Friday, December 5, 2014

Today they graduated!

Kindergarten graduation always has seemed like a cute little ceremony with little significance.  But today I experienced one that reminded me of God's redemption; His ability to use all things for His glory; and His amazing love for children.  Here are 8 little, yet incredible stories of God's redemption that He has allowed our family to watch and experience...

One year ago, as a seven year old little girl, she was the primary caregiver for her dying mother. Seven months ago, she attended school for the first time in her life.  Today she graduated from kindergarten and although she began 1/3 of the way into the school year, she finished in the top 3 of her class.

Three years ago she came to GSF with her older sister and younger brother because her mother has severe and uncontrollable seizures.  Today she graduated from kindergarten also in the top 3 of her class.

A year and a half ago, we were told about a 10-year-old girl in a hospital with severe wounds on her feet that prevented her from walking.  After investigations, she was brought to GSF as a step down from hospital care because we have nurses on site and medical expertise accessible.  However, as time went on, it has been discovered that she has a rare genetic disorder that we are still trying manage.  But today, she graduated from kindergarten and gained respect and admiration from many in a place where a disability of any kind is seen as a curse and disadvantage.


When Mark and I came to visit GSF 7 years ago, a little guy arrived very malnourished and from a dysfunctional family.  Yesterday after years of investing in the family and sending him for visits, our social worker resettled him with his family.  Today, he walked to GSF with his family and he graduated from kindergarten!

Five years ago, a little boy was abandoned in a big town close by.  As time went on, it was realized that this little boy was high on the spectrum of autism.  Several angels - short-termers, visitors and teachers -  worked to find techniques to help him learn.  And today, he graduated from Kindergarten.

Three years ago, his father died and his little brother was in the hospital due to malnutrition.  Last week, his mother showed up again and is ready to have the boys for the holiday and begin rebuilding her life.  Today, he graduated from kindergarten.

Five years ago, a very malnourished little boy arrived at GSF.  Throughout the years, his family has neglected their responsibilities and he has struggled with learning disabilities but today he graduated from Kindergarten.

Three years ago, her father died in a motorcycle accident.  This little girl lives at GSF, because her mother has had difficulty providing a stable home life.  Today, her mom came to GSF and even brought a gift for her daughter who was graduating from kindergarten.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Island Ministry

I had the opportunity to minister with a group of pastors and church leaders on Namitale Island on Thursday.  It was a cool experience.  There is no electricity or running water on this small island of maybe 3,000 people.  The only vehicles I saw were a boda (Motorbike) and massive new earth mover.  They told me that the bulldozer was brought over on a ferry in order to make roads on the island.  There was indeed a good dirt road, but no evidence of vehicles to travel on it.  I guess they are preparing for the future!
Mukene laid out to dry by the lakeshore.
The day started by picking up a few men near GSF.  These had been trained in Bible overview and inductive Bible study for several months at GSF in 2013.  Upon completing that study, God opened a door for us to "go and make disciples" (our study theme) in Kiyindi, a fishing village an hour's drive from GSF.  We just finished up our 6-month study with a group from several churches in this village.  Along the way, I've learned that Kiyindi is the gateway to the islands (there are 52 islands in the chain nearest to this area).  It is also the harvest point for mukene (silverfish), which is a favorite food of many Ugandans.  The road to Kiyindi is rough and the atmosphere of this thriving fishing town is dark, but there is Light shining in the darkness.

We launched out to Namitale from Kiyindi at about 10:30 AM, singing as we went.  Several men and women from the Kiyindi discipleship group joined us as our hosts for the day.  We were 15 people in all.
Pastor Stephen Tenywa has been reaching these islands for several years, but he has come alive with passion as he began to learn how to accurately handle the Word of Truth through our studies.  He started another discipleship group at a church on Namitale 5 weeks ago.  This is the dynamic of making disciples!

About 30 people gathered for training on the island.

I was taught 12 years ago by my friend, Tim Miller (Disciple The Nations).  Tim has since written a book (30x60x100) which is the guide for our study groups here.  I've trained two groups of church leaders so far.  Now one of them has started another group elsewhere.  Other men are also planning to go and share the gospel in this way.  This is the instruction of 2 Timothy 2:2, "The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

Our training for the day was held in a small, mud structure (pictured left).  We were joined by about 15-20 people from Namitale and neighboring islands.  Some of the other pastors taught brief sessions from our studies and gave testimonies of how it was transforming their ability to teach the Word of God.  I shared a message about making disciples.  Then we had a short break before I led the next session, an overview of Old Testament history from Ruth through the kings and up to Ezra/Nehemiah.

Moses (left) grew up at GSF and translated for me.

I finished with a favorite teaching from Malachi 4:6 (the last words of the OT), connecting to Luke 1:17 (purpose of John, opening the NT).  These passages both talk about God's desire to "turn the hearts of father's to their children."  This is a much needed message here in Uganda!  It also helps to demonstrate the connections within the entire Bible, which is one of the main points of our study.  The Bible is intricately interwoven, not a mere compilation of nice stories.

Launching the boat back into the water for the return journey.
Pastor Stephen and his wife (left) are our hosts in Kiyindi.  Pastor Moses (next to me) has a church near GSF.
The people graciously served us a lunch of fish, rice and posho when we concluded at 4:00 p.m.  Of course we had fish – we're on an island!  They asked me whether I preferred the head or the tail.  Not enjoying it when my food is looking at me, I chose the tail.

A rain storm blew in during lunch and we could see white caps all over the lake, so our return journey was delayed a bit.  Once the storm passed, we launched out again.  The praise and worship singing carried us the entire journey back to Kiyindi.  We said farewell to our brothers there and returned home.  What an amazing day!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Praise to our God of transformation

I've always loved stories!  I especially love true stories, because I know the author of those stories and he is the greatest.  He is incredible at weaving redemption into every story.  One of the best things about living and working where we do, I see, hear and/or experience some incredible stories.  Here is one of those stories:

In August of last year, I got a phone call from a friend who runs another special needs home in the area.  She told me about a little girl who was abandoned outside of the large mental hospital in Kampala.  The hospital was looking for a home to take her in.  We agreed to take her in and quickly realized we had a very sullen, withdrawn, autistic little girl whose few words made us cringe as they seemed to indicate the story of her young life.  It was obvious that this little girl was in need of some tender loving care. 

The mothers in the toddler house took on the challenge in a beautiful way and allowed God to use them to be His hands and feet in her life.  They picked up on her ways quickly and learned what helped her and what gave her joy.  As she began to feel secure in her environment and loved by the ones around her, her vocabulary began to change and this little withdrawn girl began to accept and even desire being held and loved.  

A few days ago, I sat amazed at this transformation, as she crawled on my lap and leaned in for a kiss from me.  She began to laugh and lean in over and over again for hugs and kisses.  It was amazing and that can only come from the Author of Life and the Craftsman of Redemption.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Always A Family

About a year ago, Mark got a phone call early one morning.  A mom had died in the village and had left 4 children; one was a six month old baby.  They wanted to know if we could take the baby.  Over the next few days, along with the burial for the mother, investigations took place and the two youngest children came to live at GSF.  The baby, Maria was sickly and needed much care.  We eventually realized she had TB and then she got malaria and eventually she died.  The second child - a quiet 4 year old boy named Dennis - found his home in the GSF toddler house.  He was very introspective with a hint of mature sadness when he was taken to the burial of his baby sister at the house where his mother died.  

After  a couple of months, it was discovered that his persistent cough was probably tuberculous. We wrestled with what to do for this sweet one.  We prayed and consulted many. He couldn't stay in a house full of toddlers who were susceptible to getting the disease. We eventually realized that God had opened a place for him in our home.  So he moved in to our house and learned to like spaghetti sauce over rice and to quote "I do not like them Sam-I-am!"   When the alarm on my phone would go off every day at noon to remind me of his medicine and lunch, he would say, "time for eats!"  We all got used to his little routines, and our house seemed empty without those routines when he moved back with the toddlers.  

When this little guy had moved into GSF, the father promised that by December he would take all the children up north to family, land and home.  But by the end of the year, he still did not have the money so a plan was put in place to help him save.   The father and the other two children came regularly to see Dennis, to sit quietly together, to laugh and smile.  Then one day a couple of weeks ago, another man came with them.  He introduced himself as the brother to Dennis' dad.  This uncle had not heard from this little family in the sugar cane field for a long time and was concerned.  He finally found a phone number of someone who lived close to the family.  He called and found out the story that none of the family up north knew about--about Maria and her mamma dying.  Heartbroken, he told the family and then came with the purpose of bringing the family back together.  

So this weekend, our social worker and Dennis made the long journey to see his family, as his dad and older siblings had done a couple of weeks before.  They found a moderate home with a loving family who had already enrolled the other two in school.  So Dennis was resettled with his family.  He is now at his family land and home many kilometers away, but to tell you the truth, he still has family here.  He has lots of brothers and sisters who were asking me questions yesterday about his leaving!  There were mammas, teachers, and aunties asking about his welfare and sad to see him leave.  My kids made sure they went to say good-bye.  We all will miss him and will be eager to hear how he is doing.  That is the beauty of GSF and of God's family.  . . no matter where you go, you are still a part of the family!

Monday, January 13, 2014

70 Kilos of meat - power = eternal life

For Christmas every year the men on the farm slaughter a cow.  They usually do it early so all 92 staff members can take some home.  The rest is left in a freezer for Christmas eve and Christmas day dinners.  Our staff party was on the 20th so the cow was slaughtered that day.  The remaining 70 Kg (150lbs) was put in the freezer at the central kitchen. This would all be fine but our power had been out for most of December.  Check out this blog post to see the details.   As our power, thus the freezer, is only on 8 hours in a 24 hour period, the meat never completely froze.

So, on Sunday morning (a couple of days after the staff party), one of the house moms came to me in a frenzy to tell me that the meat was going bad.  It wasn't bad yet but it was on its way.  Which meant we had to go to village life mode or what we would call colonial life mode.  Roasting and salting the meat every day until Christmas.  The moms all had to go down to the kitchen and work together to save 150 lbs of beef!  This meant none of the moms would be able to help with junior church.  So  I grabbed "What God wants for Christmas" box and walked up to the house where all the kids were gathering.  One of the older girls was there to help with crowd control.  I began the story but before I got to box #1, all the boxes had been opened and overturned by one of the boys.  I had to pray, clean up and begin again.
So we went through the Christmas story and God's plan and desire for us to give our life to Him.  We discussed and I invited any and all to pray if they wanted to give their lives to Him.  Many acted willing and excited to do so until I told them the alternative was to go to the playground.  All choose the alternative and ran down to the playground except these two little guys:

Festo, age 7 and Matthew age 8 live in the same house and were both obviously ready to ask forgiveness of sin.  They both readily told me that they had sinned and gave an example.  Now, Matthew has cerebral palsy and has a difficult time communicating but it was obvious he was confessing and wanting to repent of his sin.

Praise God with us for these two guys! Pray that we would disciple them well.  Pray that they will be young men who will change their world for Christ.  We are grateful that because of a bunch of rotting meat, God brought about a life changing day for these guys!

Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. John 6:27

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Finding my way in the dark

We live in a dark place and as of recent it has gotten darker.  It is a dark place both literally and figuratively.
In the last 4 or 5 months, the power lines in our area have been cut 4 times.  And when the power lines are cut, we are without electricity until the company can come out and repair the lines.  The first two times weren't a huge deal, the company came out within the first few days put up new poles and cable and our power was restored.  In fact the 2nd time, the poles were on our property so Mark and 20 other men helped put them back up.  The 3rd time was 3 weeks ago.  About a week ago, after the power had still not been restored, they informed us that they didn't have enough cable and didn't know when they would.  A couple of days ago, we got word that MORE poles were cut and cables stolen.  We have been told that our district has a real problem with power pole vandalism.  So literally, we live in a dark place.

As it has been 3 weeks since we had no power, we have learned some coping skills.  We do have a generator so it is turned on at 2-3 hour intervals during the day; so we have electricity for 8 hours in a 24 hour period.  The power goes off at 10 pm for the night, so we have learned to get everything done by then.  We have flashlights by our beds and candles posted all around the house.  The refrigerator doesn't stay cold enough but the freezer is still staying strong, so I put a bottle of water in the freezer during the day and put in the refrigerator to help keep things cool during the long night of no power.  We are learning to cope but we also hope and pray for power and light soon!  

It is also a very dark place figuratively,   We get word often of  curses, witchcraft and demons.  We deal on a regular basis with cases of child abuse, neglect, abandonment and incest.  We get overwhelmed at times by the news that comes in from the villages surrounding us.  Overwhelmed with a desire to make things right, overwhelmed with "I wish it wasn't this way", overwhelmed with hopelessness.  We figuratively live in a very dark place.  

So do we learn to just cope in this dark place?  Learn to become apathetic to the tragedy all around us and do nothing?  Oh it is so tempting!  But just like having flashlights and candles around, we need to have the Word of God--the truth planted firmly in our hearts.  I am grateful I have the Word of God and His Spirit to guide and comfort me in the darkness.  However, I must also share that light with others.  

We ask you to pray for us in this dark place.  Pray for wisdom in loving those in darkness and sharing His light to them.   Pray as we teach others to share their light as well.  We ask specific prayer for the local pastors and church leaders that they will know the truth and share it with others.  Mark has the opportunity to train local pastors how to truly study their Bible and to disciple others in the Word of God.  We ask that you pray for that training.  

Overall, we ask for prayer for the light to shine brightly here in our district both literally and figuratively.