Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Living in the Village

I moved to the village. Well, as they say here, 'somehow' the village. As someone aptly noted, our office compound in Kamonkoli is "like town in the village." It’s not brick or mud huts with tin or thatch roofs. It’s not dirt floors, or pit latrines. It’s not cooking outdoors on charcoal stoves. It’s indoor plumbing, and normal (for here :) ) windows and doors. It’s the same furniture and decorations that I had in Mbale. It’s carpet in the bedroom, and a bathtub and shower.



My bedroom



But it is also hand carrying water in jerrycans. Because city water hasn’t reached us here in months so the only way to have running water is if the one and only firetruck in the region brings water to fill the tank. And even then, everything other than showering is done with jerrycans in order to conserve water.



It is learning that a toilet needs 10 liters of water (a half a jerrycan, or more than 20 lbs of water) in order to flush...and learning how many times you can use it in between flushes :)


It is the (worse than usual) power outages, and slow internet.


It is the challenge of making sure food in the freezer doesn’t defrost and spoil before power comes back.

It is dashing through the outdoor courtyard from the main section of my house to the kitchen and fumbling to open the padlock while dodging raindrops or the insects attracted by the security light. And then racing back again without said water and bugs falling in my dinner.


From my room, the distance to the kitchen seems so much greater in the rain!





It is the ongoing war against the stink of bat poop that had been pouring through the ceiling cracks (even onto my head while sleeping one night!) and saturating the carpets.




But I have so much to be grateful for.




I have people willing to climb up into the attic and fumigate for bats. And sweep up the many pounds of feces, insects, and dirt they've deposited. And collect the carcases of the bats once they’ve died. And I don’t have to be the one to do it!


I have people who will go fetch water for me when I’m too sick to go for it myself.


I have shower gel that smells just as sweet with cold baths as with warm showers.


I have people to help me wash clothes, sheets, towels, and everything else that can be so challenging to wash by hand!


I have a toilet that flushes without the flies, smell, and challenge of a squatty potty.


I have essential oils to diffuse in my bedroom to help manage the smells.


I have a miracle-car that I can just load my jerrycans in, drive to the orphanage property, fill from the well-water tap, and drive back home! Carrying them the 100 feet to the kitchen or bathroom isn’t anything compared to the miles that some walk for water!


I have a piano to enjoy, worship, and sometimes use to pound out my frustration :)





I have the home of a good friend just next door that I just pop in anytime.


And… I have 4 kittens born just after I moved that have kept me laughing, smiling, and quite entertained all these weeks!






I truly have so much.




So this has been the war in my heart these weeks…feeling the challenge, frustration, pain, and sickness that has come from these difficulties, but wanting so much to be grateful. It’s constantly reminding myself what conditions most of my children live in, and hearing over and over again the small voice of one of them that said “Teecha, you have a beautiful house here!” It’s fighting to see that beauty...without the smell coloring my appreciation for it.


But still, there are hours and days I’ve fought (and lost!) feeling sorry for myself. I’m reminded constantly of the conditions the Mary Slessor (The missionary who’s my life example and inspiration) endured and ministered effectively under. I know how spoiled I am compared to her situation. And I also know how many people would just love the chance to have as much as I do! But as many times a day as I remind myself of that, it's amazing how often I can still fall prey to discouragement and frustration.


I’ve tried consoling myself with the thought that once my house is built on the orphanage property, most of these things won’t be major issues anymore. I’ll have access to the generator when power goes out. I’ll be connected to the well water that is both unlimited and clean! I won’t have snakes running under my feet when I run to the kitchen for drinking water at night. I won’t have a bat colony in my ceiling. I’ve told myself time and time again, just push through these months, and one day it’ll be worth it. Many, many missionaries have made it through so much worse, and you can too! One day being close enough to the school for my kids to stop by afterwards for a tutoring lesson, or heart-to heart conversation, or a painting session will make everything worth it.


But that’s not good enough. I know it’s not good enough. It’s not enough to just promise to praise Jesus for what will be in the future. I need to praise Him now. Like Corrie ten Boom who learned to praise Jesus even for the fleas in a concentration camp (http://deeprootsathome.com/betsie-and-the-fleas/), I must praise Him for everything. And like Corrie, my heart cries, “How can I thank Him even for the bats?!?!?" But also like Corrie, I will (one day) come to discover the beauty and blessing that Jesus was bringing through that challenge. That’s His promise to me: all things (aka bats, water, power, cockroaches, malaria, typhoid, and even betrayal, gossip, and backbiting) will be turned into something to benefit me (Romans 8:28). Whether I discover that benefit this month, this year, or not until one day in heaven, I am confident it will be there. So I’m here begging Jesus to fill me with a spirit of thanksgiving, and give me an eternal perspective. I’m here begging Him to help me release my grip on what I've been trying to hold on to, and instead fill me with the joy of trading my temporary comfort for eternal glory. I’m learning yet again to offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). A praise that does not flow from something that costs me nothing, but rather exacts a sacrifice. A praise that defies all expectations and definitions of what is possible.


This praise that makes it possible to say wholeheartedly…


It is worth it.



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Whiplash


This is a post I wrote right after coming back to Uganda in November, but was never able to finish publishing it. I thought you still might like to read it :) Many of the situations and feelings are just as true coming back this week after Matthew’s wedding!




Whiplash is the best word I can think of right now to describe this past week. Well, whiplash without quite the level of pain that comes with actual whiplash :) It’s not exactly painful per-say to be tossed back and forth between two very different cultures and lifestyles, but it certainly is a challenge!


In the 2 1/2 months of being back in the States, I actively tried to fit myself back into American culture, values, and thought patterns. Some of that required active thought choices, and some of it was a more natural change. But public speaking and connecting with Americans requires me to get out of my African mindset and back into my American value system.


But now I find myself back in the thick of African life. My day guard, Issac, has a list of requests and problems to solve that he’s been waiting to address until I came back. A variety of repairs, changes, and decisions around the house and school have also been waiting for me to get back. It’s back into the swing of African living… like calling the electrician 6 times a day to be told each time “I’m on the way coming.” It’s a guessing game whether or not he will actually show up that day (and 6 weeks later the problems is still not fixed!).


Everyday I also remind myself not to get lost in my work or thoughts and make sure I greet every person I see. Greeting it a big deal here. It’s so easy for me to have an issue I need addressed by someone and jump right into the problem only to remember after a couple sentences that I haven’t properly greeted that person yet.


Right off the bat, everyone wants to figure out how much of my Lugwere and Luganda I remember or have forgotten while back in the States! So my ears and brain have to be back on full power just to understand what people are saying to me, and inevitably Luganda ends up popping out when I was asked a question in Lugwere, or vice versa. Thankfully my Ugandan accent is pretty steady and easy to slip back into.


Sitting properly is a big deal here too, and making sure knees are together and skirts are always at least to the knee whether standing or sitting is closely observed…so no more Indian style :(


I also came back to find that the main highway (which I hoped couldn’t get any worse) has been torn up even more than when I left! A large part of it is down to one lane that everyone tries to make into 2 lanes. This resulted in me nose to nose one day with a lorry stubbornly claiming the right of way and me having to back out into a wider area. Can I just say how much I wish I could be moved out to Kamonkoli already? :) :) My only comfort is that the roads will probably still be this bad in January, so I’ll be that much more grateful not to have the daily commute! :)


All of these small things throughout everyday life add up to quite a case of whiplash. A distinct feeling of disorientation pervades my days right now. My mind is in constant action trying to remind me how I should act, and what I need to do in this situation. All routines and auto-pilots are being reset again. And for some reason, I still find myself wondering why I feel tired! :)


But even though the differences between life in Uganda and American can be a challenge to adjust to, the incredible joys far outweigh the challenges!!


Like the way the whole school erupted in shouts of joy and welcome when they saw me driving up the first day! Or the number of hugs, jubilant smiles, and times I’ve heard “I missed you,” that have greeted me every place I’ve stopped. I love that hundreds of times since I got back, I’ve heard “Well be back!” It’s such a joy to be reminded of how much they love me back! I can’t imagine losing that. And if that means dealing with a case of culture-whiplash from time to time, I’m more than ok with that!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Whirlwind

What a whirlwind of a month! In anticipation of my move to Kamonkoli in January, I knew that I needed to be in Uganda these weeks, and boy have these weeks been full! Here’s some of the highlights of what I’ve been up too…


Time in the office after coming back gave me the chance to brainstorm and plan out some of the media projects we will use in fundraising next year. Our school fundraising video for this year has done well. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it now!


Andrew loved being a part of the video, and has come asking me several times this year if he’s going to be in the next one too! :) I will definitely be looking forward to introducing you to more of the kids that have stolen my heart, and I hope will steal yours too :)


I’ve also had the joy of multiple deep, genuine conversations with several dear ones here. Each time one of them trusts me enough to be open with their pain, joys, and innermost thoughts I am amazed again. Ugandan culture as a whole is so guarded with personal information. There is such rampant “Lugambo” or gossip here, that it’s hard to find someone you trust enough to share things that really impact your heart. Each time one of these dear people makes the decision to trust and confide in me, I know it is a work of the Spirit! I so treasure the opportunity to listen to their hearts and speak whatever truth Jesus gives me for them. I know that it’s often in the context of these deep relationships that change and healing take place. Pray for us, would you? I know I need change and healing just as much as they do, and in the beauty of Jesus’s ways I know that He can bring it to us through one another.



One of our partners, Orphans Heart had a team out here and hosted not only a day long women’s retreat but also a Christmas party for over 2,000 children in the village!

It was a crazy wonderful day that had been much anticipated by kids from all the surrounding villages. The promise of a tasty lunch and lots of fun to be had is certainly a major draw for everyone within walking distance!
One of the fun parts for me was helping cut the 20 twelve inch cakes into over 2,000 pieces. If you’re thinking American slices, obviously that’s not possible… but the kids were more than happy with their small square of cake and icing. They also enjoyed the lesson, crafts, small gift bags…and dance off!




The same week, we closed out our 6th school year at Genesis school with handing out report cards, final instructions for the kids and a gift of a plate and cup for the top students in each class. I’ll miss these kids like crazy until school starts again in late January! Until then though, I’ve got lots to do preparing for the coming year while at the same time moving!!



And this past week was full of starting to pack, getting things ready for a yard sale (a perk of living in equatorial Africa is having outdoor sales in mid-December :)), and hosting a Christmas party at my house for my coworkers at HUM! I loved having them over for cake, presents, and “christmas shopping” through a lot of the things I wanted to give out as I’m downsizing.


Yet again, I found myself saying goodbye to another dear friend. Callie has been my friend and faithful housemate these past 3 1/2 years but Jesus is moving her into another exciting season of life! She will be marrying her fiancĂ©, George, in the States in January. Callie’s written some about their journey here. I’ve loved being a part of their lives as their relationship has progressed and am thrilled for them. But I’m also not very thrilled about having to say goodbye.

                                                  photo credit: Hannah Elizabeth Photography


When I went through orientation before moving to Africa, they taught us how important saying goodbye well is for a missionary…probably because we have to do it so often. It seems like it would be so much easier just to bury my head in work and not think about it. Pretend like it doesn’t impact me. But each and every goodbye does hurt. Even when the words are so common they almost seem route…”stay in touch,” “I’m gonna miss you,” “It’s been great,” “Can’t wait for heaven, and more more goodbyes.” Still the pain of those goodbyes will push through my busyness and distractions and remind me again to grieve.


I know January also holds another goodbye. Goodbye to the house I’ve called home for 3 years. That’s the longest I’ve stayed in one place since high school. I know all my Colorado Springs military friends will understand that challenge. As much as I’m excited and looking forward to a new season of life in Kamonkoli, there’s also a degree of loss in changing seasons.



But word has gotten out in the village that I’ll be “shifting” there soon, and everyone seems really excited. I’m still praying for funds to come in for the house where I and 2 other girls will be living. So far, we’re about 23% of the way there! Once we have enough to begin building, it will take about 3 months for construction to be finished. In the mean time, we’ve found a couple possibilities for places for me to stay in the waiting. Our biggest challenge has been deciding how to store all the furniture and appliances from my current house until my new house is finished. Safe storage space tends to be pretty limited here :) I’m confident that we’ll have a good solution when the time comes. With so much change and transition in these past few months and the months to come, I know I will be so ready and excited to move into the new house when it’s done! I’ve learned that feeling settled in is a luxury in Uganda. It’s one I definitely long for and miss, but also one that I’m willing to sacrifice for the sake of those long conversations, joyous interactions, and hugs from my kiddos. This life certainly isn’t easy, but boy is it fulfilling!


In this Christmas season, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Jesus left everything He had (family, home, control, safety, consistency, etc) in order to come be one of us. That momentous moment in small stable when the King of Kings became poor for my sake. He sacrificed it all so that He could be with me. Oh how I long to not take that for granted. The way I do most days.


And how I also long to do the same. To be not only willing, but also actively pursue sacrificing whatever I hold dear in order to bring the truth and light of Jesus’s presence to my people. Writing this from the States where I’m soaking up Christmas with my family before my brother’s wedding on the 30th definitely brings the sting of the sacrifice home. I know that in 10 short days I’ll be leaving them again. But I know the pain of the gift is what makes it so valuable. I remember when David bought the field from Araunah in 2 Samuel saying, “I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing." So whatever the cost… the goodbyes, the constant change, missing my nephew’s childhoods, distance from my family, the physical comforts…I will count them all as a appropriate price for the joy of obedience. I know that my greatest reward will be seeing my people enter more deeply into the presence and friendship of Jesus.


And that is exactly my prayer for each one of you too. Whether in the daily grind, or the festivities of the season, may you know and experience communion with Emmanuel in your every moment. Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Saying Goodbye Today

Today is the day my best friend is leaving Uganda for now. Jesus has called her to a new season of life and ministry back on the other side of the world. Even though I’m not in Uganda at this moment putting her on that plane, and waving goodbye through the tall glass windows, I’m still overwhelmed by the grief of that goodbye.




Natalie is the one who welcomed me to Uganda and taught me so much of how to survive (and thrive!!) in Africa. Even before I ever arrived, she made time to Skype me and give me packing tips (mostly what NOT to waste my luggage space on…thanks, Nat! :) ) She was with me during my first market experience, and the first one to give me tips on how to drive there. She pointed me to all the random places I could find things I was missing from the States (like dvd from the movie store, canned tomatoes, cheese, and even oreos!) She’s been a constant well of information and guidance….and in more than just food items :) :)

Nat and I during my first year

Overlooking Mbale during one of our adventures :)
Nat’s been a steady rock, and a kind but honest voice I can rely on. Jesus gave her that amazing gift of being able to say hard things in a way that I can both listen to and absorb well. Maybe that’s cause she’s seen me on some of my worst days and still loved me through them. Maybe it’s because she’s proven that no matter the tough conversation the day before, the games and fun to be had will always be there tomorrow! Maybe it’s because Jesus has taught her how to speak truth, but with incredible honor and grace. But probably it’s a combination of all of the above :)


We’ve walked through fire together, and through supernatural grace, pushed through situations that should have driven us apart. You know those friendships that you had to fight for to keep? They’re golden. And because of Jesus’s extraordinary favor, we have one of those friendships.


Like most friendships, there have been times we’ve been closer than others…and times that I’m just more willing to let her in than others. Sometimes that’s due to the stress and craziness of life hampering my emotional capacity to engage, and other times it’s just laziness. Many times its been fear based since her opinion means the world to me, and many times I’ve believed the lie that admitting to my real heart struggles will make her love me less. 





The truth is, establishing genuine, deep friendships with anyone requires a ton of intentionality and bravery. For me, living in a situation where people are constantly coming and going gives an additional factor to the challenge of establishing strong friendships. The luxury of living near close friends for years, and even decades, is one I have often envied many of those in my home town. Investing in friendship is always a choice, but sometimes that choice doesn’t seem worth the risk when I know the woman (precious and amazing though she might be!) might not be around for very long. It’s so tempting to keep things superficial and just not make the effort unless I think there’s a good chance that friend might stay for longer. Plus, the grief of saying goodbye to someone that has been that close is excruciating….and in Uganda everyone leaves. And who knows? Maybe one day the one leaving might be me. Only Jesus could really say.


I’ll be honest. I’m scared. I fight the fear daily that with my besties all leaving, I will be left without someone in Uganda willing to go deep with me. Vulnerability and raw honesty are some of the single most precious and elusive aspects of friendship that I both long for and fear. I know Jesus created us for community and connection. I know that interaction with other members of the body of Christ not only gives us the chance to minister to someone else, but also to grow together and be the iron that sharpens iron for each other. But the extent that we’re able to do that is usually dependent on how honest we’re willing to be with each other. And wow, is it hard to do!! Each moment of brutal transparency feels like an act of bravery that should be honored with a medal.


I’ve had those friendships in Uganda. I was extremely blessed with people who made it easy(er) to reach that level of friendship. But now they’re leaving my every-day life. We tell each other we’ll stay in touch, and it’s still possible to maintain long-distance friendships. But it’s hard. Things just aren’t the same as when you’re involved in each other’s every-day.


So I grieve the ending of a season. I’m here fighting to open my fists that are clenched around what was. And I’m fighting to believe and not just know that Jesus is big enough and good enough to not only maintain bonds across oceans, but also to provide new deep connections as well. I know that’s who He is, and I’ll keep fighting to believe it for myself. 




I love you Nat. Thank you for your incredible investment into my life! Here’s to many more years of us talking, laughing, and pestering each other :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Moving....

5 1/2 years of ministry in Uganda have been leading to this point….

When I first moved to Uganda I was doing language and culture study in Mbale, but after my first year there, Jesus made it abundantly clear that I was to join the team out in Kamonkoli for ministry. For a variety of reasons (including the fact that there wasn’t available housing), HUM and I decided that I would continue to live in Mbale and drive out to the village each day.


The view from my current porch

Jesus has abundantly blessed my time in Mbale! I’ve stayed in a number of different houses, but this latest place was my favorite. I got to be there for 3 whole years (so amazing after moving 5 times in 2 1/2 years!), and had over a dozen people live with me in these years. Callie has been my faithful housemate even from before this house, and such a huge answer to prayer. She’s an ideal housemate, and has been a wonderful teammate as we’ve taught so many newbies coming into our house to live in Uganda how to do life in Africa. Managing that flow of people in and out as well as constantly trying to find new people so we can afford the rent has been a challenge for both of us, but with her help and the grace of Jesus, these years have been a blessing. Callie will soon be marrying George and coming back to the States (check out her story and pictures here!), and while I am so thrilled for her, I am also sad for me. Losing friends is a constantly hard part of ministry overseas, but it's especially hard with the really near and dear ones. Life is about to look a whole lot different without her.

Callie (second from right) and I with beloved
past-roommates, Jess and Gloria, and other friends

Callie on the left with me and Natalie


Last year, the HUM board asked me to consider moving out to Kamonkoli, and throughout this year I have constantly sought Jesus’ will for me and the ministry He has gifted me with. There have been many challenges to me moving out to the village, but over this year I have seen one obstacle after another removed. I have been left with all positive reasons for moving from Mbale to Kamonkoli, so we have decided that as soon as my lease for this house is up on January 31st, I will be moving out to the village!


The only challenge that still remains is…..a house! At the moment there is no appropriate housing for me to be in long-term, and we are needing to build a place for me and other long-term missionaries that hopefully will be coming soon. I know… having the actual house would seem to be step one for me to move to the village :) But I’ve talked with Jesus about that too, and I am convinced that He is eager for me to be living in Kamonkoli and He’s got the whole situation covered.


Our contractor has given us an initial estimate of $67,000 to build this house on the HUM property. When Katherine and I were designing the house, we were anticipating closer to $45-50,000, so when that estimate came in, I was a bit shocked. And discouraged. My heart belief (even though I couldn’t have verbalized it at the time!) was that Jesus could have handled providing for $45-50k, but surely $67k was too much for Him. Ha! I love how ridiculous the lies that we believe sound when we actually say them out loud! :) You see, I know conceptually that Jesus always funds the work and ministry He has led us into…and I know intellectually that He’s an ENORMOUS God who possesses all the resources of the universe and can feed 5,000 from just two fish and five loaves of bread… but when my own need is in front of my face, my real heart beliefs are exposed. And I’m so grateful that Jesus is calling me into a place where once again, I must bring my fears to the feet of His cross and say, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”


So that’s where I am right now: choosing every day to believe that Jesus is going to work an INCREDIBLE miracle in the next 4 months in order to provide this house that has already been intentionally designed, prayed over, and dedicated to ministry and the kingdom work.


Ever since the decision was made for me to move to Kamonkoli, Jesus has been filing my mind with all kinds of ideas and dreams for ministry within that house! The sitting room is designed for a play place and study station where I can have kids over to do homework, play, and develop deeper relationships with them after school (instead of needing to make the 40 minute commute home immediately after class!). I also have a prayer room (or War Room!) with outside access so that I and other people from the ministry can come find a quiet, set apart place for prayer and communion with Jesus.


My prayer room right now...soon to be replaced!


While living in town, having teachers, friends, and my children over to my house has been a logistical challenge with the distance and limited transportation options. Now, I’m greatly looking forward to being in a place where I can welcome people into my home! My hope is also that living in the community and being constantly surrounded by Lugwere (unlike in Mbale where the languages are Luganda and Lugisu) will also help me complete my language studies faster! All in all, there are so many things to look forward to about living in the village, and I can’t wait to see how Jesus is going to conquer every last one of the challenges before I can move.


I firmly (and constantly choose to!!) believe that Jesus will work a miracle to provide this home. I get to participate in the miracle by constantly praying for it, and I would like to invite you to be a part of this miracle as well! Will you pray for this house to be fully funded and quickly (but excellently!) built in time for me to move into it on January 31st? Will you pray over each of the bedrooms, kitchen/dining room, sitting room, bathrooms, laundry room, and prayer room that they would be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus? That they would be a safe haven for so many people to come and experience the love of Jesus and grow to know Him better? Will you pray that God will surround it with His protection and blessing? I know Jesus might show you even more things to pray for, and I’d love to hear about those! Just leave a comment, or use the new “Contact Me” box on the right hand side!


And finally, if Jesus would lead you to participate in this miracle in a financial way, any checks can be written to HUM, designated for “missionary housing,” and mailed to PO Box 620727 Littleton, CO, 80162. Or for online giving, click here and enter your amount at the top and "missionary housing" in the Other/Special Instructions box just above the payment information.

I can't wait to tell you about the ways Jesus will answer our prayers along the way! 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Best Day of the Year

July 30. It was the best day of the year. And that’s saying something! There were multiple red-letter days this year such as the day Michelle arrived in Uganda, my first safari in Africa, and the day I fed a lion with my best friend (read about it here!). But this particular one was my favorite. The whole year had really been leading up to it, and it was highly anticipated by more than just myself!


At the beginning of the school year, I gave my kids in grades 3, 4, and 5 a challenge: memorize and recite 16 answers together with supporting verses to these 4 different questions (which some of you might recognize these from AWANA’s T&T book 1):


Who is God?
Who is the Lord Jesus?
How does God want me to live my life?
Why did God give us the Bible?


They had a total of 36 verses to memorize and recite word-perfectly by the end of July. The reward they were promised was an ice-cream party for all those who successfully finished every last verse, and for those who were able to actually do the entire challenge a second time and review all those verses, I promised to take them swimming. For the next 6 months, I had 62 children clamoring every day to recite! There wasn’t a single day that I wasn’t asked, “Teecha, reciting today???” I absolutely loved their eagerness!!



As they tracked their progress on sticker charts, the excitement grew. But as you can imagine, listening to 63 children recite all those verses takes a lot of time. I was so thrilled when God sent Michelle to Uganda over the last 2 months of the challenge so she could help me listen to the kids! I don’t know what I would have done without her!


On the last day before our party, there was a mad rush and desperate push for some to finish reciting, and a few to finish reviewing. We finally wrapped up a long day with 44 finishers and 22 reviewers!


We did have a rather exciting *ahem* moment when we realized that of the 22 kids who finished the review challenge and were to come swimming, exactly 2 had swimsuits. Ha! What followed was Michelle and I plowing through racks of used clothes searching for any type of short (and t-shirts for the girls) that could remotely work in a swimming pool. Finding enough of the *approximately* right sizes was a challenge for sure, but on the day every child had at least something to put on.


That Saturday morning had us up early with my little Rav4 filled with ice-cream, decorations, confetti poppers, cake, prizes, and 2 big trash cans full of water balloons. Together with Michelle and the wonderful help of 3 other interns, we pulled off a party that was an absolute blast, and was talked about in the village for weeks to come!



Kids intently observing Teecha Angelina telling
them about some of the prizes




At first the confetti poppers startled them.....
...and then they loved them! 




























The relay races were a hit too! 

Michelle and I demonstrating a relay

After celebrating the morning away, we said goodbye to half of the kids and loaded the other half up into ministry vehicles to drive them the 30 minutes into town to the hotel swimming pool. Only a couple of my kids had ever been swimming before, and at first there was a bit of trepidation. But when they figured out that the baby pool was shallow enough to stand or kneel in and still get a great splash, every loosened up and had an absolute blast!









To these kids, ages 8-14, the greatest thing might be the reward at the end. But what I know personally, even though they might not understand themselves yet, is that hiding Jesus’s Word in their hearts has intrinsic value and power. The Scripture they learn now will be used by God throughout the rest of their lives to encourage, guide, and strengthen them, especially as they are sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I remember memorizing all those verses in AWANA growing up, and if I’m honest with you, I’ll admit I was totally doing it for the trophies. And the ice-cream parties. And the kudos from my parents and friends. And you know what? They totally kept me motivated and eager to do the single most helpful thing of my entire life: Know God’s Word.


There hasn’t been a single day of my life that I haven’t benefitted from the mounds of Scripture buried deep in my heart, and that is my prayer for these kids too. I believe that these 36 verses will only be a start to the mound of Scripture Jesus will first help them to memorize and then remind them of for years to come.

Plus, it really was incredible for me to watch the joy on my kids faces! I think one of the ones who made the most impact on me was E. She’s been a tough nut for me to crack for a while. She and her siblings have an incredibly difficult and painful home situation with their father out of work, and their mother abandoning them last year. E has been thrown into the position of mother, cook, housekeeper, and so much more (in village conditions!) although she’s only 14. I’ve seen her harden herself from affection and withdraw even from my attention. But that day was different. I don’t know whether it was just being in a completely different environment, or the chance to just be a kid and play for once, or feeling special with a sense of accomplishment, but her whole demeanor changed. For the first time, she was interacting freely with me, responding to my playfulness, and even seeking my attention. It was remarkable. For the following week that I had at school before leaving Uganda, she continued to be free with me. I pray it is just a start to a relationship that will bring her to a deeper understanding of just how valuable and loved she is by both Jesus and me!



The kids' first experience with water balloons!



And the winner for that round is... Purple!

 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Muganda Wange (My sister)

Almost every day I have the joy of introducing various people here to 'Muganda wange,' which translates to 'my sister' in Lugwere and Luganda. The common response is almost always, 'Yes! For sure, you resemble!' (aka, you look alike:) ). The many commentaries that have followed have been priceless! Showing her off to all my friends and acquaintances has been so much fun! This is a joy that I have longed for since the very first time I came to Uganda in 2003.

 



Over the past 5 years of living overseas, I have found that living in a totally different culture and environment from my friends and family in the States can certainly lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Struggling to describe especially the small things that make my life so different here can be frustrating to the point of not even wanting to try.


Things like…

making sure the water filter is full all the time so if water runs out, at least we have drinking water…

maneuvering the the potholes in the road that are changing on a daily basis…

being surrounded by such vibrant color and beauty every day…

the vast differences in my vocabulary (even when I’m supposedly speaking English!)…

needing to lift the bottom tray of the oven to light it with a match…

forgetting to properly greet someone (as in the very moment they see me) and having to make it up to them the rest of the day…

making sure every appliance is fully charged at all times for when power will inevitably go off…

feeling foolish and a failure if someone says something to me in Lugwere that I don’t understand…

how funny and irresistible my little ones really are, especially in their cute accents!…

and especially, my mindset changes and the way I approach many situations and solutions different now.




These are some of the simple actions and moments that make up my daily life here, and even trying to describe them on paper makes them seem simplistic. But they make life feel so vastly different here than in the States.


For years, I have struggled to try and describe and share with those I love on the other side of the ocean. I have my life in America, and I have my life in Uganda. But rarely do the two really interact with each other. I spend a lot of time talking about my American life and family to my fascinated children and friends here, and I spend a lot of time telling people on that side about my wonderful life here. But the whole time, I have longed to actually share these moments with someone from back home. Someone to help bridge the gap between my two worlds.


Finally, that moment came! After almost 13 years of praying for the day to come, it finally did! I welcomed my sister, Michelle to Uganda in the midst of a surreal haze of happiness and joy. I’ve spent the past month experiencing Africa again through her eyes, and realizing afresh just how different it really is. She makes me laugh at my own funny vocabulary and phrasing by finding them delightful also. She fills the seat next to me in my Rav4 and listens to all my ramblings each evening as I process the day and what happened. She hugs my friends, and high-fives my kids. She teaches in front of my classrooms, and has gotten to know the names and faces of my students. She knows which kids are quiet, and which ones are the trouble makers now. And all of these things, I no longer have to explain to her. She knows. And it’s heavenly.





I know the impact these weeks have had on my soul already, and I have an idea of how they will continue to affect me even as Michelle goes back to the States in just a few short weeks. The companionship of not just her presence, but her new understanding and insight into my life, work, and what I value has made such an impact on that somewhat distant, but ever lingering ache of loneliness.