If you have a laptop, I am sure you face this all the time. You need to extend your battery life so you can squeeze a report out or finish a paper. There are no plugs around and you didn’t bring your cable. At the same time your battery is dying. So how can you […]Read More...
I am currently taking a course, Know Your Bible. One of the assignments is to write a five page paper on two of the Major Prophets. After writing so many papers from University, you would think I can handle a five page essay easy peasy. It wasn’t. I chose Isaiah and Jeremiah because I desired to know more about them. In order to write this paper, I read most of their books. Mind you, that’s 66 chapters from Isaiah and 52 chapters from Jeremiah. On top of that, I gone through 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles to see when these prophets appeared in those Historical books. Lastly, I went through the Gospels to find where they were quoted or referenced. It was a lot more work than I expected. I tried not to use too much external sources (Internet, other commentaries or books etc.). I stuck primarily with the Bible (thank you Biblegateway!) and my text book.
Between running ministry and preaching in Uganda, it took me more than two weeks to complete this paper. Half way through it, I thought maybe I shouldn’t go through all the references in New Testaments. It would be much easier to simply skim or just go through ones I knew off my heart. I can tell you. It is very tempting to not do the work.
As I shared with Wai Jia about my struggle, she encouraged me to keep laboring. She took this course before and also labored when she wrote the same paper. During this process of labor, I gained a new appreciation for these prophets and a deeper understanding of God’s character.
First, the prophets. Both prophets were active in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Isaiah came first on stage just as the Assyrians invaded the Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Assyrians were threatening Jerusalem. His message was a warning for Jerusalem to stop worshipping idols, stop doing evil and turned back to God. He also prophecized the Babylonian threat in 2 Kings 20:17-18. Later, Jeremiah came into the scene when Jerusalem was in a much worst state. The nation is fallen into heavy idolatry with people sacrificing their son and daughter into the fire to worship false gods (Jeremiah 7:31). Jeremiah’s spent more than twenty years repeating the same message. Repent or God would bring desolation against Jerusalem. The people and the king chose not to listen and in the end God used the Babylons to bring destruction in 586 BC.
Whenever I read Old Testament, especially during this period, I cannot stop thinking about the stereotypical thought that God is an angry God. It is true. God was exceedingly angry at Jerusalem for their idolatry. But this wasn’t the only God’s character. Nor was it the one that was focused in the book of Jeremiah.
We have to realize that the reason why God is so angry is beacuse the people chose not to listen to Him for a very very very long time. Jeremiah preached the same message for more than twenty years! If God told me to preach the same message of repetance for twenty years to one church and the people chose not to listen, I think I would be done after a year. Yet, year after year, the message is the same. Signs and warnings were given. The people chose to disobey and do wicked things.
What people miss though is the character that God is a restorer.
In Jeremiah 32, we have a grim picture of the fate of Jerusalem. The Babylon army is mounting a siege against the walls of this once glorious city. Most of the Judah is already conquered by the Babylonians. There’s nowhere to run. There’s nowhere to hide. Destruction is imminent.
In the midst of utter destruction, God told Jeremiah to buy a field. Jeremiah is already jailed for his prophecies. There’s no way the King is going to let him go out to buy a field. But God, in His perfect timing, orchestrated everything for Jeremiah. His uncle was coming to prison to offer Jeremiah a field to purchase. This scene is almost comical. In war, the last thing you think about is buying fields. You think about survival. You think about fighting. You think about how to live the next day. You think about your family and your love ones and whether they are safe. The last thing you think about is ‘which land should I invest it?‘
‘Look, the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it; and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it! And You have said to me, O Lord God, “Buy the field for money, and take witnesses”!—yet the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’” Jeremiah 32:24-25 NKJV (Emphasis mine)
Puzzled by this, Jeremiah asked God why is he doing a seemingly foolish thing when he would soon witness his city crumble and pillage. God, in His mercy, told him that not now but in the future God Himself would gather the Jewish captives from all over the world and returned them back to Jerusalem. God, who was punishing Judah through the Babylon occupation, would make this land flourish again. So much so that people would buy and sell land just as what Jeremiah had done.
Jeremiah won’t live to see that day. He understood that he and his people would face hardship for their sins and rebellion. He himself had gone through persecution for doing God’s works. But imagine the joy and hope Jeremiah carried in his heart when God spoke to him about the future.
And this is who our God is. He doesn’t get angry for no reason. He doesn’t punish people for no reason. More importantly, He restores.
“For thus says the Lord: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them. And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, “It is desolate, without man or beast; it has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.” Men will buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South; for I will cause their captives to return,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 32:42-44 NKJV
He is long suffering. He is merciful. He is a restorer. He turns things around.
I had another revelation when reading Jeremiah 32. I will write it in another time.
Last week, Wai Jia and I went to a dance recital at Cornerstone community schools (Busula). This is a short clip of the nursery class doing their song and dance. Way too cute!
Whenever I take a photo, I would use the Auto Tune, Auto Contrast and Auto Color functions in Photoshop to make the image looks better. However, lately, I realize that the auto level might not make my pictures look better. Here are some original photos and compare with how they like after Photoshop. I like the original […]Read More...
Since we are serving in Uganda for one year, we decided not to hop in and out of the country just to extend our visas. Instead, we decided to go with an agency to help obtain a work visa for Wai Jia and a dependent pass for me. Doing things the right way is sometimes long and expensive. It took five months here and nine months in Singapore beforehand to compile all the necessary documents. I won’t even talk about the fee they charged us for us to volunteer here.
Yesterday I went to the agency to pick up my passport. Here in Uganda, before you enter a mall or a plaza, it is common for guards to search you and your vehicle to make sure you don’t have a bomb or firearms. I’ve been there so many times the security guards recognized who I was and let me in. As I pulled my car into the parking lot, one of the security guards came up to me and told me he reserved this spot for me and he would look after my car for ‘soda money’.
The term ‘soda money’ is a nice way of asking for a bribe. As Mzungus (foreigners), we are stopped frequently by the traffic police and other guards asking us to get them a soda. We talked to the locals about these. They don’t like it as well. Part of the reasons is that their salary is extremely low (or so we are told) thus they look for a way to make an extra buck.
For this security guard, ‘soda money’ was 3,000 Shillings. That’s equivalent to about a dollar. In Uganda, a bottle of soda costs 1,000 Shillings. With this knowledge, I asked him why he needed so much just for a soda. He replied, ‘you get me a big soda.’ That’s true, bigger bottles do cost more.
For Wai Jia and me, we don’t pay bribes. Yes, life can be much easier and faster if we give ‘soda money’ to get things done. And it is really a small amount. A dollar is not much. But the principle still stands. We don’t pay bribes.
I offered I would go buy a soda for him and for me. It was a hot day and a long drive and I wanted one as well. I didn’t want to give him money but I could get him a soda to make his day a bit better.
He said, ‘No. If they see me with food, they will fire me.’
After collecting my passport and before I left, I asked him for his name. Emmanuel. I explained to him it means “God is with us” and that’s the name they gave to Jesus. He looked surprised.
As I walked back to the parking lot after taking my passport, I wondered what I should say to Emmanuel regarding his ‘soda money’. I couldn’t tell him I have no money because that would make me a liar. I also didn’t want to give him money. If I gave him ‘soda money’, that would reinforce the system of corruption.
As I walked back to my car, I told Emmanuel I couldn’t give him ‘soda money’. But I told him that I came here to Uganda to serve as a minister. Since I couldn’t give him soda money, I suggested I could pray and asked God to bless him instead.
He looked at me with a shocked look and was quiet. He probably didn’t expect that answer.
“Emmanuel. I can only give you one soda. But God, He can give you 10,000 sodas.”
He smiled a bit. I asked him if he was a believer and if he would be offended if I prayed with him. He returned my keys and said ‘I believe in God, too.’
“Great, let us pray.”
So in this busy parking lot, both Emmanuel and I bowed our heads and I said a quick prayer. I gave thanks to God for Emmanuel’s work and prayed for God to bless him and his family so they would not lack anything.
Then I left.
As I looked back at the decisions we made in coming to Uganda, especially with regards to getting the work permit, I felt we did the right thing. When God looks at our works, He doesn’t merely look at just the works but also considers how we do our work. If we do it in such a way that doesn’t glorify Him, there will be consequences. There are many times when Wai Jia and I are tempted to take the easy (and less righteous) way to get things done. We had many talks and had to take time to discern whether we were doing things rightly in His eyes.
We always concluded: The work doesn’t justify the means. Both the work and the means are important in His Kingdom.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (KJV)
Every Wednesday, the church has a sewing and beading class to help the ladies to strengthen their social-econoimcal situation. Since I am not a big fan of sewing (or beading), I usually read while my wife, Tam Wai Jia, mingle with the ladies.
Sometimes we do wonder if this will really make an impact to their lives. Is this what it means to alleviate poverty? Somtimes we do get discouraged and wonder if this will amount to anything.
But last Wednesday I learnt something new from this ‘hanging out’ with the church ladies. I overheard the ladies asking Wai Jia personal questions. Some asked them how our lives are like in Singapore (or Canada). They laughed and joked about some observations they noticed about Mzungus (foriegners). Some even confided to her their health concerns. I realized from Wai Jia’s interaction with the ladies that these gatherings are more than about gaining a skill or a trade. They are about building friendships.
‘Helping’ isn’t just a matter of completing a project or handling money. There’s more to it than that. It means journeying alongside and walking together step by step. There will be ups and downs. There will be joys and disappointments. There will be doubts and uncertainties. But what it will not lack is hope.
There’s an inherent nature in us to desire change. Usually it is for something greater and grander. Yet, some of the most touching moments in this part of our lives in Uganda is just spending time in these ‘hang outs’ to understand, to connect, and to love one another as friends.
Recently, we had trouble transferring photos from my wife’s iPhone 4S to the computer. Window 7 cannot recognize the phone when we plugged in. We tried updating iTunes, changing the cable and nothing seemed to work. These are the common fixes on Google and I am running out of ideas. The phone is getting full […]Read More...
It has been a while since I updated my blog.
Things are a bit busy lately in Uganda. The Bible School had a graduation last month. School will begin again in January. In the mean time, Wai Jia and I with the local pastor is trying to get a number of livelihood projects going.
Last week, I wrote a post for the Mission blog from Cornerstone Community Church. Today they posted it. This post is similar to a post about Missing Home I blogged a few weeks ago. Though I had more revelation.
This is a great truth. We realized that even if tomorrow Wai Jia and I were whisked back to Singapore or Canada, neither of us would be truly satisfied. Though we might have the comfort of home and the love of friends and family, we would not be following Jesus and not doing the work that He prepared for us before the foundations of the world. In fact, we realized that we would feel more lost and unsettled to be back at ‘home’ instead of following Him.
If you have an Airtel number and like to get free data, you can dial the following: *175*20# You will get free 20 mb every month. It ain’t much but if you ever need data and cannot pay for it, it will give you access to the Internet.Read More...
When we were in Burundi last month, I took a number of video clips as we drove around the city. I compiled them into a video. It is a bit shaky and the quality might not be the best (I was using a simple handheld). But I hope it captured what life is like in Burundi.