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Hard pressed on every side, but not crushed

I (Mark) am recently back from a trip to Nairobi, so apologies for being late in posting this update – most of this was written while there.

Tumaini

Tumaini team
Tumaini clinical team

I am writing this during a 3-week visit to Nairobi. So far I’ve spent a week with the Tumaini teams, a week attending the Africa Inland Mission (AIM) Health Forum for all members working in various areas of health ministry, and am just starting the AIM Leadership conference – 150 people who have any kind of leadership responsibilities in Africa Inland Mission.

During the first week the whole Tumaini clinical team – from Nairobi, Kampala and myself – met up to take stock, consider the future, to pray and to have fun together. They are a wonderful team – and two of our members who were currently in the US joined us via the internet for discussions in the middle of their night.  As we usually need to relate to each other via computer screens, it was special for me to have this time face-to-face!

However, we are also a team under real pressure: some others have had significant family pressures; a parent of one team member died recently while they were thousands of miles away; one has a significant health challenge which necessitates a trip back to their home country; the spouse of another has just had to cope with the death of their boss in a tragic accident. Is this just normal missionary life, or are we under sustained spiritual attack? I’m not sure, but either way, it is hard!

Our little centre in Kampala – a small ‘seedling’, which has not yet had time to put down deep roots – faces some uncertainties over future staffing. Should we ‘pull it up’, or beseech God to sustain and water it? We are doing the latter!

And from March until at least May, we will have just 3 clinical staff working in Nairobi; there used to be 10 in 2014-15.

Zebra
Zebra

Nonetheless, the team is full of faith, even if tired and stretched, and together we seek God’s will and direction for this work. It is easy for me to say that it is ‘obvious’ that this work needs to continue – for to me it certainly seems so! Yet we also know that God is always moving on, and so it is time for us to see what new things we need to be moving towards, or what old areas of work it is time to bring to a close, even if they have served well in the past. We trust that God has us in his hands and will show us the way forward.  So, please pray with us for clarity over God’s leading, and a willingness to follow with gladness.

Other things are developing very well: the psychologist who joined us short-term in October, is hoping to return to work with us for a longer period of time. She will be going back to the USA in March and intends to seek funding for her return longer-term. Please pray.

New staff housing units
New staff housing units

The new staff housing at the Tumaini Nairobi compound is in the finishing stages, and we expect to take possession of it by mid-March as promised – no small miracle in this place where ‘everything’ takes much longer than expected! (That is not to say that we have all the funding needed; far from it, for we have mainly done this with loans from within the mission that still need repaying.)

And it was wonderful to attend the church in Nairobi to which we had belonged, and to see friends who have not forgotten us. It also happened to be the day on which their new church centre was being opened, with a special service (8.45 to 1.00!) followed by ‘nyoma choma’ for everyone – a special meal of rice and roast goat meat – very tasty!

Mark, Gunilla and Judith - Tumaini leaders
Mark, Gunilla and Judith – Tumaini leaders

Well, the AIM Leadership conference has now ended. It was great to hear what God is doing across the organisation, and to catch up with many people. I also had an opportunity to talk about how Tumaini can best support leadership when members are going through difficult times.

Family news

By the end of November much of the work we wanted to do on our home had been completed, and we are pleased with the results. There is still some decorating and a few other things to do, but those can happen whenever there is time, energy and inclination.

When we last wrote, Barbara’s mother had just been admitted to hospital being short of breath. Initially this didn’t seem especially serious, but she was frail and declined very quickly over just a few days, dying in early December. We were blessed to be with her, and to be able to pray with her shortly beforehand. She was ready to let go of this world. The funeral was a week before Christmas, on a bright and very cold day.

It will be strange not to be travelling up and down to Reading to see her.

Please praise God with us for:

  • The wonderful team of clinical and support staff at the Tumaini centres in Nairobi and Kampala
  • That our short-term psychologist feels led to come back longer-term
  • The new staff housing being completed so well and in such a timely manner!

And please pray for:

  • The desperately needed new clinical staff for both Tumaini centres
  • For God’s clear leading as we plan for the future
  • The current team of clinicians, who are hard pressed
  • Funding to pay for the building work
  • Barbara as she grieves the loss of her mother.
Butterfly, Nairobi
Butterfly, Nairobi

And finally, here is a ‘bug of the month’ – a butterfly seen in Nairobi.  (It may be a common or garden something, for all I know, but I’m sure it spoke Swahili!)

Kakolye

This story I’m writing is hard for me to share. In the bare truth, I feel exposed in front of you. Yet, I believe I am supposed to write this, and, your eyes were never meant to give me peace anyhow. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to share this, but maybe some of you will.

No one should think that me here in Uganda means I’ve reached some higher level of “being spiritual.” Those of us who follow Jesus are following a man, yes? A Jewish man who is God. And learning to trust that man is a long journey… Learning to love that man more than anyone or anything is a long journey. When I am exposed to myself – seeing the truth of my heart nakedly – its horrifying, to be honest. Even thinking about it now, a sick feeling trembles deep inside.

When I came to Uganda, I brought myself with me… with all my issues – hard places in my heart, bad habits, and sins I didn’t want to let go of. I know I came because I followed Him and He told me to. But He’s had a lot to teach me once I came about some basics: i.e., following means you actually stay behind the person you follow.

Upon arrival, I asked God where He’d want me to invest my time and explored different areas of Moroto, one being Moroto High School. They have a club called Scripture Union (which is in schools across Uganda), and I attended their Sunday service every week with a Ugandan pastor from a different tribe. The first time at the service, I inwardly whispered, What do you think? You want me to be here? and heard a whisper back – It’s an open door.

I didn’t like that, honestly – fear tucked itself like a blanket into my insides. Uh, for real? If anyone thinks that teenagers are intimidating, wait until they meet the Kjong. My skin color had made me a target on the road for harassment by mocking teenagers more than once. So, I tried to forget what God had whispered to me, thinking – Ok… I really don’t like that. Maybe I didn’t hear Him right… Or maybe He’ll change His mind.

Both of my language tutors and many friends I made in those first months live in a subsection of Moroto called Kakolye, on the western side of town – many blocks of one-room mud apartments, many bars, many young people. The place is wild and dark; violent and sexual spirits roaming under the skin of the seen, under bright hot sun. Partly, my own vulnerability weakened my limbs as I would walk through. Partly, my heart connected to and ached for this place because it is the living space of hardened and hopeless people that I love. And partly, I felt pretty hard core to be there. A subconscious thought – Isn’t this why I’m here in Uganda? To be where people actually live?

I remember that day, last October.  It began with a conversation with the King in which I knew He was inviting me to go out with Him, and a thought placed on me that it would be a good day to go to Kakolye. At some point, I became aware of heavy sadness over me. That was the entry point for anxiety. The anxiety birthed itself out of fear, which had tucked itself in my insides again, then began to vibrate. The anxiety vibrated something like this: What a waste for you to be in Moroto, doing nothing. Aren’t you supposed to be ‘out in the community’? Are you going to let fear keep you from going out? Mm. Good thing you can’t see God’s face – I bet He’s not too impressed with that. It sounds weird, but somehow anxiety started holding hands with excitement – Wooh, it’ll be pretty cool to go to Kakolye and finally get more steeped in peoples’ home lives.  

In the spirit of that vibration, I got ready to go find my friend who lived there. A tall, skinny lady named Nacap Rose (pronounced “Nah-chahp”). She’s a funny lady – smirky, chatty, and pretty sassy. I felt off inside but began the journey anyways. As I left my apartment and walked down the pathway through bushes and a corridor to get out of the compound, a whisper the tone of a bass note, Don’t you think you should talk to Me about this first?

It was a reminder of what we were learning as a team: Listen to the Holy Spirit, the way Jesus did, instead of relying on our own strategies and wisdom in each situation. We are in so deep over our heads; there’s no chance we can make good decisions without guidance from Someone who knows better.

Unfortunately, in my eagerness I ditched the whole following thing and rushed ahead of Him. “Can I go? Is it ok if I go?” Without a clear answer, I just pressed on. The vibration continued and began to pulp up with fear. Yet even underneath that, the whisper initiated an alarm that began clanging deep inside – a warning.

After the twenty minute walk through and past the center of Moroto, Camp Swahili, I almost turned back. Upon nearing Kakolye, I had such a negative sense about me that I just stopped on the sidewalk, looking and feeling foolish. Should I go back? What do You want me to do? I asked and just waited, trying to put into practice a bit late what we’d been learning as a team.

It’s ok, you can go. In hindsight, I think He allowed me to go because of what He wanted to show me about me. Do you know that even good things turn to sour, sick mush in the pit of your being, when apart from Him?

I knocked on the door of Nacap’s apartment, pink flowered curtain swaying over a wooden door. No answer. As I wasn’t a frequent in Kakolye, all eyes watched me. A group of Kjong, young men and women, sat drinking a pitcher of booze at a bar across the road and started shouting at me, “Bua! Bua! You first come!”

I ignored them until someone in the group shouted my Karimojong name, “Napeyok!”

A beaming face, familiar from Moroto Prison – Akiteng Helen. How could this not be from Him?! I thought as I crossed the road, her arms and chest like pillows wrapping me in a moment, then grasping forearms eagerly, we greeted. Her large hand grabbing mine, she led me across the street amidst protests of her booze-mates. “You come back!” They demanded.

“Eh,” I said, the Ugandan assent.

We entered a doorway next to Nacap’s, covered by a lacy curtain – into a dark cube of bare dirt, graced by one bed and a small pile of dishes. I sat on the one small stool and she squatted awkwardly, and communicated as best as we could in Ngakarimojong as she spoke no English. I told her as best as I could what we had talked about at prison the day before –This is so productive, right? This is what You want, right?

The wild darkness pressed around the edges of my consciousness as I rejoined the group again across the road. The alarm grew stronger again, and a distinct phrase unearthed inside and sat on the dividing line of subconscious and conscious thought: Sheep among wolves. A distinct impression began to grow that someone wanted to eat me – maybe everyone.

Yet there I sat.
Do you know it felt smoothly sweet to hear their pleasure
when I greeted them in Ngakarimojong?
A mom with her daughter named Sharon, her daughter’s friend, a few young men.
“What do you do Napeyok?” Asked Sharon.
“Ok, tell us a story about God,” she said.
Her hollow eyes stared listlessly at me.
Their hollowed eyes hungry gulped at me.
Young, attractive men, all vying for my attention –
do you know that it felt sickly sweet to feel beautiful?
The clanging loudened,
and, with nauseated heart,
I turn away and ignore them to focus on Sharon.
“Tell us a story about God,” she says.
Ok. Do you know that slightly drunk people like to be entertained?
Do you know it felt productive and puffened sweet to pull out my tattered notebook,
to share a life story about me and God in Ngakarimojong –
who knows, thought I, maybe the story of my mess and the awesome love of God
will soak into their buzzed heads.

I’m pretty awesome right now.
And yet it was wrong – it was all wrong.
It took place quickly – and inside began an urgency –
Let’s get away from this group, I think.
“Where do you live?” I say to Sharon,
hands linked we go to her street,
to her baby.
In a moment, I’m cradling a sweet chocolate treasure in my arms –
do you know that felt sugary sweet?
— and move back to the main road, to the bar.
The urgency again —
Girl you gotta get out. Now.
“When are you coming back? When?” Pressed Sharon.
“I don’t know!” I said, “Maybe Monday!” I said,
without a thought for the God-man I followed to Moroto.
“Ok! That’s New Years Day!” She eagerly exclaimed.
And suddenly, plans rolled forward,
and I’d just agreed to enter the New Year
with a group of wolves drinking.
With smile on my face,
somehow I thought God’s Name on my lips
could make up for the total stupidity
and pride inside,
which had now ballooned to a gigantic height,
enough to darken even the physical sun.
And all that attention
suddenly sickened me
when I thought about His face.
– I’m not saying that sheep shouldn’t be with and truly love wolves –
I’m saying that
a sheep getting stroked by a wolf
is walking into slaughter,
and that all
sheep need to be with the Shepherd.

Walking home, my heart began failing in me as it dawned on me what I had just done. It’s not a light thing, to run away from the Shepherd – when peoples’ forever-lives are literally in the balance and you’ve just pushed them a step the wrong way. When you live in a culture characterized by violence – killing was a way of life less than a decade ago. When what you ran away for was the caress of an invisible beast, and you enjoyed that caress in front of the eyes of your only Love whose body is literally scarred for – and because of – you. Arrival to my apartment found me stricken on the floor, begging God to show me what to do, to please forgive, but more than that – please totally kill my destructive desires and make me like You. Every time I envisioned Kakolye in my mind, I saw a Red X drawn across it.

Some people pray for God’s Word to come alive. But the truth is that His Word never died, it’s our hearts that get dead to it. Because Proverbs slapped me in the face – “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking his hands in pledge is secure” (Proverbs 11:15) then Proverbs said, “Get off your tush and Go!” – “My son, if you have…given your pledge for a stranger, if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, then do this my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor, go, hasten, humble yourself, and plead urgently with your neighbor. Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler” (Proverbs 6:1-5). It knocked so hard, I sobbed all of it out.

A slap never seemed so sweet,
never came with such relief,
a knock to reality,
– You are not trapped to continue this path! –
Why are You so patient with me?
Less than 24 hours later,
I rode a boda (motorcycle taxi),
then walked quickly on the same sidewalk,
under same hot sun,
sunglasses on and didn’t greet a single stranger.
Limbs moved weak in vulnerability,
yet a deep peace sounded on the inside,
a quiet roar,
in a different Spirit than the one in which I’d moved the day before.
I found Sharon close to her home.
She seemed so young and empty sitting on the bench,
and that is what hurt the most –
that my idols now negatively touched her.
“Sharon, you know I told you I’m a follower of Jesus?
That means I follow Him.
Well, I have to tell you I am really sorry,
yesterday,
I didn’t even ask Him about spending New Year’s with you.
I can’t come.
I’m so sorry, please forgive me!”
She slumped limply as I walked away.

That is the story.
Do you know that He stood with arms wide to receive me?
– Scarred for a reason –
Do you know this was never about my ability to “do it”
in the first place?
Do you know He’s always known exactly where my heart is?
And do you know that’s a big reason we’re on this journey
in the first place?
It’s a big reason He brought me on this journey in the first place.

Flexing the sinews and ligaments

When we last wrote we were just about to head off to the UK for a short break with family and to celebrate my (Ruth’s) parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. We had a wonderful time and made many special memories. Christmas was spent with my parents and family (with the obligatory pork pie for Christmas breakfast—it’s an East Midlands tradition!). The anniversary celebration on Boxing Day went very well and it was great to meet up with siblings and cousins that we haven’t seen for years. My parents even received a lovely card from HM The Queen!

The Willows clan at the Diamond Anniversary do, four generations together.

Then it was north, travelling through snow, heading to Scotland for a few days in Nairn with my sister and over to Elgin for New Year with Steve’s sister and the wider Lancaster clan, which, with 8 adults and 6 kids in one house, was a noisy, active and fun time! In between we managed a quick overnight visit to our pastor and his wife in Corsham and a couple of days in Bicester with Steve’s brother. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, not least feeling cold again!

The Lancaster clan on Lossie beach. Yes, it was cold!

Our journey back to Africa was broken by a few days in Kenya attending Unit Leader meetings. This was the first time that I had attended these meetings and it was an interesting experience seeing first-hand this part of Steve’s ministry. AIM’s Eastern Region comprises Tanzania and Kenya and each country is split into different units with a leader being responsible for member care and for implementing the strategy set by the Region. As you can imagine, a lot of administration comes with this role and this was reflected in the meetings with discussions on annual leave paperwork, language learning requirements and immigration matters—not terribly exciting stuff but necessary in order to facilitate AIM’s missionaries who are at the coal face of planting Christ-centred churches in Africa. So spare a thought—and a prayer—for Steve as he juggles this role with his other work. Perhaps these tasks are the ligaments and sinews that Paul talks about in Colossians 2: 19—supporting and holding together the whole body.

Talking of sinews and ligaments….Steve is in training to run the Kilimanjaro half marathon in March. His brother Ian and sister-in-law Kerri are coming out to run it too and to visit us for a week. I will be happy to wait at the finish line to cheer them all in!

Steve is now well and truly into preparation for this year’s Institute seminars. He is basing his talks on 1 Peter and has 11 sessions to prepare. His method is to prepare them all in English first and then, with the help of a Tanzanian friend, to tackle the mammoth task of translation into Swahili. We are thanking God that he has completed 8 talks so far with 3 to do. He is planning to start translation work mid-March. Please pray for him!

Meanwhile I have been handling the usual tasks of admin and accounts for Sanga Sanga Retreat Centre. There is one important task coming up that fills me with foreboding—the annual project report for the Eastern Region Office! It’s due in by the end of February so in the next couple of weeks I will be immersed in the books and trying not to get confused! I am thankful for the help of Brenda, my accountant friend, who is able to see the wood for the trees and translate a year’s worth of Tanzanian shilling transactions back into US dollars for the report!  Please pray for us!

Another aspect of my role is to teach English. Last week I ran a course for Intermediates. In amongst the grammar teaching were fun, games and lively discussions that really got the students talking! These courses are a great opportunity to demonstrate what a ‘real’ Christian is like, in front of people who may be nominal Christians or Muslims. Two of the students requested Bibles but, seeing that I’d brought 5, the other students also wanted a copy.

Happy English students with their certificates!

Radio gaga? I have been given the exciting opportunity of teaching English on the radio! Faith Baptist Church in Morogoro is setting up a local radio station and has invited me to record some short English teaching programmes. This is a new and unfamiliar venture—how to teach English with no direct interaction with students. Watch this space for more news!

White-throated Bee-eaters – another ‘cop’ for us.

10th anniversary! On 19th January we celebrated 10 years of marriage with a weekend away on the coast, in fact on a small tropical island! Getting there involved a short journey by motorboat (having waded out to it to begin with!). We had two days of unwinding, swimming, reading and resting. There really wasn’t much else to do on the island! We took our binoculars in hope, not expecting to see much, but boy, were we surprised! We saw 5 or 6 ‘new’ birds with some wonderful names, including Caspian Tern, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and the Blue-naped Mousebird. Beautiful birds and two very happy bird-watchers!

Diary Dates

18th Feb                      Steve preaching at AICT Morogoro (2 services)
March/April                  1 Peter prep for Steve
2nd-10th March           Holiday. Kilimanjaro half marathon! Bro Lancs coming out.
30th Mar-11th Apr       Steve leading Oak Hall Israel trip

Prayer and Praise

  • Praise God for the progress Steve has made to date with his preparation. Pray that it will continue to flow and that the translation work will go quickly and
  • Pray for Steve as he juggles this prep with his Unit Leader work, and for Ruth as she prepares financial reports.
  • Pray for the 5 English students who received Bibles, and the opportunity to teach English over the radio.
  • Praise God for 10 years of marriage!

Thanks for all your prayers and support,

Steve & Ruth

Bird of the month

Pin-tailed Whydah, seen in our garden.
My Mum and the Queen – but which is which?

Baby Jonathan

One week ago tonight we were about to head to the hospital because my water had broken. I was eight days overdue and very ready! The next day we met this little guy face to face. We have been surrounded by such kindness as friends have brought us meals and rejoiced with us. It has been both tiring and fun adjusting to being a family of seven. The big girls are over the moon and want to help with everything, while the twins are somewhat ambivalent–though they do seem to like their brother. Below are some pictures from our first week together.

Cultural Breakthrough

At times, it has been hilarious to try and figure out the minds of growing teenage boys.  Rest assured that the culture of teenagers is in and of itself a wonder.

Make no mistake, Bongo dorm is no exception.  It may be difficult to fully appreciate the pure genius birthed from the mind of a teen, but we thought it would better our (and your) world to share and enlighten you with the words of insight, wisdom and random thoughts of teenage boys.  We will do our best to provide context.  Also, enjoy the photos of dorm life with teenagers.

Teenager comment #1:
“With me in the room, you don’t need to stoke the fire.  It’s hot enough.”
Context:
Derek was about to stoke the fire.  Comment provided by one of the Bongo dorm boys.


(Roasting hot dogs)

Teenager comment #2:
“Stick me in front of a fan and call me an air freshener.”
Context:
I (Cheryl) had just commented how pleasant it was to smell shampoo rather than gym socks.  Comment provided by one of the Bongo dorm boys.

Teenager comment #3:
“I hope there is a lock down drill when I’m close to Kedong.”
Context:
A lock down drill requires all members on campus to head for cover.  Kedong is the girls’ dorm.  This is context enough.  Comment provided by one of the Bongo dorm boys.


(The boys wanted to bake biscuits)

Teenager comment #4:
“You’re like an artichoke.  Hard on the outside, but once you’re past the peel, you’re soft and tender.”
Context:
A small group of boys gathered on the couch attempting to poetically affirm all things manly while acknowledging the inner sensitive nature.  Comment provided by one of the Bongo dorm boys.


(In house security)

Teenager comment #5:
“Can I still do streaks?”
Context:
Ok, in our home culture “streak” is not something we aspire to.  When Derek stopped laughing, he found out that “streaks” was, in fact, a point/scoring system for posting on a Social Media app.   Comment provided by one of the Bongo dorm boys.

Adult comment #1:
“There are so many random socks lying around, we could make a quilt.”
Context:
Derek owns this comment.  He had just completed room inspection.  Keepin’ it real.


(Checking out monkeys and birds)

Teenager comment #6:
“I’d rather make a shirt with my bare hands than pay for a new one.”
Context:
All students purchase gym clothes from the campus store.  Gym shirts were going missing like car keys and we mentioned what it cost to buy a new one.  Comment provided by one of the Bongo dorm boys.


(Showers are required before playing this game)

Teenager comment #7:
“If someone keeps poking me, and I punch him, is that considered bullying?”
Context:
We were outlining RVA’s bullying policy during a dorm meeting.  Boy ‘A’ was poking Boy ‘B’.  Boy ‘B’ became annoyed.  Comment provided by Boy ‘B’ of Bongo dorm.

There… now didn’t all of that just make your day???

Praise God for teenagers!!!!  Love ‘em!


Yes we do love them 🙂