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How often have we heard someone say they felt a person was a kindred spirit? In the beginning, you may not know why the person strikes you so, but as you come to know the person better, you realize what you’d been sensing: commonality, similar ways of thinking, and a mutual sharing of a particular experience.

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We are Global Awakeners

Since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to help people. As I grew older, I wanted to help people all around the world. For someone born in a trailer park in small town USA, this desire seemed a little strange. What did I know about the world? But language, culture, history, and political systems fascinated me, and it became my life mission to learn more about this big world I found myself a part of.

And I did it… against all the odds, I was told. No one knew what to do with a sixteen-year-old girl who said she wanted to negotiate peace between warring factions and create better living and working conditions for people around the world. With a lot of divine support, I found the road less traveled, and it opened up everything to me. I became a…

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Ava in the world

West Bank / Gaza

On a particularly memorable trip to work with Palestinian civil society organizations, I was walking in Ramallah with the women in our office along a street lined with shops when suddenly they pushed me into one of them and formed a circle around me, pushing my head down. I asked what was going on, and one said, “Hamas.” At the time, it was one of the most feared terrorist groups on the planet, and the U.S. Government had just disavowed elections that had put Hamas in power. Tensions against Americans were high, and threats were real. These women hid me to protect me. It didn’t dawn on them not to. I was their friend. Not an American. They knew we were all human beings at the core.

West Bank / Gaza

Paris France

France

When I was in Paris in the fall of 2014, I had a life moment. One I’ll never forget. A number of years ago, I headed to Paris and was working on my first novel, Nora Roberts Land. I wanted to become a published author, and so I brought the manuscript to a magical location once frequented by great authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald: Brasserie Lipp. The restaurant keeps Hemingway’s table empty save for special guests. I told the maître d about my novel. He said when I got published I could sit at Hemingway’s table. And so I did. It was the first of many times I did so with each book published.

Turkey

Have you ever met a stranger and felt like you’ve known them all your life? I once met a beautiful man in Istanbul. I was traveling alone, having wanted to visit the city for many years. I’d been in the region for work and popped down to explore. I’d had a few scary run ins with men—one who stalked me and a Turkish cab driver who tried to assault me, something I barely escaped from.

I met this man through some friends I’d encountered in my sightseeing, and even after the scary stuff I’d been through, I felt I could trust him. He invited me to take a boat ride with him one afternoon on the Bosphorus, and I ended up telling him about the scary stuff that had happened to me. He told me he thought it brave for women to travel by themselves, and that I was especially brave to be in the boat with him and trust him. He said what was the worst thing that could happen to a man: he get beaten up? Women were different. He listened to me, and he comforted me. And in that short ride over the water as the sun went down in that magical city, he healed me in many ways.

Turkey

Congo

Congo

One of the most difficult countries I ever worked in was Congo. When I first traveled there, I was experiencing tremendous back pain after a terrible fall. The overland journey to Goma through Rwanda was difficult, and I arrived in excruciating pain. The horrible condition of the roads only aggravated the matter, as did the constant stress of the environment. I had come prepared to swim in the pool at the hotel we were staying in, knowing it was good physical therapy for my back. What I didn’t realize is that local thugs, the kind who were perpetuating the conflict and were making money off it, came to sit poolside with their entourage. And so, I appeared one day at the pool, this super white chic wearing her one-piece swimsuit, a swim cap, and swim shoes only to find myself stared at. These dangerous gangsters had their guns lying on the table, their girlfriends sitting in their laps, and their diamond earrings winking in their ears. Not to be cliché, but harsh rap music was playing as they sipped their cocktails and laughed at me. Being in pain, I swam and prayed they would do nothing more to me.

Sierra Leone

Working in this country was one of my most difficult times of my life, but it taught me a great deal. When I first arrived and was waiting for transportation, a local woman’s child wanted me to hold her. Her mother told me that she’d come to realize that her children were the best judges of character in the world; she looked to her children as guides in a country riddled with charlatans and thieves.

And yet, I managed to meet some of the kindest people around. During a frightening vehicle breakdown three hours outside the capital, my very protective driver took me to the safety of a polygamist village while he tirelessly tried to flag down a ride from international NGOs driving by. A World Vision truck finally stopped, but he was going in the opposite direction. Since it was growing dark, the driver said he would find me a good and safe driver in the next town. And so he did. On the way back to Freetown, my Good Samaritan told me the story of his whole family being tortured and killed during the war. And then he blew my mind by saying the only salvation for his country—the only way it could be made whole again—was if everyone could learn to forgive each other. He taught me more about love and forgiveness in that moment than I can fully convey, and I’ll always be grateful to him.

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