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Reflection on Departure

Written by Ben Aguilar

The journey to and from Burundi has been a gift. These folks I’m with, they know how to travel! And our leaders have done a great job making it fun. I have had to adjust to some things: seeking out clean areas to sleep and eat, cold showers, and the use of hand sanitizer (first time I have ever used up hand sanitizer bottle in my life).

The food has been good but different, different enough that seeing a Hardee’s burger restaurant in the airport brought a weird sense of joy never felt before.

I thank God for the ALARM people and those who attended the conference, who, no matter their circumstances, taught me about being joyful in the Lord and showed me how true worship is sincere and exciting. The people were great. Giving them a thumb up would always bring about a smile and a wave in return. These people live out the definition of hospitality, something I will take home with me.

This trip has been one of surrender – surrendering myself for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Christ who live 8600 miles from me. What makes a trip like this work? It’s just Jesus. He has been the beginning of this and has held it together.

I leave with a thankful heart, and I am reminded that when I think of my self less and God and others more, a true sense of contentment and thankfulness is created. God is at work all the time, so keep your eyes open! I also encourage you to take a trip around the world and visit His church. You will see what I mean.

Thanks for letting me share.

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God Does So Much

Written by Heather Thomas

I cannot describe how full my heart is right now!

The people of Kayanza are the sweetest, most genuine people I have ever met. All the women here carry their babies on their backs by wrapping a blanket around themselves and tucking it in, so they can be hands-free. It’s their very creative version of the BabyBjorn carrier that we use in America. I think I have become known around here as the “baby lover” and have held or played with every single baby here. I am filled with so much love for these moms and feel such a sweet bond. I could have talked to them all day, and I wish there wasn’t a language barrier slowing us down. They are so gracious and love any effort (no matter how ridiculous) made to communicate with them.

I guarantee I have learned way more from them than they have from me. They are so submissive and servant-hearted toward their husbands and families and live in way harder conditions than I do. Their husbands do not always lead out in sacrificial love, yet they persevere as godly wives in daily humble submission and service, much better than I do with a husband who leads well.

I have heard so much wisdom from these ladies and seen so much gentleness in their natures, with joy and peace in spite of their difficult situations. I can’t believe I’ve had the honor and privilege to come halfway across the world to teach these amazing women of God. I praise God for this and how He has humbled me and opened my eyes to how much I can still grow in Biblical submission. He has also shown me how I need to repent of my entitlement, expecting so much in return for my service to the Lord. “I deserve a break.” “I deserve credit and gratitude.” “It’s my turn for Zac to serve me now.” What a harsh reality to realize about myself! Ouch! Lord, help me! I know He is faithful and powerful enough to continue His work in me.

I don’t think I have a big enough journal for this trip. God is doing so much. Teaching with Betsy, Katie, Karen, and Valerie has been such a sweet treat. The Holy Spirit has been at work and has used us to do His bidding. How blessed are we? The women have been so receptive and interactive during the teachings. I taught on Bible Study Methods yesterday, and they were in the middle of an exercise where they were observing the passage on The Good Samaritan. The room was buzzing. I could see that they had so much they wanted to talk about and were so interested. Then that thought was reinforced when Darcene, one of our amazing translators, leaned over and said, “Let’s let them keep talking; they are so eager!” I was so encouraged seeing their love for God’s Word.

This place is BEAUTIFUL and SO ARE THE PEOPLE. The Spirit is so evident here. Betsy and Graham spoke on marriage yesterday for two hours, and IT.WAS.AMAZING. Everything that could have been said to these Burundians was said. How does that happen? Only God could do this. It was powerful and just so cool to see. Likewise, teaching was such a good opportunity for me to practice trust. I am not a teacher. But the Lord showed up! All glory and honor be to HIM!

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A Mission Bigger Than Imagined

Written by Cameron Cushman

Though I have been a believer since I was seven years old, this is the first time I have taken the opportunity to go on a short-term discipleship trip. God brought me halfway around the world to the small, central African country of Burundi after more than 30 years of walking with Him (admittedly off-and-on). Even though I had been preparing for months to make this trip, I had to get here and experience the culture and meet the people to truly understand why God brought me here and why God brought our team here.

Before I left, I understood that our mission was to follow the Great Commission, as Jesus described in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). While this is exactly what we are doing here, it’s being done in a much more comprehensive way than I imagined.

We are here to communicate God’s Word so a country can be changed through the pastors and leaders in the church.

Governments can bring change. The military can force change. Corporations can make changes. But only God can change hearts. Our goal is to equip the church leaders here so that they can help change the hearts of this country that has seen so much poverty, war, killing, death, and strife. Our hope is that we can inspire these local pastors in Kayanza Province to grow in God’s Word, so that they can share God’s love with their congregations in their hometowns and villages. We know that only God can change hearts and that through changed hearts this country, and in fact this entire region, can be changed.

It has been incredible to see how we are so different from our Burundian brothers and sisters, and are yet so much alike. Our life experiences couldn’t be more varied, and yet we are united by our belief in Jesus and his capability to change lives. Our desire to improve our communities through spreading the love of Jesus is just the same. Their Bible, though in their local language of Kurundi, teaches the same lessons as our English Bible does. Their worship songs, though sung mostly a capella, worship the same God we do. Their conflicts at home and in their lives are just the same, and the solutions to resolving these conflicts are the same ones that God’s Word teaches. Though we are so different, our God and his Word are the same. I see now why God brought me halfway around the world to see his Church in action.

Our travels have also transcended boundaries and, in some small way, have created mutual understanding between believers. One local pastor, Oscar, told me yesterday that he had harbored bad impressions of white people (or as we are called here, “Muzungu”). After we talked for several minutes and enjoyed a meal together, he said his opinion had changed. All Muzungu weren’t bad, he said. All it took was spending some time together, talking to each other and sharing our love for Jesus. Mission accomplished.

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These “Undignified” Moments

Written by Katie Henry

I’m writing this on the first day of the ALARM conference – and it’s been such a life-changing, meaningful day.

Our team was tired from the long days of travel, but fortunately we were able to get great sleep and felt rested and ready for the day to begin.

As men and women trickled into the large conference room, energy and excitement mounted for us and for them. Even with our language barrier, there was an instant warmth and love for one another; knowing we were brothers and sisters under the Lord created a powerful bond that is hard to put into words.

The conference began with worship – in the native Kurundi language. Although I did not know what the men and women were saying in their songs, their heartfelt worship of our Savior brought me to tears. And by tears, I mean weeping; I have never felt so overcome with emotion at the thought of every nation and tongue proclaiming love to our Lord and how it must sound to Him. I felt like I’d glimpsed a small piece of heaven and will never forget feeling the Lord’s overwhelming presence in that moment. I kept thinking of King David dancing in an undignified way before God and how these conference participants’ sold-out, “undignified” praise to Jesus stirred my affection for Him in a way that will forever impact how I sing before my God.

As our day progressed, we witnessed the Lord move in many ways – further confirmation that He is doing a mighty work here in Burundi and all over the world. Through the teaching of counter-cultural biblical family planning, Bible 101, Bible Study Methods, HIV information and more, we’ve seen our preparations come to fruition and are honored, grateful and beyond thankful to see His work first hand. That he chose our team to get to witness this work is humbling and something that will never be lost on us. We’re going to sleep with full hearts, knowing that another conference day awaits where we get to experience God in a new and wonderful way.

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Arrival in Beautiful Burundi: A Travel Log

written by Graham Robbins

Friday 8:50 pm (Central time): Wheels up on American Airlines flight 70-something from DFW to London Heathrow. We have 11 on our team from Fort Worth Watermark, and the feeling is overall excitement, with a mix of jitters about long flights and what will be some 36+ hours of travel through stops in London, Nairobi, and Kigali before we touch down in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Sunday 9:30 am (local Burundi time, 1:30 am Central): We land on a single-strip runway surrounded by lush green mountains on one side and, on the other, a small single terminal airport resembling architecture you might find on the back set of a Star Wars movie. It’s perfect.

What strikes me first is how green everything is, as I exit the airplane and onto the steps leading down to the tarmac. What hits me next is the thickness of the humidity. It’s not Houston in July, but it’s certainly adding moisture back to our tired, travel-weary faces with each step. As we walk toward the single entrance to the terminal, we are greeted by a sign that says “Welcome to Burundi” in French, Kurundi, and English, as well as a nurse taking our external temperatures followed by a few squirts of hand sanitizer. After 10-20 minutes of processing through customs, I am greeted by my friend Jean Baptiste with a friendly “Good Morning Billy” and a warm embrace. This is my second trip to Burundi, and although I go by my middle name in the states, word got out last trip that my first name is William. The ALARM team, especially Jean Baptiste, was therefore delighted to call me Billy Graham.

11:30 am: We arrive at the ALARM Chadwick Center for Leadership and Reconciliation headquarters and are joined by the rest of the ALARM staff and team. It is a reunion for a few of us, and the memories of our time here in previous years are awakened and sweet. This 5-story building is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and a partnership that we at Watermark have seen flourish over the last 13 years.

1:30 pm: After a filling lunch, a quick tour of the facilities, and an introduction to the full ALARM staff, we set out in our UNIVERSITY of BURUNDI passenger van (Think something between a city bus and remote shuttle van at DFW). We are heading to the Kayanza Province in the northern part of the country. The drive to Kayanza is a couple of hours – or so I was told. I was sleeping within a few minutes and was stirred occasionally by a horn honk, brake check, and apparently more than a few close encounters with oncoming trucks, bicyclists, and Tuku-Tuku (3 wheeled motorized covered taxis).

5:00 pm: We arrive at the Musumba Hills Hotel. Pictures do not do the landscape justice. We are situated on the side of a hill overlooking a long valley dotted with houses, tin roofs, gardens, banana trees, and lush vegetation. There is very little wasted space, with worn-out trails crisscrossing the terrain. The lush green vegetation is contrasted with the red brick-color dirt that produces a very fine dust. Fortunately for us, the trip up the mountain had spotty rain, and the wet pavement spared us from red dust spray tans that others on previous trips warned us about.

When you look across the valley, you can spot one of the many coffee distributors in Kayanza. Oh the coffee… it’s incredible. Kayanza is heralded as the lead producer of the most sought after coffee in Burundi. I believe them.

5:30 pm: We are introduced to our rooms and hear the quote of the trip so far – “If it allows me to lay horizontal, I’ll take it” – when Cameron Cushman was asked his preference of room. We were very tired, and each of the rooms we received allow us plenty of space to unpack, rest, shower (although hot water is available only after 6 pm). Hot or not, washing away 36+ hours of travel was a gift.

7:00 pm: We met for dinner at the adjoining restaurant, which serves us in several ways. First, food quality and choices put to rest any questions or concerns we had coming into the trip. There is something for everyone, from rice, vegetables, potatoes, vegetarian options, fish, steak, and fresh fruit. The fruit here is remarkably sweeter than back home. Secondly, we have all we need right here at the hotel and conference center grounds. There is no need for us to venture outside of the hotel. We are near the street at times, and there are always people interested in our presence and super excited to listen to our greetings in broken Kurundi. The temps today were in the 70s as we arrived in Kayanza, and the low temp for the evening is in the low 50s. There is a slight cool breeze that comes and goes. I kept my window cracked to allow that breeze into the room.

We break for bed around 9 pm, each of us wiped out but eager to get started at the conference in the morning.

Psalm 90:1-2: Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

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Updates about Congo Trip

If you’re looking for updates from our Congo trip, you can find them at the Watermark Justice page on Facebook. Enjoy!

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Thursday Ethiopia update – What an awesome week sharing Christ

Today, our small team traveled to an isolated Ethiopian farm village. Our van couldn’t reach the desired mission site because of the monsoon during the night and the flooding. We began our walk down this muddy path for a mile before coming upon a house. Kelly and Josh on our team stopped to share with the family as other team members moved on to the next house.
We approached the house and greeted a man, his wife and 3 kids. After sharing who we are and why we came to Ethiopia it started to rain so we all huddled underneath a few trees to share our story of life change. While sharing the evangecube and the story of Jesus with the man, a crowd begins to gather. Among them was a rather tall and seemingly disgruntled man. I shared my personal testimony as they listened intently.
The man whose house we were at said that he believed the story I shared about Jesus was true but that he was Ethiopian Orthodox and that he believed his good work would get him to heaven. The tall man however stated otherwise. He began to share that he used to be a follower of Christ but had turned to alcohol and no longer considered himself a believer. He stated that us coming and sharing had given him hope and that he wanted to repent and begin to follow Christ once again! Praise God!
God of course was not finished. Upon hearing the good news that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Eph 2:8,9) the Orthodox man’s heart was moved. He and his wife both accepted Jesus as their savior and we all pray together! Praise God!
This was an amazing display of God and His glory. He brought us to this exact place to experience a deeper understanding of his sovereignty and that he truly does not need us; yet allows us to be a small part of this incredible story.
Watermark Dallas team is tired after a long week but doing well. The people who had some stomach issues are feeling better & rest over the next 48 hours will help. Tomorrow the plan is to drive to Addis Ababa, get some rest, do some post-trip training & eat some good food. Saturday will be our off day to rest, eat some good food, see the city of Addis & do our final post-trip training.
Please continue to pray for:
• Good heath for the North Americans
• Safety as we travel to Addis
• New believers would stand strong under the persecution
• Disciplemakers would shepherd well the new believers
• Many churches would be planted among the new believers

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Wednesday Ethiopia update- The shock of never seeing a white person

Today, our small team traveled to a remote village where many of the people had never seen white people. As we walked into the village, the people began to gather. Fidel and Colby,, approached a teenager to shake his hand, and this teenager backed away and turned himself, as to shield himself from an attack.
Fidel asked if everything was ok with the teen or if he felt threatened. The teen told the translators yes and that he had not seen a white person before. A few minutes later, the teen had a change of heart and approached Fidel with smile on his face, shaking his hand and agreeing to speak.
Colby and Fidel asked the teen about himself and his beliefs. When asked about his faith, the teen said he prayed to the mountains and the trees that give him and his family life through agriculture. Fidel agreed with the teen about the beauty and life that mountains and trees give, but redirected the teen to the Creator of all trees and mountains, of all beauty and life. Fidel shared his testimony and how this Creator changed his life in a way that no tree or mountain ever could.
Colby and Fidel then shared the story of Jesus Christ, our need for a Savior and how Christ died so that we may be saved and have a direct relationship with God again. The teen acknowledged he had heard of Jesus before but that His life and resurrection was never fully explained. He accepted Jesus as his Savior but admitted he wasn’t ready to confess his faith aloud yet. He explained that his wife would shun him and how it could separate him from his family. He said he would go home and share the news of Christ with them, with his ultimate hope that they would follow him on his new journey. He hugged both Fidel and Colby before leaving.
It was a sweet moment for our small team to look back at that conversation. What started with fear and distrust ended with a hug and hope. Our God is big.

The Watermark Dallas team is doing well but some of our team members are starting to feel a little run down. Several have some minor stomach issues but rest & Imodium will help with that. Tomorrow is our last ministry day so the team is excited to celebrate the week but also sad to say goodbye to such dear Ethiopian friends.

Please pray for:
• Good health for our North Americans who are struggling with stomach issues
• Continued safety as we minister in remote mountain villages
• Unity with our Ethiopian partners as we have our celebration ceremony tomorrow
• New believers will be discipled well & stand strong under persecution

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Tuesday Ethiopia update- What a mighty God we serve

Our ministry day started like a surprise birthday party. We jumped out of the van and instantly people swarmed. We were soon playing soccer, volleyball, acting out David vs. Goliath, blowing bubbles, playing with a parachute, and sharing the gospel. Many kids accepted. It was hard to find someone not smiling.
Amid all the play, each of us would take the time to share the gospel. Early on, Tarikwa pulled Rasheal into one of the houses, where she shared the gospel with more than twenty women. All accepted, except the oldest one, who was concerned of what her husband, who was Ethiopian Orthodox, would think, expressing the sentiments of many. Lo and behold, Ben and Kevin were sharing with many of their husbands around the same time, and many accepted. When Christ wants people to follow him, he sometimes takes a village.
During lunch at one of our disciple makers’ houses, we shared testimonies while enjoying Ingira (Ethiopian bread like food) and a coffee ceremony. Kevin, Johnna, See S’ai, Ocean shared their testimonies. Johnna’s testimony brought her and the team to tears, such so that Ethiopians crowded the door to see why. Because she shared her story with such honesty and a thankfulness for what Christ did for her, Tarikwa and See S’ai asked her to share again with the young girls watching, so they could hear the incredible story. And after lunch, all of us went outside and shared our testimonies with See S’ai, his family, and their friends to encourage them in their faith.
Nathan taught some children how to play American football (“wide receiver” did not translate well), Ben and Laura had around thirty kids dancing and laughing during Simon Says, and Kevin was playing Frisbee as the day wound down. A conversation that Johnna and Nathan had with staunch Orthodox women found them accepting Christ. While Nathan and Johnna were sharing in the house, Laura and Rashel were painting nails. The girls were showing their nails off to everyone, including each other, and were dancing all around. Ben’s conversations were fruitful, as many accepted. We did not want to leave.
Pray for the town of Szaikboka. They showed us unparalleled hospitality, and their eagerness to hear the story of Christ more than refilled our hearts. It was an awesome day.

Watermark Dallas team is feeling good but a couple people have some minor stomach issues. Please continue to pray for:
• Good health & strength to finish strong
• Continued unity with our Ethiopian partners
• Continued open doors for the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the Ethiopian Orthodox & Muslims

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Ethiopia update- What an awesome God we serve

For the 1stday of ministry in Ethiopia, we had a sweet morning meeting with our team of translators and disciple makers. In our initial conversations with one of the disciple makers we learned that all his brothers and sisters were believers, however his Mom was not. She had supposedly believed at one point in Christ but ended up losing one of her sons due to sickness which made her reject God. Before we left our initial meeting we prayed for our new friend and for his mother. We also prayed for an opportunity to get to speak with his mom today. By God’s divine appointment at the end of the day we were able to share the gospel with her. Alana and Justin had an opportunity to be welcomed into her home and share the story of Christ. After talking about the salvation offered through Christ and how the message of the Gospel changed their lives, the mother began to open her heart. She deeply wanted to be with her son that had passed away and see him again. Alana and Justin explained how she could see him again in Heaven if she would be willing to believe in the story of Christ and the redeeming grace he offers. She became very happy and emotional as she decided to let God into her heart again. Some of her other children were there and it turned into an incredibly moving experience. It is truly amazing what God can do through us and with us if we are just faithful.  Such a great way to start the trip!

Watermark trip 4 people are rejoicing after an awesome 1stday of sharing Christ’s redemption.  Even though the weather is much cooler than Dallas, at 5800 feet above sea level the sun is very intense.  Please continue to pray for:

• Continued open hearts to the gospel message among the Ethiopian Orthodox & Muslims
• Unity between the North Americans & our Ethiopian partners
• Good health & safety
• Much needed sleep for the North Americans because of the 8 hour time difference

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