Category Archives: Stories

Various stories of Life, Christian Walk, Lessons, etc.

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.

From Samuel: “How to Keep Your Faith in Time of Tragedy”

Regular blog readers here know about Samuel (see May 2013 Archives for the full story).  Samuel is a young pastor in Jinja who lost both his parents this past summer.  His mom and dad were brutally attacked during a break-in of their home back in May.  His father died that night and his mother lived for about two months and then she died.

I meet with Samuel weekly.  He does most of the talking when we meet.  Though hurt, his faith and confidence have been strong through these last few months.  I asked if he would be willing to write out his thoughts about how to keep faith in time of tragedy.  I will type his notes as he wrote them to me.  Here’s Samuel:

Why I lost my Dad in a murder by our own relatives inside the house at night on Saturday, May 11th 2013.  It was a horrible thing I have ever heard, and it was unbelievable at that time.  As I started to panic a lot but as soon as possible I realize my weakness by that time, then I rush with no words, kneeling down, and I ask God, please this is not normal God you know, but I need your strength and comfort.

But still there’s a lot of panic, and I started to speak of God’s attributes – e.g. God’s all powerful, all knowing, all wisdom, is Almighty God is loving, etc. and I started to gain my strength and sense by letting the Scripture speak to me more than my feeling – e.g. Psalm 139:1-6; 91:1; etc. which is the hardest thing to do at that moment.  But I have to accept the Scripture to tell me what to do, not my feeling.

And there I found my self encouraged and continue to stand on the ground still loving God and thanking God for all had happened.

So I had to overcome the fear, worry and the feeling of tragedy by seeing God through it, that nothing happens by mistake without God’s knowing.  Romans 8:27-30.

A month after my mother was also badly hurt in the night of the murder of my Dad, she also died and I had see my self standing on open ground of no one along side me.  Both have gone, who I had loved them so much because the truth is ever since I was born now 28 years of age my dad has never beaten me once [Note from Mark: parents beating, caning and even burning or cutting children as punishment is too common in Uganda].  And they were part of my life every day I live.

Really I have loved them to see the fruit of their labor on me but God in his plan did not allow what seem right in his sight to be done, for he is God, and in my mother’s death accepted God’s will to be done, but letting him be first in everything good or bad (Colossians 1:18).  Never won’t I allowed to be threaten by any storm (Psalm 23).  God is God.  I will trust him.

What encourages me is that my parents died Christians (born again) and they will continue living in Christ and one day God’s will shall I see them again.  Life is not [about] flesh that has died and rotten by our soul and spirit that no man has power over them except the author, our Lord God (Genesis 2:7).

So I overcome or deal with the tragedy of losing my two parents by:

– accepting God in all situations;

– letting God control every step;

– allowing God’s word to speak to me by telling me what to do in every situation, not feelings;

– running before the throne of God of mercy and love for comfort and encouragement, wisdom and victory over every situation.

The devil will use your weakness to put you down but God will use your weakness to lift you up in Grace and Mercy.  Be wise in time of any tragedy by having God’s mind (scriptures) for the devil is so close to you at that moment of tragedy (temptation, test), but remember the good LORD will never leave the situation beyond your strength (1 John 1:10).

Nothing shall obstruct me from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39).

Glory be God our Father in Jesus.

Samuel’s faith strengthens my faith in the Lord, and I trust his faith strengthened your faith as well.  God’s word supports us.  Thanks for reading.

Try Answering This Question…

Try something and see what you think.  This won’t take but a minute to do.  Get a Penpen, pencil or open Word on your computer.  Then ask yourself the following question, “Am I a good person?”  Answer honestly.  If you want to know what you really think, take a moment right now before reading further and write down your answer before continuing.  I’ll give you time.  Be sure to get it in writing so you can see how you responded later.

This week Michelle, Alexis and I went into Jinja town for some groceries.  As we pulled up, a charming young boy, about 8 years old, approached the vehicle and handed us a sheet of paper telling us about his background and requesting money for his elementary school fees – here in Uganda it’s up to the students to pay for their fees on their own, rather than the government taxing the adults’ paychecks.

As the young boy and I were standing under a small palm tree on Main Street outside the grocery store, I questioned him about his fees.  We were interrupted by an older male teen, whom I did not recognize.  This teen Henry (not his real name) knew me.  Months ago when we first arrived in Jinja, I had invited him to church, and given him my phone number.

About three weeks prior to this meeting on the street, Henry had started callingcell phone and texting me about medical and school fees.  He continued this almost on a daily basis, sometimes 4 or 5 times.  I could not remember his appearance and physical features, but he sure remembered me.

I must admit I was a bit irritated that he had called our phone for requests for money instead of visiting our church.

Henry greeted me with a very large and pleasant smile, which changed my irritation to a more receptive greeting.  This guy was a young, handsome kid and he proudly wanted to show me his recent report card – 19 out of a possible 20 points!  I acknowledged his good work and asked him what type career he was going to pursue.  He liked computer technology.

Henry quickly got to the point, asking again about me covering his school fees.  Instead, I desired to get to know more about him, and returned back to the topic of our original meeting a few months ago.

“Henry, are you a Christian?” I asked.

He smiled and assured me he is.  I then thought about asking him a probing question to determine where his faith rested.

“I want to ask a question,” I stated.

Henry seemed puzzled, but was willing to go along.

Suffice it to say his answer to the question failed.  His answer was like most people’s answer to the question when asked.  Henry gave many reasons for why He was a Christian, yet he failed miserably at the crucially most important answer.

I still gave him the benefit of the doubt, but wanted to explore further.  With his permission I then held God’s lawLaw up to him as a mirror.  “Have you ever lied, Henry?” I asked.

“Oh, no.  I never have!” came the surprising response.  I was quite astonished.

“You have never lied?” I continued.

“I have not,” Henry assured me.

“Not even when you were a boy?” I asked.  This guy is 17 years old.

He would not admit to lying.  “I think you are lying now,” I said, laughingly.  He chuckled a bit, but assured me again he has never lied.  Wow, not many people are that bold.

“OK, have you ever stolen anything?” I asked.

Henry thought for a few seconds.

“I did steal one time,” he replied.

“Only once?”

“Yes,” he insisted.

“Ok, what does that make you?  If you steal, even once in your life, what does that make you?  What do we call people who steal?”

I could tell Henry began to realize what my question implied.

“A thief,” he quietly and sheepishly admitted.

“Ok, have you ever disobeyed your parents?” I asked.

A few seconds pause and then, “Yes,” was the reply.

“What do we call a person who disobeys?”

Henry had a little more difficulty with this answer.  After a bit of time I tried to help him.  “Would you call that person a rebel?” I asked.

Again, he sheepishly answered in the affirmative.

“Henry,” I said, “you have just admitted to being a rebellious thief.”  In reality he is a rebellious, lying thief, but he honestly could not see that.

Henry was a bit taken aback.  So he naturally sought to justify his position, providing excuses.  We talked about this, but it only got worse.  He even (from his own mouth) claimed he was “not in the same category” as sinners.

My heart sank.  I had been giving the guy the benefit of the doubt about his faith in Jesus Christ.  But he clearly set himself apart from drunkards, drug addicts and other filthy type sinners.  He was not in that category he boasted.  Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, he was better than they were.  In fact Henry revealed to me his reasoning for this conclusion.  One of the reasons being, “I pray twice a day.”

In interest of time I won’t go into detail about the remainder of the discussion.  Bottom line, he could not see his need for a Savior.  I longed for him to recognize his eternal need, but he just could not see it.

As the rich young ruler, Henry walked away sorrowful.  He didn’t have great possessions, but Henry had an imposing idol that blinded him to the reality of his spiritual poverty.  His obedience sufficed in his eyes.

John MacArthur asks, “You want to cut the heart out of the church’s Gospel message?  Just convince the (listeners) that people are good.”  Most people think they are good, especially church going people.  James Boice quoted a Gallup poll revealing 75% of evangelicals believe man is basically good.

Try this yourself and see what responses you get from others, “Are you a good person?”

Now after reading the above story, how does your answer stack up?  In my experience most will somewhat sheepishly admit at first to making mistakes or doing wrong (almost never have I had someone use the word “sin”), but most will quickly follow up by saying something to the effect that overall their good outweighs their bad or they do their best.  The more arrogant ones will boast of their goodness.  Those who have difficulty with confidence or are down on themselves often will answer something to the effect, “I’m terrible” or “I’m really bad.”  And if the question is asked by someone else in a verbal conversation or chat the vast majority are so ashamed of Jesus they won’t even mention His name in response to a question about goodness.

Although some may generally refer to their belief in God in their answer, the apostle James warns about that, “You believe in God?  You do well, the demons believe, and they tremble.”

This answer is no small matter.  Not once in the conversation did Henry turn to Jesus.  Not once did he claim his need for a Savior.  In fact, the opposite happened.  As spiritually destitute as we all are, Henry’s pride got in the way.  He greatly erred by assuming he was in with God, based squarely on his goodness and probably somewhat his errant belief that God will somehow overlook his sin if he (Henry) means well.

My purpose here is not to condemn Henry.  If God saves Henry by His grace, then I am a blundering fool.  Thus let God be praised and me be a fool.  However, Jesus said, you will know a tree by its fruit; and from the heart, the mouth speaks.  My purpose is to use this real life example to point out how we can easily think we are resting in Jesus, when in reality we are ignorantly resting in our commandment keeping, obedience or good works.  No doubt those things are extremely important.  The Bible clearly testifies of the obedience of the saints, but true followers of Jesus are not ashamed of Him, nor are they resting in their works, obedience or commandment keeping.  They are resting in none other than their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pride is a deceitful enemy.  It thoroughly permeates our being.  We get focused on so many peripheral issues.  We all have pride, but are we truly trusting and resting in Jesus Christ for our salvation?  Or are we trusting and resting in something else?  Anything else, even religious commandment keeping, is an idol.

If you believe or feel like you’ve failed and can’t make it, that’s the awesome Good News:  Jesus saves sinners.  The power of our salvation is not “doing” or “obeying.”  BibleThe power of our salvation is Jesus Christ, who causes us to obey and do from the heart.  Rest in Him.  Abide in Him.  Trust in Him.  Repent of your pride.  Accept Him into your life.  The result will be the power of salvation showing forth repentance, obedience, commandment keeping from the heart, and good works that glorify and honor God through our Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory forever and ever.

“The effort of liberal and borderline modernists to woo men to God by presenting the soft side of religion is an unqualified evil because it ignores the very reason for our alienation from God in the first place. Until a man has gotten into trouble with his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God.”

The Fear of God, AW Tozer

The First 90 Days…and Beyond!

CalendarThis past Tuesday we completed 3 months in Uganda!  Wow!  It has been a nice honeymoon period for sure.  There have been adjustments, but we’ve enjoyed the transition and we continue to enjoy it.  It’s amazing to see how God has gone ahead of each of us to prepare our hearts for this time here so that we could transition easier.

So I thought this would be a good time to review what we have been doing and what our plans are for the future.  I’ll cover Michelle and the kids first and then walk through the plans I see God revealing to me through our team members, Equip leadership and opportunities as they present themselves.

First, Michelle (in Luganda its mukyala wange – pronounced “moo cha lah” “wahn gay,” or “my wife”).  Michelle has mentioned to me that she believes the Lord is leading her to be a support and encouragement primarily to the missionaries who are here.  She is currently first and foremost a wife, mother and musomesa (or teacher), since she is homeschooling Josh.  She is also actively involved in language training, wrapping up participation in a women’s Bible study, meeting regularly with a missionary wife, planning to start a weekly women’s Bible study in August and assisting around the house with projects.  She is also providing leadership and training to the children, such as visiting a nearby orphanage that gets only the rare visitor. Image

The girls are in language training.  Josh dropped because he is finishing his second year of French at homeschool and he is picking up the Luganda language from the rest of us and Tugume (Too goo may), his 11-year old friend who is one of the Sperling’s children who stayed here with us.  The girls and Josh also visit the orphanage to interact, build relationships, play games and share about Jesus. IMG_6157

Like many older teens Alexis and Brittany are trying to determine what steps to take next after high school.  I am encouraging them to continue looking at special ministry opportunities and taking educational courses in the Fall.  Both help with chores around the house, assist with shopping at the market, baby sit, and tracking money, etc.

My plans and projects include:

1) Immigration papers secured for the family, my work permit and driver’s license.  The work permit and driver’s permit is currently in process in the capital, Kampala; less than a two hour drive away.  It is a slow drawn out process.

2) Language training – learning how to speak Lugandan.  This is a critical step in connecting with the local people.  They very much enjoy Americans learning their language.

3) Equip Uganda administrative activities such as setting up policies, procedures, reporting and following the goals and plans of the organization.  The team meets monthly to discuss our direction and to also hold each of us accountable and responsible.

4) Discipleship – currently I am meeting regularly with two young men – Samuel and Robert.  You know Samuel’s story.  Robert is 19 and currently unemployed.  It is very difficult in Jinja to get a job.  He had his first one and lost it he says because he got sick with malaria and was out of work for 2 days.  That is entirely possible here.  Like many youth in the States, Robert seeks nice clothing and money for status.  He is open to teaching at this point and even asked if he could come to church with us today – something we had tried to get him to do prior to him losing his job.

5) Opportunities and challenges as they arise – this has included getting to know neighbors, visiting at the hospital, building relationships, praying with folks, learning the culture – paying bills, buying and bartering, making application, setting up things, filtering water, etc.

6) Micro-Finance Teaching – This is an exciting development that started this past Wednesday with good feedback and success.  I was asked to teach classes as part of micro-finance training.  The audience consists of 10 – 40 pastors in Jinja, depending on who attends. The subject I chose was from the JobStart class I taught at Western Youth Institute (juvenile prison) in Morganton before coming here to Uganda.  I tie in Biblical teaching.  This looks like it will continue and I am excited about it.

7) Keeping up connections and reports with our supporters and donors.  Writing this blog, reports to Equip, contacting supporters through email, FaceBook or phone calls to provide feedback to folks about how God is making provision in Uganda.

8) Balancing money and Jesus – what does this mean?  One of the challenges I have written about on this blog is the balancing act and necessary wisdom it takes to know when to assist someone with money and how to introduce them to Jesus, especially when they think their church attendance and/or factual knowledge of Jesus is their proof of their Christianity.  I am asked for money regularly!  Perhaps as many as 15 – 30 times a week – from 40 cents US to more than $200.00 US.  This week I had two new and special requests: 1) one person in the government telling me to pay him almost $100 US for what the government Moneypays him to do.  I didn’t pay.  2) I got text’d and called during church today by one person at least 5 times trying to get about $10 from me for a medical clinic appointment.  At first I had no idea who this person was, then found out later it was a casual acquaintance I had made in town.

The challenge here is similar to the US, Canada and Europe, how do you get people to quit trusting in and desiring money to fulfill their needs, wants and problems and start really trusting in Jesus to the point of life change?  j0435912Their poverty is deep, and like a drowning person in the ocean, they will latch on to anything (especially American money) that will allow them to float for a few more seconds or minutes.  Money or Jesus?  Which sustains?  The reality is that Jesus and repentance is what we’re about and He will satisfy much more than money.  This sets us apart from the humanitarian volunteers here.

If I give money (and I do as I pray, think about the decision and/or sense God leading), one week or one month later, they’re back to needing money again. Our mission agency desires to “equip” them for sustaining support that comes from God through Jesus and practical day-to-day answers to their problems.  It’s a balancing act that I don’t do a very good job with at this point.

9) Visiting the slum – this should happen in August as Jeremy desires for us to take our time before introducing us to that area.

That’s our ministry so far.  We have much more to learn.

Samuel Loses His Mother

It is with heavy heart that I update you about Samuel, the young pastor I met in May and wrote about on my blog here, “They were…slain…”  I just hung up the phone with Samuel and he is so overwhelmed.  His mother just died about an hour ago.

Samuel had asked if I could come by and see him this past week.  So I had stopped by to check on him at his job as security guard at the place we stayed after first arriving in Uganda.  He and I talked for a little less than an hour.  He said his mother had fallen and the doctors had found cancer.  He had other pressures of life hitting him, too.  Yesterday he called to say they were taking her in for surgery and asked me to pray.  I was on the way to Kampala on a bus, but assured him I would pray.  He visited with her at the hospital today, left for the night to come home and they called him to let him know that she had died.

The pressure on Samuel is heavy at this time and he needs your prayers and would appreciate them.  He has now lost both parents in less than 3 months of each other.  He told me he sold land in order to pay his mom’s hospital bills and his dad’s funeral, along with normal expenses.  Many pastors here do not have income from being a pastor; they have to work, which Samuel does.

I plan to stop by tomorrow (Saturday) when Michelle and I go into town, but he was unsure if he would be at work.  I may not be able to see him until he returns from the funeral.  Your prayers are appreciated for him.

What Does Jinja Remind You Of?

The city of Jinja rests at one of the northern points of Lake Victoria.  We can see the lake in the distance from the house we rent.

The city was founded in 1906 and has a current population of at least 80,000 at night. It is estimated that the population during the day more than doubles, some official estimates are as high as over 200,000. It is Uganda’s second largest city.  Sources vary on the average income in Jinja between $100 – $500 US dollars per year.  Per year, not per day or month.

IMG_6023

Bujagali Falls on the Nile River, to the North of where Ripon Falls used to be. Ripon Falls is now covered by water due to a dam being created on the Nile in 1954. Jesus said if we believe in Him, out of our hearts would flow rivers of Living Water, which He said was symbolic of the Holy Spirit.

Jinja is the “Source of the Nile” – the place where the Nile River begins flowing from Lake Victoria towards Egypt.

Years ago large rivers like the Nile separated people groups, formed some protection from enemies, but also hindered trade and forming of relationships. But here in the Jinja area near the source of the Nile, large rocks created a pathway across the large river near Ripon Falls.

IMG_6003

The Nile River north of Jinja. This photo is taken looking to the south toward Jinja and Lake Victoria. The lake being just over the mountain in the background.

Because of this rocky path the place was named Jinja, a word which comes from the two tribes, Baganda and Basoga, on either side of the Nile. In both tribal languages the name “Jinja” means “rock.”

This history of the Jinja area has deep spiritual symbolism. In a number of places in the Bible God and Jesus are referred to as a rock and the rock of our salvation (Deut 32:15; 2 Sam 22:47; Psm 95:1; Matt 7:24; etc.).  In the New Testament Jesus also said of Himself, “I am the way” (John 14:6) or path.  Our sin separates us from God and the only way or path to an initial and ongoing relationship with God is the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father, except by me.” (John 14:6).

Additionally, Jesus said He was the source of eternal life and the Holy Spirit (John 4:11-14 and 7:38), metaphorically illustrated in the Bible as (rivers) of living water.

Living in Jinja reminds us of the insurmountable and impossible task of trying to overcome the oppression of poverty and sin, but more importantly Jinja reminds us of the true answer to life’s problems, the refreshing source of living water, the Rock of our Salvation, Jesus Christ.

Update on Accident #2, Boda Driver

Followed up early this afternoon by making a visit to the hospital here in Jinja to visit the boda driver who was hit by a van in front of us last week (see story at 2 Accidents This Week).  I have not shared his name because of privacy and the fact that our visiting and his responses could lead to possible harm to him due to his profession of faith in Jesus.  I just want to be safe.

We last visited Saturday when he was still in pain and vomiting, though he had improved and was receptive to prayer, anointing, reading of Scripture and our visit.

When Andrew and I walked in today, both the boda driver and his roommate were sitting up.  When both saw us, both had a big smile and both extended their hands for very warm handshakes.  The boda driver showed us his injuries, which over the weekend had healed quite nicely.  He had no more vomiting, no more pain.  The deep cuts looked incredibly good.  His roommate was sitting on the side of the bed – this was the first time we had seen him sitting up – and clearly on the mend.

Both men were so thankful – they allowed us to read more Scripture, pray, and shook our hands at least 3 times each (all with big smiles).  And both were going home from the hospital today!  Praise God!  Jesus is AWESOME.

It is such an encouragement to see when this kind of healing happens.  It’s not as often as I would like, but it is so encouraging!  These men and their families were simply ecstatic when we left and wanted to share their phone numbers with us.  The one man said he wanted us to come to his house later.  The most important thing is that God is glorified and that these men and their families put their trust not in healing, but in the free gift of God’s Son, Jesus.  One professed to be a believer last Friday.  Now both profess to be believers, and the one that believed before seems to have had his faith strengthened.  It is my prayer God will continue to strengthen both of them in their faith and walk with Him.

Two Accidents This Week!

Two accidents this week which happened around me/us:

IMG_6104

Direct hit to our friend’s door on the driver’s side. Remember driver’s side of the car is on the right in Uganda.

1. Sunday night after a home Bible study, we were driving home with a missionary friend, his wife, family and 3 interns packed in his car following us in the dark.  They were T-boned in the driver’s side of their car.  The driver, which was the husband / father, had only minor injuries, which Michelle was able to assist with and provide some simple nursing care (thanks to MMI training).  No one else in the vehicle or the other vehicle was hurt, just a bit sore.  Thank the Lord our Bible study group had just prayed for God’s protection.  Something that could have been much more tragic resulted in only very minor injuries. A 3-year old son, who was in the car during the accident, said right after it happened, “God was in between our car and their car.” He is so right.  The car has since been repaired.

2. Then today (Thursday morning here about 9 am) in Jinja on busy Main Street, the same missionary was with me when a boda boda (motorcycle) driver was hit by a van.  I witnessed the entire accident.  I was shocked as I heard the awful crunch and saw the man on the boda thrown to the ground mercilessly.  We ran over to help with such a heavy heart for this man.  I can still hear the sound of the impact.  I wanted to do something, but felt helpless.  As I arrived, the van took off (otherwise the driver of the van would probably have been beaten badly or killed by the crowd) and a fellow boda driver picked up the injured man and carried him to the sidewalk.  I squatted by the man, placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed for him.  He sat dazed and bloody with a long, large, deep gash in his right leg, blood on his forehead, shoulders and other parts of his body.  I then realized a very large crowd was gathering while men (and one Muslim man in particular) were yelling in Luganda (which is normal after an accident here).  I began to feel unsafe.  I noticed the fellow missionary with more experience standing at a little safer distance watching.  I thought, “I better leave.”  I joined my friend and we recounted the experience.   The boda drivers picked the dazed and injured man up and put him on a boda and drove him to the hospital.

A snapshot of Main Street, downtown Jinja.

A snapshot of Main Street, downtown Jinja. The accident on July 11th happened just in the distance of the photo (left side), about a 1/2 block away. Photo was taken during a quiet time on the street. It’s normally much busier.

Bodas are everywhere in Jinja, hundreds of them weaving in and out of traffic.  Boda accidents happen all too often here.  This man, like the majority, do not wear helmets.

Once again, I found myself feeling helpless, so helpless, and wondering what to do in such a difficult situation, similar to the situation of the girl on the bus who had a seizure (see my previous blog entitled, Do You Ever Want More? June 16, 2013).  I thought of the driver often throughout the day today and prayed for him.  I hope and pray he will be fine.  Life is so fragile and comes at us unexpectedly.  Thanks for your prayers, especially this week!

UPDATE (Friday, July 12):  Friday afternoon I went to Jinja Main Hospital to visit the boda driver.  He was in the same ward and the same area as Musisi, the man I visited and witnessed to when we were here 3 years ago.  3 years ago, Musisi accepted Jesus as his Savior.

Today, I found out the boda driver in the accident yesterday is part of another religion, too.  I met him and found out his name.  He does not speak very much English at all.  His family was there to support him and his wife just kept smiling at me.  They really enjoyed it when I was able to speak just a little Lugandan to them.  People generally see it as a sign of respect when a white person tries to speak their language.  I was able to let the boda driver know I witnessed the accident, was concerned for him and prayed for him.  At first he seemed resistant to my visit, but he warmed up as time went on.  His brother translated for me as we chatted.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, though I would like to.  By God’s grace I was able to talk, pray and it seemed the Lord’s Spirit encouraged him. I shared that Jesus was the reason I came, that Jesus changed my life and asked him to thank Jesus, not me.  I told him a couple times that Jesus loved him and that’s why I was there.  By the end of the conversation, he was opening up and seemed happy that I came.  His wife was very appreciative of the visit, and just kept smiling.  I just wanted to hug her as it seemed we connected.  She was holding a baby.  I hope to visit more and talk to him further.  He is supposed to be in the hospital for about another week.  Please pray for him.  His roommate is an older Protestant gentleman.  Families in the hospital here support one another openly.

As I was leaving the hospital, walking across the compound, I was encouraged.  However in the distance I heard the wailing of a girl.  As I approached a large truck on the way to my vehicle, a girl was in the back of the truck loudly crying and being consoled by a person who seemed like her mother.  A group of about 10 men were standing in a circle in a serious discussion.  Not sure what was going on.  So many needs.  So much hurt, pain and oppression.  The world needs Jesus – not religion, not legalism, and not for you and me to remain quiet.  They need to know He loves them and gave Himself for them.  When that happens, the world changes.  People watch and listen when they are in need.  May Jesus cause us to share His love more and more.  Let’s go!  And make disciples.

UPDATE #2 (Saturday, July 13): I visited the boda driver (we’ll call him William) again this morning at the hospital.  This time I took along a young man, Andrew Olson, from Minnesota who is here doing Bible Translation.  “William” was much more receptive today.  He sat up when we arrived.  His roommate’s spouse said “William” was vomiting this morning, maybe from a concussion.

Andrew was able to read from Psalms 23 and James 5:14 out of the Lugandan Bible.  William was receptive.  I was able to pray for William, and Andrew anointed him.  William’s roommate’s spouse asked that we pray for them, which Andrew did.  Then another person came from across the hall and asked us to pray for his son John, 21, who was in a vehicle accident.  We did and Andrew anointed him.  Then a man who was the roommate to the 21 year old, asked for us to pray with him.  We did and anointed him, too.

People here are not only receptive and open to prayer, but request it of people who are visiting others.  Their hope is still in the Lord for healing.   Here in Uganda, people desire prayer.  They are not embarrassed, ashamed or consider it a “private” matter.  They are desperate, yet sincere and openly appreciative of it, with smiles and warm handshakes.

Do You Ever Want More?

Wheat "White" for Harvest

Wheat “White” for Harvest
Photo by Ferrell Jenkins used according to Permission Rights.

Really, do you in all honesty, fact and sincerity want more?

You might ask, more of what?  More time?  More motivation?  More satisfaction?  More strength?  More happiness?  More money?  More from your spouse, friends or kids?

On Monday, Luke Anderson (an Equip teammate) and I went to Kampala.  He was showing me where the immigration offices were and he was picking up a document from there.  As he was waiting in line, I was reading the first chapter of Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller.  The words provoked me, and caused me to think about having more – more insight and ability to see spiritually like Jesus did.  Had that desire become an idol, secondary to intimacy with Jesus?  It seems so.

The white bus with a blue stripe is similar to the bus Luke and I travelled in from Jinja to Kampala.

As we had wrapped up our business at immigration and were traveling home in the bus, I was sitting next to a window near the back of the bus.  I was still pondering what I had read.  Why could I not see the mission field as “white with harvest” as Jesus could?  I mean, really.  Jesus seemed to see fields ready for harvest – he saw “white.”  I am more likely to see fields bare, hot with sun, lacking rain and possibly ready for planting or waiting for growth.  I see needs, but I do not see desire.  Apparently I don’t have the eyes to see desire or hunger for God.

Later, as I pondered these things near the back of the bus that was returning to Jinja, a girl probably in her 20’s was sleeping in the seat directly in front of me.  She jolted me from deep thought with rapid outbursts of loud and dramatic screams.  At first I thought the bus was about to wreck.  All attention in the bus quickly turned to her.  The man next to this girl leaned away from her and moved away a few inches in fear, while the man in front of her got up out of his seat and turned around.  Not sure what to do I leaned forward, began praying and touched the girl on the back, lightly consoling her.  By this time the man in front of this girl had asked to switch places with the man beside the girl.  The man beside the girl did not hesitate for a second, looking for any opportunity to separate himself from the unknown.  He quickly exchanged places, moving forward to the other seat.

The man moving from in front of the girl showed signs of age and maturity, with a small splotch of gray in his hair near his sideburns.  He was probably in his 50’s.  As he climbed over his seat and moved one row back, he looked at me and verbally expressed appreciation.  I could see in his expression that this was not the first time something like this had happened.  He knew what to do and quickly took his new seat to the girl’s right and wrapped his left arm around and behind the girl.  Since I was behind her, I placed my right hand on her head and gently stroked her tightly cropped hair.  She very slowly laid her head back awkwardly against the top of her seat while turning her head over her left shoulder.  As her face came into view I could see thick, white and clear sputum dripping from her mouth.  While she had stopped screaming, her eyes were crossed as she slowly looked back at me.

Our eyes connected only briefly.  The man who was holding her to her right quickly reached with his right hand across her face and brushed her eyelids closed.  The look in this girl’s eyes reminds me now as I write, of the barrenness of her field.  Her outburst stirred compassion and questions within me.  How long had this girl and this man endured the pain and embarrassment of this affliction?  Was the outburst a result of a seizure?  Was it the result of a witchdoctor?  Was it due to cerebral malaria?  Was it a result of abuse?  Had this man taken this girl to a witchdoctor for help?  Had he sought help from numerous church leaders to pray for healing or cast out demons?  How often did this happen?

These questions still remain.  I wasn’t sure how to respond and the bus was noisy.  I didn’t want to bring more attention to the girl and she seemed to need to sleep, which eventually came to her.  So I did not follow up in conversation with the man.  And he did not turn and seek conversation with me, or anyone else for that matter.  People were eerily quiet while the noises of the bus, its radio and the noisy sounds of travel in Uganda were heard.  People seemed to fear another jolt of the unexpected.

As we continued our journey down the dusty road between Kampala and Jinja, people occasionally glanced back at the girl to see how she was behaving, if she was OK and look for signs of another outburst.  It did not happen.

I was left questioning.  Was that a “white” field ready for harvest?  If it was, what should I have done?  And why did this man not ask or seek?  Was he weary from seeking help?  Perhaps he had come to the place of acceptance with this burden.

Have we come to the place of acceptance with our burdens?  With our struggles?  With our sin?  With our, “I’ve blown it again” thoughts?  With the mundane?  With the barren fields?  With things as they are?  What is God up to?

Full moon occurs at every Passover (usually in March or April).

A full moon occurs at every Passover
(usually in March or April).

At a very quiet and intimate time in the life of Jesus and his followers, the betrayer restless with Jesus not doing more about bringing his kingdom to the earth and overthrowing the wicked Romans, left the sweet fellowship of Jesus to do his dastardly deed.  As Jesus’ life was drawing to a close the full moon cast light into the darkness.  Similarly the Rabbi teacher shed a glimmer of revelation into the dark mysteries of intimacy and closeness with Him, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Oh, do you not long for that day – to ask of the Master, and then to receive?  I wonder how much anticipation the older man and girl in the bus have for this day, “to ask for release of their burden” and to receive.

Abide.  The word means to remain; wait for; tarry; be prepared for; watch; bear patiently; tolerate; remain stable or fixed in some state or condition.

As I write, Michelle just finished up today’s women’s Bible study.  She has no idea of the subject I am writing, and she was telling me her study today was on God’s timing.  The lesson she received was, “We wait on the Lord – that is where our strength is.”  She continued, “Waiting on an event or a person depletes us.”

What does that mean?  Deplete means to “empty or unload; use up resources; consume vital powers of; exhaust.” Webster’s 1913 dictionary gives a graphic illustration of the word, to empty by (the old fashioned medical procedure of) bloodletting.  Loss of blood literally and figuratively drains a person of their strength. Fresh blood, on the other hand, brings strength to a person.  I witnessed that truth first hand at Hospice when patients would receive a blood transfusion – their strength and vitality; their life would return.

When we cast our sins on Jesus through confession and repentance, the blood of Jesus cleanses and brings life, strength and vitality to us.  We abide, waiting not for some event to happen, but abide in getting to know Jesus.  How long did Jesus wait before His Father said, “Go!”?  How long do we wait for His return?  Waiting brings strength – strength from our quiet time; strength from learning patience; strength from knowing the passion, waiting and suffering of our Savior, the Christ.  The relationship with Him is the most important, for that relationship will last for an eternity.  So do you want more things to go your way?  More events to happen soon?  More people to live and do things the way you want them?  Or do you want more of Jesus?

If you want more of Him, simply ask.  As you wait on Him, He promises that He will give you what you desire.