Thursday, October 23, 2014

What If?

Sunrise seen from the top of Lingira Mountain.

What if the sun’s rays were not warm and consoling?

What if water was not cool, refreshing, thirst-quenching and life-giving?

What if fruit was not sweet and good for you at the same time?

What if kittens were not soft, cute and cuddly?

What if the earth did not have gravity? (What a mess it would be!)

What is music was not inspiring, motivating, comforting?

What if ears were only for decoration and not for hearing?

What if the world was only visible in grayscale?

What if the waves of the seas and oceans did not keep within their bounds?

What if the sun rose only twice a week?

What if there were no clouds to shield us from the sun?

What if the stars had no order, how would sailors navigate?

What if lips could not talk, sing, whistle, or hum?

What if hugs were painful, rather than warm embraces?

What if a smile was difficult to produce?

What if there were no seasons?

What if raindrops were heavy like stones?

What if birds did not sing?

What if we did not have memories and only “remembered” the current second we are in?

What if laughter was not healing?

What if light did not pierce and scatter darkness?

What if mountains were not high, waterfalls were not breathtaking, valleys had no end, and rivers ran neither upstream nor downstream?

What if there was no beauty, no love, no grace, no joy, no peace, no serenity?

What if lies were truth, evil was good, wrong was right, and injustice was accepted?

What if there were no such concepts as forgiveness, restoration, transformation?

At times we may doubt the evidences of God’s love, but each day He surrounds us with these gifts of love and grace – because He is good and loving and awesome.

Today, take note of the Creator's gifts to'll run out of numbers before you run out of gifts to count.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Preparing to Say Goodbye

This evening's sunset. Just think - without the sunsets today we would have no sunrises tomorrow.

When I volunteered to teach at the island school four years ago, I didn't count on something.

Having to say goodbye. When I was younger, I hated change and I hated goodbyes. I have changed some since then, but they're still not my favorites. Why should a good thing come to an end?

Now, as the secondary school enters its third term and the days march toward the end of another year, our graduating class has reached the beginning of the end of their studies here. Today they started their final exams and by early November, they will have finished and will begin leaving the school.

Many of these graduates joined the school four years ago, as I was starting my second year of teaching and serving on the island. I have watched them grow and feel as if I have grown with them. They are no longer the small boys and girls of 2011 - they have become beautiful, handsome, smart and wise young men and women.

Because of the nature of the islands and how far away the students' homes are, it is unlikely I will see many of them again. I will have to rely on an occasional phone call to hear about how they are doing.

It is hard to let go. I didn't bargain for this as a teacher, a mentor, and as a friend.

Separation has been a hard lesson for me while here in Uganda. But lessons are for learning and God has taught me that this world is truly not my home, and He is preparing a much better place for His dear children.

That special place, better known as Heaven, will be a place free of separation. No more goodbyes, farewells, or "see you laters." Sometimes my heart aches for that time and that place. And, with the more goodbyes I have to say the ache seems to deepen.

In the meantime, part of my heart goes with each of these amazing students. I wish I had more time with them, but I am thankful for the time God gave me, and I hope that someday we will have all of the time, not in the world, but in eternity.

Would you join me in praying for these young men and women as they do their exams? I really want God's grace, courage and peace to be upon them. Thank you.

Some of the amazing young people I get to work with! Back row, from left: Zaitun, Suzan, Celestine, Benjamin, Michael, Dick; front row, Petra, Scovia, Derick and Joshua. (I usually tell them to smile, so am not sure why they are so serious here.) Celestine, Benjamin, Petra, Derick and Joshua are among this year's "graduates."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My "Summer" Break

(So, I realize it is now October, but this is a "catch-up" post. I wrote it a few weeks ago, but didn't finish it as other things came up. If you want to know more about the "others," see my last post.. :) )

I put "summer"in parentheses because we don't have seasons like summer, fall, winter and spring. We have two - rainy and dry, which alternate throughout the year.

Oh, I should note that we do occasionally have "winter," like when the the temps drop below 75° and people are wearing jackets, complaining about the cold, and clutching cups of tea. Yes, I admit, I have become one of them. :)

After 5 weeks of "holiday," (Aug. 1-Sept. 8) school began "again" in that we started our third term. While the rest of y'all in the States were just starting your year, we are more than halfway through our ours. That is because Uganda kicks off its school year in February, while you are halfway through yours. Confused yet?

So back to my break...

It was fun and it was full, and despite ending with a nasty case of malaria, it was overall quite enjoyable.

In mid-August, to conclude her time in Uganda, Delaney and I ventured to Murchison Falls National Park - Uganda's oldest and largest park, spanning more than 5,000 kilometers. It was amazing, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring. We saw some incredible creatures, like giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, antelope, warthogs (okay, so warthogs are not really incredible, but they are odd looking critters), plus many types of birds.

A stately-looking giraffe. We saw a ton of these spotted fellas - I'm sure some of them were gals, too. ;)

A "cool" African tree.

The falls itself was also amazing, as well as the sprawling savannas and the endless rolling hills dotted with those African-type trees that you usually see in those cool wildlife documentaries. (They are even cooler when seen in person!)

At the top of Murchison Falls.
I shared a number of photos of our trek in this post and a couple of videos here, so will share only a couple of them here.

After sadly seeing Delaney off in mid-September, a few days later I headed east, accompanying one of our island students back to her home in Sironko, near Mbale, about 5 1\2 hours from the island. It is amazing how far students will travel to come to school!

Eastern Uganda is another stunning part of the country, with its hills, the Elgon Mountain range, lots and lots of green scenery, and of course, many warm and friendly people. :)

Tracey, far left, and her gracious family in front of their home.
I enjoyed the gracious hospitality of student Tracey's family and also visited some folks with island connections, like the dear family of Pastor Philip, the one who started the fellowship group in Katonga. That small weekly gathering yielded many new believers and 13 baptisms last summer.

Pastor Philip, center, his wife Harriet, far left, and their beautiful family.

Two days later and a four-hour journey home - in a packed car, on a packed taxi, and ending with a boda ride, I was back to Jinja - my mainland "home" when I am not on the island.

A couple of hours later, I was back on the road, but to Entebbe to pick up a friend who was returning from furlough. It was great to see her again after two months.

Interspersed with some rest, some work, and some house-sitting, I also had the chance to visit other friends. Julius, our talented farming guy, excitedly showed me the improvements to his mushroom-making endeavor, while his wife served us a delicious lunch. 

Ruth and Julius in front of their Mayuge home.

Julius showing his mushroom "house." They grow out of the plastic sacks!

With an impending storm, I left Julius and Ruth's place in Mayuge, also in eastern Uganda, and boarded a taxi for the nearby Bugaade. The dark skies opened and poured down torrential rain, making me thankful I had not taken a motorcycle for the trip, and that I was not sitting near one of the vehicle's leaking windows. :)

Upon reaching the town center of Bugaade, Fauza greeted me with a hug and a smile. I hadn't seen her since last November when she finished at the island secondary school, leaving as one of our 2013 top graduates. For nearly three years, I also enjoyed meeting weekly with Fauza at the school to study the Bible.

As is customary for visitors, I was served food - a steaming cup of tea - perfect for a rainy day - and half a loaf of soft brown bread, which I was expected to consume by myself. After only two pieces, since I was still full from Ruth's lunch, I asked for help from Fauza and her cousin, with whom I had been chatting.

"But, Madam, that is all for you. You are supposed to finish it," Fauza insisted.

I carefully, but not rudely, tried to explain that I simply could not finish ALL of the bread she had placed before me. Thankfully, the mountain of bread was not the center of our conversation, but rather the challenges that had kept Fauza from entering a new school, specifically having to do with spiritual warfare. Coming from a predominantly-Muslim family, Fauza had her share of encounters with witch craft, which is commonly intertwined with Islam here.

Asserting her position in Christ, Fauza has and is recognizing that the Creator God is indeed more powerful than Satan; however, remaining firm in her faith is important, especially when her family believes otherwise. After sharing Scripture and a time of prayer, I reluctantly left, knowing it would be some time before I would see my young friend again.

A cold boda ride, another taxi ride, concluding with a bus trip returned me to Jinja again, thankful for friendship, hospitality, and God's gracious provision and protection.

Before I knew it, it was time to return to the island and begin thinking about the new term. The Sunday after my return, my friend Justus and I witnessed the baptism of 9 new believers, following a Sunday service in the new church in the small village of Dubai. Located on the back side of Lingira, Dubai has mostly been just a pass-through to get to the other villages, though at one time it was a bustling place of trade, which earned it its name.

Church in Dubai - praise and worship under the mango tree.

Celebrating the joy of baptism with a new believer.

No longer forgotten, Dubai now has a church, which was birthed after evangelism efforts earlier this year. Each week, believers from Dubai, as well as three other villages gather under a large mango tree to praise and worship and study the Word of God.

I have come to realize that there is no "forgotten"place or "forgotten"people to God. He knows each and every corner and each every heart. And His love and light can find and penetrate each one.

I am grateful for that full and fun (yes, I did do other work, too!) "summer" break. I think God knew I needed it before entering an intense school term. He knows best what we need, doesn't He?

Sunrise at the ferry landing on the Nile River, Murchison Falls.

The impressive Sisi (see-see) Falls in eastern Uganda.

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