MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR WISHES TO ALL OF YOU!
As we prepare for the holiday season, churches increase activities with Christmas dramas and musicals, and Holy Week, a week of prayer and seeking God the week between Christmas and New Years. There is always service on Christmas day, no matter what day of the week it falls on.
It’s also a time of caution, as theft increases astronomically this month. Public transportation costs double as so many travel to be with family in their various villages across the nation. Cows and pigs get stolen and butchered as people who can rarely afford meat at any other time, will buy meat to celebrate the holidays.
As for me, I don’t decorate my house much, like I did in the States. One reason being I no longer have children at home. Village people don’t have means to decorate, so I just put my Christmas cards around as decoration. I always spend Christmas with friends, either American or African, or both, sometimes at their house, sometimes at mine. And like everywhere, eating and talking are the sport of the day (no football games here!).
I always enjoy thinking over the previous year, what God has done, and putting it into a Christmas letter. January 2006 started out with the sad (for us!) departure of Greg and Margaret Fisher, our Foursquare general overseers for missions in East and Central Africa, who moved back to the USA after 17 years of ministry in Africa. Along with Dave and Sarah Adams, they had pioneered Foursquare in Uganda, with the Kampala Foursquare Gospel Church in the capitol city, in 1998. It started in their garage in Kampala with 5 people, but in 7 years had expanded to a church of about 250 people and Foursquare churches all over the nation and into southern Sudan. I joined them in 1999. They were replaced as overseers by Jeff and Sally Nelson, who settled in Nairobi, Kenya. In January we were also joined by Andre and Fatima Leitao and their 2 small children, from Brazil, who minister in the Kampala church but have their sights set on southern Sudan. In February Dave and Sarah Adams went to the USA for 3 months, and then in May I also went home on furlough for 3 months. So we had a lot of movement among the Foursquare staff in 2006!
In August I made the decision, after several months of prayer, to get more involved in New Life Centre, a village church I‘ve worked with a lot, so I transitioned there from Kampala Foursquare.
Earlier in the year pastor David Kasule had stepped out in faith and had God meet him in a financial way, and he purchased a van for our school, New Life Academy and our orphan project. He had it painted with the school logo and New Life Kids Club, for our orphans, and it eventually became the pride of our ministry and town. However, the man who’d sold it to him misrepresented it as being in much better shape than it was, so from the beginning it was the proverbial money pit. There was a lawsuit over it, as it was sold to David under false pretenses and he refused to finish paying for it. Due to corruption in the legal system, David was falsely and violently arrested in September and sentenced to 6 months in Uganda’s big government prison in Kampala. However, God intervened and he was released in only 18 days and the case thrown out. But again, due to corruption in the court, the van was confiscated in November and returned to the seller, where it has been repainted and is now being used as a public taxi. At this point, because of the seemingly unwinnable battle against corrupt police and courts, our ministry leaders made the decision to let the van go, to let God deal with the parties aligned against us. But rather than being sad about “losing” the battle, we have been rejoicing in God, knowing that He has a better plan down the road for us.
While I was in the USA on furlough, one of the wonderful events I got to participate in was my father’s 80th birthday! Most of my family was present, from several different states, and much fun was had by all. My father does not know Jesus yet, so we are still praying for him to make that decision to serve Him in his remaining time. When I returned to Uganda in August, Greg Matthews and a team of 4 paramedics and EMTs had arrived just 2 days before me, and were doing a 3 week training seminar. Greg was setting up a pilot project for Samaritan Emergency Volunteer Organization (SEVO) which would be located on 5 different strategic high accident/death spots on the north-south highway across Uganda. Greg had obtained a grant and bought SEVO an ambulance, which has since been funded with a grant for fuel by the Ugandan government, and has saved many lives on our highway.
SEVO members have also been working hard to develop the 2 acres given to them in a remote village north of me, called Kikunyu. They’ve cleared it, made over 10,000 bricks for a training center and chapel to be built, and are now putting in a hand-dug well. Dozens of SEVO members have accepted Christ into their lives as a result of this great life-saving ministry led by Hannington Serugga. Hannington, a man in his 40s, with 6 children, also attained his life’s goal this past spring of graduating from Makerere University with his degree in education. But he continues to devote his time and energies without salary to SEVO.
New Life Academy has just completed its second year of classes, and plans to add another grade, primary 7, next year. The school year here is February to early December. We had 198 children writing final exams in early December, with much better results this year, now that many of them are completing their second year with us. Since New Life Academy is an orphan project, 51% of our students are non-paying orphans, many of whom are HIV+. With that plus the constant scourge of malaria, absentee rates are high, making the increase in test scores even more remarkable.
As we admit new children into our school, they are often very far behind academically. Teachers in Uganda are often not paid, lose heart, and then help children cheat on their national exams to better their scores. So our first year of existence, only about 25% of our kids passed final exams. This year we’ve had twice as many students and 75% passed, for which we praise God! With the loss of our van, we went back to using David’s old pickup for hauling kids to and from school. We are the only school in Luweero that offers this service. Please pray that God will supply us with another van, or better yet, a Coaster bus that seats 28 instead of 14, which will save us on fuel costs and vehicle wear and tear.
At this time, the conclusion of our 2nd school year, the major financial contributor for New Life Academy has decided to conclude their support. So we are looking to the New Year as an opportunity to trust God for new things. Our church, New Life Centre, New Life Academy, New Life Kids Club, and SEVO have all become legally registered organizations with the Ugandan government this year. We are raising the cost of school fees for our paying students to cover the costs of educating our orphans, paying teachers and other core school expenses. God has made provision for most of the fuel for hauling the school kids with the old pickup. We began a garden project for this past rainy season to provide the food for the school, to decrease cash expense there. Our kids have been making hand crafts for future sale in fund raisers we’re planning in the coming year. And we have a brick-making project started to make bricks for sale and for use in erecting a permanent structure for both school and church. The sale of bricks will provide other building materials needed, such as cement for putting up the brick walls. So pray for us, as we launch out in a new and independent way in 2007 -- but more dependent than ever upon our Father God!