We were looking west, but not far enough. When Western Seminary in Oregon accepted Slick for doctoral studies and his boss opted to release him in August, we understood that God wanted us to move again. And we thought it would be to Portland, but apparently we weren’t looking far enough west.

When friends forwarded us an email about the need for a twin-rated pilot to fill in for one year on the South Pacific island of Palau with Pacific Mission Aviation (www.pmapacific.org), starting in September, we raised an eyebrow. At first that was all, but over several weeks other events began a crescendo of cooperation.

This past Monday God led us to decline an offer here in Germany. On Tuesday we received notice that we were approved to be PMA missionaries. On Wednesday, the church that “sent” us to Africa welcomed us back to active missionary status. Another church remains committed, whenever we should return to the classic “mission field”. Today is Thursday and as we reflect on the many “fits” and coincidences and many details falling together all at once, we cannot ignore the evidence of God’s unseen hand.

The telling factors? God previously arranged that we should have theological training for mission work. He had already provided flying training for mission aviation, including sea plane ratings (which might be rather useful on a series of islands!) and multi-engine ratings (which are required for this particular post, but rare among available mission aviators). He determined that we would be available to move at the end of August and armed us with plenty of experience at moving ourselves overseas. Zoe is one year out from being “school age” and this post is for one year – until two pilots who are in the PMA “pipeline” are fully trained and ready. And finally, it just so happens that the folks who need to step away from PMA due to the challenges of age (67!) are friends whom we highly respect.

Thus, after much prayer and discussion with our pastor and several mentors over the last few months, we believe Palau is where God is leading this next step of our lives. Our only concern is that our one year in the tropics might stretch into a much longer season of our lives. Should that happen, we are certain there is no better place for our family – none other than the center of our Creator’s will.

That being said, we’d love to invite you to join our journey once again, either through prayer or financially – or both. For those who have continued to pray for us and drop us emails of encouragement, we cannot thank you enough: those tangible glimpses of the body of Christ at work have nourished us deeply. We will be re-energizing our “prayer calendar” so let us know if you want back in the gameor if you want to pick your day to pray for us and join the team (for more info, see http://donnadouglass.wordpress.com/ministry/prayer/). To support us financially, please see http://donnadouglass.wordpress.com/ministry/donate/. We need to raise $4300/month and $10,300 for outbound expenses. Thank you for investing!

And thank you for considering being on the team that will work with us as we go forth. We look forward to sharing with all of you “back home” how God moves in answer to your prayers.

Funny how you never know how much one email will change the course of your life :).

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As winter warms we traded in Chili the Dog’s thick fur coat for a choppy-looking light-weight windbreaker. That is to say, Chili got a haircut. Consequently little dog hairs abound in the kitchen, which is just inside from the patio where the deed was done. Between hairs and crumbs from small children enjoying German bread, the kitchen floor receives much attention. This morning as I wiped up, I refolded the rag in order to keep the hairs inside while I used another part of it. Previously hidden, I suddenly saw a dark, ugly ink stain on the rag in my hands. Just when it was far from my mind, a reminder came: Daddy’s jeans continue their life because this rag took the ugly stain from them. Stain remover would remove the stain from the jeans, but the ink had to go somewhere in the process. In this case, I’d used this rag to absorb the ink as it departed in response to my scrubbing…and scrubbing…and scrubbing.

Unexpectedly I was reminded that I live because someone else took the stain of sin from me. And at the least likely moments sin still raises its ugly head, a reminder that it is vanquished…but not yet fully gone. Sin didn’t just vanish into thin air. It went somewhere. It went into Jesus. What better place to find myself thanking Him than already on my knees. Even in so mundane a task as mopping the kitchen floor, truth can bring us to worship.

We continue to serve here where God leads and often thank Him for those who continue to encourage us and in whom we see Him work. However we still have the sense that this is not a long-term destination: at least two other options still rest on the table (Colorado, Canada) while we actively seek God’s guidance, whether for these options or elsewhere. Would you please join us in asking God to guide us clearly – and if He could do so quickly, we would greatly appreciate that, too!

Thank you for walking beside us and encouraging us on the road. It is a blessing to be part of a body with such members as you.

A swing at the local park.

Last weekend our friend gave us a wedding gift all over again – he hooked up the electricity to our hot tub. In the process, he found some dangerous wiring that needed to be fixed first. He’d done most of the work and now needed a 9-volt battery before he could continue. There was one somewhere in the house. I knew it. I had just put it in…something…not long ago. My search for it took me to all corners of the house. Thinking through what was in Sandi’s office, I wondered if maybe it was in his guitar tuner. Before I barged in, though, I recognized his tone of voice as he talked with our landlord. And it made me stop.

Listening for just a moment before I continued my quest, I heard him share that our friend was willing to work for three days on this house and our hot tub and charge nothing because our friend was also our brother. Just as our landlord had not charged his brother for the work he’d done the week before, so our brother was working for us simply because we were brothers…in Christ.

Our landlord listened a little uncomfortably and attempted a few protests, but in the end, he had to admit that there really must be something different about this Christianity thing – something very different from the world and the “normal” ways of men. All because our friend’s actions…and silence. We thank God for drawing alongside us such unexpected partners in ministry and continue to pray for our landlord…and look for ways to move him out of his comfort zone and toward Jesus.

Over time, the sojourn to Africa begins to make a little more sense to us… The other day Slick had a tiny bit more insight into the great “why” of it all. A voice of experience once told us, if you think God might want you to become a pastor, try every other road first. If He wants you to be a pastor, nothing else will work.

Not long after, both of us reached a point where being in full-time ministry seemed to be the only right response to the immense gift God had given us – the gift of His Son, through whom we can have a relationship with God Himself, which is the very definition of eternal life.1 So off we went to Africa, the quintessential Mission Field, with the wholehearted support of many godly advisors.

Were we all wrong? We know sans doubt that God wanted us in Africa…and we know just as certainly that He led us back to the US a short seven months later. An obvious reason “why” eludes us, but we now see several results. First, had we never gone to The Mission Field, but instead entered straight into traditional ministry, we would always wonder when times were hard if we’d made a mistake – if we were supposed to go be the missionary pilots we’d dreamed of since we were young. Now with assurance born of experience, we say, “no, that is not where God would have us.” Second, our mindset for the last several years has transformed into one of fulltime ministry. Now in a “secular” job, we still view ourselves as fulltime “ministers,” fulltime workers in God’s Kingdom. It is a step closer to how we all know we should think: what we do is irrelevant; who we are is His ambassadors to our little corner of the world wherever that is – and that is our fulltime “profession”.

So Africa has taught us some valuable lessons, but I have to admit that as we heal and move on, we thank Him daily for placing us in a place our hearts humbly and simply enjoy. I think He is pleased with that, too. Slick used to often say, as he watched God work through him in lives and situations, that he liked being a tool in God’s hand. He says that less frequently these days, hoping that as he continues to mature, God would use him as something other than a hammer! 🙂

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.2 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.3

1 John 17:3
2 John 3:8
3 Isaiah 55:8

Many thanks to all of you who’ve prayed for Slick’s parents. He visited them upon our arrival back in the US and had the chance to share the Gospel with them (again) with reasonable assurance that they are coming to know Jesus in this life and will greet Him in the next (John 17:3).

While Slick was out of town, Zoe and Donna got to see God’s hand moving in the NY suburbs. A friend invited us to lunch with Donna’s parents. Grandpa mentioned to the waitress that he was going to pray for lunch and asked if he could pray anything for her. That gave rise to a long conversation about churches in the area, which the waitress Jacquelyn was seeking since she recently arrived in the US from Argentina and was just returning to the faith after a couple years’ rebellion. Dad put her in touch with a friend, Beatrice, who lives just two blocks from Jacquelyn. We all welcomed Jacquelyn to Dad’s Sunday School the following Sunday and continue to pray for Jacquelyn and her new friendship with Beatrice. Praise God for evidence of His work even among “normal, everyday America.”

We’re in South Carolina for a month or two for the arrival of Zoe’s little sister at the same birth center where Zoe swam into the world of light and sound. Due to the many unknowns in logistics and timing, we’ll be sending just this email for this month and we appreciate your understanding. We also request your prayers for God clear leading in our next steps.

Zoe and Grandpa enjoy each other’s company during our brief stay in NJ with Donna’s parents.

Behind the border
Approaching the village of Wadaga, the missionaries’ hearts sank as silence greeted them. The entire town, even the church they’d labored to plant among the Jum Jum tribe, had been abandoned. Confounded as to how they might find any remaining believers, they stopped and prayed.

 

Joe Jones (CFNet Missions), Dr Atar (SP) and Tim Dillard at Doro.

Background
In 2011, South Sudan split from Sudan along an arbitrary line in the sand drawn by the British government in 1959. Falling south on its eastern end, the line left a 12-mile wide strip of land wedged between South Sudan and Ethiopia but attached to Sudan. The collection of frail structures called Wadaga lies in this narrow peninsula inhabited primarily by tribes loyal to South Sudan. Many, like the Jum Jum, have found themselves the target of their own new government’s army, or worse, the heartless militia and pilots it has hired. Rather than negotiate, Sudan seeks to simply eradicate and replace the indigenous tribes, potentially with shepherds from the western province of Darfur who are in search of more pasture land.

After enduring aerial bombings and deadly attacks from helicopter gunships, many residents of the peninsula fled toward the border rather than await the arrival of the Janjaweed Militia, a group of ruthless killers who are credited with murdering hundreds of thousands of Sudanese in Darfur at the government’s command. With danger growing and people leaving, Sudan Inland Mission (SIM), Christian Family Network (CFNet) and Samaritan’s Purse (SP) personnel, aided by the airplanes of AIM AIR and Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), made the difficult decision to evacuate from the few nearby airstrips. Ten minutes after one plane took off with six adults and an infant, bombs began to fall around the airstrip, causing two more missionaries to request rides. AIM AIR returned, braving the battle zone. By evening, the pilots had evacuated ten missionaries. (See note 1: Evacuations)

Mirroring events in nearby towns, Wadaga residents also fled into the brush when hostile planes bombed their village and surrounding farm fields. Among them were Pastor Ayoub Wahab and his 6-year-old church of 70 Muslim-background believers. While they mourned the deaths of friends and family and comforted the injured, they also thanked God that they had been spared lethal helicopter attacks and the Janjaweed.

Miraculous Connection
Six weeks after the Jum Jum abandoned their homes, the group of CFNet missionaries arrived in the vacant village. They were not the only ones praying, however, and God had already responded. A single set of footsteps broke the silence while the missionaries stood outside. From around a corner, Pastor Ayoub Wahab appeared. Surprise registered on the missionaries’ faces, but the pastor welcomed them as expected guests. As greetings and questions flew, the story began to emerge: the night before, God had shown the pastor in a dream that he would meet the missionaries here on this day. God had reached where technology could not.

Flight
Pastor Ayoub Wahab gathered his entire church in several days and together they began the long walk southwest across the infamous line in the sand. Slowed by malnourished children and plodding livestock, many kept to a dry river bed, opting for treacherous footing in favor of encountering police and militia on the rutted, dirt road. Dr. Atar of SP joined them in time to drive some of the leadership and children to the border in a Landcruiser, significantly speeding their escape from imminent danger.

Appreciating the 24-hour trailer ride from Guffa to Doro.

Walking into Guffa, just south of the border at the end of the second day, the refugees set down their loads with a sigh of relief. Their rest, however, was short-lived. Not long after they arrived, the familiar sound of Russian-built cargo planes scattered panicked children in every direction. Adult believers stood still, silently praying and watching the plane drive straight for them, dropping bombs as it flew. Inexplicably, in the face of such apparent peril, the tangible peace of Jesus overshadowed them, surpassing all understanding. When the children noticed, they too calmed and stood still to watch the plane harmlessly fly directly overhead. While the sound of propellers faded, they paused to worship God again for sparing their lives. But they also realized that Guffa was not far enough from the border.

Thus the decision was made to set out for Doro, another day’s walk southwest. This time, hired tractors and trailers quickened the journey. They bounced over the rough terrain packed with tired, bewildered children clinging to their mothers, mothers struggling to protect their children from injury and rampant illness, and fathers who’d abandoned their farms and livelihoods miles away. Bracing against the jolts, fathers silently wondered how they might protect and provide for their families wherever they might find themselves at the end of this journey. Here in South Sudan, they had no rights and no land to grow crops or graze livestock.

Some Jum Jum load onto a tractor for quicker transport from Guffa to Doro. Pastor Ayoub Wahab of the Wadaga church sits on above the tractor’s right wheel. In a country where the authorities and militia are known to kill and rape, a man must make some hard decisions about how to protect his family.

A light dawns
Arriving in Doro, they joined a growing population of refugees who had also chosen this spot to rest their weary feet. Yet even here, danger remained. Few positive results arise from crowds of people with no food, little water, insufficient shelter and no employment. It is also uncertain how far across the border Sudan’s violence will reach. If that weren’t enough, substandard sanitary conditions and exposure to the elements have left many ill. Dr Kelly of CFNet treated every child he examined for some degree of pneumonia. Every child, that is, except one.

Uduk women from the Sudanese province of Blue Nile wait to be seen by Dr Kelley at the Doro refugee camp. Every child except little Marsha (above) was treated for some degree of pneumonia.

 The daughter of Pastor Ayoub Wahab and his wife Mary, born in the bush outside of Wadaga just before the journey, has remained healthy and strong. Doubtless in answer to many prayers, little Marsha Naomi not only survived to reach the day of her naming, her 40th day – she thrived. And she has become a wonderful little evangelist. She causes conversations and relationships that would not happen aside from the sweetness and wonder of a healthy little baby in such harsh conditions, a vibrant testimony of a living, loving God who is involved in His people’s lives.

As the new residents of Doro peer into an earthly future with little hope, the believers and missionaries recognize a huge opportunity. There is hope even here for true life, life that extends far beyond the only existence these people know to a life that counts for eternity. Many of these refugees have never heard the name of Jesus and know no option besides Islam. Many are from places nearly impossible for missionaries to reach. At home, it is doubtful they would ever learn the Good News. But in South Sudan, the Light has dawned and thirsty hearts hear the Name of Jesus proclaimed. People groups once considered “unreachable” have suddenly become accessible. In the midst of a seemingly dark situation, God has moved and now there is great opportunity.

A glimpse at the camp in Doro.

Looking forward
Along with supplies and food brought in with the assistance of AIM AIR, SP and MAF, Pastor Ayoub Wahab and missionaries on the ground in Doro hope to acquire a copy of the Jesus Film and means to show it. In the meantime, they serve Jesus by serving the people, because that’s what Jesus came to do (to paraphrase Korea’s Pastor Cho). And with the assistance of their two month old evangelist, Marsha, they announce the truth that offers hope. [See note 2: Opportunity, Challenge and Reward]

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Isaiah 9:2

Tim Dillard, husband of Marsha Dillard, cradles the little evangelist Marsha Naomi.

Note 1: Evacuations. Evacuations are an important, though gut wrenching, service AIM AIR provides for missionaries in areas like South Sudan. The presence of a nearby airstrip and an available airplane enables many to serve in areas otherwise too remote or dangerous.. Whether for political, medical or other reasons, the decision to evacuate is a very intricate, difficult one. At what point do you leave close friends and people you’ve worked hard to establish relationships with, to preserve your own safety and/or health, or that of your family? And how will that decision affect those relationships? Nevertheless, having the option to evacuate from volatile situations enables missionaries to reach further into remote and/or dangerous places. On the flip side, once the situation has resolved, air transport also allows workers to return more quickly. This incident in the Blue Nile region reminded pilots Jay Mundy and Jon Hildebrandt how important a service they and their airplanes provide in advancing the Kingdom of God to all peoples and nations.

Note 2: Opportunity, Challenge and Reward. For us who work with AIM AIR, this opportunity, like many, comes with challenges. Excitement accompanies the chance to offer logistical support to the Christians serving in Doro. But resources are already stretched thin from supporting a similar refugee situation further west in Unity state. More than ever we depend on God for wisdom on when, where and how to engage, and for the provision to support the work in Doro. For now our team and our partners have focused on meeting physical needs. But the truly rewarding part of our work is hearing how missionaries are able to introduce these shepherds, keepers of livestock and workers of the soil to the Good Shepherd and the Lord of the harvest. That is the reason AIM AIR exists.

Additional notes and credits:
– Photos by Steve Shelton and Medical teams worldwide team pictures, 2011, Doro and Bounj, Sudan. Stevesheltonimages.Com
– Stories and information courtesy of Joe Jones of CFNet Missions, and Jerry Hurd and Jay Mundy of AIM AIR
– CFNet operates in N. Kenya, South Ethiopia and Somali border area ministering to Moslems. Also operates and has missionaries in South Africa (their headquarters), Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and has ‘African’ churches in Germany and France.

“As you are going, make disciples…baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded…” “Love the Lord your God… This is the first and greatest command…” And this is love for God, to obey His commands… (Matt 28:19-20, Matt 22:37, 1 John 5:3).

Coming to Africa, land of spiritual darkness, we thought we would have a hand in winning souls for Christ as we flew in support of missionaries, but once again, as He did in France, God is showing us otherwise. This time, He’s showing us the necessity of the second half of the Great Commission. Here in Nairobi, the first half is well underway: many, if not most, call themselves “Christian.”

When Slick went to the furniture sales section of Ngong Rd, lined with all sorts of brown wood and black metal bed frames, shelf units, dressers and chairs set out in front of the shacks, he found two “fundis” (craftsmen) – one to build a couch and the other a bed frame. Totally unplanned, we did not have enough cash on hand to pay the balance upon delivery of the furniture and promised to deliver the rest within a day. Bernard and Geoffrey, the fundis, profess Christianity, yet both were amazed when Slick, citing Christianity as his reason, actually showed up with the funds. Geoffrey was so impressed to get his last $10 that he offered Slick a Coke.

In discussing the warranty, Slick and Bernard discussed the wisdom of praying for a long life when one considers how Hezekiah fell when God extended his life in answer to this request. Bernard’s workmen stopped to listen in as this strange, motorcycle-garbed “mzungu” (white person) spoke quietly but confidently on the wonders of the Old Testament.

After waiting a week, Slick arrived to collect his Coke from Geoffrey, again surprising him that a mzungu would show up for a warm, 10 cent sugar fix. Over the promised Coke, Geoffrey asked how to discern God’s will with respect to his potential engagement. Again Slick shared biblical wisdom, showing the Word’s direction to submit to the advice of your parents and elders.

In reflection, we pondered how these men had been “won” (or “baptized”) but how desperately they needed the second half of the Great Commission – to be taught how to obey God’s commands, the biblical equivalent of how to love Him. Here, as everywhere, there is much work to be done to fulfill our commission, especially the second half!
_____________

Now in a fully furnished home with minimal cardboard boxes (thank you for praying about that!), we daily discuss the myriad of directions AIM AIR could take in the near future as it undergoes some significant transitions. Please join us in prayer that the organization find and follow God’s leading and also that we would accurately discern and do the part He desires that we play, both in the organization and in the community, baptizing and teaching.

Dogs and airplanes: Zoe is a Douglass through and through. If you look closely at Chili’s back, you’ll see Zoe’s favorite toy which she found on the playground: an F-117 Stealth Fighter model – Mommy’s previous airplane

PS: Slick has successfully been oriented to maintenance and is now “up on the flight floor.” He eagerly anticipates the test for his Kenyan commercial flying license, which he’ll take sometime in the next couple months. After passing that, he can start flying training.