What is truth? This was Pilate’s response to Jesus in John 18:38 after Jesus said to him “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” in verse 37. Pilate was a man who had apparently made peace in his heart with the notion that there is no such thing as truth in life. Probably a contributor to Pilate’s conclusion is that many times in life, it can be very difficult to know what is true. A good illustration of my point is the current election campaigns going on in the US. How do you know what a candidate will actually do once they are in office? You can single out each candidate for something they’ve waffled on in the past. There’s also the values some claim to have and then the campaign tactics they use which are contrary to the values they say they uphold. I think it leaves us, the voters, in a conundrum for knowing what’s really true. Adolf Hitler, after all, was elected to office by the German people. Germans were simply under the impression that Hitler was a strong patriot and would be the leader Germany needed to stabilize their economy and lead them out of the recession World War I had placed them in. Indeed, it can be very difficult to know what is true. But there’s a difference between knowing what is true and knowing THE TRUTH. Jesus in John 14:6 said “I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes unto the Father but by me.” Jesus also said in John 18:37 “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth. Pilate was staring at the truth when he asked the question, “what is truth.” Truth can be known, but you have to know him personally. He’s the only truth that really matters for every human being to get to know. He’s the truth, John 8:32, that “will set you free.” But all of us must also be confronted with another question, do I actually want to know the truth? If we can make peace that there is no truth, then there is no morality for us to answer to. There is no final high court for us to stand before. We can indulge ourselves in whatever pleasures we want in this life because there is no truth. So, instead of trying to find truth, many people look for ways to disprove and excuse truth. Because if Jesus is the truth, that has life-changing consequences for all of us. Do you want to know the truth? The bible says in Jeremiah 29:13 “And ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with your whole heart.” God doesn’t say it’s easy, he says it takes your whole heart. How many things do we fail at because we don’t give it our whole heart? Diet and exercise plans are probably the number 1 failed resolutions we make for ourselves. Why? We want to indulge ourselves in tasty food and laziness more than we want the result of the exercise program. I love teaching Sunday school to our teen group here. I encourage all of them to test what I teach them every week. Don’t just accept it as true, analyze it, review it, make sure it’s what the bible says. I want to make them truth seekers. Because I know that everyone who genuinely searches for truth with their whole heart will find it. A good friend of mine recently gave me a book called Seeking Allah: Finding Jesus. It’s one of the best Christian testimonies I’ve ever read. The book is the faith testimony of Nabeel Quereshi. He was born into a staunch Muslim family, but over the course of his life, events happened that caused him to doubt whether he could trust the faith he had in Islam. Nabeel wasn’t satisfied with anything less than knowing what was true. And that’s my prayer for each of our children and for anyone who might read this and who hasn’t found truth for themselves yet. You can know it for sure. You can have life more abundantly than you’ve ever had it. But search for it with your whole heart and don’t be satisfied until you’ve grasped it.
Manifestations of Love
One of my favorite verses for Christmas is 1 John 4:9 “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” – ESV
I love that phrase. God’s love was made manifest among us. One of the greatest challenges I’ve found in building relationships with orphans is that orphan children lack manifestations of love in their lives. This makes it difficult for them to really trust that someone loves them when they say they do. There was a book I loved to read growing up titled White Fang. The book followed the life of a dog named White Fang, who was half husky and half wolf. White Fang lives with several different owners in the book. The first couple mistreat the animal badly. White Fang is abused and mistreated until he’s almost killed in a dog fight put on by one of his owners. At this event, a new man comes and assumes ownership of White Fang. The new owner is kind and gentle. He starts trying to build a relationship with White Fang. But White Fang doesn’t trust anyone. So, even when the new owner is feeding him daily and speaking kind words to him, White Fang doesn’t allow the man to touch him. In fact, he even bites the man the first time he tries to pet White Fang. It’s an illustration of how difficult it can be for some of us to accept or trust that someone loves us. This makes the message of God’s love, especially in the Christmas season, harder to drive home. Our children hear about the love of Christ all of the time. We teach from the bible every single day. But love in word doesn’t mean anything, if there’s no action to substantiate the words. That’s why that verse sums up the Christmas season so well. John points out that God only had the one son. He didn’t have 7-8 and just decided one of them was expendable. He had one “beloved” son. And yet he still sent that only son. That is action that proves the word. For some of us though, even action doesn’t melt away the hardness of our hearts right away. It’s as if we have shut off the ability to receive and reciprocate love. It’s a sad thing for the others to see who are basking in the joy and peace of God’s love everyday. My heart goes out to the ones who’ve been hurt so much that they won’t allow themselves to feel love. But, I also tell you, it’s your own choice to live without love. The love of God has been extended to you. The bible says Jesus died to pay for the sins of ANY man who believes in him. The bible also says that God is not willing that any should perish. So, the action has already been done and the word is promised to anyone who will have it. Probably the most amazing story of forgiveness in the bible is from the life of King Manasseh. In his introduction, he’s described as an incredibly evil king. He worships false gods, he kills and sacrifices his own sons as offerings to a false god, and according to Jewish historical tradition, he even executed God’s prophet Isaiah by means of sawing him in half. If any man did things deserving to be hated by God, it was Manasseh. But later we find God brings judgement on Manasseh by way of invading foreign armies. When Manasseh is in trouble, he calls out to God for deliverance and he humbles himself and repents for his wickedness. And God forgives Manasseh and he doesn’t bring judgement on the kingdom of Judah again until after Manasseh has died. The love of God would much rather receive you than punish you. Read the bible from cover to cover and over and over you will see the words about God’s character that say he desires mercy over judgement and mercy triumphs over judgement. And God keeps sending his messengers to you. Messengers that will leave home and country and try to learn a new language and new culture and learn to laugh at what you find funny and play the games you like to play and take up hobbies that you enjoy and do anything and everything to get you to just listen to them testify how much God loves people. This Christmas, if you live without love, it’s you who’ve chosen to do so, for God is love.
Contentment: The Key to Satisfaction
When we are blessed to have visitors come see us here in Uganda, I enjoy listening to their comments and observations about life here. There’s typically some laughter at how crazy people drive in Uganda, genuine concern for the often exposed wiring in home electrical systems, maybe a few complaints about our frequent consumption of posho and beans (the cheapest meal around), but nearly every visitor comments on how much more content Africans seem than Westerners. Now, I’d be incorrect to generalize all Africans as content. It’s the same as in any place, there are people who are content, and there are people who aren’t. I would definitely agree though with our visitor’s comments that as a whole, Africans are more content than people from the West. What an odd thing when you consider that many people here in Uganda are among the poorest of all people in the world.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 says this: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil, this is the gift of God.” ESV
All the students who attend our schools eat maize porridge for breakfast and posho and beans for lunch every single school day. We can’t afford to offer any variety, we’re just happy to be able to feed everyone. Most children here wear the same clothes every single day. Their parents can’t afford for them to have alternatives. Still, I don’t usually here children complaining about clothes or food when they meet me on the school grounds. They just beg me to join in whatever the day’s game is and we run and laugh and the children’s exuberance and enjoyment of life spills all over you. And it’s not just when it’s game time. I usually have about a dozen or so glued to my hip when I visit the school. A few weeks ago I went to pick rock out of our soccer field and about ten 5-9 year olds came along with me. I gave them instructions in English before the work began (which of course they didn’t understand) but thankfully it wasn’t hard for them to pick up on what I was doing in the field. I was impressed at the length of time those little kids lasted digging rocks out of the dirt with their bare hands and tossing them off the pitch. And the hard work didn’t put any damper in their zeal for life. We smiled and laughed every bit as much as if we had been using the soccer field to actually play soccer on. I’ve had people back home who own a 4,000 sq ft house and 3 vehicles tell me that they are poor. I’ve seen young children in the states who receive new toys every birthday and Christmas and yet they never seem satisfied. Why is that? How can a person be so wealthy and so unhappy? Well, what does Ecclesiastes 5 say? There is nothing better for us than to have joy in our work and accept our lot for this is the gift of God.
Are you happy with your life? Do you have joy and pleasure each day? If you don’t, why don’t you? If it’s a broken relationship, have you done your best to fix it? If you need to be forgiven, have you sought forgiveness? If you’ve been hurt, have you reached out to forgive? If it’s because you haven’t received the promotion you want or been able to buy the things you want, you’re operating under the incorrect assumption that wealth makes a person happy. When actually, the bible says that satisfaction with your circumstances is the only way to be happy. In Philippians the apostle Paul testifies that he had learned the key to contentment. He could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. Paul made this statement after being in ministry for years where he was stoned, whipped, beaten, mocked, imprisoned, etc. And even after all that Paul said here’s the key to happiness, here’s the key to satisfaction, I am content with the one who controls my circumstances. If Jesus has given me little, that’s all I need. If Jesus has given me much, it’s still by his grace that I am sustained.
Now, I also have older students who are more educated and have seen the disparity between the world they live in and other places. And now many of them are unsatisfied with the situation that they’ve grown up in. They want to have all the things they see other people possessing. So, I tell them all the same thing. Accept the place that God has put you. Enjoy the things that God has given to you. Don’t make things you don’t have your goals, but rather, relish what you do have. Joy is a gift from God. You can have everything and still not be satisfied. Or you can have nothing, and choose to enjoy whatever it is that you do have.
Losing Yourself In Holiness
Lately, personal holiness has dominated my thinking, dominated it because I am so personally unholy. I have a deep desire to grow more and more in Christ. Deep desire is really a poor way to phrase it. I’d rather employ the expression many of the Old Testament prophets used, “Burden of The Lord”. It’s a burden that God shared with them. His burden. The burden that weighed on him and he shared it with the prophets. Jeremiah elaborated that he felt a fire burning inside him all the time that he was unable to contain. Do you ever get so unsatisfied with how little you are like Christ that you feel like you may spontaneously combust from the pressure of his spirit on you? I’m weighed down by the attributes of God I’m confronted with in scripture in comparison to the cheap hollow man I am…and who I am afraid of losing.
The obvious thing that we must give up in pursuing holiness is our sin, the desires of our flesh. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy. You hear a preacher tell you that if you want to not sin against God you should hide his word in your heart. So, you take the preacher’s advice and begin to consume the bible. But you soon are confronted with Psalm 101:3-4 and now you can’t “set anything before your eyes that is worthless” nor can you “know anything of evil”. You reflect on this and you realize this is telling you that weekly crime drama on basic cable that you never miss is now off limits to you. There is promiscuity, innuendo, language, and vile behavior throughout and you can’t see it without being effected in your spirit. You say Ah! but what will I do for entertainment? You hear a response read more of my word, serve your next door neighbor who is an elderly invalid, spend time in prayer….you think none of that sounds very entertaining. Now, Christians are not supposed to be miserable people who never have fun, but often times what stunts our pursuit of holiness is what we are unwilling to surrender to God. The first level of this is our flesh. It’s lazy, greedy, selfish, perverted, etc. But that’s an obvious one that we all must fight against every day. The second level which stunts are holiness is more subtle. So, subtle that often times we believe we’re actually supposed to be hanging on to this for God. It’s the way we identify ourselves. We all have things that identify us. The athletes, the braniacs, the comedians, the social lights, the fashionable, etc. These all become a part of our makeup. We use these things to feel value and get purpose. I have always identified myself as an athlete. I played sports at university. I invested most of my time improving my strength and skills to help me in my sports. Now at this point of my life, none of that really plays any factor in the responsibilities that I have. But my ego is connected to that way that I identified myself. We occasionally get to play American football here with some other missionaries in our community. There are several young athletic teens that always applaud my skill highly. They scratch my ego. They make me want to spend time on athletics so that I can feel like the strong one, the fast one, the best one. We all do this. That’s just my example of wanting to hold onto my identity. Take the young woman who loves clothes. She always dresses well and when she walks into a room all her friends are full of compliments and envy over her appearance. But the young lady reads in her bible about putting on modest apparel and good works rather than elaborate hair styles and jewelry and she realizes she must sacrifice her old identity if she’s to continue pursuing holiness. But we come to a hard question here. What if I become so much like Christ that those things that are so important to me (so important to me that they are what makes me, me) are no longer important to me? What if there comes a day where I don’t care how much I can bench press? What if there comes a day where I don’t care if the popular crowd likes me or not? What if there comes a day when I don’t care about winning?
What is your answer? If I went back 6-7 yrs, the 19-20 yr old version of myself would run circles around me….and would probably also ridicule me for how much wind I’m sucking in after doing a couple sprints. I was having a conversation with a Muslim man awhile ago and I was trying to show him that the bible says that Jesus is God. He kept insisting that Jesus could not be God because if he was God he would never have allowed those people to arrest and crucify him. I tried to show him scripture that it was God’s plan for Jesus to be arrested and he allowed himself to be arrested, but the man wouldn’t listen to me. His ego would not let him worship a God that does not match his idea of what God should be. Colossians 3 says that we have put on the new self. If we truly have, then our old self should be gone. Moses had a desire to save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, so when he was strong in the prime of life he killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite. The bible says Moses thought the Israelites would understand he was supposed to deliver them, but instead he had to flee Egypt to avoid being killed by Pharaoh. 40 years later, when Moses is an old man, God calls him to go speak to Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Moses is now so bashful that he makes God angry at the way he drags his feet about going. The old Moses that was going to overthrow Egypt by his might was gone. The new Moses was the one God used to lead his people to the promised land. Jesus, King of Glory, strong and mighty, who was and is and is to come, left heaven, put on the form of a servant, and went as a lamb to the slaughter. And his name is slandered by people who think his choice not to use his power showed the absence of his deity. Do you think we have more right to be jealous for our name than Jesus? Could you be struck in the face by someone weaker than you and not retaliate? What is keeping you from losing yourself in holiness? John 14:23 says “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus isn’t embarrassed to make you a part of the identity of his family. Are you afraid it will cost you too much to lose your old identity in him? I always had a desire to help orphans in Africa, probably from the time I was 12. But I wanted to be a professional golfer and I thought that the way I would help them would be by making lots of money that I could use to support them. Well the script has been flipped on me a bit 🙂 and the question remains, am I surrendered to letting go of everything in my pursuit of Christ? Will I Lose the old me in holiness?
Redeeming the Time
I heard a story of a man here who was married and had 4 children. The man had a good job and was able to support his family, but over time he became bored with his existence and took to drink to please himself. His wife was ever faithful and attentive and the man’s children adored him. Each night the wife would prepare supper and have the children wait patiently for their father to return home before beginning the meal. And each night the man would arrive several hours late in a drunken and rude state. Every morning the man would wake up and reflect on his bad behavior and resolve to quit drinking and be a better husband and father but as the day passed by he would succumb to monotony and his urges and as soon as his work was finished for the day he would head straight for a local pub in the village. This pattern continued on for several yrs. The wife and children continuing to wait for the man’s presence in the home and the man continuing to frustrated their hope. Finally one day the man resolved beyond his usual will power to change his evil ways. He left work early and went to buy flowers for his wife and candy for his children. He was excited as he walked towards the door of his house, but as he entered it he was shocked to find the house totally empty and his wife and children were gone. I was told the man was never able to find his family again. The man’s reforms had come too late, time had run out on him. He turned back to drink which led to the loss of his job and shortly after that event he died.
Ephesians 5:16 tells us to redeem the time, because the days are evil. We find the word redeem throughout scripture. It’s used in many contexts, but most commonly to refer to The Lord redeeming his people. We’ve received redemption; redemption from sin….redemption from the very nature we were born into. Today, the word redemption is more commonly used to describe a person’s triumph in a circumstance they had previously failed in. But the word has a deeper meaning in the context of Ephesians 5:16. It’s talking about restoring something to it’s purpose. In this case that something is our time. Time is a resource that can’t be replaced. No one has drilled beneath the earth’s surface and found reservoirs of time. Each and every moment we have comes and departs often without us even pausing to reflect on it’s passing. If the bible tells us to redeem the time to it’s purpose, what happens to all of the time that is unredeemed? Romans 8:20 says that all creation has been subjected to futility through the fall of man. Something that is futile is something that can’t be accomplished. It’s impossible to do. So creation under the fall has no ability to accomplish or fulfill the purpose for which it was created. But we who have been redeemed are no longer subject to the futility of our former thinking. We have the ability to fulfill a purpose. So I ask, are you redeeming the time? As the body of Christ, do you see us working together redeeming the time? Ask yourself some easy questions. When I come home from work, how many hrs do I spend on tv/movies/internet/social media? Now, how many hrs do I spend reading my bible/praying/listening to or reading sermons of bible teaching? When I go back to work the next day, what is the meditation of my heart? Is it on “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8. Or is it on the different shows I watch each night of the week? Or what everyone was commenting about on social media last night? The bible says that where our treasure is there will our hearts be also. We think about the things that we treasure. What things are running through your mind most days? How much this week have you thought about fulfilling the purpose of the time that you’ve been given? You know the very nice things about moments is that they just keep coming. Even if you swing and miss at one opportunity there is another pitch that’s already on it’s way. Every moment can be redeemed….or it can be wasted. Every knee is going to bow and every tongue is going to confess Jesus as Lord. What will you say to Him about redeeming the time?
A Mother’s Love
Today, on Mother’s Day, we take time to honour our Mothers and reflect upon the joy they bring into our lives. Despite the joy and festivities that often surround Mother’s Day it can be also be a difficult time for many people. For the woman that has experienced fertility challenges or miscarriage, the one who is single but wishes to be married, the one whose children have caused pain or severed relationship altogether and many many others. Just as we celebrate with the Mothers whose children bring them joy, who daily work hard and sacrifice their own needs for those of their children, we stand beside those for whom today represents something more painful.
As I was thinking of the complexity that Mother’s Day represents, my mind wandered to the children at Eagles Wings Children’s Village. Many of whom don’t have a biological mother. The first time I met my sponsor child Ibra, I went to see him at his Grandmother’s house near the Eagles Wings property. Although Ibra is a family child, meaning he lives at the Eagles Wings property for much of the year, he was on school holiday staying with his Grandmother and other extended family for a short time. After introductions took place, he took my hand and told me he wanted to show me around. As he was showing me around his yard, he brought me to a mounded patch of dirt and told me this was his mother’s grave. My heart broke for the pain this young boy had endured. A couple weeks later, Ibra was back at Eagles Wings to start the new school year. I was able to spend a lot of time playing games with the children and getting to know them a little better. Ibra was very shy around me in those early days, and asked his friend Fred to come give me a message. Fred came up and told me he had a message from Ibra. He leaned over and whispered in my ear “Ibra wants to know that you are his Mom.” I looked over and saw Ibra smiling shyly at me and my heart swelled with love. For those next few weeks he would call me Mama Jaimee whenever he got the chance. Although he has since reverted back to the standard title of Auntie Jaimee, I often think of that tender-hearted gesture with fondness.
I’m not sure what kind of feelings Mother’s Day brings up for the children at Eagles Wings. But I do know this, we are called to love orphans and widows, to bring good news to the poor, to allow the Spirit of God in us to bind up the brokenhearted, and to trust that the Lord will make beauty from ashes. You and I can join together and love the people around us with a Mother or Father kind of love, walk beside them in their pain and represent Jesus and the hope that He brings.
Have you Ever Given Everything to Jesus?
The picture you see is of our Pastor, Allan Kisakye, and a faithful attendee of our church who all of us affectionately know as Jajja Alovera. Alovera is a wonderful person to see each Sunday. She always greets you with a two handed grasp and big smile. She never seems to be down emotionally. Alovera is quite poor. She owns a piece of land which she still farms herself. She has no relatives around that care for her. But, you would never guess this lady had anything but joy for life and her brethren in her heart. I have observed that she’s one of the most faithful givers in our church. Alovera doesn’t have money to contribute, but many Sundays, she brings a bag of Avocados or Mangoes. She also makes our grass brooms that we use to clean the church and has weaved the grass mats that our small children sit on during the service. A couple Sundays ago, Alovera did something that has challenged all of us here. She’s been speaking to Pastor Allan about giving the church her farm when she dies. Allan had avoided discussing it further because he didn’t want Alovera to feel pressure to do anything she might change her mind about. Well, on the Sunday I mentioned, Alovera brought in the title to her land for the church elders to hold and have after she passes away. She suggested the church use it for whatever it would like. Alovera is as impoverished as almost anyone here, but what she does have, she gives away freely. When Pastor Allan shared this with me, I couldn’t help thinking have you ever given everything to Jesus, Jonathan?
Jeremiah 3:10 ESV says In spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with their whole heart, but in pretense, declares The Lord.
You ever hear a story about someone like Alovera and are convicted that you should be doing more for the spirit and less for your flesh? Ever sit and listen to a preacher and been convicted that you are wasting so much of the time that you’ve been given and the resources you’ve been given? The Holy Spirit has been faithful to point out the “pretenses” of my Christianity many times in my life. And each time there is momentary passion and success, but can I really say I’ve ever given everything to Jesus?
We pray for miracles in the world every day. We pray for Godly compassionate leaders to be raised up here in Uganda. Men who will care about the innocent and the helpless and who won’t stand for injustice. We pray for repentance from sin for so many people here who are slaves to their sin. We ask Jesus to break these chains and give people freedom. But can we really pray with expectation when the zeal of our hearts is only pretense? The professing believing people group in Jeremiah 3 were the people of Judah. The northern tribes of Israel were idol worshippers and didn’t make any claims about being righteous. The people of Judah however, did outwardly profess such things. But because they weren’t genuine, God called them the treacherous of the two groups. Will that be the legacy of this church era? People who are more slaves to themselves than they are servants to Christ? We can do better. God gave us each other to function as a body. Let’s push/prod/encourage/beseech each other to give everything to Jesus
Monuments of Grace
Do you ever wonder if God is really there? Do you ever wonder if God really does everything that He promises? Do you wonder if He even loves you?
I can’t speak for anyone except myself, so I’m going to share that I myself have felt all 3 of those things at times in my life. When you are young, you take everything your parents say to be true without question. Your stance on life and faith are usually just copied from your parent’s. But God isn’t satisfied with you living on your parent’s faith, so at some point He calls you out to examine and conclude what you actually believe and what will you do with that belief. I spent several years running from God because I didn’t want Him to be the controller of my life. Ironically, God gave me everything I was chasing, but I found that all those things were empty without Him. I came back to Him and found forgiveness and grace. But years of sin and bad habits can leave us with bad thinking patterns and habits. I had a hard time trusting that God even wanted me for a child. Why should He? I had failed Him in every possible way. Do you know what kind of thinking this is? It’s not trusting God to do what He’s said He will. He’s never failed me. He never walked away from me. The best way to describe it is that it would be like I cheated on my wife and she forgave me and then I was the one to never trust her and be suspicious of her conduct. Is that fair? No, not at all. And yet me wondering about God keeping his word to me is the same issue. He doesn’t deserve it. And yet the still more amazing thing about God, is that even with all these frustrating things I do to Him, He supplies me with monuments of grace.
Monuments are something left behind to remind future generations of something. When the Israelites came to the Land of Canan, two tribes settled on the opposite side of the river Jordan of everyone else. So the elders of that tribe erected an altar as a monument to remind their children and grandchildren of who they were and what God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt to the promised land. God leaves these for His children. He reminds us of His great love for us with the things He’s given to us. If you think about your life, I’m sure you can think of a few monuments of grace God has left for you. The first one of mine is my wife. Then there’s my parents and siblings and nieces and nephew. There’s my home, there’s my dear brothers and sisters in Christ who love me more than anyone deserves to be. And the most astounding love I know: 1 John 3:1 “Behold what manner of love the Father hath given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God”
Do you need to feel God’s love today? Look around for the monuments of grace. For after all, a Christian himself is the greatest monument to the wondrous grace of God.
Distance that falls away
I just finished up a series of photography classes. At my last class my instructor asked us each to bring a few of our favourite images for critique. Three of the four photos I chose were of children I love at Eagles Wings. As the class was analyzing one of my photos, my teacher asked me what it was that I liked about this specific photo. I replied that although I do love the sentiment the photo evokes, it wasn’t the picture itself that I loved, but rather the child in it. I went on to tell my classmates that I had snapped this photo the first time I met Wasswa, how he was just so full of mischief and how I was simply drawn to his radiating joy. In the moment I snapped that picture I didn’t know he had lost both his parents and was being raised by aging and unwell grandparents, or that he daily had to carry the heavy burden of hauling water from the community well that was no short distance away. I continued on to tell these people I hardly knew that I came home and decided to become his sponsor and that on a subsequent visit Wasswa spotted me all the way across the school grounds and came running, barreling really with all cylinders fired, right out of his desk in the middle of class just so he could leap into my arms for a great big bear hug. All this I said, was why I loved this photo, even if it wasn’t photographically perfect. I looked up to eyes full of tears, and suddenly this picture was no longer about a histogram or white balance or saturation, it was about a little boy that lives oceans away. My instructor’s reply was simply “Wow, that is real.” It is real. This picture to me, and now to them was not just another photo flashed across a TV screen meant to pull on heartstrings. It was real life, a moment of joy and silliness I had witnessed, made real to them too. One of my classmates told us she wished she could transport herself right into the middle of the moment in the photo. Right in the middle of all that wild and crazy piece of happy. One of my classmates also later came and told me she would never forget what I had just said. She would never forget the face of that child and the story he lives.
I always struggle with telling stories about my experiences overseas. To tell them with compassion without reducing the person who lives the story to just another poor African, because they are certainly so much more. To speak without rising up on a soapbox of judgment for witnessing ignorance of the way the world is, that we so often live with over here on this side of the world. And finally my own emotional ponderings and wrestlings sometimes keep me silent as well. I came home from certain parts of post-war Africa broken and unable to verbalize what I had seen. Only now, a few years later, are the people in my inner circle starting to hear about some of that heartbreak. Out of the ashes, beauty will rise. And yet these stories, some of them, they beg to be told. The unawareness, the inaction, I sometimes see is not I believe due to cold hearts, but rather due to the great distance between us and the rest of the world. Stories, real people, they make that distance fall away. You and I, each of us, have a responsibility to narrow that gap. For many of us, that means finding ways in the midst of our everyday ordinary to make what happens in the world, real both to ourselves and to others. To connect with one child, to feel the pain of another person’s sorrow. One thing, one person at a time. Will you join me in praying that the children of Eagles Wings Children’s Village would grow up to be men and women of character? Because those kind of people are rare, and we hope our children will have the courage to choose a path of integrity. To choose to become honest and hardworking in a land where corruption and material success seem to have become synonymous. To quote the oft quoted poem, we pray that where two roads diverge, they will take the road less traveled, because that will make all the difference.
More Important Things Than A Football Match
Yesterday, I had the privilege in playing in a soccer match with our Eagles Wings team. The team was started by some of our Secondary teachers with the goal of marketing our High School to local community members. At first I was hesitant, concerned that there would be requests for funding that we didn’t have to put into it, but actually our staff members have been the ones who have put in most of the financial contribution for our team to play in the league. The team asked me to play with them saying that having a white person would contribute to the attention gained for our school. With my wife’s permission, I happily accepted. I however, am not much of a soccer player. I enjoy playing, but most of our elementary school team can maneuver circles around me. And yesterday, I found out just how serious this “recreational” league is. Apparently, it’s a tournament and the winning team is to receive a new car and prize money to boot. Well, enter in the 6’2 ghostly white (now very sunburned) golf pro to the fray and to say I was out of my league, would be an understatement. After about 3 trips up and down the field chasing someone who was 6 inches shorter than me and who seemed about 10mph faster than me, I was praying that Paul (our team manager) would substitute for me at halftime. There was a crowd of around 500 people gathered to watch the contest. We don’t have many outlets of entertainment here. At first, I definitely felt most of the onlookers were mocking me as I tried my best to stay upright with the competition. However, as my performance revealed that I was much a rookie in the game, people began to encourage me from the sideline and even offer me advice. (Such as Mzungu you need to train more…..) I couldn’t argue with their observation. By God’s grace we reached halftime tied 0-0 playing essentially a man down the whole time with me in the game. I was feeling like I needed to go apologize to my teammates for all the extra work I was causing them, but each of them ran over to me and thanked me over and over again for playing with them. Then to my great relief, Paul told me he was going to substitute for me. As I left the field many of our teachers and students who were watching the game came over and shook my hand with big smiles and thanked me for playing and even told me that I played well (which definitely was not true). I was very moved by this gesture. I was in the process of receiving grace. It’s a beautiful thing to receive grace. You are given something that you don’t deserve and that you didn’t work for. I definitely didn’t deserve to be encouraged or thanked over my play, and yet my people gave it to me anyway.
That’s what God’s gift to man is. We have not earned it, and when people try to compete for it, they fall miserably short of the standard. It’s a game where they are out of their league, and yet oh how wonderful it is that in our moment of despair, God comes and extends His hand in grace. He says I will take away your sin. I will remove your guilt and I will take care of your needs. That’s what we are trying to do here in the Labumba community. We want to extend that same grace we’ve received to people who are also in need of grace. As Romans 10:15 says, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, the gospel of peace! I have many children here who are in need of our grace. Will you extend that to them? If you can give, give. If you can pray, pray. But in all things let our love be without dissimulation. (Romans 12:9)