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.

video

 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!