"We developed a sisterhood unlike any other I've ever had"

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"We developed a sisterhood unlike any other I've ever had"

Shelly Ginter Conrad shares why she is going to attempt to summit Mount Rainier this August and why she is so passionate about ending human trafficking…

My love for mountain climbing was birthed in the Himalayas in 2013 as a member of the Mount Everest Base Camp Freedom Climb team. I was privileged to have had this climbing experience alongside the founder of The Freedom Challenge, Cathey Anderson, as well as with many other amazing women from countries around the world. It was a life-changing experience that led me to not only better view the world through God’s eyes, but it also ignited a passion in me to climb mountains.

Prior to my involvement in the 2013 Freedom Climb (now called The Freedom Challenge), the subject of human trafficking was not even on my radar. With my life focused primarily on my family, coaching, and other activities, the world that I lived in was safe and comfortable. When I first heard about the Freedom Climb, I began to search the internet to research human trafficking. What I discovered shocked me and I wanted to get involved in efforts to combat it. 

Everest Base Camp

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As a former NCAA Division I collegiate athlete, I have always been an active person who has prioritized exercise and staying in shape. As a result, doing something physical, like mountain climbing, was appealing to me and I believed God had called me to be one of the climbers in 2013. I knew that I would have to devote myself to getting in great shape for climbing at high altitudes. So, with excitement and anticipation, I embarked on my training and fundraising. In the end, standing on the summit of Kala Patthar (18,504 ft.) just above Mount Everest Base Camp, was one of the most incredible experiences and accomplishments of my life. Having endured several long days of intense, arduous trekking and climbing, our team was blessed to reach our goal. The journey we all went through bonded our hearts and minds and made us ever aware of the struggles that enslaved women and children endure every day.

After having lived in Texas for 30 years, I moved to my original home state of Michigan in 2014 with my husband and high school-age daughter. My son and his wife, who were married last summer, live in Texas.  After a period of adjustment to living in Michigan, I am now the varsity volleyball coach at Frankenmuth High School, a leadership and teamwork motivational speaker, as well as a women’s Christian conference speaker. You can read more about me and what I do by visiting my website: shellyginterconrad.com . To bring awareness to my efforts in 2019, FrankenmuthClimber.com is linked to my professional website so that people could easily access my fundraising page and read more about the 2019 Freedom Challenge and learn about why I am climbing.  

Since moving to Michigan, the timing for me to climb with the Freedom Challenge again has not been right ... until now. I am excited to once again join The Freedom Challenge movement as a member of the Mount Rainier Summit team. I committed to climb Mount Rainier this past November and I have been training and fundraising since then. I have primarily been using Facebook and Instagram to communicate with my friends and family, but I will also be mailing personal fundraising letters to friends and family to seek additional support. I have also been blessed to have a local sportswear company (Grasel Graphics) support me by designing and providing me with personal workout gear printed with Freedom Challenge Mount Rainier information on it. I wear this apparel when I train to bring awareness of my efforts as a Freedom Challenge climber. They also designed Frankenmuth Climber support team t-shirts for me to sell to help raise awareness and the needed financial support. 

A team of praying women

Just as I did in 2013, I formed a prayer team of women to come alongside me and support me on the journey. I communicate with them through a private Facebook page. Every few weeks, I share prayer requests and post various updates about the progress of my training and fundraising efforts. They use this forum to post encouraging messages to help keep me motivated and trusting God. I know that God has called me to this effort and that He is faithful to help me succeed in my training and fundraising efforts. I encourage all climbers to surround themselves with a group of women who are committed to faithfully pray for them. Their involvement and encouragement will be a blessing.

So, how do I personally go about training for climbing Mount Rainier? 

Well, training for mountain climbing when you live at fairly low altitudes like where I live in Michigan is a challenge that requires me to be creative. I have incorporated the following as part of my indoor cardio training routine: The Stairmaster and treadmill (working up to its highest incline) while carrying a weighted backpack (increase weight over time); step ups with a weighted collar or backpack, and an elliptical machine that has a “climb” feature set at its highest incline. I also incorporate cardio training outdoors two days a week, weather permitting.

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On my outdoor training days, I do much longer cardio workouts that are focused on hiking distances with a weighted pack, and walking up and down stadium stairs or steep hill inclines to develop endurance. When the weather warms up here in Michigan this spring, I’ll do some long trail rides and hill work on my mountain bike. I currently use a Training Mask (2.0) for some of my cardio training. It is a resistance tool for your lungs that I have found to be extremely helpful in building lung capacity. It mimics a high-altitude environment by forcing you to focus on your breathing as you learn to take deeper breathes and slow the pace of your breathing.

I also include weight training as part of my routine to focus on building strength in the lower body, back, shoulders and core. Developing outstanding cardiovascular endurance is critical, but you also need to be doing strength training for optimal success. I lift a minimum of three days a week, using strength training ideas from mountaineering websites; as well as a strength-training regimen developed for me by a friend who is a professional strength training coach in Texas (Roland Jehl). There are lots of ways to strength train; you just have to find what works best for you based on your climbing goals and the amount of time you can devote to training.

Spiritual training

While physical training is important, I have found that “spiritual training” is also very important.  This part of my training routine consists of prayer and Scripture memorization. In 2013, I memorized Psalm 139. I wrote the verses out on 3x5 cards and carried them with me when I went on long hikes. You do a lot of thinking when you train, especially on long cardio days, and that is the optimal environment for me to memorize Scripture and pray. When the climb arrives, I want to be able to recall and recite the Scripture I have learned to help me endure and persevere when I get weary.  

There are many components to preparing to climb and it can sometimes get overwhelming and it is not uncommon to experience some fear and doubt. Despite this, I am learning to enjoy the process as God uses our journey (to include training setbacks) to teach us about our limitations and our constant need of Him. God is faithful and He has proven that to me over and over in my lifetime. I love an adventure and having the opportunity to climb again with the Freedom Challenge and fellow climbers is something I am looking forward to. The friendships that were forged in my 2013 climb remain ingrained on my heart. The shared experiences bonded us and we developed a sisterhood unlike any other I’ve ever had.

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In 2019, I will meet new sisters-in-Christ and I look forward to getting to know them and as we climb for a common cause. Ultimately, I pray God is glorified and His work is done in and through us as we humbly seek His strength as we embark on a climb that will forever change us from the inside out.

Climbing for Their Freedom,

Shelly Ginter Conrad

There is still to join Shelly and sign up to our 2019 Mt. Rainier Challenge!

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The miracle of sight

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The miracle of sight

Rachel’s life has been transformed since she became a Christian through a Freedom-Challenge supported program. Now, she is helping other women overcome the challenges of life in this poverty-striken village in Africa

“Prostitution, beer drinking, drunkenness, insults, fighting, uneducated children, malnutrition and witchcraft,” answered Rachel when asked to describe her village called 4Miles.

“Everyone is living without hope. I feel pity for the children here, all with dirty and ragged clothes, and drunk parents. When someone gets sick they go to the witchdoctors, not realizing that is not where they can find real healing, truth, and everlasting life.”

Rachel and her husband have been living in 4Miles, a town in Zambia, for the last 20 years, living their lives in the best way they knew how, but not always following Jesus.

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God Calling

One day in 2015 Rachel was visited by a Freedom Challenge-supported worker. He told her about a local discipleship program and how it could help her learn more about how to follow Jesus. Although Rachel had grown up in a Muslim family, she knew this was something she must do. For the next few months she worked hard to save enough money to do the yearlong discipleship and missions training.

“After doing discipleship and missions, I wanted to keep learning more, so I became a student at Tabitha Skills Development. Since joining Tabitha, my life has completely changed. At first my husband couldn’t understand the changes in me, but last year he also decided to go through discipleship training. Now we can understand each other and be an example to our neighbors by loving and respecting each other.”

At Tabitha Skills Development, a program supported by Freedom Challenge, Rachel successfully completed the beginner, intermediate, and advanced sewing training. She quickly became an encourager and example to the other students of how God can transform your life if you just allow Him to. She has since become a fulltime missionary, serving with Tabitha, with a focus on reaching the women in 4Miles.

A New Vision

“After joining Tabitha, God was always speaking to me about not leaving behind the ladies in my own village. My eyes were totally opened to God’s vision for my life. He was calling me to be like Tabitha in the Bible! I have been teaching my fellow women, just like I have been taught at Tabitha, and they follow everything I do. I used to be a bit difficult and had a very bad temper, but now God has softened my heart. I have even told all my family about Jesus, and they have become Jesus followers!

Now that my eyes are open to the need for Jesus in my village, I will never stop teaching and preaching until God calls me onwards. The small one-room building that our family used to use as a tavern, is now where the ladies meet for prayer, Bible study and skills training.

God has transformed my outlook on life so much, that even if I sometimes go to sleep hungry or in pain, when I wake up I feel energized and ready for ministry.”

Physical Sight

In addition to Rachel’s spiritual eyes being opened, God has also opened her physical eyes!

Rachel always struggled with being able to see properly and didn’t have a suitable pair of glasses to assist her vision. She could hardly read, thread a needle or do any intricate work. However, Rachel now testifies to the restoration God has given to her eyesight. “I now have no problem putting thread through a tiny needle, or reading in the evenings with dim candlelight. God has done a miracle for me!”

The love of Jesus has the power to transform lives and communities. As Rachel continues to minister to her village of 4Miles, she dreams that one day when asked to describe her village, she will be able to say it is a ‘vibrant community of Jesus followers.’

Join Rachel in praying for God’s wisdom, strength and protection as she diligently ministers to her community. Pray for endurance to not give up as she often faces persecution.

You can support women like Rachel to bring transformation to their communities by donating to Freedom Challemge. Thank you!



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"Will you be my sister?"

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"Will you be my sister?"

Katrina* attends one of the Freedom Challenge-supported day centers in Moldova where she receives help with school work, healthy food and the opportunity to hang out with her friends in a safe place.

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Last year, Katrina (14) and some other girls attended the Vulnerable Girls’ conference – a few days of teaching, games, craft and fun. Some of our Freedom Challenge supporters from the US helped out (and we’re going again in 2019, if you want to join us!)

During the small group discussions, Sabrina shared her hopes and dreams openly. In one of the sessions the leader talked about body image and identity. Katrina told her group leader that, “I would like to be like you, to look like you and to have children and a husband like yours.” The leader, Ina, replied: “You don’t need to look like me to have this, what’s important is who you are. Everything I have is due to the fact that I have chosen to follow God.”

Throughout the conference the girls were encouraged to choose God. Often the girls would hug Ina and ask her if she loved them. At the end of the three days, Katrina asked Ina: “Will you be my sister?” Tearfully, Katrina explained that she didn’t have any brothers or sisters and that her mom was working abroad and that she lives with her stepfather who drinks and shouts a lot. He almost stopped her from coming to the conference but with the help of a relative Katrina was able to get away from home.

Her home life is incredibly tough. And the conference is a vital way to help Katrina discover her value and to learn how much God loves her.

And this is just one girl’s story. There are many more vulnerable girls like Katrina in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe. With your support, we are able to reach out to them and to see the direction of their lives begin to change as they choose to follow God and trust in him.

You can give today to help more girls like Katrina: $150 sets one woman or child on the path to freedom

Or sign up to one of our 2019 Challenges 


*Name changed to protect identity

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 The Freedom Challenge Sisterhood

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The Freedom Challenge Sisterhood

Hi! I am Karis Williams and I am excited and honored to be joining the Freedom Challenge Team as the Communications Project Manager.

The Back Story

From a really young age (15 to be exact) God gave me a burden to use my skills, talents, and life to combat the common injustices women around the world face: abuse, exploitation and assault which often lead to and promote labor and sex trafficking.

I have had the opportunity for the last 10 years to be an advocate, to lead sexual assault investigations, to conduct research on human trafficking globally, to interview and mentor survivors, to conduct awareness presentations and to assist in the creation of curriculums.

It has been a pleasure to be able to do all this, but each step has taken a great amount of faith, patience and obedience. Many times I wondered if I was going in the right direction or how all those life experiences added up or what they would lead to. The journey was not always clear, even when God told me to do the Freedom Challenge Estes Park in 2017, I didn’t think it would ever lead to where I am now. Estes Park was truly a milestone in my faith. During that time God worked out in me a new understanding of humility (you can read my blog about my experiences here) and further confirmed to me to continue combatting the darkness that is human trafficking.

Since then I’ve been praying that I will be able to combat human trafficking with like-minded people. If you have ever delved into the world of human trafficking you know it can get dark and grimy. Prayer, fellowship and the reminder that God’s heart is for freedom, justice, mercy and grace are what is needed to keep you going.

I have found these like-minded people in the sisterhood of the Freedom Challenge. I am so honored to be able to continue fighting for justice, bringing awareness and raising my voice arm to arm with women, sisters, wives and mothers fighting for justice.

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What comes next

Joining the Freedom Challenge staff has meant a lot of changes for me in 2019. I will be moving from Florida to Georgia and, although that entails so much, I am excited to be coming on board at this time.

This year I see amazing things coming up for Freedom Challenge: two climbs in new territory (Washington and Oregon), a whole new type of challenge as we undertake a cycling challenge in California; and online Freedom Challenge Circles to increase awareness and to strengthen our community of advocates and climbers. My hope is to see Freedom Challenge reach new heights this year, to encourage more women to raise their voice, to climb with us and join this sisterhood.

This week is our Super Bowl Prayer Challenge, where we are partnering with different organizations and people to fight trafficking the best way we can… through prayer! This event unites organizations, churches, athletes, families all as prayer warriors for one of the world’s greatest injustices in a city (Atlanta) that has been a pioneer in fighting injustice in the US. Maybe it’s because I served in the military, but I see this weekend as our battle ground, we are coming together as warriors going to war. This event is no small thing and it’s also just the beginning.

Whether or not you will be able to join us this upcoming weekend in Atlanta, we do hope you join us for prayer and maybe even one of our climbs or mission trips coming up. Together we will end trafficking!

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Freedom Day Bootcamp

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Freedom Day Bootcamp

What could possibly entice someone to wake up early on a Saturday morning, skip their coffee and gather together in a church gym to sweat their way through deviously designed acts of physical fitness?

For 50 women and men it was nothing less than the plight of 40 million men, women and children, facing far worse than that as trafficked humans. Led by the Freedom Challenge team of Advent Church in Boca Raton, Florida, these brave souls joined in the first Freedom Day Bootcamp with the hope of bringing trafficked people one step closer to freedom.

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January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month. It is an important time to lift up the often hidden tragedy that millions are forced to live as modern-day slaves. The statistics are shocking. Tracy Daugherty, Director of the Freedom Challenge, shares that of the 40 million trafficked people, 12 million are women and 12 million are children. Although human trafficking is more prevalent amongst the poor in third world countries, there are an estimated 60,000 trafficked people in the US. Sadly, South Florida is a major gateway for human trafficking in this country.

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Moved by their awareness of human trafficking, in January 2012, 48 women from seven different countries climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to declare freedom for those who could not. Advent Church was represented on that climb and has since sent 28 women around the world to climb to proclaim from the mountaintops that Jesus means freedom. But these women do more than climb. Advent has raised over $400,000 to fight human trafficking when they come down the mountain. Their support, and that of many other climbers around the country, has enabled the Freedom Challenge to run anti-human trafficking ministries in critical places like India, Moldova, and Zambia.

The women of Advent Church’s Freedom Challenge Team decided to mark this year’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month by offering a Freedom Day Bootcamp where men and women of all ages and fitness levels could gather to challenge themselves physically and to stand in solidarity with all those who have been enslaved and marginalized. On Saturday, January 5, participants paid $25 to challenge themselves at 15 different circuit training stations led by volunteer instructors of Slash Fitness, Delray Beach.

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Additional donations helped them raise $1,700 with a promise of more support to come. Advent will begin forming teams for the two Freedom Challenge climbs scheduled this year: one to Mt. Rainier and one to Mt. Hood. The bootcamp was challenging for all the participants, as the climbs will be for the climbers. But we all know that the greatest challenge still lies ahead: to end human trafficking in our lifetime.

Susan Hagen and Debbie Dingle, leaders of Advent Church’s Freedom Challenge team.

You can find out more about hosting your own event to bring freedom to women and children around the world here. 


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A grace-filled mission trip

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A grace-filled mission trip

Dr Shannon Perry took part in her first Freedom Challenge in 2012, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. This year, she took on another challenge - a Freedom Challenge mission trip to Moldova. Here’s her story…

Through the Kilimanjaro climb, I met Cathey Anderson, the founder of Freedom Challenge. She was an inspiration to me with her evident and vocal love of Jesus. While I have been a Christian my whole life, I had not experienced Jesus the way she appeared to and I wanted to be more like her.

When the opportunity came to travel to Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, to see where the money raised through Freedom Challenge events goes, I signed up and learned that “God has a wonderful time waiting for you.”

Roxanne Hicks, our team leader, provided vital information to prepare us for our travels and was able to give insights into what we would see and do. Our group consisted of seven women and one man from England, Scotland, Southern California, and Phoenix.

We were going to Moldova to participate in a Vulnerable Girls’ Conference in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, and were asked to prepare get-acquainted games, bring ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies, and present a short skit. Roxanne planned to distribute winter coats to the girls and asked for contributions to help pay for them. She also explained that we would be staying with a host family; that we might have to share a bed with another team member; there may be no running water; we may have to use an outdoor toilet, and it may be cold with limited heating. Languages spoken were Romanian and Russian but interpreters would be available. We were given information about the dress code: knee length or longer skirt to church and a head scarf may be required. Long pants and a dress shirt for men. No jewelry or makeup, no fingernail polish, and tattoos should be covered. Christians in Moldova dress very conservatively and use no makeup. We also received lists of common Romanian and Russian words.

A true visionary

When we arrived, Tamara, our host and a true visionary, took us to the OM headquarters where we were to stay the next few days. We stayed in dorm-like rooms, three or four to a room, with toilets and showers available in the hall. We were quite comfortable and met several other missionaries who were there for longer periods of time.

After a good night’s sleep, we had a cultural orientation and then went sightseeing in Chisinau. The next day we had a team meeting and did some decorating in the room in which the conference was to be held. When the conference started, we had some icebreaker games, a welcome and worship. Becky gave three sessions during the days of the conference: My Body, My Mind, and My Soul. In the afternoon, the girls and some others went rock climbing and tried a ropes course. Kim and I stayed back and made dozens of chocolate chip cookies. During the conference, we provided support for the missionaries who were stationed in Chisinau; we set up, cleaned, cooked, washed dishes, and did whatever needed to be done. There was always prayer before each activity.

Giving out winter coats

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The final activity was providing winter coats for the girls. The vendor brought a great variety of sizes and colors of coats and the girls had a wonderful time selecting the size and color they wanted. At the end we had a group picture of all the girls in their coats.

The next day, Tamara drove us to Paicu, her home village with a population of about 400. In Tamara’s house, one large room has been converted into a church. We went to the church and sorted all the things we brought: the 35 coats of various sizes that Heather brought and which we planned to distribute to the villagers; craft supplies; school supplies; and candy.

The next morning five of us put together eight food parcels and delivered the parcels to some village women. We came back and picked up some ready-to-eat food: hot soups and bread and delivered it to several other elders. Tamara assured me herthat the needy people receive food parcels once a month for four months during winter. During the summer, the people are able to grow vegetables in their gardens so don’t need the food parcels.

Women’s evening

After dinner, we decorated the church with flowers and balloons in preparation for a women’s evening. About 45 women and children came. We had singing, a little preaching, we introduced ourselves, then Kim, Lianne and I gave testimony. We hoped that our testimony encouraged the women. Even though we are fortunate, we also have had troubles and sorrows in our lives which we have overcome or are in the process of overcoming. We performed a silent skit and Mary explained the skit: A young woman, portrayed by Camille, was looking for salvation in all the wrong places. She drank, used drugs, sought money, and was abused. All the while Jesus (represented by Anthony) was there waiting for her. He pulled her out of her troubles and showed her that He loved her. We then did a couple of crafts and gave out prizes. After another song and snacks, we ended the very successful evening with an evaluation and prayer.

The next morning we visited the girls’ house that Tamara is constructing. The house is due to open in June, 2019, and will house 25 vulnerable girls. Next to that building was the Elderly House where eight men and eight women will be accommodated. Tamara expressed concern that winter is coming and she still needs to obtain windows for the second story and a roof before winter arrives. We gathered around and prayed fervently that Jesus would see her need and somehow enable her to secure the funds to buy the roofing supplies and windows. That evening, Tamara received word that €10,000 has been deposited in an account set up in her name by a non-Christian who did not know Tamara. We witnessed a true miracle.

Welcomed with big smiles

We went on into the country to deliver food parcels to two women who live in a remote area. Their homes have no running water and no toilet. The women have to walk quite a distance to obtain water to carry back to their homes. They also collect sticks from the forest which they use for cooking and heating their homes. Three women were there painting the interior of one of the homes; they had painted the other home the day before. They seemed happy, deriving mutual support from each other. These were my favorite people that we visited; they were industrious, welcomed us with big smiles, and seemed content in their setting although it certainly presented challenges. At 80 years of age, I was the oldest one by far in our group. Roxanne and the others had fun telling the villagers how old I am. Because of their circumstances most of the villagers look much older than they are. For example, the two villagers in the picture above are in their 60s.

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We returned to the village to deliver more food parcels. We also gave out some of the coats that Heather had brought, a real blessing for the children. In the afternoon, half of us delivered food parcels and the rest of us organized crafts. To experience life in the village we rode in a horse cart, a common form of transport of goods. This ride was a first for many of us.

After-school program

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About a dozen children stopped by after school. They were fed, we had a craft for them, and had a Bible lesson. The nativity story was told by one of the resident missionaries using a flannel board and flannel characters. It was the most clever presentation of the story I have ever seen! At the end of the story the storyteller asked the children questions to be sure they had understood what they saw (and they did). Then they went out to play. Several of these after-school programs exist in the village.

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That evening we went to a private home for a prayer meeting. These meetings occur each week. After introductions, we all began praying aloud. After some sincere and heartfelt prayers, we had a scripture reading and testimonials from three of us, then snacks.

On our final day, we drove back to Chisinau and took all the Moldovan staff out for a Moldovan feast at a local restaurant. It was a way to thank a wonderful group of women who are doing marvelous things in their ministry.

The presence of Jesus

Since I have returned home and had time to reflect on the experience, I recognize that Jesus was present with us throughout the trip. The girls at the conference shared some of their challenges and received prayers and support for their healing. The missionaries were wonderful in their ministry to these girls, to us, and to one another.

In the village, Tamara exemplifies charity and prays with and for the people who live there. She has an active prayer life, presides over the church with the help of her brother, has taken a young woman into her home, serves her community, and identifies needs. She is the most visionary person I have ever met. With her limited resources, she is building two residences: one for vulnerable girls and one for elderly men and women.

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I have shared my experiences in small groups and continue to pray for Tamara and all missionaries. For the first time, I was able to pray aloud spontaneously over the telephone with and for a young man who is questioning God because of the health challenges his son has experienced since birth. I am seeking additional ways to help the family so that they do not despair.

This was a wonderful, grace-filled mission trip in which we saw blessings occur and witnessed true charity and good will in action in the missionaries “on the ground” in Moldova and the group of missionaries who participated in this trip.

Dr Shannon Perry is a nurse specializing in maternal-newborn nursing. She has taught maternity nursing and child and adolescent development courses. She is co-author of three maternity nursing textbooks and numerous articles on maternal-child topics.

You can find out more about our 2019 mission trips here.






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"Don't let setbacks in life be the end of your goal"

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"Don't let setbacks in life be the end of your goal"

A couple of years ago, Deena Nunes was told she would probably never run again. But on Dec 2 she ran a half-marathon for Freedom Challenge. Here she shares her race recap story of strength, perseverance and how God’s timing is always right on time

My alarm went off at 3:30am and I didn’t even fight it. We left the house at 4:45am and arrived at the race at 5:10am. Because it was still quite dark out, the Christmas lights were illuminating the streets. It was beautiful.

I chatted with my mom and dad, stretched a little bit and got into the starting line around 5:45am.

I thought it was going to be perfect…

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At 6am, I said a silent prayer and just asked God to guide me and get me to the finish line. That was so direct and ultimately the prayer I needed to pray. He knows everything. Just listen to Him. Shortly after 6am, we were off and on our way. For the first mile and change, we ran through the city. It was still dark out but there was a beautiful breeze. I was thinking at this rate everything was going to be perfect. Haha if only I knew...

I reached the third mile and the first recording from my sister played through my Bluetooth speakers. Made me smile so big. By the fourth mile, it was no longer nice out. It was downright hot and humid, and it would only get worse as the hours ticked by. Nothing much happened from 4-7.5 miles. Things were where they needed to be. I watched the incredible sunrise during that time period (so wish I had taken a picture of the sky) and was just happy telling myself I was more than half way there and that I could do this.

I kept going

Well it was short lived when I got to 7.5 miles. I enjoyed the next recorded message from my sister, but I really thought I was going to be sick, so I walked for a half mile. Had some Gatorade around the 8th mile (as well as the 3rd, 6th, and 11th). I honestly think that was a bad mistake on my part. My stomach just can’t handle Gatorade. But I kept going.

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A little over the 9th mile, I spotted two familiar faces in the crowd and two amazing supporters and friends of mine. Debbie and Scott were at the perfect spot at the exact moment I needed to see them. Again, God works His magic. I made it to mile 10 when the third message from my sister came through my music. She told me I just had a 5K to go! On any other day, I would have just bolted. But today was not like other days. My stomach decided to start having issues and it’s nearly impossible to try and run through it. So, I walked from mile 10-13.

Getting the race in perspective

Mentally, I was in the race the entire time. I never doubted myself. It was the physical aspect that got me today and that was hard to comprehend as I’ve never endured that during a race. That’s why they call it a comeback because it’s not the same (Deena has experienced serious health problems in the past - you can read her story here). It just puts in perspective how you can really take things like races for granted and always get so caught up in the moment that you don’t truly value what you are doing or achieving.

At this point, I knew I would never make 2:30 and I was okay with that. During those rough miles, I just prayed, and I thanked God for showing me how challenges really make you strong and really allow you to persevere through it all. It was as if, at that moment, everything from the past two years all flashed in front of my eyes. And I was like WOW! And in an instant, I counted my blessings and thought about the women and children who we help get out of modern-day slavery.

The final message I received was about 12 miles in. My sister included not only a message with her but also Mely (my niece) and that’s when I got teary eyed. Thanks, twinny for all the incredible messages. Seriously helped get me through.

Finding the strength to finish

Debbie and Scott found me when there was less than a mile to go. Debbie walked with me and that was such an impactful moment knowing that she was going to help me finish what I started. As soon as I heard the music and saw the people, I found the strength to run the last few yards.

I crossed the finish line and was instantly overcome with gratefulness. Today, I realized that the time on the clock really means nothing to me and that by overcoming all that I have in the past couple years and being able to achieve this was all I need to be proud of myself.

A great feeling

Thank you to not only my parents and Debbie and Scott, but for all of you at home near and far who have been praying for me, encouraging me, and supporting me. The phone calls and texts have made my day. I am so loved and that’s a great feeling. Many thanks to the Freedom Challenge for this incredible opportunity. You are an awesome support system and I am so honored to be part of an amazing family.

My final time for those asking: 2:52:30. An hour more than my PB, the hardest out of the five half marathons I have now run, but the most fulfilling and most rewarding.

Coming out stronger

My final words are this: Don’t let your setbacks in life be the end of a goal. It won’t be easy, you will suffer some losses and tough times, but you will also come out stronger.

Thank you, God, for answering my prayers.

We did it Freedom Challenge!

Deena ran her race to raise funds for Freedom Challenge as part of our individual / team challenge - you can do this too! You can find out more here.

 


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"I felt the incredible task that lay ahead"

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"I felt the incredible task that lay ahead"

On October 12, 2018, I participated in my first ever Freedom Challenge. There were 29 women in total for this challenge and collectively we raised $130,000 to help fight and prevent human trafficking around the world, along with agreeing to hike the Grand Canyon.  

On the first day, we met each other and had “pack school”. This meant we were learning how to put everything into our backpacks that we’d need for the next four days. As I looked around at all these courageous women, I was in awe.

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All of our fundraising and 16 weeks of training had led to this moment. For some reason, the reality and weight of what we were about to do didn’t hit me until the next morning.

Overwhelmed with emotion

We woke at 4:30 am to pack, grab breakfast, and set off. As I sat in the hotel holding coffee, waiting for our van to leave for the hike, I was overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry. It wasn’t a scared or tired cry, but rather a full realization of what we were about to embark on.

I felt the incredible task that lay ahead, the thoughts and prayers of all those who supported me in this journey to this point, and thought of all the women and children whose lives could change through this. These feelings exploded in the form of tears and as they ran down my face with the prayer team’s arms around me, I knew they could bring healing; for myself and potentially many others.

Embarking on our journey into the Canyon, I realized we carried more than just the weight of our packs. In our group, the seven of us carried titles like:

·         Nervous

·         Excited

·         Scared

·         Strangers

Surviving in the wilderness

With every step and story shared, as we descended 3,000 feet, the gap of the unknown decreased. Normally, relationships take time to grow, but I learned they can be fast tracked when you’re hiking and surviving in the wilderness for four days.

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You see, it didn’t matter who we were. In fact, half our team was American, the other half Canadian, ranging from 24-59 years old. We had this fantastic group of unique women that became connected no matter what our age, race, origin, or occupations were. All of those things fell away when, for example, one of us tripped on the way down, or when I woke up to a migraine on the second day.

In those moments, we surrounded each other, both physically and spiritually. As I lay flat on the rock, after throwing up from the intense pain, I didn’t know how I was going to continue on.

Praying for a miracle

But these women placed me on a mat, covered me with blankets, and then laid hands on me, praying for a miracle. (Normally, migraines take me out for the whole day)

Initially I couldn’t move, but within two hours, I was able to keep water down, and then breakfast.

As I was in this pain, our group had an hour of T.A.G (time alone with God). I sat there, wrapped in a blanket, and memorized this verse.

Don’t panic. I’m with you.

  There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.

I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.

  I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” - Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)

Strength returned, pain slowly decreased, and we were all hiking again by noon! We are truly never alone, and God gave me the strength to carry my 57lb backpack and walk to our next camp site that afternoon!

Taking steps towards freedom

Over those four days in the Grand Canyon we hiked down, climbed up, and pushed our bodies to the limit. We also laughed, cried, told our stories, spent time with God, and took many steps toward freedom!

Each morning, Blair (who had participated in two other freedom challenges before) read to us about the women and children that were being rescued and restored through Operation Mobilization (OM) and the money that was raised.

This gave us meaning and strength with each step. I also couldn’t help but stop at least 10 times a day and revel in the astonishing beauty that encompassed us while we were down there, feeling intense gratitude.

God bought us together

The women I was surrounded by had come from all over North America, but it was God who brought us together. There is nothing God cannot do when we give Him our “Yes”, including set the captives free!

Emerging from the Canyon back to civilization on the last day, we carried new titles:

·         Warriors

·         Sisters

·         Friends

Taking part in the Freedom Challenge Grand Canyon has been surreal, intense, and life-changing. Perhaps God is calling you to something similar.

And you can be sure that if He calls you to it, He’ll bring you through it. I am living proof!

Why not take on a new challenge in 2019 and join us in Mount Hood or Mount Rainier - registration opens Nov, 23!

Sylvia St.Cyr is an author, speaker, blogger and publishing consultant. Her first book, Love vs. Fear, was short-listed in the 2016 Word Alive Press Publishing Contest. She lives in Manitoba, Canada with her supportive husband and their two children. 

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Help us give the gift of education to children in Bangladesh

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Help us give the gift of education to children in Bangladesh

In remote villages in Bangladesh children as young as four or five are forced to work in the fields or to make products like soap, sandals or clothes to sell at local markets to support their families.

They have little hope of ever going to school.

But Freedom Challenge is working to change this. With your help we are currently supporting 30 grade schools in these villages, helping 900 children to receive an education that they would otherwise never have.

One teacher said: “The families are very happy and very involved. They are taking what they learn at school and teaching their parents and older brothers and sisters who have never had a chance to go to school.”

But there are so many children that are still being forced to work instead of going to school. With your help we can prevent these children from being trapped in a cycle of poverty and help them develop into the people God intended them to be.

Between now and Nov, 27 (Giving Tuesday) you can double your donation when you give to Freedom Challenge

We are thrilled to partner with Christian Community Credit Union to raise money to provide education and development opportunities for women and children in Bangladesh. Through a special matching offer, the Credit Union will double what we raise up to $10,000! The funds come from the Credit Union’s “Cards that Give to Missions” program.

What is the best gift that you could give this Giving Tuesday? $150 sets one woman or child on the path to freedom, but any gift you give will make a difference.

Education isn’t just breaking the cycle of poverty one student at a time; it’s changing the face of villages.



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“We were able to speak truth into her life” 

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“We were able to speak truth into her life” 

Ruth’s moving story highlights exactly what life can be like for a young woman who has been trafficked into Europe. But our faithful outreach teams play a vital role in making a difference to these women’s lives. Here’s how…

Ruth* is always standing at her corner of the street, waiting for customers, when our team comes to visit at night. 

She has a smile on her face and shares a few polite words with the team. She accepts what we offer her, whether it is tea, biscuits, handwarmers, or an Easter or Christmas gift. She will reply vaguely to our conversation without ever giving anything personal away – and then she makes it very clear that the interaction is over. 

This has happened almost every week for six years.

Faithful prayer

One night, after praying for meaningful opportunities, our team went on outreach to the streets of Athens as usual.

Ruth was at her corner, and accepted her tea and biscuits, and was about to turn away… then she turned back and, suddenly, the flood gates opened. Out poured the story of her home in West Africa, of being brought out of her country, finding herself pregnant, brought to Greece, put on the streets, of being hurt and scared, missing her child, being attacked by abusive customers. We were amazed at God’s answer to prayer. After six years of being politely shut out, we were able to speak truth into Ruth’s life. 

Building trust

The following week, and the weeks to come, Ruth retreated back into herself and put her mask back on. We continued to pray for her more specifically because we knew better what she was struggling with. A few months later, we were on the streets one night when she was very distressed by something that had happened – she felt able to bring her fear and grief to us and ask for our help and to pray for her. 

This isn’t a story with a happy ending – yet!  But God is working, slowly, quietly, in his own time. We haven’t reached the final chapter. We are trusting him with Ruth.

Trafficking in Athens

There are over 300 brothels in Athens, as well as studios, hotels and stretches of open road filled with thousands of victims of trafficking. Nearly 40,000 women and children are trafficked into Greece each year from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. These young women are often lured to Athens with the promise of a job. Some are sold into trafficking by family members. Others are manipulated into the work by men they consider their romantic partners. 

Our partner project in Greece provides a 24-7 helpline and they have a network of people who can offer help as it is requested – in the form of doctors’ visits, language lessons, or shelter and support to enable woman to escape forced prostitution.

How you can make a difference

It is for women like Ruth that we are taking on our Grand Canyon Wilderness Backpacking Challenge in just over one week. Your support could bring much needed shelter, rescue, or just simply someone to talk and pray with, to let them know how deeply they are loved by their heavenly Father.

Will you help us reach more women like Ruth? You can donate today!

$150 sets one woman or child on the path to freedom

*Name changed to protect identity

 

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Expect the unexpected

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Expect the unexpected

Connie Hallof shares how travelling to the Philippines to visit Freedom Challenge projects gave her and her team mates more than they bargained for…

Poverty and Wealth. Giving and Receiving. Those were the “biggies” I was preparing myself for before embarking on the Freedom Challenge’s mission trip to Cebu, Philippines in July. It had been 30 years since my last visit to the Philippines and I was so excited to return. Having been there before I knew that the sights, smells, and sounds of another culture can overwhelm at first, no matter how much you prepare ahead of time. Freedom Challenge is all about, well, the challenge. Putting you in a place to lean in to God and let Him reveal Himself while putting yourself out there for others. So I arrived in Cebu City with an expectant heart. Not knowing exactly what to expect besides expecting the unexpected. God did not disappoint!

The Unexpected #1 - Inspiration

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I had been tasked to give an “Inspirational” talk at the 10 year anniversary of the scholars program of Operation Mobilization Philippines (OM is the organization of which Freedom Challenge is a part). This is a ministry that Freedom Challenge has been involved with in the past. We were overwhelmed with story after story from the students. Their enthusiasm, smiles, and determination were contagious and left us feeling inspired by them. This was our first taste of what a tremendous work is being done in Cebu. Lives are being forever changed. My anxious thoughts on giving an inspirational talk were dispelled when I saw that these students were all providing that to each other in their daily courage and determination. 

The Unexpected #2 - The hike to the mountain school  

We were a team of seasoned Freedom Challenge hikers and set out to hike up to one of the schools operated in the mountains. The hike was the one thing that none of us thought would be a challenge - we were wrong! We found ourselves ill prepared for the rainy season trail and scrambling up rain soaked rocks. I think I speak for the entire team when I say we were humbled during that trek. Our gracious OM guides helped us over the waterfall and up the valley walls.  

The Unexpected #3 - Student Assembly

We were anticipating meeting 40 students at the end of the hike and we were greeted by approximately 400! We were tired, hot, covered in mud and overwhelmed. Yet we were so blessed by the Hudlon School and their welcome assembly. Our time with the students and their mothers was rich. They never seemed to give it a second thought to look past our outward appearance (muddy and sweaty) and into our hearts.

The Unexpected #4 - Redirected Prayers

Next was a prayer walk through the city.  Sweet precious time was spent with the OM team as we split up to cover the city in prayer. While my focus was on Cebu that day, I later found out that as an OM staffer was praying for my family during the walk, a miracle was taking place at home thousands of miles away.

The Unexpected #5 - Poverty Simulation

Thinking we would experience an evening of role play, we came away wrecked, having experienced for a brief moment, a couple of hours at most, what it was like to be so very vulnerable. I find it difficult to put it into words how that experience changed me. The panic and stress that people go through on a daily basis just trying to make ends meet in a manner that never occurs to most of us. We got to experience, ever so briefly, the trials and tribulations of a family trying to make enough money for basic needs to be met while running into obstacles that required heartbreaking decisions to be made. It emblazoned my heart anew to be a champion for those who have no voice.

The Unexpected #6 - Kinitarkin Island

Witnessing the beauty of God’s creation, sleeping with chickens, the wonderful lack of insects (yea) and then there was the AIDS awareness talk followed by a salvation message! It was the sweet time with students that was my favorite part of the entire trip. Seeing their hopes and dreams of the future, trusting God for provision, and the gracious generosity of the island families was tremendously moving.

I went to the Philippines thinking about poverty and left with an imprint on my heart of the tremendous wealth of relationship, character, and love of Jesus that I experienced there. I went with a desire to give of myself yet came away being on the receiving end of so much kindness, grace and love. I was inspired by the staff of OM Philippines and the students they minister to. I have come away challenged and strengthened in my resolve to continue to do what I can to combat social injustice and assist others on to a pathway of freedom.

Connie Hallof

You can find out more about our mission trips here.

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Obedience before understanding

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Obedience before understanding

Larissa Wiens, one of our Freedom Challenge participants in Bryce-Zion in June, shares her story of learning to fully rely on God, even when what he's asking us to do seems almost impossible!

When I signed up to be part of the Prayer Team on the Bryce/Zion Challenge this past June, I didn’t know what God was going to do, but considering it felt like a miracle for me to actually be going, I was very expectant.

Saying 'yes'

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It felt like a big step forward for me to say ‘yes’ to this challenge, as just to physically travel there was something I knew God was going to have to really help me with.

Three years ago I got very sick. From that time I have been on an interesting journey with God, where I have learnt to remain thankful despite 24/7 (and many times unbearable) nerve pain.  My ‘work’ since 2013 has been in Zambia with Operation Mobilization (of which Freedom Challenge is a part), developing a skills training and discipleship center for vulnerable and marginalized women.  However, last year the pain from nerve damage became so debilitating that I had to return to Canada for further medical care.

Not losing hope

Throughout the past year there were many times when I didn’t think I would ever be pain-free enough to be able to walk beyond five minutes at a time. If it wasn’t for Jesus, I really would have lost hope. When a trial starts to span a few years, there may be moments when we start to shift our eyes onto ourselves and our weaknesses, rather than onto God and who He is.

I think that is what was starting to happen with me, but God had a plan.

Throughout different types of involvement with the Freedom Challenge over the last number of years, I have always seen how God is not only using the movement to bring healing and hope to those who are oppressed around the world, but also to each of us who say ‘yes’ to participate in the challenges.  I knew God wanted me in Utah for this challenge, maybe even for a boost forward in my own healing journey.

An unexpected conversation

Being part of the prayer team was so amazing, but after the first few days of the challenge I had the urge to experience God on the hiking trail…but how would that happen?  A few minutes after having that thought, I somehow found myself in conversation with one of the hiking guides.  She said to me “So, are you going to join us on the trail tomorrow?”  I felt a surge of nervous excitement go through me, but proceeded to remind her that I am on the prayer team and am still recovering from a recent back surgery.  I said I feel God might be asking me to try hiking, but I have not yet walked for more than about 20 minutes at a time, and would really hate to slow the whole team down just because of me. That didn’t seem to bother her, she was so gracious!

It almost felt surreal. I had zero fear, just expectation. My mind was focussed on God and his strength. I didn’t know how I was physically going to hike the next day, but I knew that taking this step of faith was an act of obedience, and that He would make it happen.

Totally relying on God

So there I went – I ended up hiking with the beginners group for a total of almost five miles. This was a miracle! It was an incredible day, where God proved that if we stay focussed on Him, he will keep showing his power through us. I realized that if I had doubted God and let fear control me, I probably would have not made it very far at all. Each step that I took turned into an act of worship. It was so rewarding to totally rely on Him to give me the power to keep going beyond what my body was previously capable of. 

I am still on the healing journey but will not forget that day and how I experienced our faithful God walking with me. During that Freedom Challenge God really blessed me with a deeper understanding of His love for me, plus physically blessed me with a boost forward in my healing. I am SO thankful I responded to His invitation to go!

Through this journey, especially in the chapters of much challenge, I am reminded to continue walking faithfully together with Him, to be obedient and trust the route He’s taking me on even if I do not fully understand ‘why’ – this is when it gets exciting!

Larissa Wiens is a career missionary with OM in Africa. She grew up on her family farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, but after spending the last five years in Africa has found Zambia to be her second home.  
Empowering vulnerable and marginalized women through skills training, discipleship and small business is where she finds some of her greatest joys. Yet in the midst of great joy and exciting adventure in Zambia, sickness and pain have more recently added a new chapter to Larissa’s story. Despite the challenge, she is fuelled by ‘answering to His call’, even when it seems to be humiliating and impossible.

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Living water

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Living water

Shirley Turner works with one of our Freedom Challenge projects in  Zambia training teachers - she also took part in our Bryce-Zion Challenge in June. Here she shares one of the highlights of the trip.. 

The high for the day was predicted to be 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It was six in the morning and I could already tell it was gonna be a ‘warm one.’ I had over 4 liters of water in my pack and hoped it would last.

Our team took on the cool and shaded 21 switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles at a steady pace with a few breaks here and there. At Scout’s Landing the terrain changed completely. The last half mile to the top was lined with chains bolted into the rock formations so hikers had a steady hold over the narrow, steep and drop-off lined footpath to the top. At this point all poles, water bottles and cameras were stowed so hands could be free to grip as needed.

Facing personal challenges

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Our team, the ‘Scarlet Warriors,’ started off, each with our own personal challenges to face along the trail. Some facing a fear of heights going up, others facing the fear going down, a mother was nervous for her daughter, some nervous about the balance and strength needed on the trail…we each had our own individual trails to hike…but we were doing it together. Well, most of us were. After offering to help one team member face her fear as far as she could and turning back once she had gone her farthest, I started up the trail a bit behind everyone else.

I have been a fairly independent person most of my life. Experiences during this Freedom Challenge hike had begun to crack a bit of that and show me the beauty and joy of sisterhood and doing life together. Although I still had an inner determination to make it 'on my own' as I followed about 20/30 minutes behind the group, I was also keenly aware that I would really enjoy hiking with my teammates. I knew I was missing a dimensaion of life while on the trail 'alone'. I did frequently remind myself that I am really never alone because the Lord is with me and that truth brought steadiness, strength and joy all along the way!

Unforgettable moments

Reuniting with my team at the top with a shout out of ‘Scarlet’ from me and a surprised (somewhat confused, where is that voice coming from looking around before seeing me) and enthusiastic call back of ‘Warriors’ from them followed by big smiles and hugs was a moment I’ll never forget.

We enjoyed the stunning views, had lunch, took our selfies and photos, set our justice doll free, prayed together and began our descent. This part of the trail had its unique challenges as well…fears, wobbly legs and all.

The heat took its toll

We regrouped at Scouts Landing and began our final descent. What I thought would be a ‘breeze’ was actually the most challenging part for me-with absolutely no breeze. The sun came out in all its fury and seemed to draw out every bit of energy and strength from me. I felt like my arms were literally frying and I finished my water completely, leaving my mouth dry as a desert. Even though my body didn’t have to strain to manage this part of the trail, the heat took its toll on me every step of the way. Once we got to the bottom I refilled my water bottles and took a bit of a break before we hit our next trail-the Narrows.

We only had one mile to walk on fairly flat terrain, but I felt I could completely relate to David when he said,

‘God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is,’

Even though I was drinking water my mouth and throat continued to feel dry and I kept thinking, ‘How in the world am I gonna make it back?’ As I looked around most of my team members had a similar expression-we were exhausted, heat-seared, sapped of strength and wondering why we didn’t just take our Angel’s Landing hike as a win and call it a day.

Keeping on going

One more step and then another, with no idea why, we kept going. When we reached the river many of us made comments like, ‘let’s just walk in the water about 5/10 minutes and then head back.’ We began wading through the river, filled our caps with water, doused ourselves and splashed each other. As we took step by step on unsteady stones into the water past our ankles up to our knees, even to our thighs in some places… something changed. We started smiling and laughing and playing. Our weariness faded and our joy and energy and strength were restored. It was mind boggling.

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It was a very eye-opening moment for me as I saw the effects of water. What a very physical and visual reminder of an invitation Jesus gave…if any man thirst let him come to me…and again a declaration…I am the Living Waters…

Many times we feel weary in our hearts and minds and this amazing experience reminded me of the beauty that Jesus is always accessible, His invitation is open. In the midst of the dry days that we experience we can choose to be in His presence; this does the very same thing for our hearts that the Narrows did for our bodies. May we continually seek and find the Living Waters and find refreshment for our souls.

You can find out more about Shirley and her work in Zambia on her blog: https://shirleysjourney.wordpress.com/about-me/

 

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The Comeback Run

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The Comeback Run

At one point in her life, Marathon runner Deena Nunes was told she would never run again. So how did someone who was suffering incredible physical pain start climbing mountains? Here is Deena's inspiring story...

MY STORY:

Health and fitness has been a huge passion of mine since I was a child. When I came home from college and started my career in the Health and Fitness industry, I needed a new hobby to keep me motivated so I turned to running toward the end of 2013. I became serious in 2014 and began a 742-day run streak.

Shortly after reaching the second year, and three months after running my first marathon, God had other plans for me. For the next several months, my body was rebelling against me and no one could figure out what was wrong.

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By now, it was 2016 and I was told there was a good chance I would not run again. That crushed me! I felt like I had lost a huge part of my life and I honestly felt trapped inside my own body. Day after day of excruciating pain, worry, and the unknown took a great toll on me. For 10 months, I went day to day not knowing what my future would look like. It was hard because many people did not understand it.

Fortunately, I had and still have to this day, an incredible support system that never left my side and my strong faith got me through. Without God, I would not have had the strength to endure the journey.

ANSWERED PRAYERS:

In March 2017, I finally saw a doctor who figured it all out and took the time to listen to me. I ended up having my gallbladder removed at the end of that month. I felt instant relief of pain after my surgery and can’t thank my surgeon enough.

FAST FORWARD TO NOW:

My health is so much better, and I give all the glory to God. Having no more excruciating pain is a wonderful feeling. A couple months ago, God put it on my heart that I was ready to train again. This is an opportunity I thought I would never be able to dream about doing again, so I knew I had to make this more than just about myself. The struggles I face today are minor compared to the struggles and challenges faced by the women and children we help rescue and save from modern-day slavery.

MY WHY:

When God speaks, you listen to him. He has provided me with so much insight and has taught me many lessons I probably wouldn’t know if I didn’t endure what I did. Challenges are all around us. They come in all sizes and in many different forms. You do not need to travel very far to find one. I have been blessed to journey on three climbs with the Freedom Challenge: Jackson Hole, WY in 2016, Estes Park, CO in 2017, and Machu Picchu, Peru in 2017. I will be back in 2019 to climb mountains, however, this year, I was presented with a special opportunity I could not pass up.

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Running has been a passion of mine for quite some time and before I got sick, it came easily to me. With this second chance at running, it is far from easy these days, but it still brings me the same joy. I am also running for God and not myself which makes all the difference. Although this half marathon training is a big challenge, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Challenges make us stronger and show us that our weaknesses end up being our greatest blessings.

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My eyes have also been opened to a much bigger and more important picture: Running does not define me. It doesn’t matter how fast or far I go or how many miles I accumulate in a month. What matters is the fact that every time I take one step, I appreciate the freedom knowing I am no longer trapped inside, and I have full control of what’s going on with my body. And that is a huge burden lifted off my shoulders.

It is my hope that through my running journey, it will inspire and encourage others to take the individualized fundraising approach to do what they love and help bring awareness and financial support to all the women and children around the world who are oppressed and enslaved.  

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God has taught me so much through the valleys and on the mountaintops both figuratively and literally and He has shown me to never stop trusting Him. He makes things happen in our lives to slow us down and really appreciate and value what’s in front of us. Let God be your focus!

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

In December, I will be running the Palm Beaches half marathon in aid of Freedom Challenge. You can help make a difference and be a blessing to these incredible women and children who have been through far worse than I can ever image. $150 saves a life!

Hebrews 12:1: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Deena Nunes lives in South Florida. She is the proud Auntie to her adorable niece, Melina. She works as Director of Training for a Health and Fitness company. Deena worships at Advent Lutheran Church in Boca Raton and is also very involved with Gold Coast Via de Cristo. Three of her biggest passions include: running, writing, and supporting the Freedom Challenge. She spreads positivity and smiles wherever she goes, and she loves Jesus.

 

 

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Observations of a Blown Mind

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Observations of a Blown Mind

Sonya Finley has a great Freedom Challenge story to share...

This past June, I had the opportunity to participate in the Bryce/Zion Freedom Challenge 2018. I was unprepared for the unexpectedly awesome experience it would be. Who’d a thunk hanging with a bunch of women in the canyons of Utah would be so mind blowing?

Who’d a thunk. . .?

. . . A great love could be displayed in so many small ways? From the very beginning, I felt like God was reminding He loved me in very small, special ways. From being upgraded to Premium Class on our departing flight, to the “I got you” attitude of the young lady working the counter at the car rental office, to the sweet ride (Nissan Armada, fully loaded, leather seats, sunroof…you get the idea) I drove in to Utah, to the women who supportively listen to my story without judgement, to Ms. Barbara whose prayers reminded me to be me because “the who” that I am has purpose, to finding the perfect cluster of trees with a wooden “bench” that made it easy for me to “take care of much needed business” on my first hike, to the surprising connections made, to Pastor Tracy who sought me out one evening to make sure I was okay, to the care shown by the prayer team as they prayerfully massaged the aches and pains from our feet after each hike.

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And even though I felt a wee bit discombobulated (well a lot discombobulated), my Beauty for Ashes painting presentation was well received and gave the ladies a much needed “lightness” after a very heavy day. I gotta say, I left feeling very loved indeed.

. . . A single word could be so powerful? This year the prayer warriors gave each hiker a word. One word prayerfully considered and totally applicable to the woman who received it. These words resonated with the women all week long and, for some, was the difference between giving up and finding strength to keep pushing.  There were also a few ladies who latched on to an “unexpected” word spoken in a manner of power and joy. Hallelujah! Now, I do not recall the context in which I was asked to say it, but say it, I did. And while the women responded in kind, I thought that was the end of it. But for the next few days, I was told several stories of how that word was spoken from the “mountain top” and how it inspired songs of praise. I saw it being intoned at the beginning of prayers and I, myself, used it before my presentation to bring focus in a moment of perceived chaos. A simple word, so full of power, praise and joy. (I have now been dubbed the “hallelujah hiker”.)

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. . . That challenging yourself for someone else’s freedom would lead to your own? We were there to fight for others who were in no position to fight for themselves, but much was said about how we are all overcome with our own versions of enslavement. Issues that hold our identities hostage, filtering everything we believe about ourselves through a lens so dense we lose sight of our purpose, our power, our possibilities. The challenge of the hikes provided an opportunity to put a very physical action to a very spiritual deliverance. The act of pushing oneself beyond your comfort zone put the women (including myself) in a vunerable place, open to healing and deliverance. For the Level 1 group, the “Sassy Silver Sistahs”, we each picked up a burden at the beginning of our second hike. We named it and then literally threw it away when we reached the top, an action that symbolized a burden being released and given to God. There were tears and the released burdens were weighty. We all came down the mountain a little lighter that day.



. . . Someone calling me sunshine would remind me of so much? We met the previous night when I joined her and some old friends for dinner. We had similar tastes in humor so of course we hit it off, right? So it should have been no surprise that the next evening she greeted me by saying “Hello Sunshine”. But it was. I used to be called that a lot, by a variety of people in a variety of circumstances. In that moment I realized that I hadn’t been called that name in a while. It had been explained to me a long time ago that that nickname reflects the light and energy I bring to the room, so if someone new was calling me that, then the light dimmed by less than wonderful circumstances was now aglow again.  It wasn’t until I started writing my prayer in the great book of Freedom Challenge prayers that I clearly understood what God was reminding me of: I set the atmosphere…Me. My emotions, attitude, and perceptions are not dictated by what is happening around me. I am the reflection of God’s heart towards His people and I must shine accordingly!  And shine I will!

. . . Stories of enslavement can be found in our back yard? We were blessed to hear the story of an American woman’s journey from being enslaved by her mother and stepfather to finding a life of freedom that included a long-lasting marriage, children, and a passion to help others out of where she used to be. Her strength to endure being locked in a room where she was practically starved and sexually abused daily and her courage to share her story was powerful. It reminded us what we were there for.

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. . . A professed non-athlete would stand proudly and call herself a hiker? Shortly after I said yes to this challenge, I realized the magnitude of what I had agreed to. Did I agree to hike for three days in a row?! Not one, but three?! Say what now? But I’m good, right? I walk 5ks, 10ks and half marathons, so I should be okay. I thought, until I began training. I felt well out of my depth—unqualified and unable to complete the challenge. I professed this lack—often! I’m pretty sure I annoyed my teammates to no end. My anxiety around this event was high. But I’m no quitter, so I showed up and faced my fears. Fears, which, I must be honest, did not abate until I sat with our Sherpa (Roxy Hicks—she’s awesome!) and she let us know what to expect. I will even admit I got a little excited …what?! And yes, I hiked three days! And three very different types of hikes! It was not a walk in the park (literally), but I got through it and I actually enjoyed it. Our leaders’ approach went far to make all of us feel less self-conscious about our level of abilities and kept our focus on enjoying the journey (and taking pictures!). On the last day of the conference I proudly proclaimed, “I am a hiker”. This declaration received a round of applause, a standing ovation from my dear Sherpa, and I became the proud recipient of the proverbial (and literal) “big girl panties”!

. . .that I am capable of far more than I think? What I didn’t think I could do, God showed me I could. Simple as that.

Who’d a thunk indeed…
A Freedom Challenge hiker, that’s me!

Sonya Finley is a mother of four fabulous young men who "love their momma". She currently works for the San Diego Airport Authority but is active in her artistic pursuits. She is on the verge of a new season in her single life that now focuses on a journey not centered around child-rearing. This journey includes stretching beyond her comfort zone and opening herself up to new challenges...like hiking for three days. 

Find out more about our next Challenge - The Grand Canyon in October.

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