Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Weekend and a Half

As I wait for the slow Internet to load my web pages, I’ll fill you in on the last few days – which have proved to be a “weekend and a half.”

One of my Ugandan co-workers, Papa O, coined this phrase to describe something that goes beyond expectation. Like a long meeting would be a “meeting and a half” or a large dinner could be a “meal and three-quarters.”

The last few days have been challenging, including getting caught in a storm and walking barefoot up and then down a long, muddy hill. But there have also been good highlights like joining 70 women in a time of sitting and learning at Jesus’ feet.

Maybe your week has also had its ups and downs with some needed EGR – “Extra Grace Required.”

Welcome Home!
I was so happy to welcome the Petersons back earlier this week, after their four-month furlough. After spending a couple of days with them in Jinja, I prepared for a return to the island. Before I hopped on the boat, though, I stopped by a mosque to observe one of the five-times-daily prayer sessions. I am winding up an online course on Islam and the visit was required to help me gain a better understanding of Muslims and their beliefs and practices.

Upon entering the mosque’s compound, I struck up a conversation with Isabirye, who I assumed worked there, but later learned had just arrived early for the prayers. A bit reticent at first, Isabirye warmed up to me, especially after learning my visit had no ill intentions, and I wanted only to observe the time of prayer. Our conversation ranged from the Muslims’ daily observance to politics in America. A few minutes later, he gave me his seat as he entered the mosque to pray, and I watched though the large open doorway.

I’ll try and write more later about my observations and what I have learned during this very interesting course.

Caught in a Storm
Getting from here to there in Uganda can have its challenges. After hopping on a motorcycle to head to the lake shore, the driver and I waited for a break in traffic on Jinja’s Main Street as large trucks, filled with people shouting and waving branches, passed by. Yep, we are also in election season here, which often means various demonstrations and posters and advertisements - EVERYWHERE.

I reached the landing site and was carried to the boat. It’s wise to arrive early, because once in awhile the boat leaves prematurely, as was the case about a month ago, when I was left at the shore watching it motor away in the distance.

Having arrived early, I grabbed my favorite spot, near the front and on the left side of the boat (away from any usual wave action), on the six-inch deep wooden bench seat. I waited…and waited…and waited. About an hour and a half later, which is the usual time for the entire journey, we pulled anchor and headed out. Seeing looming dark clouds overhead, I had been afraid rain would find us, but rather it seemed the sun was shining on our journey. Until…we reached about halfway.

The coming storm, but with the hope-filled promise of a rainbow.
Approaching dark clouds and rain could be seen from the east – my side of the boat. I silently hoped the pilot would pick up the speed, but he didn’t, and eventually the rain found us. It started out gentle, but within a few minutes, was coming down heavy. Then the wind picked up. And, we found ourselves in a storm – so bad in fact, we couldn’t land at Kyoya, my home village. And, you know the storm is serious when your fellow passengers are repenting and praying aloud. I hunkered down under my wind-beaten umbrella, praying we would finally land.

The pilot, trying to control the rocking boat in fierce wind, waves and rain, took us to the next village where there was a mad dash to get off the boat and under shelter.

Within a half hour the storm had slowed enough so my friends and I began the 20-minute hike to Kyoya. The path was muddy and the rocks slippery, so I carefully picked my way along the muddy, puddle-strewn rock and dirt path. About three-quarters of the way home, I realized I had left my phone in the other village, in the house where I had taken shelter. Reluctantly, I headed back.

This time I picked up my speed and just as I reentered the village, I slipped and fell in a nice muddy patch. God has His ways of humbling me. Walking through the village with a muddy back-end and shoes covered in brown goo caught the attention of everyone I passed and earned me some laughter from the children. I quickly retraced my steps, found my phone, and headed back over the rocky path, falling once again, and reaching SHIM soaked and tired, just as it was becoming dark and the rain had resumed.

How thankful I to be back in my nice, warm, dry home. :)

I arrived safely on the island, but it seems my computer didn’t. When I switched it on that evening I was informed my hard drive was "AWOL." Oops. Though I had clutched my backpack, containing my computer, my camera, and tablet, through the storm, it seems my computer had not fared well. I suspect the kind man who help me off the boat, had quickly and perhaps forcefully set my backpack down on the land. Thankfully, SHIM has other computers, so I am borrowing one as I wait for a return to a Jinja computer store to see what can be done. I am praying it can be repaired quickly and easily.

Gathering in Galigatya
I rose early the next morning to catch a boat to Galigatya, an island village where a women’s seminar was being held. About four hours after my expected pick-up, the boat arrived. I climbed aboard, squeezing myself among the 30 or so women also headed to the seminar. After another stop to pick up more attendees, we headed to Galigatya, about an hour from my home island.

Women on the boat headed to the seminar.
Galigatya is nestled in a beautiful valley, requiring about a half mile walk from the landing site, up and over a hill or a small mountain, as it is referred to here. The small, mud-walled church tightly held the 70 or so women who gathered from at least 10 different area churches for a time of fellowship, praising, and listening to the Word.

Climbing the hill/"mountain" to Galigatya. The village where we landed can be seen in the distance.
As is common here during “overnights,” our gathering rolled through the night and ended around 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Seeing the women joyfully and freely worship their Creator, share testimonies of God’s work in their lives, and watch them intently and eagerly soak up the Word of God and the event’s practical teachings, made my heart swell. I was reminded no place or person is ever overlooked by our all-seeing God, who intimately knows our hearts and lives.

Praising our God!

Galigatya Deliverance Church - host of the women's seminar.

Aunt Catherine, seminar organizer, shares with the women about being salt and light in the world.
Women listen intently.
Just as the sun was rising this morning, we gathered our things and returned to the boat, thankful for how the Lord had met each of us in the previous hours. The night and early morning rains had turned the mountain path into one long mud hole and eventually I took off my shoes and went barefoot, not trusting my dress shoes to carry me safely up and over the hill.

Once again, I caught the stares of passersby as they saw the shoe-less “mzungu,” with brown mud encasing my soles and toes. Washing our feet in the shore waters, we again boarded the boat, squeezing ourselves, tired, yet happy, for the journey home.

After pulling the all-nighter, I snuck in a few hours of sleep today. The rest was a bit fitful, though, since only a few feet from my door is a "construction zone." Two hardworking carpenters are pulling 12+hour days, installing screens in our buildings’ windows and vents. (Yay! I am so happy for this development as it will mean fewer bugs inside my home.) The roar of the generator, the power tools, and the workers’ banter stirred me. Two cups of coffee helped to lift my mind fog, though I still feel like I am rocking in the boat.

And to top off this interesting weekend, the island is hosting the seasonal “convention” of lake flies – large, innocent, but annoying gnats. Attracted to light, they rest on anything they can find – walls, windows, desks, floors, and are especially obnoxious after the sun has set. And, due to their short 24-hour lifespan, 15 minutes after you sweep the floor, you find more recently deceased flies have fallen. (Read these blog posts for more about these frequent island visitors.)

Though the last few days have had their ups and downs, there has, for the most part, been an abiding peace in my heart – knowing all along God is in control and will continue to be. I have so much to be thankful for, and the "hiccups" of the last few days are truly minor in comparison.

As the song says, “With Jesus in the boat, you can smile in the storm.” :)

I am thankful today for God’s “extra” graces, just when I need them most.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Vlog!

I haven't posted anything for more than a month, so I thought I would do something different - post a video blog! :)

Have a blessed weekend!

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Righteous Big Stink?

Riding a "boda," motorcycle. How I get from here to there on mainland. :)

"That is cheating!" I emphatically told the motorcycle driver.

Seeing my white "dollar" skin had prompted him to see how much he could charge me and get away with it.

What he wasn't aware of was I do know the correct price and I wasn't about to let him get away with "cheating" me. So, I began my lecture...

"If you come to America, and you don't know the price, do you want me to charge you triple?"

"Do you pray?...Then God does not honor you for cheating."

"God created us in His image and He doesn't see us differently. You can't just look at someone and say, 'Ah, that one has money, let me come close to him.'"

After he dropped me at my stop for the correct price, I learned "Paul" is a Christian. I expressed my doubts, since his actions didn't back up his profession. He may have second-guessed my faith, too, since I was being pretty tough on him.

I felt like I was championing a cause - I didn't want to be exploited, but I also hoped he would discontinue his practice with my fellow light-skinned friends.

It turns out Paul preaches the gospel, attends a church in Kampala, and was on his way to visit family. My estimation of him improved, and before we parted, he asked forgiveness.

I admit, I reacted strongly and I wish I could have shared the same message, but in a different manner. So, it got me thinking - how do I stand up for what is right, without making a big stink about it?

When the Pastor's Wife was Arrested
Or when you find yourself in a tough situation through no fault of your own - or because you did goof up? How do you respond?

Today I read blog post written by a pastor's wife. This week she was arrested for not paying a seat belt ticket (which her husband promised to pay and then forgot to) and for not appearing in court. At first she thought the arrest was amusing and went along with it, but when she was put in a cell with other scary women, her mood sobered. Thankfully after paying the fine, she was released a short time later.

The best part of the post is the comment of a police officer who witnessed the arrest. Though he too is a Christian, he never let on, as he wanted to see how the pastor and his wife would react. They passed with flying colors.

"Thank you for allowing the Light of Jesus to shine in your life. I saw it in your husband and you. I saw you face an unbelievably crazy circumstance with grace. I stopped to ask myself that night, 'I wonder if He's a pastor?' I watched and observed. I said nothing of my faith because I just wanted to see how you both would respond. And I must say, it was refreshing."

I'm not sure how I would have responded - probably not as well as this dear woman!

It's true, we need to pick our battles and discern when we are required to stand up, speak out, and shine a light on darkness. But, how do we stand for righteousness and defend God's name in an honorable way? In a way that does not ultimately damage our witness or shame our Lord?

For whom am I standing up?
I watched a video of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, who has refused to issue marriage licenses since the June Supreme Court ruling. When a gay couple, accompanied by a crowd and video cameras, asked for a license and when refused began berating Kim, she was remarkably composed. She maintained a low, calm voice and a peaceful countenance, despite the deafening demands of the crowd.

Jesus is an even better example. The "lost" with their crooked ways, immorality, cheating, lying, self-righteousness, pride, etc., did not ruffle Jesus' feathers. He knew the crowds often pursued Him to satisfy their physical needs (like a repeat free lunch) or to see signs and miracles, or to set a trap to see Him fall (such as the repeated attempts by the religious leaders). Yet, Jesus, undeterred and focused, continued the work He was called to - to please His Father.

I believe this is what it boils down to - we are always to seek first to please our Heavenly Father. It is not about defending my "rights" or correcting a "wrong," but am I actually pointing others back to God? Am I doing it because I ultimately want to honor Him?

Will my responses cause others to see the light of Jesus in me?

Each day the lines are being more clearly drawn regarding moral issues and Christians must stand up and speak out. As we do, though, we must remember to be faithful ambassadors, speaking the truth in love.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What's the Difference?

Two island cuties.

"And after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.' You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods." - Deuteronomy 12:30-31

You would think what the Israelites faced in their day, like in the above verses, would be "ancient history," yet mankind continues to practice and expand on its perverse and twisted pursuit of everything anti-Jehovah God. 

When I came to Uganda I thought such horrible acts like child sacrifice were "ancient history," but they certainly are not. In fact, according to news articles published earlier this year, the deplorable practice carried out by witch doctors is actually on the rise in Uganda. In pursuing fertility, wealth, power and success, people seek out witch doctors, who ask a costly price as they claim the spirits demand the "sacrifice" of human life and blood.

The Ugandan government has taken action, forming a National Action Plan and passing a bill to regulate the "healers," i.e. witch doctors. But, is that enough? As long as the everyday citizen sees this as "culturally acceptable" and not "morally wrong," the practice persists.

"Binoga warned child sacrifice will be difficult to stamp out because 'as long as people have such a belief, that practice will continue'...furious activists say the senseless killings will continue because they are fueled by greed, not tradition." (emphasis mine)
(Source: Please be advised this news article does contain graphic photos and descriptions.)

With the upcoming 2016 Ugandan elections, it is expected the "superstitious elite" will look for more means of witchcraft to guarantee success. Yes, as long as people continue to engage in witchcraft, such atrocities will continue.

Like me, you shake your head at such an abomination. 

But it's happening in America, too; yes, I mean child sacrifice.

Rather than hundreds of Ugandan children being sacrificed on the altars of superstition and greed, we are sacrificing millions of Americans on the altars of choice, convenience, pride, and selfishness.

When I learned Planned Parenthood was caught red-handed for selling aborted babies, I thought of only one applicable term: child sacrifice.

We condemn the African practice because it is animistic, primeval, barbarous. Yet, when it is being carried out in sterile clinics by medical professionals, the crudeness is softened and the atrocity lessened. Is that true?

What is my point? I would say that 99.99% of all Americans would raise an outcry at child sacrifice in Africa, but when it comes to abortion and making a profit off it, we revert to discussions about "choice" and a "woman's rights."

Evil is evil no matter the cloak it wears or the rhetoric it utters.

We live in a fallen world. The longer I live the more I am assaulted by that reality.

So, how are the children of light, of God to respond when surrounded by such evil and darkness?

Earlier in the Deuteronomy passage, God instructed His people:

"Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God." - Deuteronomy 12:28

Be careful, obey God's Word, do what is good and right. What does that look like for you and I? It requires action and not passivity, boldness and not fear, articulate speech and not meek silence.

"If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!
Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not He who guards your life know it?
Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?" - Proverbs 24:10-12

P.S. There are numerous ways to take a "stand" against Planned Parenthood - write the companies funding them, write your representative about the government de-funding them, keep talking about it and don't let these egregious acts fade into memory unanswered
To take a stand against child sacrifice in Uganda, sign a petition here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I Could Write a Book, Part 3

A Kenyan sunset.

Although Uganda is about the same size as Oregon in terms of area, it often seems much, much bigger. Mostly because getting from here to there is often a feat and a test of patience, ingenuity and flexibility.

For example, a trip from Jinja to the capital city of Kampala is only 53 miles, yet it can take from as few as 2 hours to as long as 7 (or more) depending on traffic and how many different vehicles you have to switch to. It could require riding four different taxis as you change from one to another, or using a boda (motorcycle) or two, and/or a coaster (bus).

As "small" as Uganda is I haven't done as much traveling as I would like inside the country or into neighboring countries. However, the last couple of months have given me several opportunities to see new places.

I talked about visiting the far southwestern tip of Uganda and a brief jaunt into Rwanda in this post and then a fun weekend trip to the opposite, eastern side of Uganda in this post. These were parts 1 and 2, respectively, of a series I am doing on recent experiences and adventures.

In addition to a quick step-over into Rwanda, I have visited Zanzibar, a Tanzanian island in 2011, and have made three trips to Kenya. One of the most vivid memories of my first trip to Africa in 2006-2007 was the 30-hour bus ride from Jinja, Uganda to Mombasa on the southern Kenyan coast.

A very bumpy ride (thanks to back seats), Karina with a broken foot, and clothes caked with dust that required three washings, faded from memory once I saw the incredible and stunning Indian Ocean with its varying shades of blue, green and aqua, and its sparking white sandy beaches.

Back in 2007 I fell in love with the Indian Ocean and its warm, clear waters. Having grown up near the Pacific Ocean, which is beautiful, but so cold even in August, I loved the fact that the Indian was so "warm" and inviting.

Eight years passed before I had another opportunity to visit Kenya, Uganda's neighbor to the east. This July it was an amazing pleasure to travel with the Peterson family and another family from Jinja in trekking 328 miles for 13 hours by coaster (bus) to the immense Great Rift Valley. This expansive valley of 3700 miles is surrounded by towering hills and spotted by lakes and volcanoes.

Kijabe, our destination and home to Rift Valley Academy (RVA), is on the valley's edge at an elevation of about 7200 feet. It is approximately 30 miles northwest of Nairobi, Kenya's capital. "Kijabi" in the local Maasai language means "Place of the Wind" and it lives up to its name. Being accustomed to Jinja's 3900-foot elevation and warmer, humid climate, I found myself living in sweaters and basking in the sun when I had the chance. But, the surroundings were beautiful with towering evergreen trees, rolling hills, stunning vistas, and the sprawling valley.

Our aim was to attend a graduation at RVA, an international boarding school, but we turned it into a week of relaxation and fun. We attended music concerts and football games at the school, explored the broad, historic campus, visited old friends and met new ones, took in a one-day safari at Lake Nakuru, a salt-water lake, and of course the climax, enjoyed the graduation ceremony itself.

Zebra on the roadside - seemingly as common as deer in Oregon. :)

Anyone for potatoes, carrots, or cabbages larger than your head? (A roadside market stand.)

As seen from the bus - part of the Great Rift Valley.

Rift Valley Academy an international boarding school established in 1906, currently the second-best secondary school on the African continent, and primarily serving the children of missionaries working throughout Africa.

Janae, the graduate, standing in front of the famous "chai" tree where students hang their cups when not being used to enjoy tea.

The school's new art building.

Cornerstone of the school's Kiambogo administration building, laid by the Honorable Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt on Aug. 4, 1809, during a hunting trip to Africa.

One of the girls' dormitories.

A day safari in Lake Nakuru National Park was definitely a highlight! From top left, clockwise: flamingos, zebras (see the little one?), a giraffe, rhino, male bushbuck, group of rhinos, and impalas. 

Lake Nakuru - a saltwater lake.

One of my favorite animals on the safari - a baby vervet monkey, learning to climb a tree.

Janae with her diploma. She graduated with flying colors!

The proud Peterson family, and Grandma Gloria, too.

The Petersons and Kings - two amazing families! The Kings are on staff at RVA and related to the Petersons.
The painting of RVA's Class of 2015, inspired by the Pixar movie "Up" and featuring the students' artwork and signatures.

My return to Kenya was certainly a blessing and all the more so for spending it with some incredible people. Adventures are best shared with people you love! :)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why Worry?

Have you ever personalized a passage of scripture?

I was recently challenged to do this in a Bible study focusing on God's love and care.

Here is Matthew 6:25-34 in the "Ruthie Version." :)

"I am telling you, Ruthie, stop worrying and fretting about your life, about the food you'll eat, what to drink, or about your body and the clothes to put on. Your life is more important than these things.

"Check out the birds - they don't sweat it out doing tiresome work or saving for tomorrow. And yet, God ensures they don't go hungry. For sure, aren't you more valuable than little birds?

Little Ugandan birds.

"I mean, do you really think worrying is beneficial and can add anything to your life? And you worry about clothes?

"Observe and think about the wildflowers. They grow where God has planted them; but they do it naturally, without exerting their own effort and energy. But do you know what? Their 'clothing' is far more stunning and glorious than anything Solomon the great king could have dreamed up!

"So, I'm telling you, if God dresses the little flowers of the field, which are here today and gone tomorrow, won't Jesus dress you, Ruthie?

"So again, I am emphasizing, don't worry. Don't ask yourself, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For those who don't know or seek God make these things their lifelong pursuit, but your Father in heaven, in His incredible love and grace, knows your every single, minute need.

Little wildflowers growing in and around rocks on top of Lingira hill. Mostly out of sight, yet God sees them and "clothes" them.

"Instead, focus your energies on wholeheartedly pursuing after God, His righteousness and His kingdom, and He will ensure your needs are met.

"So, in light of all these things, don't worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will worry for itself. Each day has its own set of challenges, but God's grace and love are always sufficient."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I Could Write a Book, Part 2

One of the greatest lessons I have learned overseas is that activity does not equate godliness, nor is "success" an automatic outcome of busyness.

It's been a tough lesson to learn and I am still "revising" - constantly reviewing - it, as they say here.

Over and over, Jesus takes me back to verses like John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." 

Or to Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Or Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream."

These verses don't explicitly speak of rest, but they do emphasize abiding in Christ and drawing on His strength for lasting fruit and fulfillment of His purposes. For me, this means periodically taking time away for rest and refreshment.

In my last post I wrote about traveling to western Uganda for the funeral of one of our dear secondary teachers. The following weekend, God blessed me with a few days away with sisters in Christ on the opposite side of the country, in the Mbale area. This get-away had already been in the works and the timing could't have been better.

Sipi Falls, eastern Uganda.

Like western Uganda, the eastern region is also mountainous, with cooler temps, and lots of trees. We stayed near Sipi Falls (pronounced "sippy"), a series of three beautiful waterfalls. We did a lot of resting - reading, talking, eating, laughing listening to music, and coloring. Yes, I admit, I love coloring, and recently re-discovered adult coloring pages of flowers or encouraging sayings or geometric patterns. My friend April and I call it our "coloring therapy." :)

I took many, many photos of the stunning foliage and was happy to find among other fine flora, the familiar dahlias - one of my favorite flowers from home.

Isn't our God creative?

We stayed in cute little bandas...

...ate scrumptious meals and enjoyed tea-coffee-banana-cake time each afternoon...

...and made new friends. Meet Ranger, a lovable "host."

Sipi Falls and Sipi River.

Loved this bridge, which we crossed on our hike to the falls.

The views were stunning!
A "tourist" sign.
A delightful field of sunflowers bid us farewell as we headed homeward.

Sisters in Christ - April, Stacy, Lauren, and me, Ruthie.

I came away from our "holiday" weekend feeling more refreshed and renewed. Sometimes getting away from the grind is indeed necessary to give us time and space to reconnect to our Creator, be reminded of His love, and to refocus on His purposes for us.

Need a holiday? ;)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

I Could Write a Book, Part 1

The past six weeks or so have been something like a roller coaster ride - with ups and downs and throttling forward at full speed!

There have been times of mourning, sadness and deep loss; times of peace, refreshment, and fellowship; times of joyous occasions and fun adventures; periods of fast-paced activity and then a gentle, slower amble of life.

I am not sure how so much got packed into these past weeks, but it is only by God's grace that I've come out the other side, with joy and gratitude.

Saying Goodbye
There are just some people who you assume will be there, well, forever. I dearly love the secondary teachers whom I serve alongside and am blessed to call friends. Our secondary English teacher, Mr. Beyanga, better known as "Professor" was no exception. After a battle with cancer, he left this earth for his heavenly home on June 20.

I have fond memories of Professor. Interestingly enough, we first arrived on the island about the same time - fall 2006, though I really don't remember him at that point. Our friendship officially kicked off when I returned to Uganda in January 2010.

The oldest and most experienced of our teachers, he had a wealth of knowledge from a full life, as well as knowledge gained from reading many, many books. He enjoyed long conversations, telling stories, and having a good laugh. Inevitably if I heard laughter from a classroom, I knew Professor was teaching a lesson by telling a good yarn.

The day after his death, I found myself with about 30 others from the islands, on a small bus for an eight-hour journey to the very southwestern portion of Uganda, near Kabale. After traveling through the night, we arrived at about 6 a.m. in a mountains area draped in thick fog and chilly temperatures. I realized we weren't in Kansas the island anymore.

The forests, rolling hills and fog of Kabale, western Uganda. (Reminded me of the Pacific Northwest.)

We were graciously hosted and given hot tea and food for breakfast. Various ones from the islands assisted the family as they prepared for the afternoon's burial - to take place in a nearby banana plantation. As we waited some of us ventured a few kilometers away to Katuna, a town which borders Rwanda. With permission, and after being checked for Ebola, we walked across the small river which separates the two countries. It was my first time to step foot on Rwandan soil since on all other previous visits I was confined to an airplane.

"Welcome to the Republic of Rwanda" - the border between Uganda and Rwanda.

Yes, there are four people in the front of this car which took us to the border, including two in the driver's seat, a total of 8 of us in a small sedan. :)
Our tour guide treated us to sodas after taking us across the border. What a sign of hospitality! (From left, me, Teacher Fred, Headmaster Okello, Pastor Robert, Teacher Menya, SHIM Base Manager Richard, Boat Pilot Lubega, Builder Richard, and a new friend. :)

The small river that separates southwest Uganda and Rwanda

Once the simple outdoor burial service began, I was so thankful for the island contingency. Professor had not been back in his home area for many years and aside from close family, few in the community actually knew him. We were able to speak of his 9 years on the island and the blessing he had been to the the school, church and community.

The funeral service for Professor, Mr. Beyanga. Headmaster Okello is shown at left giving remarks, with Teacher Menya standing next to him. Teacher Fred is shown taking photos.

After the service and quickly eating lunch we boarded our bus again around 5 p.m. and headed home, arriving in Jinja about 1:30 a.m.

I know I am not alone in that I don't "enjoy" attending funerals (who does?), but honoring a great man and his legacy, as well as visiting his homeland was important for us, his family and his communities.

Professor having fun with Sarah, one of last year's seniors. 

Farewell, Professor, we will meet again one day.

More to come about the past week's adventures...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Lesson of an Apple

I haven't written in this space in more than a month, and there are many reasons why, which could fill a couple of blog posts. I soon hope to be back on a more regular basis. :)

In the meantime, I want to share a brief lesson I learned this morning - from the gift of an apple.

After nearly a week and a half away, I returned to the island on Monday, and though I enjoyed my recent adventures (more to come on those!) truthfully, it was good to be "home" - to my peaceful and beautiful island.

Before crossing the waters from mainland to the island, a visit to a Jinja supermarket is always in order - to pick up the "essentials" like coffee, toilet paper, soap, and niceties like apples.

Apples are kind of a delicacy here since they are not grown locally and are brought in from the farther and cooler, mountainous regions. They are sold in the supermarkets and by pound are considerably more expensive than other tropical fruits. However, apples remind me of my American home and the yummy fruits grown there. :)

Since Monday, God had put a particular fellow staff member, Peace, on my mind. I had bought two apples in Jinja and God was prompting me to give her one. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were super busy with classes, exams and other activities at school that I didn't get around to the request. But this morning, on Thursday, God reminded me of His directive - give Peace one of my apples. The prompting grew stronger and I knew I couldn't let much time pass before I obeyed.

Sometimes when I feel prompted or convicted to do something, I run through a gamut of questions - "What will I say?", "Will they think I am silly?", "What if I am hearing incorrectly?". But obedience by faith means acting even when you don't have the answers to your questions.

I walked into the kitchen where Peace works as our cook. I placed the apple on the cupboard. "This is for you," I said.

"Oh, my 'best,'" she said, meaning apples are her "favorite."

"Thank made my day," she said sincerely and gratefully.

Made her day? I didn't know the gift of a small apple could make someone's day, but God knew. God knew apples were among Peace's favorites and that she needed some encouragement. I had been clueless.

Afterward I was overwhelmed by thoughts of God and His care - for Peace and for me, for the smallest details which go often unnoticed by others, and for inviting me to be part of what He is doing in our world.

I don't share this lesson for a pat on the back as I was rather dense to what God was up to. But I want to illustrate the importance of simple obedience and how God wants to bless us as He blesses others through us.

I learned a few things this morning - don't ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit, don't despise the smallest gifts, and don't miss a chance to extend a blessing to another person.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Where Is Your Sting?

Death often brings a clarity to life.

This has been a difficult week on multiple fronts - the needless and merciless deaths in a South Carolina church, saying farewell to a legendary and godly woman, Elisabeth Elliott, and much closer to home, releasing a close friend and fellow teacher to his eternal destination.

Death is a certain and expected outcome for all of us, but as a friend stated this morning, "it always takes us by surprise." We know it's coming, but then we are shocked when it is suddenly upon us.

Though I don't know without a doubt, I believe all of the aforementioned souls were those who had put their faith and trust in Christ. If this is indeed true, death was not a thief - stealing life from them, rather it was a doorway to true life - union with Jesus Himself.

As Jesus comforted Martha after her brother's death, he said: 

“'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”" - John 11:25

"All true life is in Christ. 
In Him is lodged everything that is essential to life, 
in its origin, its maintenance, and its consummation, 
and all this is conveyed to the believer in his union with Him. 
This life is not affected by death. 
'Every believer is in reality and forever sheltered from death. 
To die with full light, in the clear certainty of the life which is in Jesus, 
to die only to continue to live to Him, 
is no longer that fact which human language designates by the name of death."1

"To die only to continue to live to Him." This is why we were created - to live to, in and through Him. 

Because Jesus is indeed the Resurrection and the Life - death is no longer our enemy. Instead, death removes any remaining barriers between us and Jesus.

"For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'
'Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?'
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 
- I Corinthians 15:53-57

Are you ready to live, to really live? Death is a portal to life - true life, life eternal, the life we were created to enjoy forever with the One whose very name and essence is Life. 

Let us not mourn with despair those who have been promoted to unceasing, undivided union with Jesus. They would not want us to. Instead may their earthly departures clarify what this mortal life is most definitely about - a platform to step into eternity, our true home, the destination and union for which we were created.

Vincent's Word Studies

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

He Remains Good

There are a lot of good things to share from Uganda, but not every day is easy. Yesterday is one example...

Love the island sunsets and the visual reminders of God's goodness.

As I walked home from one of my classes, tears filled my eyes. They were tears of frustration, doubt, and questioning.

I was disappointed by my students' apparent disinterest in the Biblical teaching being presented to them. I tried to separate my personal feelings from the knowledge that God and His Word were not being given the honor and respect they deserve.

Since last fall when the school and community passed through an intense spiritual battle, another type of warfare has emerged. I have encountered more behavioral problems among my students than I can recall at any other time in my nearly six years of teaching. If Satan cannot trip up our students spiritually, he will try for other loopholes.

To be honest, sometimes the challenges faced here are really illogical. Yesterday I typed a report for our water and sanitation team, which in April visited 13 different island villages. Many of those villages had been freely given a water purification system (worth $1000 each) to help provide clean and safe water for their communities. Yet, some were not using the system because one person had dominated and personally profited from it, or there was discord in the oversight committee or the village members. Huh?

Water-borne diseases plague the people who live on the lake - making it difficult to go to school or to work and causing them to repeatedly spend hard-earned shillings on medicine, so why in the world would an individual or community refuse to use a free system that provides good water?

Or why does a sponsored student, whom you have helped for the last 3+ years, decide in her senior year not to return to school and is rumored to be pregnant? Why? Why? I don't understand.

Why do students sleep or appear disinterested in class when their teachers are imparting important knowledge and skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives?

These questions make me think of how the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders responded to Jesus and later to the apostles when they presented the clear Gospel truth. The Light of the World was right in front of their face and yet they were too blind to see Him.

The Truth they spent their lives searching and waiting for was within their reach, but their minds were too dark to embrace Him.


Yet, in my own life, I too have believed lies and embraced shadows rather than receiving light and truth from Jesus.

"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." John 3:19-21

Satan loves darkness, confusion, oppression, illiteracy, what is illogical, etc. At times on the islands and in Uganda, it seems we are fighting an uphill battle. It gets tiring and discouraging and sometimes, like yesterday, I want to quit and go home.

But it is not my battle I am fighting and it is not up to me to ensure victory.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5

When I become disheartened and the world seems to have more darkness than light, I take hope and courage in knowing that God remains good, faithful, victorious. In the many times I have hurt, disappointed and sinned against Him, He continually displays mercy, grace, forgiveness, and redemption. He is relentless in His pursuit of us and He never gives up.

Yesterday, I looked at the bright sun and marveled at the mercy of God - how the sun continues to rise and set and the rain to fall - on both the righteous and the unrighteousness. We certainly do not deserve such care, protection and provision, but God continues to bestow it because He remains good.

In the last days we are promised that evil and all its fruits will grow and accumulate, but do not lose heart, we serve the One who has overcome the world.

"'I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.'" John 16:33

"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." I John 4:4

P.S. Forgive me if this post sounded like a rant. Rather I'd ask you to join me in continued prayer for God's Spirit to move in the islands, opening hearts and minds to Jesus and His life-changing truth. Thank you.