Thursday, June 18, 2015

10 years. 10 lessons. What We've Learned About (our) Marriage.

Everyday is a new “I do”.
We commit ourselves not just to who our spouse is today but to who they become tomorrow.

Assume the best
When we love we are careful with our blind conclusions.

She’s not an animal.  That’s just Jade snoring.
Seriously.  I learned this and it makes the top ten.  It’s bad.

Consensus or Nothing
Never outpace the spouse.  Don’t pressure or push.  Walk in step.

Counseling is Good
Don’t wait for the train to fall off the rails before seeking wise counsel.

Business Meetings
Schedule intentional conversations and talk about the important stuff.  Here’s how we do it.

Fight Together
It’s so strengthening to accept challenges together and fight through them together.

Endure
Temptations come and go.  Arguments and bad days happen.  Be patient and choose love.

He’s not an animal.  Well maybe he is.
Nathan leaves his clothes in a pile beside the bed every day.  The hamper is right there.  Right.  There.

I’m just not happy anymore.
Our best years began when holiness replaced happiness as the primary purpose of our marriage.
  
Grateful for the F. Howell family who blessed us with a night away to celebrate our 10 year Anniversary (instant hot water showers, people!!!) and for trustworthy babysitters in a 'new' country!  Gifts from the Lord, truly! 


Monday, June 15, 2015

The Man With The Fancy Tie

     We only know what we know.  My job in this country is to help our pastors know more.  When I say "more" I am not only referring to the Bible.  I just mean "more".  During our time here I have seen the impact of a persons surroundings on their development.  Every little behavior, thought, dream, idea, action, motivation and hope are constrained to the information made available to the mind.  Big world equals big thinking.  Small world equals small thinking.
     A fellow missionary once heard some village pastors referring to the Galilee River.  When he asked them why they weren't calling it a lake they said, "What's a lake"?  I've been profoundly and permanently impacted by the power of poverty and lack of education on human minds, lives and communities.  Some of the greatest hours of my time in Uganda have been spent among those who know nothing beyond the dusty roads of their tiny villages.
     A couple weeks ago Rev. James and I travelled a few hours outside Kampala to a small church where the community had gathered.  For over six hours we preached, sang and ministered to them.  It was a Thursday but the event was so important to them they dropped everything to be with us.  At one point I had to pause my sermon and sit down because the rain on the metal roof was so loud I was losing my voice trying to speak over it.  James leaned over to my ear, "If you notice a strange smell it's the manure.  They've mixed it with some dirt to coat the floor and walls like a temporary concrete."  I laughed and checked my shoes.  They clapped and sang and danced until the rain slowed down.
     Our goal in visiting this church was to encourage the leadership, provide direction and instruction for teaching and give them a sense of belonging within the denomination.  Rev. James spoke for a while about the words 'Africa Gospel Church' and explained what they meant and how their small church was part of something bigger in the country.



     At one point Rev. James asked a question.  To my right was a man dressed better than anyone in the room.  He had a fine black suit, ribbons on his lapel, glasses (a rare accessory here), shiny shoes, a watch, two Bibles which he held at the same time, big jars of something to his right and a short tie with Uganda's colors.  He raised his hand to answer the question.  When he was finished Rev. James said, "Interesting.  Thank you.  I like that very nice tie!"  The man smiled and began clapping for himself.
     We found out later that there was a story with this man.  Some time back he had wandered into this town with very little known about him.  He was quiet and modest.  Then, during a time of prayer at church he volunteered to pray for someone who was asking God to help him sell a cow.  Not long after that the cow sold.  The village noticed that God had heard this man's prayer and they began coming to him.  In their desperate need for help they saw the possibility of hope in this man and his 'powerful' prayers.  They began paying him to pray for them.  He became famous.  He bought expensive bottles of prayer oils to use during these powerful prayers.  More recently the church had begun to challenge their own pastor in favor of this (seemingly) more powerful man.  Now he had joined us in this meeting.
      After this backstory had been made known to us (in the midst of our day with them) I watched as Rev. James began to formulate his response.  During my sermon I turned around and saw him reading and scribbling.  I smiled later when I realized he was rewriting his sermon to address the immediate issue.  When he stood up to preach he called them to the Gospel of John chapter 15.  He read, "I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener."  He paused, put his Bible to his side and looking around the room spoke, "Do you know why Jesus described the vine as true?  Because there are other vines!"  I was amazed.  I thought, "This friend of mine is preaching to the very problem in the room.  He has captured their hearts by showing them he loves them and now he is correcting them."



     When we were back in the car on the way home I told him how much I had learned and how I admired his courageous leadership.  What an awesome experience!
     As I sit here now I reflect on all that we've learned from this country so far and I feel deeply compelled.  God called us here but our understanding of the need was pretty much a guess.  It's Africa and we've always been told they need help.  As we've lived here those guesses have become experienced truths.  It's real.  God can do this work with anyone.  We are so thankful he's chosen us to be His helpers.




Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sophie, Ezra and Ruby's Birthday Project

Over the last 7 weeks we have celebrated Ezra (7), Ruby (3) and Sophie's (8) birthdays. It's been a a lot of fun! Our family in the States were so generous by sending them gifts, cards and messages of encouragement.

Ezra requested chocolate cupcakes for his class party.
Ruby has asked nearly every day since her birthday if she could have her birthday again.  :)


Sophie had a friend over from school to watch the movie Frozen. 
 For Maddix's 9th birthday some dear friends in Indiana sent her birthday money.  They recently did the same for Sophie, Ezra and Ruby. The children were encouraged to use it for their ministry here so they can develop their own ministry of giving.  Our children have felt so loved and accepted by their fellow peers at church and decided to use their money to bless them. The new school term just started so Sophie, Ezra and Ruby bought notebooks and pens for the children. 

Sophie writing "God loves you" on the notebook. Each child got 2 notebooks and 1 pen.
Ezra cut the string that held the 2 notebooks together.
Ruby helped put the pens on the notebooks.
Sophie, Ezra and Ruby donated the supplies to the church and one Sunday morning they were handed out by the older women or 'mothers' during the service. Sunday (pictured) asked me to take her photo with her new school supplies. So fun! :)
I (Jade) was invited to come and speak with the 'mature youth' of the church to discuss topics that that young women face. Sophie, Ezra and Ruby used their remaining birthday money to buy them personal hygiene supplies for boarding school/college. 
Here I am with the young ladies as well as our Assistant Bishop's wife Carolyn. We had a wonderful time studying the Word together for hours and discussed everything from 'how to co-exist with people who dislike you' to 'overcoming temptation' to 'how a Christian girl should dress'. These were the topics they wanted to discuss. I am so impressed by their desire to live holy lives! 

 Do you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews that you would like to encourage to develop their own ministry of giving? Give it a try! 








Thursday, May 21, 2015

How are you?

“How are you?” my friend Rachael asked.  I was surprised by the tears that leaked from my eyes when I heard her voice on the other end of the phone.  I didn’t realize how much I needed to be asked that question.  Rachael is my dear friend who I have years of meaningful history with.  How am I?  “Holy lonely," I told her, “Most days I feel some new kind of lonely.  It's hard to describe.  Anyway, God is here with me so it is a good lonely.  Maybe a sacred lonely.  I have Him and He is teaching me so much through the new loneliness.”

In Indiana we had the most incredible community.  I lived in Grant County my entire life until I moved here.  I was the voice in the family who gathered people for holidays and sporadic cookouts. Being the extrovert that I am, my calendar would often fill up with dates for coffee, cupcakes or tea with friends. Our family was very involved in our church and community.  We did life together with others.  We only left them because Jesus told us to.  When we ache for familiar (the booth seats at La Chas, Joe Allen' strong hugs, snow in the winter and soft rain that lasts for days, Suzanne's warm smile, Uncle Luke and Uncle Micah's laughter) we give that longing to Jesus like worship.  Not like worship.  Worship.  And in our worship He is faithful to fill those empty spaces with Himself.




Today during my morning jog familiar pain and longing filled me as I sang to the Lord, “There is no one else for me, none but Jesus.”  I do not wish the ache away.  I've sung that song many times before but it means something different now.  Before coming to Uganda I think it was probably another song about idols.  "There are no idols...Jesus is my one and only God."  Now it feels more like a song from the desert.  "There's no one with me, just me and my Jesus."  It's a significant change but a good one. 

God is faithfully building community for us here.  In fact, we  spend more time with people here in Uganda than we were able to in Indiana.  He is blessing us with the meaningful friendships we have prayed for.  Much of the problem of loneliness comes from culture.  Much of what nurtures great relationships are the shared experiences between us.  While we are able to develop friendships that matter it is more difficult to sink into that comfortable sweet deepness that heals and soothes the soul.




The lack of shared experiences is both an exciting adventure of learning and an intimidating barrier to intimacy.  They are like little bricks that build a wall in the relationship.  And so, in that way, we missionaries have to be excellent climbers.  Missionaries spend much of their time in friendship scaling the walls of awkward cultural distance.  We throw ropes and hope the Ugandan wants to come half way.  If they don't then we stumble into their culture with wobbly legs hoping to take some shred of energy back to where we came from.

The point is this: in the midst of these hardships we feel things.  These negative emotions dot the landscape of our day to day.  Somehow we have to respond to them.  God brought us here and its great but not all great.  The good and bad are all in the same basket.  Our choice is in what to do with the bad stuff.  Our family has fought (really fought) to not settle for calling it 'bad'.  These negative pieces of life are regularly offered to Him as sacrifices of praise and worship.  Even the lonely hours.  We give these little bad dots in the missionary life to God saying, "Here Lord, take this because we love you."

When God called us to Uganda we did not take time to calculate our "yes".  The yes was a yes.  We knew we would sacrifice but we didn't know from what.  We knew there would be change but we didn't know to what.  Our yes was quite blind.  We've discovered that part of our sacrifice of worship in obedience is loneliness.  If it were something besides loneliness we would still give it.  If it were loneliness plus something we would give that too.  A yes is a yes and He is worthy of a life saying yes, yes and yes.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Here I Am

I remember what I felt like driving toward the campus for the first time.  Nervous.  Unsure.  Ready to turn around and go hide at home.  I hadn't been in the country very long and this was going to be one of my first experiences in ministry overseas.  I'd been told only 5% of the country goes to university.  At this particular ministry there are students from all over Eastern Africa.  As I drove up I saw a young thin man in a sweater.  He approached me with a smile and said, "Hello Pastor Nathan.  We are looking forward to learning how to be men of integrity and to seek God in all the things we are doing."  I was surprised by his introduction.  I just smiled and said, "Okay good."  As we walked up to the house I thought to myself, "Okay good?  What kind of a response is that, Nathan?"  In our first meeting I wasn't sure what to say.  I didn't have any big plan other than to ask them all what they hoped to gain from the group.  We went around the circle.  Girls.  Relationships.  Women.  Marriage.  God and the Bible.  Help with females and relationships.  Girls.  What is humility and is it different than low self-confidence?  Dating.  Women.  I said, "Well guys, you are normal.  My struggle in answering your questions is that my culture might say something different than your culture.  However, I believe that God has a culture too.  Why don't we study through the Bible and try to find some answers?"  I suggested that we come up with interview questions that fit our curiosities.  Then with those questions we would select one man from the Bible per week and "interview" him.  They liked the idea (sigh of relief) and so together we developed five questions.  I was impressed with their ideas.  Here is what they came up with:
  1. How can a man keep his relationship with God pure?
  2. How can we as Christians relate to those who are not Christians?
  3. How can a man balance his relationship with God and distractions?
  4. What have you learned about love?
  5. How has pride been your weakness?  How has humility been your strength?
Watching 'Indescribable' by Louie Giglio in my front yard.
We began the first week by studying Adam.  They then chose Moses, Joseph, Daniel, David and Peter.  One by one we went through the Scriptures together studying the chosen man of the week and asking him one of our five questions.  David had a lot to say about #4.  Adam spoke strongly on #1.  We noticed that Daniel had really great answers on #5.  Each week we saw different strengths and weaknesses in the men that pointed to eternal truths for us.  I remember one week we spent almost the whole time talking about how we define humility and how we define strength.  One of the students was very interested in this idea and brought it up in our talks quite often.  In our final week I asked him if he could define Biblical humility and Biblical pride.  He said, "Biblical humility is when God is the one to lift us up.  Biblical pride is when we are the ones to lift us up."  My jaw dropped.  Out of my insecurity and nervous involvement in this small group there came something good.  Wow!

Those good conversations happened more than once.  I remember sitting with the group as they explained to me how one goes to university.  They don't take out loans.  Their villages and communities have come together to support them.  When a village supports a young person from one of their families they are expecting that young one to return to the village to help everyone.  If they don't return then they at least need to get a good job in the city and send money back to the village.  Each of these young men felt the tremendous pressure to repay their villages with success.  I turned to one and said, "That must be very stressful."  He said, "It is.  But isn't it quite Biblical?"  Again, wow!

I'm the tall one in the back.  To the left is Josh Hallahan, another missionary with WGM.  For this event we combined our two groups.  
Our group represented Uganda, Kenya, Congo, Zambia and Rwanda (sometimes if he came).  We were supposed to start at 6:30pm but this is Africa.  It was never (EVER) a challenge to get these men to think deeply or be serious.  If anything, on several occasions I had to lighten the mood a little because they were all so intense.  We talked about money, power, sex, pride, hope, authority and many other important topics.  In a country where only 5% go to university it is a certainty that some or most of these men will be leaders.  In just a short few years these men will be businessmen, politicians and community leaders.  They will be the ones to shape the future of this country and continent.  And they are sitting and listening to me.  More than once I made a remark that caused the whole room to write in their note pads.  As I paused for them to write I thought, "What is going on here?  Who am I to be talking to these men?"  I thought about Isaiah's response to God's commission, "Here am I!  Send me."  Sometimes that response feels like a battle cry.  Sometimes it feels like one whimper in a city that roars.  Here am I!  Sorry it's only me.  Here am I!  Unless you need someone qualified.

What I learned was this:  when I say 'here am I' I am not offering much more than a warm body that moves and talks.  The body that says 'here am I' can show up nervous.  It can wobble in without a plan or any idea of what it has gotten itself into.  The body that says 'here am I' can be weak, unsure and unqualified.  It only needs to go.

Moses said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"  I say things like that a lot.  God says, "Do this" and I say, "Who am I to do this?"  God says, "Do that" and I say, "Who am I to do that?"  God responds the same now as He did to Moses.  When we ask about our qualifications He says, "I will go with you."  We are qualified because He is doing it.  I started and finished this semester of small group study in awe of God.  

Who am I to do this?  

God is with me.  

What are my qualifications for the work in Uganda?  

God is with me.

Many of us are waiting for burning bushes to tell us what to do.  We ask for dramatic signs and signals from the Heavens to make our instructions clear.  Let's remember that God does not always speak in this way.  Moses got a burning bush but even he hesitated and was slow to respond.  When God asks us to do something He is not asking whether we are able.  Our abilities are not part of the equation.  With humble and willing hearts let us all listen eagerly and with great anticipation for the call of God on our lives.  And when we listen, perhaps we should quiet ourselves and listen for a whisper.


The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord,
for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind
tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord,
but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake,
but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire,
but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
1 Kings 19:11-12



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Lawrence



Meet your new brother in Christ, Lawrence.  On Easter Sunday he and Nathan prayed together as he repented and committed his life to the Lord.  Nathan arranged a discipleship partner for him who is a trusted young Ugandan friend of our family.  When we arrived at church today we were elated to see that he had joined the worship team on stage.  Lawrence displays a deep spiritual transformation.  He is working hard at trying to read the Bible. His Bible was sent to us by a generous family from Brookhaven Wesleyan Church. So cool! Today he showed us his Bible saying, "I love the poetry" and said he is going to work hard this week at trying to read Psalm 139 so he can share it as his testimony next Sunday at church. Lawrence is very special to our family. Will you commit to praying for him? We love you all! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter in Uganda

Since we are still in our first year of missions work we get to enjoy every holiday for the first time!  Today we celebrated Easter with our Ugandan friends.  The energy and excitement in their worship was such a great encouragement to us.  Here are some pictures from our first Easter weekend in Uganda.

We stuffed the Easter eggs with jelly beans and stickers.
Thanks to the generosity to a College Wesleyan small group and Dublin Wesleyan Church we were able to stuff 500 eggs!
We went to the orphanage on Good Friday and had a sweet time sharing the Easter story with the children. The concept of an Easter egg hunt was new to everyone so we explained how the egg represents new life in Christ and showed them how to open the eggs. The mommas (caretakers) had a blast helping the kids find the eggs. There was a lot of joyful shouting! 


After the Easter egg hunt it was time for lunch so, of course, we stayed and helped give the babies their bottles. 

Saturday afternoon haircuts for Nathan and Ezra (only $3 total!).  :)
To be honest for the first time in my life I (Jade) woke up fearful to go to church on Easter morning. Because of the recent Kenya attack the security here in Uganda has been heightened, which can cause fear and worry to rise up in us. I praise God that in my devotions this morning the Lord brought Scripture after Scripture to mind which brought me great peace. I was reminded that worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is.  So, we got dressed and ready--clothed in peace and joy and went to church!
We had an abundance of Easter eggs so we rolled the windows down and passed them out to passer-byes. 
As we passed out the eggs we said, "Happy Easter! Mukama Yebazibwe (Praise the Lord)! 

It was a blast!
Nathan preached about the common term 'born again' using the image of a baby to describe our new life in Christ.  The congregation sensed the presence of God in the room as the service went on.  At the end of the service Nathan invited those who hadn't been born again to come forward and pray.  A young man approached the front shaking with tears on his face.  For some time he prayed with Nathan, discussing things and crying.  Finally Nathan stood up and introduced him to the rest of the congregation as a new member of their family.  The church cheered and clapped and continued in worship.  What an awesome Easter experience!

We put on an Easter egg hunt for the kids at church too.

They loved it! 

The longer we are here the more our perspective changes.  We don't go to church wondering, "What will this be like?" or "What are we supposed to do?"  We don't enter so many rooms wondering who will be in there.  We don't wonder how to greet or carry on conversations with people.  In fact, it is an incredible joy to use our history within relationships to carry on conversation.  Nathan spoke with a man this morning who recently lost his son.  This morning he told Nathan that shortly after the death of his son he also lost a boy who was like a son to him.  Since Nathan has spoken with him before there was opportunity to move the relationship forward.  Together they shared about struggle and pain in this life.  The man testified, "Thank you for your ministry here Nathan.  We believe that no matter what happens God is good."  Our family is so thankful for everything that has happened today.  What a wonderful Easter!