Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas in Africa

Christmas in Africa is different. Bet you didn’t expect that. JK 

But especially here in Mbale, you don’t see every store decked out in Christmas decorations with a new Santa product on every shelf. Lights don’t sparkle on the roofs of each house (or any house for that matter). There isn’t a culture battle over saying ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ And since most families can’t buy every child and relative a Christmas present, clothes are actually considered a GREAT present (even by the kids)! You even might, if you’re lucky, see a tree decked out for Christmas, African style like this one:

 Please note the cotton ball snow

Oh wait, you need the full effect.....!!

But the best part is that almost every family makes the effort to go to church on Christmas. You remember all of those awkward years when Christmas fell on a Sunday and you couldn’t decide how to handle it? Do we open presents really early? Do we wait until after church? Do we play heathen and just not go? Well here, everyone goes to church Christmas morning, whether or not it falls on a Sunday.

And yes, that makes the whole gift opening thing a bit more awkward. And yes, an African church service can go long and sometimes you have to fight to stay happy that you’re there. But I do think that starting off Christmas day with a service to remember why we celebrate such a holiday isn’t such a bad idea. Like all things, it can be what you make it. Some people cook early in the morning, show up late, and spend the rest of service worrying about Christmas lunch getting cold. Others spend the time wondering what their parents could have possibly gotten for them. But for those who choose to utilize the opportunity, it’s a great way to ‘remember the reason for the season.’ To stop all of the preparation, activity, and hullabaloo for a moment and really thank God for the gift of His Son.

The incarnation of our Savior is one of the most important events of all history. My hope and prayer for each of us this Christmas is that we wouldn’t allow that awesome truth be overshadowed with the unimportant. That this Christmas would truly be a time of celebration of Jesus for you and your family. 

And while my family is enjoying the beauty of Christmastime in the States, I get to bask in a totally different style of beauty here in Africa.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

African Christmas Party

What does close to 1000 Ugandan kids gathered for a Christmas party look like? Well, if a picture says a thousand words, it’s still not enough, but here’s just a taste!

Part of the crowd from above

Watching the Jesus film

The highlight of my Christmas: a Christmas skit put on by some of the sponsored kids. Seriously, there were no words for how funny and precious this was!!

Cooking in the village for a crowd

Washing hands before lunch (yes, all 1000 washed hands before eating!)

Enjoying Pilau (beef mixed with rice) and beans

All Smiles

Cakes for 1000 takes a LOT of work!! Even if you do cut very small!

Waiting in line for clothes and sweets

It definitely was an incredible day of laughing, entertainment, teaching, eating, dancing, and the kids even received a piece of clothing, some candy and a balloon hat! 

And if some video of a muzungu lady dancing who looks just like me shows up on youtube, let’s just say it *wasn’t* me….that you know ;)

Thanks to Orphan's Heart for funding and helping organize such an amazing day!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Buddy and Bunny

I love my new puppy.

 I love my new [roommate's] kitty. 

 My new kitty does *not* love my new puppy...

but he loves her!!

And yes, their names are Buddy and Bunny. And no, that wasn't planned. :)

Friday, December 14, 2012

My whirlwind of a Fall

Since everything was finalized with HUM in September, things have been nonstop! So get ready for a whirlwind recap of the past couple of months!! Ready?

Beginning in mid-September, I was so blessed to meet with many of my supporters and get to know them better. Many of them I hadn’t really known before, so the opportunity to have one on one time with them was a wonderful one! I’ll be honest though, with some of them I was nervous. These were people who believed in my ministry and knew what had been going on with me, but I didn’t know much about them. Before each meeting, I took time to pray for them and ask that the Lord would bless them through our conversation…I didn’t expect that He would bless ME so much! After each time, I walked away with a specific blessing and encouragement from each of them. I am so humbled to have such a wonderful group of people behind me!

Beginning in October, Katherine and I set out on the fundraising trail to find support for the ministry. Let me tell you, when you live, eat, drive, and sometimes sleep with someone, you get to know them pretty quickly! I am so grateful for the chance to get to know Katherine on an even deeper level, and it made me even more excited to have a part in the ministry she began. I also was so blessed to get to know especially our hosts as we spent every couple of nights in a new home. These wonderful people blessed me so much with their hospitality and generosity. I saw real sacrificial giving in action. I saw true selflessness. I saw gracious spirits and wise hearts. I saw the body of Christ in action!

But as some of you who travel a lot know, time on the road is draining, so after over a month of traveling, Katherine and I, along with a couple others from the ministry went together on a 5 day cruise to Mexico! It was a wonderful time to rest, recuperate, and spend time with God and wonderful women!

 The day after I got back from cruise I again hit the road, this time by myself to Chicago. It was the first time I had been back to my college, Moody Bible Institute, since I graduated in 2009. Even though all of the students who were there when I was have now graduated, I still have some friends in the area, and I got to see them and also meet with many of the professors that I loved so much. My years at Moody were some of the most difficult of my life (and good preparation for Africa as I found out!!), but I was reminded of all the wonderful times I had, and all of the wonderful things I was taught there. I also got time with my wonderful friend, Anna who graciously gave me her very own bed for the whole week I was there!!!

I got back home to Colorado Springs just in time for Thanksgiving with my family, and boy do we have a lot to be grateful for!!! This year, I was able to come to the States for the birth of my first nephew, my dad got a new job, my brother got his pilot’s license (yay Matthew!!!), and my other brother got engaged to one of my best friends!!!! (Micah and Madi, you know I’m claiming all of the credit for setting you guys up…even in Africa ;) )

The week after Thanksgiving I gathered all of my things (wellll I might have forgotten more than one or two things….oh well.) and once again boarded a plane for Uganda. This was my 7th leaving for Uganda from Denver International Aiport. This time going, I had a whole new set of things on my mind….

A new house. 2 new housemates. A new job. A whole new language (they speak Lugwere in Kamonkoli). A still new language to try and remember.

And in these past 2 weeks, I have been reminded again of what a privilege it is to live and serve here in Uganda. Yes, my Luganda is requiring a lot of work to remember. Yes, the roads here are TERRIBLE to drive on. Yes, everything takes 2-10 times longer to accomplish here. Yes, the dirt still gets EVERYWHERE. And yes, each day brings a new and different challenge. And I love it! I love these people, and I love my God who has brought me to such a wonderful place!

Uganda, I sure missed you!!!

Katherine and I on our trip

meeting with two of my wonderful supporters!

on our quick stop over to the Grand first time!!

on board the ship in front of Mexico

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yes, Change is a good thing!

As a missionary, change is just part of the job description! I guess it’s a good thing God made me the adventuresome type, ‘cause each new change definitely brings yet another adventure!

Now you may be clued in by now that since I’m talking about change, that must be because there’s been another change. I know, rocket science. And you would be right! 

As of this month I have officially transferred from being a missionary with Tentmakers Bible Mission to a wonderful ministry called HUM (Hines Ugandan Ministries). I know, how appropriate (being called Melody and all…)!  This ministry was started in 1999 by a wonderful lady named Katherine Hines. While I was in Uganda, I was so impressed by her staff and ministry that I began praying about if the Lord would want me to partner with her. You know what He said? YES! 

HUM’s ministry is pretty extensive, but the parts that I will be participating in are the primary school and the AWANA club. Katherine has asked me to help lead what is currently the largest single AWANA we know of in Uganda! With between 600-800 kids and only 12 teachers on average, I definitely have my work cut out for me! Since I grew up in AWANA and absolutely LOVE the program, I’m ecstatic to be able to pass my love for memorizing God’s word on to the leaders and kids! I’m also quite a bit nervous and sure that I don’t know exactly what I’m getting into!

Teaching AWANA

 Genesis Primary School is a very new ministry of HUM and currently has 2 grades with the hope to add another grade each year. My goal and challenge will be to make sure that the kids attending the school are getting not only a good education, but also a strong foundation in the word of God. That’s something my mom did for me by homeschooling me, and something I believe is essential for the spiritual growth of these kids. 
My love and passion for the kids in Uganda has only grown from my first year there, and I am more than excited to go back and love on those kids along side of Katherine! I also know that I have a whole slew of challenges I can’t even imagine right now ahead of me, and am, as always, in desperate need of your prayers! 

p.s. If you want to learn more about HUM, check out their website HERE

Friday, September 14, 2012

This summer I had an incredible time with a couple of churches as the visiting missionary for their VBS clubs.

For one of them, I was asked to do 20 minutes each for 4 different age groups, the youngest being the preschoolers. Now you might remember....I LOVE kids, but trying to keep the attention of 40+ preschoolers in one tiny room for 20 minutes was definitely stretching hero inducing. Not to mention trying to teach them something valuable about missions in Africa, a topic completely outside of their realm of experience. When I was first trying to figure out what I was going to teach them, I was so worried that I would get into that room and the kids would take over. Or that I would stare into those little faces and completely blank. Or maybe that they would simply reach the end of the week having learned absolutely nothing.

That first Monday I went through the first 3 classes with ease, all the time questioning my plans for the preschool group. Before I knew it, they were there. Tumbling over arms and feet to pour themselves into my tiny classroom. I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't bite (well at least they didn't bite ME....), but they did certainly require much more voice power than anticipated. Squeezing bit and pieces of teaching throughout learning Ugandan children's songs, I actually finished my 20 minutes (and my voice!) before I knew it. Thankfully, the voice came back before the next morning, only to be lost again the next 2 days as well. By the end of the week, I knew that they had done a LOT of singing, hearing about God's love for all people, and repeating some Luganda words, but I still wasn't sure if they had absorbed anything at all.

Then one day later in the week, I saw one of the boys in his mother's arms animatedly talking as fast as he could. I could tell she couldn't quite get what he was saying as she looked a bit confusedly down into his small face. Suddenly, he caught glimpse of me, whirled around, pointed a tiny finger at me and said in a great big voice, '"Mom! That's HER!!!" Grinning, I walked to them and his mother hesitantly said, "he's telling me something about another language??" I smilingly prompted the little boy to do his recitation of the Luganda words again, and sure enough, he got just about all of them right!

I was just thrilled to have that small evidence that even the youngest ones were listening and were learning!!

p.s. please also pray for the 5 older ones that told me that God wants them to be missionaries too! Pray that they would not lose that vision, and the Lord would continue growing them up to be mighty warriors for His Gospel!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Power of Purpose

I miss Uganda. So much.

Before I left, I was dreading leaving my beloved home and spending so much time in the States. When a dear friend, Natalie, found me in my little self pity party, she told me, “Melanie, going home is not punishment, it’s a blessing!” And she was right: it has been a huge blessing in so many ways, but I still wake up every morning and go to sleep every night longing for my Uganda.

Soon after I got here, I was talking with my friend, Madi, and thinking about some of the things that I love so much about life in Uganda. One of those things is waking up every morning with a purpose. In Uganda I knew each day what the goal was: whether learn some new vocabulary, successfully interpret a story in Luganda, prepare to teach Sunday School, minister to my missionary friends, or just work to make my little Ugandan house into a home. Here in the States, the weeks I got to be a missionary for VBS were amazing! And waking up on those days was a joy and a thrill to get a taste of that same purpose I get each day in Uganda. But that’s not every day. Some days I get to spend with my family, or with my friends. And I love those days! But they don’t usually bring the same sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. I don’t go to bed each day knowing I made a difference. But as Madi and I talked, she reminded me that as Christ followers, no matter where we are, He has a purpose for us in each day. So we can wake up each morning asking, ‘Lord, what purpose would you have me pursue in this day?’ And while I’m still learning to make that an intentional part of each of my days, I am seeing Him do incredible things in me and in the people around me!

For my time here, the Lord has given me a couple of broad purposes to pursue:

SERVE my family

It’s easy to serve cute little black kids, no problem! But I was convicted early on this summer that Jesus has called me to be a servant of ALL. And many times throughout my life, my family has not been included in that pursuit. I know in my head that being servant minded should not change from continent to continent, and my prayer has been that just as in Uganda, I would be mindful of any opportunity to serve those the Lord puts in my life, especially my family. Once I started looking for opportunities, they haven’t stopped!

SPEND time investing in my friendship with Jesus

I was inspired by one of my favorite pastors to start prayer walking, and I have found so much comfort and encouragement by walking in the cool of the evening talking to my Lord. It is truly amazing the difference movement makes in keeping me alert and on focus as I commune with my Friend!

SPEAK out about the needs and opportunities in Uganda

I was so blessed to teach as a visiting missionary in a couple of VBSs. The kids in each one were just so wonderful, and it was amazing to see the Lord work in their hearts over the course of the week. By the end of each time, I had at least a couple of kids come and tell me that they thought God wanted them to be missionaries too! What an encouragement to see the Lord raising up the next generation of ministers of grace!!!

Tomorrow I have a meeting with members of my board to make some decisions on what my ministry in Uganda will look like when I return. After spending the first year in Uganda in a learner’s position, seeking to absorb the language and culture, I now have a different perspective on the needs and opportunities for ministry. I believe I also have a bit better idea of what the Lord would have me to do to meet some of the needs, and I’m so excited to share those details with you as soon as everything has been approved! I would so appreciate your prayers for the wisdom and guidance of the Lord to rule our time together and the decisions we make tomorrow.