Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Imbabazi Foundation

I knew there was a Foundation created a few years ago to secure the future of Roz' Imbabazi Orphanage in Gisenyi, Rwanda, but I never dreamed of being a member of it! This is another door I believe God flew open on my trip.

While I was with Roz she asked me if I would mind if she proposed me to be one of the ten board members for the Foundation. She explained that last year one of the board members died in a diving accident. I asked questions about the Foundation and then agreed. The next week the Foundation Board met and agreed to accept me as their newest member. What an honor to be part of a group that has the welfare of over 100 orphaned Rwandan children as their primary purpose.

Of the ten board members, six live here in the States, one in Italy and three in Rwanda. They meet twice each year - once in the States and once in Rwanda. Of course, due to travel challenges, not all meetings are attended by board members.

I'm not sure what God has in mind here but we'll see where He takes it next!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Tulsa International Soul Winning Workshop

The Tulsa Workshop had a huge impact on my life as I attended every year growing up. I was always inspired by how people were going out and serving God in every corner of the world.

Twenty years ago today I committed my life to Christ and was baptized in front of thousands of people at the Tulsa Workshop. I remember, like it was yesterday, hearing Ronnie White preach on David and Goliath and pledging myself to have the same kind of faith David had - a faith that would conquer absolutely anything when the Lord was on my side.

This year is no different. (Thousands of people have already began making their annual trek to Tulsa.) I have an opportunity to speak this weekend to about 30 individuals who are willing to consider uprooting their American lives and move to Rwanda to serve the poor and to expand God's Kingdom there. I'm thankful for and inspired by each one of them.

May God continue to light the fire within us "to go" and do His work in all the world. May God use the Tulsa Workshop powerfully once again this year.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Source in Jinja, Uganda

Plot 20 Main Street sits in the middle of a city of 100,000 people and it is a special place to me. I tried to hang out there as much as possible while I was there two weeks ago. I believe it is holy ground.

Starting in 1997, my teammates and I spent meeting after meeting overlooking the source of the Nile River and discussing and praying how we could best encourage the Jinja Church of Christ and Busoga Bible School (Bible training school for village church leaders) to have a place they could call home for years to come. It's not easy when the average Ugandan lives on less than $1 a day and it costs a location like that $15 a day just to pay the utilities. Weekly church contributions often consist of fruit grown as opposed to checks drawn on big bank accounts.

Seven years ago, we concluded that there were basically three options.

1.) Raise on-going money from the U.S. for an unlimited amount of time to pay the bills.

2.) Focus on house churches (not a bad option by itself) but concede weekly large gatherings and not having a meeting place for BBS.

3.) Try to build a place we would later call The Source. The Source would empower the Ugandans by providing them jobs and a way to serve the community while paying for a church building and creating a hub for a growing church movement in eastern Uganda.

As far as we could tell option # 3 was full of risk and had never really been done before but we didn't feel great about the first two options either. So we started praying and praying more. Every week we prayed that if this third option was from God that He would bless it. If not, we asked God to throw the whole idea into the Nile River and show us a better way.

Seven years later the Jinja Church of Christ has a beautiful facility (property purchase and renovation funds came from many generous American Christians) that they are paying for the operational costs themselves through The Source - an effective Christian business in an extremely poor place in the world. BBS has a home and holds week long Bible training classes every month where the on-site dormitory houses up to 50 village church leaders. I praise God for providing this incredible place.

Two weeks ago I spent a couple of days with Moses Kimeze. who made his start as a little boy in the village raising goats so he could go to school, and was impressed at how well he is managing The Source. Moses, for The Source, manages an Internet cafe, computer training school, coffee shop, and craft business. The Source is a model Christian business paying their taxes, providing jobs and a facility to be used by the community for good causes, and allowing the Jinja Church of Christ to spend their money towards supporting missionaries as opposed to paying electricity bills and rent.

The property at Plot 20 Main Street is used seven days a week for God's glory. In one short week I witnessed AIDS victims being counseled, meals being provided to hungry children, village church leaders attending a seminar to improve their Christian pre-schools in their home villages, two baptisms, great worship and praise to God, small group meetings, e-mails being sent to family members across the globe, Ugandans learning computer skills, cool local crafts being sold, and lots of coffee being sipped. (I brought some great Source packaged Ugandan coffee back if you want to support the mission!)

I'd be lying if I told you The Source is not without its problems and challenges. It's not easy work but it's good work. And because of the way God heard and answered many prayers, I call this place holy ground and I'm thankful to have walked on it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Christian AIDS Network

One of the most encouraging things I saw on my trip was a new ministry by my friends at Jinja Church, the Christian AIDS Network. It is a direct attempt at dealing with a devastating disease affecting so many Ugandans.

Oliver, Phillip, Charles, Augustine, Michael and Joseph are just a few of my Ugandan friends who I know have died of AIDS in the past couple of years. There are many more who have died and there will be many more who will soon die of this disease. Their orphaned hildren are left behind often in an aunt or uncle's home.

CAN is run by a couple of volunteers from church who don't really have any great qualifications for AIDS counseling except that they have the love of Christ in them. Alice is one of the volunteers with a huge heart. Alice will accompany anyone willing to the AIDS testing center to sit with them as they learn of their fate. If they are not HIV positive she will advise them on how to prevent getting this disease, pray with them and will invite them to church. If they are HIV positive, it is the beginning of a loving relationship that the HIV positive patient often will not receive anywhere else.

Alice returns to the church with these unfortunate individuals and begins advising them on how to manage their condition. She gives them advice on how to receive medicine as cheaply as possible which is unfortunately not cheap enough for most people (although there is plenty of supply if profit hungry pharmaceutical companies and their countries are willing to help out more.) Alice is there for the individual if they have any questions and need any advice.

Most importantly, though, Alice is simply their Christian friend when many others will treat the AIDS patient as an outcast. Alice introduces them to other AIDS patients in a weekly support group. They share their concerns, eat meals together, and make crafts together. These crafts are sold and the proceeds go to help this support group continue meeting in the future. They hope to someday make enough to begin providing for many of their own orphans of the future. Alice and her friends will then sit at AIDS patients' bedsides and hold them as they die.

Christian AIDS Network is providing the same kind of love to Ugandan AIDS patients of today as Jesus showed love to lepers of his day. I am proud of my Ugandan friends and hope that there is some way I can help them to increase their resources for such an incredible ministry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Rwanda Today

Many of us are seeing Hotel Rwanda and just now understanding the story of Rwanda eleven years ago. I want to let you know about Rwanda today.

I left Rwanda amazed at the progress eleven years has brought. In my view, the government has done and is doing an outstanding job of leading the country towards a developed country status. There is still a lot of work to do but they are certainly on the right track with their Vision 2020 plan.

An example is one story I read in Rwanda's national newspaper last week. The story was titled "We Need More Government Retreats" and I have to admit I rolled my eyes at the title. However, the story went on to tell how President Kagame announced last week at a retreat that the government would be reclaiming hundreds of government issued SUV's and would be auctioning them off to the public as they were considered an excessive expense to the people of Rwanda. Now that's good government!

I also had a chance to meet with the Secretary General of the Ministry of Gender and Family, who happened to be one high ranking official who had her SUV taken away from her. Rather than lamenting the loss of a $50,000 vehicle, Anne assured me that she fully supported the decision and that it was the right decision.

It is known that development in Africa doesn't come easy. There has to be a good and transparent government in place making good decisions and a willing international community. It helps to have a good geographical location and security surrounding the country. Rwanda is geographically and resource challenged but I can say they are making the most of what they have now and they are overcoming a horrible past in impressive fashion.

Hotel Rwanda shows how the world shamefully ignored Rwanda in a great time of need in 1994. I hope and pray that the world will at least now be willing to jump in and help a country that is doing their part towards improving the lives of its citizens. They may not be experiencing a genocide today but they ARE experiencing an AIDS epidemic, weather conditions that allow malaria to continue to be a devastating killer for the poor, and absolute poverty that in itself kills so many each day. Let's rally the forces to develop Rwandans' hearts, souls, minds, bodies and even bank accounts. They are willing and eager to experience a better life and they deserve it.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Almost Home

I board the plane here in Kigali in 7 hours. I wish I could just be zapped home in an instant to see my family. Evidently, Tyler, my 4 year old wishes for that too.

A week ago Tyler made a wish to his Mom that I would come home. Yesterday, Tyler was crying and when Briley asked what was wrong he could only say, "I want to talk to Jesus!" over and over again. Finally he shared more, "I want to tell Jesus to bring my Daddy back."

I'm looking forward to a sweet reunion!

I'll try to post some follow-up comments on my trip later next week after I've hugged on my family and caught up at work some.

Laughter, great medicine

As Americans we grow up not worrying much about our next meal, how to get clean drinking water, how to prevent and treat common sicknesses, etc. We can move about freely on nice roads and get loans at the bank for a house or to start a business.

Millions and millions of Africans grow up without those "freedoms of life." The past two weeks we've driven by thousands of people carrying heavy loads up steep hills to the marketplace. We've passed hospitals that don't have any equipment to help the sick. We've seen many villages with no access to clean drinking water. And then we've seen pictures and video of children watching their parents brutally raped and murdered before being killed themselves in a genocide.

These two worlds clashing can be difficult for Americans to process emotionally. American missionaries get many requests every day for money for medicine, food, capital for a small business, etc. It can easily get overwhelming.

That's why I'm thankful that my teammates carrying on the work in Uganda know how to laugh and just be goofy. After a long week of travel seeing the above conditions we spent the better part of a day joking around and laughing until we hurt. Not because we think the situation is funny, but because laughter truly is great medicine for the soul when you've dug in deep helping the needy.

Please pray for the emotional well-being of your missionaries and that they will frequently experience the gift of laughter.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

We ate dinner last night at THE Hotel Rwanda. Unfortunately I can't recommend their food but it was still cool to eat at the now famous hotel - actually called the Hotel Mille De Collines (hotel of the land of thousand hills). Hotel Rwanda was playing in their video shop as we ate.

I've said it many times but I'll say it again. Go see Hotel Rwanda and consider how we as Christians can improve our outlook towards Africans.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Roz' Mugongo farm

It was a little surreal drinking tea in Roz' living room at her Mugongo farmhouse this morning. Unfortunately she couldn't join us, so as we were drinking tea I took her book "Land of a Thousand Hills" off of her own bookshelf and read several pages to our group.

I read of how she was reunited with her cook (who had just served us tea) after the genocide. I read of her life back in the 50's and how she treated the sick and injured at her back door.

We also walked around her incredible flower farm and saw the orphanage for the future. She hopes to move the children to her farm again this coming November. It was all an incredible site high up in the hills with two volcanoes towering above us.

If you haven't already, you have to read her book! You won't believe her stories, but now I've seen them firsthand. You can order it off of Amazon.

Imbabazi Orphanage

Talk about preaching the gospel! Roz Carr lives her life out loud by the love she shows for 123 children at the Imababazi (translated from Kinyarwanda language "loving as a mother loves") Orphanage in Gisenyi, Rwanda.

At age 81 Rosamund Carr had lived a full life, much of it in Rwanda and East Congo. She was therefore reluctant (more like forced) to leave when the genocide began in 1994. She spent four months in the States watching the horrible footage on CNN wondering how her lifelong friends were doing. As she heard the news reports of thousands of wandering children she decided to start an orphanage. She returned soon after the genocide ended to a ransacked house with nearly everything gone. She soon went to work rebuilding her home and converting her former flower storehouse into an orphanage.

The orphanage continues to do well and it has been a pleasure to be a part of it this week. Roz was absolutely floored when I gave her the $6,300 check many friends donated through the Kibo Group. Her joy was enough to make the whole trip for me.

The best part, however, was playing soccer with the kids, installing a new basketball rim on an old backboard and listening to the orphans sing. We spent nearly an hour last night with Terri, Erika, McKensey and Emily teaching them songs and they would respond with a song of their own. It was powerful to hear them sing of the love of Jesus in Swahili, to sing "I'm free, Jesus has set me free" and then to hear them sing "It's me, it's me, it's me Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer."

These children have endured so much. Thanks to Roz Carr, who at nearly 93, is still preaching the gospel loud and clear in a small corner of a needy world.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Beautiful Rwanda

Rwanda is often called the "Land of a Thousand Hills" and is one of the most beautiful places I have seen on earth. Some compare it to Switzerland but with lots of tropical crops, trees and flowers. The mountains, lakes, and greenery are just amazing.

It is hard to believe that less than 11 years ago Rwanda was in mass chaos, with about 800,000 murdered in 100 days. In several visits the past six years I am seeing excellent strides toward stability, security and development. It will take generations to recover from the genocide but good things are happening here.

The most important thing that can happen is that all Rwandans and residents of Rwanda will love each other as Jesus loved us. The reconciliation that Christ brings is the way forward and it is my prayer that all Rwandans will understand and know Jesus more each day.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Wonderful Week, On to Rwanda

I'll be shifting gears on this trip tomorrow. As soon as church is over I will be traveling with the resident Jinja missionaries to western Uganda on our way to Rwanda on Monday. We will stay with some good friends in Mbarara tomorrow night (about a five hour drive). I don't expect to be able to blog very often this next week as we'll be staying in guesthouses and away from Internet connections. The French keyboards are difficult as well!

It has been an exhausting yet fulfilling week here in Jinja. So many people seen and visited. There have been very early mornings and very late nights as every minute has been valuable. I have seen God move in powerful ways every day and it has been a privilege to be a part of it. I wish I could have more time to write about Alice, Moses, Ida, James, Grace, Sam, Lazarus, Ronald, and The Source. There is so much more to tell and not enough time.

I will close out the week in Jinja by preaching at Jinja Church tomorrow morning. As I mentioned before it is Friend Day and many of my old friends who are not church members have promised me they'll be there. I've invited my former electrician, some boda bodas (bicycle taxi drivers), more new Sudanese friends and many more. I'm hoping for a big crowd and for the Spirit to move powerfully.

An African Church Movement

When our team moved to Jinja in 1994 we had a vision plan that had our team directly involved in the start and growth of the church movement through 2010. We knew we needed to work ourselves out of a job eventually. This trip is largely a check in for me to see where we stand in the progress of that goal.

The results....... the Ugandan church leaders are ahead of the pace and I believe the Ugandan churches will follow their lead. After sitting in several meetings and eating meals with several leaders I am inspired by the faith, fruit, mutual trust, humility, servanthood, energy, vision and perseverance of the church leaders. They have taken the ministries God started through our team and improved them while creating ministries that are Ugandan inspired.

There are still very important roles the current missionaries will play here but it is obvious the churches in Jinja and Busoga in this little corner of Africa are well on their way to becoming a truly African church movement.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Matooked out and missing my family!

In a 24 hour span I have just been served four matooke (pronounced ma-toe-key) meals. Three times with chicken and once with beef. That doesn't include the posho, potatoes and beef meal I just finished eating at 10:45 p.m. tonight! Matooke (cooked bananas) and posho (corn meal) are Ugandan staples I have now been refamiliarized (inundated) with.

I have the visitor routine down. I greet them when first seeing them and we ask each other how we are, how home is, how the wife is, how the children are, how the church is...... it could go on and on. Then they show me into their warm home and have me sit down. Once I'm seated we greet again and all the members of the household come and greet me. The man usually sits and talks with me as the women prepare the meal. This could take 30 minutes or 3 hours as it did tonight (in the dark with no electricity). After eating and eating more they ask me to pray a blessing on the home and their family. I am then free to go to the next matooke meal.

I love the people and their hospitality but I'm also missing my own family!

I miss sharing all these things with my wife. I miss coaching Easton's last basketball game and taking him to his first t-ball practice. I miss waking up with Tyler early in the morning and cuddling on the couch with him. I miss holding McKensey in my arms and singing her a song before bed each night.

Ten more sleeps until I'm home!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sarah's Hope

On New Years Eve 2000, two of the Jinja Church of Christ members were involved in a terrible accident. Joseph and Grace Bizzu were riding on a motorcycle towards a New Year's celebration when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and smashed into them. Grace bled to death that night and Joseph died 8 months later from complications made worse by AIDS. Grace's last request that night was for her children to be well taken care of. They were ages 12, 9, 7 and 5.

The three younger children were soon placed in a local Christian orphanage but the orphanage was not able to accept Sarah, who was beginning secondary school. A loving couple at the Jinja Church agreed to take in Sarah and Briley and I agreed to help ensure she continued her education.

Fast forward to today and Sarah is now 17 and the equivalent of a junior in high school. She has performed at or near the top of her class each year since 2001 and she desires to be a doctor someday. Some of my good friends at church in Tulsa helped me to be able to allow Sarah to continue her education this year.

Yesterday I went to visit her at her school and her big smile told of her thankfulness for the opportunity to continue her education. Sarah is now full of hope.

The Blessing of Rain

When I stepped off the plane last Friday night the air was thick and hot. 82 degrees hot at 11 p.m. Everyone was commenting on how long and hot this dry season has been.

As I sit here tonight I here the steady downpour of life giving rain and feel a cool breeze through the open windows. It began raining Saturday and has rained every day since.

Some have said that I have blessed them by bringing rain with me. I assure them that God is the provider of this rain that means so much to this agriculturally based economy.

May God continue to pour down his rain on this Ugandan soil and even more pour down his Spirit on these Ugandan people.

Harding Academy Ugandan style

Today I went out to the village of Nawangoma with Ben, Spencer and Grace Nyanga. Nawangoma was one of the first and remains one of the strongest village churches of the 67 village churches in Busoga, where our team has focused our efforts. Nawangoma is also now home to Harding Christian Academy.

HCA is a dream created by several Ugandan church leaders that has received great financial help from Dr. Ganus at Harding University, hence the name. They wanted a secondary school that would be Christ-centered. The school inspires me for several reasons. First, it is 100% a dream envisioned by Ugandan church leaders rather than missionaries. Second, the headmaster is Ricky Kahudu who is a great example of a poor child taking advantage of great opportunities. Third, they are executing the dream in a very good way.

I first met Ricky when he himself was in high school. His parents in the village had no way to pay for his school fees and he approached Briley and I for help. He came with a good reference from a fellow missionary so we agreed to let him stay in a room on our property and to pay for his school fees. We watched him study hard and perform well in school for two years to complete secondary school. He wanted to go on to the University level to study how to be a Christian secondary teacher. We felt he deserved the opportunity so we gave him a scholarship for full tuition and board at the main university in Kampala. With pleasure we watched him excel at University and he graduated with an Secondary Education degree just after we moved back to the States. He then gained the opportunity to become the headmaster at this new Christian school.

As I sat in his office and heard his presentation on the state of the school I sat with pride and full of thankfulness for how God has put Ricky in such a great and influential position. He has six teachers and 87 students under his direction and he is very well qualified for the job. And he knows that his qualifications do not come from his own power but from God's power.

One specific struggle he mentioned was the difficulty in getting both qualified and Christian teachers. Little did I know that God was getting ready to move powerfully.

Ricky asked me to speak to and encourage the teachers to be great Christian educators and then he asked me to encourage the students to be dutiful in learning about God as well as science, math, language, etc. After the students same some songs for us Ricky's Deputy Headmaster informed Ricky and those in our group of some exciting news. Willy said he has been considering committing his life to Christ for quite some time now and that he was now ready to be baptized. He requested that I baptize him. A few hours later and a long walk to the nearest creek, I baptized Willy Mupere into Christ and Harding Christian Academy is on its way to even better influence the lives of many youth for Christ.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dirty Feet

As I read through the Gospels I read of Jesus walking along the dusty roads meeting needy people in their villages as they live their every day lives. He heals those who are sick and he reaches out to the outcasts. He gets his feet dirty as he gives life.

There are six missionaries here in eastern Uganda who are making a great impression of Jesus. Ben, Kym, Spencer, Emily, Erika and McKensey get their feet dirty daily as they involve themselves in the daily lives of so many needy people. They don't see much leprosy but they do see many suffering from AIDS. They help many who are simply left behind by the rest of the world.

They're getting their feet dirty just as Jesus did.