It Really is a Wonderful Life!

Today is my 51st birthday!  Maybe it’s that I’ve surpassed the half century mark…I’m not sure…but this birthday is different.  I slept for 12 hours last night and woke refreshed this morning. I made my way to the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee and settled down on the comfy couch next to Freckles, the orange tabby cat.  It’s a Wonderful Life was on TV and I decided to watch.  I had no idea, after seeing it at least a hundred times before, that it would be as though I was watching it for the first time.

You all know the movie…the scene where George is distraught and he’s sitting in a bar, trying to drink his troubles away.  He begins to pray to God for help.  In the next moment George is punched in the face by someone sitting next to him and he mutters something like “remind me not to ask God for help next time”.  But in that exact moment, God did step in and initiated what would be a series of discoveries for George about his own life and its purpose and impact on those around him. George learns that he has never been alone.  There is no doubt that in the last 50 years there have been many, many times whenits-a-wonderful-life I was certain the Lord had given up on me and did not care about my life struggles.  In difficult circumstances that called for faith…I often failed.  Like George, I simply could not see evidence of the Divine’s activity in my life.

Unlike George, it took more than one night of discoveries for me to see God’s hand in my life…it took about 30 years of discoveries (sometimes the same ones again and again) to begin to learn that my life is not my own and that if I surrender it up…He can use it for His sake and the sake of the coming Kingdom in ways I would have never imagined. Nothing in my life has turned out the way I thought it would or I wanted it to.  I’ve had dreams that have died slow and painful deaths…for whatever reasons.  But all the while, the Lord has been there, sometimes in very obvious ways and often times in NOT so obvious ways.

Today, on my 51st birthday, for the first time I find myself not thinking about the year that has just passed, even though it was a doozie!  I know that I am right in the middle of God’s will for my life and it’s an amazing thing.  It’s not easy…requires lots of faith and trust and does not guarantee anything about tomorrow.  I realize that we all share this about our faith walk with Christ and most of you can share similar stories.  For me on this particular day of celebration of life…I wonder how many more birthdays I have left…not because I need or want more time for my dreams to come true…but because I’ve never been this sure of being in the right place, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and I want to be able to do that for as long as possible.  I’m living the DREAM!   I could have never predicted this, and it certainly doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like…and just like with George, this discovery has changed everything!

But here’s the kicker…living the dream requires the participation of others who also live with their eyes fixed on the Kingdom of God. It’s not up to me…it’s out of my control. This is the hard part. But this is how the Lord designed the Kingdom to work on earth. He uses us, calls us to partner with Him to do His work and to release His resources for His plans and purposes.  This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak and where I am tempted to worry.  But I have placed my faith in the Lord and His ability to provide. Like George Bailey at the end of the movie…seeing all his friends and neighbors coming to show their support…I know the Lord will provide for me in the same way.

The Lord’s plan for my ministry in Northern Uganda in 2015 includes lecturing in thePreaching at Cathedral Archbishop Janani Luwum Theological College to help train up indigenous pastors for the church, assisting the Bishop with the many partnerships of the Diocese, taking the Jesus Film to the most remote parts of the Diocese and delivering Bibles in the Acholi language to those who are without God’s Word.  These are His plans, not mine.  I’ve just said yes.

I am so thankful for all who read this blog and who pray for me.  I invite you now to prayerfully consider whether the Lord is asking you to release resources for His plans through me in Northern Uganda.  This is the only way I can return to Uganda in January and continue His work.  It takes a family of brothers and sisters in Christ!

Your gift is fully tax-deductable and all gifts are received by my sending church, Saint James Church, James Island, Charleston South Carolina.  I am fully accountable to them. You can contribute using PayPal or you can send a check directly to Saint James.  Click on the “Partner with Me” button above for more information.

In the words of Clarence the angel… “no (wo)man is a failure who has friends.”  I am The-Nativity-Story-300x200blessed with tremendous friends in Christ and I pray that this Christmas we all know more deeply the love of Christ as we ponder the miracle of God coming in the flesh. And I rejoice that we can know Him and receive the gift of redemption He has given us all.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

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Holy Cow! Couldn’t Have Imagined This a Year Ago!

It’s laundry day…and I should be boiling the water and getting the buckets ready. But I’m so excited.  I have a million things to do and I was planning on writing this blog post in a couple of days but it won’t wait.  The Spirit is moving so the time must be right.

The last six weeks have been a blur. I’ve been very busy but it feels as though I’ve crossed a line of sorts…maybe I’m just entering into a new phase of adjustment to life and ministry here in Uganda.  I’ve been involved in a number of projects and they have all helped me learn a lot.  (FYI, I’ve sprinkled random photos throughout the blog to sort of represent my last six months in Uganda).

TeachingFirst, I’ve been working on the annual publication of the Diocese which acts as an Annual Report of sorts. In the past it has primarily been distributed within the Diocese and the Church of Uganda with some copies being shared with partners as well.  It is referred to here as the DNU Magazine.  I felt that this next issue should be a little bit different in that it should be geared towards people who have very little knowledge about the Diocese.  So this annual review will also include historical and background information which would normally not be included.  It’s to help people become more familiar with the work of the Diocese. The idea is to release the magazine in PDF form to as many in the Anglican Communion as possible.  Northern Uganda continues its recovery from 20 years of civil war that basically decimated the economy and brought misery and terrible poverty to hundreds of thousands and slowed the work of the Church.  Many NGO’s came to help with emergency relief and offered vital assistance to begin the recovery process. Things are getting better. But now the NGO’s are beginning to leave and the next step in the recovery process is for the people to truly be empowered to provide for themselves and become self-reliant once again.  The natural resources of the land are bountiful and the people are sitting on an untapped gold mine and we must continue to encourage entrepreneurial thinking.  The shift in thinking of the collective mindset is slow but it is happening.  It’s that saying… “give a man a fish to eat and he eats for a day…teach a man to fish and he eats for life”.  This is the challenge…to offer support programs which have as their end means to enable people to become self-sustaining.  The same is true for the Church, which struggles financially to pay its priests a2014-06-19 04.02.24 livable wage (or in some cases any wage at all) and to meet other basic operating costs. When people are productive and support the Church then the priests are paid a livable wage and in turn they can do ministry full time and see the Church grow and prosper as well.  Most priests must earn a living by farming or doing other things so their ministry work is often limited to Sunday mornings only. Churches could also support more catechists for formal training and ordination as there is a shortage of priests.  So with all this in mind, we decided the theme of the magazine is “Empowering People, Empowering the Church.”  There are programs offering a hand up instead of a hand out and this should continue in earnest and be stepped up. It’s been ongoing but now this theme should permeate everything the Church does in its effort to see people become productive and self-sustaining.  Here in Uganda…a holistic approach to DSCF3298ministry is firmly rooted in the life of the Church.  Caring for the poor by addressing socio-economic, healthcare and educational needs while preaching salvation and life through Christ go hand in hand. That is the vision of the Church and what we strive for in this Diocese.  So the goal is to have the magazine printed before I leave to come home for the Christmas break on Dec. 10th so I can bring some copies with me and begin to share how people can be involved in the ongoing rebuilding of the church and the people. I’m excited about how the Lord will use this “marketing tool” for the Diocese as Bishop Johnson Gakumba heads into the next five years of his ministry.

I have also been involved in the process of writing the next five year strategic plan for the Diocese. Working on the DNU Magazine coupled with working on the Strategic Plan has been such a good experience for me in terms of understanding how things work here, what the challenges are and to see just how far the Diocese has come in the last five years.  As I was reflecting on all that has been accomplished and the ongoing work of the Mission Department of the Diocese, I started to get that uncomfortable feeling in my gut.  It’s becoming more easily recognizable of late.  It’s that feeling that makes my mind start thinking…uh oh…there is some faith-stretching request about to come down the pipeline from heaven. As I have been looking at the “big picture” of the Diocese and I’ve seen some of the day to day challenges the Diocese faces I began asking myself a series of questions involving discipleship.  Urban churches in Northern Uganda offer discipleship in a number of ways.  But how do Christians in rural villages grow to maturity 2014-06-18 12.25.01so that they begin to live for Christ and share Him with their neighbors? What would be the most basic form of discipleship possible?  In the US there are a bazillion different discipleship “programs” that usually involve needing resources that we take for granted…such as transportation, access to electricity, basic means of communication in terms of planning gatherings, etc.  Around here you don’t hop in your car here and drive to the church to attend the Wednesday night discipleship course, spaghetti dinner included.  So I asked myself… “what is the lowest common denominator when it comes to learning what a life in Christ truly means”?  And it’s pretty obvious…the Bible.  Now, in the urban areas of Northern Uganda most people have Bibles…but in the more rural villages this is not necessarily the case. And there is a need to strengthen churches at the sub-parish level. Since sub-parishes don’t have a full time priest assigned to them, they might not be taught from the Bible on a regular basis.  What if we just targeted those small village churches and provided access to Bibles in the Acholi language to those who can read and simply trust the Spirit of God to teach them as they read?  And to also ask them to read their Bible to their family members and to their neighbors on a regular basis?  No PhD or seminary trained person needed, as helpful as that is in other contexts…simply put the most basic training tool in the hands of the people and let the Lord do the rest.  Novel idea, right? It would be relatively inexpensive and easy to organize. I thought that perhaps I was just being too idealistic so I shared with a couple of people and got positive feedback.  The more I thought about it…the more that feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety grew.  So I said to the Lord, “You provide the resources and I’ll coordinate the Acholi Bible Fund and arrange to work with priests in each Archdeaconry to determine to areas of greatest needs for Acholi Bibles.  A week later I got an email out of the blue from Vicki Sheedy, who chairs the Diocesan Periodical Club in the Diocese of South Carolina asking me if I needed Bibles!  “Why yes, as a matter of fact I do!”  It’s so encouraging when the Lord provides 2014-07-06 07.27.05before you ask.  This came as confirmation that I could trust my gut feeling on this. The Lord has provided the money for the first 50 Acholi Bibles!  My hope is to distribute as least 500, if not more, in 2015.

Next I began thinking about evangelism. The Mission Department and the churches in the Diocese do a good job of evangelism using the resources they have available. But the further away from urban churches you go, the more challenging things become. The things we take for granted on a daily basis as we do ministry in the US are not readily accessible here. But again I began asking how we could be consistent with planning regular simple outreach events and not be held back by a lack of resources or transportation and fuel, etc.  The Jesus Film came to mind. (Google Jesus Film to learn more.) This film has been a very successful tool in East Africa and around the world for proclaiming the gospel in native languages.  The Mission Department has used it, as has the Youth Department.  It’s not a new idea here.  But what if we set a goal to show the Jesus Film in the Acholi language in the most rural areas of the Diocese at least once a month?  And what if we weren’t hindered by a lack of resources to do it? We would need a vehicle, money for fuel, a new video projector and a good sound system. With God Under Mango TreeSome of the staff have already been trained to use the Jesus Film as an evangelistic tool…so let’s just pray and ask the Lord to provide the resources need to make it a consistent ministry and work with the Diocesan Archdeacons to plan and execute.  Again I asked if this was too idealistic and whether it would make a difference.  I pictured myself with the Missions Coordinator and the Youth Coordinator loading up a vehicle and heading out to the bush to proclaim the gospel, especially to young people here who are the largest demographic in Northern Uganda and who are struggling with lack of employment opportunities, alcohol abuse and general lack of hope and identity.  I got that familiar feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety.  Lord…you provide the resources and I will coordinate the logistics and work with the Mission Department here to make it happen.

The first resource needed…for both the Acholi Bible Project and the Jesus Film…a good working vehicle that can be driven to villages in rural areas. Now, as you know if you have been reading this blog…when I arrived in Uganda I was pretty certain I would never have the courage to drive here.  It’s frightening!  But recently I had access to a vehicle while Rev. Sandra was out of the country.  I just decided to get over it.  I got behind the wheel and slowly acclimated to Ugandan driving culture.  And this is no small feat.  Anyway, just as I was beginning to feeling comfortable behind the wheel is when I began to dream about these ministry projects.  Ha!  Lord, you have a funny way of doing things!  I see where this is going.  LOL!  Now I am feeling bold behind the wheel…which is what it would take to drive around the Diocese to some of these places I believe He is calling me to.  And then I remembered the Bishop offering me a vehicle to drive my first month here.  I didn’t even think twice about it then because I was sure I would never drive in Uganda.  So…I inquired.  There is a 2008 Nissan Hardbody double cab four wheel drive diesel pick-up truck parked and not being used because of the lack of funds to properly repair and Graduation Day Jun 27 to Parabongo Visit F 290maintain it. Dr. Katie had her mechanic from Kampala take a look at it. It’s in good condition…it just needs new tires, a battery, a new windshield and some routine engine maintenance.  The mechanic put a temporary battery in it and it started right away and he and I drove it around Gulu and he said the engine was in good shape.  So I’m waiting on the estimate to see how much it will cost to get it in good working order.  But there you have it…a reliable vehicle to that can go to the bush…which in my mind could have been the most costly obstacle.  I think it can be repaired for about $1500.

I shared all this with Bishop Johnson and the Diocesan Secretary, Rev. Patrick and they gave their blessing, as did the Mission Department Coordinator and the Youth Coordinator. Never in a million years could I have seen myself get so excited over this kind of ministry.  I mean…I like to sit and read and watch movies and be comfortable on my couch. I don’t like to sweat, I don’t like to be dirty, I don’t enjoy large crowds and the roads in Uganda are unrelenting and this kind of travel is physically exhausting. But go figure.  I’m so excited about this that I’m already looking forward to coming back in January after my Christmas break at home and I haven’t even left Uganda yet!

Friends…I need to raise about $25,000 to cover my living expenses in Uganda for 2015 Confirmation at GHSplus repair, maintain and operate the truck, and purchase a projector and sound system for the Jesus Film. In addition to that I need to raise about $3000 for the Acholi Bible Fund. As I look at these numbers it is easy to get overwhelmed with worry.  Will the money come?

But I constantly remind myself of God’s faithfulness and I reflect on the fact that I know without a doubt that I am right smack in the middle of God’s will for my life. There were times in the last year that I thought I would not be here, especially when the cancer diagnosis came.  But He is faithful and He saw me through that chapter of my life and I trust that He will provide everything needed to continue to minister to the people of Uganda and work alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ at the Diocese here to strengthen the Church and see it grow and prosper.  What a privilege to be a small part of what the Lord is doing! Please prayerfully consider whether He is nudging you to partner with me to see it all come to fruition. As we see the end of another year fast approaching and you reflect on the things for which you are thankful, keep the people of Northern Uganda in mind.

St. James Church, James Island, SC is my home church and my sending church. They receive all funds given to support me.  Your gift is fully tax deductable.  The church holds me accountable and they approve my budget.  You can read more by going to the Blog page “Partner With Me”.  You can send a check directly to St. James or you can contribute by donating through PayPal.  Just click on the donate button in the sidebar to the right.  It’s easy peasy.

I have to give thanks to the people of St. James who have supported me in every way and who stepped up to adopt a sister church here in Keyo Parish also called St. James. They didn’t hesitate when I shared with them the need this sub-parish church had for building materials as they construct their church building.  They currently meet under a huge tree Bumpas Uganda Missionand they are thrilled to very soon have a place where the weather can’t hamper their times of worship.  Thanks to my St. James family for your generosity!!

I’ll be coming home in a month. I arrive back in Charleston on the evening of Dec. 10th and will be home about 6 weeks before returning to Uganda in mid January.  I look forward to sharing in person with as many people as who will listen all about life and ministry in Uganda.  This is the longest blog post I’ve ever written and I hope that won’t count against me.  Thanks for reading to the end and for supporting me with your prayers.  May God bless you!

And to the Lord be all the glory, honor and praise!  Amen!

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Then you will know…

JesusAbout three weeks ago I preached on Exodus 16…and this phrase stuck out…I have been thinking about it ever since.

Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.”  Exodus 16:12b

Israel had just been led out of Egypt under extraordinary circumstances. An estimated 3 million people saw amazing things…things that I think would have rendered them speechless…and perhaps cause them to rub their eyes in disbelief or pinch themselves to test the reality of their experiences.  But they still weren’t sure they believed.

The Lord said to Abraham… “know for certain this will happen” when He made a covenant with him to do the miraculous and create a great nation from just one man…a nation that would be set apart…from which would come the salvation of our broken world.

Last week…at our morning devotional, we read a passage from Ezekiel 30.

There it was again…”then they will know that I am the Lord.”

I thought to myself…even thousands of years after the Exodus the Lord is still trying to show Israel who He is…that He is the One who is sovereignly orchestrating the circumstances of their lives.

Our capacity for unbelief is astounding.

On the two page spread in my Bible open to Ezekiel 30, this same phrase began jumping out at me…it appears 7 times!   “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

I decided to see how many times this phrase or ones very close to it…appear in the OT. I did a very quick search and discovered that it appears over 30 times.  From Genesis to Ezekiel.  I didn’t do an in-depth search…just a quick one so it probably occurs more than that.

I’m overwhelmed by how much the Lord wants us to know Him…to believe in His existence and His sovereignty in the universe.  We have a creator God who gave us life and He wants us to know that He is real, personal, loving and reaching out to us.

Of course, the most dramatic way in which He revealed Himself to us was by taking on human flesh…becoming a man…and walking among us. This would be the ultimate sign of God with us, right? Emmanuel.  Perhaps the Lord thought “surely if I become like one of them and walk with them they will “know that I am the Lord their God. “

Predictably, it was not the ultimate sign for many. Even those who stood in the presence of God incarnate and witnessed amazing things with their own eyes…still denied him.  And the worst part is…many of them were the most religious Israelite people of the day…the Pharisees…the super enlightened self proclaimed holy people.

All of Israel looked to these men for godly counsel and wisdom about all things pertaining to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But they placed heavy burdens on the backs of people by heaping rule upon rule to their lives to try and keep them on the straight and narrow.  They thought themselves very wise but they were fools. They gave religion a bad name.  Jesus called them white washed tombs…they looked nice and clean on the outside but inside they were full of dead men’s bones and all things unclean.  He called them hypocrites and accused them of keeping people out of the Kingdom of Heaven!

As I reflect on the world today…on the spiritual battle going on all over the world…and make no mistake…there is an intense spiritual battle  going on for the souls of all mankind…I am saddened that so many people are still so far away from knowing for certain that He is the Lord.

Christians are mocked and sometimes for good reason…because there are still Pharisees among us who turn people away from the knowledge of God. They mean well…but they are doing more harm than good.  They spend more time judging than declaring that God has made a way for them to know Him…and that way comes from faith in the only human who ever walked the earth that can set humanity straight again.

I despise religion…it is still keeping people from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I hate that so many people are turned away from Christ because they don’t want to be associated with Pharisee-like people.  Where is the love of Christ? Why aren’t there more loving Christians out there who gush with the love of God over hurting, helpless people searching for an answer to this corrupt world we live in?

It’s up to us now, those who believe, who carry the Light of the world with us everywhere we go…we should be the ones declaring… “then you will know that He is the Lord your God” when you hear the good news and believe.  And there are no strings attached or rules heaped on you because when you give your life over to Him he makes all grace abound.  You won’t be perfect (although you may strive to be out of devotion to Him) but you don’t have to be because when He looks at you He will see the righteousness of Christ! How outrageous is that?!! We should declare how much He wants people to know Him! But we must understand that he won’t reveal Himself by parting the Red Sea again or bringing water from a rock or manna from heaven. He reveals Himself through us…through the love of Christ that dwells in the heart of every believer.  Where is your love?  (Where is my love, for that matter? This is what is heavy on my heart.)

Believing that Jesus is who He professed to be is not far fetched…it’s not believing in a folk tale…you don’t check your brain at the door when you believe and you’re certainly not playing the fool…it’s not hocus pocus or wishful thinking or a crutch for the weak. It’s just the Truth. It’s the only reality there is…plain and simple.  As much a reality as the rising and setting of the sun every day. It’s not complicated…you don’t need a degree to understand it. But unless we reveal Him through our love…He will not be known.  What will be known…a bunch of hypocrites whose lives reflect anything but the love of God for a lost and desperate world.  Preach Christ crucified and let that love speak for itself and leave the work of making holiness abound in a person’s life up to the Holy Spirit.  He is able.  Just go and love people…and be amazed at what can be accomplished for the Kingdom of God on earth.

As Christians, our only goal should be to hear others say of Him…after having interacted with us…Now I know that He is the Lord my God.

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A Week of Firsts

It’s been an interesting week in Gulu. The electricity in my house was out for a week.  I had solar power from about 9am-5:30pm but I could not run the fan…only the refrigerator and computer and nothing else.  The fridge was without power every night so I had to throw some things out.  I had to make sure my solar lamp was charged daily so I could have light at night. I just carried it around with me from room to room. By about the 5th day of this I found myself becoming really irritable.  Life is so much harder without electricity…and many people here do not have it at all.  Then one day the water was off. Oh, the trials of a first worlder.  When the lights came back last night I was doing the happy dance.  My mood lifted immediately.  I was also dealing with intestinal issues this past weekend, plus I found bugs in my favorite crackers.  I got a huge blister between my big toe and second toe on my left foot which made walking in flip flops a bit challenging. Just a few highlights of the week which really got to me for some reason.  But…it’s a new day!  Onward and upward.

Preaching at Cathedral

First Time Preaching in Uganda. Left to right: Rev. Sandra, Rev. Necolyn, Elizabeth, Pamela and Rev. Canon Odora

Last Sunday I preached my first official sermon in Africa. I was invited to preach at St. Philip’s Cathedral.  It was fun.  I hope it was culturally relevant.  I’m still learning which English words or American idioms may not be understood by the people.  But I enjoyed it thoroughly and I hope and pray the Word was received.  I look forward to more preaching in the future.

For the next six weeks I am without my Ugandan mentor, Rev. Sandra Earixson. She is the American principal of Janani Luwum Theological College.  She has been my guide for the last four months.  I don’t know what I would have done without her…except now I’m about to find out. She is visiting the UK and US. This will my first time flying solo at the Diocese without a fellow white person…except for Phoebe, the Australian who is helping to teach English four days a week but she is not around that much.  I think I’m ready.  I have many projects to work on and I am feeling like one of the staff now. Rev. Willie watches out for me too.  I have many friends so it should be okay. ;>)

I have been named the official Bursar of the college. This is my first official week on the job.  Although I completed putting the bookkeeping on Quickbooks a few weeks ago, I was not doing the day to day accounting operations.  Now I am.  Of course without Sandra here I suddenly have a million questions, it seems. Leah, the bookkeeper at the Diocese has been very helpful.  She’s going to be a good friend.

Today was a big day for me. I got up my courage to actually drive in Uganda.  My first time behind the wheel in four months.  Sandra left her vehicle for me use and also for any needs that might arise at the college.  I was going to ask someone to drive me around but this morning I just decided that I had to get over the fear.  I’ve driven on the left side of the road before so that is not a problem for me.  It’s the fact that there seems to be no traffic rules and there are motorcycles everywhere.  Here they are called bodas.  It’s how people get around…they use a boda taxi.  They dart in and out of traffic and my fear is that I will hit one.  Of course there are pedestrians everywhere and the roads are bad.  So I just bit the bullet, got behind the wheel and drove myself to the college.  It was a short distance on an easy road.  Easy peasy.  Then I had to go to the bank on college business.  I decided I would be bold and drive into town.  Rev. Jane went with me for moral support.  I did just fine.  Like a pro.  It felt so good to drive again…I was almost giddy the rest of the day.  Sandra has generously offered to share her vehicle with me if I ever need to go to town.  This is a big deal.  A vehicle offers a kind of freedom I have missed.

Otherwise, things are moving along. I’m still seeing a language tutor twice a week but I’m finding it difficult to learn Acholi. I’ll keep at it and hope that something will click soon and I’ll just start speaking fluently.  (LOL)  That will be the day pigs fly!  At least I’m trying.   The weeks are flying by and I find myself thinking about Christmas break…and mostly dreaming of food, carpet under my feet, hot showers and a comfy bed.  But for the most part I am amazed at the grace the Lord has given me to be here.  Of course, I pray daily for all that is happening in the world.  As I have shared before, being so far from home when this war with ISIS and other Islamic Extremist is escalating has been a bit stressful but I am feeling much more at peace now.  I know there are many people praying for me and for that I am very grateful.

Praying for the homeland.  Stay safe.

 

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Acholi Traditional Grass Thatched Hut

Grass Thatched Hut 1

This is a traditional Acholi grass thatched hut.  The landscape in Northern Uganda is dotted with thousands of them.  If you go to Google earth and zero in on Gulu, you will see them…they show up as little round objects.  This picture to the left is a hut being constructed.  They are nearly always round.  The walls are made of bricks which are then covered with mud and cow dung or sometimes concrete.  Some have concrete floors and some have dirt floors.  This one in the pic on the left is having its grass thatched roof installed.  There are only certain times of the year you can do this…because of the availability of the grass.  Typically huts are built in the dry season because that is when the grass is available and also the construction is not hampered by rain.  I am told that a well constructed roof can last as long as 30 years but most typically last around 10 years!  They are amazingly water proof.

Grass Thatched Hut 2This is the finished hut after the grass thatched roof has been trimmed and the house has been painted.  The paint is usually a mixture of ash and water or other materials. You would be amazed at how nice and cool these huts can be when it is hot outside…at least 15 degrees cooler, I would guess.  Some have electricity but most do not.   Toilets are usually in a separate area and are pit latrines.  There is no plumbing so water must be fetched daily.  Cooking is often done on charcoal fires…sometimes inside the hut and sometimes outside the hut.

2013-10-29 08.36.20You will usually see clusters of huts together for extended families with gardens surrounding them.  Nearly everyone has a garden and grows their own food to feed the family.  I am told that a typical hut using only traditional materials can cost between 500,000 – 800,000 Uganda shillings…that’s about $250-$400.  No huge mortgages here…no keeping up with the Jones’.  Just simple homes, living off the grid and growing their own food.  I find it ironic that there is movement in the US and other developed countries towards this simplified kind of lifestyle.  Indoor plumbing, however, is a modern convenience I would find hard to live without.  How about you? Does living off the grid…maybe with solar power and 150 sq. ft. home with a little garden and a few chickens in a coop appeal to you?

 

 

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Grief

I can barely believe that it is September already (I’ve been here 3 months) and in the US that means back to school, football and signs of the approaching holidays showing up in Walmart.  Fall is my favorite time of the year.  Here in Uganda, September is the beginning of the end (third term) of the school year. And…instead of getting cooler it will gradually start to warm up. Also, I don’t think I’ll be seeing Christmas decorations in any shops here or college football tailgate parties.  Everyone is busy planting their second garden of the season.  Katie has planted peanuts and maize.  The squash and zucchini are still growing.

Classes at the theological college start back on Sept 8th.  The Lay Readers class is taught in Luo because most of the students don’t speak much English.  Sandra has asked me, along with another missionary named Phoebe from New Zealand, to teach an English class to help the students with their language skills.  This class will be for an hour each day for four days a week.  I’m looking forward to it.  I’m struggling with my own Luo language skills so maybe the students can help me as well.  I just have one of those brains that can’t learn languages.  Try as I may, it won’t stick.  One of my problems is that I try to get an exact English translation for Luo words and phrases and it doesn’t work that way.  I have the greetings down, I think, but conversation is not yet possible.  The people appreciate the effort so that makes it worth it.  I really do want to be able to speak in Luo.

As of today I have completed setting up the college’s bookkeeping on Quickbooks. (Seems no matter where I go I have always been able to use this skill.)  I think using QB will help the college with it’s budgeting in the future and also increase accountability.  Doing this was a good way for me to learn more about the inner workings of the college and discover its greatest areas of need.  The college is planning to move its location some time in 2015 to an area not far from the Diocesan offices.  This will enable expansion in the near future.  I am convinced, more than ever, that theological education is a top priority in Uganda. Islam is on the move and they have a strategic plan for making converts. The Church must be strengthened and prepared with a strategy as well to take the good news of Christ out to the villages and to continue to grow disciples and develop leaders.

As I watch the news on the internet daily, I have been overwhelmed with strong feelings of grief at all that is happening in the world. Some mornings I can’t stop the tears from falling as I watch the NBC nightly news podcast. I’ve never been affected this way before concerning world events.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  While I try not to be an alarmist, I can’t help but to think we are entering into a new era of history that will forever change the landscape of our societies…and the Church universal.  Even as I type this, it sounds overly dramatic.  Nonetheless, the writing seems to be on the wall. The Church will be facing serious challenges in the years to come and it won’t be over styles of worship music or the format of Sunday School. It will be about whether Christians can clearly articulate the gospel and whether they believe it or not and whether their lives reflect the love, grace and mercy of Jesus.  We have to snap out of our complacent, easy lives in the US.  There is a spiritual battle going on for the souls of all humanity and we each have a role to play if we will accept it.  There is a lot at stake.  But…we know how it all ends.  Praise God!

Evelyn, me, Bishop Johnson and Dr. Katie

Evelyn, me, Bishop Johnson and Dr. Katie

Maybe this is a good time to share how I’m seeing the Lord do the impossible here in Gulu by bringing a witch doctor to Christ.  I wrote about Evelyn in my last blog post.  She is a good reminder that with the Lord, nothing is impossible and no person is too far gone to be reached by His mighty hand.  By her own admission, Evelyn was a follower of Satan and some of the bazaar things she did you would not believe.  But the Lord saved her out of that life and for that we give thanks.  Evelyn has started her new life and we all pray she will be used by the Lord in mighty ways.  When the local people hear her testimony it will have a powerful affect.  Many people still consult witch doctors here so to see one become a Christian and begin to live in the light carries a lot of weight.  Pray for Evelyn.

I’ll end on that note and I ask for your continued prayers for good health and favor in all my relationships here in DNU.  Pray for safety and protection.  Pray for patience and understanding as I continue to adjust to the culture.  Pray that the Lord would give me greater discernment in all things as I seek to do His will alone.

Much love in Christ!

 

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Weddings & Witch Doctors

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post. It doesn’t seem that long ago but time is going by so fast.  I’ve been here almost three months.  It feels more like 6 months.  Sandra and I were running errands in town last Friday afternoon and I realized that I was no longer in “sight seeing” mode.  Life is becoming normal and routine.  I’m still adjusting but I think the newness of being here is fading.

During August all the schools in Uganda go on break for a month, include the theological college.  All of the Diploma/Certificate students left last week after finishing their exams. They have returned to their home churches to get some experience over the next few months.  They will not return until the January term begins. The Women’s Development Center (WDC) is also on break.  The Diocesan campus is so quiet.  I miss the students and the young girls of the WDC…the girls especially bring life to the campus.  I’ll be glad when they return.

The next class of students at the college will be the Layreaders course which begins in September and goes through November.  Layreaders have a very different role here in Uganda than in the US.  In the US, a layreader is a lay person who reads the Scripture during worship services.  In Uganda, a Layreader is the leader of a sub-parish church.  Many sub-parishes do not have a full time priest.  So the church is run by a layreader.  This person leads services, preaches and prepares parishioners for baptism and confimation.  The parish priest in charge of the sub-parish church comes to the church about once a month or so and leads a communion service.  Layreaders get paid next to nothing and it’s usually in addition to running a family business or attending a large garden.  Sometimes Layreaders go for formal training to become ordained.  They make huge sacrifices by attending the training at the college because they must leave their families, their businesses, their gardens, etc. for three months.  It is also a financial burden for them as well.  Many struggle to pay the fees to attend the course.  The course is taught in Luo, not in English.  These students have very little English.  Therefore, I will not be teaching or assisting with the Layreaders course. I hope to begin teaching a class in January. Until then, I will continue to assist with the bookkeeping at the college.

For the next few months I’ll be focusing on growing in my responsibilities as the Bishop’s Asst. for International Relations.  I have been asked to work on the yearly publication put out by the Diocese which shares all that has been accomplished in the ministry in the last twelve months. It goes to press in December and will be released in January 2015.   This will be a good way for me to learn about all the various programs of the Diocese and their current needs.  The magazine will be geared toward current partners of the Diocese and also future potential partners.

Last Monday I attended a celebration at Agung Parish, where the first missionaries knelt

The Agung Parish Church

The Agung Parish Church

and prayed and where the Acholi people first heard the gospel.  It was the 111th anniversary of this great event.  The Bishop confirmed about 20 people and there was also a mass wedding…which was so much fun to witness.  Twenty couples said their I do’s.

All the couples line up to say their vows.

All the couples line up to say their vows.

Many of the couples were quite old and had already been living together as husband and wife in a traditional marriage but had not been married in the church.  In Uganda, many people still practice polygamy.  Some men have two or even three wives.  The church has struggled to break this cultural tradition but more and more of the people are realizing that in order to live right before God they must be married in the church and have only one wife.  There was some drama as the couples gathered to say their vows.  The Bishop asked if there was anyone who had an objection to any of the couples being married and one woman came forward claiming she was the second wife of one of the grooms.  Apparently one of the grooms had two wives, both of whom had children by him.  He could only choose one to marry in the church. The second wife could produce no evidence that she was legally married to the man so the wedding went forward.  I felt quite sad for this other woman.  It’s a difficult issue.  The man will still provide for the children of the second wife but he chose the first wife to marry in the church.  After the issue was settled the weddings proceeded.  There was a priest present for each couple who led them in saying their vows.  Afterward there was a lot of celebration.

Another highlight of the event was something that I believe was spontaneous.This is Evelyn, the former witch doctor, giving her testimony of committing her life to Christ.  I don’t think it was planned.  There were two witch doctors there who had recently converted to Christianity.  They both gave their testimony but one was especially powerful. One was a man who appeared to be in his 30’s.  He was a consultant to witch doctors.  In other words, all other witch doctors came to him to learn.  The other was a young 24 year old woman who had given her life to Christ just three months earlier. Her testimony was quite compelling and moving.  He family has disowned her for leaving witchcraft. They forced her into it from an early age.  She made as much as Ush 800,000 per day as a witch doctor.  That’s a lot of money…equivalent to about $300/day…a lot for most Americans even.  The average Ugandan in the Gulu area or in the north makes about Ush 12,000 per day…or about $5/day.  She gave up all that money and left that lucrative but evil lifestyle to follow Jesus.  She decided to convert when she was told she must sacrifice her baby.  She could not go through with it.

Bishop Johnson prays for Evelyn

Bishop Johnson prays for Evelyn

Her family has disowned her.  However, she has already brought three other witch doctors to Christ.  The Bishop believes she has a gift for evangelism and is helping her to find a home in Gulu so she can be with people who can disciple her.  Her name is Evelyn.  Now, some of you reading this don’t believe in demonic forces that work in this way…but it’s a spiritual reality. I mean…it’s not hard to see demonic forces at work in the world…obvious examples like ISIS in Iraq and Boka Haram in Nigeria come to mind.  Anyway, praise God for what He is doing in this young girl’s life.

Yesterday I visited The Father’s House, the orphanage run by the Cathedral of the Diocese.  I was there in an official capacity…to take photos of a group of Canadian High School teachers who were visiting and making food donations to the orphanage.  They also

The house mothers of The Father's House orphanage

The house mothers of The Father’s House orphanage

brought jerseys for the Cathedral soccer team.  The children were not there as they too take a break during the month of August and spend with their guardians back in their home villages.  The orphanage currently has 44 children ranging in age from 6-14.  I’ll share more about The Father’s House in another post.

Personally I am doing well.  I started my fourth round of oral chemo and continue to have no side affects.  I’m like a sponge…continuing to soak up all I can of the culture and the workings of the Diocese.  There are many challenges the people face daily but I am amazed at their resilience.  Tomorrow I begin language lessons.  I hope to learn how to have a basic conversation in Luo.  Never say never…I can’t believe I’m going to try to learn an African tribal language.  This may sound wimpy…but the hardest part about being here is doing my laundry by hand.  It’s really hard work!  This simplified life I’m living has made me determined to downsize when the Lord sees fit to call me back home to the states.  I like all those tiny houses I see on Facebook…200 sq ft. trailers you can move anywhere.  Of course, it has to be big enough for both me and my sweet Daisy.  What’s a miniature house without a miniature dachshund, right?!

Must go now.  It’s time for my cold shower before bed, which is really not bad at all.  In fact…I’m seeing just how easy it is to live without hot water.

Thanks for your continued prayers! Blessings!

Elizabeth

 

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From Under the Mosquito Net

I’m completely exhausted after a very long day of teaching but I could not feel more content or peaceful. It’s around 9:00pm and I’ve had my cold shower (always exhilarating!) and I’m in bed under my mosquito net.  There is a gentle, steady rain falling on the tin roof. Aahhh…nothing like a full day of ministry followed by the perfect conditions for some seriously good sleep.

A Day of Prayer & Fasting

A Day of Prayer & Fasting

I was honored to be asked by Rev. Sandra, the principle of the college, to lead a day of prayer and fasting for the students.  As I prayed about what the day would look like, the Lord brought this prayer to mind:

I lay down my life as a morning sacrifice for You.  Choosing to die to self,
I ask You to pour Your mighty resurrection power through me, 
that Jesus may be revealed, 
changing me and redeeming the world.

If you have followed my blog you will recognize this prayer.  I wrote about it a few months back.  I say this prayer every morning…slowly and deliberately.  It keeps me focused on the path I am on and the One to whom I belong.  I think it’s a good prayer for anyone…but especially so for those in full time ministry.  It’s easy sometimes to lose sight of the goal…being co-laborers with Christ in His redemptive work in the world.

Finding God Under the Mango Tree

Finding God Under the Mango Tree

So I felt the Lord wanted us to use the prayer as a guide for our day and it seemed appropriate for students training for ministry.  The concept of silence and solitude as a spiritual discipline is almost non-existent here in Uganda.  So I had to do a lot more teaching than I normally would do in leading a “contemplative” style retreat.  I broke the day into four 30 minute segments where I sent the students out to find a quiet place to meditate on a part of the prayer above and a passage of Scripture to go along with it.  In between these short sessions of silence and solitude I taught…primarily on the particular line of the prayer we were about to contemplate.  It was a time to challenge the students on their call to ordained ministry, their motives, the conditions of their hearts.  So as you can imagine…the Lord was teaching me and reminding me at the same time.

Teaching

Teaching

Community is so important in this culture that if you purposely withdraw from others even for a short time, people will think there is something wrong with you.  So we talked about the purpose of getting quiet…so it would be possible to hear the quiet whisper of the Lord when He speaks (1 Kings 19:11-12 – Elijah in the cave) and how prayer is a two way conversation.  There must be times of intentional listening when we go before the Lord in prayer. And…sometimes we go before the Lord just because of who He is and the fact that we have been invited to commune with Him at all times…not just when we want to ask Him for something. The day was a new and different experience for them but I could sense the Lord moving…bringing conviction where needed and also encouragement as they are prepared and equipped to be shepherds in His church.  The worship was so sweet.  There is so much joy in the worship of the people here.  At one point one of the students who was seated and playing an instrument could not keep still any longer.  He put his instrument aside and got up to dance!  It made me think of King David as he danced before the ark of the Lord.  I always ask for a translation of the song so I know what they are singing about and it’s usually something like, “We lift the Lord high” or “We belong to God” or “Let the Spirit of God fall”.  And I usually always fight back tears.  I try to hide the tears because they would think I was sad instead of happy.  The joy is overflowing! I want to learn the songs in Luo so I can sing along too.  That will come in time.  I can see that I really need to make more of an effort to learn the language.  If I’m here for three or more years it will be of great benefit.


 

On our last day of Rev. Canon Willy’s class on African Christian Theology, the students thought I should be given an African name.  They said they needed to take some time and discuss it amongst themselves before choosing one.  I wait with great anticipation to see what my African name will be!  I love  that I am getting to know the students more and more and feeling at home with them.  There is one female student, Lucy, amongst all the men in the college.  I want to get to know her better.  She needs a lot of support as the only woman in the group.  The men accept her and are kind to her but I know it must be tough.  Maybe as I get to know her, I will write a little about this brave woman who is following the Lord into ordained ministry. In the video, she is the one playing tambourine.

2014-07-24 06.32.07

Beans!

In other news, the rainy season is here…lots of mud but I would much rather have mud than all that dust.  In fact, I’m sort of proud of my muddy feet.  I feel like a pioneer woman who will not let a little mud keep her from doing kingdom work! LOL!  The rain makes everything so green and the vegetation grows fast.  People are planting their gardens for the second harvest of the year around October.  Dr. Katie’s garden is producing corn, squash, tomatoes, cucumber, watermelon, zucchini, beans and more.  The beans still have a couple of months to go but that harvest will be huge!  I am blessed to be one of the recipients of this bountiful garden.  It has been wonderful watching it grow.  In the US, we are so far removed from the cycles of planting and harvesting.  It really does feel like fruit and vegetables grow in grocery stores.  But not so here in Uganda. May sound strange but I feel more thankful for the food because when it comes right out of the garden…it feels more like it is coming from the hand of God.

Bountiful Garden

Bountiful Garden

Tomorrow I will begin my third round of the oral chemo.  I continue to do well on it.  Sometimes it is hard to know if some symptoms are related to chemo or just everyday life in Uganda.  You may think it’s too much info…but if you go two or three weeks without a bout with diarrhea… you are doing really well! LOL!  Just being real.  All in all…I can’t complain.  I feel healthy. I’m getting more exercise.  I’m sweating a lot.  I’m drinking more water. I’m eating more fruits and vegetables.  My doctors would be proud.

My three year work visa has been approved and I will travel to Kampala next week to pick up my passport.  I’m getting low on some supplies that can only be purchased in Kampala so it will be a shopping trip as well.  Sandra has to go to Uganda Christian University to pick up exams for the students.  End of the term is in two weeks.  I’m still trying to get the Basic Computing class ready for their exam.  The lack of resources here is a challenge.  We need a table top copier to make handouts for classes.  We need a couple of more computers.  We need more books for the students. We need a continual source of power to the library where the computers are kept. I’m learning quickly that you have to do the best with what you’ve got.  Things that would take me 15 minutes to do back home might now take several hours.  If I need copies of study notes for students, I must go into town to make copies.  Anyway, I’m seeing firsthand how challenging it can be without the basics.

Time to close this blog post out.  Thanks for your continued prayers and support.  If you would like to partner with me in this ministry, you can do so through Paypal by clicking on the donate button.  Please prayerfully consider becoming a partner.

May God bless you abundantly!

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Nine Hours of Awesome!

Last Sunday I went along with Bishop Johnson to St. James Church, a sub-parish church of the larger Keyo parish, for confirmation of an estimated 60 people. We piled into a white pick-up truck and left the Bishop’s compound around 9:00am for the 20 minute drive to the church. The Rev. Canon Willy Akena, the Bishop’s chaplain, was in the driver’s seat with the Bishop as front seat passenger. Mama Christine, her three year old daughter Mercy and Willy’s wife Pauline, along with myself, were in the back seat. One of the students from the Women’s Development Center who was being confirmed rode in the back of the truck. As we pulled away, dark rain clouds were gathering and the air was unusually cool. Pulling out of the road to the Diocesan property, we turned right onto Juba Road. This road goes north into South Sudan, about 100 miles to the border. There has been significant road work going on the last year and we were soon on brand new paved highway and the ride was uncharacteristically smooth for Uganda. Eventually the paved road will extend all the way through Gulu and the road to Kampala. I settled in for the drive, staring out the window at the beautiful countryside. As we left the outskirts of Gulu, the savannah grassland stretched out as far as the eye could see. The green vegetation was vivid in color against the backdrop of the low grey clouds. The land is so beautiful and peaceful. We passed many small groupings of round thatched roof houses. Most Americans seeing this for the first time would think it was primitive…but I’ve come to appreciate the simple life the Acholi people live. I wouldn’t call it primitive. It’s not modern but it works for them. They plant and harvest, they work hard, they love their children, they live in close-knit communities, they practice hospitality like no other place I’ve ever lived, they share with each other, they celebrate the joys of life together and they mourn collectively over individual losses and tragedies. It’s not perfect of course, but it comes the closest I’ve ever seen to being an Acts 2 community of God’s people. We have more to learn from them than they have to learn from us.

When we reach the church and the people see that the Bishop has arrived, they surround the vehicle and begin to dance and sing songs of welcome. The Bishop gets out and begins to greet the people. We remain seated in the truck and Willy drives to a place to park. I asked Willy for an idea of the agenda for the day, knowing there would not be a time schedule that would be kept. He explained how the day would likely unfold…the first event being breakfast for the Bishop. It was 10:00am.

As we began walking towards the building where breakfast would be served to the Bishop, church leaders and special guests, I took a look around. The property was a wide open field with green grass and several large trees. There were a few small buildings, all used for the local school. There was no church building. There was a large tree under which I noticed

The church meeting place

The church meeting place

rows of wooden benches. This is what’s called a tree church! In villages where there is no building for the believers to worship, they gather under a tree for shade. St. James Church does not have a church building but I was to learn that, in faith, they had recently laid the foundation for one.

We were led to a small classroom where the Bishop was already seated at one end at a long table. As we entered the building, the smell of smoke filled the air and I saw that women were busy cooking on charcoal fires behind the building.

Cooking a feast!

Cooking a feast!

I was encouraged to sit next to the Bishop, a place of honor for which I did not feel worthy. Important people in the parish came in to greet the Bishop. As we sat waiting for the food to be brought, the rain finally began to fall. It was a heavy rainfall and the sound of it on the tin roof was very loud. One of the church leaders began to speak to those gathered in the room in Luo and I didn’t understand what was being said. He then turned to me and repeated what he had shared in English, which was very thoughtful of him. He said that when it rains when guests come it is considered a special blessing. This is the rainy season but it has been unusually dry and many gardens are starting to wilt so this rain was much needed and welcome even though it might affect the day’s festivities.

While we waited for the food to be served, the Bishop was presented with a gift from the church leadership. It was a plaque commemorating the blessing of the new church foundation which the Bishop was going to pray over and bless that day. It was then that I learned the church was named St. James. I asked the Bishop how much it would cost to build the church and he said about $30,000. As the rain continued to fall outside, I understood the need for and desire for a dedicated church building. When it rains, there is no where to go. The school buildings are too small. I got up and went to the door and looked toward the tree with its benches and everyone had fled to find shelter from the rain.

What happens when you don't have a church building and it rains.

What happens when you don’t have a church building and it rains.

The food was brought in, a blessing was said and we began to eat. It was not western “breakfast” food but was instead of spread of rice, potatoes, cassava (a kind of sweet potato) cow liver, chicken and I think goat. I had the cow liver and it was delicious. By the time we were finished the rain had slowed and we were led to the tent near the big tree where a makeshift altar had been set up and plastic chairs had been put out for the Bishop, other clergy and special guests. The traditional African worship music began as people took their places. But the Bishop first went to say a special blessing over the new church foundation. It was still raining a good bit but dozens followed the Bishop in the rain to a corner of the property where the church building would go up. Then, they all made their way to the memorial set up to commemorate the church members who had been killed by the rebels in the civil war. By this time the rain had begun to fall heavy again. I wanted to go but the thought of being wet all day kept me under the tent with Mama Christine. Soon everyone began heading back towards the tent and the big tree for the service to begin. There were about 400 people present. By now it was around 1:00pm. All the clergy in their robes were dripping wet and the tent was beginning to leak in places but that did not dampen anyone’s spirits. Finally the rain subsided.

The Scriptures were read and then those being confirmed were called forward. They kneeled, seven or eight at a time, on a mat in front of the altar and the Bishop prayed for and laid hands on each one.

After each blessing to whole crowd would say “Amen” in unison, followed by lots of clapping and rejoicing until the next group had kneeled and the Bishop began again. This took about 25 minutes. After he was finished, the Bishop began to preach the gospel, starting with Romans 7. He was speaking in Luo but a wonderful female deacon named Necolynn (soon to be ordained as a priest) sat next to me and translated. It was preaching in its purest form. Plain and simple. We are all slaves to sin. It wreaks havoc in our lives. There is one way to get out from under the weight of sin and back into communion with our Creator…through Jesus Christ, who invites all who are weary and burdened by life to come to Him, through whom there is forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life. The Bishop preached for about 30 minutes and then he invited those who wanted to commit their lives to Christ to come forward. I estimate about 20 people came forward, some making first time commitments and some recommitting their lives after having fallen way. 2014-07-06 07.27.05

The Bishop prayed for them and invited some of them to share what was on their hearts. As I sat watching, I was reminded of how relatively easy it is to proclaim Christ and how complicated we tend to make it sometimes. We then celebrated communion, which was led by Canon Willy.

Next the Bishop began to encourage people and he challenged everyone to do their part in building the new church. Many people came forward to pledge bags of cement or money. I think about $800 was raised. It’s a good beginning. I pray that soon they will always have a dry place to worship when they come together each Sunday. (If you or your church would like to contribute to the building, please contact me.) By now a cold wind was blowing and I was freezing! I actually had chill bumps. I wished I had a sweater or jacket. Strange thought to have in Africa but there you have it. It gets cold in Uganda.

Then came dancing and singing. Various groups of children had practiced songs to sing for the Bishop. In between songs there were speeches by various community/church leaders. By now it was around 3:30pm. After speeches, gifts were presented to the Bishop. Those who presented gifts would dance in to the center of the circle that had now formed around the tent. Some would give small amounts of money but others gave out of their material possessions. That day the Bishop was presented with ten goats, two chickens and a huge bag of charcoal for cooking. I leaned over to Mama Christine and asked how the goats would get back to Gulu. “In the back of the truck we came in,” she said. I just laughed. Sorry, I didn’t get pictures of the goats.  Guess I was too caught up in the moment to snap pictures. LOL!

After the presentation of gifts it was now around 5:30pm and it was time to eat again. Another huge spread was laid out. This time everyone would have the chance to eat, not just the Bishop, guests and church leaders. A long line formed. Willy came and told me it was almost finished. I think he was worried that I was really tired or bored. But to be honest, the day went by really fast. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt blessed to be there.

After eating Willy told me to prepare to leave. I wanted to take a photo of the memorial so I ran across the field to snap a picture of it.

Memorial to those killed in the war

Memorial to those killed in the war

Seated on the ground near the memorial in a big circle were friends and family of those who had been killed. They did not want to eat, only to sit and remember those they lost. The Bishop talked with them and prayed with them. In the meantime, all the goats and chickens were piled into the back of the truck.  As I sat in the truck with Willy waiting to depart, lots of children came and stared at me. White skin still holds a fascination for them, I suspect, even though I am certainly not the first white person they have seen. I said hello to them in their language and they just giggled at me. Such beautiful children!

It was nearly 7:00pm when we finally pulled away and headed home…goats, chickens and all. Little Mercy climbed into her father’s lap in the front seat and was fast asleep. I was worried about the goats and chickens being okay in the back of the truck :>) while the Bishop and Willy chatted about the day. What an awesome day it was. The Lord was worshipped and glorified and the Kingdom grew and it was a first rate celebration…despite the rain. Now that’s what I call going to church…all nine hours of it! Praise God!

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Hitting the Wall

The view from my bedroom window

The view from my bedroom window

I’m sitting on my bed underneath my newly installed mosquito net and looking out the window at the huge tree with bright orange flowers in the corner of the compound. It’s been just over a month…soon to start my 6th week in Uganda. It’s been amazing but today it feels a bit like I’ve hit a wall. Just keeping it real. Please don’t think that by sharing this that I have somehow changed my mind about being here. I’m in the right place, no doubt about that. I love the people the Lord has placed me with and the kingdom work He has called me to do. But I’ve lived long enough to know to anticipate the emotional and physical fatigue that comes with new and different experiences and to not react to it but to name it for what it is and walk through it. Jumping into a completely different culture cannot be without significant impact and I think I’m just beginning to really feel it.

About four days ago I started to get a cold…allergies really. Lots of sneezing. I think it’s due to the red dust that permeates everything here. The red soil of Uganda turns to mud in the rainy season and a very fine dust when there is no rain. There is significant road work being done just adjacent to the Diocesan property. Even when there is no road work the red dust coats everything. But now…with heavy machinery pushing dirt around…the red dust is even thicker. Everything is always covered with it. I can dust my bedside table and within a few hours it has returned. It covers the floors, it gets into your clothes, it coats the dishes in the kitchen. It’s getting into my computer. It’s everywhere. You can’t get ahead of it. The bottom of my feet are beginning to look stained from the red dust. In fact, my feet are nearly always covered in dirt. It’s especially hard to keep it out of your bed. I think breathing it has caused me have an allergic reaction. I’ve been on Benadryl for a couple of days. The good news is that the road will soon be paved and this should cut down on the red dust tremendously. But it’s hard to feel clean…ever. It’s just a part of life here and it’s obvious that others have adjusted to it. It may take me a little more time. Today I’ve had it with the red dust.

In addition to dust allergies, I’m dealing with bacterial intestinal stuff again. I don’t think I need to explain some of the unpleasant symptoms of this…but let’s just say it keeps you close to home. ;>) I have no idea how I’m picking this stuff up. It can come from simply shaking hands with people…which I do countless times everyday. I’m on antibiotics and Dr. Katie is keeping an eye on me. But today I’m feeling physically tired from allergies and intestinal stuff and I’ve had to take a day of rest to regroup.

Not having my own mode of transportation is a challenge as well. I’ve managed to catch rides with Sandra and Katie into town when needed (they are very gracious and kind to help me) but I’m not used to having to rely on other people to get where I need to go. Not being in control in this area is hard. Most people in Uganda do not have transportation so they ride a boda (motorcycle taxi) or walk so I’m in good company. It’s just that having transportation gives you freedom and I’m feeling that loss a lot lately.

Yesterday I returned from two days in Kampala. Kampala itself is exhausting for me. Lots of people and thousands of motorcycles and noise and CRAZY traffic and strange smells and the Islamic call to prayer going out over loud speakers, which sends shivers down my spine. I prefer the quiet life of Gulu to the hustle and bustle of Kampala any day. It was good to get back. But while there I felt stressed and anxious for a number of reasons. You can find a lot of stuff in Kampala that you just can’t get in Gulu. As I was shopping for food, I realized my anxiety was high because I was in hoarding mode. My thinking was… “you don’t know when you will be back here so you better buy everything you will need and get a lot of it too.” It felt sort of like I was preparing for the end of the world. I believe it’s my western mindset thinking of “I can’t do without this” that has not clicked off yet. Maybe it never will. There are lots of businesses in Kampala and Gulu that cater primarily to westerners for this very reason. Emotionally I felt a bit frantic. I stopped at one point and said as much to Sandra. She nodded and said she sometimes feels the same way. It felt like I needed these certain things to feel connected to home and to be able to survive being deprived. Non-sense but none-the-less a very real emotion.

My primary purpose in going to Kampala was to begin the process for obtaining my three year missionary work permit. I learned of a man who works in the provincial offices of the Church of Uganda who helps missionaries with this process. I called and arranged to meet him on Monday to hand off all my forms. Got to his office and I learned he is out of the city for three days. What?! I traveled to Kampala just to meet this man and he is out of town…after I had set an appointment with him. (Culturally I’m told this is not uncommon.) I then had to figure out how to get this paperwork to him and to make a long story short, I ended up leaving the folder of materials with another employee to give to this man. It made me nervous because if it gets lost or misplaced…that’s it. I’d most likely be coming back home to the US. I was also required to leave my passport in Kampala during this approval process. Another reason to feel anxiety. Apparently applying for this special permit requires standing in a lot of lines and going from one govt. building to another and it can take several days, spread out over weeks, to do this. But…there are people you can pay to do this for you and it’s perfectly acceptable. I opted for this because it’s impossible for me to stay in Kampala long term or to be able to drive down on a moment’s notice, transportation being one of the main issues. Anyway, this man comes highly recommended by the Rev. Dr. Canon Alison Barfoot, an American missionary who has lived in Uganda and worked for the Archbishop for ten years. Now I just pray and wait and trust that it all goes smoothly.

While we were in Kampala we also learned of an attack on a church in the western part of Uganda by some Muslims. I wasn’t going to mention this on the blog or Facebook because I didn’t want to alarm my family, who worries about me a lot. As it turns out, there is no cause for alarm.  As the police have been investigating, they have determined that this was not anything from an organized terror group. It was an isolated event. The Christian people in the village took measures into their own hands and burned down the tiny mosque in response to the attack. One Christian woman and a police officer were killed. I admit this rattled me a bit. Christians and Muslims live peacefully alongside one another in Uganda. Although its neighbors are dealing with terrorists/rebels in Kenya, Congo and Sudan, Uganda is peaceful and I believe its people want it to remain that way. However, part of being in East Africa is knowing there are some risks. It’s a challenge to my faith in a way I’ve never experienced, obviously, having lived nearly my whole life in the US where freedom of religion is protected and enforced. What is happening in the world right now is very disconcerting. ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Boka Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya (and have threatened Uganda), Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and other parts of the world. So much hatred toward Christians and Jews and even other Muslims. It boggles the mind…how there can be men so eager to shed blood in the name of God. It makes no sense unless you consider the sin-filled world in which we live. Anyway, I have been anxious this week. I admit it.  Christians are facing persecution all over the world.  Islam is growing in its influence here in Uganda. And that is why it is so important to continue to strengthen the church by training more leaders. I’m learning to trust God in another whole new and different way. It never stops folks. There is always more room to grow in faith and trust.

Some have been asking about how the chemo treatment has been going. I thank all who have been praying for me. I finished my first two-week round last Friday. I’m doing fine. No obvious side affects but it’s hard to tell whether some fatigue is due to chemo or allergies/bacterial intestinal infections. Either way, praise God, I think it’s going to be all right. I’ll start my second round this Friday for two weeks.

This is a long post but before I end I just want to say briefly what an awesome two weeks I’ve had prior to hitting the wall. I’m having more interaction with the students and developing friendships. I thoroughly enjoyed the graduation ceremony of the Women’s Development Center and I’m getting to the know staff better. I’m starting to feel at home. Some prayer requests: please pray for good health, for favor with the work permit, and for patience as I navigate the red dust. Pray that I would know God’s peace at all times as I trust in Him for safety and protection. Hitting the wall is not bad…it’s expected. It’s part of the process so I am glad to know I’m progressing through the necessary stages of adjusting. It’s a privilege to be here. Praise God, who is still on the throne!

PS. Praying for all my friends in SC as Hurricane Arthur approaches this week. Sure is early for a hurricane!

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