Thursday, 26 August 2010

Prayer letter, August

Lou’s Prayer
Letter
"To advance the gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom into the nations through spiritual generations of laborers living and discipling among the lost.” (Navigators mission statement)
Dear Friends, I’m so excited to be sharing with you
this thrilling new stage in my missionary career. In September (2 weeks away!) I will move to Birmingham to become a Connect worker. Connect is an internship-style discipleship year working with the Student Navs, an arm of the Navigators UK.
I’m so pleased to have this opportunity to work with the Navigators in the UK. Those of you who have been keeping careful attention will know I worked alongside the Navs at Mbarara University, and have been involved with their Glasgow ministry as a student leader. The Navigators have been an integral part of my maturation as a Christian and in my ministry, and I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to work with them in Birmingham. For an idea of what the Navs student ministries are like, have a look at this video from students navs in Canada.

If you’re wondering why I’m entering student ministry when I’m pretty sure I want to work in cross-cultural medical mission, don’t worry, it’s a good question! I believe all Christian ministry requires the same vital skills, and I will learn these in spades as a Connect worker. Here are some of the great things I’ll get to do this year:
  • Development in Vision, Character and Skill 
  • On the Job Training in a University Student Ministry 
  • Quality Discipling by a Mature Supervisor 
  • Personal Ministry into the Lives of Others 
  • Extended Bible Study and Reading Projects 
  • National Networking and Training Conferences 
  • International Summer Programme

Over the past year I’ve discovered a passion for working with and mentoring young women, and this is something I would love to integrate into any ministry I end up in. The above picture is of myself with the group of school leavers I discipled over the last few months of my time in Uganda, and I was able to do this because of skills and techniques learned through involvement with Navs. I really believe that this year will prove invaluable for my future in whatever ministry God leads me into.

I also hope to be working with AIM’s African Connections in Europe ministry, as they have some work going on in Birmingham. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to show the same kind of welcome to Africans living in the UK as they showed to this Brit when I went to live in their country! I miss my relationships with my Ugandan friends so much since leaving, and I’m hoping being able to befriend and minister to Africans living in Europe will help me to settle back into life in the UK and enable me to put to use the cultural and social knowledge I gained over there.If you would like to join me this year by supporting me financially, I would be incredibly grateful. I need to raise a rough total of £8,500 (you can contact me for a full budget if you like). Through the Navigators UK I will be able to claim Gift Aid (28%) on all donations, both regular and one-off (7% will go to the Navigators for admin fees). The most important thing I can ask of you, though, is to pray for me, as I strongly believe that it’s only though reliance on God and people’s prayers that I can do anything of worth!

I would like to thank all of you for your support in the past year, and I’m excited about your involvement in this year with the Navigators. I am so glad that God chose to bring me this far by relying on you. You are all dear to me, and I have been well aware of the fruits of your prayers in the past. I would like to humbly ask that you please continue!

Please pray for:
Thank you! Blessings, Lou

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” Thessalonians 2:8

The Navigators UK Limited, a Company Limited by Guarantee, is a registered charity incorporated in England and Wales Charity No 1099148 and is a registered charity in Scotland Charity No SC038484 Company Registration No: 4429021 Registered Office: 54 The Avenue, Southampton SO17 1XQ.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Fundraising info

Here are the forms you need if you would like to support me financially this year:

The Navigators UK Limited, a Company Limited by Guarantee, is a registered charity incorporated in England and Wales (charity no 1099148) and is a charity registered in Scotland (charity no SC038484). Company no 4429021. Registered Office: Turner House, 54 The Avenue, Southampton SO17 1XQ

(7% will go to the Navs for admin fees and I can claim 28% gift aid on any gifts not from relatives.)

I'd just like to say a HUGE thank you to those of you who've already given and prayed, it really means the world to me and it's only through your gifts that I'll be able to work in this ministry this year. Thank you!!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Nearly there..

Less than two weeks to go until I move to Birmingham! I can't believe it's come around so soon. I think the time is going so fast because I'm working 1-10pm every day for Oxfam doing door to door fundraising. It's hard work, but really rewarding to see people commit to giving regularly to such a great cause.
My own fundraising is going slowly but surely. I still have quite a way to go before I can say I'll have enough to live and work this year, so if you're able to help I would really appreciate it - just get in touch for a Navs support and Gift Aid form, and I'll be able to claim back 28% on your giving (7% will go to the Navigators as admin fees). I have to raise a total of £8,500 (roughly) to see me through this year, so if you would like to get involved it would be wonderful to have you join me in this!
I have a lot of studying to do before starting on the 6th of September - at the moment I'm reading 'The Drama of Scripture', which is a fascinating book that looks at God's work in the world and with His people throughout the entire Bible and how it relates to us now.
I've almost definitely found a house and flatmates for this year - I'll definitely be living with Kyleigh, the other Connect worker coming to Birmingham this year (all the way from the US!) and we may be living with a friend of a friend, who has a lovely house with two nice rooms for rent. I'll be going up to Birmingham this weekend to have a look around, hopefully that will go well! If you're in Birmingham this weekend, give me a shout.
I'm afraid that's as exciting as my news gets at the moment! I'll try and keep this much more updated as the move gets closer. I really appreciate how all of you are keeping me in your prayers, it's those that will keep me going this year much more than money ever could!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Uganda bomb blasts kill at least 74

I'm sure you've already heard about this. I can't quite believe it! Here's a map of Kampala showing where the bombing at the Rugby club took place.
If I were in Kampala during the world cup final, that's likely where I would have gone to watch it. It's right between a huge shopping centre and the hostel I sometimes stayed at, and I've passed it many times in a taxi.
This is a huge tragedy, and please don't be tempted to dismiss it because it's far away and nobody you know was hurt. It's a very real place with very real people and I can be certain that friends of my friends were hurt and I'm scared that the hospitals won't be able to deal with this influx of critical patients. Please pray for resources, resilient doctors and no power failures and that , as a friend of mine put it, "God [will] give us the wisdom to act wisely through this and to be strong as Ugandans together".


*Update* I was right. Nate was a friend of a friend who worked with invisible children, an NGO working with child soldiers in Northern Uganda. Please pray for his family and co-workers as they deal with the loss of a hard worker and friend.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

I know I haven't updated for a while, but not much is happening on the Africa front (in my case, anyway - Africa hasn't stopped just because I left..) except preparing to start the scary job of fundraising and to move to Birmingham for Connect.
I just wanted to share an awesome talk I listened to while I was on a very long bus journey from Mbarara to Kampala (took 9 hours rather than 4, as a piece of the bus fell off and we had to wait for a replacement part. I did have a nice french chat with a guy from the Congo though). It's by Steve Saint, whose dad was killed by Equadorian tribesmen when he was a baby and then returned as a missionary to the same tribe. It's a pretty emotional talk, but he manages to put into words some of the amazing things I've learnt about God in the past year. I cried and laughed while listening to it (which is a little embarrassing on the bus) and it has to be one of the best preaching I've heard in a long time. It's quite long (about an hour) but well worth a listen, especially if you want to know why people do crazy things like going to scary places in the world to share the Gospel.
Here it is! Enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Home and alive

Quick update.. (wow, two in two days, are you impressed?), I've actually made it back to the UK, and with very long braided red and purple hair. I had a lot of positive comments in Uganda (including a few enquiries as to whether I'm married based solely on the hair) but it'll be interesting to see what people's reactions will be in England.
A couple of examples so far would be my dad with 'Wow, very African', and my mum with 'Oh my GOD!' (that was actually the first thing she said when she opened the door when I arrived home). We'll see what the next few days bring and I'll let you know.

The only culture shock I've had so far has been a getting very confused that it was 9.30pm and still light outside. I had honestly thought it was 6.30pm!

On a more serious note, these next few months will be a very busy time of working at my old school in June-July, searching for temporary work for August and preparing and fundraising for Connect, which will start in September in Birmingham. For more information on the Connect programme click here. I have to raise at least £8,500, which is a pretty daunting amount and I'm rather nervous about what lies ahead, but I'm trusting that God has lead me this far and has always provided, so He will continue to do so because He is faithful. Phew!

Update: I just want to boost the amount of people who see this post here - Calling all hairstylists. A very good friend of mine wants to train to cut mzungu (white people's) hair as there are no jobs really anywhere! So if you're a mission-orientated hairdresser, or know any, have a look and spread the word!
Update #2: Having been into work, my mum is still the only person who doesn't like my hair.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Goodbye Africa.. for now

Well I'm here in Uganda, two days after I was supposed to leave! My flight was cancelled (again, the previous one was as well) and I was rebooked for this Monday. Hopefully I'll actually make it home this time. It's frustrating as I needed to start work at SMRT on Monday and will now miss at least one day, and my birthday is on Wednesday and I won't have time to organise anything!

So these will be my final greetings from Africa for at least a little while.. I'll be back here as soon as humanly (or Godly) possible, but until then, I'll be in Birmingham. Yes, it's official! I'm moving to Birmingham, not Glasgow, to work with the Navs there. I'll keep updating this blog about my journey towards career missions in Africa.

I'm very excited about what God has in store for this next stage.. please keep praying :)

Friday, 4 June 2010

June newsletter

Lou’s Prayer
Letter
‘Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise.’ Psalm 96:3-4 !

Dear Friends, This will be my last newsletter from Uganda, though not my last ever. I feel like I should try to summarise my time here, but that would mean this would end up pages and pages long, as there’s no way to fit it into any kind of concise document..! So instead I’ll try and give you an overview of this last month or so, and where God seems to be pointing me for the next stage in my career in missions.

During this last couple of months I had to both settle in and prepare to leave, and it’s quite a feat to do both at once! Settling back in was surprisingly easy, considering the change in living situation and my altered attitude to life in Uganda after the circumstances that brought me home in March. God has surrounded me with His presence, so though I have been through a few spiritual struggles, His comforting Spirit has never left me and this has made the transition far easier. However, I’ve certainly lost any vestige I may have had of a rose- tinted view of Africa since February, but in it’s place has come a greater love for Africa despite it’s flaws. It’s a romantic, exotic place, but great evils do happen here (just like on any other continent). I now have personal experience of this, but God has used this to increase my desire to live and work here and try to be His messenger of salvation to its people.

Most of my classes have now ended. The university students have finished and gone for holidays or to work, but we did have a fun-filled end-of-term party at our house for all the girls we worked with the day before most of them left (see picture below). I introduced them to the wonders of pass-the-parcel, ‘Squeak piggy squeak’ and The Chocolate Game, and they all went down pretty well with enough squealing and giggling to wake the dead! Both university groups will continue to meet next term, in August, and I am praying either for someone else to come and continue dedicated discipleship of these girls or (ideally) for them to begin discipling one another as peers. I will be sitting down with the leader of the Navs discipleship class before I leave to discuss implementing more formal discipleship relationships (possibly groups) between the students, which is very exciting and I’m so sad I won’t be around to see it happen!

I have one more discipleship class with the GETS girls (a formal, full-time discipleship programme for school leavers – Girls Empowered To Serve) before I leave, and I have the joy of handing that over to an intern from the US who is here until their programme finishes.

This is my last week in the lab, though I wish I could have much more time, as there is so much more to learn. My final department has been DNA PCR, which is the procedure used to test whether children under 18 months have HIV. During my time at the lab I have become proficient or had some experience in the following: DNA PCR, CD4 cell counts, haematology (including, importantly, malaria testing), phlebotomy, urinology and TB microscopic testing. There are a couple of other things I have to try to fit into this week, but I now have a wide range of skills under my belt, and I praise God so much for the opportunity of working at this lab.

Two weeks ago Helen, a research technician from Southampton who’s working in the AIM office in Kampala, joined me and it was great not to be the only white in the lab for once. People had to use my name for a change instead of just calling me ‘muzungu’..

Next week I may have the opportunity to visit a couple of other HIV ministries that AIM works with,including a very basic clinic ministry on the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria and the large Mildmay hospital in Kampala. These are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to size, funding and equipment so I’m looking forward to possibly visiting them and getting an idea of other types of HIV ministries within Uganda.

I’ve been struggling a bit with being over-tired, so I’ve had to prioritise how I use my time and whom I see. This will be especially difficult this week as I need to say goodbye to as many people as possible as well as go to work, teach a class and pack up everything to leave for Kampala at the weekend. I’m hoping this tiredness won’t follow me to the UK, as I fly back on a Friday and start a summer job on the Monday. Thankfully, this past weekend has been a mini-holiday during which I travelled to Jinja to go white water rafting on the Nile (an early birthday present from my parents – thanks!) and stay at Mto Muyoni resort to visit Yvonne, another short-termer with AIM I know from my orientation in Nottingham. That’s her with me in the picture.

In September I will begin an internship with the Navigators in either Birmingham or Glasgow (I’ll find out very soon where I end up and what kind of student ministry I will be involved in). This will be a year of additional training before going back out to Africa on long-term mission. I will use the year to apply to mission agencies to become a long-term member (a long process often lasting up to a year) and do the required Biblical studies, but the bulk of my time will be spent working with a student ministry. This will involve discipling students as well as going through intense discipleship and development myself, to prepare me for the mission field. The Connect programme has been described as ‘hard but good’ and I’m looking forward to it with excitement but also trepidation! I am considering this the second step towards long-term mission (this year having been the first) and it will also require me to live on gift income and prayers. More information to follow shortly..

I would like to thank all of you for your support. Thank you for sending me to this place, and I am so glad that God chose to bring me to Africa by relying on you. You are all dear to me, and I have been well aware of the fruits of your prayers in the past year. I would like to humbly ask that you please continue!

Please praise for:
  - The time I have spent here, though sometimes an intense struggle, as it has increased my love for the
people of Africa and my desire to return here 
- The students at the university I have had the privilege to work with, that they will disciple one another
and live lives that proclaim God’s glory 
- The lab I work at, for it’s unceasing work with HIV patients even in these hard financial times 
- The AIM team and all the missionaries working to aid development in Mbarara and make the Lord’s
name known in this nation
Please pray for: 
- An increased awareness of the truth of the Gospel in Mbarara, that people would seek Jesus for Himself
and not for earthly riches 
- That I can balance my time effectively in this last couple of weeks, including possible ministry visits,
packing and goodbyes 
- My preparation for the Navigators Connect programme beginning in September and possible reverse
culture shock when returning home
Thank you! Blessings, Lou

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Wrapping up time 'goals'

Well, I have two weeks and a day(ish) left here, so in case you're interested, here's a few things I'm doing/hope to do before I go:

White water rafting in Jinja this weekend (a birthday present from my parents! It'll only be about 2 weeks early, which is allowed, right?

A friend's impromptu wedding (they got engaged about three weeks ago) next Saturday, for which I'm getting a dress made, and it stops above the knee (scandalous!) because my Ugandan friend is very western minded and he's marrying a mzungu (white girl) so I've calculated that showing some knee should be allowed. And it's a new dress and I want to wear it!

Hopefully visiting an HIV ministry on the Ssesse Islands on Lake Victoria - a small ministry with a clinic and outreaches to many of the very, very poor fishing communities on the Islands. Also a possible tour of a big Mild May HIV lab in Kampala.

Having my last week in the lab, which will be choc-a-block full of things, as we're trying to clear up a back log of DNA PCR tests while I also hop over to one of the other labs to get some last minute experience in stool samples (yes, you did read that right).

Trying to meet with as many people as possible while I'm still in Mbarara (one more week!). I don't think I'm going to be able to see everyone I want to, which is sad, but I'm going to have to do my best to see as many people as possible. It may mean very late nights from too much socialising, but there are so many wonderful people here, and some I've invested a lot of myself into.

Take my last class here ever, with the four girls from the discipleship course. I will miss them a lot, and I'm very sad to be leaving them, especially only two thirds through their course! But we've almost finished all of our material, and there's an intern here from America who will be taking over the last few classes.

And finally..

Try and pack up a year's worth of my life into two suitcases, and at least one by tuesday so it can hitch a lift to Kampala! There's no way I'm going to get everything in, so people here may benefit a lot from my inability to pack well..

Monday, 24 May 2010

Identifying the wolves

I realised in my last post I talked about false prophets but didn't talk about how to identify them. It's mainly because, though we have been taught a lot about it over the last few weeks, I didn't really know how to explain it. Here's my attempt now:


1 John 2: 20But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.[d] 21I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.


and..


1 John 4:  1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.


Essentially, 'Preach Jesus', but I couldn't think of a way to put it until I stumbled across this quote by Mark Driscoll:


"Jesus’ name should be spoken repeatedly throughout a sermon so that it is clear which God you are speaking of. Jesus should be the hero of every sermon, the answer to every question, and the hope for every person."


When a teacher centralises anything or anybody over Jesus (and this could be himself or, harder to identify as false teaching, the Holy Spirit) then he does not have the Spirit of God or the Father and is a false prophet and a wolf in sheep's clothing. We are constantly watching out for them here and one of the central aim's of AIM's work here is to teach the people of Mbarara how to spot liars and know God for who He really is.


(I found a great article on 1 John 4 that beautifully explains this concept. It's a bit long, but well worth a read.)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Man of God in Uganda

I'm trying to think through all of the things I've learned about Africa whilst being here that have come on slowly so I've never thought to write about them. One of these would definitely be the awareness people have of the spiritual world here - Satan masquerades as many different types of spirits, including ancestors, fairies, good and evil spirits and, the thing that scares me most, the Holy Spirit. In the western world, the spirit world is hiding from sight, to fool us into thinking there's no danger. Here, there is plenty of danger, but people can become completely enslaved either trying to please the spiritual world or seek fulfilment in it.

This kind of worldview permeates the Church entirely. There is a huge emphasis on the Holy Spirit in many churches, so much so that Jesus is overlooked if not forgotten. One of the members of our team has been 'scouting out' the pentecostal conferences that go on, and has experienced the power of Satan masquerading as the Holy Spirit, causing people to vomit and fit among other things. These spirits are often summoned by 'Men of God' who behave like Old Testament prophets, promising blessings if people give them money or act a certain way. I'm pretty sure they think they're 'summoning' the Holy Spirit, but when they don't invoke Him in the name of Jesus, it is Satan who comes to fool them instead. These preachers call on the HS in their own name, asking Him to place into their hands all of the blessings He has for the people, so that people have to come to him to receive from God. I wonder if they realise they're removing the need for a Messiah, because with a Man of God who can access the blessings of God and give them to any he chooses, why would we need Jesus?

A lot of this is based in the power traditional religion and culture have over Christianity here - just like culture has in the West, but in far different ways. For example, if you need a miracle, you could either go to a witch doctor, who would give you an item to wear that was enchanted and would cause your miracle to happen, or you could go to the Man of God, who would bless an item (in the most recent case it was hankies) which you would then wear and God would bless you with your miracle. Who needs Jesus, when you can have a Saviour Handkerchief?

I'm joking around, but it does make me so sad to see people hungry for God being fooled and scammed by charismatic men who enjoy having power over people and reaping monetary rewards. There's a scam used by church leaders called 'sowing blessings', where people are expected to give what they have in order for God to bless them hundredfold afterwards. Nobody is telling them that with Jesus, those blessings are free! God has made available membership of the Kingdom of Heaven, a whole new life, and everything we could possibly need, to anyone who will come to Him, but these 'Men of God' stand in front of Jesus, hiding Him from sight yet using His name, and hold out their hands and charge people money for empty promises.

I'll explain some of the ways words are used in these kinds of churches, to give you a better idea of how these kinds of things go on:

  • Teaching: This is when someone opens the Bible and explains its words and meaning. 
  • Preaching/Man of God (these things go hand in hand): In the kinds of churches I'm talking about, preaching happens 90% more than teaching, and is very distinct from it. A blessed man, often called an Apostle or Bishop though always called a 'Man of God' takes words from the Bible and prophesies from them. This man is required in order for people to receive blessings, it's almost as if he has to 'activate' the words of the Bible for them to come true. There is much emphasis on the Old Testament, in fact he is very similar in role to the OT prophet. An example would be a preacher reading from an OT prophet about how God will bless Israel with riches/rich harvest/various other blessings and He will then 'activate' them by giving a certain time span (either the end of the evening, week, month or year usually) by which point people will have received their (generally non-specific) miracle. You would think they would be put to rout immediately when these things don't happen, however they tell people that their receipt of the miracle depends on the amount of faith they have, so the preacher escapes blame if nothing happens.
    • These false prophets are essentially the High Priests of old - God must speak through them as the normal people are too unclean for Him to communicate with them. In this way, the death of Jesus loses its meaning - He died to bring us back into relationship with God, but this relationship is nonexistent and unnecessary when the Man of God is around.
  • Holy Spirit: By far the most emphasised member of the Trinity. He conveys blessings from Jesus to earth, and the Man of God is in constant communion with Him. If He wants to say anything, He tells the Man of God who will communicate it to the crowd. He makes His presence felt physically, often through people shaking, vomiting or falling over, and He causes people to speak in tongues. This is the best way to pray, as God does not pay as much attention to normal speech.
    • It is often taught that it is via communion with the Holy Spirit that our sins are forgiven i.e. without Jesus. The most recent Man of God told the people they were all sinful and going to Hell, but they would be absolutely fine if they could just learn to speak in tongues.


We need to blanket the Church in Uganda with prayer. Pray that it will seek Him for Himself and not for earthly blessings, that Biblically trained church leaders will rise up and guide these sheep that have gone astray, and that people will read their Bibles in order to find Jesus and nothing else. People need to experience the REAL Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth who will rout out these false preachers and point people back to Jesus. Please join me in praying for the church in this nation, so that His Name will be made known again!

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Ugandan wedding

I had the privilege of attending a Ugandan give away and wedding this weekend. I was invited by my old landlord, and it was their son that was getting married. I thought I'd share some pictures (if they load) so you can see what one looks like.

A Ugandan wedding consists of three ceremonies (these can be condensed into two to save money but that didn't happen in this case). There is the introduction, where the bride and groom's families meet officially for the first time, but every communication is made through a mediator. This is when the bride price is set (usually a number of cows) that the groom's family must gift to the bride's family. For this family this happened back in December. The next one is the giveaway, which is the traditional wedding, and it is when the bride is given to the groom's family. A large number of people stop here and live as a married couple until they can organise a church wedding, but this family had it the day before the church wedding. They all consist mostly of entertainment and speeches. The giveaway is hosted by the bride's family and the wedding is hosted by the groom's family, so each side bears the weight of the cost.


This is the groom's family and friends waiting to be invited into the giveaway ceremony. We waited about an hour in total (told to delay 1 hour before leaving and then another 5 mins when we arrived at the location) and had to pair up and enter in a line all together. This meant our journey was much longer than necessary, as we had to keep stopping and waiting for more people so we could all enter together. We each had a rose pinned on us as our invitation to enter the ceremony.


These are some of the dancers we watched while waiting for the bride to enter. There were two dance groups and many, many costume changes! Behind them is the bride's family, and to the right is the tent of honour, where the bride and her entourage came to sit after they arrived.


This is the bride and her bridesmaids as they enter the ceremony. They missed most of it, arriving 3 hours after us (we arrived three hours after it started). They had waiting in the house just next to where everything was going on, and had to be invited into the ceremony as well. I think she actually looked more beautiful at the giveaway in this outfit than in her white dress the next day. The great photo was taken by Deborah, the groom's 13 year old sister. It's much less conspicuous to send a little girl to stand right in front of the important people and take pictures!


This was after the church wedding, which was pretty much the same as a British Anglican wedding (it took place in the Anglican Cathedral), and was very pretty. I don't think I've ever seen so many bridesmaids and groomsmen though!


After 5 hours (!) of driving around town taking photos and eating dinner, the bridal party arrived at the reception. The first thing they did was to cut the ribbon and walk through the archway, symbolising unlocking the door of their first home and entering together. The little girl the white dress next to the groom is NOT the bride, she's the flower girl! I didn't have the best angle to catch the bride in the photo, see if you can spot her.


They then walked down a white carpet to their chosen song, while we cheered and waved and they waved back.

Before they arrived there was lots of waiting around, with the reception starting at around 4 rather than 1 as planned (apparently a lot of weddings are actually surprisingly well timed and would usually only start an hour or so late, so this was a surprise). We watched dancers and listened to speeches while waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. After they did, we had more dancing and more speeches, as well as the cake cutting. My jobs were ushering people in (they were very happy when I greeted them in orunyankore - I had been practicing!) and spraying silly string at the bride and groom as they cut the cake!

One of the most interesting parts of the reception was after the cake cutting, when the bride and groom fed each other a piece of cake and some soda (it was a Christian wedding which here means no alcohol). This represented how they would care for each other and support each other. Isn't that lovely?

Unfortunately, as it had run on so late, a lot of people left before the reception ended. This was understandable, as there was a lot of waiting around and speeches introducing everyone and everyone who had come! I admit I would have left early too, but didn't realise that my second job (the silly string) took place AFTER the speeches. Better planning needed next time in what I agree to do!

I hope this has been culturally educational for you all! There are more photos over on facebook if you want to see a few more, but a lot of them are me and the kids entertaining ourselves through the looong waits and speeches by taking silly photos of ourselves.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Life update

Instead of telling you all about what's been going on in my head, I should really tell you what's going on in my life! I know it's been a while, but I'll try and keep it short and sweet so you know roughly what life looks like since I arrived back here:

I now have 3 classes I meet regularly, although 2 have now finished as the students have exams and then they leave for the holidays. These are:
- Mixed-sex students discipleship class on Thursdays
- Girls only purity/life class on Saturdays
- Girls' discipleship and evangelism class on Wednesdays. This is with a v exciting group of 4 girls doing a full-time discipleship course, an offshoot of a boys' discipleship course AIM is involved in and wonderful evidence of Ugandans taking on responsibility of ministry when a need is there, even though it was mzungus who started it. It makes me think of ripples on a pond - we threw a stone (the discipleship course for boys) and the girls' course is a resulting ripple on the pond. Let's hope those ripples keep getting bigger and better!

I also led a one-off Bible study on Ephesians 1-3, which was organised by my friend Fiona (a student at the university) that I mentioned in the post below. It was a lovely evening; we explored the themes of God's love for us and His complete Sovereignty, and how He does everything for His own glory yet still loves us infinitely and involved us in His redemption plan from the beginning. It was the perfect way to culminate the hard lessons God's been teaching me recently, and it was a huge blessing to hear other people's thoughts. It turned out a lot of people really needed to be reassured of these things, and God definitely showed more of Himself to us that night!

I have been whizzing around many different lab departments trying to fit everything in to my new tighter schedule (as I'm coming home early). I've finished both malaria and TB this month and had some experience in urine examination, gram staining and other small but vital tests. This month I should be doing DNA PCR, the test for >18 month old children for HIV. However, a vital piece of equipment is missing and doesn't appear to be available anywhere in Uganda.. So who knows what I'll be doing on Monday? Saying that, the most likely place is immunology again, as my boss is on leave and her duties are being shared among other staff. If I'm free I'll probably be doing all of her lab work.

I've applied to the Connect programme with Glasgow Navs and am now waiting for my interview (over skype!) to see where and how I will be placed in the ministry. There's a possibility I won't be in Glasgow, which is something I'm struggling through, as I really want to be there, but I want to be willing to go wherever God wants me.

The team at the moment is focussing a lot on working out Ugandan attitudes to church and the Bible so we can know what to address in relationships and teaching. The pentecostal church (nothing like the ones in the west, which are mostly strictly Biblical) is huge here, and absolutely saturated with prosperity teaching and false prophets. We are working hard to understand the mindset behind the acceptance of this teaching and how people understand the Bible and the office of preacher. People often set themselves up as essentially Old Testament prophets, promising earthly riches and hope and ignoring the hope of the world the come and the gloriously rich gift of God's son as Saviour. There's a lot to get our heads around, and it'll take a whole other post to explain, and I'll give it a try when I have time. I'm lucky enough not to see too much of that, as the students I work with don't tend to think this way, but a significant number of my work colleagues are pentecostal so I am seeking, along with the rest of the team, to understand this church and see how the Gospel is and isn't being preached.

A couple of weekends ago I went on the Short Term retreat at Lake Bunyonyi, probably the most beautiful place in Uganda. It was a very restful weekend, with marshmallows in the fire and rope swings in the rain, though Lindsey, you should have been there! We missed you.

So, that's what my life looks like at the moment, and I'm just starting to think about winding things up for my last month here. I'll try and get round to posting a few more pictures some time soon as well!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

God loves us.. right?


Two weeks ago one of my girls from university gave me a homemade bookmark with Ephesians 3:18 on it.

After writing my previous post on sovereignty, I realised very quickly that I only had half of the story. In fact, I’ll be honest and say I fell into the deepest spiritual depression I’ve ever known. The obvious conclusion to my post is that God is a selfish and demanding God, asking everything of us and not giving enough in return, and requiring our suffering for His glory.

I was sitting in a teaching session Mike (our interim team leader) was giving on Genesis 3 – the fall – and both the friend I was sitting with and I were completely bowled over by how pointless the whole thing is. Why did God allow us to fall in the first place? He gave us a test, and humans failed hugely, but it was completely unnecessary. If it was all planned to come around in one big, intricate circle and return to the second Adam, Jesus, who died for our sins and brought us back into communion with God, why even bother letting us leave it in the first place?

Half of the answer is contained in my post below – that it is for God’s glory, and the cross was the only way to display God’s glory fully in His defeat of sin and the Devil and our rescue. The whole thing was for His glorification – that’s even what Jesus refers to when He’s talking about the cross in John’s gospel.

But again, that brings us to the conclusion that everything is brought about for the glory of His Name. And when that truth hit me, it felt like a tonne of bricks. What is the point of serving this God, who cares ultimately only for His own glory? If a human acted like that, we would see them as entirely selfish and even evil, so why is it different with God?

The difference, which I quickly realised, is love. But realising this didn’t change anything for me. I had seen nothing (I conveniently forgot anything but bad events in my recent past) that evidenced that He must love me, and even if he does, so what? He’s still only living for Himself, so what does it matter if He cares for me if He still allows me to go through the kind of things he puts me, or anyone else, through?

I began to cry out to Him harder than I ever have in my life. Because if He does not love us, then the above conclusion is true – He is a selfish God who uses us in his games and schemes to glorify himself, and that’s all I could see! I couldn’t get past this brick wall that the lesson of His sovereignty had built up in my mind. I couldn’t feel His love, and all of His talk of it in the Bible was just words, not substance. However, knowing that His word is true drove me to strive to pray earnestly that I could know His love in the same way I know His sovereignty, i.e. hit me round the head with it so I can’t deny it in any way, shape or form.

I continued to pray, though, not even sure that it was a Biblical prayer: Praying that He would love me? That I would really know it, even though it’s laid out plainly for me throughout the Bible? It felt like asking for something He’s already given, so it could never be answered. I was losing all hope.

Thankfully, our God is bigger, more complicated and more powerful than my thought processes!

While we were looking at Genesis 3, and grieving how pointless it all seemed, my eye fell onto the bookmark that I had tucked into the back of my Bible. It reads, “My you be able to comprehend how deep, how wide, how long and how high God’s love for us is”. My prayer was allowed! Paul prayed it 2000 years ago, knowing that people would struggle to understand what it means that God loves them.

Here’s the full passage:
“This then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood, in heaven or on earth, takes its name. In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.
Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, ; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.”

So it goes like this:

1)   God enables us to grow firm in power through the abundance of His glory..
2)   This allows Christ to live in our hearts..
3)   Which plants us in love and builds us up in love..
4)   Giving us the strength to understand love..
5)   Which results in us being filled with the utter fullness of God.

So, wrapped up in God’s glory is the idea that He loves us. And I realised that its not just the idea – God’s glory intrinsically loves. He cannot be glorious if He doesn’t love us, because then He would not be the pure and perfect being He claims to be. His glory allows us to actually comprehend his love.

So we can match the size of His love to the size of His glory. And if we’re matching the size of His love to the size of His glory (stay with me!) then it’s huge. I mean massive – the universe is the biggest thing we know, in fact we can’t even comprehend its size, and that doesn’t even contain His glory, it’s merely a display of it. Therefore..

God loves us as much as He Is.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Funny little things that are really true..

I've just had a wedding invitation to my friend's son's wedding. Well, actually, sr (sister, I think) Rou has had an invitation to his weeding celebration.

The guy I'm working with at the moment (in the TB lab - so interesting!) is called Adolf. Yes, really. And he's a born-again, loves God with all his heart Christian.
I heard an exchange that almost made me giggle while holding possibly-infected-with-TB-sputum -

"Hey Caesar, how are you?"
"Fine, Adolf, how are you?"

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Some difficult thoughts

Ephesians 1:11-13: In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory"

I've been reading a book recently called 'Spectacular Sins' By John Piper. And I have to say it's one of the hardest books I've ever read. It's not wordy or complicated theology, just an un-blinkered look at how God allows and uses sin and suffering in the Bible. But I've really struggled with it because it threatens my worldview that says that God can't help sin because He allows us free will, but uses it anyway. The fact is, in the Bible God sets up the circumstances for people to sin and suffer, allows them to, and uses it all for good and for His glory. The stories of Joseph and even Jesus (back when the Israelites first demanded a human king over God) began with sin, and can we really say that God saw people sin and went 'Ooh, look, an opportunity to give myself glory!'. No, he manipulated the situations, knowing that people would sin as a result, and then brought about good as a result.

- I can't really explain it very well, and recommend you get hold of a copy of the book!

It strikes me right at the heart, at my fluffy view of God who goes, 'Oh no, people are sinning, I'm going to have to fix that now!' and logically must not have the control that the Bible says He does. Glorifying His own name is what God lives for (rightly, as the most perfectly glorious being), and if sin must be used (not condoned) then He does. 

It's the same as when I used to refuse to believe in original sin. I didn't like the idea that even if someone somewhere somehow managed not to sin for their whole life, they wouldn't be saved unless they claimed the blood of Jesus. 

Both of these unbiblical convictions boil down to 'But a loving and just God wouldn't.... (Fill in blank)'. It makes me mad when people say 'But a loving and just God wouldn't allow some people to go to Hell and others go to Heaven', but my thinking is equally unbiblical. The fact is, that is exactly what a loving and just God would do, because the God of the Bible is fully loving and fully just and fully good, and He does. We don't get to say what God does and doesn't do according to what we would like, because that amounts to picking and choosing from His Word what we will and won't believe. 

And realising all this actually gives me comfort. God didn't go 'Oops' when those people broke into our house. He was fully in control of every second, even when they were evilly sinning against us.  He wasn't just watching, or with us, or allowing it to happen, He was In Control. And knowing that, alongside my knowledge of God's love and perfect goodness, whether or not it makes me uncomfortable, increases my confidence and peace in God.

Ephesians 1:11-13: In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory"
The other day we had a lady coming in saying she'd been cured of HIV and would like a DNA test. Wow! it started a whole ream of debates and arguments within the staff (especially as at first we all thought she'd already had one test and been negative, which wasn't true). There were three camps:

- Those who were sure she must have been a false positive in the beginning and had never had HIV, because HIV can NEVER be cured

- Those who riled against her pastor for telling her she was cured, and got mad at her for being so foolish, because HIV can ALMOST NEVER be cured by God

- Those who were saddened by a pastor who would tell someone they were cured and be paid (!) to pray for someone's healing, but reminded everyone that it was actually possible she was cured as God can do all things

I was in the last group with two other people. We haven't actually had an answer yet, though we did a rapid test (with a 98% accuracy) which was positive. The DNA test is so expensive that she had to go away and find the money, and we haven't seen her again yet. Theoretically, she could be cured and still be positive on the rapid test, as that only tests for antibodies which would (I guess?) remain if she'd been cured. So she could have been. And she's not a fool, as she's still taking her drugs while she waits for the other test.

If she does somehow find the money (£50, roughly a month's wages for a low office worker or something like that, and I don't think she makes that much) then I'll update you on how the test went. Yes, it will probably be positive, but we do have a God who defies odds and heals. There's quite a lot of us praying for her healing, and it would be such a testimony to those cynics in the lab who wouldn't entertain the notion that she could have been cured.

Next part of this story may follow..

Thursday, 1 April 2010

April's prayer letter - sneak preview

Dear Friends,
I apologise for how long it’s taken to write this newsletter. I kept putting it off, as there is a lot of information to try and put into few words. I realise that my February newsletter now has to be my April one..
Since I last wrote, we have had a very hard time here in Mbarara; Lindsey and I went home, and only I returned.
Near the end of February two men broke into our house, stole everything of monetary value and attacked Lindsey, my flatmate. She left for home the same day and I followed her in leaving Mbarara two weeks later. I had thought I would be able to keep going without needing a break, but I was wrong and it became apparent that returning home to see family and friends and rest in ‘normality’ was necessary for me.
I came home to Bristol for a month, and in that time visited Glasgow and did a few days of work at my old school. It was a great time of rest, rejuvenation and seeking God’s face in the midst of pain. I had so many questions – Why her, not me? Where can God’s perfect will be seen in this? But even though sometimes answers can’t be found, God CAN be found, and His guiding and comforting hand was evident from the beginning. I struggled a lot to reconcile what has happened with His sovereignty, but in the end I have really learned that we can never, ever understand God, but He DOES have a perfect plan, and He IS in control, and ‘in everything God works for the good of those who love the Lord’. I’m not saying I understand everything, but I do know that our God loves Lindsey and I and is walking with us every day, sometimes even carrying us.
There have been many miracles seen, some big and some small. I was sent a package of photos from a friend, and these arrived two weeks after being sent (packages usually take at least a month, and my advent calendar hasn’t arrived yet..). As I lost all of my pictures on my computer when it was taken, this was a great comfort! I also consider a miracle the amount of people who stepped up to pray for me and help me get home. I owe infinite thanks to members of St Silas’ and St Alban’s Churches and the Diocese of Bristol for getting me home and supporting me while there.

Now I’m back here and life is beginning again for me in Mbarara, and it looks very different to before. I am now living with a couple called Mike and Susan Boyett, and I’m so thankful to them for opening up their home to me. It’s also very strange not having Lindsey here all the time! We worked together and lived together and (even though we drove each other up the wall sometimes) got pretty close in the 4 months we had together. So not having her here is the biggest adjustment I’m going to have to make, but thankfully there are some great people here still.
Thanks to God’s amazing timing, there was a safari organised for short-termers to Murchison Falls National Park the weekend I arrived back to Kampala. This was possibly the best thing I could possibly have to return to, and I got to know a few of the other short-termers a lot better, as well as a couple of elephants.
I will probably start work next week, and it’s going to be fairly mental as I will have three months’ worth of lab techniques to learn in two. I will also see the university girls again soon, and try and catch up from a month without seeing them, and I’m very excited as next Saturday we’re having a baking party for my return!

Here are a few things to praise God for:

-   That both Lindsey and I are alive and well and God has been faithful and kept our souls from harm
-   That our God is sovereign above all and is constantly guiding, watching over and loving us
-   My churches and the Diocese of Bristol, for getting me home and supporting me while there

Here are a few things to pray for:

-   That I will settle in to my new life in Mbarara quickly, be able to enjoy the time I have left here and be fruitful for God
-   For Lindsey’s healing and that she will settle into life at home and be mentally and spiritually prepared to start medical school in August
-   For my and Lindsey’s families, as they also struggle with what has happened. For Lindsey’s as they support her at home and for mine as they release me to come back to where this happened
-   That my work at the lab and with the students will be productive and not suffer from my having been away
-   For the AIM team here, that these painful events will bring us closer together and seek God’s face through our collective struggles
-   For security for all of God’s people working to share His Gospel in dangerous places, especially those of us in Mbarara.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Psalm 91

A friend shared this with me the other day. She said her mum used to read it to her when she was afraid of the dark. This psalm is full of comfort and evidence of God's faithfulness:

Psalm 91


1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust."

3 Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare

and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He will cover you with his feathers,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

5 You will not fear the terror of night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

nor the plague that destroys at midday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

8 You will only observe with your eyes

and see the punishment of the wicked.

9 If you make the Most High your dwelling—

even the LORD, who is my refuge-

10 then no harm will befall you,

no disaster will come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways;

12 they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;

you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honour him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him

and show him my salvation."

Monday, 8 March 2010

Glasgow

I'm here, in Glasgow, and it's not that cold, so I'm wondering how long exactly this is going to last..

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
Amen.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Unexpectedly home

Well, I'm home.. and it's cold! Unbelievably so.
I was wondering around my parent's central-heated house wearing a scarf, jumper and fleece. It's very tidy, and a lot of personal things have been put away (we tend to collect a lot of bits and pieces from all over the world) as they're trying to sell the house. It means I have to keep my room tidy and everything.
In honour of my return, we had pie-minister pies, which, I have to say, are the perfect returning-from-a-hot-country-to-a-freezing-Britain first meal.
I have few plans while I'm here except to spend time with family and friends and refresh, and work out what my life is going to look like when I return to Uganda in 3-4 weeks. Things have changed dramatically and heartbreakingly, but our God is one who brings life from dead seeds and joy from tragedy. I feel His challenge to return and His Spirit to equip, and I'm excited to see what He has planned now.
I do plan to come up to Glasgow at some point soon, though still have to work out the dates. I can't wait, though a good friend sent me a video of the snow that I think was supposed to excite me but actually made me pretty nervous. I'm definitely not made for this climate, especially the random weird happenings in UK weather patterns right now.
Insurance update - I have to unashamedly evangelise for Banner Insurance, the most wonderful insurance company ever! Within two weeks I've been able to replace everything, and their emails and phone calls were personal, understanding and efficient.
If you want to get in touch, I'd love to see you, though  please bear in mind I'm emotionally drained and have come home for rest as well as to see people! I'm using the same number I had at Christmas, and if you don't have it then feel free to get in touch. Remember my Ugandan number doesn't work here, and I don't have very many people's numbers so please sign your texts!
I have to take this opportunity again to thank those of you who have given to enable me to come home, both prayer and financially. I have faith that God will bless you richly for your sacrifices, and I know He will use this time well.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A few relevant verses..

This week has been very hard. It´s not appropriate to share details on here in public, but those of you who know and have been praying, believe me, we know and God is good and faithful. Though it has been painful, He has shown His face and kept our souls. I will be returning to the UK on wednesday for a period of reflection and rest and time with family and friends, and I am extremely grateful to those of you who have made this possible - you certainly reflect God´s glory and have blessed me, my flatmate and our families.

These are some passages from His word that God has been using to keep me in one piece this week..

John 16: 20-33
´"I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
 "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."
 Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God."
 "You believe at last!" Jesus answered. "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

 Psalm 121:
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
from where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is you keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-17
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.
And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
I thought in my heart,“God will bring to judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time for every deed.”