Chance’s Trip to Sierra Leone, Africa

In March, my husband, Chance led a missions team of four to Sierra Leone to serve. You may remember that Chance and I work full time as representatives of Lifegate in Africa.
After teaching my man how to use his iPhone camera (hello, focus?!), the team was off! Once they returned, Chance had taken hundreds of pictures, and some of them were actually pretty good! 
While there, the team helped with craft projects at schools, played games and hung out with kiddos at Lifegate’s orphanage, co-led revival services at churches, and learned tie dying from the ladies at the ministry’s trade school.
They. Had. A. Blast.
Below you will find a photo dump from the trip – with the captions written by Chance!
Here’s Ginger and I right before I left the farm. Isn’t she beautiful?!


Mickey, Julia, Fred, and I were bound and determined to not let the rainy weather bring us down as we left Peoria, IL!

As we traveled, our suitcases were not only full of our personal items, but they also included tools for the ministry (chalk lines, masonry hammer, pliers, etc.). Musa, our head of construction, was very excited to have such nice equipment. Not only will he use it for Lifegate projects, but he’ll also use it to teach trades to others!


Mickey is like a grandma to me and my boys. I love her dearly, and it is because of my great love for her that I pretended to kiss her while she was sleeping on the plane and took a picture to capture the moment!


Sarah, one of Lifegate’s in-country missionaries, told the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den at each of our schools. Then, the team helped students decorate paper plates to look like lion masks. It was fun!
The students at Kassie School had prepared some songs for our arrival. They were adorable as they sang and swayed in their cute uniforms!
While visiting one of our schools, we witnessed this man working on the side of the road. He spends all day long creating a machete from old vehicle leaf springs; he heats the metal up in a small fire, and pounds and scrapes until it’s razor sharp. He only sells them for about $2 each. I’m always blown away at the ingenuity displayed in Sierra Leone!

Children’s Home

This is Mabinty, one of the older girls at the orphanage. She taught me how to play a jacks-like game using only rocks. She’s sweet AND competitive!
This is Lahai, one of the older boys at the orphanage. He’s a ham, to say the least. He loves to be the center of attention.
Lahai also loves to share God’s Word with his peers. While there, we got to observe his passion!
This is Alpha, another one of the older boys at the orphanage. He’s a quiet kid who loves the Lord.
Fatmata, the youngest girl from the orphanage, is always up for a picture. She’s such a cutie in her school uniform!
This is Matha, another one of the older girls at the orphanage. Ginger, the boys, and I have supported her financially for several years. It was so good to see her beautiful smile and talk about her future dreams of being a nurse. I was very proud the day I watched her help the Lifegate nurse do checkups on all the children; Matha was right there by her side.


When we visited each church, not only did we bring the Word of God, we also brought food! We considered it a privilege to hire local people to cook the food for the revival services.


This picture was snapped right after church in Brigitte Village. Can you believe all those people fit in that little building?!
This is Tommy, one of the members at Lifegate Church in Brigitte Village. One year ago Tommy was living in sin (belonged to a gang, demonstrated violence, promiscuous life), but he’s taken a turn for the better. He gave his life to Christ, and he’s a new man. I even got to see him teach a Bible story to the people of the church in Sunday School!

Trade School

Fatmata is one of the ladies who has been learning God’s Word and trades (sewing and tie-dying) since January. It was so cool to watch her work. We’re so proud of the progress that she and the other students have demonstrated in the past few months!
One day on our trip, the students became the teachers. The gals learning to tie-dye were given the opportunity to teach our missions team the trade!
Once the fabric was folded properly, Mickey learned how to tie and knot the cloth.
Julia was taught how to create specific designs by properly folding the fabric.
Of course, I was given the most complex design to create! They even trusted me with a huge needle! It was not easy work!
Julia mixed the dye and chemicals so that the fabric could be stained.
Ladies at the trade school tie-dyed 10 shirts that the team eventually brought back to the US. Ginger and I are excited to give them away this summer at VBS programs and church camps.
Since January, Lifegate has been teaching literacy classes at our trade school in Brigitte Village. Three days a week, nearly 25 students gather to learn how to read and write. This mama sees the value of education; because she loves herself and her son, she’s made learning this life skill a priority (even if it means attending with a baby on her back!).

Daily Life In Sierra Leone


How does one keep a chicken close by in Sierra Leone, you ask? Simply tie a sandal to the chicken’s leg, that’s how!
As for shaving cream, it’s about $5 a can in Sierra Leone, even though in the states you’ll pay about a dollar.
American-style food can be pretty expensive in Sierra Leone. A single pack of Ramen noodles was about 60 cents. In the US, they are about a dime each.
It’s much cheaper to eat African; their diet consists of mostly rice and fish.



Lifegate is planning a banquet fundraiser on November 2 (mark your calendars!)  where items will be auctioned off.
A few of the hand-carved items include:
A chess set.
A nativity set.
And a mask.

Heading Home


This picture was taken the day before we left! I had a blast talking with Tyler, one of Lifegate’s missionaries (and one of my best friends) as we spent time on the beach.

Mickey, Julia, Fred, and I had just packed up and were making our way to the airport. It was so hard to say goodbye, but we knew that we had to come home and tell as many people as possible what God is doing in Sierra Leone.

Thank You

To those who prayed and supported me during my trip: thank you. Simply saying it or writing it doesn’t seem like enough, but I must express my gratitude.
Thank you for helping me go on this trip.
I was able to see people I love.
I was able to serve people who needed help.
I was able to see things that I wouldn’t have been able to see if it wasn’t for your generosity.
Thank you for your kindness.
A missions trip is currently being planned for 2018. If you are interested in traveling to Sierra Leone with Lifegate in Africa, please contact me here.

Business Launch – For Salone Earrings

All last winter, I planned and prepared. I had an idea. Not just any idea, but an idea to benefit brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe.

This past January, For Salone was born.

It all started when I received compliments on a pair of earrings I made. I cut leather scraps in the shape of feathers and dangled them from my earlobes.

Strangers would ask me where I purchased them and how much they were. Fashionable friends wanted some of their own.

All the while, my heart remembered some of the people I love the most – the people who daily live and survive in the country which has been named the most desperate place on earth – Sierra Leone.

And so, I put together the pieces the Lord had given me. I merged my passion, my creativity, and my giftings.

For Salone.

For Salone is a creative party with a purpose.

You Create.

Gather your friends and learn how to create multiple designs of genuine leather earrings.

We Sell.

Choose to purchase the earrings you created or donate them, and we will sell them.

They Flourish.

Profits are used to tell bible stories and teach life skills in Sierra Leone, Africa.


A party looks like this:

I bring all the supplies to your home, church, winery, library, or restaurant.

The supplies include beads from Sierra Leone.

I briefly share stories and pictures about Lifegate in Africa and the work being done in Sierra Leone.

Party-goers choose a style of earrings and get creating. Between the provided tools, the step-by-step directions, and my know-how, everyone in attendance completes at least one pair of earrings.

Then, guests decide whether or not to purchase the earrings ($15) or to donate them back to our ministry to be sold at a later date (no cost for the attendee AT ALL!).

It costs nothing to host a party, but by doing so, awareness is spread and funds are raised.

And a good time is had by all.

Please follow For Salone on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with what’s going on. Also, support our ministry by purchasing a pair from either of those social media sites.

Friends and readers in Illinois, contact me to host a party for your friends or your women’s ministry at church.

For Salone. It’s what happens when we all come together for the people of Sierra Leone.


Shop for earrings here and here.


[Thanks to Ariel of for her BEAUTIFUL pictures. People local to Lincoln, IL – check her out!]

Five Friday Faves

Forget the Frock

While many people rush out to buy their children button-down shirts and frilly dresses for Easter Sunday, that idea never settled well with me.

Forget the Frock is a movement I became aware of a few years ago. Forget the Frock (#forgetthefrock) is all about putting our money to a better use. Instead of purchasing those frilly clothes our kids hate, you donate the money to a charity or organization. You can have your children wear hand-me-downs or clothes from the resale shop, or you can purchase t-shirts for your whole family to support a cause.

My family usually wears our clothing from Sierra Leone, Africa and donates money towards a specific project taking place there. Other options might be donating to an adoptive family (I have friends needing support here) and wearing jeans and old t-shirts.

Yes, the “frock”, the fancy clothes, look great in photos (well, other people’s photos as is evidenced below), but the donations have the possibility of changing lives.

Our family loves the movement and would love for you to join us. Learn more about Forget the Frock.

Create Hope Cuffs

An online friend of mine has started a business of designing and creating unique bracelet cuffs. She offered me one and asked what I would want on it, as personalization is part of her business.

I knew instantly.

When Nasko was at home, I would grow frustrated with his seeming lack of progress. His behaviors would revert and I would feel hopeless. One night, I decided to add up the number of days our sweet boy lived before he came into our safe and nurturing home.

One thousand nine hundred and ninety-five.

That’s what we were undoing with every act of discipline or unconditional love. When he rejected our hugs or ignored our rules, I trained my mind to return to that number.

1,995 days.

That’s how long he was treated poorly and did not know the love of a mother. Those are the days we are redeeming.

Danielle wants to honor all of those who have children who spent time in orphanages or foster care. Check out Create Hope Cuffs and use MOMENTS20 code for 20% percent off and order a cuff to remind you of the days you are redeeming. (You can also use the coupon for ANY phrase or cuff!)

P.S. This would make a great adoption gift for a mama!

P.P.S. Your purchase helps bring literacy to the people of rural Swaziland, Africa. LOVE.

The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey

I first learned of Jamie Ivey seven or eight years ago as we were deep in the adoption process. I was searching for blogs to follow and mamas to learn from.

I’ve continued to follow Jamie through a variety of life stages, but she seems to have found her calling these days — podcasting!

Her podcast is called, “The Happy Hour,” and the premise is simple; Jamie brings on guests and shares their stories to encourage other women.

I look forward to her program every week as I love to learn what other women are doing with their God-given talents. I also get so many book recommendations from this podcast!

Fish in a Tree

Oh, my goodness. This book. It’s a Young Adult book, but it shares a message of differences and inclusion that every adult needs to learn and relearn.

The main character, Ally, is a sixth grader who doesn’t fit in at all. She has moved frequently, and on top of that, she can’t read. The book follows her school-year journey to a diagnosis of dyslexia, but bigger yet, a discovery that we all have things that make us different.

The author, Lynda Hunt, without labeling or giving diagnoses, creates characters with signs of autism and ADHD. She also includes victims of abuse and racism.

I fell in love with Ally’s substitute teacher and his unique ways of bringing a class of difference together. Every educator could learn from his example.

Fitness Blender

Chance and I decided we probably need to start working out… We’ve both gained a little weight through our stressful changes with Nasko, so, you know, it was time.

A couple years ago (probably when I should have started working out) my friend Sarah turned me onto a couple on YouTube. They have a channel where they share high-quality fitness videos. The couple is honestly adorable (especially as they bicker) and they seem so real.

They make working out not so awful.

I still feel like I’m dying though.

But check them out. Misery loves company.


So, how about you? What are your favorite things in your life right now?

Our Story

The winner of the giveaway is Angie D! She has been contacted! Thanks for participating and sharing, friends.

Some of you all are new here, so in order to get everyone on the same page, I thought I’d tell you what’s up around these parts:

My husband and I met in college, where he attempted to ask me out three times before I agreed to date him. I told him he was too country for me. I came from a town of 13,000; I was OBVIOUSLY a city girl.

Chance (that country boy I dated and who eventually tricked me into marrying him) worked as a minister the first ten years of our marriage. He worked with youth and then was an associate pastor of a church. When he transitioned into working with adults, we decided we missed the kids, and maybe we should have some of our own (BECAUSE THAT’S THE SAME).

In just a few short months, we suffered three miscarriages.

As a little girl, I used to tell everyone I wanted to be a mommy when I grew up. Three miscarriages wrecked my world.

Adoption had always been part of our long-term plan, so we sped those plans up and entered the roller coaster of filling out paperwork and being analyzed by a very expensive social worker.

And then we got a phone call, “Chance. Ginger. We have a child for your family.”

We entered into a love affair with a single photo and a very depressing file. Our son lived on the other side of the earth, and now that we knew he existed, it was our job to bring him home as fast as possible.

So we “hurried up and waited,” which is actually the first line of the Crazy Adoptive Families Pledge. (On my honor, I will try to hurry up and wait with patience…)

While we were waiting on our Bulgarian boy, Nasko, we received another phone call. There was an infant boy being born locally. He needed parents.

We entered into a relationship with his birthmama, who eventually decided to parent him. We came home from his birth to an empty nursery on a rainy April morning. We released our little boy to God’s plan with the hope of seeing him again in heaven (and occasionally when we nosily drive by his house and smile really big at his cuteness. We don’t do that. Yes we do. Man, we sound weird.)

A few months later, we spent a week with Nasko in Bulgaria (and had to leave him there, blah).

Right after, Chance led a missions trip to Sierra Leone, West Africa. When he came home, he realized he forgot a piece of his heart in the country that had recently been labeled “the most desperate place on earth.”

So three weeks later, he dragged me back to also the hottest place on the planet and tried to retrieve that piece of his heart. I fell in love too, though. It wasn’t until a couple years later that God would show us what to do with all those FEELINGS.

Meanwhile, Nasko came home. Nasko, sweet Nasko, was/is a ball of energy. So, Chance and I quickly got into the best shape of our lives as first-time parents (you know, chasing Nasko as he escaped to five of our neighbors’ houses in the first month!) Nasko was diagnosed with autism, Tourrette’s, and eventually severe PTSD.

Then we thought, “Let’s try this baby thing again.”

And along came Louis. When he was born, I was in hormone heaven and could not stop saying “You’re so beautiful, and we waited SO long for you.” It was precious. Like a movie. A very, very sappy movie with bad actresses and, you know, all the goop of birthing a baby. So maybe not like a movie at all.

When Louis was almost one and Nasko had been home two years, WE OBVIOUSLY LOOKED BORED, so God directed us to an adoption file. #neverlookatadoptionfiles

Now we have a Latvian in our mix. He fits snugly between our other boys and has become Louis’ “best fwien eva eva eva eva eva.” (His words, not mine.) Edward has VACTERL syndrome which is a fancy way of saying his insides and one of his legs are all messed up. But he is a fighter and a smarty pants who prefers to never wear pants.

Around the time Edward came home, we took a huge leap and thought, “How can we appear to be more insane? Oh, Chance, how about you quit your job and we’ll try living like missionaries?”

Three-and-a-half years later, we’re still doing that. We work full-time for Lifegate in Africa, raising money for telling bible stories and teaching life skills to the people of Sierra Leone.

Last year, we moved sweet Nasko into a group home. We now get phone calls when he terrorizes his new neighbors. We also receive FaceTime calls from him regularly at 4:00 A.M. You’d think we might not have time to miss him, but YOU’D BE WRONG. We miss him desperately.

Here on my blog, Our Moments Defined, I write about all our adventures and how we learn from them. I also write regularly for a few other sites. I speak and share our story BECAUSE IT IS OBVIOUSLY THE STUFF MOVIES ARE MADE OF, except with a few more instances of poop and a whole heck of a lot more laundry.

Thanks to many of you for signing up for the book giveaway, but now I hope you’ll stick around and hang out.

Once Again Loved – Martha’s Story

Over two years ago, Chance declared we needed to sponsor an orphan. Because of his position with Lifegate, he regularly asks families to make small monthly sacrifices in order to care for the children in our ministry.

But our own family hadn’t been willing to make a similar sacrifice.

I agreed to pray/think about this commitment when Chance received word of new children coming to the orphanage. He glanced through his email, and one of the children looked familiar. He had met her before.

On Chance’s very first trip to Sierra Leone in 2011, he and a team conducted Vacation Bible Schools in a handful of villages. One of those villages was Tort Kellah. In a community gathering place, Chance watched a girl, barely ten years old, lead her entire village in praise and worship songs.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.

Her big voice filled the space, but her heart and smile were even bigger.

This girl, Martha (pronounced Mahta), felt an instant bond with Chance. He, having grown up with younger sisters, knew exactly how to tease her. She asked to show him her house and introduce him to a woman Chance assumed to be her mother.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.

The next day, in an entirely different village, there was sweet Martha again. She had used her own money to hire transport in order to see Chance and the team again.

At that time, Martha was secure, happy, well-fed, and loved.

Two years ago, the girl looking back at Chance in the email was indeed the same young girl. She was no longer happy. Her face seemed frozen into a frown.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.

The caregiving woman Chance met had been an auntie. As this auntie’s own family expanded, she could no longer afford to provide for sweet Martha. Martha was no longer secure or well-fed.

When Chance realized whose profile he was reading, he rushed to tell me. He had found the sponsored child for our family. We ask others to sacrifice, our family could do the same.

Sweet Martha was worth it.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.

I briefly met Martha before she became a child in Lifegate‘s home as well, but getting to know her on my trip in October was life-changing. Martha is smart, responsible, and a total teenage girl. She loves to laugh and dance, and she really, really loves to eat.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.

Her knowledge of God’s Word impresses me. She is driven. She wants to train as a nurse and work for Lifegate.

As my time in Sierra Leone came to a close, I said my goodbyes. I hugged each of the children at the orphanage, but I saved my sweet girl for last.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.

She truly feels like part of my family. Her picture hangs in my house. My boys know who she is; they have gotten to FaceTime her, and cannot wait to meet her. We pray for her daily. We help to provide for her.

Saying goodbye to family is never easy.

Martha cried as I hugged her; I whispered affirming words into her heaving neck. I reminded her she is loved — by her Heavenly Father, by everyone involved in Lifegate, and by her American family – her sponsors.

Martha is once again happy, secure, well-fed, and most importantly, loved.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.


Maybe you and your family are interested in sponsoring a child. We have two children who are currently in need of monthly supporters. One child needs $20/month, and the other requires $30.

We encourage our sponsors to occasionally correspond with the children and provide pictures when they can.

Special needs adoption blog. Orphan sponsorship.

During Lifegate‘s yearly missions trip, there’s always an opportunity to get to know the children at the orphan home as well. If you’re interested in a sponsorship opportunity, please message me.

Our Family Devotions – The True Story of Christmas

[I’m giving away a Star From Afar nativity on Instagram. Find me, @gingernewingham, and enter to win one for your family!]

We’ve recently changed our family devotion time. Previously it was a part of our dinner meal, and Chance wrote all our lessons. We’d repeat those lessons for a week, hoping the truths would sink into our children’s minds and lives as we memorized and recited them daily.

I believe family devotions should have a fluid element though. As our children grow and develop, they can handle more teaching and less repetition. They don’t solely require single truths and sets of rules, but they eventually need the full scope of scripture to understand God’s character.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

A few months ago, we purchased the book, The Story for Little Ones. It has enticing illustrations and scripturally-solid storylines. Every bible story contains three pages of text, a truth for the people of the original context, and a truth for our children (and us!) today.

Every night as my damp children dry off from their baths, they begin to ask, “Is it time for our bible story?” It has become our routine to snuggle on the couch. We read God’s Word together and pray through the truth at the end of each story. We sing a worship song that pertains to the story or the truth every night as well.

As believers of the Good News, it is our job to point our children in the direction of the gospel. From the day they are born, it should be our mission to teach the next generation of God’s character and his plan to save us from our sins.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

And that plan – it started with a baby.

This advent season, my family will change our devotions slightly again. We will be focusing on teaching our children about Jesus’ birth. In order to save us, he had to come to earth and be one of us.

The story of Jesus’ birth is essential in understanding the whole scope of the gospel.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

It’s not just a sweet story of an unlikely birth of a baby king. It’s the story of our majestic creator humbling himself to walk among people who had forgotten him. It’s a story of forgiveness and power and humility and justice and grace. It’s a story of the angels of heaven holding their breath as inn after inn denied the savior of the world a place to lay his head. It’s a story of stars aligning and hundreds of prophesies being fulfilled. It’s a story of awe, wonder, and majesty. It’s a story of warmth and it’s a story of war.

It’s the true story of Christmas.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

I pray my children will grow in understanding of the event that led to the earth trembling and the snake’s head being crushed as we tell and retell of a simple barn and a manger through the month of December. Before they can understand God’s saving power, they need to understand his humanity.

To aid us in our focus this advent season, my family will be using the book, daily scriptures, nativity, and hide-and-seek game from Star From Afar. Our family would love if you’d join us. The nativity set and the simple act of hiding the star daily will help my children capture the wonder of God’s plan. Please join us and order your set before Sunday using the code, LIFEGATE in order to fund a Christmas party for our orphans in Sierra Leone. For more info about Star From Afar and the Christmas party, read this post.

Fear Replaced With Anticipation – Star From Afar Advent Activity

She saw a need.

Like so many other families every holiday season, Natalie purchased the elf and its book. She placed it on the shelf and hid it the next day. The elf was to report back to the North Pole based on her daughter’s works and behavior.

But her daughter was afraid of the elf. It scared her. It pushed her towards impossible perfection. It filled her with fear.

It did not draw her to Christ and his manger.

So Natalie took matters into her own hands. She put the elf away. She drew from her crafting skills and designed a star of cardboard.

Instead of hiding a naughty elf every night, Natalie hid a star. Her daughter woke each morning of advent with the desire to follow the star to her Lord.

This simple game grew; Natalie designed an entire nativity set. The cardboard star was eventually replaced by a wooden one. Natalie read a scripture each day as her daughter searched for the star. Wisemen joined the game by moving to the found star each morning. But the biggest change — Jesus became the focus of the advent season. Fear was replaced with the anticipation of his birth.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

A few months ago, I saw Natalie’s product. I fell in love with her story. I loved the simplicity of the game and the way it pointed to Jesus. I reached out to Natalie and told her I wanted all my friends to purchase this nativity set.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

I want my children and my friends’ children to be focused on Jesus during the advent season.

We struck up a conversation and I told Natalie about Lifegate in Africa. She wanted to help with our mission. She was deeply moved by the children in our orphanage.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.


So, for this week, Natalie and I are partnering together.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

We want to lead you and your children to Jesus. We want advent to remind your families of the star, the manger, and the gift that God sent to us. We want to bring you and your family this very affordable way to keep Christ’s birth as your focus this December.


Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

And this week only, Natalie wants to join Lifegate in providing the children at the orphanage with a Christmas party! Twenty percent (!!!) of Natalie’s sales this week will go towards providing extra special food, decorations, and a few small gifts for our orphans.


Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

Please consider purchasing a nativity set for your family. Use the code LIFEGATE before Sunday, November 13 to receive your Star From Afar in time for advent and Natalie will donate 20% of the sales to our orphanage Christmas party.

I received the Star From Afar (Darker Skin) and the Stable Animals. To make your purchase, go to Start From Afar’s website:

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

Add the desired items to your cart, then type LIFEGATE in the place for your promo code. Twenty percent of your purchase will automatically go to pay for our orphanage Christmas party.

Family advent activities for a special needs, adoption family.

Order before Sunday in order to receive your game before the beginning of the Advent season!

Also, I’d be honored if you’d share this post. It’s a simple way to help our children re-orient towards Christ while helping the children on the other side of our world.

A Fellow Advocate, A Fellow Parent – Stories from Salone

[I’m obviously home from Africa. I wasn’t able to update my blog while in Sierra Leone because the internet connection just wasn’t good enough. For this reason, I will be sharing about my trip over the next month or so. This is one story from my flight over.]

Sierra Leone, Africa - Lifegate in Africa

I found my seat and settled in. I did not realize the African man next to me would be fighting off tears just a few hours later.

On my final flight to Sierra Leone two weeks ago, I was willing my travels to be over and for sleep to overcome me. I napped fitfully until my food tray was delivered. When I awoke, the man next to me was eager to talk.

I asked if he lived in Sierra Leone, and he said, “No. Not anymore.”

He, a soft-spoken man named Chernor, inquired about my trip overseas. When he realized I was also from the United States, his story began to pour out. He told me of his family who live and work in New York and Virginia. When I asked if he was returning to Sierra Leone for business, his answer broke my heart.

“No, I am traveling to visit my wife.”

You see, he and his two children had been given Visas to immigrate to the United States, but at the time, he and his wife were not married. She could not move with their family.

Her babies and her (now) husband moved halfway around the world without her. It’s hard to fathom a family separating like this.

With tears in his eyes, my seat-mate said he moved to the United States for his son. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his tattered wallet. It contained a single, small photo of his boy. He told me his ten-year-old son has autism.

I nodded and smiled. Of course he does. Only the God of the universe could orchestrate putting the mother of a ten-year-old boy with autism next to the father of a different ten-year-old boy with autism on an international flight. Only God.

The man next to me moved his boy, Gobie, and his younger daughter to the United States over two years ago. Chernor’s voice cracked as he shared the story that led his family to decide to geographically divide:

One day, his wife was walking to the market. Along her path was the school where her oldest child attended. The kids were all outside for their lunch break, so she decided to stop and say hello.

As she approached the school, she saw a large group of children huddled together. In the middle of that huddle was a small boy. His shirt was being pulled and he was being taunted. His lunch had been stolen and consumed by the bullying children.

As Chernor’s wife approached, she realized that boy in the huddle was her son. Her autistic son was nonverbal and had delays; he was the one being mistreated by his classmates.

The teacher didn’t seem to find anything wrong with this behavior. In Sierra Leone, special needs and differences are commonly associated with witchcraft. Disabilities are not understood, but rather they are feared.

But Chernor’s wife knew differently; that was her baby boy being mistreated. She immediately withdrew Gobie from school.

Gobie stayed home with her, but Chernor reported that she was completely heartbroken. When he and the children were approved for a visa in 2014, but Chernor’s wife was not, there was hardly a discussion. Gobie needed to come to the United States. He would benefit greatly from services not offered in Sierra Leone.

Gobie has not seen his mom since they immigrated. Her visa could take at least another three to five years before it is approved.

Chernor’s worry lines ran deep as he told me of the stress he manages trying to keep his wife from slipping into depression while fulfilling his parenting duties on the other side of the world.

To help lift his wife’s spirits, Chernor returns to visit her a couple times every year. He loads his phone with videos and photos of their babies. He tells her stories of how they’re doing in school and the places they’ve visited with their aunts.

Chernor spoke of the changes that need to be made in Sierra Leone. One might think he’d focus on the unfair government restrictions for issuing visas, or the delays in the red tape, but instead he talked about education and awareness.

His desire is to see his country, his people, understand that all lives have value. He longs for trainings to instruct teachers of the different types of special needs. He wishes for social reform that citizens of Sierra Leone might not allow their special needs children to continue wasting away, but that there might be a way to educate them and support the families raising them.

He, just like I — as a special needs parent — wants to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. He ultimately wants the best for his son.

Let Me See Milk and Honey

Sierra Leone is not the safest place to vacation. I know that. 
In 2011, Chance led a missions trip to this West African country. He took a team and travelled halfway around the world to meet an unfamiliar missionary. The team’s goal was to encourage this missionary, to learn more about the ministry (Lifegate in Africa), and to serve in any way possible. 

It was never Chance’s plan to fall in love. 

But he did. The people — their warmth and their resilience — it drew him to this place. The loss, the devastation, it broke his heart. 

He returned home, knowing he had to do something. He was smitten. 

Just a few short weeks later, Chance and I returned to Sierra Leone. I was reluctant to go (there were no resorts or swimming pools), but I followed the man I love to the place he loved. 

And then I fell in love too. 

From my first day — teaching village children finger plays about Jesus and his people — I knew I would never get this piece of my heart back. 

We believed God impressed a call on our lives during that trip. At the time, we thought the only way to serve would be to move to Sierra Leone. Two years later, we were asked to consider a partnership that allowed us to remain in the United States and bring awareness and funds to a forgotten people. 

We accepted, understanding this meant regular travel to and from the country that gripped our hearts. 

Chance’s position is unpaid by the ministry. He raises support and asks partners to aide him in growing the kingdom. Because of this, we knew our budget for vacations would need to be re-written for trips to Sierra Leone. 

I love the country so, but still, there are a lack of resorts and swimming pools. It’s a war-recovering, desolate place. It reeks of medical malpractices and primitive knowledge. It wears the badge of not only the highest infant death rate in the world, but also the highest maternal mortality rate. A few years ago, Sierra Leone was named the most desperate place on earth — and that was before Ebola plowed through the country, leaving chaos and death in her wake. 

Sierra Leone is not the safest place to vacation. I know that. 

Well-meaning friends and family have questioned our desire to travel to such a land — especially two-and-a-half years ago when we went with our two babies in tow. 

But is it safe? No, it’s probably not safe.

But as I see the faces of the people affected by the work of God through Lifegate, I see milk. 

As I watch the children of our orphanage run with smiles on their faces despite a lifetime of loss, I see honey. 

A radio station broadcasts bible stories nightly in the citizen’s native language. I see grapes. 

In the Old Testament, God promised the Israelites a land of their own. All they had to do was trust his providence and lean on his power. 

When the people arrived at the promise land, twelve representatives spied on the land. Twelve men witnessed the place their forefathers dreamed of. 

Ten of the men saw giants and danger. 

Maybe they saw war and devastation. They saw corrupt government and witchcraft. They saw an unsafe place for travel. 

Two of the men saw God as the ruler of all. Everything. The things that appeared frightening and overwhelming — these men saw God’s sovereignty over them. They saw milk, honey, and grapes. 

As I return to Sierra Leone for the third time, I recognize that it is not a safe place. I know there are giants. I acknowledge they are there. But I also acknowledge God’s sovereignty and reign. 

I see the milk, honey, and grapes. 

Mama, I Need You

About a month ago, Chance and I took our first extended trip away from our children. For so long, Nasko’s behavior issues kept us extremely close to home.

Knowing this trip had the potential to overwhelm our remaining kids at home, Chance and I crafted our words carefully the day before we left. We sat Louis and Edward at the kitchen table; we told them we were taking a trip, but they were staying home. We outlined the next five days as we had an arsenal of friends and family scheduled to keep them safe and busy.

While describing our plans, we repeatedly asked our kids if they understood — Mama and Taty were leaving for a few days, but grown-ups always come back (thank you, Daniel Tiger and his fine neighborhood). Though we had explained the plans a few times, you could physically see realization as it spread across my five-year-old son’s face.

He became panicked as we continued through our scheduled events one final time. As we wrapped up our explanation, Edward couldn’t contain his response any longer:

But Mama! I neeeeed you!

(Hello, future drama major.)

But son, you’re right. You do need me.

You need me to feed you. You need me to administer your life-giving medicine. You need my loving touch and my soothing comfort. You need me to teach you and assist you in maturing. You need me to reassure you as you try hard things. You need me to tell you the gospel story in words you can understand.

Edward, you DO need me.

Sierra Leone, West Africa

But sweet boy, you need me in other ways too.

You need me to love your taty more than anyone here on this earth. You need me to take small breaks from this tough calling of parenting. You need me to take space and recharge when I become worn down. You need me to follow my own dreams and pursue my personal passions. You need me to use my talents, not only to feed your hungry stomach but to bring the Bread of Life to those who are truly starving.

Baby boy, you need me to be my own person.

As I prepared to embark on this two-week trip to Sierra Leone, West Africa, Edward again expressed his need for his mama.

And again, as I spend time away, I know exactly what you, my sweet boy, need.

You need a mama who is willing to do hard things. You need me to sacrifice finances and time for those who are hurting and lost. You need me to use my talents to share the stories and lives of those who inhabit the other side of this earth. You need me to write, capture, and create in order to bring dignity and humanity to those who live differently than we do. You need me to encourage/be encouraged by some of my favorite people who have chosen to make life-altering sacrifices for the lost. You need me to fulfill my role as a mentor to orphans and children other than just you and your brothers.

Edward, you’re absolutely right; you neeeeed me.

You need me to go, to do, and to be. And when I get home, you’ll need me to read all your favorite books, cook all your favorite meals, kiss your owies, and brush your hair.

I promise I’ll do what you need.

I’ve officially left on my trip to Sierra Leone. I’m posting this from an airport restaurant in Michigan. One of my main goals of this trip is to raise awareness of what is happening in Sierra Leone. I know the majority of my readers will never have the opportunity to travel to the other side of the earth, but take heart, I am bringing Sierra Leone to you. For the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing stories. I’ll be recounting my experiences, sharing testimonies, and posting a bajillion photos (Lord willing the wifi signal can handle it).

If you are at all willing to share these stories and pictures on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, I would be forever grateful. Raising awareness means exposing these stories to as many people as possible. We pray awareness eventually will lead to funds in many cases. Funds help to spread the gospel further. Thank you for helping Lifegate in this way.