Hey! It’s Been A While…


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Okay, maybe it hasn’t been prehistorically long, but it has been a while since I last sent out a proper update. I’ve definitely been keeping myself busy, so please read on to catch up on the highlights of what I’ve been up to the past year!

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Early last year I had the pleasure of building our church’s first website! I enjoyed putting the site together, and I just appreciated being able to give of myself in this creative capacity. Please feel free to visit our website at www.lotwbotswana.org and let me know what you think of this site! This is another great way to stay updated with what I’m doing!

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I can’t say enough good things about my visit to the States last year. Obviously, I enjoyed getting to spend some quality time with my family – especially with my cute little nephew! But it was also a great pleasure to connect with so many of you! Thank you to every pastor who gave me the opportunity to minister in your church. I felt so welcome at every church I visited and I can’t express enough of my appreciation for your generosity and support. I want to extend a special thank you to my church family at Orchard Road Christian Center in Denver, CO for inviting me to attend their missions conference last year. I was so honored to attend this event as a “goer” (as a missionary), having attended it for so many years as a “sender” (as someone supporting missionaries). The conference was an incredibly enriching time for me. Thank you also to all my dear, dear friends who made time to catch up with me while I was Stateside. I came back from this trip feeling so refreshed, energized, supported, encouraged and blessed.

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I really LOVE being a youth leader in Africa! It can be challenging and exhausting, but at the same time, energizing, fulfilling, and so much FUN! I am constantly thinking of creative ways that I can teach my youth the Word and make a lasting investment in their lives. Over half the population of Botswana is under the age of 25, so I believe that any time I make a deposit into a youth’s life, whether big or small, I am playing my part in impacting the next generation for Christ. Here’s a quick rundown of some of my favorite youth events we did this past year!

Etiquette Party – A formal event in which we teach the youth about how to become ladies and gentlemen. I saw the need to teach our youth about the importance of self-respect and respecting others, so I thought this party would be a great way to teach these principles. They LOVE getting dressed up for this event! They are served a 3-course meal, and they learn the value of honoring oneself and others through the practice of good table manners and social etiquette.

Boys & Girls Retreat – It’s a time when we as youth leaders get to have some quality time connecting with our youth. The boys go with the guy leaders, the girls go with the girl leaders, for a weekend of fun, food and time with God. This past year at the girls retreat, I talked to the girls about what it means to worship God and I taught them a new worship song (Desert Song by Hillsong). We had an amazing time together! We also played a really hilarious makeup game – one girl applies makeup to another girl while blind-folded!

Youth Camp – This is THE event of the year for our youth! It’s a week’s worth of incredible fun! My favorite activity they did this year was a goat-catching competition (which team can catch the most goats in a given time). It was hilarious to watch! It is equally an unforgettable time of connecting with God. We had some incredible times of prayer and worship. To me, it was the best youth camp we’ve had so far, and I believe it will continue to be an enormously fun and life-changing event for our youth.

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In October of last year, I was driving through the northwestern part of the country and had to stop my car in order to allow this family of giraffes to safely cross the road. It was pretty awesome. I love living in Africa :)

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Thanks for taking the time to read this! Thank you for your prayers and support! I wake up every morning thinking, “Yes, I woke up in Africa again!” Your support has allowed me to do what I love and what I know God has made me to do. I am so very grateful for your willingness to share a part in that as well.

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  • I’m still in the process of looking for my own place. I’m believing for a place that is safe/secure, close to my ministry base, within my budget, at least a two bedroom (would like to accommodate friends/family for visits). Please pray for the right place and the right timing for my move.
  • Wise management of my time, money and talents. I want wisdom to hone in on precisely what God wants me to focus on (day to day, season to season), in my personal life and in ministry.
  • Please pray for more leadership to accommodate the growth of our ministry. We’re very excited about having recently launched a new church branch in the town of Selebi-Phikwe, and we have plans to launch another branch in the capital city of Gaborone before the end of this year!

If you want to continue to stay updated with me and my ministry in Botswana, please sign up to receive my email newsletter!

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2014 Update

Some Highlights from 2014

In April, I turned the big 3-3! I am really loving my 30s, and I’ve gotta say that it’s been the best decade of my life so far. This was also my first birthday to celebrate in Africa, and my African family went out of their way to make me feel special! They delivered presents to me throughout the day – flowers, balloons, sweets, lunch. They even threw me a surprise party! Turning 33 was a great day!

etiquette-partyIn an effort to help our youth recognize their God-given value and self-worth, myself and other adults in our church organized an Etiquette Party – a formal party in which our youth were served a 3-course meal and were taught about social etiquette and table manners. It was fun to see them get all gussied up – I had never seen some of the girls ever wear a dress before or some of the boys ever look so sharp!

youth-confIn July, we held our very first youth conference! My dear friend, Kevin Went, was our guest speaker. The theme for our conference was “Unstoppable” – in reference to Philippians 4:13, reminding our youth that we can do all things through Christ and we are unstoppable in doing great things for Him! During the same weekend of the conference, we held our annual Crazy Olympics event in which other youth groups joined us for a fun day of various games/activities!

runwayHeld our first ever youth girls retreat and it was a blast! Taught our young ladies about their value in Christ, true godly beauty and etiquette. Highlights from this event were shopping (girls got to “shop” clothes, makeup and accessories that ladies from our church donated – this got a little crazy!), a Self-Esteem fashion show (each girl shared about 4 things they liked about themselves and then got to strut down a “runway”) and a stiletto race (exactly what it sounds like – racing each other in stilettos!).

nephewOn September 4, 2014, Heston Leonardo Barlolong was born, and I became an Auntie!!! In January of 2014, my sister announced that she was expecting her first child. Obviously, being so far away from home, I miss my family, and it was hard for me to not be there during my sister’s pregnancy. However, I was blessed to be able to make a quick (surprise!) trip back home to meet and hold my nephew 3 weeks after he was born! Just call me Auntie Mel :)

love-waitsIn October, we held our very first Purity Ceremony. Twenty five of our youth made a public commitment to live a life of purity, and each of them was presented with a “love waits” bracelet, which serves as a symbol/reminder of their commitment. They committed not only to abstinence, but to leave a better legacy for their future family, their city, their country and the next generation. I’m really proud of our youth who made this commitment and I hope to repeat this event again in the future for many other youth in Botswana! (You can read more about my plans here.)

thanksLeading up to Thanksgiving this past year, I wrote a series on my blog called “10 Days of Thankfulness” to reflect on what I’m particularly grateful for about my life as a missionary. There have been very few mornings when I’ve woken up in bed and my first thoughts haven’t been, “Lord, thank You that I get to wake up in Africa today. Thank You that I get to be a missionary in Africa!” It’s an incredibly wonderful, precious and fulfilling thing when your job is something you love to do. I am immensely thankful for that.

new-carOn Christmas Eve, I was finally able to purchase my own car!!! I cannot express enough how much of a blessing this car is! And it was really special that I was able to get my car the day before Christmas :) This car is a gift from so many people – dear friends, family and supporters – who were willing to give and invest in me and what I do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I pray that God blesses you for your thoughtfulness and generosity!

 

Prayer Requests

  • We have a goal to grow our church congregation to 1,000 people. We’re planning strategic outreach events this year. We recently held our first one on Valentine’s Day! We shared God’s love through handing out Valentine’s cards & sweets! We plan to do outreach events like this periodically throughout the year, with a focus on really connecting and building relationships with people we meet. Please pray for favor and that people are receptive to what we have to share.
  • We want to see our church building completed by May 24, 2015. Please agree with us in prayer that we’ll be able to start meeting in our first church building by May 24th!
  • I am still working towards finding my own place to stay. I would like some place in a safe area and near my ministry base. I will also need furniture and appliances for my home (bed, fridge, etc.).

 

Upcoming Trip to States

I’m blessed with the opportunity to travel to the States next month! I will mainly be passing through the Southern CA (March) and Denver (April) areas. Hope to see some of you if you stay where I’ll be visiting! Here is my confirmed itinerary so far:

  • Sunday, March 8, 10:30am: Cornerstone Christian Baptist Church – Murrieta, CA
  • Thursday, March 12, 6:00pm: Cornerstone Christian Baptist Church (L.O.L. youth service) – Murrieta, CA
  • Friday, March 13, 7:00pm: Pacific Lighthouse Christian Fellowship (youth/young adult service) – San Diego, CA
  • Sunday, March 15, 5:00pm: People’s Church San Diego – San Diego, CA
  • Sunday, March 22, 9:40am: Full Life Christian Assembly – Oxnard, CA
  • Sunday, March 29, 10:30am: Southport Christian Center – National City, CA
  • Sunday, April 19, 10:30am: Praise Center Church (main service/youth class) – Denver, CO
  • April 29-May 3: Orchard Road Christian Center (2015 Missions Conference) – Greenwood Village, CO

 

ATTN: Monthly DonorsIf you are one of my monthly/recurring supporters, I would like to inform you of some recent changes to the donation system that receipts your gifts. A new donation system was put into place the end of last year, and during the conversion, you may have noticed that donations made through your auto bank deductions or credit cards weren’t processed/charged for a couple of months. This was a result of the system conversion. The issue has been corrected and your regular donations should have processed normally last month. I apologize for any inconvenience, and your patience during this change is much appreciated. If you have any questions regarding the system conversion, or if you are interested in making up any donations lost in the transition, please contact Nancy at nancyb@mhmin.org. Thank you for your ongoing support!

If you want to continue to stay updated with me and my ministry in Botswana, please sign up to receive my email newsletter!

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Christmas Presents

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and a lovely time with dear friends and family!

I celebrated my third Christmas in Botswana, and I just wanted to quickly share about some lovely Christmas gifts I received this year that I am very grateful for. I know that Christmas isn’t just about Christmas presents, but I feel I need to express my gratitude for these particular gifts :)

For starters, I was gifted with a plethora of car cleaning supplies….

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…probably because on Christmas Eve, I was finally able to purchase my own car!!!

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Many, many thanks to all who helped me purchase my car!

I can’t express enough of how enormous of a blessing this car is! And it was kind of special that I was able to get my car on the day before Christmas :) This car is a gift from so many people – dear friends, family and supporters – who were willing to give and invest in me and what I do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I pray that God blesses you for your thoughtfulness and generosity!

This is a gift that will actually enable me to give even more.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

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Day 10: 10 Days of Thankfulness

For the last day of my 10 Days of Thankfulness, may I first of all wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!

If I could describe Thanksgiving in one word, I would use the word full. Besides all the meaningful reasons this wonderful holiday is celebrated, it is a great day to eat, isn’t it? It is a day in which many of us find ourselves feeling very full of glorious, glorious Thanksgiving food!

If I were to describe my life in one word, that word would also be full.

Full is defined as containing or holding as much or as many as possible, having no empty space, not lacking anything, complete.

Full is the perfect word to describe Thanksgiving, and it’s the perfect word to describe my life. I’m so very thankful that my life is so full.

I thank God for blessing me with such a full life. My faith in Him has always been such an important part of my life, and I know I owe my love of life completely to Him.

Would you describe your life as full?

If you are reading this, I hope that you do, or if you don’t, I pray that you will. There is always something to be thankful for :)

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Day 9: 10 Days of Thankfulness

For Day 9 of my 10 Days of Thankfulness, I would like to express how thankful I am to be in my thirties. I have to say that it’s been my favorite decade of life so far!

Why I’m loving my thirties…

  • Obviously, because I moved to Botswana to be a missionary :)
  • Prior to moving to Africa, I became debt free! I had never worked so hard or been so determined about something in my life. Accomplishing this goal was an incredibly rewarding milestone.
  • Became an auntie of the cutest nephew ever!
  • I’m the most comfortable/confident I’ve ever been in my own skin.
  • Have gotten to do a bit of traveling around the world, which is one of my favorite things to do.
  • I’m in the best shape physically that I’ve ever been.
  • I’ve learned (and continue to learn) how to have a very positive overall outlook on life.

I’m sure my fellow thirty-somethings can also relate to this, but when I was a kid and I thought about being 30 years old, I thought that was really old! But towards the end of my twenties, I actually really looked forward to reaching my thirties! Yes, I’ve become older age-wise, but I actually feel young, healthy, alive – the line from the movie 13 Going on 30 is running through my head. I’m 30, flirty and thriving! Well, I’m actually 33 now, and I wouldn’t ever use the word flirty to describe myself, but thriving is accurate – you get the picture :)

And as much as I’m loving my thirties right now, I truly believe that life will only get better with age. I choose to be thankful for life at every age. I think having that perspective is keeping me young and will help ensure that I will continue to enjoy every consecutive decade of life to come.

My first visit to Victoria Falls

Visited Victoria Falls (age 31)

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Day 8: 10 Days of Thankfulness

For Day 8 of my 10 Days of Thankfulness, I want to share about how much I appreciate my time as a single person. Now, I’m not saying that being single is better than being married, nor am I saying that I don’t ever want to get married. I’m just saying that I’m content with being single right now, and until I meet Mr. Right, I want to value, appreciate and make the most of my time as a single person.

I think the biggest gift that single people possess is their time. No matter how many times in my life I’ve thought that my life was so busy, I know it’s been no where near as busy as someone who is married or has a family. Again, I absolutely look forward to the day I get to be a wife and a mother, but I don’t want to take for granted the gift of time I have right now. More than once, I’ve taken inventory of my life and asked myself, “What do I have time to do now that I might not be able to do when I’m married and have kids? How can I really capitalize on my time right now and spend it in the best way possible?”

Once you start asking questions about how to spend your time, you realize you’re really asking yourself the question “What is my purpose?” For me, being single has been a great time to discover that. I feel like I was floundering for so many years of my life, working jobs I disliked or only kind of liked simply for the purpose of paying my bills, or just to be doing something.

Sometime in my mid-twenties, someone suggested that I make a list of things I enjoy doing – whether it was something I really enjoyed doing a lot, or only a little bit – in an effort to discover what the heck I really wanted to do with my life (i.e. purpose). I wrote the list and began to work my way through it. I was determined to give everything on my list a good shot. I’ve always enjoyed singing, so I took piano and voice lessons for 3 months. I’ve also always loved dance, so I took ballet and hip hop classes for several years (and even performed in a few recitals).

On my list, I also wrote that I loved travel/missions trips. It wasn’t until 2010 that I began to tackle this item on my “purpose list.” I was living in Denver, CO at the time, and on one particular Sunday at church, I ran into a missionary I once worked with in Thailand.

She was excited to see me and the first thing she said to me was, “Mel! Are you married?”

Me: “No, Marlene, I’m not married,” I replied, while trying my best to refrain from displaying the look of disdain most single women naturally display when they are asked if they are married.

Marlene: “You need to do missions for a year!”

Me: “I don’t know, Marlene. I would really love to, but….” (thinking of all the reasons why it’s not “possible”)

Marlene: “Just pray about it! Promise me you’ll pray about it! I dare you!”

Me: “Okay, Marlene, I promise.”

Later the following week…

Me: “Lord, please tell me if you want me to do missions work for a year. In Jesus name, amen.” (and…promise kept.)

After I prayed that nonchalant, two-second prayer, all the reasons I had for not being able to undertake this venture of doing missions work for a year began to quickly diminish. And before the week was over, I began the process of not only doing missions work for a year, but for doing missions work indefinitely. And the rest, as you know, is history.

I’m grateful to have discovered my purpose as a single person – a purpose, which I also intend to carry on with in the future as a wife and a mother :)

Proverbs 19:21

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Day 7: 10 Days of Thankfulness

For Day 7 of my 10 Days of Thankfulness, I am grateful for the choice/opportunity to give.

I guess you could say that my financial situation has changed a lot since I became a missionary :) One could (emphasis on could) say that since becoming a missionary, I’ve “lost” my financial “security” because I no longer have things like a regular income or direct deposit.

Now, I want to be clear that this is not how I view my financial situation at all. One of the main reasons I’ve chosen to not view things this way is simply because I love to give. I don’t ever want my checking account to dictate my ability to give. I believe that generosity is a choice, and the amount or frequency of one’s generosity shouldn’t ever be determined or limited to the enormity or minuteness of one’s material resources. You can give no matter what – if you want to.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible about giving is found in 2 Corinthians 9:8. It says:

“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” (NLT, New Living Translation)

For me, this verse serves as a statement of financial security. I admit that I really took a leap of faith leaving the security of my life and work in America, and moving to Africa to be a missionary. But I’ve never lacked since I’ve been out here and I don’t believe I ever will. God has truly provided for me and has blessed me in tremendous ways. On top of that – and because of that – I feel like my desire for giving has only increased.

For years now, I’ve made it a priority to budget a portion of my income specifically for giving – whether it’s giving to my church, to an individual or to a worthy cause. But I don’t just limit myself to giving money. I also make an effort to be generous with my time, talents and other non-monetary resources. Basically, my philosophy on giving is, if I have the inkling to give (which happens pretty frequently), I want to find a way to give. If you make giving a priority in your life, you will always be able to afford to do it.

Giving can be as simple as writing a kind note to someone, which is, consequently, one of my favorite ways to give. Writing a kind note doesn’t cost much, and it won’t take much of your time, but it can be extremely valuable and meaningful to the person receiving the note.

Plus it is just so much FUN to give! I really doubt that if anyone made giving a priority, they would fail to become addicted to giving. To me, the joy of giving truly is greater for the giver than for the receiver, or as the old adage goes, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

I am truly thankful for the joy of giving, and it’s a practice I only hope to increase in – even as a missionary :)

For it is in giving that we receive. - St. Francis of Assisi

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Day 6: 10 Days of Thankfulness

For Day 6 of my 10 Days of Thankfulness, I would like to express my thankfulness for my families. Notice I said families – plural :)

First of all, I’m very thankful for my family back home in the good old US of A. I know it wasn’t easy for my parents to hear that I wanted to live on an entirely different continent, but I appreciate their prayers and support so much – especially from my mom. I know she prays for me more than anyone else and she’s probably my #1 supporter. It’s not easy to be so far away from those you love, but I’m grateful that I’ve been able to visit home a couple times since I moved to Botswana. Last year, I was able to come home to plan my sister’s bridal shower and to be the maid of honor at her wedding. I loved being able to toast her and my brother-in-law on their special day. And just a couple months ago, I was able to come home for a short visit so I could meet and hold my nephew for the first time! I’m quickly becoming one of those aunties who wants to show everyone pictures of him because “Isn’t he just the cutest?!”
mendozasI’m also thankful for my African family! We look different, we talk different, but they treat me like I’m a part of the family! I’m pretty sure they now consider me like more of an African than an American :) They welcomed me when I first came. They are helping me to learn their language. They threw me a surprise party when I celebrated my first birthday in Africa. On more than one occasion, they’ve expressed to me their gratitude for my deciding to come to Botswana. They leave me in no doubt of how much they love me and have accepted me, and the feeling is mutual. I love all of my African mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. You know that saying that it takes a village to raise a child? Well, I feel like a wonderful “village” of people in Botswana have graciously welcomed this missionary into their lives.
african-famIt’s awesome to have family on both sides of the equator! I love both of my families and I’m so blessed and thankful to have them in my life.

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Day 5: 10 Days of Thankfulness

For Day 5 of my 10 Days of Thankfulness, I would be remiss if I did not mention my appreciation for all of my supporters. I have several churches and individuals who have supported (and continue to support me) since I became a missionary.

Thank you to everyone who has financially supported me! I supported missionaries consistently for years prior to going into the field. And now that I’m in the mission field myself, I’m grateful for everyone who has been willing to send me and invest in me. Financial support helps cover the expenses of my basic living needs, which in turn allows me to fully focus on what God has called me to do. It also helps grow my sphere of influence, such as the contributions made towards our abstinence program. Let me also take this time to thank everyone who has contributed towards my fundraising goal to purchase my own vehicle – I have currently reached 66% of my goal and I only have $1700 left to raise! (If you are interested in helping me reach my goal for my car, click here to make a donation.)

Thank you to everyone who prays for me! I love hearing that people are praying for me! I am in good health. I have never lacked since I’ve been on the field. I love what I do. I live a very full life as a missionary. I feel so blessed and I feel like God’s protection and favor is constantly surrounding me. I know I owe a part of that to everyone who is praying for me. Thank you so much for your continued prayers!

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement! I’ve learned very quickly that the biggest thing I appreciate the most as a missionary is connecting with people who are genuinely interested and excited about what I do – you are the kind of people we as missionaries LOVE to partner with! The encouragement and excitement of our supporters can help fuel us to press on in our work. Letters, emails, Facebook messages, cards, care packages – it’s those small, but genuine and thoughtful acts of love and encouragement that can bless us so much. I am especially grateful for all the new churches and pastors I met last year during my visit to the States, who knew nothing about me, but who made the time to get to know me and my heart for missions. Thank you for your time and your willingness to meet with me and invest in me.

I couldn’t do what I love to do without your support. THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART!!!

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Handmade “Thank you” cards I’m preparing to send out to my supporters

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Day 4: 10 Days of Thankfulness

For Day 4 of my 10 Days of Thankfulness, I would like to express how thankful I am for the Buckleys. If you’ve been following me since I moved to Africa, you know that I work with Light of the World Ministries which was founded by Matt and Kristin Buckley over 25 years ago.

When they first came to Botswana, they were only 21 and 22 years old and newly married – they celebrated their first wedding anniversary in Botswana! They are as much African as they are American, and they are dedicated and committed to what God has called them to do in Africa.

They have been pastors of Light of the World Church in Francistown, Botswana for over 20 years now. When they first opened the church, only 3 adults attended and about 100 children. The church now runs about 300 people of all ages. In addition to that, two branch churches have also been established in nearby villages.

In 1999, they opened Light of the World Academy, a Christian preschool that has earned a reputation in the community as one of the best English-medium preschools in Francistown.

In 2000, they opened Light of the World Bible Training Centre with a heart to teach the Bible and train leaders for ministry. People of various nationalities and religious backgrounds have attended the school.

The Buckleys have accomplished a lot over the years, but they’ve also experienced their own set of hardships. They’ve experienced financial challenges, not so great living situations, and various types of roadblocks in trying to build their ministry.

From their great and not so great experiences, they’ve developed a heart to equip and prepare future missionaries desiring to enter the mission field – to help them avoid the same mistakes they made when they were new missionaries and to help them start their missionary life off on the right foot in the most successful and effective way possible.

I came to Botswana in 2012 feeling more excited than nervous. In fact, I pretty much had zero fear – I couldn’t wait to step foot on African soil. I didn’t experience any type of culture shock when I first arrived. I had a good idea of what to expect – how I should dress, cultural expectations, etc. I also arrived fully funded for one year, and have been blessed to maintain ongoing financial support – I’ve never lacked since I’ve been on the mission field. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am serving in an area that I enjoy and am good at. When I decided to become a missionary, I was entering new and unknown territory, in the literal and figurative sense. But I felt ready and prepared, and I owe so much of that to the Buckleys and their willingness to believe in me and invest in me. They have not only helped to make me a better missionary, but they have helped me to become a better person – a better version of myself than the self who stepped off the plane onto African soil in July of 2012. I had no idea what I was doing when I decided to become a missionary, and the Buckleys helped me eliminate so many of the questions marks that were running through my head. I am so thankful that God put the right people in my path at the right time. Thank you, Buckleys, for everything!

Me & the Buckleys

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