Sunday, February 1, 2015

A form of "welaba" (goodbye)

It's the end of an era of sorts.

This August, our EMI office plans a landmark move to a joint facility with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF--remember Jim Elliot?). It's a move that carries tremendous implications for eMi's scope of ministry here in East Africa. It's why my husband is leading eMi's third fundraising climb up Kilimanjaro two weeks from now! (Woot!) And it does mean that we'll save a bundle in housing costs moving an hour outside of Kampala.

In light of us heading to the States for two and a half months of home assignment and our lease coming due, we've decided to move (Ugandans say "shift") early. It will be, in the manner it seems we are so fond of, notably nuts. I returned on the morning of January 30th. We move on February 6-7th, and John's dad arrives to climb Kili with John (!) on the 9th. They return on the 22nd, and we fly to the States on the 26th. Anyone else doing the math here? It's never been my best subject.

But more than the insanity hitting us is actually the good-byes.

The kids completed their last library story time at the Giving Tree, after which they were even given certificates of volunteering and vinyl posters of their time with the kids!

It's goodbye to the kids in our neighborhood who come over to ride the bikes or jump on our loaner trampoline.

No longer will all of our eMi staff live within five minutes of each other. Some will remain in Kampala for their kids to go to school. The new area is more remote, so we'll live spread among the corridor of rolling hills lining the road to Entebbe. This means our community will change significantly.

And I hope to be commuting to the refugee center once a week. For as much as I loathe Kampala traffic, I my heartbeat has been at the center this past year! (Unless God shows me something else I should be investing in more locally.) This means that someone else will be following up with students from my class who showed so much interest in Jesus last term.

All in all,more is "shifting" than our boxes. Just as our last return from the U.S. marked a tangible chapter--a blooming of sorts--into such a fullness of ministry here, God's good plans following our next return remain to be seen. It's time to step out of the boat again.

And much as my heart is grieving the richness from which we are stepping away...He has yet to disappoint us. Bring. It. On.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What we celebrate

I'm going to diverge for a moment on a more family-related post. I just returned from an incredible journey of fifteen days (thank you to my incredible husband and remarkable housekeeper!) for a truly epic surprise party for my dad's 60th birthday. My eyes feel the sting of tears even now as I glance through the photos. My sisters and I, spread on four continents, haven't been on the same country for three years! You can see a video of the actual surprise moment on my Facebook page (if you're at all interested, it's worth it!).


 What I will never forget--and which most people don't receive until their funerals--was an open mic time that lasted for an hour (with more still waiting to share) in which person after person shared slices of my dad's generosity, compassion, and courage in so many aspects of his life. I wrote an article a couple of years ago about my parents' tremendous legacy of generosity, and it was something to behold to hear all the testimonies of this life well-lived. As I said at the party, my dad had always hoped to pass on the family business of farming to his kids, but then became the father of all girls. When they signed on as staff with FamilyLife nearly 20 years ago, that dream may have been confirmed as evaporated--but now, I see that as usual, God's dreams are bigger than ours. Because my dad's "family business", of compassion, generosity, and proclaiming the name of Jesus, has gone international.

A friend of his wrote a blog post about 10 lessons of a life well-lived that he learned from the party. A good man is indeed be hard to find--but I'm blessed to have way, way more than my share in my life.

Love you, Dad. And I celebrate your life.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Don't waste the waiting

It was eleven months. Long ones. I'll acknowledge that in the spool of eternity this is only a scrap of thread. Yet waiting seems to tug extra thread from that spool, causing time to stand as still as the air of a Mississippi August. Waiting, and of course outright suffering, are two of God’s most effective chisels on the soul.

In October 2013, my heart skipped a beat with an e-mail from our office administrator—one of those good news/bad news kind of messages. The good news: The Ugandan government had approved our work permit for another year. The bad news: This permit was scrawled with the words “last”—as in, this is your last one. As we researched this, its finality seemed hazy. A few had appealed with success, but others had wheeled their belongings into a 757 and departed this country.

So much seemed to hang in the balance: Our investment of ministry and finances, language acquisition and cultural adaptation, vital relationships and family adjustments. But more than that, it felt like a dream, tied by the hands and feet, and laid on an altar of stones. Would this be the time God provided a ram, or did He have something different in mind?

There’s a fair chance you’re waiting for something too: hopeful, perhaps with fear crackling around the edges. Perhaps it’s the success of a medical treatment, the news on a job, the end of a semester or trimester, or the end of singleness. So much of life, from Heaven to the oven timer, is waiting.

This year, God seemed to be whispering that I should not waste my waiting, in its refining work for the soul.

Waiting seemed to unleash so many of my spirit’s occasionally irreverent and usually quite revealing questions, allowing them to bubble to the surface. Why would God seem to bring us to full stride in our work—His work!—here, and then pile us on a plane? Why us? What if I have to go back, and why does that make me feel so afraid? Does God’s will match my own? Does mine match His?

Waiting is a deeply spiritual work, where our faith is road-tested. It’s part of the Bible’s DNA: waiting for freedom from slavery, deliverance from exile, the fullness of time to finally bring the Promised One. Waiting for Him to finally make His kingdom come in all its fullness and staggering beauty.

Waiting is when our faith makes choices—toward trust or fear; toward my will or His. It jerks back the curtain of comfort to reveal what we are clutching to ourselves, what has become so dear that the heart feels suspended in mid-air.

For me, it was a sense of purpose, identity, and flourishing that—among all of their Godward benefits—had made themselves an idol in my heart. Mine were questions I thought I’d answered. But the waiting left them naked, exposed, bare in their faithlessness and restlessness. And during those eleven months, God walked with me, settling my soul’s unsettled parts once again, pressing them deeply into Him and all I knew Him to be.

So imagine the shriek that filled our neighborhood last October when my friend Semei ducked his dark head through our gate, bearing his trademark broad grin and waving a thin piece of paper. “I have good news!” he shouted. My heart dropped in my chest. I swallowed. Surely not, after eleven months. Could it even be over?

And yet—it is. We have permission, for now, to stay another three years. Even in leaving, I would not have been put to shame (see Psalm 25:3). But He chose to remember our family in this way, and to say, I have plans for you here. Tears leaked from my eyes as I hugged friends and jumped up and down, and as my children and I huddled to pray in thanks in the dust of our driveway.

Maybe you're waiting for something, too. If you are--don't miss the waiting.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pushing out the poor

I sat in the back of a "special hire" the other night--our form of a taxi--beside the curious mélange of sights and lights that clamber together on a Kampala street on any given night. I was airport-bound, off to a priceless, once-in-a-lifetime surprise for my dad's (also surprise) 60th birthday party. My heart felt full of emotion as I'd just kissed my children and husband goodbye for two weeks with two of them sobbing (thankfully, neither one was my husband).

But also leaving me relatively mute was my driver-friend Robert, navigating the clotted Kampala streets in fits and starts. I inquired of his family, but I knew what was really on his mind. I asked halting questions about his newly-closed shop, and how he was faring. But I didn't probe much deeper after I sensed dark embers of anger--another man providing for his family, brought to his knees in the impotence of poverty.

Two weeks ago via newspaper and likely radio, Kampala Capital City Authority--the maintenance and beautification arm of city government--notified all vendors that they must have a permanent structure (e.g. concrete) and a license for their building, or it would be torn down. Legal? Yes. Beautifying? Yes, physically speaking.

Yet Kampala residents realize the vast scope and repercussions of this measure. Nearly every single street is lined on both sides with temporary structures of haphazard planks, solid shipping containers, and odd conglomerations of tarps and materials. For people who've obtained precious little formal education, this is their available livelihood, allowing them to provide for their families feasibly and honestly. Robert's wife worked in the small corner shop he'd scraped to set up, saving money for their daughter's education. Now, a heavy padlock glints on its metal doors.

This is relatively mild compared to the tilting heaps of wood that lay dismantled up and down our street, some of them smoking. Some of our produce vendors have simply vanished. Certain goods no one can find because the sellers have scattered. Vacant slabs of concrete stare blankly, once having sold chapatti and samosas from a crooked, productive little window, Africans gathering to chat and grab inexpensive food. On the day our street was vertically flattened, friends reported that the vendors they knew stood with blank stares, directionless and, like Robert, perhaps flattened themselves.

Via word of mouth, I've been told by Ugandans that the government has expressed its desire to push the poor from the capital city of this developing nation. Really? Only those above a certain income rate are welcome, when Uganda's GDP is $248 lesser per year than Haiti?

Yes, our streets are looking more and more like Nairobi's, I'm told. Clean; less eyesores. But now, eyes turn to the crime rates, reflecting what some view as their remaining option. Will those look like Nairobi's, too?

The powerlessness I feel, looking at my friends from my relatively untouched perch of Western citizenship, boasts few adequate words. Since we arrived three years ago, the streets have grown smoother, the imports sparkle in their variation, and my grocery store started taking Visa! But to tell the truth, more rights have been taken away from average Ugandans than have at all been awarded or expanded--at least in my limited view. For someone on a justice-related mission, to say I find this disturbing is an understatement. And even more vacant is my understanding of what to do preventatively, rather than simply extend additional relief. What do I do for the Roberts of this city?

And Lord, how long?

Monday, December 8, 2014

40 Ideas for Raising Globally-Minded Kids

Author's note: This post of mine originally appeared on, and is gratefully reprinted in part with permission! Please click here for the first 20 ideas, and here for the entire second post.

My parents have four children, and we reside on four different continents: My sister teaches art in England, one aids refugees on the Thai-Burmese border, one is changing her world in the States as a nurse and a mother—and me, raising our four kids in Uganda.
I love that my family has a vision beyond itself (admittedly, holidays can be a bit of a downer). But how can we instill a global, Great-Commission worldview in our own kids? Will they reject myopic entitlement for God-sized purpose? If you’re eager for mission-minded, compassionate kids, start with these practical solutions. If you missed part I, click here.

21. In conversations, differentiate between “needs” and “wants.”

22. Read missionary biographies together, in series like the Trailblazer Books, Torchlighters, Men and Women of Faith, or Christian Heroes Then & Now.

23. At year end, have a family charity game night, when your kids can win your end-of-year giving amounts to dedicate to a favorite cause.

24. Go on a short-term missions trip, starting locally, then beyond to a foreign country. A cautionary word: Educate yourself on what productive short-term missions looks like. Trips can actually undercut development in impoverished nations, or cripple missionaries themselves. Invaluable books like When Helping Hurts explain how to truly empower hurting communities.

25. Watch movies based on the lives of courageous Christians, such as Faith Like Potatoes or The Hiding Place.

26. Hold a monthly family cultural night: explore new food; learn about a new country; even dress, sit, or eat accordingly.

27. Pray over spending patterns. Since this is God’s money, where and how does He want it to be spent? Is there some “spending fat” that might be allocated to something more eternal?

28. Simplify. Then do it again. Personally, selling about 70 percent of our stuff to move to Africa was exquisitely painful. But I’d repeat it in an instant: It changed us! Commit to purging, eliminating, and generally minimizing the gravitational effects of “stuff” on your family.

29. Model contentment and gratitude. It helps us hold loosely: “the rich… [should not] set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (2 Timothy 6:17).

30. Train kids in sacrificial generosity. Check out 1 Chronicles 21:24 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, and talk openly about ways you give until it hurts. Help kids to set aside 10 percent of their allowance for giving to a project they’re enthusiastic about.

31. Together, read strength-building stories like Jesus Freaks or Growing Together in Courage.

For the rest of this post, please click here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Praying for Friday--the rest of the story

Last Friday around 5:30, I emerged into the balmy air of Kampala to my trusty minivan, accompanied by a couple of my students carrying my weapons (foam ones--for acting out the scene of Jesus' arrest, admittedly including a few pool-noodle light sabers and a Little Tikes bat), dress-up clothes (needed some garb for the drama, which I plundered from my kids' stash), and other random detritus that reflect my rather...creative style of teaching. The guys set down my stuff, waved and thanked me, and left me to the Irish friend of mine who'd waited there for me.

Spunky and exuberant, Jaz is a gift from God to me, and no more than last Friday. "I had to hear!" she waved her hands. "I waited for you, because I've been praying, and I heard you in there, and it was unbelievable to hear what was going on!"

We collapsed in the van's seats, and I thanked God for the only space in Kampala where I can regularly depend on frigid air conditioning, particularly when I am sweaty and rank from hours of teaching. (Poor Jaz.) But that's when we both sat there, exclaiming and incredulous over the events of the day.

The two classes had been packed because of the exams, with a scattering of students I'd never even seen before. Were there eighty students between the two? Who knew? But thankfully, the energy level had remained high and engaged during the entire class--with the exception of the last few minutes in the first (a prior long-running exam meant they'd sat in exams for four straight hours). But even then, the responses were invigorating--almost too good to be true, I told Jaz. I kept thinking, Is this really happening? Am I really getting to do this? Could they really be responding like this?!

After the story of Christ's Passion, I'd included a video clip from Prince of Egypt, of the last Egyptian plague. I hoped to demonstrate the significance of Christ dying on Passover, of the Lamb's blood ("Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!), of Christ calling Himself the door, of the slaves at last being freed. I'd had a couple other "road to Emmaus"-type examples, attempting to draw in Christ from the Old Testament from all the stories we'd studied this year.

I glanced around at my students in their religious clothing as I talked about God ripping the temple curtain from top to bottom: Because of Jesus, you can be close to God.

At pretty much the same point in both classes, this is the point where my voice cracked a little with emotion: "And this is why I teach you: This is what I've been wanting to tell you! Believe in Jesus, and you can be saved!"

Jaz mentioned that she got particularly excited, listening outside the door--"when you were asking for volunteers to be Jesus [in the drama]--and then you said, 'Ahmad! Great!' I couldn't believe it!"

I couldn't either. I'd talked with him before class, giving him a dual-language Bible so he could read in his own language, and a copy of the JESUS film in his own language, too--both gifts from Jaz. He told me he'd read the gospel of John, too: "The Word was before everything, and then God made the world"--pretty much a paraphrase of John 1. I grinned.

"So what do you think? Do you think He was really the Messiah?"

"Yeah! I do!" He grinned.

But did he have any Christians in his tribe, someone he could talk to when he got back?

"No, but there are some in the next tribe."

Of course, only God knows about the Christians there--and whether the soil in Ahmad's heart is the "good soil" Jesus describes. But when I was recounting this to someone the next day, I was mentally jolted: every tribe, tongue, and nation? To be a part of that promise? I was floored. Please--pray for him as he goes back to his home country.

And at the end of the second class, when the same question hung in its PowerPoint square on the whiteboard: "Who do you say that I am?", I was surprised by the enthusiastic, vocal response:

Was He a liar?

"What? NO!"

Was He crazy?


Was He "the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?"


And the vast majority of little "YES"es were circled on the handout in response to the last question: Would you like to know more about Jesus? If so, circle YES.

I'm so thankful God sent me Jaz, because even now, I find myself second-guessing. Did this really happen? Are their responses genuine?

Pray, please, for these students--that their faith would be genuine, that God would create real life in them--that I would get to hug them exuberantly in eternity. For right now, I'm just amazed that our God is doing this. Can I get an Amen?

Something tells me this may not be the rest of the story, but just the beginning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Praying for Friday

It was the end of my last official Bible class of the year at the refugee center. I'd taught about the "I am" statements of Christ; this Friday, for the two-hour exam period, I hope to bring everything full circle in the biggest lesson of the year: His death and resurrection. But for this class period, I ended with the account of Jesus' question: Who do you say that I am?

The question, suspended by PowerPoint, hung there on the whiteboard in the rectangle of the projector. Students began gathering their books and pencils in the shuffle and conversation that mark the end of any class period around the world. A student of mine, whom I'll call Ahmad (you may have read about him here), raised his hand. Ahmad has this gentle-giant quality about him, and always speaks with a gentle, halting voice. "I am shifting"--that's the Ugandan word for moving--"back to [my home country] over the holiday." He hopes to get a job; to find a wife.

My eyebrows pulled upwards. What? I asked a few questions to clarify. It was true, and of course good news for him, that he was leaving the center over the holiday. Just like any good counselor, I'm thinking a good refugee center hopes to work itself out of a job; to send you home healthier, richly nurtured despite a stormy season of life.

Then, he asked his next question: "Who was Jesus Christ?" I inquired further, head cocked, thinking, I've been teaching about that for the last four weeks--and comprehended (I think) that he wanted to find out what the words "Jesus" and "Christ" actually meant.

But I must admit my heart sunk like a stone, stirring up waves in my chest. Classmates were milling around, the question still there, like a man with a sandwich board that people walk by in intent conversation on a crowded street. Did Ahmad know enough about Jesus to make an informed decision about him? To move back to his (aggressively non-Christian) nation, and remain resolute in what he knew about the person of Jesus Christ?

I swallowed, and expressed my joy for Ahmad's...wonderful news. He asked if he could take a Bible with him. I lent him my easy-read version from the center, with instructions to a) read the book of John, b) return the Bible to me at exams, and c) come back with his questions and thoughts.

"And we'll have a..." he paused. "Con-ver-sa-tion."

Yes, Ahmad. We'll have a conversation about the most important thing we could ever talk about.

Our interaction stayed with me as I walked home in the warm, late-afternoon sun, as I sautéed dinner, even the next morning as I sang with EMI's Friday morning worship: Break my heart for what breaks yours... It was then that I felt hot embarrassment at the tears leaving telltale streaks on my cheeks in front of all my coworkers. Yes, I know that salvation belongs to our God, and certainly not to me or my most valiant efforts. But something feels appropriately crucial about what my students hear, and decide, about this subject.

Since then, I've secured a Bible for Ahmad and a Jesus film in his own language. And Monday night found me up late, pasting images and text in the PowerPoint for Friday. When I finally snapped shut my laptop, my jaw ached from the tension of seeking to communicate clearly and with the engaging presence deserved by the Greatest Story Ever Told.

I feel like the lesson--at least as it's planned--is comprehensive and direct, hopefully easy to understand. I've planned dramas and a movie clip to liven it up a bit (steered carefully away from a the more gory images; would refugees have distracting flashbacks?). My primary concern now is that I'll be able to maintain their attention for the whole two hours, so they don't lose anything.

But my heart feels magnetized by Friday, by the question at the end of the handout: If you would like to learn more about Jesus, circle YES. Even as I write, I swallow the thick concern that feels like it's formed in my throat as much as my eyes.

I'd love your prayer for Ahmad--and for Friday.