For the sake of punctual updates, I find myself obliged to temporarily forgo my typical perfectionism when it comes to the copy-editing and formatting of my blog posts (which is extremely difficult for this ex journalist). So, please be patient with me and don’t judge too harshly.
Our family is moving to Ukraine. Let me start with saying that we are very happy, excited and blessed to be a part of this assignment. Yes, we have our own concerns; yes, it is a change of plans; yes, we have thought it through; yes, there are a myriad of challenges. However, we feel that God has given us a clear “Go” and already the pieces are coming together. And of course, we love the feeling that we’re actively doing something in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. We had desired to go to there when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula to offer aid, but in the end decided that it was not the Lord’s intent for us and so we’re excited for a chance to help the Ukrainian people this time.
I really hope that I have time to return and share the story of how we came to this decision, because it is a great story, but for the moment people are requesting information from me. So, with time pressing in on all sides, I will start with answers. Please understand that the situation on the ground in Ukraine and the entire region is very fluid, which means that everything is subject to change and specific details are continually developing. I’ll keep you guys posted.
Also, this is primarily a blog for the telling of our story as it relates to eternity and the world around us. If you want something more detail or business oriented, please sign up for our online newsletter by contacting me through the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page.
So, without further adieu…
Where are you going?
To the Ukraine, specifically within the country.
Why? And why inside of the country?
We are internationally certified counselors by trade with a specialization in trauma care. For almost 15 years we’ve received experience, training, resources and networking related to working with refugees, victims of war, sex-trafficked victims, street children and orphans. All of these things are converging in Ukraine at this very moment. We’ve lived in conflict areas, near war-torn borders and where the Gospel is being actively suppressed. We have the unique experience, training and resources to be a valuable asset as part of a Christian humanitarian response team in Ukraine. Our team is made up of some of the most amazing and elite individuals in the world and I can assure you, we couldn’t be in better hands.
While the world is focused on the refugee crisis at Ukraine’s borders, many are forgetting that, as of now, only two million of Ukraine’s 44 million population have fled the country. That means that there are many within the country that still need our attention and help. It is a needed and noble role to serve at the border, but we’ve been wired and called by God to go to those places where others are unable or unwilling. This is what we’re made for.
What will you be doing?
There are a plethora of opportunities and I’m certain unknowns will arise after we arrive. However, as it stands right now, we are looking at focusing on these areas:
Helping to transport individuals and families to relative safety, whether that is across the border or to a more stable Ukrainian city.
Helping to meet basic physical needs (food, water, clothing, blankets, medical supplies, shelter, etc.) and provide additional humanitarian aid.
Educating vulnerable women and youth about ways to protect themselves from becoming victims of sex trafficking.
Working with orphanages close to red zones that need help to relocate or are unable to do so.
These are the current areas we’re focused on. Our team is working over-time to make sense of all the red-tape issues (laws, logistics, etc.) and we’ll supply details as they become available.
Have you thought about safety issues?
Yes. We have trained for years to do this exact kind of thing. We are staying up-to-date with regular updates from the ground and we plan on avoiding areas with heavy fighting (hot zones). Most people hear “conflict area” and conjure up images of tanks and bombs. This idea is inaccurate, however, and our plan is to primarily serve people in relatively safe areas.
Besides, our motto remains unchanged: “The safest place to be is at the center of God’s will.”
How can I help or get involved?
At the moment there are three primary ways to help:
Prayers- keep us in your prayers and write us through the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page to receive our specific prayer requests.
Financial partnerships- Our flights there are covered, but we seriously lack monthly funds and we simply don’t have the time to fundraise traditionally. We live on a very restrictive budget so that as many funds as possible can be directed towards ministry and humanitarian aid. We are also accountable to our financial processor and our sending organization. You can make a tax-deductible donation through our partnered organization, Borderlands International, by clicking HERE.
Networking- You can never have too many connections. Know someone in Ukraine or nearby? Know someone working in the area? Know someone who might be interested in this kind of thing? Put us in contact. It never ceases to amaze me how God knits us together.
When do you leave?
We are scheduled to be abroad by the end of the month.
As always, thank you for keeping pace with our crazy life and for reading our blog. God bless!
We are currently parked just outside of town in a little wooded oasis on a pond that most people don’t even know exists and I have been repeatedly asked, “How on earth did you find this place?” Well, the answer, as so often is the case, is: by luck and providence. When Covid-19 was first coming to the attention of the American people, we were distracted as we prepared to move. Our time on the farm was coming to a close and it was time to find a new place to park the camper and call home. Even though we are currently an RVing family, we rarely spend time inside the camper, preferring rather to do everything from eating to schooling and even sleeping outside when possible. This fact, in addition to being a five-person-three-dog-family means that the traditional RV park which packs you in like sardines is not a very viable option for us. We’ll take privacy and room to breath and play over conveniences like running water and sewage hook-ups any day, but it does make finding a place to park our camper a little more difficult.
We had been searching for days on sites like RV Village and contacting people on Craigslist trying to find some kind of wooded lot that we could rent on a monthly basis but we weren’t having any luck finding one that was within an hour of Charlotte (not to mention that everything was booked because of Nascar which hadn’t yet been affected by Covid). Finally we stumbled across an awesome app called HipCamp where we located a rustic campsite well off the beaten trail and yet close enough to town to continue our work in Charlotte. We contacted the owner who promptly agreed to let us reserve it on a monthly basis and we settled in.
I am always so impressed with my girls who remain so flexible. Children, in general, like structure and routine, and whereas we strive to maintain as much of that as possible, there is admittedly a lot of unavoidable change associated with our lifestyle. School runs on a general schedule but the details may need to change a little depending on new sets of chores related to our current environment. Things are added and removed from their daily routines rather fluidly. For example, picking berries has taken the place of gathering eggs as part of their morning routines and their nighttime routines now include checking each other for ticks.
This is not a phenomena in their lives that is exclusive to our time spent RVing in the US, but rather just a part of the international missionary lifestyle. The girls navigate differences in American subcultures quite similarly to how they navigate the varying world cultures that we encounter as we travel. In the live movie Dora, she makes a comment about studying the indigenous culture of America where she is being sent to go to school. We all chuckled when Dora related American high school kids to indigenous rainforest tribes, but really, her mental framework wasn’t that different than our own girls’. Our family has begun to see any culture or subculture that we interact with, regardless of how similar or foreign they are to our own, as the indigenous culture of a region to be observed, learned from and hopefully assimilated to. Still, from environmental to cultural to climate to economic changes, our family really works together to remain flexible and make necessary adjustments which enable us to thrive in often changing circumstances. Every time the girls rise to the occasion with smiles and a positive focus on new adventures instead of what they will have to give up, my pride in them skyrockets. (Did I mention that we even have an Aspy in our family? Some of you will recognize how significant that is).
So, transitioning into another question many people are asking me, “What is life like out in the middle of the woods with no running water or electricity?” Truthfully, we seem to do things differently than most folks, so don’t take my answer as a generalization, but I can tell you about our life in the middle of the woods without running water or electricity.
Firstly, when it comes to the practical side of living, things aren’t that different from life in Uganda. We have a small solar kit which powers our phones and tablets as well as a few other small luxuries like fans, lights and my daughter’s new Furby which she purchased with her own hard-earned money. We’ve built a composting toilet and we filter our water from local water sources (a.k.a. the pond) with the same filter we used in Africa. The girls school up to the picnic table or with clipboards in their hammocks. I cook outside with a double-burner campstove and we gather around the picnic table to share dinner. On a hot day we go for a swim in the pond. On a side note, it’s important to know that I consider it a pond; others may go so far as to call it a lake. However, I am originally from Michigan, home of the Great Lakes and where, if it’s muddy it’s considered a pond and if it’s under an acre in size it’s a puddle. That said, our pond is filled with bass and turtles and well over our heads out towards the middle.
A typical day starts between four and five in the morning for Sal and I. It is still dark outside but we light a citronella torch to ward off mosquitoes and make some light. We sit on the porch of the rustic cabin on the property and brew some coffee in a neat little drip apparatus which we inherited from Sal’s grandma and which dates back to 1906. We do our Bible reading and devotional time first thing and then spend the rest of the quiet hours of the predawn together in prayer and conversation (over coffee of course). The girls are up with the sun by six and started on their morning routines which include picking wild blackberries which I’ll add to their breakfast oatmeal. After AM routines are completed we move into family devotional time where we study the Bible and other Christian writings. Currently we are all reading Love Dare and have adapted it to apply not only to marriage, but to family relationships as well.
Our school probably looks similar to any other homeschooling family with the exception of our environment. We take a break following lunch for quiet rest time where everyone gets to nap, read or journal. Following rest time is family chore time. Our chores involve things like gathering firewood, straightening up the cabin, washing dishes, gathering water to filter, burning the burnable trash and training the dogs (who are learning nifty tricks and how to be therapy animals). We all work together so it doesn’t take very long.
After chores comes everyone’s favorite time of day: freetime. We might all go for a swim or splash in the creek or fish. The girls like to explore the creek and catch crayfish and water dogs. They might pick berries, play their instruments, go for a hike, play chess or just hang their hammock up high in the trees and spend the afternoon engulfed in a good book.
Earlier this spring the girls rescued a baby squirrel that was knocked out of its nest during one of the large storms and couldn’t climb back up the tree to its home. We also set up an off-grid incubator which we kept successfully at an ideal temperature and humidity for an egg which was abandoned by the mother bird after a snake attacked the nest and ate all the others. Unfortunately, even our best efforts were unsuccessful in hatching the bird egg.
We’ve watched many a storm from the porch of our cabin. There have been three tornado warnings where my phone’s warning system has alerted us to take cover. During two of those we went for walks (for one of those walks we responsibly waited until the hail passed before leaving overhead shelter). We observed crazy green skies, fascinating cloud formations (which sparked a spontaneous lesson on weather patterns and clouds) and the results of a flooding creek. During one of these walks Talai rescued the smallest of our dogs, Bjorn Bluetooth, who didn’t realize that the current of the stream became significantly stronger when the stream became a bonafide river and was swept downstream about 20 feet.
In short, we’ve spent our days of quarantine in a situation that we consider just about as good as it gets. Sure, this kind of life comes with its own challenges: our feet and ankles have plenty of itchy ant and mosquito bites, we can be slow to communicate electronically, especially if we’ve had little-to-no solar and our phones are dead, we have to plan ahead a little more to do simple things, but overall that is a very small price to pay for the freedom, simplicity, joy and rest we’ve enjoyed over the past several weeks.
We get to enjoy this place until mid July. At that time, we’ll be packing up and hitting the road as we launch the next big phase towards returning to Africa. During this time of rest we’ve also had lots of time to pray and dream and we have solidified our plans for moving forward. Over the next few weeks I’ll reveal those plans, as well as our travel itinerary so that we can connect if you are interested in partnering with us in our work (you can always contact me privately about this as well). Check back soon for details!
As always, thank you so much for your interest in our lives and work. We so appreciate your thoughts, prayers and support. In fact, words elude me which could express just how deep our gratitude is. We pray that you would be safe and blessed during these uncertain times.
Out late for some stargazing
Hail which fell during one of the tornado warnings
Our creek grows rapidly during rainfall
Mila and Hadassah engulfed in an intense game of chess
Hadassah with her dog Bjorn
Mila with her dog Ermie
We found this nest under the hood of a tractor
Talai and Dietrich heading out to fish
Mila watching a thunderstorm from the cabin porch
Several years ago the girls discovered that you could break open glow sticks when they accidentally bit a hole in one during a roadtrip and splattered it all over the car. Ever since then, they create glow art whenever they can get their hands on glowsticks.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Christians are supposed to love each other. The Bible says a lot about that and Jesus Himself not only commanded us to but also set an incredible example. The well-known verse about knowing we are Christians by our love is actually referring to the love between Christian brothers and sisters. When we look at the reality of pettiness and bickering within the church body, it’s easy to get discouraged. I’m also keenly aware of how this particular hypocrisy has discouraged nonbelievers from exploring Christianity , and for that my heart is deeply grieved.
Because of who we are and what we do, we regularly interact with Christians of differing backgrounds, cultures, denominations and perspectives. And whereas we’ve encountered some cringeworthy and even downright mean folks who identify as Christians (just trying to be real), we’ve also overwhelmingly interacted with Christians who have been kind, generous and hospitable. I sometimes feel that, in the Western world of affluence, many Christians desire to show generosity and brotherly love, but just don’t know how. Like all missionaries, we could always use some phileo love. I’m
happy to say that during our trip from Michigan to North Carolina we were continually reminded and encouraged that the brethren is still out there with a desire to love one another and stand united in heart.
Prior to leaving in Michigan, our home church generously offered to let us park our camper and even live out of it behind their building. They said we could use their electric and water and asked for absolutely nothing in return. We hadn’t asked for it, they proactively offered.
With three kids and three dogs we try to stop and play/hike regularly to avoid too much pent up energy while traveling. On this trip, however, we faced the challenge of what to do with our camper when we wanted to stop. Churches helped us to solve this predicament. We looked one up on Google and they let us park our camper in their parking lot over the weekend while we visited my sister in Lansing. After that we decided to stop outside of Columbus, Ohio to do some hiking. We called a local church and explained who we were and what we were doing. Without hesitation the gal at the front desk said, “Sure! Just drop your camper in our parking lot. We’d love to do anything we can for you so let us know if there’s anything else you need.” As soon as we pulled in she came over to meet us and chat for a while. She told us that we could stay as long as we needed and invited us to a church gathering the following day if we were still around.
After we dropped the camper in the church parking lot, we set off to find a waterfall. Unfortunately I misread the map and, after getting on the trail, we realized that the waterfall was only .15 of a mile from the trailhead. It took us less than five minutes to get to it. The funny thing was that the waterfall itself was beautiful, but it was somehow less rewarding and gratifying because we didn’t have to work for it. What do you suppose that reveals about human nature? Anyway, since we unexpectedly had the rest of our evening free, we returned to the Expedition, kicked back the seats, covered the windows and had a family movie night. We watched The Aeronauts and even though it was so loosely based on historical events that it bordered historical fiction, we loved it.
While I’m off-topic and bird-walking about our trip, allow me to share another event. Somewhere in the Appalachians while looking for a good hike, I navigated us down a pretty rugged backroad. The turns were so sharp that I believe one side of our camper tires came off the ground and the hills were so steep that our brakes froze up as the weight of the camper pushed us the rest of the way to the bottom. Luckily there was a driveway at the bottom of the hill where we pulled in and Sal fixed the brakes and then masterfully drove us back to the highway. When he started giving me a hard time about almost tipping all of our worldly possessions over a cliff, I reminded him of the numerous times he has made decisions that have taken us within inches of our lives. We agreed that I was occasionally entitled to make a lack-of-judgment call and since it lead to an unexpected adventure we’d probably be laughing about it soon. After all, what is the worth of an adventure if it doesn’t test your courage and demand that you rise to the occasion?
Now, leaving you with that thought, I return to the main theme of this post…
The following morning we checked the weather channel as we headed out and discovered that the south was expecting heavy rains and flooding. We decided that our original plan to spend the night in the Jefferson National Forest was probably not a good idea. However, we didn’t want to end our trip just yet so we headed over to Asheville, North Carolina.
Having gone several days without showering we decided to spring for a hotel. No sooner had we pulled in in front of our room when a young man who was quite obviously drugged up met us at our truck door with a big old smile. He wanted to chat my husband’s ear off and play with our dogs, both of which he did while I unpacked for the night and got our room set up. I’m not sure why, but everywhere we go Sal attracts drug addicts. Seriously, they flock to him. At a rally in Uganda led by a good South Sudanese friend of ours, Anthony, one man
in particular decided to give his life to Jesus. Of all the folks he could have approached, he ran over to Sal and poured out his life story of how drugs had made a mess of everything. He then proceeded to empty his pockets into my husband’s cupped hands, overflowing them with all sorts of contraband. Sal prayed for and celebrated with him and then he ran off leaving my husband with two hands filled with drugs at a large and heavily policed rally. Luckily Sal found an appropriate way to dispose of them before he bumped into a Ugandan police officer.
My husband is a good man and treats everyone with dignity and respect regardless of what state they are currently in. He’s also a tireless evangelist and won’t leave a situation like that until he’s let them know that, no matter what they are facing, Jesus loves them still. And even on nights when I am tired and just want my husband to send them away and come snuggle up with me on the couch, I am still so deeply proud of him for it.
Anyway, we did settle in for the night and slept blissfully on our queen size beds. In the morning we were just on our way out when Sal started up a conversation with a fellow random guest at the hotel. The man turned out to be a pastor and invited us to stay on his property with our camper if we ever swing through Tennessee. After that we visited the YWAM (Youth With a Mission) base in downtown Asheville. Even though they weren’t expecting us and were in the middle of several things, they welcomed us in and we had great conversation together. All in all we had a delightful visit. We ended our time in Asheville with a muddy but enjoyable hike where the girls caught a salamander and a crayfish.
We finally pulled into our new home just south of Charlotte after dark. Both our dear friend (who we met through our work in evangelism) and the son of the owner of the farm we are staying on came out to help us get the camper hooked up and situated. Our friends had a warm dinner waiting which we thoroughly enjoyed before returning to the camper and sleeping like the dead.
From start to finish, point A to point B, we were welcomed and aided by fellow Christians. Some were from our home church, some were fellow YWAMers, some were friends, but others were complete strangers. Only our dedication to Christ united us, but that was enough, as it should be. Anyone involved in church leadership or who has had to deal with church/organization politics will tell you that, sadly, petty arguments are causing far too much havoc on the church body of believers. However, this trip has again reminded us that there are plenty of Christians out there who are still following Jesus’ example and mandate to love our brothers and sisters in the faith and take care of one another.
And so, we have arrived; a little tired but excited and filled with hope and anticipation for the future.
As always, thank you for reading my blog and tracking with us in this journey, and may God bless you and yours.
Hello again! My goal with this relaunch is to post weekly updates. Thank you for your patience as I get this whole blogging thing figured out and start building momentum.
So, without further adieu, let’s jump in. We are a nomadic family. It is a challenging but awesome lifestyle to live. We have learned to understand and sympathize with different cultures, worldviews and perspectives, not through textbooks, but by a real working experiential kind of knowledge. My girls are multi-lingual and have received lessons on things like honor, courage, faith, humility, integrity, generosity and responsibility from varied cultures with completely different ideas than their own. They pride themselves on being “TCKs” (third culture kids).
Once, in a tribal community in southern Mexico, my husband, Sal, was trimming trees for a missions base. As a particular branch hit the ground, an angry buzz suddenly filled the air. There had been a wasps’ paper nest hiding in the foliage of that branch and a cloud of perturbed black wasps emerged in search of the perpetrator. Sal leapt from the ten foot wall he’d been sitting atop and ran inside, slamming the door behind him and luckily sustaining only a handful of stings.
Our neighbor Jorge, a member of the Zapoteco tribe, came over to investigate after hearing the commotion. Once the wasps had cleared the area, he showed us how to break the nest into pieces and set it in the sun to harvest honey from it. Our whole family got to work extracting and collecting some of the most delicious honey I have ever tasted. (Meanwhile, back in the US, an Entomologist from MSU assured us that there was no such thing as a honey-producing wasp.) When we took a cup of it next door and offered it to Jorge, his face split in an ear-to ear grin and he put up his hands and shook his head. “You have fought and prevailed against the black wasp. This was your battle; now, you alone must eat from
the fruit of your victory,” he said. It was a lesson in perseverance and taking pride in your accomplishments from a Mesoamerican indigenous man from a tribe with a long history of warrior culture.
Being nomadic really is a spectacular way of life, but right now is moving time which is one of the most difficult aspects of it, especially with children. For the past couple of weeks the girls, who are homeschooled, primarily self-taught and watched learning videos as my attention was consumed by sorting and packing. Keeping a consistent schedule in their schooling is always a challenge before, during and right after a move. During this time Sal has pretty much lived under our Ford Expedition, which we bought at a Detroit Auto Auction. He is preparing it for the long journey hauling our 24-foot camper.
Maybe it’s because we’re getting older or maybe life’s experiences have matured us, but Sal and I decided to finally clear all of our childhood belongings from our moms’ homes before leaving again. It never ceases to surprise me how deeply rooted the materialism from my culture and childhood are. Somehow we can spend years living out of a couple of suitcases without so much as a thought for those things packed away in a basement back in the US, but then I go to throw them out and it is so difficult. From hand-made cards from my girls back when they were little to handkerchiefs from my great-grandma, I wrestled with the sentiment they held. But in the end I managed to clear out our belongings so that everything our five-person family own fits nicely in our camper and one small closet at mom’s. It was grueling, but there is
something truly exhilarating about getting rid of stuff. It’s like cutting the ropes to the sandbag weights of a hot air balloon so that you can soar higher (and yes, I know that’s not really how they work anymore, but you know that’s the image our brains conjure up). The downsizing has left me with a lingering sense of liberation.
So, here we are stepping into the next chapter of this grand adventure. Sal and I are tired and the girls are rather snappy with each other having spent too many hours unsupervised in each other’s company over the past couple of weeks. But then, some of the best adventures begin when we are at our weakest. Our ultimate goal is to return to Africa, specifically Ethiopia, but what lies between here and there is a bit of a mystery. All we really know is that the next step to get there involves getting to Charlotte, North Carolina. And so, having hugged and waved goodbye to our mothers, brothers, sisters and my grandma in northern Michigan, we set out south.
We are a missions family who have worked in North, South and Central America and East Africa. We work largely with traumatized children and youth, although we do a lot
with adults also. We’re relationship based and believe in working with and alongside the locals to help them raise up strong communities with native leadership committed to integrity.
This blog will follow us in our day-to-day existence: the good, the bad, the trials and the triumphs. We hope it will be a source of inspiration, encouragement, entertainment and humor. You can read more about me (Heather) and my family by clicking the “Who am I?” tab.
For those who follow this blog, you’ll notice that it is no longer “Borderlands International.” They are the nonprofit organization we direct and partner with, but trying to combine the organization’s updates with our personal blog simply wasn’t a good idea. In an effort to communicate our lives in a transparent and authentic way while maintaining the professionalism that the organization demands, we’ve opted to divide the two into different web pages. Hence, you are now on Love’s Training Ground, our personal family blog. If you are looking for, or interested in Borderlands International, please go to borderlandsinternational.org.
So, where are we right now? Last year we left Uganda, Africa and returned Stateside. We’ve been in northern Michigan catching up with extended family and getting our feet back under us. Our plan is to move to Charlotte, North Carolina at the end of the month
where we’ll prepare for our return to Africa. From renewing passports and acquiring the proper visas to building an emergency evacuation fund and getting cyber security training, there is quite a bit to do prior to getting back to Africa and the process will take months. However, the first step forward requires that we move to Charlotte. With the help of friends and family we have acquired an RV and an SUV and we’ll be RVing for the remainder of our stay in the US.
Our goal is to return long-term to Ethiopia. We loved the work we were doing in northern Uganda, but we were faced with two awesome “problems.” For one, new missionaries and missions families are arriving weekly. We prayed for God to send the workers, and He’s done just that. For another, many of the South Sudanese we worked with in the refugee camps are returning to their homes in South Sudan, which is also an answer to prayer. On top of this we feel like the Lord is leading us further north to Ethiopia.
When I’m running low on new content to post, I might reminisce and share some stories from our past adventures. We’ve been very busy the past few years and I’ve neglected this blog. Hopefully I can take advantage of the slower pace of being Stateside and “catch up” a bit. Again, I hope this blog inspires, encourages, entertains, challenges and makes you laugh. My goal is to maintain a sort of “missionary life unplugged” attitude built on an honest, authentic and holistic representation of our life and work. Our previous posts representing both us and Borderlands International will remain on the blog, but from here on our we are relaunching as Love’s Training Ground.
Thank you for dropping by today. Please keep us in your prayers.
We are living in Uganda, Africa and loving it! Please allow me to begin this first update from within Uganda with a huge thank you to everyone who has been praying for and supporting us. The transition has had it’s challenges, (ie: jet lag, sickness, general adjustments) but we are doing very well, making friends, connecting with locals, getting along well with other YWAM staff and settling in. Much has happened over the nearly two months since we’ve been in Uganda so I will give an overview of our time with this update and use later posts to zoom in to our everyday lives.
Our flight here was blessedly uneventful and, although long, went more-or-less as
planned which is the best one hopes for. We arrived in Entebbe Airport, Uganda just shy of 11pm and were picked up in our new (used) Land Rover by a driver named Frank who had come highly recommended by fellow missionaries. I must admit, there is something about driving around in your own Land Rover in the middle of Africa that makes you feel pretty cool and adventurous. Anyway, we spent the night in a hostel and headed for Arua, our new home, the next day.
Considering that we had purchased the vehicle sight unseen, we were a little nervous that our first drive with it would be clear across the country through national forests and down rural dirt “highways.” We were both relieved and delighted to find that it ran
solidly. That said, we got a late start and when dusk came we still had over 100 miles left to travel. We stopped at a guest house with the intention of spending the night but they tried to take advantage of us so we left. When the manager warned us that there were no other guest houses open at that hour for the rest of our journey we assumed he was bluffing. Well, turns out he wasn’t. So, less than 24 hours in Africa and we were already going against sound advice and driving at night. In an attempt to reach our destination quickly, Sal took the pot-hole-filled dirt road a bit too fast and we blew a tire, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully we were also covered in prayer and likely surrounded by angels because when we coasted to a stop, we emerged just past a bunch of tall grass and found ourselves stopped in front of a police checkpoint virtually invisible from behind the foliage. I guarantee that a car full of Muzungus (white people) was probably the last thing the police expected to see when they shone their flashlights into our vehicle. The police were great though. They laughed and chatted with Sal as they helped him get our tire swapped out with the spare. They never asked for money and one even gave Sal his personal phone number to call if we ran into any trouble along the way.
At the YWAM base we were given a very warm and open reception indeed. The
girls were making friends literally from day one. Many people came by to welcome us but they also gave us much needed space to rest, adjust and reset our biological clocks. I was surprised at how powerful a force jet lag was. For the first few weeks I walked around all day like a belligerent zombie. Then, as I lie in bed at night, I would get this burst of energy and clarity. One night Sal and I were awakened around 3 am to the sound scuttling feet in the living room. My poor husband, who sufferers from hyper-vigilance, jumped out of bed, immediately on high alert.
“The dogs aren’t barking Honey,” I mumbled. “It’s probably just cockroaches or maybe a rat. Why don’t you just come back to bed?”
Unconvinced, Sal stalked silently to the bedroom door and flung it open. Two shadows in the moonlight disappeared behind chairs.
“Come out now and show yourself,” Sal commanded.
After a couple seconds of muffled giggling, Talai and Hadassah stepped out from behind the chairs.
“What are you ladies doing?” Sal asked. “It’s three in the morning.”
“Shhh!” Hadassah exclaimed.
“We’re spies,” Talai said to her somewhat bewildered father.
Needless to say the girls had a bit of trouble adjusting to the 9-hour time difference as well.
After about six weeks we were all feeling settled in. During this time we explored the various existing ministries that the base is involved in and spent much time in prayer as we seek to figure out just where we fit in here at YWAM Arua. We are also learning Lugbara (local dialect), Ugandan Sign Language and Juba (S. Sudanese Arabic) with Cacua (S. Sudanese tribal dialect), Luganda (another dialect) and Swahili on queue.
One day I went to the local prison with Nelson, the prison ministry leader. Normally Sal visits the prison and thanks to him I knew that they would be expecting me to share “the word of God” with them. I envisioned a group of lady prisoners around a table for Bible study as I prayed and prepared something to say. Then Nelson informed me that we’d be going to the men’s prison. Well, I thought, I’m not sure how I’m going to relate to a bunch of male African prisoners, but if that’s what it’s got to be… I prayed and prepared something to share, still envisioning a Bible study gathered around a table in a quiet room. Nelson and I went just the two of us one Wednesday morning to the prison. When we arrived, the guards were rude and condescending which was a little intimidating right off the bat. After making us wait outside for some time, they summoned us inside. On the other side of the gate, a couple of the prisoners were swatting at a wasp hive on the entrance gate trying to remove it and then running as the wasps dive-bombed them. The guard kicked open the gate, staying as far from the wasps as possible, and then told us mockingly, “Go on. Your God will protect you.” We passed through the gate into the prison yard with the guards’ laughter trailing behind.
Hundreds of eyes looked up from their work and games in the prison yard to stare at me, surely wondering what this sole Muzungu woman was doing. Thankfully they were all smiling pleasantly. Then came my next surprise: they were holding church service in the open air of the prison yard and I was preaching. It was not the quiet Bible study I had envisioned at all! Around 50 or so men came and sat on benches for church while more listened in a little ways off. Did I mention that my “audience” consisted of Christians, Muslims, Animists and Atheists? No pressure right? God, however, is so good. He used this small white American girl with stage fright and took over to share a message of hope and encouragement. Seriously, it was as if I didn’t do anything but open my mouth and God did the rest. The men were great. There was a lot of hooting and hollering and music making. They were kind, polite, appreciative and such a huge blessing to me. I felt genuinely welcomed.
Our church service ran late and Sal waited outside the prison for about a half hour to
pick Nelson and I up. Growing suspicious the prison guards approached Sal and questioned him. They were very surprised to hear that he was waiting for his wife to come out from Bible study inside the prison and that he had allowed her to enter the prison at all without his accompaniment. They returned to their posts shaking their heads and muttering, “Crazy Muzungus” Whereas I can’t expect them to understand what motivates us, the whole ordeal reminded me of what an awesome and supportive husband I have. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in following the wind of the Spirit that I forget how much faith it takes Sal to entrust me into God’s hands and give me the freedom to freely serve God. I know that is not the case in every marriage and am so thankful his unceasing support.
Although I’ve only gone once since arriving in Arua, I’ve committed to going out to Rhino Refugee Settlement with the children’s ministry. We do a sort of “Sunday School” program with the kids which is hosted by a local church in the camp and visit a
children’s home for orphans that was relocated to the camp after the war broke out in South Sudan. The children are wonderful. Of course it is difficult to see the abject poverty. Children show up filthy and half-dressed to hear a Bible story and you keep asking yourself, “What else can I do?” When asked who spent the night with parents or relatives a significant minority raise their hands. My heart shudders to think about what happens with the vulnerable young orphans with nowhere to go as night falls. They’ve been termed “unaccompanied minors” by authorities, those children who emerge from the Bush and cross into Uganda without any adult accompanying them. They are so numerous and only one complication of many involved with the refugee crisis and no one has yet come up with a workable solution. This entry is getting long however, so I’ll share my experience in the refugee camp with the children in a later post.
We do, however, have one more announcement to make before concluding this article. Often while walking about Sal and I would peek our heads through the broken glass window of a poor little derelict library nearby. We spoke about what a shame it was to have a library closed and neglected, especially in a community where children play in the streets during school hours because they can’t afford the fees. “What if they had a library to go to?” we said. As many of you know, Sal and I are great lovers of books and finally the injustice was simply too much for us to bear. Sal started inquiring about what it would take to fix-up and reopen the library. And, this week we found ourselves officially with the master set of keys and blessings to resurrect the library! Although our whole family will be involved, Sal is the driving force. The potential and opportunities of running a community library are endless. We’ve high hopes to use it as a launching pad for teaching children things like reading, writing, responsibility and, of course, Bible stories and morality; training young adults in Apologetics and worldview; starting reading clubs, game nights; running kids programs and much more. The opportunity for sharing the Gospel in both word and action are limitless. Please keep this effort in your prayers as we are just getting started.
After much prayer and seeking we feel like we are starting to get some clear direction from God. We are very excited about what the months ahead have in store.
One quick note on pictures: Because we are not allowed to take pictures at the prison, there will be no ministry pictures from Sal there. Also, we’re more focused on building relationships right now than taking pictures, but we will try to get some good photos as well. Thank you for your patience.
Here are some things you can pray for on our behalf:
Physical Health- friends are surprised we haven’t contracted malaria yet. That and many other sicknesses are very prevalent.
Favor – We’re still in the middle of establishing many relationships from fellow missionaries to leaders to local authorities to kids in the refugee camps.
Spiritual Protection – The atmosphere of spiritual warfare is almost palpable and a very real battle is going on. For example, every morning during our quiet prayer time we can hear the Muslim call to prayer from the Mosque down the road. Islam, Christianity, Animism and Secularism are all at a crossroads where we are and competing for disciples.
An ability to breach walls – Whether it is a differing worldview or the color of our skin, please pray that we can be effective at tearing down walls that divide us from the African people whom we seek to serve and bless.
Provision – Please pray that the Lord continues to “Give us this day our daily bread” and provide for all He has called us to do. We are still shy of our goal for monthly financial support.
Direction – We will have to move in the months to come as our home on the base is only a temporary arrangement. We are also seeking to follow God’s direction as we serve YWAM and northern Uganda.
If you wish to make a tax-deductible donation towards our work and ministry or are interested in financially supporting us on a monthly basis, please click on the “Donate” tab at the top of this page.
We thank you immensely for your involvement in our lives and, as always, pray that God bountifully blesses you and yours.
So much has happened over the past couple months as we prepare to move to Uganda that I thought it appropriate to post a more traditional point-by-point update. So, without further adue…
To begin, we are delighted to announce that Borderlands International is officially a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization! This allows us to receive tax-deductible donations directly and register as a nonprofit in Uganda which offers many resources and opportunities related to the work we’ll be doing there.
Salazar returned from Arua, Uganda safe and sound. The girls are beside themselves with joy and relief to have him back. We are a close-knit family and his absence was very tangible. His first-account stories of hope, desperation, need and opportunity have only intensified our desire to return soon.
While Sal was in Arua we started a GoFundMe Campaign to purchase a 1995 Land Rover. We are grateful and excited beyond measure that we were successful in purchasing it. The family that sold us the vehicle was a missionary family who were returning to the US. They had fallen in love with the refugees and, as a way of giving them a final gift, they sold it to us for half its value so that we can now reach the camps with teams and supplies as well as transport ill and injured refugees to the local hospital.
Sal also got us set up with a house on the YWAM base to rent for the first 6-12 months. This grants us a stable residence with support and security until we establish a more long-term living arrangement.
We are only a few hundred dollars shy of purchasing our plane tickets. We believe that God has given us May 7th or 8th as a leaving date. As soon as we raise what we need, we will purchase the tickets. If you would like to make a donation to that effect, please click here.
We are also still collecting useful items to take with us that can be challenging to obtain in Uganda. Please see our Amazon Wishlist if you are interested in helping us obtain any of these items. From there you can purchase mentioned items and have them shipped directly to us.
God’s people have been exceedingly generous towards us during this transitional time. A few weeks back one of Talai’s fillings fell out while she was chewing gum. We took her to a Christian dentist who also squeezed in cleanings for both her and Mila and then surprised us by not charging us a penny. Others have given us food, offered us a place to stay, invited us for dinner and snuck cash into our back pockets. We have been overwhelmed by the love expressed towards us by the body of Christ.
The girls have thoroughly enjoyed some of the blessed opportunities of the First World. Mila played an angel in a skit that opened for the Preacher in the Patch at the renown Gillette Camplex. She also recently attended the homeschool Victorian Ball and danced her heart out. Talai and Hadassah danced on Easter morning with the Let it Echo dance team and they will be performing in a Christian dance recital shortly before we leave. We even got to go see a movie at the cinema, which is a very special treat indeed.
So there you have it. If all goes according to plan we will be writing you from Uganda within in a month’s time. In the meanwhile, we’ll be working on updating other areas of our website, such as the media and vision.
Thank you so much for your interest in our work and lives. May God bountifully bless you and yours.
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.
“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.
It’s been three weeks now since we left Michigan and this time of travel has been filled with blessing upon blessing. As we prepare for our move to Uganda, one of our primary purposes of this trip was to fundraise and seek out ministry partners. The Lord, however, has turned it into so much more. As we reconnect with friends and church family, God has provided us with many opportunities to minister and be ministered to and we have been humbled, encouraged, convicted, rebuilt and drawn into more intimate fellowship with Him.
During our last week in Michigan some friends of ours, a fellow homeschooling family, handed us a wad of cash and insisted that we use it to go to the Creation Museum which we would pass on route. We spent two days visiting the Museum and the Arc and it was amazing.
To get to the Arc, you have to park and take a shuttle. We told the girls that the shuttle buses were time-travel buses and that we were going back pre-flood to the time of Noah. It happened to be a day of heavy fog which created a convincing and magical effect. Mila, of course, didn’t believe us but played along. As you enter the Arc they play wind gusts and thunder through speakers which happened to match that day’s weather. When Hadassah bravely declared that she was ready to face the flood even though she knew that she wasn’t included in the eight people who would be on the Arc when it came, we decided it was time to let her know it was all just a game. After that she and Talai had fun running around and pretending to tend the animals while they “waited for the Arc to stop on dry ground.”
For those who don’t know, the Creation Museum is a museum which showcases the Creationist worldview of the earth and everything in it. The Arc is a replica of Noah’s arc built to Biblical proportions. Inside it showcases how creatures of every kind could have fit within the arc and just how that might have been managed, answering questions like: how would they have fed all those animals and what did they do with all the waste. Whereas the girls enjoyed and learned a lot at the Creation Museum, they were absolutely captivated by the Arc. The sheer size of it is very impressive and I thought it was fascinating to no end to consider the technology that may have been used to address needs like watering the animals and creating a current of fresh air.
We also ran into a YWAM team from Tyler, Texas while we were at the Arc. We spotted a van with the Tyler YWAM logo on it and so we took a picture of it and sent it via Facebook to the base, letting them know we had seen their van and were also at the Arc. They, unbeknown to us, then took a picture of Sal and I from Facebook and sent it to their team. While we were on the second floor of the Arc we noticed a young woman staring uncertainly at us. When we made eye contact she seemed to make up her mind and walked over to us. “Are you Sal and Heather?” she asked. She was part of the YWAM Tyler team and had sook us out to say hello and introduce us to leaders and other members in their team. We had a great time of fellowship and later when we were on our way to Austin, Texas, we stopped the night at the Tyler base which turned out to be an awesome YWAM base which really embodied the generous and mission-sending heart of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). We reconnected with some of the YWAMers who had been on the Arc and enjoyed an overall time of rest and delicious food. We also connected with a YWAM family whose vision is to take entire families into the mission field. Since we share the same philosophy of families in missions, we decided to keep in touch with the idea of possibly working together in the future. This is just another example of the grand family that YWAM is.
After our visit to the Creation Museum and Arc we headed to Charlotte, North Carolina where another family and friends of ours hosted us and arranged for us to share about our mission work on a college campus and in their church. With their help we made some valuable connections with others who are either already ministering in the same area of Africa or interested in extending their resources to help with the mission work we will be doing. Already we are communicating with a ministry that wants to get practical technology into the hands of students in Northern Uganda and excited about how we might work together to do that.
These particular friends who hosted us in Charlotte are some of the most generous and devoted Christians we know. Being with them was both convicting and encouraging. Our hearts were filled as we fellowshipped and discussed deep truths late into the night. They are steller apologists which means we had a lot of fun thrashing out and debating many different theological and philosophical issues. Overall it was an extremely blessed time.
Currently we are camping on a friend’s property in Austin, Texas. To understand the significance of our time here, you need to know a little of our history with this place. Back in 2007 Sal and I dedicated our lives and family to the Lord after God had miraculously saved our marriage. Shortly after, following God’s leading through prayer, we moved out to Austin, Texas to “start over.” On the Sunday after our arrival we decided to start our church shopping by attending the church which was inside a warehouse across the road from our apartment complex. It was our first experience with a fiery charismatic and passionate for Jesus group of people and we were amazed. Neither of us came from Christian families and we had no idea that such a sincere and tangible relationship with God through His Spirit even existed. We were challenged and captivated and hooked immediately. It was from here that God truly restored our marriage, gave us a vision for the future, captured our adoration and called us to the international mission field.
There is something unique about returning to where it all began that stirs our spirits. In the few days we’ve been in Austin and reconnected with our old church, Northwest Fellowship, we have already been laid bare before God as we repent of areas of compromise in our lives and press into greater obedience and fellowship with Him. God is faithfully drawing nearer to us as we draw nearer to Him.
Our friends who, from our first days in Austin, became spiritual parents to us and grandparents to our daughters invited us to share in their family Thanksgiving. It will be a huge blessing to do so. On Friday night I am accompanying the young adult prayer team that goes to Sixth Street, Austin in bright orange T-shirts to offer prayer and words of hope in a mardi gras-style environment. Sal and I were among the original group of young people who dreamed up the idea and participated in its birth. It will be a great blessing to partake in what it has matured to over the past nine years.
In about a week we will head to Gillette, Wyoming to reconnect with our home church family there. We look forward to seeing old friends and fellowshipping with them for a time before we head to Uganda.
As missionaries, a large part of the purpose of this trip was “business,” a.k.a., fund-raising and resource partnering. However, God is always working a myriad of purposes at once and He has used this trip to expose a weariness within us that we hadn’t realized was there. He is abundantly filling that place of weariness with renewed strength and intimacy with Him. It comes as no surprise that the Lord knew far better than we what our real needs were and He is fulfilling them with His own perfect methods.
We appreciate your continued prayers as we prepare for long-term mission work in Uganda and will do our best to keep a regularly updated report of our progress. We pray abundant blessings for you and your familly throughout this holiday season.
PS: There has been a slight change in our plans. Salazar, who was planning to head to Uganda in mid November, is now remaining Stateside until the first week of January. After reevaluating our timeline and speaking with the Arua base, we decided to delay his departure until after the New Year. By mid December the YWAM base in Arua will close for the Holidays. Together with the base we decided that it would be better for Sal to go when his stay wouldn’t fall on their vacation time which also freed him up to complete our US loop with me (super helpful) and cut out a second trip to Austin before we left for Uganda. Overall it made more sense to do it this way and proved a better use of resources. I will update the calendar in our earlier post promptly after publishing this article.