Sandi Morse (03) is a full-time missionary in Nauta, Peru, a small city on the Marañon River in the Amazon rainforest. Along with her family, she provides children’s ministry training to indigenous river communities, hosts Sunday school services, and lives a life of faith in God’s boundless provision.
After completing Youth with a Mission’s (YWAM) Discipleship Training School (DTS) in 2010, Morse felt called to leave everything and live in Peru as a missionary. Although there have been points of uncertainty on her journey, Morse explained that her faith has been rewarded with personal, professional, and spiritual blessings coming from the most unexpected places.
“Life was ‘sure’ in America, but when things are so ‘sure,’ it’s more difficult to see God,” Morse said. “My faith has increased because nothing is sure, and in my years of living in Peru, I’ve never lacked anything.”
Morse said one of the most impactful periods that started her missions journey was a 2001 LoveWorks trip to the Philippines. As an undergrad at PLNU, Morse studied liberal studies, intending to pursue teaching. Her parents and grandparents had also attended the university, and she felt that she should continue their legacy.
“All my grandparents attended [Pasadena College] at least a little bit, although some didn’t graduate,” Morse said. “My parents attended Point Loma Nazarene College, and there was kind of an expectation I’d follow in their footsteps.”
Although she had participated in some brief short-term mission trips before, the three-week-long LoveWorks trip to the Philippines — as well as the months of training beforehand — helped her discover her heart for missions. Morse still thinks about her time in the Philippines often and explained that living there short term even helped her adjust to feeling comfortable in a jungle environment.
“It’s still very present with me — that’s what introduced me to missions, and that’s when God called me,” Morse said.
Although she felt God’s calling while in the Philippines, Morse didn’t return to missions right away. She got a job at a church and then became an elementary school teacher for a few years. However, she soon discovered she wanted a change. Morse was offered a promising teaching position in 2009 but turned it down — despite the job being an enviable position in the midst of a difficult recession in the U.S.
“I wanted to see if God had more for my life than the normal American life,” Morse said. “I wanted to seek God more and depend on Him.”
“[PLNU Loveworks] is still very present with me — that’s what introduced me to missions, and that’s when God called me.”
Morse had a mentor who had been a missionary with YWAM in Guatemala and recommended taking YWAM’s Discipleship Training School program. Heeding that advice, Morse completed her DTS working with the river communities in Peru to see if God was still calling her to be a missionary.
“At the beginning of the DTS, I said, ‘Wow, I could never live here; I could never work here,’” she said. “I was freaking out because I didn’t have anything. But by the end, I just felt like God had completely confirmed to me that I should serve Him full-time in the Peruvian jungle.”
Morse described YWAM as a faith lifestyle. Rather than being salaried or fundraised like traditional nonprofits, YWAM missionaries raise funds themselves from local and international supporters. Although it’s often challenging, Morse said she’s experienced constant blessing while living totally dependent on God.
“Experiencing different cultures gives you a different perspective on life,” Morse said. “In all my 12 years of living in Peru, I’ve never lacked anything.”
Morse’s husband, Italo, a fellow YWAM missionary, had a similar vision to minister to children in the river communities. As they grew their ministry, they also raised four daughters — Waleska, Elizabeth, and twins Emma Rose and Ana Lee. Morse explained that although she never asked for more financial support as her family and ministry grew, she saw more and more support after she got married and when she welcomed each new child to the family.
“We’ve never asked for more support, but I guess God touches people’s hearts,” she said. “So many people either increased their support or joined to come support us.”
Morse’s family takes regular trips along the Marañon River to train Sunday school teachers in river community churches. Currently, Morse is working with 10 communities in two regions along the Marañon River. Morse’s family owns their own boat in order to plan their schedule while keeping her children safer than if they were to take public transportation. They bring their own gasoline, food, and supplies on each trip.
“We talk to the pastors in river communities, ask them if they want a Sunday school in their church,” Morse said. “Then they choose someone to be a Sunday school teacher, train them, and follow up with them to make sure they are truly doing what we trained them to do.”
Morse and her family travel to churches in the river communities and take five-day trips in order to reach as many as possible. She described a six-hour boat ride for her family to get there. Then, each training session lasts six hours. Since they camp out on the river between training sessions, Morse’s family brings a lot of home comforts on the boat with them.
“We basically bring the whole house with us,” Morse said. “We even take our stove and kitchen to cook there.”
Since Morse trains river communities upstream from her home, the gasoline expense is one of her ministry’s biggest challenges.
“It takes us a couple of months to save up enough to go out,” Morse said. “We go out on one big river trip every two months, and we do it as our personal ministry as a family.”
Morse said her kids especially love taking these bimonthly trips. They also provide a great sense of fun and entertainment for the children’s ministry trainees.
“Our kids love everything we do, and they’re part of everything we do,” Morse said. “I think they’re part of the reason everything goes so well.”
Morse also started a weekly children’s ministry in their living room. As the group has grown to over 60 children, they ended up buying a fixer-upper house to accommodate children’s ministry events.
“We scraped together all our savings to buy that house,” Morse said. “We tore down all the walls on the first floor, and moved the ministry to that living room.”
Now, Morse helps facilitate many short-term mission trips to Peru. She encourages Christians and missions-minded people to think about Discipleship Training School, which, for her, helped enter into a new richness of faith and total dependence on God.
“The cool thing about YWAM is that you get to do what God calls you to do,” Morse said. “Life’s really exciting — you just have to expect that God’s going to provide and God’s going to lead.”