I Don’t Know

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus’ worlds from John 15:4-5 ESV

Her eyes were stern as she looked at me across the dinner table. “I wash clothes by hand,” she said in a slow and determined to be understood tone. I could see so much more meaning behind her words than just laundry.

Our house guest visiting from Uganda, a beautiful young pastor’s wife, was expressing through practical housework the unfairness she saw between her life and mine. She knew she lived a more cumbersome and difficult life than what I live. She wanted me to know she worked hard. She saw Americans with their shopping malls and washing machines, water for long showers and well fed pets in the back yard. She saw the abundance of grocery stores and restaurants everywhere. My world looked easy, cushy, soft, and lazy to her. The reality of unequal lives had hit her.

I got what she was expressing and all I could do to respond was say, “I know you do.”

I know you wash your clothes by hand. I know you sweep your floors constantly to clear the red dirt. I know you want a closet filled with nice clothes and a variety of shoes. I know you want food that is easy to prepare, even already prepared, water that pours already hot from a faucet, and pretty dishes. I know you want to be able to make appointments with doctors and not have to wait days, to be reassured that medicines will be available should you need them, and that your children will attend good schools and have even the possibility to attend college.

I know you work hard – very hard. I know you do your best. I know the world doesn’t look fair, because life isn’t equal. The thing is – even though I know it is unfair and unequal, I don’t know what it is like… and I don’t know what to do about it.

It is so easy to struggle with inequality. It is so hard to see the reality of how unequal the world really is. My eyes don’t even want to open to it sometimes because it is painful. Somewhere lost in the comparison is the unfortunate realization that instead of justice being sought to try to help those who struggle each day, prejudices are born with excuses made for why I don’t have to. Like as a follower of Christ I somehow wasn’t called to it. I buy into that lie for comfort’s sake. And then to make it worse there is this lingering argument that even if it were possible for me to make everything fair for all people, prejudice and attitudes alone could block the love I’m trying to share.

How do I say, “I love you” even though I can’t fix your struggle? Why would you believe me when you know I don’t get the world you come from?

Is that even what God is asking me to do for you? “Fix” your struggle? Paul writes in Romans 12:10 to “Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other.” In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul encourages Timothy to share in the suffering. Scripture goes on and on with different calls to help others. It seems like I’m being asked to “fix” struggles.

Then there is this:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus’ worlds from John 15:4-5 ESV

Christ is my vine. Apart from him I can do nothing.  I am to tap into Him to bear my fruit. He “fixes”.

There were so many differences and perceptions between the young pastor’s wife and me as we looked at each other across that table. So many things we couldn’t fix or make equal.

Then with our husbands we took each other’s hands and asked for blessing over the food we were about to eat. We both prayed to the one we had in common – Jesus.

We were the same as we gave thanks for the blessings. We were the same as we talked about our children, sharing their talents and skills. We were the same as we laughed at funny stories, and as we fellowshipped together.

We both loved our families. We both were doing the best we could to love our husbands and raise our children. We valued encouragement. We valued God’s provision. We both desired to be valued and appreciated. We both hurt when we saw injustice. We both needed common ground from the vine, our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.

We were women from two different worlds, but we were sisters in Christ.

I don’t know how to make things equal or show my love for you, but Christ in me will show me the way.

“Let not you hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1

“Therefore encourage one another and build on another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good work.” Hebrews 10:24

 

 

A Letter from Jackie

This year we didn’t get to go to Uganda. However, Uganda is still on my heart. This is a reblog from last year.  Jackie still crosses my mind as do my sponsored kiddos.  They have changed my life and my heart forever.

Life @Thorntonville

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, ESV)

I have this itch in my spirit this morning or more of a yearning. In my room (converted dining space into mom’s “studio”) there are bookshelves with books and containers of various art/sewing supplies. Paints of various colors fill old soda crates, an easel hangs on the wall, and fabric scraps are tucked away in drawers. It’s my haven. I have created some art pieces over the years, but what the studio has really become is the place where things go when mom needs to fix them. A broken necklace and a pair of pants that need a new button sit on the table at the moment.

My yearning has nothing to do with my studio or its supplies, but instead a letter that is buried somewhere within this room. A letter given to me when I went to…

View original post 1,187 more words

He

“I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” Song of Songs 7:10

He

When he’s gone, I miss him. I miss pretty much everything about him. His smile, tender heart, chuckle when he thinks he’s being funny. I miss the coffee he makes and Saturday night meals. I miss the texts he sends to check on me throughout the day. I miss him griping about the dog being a villain and even his sweaty, stinky running clothes (They definitely inspire me to get the laundry done.). But the two things I miss most are hearing his prayers and his shoulder. They are two things I lean on heavily.

He left for Uganda. It was his ninth trip there. The whole family was excited for him to go, because he loves serving in Africa so much. He loves encouraging people, laughing and even dancing. He loves asking questions about their culture and attempting their different languages. He loves making the women laugh when he asks how they cooked something because he would like to cook it for his wife. He loves seeing the church that God built through e-mail and the children of His Mercy School.

Most of our sponsor children go to school at His Mercy School. He loves being able to hug them and see their smiles. Two of our sponsor children are siblings so we’ve kind of adopted the whole family. Now with each visit he buys a goat or something similar to help the family. Mama Jessica, their mother, loves him and celebrates with song, loud cries and dancing when he comes to visit. He loves her so. She sometimes sends gifts back with him. Last year she wove me a Ugandan floor mat. We’ve made the joke that I have the fanciest stretching mat in America.

I sometimes get scared when he is gone, but I know in my heart he is doing what God has asked him to do and has gone where he has been asked to go. I still worry. Which causes me to spend a lot of time in prayer. The time he spends in Uganda has become a time of amazing spiritual meditation and surrender, because I have to trust God to take care of one of the greatest treasures He has given me.

When he comes home from Africa, he is always so happy to see his family, but you can tell he feels so heartbroken for his hurting brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side of the world. He also knows that because of our church and his job here we are able to give so much to help there. To help in ways we wouldn’t be able to help if we lived there. So we stay.

Because we stay, God continually shows us ways we can pray and send aid there, while also showing us people here we can love and serve, as well. God did not call us to sit idly while we wait for visits every year. He called us to be present in all the places He has directed us. In the schools my kids attend, in our neighborhood, in the places we volunteer, in our church, in the bank where my husband works, in our family, in our extra-curricular activities, and of course, in Africa. There is a piece of us in each of these places. There is also a piece of God.

So yes, I miss him while he’s on his Ugandan adventures. But because of his work there we are blessed with the gifts of God’s goodness and being shown continuously how to distribute His love even further.

Soon I will hug his red dirt stained body and unshaven face from the days of travel. I will kiss him and make him a meal, while he shares all of his stories and laughs about misuses of foreign vocabulary. I will encourage him to take a long hot shower. I will watch him as he falls asleep on the pillow beside me while my words of life’s home adventures bring comfort and familiarity to his spirit. And I will once again pray with him as he arises the next morning and lean on his shoulder in relief that he is back with me once more.

“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” – Winnie the Pooh

Faith Steps (The First Trip to Uganda)

 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

 Faithsteps

The dates were set for the first trip to Uganda. It was about three weeks before leaving. The team was assembled. The first team members on board were a banker (my husband), a pastor, a missions director, youth director, a mental health professional and two college students. Seven brave souls who felt called to go- commissioned to explore a new territory for our church and examine where God was asking us to jump in.

It was the original intent to focus on the Gulu area most impacted from war. In 2007, the war between Joseph Kony’s army and the Ugandan government was basically over, but most people still lived in displacement camps, where villages caught in the war had been moved for safety reasons. These camps were functioning more as villages. Imagine families ripped from their homes placed in camps for twenty years. Over those twenty years other people, refugees, had moved into most of the vacated homes. Families had no place to go, so they stayed right where the Ugandan government had put them. They didn’t have jobs, ways to make money or schools to train their kids and break the cycle of poverty; plus, war and aids had practically killed a generation leaving the elderly “aunties” to care for all of the babies. Children were everywhere. There were many, many struggles.

After months of planning, the church decided Gulu was going to be the place of mission.

Then… God introduced us to Eddie. (Actually, we call him Pastor Edward.)

Three weeks before leaving on the Ugandan adventure, my husband received a message on My Space from a guy named Eddie. It was a simple “Thank you for taking an interest in my country.” message. He had seen my husband’s comments from another organization’s web site, and wanted him to know he was grateful. Simple enough.

I thought it was weird having a complete stranger reach out to us like that, but my husband thought it was nice and wrote back to him asking who he was. He said he was a Ugandan minister outside of Jinja and that “if you are ever in Uganda, please, drop by.” Ha! As if! What are we going to do? Fly to the other side of the globe to meet a guy we met on the internet?

And that is exactly what happened.

One of our contacts we had in Uganda fell through, we discovered the next day at a meeting to finalize the plans for the trip. There were three days of nothing. After praying with Pastor Edward on the phone and my husband and I both learning a lesson on God liking flexibility, Jinja was included in the trip. (By the way, Jinja is a ten hour bus ride from Gulu.) And boy, am I glad it was.

The team left.

I was scared. My husband would be gone for two weeks, come back and then leave for banking school for another two weeks. We had quite a summer ahead of us. My kids were split on their opinions. My oldest, was fearful (probably feeling my fear). Our Senior pastor’s wife, had us over one afternoon to share with my son her adventures in missions. She told us of her travels into areas where Christ’s name was not to be spoken and of some of her journeys with a smile, speaking about how God takes care of those who are bold for Him. It was a comfort to both my son and to me.

My daughter, age six at the time, wanted to go with her dad. She had made gifts for her dad to take and give to the children we would meet. “Jesus loves you” notes and bead strung necklaces on yarn were her way of expressing love. Her heart yearned to go so badly; she cried, not because her dad was going, but because she wasn’t old enough to go, too.

I was told by the mission director’s wife as they boarded the plane, that “no news is good news”. In case, we didn’t hear from them for a few days. Thankfully, we heard quickly. Then there were a few days in the middle, we didn’t hear much.

When they returned, our lives were changed. It was a new beginning. My husband’s heart had been broken for the things that break Christ’s. Most first missionary trips bring back people who have to process the unfairness of our world against the “where does Christ fit in to all this?” questions.

Instead of going through every step of the trip, I want to share part of a wrap up letter that my husband wrote at the end of the third trip. In his words, it shares of things that happened in 2009, while explaining the emotion of mission trips.

“Greetings Friends and Family,

Well we made it home safe and sound. I know all of the team are glad to be back with family again. I have spoken to a few of the team the last couple of days and the jet lag seems to be smacking us all. It does get better!

I want to thank you all for your support of us on this trip. Whether through financial donations, prayers, or sharing the work we are doing with others, your support was felt and needed by the team. We could not have done this without you. Thank you so much.

The trip was amazing. We held five medical clinics and were able to see and assist almost 3,000 people. What a blessing! We handed out over 1,000 mosquito nets to pregnant women and families with small children to help prevent malaria. We also had a couple of hundred people come to faith in Christ through the two showings of the Passion of the Christ movie and the prayer rooms at each clinic. Actually…God did all this through us. It was a tremendous trip.

I will say it is going to be difficult for the team to explain it to you for a bit. I have been three times now and still have trouble describing it. There are times when exhaustion and frustration set in, but honestly I remember the blessings. Seeing a child smile as they play games and sing songs, having a parent thank you for helping them see the doctor, getting word that the two infants rushed to the hospital are doing better and seeing your friends freely giving of themselves in service for others they do not even know. Sharing a time of fellowship with our hosts who thank us for coming and blessing the people they work with daily. Worshiping in a new church building in the middle of a village. These things far outweigh the inconveniences to our normal comfort zone. It is such a blessing to have been a part of what God is doing.

I want you to know that the Uganda mission is not over. We have new projects we will be working on in the future…”

The North was so broken the first year, we didn’t know where to start. In fact, because of the chaos and of groups that had come before, one man in a northern village, said, “You will never be back.” The next time our team was in his village, they found him and gave him a Bible as a symbol of God’s faithfulness.

Since, beginning in the North was difficult, we started with medical clinics. A couple of doctors came on the next trip with nurses. Plus, we raised funds for meds and some medical supplies. A prayer room was staffed with both missionary people and local pastors to offer prayers over people.

Now, several churches in the Gulu area are helping teach children, train adults for careers and giving them opportunities through micro financing loans. What started as chaos has now developed into God flowing opportunities filled with life giving blessings.

Pastor Edward, outside of Jinga has become one of our best friends. I know I’ll write more about him later because he has impacted our lives greatly. God has used our church to build a church and school outside of Jinga, as well as, begin a sponsorship program that now operates through Help One Now.

All of our family has served in Uganda, including my youngest, who is probably the most passionate after her father. Updates from Africa are as part of our lives as hearing from grandparents.

It was the beginning, of, so far, close to a decade of work and relationships. It was the beginning of steps of faith that would lead us through years of heart growth. Steps that are still leading today.

 

He said, “Yes”

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless in this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

 He said yes

In 2006, God began to take our family on a journey filled with adventures. My husband and I had stepped out of our American box and joined a tour to the Holy Land. It was the first time either of us had been off our continent. It was a time of connection, recommitment, and learning to listen to God. At the time we were facilitating a Disciple class at our church, so we were really eager to share everything we had seen with our classmates. Not only did we get to share with them the trip that year, but a few months later something else began to work on our hearts. When you ask God to help you hear his voice – be ready to listen.

My husband became obsessed with foreign missions. He would attend events where missionaries were speaking, practically memorize the World Vision magazines we received in the mail, and even set up a file folder for missions information. (He’s gifted in administration. So the file folder was a sign for me to buckle in, it just got serious.)

One day, he did it. He took the plunge and jumped into the deep end.

After reading a book on saying “yes” to Jesus before we even know the question, he said, “Yes!” (Thank goodness! I can’t imagine our lives without all the adventures!)

When he shared with me what he’d done, I honestly prayed, “Thank you, God, for his faithfulness, but please, not Africa.” (Now, I can’t even remember why I was afraid of Africa.  I guess it just seemed so far away.)

Then the World Vision magazine arrived talking about the child soldier’s in Northern Uganda.  Children ages 8-14 were being kidnapped and forced to kill and destroy.

My son was nine at the time.

My husband’s heart gushed. I’d never seen passion spill from his soul like that. It was leaking out his pours.

He researched everything on the subject he could and came across the Invisible Children’s site. They had produced a video on the topic and were going from town to town presenting a money raising campaign to help the child soldiers.

Around the same period of time as my husband considered ordering the Invisible Children’s video, our church hired a Mission’s Director. His first week on the job (I think it was the second day), my husband walked in to talk to him. His advice, “We need to go.” That day they began to plan a trip for the following year.

I had been working Vacation Bible School the day of the meeting with one of our past babysitters, a college student and friend. When she asked about my family, I openly shared about my husband’s heart for Uganda. She looked at me with big eyes and said she had a video she wanted my husband to see and went to her car to retrieve so I could borrow it.

That night when my husband shared with me his news about the mission meeting, he told me he was going to go ahead and order the Invisible Children’s video. That’s when I ran to my car, grabbed the video my friend had given me and handed it to him saying, “This one?” God had already done the work of securing the research tool that would gain our church’s support.

We had many confirmations over the next year leading to The Uganda Mission Project’s beginning. We are currently in the ninth year of our church making the annual trek to Uganda; in fact, we have a small team leaving in three weeks. The suitcases come down this weekend in Thorntonville to begin the annual pack.

While we intended to serve and help child soldiers, God had something different in mind. I’ll share more about that later, with a story of a last minute unexpected change before the first team left on the mission.

Before signing off, I do want to share these two last thoughts:

First, my husband, after realizing he was being called to go to Africa, did ask God why. He told God there was plenty of work to be done in the United States. God told him, “Yes, indeed there is, but you haven’t done it. Africa will be good for you.”

After going the first time, he came home with eyes that had been opened to see children who were impoverished and with out a voice. He now serves them on both continents. I guess, sometimes God takes us away to help us see clearly.

Second, when asked why we don’t move there? The answer is, “God has revealed, at least for us, we can do more here for the people there than we could if we lived there. Plus, God is using us here to help, as well.”

My husband continues to work as both a full time banker and missionary. Over the years, ministry opportunities have flourished through both fields. Our hope is that all laborers will see that their faith and fields can be used to serve Christ. There are too many in need to leave it to just non-profits, field missionaries and profession ministers. It takes more than a village. It takes a body of believers.

Stay tuned…

A Letter from Jackie

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, ESV)

I have this itch in my spirit this morning or more of a yearning. In my room (converted dining space into mom’s “studio”) there are bookshelves with books and containers of various art/sewing supplies. Paints of various colors fill old soda crates, an easel hangs on the wall, and fabric scraps are tucked away in drawers. It’s my haven. I have created some art pieces over the years, but what the studio has really become is the place where things go when mom needs to fix them. A broken necklace and a pair of pants that need a new button sit on the table at the moment.

My yearning has nothing to do with my studio or its supplies, but instead a letter that is buried somewhere within this room. A letter given to me when I went to Uganda the summer of 2012 on a Mission trip with my husband. A letter written from a seventeen year old girl who dared to have a dream.

Her name was Jackie and she was beautiful. She appeared at the medical clinic the first day we arrived in Labuje outside of Gulu. We chatted a bit. Her eyes held so much sorrow, but yet there was something playful about her. She came into the prayer room where I was set up to pray over people who had seen the mission doctors. After walking over to my station, she sat down like any teenage girl who was getting ready to gab awhile. Slightly shy, but still bold enough, she asked what was on her heart. Her story was a common story. She couldn’t continue in school because her Uncle and Auntie required her to care for their children. She politely but boldly asked me to pay for her to school.

Orphaned and impoverished children all over the world are missing out on the opportunity to receive an education. Often in third world countries, children are forced into labor, forced to marry or just forced out of the classroom due to lack of funds, uniforms or proper supplies. It often effects girls the most as boys are seen as having a higher value or a greater potential. Also, boys at a certain age don’t miss school due to the hygiene issues that come with menstrual cycles in an economy where toilet paper is hard to afford, let alone feminine products.

I had to tell Jackie, I couldn’t pay for her school. On that trip we were asked over and over to pay for school or to sponsor a child. My husband tried to prepare me for the emotion that would go with having to say “no”, but it was heavy. The guilt inside of me loomed, because I knew how nice I had it back in America. My faith wavered every time I said the word, “no”; I couldn’t understand where hope could exist in the circumstances in which these beautiful people were living. I struggled with why I couldn’t be the hands and feet of Christ to each one of them. I yearned to give them hope and a future. We packed for the day and I left with Jackie and several other’s on my heart.

Upon arriving back the next day at the clinic, there was no Jackie. Some of the other children said she had to stay back to work. Near packing up time, though, a slender quiet young woman walked in my room. She held out her hand to me with a note for me to take and then gave me a big hug. She quietly said, “Thank you, Kysia, for loving me”. Jackie then slipped out of the room and I never saw her again.

Jackie's Letter stained by Tide that spilled in my suitcase on the way home.

Jackie’s Letter smeared by laundry detergent in my suitcase on the way home.

Two and a half pages of teenage writing. Hopes, history, dreams and fears jotted down on notebook paper, then folded up tight, as though she had passed me a note in the hallway at school. She longed to return to school. She had sponsor parents who had paid for most of her education, but this year she had been denied the right to continue. Her dream wasn’t that of babysitting, but of creating art; however, her Uncle (which doesn’t always translate as a relative- could just mean someone who took her in) was her only source for food and shelter; he demanded that it was time for her to work. So she did. Still, she dreamed of being an artist. She loved to draw and to paint.

As she continued in her letter she shared with me how she had learned about Jesus in Sunday school. She knew how to pray to Jesus and asked me to pray for her continuously, “every time you get down to honor God.” She knew He had plans and a future for her, so she simply prayed for her future to “come out of dark into light”. She then described how she worshiped God through music, listing off her favorite songs of “You Raise Me Up”, “Am a Friend of God”, and “Who am I Lord.” She closed the letter with (these exact words), “I love you so much, Kysia and I will always do so just as God first loved[.] me and you also sing his song, “Oh, How I love Jesus…””

Spools of thread are hanging off my bookshelves with a can that holds scissors on the shelf. I fix so many little things from broken jewelry to last minute hems. Broken toys, rewired lamps, and super glued shoes are some of my specialties. But how do I fix hope? It’s a question that has gripped me over the last year and a half. My faith tells me hope is only found in Christ. My obedience in Christ tells me to be His hands and feet, meaning care for those who cannot care for themselves. We already sponsor several children, but there are so many children out there who are desperate. What is the next step?

Jackie already knew the next step. She wrote it in her letter. It was a brief statement made in a run on sentence that could be easy to miss; but I paused and did a double take to make sure I are read it correctly. It is “Just as God first loved.” I suddenly used that sentence fragment to fill the answer to all my questions. It reminds me to pray first, surrendering my will and desire to God who first gave me that passion. Secondly, I am to wait for the answer that is given out of the goodness of God; recognizing that sometimes His goodness may or may not be for my action. Lastly, when acting, I am to acknowledge God will provide the strength and the insight I will need for each task. God is the one with the answers, because He loved first and then created from that love. It is only through my surrendering to Him that his love will flow through me.

Although, Jackie, is considered an adult now, I often wonder how she is doing. While I don’t know, my Maker does because He first loved. How am I to encourage others who live in desolate situations to keep dreaming even if I can’t financially support them? I’m not sure; but, My Lord does, because He first loved. If scissors, glue, and buttons could do the trick to mend, then out of my own strength I would probably naively and foolishly try. But this is mending only a Creator can attend; because He first loved.

Show me your ways, O Lord, My God; guide me in your truth and teach me.” (Psalm 25:4-5) Amen.

If your family is interested in helping change the world one child at a time through child sponsorship there are several organizations that would love have you aboard. We sponsor and work directly with Help One Now , and in addition, sponsor through World Vision.