Saturday, August 28, 2010

Child Soldier No More

As you picture your life, are there things you've done that cause you to think "I couldn't possibly forgive myself" or "could God really love and forgive me after I ____?"
Get rid of the "victim mentality"--I want to tell you that God is a God of restoration. Don't believe me? Then keep reading, and perhaps you'll change your mind...
In the 1980's here in Uganda, the LRA began kidnapping children and forcing them to be child soldiers. And it is still happening, as I type this. :/ These children are robbed of their innocence. Of their dignity. They're forced to do atrocious acts--even to their own family members. To quote a former child soldier (featured in a Watoto video), "They (LRA) force you to kill. If you don't, you're killed..."
Somehow God brings beauty out of all this. Watoto is a church here in Kampala (founded by a Canadian husband/wife), and they are also doing incredible work in Gulu, Uganda. They're working so hard to restore lives of people who were affected by the LRA.
[I'm begging you to watch this video. It will explain the atrocities of the war, but it also contains a hope factor...]
This past Thursday evening, I witnessed one of the most powerful things I've seen in a long while. I went to Watoto church with a few friends, and we saw performances from Restore Tour: Child Soldier No More <---click for their website.
We saw a group of people acting out the story of the LRA--when the soldiers raid villages and snatch up the innocent citizens. But these weren't actors up on the stage....these were actual individuals who had been abducted by the LRA.
Watoto's website explains the Restore Tour 2010:
"It's the story of Northern Uganda and her community of children, women, and men thrust into the middle of conflict and used to do horrific acts towards their fellow countrymen. Children kidnapped and forced to be weapons of war, women torn from their families--mutilated, stripped of their dignity, and used as sex slaves. Men left despondent and desperate...their stories would break the hardest of hearts.
Through pulsating music, dance, drama, and multimedia, the stories will challenge your community to get involved to make a real difference in their lives."
The Lord has restored these individuals, and they are leaving on a 6-month tour to share their stories with the world. They'll be in the U.S. so go to their website and find out where you can see the Restore Tour. It will rock your world, and I'm not saying that lightly. Watch the trailer here...
I rarely cry in public. But as I watched former child soldiers worshipping God, the tears started streaming down my face. They have been through hell on earth. Yet, they shared Thursday evening "we have's the solution to this problem." I watched them individually step forward to the front of the stage and proclaim, "I forgive Joseph Kony for what he has done" and "I forgive the men who brutally murdered my family in front of my own eyes" and even "I forgive myself for what I was told to do" (which they said is possibly the hardest person to forgive...)
Then, they joined hands and started praising God with the words from Chris Tomlin's song:
"Into the darkness you shine. Out of the ashes we rise. There's no one like You, none like You! Our God is greater, our God is stronger; God, you are higher than any other..."
[During a rehearsal for the Restore Tour. Photo credit: Watoto]
Be encouraged that no matter what you've gone through, God can restore you and use your testimony to affect others. I am so excited for all the lives that will be impacted by this tour!
What breaks my heart is that the LRA is still on the move (I believe they're in the Sudan or the Congo). Innocent lives are being destroyed tonight, so please please please pray for these children and the people who are being affected.
As a Ugandan man shared in a Watoto video that I just watched,
"Uganda is a beautiful country, but the world needs to know that this country is badly in need of healing."

Saturday, August 21, 2010



You are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord,
a tower of refuge to the needy in distress.
You are a refuge from the storm
and a shelter from the heat.
-Isaiah 25:4 (NLT)

I promised myself before I came to Africa that I would show y'all the joy that the people here possess, despite their conditions. Yes, there is much sadness and hardship here. However, there is also beauty everywhere you look. Take this little boy, for instance. I was walking through the slums in Jinja, and his face lit up when I raised my camera in his direction. I serve a God who has not forgotten about His children...

Friday, August 20, 2010

What about us?


He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives,
and release from darkness for the prisoners.
-Isaiah 61:1

If you follow Christ, then this is your purpose.
It's important to remember that He's the powerful One--we are simply His vessels.

This photo was taken last Friday during our outreach to a slum in Jinja, Uganda. Most of the people in the slums were Karamojong. Let me explain a bit more about them...

80% of street children here in Kampala are Karamojong children. They come from Karamoja, which is a rural area in northern Uganda. Back home in Karamoja there is severe poverty, violence (cattle rustling, etc), and lack of resources.

Unfortunately, Karamojong people are not given opportunities here in Kampala. Quite the opposite: they are looked down on and treated unjustly--treated almost like they're not part of society. They're crying out, "what about us??" They're denied access to public bathrooms. They're denied jobs/employment. They face countless challenges.

The fact is, Karamajong children are Uganda's children and Uganda's responsibility. They do not belong on the streets.

Dwelling Places has been working hard the last few years to remove Karamojong children from the streets and resettle them back in their home. This is an incredibly challenging task for a variety of reasons. The fact is, we can't do it alone.

So we held an Advocacy Day today. Karamojong children (supported by D.P.), government leaders and other NGO's (non government organizations) were in attendance, and we discussed "how best can we remove Karamojong children from the streets?" It was also a chance for the children to speak out and let their voices be heard, as they pleaded with the government to continue helping those who are still on the streets. It was incredible for me to sit and listen to testimonies from these young people who used to be out begging on the streets, scrounging through garbage dumps for food, etc. And now, because of Dwelling Places (and God! :) they are taken care of and have been offered a bright future. But there are many others who are curling up to sleep on the sidewalk tonight, and those are the ones we are fighting for...

Thursday, August 12, 2010


There’s someone who has been in love with me for many years. This man is loyal, true to his word, and though I don’t understand it, he loves me despite my weaknesses and flaws. He looks at me with such tenderness. I’ve never known anyone who displays such infinite patience towards me.

I claim that I love him— but I often pursue other lovers, thinking they can offer me something he can’t. When I return to him with a shattered, bleeding heart, he embraces me and still longs to pursue me.

He stretched out his arms on a cross as he gave his life for me. That’s love—better than the kind portrayed in the movies. What more could I want, right? I claim that I know and love Christ, yet at times I look for someone else to fill the deep desires of my heart.

The pursuit of “other lovers” only temporarily satisfies us before we become discontent. Fill in the blank: I would be happy if __________________.

If what? If you were married....? If God healed your child from cancer? No longer struggled with that sin...? No longer had to deal with your controlling mother-in-law...?

God is whispering (or perhaps shouting!) to you: “Am I enough for you?”

What if the only thing we had was Him?….if He stripped us of everything…would it be enough? Would we still praise him, even if our eyes could see no blessings? (Is Job or Paul coming to anyone else’s mind??)

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” –Phil. 4:12.

I wish I could say “yep, I’m finally living out that verse.” But the truth is, I let silly little things get me down and before I know it, self-pity (discontentment) is creeping in.

The Lord has really been working on me these last few weeks, impressing on me the importance of intimacy with Him. He died on that cross, not only for salvation. But also for intimacy. He doesn’t say “bye, see you in heaven one day….” and then forsake us. No, he longs for us to truly know him. To walk through each day with him, not just representing Him.

I’m still trying to figure out what intimacy with my Savior looks like. But I know there are two key ingredients: Biblical meditation and continually talking with Him (involving Him in every aspect of my day, which is easier said than done. How easy it is to get distracted and be self-focused!)

I’ve been excited to share these thoughts with you all (I spoke about this at staff devotions this morning as well) and pray it somehow affects your thoughts/actions. Feel free to comment with any thoughts you have.

This past weekend, when my soul needed a boost, I was encouraged by a quote from Amy Carmichael--a young woman from Northern Ireland who traveled to India to be a missionary in the early 1900’s. Imagine Jesus walking hand-in-hand with you down a path as he assures you of His love. Place your hand in His, wasting no time deepen your relationship.

Trust me, my child…Trust me with a fuller abandon than you ever have before. Trust me, as minute succeeds minute, every day of your life, for as long as you live. And if you become conscious of anything hindering our relationship, do not hurt me by turning away from me. Draw all the closer to me! Come, run to me. Allow me to hide you, to protect you, even from yourself. Tell me your deepest cares, your every trouble. Trust me to keep my hand upon you. I will never leave you. I will shape you, mold you, and perfect you. Do not fear, O child of my love, do not fear. –A.C.


Inspiration came from a variety of sources, including Leslie Ludy, Paul, and Max L.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

reunited with COTW kids!

Let me take you back in time. June 2009, exactly 14 months ago. The tears were flowing as I tightly held on to 13 beautiful children, embracing them for the last time before they would return to their home countries. These weren't just any children....they were "our" kids; along with 5 other adults, I had just spent 10 months of my life taking care of these Ugandan and Nepali children. The kids sang/danced at different churches in America, to raise awareness (and money) for the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. And we also recruited people to sponsor a child (800 children received sponsorship!) If you want to read more about our tour, you can still check out the blog I kept during that year:

After 39,000 miles of driving on a bus together....after visiting 160 different cities/churches...after thousands of priceless memories, it was time to let them go. At that point, I knew the Lord was leading me to Africa, but I had no idea which country--so I could not assume that I'd see them again.

The next few months were painful.
"I keep expecting to look out the window and see the kids running around....or to hear their laughter and footsteps as they come running toward me. But that's not reality, heart aches as I miss the heart literally hurts (to the point of actually being able to feel it...)" -an email I wrote to a friend

In January of this year, Africa Inland Mission called to say they had an assignment for me: in Kampala, Uganda. The exact city where all my Ugandan kids lived!! I'm still in awe of God's faithfulness and how He had this journey planned for me all along...

This past Thursday, I was reunited with 7 of my Ugandan kids at their children's home (the other 3 are at a separate children's home...I anticipate visiting there sometime.) In the morning, I boarded a bus with Josh and Lindsay (two friends of mine who also went to Liberty) and several others. Josh traveled with another team of kids the same year I did, so that's how I met him. After an hour's journey, I saw Destiny ahead of me (their school/children's home.) For a moment, I could hardly breathe as I anticipated what was about to happen. I was about to give them quite the surprise; they had no idea I was living in Uganda!

My heart was full when I jumped off that bus and hugged the life out of Zurufah, Rose, Ezera, Lincoln, Jimmy, Martin, and Gift. I excitedly informed them that I'm living in THEIR country now, doing missions work with an organization that rescues children who live on the streets. I looked into their eyes and said, "Whenever I see a child begging on the streets, my heart breaks, but I thank God that you're safe here at Destiny."

While we were touring (2008-2009), I knew a large portion of the money we were raising would improve and expand this children's home (currently about 1,000 children there!). But it became vividly real when I looked around Destiny's property on Thursday and was overwhelmed when I saw first-hand the results of the tour! Beautiful, clean dormitories...nice school facilities...clean uniforms...and most importantly, a Godly environment for these children (many of which have been affected in some way or another by the AIDS epidemic in Africa.) So thankful for all the churches and individuals back in the U.S. who have helped bless Destiny.

I was surprised that the kids from the tour don't look much different! Although Zurufah seemed taller--no longer the "baby." Lincoln seemed to have blossomed into quite the young man; I saw leadership potential that I hadn't noticed before. [sidenote: Jimmy and Lincoln were such gentlemen and offered me their hands when I struggled up a steep dirt hill w/ my camera equipment. So adorable that they were attentively looking out for me!!] I am so very proud of each of them, for studying hard in school, following their Savior, and loving each other. They were greatly amused whenever I spoke the random Luganda phrases that I know...I told them multiple times "nkwagala nyo" (I love you so much) and "mbadde mbamissiinga" (I have missed you!) .

You can see many more photos on Facebook, but here are my favorites from the day. I was hoping to get a photo with just Ezera [who I sponsor], but he was being stubborn and camera-shy, that little punk.

There they are: Ezera, Jimmy, Gift, Lincoln, Zurufah, Rose [Martin was in class...]
Martin!! Oh, how I've missed that mile-wide smile!
Jimmy, Ezera, and Lincoln being goofy boys
Jimmy. He has one of the most earnest, heart-warming smiles I've ever seen.
yay, kites!
Waving goodbye to us, as our bus pulled away....
Lincoln and a precious little boy

Sunday, August 1, 2010

a Father to the Fatherless

18 years ago, I was given an incredible gift. It’s life-changing. And it’s a gift I’ve been instructed to share. But I’m ashamed to admit that I rarely share it, fearing that I lack the “right words” and also what others will think of me. But how dare I keep this gift to myself? If it’s “life changing” like I claim, shouldn’t I be boldly sharing it with as many people as possible?

I’m sure you’ve guessed that I’m talking about the gift that Christ gave me—His forever love and grace. And assurance that I will live with Him when I die.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been convicted of the fact that I rarely share the gospel. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I shouldn’t let fear stop me. But I often do. Well, last week, I knew I’d be returning to Kampiringisa (see previous post to refresh your memory.) I couldn’t wait to see those children again. But I wanted to do more than just hand out stickers and wrap my arms around them. I desired to give them something that would last.

The day before I went to Kampiringisa, I felt like God was encouraging me to share the gospel with the children. I had no idea how….or what I’d say….but I knew I had to obey. Tuesday morning, I made the hour-long car ride to Kampiringisa with several D.P. staff and two young ladies from the Canadian short-term team ,Lisa and Queenie. After talking with Queenie, it was obvious God has been working in both of us—telling us to share Him with the kids. We were both nervous as heck, but we took a few moments to pray for wisdom and guidance.

When we arrived at Kampiringisa, we asked the staff if we could share the gospel with the kids. They had no problem with that, and they actually helped us out by gathering all the children and youth (about 80 individuals!) Everyone sat on a cement floor and listened attentively.


I am so thankful for my friend/co-worker, Diana, who translated our words into Luganda. Queenie and I took turns sharing—we told the kids that God created them and wants a relationship with them; He wants to live with us in heaven forever. Queenie did a great job clearly explaining sin, the cross, and the resurrection. I encouraged the kids, “even if you don’t have a father here on earth, God can be your Father. He loves you so much and will never leave you.” (It was intimidating and hard for me to explain love and our Father to children whose parents have abandoned them….who have no one loving them….) When we offered a chance to turn from sin and ask Christ into their lives, about fifteen individuals came forward to pray with us. I will admit that I was blinking back tears; I could imagine the angels rejoicing in heaven at that moment…..when fifteen beautiful Ugandan children realized Someone was missing from their lives. I pray God sends people into their lives to disciple them. And unfortunately, some of the children listening that morning don’t speak Luganda or English, so they may not have understood the gospel that morning. But God’s not done with them.

That was certainly out of my comfort zone, but I was reminded of 2 Cor. 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” When we feel week and incapable, we call upon Him, and He provides us with His power. Simple as that! Please hear me—I didn’t do anything great. I don’t deserve any credit. Just be encouraged that even when you’re fearful, if you step out in obedience, you can really impact lives!

During our time at Kampiringisa on Tuesday, we also did face painting (technically “hand painting”) and blew bubbles…..I’m so touched by the kids’ gratitude and excitement for such things.

Do you remember precious little Hope, the beautiful girl in my previous post? I took a video to share with you all. Please pray for her….(and all the kids.) Hope seemed to be in a great deal of physical pain on Tuesday (her cheek was swollen, and she hardly cracked a smile.)

On a random note, this weekend I was determined to learn the taxi system so that I can get to and from the city by myself. (Before this weekend, I had only been into the city twice.) Grace (my roommate) helped me navigate the city yesterday, and today I traveled by myself which was quite the adventure but I made it! The taxi park by yourself is really not a fun experience. You certainly see some interesting people. In a sea of HUNDREDS of taxi buses, you have to find the taxi you need…it’s organized chaos, and I’m sure it’ll get easier with time. People are usually helpful when I ask for the taxi I need to locate. And you must keep alert as you walk, so you don’t get run over by a taxi….I swear, the drivers don’t look where they’re going. They’re just concerned about cutting into the massive line of taxis trying to exit the taxi park. And it’s impossible to have a “personal bubble” when you ride on taxis…’re often squished between at least 18 people in a vehicle that really shouldn’t be holding that many people! You can imagine the lovely smell(s) ;) Here's a small portion of one of the taxi parks (there are two in the city.)


I’ll leave you with a photo of my sweet friend/co-worker, Jessica, who came over to my flat last night. She’s beautiful inside and out, and I was blessed by our conversations and by learning more about her life. I admire her hard-working mentality and her goal-oriented personality, as well as her love for Her Savior. I hope I can get to know many of my co-workers outside of the office setting!