Ordinary people, extraordinary circumstances

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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.

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Meanwhile the girls, carefree, spend a relaxing afternoon under a mango tree

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.

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For lack of relevant photo, enjoy this cute one of Hadassah on a particular day she was feeling homesick and digging into her Wyoming roots.

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

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A parting like this would have been so much better.

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.”

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Talai enjoying pancakes, a special treat courtesy the big city, on the morning we arrived to Kampala

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 TheTruthWillSetYouFreetaking 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.

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Making new friends at the hotel we stayed

A paradigm of joy and sorrow

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.

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Talai gets her hair done at Dreamland, a South Sudanese orphanage that relocated to Rhino Refugee Camp in Uganda because of the civil war.

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.

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Talai plays with a group of local children who gathered at our back fence.

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.

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A bonfire with other girls from the base in our backyard

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.

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The funeral gathering behind our home

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

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A Saturday children’s Bible study at Rhino Refugee Camp

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.”

~Shakespeare

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

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A craft/science experiment day at our house for base and local kids

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.

*If you would like to make a one-time or reoccurring tax-deductible donation please click our donation tab or click here.

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Surprising Priorities

fb_img_1533443090019Just 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.

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Photo Courtesy Anthony Felix, friend and pastor in Rhino Camp

 

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.

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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.

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Photo Courtesy Anthony Felix, friend and pastor in Rhino Camp

 

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.

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Photo Courtesy Anthony Felix, friend and pastor in Rhino Camp

 

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.

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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.

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Photo Courtesy Anthony Felix, friend and pastor in Rhino Camp

*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.

Mingone! Hujambo! Marhaban! Hello from Uganda!

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Yes, this guy is wild!

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

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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

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This guy chased us down the highway

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

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Talai and Hadassah playing with some of their new friends

 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.

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Shopping at the local market in Arua, our hometown.

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

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We are not allowed to take pictures at the prison so I thought I’d post this picture of Sal teaching these boys some art instead.

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

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A children’s program at a church we are working with in Rhino Refugee settlement

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 andimg_20180710_161857.jpg 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 prayerNOVATEK CAMERA 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.

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These also are wild. We spotted them while driving home from Kampala

Just a good old update

So much has happened over the past couple months as we prepare to move to Uganda that I thought it appropriate to post a more traditional point-by-point update. So, without further adue…

To begin, we are delighted to announce that Borderlands International is officially acropped-borderland-logo3-e14964113713551.png recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization! This allows us to receive tax-deductible donations directly and register as a nonprofit in Uganda which offers many resources and opportunities related to the work we’ll be doing there.

Salazar returned from Arua, Uganda safe and sound. The girls are beside themselves with joy and relief to have him back. We are a close-knit family and his absence was very tangible. His first-account stories of hope, desperation, need and opportunity have only intensified our desire to return soon.

While Sal was in Arua we started a GoFundMe Campaign to purchase a 1995 Land Rover. We are grateful and excited beyond measure that we were successful in purchasing it. The family that sold us the vehicle was a missionary family who were returning to the US. They had fallenreceived_10213873183816327.png in love with the refugees and, as a way of giving them a final gift, they sold it to us for half its value so that we can now reach the camps with teams and supplies as well as transport ill and injured refugees to the local hospital.

Sal also got us set up with a house on the YWAM base to rent for the first 6-12 months. This grants us a stable residence with support and security until we establish a more long-term living arrangement.

We are only a few hundred dollars shy of purchasing our plane tickets. We believe that God has given us May 7th or 8th as a leaving date. As soon as we raise what we need, weplane and globe will purchase the tickets. If you would like to make a donation to that effect, please click here.

We are also still collecting useful items to take with us that can be challenging to obtain in Uganda. Please see our Amazon Wishlist if you are interested in helping us obtain any of these items. From there you can purchase mentioned items and have them shipped directly to us.

God’s people have been exceedingly generous towards us during this transitional time. A few weeks back one of Talai’s fillings fell out while she was chewing gum. We took her to a Christian dentist who also squeezed in cleanings for both her and Mila and then surprised us by not charging us a penny. Others have given us food, offered us a place to stay, invited us for dinner and snuck cash into our back pockets. We have been overwhelmed by the love expressed towards us by the body of Christ.

received_1922843044454275.jpgThe girls have thoroughly enjoyed some of the blessed opportunities of the First World. Mila played an angel in a skit that opened for the Preacher in the Patch at the renown Gillette Camplex. She also recently attended the homeschool Victorian Ball and danced her heart out. Talai and Hadassah danced on Easter morning with the Let it Echo dance team and they will be performing in a Christian dance recital shortly before we leave. We even got to go see a movie at the cinema, which is a very special treat indeed.

So there you have it. If all goes according to plan we will be writing you from Uganda within in a month’s time. In the meanwhile, we’ll be working on updating other areas of our website, such as the media and vision.

Thank you so much for your interest in our work and lives. May God bountifully bless you and yours.

The Fifth Gospel

Salt and light… a light not hidden… a salt uncompromising…an understandable gospel for those who won’t read the the written Gospels.

Please, allow me to start by telling you a story.

Two nights ago in Arua, Uganda I was sitting with a new friend, Sheikh ***** **** Muhammad (for his protection we will refer to him simply as “Muhammad”). Muhammad was, a Sheikh (an authorized teacher of Islam) and has a wife and 15 children. His first-born is a Sheikh as well. In fact, his father, grandfather and so on for 5 generations have been Sheikhs.

Growing up he went to an Islamic school and eventually studied in a Shiite University in Kampala. Later he moved to Saudi Arabia where he taught as a Professor in the Sunni University for 17 years. After returning home, Muhammad, being a Sheikh, continued teaching Islam in his homeland of Uganda and developed quite a following. Until recently, that is. You see, Muhammad is now a Christian. He told me that one day, as he was out walking, a forum caught his attention. Christian missionary was explaining the difference between the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of the Koran. Muhammad heard and instinctively knew some of it for true. Inside his heart he yearned for the truth.

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“Josh” (the missionary) had said that Jesus was the Truth and that the Truth would set him free. That same day Muhammad secretly gave his life to Christ. Yet for two years, Muhammad lived publicly as a Sheikh who privately didn’t believe in what he taught. As I understood it, he finally felt that he couldn’t live that life anymore; it was hypocrisy. Only four days ago, he came out as a Christian. He told me that he could no longer put his light under a cover. “No.” he affirmed, “I must not be ashamed; no compromise.” Since publicly proclaiming Christ, all of his disciples have accepted the Lord which makes sixty in all, of all ages and races and all being former Muslims.

The day after his public proclamation, a car pulled up in front of a his home and the driver yelled, “Muhammad quick come here!” As he walked out the door, he was abducted. His mouth was taped and he was beaten and taken to a deserted place outside of the city and left for dead. “As I laid there I prayed, ‘Jesus You are still king.'” He told me. “And, as I was crying and praying, a woman came to me from out of nowhere. A woman came to me…Where did she some from? Where was she going? A woman came to me and she saved my life.” This woman took Muhammad to a hospital in Arua where he received medical treatment and was released.

This brings me to the day I met him. Sid (a YWAM buddy) said he wanted to take me to meet a guy he knew who had just been released from the hospital. We picked him up, took him to Sid’s house, made him food and encouraged him. He told us about how he would soon be returning to his home. Because, as he shared, “The time has come and there is a change in my City. They are ready for Christ.” He continued, “When I come back, many will see and not be afraid. Jesus will come with me…”

The former Sheikh had become uncompromising salt and light.

To better clarify for you what the Lord has been speaking to me over these past five weeks in Arua, Uganda, I have to tell you another story of another man, who I highly respect, of his pursuit of the Lord and for the way it transformed his family. It is a story of the change he made from being a passive Christian to a burning one.

Shane has set himself on fire with a passionate relationship with Jesus through His word, actions and prayer.

As he spoke with me he told me about a change that had occurred. Shane said, “I was living a compromised Christianity.” He shared how his family went to church every Sunday, how they invested time and money in the institution and were good people by American standards. But, something was missing. He had no burning desire for the Lord, and neither did his family. He made a conscientious decision to submit his whole life to the Lord and root out every compromise in his life and heart and to live a real gospel. He prioritized and completely reconstructed his daily life, right down to avoiding the TV shows he usually watched with his wife and kids. It didn’t happen overnight, but his family soon followed his example, seeing the Truth evident in his life. Him being that fifth gospel was more effective than a plethora of sermons on Sunday morning.

His story touched me. I met his family and I prayed my girls would grow to be as Godly as his children are, burning with love for Jesus and the world. I heard what people said about him and his family, that he was a man on on fire for Christ, that he was a man who lived the fifth gospel. As my wife and I visited with Shane and his family and they told us their story about how the power of Christ transformed a family when the the father and husband relentlessly strove to know Christ deeper and be more like Him, I was convicted and inspired.

Finally and briefly, I’ll tell you about a man whom I love dearly. He is like a second father to me and my children call him “Grandpa Dan.” His name is, of course, Dan. He is a salt spreader. I could write a book about what he means to me and all he has done to shape me, but I will save that perhaps for a later blog. Just know, he is a walking gospel.

This brings me to the point of writing this post. As I’ve been praying, and I’ve been praying a lot since I’ve been in Africa, the Lord is giving me direction, or vision, or perhaps a mission. I believe that the Lord is guiding me, guiding all of us in fact, to be the Fifth Gospel. This is nothing new but I’m just now getting a hold of it, or maybe he’s just giving me revelation in a way that I can understand. With some luck, the lesson He is teaching me can become revelation to others as well.

Here in Africa there are a lot of people who either can’t read or would never read the Bible: Muslims, witches, Hindus and even ex-pats. But everyone watches, observes, listens, weighs. What has he gained? they wonder. What has he given up? they ask themselves. Why is he here? Where has he come from? Does he live what he say he believes? Is this Christian like the Christ I heard about?

I see the story I’m about to share repeated in my own life. But where my story takes place in a refugee camp in Uganda, the following story takes place in Tanzania.

A group from my church in Wyoming, Family Life Church, went to Tanzania to fix wells and drill some new ones. When they arrived in one village they saw that a well which they had previously drilled was broken and in need of repair. Throughout the several days it took to repair the well, it seemed as though the the village has assigned a man to supervise them, if that’s what you could call it. As the team worked fixing the motor, putting up protection for the solar panels and making other repairs, they would stop from time to time and try engaging this man in conversation. He made no reply but instead just stood stoically by watching their every move. The man was part of the village group of elders with whom the US team had been working with for years. Even after drilling and putting in the well years ago and promising to stay in touch and help in whatever way they could, the elders of the village seemed skeptical and suspicious. However, after days of labor to repair their broken well as well as teaching locals how to keep it running and repair it themselves, the “supervisor” finally spoke, saying something rather astounding. He said, “Now I know that you are true and you are a man of your word. Now I can trust what you say.”

This has great implications for the gospel. It shows that the gospel message is often best received from men and women who are living the Gospel, speaking Gospel, and demonstrating the Gospel. They have salted the food; they have erected a lantern on a hill; they have not compromised or taken the easy way out. Instead, they conquered all obstacles to prove themselves true to their word which in turn gave validity to Christ.

 

This is what the Lord is teaching me about: embodying Jesus, being the salt, shining light in the darkest places and bearing peace and calm even when it’s hard. Even when I don’t get what I want, or when I’m afraid, or even when I feel like I am taking on a very large burden, it is for His sake.

The Word commands us to take up our cross daily and to do all things for the glory of God. This is my mission: to be light and salt; to be a Christ bearer, the fifth Gospel account; always ready to give the reason for the hope that I have in Christ that he may gain glory and that people may be saved. Just something on my heart. Thanks for reading and may God bless you.

A week at the “Place of Leprosy”

The following is a correspondence Sal wrote me after his second week in Uganda.

FB_IMG_1517680544806.jpg   For the past week I (Sal) have been camping in the Ofua district of the Rhino Refugee Settlement in Uganda. Upon reaching the camp I was immediately told the meaning of the word Ofua. So too, I will start  this letter with the the place’s history. Ofua, literally meaning “the place of leprosy, used to be the designated area for lepers, and so became a leper colony. Today it is packed with thousands of refugees from countries all around Uganda who fled their homeland for varying reasons.

   After learning the history of the camp, we began setting up our tents. We arrived with IMG_20180201_135330enough beans, potatoes and water for our team of ten to eat for one week. Every morning we ate a slice of bread, for lunch and dinner we had potatoes and beans.
After breakfast we would start the work day by going to a workshop hosted by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) where we shared a message of encouragement to believers there. Next, we returned to the tents to prepare for door-to-door evangelism. We shared the Gospel, listened to concerns, prayed for peace in South Sudan, prayed for healing and the reuniting of families and more. It’s amazing how much simply taking the time to enter someone’s world, listen to their story and pray with them can do for a person. The first night, we found a high spot on a hill in Ofua where we worshiped and interceded on behalf of the residents and their home countries. All other nights we helped local pastors with “crusades” (this is a term used by locals with no negative connotation or offense). To be honest, I couldn’t even count how many people received Jesus but it had to be in the hundreds. Local pastors dived people who had received Christ amongst the involved churches and handed out Bibles and schedules for discipleship classes. I was very impressed with the pastors and their congregations who all lived within the camp. The church we partnered with, whose building had no walls or chairs, collectively cared for 40 orphans within the camp.
IMG_20180201_133744The amount of sickness in the camp was overwhelming. Every night people would stream into our camp with various needs requesting prayer or help. Many sick were healed, drunks became sober and, I believe, many strongholds were torn down. It was truly amazing to see and be a part of it. For some unknown reason, I seemed to be a drunk/drugged guy magnet. These guys would come to me and, usually through a translator, I would tell them about how Jesus had died and risen so that they could be free of the bondage of alcohol and drugs. During discipleship classes, these men would all come to the one I taught. Many of them seemed accepting but I questioned their sincerity and a few renounced drinking and drug use and immediately joined in helping with the crusades. One man renounced drug use in tears as he emptied his pockets into my hands. In the end I was left standing in front of the UNICEF building with cupped hands full of illicit drugs. Talk about awkward!
received_10213829429002484I also spent many hours playing with children. I  taught young men the importance of being strong leaders and God fearing men who would treat women with dignity and respect as Christ did the Church. Our last night they brought to our team a girl who had malaria and typhoid. We prayed for her through the night until we could take her to a health clinic in the morning. The experience was hard on our young international team as one lamented, “She is all alone; she has nobody. They just left her here.”
During our time there we also helped another YWAMer named Ntale Godfree who is IMG_20180201_135229planting orchards. We planted over 2,200 seeds in a nursery outside the camp. She said that she would transplant them into the ground one week before the rainy season.
All in all, the refugee camp was not what I  had expected. There is much hope for peace in South Sudan. The South Sudanese are a very strong and intelligent people, many speaking three to six languages. I felt very safe while there and the culture is very hospitable. I was not as short as I thought I would have been either, but that might be because, as far as I could tell, a majority of the camp is under the age of 15. I was very grateful for my week in the camp, and look forward to serving there throughout the years to come.

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2018: A year of HOPE

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Photo courtesy: Freedigitalphotos.net

As I peer out over the uncharted waters of 2018, there are tempests and waves, darkness and thunder; but through it all stands a man to whom the winds and waves obey, who penetrates the deepest darkness and who embodies love and mercy. The times grow increasingly uncertain, the urgency of the hour is palpable; and one thing rises above the melee: HOPE.

I believe this will be the theme of this new season which the Lord is drawing us into: hope. We sense it in our own lives and see it at work in the greater body of the saints.

“So the poor have hope, And injustice shuts her mouth.”

Job 5:16

As we counted down the seconds to midnight and bid 2017 adieu, our family was surrounded by abount 20,000 other Christians all gathered at the Kansas City Convention Center and bringing in the New Year with worship following the 2017 OneThing Conference. At a time where radical liberal agendas are forwarded in our nation and globally at unprecedented speeds; where civil discourse retreats before hostility; where Christian ideals are increasingly portrayed as dangerous and detestable; and where the kingdom of darkness seems to be steadily advancing, I looked around at the vast crowd of primarily young people lifting their praises to heaven, pledging their allegiance to the King of Kings and offering themselves entirely to the Lord and an overwhelming sense of hope swelled in my heart and spirit.

 

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The Lord’s arm is not short. He is not surprised. He cannot be usurped. He is in control. And He is raising up an army of selfless and courageous Christians for such a time as this. I am reminded of what John Wesley famously said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”

New Year’s Day found Sal and I stuck in Kansas City without the funds to get home. Unforeseen circumstances had taken from what we had budgeted for the conference and we had enough either to pay for one night in our hotel or one tank of gas (which would carry us one-third of the way home). With our eldest daughter running a fever and outside temperatures dipping well below zero, we decided to purchase another night.

After check-out the following day, we thanked God that our daughter was healthy again and then headed to a neighboring cafe where we spent our last dollar on two 50 cent coffees. Normally Sal would have been stressed to breaking point, feeling the weight of his responsibility as protector and provider for our family. Multiple times he looked at me and said with a touch of wonder, “I should be freaking out, but I feel great and filled with joy. This is crazy.” He seemed…hopeful. The Lord has been calling us for a while to relinquish control and depend whole-heartedly on Him for our every need. I think as a woman this just came easier to me than it did Sal. New Year’s Day marked a pivotal moment when the obedient agreement Sal had made with God in his head to let Him take full responsibility for our family became a reality in his heart.

“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

Romans 8:24-25

While enjoying our coffee we visited with an old friend and fellow missionary who had just completed an internship at Hope City in KC. She told us, “God told me to pay your way back to Wyoming, but I won’t have access to those funds until midnight.” We brainstormed but failed to come up with a good option for a place to stay that night, and since temperatures were still well below zero, the van simply wasn’t an option.

When a change of scenery was due, we headed to the public library. Our friend informedImage-1080_1920_20180111T065400.jpg us that she needed to pick up her friend but she would meet us there briefly. Sal, starting to feel ill himself, took a nap in the van while the girls and I read books and performed puppet shows. It was a very fun time. Somewhere between two and three hours later our friend and her companion arrived and we rendezvoused in the parking lot. She opened her trunk and produced three bags of groceries. With only a few dollars in her own bank account and unable to purchase food, she had visited a local food pantry on our behalf. She then instructed us to follow them to a gas station, explaining that her friend (also a missionary) wanted to fill our tank which would carry us until midnight when our friend would send us the remainder of what we needed to get home via PayPal.

We spent a brief but beautiful time in prayer huddled in the gas station parking lot. Not even the constant subzero wind could detract from the beauty of that moment where brother and sisters united in praise, petition, affection, faith and hope.

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”

Romans 12:9-13

We made it home without incident. The Lord even strengthened me to drive much later than I thought I’d be able to stay awake allowing Sal, now a bit feverish, to get some decent rest before taking over for me.

At home we prayed that the Lord would guide and direct us as well as open doors that we might fulfill His will. Our plan had been to drop Sal at the Denver airport on the way home, sending him to Uganda, but we had been unable to secure the tickets. We told God that, just as we had waited upon him in Kansas City, so too would we wait on Him to clear a way for us to head to Uganda. The following day our pastor from Michigan got a hold of us and told us that a large donation had been made to us. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait very long for an answer to that prayer.

And so, Sal leaves for Uganda on the nineteenth of this month and will return on the

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Photo courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net

22nd of February. During his time there he’ll set up a place for us to live, clarify our responsibilities with our YWAM leadership, get to know the people we’ll be working with, get a feel for the local people and culture and work in the refugee settlements. We’ll be around for approximately three weeks after his return and then we’ll move to Arua, Uganda as a family.

Keep checking back as we’ll be posting articles and pictures of Uganda soon. May our Lord richly bless you and strengthen you as you face your own challenges, victories, battles, choices, sacrifices, joys and trials in this coming year. May you choose radical obedience to Him and reflect Jesus to the world in all  you do. May you be fruitful with the Good News, patient in suffering, faithful in uncertainty, repaying evil with good, giving love in exchange for hate and being abundant in grace. And may you be hopeful, keeping in sight the enormous hope that dawns on the horizon of 2018.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

 

The blessing of the time in-between

It’s been three weeks now since we left Michigan and this time of travel has been filled with blessing upon blessing. As we prepare for our move to Uganda, one of our primary purposes of this trip was to fundraise and seek out ministry partners. The Lord, however, has turned it into so much more. As we reconnect with friends and church family, God has provided us with many opportunities to minister and be ministered to and we have been humbled, encouraged, convicted, rebuilt and drawn into more intimate fellowship with Him.

During our last week in Michigan some friends of ours, a fellow homeschooling family, handed us a wad of cash and insisted that we use it to go to the Creation Museum which we would pass on route. We spent two days visiting the Museum and the Arc and it was amazing.

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To get to the Arc, you have to park and take a shuttle. We told the girls that the shuttle buses were time-travel buses and that we were going back pre-flood to the time of Noah. It happened to be a day of heavy fog which created a convincing and magical effect. Mila, of course, didn’t believe us but played along. As you enter the Arc they play wind gusts and thunder through speakers which happened to match that day’s weather. When Hadassah bravely declared that she was ready to face the flood even though she knew that she wasn’t included in the eight people who would be on the Arc when it came, we decided it was time to let her know it was all just a game. After that she and Talai had fun running around and pretending to tend the animals while they “waited for the Arc to stop on dry ground.”

For those who don’t know, the Creation Museum is a museum which showcases the Creationist worldview of the earth and everything in it. The Arc is a replica of Noah’s arc built to Biblical proportions. Inside it showcases how creatures of every kind could have fit within the arc and just how that might have been managed, answering questions like: how would they have fed all those animals and what did they do with all the waste. Whereas the girls enjoyed and learned a lot at the Creation Museum, they were absolutely captivated by the Arc. The sheer size of it is very impressive and I thought it was fascinating to no end to consider the technology that may have been used to address needs like watering the animals and creating a current of fresh air.

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We also ran into a YWAM team from Tyler, Texas while we were at the Arc. We spotted a van with the Tyler YWAM logo on it and so we took a picture of it and sent it via Facebook to the base, letting them know we had seen their van and were also at the Arc. They, unbeknown to us, then took a picture of Sal and I from Facebook and sent it to their team. While we were on the second floor of the Arc we noticed a young woman staring uncertainly at us. When we made eye contact she seemed to make up her mind and walked over to us. “Are you Sal and Heather?” she asked. She was part of the YWAM Tyler team and had sook us out to say hello and introduce us to leaders and other members in their team. We had a great time of fellowship and later when we were on our way to Austin, Texas, we stopped the night at the Tyler base which turned out to be an awesome YWAM base which really embodied the generous and mission-sending heart of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). We reconnected with some of the YWAMers who had been on the Arc and enjoyed an overall time of rest and delicious food. We also connected with a YWAM family whose vision is to take entire families into the mission field. Since we share the same philosophy of families in missions, we decided to keep in touch with the idea of possibly working together in the future. This is just another example of the grand family that YWAM is.

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After our visit to the Creation Museum and Arc we headed to Charlotte, North Carolina where another family and friends of ours hosted us and arranged for us to share about our mission work on a college campus and in their church. With their help we made some valuable connections with others who are either already ministering in the same area of Africa or interested in extending their resources to help with the mission work we will be doing. Already we are communicating with a ministry that wants to get practical technology into the hands of students in Northern Uganda and excited about how we might work together to do that.

These particular friends who hosted us in Charlotte are some of the most generous and devoted Christians we know. Being with them was both convicting and encouraging. Our hearts were filled as we fellowshipped and discussed deep truths late into the night. They are steller apologists which means we had a lot of fun thrashing out and debating many different theological and philosophical issues. Overall it was an extremely blessed time.

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Queen’s University in Charlotte, NC where we shared about our mission work

Currently we are camping on a friend’s property in Austin, Texas. To understand the significance of our time here, you need to know a little of our history with this place. Back in 2007 Sal and I dedicated our lives and family to the Lord after God had miraculously saved our marriage. Shortly after, following God’s leading through prayer, we moved out to Austin, Texas to “start over.” On the Sunday after our arrival we decided to start our church shopping by attending the church which was inside a warehouse across the road from our apartment complex. It was our first experience with a fiery charismatic and passionate for Jesus group of people and we were amazed. Neither of us came from Christian families and we had no idea that such a sincere and tangible relationship with God through His Spirit even existed. We were challenged and captivated and hooked immediately. It was from here that God truly restored our marriage, gave us a vision for the future, captured our adoration and called us to the international mission field.

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There is something unique about returning to where it all began that stirs our spirits. In the few days we’ve been in Austin and reconnected with our old church, Northwest Fellowship, we have already been laid bare before God as we repent of areas of compromise in our lives and press into greater obedience and fellowship with Him. God is faithfully drawing nearer to us as we draw nearer to Him.

Our friends who, from our first days in Austin, became spiritual parents to us and grandparents to our daughters invited us to share in their family Thanksgiving. It will be a huge blessing to do so. On Friday night I am accompanying the young adult prayer team that goes to Sixth Street, Austin in bright orange T-shirts to offer prayer and words of hope in a mardi gras-style environment. Sal and I were among the original group of young people who dreamed up the idea and participated in its birth. It will be a great blessing to partake in what it has matured to over the past nine years.

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Highest point in Louisiana. We got out to stretch our legs… it was definitely the easiest peak we’ve ever bagged 🙂

In about a week we will head to Gillette, Wyoming to reconnect with our home church family there. We look forward to seeing old friends and fellowshipping with them for a time before we head to Uganda.

As missionaries, a large part of the purpose of this trip was “business,” a.k.a., fund-raising and resource partnering. However, God is always working a myriad of purposes at once and He has used this trip to expose a weariness within us that we hadn’t realized was there. He is abundantly filling that place of weariness with renewed strength and intimacy with Him. It comes as no surprise that the Lord knew far better than we what our real needs were and He is fulfilling them with His own perfect methods.

We appreciate your continued prayers as we prepare for long-term mission work in Uganda and will do our best to keep a regularly updated report of our progress. We pray abundant blessings for you and your familly throughout this holiday season.

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Our Texan by birth Talai “representin'” after we crossed the Texan border

PS: There has been a slight change in our plans. Salazar, who was planning to head to Uganda in mid November, is now remaining Stateside until the first week of January. After reevaluating our timeline and speaking with the Arua base, we decided to delay his departure until after the New Year. By mid December the YWAM base in Arua will close for the Holidays. Together with the base we decided that it would be better for Sal to go when his stay wouldn’t fall on their vacation time which also freed him up to complete our US loop with me (super helpful) and cut out a second trip to Austin before we left for Uganda. Overall it made more sense to do it this way and proved a better use of resources. I will update the calendar in our earlier post promptly after publishing this article.

Special Report: Northern Uganda

Northern Uganda is the primary receiving area for South Sudanese refugees. South Sudan, although the world’s youngest nation, is home of the fastest growing refugee  crisis on the globe. Below is our Special Report newsletter which takes a look at the situation in this West Nile region and explains what our family is doing about it.

If you would like to receive our monthly newsletters, please contact us via email at <hsanchez5811@gmail.com>. You can also subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” button in the right column.

Please click the link below to view/save/print our Special Report newsletter. Thank you and God bless.

Borderlands special report