Monday, April 6, 2020

Evacuating to a New Normal

I'd heard of it before, even spoken to a family first hand, but didn't think to much about it ever happening.  And quite frankly, in the midst of it all, it never quite felt like it.  Now for sure there are all different kinds and levels of evacuation, the reasons are many.  It wasn't as if Uganda was at war, or expats were being hunted down, though a certain percentage of me felt uneasy in a country I've grown accustomed to for the last 7 plus years.  Writing about it almost seems weird and or uncomfortable.  But after talking though it with Wendy last night, I felt it might be good to share the experience.

The plan for me was to be in Uganda for 8 weeks.  Our goal was to build a security fence around FNC's new boarding school and to also begin the foundation work on our student housing.  There were other things to do, like figure out how to move bulk quantities of our coffee stateside, encourage our leaders, and shift out of the home we had left behind.  But when a world wide epidemic occurs, plans adjust.  I'm happy to report many of the goals were met.  The fence begun and is almost complete.  We were able to shift out of our home, and a great contact was made in regards to the coffee.  But a lot was left undone...

I'm a task/goal oriented human being. Uganda has taught me to be more patient, and maybe that's why I feel like I feel today.  Leaving 4 weeks early wasn't on the agenda, neither was 14 days of self quarantine. It certainly isn't the America I left behind only a month back.  Things are a bit sideways, and for some completely turned upside down.  Allow me to give you a run down of the events as I remember them.

After arriving in Uganda the evening of 5th March, I began to receive information America was changing, the world was changing.  For Uganda, things seemed to be as usual.  And for the first two to three weeks they were.  That said, just 3 days after my arrival a 14 day self quarantine act was mandated by President Museveni.  I was fortunate to have missed that. Then shortly following, a more severe measure was taken with a mandatory quarantining at a $100 per day fee for any person coming into Uganda.  Can you imagine coming back to your home country and being charged $1400 US dollars, locked away at a hotel of the governments choosing?  But it happened...I believe this is when things began to unravel.  The media took great advantage of this story, as any media outlet might do.  Then it happened...the first reported case.  And from there, things began to spiral.  In a matter of 2-3 weeks, Uganda went from pretty normal to utter chaos.  If you were of any other ethnicity, you felt as if all eyes were on you.  I'm not and have never been fluent in the local language, but it doesn't take much to know when your being profiled.  But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and I believe wiser and if your keen, more compassionate.  Ignorance kills.  Knowledge saves.  If anything, I'm better today for feeling the effects of profiling.  It's not that it had never happened before to me and my family in Uganda...but there was something unique about this.  For the first time in my life I felt like a leper.  I don't say this for effect or for a "woe is me" factor, just wanting to share the emotion of the events.  Whether it was driving in your car, walking into a local shop, or just walking from place to place, people kept their distance.  But if I were them, having all media blasting expats for carrying the virus into their country, I might have done the same.  The irony, it was fellow Ugandan's which had come into the country from Dubai carrying the virus.  The President himself said it live at one of his many addresses...but it seemed as if that particular detail was overlooked.

Then came the speech which halted the country, a complete lock down.  Within one week the president and his cabinet canceled all public gatherings (schools, religious affiliations).  Then he announced all public transport to cease.  Next he closed all businesses, minus grocery stores. And then all private vehicles.  Now just imagine a city of millions who literally live day to day, now having no means of transport, and little to no means to earn.  Oh, and a curfew from 6:30am to 7pm.  Life has never been a picnic in Uganda...now it was survival of the fittest. And if all this sounds a bit much, it's because it was and still is. As of yesterday, police are now telling even those walking outside to go home.  This is the result of mandates put in place to help, not to hurt...it doesn't take much imagination to see the opposite effect.  Yes, this virus doesn't discriminate...but the measures one country takes shouldn't dictate another country which is vastly different.  All to say, much prayer is needed for Uganda, it's people, and it's leaders.

Evacuating to a new normal was and continues to be interesting.  Wendy asked me if I felt traumatized from the event?  This was my response..."Honestly, I think God had prepared me for it."  Just getting to the airport required special permission from the Ugandan government and the American Embassy, walking 20 kilometers just to pick a letter from officials.  Then even with the proper documents, Solomon and I were stopped 6 different times by military officers in just 40 kilometers to the airport (one officer even called the US Embassy to cross check our papers and to make sure we were on "the list").  When reaching the airport, it was something out of a movie...but God was there every step of the way.  And for those who prayed, thank you.  And for those who pray, would you join me and continue to pray for FNC...staff, students, and families.

I plan to return to Uganda hopefully this summer...our students need housing for next year. God loves it when we love on his children, and for this I'm extremely hopeful.  Grateful to be back with Wendy and the girls...grateful to serve the least of these...grateful for life...grateful for the love of God.              

     

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"EDUCATING TODAY...BUILDING FOR TOMORROW"

"The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation." --Corrie Ten Boom

I'm thankful for the YouVersion app...it has helped me to stay in the Word daily. Studying scripture with brothers and sisters in Christ is also a bonus.  "We can always earn more money, buy more things, and make more friends, but we can never obtain more time"--"7 Days to Becoming a More Generous Person (YouVersion plan).  As I awoke this morning, the above phrases spoke loudly to my spirit.  What a great reminder!

Being stateside the last 6 weeks surprisingly has provided some much needed rest and reflection.  It's allowed Wendy, myself, and the girls to shift our focus from pouring into to being poured into.  The holidays have come and are now gone.  Thankful to spend time and see family, but also as grateful we are having some time to just be.  Church visits, lunch and coffee conversations have been spread out well, and are continuing.  The generosity our friends and family have given us is priceless.  

Time...the most precious commodity.  Do I live as such daily, probably not.  As I look into today and what tomorrow will bring, my prayer is that my time becomes less about me and more about Him and others.

"Educating Today...Building for Tomorrow" (Thanks to Connie Benson and Becky Mosley) is the title for FNC's latest building campaign.  A soft launch has begun.  Since 2018, FNC has raised more than 220,000 US Dollars!  To date because of your generosity, FNC has been able to accomplish the following...

1.  The purchase of 13 plus acres, inclusive of a house and a few out buildings.
2.  A well was drilled and existing facilities underwent a facelift, providing the space needed to begin.
3.  NEW CONSTRUCTION of PHASE 1 IS UNDERWAY!  (Please see below pics)


GRADES 8 & 9 CLASSROOMS plus GUARDS QUARTERS 

GRADES 6 & 7 CLASSROOMS 

INSIDE OF CLASSROOMS

CLASSROOM BLOCK DRAWINGS (2 CLASSROOMS PER BLOCK)

FUTURE STUDENT HOUSING RENDERING

STUDENT HOUSING DRAWING



So here's the break down to complete PHASE 1...
1.  Classroom Block 1 (8th-9th grades, plus guards quarters).................$30,000 COMPLETE
2.  Classroom Block 2 (6th-7th grades)...................................................$30,000 COMPLETE
3.  Boys Housing inclusive of toilets and showers (50 boys)..................$50,000 ($35,000 Raised)
4.  Girls Housing inclusive of toilets and showers (50 girls)...................$50,000
5.  Mom and Dad's home (top-middle of above drawing).......................$30,000
6.  Security Fencing (around entire school).............................................$15,000
7.  Classroom Block 3 (10th-11th grades)...............................................$30,000
8.  Sports Facilities (Soccer Pitch, Basketball/Volleyball Court).............$10,000

GRAND TOTAL..........$245,000

Up to this point, FNC has secured $95,000, which leaves us $150,000 to complete PHASE 1.  
Our primary need for 2021 is housing...we would obviously love to build and complete PHASE 1 by the start of 2021, but building with priority is our main objective.  A donation of $1000 per child provides housing and hope for generations of children.  We understand not everyone has an extra $1000...but I do know together this is entirely attainable.  Donations can be made via PAYPAL @ www.thekissingwell.blogspot.com or www.fncacademy.org and for checks PO BOX 344 Vermont, IL 61484.  Please make checks to THE KISSING WELL...all donations given are tax deductible.      

"Educating Today...Building for Tomorrow"


Future phases are available and can be provided.  For more information about the entire project, please reach out to todd@thekissingwell.com.  



    

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

TRANSITION

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.  



Marriage/Family

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.         



 Music

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

SLOWLY PAINTING WITH PRIORITY



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

THE GREEN BOOK

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

REMEMBERING TO LIVE LIFE FORWARD

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

Friends!!!

Food for FNC

Friends and Family!

Jordan and Todd ready for Teacher Daddy's Wedding

Just another day in paradise



Sunday, September 16, 2018

IF LOOKS COULD LOVE

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.”