Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Lord's our Rock, in Him we Hide.

“David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” 1 Samuel 22:1

It was a place David fled for refuge. 

“During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to
 David at the cave of Adullam...
At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem…” 2 Samuel 23:13-14

It was a place where the LORD was David's refuge.

"Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me..." Psalm 7:1

The word "refuge" has been a word on my heart for a few years because it has been associated with an idea and dream that I've had. Today, I was introduced to a refuge that was different from the refuge associated with my other dreams. I don't know what it is about this word or if anything will ever come to pass with it in my life, but I find it so intriguing that it keeps circulating through my life in the forms of hopes and dreams. While the hopes and dreams are different, the purposes of these dreams aren't. Because when I think of the word refuge, I think of a place of safety, comfort, encouragement, and love and that's what these dreams all consist of

Today I went to a cave of Adullam where refuge can be found, where the brokenhearted are healed and where their wounds are bandaged (Psalms 147:3).

I was blessed with the company of some brothers and sisters in Christ who are loving others with a love so deep that it's undeniably the love of God. And, through my time with them today, I was able to spend time with some boys I met about eight months ago on the streets of Mbarara. I wish I could explain the inexpressible joy in my heart as a result of spending the day with them.

In very short summary this ministry, Amagara Masya which means “new life”, takes boys and girls off of the streets, rehabilitates , counsels, and educates them, nurtures and disciples them, and works toward reconciliation with their families. By the love and grace of God, Amagara Masya leaders point the boys and girls toward a new life. Could there be a more fitting name for such a transformational ministry? However, I also discovered it was located on a hill in a village outside of Mbarara at a school called Adullam Primary School. I found the connection between the names “Amagara Masya” and “Adullam” significant. New life found in a place of refuge. A place where the love of God is refuge and where it can lead to a new life in Him. 

As the manager of the ministries drove me home at the end of the day, I asked him if I could take a picture of the Adullam school sign. He assured me it was okay, and then told me that before it was broken, they had a bigger sign for the school located right on the top of the hill in the middle of everything. He said, “It was as if it was a symbol of refuge for this entire hill top.”

Lord, I pray for the sustainability of these ministries; for wisdom, rest and encouragement for my Ugandan brothers and sisters leading there; and for continued transformation, reconciliation and love for the children that are so dear to my heart staying at Amagara Masya. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Travels, Trials, and Teamwork

From Mbarara to Kampala to Jinja to Mukono to Kampala to Mbarara. If I had a map, I'd pinpoint the highlights of the last two weeks and keep this blog post short and simple. However, I don't have a map handy, and I'm too in love with words to not fully explain to you all the adventures, thoughts, and lessons learned from my recent Ugandan travels.

Before I ever arrived in Uganda, there was one thing that people kept telling me I would have to try. Of course, as I settled into living here, I learned of other adventure-seeking, sight-seeing places to go, but the one that Carolyn and I had settled on a long time ago was white water rafting down the Nile River. So last Tuesday with all of our preconceived notions, fears and excitements we, along with our teammates Martha, Connor, and Stephen, and then two other Americans who we previously didn’t know, went crashing down the Nile River.

More than once I thought about baby Moses in his little papyrus basket on the Nile. Praise God that He’s a sovereign God who made provision for Moses and kept that little baby safe in the reeds of the Nile and far from these life-threatening rapids. I couldn’t help but think that if we, secured in life vests and helmets in an inflatable boat with a guide, safety boats and safety kayaks, were scared for our lives, how much more danger was Moses in?! Anyhow, that’s all completely irrelevant to the story and not really applicable in any way.  

I realized on this thrill ride down the Nile that I’m definitely someone who can function much more efficiently with some instruction and clarity. Before each rapid, I wanted to know specific instructions for how I was to respond to each potential situation. The guide was so knowledgeable, kind and patient with me and all of us as he instructed us in how to survive each rapid in the event that the raft flipped (which it did... often). Knowing what I was supposed to do for each rapid made the ride so much fun for me and even in the midst of overturned boats, scraping rocks, and struggling to get back in the boat, I couldn’t stop laughing. I did, however, want to be affirmed that it wasn't our rafting skills that caused us to flip so often, but the nature of the rapid and the way we approached it. Much to my delight, the guide was quick to assure me that we were perfectly fine rafters, and I wasn't about to doubt him. I also realized how excited I am to begin working out at Mark Schellen’s again when I couldn’t pull myself back into the boat. Depressing. Thank goodness for the outstanding physical fitness of our guide who was not only pulling us all back into the boat, but was also flipping the boat over, and jumping and flipping into the boat during the rapids along with other kinds of tricks and skills.

Check out the progression of these photos: 

Some of my favorite moments of the afternoon on the Nile were the stretches of calm river where we were allowed to jump out and swim. It was so serene. I can’t explain the joy and beauty of the experience. The Nile River, such a prominent and historically significant river, spread out before me. The beauty of the nature that it consumed and was surrounded by left me speechless. Clouds settled in over us and it began to rain gently, but it only added to the peacefulness. Absolutely delightful. All too soon, we left the river and headed to our campsite for the night (which held other extremely peaceful, beautiful moments until the monkeys in the trees began throwing fruits and nuts from the trees down onto our tents in the morning).

The next day was the beginning of our Central Region Africa Inland Mission (AIM) Conference in Jinja. The five day conference was an opportunity for me to meet and talk with other missionaries within our organization who are located in Uganda and other countries. I was encouraged and inspired as I met with people from many different backgrounds and at different stages of life who are doing ministry for the glory of God and the sake of His Kingdom. However, despite all of the amazing individuals and families I met, I was overwhelmed by the need for Jesus in our world and the lack of people willing to live alongside others, love people, and share with them the hope for the nations. 

"Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.'" 
Matthew 9:37-38

It's been heavy on my heart. I can't tell you where the Lord has called you to minister. I can't tell you what it is He's gifted you in or how He's done that. But, what I can tell you is that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you take a look at the world around, there's a need for the gospel. And, if we, the body of believers, aren't sharing it, then who is? Whether it's your hometown, a nation on the other side of the world, or even the people nearest to you, there's a need for the truth of the saving blood of Jesus Christ, the grace of God our Father and the hope that is within that to be shared, to be known, and to be lived. I'm not talking about a gospel that preaches a "belief" in a distant God or an insurance belief that hopefully will keep you out of hell when you die. I'm not talking about a religion that requires you to do enough good things and show up to church on Sunday morning so that you're good with God. I'm talking about a life-transforming, world-changing gospel - the gospel within the scriptures that doesn't lead to a lukewarm religion, but to a deep and intimate love and relationship with our God through the grace He's shown us.

I was so challenged by those within our organization serving in some tough places where so many people are unwilling to go. It's one thing to be inspired about what people are doing, but to actually live it out in response to it is another. As followers of Christ, we are bound to face trials, but I can't explain the amount of respect I have for these people. I was reminded of the many blessings I have in the amount of support I receive from family and friends back home, friends I've made here, my organization, and my teammates on the ground with me here in Mbarara. They've become a kind of family to me, and it's an honor to serve alongside them.

"Then Jesus came to them and said,
'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of  the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. 
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"
Matthew 28:18-20

As the Central Region conference came to an end, I left feeling impassioned and empowered and with the hope and prayer of my ministries being fruitful. I'm continually more and more convicted about and convinced of the power of prayer in our lives as I see God at work. I pray that each one of us will be obedient to the call the Lord has given us to make disciples, and I'm also asking you to pray. Please take the time to watch this video about unreached people groups and some missionaries within AIM ministering to them in South Sudan, one who happens to be a personal friend from the great state of Nebraska! And, then please take the time to pray for them.

The Voice of the Laarim from Bowen Parrish on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Lord gives and takes away.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…”
2 Peter 3:9-10a

The last 48 hours have been a reminder to me of the fragility of life. When you’re standing on the diving board and scared to jump, you’re the one who decides when to finally make it happen. When you’re learning to skate and you need to let go of the wall you’re holding onto, you’re the one who finally has to release your grasp. But with death, regardless of how many choices you do get, the timing truly is all in God’s hands. It causes me to look heavenward in humble adoration of my God.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people way to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’
These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:1-5

As I first learned to speak, I called my grandpa Dan, “Papoose”. I was the firstborn of what would be many grandchildren on my mom’s side of the family; but for my first few years of life, I got the attention to myself. I received his time, his praise, and his affection. For 22 years, my grandpa faithfully supported me in my endeavors.
Grandpa with my cousin Zeke. 

 Grandpa's chair - always filled with children.
I remember a specific time as a young child when I packed up my Little Mermaid sleeping bag and decided to run away from home after receiving discipline from my parents. It was Grandpa and Grandma who drove up alongside of me as I walked down the block and convinced me that life at home was worth going back to. Another time, they took my sister, Kaylea; my cousin, Nathan; and I fishing one Saturday out near some small, Podunk town. The whole way back to Waterloo along the abandoned country roads with the old farmhouses and creepy trees hanging over the road, Grandpa told the three of us haunted stories and had us scared for days. 

The summer after my high school graduation I rode on my first airplane with Grandpa when I decided to desert Grandma and Nathan on our cross-country roadtrip after they made me ride for 8 hours in a car with a dog. Sometime during my high school or college days Grandpa picked up the belief that I loved Betty Boop. Because of his unique ability to grab things out of the claw machines outside of stores like Walmart, I have a huge box of stuffed Betty Boop dolls that Grandpa has accumulated for me because he thought I loved Betty Boop. I never had the heart to tell him that she really wasn’t that important to me because the fact that he kept winning those dolls for me was important to me.  

Last summer, I sat with Grandpa and Uncle Bruce at one of their favorite lunch stops when I met the two of them at Burger King. A fine dining experience and not because of the food. On my summer afternoon runs, I loved running along North Front Street in front of Mark Schellen’s fitness place and seeing Grandpa drive over the railroad tracks on his way to the post office. He always had his window down, an arm waving out it, and a big smile pasted on his face.

I can’t count the number of times my grandpa drove hours to come watch me play ball, even if he was only going to catch the last fifteen minutes of the game. It’d be the sixth inning of a seven inning softball game in a town an hour away from where we lived, and I’d hear polka music coming from a Mazda Tribute pulling into the parking lot. Without a doubt, I’d know that Grandpa had arrived. There were numerous times where umpires would have to go ask grandpa to get off the field because he’d snuck on in order to get a better photo of the last play of the game. Most of the time, he’d take the picture he wanted before he left the field, and it was always a great one. Numerous times I was pitching the last inning of the game, simply closing the game that the other pitcher had already won. But because grandpa only saw that last inning, he’d tell the whole town that I’d been the one who’d won the game. “She struck ‘em all out,” he’d boast to all the guys over coffee the next morning. It might be true. I struck out the whole three batters I faced at the bottom of the line up against the last ranked team in the league. He either didn’t realize or didn’t care and was proud either way.

Because I went to a small high school, I had the privilege of being involved in everything. I didn’t have to possess natural talent in order to be involved, receive awards, or be recognized. One of the activities I joined was choir. “You know she learned to sing from me,” he’d tell a random bystander after a concert or musical, in which I played the least significant part available. I’d feel sorry that he pegged that to himself because he could actually sing a lot better than me. I also developed a love for writing, including journalism. As I continued my education and studied secondary education – language arts, I also studied journalism and some creative writing. He loved that I loved to write, and he loved to remind me that we not only had that in common, but our alumni university, too.

College Graduation from the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Grandpa wasn’t timid to write a thought-provoking editorial into the Omaha World Herald about something he felt passionately toward. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and while I tend to be a little more hesitant, he taught me that some things are worth being bold about.

Grandpa was funny – most of the time intentionally, sometimes just because of who he was. On his office bulletin board at his house there have always been pictures of us grandkids with some sort of humorous or mocking caption. The youngest, innocent grandkids always had cute, witty captions attached to their photos. However, the rest of us were often the victims of cynical humor. Through our high school years, there were many times Kaylea, Nathan, and I pushed our boundaries with authority. Growing up down the street from each other and within walking distance from Grandma and Grandpa’s house we did a lot of life together. Through it all, we learned that family sticks together, and we often defended one another’s “rights”, backing each other up even when we were in the wrong. (Kaylea and Nathan would tell you that they stuck together more, and I was a tattletale… all depends on who you get the story from.) However, I remember walking into my grandpa’s office and seeing photos of Kaylea and Nathan, maybe even Lilly, on the board under handmade “Wanted” and “Missing Persons” signs with arrows pointing to a picture of me and labeled “Last Seen With”. I think they’re still hanging there today.

One of grandpa's many pictures and captions.
Grandpa bragged of my successes and made light of my shortcomings. And, the beautiful thing about it is that my story is only the story of one person out of the many people Grandpa loved just as much as me.

He was creative, artistic, and inventive. He made his living by living on a dream. Seriously. A prayer, a dream, and a life-changing result. It’s called the Shepherd Scope. I didn’t get my singing abilities from him, and that’s a compliment to Grandpa. But, I’ll take a whole lot of what he did pass onto me, including a love for words and for writing, a passion for “right”, and the ability to smile and love others – without having to know their name.

Things I learned from my grandpa:
  • How to look good shooting a gun.
  • If you don’t happen to like me, pass me by.
  • Dance to the beat of the tune that you like.
  • Sing loudly, with pride, and preferably with a song turned up and the windows down.
  • “Be quick”, but drive slow. Time will happen as it pleases.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Think outside of the box and go with it.
  • Write and talk about things that matter.
  • It’s not when you get there that matters, but the fact that you made it.
  • Talk to strangers, you might make their day.
  • Pray to God and be obedient, and it will change your life.
  • Time with the ones you love is irreplaceable and immeasurable.
I went home at the end of January to spend two weeks visiting family and spending time with Grandpa. During those two weeks a lot of things were happening medically with my grandpa that made the future of everything very uncertain. As I visited his room for the last time, the respiratory therapist was there. I’m not a medical expert and can’t tell you what the guy did, but he enabled Grandpa to speak so that I could hear his voice. And, you know what he said to me? 
He told me he loved me.

It was the first time I can remember hearing those words spoken to me from him, and as sweet as they were to my ears, I had already known it because he’d spent his life showing it to me. For that I give glory to God because in spite of the amount of sadness there is with the fact that he's gone, I'm left with sweet memories of a loving grandpa with a tender heart. 

One day each of is going to die. And, of course, it is only God who knows our hearts, for “people look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). But, I pray that we have a hope and an assurance in our eternal security because of our faith being lived out in our everyday lives.

“You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God
and speed its coming…
But in keeping with his promise
we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth,
where righteousness dwells.”
2 Peter 3:11b-12a, 13

I look forward to that day because I’m fully aware that this life, my life, isn’t what it’s all about. I look forward to living in righteousness with God where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4). Where I will be in a place I am always praising and bringing forth glory to God. I love the reality of that future, as difficult as it is to understand now. However, I’m also fully aware that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I’m commanded to live in such a way here because of the overflow of love and grace God has shown to me.

“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this,
make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him…
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:14, 17-18

I pray that as we live our lives, we fully accept the salvation at hand for us. That we live in accordance with the way God commands us to because God’s love is truly that great and His Spirit in us is that powerful. And, also, because we never know when our day is coming.

Please pray for:
  • My family as they grieve and make logistical and financial decisions.
  • Provision for the decisions that are made.
  • Time for me to grieve, but also a peace of mind and heart as I process through the emotions of my grandpa’s death and not being with family during this time.
  • The time I have left in Uganda this year to be fruitful in the relationships I’ve invested in and for the upcoming transitions.