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.

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

 

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

Uganda, here we come! Calendar

If you receive our newsletter, then you have already received our calendar.  If you are not currently receiving our newsletters and would like to, please contact us at <hsanchez5811@gmail.com>.

Below is a calendar of where we’ll be and when during this short period before our family leaves for Uganda. We are making a loop to visit friends/partners and fulfill speaking engagements. If you live in or around those areas we would love to see you while we are there. Please contact us via email to connect. Also note: from November 15th through December 22nd Sal will be in Uganda. He is going ahead to work and prepare a place for the family.

You can also view/save/print our calendar in pdf form by clicking on the links below.

Sanchez 2017 calendar

Sanchez 2018 Calendar

November 2017

December 2017

January 2018

February 2018

The Renaissance Festival: The follow-up

Please allow me to open with this disclaimer: this post may seem unrelated to this website and the mission field. However, it’s important to remember that mission work is carried out by people and families who have many of the same needs as any other, ie: spending quality time together. One of the primary purposes of this blog is to paint an accurate picture of our lives as a missions family. That said, I hope you enjoy this post.

I will admit that when Sal first recommended we attend a Renaissance festival, I was a bit skeptical. I remembered this kid from high school who would go to Renaissance festivals and reenact in them. I thought that made him very weird.

Apparently I married a weirdo. But, in the end I agreed. Oh my goodness, what fun! It was really neat to see how my girls chose personas that reflected their own personalities. Mila, compassionate and brave, was my bold and noble dame/knight, Talai, humble and devoted, was my just Ranger often hidden in the shadows and Hadassah, passionate and daring, was my Nordic Viking (perhaps more after the style of Leif Eriksson).

And yes, Sal went as a monk and evangelized several times that day. He is such a great example of how being a Christian is who we are and not something we simply believe in or do. In perfect medieval monk persona, he shared the Gospel with fellow monks, knights, elves and tavern maids. It was pretty wild to witness! I was convicted to remember that in truly any situation, the Gospel applies and can be preached.

Click any picture below to access the full-size photo carousel and captions.

Thoughts on the cost

Last week the girls and I were doing our morning prayers and intercession when Talai prayed, “Dear heavenly Father, when we go to Uganda, please protect me, and please help me to endure if I become an orphan. No matter what, help me never to deny You, but always follow You faithfully.”

Hadassah prayed a similar prayer ending with “Jesus please help me to follow you no matter what and if I have to go to an orphanage, let it be one where they treat the children nicely.”

Whoa! Right? What kind of nine-year-old or six-year-old prays that in complete johnny-automatic-girl-praying-800pxsincerity? So came my moment to respond and I sat silent for a while contemplating what to say. Should I assure them that God would not allow Sal or I to die or that they would never be orphans? As a mother wanting to quench their fears that was my temptation, but I couldn’t honestly give them any assurances and I would not have them disillusioned with God because I put false promises in His mouth that He did not keep. How would you respond?

 

I fear some will misunderstand what I am about to say. I love my children more than life, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. I have sacrificed a career, much of my education and more to stay at home and spend time with them, watch them grow and give them an exquisite education. This was completely contrary to my plans before becoming a mother, but I count it all a joy now and would not have it any other way. However, my love for them is ashes compared to the extravagant love their heavenly Father has for them. For this reason, the best and most loving thing I can do for them is to be obedient to God and trust Him with their lives.

That said, please be gracious as you read my response if I do not communicate as clearly as I should.

Firstly in response, I hugged all three of my precious darlings because even though Mila did not voice such fears I’m sure she wrestles with her own. I told them that God has a plan for each of our lives, for theirs and my own. If we are walking in His will nothing and no one can kill us until we have completed God’s intended plan. Just as God protected David while King Saul hunted him through the wilderness and how He protected Jesus when those of His own town tried to throw Him off of a cliff, so too will God protect us while we still have His orders to carry out on earth, orders that probably include being around to raise them.

However, that didn’t mean that God would not allow them to be orphaned. I told them that I did not think that Sal or I’s deaths were a part of God’s plan any time soon. God has promised much to us that we have yet to see manifested and given us much instruction that we’ve yet to accomplish. But we all need to be ready to give everything, even our lives for God’s Kingdom if it so requires. However, the Bible teaches that the angels who watch over children are ever before the face of God, and I assured the girls that, no matter what, God would watch over and protect them. I also told them they shouldn’t ever end up in an orphanage because they would live with family or friends should anything ever happen to Sal and I. And finally I encouraged and fortified them to never forsake Jesus for any reason. As long as we hold fast to Christ, we will see each other again.

reverse silloutte crossI know this response may sound radical to the Westerner, including many Western Christians. However, I recently heard Michael Ramsden speak on this topic and he said something that merits repeating; As Western Christians, we live in a time that is unique. The peace and prosperity that the Western church enjoys is peculiar not only historically, but also globally in our present world. The normality for Christians, that which has been typical since the day Jesus died, is a life of suffering and/or persecution, but even so, a life of joy and peace, of generosity and beauty.

Hebrews 11 gives us a goose-bump raising account of our Christian legacy:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword;whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” (v. 32-35a)

How much would we love to see these kinds of miracles in our churches and in our lives? How many of us have inquired of God why these things tarry? Perhaps the key can be found in the very next words:

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (v.35b-38)

This part of our Christian legacy continues today as many endure such conditions for the sake of Christ. If you don’t believe that, you should go on a mission trip.

I see a lot of the Western world’s desire for comfort and security within the heart of the Western church and even within my own heart. Yet how much of the security that we enjoy is an illusion? One has only to turn on the television to hear of wars and rumors of wars, of division and schemings. Ramsden also said that the type of persecution that we see in places like the 10/40 window is “only ever one generation away.” I truly believe that.

But even were peace not so fragile, what would I be should I not follow the call of God on my life? No one wants to be Jonah. No one wants to believe themselves a coward, and that is definitely not how God created us to be. But how do we overcome fear when called to a place where the odds are stacked dangerously against us?knightingoldenarmor-2400px

The beautiful simplicity of the trust and faith my daughters have in their heavenly Father was deeply convicting for me. It was unbridled by the the reins of doubt and burdens of past experience that so many of us grown-ups haul around with us. It is no wonder that Jesus taught that we must become as children to enter the Kingdom of God!

I recently had a pastor ask me bluntly, “So what is the cost (of following God’s call)?” It was difficult for me to give an answer. Anything Sal or I have “given up” thus far seems quite unimportant and superficial and hardly meriting the title “cost.” Anything that may arise in the future remains hypothetical. So I suppose the costs we’re counting as we say “yes” to God are largely control, security and pride. To be willing to be utterly out-of-control of of our situation even when physical danger may be present, to be willing to face danger head-on without the security of a safety net and pride in that we may not always have the answers or solutions, and of course to look like complete fools in the eyes of the world.

Yet by God’s grace, we shall say “yes,” agreeing to whatever costs and willing to trust Him with everything. Hopefully we may in some way prove ourselves worthy of our amazing daughters who could school us on graciously surrendering to God’s will and perhaps take one step closer to being worthy dwelling places of Christ Jesus.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and may God bountifully bless you and yours.

A lovely detour

It is hard to believe that the year is almost over! 2016 has been an incredible year, full of laughter and tears, disappointments and victories, sorrows and joy. And God has met us every step of the way.

img_20161124_084400As some already know, our plans have changed slightly in that we have temporarily returned to the United States. We are so excited and blessed to have this opportunity before reestablishing ourselves and serving long-term in Uganda, Africa. During our months in the US we will be busy taking care of the many logistical details involved with getting to and established in Uganda and spearheading the Borderlands Restoration and Education Project.

We know that, among the many things we have done this past year, we have not appropriately prioritized our web updates. We take full responsibility for the neglect and beg your pardon.

This is what you can expect from this site over the next several months:

  • Regular postings
  • A sort of retracing of our steps- Since driving across the Mexican border to shipping around the Darien Gap to sharing love with street kids in Argentina and back to Michigan again: where we have been; what we have done; things we have learned.
  • Lots of pictures
  • Current updates
  • Whatever else might be of interest

    digitalphotos.net_supakitmod
    digitalphotos.net_supakitmod

As far as why else we are in the States again:

  • Obtain long-term working or religious visas for Uganda
  • See to logistical and legal aspects of Love’s Training Ground
  • Fundraise and establish new partnerships

Tuesday morning Sal and I will be flying out of Detroit on route to Jacksonville Port in Florida. Our van will be there by tomorrow and we are on our way to pick it up. We are actually still short on the funds needed to retrieve it (for online giving click here) but we figure that after bringing us this far God wouldn’t have us abandon our vehicle at the port. Having to trust God to financially come through for us time and time again has been an adventure in and of itself and the stakes just seem to keep getting higher, but that is a story all its own and perhaps I’ll share it in another post someday.

Please pray safe travel for us. Sal and I are flying Spirit Airlines from Detroit to Atlanta and then taking an overnight bus into Jacksonville. Since our oldest, Mila, was born, we haven’t done any trip like this without the girls. Please pray peace for them during the time we are away (they’ll be with Grandma). And of course, pray for the financial miracle we are confident the Lord will provide so that we can retrieve our van. Sal already has a job in Michigan so we’ll bquill-and-letter_simon-howdene able to sustain ourselves, but port fees and such simply go beyond our typical expenses. We are excited to be turning the last page of another chapter as we set our eyes toward the thickening plot of God’s master script into which he has penned our lives.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and God bless and keep you and yours.christmas-trees_simon-howden