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.