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He who finds his life will lose it (Update)

March 28th, 2018 3 comments

As a long overdue update, I want to share about our friend and brother Jamal.  As we had previously shared, Jamal was heading back to Read more…

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He who finds his life will lose it

February 19th, 2018 7 comments

 

I’d like to introduce you to my brother, trusted friend, and employee of Musana Camps.  This is Jamali Noah, and he has given me permission to share with you a little about his story.

Noah came to work at Musana Camps nearly one year ago.  As with many in this region of Uganda, he came from another tribe and area of Uganda.  They come to the lake region seeking some means income for themselves.  The climate along the lake is cooler, has more consistent rainfall, and is perceived to be a place where people can make a better living for their families.

Noah showed up hoping for work, but often there are way more workers than we have the budget to support.  When he arrived we were working on some changes to our security team’s duties, and we had a spot for him slashing the boundary.  The boundary is roughly a seven mile perimeter of camp, through jungles, steep inclines, low swamps, and high outlooks.  With a slasher in hand, he went to work.  Each day he would progress around the perimeter, slashing back the grass and brush with a curved blade a little more than two feet in length.  This man impressed me with his hard work, and integrity.  Every day he made huge progress.  He never complained, and in fact expressed great thankfulness for the opportunity to work.

Since that early time, we have seen his diligence and moved him to our enterprise farm.  He has continued to impress us with good communication skills that aren’t always so common.  While working for us, he would regularly come to our home to borrow books to read.  As he read through those books on the lives of former missionaries, he would also come to us with lists of words from his reading, and ask him to help him to expand his vocabulary. In the farm, Noah showed great ability in keeping hand-written records of everything.  He has been keeping records of milk production and distribution for our cows, and the health and treatment of our goats.  Noah is now the supervisor of that farm, and has a couple of employees who report to him.

Since I first met Noah, I have known him to be a man of faith.  Noah was raised by a Muslim family in the northwest corner of Uganda.  Born in South Sudan, he has known war for most of his life.  His family saw great atrocities in his home country, and moved to Uganda to seek a better way of life.  Upon coming to Uganda, his family was again subjected to war by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and the battle between those rebels and the Ugandan military.  As villagers, his family had trouble deciphering who were the good guys and who were the bad, and in fact they were in opposition to them both.  Both military units were hungry and desperate, so both would raid villages for food.  Noah’s village was repeatedly abused by both sides of this power struggle.

Still, it was the rebels of the LRA that would inflict the most damage.  At a young age, he watched as the rebels killed his uncle, and tortured his father in ways that I would rather not describe.  After this torture, the rebels would drag his father away and Noah would never see him again.  Noah’s family tried their best to cover his school fees and provide education, but the walk to school became a battle for survival.  The LRA was capturing young boys and forcing them to serve as militants, so Noah and his friends would have to keep themselves hidden on the route to avoid being captured.  On one of the more unsuspecting days, Noah watched his sister playfully run ahead of him on the trail, only to detonate a land mine that took one of her legs before eventually taking her life.  The family could not keep up with school fees, so eventually Noah was sent away to another part of the country where he had more hope of rising above the atrocities of this war-torn region.

After getting through his schooling, mostly by the work of his own hands the the contributions of some extended family members, Noah entered the workforce.  Before coming to Musana Camps, he was working for a school run by a charity organization in the United States.  Noah was a security guard for the school, and worked there for some time.  Things started off okay, but eventually he was told that there wasn’t enough money coming in, so they stopped paying him.  Noah would keep working, but the money still didn’t come, until finally he was forced to leave.  After some networking among friends, he was recommended to try coming to Musana Camps for employment.

Through his time at Musana Camps, God has been revealing Himself to Noah in incredible ways, and Noah has come to accept Jesus Christ as his savior, and Lord of his life.  This is no small acceptance and statement from a man raised in a Muslim family.  He wrestled for many months, considering the fact that he will likely face complete rejection from his family at home.  Noah has a strong love for his family, especially his mother at home.  For him, following Jesus means really counting the costs.

Noah kept coming to us, asking for more books to devour and a Bible to read.  We were able to get a study Bible for Noah, and also had a team bring a copy of “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” by Nabeel Quereshi.  In all my conversations with Noah, I’ve done nothing outside of answering his questions as he continued in his quest for truth.  The Holy Spirit has been working in Him, and I’ve been humbled to witness this.

Finally, just last weekend, Noah came to me to share all of this, his story.  He shared the full story of his youth, his journey of finding and accepting Christ at Musana Camps, and his willingness to go home at the end of this month to profess his newfound faith and face the possibility of complete rejection.  This man is such an inspiration to me, and he truly challenges my faith.  I invited him to study the Bible with me on Thursday mornings, and we started last week.

We sat down to read as the sun came up over Lake Victoria, and I asked him if he had questions, or if he had any idea of where he wanted to start.  He paused in consideration, and said he wanted to start in Matthew 6:25.  I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did.  I expected some basic questions about Christianity, or maybe some concept he was wrestling in opposition to his Muslim faith.  Instead he jumped right to passages that he had read, and he shared how deeply the words had impacted him.  He talked about how, for much of his life he had been in a position to wonder where his next food would come from.  He spoke of the beauty of the birds who have no garden to dig, no way of providing for themselves, and still God provides for them.  He talked about how much peace it brought him to know why he had survived all of his life, and how aware he now was that it was God who had sustained him.

I’ve read these verses many times, but I have never even come close to understanding them to the depth that this man understands.  Noah has challenged my faith, and has made me to feel very humbled.  This is why we must consider it joy when we face trials, because our understanding of God and the depth of our relationship with Him can be attributed to those things that He sovereignly allows us to suffer.  I certainly don’t wish Noah’s life on myself or anyone else, but I’m amazed at what a tool this man can be in the hands of our almighty God.

After we shared with each other exactly what this section of scripture meant to us, Noah went on to his next scripture.  He asked to go forward to read Matthew 10, beginning in verse 34.  As he read the words to me, my heart sank as I considered that Noah would be traveling home at the end of this month to visit his family.  He is preparing himself to share his faith in Christ, and is expecting to be completely rejected.  For him, rejection is the best outcome he could face, because being beaten or killed are also possibilities.  Once again, as he reads the scriptures that I have read through so many times, his grasp and understanding has me in awe of our God.  It’s not the strength of Noah, it is in fact the incredible power that rose Christ from the dead, already living inside of this new believer.

When a man like Noah, in his circumstances read aloud the words, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”, it changes you.  As he spoke of how this verse was speaking to him, it brought tears to my eyes.

This Sunday at church, we welcomed Noah at his second attendance of our service.  Immediately upon being welcomed, Noah stood to praise God, and we could all feel his excitement to share what God had been doing in his life.  He couldn’t hold himself back, and the words were jumping from his mouth before he could give them form.  Despite a stuttering start, he spoke of a dream that had come to him since we met on Thursday.  He didn’t go into details, but he said that as he woke, he had to immediately find a Bible to look up Deuteronomy 4:27.  He talked about the timing of the dream, and the fact that this came just days after he had received his first Bible as a gift from Musana Camps.  He immediately opened his Bible to find the verse in a book of the Bible he can’t even pronounce.  I’m not sure how long it must have taken him to find the verse, but I’m sure he had to use the table of contents to help him find it.

Noah proceeded to read the verses in English, and the man delivered a sermon.  Verse by verse he explained the meaning of the verses, the practical application for life, the way the verses contradict a culture in Uganda that tends to worship wooden and stone images, and more.  He shared the story about witnessing the death of his sister, and said that he now realizes that he survived all of these things for a purpose, so that he might seek God with all of this heart.  Noah spoke with confidence in the promise that God will not forsake him or destroy him, but that his future is eternally secure.

This man, Jamali Noah, sees more clearly than I could ever see.  He places more value on the promises of God because he has lived in the desert, and has been forsaken.  Noah is praising God for placing him at Musana Camps, and I am praising God that he has brought Noah to us.

The story of God’s working in Noah’s life has helped us to teach our children, has encouraged camp fire conversations about what faith would really look like in the face of adversity, and has grown us.  How could I do anything but give praise and thanks to God who has used me in any way, that I could witness the miracle of transformation in the life of this man.  I feel like Isaiah in 6:5 after seeing the glory of God revealed.

Will you join us in praying for Noah?  I pray that God would protect him, and give him strength as he shares his faith with his family.  I pray that God would continue to grant him the knowledge and wisdom that can only come through knowing Him.  I can’t wait to see how God will use this man.  He has the ability to teach practical things like work ethic, things of character such as integrity, and now I pray that he would receive the knowledge to teach Biblical things and to be a warrior for the kingdom of heaven.

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Needs and Vulnerability

January 14th, 2018 7 comments

As we are closing in on the end of our first year in Uganda, we wanted to address a question we are asked quite often:

What specific financial needs do you have and how can we help?

This is perhaps one of the hardest topics for us to discuss as missionaries.  We have put off publishing this post for many months, and in fact, I (Staci) drew the short straw.  I’m not sure if it comes from pride or insecurity, maybe both.  Perhaps it comes from stories we’ve heard from other missionaries.  For example, we know of one family who lost support because of a picture they posted containing an avocado, which was deemed to be a luxury by the now ex-supporter.

When we said “yes”, both in obedience and in faith to God, we knew that living on support would be difficult in many ways.  It is both humbling and incredible to know that we are being supported financially by people, not on the basis of Read more…

Just Another Day

December 31st, 2017 2 comments

December 29th was just another day at Musana Camps.  I went to work very early that morning to prepare for the closing of the 2017 books.  We needed to get a final cash count and inventory done, with a witness to those proceedings.  We were expecting one of our external auditors from Kampala to help us with that.

While I was at work, Staci was at home with the kids, trying to get the house back into order after Christmas.  There was a lot to clean up and get done.

In the office, Medi and Eva were very busy in their preparations for upcoming camps.  We have a full January schedule, and there sure is a lot to do to get ready.

Among other things, I really needed to get to the neighboring village of Gaba.  There, I could deposit money with the local cell phone carrier, which would be added to my account.  I needed to do this in order to send money to one of our security guards who had gone home for Christmas.  We’ve been working with him to save his resources, as well as lending him a little more.  This was going to allow him to finally put a roof on the house he’s been building in his home village.  He’s been working on this project for a couple of years, now.

It came as no surprise that our accountant friend arrived just in time for lunch at 1:00pm.  We made arrangements to get him some food from the kitchen while I walked home for my lunch.  I grabbed a quick bite with my family, finding some good progress made on the house.  Now I just needed to get up to Gaba before lunch was over so that I could get back to our books.  Since the kids were doing very well, Staci and I decided to go to Gaba together.  We grabbed the keys to the 4-wheeler and headed out the door.

The road to Gaba isn’t so long, just a few kilometers.  The 4-wheeler is our primary means of transport over the van, mostly because of the small roads with huge potholes, speed bumps, and wash outs.  There is one spot on the road to Gaba that always leaves us with just three wheels on the ground in the van.  Besides all of that, it’s just more fun on the 4-wheeler.

 

We left the gate for Musana and proceeded down the winding village road.  The bush grows thick against the edges of the road, in areas being almost like a tunnel.  It’s just barely wide enough for one vehicle in those areas, but frequently we pass by boda bodas (motorcycles).  These guys are often driving fast, and typically are carrying any number of things.  It’s not unusual for the boda man to have three or more passengers, lots of fruit, wood or rebar, or even a coffin or couch.

About half way to Gaba we were enjoying some conversation, and preparing for a gentle left turn.  When we finally came far enough through the curve to see beyond, we were surprised to see a boda directly in our path.  Seeing him wasn’t shock, but seeing his speed, and seeing him leaning into his turn and further into our side of the road… that was a surprise to me.  He was already so close, and there was barely time to think.  I swerved the wrong way, to the right.  I really thought that with his speed and leaning into the turn, this would give him the best shot to pass through.  He, of course, swerved left.  I immediately reacted again, heading back to my left and grabbing all the breaks I had at my finger tips.  While I did, he did the only thing that was left for him to do, he laid down the bike.

A boda laid down on that small road leaves no chance to miss.  I half expected that our 4-wheeler would go over his boda like a speed bump, and I think I may have stood up just a bit in anticipation of it.  Instead, his foot peg raked through the mechanical components behind my tire, and stopped the 4-wheeler instantly.

As we all well know, the immediate stop of the 4-wheeler has little to no impact on the passengers.  The road… does.  I went over the handle bars quicker than I thought possible.  I really thought we had slowed down enough to avoid this circumstance.  Staci, eyes closed and arms around me, came with.  She’s always right behind me, pressing me on to better things, and in this instance, pressing me to the hard dirt road.  Me, being the perfect gentleman that I am, assisted her with a very cushioned landing.  I’m not sure what part of her hit me, but it definitely concussed my head against the ground.  In spite of the speed at which this all occurred, I did hear, “Oh, no!” at least three times between the moment we left the 4-wheeler until my head made impact.  I’m not positive, but I think I may have gone to sleep for just a moment with the lulling idle of the 4-wheeler in the background.

While I took a break with my head in the gravel, Staci began checking on everyone.  The driver of the boda was getting up from his bike.  His passenger had rolled off the road by several meters, and was lying perfectly still in the long grass.  Mangos were everywhere.  The 4-wheeler was still at an idle.  Staci began to tug at my arm and ask if I was okay.  I lifted my head to survey what she had already seen.  Content at what I could see, I asked for a minute and laid my head back down on the gravel.

After getting to my feet, it was clear that everyone was going to be okay.  The boda looked to be in good shape, really.  I helped to get it back upright, and together with the driver we pulled mangos out from between the tire and frame.  The passenger finally rose to his feet, and limped to a more comfortable place to rest.  Our 4-wheeler didn’t look as good.  The tire was blown out and torn.  The rim was bent and cracked.  The handlebars were bent, and still turned to the left.  One front tire matched the left turn, while the one that absorbed the impact was turned to the right.  I reached over the front to turn off the ignition.

People from all over this rural area began to congregate around the scene.  We made a few phone calls, and soon our support from Musana arrived.  The pickup came to take away the 4-wheeler, Nathan arrived to give us a ride, and some of our Ugandan staff came to help translate.  Our clinical officer came, and ordered that the passenger be transported to our clinic for an examination.

After some debate, the boda driver finally admitted fault.  However, the common belief of this region is that we are so substantially gifted, we should be responsible to pay.  In some ways, it’s true.  Still, it doesn’t ever seem fair or right.  We agreed to take care of the physical examination for the passenger of the boda.  We also finally agreed to take the boda to a repair shop in Gaba to see what damages needed repair.  The boda actually fired right up, and all that was done was to bend the foot pegs back to their original position.  While we could have continued to argue for hours, we instead agreed to these things that cost us about 40,000 Uganda Shillings, or just over $10.  I’m still mixed on how I feel about it, but I am very thankful for our Ugandan friends who helped to speak wisdom during all of this commotion.

Now, with 48 hours to recover, it already seems like it was long ago.  I struggled with dizziness and nausea in the first 24, but I think that has passed.  Staci and I are both nursing some bumps and bruises, but we have so much to be thankful for.  The 4-wheeler will be down for a while, but I think we will happily take delivery of replacement parts by close friends at the end of January.  This time just makes us appreciate our 4-wheeler all the more, but as we look at our neighbors we also are quick to realize what a luxury it is.  The $300 in parts wasn’t exactly in the budget, but this message is not at all meant to be a plea for money.  

This message is a letter of praise to our Heavenly Father, who holds all things in His hands.  It is a quick reminder to me that my time on this earth is not over.  The moment He decides it’s over, I will be taken from this life.  I have no right to think that tomorrow is anything other than a gift, and no right thinking that I should do anything with the time he has given me to work any purpose other than His.  As you finish this letter, is there breath still in you?  Do you really think that breath is yours?  Do you really think that you are here to accomplish your worldly goals?  What is the purpose, and why are you still here?

Ephesians 4:20-24

20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

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New Traditions

December 29th, 2017 6 comments

Our first Christmas in Uganda is now in the books, and a year from now we will be receiving our Facebook reminders of the memories we created.  It’s no surprise to us that this season was bittersweet, missing our families and the changes of season that we have been so accustomed to.

One of the great blessings was finding a fake Christmas tree in Kampala, and getting to use the decorations we had sent on a container a year and a half ago.  Trying to preserve some semblance of Christmas for our kids may have been more difficult if not for this.  We appreciated getting to drink hot chocolate while decorating our tree in our traditional way.  We even ran a single strand of LED lights around the outside of the home, another blessing of that container from the summer of 2016!

The week before Christmas we made the trek into Kampala to pick up a few, last minute things.  We were able to find a Christmas ham, which was another great find for us.  We ran a few other errands, and then received a call from our friends in the fishing village.  They had called to announce the arrival of their baby!  We rushed out of the city to make our way to the hospital at Nkokonjeru, about an hour from Musana Camps.  There we were introduced to this amazing little treasure.  Geofrey and Harriet usually refer to Staci as momma, so I guess this makes her a grandmother??  We are so thankful for our relationship with them, and we have been placed in a unique position to be able to speak into their lives.  Marriage and relationships look very different in this culture, and this has been an interesting learning opportunity for us.  These two have really been through a lot, and we appreciate the amazing effort they have made to prepare to care for this little girl.

On Saturday before Christmas, the staff at Musana Camps took the time to package gifts for the identified needy in the surrounding villages.  The packages were very simple, consisting of some very basic food items.  We provided things like flour, sugar, rice, bread, and even a kilogram of beef.  This was all measured out and divided by staff members.  To get the beef, the staff purchased a cow from a neighbor and butchered it early in the morning.  Our family drove out to the villages just to the east of camp, on roads that we should not have been driving with our van.  We kept at least three wheels on the ground at all times, and thoroughly enjoyed serving the community in this way.

On Christmas Eve we enjoyed a usual Sunday morning church service, but followed it up by providing snacks and juice to all who came.  The line was long, but so were the smiles.  After church we hurried home to establish a new Christmas tradition; Christmas Eve on the beach!  Our family of five had the beach to ourselves for the most part.  We enjoyed floating and swimming in the warm water, making sand angels in lieu of snow, and playing some volleyball.  Sugar cookies taste just as good on a beach as they do in front of the fire place.  As I looked out at the islands to the south of us, I thought of how strange it must be for the people on those islands to be celebrating Christmas in the middle of their summer.  I’m thankful that we are still in the northern hemisphere so that we can still celebrate Christmas in winter.

We woke early on Christmas to open presents, and counted on a good data connection to download some songs that the kids had wanted for their gifts.  It is the cultural norm to attend church on Christmas day, so we ended up with church on back to back days.  We dedicated the service to worship, and enjoyed the Luganda Christmas and worship music.  As they usually do, things came up during the service, and Staci found herself taking a woman from the village to our medical clinic for treatment.  The one thing we are still trying to get used to is the constant interruptions, and a culture that is very interdependent.  In many ways I believe the interdependency is a better way of life, but it doesn’t make it any easier to adapt to.

We finished out Christmas day with our traditional meal of Kumla, altered a bit to fit our local food options.  We watered our banana plants, picked jalapeños and tomatoes from the garden, and harvested our first jackfruit from the tree in our back yard.  I think one of our new traditions will be harvesting and feasting on a Christmas jackfruit!  With “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the iPad, we got to enjoy a classic movie to close out Christmas night.  We played games with the kids, Staci enjoyed some time in the hammock, and I can’t say that we have anything to complain about this Christmas.  Still, it is somehow difficult to watch our traditional Christmas pass by the screens of Facebook as we see what our family and friends are doing.

We miss you all very much, and yet; God has placed us here in this season of our lives, and we are sure of that.  We are so thankful for His constant provision, His faithfulness, and for the gift of His Son on Christmas.  Whether we are in Uganda or the USA, we are sojourners in this land, on our way home to heaven.

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Musana Community Clinic

November 9th, 2017 1 comment

The last couple of months have flown by at Musana Camps, and I’m very happy to be at Kasana (Head Office for New Hope Uganda) where we can reset a bit and take the time to provide an update.

Since our last post, we have struggled through some Read more…

I’m incapable!

September 25th, 2017 4 comments

I was talking to a very close friend this week who was sharing about how we tend to internalize scripture.  We turn our Bible reading into a pursuit of moral righteousness or piety, and never really live out the instructions in a way that is impactful to the community around us.  Sure, we might not drink, and we might live our lives a little Read more…

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The first in Uganda, but 16 in total…

September 22nd, 2017 8 comments

What a beautiful day, and what a wonderful reason to praise God.

My wife and I woke early as we do every morning.  We pour our coffee in the living room where I join her for our morning prayers.  On Fridays we pray with a particular emphasis on those we love who have not yet come to the saving knowledge of Christ.  I’m not sure where the sovereignty of God and man’s free will intersect, but I know that my God is faithful and hears our prayers.  I’ve seen evidence of this time and again.  After our prayers, my wife and I sit at the table to listen through a lecture series, currently studying conflict management.  The material is somewhat dry, but I love this time with my wife.  We talk through all the conflict we currently face, and her discernment helps me to see things from another perspective.  God chose her for me, and the two of us really see things better together.

What a beautiful day, and what a wonderful reason to praise God.

We have a new routine for our Fridays, one that really seems to add a good variation to our schedule.  After getting breakfast made and enjoying our time together, it’s Staci who goes to work on Friday.  She takes my keys down to the camp office to get some quiet time to work on her lesson planning, and any administrative household items that need to be taken care of.  While she enjoys this time without the constant interruption of, “Mommy!”, I get the thrill of settling arguments, demanding that the chores get done, and trying to keep our house in order.  Today I spent this time applying a final coat of paint to a kitchen wall that has been neglected for years, dating back prior to our arrival.  While I cut in the trim, I listened to the light drizzle of rain against the tin roof, which didn’t prevent Benjamin and Isaac from exploring the forest to harvest a dying tree for firewood.  Kaiya stayed inside to practice her Luganda, since they will attend their class later today.

What a beautiful day, and what a wonderful reason to praise God.

It’s hard to imagine what two kids had in mind when they were confessing their love for each other in front of family and friends sixteen years ago.  We had dreamt of many things, but never this.  I’m not sure if anything would have been further from our minds than being missionaries in Africa.  From IT and coffee shops, to tree farms and basketball; from car sales and a nutrition store, to the oilfields of North Dakota, God has been working on this marriage.  Through kids and health complications, foster care and adoption, God has been refining us.  In allergies and diet changes, God was preparing us.  In 8 places we have called home, God was showing us that we were foreigners in all of them.  God brought us early success, and challenged what it really was.  God humbled us and took away some of those provisions, and asked if He was really enough.  We called ourselves Christ followers, but God asked if that was by our definition or His.  Work and home would pull a husband and a wife apart, but God chose to intervene and become our place of unity.

What a beautiful day, and what a wonderful reason to praise God.

Today we celebrate those 16 years.  A year ago this meant dinner out at the finest restaurant, flowers and cards.  This year we will stay at home, since the rain makes our roads impassable.  We’ll see if the cloudy day allows us enough solar power for a movie tonight.  We’ll probably discuss our ministry, our work.  We’ll talk about where the clinic is headed, what conflict we face, and how many of our neighbors are having difficulty finding food.  We’ll continue to read a book together, discussing how we can help a struggling people to find hope in something other than money and material resources.  As we do, God will continue to bring our minds together.  He’ll continue the miracle and mystery of “the two shall become one”.  Today I thank God for my bride.  I thank him for 16 years of transformation.  We are not the same as we were, and I certainly thank Him for that.  We are centered in God’s will, pursuing Him like at no other time in our lives, and pursuing Him together.  On this anniversary of our marriage, there is no place I’d rather be, other than the home He will eventually call us to.

What a beautiful day, and what a wonderful reason to praise God.

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Just another Sunday

July 10th, 2017 8 comments

Today we wake to a gentle breeze coming through our bedroom window, with the sound of waves coming against the shore of Lake Victoria.  It is cool, maybe somewhere around the low 60’s.  We wake up every morning while it is still dark so that we can start our day together, as a husband and wife.  Usually Staci is up first, but today Read more…

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Sunday Rain

May 28th, 2017 6 comments

As I sit down to write this post, my family just endured a cold ride home from church in the pouring rain.  It was my turn to preach this week as the elders continue to focus on topics related to salvation.  We are really trying to get back to the foundational truths of our Christian faith.  Not only do we benefit by getting back to basics Read more…

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