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Small Big Ways God Revealed His Goodness

How could I possibly put a trip like this into words? Nothing I say could possibly do it justice, but I guess I will try. It was such a sweet trip, and the Lord showed up in so many unexpected ways.  Many of them small – but so very powerful. This is how He spoke to me:

  • The mighty way in which he chose to use broken and redeemed vessels to carry his message of love and forgiveness to remote parts of this world
  • The privilege of teaching on the subject of marriage to a room full of men who live in a culture that does not give honor and dignity to women. And getting to see small changes in the way they think.
  • Mattias’s message. One of the pastors at the conference spoke to the room full of men and women. He honored the women, telling them what a huge job they have and how well they have done that job. Beautiful smiles and looks of gratitude flooded their faces. This was possibly the first time they have ever been praised or thanked for what they do.
  • The testimony of a couple who responded to the teaching on marriage by taking action and washing one another’s feet that night when they went home. I’m praying that the Lord will use this to encourage other men to serve their wives with the same degree of humility and love.
  • My signature on a certificate, given to these women, that will be treasured by them for years to come. Who am I to sign something so valuable? God chose to use us, and I am humbled by that thought.
  • In the way God put together this team. Through all kinds of uncertainty and changes along the way, this was the team He chose to go, and it was fun to see Him work it all out according to His plan and His timing.
  • The way a simple “thank you” made the hotel staff feel loved and appreciated. I think they will always remember being pulled up-front, and I want to always remember to give honor and respect to those who serve.
  • Being reminded through the Africans’ worship of the joy that we should exude as those who have been saved by Jesus! How beautiful that joy truly is!
  • The beauty of a mountainside that He spoke into existence with a single word. Being in awe of it and knowing that he created it all for our enjoyment!
  • A small conversation on the side of the road, with a young boy who spoke perfect English. This conversation led me to give away my Bible of the last 5 years… a treasured possession. I get to rejoice in the fact that I know God will use any act of obedience – no matter how big or small – for his glory. I am praying that this copy of God’s Word will transform the life of that child and eventually many more in that small village situated on the side of the road in Kayanza, Burundi. It might not sound like much, but that moment will always be precious to me.

I’m so thankful for each of those “small” ways the Lord made Himself known to me on our trip. He is so so good! And I am sure we are surrounded by those “small” moments every single day here in America as well…

I just need to be looking for them!

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My Heart Caught Up

From the moment that I said yes to Africa, my prayer had been, “God please allow my heart to catch up with my obedience.” I was distracted by my life, my circumstances, my world. I never truly believed that I could be ALL IN for what God wanted from me in Burundi, and in my heart I knew I would betray Him on this mission.

He is so faithful in the midst of my unfaithfulness. I remember at the packing party our campus pastor, Tyler Briggs, reminding and encouraging us that all we were doing in Burundi was simply sharing our stories of God’s grace in our lives, just like we do here on mission in Fort Worth. God used this truth to begin a surrender of my sin of people-pleasing and a need to “perform” while preparing to teach the Africans.

Embracing this truth, I found that by sharing my pain, my depraved sin nature, and my deep need for healing in Jesus, I could relate to the women in Africa the way that God wanted me to. He designed my story before time began to help the Burundi women see the freedom I experienced in confession and forgiveness. He sets the captives free! And He uses our stories and our mess to make His message clear and to glorify Him. HE IS WORTHY!

As much as God used my story to minister to the African ladies, He used the stories of our team members to minister to my heart. Spending time with these 10 precious brothers and sisters was life-giving. They became my family for that week, as we depended on one another for encouragement, safety, direction, love, and guidance. Deep bonds of friendship were created. Deep conversations of truth and reflection were begun. Deep reflection and awareness of areas in my heart that still need Jesus’ healing were revealed. Deep love and gratitude for Christ and His loving kindness and mercy over my life are still being celebrated. I’m still processing my heart.

Yes , God allowed my heart to catch up with His mission. I’m grateful for this invitation He extended to me – an invitation to depend on Him and trust Him with my heart. He is faithful to answer prayers as they align with His will.

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Impacting One, Impacting Many

Written by Tyler Kelly

This trip has seemed quite long, but also so short. We’ve built deep friendships with each other and with the ALARM staff in such a small amount of time. From awkward situations to moments of raw emotion (and so many other experiences), we have had a chance to see how the Lord has grown and continues to grow each one of us. While the conference was only four days long, so much was accomplished, so much was learned, and so many memories were made.

Early on in the trip, we talked about what success would look like. This would help us not lose sight of what our true purpose was. We knew that our job was to prepare well, share our message to the best of our ability, love on the people, and let God do the real work. Even though the conference was quite successful, we knew that not every participant would be ready to confess, repent of sin, and commit every area of their life to Christ. But what about those who did? Even one heart that fully turns and commits to follow the Lord could impact so many people. That one person can go back and share the truth of the Word to their congregation. They can show their spouse and kids love like Christ shows us and alter the trajectory of their family for generations.

Jesus talks about how the good shepherd would leave the ninety-nine to go find the one. But what does the life of the one look like once the good shepherd finds him? I would imagine that life would be radically changed, full of gratefulness, ready to share about how good of a shepherd he has. This one act by the shepherd has a much longer impact than the action of saving him. I hope this conference showed and reminded everyone how good of a shepherd we have.

So while the travel home is long and arduous, I am reminded of the one – and the many – that were impacted from this trip. While Christ could have used anyone to share this week, He allowed us to be a part of what He is already doing in Burundi. I am thankful for that and for the people of ALARM who will stay and continue to be apart of the Lord’s work in Burundi.

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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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