Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Christmas Sacrifice

Christmas in Uganda is the time I feel the sacrifice of living overseas the most. The rest of the year it’s only on occasion that I really have to fight feeling sorry for myself. I wish I was a super-star missionary that never had any thought of being anywhere else but here. I wish I could say that I was always 100% content exactly where I am. I wish I was always happy in being where God wants me. But the truth is that I’m not. The truth is that there are moments when I’d give anything just to be in commercialized, snowy, wonderful Colorado Springs with the hugs, comfort, and familiarity of my friends and family.

I look at the faces of the people who I love here and for the briefest of moments wish I was looking at the faces of my family instead. I sit in the two room, cooking-smoke filled house of some of my dearest friends and wish for a second I was on the comfy couch in front of the Christmas tree. I drive the sunbaked dusty red roads in the hottest time of year and long for snow banks and rows of traffic lights. I jump and dance to the upbeat rhythm of African praise songs and wish I could just be back at my grand piano playing Christmas carols.

And while I love skyping with my family on their Christmas morning, watching everyone celebrate, open stockings and presents, enjoying Christmas quiche and cinnamon rolls, it’s a little like watching someone else’s dream. You’re not really a part. The mooing cow outside the window, the booming music of the neighborhood night club, the acrid smell of burning trash, and the sweat beads piling on my neck pull me back to my African reality.

But this Christmas, I got to bless a family with their most prized meal of the year: chicken! I got to see my precious little Miracle spin around in her Christmas present: a blue Christmas dress that makes her exclaim that she looks like a princess. I got to hear the squeals of joy as Sarah examined her new earrings. I got to be loved wholly and completely and sacrificially by my family in Uganda. And that was all on top of being shown every bit of love, compassion, and generosity by my birth family in the States!

So today as I write, I remember just how extravagantly I have been blessed. The truth is that I haven’t lost anything. The truth is that I get the best of two worlds while you’ll have to content with one J The truth is that I’ve only added another set of family and friends to love me. The truth is that my small sacrifice is paid back ten-fold. That’s Jesus’ truth. That’s the miracle He achieved because He sacrificed His world to enter mine that first Christmas day. What a joyous truth to celebrate this Christmas! Merry Christmas everyone!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Year in Review

 Can you believe it's only 7 more days until Christmas??? Neither can I! This year has just flown by, and I find myself approaching my 3rd Christmas in Uganda. While you're enjoying time with your families, I thought you also might enjoy a look at the newsletter I wrote for my mailing list, and if any of you would like to be included in future mailings, feel free to send me an email at melanie.a.may@facebook.com.

(click to open image, then right click, 'view image' to enlarge) 


Monday, December 16, 2013

New Tires

I thought you all might enjoy a glimpse of Ugandan culture: this is how we decorate cars for weddings in Uganda. In the states, only the getaway car is decorated, but here in Uganda there is a bridal procession of cars to carry the couple, bridal party, and all other important people to the wedding. Each of the cars gets decorated, and all the cars drive very slowly honking their horns in a steady 'beep, beep!' I got to drive the bridesmaids around so my Rav4 also got all dressed up. Annnnnd it give me a chance to show off the new tires the Lord provided through you all!



My car sporting its brand new tires and all decked out for the wedding

Monday, November 25, 2013

Miracles in mayhem

These past few weeks months have been overly full! When I sit down to try and remember everything that has needed to be done in these weeks, I am just amazed. To start with, Genesis is approaching the end of its third full year of school! Which is wonderful! And hectic. Final exams needed to be typed and printed. Teacher evaluations needed to be created, printed, and administered.  We had a visiting team 2 weeks ago who spent several days at the school. And all those extras are in addition to the usual work load of supervising teachers, preparing and teaching Bible study for the teachers, planning for AWANA, putting together presentations for the AWANA clubs back in the States, taking sick children to the clinic, troubleshooting all manner of weird circumstances (like the time the school's pit toilet started caving in), etc. etc. etc. And all of that adds up to early mornings and long days.

Annnnd in the middle of it all, I'm needing to find a new place to live. So there's house hunting, and viewing houses, figuring out rent payments, negotiating with landlords, and so much more.

Oh, and there was the incident 2 weeks ago when my laptop completely died and had to be sent back to the States for repairs. That of course took up a couple of days of troubleshooting, trying to recover data, ect. Hopefully it'll be back again soon, having been repaired under warranty :)

Many times I have just been overwhelmed. Life has bowled me over like an overactive puppy. The needs before me are so great. The number of tasks: more than I can accomplish. But through it all, I have seen miracles.
 
  • Like the miracle of my tires staying intact this whole past month until I can get new ones.  
  • Like the miracle of God providing everything and more than what I needed for new tires!!! (new ones are just waiting for the money to arrive from the States!)  
  • Like the miracle of a team just happening to be here when my laptop died and being able to take it back to the States for repairs. 
  • Like the miracle of a wonderful friendship with Sarah blossoming in the midst of stress.  
  • Like the daily miracle of being greated by my gift-puppy. 
  • Like the miracle of being loved unreservedly by 65 beautiful kids.

Each miracle reminds me that God is at work. He is at work in me and for me!  I'm constantly reminded of the verse in Psalm 127 that says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain." My constant prayer is that with all of the work that lies ahead of me, that I would not labor in vain. That the tasks I give my time and energy to would be chosen by the Lord. And that in everything, I would not labor in my own strength, but in His.

Annd as my faithful friends are constantly reminding me, I know that I also must make time to rest. Please pray that I would rest well. That I would be intentional about my moments of rest, and that the Lord would multiply my strength.

And while you're praying, I would so appreciate your prayers for....

My housing situation to be worked out quickly and well.
The school year to end well with the kids and teachers being encouraged.
Finding new teachers, as we need to hire for next year in the next few weeks.

Thank you all for praying! I know that many of my miracles are direct answers to many of your prayers!



Thursday, November 7, 2013

A request

I've grown up my whole life dreaming and expecting to be a missionary. In the beginning it was much more like a dream, full of dark jungles, strange people just waiting to be converted, me in a prairie dress with my arms full of orphaned children, etc. But as I grew, the dream took on more and more of reality. I researched high and low. I pestered other missionaries with many questions, and I began to form a more accurate picture of what life as a missionary really looks like. I remember many things people would say trying to scare some sense into me.....

But it's not safe. Aren't there terrorists over there? But you'll be so far from your family. But don't you actually want get married? Don't you know that missionaries are poor for the rest of their life? 

And to be honest, some of the things did scare me a bit. Being so far from the family I so adored was a really hard thought. But I was still determined. I knew God wanted me in Africa, and I just knew He would enable me and equip me in everything. So in the fashion of a true idealist, I waved away any thought of the difficulties and dove head into this wonderfully difficult life.

But one thing I never dreamed would be hard is the issue of money. I just knew completely that whatever financial needs I had, God would provide. No question. And so He has. In humbling ways. In unexpected ways. In miraculous ways. That's the fun part: watching God provide. The hard bit comes in the asking. Because as you all know, most of the time God uses His people to provide for His children, and asking for money from people is no easy thing. Well... at least if you're an American like I am. Ugandans have absolutely no qualms or hesitations about asking for money, but that's another topic for another day.... The point is that asking other people to finance my life is hard. It's one of the most humbling things I've ever had to do. And it's a bit scary. But I do believe it's something God has given me to do. 

I do have wonderful people who tell me how glad they are for the chance to partake in the ministry here by giving. And how it blesses them just as much as it blesses me. And they thank me for the opportunity to have an impact here. Their words are precious to me. I am so honored that they would feel that way, but the truth is that each time I need to ask for money, I still feel a bit of dread. I still wonder if I'm doing it the 'right' way. I still wonder what people will think.

But the truth is, I cannot do this work alone. Even if I fall into deceiving myself about my own abilities and skills, the truth is that I am not able. Practically speaking, I am truely not capable of living, working, or accomplishing any good thing here in Uganda without the wonderfully generous people that give sacraficially each month.


And at the moment, the truth is that I can not continue driving to work on my old tires for too much longer. The past few months I've been dealing with flat tires constantly, and have been driving without a spare for a week now since one tire blew out completely.

So I'm here with a request. Would you consider a special gift to help with my tires? Each tire will be about $175, for a total of $700. If you would be willing to provide a tire, or really any amount that could go towards tires, here's how you can give:

1. Write a check to Hines Ugandan Ministries and include a sticky note with the check that says 'Melanie's Tires' (please don't write it anywhere on the check, but include it on a separate note)
2. Follow the instructions at this link (here) to give online, and in the box for comments/special instructions, write 'Melanie's Tires'.

And thank you again to all the wonderful people who enable me to live out this dream God gave me. I am so blessed by your sacrifice! I love you all dearly!





Monday, November 4, 2013

Mary

Little Mary is 5 years old. She is the youngest member of Katherine’s household and has been at the orphanage for just less than a year. She’s also in our youngest class at Genesis. When she had first come to Katherine’s, she didn’t speak any English at all, and was so quiet and shy. For the longest time, the only answer she’d give to any question whether in English or Lugwere was ‘yes.’ We’ve watched her come so far in this year, and now although she’s still not a big talker, she can understand English, answer basic questions, and plays and runs and interacts with all the other kids. In Awana, she’s one of the first in her class to memorize the verses, and her sweet little voice reciting the Word of God has been one of the brightest things in my life each week.



Well, one day at the nightly devotions for the orphanage, the other kids jokingly told Mary that the next day would be her turn to share for devotion. They fully expected her to just laugh and refuse, but to their surprise she declared that she would do it. The next day came, and she announced that she was the one to share that evening. Once they all had gathered, Mary stood in front of them and said, “Tonight I am sharing from the book of Galahshuns chapta five, vahs twenty two. It says, Da Froot of da speereet ees... Love, joyi, peacy, longa suffaringi, kindness, goodaness, faithfoolness, gentulnessi, sellf control.” And she sat down.


The next day, I couldn’t even believe my ears when they told me the story. Our little Mary??? How did she get the courage to claim her turn for devotion? I just knew that this was one answer to all my prayers that the Word of God would enter deep into their hearts!  I am so thrilled and excited to see that these kids are really learning, and I know that the things they learn now will stay with them their whole lives.


There are times with AWANA I get discouraged. When not enough leaders come, or when rain wants to come ruin our game time. Or when finding someone able and willing to teach council time is a struggle. Or when I’m not really sure if the kids are really understanding the verses that they’re learning. But I am so thankful for a mighty God who is so much bigger than all my fears and doubts. I am so thankful for the promise of a faithful God who says that His Word will always have impact. And I’m so grateful that when I’m struggling, my compassionate Lord sends me precious reminders like this one that He is at work in these kids’ hearts. Please continue praying for these kids, that their hearts and minds would be constantly challenged and changed by the Word of God.


I wish I had a video of Mary saying her verse, but unfortunately I don’t. L However, I did manage to snag this clip of one of her classmates, Doreen reciting the same verses….
 
 
 
video
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, September 27, 2013

An African Night



Standing outside my house with my guard under the African sky cloaked in stars, the sounds of shouting, yelling, and the beating of drums and jerrycans drifted through the night air. I had been filled with curiosity when I heard the commotion, and stepped out to see if Enoch could explain what was going on. He said that the people were shouting and beating whatever objects they could in order to scare away evil spirits. The story passed down through the generations is that when someone sees an evil spirit, they must begin shouting and making noise in order to keep that spirit from entering their house and causing harm to them or their family. The spirit will flee from the noise, and enter into the house where it is quiet, unless those people also hear the noise and take up the alarm. In that way, the alarm spreads to the whole surrounding area as people try to protect their houses and families from the evil spirits.

I know that to western minds, the idea is absurd. And even to my mind, it’s incredible that entire communities would be held captive to such fear. If the statistics are to be believed, than a huge 85% of the population of Uganda is Christian. That includes every denomination both Protestant and Catholic,  and those many churches: Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentacostal, 7th day Adventist, Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, all have their followings here. Honestly, it is a bit unusual to find someone who doesn’t go to a church service, mass, or mosque at least once a week. Though for all the religiosity shown, events like these just demonstrate the real absence of the true gospel in Uganda. From that 85%, very few truly understand and believe in the gift of salvation from sin through faith alone in God the Son, Jesus Christ. And of those that claim to believe, even less are knowledgeable about the Word. Because of their ignorance, you will find even those who sit in church every week beating their pot or jerrycan or drum right alongside those that have never gone to church. The spirit of fear that has been passed down from generation to generation still holds them captive.

As I stood next to Enoch, I asked him if he was afraid. 
     He simply  said, ‘No.’
    ‘Why?’ I asked.
    ‘Because I think Jesus can be more powerful than those devils.’
Such a simple answer. But such a powerful truth. Jesus is greater, stronger, and more powerful than any demon. And the weight of that truth is what has set Enoch free from the power of fear that is holding his neighbors captive. No longer does he have to stay awake late into the night, shouting out loud until his voice hurts. Beating his pot until his hands ache. Hoping and fearing lest the demon comes back and destroys what is dear to him. He knows he is safe, resting quietly in the hands of Jesus who will watch over him and guard him from the power of Satan.

So in the dark of night, with the chaos of fear echoing just in the next neighborhood, Enoch and I stood and talked about Jesus. Discussing and proclaiming the truth about who He was and who He is to us now. It was such an incredible contrast, and such a beautiful reminder of why I’m here: To preach Jesus, who was dead but is alive. To proclaim freedom to those who are dead but can be alive. And to do my best to raise these children up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord which will set them free from the fear of everything else.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Budget and a Burial

There are some days when I could even fool myself that I work in an office in the States. This week since the kids are out on the second of their three yearly breaks, I took the opportunity to work on the budget for the school for next year. Buried in my laptop for hours on end, I am reminded of why I wouldn’t gladly choose a 9-5 desk job. This morning found me again at work settling in for yet another marathon day of numbers. I have to admit, it’s not work that I enjoy. When I dreamt of my life’s work in Africa, I’m pretty sure I had something more like trekking through the bush, spreading joy, flowers, and candy to every child that I saw. I definitely didn’t envision a dimly lit office, wooden chair, and lcd screen. But the hard truth of life is that in order to accomplish the vision set before us, we must accomplish even the tiresome, seemingly less important or at least less fulfilling tasks as well. Even though if I had my way, each day would be spent just playing with or teaching the children, I find myself with less enamoring tasks like making budgets, making copies, organizing school supplies, doing inventory, writing policies, and pouring through book after book of school curriculum. But I know how important those things are. Because they enable the kids to laugh, learn, and play even better throughout their school year. I am reminded almost every day to be faithful in the small things now, in preparation for bigger things in the future.

And just when I start to get tired of the menial, the Lord brings in something to remind me of just how blessed I am to live and minister and work in this place. Today, it was through a burial. Let me see if I can set the scene for you: Here, once someone dies, people can wait for only a couple of days before they bury the body because of the rate of decay. And funerals here are a big event. Like 500-1000 people kind of event. The whole community gathers around. As well as every person who could possibly have claimed any relation to that person. So they take a day or two to notify people of the death and burial, and wait while everyone gathers. Then on the day of the burial, they rent tents and chairs, though never enough to seat all of the people present. Today they said the burial would start at 2, but in typical Ugandan fashion, the actual burial didn’t start until around 4. In the meantime all of the people sat and chatted. Men gathered in groups, some having brought their own chair or simply standing together. Women spread Leesus (wrap-around skirts) out on the ground to sit together and talk. Having tied a leesu around my waist to make my skirt the expected length for the village setting, I joined my co-workers under the banana trees on a red and black checkered leesu. Just sitting among the people I have grown to love was so restoring for my spirit. Watching the dark faces gleam with laughter in the bright afternoon sun. Gazing up at the bright blue sky through vivid green banana leaves. Marveling at the myriad array of brilliantly colored gomasi (traditional dresses for women). Grasping hands in greeting, worn rough from digging. Straining my ears and mind to grasp bits of conversation whirling around in a lilting tongue. Even shifting constantly to relive legs not accustomed to sitting fully extended on the lumpy ground. I soaked in the beauty of it all. This was Africa at its best.

And I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful that God choose me to labor in this place. To call a place of such beauty my home. To work among such colorful people (in both the literal and figurative sense!!). It’s really a marvel to me each and every day. As I drive my car every day through the herds of cows, dogging bicycles, people, goats, chickens, and potholes I am in awe. I am in awe at the privilege of serving here. And even if it means spending a day in a wooden chair, eyes made blurry from staring at a screen, it’s worth every minute. Each and every task becomes meaningful when I remember the faces of the children who I serve. And most especially when I remember the voice of my Master whispering, “Well done.”


 
 A few of my kids....
 
Jane
 
Thomas

Paul
 
Sharon
 
Ambrose

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Miracle and Melani



8 year old Miracle is truly a joy sent from the Lord just for me. Or at least that’s what I’d like to think :) Miracle is in P2 at Genesis, and a truly sweet girl. Each day you’ll find her at school sitting bolt upright on her bench, her eyes fastened on the teacher, and her head slowly tracking the teacher’s movements. Every motion declares the rapture of her attention. You can have no doubt in watching her that she loves to learn!
 

Last year, she couldn’t go to school because her parents couldn’t afford to send her. Her father, Kenneth, though well-educated and even a secondary teacher himself, was also a drunk. Last year he lost his job at the local secondary school and was left without any income for him, his wife Sarah, and Miracle. So even though Miracle is bright, and did very well in school, she had to stay at home. It broke her parent’s hearts to always hear her asking, “Why can’t I go to school? When will I be able to go to school again?”

After starting to come to church, and because of the testimony of Sarah, Kenneth was saved near the end of last year! He continued looking for work, and things seemed to be looking up when he found a job at a secondary school in January. With great hope in this job, he enrolled Miracle at Genesis again, hoping she could catch up to the place she had left off. Unfortunately, as things often go in Uganda, the school consistently failed to pay him his rightfully earned salary. Each month, as he went for his pay, they would give him a miniscule amount, and tell him to be patient for the rest. But it wasn’t enough. It really wasn’t even enough to pay for his transportation costs there and back each day, and it definitely wasn’t enough to support a family of 3. To make things more difficult, Sarah found out that she was expecting again. It came as a great surprise to them, since it had been all of 8 years since Miracle was born. They wondered how they would manage to feed and care for this one too.

Each month, Kenneth would beg for leniency for Miracle to continue to study even though they had not be able to pay her school fees, and each time our administrator, Bosco would have pity on them. Finally, after some months a sponsor was found who was willing to pay Miracle’s school fees for the whole year. Sarah and Kenneth were ecstatic! Though they might still struggle for their daily bread, at least their daughter would continue her education, providing a hope for her future. Since that time, they have since also been given a small little room to live in so that the burden of rent was lifted off them. They continue to need your prayers for their daily sustenance, and that God would provide a reliable job for Kenneth quickly.

On Saturday, another miracle was accomplished. After threatening to come early, and giving us all a bit of a scare a couple weeks ago, little Melani Nicole was born at 3:30 in the afternoon to a very tired but happy Sarah. Her birth is yet another reminder to this family that God keeps His promises, and hears and answers our prayers. Though we walk through the fire of suffering and trial, He is there. He will never forsake us and will uphold us with His mighty right hand.

Welcome to the world, Melani Nicole, and may you never forget the faithfulness of God to you and your family.

 


 
*please forgive the haziness of these pictures taken hurriedly on my phone!