…which end will you lift on?

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A couple of Fridays ago Reverend Tito – my favorite Tito among ALL the Titos here (and believe me, there’s a lot!) – came by. He’s kind of a bigwig in the Episcopal diocese here. More importantly, though, PBT is working on the Old Testament translation in his mother tongue, so he has a vested interest in what we’re doing. We recently published the Book of Jonah, and Tito came by to discuss the dedication ceremony which would be that following Sunday.

During the discussion, Tito asked my teammate Leah to preach. Leah insisted that she was too busy and wouldn’t have time to prepare a sermon in that time. Tito turned to me and said, “You will hold the shoes.”

Now, let me explain something at this point. Tito’s English is admittedly better than my Arabic, but sometimes I understand the words that he’s saying, but can’t quite make out the meaning. Now I know how others feel when I’m trying to communicate something to them in Arabic!

Besides that, Africans have a very indirect way of making requests. They simply will not come straight out and ask for something; it’s just not their culture. So I’m used to deciphering cryptic phrases like “You will hold the shoes” – but for some reason it didn’t click for me what he was saying. Don’t ask me what I was thinking, but it obviously wasn’t the correct interpretation.

Later that day Leah and I were talking about the dedication service. She said, “You realize you’re preaching, right?” So that’s what Tito was saying! Duh, Melinda!


Time to go into planning overdrive. I read the Book of Jonah a few times and really thought about the key message of this short book. I prayed hard about what the Lord would have me say to His people. I put out a call for ideas on facebook.

Essentially, the Book of Jonah shows the heart of God in contrast to Jonah’s heart. While Jonah hated the Ninevites and wanted them to die, God loved them and didn’t want to destroy them.  It’s interesting to ponder why God sent Jonah to the Ninevites, when Jonah was so hateful and disobedient. Maybe God wanted Jonah to experience His heart for the lost; I don’t know.

This message was easy to prepare, but once I thought about delivering it to these particular people, I balked. Suddenly I was Jonah! Get me on the first boat out of here!

Here’s why I didn’t want to deliver this particular message to these particular people. The main point of the message was: God loves your enemies and wants you to love them like He does. As it says in 2 Peter 3:9, “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Not wanting anyone to perish. Even our enemies. Even the oppressors who have been brutalizing us in war for 50 years. Even the LRA, who still terrorize us.

I felt SO unworthy and SO hypocritical when I thought about delivering this message! I had NO right to tell these people to love and forgive their enemies, and even bring the Gospel to them. No right at all. I was safely in America while these people were living in the bush, running for their lives from marauding enemy soldiers. I was probably watching tv while my friend who stood right by my side translating was captured by the LRA and for five terrifying days was forced to carry their gear to Congo. He still has nightmares about it. I have never in my life suffered at the hands of someone else like these people have. I don’t even have “enemies”, for pete’s sake. I’m just a pampered, clueless American with no right to tell someone to forgive. I can’t with 100% honesty say I’d have an easy time forgiving someone who captured me at gunpoint. I really can’t.

But then the Lord reminded me what He was saying through Jonah: it’s not about the messenger, it’s about the message. The Lord uses many unlikely conduits for His truth. (Remember Baalam’s donkey?) So even though I’m a very fortunate American, He can speak through me to bring a message of forgiveness and love to people who really need to hear it.

So with a lot of prayer I decided to let God send His message without my interference. With a dry mouth and a pounding heart, I stood up that Sunday and gave the hardest message I’ve ever had to give in my life. I explained to them how I myself felt like Jonah. I showed them God’s heart for the lost, and showed them how we all have Jonah’s evil, selfish heart. With an encouraging smile at my translator, I told them that God loves even Joseph Kony and if He wanted us to witness to Kony, we should. He looked at me, paused, and I listened carefully to see if he actually would translate what I’d said. He did.


Afterwards, many people were telling me with great seriousness what a “strong” message I had given. I kept hearing over and over again: Tabashiir gowi! (Strong preaching!) I could tell people were impacted, and more importantly, were thinking hard. Later that day I was able to sit down with my translator friend and sort of apologize for making him say such hard things. I explained to him how I didn’t even WANT to say those things, but that I HAD to say those things. My friend nodded in understanding and thanked me for giving them something so important to think about. He did admit that he was afraid to say the bit about Kony, and I said, “I knew you would be – so was I!” He told me that people were stopping him after church saying, “I never thought about that before! I didn’t know that’s what Jonah was about!”

So I’m living proof that God can speak through anyone. Just get out of the way and let Him speak. May His purpose be fulfilled on this earth through His people!




In the market one Friday I spotted one of my former students, Simon, going into a shop. I chased him down to greet him, and we had a happy reunion. It’s so fun to see him around, because whenever we meet he always looks pleasantly surprised and says, “Ohhhh! Teacher!” EVERY time. It makes me smile even thinking about it.

Simon was with the pastor of his church. Theirs is a small church at the army barracks where all the people who attend are from a well-known (and somewhat feared) tribe. So we went through the usual greeting stuff: how’s your health, happy new year, etc. I promised him that I would visit his church that coming Sunday and then I went on my way.

Not two minutes later I heard, “Teacher!” and Simon was striding towards me. I thought, “Uh-oh” and braced myself for what I knew was coming. Simon and the pastor had put their heads together – quickly – and decided I should preach that Sunday. As long as I’d be there, why not preach, right? Riiiiiight.


For about five seconds I selfishly thought of myself and the inconvenience of putting together a sermon – and then translating it into the local Arabic – in a day and a half. But quickly I reminded myself that it’s an honor to talk about God’s Word anytime, and so I accepted. Besides, that’s kind of why I’m here, right? I didn’t really sign up for the whole “preaching at the church of a tribe with violent and unpredictable tendencies” thing, but if that’s what God wants, who am I to argue?

Sunday came, and I felt as ready as I could. My neighbor/sidekick Graham went with me for moral support. The first challenge came when we couldn’t find the church. Sure, I’d been there once before, but someone had met me at the main road to lead me to the church. It’s a good ways off the main road, back in the bush.

And so we forged ahead, stopping at the occasional hut settlement, asking staring women and giggling children, “Kanisa wenu?” (Where’s the church?) This is actually quite an effective way of getting around here, as there are no addresses and the main landmarks are mango trees. You just ask someone how to get somewhere and move in the direction that they point until you see another person. It has worked for me without fail, and I highly recommend it, should you find yourself looking for a church deep in the bush. 

ImageAfter about thirty minutes (and an unfortunate detour that I won’t bother telling you about), we arrived at the church. Never mind that we were twenty minutes late; no one was worried. They’d probably heard through the grapevine that we’d been spotted and were heading (indirectly) that way. Graham and I were ushered to the two plastic chairs placed in the shade of the mango tree, and sat patiently while people came to greet us and kids stood at a safe distance, staring at us.

Who knows what the secret signal is, but suddenly everyone (but me) knows that it’s time to go in to church. Graham and I went to the designated “white people” seats on the stage, but then I was fetched, telling me that I was needed. What on earth..?

Ah, yes. The assorted clergy and what-not assemble in a small hut near the church so that they can make a solemn procession into the back of the church and down the center aisle to the stage. I’d witnessed plenty of these processions, but never had been part of one. But hey, this is a time full of “firsts” for me.

So there we moved in a (for me) surreal procession, entering into a dim grass-roof church while the drums beat and the women cried their high pitched “Ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai!” I was thinking, “Is this my life? How in the world did I get here?  Is this a dream?”

We made it to the front and I sat in one of the main chairs on the center of the stage. Since the service was in their tribal language and not in the local Arabic, I had NO IDEA what was going on. I simply stood up and sat down when the others did. And I bowed my head when I saw others do so, concentrating on hearing the word “Amen” so I could look back up. Hey, not the most meaningful and worshipful experience, but I have my times with the Lord at home.

Suddenly everyone was looking at me and Simon said, “Now you preach.” And I, ever smooth and professional, said, “What? Me? Right now? NOW?” 

The rest was a blur after that. I read the sermon a friend had helped me write in local Arabic while Simon translated into the tribal language. I preached on “New year, new country, new life, new behavior”.  At one point, I said in Arabic, “When you receive Christ as your Savior you get a new life, so your behavior also must change.” And Simon looked at me and said with realization, “Ohhhhhhhh!” It was so sweet and refreshing, but at the same time sad, because such an old-hat concept to us is something brand-new to them.

After the service, the custom is for the people on the stage to file out and line up outside the church. After you exit the church you shake the hands of people in the “receiving line,” and when you reach the end you join the line. By the time the church is cleared out, everyone is in a big circle and everyone has shaken everyone else’s hand. Yes, it’s a bit time-consuming, but yes, it’s AWESOME.  Did I mention that kids with drums bring up the rear? Yep, awesome.

When everyone had shaken hands, we clergy trooped back to the small “prep” hut for a closing prayer. Then I went back to the church yard area to say goodbye to people. The older women standing around chatting were VERY enthusiastic about my sermon! They kept saying, “Tamaam, tamaam!” (Good, good!) I’m pleased it was received so heartily, and pray that my message fell on fertile soil


See, like I’d said, this tribe is known around here as the troublemakers. They’re kind of the bully on the block. They have been pushed down to our area because of war and in search of new grazing land for their cattle. They like to settle disputes with violence. Actually, they like violence even if there are no disputes to settle. Many, many of these people are soldiers, so many are in our town because the military placed them here. Their tribe is not indigenous to our area. So when I told people that I’d be preaching at this particular church, they had plenty of sermon ideas: “Preach about peace!” “Preach about unity among tribes!” Everyone had an agenda item for me.

Hopefully, my message about putting on new behavior with your new life in Christ covered all those bases. I know people haven’t forgotten the message, because two Sundays later I saw a few older women at a different church in town. After church they were shaking my hand enthusiastically and telling me once again how tamaam my message was. Praise God! I hope these women aren’t the only ones who received the Lord’s message so openly. I pray that the Holy Spirit is working among these people to empower them to change their disruptive behavior. May God be glorified in this town!


I just got my African driver’s license. Although this wasn’t something I was planning or hoping to accomplish during my stay here, necessity required it. My colleague has a Land Cruiser, and she was forced to return to the States because of family matters. So my teammate and I have joint custody of this vehicle until further notice.
My teammate needed to renew her visa, and I thought it would be as good a time as any to get my African driver’s license. Thus our trip to the state capitol, which is about a 3-hour drive, depending on road conditions. We hired a guy named Mamout to drive us there.

When we got to town, Mamout dropped off my teammate Leah at immigration and took me to the State Police Station to begin the arduous process of working my way through African bureaucracy. Mamout needed to run some errands, so he left, telling me he’d be back shortly.

I squeezed into a small office with two desks and two uniformed officers and began the process. I presented all my documents, offered information when asked, and generally felt like I was getting somewhere. I was feeling pretty confident when the officer handed me all my completed forms and documents and said, “Now you must go to the hospital.” Huh?

Yes, the hospital. I needed a stamp on my form (which is VERY important in African bureaucracy) from a doctor which verified that my vision is good enough to drive. And therefore I must go to the hospital before proceeding further.

With documents in hand, I stepped out of the office and didn’t see Mamout anywhere. I remembered that a colleague had given me some phone numbers from her phone, so I scrolled through my phone contacts. Relieved to find Mamout’s name in my phone list, I dialed his number. When Mamout answered, I told him that I was at the police station, and needed him to pick me up. He said he’d come right away, and we hung up.

Some time passed, and people at the police station were looking at me doubtfully. I assured them that someone was coming for me. Just as I was starting to get worried, my teammate Leah called me. I told her that I was still waiting on Mamout and asked that she give him a call. Moments later, she called back and told me that he was on his way. However, he hadn’t received my call.

That’s right . . . I didn’t call driver Mamout. I had called some other Mamout. So, I called back the number that was in my phone, apologies ready. When Mamout answered, he said, “Where are you? I’m at the police station and don’t see you.” Yes, that’s right. He was in an entirely different town, looking for me, whom he doesn’t even know. At the police station.

I explained my mistake, apologized profusely, and hung up to wait for the right Mamout. When he picked me up, we had a good laugh when I told him about calling “the wrong Mamout.”

However, the “wrong” Mamout’s reaction made me think. This guy, whom I’d never met, who didn’t have any idea who I was, got my call for help and responded without question. This speaks volumes for the type of people here. They are kind, selfless, and helpful. They are the most gracious, friendly, welcoming people I have ever encountered.

I can’t wait to meet “the wrong Mamout.” When I do, I’m going to thank him liberally for rushing to my aid, even if it was in the wrong town. You never know when I’m going to need his help again!


Remember the video that, for about a week, was all over the internet? People were proclaiming, “Share this video! Let’s bring Kony down!” (And if you don’t know about the KONY2012 video, hop over to Google and do a quick search. I’ll be here when you get back.)

Well people, all the facebook sharing in the world didn’t do much. Sure, people are now informed. Now they know about Joseph Kony and the LRA. And…now what? He’s still out there, hiding in the jungle, bringing terror to Africans.Personally, I’m still interested in this issue because Kony has been active in the area where I will be moving. It’s a bit more real than a facebook video to me. I really, really, want something to be done about Kony, and I’m not the only one.

I have an idea. Normal people like you and I can bring Kony down. If you are a Christian, you have the incredible power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. And the LORD has much more power than facebook, or KONY, or the U.S. Special Forces.

In a 2006 interview with the BBC, Kony said, “I don’t know the number [of spirits] but they speak to me. They load through me. They will tell us what is going to happen. They say ‘you, Mr. Joseph, tell your people that the enemy is planning to come and attack’.”

Does this raise a red flag to anyone else out there? Ephesians 6:12 says, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We just need to adjust our battle strategy, that’s all.

So here’s my idea: share the video. Share this blog. Share whatever info you have about Kony. But after you do (and before and during, too), pray against the evil spirits that dwell in Joseph Kony. Make it a regular topic in your prayer time that Satan will be debilitated and that Kony will be captured.

We can do this! My prayer is that Kony is captured and the LRA is disbanded before summer is over. Let’s all pray to that end.


“I want to marry this one.”

The tall Dinka man was pointing at me, while addressing my teammate Marsha. Since Marsha was a friend of Dinka John,* and is my elder, apparently she was qualified to broker my bride price. I suddenly became very interested in their conversation.

“I will give twenty cows for her,” offered Dinka John. The Dinka are known far and wide for their cattle, which are their prized possession. They accumulate cattle like Americans collect…well, everything. Cattle equals wealth.

Without batting an eye, Marsha countered, “She is worth far more than twenty cows; she is worth twenty thousand cows!”

Dinka John looked shocked and horrified. “But…she is only one person!”

Although I knew that the negotiation happening in front of me wasn’t entirely serious (although I’m sure John would have gladly taken me as wife number three), it brought up an interesting point: What am I worth, anyway?

Well, if I were appraised solely based on cattle, I now know my value lies somewhere between twenty and twenty thousand. But on a more abstract level, what is a person worth? Some would say that you can’t put a value on human life.

However, I know Someone who did put a value on my life, and on yours. The price paid by God for my life was the life of His son, Jesus. That is a bride price that even the richest Dinka couldn’t pay.

I listened with amusement as Marsha pitched my many stellar qualities to Dinka John, justifying my high price. Because I knew that my bride price had already been paid by Christ, and I could rest in that knowledge.

*(This is not Dinka John in the photo, although the man shown is Dinka, posing in front of his cattle.)


In my previous blog, I discussed half of my theme for 2012. The other half is the following scripture portion that has been tugging at my heart lately.

Second Corinthians 5:11-21 is all about “the ministry of reconciliation.” Verses 18-20 explain a Christian’s role in the gospel message:

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

I love the last four words: Be reconciled to God! Although Paul doesn’t put an exclamation point there, I feel like this phrase warrants one.

God has “committed to us the message of reconciliation.” That’s our task; we have been commissioned, like soldiers going to war. Our commission is not one of marching around, telling people what to do and what not to do. We’re not the morality police. Our commission is simply to bear the message of reconciliation to anyone who is not currently abiding with God. Simply put, God wants all his children to come back to Him.

I sense very strongly that this should be a priority for all Christ followers this year. You don’t need to be a missionary to bear the message of reconciliation. If you haven’t noticed, this earth is falling apart. God is waiting for us to finish the task before putting an end to this whole thing. Remember, “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish,but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

While God is patiently waiting, the earth is groaning, and we are…doing what? Let’s make the “ministry of reconciliation” top priority this year. And if you need to be reconciled to God yourself, please email me and let’s get this thing figured out.





If you have been reading my blog for the past year, you know that I don’t do resolutions per se. Hey, if I’m going to start flossing more regularly, I can start that on any old day. Those who need to catch up with my “no-resolution” resolution can read about it here.

This year, I’m a bit torn. I can’t decide between two themes, so I just might go with both. One is a scripture and one is a motto, so I think it’s allowable (by whom, I’m not sure, but it feels okay). I’ll talk about this year’s scripture in my next blog.

My sister recently loaned me her copy of a book called Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. This little gem is a collection of essays that are direct and convicting. Every single Christian should read this book. I don’t say this about just any book; trust me.

In one essay, Craig Cabaniss discusses the Latin phrase Coram Deo. It means “before the face of God.” These two words carry huge weight. They remind us that whatever we do is lived out in front of God. Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?

Like Cabaniss points out, “We make our choices–all our choices–with God’s holy face in view.” If we reminded ourselves that God is watching everything with interest, how would our lives look?

So this year, it’s Coram Deo for me. Wish me luck.


It’s funny how life is.  With just a little time (and a lot of prayer), things can change … drastically.

Many friends have been asking me how working with the African kids on Sunday nights is going.  I’m glad you asked.  Funny story, this.

Last Sunday night, I showed up at the usual time to get the room ready for the lesson.  An elder’s wife  came in and told me that a couple from another church would be arriving to teach the kids.  Apparently, these people come once a month to minister to the children.

Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, I would have been any of the following:  relieved, thrilled, grateful, wildly happy.  Instead, I was … jealous.   Jealous!

Isn’t that weird?  When this couple came, I told them who I was and what I was doing, and that I’d just stay in the background and help if they needed it.   Secretly (but not so secretly anymore, I suppose) I was glad when one little girl only wanted ME to hold her, and two other kids only wanted to sit by me.  I had my little posse around me.  Isn’t that petty of me?   Hey, what can I say?  I love those kids, and I felt like strangers were swooping in to “steal” them from me.  That’s not what they did; that’s just how I felt:  protective.

As I reflected afterward on my time with the kids and my reaction to outside help, I realized how much the Lord has taught me.  Seriously, if you know me, you know that I don’t even really care for little kids that much.  Or rather, I didn’t care for little kids – until now.  Now I’m pretty crazy about these guys.

My complete turnaround in just this one little area of my life shows how powerful prayer is.  I prayed that God would help me to love these kids, thinking I’d get enough “love” to get me through three hours every Sunday.  But look at what I got!  Love overflowing.

Just think:  we say we can’t change, or can’t break a habit, or whatever.  Of course we can’t.  But the Lord can!   It might sound cliche because it is often said, but it’s totally true:     prayer changes things.  More importantly, prayer changes us.

On another note, THANK YOU to those of you who sent craft supplies and/or money for supplies to give these kids something to do!  You know who you are, more importantly, God knows who you are, and the kids and I are grateful for you!

Pray without ceasing, family!  I love you all.


It sounds simple, doesn’t it?  For one of my classes, we were assigned a chapter from a book called Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer.  (Here is a comprehensive review of the book.)  The chapter was so good, I was compelled to read the whole book.  I wish I had read it before I started working with the kids at the African church!

The author writes, “Calling ourselves or believing ourselves to be a ‘servant’ does not mean that we will be perceived as servants by others.  I suggest we postpone naming ourselves ‘servants’ until the local people begin to use words about us that suggest they see servant attitudes and behaviors in us.” (37).

Servant attitudes, huh?  My attitude when volunteering with these kids has been more “boss” than “servant.”  And I hate to imagine the words the kids were using about me after last Sunday’s debacle!

I’m glad I read this book when I did.  Tonight, I showed up with a humble spirit, ready to love the kids for who they are, not fight them for what they do (or don’t do).  My attitude was relaxed and open.  I loved them, played with them, and let go of my “classroom teacher” attitude.  We just enjoyed each other, plain and simple.

It was a wonderful, eye-opening night for me.  I didn’t even break a sweat, because I wasn’t worried about people thinking I wasn’t doing my “job.”  These people never asked me to whip their kids into shape; that was an idea I came up with on my own!  How refreshing it was to be able to relax and enjoy the kids.  No one got hurt, and voices were not raised.  (Not that they necessarily were last time!)   😉

Thank you, if you prayed for me.  I could tell that the Lord had really worked in me.

My wish for this week is simple:  I need supplies!  Even though I’m more relaxed about everything, we still have a couple of hours to fill every Sunday night.  This church simply does not have the resources to purchase materials.  Nor do I.  I was able to get some crayons and colored pencils from my school’s freebie area, and I copied some pages out of a coloring book I found.

Do you have unwanted craft supplies lying around the house?  Construction paper, markers…you name it, we’ll use it!  If you don’t, but want to help, just stick a few dollars in an envelope and mail it to me, and I’ll run to the dollar store and buy some craft supplies.

My address is:

Melinda Velasquez

6050 Ridgecrest #308

Dallas, TX  75231

I thank God for your encouragement and your positive feedback.  At times, I really, really need it!  Feel free to email me (melinda.velasquez@pbti.org) if you have any ideas of projects the kids and I could do.  Thanks for your caring hearts and kind spirits.  I love you all!


We think ministry should be easy.  We think people will fall all over themselves to thank us for serving them.  We think.

If you read my last blog post, you know that I volunteered to work with the kids at the African church that I’ve been going to on Sunday evenings.  I was really excited about the opportunity to serve!

Here’s how I thought it would be when I showed up:  The kids would be sitting in rows, hanging on every word I said, wanting to sing the songs I’d thoughtfully picked out, cooperatively playing the games, assiduously working on the crafts.

Ha-ha.  Ministry isn’t always easy.  Maybe God was like, “Okay, Melinda, you want to see what it’s really like to serve people in my name?  Here you go!”

Here’s what it was really like:  Imagine forty kids and me, in an 80+ degree room that is about 15′ x 20′.  Note there is a door that leads to the outside.  This is an important detail.

Imagine older boys running in and out of the room, pushing and kicking and making the little ones cry.  Imagine kids jumping on chairs and tables, and fighting over toys.  Did I mention how hot it was in the room?  Is your blood pressure going up yet?  How about now:  the church service lasted for three hours.  Three.  Hours.

Imagine that no one listens to you when you talk.  Or when you raise your voice, for that matter.  Or maybe even if you yell (I am not admitting that I did, but you can imagine it if you want to).  Theoretically speaking, you would feel like yelling, too, if a kid hit you directly on top of the head with a large wooden cube.  Not that I necessarily yelled, per se; but theoretically speaking, it’s possible.

Tonight, the pastor of the congregation that meets upstairs came downstairs to see why kids were running upstairs into their church service.  Whoopsie.  He took one look into the room and said, “THIS is more than ministry!”

Amen, brother!

I got back into the (tiny, hot) room just in time to see two kids slip out the back door.  Sigh.

Now, it’s easy to look back and laugh at my time with these kids.  I might laugh when my voice returns.  Not that I lost it yelling, mind you!

More importantly, I’ve been reflecting on the lesson I can learn from this ministry.  I pray that I can get to know these kids one by one (all 40 of them!) and grow to love them (even the head-banger!) and see them as Christ sees them.

Because, above all, these are precious kids that Jesus loves.  When God made it clear to me that this was something I should be doing, he didn’t happen to mention that it would be difficult.  I keep thinking that at least I can go home on Sunday evening and have a whole week of rest before working with the kids again, so I figure this is just pre-field training for my ministry in Africa.

And look:  Aren’t they adorable?  Doesn’t it make you want to come and help?

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