Monday, July 25, 2011

Counting Down the Days...

Phew, there are so many things to think about when one is preparing to go, which is the main reason why you haven't heard much from me lately.

Alot of last night and this morning was spent packing. Clothes - check. Toothpaste - check. Pillow - check. Camera - check. Sleeping bag - check. Wait a minute...sleeping bag? I'm taking a sleeping bag to Uganda? No, but I am taking it to camp. ; )

Today marks the first day of one of my favorite weeks in the whole year, in fact I scheduled my furlough to make sure I would be home for it this year. After reading reports and seeing pictures of everyone's great time at church camp last year, and feeling the most homesick of any other time while in Uganda, I KNEW I could not miss another church camp.

A full week of tons of fellowship, fun, teaching, singing, games and food are just some of the highlights of camp. So I am going to scoot, throw my sleeping bag in the car and head off for a memorable week. I'll post some pictures when I get back. : )

Oh, and it is about 10 days until I leave Oregon (Aug. 4) on my journey back to Uganda. And I would so appreciate your continued prayers! Thank you!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Publishing Hope

The following story was published in this week's edition of The Clatskanie Chief, my hometown weekly newspaper. I worked at The Chief for 11 years before I became a missionary.

The piece was printed in The Trident column - the space reserved for comments by the editor, Deborah Steele Hazen. (Her initials follow the "Editor's Note" at the beginning.) While I wrote hundreds of article during my tenure at the paper, this is only the second time to have my writing featured in The Trident column, and I consider it quite an honor.

God used my years at The Chief to grow me up in a lot of ways, and prepare me for the future He had in mind. : )

(Editor’s Note: Before departing Clatskanie to serve as a missionary on Lingira Island in Uganda, Ruth Howard served as a reporter/photographer for The Clatskanie Chief for 11 years. Currently back in Clatskanie visiting with family and friends, we asked Ruth to write a column about her mission. - DSH)
Ugandan Students Find Hope for Brighter Futures
by Ruth E. Howard
Guest Columnist
At times I am without words. 

Their stories, circumstances and backgrounds are foreign to me, even though I hear them often repeated. 

Rejection by family, hunger that forces unwanted decisions, crippling sickness, anxiety over the next meal or the next term’s school fees – the students face these fears daily. The burdens are greater than their young shoulders should have to bear.
When they come to me for counsel, I often feel I cannot find the right words. 
Poverty seen from a distance can make you feel helpless to help, but when you observe it daily, it can be very overwhelming.
More than 95 percent of the population of the small Ugandan island I live on struggles below the “poverty level.” It is no comparison to what westerners define as “below the poverty line.”
Yet when circumstances seem the bleakest, that is when hopes shines the brightest. Even a candle’s small flame can disperse a room’s cloaking darkness.

Ugandan students are finding hope and brighter horizons. Half a world away, in a place where education is often not valued or may be out of reach for various reasons, students are discovering new paths to broader futures.

A Second Home in Uganda 
 For most of my life I never dreamed of missions work in Africa, though now I can’t imagine my life apart from Uganda. A resident of Clatskanie for more than 22 years, I found a second home on a small island in this East African country. 
I am serving under Global Outreach International, based in Tupelo, Miss., and with Shepherd’s Heart International Ministry (SHIM). A multi-faceted ministry based on Lingira Island, Uganda, SHIM was co-founded by Karina (Thomas) Smith, a good friend of mine who is also formerly of Clatskanie. I feel privileged to have witnessed the birth of Shepherd’s Heart during my first visit to Uganda, from October 2006-March 2007.
Leaving the states in January 2010, I flew to Uganda to spend a year, which extended into nearly 16 months. I came back to Oregon May 1 for a three-month furlough and will return to Uganda in mid-August.
In my time in southern Uganda, I found my heart stirred and drawn to the students with whom I interact almost daily. These young men and women attend Lingira Living Hope Secondary School (LLHSS), a private, Christian-based institution - only a few-minutes walk from where I live and work at SHIM. I love the school and the bright hope it represents to the students and to the islands.

Lingira Living Hope and SHIM are found near Kyoya (pronounced “Choy ya”) village on Lingira Island - a small island in the northern region of Lake Victoria. Lingira is one of 52 islands in the Buvuma Island chain - the second largest chain on the lake. Lake Victoria, which empties into the Nile River near Jinja - the city nearest me, is the second largest freshwater lake in the world. More than 3000 islands are on the lake, which is shared by Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. It is safe to say several million people live on the lake.
 LINGIRA LIVING HOPE SECONDARY SCHOOL, pictured above, is making education a reality for students of remote islands in southern Uganda. A former Chief reporter, Ruth Howard, works with Lingira Living Hope and its students in Bible studies, computer classes and more. The school is located on Lingira Island where Ruth recently spent 16 months until coming back to Clatskanie in May. She will return to Lingira Island in August. 

A Turning Tide 
The island areas of Uganda are unique. Few call them “home,” fondly referring instead to the mainland villages of their birth. Consequently, change and development are difficult to implement and even slower to be embraced. The islanders consist of refugees who fled from conflicts and wars elsewhere, criminals, or those simply looking for work in the once-thriving fishing trade. 
While schools can be found on nearly every block in Uganda’s cities and larger towns, they are rare on the Buvuma Islands, especially those for secondary school students. So when Lingira Living Hope began in February 2006 it was like the dawning of a new hope for the islands. 
Distance and money have kept island students from attending mainland schools, and the idea of earning money today rather than investing in an ongoing education has diverted girls and boys from continuing past the primary level. Young men opt instead to become fishermen and the girls are often married off or enlisted to help at home.

But the tide is turning. The nearby Lingira Primary School saw an increase from eight students in its top class in 2006 to more than 100 in 2010. Many of those students then advance to the island secondary school. Education is now an achievable reality.

“I thought I was in heaven!” 
Even before I officially met Suzan, I was captivated by her beaming and ever-present smile. 

Her ready grin gave the appearance that she was always happy. As a newly-sponsored student through SHIM, I took time to get to know Suzan and learned it was gratitude that fueled her joy. 

From Namiti, an island three hours beyond Lingira, Suzan was the top performing girl among more than 100 area students. 
Though her grades would have made Suzan welcome in any school, it was money that kept her from studying. Despite her family’s best efforts, they could not afford to send Suzan to secondary school. 

“God, you can answer my prayers, please answer me,” Suzan fervently prayed one evening after being sent home from school once again for a lack of fees. When an aunt called the next morning to inform Suzan of a sponsorship to attend Lingira Living Hope, Suzan responded ecstatically, “I thought I was in heaven!” She describes the school as the “best thing I have seen since I was born.”

Once an Orphan, Soon a Teacher 
He was left a young orphan and then as a teenager was rejected for his Christian faith by his Muslim polygamous family. Yet a difficult past has not tempered Timothy’s desire to help others. 
After finishing at the island school in 2008 and taking two more years of school elsewhere, equivalent to a junior college level, Timothy was invited back to Lingira this year by the school’s headmaster. After teaching some science classes and assisting with “Scripture Union” - a weekly Christian worship service and Bible study - Timothy believes God is calling him to be a teacher. 
Having never before considered the profession, Timothy seems surprised himself that God would plant such a desire in his heart. Yet, his compassion for students much like himself is stirring Timothy to attend a teachers’ training college, and someday return to officially teach at the island school.  

Timothy has tasted freedom and hope in his relationship with Jesus Christ and in his continuing education, and wants to share them with students who need the same.

I am inspired by the stories of Suzan, Timothy and others. And I am challenged to continue to pray, teach, serve and give as I interact with students like them. It is a joy to mentor them in Bible studies, computer classes and in other settings.
INTERACTING WITH UGANDAN STUDENTS like Lovinsa, at left, brings much joy and satisfaction to Ruth Howard, at right, formerly of Clatskanie. Ruth is working as a missionary with Shepherd’s Heart International Ministry in Uganda.

Education Not the Ultimate Answer
While I love Lingira Living Hope and the change it is kindling on the islands, I know education is not the ultimate answer to the needs of this disadvantaged area. 
Nor do I believe that knowledge holds the key for Uganda, the rest of Africa or the entire world. It is only a vehicle to spread the “living hope” - God’s light and truth. 

I and the other Christians with whom I work, both American and Ugandan, understand that poverty extends beyond the lack of basic necessities. 

Ministry is not only about feeding starving stomachs, but even more importantly about feeding starving souls. More than anything, I want to see the island students find true hope and freedom in Jesus Christ - the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

Once known as dark and “forgotten” places, the islands are being lit and changed by Christ’s transformational light. Their darkness is being dispersed by the increasing “candlelight” of ministries like SHIM. 
The various ministry branches of Shepherd’s Heart - water and sanitation, discipleship and evangelism, family ministry, women’s craft initiatives, economic development, child and educational development, and agriculture - touch all aspects of island life. (For more about SHIM and its growing work on the Buvuma Islands, visit
When the students’ stories and needs overwhelm me and I am left without words, I am reminded of God’s incredible and unchanging love for them and the others of the Ugandan islands. God sees and cares for individuals throughout the world. I rest in this unchanging truth.
To learn more about my time in Uganda and to continue following my work there, visit my blog:

The Suubi Project Looks to “Build” Hope on Island
by Ruth E. Howard 
 After housing staff and students in “temporary” and inadequate mud buildings for several years, Lingira Living Hope is in the process of constructing permanent concrete buildings. 

More dorms and pit latrines are needed at the school.

The price for building on the island is more expensive than in other parts of Uganda, because of the cost to transport supplies over the lake. 

To help fund this expensive endeavor, I have launched what I am calling “The Suubi Project.” I have made notecard sets using photographs I took in Uganda, and am offering them for sale with all proceeds benefitting the building project. The photos feature animals, flowers, sunsets and other scenes of Uganda.

“Suubi” means “hope” in Luganda - one of Uganda’s primary languages. 

I believe that with more adequate facilities, more students can find hope of an education at Lingira Living Hope. 

To see samples of the notecards, visit the “The Suubi Project” page on my blog, find “The Suubi ‘Hope’ Project” page on Facebook, or send an e-mail to

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Never Done that Before!

There is a "first time" for everything, so they say. I just didn't realize some of my "firsts" would take place in Uganda - a country so far from home.

Yesterday I was thinking about some of the things I experienced for the first time in Uganda. Here is what I came up with:

 - My first trip to Uganda, October 2006-March 2007, was my first time outside the U.S., except for one day in Canada in 1991, which hardly counts.

 With island children during my first trip to Uganda.

- It was my first time to be away from home for any length of time.

- It was also my first international flight that took me to Uganda. My return to the U.S. in March 2007 was my first time to fly alone.

- I had my first ice cream on an airplane as I flew back to Africa in January 2010. Though it was served at the equivalent of breakfast time, I ate it because I didn't know the next time I would enjoy chocolate ice cream.

- It was my first time to live on an island or in a place without running water and electricity.

- In that visit four years ago, I used an Internet "cafe" for the first time.

- It was my first introduction to "flash drives" as I kept seeing people with these "sticks" hanging around their necks.

Me on a boda-boda

- I had my first motorcycle ride in 2006 in Uganda. Boy, was it scary as I perched side-saddle on the seat behind the driver, with a too-heavy backpack on my back and held on for dear life. I thought the driver was going way too fast and too close to other apparatus on the road. Now I love motorcyle rides and they are my favorite way to travel in Uganda! I love the wind whipping through my hair and being able to see the passing scenery better than you could from a vehicle. By the way, this type of transport is called boda-boda (pronounced "bo-duh, bo-duh") and supposedly comes from the fact that they go from "border to border."

- I had my first tailor-made dress in Uganda. There it can be less expensive or equal to having a dress made for you, compared to buying a new one in a store. And it is fun because you get to design it!

- I bought my first high heels. To go with another tailor-made dress for a wedding of one of the island teachers. : )

April 2010 - Amanda and I wearing our tailor-made dresses and preparing to attend a wedding.

- Okay, so this isn't necessarily a first, but I painted my toenails on a regular basis during my recent stay there. Prior to going to Uganda, I could probably count on one hand the numbers of times my toenails had been painted.

- I had my first ever pedicure - on my 30th birthday - in Uganda. I always shied away from them because I know how extremely ticklish I am. I survived and enjoyed the first pedicure, but the second one was quite different. I had a hard time sitting still as it seemed my ticklish nerves were right under the surface!

- Speaking of birthdays, my 30th was my first-ever birthday to be celebrated away from family. But, it was certainly a very special and memorable one. (Thank you, Amanda!)

A collage of my birthday activities - breakfast, pedicure and manicure, "Crazy" golf, a delicious lunch, swimming and a surprise dinner with dear friends at Ling-Lings in Jinja.

- Okay, not quite another first, but I wore sandals and flip-flops almost all the time in Uganda. This is the girl who rarely wore sandals in the U.S., except for in the summer and at one time, disliked flip-flops (didn't like something rubbing my toes). I also was not one who previously enjoyed going barefoot, even in my own house. Well, I always go barefoot inside at the island SHIM base. It is part cultural and partly to keep the floor cleaner. : ) Now I go barefoot all the time at home. : )

- I enjoyed my first cooked bananas. There are many different kind of banana varieties in Uganda, and matoke is one of the most common. It is not very sweet and is prepared by boiling it for several hours. It is usually served with some kind of sauce. I particularly enjoy matoke when it has the consistency of mashed potatoes.

- I saw wild animals, like lions, monkeys, hippos and others outside of cages on a safari in December 2010. See videos on my "video" page for a close-up look and check out my blog post "When I in awesome wonder..."

- I started a blog when I knew I was going back to Uganda, thus the genesis of "Journey of Faith."

December 26, 2006 - Karina and I (Yes, we officially celebrated Christmas the day after - on "Boxing Day." It was for no reason other than we were too busy to observe Christmas on the actual day.)

- It was the first time I ever celebrated Christmas away from home, family and friends. But, I did get to observe it in December 2006 with dear friends, Karina, Amanda D. and Jessica (all from the U.S.).

- For the first time, I shared a room with someone other than my sister and long-time roommate Leah. The first was Karina, and then Amanda. : )

Amanda and I wearing our matching tailored dresses.

- For the first time I rode a bicycle and was not the one pedaling. Piki-pikis (pronounced "pee-chee, pee-chees") are another way to travel in Uganda. Hop on the back of a bicycle and pay just a few hundred shillings (usually less than 50 cents) to get from here to there. Just don't take one if you are in a hurry. :) (Okay, I take that back. There was a time when I was a younger when I was just too exhausted to continue on a family bike ride. So my dad attached a bungee cord to my bike and pulled me along.)

 Me preaching in our island church. Brainard, a dear friend, was translating.

- I preached my first sermon in Uganda. It was in my home church in the Kyoya village on Lingira Island. I think the topic was about as we look to Jesus, we are changed. I have preached several times since then and taught Sunday School. Being instant in season and out is so important there. One time I was given all of five minutes' notice before teaching the youth Sunday School class.

- Living in Uganda it was my first time to not be able to drink water from the tap, and strictly to drink purified, boiled or bottled water.

- In Uganda, specifically on the island, I learned to take "bucket baths" - taking a basin of water into a shower area and using a cup as the dipper. : )

- In Uganda, I learned a foreign language, aside from some American sign language a few years before my first trip.

- In Uganda I cooked for the first time over something other than a stove or campfire. Cooking over charcoal stoves is a challenge, so I usually leave that to others. A two-burner gas stove is a luxury on the island.

 Late 2006 - Making peanut butter balls over a one-burner propane stove.

- I learned to really dance in Uganda - well, sorta. : )

- In April I had a major first and a chance to face one of my biggest fears. Despite my life-long anxiety over water, I went whitewater rafting on the Nile. And, I loved it and would go again in a heartbeat. : ) I will not, however, be facing my fear of heights and go bungee-jumping.

April 2011 - Whitewater rafting on the Nile River

- In Uganda, it was the first time I realized God was calling me to be a missionary. It was never something I dreamed of or longed for, but God has His ways of bringing us to where He wants us to be and causing us to be truly fulfilled in that place. Now I cannot imagine my life apart from Uganda.

- In Uganda I made my first friends of a different nationality. Now they are family to me.

Okay, so I am sure there are more, but these are the "firsts" that came to mind. I am so grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to experience a different county, a different culture, a different way of life. There are challenges, but the opportunities, blessings and adventures outshine any difficulties.

I am not naturally an adventurous, spontaneous risk-taker, so it took God putting me so far out of my comfort zone to really learn to experience life in a much-fuller way. I am so, so thankful!

So, what have been some of your recent "firsts"?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

One of My Most Favorite People in the World!

I can't remember a time in my life in which she was not a part of it. Folks have asked if we are twins, while some have even questioned if we are sisters. I asked my aunt the other day if my sis' and I resembled each other at all. She admittedly said no.

We are pretty different in personality, too. She is methodical and patient. I have the "get-it-done-as-fast-as-possible" attitude and don't have as much patience. Leah is naturally a planner and I am learning to become one. She is neat and tidy and I have "pile-it" programs on my desk, the floor, in the cupboard, etc. Leah being a mercy is the family peacemaker and dislikes conflict. I don't like conflict, but have been known to share my opinion too freely. As a teacher, I like facts and want the story straight. She is an extrovert and LOVES to have people around. I am an introvert and love blocks of time by myself. She is a talker, I am a writer. She is a self-sacrificing server and I am learning from her example.

Though we are so different, we do find much in common.

Leah is my only sibling and my best friend. She was home in June for 12 days. It was the first time we had been together since October 2009. I would never have dreamed as we grew up - and did nearly everything together - that someday we would live 1000s of miles apart on different continents and have virtually separate lives, with different focuses and ministries.

But time nor distance can separate the hearts of sisters. I am blessed to share my sis' with others and proud that God is using her in such incredible ways. I just thought I would share with y'all just how much she means to me - hence this post. :) (BTW, for those of you who don't know - Leah works at Mt. Zion International School of Ministry in Pennsylvania. She graduated from Mt. Zion as valedictorian of her class in 2007 and has been on staff since then.)

When we were younger, it was tradition every one to two years for my mom to take us, in matching outfits, to a photo studio. Those photos are now scattered around the house. I just thought I would share a few with you, as well as some other less formal shots. :)

1983 - Our first professional photo together. Leah refused to smile, so the photographer was doing everything to make her crack a grin - even, as my mom says, bouncing balls off her head. In later years, Leah was much more cooperative. I believe she was probably around 2 and I was 3.


March 1985 - I think we had just had an argument.

My little sister wishing me well on my first day of kindergarten - Sept. 1985.

1985 - She hasn't stopped smiling for photos since. :)



 Angels in the Christmas Program (1986 or 1987?)

 Who's taller? 1991 - Leah has been taller than me for sooo long. The photographer set up the photo on the right, and then my mom kindly asked if we could stage one where I was taller. Presently, we are only a half-inch apart in height. Yes, she is still taller. :)

Various years. Notice that between 1993 (top left) and 1994 (top right) we had our long hair cut.

Singing with Mommy at Mayger's Family Camp. (Not sure what Daddy is doing, but I am sure it was helpful.)

2000 - Leah's graduation photo

2000 - My graduation photo. Yes, we graduated together, though we were two years apart in school. We were blessed to participate in a homeschool graduation with four other graduates. This is just one of life's milestones that Leah and I have shared together - baptisms, driver's permit and licenses, GEDs, and more. I wouldn't have chosen to share them with anyone else!

Father's Day 2011 - Indian Beach, Oregon Coast

We may not look alike or have identical personalities, but I am so grateful I share so many other things with my dear Leah - our family, friends, our faith, experiences, memories, curly hair ; ), and that we are sisters and best friends.

I love you so much, Leah Joy!  You have brought incredible joy to my life!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

There is just something about...

...celebrating July 4th in your hometown. In the 22+ years I have lived in Clatskanie, I have missed only one July 4th celebration. That was last year when I was in Uganda and I celebrated America's independence on a tropical island with a group of other Americans by roasting marshmallows indoors over a big charcoal stove and making our own "fireworks" with confetti poppers. : )

After missing this big holiday in my hometown, this year's Heritage Days celebration seemed all the more special. It was absolutely perfect weather - bright sunshine and blue skies. And I finally got a chance to darken my well-faded Ugandan tan. : )

 Grand Marshals - Kathy Boyd & Phoenix Rising - the band that put Clatskanie on the "musical map"

"Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie" was the theme for Clatskanie's annual round-up of festivities - the biggest thing that happens here with a full slate of activities that extend over multiple days. The BIG day - July 4th - includes the annual parade, logging show, barbecue, fireworks and more. The 2011 theme was taken from a song by the same name, produced by the band Kathy Boyd & Phoenix Rising. The tune garnered the most votes in an international Internet-based City Love songwriting contest. Yes, Clatskanie was voted the most-loved city in the universe as it beat out odes written in tribute to much larger cities like Paris, Sydney, Los Angeles and others around the world.

When you cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge spanning Oregon and Washington and prepare to head west - you have only twelve more miles to Clatskanie. It was 8000 miles for me to come home for these three months - and I am enjoying every minute of it. I love this one-stoplight town, nestled in tree-clad hills, where people know your name and your story. It is a cherished place where peace, family, friends, beauty, faith and history are embraced and upheld.

So, I thought I would give you a small glimpse of what makes Clatskanie so special.

Our lovely mayor - Diane Pohl - who is also a Christian, riding in the parade.

"Twelve More Smiles to Clatskanie" - a clever twist on the celebration's theme.

We have everything from horses, to clowns, to classic cars, tractors, walking sandwiches, to Sasquatch in Clatskanie's parade.

Couldn't resist not posting this one "12 More Piles to Clatskanie" - the elected and lucky "pooper-scooper" following the horses. :)
Love those John Deere tractors!

A local church always does a great job of putting the focus back on our Founding Father - God - who established this great nation.

Couldn't have said it much better. : )

Our local emergency vehicles - sirens and all - mark the end of the parade.

After a full day of the parade, logging show, chicken barbecue, live music, games and contests, catching up with friends and neighbors, and more, then comes the grand finale - a great fireworks show. These photos and videos were taken from our deck - where we have a great view of the colorful and spectacular display.

Hope y'all had a blessed and celebration-filled July 4th! 
May God continue to bless America!

P.S. You can get a free download of "Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie" at