Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas at GSF

This year I was asked to be "in charge of Christmas" since another missionary who usually coordinates it all is away on furlough. Wow! It is a huge undertaking to organize and coordinate gifts and celebrations for everyone here! I have a greater appreciation for all Amy Gwartney does as the childcare coordinator and wife of the team leader! 

Since we celebrate with the staff, the children, the missionaries and our own families, it can be a busy time of year. So here are a few highlights. 
An evening of cookies and Christmas carols with the missionaries and GSF kids who were able to come.

The missionary presentation of the birth of Jesus at the staff Christmas party. 

Our Christmas Eve reading of the birth of Jesus and singing Silent Night by candlelight with the kids. 

Giving out stockings! 

My kids excitement over Legos and books and a sewing machine! 

Giving out gifts to the children!

We also had a missionary family that is new to the area over for a Christmas Eve lunch, a Christmas Day brunch with the missionaries and some special times visiting with our neighbors in Buwundo and giving some small gifts. I didn't take photos of everything, but I am thankful for all of these opportunities to celebrate the birth of Jesus!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Incarnation

On Saturday, I was reading the Bible with some of my neighbors in Buwundo village. We began talking about Christmas in Luganda. I explained that Christmas is the celebration of when Jesus Christ came to earth. One of the women looked puzzled and asked, "when Jesus came or when Jesus was born." These women had only heard of Jesus as a prophet before they began reading the Bible. We turned to John chapter 1 and began to read, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." We read on to see that this "Word" was Jesus. 

As I was trying to answer the woman's questions by having her read what the Bible said, I was struck by how amazing the Incarnation is, and how difficult it is to understand. I remember as a child laying in my bed at night trying to wrap my mind around the idea that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three persons, but One God. I also remember trying to think about the idea of God being eternal, having no beginning and no end. My mathematical mind really struggled with these concepts. One of my professors at Covenant College said it best, "You cannot fit the infinite God into your little pea brains." 

Today as I was trying to help my friends discover who Jesus is through the Bible, I found myself struck anew with wonder. The God who created this world, the God who is eternal, this amazing God humbled himself and came to earth in the form of a baby. He became a dependent, vulnerable child being cared for by a teenage mom. Below is a photo of me and baby Maria at our Christmas Eve celebration here at GSF.

I also became overwhelmed with my inability to explain these truths, particularly in a language in which I am not yet fluent. I ended this week's Bible study by telling them that I wish my Luganda was better, and I am really trying to keep learning so that we can talk about these things. But I also pointed out that, since each of their families has a Bible and at least one person in each family is able to read it, they can find out more about Jesus by reading on their own. I have told them about the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, where they can read more about Jesus. I am praying that they will! I also pray that this Christmas we will all be encouraged and amazed by God's love for us as we remember Jesus. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday guests

Here at GSF, we try to give as many children as possible the opportunity to visit with extended family for the holidays. Sometimes these are grandparents or aunts and uncles. But for some of our kids at GSF, there are not any family members that our social workers have found to be capable of caring for the kids over the holiday. In these situations the various missionaries try to spend some special time with these kids. 

We were blessed to be able to have 2 girls who are close to Esther's age over for some family time. It was a very special time together! We began our time by giving the girls a pedicure.
Esther and I worked together to wash, massage, tickle, and lotion their feet. Then we cleaned, clipped and painted their toenails. I even had some fancy stickers to add on! My favorite part was their excitement over being able to soak their feet in warm water. 

We also made homemade pizza and watched a family movie. It was interesting how closely these two girls watched all of our family interactions. They couldn't help but stare when I sat with my husband and when Zeke climbed into my lap. These simple, everyday interactions are not the life experience of kids who live in an orphanage. As we watched the movie Inside Out together, I couldn't help but think about what some of their "core memories" are like. I prayed that their brief time with our family might also be a "core memory" for them. I gave them extra hugs and tucked them in along with my children.
As I told them that I loved them, I saw their faces light up. How I wish that all these children could be in loving families! In this Advent season, the brokenness of this world reminds me to look forward to Jesus' second coming when he will make all things new! I am thankful to have the opportunity to show His love to these kids in the time until then. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Working with GSF big brothers and sisters

On Thursday we took our MK students for a service learning opportunity to a babies' home which is run by a young woman who grew up at GSF. When we arrived, we found that there is also a children's home for older kids down the road and another ministry for street girls right across the road. All three of these ministries work together and are run by young adults who grew up at GSF. It is beautiful to see how God has multiplied the ministry! It reminds me of 2 Timothy 2:2 which says "the things that you have learned from me, teach to reliable men that they may teach others." These kids received the the compassionate love of God when they were orphans and now they are living out that love to other children in need. It is beautiful!

I knew that on Thursday we might have a large number of kids since schools are on holiday. I was thinking it might be as many as 40, but it was probably closer to 100 children! I had planned 9 different activities for 15-20 minutes each with the kids divided into 3 groups. Here are some photos of our activities.
Parachute games
Story times
Playing ball
We had some fun times of just holding the babies and helping bathe them. We also took photos of the children so that they could all have a photo of themselves. I had planned to make a craft with the photos, but sometimes things don't work out as planned. I didn't have enough supplies or time to do the craft with everyone. We had the opportunity to share the story of Jesus' birth with the kids. It was a bit of a busy, exhausting day, but we were thankful for the opportunity!  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Welcoming a new baby!

Today GSF welcomed a tiny baby into our family. In this season of Advent it is amazing to remember that Jesus humbled himself and came to earth as a baby. (Phillipians 2:5-7)
As I held this precious, fragile one month old who weighs only 6 pounds, I was so thankful for the opportunity to help care for her. I think of Jesus saying, "whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done it for me." (Matthew 28:40) I pray that as we wonder at the love of God for us in sending Jesus, God will also bring to our minds the "least of these" to whom we can show His amazing, humble love. There are so many ways to do that. 
You can sponsor this precious baby girl at You can consider being foster or adoptive parents. You can support foster families in the Athens, GA area by contacting my friend Kelly at You can help send one of our neighbors to school by contributing at You can participate in local prison ministries. You can care for widows in your community. 

But when I fail to focus on the amazing love I have received in Jesus, all of these opportunities begin to feel like weights and obligations. I need to first take time to just rest in the amazing love of my Heavenly Father for me, sending Jesus to bring me into His eternal family. Praise God! 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving thanks in Uganda

Today I am thankful for so many things. I thought I would share a few with you as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day here in Uganda. 

1- I am thankful that the same God who is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe has loved me and sent his Son, Jesus to bring me into his family. I want to never stop being thankful for that amazing grace! 

2- I am thankful to work at a place that shows a small picture of God's grace in caring for orphaned and vulnerable children. I long for the day when no more children will be orphaned, abused or abandoned, when God's children will all know the joy of being perfectly loved in His family. Come quickly, Jesus! 

3- Right now I am particularly thankful for two families who are here celebrating Thanksgiving with us as they live out a beautiful picture of God's love through adoption. I am also thankful that our school can assist these parents while they are waiting. Our kids are all thankful for some extra friends and classmates! 

4- I'm thankful for the opportunity to teach in a flexible, fun setting. On Wednesday we had fun doing our addition by finding the total number of points on the turkeys we shot. (It was a nerf gun, no worries.)

5- I'm particularly thankful for David! This week he turned 40! I am so blessed to be his partner in parenting, ministry and life. 

6- I'm also thankful for a wonderful day of celebrating with our missionary team, other Global Outreach missionaries and our visitors. Our students recited Psalm 100.

Afterward we all sang "Give Thanks" together. We also made a thankfulness tree. Since we live in Uganda this is our little picture of fall.

7- I'm also very thankful that after all the clean up, I had some sweet cuddle and reading time with my kiddos.  

Today I am thanking God for these gifts and so many more! 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Joan update and prayer requests

Thank you for your prayers for our sweet Joan. She had a successful surgery inserting 3 pins to hold her bones in place. She has returned to GSF for her recovery. For the rest of this week she is supposed to be laying in bed with her arm elevated. Not an easy task for an active 10 year old. This afternoon I brought her some books to read together. She sat up for a bit, but we made sure to keep her arm raised in order to reduce the swelling. 

After two weeks she is scheduled to go back and have a pin and some stitches removed. Please pray for continued healing and relief from pain as she recovers. Pray for her housemom, the nurses and missionaries here to know how to encourage and care for her well. Please pray that the other girls in her house would be kind and help care for her. 

As I have been praying and trusting God to work for Joan's good in the midst of this situation, I began thinking about how children in an orphanage rarely have one-on-one attention. Since Joan is in my cord group, I am hoping to spend some extra one-on-one time with her during her recovery. It has also made me think about how I might find individual time for each of the seven girls in my group. Sometimes it is a bit of a struggle to make that individual time with my own 4 children a priority. 

Now that Cody and Katie Fox have returned, I am able to reduce to teaching part-time again. There are so many things that I want to do with my additional time. I want to spend more one-on one time with the girls in my cord group. I want to help GSF kids who are struggling in math. I want to learn Luganda better. I want to read the Bible with more of our non-Christian neighbors in Buwundo village. There is no shortage of opportunities for ministry. I also know that I need to set aside time to rest. That has become clear to me in the past few months. 

But my first priority is to pray! I don't want to just jump into more ministry just because I see a need and have a little time. I want to spend my time the way God wants and calls me to spend it. Please pray for God to direct my steps as I seek His will for each day, trusting Him to meet the needs for his children! 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Broken bones

Yesterday, one of our precious girls at GSF fell and broke her elbow. Joan (pronounced Jo-anne) is just a few months older than my Esther. They are friends and were playing together with other girls their age when she fell. Here is a photo of these two girls together at the clinic.
The nurse took her to Jinja, to one clinic to get an x-Ray, to another clinic to have the doctor read it, and then they were sent to a third clinic for meeting with the orthopedic doctor. It was too late, so he was not available and we needed to bring her back to town today. 

The orthopedic doctor saw the x-Ray and realized that setting these bones was going to require surgery and pins. Thankfully my dear friend Jennifer has worked as a surgical nurse, so she accompanied me to decide how to best proceed. After much discussion and prayer we decided to go ahead and admit Joan today. They are going to try to reduce the swelling overnight and set the bone tomorrow morning. She might be released by Tuesday at the soonest. Since hospitals here only provide a bed and the doctors, we needed to gather things for them to use, sheets, towels, blankets, pillows, mosquito net, basin for bathing, mattress for the nurse, soap, cup, drinking water, hot water, etc. 

Please pray for the nurse from GSF who is caring for Joan, for the doctor to have great skill and care in setting the bones and for Joan as this has been a very painful and scary experience. Thank you for your prayers! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Church work day

Back in the U.S. our family would sometimes participate in a church workday or an outreach service project with other members of our church. Those were always fun times of serving together, but my kids really loved our Ugandan version of a church work day. 

One elderly man in the church has a mud hut that was falling down. It was crumbling in many places. The church leadership felt like it was necessary to do a few things to secure his current living situation and then to pray about a better long-term solution. Since it is the rainy season, we have intense storms often. The wind and rain were basically blowing through his house. 

The church decided to help by providing some poles to better support the structure, and then begin re-packing the mud. Ezra got the job of mixing the mud. 
It was his dream job! You dig up dirt, pour in water and then begin stomping to mix it all up. He told me how much he loves the feeling of the mud squishing through his toes! 

After the mud is mixed it is carried over to where it is going to be applied. Here is a photo of Esther, our nurse at GSF and a visitor carrying the mud. This stuff is heavy! 

Elijah's favorite part of the work is applying the mud. You throw it to make it stick. Yes, our kids were being asked to throw mud! What more could you want in a work day!

I mostly visited with the family, prepared a meal for the workers and the family, and cared for the children. I like to get dirty and work hard with the rest of them, but it was necessary for me to take care of other logistics. I also enjoyed a little bit of time taking photos with the children who are our neighbors. They love to see their own faces on the screen!

We worked for much of the day and I hope that the house is a bit more stable and can keep him dry on these stormy nights. I also am praying that God would use this example of the church caring for the needs of those around to demonstrate the love of God through Jesus. Please continue to pray with us for our neighbors to know God's love through the person of Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ugandan Introductions

Here in Uganda there is a ceremony when the groom-to-be is officially introduced to the family of the bride-to-be. The man is expected to bring many gifts to the family, and eventually after some negotiations, the father of the bride or a male representative signs a contract with his father or male representative giving her to them. It is a very interesting ceremony.

We attended our first introduction ceremony last weekend. Since we know the groom well, he asked us to drive him and some of his representatives. We were supposed to pick him up at 10am to reach the family of the bride by 11am, but I know enough about Ugandan culture to know that was not going to happen. At 10am we received a phone call that we should not come yet. Since this is a traditional ceremony, and we were traveling with the groom, we needed to wear traditional clothes. Here is a photo of me in my gomez and David wearing his kanzu. 

A few hours later we were called to go pick up the groom and his entourage. We packed in all the gifts including clothes for the family members, a huge bag of salt, a 50kg bag of sugar, boxes of soap, a chicken, cooking oil, baskets of vegetables and various other items. One of the most important things is the envelopes of money for various family members. Here is a photo of some of the items in our trunk. 

The ceremony is very serious, but it is a little funny. It was all in Luganda, but this is some of what I was able to understand. The visitors are seated then various members of the bride's family are brought to be asked if they know these visitors. They all answer "no" and are given money for their "transportation" expense. Eventually an aunt is asked if she knows the visitors and she answers that she does not have enough money to know these visitors. An envelope is passed, she goes back into the house, apparently to decide if the envelope contains enough money to "know the visitors." She came back and suddenly knew us. ;) Here is a photo of some of the family members. 

You might notice that all the women are kneeling and the men are sitting this is the case for the whole ceremony. And when we visitors finally met the rest of the family, we women always kneel before the man we are greeting. It is a difficult custom for me to adopt, but I went along with it for the sake of cultural sensitivity. 

When the agreement was reached between the families, the bride was brought out. Of course she also knelt before the family of the groom. Once all of the greeting of each family member and the contract was signed, we all shared a meal. Of course this was lunch at about 4pm, so I was feeling pretty hungry. Once the meal was over, we prepared to return to the house of the groom where there was a big party awaiting. Most of the village seemed to be there to celebrate. There was another meal, music dancing, and so many people! The party went late into the night. We know because even after we left we could still hear the music.

We enjoyed this day of culture learning. It is interesting how this experience gives me a picture of some of the biblical references to marriage and betrothal. We also enjoyed the opportunity to build relationships with more of our Ugandan friends. For some reason, wearing their traditional clothes, going to an introduction and speaking Luganda have opened doors and relationships. One woman said to me, "Now we can really see the love of God in your heart because you are together with us."  I am thankful for this opportunity to communicate the love of Jesus simply by giving a day to be with our Ugandan friends. Many of those who were with us that day, do not yet know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. We praise God that recently one of these friends has come to faith in Jesus Christ! We are praying that God would continue the work he has begun in the hearts of many others. Jesus has purchased his bride with much more than chickens or goats. He purchased us at the cost of his life. We look forward to the day when He will come back for his Bride. There will be a huge celebration on that day, the marriage supper of the Lamb! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Different graduation celebrations

Today was the celebration for the P7 students at the Good Shepherd's Fold primary school. At the end of this year these students will take an exam that will determine if they will be able to continue their education, and if so which schools they are able to get into. In that way it is similar to the SAT which American students take about 5 years later. These students are celebrating the end of their studies, but they also still have a big exam looming. Please pray for our students as they begin their exams soon. 

Today the cultural differences really struck me. The students and teachers all presented many dances. At one point two teachers did some serious hip shaking dances to a song in a local language about being happy because of salvation in Jesus Christ. As the teachers danced members of the audience walked up and handed them money or put it in their pockets. They did the same for students when they danced. I tried picturing this happening at one of our Christian school graduation ceremonies in America and had to keep myself from laughing out loud at how different our cultures are. Here is a photo of the teachers up being introduced before the dancing. 

Another interesting cultural note, was when our administrator spoke. She encouraged parents not to just send their daughters for marriage if they don't yet have money for school fees at the next level. My understanding of the words in Luganda were literally, "don't give them away to give birth to children." Since young men are expected to give quite a bit of money and many gifts to the family of his wife to be, girls might finish school after P7, the American equivalent of 7th grade, in order to marry and begin having children. I am thankful that our administrator encouraged the families to pray and work to find a way to pay for their daughters' education rather than trying to just marry them off. 

This morning David was given a paper with the schedule for this event that listed him as a speaker on behalf of the missionaries. Another missionary had mentioned that he might be asked to pray, but no one ever asked him. He was scheduled to speak following our administrator. I suggested that he also begin with a dance. If you know David, you know that is not going to happen. He did a great job speaking to the students and parents about an exam more important than the exam at the end of this school year. He talked about the day of judgement, and the only way we can pass that exam is by faith in Jesus and receiving his righteousness. He talked about the results of that exam lasting for all eternity. I am thankful for another opportunity to share the gospel with people in our community surrounding GSF. 

As you pray for us here at GSF, please pray that the students who attend the primary school would be ready for their exams, but also that they would be ready for the exam on the last day, trusting in Jesus alone for their salvation. Jesus can bring together people from different cultures as we all look to him. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Celebrating Ugandan Independence

October 9th is Independence Day here in Uganda. Since our school for missionary kids uses mostly American curriculum, we always take a day around Ugandan Independence to study the history, geography, language and culture in Uganda. Of course we try to incorporate these things throughout the year, but this one day is specifically devoted to focus on these opportunities.

We began our morning by dividing into teams and putting the words of John 3:16 and John 14:6 in order in Luganda. We have been working on memorizing these verses in both English and Luganda. I love hearing my 4 year old recite Scripture in the local language! Here is a photo of one team working on these verses. 
After our Bible verse activities we took some fun school photos. Everyone wore Ugandan colors: black, yellow and red to add to the festivity! Our school feels small right now while the Gwartney family is away, but it still certainly keeps us busy. 
The next activity for the day was a photo scavenger hunt. Each team had a list of various cultural activities to do and take photos. There are so many photos from this portion of the day, but here are just a few highlights.
in a sugar cane field

photo with campaign posters
digging the cassava
When the time was up from our scavenger hunt, we went to the garden and worked together to dig cassava roots.
Then the two teams had a cooking competition.
washing and peeling
yes, that is a marker mustache
The students washed, peeled, sliced and fried the cassava, roasted g-nuts, and made passion fruit juice. Then we all enjoyed the food we cooked for our lunch! After lunch, we had a chapati eating contest. Chapati is a local flatbread that is thicker and greasier than tortillas. It is very tasty, but it can also be very filling. We gave the kids a time limit in order to prevent everyone making themselves sick.

In the afternoon we had some more academic activities including labeling maps of Africa, a quiz game with Ugandan history, drawing the national crest, labeling a map of Uganda, singing the national anthem, etc.
It was a great day! We are thankful to be teaching this great group of kids and learning more about the beautiful country of Uganda!

Monday, October 12, 2015

A full Sunday

This Sunday was busier than usual. It began with some of the usual events, teaching Sunday School and picking up kids to take to church. Since this was a communion Sunday, we also needed to bring the bread, juice and cups, and prepare them at church. 

While we were at church, I was very excited to see 2 of the women who have been reading the Bible with me. They have now come to worship 2 weeks in a row. I am thankful to see that they are not only wanting to read God's Word, but they are also wanting to be a part of the local church. 

After church I had many things on my to do list. First I needed to get some materials to 2 of my students who are planning to take the PSAT. On Sunday morning early I finally had enough bandwidth to download some materials to help them know what to expect. I wanted them to have the materials for a couple days at least so that they could ask me any questions they might have. 

Next I wanted to check on one of the teenage girls who lives right behind us in the village and has had a fever for 5 days. She took the treatment for malaria, but the fever has continued. I consulted with our new nurses here at GSF, and one asked if she could come with me to check on her. She also asked about bringing her Bible to possibly share with the family. I am so thankful to have Ugandan nurses here who want to minister to the needs around them, both physically and spiritually! The nurse tested for malaria and found that thankfully, the girl does not still have malaria. She stayed for a bit to talk with the family and pray with them. 

I needed to get going because we were already an hour late to a first birthday party. In general, being an hour late around here is not too bad. Many guests arrived later than we did. The party was to celebrate the first birthday of the son of one of the staff members from GSF. The first birthday is celebrated more than the birth of a child. I am guessing that this is probably because of high infant mortality.

The celebration was quite an event, tents set up, so much food being cooked, preaching, speeches from many people who are close to the family....

As they were serving food, they were finishing one pot of matooke (a cooked banana) and had only a "small" serving. I told that that was fine for me. So here is my plate with my smaller portions. 
The purplish sauce is a peanut sauce on top of the matooke. That is one of my favorite parts of the local meals. We were also served 2 types of rice, a few pieces of beef, a chicken neck, a fried potato, and cooked cabbage. Elijah and Esther helped me finish. 

After being there for about 2 hours, the program was still going strong, but we needed to get going to teach family church for the GSF kids. Once a month we have an evening worship service for all the GSF house moms, kids and missionaries. It is also a time when we introduce and pray as a family for any new children who have joined us. This month we welcomed Mercy, Precious, Jesse and Jackie.
They all seem to be adjusting well here. Precious has started smiling, greeting me with hugs and eating well. When she arrived none of those things were true. I am so thankful to see the way God is working in her life through the staff here. Please continue to pray for healing for these kids and for them to know God's love for them! 

David and I were teaching family church from Psalm 40: 17, 41:1-3, and Matthew 25:31-40. We talked about how God has been gracious and merciful to us in the midst of our needs, spiritually and physically. Because we have received compassion, we can be people showing compassion to those in need. We encouraged the kids to consider where God might be calling them to demonstrate God's compassion to those around them. 

After family church we headed home exhausted. It was a good day of ministry and relationship, but I still fell asleep before some of my children while preparing for the next day of school. I'll write again soon about our school day on Monday celebrating Ugandan Independence. It was a great day!