Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Transitions are much like challenges.  As much as we try to dodge, they will come.  I’ve often heard you are either entering, in the middle of, or finishing one.  When I’m on the spot and have to illustrate or describe something, my mind instinctively goes to one of two areas…marriage/family or music.  When it comes to transition, both are extremely relevant.  


This past Monday, the 8thof July, Wendy and I celebrated 19 years of marriage.  In that time we’ve experienced many transitions, some good, and some not so good. Only by the grace of God and his daily mercies have we been able to handle transition.  There was a time Wendy tried counting all the homes we had lived in together.  The number reached over 20.  Like I said, by His grace.  Life transitions are ever happening.  One day your newlyweds and the next day your parents.  The career you once had is 180 degrees different from the previous one. Your children grow and all of the sudden they begin to leave, for a good reason I hope. The dreams and desires, which used to consume you change and you find yourself 20 years later doing something completely off your radar.  People come and people go…this might be the most challenging transition of all. Circumstances change and we are baffled.
Emma, our first born, is leaving the nest next month.  It’s been planned for sometime now, but that sometime is now here.  The Gilliland home is forever about ready to be rocked. Life as we know it is going to change, and nothing we try to do can change it.  The continuum continues.  I was asked just this morning from some of the FNC teachers how we were all coping with Emma’s departure, to which I answered, “I have to be strong for Wendy, thus I need you all to be strong for me.”  As we had a nice laugh about it, one of them commented, “Now what about giving your daughters away?”  I decided to save that one for another day.         


Years ago a fellow musician taught me the art of transition.  This is what he said.  “Todd, the key to playing a song well is transition.”  I’ve found this true in every single aspect of song.  When I first learned to play guitar, it wasn’t the chording which tangled me, but it was the switching from G to C to D without a pause.  Over time and with much practice, it has become like breathing, I don’t even think about it. Think about the various parts of a song, the intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus x2, bridge, chorus, outro…and that’s just one of the hundreds of ways one can put a song together.  Now, take a band and have them perform just 5 songs…the transitions are endless, until the set list is finished, not to mention the lighting, sound, and other technicians which are as essential as the band themselves. If they don’t transition well, the performance of the band and the experience of the listener will suffer. I believe I could write pages and pages about musical transitions, but again, let me save it for another day.  

Over the years, FNC has undergone many transitions.  From the name, to what we do, and who we are today, looks entirely different from the plan Wendy and I had in mind when we first came to Uganda.  Ok, that last statement is for sure the understatement of our lives.  As we have shared our story time and again with fellow pioneers, we’ve found we share common ground.  The details usually vary, but the principle of transition always comes into the mix. 

Here we are again in what seems to be the greatest transition in the history of FNC.  From February to May of this year, a company called EMI (Engineering Ministries International) worked on a master plan for the future of FNC Academy.  The document contains over 90 pages of plans, drawings, and renderings…it’s quite impressive. For me it’s a daunting task.  I wonder what Noah felt when asked to build the great boat, or Moses when given the plans to build God’s ultimate dwelling place?  What about David, Solomon, or Nehemiah?  All of these men are hero’s of the faith, and have books which have stood the test of time to prove it.  The common bond for all of these great men: Determination and their Faith in God.  If I’m being completely transparent, I’m scared. Scared to begin such a large God sized vision.  I’m scared of the sacrifice, financial cost, and responsibility.  I’m out of my depth and way in over my head.  I’ve often asked myself how in the world we got here? If you sense an insecure man, you probably are right.  I’ve read the books, spoken to many wise men and women, confided in my leaders, prayed and then prayed some more.  This is the conclusion I’ve come to…I need God.  Noah, Moses, Solomon, David, and Nehemiah needed God just as much as I need Him.  Though to have Solomon’s checkbook wouldn’t be bad…    

It's a God sized vision for sure...and for the record, it wasn't mine.  All credit goes to the EMI team who worked tirelessly...1900 man hours to be exact.  That said, I can testify, they give and continue to give all glory where it is due.  So how does one conquer such a task...one brick at a time, one prayer at a time.  So this is our mountain, our Everest, our Ark, and another place for God to dwell.  Lives continue to forever be changed by the power of the Holy Spirt working in and through this little school.  It's now our time to believe He really can do all things.      

Monday, March 11, 2019


Seven years ago, the pace of life I functioned was full throttle, fifth gear, and so on.  55 miles per hour was a suggestion, and 64 my average highway speed.  I can’t say much has changed in terms of vehicle pace, but in regards to life, God and Uganda has changed me forever.  Pace of life might seem subjective and somewhat relative, but I believe if we were all extremely honest, slowing down is something, when we act upon it, is not only a better way, but the way, God intended.  We miss so much and continue to miss much when we live life in overdrive.  

Throughout scripture God has used time, most likely more time than we would have liked, to accomplish the works of His will.  And in most cases, it’s because we have tried to take short cuts, speed up time, or just plain go against the will of God.

Goat's Barn
This year FNC has taken on and continues to pray through this simple phrase…”Slowly Painting with Priority”.  In it’s inception, it was two thoughts combined into one.  Some of you know this particular year we embarked on a whole new journey, taking our three oldest grades and moving them out to the new land and the facilities provided to study and live.  For years I fought this idea of boarding students, for it means 24 hour care and serious responsibility, but after years of wrestling with our staff and God, I caved, and good enough God prevailed.  40 students are now being boarded and cared for here in our new campus, just 17 miles from our main campus in Kampala.

Now to prepare for this new undertaking, a lot, and I mean a lot of preparations needed to be accomplished in a relatively short period of time.  But God did it, and here we are.

God's Barn

There was moment in creating what is now called “God’s Barn”, which used to be in fact a goats barn, now used for assemblies, all campus functions, and Sunday morning church, which the phrase “Painting with Priority” came into play.  Jordan, one of our teachers and directors joined hands with a fellow co-worker and decided to paint or stain the exposed wood, which makes up most of the facility.  Four tins (or as we would say in the States, cans) were purchased for the job.  I arrived on the scene to see the guys hard at it, one working on the inside and one on the out.  Assessing the situation, I asked Jordan if he thought the four tins were enough to complete the entire job, inside and out.  He assured me so.  And then this phrase came out of my mouth.  “Jordan, just in case you are mistaken and it takes more than you expect, let’s at least agree that we paint with priority.  So how about you choose to work together, either on the inside or the out.”  And that’s what they did…and yes, it did take six tins to finish.  Here in Uganda when buying paint or stain, you better be sure you buy as much as you need to finish well or else, you might go back and find the paint or stain you were hoping to purchase once again is gone.  When this happens, things look rather “funny” or just plain bad.  I’ve learned this lesson to many times the hard way.

As one might imagine, when providing the needs for 212 students, over 50 staff, and now a new land and plans to expand, “Slowly Painting with Priority” is something the Lord placed on our hearts with purpose.  In closing, allow me to thank you for helping us with all it takes to live, love, and lead here at FNC.      

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


I love story...whether a book, movie, or podcast, I just love them, especially when they come from another human being.  But they have to be true, or at least based on a true story.  Never been much of a fiction fan, though I can understand why some truly are. Does that mean I'm not a fan of such stories like Lord of the Rings, the Rocky series, Seinfeld, etc?  No, it just means if I'm to make a choice and spend the most precious commodity, time, then I'm all in for true.

I'm a horrible memorizer.  I once had to memorize word for word Matthew 5, 6, and 7;  punctuation and verses, NIV of course...this was in 1995.  I passed, barely.  The only way I can even remember lines is if I write them down, and even then, I have to remember where I wrote it!  Some of you might be able to relate, some of you have already ordered me an app on your phone or clicked on Amazon to help me become a bit more organized.  Gifts as such are always appreciated.  Allow me to get to my point.

Yesterday evening I spent two hours watching a movie entitled "The Green Book."  Let me not waste your time explaining it, but for the record it is based on a true story.  If you're a person who can't stand Hollywood for all the pollution it provides our brains, then I'd just encourage you to stop reading now...because this portion comes from a movie, and yes, there is some language which would not be appropriate for all audiences. Those of you still with me, here it is:

"The world is full of lonely people waiting to make the first move"

This line stopped me in my tracks...literally.  I pressed pause on my laptop and just sat there, and kept sitting there, reeling and reeling it over and over again.  Context seems to be pertinent for what I'm about to say.  In the movie, a man is sore about never hearing from his brother.  His friend simply says, maybe your the one who needs to make the first move.  The scene ends.  But that line...wow, for me, it's powerful and so so true.  

Hurt is crippling, some if not most, take it to their graves.  And for me, this is just plain sad.  I don't know where you are in life, but let me tell you this, all of us have hurts.  Some of us are just better at hiding them.  This past year has been a year of forgiveness, for me, from others, and from God.  True forgiveness isn't easy, but it is entirely possible.  Jesus promises us it is.  But here's the sorry truth...most of us are waiting...waiting to forgive and waiting to be forgiven.  Burdens are killing us, and I mean in all aspects of the word kill.  Time doesn't heal...but time plus Jesus always heals.  Burdens and chains can fall, but often times, we have to be willing to make the first move.  

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Being thankful through and for all things rarely comes easy for me.  Recently, I was sent a group of pictures, pictures that captured the last 6 years.  Memories flooded my mind, heart, and soul.  Some good, and some not so good…

I was reminded the other day as I listened to Rick Rubin over a podcast produced by Malcolm Gladwell, to live life forward.  Rick was asked an interesting question, “Do you ever go back and listen to past albums you produced?”  Rick’s response was a bit surprising to me.  “No, I rarely do.”  He went on to explain once a project is finished, the amount of time he’s invested in the record is extraordinary, usually lasting for months.  

And so it made me think…how often do I go back and “listen to the albums” I’ve helped create?  Rick Rubin is no God, at least not to me, but as the late Brennan Manning once said, “There’s always a small crumb which we can catch from the mouth of others.”  

Today is Thanksgiving. This morning in our staff devotions, I wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving.  Though it was received well, here in the UG, unless you’re an American, it’s just another Thursday on the calendar.  As a child, Christmas used to be my favorite holiday, and for good reason of course. As an American adult, my feelings have changed.  Now, I believe my favorite American holiday is Thanksgiving.  Why?  It reminds me of how blessed I really am…even through the most challenging of situations. Today I miss my family.  Today I do feel 8000 miles from loved ones.  Today I’m thankful for families in my homeland who are gathering, and for the homeless and the down and outers whom are receiving love.  Today, I’m thankful for the healthy reminder from Rick Rubin to live life forward. There’s not a measuring stick long enough to account of how blessed my life is.  The future looks bright...     

FNC's New Parent Committee

African Grandfather and Daughter

Farming God's Way Crop 

Author, Friend, and Ocala Team
Annie's 8th grade graduation

Friday Children's Church
Kissing Well Board Members and Friends!

Quincy and the surrounding communities Team!

Special Friends

Team Chase!

Land Deal Done!

Staff on the way to the new FNC campus

Daddy Daughter moment

Freshly picked coffee drying in the Ugandan sun


Food for FNC

Friends and Family!

Jordan and Todd ready for Teacher Daddy's Wedding

Just another day in paradise

Sunday, September 16, 2018


This past Tuesday, Wendy and I were reading through a passage of scripture found in the book of Mark, Mark 10 to be exact.  There are several stories mentioned.  One of them caught my attention.  Actually, it was just one line in one of the events, which I had probably read a 100 times before, but failed to see.  “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”   This rich young ruler was about to hear some of the worst news, if not the worst news in his life.  But before Jesus uttered a word, Jesus first loved.  

I’ve ever heard the expression, “If looks could kill?”  Never have I once read or heard, “If looks could love?”  And just like that, Jesus teaches us a simple look can actually love. Mark saw it, otherwise he wouldn’t have written it down, and if Mark caught it, what about the rich young ruler? Yes, he did walk away, perplexed and discouraged...but what ever happened to the young man?  Scripture doesn’t say.  Nevertheless, Jesus does give his disciples a strong word about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.  The point, for me, even though Jesus knew how this man would react, He first wanted him to know He was loved.  Oh, I’m sure other Biblical scholars could say much more about this, and some might say I’ve just looked into this line a bit too much.  It’s entirely possible.  No matter your opinion or understanding of this particular verse, it is worth noticing Jesus could love with out saying or uttering a word.  

What about me?  Do my looks kill or do they love?   Am I intentional even with how I look at someone? I believe most of us could answer with a simple, sometimes.  And this is probably the truth.  I’m sure at times, motives play a role, and other times we are simply unaware, or don’t care.  Whatever the case, this simple lesson for me taught me one thing…the way I look at someone counts.  

Here in Uganda, children grow up learning not to look an adult in the eye, for if you dare, you are signaling a real sign of disrespect.  Just yesterday I sat down with one of our students and had to ask him a few difficult questions.  The student was sure I wasn’t going to allow him to look straight at me, but to his surprise, I asked him to look at me as I was talking.  It was like he was being tortured!  Look at someone with authority in the eye? Not a chance.  As he struggled to maintain eye contact with me, I repeated myself, “Please Jordan, look at me when I am talking to you.” For the rest of the conversation, or lecture, Jordan never once looked down or away.  I wanted him to know I loved him, with out saying it, and all the while rebuking some of his actions, which had previously taken place.  I can’t be certain, but I would venture to say it was one of the first times in his young life, he was being disciplined, and all at the same time, loved.  But let me be transparent…most of the time I fail at this, especially when I’m around my colleagues.  God help me to be more like you.  

I can’t make this up, the same little boy Jordan literally just entered my office.  He asked me if I was fine and that he had heard me coughing a bit.  I told him I had a touch of the flu, but that I’d be OK.  Little Jordan looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “Good, I just wanted to check on you.” 

Friday, July 27, 2018


A few minutes ago I had the privilege of holding a newborn baby girl in my arms.  Swabura was born this past Sunday, 22ndof July. Her mom, who goes by momma Swab’s, has been a cook here at FNC for several years. Moments like these continue to be sweet, full of life, and joy.  

This past Monday, at exactly 6:35 a.m., sitting in the exact same chair, which held me as I held baby Swabura, another moment occurred.  This moment wasn’t the sweet, full of life and joyous type.  In fact it was quite the contrary.  Teacher Diana informed me we had some extremely sad news.  FNC lost a student, friend, and family member. Her name was Atwiine Shilah. Shilah was a young 3 year old when she first entered the gate of FNC.  She was just 5 years when she fell into arms of Jesus. Shilah, an only child, was full of life and displayed her love daily by showing others they were loved. She always shared what she had. Like bringing a small piece of cake each day to her teacher, teacher Aggie.  And when she was lacking, she always shared with us her smile.  This we will always remember.  

Uganda has taught me many lessons.  There is one I will never forget.  Life is precious, the time we have is limited, and one never knows when his or her time is up.  After hearing from the doctors who treated Shilah, the results were clear.  She passed away from Typhoid, a bacterial infection. Which eventually traveled to her abdominal area taking her little life away from us.    

The phrase “He gives and takes away” has been extremely overused and as a result diluted over time. But in the case of little Shilah and baby Swabura, the phrase seems rather appropriate. Shilah left this world on the same day and time as baby Swabura entered into it.  Does one ever grasp the depth of God, His understanding, and the reason He does the things He does?  Scripture seems to think we will never, this side of heaven.  It’s in times like these, I couldn’t agree more.   

It is now a little past 5 in the evening here at FNC.  A few of us are just back from visiting Shilah’s mother.  Good enough, we also found others from FNC who were also there. I was reminded how much love flows through FNC; I was reminded we are family, thus the reason for this memorial blog. Whether pain, sorrow, joy, or laughter, we are in this together.  Before you lay your head down tonight, would you say a prayer for Shilah’s family, and say a prayer for yourself.  Tell God how blessed you are to have breath, and for the day He created for you.  He loves you.  Though Shilah will be missed, we are confident she’s where we all want to be one day, in the arms of our loving Father.      

Friday, July 6, 2018


There is a picture, which sits in the middle of my office desk here at FNC.  It is a picture of my family.  No color, just black and white and was taken in the summer of 2012. Along the bottom reads, “The Gilliland’s…Life is adventure together.”  The girls look so small, and I guess at that time, they really were. Wendy and I both look a bit younger, and maybe some days a lot younger.  Six years shouldn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of it all. I can’t say it’s the case for us. The past six years have turned our world upside down and inside out.  With out a doubt, we have all changed in one way or the other.  Truth be told, some good and some not so good. 

Living in a different culture long term takes a toll on a person, and the same toll is taken upon the family as well.  We’ve ever been asked, “When did you hear the call to go?”  The girls have their own version, which is pretty much spot on, “We didn’t really have a say.”  Wendy and I typically tell the story of a particular moment in the car where God spoke to us indirectly through one of Oswald Chamber’s devotionals sent to me by a long time friend.  That said, no one, or nothing called us to Uganda, not clearly and directly as far as we can recall.  

Over the years we’ve been awe struck by others stories who were “called” to go, and specifically to Uganda.  Every time I hear them, I seem to wonder if we really were called or not.  We’ve never heard a voice, never had a word (at least like others have had), yet here we are, in Uganda doing our best (most of the time) to serve and love the people God has placed along side this adventure. 

 As I continue to stare at the picture, I see five smiling faces, ready to go, fearless, yet wondering what’s to come.  Outwardly we have changed, but inwardly we have changed all the more.  Two of the three little ones have crossed the line into little women, with the third one being almost there.  For all of us, the things we used to worry about or be challenged with have drastically changed.  The concerns of life are different.  Our lenses have been forever changed.  Normal has broken to pieces and put back together with a new.  We’ve learned to live and not just survive.  We’ve learned God is here even when it looks like He’s not. Oh, we are not the same.       

But maybe, just maybe, that’s the point of it all…not what we are doing, but what God is doing in us.