Great news in a pool of rats

Something incredible happened to a Muslim in Mecca, and he wanted to tell everyone about it. But when this man started talking about how he had seen Jesus Christ, he was thrown in jail, and then into a pool of rats. And that’s when his story became even more amazing.

This story comes from Reuben David,  a former journalism professor who has three master’s degrees and now teaches and speaks in India and America for an organization called FaithSearch International based in Minnetonka, Minn.

Reuben is a Christian but was born and raised in India– which is home to Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. He has first-hand knowledge of religions, cults, and today’s philosophies that leave people unsatisfied and searching for God.

This was the situation for the devoted Muslim, explained Reuben as he spoke to our church congregation. This man did all he was supposed to do as a Muslim – prayed five times a day, for example, and made the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia as Muslims are supposed to do, since it is the holiest site in Islam. He had a thirst to really know God, Reuben said, but he was not satisfied.

The man’s thirst for God was finally quenched as he slept in his tent near Mecca, but not in the way he had expected. A blinding light shone in his tent and woke him. Then a man walked into the tent and held out his hand to the Muslim.  It was Jesus, saying “I have seen your heart for God.” He told him he was Jesus Christ, and the man who had been a Muslim was now filled with incredible joy.

The joy was so full and complete that he could not keep it to himself. He started to tell other Muslims about Jesus Christ and what had happened to him.

“It didn’t take long before he was thrown into prison because of his beliefs,” Reuben said. And that wasn’t the worst thing – the guards became so tired of hearing this man talk about Jesus Christ that they rounded up several ferocious dogs. They planned to unleash the dogs in the man’s cell and watch them rip him apart.

But something strange happened. When the dogs entered the cell, they immediately calmed down. They became quiet and submissive, and began to lick the feet of the man who was talking about Jesus. They did not harm him.

The guards were shocked, but they did not give up. They took the man and threw him into a pool of rats. Again, the animals did not respond normally. The rats did not bite the Muslim turned Jesus follower.

The guards were now scared of this man and realized that something miraculous had happened. What had happened?  This Muslim man WANTED to know God with all of his heart, and God had revealed himself.

“God goes where he is WANTED,” Rueben told our church.

How much do we want God? As much as this Muslim man?

“… LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you…” 1 Chronicles 28:9

“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

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Doing the twist

The twists and turns of life can be painful and mysterious, especially when we don’t see them coming. I didn’t see a major “twist” coming, and either did a 47-year-old pastor who went from being an ultra-marathoner to being unable to walk, talk or swallow. But God knows

John Stumbo running a marathon before he became ill.

what’s coming, and those who know Him can be assured that God is with them and that God is good —always.  

My twist

It was June, 2004, and my husband and I had just returned from Russia with two newly adopted children, ages 10 and 11, feeling as if we had accomplished what God had asked us to do. We didn’t know that the most difficult year of our lives would soon begin.

That June, I was feeling pretty good about myself as I turned 43. Hadn’t I stepped out in faith with my husband and obeyed God’s call to adopt these children? Hadn’t I given up my family of four as I knew it by submitting to the Lord and flown to the ends of the earth (It seemed like it to me!) to do God’s will in my life?

That’s why my prayer time on that day in June seemed so strange. I can clearly see myself on my knees in my bedroom, reading my Bible and praying. I sensed that God was telling me that He needed to do some inner work on me. I started to object and question God. “What’s wrong with me, Lord?” I asked him. “Haven’t I been doing what you wanted me to do?”  I remember a sense of my attitude and pride. I was saying to God, “Hey, I’m fine. I’m not that bad!”

Then God led me to Isaiah 29:16:  “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me?” Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?”

That pretty much put me in my place. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, I knew God was telling me that he was the potter, and I was clay. He was saying that he needed to remake the pot, even though I thought I’d been worked over on the potter’s wheel pretty well during the long adoption process.

God was about to take me through experiences with my new children that would drive me to question everything – even God’s existence. Later, I would be able to say that this “twist” helped me become more aware of the depth of my sinful nature and my constant, daily need for a holy God. I would be able to say that my gratefulness for God’s grace grew deeper, that God taught me to trust Him even more and helped my faith grow stronger. I would be able to say that I understood in a new way how deep God’s love is for me, and that it was all worth it.

But on that day in June, I knew nothing. I didn’t think I needed to be re-formed on the potter’s wheel, but God knew better.

John Stumbo’s twist

I was reminded of that particular prayer time last week when I heard Pastor John Stumbo speak. A mysterious illness destroyed this ultra-marathoner’s muscles, leaving him in a wheelchair and unable to swallow and eat food for 18 months. One of his friends said it was as though he’d been “hit by a semi-truck,” which Stumbo thought was accurate, but he wanted a more helpful metaphor. So Stumbo turned to the One who knew all: he asked God for His word picture of what was happening in his life. Why was he barely able to talk, living on a feeding tube and completely dependent on others to care for him? After a period of time, God showed him.

“…I could “see” hands shaping a pot on a wheel. Wet clay was being carefully molded as it spun. Damp hands held it firmly and skillfully. The pot in the hands already stood a couple feet high. I liked the pot. It had no special elegance to it, but it looked strong, sturdy, functional…nearly complete,” writes Stumbo in his book, “An Honest Look at a Mysterious Journey.”

“Suddenly, as the wheel and pot continued to spin, the hands pressed firmly down on the clay. In almost an instant, the well-established pot was now reduced to a few inches tall with the thumbs of the hands almost touching the base.

“Mysteriously—without comment or explanation of any kind—the Craftsman had decided to start over; not from scratch, not discarding the clay altogether, but from an unglamorous lump, He was beginning anew.

“Over the weeks I would ponder, The first pot looked perfectly fine to me. Why did He have to reduce it down?

“Without question, I knew I was the clay and God the Master Potter. The message was clear, personal, and perspective-bringing.

“No, I hadn’t been beaten nor run over. I was in good hands…artistic hands. The base was still spinning, the work was continuing. I was being re-formed. The Creator Himself was re-shaping my life.”

If you are wrestling with questions of faith in the midst of life’s unpredictable events, reading Stumbo’s book might give you a new perspective. “This is one of the most powerful stories that I have ever heard,” writes noted author and speaker Ravi Zacharias “It will change the way you face life’s twists and turns.” 

“An Honest Look at a Mysterious Journey” by John and Joanna Stumbo is available at booksnbibles.com, amazon.com  or at johnstumbo.com

“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”  Jeremiah 18:6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The vitamin lady’s secret

There are plenty of news stories about the benefits of vitamins, but those stories never mention the “vitamin lady.” Paul Ford of Hammond, Wis. shared the vitamin lady’s secret with me many years ago, and now I’ll share it with you.

I was worn out when I met the vitamin lady. She asked me if I used vitamins, and if not, I should visit her sometime. After several visits she asked me if I was a Christian. I told her yes.

“How do you know that?” she asked.

“Well, I go to church every Sunday, I don’t drink or smoke and I believe in God.”

“Do you think that will get you somewhere?”  she said. She tried to get me to attend Bible studies, but I always had something better to do.

Then one day I started getting a terrible pain in my knee. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong, but the pain grew worse. Soon I was in the hospital, and the vitamin lady’s friends from church came and prayed for me. They came by the carloads and filled my room every night. They almost had to take a number to see me.

One of the girls from the church wanted my son to come to a special service the next Friday. My son wanted to go, so I told him I’d take him if my knee improved.

“Something fishy is going on here,” my doctor told me when he examined my knee two days before the service.  “There’s no swelling, no pain, and you can almost walk with crutches. I guess you can go to that service.”

At one point during the sermon at that service, the preacher asked: “How many of you know Jesus?” People who knew Jesus were supposed to raise their hand and come forward. I raised my hand, but then the pain in my knee resurfaced after five days of being pain-free. The pain was almost unbearable. I couldn’t go forward.

The preacher said those people who raised their hands but didn’t come forward should read a certain verse in the Bible and then pray about it when they got home. By the time I did get home, the pain was so bad I even thought about praying. By the next morning I was still sitting in my reclining chair with my leg elevated. I should read that Bible verse, I thought to myself, but how am I going to find a Bible when I can’t even get out of the chair?

All of a sudden, the sweetest voice I had ever heard said to me, “It’s beside your chair.” Cold chills went up my spine and I felt very hot.

“I thought I was the only one in the house,” I said. “Where are you?”

This voice said to me, “I’m up here.”

Then I saw Jesus standing in front of me dressed in a white robe. You can’t imagine the warm feeling I had. I prayed to Jesus that very moment and asked him to come into my life and to forgive the things I had done in the past.

“You are forgiven,” he said.

My whole life changed in a split second. Now Jesus is my partner and friend. It’s been 22 years since that day, and my kneecap has never bothered me since. The vitamin lady and her friends knew that prayers are more powerful than vitamins.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16 (New Living Translation)

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The Love Letter

Growing up in a fatherless home, unprotected by her mother and sexually abused by a stepfather, Amy felt unworthy of love. Then one day a love letter arrived, one she had been waiting for all her life.

On the day Amy was born, her dad wasn’t around. So as the labor pains began, Amy’s mother fit her pregnant belly behind the steering wheel of her car and found the father of her child at his girlfriend’s house. Amy’s parents were divorced when she was two, and her father completely abandoned her. Her mother was absent in other ways. She constantly told Amy that they had really wanted a boy, so Amy grew up thinking she had done something wrong.

From the age of 6 to 11, Amy was sexually abused by her stepfather. At one point, she gathered the courage to tell her mother about the abuse. “I remember seeing the look on her face,” Amy says. It wasn’t a good one. Her mother failed to protect her, and that made Amy feel even more unloved.

Now 36, Amy gave her heart to Jesus Christ when she was 14, and after a time of wandering, she rededicated her life to Jesus when she was 30. “It’s so easy to look at Jesus and be in love. Jesus died for me!” Amy says. “I have never felt so much love as the day I accepted Him.” Yet she still felt some pain from her past and wasn’t sure how to view God the Father, not until the love letter arrived.

It happened in the summer of 2011. Amy and her husband had returned one evening from a church meeting about a mission trip to a Honduras orphanage. As someone who has always loved children, Amy was excited about the possibilities of traveling to the children’s home to “love on” the kids. She was so stirred up she couldn’t sleep. After tossing and turning forever, she finally told the Lord, “You need to let me know what is going on so I can get to sleep.”

That’s when the love letter arrived. In a vision, Amy’s bedroom disappeared. Suddenly, she was sitting in the green grass of a field with mountains in the background. She knew she was at the orphanage in Honduras.

Across from her was Jesus. He came toward Amy and lifted her up into his arms. As he held her, he whispered in her ear. “My dear precious child, you’ve always felt like an orphan, but I wanted you to know that I’ve always been here, and I am really your Dad.”

In that moment, God poured out his love into Amy’s soul. “I had never felt wanted, I had never felt loved, but God made me feel wanted, and loved, and beautiful,” Amy says. “If you’ve been abandoned, ignored or abused, God will do whatever it takes to show you his love. Let him in. He wants to share his love letter.”

“If your mother and father have forsaken you, the LORD will take you up and adopt you as His own dear child.”  Psalm 27:10

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The real jewels

I was having a green Christmas. Not the evergreen, pine boughs or holly shade of green, but one of a more jealous hue. It was almost 20 years ago, and I was spending Christmas Eve with my husband, my young children and other family members, including a family member who happened to be better off financially than we were.

Back in those days, we exchanged all of our presents on Christmas Eve. I unwrapped a lovely plush bathrobe from my husband, which is what I’d been wanting. I touched its softness against my cheek, smiled and gave my husband a hug and kiss. I love everything about a new bathrobe—how it suggests comfort and coziness and sleepy, lazy weekend mornings—and I knew it would keep me toasty warm all winter.

But as I watched a relative open a gift of real ruby earrings and a matching ruby necklace, envy grabbed me. Suddenly my bathrobe didn’t seem like a wonderful gift. Sadly, my desire for some other thing distracted me from the true meaning of Christmas on the very evening that we were supposed to be celebrating a Savior and his gift of love. I couldn’t seem to simply enjoy the beauty of that relative’s present and her joy without feeling envious.

Envy is not good for the soul, so I prayed that night and asked God for forgiveness. The next morning I read my Bible and a devotion that “happened” to focus on Proverbs 20:15 — “Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.”

The Lord was gently reminding me about the most valuable things, and he wasn’t talking about expensive baubles. “Remember what the real jewels are, Julie,” God was telling me, and thankfully, I did.

Knowing Jesus and his love is a real jewel. Love is the most precious jewel of all, and on that Christmas Eve so many years ago, my life was filled with love. I just had to remember it.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of the God lives forever.  1 John 2:15-17

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Got thanks? Share them!

What are you thankful for?  Consider commenting about it here and creating a blog of “thanks”!  Here’s one thing I’m thankful for: I don’t need an iPhone to reach God!

No Cell Phone Required

When I think of how my life was before I knew Jesus Christ, one picture comes to mind. It’s a picture of an exhausted, depressed woman sitting at a kitchen table, staring at her phone.

Why is she depressed? She’s fatigued from caring for two babies in diapers, one who is constantly ill and sleeps little, the other who has stopped taking naps. She’s tired of constantly wiping faces and rear ends, of cooking, cleaning and tending to the never ending needs of two children under the age of two.

She’s lonely because she just moved far from the rest of her family, and she seems to have little in common with the other mothers she has met in this town. They have new homes, new vans and they like to do crafts. She and her husband own an old, drafty house they can barely afford and a tin-can car. And she hates crafts.

She’s unhappy because she’s been fighting with her husband about money (the lack of it) and expecting him to fix everything.

So she sits staring at her phone, contemplating calling her mother or her sister again to dump her burdens on them. But she can’t bring herself to do it. Complaining to them won’t change anything and she knows it.

That woman thought there was no one to help her, but she was wrong.

Once I found Jesus, I knew who to call, and I’ve been calling him ever since. I talk to my Rock, my Prince of Peace, my Provider, and he encourages, comforts and directs me like no one else can. You too, can call on the Lord. No cell phone or service charges are required; no dropped calls keep you from connecting to God!

 “But I call to God, and the Lord saves me…I cry out in distress and he hears my voice.” Psalm 55:16-17

 “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” Psalm 55:22

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God is recession-proof

Paying for my son and daughter’s college education seemed completely impossible four years ago, but it was still the desire of my heart. Yet there I was, quitting my part-time job in October 2007 because I sensed God directing me to do so. What did God have in mind?

My husband and I had always planned to put our children through college. We knew this was the right choice for them, and we felt it was our responsibility to give them a head start in life without a burden of debt.

But by the time our daughter was a high school senior and our son was a junior, I thought our dreams of supporting their education were just that – dreams, not reality.

By that time, we had obeyed what God had wanted us to do by adopting two other children from Russia. The cost was the price of one college education. We had also spent other money in obedience to God, and had not received a large sum that was due to our business. That amount also added up to the cost of one college education. As journalists and former small business owners, we’d never been high-buck earners, so bringing in a large amount of money quickly wasn’t in the cards.

On top of that, I felt God urging me to quit the part-time job I did have, which didn’t make sense at all. But the directive was clear, so with my husband’s agreement I walked away from a paycheck. Even though I was doing this with absolutely no prospects, I knew God had a plan and I tried not to worry.

As I searched for a new job that could help pay for college, I prayed, asking the Lord for help. One day in November as I read my devotions, the Holy Spirit spoke to me through a verse in 2 Kings, Chapter 8: “Then he (the king) assigned an official to her case and said to him, “Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now.”  I knew God was telling me that I would get back the college education money that had been “lost,” although I couldn’t see how this would happen.

I’d been applying for other work for about a year and there still wasn’t anything promising on the horizon. Even the job I considered a good fit hadn’t resulted in an interview.  It’s a good thing I didn’t know that the worst U.S.economic downtown since the Great Depression was about to officially begin in December 2007!

Despite all that, the phone rang after only a month of unemployment. I was asked to interview for the “good fit” job that I’d thought was filled long ago. In a short period of time, I was offered a full-time job with the highest salary I’d ever received.

I started my new job on Nov. 27, 2007, almost four years ago, just as the recession began to hit. By the time we needed to pay for our daughter’s first semester of college, we had the money. God’s message to me was real. He provided then, and has continued to provide throughout the past four years and throughout this recession. Our daughter will graduate from college this December and our son has just one more year to complete! God is true to his name: Jehovah-jireh, “The LORD will Provide.”

 “And those who know Thy name will put their trust in Thee: For Thou, O LORD, hast not forsaken those who seek Thee.”  Psalm 9:10

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On the King’s dime

High unemployment. Housing foreclosures. Economic uncertainty. People have always worried about finances, but this country’s recession has heightened those concerns for many. By last spring, Jon Thompson’s worry about providing for his family of six had become a heavy burden, one he needed desperately to unload.

Jon had used his work experience and advanced degree in chemistry to launch several high-tech businesses in 2009. While this 35-year-old Christian husband and father realized that money would be tight as he began to build his new ventures, worry about finances began to overwhelm him.

 “I can’t tell you how much of a burden it was to worry about the bills in the mail box and about the heating bill, in addition to the stress of all the uncertainty of starting a business,” Jon says. “Grocery shopping was a sickening experience for me. I would get physically sick every time I got the mail. I would get angry at my spouse for purchasing what I perceived to be frivolous items, but they weren’t frivolous. It was an awful heavy burden.”

Jon took his burden to God and began reading the Psalms and meditating on them. “Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would teach us all things and tell us what He sees,” Jon says. So Jon listened as he read God’s word:  ”O my soul, why are you cast down within me?  Hope thou in God. For I shall yet praise him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.”  

Jon realized that David, who wrote many of the Psalms, had also carried a heavy burden, but that burden was lifted when David remembered the times God had intervened in his life.   

“I started to remember all that God had provided in the last year alone, and as I started to list all of the Father’s provision, joy and faith entered. But the heaviness still dominated.”

Then one night in “utter desperation” to unload his burden of worry, Jon fell to his knees just before midnight in his office. That’s when God showed him that the “weighty feeling” came because Jon was trusting in himself to provide, not God; that if he truly believed God and trusted him, he would not let financial worries control his mind.

“In that cry, he met me,” Jon says. “He took away my unbelief and replaced it with his faith. This was a breakthrough!  He took me by the right hand and set my feet upon a rock – instantaneously. I got up off the floor. The burden was gone, and I started to laugh with joy. I leaped for joy! He delivered me from the bondage of unbelief.  He will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him. He has put a new song in my heart!  

“Since that time, I have had no inkling of worry about money, because I am on the King’s dime. I can’t imagine taking my finances back from Jesus. This breakthrough has nothing to do with money or finances, and everything to do with trusting that God will do what he says he will do.”

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

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Saved from the pit


Sheila Raye Charles
Sheila Raye Charles, the daughter of legendary singer Ray Charles, says her father was amazing – but he couldn’t save her from a life that took her to federal prison. That took someone with more power.

Sheila was in her own pit of hell in a Texas when her life changed dramatically. Her journey to that point had included sexual abuse as a child, a 15-year crack cocaine addiction, losing custody of all five of her children and the depths of physical violence.

And her father couldn’t help her, Sheila Ray says. “He couldn’t even accept a collect call from me. When I was on the concrete floor of a federal prison cell, I called out to Jesus, and he saved me.”

With Jesus, Sheila found peace, joy, forgiveness and freedom from the pain of her past. But there was a problem: Jesus wanted Sheila to return to prison¾not as an inmate, but as someone bringing a lifesaving message.  “I didn’t want to go. I’d spent four years in prison just thinking about getting out and I didn’t want to go back. But the Lord told me, ‘I didn’t save you for you. I saved you for my glory.’”

So in 2007, Sheila used her talent as a singer/songwriter and her story about Jesus to bring hope to women behind bars.

“When we minister at prisons, we get to see God’s transforming power,” Sheila Ray says with obvious joy. “In Indianapolis we were ministering to some women who were so broken. They were 18 or 19 and in prison. One girl had been sexually molested by her brothers, her brother’s boyfriends, and her biological mother. Then the one man she trusted tried to rape her, and she fought back and ended up killing him.”

That young woman had been sentenced to life in prison. She had such a fear of being a woman that she had tried transforming herself into a man.  After Sheila shared her story at the prison, this woman told her, “I don’t want to live like a man anymore.”

“We prayed, and God’s Holy Spirit came upon her and she spoke in tongues. The Holy Spirit moved through the prison, and one lady there broke out into a spirit of laughter,” Sheila says.  That lady’s roommate heard the laughter and was astounded.  In six years, she had never seen her roommate smile, much less laugh.

“It doesn’t matter what pit of hell you are in,” Sheila says.  “God can pull you out.”

Sheila tells the complete story of how God saved her from a life of destruction in her biography, “Behind The Shades, the Sheila Jean Robinson Story.” To learn more about her ministry or order her book and CDs, visit http://sheilarayecharles.com.

“He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Psalm 40:2

“He leads forth the prisoners with singing…” Psalm 68:6b

To share a story about how Jesus Christ has changed your life, e-mail God Tracks author Julie Holmquist at God.tracks@yahoo.com.

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Healing 16,000 hearts

Carl Gaede in Uganda

When Carl and Julie Gaede sold their house and nearly all of their belongings three years ago and moved to Uganda, they didn’t know their decision would change 16,000 lives. They only knew that God had called them to go.

The Wisconsin couple was living a typical middle class life in 2006 when they happened to watch a program about a 22-year civil war in Northern Uganda. As they watched, the Gaedes learned of abducted children who were forced to murder their parents, to rape and kill other people, and suffer mutilation and other horrific atrocities at the hands of ruthless soldiers. With tear-stained cheeks, they looked at each other and said, “We can’t just sit here! We need to do something!”  Being moved with compassion isn’t all that uncommon, but being moved to make a radical change in your life because of that compassion is.

Carl, who worked as a counselor, flew to Uganda four months later and learned about the newly piloted “Empower Trauma Rehabilitation Program,’ created to help people heal from the horrors of war. Ninety percent of the people in Northern Uganda have experienced the trauma of war and suffer with the aftermath - nightmares, guilt, bitterness, hate, fear, and depression. In 2008, the Gaedes and their two young children decided to give up their American lifestyle, leave their friends and family behind and move to Gulu, Uganda. Once there, Carl would lead the rehabilitation program that brings emotional healing and introduces Jesus Christ.

In three years, 16,000 people have completed the program and 7,000 of those people have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. What does that mean? It means thousands of people have found forgiveness, peace, joy, and been emotionally restored.

“In three year’s time, God has blessed our work and caused it to multiply,” says Carl, who trained local Acholi people to lead others through the program.  “I wish the statistics would convey the power of what God is doing there, but it never can.”

A video of Acholi people telling their stories does a better job: a woman whose ears and lips were cut off by rebel soldiers now talks about how she can forgive and find joy again. Irene, 31, lost her parents when she was eight and was abducted by the rebel soldiers three times. She was forced to kill and mutilate others, but she always escaped from the soldiers.  “All of this traumatized me,” she told the Gaedes. “I had sleepless nights because of the nightmares, but because of the rehabilitation program, I can sleep again. Because I accepted Jesus as my Savior, I now have peace.”

To learn more about the Gaede’s ministry called Tutpona (“We will heal”) or to donate, visit www.tutapona.com.

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