Friday, September 12, 2014

Thursdays at the Giving Tree

Someone recently related a telling statistic to me regarding third culture kids (TCK's--like missionary kids). According to my friend and a study she read, one of the most common traits of missionary kids who succeed is their ability to catch the vision of their parents.
This ricocheted around in my brain as I considered the gap currently left by our homeschooling co-op; several of the students will be attending a local international school this year. The reality is, I wanted to fill that time with some kind of way that my kids could love on people there. Could they have a ministry of their own, and be changed in the process?

But then there's that homeschooling mom reality: I'm the one who drives them to schoolwork, But then there's that homeschooling mom reality: I'm the one who drives them to schoolwork, chores, home responsibilities, music lessons, better behavior. I didn't want to "drive" them to ministry. Plus, I want them to experience more of what ministry ideally is--pouring out from an area of gifting, strength, and passion. I have three boys who I preferred not roll their eyes every week when it was time to go to a local babies' home.
And that's when someone told me about a library where some of our interns volunteer: The Giving Tree. Run by a South Korean missionary who lives on our lane, it's down in a lower-income area that's not far from our house, and offers computer classes, music classes, art classes, a Good News Bible club, and a small room full of children's books. What if my kids, who adored library storytime in the States from the time they were toddlers, could host a storytime for local kids?

So for a little over a month or two, we've trekked down for songs, a story read by each of my oldest kids and translated into Luganda, a simple craft, and playtime. And it's a hit all the way around. I love seeing my kids interact so naturally with children so different from them. And it's great for the village kids to see kids their age read entertaining, vivid stories fluently in English, a second language for the village children, hopefully passing on a love of reading.


And every now and then, we see snippets of why we're here, and how this library is influencing the community--like the little girl singing "You are my All in All" while she colored her picture yesterday. For right now, this is a blessed, exciting fit for all of us. God is doing something great in this community.


Weeks like last week can sharpen the tip of the longing we feel for our families: where sweet news is tinged with the reality that we savor the milestones and deep joys of family, but can't touch them or share them in person.

That said--I have a new NEPHEW! Meet Theodore Henry, 9 lbs.--the firstborn of my sister Jenn and her husband Chris in the UK. Theo, we are so thankful for your life! Celebrating you in Africa !!
My dad, with grandpa-level happiness.
Theo and entourage

My mom with her eighth grandchild!

But Theo's birth did give us something in person: It brought my parents to this hemisphere--and at last, down to us! We are beside ourselves with glee. I am told that the little people at my house are not so little anymore. So we are soaking up these sweet moments together. There are so many words to describe it, but thankful is certainly one of them.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I wish I could FaceTime God

Author's note: This post originally appeared on, and is gratefully used with permission.

I wish I could FaceTime God.

Over here in twenty-first-century Africa, as long as my power is on and my internet is not having a grumpy day, I am still able to “phone home.” Mornings are out because of that pesky time zone issue. But when my day is done and I sit on my locally made furniture in my pajamas, frizzy hair embodying a little of my frizzy, exhausted brain, my mom is still feeling perky. And somehow, when the rest of my day feels disconnected and I am wondering if I am tired for good reasons, I still want to go where everybody knows my name. Or at least my family does. And tonight, when for one reason or another extra moisture is building up around the edges of my eyes from the questions in my heart, I wish I could FaceTime God.

Perhaps I would press His contact information, feel that familiar dialing anticipation—will He pick up? (Of course!) Will this be a good time? (Of course!)—and sense that lopsided smile cross my face when that strange tone indicates success: I’m getting through. “I’m so glad you called!” He might say. “I was just thinking about you!”

“As was I,” I would grin. “What are you up to?” I doubt he would be headed to Target, like my sister, or out fixing a car in the garage, like my Dad. So perhaps He would relay some of His godly activities: not the confidential ones, of course, but the coolest sunrise He laid His brush to that day; or the funniest, cutest thing this one kid prayed; or that precious, intimate moment when He carried someone to Heaven and they finally got to feel how much He loved them, to physically encounter His touch. Maybe I would see that compassion as He talked about a tough time one of his kids was enduring, but how great it was going to be when they knew the whole story.

I would see the unearthly FaceTime glow on His face (nope, considerably more than a FaceTime glow), and be able to read His expressions and see what He was thinking; to sense that uncontainable joy He always has, that peace that everything does indeed work out all right in the end, because He made it that way.

“So what have you been up to, sweetheart?” He might say. He is so good at that, I’ve seen. In the Bible, He is always asking questions to which He already fully knows the answer. He seems to affirm, as John Calvin has written,“True wisdom consists in two things: Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Self”—that as I understand this lens (my heart) through which I see Him, I understand Him more, and vice versa. Perhaps He might say, “Why are you downcast?” or “What do you want me to do?” or all of those other questions He asked millennia ago. Maybe He would look in my eyes and say, as I am now fond of asking, “How is your heart?” Or perhaps He would ask me my very own question.

At any rate, as we talked, I anticipate I would have one of those moments when I really am so glad I called: When I want to reach through the screen and say, Thank you for understanding me. Thank you for loving me like this. Thank you for having a minute to talk. And thank you for letting me see your lovely face that I miss so much; thank you for being who You are. You amaze me.

Now, I know that this theologically flattens the unlimited dimensions of our great God. When I think of Isaiah 6, I feel sheepish that I would want to confine God to Apple technology. When I think of the Holy Spirit, I know He is in all ways infinitely superior to any handheld device. When I think of Him being the Word, speaking the Word, I have no small trepidation even imagining putting words into His mouth. When I think that we live by faith and not by sight, I remember that the relationship I hold with the Creator of the Universe is far more astonishing and valuable than anything I glimpse with these eyes, so tethered to their planet and its physical laws. I know that His sheep know His voice, and they do not need FaceTime.

And yet—sometimes, perhaps in weakness, I want to FaceTime God.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quick pic: Mentee and Me


This was last term's mentee, Dana, who just went home--sniff!--to get her M.Arch at U of I (go, fighting Illini!). And who pretty much rocked. Do people still say that? Or is that what makes me the mentor--that I use archaic expressions?

I have been deeply blessed by the young women God's brought here through our mentor program. Dana dove into life here. It's so rich to build a relationship with someone who may be a future overseas missionary--and either way, has an intense zeal for our great God. Love this lady!
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Romans 12:11

A Lesson from Ahmad

Author's note: This post of mine originally appeared on, and is gratefully used with permission.

This afternoon, the cottony gray clouds that had been collecting in billowy heaps finally poured streams of rain on Kampala. And because most of the students at our local refugee center slog through muddy streets and alleys to their English, career, and Bible classes, only five from my class showed up. Class cancelled on account of rain. One who did attend, Ahmad,[1] snagged me as I repacked my backpack. “I think perhaps,” he said gently in his halting English, “you have time to help me read?”

Sounded good to me. We settled at a table, and since I teach Bible, selected one of his favorite stories from the Easy-to-Read version—the Genesis account of Joseph. I was amused by his small comments of understanding, a soft “Oh!” or “Ah, yes!” Together, we slowly but successfully pushed through the story during the remaining class period and discussed a few of its comprehension-related, intriguing points like, “Who do you think the sun and the moon were in his dream?”

That’s when I tilted my head. “Ahmad, what was your job when you left your country?”

“I had my master’s degree,” he explained. “I was a secondary school teacher of history and geography. But that was in Arabic. I am not so good with English.”

Conversations like these have amazed me more than once. Similar to the occasional encounter I’ve had with the immigrated doctor-or-professor-turned-NYC taxi driver—I am fascinated and humbled by those with the courage to leave so much of their identity behind. Some sit alongside others of lower economic status to learn a language. Many say farewell to a job they have loved to take whatever job puts food on the table—or allows peaceful living in place of fear or deprivation.
Those of us who have endured a layoff or other unemployment may comprehend that “what we do” has become our identity. Even when we are unpaid, perhaps as a volunteer, parent, or homemaker, we might find ourselves wondering who exactly we are.

Recently I read the words of an author who likened Jesus’ first temptation—turning stones into bread—to a question that so many of us face in our humanity: “What have you achieved? How have you demonstrated your usefulness?”[2] The author points out that Jesus, in His preceding baptism, received the ultimate accolade from God: “This is my Son, whom I love.” Yet this was completely before any record of miracles or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross; up to this point, He’s simply been a Nazareth carpenter. Satan, then, tempts Him not only to relieve His hunger, but to prove Himself. Who are you, really? Have you done anything that matters for the last 30 years?

Truthfully, I find myself facing that temptation daily. As the author puts it, I am tempted “to find [my] worth and value outside of God’s inexhaustible, free love for [me] in Christ.” [3] Now, I do believe that God nestled within us that longing for valuable work—for those “good works He prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). But when I am no longer “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17) but in my contributions, I’m experiencing a subtle, corrosive transfer of value from God’s love to what I am able to offer. Unlike Ahmad, my fingers clench around my accomplishments, my successes, my productivity.

And that’s what I learned on a rainy afternoon from my African friend: that there is freedom in the humility of holding our achievements loosely, and finding our identity elsewhere. Perhaps there is even new life.
[1] Name changed to protect his identity.
[2] Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson (2006), p. 75.
[3] Ibid, p. 75.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Would you pray with us?

Can I ask you to pray for something? We've appealed to the Ugandan government to reverse our "last work permit" status that expires soon. If God wants it, we would love to stay here and keep working in this incredible place. We know Whose hands that permit is in. Would love your prayers as we expect to hear back from our lawyer any day. Thanks, friends.

Monday, August 4, 2014

More Bibles!

You know what's a great smile to see? The one that comes with someone wrapping their fingers around their very own Bible. Now that is cool to see.

You might remember a year and a half ago, when some generous families from FamilyLife in Little Rock donated an entire box of inexpensive Bibles! Another missionary family brought it in place of their own valuable baggage weight. We can get Bibles here in Kampala, but they're pretty price-prohibitive for the average Joe, or even the average Christian who would like to give out more than one or two at a time. We handed out the contents sparingly and with a whole lotta joy: Many of them went to connections that Oliver had--people who simply couldn't afford one, but would have regular, compassionate contact with someone who loves Jesus; another went to a Muslim friend of ours who wanted to read it while he guarded at night; another to a friend who frequently helps us with computer issues.

But it seems that God had, as He so often does, even bigger ideas. A college friend of ours read that blog post, and had a brainchild of her own. Eva's husband, Harry, is a worship leader at Bridges Community Church in Fremont, CA. The church was replacing all of its NIV pew Bibles with ESV--and, she wanted to know, would we like to have the NIVs?

(This is when you imagine a little eke of excitement popping up out of Kampala, Uganda.)

Eva worked for months to find an affordable shipper, and went so far as to find a donor to cover the costs of shipping, even the rather hefty customs costs on our side. At last, a month ago, we were more than delighted to welcome in a station wagon carrying seven boxes of beautiful, hardcover Bibles in wonderful condition. (It wasn't until after the shipment that I saw a photo of her on Facebook, very pregnant with her fourth child!)

And now, the fun part: hearing the stories and seeing the excitement of people who otherwise wouldn't have their own copy of the Word. A case went to one of eMi's local construction sites, where they are building a community center, health center, HIV/AIDS treatment facilities, and other buildings for Cherish Uganda. The construction foreman wrote,

Hi John.

i hope all is well.,this is the letter the people who received 20 bibles wrote to u.

this is a class of school girl drop outs who are empowered with skills like tailoring,wax candle making,bar and liquid soap manufacture etc.

Best regards.

And here is the thank-you note they included:
It reads: We are so grateful for your support in giving us BIBLES to be used during our devotions. We used not to have BIBLES during our devotions, only teachers could read and the girls could just listen but now we shall be having very rich and meaningful devotions since each and every girl now owns a BIBLE. May GOD reward you abundantly as you spread HIS Word all over the world. Thank you so much, GOD blesses you...

Another box made its way down the street to the refugee center where I teach. The students are constantly asking for Bibles, but with 400 students, they have to be pretty persistent to be able to get one. The Easy-to-Read Version is the most usable for them, so this box replaced the teachers' Easy-to-Read copies, which can now go to more students! From what I've read in this excellent book, allowing Muslims to actually read the Word of God is one of the most effective methods of evangelism--so I'm excited that the teachers' copies will be moving into students' hands! Check out the grins on these wonderful people I work with.

I think what excites me are God's promises about the power of His Word--that "it shall succeed in the thing for which [He] sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Discipleship around the world has moments painful and slow--but it also has triumphs. And a real celebration here is that of the Body of Christ, working together in some personally sacrificial ways to love people in a big way. Those of you who help us to be here--this is part of your story, too. So please hear a huge THANK YOU! Pray with us that God will do big things through these lovely black books.