4th of July, Liberty & Jail?…

 

There are times in life when you feel like you’re standing on the mountaintop and all is going well. Then, there are other times when you feel like you’re walking through the deepest valleys, just struggling to take the next step. Over the past several weeks our family has experienced both…

This past month our oldest daughter Vanessa, who had just finished her 2nd year at Troy University, was here at Abaana’s Hope visiting with us. When we left for Africa, 10 months ago, we couldn’t imagine just how difficult leaving her behind would be. All parents who have sent their children off to college would agree, it’s incredibly hard being away from your kids…but when that separation puts you on the other side of the world, on an entirely different continent, and with a huge ocean between you, the difficulty increases exponentially! Since Christmas, when her ticket was booked, we have eagerly anticipated and looked forward to this visit, and it’s been especially sweet being able to spend this precious time with her.

However, visits by nature, must eventually come to an end, and on Monday, June 26th, we left and headed south so we could send her back to America. That afternoon we enjoyed a wonderful safari together, making memories we would cherish forever. Tuesday night, as we headed for the airport, our hearts were heavy, knowing soon we would have to say “see you later.” We were so grateful for the time we had been able to share together, but we were not looking forward to the long year and a half separation we were facing. Prayers were said, hugs given and several tears were shed…and off she went through the glass doors towards security.

 

And then the unexpected struck…

As she walked through the glass doors, we continued to linger, watching as she put all of her bags on the security belt, not quite ready to say goodbye. After she pulled each bag off the belt and placed it on her cart we noticed a bit of a commotion beginning. Security guards began to surround her and it became clear they were asking her to take things out of her carry-on bag. Through the glass we could see her pull an item out that, by its shape, we knew it to be one of the souvenirs we had been purchased to send back home with her. We looked at each other and wondered what was going on? As more and more people began to surround her, we rapidly realized this was quickly becoming a very bad situation.

Over the next couple of hours we discovered that the souvenir we had purchased was considered an illegal item to have according to Ugandan law. Unknowingly we had purchased this item from a reputable shop, not realizing there was anything wrong with having it.  What should have been considered a horrible misunderstanding quickly escalated to a criminal offense and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. They arrested Vanessa and charged her with possession of an illegal item.

Jamie contacted the US Embassy, but there was very little they could do. As he hung up with them we realized his phone was almost dead and mine was around 30% or so. Neither one of us had brought a phone charger of any kind, we didn’t have much money or data left on our phones and we both knew we had MANY phone calls to make in our immediate future.

The police came to us and said it was time for Vanessa to go to the police station. Jamie went to collect our vehicle so he could follow them and I asked if I could ride with Vanessa in the police car. They allowed it and I asked if they would wait for Jamie to return so he would know where to go, but they refused. As Vanessa and I drove away, squished between 2 police officers, I looked out the window at Jacob and Samantha. Jamie was off getting the van, so they were all alone, standing on the sidewalk with all of their sisters bags, with looks of fear and confusion on their faces. It was a horrible moment and one a parent never thinks they will ever have to face.

As we drove to the police station I called Jamie and gave him directions so he could come and find us. They booked Vanessa, took her passport and told us that posting bail was not possible until the next morning. There was no way around it…she would be spending the night in a Ugandan jail. I asked if I could stay with her and they decided to allow it. They also decided not to put us in a jail cell, but let us stay the night in a side room. Around 2 am the booking officer contacted a lawyer for us. As Jamie talked to him the lawyer seemed very encouraging and apologetic about the whole situation. He claimed he had helped several people in the past to clear up these misunderstandings and he was more than willing to help us as well. The booking officer also sounded very encouraging, claiming, if we retained this lawyer immediately he would probably be able to clear up the whole situation the next day and Vanessa could fly home the following night. Unfortunately, the lawyer needed his retainer fees up front and we didn’t have enough money with us. It was going to take some time to acquire the money needed to pay him. We thanked him, but had to say goodbye. Shortly after that our ministry gave us a number for a lawyer they had used for different things in the past. Jamie tried to contact him, but he was unsuccessful.

There was nothing left we could do that evening and the little ones were exhausted, so Jamie left for the hotel and Vanessa and I prepared to “sleep” the last few remaining hours of the night at the jail. The next morning Jamie was able to contact the ministries’ lawyer and tell him about our situation. His name was Isaac and he was more than willing to help. While Jamie was talking with Isaac, the lawyer the booking officer had called the night before showed up at the station. He wanted to talk with us and invited us to go with him to his “office.” This turned out to be his car in the parking lot. He explained how he had helped people in the past and how he planned to help us now. If we could just pay his fee, he could get the whole thing taken care of and she would probably be able to fly later that night. His exact words were “I can make this whole thing go away”. It was so tempting to take his offer, but something didn’t feel right, the things he was saying sounded wrong and shady and crooked. He gave us an hour to make our decision and give him an answer. We politely thanked him, told him we would pray about what he had said and then we exited his “car/office.” Jamie immediately called Isaac, the ministries’ lawyer, to tell him what had happened. While he was asking him what we should do, 2 police officers came up to me and strongly encouraged us to take the lawyer’s offer from the car. As Jamie got off the phone I told him what the police officers had said, but he told me that Isaac had confirmed what the Holy Spirit had already whispered to our hearts. He explained that what the police officers and the “car lawyer” were trying to do was called a racket, and it was designed to ambush, bribe, and extort money from helpless foreigners. Isaac agreed to take our case and help us. Vanessa was released on bond and the waiting game began.

The day she left the police station on bond was Thursday, June 29th. Over the next several days we rode a roller coaster of emotions, but eventually all the charges against Vanessa were dropped, the case was thrown out, her passport was returned to her and, exactly 1 week later from her original departure date, she boarded a plane and flew back to America.

 

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!! God is SO GOOD!!

We could end this story right here, but we would be doing a disservice and a discredit to God if we didn’t share the many ways the Lord watched over and protected us and blessed us throughout this entire situation.

All the way back to the very beginning, when God allowed us to purchase the souvenir that set in motion this difficult week…even this was a blessing. You may be wondering how? Wouldn’t the blessing have been better if the Holy Spirit had simply whispered “no” when we were deciding whether to buy this particular item as a gift or not? Wouldn’t it have been better if God had just kept us from getting it in the first place? The truth is, we don’t know exactly WHY God allowed this to happen, but we do know that He DID. Sometimes it feels like it would be so much better if God just kept the hard situations and tragedies far from us…but in order for gold to be refined, it MUST go through the fire. The same is true for God’s children. If we are to become more like Christ, we must endure hardships and trials of various kinds, so that the testing of our faith will produce perseverance and we will become strong, mature Christians (James 1:2-4). We may not know why, and we may never fully understand it, but we know His intensions are for good and not for harm. We know that this entire situation has been used to strengthen our faith and to let the light of Christ shine as we have trusted Him through it. So, how could all of this be a blessing? Ultimately, because it drew us closer to God and it allowed us the opportunity to share God’s glory with the people around us (1 Peter 2:12).

There were so many other blessings we experienced along the way too; gifts and precious treasures, graciously given by our Heavenly Father who never left our side. Things like keeping our phones going that first night when they should have died long before we were finished using them. How He guided us away from corrupt and crooked people and toward a lawyer we could trust.  How He mercifully allowed one of us to ride with Vanessa in the police car to comfort and strengthen her, while simultaneously providing a way for Jamie to get directions so he could find the station. And then later, that same night, moving the hearts of the police officers at the station so they would agree to let one of us stay the night with Vanessa at the jail so she wouldn’t be alone. Each of these things was evidence of God’s protection and sovereignty over this entire situation.

The Lord also used numerous people throughout the week to strengthen and encourage us. We were so grateful for the wonderful ladies at Lake Victoria View Guesthouse, our friends and family who prayed faithfully and constantly for us from all over the world, our teammates and friends from Abaana’s Hope, and our ministry family from Four Corners…each one of them became a tangible testimony of God’s mercy and love.  One moment stands out so vividly in our minds, of a day where the severity and weight of the situation we were facing caused us to become very discouraged and depressed…but God, in His great mercy, love and perfect timing, sent us a dear friend who prayed for us and encouraged us tremendously at a moment where we needed it most.

Some people might look at this situation and only see the wickedness and corruption that overshadows these events and miss the many blessings we encountered along the way. You may even be reading this and thinking there’s no way you would ever come to such a place…or if this had happened to you, you would pack your bags, head directly home and never look back. We could look at this situation and all that happened to our daughter and become bitter, resentful, and even hateful towards this country and all that we have come to love. But isn’t that just what the enemy wants? He desires to derail us and to cause us to stop loving the people He has called us to serve. He WANTS us to leave…and never come back! He wants people to stay away and to keep the Gospel far from those who desperately need to hear it…and he will use, and do, ANYTHING to achieve this.

The truth is there’s wickedness and corruption all over the world. No one is safe from it…whether you live in a developing country like Uganda or in the comforts of suburban America. It may not be clearly defined, it might not be staring you right in the face, but I promise you IT IS THERE. We live in a fallen world, corrupt and wicked because of the original sin committed by Adam and Eve, and until Christ returns and makes all things new, we will continue to live in a fallen, corrupt and wicked world. We are at war with sin, and no matter where you live, you have the choice to fight or flee. Each of us has a choice to live in fear or to trust and lean on the Lord. For our family, we have chosen to fight! Too much is at stake and too many souls are in desperate need of the Good News. So, we boldly link arms with our brothers and sisters in Christ and march to the front lines, knowing that no matter what comes our way, the Lord Almighty is fighting with us and for us. Nothing, and no one, can do anything apart from the permissive will of God, and anything that He allows is for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).

Vanessa and I spent a night in jail. We were released on bond, but still captive to the system and to this country. By the grace and mercy of God we were set free on the 4th of July. She flew home to America and we traveled home to Gulu. But there is a darker prison and a more permanent captivity out there for so many. Ultimately, each of us who fail to trust in Christ and His atoning work on the cross for our salvation are held in slavery and bondage to sin, under the accusation of the Evil One…with no chance for bond, parole or release. The only hope for freedom we have is through repentance and surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior (Romans 7:21-25; 8:1-2). We pray that those who are far from God today that they will repent and turn to Him, asking for forgiveness and surrendering their lives to the only One who can save their souls. (Romans 5:1-2). Christ came to set the captives free, to bind up the brokenhearted and to open the prisons for those held in chains (Isaiah 61:1). Let Him set you free and then, boldly take this truth to the front lines in the battle for mankind, sharing and demonstrating the Gospel with every fiber of your being…for good and for God’s glory!

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“Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Psalm 118:5-6

A Week Full of Love…

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Here in Northern Uganda, school is done a little bit differently than in America. Here the kids go to school for 3 terms a year; each term is 3 months long and there’s usually about 3 weeks in between the terms. During this break our Child Development Program (CDP) Staff hosts a Center Week for our CDP kids and we shift all of our focus and attention to the children enrolled in the program and dedicate the entire week to discipleship and sharing the love of Christ with each child.

During these 5 days, each precious, treasured child, is taught deeply from the Word of God. This Center Week, our theme was “A Godly Family”, and the members of our staff chose characters from the bible to teach the kids how each person within a family has a purpose and a role and how we choose to behave affects the people around us. Through these teachings we hope to shape and mold the next generation to rise up and become the fathers, mothers, wives, husbands and leaders that God desires them to be and who will bring honor and glory to the Lord and the Light of Christ to this war torn country.

In addition to these discipleship classes, throughout the week the kids played all sorts of games, they attended a medical class where they learned about basic hygiene, malaria prevention, and how to take medication correctly. They also received biblical counseling and each child was able to eat 2 full meals, breakfast and lunch, each day. This may not sound too significant to most, but here, especially with the rains coming so late this year, so many people go hungry and die of starvation. For most of our kids, this would be their reality as well without the support of their sponsors and this program.

Our last day of Center Week was dedicated to the parents of our CDP children, teaching them what it means to be a godly parent and a godly example in their homes and how to raise their kids in the way and knowledge of the Lord. Most of these parents are single moms or grandmothers who are trying to do the job of 2 parents and we were so honored to include them this week and to be able to encourage them. The parents and guardians spent the morning praising and worshiping God together, learning from Pastor Sunday and our CDP Staff, and receiving an in depth counseling session focused on building them up and educating them. We are so grateful that this program also includes the parents and we thank God for allowing us to share the love of Christ with them this week as He continues to use us to impact whole family groups for His glory.

Center Week concluded with a special meal of goat, chicken, rice and cabbage and presentations done by the CDP and missionary children. The CDP kids worked hard all week planning and preparing something very special for their parents. And the missionary kids worked together to prepare a skit that would clearly communicate the Gospel to all those who were in attendance. We simply cannot say enough how proud we are of all of their hard work and dedication. Some people may think there’s not much young children can do for the Kingdom of God, but we were a witness to just how much the Lord can do through willing and obedient hearts, no matter how old they are! As we watched all the kids perform, display and explain the Gospel in different ways, our eyes filled with tears and our hearts swelled with joy!

The last thing the CDP staff did before sending these precious children home at the end of the week, was to hand out beds to all the children who didn’t have one. One facet of this program is called “Home Visits”. Several times a year we visit each child’s home to sit with the families and determine their needs and to pray with them. This past term we discovered many children were sleeping on the ground, in the dirt. What a joy is was to hand out these beds and to know that each of them would have a clean mattress to sleep on that night and not a dirty floor.

There’s really no way to fully express just how blessed we are to be able to pour the love and grace of Christ into these wonderful children! It was an amazing week full of laughter, joy, love and truth. This program takes an incredible amount of work, but it was such a blessing to be a part of it and to serve with this staff of amazing Acholi men and women. Each of them does a phenomenal job and we couldn’t be more proud of them. Their humble, servant hearts are a testament to their love for Christ and their commitment to share and demonstrate the Gospel to the world.

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We are so grateful that God has allowed us to be a part of this program and to be a part of each child’s life. We praise and thank God for those who have chosen to join us in this and sponsor these precious children. Each one of you has made an eternal impact in their lives and God is using you daily to meet the spiritual and physical needs of these kids. We pray you are able to see how much your love is touching and transforming lives here in Northern Uganda and how the Lord is using your sacrifice and generosity to make the Name of Christ known among the Acholi people. Thank you is simply not enough! Currently, we have several children in the program that are in need of a sponsor. If you feel led to participate in what God is doing here to change and transform lives and you are interested in becoming a sponsor of one of our CDP children, please visit http://fourcorners.org/child-development/

“Train up a child in the way he should go: even when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

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