With tears streaming down her face, Zareen Malik, 29, of Tyler, shared how the pain she had experienced in her life only led to more brokenness until God got her attention.
Malik said her parents divorced when she was 3 and she experienced sexual abuse at the hands of multiple people until the age of 8.
Though she ultimately married a man who greatly loved and respected her and whose mother took her in as her own daughter, Malik turned against those who loved her most. She said the hurt from her past caused her to hurt others.
“Jesus saw my heart,” said Malik, who was born into a Muslim family. “He didn’t see my actions.”
She met a couple and through that relationship attended Green Acres Baptist Church, where the Lord spoke to her.
“It was the Holy Spirit who convicted me of my sins,” she said.
“There is a difference between hearing God loves you and feeling it physically,” she said. “God loves you. No matter what you are going through, there is hope and love.”
Over 800 women gathered at Harvey Convention Center to hear stories of hope like Malik’s at the CityFest Women’s Luncheon, one of several events spread throughout this week to share about the abundant life people have found in Jesus Christ.
Ashley Lee, 35, of White Oak, said her life had been one of emptiness. Addicted to drugs, she had lost custody of her children and was homeless, when she came to the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission. In her journey she came to know Jesus Christ as her personal Savior.
“I had this fulfillment,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t empty anymore. I had a belonging. I had a purpose.”
Today, Lee works at Hiway 80 Rescue Mission’s Women and Families Shelter in Longview. She has been clean for three years and has her children back with her full time.
“I have purpose and I have a reason to get out of bed,” she said, adding that she hopes people know that God is a forgiving God.
“There is nothing we can do to make God turn his back on us,” she said to many affirmations from the crowd.
Wendy Palau, whose husband, evangelist Andrew Palau, is speaking at the CityFest events, shared her own story of seeing God work through trials in her life.
Years ago, after the Palaus two sons had started school, they were looking forward to expanding their family. But the road would not be easy. After losing three babies in utero three years in row, Wendy was hurt, grieving and questioning God.
“I was so confused why God hadn’t answered my prayer,” she said. “... I would cry out, ‘Why, Lord? Why?’ How can you expect me to grieve these babies year after year?”
Although God gave her no answers, he did speak to her, she said.
“He said, ‘Wendy, trust me. I love you,’” she recalled. “I had put my trust in him and I felt he hadn’t lived up to his part of the deal.”
Wendy was upset with the happiness she saw other people experience and she found it difficult to experience her own blessings.
“My husband couldn’t help me,” she said. “He cried with me, but he couldn’t take the grief.”
It was while in Jamaica, a few months after the loss of her third child, that Wendy’s heart changed, but only after another heartbreak.
While on sandbar playing with her younger son, Wendy’s wedding ring flew off her finger into the Caribbean Sea and was nowhere to be found.
“Really. Really, Lord?” Wendy said of her thoughts at the time. “What else are you going to take from me? My babies and my ring?”
“I said to God, ‘Lord, I thought you were a giver, but really Lord, I feel like you are a taker.’”
The next day as she and her family were preparing to fly back to the United States, Wendy received a call from her father and heard her sister-in-law in the background screaming that she had found her ring.
“God was speaking to me in a personal ... way, ‘Wendy, you lost your ring, but Wendy, I am giving it back to you,’” she said.
She realized that God, who gave his Son up, knew the depth of her grief in losing her children.
“Would he carry my grief?” she said. “Could he take my sadness?”
Instead of continuing to question God, she asked him to comfort her and saw through Scripture that he is close to the brokenhearted and that he binds up wounds.
“My way would be for me to have my three babies here on Earth with me,” she said.
But she changed her prayer, asking, “What God? What is your way for my family, for us?”
What God led the Palaus to was something Wendy had not considered, adoption.
And in 2008, they adopted 5-month-old Sadie from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Sadie had been abandoned at 10 days old. She is now 11.
“She wasn’t the Plan B,” Wendy said. “Sadie was Plan A for our family. God wanted to use ... our story of grief to change her story.”
“I’ve tasted God’s amazing ways, that he literally makes beauty out of ashes,” Wendy said.
She told those who feel broken, alone or abandoned that God wants to bring them into his family.
To those who attend church, but struggle to trust God or those who are bored with life and living for themselves, for comfort and safety, she also said God is the answer.
“The Bible tells us that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” Wendy said. “We are created to be strong, joyful, powerful women of God who are willing to serve and willing to stand.”
The first thing Jesus does is fill the broken pieces, she said.
“He is living water and that means he fills us up, all our broken pieces so much so that he flows out of us,” she said.
She said God doesn’t expect or want people to clean up before they come to him. Instead he invites the broken, the lonely, the thirsty, the confused.
“All he says is come,” she said. “And we say, ‘Yes.’”
She invited those who wanted to to pray to ask God to fill them with his abundant life and she reminded those in attendance, “Those who hope in him will never be disappointed.”
The start of fall was apparent Wednesday as hundreds of pumpkins, varying in shape, size and color, decorated the front lawn at Lanes Chapel Methodist Church on Wednesday, the second day of the church’s 31-day pumpkin patch.
This is the church’s fifth year to host the pumpkin patch to help fund ministries throughout the year, including the food pantry.
At the patch families can pick pumpkins and indulge in fall-themed photo booths and games. Children have the opportunity to catch a ride on the Pumpkin Express train.
“It’s just such a good ministry,” said Susan Thompson, pumpkin patch coordinator. “What it does is it brings the community here and it makes them feel happy, they have fun and we try to preach the Gospel to these people.”
The pumpkin patch will operate from 11 a.m. to dusk Monday-Friday, from 9 a.m. to dusk Saturdays and after church service Sundays until 5 p.m., through Oct. 31.
For more information, visit the news and events page at laneschapel.com.
GLADEWATER — Before Samaritan Aviation brought its mission to Papua New Guinea, it took several days for thousands of residents to reach the island’s only hospital.
Over the past decade, the ministry has saved and impacted the lives of people who live along the 700-mile East Sepik River and have depended on canoeing or two riverside trails to get to critical medical services, according to Matt Palm, a pilot for Samaritan Aviation, which is based in Arizona.
Palm flew his transport plane into the East Texas Regional Airport on Wednesday. He returned to the U.S. in June for a year, during which he’s touring with his plane to raise funds for the charity and spread the ministry’s message.
“There’s 8 million people over there, and they need help,” Palm said. “People need help. We all should be doing something to change our world where we’re at.”
He came to Gladewater for a public fundraising event Wednesday night at the home of Jeff Peterson, a businessman for Transworld Business Advisors of East Texas and a Samaritan Aviation board member.
“It’s amazing the need over there,” Peterson said, “and my favorite thing is how much the people of Papua New Guinea respect (Palm) and his team and what they do. They’re truly grateful.”
Palm’s mission began about 20 years ago when he said he felt called to put his skills to use saving lives. After raising money for 10 years to buy his first used float plane that he transformed into a flying ambulance, he transported it to Papua New Guinea, the world’s second-largest island with a land mass similar to California, he said.
An estimated 220,000 people live along the East Sepik River. Along the river, there are few nurses and no doctors. Expectant mothers in labor have their babies in the bushes, and there is no hospital except on the coast.
Samaritan Aviation began as one man’s cause, but Palm is no longer the only pilot. He also has a trauma nurse to answer the phone and make decisions on whether some calls are life-and-death issues that need an emergency response.
Midwives are available on many plane rides, as is anti-venom for snake bites.
This year alone, Samaritan Aviation has flown almost 70 missions to bring in vaccines and transport nurses to vaccinate children against polio in remote communities while also fighting malaria, tuberculosis and outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and polio, he said. The organization also is working with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea visited the island earlier this year, and Palm took her out to the river to visit a particular community, he said. While there, a crowd of people formed.
The first person brought from the crowd was a woman named Antonia, who was the first patient flown out by Samaritan Aviation 10 years ago. She was joined by her son, who was the baby saved through that flight, Palm said.
“And for the next 40 minutes, they just kept bringing out people from the community,” Palm remembered, “and ‘You remember this lady? You saved her twin babies.’ Then they bring a guy out who was a kid with cerebral malaria, then another kid comes out. It just went on and on.”
It was but one community served by Samaritan Aviation, which flies to 65 locations and impacts more than 120 communities, he said.
“And so to have that impact over one community in that moment was so powerful for me because a lot of times you know you work hard at things, and we all are passionate about things, but when you see the result of your labor, for me it’s just a feeling of gratefulness that I have a chance to go be — we call it — the hands or feet of Jesus or to share God’s love in action to people who have no access if we’re not there and didn’t before we got there,” Palm said.
Peterson has served on the ministry’s board for about three years. The ministry was renting office space in a building Peterson owned, and as he got to know one of Samaritan Aviation’s “higher-ups in the organization,” he soon found himself becoming part of the work.
“I mean, this saves lives and changes lives,” Peterson said. “It’s awesome.”
Before Palm leaves East Texas, he is set to speak on Thursday to aviation students at LeTourneau University.
“We don’t charge for our flights, and so we’re 100% funded by donations,” he added.
“Sixty percent comes from the USA, and then 40% comes from the Papua New Guinea government, so the great thing is that it’s a partnership. It’s not the USA doing everything over there. It’s us working together as partners and saving the lives of folks in these remote communities.”