Some thoughts from the author…

When One of Those Days Turns Into One of Those Weeks

Missionaries deal with stress in their chosen field on a daily basis. Most times it’s small things that add up, though sometimes we face huge stressors and have to deal with them without the normal coping mechanisms set up in our culture. This blog post talks about it in more depth than I’m going to cover here.

For the most part, I try to keep a fairly upbeat and positive view of life. I try. I don’t always succeed. I want to paint a picture of Uganda and Africa for those who don’t live here. Most of what we experience is good. There are times when it isn’t. I’d be giving an unbalanced view if I never told about the bad stuff too.

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This was one of those weeks. Let me give you the breakdown:

Tuesday – Water was off all day but we didn’t know it and emptied our water tank — for the third time in a week. When it did come back on, the water came out of the faucet and showers brown.

Wednesday – A hinge on our gate broke, making it impossible to open the gate without breaking the other hinge. This meant we couldn’t drive anywhere, including to church on Sunday, until it was repaired. (The landlord had someone out to fix it on Friday so we were able to get out and go to the churches on Sunday.)

Thursday – Let me go back to Tuesday. The ISP we’ve been using is in bankruptcy. We decided it would be wise to try a different one. James picked one of the two other options we have in our town that are affordable and set up an account at their office on Tuesday. Thursday morning, we discovered that all our data, purchased two days before, was gone. And we didn’t use it. We went to the company but they wouldn’t acknowledge there was a problem. Their only solution? Spend more money for more data (which I was confident would then just disappear like the other had done). We spent most of Thursday and Friday dealing with this company and they refused to even work with us.

Friday – We discovered that the gate problem was really a wall problem and that the recently repaired wall was tilting over far enough that, if we keep getting rain like we have been (rain that we need, mind you!) the wall will fall over in another week or so.

Saturday – We woke to discover that now, instead of being empty, our water tanks were full and overflowing! A valve up in the tank got stuck open. Water was running everywhere. Thankfully, our guard put out buckets and caught enough of it that it didn’t wash out the ground.  Once we used some water out of the tank, the valve began opening and shutting on its own so we didn’t have to call a repairman.

Sunday – We found out more of the roof at Ngarama had blown off in a storm on Thursday and that the refugees hadn’t gotten food rations in a month. To top it off, James squished a mosquito on the windshield and the whole windshield cracked.

Now, usually things don’t go quite like this for us. All this adds up to massive amounts of stress. It’s hard to function with this much stress. It’s hard to be nice to each other and when under this much stress.

But what can you do about it? The only option would be getting away from it and that brings stress of its own.

I’ll be posting about coping mechanisms and how we deal with stress in another post.

On a positive note, I look forward to how God is going to work everything out. (He already worked out the internet problem! He’s amazing!)

When you read these things, don’t feel sorry for us. We made a choice to live here in Uganda. Most of the time we enjoy it. But pray for us that we will handle everything with grace and that people will see Jesus in us.

Receiving the Word With Joy, Even in Affliction

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I read this verse today and thought of our church people when I read it. 

Paul had been in Philippi. While there, he was arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail. He and Silas sang in jail and God opened their bonds. Their jailer and his whole family were saved as a result. 

He then traveled to Thessalonica. He was only there for a month, but many people were saved and baptized and a church was born. Sadly, only weeks into their birth, that church suffered persecution because of Paul and Silas.

Yet, we see here that they suffered that affliction with joy. They gladly turned to God from idols and served Him. Their witness spread through the whole region. Paul didn’t even have to preach because of the testimony of the Thessalonians.

I was thinking about our churches today as I read this. Yes, we have struggles. People don’t always get along. They are still growing in their sanctification, just like me.

Yet their testimony (in most of the communities at least) is well known. They are known as churches where God’s Word is preached and followed. They are known because of their witness. People from the community are coming and they are being saved.

And all this is in the face of their affliction. It isn’t the same affliction that Paul faced, but it is just as legitimate.

Ngarama church lost another section of their roof this last week. Roughly 1/3 of the roof remains. Yet the church was full today, just as it was last time. Everyone sat in the sun. James sweated it out in the front of the church, facing into the sun the whole time he preached. The people are praying for God to provide for their roof to be repaired and they are believing He will do it.

The UN hasn’t brought food out for our refugees for over a month. The primary affliction these people have faced is hunger.

We heard that the people who process the refugees into the camp are demanding a fee and won’t give the refugees the basics they need for food and shelter until they pay it. They aren’t supposed to do this. Yet our people are trying to find ways to work around it, to meet the needs of the newcomers who don’t have anything, even though they themselves have nothing.

Could I stand and be as joyful as they are in the face of the affliction they face on a daily basis? I don’t know if I could. I fear I’d let the worry and self-pity overwhelm me.

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Novel Planning – Part 4 – Three Act Structure

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The Three Act Structure is the oldest story telling method in recorded history. Greek plays used the Three Act Structure as did Greek literature.

It’s also common in our literature and movies today. The Lord of the Rings uses the Three Act Structure as does the Star Wars movies. 

This method can be used as the basis for one 3-part book or it can be used as the story arc for a trilogy.

The Three Act Structure

Act I – The Setup (or The Exposition)

Act I introduces the characters and the setting. It also includes the inciting event and the beginning of the rising action. The protagonist/s face their first major conflict and discover exactly what they are up against in their antagonist. This incident ensures that life will never be the same for the protagonist/s.

Act II – The Confrontation (or Rising Action)

Act II shows the protagonist/s embroiled in the conflict introduced in Act I. They are searching for ways to resolve this conflict but instead of resolution, the conflict worsens. They discover they don’t have the resources or knowledge to deal with the antagonist. It usually ends with another confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist walks away with a better understanding of their enemy and what is required to defeat them. 

In many second Acts, the protagonist is defeated, but not destroyed. They can’t comprehend how they will rise from this and ultimately defeat the antagonist. In other second acts, the protagonist wins a small victory, only to discover they are facing a much larger battle in the future.

Act III – The Resolution (or Climax)

Act III shows our protagonist facing their antagonist once again. This time, they have gained the necessary knowledge or experience to defeat them. The protagonist gets the ultimate victory. The third act ties up all the story threads. Most, if not all of the characters walk away with their “happily ever after.” The antagonist has experienced total defeat.

You can find more about the Three Act Structure in this blog post

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Novel Planning – Part 3 – The Snowflake Method

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The next novel planning method we’re going to look at is The Snowflake Method. It was developed by author Randy Ingermanson.

The Snowflake Method

Step 1: One Sentence Summary

Write a one sentence summary of your plot using no more than 15 words if possible. (This sentence could become the hook that will sell your book.) Do not use character names in this sentence. The sentence should aim to show both the big picture plot and what the character has to gain or lose in the situation.

Step 2: One Paragraph Plot

Now expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the background, major disasters, and ending of the novel. Try to think of it as “three disasters plus an ending” where each of the disasters takes a quarter of the book and the ending takes the final quarter. (This could become your back cover blurb.) Again, this paragraph should not be too long. Go for one sentence for each of the disasters and the ending if you can.

Step 3: Develop Characters

You need great characters for any book so you’ll need to develop each of your characters’ story lines. Include this information:

  • Character’s name
  • One sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what your character learns, how they change)
  • A paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Step 4: Plot Summary

The snowflake is growing. Expand the one paragraph from step 2. Each sentence (3 disasters and ending) becomes its own paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in disaster. The final paragraph will resolve the plot and tell how the book ends.

Step 5: Character Charts

Expand your character synopses into full fledged character charts. List everything there is to know about each character – description, history, motivation, goals, etc. 

Step 6: Expand the Plot Synopsis

Now expand each of your paragraphs from step 4 into a full page synopsis of the story. You will end up with four full pages of plot development.

Step 7: Scene list

Combine your plot synopsis pages with your character charts and organize them into chapters.

Then, all you have to do is just sit down and write.

(summarized from: How to Plan and Write Novels Using the Snowflake Method)

A Telltale Love

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It’s pretty simple, really. We, as Christians, have been commanded to reach the world with the Gospel. The trouble comes when people in the world don’t really want to hear it, right?

But what if you never even had to open your mouth and people knew you were a follower of Jesus? Could it possibly be that simple?

Why yes. Yes it can.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus showed love and compassion to all those around him. He healed their sicknesses. He raised their dead. He fed them. He taught them. He ate with them. He forgave their sins. He met the needs of their hearts.

He loved them.

If we are Jesus’ disciples and we desire to be like Him, we must follow this example that He gave. It’s Jesus desire, His command, that we do it.

A verse from my favorite hymn says:

May his beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win.

And may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.

When others see you, who do they really see? Can they tell you are Jesus’ disciple by how you act, by how you treat others? 

No matter how simple it sounds, it’s a daily challenge, at least it is for me. It calls us to lay apart our own reactions, the things that spring first to our mind and mouth (I can be so snarky and hurtful with my words!). It calls us to ignore someone’s hurtful or rude words. We have to lay that aside and respond in a way that is contrary to our nature — with compassion, grace, and love.

It might be simple, but it isn’t easy, at least not for me. 

This is the way, the only way, people will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ. “Actions speak louder than words” so the saying goes and in this case it is true. Jesus said it several times in this passage and the same is repeated throughout the epistles.

Do your actions show your love for Jesus? They must! It’s the only true way people will know you are his disciple.

6 Ways You Can Help Refugees Where You Live

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Every major urban center in the United States has a significant immigrant population. The uttermost part of the world has, very literally, been brought to America’s doorstep.

You, dear reader, can’t necessarily go to another country to minister to people there, but you could minister to the other countries that have been brought to your neighborhood.

How can you go about doing this? Here are a few ideas to reach out to the immigrants around you:

1. Befriend them.

Having moved to another country myself, I know how meaningful it is to have nationals reach out in friendship. We are still friends with many of the first people we met when we came. We enquire after each other’s houses and children. We’ve visited them for weddings, baptisms and funerals.

You can do the same there. When you see immigrants, don’t avoid them. Introduce yourself. Look for ways to find common ground with them. They are entirely out of their depth in the US. Everything is strange. A kind word or smile can go a long way toward easing their discomfort and helping them feel at home.

2. Help them acclimate to their new country

When you move to a new country you have to relearn everything. Where are the schools? Where should you shop? How do you find your way around? It’s always easier when someone local helps you out. 

If you know an immigrant family, help them find these places. I know our refugees who have resettled in the US love to find small local ethnic groceries where they can buy things that are familiar to them. This is a great way for you to get to find out more about this family’s country of origin.

3. Have them over for a meal

Nothing says “friendship” to someone from our area of the world like an invitation into your home for a meal. Food is the universal way to signify you are friends. This is also a way for you to introduce them to American culture and food and vice versa if you invite them to bring a dish from their country.

4. Learn to teach English as a Second Language

This alone will give you a chance to meet and interact with immigrants, even if you can’t do any of the other things. All immigrants want to improve their English. You can even offer to tutor their children. Education is important for most people when they enter the US and they take it very seriously.

5. Be sensitive to the fact that they don’t do things the same way you do.

People from other countries are going to do things like they’ve always done them in their home country. They won’t cook like you. They won’t clean like you. They won’t shop like you. They might not dress like you. This doesn’t make the way they do it is wrong, it just makes it different. It isn’t our job to change them.

They may adapt over time and they may not. I’ve lived in Uganda for 7 years. I know how to cook like they do here and I know how to make most of the food they eat here, but I still cook and eat like an American most of the time. It’s what I know.

6. Ask questions about their country of origin and learn all you can about it.

Most expatriates are very lonely. They feel out of place. There is no one in their new country who understands their background and most people aren’t interested. If you can ask questions and try to understand, you’ll make a forever friend. 

I’d love to hear any other suggestions you have for making refugees feel welcome in the US! 

Get Them While They’re Young

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The children at Kabazana sit in the front of the church instead of the back. This morning these two little ones were so cute, in their own little world, talking and whispering to each other and ignoring the service. We’re working toward restarting their Sunday School. The lady who used to teach it emigrated to the US a couple years ago and no one has been teaching since.

We also restarted the Sunday School at Sangano a couple weeks ago. Nearly a third of the people James baptizes are children. We’re seeing them saved and growing up in the church from a young age and it’s making a huge difference. 

Today, we got to see another example of the difference it makes to reach the children while they are young:  Two of the young people from Sangano got engaged this last week! These two people have grown up in the church and were saved and baptized here. They will be the first people James has married who don’t already have children together.

(There have been two or three couples whose wedding was more of a vow renewal. They’d lost their marriage certificate at some point and they needed another for immigration purposes.)

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been doing all we could to encourage people to get married instead of just living together. We try to remove as many of the obstacles keeping them from getting properly married as we can. We provide the church, the food, the cake, and the wedding rings. They only thing they have to come up with is their wedding clothes.

The young man went to the young woman’s father this week and negotiated the bride price — the proper way to go about it in this culture. They announced their engagement in church today and are discussing when they’ll have the give-away and then the wedding. We’ll probably have it in December.

Jaqueline, the young woman, is one of the ones who helps serve food at our church meals. She’s always there when I cut up the cake and usually lets me know how big to cut the pieces. I plan to ask her if she has a preference for how she wants her cake to look. She’s given an opinion on every one I’ve done so far. 😀

If you can’t tell, I’m super excited about this! It’s evidence the young people have been listening and that God’s Word is making a difference in the lives of the youth here in Uganda.

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How’s Africa – What Immigration Looks Like On Our End

Every country has their own process for legally accepting (or rejecting) people who wish to live therein. I thought you might be interested to hear about Uganda’s. When we came into the country this time, we had 90 days to accomplish all these things. The paperwork was finished just under the wire.

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(Immigration Offices in Kampala)

Step 1: Entry Visa

When you arrive in the airport in Uganda, they usher you off the plane and into lines to go through customs. Most people will have to purchase an entry visa for $50 USD. It’s usually good for 90 days and can be renewed twice at $50 each time.

(If you have any other resident visa, listed below, those will qualify you for entry without paying the additional $50.)

Step 2: Work Permit

In reality there is a step before this. You can get a work permit through a business or a Non-Goverment Organization (NGO). We are here through an NGO. You have to apply for this first, get piles of letters of recommendation, list operational goals and budgets, and have an authorization letter from your sending organization. The first time to get it is a huge hassle – bureaucrats love their bureaucracy! It took almost 15 months to get the NGO certificate that was only good for a year. The renewal process is much easier and is good for 5 years.

Then, you get a work permit through your NGO. James is the only one in our family who has to get the work permit. His has to be processed and completed before any of the other visa paperwork can be submitted. The work permit lasts for 3 years.

Step 3: Dependent Passes and Student Visas

Once the primary work permit is finished, we apply for the needed visas for the rest of us. Spouses (that would be me) and children 5 and under can get a dependent pass good for 3 years. Children 6 and above require a student visa, good only for a year. The students are required to attend so many hours of class per week to qualify, but ours have no trouble fulfilling this requirement. We used to be able to renew the student visas here in our town, but they’ve changed how they do it. It now requires a trip to Kampala and a visit to Immigration there.

So there you have it! That’s what our immigration process looks like from this end. Listed out like this it looks simple. The reality is it takes hours of time and reams of paper to get it accomplished. In the end, it’s worth it because we get to live here!

6 Things You Might Not Know About Refugees

Refugees and immigration have been front and center in people’s minds the last couple years. When we were on our first furlough and mentioned our work in a refugee camp, we were met with blank stares or questioning looks. Few people knew much about refugees. That had completely changed for our second furlough. Now, when we talk about it, people have more of a frame of reference. 

When we came to Uganda, we knew about the refugees living here and hoped to work with them one day. We did not, however, expect to work with them immediately. God had other plans. We were involved in a refugee ministry within 6 months of moving to Uganda.

There is something of a learning curve when you are working with displaced people. For one thing, they use an amalgamation of languages when they speak. For instance, in any given conversation, I have to be ready to understand Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Runyankore, and French. (These people put me to shame with their language skills!)

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Here are some things we’ve learned as we’ve been here.

1. These people are the “lucky” ones.

The refugees that you see around the world are not the poorest of the poor from their country. They owned businesses, had jobs, were in skilled trade. They had things they could sell so they could travel to another country and seek refuge there. The poorest people had to stay and many died.

2. The best and brightest are the ones who leave first.

When the country of origin empties due to war or famine or genocide, the ones who leave are those who’ve had education. They are the ones who could go back and teach others in their country of origin. They could reestablish stability and education there. These are the ones who leave first and most times they never return. They only live in a refugee camp for a short time. Their skills make them “valuable”.

3. Refugees struggle with boredom and a lack of purpose.

Most of our people can plant and grow crops but this is limited. A refugee in our camp isn’t allowed to grow more than two matoke plants. They can’t grow anything outside their allotted area. Some refugees are given areas without any growing space. They’d be happy to start businesses again, but raising capital to do this is difficult. Besides, they’d really rather not be living in a refugee camp. So many of them get to just sit around and do nothing.

4. No matter how long they live in their host country, they are viewed as outsiders.

We have people in our refugee camp from Rwanda that have been living here for over 25 years. Their children were born here, grew up here, and have children of their own. But they are still viewed as outsiders by the Ugandans. Sometimes they are even mistreated.

5. Refugees all dream of emigrating to another country.

If you had to live in poverty and near starvation for weeks, months, and even years on end, wouldn’t you want to leave? The refugees dream and hope that they will be one of the ones who is chosen to go through the lengthy process of approval to leave for another country. This process differs by country and takes anywhere from 2 to 4 years. It includes physicals, interviews, tests, and more interviews. Even then, they don’t always get approved to emigrate and have to go through the whole process again.

The first ones to leave are the ones with the most education. These people are easiest to integrate into another country. They can step into jobs or training with little grooming on the part of the host country.

6. Refugees also dream of repatriating back into their country of origin.

I didn’t realize this was even a possibility until we’d been here for a few years. Almost 1/3 of Ngarama moved back to Congo. The region they were from was peaceful again and they felt it safe to move back. They are more at home in their own country than they are as refugees in a foreign country. In fact, I think many of the people in our camp would choose to move back to their country of origin if they felt they would be safe in doing so.

Keep these things in mind next time you hear about refugees in the news. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments or send me a message 
 nd I’ll try to answer. 

Open Air Service

The Ngarama church has been meeting in their church building even if they don’t have a roof on it. Theogen texted us Friday night to inform us that it was storming out there. Another section of the roof came off, not a huge one, thankfully, but now they have less than half a roof.

We held Sunday School before the sun got too high in the sky.

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By the service, however, the sun was beating down on the ladies’ side of the church. That didn’t stop the ladies from coming. The church was full and we could have used more seating!

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And the tiny children all sat on their reed mat in the back (our version of a church nursery).

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We encouraged the people to pray for God to provide for them. So many times, people here think their provision comes from NGOs or missionaries. They need to see their provision comes from God. So we asked them to pray.

Monday morning we got up and found out that God had already provided part of what was needed for the repair. It’s a small part, but it’s just the beginning!

One more blessing was to look out of the church and see this view:

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Hills that were brown and dry only a month ago are turning green. The banana trees are coming back and the crop of corn and beans is springing up from the soil. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for rain! Keep it up! God is answering your prayer, too!