Saturday, July 30, 2016

Our Wonderfully Busy Summer

During the school year there was a part of me that was really looking forward to the rest that would come during the summer.  In keeping with tradition, however, the summer has been so full of participation in ministry activity and our rest is periodic.  What we are doing is to make sure that when we rest, we are engaged in a full Sabbath rest which we believe is wise.  So let's walk through what has been happening this summer.
Language Training 
This summer, Debby and I engaged in Luganda lessons. Three times a week for three hours a day, our language teacher Florence would come to our home and we would work through learning as much Luganda as we could.  The amazing thing about this is that in addition to learning more of the language, we were able to go deeper into understanding this culture.  We love our time with Mrs. Florence.  We have seen great success in our ability to hear, process and respond to people in Luganda.  It is a real door opening opportunity when you speak this language.  Walls come down and relationships are formed by our willingness to speak Luganda.  What a blessing Mrs. Florence has been to us.

Fellowship Investment
This summer Debby and I have been working hard to connect with and invest in our High School students.  God has really moved my heart this direction as I really love and appreciate each on of these students.  As I look at each of them, I can see the fingerpriints of God on them.  I can see the uniqueness with which God has made them and I am most excited to be able to walk with them throughout this next year and (God willing) the years to come.  This is such a neat group of students and they have allowed me access to their lives.  It is such an honor to get to love them where they are, to speak truth into them and to get to do life together with them.  They are amazing.  This summer we have been inviting them into our home to fellowship with us and one another.  It has been awesome getting to spend time getting to know them better.  We are praying that the Holy Spirit will sweep through this campus this year and radically change hearts and lives.  I believe He can and I am trusting that He will in whatever way glorifies Him the most.

Walking Ministry
This summer, I extended walking ministry to some new areas in order to develop new relationships with new people.  I have been careful not to overextend and yet at the same time, allow God to have a maximum impact through us.  This ministry is so much fun especially when you get to see the same people time after time and you get to engage in deeper conversations.  I see God's hand in many different conversations and opportunities as I walk and talk with different Ugandan men and women.This ministry takes a willingness to step out, be uncomfortable and even become exhausted. By the end of my walking time, my brain is zapped from engaging each and every person and my energy is spent as I walk sometimes 9 to 10 miles.  All of this is worth it, as God's presence is being announced with every smile and greeting that is extended.

Guard Bible Study
This summer, I took over the oversight of our WGM Guard Bible Study.  Before going on furlough, Nathan Metz worked to make this a Ugandan specific study with a specific bent towards Ugandans leading the study and seeking to start a new discipleship program in which they would invest in 2 or 3 others.  This study has been fascinating to be a part of as I only speak when there may be a misunderstanding or a clarification is needed on a theological issue.  My greatest joy is that it is completely initiated and run by Ugandans.  It is a true joy to be with them and participate in watching them work through God's Word, sharpening each other and helping one another to grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Teaching/Bible Study
This summer I got to participate in leading a Bible based discussion on Hebrews 11 and 12.  This was definitely a good thing because I am used to teaching youth and I needed this opportunity.  I am grateful for the patience and participation of this wonderfully encouraging group of expats who loved me and did such a great job working through the discussion.  If time allows, I will be leading another discussion through Galatians in the coming weeks.

My First Team
This past two weeks, Debby and I hosted our first team of friends from the U.S.  In nine days, we participated in some amazing ministries.  One of my favorite was our time at Nakivale Refugee Settlement near the border of Congo.  Our time there with these men and women was absolutely priceless.  We were able to go and meet with families, hear some unbelievable stories, give aid and pray over so many.  One of the best things that we were able to bring was Bibles.  One of the first questions that many would ask was for money or food, it was for Bibles.  Wow!  Praise God for these men who were willing to come and serve alongside us and for the willingness to embrace a new culture for the cause of Christ.

Our First Baptism
"I really want to be baptized, but I can't leave the property, can you help me?"  That was the question that this man Deo was asking.  He wanted desperately to be baptized, but couldn't go far from his compound.  So we thought and planned and after not being able to find an inflatable pool, I went and borrowed a bathtub.  I can't describe to you how awesome it was to be involved with this.  Deo's one request was that he be mentored and trained properly in God's Word.  Thanks to Nathan Metz who wrote a great discipleship curriculum, we are going to be able to concentrate heavily on that.  Deo has been welcomed into our Guards Bible Study and will be assigned a Ugandan mentor so that no matter if the missionary is here or not, the discipleship will go on. HOW AWESOME!

Things to be praying for:
School begins in three weeks.  Pray that God will dramatically and irreversibly impact the hearts and minds of our students.  I am preaching on Aug. 7, leading Bible discussions over the next several weeks, teaching and preparing to speak at our High School retreat.  Pray that I am simply God's mouth piece.  Pray that God says what He wants to say and that I am trusting in Him for the message. Pray for us as we have started a new fundraising campaign for our next term here in Uganda.  Pray for the new teachers and staff that are coming to Uganda over the next several weeks that we may be able to help them feel at home.  Praise God for all of you who are partnering with us, who are constantly praying for us and are all the time sending us warm wishes and great encouragement from the states.  God will never forget your kindnesses to our family and as a result, our entire International family.

Blessings to all of you and thank you for walking with us in this amazing ministry.



Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Nobody Ever Visits Me Out Here


Sometimes I struggle with the reality of helping you understand what normal life looks like here in Uganda.  For us it looks different than for the average Ugandan.  Over the past few days, I have taken four separate groups of students/disciples on specific mission trips.  The purpose of these trips was to take the things that we've been teaching all year and allow them (albeit sometimes awkwardly) to integrate into practical application.  In other words, we put into action the very things that we studied. I did this will Middle School and some High School over the past 3 or 4 days.  We did a lot of home visits of HIV infected mothers.  For our young people, it was a priceless lesson in how to overcome awkwardness and engage intentionally in loving and serving others.  It was exhausting, yet the things that I saw were absolutely stunning and so over many blogs I'm going to share those things with you now through pictures.  Today is about Betty.




 The lady here we will call Betty.  Betty has four children and lives in the swamp.  She is HIV positive and (for reasons that you will see in a minute) she never has guests.  When it rains, she is very afraid because the water comes up to half of her door way.  When the swamp surges, it washes the garbage over that small wall you see above onto her property and into her home.  This place is a breeding ground for disease and infection.  There is always standing water in her home.  "I can't believe that you came out here to see me......no one ever comes to see me!", said Betty with a look of shock on her face.  She asked, "why have you come here?"  "Oli Wa Mugaso Ngo.", I replied without hesitation.....translation:  you are very important.  I had 7 students with me and the house wouldn't hold all of us, but she demanded that we come in feel welcomed.  As we did, any awkwardness from our students began to melt away.  Our students went around and introduced themselves and told Betty how welcome they felt in her home.  They then sang songs to her, talked to her about her stories and countless struggles and concluded by praying over her and giving her rice, posho, beans, etc.  6th graders led this and I watched as their passion to love and serve came alive.  It was very hard to get there.  The pictures below show the 100 meters that we crossed on rocks due to the flood waters.  They did it and they did it with smiles on their faces.  To see these young men and women in action, serving God when it wasn't easy, was beautiful.

We carried a heavy tote full of goods to Betty's house through 100 meters of this.  Betty had to put down rocks in her house so that we could step in to her home.  It was humbling to see this woman who is clearly not well, working so hard to get us a place in her very small home.
Betty lives where she lives because she has nothing.  When I say nothing, she literally has the things that we gave her to eat the day we arrived.  She cried as she told us a painful story. When HIV enters the picture often times the women are left to take care of themselves and their children.  Apart from Christ, it is a bleak situation.  Not this day, however.  There was rejoicing in this house over a simple 30 minute visit that Betty declared was a God ordained appointment.  I've never seen anything so difficult and glorious all at one time.  I'm so grateful to have been able to watch these students be intentional and go the distance.  My prayer is that God will allow me to watch them continue to grow in their relationship with Him and watch it impact the globe for His glory.
The following are our 6th graders blessing this home and those that were in it.  One of my favorite parts was that there were younger children outside watching.  When our kids started praying, they covered their faces and prayed along with us out loud. Thank You Jesus for taking hold of all of these hearts and for allowing me to be a part of this.  YOU ARE SO GOOD!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pray for Reign



We are in one of my favorite times of year right now; the rainy season.  Storms here come very fast and are often a welcome relief from the scorching sun.  When it rains here, it can rain very very hard in short bursts, steadily over long periods of time or (my personal favorite) very very hard over long periods of time.  Flooding and mudslides are a frequent occurrence here and they often can do damage.

This week as you can see from these pictures, the rain came fast, hard and for a long period of time. Having nowhere to go the water piled up against a very strong ten foot cement block wall.  All at once, the water (which was five feet high on one side of the wall) pushed a 80 foot section of our wall over like it wasn't even there.  The water poured onto campus nearly killing one of our sweet guards who, by the grace of God, was barely able to escape.
As I surveyed the wall, something surreal swept over me.  Three hundred men couldn't push this wall over, yet nothing could stop the rain from crushing something that seemed immovable.  It didn't start as a 6 foot wall of water, it started with one rain drop.  It was one drop of rain that was of no consequence to an insurmountable wall.  Yet just hours later, that collection of drops uprooted a wall and flooded our campus.
When I first arrived here and stepped on to this campus, I constantly felt like one drop of rain against a rock fortress.  I constantly pondered how I was going to be able to move immovable walls.  How would I be able to bring down walls in the lives of students and staff?  After all, how can one drop of rain move a wall?
Yesterday after I finished teaching Biblical Apologetics, Pastoral Care and Theological Integration (That's just Middle School!) and working in two youth groups, something very surreal came over me. Our days here have been a collection of God's rain.  Debby and I have been brought to tears at times as we have watched walls in the lives of our students, our peer teachers, administrators and support staff snap under the weight of God's great and glorious grace.  Everyday the water has risen as we have lived discipleship, correction, confession, guidance, leadership, forgiveness, repentance and PRAISE GOD RESTORATION!
Don't miss understand me, it is so challenging at times, yet His wave will not be stopped, no matter how solid the wall.  So I'm asking you to help me pray for God to flood this place and bring down every wall.  Beloved, Pray for Reign!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When Are You Flying Out?


Pray for Kampala


I remember about this time two years ago.  I was at work....outside......in the snow and ice.  I had a realization hit me while I was there that far surpassed the reality of that cold snow and ice.  My family and I would be in Uganda during election time.  I remember my mind raced to try to comprehend something for which I had no frame of reference.  What are elections like in Uganda? Look what happened in Kenya.  Could that happen in Uganda?  The what ifs poured into my mind like the non-stop flow of Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon.  What would I be like then, God? Would I be a sufficient and trust worthy leader?  Would I have integrity and character in the face of looming doubt?  God are you going to make me into a man that can handle what this event could turn into?  The real millstone that hung around my neck was my belief that I am not adequate to handle such a situation.  These things plagued me all throughout my time in America.  I thought as I landed in Entebbe on July 31st, that magically, these fears would go away.  

Today, as I write this, I have the benefit of God's rear view mirror.  As I sit here typing this, there is a steady stream of loud campaigning going on, some of peaceful, some of it not so peaceful.  Yet I am completely at peace today.  The thing that I asked God was to make me into what I needed to be for the sake of my family, my WGM family and my Ugandan family.  God has done that very thing.  
This morning, I got up extra early so that I could go out and walk Kabalagala.  This has been somewhat discouraged as there have been many protests and rallies in this area and has been the scene of some fighting.  As I walked along, I noticed the palpable tension that existed.  In front of me, two vans supporting opposing candidates began to scream at each other which drew a crowd. Within moments it erupted into a shoving match.  I didn't stay around to find out what happened. 

Feeling as though this morning (two days before elections) might not have been the best morning to come here, I just happened to run into one of my friends who is a shop keeper there.  I hadn't seen her in a long time and the clinging tension I felt melted into relieved smiling.  We spoke for a while in Luganda and talked about families, work ethic and both our concerns for this election.  As we talked, I confided that I was uncomfortable that I had come there this morning and she laughed and said, "to be honest, I was feeling afraid as well".  As we walked back towards the action (only way I could get home), she asked me this question, "when are you flying out?".  When was I flying out?  "What do you mean" I asked.  She explained that she was used to the Americans and Europeans leaving during election time for the sake of safety.  For the first time ever, my resolve had completely peaked.  "I didn't come here to run away when things get tough, I came for life.....your life......because you matter to God and that means you matter to me."  I came off my tongue with the sweet assuredness of the Holy Spirit.  In that moment, I realized, I had the zeal for the freedom of Christ to be manifested in this place no matter the cost.  As we parted ways, she smiled and said, "thank you for growing here where God has planted you".  Ah, it is easy to be brave when you are growing where God has planted you.  

Sunday, January 31, 2016

When the World Runs Away


After walking through weeks of illness and spiritual fighting, I saw a break in the clouds today.  I think illness for any family is an unwelcome pain that everyone on some level can identify with.  It is no different for missionaries in fact, I sense a deeper level of loneliness when it strikes.  As one after another of our children has fallen to illness over these past two weeks, we've noticed our characters being refined and tested.  The illnesses have not yet ended.  What do we do?  Is this a common virus or is it something more serious? Do we wait or do we take them to the hospital to have it treated?  It can be unnerving to say the least. Without perseverance and prayer, the focus can often be redirected back to our agenda.
Today I saw this and seemingly in an instant I was reminded of the much bigger picture.  I was reminded of Whose show this really is.  This is a map that shows where students have come from to be at our school.  It is a map that demonstrates God's divine appointment with him for students from 30 different countries.  You see, Christianity spreads because Christians run into the line of fire while everyone else is running away.  When sure foundations are crumbling, it is men and women of God who not only take care of their own, but who reach out and lay hold of countless others in their community that are suffering.  If ever there is a billboard for freedom in Christ, it is Christians who openly run into situations that the world is fleeing from.
Have you ever been burned before?  Like, standing next to a campfire and the wind catches it just right and you're like, "ouch, that's hot!".  Or, like me, you've grabbed something off the stove and forgotten to grab a pot holder and you're like....OH MOMMA or insert your adjective here.  IT HURTS!  At those moments, I think about firemen, that run into buildings that people are running away from in hopes of saving even one person from that unbearable heat.  All of that at unfathomable risk to their own lives and it is done with remarkable bravery!  I marvel at their ability to do that, or at soldiers who defend at the cost of their own lives......it's bravery in face of a human will that says "run!" and for the cause of freedom, they say "no way!".  Wow!
During the time period that the plagues were gripping most of Europe, this was said of Christians. While all others are fleeing this desperate situation, they are coming to give aid and relief to people they don't even know.  They live well and they even die well.  There God is foreign to me, but I don't wish Him so.  I wish, I was this brave. (Author unknown).
God has a fire for all of us to run into.  The difference between doing in blindly and going with Him is that He is with you in the midst of that.  Since we've been here, I've sensed His great presence.  He surprises me with at at times and it is often too much for me to ascertain and contain.  I sense it most when I am running toward the fire and it is the delight of my heart.  In and of myself, I am not brave, but because He is with me, I love running towards the fire.  Christians; run toward the place that everyone else is running from.  With your hand in His hand, run toward the fire.

Praises:  God's ministry through our family is clear and evident and we are seeing Him move everyday here.

My shoulder is healing and I should be able to go back to the quarries soon to work with the men.

In addition to teaching Bible, counseling students, walking ministry and everything else I'm doing, I have recently had an opportunity to begin doing some discipleship with some guards from our school.  PRAISE GOD!!!

Prayer Requests:

Pray for our family and our family at Heritage as illness continues to plague us.

Our schedule is very very full with school.  Pray that we do not lose sight of our priorities of our Lord first, then family and then ministry. This is easy to do because we are always on the go.

Our elections are coming up on Feb. 18.  Please pray for God's peace over the place during that time.
Please keep praying for the 400 students at Heritage and that we (as a team) can continue to invest in them to the best of our ability.  This is the greatest thing that God has ever allowed me to do and I love daily giving the Gospel and watching it change lives.  WOOHOO!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Unstoppable Fire......of God



Today our family went with our WGM family to a place called Masese which is village just inside Jinja, Uganda.  This place, which is about 2 hours away from Kampala, is a familiar place that I had been to a couple times before.  I had been there on my trip in 2010 and again in 2012 when we came back and did vacation Bible School.  I love the place, the church and its congregation led by Reverend David have always been a great encouragement to me.  Every time that I get to see him and see them, I come away feeling built up and encouraged by this church poised on the edge of a slum to which it devotes itself in constant service in the name of Jesus.
Today the flavor of our visit was even sweeter than before.  Let me back track for a minute.  Three days ago a fire (which has been a problem before in this area) destroyed 25 homes.  Some of those were members of the church, all were members of the community.  I thought for a moment what it must be like to have no insurance and absolutely no money to buy back even the most basic things to sustain life.  Many of these people had children and in an instant their lives are completely upside down wondering about shelter and would they even be able to eat.  I pondered these things as we drove and I prepared myself for the solemn gathering that would take place once we arrived.
I was wrong, boy was I wrong.  As we entered the church, I heard precious singing that took my breath away.  I heard rejoicing unlike anything I'd ever heard.  How can this be?  It seemed that today their singing was louder and more powerful than I'd ever heard it before.  The solemness that I anticipated was not there.  There was only gratitude to Jesus for saved lives and family members help and neighbors who reached out and even the smallest thing, some WGM missionaries who came to bring hope, encouragement and some resources to ease the suffering.  I was so humbled by them, these Ugandan family members in Christ who understood that their treasure was in Christ.
We heard several stories of families who'd lost everything.  With tears in their eyes they thanked Jesus personally for saving their lives and they were trusting Him for what would come next.
Because of the quick mobilization of God's hand on our team, we were able to rapidly raise a little over $1700 for rebuilding efforts which goes a loooooonnnnnnng way to rebuilding.  Even more precious than this is what I saw in my family.  When we found out what happened, my wife and I brought the kids and told them what had happened.  Our kids got up, went into their rooms and began picking out toys and clothes and pillows, etc.  Remember, we paired down everything to 150 lbs a person to come here.  Yet, it was their joy to give these things to people in need.  Micah struggled some and I asked him about it and he said the following:  Dad, I like these things, but giving them up hurts less because I know that they've lost everything.  It's o.k., I can let go of this stuff, they need it." That line of thought prevailed throughout our whole family and throughout our missionary families. It's easier to give things away when you love the people they are going to.
This job is so great and so tragic.  We listened today as the superintended of the village told us that on the night of the fire, some were considering throwing themselves into the lake to end it all.  They were afraid and full of despair.  Yet, in the midst of tragedy, Jesus did what He does best, He builds beauty from ashes.  Today I saw a peace restored, I saw a hope grasped, I saw the Gospel establish itself and satisfy the needs of 25 families.  I saw smiles and heard laughter and shrieks of praise for the faithfulness of a God who never fails.  I watched Jesus declare victory in place and circumstance that demanded defeat.  Simply put, Jesus reigns.  Thank you to all of you who have prayed and given to God's ministry here in Uganda.  Today, you clothed the naked, fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless.  God will never forget this.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Look What You Did!!!!!



Remember with me, if you can, what it was like to be 27 years old.  I was remembering that today.  I had a beautiful wife, a good job, a home and dreams about the future.  It was a wonderful time and life was full of hope and promise.  Many of you know what I mean.
There is a 27 year old man here that our family does life with day in and day out.  He is a great man of God and we get the privilege of being with him everyday.  He has been suffering with an undiagnosed ailment for the past three years.  He has gone from physician to physician (I use the term loosely) and they all came up with different ailments.  He's been taken different medication for 3 years and not getting any better.  As I have sat and talked with him, I saw so much hopelessness in his demeanor.  He has used phrases like, "I'm getting old" and "I don't dream much anymore".  As his spirit declined, his health has followed.  So today, we took action.
Debby and I are proud to say that we are cheap.  This isn't something that you would normally be proud of, but it has a different meaning in our world.  When I use the phrase "our ministry", the word "our" includes hundreds of people and not just our family.  We are accutely aware that we are in Uganda because God has provided through so many hard working people.  Knowing this, we want to be wise about what we spend and thus we think and pray before we invest.  After several weeks we felt that our partners would be in favor of this investment.  We are so privileged to have partners that trust our judgement when to act and when not to act.  This is very freeing for us in the ministries that we are involved in.
Today, I met this man at The International Hospital of Kampala.  I took him there so that he could get a good diagnosis and a good and feasible treatment plan.  Today we saw the doctor, had X-rays, got blood work done, got a diagnosis and got prescriptions to cure him and not just treat symptoms.  We arrived at 8 AM and we were done by 12 PM.  The young man who walked in "feeling like an old man" (his words not mine) left with a smile and a significant change in his demeanor.  The cost?  I am not exaggerating when I say this.....$44.  From start to finish the total cost for our ministry to restore hope to a young man that had no hope was $44.  WOW!
As the doctor reported to him that he did not have pneumonia as so many had said before, a smile of relief grew on his face.  As the doctor explained to him, his condition was very easily curable and that he would feel better in just a few days; a smile grew on my face.  As you are reading this and you have ever given to "our" ministry here in Uganda, I pray that a smile grows on your face.  When we were all done, this very relieved young man, praised God for His healing and wanted me to personally thank you for your willingness to impact him, a man 8000 miles away that you didn't know, but chose to love.  He asked God to pour out His blessing on you because he realized that without your intervention, he very likely would have died from hopelessness.  It delighted my soul to see him this way and I can't lie, I cried a little as I saw his relief.  It did my soul well to say to him that this was a gift from our ministry partners.
So today, I want you know that God has witnessed what you did today.  Though you specifically didn't go to the hospital, you did put us here and we were able to intervene on behalf of one who couldn't do it himself.  God will not forget what you have done here.