Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Birthday Wish

Read an update about Sharon here.
{Please read this story to the end to see what my birthday wish is and how you can help.}
On January 1, 1997, in a little village in Uganda a baby girl was born.  Her mama was only 16 years old, yet this was her second child.  She was probably born in their dark, little home in an unhygienic situation.  Her name would be Sharon.

The next day, January 2, 1997, an ocean away in Singapore, another baby was born.  Her parents were American missionaries there and she was their firstborn.  She was born in a nice hospital.  She was given the name Caralina.

The little girls lived separate lives.  Caralina moved back to America and lived a practically normal childhood for a little girl in America and would soon have a little sister and brother.  Sharon would live a much more difficult life, gaining many more siblings and, at one point when she was 18 months old, getting very sick. Her parents would take her to a small hospital where all tests were negative, so they sent her to a bigger hospital.  There they would find out that she had heart problems, most likely caused by undetected and untreated strep throat.  In 2008, Caralina and her family moved to Good Shepherd's Fold Orphanage in Uganda, only a thirty minute walk from Sharon, but still the girls never met.  

Then, a few things happened.  Sharon was preparing to take the national primary school exam in August 2013.  With all the stress, she suddenly began having heart problems again, got very sick and was taken to the big government hospital. They quickly admitted her even though they knew the family could not pay {this is very rare for a hospital to do in Uganda, so it must have been urgent}.  Then, in February 2014, Sharon's mother had another baby and that baby was put on GSF's feeding program.  In December, when Caralina's mother heard Sharon sing at the feeding program Christmas party, their worlds touched.  After hearing Sharon's story, Caralina's mother asked for more information to see how they could help.  After seeing the information, she was shocked to see that Sharon was born only one day before her daughter, Caralina's birthday.

Upon hearing about Sharon, I {Caralina} wanted to do something to help her.  I kept seeing her picture around our house on the front page of the report about her and wishing I actually knew her and could talk to her.  Since we only found out about Sharon right before the holidays I have not yet met her, but hope to soon.

Here's the details:  When Sharon was taken to the government hospital in August 2013, they told her she needed to go to India for heart surgery.  Since Sharon currently does not have the funds to go to India, she has to travel to the government hospital every month, to get medicine to help stabilize her heart.  In order to fund these trips, she enjoys making mats which she sells for a little less than the equivalent of $5, but she has to sell six each month in order to make the journey and buy the medicine.  The trip to India will cost approximately $8000 and the family's debt at the government hospital is almost $500.

Sharon's 18th birthday is on Thursday and mine is on Friday.  My birthday wish is to give Sharon a gift with your help -  her debt being cleared and her India trip/surgery paid for.  My goal is to raise $10,000 to make sure all her fees are covered.
Would you like to help me achieve my birthday wish and give Sharon a birthday gift she won't soon forget?  Click here to donate.  Click on 'Support' under the Gwartney family, put in the comments 'Sharon's Heart Project'.  All funds with this designation will be used for  Sharon's expenses.  If extra funds are collected or if any thing happens to Sharon before her heart surgery, all extra funds will be used for other medical projects in our surrounding villages.  Thank you!
A picture of Sharon taken by GSF's social worker

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas time is here!

The house mamas receiving Christmas gifts
We are officially into the Christmas season at GSF!
Katie reading the Christmas story to the kids.  The stockings are on the table in front of her.
Our Christmas celebrations actually began on the last day of November.  Many of the kids at GSF go visit their families over the Christmas holiday.  We had a 'Christmas eve party' of sorts for them before they went.  We had a traditional Ugandan meal for them and then they all got stockings.  Their stockings were filled with things they will use in the village, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, vaseline and soap.  They also got some things they will enjoy like cookies, candy and juice.  We miss the kids while they are gone, but they enjoy their time.  We also have eight kids that are being resettled this year.  So sad to see them go, but glad they are in families now!

The Ugandan school year runs on the calendar year, so school 'speech day' was held in December.  Speech day is where each class sings a song or does a dance or something.  The main event is K5 graduation.  All the parents come, especially if their kids are graduating.  It is a big deal to graduate from K5 and parents come from all over to watch their kids graduate.  I was not able to be there for the whole thing since I was in school, but I was so glad to be there for the graduation part.  Eight GSF kids graduated - three of our girls were the top three in the class!  My mom shared some of their stories here.
One of our GSF girls at her graduation.
Friday was the GSF staff party.  The staff party always happens the last party before most of the staff take their two weeks off for Christmas and new year.  Each department does a presentation of a dance, song or skit {or all three :)}.  There is lunch served by the missionaries and cake.  Each staff member gets a gift and some beef from a cow slaughtered at GSF.  Since we have a Colombian missionary who has served at GSF for 17 years, it has become a tradition for her to sing 'Feliz Navidad' every year.  This year she slooooowly pulled up ALL the staff members on stage to sing.
We have enjoyed having all these parties and look forward to celebrating Christmas with the kids, staff and missionaries still at GSF this week!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Word of Life 2015

I am excited to announce that I have been accepted to begin Word of Life in Fall of 2015!
Yes, I realize that I am just finally getting around to announcing this almost a month after I was officially accepted.
Here is a link that I previously shared about my thoughts for the future.
Please continue to pray as I go through my final year at GSF {makes me so sad} and also try to get more experience in the areas I am looking at going into.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Five months ago, while we sat in church Bible study, a group of girls passed by on their way back home from getting water and looked in the door.  There was nothing unusual about this, it happens multiple times every week.  But this week was different.  This week, one of the girls set down her jerry can and told her friends something, obviously trying to convince them of something.  Soon, she walked in the door and sat down on the bench.  Her friends watched for a while and then picked up their jerry cans and moved on.  This girl stayed.  She introduced herself and sat and listened.  She had been coming to church in the past, but in recent days, our church had a shift and she and many of her friends and stopped coming so often.  Over the past five months we have seen her almost every Sunday and even many Thursdays when she doesn't have school.
Two months ago, a man stood up in church and introduced himself as a prophet.  It soon became clear that he was a false prophet.  Many of the first things he said sounded so true, but it soon became obvious that he had done his research about the church because he started saying things that were not true at all.  At the end of the service, two of our church leaders sat down and talked with him.  They found out that he was not even a Christian.  However, after talking with him for a while he decided that he wanted to become a Christian.  Since then he has been an active member in our church and has been learning more and more about God's love for him.
Two weeks ago, another man walked into our church and introduced himself as wanting to get saved.  He walked out with our pastor and got saved right then.  He came back in and gave testimony that he had been spending any money he got on alcohol {most of us had guessed that}, but he felt that he didn't want to live that life anymore.  He had now given his life to God and wanted God to take over his life and help him leave the old life behind.  He has come to church the last two Sundays, sober and eager to worship.
A week ago, fourteen GSF kids asked for their name to be put on a list because they wanted to be baptized.  Each kids was matched with an adult to have a conversation with before the baptisms.  One of those kids is already a Christian, but after more conversation, it was decided that he is not ready to take this step yet.  Five of them were younger and did not yet understand everything about salvation and/or baptism.  However, they have now gotten to start this conversation with an adult and we pray that God will continue moving in their hearts as they think about the things they have been told in the past week.  We also had two other kids who are Christians, but did not sign up at first because they wanted some time to ponder it.
Saturday, October 11th, the sun was beating down on the little blow-up pool on GSF's field.  It was baptism day for Light of the World Church.  We met at GSF because we had clean running water for baptisms.  Many people got baptized that day.  A girl who had to break away from the crowd to follow Jesus.  A former false prophet.  An ex-drunk man.  Mothers.  Grandmothers.  Young people and adults.  People who had been saved for a while or just a few days.  A few people who had rededicated their lives that week.  In total, there were 11 people from GSF and 11 others - in total 22 people.  It was such a blessing to see not only children, but also many adults taking this step to get baptized.  Rejoice with us for these lives and join us in praying for them as they continue to grow in faith.  Also, please be praying for the other kids at GSF who have begun conversations about salvation, that God would continue to move in their hearts.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Future. Thoughts. Plans.

Some of the older GSF disabled kids sorting beans
The question I've been asked most recently is 'what are your plans after high school?' {or some form of that}.  In the beginning it made me pretty nervous because NOTHING felt firm.  Now, I've gotten more comfortable answering it, partially because I'm feeling more sure of my plans and partly because I've answered that question so many times now.  I kind of just know now how to answer that question without making anything sound too firm.  This morning when my mom suggested that I write this post, it made me nervous again, but here I am writing it because I am sure many of you are asking some of these questions.  Let us go through question by question.
Two of our girls at GSF who are always holding hands
When do you graduate high school?  I technically am in my senior year right now and will finish in April.  But, I was doing online school and when you have bad internet and you aren't too good at math, well, you get the picture.  I need an extra math.  I will be doing it all in one semester since that will be my only class and we have an experienced high school math teacher here right now.
Dream seemed like a good word for this post.
What next?  Really good question.  The only thing I know for sure is that I am basically set on going to Word of Life in Florida for a year.  Word of Life is a Bible Institute {and they also have camps and other things} that has 4 campuses.  You can do 1 year, 2 year and 3 year courses.  You can find out more on their website here.  It seems like the most convenient time for me would be Spring 2016.  But that is only for closure reasons.  The Florida campus is small and everyone takes the same classes, so it looks like Fall 2016 might be better on that end.  I don't know exact numbers yet, but I am guessing not a whole lot of students go in the spring semester and it probably wouldn't be the best for a student to start in the middle of the year.
Sorry for all the hand pictures.  I apparently have a lot of them.
Are you looking at colleges?  Which ones?  Yes.  My current choices are Union University {In Jackson, Tennessee} and Liberty University {in Lynchburg, Virginia}.
Taking a picture of something on the side of the road in Kenya
What are you looking at majoring in?  At this point, my options are Photojournalism and Special Education.  I say 'at this point' because I have recently been investigating a 3rd option, but it is all new, so I'm just not going to mention it here now.
With Praise, one of our special girls
Why Photojournalism and Special Education?  Basically because I love writing, photography, helping people with special needs and teaching.  And I believe I am gifted in all of them.  I've had a good amount of experience in all of these areas and feel pretty comfortable in them.  At this point I am leaning towards Special Ed because it is easier to do photography and writing without having special degrees.
One of the boys I've been tutoring.
That is the basic rundown so far.  Overall, I am so glad that God is in control and already knows where I will be in 2 years, 3 years, 5 years, etc.  Please join me in praying for these things.
Couldn't end this post without this adorable picture of Kenny.  Love it and him so much!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Power of an Obedient Life.

Wayne and Bonnie Sue Walker moved to Uganda in 1994 to help the orphans of Uganda.  They moved into a small house with their 6 children under age 4 {all adopted} and began taking children in.  They soon moved to a two-story house.  For over 200 children, the 'Main House' became home and the Walkers became "Mommy" and "Daddy".  The main house was growing too small for so many people.  A missionary who was there at the time {and is still here 16 years later!} explains, "I remember thinking that kids came out of the walls.  Every corner I turned, there would be more kids and I would think, 'Hey, I never seen that one before!'"
And so in 2001, GSF, with the help of Samaritan's Purse, was able to move to 100-acres of land with clean, running water and individual group homes. Homes were added on as time went on.  After a few years of living on the new land and years of touching many lives in Uganda, the Walkers felt called to move on {They now have adopted 13 children from 7 countries and helped orphans in Thailand as well}.  However, they were often fondly remembered at GSF and by all who had worked or lived here while they were around.
Thus, it was with a sad heart that around 200 people gathered at GSF on December 7, 2013 to remember the lady who so many knew and loved as 'Mommy".  After a four-year battle with cancer she passed away on Thanksgiving day in 2013.  As people gathered and shared testimonies, stories and memories of 'mommy' I was absolutely amazed at her legacy.  This is the power of one obedient life.
May 9, 2014 was GSFs 20th anniversary celebration.  Months and months of preparation had gone into this one day.  The beginning is a bit disrupted by the rain, but we carry on.  Finally, when the rain stopped and everyone had eaten lunch my dad {the current director of GSF} got up to speak. His speech was introducing Mr. Walker and a bit of how he had lost his legs in Vietnam.  As he got to the end, he had to speak over the crowd who was clapping and cheering so loudly.  "Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming our guest of honor, Mr. Wayne Walker."  The crowd immediately rose in a standing ovation.  As a stood there, I was once again overcome by the power of one obedient life.  And a God who takes our humble efforts and uses them for His glory.
A standing ovation
The Walkers Legacy - the many former and current GSF kids
"Our gifts are not from God to us, but from God through us to the world."  ~Janice Elsheimer, The Creative Call

Friday, February 28, 2014

Blessings and Joy

He came from a place no one likes.  No one wants to go.  People use it as a joke and an offence.  He’s nearby playing now, carefree and seemingly innocent.  Someone mentions that he is from that place.  “They are real a lot there, and yet this one was chosen.”  “Yes, he is the blessed one.”  Blessed.  God chose to bless this little boy.  To bless him with love, home and family.  To bring him from a place no child should have to be.  God chose to use this little boy's life to bless the kids at GSF.  To give them the blessing of seeing that, out of things the world sees as curses, God can give us blessings.

The little two-year-old snuggles up close.  Several illnesses and more medicines than you can imagine often make her sick.  She vomits every day and is pretty malnourished.  However, she doesn’t stay down very long.  She is often found wobbling around with her little tongue sticking out, full of joy.  Joy.  The very thing she wouldn’t be expected to have, but she is full of it.  Just as God chose to bless us with the 6-year-old boy, he chose to give us a new joy through this 2-year-old girl.  To give her the joy of family, love and hope.  To give us joy through her.

Rejoice with us for the way God is blessing these kids and us.  Please also keep them in your prayers as they adjust to life at GSF. Especially pray for this sweet girl to gain health again soon.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Updates from GSF

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from GSF!  As a new year begins, I want to share 5 things you can do to keep in touch with GSF.
1) Like GSF's Facebook page to see more cute pictures of the kids, updates about all that is going on and how to pray for GSF.
2) Visit GSF's website which has just recently been updated and looks really awesome!  Good Shepherd's Fold website
3) Watch this video that gives a picture of a day at GSF.  Click here to watch the video!
4) Read GSF's newsletter.  I'm sharing it here, but if you can't read it, find it on the GSF Facebook page, comment on the post and they'll send it to you in Facebook messenger.
5) Share any of these things on your social media page(s)!
Thank you!