Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tutapona-We Will Be Healed


It was later in the day when we arrived.  Our translator, Mr. Mahammud was a charming man and one who you would just instantly like.  It became very evident to me that the organization that we had come with prayed often, invested much and worked so hard to develop long lasting relationships.  They have an office and staff onsite serving in the refugee community and it showed everywhere.  The day had been filled with stories that were hauntingly familiar of people suffering greatly in so many ways.  Yet all of their stories had a common element that ran through them all, Hope.  Not unrealistic hope, but a slow and steadily building fire that reminded them that they would be healed.  I'd been here before, but I fell in love with what I saw and what I heard.
As we approached the house, we were greeted with the sweetest and most excited faces.  Again, this was evidence of relationships forged by the Lord.  Hugs and handshakes abounded and we were invited in to get comfortable and sit and listen.  This family had the marks of true suffering and yet it wasn't defining them.  As they talked through their stories, the pain seemed to still be very raw very real and rightly so, as they went through unimaginable things.  The loss, the hurt and the fear were so evident and yet again, the conversation was filled with praises and a growing sense that this family had embraced a new normal with the incredible love, help and training from Tutapona and the outpouring of support from the Somali community.
As the story finished, our host had prepared some incredible Somali food.  I am not even kidding, it was outstanding.  As I sat and processed all that I had heard, I happened to mention that I really liked our hosts Ma'awis.  He promptly went out, took it off, came back and put it on me.  It couldn't be a gift, I thought.  I didn't come here to take from refugees.  Yet as it was later explained to me, the love and support that we brought had great worth.  As we ate and laughed and tried on traditional Somali clothes, I felt as though I was with my extended family.  I felt so welcomed and despite a language barrier, we are got to speak a common language this day; laughter.  As I went to take off the Ma;awis, my host pointed and said, "don't take that off, it's your".  Mine?  It's too much!  No, that belongs to you now.  I couldn't believe this incredible kindness, this sweetness from a family that refused to let trauma define them.  I wondered how we'd be received, they knew me as a Christian and a Bible teacher.  Yet there was one unifying element there; they knew that we wanted the best for their hearts.  As we left this family, our host, hugs abounded, smiles radiated and it seemed we had all been incredibly overwhelmed by this time.  Our host, through his arms around my neck, hugged me on the left and kissed my neck and then again on the right.  I had no words, but our translator did, "Justin, to put a smile on the face of refugees is no small thing".
My Lord, I pray over this family and may you receive the abundant thankfulness from me for allowing me to meet them and spend time with them.  Thank You for that immense blessing and privilege.  God please continue to pour out Your love on them as only You can do.  May we and may I even continue in relationship with them.  God help me as I get to teach Your Word to Mr. Mahamuud, and that He would embrace You as his Savior.  What loving God You are and I am so grateful for who You are and what You are allowing me to do.  Please pour out abundant blessings on Candice Lassey, Alicia Searl and the Tutapona staff who are entrenched in Your loving service to refugees.  This is all for Your glory, AMEN.
Is it you?  This is how you answer:  Ahaaaaaaaaaaaaa!  I did it right.
 I have no idea why people were laughing.  It's a mystery.
Somali GQ has been calling me non-stop about this photo.  I'm rocking my new friendship and my new Ma'awis.  So honored to have had this privilege.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

He Heard Me


It is so difficult to fathom all that God has done in the past month.  In less than one month, we have moved out of a home in Indianapolis to Chicago.  From there we took 24 pieces of luggage and boarded a plane for Entebbe, Uganda.  We semi moved into a temporary residence for a week and then at the end of that week we moved into our permanent residence here in Kampala.  It has been a time of ups and downs and all of it has been wrapped up in the grace of God.  We have experienced the shock of leaving one culture and reentering this one.  Some things are amazing, some are difficult and that takes energy and time.  May I first say, that God has been so so good to us.
We made a deal when we first arrived and it is consistent with our family pattern; when people come to our home, we stop what we are doing.  Unpacking will happen and will take time, but people are far more important than straightening up the clutter.
One month ago, everything seemed so up in the air and we'd entered full chaos.  Even up to last week, we were living out of trunks and we were very unsettled.  Yet, in all of that, God secured Himself as our foundation and was for us a harbor in the chaotic storm.  The enemy worked and continues to work over time to destabilize and destroy what God has already established.  Yet, even in the uncertainty, God's still and steady voice guides like a lighthouse on a brutal night.  This is the time in which I am further stretched and I couldn't be more grateful for it.  This is the place that God has brought us that we might step out daily on faith and watch Him work in indescribable ways.
With every single encounter that we've had with team mates that we haven't seen in a year, students and families that we've missed so much and Ugandans that have stolen our hearts; we are assured and solidified that God is the One who orchestrated all of this.  To say that I am grateful is an absolute understatement.  We've left one family for another and while we grieve our loss their in the U.S., we explosively celebrate a much anticipated reunion with Ugandan family members.  We are not hurried because we remember our absence from their lives and count it sweet the time we get with them here and now.  WHO IS LIKE OUR GOD, TO GIVE SUCH INCREDIBLE GIFTS?!?!?!?!?
WASTING NO TIME
As you can see from the pictures, God has gifted us with some tremendous disciples and discipleship opportunities.  We have thrown open our doors and have welcomed so many back into home despite its unfinished condition.  We couldn't care less, we love them so much and find it an incredible privilege to love, walk with and serve and serve alongside countless students.  Even this Friday, we will talk with our local church about reestablishing our role in working with youth at the church.  We're wasting no time because tremendous resources have been entrusted to us by our Lord and we want two things.  We want to hear Jesus say, "well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into My perfect rest".  We also want to do everything in our power to encourage all that we encounter to growing in a flourishing relationship with our Lord; knowing that no one gets to the end of their life and says, "I wish I'd walked less with Him".  Foolishness!  So what's next and how can we pray Justin?

Prayer Requests:

  • Vehicles in Uganda are VERY expensive and so we are doing everything in our power to choose wisely and honor the Lord in our spending.  Please pray that a suitable vehicle will be found for us and our ministry at a reasonable price.
  • Pray as we are daily reengaging with our students, their families, our staff, our team and the refugees with which we are working.  God has gifted us with MANY relationships and our desire is to walk with all that God puts in our paths.
  • Pray for Debby and I as we are balancing a lot with getting moved in, finishing my Master's degree, loving those abundantly around us and letting our bodies get used to the time difference and the change in environment.  Pray that God would keep our stress to point where we remain functional.
  • Pray for me as I get to go back to Nakivale in about a week an a half thanks to Alicia Searl (team mate) and Tutapona (an organization that is absolutely AMAZING!).  I am looking forward to reconnecting with our friends at Wakati Foundation and I'm praying that our week in the the camp will fill the needs of those that we encounter
Praises:

  • We have arrived with all of our luggage and God has given us the determination to hit the ground running.
  • Our hearts are full and we are burgeoning with excitement to continue developing our leadership team as well as loving and walk with all that we get to minister to.
  • I just can't wait!  I am writing this with tears in my eyes because everyday in the U.S. I asked the Lord to allow us to go back.  God has heard my heart and is honoring my request to walk hand and hand with Him to continue following the vision that He has placed upon our hearts.
  • We are vibrant again.  Not that we weren't in the U.S., but here God has allowed us to be back in our element.  I've never known a greater joy that hearing and obeying His call, EVER!
  • We received word of two more monthly partners that have joined our team.  While finances are always something that we consider, God continues to remind us that He will meet every need that we have and is fully equipping us for the amazing tasks ahead.
Let me finish by offering a thank You to the Lord:
Father, there is no one like You.  No one can do what You do.  I have never known a greater joy in my life than in following what You have called me to.  I've never known a more consistent and unfathomable love than the one that you relentlessly visit upon me.  I am undeserving of You and yet, you came and gave Yourself for me anyway.  You came with a love that turns enemies into adopted sons and daughters.  You are the only Warrior who can win that way.  Who am I that you would consider me?  My heart will ever respond with gratitude to know that I have been given the Greatest Gift that has ever been given.  I can never repay You, so instead, I will joyfully proclaim you throughout the world.  I will with every fiber in my being scream Your freedom.  May I be a living sacrifice that You would delight to walk with.  I love You and may all that I walk with know it full well as I am Your conduit to bring You the most glory.  Amen

Boots on the ground and welded to Him, 

Justin Ssemakula Williams 
missed this guy!

At O'Hare after the 24 bags had been checked and just before take off.  Those smiles say it all.




We were MORE than welcomed.  We never have to wonder if we are welcome here.

Through some amazing circumstances, an amazing God, an amazing lady and an amazing organization, we got to have coffee and shop with LeCrae and his wonderful mother, Ormie.  Thank you Trish Okenge.  What a HUGE blessing!











Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Way She Likes Things


Nothing brings a husband and wife closer (in proximity) than a move.  It is commonly referred to as the marital gauntlet.  As you probably are aware, my family and I are deeply engaged in the processes of moving.  It most certainly can be a trying time and at the same time, it can be an amazing time.  Now, I won't be the stereotypical husband who washed a dish and wants the world to know about it.  Today, however, I did see a glimpse of God's fingerprints in my life. 
This morning, Debby needed to go and have some physical therapy done on her shoulder.  Yep, you guessed it, it's from carrying me all those years.  LOL.  Now over the twenty years of marriage, I've learned some things about my wife.  Yep, it only took twenty years.  My wife's level of stress is greatly GREATLY reduced when she has a clean environment to work in.  While I was excited about doing several other things this morning, I suddenly became more excited about her breathing freely in a clean house.  So I went after it.  I vacuumed, I washed, I scrubbed, I plucked....I plucked???  Whatever, I did the nitty gritty things that I knew she'd find so delightful. 
I couldn't wait for her to get home and be at peace during a normally stressful time.  Again, I'm not as excited about my work as I am about God's work.  Debby will tell you; I am a really selfish person.  Any deviation from that selfishness is a sign that God is moving and today, He proved Himself again powerful beyond all things.  I've learned to delight fully in His changes to my spirit.
I love my wife.  I love that God brought us together.  I LOVE our partnership and how He changes us and uses us to compliment each other.  I love how amazing she is and how persistent she can be on issues that I would otherwise let go.  I loved seeing her face light up and watch her be able to sit and drink a cup of coffee without a great deal of care weighing her down.  Lord, You were right when You said in Proverbs 18:22:  He who finds a wife, finds a good thing.  Debby, you are magnificent and I wouldn't want to do this with anyone else.  I love and like you just the way you are and I love the way you like things.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Band Of Brothers--Meet James Sentiba


Meet James Sentiba!  Reverend James as we call him was one of the first young men to be promoted within our Band of Brothers leadership circuit.  In addition to a few other leaders, James is one of my primary contacts for Band of Brothers and Act Like Men.  Reverend James is one of the young men that is currently running our study while I am here in the States on Home Ministry Assignment.  He is doing such a fantastic job and I am really proud of him.  In addition to studying God's Word, James takes the time to put what he has learned into practice.  In addition, he teaches and encourages others to do the same thing.  That is what we are about in Band of Brothers.  Please take a moment to pray for Revered James, all of the other young men and women who are leading.  Please continue to pray for Act Like Men and Act Like Women as we prepare to return and continue to allow God to continue growing and expanding. 
Here is an interview with Reverend James Sentiba:

Hi, my name is James Sentiba and I am fifteen years old. I am proudly Ugandan and I would consider myself extremely passionate about God. I am currently a 10th grade student at Heritage International School. 

1. Tell me about some of the things that you like and also some things you find challenging about being in an International School.

I like lots of things. I like mystery books, FOOD, hanging out with my friends… honestly the list could go on and on.
Some of the things that I find challenging about being in an international school is the “indirect racism”. International schools are very diverse. Now this is a good thing, but sometimes students don’t get along. It’s like everyone has their own groups (i.e. ‘Black guys’, ‘the Asians’, ). If you don’t belong to that specific race, you don’t fit in with the group. Obviously these groups don’t mean to exclude members of different races, but sometimes it’s like you just can’t mix.

2. What was the first thing that went through your head when you met, saw or heard Mr. Williams and that you had him for Bible?

When is first saw Mr. Williams, he looked like a pretty funny guy. It wasn’t until my first bible class when I realized that, not only was he funny, but he was also very serious about God. As time passed I saw how Mr. Williams had a passion to befriend all of his students. To me he wasn’t only a teacher; he was a friend who had my best interest in mind


3. What does it mean to you to be a Brother in the Band of Brothers leadership circle and how does it affect you daily?

Being a Band of Brother is a true honor for me. When I wear that pin (and even when I don’t) I know that I have a great responsibility. Even though people say things about you, or maybe they put you down, I still know that it is my responsibility to treat all with kindness and be a true leader. 

4. What would you say that you are most passionate about within the Christian life?

I would say that I am most passionate about spending time with God. I think that one of the most important keys to a relationship is communication. I really love talking with Jesus. He understands everything so well. The more I talk to Him, the more He reveals to me. I find out more about the Kingdom of God when I just stop and talk to the one who died for my sins.

5. What are some practical or real life changes that you have seen over the past three years that you really thank God for?

Over the past few years, God has just been making me a better person day by day. I can be really evil sometimes but recently God has been teaching me that because I am a new creation, because Jesus Christ lives in me, I am holy. Even though I still make some mistakes, I still thank God for the fact that he loves me enough to make me like His Son.

6. What was the last thing that went through your mind the last time you saw or heard Mr. Williams?

The last thing that went through my mind the last time I saw Mr. Williams was, “Please  back soon!”

I'm working on it big man.  Praying that God will help us to finish up our funding and get back to the Uganda where He has called us to serve among great young men like Reverend James.  As I do these interviews, I am feel the weight of having my heart in two places.  I can not wait to be back among these leaders and these students.  Thank you so much Reverend James.  Thank you for fighting the good fight and leading in such a Godly way.  God is making a difference in the lives of all that He puts in your path.  I am so proud of you!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Band of Brothers--Jireh Wu


I love Luke 6:40.  A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.  I like this because it sets a wonderful pattern of continued discipleship that replicates itself long after you and I are gone.  We currently have 31 Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters leaders that are working within the leadership circle.  26 of those are in Uganda and the other 5 have gone out into the world to lead in different capacities.  I am so remarkably proud of them all and am looking forward to being back with them as we continue to lead and disciple students who will lead and disciple students and so on and so on.
I want you to meet some of these leaders and so today, I am introducing you to Jireh Wu.  I was able to do an interview with Jireh and so please enjoy:

My name is Jireh Wu, I am 14 years old, I grew up in Singapore but I’m not Singaporean, and so I don’t know my true nationality (all I know is that I’m Asian). I am currently living somewhere in Africa and I am having a great time. I am a student in an international school called Heritage international school. I used to be Mr. Williams’ student, but then he left us and went back to America (cue crying sounds).

1. Tell me some things that you like and some of the things that you find challenging about being at an international school.

Well, I like being able to meet people from all over the world, get a taste of the culture, and laugh at how different our traditions can be. Being able to brag about how you have friends all over the world is also a bonus. The only thing I don’t like is how people come and go from this school because maybe their parents have a new contract somewhere, or God is calling them to go somewhere else. I’ve had at least 10 good friends leave and go to another country and that is sad.

2. What was the first thing that went through your mind when you met Mr. Williams and that you had him for Bible?

When I first heard about Mr. Williams, I just thought of him as another guy who teaches Bible. But then when I saw him, I could tell that this guy is a person who is very friendly and open to everyone. And he was

3. What does it mean to you to be a Brother in the Band of Brothers leadership circle and how does it effect you daily?

Well, being in the Band of Brothers leadership circle has really affected me spiritually, because being promoted to become a brother makes you responsible for setting an example of a Christian to the other students. And so you sort of “make” yourself focus on God even more than usual.

4. What would you say that you are most passionate about within the Christian life?

Hmm…. I think what I’m most passionate about within the Christian life is representing Christ by doing things that honor God like helping a kid who is being teased or helping a teacher carry books.

5. What are some practical real life changes that you have seen over the past three years that you really thank God for?

So I have this really good friend whose parents were missionaries, but he didn’t really believe in God himself. His life did not portray Jesus’ image at all. So I prayed that he would gradually come to know God more and to love him. He… has changed recently. He started to become more and more Christ-like, so I thank God for that. I wouldn’t say that he is 100% loving God and stuff, but he is starting to grow.

6. What was the last thing that went through your mind the last time you saw or heard Mr. Williams?

Mr. Williams, I really miss you, and I hope that you will come back soon. I know that many people are feeling the same way as me. That is always the thought the crosses my mind when I think of you. Oh by the way, if you don’t come back during May, I will personally hire all the clowns in America to come terrorize you until you come back (I remember that you hate clowns). Just kidding I wouldn’t do that, but please come back soon…

Jireh, I am incredibly proud of you.  It has been a pleasure and a privilege to walk with you and day life with you during our time working together in Uganda.  I am praying to be back with you and the other leaders and all of our students and staff in June (please no clowns, lol).
Our excitement and our anticipation continues to grow as we see what God is doing and we eagerly anticipate what He will do.  Through these students, God will continue to draw young men and women into deep relationship with Himself.  So proud of all of you!  So very very proud!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Preparation


I remember when I worked here in America as a youth pastor.  I would spend some time planning for our summer youth events.  Now, you need to know this about me, I am not good at planning out the details of events or at least I wasn't then.  By God's grace, parents and supporters would come alongside me and help me to shape the events that we would do.  The events were always enjoyable to the extent of the amount of work that was put into them.  I learned a very valuable lesson during my time as a youth leader here in America; be as diligent in preparation as you can be and bathe all of what you've planned in prayer.  I am so grateful for my time as a youth pastor here.  I learned what works and what doesn't work and I had outstanding support from church leaders, families inside our church and families outside of our church.  What a huge blessing it was then and in fact as now as I still converse with life long friends that were part of that time.  God is good.
Fast forward to January 4th, 2018.  We are sitting in the frozen tundra of Indiana, trying not to freeze to death.  As we are going about and seeking to complete many obligations both from a ministry and organizational stand point, there is a different feel to this month.  With five months remaining, my level of excitement is growing rapidly.  I am daily in the Word, asking God to prepare my heart, mind and body for the tasks before me both today as well as upon our return to Uganda.  I am daily in prayer for all involved, prayer and financial partners, teachers that are coming, teachers that are there, administrators, staff, our WGM team, students, families.  I am daily preparing bit by bit new curriculum for a new class that I am praying I will be able to teach next year.  I am daily praying over our family both here and in Uganda.  I am asking God to work with me in every detail of curriculum preparation so that I can give my very best in preparing our students to go out and allow God to radically transform the world as He draws them closer and closer to Himself.  I can not explain my level of excitement for returning and getting to work with these students again.  I know that God has indescribably amazing things awaiting them and I am so thankful that I get the opportunity to go and allow God to use me to help them grow.  It's January now, but at the epicenter of me, God has planted the vision for what comes next.  
So this is a short post to say thank you to everyone who is involved or who will be involved.  I am diligently working so that I am fully prepared for preaching and teaching in the very best way possible.  
Here are some things that you can be praying for:
*  We believe that we have hit 90% of our recurring support.  YEAH GOD!!!  We will know in about another week or so.  We hope to buy plane tickets later this month.  Pray that all of the rest of the funding will come in and that God will work in every detail of that aspect of our ministry.  We are still needing about 10% more recurring support to be at 100% and we are also needing about 25% of our one time need.  

*Pray for our Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters leadership.  They head back to school tomorrow and I am asking them to come back refreshed and ready to love, lead and serve well this semester.

*Pray for the preparation of this new class.  It is my desire to teach a class to both/either or Middle School and High School students on developing a statement of faith.  When the class is over, they will have a well established, document (rooted in Scripture) that they (and their families) work through and substantiate with Scripture.  They will also have to orally defend this in front of their class.  I'm incredibly excited about this because it will help our students to more resolutely define what it is they believe as well as enable them to have a Godly lens through which to operate.

*Pray that we can continue to have a significant impact on refugee ministry in Uganda.  There are still refugees pouring into Uganda and as that need grows, we see the opportunity to be used by God in love and service.  Pray that God will open more doors for us to be able to show the compassion of Christ to so many who are hurting.

Thank you to everyone who is allowing God to use you to make this possible.  From education ministry to refugee ministry, God is using all of us to change the world and draw people unto Himself.  Blessings to all.

Brother Justin Ssemakula Williams

To become a global impact partner:  www.wgm.org/williams


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Heart Priority

Funding.  It seems to be hardwired into every missionary that is living and doing ministry on a support basis.  There have been times in my life where you could ask me what our percentage was at and I could rattle it off down to the decimal.  There have been times (more recently than I care to admit) that I incorporated it into every conversation (I'm sorry if I've done this to you).  While it is the job of the missionary to pursue financial support, I recognized something today that filled me so full of joy that I just about wept as it unfolded.  I recognized a heart shift that has taken the "funding is my responsibility" perspective, lit it on fire, threw it in a barrel and rolled it down a large hill.  Seems drastic doesn't it. Admit it, you liked the idea of a burning barrel rolling down a hill.  You pyro!
Today started with what seemed like a meeting opportunity that wasn't going the way I wanted it to go.  I had a conversation here or there about our family, our ministry, our plans, God's vision and it all seemed to follow the general guidelines of what is acceptable missionary marketing.  As I moved from conversation to conversation, I assessed how well I was doing at presenting myself and our ministry.  Now scientists have a name for this, it's called "stupid".  As if somehow I was going to say some magic words that would make money magically appear in our ministry account.  I realized in the next few moments how little this mattered to me and how the "God will take care of your needs" perspective would prove to be the only true method.
I received a phone call from a student that I love a lot.  To be fair, I love all of my students a lot and just because you graduate or leave the country doesn't mean that I will leave you alone SO DON'T TRY TO GET AWAY FROM ME!  Awkward.  In all seriousness, this is what happens.  God puts you into a life at a point in time and says, this is the person or people that you are going to love and serve and I'll give you everything you need to do it.  Boy does He ever.  You never forget them, you never stop caring about them, you laugh and cry at the memories and conversations that you still get to have.  It's greatest and most painful gift that we have ever been given and we wouldn't change it for anything, ever.
I left the meetings, as if God had handed me a note that said, "you have an urgent phone call and it needs your attention, now".  I got on the phone, trusting that God would give me the words to say and the spirit to identify and uplift.  For 40 minutes, I reconnected with this very special student in a way that only God could have woven.  We talked about heavy things and we laughed at my stupid jokes.  In the end, this amazing friend was uplifted, out of chaos and enjoying the joy of life.  It wasn't me, it was He.  He knew what to say and He knew how to say it.  He knows how to make everyone feel important.  He always does.  That's why that conversation was the only thing that mattered at that moment.  I wanted this amazing young person to know the love of the Savior and praise God, she got it.  And that is it, isn't it.  At one point in time, I felt as though I was on the underbelly of society where everyone goes to suffer, die and be forgotten completely and utterly without value.  The place where hope dares not to go.  Yet He came down there, didn't He, took our hands, saved us, loved us beyond explanation and seated us at His table.  Me?  Yep, and the fact that He let me work with Him today to love and serve and encourage just dropped me to my knees in utter gratitude.  
When I hung up, I just couldn't stop smiling.  I was filled to the brim to know that I had loved as Jesus loves and that my heart's priority had been demonstrated in the zero hesitation to take a phone call and serve my sweet friend.  I am the richest man alive, because my Savior has redeemed me, loves me and somehow has found a way to use me.
Oh, by the way, as I forgot about the funding aspect and concentrated on the loving service and outreach, we picked up four new monthly partners (that we know of) and a loving pastor of an amazing church that we've only spoken to once came up to us after this and said, "let me know if you guys need more funding, we'd love to help."  There is no one like our God!