Sunday, November 20, 2016

Last Turn

I remember (WAY BACK IN THE DAY) when I was in high school and I used to run a lot.  I actually ran the 800 meter race.  It was perhaps the most grueling race that I can remember because you couldn't exactly jog and you certainly couldn't sprint full out for half a mile.  Lately I have been reminded of the feeling that encompassed me as I came around that last turn or also affectionately known as dead man's turn because that is how you felt when you got there.  At that turn I remember feeling the full body drain both physically and mentally.  It was absolute exhaustion......and yet my legs continued to carry me.  I still saw forward progress even though that last 100 meters seemed like a mile.  Against every fiber of my being, I would sprint the last 100 meters and finish strong.  For me it came down to excellent resistance training, perseverance through pain and an eye fixed on finishing well.
In the past few months, we have been rounding the final corner and we are just beginning to see the end of our first term.  Right now, the wind is blowing hard into our faces and the track seems longer and longer.  We are certain of this; the enemy hates us and what God has, is and will continue to accomplish through us here.  We have been through things over the past few months that have stretched our faith and caused both great joy and great pain.  There are days when we laugh together out of sheer excitement and elation at what God is doing.  There are days that we sit, shell shocked wondering where the next flaming arrow will come from.  Yet in all of this, we see God's hand around us and we watch His victories continue to mount even in areas where that would seem to be almost completely defeated.  On days where we are predicting an outcome, He chuckle to Himself and think, "you dream to small".
As we begin to round this last corner, it is gratitude towards Him that allows my lungs to fill and my body to press forward.  Below is just a sampling of how God is moving in such an amazing way.

 Our Act Like Men and Act Like Women Bible Studies started off with 4 students each.  Last week the young men were 38 strong and our young women are 25-30 strong. These students voluntarily come on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to work through what it looks like to be men and women of God.  Soon we will promote 15 of them to leadership status and have them begin leading.  This ministry has exploded and we praise God for that.

 Out of seats on this particular day which is a great problem to have.  Looking forward to transitioning the leadership of this to young men and young women who have determined to be God glorifying leaders.  God is moving mightily in this place.
 Act Like Women Thursday mornings, 7:30.  God is moving powerfully in this place.

 God's spirit has been working powerfully during our worship times.  To watch His hand move across the hearts of hundreds of students leaves us speechless. This is what it's about here, bringing glory to God and connecting youth with Jesus.
 This is one of our student youth leaders who has had such an amazing heart transformation over the past year.  It brings me sheer joy to watch as he and the rest of our youth leaders start their day like this. I'm so proud of what God is doing in all of our young people.
What do you do when you have a class that struggles to get along?  You eat lunch together as a family.  Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, all of our grade 7s eat lunch together as a family. During this time, we dialogue, we love and serve each other and gasp.....we learn how to do conflict correctly.  In just 4 weeks, I've already seen a difference in the way that they treat each other.  God is moving in this place.
Here are some ways that you can be praying:


  • We are pretty exhausted as we are doing A LOT right now.  Please pray that we'd finish this semester and next semester strong.
  • We are looking at returning to the States in June for a year to support raise for our second term. Pray that we can find a place to live preferably in Greenwood, IN and all the logistics that come with that.
  • Pray that God would continue to work powerfully in and through us at the school, in the community and within our organization.
  • Pray that we would continue to make time to communicate with you, our partners back home. We have worked hard on this because you are important to us.  Without you, none of the above would be happening.
Thanks again for loving us so well.  God is on the move!

brother Justin (Ssemakula) Williams


Friday, October 7, 2016

I Couldn't Thank God Enough For This Gift


This is my friend Mohammad.  You might remember him from a blog post that I did several months ago.  I haven't seen Mohammad since last December.  I was unexpectedly reunited with him this evening.  I met Mohammad during a time when I was going through a lot of transition and learning to work within a new culture.  He has a relaxed and pleasant demeanor that enables you to feel very welcome in his presence.  I think at the very core of who Mohammad is, Jesus resides in that most secret of places.  In a quiet way and loving way, Mohammad's life emanates Jesus in every possible way.  Even if he says nothing at all, he makes me want to have a closer walk with Christ.  I wish more than anything, that you could meet him because you'd simply praise God that this brother is in the family of God.
Tonight Mohammad told me a story that really gripped me.  The information of the story was gripping, but also the emotion that came from my friend was intense.  I wasn't used to seeing him getting emotional and at first he was embarrassed.  I reassured him that I was happy to walk with him through what he was describing. This quickly put him at ease and he told me the following story.

When I was little boy in 1994 at the end of the Rwandan Genocide, I fled the country to Uganda.  My sister and I were split up and I missed her very much.  I didn't know if she was alive or if she had made it, we had no way of communicating with one another.  It was a terrible time because so may had been killed and I couldn't bear the thought of her dying also.  After several years and no communication, I had just resigned myself to the fact that she had died along with my parents.  About a year ago, I made contact with my aunt in Rwanda who I agreed to come and visit.  When I asked about my sister, she confirmed to me that she was alive and living in Rwanda also.  I saved my money and begged to be let off of work to go and see her.  I prayed so hard that God would allow me to go and see her again..  My bosses reluctantly let me off.  I boarded a bus at 3 AM and rode until 12 PM that day. When I arrived, my aunt greeted me and immediately called my sister.  I couldn't believe that just in a few moments I would see her again after 22 years.  After what seemed like an eternity, there as a knock on the door.  I stood up, still not believing that it could her.  When the door opened, I lost it.  It was her and she came in and hugged me.  We were a mess, crying and not even able to speak for so long.  I spent the next week with her by my side.  We traveled to places together.  It was so wonderful to be with her.  With all the tears and words, I couldn't thank God enough for this lavish gift of seeing my sister again.
Wow, just wow!  And I got to hear that and celebrate with this brother.  It was perhaps the sweetest gift that I've been given this week.  As I left, Mohammad thanked me for the encouragement.  In reality, I was the one greatly encouraged.  Pray for Mohammad that he would continue to be salt and light to his community.  Celebrate Jesus with Mohammad that he found his sister and that she is alive and well.

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!!!