Complacency; a wily assassin

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

~Poet Ralf Waldo Emerson

 

Recently a friend sent Sal and I a video about the man who started the Free Burma Rangers. His family tells an incredible story of being called to the mission field in the middle of a war zone and ethnic cleansing and how they demonstrated the love of Christ by helping the oppressed, extracting children caught behind enemy lines, equipping local peoples and more. As I watched him run through ISIS gunfire to rescue a young girl who sat clinging to her dead mother, I was convicted to tears. “Oh God,” I prayed, “I am so easily distracted and lulled by the mundane. Help me to keep running and not to take my eyes off the prize.”

Photo courtesy: Chris Sinclair; Christianitytoday.com
The Eubank family, founders of Free Burma Rangers.

 

Paul writes, “… we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame…” (Romans 5:3-5) I think the inverse is also true. One could say, “We know that comfort produces complacency; complacency, passivity; and passivity, apathy. And apathy is the enemy to love and will ultimately destroy us.”

Picnic tables encourage quality family time much more than couches do for the Sanchez Family

One of the greatest struggles in my life has been continually living with intentionality. Sure, it’s easy to stir up some fiery emotions and get motivated for a time, but as hours stretch into days and then into weeks and years, it’s so easy to be lulled into a stupor by the relentless cradle of the mundane. Comfort is one of my greatest enemies. When we are stateside and friends visit us, they often ask if we’d like a couch or a television and they’re confused when we decline. But the truth is, typical American comforts make me lazy. When we stay with friends and family who have couches, I find myself spending a ridiculous amount of time sitting and sending my kids to fetch things that I should be up getting myself. Now, to be fair, there is, of course, nothing inherently evil about the couch; the problem is my own lack of self-discipline. However, why needlessly subject myself to such a source of temptation to be lazy?

The temptation, however, doesn’t end with physical comforts. In the absence of these things I’m drawn to seek comfort in routines, schedules and programs. I start to conjure up a false sense of security which leads to a satisfaction with how things are- with the status quo. When I get comfortable, I relax and my awareness of the needs of those around me gets dull. What a precarious life we live!

A couple of our kids out in Rhino Refugee Settlement

Sometimes the things we see overseas and the abject poverty that surrounds us haunt me when I return to the US. I feel guilty about living comfortably while knowing that one of my unofficially adopted daughters overseas is facing eviction, or that a beautiful little girl who used to come to Sunday School in the refugee camp will be sleeping in the mud, or in a grown man’s bed. We will take our family out to eat at Pizza Hut and suddenly I see lovely but gaunt faces looking in through the window at me.

Because of this, sometimes I live rather existentially. By only focusing on what is immediately in front of me, I can avoid some of the unpleasant feelings, but this causes other problems. Without meaning to I can loose motivation, lose the heart that drove me forward to make a difference and deaden the voice of God in my life. I’m not saying that we should wallow in sorrows that we can do nothing about. Philippians 4:8 says, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” However, we do have to guard diligently against getting distracted and loosing sight of our mission.

After all, if we are children of God, we have a heaven-assigned mission to do good and to share the Good News in word and deed.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

~John Wesley

Hadassah reading before bed

I believe that one of the greatest tactics of the devil in America is busyness and distraction. The statistics on the average amount of screen time we spend daily are staggering. I get it; when that notification goes off alerting me to a new message I’m like Pavlov’s dog drooling at the sound of a dinner bell. The amount of social media communication that people expect from us is insane. Demands on our time from work, school, family, church, sports, etc. seem impossible to satisfy. I’m always surprised how strong the pull of this American lifestyle is and how quickly I get sucked into it every time we return stateside. I’m constantly re-evaluating how I’m spending my time and reorganizing my priorities.

What does this have to do with a video I watched earlier this week? Please bear with me as I try to pull my thoughts together. Not too long ago I was unwittingly just going through the motions. Without realizing it I had lost much of my zeal, bogged down by the daily grind. We were moving forward, fundraising, sharing about our vision in East Africa and the Horn, making plans on how we would return amongst the Covid crisis and sending some aid to our partners still working in Uganda. However, my heart was heavy with a lethargic tiredness. That’s not to say that I had lost any belief in our work. On the contrary, I was and am genuinely excited about the direction God is taking us. However, at some point the necessary focus on things like budgets, travel plans and preparing another school year turned into being consumed by the concerns of this world and too much passion was wrung out from my heart.

Arua kids who come for one of our weekly children’s programs

Then I watched this video about a missionary family doing something truly extraordinary for Jesus and it was like a defibrillator shock to my heart. It’s crazy how our God-given calling is so intertwined with how we see God. All at once I was reminded of the bigness and goodness of God, of my love for Him and challenged to live radically for Him. I was reminded that God’s plans for us are bigger than our pocketbook or budget, wilder than our dreams and imaginations, greater than our natural abilities and so beyond us.

He fills my heart with passion and motivation, and like Peter, I have to keep my eyes on Him if I am to walk on water. The moment my attention turns to the cares of this world I start to sink. God will also guide me in processing the sorrows without detaching from them so that through sanctification I can become more like Christ who was at once a man of sorrows and filled with joy.

Rhino Refugee Settlement, Northern Uganda

And I wonder if I am not alone in this. If a missionary to Africa can get lost in the seductive draw of the mundane, distraction, comfort and complacency, I have to imagine that American Christians immersed in this culture can also fall prey to it. Please be encouraged to discover or rediscover your God-given destiny for adventure and a life that is significant because it makes a difference. God made you for a purpose and it will undoubtedly be a destiny filled with excitement, sorrow, joy, pain, adventure, love, loss and daring, but you have to break out of the world’s cookie-cutter to find it.

Thank you for reading this post and God bless.

“Why do so many people do nothing? I think it’s because most of us look at the evils and injustice around us, and we become overwhelmed. The problems look too big for us to tackle. We say to ourselves, ‘What can I do? I’m just one person.’ One person is a start. One person can act and make a change by helping another. One person can inspire a second person to be intentional, and another. Those people can work together. They can becoe a movement. They can make and impact. We should never let what we cannot do keep us from doing what we can do. A passive life does not become a meaningful life.”

~John C. Maxwell, Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters

Quarantined in the middle of nowhere

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Sal and I spend our morning coffees looking out over our pond

We are currently parked just outside of town in a little wooded oasis on a pond that most people don’t even know exists and I have been repeatedly asked, “How on earth did you find this place?” Well, the answer, as so often is the case, is: by luck and providence. When Covid-19 was first coming to the attention of the American people, we were distracted as we prepared to move. Our time on the farm was coming to a close and it was time to find a new place to park the camper and call home. Even though we are currently an RVing family, we rarely spend time inside the camper, preferring rather to do everything from eating to schooling and even sleeping outside when possible. This fact, in addition to being a five-person-three-dog-family means that the traditional RV park which packs you in like sardines is not a very viable option for us. We’ll take privacy and room to breath and play over conveniences like running water and sewage hook-ups any day, but it does make finding a place to park our camper a little more difficult.

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Talai enjoying the local wildlife

We had been searching for days on sites like RV Village and contacting people on Craigslist trying to find some kind of wooded lot that we could rent on a monthly basis but we weren’t having any luck finding one that was within an hour of Charlotte (not to mention that everything was booked because of Nascar which hadn’t yet been affected by Covid). Finally we stumbled across an awesome app called HipCamp where we located a rustic campsite well off the beaten trail and yet close enough to town to continue our work in Charlotte. We contacted the owner who promptly agreed to let us reserve it on a monthly basis and we settled in.

I am always so impressed with my girls who remain so flexible. Children, in general, like structure and routine, and whereas we strive to maintain as much of that as possible, there is admittedly a lot of unavoidable change associated with our lifestyle. School runs on a general schedule but the details may need to change a little depending on new sets of chores related to our current environment. Things are added and removed from their daily routines rather fluidly. For example, picking berries has taken the place of gathering eggs as part of their morning routines and their nighttime routines now include checking each other for ticks.

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The girls snuggle up with the pups during a family slumber party in the yurt

This is not a phenomena in their lives that is exclusive to our time spent RVing in the US, but rather just a part of the international missionary lifestyle. The girls navigate differences in American subcultures quite similarly to how they navigate the varying world cultures that we encounter as we travel. In the live movie Dora, she makes a comment about studying the indigenous culture of America where she is being sent to go to school. We all chuckled when Dora related  American high school kids to indigenous rainforest tribes, but really, her mental framework wasn’t that different than our own girls’. Our family has begun to see any culture or subculture that we interact with, regardless of how similar or foreign they are to our own, as the indigenous culture of a region to be observed, learned from and hopefully assimilated to. Still, from environmental to cultural to climate to economic changes, our family really works together to remain flexible and make necessary adjustments which enable us to thrive in often changing circumstances. Every time the girls rise to the occasion with smiles and a positive focus on new adventures instead of what they will have to give up, my pride in them skyrockets. (Did I mention that we even have an Aspy in our family? Some of you will recognize how significant that is).

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The girls enjoying a hotdog dinner

So, transitioning into another question many people are asking me, “What is life like out in the middle of the woods with no running water or electricity?” Truthfully, we seem to do things differently than most folks, so don’t take my answer as a generalization, but I can tell you about our life in the middle of the woods without running water or electricity.

Firstly, when it comes to the practical side of living, things aren’t that different from life in Uganda. We have a small solar kit which powers our phones and tablets as well as a few other small luxuries like fans, lights and my daughter’s new Furby which she purchased with her own hard-earned money. We’ve built a composting toilet and we filter our water from local water sources (a.k.a. the pond) with the same filter we used in Africa. The girls school up to the picnic table or with clipboards in their hammocks. I cook outside with a double-burner campstove and we gather around the picnic table to share dinner. On a hot day we go for a swim in the pond. On a side note, it’s important to know that I consider it a pond; others may go so far as to call it a lake. However, I am originally from Michigan, home of the Great Lakes and where, if it’s muddy it’s considered a pond and if it’s under an acre in size it’s a puddle. That said, our pond is filled with bass and turtles and well over our heads out towards the middle.

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School in the hammocks

A typical day starts between four and five in the morning for Sal and I. It is still dark outside but we light a citronella torch to ward off mosquitoes and make some light. We sit on the porch of the rustic cabin on the property and brew some coffee in a neat little drip apparatus which we inherited from Sal’s grandma and which dates back to 1906. We do our Bible reading and devotional time first thing and then spend the rest of the quiet hours of the predawn together in prayer and conversation (over coffee of course). The girls are up with the sun by six and started on their morning routines which include picking wild blackberries which I’ll add to their breakfast oatmeal. After AM routines are completed we move into family devotional time where we study the Bible and other Christian writings. Currently we are all reading Love Dare and have adapted it to apply not only to marriage, but to family relationships as well.

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Mila working on homework on the porch of our rustic cabin

Our school probably looks similar to any other homeschooling family with the exception of our environment. We take a break following lunch for quiet rest time where everyone gets to nap, read or journal. Following rest time is family chore time. Our chores involve things like gathering firewood, straightening up the cabin, washing dishes, gathering water to filter, burning the burnable trash and training the dogs (who are learning nifty tricks and how to be therapy animals). We all work together so it doesn’t take very long.

After chores comes everyone’s favorite time of day: freetime. We might all go for a swim or splash in the creek or fish. The girls like to explore the creek and catch crayfish and water dogs. They might pick berries, play their instruments, go for a hike, play chess or just hang their hammock up high in the trees and spend the afternoon engulfed in a good book.

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Talai holding a baby squirrel that had fallen from its nest during a severe thunderstorm. The girls spent hours trying to catch it.

Earlier this spring the girls rescued a baby squirrel that was knocked out of its nest during one of the large storms and couldn’t climb back up the tree to its home. We also set up an off-grid incubator which we kept successfully at an ideal temperature and humidity for an egg which was abandoned by the mother bird after a snake attacked the nest and ate all the others. Unfortunately, even our best efforts were unsuccessful in hatching the bird egg.

We’ve watched many a storm from the porch of our cabin. There have been three tornado warnings where my phone’s warning system has alerted us to take cover. During two of those we went for walks (for one of those walks we responsibly waited until the hail passed before leaving overhead shelter). We observed crazy green skies, fascinating cloud formations (which sparked a spontaneous lesson on weather patterns and clouds) and the results of a flooding creek. During one of these walks Talai rescued the smallest of our dogs, Bjorn Bluetooth, who didn’t realize that the current of the stream became significantly stronger when the stream became a bonafide river and was swept downstream about 20 feet.

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The water pictured is the result of light rain. After heavy showers started causing mudslides on our two-track, we decided to move the camper to higher ground

In short, we’ve spent our days of quarantine in a situation that we consider just about as good as it gets. Sure, this kind of life comes with its own challenges: our feet and ankles have plenty of itchy ant and mosquito bites, we can be slow to communicate electronically, especially if we’ve had little-to-no solar and our phones are dead, we have to plan ahead a little more to do simple things, but overall that is a very small price to pay for the freedom, simplicity, joy and rest we’ve enjoyed over the past several weeks.

We get to enjoy this place until mid July. At that time, we’ll be packing up and hitting the road as we launch the next big phase towards returning to Africa. During this time of rest we’ve also had lots of time to pray and dream and we have solidified our plans for moving forward. Over the next few weeks I’ll reveal those plans, as well as our travel itinerary so that we can connect if you are interested in partnering with us in our work (you can always contact me privately about this as well). Check back soon for details!

As always, thank you so much for your interest in our lives and work. We so appreciate your thoughts, prayers and support. In fact, words elude me which could express just how deep our gratitude is. We pray that you would be safe and blessed during these uncertain times.

To face giants and rescue snails (Finding courage part 3)

I thought I was done writing about courage a couple of posts ago, at least for a while. However, I was out with a friend recently and as we chatted I recalled a story from Buenos Aires Argentina involving my middle child, Talai, a story in which she showed great courage. With so many unknowns in our future as a nation and a world, I figured one more dose of encouragement couldn’t hurt. So without further adieu, allow me to share a tale of snails, bullies and courage.

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Outside our apartment in Corrientes. In the background is an asado or, “barbeque pit.”

When we first arrived in Argentina to study trauma counseling and work with victims of human trafficking, we lived in the northern province of Corrientes. The girls were so excited. We had finally completed our long road trip from Northern Michigan to Argentina and after months of endless adventure and travel we were getting ready to settle in to what would be home for the next several months. As a family we looked hopefully and excitedly towards a seemingly bright future. Unfortunately, we didn’t detect the dark clouds of bullying quickly approaching on the horizon.

The particular area we were in was one of the most anti-American places we’ve ever been. I remember standing in line at the store one day and trying to make small talk with a woman standing behind me.

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Homeschooling at our Corrientes apartment

“Hello, how are you?” I said.

“You know the Russians beat you to the moon,” the gal responded. “Stupid Americans; you think you rule the world.”

It was an intimidating experience, but with love and patience we won over most of our neighbors. It was a difficult time for our whole family, but Talai had the worst of it. Talai is an Aspy, which means she has a super-cool personality, but she sometimes struggles to read social queues and make new friends. At the base we worked on there were many children. Several of them picked up on Talai’s quirks and soon she was the focus of daily bullying in the community. During kids church one Sunday a teacher came and got Sal and I. Talai had been in a fight, or more like an ambush. Two boys had held her down while another punched and kicked her. During Sunday school.

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Enjoying a mate (being a South American green tea shared amongst friends from the communal cup, mate, and straw, bombilla) in front of our apartment

At one point we thought things were getting better when a girl around her age befriended her. The two girls were peas in a pod; they teeter-tottered and laughed and whispered together. Other kids started to leave her alone and Sal and I were so relieved. Then one day her “friend” led a co-ed group of kids into the bathroom and kicked in the door to Talai’s stall. She was mortified and heart broken.

The rest of our time in Corrientes was very hard on Talai. Sal and I tried working with parents and teachers to stop the bullying, but in the end we had to keep Talai in our sights constantly and discipline the other kids ourselves to keep her safe. Sal employed some interesting tactics to deter kids from picking on Talai, but even their fear of him was not enough to stop it completely or help her make friends. I think the most difficult thing for her was that these were fellow missionary kids; they were supposed to be her brothers and sisters in Christ. Truthfully, it was a sad commentary on a community where holding on to their racism was more important than embracing the international Christian fellowship.

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A game at a sort of party/vbs we held for local children in Buenos Aires, Argentina

As soon as we could transfer our studies, we left there and moved onto a missions base in Buenos Aires. We had been part of a daily program for street children and saying goodbye to them was difficult and sad, but we had to take care of our girls. Initially we liked the new base a lot. Both the adults and children seemed friendly and sincere. They apologized for the racism we had encountered and assured us that everyone was family on the base. We lived, studied and worked on the base and our whole family was adjusting well and making friends.

When the rainy season arrived, large land snails started emerging all over. My girls are lovers of all animals including the creepy crawlies and they loved seeing the snails everywhere. We noticed that broken shells started littering the sidewalk, but we weren’t sure why. Then one day Talai burst through the front door with tears in her eyes holding a smashed snail in her cupped hands.

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So many snails!

“Mom!” she exclaimed. “The kids are smashing the snails! They just take the poor snails and smash them on the sidewalk for fun.” She could barely get the story out as sobs of indignation and sadness wracked her. I did the best I could explaining to her the cultural and background differences that caused these kids to seem to her so heartless, but there was little I could do to console her, and nothing I could do to make it right.

I rocked her in my arms until she calmed down and then we buried the remains of the poor dead and broken snail she still held. Over the next few days she built a snail hospital and started collecting broken-shelled snails and caring for them. She poured her whole heart and all her time into it. A couple curious boys came by to ask what she was doing. They were intrigued by the hospital and so they went out, found a healthy snail, threw it on the concrete and then brought it to Talai to care for. Talai put her hands on her hips and proceeded to scold the boys for hurting the snail in the first place. The boys were abashed and quickly apologized. Then, they asked if they could help with caring for the snails. She sent them out to scavenge for food and they returned that afternoon with lots of greens and flowers from various people’s gardens which earned them official snail hospital staff positions. They came by daily to help and learn from Talai.

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Talai and the original Snail Hospital

Word spread quickly and soon we had large groups of kids in our front yard investigating the snail hospital. Most kids were puzzled over why she would care for snails (which they smashed because they thought they were gross) and left laughing among themselves. I began to worry for Talai. She had endured so much at the hands of bullies just a little while prior and now she was taking a stand that, although noble, was seen by her peers as foreign and odd. I worried that the other kids would use this as an opportunity to tease and ridicule her.

Sal and I discussed this and one night we sat Talai down to have a talk with her. We explained that, although we were very proud of how she was caring for the snails, her actions in doing so could possibly make her a target for ridicule. We told her to consider the possible price this endeavor might cost her if it resulted in being bullied again. We assured her that none of the bullying had been her fault, and that what she was doing for the snails was right and good, but even so it may have negative consequences for her.

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Talai selling Aloe Vera to raise money and awareness for her snail hospital

Without pause she explained to us that under no circumstance was she going to abandon her patients; as a doctor she was bound by the Hippocratic Oath. She told us that Jesus said that anyone who puts their hand to the plow and then looks back is not worthy of Him and she assured us that, while she appreciated our concern, she had counted the cost and that standing up for the helpless was always worth it.

What was there to do but hug our little world-changer and support her in her work? We watched her closely day-by-day, ready to jump in and defend her. But then, something unexpected happened. More and more kids became intrigued by how she cared for her little victims and started volunteering at her hospital. Meanwhile, Talai changed her attitude of anger towards the perpetrators into one of patience and understanding. She started approaching groups of snail smashers and reasoning with them, explaining how even snails were created by God and how it was much nicer to enjoy and play with them than to smash them. The change didn’t happen overnight, but it came on steadily.

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That’s part of my garden

More and more kids started to disapprove of snail-smashing. Talai received new hospital volunteers daily, which was a good thing because her hospital, which had expanded and annexed our entire front yard, now had hundreds of patients. Then, one day, snail-smashing ceased completely.

With almost all of the base kids involved in the hospital to some capacity, and without the emergency room being overcrowded from smashed snails, Talai led the kids to expand the hospital into an all-out snail rescue. My beautiful exotic garden became a sort of snail hospice (“Snail Heaven” as Talai called it) where snails who weren’t expected to survive went. As it turned out, my garden must have had some healing powers because many of the snails made a turn-around and became so healthy that they ate most of the plants to the ground. We also had the constructed and expanded hospital and the graveyard for those who didn’t make it in our front yard.

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Talai takes a shift on a rainy day as a snail shuttle scooter driver

Other kids volunteered their yards and gardens and soon there was a snail playground for the younger ones, physical therapy for the older ones and a diner. They started a shuttle service to transport the snails from one area to the next and designated “drivers” would carry the snails on their scooters. They even painted the snails’ shells and kept records of their progress. Scouts would go out in search of snails who had run away from the hospital and others hiding around the base and bring them to the rescue where they would receive health screening and a check-up before being released back to the wild. It really was an incredible operation.

My garden was devoured beyond repair; there was a constant stream of kids through my front yard and peeking in our windows; parents were complaining to me about their raided flower beds; and I couldn’t be happier. My daughter had changed the minds, hearts and destructive practices of an entire community. She convinced others to enjoy and embrace something that they had previously reviled. Many a good missionary has spent years and even decades trying to do that very thing. I was so very proud of her

Many people ask me what I do with my kids while we are in the mission field, as if my girls were annoyances impeding on “real mission work.” I don’t “do” anything with them. Together we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the widows and the orphans and preach the gospel of freedom and peace to the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. And sometimes they do it without me.

Thank you for reading this post. God bless you.

 

Farm Life

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Luckily this business didn’t mind me parking in their lot for hours as I wrote my blog. It’s one of the few places I get wireless internet.

As a homeschooling RVing family, we have thankfully been minimally affected by the Covid-19 crisis. It is, in fact, the reason why I am writing this post while sitting in my truck parked outside of a Title Loans business that doesn’t mind loiterers rather than typing comfortably at a cafe while sipping on a chai latte. It’s also the reason this post is significantly late in being uploaded, but on the scale of genuine consequence, that ranks pretty low. For this reason, and because everyone else seems to be talking about it, I feel no need to add my opinions to the never-ending global editorial on the Corona virus situation. Instead, I’m going to share some reflections on our first months in North Carolina and life on the farm.

A couple of months ago we moved full-time into our 26-foot camper. We pulled it out of a northern Michigan snowbank and headed for warmer weather. Our first landing spot was a farm just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. In exchange for farm chores we got a place to park our camper while we settled into the Charlotte area.

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Mila feeding the farm animals

The girls were assigned the chores of feeding the animals (an assortment of goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits), cleaning their pens and gathering eggs. With incredible ease they settled into a routine of waking up early to complete their chores before school hours and penning up the chickens before bed. Having a farm with animals is a dream of our family, one which we recognize is unlikely in our future, so the girls really poured themselves into the responsibility and cherished every moment knowing that it was only temporary. As we prepared to move off of the farm, the girls told me that the thing they would miss the most is their farm chores.

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For my eldest daughter’s birthday, we took a trip to the coast for the weekend. It unexpectedly included civil disobedience and running off the beach away from police. Please don’t judge us too harshly; we did practice social distancing. 😉

We live a fairly simple life. All we own fits in our camper (plus a small spill-over closet at mom’s house). We don’t take fancy vacations or go to fancy restaurants. Having a very cultured and mature worldview, our girls try very hard to avoid the typical American teen drama (except perhaps my youngest who is quite the drama queen). We don’t usually give gifts for birthdays, we do something special as a family instead. When we do give gifts, they are usually necessities, always practical and often homemade. Such is the life of a missionary family, and we love it. It creates an atmosphere of simple peace and rears children who get giddy with excitement at Christmas after getting a book and who decide that doing chores is the best part of living on a farm.

Because we arrived in Charlotte in the middle of a chilly Spring, we also learned to work a wood stove, split and haul wood and bank coals. It was fun learning how to do these things alongside the girls; they are dying but worthwhile skills. We’ve also enjoyed the sunsets and open skies above the fields and are getting good at identifying constellations.

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Talai on the job building a tiny home

The girls (primarily Mila) helped to build tiny homes on the the property. It was their first time earning a real hourly wage and they loved it. I do have my doubts about motivating them to do extra tasks around the house for 50 cents anymore, but I’m glad they had the experience. I was hopeful they would exhibit good work ethics, and was very pleased to hear that they were some of the hardest workers on the job. Today’s workforce suffers a terrible deficit when it comes to hard workers. Somehow work ethics seems to have eluded our younger generations and I was curious to see how my own girls would perform. When I heard that they were committed and diligent workers, I let go a sigh of relief and had one of those “thank goodness I did something right” parenting moments.

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Mila on the job staining the tiny home

I don’t really have a ton to say about our time on the farm, namely because it was so peaceful, simple and uneventful. Because of all of our ties in Michigan, our time there often feels hectic and sometimes stressful. The farm was a great crashpad to kick off a new season of life in the south and seeking God for the next step towards returning to Africa.

We are now off of the farm and settled onto a secluded wooded spot with lots of room for the girls and pups to explore and a bass-stocked pond to fish dinner from. We were told to help ourselves to the turtles which was a unique introduction to the area and a little bit of a culture shock, but we’ve definitely eaten stranger things in our travels. There’s no internet, electric or running water on the lot and cell service is spotty, but again we have found that the simplicity is more of a blessing than anything else and we’d trade it for modern conveniences any day. It really is the perfect place to be under a stay-at-home order. I’m sure I’ll write more about our new location soon.

FB_IMG_1543377844780 Just the other day I asked my husband if he ever, in his wildest dreams, imagined us in a place like this – living a life like ours – those almost 15 years ago when we got married. He didn’t. I remember our early years together when getting our college degrees, starting careers and buying our baby nice Christmas presents held paramount importance. We were caught up in the American dream dance like so many others we know. Then God got through to us and wrecked our little world, and we’re so glad that He did. Looking back, I know now that Sal and I would never have been satisfied chasing the big dollars and the big house. Today we’d take a simple minimalist life with an unknown future that is firmly in God’s hands over any amount of security or comfort that the world has to offer.

For even more regular reflections you should check out my husband Salazar’s Facebook page, “A Father’s Missionary Journal.” He has a pretty unique way of seeing the world and journals about what it’s like to be a man, missionary, husband and father amidst the different cultures we find ourselves. There’s a link to it in the right-hand column of this blog.

As always, thank you for checking in today to read my blog and for tracking with my family. I pray that you are blessed and find your own bit of simplicity to rest in during these very unique and complicated days ahead. May God bless you.

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These goats stole the girls’ rake while they were cleaning their pen

Finding courage; Part two

This post continues where the last one left off. If you haven’t read that yet you may want to before continuing.

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Another event that occurred during these past couple of weeks required my 11-year-old daughter to fight her fears, quite literally. She decided to join a Jiu-Jitsu tournament. Not long ago she had competed in an unofficial tournament where she had gotten seriously hurt. At one point she was fighting a boy who was double her weight and the referee was allowing him to do illegal moves like slamming her and picking her up by her neck in a standing guillotine. It was my daughter’s very first competitive experience in Jiu-Jitsu and she was really shook by it. Honestly, we failed as parents as well. We should have thrown in the towel and then confronted the referee, but it was one of those unexpected moments where you’re trying to decide on the fly what the right thing to do is and we chose poorly. (You can read Sal’s reflections on this whole ordeal on the Facebook page “A Father’s Missionary Journal” by clicking on the link in the right-hand column.)

So when Sal mentioned that there was an official Jiu-Jitsu competition at the end of the week, Talai was less than enthusiastic, even though it had a strict rule-set and weight divisions. My husband gently, but persistently encouraged her to go and eventually she agreed. For the rest of the week she studied the rules and rolled with her sisters. We could all see that she was afraid, and though we repeatedly tried to reassure her, she remained very nervous right up until the tournament.

FB_IMG_15840677153665511“Do you think I’m doing the right thing having her compete?” my husband asked me. I didn’t have an answer. I knew this competition would be different, but would it help her confidence or break it further? We didn’t know. We prayed continually for her and for a good experience.

Saturday came and Talai weighed in at the Grappling Industries tournament with Sal as her coach. She was the only girl in her weight class. All of our nerves were stretched as we waited to see how Talai would do. She won her first bout by points with her opponent on the defense the entire time. During her second match, her opponent shot in super fast but Talai pulled off an impressive reversal and took him to the ground. An exciting match followed and she wound up getting the boy in rubber guard, which she had only just learned that morning. From there she threw him in a triangle choke that no one, including Sal, saw coming and even the referee was impressed. She won the fight by submission and took home the first place medal for her weight division,  kicking off her official record as undefeated.

Her performance alone that day was enough to make Sal and I extremely proud of her. Many spectators complimented her great form and several coaches approached Sal with words about how well trained she was. But they only saw part of the victory story that day. Talai had faced very legitimate fears and quite literally stepped up to fight them. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have shown that level of courage if I was in her shoes. She demonstrated incredible bravery, and for that, we couldn’t be more proud of her.

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Talai awarded first place in her weight division at a Grappling Industries Jiu-Jitsu Tournament

So, back to my initial question: how can I teach my kids to be brave? As missionaries and avid travelers, I want our girls to be able to face our vast world with confidence, poise and courage, but the necessity to be brave is no less for someone who doesn’t travel much. The world, at times, is a scary place, and I’m afraid I foresee it getting worse, not better. How can I prepare my youngsters so that they will thrive?

I don’t really know. But having watched my girls these past couple weeks and the courage they exhibited, I was filled with hope. I think perhaps the best thing I can do is not hinder their adventurous spirits or fill them with fear. I have to allow them to experience and challenge the adventures that God has painted right into His creation. Nature is full of wonders and risks and I need to let our girls discover and embrace them. I must not hold them back because of my own fears. I need to teach them to trust God and good companions, to get up and try again, even when it hurts, to take risks and not fret over possible misfortune, to take on life as it comes at them and not hide from it (or perhaps that’s what they’ve taught me). I liked how Ana put it in the movie Frozen II to “do the next right thing.” I must encourage them, tell them that I believe in them (and mean it) and remind them to focus on the goal or prize whether it be the light at the end of the tunnel, a gold medal, or a life which pleases Jesus. We must encourage all of our youth to be strong and courageous, for they were born into such a time as greatly demands it.

As always, thank you for following this blog and my family. I pray that you and yours will be blessed.

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Our girls posing in the cage at Warrior Combat Academy, an awesome MMA gym we used to train at and the team Talai represented in the Grappling Industries Jiu-Jitsu Tournament

Modern nomads

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

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Our modern Gypsy wagon

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

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

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Sal back in 2009 getting back to work after upsetting the black wasp

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting close to the end of downsizing

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

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

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

An official relaunch

Welcome to Love’s Training Ground!

We are a missions family who have worked in North, South and Central America and East Africa. We work largely with traumatized children and youth, although we do a lot

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A young boy at Ofua Refugee camp in northern Uganda. He is one of many that our team worked with.

with adults also. We’re relationship based and believe in working with and alongside the locals to help them raise up strong communities with native leadership committed to integrity.

This blog will follow us in our day-to-day existence: the good, the bad, the trials and the triumphs. We hope it will be a source of inspiration, encouragement, entertainment and humor. You can read more about me (Heather) and my family by clicking the “Who am I?” tab.

For those who follow this blog, you’ll notice that it is no longer “Borderlands International.” They are the nonprofit organization we direct and partner with, but trying to combine the organization’s updates with our personal blog simply wasn’t a good idea. In an effort to communicate our lives in a transparent and authentic way while maintaining the professionalism that the organization demands, we’ve opted to divide the two into different web pages. Hence, you are now on Love’s Training Ground, our personal family blog. If you are looking for, or interested in Borderlands International, please go to borderlandsinternational.org.

So, where are we right now? Last year we left Uganda, Africa and returned Stateside. We’ve been in northern Michigan catching up with extended family and getting our feet back under us. Our plan is to move to Charlotte, North Carolina at the end of the month

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The girls on their way back Stateside. Despite the long travel time – our return trip was only 30 hours which isn’t bad – they love to fly.

where we’ll prepare for our return to Africa. From renewing passports and acquiring the proper visas to building an emergency evacuation fund and getting cyber security training, there is quite a bit to do prior to getting back to Africa and the process will take months. However, the first step forward requires that we move to Charlotte. With the help of friends and family we have acquired an RV and an SUV and we’ll be RVing for the remainder of our stay in the US.

Our goal is to return long-term to Ethiopia. We loved the work we were doing in northern Uganda, but we were faced with two awesome “problems.” For one, new missionaries and missions families are arriving weekly. We prayed for God to send the workers, and He’s done just that. For another, many of the South Sudanese we worked with in the refugee camps are returning to their homes in South Sudan, which is also an answer to prayer. On top of this we feel like the Lord is leading us further north to Ethiopia.

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Talai in a gift shop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She and Sal did a scouting trip there last February

When I’m running low on new content to post, I might reminisce and share some stories from our past adventures. We’ve been very busy the past few years and I’ve neglected this blog. Hopefully I can take advantage of the slower pace of being Stateside and “catch up” a bit. Again, I hope this blog inspires, encourages, entertains, challenges and makes you laugh. My goal is to maintain a sort of “missionary life unplugged” attitude built on an honest, authentic and holistic representation of our life and work. Our previous posts representing both us and Borderlands International will remain on the blog, but from here on our we are relaunching as Love’s Training Ground.

Thank you for dropping by today. Please keep us in your prayers.

God bless.

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Taken from one of the final walks the girls and I took with the kids from the missions base we lived on. Walking and playing with the base kids was one of our favorite things to do.

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

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.

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