Thursday, February 27, 2014

Please Meet...


Sarah is among the most amazing young women I know. Her name means "princess" in Hebrew and truly God's work in her life has resulted in a "rags-to-riches" story for His glory.

I first met Sarah on Lingira Island back in 2006. At the time she taught at a preschool operated by the church. Before I left, in March 2007, Sarah had joined the newly-opened secondary (middle/high) school in the next village. She was in her mid-twenties by then. Ten years had passed since she had dropped out of school because of lack of money, in the midst of her 9th grade year (known as Senior 2 here).

But joining the school was a significant step in an already amazing journey that had begun sometime back. 

Sarah first came to the island in 1998 - about 8 years beforehand - looking for work after her mom told her she no longer had money to send Sarah to school.

Sarah didn't know Jesus then, in fact her "master" was Satan and she suffered from serious spiritual issues. A Ugandan pastor doing evangelism work on the island prayed an entire week before Sarah was finally delivered from her demanding and possessive masters, into the loving hands of a new loving "Master," Jesus Christ. Her life was dramatically changed.

Because of her love for children, Sarah began serving in children's ministry at the local church.

Though Sarah had not finished secondary school, God opened other doors - a two-year Bible school and later a six-month discipleship course. Combining her love for children and teaching, Sarah taught at the island preschool, staying at the nearby YWAM base, where I first met her and we began our friendship

When Lingira Living Hope opened in February 2007, returning to the classroom was daunting to Sarah. Not only had she dropped out about 10 years before, but as a younger and unsaved student, she had been "dull" and trailed at the bottom of her class - always. Also, the national curriculum had changed in the last decade and new subjects were added, especially the more difficult science topics.

Along with her spiritual freedom, Sarah discovered she personally knew the Source of all Wisdom - her Heavenly Father. In her classes, she found He "added knowledge" to her mind.

Rather than returning to the unfinished 9th grade, Sarah started in 10th (Senior 3). She finished the year as the top physics student in her class, though she had never previously studied the subject. No longer at the bottom of her class, Sarah was now a leader.

She continued on to schools in Jinja, including "A-level," equivalent to junior college. Once again, she succeeded, passed and graduated.

Her love for teaching again beckoned her, yet Sarah desired professional training that she did not yet possess.

Shortly after my return to Uganda in January 2010 (I was gone from March 2007 until 2010), Sarah approached SHIM about sponsoring her through a three-year university course. Relatively-speaking, university courses are expensive here and we didn't have guaranteed funds for the entire duration. But, we knew God still had greater things in store for Sarah.

Last week, I was privileged to be one of only two people allowed to be invited by Sarah to attend her graduation from Kyambogo University, from which she successfully earned a Bachelor's Degree in Education.

Sarah with her mom Bernadette

Sarah narrated her amazing testimony, included many of the above details, over breakfast the morning after her graduation. After leaving the ceremony grounds the day before, we traveled to her mother's home in Kayunga and found a small party, with awaiting family and friends. Congratulations were showered, speeches made, and special foods enjoyed.

One of about seven children in her predominantly-Catholic family, Sarah is the only one to have earned a university degree. Once disregarded, she is now honored and respected in her home, family, and community.

"Sarah, God has raised you up for a purpose," I tell her. That purpose is still unfolding as God continues to pen Sarah's story. I am quite excited for what God has in store for "Princess Sarah."

Back in January 2011, when I interviewed her for a sponsorship profile, Sarah gave the following reasons for her pursuit of education.

“As a professional teacher, I believe I will teach the youth how to walk morally upright...and pass on God’s love, which will be spread to the whole community and world.”

Sarah and I

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What They Really Need

My friend Stella shares her testimony with the female students Saturday afternoon.

"We have a very generous God who wants to give you the greatest gift of all. Do you know what that is?"

"It is Himself," I tell the gathered girl students, nearly all dressed alike in red and white school shirts and assorted black skirts. They sit in wooden desks in the brick classroom on a hot and dry Saturday afternoon.

"God knows your heart, your desires - He knows the gift you need today."

After four years of living and working on the island, and putting almost all of my concentration and energy into the young people who populate Lingira Living Hope Secondary School, I sometimes still feel at a loss.

This evening, after the afternoon session by some visiting speakers with our secondary students, I cried out to God.

"God, what do they need?" I was once again frustrated by the lack of visible response from the students to the messages shared.

How do I know that what I am speaking is what they need to hear? How do I know it is making sense? That it is crossing the language and cultural barriers that exist? How do I know that they are not just inwardly shrugging me off because I am white, because I am female, because I am different than they are.

He knows my name,
He knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls, 
And He hears me when I call.

That simple worship chorus spoke volumes to me a couple of years ago when I struggled with similar doubts and questions. I realized then as I remember now, it is not whether I know the students as well as I should. It is not about whether I can speak their mother tongue, or I know their cultural or tribal backgrounds. It is not about if I have passed through similar experiences (which for the most part, I have not). It is not about me.

And honestly, they don't need me.

They need God, the One who knows them - intimately. And they need Him above all else.

I cling to this unshakable and undeniable truth. I can trust the All-Seeing, All-Knowing, Ever-Faithful, Never-Changing God and Heavenly Father to know the hearts and minds of each young woman and each young man here. They think no one really knows them, understands about them, cares about their hearts and their futures.

They have been hurt, disappointed, abused, neglected, abandoned, and despised by others. They have been called stupid, worthless, and worse. After awhile, you wonder if anyone really cares, who will not just later hurt and disappoint you.

What do they need above else? Jesus Himself. The One who has sought them doggedly, pursued them relentlessly, loved unconditionally, forgiven sacrificially, who sees them as beautiful and worth pursuing because they are created in the sacred image of the Father.

He is the Shepherd seeking for His lost sheep.

And He will not give up.

It's not about me, about have the "right" message or the best method. It is about being an arrow pointing back to Him. It is about being a conduit of His love and grace.

The students don't need me. They need Jesus.

The world does not need us. The world needs Jesus. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Valentine's

I don't have just one special "Valentine," but I count myself very blessed to be surrounded - both in the U.S. and in Uganda - by some very special and dear people.

Today's "Valentine" just proves the point. This morning, two blonde-headed boys eagerly popped out of the screen door of their island house to present me with the following:

My response? My heart melted. :) Did I feel loved? You betcha! 

Above all on this special day, I thank my Heavenly Father for creating love, for being love Himself, and for sending His love daily (not just on Feb. 14!) in numerous tangible ways, often expressed by His dear "ambassadors" - in their smiles, hugs, kind words, listening ears, faithful friendship, and steadfast love.

Feeling blessed and loved, and I hope you do, too. :)

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Off Days"?

A sunset view from the top of Lingira Island.

"I have quit asking God for things, instead I thank Him that He knows the unknown." This is a paraphrase of some wise words spoken last night by a good friend of mine.

Those words resurfaced this morning as I prayed for protection for some of our ministry members traveling from the island to Jinja. Rather than seeking God's protection for them, I shifted my petitions to instead thanking Him that He is a God who always protects.

How we pray reveals what we know and believe about our God. Yes, the Bible does tell us to "ask, seek and knock," (Matthew 7:7-8), but do we come as doubting children or trusting, believing children?

As I prayed it occurred to me that God does not have any "off days." His protection or sovereignty are never even a percentage point less than another day when we last made a request.

He is 100% Sovereign

He is 100% Loving

He is 100% Gracious

He is 100% Just

He is 100% Powerful

He is 100% Truth

He is 100% God

If He is even only 99.99% in any of these and He is innumerable other attributes, then He ceases to be God. He cannot drop or change by even a minuscule percentage point.

If we know this and really believe this, then our prayers should consist more of praise and thanksgiving than anything else.

What an amazing assurance and reality to know that God never, ever has "off days."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Typing Lessons

Some of my computer class students practice their typing skills.

I tell them to relax their fingers, hands and arms. Some visibly shake as they begin their typing lesson - the first of the new school year.

For some secondary students, this is the first time they have ever placed their hands on a computer keyboard. Many have been waiting a year just for this moment. I put my students through three terms of theory/bookwork - before we even begin "practical" computer lessons. This morning they giggled nervously and excitedly as I set up the computers and the generator.

Some are very enthusiastic and eager, and others are tense and nervous. As they tentatively begin, their classmates look on, occasionally letting loose laughter or trying to be "helpful" in telling the "practicee" what key they should be pressing, but aren't.

Learning to type is much like learning any other skill in life, I tell them. You don't learn in a day and to get better, you must practice, practice. It is more important to learn to type correctly than to type quickly.

Some catch on with ease and others struggle. Yet, I assure them all they have done a good job.

I want to convey these lessons - you have to start somewhere, you make mistakes and you learn from them, the best things in life are not rushed through, relax, take it slow, you can try again tomorrow, and most of all, give yourself grace.

Grace. It's needed every day in every situation, even in a typing lesson. 

I often face life in general too tensely. As an introvert I am easily overwhelmed by situations involving people, like teaching classes of students. :) I get nervous, over-stressed, critical of myself and others - all unnecessarily.

I wonder how many times in my day God looks down and gently says - "Relax, don't rush, don't beat yourself up - instead learn from your mistakes, try again tomorrow...give yourself grace."

God freely bestows grace, but we miserly mete it out to ourselves, perhaps not realizing there is an endless, abundant supply that we can't ever exhaust.

God is a very patient and gracious teacher. And I am so, so thankful He is.

Relax. Take it slow. Delight in grace.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Please Meet...


A few month ago I introduced you to a dear friend of mine, a remarkable young woman named Fauza. You can read about Fauza in a post here.

I have another young person I'd like you to get to know - Danze (pronounced Dan-zee) Fred.


Honestly, I have met few young people like him - either in Uganda or in the U.S. - someone who is sold out to Jesus, incredibly passionate about sharing the Gospel, focused on his goals, and a very hard worker.

Danze is a relatively young Christian, yet you wouldn't know that by the great strides he has made in his faith and witness.

One of 12 children born to poor parents, Danze saw it as a "God-made" opportunity for him and his brother to be taken in by an uncle who lives on the islands. Danze was in primary (elementary) school at the time and the uncle began paying for the boys' school tuition. The opportunity later disappeared, though, as the uncle went bankrupt.

Danze's yearning for studies motivated him and impressed his teachers. When sent home for lack of money for tuition, Danze would make charcoal, having to miss two to three weeks of classes at a time. At other times the teachers took pity on him, and allowed him to stay. Because of his hard work and dedication, Danze was selected in 2011 for sponsorship by SHIM.

Though not yet a born-again believer when he enrolled in our island secondary school in 2009, Danze's thirst for the Word of God propelled him to attend anything he could to learn more, including Bible studies, Sunday and mid-week services, and prayer times. He couldn't seem to get enough of God's truth.

Yet, there was an intense battle for his soul and eternal destiny.

One evening after classes in his second year, as he returned to his small rented house in the village, Danze suffered a demonic attack. His body became paralyzed, extreme cold overtook him, and he was unable to see or speak.

"They (the demons) were claiming my life," Danze recounts. “Today we are killing you,” the spirits told him. However, another "Voice" instructed him to call on Christ. Though unable to speak, Danze cried out for Jesus in his spirit.

As he cried out for Christ, he began to recover. A bright light then appeared in the house and the Voice asked, “What do you see?” When he said he couldn't see, the Voice replied, “Open your eyes and see…You are seeing darkness, but light has come into this house.”

Danze was told to open his Bible to John 11:25 - “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone one who believes in me will live, even after dying.’” The same chapter tells of Lazarus’ resurrection and indeed Danze felt as if he was like Lazarus, - once dead, but raised to new life. 

That very evening, Danze trusted in Christ for salvation and and eternal life. As instructed by the Voice, he shared John 11:25 with his fellow students in a service the following evening. A short time later, Danze was among a group of local believers, including a number of students, to be baptized in Lake Victoria.

Danze, second from left, is baptized March 13, 2011. Also pictured are David, former school guard, Pastor Andy Smith, and Peter, a former elder in the local church.

Danze has been an impassioned minister ever since - faithfully sharing with his peers, the local believers and islanders, and more recently in the largest school in Jinja, on the streets there, in the hospitals, and wherever God calls him. The year after his conversion, Danze began chairing the island school's Scripture Union, a student-led mid-week service, as well as faithfully counseling and encouraging his fellow students.

Graduating at the top of his class in 2012, Danze left the island to attend junior college and continue his pursuit of medicine.

This week Danze begins his second year of junior college. While dedicating much of his time and energy to his books, Danze still puts God's work as a high priority in his life. Once the chairman of the Scripture Union for our small school, he now chairs a similar group at his current school - the largest school in the Jinja area, and is a coordinator for the same organization, overseeing 33 Jinja area schools.

It is obvious to me that God has a very special plan for Danze. He stands out from others, like Daniel did, because of his remarkable character, leadership, drive, service, and passion for Christ.

He is the only one of his immediate family to have reached this level of education, and yet he desires to in turn raise his family and others from their "miserable" burden of poverty.

Danze is striving to help his world both physically - aspiring to someday be a doctor, and spiritually - "I cannot leave the Word of God and preaching."

Would you join me in praying for this young man - that God would continue to be with Him and guide him in His ways?