Friday, September 27, 2013

A picture of grace

   What is grace? It is a word that is often used, but can have varied meanings. "She moves with grace" has a different meaning than "He is so gracious." And even that is a bit different from "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith." (Ephesians 2:8) This last kind of grace has been described as "unmerited favor" or by the acronym "God's Riches At Christ's Expense" Here at Good Shepherd's Fold, I have recently seen a beautiful picture of this type of grace! 

    Last week I wrote asking prayer for Alex, a little boy who came to GSF severely malnourished. He is one year old, mostly skin and bones and was often refusing to eat. The nurses took him to a doctor and found that he had very low hemoglobin, and several other indications that he was not well. It was obvious that he could not survive like that much longer. Because he was so needy, Claudia decided to care for him in her home. In the babies home here at GSF, there are about a dozen kids, and it is hard to keep a very close eye on a particularly needy child. Therefore, the Arrangos took him in. 

   Recently while I was talking with Claudia's older girls about little Alex I realized what a beautiful picture of grace it is to see Claudia and her family care for this need baby. It is hard work to care for any baby, but it is particularly challenging with a severely malnourished one who is often unhappy (probably because he feels so bad.) It is quite an "expense" to the whole family to take in such a needy child. 

   Baby Alex is a good picture of us. On our own we would die. Actually, we are already dead in our sin. We, just like Alex, cannot do anything to save ourselves. Alex is receiving "unmerited favor." He has done nothing to earn the grace Claudia and her family are showing to him. And we cannot earn the grace of God. It is a "gift of God, not by works, that no one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) The grace Alex is receiving is costly in terms of time, energy and patience, but the grace we have received cost Jesus his life. He died to pay the penalty for our sin. 

   Claudia's daughters are also being "gracious" just as they have received grace. They were once like Alex, both physically and spiritually. And now they are helping live out the grace that they have received. Many times when I stop by Claudia's house, I find Alex eating. But when he is not eating, he is usually being held and hugged by one of Claudia's daughters, or Claudia herself. I hope that I can learn to be like these girls and demonstrate to others the grace I have received through Jesus Christ. Whether it is caring for a needy child or forgiving someone who has hurt me, grace is costly. But when I remember Christ's expense to show me grace, every other cost pales in comparison. 

Seeing this tangible expression of grace from this family, has made me even more grateful for the grace I have received. I hope you are also encouraged today to live out the grace you have received! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Some prayer requests

We would appreciate your prayers concerning my return to the states for follow-up care for the pre-cancerous area on my tongue. 

We had been thinking that I would probably come back to the states at some point in the middle of our first term here in order to have a follow-up visit. But since there have been some very slight changes in the appearance of the area, we have been thinking that I would return sooner and stay long enough for a MOHs procedure in which they try to remove all the abnormal tissue, and for the recovery. After weeks of trying to contact the office, I finally called and got through to the nurse practitioner who has seen me twice along with Dr. Wadsworth. That was a big answer to prayer! She said that I would need to be in GA for 4-6 weeks. We were hoping for more like 2-3 since we will be apart during that time, but that is apparently not long enough for the visit, some scans, the procedure, and the recovery.

There are several factors we are trying to juggle as we consider when I should return. The first in my mind is my family. Until mid November we are still living off campus in Jinja and David would not have much help with the children here. Then we will move to a temporary house on campus for two weeks, and then into another missionary family's house while they are on furlough for 6 months. We will move into that house around Nov.30. When we are on campus, David will have more help available. I also want to help my children adjust to moving again. After spending the first part of their lives in the same home and same church, they will be switching to another home and another church. I want to help them with those transitions. 

A second factor is our work here. David and I are both teaching full-time and he would not be able to continue teaching all six grade levels alone. So we have been leaning toward me coming back at a break between semesters. Our schedule is pretty flexible, but that seems to be the most logical time for me to be gone. 

Another factor, of course, is that the doctor says that sooner would be better  to return than later. He is not very concerned. I have been sending photos of my tongue and recent bloodwork that I had done here. As far as we know, it is still pre-cancer, and even if it were to become cancer, this type is very treatable with a 90% survival rate. But we do hope to remove the abnormal tissue before it becomes cancer. While it is very treatable, it is also a bit unusual since I have no risk factors, so we feel like I need to continue to follow-up with this specialist at Emory. 

All of these factors have led us to lean toward me returning in January. Also, it is generally less expensive to travel in January than in December and we would like to all be together for Christmas. We are also thinking that I will bring Ezra with me. It would definitely lighten the load for David here and Ezra would enjoy the opportunity. Zeke did not travel well, so we think it would be best for him to stay here. 

We have been praying about this and our team here has been praying for us also in this matter. But we would also like for you all to pray that we would have wisdom regarding these plans. There are so many factors to juggle, but we trust that God has all of those in his hands. We will contact the missions travel agency that we work with soon, in order to begin to look for flights. 

Although this health concern adds expense and will require us to be apart as a family, I am trying to thank God for the blessings this "opportunity" will provide. I am looking forward to the chance to see family and friends much sooner than we originally thought. It also gives me the ability to connect in person with much of our support team and share more about what God is doing here. I think it will also be good for me to have special time with Ezra. 

Thank you for your prayers for our family as we consider this upcoming trip! There are also two babies here that I would ask you to please pray for. The first is Rebecca. She is the daughter of the pastor at the village church near GSF and her mother and I are prayer partners. She is 8 months old and is in the hospital very sick with malaria. The other is a baby named Alex who is over a year old, but is terribly malnourished. Here is a photo of him.
He came to GSF a few weeks ago and he is not eating well and having some medical complications. Claudia is now caring for him in her house. She has nursed many very sick children back to health over the years. Please pray for healing for these children and wisdom and comfort from the Lord for their caregivers. I cannot express how heartbreaking it is to see a baby so sick and to feel so helpless. God is teaching me a greater dependence upon him each day, and showing me the power of prayer. Thank you for partnering with us in prayer in all of these situations!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My students

As you know, my students are not the average American kids. They are missionary kids who live here on campus at Good Shepherd's Fold in Uganda and are friends with the children who live at the orphanage. They are an important  part of the ministry here. All of these kids have also lived part of their lives in other countries: Singapore, France, Mauritania and the US. Four of our students are Ugandans who were adopted by Claudia, a single woman who has been working here for 15 years now. Here is a picture of Maggie, one of Claudia's daughters, and me. This picture was taken at Elijah's birthday party. She and I often find ourselves wearing matching clothes, so I tease that she is my twin. 

This morning, during our morning worship at school, we asked the students what song they would want to sing. Some songs were mentioned with which we were unfamiliar, so we asked our students to lead them. Maggie led the students in a beautiful song. Knowing her and her sisters makes these words even more beautiful. I almost started to cry listening to my students sing this song of worship to their Father. Here are the words: 

I have a Father;
He calls me his own.
He'll never leave me
No matter where I go.

He knows my name.
He knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call. 

I have a Maker. 
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in His hands. 

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call. 

It is such a blessing to be able to teach, learn from, mentor, and walk through life with these kids. I probably learn as much from them as they learn from me. This afternoon Caralina, our oldest student, went with me to the local hospital to visit Judith and her daughter Rebecca. It was good to do that together. I am so blessed by God's work in the hearts of these young women and men in our school. I look forward to seeing how God continues to work in and through all of their lives.  

And I am very thankful for the reminder today that God is a Father to the fatherless. He will never leave us or forsake us. And he cares deeply for his children! 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Please pray for Rebecca!

I wrote a previous post about my prayer partner and friend, Judith. She and I quickly connected as we talked about our families. We both have multiple boys and one girl. She wanted me to take a picture of our girls together, so here it is. 
Esther is holding her only daughter, Rebecca, who is 8 months old. Yesterday Rebecca was taken to the hospital. She has malaria and is dehydrated. Please pray for  God to heal her and to comfort her parents, Judith and Sam. Thank you.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Be still my soul

This morning I woke earlier than usual so I put on headphones to listen to some music before getting out of bed. The song that came on was "Be Still My Soul." The words are so good and have been so encouraging to me this morning. I still remember singing this song at Faith Church back in Watkinsville with the tears flowing fast as we were preparing to come here. So here are the words. I hope they are an encouragement to you today also. 

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and bless├Ęd we shall meet at last.

A good Saturday!

    Since I now leave the house for "work" at 7am and do not return until 5-6pm on weekdays, Saturdays are often pretty busy with the details of life. But yesterday was a good balance of productivity and fun family time. In the morning I planned the meals for the week. Meal planning takes a while because I then need to make a list of what ingredients can be bought at the supermarket, like flour, sugar, etc., and the fresh ingredients which are only available at The Market, and the miscellaneous ones which are only available through a group of vendors along the side of a certain street. This took a great deal of time originally. And even so I would often have several items that I thought I would be able to purchase, but could not find. 

     Now that we have been here for over two months, I am starting to get better at meal planning. I wrote out the plan for the week, wrote the shopping lists of ingredients, and headed out with my oldest two children. David stayed home with the younger boys so they could play.  Elijah and Esther thought that everything was taking a long time, but I was able to find everything on my list at only two supermarkets, two roadside stops, and a trip through the Market. I felt very pleased that I was able to do all of that fairly efficiently and even paid the same amount as what my Ugandan friend thought I should pay. 

     While I was out a young man named Hassan found me. He is a street vendor. He told me that he used to just beg for money, but he is now working in order to earn enough money to pay for a place to live. I wanted to encourage him to continue to work for his income, so I "supported him" as they say, by buying some items from him. Since I have bought items from him twice, he now finds me every time I am in town. This Saturday I purchased some mugs from him. I really like the mugs, and they only cost 2,500 shillings each, which is a little less than a dollar. Best of all it helps to support my new friend. Here is a photo of my new mugs. 
     After my shopping we stopped at the post office and found a letter and a package slip! It was so exciting to get notes and treats from friends and family! It means so much to us! 

     Then after Zeke's nap we went over to our new friends', the Lawson's, house for the evening. The kids played soccer and Legos, we all ate a delicious meal including homemade tortilla chips and salsa, and after dinner, the kids watched a movie while the parents played a game of Spades. It was a fun relaxing evening! 

    Overall it was a very good day. We accomplished the tasks necessary to plan for the week ahead and still had some fun with friends. Most days here in Uganda, the task list cannot be completed for one reason or another. God is helping us both grow in patience, but it is still nice to have a day where life goes more smoothly. 

   Today in church the pastor said that "happiness is related to our circumstances, but true joy only comes from the Lord." He also quoted Nehemiah 8:10, "The joy of The Lord is your strength." Please pray that would be true of our family. Pray that we would have joy through Jesus and that would be the source of our strength everyday, whether it is an easy, fun day like today, or a very challenging one. May the joy of the Lord be your strength too! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Worshipping in the village

Since we were watching some other missionary kids last weekend, we decided to stay on campus at their house. So we drove to campus early Sunday morning in order to attend Light of the World Church in Buwundo village. 
This is the church that was begun by some employees at Good Shepherd's Fold. There had not ever been a church in this local village, so several employees and the missionaries here began to pray. Soon a few of the men on staff at GSF started a Bible study. That Bible study continued to grow and in November of last year they began meeting on Sundays for worship. 

Worshipping here is very different than in our traditional churches in America. The first difference is that we sing in at least two different languages. The sermon is actually translated from English into two other languages, Luganda and Luo. Although that sounds very cumbersome, it really flows smoothly. And it gives us a little picture of heaven where God will be worshipped by every tribe in every tongue. 

Another difference is how physical the worship is. There is much clapping and drumming and dancing before the Lord. This time of singing worship songs is about an hour, which is very different from our standard 3 song set at our church in America. Although that part of the service took much longer, the children didn't seem to mind since they were dancing. Zeke particularly enjoyed the worship here. He loves clapping and dancing! 

A third difference is that we walk to church. People in the local village do not have cars; they just walk wherever they go. So the church is not along a road, but along a footpath. We all walked about 15 minutes to church. It was a beautiful walk with lantana flowers and banana trees and all kinds of beautiful plants along the way. It was also nice to meet people from the local village who were walking to GSF to get clean water. I hope that they will eventually join the congregation at Light of the World. Here is a photo of our walk. 

A fourth difference is that there is a time for someone to share a testimony before the sermon. This week a woman shared that she was thankful to God that she and her one year old son were at home in the village when he died. He had a heart defect and was in need of a surgery that could not be done here in Uganda. GSF was trying to get him into a program where he could be flown overseas for surgery, but before he was accepted into that program, he passed away. The mom was thanking God for the grace of being near family and friends rather than alone on an airplane or in a foreign country when he died. Please pray for comfort for this woman, her family, and the staff at GSF as they grieve the death of this boy. I am amazed and encouraged that she was able to publicly thank God for his grace in the midst of this loss. It reminded me that even in the midst of significant trials, we can always thank God for something. 

Another difference in the church here is the children's church program. The children leave after the hour of worship for their own lesson during the sermon. That in and of itself is not so different. When the children leave the church building which is made of eucalyptus poles and papyrus mats, covered with tarps, they go to a small area with a shade and sit on a mat, or the dirt if they are my sons, to listen to their Bible story. Caralina Gwartney, one of the older missionary kids who attends our school at GSF, teaches the lesson. She was speaking while another child was translating. Zeke was having trouble sitting still so Caralina asked him to come sit near her. Well, Zeke apparent thought she was asking for a second translator. Caralina would says a sentence or two, the child on her right would translate into Luganda, and then Zeke, sitting on her left would attempt to repeat the translation, or maybe he was translating into Luo. The children all thought he was hilarious, and he apparently continued with his "translating" for quite some time. I am very thankful for Caralina's patience and sense of humor! Below is a picture of the church building and the shaded area for children's church. 

Apparently our Zeke feels just as comfortable worshipping in the village in Uganda, Africa as he does back in Watkinsville, GA.  I am very thankful for his cheerful, outgoing personality! Everyone on campus at GSF already knows Zeke's name, and I'm sure that before long, the same will be true in the village too. 

As you pray for us, also pray for the congregation at Light of the World church in Buwundo village. This week we will be back in Jinja for worship, but we look forward to being a part of the congregation here when we move onto campus. As you worship the Lord this weekend, remember that you are joining your voice with many others all over the world worshipping our amazing God in many languages together! 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Boating on the Nile

Today we decided to do a touristy sort of thing that the kids have been asking to do since day one. Go for a boat ride! There is a place called the "Source of the Nile." It is where an inlet of Lake Victoria flows into the Nile River and an underwater spring also feeds into the Nile. There is a monument where Speake stood as the first white man to see the source of the Nile River. And of course, there are souvenirs. So we decided to do our part to support the tourism industry in Uganda and enjoy a fun boat ride with our friends, the Lawsons. Here is the boat.
We had a really fun time! On the way to the little island of shops next to the spring, we went past some tilapia cages. They have these cages floating in the water of Lake Victoria where they raise tilapia. These are probably the fish we buy at the market each week. Below is a photo of the cages. You will notice the birds standing on the lids hoping for a fish to swim too close to the top. Apparently these cages go several meters deep with thousands of fish. 
After boating around in Lake Victoria a bit, we went to the island that is next to the Source of the Nile. Here is our family photo at the sign.
As you can see, this "island" is just a few inches above the level of the lake, at least  when we were there. We found some crabs and snails and even saw some cichlids, a brightly colored freshwater fish.
As we left the little island we went down the Nile just a little way. We went near one of the banks to see some monkeys and birds. While we were there we also saw a HUGE monitor lizard. It was maybe 5 feet long. The man who was giving us the tour also told us that they sometimes see a hippo near there. We did not see one today. As we were driving back, David was talking with the man about going fishing for Nile Perch. They do not have fishing poles here, so they just hold the line with the bait fish and hook on the bottom and hope to catch a fish that can weigh up to 500lbs. That sounds a little crazy to me, but David wants to do it. If he ever catches one, I'm sure there will be a blog post about that! 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My new prayer partner

This week a team of women came to GSF to do a program for the housemothers and any other women who might want to attend. During most of their sessions I was also teaching, so I could not participate in it all, but I was able to step in for part of the last two days. When I joined the teaching session it felt like God had brought these women to speak His words just for me. 

During the first teaching session, one of the women spoke about the power of God seen through the life of Jesus. He calmed the storm, healed the sick and even raised the dead. As I sat there I could not stop crying. It was so good to be reminded that God has power over all things. Lately I have had trouble sleeping as I often wake anxious and fearful. So when it was time to divide into small groups for prayer, I asked for prayer that I would trust God and not live with fear and anxiety. I also asked for prayer for healing for my tongue and throat. 

Our prayer group had 6 women and 3 different languages, English, Luganda  and Luo. One woman, named Judith, prayed for me in the Luo language. I did not understand the words, but she prayed with such passion that I felt very loved and encouraged. That night I slept peacefully and did not wake anxious. 

The next day Judith was in my prayer group again. She told me she prayed for me that night. She asked me to write down my request and name so that she could continue praying for me. Then she told me, "This is my work in the church of God, to pray for people." It was so beautiful to hear her perspective. We all have work to do in the church and her job is to pray. Wow! In the American church it can be easy to fall into the mindset of what the church does for me, but Judith reminded me that we all have work to do in the church. And prayer is a very important job! I am so thankful to know that Judith and many of you are praying for me and my family. Thank you for your work! Here is a photo of me with Judith and her daughter. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A great afternoon at GSF

Most days when school is over we have to do a bit of lesson prep for the next day and then we drive back to town. But on Wednesdays we stay for team devotions which are 5-7pm. We always enjoy the time with our team, but we also enjoy just having more time on campus at GSF. This afternoon Zeke, Esther and I went to play at the toddler playground. We all had a really good time there. Danny, who I often held when we visited before, is now 4 and getting big, but he still came and sat in my lap for a long time. Then when he had enough cuddles to go and play, Silas took his place. Below is a photo of sweet Silas.
Zeke enjoyed playing on the slide and swings with some of his new friends and his big sister. Below is a photo of Zeke and Efrance on the slide. She wasn't quite sure if she should let him pass. She is a sweet girl who is almost always smiling. 
It was a very fun afternoon. Then as the adults had devotions the older kids played basketball and the younger ones played on the other playground. Our children always enjoy Wednesdays! The team devotions were very encouraging as we all shared a time of thanksgiving and praise and then had communion together. A visiting team joined us and we concluded the evening with "Amazing Grace." It was such a wonderful time, and as we stepped out of the Gwartney's house, this was the view.
David saw some cranes and monkeys in the trees and I saw a mongoose run through a nearby field. It was a beautiful evening in every way! I had been really struggling with anxiety about health issues last night and this morning, so this afternoon and evening were just what I needed! I am so thankful for the blessing of our missionary team here, the short-term team who prayed with me today, the joy of showing God's love to the children at GSF, friends for my children, encouraging worship, and the beauty of this place where God has called us! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My new favorite supermarket

Going to the supermarket here is always an adventure. There are maybe a dozen of these little "supermarkets" and you never know which items will be at which store. In order to find 10 items on my grocery list, I often go to 2 or 3 different supermarkets. The nice thing is that they are fairly close to one another. 

This week I heard about a supermarket that I had not been to yet, Jalja Supermarket. A friend told me that some items were a bit less expensive there and they were kind to her. So I decided to check it out. I went in with Ezra and Zeke  and found most of the items on my list. When I was checking out, which is the man adding up the cost of the items on a calculator, Zeke was eyeing some apples. Apples are more expensive here since they do not grow in the tropical climate. As we were leaving the man told Zeke he could have an apple. Zeke asked him twice to be sure, "I can have this? This apple?" He was very excited! 

On another day I needed a few more items from the store so I went back to Jalja. When I got to the check out I realized I did not have enough money to pay. I was  40,000 shillings short, which is about $15. The man told me to just bring it next time. I asked again to make sure I understood correctly. He must think our family has trouble hearing. But it is unusual to receive generosity in business dealings. I have gotten used to haggling in the market where they will try to charge me, the mzungu, triple the usual price if I don't know the difference. So this kindness from the man at Jalja has been so refreshing! While I will still need to go to several markets to get all the desired items, I am glad to have found a new favorite!