Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Follow Jesus?...What Does That Even Mean?!...

I had another Luganda lesson this morning.  As I was walking to class, I could feel a little hesitation in my step, but that feeling quickly faded, which opened doors to a pretty productive day…

After class, I took a little jog across the street—haha, who am I kidding?…
I didn’t jog; I walked. . .  
Nonetheless, I headed to a little cafĂ© to meet a friend from church.   Not long into our conversation, my friend boldly admitted that this whole ‘Jesus thing” is just too tough to grasp.  

“Of course I go to church every Sunday, but I can’t wait until it is over…”  
I quietly watched as she recalled moments that were particularly confusing to her and I couldn’t help but feel immense empathy for her. 

Why?  Because just a few years ago, I was her!  Trapped in that very same situation—I had ‘accepted Jesus’ and was surrounded by fellow believers…but I felt more lost and alone than I ever had before!  I would see people raising their hands at church, shouting and praising Jesus.  During conversations, they would rattle on about how ‘God has changed my life’, and ‘My joy is in Christ’, and ‘I live for Jesus.’  Their words did not resonate with me at all…I just didn’t get it. They had surely gotten something that I was still missing. 
I was angry.  And jealous.  And confused.  If Jesus really is the same ‘yesterday, today, and forever,’  then why were they suddenly overflowing with happiness and confidence…yet I didn’t feel a thing?

Across the table, my friend continued to explain, “I’ve tried reading the Bible, but those stories don’t make sense to me.  I need help to understand what all of those words mean.”

I nodded in agreement.  As a new and young believer, I too didn’t understand the hidden meaning rooted in the scriptures. 

“And when I ask questions, nobody wants to sit down and explain things to me.  So, I have just accepted that the ‘following Jesus’ thing may not be for me.  Other people can do it, but for me, I don’t know what it means.”

And there it was again, that little nudge from God reassuring me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  Just as He had done a few years back, His gentleness was speaking to my heart.  It was as if I could hear Him say, “But she is made in My image! My love for her is unending and I won’t give up on her.  It is time to fight for her heart.

God hasn’t called me here because of my intellect or my insight or anything else for that matter.  And that’s okay because this isn’t about me anyway.  This is all about God and His incredible love for His children.  More and more I am coming to realize that I am not qualified to be here.  I don’t have what it takes to do this work…except, I do.  I have Jesus and that is all it takes to win over hearts.
My friend—along with countless other Deaf kids throughout Uganda—are desiring to find their true identity.  They long to feel loved and to feel whole.  They may not know it yet, but they need Jesus.  They just don’t know how to find Him.
(Insert: God's awesome plan...with me in the middle of it all!...)

It is quite daunting to think about this road God has laid before me, but then I remember His promise to always go before me.   Without fail, He leaves me humbled, excited, and extremely thankful that He has afforded me such an opportunity to walk alongside these precious young people as they begin to discover the power of Christ. 

(P.S.  Please pray with me: I am praying that my life will be a constant light and a tangible expression of His love for them and that I remain in a steadfast surrender as He uses me to offer salvation to His beloved Deaf children.)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Flashback...

20th of November, 2015

So, I have been a little silent recently when it comes to my media accounts.  It has been nearly two months since my last blog post and I haven’t posted many updates on facebook either.  Nevertheless, the work here still continues.  And I apologize for slacking a bit on updating you, as my ministry partners and prayer team, but in the words of my childhood friend, “If you can’t say something nice then don’t say nothin’ at all.”  My friend, Thumper, was right. And I hate to admit it, but it has been a tough season these past couple of months. And on more than one occasion, the words running through my head (and my heart) are surely not what God wants me posting across your computer screens.
There have been several days when I have wanted to post something…anything!!, just to vent some of this overflow of emotions welling up inside of me.  Some days I would just get so frustrated. Then I would realize my frustration and become all the more frustrated about allowing myself to become frustrated in the first place. 
Still, I did not want anything leaving my lips—or my fingertips—that was not from God. So, I have been sitting quiet for a little while.  Years ago such ‘punishment’ would have been right close to torture for me.  Back then, I always had an opinion about everything and I was always willing to share it.  Fortunately, Jesus has been helping me to build a filter and I have calmed down since those days…but even these past few weeks have been challenging for me.  Luckily, I have resisted the temptation to fall back into my old ways and I have remained silent.
And I am glad that I have done just that because when I stopped talking, God started talking. 
Well, it is probably more accurate to say that He was there talking to me all along; I was just too busy fumbling with my own words (and opinions, and thoughts, and ideas, and plans) that I couldn’t hear His.
But in the quiet of the day…(which doesn’t happen too often..) I have been hearing this scripture scroll through my mind:

"Look how far you have fallen from your first love!
Turn back to me again and work as you did at first."
Rev. 2:5

I don’t know what is going to happen in the next days, weeks, or month to come, but I have a feeling that God is at work.  In just a few days I will be returning to the US to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends.  Often, missionaries refer to this time as ‘vacation.’  While I will be on vacation from my daily routine…I get the sense that it is going to be anything but a vacation for my spiritual journey. 

And that is perfectly okay with me. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Finding The Strength...

I have to be honest—When my alarm went off at 5:00am Friday morning, my first thought was, “Lord, I am gonna need you to get me through the day.”  It had already been a long week.  I was exhausted and I barely had the energy or willpower to roll out of bed.  I had no idea how I was going to last for another 16 hours.  But I knew that lying there any longer wouldn’t help either, so I talked myself out of bed. 
No surprise, I didn’t have the energy to good breakfast either.  And quarrelling with the little charcoal stove was not on my to-do list for the day.  I slathered a piece of dry bread with some pb & j and walked my three miles to school.
On Fridays, I am responsible for teaching the student chapel before lunch. Then, at the end of the school day I take a handful of my kiddos to Deaf church for Bible study.  As I pondered the day ahead, I realized that it was 7:12am and already I was looking for a pace to sit…how on earth was I going to make it?
Apparently, I had forgotten that my strength is not dependent on the quality of sleep I got (or didn’t get) the night before.  My strength is in Him—and unlike me, He does not grow weary.  Little did I know, He was about to give me a little lesson on that verse…
After finishing the science lesson with my 4th graders, I began preparing for the chapel service.  For most of the morning I had been dreading it, but at some point, late in the morning, I began feeling a sense of excitement.  A subtle assurance that it was going to be okay.
Turns out, it was not okay—it was fabulous!
The memory verse of the week had been Ephesians 6:11 and I began teaching the students about the importance of wearing the armor of God.  I had prepared a couple of demonstrations and was very happy to see how attentive my young students were.  As always, I concluded the lesson and asked if there were any questions.  Initially, my babies sat silent. No one ever wants to be the first to raise their hand.  But scripture says that where 2 or more are gathered, God is in their midst.  And I know for sure that He was there in that classroom.

Soon, hands began to rise and questions started floating my way…and before long I had questions and comments coming from all corners of the room:
“The helmet protects our head…what about our eyes?”
“Why does the Bible tell us to wear armor? I thought God doesn’t like fighting…”
“Is Moses in heaven?”

I could see that God was really speaking to their hearts and I smiled as I gazed around the room.  Nearly every student had ‘concentration’ stamped across their foreheads. Gears were turning and the questions continued:
“If Satan asks for forgiveness, will God let him into heaven?”
“How many times will God forgive me when I sin?”
“Is it okay for Christians to eat pork?”
“What is the book of life?”
“God made the world…but who made God?”
For nearly two hours we sat in that classroom and discussed and pondered the Word of God.  I am confident that in a perfect world, we could have continued our conversation until the sun went down.  But, unfortunately, this place isn’t perfect; time is limited…and my kids had to eat lunch.  Nonetheless, I promised them that we could resume the conversation later.
As I prepared for bed later that night, my heart was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for God.  My mind was wandering in a dozen different directions, replaying the events of the day and thanking God for the work He is doing deep within each of my babies.
Then it suddenly dawned on me—it was almost midnight and I was wide awake!  Nearly 17 hours before, my body could barely muster enough energy to keep me standing upright.  And there I was, lying in bed, bouncing with energy!
“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  Isaiah 40:31
I had read that verse so many times before.  I had heard it quoted and I had even done so myself…but on Friday night that verse finally became real to me.
This life in Uganda is not easy—nearly every day I find myself standing at the foot of a mountain and God is asking me to climb.  I look around, see only my utter weakness and physical fatigue and I quickly become busy looking for alternative routes and shortcuts.  For years I had read and believed the scriptures that said my strength is in Him…and it wasn’t until Friday that I truly understood what God had been saying to me.  He really IS my strength—literally, figuratively, spiritually.  He hasn’t called me to this place so that I can do this and that…He has called me here so that HE can do it.

What a peaceful realization. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dancing In The Rain...

Praise Jesus!  It is raining here in Kampala today!
I have come to realize that it is easy to take the ‘little’ things in life for granted.  Especially in the US, we don’t think twice about our water supply.  When we are thirsty, we twist the handle at the kitchen sink and pow! We have water!  When it is time to shower, we again have an endless supply of clean water with a quick turn of the faucet.  The same is true for washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking, washing our hands before dinner, and a host of other things.
Unfortunately, here in Uganda, it isn’t always that simple.  Today, for example, our rainwater basin was empty.  That meant no water for drinking.  No water for bathing. No water for cooking, cleaning, washing, or anything else.  Luckily, there is a public well--about a mile from school—and our kids were sent with their little yellow buckets to fill them with water and carry them back to school.  That way, we could have water to cook lunch.
Jerrycans that were recently filled with the well water.

Sound inconvenient?
It is.
But as with most trials we face in life, there is a silver lining.  The beauty in this challenge?  These kids and the humble residents of Uganda have a perspective that is (sadly) foreign to so many Americans these days.  These young people know exactly where their water comes from.  They don’t take this gift for granted.  Instead, they genuinely understand that everything comes from God.  Here in Uganda, even something as ‘simple’ as rain results in prayers of praise and thanksgiving.  And that is exactly what happened today.  Our lunch-time prayers were filled with requests for rain.  Our students approached His throne with confidence and requested that He provide us with rain…and before we could finish eating our lunches, rain began falling from the clouds.  My babies danced around the school, smiling and laughing as they darted through the raindrops and shouting, “God has heard us!  He is answering our prayers!”
I couldn’t help but smile at the joy that was overflowing from their hearts.  And in the moment, several scriptures began to flood my mind:
“…a childlike faith…”
“faith as small as a mustard seed…”
“The prayer of a righteous man…”
“Pray continuously.”
But more than that, I was reminded of God’s faithfulness.  We are His children. He hears our cries to Him and, like any good father does, He finds great joy in seeing that our daily needs are met.

God may have been refilling our water tank today, but He was also filling my love tank and reigniting my desire to know Him more.

This is a short video of the rain...which briefly turned to hail! 
You can see it bouncing into the classroom with force! 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stories With New Endings...

I began this blog post several months back, but hesitated to post it.
After much thought and prayer, I have decided to share—for no other reason except that I know God is going to use such stories to reveal His power and grace. He is the author of life and the author of our lives. He alone is orchestrating a remarkably beautiful redemptive story in each of us.

When people learn that I am a full-time missionary in Africa, the responses are usually about the same.
“Wow! That must be so rewarding.”
“…so much fun.”
“…so exciting.”
“…such a blessing.”
Most people hold a positive perspective as far as what life is like over here.
And that is great. I think many people in my same position would agree that we do our best to shine a positive light on how God is working in each of our ministries. We try to dispel myths and stereotypes while highlighting some of the different and unique aspects of our new culture. Our facebook photos display beautiful, bright-eyed babies, children dancing, and mommas smiling. It is very easy to see why we love our lives here; why we are thankful that God has called us to serve him in such a delightfully mysterious yet elusive place.
Most days, I wake up ready to face the day. With joy and excitement, I anticipate seeing God work in a way that only He can. I am eager to see each of my children, teach them something new, and watch their eyes smile as God gently reveals a little more of Himself to them.
Most nights, I lay in bed and smile. Replaying the events of the day in my mind, I am able to see God’s grace more clearly. His presence in those moments is unquestionable and I drift to sleep with a peaceful, contented heart.
I wish I could say that every day is like that—that every day is perfect and my heart is always quiet, at peace, and intact.
But the truth is, some days just suck.
And I don’t typically use such words…but this past Friday…UUgggghhhh!!
I don’t even know if I have the words to describe the hurt and anger that my heart was (and still is) feeling. When I arrived at school, my babies were all in class. And just like every other day, I peeked into each class, greeted the teachers, and waved ‘Hello’ to my little munchkins. It was nearly break-time so I took a quick walk down the street, bought the kids some mangoes, and returned to school. The morning was off to a good start…until break time.
As the kids began meandering about, I noticed a small crowd gathering outside of Primary 2 (second grade). Being the curious little mamma that I am, I wandered over to see what all the commotion was about.
In the middle of the crowd, stood little Simon*, approximately 8 years old and not much taller than my waist. His eyes were cast down to the ground, avoiding eye contact with anyone. As I approached, the other students saw me coming and immediately their petite arms and tiny fingers got busy telling me what happened.
Simon was beaten by his mother the night before.
My eyes assessed at his little frame, slumped over and clearly overwhelmed with embarrassment, shame, and physical pain. I snagged his attention and asked him if what I was hearing was true. Slowly and gently, he nodded his head and quickly turned his gaze back to the ground.
I didn’t want to believe that what he said was true, but the injuries spoke for themselves. A massive lump on the back of his head. A severely swollen forearm. And dozens of scratches scattered across his back.
I could feel my pulse quicken. How could something like this happen?!
I did my best not to look too alarmed, for fear that it would just scare Simon and the other kids, whose eyes were closely monitoring my every move. (Pretty sure I failed—there is just something about the sign language user inside me than spills out all of my emotions through my face. And my kiddoes, being deaf, are very receptive to that.) Nonetheless, I found the head teacher and asked if she was aware of the situation. It was still early in the day so she had not yet seen Simon, nor was she aware of what had happened the night before. I explained the injuries to her and to my surprise, there was little reaction or emotion to what I was telling her. Desperately, I asked what we as the school could do to ensure that the boy would be safe when he returned back home at the end of the school day.
Her response: ‘Nothing. It is the parents right to discipline their child as they see fit.’
What?!?! Are you kidding me?
I am all about disciplining children—I even got my fair share of it when I was a child. Discipline is healthy. It is even Biblical. God disciplines each of us in a variety of ways. He does it to protect us; to guide us, and to help us become strong men and women of Christ.
But there is a big difference between discipline and abuse. What I had just seen evidence of, was NOT discipline. That was blatant, unrestrained, deliberate abuse. And to make matters worse, I was being told that there was nothing I could do about it.
Surely, when I decided to become a full-time missionary (and by ‘decided’ I mean, I agreed to be obedient and follow God’s call for me) I knew the work would not be easy. I had done the research and I had seen the statistics. I had even peered into the eyes of a young deaf girl and had seen the pain of rejection and neglect. I understood that the young people God had called me to serve were suffering from a host of agonizing experiences that I could never relate to.
At least I thought I understood that.
For the past two years I have been overwhelmingly blessed. Each day, my students greet me with the most beautiful smiles. More often than not, their giggles echo throughout the school like a beautiful song. And on several occasions, I have even seen them laugh so hard, tears poured from their eyes. It is hard to overlook the joy and excitement that they express every day.
But as time goes on, it has become equally as difficult to overlook the heartache and grief that each of them carries. Despite their happy appearance, all of my students have a story. A story of sorrow and condemnation and abandonment.
Slowly, I am learning some of the painful realities my students are carrying on their little shoulders and within their fragile hearts. It is an unsettling process to hear such tragic accounts. And it might sound crazy, but I want to know these little details. I want to know why they are sad and what causes them to push me away. I want to know what makes them cry at night and how to dry their tears. I want to know their fears and the thoughts that run through their head when no one is around. But most of all, I want them to know how much they are loved. The world may be telling them otherwise, but the truth is God loves them sooooo…much!
I know how much I love and cherish each of them. But I also know that God loves them exponentially more than I ever could—which is hard, even for me, to understand. Still, I pray for these precious little souls, that despite all of the pain and heartache that they have had to endure, they are able to see and experience the love that God so desperately wants to pour out onto them. I pray that God guides me and directs me as He teaches me how to minister to each child; that my love for them will be a glimpse of the great love He has for them.
Granted, I do not yet know all of the stories, but I am convinced it is because God knows that my heart could not handle all of that at one time. He is gradually exposing my students’ pasts and showing me the next steps to take to help them heal. Some steps are harder than others, but I trust Him. And I hold tight to His promise that He sees the beginning from the end. He will never leave us or forsake us. He is our Heavenly Father. Therefore, deep down in my heart I know that He truly cares for my babies and is masterfully writing remarkable, redemptive endings to each of these tragic stories.
And while He is doing all of that, He continues to write my story as well…

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Joy in the Waiting...

Life is busy.  I get it.  We all have 101 things we need to accomplish before the end of the day and an even longer to-do list weighs heavy on our shoulders that needs to complete by the end of the week and yet another list by the end of the month. 
Bosses need reports and budgets.  Emails need to be sent.  Dishes are piling up in the sink. Laundry is never ending.  Kids need help with homework. The baby is crying and the husband can’t find his keys.

Okay, so that whole crying baby and husband scenario doesn’t exactly apply to me.  Hahah

But the pressure to get it all done still rings true, no matter our situation or status.

Right now I am looking at my handy-dandy dry erase board.  It is tattooed with a list of 12 things I would like to accomplish today.  ­­­­­My fellow Type-A-ers will understand when I say that just looking at it gives me a little sense of harmony. For years I have known that I harbor some traits of a type-a personality. I love making lists. And I love even more to cross things off when they are completed.  (Again, I know that several of you know exactly what I mean by that!)  J 
However, since living in Africa, I have been forced to adopt a more go-with-the-flow attitude.  I now realize that it is more reasonable to believe that only half of the items on my list will actually get done today…and I am (somewhat) okay with that. 
Yes, I am doing my best to adapt and assimilate into this nonchalant culture…but it would be silly to think that I have been cured of my list-making, type-a, get-it-done personality. Truth is, I have yet to fully integrate into this new way of doing things.  There are days when I get frustrated and I just can’t seem to understand why nothing can get done.  And when things finally do get accomplished…it is days or even weeks later than expected.  Needless to say, there is a lot of waiting that happens here.
Which should not be much of a surprise to me at all. 
For a while, it seems, I have been in a season of waiting.  And while somewhere deep inside me, there is a little voice saying, “Hurry up already!” there is another voice—a quieter voice, saying, “I’ve got you right where I want you.”

For months and years I have been waiting…for a lot of things.  Each time my prayer or circumstance returns results different from my expectations, I catch myself thinking petty little thoughts like, “Should’ve known,” or “Of course.”  Fortunately, I can say that such thoughts are becoming less instinctual.  No, I don’t want to wait.  It think it is human nature—more specifically, American culture, that makes me desire immediate results.  But I am confident that there is deeper meaning rooted in each circumstance that requires me to wait.  Most importantly, God has been using those times to teach me a thing or two.  Rather than asking Him to hurry the process along, He has been teaching me to be patient.   Instead of looking so far forward, stationing my eyes on the final result, He is softly saying, “But look at what I am doing now.”  He is asking me to be still.  To trust Him.

Trust…what a deeply complicated concept…but more on that another day.

For now, I feel like the life lesson God wants me to know is that He has not forgotten me.  He hears each prayer and He knows the desires of my heart.  He is not putting my cries, tears, or yearnings on a shelf while he deals with more important things.  I am a child of God—I am what is important to Him. 
No, He is not forsaking me.  Instead, He is softly reminding me that every good and perfect gift comes from above.  (But not always according to my timeline.) His timing is perfect and my good and perfect gifts are on their way.  He is just taking a little extra time to make them more perfect; more grand and more extravagant than my mind can even imagine.  It is going to be worth the wait, I am sure of that.

In the meantime, He is giving me little gifts each and every day.  It is up to me to receive them.  What a shame it would be if I allowed my waiting to distract me from seeing the beautiful work He is constantly doing around me each day.
So, as my heart is stilled by His constant and overwhelming love, here are a few glimpses into the sweet gifts He has been giving to me every day:
My students radiate joy in all they do.
Despite some of their painful pasts,
they love to sing, dance, and praise Jesus.

This young man LOVES Jesus and aspires to be a
pastor of his own Deaf church some day.
Several times each week he asks me to teach him
a new scripture.  He watches intently and is
always excited to share with the other students.

You can't beat the beauty of a Ugandan sunrise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Its Gonna Be Worth It...

As a born-again Christian I know that I cannot escape the grip of of God's hand. Nor can I be hidden from his sight. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omniprisent.
Still, there are times when it doesn't quite feel that way.  There are days when full-time ministry is exhausting--physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  There are times when life in a foreign country is lonely, when nothing seems to be going right, and the presence of God seems miles away.  And there are times when it really tough and really ugly and packing up and going home sounds like a good idea...
Then, there are days when all of the tears, the pain, and hours upon hours of prayer is finally worth it.
Today was one of those days.
I was asked to teach P6 R.E. (6th grade Religious Education)  As the substitute teacher, I grabbed a hold of the teacher's guide and skimmed over the curriculum to see what was planned for the day.
The topic: Jesus fed the hungry
It was suggested that the teacher use John 2:1-11 (Jesus turned water to wine) and Matthew 14:13-21 (Jesus feeds 5,000) to teach the subject.
I began with John 2.  The students were somewhat familiar with the story, but reading and understanding the words in the Bible often proves to be difficult for them--it can be tough, even, for a native English-speaking person to understand scripture...even harder if English is your second language...that you can't hear. So, we spent some good time transforming the words on the pages into a tangible picture for them to see and better comprehend.
After interpreting the first story into Ugandan Sign Language, we moved on to the second story.  I first let them read the passage of scripture...determined that they didn't understand...and began to interpret it for them.
We started with the events leading up to the story and discussed the issue of John the Baptist being imprisoned, which later lead to his death.  Slowly, we made our way through the whole story.  And what happened from there...my goodness, my heart is still smiling!  Before I could ask them a single question, their hands were being thrust into the air.  I immediately began getting questions like, "Did John the Baptist go to heaven?" "Why didn't God save John from being killed?" "Did Jesus go to secondary school? or college?" "Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?"
I was in awe of how their young, inquisitive minds had been able to see beyond the words on a page and begin to interact with the people, places, and events withing the story.  John the Baptist was not a story character to them.  He was a real person and they were concerned for him and his eternity!
One question would lead to another, which lead to even more.  I found myself in the middle of such an amazing conversation!  At one point I was answering a question and telling my students that God knows the number of hairs on each of their heads; that God can hear (and see) everyone's prayers...all at the same time!  I could see the bewilderment in their eyes and I smiled as one of my girls sweetly replied, "Wow, God must have  realllllly big eyes!"
Their body language began to change as they became more and more captivated by the conversation.  I repeatedly had to tell them to take turns; that, unlike God, I could not see all of their questions at the same time.  But they were all so curious and eager to know more that questions overlapped and comments were being hurled at me from multiple directions.
They asked about the disciples and I was able to tell them that many of the disciples didn't have an education, but God still used them in a powerful way.  And similarly, they might be deaf, but GOd has made them that way and He has plans to use each of them in a unique way too.
The conversation eventually flowed into the miracle of creation.  We talked about how God created everything, from the smallest baby bird to the largest of elephants.  From the littlest fish in the sea, to the giant sun, moon, and stars.
"But who created God?" one of them asked...Oh, to have the heart of a child.  The innocent, unblemished perspective of God and all His glory.  What an unbelievable blessing it is, that God has called me here for such a time as this. I can't imagine NOT walking this journey with Him.
I will be the first to admit, life over here is not easy--for me, or for the people God has called me to serve.  This road all-too-often becomes messy and uncomfortable and down-right scary.  But I am learning to be thankful despite the circumstances that surround me.  I am learning to trust Him when the road I am walking isn't clearly marked.  And I am learning to wait on Him.  Because at just the right time, He gives me days like this--reassuring me of His presence and reminding me that these kids, their hearts, and their eternities are worth it.  They are worth every tear, every busted toe, every heartbreak, every sleepless night...
They are worth it to me.
And they are worth it to Him.