Saturday, August 27, 2011

Assumptions and Impossibilities - Not in God's Vocabulary!

Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son"

 Don't take it for granted that what you see or hear is really reality. Be careful not to make a judgment without knowing all of the facts. Never assume.

This was a lesson I learned repeatedly as a newspaper reporter. Never assume someone's name is spelled the way you think it is. Never assume so-and-so meant this when he said that. When you are going for the facts, don't rely on opinion or speculation. "Assume" means to "take for granted or without proof." So where am I going with all of this?

This "never assume" lesson was brought home again this week with two students whom I have interacted with through Shepherd's Heart's sponsorship program.

Earlier this year we cut off Gerald's sponsorship. An island orphan, Gerald had been helped with his school fees by Karina and then SHIM since 2004. But in recent years we saw his life taking a downward course. We wanted to help, and we tried, but it seemed Gerald only grew harder, increasingly argumentative, and more and more negative. It was as if there was an aura of death and self-destruction around him. His choices made it unethical for us to continue supporting him.

When we released Gerald from the program, we helped for the last time with part of his school fees, as he enrolled in a school in Kampala. We didn't know where his path would lead, but we felt it would likely not be a good outcome. It was like releasing the prodigal.

When I saw him on the island this week for the first time in a number of months, I expected the same old Gerald. And I found myself inwardly bracing for a debate or a slew of negative comments. 

It was with surprise and initial doubt that I learned it was definitely not the same old Gerald who had paid us a visit. While at school, God had used people and circumstances to bring him to the point of acknowledging his need for a Savior. And the supernatural work of transformation has begun. In his own words, Gerald has left alcohol and vulgar language. He is no longer seeking recognition or approval from man, but is waiting on God for His words of guidance and divine truth.

We had given up on Gerald. We assumed he would only continue barreling down his self-destructive path. But God did not forget Gerald. And He didn't assume the prodigal would not return home.

It was a question I asked to make small talk with David. We were trying to fill time as we waited to conduct some business in the SHIM office yesterday afternoon. I like David. He is a good student, and a well-behaved and polite young man. He is quiet, so though he is one of our sponsored students, I admit I don't know him as well as some of the others.

"David, when did you become born again?"  

His answer to my question took me aback.

"This year."

In surprise I said I had assumed he was born again because he showed such good behavior.

David said that although his parents are Christians and his dad a pastor, he had not received salvation before January 2nd of this year. My surprise turned to joy as I realized what this shy boy was sharing with me - He was a true follower, and no longer a pretender. 

He shared that the fear that had once gripped his heart when called upon to drum in church, or when given opportunity to testify, was gone. With salvation came a freedom from such fear. David now drums and testifies in church without fearing. God is doing a transformational work in the life of this shy young man.
The lesson learned:

I assumed Gerald's hard heart was impenetrable, and his death-bent course nearly unalterable. 

I assumed sweet, compliant David had been living as a Christian for years.

God did not assume - He didn't have to as He knew the truth about these young men's hearts and their paths. The Heavenly Father recognized each son was a prodigal at the core. And it was with great joy and love that He welcomed them home.   

A second lesson learned this week is never assume that what you are investing in another individual is for naught. If God asks you to pray for, give to, encourage, challenge or admonish someone, but there seems to be little effect or fruit, don't assume it is in vain. Seeds take time to grow. Be obedient and let God bring the fruit in His time.

As Christians we should never assume when we serve an all-powerful, awesome, loving and sovereign God, whose ways are far above our own.

"For nothing is impossible with God." - Luke 1:37

Monday, August 22, 2011


The view toward the lake from the front veranda of my "home" on Lingira Island.

It has been like music to my ears to hear "Kulikayo!" and "Welcome back!" in the last few days since I arrived on Lingira Island - my second home. "Kulikayo" (pronounced kuh-lee-keye-o) is Luganda for "welcome back."

After not riding in a boat since I left Uganda, I headed to the port Friday afternoon. Within a minute of arriving at Masesee, the rain came and I ducked under a tin-roofed building to wait out the storm. I was pleasantly surprised to meet one of our sponsored students there who was also headed to Lingira, so I chatted with her as we waited.

After the rain stopped, I decided to board the board, which was not a wise decision. It has been only a handful of times that rain has caught me while on a boat, so I thought it was humorous that on my first trip to the island since my furlough, the rain found me. Thank the Lord for black tarps to hide under and kind people who made sure my bags stayed mostly dry. : )

The cost for the trip to Lingira has gone up about 20 cents since I left, so I am thinking the increase went toward the free shower I received. : )  "Wet Season Special - Fare to Lingira Island - Includes Free Shower."

Thankfully, the rain did not follow us the entire 15-mile trek to the island and partway we were able to come out from under tarps to enjoy the warm air and the pleasant views.

Upon setting foot on Lingira, I was graciously welcomed by some of the secondary teachers (who I was surprised to see since the school is on holiday), a couple of students, members of my SHIM family and other friends.

At left, the new student garden at the secondary school. 

Below, sweet potato mounds in the student garden.

Friday evening was topped off when a "film" was shown at SHIM, with the teachers, some of their family members, and other friends as our guests. Buttery popcorn was served and the lights were extinguished in anticipation of a movie featuring incredible animals created by our awesome God. It was a joy to hear and see the Ugandans' reactions to the creatures projected on the wall, and the amazing features and abilities God has given them. I am sure they had never laid eyes on some of the critters, like salmon, penguins, polar bears, an Australian lizard and others.

I am happy to see how the SHIM base on the island is thriving - especially the gardens! I grabbed my camera this afternoon and thought I would share with you what is growing around here (aside from David and Johnathan - who are incredibly cute!)

 Oranges! We have five orange trees on our island property.

Passion fruit - it makes a delicious juice.

It was pure delight to be back in the island church Sunday morning. The lively and joyful worship was refreshing and the messages seemed so fitting. The people also graciously extended me a hand of welcome.

The Smith family enjoying the Sunday worship service.

Sunday afternoon found Grace and Agnes busy roasting "sim-sim," sesame seeds, above, while Mama O, below, "pounded" millet to prepare it for grinding.

On Monday, a friend, Emma, with a little help from David, helped prepare a nursery bed to plant some of the seeds I brought from the U.S. I have never been a "green thumb," but I am excited to try again. : )

Ready for seeds!
It is good to be back on Lingira Island - my second home. : )

Monday, August 15, 2011

I'm Here!

Yes, I am in Uganda!

After good flights from Newark to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Kigali, Rwanda, and Rwanda to Uganda - I arrived at the Entebbe airport at about 10 p.m. Friday night. Amanda walked up to the exit door just in time to see me. : )

Saturday morning was the wedding of Chief and Gloria, who at one time worked with Shepherd's Heart as our account and secretary, respectively. I was quickly reminded that I was back in Uganda when it took Amanda and I about two hours because of traffic to go approximately 20 miles from Entebbe to Kampala where the wedding was held. We showed up at the church for the last seven minutes of the wedding. At least we got to see the bride and groom exit the church! : )

 The happy couple - Augusto "Chief" and Gloria

After enjoying pizza with the Smith family, we attended the reception and enjoyed visiting with SHIM family and other friends, and hearing live music and the "speeches." Every special occasion here includes speeches. : ) Unfortunately, we had to leave right before the big meal was served, but all in all it was a fun day.

 Johnathan - a smiley little fellow - gazing at his daddy

David driving the shopping cart. Not sure why he closed his eyes, but he did when I asked him to smile. : )

Two beautiful ladies - Amanda and Karina - my dear sisters, friends and co-workers in Christ. And, oh yes, Johnathan is pictured, too. In between the wedding and the reception we enjoyed a pizza lunch at a Kampala mall.

After spending another night in Entebbe, Amanda and I headed to Jinja and arrived mid-day today (Sunday). Now we are enjoying the rest of our day of rest. : )

Thank you to all who prayed for a safe journey. It was very safe and I even enjoyed an empty seat next to me for extra stretching room for sleeping from Amsterdam to Rwanda. : )

I will be spending the next few days getting re-established and reconnecting with various people before likely heading to the island before the weekend.

Thank you again to those who prayed!

 Me at the wedding reception in Kampala.

(Note: This was sent out yesterday in an e-mail update, so sorry if you already read it. If you would like to receive my e-mail and/or snail-mail updates, write a comment. I will read it, but won't publish it.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Upheld Hands

(I sent this out today as my e-mail update, so I am sorry if you already read it. If you would like to receive my e-mail updates, drop me a line at

“Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” – Exodus 17:11-13

What an interesting method to wage a war. When Moses’ hands were up, the Israelite army prevailed, but when they fell, the opposing country gained an upper hand, so to speak. And when Moses became tired, Aaron and Hur sat on either side of him, to hold up his hands. And by the end of the day, God’s people had won.

This passage of scripture came to mind the other day as I thought about returning to Uganda and the many people who have been so supportive, both while I have been in Uganda and at home.

My furlough was great and I was blessed to spend quality time with my family, friends, church family and many others. Thank you to all who blessed me while in the states! I was so refreshed and encouraged by your expressions of love, care and support. I was also excited to share about Uganda and what God is doing there with several churches and anyone who wanted to listen. : )

Tomorrow my sister Leah will drive me from Pennsylvania, where I have been visiting her for a few days, to Newark, N.J. to catch my flight to Uganda. I arrive in Uganda about 10:15 p.m. Friday or about noon Pacific time. : )

I am excited to return and see my SHIM family there, as well as friends and others I have missed for 3+ months. I am excited for the next season that God has planned, both in my life and in the ministry on the islands. I am excited to try some new things that God has put on my heart.

Ministry is about teamwork as evidenced in the Biblical story above. We need each other, that is how God designed it. He used the illustration of the body for a reason - we are all connected, we depend on one another, we function better together, and we are united under Jesus – the Head.

We need to hold up one another’s hands as we fight the battle to spread God’s light and truth. I need you and you need me.

Thank you to each of you who have held up my hands by your financial support, your faithful prayers, your words of encouragement and other forms of love. I want to do the same for you, so please feel free to continue sharing your life with me so I can uphold you, too.

Someday the battle will be won and we will celebrate together forever. Yay! Won’t that be great?!

May God bless each of you wherever you may be serving Him. Your continued prayers are much appreciated as I travel in the next couple of days. I look forward to staying in touch – from Uganda!

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, in to Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Undeserved Blessings

 Me next to a replica of the Liberty Bell inside Wisconsin's capitol building in downtown Madison.

I know blessings usually are undeserved, which is why they are called blessings. But, I was the beneficiary of some recent blessings that I truly felt were undeserved and some caught me by surprise.

I almost started crying. Not sad, goodbye tears, but grateful tears. Thursday morning was busy as I took care of last minute details at home, weighed luggage and shifted items around to make sure all three of my bags were at or below 50 pounds. Then there was the hour or so drive to the Portland airport. Because I had three heavy bags and two heavy carry-ons, my dad dropped my mom and I off at the curb while he went to park. After grabbing two luggage carts, I looked up to see a man who had seen our dilemma graciously lifting the bulky bags on to the carts. He recognized a need and stepped in to meet it. I was so grateful that I almost began crying. What an unexpected blessing.

With the three check-in bags, I knew I would be spending a bit of money. Most domestic airlines are now charging for check-ins and the bag limit is usually 2, with the cost for a third considerably more. But between carrying my own things and things for others in Uganda, I had needed to pack 3.

When I mentioned to the kind ticket agent that I was flying to Uganda Aug. 12, she immediately worked on waiving the fees for my first two bags (hooray!). She then patiently waited as we weighed luggage, shifted items and then re-weighed. I was so, so grateful for her kindness and patience.

Madison Scenes: Top photos - inside the capitol building; lower left, the capitol as seen from a downtown rooftop terrace; lower middle, one of the many lakes around Madison; lower right, a five-piece brass band performing near the Capitol Farmer's Market on Saturday.

I met Amanda and Jessica during my first visit to Uganda, from October 2006-March 2007. They were living on the Lingira Island YWAM base and were neighbors to Karina and I since we all lived in the same building. We four American single gals made lots of good memories together. And they became very dear friends. I believe Amanda and Jess are a key reason that I did not suffer from much homesickness as expected and I enjoyed that first visit so much. Almost three years after I last saw them in 2008 (when I flew to Wisconsin for Jess' wedding), they hosted me again for a few days this weekend.

 Adorable Olivia - daughter of Chris and Amanda (She's even cuter in person!)

Food, laughter, lots of fun and good sharing and fellowship marked my visit here in Wisconsin. Oh, and did I mention good food - like fried cheese curds? ; )

Amanda and Jess love Uganda and the islands and are continuing to share that love with their husbands, families and friends.

I feel so refreshed after my time with these good friends and I am so very thankful for the undeserved blessing of special relationships. God knows what we need, and always bestows above and beyond what we could imagine.

At left - Me with Chris and Amanda 

Now I am excited to hop on a plane to Pennsylvania and visit my dear sister Leah for a few days. Yay! I will try and keep you posted on my further adventures! : )

What undeserved blessing have you received lately?

At right - Me with Jessica and Ben

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Making the Days Count

Yesterday when I was struggling with thoughts about leaving for Uganda and being gone for sooo long away from family and friends, I received a timely word of encouragement.

From my Marmee. : )

In a Facebook note, she said, "God has a calling on your life, Winkers!! I always like to think that even tho' the miles separate us in this life, we get to spend an eternity together!! Yea!! Go with God, Ruthie, and love all those precious folks for us over there in Uganda - being the hands of feet of the Lord!!"

"We get to spend an eternity together..." - I so much love that thought! The year and a half or so that I will be gone is less than a blink compared to the forever of eternity.

Last week at church camp, a friend used a powerful illustration to demonstrate the quickness (not sure that is a word) of life. He sprayed a mist in the air and after only 5-10 seconds, the vapor that had been clearly visible was untraceable.

As if God was reinforcing the message to my heart, my Bible reading today was in Psalm 90.

Verse 12 popped out at me:
"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Or in the NLT: 
"Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom."

And I love what my NLT commentary had to say:

"We number our years, not our days, but all of us have to live a day at a time, and we do not know how many days we have left. A successful life is composed of successful days that honor the Lord."

It is interesting that the Eternal God gave us bite-size pieces of time to work with - days, weeks, months, when a day is as a thousand years to Him. How we spend our days determines how we spend our lives. Each day is an opportunity to honor and glorify our Heavenly Father. And in a sense, no amount of time nor any seemingly "small" task is unimportant.

So whatever God has called you to today, do it for Him. Each day is important. And remember, someday we will get to spend a forever, never-ending glorious eternity with our Awesome God and the family of God. Let's get our work done!

P.S. Today is my final full day at home and it will be filled with packing and preparations. I fly out tomorrow (Thursday) morning and go to Wisconsin for a few days to see friends and supporters, before flying to Pennsylvania on Sunday to visit Leah. I leave the states on Aug. 11, from New Jersey and land in Uganda late Aug. 12. Your prayers would be so appreciated!