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!