Wednesday, October 4, 2017


Thanks to the support of my friends and family and by the grace of God, I was able to travel halfway around the world to a region in central Africa that few ever get to see.

I want to start by apologizing for not having published this debrief sooner, but many of you are aware of the family crisis that was stirred up right before we returned from the trip. I have had little time to recoup or be able to process all of the incredible things God showed me into a presentable format. Before I left, my wife handed me a little notebook to take notes or jot thoughts down in. I filled just over half of it with one-liners to help me remember names and places, stories I heard and things I witnessed. It was a truly overwhelming experience and I wanted to do it justice. I began writing it all out but realized that might be more than what people actually want to hear so I will begin by offering this general letter and if you want to know more, I will start posting those soon for you to read.
When we heard we were invited, I was fairly certain that things would not work out in time for the trip. Finances, passports, visas, immunizations, tickets, and the list goes on. I have participated in mission trips before but this was a beast I was unfamiliar with. We were originally planning on joining a group already scheduled to go and as it turns out, we were the only ones that were allowed visas. The money came in just as we needed it to and all the pieces fit together to reveal to us God wanted us there for sure.

Accommodations in Uganda
Our first day in Africa, I walked out of my room to take it all in. I smelled the air and listened to the noises of the surrounding village. I looked around at all the plants and bugs and watched the monkeys in the trees jump around and chase each other. I realized in that moment that I knew nothing about anything. Everything around me was unfamiliar and new. As a type-A person, I had a hard time turning my brain off as it tried to fill in an answer to all of the questions it was asking itself, but I was thankful I had my Dad with me to help with that. Since he has been to this part of the world many times, he was a great source of wisdom for me and I leaned on him heavily for advice.

When I say everything was different, I mean everything. There are equivalents to almost everything but it just wasn’t the same. It took some time to adjust and right when I was feeling comfortable, we moved to a different area. When we first flew in we landed in Uganda which has a lot of tourists and a lot of luxuries available should one require. After a day in there, we traveled via MAF flight to Bunia, DRC. Flying over the uninhabited jungle in a small, single-engine plane, you appreciate the pilot briefing you where the emergency water supply and radio are located before takeoff.

Bunia Airport
When we land, my first impression of the DRC is that everyone is trying their best with what they have but still barely getting by. It feels like everything is operating on an edge and one wrong move will send you over.  We were greeted by Kenneth and Mama Rebecca, two very welcome smiling faces after having just gone through customs. While we are there, we see the new Eden Mission HQ building in Bunia and a job training taking place for ladies wanting to learn more about cooking healthy meals on a budget, a motorcycle repair class for the men, and a combined group of eager adults learning the art of tailoring. They were so excited for the chance to learn a new skill and to be included in the ministry that Eden provides for their families. It was an honor to meet them and pray with them.

Eden Mission's old building now used for hosting classes
The next day we began a two-day course for pastors and their wives on Christian life coaching. It has been a long time since I required a translator and I was at first nervous the ideas were not being conveyed, but once the concept was understood they were excited for the chance to use the tools in their congregations. The second day our attendance number almost tripled once the word got out about what and how we were teaching. It was such a blessing to see their faces light up as they received their certificates. We were encouraged by several pastors that would come up to us during breaks and tell us how excited they were to finally have the tools they needed to reach their people and how special it was for us to be teaching together as father and son.

Bunia at sunset

Just as we were becoming adjusted to life in Bunia, we were preparing to journey to an outlying mining village of Mongbwalu. Again we were pushed out of our already adjusted comfort zones to an even further degree. Kenneth reminded us in the car of Acts 1:8, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Where we are going”, he said, “is the end of the earth. There is nothing beyond here.” When we arrived it was clear we had taken a step back again in terms of development and level of poverty. Our hotel was nice, but water and power were only a maybe and we would be supplying our own food for a couple of days. It was actually nice to be as secluded from the outside world as we were and to be as dependent on God as we needed to be. Each step of the journey He made His way known to us and He cleared the path for us in miraculous ways.

In Mongbwalu, we were scheduled to teach another two-day seminar for pastors and their wives only this one was focused on marriage and ministry. A couple of the pastors that attended our previous course in Bunia were also teaching and it was so neat to see them using what we had just taught being used already in their ministries. We had around thirty couples the first day and again, on day two, we almost tripled that number as we filled almost every seat in the hall where we were meeting. It was a powerful time of encouragement as we built up these pastors. As far out as they are, they tend to feel alone in their ministry and forgotten by other believers but they were able to leave the seminar feeling refreshed and filled. For many of them, it was the first time they had met some of the other pastors in the area so it was also a great time for them to network and connect.

Marriage and Ministry Conference, Mongbwalu
While parts of the conference were taking place, I was invited to do some outreach with other members of our team. We traveled to the local hospital and I still struggle to describe this place. What is happening there should not be happening anywhere. The structure was built in the 1930’s and not much has been done to improve or repair it. But again, they are doing the best they can with what they have and when we met with the hospital director, he was so encouraged by what the ministry was doing for families and the training we were offering to couples, he came to the afternoon session with his wife when his shift was over.

We also met with a couple of women, one a widow and one a single mom of four, whose stores were so full of hopelessness and despair. They attend a local church that was unable to provide them with any support outside of praying for them and connecting them to the mission. We took some time to pray with them and were able to offer them some food as an encouragement and remind them they are not alone.

We headed back to Bunia and felt like kings as we plugged our phones in and drank cold water. The next day, we had the unique opportunity to preach at some of the churches in the area. We thought we would be going together but Sunday morning we discovered we would be preaching in different churches. I found myself in a small stick and mud building filled with the typical plastic chairs and a hundred voices shouting praises to God. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to share until God reminded me to empower them. I shared how I am nothing without the gospel and how God can use them to do great things. I reminded them that they have a mission to share the gospel with their friends and family and I reminded them there are people around the world praying for them.

Looking back, that was a huge part of our mission on this trip; to remind the people living there and doing ministry there that they are not forgotten. There is a world of fellow believers that share in the work and that care about their corner of the world. We would remind them that by you offering your prayer and support to us to travel, what you were saying is that they matter. They matter enough for you to send two people to offer some training courses but more importantly to hug them, pray with them, listen to their stories, laugh with them, cry with them, and worship alongside them.

It was a wonderful trip, a challenging trip, and an experience I will never forget. Since I have returned, God has continued to show me that the mission is not over. I have met several more partners and missionaries from MAF based right here in Boise and I have not stopped seeking ways how God will use me. I am not sure what God holds for me in terms of going back or going somewhere else, but I do know that if and when He calls me, I will answer “Yes, Lord”. 

Some of the women practicing life coaching

Of course, wherever he is, my Dad finds the kids

Our pilots on the way back to Uganda

1 comment:

  1. Joe I am so blessed reading of your experience. I am so glad that you were able to go and see the work that God is doing there that your dad has been a part of for some time now.