Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Missionaries Among Us, Part 1

I serve alongside some amazing people.

While the Americans often get a lot of the "spotlight" and kudos as missionaries here, the service and sacrifice of the nationals we work with are inspirational. For most of my fellow national missionaries, the following scripture rings true for them.

"Then Jesus told them, 'A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.'" - Mark 6:4

With their eyes and hearts focused on the islands, they leave behind homes, family, reputations, good jobs, security and so much more. Interestingly enough, none are natives of the islands, leaving their home areas to sacrificially serve in this very rural area.

This is the first part of a series spotlighting these incredible servants of the King.

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People told them they were crazy to leave their jobs and home area, possibly threaten the education and futures of their children, and serve where?

Papa and Mama O
Papa O (Okoro) and Mama O (Olive) have literally suffered ridicule and rejection from family, friends and others for their decision to leave their professions as a teacher and a nurse, respectively, to serve on the Buvuma Islands. They first came to the island with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) in 2000 and have served with Shepherd's Heart since 2007.

Because of inadequate schools on the islands, they left most of the care of their children to relatives on mainland so they could focus on the people, families and couples of the islands.

Countless couples and families have been blessed by their warm presence, listening ears, biblically-sound counsel, and examples of a Christ-focused marriage and family.

In the next few weeks Papa and Mama O will move into a four-room house from the one-room space in the kitchen block that they have occupied for the last several years.

The O's New House on SHIM property
They have also struggled for about seven years to build a home in Papa O's home village - a cultural expectation.  Spending most of their time on the island, the construction has progressed slowly and people have criticized them for where they invest their "treasure."

The same people who said their children will suffer because of the O's move to the islands, are now amazed that three of their six have finished university and two will begin post-secondary studies next year. Their oldest is a primary school teacher and has a family of their own.  Living on a meager salaries, God has miraculously provided for O's needs as well as for their children. Those of the islands and their home villages are amazed at what God has done in and through their family and their faithful ministry.

Julius at his graduation from Busoga University, Aug. 31
A recent university graduate, Julius Twali holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural and an even bigger heart for the island people.

First invited to the islands to work at Lingira Living Hope Secondary School, Julius has faithfully served in SHIM for over four years, transforming the bushy land and clay soil into productive and beautiful gardens.

His resume includes wide experiences in agriculture, secondary teaching, leadership positions in Boy Scouts and serving with his home churches and other organizations.  His professional experience could earn him a comfortable living elsewhere, but Julius said his heart is not content when not serving and doing God's work in the islands.

Every week he leaves his beautiful wife, Ruth, and their two young sons in Mayuge, an eastern Ugandan town, to spend at least half of his week on Lingira Island. Up until recently, he was juggling work at SHIM, with his studies, caring for his family, building a home, and other commitments.  I am pretty sure sleep always fell at the bottom of his list.  ; )  Yet, Julius believes it is his greatest privilege to serve among Uganda's poorest and most-forgotten people.

Julius and his beautiful family - wife Ruth and sons Andrew and Joseph

There is not enough space to fully tell you the stories and testimonies of the Os and Julius.  In a nutshell, God has and is doing some amazing work through their lives and ministries!

Stay tuned for future "spotlights" of other SHIM missionaries : )

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Open Hands

 In my heart I was grumbling. In the last week I had received five different requests for money. 

Some were urgent.  Some were for large sums.  And some were "by the way" requests.

I have mentioned it before on this blog, but white skin here in Uganda is associated with wealth.  The "Mzungus" have "dollar skin."

Why, all of a sudden, in a week's time were all these people asking for money? And for money I don't have?

Then this morning God revealed my twisted thinking.  Perhaps those requests were opportunities to be a blessing to someone else.  Maybe He  was the one who had sent the people. He reminded me that He blesses me in order that I might be a blessing to others.

Ever since I was introduced to the concept that God's promise to Abraham to "be blessed...and to be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2) is also for every believer, who are children of Abraham by faith, I have loved that concept.  I so want other Christians to embrace it, too.

God has blessed us in order to make us a blessing.  Amazing.  

His blessings don't stop with the first recipient, they are meant to be passed on and on and on. We are created to be conduits of His free-flowing gifts of love and grace. 

It is awesome to think that God's resources are limitless. They never run dry, they never reduce or diminish.  We keep giving, He will keep pouring and adding.  We can't outgive God.

"And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19

Perhaps my stinginess came from the thought that I was giving out of my resources, yet all that I have is from Christ. There is absolutely nothing that I have earned - all of it is a gift from Him, a benefit of His amazing grace.  So, why was I having a problem sharing?

The above verse promises me that if I am a willing and free-flowing vessel of God's blessings and riches that He will meet all of my needs out of His Heavenly storehouse of riches.

Yes, I do have needs - felt needs.  One of the challenges of ministry is that you often are seen of "having it together" and "not having needs."  "You're the missionary - aren't you supposed to be giving, serving, teaching, counseling, befriending, sacrificing, day in and day out?"

Do the Ugandans understand that I may be lacking, too?  Do the students know I, in myself, have limited resources?  Do those I serve with know I could just use an occasional hug or a word of encouragement?  

God, if I am giving and giving and giving, who is going to meet my needs?

Then He whispers loud and clear - I AM.  I WILL. 

Oh, you mean the One who has been meeting my needs all along, whether I know it or acknowledge it or not?  Why do I keep looking to man for what only God can provide?

He reminds me of how He has met my needs in ways I did not expect.  And not only meeting my needs, but heaping on extra blessings.

In the last week I have also received three gifts of fish from two different village women who are young Christians.  Fish is expensive and they could have sold it to get money for their family's needs.  Instead they shared it with me.  A teacher gives me a shirt, knowing I might wear that style.  A student brings a cup of water.  A friend holds her umbrella over my head during a hot boat ride.  I am blessed by gestures of friendship and sweet bits of conversation.

This evening I enjoy an incredible evening of "spoilin'" with 60 other missionary women by those who "appreciate what we do here."

God's blessings often come in roundabout ways from unexpected sources in His own unique timing, yet He knows my needs better than I know them myself. And when I choose to complain or grumble, I have closed my eyes to God's daily gifts of grace.  And when I am stingy, I am denying the benevolence of my Almighty God.  So, why not continue to give and give, because only then will I continue to receive from the Heavenly Storehouse.  And, who does not want heavenly riches?

"And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.   
"The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
"You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." - Isaiah 58:10-11 

Photo Source: Microsoft Office 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The "G" Word


It is what keeps this world spinning and what keeps us all from not being flung off this crazy sphere.

It is the conduit for what (or rather Who) brings the rain, the sunshine, the flowers, the forgiveness, the blessings, the life, the breath, the salvation and the "so much more."

Grace: Receiving what we do not deserve from the Generous Grace-Giver - God.

May this song be a reminder of the every-day grace that is needed, and the Source of never-diminished, always-abundant grace - our loving, sovereign and benevolent God.

If I ever needed grace, it's now
You are strong when I am weak, somehow
I am weak enough to see
I need You to cover me
If I ever needed grace, it's now
In every joy and pain
Whatever comes my way
God I need Your grace

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I confess - I am addicted.

Yes, to coffee, but to something possibly more harmful.

You see, I am an "information addict."

I love learning, whether through a book or in a class.  Interesting facts and statistics give me a rush. Yes, you may call me a "news junkie," though news here is harder to access. 

Put me near someone new and I will pepper them with questions about who they are, what they do, etc., until I have to apologize for asking so many. 

I am naturally nosy inquisitive.  Eleven years in the journalism profession only honed my "sleuthing" skills. ; )

I thirst for knowledge.  Knowledge that will benefit me and which I can share with others.

Why and how could such an addiction be harmful, you ask?

What may be detrimental is what I choose to do or not do with the information, knowledge, and skills I acquire.

Twice this week I have heard the parable of the wise and foolish builders from Matthew 7:24-27. 

Jesus told about a "wise" man who built his house on a rock, and when the ferocious storms came, his house remained erect.

Then he spoke of the "foolish" man who built his house on the sand, and when the wind, rain and waves lambasted his shelter, it collapsed "with a mighty crash."

What made one man wise and the other foolish?  What do their building foundations really represent?

Jesus said the "wise" man heard Jesus' teachings and followed it.  The foolish man also heard Jesus' teachings, but he did not follow or obey them.

Both men heard Jesus' teachings and received the same information.  But what they did or didn't do with what they received produced drastically different results in their lives.

"True wisdom consists in getting the building of our salvation completed: to this end we must build on the Rock, Christ Jesus, and make the building firm, by keeping close to the maxims of his Gospel, and having our tempers and lives conformed to its word and spirit; and when, in order to this, we lean on nothing but the grace of Christ, we then build upon a solid rock." - Clarke's Commentary on the Bible 

"This parable teaches us to hear and do the sayings of the Lord Jesus: some may seem hard to flesh and blood, but they must be done. Christ is laid for a foundation, and every thing besides Christ is sand. Some build their hopes upon worldly prosperity; others upon an outward profession of religion. Upon these they venture; but they are all sand, too weak to bear such a fabric as our hopes of heaven. There is a storm coming that will try every man's work." - Matthew Henry 

The more I learn, acquire and gain, the greater the responsibility to apply, use, implement what I have learned, acquired and gained.  

If I am all about gaining information and knowledge, but not putting it into action, I enter into dangerous territory.

Just a few chapters later, Jesus cautioned:  

"When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." (Luke 12:48b)

Is my addiction leading to positive action?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Search

Recently I think I have had glimpses of “mother moments.”  Times when I wonder if this is what a mother might feel like when she deeply desires something for her child because of her love and care for them.

On Saturday I taught the first girls' Bible study of the school term.  The topic was beauty, how it is defined, why we are all beautiful, and what true beauty is – inner beauty.  As I spoke and looked into those brown faces and beautiful chocolate eyes, I hoped these young women were catching the message.

“You are beautiful. You are valuable. All because God made you that way.”

Can an hour-long lesson on a rainy Saturday afternoon alter the many image-shattering messages they have heard and received since childhood?  Only by God’s grace.

I watch and enjoy a small group of girls lead praise and worship yesterday in church.  I pray that the words they sing enthusiastically are truly understood and embraced by their young hearts. 

Will they always hold to this transformational faith that they seem to claim now?  Is it truly settled into their hearts and minds and producing eternal fruit to bless them and others and glorify God?

I so much want “my” students to know how very much God loves and values them, perhaps like Christian mothers want for their own children.  I desire them to know that hard work, perseverance and patience do pay – in any culture. Do they grasp that the choices they make today will forever affect their futures?

I want them to understand and embrace so much, but I can really only do so little. They have wills and free choice. They can choose to tune me out, to “pretend” they are paying attention in class, in Bible study, in church.  

But, when they leave the school, the island, which path will they ultimately choose?  I wish I could make that choice for them, but I can’t.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the Parable of the Lost Sheep (found in Luke 15:3-7) and recently taught a Sunday School lesson about it. Those few verses tell us so much about our amazing Good Shepherd and His dogged, but compassionate pursuit of us.

As he counted his sheep, the Shepherd noticed Number 100 was missing.  He left the 99 in their pen and went and searched for Number 100. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long or hard the Shepherd looked, but does say He was in the “wilderness,” meaning the searching was not easy.  

And, He didn’t give up until he found 100.  And what did He do when He found this lost sheep, who had likely misbehaved, strayed and brought this fate on himself?  Did He beat it?  Berate it?  Call it names?  

No, He lovingly picked it up – probably all wet and dirty and smelly – and carried it all the way home on His strong and capable shoulders.

And, what did He do when they arrived home? Did he toss 100 back in the pen? Chain it to the nearest fence post, threatening punishment if it ever pulled a trick like that again?

No.  He did very much the opposite.  The Shepherd called His friends and neighbors and threw a party!  Why?  Because Number 100 that had been lost was now found.  Have you ever thrown a party after finding a lost pet or another recovered item?   I think not.  That would be silly. 

It wasn’t silly to the Shepherd.  It is obvious that the love and care He had for this ordinary, plain, stubborn, rebellious sheep was extraordinary, supernatural, in fact.

I long with all my heart that each of “my” students will be found by the Good Shepherd.  Some have been found.  Some want to be found, but still seem “lost.”  And others really don’t want to be found, at least not yet.  

Yet, my “mother’s heart” takes hope and assurance that the Good Shepherd won’t give up – no matter how long or how far they roam.  He loves them beyond mine and their comprehension.

Pray for them. Pray for the students and the school, for the youth and others of the islands.  I am so thankful that I have the privilege to work with an organization, Shepherd's Heart International Ministry (SHIM), that has a "shepherd's heart" for the people of the islands. 

I long from the depth of my heart that the students and islanders will know the Good Shepherd is searching for them and will always welcome them home.

And when they arrive home He will throw a party – a party that beats all parties. 

Have you been found by the Shepherd?

Photo Source: Microsoft Office