Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Two "Homes"

The Nile River near Jinja.

One of the first surprises I had in landing in Uganda 8 1/2 years ago was the green - so much green in so many vibrant shades on trees, grass, and fields. The lush scenery and the rolling hills reminded me so much of my home in Northwest Oregon on America's west coast.

There are other similarities between my Ugandan and American "homes," but also some vast differences. I thought it would be interesting to explore the comparisons and contrasts of the two. :)

My hometown of Clatskanie in northwest Oregon is at 59 feet above sea level, while Jinja, Uganda (the nearest mainland city to Lingira Island) is at 3,740 feet - atop the East African Plateau.

Clatskanie is close to the mighty Columbia River (the Pacific Northwest's largest river) and less than an hour's drive from the mighty Pacific Ocean. My island sits on Lake Victoria, the world's second largest fresh water lake, which is the source of the Nile River, generally regarded as the world's longest river.

Jinja receives about 52 inches of rain a year, just a little more than Clatskanie's average of 53.3 inches. The major difference is that Uganda has about 77 days of rainfall, while the Clatskanie area has 180 days of at least .01 of an inch of rain. Clatskanie has about 142 days of sunshine. 

Portland was predicted to have 12 hours and 34 minutes of sunshine today, compared to 12 hours and 6 minutes in Uganda, which generally has 12.5 hours of daily sunlight year-round.

Today's humidity in Jinja was 73% while it was forcasted at 87% today in Clatskanie.

The average high temperature in Jinja is in the low 80s, and the average low temp is 61F, while Clatskanie's average high is 60F. 

Lingira Island is just a couple of hours by boat north of the equator, while Clatskanie is more than 3100 miles north of the equator (and incidentally about 3,000 miles away from the North Pole).

Oregon's highest elevation is Mt. Hood's 11,239 feet, while the majority of Uganda is on a plateau with a rim of mountains, which contributes to its more moderate temps, compared to surrounding countries. The tropical country's "lowest" point is Lake Albert 2,037 feet and its highest is Mt. Stanley, which stands at 16,404 feet in Uganda's western Rwenzori Range. Incidentally, both the aforementioned "low" lake and "high" mountain are in the country's western region.

Oregon's land size is 98,466 square miles, only slightly bigger than Uganda's 93,050 square miles. Despite the similarity in area, Uganda looms large over Oregon in terms of population, boasting 37.58 million (in 2013) compared to Oregon's 3.97 million (as of 2014). This means Oregon has about 40 people per square mile, much smaller than Uganda's 403 people per square mile.

Uganda's population has doubled since 1990 and is expected to grow by more than 10 million in the next decade. Uganda is the world's second most populous landlocked country, after Ethiopia.

Oregon's capital Salem had 160,614 people in 2013, making it look like a sleepy hamlet compared to Ugandan capital Kampala's bustling city of more than 1.6 million residents. 

The average of a Uganda is 15 1/2 years of age, meaning more than half of the population is 15 years or younger - the lowest average age in the world. Life expectancy in Uganda is at 59 years (as of 2012), while Oregonians live an average of 80+ years.

Children attending an island church service.

About 88 percent of Oregonians are Caucasian, while Ugandan boasts a diversity of tribes and nationalities living in its borders. Around 40 different languages are regularly spoken here and English is the "official" language. The most widely spoken local language is Luganda. The largest immigrant population in Uganda is from India. 

More than 80% of the Ugandan population is identified as "Christian," which includes a diverse range of beliefs and denominations. Oregon has the highest national percentage of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. at 24.6%.

One of Lingira's longtime residents, "Jjajja" Grandma Erios, holds a young island baby. 

About 2.49 Oregonians live in each household, compared to Uganda's 4.7. The average Ugandan woman bear seven children, but often cares for many others, including children of other relatives. 

Most Ugandan women spend nine hours a day on domestic tasks (cooking food, washing clothes, fetching water and firewood, and caring for children), for an average workday that stretches to 15 hours, compared to the men, who work about 8-10 hours a day. 

Coffee is Uganda's largest export, as well as tea and fish. Oregon exports more computer and electronic products than anything else.

The average annual household income in Oregon is around $50,000, while it is $510 for the average Ugandan, though more than a third of the population lives in poverty on less than $1.25 a day.

Fishermen on Lake Victoria. Fishing is the livelihood of most islanders.

I have discovered Uganda is "rich" in many ways - in diversity of cultures and landscapes, in natural resources and wildlife (364 species of mammals and 1062 species of birds), the religious freedom in varied areas of life, from government to education, and the fact that the Gospel of Christ has shone brightly for decades in this sub-Saharan country, despite persecution and political and social upheaval.

Yet, there are still parts of the country that are "unreached" by the light of Christ, communities with no established church, and many people crying for Biblical training and discipleship.

Oregon may appear "rich" in many ways, but it is "poor" in others, especially in its spiritual life. In each place, as different as they are, there is a common, yet deep need - the hope of Jesus Christ. There are lost souls here and there who need the light of the Gospel to shine in their hearts and transform their lives.

Uganda and Oregon both require "missionaries," ambassadors of Christ, light-bearers and salt-spreaders for the Kingdom. Both places are dear to my heart and I know God is actively working in each to seek out His "lost sheep" and pursue His glory.

For one day..

"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:10-11

Sources included:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Our Eyes are on You

Lingira Living Hope - A school to proclaim God's glory in the islands!

So much has happened in recent weeks that it is not for a lack of material that I haven’t written in this space.

At times when I see God working and answering prayer and showing His glory, I am afraid that if I try to capture it with mere words, I might dilute or lessen the impact. But is that even possible concerning the All-Powerful God we serve?

God calls imperfect, in-process people to praise, to thank and to glorify Him, knowing even as we do, He is worthy of so much more than we can offer with our feeble hands and lips.

If there is anything I want to convey in this post, it is that God is faithful, and brothers and sister, we must keep our eyes on Him.

Let me share a recent testimony affirming this.

Those Who Wait Upon the Lord

Last fall our 54 seniors took their final national exams, even on the heels of the most difficult period of spiritual warfare our island school has experienced. Through answered prayers, they successfully finished their tests which were spread over several weeks in October and November.

Because of the many other Ugandan students who also take these very same exams, which all need to be graded, results are not released until early February, around the same time our island school begins a new year.

Last month we waited for the good news of our students’ performance, but learned the results were withheld by the Ugandan National Examinations Board (UNEB), because of suspicion of cheating. Our anxious waiting turned into disappointments and questions.

Many were convinced no cheating had taken place, but because of our school’s location in the islands, rain and other transportation issues had caused the school to start certain exams late, raising suspicion with the examination board.

Graduates would call me, expressing their concerns. I had no reply except to encourage them to keep praying and not to lose hope. I was confident the results would come, but I wasn’t sure how or when.

About 5 weeks after the results should have been released, school representatives, including our Headmaster, an administrator, a teacher, and many students, traveled to the capital city of Kampala, to testify before UNEB in a March 10th hearing.

The 9 a.m. required arrival time necessitated that the group leave the islands at 3 a.m. – traveling over the lake in darkness. On that particular morning, the wind was whipping up waves so that even longtime island veterans were afraid the boat would not reach the mainland.

However, God’s hand of protection was evident and the group did disembark in Jinja and continued to Kampala (usually a journey of 2-3 hours), arriving right at 9 a.m. Because other schools that were also to testify had arrived first, our envoy was among the last to appear before the board, at around 4 p.m. Throughout the day, our students watched as other schools entered the hearing room confidently and left dejected and defeated.

Shall Renew Their Strength

However, backed by prayer and the assurance of innocence, our staff and students spoke confidently, boldly answering the barrage of inquiry. By the end, the board was convinced – Lingira Living Hope students had not cheated – the results would be released in three days.

Seven other schools testified before the board  that day – all others had their results canceled, meaning their students would have to re-do their senior year and again take the national exams. Miraculously, ours were released and it was with much rejoicing that our group returned to the island that night, arriving after 9 p.m., returning  across a more hospitable lake than they had in the wee morning hours.

As promised, three days later on March 13, our graduates’ exams were released, proving be the best performance the school in its nine-year history. Four young men led the class, placing in the top division, with eight others finishing in the second division, and not a single student of the 54 failing to pass. Of the four secondary schools in the 52 Buvuma islands, ours had the best performance for 2014. 

We praised God, we shouted, we congratulated, and the students and staff enjoyed a weekend celebratory meal of goat, fish and rice.

Some believe this entire hardship was another assault by our enemy Satan against our school. That may have been true, but I believe God desired a greater glory than if we had received the results as usual.

They Shall Rise Up On Wings Like Eagles

Perhaps He wanted to test our faith and trust in the days and weeks of unknown waiting, or to cause our school to testify for the first time before the national board of education, or to be a light and a witness to those who also testified that day, or to prove to our graduates that with God nothing is impossible, or to show that despite last fall’s incredible challenges, God always accomplishes His sovereign will and gets the glory.

Our good news was broadcast on the radio and spread beyond the islands – the God-honoring testimony of a small school on a little island in an area of Uganda often ignored and despised by many. But isn’t that just like God to take the weak, the despised, and the “foolish” things and transform them into beacons of His glory?

Little Lingira Island - 5 miles in circumference and home to Lingira Living Hope (at about the 3 o'clock position).

The title of this blog is from 2 Chronicles 20:12. “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” This is part of the recorded prayer of King Jehoshaphat to the Almighty God even as the “vast army” of Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites was coming against Judah and its comparatively small military force.

If you are not familiar with this incredible story of God’s deliverance, please read the chapter. Just to give you a preview – God does rout the vast pagan army, without King Jehoshaphat and his people having to lift a single sword, only their voices in praise.

This passage became very significant to our school community last fall as Headmaster Okello used it in issuing the call to prayer and fasting, just as King Jehoshaphat did with his people. And like the Judean king and his nation, we also were reassured by the words, “’Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight this battle.’” (vs. 15, 17a)

They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not be faint.

There have been other recent challenges and other testimonies, but they will have to wait for the next post.

What obstacles and trials are you facing? Let me encourage you, don’t seek for the solution or the way of escape, look to the Almighty. Don’t question, don’t fret, don’t be anxious, lift your eyes to the Sovereign God. Don’t tremble at the “vast army” or the impossibilities, trust in the God who delights to do the impossible – in His way and in His time.

“Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” (2 Chronicles 20:17b)

Our eyes are on You.

(Subheads from Isaiah 40:31)