Friday, May 12, 2017

To Persevere

After I graduated from Moody, I thought I had learned pretty well what the word ‘perseverance’ meant. Don’t get me wrong, it sure did take a lot of perseverance to get through those 4 extremely busy, challenging, painful, and rewarding years. But this year ‘perseverance’ has a fresh meaning for me. Even before I moved to Kamonkoli, and ever since, one crisis or illness after another has reared its head. It’s been only a matter of days or hours between the dimming of one and the start of another.


From common colds to Malaria, this year has had a constant stream of different illnesses. I’ve struggled with my health for so much of my life (thankfully nothing life-threatening!), and often thought about why Jesus would allow me to be sick so much of the time. Especially when I’m stuck in the bathroom and need to be teaching a lesson in 10 minutes! :) But I do wonder if part of the reason is to allow me to experience the miraculous power of utter dependency on Jesus. I’ve had days when there was no physical possibility of me standing in front of a classroom for 3 straight hours, and yet there I was. Of course, there were also other days being stuck in bed and learning that Jesus’s work will actually continue on… with or without me!



Two weeks ago, the crisis was the death of my maternal grandfather. He’s been declining for quite a while, so his death was not unexpected, but still so hard. When I moved to Uganda, I did so with the expectation that I would lose my grandparents at some point while I was here. But knowing it is an inevitability doesn’t stop the pain of being so far away from your loved ones while they are grieving. I wanted so much to be with my mom and grandmother. To make lunch for them, reminisce, and process the grief together. Mostly just to be there for them.



Being so far away (and in a culture that grieves and processes death so very differently) has made his passing seem so surreal. More like a bad dream than an actual reality.



What did make it a bit more real was having to watch my kittens die in my hands. Because of a vet overdosing my cat, Bunny, and her four kittens with de-worming medicine, Bunny and two of the kittens died. These kittens had brought me so much laughter and entertainment in the first months of living in Kamonkoli. Then struggling over the course of a week to stop the seizures and keep them alive only to have to bury them in the garbage pit was so hard. Remembering the light leaving their eyes makes the reality of death that much more vivid, and honestly more painful as I remember my grandfather. How my heart cries out for the day when death and mourning are no more!!



Meanwhile, the daily challenges of Kamonkoli life have lost their newness appeal and left me with the mundane reality of doing life in the village.



Jerrycans have to be filled, carried, and emptied into my 10.5 gallon cans in both bathroom and kitchen. All 20 lbs of water must be hand ladled into the toilet reservoir before flushing every time. On the chance that I actually have water in my large storage tank outside, the water heater is switched on 30 minutes before a hurried, conserve-every-drop-possible shower. If that water is gone, then water (usually cold because heating up water on the stove is just one more thing between me and bed) gets ladled from head to foot one cup at a time.



Ants, beetles, moths, and thousands of fluttering ant wings need to be swept out of the house and courtyard every morning, and the mud tracked in from yesterday’s rain mopped up. I used to think there was a lot of dirt, dust, and mud in Mbale, but I have built up a whole new tolerance for it here! If something gets dirty, don’t worry. It can be washed (except….bat poop from carpets. That has shown a remarkable level of resistance)!



And all the while lessons have still demanded to be taught. Papers have piled up for grading. Lesson planning has plodded on. In the jumble of the mundane and the crises, I’ve searched for creativity and pleaded with Jesus for inspiration. But some days have felt like an accomplishment just to reach the end, much less be productive. 



Plus, when your whole job and reason for being here is to teach, train, and disciple people in God’s Word, it’s hard even to judge when you have or haven’t been productive. Do some teachers’ resistance to my teaching mean I’m being ineffective? Does a lack of participation and response in some of my classes mean that I’m not fulfilling my purpose here? It can be so hard to measure results in ministry! 


I don’t think there has been a season here in Uganda when I have so wanted to just be home. In the 6 years, there have been uncountable hard days, but in the majority of those I have still desired to be in Uganda. The feeling of homesickness is very unfamiliar to me, and I can’t say I like it very much! There have been so many ends of days when I’ve sat with tear-filled eyes, refusing to increase the ache by looking at pictures of home or loved ones, but still not being able to stop my heart from longing to be home.





So why do I stay? Because it’s my purpose. My calling. Because I know I am exactly where God wants me to be. Without that rock-solid conviction I might just be on the first plane back. Because of it, I have to choose to persevere.


And honestly, that perseverance is not a joyless one...




30 bright faces swarming around my courtyard just wanting to be with me brings joy

Small hands exploring the keys of my piano and small voices marveling at the lack of electricity required brings joy


A long talk with one of the nurses about our true identity in Christ over a dinner of chicken and chapati brings joy


Studying Scripture and marveling again at the nature of Jesus as both God and human flesh in one brings joy


Watching understanding start to light up in the eyes of my teachers after a long struggle to help them understand Jesus’s deity brings joy


Children begging for a chance to recite even just one of the verses they have memorized brings joy


Having Christine (our Ugandan sponsorship administrator) brave the rain to bring me a cup of porridge brings joy! (and having her live just next door!!)


But still…I have to fight to remember the joys. I fight not to let the cloud of disappointment and pain cover over all the blessings. I fight to hold the good square in front of my face so that the negative doesn’t block everything in my view. Some days I’ve really lost that fight. I’ve let the pain wrestle me flat to the ground, and while my body has continued the routines of going to work, teaching, planning, and problem-solving, my heart has been down for the count.


It’s one reason I stay quiet sometimes. I’m afraid that you’ll get tired of hearing about the struggles and pain….or even think that I’m really just being a baby about all of them and should be able to just deal with it. Either way, it’s my fear that keeps me from seeking your help and encouragement. But I’m here asking now….I so need your prayers! I know many of you faithfully and continually pray for me, for which I’m so grateful! Here’s some ideas of how you can pray for me now…but feel free to add your own too :)




  • For Jesus’s joy (that can defy any circumstances) to guard my heart and mind from the lies of the enemy.
  • For Jesus’s presence and voice to be vivid and sustaining. 
  • For endurance and patience in teaching even if I’m not seeing any results.
  • For my heart to really believe and experience the truths that my mind keeps preaching to it :) 
  • For physical healing and protection from illnesses (or supernatural strength to minister through them!) 
  • For the teachers and students to allow me to get close and cultivate deep, real relationships and not just superficial ones.

  • For the courage to continue fostering those relationships, even with the risks of betrayal and disappointment.
  • For Jesus’s supernatural wisdom and discernment for how to meet the physical and spiritual needs that are ever before me. 
  • For wisdom and patience in dealing with my housing situation.


To those of you who through prayer are like Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’s arms in battle (cf Exodus 17) to me, thank you!

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!