Thursday, 30 March 2017

Seven weeks and counting.....

Written in August 2016 - published March 2017 -
I hesitate to share this information, as it is not easy to share what has been OUR REALITY since July 11th when we left Yei, believing we would plan to travel back in a few weeks, when insecurity improved.  Little did we know that things in Yei would be worse today than at that time. Weeks have passed now, and food insecurity, violence, and desperation have increased, such that 1,000s of Yei citizens have evacuated to refugee camps in Uganda and nearly all ex-patriate missionaries have plans to evacuate soon – at least for the time being. Lord, have mercy.

Our days have revolved around efforts to reach out for NEWS – from our South Sudanese staff and friends as well as the internet with e-mails and news.  Needless to say, the news on the situation has been so mixed – with rumors, contradictory stories, and stories of pain, suffering, starvation, and abuse. Over 60,000 South Sudanese has sought refuge in Uganda over these weeks, including many of our UMC staff, friends and children from the UMC Children’s Homes. This week the remaining 13 children will be flown out as soon as travel documents can be processed – hopefully this Thursday.

We were able to visit inside the Rhino Camp (an old refugee camp) where more than 30 of the UMC children and staff are living. After a long registration process in a transit camp, they were given tarps, blankets, food rations, and mosquito nets and had to build temporary structures in which to live. It took the Children’s Home director and other adults several weeks, but now the compound is neat and organized in the midst of 1,000s of other refugees.  Many are from Yei – a town with only about 10% of the previous population, according to a friend who arrived in Arua today.

Property has been secured for the children to resettle from Rhino Camp to Koboko, Uganda, where they will be safe and able to resume their education. We continue to pray for a miracle of peace in Yei and the entire country. Churches in Yei are calling for peace; youth are calling for peace. We trust and pray.  Join us in prayer!

So much remains uncertain in the country and for the people.  We are preparing to return to the US soon to prepare for speaking with supporters in the next 3 months.  In this world filled with uncertainty and massive migration of people, we rest in the assurance that God loves and cares for each person – no matter their tribe, their color, their country, their means – and this is an amazing opportunity for the Church of Jesus to reach out and love.  We are feeling pain for all those suffering – but we are also thankful for being able to encourage and support those people within our little circle of the world!  Blessings until next time!

Monday, 25 July 2016

We are listening....

“Lord, we want to hear your voice….”    July 2016
Just over 2 weeks ago, we heard the news from Juba that fighting had broken out between SPLA and SPLA-IO soldiers.  Immediately we understood what that meant for the people of South Sudan.  Fear and memories of war returned – like December 15, 2013.  We prayed for immediate control of the violence – but a ceasefire was not called until 2 days later, after 2 bloody days of violence.  We traveled safely by land out of Yei before the ceasefire – some of the last to travel Kaya Road before road blocks went up.  Once in Uganda we felt relief for ourselves…..but greater concern for our friends and colleagues in Yei.

These weeks have gone slowly as we await news that would indicate calming of the fears, rumors, and violence. Initially seeing more military around Yei caused more fear – food being looted; schools, stores, and banks closed; intermittent gunfire, often indiscriminately pointed into the bush along Lasu Road or at individuals in town. Life was very tense in Yei and around the country.  Phone calls to check on friends and searching the news for credible updates on the status of the violence – “Has anything changed in the last hour or day?” Our minds remained troubled – “have we abandoned our friends and colleagues? How will we try to support them if unable to return? Lord, when will we be able to return?”

In these moments of uncertainty, the #1 priority for the people of South Sudan is SURVIVAL. Thousands have sought refuge in camps in Uganda. Experts in survival, many have taken children and families “to the bush.”  They are calling out to God for protection and peace: “How long, Lord?”  Watching this happen, we understand why it is so hard to PLAN for the future for most people in South Sudan. Life is uncertain. “We cannot count on tomorrow, except by God’s grace.”  They long for peace and security.

After 1 week in Uganda, we traveled to Kenya to stay with our son and his family.  The waiting and uncertainty fill our thoughts and dreams. Thankfully the wonderful distraction of our beautiful 2-year old granddaughter makes each day fun and phone calls and e-mails keep us connected with our South Sudanese friends. All remain safe at this time, although many have traveled to Uganda for safety. News from Yei sounds hopeful – the banks open and a few shops; no gunfire the past 3 days; UMC compounds secure.  However, the fear and uncertainty remain heavy in the hearts and souls of all.  “Should we consider return? Lord, we are listening for your voice.”


In this broken world, where violence has become so routine on the news – from Baton Rouge to Minnesota to Dallas to Nice to Turkey to Bangladesh and Munich in just the last 2 weeks – decisions about the next few months for us are still unclear. None of us are completely safe, no matter where we are. Yet we refuse to give in to fear. We trust the Lord for mercy and grace. We keep praying for the innocent….for those traumatized by recent or past events. For healing and peace.  Please join us in prayers for the people of South Sudan and all the world!  May the LIGHT of Jesus overcome the DARKNESS!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Moments of Grace.....

Moments of Grace…..
This past week has been challenging here in Yei. Yes, it was good to be busy again.  But a 5-day training for Home Health Promoters (HHP) required lots of energy in preparation, teaching, flexibility, and team work.  Now TEAM WORK is a good thing. Thank God each of us is given different gifts. The week was LONG but successful!  Leaving home at 7:45 a.m. may be typical where you are. But in the midst of the rainy season and late nights of preparation for the next day, Lynn was “at the door waiting” for me most days!  J

The 17 HHPs traveled in to Yei on Sunday evening to be ready to start at 9 am and go to 5 pm+ every day – learning important health information, especially about mother/newborn health, child health, and communicable diseases (immunizations).  Sanitation and hygiene was the theme of the first training in January 2016.  The teaching and translation to Simple Arabic and/or Kakwa was divided up by our team of 4 plus a couple of representatives of the County Health Department (CHD).  In the midst of breaks we heard of the serious problems of people in community as a result of the economic crisis, food shortages, rebel attacks, and poor health.  “Lord, what can be done?”  Then a special “moment of grace” occurred on the second morning of the training, just before my teaching on “Danger Signs in the Newborn” and “Care of the Sick Child.”  Our song leader taught a new song to the group (“Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever” in Arabic) - one time, two times in practice – and then a chorus of harmony that filled the room, like angels calling out for mercy.  In the midst of all the suffering and challenges, God was present.

Lynn worked hard to organize the schedule and see that each topic was taught simply, clearly, with Arabic and Kakwa translations if needed – to emphasize the health messages for the HHPs to teach in their communities. Bako and Charity, our two assistants, helped with teaching and translation – we are pleased with their efforts and gifts.  I (Sharon) shared in the teaching, but also was the logistics person – pictures of new participants, picture IDs made, incentives prepared, T-shirts ordered, taxi service for CHD staff, and certificates made.  Friday was a day of “patience-building” for me – waiting, waiting, back and forth to CHD, and more waiting. But we are grateful that the event closed well – with the challenge from the CHD Director to persevere in serving their communities, for the “Health of ALL!”

Early in the week we learned that a lone gunman had broken into the compound of one UMC Children’s Home. Expensive items were stolen, one teenage girl abducted, and many others terrorized.  Thankfully no one was injured and the girl was clever and escaped within the hour. But the reports of insecurity and violence became “close to home” for all of us. A “moment of grace” was the news that all were safe. We pray now for healing of this recent trauma in the lives of all involved.

Today, Saturday – feeling refreshed by a good night’s sleep, I went early to the CHD to finalize payment for a special vehicle hired to travel to Juba and back for Plumpy Nut, the protein  supplement for malnourished children.  Despite many different efforts over more than a month, no transport was available through UNICEF or the Ministry of Health to bring the much-needed supplement. Talk about WAITING…… But Jane smiled big as she shared the exciting news with me! 50 cartons of Plumpy Nut have arrived!  Yes, another “Moment of Grace.”


In the midst of all that is NOT going well here in Yei and country as a whole, we praise God for the “Moments of Grace” that remind us of God’s goodness and love. Despite salaries being delayed more than 3 months – some health workers are still at work; HOPE is expressed daily that things will get better; people of faith preach the Good News of peace and reconciliation; a young man came for guitar lessons (NO, I am not good, but I can teach chords and that’s what he wanted), and songs of praise fill the radios and churches (and yes, even the training halls!).  We thank God for mercy and grace on our lives and the lives around us!  In a world filled with suffering and fear…..may you look for your “Moments of Grace” today.   Amen.

Is there a typical week in our life here??

We are back to work 3 days after a wonderful time in the US for meetings and time with family and friends – our oldest son, Kurt, married a lovely woman named Annie! We are pleased to welcome her into the Fogleman family!

Already I have experienced many of the challenges that make this ministry difficult! As I listen to 5 boys behind our house play and enjoy each other this evening, I wait on bread to rise so it can be baked during the time that we have electricity for the oven.  Timing is everything! J
Monday our UMC District Team met to discuss the activities of the past week and to report plans for this week. Being gone for 5 weeks (with definite jet lag) seems to dull the senses and require special focus to get back into “work mode.” I’m sure many of you experience this after a special holiday!  4 flights over thousands of miles connects us quickly – but often leads to a different type of fatigue than hard work!

The best part of the morning was the “welcome back” from staff, serious prayer time, a coffee cake to celebrate a birthday, and the women’s Bible study.  I am reminded of the importance of relationships blessed by Jesus. Despite the news of many family members sick, 3 family members having died over the weekend, increasing prices in the markets, and insecurity in the surrounding area, sharing in prayer with colleagues – in 3 different languages – brings the reality of FAMILY to the center and brings comfort from the Lord to us all. 

The afternoon allowed us time with our health assistants and colleague Carolyn. Much had happened during our absence. Paper work exchanged hands as Carolyn left for Cape Town for a break on Tuesday morning.  The visit to the airstrip allowed many hellos and goodbyes – often the place to catch up on news from other mission partners and friends.
I arrived back from the airstrip to meet a young man with a problem to consider – usually I don’t imagine “solving problems,” I just consider what might be the best option to help. His wife and he were diagnosed with HIV (now on meds) and one child died in the past; another child was 5 months and not breastfeeding well. Could we help with formula for the baby? I see every child before starting assistance like this – to better understand the deeper needs of the family.  He was asked to bring his wife and daughter the next morning.

After a quick nap I drove off to visit the local market and the “supermarkets” for basic staples to fill the refrigerator.  Seeing local vendors and practicing my Arabic makes even this fun. The avocadoes, bananas, local coffee and flour for baking bread were the highlights!

The evening was shared with a lovely doctor couple from England who are helping with a church-run clinic and the county hospital for 9 months – their time down to only one month. Time shared was a blessing!  Getting back home, we learned an UMCOR colleague lost a baby before birth – tears and prayers ended our evening. Comfort divine.

Wednesday started with waiting for our new friend Robert to come with his wife and child to assess for formula. I ran to the shop to buy formula – price up again! Conversation led to mixed messages and wife refused to bring the child. Now the baby was reported to be a year old, instead of 5 month. He suggested I meet them at the clinic now. When taking insecticide-treated mosquito nets for the HIV positive clients, no one knew Robert’s wife and child. Much time spent but still confused.  That seems to be common in this young country where so many struggle daily to survive – and family trauma confuses conversations and a way forward.  Will we find out exactly what is going on in this young family? God knows.


Tonight we filter water for drinking (many visitors have stopped in to welcome us back – water goes fast in this hot climate!), enjoy pancakes and eggs, and finally see all the bread out of the oven. The table is littered with stacks of reports to compile and send to Global Health. Planning is starting in our heads for the remainder of the month. And I am praying for inspiration as I was asked to share the message at Erap UMC on Sunday.  This is typical of life in Yei – nothing too exciting but a blessing to live into the challenges and joys of life together with God’s help! Thanks for reading……until next time.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

What will this day bring?

In our present world…..we never know what the day will hold! Weather may delay - people may interrupt - tragedy or sickness may change plans. This uncertainty can make us crazy and stressed....OR I have learned, we can celebrate the joy, peace, and hope found in God’s plans for the day!  “Lord, what would YOU have me do today?”

I started writing a blog in early January (no, it didn’t get published!), as we returned from a short break in Entebbe, Uganda. I was remembering a day 26 years before (January 1990), when we returned to Maua, Kenya with our 2 sons, Kurt and Mark. Kurt, then 3 years, was eager to return to his home and friends! Mark had been born on home leave in North Carolina just 5 months before.  He was entering a new world – one filled with adventure and love – which would impact him for a life-time!

Flash forward 26 years - to January 2016!  We were so excited to travel from South Sudan to meet Mark and family in Entebbe for a few days before they stepped into their new life in Kenya.  Mark (now a civil engineer, with his wife Kenzi and 18 month old daughter Emma) was packed and ready to begin cross-cultural ministry in a different region of Kenya, working in partnership with Pastor Simon and GGFAN (God’s Grace for All Nations).  Only God could have planned this journey. How thankful we were to see His plan unfold for Mark and his young family!  “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to bless you – to give you a future and a hope.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)


I have thought a lot over the last month about my “journey with God.” I used to think of a long-distance road trip or an international flight, when I talked of a journey.  But it seems every day is a journey of faith in our life here in Yei, South Sudan. We in the Western world often think we can plan our days and keep our schedules – tick off “jobs done” - and feel productive at the end of it all.  But despite our plans, the days here are uncertain.  I am learning – well, that is OK!  An unexpected turn of events – whether a visitor or a flat tire or an unexpected meeting – can bring a change in the plans of the day. “Lord, give me patience and remain in our midst!”

Today was another one of those days! First, a visitor showed up late last night to the compound. He had not received the message that a meeting was cancelled for today – he proudly reported having a new cell phone number! Thankfully late-night left-overs filled his stomach, extra sheets from the cupboard provided comfortable sleep, and morning coffee and breakfast prepared him to return home in good spirits. He will return to Yei in a few weeks – and hopefully communication will be better.

Then a grandfather called about formula for a 3-1/2 month old baby girl whose mother had died shortly after delivery. We had made plans to meet this morning – to my surprise, the plans worked out on schedule!

At the same time, a young mother, Anna, with twins, Rose and Joel, and 7 year old Mary came to discuss plans for travel to Juba.  One of the twins, Joel, developed hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”) soon after birth and was scheduled to see doctors at Usratuna Hospital in Juba for evaluation and referral to Mbale, Uganda for specialty care. Anna had no telephone and had never been to Juba before.  She was from a distant village. What we might have considered a simple trip was a major event for this young woman – one we were blessed to see take place. But could all the necessary connection be made??  After 2 hours of deliberation with Anna, her brother and our Health Team assistant, Charity, it was agreed that her brother would accompany them to Juba today, and then he would return tomorrow to Yei, so he would not miss any school.  So much to think about - money for travel (South Sudan pounds, US dollars, Ugandan Shillings), food, Ugandan Visas; a way to find Anna’s family in Juba without a telephone in hand; location of the hospital for Joel to be seen on Monday.  No delay or he would miss his chance for surgery this month.  Fervent prayers were spoken and OFF THEY WENT on this journey of a life-time. 

Family on their way….. Lynn left quickly for another meeting, returning nearly 2 hours later, with just enough time to rush to the Immigration Office for renewal of our Visas. This was the main item to be ticked off on our schedule this morning! Praise God - we can stay another 3 months! :)


I could never have planned this day. But in His plan, God prepared us for this day.  Joy in a Visa renewed. Peace that Jesus will travel on with Anna, Rose, Joel, and Mary. Hope that Joel will be healed of his medical problem through specialty surgery in Uganda. Now this is a day worth celebrating! “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24)

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Time to think.....


December 2014

The Christmas Season always makes me think about a lot of things. Some of my South Sudanese colleagues say, “It’s not good to think too much!” Well, I recognize that sometimes thinking “too much” can lead us to despair, can allow the negative thoughts to overwhelm us, and even cause us to lose hope. But I am believing that at the end of 2014 and a new year just ahead, thinking (perhaps better – reflecting) is wise and can help us to enter 2015 with a new sense of peace and joy!

In reading Isaiah 42 this morning, the prophet shared God’s word to us: “See, the former things have taken place, the new things I declare, before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (vs. 9) In the verses before this one, he told us of the SERVANT, “my chosen one in whom I delight” – Jesus – who would “bring justice to the nations” and who would NOT become discouraged in doing this work. 

When I reflect on the injustice in the world, the disrespect and intolerance, the pain and suffering of the most vulnerable, it is easy for me to question and become discouraged. Why must this be?  But Isaiah continues: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.” (vs. 6)

The words of Christmas, "Immanuael - God with us," calls me to move from discouragement to the LIGHT OF HOPE!  I recognize my need to “go for a walk with the Lord every day,” to continue in this ministry here in South Sudan.  The amazing things is, God desires to take hold of my hand – to comfort, to guide, to share in this life experience.  My task is only to be faithful…..and to join Jesus on the walk every day! If you struggle with the same issues – may we commit to start this spiritual exercise in 2015 – a daily walk with the Lord!  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

WHO IS THE GREATEST??



Who is the greatest?
Recently I read the passage from Mark 9: 33-37 where Jesus’ disciples were caught in the midst of their argument about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what they were discussing – but he let them argue, and then he sat them down, confronted them about it, and went on to use this as a “teaching moment.”

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  Jesus proceeded to take a little child in his arms and went on to tell his Twelve disciples, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”  Do you think these men were as confused as the leaders of our world today?  Right now I see and hear about power struggles among leaders in so many countries – not the least of which our country of service, South Sudan. The leaders certainly don’t appear to be welcoming the “little children.” Instead, they are making these vulnerable children experience more hurt, more pain, serious risk of malnutrition, and continuing insecurity.  

As one of Jesus’ followers, it would seem the CHURCH as a whole should be speaking out for the “little children.” The bitter differences of leaders throughout the world are no different than in Jesus’ day and time. But rather than quote LAWS AND RULES for his disciples to follow, he spoke of the HEART! Times haven’t changed.  Jesus spoke of being a SERVANT LEADER……not many of those around these days!

I came across an article recently about Uruguay’s President, Jose Mujica, a man who donates most of his salary to the poor and lives in a simple farm house with his wife. Most would consider him crazy….and I wouldn’t pretend to know what motivates his servant heart. But many presidents in this world could learn a thing or two from him, I dare say!

Living here, with no TV in our home and little evening entertainment, some books circulate amongst the ex-patriates living in Yei. One such book is Kate, a book about Princess Catherine from England. I just finished reading it, and it made me think about the issue of “class structure” and how we have so little control over many aspects of our lives. We cannot change where we were born. We cannot change who our parents are. We cannot change the faith into which we are raised. Others have had that control. The children in South Sudan and many other desperate parts of this world cannot change that they were born into their circumstances. But we from the US often say that hard work and determination can change those circumstances, and we can “rise above” those circumstances. Isn’t that the American Dream we from the US have grown up with? Such was the story of Princess Catherine…born into a lower class family that worked hard and dreamed of better things. I would venture to say very few become a princess, even though many a young girl may dream of it!

Here, and in many other parts of the world, rising above life’s difficult circumstances certainly requires hard work and determination. But so many forces are beyond the control of the vulnerable children. Daily survival is often their focus. I was out in a village this past week and found myself counting plastic bags from mosquito nets that had been distributed by UMCOR volunteers to individual homes. I kept thinking, “I should be doing something more important.” But thankfully I was prompted to think of the lives that will be saved as the little children and families start using these mosquito nets properly and avoid that serious case of malaria! Then my counting took on more significance……and I think my pace even picked up!  So often we think our day has more value “if we do something really important today.” Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one these little children…..”

Thankfully there are many Aid Organizations who are trying to help in South Sudan and other desperate countries. But will the aid come in time? Will the aid reach every child?   I know I do not have answers to what seems like such serious problems in our world today. But I do believe that my response can only be to pray for those leaders who are still arguing over “WHO IS THE GREATEST?” And work in my “little circle of life” to welcome the children around me, and seek to be a servant in all that I do….whether that means counting out plastic bags from distributed mosquito nets, or examining a child who is sick, or waiting for someone who is not “keeping time.”  I think that is what Jesus is saying to me today! Thanks for listening! J