When I reflect on the times in my life when I’ve been most devoted to digging deeply into Scripture, I’m struck by the joy, courage, contentment, and confidence in God that resulted. For example, when I was in high school, I seldom went anywhere without a pack of index cards on which I’d handwritten Bible verses. I was a competitive distance runner at the time, and as I logged many long miles I carried the verses with me and committed passage after passage to memory. As I meditated on Scripture the miles flew by and my life, faith, and attitude were renewed, shaping a heart and mind bent toward God.
An excerpt attributed to a renowned Christian apologist and author appeared in one of my social media feeds. Because I respect the person who shared the content and because the language reflected the author’s voice, I momentarily believed the quote was authentic.
Prior to moving to East Africa, I spent hours praying, seeking counsel, and preparing for a new lifestyle and ministry. Loneliness, limited amenities, leaving friends, and cultural adjustments were among the challenges I expected. Soon, however, I realized that while my love for the Ugandan people remained constant, the hardships, constant giving of my time and energy, and responsibilities of life in a foreign land were taking a toll beyond what I’d anticipated.
Following a long season of loss, hardship, transition, and illness, my heart and mind were in a fragile place. Though my assurance that Jesus Christ is “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13) remained intact, I had many questions about what it meant to fully trust Him in the day-to-day aspects of life.
My adopted teenage son and I had the privilege of hosting two of his closest friends, Brock and Wesley (and their parents), in his native country of Uganda. Though our friends were spending just one week in East Africa, their plans were so ambitious that I said to Brock, “Your dad wants to do everything in seven days.” “It’s possible,” Brock replied. “God made the earth in seven days.” “Yes,” my son said with a smile, “but did God do all of these activities?”
In March 2007, I was standing in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda gazing at hundreds of young refugees who were staring back at me. As I looked into their eyes, saw their malnourished frames, and witnessed their deplorable living conditions, the Holy Spirit filled me in a way I’d never experienced before. I sensed God was telling me, “I love these children. I love them!” And then, it was as if He extended this invitation: “Come love them with me.”
During his 100 years of life, renowned photographer Stanley Troutman has witnessed some profound events. In 1945, as a US Navy photographer, Troutman was deployed to Germany and Japan where he captured on film some of the most poignant images of World War II. After the war, as the official sports photographer for a large university, this believer in Jesus saw and documented amazing athletic feats.
Police were sent to a home in response to a report of domestic child abuse. When they arrived at the house, they found a scared four-year-old girl with a black eye, swollen cheek, and bruises covering a majority of her tiny frame. The officers were devastated when they asked her to say her name and she meekly replied, “Idiot.”
My son and I spent a few days with friends at their home in the beautiful northern region of New England in the US. Our visit followed my ninth consecutive year of fruitful but intense ministry in East Africa. Depleted and in need of recharging, I was grateful for the physical rest my friends’ hospitality provided.
Deep in the African bush lives a missionary couple named Bob and Martha, who have served in Namalu (a village in Karomoja, Uganda) for more than fifteen years. Despite formidable challenges such as surrounding tribal conflicts, it is here that they’ve chosen to raise their children and joyfully lead a vibrant ministry.
Many years ago, a relative repeatedly attacked my faith in Jesus. His words and criticism—bathed in cynicism—deeply hurt me. Although he passed away more than a decade ago, and I’ve forgiven him, there are still times I feel as if this relative is standing next to me—belittling me for following Jesus.
Since going through a difficult experience three years ago, I’ve battled subsequent bouts of intense anxiety and fear. Upon learning of my season of struggle, a dear friend encouraged me to memorize, meditate on, and embrace John 10. The passage, she explained, expounds on the Good Shepherd we have in Jesus and calls us to recognize and listen to His voice rather than voices of doubt, darkness, discouragement, and shame.
I spent much of my post-college career as a sports journalist—regularly talking with Olympic and professional athletes who professed and modeled a life devoted to Jesus. It wasn’t until I had interviewed well over one hundred athletes that I realized I was more apt to share their testimonies with others than I was to share my own. I believed friends and acquaintances would rather hear about the athletes’ journeys than hear about mine.
Friends often remind me, “You’re not alone.” “God is with you,” they say. “Yes,” I answer. “He is.” Yet there are times—mostly when I’m pressed to accomplish a daunting task without anyone physically present to help me, or when I’m alone for extended periods of time—that I wonder, “Is God here with me?” And, if so, “What does His presence truly mean?”