Last Words Before Leaving

It’s crazy to think that in under 12 hours, Lesley and I will be on our plane and waiting to leave Uganda. The uncertainty of where God will lead us in the future certainly adds a layer of emotion in that this has been each of our home for the past 7 months (my experience) and the past year (Lesley’s experience) and there is the possibility of never returning.

To put it lightly, we’re both emotionally raw and praying for a ridiculous amount of grace from people at home as we transition. This culture is, as I studied in one of my missions classes, essentially the polar opposite in all respects to the West. Everything that we’ve gotten used to (like communicating with our eyebrows [not inappropriate at all here], being more indirect with how we speak especially in conflict, ways of acting in public, etc.) we now will have to get used to the opposite again. For me, I’ll be facing double culture shock (going back home and going there as a soon-to-be-married man) and Lesley will be facing triple culture shock (going to the states, being in Chicago [not yet home]. and going as my soon-to-be wife).

Please don’t understand that we aren’t excited, we are; change is just hard, especially when it’s this radical.

One thing that I talked with my director (Matt Kehn) about in my last one-on-one as an ABIDE intern, was that I need boldness in returning to the United States. Before we left, for the first time in many years of friendship, I finally talked open about my faith with two of my best friends from growing up. It took me that long to actually talk about Jesus with them. This wasn’t their fault or them asking me not to, this was due to my being cowardly.

For some reason, being an anonymous person in a different culture, it’s easier to not be so worried about the perception others have of you and it’s somewhat easier to speak freely about your beliefs. However, the “easiness” of it, shouldn’t be what determines how you/I act.

Jesus said that the world would hate us, and that we should expect that. If the world hated it’s Savior, it’s only true hope, why would it not hate those who believe in Him and try to share that freedom and hope found in Him?

Christianity is seen by many outsiders as a religion of bondage. It’s seen as a set of rules to follow which simply limit how much fun you can have. The funny thing is, that’s pretty much as far as you can get from the truth. Many other religions are actually religions of bondage where these rules dictate how you live and force you to submit to a vengeful God.

Jesus didn’t come so that He could make us slaves. Jesus came because we needed Him.

Humanity is inherently evil. We still bear a semblance of God’s image which we were created with, but sin has permeated our nature. Think about how hard it is to do something for someone else. If it isn’t so hard, think of how often you do something for someone else because you know you’ll feel good about yourself. We are selfish beings by nature and that is not the way we were created to live.

God has not given us a set of “rules” to follow. Rather, as the One who created us and knows how we work best, He has shared with us the correct way to live. Not only has He given us this wonderful information, but He also was willing to lay down His own Son, Jesus Christ, so that we would have the freedom to live in light of His truth and be released from the bondage of our sinful nature.

When you buy a product and there are instructions on how to use the product and it gives you warnings of what happens if you misuse the product, do you look at it as a set of rules? I tend to be thankful when I read a caution label that tells me I shouldn’t ingest whatever it is, because the consequences of that are dire.

In the same way, Jesus didn’t come to give rules or enforce those previously given, He came to give us the freedom to live as we were meant to. We, since Adam and Eve, have chosen ourselves over God and have thus been subject to punishment from a Holy God who cannot interact with unholy people (for our own sake because we would die). But Jesus laying down his life for us to be free of that and simply to have to receive what He has offered, is the least restrictive thing He could have done. Why should God come down in human form in a humiliating way (born where animals feed in a cave) and live a life for others, spending all His time investing in men He believes can change the world through love, and then die the most humiliating death (at the time) so that He could raise from the grave and cover our faults? Love. That’s the only answer.

I don’t want to be liked because I don’t talk about my faith. I don’t want to be hated because I shove Jesus down people’s throats. I don’t want to force Jesus on anyone, but I also don’t want to express that I hate every person that I’m not willing to share the Gospel, the hope that I have, with.

If you have a question about Jesus or the way I live my life, feel free to ask me.

I’m not willing to be a coward as I’ve been in the past and try to answer with as little as I can to offend as little as possible. I’m not willing to be lukewarm as far too many Christians are (and I have been). I’m done complaining about what the church has done wrong and I want to be part of the solution.

That solution is Jesus Christ and I am proud to be part of the body of believers who are His hands on this earth.

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

- 1 Peter 3:13-22 NIV

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Already at the End

My last post was a little piece from our final mission as the ABIDE class of 2013. Let me rephrase, there was one mission remaining that we like to call “graduation.”

We had a final week of classes followed by a graduation week. This last week included a couple of days for review of material and preparation for the actual graduation ceremony. This also included a final exam, which was not easy by any means.

We also went camping one of the nights and simply reflected on all that God has been doing in us and in this program this year. We watched a slideshow of pictures from the journey that brought us to the point of graduation and couldn’t help but enjoy ourselves.

One of the other things that we did before the actual graduation ceremony was record a 10-song CD. It’s not incredibly professional or the best recording I’ve ever heard, but it’s a nice reminder of our many times of worship.

Finally, on the 14th, our six months together climaxed at a 8 hour graduation ceremony (from around 10am to 6pm). This ceremony was attended by local missionaries, students’ families from all over the country, local schools, and students from past years. It was a great time of excitement in which students dressed their smartest (fanciest) and shared what God had done in their lives.

Even though the ceremony was so long, before I knew it, it was over. We took many fun pictures together with students, but even as we were still doing that, some students were starting to leave.

There were cards passed around to write to leaders and let them know how appreciated they were. Sadly, mine was accidentally held onto by one of the students and it never got passed around. I struggled with this. I knew I had made a difference and I knew that I had heard it over and over from the students…but I liked the idea of having something to remember that by.

While talking with Lesley on the phone that night, I was reminded even in my talking about the day, how much I already knew everything the students could possibly write to me. That speaks much more than a card.

Even with becoming okay with this, another card was printed off and handed around among the remaining students. One student who left before the new card was sent around even wrote me his own note. I happened to find the misplaced card which hadn’t been signed yet and a few leaders took advantage of the extra card space and wrote some encouragement that made me cry.

Within all of this, I am just reminded of how faithful God is. He wanted me to know that I didn’t need a card to remember all that had happened and that the students did appreciate me. He made me realize what reality was before he would allow the superficial to supplement it, so that reality would be my focus.

I now am finishing up a week of time off before staff evaluations. In 12 days, Lesley and I will head to Kampala to spend a little time resting there and seeing friends before our flight at 11:59pm on August 1st. It’s crazy to think that in less than two weeks, we will be home.

Praise God for such a wonderful experience in which he worked in our lives so much. Please pray for an enjoyable rest of the time here and a safe trip home! I know that saying goodbye not only to the amazing people I’ve met here but also to Uganda will be hard, but I am very excited about getting home.

See you soon!

God is good.

(Pictures to come soon)

 

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The Good Life is the Life That’s Been Laid Down

I preached the following sermon this morning at St. Paul’s Church of Uganda in Nkokonjeru, Mbarara, Uganda.

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As someone from the United States of America, there is something that has been impressed upon me through my culture called the “American Dream.” The American Dream is a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and moving up in social status through hard work. James Truslow Adams in 1931 described this dream by saying, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The United States Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endowed (or provided) by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

To put it simply, the “American Dream” or this idea of the “good life” is all about you. This dream is about living the most comfortable life possible and having anything you want, as long as you work for it.

There’s a song by Kanye West written about the good life and there’s also a band called One Republic who has a song written about this idea, but the songs simply follow what I’ve already explained. However, there is another song called “New Dreams” by a Christian rapper, Trip Lee, whose approach to the good life I’d prefer to share with you.

The song starts with him saying, “I was taught that living the good life meant getting everything I could, but I’ve been shown a brand new picture of the good life and it’s glorious.”

He then explains that he had chased success, women, money, and that eventually he realized how shallow these things are and that they left him empty and hurt others. He finishes the song by saying, “my dreams are different; you know that I’ve been changed  now. The good life is the life that’s been laid down.”

That last line is interesting, isn’t it? “The good life is the life that’s been laid down.” He’s talked about all these other things which fit into the “American Dream” or what he’s been taught of the “good life” but then he gives a definition which is the exact opposite of what the world has taught him. He says that instead of the good life being about him, it’s about laying down his life.

Now where could he have found such a counter-cultural message to make this definition from? It couldn’t be from the Bible, could it? Turn with me to John 12:23-28.

Just before this passage, there were some Greeks who requested of Philip to see Jesus. So Andrew and Philip took them to see Jesus and here we find what Jesus had to say.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came down from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

What does Jesus mean when he says “anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”?

This sounds contradictory. Why would you keep something that you hate and lose something that you love? Wouldn’t you hold something close that you love and get rid of something that you hate?

Jesus actually explains this concept in Matthew 19 when a rich man asks him about what he needs to do to earn eternal life. Jesus lists off some of the commandments and the man says that he has done those things, so Jesus then asks him to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor, and that he would then have treasure in heaven.

The response of the rich man was not to run off and sell everything he had, but instead we’re told that he went away sad! Now why would this man go away sad? Perhaps it’s because he had been told to give up the thing that he loved the most. And this thing that he loved the most was not God, but it was money.

So when Jesus says in John 12 that in order to keep life you need to hate your life, he does not mean to hate yourself or to hate those around you. Instead, he means that the way we love every other thing in this world, every other aspect of our lives besides him, should look like hate compared to how much we love him.

If we truly loved God more than any possession or any dream that we have, if God asked us to give it up, we wouldn’t even have to think about it, because we would simply want to serve God through what he has asked us to do.

In Genesis 22, God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Now, in context, this barely makes sense. Abraham was a little over 100 years old by this point and Isaac was the result of a promise that God made to him and his wife who were well beyond the years of bearing a child. So why would God ask Abraham to give up the very thing he was blessed with?

The New International Version gives away the end of the story by titling this section as “Abraham Tested.” So we know that God has it in mind to test Abraham by asking him to do this. But if you think about it, he had a good reason to do so

Have you ever known anyone who was getting close to the point of no longer being able to bear children who was then blessed with a child? A child tends to be a parents pride and joy, but in this circumstance, even more so.

When there is something that we want more than anything else in the world and then we finally get it, either by our own achievement or through the help of others, sometimes that very thing becomes our life.

For some people it’s a child (like it was for Abraham and Sarah), for others it’s a job, for others it’s a degree from university, for others it’s lots of money, and for others it’s something else.

None of these things are bad in themselves. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us that you cannot serve both God and money. But we never find money condemned itself in Scripture, instead we find this as a condemnation regarding greed and hoarding money. In fact, Jesus encourages giving, which is hard to do if you don’t have anything to give.

In the same way, a child is certainly not a bad thing. All throughout the Old Testament, when someone will have a child, unless the circumstance the Lord has brought them through is unfavorable, they will regard the child as a blessing!

It’s also not a bad thing to work, in fact that was one of the first things that God told man to do!

And it’s a good thing to get a degree from university.

So if these things are not bad and they’re okay to have, we just shouldn’t love them more than God, how do we live in light of this?

This idea of “laying your life down” isn’t just mentioned by Jesus in John 12. In fact, he keeps referring to it in regard to his own life and then says “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

So what does it mean to lay down your life for another?

When we look at Jesus’ life, laying down his life meant giving up what he “deserved” and to put himself after others. In fact, more than that, he literally gave up his life so that we might live. And although he calls us his friends, we were, by our own doing, his enemies.

So this is not a simple call of doing what is convenient or easy for you for those who are kind to you, but this is a call to humbly do whatever it is that God calls you to. And I don’t mean whatever God calls you to do as a profession or with your life, but what he calls you to do each moment.

In 1 John 3:16, John writes “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” but John doesn’t stop there. He continues to say “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

The most real way we can love God on this earth, is to show his love to those around us. And as Jesus says in the sermon on the mount, this call is to love even your enemies.

It’s common in the United States for a sermon to be summarized by several points which give you practical steps in how you can carry out what the pastor or speaker has talked about. There is nothing wrong with that concept and most sermons I have written include that, but for this message, I don’t think it’s necessary.

This message is simply addressing the fact that although my culture or your culture might convince you that the point of life is to get money, have cars, have a nice house, or get a good job, this is not biblical. You can have money, you can have cars, you can have a nice house, and you can have a good job, but they ARE NOT the point of your life. If these things are the point of your life, you ARE NOT living for God.

This message is a wake up call to those of us who need to check our hearts and start living for others instead of ourselves. This message is also an encouragement to those who are already doing that. I know people in this room who live in a way that they only want to help others and serve God. I also know people in this room who live for themselves more often than they live for others.

Living for others is a struggle and I honestly have a hard time with it. This message is just as much for me as it is for you. Even in being asked to preach this morning, I at first declined because I was unhappy with being asked last minute. I personally believe that preaching and sharing takes preparation and it is not good to prepare last minute. However, I stopped and thought about how it was ridiculous for my views to get in the way of God using me. I also thought about the fact that if I wasn’t the one to preach, someone else would be and he would also have to prepare last minute.

It wasn’t easy to prepare for this yesterday as someone who likes more time to study and pray through preparation for preaching or teaching, but because I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do, because I was choosing taking this task myself and allowing God to speak through me instead of pushing it off for someone else, I feel that this is the good life.

Who am I to complain about an opportunity to share what God is teaching me and what I believe he has to say to others just because of the time at which it is presented?

However, this message is not about me. This message is not about how I’ve gotten this right every time…because I haven’t. In fact, I said “no” several times before I said “yes” about preaching this morning. It wouldn’t do me much good to make this message about me, because it would likely just point out how often I fail at making others my priority. But instead, this message is about God and what he can do through you and me when we allow him.

Some pastors like to promise things which God has not promised, like that if you accept Jesus Christ as your savior that you will get everything you’ve ever wanted. However, I’m here to say that if you choose the way of the cross, if you choose to follow Christ in this life, it will be the most difficult thing you’ve ever chosen in your life. It will be hard and life will not always go as you’d like…but this life is only a grain of sand in comparison to eternity and if you do choose Christ in this life, I can promise you that you have a whole life to look forward to after this one.

Revelation 21:1-8 says,

Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

I’m not asking you to choose between heaven and hell, because that’s too easy of a choice and no one in their right mind would choose hell. I’m asking you to take the gift that God has given you in Jesus Christ. His death has paid the debt that your sins have earned you. I’m asking you to lay your life down as a response to that gift so that God may work through you.

There is no secret formula or prayer to recite, though I will help lead you through a prayer if you have a desire to follow Christ, but all it takes is asking God to have his way in your life and allowing him to come into you and guide you. Are you willing to give up the world’s idea of the good life and instead pursue God in gratitude for all he’s done for you?

 

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The (A)Frican Mountain

A few days ago I posted on facebook promising a blog post about one of the most exhausting experiences of my life. Here it is.

If you haven’t caught on from all of my posts about sickness and travel…I travel and get sick a lot. This post is not an exception from either of those topics.

We traveled out to the eastern region and it’s a 9-hour drive (about 4 to Kampala and 5 to Mbale from Kampala). The travel was pretty brutal and we were tired, but we made it. The negative thing was that this was a long trip and near the beginning (just before we left and once we arrived) I had noticed my left ear feeling odd (the one which is almost always infected). Sure enough, this was my 7th or 8th ear infection since I’ve been here (I’ve honestly lost count). So the trip started out with a bit of a damper.

I have the word “joy” tattooed on my left wrist in Greek, but that didn’t keep Satan from coming way too close to stealing my joy right at the beginning of the mission. However, God provided time and time again.

On Saturday morning (after a night of sleeping in the front of the van because of no space on beds in a school and only getting about 3 hours of sleep), I found out I was going to Sironko, a place where I had said I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go there because I was under the impression that it was a lot of walking and with how sick I had been, it seemed like a bad idea. However, I asked the student whose place we were visiting if it was a lot of walking and he said “there’s walking, but it’s not a lot.” I had been in the other group not going to this place, but the student had fought for me to go to his place…I had a hard time saying no.

The road was long and tiring and finally we arrive to the first place we’re visiting and it’s so steep that the van couldn’t carry us up and we had to get out and climb and then near the top of each hill, push the van. This wasn’t even the start of our “short” walk.

I asked how long the walk was to find out how long I’d be in the sun and if I needed sunscreen. The student replied that it was about an hour’s walk, so I said I didn’t think I’d need sunscreen, since that’s about my limit…he said he thought it might be a good idea to use anyway (which should have been a hint).

We parked the van in the trading center and then began our walk up the mountain.

About 30-45 minutes into the walk, a student heard one of the locals we were walking with say there was about an hour left. I asked the student if he had deceived us and he said that the locals were wrong. An hour into the walk we heard there was an hour and a half to two hours remaining, I asked him again if he had deceived us and he said that he knew we would have complained and not wanted to come if he had told us. I told him that did not justify lying and told him I had asked about the journey because I was sick and shouldn’t have been making that kind of trek. He apologized and repented. A bit later I felt the need to apologize to him for my bitterness as God restored my joy and showed me both how ridiculous and how awesome this all was.

We did have women and children meeting us at different stages (starting about an hour in) who would climb with us and sing songs as well to encourage us. They certainly helped whether I realized it at the time or not. The walk ended up being about 3.5 hours total up. Then we were greeted by tons of happy people singing and lots of passion juice (so good…I may have drank too much). We were told that I was the first white person to ever go up that mountain (it’s about two mountains away from Mt. Elgon which is the more known one in the range and more likely climbed). That was an odd but kinda cool thought.

We had “lunch” around 5pm and then went to sleep a bit after (around 8 something) just to have dinner for breakfast at 4am. We then trekked back down the mountain (what was supposed to only be 30 minutes on this route) which actually took an hour and a half (at least) and started in the dark…so I almost walked into a cow and almost fell a couple of times. Quite a way to wake up.

However, God sustained us this whole time and gave us the energy…though my legs are still recovering.

Sadly, I have no pictures to show for this trip, but the memory is certainly there.

One of the guys commented that after this and a few other experiences that have happened on our missions, that I am certainly ready to face any mountain in marriage…though those are a bit different. We’ll see if he’s ready. Hearing that he felt I was doing it for Lesley also did give me an extra push of determination that I didn’t mind.

The experience was frustrating and difficult, but as my friend Andy regularly asks, “What makes a better story?”

I’m glad to have this story to tell.

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The Greatest Lie Ever Told

I once heard it said that the greatest lie that Satan has ever told was that he does not exist.

In theory, that makes sense and even in some practical aspects, I understood what was being said. However, to truly look at what Satan is doing in the world is quite alarming to how much we’ve convinced ourselves are simply the product of us being in a fallen world although he is alive, well, and very active.

We had a mission to a girl’s school in the area for the third time within our program and we ended the night with a video series called “The Truth About Hip Hop.”

The pastor who has put this together goes through some information about fake gods in Scripture and history, looks at a book written by “the most evil man ever” about how to be evil, and then looks at different symbols displayed by current hip hop celebrities, and god-sized statements of grandeur by these same artists.

On the surface, and even in my writing about this, it looks ridiculous. However, the arguments don’t need to be built…things clearly line up.

He talks about artists like T-Pain, Beyonce, Jay Z, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, T.I., and many others.

One thing that made a lot of sense to me was that he talked about these evil spirits who used people in ancient times to gain worship now using these celebrities as they are one of the easiest grounds for worship today.

It’s also interesting when you look at the lyrics in the light of what some of the “abstract” statements could actually be referring to. Some of the ways things are written are seen as simply mocking Jesus, Christianity, or religion, but we seem to take it a bit more lightly than we should.

It was also interesting that the power went out in the building that we were in, but nowhere else on the campus (only about an hour into the movie). We also had a hard time setting the video back up outside and kept having issues. I personally kept wanting to give up but the girls were all willing to sit outside and watch and we were able to power through and get everything working. After actually watching the video more, I understood why “someone” didn’t want this video to be seen by all these girls and by our team.

I would really suggest trying to find these videos in some way and at least giving them a watch. All of us were initially opposed to watching them and so were the girls at the school; however, this makes more sense than I’m comfortable to even admit.

I think what this comes down to is how lightly we take the things wrong in this world. Satan is a prowling lion looking to devour whoever he can, he’s not okay with others being able to be in right relationship with God since he screwed that up for himself.

We need to start taking the wrong in this world seriously and we need to start admitting that the spiritual world exists and ignoring it or explaining it away will not help anything.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood (see Ephesians 6:12).

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Our Trip to the North and Back

Last week Monday, I was faced with a decision. In the midst of my 6th or 7th ear infection (I honestly lost count), I was debating whether I should participate in the mission to Apac and Lira (both in Northern Uganda).

This trip was to be a long one and I figured if anything bad could happen with my ears to make them worse, this journey could do it. I even got to a point of asking God why he was doing this to me. I haven’t been in that place since 2008 when I found out I had to have my second ear surgery.

I planned to call my director on Tuesday to ask whether I should go or not.

Somewhere between asking God what I was doing wrong or not doing, I started thinking about why I wanted to come to Uganda in the first place. Much of what brought me here was the work being done in ABIDE, but my first knowledge of Uganda came from Invisible Children. Invisible Children is an organization that seeks to not only bring awareness to the many atrocities committed in Northern Uganda (now active in Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic) but also to stop the rebel group committing them.

Because of all that had happened in the North, I have felt passionate about social justice. Now the main reason for my passion for social justice is Jesus Christ. However, this organization’s efforts to bring awareness and stop this problem was what really opened my eyes to things going on in the world beyond my comfortable life.

Because of this, my desire has been to visit the North of Uganda. Specifically, I wanted to travel to Gulu, but Lira is a place that was largely impacted as well.

I started to realize that there wasn’t a reason that God would not want me to go on this mission, but I couldn’t see any of the forces of evil being supportive of my traveling to a place that has been such a source of passion for good for me. I was reminded of the where Jesus says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 28:10 NIV). And contrary to many’s views, Satan does not “rule” Hell…he is subject to it and simply seeks to drag as many down with him as he can. God is the only one with the power to destroy the soul. So I then saw this as an attempt to keep me from growing further in my passion for justice.

Whether God allowed this as a test or not, it was here and I knew the right answer wasn’t to stay. So I instead called my director and asked for encouragement and prayer. I also visited a doctor to be safe and find out anything I could do better to care for my ear and he had the great wisdom of saying I should put cotton in my ear when I travel because of how much bacteria is in the soil here…this is likely the cause of my many infections.

God provided so much in this way. There was temptation to stay away from something I wanted to do, but God provided a way out.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)

I went on the trip. The travel was brutal (go ahead and use Google maps and search “kabale, uganda to apac, uganda” then “apac, uganda to lira, uganda” and then “lira, uganda to kabale, uganda” [and use the Kampala Road route for the last one]). Our trip back literally consisted of traveling from 6am to 11:45pm (with only two hour long stops for lunch and dinner). The roads also are not just like the roads at home. Some are nice and well paved, others are full of pot holes, and others still are dirt and completely inconsistent in level. We were also in a 15-passenger van, not the most comfortable of travel.

However, the mission itself went really well. I had great interactions with the students. I saw them minister powerfully, we met their families, and we even stayed in huts (I think that would be the right term…see the pictures at the end). I didn’t see people who had been hurt by the rebel group, but I saw many areas which were very developmentally behind other areas due to the issues that have occurred and injustices.

The main reason this trip was important to me was my interactions and conversations with ABIDE guys (and the mangoes were really good…). This wasn’t why I thought I wanted to go to the North, and it’s something I could have had in a way in the Southwestern region where we reside…but I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything.

Despite my ankles getting crazy swollen from how ridiculously hot it was up there and all the travel and sitting, the journey went as smoothly as it could have for the most part. Through incredibly dusty roads caking our bodies and bags with dirt, driving crappy dirt roads in the dark, and having to take a ferry to continue our journey, it was certainly an experience.

Thank you to those of you who saw my updates on travel that I posted on facebook who prayed for us!

God bless you.

Categories: Uganda | Leave a comment

Tension

There are many different types of tension that I am thinking of behind this blog post.

One of which relates to cultural differences that are had to get used to. As I write this, I am sitting in a little lofted restaurant and there is only room for three little groups to sit here. In this kind of setting in the United States, people might be talking, but if they were listening to music or watching something, they would use headphones. Some people sitting by me are listening to the radio loudly from a cell phone…something incredibly common here that has been wearing at me for a while now.

Another tension is being so close to the end of the program that some students are more focused and dedicated, and others are beginning to check out. As a leader, at times it’s hard to not checkout when students do because it seems that there is no point if they don’t care, but I’ve done my best to encourage them to finish strong.

There is also the tension that obviously comes from being in close proximity with people of different personalities constantly with small pockets of breathing room and alone time. It’s hard to be a peacemaker when you’re under pressure and stressed out, but it’s what we’re called to. Realistically, Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker under the ultimate pressure…can we really complain about our stresses? I don’t mean that quite so literally…we can complain about our stressed and God does understand, but we need to remember that he truly does understand to a level we will (thankfully) never experience ourselves.

However, within all of the tension, there is much to be thankful for and much that God is doing to help.

The program is coming to an end and although there will be more stress with missions far away and such, there are pockets of relaxation. I get to take a short trip with Lesley to Rwanda tomorrow for the weekend and visit some friends, and after the program ends there is time to rest.

I am excited about getting home and seeing everyone, doing our little tour through the states we’ve lived in, and of course getting married, but this is where God has us right now and I’m okay with that. I do want to be home quite often, especially with Lesley, but I am thankful for my time here.

God has blessed me so much with a fiancee who encourages me regularly to be as invested as possible in the program in our time left, although it occasionally is at her expense. I am also very thankful for fellow leaders who understand the difficulty of being in a different town (though the same country) when we will be married in under 5 months. My roommate and fellow leaders and amazing and the students I work with are incredible as well.

God has blessed me with some pretty incredible people in my life. Thank you for being one of them, whether you’re from home or you’re here with me :)

God bless you.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For Granted

Some people come back from third-world countries and try to adopt an over-minimalistic life style to counteract the culture they came from. I hope to know better than to do that to an extreme.

We shouldn’t neglect the resources at our disposal simply because others don’t have access to them, to do that would be absurd. We also shouldn’t try to use them as much as possible and become hoarders and gluttons because…well…there’s more to life than the things have. I think there’s a middle ground.

I’ve heard many times about living below, at, and above your means. Living above your means is often looked down upon as it’s a luxurious lifestyle that is often accompanied by debt, all for the sake of status. Living below your means often comes with an attitude of being better than others and tends to be accompanied by resentment of those who don’t live the same way. Living at your means seems to be the more sensible of the choices. Budgeting, having the things you need, giving as you’re able, and the like.

I do believe living a bit below your means so as to use that extra money for others, is the way that living below your means makes sense.

Something that I have grown in appreciation for is all of the things that I take for granted at home. Running [clean] water, consistent electricity, ease of access for most things, personal transportation, etc. All of these are things that, in a culture which considers these normal, we forget to be thankful for.

[This post was inspired by being stuck in our house all day due to rain coming and going sporadically. Our power has also been on and off and I usually have to wait until mid-day to shower since we live on a hill and water isn't always working.]

In James 1:2-4, Jesus’ brother tells the readers to “consider it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.” He doesn’t leave it at that but explains that we know that difficult times breed things in us and in our relationships that are worth having. If we are to be joyful about difficult things that happen to us, how much more should we be thankful for the things that are clearly good and available?

I don’t think that Jesus’ call to “sell all your possessions” that he gave to the rich young ruler (Matthew 16:19-22) applies to all of us in saying that we literally should sell everything we own. The reason Jesus told this guy to sell all his stuff was because the guy loved his stuff more than he loved God.

Life isn’t about giving more than others, having less than others, or anything regarding comparing ourselves to others. Life is about glorifying God through loving him and following him through his example set by Jesus.

If we love something more than God, we really need to reassess it’s worth. If we think that anything is worth more than a good relationship with God, we are in dangerous territory. At the source of believing something is more important than God and choosing it over him, is pride. Truly, we’re saying that what we want or have is more important than what God wants or has.

My encouragement is to not compare your life to others to try to justify how you life, but instead compare your heart to Christ’s. It’s hard and we miss the mark consistently, but he is our standard.

Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that “you must make yourself better.” You can’t. What I am saying is that you need to follow Christ’s example and to do that, you must know Scripture and you must follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He is the only one who really can change your heart and your ways, not you. He equips you to do that which you need, but you also need to ask for his help.

Be thankful for what God has blessed you with, spend/steward your resources wisely, and as our director at ABIDE (Matt) loves to quote, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8 NIV)

Categories: Uganda | Leave a comment

Redheaded Ninjas

During the break I didn’t really have anything ABIDE related to talk about, but it was a great and needed time in which I had very much time with Lesley and was able to be in Mbarara which is a town I know a bit better. I was able to experience the joys of cooking, cleaning, and doing life with Lesley. It was a good picture of what is ahead in terms of working together and supporting one another in life. This may be a different experience and situation, but we both hope to see more of Africa or some form of missions in our future.

Now to explain the name of this post.

This past weekend, we had a mission to Kampala and Jinja (which my friend Kristin Thompson believes sounds like a ginger [redheaded] ninja, hence the title). It was a great time and God definitely worked through us.

The weekend started out to a rough start as there was some confusion on food and such, so we did not eat from 10am until somewhere near 6:30pm. God provided and we survived during that time and even carried out some ministry! We were blessed with a very large feast to prepare us for an overnight that we then helped run that night. I personally ended up sleeping from 2am (trying to sleep) on due to making a terrible mistake of having a large energy drink around lunchtime thinking we’d be eating soon…my body was worn out, especially after being Jesus in the Lifehouse skit.

After our ministry in Kampala, we went to Jinja (a well-known area as it is the source of the Nile river). There, we visited the homes of two students, David and Charles, and stayed with their families. We also visited Amaziima Ministries, which you may have heard of if you’ve read or heard of the book “Kisses From Katie,” as David and Charles were part of the ministry. The directress, Katie Davis, is a young, single, white woman who has adopted 13 kids and runs the school. It was cool to get to meet her and see the ministry after hearing of her. Not to mention…they have a monkey. So cool!

On Sunday we visited two churches (Charles’ and David’s home churches) and performed the Lifehouse skit for each. We were able to work with another mission group (Uganda based) at David’s church and both lead components of the service. The sermon was in Luganda (the main Central region language), but one of the other mission team members was incredibly kind and translated the whole sermon for me. It was a lot easier to stay awake in the service that way.

We had a football (soccer) match between our team and some boys from the church and it was a great time (it was a draw at 3-3). Later on, the other group showed a movie (I think it was based on “Pilgrim’s Progress”) and then we returned to David’s home.

On Monday, we had a free day, walked across the Nile and to Jinja town (a very far walk) and got to see much of the area. We then helped clean up David’s family’s plantation and later (evening) headed back towards Kabale. Due to delay in travel (we arrived at another student, Yonna’s place, fairly late and did not plan to be as late as we were) and low visibility, we stuck around Mbarara a bit (which I loved since Lesley is working there). We arrived back in Kabale on Wednesday evening.

This post is more of simply updating on ministry and less of some principle to be taught. I have just finished fighting my third or fourth (lost count) ear infection which seems to be due to changes in elevation when I travel between Kabale, Mbarara, or even further. So I’m a little out of energy with how much my body keeps needing to fight amidst being faced by some layer of culture-shock every day. Please continue to pray for my health and ministry.

I hope to be able to do another post this week and maybe have more of a theme as well.

God bless you!

IMG_2067 IMG_2085 IMG_2172

(From left to right) Our team, a child who woke me up by climbing on me and later watched me bathe with a basin (so awkward), and our house’s new puppy (Peace)

 

Categories: Uganda | Leave a comment

No Remaining Sense of “Normal”

Last night I was talking with my fiancee, Lesley, on the phone about how thankful I am for the difficulties that we are facing in our current situation of being in different towns in light of knowing how God is using and will use this to strengthen our marriage. Within talking about this, Lesley brought light to the fact that we also need to give ourselves and each other grace, as we may not always realize it, but we are consistently undergoing some level of culture-shock.

Until she had said this, I don’t think I had recognized that not only did I no longer know what normal was because even standing outside of my room in Kabale felt normal, but because when I return to the United States, things will never be the same (though I’m more than alright with that).

This made me think of an ABIDE student’s post from earlier in the day, where he said:

straight roads don’t train good drivers so if you want everything to be straight know that its not good. you need big challanges to win

I felt the need to clarify that we should not seek out trouble or purposely follow a crooked path, but that instead going through big challenges is the result of staying on the straight path, which is quite difficult.

Being in Uganda, being away from home and all that is “normal” for me, is not something that I feel I did fully by choice. I feel that God led me to this after a series of events in my life. Did I have a choice in coming here? Yes. Do I feel I would have been right to continue with seminary and push this off until graduating? No.

I’m obviously glad that I’ve met my wife here, but even looking at the state of my life before coming here, God has me here for a reason. I was very burned out on school and feeling like I needed to be involved in ministry more heavily to remember why it was I was still in school. I feel like he has restored a passion for being further educated and he has equipped me with a new form of accountability that I hadn’t ever thought I would have while in school, a wife.

Although it’s disconcerting to not know what “normal” is anymore, I feel like I am within God’s will and that makes me feel more secure than anytime that I feel I completely understand the trajectory of my life.

Brothers and sisters, let me urge you to always seek the Lord’s will, even if it means abandoning everything you know for something that is unfamiliar and new. But let me also clarify in saying that sometimes God keeps us in a place for a while…sometimes we are allowed to form a new “normal” or at least have a sense of permanence. If you don’t feel God prompting you to move, you might be exactly where he wants you right now. Don’t feel like the way God moves one person is the way he will move you, which is a reminder of why it is so important to ask him for his direction in your life regularly.

Submit in the every day, because that’s what he asks for. You may not know where your life will end up, but if you are saying “yes” to the Lord daily, you will end up where you should.

God bless you.

Categories: Uganda | Leave a comment

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