Friday, October 12, 2018

Kubanga, Oli Wa Mugaso Nyo--Because, You Are Very Important

As most of you know, I have been a big believer in putting what I learn into action.  I think that I am like most people in that the fear of failure is actually worse than the failure itself.  Over the course of time, I've grown increasingly comfortable with the try hard and fail model over the do nothing and wonder model.  The latter is maddening and I've come to hate it.
Fast forward to today.  About 3 years ago, we were introduced to a wonderful woman named Norah Kagoya and the TAPP program.  TAPP stands for Tumaini Aids Prevention Program and we have partnered with Norah because we have seen the tremendous effects that she and this program have had in the community in and around Kampala.  Tumaini means hope and it is exactly what is brought through this program.  The ladies that we go and spend time with each month all have one thing in common; at one time, they were all very scared.  Imagine for a moment that you are at the doctor's office and you are suddenly informed that you are HIV positive.  What are the raw emotions that would pour out, the dreams that would be instantly crushed and the cultural reaction that would come as a result of that?  How did this happen?  Who can help me?  What now?  TAPP reaches in and helps these women and their families in such an incredible way.  They help them to realize that they are not HIV people, rather, they are beautiful people who happen to have HIV.  They help to restore the God ordained value of the lives that are rocked by this chaos.  Though these families face all kinds of difficulties, many are very happy to be alive, relatively healthy and many are working.
I love being apart of the Gospel in action.  Simply put, Love hears, sees and responds with action.  I've often wondered what kind of people my kids will be.  Far beyond passing on any wealth (haha), or property, I so desperately want to pass on the priceless gift of compassionate service to a broken world.  Whether it is with refugees, students, people with HIV/AIDS or simply neighbors, my prayer is that they will learn to sit with the broken and count it all joy as I do.
Please see pictures and descriptions, hear the stories and keep them ever in prayers.  There is great value in these families.

This is Betty.  You may have seen her before.  We met Betty back several years ago.  She lives on the edge of the swamp and is an incredible lady.  The last time we met, the rain was heavier so it was difficult for us to get back to where she lives.  Fortunately, today was a drier day and we were able to see her again.  Betty and her family live on the edge of the swamp and when it rains the water comes on into her house, sometimes big time.  Betty's HIV is well controlled now with medication.  What seemed hopeless so many years ago, now seems very hopeful to us.  The school that TAPP is partnered with, brought some money to help her construct a chicken coop and get chickens.  Though she still has many hurdles to overcome, Betty is moving ever so slowly towards gaining a source of sustainable income.  We (and many of you) have been praying for Betty for years.  God has heard those prayers and continues to bless her despite some very tough obstacles.  Please keep praying that we can keep returning for visits as well as walk with Betty through some still tough situations. 
This is Rose.  As you can see, Rose is a mother and she is highly dedicated to that role.  Her husband died of HIV some years ago and Rose is now caring for her children on her own.  TAPP has intervened and walks with Rose through the difficulties of life.  Rose is struggling to find work and by the grace of God, has neighbors who help her when they can.  Please pray for Rose as often as you think of her. 

This is Prossy.  Prossy lives in her home with 7 others.  She is also HIV positive and works at the nearby quarries breaking stones.  She works from sun up to sun down in order to provide for her family.  When her children are done with school, they come straight to the quarries where Prossy makes them all dinner.  She is strong and very determined for her kids to do well.  I am overwhelmed by this courageous mother who has overcome so many things.  Please pray for Prossy, that God would continue to meet her needs and that His great grace would be ever upon her.  She is am amazing woman.  What an honor it was to be in her home.

This is Sara.  When we walked in, Sara had her Bible open on her night stand with things underlined and a pen sitting in the middle.  The Bible was worn which is a good sign.  Sara is very sick.  She needs a lot of prayer.  She is seated here with her son Gideon who is awesome.  In this small room, 5 people live and sleep on the same bed.  Please pray for God's intervention in Sara's life.  Today she was struggling to communicate with us.  Please pray that she gets better.  She is weak enough not to be able to cook for herself right now and is relying on neighbors to cook for her.  The ramifications of an illness impact so many people.  The problems are big, but God is bigger.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Sabbath, The Need And The Tension In Between

Ever since I landed here in Uganda, I've had a ruthless struggle that exists within my soul.  The reality of living in a third world country is quite different than living in America.  As we have adjusted to so many things, the pace of adjustment keeps a steady level of stress and tension on our lives.  We didn't know how strong that was last time, but we can see it in all aspects of our lives this time.  Couple that with what we see and experience on a daily basis and it doesn't take long to realize why the burnout rate is so high in the mission field.  Well meaning believers who have been given a God ordained vision for mission, land in the field and want to accomplish everything overnight.  Yet forgetting the Sabbath can and often is our undoing.
The number one question that I get from teammates, friends and family abroad and concerned believers is this:  Are you going to be able to keep that pace?  This is a Sabbath question and it is the most valid question that people who love you can ask.  Do we do a lot?  You better believe we do.  I recoil at the thought of coming into the mission field and leaving anything on the table undone.  I want people to know Jesus Christ and the freedom that he brings.  I want people to experience what it means to be unfettered and to have unchangeable sin patterns in their lives, crushed and done away with.  I want people to know that God brings hope where there is only hopelessness and that oppression flees from His presence.  I want them to know Jesus in an intimate way.  I want an eternal future for those to whom I am called to minister, I want it more than anything.  I want them to know that in their lowest lows and highest highs, that He holds them and loves them.  I want to see men and women from rejoicing, and every fiber of their being shouting out joyous thanks to Him.  I want the lost to found, the broken be healed, the spiritual lepers healed and the Lord glorified above all.  You see, I've been all of these things and yet He rejoices over me and holds me close.
So here you see the dilemma.  I know that I need to rest and recover way more often than I do.  Yet I have the above in my gas tank and I never hit empty.  So what is the answer?  Maybe you can tell me what has worked for you.  Yes, honor the Sabbath, but once it's over, make sure that His agenda is in drive. 
I love the way He's made me and I love that I am in His hands.  I don't work for my salvation, but for the joy that is set before me.  I work for those who need to know Him so that on that Day of Days we will rejoice together in His presence.  I want that place to be so full and that is why I push so hard.  Would love to hear from you on this.  It's no secret that I certainly over do it at times.  Pray for us that we would honor the Sabbath and work very hard the rest of the time.  That's what we believe we've been called to do.

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?!?!?!?!?
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

  • 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!