Friday, December 23, 2011

Road Trips and Hedge Fires... the excitement lives on.

After waiting 7 hours for a bus (Check out Carolyn's Blog for details on that experience) to show up and take me to Kigali, Rwanda on Monday, it finally came. Except, instead of travelling to another African city, I ended up in America.

Okay, totally kidding.

But you could’ve fooled me. Time and time again, I caught myself staring out the window with my mouth wide open and questioning where I was. Some of my initial observations were:  
  • The roads. They were paved and smooth and had lines painted on them! But, it didn’t stop there. Reflectors. Reflectors lined the streets, street lights shined on the sides of the roads, and curbs existed. Stop signs, yield signs, and traffic lights were not only present, but obeyed.   

  • Traffic. Cars drove on the right (appreciate the pun? :) ) side of the road.      Boda Boda! Also known as motos in Rwanda, could only have one passenger. ONE! And, they are required to wear helmets. I didn’t see anyone riding side saddle, carrying a goat, or loaded down with a pile of 2 x 4s headed to a construction site.

  • Cleanliness. The streets were clean. I saw hardly any litter and observed women and men cleaning the streets and picking up any litter. Not to mention, the “Keep Kigali Clean” trash bins around the city. Absolutely, stunning.

And, those were only first observations. Observations made late Monday night, after waiting all day for a bus to arrive, a dark and somewhat sketchy walk across the border, and a bumpy, bus-rocking ride through hilly northern Rwanda. However, I feel the need to insert some disclaimers. First of all, I mean no disrespect to the missionaries in Kigali. I understand that there are many deeply rooted issues that go on beneath the surface. I believe missionaries are called all over the globe. And, I recognize that each of these individuals has made sacrifices and has had to make extreme adjustments in order to obey their callings from God. So as I go on raving and ranting about how much Kigali felt like America, I know I was only a 3-day tourist in the country, observing only the surface, which included tasty restaurants, new shops, and sidewalks.

One of the first places the girls and I hit up was the coffee shop, Bourbon. It was beautiful. From the finely furnished décor, to the smooth espresso and perfectly steamed milk it surpassed all expectations for a coffee shop experience. And, it was only the first.


We then wandered wide-eyed through the new Nakumatt, also known as Africa’s Wal-Mart or Target. We browsed the shelves of Mr. (High) Price, which contained new clothing. Yes. New. Clothes. Even though no purchases were made on my end, the smell of new clothes filled me with the same pleasure as if I had actually bought something worth being excited about.

After waiting out the rain (which proved we were still in Africa) we got in a taxi, figured out our bus tickets for the way back and then hired our first set of Rwandan motos to take us to Heaven. As if I didn’t already think I was there. At Heaven, we were treated to appetizers, a fine meal, and blankets to warm us from the chill of the Rwandan night. Heaven, indeed.

Wednesday, we had the opportunity to tour the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. The guide said it could possibly take an hour and a half. Three hours later, we made our way out, emotionally exhausted and teary eyed. I’m going to have to write about the experience in a blog by itself. In short, it was well done, very informative, and extremely moving.

After enjoying another café dining experience that consisted of a white mocha and vegetable Panini, our lovely hosts, The Gaskills, picked us up to take us to their house for the evening.

As we pulled into their neighborhood, once again I was in awe. Their neighborhood is part of a development plan called Vision 2020. Wow. There were street signs. There were other things, too, but that’s what I remember. Street signs. Are you getting the picture of why this so closely resembled America?

Finally, we pulled into the Gaskills’ compound. When we walked into their house, I cried.


Reverse culture shock? I don’t know what was going on. The emotions of the day, of feeling like I was in a place close to home, topped off with walking into a home that felt, smelled and looked like a home was just a little overwhelming.

Fortunately, I was able to compose myself so that we could walk to Kigali International Christian School, where the Gaskills and many other missionaries work. Beautiful. The kindergarten through 12th grade school is home to many local missionaries, international students, and members of the Kigali community. Seeing an educational facility where God’s hand is so clearly at work was such a joy.

It was a well-spent three days of vacation, visa renewal, and ministry touring.

We arrived home Thursday afternoon, exhausted from the bus ride. I was napping in my room, when I heard Carolyn shout for us to come outside. Much to our surprise, our hedge was on fire. The neighbors were all fetching water and trying, unsuccessfully, to put it out.

“Oh my gosh! Call… ummm who do we call?!”

There’s no 911.

So we called everyone, and then Willis, our neighbor and local chairman. He’s the man with power in our community and luckily, our friend. He came marching over, very unhappily, at the situation. At this point in time, I was extremely thankful none of us girls were responsible for the torched fence line that used to be our hedge.

Since yesterday, we’ve had policemen, photographers, and the man who supposedly lit the flame in and out of our compound. The whole mess is still “under investigation” due to some similar events that have happened recently. However, currently in place are some mats hanging along our fence to ensure our sense of privacy. As I walked out of the gate yesterday to go for a run, the neighbors along the burnt fence were all waving at me. Yes, I miss the hedge.

Needless to say, this week has held many moments worth remembering, and we still have a few days before Christmas. Oh, Nkokonjeru, what will happen next?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's all about relationships.

 I know the best people in Uganda. And, every day I become a little more convinced of it.

Our Favorite Boda Drivers – Godwin and Charles. They constantly provide safe treks for us all around Mbarara while sharing their knowledge and friendship with us!

Scovia – who takes such great care of the mail at Posta, and always makes sure it gets to me!

Bright, Doreen, and their baby girls, Sheila and Sheba. They not only own the coffee shop and cinema in town, but they also have become dear friends to us. Sharing time with Doreen, and their employee, Edith, while watching the girls grow up has become such treasured time. 

My girl friends and small group from university. Meet Primrose, Gigi, Shamime, Aidah, and Julian - some of my best friends. 

 My dear friend Sylivia.

The neighborhood kids. Our closest neighbors and friends are Docus and Willis and their children Faith, Patience, Junior and Marvin. What joy they bring to my heart when they greet me as I come home each day! 

Language teacher Sophie, who has become so, SO much more than just a teacher to me! There hasn't been a time in her presence that my stomach hasn't hurt from laughing.

Dade and Dara. Could we ask for better students? I don’t think it’d be possible.

The rest of our team, except that this picture is missing two very important members - Martha and Connor.  We are family, co-workers, friends, and mentors. 

Our own little constructed family. We continually give thanks to God for brother Justus, who watches over our safety, rescues us from lizards, and provides great moments of laughter and shared wisdom.

I know there are many more that I've failed to mention, who mean such a great deal to me. However, this is a snip it of some of the treasured people in my life that make living in Uganda such a joy. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The LORD Almighty - he is the King of glory.

This is who I am.  A mess.

Most of the time, my thoughts are ambiguous, unconnected, contradictory, and on a roller coaster ride through the scale of emotions.

I have many thoughts I can’t put into words.
I have many ideas I can’t put into action.
They spin around in my head looking for a way out, and all too often they fade into the recesses of my brain.


The whole of who I am often questions who I am.

I have likes. I have dislikes. But, even those change.

I have goals. I have desires. But, most of them are selfish.

If you asked me what I wanted in life, I might say to take a nap.
Ask me on a different day and the depth of that question leaves me staggering for words I can’t quite grasp.

If you asked me Today, “Who are you?”
I’d have to tell you I don’t know.

But, I do, on most days, at least know why I’m alive.

My purpose – my only purpose – rests in bringing glory to God.

What does that mean? What does that look like?
Sometimes, I don’t know.

I don’t always know how to glorify my God.

And, then I realize again that the thoughts stirring in my head to try to answer that question, and so many others, are more than I can handle, and to try to write them down would be butchering the depth of how I really feel.

So, can I do anything worthy of glorifying God?
Can I give any answer to satisfy the thoughts of my head and of my heart?

I don’t think I can. Not on my own. And, that’s why I praise God, whose love is more than I can bear.
Whose love has delivered me from my meaningless wanderings.
Whose love now gives my wanderings purpose.
Not a purpose that I can always see,
But as a daughter of the King, I can know I’m where He wants me to be.
His love not only covers my inability to speak,
But intercedes for me in the many moments where I don’t measure up.

It tells me that I don't have it all together, I never will, and that's okay.

His birth, life, death, and resurrection didn't end His story thousands of years ago. 
It only opened a new chapter.
One that He allows me to be a part of by living and breathing in and through me. 
One that allows Him to bring glory to Himself through me even if I don't understand what that means.

So who am I?
I don’t know.
I guess it depends on who God makes me to be today.

" should do so with the strength that God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." 
1 Peter 4:11

Monday, December 12, 2011

I am my Beloved's, and He is mine.

Mondays are my Sabbath days. A day of rest. A day of celebration. A day of intimate time with my Lord and Savior.

A friend of mine from home, Brooke, shared this song with me (well not exactly with me, but via facebook… it still counts I think). The lyrics are singing the song of my heart today. And, I thought, as I meditate in the sweet presence of my Lord, I’d share them with you, too.

Where I Belong by Cory Asbury

Your presence is all I'm longing for here in the secret place.
Your nearness is all I'm waiting for here in the quiet place.
Here, in the secret place.

My soul waits for you alone,
Just like the watchmen wait for dawn.
Here, I've finally found the place,
Where we'll meet, Lord, face to face.

I’ve finally found where I belong.
I've finally found where I belong, in your presence.
I've finally found where I belong, Lord,
Just to be with you, to be with you.

I am my Beloved's, and He is mine.
So come into your garden, and take delight in me.
Take delight in me.
Delight in me.

Here in Your presence, God, I find my rest.

A verse that continues to speak to my heart in this season of life:

'Be still and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’

The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:10-11

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My hope is in you.

The rain is pouring down.

“I’ve never lived in Uganda before this,” said my roommate Martha, “but I feel like this is an excessive amount of rain.”

It’s like clockwork. Most days between 2:30 and 5 p.m. the steady sound of rain pounds on the rooftops.

Rain is like snow in Uganda. Most people, including myself, don’t have the means for traveling in it. Therefore, I get my fair share of little mini-snow days for a couple of hours many afternoons. Some days it provides the opportunity for an extended conversation with a friend. Other times I get to be productive and get some lesson planning done. There are the afternoons where it makes for a soothing lullaby to nap. And yet, many times it’s a great chance to just meet with my Savior for a little extra intimate time together.

Some things, like the rain, can be inconvenient, disheartening or discouraging, if you choose to look at it that way. Or, it can be a meeting place for growth and an opportunity to be stretched.

It’s just when I think it can’t rain any harder, that it seems to pick up. And, isn’t life that way sometimes?

Yet, Romans tells us, “… we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

We have hope in the glory of God. That a future glory awaits us, and now, even today, we can take joy in whatever it is that opposes us. Whatever it is that is stretching us and causing us no other option but to call out to our Savior, who not only answers us, but brings glory to Himself in our constant transformation to be more like Him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Glory to God.

So for the past week, I’ve been trying to post a blog about thankfulness. But it just sn't coming to me. And, I’m pretty positive that I’ve got it down to a few reasons why:

  1. I have way too many things to be thankful for that I can’t figure out how to put them into one blog.

  2. Power always seems to be out when I get bursts of writing inspiration.

  3. I’ve been neglecting to write first about what I’m most thankful for.

“If Ephesians says to imitate Christ, why do you look so much like the world?”

The line of a song that keeps resounding in my head. All of my erased blog drafts even reflect it. Instead of giving thanks first to the giver of life and the Savior of my soul, I try to write about Uganda, America, my family, my friends all over the world and the bountiful blessings I’ve been given. So while, I’m more than grateful for all of the above things, I can’t write about them tonight. The weight of my heart won’t let me.

It’s going to be about Jesus.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

Let us praise the name of the living God. Over the past few days, I’ve had a revival in my heart, and I can thank nothing and no one other than God for it. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the ways of the world, the concerns of this life, and the worries of tomorrow, that I forget what I was created to do in the first place. Which is nothing, but to glorify God – whatever that is supposed to look like. However, I figure it’s a little hard to bring glory to God if I’m too busy trying to figure it out on my own instead of heeding his Word and listening to his voice.

I don’t know much, but here’s what I do know:

  • Because of God, I can love. And, I love to love.

  • Laughing makes me happy, and I’m able to share that joy with others (Profound, right?).

  • Flexibility is learned trait, and being flexible makes joy a little easier to come by.

  • I just want to live out God’s calling for my life.

  • I don’t know always know what that “calling” is.

  • Plans are different than reality, and praise God for that.

  • Time isn’t slowing down, and no one is able to determine when his time will be over.

  • People are people no matter where they are in the world.

  • All those people need Jesus.

I want to be like my Jesus.

“I’m not sure what it means to be like you, Jesus. You said to live like you love, like you, but then you died for me.”

So what does that mean for me? Does it matter? Should it change the way that I live?

“Now there is a huge difference between being saved from something and being saved for something (Cat and Dog Theology by Bob Sjogren).”

Somehow, I don’t think my lack of knowledge is going to keep me from living my life. Actually, my inability to figure out what I’m doing has become rather encouraging over the past few days. Because I was saved for something. And, even if I have no idea what it might look like in the day-to-day life, I do know that it is to glorify God.

My heart will sing no other name, but Jesus.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Romans 11:36

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Let us love one another.

Heel, toe, docie doe, Come on baby let’s go boot scootin’.

For someone who desperately misses her weekly country dancing excursions with the girls, I’ve been waiting patiently (depending on whom you talk to) for the opportunity to break out line dances and do some two stepping with some friends here in Uganda. A girl can only do the dance to her own tune by herself so many times before she wants a partner or at least some one to join in.

Friday my dream came true. Some of my best friends came over to the house for our own little dance party.

I have been so blessed to establish relationships with these women through a small bible study we started at the university in town. It has been so refreshing to regain authentic and life-giving friendships in my daily life with other young women living their lives for Christ.

I have to let you know that the pumpkin I blogged about a few weeks ago is still being put to good use. Who knew one pumpkin would go so far? I’ve done immeasurable amounts of baking and freezing with it. And, come to find out, very few people in Uganda have ever used pumpkin in baking things such as muffins and cakes! So, it has been my pleasure to introduce one of my favorite delicacies to my friends. Therefore, no party was about to begin without first sharing the pumpkin cake Dara and I had made that afternoon. It was a dashing success and satisfied the taste buds of all :) After finishing our little fall snack, we cleared out the living room, brought out the drums, and hooked up our itunes’ playlists to the speakers as we allowed ourselves to indulge in the pleasantry of just being girls.

Being able to step to the left or to the right, jump forward or hop backward varies significantly from the footwork and hip shaking my Ugandan friends were trying to teach me to do. The desire to catch their rhythm was contagious; unfortunately, the ability to catch it was not. Three hours of ethnic culture dances to a couple of different Ugandan tribal beats, some Beyonce and Shakira, and finally some good old country dancing was enough to fool me though. And, there aren’t any video clips to prove me wrong.

As the neighbor boys continued slashing (the Ugandan version of mowing) our yard, I’m sure their imaginations were intrigued as to what was shaking in our house. Oh, little did they know...

The memories continue to make their mark on my heart every day that I'm given to live in this country.

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called, ‘Today,’…” Hebrews 3:13

I’ve been abundantly blessed with friends all over the world who build me up, encourage me, and spur me toward Christ. I’m such a lucky girl.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A cheerful heart is good medicine.

Apologies for my long delay in writing to you all. The longer I live in Uganda, the more numb I become to discerning what is actually newsworthy information! It takes a moment of stepping outside of my life and viewing it from the outside in before I can determine what to write.

Over the past few weeks, there have been exciting changes, dramatic events, and more adjusting to life in Mbarara. The most exciting was the addition of a new roommate! Meet Martha Hopper. Our dynamic duo household has transformed into the terrific trio. Her arrival has been the talk of the neighborhood! To celebrate her arrival, we had a nice little “family” dinner at our compound. Of course it was Carolyn and I’s specialty – Mexican. And, for a little dessert we delighted in monogrammed sopapillas! Martha is the latest addition to AIM team Mbarara. Our team continues to defy many missionary statistics as we add more and more young singles to it!

It just so happens that I have another teammate who teaches English grammar and literature at Ntare Boys’ School. It is a prestigious school here in Mbarara, and he so graciously allotted me the chance to come and observe last week! Plans are in the process of forming for me to come in this week, too. I’m continuously praying about what teaching is supposed to look like for me here in Uganda. As of now, I’m continuing to enjoy my time with Dara, and the term is flying. Being the wonderful student she is, I received my first “teacher” gift of the year – a beautiful arrangement of flowers picked specifically by her!

In other big news, a few days ago I officially obtained status as a real African. Many formulas circulate as to how this is reached, but the most common one I’ve heard is:

1. Receive an African name.
2. Get in a boda accident.

3. Contract malaria.

I know I’ve shared before how my dear friend Sophie dubbed me Ankunda, meaning He loves me. I was honored to receive such a name, but was fine at stopping there. I didn’t really feel the need to complete the following steps. Unfortunately, as I continue to discover, my will isn’t the one that always prevails. Number two is under speculation as to whether I’ve truly experienced this or not, but because I’m not overzealous to experience it at any greater level, I’m checking it off the list. Slipping off of a boda can count right? And, number three. Yes, good old malaria hunted me down on Wednesday night.

The word is scarier than the illness itself. Although, it truly hasn’t been a fun experience, I think the worst part was the finger prick when I was tested for it at the clinic. I don’t admit my weaknesses very often, but have no shame in letting it be known that I hate needles! Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t there to hold my hand. Joel did his best to remind me to keep breathing. Once again, I was reminded of just how thankful I am to be on this team! Because malaria is so common here, the Skinners happened to have medication on hand so I could begin it immediately. Therefore, I’m on the mend.

However, this inconvenient illness postponed Carolyn and I’s trip to Rwanda for the weekend. Interesting timing of it all. But, because I was supposed to be out of town, my weekend is cleared and set aside for rest and recovery. God truly does work all things out accordingly.

Power outages have continued to just be a way of life here, but I think we are finally reaching stability. We went another week without it as the power company worked to replace our transformer again. The terminology I’ve learned about power and electricity since moving to Africa has grown tremendously. I’ve also picked up a little saying from Zillah, my teammate from England, “Oh my life,” as she would say. It just seems to express how I’m feeling at times a little more accurately than, “Oh my word” or “Oh my goodness.” It also tends to work in a variety of contexts, just depending on your tone of voice.

In spite of malaria and delayed roadtrips, I’ve been reminded of what love in action looks like.

“Love must be sincere… Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12: 9, 12-13.

It’s a reminder for me that nothing happens outside of the will of God and to remain joyful, patient and faithful. It’s a reminder to me of what God’s love can look like through the love of those who love Him. Get well pictures from Dara and Dade, surprise visits from my friend Primrose (even on her birthday!), phone calls from other beloved friends such as Sylivia, check-ups from the neighbors, and bedtime fable stories from Carolyn. Oh my life :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

There is a time for everything

I'm fascinated by the changing of the seasons. Summer. Fall. Winter. Spring. Although it always feels like summer in Uganda, I’m not letting that stop me from celebrating fall. Last weekend I picked up a pumpkin in the market, and Monday, I decided to set to work on him. I’ve been determined to do some pumpkin-flavored baking, and making my own “puree” seemed to be the only option.

I decided that I couldn’t cut up my pumpkin without first taking the opportunity to carve him. It started as a fun, festive activity, however as my carving began to take shape, shame began to set in. My family would have been so disappointed in my work. It didn’t compare to previous years. In my defense, my knife was dull :) Nevertheless, my pumpkin was carved. Sadly for him, his life didn’t last long. After admiring my not-so-impressive creation, I dissected him and scraped out the goodies. I baked the pumpkin seeds and boiled the meat of the pumpkin.

As I spent the afternoon baking and reflecting about fall, I couldn’t help but think about how typically the season is a representation of things beginning to die. The thought of death also made me think of life and the many things in life I am thankful for. To me, life in itself is a gift. I took the opportunity to spend my fall afternoon celebrating life by praising God for everything I could think of to be thankful for. After thanking God for each person I could think of that I am thankful for, I transitioned to thinking more about death. Seems to me that one of two things can happen after a person’s death. One, people celebrate the life you lived and rejoice because you are with Jesus, or two, people mourn because the afterlife is uncertain and there is sorrow that accompanies uncertainty. I know with certainty that the day my funeral occurs, it will be a day of celebration. A celebration of my life lived for Christ alone. I fear that so many of us live “partially” for Christ, and yet is that even possible?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

What keeps us from believing that? What keeps us from living our lives to the full each and every day?

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction… Now choose life…” Deuteronomy 30:15,19

Every moment of every day we have a choice to make. Now choose life, and take joy in knowing you can live it to the full.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What a person desires is unfailing love.

Although, it is a compliment to be called fat in this country, it is not an honor I’m looking to receive. Therefore, I’ve begun running with Justus this week to get myself some cardio exercise. I’ve somewhat acclimated myself to the altitude by walking a couple miles most days, but running is just a whole other matter. As we were running, I said, “Ah! Justus it is so hilly in Mbarara!” He then felt the need to tell me that Mbarara was indeed the flattest land in Uganda. I said, “Justus, when you can look out for miles and miles and see nothing but land, that is flat. This is not.” As a native Nebraskan, I think I’ve acquired the expertise through life in the Great Plains to deem what qualifies as flat. No run through Uganda is without excitement.

Yesterday, as we were running we came up on a group of P7 students from the local primary school. A few weeks ago, I had asked the neighbor if I could go to the school to observe. She teaches there, so she said she would discuss it with the head mistress and let me know. Thanks to her help, the next Friday I woke up early and made the walk to school. I was under the impression that I was going to simply observe for a couple hours because I had made it very clear that I didn’t want to teach that day.

As I got to the school, I was ushered into the P7 (similar to our 7th grade) classroom. The teacher greeted himself and asked me to find an empty seat. I walked past the questioning stares and found an empty seat near the back. Before I knew it, a student had handed me a notebook and a writing utensil. The teacher looked at me and said, “You will have to turn around to see the book and follow along.” Unsure of what was going on, I did as I was told and huddled with a few other students around the geometry book to follow along. After a few minutes of verbal instruction, we worked through examples as a class. At first, I didn’t write anything down, but the girl sitting next to me softly whispered that I should get to work. It was at this point in time that I began to question what was going on. After about an hour of instruction, the teacher gave us some work to do independently and left. I thought, are they expecting to actually do this? When I set my pen down and closed my notebook, the looks I received told me the answer. Yes, I was expected to do the work. Much to my dismay, I opened up my notebook and copied down the problems. Math isn’t my strongest suit, and I made a couple mistakes on my paper. I scribbled them out and when the boy sitting behind me saw that I had “messy work”, he laughed at me. After two hours of math, I’d had enough and decided to leave. Yesterday, on my run, I discovered the answer. As Justus and I ran by the group of young students, they began pointing and shouting in Runyankore. “What are they saying?” I asked Justus excitedly. He responded, “They are saying, ‘Look it is our classmate!’” In a simple attempt to observe some teaching, I was mistaken for a seventh grader. Nothing like getting an insider’s view on education. Next time, I will have to clarify that not only do I not want to teach the class, but I do not want to be in the class either!

After my all-too-real flashback to middle school, I’ve decided to fully embrace my role as the sixth grade educator of Dara. I feel much more comfortable in the role of teacher than student in that environment. Plus, who wants to relive middle school? One time through was enough for me. Homeschooling has already stretched me as an educator more than I would’ve thought possible. Planning lessons for multiple subjects and of all different content areas has challenged me to be more creative. Not to mention, my knowledge has been increasing due to the amount learning I do alongside Dara. Many things I’m being called to teach, I haven’t been taught since sixth grade! Because I am an English-Language Arts teacher at heart, the poor girl has to read and write continuously. There seems to always be a way to incorporate writing, no matter what the content area, and it gives me great pleasure to tie it in! I just don’t believe there is such a thing as too much writing. Sorry Dara!

In addition to the joys of teaching, I am continually being challenged in my goal to be a life-long learner in other areas as well. Especially, when it comes to language learning. Despite the many frustrations that come with trying to pick up a new tongue, the times spent with our language teacher and friend, Sophie are irreplaceable. Last week, she bestowed me and Carolyn with the great honors of Runyankore names. So, in Uganda, I am now called Ankunda Kelsea. As Sophie sat down to tell me my name, the mood grew serious. She revealed that my name would be Ankunda and explained that it means ‘He loves me.’ Sophie said, “Let me ask you, can you live without blood in your body?” As I sat silently, she said, “No, and love is like blood. You can’t live without it in your body.” The moment was possibly one of my favorite memories thus far and a good reminder about the importance of our calling to love one another.

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” 1 John 3:23

If to love one another is one of the greatest commandments given, it must be important. It must mean something to love and to be loved. And, if it’s our command to love, then why do we struggle to show it? If we have the capacity to love others, and it can have influence in their lives, I pray that we take this commandment seriously.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7

I think Sophie was right. You can’t live without love.

Friday, September 30, 2011

God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

I've often been told God's timeline of doing things isn't my own. Amen to that. Patience is a virtue for a reason.

I haven’t set many records in my lifetime; however, in the short two months I’ve been here, I’ve already broken more records than I ever would’ve dreamed this girl was capable of.

1. Longest I’ve been out of the country (I knew that was going to happen, but still cool to realize!)
2. Most miles walked in a day for practical reasons
3. Highest number of visits to the post office in a week
4. Longest day streak without a shower
5. Most amount of lizard sightings
6. Most homemade meals

Those are only a few to name, and I'm interested to discover what others await me, but there is now one more to add to the list. A 20-day streak without power. It’s the longest power outage I’ve ever lived through and apparently the longest one in Nkokonjeru (the part of Mbarara we live in) according to missionaries who have spent the last 10 years here. I don’t know if it’s honor to be a part of history or an insult that they decided to wait until we moved in to make that happen. Either way, it’s now a part of my history, and one more thing to add to my record list. Carolyn and I actually did some calculations, and between this record breaking streak and the otherwise “regular” power outages due to load shedding, we’ve spent more time in Mbarara without power than we have with power. I’m hoping and praying that that statistic quickly becomes outdated.

Tonight started out pretty typical as Carolyn and I sat in our lightless kitchen eating dinner. Since it’s Friday, and we haven’t had much to eat without anywhere to store food, we decided to make some cookies to lift our spirits. The first batch had finished baking, so I walked over to the counter to prepare the next round for the oven. Thank goodness for moms who send the cookie mixes! I was carefully dropping the spoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheet when all of a sudden I saw the most beautiful sight I’d seen in a while.

None other than the little orange light on the coffee pot light lit up. What a glorious sign to show us that power had been restored! Sometimes I really appreciate God’s humor. He knows my heart so well.

Needless to say, the sounds of rejoicing that followed the discovery could be heard throughout all of Mbarara. It took our neighbor all of three minutes to run to our house to see if we’d made the discovery yet. The joy in my heart is still soaring, and I am very much enjoying the lighted living room, fully charged computer, and the cookies :) Can’t wait to step into the hot shower later! As of now, I’m letting the anticipation build.

Living in the moment yields itself new meanings to me every day. To just stop, take a step outside of my life and look, makes me realize what a blessing God has gifted me with to be here in Uganda. I want to make the most of what I've been give whether I am here or in America. While I love thinking about the "greater" themes and meanings and insights of life and what a single moment in time might become on the timeline of my lifetime, today I am simply enjoying this moment. A moment with power in my home is one more moment than I had the last two and a half weeks, and wow, am I cherishing that. It's more than enough to put a smile on my face today.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.

“Patience pays, but pains,” said the man who earnestly tried, with no success, to fix the generator.

Day 16 without power.

The power company has reported that there isn't a transformer in the country to fix the problem. I don't know what that means as far as ever having power again. Here is a picture of where the previous transformer was located:

Many things about not having power make life simpler. My nights end much earlier because there isn’t a whole lot to do in a pitch black house. I enjoy reading or writing by lantern light, but even after a couple hours of that it’s only 8:30 pm. My cooking skills have also been put to the challenge to see what you can whip up without having any refrigerated items in the house. Yesterday, I was quite delighted in the muffins I whipped up! However, I’m not too prideful to admit that I miss having a charged computer at my house. That being said, my selfish and number one prayer request for the week is that someday very soon either the power will be fixed or the generator will start working.

Every day I am learning, growing and being stretched. I’ve even unconsciously added a few Ugandan mannerisms to my behavior. I don’t know how to describe it, but there is an “Ah!” response you can give in specific situations. Today, I was talking with a young woman and without noticing responded with it. She said, “That was very African of you!” The other day I signaled a boda boda by raising my eyebrows. He looked at me, I raised my eyebrows and he stopped. Absolutely amazing! The use of these little signals helps me to feel a little bit more African, which helps me to feel like I fit in a little more. It is very refreshing to not always stick out like a sore thumb. Now, if only I could master a little more of the language learning, that would help dramatically. It’s very interesting how passionate I am about education, and yet, how poor of a student I am. Something has to change!

Lately, I’ve been challenged to trust God. To trust that He is not only working in me, but using me here. To trust that there will be a day when power lights up the house again. To trust that God's purpose for my life is good. It is a very interesting concept to me because for so many of us it seems so self-explanatory. Duh, why wouldn’t I trust the God of the universe? It’s on American money, “In God we trust.” So basic, and yet so difficult at times. I believe that God is sovereign. He is over all things and in complete control. Because I believe that, that means that everything in my life is at the disposal of His will. Do I trust in God’s goodness? Do I believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him …” (Romans 8:28)? I think that God’s “good” and my “good” might look different at times. Can I trust that He wants what is good for me? It’s a hard thing to swallow. Especially in the face of adversity. Especially when you see things in the world that break and claw at your heart. God, are you in control? What a silly question. Yes. He is. And, for whatever that means, I’m willing to make a sincere effort to trust in that.

“If God is for us, then who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

If the God of the universe, the all-powerful and all-knowing God, who is in control of everything is for me, then nothing in all of creation can be against me because it is all working “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will …” (Ephesians 1:11). How dare I doubt that?!

Last week I was challenged to hold the things entrusted to me with an open hand. After all, they are God’s to give and take away. I pray for peace in entrusting all the things in my hand to God.

And, I also pray for peace that though I do not understand why power is still refusing to enter into our home, that the God of the universe has it under control, and is working in even the tiniest of details out to the conformity of His will.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All your works praise you, Lord

Growing up in Waterloo, Nebraska, I went to Waterloo Public School from kindergarten through my freshman year of high school. The whole kindergarten through twelfth grade school was in one building and had less than 150 students combined. On days that I discovered we were having a pep rally, assembly, or a speaker I was filled with excitement. I loved watching the entire school file into the gymnasium to listen to either idolized upperclassmen or the highlighted speaker for the afternoon.

Martise Ivy is a name none of you probably recognize. Yet, I remember being in middle school and listening to the WNBA player speak to us about motivation and striving for excellence. As I sat there I was transfixed by her words of encouragement and believed with all that I was I could persevere to become what I wanted to be. At that time, I think I was hoping to play in the Olympics for the U.S.A. Women’s Hockey Team. I remember thinking to myself how cool it would be to motivate students the way she was with my words.

This weekend I got to live my long lost childhood dream, not by playing in the Olympics, but by speaking to an assembly of girls at Kyiezooba Girls’ Secondary School about the God I love and worship.

Saturday morning, Seb, Primrose and I piled into a matatu (taxi bus) that we tracked down near the post office. These public taxis are designed to hold 12-15 passengers; however, it isn’t uncommon to see 25 people packed in. I was pleased when ours had 20 passengers. When I was ushered into the front seat, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Despite that fact that the front seat is typically the most dangerous in the event of an accident, it was a risk I was willing to take. Only so many people can squeeze up there making my ride a little less uncomfortable than those sandwiched in the back. After a rather uneventful and quick ride, we arrived at our destination and were welcomed by the administration of the school. We enjoyed a Ugandan lunch, and then the three of us were led to the hall where the fellowship we would be speaking at would take place. I was informed that the crowd I was speaking to would be of about 200 girls. As I entered the hall, I was greeted with the sound of ethnic drums and an array of beautiful praise songs. It didn’t take long to realize the entire hall was packed, making the audience closer to 800 girls. What an introduction to public speaking.

Praise be to God that I was comfortable and confident before them! It was a touching moment when I realized that I had once dreamed about being a public speaker, and that dream was coming true in Uganda. God works in such unique ways and truly loves to give us the desires of our hearts!

The weekend was such a delight for me. After our speeches that afternoon, we retreated for tea before going back to meet with girls individually. As girls lined up to ask questions, seek advice and share their hearts, I was overwhelmed at the responsibility that comes with leadership. Truly a humbling experience and it made me realize my true level of dependency on God.

Saturday evening ended with a viewing of “Evan Almighty”. The sound system made the dialogue of the movie difficult to hear, so we tried putting on the captions. Despite how bad the sound was, in this “Ugandan version” of the movie the captions were worse. Quickly, we turned them off, but the girls chanted for them to be put back up. I don’t know if the movie itself was more entertaining or the awful interpretation of English that accompanied it.

I know I’ve spoken more than my share about my dismay for the many English variations here, but as the only American on this weekend excursion, my language patience was put to the ultimate test. The chaplain of the school continuously commented on my “complex” American accent. It made me want to pull my hair out. Doesn’t everyone know that Americans from the Midwest speak the clearest, least accented English in the entire world?!

Sunday morning, Seb gave the message and took advantage of opportunities to share truth. Following the sermon, we gave girls another chance to ask questions and discuss. It was so encouraging to be able to counteract lies with truth!

As our weekend in Kyeizooba came to a close, we were asked to visit and share an encouraging word with a family who had lost a son that week. I was very thankful that I wasn’t the one to share because I don’t know what you say in a moment like that.

Back in Mbarara, the power is still out. More rumors have circulated through as to the cause of it, but the most commonly confirmed one is that of the children throwing stones at the transformer. Our neighbor reported yesterday that Sunday there was a heated conversation that took place up the road between disgruntled civilians and the power company. Promises have been made that the problem will be fixed this week. I’m not holding my breath.

Yesterday, I discovered a little joint in town called “California Nails”. I had my first Ugandan pedicure, and I was overjoyed! It was a treasure of a find.

This week I’ve also discovered another pearl in town...a coffee shop! Yesterday, I went there to hide out for a while and have some quiet time. The owner sat down with me to talk about coffee shops in America. He went on to tell me about his difficulty in learning to steam milk. I jumped at the opportunity to offer my assistance, and today I went back to experiment with their espresso machine! The owner told me that anytime I’m in there and want to make my own creation, I’m more than welcome! How exciting! I think I may have just found myself a recreational job for the next year!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Let light shine out of darkness.

For anyone that knows me well, you know that I’ve often expressed my dream to travel the Oregon Trail. That dream is dead.

Every day I’m without power, I realize how much I enjoy the modern convenience of having it. Don’t misunderstand me, I still enjoy writing by lantern light, enjoying candlelight dinners with Carolyn and having it absolute dark at night. But, hauling my laptop places to charge it (only to have it die an hour later), cold showers, and rotten vegetables just aren’t floating my boat these days.

As tough as I think I am, I praise God that I’m not in the African bush, and that I’m not living in the days of the great American frontier.

Rumor has it power will be out for a month. I’m not sure how dependable word of mouth is around here, but I don’t think there are other sources to rely on either, so we’ll see. While the power outages we were previously experiencing every other night were due to what is called “load shedding”, this power outage has two possible causes. One rumor going around is that somebody stole a piece of the transformer. Must’ve needed a little extra cash. The other circulating story is that children were throwing rocks at the transformer and broke it. Either one of those makes the situation a little bit more frustrating because both are completely preventable! On the positive side, because it was just the transformer in our area, it has literally affected our home and maybe 10 others. The rest of Mbarara is still up and running. Therefore, other members of our team have power and have been extremely hospitable to those of us without. I’m not sure if there is a “greater purpose” for this experience or not. However, I find it a little bit strange that we have a generator in our backyard that’s main purpose is to tease us. The generator fires up and runs perfectly fine, except that for some reason it isn’t delivering power to our house. I’m hoping whatever lesson I’m supposed to learn from this experience hits me quickly so things can return to “normal”.

Some creatures I haven’t quite adjusted to yet here are the lizards. Despite my attempts to keep my bedroom door closed and the doors in and out of the house closed, the sneaky monsters find a way in. Fortunately for me, I’ve acquired a brotherly relationship with the young man who lives on our compound in a little house of his own. Justus has had to come remove a lizard or two from my room and is no longer shocked to hear my screams due to the unexpected sighting of one. The other night he popped in to talk, and I saw a lizard. “Justus!” I yelled. He went ahead and shooed the lizard out, and then sat me down to talk. He proceeded to tell me that he would commit me to his prayers that I would learn to better appreciate God’s creation. After all, God did create man and told him specifically to look after the rest of creation, including the “cute” lizards. I don’t want to underestimate God, but I think it might take a few more of you praying for this to become a reality.

Other than those minor inconveniences, life in Mbarara is going well. Every Wednesday and Friday afternoon, Carolyn and I have the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with our friend Sophie who has become our language teacher. Sophie was one of the first Ugandans we met in Mbarara when she approached us our first Sunday at church. Her smile was contagious then, and keeps me smiling every time I’m with her. Sophie is a patient teacher, and she has to be with my delayed ability to learn language. In the time we’ve been able to spend with her, we have learned much more from her than just language. Last Wednesday, as we were finishing up our language lesson, we were talking about dancing and having a girls’ night where I teach the Ugandans country line dances and they teach me and Carolyn traditional Ugandan dances. That is when Sophie saw the drum in our living room. It didn’t take long for her to fire up her rhythm and begin a traditional beat. It was a fun afternoon trying to catch on and learn a few steps to go along with it. Sophie’s patience prevailed as we can now keep the traditional beat for about ten seconds without her help. One more thing to add to my list of things to continue learning.

While I tend to struggle a bit with language learning in Runyankole, I think it is even more challenging to communicate in English. I think the major contributing factor is that you would think it would be easy to converse in a country that has named English as one of its national languages. However, despite common knowledge there are many variations of my mother tongue. Coming here, I knew that Uganda had been colonized by the British. I expected to come into a culture that used British English, so I was prepared for something a little bit different. Ugandan English is not a little bit different. There is already a cultural gap between me and my British teammates. I’ve had to have a few conversations with them to let them know it is not okay to greet me in the morning with their popular saying, “Are you alright?” It makes me wonder what appears to be wrong with me. Yet, Ugandan English feels like a different language altogether. Many times I wonder what I’ve said that day that was interpreted in a completely different way than I intended. I try to speak slowly, but that only gives the impression that I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s amazing how many people try to explain English words to me as if it isn’t my first language. I feel more self-conscious speaking English than I do Runyankole, and I only know about 15 words in that language.

That being said, this weekend I’m travelling out of town to Kyizoba for a conference at an all girls’ secondary school. It’ll be my first large group speaking engagement, so any prayers you want to devote to it would be very much appreciated! I look forward to updating you all on the experience.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” Colossians 4:2-4

That, my friends, is my prayer for this weekend. Feel free to deviate as you feel led :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Give me oil in my lamp. Keep me burning.

Give me oil in my lamp. Keep me burning.

The lyrics from my childhood are permeating my brain as I fill my kerosene lantern and pray that it will last another night.

For the last 36 hours Carolyn and I, along with everyone else who lives on our road, have been without power. Unfortunately, there is no light in sight.

Yesterday, I poured coffee grounds into the machine, carefully measured out the precise amount of water and added it in. Excited to enjoy a hot cup of freshly brewed joy, I flipped the switch to brew my coffee. Much to my disappointment, nothing happened. Right, I thought. No power. It was at this point in time that I was thankful for my 4 years of barista training at Scooter’s coffeehouse. I resorted to other methods of brewing coffee and still enjoyed my hot cup of delight.

The other day Carolyn and I were sitting in our dining room enjoying our self-proclaimed, Craft Day. As we were exerting our God-given, not necessarily gifted, art skills we heard a loud buzzing sound. We looked at each other wondering what we had just heard. “Could that have been a doorbell?” Carolyn asked. As quickly as the sound had interrupted our thoughts, it was gone and we got back to work. Yesterday, we were sitting out on the front porch and Carolyn found a button that slightly resembled a door bell. Could this be the source of the mystery sound we heard?! Carolyn pressed it, and I volunteered to go inside and listen for any possible sound. As she pressed it, and I anxiously awaited, I peered back outside. Nothing. Right, I thought again. No power. Whether or not we have a door bell and if that was the sound we heard remains an unsolved mystery as of now.

The past hours have also been a reminder of how dependent I am on modern conveniences. I had begun to think I was doing well without many conveniences such as not having a car, having to be home before dark, and power outages every other night. However, in this continuous power outage, I’ve realized how many conveniences I still have when the power is on and how much I enjoy them.

Fortunately for me, there are members on our team who live just down the hill and have a generator! God is good. All the time.

One question that I’ve been challenged with since being here is what church is going to be my home this year. It’s a very interesting thing to think through and experience, especially in a culture that is not your own. As I continue to ponder what my purpose is in attending church and what I am hoping to see through being involved in a church, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many different places of worship. This previous Sunday I went to a service held at an all-girls boarding school. My intention in going there wasn’t necessarily for church, but to connect with some of the young women at the school. What a blessing it turned into to worship with these girls. Hundreds of young women worshipping God. It was a blast. At one point in the worship, the dancing intensified. I thought to myself, what triggered that? The look on my face must’ve said it because the person next to me whispered, “This is a traditional dance beat here.” The enthusiasm behind the way they worshipped was contagious. It was alive. It was a blessing to be in their midst.

The answer to my question still remains open, and that’s okay. Just like so many other things here, I take it day by day. God is sovereign and is working in me in more ways that I alone can see. I was reading a book today about faithfulness. The author was addressing a reader’s concern in being faithful to one person forever. The author responded, “Can you be faithful to that person today?” The reader responded, “Well, of course I can today. It’s the future that I’m worried about.” The author then said, “Life is just a series of todays over and over again.” And, I’m going to let that be my response to living, too. I don’t have to have the answers for what is going to happen 3 months from now or 3 years from now. But, can I be faithful to what God is asking me to do today? Yes. And, the rest will take care of itself.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Live by faith, not by sight.

Well, today was my first day as the official home school teacher of one of the missionary children on the team, Dara!

My morning started off on an interesting note when I awoke from dreams of a Scooter’s carmelicious and a Relevant Sunday service. If anyone can figure out how to package me up one of those delicious treats and send it my way, I’d be very much appreciative! My dream was so realistic; I could taste the smoothness of the espresso, the cold of the whip cream, and the warmth of the perfectly steamed milk. It was even a medium, a 16 ounce, my favorite size. Ah, it was, of course, too good to be true. As for my dream about Relevant, I hope and pray that the faces I saw in my dream really will be there one day!

After rising to reality, I walked over to the Skinner’s house to begin the school year. It was my first time walking that distance, and I was so proud that I could navigate the entire way. I knew that they lived on a hill, but that hill seemed much more like a mountain as I climbed it with five books on my back. A nice way to get a little extra morning exercise, I guess.

The day went smoothly and filled me with so much excitement for the year! There is just something so strong that ticks within me about education. I crave it! So, having the opportunity to do some teaching is such a blessing.

I realized last night that I still have a long way to go as far as acclimating myself to Africa. It’s usually just when I think I’m adjusting that I’m not. Yesterday, I found a gecko in my room. I’ve been trying so hard to keep those squirmy things out and alas to no avail. I purposefully keep my door closed and quickly shut it behind me when entering and leaving. It was a crushing blow to find the lizard in my room. Low and behold, the faithful young man who lives behind us came to save the day when I called for him. Through what seemed like a treacherously long search for the little monster, we found him. He was, not so kindly, escorted out of my bedroom and not welcomed back!

This week is really kicking off my daily life here as my schedule is filling up with homeschooling, discipleship meetings, and language learning. I would really appreciate prayer for clarity on how to best focus my time while I’m here.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should.” Ephesians 6:18-20

I don’t know all of the details of what I’m doing here, but I would love prayer for strength that no matter where I am I would be able to speak fearlessly and in truth the gospel message.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Luke 12:11-12

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17

I pray that no matter where I am or what I am doing that it would all be out of love.

"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7

I have faith that even though I can't see what God is using me for that I am bringing glory to Him.

I also have faith that even though I can't see it now, I will have that caramelicious in my hand as I walk into Relevant Community Church one day. Until then I'll keep dreaming :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand.

Many, many topics ignite fiery passion within me, but one that never fails to yield a strong opinion on my behalf is that of education. As school is starting back up in America and students here in Uganda prepare to enter their third term, the part of me that loves to teach is stirring for action.

Last, Saturday I discovered that Sunday after church I would have the opportunity to travel 2 ½ hours to a village out in the Kamwenge district of Uganda to stay for a few days. Typically, home stays for our team members are done closer to Mbarara, but because our unit leader knew Beth, a teacher with vision and knowledge that gives life to education, Carolyn and I were blessed with the chance to stay with her. Not only did I have the wonderful counsel of Beth on the subject of school education, but I lived a hands-on experience of what it takes to live in Africa.

After spending 3 days in Kamwenge village with that woman and sharing and learning from her, my fire for education has been relit.

Beth is involved in a ministry that was inspired by a local man here in Mbarara. His vision for the people in Kamwenge is contagious. Especially when you see his inspiration and motivation behind everything they are doing in that village. Beth has begun a primary school that in just one year has wrangled in more than 50 local children. In addition to the early education primary school, Kamwenge Secondary Vocational School is also located on the same plot of land. Here, students are challenged to go through the formal education system or to engage in vocational industries. In everything that is happening in this village, sharing the love of Jesus Christ is at the center. In only a few short days of being out there, I was reminded of what my motivation for every second of every day should be! Sharing the love of Christ and making disciples.

During my time there, I was able to experience some of the “real Africa”. I learned to cook over a charcoal stove in the great outdoors. Making chapatti, boiling water, cooking g-nut sauce… whatever is baked, fried, or steamed, it all happens over the fire.

I walked like an African woman as we traveled from place to place on foot. During our walks, I observed African village life and practiced my struggling Runyankole with the locals. The smiles on their faces never fail to bring me joy when I greet them in their language. However, I’ve noticed that I know just enough of an introduction to make them think I know the language. It’s very deceptive. As soon as they begin responding, I’m lost. But, this upcoming week I’m going to begin language learning again, hopefully it will take root in my brain! Much to my delight, at the end of our stay with Beth, we were dubbed with the title of “Real African Women”. Women of Africa are “women of substance”, therefore, the honor was one that was not easily earned and is of high value to me!

Out of all of the wonderful experiences I had among Beth’s family and village, my favorite memories are from our evening fellowships. Between singing along to a live recording of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and practicing our African speeches through role playing, the laughs we shared will not be soon forgotten. Culture is an interesting thing, and my thoughts about it are continually evolving. So many different factors contribute to what makes up a culture and though we are separated by so many of those things, the love of Jesus Christ and universal qualities of humankind unite us.

Discussing Ugandan education with Beth, reminded me of how much I truly care about it worldwide. I don’t care what people say, I think there is some inherit value in learning alone. There is power to it. I believe the more we know, the smaller we become and the more we are aware of how much we actually don’t know. While there is power in education and it holds the keys to so many of the world’s issues, the vastness of it leads me back to our Savior. There is so much to understand, and the more I try to understand it, the more I become aware of the greatness of my Creator. It is only through Him that I am able to comprehend anything at all! Truly all learning is a gift, and I will continue to seek it! If you think you have a grasp on education, I would venture to say you’ve missed the point of it. The second that you think you can understand the many wonders of our God, is the moment that you’ve created a different god. He’s simply too infinite to understand.

“My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long – though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:15-18

“By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew. My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.” Proverbs 3:19-22

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding… Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your sou. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you…” Proverbs 2:8, 9-11

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

See I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction... Now choose life.

After the long wait, I’m finally here!

Last Friday, I finally was able to make the 4 ½ (ish) hour drive south to my new home in Mbarara, Uganda! Along the way, I was blessed with some memorable moments.

First off, to get to Mbarara you have to cross the equator! So, to any of you who watched the movie A Walk to Remember and fell in love with Shane West when he took Mandy Moore to the state line so that she could fulfill her bucket list goal of being in “two places at one time”, I did it! Except I happened to be in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time!

A few hours following that we entered an area where I’d heard rumors that it was possible to sight zebras along the way, and much to my delight, we did! Our driver had quite the eye and was able to spot them even though they were hardly visible from the road. Luckily, zebras are pretty calm animals (that’s what they told me anyway), and we were able to get out of the vehicle and go have a closer look!

Although I have wonderful memories from Kampala and the trek down to Mbarara, it is so good to be settled. Carolyn and I moved into our house on Sunday and have been enjoying the task of making it our own. When you look at the pictures down below, please don’t mistake that I really am in Africa. I’m extremely blessed to be able to live in such a beautiful compound during my year here.

One of the many perks in this beautiful compound is the basketball hoop in the driveway. I haven’t told my brother Levi yet, but this is fair warning that I’ve already been practicing my jump shot. When I come back in a year, he better be ready to face a new and improved basketball player here!

I think I’ve already briefly mentioned this, but as of right now, power is kind of hit and miss. I don’t really understand the whole situation, but what I do know is that sometimes the light switches work and sometimes they don’t. Last night, they didn’t. While Carolyn and I managed to buy lanterns, with a lot of help from our team leader, Jill, we forgot to pick up the kerosene. It was a funny moment when I mentioned to Carolyn how excited I was to write a letter with only light shining from the lantern and we both realized that wouldn’t be happening. It turned out even better though, when I took a blast to the past, and wrote my letter by candlelight. I’m fulfilling years’ worth of daydreams here people!

Time has always fascinated me, but as of lately, it’s become an even more interesting concept to me. I truly can’t fathom it and have stopped trying to understand how it works, especially in a new culture. It seems to me that just when you think you have it down, you figure out you don’t. Anyway, my days are a mixture of slow and go. I really don’t have a set schedule yet, which has been so amazing to just enjoy my quiet times of reading and resting. However, I’ve found that the quiet times have been much needed because when we are out and about it just so quickly drains me! The amount I have to learn is just overwhelming so I guess it’s a very good thing I’ve committed myself to being a life-long learner.

One thing that has been heavy on my heart lately is how valuable our time here on earth is. Nowhere, have I found, in the Bible does God guarantee us tomorrow. So what does that mean for us today? It means that we are not to live in fear, but to live in boldness. To live a life worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1) everyday.

It is so straightforward in the Bible.

“Therefore, GO and MAKE DISCIPLES of ALL nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Whether, I am in Uganda or Nebraska or anywhere else on the face of the earth, I pray my life reflects that and yours too. What else are we living for, but to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of Him? Is there anything more worthy of living for than that? Regardless of skin, occupation, social class, location, nationality, reputation… anything, we are all broken and lost without a Savior. Everyone needs Jesus.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Search me, God, and know my heart.

"I wanna feed the hungry children and reach across the farthest land. And, tell the broken there is healing and mercy in the father's hands." - Britt Nicole''

That's my cry today. The last few days have been filled with lots of different emotions for me. Moments of laughter and moments of tears. I'm perceiving that life is going to be that way quite often this year.

Flexible is a term that I've been well-aquainted with my first week here. Last Thursday Carolyn, Cassandra, and I were transferred to a differnet inn because more missionaries came in to stay at Matoke Inn. I don't try to understand African logistics, and instead, just do what I'm told.

Moving to the inn up the way was definitely good for my legs in the multiple times I've had to walk from there to Matoke over the past few days. The first time I rode up there in a vehicle I was literally a bit scared that the SUV would topple over backward. The slope was that steep. This morning I was also reminded of how steep the hill was when I slid down it, injuring my purple painted big toe and giving me the first strawberry on my knee in a long time. It wasn't pretty. A local man walking up the hill at the same time had to have had a good laugh.

After settling in to the new quarters Thursday evening, Carolyn brought to my attention the slight slope in my bed. The bed legs at the head of my bed were a good 3 inches taller than the ones at the bottom.

The elevation ended up being good for my allergies and a nice little incline for bedtime reading! As we climbed into bed that night, I thought I heard the sound of rain outside. I thought to myself, what a joy it would be since I sleep so well during storms. However, with a little exploring, Cassandra discovered that it was no storm, but rather the leak of the water tower outside of our room. Not a good thing when you have a limited water supply. I kind of wonder if that directly related to the trickle that flowed from our shower head the next few nights...

Friday, we went through some more inland orientation and spent time in fellowship with the other missionaries staying at Matoke Inn. Since we girls were staying at the other location up the hill, we were instructed to make the trip back before dark. One thing about being near the equator is that you pretty much have a consistent 12 hours of sunlight a day. 7 a.m to 7 p.m. It gets dark early and when you have inconsistent electricity, sometimes when it's dark, it's dark. At about 7:30 Friday night I had to have an intervention with Carolyn and instruct her to get out of bed.

Language learning began Saturday morning and the rest of the day was truly full of rest. Good African Coffee is becoming a place I dream about during the day. I miss Scooter's, and it's the Scooter's of my African living!

Through orientation and language learning I've had the blessing of making a great friend in a local Ugandan woman. Sunday she invited us to go to church with her, and what a blessing it was! University Community Fellowship made my day. I was blessed with great fellowship and solid Biblical teaching.

Sunday was also my first day of learning how to ride the boda side saddle due to my skirt. The local girls make it look so elegant and easy. In my head, I looked that way too. Don't listen to any other stories. Fortunately, I was able to effectively communicate to my driver to drive slowly. He listened and it made for a delightful little joyride! After a very nice lunch at Javas, we had to leave Kampala and head back to Lubowa. The best and safest way to get back is by taking a taxi. However, in order to get to the taxi park, you have to make your way through some of the lower parts of inner city Kampala. A taxi in America looks much, much different than a taxi in Kampala. It's not a private hire, but a public taxi.

The sights at the taxi park are unbelievable. Yesterday, it was the sight on the way to the taxi park that continues to haunt me. There are some things on earth that can break your heart at the sight of them and I experienced a little bit of that Sunday afternoon. What breaks my heart break even more is the fact that I've seen such a small percentage of hurting and suffering in the world. It's everywhere. And, if you think America is exempt from that, you are living in a lie.

By the time we got to the taxi park, I was a little shaken up, and the taxi park isn't the ideal location to catch yourself in when you're feeling that way. It is mass chaos. If there are any traffic laws down there you wouldn't know it. It's a bump and grind of multiple taxi vans. Bumping the vans into each other is really no big occurence. Just keep moving. It's the motto for the vans, and what I have to tell myself when I'm down there. As a muzungu (white) in the inner city, people fight for your attention. It's a little sickening, which didn't help how I was already feeling. Thanks to the two teammates we were with, Carolyn and I were able to safely make it back to Lubowa.

Last night contained one of my favorite moments. When it was time to clean up after dinner, Jacob (a fellow Nebraskan!) and I took on the dishes. I'm not exactly sure what spurred the conversation on, but for some reason Jacob asked if I knew of the "Tush Push". For all of my country line dancing friends reading this, can you guess what happened?! Jacob and I broke out into the tush push there on the kitchen floor. Another missionary, Harrison commented, "Now this is the kind of thing I was talking about when I asked what you do in Nebraska!" Ah. It was definitely a moment I needed and am cherishing that I got to experience on Ugandan soil.

Another comical moment from last night happened back at our lodging place up the hill. Carolyn and I were having some quiet time in the room, when we heard Cassandra on the phone on our balcony say, "Okay, I'm going to have to let you go. There are bats flying around my head." With the door open, I am praising God that one of those creatures didn't make its way inside.

We happen to be settled back in at Matoke Inn now due to a few other reasons, and it's nice to have a generator, consistent shower and internet access.

In spite of all the light-hearted moments including one like the sign below,

the past few days have been a strong reminder to me about how no matter where we are in the world, we are all hopeless without a Savior.

"Jesus answered, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" John 14:6

Jesus is the only hope for the world.

"I am the vine; you are the branches If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

Of this truth, I am constantly reminded. Apart from Jesus I can do nothing.

This week will be my last in Kampala and on Friday I will finally move to Mbarara. I'm so excited to begin what will be my life there for the next year. I would definitely appreciate your continued prayers.