Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pigment Perplexities, Part 1

I was so enjoying my time at church. The rain that had threatened to dampen the morning had come and gone, the sun was shining, the walk was enjoyable, and it was good to be with family in Christ as we worshiped our God and heard from His Word while sitting in the fresh air under the trees. It had been a long time since I had been to this church, and it felt good to be back.

Early on in the service a young woman clutching a baby sat down next to me. The woman looked young - probably younger than 20. I introduced myself and asked her name and the baby's too. I am not sure how it happened but she began sharing about the death of the baby's father and how she was left to care for it, though without resources. She wondered what I would do to help her. Later she said the baby cried very little and was good natured. It was as if she was "selling" her baby to me. I am still not sure if this young woman was the mother or not of this dear little girl.

Such questions and pleas are so common for the "mzungus" ("white people") who serve and visit here.  I have had other similar conversations in which I am basically asked "What will you do for me?" Ugandans often assume that because we are white we must be "rich" and have access to vast resources. Am I target for requests because of the pigment of my skin?

As I pondered such things on my walk back from church, I wondered if God sometimes feels the same way. That His children only come to Him when they need or want something. We ask for His blessing, His protection, His healing, His provision, His guidance, His ______ - fill in the blank. But do we seek to simply be in His presence, so that we may spend time with Him, so that we may know Him more, not to know His blessings more? Do I go to God only when I am lacking? Do I see Him as my "Sugar Daddy?"

As I thought about this young mother's situation and her misguided request, I was convicted as I reviewed my prayer life. How many times recently had I gone to God with petitions, not praises? With wants and not worship?

"Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise His holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
"Praise the Lord, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out His plans, listening for each of His commands.
"Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels who serve Him and do His will!
"Praise the Lord, everything He has created, everything in all His kingdom. 
"Let all that I am praise the Lord." - Psalm 103:1-4, 20-22

Our God deserves all praise, glory, honor and worship! May this be the first priority as we enter His presence.


Image Source: Microsoft Office Clipart
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Be Thou...Flexible & Patient

"If you want to grow, you must be willing to stretch." — Anonymous

If you asked me what qualities are necessary for a missionary to possess, flexibility and patience would be near the top of my list. 

I was reminded yesterday of the importance of these qualities in a conversation with a fellow missionary. They shared that plans, affecting multiple people, had to be re-set because of another's changing schedule. 

"Be firm on principle but flexible on method." ~ Zig Ziglar

When you live in a different culture, come from a different country and background, speak a different language, work with people with different priorities - flexibility and patience are absolutely necessary. 
"Be infinitely flexible and constantly amazed." ~ Jason Kravitz  

One of my favorite sayings here in Uganda, is "Hurry up and wait." The boat may leave anywhere between 8:30-9:30 a.m., and a 45-minute journey can stretch into a couple of hours. The meeting you were invited to will likely begin at least an hour later than the announced time. One day the Internet or phone network can work "perfectly," and the next day, they appear "broken." Electrical power nor water are assumed constants - they may or may not be available. Project plans and budgets cannot be set in stone. It seems there are more factors to consider here - weather, family, other relationships, education, understanding (or the lack of it), shortage of resources or manpower, others' plans and ideas, etc. Any one of these things can derail a "plan." 

Schedules and expectations have to be fluid in Uganda (and probably in most of Africa) or you will get out of joint very quickly. I am not saying this is bad, and it actually lends a more laid-back lifestyle. But for those of us who are used to a different way of life, it can take some getting used to.

"Thus, flexibility, as displayed by water, is a sign of life. Rigidity, its opposite, is an indicator of death." ~ Anthony Lawlor 

My personality loves routine. I like to know what is happening and when. I prefer to have a schedule so I can get the most accomplished. I find comfort and security in these things. I am learning, sometimes painfully, that time and routine are not top priorities in Uganda. I like to laughingly say, "I'm flexible - just don't bend me the wrong way." ; )

"One minute of patience, ten years of peace." ~ Greek Proverb

Patience is another valuable quality, not only on the missionfield, but anywhere. Patience is trusting that God remains in control, when situations or people may seem "off kilter." To lack patience is to lack trust in a sovereign God. I frequently marvel at our Creator's incredible patience as I read the accounts of the Israelite people and their rebellion, captivities, etc. Phew! God has an abundance of patience - not just for His "chosen people," but for you and I, too. You will give up on yourself much sooner than God ever will.

"Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength." ~ Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Like most character qualities, flexibility and patience have to be tested and stretched to truly grow.

"Patience is the companion of wisdom." ~ Saint Augustine

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.  - James 1:2-4 "Patience" in other versions is translated "steadfastness," "perseverance" or "endurance."
"Hope is patience with the lamp lit." ~ Tertullian

This morning I read in my Bible commentary, accompanying Acts 5, that "The purpose of life is to glorify God by building character through truth."

When God is developing our flexibility and patience, it is important to remember these truths: 1. He is good and always brings about good, 2. He knows my situation and is sovereign, 3. His glory is more important than my comfort or happiness.

"Faith is not simply a patience that passively suffers until the storm is past. Rather, it is a spirit that bears things - with resignations, yes, but above all, with blazing, serene hope." ~ Corazon Aquino

My friend Flex, who accompanied me to Uganda, is good picture of flexibility, thus earning him his name. He is made of rubber and he can be pushed and pulled in varying contortions. Yet, he always maintains a smile on his face.

If you are learning the lessons of flexibility and patience - take heart. God remains in control and if you trust Him, He will stretch and strengthen you, molding you into an even greater witness for Him!

"The principle part of faith is patience ~ George MacDonald
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Image Source: Microsoft Office Clipart

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hope Grows

Our God is amazing!

So let me explain the background for my opening. :) I love the spiritual illustrations that can be had from a simple seed. Honestly, I am amazed at how a seed, even those that are about the size of a pin-head, can be planted and grow into something so much bigger - many times the size of the original. This just baffles my mind and makes me reverently thank my Creator for His "amazingness."

And so many times He also "plants" an idea or a thought or an action that grows, and grows and grows.

When by God's prompting I started The Suubi Project in May while home on furlough in the states, I really had no idea where it would go or how it would grow. ("Suubi" means "hope" in Luganda.)

I wanted to help the island secondary school - Lingira Living Hope, and find something to do in my downtime. I have made cards for a number of years and a few years ago began using my photos for the cards.

So The Suubi Project was launched - to raise money for school building projects, to raise awareness of the school and the ministry on the island, to give me "something" to do, and to share my Ugandan photos with folks at home.

By the time I returned in mid-August to Uganda, the "project" had generated $1100 for the school projects! Family, friends, fellow missionaries, supporters, and friends and co-workers of family, bought the cards. I even had a recent request from here in Uganda! :)

What God did with The Suubi Project "seed" amazed me!

Even as I write there is a team of workers at the school. They are building the new girls' "pit latrine," (outhouse).

The boys' dorm, which was not finished when I left the island in April, now has windows, doors and started being used by the boys last term. Now the new pit latrine is underway and there are plans for a new girls' dorm.

 The boys' dorm at Lingira Living Hope

So, what is the future of The Suubi Project, now that I am back in Uganda? Well, my mom graciously agreed to continue making the cards. I will continue to receive orders by e-mail and thanks to technology, can easily pass them on to my mom. : )

Since the school's building projects seem to be going along well, I am thinking of changing the project's focus a bit.

 The girls' pit latrine being "built." Unfortunately, two monitor lizards already found the bottom of this deep pit.

Earlier this year, Shepherd's Heart International Ministry (SHIM), which I work with, and specifically our Child Development Program, of which I am the "coordinator," teamed up with the school (LLHSS) to begin a new program, with the aim of benefiting more island students. The "cost-sharing" program pays 40% of students' fees, if they or their parents/guardians can pay the other 60% within the first month of the term.

In the past, the school has struggled to "collect" all of the fees in a timely manner and students are sent home again and again, to bring back more tuition. But they also miss valuable class time and their grades can suffer.

The cost-sharing program has been a huge success,  with about 90% of the students benefiting from it. However, it was a program begun in faith. When we started it, we did not have a designated funding source, and still do not. We rely on the generosity of sponsors and other givers to SHIM.

So in the future, until God says differently, money raised by The Suubi Project will go to support the cost-sharing program, which is benefiting a number of island and mainland students.

As I have said before, education here in Uganda is a privilege, not a right. Young men and women literally cry and beg to be able to go to school as they know that is a key to a better future. (BTW, check out the article I wrote for my hometown newspaper, The Clatskanie Chief - "Publishing Hope".)

If you haven't seen it already, check out "The Suubi Project" page on this blog (see top, below banner). There you will find photos of the school, students, and the Ugandan photo cards, that are available for purchase. :) Also, The Suubi "Hope" Project is on Facebook, so be sure to stop by, "like" it and say hi, too. And if you would like to promote the "project" on your blog or site, grab the button at the top right of the page. I would be so grateful. :)

Like I said at the beginning of this post, our God is amazing! He can take small, seemingly insignificant things, like a seed, and grow them beyond what we could have ever imagined. Thank you to all who have given to The Suubi Project.

If you would be interested in giving to SHIM, the school or the cost-sharing project specifically, financial gifts can be sent to Global Outreach International, P.O. Box 1, Tupelo, MS, 38802. Please note what the money is designated for. Any contribution, no matter the size, does make a difference. :) Just remember the seed...

"I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." - Matthew 17:20

Image credit: Microsoft Office clipart

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All that fits...on a boda-boda

I held my breath and clung tighter to my burden as the driver attempted to gently navigate the speedbumps, potholes and other rough places along the road. My burden? A plastic bag of groceries and a cardboard "crate" of 30 raw eggs. In front with the driver was also my heavy backpack and another plastic sack.

My "crate" of eggs - two cardboard forms, tied together with twine.

I have gained a notorious reputation here for breaking eggs left in my care. Not on purpose, of course. Once while carrying a box of eggs to the Smith home, right before reaching the porch, the bottom of the box fell out, in an untimely release of my precious load. Not all of the eggs broke, but a good number did.

Then another day while carrying a plastic sack of eggs across main street in Jinja, I slipped on the curb and fell with the eggs, resulting in some "fatalities."

The other day, as I precariously sat on the back of the "boda-boda" (motorcycle), with my burden and bound for the boat to the island, I began thinking about this form of transport.

Motorcycles that you can hire for as little as 25 cents to take you from here to there are a very common form of transport in Uganda, as well as in many other African countries. When you don't have your own car, they make getting around pretty easy. They were dubbed boda-bodas as they travel from "border to border." We often just call them "boda" for short.

 A friend and I on the back of a boda.

I have shared in other posts how riding on the back of a motorcycle is my favorite way to travel here. It certainly beats being packed with up to 20 others in a public taxi the size of a VW bus. And I love the wind whipping through my hair, how close you feel to your surroundings, and the view that beats any seen from a car or bus.

Just about anywhere you go, especially near a city or village, boda men and their bikes congregate on corners, waiting for their next customer. If they spot you nearby, usually one or two will ask if you need a ride, or honk to indicate their question. You can "hail one" by waving or sometimes simply by raising your eyebrows if you are close enough. (Yes, I have done this before.)

Next you need to negotiate a price. Often there is a set cost for going a particular distance, but some boda men may try and take advantage of "white" or "dollar" skin, as most whites are seen as "rich." Once a price is agreed on, you hop on - either straddling or sitting side saddle on the seat. Then you're off! And hang on! I have had some scary and fast rides, but for the most part I feel safe as the driver navigates the roads.

Taking a photo from the back of a boda.

Bicycles or piki-pikis (peechee-peechees) are another similar way of getting around, though slower than the motorcycles. They were the original "boda-bodas," but have been superseded as motorcycles have become more common and taken over the bulk of the two-wheeled transport business.

Because motorcycles and bicycles are common and fairly inexpensive, people use them for carrying many, many things and not just themselves. I have seen up to three adults riding on the back of a motorcycle. Sometimes a child or two can be added with the driver in the front.

A stack of soda crates, a bedframe perched on end, a bookcase, large sacks of charcoal, boxes and bags of food, chickens, containers of water and more are among the "loads" these two-wheeled vehicles can carry. Sometimes I wonder how they do it and if there is anything they can't carry. And then I can't help but smile when I see yet another type of "cargo" being hauled by a boda. (I am sorry I don't have any photos to show some of these "loads," but will hopefully be able to take some as I have opportunity. Most of the time I don't seem to have my camera handy at these times.)

One thing I have learned from Ugandans is ingenuity and "where's there's a will, there's a way." They can pack the most people and the most things in a taxi or on a boda-boda. Usually every bit of space is used.

My eggs and I made it safely to the boat the other day and across the lake to the island. When I reached the island SHIM base, I learned only one egg of the 30 had "escaped." The remaining 29 were still in their crate, and had fared the journey well. Perhaps number 30 is enjoying a "swim" at the bottom of the boat.

For some interesting reading, check out the Wikipedia article on boda-bodas,

This photo really has nothing to do with my post, but I thought it was funny. This boat, bound for Lukoma Island, was tied at the port when I left for Lingira Island. I like its phrases: "No smoking" and"Keep the time." I have never seen anyone smoke on a boat (smoking is actually pretty rare in Uganda). "Keep the time" means exactly that - don't be late. :)