,

That Time I Auditioned for Cake Wrecks

Let me begin by saying that I’m good at many things.

Cake decorating is not one of them.

I grew up in a family full of women (and maybe some men!) proficient at cake decorating. My sister decorates beautiful wedding cakes and gets paid to do it. Whenever cake decorating needed to be done around our house, I happily sat back and let my mom and sister do all of it. I had no desire to even try. I should have been paying better attention.

We hadn’t been in Africa very long before I needed to make a wedding cake. My husband graciously volunteered me for the duty, then told me about it afterward. I didn’t even own cake pans. I cobbled something together with the help of one of the other missionary wives. Everyone raved about how it tasted, and no one complained about how it looked. Honestly, it could only get better from that point on in my cake decorating career. (That is lace wrapped around each layer and curly ribbon on the top.)

2011 05 07 14 42 02

We had many people who wanted to get married at the refugee camp and wedding cake is an expected tradition here. Each time we had a wedding, we worked out a compromise. I baked the cakes and our coworker’s wife decorated them.

Then, horror of horror, we needed to have a wedding when our coworkers weren’t here! It was time for me to step up and try my hand at it once more. My sisters had given me cake pans and a set of decorating tips. The rest was up to me.

2015 02 08 08 15 04

2016 02 13 19 36 31

2016 02 13 20 33 35

I’ve learned a lot about decorating in the last few years and even had my sister teach me how to do basic embellishments while we were on furlough. She was kind in the face of my bumbling. She didn’t go back and fix anything when I was around. 😉

Gaelin requested a character cake for his birthday a couple years ago and I gave that a whirl.

IMG 1047

It turned out okay, though Batman’s nose is a little odd and one eye is bigger than the other. Gaelin was pleased, then told me he wanted my sister to make the exact same cake for him for his next birthday and see which one of us did a better job. 

I was not amused. I told him there was no question of who was better – my sister always will be.

Now I’m going to share the recipe for the cake our church people like to say is the best cake they’ve ever eaten. I’m not a cake fan but even I like it. It doesn’t take much longer than a cake mix to pull together and you don’t get all those terrible preservatives found in a mix. Hope you try it and enjoy it as much as we do!

Golden Layer Cake (from the 1972 Betty Crocker Cookbook)

  • 2-1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar (I use half because it’s too sweet if I use the full amount)
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening (I use palm oil)
  • 1 cup milk or water
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs (1/3 to 1/2 cup)

Heat oven to 350º. Grease and flour baking pan, 13x9x2 inch or 2 round layer pans, 8-9 inch. Measure all ingredients into large mixer bowl. Beat 30 sec. on low speed, then 3 min. on high speed, stirring and scraping the bowl occasionally. Pour into pans.

Bake oblong 40-45 min., layers 30-35 min., or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Remove from pans. Frost or decorate as desired.

,

How’s Africa? Town Animals

A few weeks ago, someone on Facebook asked me about the animals we have here in Uganda. I thought I’d begin answering that question by sharing about the animals we have here in town.

Mbarara recently gained city status in the country of Uganda. There are only a couple other cities that have this status outside the capital of Kampala (and both of the other cities could be considered suburbs of Kampala).

In the US, most cities have ordinances banning certain kinds of animals inside city limits. Uganda doesn’t have those sort of ordinances so domesticated animals roam the roads freely. 

Most people keep animals in their yards. Our neighbor has dogs, chickens, turkeys, and occasionally, goats. Another man up the road from us keeps cows and lets them out to graze on the local golf course. Yes, you read that right. We have a small golf course here in town and the cows graze on it.

Today, on our morning jog, here are a few of the animals we saw:

2015 03 20 08 35 10

IMG 4206

Chickens roam free all over the place, but somehow everyone just knows who they belong to. In other words, if you tried to take one, the owner would come and get you and you’d be sent to jail for stealing.

IMG 4209

This is one of the larger herds of cattle I’ve seen in our city. Most times the big herds are kept outside town and we dodge them as they walk up the road while we drive to church. It’s our own version of heavy traffic. 😉 

Stay tuned for the next installment of Animals in Africa! I’ll be sharing pictures that we took ourselves with our own camera.

What if it Seems the Impossible Doesn’t Happen?

Romans824 25 001

A few days ago, I posted about God loving to do the Impossible

But what about times when it seems like He doesn’t? We’ve all had times when we asked God for something and, for whatever reason, got no answer. Even worse, sometimes He gave us exactly the opposite of what we asked for. How could a loving God do that, even when we’ve obeyed Him, we’ve asked of Him, we’ve expected His answer?

It’s easy to get bitter when we ask and don’t receive. We doubt God. We wonder if He hears. I’ve even heard people question His very existence. Sometimes the lack of an answer doesn’t make sense. 

Or doesn’t it?

There are several reasons I see from the Bible for God not doing the Impossible thing that we ask of Him.

1. The curse of sin reigns in the world today.

Romans 8:18-22 talks about the creation groaning under the weight of sin’s curse. This is why bad things happen: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, sickness that leads to death. This is why bad things happen to good people. Entropy is working all around us because of our choice to sin. One day, there will be a new heaven and new earth and we will be delivered from this bondage of corruption.

Romans 8: 23-30 reminds us that God uses these things to make us more like Jesus. That was His goal all along. Could He have stopped the bad things from happening? Yes! Does He? Not always.

Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us according to the will of God.

2. God will not go against man’s free will.

You might ask, “Why didn’t God stop that person from doing that horrible thing?” 

Can God stop someone from doing something? Yes. Does He? Not insofar as it violates man’s free will.

You see, God made us in His image. Along with that came the ability to choose. In the beginning, Adam chose sin. So each of Adam’s descendants today also choose sin. But that free will is the very thing that distinguishes us from the rest of God’s creation and God does not violate it. Consequently, wicked people choose to do wicked things and God doesn’t stop them. He gives them a choice to stop themselves. Many innocent people are harmed. It’s painful and unjust.

This doesn’t mean God doesn’t care. He simply will not force people to obey him. The minute He forced us, our free will, our obedience out of a desire to show our love for God, our desire to please and worship Him, would also become meaningless. We’d turn into a bunch of robots, automatons that He controls.

3. “No” is still an answer.

In II Corinthians, Paul shares how he asked God three times for something and three times God said “no.” Paul had an advantage over the rest of us who’ve ever had God tell them “no” — God told Paul why He answered that way:

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…” (II Corinthians 12:9)

Unlike Paul, God never tells us why He says “no,” though sometimes He gives us a glimpse later on. We might not understand, but we must trust and allow His grace and strength to be sufficient.

4. Eternal God sees all of time and waits to give us what is best for us.

It’s so hard to be patient and wait for God to work in situations, especially situations that we view as time sensitive. God is not bound by time. He does things when it is the right time for them to happen so He can bless us, show mercy to us, and be gracious to us.

Isaiah 30:18 says, “And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.”

God waits so He can give us His very best and receive all the glory for it.

To sum up: Expect God to do the impossible. If He doesn’t, don’t despair. Wait on Him with patient hope, knowing He can see the big picture and is acting accordingly, even if it feels like he isn’t.

Huckabee Hauler – Uganda Style

Most Sundays are pretty normal. We go to church. James preaches. I teach Sunday School. We talk to people. We come home. Nothing out of the ordinary.

This week was much the same, except many of our church folks are attending a Bible Institute class here in town this week. A group from Kabazana and another from Sangano left once they’d had a light meal after church. They took taxis — not the cheapest or most efficient method of travel, but it works.

In order to save a little money, we carried the people from Ngarama and Isanja that wanted to come to the class. We left all the kids at home to maximize space. We told the church people, “We really only have room for 6 more people, though we could maybe fit 7 if a couple of them are small.

9 people wanted to attend.

This was both a good thing and a bad thing. The Good: several new converts were coming to hear teaching from the book of Romans. A couple of them were youth. Two were the men who are preaching in these churches and have been for a long time. They need all the Bible training we can give them so they can rightly divide God’s Word.

The Bad: The vehicle is full with 8 people. Packed might be a better word. James and I took two of the spaces.

Our Land Cruiser turned into a TARDIS. Or maybe a clown car. It’s hard to know which. One blessing is that Africans don’t seem to mind crowding in and sitting that way over the rough road we travel. Somehow, they kept fitting and no one said one word of complaint. Well, except that James drives like a bus. 😀 (His goal was to minimize the amount of time everyone had to sit in discomfort.)

All went well. We had to slow down extra for all the speed bumps. A couple times motorcycle taxis pulled out in front of us. With all the extra weight, we couldn’t exactly stop on a dime, but nothing bad happened.

We were almost to town when we came around a bend, up a hill — and saw a taxi coming right at us in our lane, passing a matoke truck. All 11 of us made some sound of shock and horror: gasps, shouts, a cry of “eh!”

Without missing a beat, James pulled onto the shoulder (thank God there were no pedestrians!), cleared the bumps and pulled back onto the road. 

Everyone gave a nervous laugh. I took a few deep breaths to get over the adrenaline rush. We drove on without incident.

IMG 4204

I snapped a picture when we got to church. As it is, you can only see 8 of the people in the back (one is behind the man on the right; you can see his hand). This totally would not fly in America! But I’m glad, for the sake of these folks who wanted to attend the class, that we could do it here!

God of the Impossible

A couple weeks ago, I shared my impressions about the book The Insanity of God. The book spoke to me, encouraged me, in ways I did not expect when I started reading it.

Not long after finishing the book, I began reading through the book of Jeremiah in my personal devotions. I did not anticipate how much Jeremiah would resonate with me this time through, especially after reading The Insanity of God

Jeremiah was speaking to the nation of Israel. That fact must remain clear in the interest of being hermeneutically sound. 

Jeremiah’s grief over God’s impending judgment is palpable. So many times he groans with the pain of his message. “Ah, Lord GOD!” Yet he continues to be obedient to God in the face of opposition and disobedience.

Jeremiah 32 opens with King Zedekiah throwing Jeremiah into prison because he dislikes Jeremiah’s message from God. Then, God comes to Jeremiah with an unusual request: Redeem a field from his cousin and preserve the record of that transaction.

His message? Israel will once again possess the land.

Jeremiah obeys without question, but then he cries out to God. He knows God is almighty. He knows God has given Israel the promised land. But they disobeyed and now the enemy is preparing to overthrow them and carry them captive. Yet God has asked him to buy a field for money in the face of an enemy possessing the land.

What was God’s response? 

Jer 32 27 001

Then God shares how He will bring back Israel from captivity and how they will serve Him forever.

Just like when I read The Insanity of God, when I read this in Jeremiah I realized how much I limit God. I know in my head He is the God of the impossible, but I don’t act like He is. I find it hard to believe Him with my limited human understanding.

So many times I look at the situations around me and in the world today and I groan inside myself, “Ah, Lord God!” What can I do? What difference can I make? Why do things happen the way they do? Why does it seem like evil is winning in the world around us?

It sounds trite to say it, but I have to shift my focus off the world around me and look to God. I can’t. He can. Nothing is too hard for Him. He can do the impossible.

I can’t do anything lasting. But God can.

I can’t make a real difference. But God can.

I can’t understand why bad things happen. But God can.

I can’t stop the trek of evil across the world. But God can.

The only real, lasting effect I can have is to work alongside the Almighty God of heaven and earth in obedience to Him. It isn’t fatalism or even stepping back and doing nothing. It’s finding how He wants me to obey and then doing it.

Here’s the kicker: He wants me to ask Him to do it! He wants to do the impossible! Why? Because He can!

He is, after all, the God of the Impossible.

,

Newsletters and Three Way to Help New Authors

This week has not gone as originally planned. That is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s been a good week. I just didn’t get a few things done that I had planned — like writing blog posts. I’ll get back to it in the next few days, but I decided to use this short hiatus to talk about a couple things.

Email Newsletter Sign-up

My techie husband helped me set up an email list. “Why do you need an email list if you already have a blog?” you might ask. 

I’d like to use the email newsletters to give more personal news and happenings than I’m comfortable with in a public blog. I can also keep people informed about upcoming writing projects. My goal is to send it out once or twice a month. If you’d like to sign up, you can do so on the sidebar here at my blog or on my Facebook page under Email List Sign-up.

Helpingauthors

I posted this image on my Facebook page a few days ago and thought I’d elaborate on it.

Every new author is starting from scratch. They have to build recognition and readership. This takes takes time and the help of their readers. An author is nothing without someone to read their books.

How can you help a new author get their book out?

1. You can read their book.

We spend hundreds of hours planning, writing, and editing our book. We’ve got blood (hopefully not literally 😉 ), sweat, and tears invested in this. We desire nothing more than to share it with the world so you can enjoy it, too. It’s our art. 

But all that is worth nothing if no one reads what we’ve created. 

2. You can recommend their book.

Did you like that book you just read? Tell someone about it. It’s great when a book is shared online, but the best recommendation you can give is in person. Tell a friend. Share it with your mom or sister, dad or brother. Tell the ladies at church or your friends at the gym. Tell someone.

Personally, I’m more likely to read a book if it’s been recommended to me by a friend. Most people are. So spread the word. It helps more than you know!

3. You can rate their book online.

Sadly, no matter how much personal interaction helps, some interaction online is needed. Once you’ve read the book, it helps so much if you leave some feedback about it online. wherever you bought it, whether Amazon or Barnes and Noble or somewhere else. Every time you rate the book, it improves its discoverability on those sites.

Have you read the book? Rate it! You’re doing that author a favor!

Some Thoughts on The Insanity of God

IMG 4174

I first heard about The Insanity of God a year ago. After the third person asked me if I’d read it, I decided I needed to check it out.

It was not what I was expecting at all but not in a bad way. I’d expected a devotional type book. What I read was one man’s journey to understand God’s working in the world around him. He shared his struggles and how the persecuted church around the world helped him through these.

When I finished, I needed a couple weeks to process what I’d read. 

It’s a struggle we all go through, especially when we look at the world around us.

We doubt God when we see others do evil things, and it appears He does nothing about it and doesn’t care.

We doubt God when we ask Him for things, just as He commands us to do, but then we never see the answer to that prayer.

We doubt God when bad things happen to us, things that make no sense, things we know He could have prevented.

We doubt God when other believers mistreat us or our friends and loved ones.

We doubt God because we cannot see the world as He sees it.

We doubt God because we put him in a “box” and expect Him to work a certain way, then we are upset or disappointed when He doesn’t.

I’ve struggled with these issues in my own life.

God hasn’t changed. He is still the God of the Bible. He is still working in lives today. He doesn’t need us to do His work. He can do it without us. But he chooses to use frail, sinful human beings. 

The question remains: Do we believe Him? Do I believe Him? Do I see Him as the God of the Bible who did many mighty works or do I see Him as a distant, disinterested God who only cares about me when it benefits Him, or when I act just right, or when I say just the right words?

The book challenged me. I have been guilty of not trusting God to be the God He reveals Himself to be in the Bible. What would happen in my life if I just started believing Him? If I expected Him to do mighty things in my life and the lives of those around me? 

Believing God, trusting Him to work in the world around me, choosing to follow and obey Him even when I can’t understand… this is The Insanity of God.

Rain Needed — Drought Imminent

Uganda is called “The Pearl of Africa.” It’s always been lush, green, productive, vital. The people of our region of Uganda don’t face issues like drought and famine.

Until recently, that is. 

Due to a strong El Nino in the Indian Ocean, the last several rainy seasons have been short or non-existent. We were amazed at how dry everything already was when we arrived back in Uganda at the end of May. May is still in the rainy season but they hadn’t had rain here for a month already. The refugee camp hadn’t had rain since March. 

IMG 4158

This was the view from Ngarama on Sunday. Granted, the field in the foreground has been dug up in preparation for planting. But it’s still drier than I’ve ever seen it.

2012 04 08 09 39 02

This was the view the same direction about three years ago. 

Isingiro District grows many of the bananas for the region. Many of the banana plants have died off in the district from the lack of rain.

IMG 4154

Those hills used to be half covered with banana plants. (I tried to find a “before” picture I know we had, but we must have lost it in a hard drive crash a couple years ago. 🙁 )

IMG 4147

Then note the dry grass by the statue and on the hill behind the shops.

Food prices have also gone up in the last year. Beans have doubled in price. For a time, posho was 40% higher.

I found the most recent weather forecast for the region online. Though the El Nino has neutralized, they are still expecting lower than normal rainfall for the region through this rainy season, which is the long rainy season and the one in which the region typically gets the most rain.

Would you pray for rain for our area? Meteorologists can’t see into the future. They can’t predict what will happen. God can bring the rain so tens of thousands of people don’t go hungry.

,

How’s Africa? – Bananas!

IMG 4147

A few years ago, my dear friend, Rachel, came to visit us here in Uganda. She spent a few weeks in Kenya first. The people she was with in Kenya warned her, “Uganda is banana country. You’ll eat so many bananas while you’re there!”

I’m not sure we fed her any bananas at all while she was here visiting, which is ironic because Uganda actually is known for their bananas.

Isingiro, the district immediately to our south, grows many of the bananas that are eaten throughout the country. Kabingo has even put up a statue commemorating this fact (pictured in the above photo). Whenever we drive to the refugee camp, piles of matoke stalks line the side of the road in readiness for the huge trucks that come to pick them up and bring them into the cities, particularly Kampala. Men push bikes laden with bananas along the side of the road. I’ve seen as many as 10 banana stalks on a bike at a time – or around 500 pounds of bananas.

We were told that there are 40 different varieties of bananas. I only know of 4 personally, and we have all of these growing in our yard. We have our own mini plantation in our yard with 20 banana plants. Each plant puts off 3-4 shoots at a time but usually only one of these is producing a stalk of bananas.

IMG 4175

Note the banana plant at the far left of the above picture. This is a red banana plant. Even the plant itself is red. They produce bananas with a red skin that are huge and sweeter than any of the other bananas. They are used by some to make beer and wine, though I’ve never been able to figure out how you’d do that with a banana. That said, there are vendors selling banana wine at every trade show.

Next in line is a sweet banana plant, called a kabalagala. The bananas they produce are smaller “snack pack” sized bananas, about half the size of the ones you buy in stores in the US. They are our personal favorites so most of the plants in our yard are kabalagala plants.

Next is the matoke (ebitookye here in Mbarara) or cooking banana. They are the most common variety here. Farmers cut and sell the stalks while they are still jade green and they are peeled and eaten soon after. They taste sort of like potatoes, but that really isn’t even close to the flavor. Even the plantains you get in the States don’t taste the same. We love the flavor and enjoy them every time we get the chance!

Another variety (not pictured above) is bogoya. These look and taste the most like American bananas of any of the varieties we’ve tried. 

How can you tell the difference between the sweet bananas and the cooking bananas, you might ask? Note the plant (you might call it a tree or a trunk, but it is really a plant) in the picture above. The sweet banana has a green plant. The cooking banana (or matoke) has a black plant.

Now, I leave you with a picture of the biggest stalk of matoke I’ve ever seen. The entire thing was almost as tall as me and it probably weighed as much as I do. It had at least five poles propping it up when usually one is sufficient. 

2014 05 23 13 53 29

And that, dear reader, is a quick introduction to the bananas of Uganda.

Today, I Got to Preach

We started out horribly late this morning for church, due in large part to the fact that neither of us realized we needed to buy fuel. The gas station is on the way to church but it still takes time to get it.

We reached Ngarama at the time when the service was supposed to begin. I had a Sunday School lesson prepared and we’d brought tea biscuits for the children so I really wanted to have the children’s lesson time. James said to go ahead with it even though all the adults were already sitting and waiting for church to start. (Many times the adults sit in on the children’s class so this isn’t unusual.)

I taught my lesson, about David’s sin with Bathsheba and then his repentance. We talked about how today, at salvation, God gives us the Holy Spirit who helps us obey God and say “no” to sin. I taught about repentance and read portions of Psalm 51. We had prayer, handed out biscuits, then I sat down and the service started.

We had several visitors at Ngarama today. They stood and introduced themselves, then everyone sang to them in greeting.

(I often wonder how visitors in American churches would react if, when introduced, everyone in the church burst into song welcoming them. 😉 I’m not sure they’d have the same pleased reaction of visitors here.)

The first visitor stood up and shared how she’d already enjoyed listening to me preach and she was eager for the rest of the service.

I should probably mention the fact that, when I was a child, I longed to be a preacher and was devastated to learn that I couldn’t be “the husband of one wife” and so was not qualified. That was when I was about six or seven.

This morning, James and I grinned at each other with her words. “You’re gonna get it,” he whispered to me. “I’m telling that you preached!”

They say confession is good for the soul. I guess I just told on myself. 😉 I personally prefer the title “teacher,” and I love teaching children. Yet, all believers are commanded to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Then, at Isanja, this happened:

IMG 4159

This little guy let me hold him!

Normally babies here are scared of me and scream their heads off when I hold them, but recently they’ve started warming up. A few weeks ago, a little girl not more than 5 or 6 years old came dashing into church with a screaming baby. She thrust the baby into my arms and ran off. To everyone’s great surprise, the baby stopped crying! Then, a couple weeks ago another baby let me hold him and check him over to make sure he had clear lungs and wasn’t dehydrated. He even started to fall asleep before I gave him back to his mom.

Today, this little fellow was fussing while his big sister held him. She was tired of holding him but the mom wanted to listen in church. So the little girl handed him to me when I offered to hold him. He snuggled right into my arms. I think he was tired because before long he’d gone to sleep.

IMG 4167

Ah, sweet baby cuddles!