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!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Update on "Oppressed Princesses" Post

I learned today that the young woman I referred to in the "Oppressed Princesses" post likely suffered a seizure caused by a high 103-degree fever, a complication of possible malaria. While it may have appeared as a demonic attack, there seems to have been a real physical cause for this girl's suffering. She was treated today and is improving.

While I was mistaken in the actual circumstances of this young woman, I still believe there is an oppression of women here in Uganda and throughout Africa. I do not doubt oppression's spiritual roots and that it can and is a tool of Satan against God's prized creations. Only God's power can free them.

Thank you for your prayers!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oppressed Princesses

This morning as I walked to the school I heard students singing. It wasn't the normal day for their mid-week service, so I was curious as to why they had gathered. As I drew closer, I realized the singing was coming from the teachers' housing block, which I found even more unusual.

When I reached the school office I learned that some of the students were praying and interceding - on behalf of a classmate. A classmate who was suffering from a demonic attack. At different times, amid the singing and praying, I heard her cry out and scream. At one point, several girls held her, bringing her back to the room for further prayer.

It wasn't until I came to Uganda that I saw the spiritual realm in such a visible way. Satan is not shy here. The practice of witchcraft and demonic activity are not uncommon, and the Prince of Darkness does not let former prisoners go easily. Africa was once known as the "Dark Continent" because so little was known about it. But, I also believe it is because Satan has had such a long and strong foothold here.

The young woman under attack this morning had given her life to Christ earlier this year. Since that time, God had put her on my heart for discipleship. When Andy held a discipleship class in March and April and we were discussing those who needed it, I brought her name forward, concerned that this baby Christian receive some instruction and guidance.

Some of the girl students of Lingira Living Hope Secondary School

Even as I returned to the U.S. for my furlough, this young woman remained on my heart, and I planned that when I returned, I would begin meeting with her one-on-one. But with getting back into the swing of things and assuming some extra responsibilities, I have yet to initiate the discipleship. However, this morning's incidents pressed her name and situation deeper upon my heart.

As I talked with the school's Headmaster about this young woman, he spoke of her uncle who had performed some kind of demonic covenant - against her continuing on to higher education. I had never heard of such a thing. But it rang true.

There have been many young women in Uganda who have not been allowed to study - because they were either forced to marry young, or any money available went to the boys' education instead. Culturally, women are seen as "lower" than men, and their main (and sometimes only) function is to take care of the home and raise children. Many young women at our island school seem to suffer from "mysterious" illnesses and other hardships.

A few of the Lingira Living Hope "Princesses"

It is not as common today, but women of the area tribes were not permitted to eat certain foods - chicken, eggs, fish, etc., as these were reserved for the men. Women and children also ate separately from the men. On the islands, where there has not been as much development, nor teaching of Biblical principles, women are still devalued and undervalued, even among church leaders. Pastors have been known to mistreat and abuse their wives and children. Thankfully, some of these practices have and are beginning to change. But in some places, they are still too common.

I am not a feminist, but I do believe God created us - men and women - equally, but gave them differing roles and responsibilities.

Satan's entire aim is to destroy humans - the apex of God's creation. The enemy of mankind does his work by all means possible - bondage, abuse, stealing, killing, lying, destroying, oppression, poverty, and many other "tools." The fact that witchcraft is performed to prevent girls from studying is just another way for Satan to oppress and destroy what God deems so valuable - the young women of this country.

In my conversation with the Headmaster, I mentioned that when girls feel devalued and suffer such attacks, they are more prone to "sell" their bodies in sexual activity. Some are forced by parents and others to do so. Some do it voluntarily as a means to earn a bit of money, or to find "love." Few young women here remain pure until marriage. If they are not valued by others, why should they value themselves?

God's Daughters of the Islands

My heart goes out to these young women. I want them to see themselves as God views them - valuable, chosen, cherished, loved - princesses created for a special purpose. While Satan wants only to destroy them, God their Father wants to redeem, restore and liberate them.

Will you join me in prayer for the girls and women of the islands, of Uganda, and of Africa?

Image Source: Microsoft Office Clipart

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pigment Perplexities, Part 2

(This is the second part in a two-part series. To read part one, click here.)

I desire sincere and honest relationships with Ugandans. However, even with those I feel close to and have spent a lot of time with, I still find myself wondering if they view me differently because of my skin, culture and background. I want to be treated as a friend and as a sister in Christ, not as a "foreigner."

At times I find it frustrating to be seen as "different" simply because I have less pigment in my skin. This "different" may mean being treated very well, almost like a guest of honor in a home or church that you might visit.

Or your "dollar skin" might give a seller, shop owner, or motorcycle driver a heads up that they can charge you a higher price, because obviously if you are white, then you must be "rich." Having a white among a group of Ugandans can actually cost the Ugandans more money if they are traveling, eating out, etc. If a Ugandan is associating with a "mzungu" then it may be assumed they are "rich," too.

Speaking of "pigment perplexities..."

During a recent trip on the boat to the island, I received a "marriage proposal" from a 50-some-year-old-man from an island village. When he learned he couldn't have me because of ministry rules, he asked me to find him a mzungu wife among my friends. With some exasperation I asked him and another Ugandan man sitting nearby why they wanted white wives, when there were beautiful and intelligent Ugandan women. "Because they (white women) make us feel good." I am definitely NOT attracted to that kind of thinking!

Once again, many Ugandan men see white women for only their skin and fail to see that we vary greatly in our personalities, backgrounds, character, etc. One size does not fit all! Honestly, I don't like to be "liked" or treated differently because of my skin color. But it is a reality, which I believe is an effect of our fallen world.

We want to put people on different levels. You're from this country or area? Then you belong here. You're a woman? Well, you fit only there. You only went this far in your education? Well, then, I know where you belong.

We "classify" others by skin color, height, hair (or lack thereof), appearance, background, family, heritage, nationality, language, marital status, disability, educational and professional accomplishments (or the lack of them), proficiency in a skill, etc.

I despise India's caste system, but we can commit the same sin our hearts and minds. How God must hate this.

"For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt." - Deuteronomy 10:17-19

I confess I have committed this sin of partiality - often without even thinking about it. "Partiality" means "A favorable bias or prejudice." I judge the book by the cover, the people by what I see with my eyes. Yet, the physical body is only a shell for the most important part of the person - their soul.

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." - James 3:17

"He doesn't care how great a person may be, and he pays no more attention to the rich than to the poor. He made them all." - Job 34:19

The Bible clearly condemns partiality. God intends for us to honor and respect our fellow human beings, but not to lift up some and despise others. Each person is made in the image of God and therefore has His "stamp of approval."

I created him. I designed her. I loved them so much that I died for them. 

Let no one judge what God has called good.

Images Source: Microsoft Office Clipart