To keep or not to keep...

Our last two blogs somehow never made it to our website, which has given us reason enough to ask the question: Do we really need to try to maintain the Bookers Without Borders website or is posting our blog on our Facebook page enough?

Help us answer that question by letting us know if you only read our blogs here and are not on Facebook. We are trying to make sure we are wisely allocating all our resources, and we’re not sure that paying for a website each month is the wisest use of our funds. A timely reply would be greatly appreciated: robin.booker17@gmail.com

The Top of the Bottom of the World

Last week our family went to Cape Town, South Africa for vacation during our three-week break, and it was an amazing experience for all three of us. First term was wonderful in many, many ways but very difficult in many others, so getting away to such a beautiful part of the world with some of our closest friends was a HUGE blessing. The week in South Africa was filled with breath-taking sights, fantastic food and much fun and laughter, but being away also gave me many opportunities to reflect on the last few months and what God is teaching me through the highs and lows.

On one of our day trips around Cape Town, we traveled down to the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern tip of Africa, literally as far south as you can go without swimming toward Antarctica. We climbed a mountain peak there to look out over the expanse of land and water where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean converge. At some point I made the comment that we were on top of the bottom of the world right then, and that thought led me to contemplate how life is often exactly like that for me: I seem to find myself on the top of the bottom of the world often.

Do you know what I mean? It’s that place where you have seen God work in your life, you have experienced His might and His power, you know He is real, you trust Him. And yet there are situations at play in your life where you simply cannot understand Him. And not understanding can sometimes lead to questioning Him. You have every reason to be on top of the world because you know that God is a good, good Father, but pain, heartache and grief have led you to the bottom of the world.

The successes and struggles of this past term have kept me/us in this place more often than I would have liked. We have seen God working in the lives of our students; we have watched our girls grow in their faith; we have experienced wonderful moments of laughter and sharing with students and fellow family mentors; we have marveled time and again that this is where God calls us to live and serve and grow. At the same time, many friends and family members back in the States have been dealing with personal tragedies, and we are not there to comfort, encourage or help; one of our students quit school in March and was recently abducted but returned safely as part of a rash of kidnappings taking place in the Jinja area; our students at the staff children’s school have dealt with a difficult situation that has taken its toll on everyone involved with the school, especially them; and many members of our team have faced personal challenges that have almost defeated them. See what I mean? Top of the bottom of the world…

In all of this, we have reminded ourselves of truth time and time again, for the only way to beat Satan at his games is to use the only weapon he can never defeat: TRUTH. The truth is God is for us. The truth is no weapon formed against us can prosper. The truth is God will take all the bad and work it all together for our good if we love Him and are called according to His purposes. The truth is God’s plans for us are good because He knows us best and loves us most. The truth is He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. The truth is He will strengthen us and help us even as He is upholding us with His righteous right hand. The truth is Jesus never loses sight of us. The truth is His timing is always perfect. The truth is that if our hope is in Him, He will renew our strength. The truth is we don’t have to figure it all out because He already has. I could, of course, go on and on listing the truths because His truths are infinite, but I think you get the point.

If I know these truths, why do I not always walk in them? Good question. Something that happened on one of our home visits this week gave me some insight into how easy it is to lose sight of the truth, though, and I hope I remember what I am about to share with you every single time I start down the wrong path of thinking.

Home visits out in the villages are some of the best and hardest experiences we have in our roles as family mentors. Continuing to develop lifelong relationships with the families of our students is one of the most humbling and enriching parts of our being here, and we truly love seeing and talking with these mothers, ja jas, aunties and family friends. These visits remind us, however, that our students and their families struggle every single day in ways we cannot even begin to fathom, and we are always overwhelmed with gratitude that God brought each of our girls/students to The Amazima School as part of His plan for their lives.

Joe typically loves driving here and has never met a dirt road/goat path he couldn’t get our little RAV 4 down or up, but this past week has been quite the challenge. One of the hardest parts of home visits can be just getting to the home, especially with the ever-changing condition of the roads we travel. Every time we go on visits the terrain has changed, depending upon how much rain we’ve had – and we’ve had plenty this year – and how much the crops have grown, so we must pay close attention to any landmarks along the way to make sure we end up in the right place. We have all our girls’ homes “pinned” in Google maps, but sometimes the roads on the GPS completely disappear, leaving us to rely on memory and Joe’s sense of direction.  

Sunday afternoon we set out to visit a student that another family mentor team visited last year, and we had only been to this area once before, way back in January. This family lives and works out in the cane fields, and Joe had checked the map carefully before we left and decided we would take a well-marked short cut. I never doubt his decisions with driving because he has the best sense of direction of anyone I know, and the shortcut took us straight to our student’s home in much less time than the regular road would have taken. When we got ready to leave after our visit, he decided he would take the main road and see which way was best.

Not too far into the journey back, he realized he missed a turn but thought he could go a little farther and get back on the right road. We were in the middle of cane fields that literally stretch for miles up and down the main road to Kampala, and there are roads and paths carved into the landscape all through those fields. We could see where the main road was, and the two Ugandans in the car with us kept trying to help Joe figure out where the next turn should be, but the longer he drove, the farther we seemed to get from where we needed to be. He was trying to use the maps on his phone, but the roads kept disappearing into a blank screen or just were not there, so that was no help at all. We even stopped and asked several locals – more than one driving a tractor – how to get back to the main road, and they all told us something different. Joe was at a loss because he NEVER gets lost, but this situation was seriously defeating him! We finally got to a place that we semi-recognized, and Joe decided to go back to where we started and make sure we didn’t miss the turn this time.

When we got back I asked him if that whole situation resulted from one missed turn, and he confirmed that it was, which got me to thinking how often that happens to us on our journey through life. We know where we are going, we can see where we need to be, but something distracts us, and we miss a turn. Before we know it, we’ve taken several wrong paths and end up good and lost. And the only way to get “found” is to go back to where we missed the turn and get back on the right path. Know what I mean? We are moving through life at a pretty good clip, but then something happens that we don’t understand. We know God is for us and not against us, and we know we can trust Him because He has been faithful time and time and time again in our lives. But we take a wrong turn down the road of doubt and distrust and end up wandering around in a field of confusion and frustration because even though we trust Him, we just cannot understand Him at times.

The only way to get on the right road is to go back to the place we missed the turn and start over. Replace the lie that took us down the wrong path with the truth. Keep our gaze fixed on Him, the author and finisher of our faith. Remember that the terrain of our lives is always changing as we grow and encounter various seasons, but the destination does not change.

Second term begins with the arrival of 142 students Sunday afternoon. We have enjoyed the break, have played hard, have rested well and are now ready to welcome our girls back for another 12 weeks of shared life. There will no doubt be days when we feel like we are on the top of the bottom of the world, and we may miss a turn or two and find ourselves going the wrong direction, but we ask that you pray for us and with us to walk in truth and trust His promises.

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] – John 16:33 AMP

 

*I referenced one of our former students being abducted and really cannot shed more light on that situation as details are still unraveling as to what really happened. What we do know is that there have been many kidnappings in Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja in the last several months, and there is a heaviness and fear in the villages we’ve never felt before.  Please pray that the authorities will get a grip on this situation and find a way to fight this battle effectively.

top of the bottom.JPG

Sunday's coming

Yesterday was Good Friday in the Christian faith, and we spent the bulk of our devotion time in the morning reminding ourselves of the pain and suffering our Savior endured for us on that Friday over 2,000 years ago. I have heard and read the description of His beating more times than I can count, have been taught what that kind of beating did to his body and have taught it to my students many times. It doesn’t matter how much I hear it, read it or see it portrayed on television or in a movie, though; I never get over the fact that He – the perfect Son of God – did that for me, not because I was so awful in my sin, (although I am) but because HE is so wonderful and loves me so very, very much.

As I reflected on what He endured that Friday and thought about His arrest, his night in prison, the scourging, the crown of thorns placed on His head, the road to Calvary, the actual crucifixion – all that His death entailed – I was reminded that on that day in history, there was nothing good about that Friday. Can you imagine how overwhelmed the disciples were feeling that day, how hopeless they must have been, how devastated they surely were, how lost they appeared, how afraid they might have felt, how the sadness may have washed over them, how they probably wandered around in such a state of confusion?

Think about it. Their friend and teacher, the one they left everything familiar to follow for three years, was dead. They had given up much to follow Him and become fishers of men, and some of them were probably just beginning to believe He was truly the Messiah. Just when they think everything is going according to plan (remember Palm Sunday and how Jesus came into Jerusalem so triumphantly), their whole lives are turned upside down and the very One who claimed to be their deliverer has been arrested and crucified. There was nothing – not one single thing – that was good about that Friday, despite the fact that the disciples and early followers of Jesus had been faithful to His leadership. Sure, they had questions and had trouble “getting” what Jesus was up to a lot of the time, but they trusted Him enough to follow Him any and everywhere, and where did it get them? Jesus was dead. Not a good Friday at all.

Our house and our campus has had a very difficult few weeks. The school year began with great celebration when all of our girls in the Esther House returned, and The Amazima School held an open house/grand opening to receive the official “blessing” of the Minister of Higher Education in Uganda. This man, who has one of the most prestigious titles and positions in all of Uganda, folded up his prepared speech at our grand opening and talked for 20 minutes about how he sensed the Holy Spirit on our campus and knew God was doing something here because of what he saw in our students. That is simply unheard of here, and we were basking in the joy of knowing that God is, indeed, doing something here.

Maybe that’s when the enemy sat up and took notice because that’s about when the attacks began. We recognize that we are in a spiritual battle for our families and our children and that we are on the winning side, but let’s be real – war is hell. We know that we know we are victorious because of our faith in God, but there has been intense fighting these last few weeks, and we are battle weary. Like those early disciples, we left everything familiar behind and have been following Jesus, not always “getting” what He was doing but trying hard to learn more about Him and be more like Him. We have had our triumphant moments – too many to even count – and we’ve been grateful that in following the One True God, He has allowed us to witness His power and glory over and over and over again.

And just when we were feeling confident that we had this family mentor/missionary thing down, Friday dawned, not just for us but for our entire team. Though we know we will win the war because King Jesus is our commander in chief, we have suffered losses. One of our students quit school and went home, for reasons known only to her and God because she refuses to tell us, our Ugandan partner, our incountry director, her former mentors, students, her mother, her sister, anyone at all, why she refused to stay at school. This is the student who was awarded our top female servant leader award last year, a room mama at our house, and the stewardship prefect Joe worked closely with every week to plan campus chores and cleaning projects.  She walked away from not only a scholarship to The Amazima School but also being part of Amazima Ministries. Just said she was leaving and then left.

In the middle of her making her final decision she was allowed to go home to think and pray about whether she really wanted to quit school, and we were told on Monday of this week that she had decided to return to school. Our girls had told us Sunday night that if she decided to come back, despite her terrible treatment of them in the two weeks prior to her leaving, they wanted to celebrate her homecoming the same way the father celebrated his son coming home in that parable of the lost son. Every single one of them told us we had to have a party to welcome her back, and that’s what we planned to do. I baked a cake – should tell you right there how much I love this girl – and Joe bought a crate of soft drinks. We even arranged for our students to be released from classes for a few minutes to be on the porch to welcome her home with clapping and cheering.

And then she got here and told us she never intended to stay. She just came back to collect her belongings and leave. We were then and are still devastated. There is absolutely no understanding why she made such a decision; no one gives up a scholarship to secondary school here!

As the girls – and we – tried to recover from that shock and disappointment, our student from last year who lost her mother and started having seizures from the stress of the loss had a series of seizures. She was in the same room as the student who left, and we believe she just could not handle the stress of the situation, so in the span of a week, the girls in that room lost a roommate and witnessed one of the worst seizures Joe and I have ever seen. These girls are feeling like it’s Friday.

And even as our house is experiencing such heartache, there are similar stories of struggle all over campus. Many students are struggling, and we could tell story after story of the hardships our students’ families are enduring back in the villages. One of our missionary families is experiencing a level of attack on their character the likes of which I’ve never seen, and every time they think they may be coming out of the storm, the winds start swirling again, threatening everything they know to be true. There is no doubt they have been in a Friday.

I could give more examples, but I don’t want to give the enemy any more space than he has already taken up in our lives and on these pages. Because here is what has always been true, is true today and will always be true: SUNDAY ALWAYS FOLLOWS FRIDAY!

For the first disciples facing the death of Jesus – the literal, physical death of their friend and teacher – Friday almost destroyed them. But then came Sunday, when Jesus came up out of that grave and revealed Himself to them in a new way, a way that gave them strength, hope, courage and comfort. They went from being totally wrecked and powerless to being the men and women that God would use to literally change the world. What a difference a day makes!

As we continue to look ahead to celebrating the resurrection of Christ tomorrow, we cannot forget the pain of yesterday, but we can rejoice in our suffering, knowing that, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, we are heirs – heirs of God -  and coheirs with Christ IF indeed we also SHARE in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17) Sunday is coming; we know this; we rejoice in the Truth; and we refuse to let the events of “Friday” defeat us. As we celebrate the “greatest day in history,” we must remain aware that Fridays will come in our lives. After all, He told us in John 16:33, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And when did He overcome the world? When He defeated death and grave, walked out of the tomb and empowered the disciples to walk in this truth, the same truth He calls us to walk in: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to the Father.”

We feel Sunday coming; we can barely contain our excitement over sharing in the joy of His resurrection with our Amazima family tomorrow morning because it’s Easter, but more importantly, Sunday is dawning in our lives, and we refuse to let the wounds from Friday’s battles defeat us.

“Because He lives

I can face tomorrow

Because He lives

All fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

Life is worth the living, just because He lives.”

 

*I apologize for not getting this posted Saturday. It posted to our other social media sites, but I just totally forgot to post it here!

 

 

 

 

 

he is risen.jpg

It's not a myth

Not too long after we arrived in Uganda last year we started hearing many interesting stories about the effects of certain insect bites and what some of the strange bugs will do to a person. Our girls told us that the residue from a moth’s wings is poisonous and can kill you, that a particular fuzzy, black caterpillar could hurt you seriously, that the bite from a praying mantis has disastrous effects on the size of a woman’s breasts, that it is good to eat the large, flying white ants but eating the smaller ones can make you go deaf…and the list goes on and on and on. Most – if not all – of these stories we filed away as being myths or old wives’ tales that had been passed down in the village from generation to generation. We laugh when the girls continue to tell us these stories and try to correct them and take away their irrational fears, but we’ve learned that when they have been taught a lie for such a long time, teaching them the truth also takes time. And from time to time we realize they know what they are talking about, and perhaps we should not be quite so quick to judge and dismiss their warnings.

Last week as we were preparing for our open house here at The Amazima School, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” situation for cleaning and getting our campus ready to receive hundreds of guests who would help us celebrate the official grand opening of our school. One night we were all down at the chapel area finishing up our cleaning for the evening when I felt something crawling on my foot. It was dark outside and as I glanced down, I just saw a small shadow that made me think it was probably a moth or something similar, so I reached down and swatted it away. As soon as I did that, I saw – much to my dismay – that what I had brushed off my foot was one of the aforementioned fuzzy, black caterpillars. I immediately felt a certain panic, even though on some level I really thought all that talk about those caterpillars was total nonsense.

I told Mackenzie, one of the other family mentors, what I had done, and she was also somewhat panicked, but another person down at the chapel dismissed our fear and declared, “No worries, that’s all a myth about those things. It’s totally just a myth.” I tried to accept that declaration as truth, but very shortly after hearing those words I realized my hand was beginning to burn and tingle, so I ran to the bathroom to try to wash off whatever toxin I had picked up from the caterpillar. When I came back out, Mac asked me if my hand was ok, and I told her I honestly didn’t know. The truth was that it hurt – and I don’t mean just a little bit!

At that point Mac turned on the flashlight on her phone and shone the light on my hand/finger. Much to my dismay again, we saw what appeared to be hundreds of little barbs sticking out of my finger. When I touched them, it felt like fiberglass – not good at all! As we looked at my finger and shared our confusion over what to do and how to treat this situation, a crowd of students gathered around and began to express their concern and sorrow that this had happened to me. More than once I heard, “Mom Robin, we told you those things were dangerous!” All the while I’m thinking, “Yes, you did, but we thought it was all a myth…” Needless to say, the pain in my hand was of mythical proportions, to be sure, but it was no myth! But how were we supposed to get the barbs out of my finger, and also off my foot as I had now realized that numerous barbs were also in my foot from where the caterpillar was when I knocked it away?

As Mac and I were trying to figure out what to do about the increasing pain in my hand, out of the crowd of students came a lone voice telling me to “run my fingers through my hair.” What? Run my fingers through my hair? For real? Mac had the presence of mind to point out that mzungu hair is different from Ugandan hair and that wouldn’t work for me, but these kids are quick thinkers and very resourceful in the face of trials. Immediately, if not sooner, Viola from Hannah House bent her head toward me and told me to use her hair. Hamadan advised me to just rub my finger back and forth in her hair until all the barbs were gone.

Was I skeptical? To say the least. But it occurred to me that these sweet kids certainly knew what they were talking about when they warned us about the fuzzy, black caterpillars, so they also probably knew what to do if someone ignored those warnings and had a run-in with said caterpillar. Picture this if you can: Mac, Zach and I are the only mzungus standing in a crowd of probably 25-30 Ugandan kids; I’m trying not to be a big baby about how much my hand hurts but it was pretty dang painful; sweet Viola has bent her head toward me and is telling me to “just do it, Mom Robin,” and I am now literally rubbing my fingers back  and forth over/through her very short Ugandan hair. It was somewhat surreal, if you want to know the truth, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the almost absurdity of the events. I knew by that point that the stories about the caterpillars are not myths and wanted to proclaim the truth to anyone who would listen, and somewhere along the way I remember thinking I felt sort of like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Kindergarten Cop when he keeps telling the kids, “It’s not a tumor!”

But you know what? Hamadan was right; most of the barbs came out of my hand as I rubbed my fingers through Viola’s hair. Joe spent a fair amount of time picking the remainder of the barbs out of my hand and foot that night, and I still have a few itchy places that annoy me, but for the most part, I have survived the encounter with the dreadful fuzzy, black caterpillar. And how did I survive?  I listened to someone who knew better than I and was then willing to do what seemed silly and somewhat awkward to accomplish the goal.

Oddly enough, that whole experience with the caterpillar is symbolic of how we often experience ministry here in Uganda. There are many, many things we have heard that we dismissed, thinking we knew better, only to eventually discover that we’re not nearly as smart as we think we are. This is not our home country, we did not grow up with hundreds of years of struggle and strife, the likes of which we will NEVER understand. We do not yet have a full grasp on what may be a real danger and what is a myth, and sometimes we are the fools that rush in where angels fear to tread. When we do that, we often try to correct our mistakes and fix things without really even knowing what has happened, much like me trying to wash those barbs off my hands before I even knew there were barbs there and not just toxins on my skin.

Thank God He has surrounded us with a host of people – some Westerners who have been here a while and many native Ugandans – who keep warning us of the dangers in the way we react and respond to people and situations here but also offer the solution when we ignore the warning. Sometimes the solution feels silly and awkward, but we are learning to “just do it” and see what God can do when we are willing to listen and learn from those who simply know better that we do. Sometimes that’s a wizened older missionary with tons of experience and sometimes it’s a teenaged boy willing to quietly speak out the truth. Either way, it’s up to us to recognize the truth when we hear and see it because sometimes – oftentimes – what we have heard is not a myth.

caterpillar.jpg

No looking back

This blog was actually posted on Facebook in February, but I somehow neglected to post it here. Sorry for the oversight. 

18“Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. 19 Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19 (HCSB)

Tomorrow afternoon 144 students will come through the gates of our campus, and year two at The Amazima School will begin. I can barely wrap my mind around the enormity of that truth; YEAR TWO IS BEGINNING TOMORROW!!

My former English students will attest to the fact that one of my pet peeves is writers using more than one exclamation mark. Most people overuse exclamation marks anyway; using more than one is just not necessary in most cases. Every now and then, though, that extra exclamation mark is acceptable to convey the importance and emotion behind a statement. That we are beginning our second year of school and living here with 24 Ugandan girls on TAS campus is a big deal; it is amazing; it is exciting; it is miraculous; it is fantastical; and it is beyond comprehension!!

The past couple of weeks I have been reading in Isaiah, one of my favorite books of the Bible. Isaiah was sometimes known as the prince of the prophets, and he employs a variety of literary techniques that make his writings especially captivating to this former English teacher. The book of Isaiah contains both poetry and prose, and Isaiah uses personification, imagery, alliteration, metaphor, symbolism, and strong wordplay to paint a vivid picture of God’s judgment and salvation, punishment and redemption. Isaiah speaks of things the Israelites endured and celebrated in the past while pointing them – and us – to what God is doing presently and in the future.

As I’ve studied and meditated on the richness of the promises in this book, God has been speaking to my spirit on a daily basis – sometimes several times a day – about the truths in Isaiah 43 and how those truths apply to what’s happening here in Jinja on our campus. That chapter starts out with Isaiah reminding the Israelites that God knows them, He created them and He redeemed them. Then they are reminded that this is the same God who led them through the Red Sea and the Jordan River and delivered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace. In verse 18, Isaiah switches gears, though, and tells them the Lord says to forget all those old things, forget the victories, forget the struggles, forget the disobedience, forget the punishment. Why? Because the Lord is doing a new thing if they – WE – will just be ready and aware enough to see it.

I think that’s what God is speaking to us about this new year here at The Amazima School. We had many, many amazing stories about the somewhat miraculous results we were allowed to see and experience last year. At the same time, we had some very difficult situations we struggled through and endured last year. There were times when we depended on God to do what only He could do and times we walked in our own strength and suffered the consequences of trusting ourselves more than we trusted God. There were times He took us down the Red Sea road and times it felt He had surely left us to wander in the wilderness.

Since we have returned to our home here in Jinja, we have been overwhelmed with gratitude that God has still chosen us to be here, that He hasn’t changed His mind about inviting us to be a part of His work and story in Uganda. Even as we praise and thank Him for this season in our lives and all He has done, we feel challenged to recognize the new He is doing and is going to do. We never want it to be said that we were bound by our past mistakes and failures OR content to rest in our past successes and accomplishments. We want to be ready to see and perceive the new thing God wants to do in us personally, in us as a family and in us as family mentors at The Amazima School.

All around us we hear the constant sounds of new construction as classrooms and dormitories are being made ready for this year and 2019. New plants and trees have been strategically placed throughout the grounds to make this one of the most beautiful campuses in all of Uganda. Road work is being done from our campus to town, and in town all the medians have been torn up to prepare for improvements that are to be made to Main Street. When our 72 returning students begin to arrive for check in tomorrow afternoon, there will also be 72 new students checking in. We have three new Western family mentor families on campus and four new Ugandan family mentors. Since January we have had new donors partner with us and commit to supporting us this year, and existing donors stepped up to support the brother of one of our girls while still supporting our work.

I could probably go on and on for quite a while recounting all that God is doing, but I think you get the picture. We are so very blessed and pray we never take for granted the things God has allowed us to witness this year. We are so, so grateful for all He has done and will not stop praising Him for His faithfulness, yet during this season we find ourselves looking ahead, eagerly anticipating this new thing that He promises to do.

One night near the end of third term last year I was sharing with our girls that one of my main goals for 2018 is that all 72 of our students from 2017 return, and more specifically, that all 24 of our Esther House girls return. One of our girls, Resty, stopped me as I was speaking and questioned what I was saying. She said, “Mom Robin, one of your mangoes? What do you mean, one of your mangoes?” I was perplexed and told her I didn’t say anything about mangoes, but then it dawned on me that my Southern pronunciation of “main goals” sounded like “mangoes” to her ears. The girls teased me mercilessly about this for the remainder of the year and even shared it with the other houses, so anytime mangoes were mentioned, they would all turn around and say, “Main goals, Mom Robin, main goals.”

As I wrap up this first blog of 2018, I can safely say that one of our“main goals” is to be on the lookout for the new things God is doing in our lives and in the lives of our students. He tells us to put the past behind us, to not dwell on what happened yesterday, to look ahead and see what He will do. He told the Israelites He was going to do the new thing and then asked them, “Do you not see it?” My prayer for us – and you – is that we are never so caught up in the past that we miss the new things He has promised.

New construction.JPG

Time marches on

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.

 Joe did an amazing job teaching the girls about simple machines this week. Here, Resty and Patience are learning all about screws and how they make life easier. 

Joe did an amazing job teaching the girls about simple machines this week. Here, Resty and Patience are learning all about screws and how they make life easier. 

 Maggie loves dancing with our girls, and they love dancing with her! Joe and I just love watching all of them love each other!

Maggie loves dancing with our girls, and they love dancing with her! Joe and I just love watching all of them love each other!

The sounds of home

Have you ever thought about how much certain sounds can provoke the deepest emotions and responses? Think about your favorite sounds – a child’s laughter, baby birds chirping in the spring, the first notes of a certain song, your best friend’s ringtone, the quarterback calling for the snap, the espresso machine producing your favorite coffee, Christmas carols playing in the mall, your husband’s “I love you” before going to sleep…fill in the blank with whatever sounds mean the most to you.

Living here on The Amazima School campus – where it is never quiet – for these past 8 months has given me a new appreciation for both sound and silence. To be sure, there are days and nights, evenings and mornings, when I wish for quiet, but we live in a house with 25 teen girls, have staff housing with six children ranging in ages from 5 months to 7 years just 50 yards behind us, and another girls’ house with 24 girls 50 yards in front of us. There is construction ongoing about 50 feet to our left and less than 100 yards down the hill. The sugar factory to the right of our campus makes noise all night and day, horns blow from the traffic out on the main highway often, African crows caw loudly and frequently day and night, and sirens blare in the wee hours of the morning.

But these have become familiar sounds to us, a part of what makes this place feel like home. When our girls awaken at 5:30 and start showering and working on their morning chores, do we sometimes grumble and ask, “Why are they so loud?” Yes, we do – but I love those sounds! I love hearing them singing in the showers, albeit loudly and usually off key. I love hearing them talk to each other on the porch as they iron their uniforms for the day, most of the time completely unaware that I am sitting in our living area and can hear everything they are saying. I love hearing them sing praise and worship songs in Luganda as they prepare their hearts for morning devotions. I love hearing them tell me they will “kill me properly” when we play Ludo. I love listening to them ask questions like, “How do I share Christ with my brothers and sisters who are all Muslim?” when it’s well past time for them to be asleep. I even love the sound of them knocking on the door most of the time, even on our days or weekends off.

What are some other things I love to hear on our campus? I love to hear our students asking their teachers questions in class. I love to hear Martina, one of the quietest girls in the entire school, lead morning devotions and speak with confidence about joy in suffering. I love the many different bird calls that can be heard at the most random times. I love to hear the girls say, “Daddy Joe, can you fix my shoes?” I love to hear Maggie sharing her faith with the girls and watching them hang on her every word. I love listening to Ugandan music and becoming more familiar with some of their worship songs. I love hearing them sing new worship songs we have taught them. I love the very distinct sound of the dump trucks moving around campus as the new classrooms and dorms are being built. I love listening to Maggie play her ukulele. I love hearing girls say, “Mom Robin…” any time.

What else? I love hearing Lenah’s daughter, Joy, sing, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…” from “Mary Poppins” with Joe. I love the sound of Joe backing his trike out of the walkway and going off to do something for someone on campus. I love hearing familiar old American songs playing over the sound system at Java House. I love the very distinct sound of a video chat request coming in and then hearing my mom’s voice. I love to hear the rain pattering on our metal roof, although I do not necessarily love to hear it pounding on our roof at 3:00 in the morning. I love the rattle of the dice being shaken in the medicine bottle the girls use to play Ludo. I love hearing Leah and Resty sing, “Sisters” from “White Christmas” because Maggie introduced them to that old classic when she was telling them about the plays she’s been in with Acting for the Almighty. I love listening to Maggie share about reading “The Iliad” and how much she is learning in her humanities classes. I love hearing how excited our students get as they cheer for their classmates during sports matches. I love hearing Zach dart around campus on his trike every Monday and Thursday picking up trash for our team members. I love hearing the boys play the traditional drums as the girls – and a few boys – dance. I love hearing Jason, oftentimes accompanied by Jackie and Grace, lead Sunday morning worship. I love hearing our students pray and call out to God, thanking Him for “allowing them to live through another night when so many did not.”

And, yes, I do love it when it is quiet, too. The quiet moments help us renew our spirits and listen to God and each other better, and we desperately need those moments. But the sounds of life on campus remind us that this is living, this is God’s grace in our lives, this is where we belong. This is home.  

 Construction on the new classrooms to the left of our house 

Construction on the new classrooms to the left of our house 

Living with the tension

Our past two blogs have had a similar theme: life here is hard, but God is good. Joe and I have shared some of our struggles and the reason for our hope, and we trust that some of our sharing has given you, our supporters, a clearer view of where we are and what we are doing. Never have we been more challenged to remember the reason for the hope than during the past few weeks, and I would like to invite you to our “front porch” to hear and see a bit of what we’ve experienced with our girls, our team and our leadership.

Allow me to give you some background before I get into the real storytelling. In an effort to learn more about Africa and better understand this land we’ve come to love so, I have been reading books written by native Africans as well as white expatriates who have come to call Africa home.  I’ve read two books by Peter Godwin, a white Zimbabwean, who speaks boldly and without apology regarding the love/hate relationship he has with Africa. One of his most poignant commentaries concerns death:  

“In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With more Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message, memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. 

Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death.”  from
“When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa.”

When I first read those words, something in me recoiled at the message, mostly because I knew it to be true. There is such beauty here, and yet there is always that tension, a knowing that the beauty often comes at a great price. I have tried often to explain the graciousness and joy we see in so many Africans, most of whom have suffered greatly throughout their entire lives but still find a way to smile, laugh, share, encourage and trust. My words always fail me in this endeavor, but when I read Godwin’s words, I knew he had hit upon the truth of the matter. People do love harder here because they know how fleeting life is and that they have no guarantee of tomorrow.

To be sure, none of us has that guarantee, do we? But if I get sick, I know I have access to good medical care, I know that my insurance will help ensure that I can pay the doctors and get the right medicine, and if things get too bad for me here, I have the safety net of knowing I can go to America for treatment. Life here is exactly as Godwin writes, and our African friends know it.

A few weeks ago one of our girls began to experience some rather serious medical challenges. Prior to the onset of her symptoms, she had never been sick or shown any signs of distress, so the initial episode caught us completely off guard and alarmed us considerably.  We had to take her off campus to the clinic in Jinja, where they were equally alarmed about her symptoms but unable to really diagnose the problem. They gave her some medication that seemed to help and then sent her back to campus the next morning. Over the next several days her condition vacillated; one day she would be fine and the next she would be in distress. The medical personnel were at a loss, and it was decided that she needed to be at home where her family could better monitor what was happening.

And this is where the situation goes from bad to seriously awful. At the same time our girl was struggling so, her mother’s health was deteriorating rapidly, and she had to be put in the hospital. Unbeknownst to our student, her mother was terminally ill and no longer responding to any treatment, so the mother’s family had moved her to her home village and was caring for her there. This turn of events left our sweet girl at home alone battling her own medical issues, totally unaware of just how sick her mother was. Since this particular student is one of the 32 students we have on campus who is not actually on scholarship through Amazima but another local organization, we needed to allow that agency to handle the situation as they felt best.

During the time our student was off campus we had very little communication with anyone as to how she was even doing until we got the call that her mother had died. As soon as we learned of the mother’s passing, we knew that we had to get to her, to be there for her, to comfort her as best we knew how. There was much confusion over where our student was staying, who was going to tell her the news, how she had been doing medically, where her mother’s funeral and burial would be, whether she could return to school with us…and the list goes on and on.

Those few days were some of the hardest we have had here, but we also found great beauty in the way our students covered their “sister” with prayer the entire time she was away from us. Not a day went by during her absence that at least half a dozen girls didn’t come to us and ask when she was going to return, and when we told them that her mother had passed, they immediately began crying out to God on her behalf. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful to see how they responded to her pain, and when we told them we would be taking some of them to the burial the next day, they all wanted to be the ones chosen to go.

 Out of respect for our student's family, we did not take any photos at her mother's funeral, but this picture shows a similar funeral service to what we attended. 

Out of respect for our student's family, we did not take any photos at her mother's funeral, but this picture shows a similar funeral service to what we attended. 

There really are no words to describe how our students ministered to their sister the day of the burial. It was not showy or loud, but their love and devotion to her was so real and so evident that we were overwhelmed. We are here to mentor these girls and lead them to a deeper realization of what it means to walk with Christ, but oh, that day, they taught us. As we left the village and returned to campus – with our girl – the mood was somber and quiet, but upon arrival on campus, there was a much different response than what I expected.

I suppose it’s because death is so much a part of daily life here that they “do not grieve as those who have no hope” but instead they grieve and then return to the business of living, seizing the day, finding joy in the moment. Despite the sadness over our student losing her mother, there was such joy over her returning to campus. As we entered the campus gates and word spread of her return or students saw her, you could see and hear the celebration that she was “home” and our house was once again full.

We learned a great deal from those few weeks and continue to marvel at how God uses our girls to teach us. Our campus Bible lessons, Sunday morning messages and devotions had been centering on joy in suffering prior to all of this happening, and one of our students prayed this the night we learned of her mother’s passing: God, our Father, you knew this was going to happen long ago, before time even began, and you knew this would happen when you had our pastors and teachers and mentors talk to us about joy in suffering, so God, please help us remember what we’ve learned and help us share our joy in suffering as our sister comes back to us.” The morning after our student returned to class after being away for two weeks and losing her mother, SHE is the one who volunteered to pray that morning in her Bible class, encouraging the others with her faith and strength.

There is no denying that there is a definite tension to living here, but we would not trade any of what we have experienced. We are learning to appreciate the little victories and overlook those small defeats, to walk in gratitude and avoid grumbling, to realize even more deeply that we are not promised tomorrow and should make the most of each moment today. As we continue to learn, we pray that our girls see us choosing daily to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding,” and that they, in turn, realize that it’s worth it to follow hard after Christ, every single moment of every single day.

 

Struggling or Thriving?

A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a blog from the website a life overseas: the missions conversation that expressed exactly how I have been feeling lately. Written by Craig Thompson, the blog is entitled, “Surviving? Thriving? How about striving?” and speaks to the question long term missionaries frequently find themselves answering, “Are you surviving here or thriving?” We’ve been asked that question several times and generally find ourselves responding with an emphatic, “Thriving; we love it here,” and we do. There is so much truth in that statement, but it may not fully express what we are experiencing, either; saying we are thriving without admitting there are areas of great struggle may be a lie of omission, not an intentional lie but a lie nevertheless.

In Thompson’s blog he quotes another writer, Anisha Hopkinson, who says this about life on the mission field: “Struggling is not the same thing as failing. In fact, “struggling” is another way of saying “endeavoring,” “going all out,” “making every effort,” “plugging away,” “trying your hardest,” . . . and “striving.” The point is then made that if instead of saying we are only struggling or totally thriving, why can’t we look at the reality of most life overseas and admit that “the struggle is real” but most of us are striving?

One way we come closer to thriving instead of feeling the drain of struggling is to remind ourselves daily that we have so very much for which to be grateful. As “good Christians” we all know we are supposed to live in a state of gratitude, and we’ve been taught many times over that we should give thanks in all things, but what does that really look like? I don’t think it means that we ignore the struggle or minimalize the heartache and pain; I think it means we “count it all joy” in the midst of the struggle and the heartache because we “know Whom we have believed, and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which we’ve committed unto Him against that day.”

Several months ago I heard Ann Voskamp speak as part of the If: Uganda Gathering and found myself intrigued by her style of communication, so much so that I downloaded her books to get a better idea of who she is. As I started reading “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,” I found myself overwhelmed by the realization that although I think I do a good job of being grateful for the BIG things like my salvation, life, water, food, my family, my friends, getting to live in Uganda and countless other things, I often overlook being grateful for the small things like the sound of Maggie playing her ukulele in her room, our silly girls insisting on dressing me in a gomesi (traditional dress of Ugandan women), finding a great whiteboard to put on our door to help us keep our schedule straight, the sweet voices of the Faith Room singing praise and worship songs before they go to sleep almost every night…and this list could go on and on. I take so many things for granted every day, and when that happens, the things that annoy me seem worse, the struggle is more difficult, the joy is less obvious or absent altogether, and victory is elusive.

The past few weeks have been intense for us here at The Amazima School. Our joys and victories have been many and intense; our sorrows and struggles have been few but equally intense. In the span of three weeks we have seen our kids work harder than any group I’ve ever seen to be prepared for three major events: MDD (music, dance and drama), a compulsory literary style competition for all schools in Uganda; TAS’s first science fair that showcased students’ group experiments and gave them the opportunity to present their findings; and second term visitation day when all the parents and guardians were invited to come for parent/teacher conferences, food, singing, dancing and enjoying time with their student. Our kids blew us away with their hard work, diligence, tenacity and tireless dedication to representing themselves, the school, their houses, their families and their God well, and they, quite simply, outdid themselves and made us all so very proud.

As our Ugandan kids were working so hard on their “projects,” Maggie was finishing up her 10th grade year and working hard to put a Christian slant on scripts for Acting for the Almighty Africa’s first production of The Lion King. She performed well on all her final exams, completed the scripts, got them printed (thanks, Martha) and assigned parts at last Sunday’s drama practice. All over campus we are hearing students practice their lines and sing their parts; Maggie is making such an impact on these kids, and they on her! There are no words to express how grateful we are that God is using her and has given her a ministry all her own here in Uganda. As she began her junior year of high school today, we prayed that God will continue to direct her paths as she continues to put her trust in Him, and we anxiously await the glorious unfolding of His plans in her life! 

At the same time, the day in and day out routines of life here can be hard. As Joe wrote in his blog last month, our new normal can be taxing and exhausting but oh, so rewarding at the same time. Long power outages have become more commonplace than the first few months we were here, and we still do not have hot water. It is NEVER quiet as we have campus activities and construction going on all around us throughout the day and the very loud sounds of Jinja and the nearby sugar factory to serenade us all night. Privacy, we have learned, is simply a thing of the past, and we cherish those very rare moments when things are somewhat quiet and we are actually alone.

On a more serious note, we battle daily frustrations that are largely a result of two cultures colliding and trying to learn all the best from one another while sometimes only seeing the worst. We have had sickness among our team members ranging in seriousness from wicked stomach viruses to malaria, and just today we have had to send one of our girls to Kampala for tests because there’s no way to properly evaluate her medical condition here in Jinja. Students are deeply troubled by her sickness because they have a lifetime of experience that tells them that not everyone who goes for tests in this country comes home. That may sound like I am overdramatizing a simple situation; I only wish that were the case.

The enemy uses these frustrations to keep us distracted from our real purpose for being here: loving our kids and pointing them to Christ. Taking a cue from Ann Voskamp, I have challenged myself to write in my journal at least 10 things for which I am grateful every morning. Some of the things I put down are the big things like living here, a student accepting Christ, team leaders and members we love and trust, but others are the little things like having a Stoney (ginger beer) to drink, the cool breeze that comes through our window every night, my SIL sending the exact hair product I have been needing. When I forget to be grateful – for the big and small – I find that I am indeed struggling every single day; gratitude enables me to strive. As we continue to grow in our relationships with the Ugandans and other Westerners on staff, it is our deepest prayer that we keep our gaze fixed on the mission and the heart of our vision, that we continue to strive and though it be real, never give in to the struggle.  

28 We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.” Col. 1:28-29 (HCSB)

 

 

 Maggie getting her scripts ready to assemble for practice

Maggie getting her scripts ready to assemble for practice

It's the new norm...

*I usually do our monthly blog, but Joe has been wanting to share his heart, too, so he is “guest blogging” this week.

Our environment changed drastically when we moved to Uganda to live this past January. The trips we’ve made here over the past five years helped prepare us for full time missions, and I thank God for those trips because they opened our eyes and hearts to a whole new world. More importantly, they opened our ears to hear God speaking. Over the past 25 years I have tried to recognize areas where God is working and to hear if He is calling me there. The opportunities He has given me and us as a family have prepared us for this calling here in Jinja. A lesson I try to teach our students is to try to put themselves in a position to be used by God to effect change in their world. It is a worthwhile lesson that teaches us to be in tune with God.

It's been one year now since we went through Pre-Field-Orientation training. PFO was so valuable and helped us tremendously through the transition and helped prepare us for the challenge of cultural change. So, we felt like we were ready. I’ve been thinking some lately about the many videos I watched. You know, the ones on the internet depicting Uganda as the name implies, “The Pearl of Africa.” Make no mistake, it is a pearl, beautiful in so many ways. The landscape of rolling hills and mountains covered with plush shades of green, split by the Nile River in all its splendor that flows out of Lake Victoria. Large forest trees and grasslands teaming with beautiful wildlife and vibrantly colorful birds of so many species. Sunrises and sunsets that can only be painted by our creator God. And the people, from so many tribes, created just as colorful. There is a Newsboys song called “He Reigns” and a line from that song says, “When all God’s children sing out glory, glory, hallelujah, He Reigns.” I look forward to that day, oh what a day that will be. As for here and now, we will serve the people God has called us to.

As beautiful as The Pearl of Africa is though, it is also a harsh country. In the villages, the young and old alike die every day. AIDS, malaria, cholera, and other sickness and disease, the culprits. If that’s not bad enough, there’s famine and poverty on a scale so large that no one understands. Starvation because of the overwhelming dry season, with rains coming too late to help. It seems the only thing not starving are the worms and locusts that eat the crops that remain. People are so poor; who can afford the high prices of food from the market on less than two dollars a day? But even in their suffering they rejoice and will offer you all they have if need be, while they kneel in the dirt to greet you. There is a great lesson to be learned there alone.

As Westerners, we are so consumed with our first world problems. Even here we find ourselves grumbling over things that are out of the norm for us but are normal everyday life for those here who can afford anything at all. For us, things just aren’t normal. We find ourselves grumbling over things like having electricity only about 80 percent of the time, and hot water that isn’t always hot. Or what would normally be a 30-minute trip to town takes three hours because we go to five different supermarkets just to find a few items that satisfy our western palettes. Pushing your way through shoulder-to-shoulder people at market to purchase fruits and vegetables is just not fun. Oh, and we must rely on a single ride to town every week because we don’t yet have a car, which is a problem since fruits and vegetables only last about four days at best. Privacy? There is none! In this culture, everything is communal. Here, the belief really is that it takes a village to raise a child. Just keeping it real!

It is the new normal. It is teaching us to slow down and appreciate God’s blessings. Not our “western” blessings, but the blessings of life, breath, peace and joy. Every day we become more and more grateful in all things, our blessings and our frustrations. God has deepened our love for this place in a way that was so unexpected. I was sharing some of my frustrations with someone the other day and the words, “nothing is normal here” came out of my mouth. In that instant God spoke in my heart and said, “Did you come here for normal? Do you want normal? That’s what you had. I want you to experience me and my normal. Do you trust me?” Wow! Just wow!

Yes, the work here is hard. Life here is hard. It is not for a marketing video. It is real and it is raw. It is for the kingdom of God. But every morning we awake to a newly created canvas with a new sunrise on the horizon. A canvas that God will continue to paint our story on. We stare in awe of His glory. At the end of the day we look at His handiwork and what He is doing in the lives of the students and we praise Him. We praise Him for the joy and peace He has blessed us with. We praise Him because He deserves it. We praise Him because He sustains us.

Robin always said she wanted a house on a hill with lots of kids. I always said I wanted whatever God has for us. God keeps His promises! I never knew God would fulfill our dreams this way, but He has, here in Jinja, Uganda.

 Sunset on Lake Victoria

Sunset on Lake Victoria

"A Mzungu Touched Me!"

We have been here almost five months now and have spent the past three weeks on break between the first and second terms of the school year. We ended the term well and finished strong the last week with sports day activities, final exams, a celebration party and bonfire to recognize the wonderful beginning to the school year, and tearful goodbyes and hugs as we watched our 72 students leave the campus their last day. As they went home, we breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief that we made it – and then we all pretty much collapsed for a few days of much-needed sleep and rest!

The first official week of break gave us and the rest of our team time to reflect on this first term and plan for the upcoming term. Every member of our team met and critiqued how we feel we fared these first few months of The Amazima School’s existence. We looked at every single area of our ministry and asked ourselves what worked well and should be left as is, what worked ok but needs to be tweaked, and what did not work at all and needs to be completely changed. Being willing to put everything under the microscope and have no sacred cows made for a very long day, to be sure, but we saw where we’ve had success, identified where we’re headed in the right direction and acknowledged some of our failures. If we are ever unwilling to do this, we will lose any influence we have with our kids and will cease to grow as individuals, a team, an organization, and a ministry.

The second week of break we were blessed to be able to go to Mombasa, Kenya for a few days of family time. Several missionaries here recommended Mombasa as a good place to get away and have recuperation time, and we are so grateful we listened to their advice! Family time is a precious commodity here because our schedules are so full, but the three of us had the best time just hanging out together that week, and we needed that time to be better prepared for the upcoming term.

We barely got home from Kenya before we jumped right back into ministry responsibilities. We spent the past week on home visits designed to help us strengthen our relationships with our students and their parents/guardians. These visits are often bittersweet; we love seeing our girls and getting to know their families better, but at the same time these visits serve as a stark reminder of the harshness of life here. What encouragement we received, though, as almost every parent or guardian told us how much their child had changed in the three months they had been at The Amazima School. When we asked if the change was for the good or bad, they all laughed and said, “Good changes, good changes.” Our students went home and walked out what we have been teaching them about servant leadership, and their parents and guardians noticed! God is working in their lives to such an extent that their families are already seeing a difference; to God be the glory, great things He hath done!

On one of our visits Friday morning, there was a little boy out on the porch. He was probably four or five years old, and when Joe reached out and put his hand on top of the little guy’s head to tilt it back and say hello, he looked up at Joe with the biggest, cheekiest grin – and then tore into the house yelling, “A mzungu touched me! A mzungu touched me!”

This is what Joe posted about his encounter with that little fella: “You would have thought God himself touched him. Mzungu means ‘wanderer’ but is the name given to white tourists here, and we are called that name often. Now, I am no deity - far from it as a matter of fact - but in that moment I felt God showed me two things. One, we have an awesome responsibility here, to be Jesus with skin on to villagers who cross our path. Two, is this not the way we should respond when God touches our lives? Should we not excitedly run telling everyone?”

At the very next home we visited we were waiting for the mom to come in from digging (working in the fields) so we could talk with her. There were several children playing around the house, and I saw two or three girls playing a version of hopscotch down the hill from where we were waiting. As the mother approached we walked out to meet her, and I glanced down to see a mancala game dug out of the red dirt. I stood there staring at that for a couple of minutes and was struck by the ingenuity of these kids, who having nothing (from what I could see), used what was available and made it work. They were clearly not bound by their lack but instead found a way to make the most of what they did have.

In my morning devotions last week, the writer used the story of the Israelites being desperate for water while they were wandering in the desert. God told Moses to gather them together and He would give them water, so they sang songs of praise as they dug and the water sprang up. The spring was right there under their feet the entire time; they could not see the water, yet they praised God BEFORE they ever found the stream in the desert!

How often is God’s provision right there, but we fail to see it because of complaining or grumbling about what we lack instead of what He provides? Seeing that mancala game there in the dirt that day humbled me and challenged me to see what is around me, to recognize God’s hand of provision, to find a way when there seems to be no way because He is the Way Maker!

For many of our families, they are having to live this truth in a much deeper way than I ever have. Time and time again during our home visits we heard people lamenting the lack of rain and the poor yield of crops they are seeing, yet every single one was quick to say, “But we trust God. He has always provided; He always will provide.” Oh, that we would have the faith to praise and trust God as these new friends of ours do and that we would be excited when God’s hand touches our lives!   

 A mancala game dug out of the dirt at the home of one of our students

A mancala game dug out of the dirt at the home of one of our students

The Front Porch

As I write this blog I am sitting on our porch, looking out over the beauty that is our campus, thinking about all that takes place here every day. It is hard to believe it has already been over a month since I last blogged about our lives here, but when I think about all the “life” that has been happening on this porch, it’s easy for me to know why the time has passed so quickly.

Our porch is where real life takes place. This is where we meet at 6:45 most mornings for devotions as the Esther House family, but we hear the girls moving the chairs, sweeping and ironing out here long before that each morning.  We also hear the sweet sounds of their praise and worship songs – sometimes in English and oftentimes in Luganda – that welcome us to the porch as we open our door at 6:40 to greet them and begin our day together in God’s word.

In the afternoons when Maggie and our Ugandan girls get out of school, this is the place we hang out in the Enos (our hammocks), play Ludo, cards and Scrabble, do homework, dance, listen to music, laugh, and sometimes cry. A lot of conversation takes place out here in the afternoons and evenings, especially on the nights we do devotions and let them just talk and ask questions. At least one night a week we have the girls lead devotions, and I love to hear them share from God’s word and encourage one another to trust Him.

After devotions each evening almost all of them gather around me, Joe and Susan (our Ugandan partner) to give and receive a goodnight hug. At some point I called one of them “sweetheart” during this time, and now many of them insist that I call them that before they go to bed. They especially love it when I knock on their door just before lights out at 10:00 and tell them, “Good night, girls. Sleep well. Daddy Joe and I love you and will see you in the morning.”

Our porch is the place where our two cultures collide and come together in a beautiful mess. Never has that been truer than the times we shared here during Easter week. We started our devotions that week by reminding the girls on Palm Sunday of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, and then each day we showed them from scripture what Jesus experienced leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. Everything we did that week was special, but for the Bookers, the Thursday night activities touched and impacted us in a way few things ever have.  

Normally, we all eat dinner down by the kitchen under a huge tent. We get plastic bowls and spoons from the drying racks and go through the line to be served by our amazing cooks. For this dinner, though, we set our tables on our porch with real plates and nice cutlery, and we (the family mentors) served our girls their food. We sat at the tables together and talked and laughed and enjoyed sweet fellowship. As we were finishing our meal, we shared with the girls about the last supper Jesus had with His disciples, and then we moved the tables back and had the privilege and honor of washing our girls’ feet, just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples that night more than 2,000 years ago.

When we told them we were going to wash their feet, almost all of them giggled nervously because they thought we were kidding, and most of them had never been a part of a foot washing service before. As it dawned on them that we were serious and were really going to wash their feet, many of them began to weep. Most were reluctant to come to us, but as they did, we washed their feet, prayed for them, and spoke words of encouragement over them. I don’t think there was a dry eye on the porch as we finished up our time there by washing Maggie Lynn’s feet. They told us the following week that they could not understand why seven adults (some Ugandan, some American) would humble themselves and kneel to wash their feet, but they realized through the experience that we were just trying to show them how much Jesus loves them.

The porch is also where girls are beginning to open up and share their stories with us. As they have come to trust us more, they share more, making the porch a place of tears, prayer and restoration. Most of their stories are typical here, which makes it more heartbreaking to hear and feel the anguish in their hearts as they tell us things like, “My father left when I was only four and told me and my sister we were no longer his children. We haven’t seen him since and don’t know if he’s dead or alive,” “My mother had me and my twin sister when she was 13 and didn’t want us, so she tried to get my aunt to just take us down to the river and drown us. My step grandmother took us in, though, and has cared for us all these years,” or “My father died when I was two, and then my mother left me and my brothers and sisters when I was six. She left us for the neighbors to take care of; we don’t know where she went or if she’s still living. My aunt took us in after she learned the neighbors were abusing us and beating us.”   

When we hear such stories, knowing we cannot undo or fix anything that has happened in these sweet girls’ past, we simply try to be there for them, let them cry and then dry their tears, pray for them and encourage them that they have a Father who will never leave them, who knows their name and cares deeply about their every thought. As I was writing this blog, I came across this analogy of the porch written by Brian Craig Drurey in a discipleship book entitled Relational Discipleship: Moving Back Home with God:

“…God’s grace acts first, before people can do anything to respond. In this first action, God’s grace goes out from the house in search of lost wrecked lives. God, in the form of grace, goes into humanity leaving the comfort of God’s porch seeking the people who cannot find comfort on their own. God watches from the window of His home for the prodigal to return. When God sees one walking afar off, God jumps up and sets out to greet the one God sees. God’s grace goes and helps the person have awareness that God’s house is there for refuge. God’s prevenient grace invites the traveler to the porch of religion.

People gather on the porch of religion to get to know the neighbor who has invited them over. They learn much about the neighbor by the hospitality and grace offered to them while they visit on the porch. People discover that they have been seeking this neighbor as a friend because this neighbor is “close and available.” What these people have yet to recognize is that “even as they ever so slightly begin to let their guard down and respond to this grace, redemption has begun.” These people sitting on the porch think God is just being neighborly and friendly. What they do not yet realize is that God is their long lost Father desiring to reconnect with His children. We can call this grace convincing grace. The porch is where God is convincing people that they need God.”

This is exactly what is taking place on our porch: our girls are responding to God’s grace in their lives, and it is HIS GRACE that convinces them of their need for Him. That He has allowed us to be a part of all He is doing in Jinja, Uganda on The Amazima School Campus in the House of Esther humbles us daily, and I pray we never get over the wonder of being here, sharing life on our porch with these girls who have already captured our hearts.  

 

 

Life in extremity

When I started this blog, we were celebrating our one-month anniversary in Uganda, and I had every intention of posting this on that one-month anniversary. Life suddenly got very busy, though, and here I am 11 days later trying to find a way to fully describe our first week with our girls. I am not sure there are even words in the English vocabulary that can convey the raw emotion we have felt the past several weeks, but maybe I can paint a somewhat accurate picture.

I think if I had to pick one word to describe these first six weeks it would probably be “extreme” because it pretty much covers it all. Our emotional responses to people and experiences have been extreme; the heat has been extreme; white water rafting on the Nile River was extreme; the learning curve with figuring out how to address cultural differences has been extreme; missing friends, family and familiar places has been extreme; our love for the people and places in Jinja has been extreme; our delight and joy over all God is doing have been extreme; our frustration with each other and others has often been extreme; and our gratitude that God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen us for this journey has been,  and hopefully always will be, EXTREME! And since all those things have been so extreme, guess what else is extreme? Our level of exhaustion every night when we fall into bed! It is a good and satisfying exhaustion, though, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything this world offers.

Of all the things we have experienced these past several weeks, the arrival of our girls Monday and the beginning of the first Amazima School year produced some of the most extreme emotions any of us have ever felt. Before the students arrived we were challenged by our country director to look around and envision the angels in full armor poised to fight and protect us, to look up and see the saints who’ve gone before us and are now cheering us on, and to look down at our own feet which have been sent to deliver the good news of the gospel to people who are hungry for it. It was an awe-inspiring challenge to us all, and tears were flowing freely by the end of it. We know that God has called us to something extreme; without His strength, provision and grace, we will be unable to accomplish anything of eternal significance.

We have 24 girls in our house, and we know without a shadow of a doubt that each of them will probably test us in the weeks and months to come. We also know that each of them is precious in God’s sight and in ours, and we already feel fiercely protective of them. These are young ladies who have come from a variety of homes and backgrounds, but God has entrusted them to us “for such a time as this;” we dare not take that responsibility lightly. Though we have known most of them for only a few short weeks, our love for them is already extreme; we can only imagine how much deeper our love for them will be in the months and years to come.

Next week will begin a normal schedule for us, if there is anything normal about two 50-something mzungus and their 15-year-old daughter living in Africa and sharing life with 24 Uganda girls! The school schedule will be normal, our work schedule will be normal, and life will hopefully settle into a routine and rhythm for us. More than anything our prayer is that we never get over the extreme privilege it is to mentor and disciple these precious girls; there is no greater joy than being exactly where God has called us to be, doing exactly what He has called us to do.

 

 

  

 

 

 

A new day dawning

 

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

 

If we walk out of our bedroom early in the morning and look out the windows in our kitchen and sitting area, we can see the most beautiful sunrise over the valley where our campus is located. The first morning we were here, Joe jumped out of bed and ran out to our porch to see our very first sunrise from our new house, and as soon as I realized what he was doing, I quickly followed. It immediately struck us how surreal our lives suddenly were: we had just spent our first night in our new house in Uganda and were looking at a magnificent sunrise over our campus that we now call home.

We have been in Uganda about 10 days now, and it’s still surreal. After five years of coming here on short term mission trips, we are now living in Jinja! As we continue to settle in and try to get more accustomed to so many things, we are seeing this land we love from a different perspective and have experienced things we never even thought about when we were just visitors but will now have to consider daily: red dust all over everything because Jinja is in a drought, no hot water for washing dishes, the smell of burning fires all night long, handwashing our undergarments, food that goes bad in two-three days because it’s not pumped full of preservatives, frequent power outages, not having a vehicle, the oppressive heat without air conditioning, the many loud noises that frequent the night air, and the list goes on and on. This is our home, where we will form friendships with students and their families, Maggie will graduate high school, Joe will teach young men to build furniture, I will help our students figure out their English homework…and anything else life brings our way. After growing up in Middle Georgia most of our entire lives, we are now residents in a foreign land that already feels like home and is exactly where we belong.

Most importantly, this is a place where we will have the chance to share the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, and that is the main reason we are here. Without that hope, we are just on another humanitarian mission that will have no lasting effect on lives now or for eternity. Over the last several years, millions of dollars have been poured into developing countries such as Uganda with no measurable results of any improvement or change in those countries. Why is that? Maybe it’s because giving money or food or water solves an immediate problem but does nothing to change the reality of where and how these precious people live their everyday lives. Only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and looking to His Word for direction will transform lives, and that’s the message we must share with our brothers and sisters here in Uganda. The food, the water, the money, the education, those are all good things but have no eternal value without the hope found in Jesus.

As daunting as some of that may sound, the reality for us is that this is a sunrise of sorts in our lives; it’s a new day dawning, and our hearts sing for joy that we are finally here. Our prayer is that no matter how long God allows us to call Uganda our home, our hearts will still be singing years from now and we will be able to say, “Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.” 

 Sunrise over the The Amazima School campus in Jinja, Uganda

Sunrise over the The Amazima School campus in Jinja, Uganda

Rapid fire

Rapid fire

Fair warning to all who choose to read this blog: I am about to violate one of my ironclad rules for writing and will not be offended if you decide to stop reading now. As a high school English teacher, one of my main comments on students’ papers was that they needed to have better flow and transition in their papers because all too often they write in bullet points. That is to say they fire one fact after another at the reader with very little connectivity, sort of like machine gun fire spread over a field. They will, of course, occasionally “hit their target” using that style of writing, but it’s not necessarily the best method to employ.

I have attempted to write this blog numerous time over the past week or so and cannot seem to get anything accomplished, mostly because I have too many thoughts about everything we are currently experiencing and are soon to experience in Uganda. So I’m going to break my rule about bullet point writing, and I am going to just put it all out there and hope it makes sense and connects to our followers on some level. Please do not judge me too harshly; if you know me well at all you have to know this is truly a last resort!

 *In 9 more sleeps, we will awaken at my brother’s house in Twiggs County, load up our tubs, suitcases, backpacks and most of our family, and head to the airport. Did you catch that? NINE MORE SLEEPS! That’s less than two weeks! Where in the world have the past six months gone?

*Have you ever felt like time was almost standing still as you waited on something to happen, then the closer you got to that thing actually happening, the more it felt like time was speeding up exponentially and you could barely catch your breath? If you answered “yes” to that, you know exactly how we are feeling right now.

*Saying goodbye to people we love is actually a lot harder than I even thought it would be. I am not a crier by nature, but I have cried more in the past two weeks than I think I have in my entire life up to this point. When Joe and I went through our battle with infertility, I remember feeling such despair and heartbreak that I thought I would literally die, but I don’t remember crying a whole lot. Facing the reality that I will not talk to my mom every day or see Adi Grace as she learns to crawl or meet my best friend for lunch every week or worship at Oasis Community every Sunday morning or travel the familiar roads I have driven for 35 years, these and similar things are harder to leave behind than I ever imagined. The tears flow freely these days, and no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot stop them.

*God continues to bless us with His provisions as we prepare to go, and He uses a variety of resources to remind us that He has gone before us and paved the way for our journey. Unexpected donations come to us weekly to make the transition easier, and we even had one last church ask us just this week if we will come share our story with them before we leave. We have been amazed by the opportunities we have had to tell people what God is doing for, in and through us, and we hope we never pass up any of those opportunities.

*Trying to pack and leave and see all the people we love AND celebrate Christmas all at the same time adds a whole different level to holiday stress!

*Because of the truth of the above-mentioned point, Joe and I have been more aggravated by small, inconsequential things the last month than at any other point in our 25 years of marriage. Prayer is the only thing keeping us sane these days, so if you are praying for us, please do not stop and if possible, please pray for us even more often! Maggie will be especially grateful for the extra prayer covering!

*The shipping container with all our supplies for the Amazima staff houses has still not cleared customs. Please make this a matter of urgent prayer as so many of our vital supplies are on that container. We have absolutely no control over this situation, which makes us feel extremely helpless, but we know God sees and knows all and will work according to His good pleasure in this situation.

*On this evening of Christmas Day, I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the joy I have in knowing that the most precious gift ever given or received is the gift of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Savior, Friend, Advocate, Redeemer, Healer and Deliverer. It is because of Jesus that we have a hope powerful enough to compel us to leave all that we know and love to move to Uganda; it is an eternal hope worth sharing!

*Our next blog will be written from Uganda! Thank you all for helping us on this journey, for loving us, for praying for us, for supporting us with your financial donations, for being the people we love so much. We can’t wait to share with you what God is doing in Uganda and hope you will keep up with us at our Facebook page or blog/website: www.bookerswithoutborders.com. Happy New Year and may 2017 be filled with decisions, moments and experiences that remind you all how very much God loves you!

 

Season of hope, reason for hope

About 25 years ago, as Joe and I were planning our wedding, our pastor asked us to choose a marriage verse from the Bible. He challenged us to choose a verse that would encapsulate our vision for our lives together, so we talked and prayed about it for a few weeks before deciding on Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, “declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, to give you a hope and a future.” We felt that if we could always remember that God’s plans for us are good, then no matter what came our way, we could trust Him with our future.

So here we are, 25 years later, planning to move to Jinja, Uganda in January, and we can say with absolute certainty that Jeremiah 29:11 was and still is the perfect marriage verse for us. Early on we fell into a bit of a trap that many Christians fall into; we thought if we just obeyed God and did all the right things, He would “prosper” us by giving us the things we thought we needed for that abundant life He promises. As we encountered various obstacles and trials, particularly an eight-year battle with infertility, God brought us to a place of understanding that we go back to time and time again: true faith is not just believing that God will do what we want, need or ask Him to do; true faith is knowing that whatever God does is always best.

Think about it. If by “prosper” in Jer. 29:11 God meant that He would pour out His riches and give us all we think we need to be happy, why do Christian martyrs in other parts of the world die for their faith? Why do children starve to death in developing countries, even as their mothers do everything in their power to find food and provide for their families? Why does the faithful pastor’s wife who has stood by her husband through the darkest of days find herself battling aggressive breast cancer? I could go on and on, but surely you get the idea. God does not promise us happiness; He promises us hope.

This Thanksgiving morning as I reflect on God’s faithfulness to our family, I am thinking about this being the season of hope and Jesus being the reason for hope. Inevitably as we tell people that we are moving to Uganda, one of the first questions is, “Are you excited?” That’s a tricky question, and it gets trickier every time we hear it. We are very excited about all that God is calling us to in Jinja, Uganda, and we are equally sad at all that He has called us to leave behind in Byron, GA. We are so certain that these are the plans God has for us, though, that we are walking steadily toward boarding that plane in January. And why are we so certain? Because we are compelled to share the reason for our hope with people we have not yet met but already love so deeply.

A couple of weeks ago our pastor preached a message on hope and said something at the very end that resonated with me. He said we need to pray that people see Jesus, not us and that people have an encounter with Jesus, not us. We cannot give people hope; only Jesus can give them hope because HE IS HOPE.  As we reflect today on our many blessings and anticipate those blessings to come in our future, our family prayer is that the Ugandans and Americans we meet in the coming weeks and months see Jesus, not us and that they have an encounter with Jesus, not us, and that in doing so, they, too, will share in this glorious hope we have.

 

Stops along the way

As I write this blog we are a little less than three months from boarding a flight headed to our new home in Jinja, Uganda. Along the way we will make a couple of stops, one in Washington, DC and one in Brussels, Belgium before we finally land in Entebbe, Uganda. Through the years we have had layovers in Amsterdam, Paris, Kigali, Rwanda and Nairobi, Kenya. We are never quite sure which airline will have the best rates or what route we will take, but we know we will start in Atlanta and end up in Entebbe, every single time. Once we are in country, we will load up on vans or buses or whatever vehicles arrive to transport us and all our worldly belongings to our new home on the campus of The Amazima School. As I think about all that entails, I realize that we, as a family, have already made many stops along the way in our journey to Uganda, each of them as necessary and integral to arriving at our destination as our layover in Brussels will be in January.

We are a culture of “I-want-it-now” people, but if we are Christ followers, we must learn to recognize that God has His own timetable and rarely moves quickly. He will lead us down paths we never imagined following, He will stop us from going down paths we wanted to take, He will tell us to trust Him when we cannot see around the bend, He will ask that we simply, “trust and obey.” Oftentimes that requires great leaps of faith; at other times, it simply requires being still and quiet and knowing that He can be trusted. Either way, the longer we serve Him, the more we realize how trustworthy He is.

Most of my Christian experience has involved waiting on God and His timing. Joe was almost 30 and I was almost 28 when we met and married; we waited a long time for God to set up that blind date! We started trying to have a family shortly after we married; we waited nine years for God to miraculously bless us with Maggie Lynn in 2001. Joe went on his first trip to Uganda in 2011, around the same time I read “Kisses from Katie” for the first time; we have waited almost six years to hear God say, “Now” is the time. I don’t like waiting, to be perfectly honest, but over and over and over again, God proves to me that in yielding my hearts’ desires, plans, hopes and dreams to Him, I am walking in faith and trusting that whatever He has for me is always best.

As we approach this move, it seems as if time has accelerated and things are moving way too quickly, but if I step back and look at all that has happened to get us to this point, I realize that we are harvesting what our seeds of faith have been sowing for years. None of it has happened overnight, most of it has involved pain and brokenness, and all of it has unfolded according to His plans and timing. Someone close to me who is going through a rough time right now shared a devotion with me last week that talked about sowing seeds and how it all begins with the brokenness of one kernel:

If we hold a kernel in our hands, nothing will happen. If we carefully place it in a jar or on a shelf for safekeeping, it will just sit there indefinitely. In its safety, the grain will essentially be useless. However, if that kernel is placed in the soil where its protective layer is stripped away, something amazing happens. Before long, a little sprout will emerge from the earth and start to grow into something different, useful, and beautiful. Moreover, that new stalk will produce more grains that can be planted, and the stalks they produce will do the same. It’s an amazing cycle of life, wherein a single kernel can lead to countless stalks of wheat. But it has to start with the brokenness of one grain.” (from In Touch Ministries).

If you are in a season of waiting on God and feel that all you know and hold dear is being stripped away, count on God to take that brokenness and make something beautiful out of it. We know that what He is doing in our lives today will impact others’ lives tomorrow, and although we may not understand His timing, we know we can trust it because we can trust Him. After all, He knows us best and loves us most, and He alone knows where He plans to take us on each step of the journey. Our job is to “trust and obey” as we take each of those steps and stops along the way.

The struggle is real...

I was having a conversation with someone recently, and I was trying to explain that there will always be conflict and hurt and misunderstandings in this life but that God can and will use those things to mold us more into the likeness of Himself. This person and I were trying to sort out a conflict that came from a misunderstanding and resulted in hurt, and I wanted her to understand that all of it – the good, the bad and the ugly – can be used by God; we just have to learn to look at the “big picture.”

As I talked with this young lady, I used the analogy that these hard places and situations in our lives are like the ugly pieces of a puzzle that we keep looking past as we choose the prettier pieces and the easier-to-fit pieces. We can skip over the ugly pieces all we want in search of all the other pieces, but eventually we will come to a place where we realize that we need those “ugly” pieces to make the picture complete; sometimes what we perceive as being the ugliest and least attractive or desirable will be the very piece that makes the picture whole and beautiful.

So it is in our lives. I am learning more and more about myself in this journey to Uganda as we realize that not everything about this process is pleasant, easy or fun. The tension that exists from being excited to go and sad at leaving, having faith that God will provide and needing to ask people to please be a part of how He provides, living in a smaller house than we ever have and knowing that our house in Uganda will be 300 sq. feet smaller, that is a very real tension that can either overwhelm us with fear, doubt and worry or drive us to a deeper dependence on God. Most days we depend more on God; some days we give in to the worry and doubt.

At times I want to just get on that plane and go to Uganda and live with our girls that we haven’t even met yet but already love, but I know there are still pieces of the puzzle here that need to be put in place. Not all of them are pretty, but I know God will use each piece to make the picture of our lives that best reflects Him. In the process, when it feels like we are at a breaking point, He will often give us a glimpse of how much He loves us by reminding us that He sees us, He knows what we are going through, and HE IS FAITHFUL.

We had one of those glimpses several days ago when we were on our way to Dawsonville to deliver six 27-gallon tubs packed full of supplies we will need but cannot purchase in Uganda. We had spent the previous two weeks buying everything we could think of to go in those tubs, ranging from school supplies to rain boots to shampoo and razors. The day before we took the tubs was Maggie’s birthday party and that night was a BINGO for the BOOKERS fundraiser at our church, both of which were huge successes, but Joe and I were exhausted as we drove to Dawsonville that day. We decided to stop for lunch somewhere around McDonough but couldn’t find anything at the first exit we stopped at and headed on up the interstate. I looked on my phone and saw that there was an Applebee’s at the next exit, so we pulled off and proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes trying to find the restaurant that happened to be tucked away in a plaza. We were so tired and hungry that we really almost gave up and stopped somewhere else, but we finally found the Applebee’s and pulled in for lunch.

We walked in and were being seated when we heard, “We were just talking about y’all! We literally just said your names! What in the world are y’all doing up here?” It was longtime friends of ours from a retreat ministry we have served in for more than 20 years. They live in McDonough but rarely eat at that restaurant; we live in Byron and NEVER eat there! What are the odds of us running into them that day? They asked all about our moving plans and told us they were praying for us, and we went on to our table to have lunch. As they left, they put a $50 Applebee’s gift card on the table and said, “Enjoy your lunch. We love you guys and are praying for you.” And another one pressed a financial donation in Joe’s hand and told us he appreciated what we were doing and would be praying for us. They left, and we sat there eating our lunch and shaking our heads, crying and praising God. In the midst of one of the craziest weeks we’ve ever had and our feeling so tired and overwhelmed, God pulled us out of the storm for a moment and used those dear friends to remind us WHO HE IS.

 He will use it all, every single bit of it, to make a beautiful picture, if we will just let Him.

 

 

 

Buckle Up!

One of the first questions people ask us when we tell them we are moving to Uganda to be house parents to 15-24 8th grade girls at The Amazima School is, “Are you excited,” quickly followed by, “Are you nervous,” immediately followed by, "Are you crazy?!" I tell them honestly that we are all of those things, but it goes so much deeper than that.

In reality, this journey that we are on is as much like being on a roller coaster as anything we have ever encountered. From day to day we experience the impatience of waiting in line to get on the ride, the nervousness and fear as we slowly make our way up the tallest hills, the excitement and thrill as we speed around curves, the discomfort of being jerked around as we fly from one hill/curve to the next, the nausea as we wonder what we were even thinking to get on this ride in the first place, the thrill of being on a ride that not everyone is willing to brave.

All those feelings describe how we feel almost daily with this adventure. But each day I remind myself that the ride operator for this roller coaster is the Holy Spirit. He invited each of us to this ride, He buckled us in and pulled down the safety bars, and He is running the ride. As long as I remember that, I know I can handle it.

That analogy may not apply to anyone else reading this blog, but it’s helping me to stay grounded in simple truths these days: He called us; He is faithful.

 ui