Saturday, December 27, 2014

Family celebrations

Most of us Americans associate holidays with a break from work and spending time with family. We are so glad that David's parents were here to celebrate Christmas with us this year! We still miss other family from the US as we celebrate, but our definition of "family" has grown a bit over the past year and a half. Living on campus at an orphanage along with our missionary team changes things. 

Today I recieved an email about upcoming New Years celebrations. It included our "missionary family" gatherings and our "GSF family" meals and celebrations. I am thankful that these groups of people have grown to feel like family over the past year and a half. This past week we had many family gatherings. I thought you might enjoy hearing a little about our times with our Ugandan family. 

Zeke began the day of Christmas Eve by dressing up as Santa. Esther and Ezra carried him around in a big box (his sleigh) and he gave out various things he could find around the house to the missionaries who were next door.
Oh, did I mention that Ezra was a apparently a reindeer?

As I looked at the schedule of events for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I was looking for a time to have a special meal with our immediate family and David's parents. Mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve seemed to be the best opportunity. Mom, Esther and I worked much of the morning to prepare a special meal. I even made my first pecan pie from scratch with the pecans sent from our church family in Georgia. It was a tasty meal, but we didn't have quiet enough time to sit and enjoy it before needing to move on to the next thing. 

The next family activity was Christmas caroling with the missionaries to all the children's houses. As we arrived, the children and house moms joined us. Once we had all the children together, we gathered at the pavilion for Claudia to read the story of Jesus' birth to the kids along with her puppet, Pedro. Claudia keeps us all entertained! 

After the story the children all received stockings and ice cream. It was an exciting time! I love watching all of our GSF kids open their stockings. Pinto, one of our precious toddlers, wasn't going to let go of her stocking!

Back at our house, our four children watched Charlie Brown Christmas, ate some popcorn and went to bed. On Christmas morning we were overwhelmed with the many gifts from our family in the US and our church family there. I can't tell you how happy we were to receive letters, cards, pictures and gifts from so many of you. It was a very special time! 

I originally had hoped to go to a worship service with our church family in Buundo village at 9:30, but serveral things changed that. First, I still needed to cook the food I was taking to our missionary family brunch at 11. Additionally, the service did not even begin until after I would have had to leave. 

At 11am, we all gathered at the Gwartneys for our missionary family brunch. We had some delicious food and then exchanged gifts. Each family drew the name of another family to give a gift. It was a fun way to still give gifts without having to buy so many things. After our missionary family brunch, we had some time to go back to our house before our GSF family celebration. 

A thunderstorm delayed our afternoon meal, so we had an hour or so at home to rest before heading over to the pavilion with all of our GSF family, kids, house moms, and missionary families. We served a traditional Ugandan meal of matoke (a cooked mashed banana), rice, potatoes, chapati (a flat bread), beef, pineapple, watermelon and a soda. You would be amazed at the amount of food these kids can eat! 
After the meal we had the joy of giving each child a Christmas gift. It is such a joy to be a part of this celebration and see all of their excited smiles! Soon after the gifts, we all went back to our houses. 

We had considered going to join our church family in Buundo that night to help with an outreach event. They were showing a movie about the Nativity. But after the many commitments of these two days, we decided to just have the evening at home. Apparently the event did not end until after 10pm or so, at which time I was already sound asleep! 

Although Christmas Day was over, that was not the end of our expanded family times. Many of the children who live at the orphanage here have extended family somewhere who they can go visit. Holidays are an ideal time for these visits as aunts and uncles may be home from work. But there are some children who live here who do not have any extended family to visit. So that these children would have some special time with a family during the holidays, we invited these children to stay in our homes for a night. Our family invited two of the toddlers to come over, but one of these boys needs his routine so he stayed at the toddler house. Moses, a super sweet little boy, still wanted to come and joined our family for the night. 

He slept well and had a good time playing cars, listening to stories, playing soccer and watching a video. It was fun for each of the children to have a little more time with a family. Moses kept saying, "Happy Birthday" as if this was one big party for him. Here he is eating breakfast with Zeke. 

As you can see, we had many family celebrations this Christmas. We still miss our family and friends in the US, and I have struggled with sadness over that this holiday season. But I am also thankful that God has given us the privilege of being family to many others here in Uganda. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas celebrations!

As many of you attend Christmas parties in America, I thought I would tell you a little bit about some of our parties here. Last year we took our kids on our first safari for their Christmas present, so we missed the GSF staff Christmas party. We did not realize what an event we missed! This year, the staff Christmas party was on Friday. It was full of singing, dancing, skits, fancy clothes, a large meal, and gifts. That may sound like some of your parties in America, but this was definitely a Ugandan celebration. 

Amy Gwartney generously offered to lend me a gomez to wear. That is the traditional dress of this central region of Uganda. It took two Ugandan women to help me get the gomez on properly. I wore it over other clothes that I was going to be wearing during a later presentation, so it got pretty warm. I didn't think to take a photo, and it would be too much of an ordeal to put it back on. But here is a photo of several of us on stage in our gomezi. 

The next clue that this was definitely a Ugandan celebration is that there was an interpreter for everything. I was asked to offer the opening prayer, which I prayed in Luganda, as best as I could. Then we had a time of praise and worship singing songs in Luganda and English. Our family is beginning to learn many of the Luganda songs, but we still don't always know what the words mean. 

After the time of worship and a few words from people in leadership, the presentations from the different departments began. Most of my family thought the security guards dancing was the highlight of the day, but my photo is just of them standing and singing. 
I was invited to sing and dance with the house moms and the childcare department. It was so much fun! All the missionaries also sang a song that Sheila Warfield creatively adapted to fit our situation. 

After several fun presentations, lunch was served. There was rice, matoke, potatoes, beef, pork, chicken, cabbage, cookies and a soda for everyone. Well, some things were gone when it was time for the missionaries to eat, but we were able to serve all of the staff. Eating meat is a special occasion here. 

After lunch, cake and a few more presentations, Claudia concluded the program by calling just about everyone up onto the stage to help her sing "Feliz Navidad."

Then all of the staff were given their Christmas gifts. The gift was a basin with some sugar, rice, soap, a towel, and some other small things. The basins are used for bathing, washing clothes, washing dishes, washing food before cooking and many other things.

After the staff received their basins, they were then sent outside to collect their meat. GSF slaughters a cow or bull every year and divides the meat among the employees. You should have seen the excitement as everyone went outside to the truck to get their meat!
The next day Daniel Iya had planned a small Christmas celebration for the men who are working on our house. I baked two cakes for them and Daniel gave out similar gift basins. He also bought English and Luganda Bibles to give to the men as a gift. As with most celebrations here, there were additional guests. One of those men asked if he could also get a Bible. He borrowed one from another man and and began looking through it and reading. I was so encouraged to see his enthusiasm, and Daniel said that he would get another Bible for this man. Daniel spoke again to the workers about Jesus and his goal that they would all know Jesus and grow in him throughout this project. David also offered some suggestions to anyone who had not read the Bible before about how to begin. Please pray for these men who now have their own copy of God's Word. 

Friday and Saturday were fun opportunities to celebrate the birth of Jesus with many Ugandans. We are also looking forward to celebrating Christmas on Wednesday and Thursday with our family, our missionary team, our neighbors in the village and our GSF kids. I am thankful that even though culture varies, we can still celebrate Jesus, who came from heaven to earth, who lived a perfect life, who died for our sins and who rose again to give us new life! In the midst of parties and presents, I don't want to forget that Jesus is why we celebrate! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our neighbors

Please pray for this precious boy, Salifu. He lives with his grandmother, sister and cousin. When I first met him he was running. He is no longer able to walk and is having trouble eating. The grandmother, Mariam, doesn't know why. Please pray with us for this family for healing physically and spiritually. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Our 100th Day of School!

For most schools operating on the American school schedule, the 100th day falls sometime in January. Our school is a bit unique in that we schedule our school year primarily around the furlough schedules of the missionary families. This year we began early since our family needs to go to a meeting in America in late April. It is hard to believe that we have already completed over half of our school days in our second year of teaching in Uganda! 

Today we celebrated our 100th day of school with many different activities. We all did 100 jumping jacks, took 100 steps, did a total of 100 push-ups together, and then divided up 100 sweeties (candies) among the students. 

We also had fun counting up to 100 cents with American coins and counting by 100s with Ugandan shillings. The 100 shilling coin is the lowest coin that is commonly used in circulation. You can see the current exchange rate written on the blackboard in the first photo. Here is Ezra with a 100 shilling coin. 

We also did some creative activities like building towers with 100 toothpicks and glue. 

And trying to string 100 beads...

It was a fun day of school! I am so thankful to be able to teach this awesome group of kids and thankful that God has given us 100 days of learning about His world. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

An eventful weekend!

Last weekend we needed to go to Kampala to buy some things for our house. Things like sinks and toilets and electrical switches and light sockets are not easy to find nearby since most houses in our area do not have indoor plumbing or electricity. Since we knew it would take quite a while to find, agree on and buy everything on our list, we asked the Foxes to spend Friday night with our kids, and we left after our morning classes. 

We drove to Kampala and after a quick lunch, went to a store with a big showroom full of plumbing fixtures, tiles, cabinets, etc. I was impressed to find this type of store in Uganda, but as we began walking around, we found that the prices were double or triple what we had budgeted for these items. Apparently if you want to buy something at a nice store, you pay a significant mark-up. We traveled around looking for several other shops, some that we were able to find, some that had apparently relocated. Traveling around Kampala in Friday afternoon traffic can be a bit tricky, particularly when you are not sure where you are going. 

After some time, we found several smaller stores in one area and were able to find some plumbing and electrical fixtures that were within our price range. Since we were spending the night in Kampala, we decided we would shop around a bit more in the morning and come back if we were going to buy those items. After navigating the Friday night Kampala traffic to get to the place where we were staying, we found that they did not have any rooms with bathrooms available. Then we found that the shower room near the room we were staying in was being renovated, and we would need to walk to another shower room if we wanted to bathe. Instead we just crashed knowing that we needed to get going early the next morning. 

The next morning we were meeting the "tile guy" who was going to advise us about getting good quality tile for the bathroom. He gave David directions for us to meet him. After finding him, he directed us up an alley to an area with several tile shops. We never would have found this place without him. After selecting some tile, we talked with him about other items that we were looking for. He directed us to a place further up the alley where a friend of his was working. This man was very helpful and brought us all kinds of things to consider. He brought a plastic chair for me and sent his guys to go get various things. They carried various sinks, faucets, toilets and even a bathtub to us in order for us to consider buying them. As he brought the items, if I was interested I bargained with him about the price until it was within our budget. After going back and forth several times while considering a specific item, he said something that I took as a complement. He said, "You really are Ugandan." I was pleased knowing that I wasn't just paying the "mzungu price" for these items. Above is the photo of our friendly negotiations. (Cultural side note: Since Kampala is a big city, it is more common and socially acceptable for women to wear pants, so I wore my jeans for the first time in months.) 

We left this alley area having purchased several items from the list, but still lacking  many others. At 2pm, after going to several other locations, walking around in the heat and bargaining, I was so exhausted and hungry that I knew it would be a bad idea to make any more decisions until I had eaten something. David drove us to a mall where we could get something to eat and also look at some other options for lighting. It was so good to sit and eat, and although we did not find anything to buy for our lighting needs, we did get some ideas about things we could make to save money on light fixtures. If you know me, you know I am always happy to find a way to save money. 

After lunch we went back to the industrial area to find some of the last items on our list. We found things within our price range that we are hoping and praying will hold up over time. After all of the house shopping was finished, we needed to go to a supermarket. It is the week of Thanksgiving and many of us on the missionary team are cooking special foods for our Thanksgiving celebration together. Many ingredients can only be found in Kampala so I had shopping lists from four people. By the end of my grocery shopping, I was spent and it was almost 7pm, so we just grabbed some samosas and a coke for dinner and began our drive back home. 

Early in our drive home I commented on how the traffic didn't seem as bad right around Kampala, but that soon changed. The trip from that grocery store home usually takes us about 2 hours, 3 when traffic is really bad. But last Saturday was  
another story. We drove for a little while in light traffic and then eventually came to a complete stop. We knew there had been road construction, but we thought it just must be narrowed down to one lane and the two directions were taking turns. Eventually no one was coming from the other direction and we had not moved forward for about an hour. It was 11pm, there are no street lights, and we were in our van loaded down with things for the house. Most of the other drivers had turned off their vehicles and seemed like they were going to sleep in their vehicle or got out and went for dinner or a place to sleep. It was clear that no one was moving forward that night. We had heard that there was another way to Jinja, but it was a very circuitous route and we didn't what to get lost on a back road in the middle of the night either. David sent a text to our team with an update, and thankfully Mark, our team leader, was still awake. He called and talked with David about the alternate route. They agreed it would be best for us to drive back west toward Kampala, northeast to Kayunga, southeast to Jinja, then west to Good Shepherd's Fold. We all agreed that it wouldn't be a great idea to spend the night on the road in a parked vehicle loaded with merchandise. 

Honestly, once we were moving again I had trouble staying awake, but David found his way and we made it home by a little after 2am. (The Foxes graciously stayed with our kids and spent the night here again.) At that point we unloaded only the "refrigerated items" from the grocery store, which we had put in a cooler, and then went to bed. 

We thought Sunday would be a more restful day after the craziness of the weekend, and it mostly was....until Zeke decided to try to fly. Our team here was so thoughtful and supportive on Sunday. Amy generously offered to have my kids and our usual Sunday lunch guests over after church so I wouldn't have to worry about a meal and David and I could rest. Normally I love our Sunday lunch routine, but it was so good to just eat some leftovers and rest a bit. In the afternoon Ezra and Zeke were playing outside while I was inside the house. I was talking with our neighbor Kim when I heard a loud noise from our van and Zeke starting to cry. I ran outside and found Zeke on the ground with a cape on. Here's what I could gather from the boys' stories and my observations. The boys had put on capes and were being some sort of super hero. Naturally they needed a hideout. So they climbed up the front of the van to the roof-rack, which is probably 8 feet above ground level. Zeke had some trouble getting up, so Ezra being a creative and helpful big brother, hooked a bungee cord onto the roof-rack and threw it down for Zeke to pull himself up. Here is the front of our van to help you picture this scenario. 
They were having a good time playing their super hero game until 3 year old Zeke wondered if he could really fly. Thankfully David had left the trunk (called the boot here) open to air out the van a bit after all the things we had brought back from Kampala. Zeke thought he should jump off the back of the roof-rack onto the raised trunk and then fly off. So the noise I had heard was the trunk slamming, Zeke falling 8 ft and crying because his feet hurt a little bit when he landed. Here is a photo of the van with the trunk up/opened.
Since Kim was right there she and I checked him over. She is so good with kids and he was showing her how he could walk and run fine within minutes after his fall. I just thanked God!!! There are so many ways that this incident could have gone very poorly, but Zeke had no broken bones and wasn't bleeding. Zeke said, "I have no blood!" Even a three year old knows that a fall like that should lead to some bleeding or something. After I was certain he was ok, I talked with the boys about some rules for their safety, like no going on the roof-rack without adult supervision (We do ride up there on safari trips), no jumping off the roof-rack, and no flying, which I thought might stop some other unanticipated dangerous ideas. I love my boys and their adventurous, creative minds, but I also want Zeke to make it to his 4th birthday. Here is a photo of me cuddling with my little superman when he was sick a week ago. 

As I reflect on the weekend, I can see how God graciously provided for us throughout the weekend. Sometimes his provision looked like keeping us safe. And sometimes it was helping us to grow in patience as we shopped and then sat in traffic for hours. His loving care does not mean that this life will always go smoothly, but that He will be working for our good, to make us more like Jesus through this life. (Romans 8:28-32)

Friday, November 14, 2014

A wonderfully exhausting week

On Monday I wrote about David preaching on Sunday and us taking a woman and her child to the hospital on Monday. If you have not yet read that post, you can read it it here. While I was working on writing that blogpost, David was running errands in Jinja and getting the van worked on. These things took longer than expected, so we ended up driving home late in a borrowed vehicle. It was a good day, but we were a bit worn out by the time we got home.

On Tuesday after school Esther and I went to the hospital to check on the woman and her daughter. I was so happy and relieved when I found the little girl sitting in her mother's lap. She was still very weak, but she was alert and looked so much better than the day before. Honestly, I did not know if she would be alive which was why I was anxious about going to check on her. Esther brought along some small things of hers that she could share with the children in the "pediatric ward," which is just one big room with some beds and cribs. The women and the children there loved meeting Esther and trying to talk with her. I decided to try to pray for the child in Luganda so that the mother could understand. When I said that I was going to pray, the moms from all over the room gathered around. I don't know if it was because they were curious to here a mzungu pray in Luganda, or because they also wanted prayers. I did my best, but I know that God hears and understands even if I still struggle with the language. That night I went to bed feeling so thankful that God was bringing healing to this little girl, but very tired.

At around 1am I received a phone call from my friend and teammate, Katie Fox. Her husband Cody, was diagnosed with malaria on Sunday and had been taking the medication for treatment. He had really improved by Tuesday and even taught that day. But that night he woke with symptoms of cerebral malaria. I had made Katie promise in advance that she would call me at any hour if his malaria got worse and he needed to go to the hospital, so she called. David has more experience driving here, particularly in Kampala and at night, so we decided he would go pick them up Katie and Cody in Nyenga. They decided it would be best to take Cody to a clinic in Kampala that is open 24hrs. David had another chance to be the ambulance driver, but this time not really knowing where he was going in the middle of the night. I stayed home with the kids and prayed. After doing several blood tests, they concluded that Cody was okay, and that he was having side effects from the medication he was taking for treatment. I received a text message around 4am that Cody was alright and they were heading home. I went to sleep around 4:30am and woke when David arrived home a little after 5:30am. As he lay in bed, I tried to make a joke saying, "You could have a second career as an ambulance driver." His replied, "I don't want a second career." Within three minutes he was snoring. We sent a message canceling school since none of the teachers had slept more than an hour or so, and then slept for another hour.

On Wednesday morning we received a phone call from the local hospital administrator that the little girl was ready to be discharged. On Wednesday morning, I took Elijah with me and went to pick up the woman and her child who had recovered so quickly. She was much stronger and even smiled a bit. While we waited for some paperwork, (They had to turn on the generator in order to print the receipt for them to be discharged.) Elijah and I visited and prayed with some others there in the children's ward. He enjoyed passing out stickers to all the children and practicing his Luganda. I wish I had his young mind which seems to learn the language so quickly. We were able to drive them home and talk briefly. If we understood correctly, the father is not in the picture. Unfortunately, this seems all too common in the local villages.

On Thursday, we did not go to any hospitals! We taught school, worked on some ministry related paperwork, and had a generally quieter day. I got a chance to go for a short run which was really good after such a physically and emotionally exhausting several days. In the evening, I went to visit our neighbors and they told me that they had sweet potatoes for me. The sweet potatoes here are white, but they are still very tasty. When they asked if we ate them, I thought that maybe she would give us 6 so that we could each eat one. Instead she brought a huge bag and gave it to me to carry home on my head. Wow, these Ugandan women must be so much stronger than me, because my neck and back are so sore from that sack of potatoes. The Ugandan women told me that if I had a baby on my back and was carrying a 20L jug of water, then I could be like a Ugandan woman. Yikes. I have my work cut out for me.

I thought Friday might just be an ordinary day of school and then a trip to town for some supplies, but I have learned that there is no such thing as an "ordinary day" here. During our morning school break, a Ugandan friend found me and said that she had a gift for me at the gate. I was very curious since most of the gifts I have received from Ugandan friends are food items. I thought, "Why would she leave a bag of tomatoes at the gate?" I walked to the gate to meet her and found her there with a live chicken. The feet were tied and she had obviously carried it here for me. Most of the people around here do not eat meat very often, so a gift of a chicken is an expensive and very generous gift. I was so honored and grateful that this sweet woman sacrificially gave me this amazing gift. I am still overwhelmed by the generous hearts of so many of my Ugandan friends.

I don't know what the rest of today or tomorrow will hold, but this week has been both amazing and exhausting! I am so thankful that God has brought healing to the sick, given us opportunities to be his hands in feet, and shown us a small picture of his lavish love through the generous gifts of others.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Our compassionate God

On Sunday David had the opportunity to preach at our church in the village. He chose to preach about the passage from Luke 10:25-37. It was his first time preaching, and he was a bit nervous, but he did a wonderful job. He talked with the congregation about the questions of who is our neighbor, what does it mean to love our neighbor, and why Jesus used this parable, to show us our inability to earn our own righteousness. He reminded us that in the parable, we are like the person in the ditch, helpless and dying, and Jesus came and sacrificed himself to save us. Actually Scripture says we are dead in our sins, not just dying, but parables only carry the analogy so far. When we realize that there is no way we can justify ourselves, but that Jesus saved us at great personal expense, this changes our heart when we see another person equally helpless. It was a very good sermon, encouraging God's people with the love of Jesus, and encouraging them to live out that love with their "neighbors" even if it happens to be someone who is more like an enemy.

One of the things that I have always loved about my husband is that he is a compassionate man. He knows that he has received grace and mercy and wants to show that to those around him. Not all the time and not perfectly, but it is one aspect of the way God is shaping his character that I absolutely love! Since a young age he has particularly had a soft heart toward the needs of widows. As a teenager, he would help the widows in his neighborhood with gardening or mowing the grass. A few months back, we began driving to church instead of walking so that we could offer a ride to a widow who is in poor health and cannot walk to church. Soon we realized that some of the GSF kids with special needs also were not going to church because their wheelchairs cannot make it through the narrow walking path. Since God has provided us with a van that can carry wheelchairs on top, we are able to drive these kids too. When I told David how I appreciated his work every Sunday loading and unloading the kids and their chairs, he had a funny reply. He said, "Having a small inconvenience to make it possible for some handicapped orphans to go to church seems like a no-brainer." We laughed a bit realizing how this is obviously something God would want us to do, not just because of the needs of these kids, but because of the way God has had that type of love and compassion toward us at a great inconvenience to Himself.

Since God has blessed us with generally reliable transportation, and since most of the people around us do not have that convenience, we often stop to offer a ride to people on the side of the road. We usually stop for either an elderly woman or a woman carrying a child. Sorry men, you can walk. Today, we had a "fall break" of sorts, which is just a day off of school to take care of some other important things. We were planning to drive to Jinja to run several errands, get lunch, use internet, and take care of some things related to building the house. Soon after we turned out of the GSF driveway, we saw a woman carrying a child, walking. We pulled over to see if she needed a ride somewhere. I got out to ask her "Ogenda wa?" (Where are you going?), but as I stepped out I immediately saw that something was terrribly wrong. She was wailing and carrying a child who was maybe 4 or 5 years old. At first I thought the child was dead. The child was limp and her eyes were open, but completely empty. But then some friends from the village came over to her and began rubbing onion all over the child's face to see if they could bring her to consciousness. She eventually came to, but was very limp and barely conscious. In the midst of the gathering crowd, I offered to drive them to the hospital. After a bit of brief discussion in 2 or 3 languages, some of the people in the village who have become my friends told me to take her to the nearest hospital. David drove like an ambulance driver as fast as was reasonably possible to get this child to the hospital. As we arrived, I was struck by how many people there were in similar situations. I have been to this hospital several times and each time my heart breaks for the people there. We were able to make sure this child was seen received testing and treatment quickly, prayed with them as best as I could in Luganda, and then we left them in the care of the doctors and nurses there.

It was interesting how God gave us an opportunity the very next day to live out what David had been teaching about. One thing that his sermon reminds me, is that caring for people in need is not earning for us our own righteousness. As I thought of all the people in need there, I realized that there was no way, we could help everyone. I also realized that we had only a mild inconvenience to take this woman and child to the hospital, but Jesus gave his own life for us.He died so that he could save you and me. Any little expression of his mercy is simply what we want to do as people who have been rescued from the ditch. Just moments before seeing this woman and child, I had been irritable with my family, and lacked love and compassion with them. I know that on my own, I fail to love often. I cannot keep the law and earn my own righteousness, but Jesus has rescued me, has declared that I am righteous, and has graciously given us opportunities to live out a small picture of his love to those around us. Please pray for this woman and her child. I don't even know their names. But our compassionate God does!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Learning dependence

Our school for missionary kids here in Uganda, is anything but "traditional" in terms of American education. We have students in Pre-K through 12th grade. Older students often have opportunities to help teach younger students. Since there are at most three students in any grade level, there are many opportunities to work in small groups both with those in their own grade and in other grades.

While all of our students have different personalities and gifts, it has been good to see how they have grown and been stretched by opportunities to work together. Some students have a tendency to just want to get their work done on their own as quickly as possible. I have been praying that God will use this unique educational situation to provide opportunities for us all to learn about working together and how we can help one another grow, both in school and in life.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17)
I have seen some practical examples of this verse in our little school. Last school year one of our students broke his arm. He was unable to write for several weeks. During that time, he worked together with another student in his grade level on all of their daily math assignments. As they were forced to work together and discuss how to solve the problems, I found that they both began scoring higher on tests (which they took separately). While they were working on their daily assignments together they were able to help catch each others mistakes without much conflict too. :) Praise God!

In recent weeks Elijah and Hayden have been working really well together on their math assignments. I often find that they don't need much supervision or instruction from me because they are able to help each other. (They are also both pretty quick to understand new math concepts.) As I was reviewing my student's progress I realized that these two boys are making great progress in math, and I attribute much of their success to the way they are working together.

I was talking with the 4 high school girls about this issue during our hour long class together which we have recently renamed "Algebra-Discipleship." During this hour I get to do some of my favorite things, talk about Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, and talk about living life to glorify and enjoy God with teenage girls. It is easy for many of us to want to be self-sufficient and independent. But God reminds us that it is "not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:8) It is often hard for us to admit that we need the help of others and even of God. When I find myself trying to solve problems on my own rather than praying or asking for prayer or help from others, I realize that I am falling back into the trap of the pride of self-sufficiency. It is a grace when I find myself to weak to accomplish something on my own. The joy of the Christian life is not that I am able to do it all and accomplish it all. It is that my Saviour has accomplished it for me. I can rest in Him and learn to run to him each moment I find myself weak and insufficient.
 "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

In my relationships with my friends in the village, I have realized that they do not need to see me as the person who has it all together and can help. Instead I want them to realize that I am a weak broken sinner who has much to learn. It has been great to have them help me learn Luganda. These new friends find great pleasure in my weak attempts at learning their language. They are helping me and teaching me. They are also teaching me about Ugandan culture. I have often received gift from these neighbors, but yesterday their gifts were large. Elijah was with me and they gave us several large sugar canes. I was not sure how I would carry it all home. They amazed me as they used banana fibers to tie the canes together and banana leaves to make a circle to cushion the weight of the canes and help balance them on my head. They also lent me a scarf and wrapped it on my head. I was told that I am now a real "muganda." I enjoyed learning from them and trying to balance the canes on my head. I still need to use a hand for balance, at least for now. It seemed like the whole village was watching and laughing as I was trying to learn how to do something that all of their 5 year old girls can do.
I am learning that it is good to reveal my weakness, to ask for prayer, to confess my sins, and to ask for help. It is good to laugh at myself when I make mistakes and fail to balance sugar canes. It is good that I begin most days feeling like I am not up to the tasks of the day and desperately feeling my need to pray and read God's Word. I still struggle with many of these things, but I can see that God is graciously reminding me that I need Him and the body of Christ. Please continue to pray for me and my family that we all would learn to depend on Jesus more each day.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Yesterday was a graduation celebration for the P7 students at Good Shepherd's Fold primary school. The educational system here is very different from that in America, so I will briefly explain what this means. The school year begins in February and ends in November. The primary school system begins at P1 and continues to P7. When students complete P7 they take a placement test which determines much of their future. If they do very well on this exam, they can get into one of the better secondary schools and possibly make it to university one day. If their score is good but not great, they might get into a lower level secondary school which decreases their chances of scoring well enough in secondary school to continue on to university. If their score is a bit lower they may only be able to attend a few years of secondary school. And if they have a bad test day, they are finished with school altogether. These kids are most the age of students in middle school in America. Can you imagine if your educational future was determined by a test you took when you were in middle school? (The photo to the right is of me with my volleyball players who made it to the national level of competition. They were also recognized at the graduation celebration.)

These students feel a great deal of pressure, and for good reason. The celebration yesterday was celebrating the end of their regular school year. These students still have the exams to take and a class safari trip. (There are some great benefits to growing up in Africa!) At this celebration there was much talk about these upcoming exams. When Mark Gwartney, our team leader, spoke to the students, he also talked about this exam. He talked about how this test is important and may feel like a lot of pressure, but there is a more important test, the testing your heart to determine whether Jesus is your Lord and Saviour. All you have to do for this test is to acknowledge your inability to be right with God on your own and to receive the righteousness of Jesus through faith. While the results of their academic test will have many implications for their lives, the results of this Spiritual test have implications for both this life and the life to come. I was so thankful that Mark had this opportunity to share the gospel with these students and their families one more time before they leave school at GSF. Most of these students come from the nearby villages and are from a variety of religious backgrounds. The students from the school have historically scored well on these tests, so many families send their kids to the GSF school even though they are not Christians.

As you think of the ministry here at GSF, please pray for these students as they prepare for this important test. (To the left is a photo of our nurse, Kim, and the GSF kids who are finishing their P7 year of school.) Also pray that the families who have heard the good news of righteousness and salvation in Jesus Christ will come to faith in Jesus. Please pray for us to know how to encourage, comfort and point to Jesus as we talk wit the kids who live at GSF who are also preparing for this exam. It is so good for all of us to remember that our lives are in the hands of our Saviour who loved us so much that he sacrificed his own life, that we might be children of God. When I get anxious and worry about the future this is my greatest comfort.
"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Recently, many members of our team have had things stolen. As you may recall, David had his phone stolen in Jinja. Other team members have had laptops, phones, kindles, ipads, and money stolen in Jinja and Kamapala. With David's phone we found that it was highly unlikely that the police would be able to recover anything. Mostly, they just asked for money to help look for it. Thankfully in all of the recent theft, no one has been personally in danger.

It can be very frustrating and discouraging to have things taken. When it is a device that you have grown accustomed to using for work and communication, missing that device creates many challenges. Even though many years ago, we did not have such conveniences, these "things" have become very important to us.

While I personally have not had anything taken yet, I have been learning from my teammates and husband as they have dealt with these situations. When David's phone was taken, he decided to just wait and to not be in a hurry to replace it. For a little over a month he did not have a phone until our nephew generously donated his phone for David to use. Out here in the village there are no land lines, so David just had to use other people's phones when he needed to communicate. He was also not able to check email very often because opening a full website on a computer takes much more bandwidth than getting an email on a mobile device. I have also heard other team members talk about not being in a hurry to replace a stolen item, rather just being willing to go without for a time.

At times I can get caught in the mindset that I need these "things," but living in a rural village in Uganda is teaching much about what I really need. Many of my neighbors live in mud huts and eat what they can grow. As we are building a house here I often struggle with wondering if I am living with much more than I really need. Our house will be very modest from an American perspective, but it seems so big compared to the one or two room huts of our neighbors. This is an ongoing struggle for me as we make decisions regarding the house.

As all of this has been mulling around in my mind, I am often reminded of this passage of Scripture.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
Even though people do not have as many things here as in America, it is still so easy for our hearts to seek after things that do not ultimately satisfy. It is interesting that the prosperity gospel is just as popular here in the midst of poverty as it is in a wealthy country like America. Whatever we have, it is so easy to always want more. It is so easy for us to be discontent with whatever we have. I am praying that God will teach me to be more like the Apostle Paul who "has learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Philippians 4:11) This contentment does not come from comparing myself to others but through looking to Jesus Christ who has given me eternal life and has made me a beloved child of God. What more could I ask for?

Saturday, October 11, 2014


With all the people who have recently come to faith in Jesus, our church leadership decided that we needed to have an opportunity for new believers to be baptized. It was an exciting day celebrating the work God is doing!

Above is the group of those who were baptized. (We were at GSF in order to have water readily available since there is no running water in Buundo village.) Eleven of the people who were baptized were from Light of the World church, and the other eleven were kids who live at Good Shepherd's Fold. I have been so encouraged seeing how God has been bringing people into his family! And while my friend was being baptized, I got to hold her precious grand baby. 

I am so thankful to be a part of the work God is doing in this part of the world! Please pray for these new members of the Church as they learn to live out their faith. Also pray for those of us who have the opportunity to encourage them as they grow. 

Independence Day

On Thursday, we celebrated Uganda's Independence Day. We came to Jinja for the morning, where there is better internet, so I thought I would post some photos from our fun times celebrating. This first photo is of our students on our special school day on Thursday. We used the day to study African Geography and Ugandan history, language and culture.  As you can see, we all wore our Ugandan colors to celebrate 52 years of independence!

 Our school day included several differnt activities including labeling maps, making a Ugandan flag, making a timeline of Ugandan history, playing Ugandan trivia about history, languague, geography, and culture, and a photo scavenger hunt about various aspects of life in Uganda. I will show you some of the photos that we all enjoyed with brief captions.
Elijah holding a bucket of posho
(This is what is served for lunch along with beans each day.)

Avalyn carrying matooke on her head
(Matooke is a banana that is cooked and then eaten.)

Zeke pumping water

Playing netball - yes, Zeke is the ball for this photo.
I don't think he ever was actually thrown through the hoop.

Megan, Zeke and Emma walking toward the cattle

Esther after being caught in a rainstorm

Ezra cooking over a charcoal stove
(Most cooking is done this way.)

Some GSF boys playing football, Uganda's favorite pass-time.
Overall, it was a great day with lots of learning and lots of laughs. I hope seeing our photos gives you a little picture of our life in Uganda.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Living for what lasts

The reality of death seems to be everywhere I turn. Some close friends in Georgia who are my age have recently lost their parents. It seems like each week when I go for a walk in the village, I hear about another family member who has died. And last weekend, one of my former volleyball players unexpectedly lost her mom. Her mom was an amazing woman who also worked with us at Westminster. 

Death is heartbreaking. It makes me so sad to see many people grieving. It is also a reminder that this life is so temporary. No one knows how long We have on earth. My scare with pre-cancer has helped me realize that. God's Word tells us that death comes because of sin, but we can have eternal life through faith in Jesus. 

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Roman 6:23

This hope makes all the difference. I don't just have the days here on earth to live for myself. I know that I have eternity with God in heaven to look forward to. I also know that so many people around me live without that hope. So the question that comes to my mind is, "How am I going to use the days I have on this earth?" I want to spend my time here in ways that build God's kingdom. 

Sometimes I think that may be easier for me to keep that perspective as a "missionary." I live in Uganda, not because this is where I am most comfortable, but because God has work for us to do here. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Sometimes it is easier to remember that when you live in a foreign country. It is usually pretty easy for me here to remember that this world is not my home, and that we are on this earth because God still has work for us to do. In Phillipians 1:21, the Apostle Paul says that  "to live is Christ and to die is gain(heaven)."  The next verse talks about the "fruitful labor" that God has for us while we are on this earth. 

I praise God that He is showing me that the labor he has for us here is fruitful. A few days agoI had the privilege of praying with a girl from GSF who wanted to be a part of God's family. She prayed that Jesus would be her Savior. Many missionaries and house moms have planted seeds and watered them in her life over the years. God graciously gave me the privilege of being there at the time He was bringing about the harvest in the life of this girl! Praise God!

I am praying that even on days when I am feeling comfortable and at home in this life, that I will remember that God has a purpose for us in life beyond just being comfortable and happy. It is so easy to get lulled into thinking that life is primarily about my happiness. 

Elijah recently read the book, Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief. In the book, the main character, Percy Jackson, is sent on a mission, but when he gets to a place where he is having a lot of fun, he loses track of time and starts forgetting about his mission. I think that is often a temptation for me, particularly in America. It is so easy to be entertained and distracted, forgetting our mission in this life. 

One of my goals in blogging is that my writing will help both me and those who read my blog to remember that God has a mission for all of us in this life. Some of us are called to be a part of what God is doing here in Uganda, and some are called to be a part of what God is doing in Watkinsville, Georgia. God is calling people to be a part of His kingdom work in all different places around the world. It is my prayer that wherever we find ourselves, we will remember that God has loved us, redeemed us, and adopted us. He has brought people into our lives and given us the privilege of showing His love to them and sharing His grace with them. It is my prayer that I will keep my eyes on Jesus, what He has done, and what He calls me to do, rather than getting distracted by focusing on the joys or sorrows of this life. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So Alive!

Many weekends here in Uganda fill up with work, either grading and planning for school, or running errands to prepare for the next week. Last week on Thursday afternoon I was able to go to town to run those errands, and we were mostly caught up with school work. It was so exciting when school was over on Friday, realizing that we had some free time ahead. 

On Fridays we end our school day a bit earlier than other days, so we decided to take our kids to the nearest pool for some fun family time. 

There was a group of kids from another children's home at the pool. Zeke and Ezra made some new friends and had a blast! Esther and Elijah were busy swimming laps. I sat with a woman who works for that organization, and she helped me work on my Luganda verb conjugations. I actually really enjoyed that time. David ran a quick errand for some supplies related to building our house. When he returned, he got in the pool with the kids and sent them flying. 

Once Zeke's lips were blue with cold and his hands were thoroughly wrinkled, we decided to head home. On the last Friday of each month we have a missionary team game night. This month the Gwartneys were hosting. We had a great time with many laughs with our team. 

After game night, Katie and Cody Fox came over and the four of us stayed up late talking, laughing and watching a video. We are so grateful for their friendship and partnership in ministry! 

Since the Foxes live off campus, they spent the night here rather than driving their motorcycle home late. (Driving at night is hard even in a car with rough roads and no street lights.) In the morning we had a big breakfast together before I went to my Luganda lessons. 

After my class, we decided to go up to the site where our house is being built and visit with our neighbors. Our neighbor, Esezza, was weaving a mat out of palm leaves. Esther and I sat and talked with her and watched her work. It was fascinating. I am hoping I can buy a mat from her to put in our new house. While we were learning Luganda and mat weaving, the boys went with Katende to go explore a bit. They enjoying walking among the small farms/large vegetable gardens, and walked down to a spring. Ezra described the area around the spring as "so alive." We  spent a little more time visiting with neighbors and spoke with a friend I have been getting to know for several months. We invited her to church and she agreed to come!

Just as the water from the spring made that area "so alive," we also saw on Sunday how Jesus can bring new life! This Sunday we had several new visitors at Light of the World church. After the time of praise and worship, the pastor asked the visitors to stand and introduce themselves. One man introduced himself and said he had come because he wanted to be saved. He had heard that God can bring new life when you are dead in sin. He wanted God to come and change his life! So Jonathan walked outside with him as the service continued and our new brother prayed to be forgiven and made right with God through Jesus. 

Jonathan preached from 1 Corinthians 13 about love. He also talked about 1 John and how we can love because of the love we have received from Jesus. After he finished the sermon, Big David, our other Ugandan pastor, said that if anyone wanted to talk about receiving the love of Jesus, they could come talk to one of them after the service. My friend who was visiting stood up and walked forward right then. She also prayed with Jonathan today! 

I am so thankful for the work God has been doing here in Buundo! He is bringing people into his kingdom! He has given new life to my friend and this other man! I am so thankful to be able to see how God is at work making Buundo "so alive." Mukama yebazbwe! (Praise The Lord!)