Have you ever been driving somewhere and had your mind so filled with thoughts that you arrived at your destination with very little recollection of how you actually got there? You remember getting in the car and turning the key in the ignition; you remember pulling out of the driveway and starting the journey; you even remember the first few turns. But after that? Nothing. You simply cannot remember how you got to your destination safely. Once you see that you are actually where you are supposed to be, the shock and amazement may even prompt you to literally shake your head to clear your mind. How did I actually manage to get here, you think to yourself, as you try to remember every turn you had to have taken, every sign you must have obeyed, every mile that passed as you made your way to your stopping point. If you’re like me, at that point I usually utter a prayer of gratitude to God, “Thank you for protecting me and guiding me, Lord. So much could have happened on this road, but you got me here.”
That’s similar to how we are feeling as we realize that our first year with The Amazima School is almost over, and in six weeks Joe, Maggie and I will pack up everything we think we need, board a plane in Entebbe and fly home for a month-long visit with friends and family. That means we’ve been in Uganda for almost 10 months now, and I honestly don’t even know how that’s possible.
Don’t get me wrong. We all have very clear and poignant memories of this past year; it’s not all a blur! But some of it is. Some of it is a blur because a lot of it – most of it, most days – is just normal, everyday living for us. It’s not glamorous, it’s not romantic, it’s not day after day of adventure, it’s not story after story of huge triumphs and terribly disappointing failures. If I sit down and try to recount the best – and worst – parts of this past year, I honestly struggle because so much of this past year has been lived in the day-to-day routine of just showing up and being where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing.
And when I think about that, I realize that’s all we’ve been asked to do. We have not been asked to change this country. We have not been asked to change this town. We have not been asked to change these students. We have been asked to say “yes” to being here, day in and day out, to living life with our girls and developing relationships with them, to getting to know our girls’ families/guardians, to showing those families how grateful we are for the opportunity to love and lead their girls.
As we near the end of this leg of our journey, I have been reminded that we are called to fight the good fight and finish the race. This fight is not a three-round bout, though, nor is the race a sprint. This fight is the Rocky Balboa/Apollo Creed kind of fight, and the race is more like a marathon. Sometimes we are going to go out in the ring and feel like we landed some really good punches; sometimes we are going to finish a round and know we’ve barely survived and need to catch our breath before the next round begins. Some parts of the race are going to be on flat, smooth surfaces, and we may feel like we are flying along with little resistance; some parts of the race are over treacherous ground and up steep hills, and we wonder if we have what it takes to finish the next mile. Real fighters and real runners don’t give up when they’re knocked down or hit the wall; they pick themselves up, push through the wall and FINISH!
As I “shake the cobwebs” from my mind and think back over our journey these past 10 months, it’s pretty easy to remember at least a few of our turns and stops along the way:
*Before school even began in February, we received a letter from Rebecca thanking us for being in Uganda and sharing some truths with her that she said changed her life. We had helped lead a small group during a youth conference out in Busika, where Amazima started, and Rebecca was in that group. All we really remember doing that week was reminding the girls that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image,” and they should never forget that, but that was a truth she needed to hear.
*In late January, when the group of 40 Amazima scholarship students learned they had been admitted to the program, they were brought out to the campus for us to meet them. I was trying to learn names and met Resty, who was none too sure about the mzungus who had shown up to be her house parents! She barely even spoke that day and looked at me as if I were an alien, just daring me to even try to get to know her. I knew instinctively that she would end up being in our house and was not a bit surprised when I saw her name on our list of students. Within a few weeks, Resty had opened up to us and told us her story, but more importantly, she started letting us get to know the real Resty. Most importantly, on April 21, she accepted Christ and has continued to grow in her faith throughout this year. We cannot even imagine the Esther House without Resty!
*Vivian spent the first few months of school barely speaking at all, but she has such a distinctive voice that we always know it’s her when we hear her. We have discovered that she has a great sense of humor and keeps her dorm mates laughing every night before they settle down to go to sleep. I have tried numerous times to get her to talk to me, to no avail, but in the past few weeks, she has begun to talk to Joe and even asks him to play Ludo with her from time to time. This may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, it’s a really big deal!
*Joe has been frustrated at times that he doesn’t think he is connecting with the girls very well, but the past couple of weeks have been a great source of encouragement to him as he has been assisting many of them with their science projects. As they have been learning about simple machines – think levers, wedges, inclined planes, etc. – they have come home and asked him to explain the machines and help them understand them better so they can present a project and lesson on their assigned topic. Who knew God would use levers, pulleys and screws to help Joe form stronger relationships with our girls?
*I love – really love – being a house parent to our amazing girls. Sometimes I miss being a teacher, though, and when I got the chance to teach Bible class for a few days earlier this term, I jumped at it. Being in the classroom for three days and getting to interact with all 72 students about Jesus and his early years was amazing; I am grateful that that God allowed me to “scratch that itch,” so to speak.
*Few things bring us greater joy than watching Maggie interact with our girls as well as the other MK students that attend her school. She is becoming her own person and maturing in ways that inspire us every day, and we love what we are seeing God do in and through her. Last night she spent almost two hours on the porch teaching many of our girls a new dance, not for any big performance but just because they love to dance, and she loves to dance with them. What an honor it is for her dad and me to see her use the gifts and talents God has given her!
What are some other things? Five of our girls have accepted Christ since school began in February; girls talk with us almost every day about really big issues and really little issues; our relationship with our Ugandan partner continues to grow, and we are working well to mentor these girls together; and my Ludo playing is improving to the point that I actually win almost as often as I lose. Maggie loves her teachers, loves our girls and loves having a new friend named Cana that she met a couple of months ago; our girls are working hard to use the Farming God’s Way methods in our own little garden; and Trinity, our student who lost her mom last term, is getting the counseling she needs and is doing so much better. The list could go on and on, of course, because we truly have something new for which to be grateful every single day. Even when we look back on a Saturday night and ask ourselves how it is possible that another week has passed, we know that God is at work on this campus. He is THE ONE changing this country, this town, these students, and “He who began a good work…will be faithful to complete it.” That He has invited and allows us to be participants in the process of molding and shaping young men and women for Him leaves us in awe, and because we know He is the author and the finisher of our faith, we know He will give us all we need to finish the fight and complete the race.