2017 So Far...

2017 has flown by, and it’s hard to believe that it’s already September!  It’s been an amazing year for us at Switchboard, and we’ve seen God move in unexpected and incredible ways.  We’ve got some exciting things on the horizon that we’ll tell you about soon, but we wanted to take a quick minute to update you on what we’ve up to so far this year: 

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    • Lalogi, Uganda Village Revival:  In January, we hosted and sponsored our third annual “Crusades” in the Lalogi district of Northern Uganda.  Hundreds of villagers were able to attend the four day event, and 33 people gave their life to Jesus! 
       
    • Nairobi, Kenya: Training Trainers:  In February, we hosted an Intensive for some of our highest capacity leaders in which we focused on teaching them how to be a leader who makes leaders.  We dove into strategies and rhythms that will help them train pastors and make disciples all over Africa.  Many of these leaders will continue on with us as part of our African Leadership Team.
       
    • Kampala, Uganda: Pastor Training Conference:  In late February, we hosted a Pastors training conference in the capital city of Uganda for 118 pastors and church leaders.  The Lord moved in mighty ways, and many of the pastors are already reproducing the training to their circles of leadership influence.  
       
    • Kingston, Jamaica: Church Planting.  In March, in partnership with Onward, we headed to Jamaica to work with one of our church planters there.  We also made several new connections with existing churches that we look forward to continuing to cultivate.  
       
    • Mombasa, Kenya Pastors Training Conference: The Lord miraculously opened doors for us to be able to partner with the Mombasa Association of Pastors and host a pastors training conference in a city that is largely Islamic.  We got to equip 133 pastors that have been needing encouragement in a difficult city, and we look forward to many continued trainings there.  
       
    • Lusaka Zambia Pastors Training Conference:  After being invited to this new country, we could immediately see how the Lord has been working in churches in Lusaka.  We hosted our initial Pastors Training Conference, prayer walked the city, and assessed the current health/needs of churches in the city.  We are really excited to continue our partnership with our brothersand sisters in Lusaka. 

As you can see, it’s been a busy year already for us at Switchboard, and there is much more to come.  We could not even dream of getting to equip, empower, and encourage churches all across the globe without you, and we cannot possible thank you enough for being a part of this journey with us!  Keep praying- God is advancing his Gospel all across the globe!

Inside Uganda: Pastor James

Meet Pastor James Odong Piny of Opit, Uganda.  We've had the honor of working alongside James for several years now, and it's been absolutely incredible to witness God work in and through him.  James has planted numerous churches all throughout Uganda, both during the war and after, and continues to fervently work towards reaching his country for Christ.  He is a mighty warrior for the Kingdom, and an absolute joy to get to partner with.  

James will be helping us teach all 4 of our conferences in both Uganda and Kenya in July, and we thought you would enjoy hearing his heart as much as we do every time we get to hear him teach.  We wanted to share three short videos with you of James sharing a little about his ministry, his country, and his love of the Bible.  

Pastor James on Discipleship in Uganda:

 

Pastor James on How Ugandans Live Out the Story of Israel: 

 

Pastor James Discussing Switchboard in UgandA:

Onward

In some of our communications, you may have heard us reference an organization called Onward. Switchboard has recently partnered with this group, and we wanted to tell you more about how this relationship came about.

I first heard about Onward before it even had a name. Dave Clayton (Ethos Church) and I had numerous conversations over the course of our friendship sharing similar passions about God’s mission, and I always got really excited to hear the parallels in what God had laid on our hearts. Both of our dreams slowly began to become realities separately, and soon Onward was birthed. Onward seeks to be a global family of leaders dedicated to making disciples and planting churches. They are currently accomplishing this through an immersive church planter training experience run in partnership with Ethos Church. The organization is based in Nashville, TN but is working with future church planters from as far away as California, Jamaica and Portugal.

In 2015, I enrolled in Onward and have been working alongside these church planters for several months now. Seeing how their mission paralleled ours, talk of a partnership was a natural evolution. It began in the summer of 2015 as Switchboard was preparing for the pastors training conferences in Uganda. We realized we needed more teachers to travel with us to help equip the leaders there. I really felt God laying my friend and Onward Director, Aaron Etheridge, on my heart, so we reached out to see if he could accompany Switchboard to Uganda – teaching some of the curriculum from Onward. We were so excited when Aaron agreed, and the reception to his teaching was overwhelming. (We talked here about how the pastors in Uganda used what Aaron had taught them to teach their community at the crusades in Lalogi.)

We have prayerfully considered what a relationship with Onward would look like – and we have realized that our organizations are stronger and more effective in advancing the Gospel together than apart. So how do we work together? Switchboard helps cultivate relationships and set the stage with indigenous leaders and their churches. We develop potential connections across the globe to equip and disciple. We establish, maintain and manage these relationships, and we pave the way for the teaching and the discipling resources that Onward provides. Onward provides teachers and curriculum, and helps invest in and disciple these indigenous church leaders. In turn, a network unfolds – a global family of believers, with church leaders from around the world discipling and building one another up. We are excited about moving forward together, hand-in-hand, as we equip the church, advance the Gospel and make disciples.


(If you are interested in hearing more about Onward and their heart for church planting, e-mail Aaron Etheridge at aaronetheridge@ethoschurch.org.)

Meet Walter

Meet Walter, our Director for Switchboard’s efforts in Uganda and Kenya. Since most of you have never had the pleasure of meeting Walter, we wanted to fill you in on how he came to be a part of Switchboard.

We met Walter in 2011 on our first trip to Uganda. We were interviewing people for this position, and after hearing the job description and requirements, our host Jennifer, mentioned that her husband would be perfect for the role. When we interviewed him, we started out by asking him to tell us a little about himself. He began describing his dream for his country: that Uganda would be a country that loved the Lord. And that this revival would be led, not by missionaries from other countries, but by his fellow countrymen and women. At the time, Switchboard’s mission was still in development, but as we listened to him, we realized his vision aligned with ours.

From there, Walter began leading our operations in Uganda. Now he oversees our small staff in Parwech, leading and discipling them. He lays out the strategy for the areas we are in – and the new areas we are looking to enter. He oversees programming (such as the recent crusades in Lalogi and the summer Pastors Training Conferences, along with church relations and bible distribution). He is our mediator between the Ugandan government and the local churches. He also handles all of the logistics for when our American teams visit. Finally, in Kenya, Walter has been working through the extensive preparations for entering a new area. Switchboard focuses on communities and churches that will partner and take ownership of the discipleship work. Lots of effort goes on in the front end with the local pastors, churches, and church networks, not to mention setting up partnerships with the local government.

After our first Pastor's Training Conference in 2014, the local church leaders came to us with the idea of a giant revival in the village – a crusade. They wanted it to be an evangelism tool, but also a way to demonstrate unity of the area churches. While the idea was indeed amazing, it was an improbable undertaking in such a short amount of time. That part of Lalogi had never had a revival, so we were starting from scratch. The event involved working with leadership from every single church in Parwech, not to mention the local government…and Walter made it happen.  Every budgeted dollar, every scheduled minute, every fellowship meal, every youth training event, every leadership planning meeting, every committee –  Walter walked alongside the local leadership to execute everything. He discipled the pastors on leadership, delegated tasks and responsibilities, and ensured each church had full ownership of the crusade. The result? A four-day revival with over 500 people in attendance. Through the grace of God – and Walter’s leadership - the first crusade in Lalogi was an enormous success.

He continues to prove himself an asset to the Switchboard team. Aside from his distinguished education and various degrees, Walter is a leader - confident and competent, caring and servant-minded. He loves the Lord and is committed to integrity – whatever the cost. And we are so thankful he is a part of our organization.

The Crusades in Lalogi

Today's post is from Melodye. She works with Switchboard, and last year she had the opportunity to travel with us to Uganda to participate in the 2015 crusades. Here she shares her experience and an exciting update.

I had never been across the Atlantic Ocean, much less traveled to Africa. But last year, when Jana invited me to Uganda to attend the first annual crusades in Lalogi, I went. Armed with the support of my family and only a million questions (“What are we going to be doing here?”, “Where is Lalogi?”, “What is a crusade?” etc.) we arrived in Uganda on January 10, 2015. We drove to a remote village outside of Gulu and for the next four days participated in the crusade. Four days full of worship, prayer, teaching, praise, dancing, giving, and reading the Word of God. From sun-up to sun-down, in the middle of a field next to the town of Opit, HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of people came together to draw near to God – and to one another. 

One of the opening praise and worship sessions at the 2015 crusades in Lalogi

What did this have to do with Switchboard?

Only months prior, the teachers and organizers of this event sat near that same field learning about God. They had been trained and discipled earlier that summer at Switchboard’s first Pastors Training Conference. What they had been taught, they were passing on to others. They had asked for this opportunity –a crusade for their village – to share what had been given to them. And hundreds of people came to receive. Switchboard provided the funds for this inaugural event, and they helped advise the preachers, teachers and elders who united to organize everything. For nearly a decade, Lalogi had gone without a revival like this. The pastors of the churches saw the need for it, and realized they had the means to provide.

Last week, the second annual crusades were held in Lalogi.

According to Walter, Switchboard’s country director for Uganda, the crusades again provided revival and light and life and joy for the villagers in Lalogi. This year’s theme was taken from Matthew 11:28, which says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Walter shares: “This was a very befitting message because of the time that we are in right now - full of election violence. Therefore we called for everybody to calm down and pray for the right leaders to be elected, including the president. The crusade was one very brilliant idea for Lalogi, and we were applauded by the local leaders and even policemen for our great insight into doing a rather unique work in the community…where all the churches share the same ground as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We were even called to expand to other areas. All the local churches were in attendance and there were three sessions for preaching the Word of God each day, with two local pastors each, preaching from the training Aaron did. [Aaron traveled with Switchboard this past summer, teaching during the second annual pastors training conference.] I am glad to inform you that at the end of the five-day crusade, a total of 59 people gave their lives to Christ and were born again. This was the most amazing moment I experienced during the crusade, and we gave each of them a bible to help them read more of the Word of God.”

Without our generous supporters, this event would have never happened. And so we wanted to pass along Walter’s report and thanks to you. “Once again I would like to thank you very much for the hard work of securing the funding for the crusade, and may the Lord continue to bless you always.”

How We Got Our Name

Last week, we gave you a look at our history – and the answer to one of our most frequently asked questions: “How did it all begin?” This week, we answer our second most frequently asked question: “How did Switchboard get its name?”

Much like us, your familiarity with a switchboard is most likely derived from what you’ve seen in TV or movies. The plugs, the cords, the switches…someone sitting in front of it with a headset. They receive a call, throw switches to answer, and they talk to the caller about with whom they are wishing to speak. Once the operators get the information, they move cords into plugs and pull switches to get in touch with the desired person. Once the two parties are connected and conversing, the operator leaves the connection open so the two can communicate. 

When you watch it in film, it looks like a complicated fast-paced, song-and-dance of movement and receiving and answering…and connecting

That’s what it comes down to – a switchboard is about connecting. It is about being ready to answer a call and making the connection to where that call needs to go. Switchboard Missions seeks to do the same. We are connecting people here with people across the globe. We are plugging them in to what God is doing around the world. We are using our abundant resources here – our time, our training, our money, our passion – to plug in to God’s global vision.

So whether it’s a pastor in Uganda asking for a mentor – or a church planter in Portugal seeking discipleship resources – Switchboard is working to make the connection.

How We Got Started

“How did it all begin?” When it comes to the Switchboard story, this is one of the most frequently asked questions we receive. 

In 2008, our founder, Jana Ogg, was working for a missions organization, coordinating and leading short-term mission groups, domestic and abroad. After two years of this, she was convicted that God wanted her engagement with missions to be long-term instead of short. Through lots of prayer and wise counsel (read: hours-long conversations with family, friends, mentors and co-workers), she started seeking alternatives to the short-term project mission work she had been doing.

While on a trip to Nicaragua, Jana met and worked alongside Nicole (Odom) Eaton who shared a similar heart. Together they dreamed and prayed about founding Switchboard. And in February 2011, Jana’s employer saw her vision and equipped her to create Switchboard. 

Three months later, Jana was led to Northern Uganda assisting with post-war rehabilitation. She returned a year later with Nicole and our board president, Josh Weiss. Together the three focused on holistic restoration: establishing poultry farms, distributing mosquito nets, building shelters and launching agricultural community gardens. All the while, they were teaching people about Jesus and helping them understand His Word. But even then, the group felt conviction that this wasn’t the path God had planned for Switchboard. While the physical projects were successful, they witnessed that the only thing that made a true and lasting impact was the Gospel
 

So the next summer, Switchboard returned to the same village and distributed Bibles. They lived in the village for two months, teaching, instructing and helping people understand the Word of God. At the end of that trip, the local church leaders approached the team with a surprising request. They were grateful for the help. They were grateful for the work that had been done. They were grateful for all of the physical assistance they had received. But more than anything – more than another poultry farm or building project – they wanted more of God. They had just been given a Bible – and more than anything they wanted instruction and training in the Word of God. They asked for more of Jesus – so that they could be the ones to lead their churches and encourage their community. So the following summer, in July 2014, Switchboard planned a pastors training conference for the local church leadership. The team spent the month mentoring, discipling and equipping 240 local preachers, teachers and elders in the village.

It was then that the purpose of Switchboard became so clearly defined: to come alongside the local leaders, investing in them and equipping them, so that they may go out and do the same.

It’s been five years since the launch of Switchboard. Nothing looks like what was planned back then. But in that time God has been gracious to direct our steps and show us exactly where to go. As we start the new year, we’re excited to build on this foundation and add to the Switchboard story.  

By the Numbers: 2015

It's the eve of a new year, and Switchboard is excited to see what 2016 holds! But before we move ahead, we think it's important to take a step back, look at the year behind us, and pause to thank God for everything He has done. Last month, we took an in-depth look at the past year.  (Click here to read more.) So this time around we wanted to give you a quick snapshot of 2015 to wrap up the year: 

245 leaders trained and discipled in Parwech (Uganda)
140 leaders trained and discipled in Gem (Uganda)
110 women trained and discipled in Parwech (Uganda)
2 leaders trained and discipled in Basirhat and Gaborda (India)

2,506 Bibles distributed in Uganda

500 attendees at local revival in Parwech, Uganda

2 people mentored for self-sustaining discipleship program in Parwech, Uganda

3 new areas entered (Basirhat and Gaborda in India and Gem in Uganda)

4 invitations received to enter new countries

2 additional partnerships with local churches/organizations

We feel honored and humbled to get to work alongside such inspiring and faithful leaders around the world. And we can't wait to continue with this momentum in the new year!

 

The Switchboard Mission, part 3

This post is part of a week-long series taking a deeper look at the mission of Switchboard. Put simply: What does Switchboard do? We are going to break it down, point-by-point. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t come up with this idea on our own.) This is Part 3. (Click here to see Part 1 and Part 2.)

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV)

If Acts 14:20-23 gives us a macro look at Paul’s missionary methods (see yesterday’s post), then 2 Timothy 2:2 shows us what Paul’s methodology looked like at the micro level. How did Paul equip and train indigenous leaders to follow Christ and lead the Church? One word: discipleship. What is discipleship? To Paul, it was simply investing the gospel truths learned from life experiences and from God’s word into the life of another. 

Paul’s expectation was that every disciple he made would make other disciples. Paul expected reproduction. It is a strategy of multiplication. Paul had poured his life into Timothy, who would invest into the faithful men around him, who would then make disciples of others. In this way, the growth and expansion of the Church was not by addition but by multiplication, as one became two became four became eight became sixteen and so on.

We at Switchboard Missions want to be to these indigenous leaders around the world as Paul was to the Roman world in his day. He lived out the Great Commission each day, making disciples wherever he found himself at any given moment. The apostle spent his life multiplying and teaching others to do the same. Our mission is to teach and train those across the globe to invest their lives for discipleship and to live with a strategy of multiplication.

The Switchboard Mission, part 2

This post is part of a week-long series taking a deeper look at the mission of Switchboard. Put simply: What does Switchboard do? We are going to break it down, point-by-point. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t come up with this idea on our own.) This is Part 2. (Click here to see Part 1.)

But when the disciples gathered about him, he [Paul] rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:20-23, ESV)

This scene in Acts 14:23 summarizes Paul’s entire missionary method. When the apostle entered an area, his first and only concern was the preaching of the gospel, the making of disciples, and the equipping and unleashing of indigenous leaders to lead these new churches that were forming. 

Paul did not appoint leaders that he brought with him from another area. Instead, he trained those who were already there for the job. Paul understood that the church would only thrive under indigenous leadership; therefore, he identified local converts who possessed the ability to lead the church, trained them, appointed them, and then left, “committing them to the Lord.” 

Paul trusted the process of discipleship. He trusted the training he was giving these new converts. Most importantly, though, he trusted the Holy Spirit to guide these new believers and churches. He could give away leadership because he knew these new believers were being led by the best trainer of all: the Holy Spirit.

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Join us tomorrow for Part 3 – Multiplication.

The Switchboard Mission, Part 1

This post is part of a series taking a deeper look at the mission of Switchboard. Put simply: What does Switchboard do? We are going to break it down, point-by-point. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t come up with this idea on our own.) This is Part 1. 

Some of you have been around Switchboard for a long time. Some of you are new here (welcome!) Either way, we wanted to dive deep into explaining the mission of Switchboard: Advancing the Gospel through the global church by equipping indigenous leaders. What does this mean?

Switchboard Missions is a single-issue organization. We are about one thing and one thing alone: discipleship. Our hope, our prayer, our passion, our longing, our mission is to make disciples of all nations, and we believe this best happens through the training and development of indigenous church leaders. Therefore, that is ALL we do.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV)

In this passage, Jesus is addressing his disciples in one of their very last conversations. These 11 men had trusted and followed Jesus over the past three years, giving up everything to follow him. During that time, Jesus had trained and equipped them to lead, and now he was leaving them to fulfill the task of starting the church as we know it today. It all lay on the shoulders of these 11 men, and he leaves them with ONE command. Given, many would look at the verse and see FOUR commands – go, make disciples, baptize, and teach – but in the original Greek, only one of those is actually written in the imperative mood. Only one is a true command: make disciples. The going, baptizing, and teaching are simply the formula for doing this.

Christians know of the need to go into the world, and we are passionate to see people hear the gospel, become believers, and be baptized into the church. Rarely, though, do we move to the third and final step: teaching. Yet this is the most integral part of the discipleship process. Teams may be sent and people may come to know Christ, but, without teaching, they have no idea what it means to live the Christian life or lead Christ’s church. Without teaching, there is no discipleship.
 

Join us tomorrow for Part 2 – Equipping.

2015 Year in Review

We are wrapping up our fourth year at Switchboard, and the growth from years past is thriving. What we planted multiplied exponentially – and it's now planting seeds on its own. For the first time, the church leadership in Lalogi, Uganda organized and conducted their own community revival. For the first time, the elders of the churches there asked us to invest in the women of their church, training and discipling them. For the first time, Switchboard stepped outside of Africa and initiated partnerships with churches in India and Portugal. All along the way, we encountered the constant protection and provision from God. Where there were obstacles and hurdles, God saw fertile soil and brought growth. It was quite a year, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

 

UGANDA

During the discipleship training conferences in 2014, several of the church leaders decided to organize a revival for their community. Having just been equipped with new skills on teaching and preaching, they wanted to immediately apply those tools to reach their villages. In January, over 500 people came together for a week of praise, worship, teaching and fellowship. Switchboard oversaw the event, which was entirely organized and orchestrated by local preachers and elders.

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Over the summer Switchboard returned, working alongside the local church leaders for additional discipleship and instruction. In addition, the first-ever women’s discipleship training conference was held, equipping women leaders with practical tools on how to disciple and teach others. Switchboard also initiated work in a new region, Gem, distributing Bibles, teaming up with their local church leadership, and training over 130 pastors.


KENYA

Switchboard progressed into the Mogotio region of Kenya in March. After connecting with the local government and collaborating with church leadership, the initial stages of discipleship training have begun. The process to lay the groundwork for future discipleship conferences in a new area is intensive and involves church, government, and community ownership. Training the local pastors, Switchboard is partnering with them and helping develop individualized plans for their communities.


INDIA

Together with Ethos Church and Lipscomb University, Switchboard partnered with two churches in Basirhat and Gaborda. While there we connected with church leadership, working to empower, equip and encourage their church community. We also collaborated with them to plan and assess needs for discipleship training in 2016.

PARTNERSHIP WITH ONWARD

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While the partnership is still in its infancy, Switchboard has joined with Onward Church Planting to advance the gospel together. Onward is an organization that is teaching and training church planters, and the collaboration with Switchboard became a natural and effortless one. In 2016, the two organizations will work together to teach, train, and disciple church leaders worldwide, and we look forward to being stronger together than we could be apart.

As you can see, it's been a full year. For all of the fruit we were fortunate enough to witness, we know we can’t take any credit for its growth. God brought forth the harvest, and you, our supporters, family and friends, were the ones who helped us plant, water, prune and fertilize.  

As always, thank you for your generosity, love and support of this mission. 

Because everyone likes an update...

Undeniably, this year at Switchboard has been our best yet! We have been able to join with the Lord in some amazing ways with the support of you, our awesome donors and team. We knew going into the summer that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was what the people of Northern Uganda were hungry for and needed. And as always, we couldn’t have even imagined what all God had in store for His people. This Fall has been just as exciting, as we press on with renewed excitement for who He is as well as heaps of thankfulness for what He is doing.  We wanted to take a minute and update you on a few things that God’s been up to that has us so excited!

PASTOR TRAINING CONFERENCE

The biggest project of the year was our Pastor Training Conference. When we initially planned the conference, we expected around 20-30 Ugandans to attend, but were floored by the 133 men and women that signed up before the conference.  God wasn’t done, however, and we were even more floored when God delivered almost a hundred more! In the end, we had so many participants that we had to break into two separate conferences with a total of 240 attendees! It was clear that the Lord had been preparing the hearts of the people and has amazing plans for them. 

Over our two weeks of working with these pastors, we were able to teach the overarching story of Scripture and study how each book points to Jesus. We then focused on how to study the Bible, how to teach it to others, and even what discipleship looks like. It was unbelievable to see so many people absolutely gripped by the Word of God, and it inspired us all the more to continue this work. It is because of your prayers and support and the goodness of the Lord that these men and women will now be more fully equipped to spread the Gospel throughout their land. Praise God!

BIBLE UPDATE

As we mentioned in our update while we were on the ground in Uganda, we also had the distinct privilege of delivering 1200 more Bibles to this community. Thanks to the support from Ethos Church in Nashville and amazing donors like yourself, we have now supplied enough Bibles where there can be one in every single home in one of the sub-districts we work in, Parwech. This year, we took the time to step back and notice how the Word of God is changing this community in drastic, tangible ways - even diminishing the tight grip witchcraft had on this region! Again, praise God!

CRUSADE

On January 12-17th, we are sponsoring a revival in the village!  We are partnering with 24 of the churches in Lalogi to put on a 6 day crusade in which thousands of villagers will have a chance to worship together, pray for their community, and many will hear the gospel for the first time.  This is the first time the local church in the Lalogi district has come together as one to advance the gospel, and we are really confident God is going to move in some incredible ways through His people there.

KENYA

This summer God miraculously opened doors and we were asked to come and conduct a Pastors Training conference for the Mogotio District in Kenya in Summer 2015.  We couldn’t be more excited to expand our efforts from one country to two, and are confident God has great things in store for Kenyan people.  We are sending a team in December to meet with local pastors, scout out venues, and prepare the way for our teaching team to come in the summer. 

INDIA
They say you know God is moving when growth happens without you doing a thing, and that couldn’t be more true of our story lately.  In March, we are partnering with Ethos Church in Nashville to work with two of their church plants near Calcutta, India.  We’ll be responsible for leading a small team from Ethos whose main purpose is to empower and encourage the local leadership and church in India.

Rain

In the last hour, I have cooked lunch in a modern, perfectly working kitchen, watched Taylor Swift's new video on my laptop computer, listened to a friend make a business call on her iPhone, dreamed of what kind of house to build, and received countless texts from friends across the country.  I'm sitting in a fully furnished office in a fully furnished house, and I can see multiple brick homes and nice cars out my window.  On my way home from work, I'll stop at a store and return a rug I bought yesterday, make multiple phone calls, listen to the top songs on country and pop radio, and fight the traffic jam that will be the interstate in rush hour traffic.  Everywhere I turn, there are books and music and people and noise.  Are they blessings from the Lord?  Good gifts from a Father who loves us?  Yeah, I think they are.  But so often in this rat race, in our modern culture, I wonder why God doesn't speak the way He did in the Bible.  I read about times where the people would pray and pray for things and it almost seems like God answered them in such physical ways.  So often, I pridefully get out my pointer finger and start wagging it at God telling him that it isn't fair for him to have answered them so clearly in those days and not us now.  (Like I have any place telling God what's fair and what isn't... Sheesh!)  But as I sit and listen to my friend Jana tell stories of how the people in Africa see the Lord's presence, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not only prideful but also completely blinded by the culture, the stuff, and the noise, and I'm totally missing what He's doing and where He is.

My name is April.  I'm a 26 year old female, born and raised here in the States.  I love the Lord and try to seek His presence every day, even in the midst of this crazy American culture.  I believe the Lord is good and is working, here and there and everywhere, and I want to be a part of spreading His love and freedom wherever I am.  For now, that's in Nashville.  But thankfully, I've been given the opportunity to be a part of the Switchboard crew for a while and you'll be hearing my voice often around these parts for a while. And upon hearing stories like the one I'm about to share, I think I've been given quite a gift to join in the Lord's work at Switchboard in this exact time.

You see, Jana's been telling me stories about this summer in Africa. Honestly, she's been doing that for a couple years now, keeping me updated on what God's been up to on that continent and with those people.  This year, the story that got me was about rain.  Not demons or healing or revivals but rain.  The wet drops that fall from the sky and ruin our picnics, rain.

In the parts of Africa the Switchboard team was in this summer, everyone farms.  It's the only way you eat, make money, feed your family.  Crops being successful is essential to daily life.  The worst thing that could possibly happen for these farmers and these people is for there to be no rain and the crops to fail.  And when our team arrived in Africa in late June, that's exactly what was happening.  There had been no rain for over a month, and it was a drought.  Not only that but the sun had been hotter than usual, and the people were beginning to fear famine sweeping the land.  It was awful.  



Our team moved in on a hot and dry Saturday afternoon, and first thing Sunday, what happened?  It started to rain.  Not only did it rain, it poured. All day Sunday and then, quite honestly, for most of the rest of the trip.  So often here, I'm frustrated in the rain.. forgot my rain jacket, wet from my umbrella, etc.  But there?  They rejoiced.  And instantly, these open-eyed and open-hearted African people turned to our Switchboard team and proclaimed, "You have brought the presence of the Lord with you!"  Did they know from our prep or our countless hours of planning or even our money?  No, it was nothing of our human might or power.  As hard as we could've tried, we could have never made it rain in their drought.  The Lord did that.  And these people's hearts were so turned toward the Lord that the rain was never thought of as an inconvenience or a coincidence or anything of the sort.  It was a sign of His presence and their hearts were ready to receive.



Even more amazing than that, it was because of the rain (yes, the wet picnic-ruining stuff from the sky) that the people's hearts were open to receiving the showers He had sent for their souls as well.  The African people were more eager than ever to listen to the Word of God from us because they were so grateful for His provision and so trusting in His goodness and His timing. Praise God who shows up in ways we never could expect!

And that leads me back to what we're doing here.  In our busy lives with our planners chocked full of appointments and iPhones ringing like mad, I wonder if we miss it sometimes.  I wonder if the Lord is speaking to us in very tangible ways but our lives our too busy to recognize His goodness.  What if, through resting in His presence and living grateful lives in His Spirit, He could also cultivate in us the eyes to see all of the places He is providing our rain even right now as we speak?  

Today, I know these things for sure: The Lord is good.  He hasn't stopped working.  And I am thankful for our brothers and sisters in Africa teaching me of His presence today.



Jeremiah 14:22
Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.

Acts 14:17
Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.

Isaiah 55:9-11
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Author or editor, which will it be?


If any of you are like me, sometimes you become exhausted with how difficult it can be taking things you know to be true, in theory, and connecting them to your heart.  You can know something in your head, but that doesn’t mean you believe it with all that you are.  I wrestle with this constantly. I know things about God, about his love, grace, and mercy, yet somehow they feel distant.  In my head I know he is good, faithful, and just, but sometimes those words lose meaning as I repeat them over and over and still struggle to experience them.  

This week at church my pastor made an analogy about how our understanding of God as the author of our lives and our salvation is often replaced with an understanding of him as an editor.  I realize many of the truths of God and his promises for me feel distant because I have failed to see God for who he truly is.  Instead I have been chasing the ideas of a god who conforms to my will.  I look at God as an editor, though he is an author.  I look at God as a safety net or a “plan b” for when my plans fall apart, not as the Savior of the world through whom all things were created, through whom all things are held together, and to whom I should surrender everything with joy.  Somehow I have created a perfect world in my mind, and I only want to give enough control and influence to God for revision and minor corrections.  Somehow the knowledge that God is good, sovereign, and that he loves me has again missed my heart and I remain unable to see that his plans are far better than mine will ever be.


It is for seasons like this I am grateful for the community that God places in my life to remind me his plans for us are so good.  More and more I realize this is not something unique to me and my story, but really anyone who follows Jesus is brought to a place where they realize the plans God has for them really are good, but they are also impossible to attain without him.  We so badly want to rely on our own reservoirs of strength and love, and the more God calls us to follow we see how limited our resources are.  This story we continue to write with us living out of our own strength, will not simply be edited by our Lord of infinite strength, love, and mercy.  Nor will he be harsh and condemning when we see him as he is, the author.  Instead it will be his great joy to write and rewrite our plans giving us unlimited access to his kingdom and his love.

I think for us at Switchboard, we are learning this as God continues to reveal his heart for us and for our organization.  Sometimes trying to keep things simple, “nothing fancy… just Jesus”, can become quite complex when we let good things take our focus from the things God longs to give us if we would just open our hands to receive them.  Sure, life in Christ is more than simply opening our hands, but that is where it starts.  It starts by seeing, and believing, Jesus is who he says he is.  The rest is a beautiful journey in which Jesus doesn’t just command our surrender, but he shows us why our surrender becomes the safest and most satisfying place in the entire universe.  And although it is safe and satisfying, it will seem like the most unnatural, backward, and upside down journey.  At times it will be exhausting, frustrating, and painful, but it will be so good and so full of life changing grace, radical forgiveness, and unthinkable redemption that we on our own could never dream up.  It will remind you his plans for us will always be far greater than we could ever write into the scripts of our lives, if we would only see him as he is.  

As things in Uganda continue, and as things in Nashville develop, this is our song and prayer and we invite you to join us in the journey if you haven’t already.  Join us in praying that we would see Jesus for who he is, not who we project him to be, and that we would be obedient to follow him has he writes the greatest and most adventurous love story we’ll ever know.  He is the author, he is the perfecter, he is the Lord and he is good.  May we rest in our knowledge of who he is, and who we are in him.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that in did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. –I John 3:1-2

Sometimes you just can't find the words....




"How was Africa?"

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that question in the last few weeks I’d still be broke.  Not because I haven’t been asked this question dozens of times a day, but because nickels aren’t really worth all that much anymore.  But if you gave me a dollar, now we are talking. Even though conversations have been frequent, I feel I have a different answer for nearly every person asking about our time in Uganda. It seems like such a simple question, yet there has not been one simple answer.  The truth is, time in Africa seemed to cover the whole spectrum of experiences and emotions.  It was just as exhausting as it was restful, challenging as it was encouraging…  humbling yet affirming, chaotic yet peaceful.  There is no single word, statement, or rambling thought that would adequately describe the last few months of our lives.  Still I constantly find myself saying, “Africa was good, so good.”  It appears in my effort to say everything, I end up saying nothing at all.  I know I can’t speak for my entire team, but trying to sum up the six weeks we spent in Africa doesn’t seem possible.  And even though it’s a bit overwhelming in terms of the overall experience and everything learned, there have been a few stories that have been constant in conversation which truly remind me how good our time in Africa was and that these are memories I’ll continue to learn from for the rest of my life.


A lot of these memories came while distributing Bibles to various communities, visitors, families, and churches.  I saw a hunger for the written Word of God that I long for in my own life.  More often than not Bibles were received with a joy I had never seen and have yet to experience.  For decades many of the men and women in this community have heard much about Jesus and have listened to His words read aloud from scripture, but never were they able to read and study these words for themselves.  I was reminded how even without scripture God is actively pursuing the hearts of men and women worldwide because of the promises of His love.  Yet in my own life, when I have access to seven or eight different translations, there are times when my hunger to know him and to study his word simply isn’t there.  I’ve never been deprived of access to God’s Word.  I have never once sang and danced when one of the dozens of bibles in my possession was given to me, nor have I been brought to my knees in thankfulness for having the freedom to explore his endless mysteries in my own time.  
 
Every Tuesday people would come from all over Parwech to help dig in the community
garden, on this particular day we were able to deliver Bibles to them and witness some of
their joy and thankfulness in receiving their gift.  Truly amazing.

Though my experiences with the Word of God have been quite different in America, this was and will always be one of the most valuable gifts of perspective in my own life.  I have had many reasons to sing and dance before the Lord, and to kneel before the Lord with overwhelming thankfulness in my heart.  Yet it reminded me how God is actively pursuing us, all of us, everywhere.  Beginning with the distribution of Bibles, but clearly present in all of our projects, the words of Isaiah 55 came to life.   It was almost as though they stepped directly out of the pages as we continued to read and pray these words over our community.  Not only does God long to satisfy our hunger and our thirst for purpose and satisfaction, He longs to give us the best He has.  He longs to be fully known and fully trusted.  He longs to establish us and to use us to bring all people into a true understanding of his love, forgiveness, and His fullness of life, and He never wants us to feel as though it is ours to do alone.  God never sends us out to complete a task outside of His presence; He is always inviting us into deeper levels of trust as we participate with Him in the fulfillment of His promises.



In reality, God doesn’t need me for anything.  I learned that well.  In fact I am sure God could do the work I did much better if He did it without me, but for some reason He waits patiently for my participation.  Then He waits patiently again and again as I learn the simple, beautiful, and the sometimes-painful truth that His ways and His thoughts are infinitely better than mine and there is nothing I can do to keep Him from doing that which He wills.  Though our plans were loose to begin with, God slowly pulled our grip from even the littlest of things only to give us bigger and better ones.  We could not have planned for the home visits made by strangers who came to our homestead almost daily and we had no idea there were dozens of young men gathering to play soccer nearly every evening just five minutes away.  Though certain things seemed to come with their fair share of speed bumps, there were others moving with a great deal of momentum and excitement.  The community garden is being forced to face a lot of changes in the near future, hopefully all for the best.   Yet outside of our previous knowledge there are pastors leading their own community gardens and planting their own churches not far from where we work, and all they truly need are a few resources and people to encourage them.
 
Denis, Nicole, Jana, and Cesar in Lalogi while we waited to see our friends
participate in the local Music Festival for the nearby primary schools. 

Even among all the really good things, we still had our personal ups and downs.  Cultural differences were a constant challenge and reminded us of how little we can control.   We had our individual struggles with Jesus, with trust, with fear and despair, and in all things He constantly reminded us of His everlasting and steadfast love.  More than once I found myself incredibly grateful for the safety of the community He had given me so I could be lost and confused, and for giving me friends who would challenge me to be prayerful, humble, and confident in the words of Jesus.  In our confusion and sorrow, He was our help.  Though we had goals and projects, much of our time was open-ended and many of our plans changed.  It was almost daily we were reminded that our willingness to be interrupted was necessary for God to work in the midst of our organized chaos.  In our fear He was our saving grace. In our despair He restored our hope.  In our insufficiencies He was everything we couldn’t be.  In our impatience, He was perfectly patient.  Personally, and I would say collectively, Uganda presented many challenging and uncomfortable moments that at the time seemed unwanted.  Yet in looking back, the difficulties helped create much needed space in my life for God to teach me sweet truths about Himself and about how much He loves His people.  Though I’m never excited, or prayerful, for God to give me more difficult situations, I have come to appreciate just how much Jesus loves to walk with us in tough times revealing to us portions of His heart. 



Now that I’ve made a second effort to say “everything”, when it comes to the finer details it still remains as though I have again said nothing at all.  There are still so many stories to be shared and lessons learned.  The times in our huts late at night with our team and translators, traveling together and individually to different homesteads or visiting different communities, one on one time with the kids in the village, or getting mobbed by dozens of little smiling faces, playing soccer, passing out Bibles, surviving the Antpocolypse, digging in the garden, trading shoes, trapping Francis the rat, and walking the long dirt roads…  So much happened in such a short window of time. At times it was difficult, and other times it was easy, but Africa was good… it was so good.  Still, there will never be enough words to truly collect all of my thoughts, but for that I am grateful.  And for that, we are so grateful for your support and your prayers. You’ve not only encouraged us, but you have absolutely participated in very real and necessary ways as the Switchboard story continues to unfold. We have been so encouraged by you, and so have our friends in Uganda. Thank you for your prayers, thank you for your love, and thank you for your endless support. 


Josh, Cesar, and Bryan found got sidetracked in one of the classrooms, what started out as
one white guy and two little African boys turned in to "Three Mizungus", or three white guys.

Before I conclude, there is still so much to pray for and we ask that you continue to support us prayerfully as Switchboard continues to grow:

  • Please continue to meditate over and pray through Isaiah 55 as we wait to see what the Lord will do through the things he has already established, and for the Bibles that have been distributed throughout the community.  Pray for the people of Parwech, that God would raise up leaders and men of peace in their community who love him deeply and long to make much of him.
  • Pray for our Uganda Director, Walter, and his family.  A few weeks ago Walter and Jennifer suffered the loss of their newborn son.  Pray for peace and comfort as they mourn the loss of their baby boy.
  • Pray for us and our leaders, pray that God gives us clear direction as we continue to seek His guidance for our projects in Uganda, and for the development of discipleship opportunities here in Nashville.  Pray for eyes to see the world as He does, for ears to listen to His prompting, and for obedient hearts.  Pray that we grow in love for the Lord and for His kingdom.
  • Pray for continued trust in his provision, especially as projects grow and with that our needs.  He has been faithful to provide thus far, pray that we constantly remember all He has done, and that we cling confidently to His promises.



Oketi Jospeh was the homestead's LC1, kind of like a Mayor.  It has been a huge blessing to
be welcomed into such a loving community and he has been a big support and
help for the work we do.
Thank you again, thank you all so much.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly… 



Always,



Cyrus and the Switchboard Team
(Jana, Nicole, and Josh)



“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Isaiah 55:12-13


Goodbyes are never easy



I’m taking a moment to write you from Oxford, UK.  On the morning of the 8th our team landed in London and parted ways.  As we’ve been blessed with flexible flight plans from our travel friend, I’ve taken a moment to visit the sites of one of the most influential minds in my own life, C.S. Lewis.  This has been such a treat, walking, thinking, and praying on the same roads of ideation and revelation for Lewis, Tolkien and many other incredible authors.  Though the place is crowded with tourism, it seems like I’m back in Latin America, where I can be surrounded by crowds of people yet feel perfectly alone the entire time.  Simply amazing.

Our last days in Africa went by too fast, but then again the whole trip seems to be that way.  Saying farewell in Africa is a timely process.  You are not just a visitor to a family, but you’re adopted by everyone in the community and every community you stumble upon. 

Though it feels about time to be making our way back, all the unknowns we are left with still make the moment heavy.   It is bitter sweet for sure.  Trying to filter through all of my experiences, things learned, and relationships formed are too much for me right now.  I love Africa.  Well I love Uganda, I’ve never been anywhere else in Africa yet but I probably love those places too.  I love how simple life in the village is.  You fetch your water, cook over a charcoal stove, and the only electricity you have for the week is the cell phone charge you have when you leave Gulu and the batteries to power your headlamps and lanterns.  Life slows to a crawl when the sun goes down and is quick to respond the moment the sun rises.  Just when you feel like logic would suggest life should be one way; God reminds you he is not bound by rules or logic, just love.  

As different as life may appear, you are also reminded of the heartbeat of humanity which is without borders.  People everywhere long for the same things, they desire to love and be loved, and life without purpose is simply hell on earth with no escape.  Where in one country you wake up and work your nine to five every day, in another you’ll wake up and dig in your garden to feed you family and pay your students school fees.  Yet in both areas people can be trapped, with few distractions or many.  People misunderstand and misrepresent truth wherever they are, simply because the pursuit of truth and understanding is an exhausting process and many times people don’t know where to start because there is either too much information available or none at all.  

It is a crazy world we live in, but chasing after the life Christ calls us toward is the only thing I believe will bring us the peace we are looking for.  I learned there are people everywhere looking for things of Jesus, some people have infinite resources and others only understand the things they’ve been told because they’ve never had access to a Bible of their own, let alone someone to walk with them as they try to understand the countless mysteries of God.  

I’ll continue to process my time in Africa for quite some time, if not forever.  But as we pray and wait for the Lord to reveal his will and his timing, please continue to pray with us. 
  •  Pray for the development of our community projects in Lalogi, there are always obstacles regarding resources and land, as well as helping in a way that empowers.  Pray for wisdom and discernment as these develop.  Currently we help with community gardens, poultry farms, shelters, church plants, an orphanage and have distributed mosquito nets and Bibles through the community.
  •  Pray God continues to provide the written Word of God to those who long for it.  Continue to pray Isaiah 55 for the five hundred Bibles we distributed through the churches in Parwech.  That God’s word would fall as rain on those who read it, causing their lives to grow and sprout giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.  That the fruit of the word would make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that will not be cut off.
  •  Pray for the leadership and direction of Switchboard as we continue to grow.  Pray for Walter, our Uganda Director, and his wife Jennifer.  Pray that Jesus would continue to touch their hearts and give them hope and direction.  Pray for us in the U.S. as we pray for the growth and development we feel the Lord will lay on our heart, pray for the provision of any needed resource but the leadership and wisdom to work with the things God gives us. 
Friends, thank you.  Thank you so much.  I will be writing many more thoughts about our time in Africa.  As we do we will send them out to you via this blog and you can read them as you please.  But for now, please know your prayers have been heard and they have been felt.  Your support has not only greatly encouraged us, it has greatly impacted the lives of those in the communities where we work and live.  God has been moving, and he will continue to move, of this I am confident. 

Looking forward to many more updates and adventures to share with you, thank you again.

Grace and love to you all, always…                                                                      

Cyrus and the Switchboard Team 
(Jana, Nicole, and Josh)

“For the love of Christ controls us…”   II Cor 5:14-21

Illusions of Knowledge


Sometimes it is impossible to explain how you feel.  Not because there aren’t words, but because you simply can’t understand the mixture of emotions and experiences at the current cross roads in your life.  It is a terribly beautiful fusion of peace and chaos, joy and sorrow, as well as understanding matched with utter confusion.  It is as though all is right in the world, and on the other hand it feels as though there is not one thing I could consider constant.  This is how I feel right now.  It is not a bad thing, but at times it is uncomfortable and even taxing.

I love being among new friends, in a new culture, learning a new language.  Everything about starting over and beginning the learning process excites me, how some things transcend culture and bring people together or everything you will learn from the distinct differences if you take the time to observe.  Understanding cultural differences comes over time, but being able to see them through the lens of Christ takes even longer.  Not to mention the time needed to challenge your own cultural norms and observe how Christ is demonstrated, or not demonstrated in the way we live. Perspective can be a painfully humbling thing.  If we allow it, it can also be life changing.  Yet for so many of us it is easy to become so comfortable with our understanding of knowledge that our perception of reality does very little in regards to our convictions.  I don’t know what is worse, not having access to truth, or choosing to ignore truth because if we recognized it life would be more difficult. 

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis explains our own minds can become our personal “hell” if we are unwilling to let go of things that are not of heaven.  His argument, which I agree with, is there is no room for anything that is not heavenly in the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father.  Likewise, there is no place for the things of God to be built into the fabric of anything unholy, untrue, and unrighteous.  God does not share his holiness so we can settle for good things, he does not share his truth that we may believe in half-truths or partial truths, and he absolutely will not share his righteousness with anything unrighteous, though we will argue day and night creating a theology or a philosophy that fits our personal preferences.

Even though this next thought is seemingly unrelated, give me a moment and I’ll promise to bring it back around.  On Tuesday we paid a visit to the local primary school where Josh spoke about the subject of Reconciliation from II Corinthians 5 and 6.  With the attention, or lack of attention depending on the moment, from a couple hundred kids from the age of five to sixteen, Josh spoke about the depths of II Corinthians 5:21, For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

In a culture where everyone has heard the name of Jesus, yet even amongst themselves everyone still struggles with injustice, poverty, hunger, and incredible brokenness in their homes, we believe strongly the youth in this community will be the ambassadors of Christ who do not just know about him, but recognize that Jesus died on the cross so that they (we) might become the righteousness of God.  We might become the hands and feet of justice within our communities, we might visit those in prison, feed the hungry, and care for the widowed and orphaned not out of obligation but because the love of God has captivated our hearts and we long to do it. 

The greatest obstacle isn’t that people have never heard of Jesus.  Here, there are very few examples to follow of what Jesus calls us to.  People have become trapped in their own hell, held up within their mind because there are so many half-truths and partial truths they are unable to let go of.  Though this may seem like a struggle very different from in the United States because of grass roof huts and simple living, it’s not.  Sure, the way of life is different and culturally we may be apples and oranges, but we still struggle with our own illusions of knowledge.  Our misunderstandings usually come from believing we know more than we can possibly know through our immediate access to infinite amounts of information.  Yet, many of the difficulties we face here in Uganda stem from very limited access to information of any kind.  Not only do most families not have access to their own Bible, but the level of education often leaves many unaware of many things we would consider common knowledge.  It is the closest thing to an oral culture I have ever experienced, even land and ownership is communicated verbally through family heritage, and one can be arrested on accusation before any evidence is ever collected.  The amount of “he said/she-said” conversation I run into is overwhelming.  Yet that is the gospel many people know, something communicated through a generational game of “telephone”. 

As I see firsthand the hell in which our Illusion of Knowledge creates, I am drawn back to C.S. Lewis’ analogy.  There is no room in heaven for anything unheavenly; we can’t cling tightly to products of our broken humanity and long to take them with us as we build Jesus’ kingdom.  We needed the cross, just as much as we need it now, that we might become the righteousness of God.  That through the ultimate act of love we would not only be justified, but over a lifetime we would be transformed more and more into his image and likeness.  As Paul calls us, ambassadors of Christ, those who are righteous before God and actively demonstrating God’s heart for steadfast love, righteousness, and justice on the earth (Jeremiah 9:23-24).  Jesus was never supposed to be a prison within our mind which keeps us from doing his work, but if we live within our partial-truths that is what our faith can become.  Everything about Jesus is supposed to be about giving life, freeing, and becoming fully satisfied in being the righteousness of God.

As I sit here and wonder about all that He is doing, and as I try to make sense of my unexplainable emotional state, I pray the Lord reveals my own Illusions of Knowledge.  I do not want to spend a lifetime clinging to things that do not matter on this side of heaven. I want to be His, and I want everyone to understand the life available to us the moment we accept Jesus as both Savior and Lord.  As he continues to teach me his heart, I see he longs for the best for all his people, but that doesn’t always mean it will be the easiest and the most comfortable.  Yet if we are willing to trust him, I promise it will be the most satisfying adventure we could ever embark on.  If we are willing, if we accept Jesus as he is, he will make us to become the righteousness of God.

-Cyrus Eaton

Come to me, that your soul may live...


Trying to organize your thoughts and emotions from a week of living in the village into a single message simply cannot capture the reality of time passed in Uganda.  If you can imagine it, it has happened.  Starting with every Bible we have helped distribute, catching and releasing Francis the Rat from the boys hut, meals shared with our neighbors, to the ants which attacked our home last evening and the apocalypse immediately following, the excitement, emotions, and lessons learned are simply too great for words to truly suffice in explaining our emotions, the surprise, and the faithfulness of God in all things.  Yet as I think of the last week, though overwhelming, it is evident that in everything, God is reminding me of his heart for those in need and that he sees and knows every problem we will face and that he alone can make beautiful even the most desperate situations.  He longs to take broken things and make them beautiful, to deal justly to all who practice injustice, and to use all the hurt and pain the world could ever see to be a platform for hope and for his glory. 

Though he is in close pursuit of everyone, God has only affirmed he longs for all his people to participate in his redemption plan. God has made it clear to me that our heart, and our role, should be to do justice, and to be the hands and feet of the life giving love that has so changed us.  He has also reminded me that in my insufficiencies, he is sufficient.  In my imperfection, he is the good and perfect shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  In my misunderstanding, he will make himself known.  And in the midst of false religion, oppression, neglect, and injustice, he is truth, he is freedom, and he is just (Ezekiel 34).

My last update was sent the day before visiting a nearby orphanage, Father’s House, where we played, sang with the kids, enjoyed their dances and demonstrations, but also heard from the hearts of the humble servants who run and operate this incredible house of love (Read more of Nicole’s thoughts in our blog post from last week).  Training with the Bayern Young Stars Football Club has continued.  Denis, our translator and the most recent addition to our team, is quite the footballer and has been a huge support for the team and for helping increase the depths of our friendships.  Every day comes with new surprises and changed plans, music festivals, dinners with friends, or some unexpected wildlife looking to consume your home. And finally, we have spent most of our time distributing Bibles in the community, and watching as those who long to have their own Bible come find us directly at our homestead. 

Never have I seen such a deep hunger for God’s written Word.  Time and time again my heart has been convicted as we watched others receive their family’s first Bible.  On Tuesday when the farmers came to work the community garden, the farmers sang, danced, and knelt down in the dirt as you could see the gratitude in their entire being. Communities have given us lists of those in their homesteads and church communities who are without a Bible and have agreed to take us to deliver the gift of God’s word in their own language.  With each home visit comes another story as we are granted an opportunity to see into the difficult realties many families face.  Often, families’ salaries are withheld simply because the money is not there, and nearly always it is their children who suffer because there is no money to pay their school fees.  Limited access to medical treatment and a judicial system which arrests those on mere accusation are a few other stories we hear as we listen to our new friends.  In the midst of all their struggles, many of which are not consequences of their own decisions but rather a broken humanity, I continue to see a hope and a trust in the Lord I do not believe I have ever been blessed to see with my own eyes.  Daily I saw a hope and a hunger for God that I long to know within my own heart.

In addition to visiting others at their home, there are also those who seek us out at our home.  Everyone comes, the illiterate young boy, the drunken old man, the desperate family, and the teenage girl who longs for God to be known through her life.  With each new visitor I saw our prayers, and yours, for Isaiah 55 come to life. 
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat...  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David (Isa 55:1,3). 

The only thing God requires from us is that we would come to him, or that we would recognize him as he comes to us.  God’s love and his word, is for all who hunger and thirst.  His word bids us to come as we are.  Come and eat, delight in rich food.  Come.  Drink.  Drink deep from the wells of living water and never thirst again.  Recognize your need for food and water that will satisfy and simply come as you are.  You don’t have to fix your problems or correct your theology first, just come to Jesus and live.  

This has been quite the challenge as I reflect on my own life, and as I share conversation with my team members.  So many times we want to right the wrong in our hearts and in our actions before trusting Jesus will have us.  But without Jesus, without accepting the invitation to participate in his story, we’ll always be settling for “less”.  I forget all the evidence in my own life which shows Jesus has been chasing me, and I become so easily distracted for things that do not satisfy.  I want to long for Jesus as my friends in Africa do, even if they have yet to read from the pages of scripture.  I want to believe so strongly in God’s promises for me because his word is truth, and thus his promises are also true, that my tiny anxieties compared to this culture do not distract me from the work God is doing.  I don’t want to settle for less, even if that means discomfort.  I want Jesus to be the first place I look the moment my life is interrupted or inconvenienced and I want to believe with all that I am he will do all that he says he will.

Even now I feel as though I could write pages more about each story.  But to keep this as “short” as I can, I invite you to continue praying for us and with us for the needs and the people of this community. 
Continue to pray for the Bibles that will be distributed.  Please join us in praying Isaiah 55 over God’s word.  That his steadfast, sure love for David would be placed deep within the hearts of those reading, that young leaders would cling to the life giving words found in scripture and that they would trust God with all their uncertainties and insufficiencies.  Pray that these words would fall on the hearts of men as rain and snow which do not return until accomplishing all God has purposed it.

Pray for kids and young men who frequently find their way onto our homestead.  Moskey, Cesar, Sam and Francis are a few of those who spend time playing with us and joining us for evening prayer though they do not understand most of what we say in English. 

Pray for Walter, our director.  His health has improved greatly, but he remains busy and his wife very pregnant.  Pray for them, for rest and for health as they wait for their newest addition to the family.

Please continue to pray for us, pray for an increased trust and confidence in who he is.  As we meet many needs, pray God deepens our trust in his provision and his faithfulness especially as our organization grows as well as the needs associated with it.  And please, pray he continues to draw us close to him, showing us more of how much he loves us and revealing to us more of his love for the people in our communities.  Pray we would see them as God sees them.

Thank you all, thank you for your support and your prayers.  Though we are so often “off the grid”, it is a blessing to sit down and recall the goodness of the Lord and share our joy with you.

Grace and love to you all, always.
Cyrus

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy, I will feed them in justice. 
Ezekiel 34:15-16

How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place...


Our dearest friends and family,

Wow, I sit here trying to think about where to begin and am at somewhat of a loss. This week was so good and full of the favor of God. We began passing out Bibles, and although we expected great things, I don’t think any of us could have ever imagined what a blessing it would be. We have gotten to see His Word come to life in the most beautiful ways as people have received it for the first time and have burst forth in praise and worship at their hunger fulfilled. God has graced us with what I think we would all agree was a glimpse of Heaven touching Earth, so much to the point of having to take off our shoes because it was so evident that we were standing on Holy ground. We have heard incredible stories of faith and God’s faithfulness that have in turn grown our faith as well. We have gotten to sit in our front yard and share communion with new friends, mediating on the truth of the Gospel and the love and redemption of Jesus. All in all, we’ve just seen God’s hand at work around every corner – seeing clearly how He has been at work long before we ever got here and will continue to move long after we are gone. I am continually blown away at His invitation for us to step in and join Him in the things He is doing. THERE’S NOWHERE ELSE I’D RATHER BE!!! That, my heart has grown more and more certain of.

As we have come to serve, the Lord has been so kind, as He always is, in pouring into us far more than we could ever pour out. He has pulled us closer into His heart and allowed us to better understand the depths of His love, bringing us to places of deeper intimacy with Him. He’s showed us His faithfulness time and time again and taught us more of what it looks like to trust and lean on Him fully. He is continually opening our eyes more and more to see the world and people the way that He does and teaching our hearts how to love like Jesus. In all of that, joy has been full.

As we head back into the village today, we invite you to continue joining us in prayer!
  • ·      Pray over the Bibles and the people receiving them. Isaiah 55 has been a passage that has remained on our hearts; join us in praying it over the souls of these precious people!                           Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price… Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live, and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David… Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near… so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands...”

  • ·      Pray for the kids and families that frequently find their way onto our homestead – that He continues to demonstrate His truth and love through us and that people would encounter Jesus as they step into our homes.
  • ·      Pray for Tuli and the projects going on here – that He would have His way and be glorified through it all.
  • ·      Pray for Walter and his family as he works tirelessly and his wife, Jennifer, is expecting a baby in the next month! Pray health and blessings over his home and that he would be strengthened and encouraged as he presses on in obedience.
  • ·      Pray for us – that God continues to stretch and teach us, pulling us closer into Himself, that our hearts would be fully surrendered to Him and we would be sensitive to His voice and in step with the Spirit.
Thank you all so much for your love and support. We are so grateful for each and every one of you – although you remain on the other side of the world, you all are an extremely vital part of our team! We love you. Yes, you :) A lot!

Joyfully His,
Nicole

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God… For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Psalm 84