TANZANIA (BP) -- The Kansas youth wiped away tears and looked out over the church congregation. Men wrapped in red blankets leaned forward on the roughly hewn boards that served as pews, listening intently to the teenager. Women adorned with bright jewelry nodded their heads and encouraged them to continue talking. "My parents left my life when I was young," Izzy D. told the small group. "I've had a lot of abandonment in my life. I was afraid that people would leave my side until I came to know Christ earlier this year."
BUENA VISTA, Colo. (BP) -- The red raft bobs up and down, then picks up speed down the rushing river in the Rocky Mountains. Everyone onboard readies for the first rapid as the guide gives last-minute instructions. The raft suddenly dips, drops and then twists, getting everyone onboard excited except Tommy, the laid-back guide sitting at the back. The more whitewater they encounter the bigger Tommy's smile.
SATANTA, Kan. (BP) -- Imaginary waves lapped at their feet as the young teenagers surveyed an obstacle course dotted with blue papers. The goal was to walk on water — the blue paper — without falling into the sea. It wasn't a straight and easy shot. The course zigged, zagged and went on top of second-hand (maybe even third- or fourth-hand) worn-out furniture. When Oscar San Juan's foot touched blue, the paper slid across the floor, spilling him into the imaginary sea and back to the start. After several attempts, San Juan tiptoed from paper to paper with arms stretched out to keep balance and finally crossed the finish line.
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (BP) -- Laughter and squeals abound as water balloons fly through the air. Boys run after girls, trying to drench them. Older teens slink off to the corner, feigning that they're too cool until a counselor is in range and they let the water fly. The traditional water balloon fight of summer camp comes to an end with a not-so-traditional announcement: "Time to muck out the stalls and feed the horses."
PRATT, Kan. (BP) -- The setting was simple -- a barn, some bales of hay and a few animals -- much like the story that hundreds in rural Kansas gathered to hear: Jesus was born to be your Savior. Steve Taylor opened his Bible and read the story of Jesus' birth. There were no actors portraying the scene or breaking out in song. Instead, a group of children sat at the pastor's feet captivated with the story from Matthew and Luke. Their older siblings, parents, grandparents and neighbors listened as they sat on hay bales.
HAYS, Kan. (BP) -- This is probably the last thing any of Bethany Wood's college friends would guess she's doing in her "grown up" years: mother of five, foster parent, direct sales business owner, photographer, arts council, community Bible study, 4-H and a lay leader in her local church. "That's a lot of adulting," Wood jokes. She didn't enter Fort Hays State University heading this direction. "I started living a life that was not pleasing to my Savior." Wood grew up in a Christian home. But like many who go off to college, she got swept up in parties and pushing the limits of her early adulthood at the Kansas university, 180 miles west-northwest of Wichita.
AUGUSTA, Kan. (BP) -- Each workstation is a flurry of activity. Plastic bottles stream down the conveyer belts. Hands reach out to adjust each bottle to face the same direction before they go to plastic wrap. Across the floor, someone shouts above the rickety-racket to shut down one of the machines and reload. Don Mayberry walks through the factory's maze of machines and activity, stopping to talk to each person. He asks about family, the latest sports event or simply how their day is going. His conversations with coworkers inevitably end in smiles, laughter and lighthearted teasing along with his trademark fist bump or the occasional side-hug. It's the same at the cowboy church Mayberry pastors in Augusta, Kan.
LIBERAL, Kan. (BP) -- Voices sing out -- first in English and then Spanish. The transition is smooth as the congregation easily goes back and forth between the languages. "The precious blood of Jesus Christ; Ve ane su trono El Padre te recibirá." The worship leader, Jonathan Zamora, closes his eyes, relishing multiple cultures praising God together. He looks out and sees no less than 10 countries and four languages represented among the 150 or so people. Some wear ear buds that relay a translation from a nearby booth. Others squeeze next to a friend whispering a translation.
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- It was the gift that keeps on giving. A kind uncle encouraged a sensitive 17-year-old boy to write about life in a journal, suggesting the best place to start might be "the good, the bad and the in-between." Forty-plus years, 12 books and more than 1,200 blog posts later, Curt Iles still keeps a journal -- the beginning point of a writing career that's taken him to Africa and back. "I still have the note from that uncle encouraging me to write," Iles says. "I'm from a culture of storytellers. It's part of the Deep South. It's part of my own family.
THAILAND (BP)--No one notices the young Chinese woman silently crying in the back pew. It's the only place she finds solace from her deep depression and fear of death. She's not even sure why she sits in this church every afternoon; her communist education and Buddhist religion teach against a belief in God. Yet something keeps drawing Lily Wang* here. She pulls a Bible from the pew. It's not in her native Mandarin, but she flips it open anyway. She learned to read a little Thai after moving to Thailand a few years ago to teach school, but she hasn't learned enough to really understand this. So many questions cloud her mind that she finally musters enough courage to speak to a man carrying the same book. He brushes past the petite woman and goes about his business. The rejection reinforces everything she's feeling -- no one is interested in her; no one cares. Distraught and angry, Wang walks to the foot of the cross and screams, "Are you real? "I don't want to die. I want to live," she cries. "Please give me a way." Wang storms out of the church, vowing never to return. HOPE COMES A few weeks later, Wang is sitting at her desk preparing lessons when a student rushes into her international school's classroom. "Teacher! Teacher!" the girl exclaims. Wang jumps up, startled and concerned, until she hears, "I found your book." The student hands her a soiled booklet. She found it in the trashcan on the playground. Wang scrunches her nose against the stench and explains it isn't hers. The girl must throw it back in the trash. "But teacher, it must be your book," the girl insists. "It's written in Chinese." Wang quickly scans the first page. Her heart leaps. The story is about Jesus' death and resurrection. She thanks her student for the book and sits down to read. The booklet, a tract called "Song of a Wanderer," answers every question she whispered in the church. The information is shocking. Her education since childhood taught only evolution, but this booklet claims life started from a complete human form, not a single cell.