Category Archives: Uganda [Dec. 2011-Jan. 2012]
My last week in Uganda was amazing to say the least. From the last day in Zirobwe, to playing with side-walk chalk with the neighborhood kids, to a SAFARI the last 3 days.. I was savoring every last minute of it. My last day in Uganda was exhausting.. It was the last day of the safari, so we got up early, took our morning drive, and hiked up a mountain to see the beautiful Murchison Falls. Most gorgeous waterfall I’ve ever seen. The safari was just incredible.. This was probably my favorite thing I got to do here (although bungee jumping over the Nile was cool too). I just couldn’t help being in awe of the creator. Sorry for the billions of pictures, but really.. how beautiful is creation.
We ended up meeting some missionaries here which was awesome. It was really great to get to talk and encourage one another (and play with their adorable kid).
Murchison Falls is so gorgeous! Excuse these awkward tourist-y pictures..
From the waterfall, we drove 6 hours back to our house, where I had 2 hours to pack my bag and head to the airport.. then the power went out. So that was awesome. (much sarcasm intended). But we had plenty of head lamps on hand, so it all worked out. 20 minutes before I left, EAC got together and did the traditional “goodbye circle”. So many encouraging words that I’m so thankful for. Being so busy the last few days, it didn’t get to soak in that I was leaving, but this is when it really hit me. Tears fell as I hugged each Empower A Child team member and we said our goodbyes. I hated leaving with everything in me, but I have no doubt in my mind that I will see every one of my sweet new friends again! I’m very thankful for the encouragement and sharpening the Lord provided through each of these new friendships over the past month. It has definitely been a change not living with so many people, and I actually miss it…. sometimes 😀
So after the 6 hour drive home, 2 hours of packing, 2 hour drive to the airport, 8 hour flight to London, and 10 hour flight to Dallas, it’s an understatement to say that I was more than ready to be home! The hour & a half flight from Dallas to Memphis felt like the longest one. I have never been so happy to be in Memphis before in my life! I definitely have the BEST friends in the entire world. No really, I do. I knew that my mom, brother, and a few friends were picking me up from the airport, but when I was walking into baggage claim, over 25 people came running out of a corner screaming with “welcome home” signs & all. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter homecoming. It may sound a little silly or unnecessary since I was only gone for a month, but it meant so much to me, and I thought it was appropriate. 🙂
From the airport I went to eat with my sweet family & friends where more friends & more of my church family met me. It was so good to see everybody at once. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful for them. I realized in a very short time how much certain friendships mean to me.
The jet lag was rough the first few days, but nothing to complain about. I was blessed to have a full week of just sleeping, reading, watching movies in my bed, “lunch dates” to catch up with people, & relaxing. But this week, I MUST go back to school. I’m actually looking forward to it. With only 4 months to go & only 1 class, it shouldn’t be too brutal.
I’ve only been home for a week now, but already I catch myself constantly thinking about Uganda and constantly reading old blog posts & journal entries because I just don’t want to forget anything! I don’t want to forget anyone I met, any conversation, funny joke, struggle, stupid emotion, “lightbulb” moment, ministry opportunity, and the power & grace of God I saw through every bit of it. The Lord has rocked my world the past month.. or more like wrecked it. I thought everything in my life was as good as it could get. Of course I knew every area could use some growth, but for the most part I thought my relationships were fine, ministry was going well, my walk with the Lord was where it needed to be, & I was doing everything I could do to serve him wholeheartedly. Ha! That all seems like a joke now. The more I’m in Scripture and in prayer, the more I realize that the only thing good in me is Jesus and I couldn’t be farther from where God wants me.
I’ve been convicted this week more than ever of being so quick to quench the Spirit. For me, it became hard to read the bible and not just take it as good advice, instead of the living, active word of God. I often take what Jesus says metaphorically instead of literally like it’s somehow an option to follow the commands of Christ. Something in me has started craving something more.. I wonder what would happen if I really believed Jesus meant the things He said. Honestly, I think my life would look a lot different. In Uganda, I had a lot of time to myself to read, write, and think. I discovered with more clarity than before that there was a different Christianity that Jesus modeled than the Western, pop Christianity that we’ve made it into. I discovered I don’t like this feel-good, emotionally charged Christianity that quickly looses its glamour a few weeks after church camps & d-now’s. I want something more. I want Jesus. All of Him.
I want to live like Jesus did. According to scripture, not according to how I assume Jesus would. I was convicted & challenged the last week in Uganda when I read a book entitled The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (which I HIGHLY recommend to everyone). In it, there’s a quote: “Even if there were no heaven and there were no hell, would you still follow Jesus? Would you still follow him for the life, joy, & fulfillment He gives you right now?” That really got me thinking. Sometimes I think I misinterpret Scripture and somehow develop the mentality that as a child of God this life is really nothing about this life at all. When we’re hurt, we shouldn’t be because this world is not our home. When we desire something, it’s wrong because we should only desire Christ. Although this world is not our home and we are commanded to “set your hearts & minds on things above”, Jesus does care about our desires! He does care about this life. If the only purpose of Christ’s death was to get us to heaven, why don’t we drop dead the moment of acceptance? There’s something more.
I am convinced that Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to show us how to live. There is life, joy, and fulfillment that comes not only when we are made complete in Christ when we enter heaven, but in this life as well! I’m seeing that more everyday the more I’m in Scripture & grow in intimacy with the Lord. This life IS potentially fun, exciting, and fulfilling, but only through Christ. Like Shane Claiborne in his book, I want to be a passionate lover of God & people and take the gospel way of life seriously. I don’t just want to have the hope that everything will be perfect in heaven and there’s no hope while on earth. Because there is! Jesus says the kingdom is “within us”, “among us”, “at hand”, and we are to pray that it comes “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Since I’ve returned home from Uganda, I have experienced a new kind of “culture shock”. I’m noticing more the way I and others carelessly spend money, take things for granted, and complain. But more than anything, I’ve noticed a difference in myself. My attitude and intentions that are different than they were while I was in Africa. I’m a little overwhelmed with all that the Lord has taught me just this week since I’ve been back. He’s revealed to me with so much clarity the difference between my selfish tendancies and the way He wants me to live. The Lord has used the experience of going to Uganda to mold me in so many ways in so many areas of my life. He’s given me a new interest and burden for poverty, given me a new attitude & perspective towards the Church, shown me a beautiful picture of biblical community & fellowship, humbled me, challenged me, shaped me. I desperately needed every bit of it. And I’m realizing every day how much I need even more of it. I’m so thankful for the renewal and restoration the Lord gives. I’m so thankful for the power and grace found in the Lord and his word to change the way I think & what I desire. I’ve been reminded of an old hymn, and it has become my prayer this week: “Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart Lord, take & seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” I’m so quick to fall into temptation, my desires & plans, or if not, then routine & hypocrisy. Once again, I have developed a new love for God’s grace.
Just this week, so much has changed. Situations I didn’t feel prepared to deal with. So many decisions & preparations have to be made. My tendency would be to immediately stress out & get worried about all there is to do and start playing our scenarios of how my future could look. But I’ve seen the past few months more than ever before the Lord’s soverienty displayed. I’m just praying for clarity, wisdom, and discernment, and I trust that the Lord is faithful & whatever happens, He remains completely in control. I don’t want to run ahead of the Lord’s timing, so daily I’m completely surrendering my mind, desires, dreams, & expectations for the future to the Lord. A challenege for me to say the least. I just want to live in undivided devotion to the Lord, recklessly abandoned to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of my life, yielding moment by moment to the leading of the Spirit. I’m praying that I would remain teachable. Not vulnerable to deceit, but teachable & moldable in the Lord’s hands. Only good things can happen there 🙂
Here’s a link to a video put together from my month in Africa!
This week EAC helped lead a youth camp called Youth Quake! But I came back along with the pastor 2 days early to lead Sunday School this morning. Such a blessing. Singing songs, playing games, and talking about the cross and what it means to have a relationship with God.. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. It’s my last week in Uganda.. Unfortunately, this journey is quickly coming to an end. I feel like I just got here, and already I’m about to leave. It went by way too fast. As we left the village today, tears immediately fell down my face. It was my last time to be in Zirobwe. I’ve fallen in love with that place & the people there. We spent a week in the village and are there every Sunday, but this week there was something different. The smiles were so much bigger. The hugs were so much sweeter. And every time a child said “Aunty Paigey” my heart just melted. I didn’t want to leave. I love those children. I think I told them that hundreds of times just this morning to make sure they didn’t forget it. “Kwagala nyo nyo nyo!!” (“I love you so so much” in Luganda).
At the beginning of this week when we arrived at camp, me and Loren were looking for an open bunk bed to sleep in when a girl grabbed us by the hand and told us to follow her. She grabbed our bags for us and led us to where she was staying. She wanted us to stay in a room with her. She was already rooming with 2 other girls, and when we walked in they gave us the biggest hugs. We told them our names and where we were from. Me and Loren started unpacking our bags, first getting our bedding out. The 3 girls asked us if they could make both of our beds for us. After insisting we do it ourselves for a while, we finally gave in and sat down while they made our beds for us. I have to be honest. I was a little skeptical. After they made our beds for us, they moved our bags into a corner along with our shoes. Why are they being so nice? What do they want from us? Since we’re mzungus they have to want something from us. What if they steal something from our bags? Maybe that’s why they want them so close to their beds… I hate to admit that these were some of the thoughts that came into my mind as these girls were helping us. I didn’t even realize how judgmental I was until thinking back on it a few days later. They were so hospitable! The nicest girls ever! They didn’t want anything from us, nor were there any impure motives behind their actions. That’s how all the people have been here: so unbelievably welcoming and selfless.
This week at Youth Quake, I was surprised to find that youth camps here are a lot like the church camps that I’ve been to in America. We had a very busy schedule starting at 5:30am everyday that consisted of quiet time, breakfast, morning worship, small group discussions, lunch, workshops (equipping & empowering), games & sports, dinner, and night worship. And of course every night was a late one in the girls bunk house filled with whispering, secrets, hair & makeup, dancing, and crazy games. The part that stood out to me most I think was the small group discussions. Each day we had a different subject to talk about and find the biblical view. Some of the subjects were modesty, purity, evangelism, the Holy Spirit, fears, and comfort zones. It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences between the struggles of teenagers here in Uganda & America. I didn’t at all expect them to be talking about being “a light in your school”. It was a little ironic to me that I came to Uganda to be a missionary and evangelize, yet this week in Uganda I was being equipped in evangelism to be a missionary when I go back home.
Celebrating Christmas here without my family and friends made me a little homesick, but now I don’t want to leave. This experience has been the biggest blessing. I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve realized that I have a whole lot of maturing and growing up to do. I’ve seen with a little more clarity a glimpse of just how small I am and how big God is. It’s so easy for me to get caught up with myself and my own little world. It’s so easy for me to slip into the mentality that it’s all about me. I never want to forget this experience. From traveling, safety, the people I’ve met, conversations, to every area of ministry.. God’s hand has been over every bit of it. I came here to “bring the good news” to these people, but they ended up bringing it to me. I saw Jesus every day in their smiles, selflessness, hospitality, etc.. As people came to know the Lord here & discipleship took place, I saw radical revival and restoration in many lives, and I cannot begin to express what a blessing that was to see & be apart of.
The sweetest time for me here was definitely my time in the village of Zirobwe. (This is where Empower A Child’s church plant is.) My conversations with some people today were completely different from those of a month ago. They consisted of hopelessness and desperation, but today the conversations were filled with hope & joy as they’ve come to know the Lord. God has been so evident in every part of this journey, and I’m so thankful for that. Everything good that’s come out of it is so obviously Him. I remember months before I left for Uganda, I had such little faith that I was actually going to be able to go. Even on my way to the airport I was thinking, “Something is definitely going to go wrong.” But the Lord provided. In every way possible. His hand was over me every step of the way. I’m so thankful for my church family for their overwhelming support, encouragement, and prayers. It definitely would have been a lot harder if I didn’t have people everyday telling me they were praying for me. I found so much comfort & encouragement in that.
Although I’m very excited to be home and see everybody in just a little less than a week, this time will be bitter-sweet. I started my goodbyes today in the village and walked around the city of Kampala tonight telling people I’ve met that this is my last week here. These are definitely the worst goodbyes ever because I know, chances are, I won’t ever see most of these people again. The people I’ve had the privilege of working with will probably be the hardest to leave. The Ugandan staff of Empower A Child have been a huge blessing & encouragement. We’ve made some pretty hysterical memories that I won’t ever forget, but I’m going to miss just talking with them and being blessed by hearing so much wisdom and spiritual insight.
I’ve been staring at the computer for a good ten minutes trying to come up with words to explain my journey here, but I honestly don’t think I can. It has been the biggest blessing. I didn’t think I had any expectations coming here, but what I experienced definitely took me by surprise, from every thought & emotion to every conversation & adventure. I think the most obvious thing that the Lord has shown me here with so much more clarity than before is to be mission minded. Every morning, by the grace of God, I woke up thinking, “What am I going to do today to invest in the Kingdom?”. My mindset was consumed with how I was going to reach people for the Gospel. Every relationship built was one made intentionally to be Christ to them & and tell them about His love. What’s different about this than how my daily life in Mississippi should be? Nothing. I should be doing the exact thing, with the same mentality. But so often I fail, getting caught up in my own life, not caring a thing about the people around me. Jesus’ whole life was a “mission trip”. He didn’t only minister to people when he went on “international mission trips”, and He certainly didn’t just grow in His relationship with His Father at church camps.
I can’t believe I celebrated Christmas & new years in Africa. A year ago, I would have NEVER thought that was even a possibility. It’s so funny to me to think back on every struggle & situation in the past year and remember how hard all of it was, and to see now that the Lord was using every bit of it to prepare me for the future. Looking back on 2011, I cannot be more thankful. I’m praising God for an incredible year of maturity & spiritual growth. Only by the grace of God, I’m a completely different person than I was a year ago… even 6 months ago. The Lord brought many new people into my life this year that He has used to encourage & challenge me including an incredible godly woman to disciple me and an amazing group of girls at Revision Church! I’m thankful for the renewal & restoration the Lord has accomplished and is continuing to do in my heart, mind, & relationships. Seeing the faithfulness of God through ever struggle this year has strengthened my faith dramatically. I’ve seen the power & grace found in the Lord and His word to change the way I think and the things I desire. I’m so thankful for the Lord’s sovereignty and how evident He was in my life in 2011. I’m praying for another year of growth. No “new years resolution” really.. I just want to look more like Jesus every day.. to grow in Christlikeness through every situation this year & grow in intimacy with Him.
Christmas in Africa. What a huge blessing. It was such a humbling experience. Although I was sick, I looked around at much worse cases of sickness & deformity. I was tired, but then I looked around at all the people who sleep on the hard, dirty ground. There was no way I could come close to complaining. The smiles & laughs of the people around me were so contagious. We had our normal church service that we have every Sunday in the village, but this week we taught the children some Christmas songs and danced with them (they love to dance). We spent the rest of the day just hanging out, loving on people there. I talked to a lot of people who wanted to know more about this Jesus we were talking about. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to talk to the people of Zirobwe about the gift that gave sinful me a way to be reconciled with Holy God, and let them know that the same gift was offered to them as well. It was a huge blessing to spend Christmas in the village of Zirobwe.
I have said since weeks before this trip that all I wanted was to grow in intimacy with Christ this month. Of course I wanted to do lots of other things, but that’s the main thing that I prayed for.. just to grow closer to the Lord, to know Him better. I would have never thought that this trip would go the way it has. I’m being challenged by things I didn’t think would be challenging to me. The Lord has changed my heart dramatically towards certain things that I thought would never change. I’m seeing how I want my life to look a little differently than before I got here. I’m being humbled in areas I didn’t think I needed humbling (ironic, huh?). The Lord’s teaching me things about myself, my selfish tendencies, & people around me. I’m learning a lot of things that I never would have expected to. All of this, the Lord has used to peel away my flesh and draw me closer to Himself.
Intimacy with God. How do you achieve it? “Where do I even start?” was my question when studying Scripture & really praying for intimacy with the Lord. All over the world, people go to unimaginable lengths to find God- which is sad when you consider the unimaginable lengths God has already gone to find us. God wants to be close to us. It’s hard to believe that the Creator of the universe actually wanting to know us. We feel so unworthy. That’s why I think many of us think we must earn our way to heaven and that only the super-spiritual of this world can really know God. Burdened with the weight of our own spirituality, we struggle beneath a load of self-imposed obligations: “I have to do this..” or “I can’t really know God until I do that..” Before salvation, Satan tells us we’re just fine. We don’t need a savior. But after we’re saved, the Accuser points his finger at us and tells us we’re no good. We don’t deserve a savior. “Look at what you’ve done,” he whispers. “How could God ever forgive you?” He twists the truth of sin into a bludgeon of guilt and shame and beats us with it. “You’re no good.” The burden of our own spirituality is one barrier to intimacy with God, but another that I struggle with is busyness. Satan enjoys using our hectic schedules, stressed bodies, and emotional upsets in his efforts to put up barriers to our intimacy with God. It makes for one easy excuse against spending time with Christ. We will be driven to do more & more service projects, more spiritual extracurricular activities trying to win God’s approval. And still we fail, because what the Father wants is for us to find our identity in him and him alone.
In my opinion, this subject is covered no better than in the gospel of Luke. “‘Martha, Martha’, the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42) Martha was so caught up in setting a table worthy of the Son of God, she nearly missed the real banquet. I, too, can get so overwhelmed that my worship becomes work rather than delight, and devotion becomes just another duty. When Jesus met Martha that day in Bethany, she was distracted. That’s where Satan usually begins. He knows if we’re overly worried and bogged down by duties, chances are good our hearts won’t hear the Savior’s call to come. While distraction may not win the battle for our soul, getting our eyes off of what is important will certainly make us more vulnerable to attack. But Mary realized what was important. She sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. She knew that what God desires is intimacy with his children.
I easily get caught in the busyness of things: church, school, work, friends, family, other obligations. etc… They may be good things, completely innocent things- but not when they take the edge off my hunger for God. I constantly fight the tendency to fill the God-shaped hole he created in me with fluffy stuff. I don’t like loneliness, so I fill the space with friends, phone calls, and social events- but loneliness can be God’s call to fellowship with him. I don’t like quietness, so I often fill up the silence with TV or music; but it was in the quiet of the night that Samuel heard God’s voice. We are designed to be close to God. Just as our bodies hunger and thirst for food & drink, our spirits hunger and thirst for his presence. But just as it’s possible to bloat our bodies with empty calories, we can find ways to pacify our spiritual cravings without really getting the nourishment we need. When our physical bodies are hungry, we eat and our hunger is satisfied. But spiritually speaking, it isn’t until we “eat” that we realize how famished we are. As we feast at God’s table, something strange happens. We get hungrier. Thirstier. We want more! We have to have more.
The Bible makes it clear that God longs to have fellowship with us. He desires fellowship with each of us. The one and only thing that keeps us from intimacy with God is our own sin. Even though there is nothing we can do to attain our salvation, we must do all we can to maintain a pure heart before God. “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” (Psalm 66:12-18) So many of us complain about our struggle against sin, but then we secretly supply Satan with all the ammunition he needs. We know we shouldn’t be listening to or watching that. We know the conversations we have are less than glorifying to the Lord. We know that we shouldn’t have gone that far last night with our boyfriend/girlfriend. We know the forgiveness we’ve harbored for so long is hardening into rage. But still we cling to it- and then we wonder why we have such a hard time growing in our walk with God. There’s been many times when I wondered what was lacking in my walk with Christ. There was a period where I felt like no matter what I did, I still felt so far away from God. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Then I was convicted of unconfessed sin in my life. I was letting the Lord have part of my life, but then there was always a part that I wanted to have to do with what I wanted. When you make God the Lord of your life, you make him Lord of your whole life. The Lord of your life is also the Lord of your relationships. The Lord of your life is the Lord of your thoughts, will, and desires as well. I missed that for a long time. & I missed what true repentance was. “Conscious repentance leads to unconscious holiness.” -Oswald Chambers.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” Jesus says in John 15:4. Other translations use the word abide or dwell. “I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We must be connected to him. It’s not enough simply to be associated or acquainted. We have to be spiritually grafted on- to draw our life from him, to be so closely attached that we would wither and die if we were cut off. I’ve missed that point for a long time. I have spent so much of my life concentrating on the “fruit” of my own personal holiness, that I missed out on the connection, the sweet intimacy of being attached to the Vine. I’ve tried to produce the fruit of holiness on my own, with little result except failure and self-condemnation. But since I realized that holiness was a work of the Spirit in my life, that my responsibility was to live connected to the Vine, I am able to abandon my own fruitless trying and focus on staying close to the One who gives me life.
As cliché as it sounds, spending time alone with the Lord in prayer and in His word is the only way to grow in intimacy with Him. I can do all the stuff I want to. I can read all the amazing books by incredible godly authors. I can lead as many bible studies as I want to. I can go every church camp and mission trip offered. I can even go to Africa & do ministry there for a month. But none of that will truly satisfy my craving for intimacy with the Lord. None of that alone will result in me looking more like Christ. As I said in a previous post, it’s when we spend time alone with the Lord that his image is imprinted more and more upon us. That’s when we absorb the image of his character, his love, his wisdom, and his way of dealing with life & people. We get more of Jesus, and in the process, less of ourselves.
Everything falls flat in comparison to the sweetness of the Lord’s presence. I know in my own life, I crave attention & intimacy. But as my spirit has begun to grow and thrive as my heart & mind have been fed by the Word of God, I have found that nothing is more satisfying than being in a close, intimate relationship with Jesus. Falling more in love with Jesus every day is the most humbling, awe-inspiring, completely satisfying pursuit.
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Your face, Lord, I will seek. -Psalm 27:4;8
It’s been a week full of one adventure after another. We have 2 days off a week that always consists of laundry, cleaning, planning/preparing for the week ahead, and playing with & loving on the kids around our house. But the past 2 days, we decided to mix it up a bit. Yesterday, me and 3 other EAC volunteers went white water rafting in the Nile River. 6 hours of rapids: awesome! It was a blast! White water rafting has always been one of my favorite things to do, but I’ve never been rafting like this. Just on our boat there were people from 5 different countries. Every now & then, we’d look over to the side and see monkeys running around… no biggy. Haha. Each time we fell out of our boat, I seriously thought I was going to die. Exaggeration? Yes, probably.. But let’s just say so much for not drinking the water in Africa…
The next morning I bungee jumped over the Nile River! Woah.. Never thought I’d be able to say that. It was awesome! I didn’t get nervous until I was standing on the edge, staring down at the water so far down. “3, 2, 1 bungee!” the bungee master said, and off I went… (more pictures on Facebook)
The night after we white water rafted, we got to stay the night in Jinja and rest for the next day of bungee jumping! I met so many people from all over the world! It took me a while to get used to saying “America” when someone asked me where I was from instead of “Mississippi”. Some were volunteers in Uganda working with orphanages, aid programs, hospitals, etc.. Some were there with travel programs & other organizations. We talked with one lady, Kathleen, for about an hour about her life. She has traveled all over the world, been to every continent, & done just about every adventurous, spontaneous thing you can think of. Kathleen kept talking about how beautiful the places she has been are and repeatedly talked about how amazing the relationships that she’s built with people all over the world are. She told us her precious love story of how she & her husband fell in love, but it ended sadly with her telling us they just separated & are working on getting a divorce. As the conversation continued on, we began talking about what I was doing in Uganda & the work the Lord was doing in my life here. She then told me that since the separation with her husband, it’s given her a lot of alone time to decide what she believes & what her outlook on life is going to be. Kathleen was raised in a strict catholic home. “and I hated every minute of it!” she said. “How dare somebody tell me that I was born a sinner! You don’t put that kind of guilt on somebody to live with for their whole life! How are you ever going to live with that?!” These words broke my heart. No body has told her the beauty of God’s grace!!! That’s how you get rid of the guilt of being a sinner!!
She described her young life of religion “miserable”. She said that she could never do enough good or stay away from enough wrong to feel good enough. “I used to go to confession and lie!!! What’s up with that? I didn’t want the preacher to know all the wrong I did that week.. I was constantly thinking of ways to sound like a good girl. I’ve rebelled against religion since I can remember. I hate it.” Come to find out, Kathleen doesn’t believe in a “god” at all. She’s all about the universe and one’s “inner strength”. “If there is a ‘god’, which I don’t think there is, then I think she would be a woman.” she told me. “I don’t need validation from anyone else except myself.” I asked her what she believed about Jesus being God’s son & dying on the cross. “Ummm, I don’t know if he existed.. if he did, okay great.. But that doesn’t have any influence on my life.” What. Such a strong statement caught me off guard.. “He has every influence in my life.” I thought to myself, and after hesitating for a short moment, I said out loud. I told her I don’t know what I would be without Jesus, the cross, and a relationship with, not just a god, but the God. Her response was, “More power to you then.” No.. not more power to me… more power, and more glory, and honor, and praise to Jesus!
Like Kathleen, a lot of people I’ve met have struggled with the guilt of their sin and the shame of not feeling good enough. They’ve been so turned off by religion because of all the do’s & don’ts, hypocrisy, and hopelessness found in trying to be perfect. Who can blame them? I sure can’t. I would be turned off too. Nothing about religion sounds appealing at all. I was thankful for a reminder yesterday that Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship. A relationship between sinful man and Holy God Himself.. made possible only by the grace of God. That’s how you lose the guilt of all your sin. It’s found only in Jesus. In Christ, there is no condemnation. (Romans 8:1) Once you realize you’re a sinner in desperate need of a Savior and once you accept Christ as not only Savior, but Lord of your life as well, there’s no reason to live in guilt. God’s grace washes over you. Yes, we’re all born sinful. We all deserve hell. We should live in guilt (at the very least). But that’s the beauty of grace.. it’s totally undeserved, totally irrational. God’s character is displayed no where more perfectly than on the cross. It’s about Him. Not us.
I’ve heard the quote “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” probably hundreds of times. But when the Lord slipped those words in my mind during my conversation with Kathleen, they were received with so much clarity. I’ve never been more thankful. I talked to her for about half an hour more about Christianity, trying so hard to let the Lord’s words come out of my mouth. She kept blowing me off. I could tell she wanted no part in that conversation. “Lord, please please please soften her heart”, I prayed over & over again. And over & over again she would blow me off and insist that she was right. The conversation switched to a much lighter note when she called over one of her friends she wanted me to meet. I was so disappointed. Is there anything else I could have said or can say now to change her mind?? Immediately after that thought, another came to mind. Isaiah 55:10-11: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so does my word that comes from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire & achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God’s word will not return void. The scripture I quoted to Kathleen will accomplish what God desires. Maybe not in the exact way I want it to or the time I want it to, but it will. God’s timing is perfect, not mine. God is sovereign, not me.
Praying for Kathleen today, I starting to think about all the wonderful stories she told me and places she’s been. When she described the beauty of the scenery she had seen, she was awe-struck. You could tell in her face & her voice. But nothing could ever be as beautiful as it is when you know how it got there. I just know that Kathleen would see creation so much more beautiful if she knew the Creator. It is gorgeous in Uganda, but it is anywhere else you go as well. God’s hand is so evidently over everything in creation. (Romans 1:20) It’s all His. It’s funny that a lot of the things I see Jesus most in & end up writing about aren’t even my time working as an Empower A Child volunteer. On our off days, I see Jesus just as much. It’s a day to relax from the busy days with EAC, not from ministry. It’s when I least expect it that the Lord provides incredible opportunities.
Earlier this week, I had a slight melt down. I went through a phase of really really missing home & wondering what was going on there. On top of that, I have not been feeling well at all since I’ve gotten here, but the past few days have been pretty bad. (I think it’s just because my diet has changed dramatically, & my body’s going into shock or something. Please pray for my health.. I’ve been having problems since I’ve gotten here, & it seems to be getting worse.) Thursday morning, after skyping with a few friends and my sweet mommy, I climbed back into bed with a terrible migraine & tummy ache. I literally got out of bed twice the entire day, and that was just to use the restroom. (I turn into a 2 year old when I’m sick) I laid there thinking about home, really missing my brother, my friends, and my dog. I had a moment of just wanting to come home. I am sick. I miss my family. I miss my comfortable, convenient life back home. It’s not my typical week-long mission trip anymore. It’s so different from what I’m used to, and I’ve definitely been taken out of my comfort zone (I didn’t even know I had one of those.). This doesn’t feel like a trip anymore. I live here now. This is my home.
People keep asking me, “Is it everything you expected it to be?” Yes, I think so.. I think what I expected Uganda to be like.. it is. But how I feel about it is totally different from what I expected to feel towards ministry here. It’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be. It doesn’t come as easy to me as I thought it would. Coming here, even months before, I had huge expectations for what God was going to do in my life once “I finally go to Uganda.” Seems like a good thought.. but don’t they all.. (Proverbs 4:12) I pushed off seeking the Lord like I should before the trip because I just knew that I was going to have a huge change of heart once I got here & would do it then. And then I got here…. and I think I just set myself up for disappointment in a way. Like I said in one of my first posts when I got here, I wasn’t in the Word the first few days, getting so caught up in the busyness of everything. I didn’t really see a need for it, and I just knew since I was in Africa, my life would still be changed without it. I thought once I go to Africa, surely no matter what, God’s going to dramatically change my mindset and outlook on life, I’m going to have some huge change of heart, and this was going to be some crazy super natural, mountaintop experience… blah blah blah. I’m so dumb. The same God that’s working in Africa is working in Mississippi. I don’t know why we think God is limited by our circumstances. Or that he can only work in huge ways at camps, mission trips, or whatever. I think that was the mentality I had towards coming to Africa in a way.
I hesitated about writing about my little moment. (I actually posted it first without this part) But then I realized, I need to be honest and share my heart.. not just all the fun, amazing things but the real struggles as well. This hasn’t been the perfect, walk in the park for me. I have missed home. It does get frustrating working with so many different personalities. It’s hard, even here, to have discipline to get in God’s Word when I don’t have the desire to. (No, I don’t always the desire to.) I do get discouraged when the Gospel isn’t received how I think it should be or at the exact moment I think it should be received. Ministry is tough. It’s a struggle. But at that point, that’s when I take my dependence off myself and put it back on Christ. I’m far from perfect. I have in no way arrived to what God wants me to be. But I’m not going to grow in my relationship with the Lord or grow in Christ-likeness without spending time alone with Him. I can “do” all the “stuff” I want to, but that’s not going to advance the Kingdom at all without really seeking the Lord.
Relationships are being built, disciples are being made, discipleship is taking place, & I’m seeing Jesus every day. I’m overwhelmed with what the Lord’s teaching me and the opportunities that He’s presenting. It’s all been a huge blessing to be apart of. The next 2 weeks will be crazy busy, and I’m pumped! Tomorrow, we spend all Christmas day & night in the village of Zirobwe! (It doesn’t feel like December, much less Christmas since it’s so hot here.) I’m beyond excited not to be apart of getting any gifts tomorrow and just loving on people all day! Christmas is a celebration of God giving us a way to be reconciled with Him.. Such a beautiful, undeserved gift. What a huge privilege to serve this amazing God.
This week was spent camping and building relationships with the people in the village of Zirobwe. I know each time I do something new here, I say it was my favorite thing so far, but staying in the village this week really was the sweetest time for me here in Uganda. We sat up our tents about half a mile away from the village, and from the time we sat them up to the time we took them down, kids were hovering over our every step. After a busy & eventful day playing with kids in the village, I crashed in my tent. Unfortunately, it rained that night, and guess who’s rain fly blew off their tent? Yes, mine. So me & the 2 other girls in my tent got soaked while we were trying to sleep. We weren’t very happy at first, still in shock. But we couldn’t do anything about it now, so all we could do was laugh. After all, when things don’t go as planned, that’s when the fun happens (& always makes for a funny story later). Forcing us out of our tent, we went outside with our bible & journal in hand. The 3 girls separated, each going in a different direction to spend time with the Lord in prayer & gaze at the billions of stars lighting up the sky (something I’ve never been able to see in America). Before I knew it, the sun was rising, turning out to be the most beautiful sun rise I’ve ever seen! Spending time in God’s Word after that, I just knew Wednesday was going to be a great day. Who knew being soaked by the rain while sleeping could turn into something so good?
The hospitality of the people here is incredible. In each hut we visited, as soon as they saw us coming, they would run inside, get a mat or stool, and bring it out for us to sit on, leaving themselves to sit on the dirt outside. All of them are so selfless. They were all so willing to talk to us and tell us their stories. I saw many cases of sickness & deformity that absolutely broke my heart. When I talked to the people about the healing power of Jesus, they became full of hope & joy.. immediately trusting in it more than I do probably.
I have learned so much this week from the people in Zirobwe. I’ve never really had to be 100% completely dependent on God. The people in that village rely on Him completely for literally everything. They trust in God’s provision and His timing unlike I’ve ever had to. I’ve always have a “back-up plan”. I do not trust in God’s sovereignty on a daily basis. I say I do, but I’ve never really had to. I always have friends and family for support, comfort, and encouragement. I always have food to eat, and I’ve never had to worry about not having a place to sleep at night. I always have a little extra comfort money if something happens. These slum dwellers in Zirobwe trust in God’s sovereignty just to get them through the day. I realized that these people had a far deeper intimacy with God that I probably ever will. The Christians in the village of Zirobwe know God not only as their Savior and Lord, but their provider and sustainer as well.
Before going to the village and during my time there, I spent a lot of time reading and studying about poverty alleviation. You’d be surprised at the completely different perceptions of poverty between the non-poor and the poor people themselves. We (economically non-poor) tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc.. But there’s a whole other side of poverty that we have not even realized or considered. Poor people typically talk of poverty in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness. Poverty also consists of a profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair. Without seeing this side of poverty, poverty alleviation efforts often result in harming the poor and ourselves, instead of helping.
We often have a “god-complex”, a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which we believe that we have achieved our wealth through our own efforts and that we have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom we view as inferior to ourselves. We don’t even realize this common mentality, which is part of the problem. A huge problem in trying to help the poor is our assumption that our economic superiority goes hand in hand with our spiritual superiority. Huge misconception! In ministry, especially short-term mission trips, we often go with an attitude that we are superior to the people we are about to help. After reading When Helping Hurts this week, a book about how to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and ourselves, I tried to be conscious of my motives & intentions in serving in the village. What truly motivates me? Do I really love these people and want to serve them? Or do I have other motives? I can honestly say that I love & care about these people so much, and I have absolutely loved spending time with them & ministering to them. But I confess to you that part of what motivates me to help people is my felt need to accomplish something. It makes me feel good about myself to “help” or “fix” people. And in the process, I sometimes unintentionally reduce people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something.
On mission trips, we often feel we are going to bring Jesus into the community and finally there will be restoration! Yay for me! Look what I‘ve done! We approach mission trips with an attitude of superiority over people. Instead of helping others be the “salt & light”, we often communicate that we are the only “salt & light”. We feel that we are the huge blessing the people have been missing out on. We’ve failed to realize something: God has been at work long before we got here. Christ has been actively at work in that community since the creation of the world. We should see poor communities as being created by Jesus Christ and reflective of His goodness. (Colossians 1:16-17) God has placed good gifts in every community, every village, and every slum. While sin has brought enormous brokenness, Christ has been sustaining all of creation- including culture- since the dawn of time and is in the process of reconciling all of it. We are not the reconciler; Jesus is. We give way to much credit to ourselves in ministry. We tend to over dramatize our role in God’s plan and tend to minimize God’s role in our lives.
This is not to say we aren’t supposed to go “to the ends of the earth” in proclamation of the gospel. The good news of the gospel of the kingdom is that Christ is not just sustaining all things, but He is reconciling all things. Jesus Christ created, sustains, and is redeeming assets in poor communities. As the body of Christ, the church should seek to do the same. We are not the reconciler; however, we are His ambassadors, representing His kingdom and all that it entails to a broken world. We have to realize, God’s doing the work. We’re just vessels. The task of the church is to embody Jesus Christ by doing what He did and what He continues to do through us: declare- using both words and deeds- that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords who is bringing in a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace. We can then trust God to “establish the work of our hands” as He chooses. (Psalm 90:17) And the church needs to do this where Jesus did it, among the blind, the lame, the sick and outcast, and the poor. The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans. Nor is the goal to make sure they have enough money. Rather, the goal is to restore people to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. The church is designed by Christ Himself to be all about developing and growing people through long-term discipleship. Rather than trying to “fix” them, we should engage in relationships with them. In the process we will find out how impoverished we are and how much we need them in order to see our own spiritual poverty. Our perspective should be less about how we are going to “fix” the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix us both. As we build relationships with the poor and they tell us of their gifts and abilities, we can start to see them as God does, helping us to overcome our sense of superiority.
By the grace of God, it was a very fruitful week in the village of Zirobwe. I’ve seen a beautiful picture of how Jesus would help the poor. Not just giving hand-outs. Not just giving gifts and money and going door to door telling the story of Jesus & then leaving, never to be seen again. Not just talking at and doing for these people; but walking with them.. making this village realize that they do have resources & communicating to the people of Zirobwe a biblical worldview concerning human stewardship over the rest of creation. They do have a lot to be proud of. God has been good to them. They are not god-forsaken. This week was full of just hanging out, living life with the people of Zirobwe, but a lot of time was spent helping them understand their identity as image bearers of God, to love their neighbor as themselves, to be stewards over God’s creation, and to bring glory to God in all things.
The people I’m working with through Empower A Child couldn’t be more of a blessing. I have the privilege of working with an incredible 25 year old who is an amazing example of a biblical Godly woman & wife, her bold husband who exemplifies God’s call to every man to be a husband to your wife as Jesus was to the church, 2 college students who took the year off to faithfully follow God’s call here, a humble, hard working guy who has an amazing servant’s heart & more faith than anyone I know, and close to 10 Ugandans who have a burden for their own people to come to know Jesus & are willing to do anything to make sure that happens. Living with these loud, obnoxious (but godly :)) people, there’s a lot of fun, card games, dancing, singing, movies, and conversations full of grace. We have a lot of fun, but they are also challenging me to be more like Jesus every day. I love love love Uganda and the people here. I love even more what God is doing here. Seeing restoration come into the village of Zirobwe and in relationships & peoples’ lives there has been the biggest blessing. I’m more thankful every day for this humbling learning experience, and SO excited for Christmas in Africa!!!
It hasn’t even been a week in Uganda, and already I have fallen in love with this place & the people here. The hospitality of the locals is incredible. I never would have thought I would feel so welcomed coming here from America. It has been very busy here, so I am thankful for a day off today to relax, read, & write. On Friday, my first full day here, I took my first boda ride! (their motorcycle version of a taxi) That was interesting to say the least. I went with another volunteer named Loren to the craft market and a coffee place for dinner called Good African. I ordered a burger that sooo was not a burger. At least not a burger like I know it. Haha. It’s definitely taking some getting used to the food here.
Empower A Child is an organization like World Vision or Compassion where you can sponsor children in other countries, giving a child money for his or her education, clothes, & food. Being a much smaller organization, EAC is able to develop close, personal relationships with these kids. Each one they know by name. They know in detail about each child’s home life and family situation & specific problems each one faces. Saturday, all of the children who have sponsors came over to our house for a Christmas party: breakfast, lunch, dancing & laughing competitions, praise and worship, etc.. It was so cool to be able to hang out with all 200+ of the sponsor kids on my second day here. It was beyond encouraging seeing kids who have nothing never stop smiling & laughing. They crave love & attention like I’ve never seen before. The kids will follow you everywhere you go, constantly holding your hand, giving you hugs, & hanging all over you. I cannot think of anything I would want to do more than be around them. I’m so thankful to be working with an organization that meets not only these kids’ physical needs, but their need to know Jesus as well. There’s not one thing we’ve done here as a group that has not been done in Jesus’ name, making sure these kids know that this is not from us but from the love of Jesus.
Right after the sponsorship meeting, 5 of the volunteers, myself included, went to a wedding! An American girl came to Africa planning to be here for a month working at the African Deaf Institute, but while working there she met her future husband who is from Uganda & is deaf. It was so sweet to hear their story of how the Lord brought them together. The wedding was probably my favorite thing since I’ve been here! It was so much fun! The only American people there were the 5 EAC staff members and about 10 people from the bride’s family. It was so cool to be apart of their culture in such a real way & see their traditions that are so different from American customs. At the celebration after the wedding, they had African music & dancers for entertainment. They came to where all the mzungus (their word for white people) were sitting and asked if any of us would join them in a dance. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity along with 2 other EAC volunteers and the bride’s brother & friend. It was an absolute blast! After dancing with them, we had dinner.. my first real African meal. Again, it’s taking some getting used to for this picky eater, but I’m getting there. When it became dark, we got the chance to get huge lanterns. We held them for a few minutes waiting for the fire inside to inflate the lantern like a hot air balloon, and one by one they lifted up into the dark sky. By far one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. That started the dancing! Now, I love dancing, & my friends and I do it often, but this was a totally different experience. There was African music as well as familiar songs that I myself listen to in America. Singing & dancing around with both cultures was incredible. Saturday was an amazing day in Kampala to say the least.
Sunday (yesterday), was my first day in the village. Zirobwe village is where EAC’s church plant is. We spent the morning and afternoon there sharing the Gospel with people. Visiting each hut, I couldn’t believe this was really their home. This is where culture shock kicked in a little bit. Seeing pictures and videos does not compare to actually being there. That goes for the city life of Kampala as well. Their way of life is so different from everything I am familiar with. The women of EAC are in charge of Sunday school with the kids, and the men are in charge of “big church” with the adults. We played games with them, sang praise & worship songs, and told them about Christmas. Some of these kids had never heard of it before, much less the reason for celebration, Jesus’ birth. We talked to them about the Gospel and then asked questions at the end. It took a lot longer than it normally would if you were sharing the Gospel with people who spoke the same language as you, but we have a wonderful translator. The kids were so eager to hear about this Jesus we were talking about who came to save and redeem them. To my surprise, they actually retained the information we gave them. Their responses were such a blessing. So pure & genuine.
Today is a day for resting but also a day of planning & preparing for the busy week ahead. Tomorrow we go to the Zirobwe village to stay until Friday. I’m super excited about this. I cannot wait to really live & build relationships with the people there. My time in Uganda so far has been incredible. I’ve gotten to be apart of many different things, but my favorite time here is my alone time with the Lord. Although I hate admitting it, my first couple days here I didn’t spend time alone in the Word at all. It’s so easy to be deceived into thinking that you’ve gotten enough Jesus for one day. Somehow in hearing & talking about the Lord all day, I made myself think that I had done good. I was so convicted of that this morning when I spent time with the Lord in prayer. Satan uses the busyness, yes even in ministry, to make us fall. I’m praying for the Lord to show me my desperate need for Him everyday. I need to remember that I need Jesus just as much as the people in Uganda. I am in no way above them. I am so quick to quench the Spirit and forget the importance of time alone with God apart from serving Him publicly. As we give ourselves to the Lord in prayer, His image is imprinted more and more upon us. More and more we absorb the image of His character, His love, His wisdom, & His way of dealing with life and people. That’s what I want. That’s what I need. And that’s what I receive when I spend time in God’s Word and in prayer. I get more of Jesus and, in the process, a little less of me.