Full Circle: Following hard paths that lead to purpose
Tracy Minke’s fascinating life has taken her to some of the hardest places on earth, but these experiences ultimately led her right back to where she always wanted to be.
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We’d all like to think we know how our lives should go. We chart our course, plan our careers, and chase our dreams. But when Tracy Minke set out to pursue her dreams, God led her on a journey that traversed continents and countries, leading her through some fascinating, life-changing, and challenging experiences. As she shares in this episode, these places, and the people she met there, became ingrained in her heart and ultimately led her to the fulfillment that comes from finding true purpose.
Full Circle: Following hard paths that lead to purpose
Cathy Herholdt: Welcome to the End of the Road podcast. My name is Cathy and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride. So buckle up, we're going to the end of the road. Our guest today is Tracy Minke. Tracy is a longtime friend of mine and friend of World Concerns, and she's got some incredible life experiences and stories that she's going to share with us today.
Tracy's originally from the Seattle Washington area and she spent 10 years of her life in community development and disaster management work in East and Central Africa. She currently serves as pastor of outreach missions at Crossroads Church in Red Deer, Alberta. And so I am just super excited to have Tracy on the podcast today. You are going to absolutely love what she has to share with you today. So welcome Tracy. Thanks for joining us.
Tracy Minke: Thank you so much, Cathy. I'm excited to reminisce a bit with you.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah, it's going to be great. I love to start off my interviews with this question. It's always really interesting to me how people get into this line of work of global development, of humanitarian work. So when you were a little girl, is this something that you always dreamed of doing, or how did you get to where you are today in this line of work?
Tracy Minke: I think it's really fun to think back. And as a little girl, I wanted to be a veterinarian. And I think as I look at my daughter and her friends, I think that's a pretty common dream. But I love animals, and so from the get go, I wanted to be a vet and I followed that for many, many years, all through high school. And as I was approaching university, I realized maybe science wasn't my strongest suit and other things that were making me do reality checks. And so I really had been following people like Diane Fosse and Jane Goodall and just feeling like I love what they do, where they go into places like Africa and they study animals and help them in terms of conservation, so that's where I was leaning. So I entered the University of Washington as a zoology major.
And within the first year I had this really special moment where early in my faith, God, in as close to an audible voice as I can explain, spoke to me and said, "I want you to focus on my people, not my animals." Not that animals are bad in any way, but for whatever reason, the way he had created me and what he had planned for me. And so I redirected into psychology and sociology and really focusing on his people. I remember that time really clearly because it was one of those moments where I had to sacrifice. It was probably the first time I look back in my faith and I made that decision to obey him, and in that I had to sacrifice something. I had to sacrifice this dream that I had, that I was going to be the next Jane Goodall.
And it's so cool because as I pursued what he called me into, I look back and it's so special because... And I wouldn't expect this in everything. But when I look forward to where he sent me and where I got to work and where I got to live, and you've been there, I worked in a context where for many years I could drive to work and see giraffes and zebras and Gazelle's, and on occasion I would bump into herds of elephants and see prides of lions and just things that blew my mind. And as I was with World Concern a couple years, my supervisor, at one time, he said, "Tracy, we have these donors coming in and they want to see the Kenya programs. Would you take them around to all of our Kenya programs? And then they want to go to Rwanda."
I had never been to Rwanda, but he said, "You'll go with them as well if you agree. And the catch is they really have this like bucket list item they want to go and do the gorilla tracking in Rwanda and you'll need to go with them." I look back at this, Cathy and I'm like, "God is so good." Because I gave this dream up in many ways. And in his own unique way, he gave it back. So pretty special.
Cathy Herholdt: I love that. Wow, what an incredible story. I love how God works in that way. He knows our hearts and guides and directs our paths. So Tracy, you've been all over the world. You've been to some really interesting, fascinating, really tough and challenging places. You've worked and lived in a lot of these places. But take us back to your early years. And so you started with World Concern in an area called Narok in Kenya. Describe arriving in Narok for the first time and looking around and what did you see, what was happening there, what was it like for you, your initial impressions of the place and the people knowing that this was going to now be home for you for a while?
Tracy Minke: I have such fond memories. I think of all my years in Africa, those years are probably my very favorite. And I don't know if it's because it was my first experience or if it's just it was such a special place. I loved going out to Narok. And I always look forward to times where I get to go back. As you leave the capital city, which is very developed and busy and traffic and all of that, and then you drive a few hours out and part of the drive, you go down the Rift Valley. And so you go down the escarpment and land in this area that's very different. All of a sudden you're in the plains of Africa. And this is where you even start seeing... There's one part of the road I could almost always spot some giraffes. There's lots of vacation trees. It's very dusty and the roads are terrible.
There's so many large, very, very large potholes. You just drive and drive and drive and drive, and eventually come to this town called Narok. And Narok, still very dusty. At the time, there was a few roads. There was no major services in terms of there was no ATM machines, so I had to bring any cash I needed from the capital. I couldn't get things. I could get fresh milk, fresh from the cow, but pasteurized fresh milk I couldn't get. I couldn't get peanut butter and I love peanut butter. So these are some of the things I would bring from the capital with me. There were lots of things that were going on in terms of just busyness, but very different than the city. It's there's lots of animals walking through the roads and carts, and there's a lot less cars. A lot of people walking.
When I would come to the office, all of the staff that I worked with were Kenyan. They mostly were Maasai people. Immediately, the first thing they do when they'd come to the office is come and wash their shoes. Having clean shoes is a very high priority and a show of respect. And they would grab the newspaper, very well read people and always reading the newspaper. It would drive me crazy because I'm like, "You're here to work," and they're reading the newspaper. But that's a way to stay connected and to keep in the loop of what's going on. And outside of Narok, of course, is all the villages and the communities that I eventually got to really build close relationships with and work in. And that's where World Concern was working. And so I got to be a part of a number of different communities that I just absolutely adore.
Any time I dream about going back and bringing my family back there, I get so excited about seeing these people again, that I so love. The Maasai people are beautiful. They're extremely colorful, they're very generous. As people study different cultures, there's lots of things about the Maasai that might be seen as archaic or difficult in terms of some of their traditions. But I just got a chance to witness their love for one another and their openness to visitors and their hospitality. I had such a great experience being able to go out there and finally practice, not practice, but actually get to participate in doing community development, which is what I studied in school. So when I went to grad school, I studied community development. That's what I wanted to really get into. And so there I was, I was finally doing what I had learned.
And I got to experience communities as they went through activities where we would ask all the members of the community, "What is it that you dream about in your community? What is it you hope for? What is it you see in the future? Or what is it that you really feel you guys are lacking?" But we tried to look at what are their dreams and hopes. And through that process of hearing their voices, we would determine what kinds of activities we would do in each community. And so for some, it was access to clean water, for some it was education, for some it was agriculture. There were various things that would come up that we would then pursue as a community and as an organization together. And just being able to see that transformation in various communities. It looked different and it always went way slower than I would hope, but it always happened, and I loved being a part of that.
Cathy Herholdt: I love that. It's really exciting for me to hear this because these are the early seeds that were planted of what has now become World Concerns signature program, one village transformed. It's based on a transformational development model, which is exactly what you're talking about. A community led model, where the community themselves determine what their greatest needs are, what their assets are, what their hopes and dreams are. And they're the ones that really lead the change and take ownership of that. We're talking 15, 20 years ago now, that this was beginning to happen in Narok. And so it's kind of the birthplace of one village transformed. So it's really exciting to hear how that all started there. Is there a person or a story or something from that area that really impacted you, left an impression on you, somebody you met there that you still think about today, anything stand out in your memory.
Tracy Minke: There's so many. Really quickly though, I want to mention something that I thought about just a moment ago and I wanted to share, because I think it's so special. Because when we went in to do all these various pieces of community transformation, all of us are Christians. And so all of us have this desire for Christ to be in each and every person and in that community. And yet these weren't traditionally Christian communities, they're animist. And so they're very spiritual people. But it was so cool to see how God used our team in terms of, as our team started to grow as the program grew and we got more funding, we got to hire more people, we needed to hire drivers. Originally I was the driver. I had a vehicle and everywhere we went as a team I was the driver as well as the leader and all of these things. But we expanded and we hired drivers.
And the first two drivers that we hired happened to be pastors who just weren't making enough money as pastors, so they needed something else to make money to support their family and they could drive. And so we hired Moses and John. Moses still works for the organization. And it was this beautiful thing. I think as a team, as we followed God's voice, he led us into this, what we thought was just such a great idea and I still think it was brilliant that these drivers would take us into the community. And then there's lots of downtime as you're waiting for the community to arrive for a meeting or as you're waiting for a meeting to end. Whatever is going on, it always takes a lot longer in the community context. And our drivers would find people and spread the word of God. They would talk about Jesus.
They would talk about God's faithfulness and what he called them into and what it meant to be a believer in Christ. And however, they would do it in their language and their culture because they were Maasai men. They understand all that. And so they were able to present the gospel. And out of that, over a couple of years, we had six churches that planted. And as far as I know, most of them, if not all of them continue to be places of worship in those communities that we really focused in on where we did the Nehemiah project, which is now the one village transformed as you mentioned. And so that's just something that I remember so fondly and I'm so proud of that. That we were able to see God's words spread in those places. And I know that's a big part of the transformation that's happened in those places in terms of longterm, which is great.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah, absolutely. And that model too has really spread around the world. The model of connecting with local pastors, local churches, people who this is their home community and they're the best ones to share with their own people. And so it's really a pretty major shift in the old missions model of people like you and I going into a place like that and trying to share the gospel. It's so much more powerful and impactful when it comes from one of their own. So that's really neat to hear.
Tracy Minke: You had asked me about a person. And so that actually gives me a great starting point for one person I'd love to share. So there was a man named William. He was on our, our community development committee. So each of the communities we worked, we had a group of people that were voted on by the community. And he was on this team for his community. And later on, when we actually had a church that started, he really felt like he was to be the one that was to lead that church. He had become a believer and was following Jesus. It was interesting because at the time he was illiterate. He'd never been to school, he couldn't read or write and yet he was hearing God's word in various ways. He would go to churches in the city, in Narok, the town. We gave them these wind up Bibles on cassette tapes, so he could hear the Bible in his language.
And I remember when I left Narok and I gone and started working in the city of Nairobi and was gone for quite a while and would come back. One Sunday I went to church in his church, Williams' church and he was preaching and teaching so beautifully. And I saw him pull out his Bible and he was reading his Bible. And I just, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I knew he'd never been to school, he couldn't read or write. When I left the community, he could not read that Bible. And I just couldn't wait to grab him after church and ask him, "William, what happened? Did you go to school?" And he says, "No, I just prayed that God would give me the gift of being able to read and I can read." I still to this day, just remember that as being one of many, many times where I was so surprised.
And I should never be surprised by what God does, but just so grateful at what he did in him and through his community. And just in that, there was so many things that are beautiful and complex because William was a man who, before he became a Christian, just like many of them Maasai men, he had many wives. I believe he had seven wives. And to then follow Jesus in a polygamous marriage, what does that look like? And we had conversations about that and we talked about that and just tried to figure out what is it that scripture talks about and what would he have you do? And just things like that, that are so culturally different for me from where we come from, that I loved being able to wrestle through those things with people. Yeah.
Cathy Herholdt: Amazing, incredible story. Wow. Thankful for William and his life, that's really amazing. All right, well, let's move on in our journey to some other places that you have lived and served and been to. And again, you've been all over the world and to some really hard places. Places like Darfur, Chad, Daadab, at one time, the largest refugee camp in the world, Lebanon, places like that. And there's a bit of a theme, a thread running through these places. So what is that theme that you noticed as you looked back on your life regarding the people in these places?
Tracy Minke: Yeah, it's so interesting because I really thought... When I had a chance to start doing community development I was in Narok, I was in Kenya. It was all what I had studied and what I was passionate about. And if you would've asked me early on, I would've said, "I'll be here for a very, very long time doing this, exactly this." I loved it so much. But God kept calling me into other places and leading me into other spaces. And yeah, as we look back I go, "How did I get here?" All these different places.
But as a look back at each of those places after I left my post in Narok and specifically that work in Kenya, almost every place after that had one particular theme, which is working with refugees. That was not on my radar when I was in school or growing up. There was nothing that really put me in that place of thinking I'm going to work with refugees or I have a heart for refugees. But even today in my role, as a missions' pastor, that theme continues to come up. It's not the only theme, but it's definitely the one that I can tie through each and every one of those situations, which I find really interesting.
Cathy Herholdt: Very interesting. So with this particular group of people... I feel like there's there's refugee stories in the Bible, throughout the Bible. And it's really clear that God has a heart for refugees. And so that's really interesting that is a people group that he's called you to and given you a heart for. So one of the first places that you went, and experienced what the life of a refugee is like, is Darfur. And so this is in the mid 2005/6/7 ish I think is when that crisis was really exploding. So tell us about Darfur. What was your experience like there? It was really a first in a lot of ways for you, wasn't it?
Tracy Minke: Absolutely. Yeah, when I got the call to go, I was asked to go with a small team and do some research and do some mapping. So community mapping, which is much of what I was doing in Narok. So using those skills to then go and see if the work and the interventions that World Concern was doing would actually be reaching the people they wanted to reach. Was it actually making a difference? That's what the question on the table was. And so they asked me to come in for three weeks. And so myself and James Sakuda, who I worked with in Narok, a Maasai guy that we were working together, we went and we did a lot of the same activities that we had done in other communities, but with a different angle, of course. And it was so fascinating to be able to go into a context where everybody there was Muslim.
First and foremost, that was not something that I had experienced in Narok at least, it wasn't very common. And then it was an area that was considered insecure. And so that was a new thing for me in terms of really having security checks every morning, before you get in the car, figured out where you're going to go, and if it's going to be safe and if you should go or not. And then for me, of course the language. I had studied Swahili in Kenya, and that was absolutely not going to help me in the context of Darfur, Sudan. And so I didn't have any language and neither did my coworker. And so just being in that place of really not having any of those comforts and familiar things with us, but being able to go out and just go. We would literally take a traditional map.
And it sounds a bit silly, I guess, in many ways now, but we just wanted to make sure it was completely random. We would close our eyes and do a twist with our finger and point to a map on the map and point to whatever community was there and we would go to that community. We would ask the drivers if they could take us to that community. So it was completely random, we had no idea of any of these places. We were brand new. And we would show up completely... Nobody knew we were coming. We would just show up and ask if we could speak to the leaders and speak through our translators. Tell them who we were and that we were part of the group that was working in the area trying to provide food and services for people. And we just wanted to ask the people some questions about their history in terms of what they had experienced and why they were in the places that they were.
And then also what exactly they needed and what was happening, what they had received help wise. And everyone always said yes. And so I would sit with the women, women and James would sit with the men and we would ask our questions and hear their stories and eventually break into smaller groups and get more details and just figure out what really was happening on the ground, and then bring all that data back and then go the next day and find a different community. And we did that for three weeks. We went to different communities and just heard their stories and had a chance to document what was going on and where the relief was really reaching and where it needed to be changed perhaps in terms of where the people were and things like that. So it was an incredible experience.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah. Wow, it sounds like it. You must just look back on that and think, I can't believe I was there in Darfur at such a time as that and able to experience that and be with people and hear their stories and experiences. Absolutely fascinating.
Tracy Minke: One of the things I got to see that just blew my mind, and I have pictures of it that I saw the other day, I was going through some old papers, but things like seeing the UN come through and drop these large... These large airplanes full of bags of food and having those drop from the air. And so there's this whole area where we would all have to stand back and then people from the community would be hired to go and pick up the pieces of food that had come out of the bags if they had broken. And that was how they were dropping food, because it was so insecure. There was no easy way to get food in the area.
And so seeing things like that on the wider scale, that was my first time working at all in a context where the UN was also present. And so seeing that relationship as well in terms of how World Concern and other organizations like ours would work with the UN and try to make the biggest impact. I think one day we were out in an area and we came across a whole field that was full of locusts. Locusts had come in as if they didn't have enough issues already in terms of there was a drought and there was this conflict and then the locusts. And so every time I read about the locusts in the Bible, I have this visual of what it was like. All these locusts in this tree.
I'll never forget it. Somebody said, "Watch this." And he threw a rock at the tree and then he said, "Have your camera ready." And then thousands upon thousands upon thousands of these locusts just took off. And I have these pictures that still, when I look back in my mind, it makes me understand when I hear stories even just a few years ago of the locusts that were coming through Africa and knowing the devastation. They come in and just destroy everything. And being able to have that experience of seeing that, in person, just shaped me in many ways. There's lots of things like that I could go on and on.
Cathy Herholdt: So that really opened your heart to the plight of refugees, to the challenges that people face when some sort of conflict or disaster has forced them to flee their homes and go look for safety, survival, food, all of those things. And there's so many situations even today around the world where people have had to do that. And it's really heartbreaking. So of those places that we listed a few minutes ago, that you've been to some really, really challenging places, is there one that stands out in your mind as the toughest, the hardest, most challenging place you've been? What comes to mind?
Tracy Minke: Yeah, I think for me, the 18 months that I spent in Eastern Chad was by far the most difficult of all the places that I've spent time. And at the same time I would as well equally say hands down, it was the richest. It was such a difficult place. There's so many challenges for the people. It was such a hard transition for me. Even coming from Kenya, it was so difficult to try to find out how to survive and be comfortable in that context.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah. Describe it for us. What is Eastern Chad like and why was it so difficult?
Tracy Minke: It's remote, to say the least. For me to get there I would fly, I would be in Kenya, And so I would fly on a traditional flight over through Ethiopia and then eventually reach the capital N'Djamena in Chad. And then from there, I would have to wait a few days to get a permit, to enter into a place outside of the capital. So you're allowed to come into the capital without a lot of warning, but if you want to leave the capital, you need a permit. So I had to wait for a logistics team to go and go through all the paperwork and all the things that is in that, which is already such a challenge. And then just waiting for those papers to come through and then book a flight with the UN that would take me across the country.
So now moving from the Western side of the country, over by the Cameroon border, all the way over to almost the middle of the country. There's a place called Abeche. And we would take a flight with maybe 100 people, and it was a UN flight. So we'd fly into Abeche and then spend the night. And then there'd be one more flight that would be usually a small four to eight-person airplane that would take us to Goz Beida, which is on the Eastern border, just along Darfur Sudan border. So the people groups and everything were very similar to what I experienced in Darfur. Out there, there were no tarmac, there was no electricity. The heat was always extremely, extremely noticeable. It was always around 100, and so extremely warm.
And if you can imagine as a westerner, especially coming into a context like that. I hear people talk about, "Oh, in Arizona it's 40 today." I know right now there's a heat wave going on in the States. And it's like, "Yeah, but you have electricity. You can turn your fan on or you can turn on your AC or you can open your refrigerator door and stick your head in." But we didn't have anything that was cold. It was a treat to walk down the street, this sandy street into the town, which was very small, and go from our guest house into this little shop. And this man had paid for a generator and he would flip on his generator for a couple hours a day. And he had a freezer that it was plugged into and he would have drinks like soda and they would be cold.
And that would be my treat. That was the only time, when I was there, that I would experience anything that was cold. Anything that we wanted. So if we made a salad or a drink that we wanted cold, the best thing we could do at home is wrap it up at night in a wet towel and set it on the window sill and hope there was some wind. And that would cool it off so that in the morning you could actually have almost a cool drink or a cool bite of something. The evenings were really hard. It took me a long time to adjust and learn how to sleep well and be able to really get a good night's sleep. For me, a good night's sleep meant getting about three hours of sleep and then waking up and doing this thing.
So I learned from some locals in the area that they had discovered if you take your sheet and you... That's all we had, we didn't need blankets. You grab your sheet and soak it in the water and then ring it out, but not too much because you want it to still be pretty wet, and then go to bed with this wet sheet covering you and then open your window, again, praying for just the slightest breeze to let some air and try to keep it as cold as possible. And so that would cool you down enough. I would finally be able to sleep. I'd be able to fall asleep. Because it was just so hot. And then yeah, three hours later I would do that again, and that would be my way of getting a good night's rest.
Cathy Herholdt: Amazing. Yeah. I've heard that part of Chad is one of the hottest places on earth and can actually reach 130 degrees. Unbearable. And so you had these just tiny little comforts. But I'm imagining the people who live there. And so at the time that you were there, you were there because the Darfur conflict had actually spilled over the border into Chad. There were also some localized areas of conflict and tension. There was a group of rebel fighters that were called the Janjaweed that were coming through these villages on horseback and just horrible atrocities happening to people there and villages being burned and stuff. And so the UN was there and had set up a camp for internally displaced Chadians. And that was the area that you were serving in. So for those families, what were some of the challenges that they were facing at the time living in not just this physical environment, but just every aspect of their life having been turned upside down?
Tracy Minke: Yeah, it was so difficult. And just like you said, those memories of being in Darfur, like it's the same exact things that were happening in terms of how people were being treated and why they had to leave. And where we were in Goz Beida, we actually were supporting four different camps. And so three different IDP, or internally displaced camps, had been set up. And then there was one that was still set as a refugee camp. So people who had left their borders. And so people from Darfur who had crossed over. So they were in a different context as well. And it was interesting to see the difference between the two. So the people who were from Chad had a few more rights and access to a few more things because they were still within their own country. People who would come from Darfur had left their country, so they were stateless in many ways.
And they had less access to some things in terms of being able to work, they weren't able to work in that context. However, because of their status of refugee, they were given maybe more from agencies like the UN. And so it was always something that we, as an organization, were looking at in terms of what do we need to do. And it was unique in each context. Like I mentioned, finding work is extremely hard. Goz Beida was a very small town to begin with. And all of a sudden there were hundreds of thousands of people living in the desert just outside of the town. And so they needed things to cook their food. So it would cut down trees for firewood, which is what you do if you need to cook your food. And there's no fuel, the only thing you can get is trees, you cut it down. And so you can imagine just over a couple of years, the area was being extremely just ravaged by deforestation.
And that impacted the animals in the area, the people in the area, the environment in the area. It was desertification. It was really the desert was growing and expanding in massive rates. And that's part of why we, as an organization, set up the work programs that we did, where we actually did these initiatives. We'd go into the community and say, "We want to give you work," because they couldn't find work. So they were getting food from the UN, but it was very limited and it was very scripted. So every family got A, B, C, D. So they'd got this many bags of corn and maize. Whatever they would get, it was scripted and it was the same for everyone. It wasn't unique. And so we came in and we were able to offer people work. We had a grant that allowed us to pay people to work. And so the work we did was around that deforestation.
And so we had people set up rock lines, which I have to admit when I started. I thought, I don't know if I'm a believer in this. I'm not sure if this is really going to have a huge impact. But Cathy, just in the time that I was there, it was so incredible to see these hillsides that had been completely deforested, the little rain that they'd had, it would take away all the good soil, so nothing could grow. So you've got these blank, bare hillsides. And we're asking people to go and collect rocks and pile them in lines all along the ridges of these hills and in these areas. And the idea is that as the rain is slowed down... So when the rains did come, which was once a year, it would come and slow down because of the rocks. The soils and the minerals and things that were in the ground deeper would actually have a chance to come back to life, so to speak. And I'm not going to get into all the science.
I don't fully understand all of it. But I witnessed some of the most incredible things, because as people laid out these rocks, eventually when the rains came, we started seeing grass grow for the first time in years. And within a year, we had people that are able to plant basic crops again in a land that was completely deemed irreparable. And so that was such a special thing to be able to see. But the part that I love the most is as people worked, they had dignity. They were doing something with their time. They were doing something to support their family. They weren't just sitting around as maybe people imagine refugees might be doing. So they had a purpose and they had somewhere to go each day. Then the best day of the month for us, as a staff, and the hardest day at the same time because it was so hard in terms of it was so hot and we'd go out and run what we called these fairs.
And so we had a community fair where we had preset agreements with many different business people from the town where they would bring their goods and services into each of these camps. So now you're in a camp and out of nowhere, a market day would appear. So you've got a market that would pop up like a pop up market. All these different businessmen would come in, and businesswomen would come in, and set up their shops and they would be there for the day. And all of our workers that were from the community would come in and we would verify who they were and how many days they worked. And then they would get paid right then on the spot. But we didn't give them cash, but we gave them something that was equal to cash. We had made what we called monopoly money.
So we literally had made money in our office, stamped it a certain color and a certain stamp so that it would be unique to that day. And they would get paid physically in these pieces of paper that looked like money based on how many days they worked, and then they were invited into the fair or this market and they could go shopping. And I loved being able to see and talk to the women and the men as they came out and hearing stories of how we are so appreciative of the UN giving us this food, but when we come into these markets that World Concern is created, we have the ability to make choices for our family and we get to decide what we purchase. We get to decide perhaps if we want to buy a little bit of candy or perfume, which from the UN's perspective would be not an essential item.
But when you think about the dignity of being a human and being able to smell good or feel good, or feel beautiful, or treat your child with a piece of candy, those were all things they couldn't have because they that's not what they were receiving. So now they're working and they can go to the store and they could buy things. And it was all taken care of right there. So it was this beautiful program to be able to watch and just be a part of was such an honor.
Cathy Herholdt: I love that. I love the whole idea of dignity and of restoring that by offering people a chance to work, to earn some income of their own, be able to use that income, like you said, to make choices when every choice about your life has been stripped away, to be able to just have that small opportunity to select some things for your family. And I love that comes through what we called the cash for work program. And so sometimes in certain crises we do just cash grants or give people money that they need to survive.
In this case, for them to have the opportunity to work and earn that income adds another layer of dignity and opportunity for them. I love that. And going back to the rock lines, we'll share some of those photos on our Instagram at the End of the Road podcast, so that the listeners can see what those rock lines looked like and the impact that they had, what they did. I want to just pause for a moment and thank our listeners for joining us today.
If you're just hearing about World Concern for the first time, and you're curious to learn a little bit more about who we are and what sets us apart from other organizations you might be familiar with, please visit worldconcern.org/podcast, and learn a little bit more about what we do. And now let's get back to our conversation. Knowing this was the most difficult place that you had worked in, lived in, you had said you would go back if you could, in a heartbeat, why is that? Why would you want to go back to such a difficult place?
Tracy Minke: I think there's lots of reasons, but I think a few that come to mind would just be that I've seen over and over that when I move into a space, not just me, any of us, when we move into a space where we're out of our comfort zone, that's where we're able to be stripped of all the things that we create in terms of protection and all the ways that we tell ourselves that I've done this and I've created this and I've built this. It allows me, in that context, to just see God, I would say in a much fuller way, because I see his provisions in such a beautiful way, in such a tangible way. I see the way he provides. The miracles of seeing his creation come back to life. Being able to see that in real time is so beautiful.
Being able to see how God provided. There was a time where I needed to write letters to all of our staff and Chad and let them know that we had to let them go because we didn't have the funding for the next season. Our grants hadn't come through and we were going to have to let them go and just praying and praying and praying with my team. And literally just at the end, just at the deadline, just the day before getting notice that our grants had come in and that we would be able to keep our staff and we would be able to keep going. And seeing those kinds of things where you could only depend on God and that was all you could do. And it makes me think about also just being able to stand in a place where we were the minorities.
We were the ones who believed in God. We were known to many as the people who prayed in our context. And I loved being in that place. The scriptures become more than just... I always say they came alive. But I feel like in many ways, feeling like we could see God's army protecting us, even though we couldn't physically see it, just that sense of knowing that he was protecting us, Cathy. In those days, it was a very unsafe area. And there were people like you mentioned, Janjaweed, that we were always concerned in terms of if we went out too far from the town, there was a chance of kidnapping and things that would happen on that side perhaps. But also within town, there were the opportunistic people, as they knew when payday happened. There's no banks in the area.
So when payday happened for the workers, all the international workers, all the UN workers, all the different NGOs, the non-government organizations, they would get paid in cash. And so the money would be flown in on that flight that I described, all the way in, from the capital, there'd be bags of money and brought into each organization and they would do payday the next day. And every month when payday would happen, there would be an organization that would get broken into. And the whole time we were there and for a long time, after, as far as I know, we were never hit. We were never attacked. And we were in a compound that had the least security. Like we did not have the barbed wire around the top of the fence. We just had a very basic compound. And people were always telling us, "You guys are ridiculous.
You don't have all the things that we have to keep us safe. What are you doing?" And we're like, "We just believe that we're supposed to be here and show it to the people there that we are with them and for them. We're not trying to separate ourselves. And we trust that God's going to provide provision for us and protection." And he did. And as we ask people locally, "Why is it, do you think that we're not being attacked? Why are we not being hit? It seems like everyone else is." And they said, "It's because you're the people who pray." And so we were the Christian organization that was there. We had services every Friday in our office and allowed anyone who was a Christian to come in.
And so people from other organizations would join us at times and we would pray together and worship God and invite him into that space and just really try to rely on him. I love being able to go back to those moments. Those are things that I don't experience in the same way here. And so it's really easy to jump into moments of selfishness and feeling like I'm the one that's created my path. I'm the one that's created this, whatever it is that I'm living out. But when I'm in that context, I just feel like it's so obvious that this is all God.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah. I love that. And I think that's really a great takeaway for our listeners. Because while people listening to this might not be in a difficult or challenging place in the world, physically, a lot of people are experiencing trials and challenges in their own lives and having to maybe for the first time really depend fully on God. Because the things, like you said, that we build up our ourselves, we think keep us secure or protect us in some way, have been taken away or removed. And by God's grace and mercy, I think sometimes those things are taken away so that he can really show up and show us that he's all we've got and he's all we need. So our last stop on our journey today, I want to go to Dadaab.
As we mentioned earlier, in the 2011, 2012 horn of Africa, famine was the largest refugee camp in the world. That was a crisis. I started working with World Concern in 2010, so it was really the first major crisis that I had worked through with World Concern. And so I remember that you were going to go there and set up World Concern's operations there for the response to the famine. You were working at our headquarters office for a little while. And we were starting our friendship and talking about things and praying about things. And because of your life and being all over the world and moving around a lot and all that kind of stuff, you were not yet married.
And you had a prayer and longing to find your life partner and be married. And so I don't want to give a spoiler here of the whole story. But I remember thinking, and I think we even talked about, what if in Dadaab, in this remote, difficult context that somehow God would work that out. So I just remember praying with you for that desire of your heart back then. And so you've got a great story, a pretty amazing chance encounter that really changed the rest of your life. So tell us a little bit about Dadaab, about arriving there and then share that awesome story with us.
Tracy Minke: Yeah, it is so fun. And it actually starts in Asia for me, because I had been at headquarters with you for a little season. And then I had made a decision. I really felt like I was supposed to go to Asia and try something new. I had been in Africa at that point for about eight or almost nine years. And so I was in Bangkok at our headquarters in Asia with the current president at the time, Dave Eller, and we were touring around and I visited programs in Laos and around Thailand, I was getting ready to go to Vietnam. And I had actually gotten to the point where I had, in my passport, I had a visa to get me into Vietnam. I had a plane ticket for Vietnam and I had a contract from World Concern to be the next grant writer for the next year for Vietnam.
They were just starting some programs out there and they needed some support. And so I was going to try something new and I was willing to serve, because I felt like that's where God was calling me. I remember going home one particular night that changed my life forever. And I was in Bangkok at this apartment and between what I was hearing on the news and from my friends in Africa and my friends at headquarters, just recognizing that this soon to be famine, it hadn't yet been declared but it was within days, it was coming, in the horn of Africa. My heart just cried because it was like, "What am I doing in Asia when my people that I love so much are suffering so much?" I had lots of phone calls and texts and lots of prayer throughout the night.
And I went in the next morning and I went to the Asia director and I said, "I'm so sorry. I cannot work here. I've got a flight to Seattle tomorrow, and I'm going back to Africa. I've been given an opportunity to go back." And so I did really quickly. And I remember you were part of that. I went back to Seattle, repacked my bags, and did a couple of interviews for you with World Concern and hopped on the airplane, and I was back in Kenya. And it was amazing to be back and to arrive not only in a place that I loved and was so familiar with, but at the same time, there was a whole new adventure awaiting me. I was going to a place I'd never been in terms of Dadaab, which is closer to Somalia, and it's a very challenging, difficult place.
And yet, because of my days in Chad, again, I felt like I can do anything. Chad was so hard, that there was no stopping me. It's like, if that's where God's calling me, I'm going to go and he will be with me. And so I had that confidence, even though I did not know exactly what was coming. And so arriving there, it's a very hot place. Again, very sandy. Again, there was no electricity. There's no post office, there's no grocery store. There's just little markets and we'd bring food from the capital. There were lots of different things to try to keep us going, but it was a difficult place for sure. I had been there for maybe, I don't know if it was maybe three or four weeks just working grueling long hours, trying to get information back to you guys.
Trying to figure out what programs we were setting up and meeting with community leaders. Trying to figure out what we had access to in terms of food and assets in terms of working with the water and helping them get access to water and all of the things that people needed as they were leaving their communities. And I know one of our things as World Concern is we were trying to help people stay in the communities that they were at so they didn't end up in the camps. Because once you end up in the camps, often you stay put for a long, long time. So we were trying to help support the communities that they were in before they left so that they could stay longer and not end up in the camps. All of that was going on super long hours, extremely tired.
I used to joke with my friends, I don't even know if I'd brushed my teeth or brushed my hair. It was just work, work, work. You're in disaster response mode and it's emergency. And you're not thinking about guys. I was not thinking about guys, but there was one day where there was one other Christian organization up the road. Their leader came to me and said, "I think we need to have a church service." We were the only Christian organizations that were there. And so we said, "Yeah, let's pause." We hadn't paused. We were working seven days a week, 15, 16-hour days, just go, go, go. Exhausted and needed a break. So we had this church service where we went in their compound and they had this big shady tree. So we had a church service under that tree.
And this guy named Adam and myself, from each organization, we were given the opportunity to share from scripture and just encourage the group. And later that day, I just felt like this was so good to pause. I invited their group over to our compound and we played games, but this guy, Adam didn't show up. It was really strange. He didn't come. Everyone else from the organization that I had met that day had come and we played games and had a great time—
Cathy Herholdt: It's because you didn't brush your teeth.
Tracy Minke: Then that evening after everybody had left, I hear this tap, tap, tap on the door at the compound. And the guard comes and gets me and says, "There's a visitor for you." But it's dark. You don't get visitors. And I don't know if you can imagine in this context, you don't get visitors. It's just not happening. And I was like, "Okay." So I walked over there and there was this guy, Adam. And he said, "I am so sorry. I missed the time to come and do the games and stuff, but would you mind if I just came and hung out? Because I love the idea of just hanging out." And I'm like, "Okay." This Canadian guy is in my compound and I'm thinking, "Well, I better give him some tea or something."
So I got him some tea and we sat around in the middle of the compound and chatted and shared stories and did whatever you do when you're trying to entertain a guest that you barely know. Lots of connecting points and all of these things. And then he left and it was like, well, that was nice. But I didn't think much of it. Couple days later he calls me, he says, "Hey, we've got a chief from Damajale," which is one of the communities that both of our organizations had been working with. "The chief is at my compound and he is telling me that you guys have offered A, B, C, D, and it doesn't sound right. Can you come over here and just verify so that we don't replicate and duplicate services and such?" And so I went over there.
And so Adam and I worked with his chief and we had a couple of hours of meeting with him and working on things together and getting to know each other in a completely different context. And then the chief left and then Adam was off to the field. And I remember walking back to my compound in this dusty, sandy road. It was probably 500 meters down the road to my compound. So I left his, I'm walking. He drives by in a vehicle and waves. And I didn't really think too much of it, but I just remembered it that evening, Philip, our security lead, he said there's been an incident. That's all he said, "There's been an incident." He brought all of us together. There was probably 10 or 12 of us. He brought all of us together in our compound and he said, "We need to pray."
And I had this feeling in my heart, in my stomach. I knew it was Adam. And I didn't even know until that moment that I cared about him. I had no idea. He was just this guy that I had met, we'd had a couple of cool conversations, but I'm doing my work. And all of a sudden my heart just... I don't know how to express what I felt. There was a connection to him and a concern. And so sure enough, Adam and his team had had an incident. They had been shot at by bandits when they were in the field. They had nine bullet holes in their vehicle, but miraculously, none of their people had been hit. But it was this huge thing and it shook the whole community. So they came back and I convinced our security guy we needed to go over there. I had my own agenda, very work related.
I was and Philip was like, "No, the last place you need to be in a security incident, is where the incident..." That is not the place to be. I don't know how, but he finally let... We went over there. I gave out on my phone and said, "You need to talk to your family, here's my phone. It's got a plan. You can just call and use it all night if you need to and whatever you need." And I left it with him, which was my little, I'll see you later. So the next day he had to come and return the phone. So he came into our compound and I put him in my hammock, which was my little happy place, I had set up a hammock outside my room, and brought him some tea. And we started talking and that was the moment that I knew there was something really special between us. I did not know what was coming.
But fast forward a number of months, he ended up being sent out of Dadaab. The next day he was on a flight out. And he sent this really bold email from the plane. He wrote it all out in the plane and when he hit Nairobi, he sent it to me and it was very bold. And I was like, "Look what we have here." This guy, he was pursuing me. In a really, very godly way he was pursuing me. And so next time I was in Nairobi, a couple months later, I offered to take him out to dinner. He was still in the Nairobi area. We went out to dinner and had a date that I was trying really hard not to be a date because I was still convinced I'm working, I'm not looking for a guy. I don't know. So yeah, fast forward he was there for another couple months. He went back to his original place of work, which was out in Mombasa.
I was still open to Dadaab. He went back to Canada. We continued to get to know each other. We eventually started dating. We met in Nairobi and I said goodbye to him. And so we dated from a distance. Lots of phone calls, lots of emails, lots of logins. We dated for all that time. And then I moved back to the States and one thing led to another, but I ended up marrying this beautiful, wonderful, incredible man. But yeah, that's what brought me up to Canada. There's another whole story there in terms of how that happened. But God was so good. And it's so fun for us because when we look back at all these different things, I was in Asia, I was nowhere near Africa and he was in Ethiopia. And then something happened with the program in Ethiopia that brought him to Mombasa.
And then from Mombasa, because of his background in water, his organization, when the drought happened in the famine, they called him into Dadaab. So just the fact that we were there and we were only there for a couple of weeks at the same time, and God allowed us to create this friendship, which grew into a love and eventually we got to get married and we've been married almost 10 years.
Cathy Herholdt: Almost 10 years and you have a beautiful little girl together and a great life. I absolutely love it. I love that story. I'm so glad we got a chance to have you share it because I love thinking about God orchestrating your movements, both of you. I got to get these two in the same place. I know. How about Dadaab? That's just the last place on earth that you would think of that you would meet your spouse. And so I love that story. So Tracy, in all your time in these difficult, challenging places, what have you learned at the end of the road?
Tracy Minke: There's so many things that I could share. But I think one of the things, when you move into a place where you are not necessarily comfortable, I see that God will bless us. He will mold us more like him and he will use us in incredible ways. And that's something that I've seen over and over. Even just more recently recognizing the fact that my husband and I are in a context where we have decided we want to adopt. And there are these moments where as I get older, I go, "That's crazy." I have an eight year old daughter, we have an eight year old daughter, we're in this phase right now where it's pretty sweet. She can start to cook some meals and fix her breakfast and get ready for school on her own.
And there's lots of things she can do. We don't have to keep an eye on her all the time. There's no diapers, there's no potty training. We're past all those like, "Don't cross the road." She's really growing up into a beautiful and incredible human being even though she's just eight. But we have longed to have more and we haven't been able. And so the path that we felt that God was calling us into was adoption. And there are those days where we go, "We're crazy." Adoption, that means we're going to have a baby again and we're going to be right back where we started in terms of all the hard days and the sleepless nights and all the stuff that comes with being a parent that can be so hard and challenging. And I think culturally, we so often can be deterred by those hard things.
And we don't want to be in a place of discomfort. We don't want to be at a place where we have to sacrifice. And I think my years in Africa over and over and over, just seeing that when we step into those places, out of our comfort zone and trust that God will be there, which he always is, it is so much greater. If we choose not to go, we can still have some great things going on. But when we choose to go into those hard places, he does things so much better than what we could ever do. And you experience joy and you experience adventure. That's certainly a word that sounds kind of cheesy, but the great adventure, I feel like, that he can put us on if we choose to allow, is so great. So for us, we go, "I know it's scary and I know it's hard and it will change things, but we're willing to step into that."
Cathy Herholdt: I love that. And I really believe that is a word for somebody listening today that may have a big decision in front of them, or may be considering stepping into something unknown, something out of their comfort zone. And so thank you for sharing that and thank you for sharing what you learned at the end of the road. I think that's a real encouragement to so many people. Tracy, thank you for sharing so many great stories with us today and just incredible things that God has done at the end of the road in some really challenging, hard places. So thanks for taking us on a little journey to some of these places, just virtually able to experience some of these things and experience God's presence in those places.
Tracy Minke: Thank you so much, Cathy. It's been a joy. It's always fun to remember all the different ways that God has made himself so known and the way that he's provided has been really fun. So it's always important to remember. I think that's a key part of our faith.
Cathy Herholdt: I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope that your mind has been opened up a little bit, your heart has been touched through some of the stories that you have heard today. As I mentioned earlier, if you're curious about learning a little bit more about World Concern, about our work beyond the end of the road, you can visit worldconcern.org/podcast to learn more. I want to thank CRISTA Ministries, World Concerns, parent organization for making this podcast possible. And I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today, we look forward to more stories at the End of the Road next time.