Friday, December 23, 2011

Going Home for Christmas

This season two dear friends went home early for Christmas.

They said goodbye to the decaying earth and this brief discordant prelude to eternity, and "moved" to their heavenly abode.

After the Bible camp a couple of weeks ago, I learned that Deana, a gal I had worked with at the newspaper for a long time had passed away only a few days before. A long hidden illness had cut her life short quickly.

The news was jarring and I found myself frozen in moments of shock in the days following. She was among the first people I met at The Chief and she taught me much about the inner workings of a newspaper. We spent many hours in the office, working side by side - our desks hardly ten feet apart for a number of years.

At 42, Deana's life seemed cut short, and I wondered why. She seemed to have so much more life to live, dreams to pursue, goals to meet, family and friends to be with and enjoy. But her Creator called her home.

Though I will miss her smiling face behind the desk, I will remember and treasure the things I learned from her, especially those beyond the printed page. Devotion to Jesus and her church, loyalty and love for her large family and her wide circle of friends, creativity shared in generous ways, selfless dedication to her work - these qualities of Deana's remain in my heart and my memory.

Then this week I learned of the passing of Grandpa Grass, a father, grandfather and great-grandfather of some dear friends of mine. I also called him Grandpa and so enjoyed the times I saw and visited with him. One such a time was just days before I left again for Uganda this past summer. I cherish those memories.

He was 91 and had bravely endured pain and suffering for some time. His dear bride of many years had gone before him earlier this year and I know his heart was aching to be reunited with her. I can also only imagine how he longed to see his Savior face to face - the one he had loved and served for many years. 

As I write, my heart is aching as I miss these dear souls. I wish I was in the states to be there to help provide comfort and support as their family and friends honor their memory in various services. I will miss seeing Deana and Grandpa Grass when I return home. I think the sense of loss will be felt once again.

Yet, they say you cannot be in two places at one time. And as we prepare for the imminent celebration of Christ's birth and His coming to earth, I imagine Deana and Grandpa Grass are very glad to be "home" for Christmas this year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Merry "Malaria" Christmas?

I seem to have a knack for getting sick around a holiday.

Chickenpox came Thanksgiving Eve when I was just a little girl. Later, in my mid-teens,I sprained my wrist shortly before July 4th and my birthday (July 9th).

And then the most recent "celebratory" illness occurred this week. Sunday evening and Monday I was feeling "odd," which prompted me to go to a Jinja medical clinic. After having a blood test done, I was told I had "much" malaria in my blood.

I had been holding my breath (not in anticipation) for some time for my first encounter with this oh-too-common Ugandan illness, that at some point nearly every missionary here has to face. I right away began my medicine and wondered what I was in for in the coming days.

Female mosquitos are the carriers of the malaria parasites, which invade the human's liver and red blood cells. (BTW, male mosquitos are vegetarians, eating only plant nectar.)

"The parasite is relatively protected from attack by the body's immune system because for most of its human life cycle it resides within the liver and blood cells and is relatively invisible to immune surveillance." - Wikipedia

I have heard rather terrible stories about malaria and its range of symptoms. They can include fever, chills, joint pain (like your body was "run over by a Mack truck"), headache, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, general overall weakness, jaundice, convulsions, retina damage, and an enlarged spleen. If, however, malaria goes untreated it can progress to even graver symptoms and can be deadly. This is not a disease to mess with.

"There were an estimated 225 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2009.An estimated 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010, a 5% decrease from the 781,000 who died in 2009 according to the World Health Organization's 2011 World Malaria Report, accounting for 2.23% of deaths worldwide. Ninety percent of malaria-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority of deaths being young children." - Wikipedia

I did feel as if I had the flu for the last few days, but am so very thankful my symptoms were not as bad as some. I don't know why, and I don't know if it will be the same in future encounters.

I am feeling pretty "normal," or as normal as I can get. ; )

Right now, I am glad I will have a merry and malaria-free Christmas. Thank you so much to all who prayed for me - indeed God heard and answered! He is greater than any illness!

Information Source: Wikipedia
Photo Source: Microsoft Office Clipart

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Wild Week at WOL!

It has been a week since I returned from Bible camp, and I am just finally writing a blog post on it. Sorry! This week has been a bit busy!

The camp that I and 10 island students attended last week was like a miracle becoming reality. Earlier this year we were offered 10 free scholarships to a Word of Life (WOL) camp near Kampala. But the logistics of organizing something and my being gone on furlough, pushed out the possibility until this month.

First was the task of choosing who among the nearly 100 students at the school could go. With counsel from the school's headmaster and discussion among those of us in the child sponsorship program, God laid 10 names on our hearts. New and struggling Christians, zealous student leaders, believers who lack depth in their walk, a Muslim and a Catholic - these made up my group. Amazingly enough, all agreed to go and received permission from their parents or guardians. For almost all, this would be their first-ever camp experience.

The second miracle is that they all showed up at the meeting place in Jinja - within an hour or so of the set time (not bad for Ugandans!). Fred, who came from an island beyond Lingira that morning, told how his boat was "strangely" early, and with a knowing smile said he was praying. It must have been his prayers that pushed the unaware boatmen to reach Jinja early. Several others also came by boat - in a storm. Agnes trudged through the rain from Kampala and arrived soaked to the skin. However, they all managed to find me at the meeting place - a gas station - even though I had given the wrong directions. I marveled and praised God that He made sure all of us were in the right place at the right time.

After a ride of several hours (including traveling on a very bumpy road) we arrived - in a beautiful camp, set atop a hillside, overlooking rolling hills and facing the western sky and amazing sunsets. These photos just don't do the scenery justice.

The week was full - morning to night with worship times, Bible teaching, devotional and discussion sessions, many fun and interesting activities, meals, sharing, etc.
David, the main speaker, shared on the "I AMs" of Christ several mornings at camp. They were thought-provoking and very applicable messages.

 Amanda, a fellow Global Outreach missionary, was an amazing camp counselor - very attentive and very encouraging to the campers.

Lucy (Ruth) led in our worship times - singing a mix of English and Luganda songs to our Saviour!

Five nights of the camp had themes - "Primary (Elementary) Night," "Professional Night," "Go Green Night," "Wild West Night," and "Christmas Night." We were encouraged to dress accordingly and make presentations in songs, skits, poems, etc. to earn points for our respective teams. To try and be a good team member and encourage the other campers, I got a bit crazy (sheepish grin). Okay, crazy for me, anyway.

Yes, that is me with half of my face painted green. I also wore a green hat and shirt.

More "green" girls. 

Our competition on the "green" night was against the boys and I can say we had an overwhelming victory.  Even my simple poem of:

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I am all green,
What's wrong with you?"

...was (strangely) a big hit. :)

Christmas-theme night...

Yes, that is a shepherd with a squeegee, third from left.

In my Christmas get-up - a red shirt, my green "hat," and my green wrap-around skirt (using my sheets!).

Chris, from the island, participating in "Professional Night's" fun "debate" to answer the question: "Which is better - doctors or lawyers?"

Mornings and afternoons included some outdoor activities, like the "Crazy Olympics":

Throwing small basketballs into tires - easy, right? Nope.
Working with your five team members to move together to move the slide forward - challenging.

Spinning five times around with your head planted on the end of a baseball bat has a dizzying effect - literally. Afterward, I stumbled around and then fell over!

Skipping to a victory...

One of my girls, Sarah, center, with her two counselors, Jackie and Ketra.

Word of Life also has primary and secondary schools at the same site, thus the swings for the "little" kids, though my girls also enjoyed them. From left, Zubeda, Sarah and Veronica.

Organizing for the group photo. Notice Agnes, far right, affectionately holding her mango. I think she ate a dozen or more that morning!

The island gang! Back row, from left: Fred, Atieno, Sarah, Veronica, Robert and Jackie; front row, Abed, Chris, Zubeda, me and Agnes.

I know each of "my" kids left camp having gained so much and having been challenged and changed in some way. Please join me in prayer that the seeds that were planted at camp will grow and bring forth fruit for eternity!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Please Verify Your Identity

I just spent 10-15 minutes trying to log on to my credit card's website.

I entered an old password because I didn't recall that I had changed it awhile back - because I couldn't remember it then. Today I knew something was amiss when I was being asked security questions such as:

"What was the name of your first boyfriend or girlfriend?" Since I have never had a boyfriend, I wasn't sure how to answer the question.

Then there was: "Name your favorite sports team." The LA Dodgers, the Portland Trailblazers? My mind searched for what response I might have given when I chose the question so long ago. Or did I even choose that security question?

I liked this one: "What was the name of your first pet?" Ah, yes, an easy one - Fuzzy - our first-ever orange tabby cat. :)

After logging in and out of the site several times, I finally accomplished what I had set out to do - make a payment. Phew. A lot of frustration for a little work.

It seems that passwords, user IDs,  pin numbers, etc. are required at and in so many places - ATM's, Amazon, e-mail, Facebook, and a myriad of other Internet sites. Unfortunately, my memory is challenged, especially when it comes to remembering numbers. I have tried to come up with ways to compensate for that. ; )

All of this reminds me how grateful I am that I don't have to "log in" when I want to talk to my Heavenly Father or go through an automated routing service just to have some quiet time with Him.

Can you imagine such a scenarios as: "Press 1 to talk to an angel to make an appointment with God," "Press 2 to being your quiet time," "Press 3 to log in to learn what the Holy Spirit is speaking to you"?

Although I am one among nearly 7 billion people on earth, God knows who I am and everything about me. I don't need to submit a password to verify my identity with Him.

We make things complicated, God keeps them simple.

I love the following promises:

"Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." - Isaiah 65:24

"Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” - Psalm 50:14-15

 What does God want? Not passwords, nor IDs.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord,' and will bring you back from captivity.'" - Jeremiah 29:11-14a (emphasis mine)

I am God's child and He wants me to seek Him with all of my heart.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gaining New Vision

(The following is a recent e-mail update I sent out.)

I remember clearly the day I received my first pair of glasses (half my lifetime ago). My parents were prompted to get my sister and I eyewear when they discovered we couldn't properly see distances. Ordering the same frozen dessert from Dairy Queen because I couldn't properly see the sign was getting a bit old. ; )

As I slipped on my my new glasses on that special day, I was taken aback by the brightness and clarity of the world around me. There were so many things I had apparently been missing. Details - like a man's unshaven face and leaves on trees jumped out at me. I wouldn't trade a clearer vision for those pre-glasses days! The "burden" of putting something on my face every day, all day, is no comparison to the great benefit of being able to see clearly.

In early November I began a four-month journey in an online course - the "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement." Just a few minutes ago, I finished listening to a lecturer speak about God's movement through history - from Biblical times up to our day, and how He has used people all over the world to advance His message of love, grace and redemption.

Through this course, I feel as if I have put on new spiritual glasses, gaining a greater vision of what God has been and is doing in the world. Taking a huge step back, I am gaining a greater glimpse of God, His incredible purposes and how He wants to involve each of us in His global, history-enfolding and unfolding plan.

During one of my recent Bible studies with the island girls, I asked them why they had received salvation. Most replied, "to be saved from sin" or "to go to heaven." These are true, but are really only a small part of a very big picture. I asked the girls that if they had a cure for a horrible disease, would it not be wrong to withhold that information from people who desperately needed it?

You and I have indeed been saved from sin and thus we are destined for eternity in the presence of God in heaven, but being a follower of Christ is so much more. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He gave "marching orders" to His disciples.

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age." - Matthew 28:18-20

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." - Matthew 24:14 (emphasis mine)

Many of us long for the return of Jesus, but may not realize we have an important part to play to help usher in His second coming. The Great Commission (given in Matthew 28) was not Jesus' words only to the 11 disciples, but to all of His disciples in all future generations. I am a missionary, but so are you. If you are a Christian, you are automatically a missionary - to be a witness for Christ. You have been given a message, a mission and a mandate. We have information about the "cure" for the horrible worldwide "disease" of sin.

"But," you may ask, "I don't feel called to a foreign land." All around us, whether in the U.S., Africa or in any place around the world, there are lost people - needing to know the hope of salvation and God's incredible love and purposes for them. You can be a missionary to people that other Christians will never meet or reach.

 I encourage you to find out what God is doing around you and in the world, and take your part in the big picture. You will be amazed as you gain a greater vision of God's incredible heart and desire for peoples of every tribe and tongue to someday worship Him.

May God bless and strengthen you as you serve Him in your corner of the world!

A brief update on what is happening here:
  • This week I am taking 10 students from our island school to a Word of Life Bible camp outside of Kampala. (Read this previous post for more information.) Some of the students are new Christians and/or those who need deepening of their faith. One young man in our group is Muslim and one young lady is Catholic. I have been praying for "my" kids as well as the others who will be at the camp - that they would see God in a new and deeper way, and thus be drawn to walk closer to Him. I would so appreciate your prayers this week!
  • The island school concluded its year on Nov. 24 and now the teachers and students are on holiday until late January, when the new school year begins. Please be in prayer for the students - for God's protection of their minds and bodies. Some come from non-Christian homes and villages and peers who often pressure them to make wrong choices. We desire the island students to be lights for Christ in their homes and communities!
  • The Morning Star Ladies' Bible study is also on break. In my last time with the girls, I challenged them to memorize Ephesians 5:1-17 during their two-month holiday. Pray that the words of this chapter would penetrate their hearts and minds, and that the lessons on purity taught during the Bible study in the recent term would be recalled to rightly direct their decisions and behavior.
  • Christmas time is coming! The SHIM family will soon be going on a holiday break, but there will still be a lot of activity going on, with visitors, traveling, and holiday gatherings in the coming weeks. Pray that our focus would remain on Christ during this special season and that we would have opportunity to share His hope with whoever we meet.
Thank you so much for your continued prayers, support and encouragement! I am so very grateful to God for each of you!

May God bless you abundantly and grant you joy, hope and peace as you reflect on His blessed birth in this special season!

P.S. I highly recommend the Perspectives course to any and every Christian. Classes are available online and in classroom settings around the U.S. and the world. Visit for more information.

Photo Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

Camping... December?

Yes, I am going to camp this week! I never thought I would ever camp in the 12th month of the year. Coming from the part of the world that is currently among the coldest, needless to say quite wet, I always thought camping season ended around mid to late September.

Actually, when I was young that is usually when we scheduled our family camping trips - when all of the public school children were back in class and parks and campsites were generally less crowded. We made some great family memories during those treasured September trips. But that is another story...

Tomorrow myself and a group of students from our island school will be going to a Word of Life camp near Kampala for a full week of fun and learning. Earlier this year God blessed us with 10 free scholarships to send some of our students to camp. As we prayerfully considered who to send from the nearly 100 students at Lingira Living Hope, God laid certain names on our hearts.

Some are new Christians, while others are considered leaders among their peers. Some have professed Christ for a long time, but appear to lack depth in their walk with Him. One young man is a Muslim. The Catholic young lady has softened so much toward Christ since I first met her, and I believe she is on the verge of receiving salvation. Each has a story and at least some kind of encounter with Jesus Christ.

I am praying for each of these young men and women, as well as the other young people who will be attending the camp this week. God knows their hearts, lives, challenges, secrets, dreams, etc., and He wants them to know Him more than ever before. Will you join me in prayer this week that God would have His way in each camper's life?

I am excited to see what God will do this week! (Look for a report next weekend!)

P.S. Unlike the camping I did as a child, we will not be sleeping in tents this week, for which I am actually grateful. ;)

Photo Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Indeed, I Am Thankful!

While many of my friends in the Western Hemisphere are just preparing for their Thanksgiving day and its feasts, family gatherings, fellowship, fun and even some football, I am reflecting on a full day and a full stomach. : )

Among the things I am most grateful for today is that I did NOT miss the boat for Thanksgiving! Rain that began last night continued into the morning hours and a boat that I normally take for the 1-1/2 hours to Jinja, skipped my village.

Disheartened and fighting back tears, I trudged through mud and puddles, praying I would find a boat at the other end of the island. As I approached the shore, my grateful eyes saw a boat landing, which would take me to Jinja. Yay!

This afternoon I joined fellow missionaries, most of whom are serving here in Uganda with Global Outreach, in a special time of fellowship, praise, and feasting at Good Shepherd's Fold (GSF), an orphanage outside Jinja.

For those of you wondering what we eat here in Uganda for Thanksgiving - let me tell you, I don't think any traditional element was lacking. We enjoyed savory turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes, brown gravy, green bean casserole, cornbread pudding, macaroni and cheese (okay, it's not traditional, but it is American), cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, salad, rolls, cookies, pies... Oh, no wonder I am so full!

After almost missing the boat in the morning, I was very thankful I didn't miss this special Thanksgiving celebration with my "family" here - those among the children of God in Uganda.

Here are some photos, to give you a "taste" of my day. : )

Bob and Michelle Peterson leading us in some praise music. (Michelle is holding Johnathan Smith.)

The Smith family enjoying their Thanksgiving meal.

We even had Indians at our feast! From left: Katie (from England), who is working as a nurse at GSF, Sarah, a visitor and cousin of Amanda, far right, who is here teaching missionary children and ministering to children and youth at GSF. Can you see Katie's patriotic "warpaint" on her cheeks? She was really getting into the spirit! :)

The feast

The feasters

Drinking ginger soda

David with one of his favorite buddies - Josiah Peterson

 I love this little guy (Johnathan Smith)!
He was wearing a "Thanksgiving" outfit, complete with turkeys and other holiday-related pictures, and a patch that read "1st Thanksgiving."

I want to wish all of you a most happy and blessed Thanksgiving! May our thoughts and praises be toward our Awesome God - from Whom ALL blessings flow!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Island Life, Part 3 - "Dos and Don'ts"

(This is the third in an occasional series about life on Lingira Island. For part 1, click here. For part 2, click here.)

Life on an island can be an interesting experience. But maybe you have already figured that out if you read the first two posts in this series. This post is about the "dos and don'ts" of life on Lingira.
  • We do not have vehicles on the island, perhaps because there aren't roads, only paths. There is one motorcycle, which was given to the police, but they wondered what to do with it without roads to run it on. So someone is using it to ferry people and loads, for a profit, on one of the more level paths that runs between two villages. SHIM has its trusty "car," an orange wheelbarrow, which comes in very handy for transporting things around our property, or down to the school or boat. On Wednesdays, I would frequently load up the wheelbarrow with several computers, the generator, extension cord, power cord, and my teaching materials and wheel it all down to the school for classes.
 David and Andrew enjoying some time in SHIM's island "car."
  • You do not pass someone without offering at least a simply greeting. You do say something like "Oli otya," a combination of "Good afternoon and how are you," or "wee bali" ("thank you"), or "jee bali," which means "well done." You say the latter no matter what the person you pass is doing, even if they are just sitting there. : )
  • As noted in other posts, we do not have running water here. We do have three water tanks, however, which hold rain water caught off the roofs. Whether you are washing dishes, bathing, washing clothes, mopping, etc., you must first get your rainwater, putting it in a bucket or basin. No indoor plumbing also equals no flushing toilets. We have some nice pit latrines (outhouses) though. ; )
Workers last year building our 7,000-gallon tank for catching rainwater off the roof of the admin. building.
  • Though we don't have running water, we do have Internet. There are priorities, you know. : )
  • There are no electrical instruments or equipment used in our island church, but honestly I don't think we need them. In a recent conversation with one of the island teachers, he commented that those things were missing, therefore I might also miss them. No, I said, if I had to choose where to worship in Uganda, I would choose our simple, but exuberant island church. I love the combination of the traditional drums, the rythmic clapping, the deafening shouting, the joyous dancing and the overall enthusiasm of the people to be in God's house. A keyboard or mics maybe would add something, but in my opinion they would only detract from the island people's wholehearted gift of worship and praise to their God.
This video is actually of another island church, but the exuberant praise and worship is much the same as my own church.
  • We do not have supermarkets on the island, but we do have simple island shops where you can buy the basic items - flour, soap, sugar, soda, biscuits (cookies), etc. By the way, soda and biscuits are necessary items, especially if visitors land on your doorstep. It is customary to give them something to eat or drink.
  • We don't have apples or grapes, but we do have pineapple, mangos, papaya, oranges, lemons, as well as tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, maize (corn), pumpkins, watermelon, passion fruit, sweet potatoes, millet, sesame seed, cassava (a root, like a potato) - all grown on this island! Much of these things I mentioned are grown in the SHIM gardens. It is like living in a fruit basket!
A glimpse of SHIM's flourishing gardens. They are under the oversight of the visionary and talented Julius Twali - our "agriculture man." He is shown in the top and lower middle photos. Justus, a helper, is shown on the left in the lower photo.
There are other island "dos and don'ts," but they will have to wait for a future post. I do have other work to get done, so I don't get behind. :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Inspirational Friday: "You Were Meant to Be"

I may start a new series called "Inspirational Fridays" where on an occasional Friday, I post something inspirational. : )

I recently bought Steven Curtis Chapman's album: "Re-Creation." I like all of the songs, but there are a couple that I really enjoy that I am sharing with you today. I find them "inspirational," especially when I am undertaking my daily (and sometimes monotonous) task of sweeping and mopping the floors of our admin. building.

If you are struggling with where you are now and with what God has you doing, I hope you are both blessed and inspired by the following songs.

In case there is any doubt,

"You are perfectly, wonderfully,
Beautifully meant to be
You were meant to be
Meant to be..."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Island Life, Part 2

(This is the second post in an ongoing "Island Life" series. For the first one, click here.)

After my first visit to Uganda (in 2006-07), people asked about my favorite part. Without hesitation, I would reply, "The people." My answer would likely be the same today.

I have met some amazing people here, and some of my favorites live on the island. Let me introduce a few to you.

Papa and Mama O - Okoro and Olive
Papa and Mama O teach in a Family Ministry seminar.

Papa and Mama O, as they are affectionately called by nearly everyone, have lived and served on the island since 2000. They were serving with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) when I first met them back in 2006. They have been with SHIM since the first half of 2007 - joining shortly after Shepherd's Heart was established.

The Os remind me of my own parents. Papa O loves to talk, tell stories and make people laugh - like my own father. Papa is great as the head of hospitality as he truly desires for every visitor to feel "most welcome." He is known for his traditional dancing, his singing, his impersonations of "American" accents, and his funny sayings and stories.

Mama O with their firstborn Harriet and Harriet's twin daughters, born last December.

Mama O provides a wonderful balance to Papa as she is the more reserved, more organized, more detailed one - much like my own mom. She is the hardest working person I have ever met - often working from dawn to dusk. Mama O is also very compassionate, generous and discerning.

As a complementary team, the Os make great leaders of our Family Ministry branch - organizing seminars in churches, visiting island homes, and sharing God's perspective of marriage and family. Their ministry is authenticated by their own lives, having been married for 25+ years with six beautiful God-fearing adult children, five grandchildren and another on the way.

They are not from the islands, but felt called to serve here 10+years ago. Trained as a teacher and nurse, respectively, Papa and Mama turned their backs on secure careers, respect from peers and family, mainland life and security, much like the call of Abraham. But as Papa O shared recently, God has provided for them and their children. Three of their kids have completed their university education, with the most recent finishing at the top of his class.

As the Os have been faithful to God's calling, God has been faithful to meet their needs. They are not seeking lands, houses or treasure on earth, but are storing up riches in the heavenly kingdom as they minister to the individual and families of the islands and beyond.

I think you can see why I love this couple! : )

Island Teachers 
Three of our island teachers, Joy, Topista and Violet, shown with the girls of this year's graduating class.

Our island secondary (high) school - Lingira Living Hope - was founded in February 2006, and in the last 5+ years there have been quite a number of dedicated teachers who have served among its staff.

To live and work on the islands is a sacrifice, especially for most Ugandans. These places are often despised. Those who work here often have families living elsewhere and perhaps houses, land and businesses on the mainland that they have to leave unattended. Many Ugandans fear water and will not cross it to make a living. But our island teachers do just that.

Of the eight teachers on staff, three are mothers who balance teaching with caring for their young ones - 2-1/2 years and younger. There are five male teachers, most of whom do not yet have families, but are still responsible for younger siblings, parents and other relatives. Because they have a stable job, many look to them for support.

The Headmaster (Principal) Sam and Deputy Headmaster (Vice Principal) Fred both completed university degrees this year - using their holiday breaks from the school to become students themselves, filling their free time to hone their professions.

Headmaster Sam Okello, right, with a visiting university professor from Oregon.

The teachers' perseverance, dedication and sacrifice are amazing to me as they tirelessly instruct and mentor the 100+ students in their care.

I find the teachers of Lingira Living Hope amazing and I know God honors their faithful dedication.

The Students of Lingira Living Hope
When I came back to Uganda in early 2010 I had no idea I would be as involved with the school and students as I am now.

But God showed me in late November 2010 that youth and teaching are among the "passions" He has put in me. I find great joy in interacting, teaching and just being with the young men and women of Lingira Living Hope.

They are unlike any group of youth I have every worked with in that there are language, cultural and racial barriers that can and sometimes do exist between us. But as in most relationships, when you show care, people respond by opening up their hearts and lives.

Anna - one of my favorite students. She is small in stature but big in joy, love and service to God.

Some of the boys and girls come from difficult homes and circumstances, others are basically on their own with no parents or guardian to look after them. Rejection from family is among the consequences some face for choosing Christ. Many worry about where their school fees will come from, how to buy soap or other basic needs, or how they will live during the school breaks. Their challenges are often beyond what I can relate to.

When I look at them, however, I see huge potential - as those created in the image of God, as the future of the island and of Uganda. For many, an education is a hope to secure a better future for themselves and their families. School may be a chance of survival.

Students and teachers of Lingira Living Hope
My greatest desires for these young people are for them to catch a glimpse of how God sees them, and to embrace the abundant life and purposes He has for them. Life is more than survival - indeed God wants us to thrive in Him. This is my hope for the students of Lingira Living Hope.

I never thought that people on a remote island in a small African country would capture my heart, but they certainly have.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Island Life, Part 1

I live on a tropical island.

It's true.

Lingira Island is found on the world's largest tropical lake, Lake Victoria, and is just north of the equator. We have days and weeks and months of sunshine, with the only occasional cloudy and/or rainy day. The rain here comes and goes quickly.

A birds-eye view of the island. "Lingira" means "peeking" in Luganda. :)

We have pretty much the same amount of daylight year-round. Out here there are a number of varieties of colorful and unique birds, as well as many species of flora and some fauna. A gentle breeze often cools the air. Big puffy clouds float across the sky and the evenings often close with brilliant sunsets, ushering in the star-studded nights.

"Island" Collage

Now if the words "tropical island" conjure up images of swaying palm trees and me sunbathing on a beach with a cold drink in my hand, well, let me clarify. By the way, there are no palm trees here.

I love the island - it is peaceful, beautiful and some of my favorite people live here. But life here is interesting.

For instance, take the last 24 hours. Once darkness settled yesterday evening, so came the "plague" of lake flies. These seasonally gnat-like creatures "crave" light. They swarm by the thousands (maybe millions!) around any light they can find - porch light, flashlight, phone, etc. After eating dinner (and probably a few of the critters in the process) I took refuge in my semi-dark bedroom and went to bed early. I dared not turn on any light. (Note: I wrote about lake flies in Feb. 2010 in this post.)

This morning their little bodies were scattered across our floors. Sweeping and swiping away the cobwebs became a tedious job as these wispy bugs flew about.

In front of Andy and Karina's house, I carted away probably a dozen buckets of these greenish, smelly things. It looked like a small snowstorm had hit the Smith home, but it was only...bugs.

 The small "mountain" of lake flies I removed by the bucket-full from in front of the Smith home. My shoe is there for perspective.

Bugs are everywhere here. Do not dare leave any food out or the small, army-like ants will quickly locate it and call in for back-up troops. The island's strange-looking critters also include crickets with long antennas, flat spiders, flying beetles and bees that resemble B-24 bombers.

Industrious wasps called mud-daubers fly about literally building little mud houses everywhere (including on clothes, on books, on walls, on just about anything). They then lay their eggs inside and stock the little house with dead spiders for their young to feed on. Can I just say yuck?

 Mud-dauber "houses" built in the corner of a room.

Then this morning while cleaning up the obnoxious lake flies, my right foot came in contact with an iron sheet (used for roofing here), cutting the base of my small toe. By the amount of blood dripping off my foot, I suspected the cut was deep and called for Mama O, a trained nurse. She came and quickly attended to my foot, cleaning it and applying "plasters" - band-aids.

Now with my right foot in a sock to keep it clean, I am hobbling about, sorta.

For any of you planning a trip to the island, don't let this post scare you. There are many other interesting, but good things, about my little 'ol tropical island, but they will be unveiled in future posts.

Now, let me get back to my book and cold drink...

P.S. Did you know that the word "insect" comes from a Greek word meaning "cut into sections." Strange.
 (Source: Wikipedia)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Whose directions are you following?

I believe there is a fine line in ministry. A line between accomplishing "necessary" tasks and goals, and being with and meeting the needs of the people around you. Sometimes the two mix, sometimes they don't.

Are you a task-oriented person ((TOP) or a people-oriented person (POP)?

I am a task-oriented person and an introvert. While I enjoy people, I can also spend hours alone, fixated on a project. After spending any substantial time with people, I often find it necessary to get away and "recharge." I realize God created us differently - in personality, in giftings, and in the issues and people which stir our hearts.

Lately, I have been thinking about the focus of my ministry here, or rather the Lord's ministry that He has invited me to be a part of in Uganda.

My involvements and responsibilities have increased since I returned to Uganda two months ago. On one hand, I am grateful to be busy and active. On the other hand, sometimes I become weary after trying to accomplish my "work," that I don't have enough energy remaining for people. I put "work" in quotes because I have a hard time using the word as it can suggest something like a 9-to-5 job, which is not how I want to portray what I am doing here.

Sometimes I wonder how Jesus did it during His ministry on earth. I am sure there were certain things and tasks that had to be accomplished as part of His mission, yet He always seemed to take time for the people - the hungry and pressing crowds, the sick and despised individuals, the minimized outcasts, the needy disciples, the "sinners." How did He do it?

Jesus testified over and over again that He was on earth to do His Father's will, not to accomplish His own agenda. Here, the incarnate Son of God, willingly placed Himself under the authority and direction of His Father - reflecting their perfect unity and divine eternal relationship.

"Jesus gave them this answer: 'I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.'" - John 5:19-23

Each step, each word, each act of mercy, each encounter of the Son was directed and inspired by the Father. I believe they were in constant communion. Jesus accomplished all that the Father had given Him to do because He was never out of contact (aside from the few hours surrounding His sacrificial death).

How do I know what is good, better or the best of what God wants me to do? How do I know if this task or that person is of the highest priority? Knowing myself, I know I need to put more emphasis on the people around me. The souls of people are the only things that will continue past this world. And, God has called us to play an important role in sharing the incredible Good News of His amazing love and salvation with the souls around us.

Yes, God made us differently - introverts, extroverts, A-type and B-type personalities, varying spiritual gifts, abilities and experiences, and more. Obviously God did this on purpose, but in all, whatever our makeup, we must remain submitted to the Father and the directing of the Holy Spirit. This may mean allowing "interruptions" or the rearranging of our schedules and to-do lists for the "divine encounters."

Whether you're a TOP or POP, let the Father be your Guide in all that you do.

May we say as Jesus said, "I can do nothing by myself."

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Recipe for Uganda's Future Success

Uganda was only a teenager - 18 - when I was born. Yesterday, it marked its 49th year of independence from its surrogate mother - Britain - which came October 9, 1962. Before independence, Uganda was under British rule and care for 68 years - since 1894.

Yesterday, when I came off the island and arrived in Jinja late morning, I was not aware of the important holiday. But when I saw two large groups of soldiers gathering on one of the streets, I became concerned. "What is going on?" I asked my boda (motorcycle) driver. "It's Independence Day," he responded. Later as I shopped in one of the local supermarkets, a celebratory band marched past, performing an upbeat tune and parading proudly down Main Street.

Later in the day, as I watched one of the news stations report on the day's festivities, a question was asked. It was along the lines of "In 49 years since independence, do you think Uganda has made great strides as a nation?" I knew I personally couldn't answer that question. I wasn't born when the nation was birthed in 1962, and really had little knowledge of the country until my first visit in 2006, only five years ago.

By the way, it was on Uganda's Independence Day, Oct. 9, 2006, that I left the U.S. for my first trip to Uganda. : )

Throughout the day, I pondered the station's question and what my response might be.

Uganda is a beautiful country in East Africa, thus earning it the exquisite title of "Pearl of Africa." The people, their tribes, their languages and many of their cultural ways are beautiful. The green, fertile, rolling landscape is breathtaking. The mighty Nile, which flows north to Egypt, finds its source in the massive Lake Victoria. That "Source" is just a few miles from where I sit now.

 Looking toward the "Source of the Nile" - where Lake Victoria empties into the Nile River.

Majestic and unique animals, vivid flora, varying landscapes, bright blue cloud-filled skies, star-studded nights...Uganda is truly breathtaking in so many ways. 

Sometimes I think the people don't realize how much they really have. Uganda is extremely fertile. It has two growing seasons and crops grow about 2 to 3 times faster than those in my home state of Oregon, which is much farther north, is colder, wetter, and has only one growing season.

Ugandan Tea Fields

A radio station reported yesterday that the Buganda king (yes, there is still the presence of the pre-Britain tribal kingdom), was asking young people to return from the cities and work the land once again. In my humble opinion, Uganda must develop all of its resources - both the natural and the man-made - to succeed in the coming years. Yes, the land must be developed and cared for, and yet the young people need to learn other trades and skills in order to lead Uganda into the future.

For Uganda to survive and thrive, it must get past some serious issues that can stunt its growth:

Corruption is like a serious contagious virus here. Hardly any time passes before you hear of someone - a government official, a worker, someone entrusted with valuable resources, and others from all classes and statutes taking what does not belong to them. Unfortunately, Christians, including pastors, have not been exempt from this sin.

In a recent conversation on corruption with the island school's Headmaster, he noted that when people are in a job or position they often want to get the most from it as they don't know how long they will be there. It is a "survival mentality" - "take everything I can get now, as I don't know what I will have available tomorrow." They seem to abide by the Scripture, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." (Luke 12:19)

However, many seem to steal out of genuine or at least "perceived" need.

In a recent situation that was somewhat close to me, a young woman took some money from a house she was employed at. She then used some of it to buy a phone for her father and pay school fees for younger siblings. She did not waste it all on herself, but sought to assist her family. I am not condoning theft at all, but I find it interesting the reasoning that propels people to steal and practice corruption.

What they may not realize is that why they are picking pockets, someone is likely picking theirs. Corruption is a vicious cycle that must be broken.

This small country has the third highest growth rate in the world. Last September, Uganda's population stood at 33.8 million people - about 9 times that of Oregon's 3.8 million. Comparatively, Uganda's land area is about the same size as Oregon. The median age of a Ugandan is 15. The average woman here gives birth to seven children.

Lingira Living Hope's Senior 4 Class

The "Pearl" is rich in young people. Schools often have a hard time accommodating so many students. Jinja Senior Secondary School here in Jinja, has a student population of about 5000 and is said to be the largest secondary school in East Africa. To ensure Uganda survives another 49, 50, 75 years, these young people must be trained to lead. Many schools are doing a good job of shaping the young men and women, but there is always room for improvement.

One last area that I believe Uganda needs to develop to succeed, is to truly gain independence.

This small country is one of the most talked about when it comes to foreign and humanitarian aid, missions efforts, and other forms of help. My mission agency, Global Outreach International, has its largest group of missionaries - 20+ - in Uganda, more than any in other place in the world. There are likely a couple of hundred missionaries based in the Jinja area alone. And I know many others are located in other parts of the country.

Awhile back I came to the conclusion that Uganda is "spoiled." Spoiled in the fact that it has received so much help that it has forgotten how to care for its own. When a mzungu or foreign presence is around, people often shirk their God-mandated responsibilities. In our child sponsorship program, we frequently have to remind our students' families and relatives that we have not taken over care of the child - they are still responsible in so many ways.

 A Ugandan girl

I am not saying that past or current help is not needed in Uganda. Many here are suffering and do have genuine needs. But those of us on the ground must be careful not to practice paternalism - doing for others what they can do for themselves. Finding that fine line can be very difficult here.

Uganda must learn, at some point, to begin standing on its own two feet. This begins from the top down. The president, the members of parliament, and others in authority - they must set the example. But it can also begin in the humble homes and villages throughout this land.

Discipleship class graduates - Training island leaders in God's ways

I am proud to be working with SHIM, a ministry that focuses on coming alongside the nationals and equipping them to recognize and fulfill their God-given potential and responsibilities.

It is in God's Word that we find the "recipe for success" that Uganda so greatly needs.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

"And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" - Deuteronomy 10:12-13

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth." - Deuteronomy 11:18-21

Happy 49th Anniversary, Uganda! Indeed, may the years ahead be those of Divine success and blessing!