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Uganda: For the Sake of the Gospel, Farkle Out

Today was the last day of the conferences. We were able to wrap up our time with the church leaders and mentors. Appropriately, we started and ended this day with Farkle (a game where there is no winner, but the loser has a consequence).

At the mentor conference, we went out like a Roman candle. The day started extremely high-energy as we taught the mentors to play Farkle. We followed that with teaching on how to lead by establishing and always working on your relationship with those you are leading. We ended the teaching time with encouragement about the work the mentors are doing for the kids we sponsor, giving places to go in Scripture when discouraged, and letting them know they are seen, known, loved, and prayed for by those of us in Dallas. Through it all, Chase “6th Man” Jones kept the entertainment level up the entire conference. They ended the conference with a “Say So,” which is a time of sharing what the Lord has taught you or changed in you (based on Psalms 107:2 “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so”). Women said they already had shared, or planned to share with someone, things they needed to confess but never had. One man said he had forgotten to have fun with his students and planned to bring back some of the games he learned. One woman realized she needed to go seek forgiveness from her son for things done many years ago. They were so grateful for the time and felt so much more connected to each other.

At the Pastors Conference, we taught on women caring for women, the problem of evil, shepherding, and how to share your story of God’s grace. We also used current heresy in churches around Kampala to discuss how to evaluate a position using Scripture. It was clear to us that many seeds were planted in the hearts of the church leaders of Kampala. Matthew 13:31-32 says, “He presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches’ (NASB).” We left so encouraged, knowing we had the chance to plant some seeds, but that we could leave the growth to the Lord. There were many stories of confession that needed to take place and forgiveness that needed to be extended and hearts willing to do the hard work of trusting the Lord in those things. Many pastors realized and expressed that they have not done a good job of rooting their doctrine or practices in Scripture. Many planned to go back and make sure their positions and programs aligned with Scripture, and others were determined to stop just trying to fill the seats and to make disciples – not just converts.

The conference ended with final blessings and thanks from each group. Kevin got a shout-out from the conference leader for how impactful his openness was for the participants and him personally. One woman looked at us and said, “You people stripped yourself bare in front of us, and we are changed.” What a blessing from the Lord to be able to hear that pouring ourselves out in love for Him and these people had such an impact. We don’t always get to see the impact, but we know God loves to work through His word and His people.

One of the amazing things that resulted from the conference – that we did not expect – was the increased trust and respect that the church leaders in Kampala have for ALARM based on this conference.

We ended the night by teaching the ALARM staff and some of the conference participants to play Farkle. Energy and noise levels were at an all time high. Those familiar with Farkle will understand this story… As we were teaching them, we were playing to 2,000. On his first roll, and possibly the best of his life, John was up to 2,100 – which would end the game. Knowing we couldn’t end the game on the first turn, Kyle said, “Oh, John! For the sake of the gospel, you need to Farkle out!” [let yourself go back to zero]

Starting and ending the day with such high energy, we all ended the day very tired, I don’t think anyone needed a Unisom to sleep that night.

Please be praying for:

the seeds planted to grow into mighty trees which transform the city of Kampala
ALARM to be able to use its credibility to further its work in Kampala
the mentors to reach their homes safely (some came from as far away as 12 hours)
the 520 students who are under these mentors
all conference participants to be encouraged and to trust the Lord for the change He is encouraging in them

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Uganda: Day 2 Report

Kelly and Jeff joined Ben, Suz, and Chase for the second day of the Mentors’ Conference in Kampala. The entire day overflowed with absolute joy and laughter as our team modeled incarnational ministry and excellence.

Through a series of Olympic-style events (cue the music), the Mentors enjoyed a day filled teaching and games. The room was filled with celebration and excitement over each game. We learned that you shouldn’t assume that everyone knows how to put together a puzzle, but it made a great illustration on how we shouldn’t assume our students understand the gospel or that our Mentors always know the best ways to serve. We teach them by doing things with them!

The mentors practiced sharing their 30-second testimonies of life change and practiced counseling from the Bible. They asked great questions, and it was so beautiful to watch them share their stories of grace. 

Be encouraged: Two of the mentors were inspired by Chase’s teaching on the Community Core Values and engaged missionally with each of the hotel staff. One young man accepted Christ and the Mentor is following up to help him learn to read his Bible! One mentor has been inspired to share his testimony in October when he has the opportunity to preach at a church. Be praying: Pray that the way this man models authenticity and trust in Christ for healing would be infectious in the church, starting a desire for broken and contrite hearts to turn to God.

Quote of the day: “I can’t wait to get to Heaven and see the impact of the mentor ministry to these orphans; the least of these are getting equipped with truth and courage!” – Suz

Day two of ALARM’s Pastors Conference was bold. Meg started the morning by helping the women, by reading and studying Scripture, to understand the character of God. Ese shared the biblical foundation for forgiveness, clearly explaining God’s high calling to believers. Having shared her own story of forgiveness, she left participants with practical steps and conviction that led to a time of prayer, singing, and reflection as we laid our cares and resentments on the cross. Meg came back and explained how conflict resolution starts with self-leadership, owning our own part first. She modeled practical examples from marriage and answered great questions from the participants. While sharing her own story of recovery, Laura shared practical ways to understand trauma, abuse, and grief. Participants spent time in circles sharing their hurts and praying for one another, finding hope and understanding in their Ugandan sisters. 

Kevin blew away the men with his story of forgiveness and the biblical principles that guide it. Men were amazed at what God is able to do with a man who can forgive. Kyle J (street name: “Little Kyle”) started a fire and let sparks fly to help explain conflict in marriage. The participants were hungry with questions and challenged greatly. Kyle K (street name: “Big Kyle”) brought it home with a call to biblical church structure. From biblical warnings to a charge to shepherd well, the participants got a clear glimpse of what the Bible calls us to do.

Be encouraged: The men and the women saw clearly a call to live authentically and to return to the Bible as our source of instruction. They are hungry for practical ways to engage in these areas. 

Be praying: Pray that the men and women would be courageous and simply start somewhere. There is fear of persecution for changing church traditions or speaking up. Pray that our brothers and sisters in Uganda would live out 2 Timothy 1:7.

Quote of the day: “Today was easily one of my top three ministry experiences, watching God clearly at work in the lives of the men.” -Kevin

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Uganda: Day 1 Report

We are all praising God for His hand of protection, as our Watermark Uganda Team traveled to Uganda this past Saturday, September 21st. Our team arrived in Kampala late Sunday night and were welcomed by our ALARM partners.

Day 1 of the Pastor and Mentor conferences were awesome! Both conferences commenced today, and by the end of the day, hearts were full and minds have been reminded and taught about God’s design for leadership, marriage, parenting, and community. 

The Holy Spirit has moved mightily in the hearts and minds of church leaders and our team. Today, the topics our team taught on are: 

  • Interpreting Scripture
  • Leading Ourselves 
  • Biblical Marriage 
  • Biblical Parenting 
  • Community Core Values 

Our team is so grateful and feels so privileged to be with the church leaders in Uganda. As we met, taught, and got to know the church leaders, they felt free to share their hearts through confession and through asking our team tough questions. 

Key takeaways from Day 1 of the Uganda Church Leader conference:

  • Heart conviction – to the point of confessing sin 
  • Eyes have been opened to changes needed in their churches so that God’s Word will be correctly used. One participant called it “getting back our roots.”
  • Our Watermark core value, “Live Authentically,” was taught to both men and women, and the outcome was powerful. Many women confessed unrepentant sin, and the men discussed the need for authenticity on behalf of the Elders and Bishops of their churches.
  • The team really enjoyed watching and listening to each other teach on God’s Word. 
  • Teaching and training on shepherding and discipling children was very appreciated, and the church leaders were given some Scripture tools to help them with their “little arrows.”
  • Participants confessed that they don’t tend to read the whole passage of Scripture when teaching… only one verse.
  • Talked about how nothing is off limits… living out the “one anothers” of Scripture.
  • How do pastors discuss their hard stuff in a safe place?
  • How do I start to begin leading out in confessing sin as a main leader? 
  • How do we handle the welfare of pastors?
  • How do you find passion in your ministry?
  • Church leaders are worried that if they start to make the changes to their current church structure and mode of operation, they will get pushback or even get fired.
  • Help on leading the church financially… including potentially not taking an offering (the reason Watermark can do this b/c we strive to make disciples, not simply converts)
  • What is the next step when we have pastors that are living with their wives simply “undivorced,” instead of in a strong relationship?

Key takeaways from Day 1 of the Mentor Conference:

  • It was an awesome day filled with games and encouraging teaching to help the mentors connect with their students (orphans) in a more authentic and fun way. 
  • Our Watermark Mentor team loved on the students in big ways, making them feel known and cared about.
  • Some team members were teaching for the very first time and did amazingly. 
  • The mentors were really interested in in the way our team engaged with the students, and they were writing down every verse we used.
  • The mentors were taught how to engage a small group with interactive questions and games. 
  • Tea time was really nice
  • Side conversations at mealtime and tea time were really helpful to follow up with mentors on any questions they may have and/or go deeper on things that were shared during the teachings. It allowed room to talk about next steps for ALARM and to answer questions with mentors.

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Ethiopia Saturday update – Leaving for airport soon

The Ethiopia team is in great spirits & feeling good & will leave for the airport soon. Please pray for:
* our full hearts will translate to being as faithful sharing Christ in Dallas as it was in Ethiopia
* flights would be on time & we would make it to Dallas safely
* continued good health for the North Americans as we have a 5 1/2 hour followed by a 15 1/2 hour flight
* new believers would be discipled & shepherded & would stand firm under persecution

Hope to see you at the airport in Dallas!!!

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Thursday Ethiopia update – Witch Doctors son accepts free gift of salvation

It might have been the last day in the field for our team, but God used the limited time we had to show how powerful and mighty he really is. If we had to put it all into one word, it would be MIRACULOUS.
We traveled to a small village that we had previously visited. There was a strong influence of fear from a local witch doctor. We attempted to meet with her during our first visit to share our story. After finding out that she was away, we prayed at a local house for the witch doctor’s home to become a church and for God to show his love to the village as a whole.

During our visit this time, one thing remained constant in all of our conversations. There was a boy named Toloso who would pop around to each one of our gospel conversations. Not long after we started to share, we were met with opposition from an older Muslim man who was attempting to kick us off his land. Even after we respectfully relocated and continued to share, Toloso continued to show up in all of our circles. After Christa and Ashley started engaging with him, we learned that he was the witch doctor’s son. Although he believed the gospel was true, he was afraid of persecution from his family.

After praying with him and having multiple conversations, we invited him to a coffee ceremony at the same house we traveled to earlier in the week. After an extremely moving time of worship, Toloso decided that he wanted to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior. It is amazing to see how the Lord worked in this village. Two days prior, in the same house where we prayed that the witch doctor’s home would become a church, we had the opportunity to commission her son as a new brother in Christ to be the church.

Small Team Members- Aaron Libman, Ashley Tucker, Christa Cartwright, Jon Verwys, Kathleen Howard (Team Flex)

Ethiopia trip 2 folks are feeling great. There are some minor tummy issues but nothing that some rest & a little Pepto or Imodium won’t fix. Bittersweet saying goodbye to our Ethiopian translators & disciplemakers but the reality is that we head back to Addis Ababa tomorrow & they will stay with fond memories about how the Ferenge (white people) have loved & shared Christ among the Ethiopian Orthodox & Muslims. We will travel back to Addis tomorrow & start our post-trip training & also get some rest & eat some good food. Saturday night late we head to the airport & will arrive back in Dallas Sunday afternoon. We hope to see you at the airport. Please continue to pray for:
• The new believers will be discipled & shepherded as they will undergo persecution
• Safe travels as we drive back to Addis
• God will give us the courage to share as boldly in Dallas as we did in Ethiopia this week
• Good health & rest for the North American team

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Wednesday Ethiopia update – There is power in the name of Jesus

Praise God that we are having a wonderful time in Ethiopia! The Lord has sustained us through lost baggage, very little sleep, and walking (or slipping) through tons of mud. It has been beyond encouraging getting to witness so much freedom coming to the Ethiopians who accept Christ.

Our small team is working really well together and has gotten to see how The Lord uses our different stories to relate to His people! An Ethiopian heard the Gospel from Haleigh and then had a follow up conversation with Erik. He accepted Christ and was eager to start learning right away! It is such a gift to have Disciple Makers who live in the area on mission with us, so that we can quickly connect new believers with the local church.

Our ministry day was truly unbelievable. After Sarah shared her testimony with a family, a woman who had been kicked out of the Orthodox church because her husband divorced her accepted Christ. She said that the Gospel was “the story she had been waiting to hear.” We were invited into a coffee ceremony in a village where a house church meets. Getting to pray and worship with Ethiopian believers was a beautiful glimpse of heaven.

Today started off really rainy, but that didn’t stop our awesome Disciple Makers from gathering crowds for us to speak to. We were invited into a local pastor’s home and were so encouraged by his story and his ministry here. It can be discouraging to speak with people whose hearts seem so hardened to the Gospel, but praise God because we have seen many Muslims and Ethiopian Orthodox come to know Christ!

We are praying that tomorrow will also be filled with intentional conversations. We want to continue to use our testimonies to point others to the grace of God. We are praying that we are able to witness more breakthroughs for those who are living in the bondage of rules & religion as we head out tomorrow.

Small Team Members- Zach Howser, Sarah Whittingslow, Haleigh Yancey, Stephanie Akin, Erik Jessen

The team is at its strongest point physically as most folks are finally adjusted to the time change & are sleeping well. Tomorrow is our last full day of ministry so we will have a closing ceremony late in the afternoon to celebrate all that God has done this week. I have continually told our team that our job this week is to plant seeds & it’s God’s job to change hearts which makes our job easy as God does the heavy lifting. Please continue to pray for:
• Unity between the North Americans & our Ethiopian partners
• Continued open hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ
• Continued good health
• Safety for the North Americans as we travel the roads & walk the mountain paths sharing Christ

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Tuesday Ethiopia update- Our God is might to Save

“ I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different Gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the Gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed… “ Galatians 1: 6-10

Today more than ever I was reminded of the different “religions” in the villages of Ethiopia and the Power of the one TRUE Gospel. Today we got the privilege of being in the village of Billalo as we encountered a much different crowd than the previous day. With heavy Ethiopian Orthodox and Muslim backgrounds prior, we, surprisingly, were met with believers- or so we thought. As soon as we got off the bus a group of men crowded around Josh and Taylor as Kendall and Marcus took another group to pass the soccer ball. Once Taylor and Josh were finished their group of 20+ came and joined the other group and Marcus began to share his testimony and the Gospel. Many of the believers began to ask, “ why do you keep sharing this same story… we are all believers. “ At that point Kendall got to jump in and share how we as believers don’t just need the Gospel the moment we are saved but it is something we should remind ourselves of daily. We talked about the purpose of the church, importance of community, and the need to be in Gods word.
It was so cool to see everyone using his or her unique Gifts. Marcus has an ability to pull believers aside and share about next steps in becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus. Taylor has the ability to bring kids in and share stories of Gods great love for them. Kendall has the gift of apologetics and got to help makes sense of arguments of the Orthodox Church and Muslim faith for individuals of other faiths. Josh has the ability to share the Gospel in a way that’s clear and consistent.
Many individuals accepted Christ and many heard the message of the Gospel.
God is on the move and is softening hearts all over Ethiopia. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, and today was the salvation for many. PRAISE GOD who can do immeasurably more than what we could ever ask or imagine!!!
Small Team Members- Josh Pickett, Kendall Williams, Marcus Peters, Taylor Ray

Ethiopia Team 2 is doing well outside of some minor stomach issues. Praise the Lord that we got our luggage this afternoon as some of the people have been wearing the same clothes since they left Dallas on Friday (which is a light & momentary affliction compared to sharing Christ with people who have never heard the message). The weather in Assela is awesome. Lows are in the low 50’s & the highs are in the mid 70’s but with the elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level, when the sun comes out it does feel pretty warm. God is moving in some incredible ways & these stories are only a fraction of how God is moving in Ethiopia. Please continue to pray for:
• Unity between the North Americans & our Ethiopian partners
• Open hearts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the Ethiopian Orthodox & Muslims
• Good health
• Safety as we travel the Ethiopian roads

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Monday Ethiopia update- God works to change hearts in Ethiopia

Ethiopia team 2 folks had a great 1st day of ministry. The day started with a monsoon that kept us at the hotel a little longer than we anticipated but the rain stopped & we jumped in our vans & headed out to our mission sites. We had an opening ceremony where we had a chance to worship with our Ethiopian partners & then we broke into our small teams & met our Ethiopian translators & disciple-makers.

After the opening ceremony we drove out to our mission sites & got out of the van. Our small team didn’t walk 20 steps before 2 young girls asked why we were there. Kendall Williams & Taylor Ray shared their testimonies & then the evangecube. As they were sharing the cube a middle aged man walked up with a scowl. I could tell by his body language that he wasn’t happy we were there. After he heard the gospel he said that there were many religions in this area but there are people who have a lot of addictions & struggles. I jumped in & shared my testimony of trying to find happiness in alcohol, drugs & inappropriate relationships with girls. As I shared my testimony & talked about God being more interested in the condition of our heart than or outward religious activity. After a really good discussion the man said that what we were saying was a good word & that people in the village had the opportunity to believe this message for themselves if they choose to. Amazing how God changed this mans countenance & made him open & receptive to the gospel.

The team is feeling good & is rested We hope to get our luggage tomorrow (Tuesday afternoon) but the team is in good spirits in spite of only having what they had in their carryon. Please continue to pray for:
• Open hearts among the Ethiopian Orthodox & Muslims
• Team would get good rest & continue to have good health
• Safe travels on the Ethiopian roads
• Unity with our Ethiopian partners
• Luggage would arrive & people would get clean clothes

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Ethiopia Team 1 is headed back to DFW & Team 2 has arrived

Ethiopia Team 1 is headed back to home & Team 2 has arrived safe & sound. While Team 2 has arrived healthy & in good shape, the bags did not arrive. We aren’t expecting the luggage for 48 hours but that won’t stop us as the team is in good spirits.

Please pray for:
* Unity between the North Americans & our Ethiopian partners
* Safety as we travel the Ethiopian roads Sunday toward our mission site
* Open hearts to the gospel among the Ethiopian Orthodox & Muslims
* All the luggage would arrive on Tuesday

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Thursday Ethiopia update- Muslims hearts drawn to the true God

Never judge a book by its cover, especially if God is the author.

The “book” being the mission field and the “cover” being the physical location we were sharing the gospel. Our team wasn’t placed in a village today, but rather stopped on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. Our team was eager to share the gospel with a lot of people with this being our last ministry day, but this site did not seem to fit the bill.

However, God was still faithful (as he always is) to bring some amazing conversations our way. Brady shared his story and the Evangecube with two men, one of which is going to read the New Testament to do his own research and one of which accepted Christ!

One of our North American members, Letty who is from Ethiopia had conversations with some women and children nearby and they were excited to know that she can speak their native tongue. It was an amazing feeling how God orchestrated for her to come and share her testimony. While she was sharing there were kids playing with bubbles nearby & they started getting closer to the gospel conversation. It did not take too long when two of the boys said I believe. She was originally discouraged that she had not heard anyone accept Christ yet but knew our job is to plant seeds & eventually on our last ministry day she saw people come to Christ

Courtney began to share the Evangecube with a small group of teenage girls and a few other children. They seemed eager and excited about hearing the Gospel. Afterwards, they prayed and one of the girls had a large grin on her face. She was a 12 year-old girl who had been the only believer in her family. We shared a copy of the New Testament with the women and Courtney shared with the girl how to read Scripture. We opened the Bible to Ephesians 2:4-10. The translator began to translate the verse and we had the girl follow along in her new Bible. She then read the verse to us in her own language and was so excited to have a physical copy of God’s word in her hands. Courtney shared how that verse spoke of her being the “handiwork of God” and that there is power and truth in God’s Word.

In the afternoon, Brady and John had the chance to spend over an hour meeting with 8-10 Muslim men in a coffee shop. We had the chance to share the gospel through the Evangecube and then proceeded to answer as many questions as we could regarding Jesus’ divinity, the Trinity, and other questions about the faith. The team, along with our Ethiopian translators and disciple-makers were able to challenge the group’s thinking and answer their questions. It was so encouraging to see how EAGER these men were to learn and have their questions answered. Although none of them accepted Christ today, these men are leaders in their Muslim community and have scheduled follow-up meetings with the local disciple-makers. This is exactly how the model is supposed to work: strengthen and empower the local church so that God can work through them. We have no idea what the fruit will be from our time in the coffee shop, but the potential impact of that conversation is huge!

Our time in the field came to a close, and all five teams met back at a church for a closing service. The Ethiopians honored each team member with a certificate commemorating our time serving alongside their churches. Our Ethiopian partners blessed us with a coffee ceremony and then both Ethiopians and Americans worshipped together in song and dance (the Ethiopian way). It was a beautiful sight! After meeting as small teams (Ferenge, translators, and disciple-makers) for the last time and encouraging each other, we loaded the vans and headed back to the hotel. Our time with the Ethiopian translators and disciple-makers was so sweet. They have incredible stories of God’s faithfulness and their own commitment in the midst of persecution. We’ll never forget our time with our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world!

Small Team 5 Members – Courtney Frey, John Bundren, Letty Petros, Brady Vogel

Team Health Update
The team is healthy & safe. After 4 full ministry days we will be heading back to Addis Ababa tomorrow. After travelling back to Addis, we will get some rest, do some followup training & have a nice dinner Friday night. What an awesome week this has been sharing Christ’s love with the Ethiopian Orthodox & Muslims in the Oromo Region of Ethiopia. Please continue to pray for:
• Safety as we drive back to Addis Ababa tomorrow
• Continued good health
• New believers would stand up strong under persecution & be discipled & grow in their new faith

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