Friday, April 26, 2013

Stepping Beyond Fear

Often as I am about to begin something new, which is beyond my comfort zone, my mind goes back to high school.

To the research project I never finished. I spent hours upon hours poring over books, researching and collecting information, writing it down on 3x5 cards, trying to organize it all. But then I became overwhelmed and didn't know what to do next, so I quit.

I let fear and uncertainty enter in and I did what was easy...I left the project unfinished. (Interestingly enough, the research paper was to be about the history of newspapers, but at the time I had no idea I would spend 11 years working at one.)

I regret that I left my paper undone. Actually, I have a lot of regrets about missed opportunities, relationships that I left untended, which eventually fell apart, projects begun that were later abandoned, ideas and dreams that were never pursued.

They were left undone, untended, un-pursued because I became bored, or lazy, or fearful, or focused on my own inadequacies and weaknesses.

Now I wonder, why does God continue to entrust me with His work, His ideas, with furthering His kingdom? What if I mess up again, or don't do it right or disappoint someone? Or worst of all, disappoint God?

Why indeed does God choose weak, fearful, finite, mortal vessels to carry on His kingdom work? Why does He entrust us frail children with the all-important, life-changing Gospel?

Because God's power is made perfect in weakness. His Divine power shines best through the cracks of our frailties.

It doesn't make sense - at least to the world's logic, but it makes sense to God. He knows what He is doing. 

He wants us to leave the past behind and move forward in forgiveness and by faith.

And we are not acting independently. The Father has adopted us into His family - calling us His own children (Romans 8:14-17). The Son Jesus Christ is our Advocate (I John 2:1). And the Holy Spirit is indwelling us with His power and life (John 14:16-17, 26). We are not alone.  

So, whatever God calls us to, He will empower us to do it. It's true - we cannot do it in our "wisdom," from our own "power" or drawing on our own limited resources. But He is not asking us to.

He provides all we need to perform what He has called us to - accomplishing His great and divine purposes in and through us. Amazing.

I love the verse my mom would often quote to me, especially as I was a fearful and shy child and teenager.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." - 2 Timothy 1:7

For whatever you may be facing or in the midst of, know that Christ desires to accomplish great things in and through you. 
Rest, trust, fear not and move forward confidently by faith.

Photo Source: istockphoto

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Blessings of Not Fitting In

"It's like entering a different world," I commented to a recent short-term visitor as she prepared to fly back home to the U.S., following a three-month stay in Uganda.

Leaving Africa and re-entering the western realm is more like going from one planet to another and not just crossing the globe. Life is so, so different between these two worlds.

There is also the challenge of not fully belonging to either place. I love Uganda and so much about it - the people, the beautiful landscape, the ministry, the food - but no matter how long I spend here, I will never be fully "Ugandan."

I also love my home country - the U.S. -and my dear family and friends, as well as familiar comforts and conveniences that are there. But after spending several years away from it, I don't feel I quite fit, even when I visit home for weeks or months at a time.

Many missionaries feel that in light of these realities, a "third culture" is created - a mix of both worlds. We are not fully American anymore, but we are not fully of our host country either. It's not that we don't try to adapt, but we have changed and are changing.

I find this to be a frequent challenge - wondering where I "fit." However, this may not necessarily a bad predicament.

I think shifting back and forth between two cultures has helped me to value what is truly important - people and God's work or even more simply - lovin' God and lovin' others.

I have realized I need little to live on to be fully content. With food, clothes...and coffee be content. Okay, just joking about the coffee part. :)

Indeed, joy is not rooted in circumstances or possessions or even who is near you, but is grounded in a living and growing relationship with your God. This divine love fills and overflows us in a desire to share it with others, building relationships with them and serving as bridges so they may be introduced to our Awesome and Loving God and begin building their own relationships with Him.

If we are consumed with other things, we may be wasting our precious time, energy and resources. We may be missing multiple opportunities presented to us daily in a myriad of places.

I don't feel entirely "at home" in either my home or host culture, which makes me long for my eternal home even more. As I mourn separation on this earth, my heart yearns for an eternity of being together - with my God and with the many people I already love and others who I look forward to meeting and loving.

As we face challenges, pain, sorrow, grief, etc. here on this earth, our hearts should eagerly await the day when our Savior returns and takes us all to the "Home" He has been preparing for us for a long, long time.

As we become more and more uncomfortable and dissatisfied and less "at home," let us look more eagerly to that day when we will be finally headed for our "True Home."

And let's make sure we take as many people with us as we can.

"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." - John 17:14-18

Image Source: Microsoft Office 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lovin' to Keep It Simple

Rose, Martha and Anis - Some of the dear island students whom I love.

I had read the chapter numerous times and even memorized it a long time ago, so I didn't really expect to find something "new."

But God's Word, which is living and active, pricked my heart - in the deepest part.

There is a question I frequently mull over - "How can I be most effective here?" Then I add other musings - "Is what I am doing making a difference?" "Is doing this or that the best way to reach this group of people?"

Such questions had been making circuits in my brain when I came to the "Love Chapter" in my Bible reading. Yes, I Corinthians 13, consists of only 13 verses, but it is a passage with incredible depth and truth.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (vs. 1-3)

Truthfully, sometimes I feel like I am sacrificing a lot being here - 1000s of miles from my dear family and friends, possible missed chances on meeting the "Right One," comforts and pleasures of my home culture, worshiping in my own language, avoiding daily contact with mosquitoes, innumerable flying insects and other pests, etc., etc.

Yet, though I make "sacrifices" even as great as giving up my body and possessions - without love, I gain nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Ouch.

And if I have great faith and can pray for healing and restoration for others, but do not exhibit love, I am nothing. There's that word again. Ouch.

Even if I have remarkable and admirable spiritual gifts, such as studying and teaching the Word of God in an effective and memorable way, but I am not walking in love, I am nothing. Gulp.

It was as if God was reminding me that effectiveness in ministry or even in living the Christian life is as simple as walking in love. 

"If I want to know how I can be more effective in my life, work, ministry, relationships, I need only ask, 'How am I showing God's love?'" I jotted down those words after meditating on this chapter.

"If I am failing to show love, then I am not being effective. I either need to change what I am doing or how I am doing it...I need to let two questions guide me: 'Why am I doing this? How I am doing this?'"

The chapter concludes with these remarkable words:

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (vs. 13)

Wow, love is listed even above faith! What is done in love will endure - forever. What is not done in love will die, fade away, be burned, be forgotten. It will not last.

Do you want to make sure that what you are involved in will endure forever? Bathe it, submerge it, infuse it with love - love for God and love for others.

Anis and I. Love this girl!

Even Jesus summed up all of the law and the prophets with those two simple commands. Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)

We can complicate life. We can complicate ministry. We can complicate relationships. We can complicate a lot of things, yet God wants to us to keep it simple - Love Me, love others.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bare Necessities on the M-Field, Part I

Do you remember that "Jungle Book" song, "The Bare Necessities"?

"Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities..."

 Here on the missionfield, I have those "bare necessities" - those items that I use almost daily and I find "essential" to have here. While some are indeed "necessities," others are simply "comforts." :)

- A "torch" (flashlight) - Because Uganda was once a British protectorate, there has been a lot of British influence here, including on the language. Thus, a flashlight is called a torch here. I would be lost without my torch, especially in making evening or late-night trips to the pit latrine, and not knowing what critters I might meet on the way, as well as using it for my book light almost nightly as I read before sleeping. (Having replacement bulbs for my MagLights is a must, too.)

- An umbrella. I have used an umbrella more here in Uganda than I ever did in my home state of Oregon, which is known for its abundant rainfall. But I use my umbrella here more for protection from the sun, like during the long boat rides, than I do for protection against rain. It also makes a pretty good shield against spray while on the boat. :)

A good pillow. Finding a good pillow here can be a challenge. Most Ugandan pillows are filled with what I would compare to firm couch stuffing - not the best for a good night's rest. I have brought two different pillows from the U.S. and actually found a good one in a store in Kampala, the capital city. :)

My newest coffee press and a bag of "Good African Coffee" (yep, that's the real name of this brand.) :)

- A French press. Coffee is a must for me in the morning and since we rely on solar power at SHIM, which isn't always ready in the morning, a French press is a must. I brought a couple from the states, but was so excited when I found a HUGE selection of French presses, in about five different sizes at a Kampala store. So, I "upgraded" to a larger one, 'cause sometimes it is a two-cup morning. :)

- A good pair of flip-flops. In Uganda they are called "slippers" and they are the most common footwear here, whether you are traipsing around your own compound, in the bathing room, digging in the garden, working on a construction project, or just getting from here to there. Thankfully, it is easy and cheap to find a good pair of slippers here. And they come in some cool colors, too. :)

- A good water bottle. It is so easy to get dehydrated here, so I carry a water bottle everywhere - when working in my office, to school, on the boat, to Jinja, well, you get the idea. Better yet, it's better to have more than one - because I have dropped mine off of bodas (motorcycles), lost them, etc.

- Sunscreen - I apply sunscreen here more often than I do makeup. Thankfully, after three years of exposure to the sun's rays, I don't burn as badly as I used to, but my nose is always a nice shade of pink or red. :)  Sunscreen is a must when you are living near the equator where the sun is most intense.

My trusty backpack and my newest pair of "slippers" - both in my favorite color, blue. :)

- A sturdy backpack. If there is one item I use almost daily and sometimes several times in a day, it is my trusty backpack. After struggling with a cheap backpack on my first trip, I spent a little more money and bought a good one that has lasted more than three years and traveled literally thousands of miles. I can carry up to three laptops and books in it, or make it my overnight bag for Jinja, or my carry-on for trips back and forth from the U.S. It had endured sun, rain, dirt, being overloaded and overstuffed, and dragged from here to there and everywhere. I would simply be lost without it.

- Handi-wipes - They are just so handy and I usually try and keep some in my backpack. They make great sweat-wipers, blood-soppers, dust rags, compact sanitizers for hands, silverware, etc. 

- My Kindle. I really have few books here, mostly because books are quite heavy when it comes to packing them. That is why I was so excited to receive a Kindle for my birthday last year! I love that I can carry my "library" with me - to school, to Jinja, on the boat, etc. - and easily add books and magazines to it. It is one of the best gifts I have ever received!

One of my "essentials" - a Kindle.

- Rechargeable batteries - Since I use batteries all of the time in my torch and camera and batteries here are expensive and bad quality, I invested in a good battery charger (that can handle Uganda's powerful 220 volts) and a number of quality rechargeable batteries. A very good investment!

- A portable music player - There is just something about having music from home or recognizable praise music (most of the time I do not know what is being sung, even in church), which can be such an encouragement. I also love to download audio books and sermons for long boat and taxi rides.

Some things that I thought would be essential, but that I haven't used all that much - mosquito repellent (believe it or not, I hardly apply the stuff), and a watch - I never wear one here because this is such a laid-back culture and my cell phone, which is almost always with me, has a clock. :)

I will come up with some other missionary "necessities" for a second post soon. :)

Who's Watching Your Steps?

The rocky path to Lingira.

There's a gazillion rocks on the path.

I live near Kyoya village on Lingira Island and to reach the next village to the southwest (and the island's largest village), I have to climb up a hill and follow a path scattered with rocks - pebbles, boulders and slabs of volcanic rock. It can be treacherous, depending on what shoes you are wearing (I don't recommend anything but flats) and whether or not rain has made the rocks slick.

The last few times as I have made the trek and carefully picked my way over, around, through and across the rocks, I have thought about my future.

I can never look beyond the next one or two steps that I need to take on the rocky path. It requires my full concentration not to slip and fall.

Trekking to Lingira on Easter Sunday morning.

If I make the mistake of looking too far ahead, I might trip over what is right in front of me. So, I think it is with life - if we focus too far ahead, like "What will happen next month?" or "What will transpire next year?" And, we put our attention too far ahead, we may "trip" on our present and possibly even miss what God has for us today, or even in this moment.

I am not against planning ahead, making goals, writing schedules, etc. But, I believe that ultimately it must all be put in the Sovereign God's very capable hands - our today and our tomorrows.

He's watching your steps, so focus on what He has put before you today and rejoice that He has your tomorrows taken care of.

"The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives." - Psalm 37:23