Visiting New (Old) Churches

Sometimes we get surprised…really on a daily basis it’s something new. But around Christmas time, we received a phone call from churches in a certain area that we had been told were no longer there or no longer working with us. These churches are about 2 hours away from Mbale, so they aren’t nearby. But there had been a connection…someone standing in the gap between the Mission in Mbale and the churches in this area. Through that person, we came to believe over the past ten years (in fact, we knew) that those churches were no longer working with us. And, while we were disheartened by this, we understood that this sort of thing happens. Transport costs are high, visiting is difficult, the distance is far…all these things are reasons why it can happen.

So when we received a phone call from one of these church leaders in December, we were surprised that they were asking to meet with us. But our door is always open, so we planned for them to come to Mbale with a few of their leaders for a visit in early January. When the day arrived, we were not sure what to expect. In the phone calls, they had told us a small part of the story, but we were eager to fully understand why these churches had reached out to us after 10 years of silence.

The group of leaders from the three different churches all came together. We spent hours with them, reconnecting and listening. They explained that they had put all their trust in a certain person; that he would remain connected to the ministry in Mbale and keep the three churches in their area connected. But then that person began telling them different things…things that at first confused them, and then eventually discouraged them greatly. The church leaders became so discouraged over the decade of hearing these stories that they had given up. That is until truth began to come out about the personal life of this person they had been trusting.

All of us are given to weakness and sin. All of us are vulnerable in different areas. These church leaders discovered that the man they trusted to keep them connected to the ministry in Mbale had been misleading, lying, and manipulating them. They even learned that he had fallen into a life of sin in another area, which caused them to question everything he had been telling them. When they learned of this deception and false guidance, they were desperate to reconnect with the ministry. And that is why they began calling on us…to reconnect and rebuild relationships.

We scheduled a visit to these churches at the end of February. When it came time for the visits, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation, for all parties. We visited the three churches, met with their leaders, and enjoyed a meal (one meal at each location because hospitality is so important in Ugandan culture). We were pleasantly surprised at the way these churches had been handling their issues, challenges, construction, and worship times. These churches had continued to pour their energies into preaching the Word of God, growing in their faith, putting their faith into action, and pursuing the Lord. It was a very encouraging trip for us.

We were also able to encourage them with the Word of God in each place we visited. We were able to rebuild broken bridges of relationship and communication. We were able to open new bonds through the Spirit of God. And we were able to cast a vision for a way forward in working directly with each church.

We ask that you continue praying for the churches in this new (old) area…and praying that we can continue building healthy partnerships with them!

Looking Back on 2021

As you are aware, 2021 was another “different” year. We continued to balance the important ministry God has for us here with concern for safety, health, and making wise decisions. Ministry, as well as everyday living, continued to take on new forms on a regular basis. Here are some highlights from 2021:

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BIG December!!!

Wow, December has been such a busy and great month. November was too…but that was last month. Today, we’re focused on December!

The first week of December was our theological classes, MTI. This was the first time since May that we’ve been able to have full classes, due to lockdown and Covid restrictions, so we were overjoyed about the opportunity. We had a total of 30 students come for teaching, discipling, and sharing.

During the week of MTI, our family also had some celebrations. Adalyn has been taking a dance class from a missionary here in Mbale since September. They worked so hard over the past few months, even overcoming practice cancellations due to Covid, to put together a lovely Christmas Dance Program. In all, there were 12 dance routines, six of which Adalyn participated. She went into dance a little reluctant, but in the end, she thoroughly enjoyed it! She persevered and reaped the blessings! It was also really fun for us to watch our beautiful little girl shine and enjoy something that isn’t usually her cup-of-tea.

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Memories

This song played alot while we were in the U.S. last year spending time with my dad before he died. Every time I hear it, it brings tears to my eyes and makes me think of my dad. As both Leland and I have walked through this journey, first with his dad dying unexpectedly in a car accident and then my dad dying a slow debilitating death, we both feel the pain of loss. We feel the sadness of not getting to talk to our dads anymore, not seeing them, not giving them hugs, not hearing their laughs or their jokes, or them giving us advice whether asked or not… With Leland’s dad, there wasn’t a chance to say goodbye and there were so many things left unsaid. And with my dad, while we knew it was coming and we made some really good memories, there was still so much more we wished we could’ve said or did with him.

Life is funny like that; it feels like we have plenty of time, and yet, we never have enough time. You’d think these losses would make us “wake up” and be more intentional with our time. But unfortunately, it doesn’t. I was washing lettuce the other night for a salad and it made me think of my dad because he loved salads and always had one ready in the fridge. Then a few days later, Leland put on some country music while we were cooking dinner and the song “Live Like You Were Dying” came on the playlist. We both got tears in our eyes thinking about how that was just what my dad did. He realized he was dying and didn’t know how much time he had, so we saw a side of him that I’ve never seen before. He was vulnerable. He shared his love and feelings more freely. We had hard conversations and good conversations. We cried. We laughed. There was so much he wished he could still do, but he did what he could to enjoy his remaining time. There was pain, frustration, denial, fear. And we got to walk through some of that with him and my mom. About this time last year, we were with them knowing goodbyes were coming. We were all pretty sure it was going to be the last time we saw my dad. I wouldn’t give up our time with them for anything. But it doesn’t make the goodbye any easier. It doesn’t make the loss go away. But I am thankful for the memories. I can “cheers” for my dad. I can “cheers” for Leland’s dad. I can “cheers” alongside my family and friends who have lost people along the way.
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Happy Birthday Adalyn!

Adalyn turns 9 years old this year. This will be her 6th birthday while living in Uganda. She has grown up in Uganda – she has gone from a spunky little toddler to a tall girl who has her own unique personality (still spunky). She is caring, sassy, athletic, silly and compassionate. She loves almost everything active, but she also loves chilling as a family with movies or video games. Here are the annual questions for her birthday.

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Unique Community

One aspect of missionary life that I was not anticipating is the close-knit community that surrounds us here in Mbale, Uganda. Not only do we live among like-minded people serving God through different ministries here, but we all are away from our home cultures and need to rely on each other for life stuff. Whether it’s celebrating Thanksgiving together, helping a family who needs medical treatment, someone who has to leave unexpectedly, or having a pool party to celebrate the end of the school year, it is a beautiful thing called COMMUNITY. And while being a close-knit community also has challenges, we are thankful because not all missionaries have community like we do. And not all people have relationships that are connected through the desire to follow God to wherever He calls.

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Lockdown, Take 2

2020 Lockdown

We can all agree that 2020 was a crazy year, and for us personally, 2021 wasn’t looking any better with my dad’s death, an unexpected ice storm that affected my travel, getting back to life in Uganda amidst the pandemic, A LOT of house repairs needed, and ministry struggles. But things seemed to be settling down…

Just in time for another lockdown. While the U.S. and Europe has a large population of people who are vaccinated, there are many countries around the world that don’t have vaccines. In Uganda, we were watching as Kenya and other surrounding countries were struggling with the new Covid variant from India, but Uganda seemed to be okay. Uganda has been okay throughout the Covid situation with no real explanation.

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Same storm, different boats

I have seen this meme or image around lately, and while it’s mainly talking about Covid-19 and all that this past year entails, I think it also speaks volumes about our life in general. We are all in the same ocean or storm, depending on which image you see, but we are all in different boats. Meaning, we do not all live with the same status, same education, same wealth, same abilities. We each live in different and unique circumstances. We all have different life stories, wounds, struggles, and perspectives.

The biggest impact from this image came also from the quote “we may not all be in the same boat but we’re sailing the same storm. Some may be in a yacht, some in a canoe, some in a dinghy, and some may be drowning. So just be kind and help whoever you can.” Be kind. Help whoever you can. That is so true, for life in general. We don’t truly know what someone is going through, so that annoying student, that unhelpful salesperson, that angry coworker, the unfair boss, that rude neighbor, that homeless person on the street, that struggling shopkeeper, and the list goes on…. We don’t know the situation they are going through and we are called to be kind, showing love because that’s what Jesus did when he saw people hurting or when people were hurling insults at Him. He was LOVE. He is LOVE. We are called to love.

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2020 In Review – A Year Unlike Any Other

Discipleship Groups – Before the lockdown, we were continuing to meet with our discipleship groups and seeing personal growth in many of them. They have been testifying that their marriages have improved, their role in discipling their children has increased, and the work of the churches they serve has deepened through discipleship groups. During the lockdown, we began hearing feedback from church leaders about ministry going on in their areas. We were encouraged to hear that Relational Discipleship and Discovery Bible Study groups were flourishing even during lockdown.

Discovery Bible Study Trainings – After hearing from church leaders about the impact that Relational Discipleship and Discovery Bible Study groups were having during lockdown, the Mission Leadership Team decided that the best way to continue equipping churches for ministry was to train more local churches and church leaders on how to use DBS to impact their local congregation and community. Between July and October, we brought a total of 40 leaders representing 5 churches in different areas here in Eastern Uganda to train them on how to have DBS groups in their village. We will be following up with them shortly to encourage and ensure that the ministry is having an impact.

Long-Distance Church Visits – Before the lockdown, the Mission Leadership Team was able to visit churches in areas far away (Kyankwansi, Kitgum, and Lira). We encouraged the churches in those areas, but also had in-depth conversations with church leaders about the future of the work in their areas. The focus must shift to training leaders that can stand faithful in those areas. Because of these visits and discussions, we are bringing leaders from these areas to MTI for training and discipleship.

Messiah Theological Institute – In January and February, we met with 57 students for Messiah Theological Institute. With in-depth theological training AND relational discipleship focused on life-change, we had high hopes for another great year. Sadly, we had to close MTI from March through December due to the Covid-19 pandemic and government restrictions. We have plans to re-open MTI in March to continue what we started in 2020.

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Tribute to My Dad

Just recently, I went to a funeral for a little girl who battled sickness in a wheelchair most of her life, and she finally “ran to the arms of Jesus” at age 11. At the funeral, someone said “To be born is a blessing and to die is a must”. While we all mourned her death for being so young, that statement rang so true to me for my dad as well. My dad has been battling ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, since spring of 2019, although the doctors didn’t know that’s what it was until June 2020. While 2020 was a crappy year in so many ways, the shutdown of Uganda in regards to Adalyn’s school and our ministry allowed us to be able to travel to the U.S. at the end of July 2020 and spend 5 months in America, and about 3 of those months of quality time with my parents. Continue reading