Saturday, May 27, 2017

Is Jesus All I Need?


Jesus is...preeminent.


It sounds good, doesn’t it? But, do I fully comprehend it? And not only do I understand it, do I believe it so it influences how I live?


To keep reading, hop on over to Dr. Leanna Hollis' blog, where I am privileged to be the guest blogger today. :)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why Can't I Have Their Life?


“If God made you special; why did He?”

My students tried their best to answer the “why” question, drawing from the last lesson about God making them in His image and thus they are special.

“Because I am made in His image.”

“Yes, but why did He make you in His image? Why are you here on earth?”

“To worship Him.”

“To serve Him.”

“True, but why did God make you?”

They were stumped. I grinned just as one might before revealing a super big and exciting secret.

“Because God has a plan for your life.”

I illustrated with a key and a padlock – they are the key and the padlock is God’s plan for them. One without the other is not useful and keys cannot be interchanged with other padlocks.

A key is designed for one padlock. The point: You were made on purpose for a purpose.

God planned, designed, and created you for a very unique plan, and you or your plan cannot be exchanged for anyone else and God’s unique plan for them.

My life is running quite different than I “planned.” As a wee lass, I dreamed of becoming a radio disc jockey or a famous writer or a celebrated detective. Those aspirations were as “big” as my small mind and heart could manage.

I didn’t foresee being a former-journalist-turned-untrained-teacher, living across the world, and teaching young people who are very different from me in nearly every way. I did not anticipate that going barefoot or wearing flip-flops and skirts would be my norm when I used to hate all of them. ;) Eating beans daily was not a perk I expected, though I have always loved beans! Growing up I couldn’t stand cold weather and hardly tolerated any play in the snow; perhaps God designed my body for warmer, equatorial climates.

Living halfway across the world from my family and some of my dearest friends was not on my radar 10 years ago.

Perhaps like many of us I compare my life with others, especially when they appear to be receiving or achieving what is not yet mine – marriage, children, university degrees, a house, speaking languages fluently, being taller or thinner or richer or tanner, or having a different nose.

Granted, some of these I lack because of my own choices; others are ones God may or may not give me.


I wonder what God thinks when I compare my life to others?

“Ruthie, I am writing your story. I designed your character to fit inside the plot I am unfolding. Don’t jump and change characters or plot lines. Your story is as unique as you are.”

What if Peter had compared his life with his Old Testament heroes?

“God, why can’t I ride a flaming chariot like Elijah?” “Is there a reason you don’t continue to appear in a burning bush to give me directions?” “I have to go to the market again. Why not send manna and meat as You used to?”

What if Paul had questioned God’s plan for him?

“Umm, God, was it really Your idea I be shipwrecked, arrested, imprisoned, left for dead? I mean look at John, he is exiled on an island, but that seems way more peaceful and desirable than my present circumstances – chained between two Roman guards.”

Sure, the Biblical saints struggled, doubted, and questioned God’s paths for them. Just this morning I read about Jeremiah wishing he had died in his mother’s womb. Really? Wow.

I wonder if such questioning grieves God as our doubts reveal our lack of trust in Him.

The problem is I and the rest of us humans are short-sighted. We can look back on our past, and we can see today, but we can’t catch a glimpse beyond life’s next curve. We are somewhere in the middle of the story, but we don’t know how it will keep unfolding, and how or when we will reach the climax.

I once heard there will come a day, likely after we’ve left earth and entered our eternal home, that we’ll look back on our lives and say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

For some it may be a difficult thought to process, especially considering the challenges, pain, struggles, losses, and hardships we have had and will still encounter. But, somehow God in His incredible sovereignty can weave all the good and the bad and the ugly of our lives and stories into a beautiful pattern – for our good and for His glory.

I can’t even wrap my mind around it. It’s just too far above my pea-brain and too far out for my short-sightedness.


But, walking with God is a walk of faith. Trusting a God I cannot see to lead me on a path I do not know toward a future I’ve only ever heard about.

When God called me to Uganda 8 years ago, He assured me with this verse:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8

(Incidentally, I used this verse as the inspiration for this blog’s title.)

God told Abraham to go – leave his home and country and go. Genesis 12 tells us God commanded Abraham to leave his country and kindred and father’s house “to the land that I will show you.”

It’s my understanding that in Middle Eastern culture, families stick together – for generations, and they generally stay in the same area for a long, long time. What God asked Abraham to do was entirely counter-cultural and far outside the norm.

Can you imagine Abraham trying to explain to his relatives? And, they might respond, “Okay, you’re leaving our home and family and livelihood, but where are you going? At least give us a clue so we can forward your mail.”

“I don’t know,” he might reply, “but God does. I don’t need to know, I just need to obey. God will show me the place and the people at the right time. He has told me what I need to know right now.”

He went, not knowing where he was going. And, God used Abraham’s trust-filled obedience in ways Abraham could never dream of.

“I will make of you a great nation...I will bless you and make your name great...You will be a blessing...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Wowsa. What amazing and incredible promises!

Would those have been granted if Abraham had chosen his own path or decided to stay in Ur or Haran? Maybe not. True, Abraham later tampered with God’s agenda, but he didn’t derail it.

Yes, God’s plan for Abraham is different than the ones He has for you and I – but no less special or important or good.

Looking back, I don’t want those long-ago small, childish dreams. I want God to keep writing my story and leading the way and choosing my path.

His ways are the best.

You were made on purpose for a purpose. Seek the Author of your story.

(P.S. Check out the "quotables" on the right for some of my favorite quotes on this topic.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Holy Week in Pictures


Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the "Holy Land," namely Jordan and Israel. In this current Holy Week, I have reflected on the sites I visited, likely some of the very places that Jesus and His disciples walked.

Here are some glimpses of my journey, following Jesus' footsteps from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday.


"Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
'Hosanna!'
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'
'Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!'
'Hosanna in the highest heaven!'
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts." (Mark 11:8-11a)




Jerusalem's Eastern Gate - Built on top of the gate Jesus entered on Palm Sunday.

"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end...so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him." (John 13:1, 4-5)



Believed to be the Upper Room of the Last Supper

"When He had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it." (John 18:1)


Looking across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives.
"Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.'...He went away a second time and prayed, 'My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'” (Matthew 26:36, 42)

The Garden of Gethsemane


"Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, 'Who is it you want?' 'Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied.
'I am He,' Jesus said." (John 18:2-5a)



"Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome..." (Matthew 26:57-58)

After His garden arrest, the path on which Jesus was taken to High Priest Caiaphas' house.

A statue depicting Peter's denial near what is believed to be Caiaphas' house. (Note the rooster at the top of the column.)


"Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. 'You also were with Jesus of Galilee,' she said. But he denied it before them all...Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: 'Before the rooster crows, You will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly." (Matthew 26:69a, 74b-75)

"They came to a place called Golgotha (which means 'the place of the skull'). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it. When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." (Matthew 27:32-37)

Golgotha - "The place of the skull." Believed to be named this because the indentations and formations of the rock made the cliff look like a face/skull.

Older photo of Golgotha, circa early 1900s, when the "face" was more prominent.


"Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit." (John 19:28-30)

"Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus...At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there." (John 19:38a, 41-42)

A garden located right next to Golgotha and very possibly the garden once owned by Joseph of Arimathea.

The Garden Tomb.

"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!'" (John 20:1-2)

"He is not here - He is alive!"

“'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Luke 24:5b-7)

The Empty Tomb!

Sign on the door of the tomb.


He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
    He lives within my heart.

(Hymn: "I Serve a Risen Savior," by Alfred Henry Ackley)



Monday, February 27, 2017

May God Make Me Like a Tree



Me and this tree we've "grown up" together.

It was planted the same year I arrived in Uganda, in 2010. A small sapling then, it has certainly become a more "adult" tree in the last seven years.

Every morning and multiple times a day I see this tree. It's in line of sight of my island front door. At times this tree has "grown" better than I have. The admonition of "bloom where you are planted" is familiar, but personally I don't take it enough to heart and see how should it be lived out in my day-to-day life.

But this tree grew right where it was planted. It has endured torrential rain and incredible thunderstorms, as well as incessant heat and humidity, and bugs - lots of the latter. It continues to stand tall, with its branches raised to the sky. Others (like those in the background) were planted at the same time, but they haven't grown as much as this one.

What if you were a tree instead of a human being? Would you be okay to remain where someone else decided you should be? Would you be fine when the rain and sun beat down on you, and you couldn't take cover? What about when pesky insects bothered you, how would you respond, when you can't even move your branches to brush them away?

God created some of His creation to be stationary and others to be more mobile. He could have easily given trees legs and let them move about as they wanted, instead He gave them roots to remain and go deep, and grow up and out.

Once "barren," now full of life.

When I arrived back on the island in January, this tree had lost all of its leaves and looked "naked" and somewhat dejected. But in a few short weeks, it has put on new leaves and even blossoms. Different varieties of birds are rejoicing again in the new "garments."


Unlike trees in my U.S. homes, some Ugandan trees put on leaves almost as soon as they lose the old. There are no months of hibernation and barrenness; life continues without interruption in an ebb and flow. We may assume a leaf-less tree is dead, but it is not. Life is there, but in the right time and season, it will be displayed for all to see.

Sadly, I can make the same assumption about myself or others. I don't see the leaves, the "evidence" of life or of God working, but He is and in the right time, that life will be seen and the glory will go back to Him.

I personally love trees and believe they are amazing, unique and beautiful. How many times are our memories connected to a tree or a particular one is known as a landmark, letting us know we are in a familiar place?

May I grow and flourish where He plants me, offer shade and protection to those in and beneath my branches, remain as a landmark to point others to the Creator, and believe there is always hope of new life because Jesus is both the Giver and Source of Life.

May God make me more like a tree. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Invisible Thread


My Beautiful Family - Sister Leah, Mom Bonnie, and Dad Fred.

They say “home is where the heart is,” which means “home” can be any number of places.

For the first three decades of my life, “home” meant one place, where I grew up, where my family lived. But, the last seven years have broadened my definition of “home,” to more closely match my opening sentence. Where your heart is, is where home can and will be.

Last Saturday, Jan. 21, I returned to one of my “homes.” Landing at Uganda’s Entebbe airport in the wee hours of the morning, the sweet smell of charcoal fires and the warm moist air greeted me. A short two-hour drive (compared to the four to six hours it can sometimes take), brought me home to Jinja to the Peterson family. They welcomed me back with open arms.

The phone calls, message, and hugs from friends here have let me know I was missed – and I missed them as well.

This week I spent three days with my Shepherd’s Heart ministry family during our annual retreat. I relished the time for hearing testimonies, for reconnection, more hugs, and missed conversations.

The dear SHIM Family (minus a few dearly-missed members).

I savored my three months in the U.S., in my other “home,” and thank God so much for the connection times with family, friends, churches, and supporters. And, to be honest, having easy access to sour cream, American cheese, and Taco Bell wasn’t bad either. ;)

I left the U.S. feeling refreshed, renewed, and reminded that I belong to several homes – where I came from, where I am, and a third – where I am going. I was incredibly blessed as folks throughout my time in the U.S. welcomed stories and reports about the ministry in Uganda, and offered encouragement and support for myself and my teammates in Uganda.

Sharing at The Bridge Church in Longview, Washington - one of my greatly-loved home churches.

While America and Uganda often seem worlds apart, I sensed an invisible, but real thread tying the two worlds and homes together – a love for God’s work and His people. I was amazed as I listened to people, with tears in their eyes, expressing their desire to be part of what God is doing in the islands. I marveled at how people who had never nor may ever visit my second home would feel compelled to listen, pray, and give toward the work.

It is a miracle in how God unites His work and His people around the world. As children of God, we have the blessed privilege to witness and join this global vision and plan that began before time and will likely continue after many of us are gone.

And, knowing God holds and weaves the “invisible thread” brings me much joy, an abiding peace, and an eager anticipation for what is ahead.



Professional family photograph taken by the talented Jennifer Selberg, http://www.capturingcreationbyjenniferselberg.com/

As far as I know, only one of my messages was taped, but if you are interested in listening, you can go here and look for "Don't Give Up" shared at The Bridge Church on Oct. 30, 2016.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More Travels East (and South)


Evening brushstrokes of our Creator God. (Seen in Grantville, PA.)

Blogging in recent months has become more difficult for me, as evidenced by the fewer posts written since June. At Many times, I have difficulty putting into words my experiences, thoughts, and emotions; like I can't rightly find the right narrative to adequately express what is happening around me and in me.

But, I am going to keep trying...and thanks for sticking with me as I stumble along. :)

About two weeks ago I returned from visiting my sister, Leah, who lives in south-central Pennsylvania. The visit included a 1900+mile road trip to Mississippi and back to visit the home office of my missions agency. The people I met and with whom I interacted were the highlights of the trip, aside, of course, from spending lots of quality time with my sis'. ;)

My beautiful sister Leah and I.

You know, for those in the family of God, the Body of Christ is so broad and rich!

Leah lives and works at Summit International School of Ministry, a small Bible college. I delighted in spending time with passionate young men and women who are dedicating two years to solely seeking the face of God. Two "formal" opportunities afforded me the chance to share about the work in Uganda and I loved the students' interest and probing questions. In chapel services and informal conversations, I witnessed a generation that is ready to take the world by storm for Jesus.

The group gathered for an evening session of "Missions Prayer"
at Summit International School of Ministry.

While these young people are essentially launching into lives and ministries for propelling the Gospel message worldwide, I also met up with fellow missionaries, including veterans of more than 30 and 50 years,who inspire me by their continued focus and energy toward God's calling. In their own words, one never really "retires" from service in God's kingdom.

In the home office of Global Outreach International in Tupelo, MS, I connected with dear people who tirelessly work to support, in a myriad of ways, more than 200 Global missionaries working in nearly 40 countries.

You have heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," well, might I say, it takes a vast and diverse team to support a single missionary - from handling financial support, overseeing newsletters, paying insurance and other bills, to rallying prayer support, and more.

Rory Tyer and Steadman Harrison, of Global's
leadership team. share at the missions conference.

The "Made for Mission Conference," put on by Global Outreach and Hope Church in Tupelo on the first Saturday in November, emphasized that each Christian is made for mission, not just those who for a time wear the label of "missionary."


Carolyn Jacobsen, missionary to Uganda,
challenged us to be aware of what
God is doing around us and in us.

Informative and diverse workshops broadened our thinking and ideas of what it looks to be intentionally missional every day - with our neighbors, others we meet in the course of life, and some we need to actively seek out, like immigrants and refugees.

As Leah and I traversed the many miles between Pennsylvania and Mississippi and back (driving through Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Ohio), we stayed over with two women whom I first met in Uganda. Both served, for different lengths of time in Africa, and now continue to faithfully shine their lights in the communities in which they find themselves. They blessed us with gracious hospitality and comfy beds - welcome relief after many hours of driving.

So fun to see friend Mindy in Ohio!

I am discovering faithfulness is not determined by where God has called you - New York versus Jinja, Uganda, or the rural versus the urban, but in what He has called you to - a continual abiding in the Savior and seeking channels through which to pour out His love and grace.

Some may question the strength and potency of today's American church, but the real test lies with the individual Christian. And, in recent weeks, I have been challenged and encouraged by brothers and sisters across the U.S. who are faithfully representing Christ and sharing His transformational message of redemption.

Christ is the Head of a unified body, but each part plays an important role that another cannot perform in the same way. Be faithful to the places and people to which He calls you and the Body of Christ will be enhanced and strengthened as you do so.

Summit on a beautiful fall day.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Going East

Eastern Oregon, near Pendleton.

For someone who lives in East Africa and has made multiple trips to various points along the East Coast of the United States, I hadn't actually traveled very far east in my own home state of Oregon. Until this weekend.

My parents and I just finished a four-day road trip of 1000+ miles over to Oxbow, Oregon, a small unincorporated town right on the Snake River and the border with Idaho.

How God connected me to Oxbow is a cool story. Jodie, who also grew up in Clatskanie, and with whom I was acquainted in my growing up years, reconnected with me on Facebook a couple of years ago. She became interested in the ministry in Uganda and presented information to her church, Oxbow Christian Fellowship. This year, this tiny church began supporting me on a monthly basis.

I was mystified, but also incredibly blessed to be taken up by this congregation, none of whom knew me, except Jodie, whom I had not seen in quite awhile. Immense gratitude and admittedly curiosity motivated me to visit Oxbow to meet this amazing group of generous Christians.

The Wallowa Mountains stand guard over an eastern Oregon valley.

Driving the nearly 450 miles from Clatskanie to Oxbow allowed us to take in the incredible fall foliage of eye-popping reds and yellows, and the varied scenery of Oregon - from evergreen tree-encrusted hills to tall sheer rock walls, to snow-dusted mountains and rolling farms, to riverside towns, and communities nestled in barren hills. We were awed at God's creation, showcased in our beautiful state. This trip confirmed again to me how beautiful Oregon really is and how it is displayed in the state's amazing contrasts. (I admit, I am biased, but non-Oregonians also say it is a beautiful state.)

Can you see the towering canyon wall reflected in the river below?

Jodie and her family graciously allowed us to stay in their comfortable vacation home, near the small, but rushing Pine Creek and situated in a canyon, with towering hills behind and in front of us. Oxbow, just a mile away, is primarily populated by employees of Idaho Power and their families. Idaho Power owns a several dams on the Snake, including the two closest to Oxbow - Hell's Canyon and Oxbow dams.

The Howard family loves to explore and a 45-minute Saturday jaunt took us to nearby Hell's Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America at nearly 2.5 miles deep. Again, we were awed at the rugged beauty, and the canyon's immensity spoke to me of God's unmatched power. Only He could carve rock walls miles high into a beautiful river gorge.

Hell's Canyon - more beautiful than its name suggests.

Dad and Mom in front of the canyon. 

Hell's Canyon Dam

Later, we went off the beaten path to the ghost town of Cornucopia, an old mining town, which was a happening place in the late 1800s. At one time, Cornucopia had one of the six largest mines in the U.S., and it is believed there are still rich deposits of gold and silver and other minerals in the hills and mountains, waiting to be discovered. Anyone want to go mining? :)

An old building in Cornucopia.

The Cornucopia Jail.

Because of the warm welcome of the Oxbow people and the folks at the church, we immediately felt at home and the sharing on Sunday was made easier as I felt like I was speaking to a group I already knew, and thus was put at ease.

Me with Pastor Bill, wife Shelly, and little Nathaniel.

Oxbow Christian Fellowship

Looking over to Idaho. (Still amazing at the bigness of those rock walls.)

How God connects His people - those in a small, hidden town in Oregon to others on nearly forgotten islands in Lake Victoria - only He really knows and I still can't wrap my head around it. But, just as His incredible creation marveled us this weekend, His weaving of lives and stories to accomplish His greater purposes, puts me in awed reverence at His wonderful love and grace.

We serve a God who takes our breath away.

The stunning fall foliage.