Though he didn't know it at the time, God was to use Scott's moment of brokenness for suffering children and families in a way that would transform him and his wife.
While a student of intercultural studies emphasizing children at risk at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., Ashley researched the AIDS crisis in Uganda for a final research paper. Through her studies, she came across "Pawns of Politics," a World Vision policy paper documenting the dark spiritual dimensions and bloody history of the war in northern Uganda.
She read about the atrocities endured by children and families — the abductions, mutilations, and displacement that are part of life in the region, where the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group has been battling the Ugandan government. To fill the ranks of their army, the LRA has kidnapped more than 25,000 children since the late 1980s, forcing them to be laborers, frontline soldiers, and — in the case of girls — sexual slaves.
Ashley shared the report with her husband Scott, also a Fuller student at the time, who was studying for his master's degree in marriage and family therapy. His heart also became heavy for the children suffering from this war.
As Ashley grappled with the magnitude of the crisis, she asked God: "Where is your heart for them?" She sensed His response: "I am doing something in you. What you're feeling right now is my heart for them."
Ashley and Scott met as students at Fuller, and both felt a strong call to be agents of change — but they were uncertain as to exactly how the Lord intended to use their gifts.
"It brought us to a difficult conversation with God," Scott says. "We had become passionate in our desire for change [in Uganda], but weren't sure how to become engaged."
Currently, Scott is a professional mental health clinician at Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services in Los Angeles County, where he works with disadvantaged youth. There, he seeks out opportunities to gain more trauma therapy experience.
Ashley is an outreach community organizer at the local YWCA, where she helps run an after-school program. Her position is helping her hone her community organizing skills, which she plans to apply to future advocacy endeavors.
Ultimately, the Phillips hope to move to northern Uganda for a multi-year assignment. Right now, they're preparing for a first-time two-week trip in March. Both look forward to face-to-face encounters with the people for whom God has put a burden on their hearts.
They continue to seek the Lord's guidance, asking Him to lead them to the place where their gifts would be best used for change and reconciliation.
"Our desire is that the children of northern Uganda would be reconciled to themselves, their communities, and to God — and know that they are still beloved," says Ashley. "We believe that God will use what He has stirred in us.
"God will lead us where He wants us," she concludes. "He didn't do this for nothing."
>> Thank God for directing Scott and Ashley Phillips in their desire to respond to the needs of children in northern Uganda. Pray for the children and families trapped in the middle of this conflict, for successful negotiations between the Ugandan government and the LRA, and for healing and reconciliation in communities that will be receiving former child soldiers.
>> Sign up for the Northern Uganda Lobby Day and Symposium. Join with other advocates for peace to increase your understanding of the crisis and personally speak out for Uganda's children and families.
>> Add your name to the "No Child Soldiers" declaration. These signatures will be hand-delivered to Capitol Hill as part of the Uganda Lobby Day.
>> Make a monthly financial pledge to help provide for the needs of children affected by war.
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