Eclipse

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

In the zone of totality, a phenomenon that cannot adequately be described happened at 10:18AM on Monday, September 21. The only other celestial display that holds a candle to it is a night sky awash with the Northern Lights.

EclipseAs we sat in an open field, it got dark and cool… and still. The air felt electric. We watched through NASA-approved glasses as the moon cut its path across the sun. An orange globe became a narrower and narrower crescent until all at once – in a surreal moment – the glasses went dark. We removed them and looked again. The moon had obscured the sun. Its light was concealed. But the corona of the sun exploded into the sky, revealed in all its cosmic glory. We could even gaze on it with naked eyes. It is hard to describe the feeling, though everyone in the path of totality knows it. It was brief, but so awe-inspiring that those who saw it attest, “it was worth it.” Worth the early drive, the wait, and the traffic home. If I can ever see another, I will not miss it.

A number of people who live within a stone’s throw of totality said things like, “it’ll get dark here, too,” or “it’s only two minutes long,” or “hey, we have 96% coverage so we’ll see the same thing.” But they didn’t. Not even close. Those who did experience it are not going to be able to adequately describe it. We are an exclusive club defined by the undefinable. It would be like trying to describe diving into Caribbean water to someone who has not done so. No matter how good the explanation, it cannot suffice for full immersion.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

When I first began to respond to the invitation of the Holy Spirit… when I moved hesitantly but hopefully towards Jesus… it was like the watching of the eclipse with those glasses. I was beginning to see something. I could tell that more was about to happen and was compelled to press in. I learned about Jesus. I read the Word. I began to identify with things that might have seemed difficult to me before. But I’m glad I didn’t stop short of full immersion. Because when He finally fully revealed Himself in the most indescribable encounter imaginable, the scales fell off my eyes. Like that eclipse moment, a world I had not known came to light and the power and presence of God became personal. I could hear His voice. He was with me (still is). The world would never look the same. And I became part of a community defined by the undefinable. I don’t say that as a point of arrogance as though I have figured out something exclusive. Far from it. It wasn’t by cleverness that I responded, but by His loving invitation. Pride is one of the things you give up when you surrender to Jesus. There are only humble people in Heaven living in the presence of a humble God. His hand is outstretched to anyone who would seek Him.

… seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

So, to my friends who believe and want to know Him more, seek Him with all of your heart. Press in and know Him. Read His word until it saturates your very being. Total eclipse. Full immersion.

 

 

 

 

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Dots

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23-24)

On Friday, August 11, a few hundred white supremacists assembled in Charlottesville, VA, to express their hatred for Americans who are not like them. Under the veneer of outrage over the statue of Robert E. Lee being removed from the campus of the University of Virginia, a blatant display of racist attitudes and hatred spewed forth from the protestors. At 1:42PM, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators injuring 19 and killing Heather Heyer. This is evil. It is so obvious that I cannot even imagine anyone standing on the side of such hateful people. Many leaders were quick to respond with unequivocal condemnation as soon as the news got around.

In the midst of hearing this tragic news and being horrified by the display of hatred, I was puzzled by something. This quickly became a referendum regarding the white church. There were demands that we publicly condemn and denounce this. Of course! Why is that even a question? What is it about a racist display by a few hundred people in Virginia that connects to the church? Was the church – any church – leading or participating in it? Were Christians standing on the side of these people? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Christians would have been standing with the counter-demonstrators. Frankly, I couldn’t connect the dots. It just wasn’t clear to me how one begat the other.

DotsNonetheless, there was a line that people were drawing between the supremacists in Virginia and the white church. I’m a linear thinker so I have to see things that connect in order to gain a bigger picture. I’m also naively committed to the idea that the people of Jesus don’t want to have anything to do with the kinds of things being said by those white nationalists. After all, to the Christian, love is central to our very being. Jesus demonstrated the love of God towards everyone with an invitation to join His family – where repentant sinners could live with an otherworldly affection for one another. But people of color who I know and respect were making the connection and I wanted to see it, as well.

An African American friend of mine simply said, “I hurt.” What was fomented in a few moments of violence and is easily condemned by most people, is suffered in silence by many of our friends and neighbors in other ways. I remember something I heard a few years back by an African America woman. She was responding to the “surprise” among white people that non-white people were being victimized by an incident of systemic racism. “I call that Tuesday,” she said. For me, Tuesday is just Tuesday. It is not right that people I love should have Tuesdays of which I am unaware.

I am an older white American who grew up in the heartland of this nation. It was not a racially diverse environment. It did not lend itself to cultural understanding because there were few cultural lines to cross. The race stuff happened “somewhere out there.” Many of us had a conditioned insensitivity to the injustices suffered by fellow Americans of color. It just didn’t touch our world. I admit this to my shame. But I don’t want to go through life ignorant about race relations in America and the impact it has on my friends. Time and again black friends have shown me what I could not see through my eyes and I was deeply moved.  One of them described a situation where he was in a restaurant with a couple of white friends. He went to the restroom and was followed in by two big men who threatened him and tried to provoke him to fight. He is not a big man and is certainly no fighter. He was sure he was going to be beaten to a pulp and it frightened him. But he prayed silently and the two assaulters grew impatient and left. Upon hearing the story I asked him what his white friends said when he told them. He said, “I didn’t tell them. I was too embarrassed.” He has the same desire we all have – to belong – but there are times in American life, like this, where he is reminded that he really doesn’t belong.

In order to connect the dots, I read article after article about the event, each of which tried to explain the connection between Virginia and the white church. Political, socioeconomic, psychological, and academic explanations laid out cases for the church being part of the problem that lead to what happened. While I found some of the articles frustrating and their arguments tortured, I did begin to understand how many people see the dots connecting. As another friend said, “first seek understanding, not agreement.”

Now I get sensitive about the church being blamed for injustice, because the pure church – the one God intended – cannot be a participant in injustice. However, it is undeniable that the church in America has not always stood on the right side of justice.  Furthermore, my friend hurts. If we love Jesus and want to be reconcilers, we, the white America church, need to submit ourselves to the revelation of the Holy Spirit (Psalms 139:23-24) so we can correct flaws in our very character. So I can argue about the connections of which I disagree. But it is better for me to be open to considering how the dots get connected by my brothers and sisters. Which of the dots that were being connected are ones I stand on – even if tepidly so? Some things that we should ask ourselves:

  • Am I insensitive to what my brothers and sisters live with every day?
  • Do I get angry at injustice and respond with words and action? Or do I dismiss it.
  • Do black lives really matter to me? For instance, when a young black man is killed in a part of the city where I don’t go, is he nothing more than a statistic from “out there?” Or do I get on my knees (my pants should have holes in them by now).
  • When a court decision is rendered that leaves my black friends to question the equality of justice in America, do I sit in silence? Do I even know the impact this has on them? Have I asked?
  • Do I make excuses for the inconsistency and the ultimate trajectory of political positions I hold?
  • Do I see children of color in America as our American children, or do I have dividing lines?
  • Am I trying to understand how dots get connected or am I connecting different dots and standing in opposition?
  • Do I love like Jesus loves?

I don’t like being exposed, but these recent events reminded me of an insipid form of racism for which I bear responsibility – insensitivity. Galatians 6:2 says that we are to bear one another’s burdens. How am I to bear burdens if I don’t hear the cry of my brother when he says, “I hurt.”  There is a straight line connection between dots I cannot deny.

Dots 2

Am I willing to be crushed in the crucible of truth? Do I see my complicity? The good news of Jesus condemns racism in no uncertain terms. We need to listen. I need to listen.

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Genuine

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year, they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:25-26 ESV)

genuineIt is a normal impulse to check something for its genuineness. We look at brand names with a different expectation than a lesser brand or a knockoff. Sports equipment, furniture, craft, art, mechanics, electronics – we don’t part with our dollars without some assurance that we are buying the real thing – that it is what it purports to be. Genuineness matters because over time the quality of the product will be tested. A product is known by its brand – its name. We want it to deliver. We want it to last.

So, what do we do with this word Christian? Churchgoers use it. Jesus-followers use it. People who hold a non-biblical view of Jesus use it. Charlatans use it. Non-westerners describe our culture by using it. Atheists even use one of its symbols (though the fish goes through a few transformations along the way). The word Christian encompasses a crowded field. What does the brand describe? What is it supposed to describe? Does it need to be abandoned as some suggest? Or can it be redeemed? Does anything need to change at all?

Christian is a word that comes from Greek and means “like the Messiah” or “followers of the Messiah (Jesus).” It is mentioned in Acts 11:26; 26:28; and 1Peter 4:16 and was first used in Antioch. Another widely used name was those belonging to The Way. It is likely based on Jesus’ own self-description as “the Way” (John 14:6). It is used repeatedly by Luke, the author of Acts (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 19:23; 24:14; and 24:22). Paul even referred to himself as a follower of the Way when he came before Governor Felix (who knew a lot about the Way) and was accused by the Jerusalem leaders of inciting riots…

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Acts 24:14-15 ESV)

Paul was doing nothing more than living like Jesus. Living thus will draw the attention of the world around you. Sometimes that attention will be good and sometimes it will be bad, but it will get noticed. It is radically counter-cultural. It is Christian.

The word Christian suggests a lifestyle that is different — a transformed life that is evident to those around.  In the Bible, people who lived according to “the Way” were known for “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV). These things are called in Scripture the fruit of the Spirit, which “against such things there is no law.”  They stand in stark contrast to a world that is self-loving, angry, cantankerous, in a hurry, unkind, self-serving, disloyal, rude and out-of-control. Yes, it is a normal impulse to check something for its genuineness. Rather than abandon the word or try to contend with other definitions, perhaps those of us who long for a genuine expression of Christianity should simply rise to its implications — humbly — because over time the integrity of the claim will be tested.

So, let’s not abandon it. Let’s redeem it.

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Blue

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.“ (John 4:10)

BlueBlue… for as far as the eye can see… air, water and the occasional green dot as mountains spring from the deep. The South Sea Islands are glistening jewels immersed in sea and sky. Outside the airplane window from 36,000 feet it seems endless. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji — it is almost inconceivable that human migration would discover such places. Yet the Melanesian people who call the vastness of Oceana their home occupy every livable rock.

Water… this region has more annual overall rainfall than any other in the world. The ground soaks it up like a sponge and it spills down mountains in cascades and ribbon rivers.  Even the clouds that splash the sky explode with it.  Rain water and salt water are abundant, but fresh drinking water is another story. It never seems enough to meet the needs of the people who live here. 60% of the people here do not have access to clean drinking water.

IMG_7559I spent the past week in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). I was the guest of Pastor Magi Goro (pictured here with his daughter Corey Joy).   Magi is a well-driller, a pastor, the Southern Region Supervisor of the National Church of Foursquare in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and a National Executive Council member.  He leads the church in this region. One of the most effective ways he does this is through water ministry. He reaches the communities that were displaced by development in the city.

Over the past decades, the Port Moresby slums were known for their extreme poverty. Life was cheap.  Desperation made for brutal life in a community where everyone had to fight for daily survival. 400,000 people lived there — resettled from the primitive villages throughout PNG. There are over 800 languages spoken in this island nation, so people tended to settle in the slums by clans to create safe zones for living. In a stunning example of human resilience, people made these slums their homes. Until they were displaced.

SlumsIn May of 2012, the first advance on the settlements was conducted on the Paga Hill community. Paga Hill is a rock that rises above the city with panoramic ocean views. It held promise for upscale homes and businesses. A developer who had won rights to the area* attempted to force the eviction of its 3,000 residents. There was armed revolt and many people died in the conflict. That attempt failed, but the business community learned from it and it paved the way for subsequent cooperative efforts by the city, police and developers to force the people out of the slums in Port Moresby. In the next 3 years, over 400,000 people were evicted from what had been legal settlements in Port Moresby. It was hailed as a big success for the revitalization of Port Moresby and an end to urban blight. There are signs proclaiming the victory “We did it!”

On Tuesday, I drove up Paga Hill. What I saw was abandoned homes and building and a chain link fence to prevent anyone from returning. Already, there are beautiful homes in some parts that enjoy a view that takes your breath away. This is gentrification — the confiscation of land by the wealthy and the forced removal of the existing residents who are poor, defenseless, and in the way. The former residents have suffered because of it. It is tempting to say that it is a good thing. There is prosperity and the result is a cleaner, safer Port Moresby. If you don’t have to encounter the displaced people, you might think it was the success the politicians claim.

But consider this — a plan was hatched by developers and the city to forcibly remove people from their homes in order to increase property values and make a lot of money. The meetings that were held by city planners, investors and developers did not include the current residents. How many ways could this have been done that would have been just?  Perhaps they could have been invited into the discussions and given a chance to participate. Perhaps they could have asked for jobs building the new area. Perhaps they could have asked for help with resettlement. Perhaps they could have said no and made sure there was no errant relative selling them out. It doesn’t really matter now — they were never given a voice at the table. The impact of their plans on marginalized people remains invisible to the new residents.

The victims of this gentrification scattered to the surrounding hills in makeshift jungle villages. The transition to rural life was hard and there were those who died from disease and violence. Dysentery, typhoid, cholera and other water-borne diseases continue to take their toll, especially among infants. To add to the challenges they faced, there was a drought when we arrived in May of 2016.

Magi couldn’t dig wells fast enough with his ailing drill rig. He spent more time repairing it than drilling. Villagers were drinking dirty surface water (polluted creeks, rivers and ponds). He spoke of being in the villages with moms who were hopeless to save their babies. Clean water is expensive to buy in PNG. People make hard choices. The alternative many embrace is to walk for miles to get water from a trusted municipal source (though our testing showed that these sources were also unclean). Even if villagers are 95% careful, they make compromises when they are thirsty and cannot make the trek.

The most encouraging thing about being in Port Moresby was to see the good work Magi and his crew are doing. A new rig is finally operational and the team is able to dig wells again at a pretty good rate. They have been revisiting wells that need repair and implementing the fixes recommended at the training we did earlier in teh year. Most importantly, they are helping people purify water from the various sources available. We noted when we first came that they are very good at getting water out of the ground, but not so good at ensuring its drinking quality. We brought test kits, filters and basic water training in methods for purifying water. Magi and his teams have acted like evangelists… bringing the good news to community after community, they are able to address water quality issue even before they drill a well.  We visited numerous communities that told us about the improved health they were experiencing. They expressed their confidence in Magi and his team. This is how the Gospel is expressed…

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2)

* “won the rights” usually means that one resident sold the property and got out of town before anyone knew. The residents are bound by the agreement. There are numerous court cases contesting this, but they have not fared well in the judicial system.

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Purify

If there is such a thing as a perfect tropical evening, last night was it. Debbie Goro, Pastor Magi’s wife, made Jim and me a traditional PNG kaikai (like a luau). Rice, taro, chicken curry, boiled bananas, something-like-spinach boiled in coconut and and fresh papaya. It was about 80 degrees as we sat on their outdoor (bug-free) upper deck with a fan-provided breeze. They told us story after story — family, small village life, Port Moresby city slums, history, miracles, and their own Jesus stories. Magi showed us his grandfather’s handmade arrows, which were actually used for hunt and battle. I wish all of you could meet them. They are so inspiring. Their love for the people of PNG just pours out of them.

Magi has a water ministry. He is a well-driller by trade and a pastor by calling. He is a missionary to street kids, sharing Jesus and testifying of his own transformation. He plants churches wherever he drills a well – about 50 so far. His first pastor assignment was in the worst and most frightening neighborhood of the Port Moresby slums, because he was from there and would go where others were afraid to go. Some of the boys from these streets become pastor-drillers. Jim and I will be working with a crew of ten such men as we train them in ways to provide clean water to poor villages.

img_6909With the exception of Port Moresby, PNG is a mountainous island nation made up of rural clan villages. Over 800 languages are spoken here. Pidgin is the universal trade language. Many of the villages are very primitive, though you can find mobile phones in the most far flung quarters. As you can imagine, PNG is going through rapid change. It is listed as a Christian nation (as is America, of course), but it really is not. People might identify as Christians, but transformed lives are an exception. There is a lot of ancestor worship, animism and various forms of witchcraft. Foursquare has been a powerful force here. People respect our pastors, even if the villagers themselves don’t follow Jesus.
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Unfiltered (left) and filtered (right) water

When the Port Moresby slums were broken up people scattered to the surrounding hills in makeshift jungle villages. The transition to rural life was hard and a lot of people died from disease and violence. Typhoid, cholera and other water-born diseases took many lives, especially among infants. When we came here last May there was a terrible drought. Magi couldn’t dig enough wells fast enough with his ailing drill-rig, which spent more time being repaired than drilling. People were drinking dirty surface water (polluted creeks, rivers and ponds) and Magi’s heart was breaking. He spoke of being in the villages with moms who were hopeless to save their babies. Clean water is expensive to buy here. People make hard choices. The alternatives many embraced is to walk for miles to get water from a trusted source. Even if they are 95% careful, they make compromises when they are thirsty and cannot make the trek.

img_6941We were able to introduce him to the sawyer bucket filters (BTW, our children’s ministry funded about 250 of them for PNG at last summer’s day camp!). These have become a short-term solution that can be rapidly deployed in places where he could not yet drill. Jim and I brought a bag full of them (we sent 150 via another pastor who we met at Convention last summer). We also brought a very cool lightweight REI tent so the men could be deployed remotely and not need to drive back to town each night. Magi is empowering pastors. They bring clean water for physical life and Living Water for eternal life! He is training his men to go into the villages and works with the leaders to show them how they can change the situation.
We went with Magi to one such village and watched him demonstrate the use of the filter. Jim and I will provide additional training on other ways they can broaden water sources and guarantee pure drinking water. It is a privilege to be here working with such amazing people.
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Deep

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.“ (John 4:10)

Boy PNGHis name is Boy – the name given to him by his grandfather. He is a water well driller. Born and raised in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), this father of two now spends most of his time in the Port Moresby area drilling deep water wells in order to provide water to the rural villages in this part of the country. He wants people to have water, but more so, he wants them to find out about the Living Water of Jesus Christ.

As I write this, I am flying on Fiji 290 over the South Pacific on our return flight from Papua New Guinea — cutting a high altitude path between deep blue sky and deep blue sea. Jim and I just completed what I have come to call a guerilla mission – a description I give to those short, intense missions when we have a very specific goal and a fixed amount of time to complete it. We were invited by Pastor Magi Goro to come and assist them in making improvements to their water ministry.

Unless you live in the urban Port Moresby area, your options for water are few. The average person needs from 10 to 15 liters of clean water per day for drinking, cleaning and food preparation. In most of Papua New Guinea that means traveling long distances with buckets for fetching water. The drought they have experienced over the past several years has made many surface options dry up. People are getting sick and dying in the villages as they are desperate and drink from sources that are unclean.

PNG 2Deep-water wells are essential to make clean water available in these parts. It is the very heart of Pastor Magi to make a dramatic impact on the health and life of the villages. In the past several years he has drilled 45 wells. And everywhere he has drilled a well he has planted a church.

Jim and I visited quite a few sites. Some were producing water, but many were in need of repair. It is no easy task for Pastor Magi to run a well drilling ministry. He works on a shoestring budget with old equipment. He spends an inordinate amount of time fixing the drill rig and the well parts that rust from the high iron-content water. He has a desire to keep providing water and planting churches, but the maintenance needs have reached critical mass. Furthermore, even though the wells provide water, drinking water is still a concern. They village folks are very suspicious of groundwater from so deep. They will use it for many of their needs, but are unwilling to drink it.

Jim and I have benefitted from doing a number of water projects together around the world. Jim’s experience with providing water alternatives is broad. Having assessed the operation, we were able to make a number of low cost suggestions that will help reduce repairs the amount of maintenance needed over the life of a well. But the drill rig is over ten years old and being kept running by the equivalent of baling wire and duct tape. Pastor Magi has been setting money aside in order to get a new rig (around $10,000 USD).

PNG3We focused not only on wells, but also on water quality. The PNG team told us from the start that they were not very knowledgeable about water quality. They knew how to get water out of the ground, but did not know how to instruct the villagers on making it drinkable. We held a training session on Tuesday to help them understand about the major contaminants in water that make people sick and ways to purify well water. By the end of the session, they had gained new confidence and felt they could give the villagers ways to test and treat the water for drinking.

The men and women we spent the past several days with are incredible. The Holy Spirit is at work in them as they pour themselves out for the sake of their people. We were honored and blessed to be able to work alongside such inspiring brothers and sisters. They are doing a great work. It is not only about clean water, but about bringing the good news of Jesus Christ and planting fellowships in villages that need the Living Water of Jesus Christ. It is about deep wells and the planting of deep roots. Please keep our PNG brothers and sisters in your prayers. If you’d like to give to accelerate their timeline for getting a rig, or for purchasing water filters and test kits, you can do so here by designating B4 Missions as the giving type and we will make sure that every dollar goes to them and their efforts.

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Graduates

Meet the first graduates of Bright Hope English School. They were each accepted into a Christian upper level high school (thanks to folks from our church who are supporting their continued education). Some of them did not even begin school until they were 12 years old! They are now 16 years old and embarking on a new adventure. They will still live at Bright Hope English School and will assist in leading the younger girls there. But each of their lives are taking a new and exciting educational turn.

IMG_3894I had a chance to sit with them and talk about their school. They are so excited. They shared with me about favorite classes and favorite teachers. None of them have attended a coed school before (Bright Hope exclusively serves minority girls). Pretty said, “Pastor, there are more boys than girls at our school. And the boys are very nice to us.” Yeah, about that. Boys are evil, girls — pure evil.

Seriously though, I suspect everyone at their new school notices them when they get off the bus. They are amazing young women. I have known them all for a number of years now. I cannot emphasize enough the change that is occurring in their lives and in the lives of their families. First and foremost, they know Jesus. Their lives are living testimonies to His goodness. Secondly, they have the sweetest spirits and demeanors. When you are with them you can tell that they have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Thirdly, they are hard working. It was not easy for them to be accepted at the school and they are well aware that they represent all the girls at Bright Hope. Finally, they are showing their communities that minority status in India does not relegate them to hopeless futures. All things are possible with God!

IMG_4263Pretty and Pinky want to be school teachers. Moina and Shanta want to be medical doctors. Shanti wants to be a research scientist. All of them are dreaming dreams that would not have been possible were it not for the foundation laid down by our sister Premila years ago. There is truly a “bright hope” emerging in a place where minority girls are destined for near-slavery. What a privilege it is for us to be a part of God’s work in the lives of these children. Praise Him! If you’d like to support them, you can do so here.

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