15 years we’ve received experience, training, resources and networking related to working with refugees, victims of war, sex-trafficked victims, street children and orphans. All of these things are converging in Ukraine at this very moment. We’ve lived in conflict areas, near war-torn borders and where the Gospel is being actively suppressed. We have the unique experience, training and resources to be a valuable asset as part of a Christian humanitarian response team in Ukraine. Our team is made up of some of the most amazing and elite individuals in the world and I can assure you, we couldn’t be in better hands.
While the world is focused on the refugee crisis at Ukraine’s borders, many are forgetting that, as of now, only two million of Ukraine’s 44 million population have fled the country. That means that there are many within the country that still need our attention and help. It is a needed and noble role to serve at the border, but we’ve been wired and called by God to go to those places where others are unable or unwilling. This is what we’re made for.
What will you be doing?
There are a plethora of opportunities and I’m certain unknowns will arise after we arrive. However, as it stands right now, we are looking at focusing on these areas:
Helping to transport individuals and families to relative safety, whether that is across the border or to a more stable Ukrainian city.
Helping to meet basic physical needs (food, water, clothing, blankets, medical supplies, shelter, etc.) and provide additional humanitarian aid.
Educating vulnerable women and youth about ways to protect themselves from becoming victims of sex trafficking.
Working with orphanages close to red zones that need help to relocate or are unable to do so.
These are the current areas we’re focused on. Our team is working over-time to make sense of all the red-tape issues (laws, logistics, etc.) and we’ll supply details as they become available.
Have you thought about safety issues?
Yes. We have trained for years to do this exact kind of thing. We are staying up-to-date with regular updates from the ground and we plan on avoiding areas with heavy fighting (hot zones). Most people hear “conflict area” and conjure up images of tanks and bombs. This idea is inaccurate, however, and our plan is to primarily serve people in relatively safe areas.
Besides, our motto remains unchanged: “The safest place to be is at the center of God’s will.”
How can I help or get involved?
At the moment there are three primary ways to help:
Prayers- keep us in your prayers and write us through the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page to receive our specific prayer requests.
Financial partnerships- Our flights there are covered, but we seriously lack monthly funds and we simply don’t have the time to fundraise traditionally. We live on a very restrictive budget so that as many funds as possible can be directed towards ministry and humanitarian aid. We are also accountable to our financial processor and our sending organization. You can make a tax-deductible donation through our partnered organization, Borderlands International, by clicking HERE.
Networking- You can never have too many connections. Know someone in Ukraine or nearby? Know someone working in the area? Know someone who might be interested in this kind of thing? Put us in contact. It never ceases to amaze me how God knits us together.
When do you leave?
We are scheduled to be abroad by the end of the month.
As always, thank you for keeping pace with our crazy life and for reading our blog. God bless!
We are currently parked just outside of town in a little wooded oasis on a pond that most people don’t even know exists and I have been repeatedly asked, “How on earth did you find this place?” Well, the answer, as so often is the case, is: by luck and providence. When Covid-19 was first coming to the attention of the American people, we were distracted as we prepared to move. Our time on the farm was coming to a close and it was time to find a new place to park the camper and call home. Even though we are currently an RVing family, we rarely spend time inside the camper, preferring rather to do everything from eating to schooling and even sleeping outside when possible. This fact, in addition to being a five-person-three-dog-family means that the traditional RV park which packs you in like sardines is not a very viable option for us. We’ll take privacy and room to breath and play over conveniences like running water and sewage hook-ups any day, but it does make finding a place to park our camper a little more difficult.
We had been searching for days on sites like RV Village and contacting people on Craigslist trying to find some kind of wooded lot that we could rent on a monthly basis but we weren’t having any luck finding one that was within an hour of Charlotte (not to mention that everything was booked because of Nascar which hadn’t yet been affected by Covid). Finally we stumbled across an awesome app called HipCamp where we located a rustic campsite well off the beaten trail and yet close enough to town to continue our work in Charlotte. We contacted the owner who promptly agreed to let us reserve it on a monthly basis and we settled in.
I am always so impressed with my girls who remain so flexible. Children, in general, like structure and routine, and whereas we strive to maintain as much of that as possible, there is admittedly a lot of unavoidable change associated with our lifestyle. School runs on a general schedule but the details may need to change a little depending on new sets of chores related to our current environment. Things are added and removed from their daily routines rather fluidly. For example, picking berries has taken the place of gathering eggs as part of their morning routines and their nighttime routines now include checking each other for ticks.
This is not a phenomena in their lives that is exclusive to our time spent RVing in the US, but rather just a part of the international missionary lifestyle. The girls navigate differences in American subcultures quite similarly to how they navigate the varying world cultures that we encounter as we travel. In the live movie Dora, she makes a comment about studying the indigenous culture of America where she is being sent to go to school. We all chuckled when Dora related American high school kids to indigenous rainforest tribes, but really, her mental framework wasn’t that different than our own girls’. Our family has begun to see any culture or subculture that we interact with, regardless of how similar or foreign they are to our own, as the indigenous culture of a region to be observed, learned from and hopefully assimilated to. Still, from environmental to cultural to climate to economic changes, our family really works together to remain flexible and make necessary adjustments which enable us to thrive in often changing circumstances. Every time the girls rise to the occasion with smiles and a positive focus on new adventures instead of what they will have to give up, my pride in them skyrockets. (Did I mention that we even have an Aspy in our family? Some of you will recognize how significant that is).
So, transitioning into another question many people are asking me, “What is life like out in the middle of the woods with no running water or electricity?” Truthfully, we seem to do things differently than most folks, so don’t take my answer as a generalization, but I can tell you about our life in the middle of the woods without running water or electricity.
Firstly, when it comes to the practical side of living, things aren’t that different from life in Uganda. We have a small solar kit which powers our phones and tablets as well as a few other small luxuries like fans, lights and my daughter’s new Furby which she purchased with her own hard-earned money. We’ve built a composting toilet and we filter our water from local water sources (a.k.a. the pond) with the same filter we used in Africa. The girls school up to the picnic table or with clipboards in their hammocks. I cook outside with a double-burner campstove and we gather around the picnic table to share dinner. On a hot day we go for a swim in the pond. On a side note, it’s important to know that I consider it a pond; others may go so far as to call it a lake. However, I am originally from Michigan, home of the Great Lakes and where, if it’s muddy it’s considered a pond and if it’s under an acre in size it’s a puddle. That said, our pond is filled with bass and turtles and well over our heads out towards the middle.
A typical day starts between four and five in the morning for Sal and I. It is still dark outside but we light a citronella torch to ward off mosquitoes and make some light. We sit on the porch of the rustic cabin on the property and brew some coffee in a neat little drip apparatus which we inherited from Sal’s grandma and which dates back to 1906. We do our Bible reading and devotional time first thing and then spend the rest of the quiet hours of the predawn together in prayer and conversation (over coffee of course). The girls are up with the sun by six and started on their morning routines which include picking wild blackberries which I’ll add to their breakfast oatmeal. After AM routines are completed we move into family devotional time where we study the Bible and other Christian writings. Currently we are all reading Love Dare and have adapted it to apply not only to marriage, but to family relationships as well.
Our school probably looks similar to any other homeschooling family with the exception of our environment. We take a break following lunch for quiet rest time where everyone gets to nap, read or journal. Following rest time is family chore time. Our chores involve things like gathering firewood, straightening up the cabin, washing dishes, gathering water to filter, burning the burnable trash and training the dogs (who are learning nifty tricks and how to be therapy animals). We all work together so it doesn’t take very long.
After chores comes everyone’s favorite time of day: freetime. We might all go for a swim or splash in the creek or fish. The girls like to explore the creek and catch crayfish and water dogs. They might pick berries, play their instruments, go for a hike, play chess or just hang their hammock up high in the trees and spend the afternoon engulfed in a good book.
Earlier this spring the girls rescued a baby squirrel that was knocked out of its nest during one of the large storms and couldn’t climb back up the tree to its home. We also set up an off-grid incubator which we kept successfully at an ideal temperature and humidity for an egg which was abandoned by the mother bird after a snake attacked the nest and ate all the others. Unfortunately, even our best efforts were unsuccessful in hatching the bird egg.
We’ve watched many a storm from the porch of our cabin. There have been three tornado warnings where my phone’s warning system has alerted us to take cover. During two of those we went for walks (for one of those walks we responsibly waited until the hail passed before leaving overhead shelter). We observed crazy green skies, fascinating cloud formations (which sparked a spontaneous lesson on weather patterns and clouds) and the results of a flooding creek. During one of these walks Talai rescued the smallest of our dogs, Bjorn Bluetooth, who didn’t realize that the current of the stream became significantly stronger when the stream became a bonafide river and was swept downstream about 20 feet.
In short, we’ve spent our days of quarantine in a situation that we consider just about as good as it gets. Sure, this kind of life comes with its own challenges: our feet and ankles have plenty of itchy ant and mosquito bites, we can be slow to communicate electronically, especially if we’ve had little-to-no solar and our phones are dead, we have to plan ahead a little more to do simple things, but overall that is a very small price to pay for the freedom, simplicity, joy and rest we’ve enjoyed over the past several weeks.
We get to enjoy this place until mid July. At that time, we’ll be packing up and hitting the road as we launch the next big phase towards returning to Africa. During this time of rest we’ve also had lots of time to pray and dream and we have solidified our plans for moving forward. Over the next few weeks I’ll reveal those plans, as well as our travel itinerary so that we can connect if you are interested in partnering with us in our work (you can always contact me privately about this as well). Check back soon for details!
As always, thank you so much for your interest in our lives and work. We so appreciate your thoughts, prayers and support. In fact, words elude me which could express just how deep our gratitude is. We pray that you would be safe and blessed during these uncertain times.
Out late for some stargazing
Hail which fell during one of the tornado warnings
Our creek grows rapidly during rainfall
Mila and Hadassah engulfed in an intense game of chess
Hadassah with her dog Bjorn
Mila with her dog Ermie
We found this nest under the hood of a tractor
Talai and Dietrich heading out to fish
Mila watching a thunderstorm from the cabin porch
Several years ago the girls discovered that you could break open glow sticks when they accidentally bit a hole in one during a roadtrip and splattered it all over the car. Ever since then, they create glow art whenever they can get their hands on glowsticks.
As a homeschooling RVing family, we have thankfully been minimally affected by the Covid-19 crisis. It is, in fact, the reason why I am writing this post while sitting in my truck parked outside of a Title Loans business that doesn’t mind loiterers rather than typing comfortably at a cafe while sipping on a chai latte. It’s also the reason this post is significantly late in being uploaded, but on the scale of genuine consequence, that ranks pretty low. For this reason, and because everyone else seems to be talking about it, I feel no need to add my opinions to the never-ending global editorial on the Corona virus situation. Instead, I’m going to share some reflections on our first months in North Carolina and life on the farm.
A couple of months ago we moved full-time into our 26-foot camper. We pulled it out of a northern Michigan snowbank and headed for warmer weather. Our first landing spot was a farm just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. In exchange for farm chores we got a place to park our camper while we settled into the Charlotte area.
The girls were assigned the chores of feeding the animals (an assortment of goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits), cleaning their pens and gathering eggs. With incredible ease they settled into a routine of waking up early to complete their chores before school hours and penning up the chickens before bed. Having a farm with animals is a dream of our family, one which we recognize is unlikely in our future, so the girls really poured themselves into the responsibility and cherished every moment knowing that it was only temporary. As we prepared to move off of the farm, the girls told me that the thing they would miss the most is their farm chores.
We live a fairly simple life. All we own fits in our camper (plus a small spill-over closet at mom’s house). We don’t take fancy vacations or go to fancy restaurants. Having a very cultured and mature worldview, our girls try very hard to avoid the typical American teen drama (except perhaps my youngest who is quite the drama queen). We don’t usually give gifts for birthdays, we do something special as a family instead. When we do give gifts, they are usually necessities, always practical and often homemade. Such is the life of a missionary family, and we love it. It creates an atmosphere of simple peace and rears children who get giddy with excitement at Christmas after getting a book and who decide that doing chores is the best part of living on a farm.
Because we arrived in Charlotte in the middle of a chilly Spring, we also learned to work a wood stove, split and haul wood and bank coals. It was fun learning how to do these things alongside the girls; they are dying but worthwhile skills. We’ve also enjoyed the sunsets and open skies above the fields and are getting good at identifying constellations.
The girls (primarily Mila) helped to build tiny homes on the the property. It was their first time earning a real hourly wage and they loved it. I do have my doubts about motivating them to do extra tasks around the house for 50 cents anymore, but I’m glad they had the experience. I was hopeful they would exhibit good work ethics, and was very pleased to hear that they were some of the hardest workers on the job. Today’s workforce suffers a terrible deficit when it comes to hard workers. Somehow work ethics seems to have eluded our younger generations and I was curious to see how my own girls would perform. When I heard that they were committed and diligent workers, I let go a sigh of relief and had one of those “thank goodness I did something right” parenting moments.
I don’t really have a ton to say about our time on the farm, namely because it was so peaceful, simple and uneventful. Because of all of our ties in Michigan, our time there often feels hectic and sometimes stressful. The farm was a great crashpad to kick off a new season of life in the south and seeking God for the next step towards returning to Africa.
We are now off of the farm and settled onto a secluded wooded spot with lots of room for the girls and pups to explore and a bass-stocked pond to fish dinner from. We were told to help ourselves to the turtles which was a unique introduction to the area and a little bit of a culture shock, but we’ve definitely eaten stranger things in our travels. There’s no internet, electric or running water on the lot and cell service is spotty, but again we have found that the simplicity is more of a blessing than anything else and we’d trade it for modern conveniences any day. It really is the perfect place to be under a stay-at-home order. I’m sure I’ll write more about our new location soon.
Just the other day I asked my husband if he ever, in his wildest dreams, imagined us in a place like this – living a life like ours – those almost 15 years ago when we got married. He didn’t. I remember our early years together when getting our college degrees, starting careers and buying our baby nice Christmas presents held paramount importance. We were caught up in the American dream dance like so many others we know. Then God got through to us and wrecked our little world, and we’re so glad that He did. Looking back, I know now that Sal and I would never have been satisfied chasing the big dollars and the big house. Today we’d take a simple minimalist life with an unknown future that is firmly in God’s hands over any amount of security or comfort that the world has to offer.
For even more regular reflections you should check out my husband Salazar’s Facebook page, “A Father’s Missionary Journal.” He has a pretty unique way of seeing the world and journals about what it’s like to be a man, missionary, husband and father amidst the different cultures we find ourselves. There’s a link to it in the right-hand column of this blog.
As always, thank you for checking in today to read my blog and for tracking with my family. I pray that you are blessed and find your own bit of simplicity to rest in during these very unique and complicated days ahead. May God bless you.
Christians 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
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.
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.
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…
The 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
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.
Anyway, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Maybe 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
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 are a missions family who have worked in North, South and Central America and East Africa. We work largely with traumatized children and youth, although we do a lot
with adults also. We’re relationship based and believe in working with and alongside the locals to help them raise up strong communities with native leadership committed to integrity.
This blog will follow us in our day-to-day existence: the good, the bad, the trials and the triumphs. We hope it will be a source of inspiration, encouragement, entertainment and humor. You can read more about me (Heather) and my family by clicking the “Who am I?” tab.
For those who follow this blog, you’ll notice that it is no longer “Borderlands International.” They are the nonprofit organization we direct and partner with, but trying to combine the organization’s updates with our personal blog simply wasn’t a good idea. In an effort to communicate our lives in a transparent and authentic way while maintaining the professionalism that the organization demands, we’ve opted to divide the two into different web pages. Hence, you are now on Love’s Training Ground, our personal family blog. If you are looking for, or interested in Borderlands International, please go to borderlandsinternational.org.
So, where are we right now? Last year we left Uganda, Africa and returned Stateside. We’ve been in northern Michigan catching up with extended family and getting our feet back under us. Our plan is to move to Charlotte, North Carolina at the end of the month
where we’ll prepare for our return to Africa. From renewing passports and acquiring the proper visas to building an emergency evacuation fund and getting cyber security training, there is quite a bit to do prior to getting back to Africa and the process will take months. However, the first step forward requires that we move to Charlotte. With the help of friends and family we have acquired an RV and an SUV and we’ll be RVing for the remainder of our stay in the US.
Our goal is to return long-term to Ethiopia. We loved the work we were doing in northern Uganda, but we were faced with two awesome “problems.” For one, new missionaries and missions families are arriving weekly. We prayed for God to send the workers, and He’s done just that. For another, many of the South Sudanese we worked with in the refugee camps are returning to their homes in South Sudan, which is also an answer to prayer. On top of this we feel like the Lord is leading us further north to Ethiopia.
When I’m running low on new content to post, I might reminisce and share some stories from our past adventures. We’ve been very busy the past few years and I’ve neglected this blog. Hopefully I can take advantage of the slower pace of being Stateside and “catch up” a bit. Again, I hope this blog inspires, encourages, entertains, challenges and makes you laugh. My goal is to maintain a sort of “missionary life unplugged” attitude built on an honest, authentic and holistic representation of our life and work. Our previous posts representing both us and Borderlands International will remain on the blog, but from here on our we are relaunching as Love’s Training Ground.
Thank you for dropping by today. Please keep us in your prayers.
This is one of those posts which I wrote a few months ago, but it addresses our personal experience on the ground amidst foreign political tensions. I went back and forth choosing whether or not to post it, but in the end I decided I’d go for it. I hope you find it uniquely informative and entertaining.
Local elections were held on the 15th of last month in Arua. The last local representative from this region had been assassinated a couple of months prior and, with that still fresh in mind, the people showed up to the polls filled with suspicion and anger. The president of Uganda and many other members of parliament (MP’s) came to town to witness the elections, which, since no one thought that was peculiar, I believe was politics as usual. But, protests and demonstrations quickly turned to riots in town which were met with a heavy hand by police and national guard. Perhaps you have heard something of this already; what transpired has reached international news agencies.
Fortunately, we live a relatively safe distance outside of town and simply planned to stay home until the tensions passed. We had anticipated some trouble and had a bit of food and other necessities stored up. Then came a game-changing phone call. “Your children’s student passes have been approved and you need to travel to Kampala immediately to receive them. If you are not there by Tuesday (the 14th) you could face a fine of over $1,000 U$D,” we were told. So, early Monday morning we hopped in the car and left for Kampala. Just over an hour into the trip we started having car trouble. Our route is not a good one to be stranded on with a broken vehicle, so we turned back and made it home. After much prayer and discussion we decided that I would take the night bus with the girls and Sal would remain home with the dogs. Later that morning Sal rode into town to purchase the tickets for us. By that time demonstrations had already begun in force, but, whereas it took a long time, he got in and out without incident.
Throughout the day we heard distant sounds of demonstrators clashing with law enforcement and received a constant stream of information through social media of what people had seen or heard. We contacted the bus line and arranged to be picked up outside of town just past 10 pm. That night, for the very first time, our trusted motorcycle taxi man (“boda driver”) showed up early. He was anxious to get us onto the bus and return home to his own family. He and two other boda drivers carried Sal, the girls and I to where we had arranged to meet the bus.
Initially things were calm enough. Then a small group of demonstrators identifying themselves as “The Resistance” by their red headbands came marching by and chanting. I won’t tell you what they were saying but it was enough to get themselves in plenty of trouble. Our boda man and Sal were laughing together, making light of the situation and finding things and people to poke fun at to pass the time. I was chatting quietly with the girls who teeter-tottered between worry and curiosity. When police and national guard began rolling past us, even our boda man became alert and started to look worried. It was a selfish prayer, but I kept asking God to allow things to remain peaceful another 10 minutes or so until we were on the bus and Sal on his way back home.
When we finally spotted the headlights of the bus coming up the road we all sighed a grateful prayer and breath of relief. We had been watching as all the commotion moved gradually up the road, drawing continually closer to our position. We were playing chicken with the turmoil, hoping the bus would arrive before it drew too close. And praise God it did! Sal and I said a hasty goodbye and I moved to quickly settle the girls into their seats for the night as the bus wasted no time in getting back on the road.
When I sat down I texted Sal and apologized for not giving him a kiss goodbye. In all the stories the valiant couple always stop time long enough for an epic romantic embrace before turning to face the oncoming danger before them. I was a bit disappointed in myself to discover that, when circumstances demanded it, I was pathetically deficient in the romance department. I had the perfect plot painted around me: approaching danger just over the horizon, unfair demands pulling us apart, a sad and uncertain sending away, a brave knight seeing his beloved to safety. And I totally ruined the moment with a hurried “See you later honey,” as I scrambled onto the
bus behind the girls. As Sal rode home to safety, and the girls and I moved south and away from the turmoil, I made a silent promise to myself to be much more epic the next time.
The rest of the story is far less dramatic. Sal fortified our home “just in case” (and to pass the time). The girls and I stepped off the bus in the morning and headed to immigration to finalize their paperwork, which went well. Then we hung out in Kampala for a few days to let the northern turmoil subside a bit. Although the protests did make it as far as the capital, our closest encounter was when our Uber driver drove like a maniac to weave his way through the traffic jams they were causing. I’m pretty sure that at that moment, our Uber cab was a far more dangerous place to be.
We took another night bus when we returned to Arua. We must have been served some bad food just prior because two of the girls had the runs. There are no bathrooms on Ugandan buses. Just as I was deciding to ask the bus driver to stop on the side of the road so that my girls could relieve themselves out in the African bush in the dark of the night, Arua came into view on the GPS map on my phone. I comforted my girls with those words all moms are familiar with: “Just a little longer honey; we’re almost there.”
When we got home we quickly used the bathroom and crashed into our beds. We didn’t wake up until midday. As Sal and I decompressed the whole series of events together, we realized how exhausted we were and did a bit more sleeping. Two days later Mila became very sick and tested positive for malaria. I won’t go into detail except to say that malaria is a wretched disease and Mila has since recovered well.
Circumstances have been driving me to my knees with increased intensity. Before one challenge I bring before God has passed, we are already confronting another. Mila is starting to feel better and Hadassah suddenly comes down with some strange virus. We raise just enough money for a project in the refugee camps and then our car breaks down. Political tensions subside and we hear a case of Ebola has been documented only 20 miles from us. It is far too easy to get bogged down or discouraged over our challenges. But God, in His typical way, has changed my heart instead of my circumstances. Not that long ago, I was in that state of culture shock where you are taking everything in while remaining on top of and at a distance from it all. It’s kind of like a job orientation where you are being guided through your new circumstances and responsibilities but don’t yet fully claim them as your own. I’ve experienced that overwhelming and exhilarating sensation of the first day on the job when things get real. But I must say, I often feel like a manager who was thrust into their position unprepared and under-qualified. The physical, emotional and spiritual needs we confront on a daily basis are so great that it’s easy to forget that we carry the hope of the greatest gift of all within us: the freedom-giving Gospel and Christ Himself.
So now, life has pretty much continued as normal. We’re involved in various children’s programs and working on starting a system of libraries which I am very excited about. Within the next couple of months we should have a community library in Arua functioning as well as a mobile library running in various parts of Rhino Refugee Camp. I’ll share more about this vision and project in a future post. We face a constant pressure to do more as we’re continually met with such great need, but that is also a thought for a later post.
As a journalist I find myself analyzing these current events, guessing at what roads they might take the country of Uganda down. In less than three years the presidential elections will take place and the fate of the nation rests on the shoulders of a generation in which 80% of the population are under the age of 30. As an anthropologist I am trying to get inside people’s heads to figure out why they are the way they are. Complexities of culture and tradition run deeply here. As a feminist I’m crying over women’s unjust struggles and brainstorming ways to level the playing field. As a mother I’m sitting in the dirt with kids, trying to love them in a practical and meaningful way. And as a Christian and a missionary, I’m pulling together all of these resources within me and asking myself and God, “How can I serve this people, share with them the saving Gospel message and see communities transformed?”. These people are no longer “the Ugandans,” “the South Sudanese, ” or the “Congolese;” they are my brothers and sisters, and every day I intend to make them more and more my people.
As always, I am so grateful that you are reading this and involved in our lives. May God bless you and yours and may you too find ways to shine forth His light wherever you may be.
Hello friends and family. Please accept my sincerest apologies for my lack of recent articles. Several factors prevented me from getting timely updates posted, but I am committed to overcoming these challenges and posting more regularly from here on out. As it stands, I have a few unpublished articles that I’ll be posting in succession over the next couple of weeks. Where they may seem slightly outdated in this age of instant news at your fingertips, I think they still offer insight into our lives as missionaries and I hope you will enjoy them.
So without further adieu, allow me to start with my most recent post: The Christian life: a paradigm of joy and sorrow.
To follow Jesus’ example is to know both joy and sorrow intimately in great manifestations and often simultaneously. The same Good Shepherd that rejoiced greatly over finding His lost sheep was also a “man of sorrows” who grieved over his beloved yet rebellious people and who sweat drops of blood. In other words, He “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross,” (Hebrews 12:2). I believe that most Christians who are walking sincerely in their faith carry these two things – joy and sorrow – both as nearly constant companions. Many Christians wrestle quietly behind closed doors with the challenges in their lives while struggling to reconcile the abundant joy that the Bible speaks about being available to all the saints in any and all circumstances. I do believe that we have done ourselves a disservice by insisting on a paradigm that completely segregates joy, peace and happiness from sorrow, sadness and grief. Indeed I believe that we, as image bearers of God, are capable and designed to experience these complex emotions in unison.
Over the past several years, Sal and I have worked increasingly with people who have suffered severe trauma. These experiences have prompted me to a studious examination of this theme. Allow me to share a recent story and example of where I have personally confronted it.
Here in Arua, Uganda, there is a group of children who regularly gather at my back fence. They range in age from newborns carried on an older sisters’ back to mid teenage
years, but most are between two and ten. We talk and laugh, they teach me phrases in Lugbara and fall into hysterics as I slaughter their language.
We play various games like Simon Says or toss a balloon back and forth. In fact, I am rarely able to go out my backdoor without small ones calling to me and/or gathering at the fence. At times I have lamented my lack of privacy, but that frustration quickly dissipates when confronted by the contagious joy beaming from a plethora of beautiful brown faces.
One day I gave them a couple of balloons to share. You would have thought that I had just handed them tickets to Disney World. They tossed them back and forth to each other and squealed delightedly as they dove to stop them from falling to the ground. The smallest thing: a sticker, a balloon, a pencil – things that many Western children would scarcely think about – are great treasures to these children. They “thank you” profusely and smile ear to ear. It is so easy and so lovely to revel in their delight.
Three of the girls who come regularly share the name Queen and the youngest is around two years old. She is a beautiful girl with big brown eyes and a smile that would make a grumpy old troll laugh. She always appears to be enjoying some grand joke that no one else knows anything about. We have fun passing flowers back and forth and our favorite game involves her drawing near to me and then trying to jump away before I can tickle her. Her visits have caused much joy and laughter in my life, but about two weeks ago her mother died.
I knew someone in our neighborhood had passed away because the funeral occurred behind our house and continued for five days straight. In Uganda, funerals are grand to-do’s. Night and day groups of people broke out in sporadic communal wailing, some of it quite gut-wrenching. Several times I startled awake in the middle of the night because their wailing had entered my mind causing me eerie dreams. Many, many of the villagers came to pay their respects. People camped out, sang, prayed, cried and sang some more. In general, Ugandans are very vocal and expressive and all of this was intermittent with what Linguists call “non word interjections.”
Before I knew who had died I observed the whole thing with a sort of anthropological curiosity. Even though tradition determined much about the funeral, I wondered if week-long funerals were developed, at least in part, to meet a need to fully grieve and move on in a culture that has known too much death. I have often considered that many cultures seem to have a much healthier grieving process than my own homeland where most people don’t understand grief and are clueless to help others who have suffered loss.
During the funeral I had very few visitors, but a few days after it’s conclusion my young friends returned to the back gate. I inquired about the events and they told me that Little Queen’s mother had slipped while mopping, apparently hit her head on the way down and died. Life is tough enough on girls in this land where arranged marriages and domestic abuse are the norm, and now Little Queen faced a future with all it’s challenges without a mother. I was told that she was being sent away to be raised by her older sister; it’s unlikely I’ll see her again. And just like that, a young child that I had grown attached to was orphaned, out of my reach and out of my life.
Many people who work with children, both secular humanitarians and Christian missionaries, have a “don’t get attached” policy. It’s quite similar to how healthcare workers who work with the elderly tend to keep an emotional distance from their patients or how juvenile detention workers tend not to get attached to the kids in their charge. It’s a self protection mechanism; we try to prevent excessive heartbreak by not allowing ourselves to get emotionally involved in the first place. A few years ago when we first started working consistently with traumatized children, I tried taking this approach which was recommended to me by several fellow missionaries. It’s all fine and good to sing on Sunday mornings about how we want to love everyone as God loves them, but when we love we share in another’s joys and pains, and when we work with so many children who have such deep and painful wounds and who live in sometimes desperate situations, how can we share in their pain without being drowned by sorrow?
At first I served those children, who then were the street children of Argentina, as I was
advised and held back my love, but this did nothing but make my heart restless; I had no peace in the matter. My heart told me that in order to love these children as I loved myself – as Christ commanded- I had to love them as my own children. Still, these children were orphans and/or children of prostitutes. Sometimes their mother’s “customers” payed extra for access to the child as well. Some had been forcibly drugged, raped, beaten, abandoned and exploited in many other ways. How can someone carry that on their shoulders without becoming a depressed, pessimistic Atheist? And yet, if truly the greatest power to heal and to set free is love – pure, unadulterated, involved, intentional, selfless love – and if Love’s name is Jesus and we are to be His ambassadors, then how could I in good conscience not care for these children as if they were my own?
I began praying that God, by His supernatural strength, would help me to help these children. I was amazed by the change that God orchestrated in my heart. He enlarged my capacity to love. Suddenly I could immerse myself in their lives, empathize with their pain and pray through tears that God would change their situations, and I wasn’t consumed by grief. Surprisingly, my capacity to experience joy also enlarged. I could play, and laugh and dream and hope with these children as well and be 100% present and involved. As a mother, I know no deeper agony than watching my own children go through very real pain, and I know no greater earthly joy than to experience their pure and sincere love and affection towards me. I’m not saying that treating troubled children as your own flesh and blood is the easier route; the depths of my sorrow for them can be profoundly deep at times, but so too are the heights of my joy. However, to love at arm’s length is insincere, and whereas it may bring about some good and change, the kids can always sense it. The higher road is to love as Jesus loved: profoundly and with abandon.
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers to the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”
And so, I can’t just forget girls like Little Queen. I weep for her loss, pray for her safety and future and laugh as I remember the beautiful times that we shared. Sometimes I cry while I am laughing. I believe that is what it is like to become more like Christ in the way we experience joy and sorrow.
Not all Christians will find themselves on the international mission field working with
traumatized children. However, I believe that all Christians will experience loss and grief of their own at times and have to wrestle with how to grasp on to the perpetual joy that God has promised them. Also, all Believers are missionaries in their own spheres of influence. We’re surrounded by lost and broken souls who are hiding behind anger, pride, perfectionism, depression, apathy and a myriad of other masks. If we are to be Christ’s presence to the world, we must love the world, and if we are to love the world, we must immerse ourselves in other’s lives and pain, and if we are to take that step, we must be prepared both to grieve and to rejoice profoundly.
This post is a touch more theological than most that I write, but it’s a reflection of my heart. As always, we appreciate your support and prayers. We pray God both challenges and blesses you. Thank you for reading.
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Just over a week ago, Mila and I went to the Rhino Refugee Settlement to help with a children’s program we do in cooperation with a local church there. Because so many children show up we split them into two groups based on age. The younger kids are up to about six years old but the groups are loosely divided. Mila and I typically stay with the younger kids.
As a Westerner living in the twenty-first century, it really is something else to watch these kids arrive. Some of them see our vehicle driving in and run to meet us. Others peek around corners to see where those kids are running to and then join them. We always start with songs so that when still more hear us singing they can come join in as well. Many are regulars, but there are always new faces too. We typically have 30-50 in our younger group alone. Most are dirty and unkempt with clothes ranging from once nice dresses to missing pants and shoes all together. Some, perhaps many, are orphans. The small church hosts something like 40 orphans among its members, all refugees themselves. Even in our younger group girls show up with babies on their hips and strapped to their backs. When the babies get fussy the girls pass them around in an effort to comfort and quiet them. Normally they are very protective of the babies and won’t let us adults and outsiders hold them. I have not yet seen a single parent or guardian accompany any of these children or check on them during the program or even when we run later than usual. Almost every child who comes bears a brilliant gleaming smile when they arrive.
Our lesson was on the power of praying together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We sang songs a capella style and danced, played games and had object lessons, read a Bible story and did crafts. Overall it’s very similar in format to most US Sunday school programs. I love sitting amidst the kids on the tarp that we spread on the ground. It is very amusing to be considered something exotic simply because your skin is white. The kids will scoot up close to you and inevitably one of them will try to sneak a touch to your arm or hair. I always poke them back and then offer my arms and hands to touch. While the idea that letting a child run their fingers through your hair or down your arm brings them joy is a bit bizarre, you learn to laugh and roll with it.
Whereas the children are generally well-behaved, on this particular day our group was very routy, as all children can sometimes be. Perhaps it was the weather, who knows? We kept relative order until we started getting close to the end. During the freedom of craft time, however, chaos broke out. Multiple little girls started crying for no apparent reason. Some allowed themselves to be comforted; others did not. Meanwhile a group of boys had physically started fighting over a boxcar that someone had brought. The program is held in a wall-less structure and the kids had scattered. We settled conflicts, comforted as many as would allow it and rounded the kids back onto the tarp to say our closing prayer. I was impressed with the gal that runs the program and the church volunteers. Personally, I would have probably dismissed the kids as we had seemingly lost their interest, but they insisted on rounding them up and re-establishing some order so we could pray with and for them before ending the program. And they did. When they asked for prayer requests the only response was muffled whining and arguments, distracted giggles and shuffling noises.
Then the most amazing thing happened. One little boy got up on his knees, raised his hand high and called out, “Books! Can we ask God for books?” This got everyone’s attention. The entire group, which had looked to be completely distracted only a moment prior, all shot their hands up and in one accord echoed, “Books! Yes please ask God for books! Books! Books!” Then they all clasped their hands, closed their eyes, bowed their heads and prayed with all their hearts that God would send them books. That may have been the most sincere prayer I have ever witnessed.
As I surveyed the praying kids, I was suddenly struck to the core. These children are resilient, beautiful and full of life, but the signs of trauma are everywhere. They will break into hopeless whining moans, like those of a baby who has been left too long to cry, without provocation. Arguments quickly turn violent. During this last trip one boy in particular caught my attention because others nearby were pointing and laughing at him. He was holding tight to a dead mouse, stroking it over and over like a pet hamster. These are kids who have survived the African bush, who have lost parents and loved ones. They live without running water, electricity or clean sanitation. Some lack clothes and shoes. Others have died from preventable and curable diseases. These are kids who’ve literally lost everything, been through hell, and when told they can ask God for anything at all, they ask for books.
I was undone. It took an enormous amount of self-possession to stop up the tears that welled in my eyes and suppress sobs that I felt forming in my gut. Most of the time, crying over things like this is not helpful in the moment. I don’t know how other missionaries and humanitarian workers handle it, but I try to stay focused on the moment in front of me. That moment, however, was probably the closest I’ve ever come to loosing it in front of children who were not my own.
As some of you may have already heard, we have recently started working to reopen a small community library in Arua. We have plans to run various programs through it for children, youth and adults. We had recently been tossing around the idea of starting a mobile library to the refugee camp. Practically speaking it requires a bit of logistics and we’ve been balancing the pro’s and con’s and praying for confirmation. When Mila and I returned home that afternoon I sat down with Sal and said, “Honey, I think we’ve got our confirmation.”
I shared with Sal what had happened and he agreed; God wanted us to be the vessels through which He answered these young children’s prayers. So, we have been diligently organizing the necessary logistics of starting a mobile library in the refugee camp. These kiddos who prayed so fervently for books will be the firsts to receive books. I can’t describe how anxious and excited I am to get some books into their hands. This coming Saturday we are meeting with a gentleman who lives in the camp to talk to him about checking up on the kids who receive library books. He will help us to learn who these kids are and where they live, help keep track of the books, teach the kids how to treat them and encourage parents and guardians to read with their children.
It is a library program, but it is also a door for discipleship, community development and transformation. Please be in prayer for this project. There are several start-up expenses as well as those involved for maintenance associated with the mobile library. We are trusting God to meet these financial needs and invite you to partner with us in these efforts. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to support this project, please click on our “donate” tab above. After choosing your donation amount it will allow you to make a note on the confirmation page. Just note that you want your donation to go towards the library project and we’ll make sure it is handled accordingly.
Thank you so much for your continued interest and support. It breaks one’s heart to see the need that is in the refugee camps, especially among the children. However, by God’s grace and power, we can make a positive difference here and now and for eternity. God bless you.
*Note: I’m afraid I didn’t take any pictures from this particular trip to the refugee camp, so all pictures are from other visits, but many of the children are the same ones as were there.
We are living in Uganda, Africa and loving it! Please allow me to begin this first update from within Uganda with a huge thank you to everyone who has been praying for and supporting us. The transition has had it’s challenges, (ie: jet lag, sickness, general adjustments) but we are doing very well, making friends, connecting with locals, getting along well with other YWAM staff and settling in. Much has happened over the nearly two months since we’ve been in Uganda so I will give an overview of our time with this update and use later posts to zoom in to our everyday lives.
Our flight here was blessedly uneventful and, although long, went more-or-less as
planned which is the best one hopes for. We arrived in Entebbe Airport, Uganda just shy of 11pm and were picked up in our new (used) Land Rover by a driver named Frank who had come highly recommended by fellow missionaries. I must admit, there is something about driving around in your own Land Rover in the middle of Africa that makes you feel pretty cool and adventurous. Anyway, we spent the night in a hostel and headed for Arua, our new home, the next day.
Considering that we had purchased the vehicle sight unseen, we were a little nervous that our first drive with it would be clear across the country through national forests and down rural dirt “highways.” We were both relieved and delighted to find that it ran
solidly. That said, we got a late start and when dusk came we still had over 100 miles left to travel. We stopped at a guest house with the intention of spending the night but they tried to take advantage of us so we left. When the manager warned us that there were no other guest houses open at that hour for the rest of our journey we assumed he was bluffing. Well, turns out he wasn’t. So, less than 24 hours in Africa and we were already going against sound advice and driving at night. In an attempt to reach our destination quickly, Sal took the pot-hole-filled dirt road a bit too fast and we blew a tire, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully we were also covered in prayer and likely surrounded by angels because when we coasted to a stop, we emerged just past a bunch of tall grass and found ourselves stopped in front of a police checkpoint virtually invisible from behind the foliage. I guarantee that a car full of Muzungus (white people) was probably the last thing the police expected to see when they shone their flashlights into our vehicle. The police were great though. They laughed and chatted with Sal as they helped him get our tire swapped out with the spare. They never asked for money and one even gave Sal his personal phone number to call if we ran into any trouble along the way.
At the YWAM base we were given a very warm and open reception indeed. The
girls were making friends literally from day one. Many people came by to welcome us but they also gave us much needed space to rest, adjust and reset our biological clocks. I was surprised at how powerful a force jet lag was. For the first few weeks I walked around all day like a belligerent zombie. Then, as I lie in bed at night, I would get this burst of energy and clarity. One night Sal and I were awakened around 3 am to the sound scuttling feet in the living room. My poor husband, who sufferers from hyper-vigilance, jumped out of bed, immediately on high alert.
“The dogs aren’t barking Honey,” I mumbled. “It’s probably just cockroaches or maybe a rat. Why don’t you just come back to bed?”
Unconvinced, Sal stalked silently to the bedroom door and flung it open. Two shadows in the moonlight disappeared behind chairs.
“Come out now and show yourself,” Sal commanded.
After a couple seconds of muffled giggling, Talai and Hadassah stepped out from behind the chairs.
“What are you ladies doing?” Sal asked. “It’s three in the morning.”
“Shhh!” Hadassah exclaimed.
“We’re spies,” Talai said to her somewhat bewildered father.
Needless to say the girls had a bit of trouble adjusting to the 9-hour time difference as well.
After about six weeks we were all feeling settled in. During this time we explored the various existing ministries that the base is involved in and spent much time in prayer as we seek to figure out just where we fit in here at YWAM Arua. We are also learning Lugbara (local dialect), Ugandan Sign Language and Juba (S. Sudanese Arabic) with Cacua (S. Sudanese tribal dialect), Luganda (another dialect) and Swahili on queue.
One day I went to the local prison with Nelson, the prison ministry leader. Normally Sal visits the prison and thanks to him I knew that they would be expecting me to share “the word of God” with them. I envisioned a group of lady prisoners around a table for Bible study as I prayed and prepared something to say. Then Nelson informed me that we’d be going to the men’s prison. Well, I thought, I’m not sure how I’m going to relate to a bunch of male African prisoners, but if that’s what it’s got to be… I prayed and prepared something to share, still envisioning a Bible study gathered around a table in a quiet room. Nelson and I went just the two of us one Wednesday morning to the prison. When we arrived, the guards were rude and condescending which was a little intimidating right off the bat. After making us wait outside for some time, they summoned us inside. On the other side of the gate, a couple of the prisoners were swatting at a wasp hive on the entrance gate trying to remove it and then running as the wasps dive-bombed them. The guard kicked open the gate, staying as far from the wasps as possible, and then told us mockingly, “Go on. Your God will protect you.” We passed through the gate into the prison yard with the guards’ laughter trailing behind.
Hundreds of eyes looked up from their work and games in the prison yard to stare at me, surely wondering what this sole Muzungu woman was doing. Thankfully they were all smiling pleasantly. Then came my next surprise: they were holding church service in the open air of the prison yard and I was preaching. It was not the quiet Bible study I had envisioned at all! Around 50 or so men came and sat on benches for church while more listened in a little ways off. Did I mention that my “audience” consisted of Christians, Muslims, Animists and Atheists? No pressure right? God, however, is so good. He used this small white American girl with stage fright and took over to share a message of hope and encouragement. Seriously, it was as if I didn’t do anything but open my mouth and God did the rest. The men were great. There was a lot of hooting and hollering and music making. They were kind, polite, appreciative and such a huge blessing to me. I felt genuinely welcomed.
Our church service ran late and Sal waited outside the prison for about a half hour to
pick Nelson and I up. Growing suspicious the prison guards approached Sal and questioned him. They were very surprised to hear that he was waiting for his wife to come out from Bible study inside the prison and that he had allowed her to enter the prison at all without his accompaniment. They returned to their posts shaking their heads and muttering, “Crazy Muzungus” Whereas I can’t expect them to understand what motivates us, the whole ordeal reminded me of what an awesome and supportive husband I have. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in following the wind of the Spirit that I forget how much faith it takes Sal to entrust me into God’s hands and give me the freedom to freely serve God. I know that is not the case in every marriage and am so thankful his unceasing support.
Although I’ve only gone once since arriving in Arua, I’ve committed to going out to Rhino Refugee Settlement with the children’s ministry. We do a sort of “Sunday School” program with the kids which is hosted by a local church in the camp and visit a
children’s home for orphans that was relocated to the camp after the war broke out in South Sudan. The children are wonderful. Of course it is difficult to see the abject poverty. Children show up filthy and half-dressed to hear a Bible story and you keep asking yourself, “What else can I do?” When asked who spent the night with parents or relatives a significant minority raise their hands. My heart shudders to think about what happens with the vulnerable young orphans with nowhere to go as night falls. They’ve been termed “unaccompanied minors” by authorities, those children who emerge from the Bush and cross into Uganda without any adult accompanying them. They are so numerous and only one complication of many involved with the refugee crisis and no one has yet come up with a workable solution. This entry is getting long however, so I’ll share my experience in the refugee camp with the children in a later post.
We do, however, have one more announcement to make before concluding this article. Often while walking about Sal and I would peek our heads through the broken glass window of a poor little derelict library nearby. We spoke about what a shame it was to have a library closed and neglected, especially in a community where children play in the streets during school hours because they can’t afford the fees. “What if they had a library to go to?” we said. As many of you know, Sal and I are great lovers of books and finally the injustice was simply too much for us to bear. Sal started inquiring about what it would take to fix-up and reopen the library. And, this week we found ourselves officially with the master set of keys and blessings to resurrect the library! Although our whole family will be involved, Sal is the driving force. The potential and opportunities of running a community library are endless. We’ve high hopes to use it as a launching pad for teaching children things like reading, writing, responsibility and, of course, Bible stories and morality; training young adults in Apologetics and worldview; starting reading clubs, game nights; running kids programs and much more. The opportunity for sharing the Gospel in both word and action are limitless. Please keep this effort in your prayers as we are just getting started.
After much prayer and seeking we feel like we are starting to get some clear direction from God. We are very excited about what the months ahead have in store.
One quick note on pictures: Because we are not allowed to take pictures at the prison, there will be no ministry pictures from Sal there. Also, we’re more focused on building relationships right now than taking pictures, but we will try to get some good photos as well. Thank you for your patience.
Here are some things you can pray for on our behalf:
Physical Health- friends are surprised we haven’t contracted malaria yet. That and many other sicknesses are very prevalent.
Favor – We’re still in the middle of establishing many relationships from fellow missionaries to leaders to local authorities to kids in the refugee camps.
Spiritual Protection – The atmosphere of spiritual warfare is almost palpable and a very real battle is going on. For example, every morning during our quiet prayer time we can hear the Muslim call to prayer from the Mosque down the road. Islam, Christianity, Animism and Secularism are all at a crossroads where we are and competing for disciples.
An ability to breach walls – Whether it is a differing worldview or the color of our skin, please pray that we can be effective at tearing down walls that divide us from the African people whom we seek to serve and bless.
Provision – Please pray that the Lord continues to “Give us this day our daily bread” and provide for all He has called us to do. We are still shy of our goal for monthly financial support.
Direction – We will have to move in the months to come as our home on the base is only a temporary arrangement. We are also seeking to follow God’s direction as we serve YWAM and northern Uganda.
If you wish to make a tax-deductible donation towards our work and ministry or are interested in financially supporting us on a monthly basis, please click on the “Donate” tab at the top of this page.
We thank you immensely for your involvement in our lives and, as always, pray that God bountifully blesses you and yours.