Saturday, March 30, 2013

Unity in Diversity

The Shepherd's Heart Family - back row, from left: Pastor Samson Mumbya and wife Joy, with their youngest, Susan; Robert and Immaculate Wafula; Julius and Ruth Twali with their oldest son Andrew; Andrew and Karina Smith with sons David and Johnathan; front row, from left, Pastor Bob and Michelle Peterson (missing are their four great children - Janae, Joshua, Jon and Josiah); Auntie Jennifer Abenayko; Papa and Mama O (Okoro and Olive) with their youngest daughter Grace, and Oryagi Geoffrey and his wife Immaculate. This photo was taken at SHIM's annual staff retreat in January in Hoima, western Uganda.

At times I am amazed at the diversity in the SHIM family.

Of the Ugandans on our team, nine different tribes are represented and probably 15 different languages are spoken. They come from different villages on mainland Uganda and have served in the islands for as long as 15+ years and as "short" as five.

Among us are pastors, teachers, nurses and accountants, as well as a building contractor, an economist, an engineer, a boat pilot, an agriculturalist, a cook and a journalist - all individually called to the islands for a specific mission - to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Although all of the Americans hail from the great state of Oregon, we come from different parts of that state and for some we didn't know the others until coming to Africa.

Some of us have been with SHIM since the beginning - back in 2007, while others are "newer" to the family.

This morning as I read 1 Corinthians 12, I was reminded that God intended there to be diversity in His one body. No one member is more important than the other and we all need each other.

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." - I Corinthians 12:12

I thank God for the strengths, passions, gifts and talents that He has given each member of the ministry.

Pastor Samson has a real heart for organizing evangelistic crusades and seminars near and far away, while as base leader, Papa O's charm and humor make any visitor feel right at home. Auntie Jennifer is an amazing cook, with an infectious laugh, while Mama O's amazing wisdom and discernment are so needful in counseling island women, couples and families in diverse and difficult situations. Oraygi is the best pilot in these parts and has safely transported numerous passengers through sun, storms, waves, and thick darkness.

Andy's administrative and leadership abilities keep us all on track, while Karina's care for the islanders' physical and spiritual health opens many doors to impact many lives. Julius' amazing abilities to grow nearly anything has kept the SHIM family fed with a balanced diet and provided a replicable farming model for the observing islanders.

Nurses Annet, Alex and Margaret faithfully run the Namiti Health Center (another 3 hours into the lake from Lingira Island) which is a haven for the people of the upper islands, in providing vital health care and a needed spiritual influence.

Pastor Bob has the ability to convey God's Word in a profound, yet very understandable and applicable way, while his wife Michelle has the patience of Job as she works tirelessly with SHIM's financial records and is a wonderful hostess for our regular "family" gatherings.

Though he holds bachelor and master's degrees, Robert's unassuming ways make him a highly-respected leader at SHIM, our island school, in the island churches and on mainland, too. It's not everyone who can tolerate working with numbers all day (I certainly can't), but Robert's wife Immaculate has pursued training in accounts and faithfully works to keep up SHIM's books and help meet other needs that arise at our mainland office.

A seminary student, Justus spends his school breaks at the SHIM base, helping in compound maintenance, farming, caring for our dairy goats, translating for pastors' training and more.

Short-term visitor Malia Mullins has spent numerous hours teaching phonics and Bible lessons to many island students, and has trained a group of young women to carry out a thriving Sunday School ministry.

Shanna with the completed mural, featured prominently in SHIM's dining room.

Shanna, who made her second trip to the islands this year, shared her artistic abilities in completing an amazing mural based on Psalm 91:2, which she began three years ago.

Pastors Andy, Samson, and Robert, as well as Papa O comprise our ministry's board of directors and invest tireless hours in making decisions and faithfully leading the ministry as God directs them.

These notes are just the tip of the iceberg for what each person does and is involved in here. I truly can't imagine any one person missing from our SHIM family. Each one is vital and we rely upon one another in our individual callings and ministries. We so value each others' care, support, wisdom, prayers and encouragement.

When one hurts, we all hurt. When one rejoices, we all rejoice.When one has a need, we rally to be the answer to that need.

Though we are quite diverse, we have a strong bond of unity, rooted and established in Christ and in the fact that He called each of us to this missionfield of the islands of Uganda.

I praise God for calling, equipping and uniting the Shepherd's Heart family!

SHIM Family Collage: Top row, clockwise from left, Robert demonstrating his balancing skills; Oraygi piloting on the lake; Robert and Immaculate at their "Introduction"; Nurse Alex attends to a patient; Papa and Mama O providing a blessing at a wedding; Karina holding a premature baby girl; the Peterson family; the Water and Sanitation team of Oryagi, Julius and Pastor Samson; Malia teaching a Bible lesson to island children; Julius with a baby goat; Ruthie transporting computers and a generator to the island secondary school; Julius and Ruth with sons Andrew and Joseph at their home; the Smith family; the Smith family worshiping in the island church; Pastor Samson preaches in an island church; center; SHIM cooks Jennifer and Beetu with young Mary.

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone." - I Corinthians 12:4-6

Saturday, March 23, 2013

God Uses All Types

I was more than halfway through the week-long orientation training with my mission agency in October 2009, when the speaker, a long-time missionary, delivered a verbal blow.

"Unless you have an A-type personality, you won't survive on the missionfield."  The words hit me hard, almost painfully. Later I went back to my room and agonized over what this meant for me. I was filled with a mix of despair and anger. Why? Because I am not an A-type person - never have been, probably never will be in the future.

A types are known for being high-strung, competitive, multi-taskers, time-managers, high-achievers and generally more extroverted.  I, conversely, am a B type - those who work steadily, but are not necessarily bound by time (can be procrastinators), enjoy achievement, but do not become stressed when they do not achieve, are generally more introverted, are more reflective, more relaxed, more easy-going, and  more flexible.

Yet,despite my personality type, I knew back in 2009 that God was calling me to Uganda, and I was obediently, though somewhat timidly, following His beckoning.

Now in 2013, as I look around at my fellow Ugandan missionaries - I see all types of personalities. Yes, there are the dynamic and charismatic, but there are also the quiet, more introspective ones. Undoubtedly, both groups of people were called here and are successfully impacting lives in their various avenues and methods of ministry.

For a long time, I thought something was wrong with me - that I had been shy and quiet for as long as I could remember. When I was young, to get me to talk was an achievement, like when my kindergarten Sunday School teacher rushed up to my mom one Sunday, exclaiming "Ruthie said something!" I guess that was a pretty unusual occurrence at the time.

Growing up, I avoided new environments and meeting new people like some would avoid the plague. I hated talking on the phone, even as a teenager. When seeing someone I knew in the grocery store, I would hang back, forcing my younger, but more gregarious sister to do most of the talking.

Then at age 18 I was hired to work at the local newspaper. After a couple of years there, I was asked to begin writing human-interest stories. I loved writing, but the interviewing part crippled me with fear. I distinctly remember my first interview for that initial human-interest story. I was so, so nervous - likely far more than the person I interviewed. And I continued to be nervous before any interview for a number of years to come.

If you wanted to get my heart racing, ask me to go talk to a complete stranger and gather information from them by asking too many questions, oftentimes quite personal questions. This just went against my grain. But over time, actually a total of 11 years at the newspaper, I gained courage and discovered that such encounters could be enjoyable, with opportunities to learn new things and meet new people, who were not as fearsome as I had always feared.

And then in October 2009, after months of praying and planning for Uganda, I was told that I was just not the type for the missionfield.

That afternoon, after crying, praying, and calming my emotions, I decided the speaker must be wrong. Since I had obviously been called by God, God had decided He could use me, somehow, someway, despite my weaknesses and faults.

It's true - I am not the natural selection to head up a team or pioneer a new project. Some of my favorite spots to serve are in solitary places, behind the scenes. While I may not be a high-achieving go-getter, I am known to be loyal and stick with something and people for a long time. Get a project going and I will do my best to make sure it continues. I may not be a sprinter, but I am in it for the long haul.

I realize now that A types are not better than B types, nor is the opposite true. God made both.

I take courage and encouragement when I read of God's "chosen" in the Bible. He certainly picked all types when carrying out His work - Moses - the stuttering introvert, Gideon - the fearful and least of his tribe, David - the young and overlooked shepherd boy, Peter - the impulsive disciple, and many others. I can only imagine the differing personality types of the 12 disciples that Jesus gathered around Him.

God doesn't favor A-types or B-types, since He obviously created both.

Honestly, when God is choosing His vessels, I don't think He so much looks at weaknesses, strengths, or personality types, but on people whose hearts are toward Him, who want to love, serve and to be used by God. And God actually delights in our weaknesses, for in our "cracks," His strength shines brighter.

Even today I tell people I am not the "missionary type," yet I know God has called me to where I am and to what I am doing. And I delight in the fact that His body is a beautiful and varied mosaic of personality types, A and Bs, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, carrying out God's incredible mission and commission.

Don't let others tell you whether or not God can use you. God made you - He can use you.

Image Source: Microsoft Office

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sow Faithfully

"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building." - I Corinthians 3:7-9

Growing takes time. Bearing fruit can take months, even years. And then sometimes, the fruit may not come.

Julius, SHIM's agriculture guy, told me today that our avocado plants are "fruiting."  I have been in Uganda for over three years and have been waiting and waiting to see avocados on our plants. Finally.

In recent discussions with a couple of short-term missionaries we have mulled over some of the challenges of ministry here. One is that you can invest hours upon hours of preparation and then active ministry, spend focused time building relationships, you read, you pray, you talk, you encourage. And sometimes there is fruit, and sometimes there is not, or there is little evidence of it.

I was heartbroken when last year I learned that J, one of my most faithful girls in Bible study, had become pregnant. Not only that, but she was encouraged by her boyfriend to "run away" to Kenya and abort the baby. She was later found in Kenya and indeed she did abort her baby. "Why?" I wondered. Had nothing I shared for the past year and a half made any impact on J?

Yet, when I read the above scripture this week, I was encouraged. God does not hold me responsible for bringing forth fruit in other's lives. I am asked only to plant or to water. He gives the growth.

We are His fellow workers. I love that sentence. God does not send us out like a big manager over some underlings. No, He invites us to join Him in what He is already doing. Amazing. This gives me such joy and assurance as I serve here in Uganda.

It is like a father inviting his young son to join him in working on a project. The young boy may or may not be although that "helpful," but the father knows he is investing in his son, teaching him a new skill, and most importantly, building the relationship. In the end the boy is not responsible to finish the task, the father is.

We also are not responsible to finish the work that God is doing in the lives of those around us. We cannot produce the fruit or make the change happen. It is just impossible with our finite abilities and limited understanding. But our God is big enough and able enough.

You may be part of a long line of individuals who have tilled, planted, watered, weeded, watered and weeded some more in an individual's life. You are part of a much bigger picture, which you cannot yet fully see, until we reach heaven.

So, here is my encouragement - sow faithfully. Whatever God has asked you to do, in whatever place, among whichever people, work and serve and pray and build relationships faithfully. You may be blessed to see the fruit or you may not, at least on this earth. But, no matter, God is at work, and He just asks you to be faithful in what He has called you to do.

And, lastly, reflect on the people God has used to sow faithfully in your life. I look back and see many - my parents, pastors, Sunday School teachers, friends, mentors, and others - each one having made an impact that they may or may not know about. I am so thankful for each one.

Are you God's fellow worker? Are you sowing faithfully? Are you trusting God for the fruit?

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." - Galatians 6:9

Image Source: Microsoft Office

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Toppling Mother Teresa

This morning as I skimmed the news headlines on the Yahoo home page, one in particular caught my eye - "Mother Teresa not so saintly?"

I clicked the link and faced another searing headline: "Was Mother Teresa actually sort of a jerk?"  Wow, they certainly didn't mince any words. (See the full article here.)

It seems Canadian researchers who pored over nearly 300 documents on Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who worked among the poorest in Calcutta, India, discovered she may have actually "glorified" suffering rather than alleviate it. Because of her "fame," her organization collected millions of dollars in donations, more than enough to build and equip adequate medical facilities in India, but ran "instead a haphazard and cranky institution."

Mother Teresa
 Guess what? Mother Teresa was also human, also fallen, also in need of saving grace offered by a loving Redeemer. But, honestly, I am somewhat disappointed - she was someone I did indeed admire.

Too often the people we place on pedestals only have that much farther to fall.

I have made the mistake of admiring folks, placing expectations or pinning my hopes on them, only to be disappointed and hurt. It's not that they went out of their way to harm or dishearten me, but they are human and thus fallible and frail.

No one keeps their word 100% percent of the time, or makes the best decisions at every opportunity, and yes, this does include Christians. Those who believe and trust in Christ are in the process of being sanctified and that work is ongoing until we reach Heaven.

Idolizing others only puts them in positions they cannot maintain and distracts us from focusing on the only True God, Jesus Christ, who was human, but also divine and sinless.  

In the case of Mother Teresa there still may be a silver lining.

"Despite the study's inflammatory findings, researchers claim they aren't out to smear Mother Teresa," stated the article, "'writing that it is "likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation.'"

So, we learn and benefit from the good and admirable in the lives of people like Mother Teresa and leave what is less desirable behind. We must do this with everyone in our lives. I hope others are also willing to do this for me.

And, in the meantime we must also...

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." - Hebrews 12:2-3

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Value of Waiting

 Plan to pack good measures of patience and flexibility, if you intend to someday travel overseas, especially to a third-world country.

If I have learned anything in the last three years, it is that there is very little I am in control of, and therefore, I must lean heavily on the timing and sovereignty of my Heavenly Father in all things - big and little. If I get worked up and impatient over things not happening just as I want them to, I only waste emotional energy and endanger my testimony to those around me.

After 10 months of waiting, this week I finally received the renewal of my work permit, which allows me to live and work in Uganda for another three years. Initially I was told my renewal would take only two weeks. And I could go into all of the details of why it took 10 months, but that would consume the rest of this post. Needless to say there were a number of disappointments and equal amounts of frustration, as well as too much time and money spent.
Me with my long-awaited work permit.
Last year as I read through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, I was struck by the incredible patience of David. Chosen from among eight brothers, nonetheless being the youngest, God selected David as the second man to reign as Israel's king.

But it was 10 long, grueling and tortuous years that David endured before ascending the throne. And most of that time was spent running and hiding from his jealous and nearly-insane predecessor, King Saul. The Psalms give us a glimpse of what David endured and how he responded during those long years.

This morning I read Psalm 35 and in verse 17, David asks, "How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing?" A decade of waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, for a position to be assumed, for an enemy to be put down.Why so long, Lord?

Yet, despite his questions, David always returned to a stance of patient waiting upon His God.

While David's life reflected longsuffering, King Saul's did not. In one of his first acts as king, Saul impatiently sacrificed offerings instead of waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive and perform the act. Saul's ungodly  haste led to the removal of God's hand and blessing upon him and his reign.

Samuel's rebuke sums up the gravity and consequences of Saul's impatience.

"'How foolish!' Samuel exclaimed. 'You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord's command.'" (I Samuel 13:13-14)

Even if Saul was performing a "righteous" act by offering sacrifices, his impulsiveness greatly displeased God as Saul worked against the Divine order. It seems Saul tried to wrestle the pen out of the Author's hand and write his own story.

However, David was indeed the man God had chosen - a man after His own heart. A man who humbly and consistently sought the presence of his God and submitted willingly to the Divine Author, who was penning his story. As he waited, David frequently exhorted himself and his readers/listeners to "wait."

"In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." - Psalm 5:3

"Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous." - Psalm 25:3

"Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long." - Psalm 25:5

"I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry." - Psalm 40:1

"Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord." - Psalm 27:14

"Let all that I am wait quietly before my God, for my hope is in Him." - Psalm 62:5

It is obvious David understood and knew the value of waiting on His God. He recognized that God saw and foreknew each and every detail of his life and that what transpired was not random, but fell under a Divine order and purpose. David saw that there were other factors out of his sight and control that God was also orchestrating to proclaim His glory and praise in the events that unfolded in David's life and in the lives of those around him.

I do not know and may never understand why I endured the "delay" on my work permit this past year, or why I am being asked to wait for other desires and dreams to be fulfilled. But I want to strive for the attitude and heart of David, wholeheartedly trusting in God's awesome sovereignty, His divine omniscience, and His amazing love and care for me.

Indeed, I am part of a much larger story and thankfully I know I can trust the Author with all of my heart.

Image Source: Microsoft Office