"to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faithin me." Acts 26:18

Sunday, May 15, 2016

First Worship Service

"When a building is especially and uniquely intended for an encounter between the Lord and his people, it is likewise the customary location of the divine presence; it is the symbol of the divine presence in the secular life of the city. There, as nowhere else, the holy word re-echoes regularly; there the sacraments are celebrated. From one Sunday to another, from one divine service to the next, the place of worship is in a state of anticipation. Even its emptiness between times declares its special destination and readiness for the divine presence."--Richard Paquier

Today, the Lord blessed us with our first worship service in our new building!  What a glorious gift!  

On Saturday, we gathered with shovels, buckets, brooms and rags to clean and clean.  It was such a dusty mess!

Pastor Charles taught Sunday School.

The Steenholfs, who are living here for six months helping with our village schools, have also been blessing us with guitar playing on Sundays.

Mama Jane and Mama Evangeline.  They have been with the church from its earliest beginnings.  They are such a blessing in our community!

Eric led worship and preached.

We hope that in the future God will provide for us to have the walls plastered and a porch put on the front.  (That's why there are still holes in the wall behind where the people sit...they are ready for support beams for the porch)

We had about 200 people!

Here is a little taste of the singing and apostles creed.  The second song was after the service and was a bit impromptu...they were singing "Thank you Lord" and "Thank you Jesus" in two different languages.

I'm so thankful that for 175 Sundays we were able to meet at our home and on our compound.  It was probably one of the most challenging yet beautiful ministries I have ever had the privilege to participate in.  I'm thankful for how the Lord greatly blessed our time here.  None-the-less, I'm also thankful that the rain won't bother us anymore and that we now have a new community that we can reach out to. May God be praised and glorified at New Life Presbyterian Church.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Last Day of School!

The kids and I celebrated our last day of school for the 2015/2016 school year.  We will be taking 3 weeks off and then diving into our next school year.  We want to get a few weeks finished before we go on furlough, Lord willing, in August.

God was so gracious to us this year.  In reflecting back on our year together, I really felt like it was a year of great growth for the kids as students.  Timothy took on Algebra 2 like a boss.  Okay, it was tough at first, but he really worked hard to understand everything and do it.  I hardly helped him with it and he still pulled off high Bs/low As.  Denise gained a ton of confidence in her God-given abilities that she never had before.  Katelyn really struggled with a desire to do school at the beginning of the year, but by the end she knew that with God helping her and a lot of hard work that she could do well and even mildly enjoy it. ;-)  Matthew made greater leaps in overcoming his hard start in life.  He learned how to work with his mind, not against it.  Rebecca took on Chinese and Violin...both not required for her, but she has stuck with it and has already seen some fruit of her labors.  Jimmy made great strides in his math and writing this year.  William started the year running away every time the beginning of school was announced (literally, it was a hunt for William every school morning-ha!), but by the end he was working hard...even starting on his own some days!  Benaiah really knows how to read now and he is increasing in his speed and fluency every day!  This was a huge accomplishment for him in light of his struggles with asthma that leave him with less energy to learn.  And little Talitha has become a bundle of intellectual energy that just can't wait to learn.  haha...she LOVES reading and is really getting it.

I'm so thankful for how God brought us through our year.  I am also thankful for the help that our missionary associate, Sarah, gave us.  It was a blessing to have her around.

Today we went out to celebrate the end of school with milkshakes at our favorite coffee shop.

A little craziness might have taken place...haha!  Sometimes a mother just needs to jump on her kids right?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Baby Moses

Baby Moses has kept us very busy these past two weeks. 

We've been busy


and feeding


and chatting


and snuggling

taking LOTS of pictures...

and being continually amazed at the health and strength God has given to this little guy!

Isn't the two week difference amazing?

But our personal time with Moses has come to an end.  He is moving to a new foster home.  Thankfully, his new foster home is just next door at our Missionary Associates house.  Since we are leaving for furlough soon, Lord willing, and since we cannot have visitors (even cute tiny ones!) for more than 30 days due to adoption stuff, he can't stay with us long term.  But we still get to visit lots.  In fact, even as I write this, he is snuggled up on my lap taking a snooze.  I'm so grateful to have been a part of this little guys life.  Foster care is near and dear to my heart and I'm so thankful to have been allowed to be a foster mama, even if it was just for a few days.  What a privilege!  I wrote in my journal yesterday that "my heart is full of joy and a tiny twinge of sadness.  Sadness that we can't do his foster care for longer, but joy that God is working great things.  I will take the sadness and hand it to Jesus and ask him to transfigure me more through it and take the joy and let it abound to the praise of God's glorious grace."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bukonde OPCU

Every once in a while, Eric likes to write a blog post.  Here is one from him today!

Today we visited Bukonde OPCU for worship, which included three baptisms and the Lord’s Supper.

The church is up in the hills, and is a beautiful drive.  Here is a picture of Pastor Leonard Mukhwana in front of the church building.  Notice the newer portion of the building on the left – that was added because of increased attendance.  Pastor Leonard’s work is a real labor of love.  The money the church pays him is only enough to cover his costs such as transport to and from the church (he lives about 10km away), but he is a real servant for Christ and for Christ’s kingdom.  

While waiting for the service to start, I looked through the church register.  I noted the average weekly offering of 11,000 shillings, and average attendance of about 55 people.

For comparison, I looked at previous years and found this page from 2011 when the average attendance was 38 people and average offering only 1,380 shillings.  That means over the past 5 years there is a giving increase of almost 800%!  This is encouraging because it reflects increased dedication to the Lord among the saints in Bukonde. (In US dollars this is an increase from 48 cents to $3.50 per week.)

The church recently opened a nursery school, and that was evident in the blackboard and some charts:

When we arrived at the church, it was already set up for communion and baptism:

Here are some photos of the worshipping congregation:

Here is one of the baptisms:

At the end of the service the congregation came to the front for a picture (as well as my family):

Of course what photos cannot directly capture are the faith in the hearts of God’s people, their hope of heaven, the many trials they pass through, and the work God is doing among them.  Bukonde is in a heavily Muslim area, and some are coming to faith in Christ.  Please pray for this congregation, for the work Christ is doing among them, for the fledgling nursery school, for Pastor Leonard, and for the elders and deacons.  Satan is always attacking and trying to disorganize, but when God’s people around the world pray for one another and love one another, God hears these prayers and blesses his people. 

I hope your Sunday today was great.  As you go into this coming week, greetings from the saints in Bukonde, Uganda!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Great News and...a little baby...

We have legal guardianship of Denise!!!!!  Praise the Lord with us!  We are SO thrilled with the work that God has done!!!  We did not make it public, but it was not a smooth road to gain this guardianship.  I wrote the following post right after our second court case, but was too afraid to publish it. But since all is well, I thought I would still put my ramblings on here.  Here is what I wrote:

Court Again: 2 Corinthians 1:9
"As you may remember, a couple weeks ago, we went to court in Kampala.  We had a blast with our big kids and assumed that court had gone well.

We couldn't have been more wrong.  Apparently, the judge hadn't liked us at all and was ready to fail our case.  In fact, as soon as we had left the room, he had turned to the clerk and told her to go through our file and find all the reasons that our case should fail.  Our lawyer found out what was really going on and on the day that we were supposed to get our ruling, went in and asked for more time to bring further evidence in our favor.  The judge had many questions including how we provide for 9 kids, why homeschooling, and what would we do if Eric ever lost his job.  He also didn't understand how it was that we didn't have a house and land in America.  (This is coming from a Ugandan perspective where owning land and building a home is a cultural priority.)  He was also very concerned that we were going to use Denise as maid or someone to "carry our luggage" rather than viewing her as our daughter, equal with the other children.  Many of his questions were fair; many were hard to hear.

"Indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death..."

When we first arrived in his office, he spent almost an hour telling us how our case was a "dead patient."  He said that there was no life and that there was no good reason that we should be granted our petition.  And in a situation like this we should let Denise go and should not worry, God would take care of Denise.  It was very difficult for us as adults to hear. Perhaps the most emotionally trying experience my husband and I have ever had.  It was exceedingly difficult for Denise, Katelyn and Rebecca to hear.

"...But that was to make us rely not on ourselves..." 

After an hour, we were crushed and were just praying in our hearts for God to intervene and grant life...abundant full life.  The judge seemed to not want to hear anything we had to say in our defense.  We could only listen and pray.

"...but on God who raises the dead..."

About an hour and a half  into everything, our lawyer told the judge that I had been adopted at age 3.  Suddenly, that changed everything.  The judge really is pro-adoption and in his view, the fact that I have been blessed through adoption and wanted to share that blessing with another child, made him ready to grant our case!  At that point, he finally let me stand up and testify to that fact.  And once I did, he said, "Now life has come to this case!  This case was dead, but now it has been resurrected!"

Who knew all these many years, as I was loved and cared for in a foster home, adopted for life and through love by my family, often wondering why my life was the way it was, that God was preparing the way for yet another beautiful story of redemption and resurrection.  In my life, I have often counted the many blessings of my adoption...but this one particular, direct blessing came out of the blue.  I never would have thought that my crazy life story would one day be used by God to redeem another life.

Yes, it is God and God alone who raises the dead:  a dead Christ Savior, my dead heart and now the "dead file" of my sweet dear daughter.  This is only the work of his hands and his grace.  This is God looking down and saying, "I want that girl for myself...so that she can have a future and a hope...so that she can know me, so that she can learn and grow.  She is worth far more than being "just a maid," in fact, she is worth more than rubies."

God is very good to us!  There is no end to his grace!  We will hear his official ruling on April 15th, but he seemed to indicate at the end that everything would be okay.  He even shook the girls' hands and told them to "have hope."  Our lawyers felt confident that all was well.  But please continue to pray that God will grant our petition and request!  And pray for the young hearts that were present, that they would "forget" the things that lie behind and look forward to what lies ahead..."

And we found out this morning that everything is INDEED well!  We praise God for that!  Our next step will be to get a passport and visa for her.  Please continue to pray for a smooth process.

So!  In other news...

On Wednesday, we got a call from a church member that she had found a baby that had been abandoned in a bush next to a field just up the road from our house.  She had called the Police and was wondering if we could help.  So I walked up to see what was going on.  I was introduced to the Police as the woman who would take the baby, which I was very happy to help out with.  So we went to police to file reports and then we came home with him.  We will have him for 1 week while the police investigate and see if they can find the family.  Regarding his future, we don't know what the Lord has in store for him.  If his family is not found, we pray that one day a Christian family will come forward to adopt him.  (I know my audience has a huge big heart for adoption...so I feel I must throw this in lest I get a ton of blessed emails asking similar questions... :-) First, we cannot adopt him right now since we are in the middle of Denise's adoption.  Second, Uganda adoption law is changing so that Americans can no longer adopt while living in America.  And third, since he is a healthy newborn, there is great hope that a Ugandan family will come forward for him at some point.  All of that, of course, is in the Lord's mighty hands!  The best thing we can do right now is pray that God will direct his life in a mighty way with the best, most God-glorifying solution!)

I grieve for his mom.  She must be in such turmoil right now.  "Throwing babies away" is a sad sad occurrence here...not unlike abortion in America.  Often babies get thrown into latrines so as to assure their death.  Because this little boy was placed under a tree in a semi-populated area, I believe his mom was hoping that someone would find him and save him.  So we continue to pray for her that God will use this in her life to draw her to himself and show his love to her.

And we just are so thankful that God saved his life!!  No wild dogs got him...no snakes, rats or bugs!  Two days prior, we had a torrential rain and hail storm that surely would have drowned him.  On Wednesday, it wasn't that hot and it got cloudy, but never rained!  Praise God!  He was very weak after his birth and day out side.  It's only just today that he's really begun to open his eyes and cry out for his needs.  The first day, he was almost limp in our arms.  He's only 4.5 pounds right now!  So tiny!! So precious!!  He has an eye infection.  We aren't sure if it is from dirt from being on the ground or a STD.  It is being cultured and we will find out soon.  Otherwise...he's perfectly healthy!  Amazing GRACE!!

So, here he is...

...and yea, despite the circumstances surrounding how we got him, we are in baby heaven...loving every minute God has given us!

Thanks for all your prayers, friends.  We are so grateful!!!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Grace

Easter was yesterday.   What a blessed day it was!  Our family had our traditional big breakfast.  We had a wonderful Sunday school and church service focusing on the Resurrection of Christ.  We had a record attendance, I think...over 200 people!  Our church served soda and mandazi (donut like things) after the service.  After the service, the kids in Miss Sarah's reading class sang a song and her ballet class performed their dance that they had been learning.  Then we had about 35 people over for lunch: the Magalas, a couple families from our team and a few other friends.  Then we had our normal program in the afternoon for all the kids.

In the morning, as I was finishing our breakfast preparations in the dark (power had been off for more than 24 hours, our batteries were finished and it was too early to put on the noisy generator), I was remembering an Easter from a very very long time ago.

It was our first Easter as a little family having moved away from where our families were.  Eric was in Seminary and our little Timothy was just a baby, and I was pregnant with Katelyn.  For some reason (I really can't remember all the details...likely I was just trying to survive morning sickness), I had hardly given a passing thought to the fact that it was Easter.  Until I went to church.  Everyone was in their Easter finest and they were all talking about who in their extended clan was going to host dinner, what they were eating, what their plans were.  And my friend turned to me and asked, "So what are your plans for Easter dinner?"  The awful truth was, it was just PB &J at home!  Timothy didn't have any new cute clothes and there was no roast waiting in the oven.  I laugh when I think about it now!  On that day though, I remember going home in tears.  My tears were tears of loneliness and failure.

I learned two lessons that day.  First, I counted the cost, for the first time, in a very real way, of what it meant to be in ministry.  I realized that I would likely never have another Easter with our physical family.  And we haven't.  And now, we are making almost four years not even having seen most of our physical family.  There is a cost to ministry.  I have always been amazed though, at how much God has returned to us!  After that first Easter, I have never had a holiday without our Christian family around.  God has always provided so much family away from family for us!  He is so gracious to us!

Second, I realized that as a wife and a mom, I needed to be more careful to make our holidays to be true Holy Days.  I needed to be careful not to over-do the holy day in an earthly temporal way, but not to under-do it so as to loose the spiritual blessing of using one day out of the year to give my family the opportunity to particularly focus on an aspect of Christ's earthly ministry.  That particular Easter, I was guilty of the second.  God gives us days of feasting and celebration because he loves to see his people rejoicing and exalting in Him and His completed work!  It is good and noble work, as a wife and a mom, to participate in that...to help the family rejoice and celebrate!    

I love the fact that yesterday we were surrounded by so much joy.  There were people.  There was praise, there was worship, there was food, there was fellowship, there was singing!  What a great way to celebrate: Christ conquered sin and death!  He Has Done It!!!  (Ps. 22:31) We are no longer slaves, but free.  No longer having a heart of stone, but rather a heart of flesh.  No longer lonely, but set into a great big family.  No longer left to worship ourselves, but rather to worship the One who made us!  No longer left to starve, but rather allowed to feast on the Righteousness of Christ.  No longer blind, but now able to see.  What grace...

...what beautiful Easter grace...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Baptisms Today

Today was a day full of rejoicing at church!  We welcomed 6 new members: 2 through profession of faith and 4 through adult baptism.

First was Tony and his mom.  Tony has been coming to church for years...long before we arrived here.  His mom, up until the last 4-5 months, always had to work at a local hotel on Sundays.  She is now no longer working on Sundays and is able to attend church.  It's been great to have her around!

Next is Brian.  He's been coming to church for more than a year and recently his mom started to attend as well.

Next is Isaac.  He and his siblings come to church without their parents.  Isaac really wanted to be baptized.

Then came Shalom and Gloria.  Shalom and Gloria are brother and sister.

Due to varying circumstances, Gloria moved in with Pastor Charles and his family about 6 months ago.  They have unofficially adopted her, in a very local sense.  If I showed you a picture of her from before she moved compared to her picture today, you would hardly recognize her.  She has grown so beautiful in so many ways!  Her joy this morning was so evident!

Because of the breakdown of the family, we have so many children come to church without their father or mother.  They are usually children who have a temperament of being bold and brave and well, a bit stubborn, to leave their homes and walk all the way to our compound to attend church.  Usually, the fact that they are regularly allowed to come by themselves (and often bringing toddler aged siblings with them!) gives testimony to the fact that they aren't well supervised at home.  Practically, this means that we have a difficult bunch of kids to disciple!  And if I'm really honest, some days it's down right tough!

But it's on those tough days, that I have to remember pictures like this.  No one is beyond the joy filled grip of grace.  God is working, "slowly by slowly" as they say here.  May my heart not grow hardened during those tough days, but rather stay soft with the beauty of what God is doing.