Sunday, August 12, 2012

Back to the Land I Love -Uganda

A month has passed since I returned from Uganda, and this week I am returning to school.  I don’t know where the summer went!  I posted on Facebook that my only regret was that I didn’t make any potato salad this summer –something I put right today!  I am also somewhat regretful that I haven’t yet written a single blog post about Uganda, but life has been too busy since returning.  Most of my time has been spent with grandchildren, and just this week we were blessed with yet another new granddaughter—Abigail Grace, born to Travis and Kristen.  Isn't she beautiful?

Now, where and how do I begin to tell you about our trip to Uganda?  We made so many plans and preparations and received many donations from people who wanted to be part of this ministry.  The final weeks leading up to the trip were a flurry of ordering, collecting, assembling, organizing, and packing materials.  When all was said and done the four of us from Iowa had 14 -50 lb. suitcases!

We packed with an overwhelming awareness of the many hands that shopped, sewed, cut, laminated, hole punched, glued, assembled, donated, prayed, and sacrificially gave of themselves in countless ways.  It made our small army of four so much mightier, knowing we were far from alone in this endeavor.  Here are just a few of them:

We got to leave from our own Cedar Rapids airport this year and were completely caught off-guard when we were met at the airport by a group of about 30 friends who came to see us off.  We must have been quite a spectacle with our entourage, mounds of luggage, and tears of joy and blessing running down our cheeks (well, my cheeks, anyway)!  It was so special to have our friends surround us, and for our brother, Aaron Green, who has traveled to Uganda with us the past two years, pray over us.

We flew to Chicago where we had a 4 hour wait, then on to London.  When we arrived in London 8 hours later it was Fathers’ Day morning, and since we had an 11 hour layover we decided to go out and see the city.  Just leaving Heathrow Airport was quite an ordeal, but we managed to get downtown and board an open top double decker bus for a tour.  We rode the tubes (the Underground) back to the airport.  All in all it was far better than spending the entire day in the airport!

We finally returned to the airport and caught up with the four Californians on our team –now we were just missing our director of Heart of God East Africa, Denise, who was awaiting us in Uganda.

It was night time in London when we finally boarded our flight for Uganda.  Another 9 hours, and we arrived in Entebbe, being greeted by Denise, Saphan, and some of his friends.

If you’re tracking with me you will realize that we have now been up a day, a night, a day, and a night.  It’s morning again, and we now board a bus so we can travel 6-8 hours to Mbale in Eastern Uganda, our first destination.

Yes, the Sunrise, our first Hotel, was a welcome sight!  By now all we wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep.  But no!  Our first teacher conference was to begin the next morning, so we had to dig through 7 or 8 suitcases and organize everything we needed for the first day.  Then, of course, we had to eat, shower, contact loved ones, etc... I have tried and failed to accurately add up the hours between rising from sleep on June 16th and going to bed sometime early morning June 19th.  I do know that eight hours were lost somewhere along the way.  Suffice it to say, however, that it was a very long time!

One thing is certain -God was with us through every flight, every bus ride, every step of the way.  He was and would continue to be our strength even when, ESPECIALLY when, our strength was gone.

Next:  Let the First Teacher Conference Begin!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Writing First

A few days after Whitney Houston's death I was asked to write a cover article on her life and death for Visions Magazine.  The theme:  Tragedy to Triumph.  At first I wasn't sure.  I had never written a cover article before.  I didn't know a lot about Whitney Houston.  I wasn't sure how I would find the time...or the inspiration. Still, it seemed like an amazing opportunity. I watched Whitney's "homegoing" on television, all the while furiously scribbling notes.  I began to research her life, and as I did, God began giving me the inspiration I needed.

What I didn't want to write was just another article about Whitney Houston.  The more I learned about her, the more I became convinced that she wouldn't have wanted that either.  Besides, most publications took the "triumph to tragedy" approach, and my assignment was the opposite.  You can find the article on pages 15-23 at the link below and read the result for yourself.  May Jesus Christ be praised!

Whitney Houston: A Journey Home

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Every Good Gift

I told my Pre-kindergarteners about Uganda yesterday. I watched their eyes widen as I told of hundreds of children without parents. I witnessed their disbelief as I added that most don’t have homes. They made anguished faces when I described the only food the children at Smile Africa get to eat each day –a cup of porridge and a bowl of rice- and how the children at King’s Primary spend 9-10 hours a day at school without lunch or even a snack. They tried hard to imagine children like themselves so hungry they have difficulty thinking and learning.

 I showed them a five minute video from last summer’s trip and they couldn’t get enough…”Again, again!” they shouted, and we played it again.

 What happened next shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. A spontaneous session of thanksgiving erupted among my little troop of four and five year olds. They thanked God for their mommies and daddies, for their sisters and brothers, for the yummy breakfasts they had and the dinner they knew they would enjoy later, for warm houses, for bedrooms and snuggly covers on their beds, and of course for toy dinosaurs, puppies, paint sets, and Barbie dolls.

 Even before walking into my classroom yesterday morning a verse was playing in my mind. I shared that verse with my students, urging them not to forget that God is the giver of all things good, that even the good things we do are God’s gifts to others through us. The next several minutes were spent brainstorming what they could do for the hungry children across the sea. “Do they have milk?” one bright student asked, “because we could get them two cows -a girl cow for milk and and a boy one to eat.”

 Just as my day was ending I received an email from a friend that included the above photo. For the past two years my friend’s nine year old daughter, aptly named Grace, has requested pillowcases for her birthday. Then she and her mom make them into dresses to clothe orphan girls in Africa. She and her mom pray as they sew, for each future recipient of a dress –the dresses in the photo are the ones Grace made this year. I have the privilege of delivering those dresses into the hands of beaming, grateful girls –a very good gift from the only Father they have, and proof that He has not forgotten them.

 The photo itself was a precious gift to me, but I was astounded to see printed on it the same verse that had been running through my head all day –the one I had shared with my students:
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Saturday, April 21, 2012

May God By Any Name...Be Praised

I have been neglecting my blog, in part because for the past 13 weeks my time has been spent taking the class "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement." Today it occurred to me to share one of my personal responses from the class as a blog post. It may encourage you; it may disturb you; it may stimulate your thinking. In any case, may the one true living God in three persons be praised!

I particularly loved the reading for Chapter 10, especially the Redemptive Analogy stories and examples of using locally recognized names for God.

The over-arching theme was the concept of working within cultural frameworks -using what is good and workable and familiar to any particular ethnic group- to build relationships, communicate the gospel, and start churches.

It has always intrigued me that so many different cultures have stories that resemble the salvation story in some way. One example from the reading is The Asmat people and the “New Birth” ritual between warring villages that they observe. This practice sheds light on the biblical concept of being born again. Another example is the osuwa of the Yali culture of Irian Jaya. It took a long time for missionaries to discover this redemptive analogy, but that discovery allowed them to liken the osuwa -a sacred place of refuge- to Jesus, who is our refuge. This understanding of Jesus made all the difference in the lives of the Yali.

It makes sense for missionaries to get well enough acquainted with a culture to discover these links and use them in communicating the gospel, because these are already known concepts to which the people can easily relate. It is important for missionaries to view these redemptive analogies as opportunities rather than obstacles -to not only tolerate them, but to seek them out and make use of them.

One of my favorite stories was the one of the sycamore tree that had special significance among the Gedeo tribesmen in Ethiopia, who believed that Magano, the Creator, would one day send a messenger to camp under that tree. When Albert Brant of the Sudan Interior Mission unknowingly camped under the tree there was a huge response to the gospel, resulting in 250 churches starting over the next 30 years. Now that’s opportunity!

I find it especially poignant that our word “God” is an Anglo-Saxon name for Deity that the Celtic missionaries used, rather that insisting on the use of Jewish or Greek names such as Theos. Similarly, Allah is a pre-Islamic word for God. This is food for thought, especially for those who might insist that Muslims give up using the name “Isa” which is familiar to them, and use our word “Jesus” instead. In this case, the person of Isa is our common ground with Muslims –in many cases the best gateway to mutual respect and understanding. We can either choose to build on our common knowledge or begin with an argument about who “Isa” is or is not. The latter approach seems counterproductive, and more likely to cause a greater rift instead of beginning to build a bridge. Another way to phrase this is that God is much greater than any title assigned to Him. Far more important than what we call Him is who we perceive Him to be and how we respond to Him.

That God “can have ten thousand aliases if need be, in ten thousand languages,” may be a radical or dangerous notion to some, but it makes sense to me. In the Bible alone many names and descriptors are used for God. He is, after all, the Word, and yet we can never fully describe Him with just one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Think I Can't

“I think I can, I think I can…” is the oft’ repeated refrain of The Little Engine that Could, a favorite children’s story. I found myself repeating that phrase over and over a few weeks ago on the first snowy day of the year as I tried to drive my van up the big hill between school and home. It took more than a positive attitude to make the hill, however. It took a full twelve minutes of bald tires spinning repeatedly against packed snow, making only inches of progress at a time. Upon reaching the top I drove directly to the shop to get new tires.

Today, as I was reading Exodus, another repeated refrain grabbed my attention. “I am the Lord.” This is the answer God gives over and over again, as Moses struggles with his own incompetency and the “what ifs” of his assignment to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt in order to worship God.

With the narrative removed, the conversation between Moses and Pharaoh goes something like this:

“I am the Lord. Go speak to Pharaoh, saying ‘let my people go.’”

“But I am a poor speaker. How will Pharaoh hear me?”

“I am the Lord.”

“But Pharaoh won’t listen to me.”

“I am the Lord.”

“But Pharaoh will bring more harm to my people.”

“I am the Lord. Go speak to Pharaoh, saying ‘let my people go.’”

“But I am a poor speaker.”

“I am the Lord.”

Wouldn’t you think Moses would finally get it? It’s not about him and his shortcomings. It’s about God.

One biblical expositor, Gill, expands on what God packed into that oft’ repeated phrase: “Jehovah, the self-existent Being, the Being of beings, the everlasting I am, the unchangeable Jehovah, true, firm, and constant to his promises, ever to be believed, and always to be depended on.”

In other words, “I am the Lord,” is all Moses needed to know -all he needed to complete each assignment.

Likewise, “I am the Lord” is all I need to know. So often I worry that I am not the right person for the tasks God has called me to do. I don't feel adequate, and when I try to accomplish things in my own strength, they fail. Wouldn't you think, after all my "tire spinning" I would finally get it?

Instead of “I think I can,” I may as well declare right from the start, “I think I can’t" ...while remembering that God can.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Had a Dream (with apologies to Martin Luther King Jr.)

Some people dream in color. I dream in attitude.

I got to sleep in a bit this morning, thanks to the famous and admirable dreamer, Martin Luther King Jr. In my last hazy moments of semi-consciousness I heard myself snipping, “I’ll show you!” in the sassy tone of a thirteen year old. Never mind that it concerned a meatloaf too large for the pan I was trying to use. (A dream interpreter would no doubt deduce that I need a bit more excitement in my life.)

I awoke to the sound of hubby rattling around in the kitchen and immediately felt the urge to snip at him for making all that noise, but then I realized that he had already let me sleep much later than I needed, and the sounds were of him making coffee for the two of us –hardly anything to complain about. Still, I toyed with the idea of delivering a few choice sarcastic remarks as soon as I saw him. The attitude had a firm grip on me.

I began to ponder just where the attitude was coming from - from the hallways at school, perhaps, or maybe from watching teen themed movies recently –one at the theater, and a couple on television. Maybe I had some unresolved resentment tucked away in the corners of my heart. Whatever the source, I decided that I needed to pray before stepping one foot out of bed, or else the attitude revealed in my dream would command the rest of my day.

As I prayed, asking God to redirect my thoughts and take control of my tongue, He brought a verse to mind –one that gripped my heart as I spoke it aloud, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 KJV). As I rose from my bed praying that Scripture, I felt the attitude melt into a puddle that I was able to step out of and leave behind as I went out to face my dear husband and the remainder of the day.

Now the verse that came to mind wasn’t one I had read or thought of recently, but one I had memorized as a child. This realization brought to mind another verse, “Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11 KJV) I am so thankful for the time I spent memorizing scripture when I was young. The Holy Spirit brings those scriptures to mind at just the right time to comfort, delight, direct –and yes, even to change the attitude.

I hope you find some help and encouragement in what I have shared today. Now it’s time to decide what’s for dinner. For some strange reason, I’m thinking meatloaf…

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Two Years Converged...

Two years converged at midnight’s stroke:
One behind, and one before;
One spent, and one as yet unsullied;
One known, and one a mystery to be unraveled;
One polished (however imperfectly), and
One plump with possibilities.

Once again we held our traditional New Year’s Eve party with a fine group of long-time friends. The tradition began when all of our kids were small -they are now all grown, many with families of their own, as this recent photo of our family demonstrates!

We have a long history of family campouts, game nights, and New Year's Eves spent with the same dear friends. Most years have been good years. Each of our families have grown, spread, and multiplied. We know we have been blessed beyond measure.

This year two of our friends face serious health problems. They both came to the party, encouraging us all with unfaltering faith and positive spirit. I can’t help but wonder what lies ahead for them in 2012 –what lies ahead for each of us, really. I want to hold another party next New Year’s Eve. I want these stoic friends to be here celebrating with us. I want to praise God for answered prayers. In short, I don’t want much to change. But change is the only thing that’s certain in this life, so I know that eventually unwelcome change will come –if not in 2012, then in the years following. This thought could cause me to worry, to become weary, or even to give up altogether.

How comforting, then, are the words of Isaiah 40:28:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

During the coming year when I am tempted to grow anxious, weary, or tired, I can simply call on the Great I AM: the One unaffected by time, unchanged by circumstance; the One who understands the “whys” and “why nots” that puzzle the rest of us; the One who mercifully gives us new years and fresh starts. Here I must add a quote I read today by Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ:

Vanity it is to wish to live long, and to be careless to live well.

Father, grant me your endurance and strength; let me lean wholly on You in the days and weeks ahead. Make each moment of 2012 count. May I live well and reflect Your glory and grace through every triumph and trial; through each change and circumstance. Amen.

A Happy and blessed New Year to each of you who are faithful followers of Dancin' on Rainbows, as well as to those of you visiting for the first time! I can't believe it's been three and a half months since I last posted! Being a better, more faithful blogger is one of my New Year's Resolutions. What are you resolved to do differently in 2012?