For Danielle Hurley, being on the mission field in Uganda satisfies a desire she has felt since she was six years old. For her husband Shannon, the road was a little more complicated.
Shannon was born in a Catholic family. When he was two, a pair of door-to-door evangelists went through the neighborhood. It was the end of the day, but they decided to try one last house. It just so happened to be Shannon’s. His parents were intrigued by their message, and they started attending a local evangelical church.
At home, there was no heritage of faith. But the church they attended was solid; through the influence of programs like Awana, Shannon first became exposed to the true God of the Bible.
“The Lord worked in my heart at a young age,” he remembers. “When I was young, I used to pass out tracts to my kids in kindergarten. I showed a zeal for the Lord.”
Things changed in junior high. The world’s influence was stronger, and Shannon slowly gave in to the sinful influences around him. After getting suspended from school for his behavior, he realized just how corrupt his mind had become.
“When that happened, I prayed, ‘Lord please change my heart. I don’t want to be this way. Will you please change me?’ And immediately the Lord changed my heart, and I began to be totally radical in terms of what I watched and what I looked at.
“I began to pick up God’s Word. I remember reading in Psalm 1 about the tree planted by streams of water. And I thought to myself that if I delighted in the law of God, and if I meditated on it day and night, I would be like that tree.”
At the age of twelve, he began reading the Bible every day. Through this, he started growing into a biblical understanding of God and what it meant to be a Christian. He came to Luke 9:23 and saw the absolute nature of discipleship. “And then I thought to myself, ‘Does anybody know this? Does anybody know what a Christian is?’” His family had started attending a more feel-good Baptist church, one riddled with open immorality. It seemed like no one around him actually knew or believed the Bible.
By the Lord’s grace, this ambient hypocrisy only drove Shannon deeper into Scripture. As a high school student, he developed a zealous desire to share a biblical vision of faith with the people around him. “I realized growing up that so many people were Christians, but they didn’t know anything about the Bible and didn’t take Christ seriously.” He made a goal of sharing Christ with one person every day. And as he started planning for the future, he decided that he wanted to train as a pastor and try to impact the American church with biblical truth.
While planning for life after high school, Shannon checked out every Christian college he knew of in Southern California. Master’s was one of them.
“I knew nothing about John MacArthur—nothing about the college. But when I got there, I was like, ‘This is where I need to be.’” Looking back, Shannon is amazed at God’s kindness in bringing him to a school that cared just as much about Scripture as he did.
Danielle Seehusen, on the other hand, didn’t want to come to Master’s at first. Her older sister had gone to TMU, and she wanted to blaze a different trail. However, she was passionate about good theology, music, and missions, and there wasn’t any other school she knew of that offered what she was looking for.
“I felt like it was the school that had authentic Christianity,” she says. “It had the truth, but without legalism or fundamentalism.”
Her freshman year, she met Shannon, who was a senior Biblical Counseling major at the time. One of their early encounters was when Shannon offered to give her a lift down the hill to class. As they made conversation in the car, Danielle asked where he was driving to.
“I work in the Admissions Department,” Shannon explained.
Danielle misheard him as saying Missions Department. As someone who had dreamed of being a missionary ever since she was a little girl, this sparked her interest. “I had already thought he was cute. And so when I thought that he worked in missions, that definitely made the stakes even higher.”
The misconception was later cleared up, but a mutual interest remained. Shannon says, “I began to go in hot pursuit of this girl who loved Christ supremely and was also beautiful.”
As it happened, Shannon’s hopes for the future had been shifting during his years at Master’s. One summer, he went on a GO trip to Uganda, and he was struck by how differently the people there reacted to Scripture. Stateside, he always felt like he was having to force-feed people. But in Africa, he saw that people were really hungry for the truth. They simply didn’t have enough people there to share it with them.
When he returned home, he brought with him a new interest in international missions. Still, as Shannon graduated from TMU and moved on to his studies at TMS, he was torn between his original plans of becoming a pastor and his newfound heart for Uganda.
Regardless of his plans for the future, one thing was certain: Shannon needed a way to support himself through seminary. And not just himself; after a year of dating, Danielle and Shannon had gotten married.
He started working at a toy company, making custom stuffed animals. Quickly, the Lord began to bless his projects there. He managed toy production for companies like Hallmark Canada, which owned licenses to the Lion King and the Incredible Hulk. He also built a relationship with Aflac just as their duck mascot was soaring in popularity. He produced millions of stuffed, talking ducks for them.
“All of that was while in seminary. But I knew that God hadn’t called me to sell ducks. My heart was to proclaim the truth to people who needed and wanted it but didn’t have it.”
What the ducks had done, though, was give the Hurleys enough of a nest egg to get their future ministry off of the ground. The only question was what and where that ministry would be.
While all this was going on, Danielle had seriously begun to doubt her call to missions. Five days after graduation, she had given birth to her first baby. “My pediatrician, parenting magazines, and everything said that the key to parenting is to guarantee health and safety. And I started second-guessing taking my family to a Third World country, since there was no way I could guarantee health and safety there.”
“Eventually I decided that I was un-called to missions and began to push my husband toward domestic pastoral ministry.” Shannon, honoring this, began to look into pastoral positions stateside as he neared graduation from TMS.
One day, Danielle was listening to a missionary wife speak at her church. She remembers, “I felt like she looked straight at me and she said, ‘Some of your husbands feel called to missions, but they aren’t going because their wives are unwilling. If you are keeping your husband from his call in life, you are in sin, and you need to repent.’”
Stricken, Danielle confirmed with Shannon afterwards. “You know I’m willing to go anywhere in the world you want to go, right?” she asked him.
Shannon responded, “Well, I’m not going to take a wife who’s just willing to go; she has to want to go and share my passion for the ministry.”
Danielle knew she didn’t really want to go overseas anymore. But she wanted to want to go, and she started praying for her heart to change. Meanwhile, Shannon took his first trip to Uganda since college to feel out the ministry possibilities. When he came back, he was more passionate than ever about helping spread knowledge of God’s Word in Africa. Still uncertain of when he would ever move his family out there, he started Sufficiency of Scripture (SOS) Ministries USA as a way of financially supporting the ministry work that was happening out there.
About that same time, their second child was born.
“He was born a couple of weeks early,” Danielle says, “and a few hours after he was born in the hospital, he couldn’t breathe. He was taken away from me and hooked up to a ventilator, because he wasn’t breathing on his own. I sat there in the hospital bed, wondering if my baby was dead or alive, and they wouldn’t tell me.
“I opened my Bible to 1 Peter 1:3, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope’—and then it describes that hope, which is imperishable, not fading away, kept in heaven for us. And I thought, ‘I have no guarantees. I have no guarantees with my kids.’”
By the Lord’s grace, their son recovered. And by His grace, the scare of almost losing him brought Danielle back to a place of looking to God alone for hope and satisfaction.
“Then the excitement and joy for moving to Uganda came back, and I felt renewed in my call to missions.”
The only question was when. After a little while longer of working the toy job and making preparations, Shannon put his whole family on a plane in 2006. At the time they had a three-month-old son, a three-year-old son, and a six-year-old daughter.
The next three years were hardship after hardship.
“We launched ourselves here into the middle of Africa, knowing nobody except the one person we had partnered with,” says Shannon. Unfortunately, though, their ministry partner turned out to be corrupt. He stole the money that the Hurleys sent him for ministry purposes, took up residence in the house they had built for him next to theirs, and proceeded to make life as miserable as possible for the Hurley family.
Shannon and Danielle were left sitting in a home in Uganda with three young kids, a malicious neighbor, and imploded ministry plans. It would have been very easy to call it a loss and go home. “But,” Shannon says, “we knew that God had called us to Africa.” They never even considered leaving.
“The way I looked at it was that it was just like Joseph. He had a particular calling at the end of the day, but when he was thrown in a pit, he didn’t yet know the end of the story. So I just needed to be faithful to the Lord and walk in obedience.”
Over the course of the next few years, the Hurleys planned and built a new ministry: SOS Uganda. When they were ready, they picked up and moved onto land they had bought in the rural village of Kubamitwe.
“At the time, we didn’t realize that our community was as pagan as it was,” says Shannon. “Nobody was married, everybody was sleeping around. Abandoned children everywhere.” Even among rural villages in Uganda, Kubamitwe was known for its sin. But Shannon and Danielle were determined to bring them the transforming power of the gospel. And in spite of all the difficulties of the previous years, and in spite of the problems that would face them in their new home, they started to experience the joy of ministry.
“I didn’t realize how sweet it would be to watch the Great Commission take place—when you actually go in and teach people that Jesus is king, and you teach people to follow after Christ and to observe all that He commanded, and you see how that changes their life for their good.”
They started by hosting a church in their home, sharing a message of repentance and salvation. Then God gave their village ears and hearts to respond in a spectacular way. People repented in droves, and soon a house church wasn’t space enough. The Hurleys then had a church building constructed. Now, 400 people gather to worship there on Sunday mornings.
Once the church was established, the next most pressing need was education. Public education is functionally nonexistent in many parts of Uganda, and private education is usually too expensive for poorer communities. And without schooling, the chances of a community bettering its situation are slim to none.
The Hurleys decided to establish an inexpensive primary school (subsidized by North American sponsors) for the kids of Kubamitwe. That, too, was met with overwhelming support from the community, and 450 kids are now receiving an education there at Legacy Christian Academy. They’re hoping to expand it in the future by adding a secondary school.
Even with this expanded support for the local kids, some children were still in a tough spot, with many having been left parentless by abandonment. Shannon and Danielle began taking some of these kids into their home, allowing them to experience a secure and believing home firsthand, as well as giving them an opportunity for education in Ugandan boarding schools.
Over the years, they have become surrogate parents to about forty different kids. Among these is John Mubiru, who is now a student at Master’s and is hoping to return to Uganda as a trained and faithful teacher of Scripture.
For the Hurleys, the goal was never to limit their ministry to the boundaries of Kubamitwe. One of their most exciting projects has been the development of Shepherds Training Center, a place where pastors from all across Uganda can come to receive training in how to accurately understand and preach the Word. This is intended as an antidote to the prosperity and easy believism gospels, which are widely taught in Africa.
This is now only the center’s second year, but they’re hoping to see it develop into a fully-fledged five-year training program.
Looking back on the years they have spent so far in Uganda, the Hurleys are amazed by how much God has accomplished through their ministry. “We couldn’t have imagined it,” says Shannon. “Nor could we have dreamt it.” And in spite of the heartbreaking difficulties of the early years, they have never regretted their commitment as missionaries. Like Joseph, they came through to the other side of hardship into a position better than they could have ever expected.
Danielle asks the TMU community to pray that God would grant her and her husband continued love for Him and trust in His Word. She also asks that we pray for their kids, that they would love Christ more than anything.
Shannon asks for prayer as they continue to build the village school and the training center. He also desires that God would give their ministry favor in the eyes of the right people, who would be in a position to amplify the training center’s effect in Uganda and beyond.
To learn more about SOS Ministries, please visit their website.