Thursday, June 8, 2017

What on earth is "Home Assignment"?

I’m not sure what my Christian brethren think of when they hear that a missionary is on “Home Assignment”. Many people are unfamiliar with what a modern-day Christian missionary does on the field and may even wonder what on earth they do on “home assignment”. Maybe they just get to put their feet up and rest for a bit? Maby they think it’s the missionary’s holiday? Maybe missionaries work for three years and then take off six months? The questions may be many but I’ll try to explain what a home assignment means for us. I think it will mirror what other missionaries do in some ways and in other ways it may be different.
Feeling at home under the Maple Tree
Well, I guess if I am to explain what we do on Home Assignment I should explain why we do have Home Assignment. Our family normally spends about three years serving in Uganda and then comes back to Canada for half a year to a year. Canada is our sending country and Abbotsford is our home town where ouor home church is that we are sent from. The word “home” can be confusing for us -- since we have a church and relatives in Uganda it is also called home. Our home in terms of our mission work has mostly to do with our sending church and sending agency and financial and prayer supporters being (mostly) from Canada. So, Canada is our base where we are sent from. This means that we are sent out from Canada to Uganda to do Kingdom work and return to Canada to report and gain support for that work.
Family time travelling together.
Lots of great adventures!
People invest thousands of dollars in the work we do and I’m sure thousands of hours (collectively) in prayer for us and the people we serve in Uganda. This is an investment in the Kingdom of God. Our friends are using earthly wealth for heavenly work. I believe firmly that our supporters, just like investors in a gold mine, let’s say, deserve a report on how the work they invest in and care about is going. We send quarterly newsletters and post on social media from Uganda but that’s not the same as a personal report where investors can look you in the eye and ask tough questions.
Canadians support us -- we support Canada with red hoodies!
One of the main reasons we come back on Home Assignment is to give a report on our work. We meet with people in formal and informal settings, giving them a personal account of our last three years. People are free to ask questions about any aspect of our work that they like. This provides needed accountability but I think, most importantly, it provides great details for effective prayer by people who labour on their knees on our behalf. Our family will travel close to 10,000km visiting churches, friends and supporters in western Canada this year; this effort to meet supporters in person is part of building a family of people who care deeply about building God’s kingdom through the work we do. I know many people are called to work hard and earn money to invest in the Kingdom and they depend on people like us to leverage that money into Kingdom work.
A picture with one of our faithful supporters on Vancouver Island
Secondly, the purpose of our Home Assignment is for rest and family time. Our home in Uganda is a very busy place with lots of visitors. We would have it no other way! We also spend a lot of time giving to people spiritually. This means we often get emotianally a bit worn down. We are also under a lot of spiritual attack in Uganda as the enemy does not like his ground being taken from him. In order to recuperate we intentionally try to block off chunks of time here in Canada to have family time that builds us spiritually. The mere fact that there is only our core family members around the dinner table here in Canada is a major benefit to our family’s health. Long hours of travelling together and experiencing Canada together are sometimes trying but really do help to build a great bond as we experience God’s goodness to us as a family. When we receive a new member on our support team or stay in the home of a generous family the children all get to see God’s faithfulness to us through His people. We will go on walks and hikes together, travel together, grocery shop together, play together, eat together and pray and read God’s Word together. We need this time to bond tightly as a family unit. We need this time to build our physical and spiritual strength for the term of work ahead and to recover from the challenges in the term past.

We love Sweet potato fries and Chipotle at White Spot!
Thirdly, the purpose of our home visit is to get the children caught up with Canadian education standards. Most missionary families struggle with education options on the field. Many missionaries have to leave the mission field early because they have run out of options for their children’s education. We got behind last year as we had gone a full school year without a volunteer teacher (most missionaries rely on volunteer help around the home to help with child care and/or education) to help with the children’s distance learning. Now that we’re back in Canada, we will spend time getting the kids back on track with their Canadian education while we are here. This allows them to stay on track with their post-secondary education options here. The level of education in African universities is very low and the system is still stuck in learning by rote and critical thinking is not a skill developed in the education systems there. This means our children will be looking to finish high school with the Canadian high school system. In order to do this we take time to put them in local schools and meet with local educators.

The fourth reason for Home Assignment that I’ll mention here is connected to education. We desire that our children, all of them Canadians, be able to navigate Canadian culture when they leave our home. They will need to be familiar with Canadian culture and nuances to help them be successful in life in Canada in the future -- whether they just live there a few years or the rest of their lives. Time in Canada allows them to see many aspects of Canada with our guidance as parents on how to view and handle the post-Christian culture of Canada with a biblical world view.
Our supporters have lots of character!
The last reason (that I’ll mention here) that we come to Canada is to widen our prayer and financial support base. Our family needs continue to grow with larger teenage appetites and increased costs of educating them. Living costs and airfares continue to climb. In addition, our work continues to grow with a larger scope and more influence both in Uganda and in Africa at large. Unlike most people a missionary can’t put in overtime to meet some extra needs or pay for unexpected bills. We rely on the generosity of others to live and work! So, we spend a lot of our time trying to connect with new people so as to widen our support family. Team building is an essential part to our Home Assignment.


*for more info on our work visit us at www.sperlingsinafrica.com





Monday, October 10, 2016

Farming God's Way Outreach in Upper Xgulu


My friend Zeph (right) with our translator Yunga explaining how we can save water and soil through applying God's blanket (mulch) to the community in Upper Xgulu.
Grant, our lead trainer, explain field layout to our training delegates on Monday before community outreach.
Every year a team of Farming God's Way trainers, advocates and friends gets together for what we call In Field Mentoring. These people come from all over the world to hone their training skills through being mentored meanwhile ministering to a local African community. This was our second year in a row to work with Siyakholwa Development Foundation in  Keiskammahoek, a community in the homelands of the Xhosa in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. I was leading a ministry team of missionaries and nationals from all over the world; we had missionaries representing Namibia, D.R.Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, America as well as Xhosa and Zulu and South African locals. There were two other teams that were made up of the 55 delegates that came to In Field Mentoring.

The Upper Gxulu Ministry team that I helped lead with David Wotherspoon (crouching in front of me). We are looking down the valley towards Upper Xgulu with the beautiful Cata Dam behind us.

The week consisted of training of trainers in  the heart of Farming God's Way, practical skills and demonstrations on Monday. On Tuesday we broke up into three teams and went to three areas of the Keiskammahoek Valley. Our team went up to the Community of Upper Xgulu. We trained in a local community hall where the locals came to learn each day. The last day was in a community garden where we put everything we learned into practice with a Well Watered Garden (Isaiah 58)
.
Our mission is two-fold in In Field mentoring; we aim to train and mentor our trainers to become great facilitators of workshops as well as reach out to a local farming community with the gospel through teaching Farming God's way. This helps our training activities to be relevant and our trainers to learn how to work with poor agrarian communities in Africa. The week includes everything from crazy skits to technical experiments. Our goal is to convince and compel the community that adopting Farming God's Way practices will change their lives. We also emphasize that NO method of farming with change someone's life but only the power of God's Word through the work of the Holy Spirit can bring true transformation. We had eight people give their lives to Christ this year and many more challenged to leave traditional practices of witchcraft and ancestral worship. I believe we are on the forefront of the spiritual battle here in Africa because we directly confront the dependency, witchcraft and ancestral worship which are key areas that Satan is holding people captive in on this continent.
David training in the Well Watered Garden
After our three days of training we end with the climax; choosing a few willing and eager students to visit and help implement the principles and steps we have taught them on their own land. This year we helped two young men, Siya and Luvo as well as a woman called Kululwa. My half of the team helped Kululwa put permananet pegs in her garden and to plant a row of vetiver grass across her field for erosion control. We were also able to spend a little time with her family praying for them. Her sister needed prayer for an ovarian problem and her mother was in shock from the fire that had destroyed her business the day before.  Little did we know the day before when our team was up at the dam looking back at Upper Xgulu town, that the fire we saw was from Kululwa's home -- now we were able to pray for them and ask God to bless their home.
The fire coming from Kululwa's home in Upper Xgulu


God's providence is amazing! We refrained from giving any money (as we are trying so hard to fight the dependency syndrome) but prayed for her and her family -- we trust that God will bless the faithfulness of Kululwa. Please pray for her and her family to fully trust in God for provision meanwhile being faithful with the what the Lord has put in their hand!

The week was a great time of ministry which I was so glad to have Ezra along to witness and enjoy. Ezra was so thrilled to be joining Dad on his turn to attend In Field Mentoring. Ezra had a great time with his Belgian friends Fedor and Immer from Grahamstown and an older lady called "Lady" who loved and befriended him for the week. She gave him her army hat!


Thanks for your prayers during this week. We travelled well, had a great time of ministry and God kept our family safe back in Uganda.

Please keep praying for :
  • The farmers who heard the good news in Upper Xgulu
  • Pray for Kululwa's family to implement Farming God's Way whole-heartidly
  • please pray for Vumili, Pakama and Yunga who will do follow-up there in Upper Xgulu






Friday, August 26, 2016

Warning: If you killed the lake you might kill the land too!


Recently I had the privilege of training farmers who live in the shores of
Lake Kyoga at the northern most tip of Busoga in a town called Bukungu. Many of the farmers had previously been relying on fishing in the large, sprawling lake but now that Kyoga is choking from water hyacinth, water lettuce and water fern (all invasive species) with little or no intervention from the government fishing is a dwindling business . These problems are only exacerbated by over fishing on the lake where fish are harvested immaturely and siltation from soil erosion makes things even worse. All of these problems add together to make an eminent natural disaster; the lake is dying from mismanagement.





On the shores of Lake Kyoga training people in Farming God's Way. They have left fishing (because of the dying lake) for farming; the danger is that they will treat the land the same way they treated the lake. Let's learn to be faithful with what we have otherwise the little we have may be taken away.








The lake is choking with weeds like Water Hyacinth

Not much is different on the land; the land is choked with difficult weeds like
Striga (witchweed) and Couch grass average yields are declining to levels that can hardly support a family. The land is mishandled like the lake and the results are the same.

As I started my conversation with the farmers on the first day of our workshop I felt I must warn them; "If you are killing the lake you will also kill the land -- unless you change" We concentrated our training on being faithful with the gifts God has give us as farmers; soil, rain, our time, energy and money. If we don't learn how to be good stewards we will turn from one resource to another, destroying it and making it useless to the following generations.


The lesson is bigger than this, though.
The Bible teaches that if we are not faithful with this world's wealth we will not be trustworthy with true riches.


Have you taken God's resources for granted? It's time to make use of what God has extended to you; grace and mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.


Please pray for our farmers in Bukungu to faithfully apply what they have learned.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Drought? What Drought?

Lately much of Uganda and even much of Africa has experienced drought in the last growing season. In fact, the food security problem in Africa is so bad that the FAO's current list of " 37 Country's in need of external food assistance", 30 of the 37 countries are in Africa.  This inclement weather has left many farmers with withered crops and empty store rooms. Of course empty store rooms means hard times ahead; famine. This is going to be a rough season for many people in the coming months with very little from their fields to feed them.  Of course, this will also mean appeals for aid and food handouts to sustain these farmers until the next crops come in. Here we go again… the begging bowl of Africa back on the TV screens and now Facebook posts pleading for help. But it doesn’t need to be like this! In fact for our Farming God's Way farmers across the continent it isn't like this.


Throughout Uganda farmers were hit with a late onset of rains, (our rains normally come with the Equinox around mid march but  came this year around April 1st) which meant late planting and then very heavy rains in the middle of the season and then the rains stopped as the crops were maturing. This spells bad news for the average farmers but our farmers are not average farmers! They are average people with the average tools (hoes and machetes) who are farming God's way! Farming God's Way teaches farmers to mulch as heavily as possibly on as much of their land as possible. This means when it is raining heavily their land absorbs the rain deep into the soil profile. Then, when the sun starts to shine the mulch protects the moisture from evaporation and keeps the soil and plant roots nice and cool; perfect conditions for growth! The result is great crops despite weeks of drought. This means food on the table and food in the store rooms. It also means Africans shouting God's goodness and not begging for more hand-outs! Which one do you like to hear about?
On the left is a conventional plot and on the right a Farming God's Way plot; same sun, same rainfall from this last "drought" season -- one looks like a drought stricken garden and one looks like a well watered garden. The difference is faithfulness with the talents God has given us here on the African Continent. photo credit to Vocare Ministries


We're working hard to see that we have more givers than beggars; it's slow but exciting work!
Above are a  few of the farmers that I train in Wante in their gardens earlier in this drought-stricken season. Drought? What Drought?


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thousands of Visitors



This year marked the seventh year that we have hosted a Farming God’s Way Kiosk at the National Agriculture Show here in Uganda. At our kiosk we also had an amazing garden which made for a great spot where many people could stop by and talk to us about Farming God’s Way.
 
Setting up for the show. Our maize is on the right with three rows of beans/
It was easy this year, to attract visitors, as we had some of the largest maize (corn for flour) in the show. In fact many said they thought it was the biggest at the Show! Glory to God! If you want to attract farmers in Africa, grow big attractive maize. It’s the staple crop here and most farmers appreciate a good yield of maize. I estimated our yield to be about 3T/acre which is 7.5T/ha. This is quite good and is easily 5-10 times more than what most farmers get here in Uganda (Sub-Saharan yield are around 350kg/ha). In fact, this year, it is almost only our Farming God’s Way farmers in various communities across Uganda who have yielded crop this last season – most crops dried up as the rains ended early. Most maize yields will be 0kg/Ha this year!

Klint Ostermann, a friend from Vocare ministries, explaining Farming God's Way
I man the kiosk with many other trainers from around Uganda. We usually need 3 to 4 trainers at the kiosk at a time to handle all of our visitors. My good friend Andrew Wandera took much of the week to be at the kiosk as I was busy with Jane in theHospital. Andrew works for a great organization called Amazima ministries across the Nile river where he and his farm staff train and follow up over 100 farmers using Farming God’s Way. It’s great to have my Ugandan friends explaining how to farm to their Ugandan brothers and sisters.This is really "Farmer helping Farmers!'

Andrew Wander teaching fellow farmers
Some of the crowds at the show -- this wasn't even a busy day!
The agriculture show is visited by thousands of visitors each day – I would guess some of the peak days got to 15-20,000 people within the show grounds. We had a steady stream of visitors wondering what it meant to “Farm God’s Way”. It was a great chance to point people to what it means to follow God’s directives, through His word, the Bible in our lives. We explain how to observe His Creation and follow His Word to be able to live in the abundant life that Christ has promised.

Most people can’t believe that we didn’t till (plough/turn the soil) to prepare our land. I have a selection of photos prepared for them to see how we prepare our garden without tilling the land. Then the next biggest eye-opener to them is the value of God’s blanket (mulch). We get these ideas from God's "gardens"; in most of creation the soil is covered with dead and dry leaves, twigs and grass which has died and fallen on top of the soil. We also observe that God doesn't disturb the soil by inverting it in Creation -- God doesn't plough! God’s blanket is the crop insurance that farmers need; it protects their soil from erosion and moisture evaporation, additionally it eventually rots and becomes humus and also adds biodiversity to the soil biological life. We estimate that a good rain can be stored under a good blanket cover for even more than a month. Those who had God's blanket this season were the one's likely to survive the drought.

By the time the show was done we had handed out hundreds of brochures, sold scores of our affordable Field Guides (at less than a dollar each) and we had received thousands of visitors to our kiosk. Some have signed up for our upcoming Uganda NationalTraining Event in Kampala this week and will learn more about Farming God’s Way.


look at the size of that maize!
Thanks for all you do in helping us to be herewith the farmers of Uganda. By God’s grace, and the power of His word, we are making a physical and spiritual difference in their lives.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

We're feeling sick; please pray

Hello friends,  I'd like to be writing to you about how the Farming God's Way kiosk was at the Agricultural show recently but that will have to wait. I'm quite sick and don't have much energy.

Please pray for us. Most of us have been hit by a strong flu virus. Only Albert and Isaiah have not been down yet. Jane was hospitalised a couple days last week with an infection and extremely bad back spasms making even breathing difficult. I've never seem her in so much pain! In fact she remembers little of last Tuesday. Please pray for her full recovery.

Simply, we'd love your prayers for our health. I'm in charge of our national training this coming week and I need to recover quickly.

Thanks.
Chris

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Africa doesn’t need more tractors; it needs better farmers.

A productive crop of Amaranth with some of our young farmers Stephen and Emma.


It is a common misconception that due to Africa’s low agriculture output the way forward is to mechanize and “get serious” with farming by getting bigger and better equipment. This is the common belief held by governments and NGO’s alike on the continent. Even banks push farmers towards getting loans for the big shiny tractors!

This is a horrible idea for many reasons.

Firstly, big Equipment is costly, farmers will be put into long term debt trying to afford expensive equipment. Once in debt the farmer will become like western farmers, putting his attention on gaining credit and not on maintaining soil fertility. He will then need increase his land size in order to have a higher chance of paying off his debt. This leads to the next problem…

Problem number two. Big equipment needs big land to cover the cost of purchasing it, paying the interest to the bank and covering high maintenance costs. Thus farmers (or worse, large corporations) will try to buy up large tracts of land. This is where things get really bad. Africa is farmed by about 750,000 small hold farmers who mostly use a hoe. When you buy out these farmers (after preaching to them the gospel of Big Agriculture) from their land they become dis-enfranchised; people without land. When a small scale farmers sells his land he also sells his grandchildren’s inheritance and he also becomes a manual labourer working on the land he once owned making minimal money with no control over his future. Disenfranchised people become factory workers and employees with very little hope of ever coming out of poverty with life-long minimum wages. 

Thirdly big equipment is often destructive to soil and the environment leading to lower yields and lower income. The plough causes huge amounts of erosion; sub-Saharan erosion rates are 50 -220 MT/Ha. It has been said that Africa’s largest export is soil – and we don’t get a coin from it! Many farmers in Africa don’t realize that when they get new equipment their fertility will go down through intensive soil inversion. Soil inversion causes water loss, carbon loss, fertility loss through oxidation, UV degradation and the loss of volatile nutrients to the atmosphere. With big equipment taking up a large part of their earnings, causing unplanned soil degradation farmers will be left with less to put on their table and in their bank accounts. Unprofitable farming pushes people back towards selling off their land in hopelessness, thus putting them back into the previously discussed position of being dis-enfranchised.

For now we'll just stick to those three reasons (there's more!). Let's get to the answer.

The answer is simple: teach people how to farm better with the equipment they have on the land they have. This won’t line the pockets of politicians, technocrats and big agriculture business so you won’t hear a lot about it but it’s the answer. In most cases God has already place all of the resources needed to farm within the rural areas of Africa. By teaching farmers how to be careful and intentional with their planting and cultivating methods a farmer’s yield can easily increase five times. YES! Five times in one season! How can this happen? By NOT ploughing, planting carefully, putting locally available (read free) organic inputs at the base of the plant, before the (locally sourced) seed is in the ground and by mulching a farmer can have a well fed, stress free plant which will give him high yields at little cost, with NO debt load and with piece of land now increasing in fertility.
How do you know you ask? I know because I used to work on a large bank-bound farm in the west and now I teach small scale farmers who are coming out of poverty and low yields by using Farming God’s Way. It’s amazing to watch the transformation take place on a farm when people put into practice the simple principles of Farming God’s Way. I’ve seen it time and time again where a farmers goes from barely surviving to having productive fields that feed their families and put money in their pocket. Here’s a few pictures that show the great crops that people now experience.

If you’d like to read more about how Africa suffers from dependence on things like equipment and poor agriculture practice and what the answers look like have a look at the Farming God’s Way Trainer’s Reference Guide. It contains lots of stats and references to keep you informed on topic.

If you'd like to be part of the work we do in Uganda we need more supporters to keep us here on the field. www.sperlingsinafrica.com/donate