Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Depraved Indifference"

I watched the following video last night and was convicted, which is a good response. I am praying that the conviction will lead to a change in my thinking, and then to responsive action.

I believe every Christian should see this presentation. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He left us with a clear and straight-forward command - "Go, and make disciples..."  As followers of Christ, that is our mission. How are you and I fulfilling this "Great Commission"?

P.S. I highly encourage you to visit the Ludy's site, http://www.ellerslie.com, as well as the related sites which you can link to from there. I believe you will be blessed, challenged and encouraged.

Friday, December 24, 2010

N'Omwaka Omujaa Ogwemirembe!!

That is Merry Christmas in Lugandan

I want to wish all of my dear family and friends a most blessed and Merry Christmas! May today be a special one as you reflect on the supernatural birth of Jesus, and how His gift has dramatically changed our lives and our world. Because of Him we can experience new and abundant life here on earth and the hope of glorious and everlasting life in heaven! 
I am thankful for each and every one of you!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Lovin' and Livin' in Uganda"

The following article was published in the December 16th edition of The Clatskanie Chief, my hometown newspaper.

Former Reporter Writes About
“Lovin’ and Livin’ in Uganda”
by Ruth E. Howard Special Correspondent

I’m in love.

I admit it – I have been “captured by heart.”

Before I came to Uganda in January, I described in a Trident column in The Chief how Clatskanie had “captured” my heart and those of my family more than two decades ago. But, I also wrote that another place, not a person, had stolen my affections.

I am learning that “home” is a relative word and I mean that in a very good way.

In the nearly one year that I have been here in southern Uganda, this place has come to feel more and more like home. I am surrounded by beauty – in the awesome scenery of the lush green flora, bronze-colored soil, the massive skies and clouds, and the breathtaking star-studded nights.

I have found beauty in the people with whom I work and in those whom I serve. And, I continue to discover beauty in the experiences – in the ordinary and in the surprising which I encounter daily.
There is satisfaction and fulfillment in the work I am doing – spending time with young people, hosting visitors, assisting in communications and more.

I have become accustomed to the “inconveniences” of living on an island in the world’s largest tropical lake. Running water, hot showers and refrigeration are not necessities. I have found a new “normal” and learned I can live with much less.

I came in January to work with Shepherd’s Heart International Ministry (SHIM), a non-governmental organization based on Lingira Island, one of the 52 Buvuma islands on Lake Victoria. SHIM was co-founded by a good friend of mine, Karina (Thomas) Smith, who as I did, grew up in Clatskanie.

I stayed with Karina on Lingira Island during my first trip to Uganda, in eastern Africa, from October 2006 to March 2007. It was during that time, in January 2007, that SHIM was founded and in the nearly four years since, it has blossomed into an extensive ministry focused on the development and transformation of the islands.

I often describe a visit to the islands as “stepping back in time.” The western influence that has permeated the urban mainland areas, like the nearest city of Jinja, has for the most part, not reached the many islands scattered across Lake Victoria.

The majority of islanders still live in mud huts with grass-thatched or tin-sheet roofs. They rely almost entirely on fishing for their livelihood. Clean water is a rarity as sanitation is not understood or valued. Children often have no or limited opportunity for education compared to those of the mainland.

The 40 percent HIV/AIDS rate among island adults is staggering, compared to the six percent of the rest of the nation. Diagnosis, treatment and counseling for HIV/AIDS are only available at mainland clinics, which to reach usually requires hours of travel in a wooden boat across the vast lake.

Access to other medical services is limited – for many years the islands were considered “forgotten” by the Ugandan government and other entities.

But, God, the creator of the universe, never forgot the islands. And, I am so grateful to be part of a group of people which God is using to help bring change to the islands.

I also appreciate serving under the mission agency, Global Outreach International, based in Tupelo, Miss., which provides valuable counsel and various types of assistance from the states.

Most of all, I am delighted to serve a God who is a God of hope, especially in the darkest and most hopeless situations.

During this year my main focus has been in working with SHIM’s child development program, which is like a child sponsorship program. Presently, about 40 students, from primary (elementary) through secondary (high school) and up to those in vocational and university institutions, are receiving assistance with school fees, as SHIM has linked sponsors, primarily from the U.S., with these students.

Some of these young people are complete orphans, without mother or father. Others have a single parent who is struggling to survive and care for other children. Some have been rejected by a stepmother or a stepfather in their polygamist families. Their stories tug at my heart and my prayer is that an education will open a path to a better life.

It has been my joy to get to know these students and be a valuable link to their sponsors. In this role, I have also worked closely with the island’s secondary school, Lingira Living Hope. As one of only two secondary schools in the 52-island Buvuma chain, the school was established in February 2006 to bring education within reach of the islanders.

Beginning with temporary mud and roughly-hewn timber structures, the school has gradually advanced and now boasts a brick and concrete classroom and office block. Building dormitories for the students is an imminent priority to attract more students and encourage expansion. In November the school graduated its fourth class since its founding.

As with many new ventures, my job description has grown and become fluid as the months have passed. One role I especially enjoy is helping to host teams and visitors who stay at SHIM’s island base. I am always amazed at how an island, five miles in circumference, could attract people from all over the United States, as well as those from around Africa.

Considering my 11 years at The Chief, it is no surprise that I also “fell” into a position of helping with communication, which has included e-mail correspondence with the ministry’s friends and supporters, as well as creating newsletters to provide a glimpse of what is happening here.

SHIM is a tree with many branches, and it is my delight to serve with a group of people, made up of Americans and Ugandans, who are so diverse in personality and responsibilities, but who share a common God-driven vision for the islands.

Other “branches” of SHIM include evangelism and discipleship, economic development, family ministry, educational development, water and sanitation, and women’s ministries. (For more about SHIM and its ministry branches, please visit the website at http://www.shimuganda.com/).

It is difficult to put in one article nearly a year’s worth of experiences. There have been highlights such as being part of teams to conduct youth seminars and crusades – one on a southern island and two others near the Kenyan border.

Helping with the reorganization and expansion of SHIM’s island library was personally satisfying. We are anxious for the islanders to take advantage of this small library, which now boasts some 2050 volumes. Books and good reading material are hard to come by in these remote areas.

Starting and then co-leading a girls’ Bible study at the secondary school has fulfilled two of my “loves” – working with youth and teaching. Seeing these young women blossom spiritually and in other ways has made any effort very much worthwhile.

In the last school term, which ended in November, I was privileged to teach a computer class to two of the four grades at the island’s secondary school. Some students had never before touched a computer, or much less knew of such technical terms as “hardware,” “software,” “modem” and others. I am excited to lead these students and others next year on a continued exploration of this sphere of technology.

As with any “love relationship” there are disappointments and challenges. Seeing young people in whom you invested take a destructive path makes you question what more you could have done to spare them such a choice.

I have encountered homesickness, loneliness, doubts, fears and more. But, in those times I find it helpful to step back and see the bigger picture. And, as I do I am reminded that I am so very grateful. Grateful to be here and to be included in what God is doing on the islands and in Uganda.

I am also thankful that this place feels like home.

My original one-year commitment has stretched to 16 months as I plan to return to the U.S. in May. After a visit home over most of the summer, I intend to return to Uganda, my “new” home.

I have a feeling that my work here will continue to expand and develop, especially concerning working with young people.

Abraham is one of my favorite Biblical heroes. When Abraham was in his 60s God called him to leave his homeland for a foreign country he had never before visited. Abraham went – taking a bold step of faith. And, when God brought him to that new “home,” he promised to make Abraham a “father of many nations.” If Abraham had not gone, he would never have received God’s incredible promise and its subsequent fulfillment.

I believe God has called me to Uganda for the foreseeable future. And, I trust that He will continue to work in and through me here in this blessed “foreign” land for as long as He intends it to be my “home.”

I want to wish all of my family, dear friends, and The Chief’s readers a most blessed holiday season. May Christ be your focus as you celebrate.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Taking the Plunge"

Even before my memories begin, I have had a fear of water.

My mother told me that I would scream as a baby when she bathed me. (I have long been over the screaming part. But, I think God has quite a sense of humor to call me to an island on the world's largest tropical lake. However, I almost always have calm and peace as I travel on the waters.)

As a girl, whenever we would visit a friend's pool or the public one, my favorite spot was sitting on the side, dangling my feet in the water. That was where I felt safe.

My mother enrolled my sister and I in swimming lessons in hopes of helping me overcome my fear. Leah loved the water and was like a fish as she swam about. I endured and managed to pass the basic levels. But, without consistent practice and exposure, I reverted back to my old ways, retaining limited courage. Unfortunately, now I don't recall any swimming strokes.

And, for most of my Christian walk, I have approached my relationship with God in a similar way. Sitting on the side, and only committing myself so much, unwilling to plunge in to fully give and to fully receive from God.

Several weeks ago, I joined the rest of the SHIM staff in traveling to eastern Uganda for a staff development retreat. The focus was on our individual callings and how God has "shaped" us. We explored our Spiritual gifts, Heartbeat/passion, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. At the end of the week, we were to identify the common themes in these and see what ministries for which God had shaped us.

This was exciting for me as I traced God's fingerprints throughout my life in the lessons and experiences He has led me through, to see how He had planted and watered the seeds of future ministry. My heart was filled with joy as what I had suspected to be my "passions" were confirmed - working with youth, teaching, communication, and support ministry.

But, even as all of these things came to light, there was a vital piece missing. At the beginning of the week, Andrew Smith had given an introduction to personal callings, sharing from Romans 12:1-8. Verse 1 especially stood out to me as Andy shared that we will not discover our personal callings unless we have offered our bodies to God as living sacrifices. I appreciated what one SHIM family member shared, we offer our bodies and God does the sacrificing.

This brought to light a decision God had been prompting me to make for some time - full surrender, "taking the plunge."

By the time Thursday afternoon came around, I was aching to get alone with God. I found just the right tree with a bench beneath it, looking out on awesome Ugandan scenery. And, I poured out my heart to God - offering Him my body, mind, desires, dreams, past, present and future. It was an incredibly joyful and freeing experience! Afterward I felt as if I was walking on air.

My "special" tree

Then, God asked me to take another step of faith and obedience - to be baptized again. I was baptized at age 11, but did it more out of compliance with my dad's request rather then very willingly. God had been asking me to do this for some time. And, now I wanted to make this public profession to cement my new committment.

Friday afternoon I was baptized by my long-time mentor, friend and "big sister," Karina (Thomas) Smith, and a very good Ugandan friend and brother, Robert Wafula. We did it in a pool beneath a waterfall, very near the "special" tree which I had sat under the day before. They had to dunk me twice, since I didn't get entirely wet the first time. : )

It was certainly a special and memorable week for me as I "took the plunge" into the pool of surrender, fully offering to God, and fully receiving His incredible grace, forgiveness, goodness, and mercy.

Since then I have also been freed to fully invest myself in what God has for me here in Uganda. My passion and vision have been renewed and broadened. And, I am excited to see how God will open and widen doors of ministry in the future.

     May the praise and glory be to God!

Ready to "take the plunge."

Going under...once

                            "Oh, she's not all the way wet, we'll have to do it again."

                                         And, the second time. I'm a double-dipper. :)

Oops, missed a spot. :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Remember...in the days of your youth"

Disappointments and joys. You are sure to face one or the other, or both, when working with people. It is inevitable.

 Over the past couple of weeks, I have experienced both emotions in regards to the youth I know and work with here.

  It was such a joy to start and then continue co-leading with Amanda the Morning Star Ladies' Study with the girls at the island secondary school. We started in late February and continued nearly every Saturday this year, minus two 1-2 month breaks for school holidays. We met for the last time this year a couple of Saturdays ago.

The Morning Star Ladies Study

 Amanda and I cannot help but beam with pride over "our" girls. They have shown such growth this year - in hungering for God's Word, memorizing scripture, doing the assignments, learning and then performing songs as a group in church and being more open personally in our studies. We began with a large group in February, but we now have a fairly solid group of 8-9 who have been faithful and seem to be truly desirous of learning and growing in God's ways. I am excited about what God has in store for the Morning Stars next year!

My sponsored daughter Shimily

 It was great news when I learned last week that my sponsored daughter, 18-year-old Shimily, received a coveted spot in a local nursing school. I have watched this girl grow, mostly from afar, from a young student to a mature and focused young woman. She went through a time of rebellion and I was concerned. But, by God's grace and the intervention of those who care for her, she submitted to her authorities and reaped the benefits of doing so. Tomorrow she begins a 2-1/2 year program in comprehensive nursing. I am so excited for her and how God will use this to continue to grow and shape her for the future He has planned.
  In mid-October we said goodbye to the school's Senior 4 class, the top class, as they went to another school to take their final exams. Thirteen of the 30 (see photo below) were sponsored through Child Development and so I had met with them as a group and one-on-one throughout the year. I became close to many of them and was sad to see them go since I knew they would not be returning to the school.

Child Development's Senior 4 Students

 I was sad and upset when I recently heard that some of those students, specifically a couple of girls, had engaged in immoral behavior when they had gone to take their final exams. Today I wrote to two of the girls' sponsors, saying because of the misbehavior, the girls would be dropped from the sponsorship program and would be receiving no further financial help from Shepherd's Heart. What disturbs me most is that these young women professed to be Christians and led in worship at church, and even at times attended our Bible study.

 Over the last few days, I have been asking myself, "What happened?" "Was there something I could have done personally to keep these girls from choosing such a wrong and destructive path?" Perhaps there was more I could have done. But, I also believe that once they were away from the island school, and its structure and discipline, their freedom revealed their true hearts and desires.

 I believe these girls were different, in a good way, when they first came to the island school several years ago, but choices in friends, use of time, focus, etc., chiseled away at any commitment they may have had to God.

 My heart is heavy for these ones and others who are blindly trekking down destructive paths. Since I have been in Uganda my burden for students and youth has only increased and I strongly believe any future ministry will most definitely involve youth. I am not sure how it will look, but I feel God has given me a glimpse of the HUGE heart He has for young people.

 Your prayers for the youth of Uganda would be so greatly appreciated!

"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them,' before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain." - Ecclesiates 12:1-2

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am counting my reasons...

...to be thankful!

 For the past four or five years, I have had a Thanksgiving tradition - to write 100 blessings for which I am thankful, sometime on Thanksgiving Day. I love the song "Count Your Blessings" and I find it very good to literally count my blessings, all of which are from God. So, here is my list of 100 Blessings for this Thanksgiving. (Note: Beyond the first 11 or so, the blessings are not necessarily listed according to priority.)

I am thankful for...
1. God - my Saviour, Heavenly Father, Redeemer, Creator, Healer, Provider, and so much more!
2. Salvation - a gift I can never repay, but one that causes me to live and love in gratitude.
3. God's Word - that encourages, convicts, teaches and exhorts me.
4. My loving, supportive and encouraging parents, who above all, pointed me to Jesus
5. My beautiful, talented and ever-so-sweet sister (who will be celebrating her birthday the day after Thanksgiving).
6. The opportunity to live and serve here in Uganda. It has been such a blessed experience.
7. My fellow missionaries - for their example, dedication, friendship and support.
8. The entire SHIM family - as diverse as we are, we share a united vision for transformation of the islands.
9. My wonderful friends and family back home who support me with their gifts, as well as prayers, counsel and encouragement.
10. My special church family at Westport Community Church.
11. Wonderful friends who have blessed me with their steadfast love and friendship.
12. Sunsets - Like the gorgeous one outside my window.
13. Wonderful advances in technology that allow me to keep in touch with folks around the world, like Internet, e-mail and Facebook. :)
14. Music - that lifts my spirit, encourages my soul and points me to Jesus.
15. Seasons - though they are not so evident here in Uganda. :)
16. Rain - such a precious gift here.
17. A place to sleep, eat and live that is comfortable. No, it doesn't have running water, but is that a necessity? ; )
18. God's faithfulness throughout my life.
19. The lively worship of Ugandans - I love it!
20. Coffee - every good morning begins with coffee. :)
21. The beauty of Uganda - it's so green!
22. My five senses.
23. The way God has shaped me - for His service!
24. The students of Lingira Living Hope Secondary School - they completed their third term today.
25. The dedication of the Lingira Living Hope teachers - to their students and their God.
26. The shepherds (pastors, elders and others) that God has placed over His flock.
27. My big sister and mentor, Karina (Thomas) Smith, whom I have known since age seven and who has been a big influence in my life.
28. The rest of the Smith family, too - Andy, David and baby on the way!
29. New life - spiritually and physically.
30. Chocolate - God did a good thing when He created chocolate. :)
31. Past experiences, which God has and is using today.
32. The church - the body of Christ where I find fellowship, encouragement and a place to worship God.
33. Solar power - which enables me to use my computer, have lights and keep my chocolate cold. :)
34. Rainwater - a huge blessing, especially when it is caught in one of our tanks.
35. Smiles - what a beautiful enhancement of a face. :)
36. God's creation - from the most fragile flower, to the most majestic and interesting creatures, to the bounty and diversity of trees, clouds, and so much more!
37. Past heroes of faith who inspire and challenge me by their examples.
38. God's forgiveness, which enables me to walk in freedom from guilt and fear of judgment.
39. Drinking water - pure, fresh water to quench the thirst!
40. Laughter - that brightens our faces, lightens our burdens and is good for our health. :)
41. God's sovereignty that works all things together for good to those who love Him.
42. Macaroni and cheese - that traditional American food that is a delicacy here. :)
43. Those who are enduring and have read this far.
44. God's promises - which He always keeps!
45. God's provision - I have not lacked for He knows my needs!
46. Order and structure - that keep this earth turning and enable other spheres of our lives to continue running.
47. Our Founding Fathers and others who established America as a Christian nation.
48. Young people - I love their energy and enthusiasm, especially when they are using them for God!
49. Prayer - to share my heart with God and to hear from His.
50. Health - a true gift from God.
51. Encouragement - which comes in various forms and from many sources. :)
52. Great authors like A.W. Tozer, Elisabeth Elliot, C.S. Lewis, and so many more!
53. That I am halfway through this list! : )
54. The blessings God has poured out on Shepherd's Heart International Ministry (SHIM) this year to enable the ministry to continue and accomplish some big projects.
55. Faithful sponsors who enable our students to go to school.
56. God's goodness, which He pours out on me, whether or not I deserve it.
57. Miss Amanda who has been a great roommate and friend!
58. Light - because it would be terrible to always be in the dark.
59. A very happy and blessed Thanksgiving celebration - with good food, good fellowship and a great focus on God and all of His blessings.
60. That I am not somewhere where it is cold and snowy. : )
61. Mashed potatoes - let me just say I hope they are included in the wedding feast in heaven. : )
62. Popcorn - another heavenly food.
63. Photographs - capturing special moments and people!
64. The color blue - it is just beautiful, what more can I say?
65. Colors overall - our God is so super creative to come up with so many different colors.
66. Chance encounters - which are actually ordained by God.
67. Older Christians who are still enthusiastically and passionately serving Jesus. I met one today and I was truly blessed.
68. Eyes - Windows to the soul. They can tell you a lot about someone and are beautiful, too.
69. Frogs - cute creatures and some of my favorites.
70. Hymns - We sang a few today as part of our celebration and I was so blessed to sing my heart out and reflect on the words, after quite a few months of not singing them.
71. Hot showers - a rare treat here. : )
72. Different nations, races, cultures and tribes - God created and loves all of them!
73. The opportunity to learn new things and especially to learn from others.
74. Blogs - I am blessed, encouraged and inspired by the blogs I read which are authored by my Christian friends.
75. Boundless Webzine - I have often been encouraged by this ministry. (Visit http://www.boundless.org/)
76. Old friends, and new ones, too.
77. Memories - special treasures of the past.
78. Ice cream - my favorite dessert!
79. An education - not an opportunity every person has.
80. Rice - my favorite food! I think God designed my tastebuds for Uganda. : )
81. God's protection - something I too often take for granted.
82. Puppies and kittens - pretty much any baby animal is cute. : )
83. Hope - In God's promises and in a glorious eternity.
84. Computers - they make my job much easier.
85. Rest - for recharging.
86. My grandparents - though they are all gone, I cherish the memories of time spent with them, and the heritage they left.
87. Holidays - a time to celebrate, remember and be with family and friends.
88. Mistakes - and thankful I can learn from them. :)
89. Quiet - what it is right now while everyone else is in bed. : )
90. Soap - what a dirty world this would be otherwise.
91. Freckles - I have 'em and I like 'em. : )
92. Gifts - to be able to give and to receive.
93. The privilege of growing up in the small town of Clatskanie. : )
94. The blessing of being homeschooled.
95. That God created me to love words.
96. Wafers - one of my favorite Ugandan desserts (hazelnut flavored is the best). : )
97. The assurance that God knows my past, my present and my future.
98. Thirty years of life.
99. Undeserved kindnesses - from God and others.
100. That I have 100 reasons (and more) to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obsessed with Light

 About every 4-6 weeks, we get an unwelcome visit here on the island. The lake flies, which resemble large gnats, descend upon us.

 For several nights last week I had two choices in the evening, sometime around 7 p.m., - stay in light and be "attacked," or take cover in my stifling mosquito net. After suffering for a bit, I eventually took the second option.

 According to Wikipedia, these bugs are called "chironomidae" and have a global presence. Elsewhere they are known as "sand flies," "muckleheads," "muffleheads," "blind mosquitos," or "chizzywinks." The names make them sound much cuter and more interesting than they really are. : (

 Wikipedia also says, "This is a large group of insects" that has "over 5000 described species and 700 species in North America alone." Wow, talk about humungous family reunions!

 I have heard that these obnoxious bugs have a lifespan of only 24 hours, so after a long night of obsessive swarming around lights, they give up the ghost and leave their bodies scattered all over our floors, windowsills, etc. "When large numbers of adults die they can build up into malodorous piles," says Wikipedia. "Malodorous" basically means "large and stinky."

A "malodorous" pile of dead lake flies, swept out of the dining room and on to the veranda.
 Yes, they have a peculiar quirk - they are obsessed with light - any light: light bulb, computer screen, cell phone, power switch - well, you get the idea.

 As Amanda wisely pointed out, there are other bugs that much prefer shadows and darkness, like mosquitos or cockroaches - yuck!

 I guess if I had a choice of which I would rather be compared to - lake fly or mosquito, I would choose the lake fly. Even though they are pesky and I am so relieved they have finally left the island for awhile, I believe they can teach a valuable lesson.

 "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." - John 3:19-21

  "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." - I John 1:5-7

  I can't say that I am "obsessed" with light like the lake fly - not like I should be. I often fear letting God shine His intense and penetrating light into my heart because there are some shadows and darkness there. But God's light is meant to expose and "kick out" the darkness. The I John passage above says that when we walk in the light we can have sweet fellowship with fellow Christians and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from the sin that has shadowed our hearts. God wants to eradicate the darkness and replace it with His loving and truth-upholding light. Then why should I fear the light? I shouldn't.

 In God's light I find the Saviour's cleansing forgiveness, the Father's forgiving embrace, the sweetness of fellowship with other light-lovin' believers, the truth that sets me free, and so much more!

 I think those lake flies are wise - be obsessed with light - God's light!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Believing So We May Truly "See"

"The world says that 'seeing is believing,' but God wants us to believe in order to see. The psalmist said, ' I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living' (Psalm 27:13 NASB). Do you believe God only when your circumstances are favorable, or do you believe no matter what your circumstances may be?" - C.H.P.

"May God grant us faith to completely trust His Word, even when every other sign
points the other way." - C.H.P.

"Great faith is exhibited not so much in doing as in suffering." - Charles Parkhurst

"Indeed, there is nothing God will not do for those who will dare to step out in faith onto what appears to be only a mist. As they take their first step, they will find a rock beneath their feet."
- F.B. Meyer

"Trusting even when it appears you have been forsaken; praying when it seems your words are simply entering a vast expanse where no one hears and no voice answers; believing that God's love is complete and that He is aware of your circumstances, even when your world seems to grind on as if setting its own direction and not caring for life or moving one inch in response to your petitions; desiring only what God's hands have planned for you; waiting patienty while seemingly starving to death, with your only fear being that your faith might fail - 'this is the victory that has overcome the world'; this is genuine faith." - George MacDonald

"We must be willing to live by faith, not hoping or desiring to live any other way. We must be willing to have every light around us extinguished, to have every star in the heavens blotted out, and to live with nothing encircling us but darkness and danger.Yes, we must be willing to do all this, if God will only leave within our soul an inner radiance from the pure, bright light that faith has kindled."
- Thomas C. Upham

"...And Abraham thought of himself as a father, because God had said so. That is genuine faith - believing and declaring what God has said, stepping out on what appears to be thin air and finding solid rock beneath your feet. Therefore, boldly declare what God says you have, and He will accomplish what you believe. You must, however, exhibit genuine faith and trust Him with your entire being." - from "Crumbs"

 "The Lord only builds a bridge of faith directly under the feet of a faithful traveler. He never builds the bridge a few steps ahead, for then it would not be one of faith. 'We live by faith, not by sight.' (2 Cor. 5:7)" - Henry Clay Trumbell

Monday, October 18, 2010

Softened by the Rain

  Pitter, patter. Pitter, patter. As I write, I hear the faint sound of raindrops on our tin roof. I am hoping they increase and give us a nice, loooong, really wet rainshower.

 Last week we were becoming a bit concerned. Though we are supposedly in a wet season, it wasn't so evident. Our red dirt was dry and hard. Our thirsty plants appeared to be shriveling up, and our water tanks were also devoid of the wet stuff. Yes, we had some rain - but little showers were not enough to quench this thirsty land.

 Being a girl who hails from the Northwest, a place which hardly ever seems to lack rain, I never really thought I would be so desirous of those liquid drops.

 We prayed, and we asked our friends across the ocean to pray for rain. And, God heard. The other night - it rained, no, it poured. For about 45 minutes straight, God opened the storehouses of heaven and softened our soil, watered our plants and filled basins, jericans and our water tanks! Hooray! We were so happy!

 It is funny how dry, hot weather can make you so appreciative of rain!

 I personally feel as if I have been going through a "desert time." My spiritual life has become hard like our soil was, my faith has been shrinking up, and my tank of energy and vision is becoming empty. But, I am learning that God works in the desert times, as much, if not more, as in the times of rain and fruitfulness.

 And, just like He provided us with rain here on the island, He also knows how to bring refreshment in the spiritual desert.

 Last week by invitation, the Shepherd's Heart staff joined the area staff of YWAM (Youth With A Mission) at a beautiful YWAM base near Jinja. It was both YWAM and SHIM's weekly prayer day, and we joined forces to seek God over several topics. One issue that lay heavy on the hearts of both organizations and their members was a broken down YWAM base that at one time offered medical services to the people of the upper islands, but had been abandoned for a couple of years.

 We divided and conquered - listening to hear God's voice regarding the future of this base and SHIM's involvement in its restoration. It was a blessing to hear from those gathered that there was still hope for this once-forsaken place and it could be revived to once again provide vital services to people who desperately need them.

 After this time of waiting upon God, the entire SHIM team that was present was invited up front to be prayed for in regard to this opportunity and our overall ministry in the islands. My heart was softened by my tears as these precious people laid hands on and prayed for me and my SHIM family. I felt renewed, refreshed and restored - able to go on and serve as God had called me.

 God knows how to bring rain, especially in the desert.

 "We never know where God has hidden His streams. We see a large stone and have no idea that it covers the source of a spring. We see a rocky area and never imagine that it is hiding a fountain. God leads me into hard and difficult places, and it is there I realize I am where eternal streams abide."
- Streams in the Desert, pg. 262

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Something Better - The Best

  Detective, actress, radio station DJ, writer, inventor, teacher… As a little girl I dreamed of becoming one or a combination of these. Some were mere dreams, while others were seeds for things I actually would become.

  During the last two weeks I was meeting with a group of our sponsored students. They are the top class at our island’s secondary (high) school and they are preparing for their final exams, and then life beyond the island. I asked them about their desires for the future. Without fail, all said they wanted to continue their studies at the next secondary level, called A-level, like junior college. Because of poor grades and/or lack of money, this just may not be possible.

  It may mean taking a less-popular path and instead going to a vocational school or institution. All have big aspirations - to be a doctor, an engineer, or a teacher. Not going on to A-level pushes those dreams further into the future or out of their path completely.

 I tried to explain that if they fail to continue to A-level , it does not mean it will never be in their future, just perhaps not now. I tried to explain that God may give us dreams and desires, but we must be willing to trust and wait on Him for their fulfillment.

  I recently read an excellent article, entitled “The Things I Won’t Be,” written by Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, and posted at: http://www.boundlessline.org/articlesbysuzanne_hadley.html. In the article she tells of the dreams she once held: to marry young, to be the first of her siblings to marry, to be a young mother, a youthful grandmother, etc. When those dreams appeared delayed, or even out of the realm of possibility, she had a choice: 1. Be bitter, or 2. Wait for the better – the dreams God had for her.

  She told the story of Ruth (personally one of my favorite Bible stories ). Ruth left her dreams of remarriage, children, and happiness in her home country, to follow and support her bitter mother-in-law Naomi as she returned to her homeland of Israel. This not only meant Ruth was abandoning her dreams, but this choice also meant she would be living in a country where she was seen as an outcast and a foreigner, further limiting her prospects.

  I don’t think the Bible really tells us what motivated Ruth to so loyally follow Naomi. I wonder - what kind of inner struggle did she endure as she turned her back on her homeland, to loyally follow her heart-broken mother-in-law?

  I also have been thinking of Abraham, David, Joseph and others in the Bible. All had dreams. Some were in the form of promises right from God’s mouth. Most, if not all, were not fulfilled according to man’s timing or in line with man’s ideas. But, the fulfillment was far better than the dreamer could have imagined – it was the best. It was the best way and in the best timing.

  You will notice that my little girl aspirations did not include the title “missionary.” I never dreamed of becoming a missionary, nor was Africa among my top five destinations. Even as recently as five years ago, I had no such aspirations. If you would have looked into your crystal ball and told me I would be here in Uganda today, I would have said you were crazy. While I was having imaginations in the realm of the possible, God was on the higher plane.

  Sometimes what God has in mind for us could be called “crazy.” But, only He is big enough to have those big dreams for us. And, honestly, I am quite happy here in a place I never dreamed of being, doing things I had never planned on.

  Yes, I do have other desires that have been postponed, or I am realizing, may never be fulfilled. But, I have a choice – hang on so tightly to them and become bitter when they are delayed or unfilled? Or, let go and embrace God’s best!

P.S. Also, check out Suzanne's article entitled: "Ruth and Me." : )

Monday, September 27, 2010

Faces of Uganda, Part 1

I have discovered that I love capturing the beautiful and expressive faces of the East African people. Most of these were taken on a trip last month to a couple of the upper islands - about four hours into Lake Victoria. 
I hope you enjoy these photos and remember, each face has a story behind it.

More to come later...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"The Amazing Adventures of Missionary Life!"

  In case any of my blog followers are wondering, yes, I am still alive. : )  Busyness and problems with my Internet have kept me from writing here. But, I am back.

 Perhaps, you read the title of this blog and thought, "Oh, goody, what amazing adventures has Ruthie been having lately?" And, I give you a knowing smile. You see, I put the title in quotes because honestly I haven't been having any "amazing adventures" of late. Life has been pretty normal around here.

 This morning, I spent some time in Proverbs 14, enjoyed a breakfast of granola with cold milk (truly a novelty on the island!), and my absolutely-necessary staple of coffee! Then, I headed off to wash dishes - from last night's dinner and some from this morning. I sent a couple of e-mails and checked out a couple of websites, did some re-arranging in our library, burned rubbish, and swept a bit. I am now in the midst of writing a blog post and searching the Internet for information related to the topic of research for one of our secondary teachers. The afternoon agenda includes coming up with a list of computer topics to be taught during this term in our weekly computer classes here at SHIM, getting my hair cut (yay!) by my own personal hairdresser - Amanda ; ), and meeting with a couple of sponsored secondary students.

  Aw, you, say, that sounds rather boring and...kind of like life here in the U.S. Not to burst anyone's bubble, but alot of people imagine missionary life as exciting and thrilling. And, it can be at times, but that is not the norm. It can be routine and tedious. But, that does not mean that the work is not worthwhile and meaningful. And, it does not indicate that God is not at work behind the scenes.
 While the following may not fall under the definition of "amazing," they are some things I have witnessed or been a part of lately. And, I believe they are evidence that God is definitely at work on the islands.
 The Library: With the final release of the items on the shipping container (that arrived here in March after being sent from Seattle at the end of 2009), we were thrilled to begin unpacking the many, many boxes of donated books. Our small library on the island now boasts more than 2050 volumes and includes a wide selection for young, young readers to adults and all ages in between. We have a nice assortment of educational books - from animal science to encyclopedias to a book on every state in the U.S. There are fiction books and a great section for Christian leaders and pastors, books on marriage and family, as well as missions, biographies, and a few shelves dedicated to our audio and visual offerings. Hmm...are you tempted to come check out our library?

 I am very excited for the people of the island, specifically our secondary students, to enjoy and benefit from the many books lining these shelves. And, thank you to any of you who donated to the library. May you find your reward in the knowledge that many will benefit by your generosity!

The Bible Study: After a school break between the second and third terms of the island's secondary school, Amanda and I resumed our weekly girls' Bible study earlier this month. Our first week back we had three girls attend - our smallest number ever. But, that afternoon will for sure remain in my memory as I listened to two of the girls recite John 15:1-17. I was so very excited and proud of them!! The memorization work was part of a "holiday challenge" we had given them before the break. One girl, Fauza, completed the challenge entirely, which meant memorizing the aforementioned scriptures, as well as reading through the Gospel of John and answering questions about each chapter. The other young lady, Betty, did the memorizing and part of the scripture study. Scripture memorization is not done much here, but we have been encouraging our girls to "put God's Word in their hearts." I was sure floating on air after that study!

 Because of the girls' interest in learning how to study the Bible, we are now focusing on some methods of digging into God's Word. I am excited to see their growth and continuing desire to learn of God and His ways.

Church Visitation: Since I came in January, I have joined other SHIM family members on three trips to visit area island churches for a Sunday service. On the most recent visitation, about a week and a half ago, I went with Pastor Robert to Lokale Number 1, to Trinity Church. Since neither of us had ever been there before, we were led by a young girl to the church - constructed of rough wood planks for walls, iron sheets for the roof, and packed dirt for the floor. While we thought a letter had been sent ahead, informing the church of our visit, they apparently never received it. But, the leaders graciously welcomed us, invited us to introduce ourselves and gave us a few minutes to share our purpose (introduce SHIM and learn of the church's needs), and share a brief message. I tried to defer to Pastor Robert to share from the Word, but he handed the baton back to me and I spoke on faith and obedience.

  We weren't sure what to expect after the service. Since the church had no forewarning, we wondered would they be hospitable toward us? However, we were pleasantly surprised by the soda, biscuits and bananas that were shared with us, and even more surprised by the posho, beans and cabbage we were served a short time later.

  Amanda and Papa and Mama O visited another church on the other side of the same camp. The pastor and his wife are former Moslems arnd were eager to learn of SHIM's ministries, especially family ministry, led by the Os. And, the SHIM members enjoyed pork, since the pastor now has a piggery - definite proof that his life has changed! Eating pork and keeping pigs are absolutely forbidden in Islam.

  I always enjoy these church visits - meeting new people and seeing God and His people busy spreading His light in these remote areas.

Prayer Day: Every Thursday, SHIM sets the day aside for prayer. (The only exception is when we have our business meeting on the fourth Thursday of the month.) So, no matter if we are on the island or on the mainland, we try and gather together for praise and worship, sharing of our personal needs, those of the ministry and others we may be aware of, and most importantly, spending time in the presence of our Father. I was so encouraged last Thursday as I gathered with four others of the SHIM family. I came away challenged and encouraged by the words and scripture that were shared, refreshed by the fellowship, and relieved by the burdens we had left at God's throne. It is no wonder that God tells us not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together. We need each other and we need to be refreshed by spending time in God's presence.

 So, while these  examples may not make it into a book like "Amazing Missions Stories," they are still proof that God is continuing His work here - perhaps not always in dramatic ways, but by the patient, persistent work of the Holy Spirit.

 So, I encourage you - you may think your tasks and place are tedious and boring at times. But, if they are what God has called you to, they are significant and He asks you to be faithful. He will bring the fruit in His time.

P.S. I am sorry I didn't include any photos in this post, but my Internet server won't let me upload pictures. So, use your imagination! : )

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Week of Transformation

An upper island sunrise

  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." - Romans 12:2

 This was the theme verse for a youth conference I was a part of last week, Aug. 16-23, on the upper island of Kirewe. I didn't know what to expect as I prepared to go and for some reason had some real misgivings before we set off last Monday morning, Aug. 16. But, God certainly exceeded any expectations I had. The conference went very well, as well as the three days of crusades and the "overnight" that wound up the week.

Riding the boat to Kirewe

  I was part of an amazing team of older young people who conducted the conference, organized by YouthLink, which is based here in Uganda. We traveled about four hours on Lake Victoria from Jinja to the island of Namiti, where we stayed. Each day we took the 15-minute trip to nearby Kirewe where the conference was held at Kirewe Elim Pentecostal Church.

Kirewe Elim Pentecostal Church

  I know I was personally blessed and challenged by the week. Each morning and evening our team gathered for a time of praise and prayer in the compound of the YWAM base where we stayed. I was so refreshed and encouraged during those times as I communed with my Heavenly Father, sharing my heart with Him and hearing His. I believe it was these times that paved the way for a great week of life-changing transformation and receiving of God's mind-renewing truth.

Pastor Robert and translator Annet

 We had various speakers share on topics related to the theme, enjoyed times of praise, prayer and worship and conducted three evening crusades in the open air. The conference ended with an "overnight," which ran from 10 p.m. Friday night until 6 a.m. Saturday morning. More prayer, praise, teaching and even some dance competition filled these hours. This was the first time in my life that I stayed up the entire night and into the morning, breaking a 3 a.m. record. : )

Open-air crusade on Kirewe

The red sun that greeted us the morning the "overnight" ended. (Unfortunately, the camera couldn't really capture how red it really was.)

 We praise the Lord for the three lives that received salvation and the one person who recommitted his life to Christ. Fatuma, one young woman who confessed Christ, had from her birth been dedicated to the practice of witchcraft, had married into demonic bondage and even lived and served in a shrine near the church. We trust that God will continue to do great things in her life and we were happy to hear He had already blessed her with a job.

Fatuma receives a Bible from Pastor Samson

 I know God did a great work in those who attended the conference and other events. However, to be honest, I am most grateful for what He did in my life - to refresh  and restore me, draw me unto Himself and reignite my passion and purpose.

 Isaac, the leader of the team, is a student and lover of poetry and I promised him that before the week ended that I would write a poem about our time there. I have written very little poetry in my life, but I hope the following reflects something of a poem. Anyway, I also hope it gives you a glimpse of what God did last week on the islands of Kirewe and Namiti.

 A Week of Transformation

Hesitancy and misgivings

Unsure of the unknown

Being an individual

Early morning start?

Delay, then hurry, delay

Start, return, resume

Long journey on lake

Fellowship – fellows in ship

Arrival on Namiti isle

Receive warm welcome

Encounter new experiences

Arise early and shake off sleep

Seek God and feel His presence

Enjoy “table ministry”

Share jokes, stories over rice and fish

Joy and laughter all around

Boat to Kirewe Island

Kirewe Elim Pentecostal Church

Praise and worship, dance and singing

Giving of God’s Word

Sharing of His truth

Do not conform, be transformed

Being a teacher and a student

Knowing refreshment and renewal

Quenching of thirst with Living Water

Enjoying unity in teamwork

Finding encouragement in fellowship

Guard the doors of your heart

Imitate only Jesus

Turn from the past and bear good fruit

Think only on good and true

You must die to really live

Crusade in open air

Souls rescued and returned to God

Overnight under moonlight

Rain comes quickly, hurry inside

Darkness and confusion result in delays

Light is found and praise begins

Prayer and introspection

Faith and obedience go hand in hand

Rejoicing in trials

In ups and downs, Jesus won’t leave

Putting on God’s entire armor

Temptation shapes character

Slip into sleep, be shaken awake

Long night replaced by dawning light

Doubts have been shattered

Misgivings have been overshadowed

There is joy in renewal

Finding peace in recommittal

Zeal has been re-ignited

Discovering a passion in purpose

Expressing gratefulness to God

Being thankful for Father’s family

An incredible week, an unforgettable time

Praise and glory be to our God!

One of the cuties on Kirewe Island

Note: I am hoping to post a lot more photos from this trip on my Facebook profile.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Enjoying My "Challenges"

  Each day I have been facing challenges. ButI am happy to say I have been enjoying them - quite thoroughly. As each day passes, my interest in them only grows and deepens.

 Okay, let me explain. Before our island secondary students left recently for their school holiday, we at Shepherd's Heart gave them a couple of "challenges" for them to work on while they are away from school. One challenge, presented to the entire student body, was to study through the book of Proverbs. As they read each chapter, they are to answer various questions, with the aim of causing the students to dig and search for wisdom - God's wisdom.

 The second "challenge" was given to girls who have attended the Morning Star Ladies' Study. Amanda and I asked them to read and study through the book of John, also answering questions along the way, as well as memorize John 15:1-17.

 I have heard from a couple of students that they have taken up at least one of the challenges. I have no doubt that they will be stirred and blessed, because I believe that any time spent in God's Word is definitely time well spent.

  I myself have been so blessed (and challenged) as I have taken the time to read and think about God's Word. I too often catch myself reading my selected chapters, but not really meditating on what I have read. It is amazing how much more you glean from Scripture when you take the time to study and think about it.

 So, needless to say, I am enjoying my "challenges." May you also be challenged as you spend time in God's Word!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Subject Dear to My Heart

  I truly love and value friendships.

 I think God wired me this way, but I also attribute this affinity for friendship to my name - Ruth, which means "friend," "companion" or "compassionate friend." I, of course, didn't choose the name and for a long time I did not value it. But, when I learned its meaning, well, my name "took on a whole new meaning."

 I was named after the Biblical character of Ruth, a Moabite woman who demonstrated great loyalty to her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi. (By the way, the book of Ruth was a great influence in my mom agreeing to become the lifelong companion of my dad - more than 30 years ago.)

 This weekend I have been reminded of the value of friendships and relationships. During the last two days, I said goodbye to a group of five girls, whom I had never met before they came to the island one month ago. This diverse group of college-age young women hail from the state of Wisconsin. They came to the island to do a variety of projects, like re-start girls' football (soccer) teams, demonstrate farming methods, and teach in the island's primary and secondary schools.

 But, there was also lots of time for good conversation and fun as we washed dishes together, shared meals, and coversed and ate popcorn and drank tea in the evenings.

 For so long I wrongly believed that friendships took years to form, but that is not always true. Friendships can be forged in a month, week, day, or even in a short hour.

Me with members of the EDGE team from Wisconsin.

 Thank you, EDGE team, for your friendship and for blessing the island and those of us at SHIM during your stay in Uganda! You are always welcome to return. : )

 This evening, Amanda and I enjoyed a really good time of fellowship at one of the monthly gatherings of our fellow Global missionaries who are serving in the Jinja, Uganda area. I am so blessed as I see the love and dedication that each missionary has for the work and ministry God has called them to here.

 I was excited this evening to meet a young woman who came to Uganda in June to teach missionary children for two years. I became acquainted with Amanda K. via her blog, which I found through the Global website. We then became friends on Facebook and chatted back and forth. So, it was a delight to finally meet Amanda in person and to hear more of her story and calling to Uganda.

 Speaking of Facebook - I know different ones have varying opinions on this social network, but, I am honestly grateful for it. That gratitude has increased since I have been in Uganda. Facebook helps me stay connected with family and friends back home. I have also reconnected with old friends whom I had lost contact with and it has enabled me to stay in touch with new friends as well.

 I believe friendships are like gardens - they require tending and good proportions of time, energy and giving of yourself. If you are not purposefully investing in a friendship, then it is probably not growing and flourishing, but rather fading or dying. The Bible has good advice along these lines. Proverbs 18:24a says, "A man that has friends must show himself friendly."

 God certainly created us - His highest creation - for relationship. First and forement, we were designed to be in intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father and Creator. But, secondly, we certainly need each other. We need people in skin who can encourage, counsel, mentor and love us.

 Here in Uganda, relationships are the highest priority. They trump time (thus the reason that most everything is late), any claim of personal space or possessions, and a person's assertion of independence. This, of course, has good and bad implications. But, I believe Ugandans could teach a huge lesson to those of us from developed and industrialized countries, that in the end, friendships and relationships are what really count.

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."

"Strangers are just friends waiting to happen."

"Friends are the bacon bits in the salad bowl of life."

"A good friend is hard to find, hard to lose, and impossible to forget..."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Birthday Post

 Friday, July 9th, was my 30th birthday. It was my first ever birthday to be celebrated away from home, so I didn't quite know what to expect. But, the day far exceeded any expectations! I am so grateful to Amanda who planned each and every detail and managed to keep it all a surprise. : )

 To make sure I remembered every detail, I kept a log throughout the day. So, here is what my special day looked like.

 5:08 a.m. - The birthday greetings began at this early hour when I received my first text. I wasn't actually awake at that time, but saw the message when I woke up a bit after 6. My first birthday phone call came in at 6:36 a.m. and was made by the same person who sent the early text message. : )

6:39 a.m. - I spent some time in God's Word, reading in II Timothy.

6:55 a.m.-7:47 a.m. - I was delighted to receive a phone call from my mom and dad wishing me a happy birthday.

7:48-8:20 a.m. - Getting ready for the day - getting dressed, making my bed, etc.

8:21-8:32 a.m. - Amanda graciously let me use her Internet modem (mine was loaned out to someone else) to check my e-mail and Facebook. And, I found some more very nice birthday wishes. This day was starting out so nice!

8:39 a.m. - Amanda and I headed off to town, via a boda-boda (motorcycle).

8:48-9:50 a.m. - Our boda-boda driver dropped us at one of my favorite places to eat in Jinja - Ozzie's Cafe, which is on Main Street in Jinja and is owned by an Australian woman. I enjoyed a delightful breakfast of fried eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, toast and coffee - yum!

At Ozzie's Cafe on Main Street, Jinja.

Amanda and I enjoying a delicious breakfast at Ozzie's.

 9:51-10:31- After breakfast, Amanda and I wandered down Main Street and stopped in a couple of bookshops. I was looking for a Lugandan-to-English phrasebook, but failed to find one in the two places we visited.

10:32-11:44 a.m. - Crossing the street, Amanda informed me that I would be getting a pedicure and a manicure at Destiny's - a nice place in Jinja that is popular with mzungus (white people). I learned something new, too, that my right foot is more ticklish than my left foot.

Receiving my first-ever pedicure.

 While we were at Destiny's, Ron and Darlene, an American couple from Ohio, wandered in and started chatting with us. Amanda nor I had ever met them before, but we enjoyed visiting with them. We learned that during their approximately six-week stay in Uganda, they are working with another missionary couple, incidentally some other Smiths, in their local ministry, including on a neighboring island to Lingira.

The result! Before I came to Uganda, I had painted by toenails maybe three times. But, I have done it quite frequently since I arrived here - it helps cover the dirt! ; )

Getting a manicure. I chose an iridescent polish for my fingernails.

11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.- Upon leaving Destiny's, Amanda and I walked to the Peterson's home. Bob and Michelle Peterson and their four children moved in May from Dufur, Oregon to Jinja, Uganda to work with Shepherd's Heart. We had to pick up Amanda's camera and while there, we enjoyed a glass of cold water. I hung out for a bit, while Amanda left for a bit to go to a friend's house and "check on the friend's cleaning lady." (I learned later that this was just a concocted story, but I explain more in a bit.)

1:01 p.m. - Upon leaving the Peterson's place, we ventured to our next stop - lunch. Our eatery of choice was The Keep, a new restaurant in downtown Jinja which was recently opened by a Christian couple. The decor resembles a castle (something new for Jinja) and it is a very comfy, inviting place.


Enjoying a delicious lunch at The Keep.

A closer look at my delectable taco salad.

  After lunch and just as we were ready to leave The Keep, I received a phone call from my dear sweet sister, Leah. She wished me a happy birthday and we chatted for about a half hour. I dearly love my sissy!

3-4:09 p.m. - I know I am a bit crazy, but Amanda confirmed it by taking me to play "Crazy Golf," Jinja's version of putt-putt golf. The 9-hole course was located at 2 Friends Restaurant, a bit of a distance from downtown. We had the place to ourselves, so had fun pretending we were "professionals" - right! I am not sure why I am disclosing this, but Amanda beat me by three strokes. She should have let me win since it was my b-day, don't you think?

Me at the 9th hole - the most challenging one. I exceeded the 7-try limit on this one and didn't even make it in. We had to hurry to our next stop...

But, before we did, I requested a couple of fun photos...

Trying my best to keep the croc's mouth open at the 7th hole.
Look ma, my new boyfriend! : )

Still young at heart...

4:23-5:50 p.m. - Remember that earlier in the day we had stopped by the Petersons to pick up Amanda's camera? What I didn't know was that Amanda was also picking up my swimsuit, which had been brought to the island that morning. Incidentally, we had locked up our room before leaving the island on Thursday. And, since Amanda and I had the only keys and we were both on the mainland, someone graciously climbed over the wall to get my suit. So, we enjoyed the pool at The Paradise Hotel - all to ourselves. : )

The pool at Paradise.
Enjoying a refreshing swim.

6-7:39 p.m. - After drying off, Amanda and I were off to the next stop...dinner at Jinja's Chinese restaurant, Ling Ling's. I was expecting a quiet meal with just the two of us, but boy, was I wrong! We walked through the restaurant toward the outdoor seating in the back. As I rounded the corner, I heard "SURPRISE!" and was so blessed and shocked to see members of my SHIM family, as well as other friends, who had come to join us. : )

At Ling Ling's - this is right before I was surprised!

 I was so blessed to see this great group of people gathered to spend the evening with me. We ate a delicious dinner, which was sprinkled with laughter and good conversation. Then came the lighting of the candles on my birthday cake...

Blowing out the candles. Okay, so I think we miscounted the candles and there were more than 30. ; ) Yes, I did manage to get them all out in one blow.

Giving a speech, thanking my friends for such a great birthday. (Unfortunately, it was becoming dark, so most of the photos of the party didn't turn out so well.)

  After dinner, we enjoyed a delicious chocolate cake, made by my friend Teresha (and picked up by Amanda earlier in the day, when she was "checking on the cleaning lady") and frosted by Janae Peterson. My first love language is gifts and I was so blessed to receive some very nice gifts - coffee, earrings, a couple of books, 19 packages of Mentos (one of my favorite candies here - thank you, Amanda!), and more. One of the most special gifts was when Gloria blessed me with a new name - "Kwagala," which means "Love" in Lugandan. The surprise dinner with friends was such a special climax for a fun-filled day!

Being carried as the "baby" by Uncle Samson. Here in Uganda, when it is your birthday, you are christened the "baby." : )

7:40 p.m.-1 a.m. or so - After dinner, we returned to the office and prepared for a "dance party" that night. This was a pre-party for an engagement party/introduction party happening the next day, Saturday. So, starting at around 10 p.m., Amanda and I danced the night away with a bunch of friends. (Let me reassure you who may be raising some eyebrows at the words "dance party." It was held at a very safe location, at a friend's home in Jinja and all of the music I "think" was Christian. I felt very safe and had a lot of fun. : )

 I had a very full, but very special day, to mark the beginning of my 30th year. Thank you, to my family and friends, for blessing me on my special day! And, thank you, Lord, for blessing me with 30 years of life!