Sunday, January 25, 2015

Growing Young

Almost thirteen years ago this young girl of twenty-one flew to Uganda...So full of ideas, fears, hopes, expectations, innocence, and negativity.  She would slip on her double knotted running shoes and jog on the same dusty pot-holed paths I find myself running on today.  Where has that girl gone?

I am no longer twenty-one and my skin shows little wrinkle lines to prove it.  Lines where smile and joy meet my face, reminders of precious moments not wasted.  My heart and body bear the marks of carrying and delivering five little hearts and one in the making. Thank you Jesus.

Children born over the last decade now reach from my knees to my shoulders, no longer tiny souls who simply demand. Hallelujah.

Expectations, ideals and negativity have been broken wide and have given birth to a deeper security, an anchored hope, grounded on the Rock. He is the faithful One.

Fears that once plagued me daily are now a rarity, as God has graciously used my husband to lead me into daily, moment-by-moment confession through my fears. Little did I know I was my own worst enemy. He carries the weight on His shoulders.

In looking back, I am struck by the profound change God has made in my heart. He has given me a joy and even anticipation to grow older, to lose myself in Him. The words of Jesus echo in this heart, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:24-25)."

As I lean in and lose myself, He clothes me in grace to eagerly anticipate years, decades with Him, if He so chooses.  In the words of David, "Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed (Ps. 34:5)."  His radiance is my glory, even as my earthly body gives way to the curse.

I can now say without hesitation, "I am a life-giving woman, beautifully made in His image." He is good to me. I am not perfect. But I am secure in Christ. I grow young as I grow old in Him.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

We look to YAHWEH

A few weeks ago we sang a simple chorus in church that keeps coming back to my heart, like a hungry child who cannot seem to get full.  Those words sung by a few hundred people with rhythm only done right only in an African church.
                 "We look to Yahweh, Yahweh. Forever Yahweh, Yahweh."

Do you hear it? I still do. I decided to look deeper and let my hunger, God's hunger, lead me to more.

Yahweh is God's proper name, derived from "I Am", another favorite of mine. My curiosity with the Name propelled me to the words of John Piper, commenting on the worth and value bound into this great name:
God is the most important and most valuable reality and person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.
In all reality, there is nothing in the universe more important and exciting then looking to and beholding Yahweh. Why do so many other things seem to compete with my heart gone hungry, shouting their supreme satisfaction? Why do I end so many days feeling like I have simply beheld myself or my burdens from the day?

Recently I heard one of my Ugandan father's say that the way he judges a day as successful is not according to what he has accomplished or failed to accomplish, but by whether or not he has enjoyed God.  

After mulling those words around for a few days, I was in my kitchen rolling tortillas for dinner to come, arms deep in rice flour.  My thoughts, like my day, were only on my work until our Ugandan son quietly stepped into my domain. We had a simple exchange of how are you's, then he gave me food for thought with his parting words as he walked away, "Enjoy your work, Auntie." Instantly I was reminded of how enjoying my work entails enjoying God.  Look to Yahweh. Enjoy Him.

My thoughts return to the rhythms in my heart, choosing to look and gaze at Yahweh in spite of a messy home with guests due to arrive and flu wracking my baby-man's chests. When I look to enjoy Him, I give my time, my heart. Even this mama-gone-busy, in a world swirling with more chaos then I'd like to embrace at times, can look to and enjoy Yahweh, especially revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. It's in these moments, with my ears open, when I suddenly catch and hear my daughter belting out with reckless off-key abandon, "Behold our God, seated on His throne, come let us adore him! Behold our King, nothing can compare, come let us adore Him"

  Enjoy your work. Enjoy your God. That's a successful day.

Monday, August 25, 2014

"First we have coffee..."

When I was young, my mom had a special biography among her stacks of home school books called "First We Have Coffee" by Margaret Jensen.  I remember seeing her read it more then once, savoring its pages like they were some of her own story. I remember asking to read it as a child and heard her say, "One day Honey. You're a bit too young.."  Twenty five years later, she handed me and my three other sisters a copy. Keith and I were about to leave Illinois with our car packed to the hilt.  I stuck it in the pocket of the door, hoping perhaps I'd get time to read during the nine hour drive. Traveling with five children means little to no book-for-mama time, due mostly to the "Mama, my tummy hurts" (to which I whip out the peppermint maneuver) or the "Mama, can you play 'I spy' with us?" time beater. Best of all is Keith's don't-leave-me-to-a-book/nap plea. I am certain my Dad must have told Keith early on that the way to a successful road trip was to never let your wife take a nap or get lost in a book, unless she's reading it out loud to you. Of course, Keith uses the "I'm so tired plea" to keep me engaged with him. Alas, somehow this trip was different. I slyly pulled out my book and was whisked away to the 1930's, drinking coffee with a beautiful Norwegian family, who's blood, sweat, and tears were real and true while serving our living God.  I was reminded of the importance of taking time to care for people over our family table, with care and with coffee.  Not just other people- this included my little people.

There's something beautiful about sitting around the table over a steaming cup.  Thoughts, feelings, emotions, sorrows and dreams tumble out.  Ears seem to open and hear. This is what we call "Family Tea Night". Yes, sorry to disappoint. We are not serving our children coffee. Just. Yet. We started this tradition after we returned to Uganda, following our anniversary day trip to Kampala. We were sitting in a gorgeous restaurant, drinking tea, thinking, remembering, and envisioning for our future.  Our children's hearts were discussed, especially in light of the recent transition back to Africa. It dawned on us that we needed to set aside time at the table to ask safe and heart revealing questions over a steaming mug of tea.  We realized that we can't go farther into their hearts if we don't know the beginnings of their thoughts and questions.  First we have coffee/tea, then we can (Lord willing) know their hearts.  Thanks Mom, for making our home the same.  May we hear the hearts of our young ones and all who sit at our table.

Friday, August 22, 2014

August Update

Have you ever dreamed in another language? I think over the years my (Keith) dreams have included smatterings of Spanish, Luganda and even Kinyarwanda. It gets even stranger when my worlds collide in my dreams. It often happens during times of approaching cultural transition. I can find that I am with Ugandan friends doing Ugandan things but in American places, or vice-versa.

But have you ever dreamed for another language? It happens to me quite often these days. I’m wide awake, but I find myself dreaming for the Luganda speakers all around me. It is probably connected to the current Luganda Institute class. Many have been unable to attend the Institute over the twelve years of its existence because the teaching is in English. Instead, they have been “teased” by the testimonies of friends or family who have been able to attend. Now that they are walking through “the journey of transformation and relationship,” they are eager to see what they are learning explode out into the villages all around them. I’m eager too.

Will you pray with us that every church around us will be able to offer its own Institute (which is simply intensive discipleship) in the days to come? This is a central part of our church planting/strengthening/multiplication movement that is on the horizon.

                                             Paul Kusuubira teaching on the Orphan Heart

One other area that we are inviting you to pray with us on is our support. This is a topic that I do not enjoy bringing up and am typically reluctant to discuss. In fact, our desire is to mention our direct needs and our ministry needs once in a year. Our hearts are not to burden anyone in this area. We are aware that our heavenly Father knows our needs and cares for us completely. We also recognize that many people do genuinely want to know our needs, both for prayer or for contributing to them. We understand  and submit to the beauty of II Cor. 8-9, recognizing that genuine partnership is both a give and take on both sides in various means, both for blessing to one another and thanksgiving to our Father!

So what are our financial needs?

Monthly Support: We definitely need monthly supporters. Our monthly support is just level with our monthly paycheck, at times below and at times just above. We do not have separate “ministry” and “personal” accounts, so when any needs related to the work we do arise, we have no way to reimburse them. So things like work permits, travel, plane tickets, maintenance, or any ministry purchases (like books, etc.) either comes out of our pockets or has to be raised separately. Quite a few months this year have found us taking less than half a paycheck because of these things. 

Because we are a small mission, we do not have things like retirement, kids education, etc. planned into our support. Having anything at the end of the year to put toward retirement rarely happens. Increasing our monthly support would help with some of these things.

Personal Ministry Needs: As mentioned above we have specific needs related to living and working here in Uganda. As of now, we have $0 for these expenses.

Work Permits: It’s a bit complicated and includes various fees, but I’ve tried to simplify it all here. $925 for a 3 year work permit for Keith (if they grant 3 years); Dependent Pass for Laura Beth: $275; Dependent Passes for Elliana &Malakai: $550; Student Passes for Elisha, Noah & Isaiah: $1350

Plane Tickets: While we will not need these until the end of 2016, the cost for our family to fly one-way is normally around $5000. We would love to begin saving towards this now so that as the time approaches we are not scrambling for the funds. Plus, it’s nice in case of an emergency to have this amount on hand with New Hope Uganda Ministries.

Construction and Maintenance: After we got back to Uganda, Laura Beth said to me, “How many more years do I have to wait for hot water?” Of course, it was with a smile on her face, but I hear her heart. I like the cold showers, but she freezes (graciously). This would be a bigger project as we’d have to re-pipe the house and add a solar hot-water tank. We would also love to add on a small bedroom to the house. These are special projects and would need to be raised as specifically designated funds.

If you are interested in any way to partner financially with us, here's the info:

For online debit or credit card giving, designate missionary giving and the McFarland Family via or click:

For direct giving, checks can be made out to New Hope Uganda Ministries. Include a note designating McFarland Support and mail to:
New Hope Uganda Ministries (NHUM)
PO Box 154
Belle Fourche, SD 57717-0154

Thank you for praying for us and for caring for us in so many ways!

Your Partners in Him,

Keith and Laura Beth

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Family July Update

                              (Woodland Kingfisher with a Gecko- taken in our front yard)

It is beautiful this time of year. The rains are upon us, the air seems cooler, the ground is being worked, and our sweet corn seed is in the ground. Everyone is busy digging and planting, all in the hope of a coming harvest. I love how the Gospel abounds with these images- labor, planting, watering, growing, harvest. In many ways it is exactly where we are at as a family and as a ministry.

                             (Keith's Cousin Kelsey Learning to Ox-Plow with Samuel Family)

We are settling well into our Ugandan home, now that we've been back for more than six weeks.  Our children are enjoying their summer, playing Risk and Bang, collecting and counting bottle-caps which they make into a battlefield, climbing trees, reading hundreds of pages daily, and speaking in thick Ugandan accents. We are enjoying our children here, making and developing new patterns of growth as a family. A few we have continued or just started are- family tea and sharing night, before bed dance parties,  Monday night tacos and worship, and Friday family night. These traditions have and continue to bind us together no matter where we are on the globe. Pray that our children's hearts would continue to be soft toward God and toward us as we shepherd them through these days.

We have officially moved into our post-ten year phase of ministry here in Uganda. While we're not yet sure exactly what that means, we feel the significance of the season that we are entering into. We have labored intensely, planted, and watered. We ourselves have grown and matured as a family and individually, all unto something that is yet unseen. Pray for us that our Father would lead us clearly in the ministries He has called us to here in Uganda. Pray for wisdom and insight as we walk forward in what He has put on our hearts and before us.

Strategic planning is something that I (Keith) absolutely delight in. I am wired to dream, envision, and think strategically about moving towards those ends out of a firm foundation and consistent vision. We are at a place in the ministry here where we are strategically re-evaluating everything, with the hope and firm belief that greater things are yet to come. As we look at the Childcare and Family Institute, the Pastoral Training Institute, and the Church and Church-planting/multiplying/strengthening ministry, we are convinced that God is preparing us for significant growth and changes. Pray for clarity as we look ahead, and pray that God would give all of us in leadership unity of heart and mind in the things we are to pursue and change.

Our first ever Luganda Institute is under way. No foreign students. No English (unless translated). Fifteen students from our ministry and the community around us. We are just finishing up moving through worldview foundations, African worldview, and Western worldview. The plowing has occurred, the soil is soft and is now ready to receive the good seed that promises a harvest yet to come. These students are excited and wide-eyed! Pray with us for transformed hearts and minds, marriages and families, churches and communities through these lives being deeply impacted. Also pray with us that God would graciously allow this discipleship-oriented, life-impacting training to be offered THROUGH THE CHURCHES all around us in the days and years to come.

Thank you for praying for us and being a part of this journey of following Jesus.

For His Glory,

Keith and Laura Beth (and the Mc-F-Clan)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Today I'll be sharing a guest blog, written by my dear friend Mary Britton. I had more then a few giggles reading it,  as she featured our family in her writing. Take a few moments to read Mary's perspective into our daily lives (at NHU) in community and living with the unknowns always at our doorstep that can determine the outcome of our heart posture for the day.  If you want to hop on over to her page to find more of her heart out on the blog sphere, it's here.
I didn’t know how I was going to get through this day. 

I had a roughed out plan, but looming large over me was not knowing the “unknowables”. Will I be able to handle the interruptions with grace, find joy in the required interactions, bring peace when I feel I’m lacking? I thought of my friend Susan and wondered if I should call her to pray with me. The phone rang and Susan’s name filled the screen display. I smiled, encouraged that God would speak to my friend to call me. 

Of course she first asked about me and I gave a vague, non-detailed answer, “not really ok.” I deflected attention and asked how she was. Her inflection fell a bit, “Not really ok, well, fine physically, but the rest is troubled. My uncle died this morning.” Immediately the focus shifted from “HOW can I get through this day?” to, “God, You are with me in these moments in which I must use your strength to comfort and encourage another.” 

Fortunately, I was already dressed and ready for the day and was able to be with her on site here at New Hope within minutes of the phone call. We talked briefly, she shared a little about him and I prayed for her. I’m thankful for our faithful God who gives us, broken and wounded vessels, the words and wisdom to strengthen others in their sorrow--even when our weakness seems overbearing and immovable. 

As we finished she stated that she needed to see Uncle Keith, her supervisor, to tell him about the death and her need to travel to the burial. I wanted to visit with LauraBeth, his wife, so we set out together for their home. On the path we were joined by Betty, another staff member who was also making her way to the McFarland home. Three people representing different areas of the ministry in which the McFarland’s lives intersect, arriving at their front door before 8:30 am. 

No wondering about whether or not they’d be awake, up and around--they have five children from the ages of one to twelve. No surprise that there was plenty of noise flowing out of the screened windows as we approached and lots of activity throughout the house, even spilling out onto the veranda. Still, it was early and obvious that not all the basic preparations for the day had been completed. I noticed that LauraBeth quickly moved to a back room and donned herself with the acceptable clothing for visitors. I felt a bit uncomfortable calling on someone so early; for my Ugandan friends, it was just life--what we do. Life’s struggles mean that we live and move among our friends at all hours of the day and night--no need for fitting within acceptable social parameters for when to call on someone. Life is lived and death is processed 24/7.

As Susan pulled LauraBeth and Keith aside to deliver the news, I interacted with the McFarland’s visiting cousins who’d come from Florida for a 3-week visit. And I couldn’t help myself when Noah, one of the young children in the home, misidentified the placement of the stomach---right then and there we had anatomy class and everyone was enlightened. Ah, molding young minds to know where sit the liver, pancreas, stomach and intestines--such bliss, and all before 9 a.m.!

As the cousins excused themselves to go tutor at the primary school, the children ran outside through all available doors, and I felt I was in the middle of a live “Family Circle” cartoon--you know the one with the criss-crossing paths of dotted-lines of the kids movements ALL OVER the cartoon picture? 

Then, suddenly I was drawn back to the room when Keith called Betty and I into their circle with Susan for prayer. Here I was gathered close and holding hands with believers, calling on the Living, Holy, Loving Father, the One who never sleeps. The privilege of the interaction was not lost on me. Me, so weary just an hour ago and now being built up by words speaking the truth--even though the catalyst for their utterance was grief.

It was a still, peaceful, connecting time with the Father of all comfort. And I was grateful for the powerful ways God fills us with what we need to live and move and have our being in Him.

And as quickly as we’d come, Susan returned to work, Keith took one of the kids with him to where he was going, Betty left and LauraBeth graciously invited me to sit and talk awhile. I wish I could be so gentle and welcoming when numerous people descend on my abode! 

As if she had time to shoot the breeze, she did. We talked of homeschool, visitors, house activities, recent events and we prayed together. I am thankful to live where we live, among the people we live among. Challenges? Yes! But, the sufficient means in relationships given by God to thrive. Grateful and humbled at the Goodness of God in His people. 

As we spoke “Amen,” her young daughter arrived to reiterate the happenings at the playground. Once we surmised that one of her brothers sustained a wound (large or small we weren’t sure), and that he’d cried (but wasn’t crying now), and that they needed mama and a bandaid (and the bactine, which she reached up on her tip toes to grab from the desk), we realized the rest of our day was upon us.

We walked together until the paths diverged and spoke our blessings over each of our days as we parted.

I wanted to keep an attitude of thankfulness alive in me and so I remembered with gratefulness how full my morning had already been. I spoke to the Lord in prayer as I walked home, overwhelmed with His ability to turn the tide of a seemingly sorrowful day into one of strength and contentment.

Once home again, LauraBeth texted to say that it was a good thing she went to tend to the wound as there was also a big, hairy, stinging caterpillar in her toddler’s hair! A few texts later she marveled that all of this had happened before 10 a.m. And in one final text came the revelation that “ALL” EXCLUDED BRUSHING HER TEETH! 

Yup, some days are like that. The “unknowables” you pondered at 5:30 a.m. disclose themselves as a lack of ability to get the basics done due to unexpected, early interruptions in the daily schedule. 

And thank God for it, because without such interruptions we’d all have moved into the day without the richness of relational interaction that fostered encouragement for us all.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The act of giving thanks

 I realized that I often write and bear my soul when I've walked through a grievous, heart wrenching or soul seeking experience.  Those are my moments when God pushes, provokes even me into writing until I sit and pound at these keys until something is birthed out of what is swarming around me or churning inside my soul.  Today is not one of those days.  Instead I want to share a few peak moments from our week here in Uganda.  I'm going to try to do this more at times, so you can have eyes into our regular life.  This is also a gracious grace to my heart as I look ahead to the next week.  Sometimes I can think there is too much mundane, too many trips with a child to the potty for my life to be exciting.  But as I look through these moments and remember, I am made full again by the act of Eucharisteo. The act of giving thanks.

This was last Sunday! Our New Hope Thanksgiving, where we take time to celebrate what our Tata (Daddy) God has done through this past year. It was glorious! This is us with Samuel family and some of its associates. Our kids made it through a 4.5 hr day of church!  Lunch was at 3 pm, and boy did we enjoy it!

We do a thanksgiving "march" with all of New Hope before entering church.


Sometimes a little girl just needs a few creative moments with her mama. And even boy #1 joined in and strung himself a necklace! 

This picture represents how life here is not always that simple.  When we travel into Kampala, it is a 1.5 hr hour drive in with traffic usually waiting us on the other end.  It can easily be 2.5 hrs in the car before reaching the grocery store.  The roads are long and gorgeous, with no Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts on the way. Back in the gluten filled days, we would grab a chapati on our way through Kiwoko, but those days are long gone. Instead I usually bake something like this in order to have breakfast on the road.

Yes, that is a bird in his container next to him.  This week he found a delicate baby bird, sitting in the stroller.  Of course, Isaiah made him feel at home in our home. :)

This does not really need any comments, but this is for cute factor.  I love his hair after a bath!

This week was our mini-Envisioning, so Keith and I were gone in sessions two days this week.  One afternoon I came home to 5 stir-crazy kids wanting a water fight. So they got it! I enjoyed sitting with a cup of coffee, savoring their energy and excitement. 

Get ready for this one!

These are the flying ants of Uganda! They are literally a local delicacy. It's cracked me up to see how excited Isaiah and Elliana have been to eat them again! Zae collected this all on his own and put them in the frying pan. Most people eat them raw and squirming, but some like my kids saute and salt them!

I let him do it himself. Ewwww...those ants were doing a crazy dance when we turned on the burner!!!

Loving their snack!!! Even Malakai enjoyed his ants!

Last month, we had hundreds of mangos falling off our trees. Keith did most of the cutting and froze them for the day I'd be able to make something out of them. 

My sister-in-law gave me an old fashioned apple sauce maker, which turns out some mean mango butter!!! Thanks Angie!!!

Mango butter, in all its glory. Does it not just make your mouth water?! I made a batch with cinnamon too, for some added dimension. 

Just one week, so many special moments in which we can lift our hands and say "How great is OUR God!"  Thank you Daddy for these moments, clothed in simple grace. Eucharisto.  Once again my heart is changed by giving thanks.