Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Craving Crunchy

Why I don't buy steak sauce in Uganda - One bottle is equivalent to $12!

The following is meant to be a humorous piece - some lighter far after my recent "heavier" posts.

Today I stealthily scoured the supermarkets for...crunchy and salty.

I found shelves upon shelves filled with biscuits of every shape, size, price, and flavor. But what my taste buds wanted was...crunch topped with salt.

This is not an uncommon craving for Westerners here. Biscuits, which are the British term for "cookies," abound and can be found in even the tiniest roadside stand. A "duka" (little shop) is not complete with them and of course, alongside the bottles of soda, bars of soap, and rolls of toilet paper.

Much of Ugandan food is soft - posho (similar to grits), potatoes, rice, matoke (cooked bananas), porridge, etc. And since I usually pass up sweets for popcorn, today I bypassed the coo...biscuits...and tempting candy bars, which are always near the cash register (just like in the U.S.!), and found my eyes magnetically drawn to chips and items that are supposed to resemble chips.

I settled for some "crunchy maize snacks" which reminded me of...wait, I'm trying to remember the name. Ah, yes! Corn Nuts. The  cheese and onion maize (corn) snacks looked like Corn Nuts, and didn't taste too badly. No, they did not replicate CornNuts, but hey, they were crunchy...and salty. I also grabbed a bag of cheesy "Corntos," coincidentally also made of corn - duh. ;) They are similar to Cheetos.

Honestly, I have been pleasantly surprised by the food choices appearing on supermarket shelves in recent years. One of the greatest miracles here was when Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers magically emerged in abundance on Jinja supermarket shelves. I know the entire missionary and expat community was abuzz with the excitement!

Sadly after awhile the Ritz crackers disappeared, but you can still find Oreos at an occasional supermarket, though the flavors may be a bit odd, like "ice cream." Hmm...not sure about that one.

By the way, as I use the term "supermarket," let me define it. Some of the aforementioned resemble something like an American convenience store - you know those small stores attached to gas stations? Others are more spacious and plentiful in stock. My personal favorite is "Big Bazaar," found on Main Street, Jinja - not too crowded, good choices, and the Indians who run it are nice. :)

One of the popular brands here is "American Garden" and they are persistent in letting you know that it was packaged in America, though it may have come through India or some other exotic location. (I guess Americans are suckers for buying our own stuff.) Oh, my "Corntos" were manufactured and distributed by a Malaysia business and imported by a company in Singapore. Talk about international tastes! :)

Matoke and a fish head - the piece considered the delicacy.

We frequently find food imported from Kenya, South Africa, India, Malaysia, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, India, and other countries. Your package of noodles may sport the ingredients in four different languages!

Thankfully, fresh food is much cheaper here than processed and living in a tropical climate means fresh fruits and veggies are available year-round, though what is cheaper changes depending on the season.

When special and unusual things do show up on the shelves, like pudding, pickles, chocolate syrup, baking mixes, barbecue sauce (photo above), and others - they tend to be spendy. Which is why they are often considered a "special treat" if they are purchased, usually done after much deliberation. :)

Aside from crunchy and salty, other foods most often craved and requested by Westerners? Good cheese, good chocolate, Ranch salad packets, taco seasoning, Jif peanut butter, beef jerky, chocolate chips, marshmallows, and others.

So, if you ever consider sending a missionary a "care package," including some of the above would be a blessing, which you may not be able to comprehend to the fullest extent. I have seen grown women exuberantly cheer over a bag of Nestle chocolate chips!

Oh, and don't forget the CornNuts and Cheetos. :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


This picture was recently circulating Facebook. I really liked it. :)

One of my most memorable "detours" occurred last February. I had attended a wonderful graduation ceremony for my brother in ministry, Robert Wafula, as he received his master's degree in leadership.

The graduation was on time and finished early. Since the university is within about 40 minutes of Kampala, I figured I could "dash" to the capital city, check on my pending work permit, and be back on the road, headed toward Jinja, to arrive in time for the 5 p.m. graduation dinner. After all, it was only mid-day - plenty of time...right?

If I have learned anything while in Uganda, it is never, ever assume - anything.

My trip to the immigration office went very smoothly and so did the start of my return trip. But shortly an auto accident, complete with fire and smoke, sent us off the two-lane main road - on a detour on one-lane mud roads - for nearly 2 hours.

Our packed taxi (which resembled a VW bus) became just one of many vehicles of all shapes and sizes (including large fuel tanks) that attempted to navigate these too narrow, very muddy, very windy back roads. As we re-entered the paved main road, I discovered we were only a short distance ahead of where we had been two hours before, and not much closer to our destination.

I arrived in Jinja that evening sometime after 7 p.m., having missed the best of the party, and able to enjoy what remained of the nice meal.

My reaction? To cry tired tears of frustration. I kept asking myself, "Why? How? How did such a great day turn out so wrong?"

There have been other times in my life in which I didn't understand the "detours."

"God, why I am here? How long do you want me here? When will I get back to the 'real' plan you have for my life?"

The last time I visited my sister (in Nov. 2012), I heard a pastor share in a chapel service about "detours." He spoke of how we often think God can't use them or that they are "interruptions," pulling us off the main road He has for us. But, the pastor asked, what if the detour is the real path? Rather than trying to escape it, why not embrace it and realize it too is part of God's overall sovereign work in our lives?

Those words have come back to me this week. For years in my mind I had an idea of what God might have in store for me, and honestly it didn't include Uganda. I have been guilty of thinking my time here is a "detour" and that one day I will resume the original plan God has for me. Usually, that plan includes marriage, living back in the U.S. somewhere near family, and working in a support position for a ministry or mission organization.

Consequently, I have not allowed myself to fully settle here - physically, spiritually, emotionally - to relax and invest wholeheartedly in the path I am on now. I am being honest here, and it is not easy.

After four years here, I just recently bought a couple pieces of furniture, after living for too long out of plastic totes. I haven't seriously devoted myself to language studies - after all, I don't know how long I will still be here.

Unlike others who believe God is calling them to a lifetime in Uganda or other parts of Africa, I don't have that sense. Or maybe I am avoiding it.

Please don't misunderstand me. I do love my life here, where I live, who I work with, what I am doing, but yes, there are days when I seriously struggle with loneliness, discontentment, ingratitude, and the "grass is greener elsewhere" syndrome. Unfortunately, in my fallen nature I fall into the trap of thinking I am missing out on something, somewhere, rather than trusting that this is God's best for me right now, right here.

I had the blessing of being prayed over this past weekend. One thing spoken over me was I had lately become frustrated as I sought for a clear path and a clear vision. "God will give you one," I was told. Immediately, I thought, "What if that vision includes long-term work in Uganda? Am I ready for that?"

I don't know if I am ready. Honestly, I don't know what is ahead, how long I will be here, or what the "big picture" is. But I am slowly and stubbornly learning to trust Jesus for the next step of this journey, this adventure.

When we join Jesus on the path He has for us - winding as it may be - there are no such things as detours. He uses it all - every season, every circumstance, every encounter - to accomplish His purposes in and through us. It's pointless to worry about whether or not you are being "detoured" or on the "main road."

If Jesus is driving, you know all is under control - His control. So settle in and enjoy the ride. :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Truth About What I Am Not...

Me on a boat on Lake Victoria.

Sometimes I chuckle and am mystified by students' questions and comments...

"Do you dig (garden) there in America?" (They are surprised we grow our own food and don't import all of it.)

"At what age do your children finish school? I heard 15 or 16."

"I don't think mzungus (whites) need a Saviour - they're not sinners."

"I think Jesus was white and spoke English."

Then sometimes the questions get more personal. At times I get the feeling the young people I work with believe I am more than human, maybe more like an alien or a super-human, which of course, I am not. I want to boldly tell them - "I may look different than you, but I am very much human. I do have needs like you. I do have hurts like you. I do have disappointments like you."

They are surprised when I am not free of injuries, mistakes and mix-ups, and when I freely admit that yes, I am very much a sinner in need of a Savior (as are all "whites.")

Then there are the (mis)perceptions of me as a missionary (maybe by some of you)...

That I am at another, advanced level of Christian service and living. And because of that I "deserve" extra attention and special treatment.

The Truth: 

I am not a super-Christian. I am not a super-missionary. I am not super anything.

I am not special because I live and work in a foreign country.

I am not as strong, brave or passion-driven as I would like to be. Nor am I as kind, loving, patient and gracious as I desperately need to be.

I am not as wise and careful with my time, money, and talents as I should be.

I am not free of selfishness, laziness, pride, lust, dishonesty, negativity, and the list goes on...

I am not free of besetting weaknesses and sins here on the mission field. If anything, they have only been magnified as other "comforts" and distractions are stripped away. I frequently don't like what I see in my "spiritual mirror."

I am not free of wishing for what I don't have, whether it be American chocolate or cheese, a husband and my own family, or an understanding friend's hug and a listening ear.

I am not without weaknesses (many of them). 

I am not without need of consistent prayer, encouragement, correction, and exhortation.

I am not free of needing daily spiritual nourishment and significant time in my Father's presence.

I am definitely not a fully-sanctified saint, and for sure am not as far along in the process as I want to be.

I am a sinner, saved by massive amounts of grace, which I need moment by moment.

What are you? And what are you not?

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Voice

Mama O, second from right, ministering to some women and children of the island.

The same reoccurring question popped in my head this week as I read Luke's account of Christ's crucifixion.

"Where were they?" 

Where were all of the hundreds and thousands of people who experienced Jesus' healing touch, who ate blessed food multiplied by His hands, who heard and were changed by His powerful teachings. Why did those who were miraculously set free from demonic possession, not step forward and say, "He saved me! Do not crucify Him!"

I understand it was God's sovereign will and plan that Christ would make this atoning sacrifice for the entire world on that rugged cross. But, I still wonder... Where were they?

Then I read:

Luke 23:27  - "A large crowd trailed behind (as Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha), including many grief-stricken women." 

And verse 49: "But Jesus' friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching."

They were there, but as if invisible - as if they had no voice. Even if they had spoken, protested or shouted - who would have listened?

As Jesus talked with the men walking in Emmaus, they commented: "But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel." (vs. 20-21a)

They had counted on Jesus being their "Voice" - to support, defend them, to lead them in overthrowing the Roman tyrannical government, to finally set them free. And now this Voice had been unjustly silenced by the people's very own religious and political leaders.

Here in Uganda, I often hear of "voices" being silenced or not being heard. Voicing an opinion is not encouraged in this culture and if someone does, they are often criticized for letting out what may not be "acceptable."

The voices of children, youth and women are especially not encouraged. Those with enough power or money are often given the platform to proclaim their "voices." Until you have one or both of those, you really have no "right" to have a say.

While the early followers and disciples were devastated by the crucifixion of their Messiah, no doubt that by Sunday - they were raising their voices in incredible surprise and immeasurable joy at His resurrection!

He had not been silenced. The Voice of incredible hope, of salvation, of eternal victory was alive!

Jesus gives hope to the hopeless, joy to the discouraged, an entrance to the ignored, a hearing to the despised, a standing to the marginalized. He becomes the Voice for the voiceless.

"He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for His instruction." - Isaiah 42:3-4

As a follower of Christ, are you using your voice to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves? 
How are you representing the "Voice" of Christ in the world?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hope on the Muddy Road

In the process of cleaning up my e-mail account this afternoon, I ran across a folder with messages from my first trip to Uganda, Oct. 2006-March 2007. Wow, sure brought back a flood of memories. :)

The following excerpt is from one of my messages home, written after a particular difficult stretch of time. I wanted to share it because I need to be reminded daily of the hope that is ahead. I pray you are blessed and encouraged as well.

"Whatever suffering we do enter, it is only for a season. I have thought about that as I have squeezed into a crowded taxi, endured a cold shower or trudged down a very muddy road with a heavy backpack on my back – these discomforts last only for a time, They can be endured because I know they will not last – there are better things ahead. 

"So, it is with this life. Sometimes life can be uncomfortable, intolerable or even unbearable because of discomfort, suffering, pain and death. To put it simply, sin has contaminated our world and we suffer because of it. But with the Lord’s grace these things can be endured, because there are better things ahead. We have hope for a better, a heavenly future that has no sickness, pain or death. The hope on the horizon can give us the strength for today’s muddy road."

Whatever we pass through or "endure" in this life is truly temporary. It's good to remember that, especially on the muddy roads.

"For our light and momentary and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. 

For what is seen is temporary, 
but what is unseen is eternal." 

- 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

PhotoSource: greenlifeinsocal.comomm

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How "Noah" May Affect My Friends

No, I have not yet seen Hollywood's gross distortion of the Biblical story of Noah, and I haven't decided whether I will or not.

I have read several reviews - for and against the movie from friends and other viewers. But, here's really why I don't appreciate this latest twisting of Biblical truth...

...I work with people who are still learning how to apply the abiding principles of God's Word to their everyday decisions and everyday life. They are struggling with the question - How does a Biblical culture translate into my own culture - and what does that look like? Some don't yet realize that Jesus wants to be Lord of their life as well as every single part of it and their world.

One of my greatest burdens is for people live as Christ-followers, not just on Sunday, but every day of the week. Many island believers are still drinking the "milk" of the word and have not yet graduated to the "meat."

Misinterpretations of Scripture abound here as the "prosperity Gospel" has its many, many devotees. They are told to "plant a seed" (give money) to receive their corresponding miracle. The bigger the "seed" the bigger the response that can be expected from God.

There are many other false denominations, false doctrines, and false prophets that pop up here and there. They distract, deceive and damage the name and followers of Jesus Christ.

Many Ugandans, particularly on the islands, have not been taught to be "Bereans" - to search and study the Scriptures for themselves. There are multiple reasons for this:

1.  Many islanders are illiterate. They cannot read English or even read their native language. Thus they receive nearly all of their spiritual nourishment through another person - either behind the pulpit, over the radio or on the television.

2. They don't own a Bible. A hardcover English Bible sells for around $8 in Jinja. This is a big investment for people who often make less than $1 a day. We have just left a dry season - both of rain and money. People are now planting new crops, but will not be able to harvest and sell them for a couple of months at least. Whatever money is earned now is spent on buying absolute necessities.

3. Many Ugandans are not taught to reason or even to question information. If someone in authority says something then it must be true and should not be questioned. Numerous pastors, and especially those in the islands, have had little or no formal theological training. They often teach as they learn.

In light of this, Christians in the western world are spoiled - we have all of the above and so much more. We have been trained and taught hundreds thousands of times by numerous different people, many who are highly-trained. We have countless Biblical resources at our fingertips.

We have no excuse for not being able to discern when someone attempts to twist or misinterpret God's Holy Word. But my dear brothers and sisters here in Uganda, as well as in many other places in other parts of the world are far more susceptible to such distortions.

Thanks to no real enforcement of copyright laws here, copies of the "Noah" movie are right now easily obtained from almost any "video" shop. I have already seen posters advertising it. And I have no doubt that well-meaning Christians here will quickly get their own copy to show to their family and friends.

But, when they watch it will they be able to discern that "Noah" is indeed not a Christian movie? Will they correctly identify Hollywood's "add-ins," and go and investigate for themselves by reading the true Biblical account? Or will they swallow what they have been fed and unknowingly perpetuate a lie?

I don't understand the director's intentions in trying to present the most "un-Biblical Biblical" story every produced. That statement nearly makes me sick.

But my heart especially breaks for yet another assault on the young and tenuous faith of my local brothers and sisters. May God grant them His discernment.

Photo Source: kikn.com