Category Archives: Lifestyle Changes

Driving & Walking By Faith

Driving here in Uganda takes faith, especially at night.  Below are most of the reasons I do not like driving here at night:

Much more difficult to see the road in front of you here in Uganda, more people drive with their bright lights on, some drive with little or no headlights or tail lights, numerous people are walking alongside the road and even one or two in the middle of the road, motorcycles are driving the wrong way on the road, bicycles driven at night with no reflectors or lights, vehicles stopped dead in the road with no warning.

In order to be safe we reduce evening activities away from home as much as possible.  This week however the last two of the three nights we have driven home two or three hours after dark.  As we left early tonight from our afternoon Bible study in order to make it home before dark, I told four or five men with whom I was chatting, “I don’t have enough faith to drive on the roads at night.”

Yet, it seems my faith is constantly being challenged.  The previous Sunday night we pulled out from Jinja at dark (later than I like and to my humiliation) with no headlights working on our vehicle, only parking lights.  We are grateful to God He got us home safely.  I found out the following Monday rats had chewed the headlight wire in two – only the headlights, thank you, Lord.

Tonight I was determined to get my family home safely before dark.  Sunset is always at 7 pm here at the equator.  So we left our Bible study meeting at 6:40 pm.  As we drive home I comment to Michelle how much easier it is to drive when I can see.  We make it safely home just a few minutes after the sun has dipped just below the horizon.  As we pull through our front gate, Michelle suddenly remembers that she was supposed to tell me to pick up one of our workers while we were in town.  She feels terrible.  My heart sank, then frustration rose.  I could see the test of faith in front of me.

I drove back into town (about 15 minutes one way) frustrated.  About two or three miles into the drive, I finally realized I had to give it over and let it go.  It was so obvious, faith is a lesson God is teaching me.

Without telling Michelle, I actually increased my speed a bit, though very difficult to see.  “If this is a test, I’ll be bold,” I thought.  “Insanely bold.”  We finally picked up our worker and arrived safely home.  As I recount the trip as I write this, I initially remember no significant incidents.  Then I was reminded of what happened on this trip to and from town – we hit a bat (love those animals, they eat mosquitos) with the vehicle, while passing a tractor trailer we almost hit a bicyclist and finally in our center turning lane a single headlight (motorcycle or boda boda) going the wrong way is driving toward us in our path.  I stay boldly committed to my lane and flick my headlights to bright – everyone else does.  The motorcycle swerves quickly out of the way while he passes a bicyclist pushing his bicycle loaded with sugar cane – yes in the center turning lane, coming right toward me too and at night.  Oddly enough I am not recognizing this as strange or significant any more.

Earlier in the week I conversed on Facebook with an atheist / agnostic friend of mine from college.  I also sought to minister to a Ugandan friend who was forced to move from his home and who lost his job.

The conversation with the college friend was nice – not angry, not seeking to put one another down – just sparring over faith and belief in God.

Like most atheists and agnostics I know and have conversed with, tragedy with suffering, along with few, if any satisfying religious answers, have all caused my friend to critically question Christianity, religion and God. I don’t have any problem at all with questioning things critically.  Too many religionists and Christians don’t ask the difficult questions.  But by week’s end the messaging finally drew to a respectful close.

I’m not sure if my friend admits that he walks by faith every day – faith in himself, in others, in farmers, in grocery stores, in what he eats, in rain, in sunshine, in the economy, in what he sees, etc. etc.  I assume he does.

The Ugandan friend of mine who lost his job and his home had a difficult week.  Tonight as I sat down to write, he called.  I just hung up the phone with him.  He told me he needed to talk tonight.  His walk right now is a walk of faith – he told me he went to the Bible for strength.  He asked that I read Psm 91.  “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him will I trust.” Psm 91:2  His faith is in God.  Tragedy has struck his life, too, with the senseless murder of his father and eventual death of his mother from the same attack.  But his response is different: faith in God that honestly, probably wavers at times.  But faith in the reality of God’s help, nonetheless.

Faith is interesting.  We all live by faith every day.  The question is, in what or who do we really trust?  I dare say most of us (myself included) trust in ourselves way too often.  We all certainly prefer seeing, but when the night of tragedy, difficulty or suffering strikes (and it will) will we let the light of Jesus boldly shine in our lives and will we trust in Him?

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When I Don’t Desire God

This past week was a bit of a dramatic roller coaster ride for Michelle and me – terrible conflict at the beginning of the week, but a wonderful breakthrough on Friday.

Terrible – adj; “adapted or likely to excite dread; formidable; anticipation of things mostly unfavorable.”   The kind of terrible that after it happens, you think, “Did I just say that?” and “S/he is so mean.”  The kind of terrible that causes you to want to give up.  And yes, we did say those things.  And yes, that’s what is down in our hearts.  Ugly. Sinful. Putrid.

Yet the breakthrough was the breakthrough I’ve desired for years – about 5 or 6 years to be more exact.

Since arriving in Uganda I have recognized a sense of contentment in being here in Uganda, but the joy has been elusive.  Do you know joy?  Joy is different from fun.  Fun is self-centered, even with friends or family.  Fun is traveling, seeing new sites, eating at restaurants, attending a professional ball game, going on a cruise, buying a boat, buying a car, going fishing.  The vast majority of the time, that’s all fun.  When fun is finished (especially when its lots of fun) there can be discouragement.  Fun is fun, but it’s so artificial.  It’s a façade, a front, a disguise.

Joy is deeper.  Joy is real because it’s of God.  Yet I cannot seem to get a handle on it.  I seem to be doing ministry in Uganda out of duty, obedience, call, and obligation.  If fun is fun, then ministry should be hard, right?  Not quite.  There’s this desire for depth, for reaching the reality of joy.  The “fire” is not like it should be.  There’s still a strong desire to go deeper.  Serving is good, but I cannot understand why I can’t reach this point, this depth, this plateau of motivation by joy, and motivation by love.

So a few weeks ago I ran across this book by John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy.  It caught my attention immediately and I’ve been slowly reading it.

So after this past week with all the arguing and wondering about where these marital arguments from years past are coming from, and feeling absolutely empty, I read in Piper’s book the phrase “means of grace.”  That caught my attention.

About three years ago at youth camp I was introduced to that phrase, “means of grace” by JR Vassar.  I studied it for days afterward.  It was so eye-opening.  Vassar contrasted grace empowered living to the vastly different concept of self-empowered improvement.  Don’t miss it – grace empowered living (radical transforming power – Christian) against do-it-yourself-empowered improvement (world).  Huge difference.  This sermon was so impactful at that youth camp; I sobbed for 10 minutes afterwards and met JR Vassar backstage to talk to him.  If this topic interests you and you’re tired of trying over and over again and still failing, after you finish this blog, check out this link: http://www.apostlesnyc.com/mediafiles/sermons.xml.  At the website scroll down about ¾ of the way to the message on July 4, 2010 entitled, Grace Empowered Change.  If this subject is intriguing, I think you will appreciate the message.

What I missed or forgot in that sermon was brought brilliantly back to light by the Gospel in John Piper’s book.  Piper describes “means of grace” when he writes, “There are things we must do in the battle for joy.  But if joy is a gift, it can never be earned.  So legalism that tries to earn things from God is excluded.  Not only that, but knowing that joy is ultimately a gift, and not a mere human achievement, also protects us from elevating technique and willpower too highly.  Our strategies must be humble and dependent, followed by ‘May the LORD do what seems good to him’ (2 Sam 10:12). Our strategies to fight for joy are simply means of God’s grace.  And means of grace are always modest.”

Piper continues, “The Bible illustrates the modesty of means in numerous ways.”  Piper then gives the following references:

Prov 21:31 (“The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But deliverance is of the Lord”);

Psm 127:1 (“Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.”);

Prov 19:21 (“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand”).

The point being that we don’t earn a specified expected return on our investment with God.  Rather the means of grace relates to God’s gifts.  God decides if He will give a gift.  If so, how much of a gift and the size and the proportion.  Piper continues, “…joy is a gift from God…we will not trust in means, but in God.” Piper, John; When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, (Kindle Version, 17%, Chap 4, Joy in God Is a Gift From God) Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. 2004.

Then it all clicked!  I’ll explain what happened in my next post.

Lifestyle Change

Moving from the US to Uganda has its joys and challenges.  To provide a better picture for you of what it means to us, I thought I would share some of the changes we are experiencing.  We are enjoying some of the changes and taking others in stride and handling things relatively well.  The kids are doing fantastic, though Josh has had a bout with gastroenteritis a couple days this past week.

Electricity – The World Bank reports that in 2009-10 about 12% of households in Uganda use electricity for lighting.  I’m sure the rate is much higher in Jinja and higher now, three to four years later.  Our Equip team member Chris Sperling, hooked his house up to the grid one week before we arrived here.  It’s a very nice gift.  He had used only limited solar power prior to that – mainly for lights, a couple outlets to run a computer, charge a cell phone, etc.  The electricity does go out about once or twice every few days for a few hours, but the only real challenge with that is that the city water is dirty afterwards (looks like milk).

The house we are in is nice.  As far as American essentials however, it’s a change.  Not bad, just a change.  There is a small butane cook stove, but no oven.  There is no hot water, no crockpot, no washer, no dryer, no microwave, no toaster, and no air conditioning (although there is a wonderful breeze off the lake).  We do have fans.  We bought a small fridge (a bit larger than a dorm fridge) this week and we think we have moved up in life – we have a way of storing leftovers and cooling our water now. Most food is normally cooked outside over fire Outside Kitchen(see photo for picture of our outside kitchen – looking closely you can see the two fire cookers on the floor).  We have come to appreciate all the appliances in the US.  But in place of the appliances and of much greater value are the two workers who worked with the Sperlings, Ruth and Kate.

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Dinner Together

These two ladies work hard keeping the house in order: cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.  We pay them the salary the Sperlings paid and they receive room and board, along with their needs being met.  They cook daily for 8 – 11 people here at the house.  Michelle and the kids assist with shopping at the market or grocery store, doing dishes, cleaning, some cooking (since cooking on fire is not our forte) and other tasks.

Washing clothes is an adjustment.  We hand wash, air-dry and iron our own personal items.  Ruth and Kate iron the majority of the clothes to kill mango worms – the mango fly can lay eggs in the clothes, which then hatch and the larvae burrows into a person’s body as a parasite – not good and very gross (videos of mango worm extraction are on Youtube)!

Showers are cold (no hot water) and are usually taken in the afternoon or at night since the water will warm during the day and is therefore more tolerable.  Beds with Mosquito NetsMosquito nets serve as protection to reduce the chances of malaria, as well as keep the various critters off of us at night (photo of one of our rooms, beds with mosquito nets).  We plan to install mosquito screens on most windows by the end of this month.

Water is always filtered, which I take care of.  We go through about 10 – 20 liters (3 – 5 gallons) of filtered water a day.  The Sperlings cleaned their water with Water Filtering Systemchlorine tablets, which works well.  We prefer to use a slow filtering system that I bought from Equip before leaving the US.  It does not leave a strong chlorine taste.  The water from the tap starts in the clear container on the counter to the right, then filters to the container on the floor, and then I pour the clean water into the clear container on the counter to the left – the one with the white & lime green hand pump.  Extra containers of water are in yellow jugs on the floor – sometimes we will chlorinate those if we are delayed on the filtering.

Meals here differ somewhat from our regular American diet.  Breakfast normally consists of a combination of two to three fresh fruits: either apples, bananas, pineapples, mangos, or papaya; toast, margarine, fruit jam, peanut butter and tea or coffee.  The kids drink hot tea for breakfast since juice is expensive.  Occasionally French toast is substituted for the toast and about once a week we eat hard boiled eggs.

Lunch almost always (except on Sundays) consists of: rice, flavored with hints of carrots, peppers and onion; posho (ground white corn that tastes a bit like grits and looks like cold grits); pinto beans with a bit of tomato; greens and/or a cabbage mixture, fresh avocado, and lukewarm water to drink.  This week we “broke bad” (Southern colloquialism meaning “to go wrong”) and ate mac and cheese and tuna on a dinner roll!!

Dinner consists of more variety such as African food like matooke (cooking bananas) with peanut sauce, rice, posho, breaded cassava (the third largest source of carbs in the world), Irish potatoes, French fries, greens, green beans, eggplant, guacamole, cabbage mixture, small portions of pork, home made spaghetti, fried eggs, chapatti wraps and water, soda (Coke products are readily available) or freshly squeezed passion fruit juice.  Dessert, when we have it, consists of 2 – 3 cookies per person, bought in a small pack at a grocery store.  On Sunday evenings, we have snacks at our Bible study or pancakes at home!  We did have chicken one night, which we bought alive for $7.00.  Ruth butchered it and prepared it for us, but there is not much meat on the bird.  On rare occasions ground beef can have bits of gravel in it to weight it down – amazing what some people will do for a little bit of more money.

Food (before we got the fridge this week) was left sitting out until it was all eaten.  Leftovers are not normally given to animals as that is culturally a “no-no.”

We have limited our intake of milk due to storage before we got the fridge.  We may start getting milk from a cow and boiling it.  Before this past Saturday we had ice once or twice since arriving here two months ago – that’s friends or when our pastor and his wife from Virginia had us over for homemade pizza and southern iced tea.  They have a large house, which hosts short-term mission teams.

One of our supporters sent us a DVD player with movies in a care package!!! They FedEx’d it and it arrived in 5 days.  We love it.  All movies here in the stores and on the streets are pirated, whether rentals or for sale.  Missionaries can bring their own movies, swap or sell them.

More Lifestyle Changes will be presented in future posts.