Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The dream is still different.

I’m selfish because I’m mostly blogging about this to reassure myself.  I wrote a blog on July 11, 2011 titled, “My dream is different now." I’m basically reposting the same blog with some edits and revisions because in case you haven’t seen this in your own life, I’ll testify that often things tend to circulate back through my life. Lessons I think I’ve learned are challenged at a deeper, more intense level.

So anyone who knew me intimately a few years ago, or talked to me on a bad day this year, could attest that all too often my dream for myself was, and has a tendency to be, the American dream. The midwest, small-town dream. You know the one. The hard-working husband, finely-furnished house, and respectable teaching job. The life that is a reality for many of my American friends, and that’s okay. It’s okay because it’s where God has put them; it’s where God has equipped them to be; it’s where God has set their mission field.

But, my dream is different now, and for some reason that scares me.

God made me a promise a long time ago when it was written, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

What a beautiful promise!

And yet, so many of us are frustrated because we feel like God isn’t being faithful to us in this because we think we know what we want, and if it’s not happening then God is failing to come through. I’m tempted to doubt the very character of God when I question His goodness and when I fail to trust that He is true to His word.

But could it be, in these moments of thinking, that I’m not delighting myself in the Lord, but in the ways of the world? Could it be that the real God-given desires of my heart are revealed when I’m in intimate relationship with my God? Could it be that my dream is different than I thought it would be?

Yeah, I think it could be.

You know what’s scary about that to me? The fact that I often think the God-given desires of my heart are greater than I’m willing to admit. The fact that because of God’s Spirit alive in me, my American dream pales in comparison to my God-given dream. The fact that I'm unsure of where those truths are going to lead me.

Content. Joyful. Peaceful. Loving. God, allow these to be adjectives that reflect who I am in you.

Isn't it funny how it all works together? The Almighty, Sovereign God of the Universe has plans for my life. Plans that align with His will and with the desires deep within my heart.

Back in July, I wrote, “I don't know what my desires will be a year from now. But, I can tell you that because I will live a life focused on Christ, my desires will be Christ-given. Because they are from God alone, they, too, will be fulfilled.”

If knowing my desires means I have to know my plans then I’m no closer to knowing now than I was then. I don't know or have a plan for what this new dream exactly is. But, what I can tell you is that without a plan, my desire is still the same: to live a life focused on Christ, to first love God and then love others, and to glorify God.

I want to live life out of a "love that surpasses knowledge", wherever that may be.

Yes, somehow even without knowing what it is, my dream is different now. Praise God.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A lion hunting we will go.

A lion sighting? For anyone who ever doubted, I really do live in Africa.

This morning on my boda ride to the Skinners' to home school Dara I heard from my driver, Godwin, that last night a lion was spotted in our community! Unsure of the reliability of the news, I quickly called my friend Sophie who confirmed that a lion had been spotted near her house, at the Kings' Tombs, up the hill from our house. After hanging up, I called my neighbor Willis, who is the local chairman of Nkokonjeru. He also said a lion was in our community and the game wardens were coming to help them hunt it down today. In the excitement of it all, I made one last call to another neighbor Richard, just to quadruple check. Unfortunately, Richard was out of town. Our talk was a little bit disconnected due to a language barrier, and I was unsure if he understood what I had said in the first place. He called me back about five seconds after I'd hung up to tell me if I found the lion to be still and not run. Other advice I've received on what to do if I encounter the lion includes putting a stick on top of my head and roaring back at it. While I'm not sure how I feel about any of those potential options, I haven't had the opportunity to try any of them despite my attempts today to encounter the lion.

After the initial excitement of telling and conversing about the lion sighting, Dara and I continued our day at school. However, the curiosity continued to brew while our excitement grew, so decided to go on a hunt for the lion after lunch. We left Dara's house on Charles' boda and headed for Nkokonjeru. On the way, I asked Charles if he'd heard anything more about the lion. He said he'd heard possible ideas for where it might be and drove us in the direction of the general vicinity. As we continued driving, he said, "Now, we're in the danger zone." Our tough facade quickly faded, and we decided to ask Charles to take us home. But, once we were back at my house, we regained our courage and decided to investigate the community ourselves. So we put on the closest thing to camouflage we could find, grabbed our pepper spray, and set out on our adventure.

On our trek through my neighborhood, we happened to recruit a little army of our own. I made them think we were playing follow the leader, but little did they know, I was actually training them on the proper way to sneak attack a lion...

My army is meaner and tougher than they look...
Like good reporters and lion hunters, we started by going to where we knew the lion had been spotted in order to gather facts, interview locals, and make inferences about where our search should go next.

Lion sighting scene #1: The Kings' Tombs
Relative of the lion's victims. 
Sophie reported earlier this afternoon that the lion had killed and devoured two goats and three pigs. The tension only continued to rise as we learned that our teammate and neighbor, Zillah, confirmed that her neighbor's dog died late last night due to the injury of a lion bite.

"What I know is that the lion is a fierce animal," said Charles, one of Nkokonjeru's boda drivers.

Despite Dara and I's most sincere efforts to trap the lion, our heroic tale has not been concluded. Word has it that there is a specific horn that gets blown in the event of a wild animal sighting. It sounds in our valley and echoes off of the hills surrounding it. Last night, I didn't know to listen for such a thing, but now I do.

"In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight..."

Well, it might be how the song goes, but in Nkokonjeru it's at night that the lion comes to life.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Not-So-Secret Life of an American Missionary

I remember sitting in one of the busiest, most diverse airports on my way to Uganda people-watching and thinking, what are the odds I’m going to see someone I know? I’m not talented enough at math to even guess at what the improbabilities of that might have been, and I didn’t like facing the reality that I wasn’t going to unexpectedly run into a familiar face. I remember thinking that my chances were even slimmer once I arrived in Uganda.

It made me a little sad because of how much I love running into people I know. You know, like when you go to Village Pointe Mall and you’re walking around, and you just happen to bump into 10 people you know? And, even though, you are in Omaha, you have that feel of a small town. The feel as if you belong somewhere. People know who you are and care enough to stop and chat for a few minutes or at least wave and let you know that all Husker apparel is 15 percent off today at Scheels. It’s a good feeling.

Now, I live in Uganda and have for the last seven months. For a huge portion of that time, hearing someone say my name or running into someone I knew when I was out and about was a rare occasion. Sometimes I would think I heard someone say my name, and then I’d laugh and remind myself, seriously, a decent part of the population can’t pronounce my name, let alone recognize me from any other white person they might see around Mbarara, and who really knows me anyway? I want to explain that my name, “Kelsea”, is completely foreign here. First of all, the “l”s in Runyankore sound quite similar to “r”s causing the two letters to be switched and interchanged quite often. But then throw an “s” into the name and it’s just a little too much. The “s” often comes out as a “th” sound, and usually either the “l” or the “s” gets omitted from my name making it sound like “Casey” or “Kathy”. I often think it's a good thing that my parents have been calling me by the name of one of my seven siblings for the last several years, so I’m used to answering to an unfamiliar name. Most of the time, when people that don’t know me are actually talking to me they are calling me things like, “muzungu”, “sweetheart”, “my dear”, “my sister”… you get the picture. But, the other day I was on a boda with one of my favorite drivers, Charles, when I thought I heard a group of boda drivers yell my name. I laughed and confided in Charles about how sometimes I think I hear people calling my name before I realize how silly that is. And, then he laughs and says, “No, they really are saying your name. They just think it’s Kathy. You know, short for Katherine. ” This makes me laugh even harder, more at just the joy of knowing that people do know me in this community. So I tell Charles, “I actually kind of like that name. Will you just let them believe that?” He laughs, and says okay.

It wasn’t long after our arrival in Uganda that Carolyn and I were sitting out in the front yard trying to catch some sun. We had on tank tops and shorts, completely inappropriate dress for stepping outside of our compound. But, due to the large, thick hedge and sturdy, orange gate we felt comfortable and safe wearing it around the yard. As we sat there, we began to hear voices coming from different sides of the yard and at different angles. I think it was Carolyn who noticed the children peeking through the hedge and yelling at us, “You are beautiful!” Meanwhile I asked, “Carolyn, are those children that are up in that tree on the other side of the hedge?” Sure enough, they were. Apparently, Nkokonjeru's version of the neighborhood watch was curious as to finding out more about us girls. 

Another day and I’m on the back of Charles’ boda again. He’s picked me up from the local university after spending the night there with my girl friends. Because he’s also the one who dropped me off there the day before, he realizes that I never came home for the night. As we near my house, he tells me, “Okay, Kelsea, just so you know, you’re going to be home alone. I took Martha to town about an hour ago, and I saw Carolyn walking on Nkokonjeru Road.” It’s a simple dialogue and one that occurs frequently. No unexpected surprises for me.

“You have been lost.” Translation: “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in a while.” If I haven’t gone to the post office in three days, if I haven’t stopped in at my friend’s cafĂ© yet that week, if I miss a few afternoons of sitting on a bench at campus, or skip shopping at Pearl Supermarket one week, that is the response I get.

People in our community keep tabs on us. I don’t even think it’s on purpose, but they know. And, what a blessing that is. I wish I could tell you the peace of mind I have knowing that if anything ever happened to me or either of my roommates, people in the community would notice the absence of the white girls.

In a relational culture privacy isn’t a familiar concept. Our Ugandan friends are always asking us, “What do you do when you are home alone?” We have long lists of things, but often just tell people we like to read. What astounds our friends the most is when they discover that we spend “alone time” in our rooms by ourselves. Sometimes our neighbor Dorcas will come over and be working in the house when one of us will surface from our bedrooms. She is often caught by surprise and responds, “Ah I didn’t know anyone was home!” And, then it is to our pleasure to let her know that actually we are all home, just shut up in our rooms. It just doesn’t make much sense to people. 

So, thanks to this very relational culture I live in, not only does someone know where I am at all times, but I’ve also finally reached the point where there isn’t a time that I leave the house that I don’t bump into someone I know. It’s different than the random boda drivers yelling hello to me. These kind of run-ins are with people who I’ve actually conversed with, met somewhere, and been formally introduced to. And, even though, I’m in a town, a country, a culture, that was once completely foreign to me, I have that feel of a small town. The feel as if you belong somewhere. People know who you are and care enough to stop and chat for a few minutes or at least wave and let you know that you are dressed smart and your roommates are at the market. It’s a good feeling.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's a beautiful ride.

I went into Kampala all by myself.

Am I prideful? Yes. Am I ashamed to admit that? No.

I've been guided into the city of Kampala many times by Ugandan friends and other missionaries, but last week I ventured into the crazy, hectic, confusing city for the first time all by myself.

My journey began when I left Matoke Inn, Africa Inland Mission Central Region's guesthouse located outside of Kampala. I rode a boda down to Entebbe Road and found a taxi to ride into town. As we neared the taxi park, I paid the conductor, hopped out and crossed the street. "Stop, look, and listen" doesn't apply here. Sorry, Mom. "Walk fast, dodge, and continue moving" are the rules I apply to crossing the street in Kampala, and it's no easy feat. I actually purposefully try to not cross the street, and instead, plan out routes in my head to get from point A to point B without having to cross the street by myself. Should that be embarrassing? If you've been to Kampala, I don't think you'd think so. Anyhow, I crossed the street by myself to get to a boda stage and from there I rode to my destination in the city where I was able to meet up with a long term missionary involved in university discipleship. It was a delightful and encouraging meeting! After spending the afternoon with her, I hopped another boda that took me to the taxi park. I wish I could accurately describe Kampala's old taxi park. Hundred's of white, metal, death-trap-looking vans that are poorly labeled, yet somehow, purposefully organized within the lot based on where they are going. It's threatening, hard-to-navigate, and confusing. But, I did it! I got on the correct taxi and made it back to Matoke Inn without getting lost! It was a little confidence booster for my African-living mindset.

Prior to this trip to Kampala, I harbored an extremely negative perspective of the city. However, it's redeemed itself for me. I noticed many differences in the city since August, some of which included improved cleanliness and even trash bins labeled, "Keep Kampala City Clean", and also less congestion on the sidewalks making it easier to walk and not feel like I was being trampled. In addition to that, I was able to meet other missionaries, network together, and be encouraged by them, all while enjoying a well-steamed latte with quality roasted espresso. Clearly, that's the easiest way to my heart!

A highlight of the trip was definitely the day that Carolyn and I went to Destiny Children's Home to visit our sponsor children. The last time we'd seen the girls was in the summer of 2008, and they have grown up so much since then!
In 2008...
... and, in 2012.
One of the most notable realizations of the visit though wasn't how much they had changed, but how much I had changed. Visiting Destiny was one of the most memorable moments of my first trip to Uganda and being back there made me realize how much has happened within me since then. I'm not viewing this country for the first time, but with a better understanding of the culture and of the world and of me and of my beliefs. And, I have only begun learning. The way that all ties together and affects my viewpoints and my stances makes me realize that I have opinions and beliefs about things I wasn't even aware of a couple years ago. It was such a testimony to me about how God truly has been faithful in my life and has continued to be at work within me even when I'm not aware of it.

"... being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

On a lighthearted note, here are some things that made me laugh in Kampala:  

The English teacher in me cringes.

"Titanic Quality"

I wonder if Obama was there for the grand opening?

 "Smiles guaranteed"... Really?

 Where am I again?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A promise and a name.

I’m not writing about this because I’m an expert at it. If you could tip the top off of my head and read my thoughts and if you could open up the door to my heart and search its depths, you would know that I’m the furthest thing from that. But, it’s relevant to my life because it’s present in my life. And, its name is fear.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Promises. Placed specifically and purposely all throughout the Bible. Promises, assurances, and guarantees - from God.

So why, when assurances are easily accessible for me to find that were given to me, do I find myself at times crippled with fear? Afraid to make decisions? Fearful of the unknown? Of disappointing others? Of compromising my future?

Because it’s in those moments that I’ve forgotten who I am.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba  Father.’ Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:14-17

I’m not my own, and I’m not on my own.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Really, it’s all quite simple.

“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…” Matthew 28:19-20

And, once again there’s a promise that accompanies those instructions.

“… and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

As I seek the Lord and follow the Spirit, the evidence of that will reside in my soul.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

There's a difference between being alive and living.

So, everyone is posting things about Joseph Kony. One of the world's worst war criminals. Previously active in Uganda. Now terrorizing Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Central Africa Republic.

The man that challenges me in loving my enemies more than anyone else. 

But, I don’t want to talk about him because the mention of his name makes my blood turn hot.

Instead, let’s talk about what he’s stolen from so many families: life.

He’s murdered, mutilated, and destroyed.  

Those who’ve managed to survive are the living dead.

Still victims, and now persecutors.

The way that so many individuals have been robbed of life makes me physically ill. 

Children have grown up in this army. Children that have grown into adults. Children that have never experienced a different kind of life.

What could be possibly more disturbing than this whole situation? 
1. It’s still going on.
2. It’s real. Real people. Real lives. Real war. 
3. That there are billions of people in the world who have the chance, the opportunity to live lives worthy of being lived and don’t. 
4. The way people have a tendency to bandwagon about hot issues and then jump off. 
5. It’s still going on.

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

Something is seriously wrong.

And, what’s the world doing about it? Well, now we’re talking. A whole bunch of people are talking about it, and that’s great because it’s creating awareness.

But, don’t talk about it today, if you’re going to forget about it tomorrow. 

Please don't talk about it, if you're not willing to pray about it too. Because clearly, something is wrong.  People are talking. Things are happening. But the thief is still stealing, killing, and destroying. 

So what can we do?

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
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 6:10-20
So, pray.

Just a few memories from my first trip to northern Uganda in July of 2008. 

The trip that awakened my heart to Uganda, the destruction of the LRA, and the joy of those whose hope is in the Lord. 

"He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Isaiah 61:1

Monday, March 5, 2012

Normal? What does that even mean?

Life never fails to excite me and give me a good laugh. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days that I want to cry, but when it’s laugh or cry, I have to go with laugh. I know I’ve probably said it before, but if there’s one word I can use to describe the way I’ve been challenged this year, it’s flexible. Being flexible. Accepting situations for what they are. Embracing a way that isn’t my own. Learning to thrive in a multitude of environments, regardless of circumstances.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

The last week and a half has been one of many experiences, fun memories, and opportunities to be joyful.

Since returning to the beautiful country of Uganda after my visit home, I’ve been intentionally spending time with the university girls in addition to homeschooling Dara. My friends and I kicked last weekend off by having a sleep over at the girls’ flats near campus. After having our weekly bible study, enjoying dinner together, and hanging out at our church’s Friday night gathering, we went back to the flats and had a girls’ night. We brought in mattresses from another room, laid them out on the floor, cuddled up in our pajamas and blankets, made some hot chocolate and put in Tangled. As I was lying there, I couldn’t help but smile at how wonderful it was to just enjoy the lovely young women who I get to do life alongside. It just felt so normal. I hate that I use that word because I don't have any idea what it means anymore, but sometimes it's just how I feel. Praise God for authentic relationships.

I've adopted the theory that if you want to spend time with the university students, go to where the university students are. And, in Mbarara that happens to be M.U.S.T., the local university. Therefore, starting last week, I’ve begun spending a few afternoons a week camping out on a bench on campus. It’s funny to me how often these students have lecturers cancel their classes, and it’s funny to them to see me sitting at their campus for no apparent reason. While the educator part of me hurts inside at how often they don’t have lectures, the part of me that just wants to spend time talking and fellowshipping with my friends rejoices! I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to spend much more time with them by becoming a part of their space.

Another exciting part of the last week was my first (and hopefully last) experience with tear gas. I won’t go into details about it, but I’ll tell you it works. Burning, stinging, tearing. Just thinking about it can make me feel the pain of it. Due to the experience, my Friday night plans were rearranged and instead Carolyn, our friend Grace from Kigali, and I spent the evening at home.

This Saturday, my dear friend and neighbor had invited me to go to visiting day at her daughter’s school. Honored at the invitation, I quickly accepted. The plan was to go to Kasheka and back. The 10 minute drive that took two hours.  Before we even got out of Mbarara, our car broke down three times. The third time, the car had broken down in the middle of the road on a hill. Thankfully, we were pushing downhill. The general population got a good laugh at seeing a white girl help push the car, and I was happy to give it to them. It also helped us reel in a few extra helping hands. After deeming the car irreparable for the time being, we began walking to Ishanyu. It wasn’t far, and once we arrived, we waited for another car to come pick us up. The school in Kasheka was about 10 kilometers away, and I’m confident that I could’ve walked the distance at a leisurely pace in the amount of time we sat waiting for the next car to come and get us. Finally, we made it to the school and got to sit with our friend for about 20 minutes before visiting day was over. It was quite the trip.

The grand finale to the weekend was last night’s All-Campus Praise Rally at the university. It was a conjoined effort put on by two local churches, which have large student populations, and the student fellowship of the university. It was such a joy to see so many students, the body of Christ, brought together for a night of worship. I was so impressed by the organization, the collaboration, and the amount of students who came. But, greater than all of these was the pleasure I also had in reflecting upon the glory of my God. I left with a strong sense of encouragement.

Life here has a way of being completely what I’d expect it to be and completely surprising at the same time. The normalcy of my life here compared to my life in America sometimes blows me away. And, yet the way in which I respond to notsonormal situations also surprises me sometimes. Sometimes something happens and later I wonder, why was I not shocked by that? But, it’s also in those times that I rejoice in the way God has molded me to be able to not just survive, but to live, to embrace, to be joyful in all situations. Glory to God.