Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Heart Torn in Two

This Christmas break, I've had a great chance to sit and reflect on the last several months. In many ways I'm so thankful to be here, away from all of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, just having a simple day. But on the other hand, I would give just about anything to be with my family, because right now in a house 8,000 miles away there is an empty bed, an empty seat at the breakfast table, and fewer gifts under the tree.

But God has a purpose for it all.

As I sit out here on the veranda, bare feet propped up on a stool, fishing boats coasting out in the distance on the Nile River, the sun shining, I can't help but think of my heart right now. I am so at peace here doing what God has called me to do, and yet I long to be back home.

I have a heart that is torn in two.

God has split my heart between Uganda and home. For so long I've felt that it's a curse. That maybe I'm unable to be content because when I'm here I want to be home and when I'm home, I want to be here. Even before coming to Uganda in September, my heart felt so split. But I'm beginning to realize that as difficult as it is, there's a blessing behind it.

My heart desires to be here. I love walking out my door every morning, walking the dirt path down to the school or to the dorms and having little brown arms wrap around me and say, "Hello Aunt Alyson!" I love welcoming a team and helping to make their time here enjoyable and filled with plenty of opportunities to minister to the people. I love meeting new people and getting to know them, their past, and trying to build new friendships with them.

But my heart is also at home where my family and friends are. Where I can walk down the halls of the school I work at and white arms shoot up in the air waving as a child shouts out, "Hi, Miss Houser!" I love spending time encouraging and investing in the lives of the people I work with or the family and friends I've spent years building relationships with.

So the question I've had on my mind lately is how can God use a heart torn in two?

There must be a purpose, a reason that my heart feels so split. Other missionaries seem to fall in love with the place and work they do and some even never go home. They become so immersed in life in their country of service that their heart feels at home there, and God uses them for a certain purpose. But I don't seem to feel that same way.

So what is the reason for my split heart?

The more I think and pray about it, I feel that it is God-given. I've been thinking a lot about my work here and how so much of it is behind the scenes. Kaitlyn and I have been talking about working towards reducing the number of kids in the sponsorship program who don't have sponsors because we know we have the unique ability to connect the kids from here to sponsors in the US in ways that Ugandans can't. We understand the minds of Americans, but we also see the kids' lives here firsthand, and we believe that because of that we can make a difference.

God is using this split heart, connecting the two places for His glory, and I pray that others will come to know Him because of this heart torn in two.

- Aly

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Christmas Rush

Not being home for Christmas has really made me think about the true reason we celebrate. We say it at home, but there really seems to be no way to separate ourselves from the commercialism of the holiday season. Santas are positioned at every mall, Christmas music is playing after Halloween, and there's always some kind of "deal" for that "perfect gift" for someone special.
 
I always thought the Christmas rush was purely an American thing. But I find it's even here as well. In the supermarkets, the Christmas trees were put out at the beginning of November. I've heard the same 4 Ugandan Christmas songs since that same time. Over the last 3 days, the city has been abuzz with people. On our way to Jinja today, we were caught in the Christmas traffic jam.
 
Millions of people on their way to celebrate with family and friends in the village. They'll eat some special food, maybe get a few gifts and come back in a few days to go back to their daily lives.


 
It's strange that being away from what I feel is the normal hustle and bustle of it all has made it not feel like Christmas time. I put up a tree. I listened to Christmas music. I made cookies. But in so many ways it's felt forced. To me, Christmas is watching giant snowflakes floating through the air while Christmas music filters though the house as I sit and sip hot cocoa. It's decorating the tree, wrapping gifts, and waiting impatiently for everyone to open them. It's decorating cookies with my mom or my grandfather. It's my little town's "Christmas in the park" complete with Santa Claus, reindeer, sleigh rides, hot cooca, and cookies. It's sitting in the living room watching Christmas movies with no other lights on apart from the tree. It's eating a special breakfast with my family and going to my grandparent's in the afternoon, only to come home and spend the rest of the evening with my little cousins who are usually hyped up on sugar cookies.
 
So as we sat in traffic today, I couldn't help but think of all the billions of people in this world who are celebrating the day, but have no clue as to the true reason for the season.
 
We make Christmas about the trees, the music, the cookies, the meals, and the gifts so we rush around to make sure they all get done. But Christmas is so much more than all of the things we try to cram into the first 25 days of December. It's the simplicity of a tiny baby born to a teenage mother in the middle of a stable. A baby that would grow to heal the sick, raise the dead, and bring forgiveness of sin. The wonder of Christmas is not all the stuff we make it. There were no twinkling lights hung outside the stable, no plates of cookies passed out to the Shepherds. The songs we sing now did not exist at the time of Christ's birth. The wonder of Christmas is that God sent his son to live in and experience our world and to suffer the penalty for our sins so that we'd no longer be separated from Him.
 
So whether or not it feels like Christmas doesn't matter. What matters is celebrating that no more is there a division between us and God. We have easy access to Him, to His hope, His salvation, and His peace all because of a baby boy they called Emmanuel. God is with us.
 
- Aly

Christmas Cookies in Uganda

 It is a tradition at my house that every year my mom and I frost Christmas cookies together. We've done it since I can remember, and for the first time this year I'm not around to do it. It was hard at first, knowing my mom would still make the cookies and decorate them and that the tradition would go on without me. But I also thought it would be nice to make some of my own Christmas memories in Uganda. So of course I was so excited when I was helping Kaitlyn unpack and I saw a Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mix in her bag.

On Saturday we mixed them up. We stood at my little preparation station, added in a few ingredients and off we went.
 
We rolled it out


We didn't have any cookie cutters so we used a cup.


It was the smallest cup I could find and it still made giant cookies.


I only had one cookie tray so we could only bake them 6 at a time.


 
After a few of those, we decided to get creative.


 
We took a knife and etched Christmas trees, stockings, snowmen, candy canes, and ginger bread men out of the dough.

 
Once we baked them, we invited 3 of the girls up to help us decorate. One of them was my little neighbor, Michal. The other 2 are girls that are not able to go home for Christmas due to one reason or another and have been pretty bored around here without other kids around. So we try our hardest to keep them occupied with some fun activities.


 
Today it was the American tradition of frosting sugar cookies just before Christmas.
 
Michal needed some help with the frosting part...
 
But she had no problem enjoying the sprinkles.
 
 
 
 
It was a fun and special afternoon to share with the girls.
 

 
Afterward we let the girls enjoy the sweet treats.

 
We saved a few cookies for ourselves to frost. We didn't have power at all that day and by the time we sat down to frost ours, it was starting to get dark. So we had to frost them by lantern light.

 
(Photobombed by my own roommate...)


 
So while it wasn't quite the same as being home, sitting at my mom's kitchen table, bundled up in a sweater and scarf, and laughing with her, it was still a day filled with smiles, laughter, and love.
 
- Aly

Turning a Corner

It's no secret that the last few months have been a struggle for me. I came into this whole missions thing with very high expectations and when my experience didn't meet my expectations things got a bit rocky. I've struggled with homesickness, loneliness, burnout, and discouragement. I've openly shared all of those things here with you. But I also don't want you to think that I've spent the last 3 months sitting around my house miserable, because that is not the case. In fact, if anything I've thrown myself into the ministry work around me.

God has used these last 3 months to teach me about contentment, about slowing down, and about what really matters in life. He's given me perspective on how He is using this time to prepare me for what He has planned in the future, and has caused me to depend on Him in ways I never did before.

I was really struggling in November. Two days before the team came to Uganda, I sat in my house sobbing. I picked up my phone fully intending to call Reuben (the AMG director here) and beg him to let me go home. Instead, I prayed and called his wife, Florence. She's been mentoring me over the lasts several weeks. I told her I needed something, I just didn't know what. She sent someone to come and bring me to church the next day and have Sunday dinner with their family. Just having family time and hearing the Word (instead of being the one preaching it) helped.

Then the team showed up. I was immersed in my work, and I loved every minute of it. God has been changing my perception of ministry. I never imagined my ministry would be so behind the scenes or that I would love it so much. But in all honesty, I love when things are so well planned and I've run around behind the scenes that people don't even realize that there was anything to do. To me, that means the time was successful.

But something happened in the midst of having the team here and having them leave. I went from constantly being homesick and thinking about home to feeling immersed in the ministry here and like there is something here that I'm meant to do. I still miss home. I still miss my family and friends. Those things will never go away fully. I think in time I will learn to live with that part of my heart missing. But for now, God is giving me peace to know I'm right where I belong.

So after hosting my first team, and now hosting my first intern, I have turned a corner. There are still struggles now and I'm sure still many ahead, but something inside me  has changed. I now find myself looking forward to certain moments here. For instance, my next team coming in January, followed by youth camp, the kids coming back to school, starting up Dorcas again, doing some teaching, whereas before I could find myself counting the days, weeks, or months until I could go back home.

God hasn't changed my circumstances. My power still goes out all the time. The food I eat is still all the same. I work with the same people in the same place doing the same work. There are no outward changes in the things I face from day to day. But God has changed my heart, and it's made all the difference.

- Aly

A Helper

On December 16, my intern and good friend, Kaitlyn arrived in Uganda. I've been counting down the days until she arrived since the day I arrived in September. For 80 days I waited and waited, doing my best to make the most of my time alone. God certainly used that time to teach me and change my heart in so many ways, and as difficult as it was at times I have to say looking back I'm thankful for that time.



But now I have a coworker, and I'm so thankful for her. There's another set of hands to make load lighter - to do the dishes or sweep the floors. Cooking time is cut in half and food doesn't go to waste as easily. When the power is out after dark (which it has been doing for the last 5 evenings in a row) there's someone to sit and talk to at the supper table. There's someone by my side when I drive into Kampala dodging potholes and boda bodas, and there's someone to talk to and pray with every day. Someone who speaks English as quickly as I do and understands sarcasm and references to tv shows (which you think wouldn't be a big deal, but it adds a lot more laughter to my day).

Since the kids are now on Christmas break, I've spent the last week and a half just trying to get her acquainted with life in Uganda. She's been here twice before, but only for 2 weeks and always with a team. Life is much different when you live here, and she's beginning to see there's so much more to missions work than hugging children and teaching Bible stories.

We are taking time to prepare for when the kids come back to school in February, and for the team that is coming in January for 2 different youth camps. We are excited for what's to come and have a strong feeling in our hearts that God is going to use us for something huge. Please pray as we continue to get to know each other more and build our teamwork.

- Aly

If you would like to hear more from Kaitlyn about her time here, visit her blog at www.kaimking.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Driving Adventures


Driving Adventures

On Friday, Uncle Reuben handed me the keys to my Land Cruiser.

 

I still haven’t decided if I’m excited or terrified. I’ve driven a few times, both of which have involved near heart attacks as taxis and boda bodas have pulled out in front of me for no good reason. Up until Friday, I hadn’t driven in over 10 weeks. The last time I drove was on the back roads of Chautauqua county where the biggest traffic disturbance was a deer unable to decide if it wanted to cross the road. So going from driving in a town of 600 to a city of 1.5 million where there are no enforced traffic laws has been quite a challenge.

Success so far has involved a lot of prayer, and some well-timed honking of the horn.

Uganda drives on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle. That means that everything is backwards in the car. To look out the rearview mirror you have to look up and to the left, not up and to the right. The turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel, while the windshield wipers are on the left. I’ve turned the wipers on my fair share of times already when I’ve wanted to turn one way or another.

I must be getting used to driving/riding on the opposite side because while watching an American movie the other day, there was a driving scene and I gasped thinking, “THEY’RE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!!” Only until I realized they were fine could I breathe again. (Note to self: Don’t drive at home for a while after getting back!)

Driving has truly been an adventure so far. But I think it will also be a huge blessing. If I run out of food, I can head to Kampala to the supermarket. If I’m feeling homesick I can find somewhere with good internet and skype my family. During school vacations when I’m feeling bored and confined here at school I can go and explore the fun things to do.

Driving opens up all new doors here. Sometimes I can hardly believe I’m actually doing it, let alone able to find actually find my way around! Your prayers are greatly appreciated while I get adjusted to the driving here. (And prayers for my family too!)


Where They Come From


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a thousand words can’t even begin to tell the story.

Take a look at this picture.


 
The smile, the joy, the sweet innocence of that face. She looks clean. She looks healthy. She looks happy. She plays with the others at the childcare center. She laughs and shrieks with joy as the team breaks out the parachute to play with. She laughs and squeals as they play.

Now take a look at this picture.

 
While the Bundles of Love team was here, we did some home visitations in the slums of Kampala. Imagine a group of 15 wide-eyed white people with 3 Ugandans walking along narrow paths, water bottles in hand because of the intense afternoon heat, stepping over trash and other filth, walking past the wondering faces of the people who live there.

 
After half walking, half sliding down a steep incline, stepping over a stream of what I’m sure was not just water, and over some very shaky boards, we entered the belly of Naguru slum. We were greeted, not by the smiling faces of its people but by the stench of the locally brewed alcohol. The smell was so strong it could almost make you wonder if just smelling it would make a person drunk. None of us could imagine what could happen if a person actually drank the stuff.

But here we were, walking past these women, backs bent over black burning barrels. This is their livelihood. They brew it. They cool it. They sell it. All to make a few thousand shillings, enough for a meal and to replenish their stock.

I’ve seen it before, but it never gets easier, because one thought always goes through my mind:

This is where our kids come from.

The smiling faces from the center, the voices singing songs of praise, the feet that run around playing, they come from here or places just like this one. Naked babies, run down shacks, fetching water from rivers of trash and excrement. This is their reality.

A picture may be worth a thousand words. But a picture never tells the whole story.

- Aly

Bundles of Love


I welcomed my first team here on November 25. 10 teenagers and 4 adults from Georgia came to hand out Bundles of Love to the children in the sponsorship program here in Uganda.

Bundles of Love is a program put on by AMG International in many countries around the world at Christmas time. Children in the sponsorship program receive gifts, usually a needed item, that are all purchased in country. This year, the children received either a blanket and soap, a towel and a Bible, or a school uniform.

The team visited 5 out of the 6 childcare centers in less than 10 days. They brought games, crafts, face painting, and lots of fun, including a skit and a message about the difference between the temporary gift the kids would receive that day and the eternal gift of Jesus Christ.

The programs were usually made up of some praise and worship time, prayer, a message from the center staff, presentations of songs and skits by the sponsored children, and the skit and message from the team. After eating a nice lunch together and enjoying some Christmas cake (it’s almost like Christmas cookies, except not at all like that), the team had time to have fun and play games with the children.

They broke out the parachute which was a complete riot for the kids. I went inside to get a few pictures and was almost trampled a few times. If there’s 2 things the kids here love it’s fun games and a camera.  So when those two things come together, WATCH OUT!

The girls on the team did some face painting and nail polish. I’d like to say it was only the girls who enjoyed the nail polish, but some of the boys got in on that action too. Wouldn’t want to be left out on something awesome like painted nails!

We left each and every center completely exhausted and ready for some rest. But each morning the team was up and ready to do it all over again.

 
Having the team around wasn’t only a blessing to the children and staff here. It was a huge blessing to me as well. It was great to spend some time with other Americans, talking, laughing, and praying together. (And to be honest, it was great to be able to use sarcasm again for a few days with people who understand and appreciate it.)

The Lord sent a blessing when He sent this team, and I look forward to many more to come!

 - Aly

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fighting the Beast

When I was preparing to come to Uganda my thoughts were in Uganda. Everything I did was for Uganda. I imagined what life would be like in Uganda. I thought of the work I would do, the friends I would make, the kids I would help, the food I would eat, and the fun I would have.
 
Now that I’m here, I find myself fighting a beast – the beast of homesickness. My thoughts can so easily go back to home, missing my family and friends, missing the laughs, the countless hours of chatting about anything and everything.
 
The thing about the beast of homesickness is that it presents itself in different forms. Some days it can be seen in a sigh when I’m wishing that I could relax in my own bed or eat some Red Robin French fries. Other days it’s a small tear running down my cheek as I just miss my family. But other days, like today, it grips onto my heart like hands on a wet dishrag and squeezes until there’s nothing more left.
 
It’s a kind of pain I’ve never felt before in my life. It’s an ache for my mom’s arms wrapped around me after a bad day. It’s the longing to hear my dad quote some tv show or movie for the millionth time, or wish to hear my brother’s laugh while watching tv.  It’s the tears and sobbing that flow out when I’d give anything just to sit around a kitchen table and talk about anything that comes out of my heart.
 
And do you know what the worst part is?
 
I chose this.
 
God called and I said, “Yes.” He said go, and I said, “Here I am. Send me.”
 
But what other choice did I have? To disobey God’s calling in this season in my life?
 
What makes it all even more difficult is that most missionaries don’t want to talk about homesickness. They don’t want their supporters to know that they’re struggling. They don’t want it to be used as ammunition for anyone who thought they couldn’t make it. If they don’t decide to make a career of missions, they don’t want to hear the words, “See, I told you she couldn’t make it.”
 
But the truth is that homesickness is a very real thing in the mission field. I was reading a blog post by another missionary who compared missionaries to being the round peg God is trying to jam into a square hole. Nothing seems to fit just right. I try my hardest to fit in and would give anything to just feel like “one of them” and not stand out in the crowd, but the truth is God designed me to stand out in this place and at this time in life.
 
I’m still learning the cure to homesickness. I don’t think there’s any one remedy. Some days it’s to immerse myself in work. Other days I just let myself cry. Sometimes finding a few people to spend time with does the trick, and other times it’s spending some time alone with God. Some days it means going out to eat a meal I didn’t have to prepare, and other days it means staying in and getting on Facebook.
 
I know without a doubt that God has called me here. In this last week alone He has whispered to me more times than I can count, “You’re right where I want you. Don’t let your heart be troubled. I’m here with you and I won’t leave you.”  And there are some days that repeating that over and over is what gives me the strength to get through the day, because honestly at this point the thought of fighting this beast for the next 2 years is overwhelming. So I look for God’s strength for each day, and when that’s still too much to bear, I search for it minute by minute.
 
I don’t want to spend these 2 years wishing I could be home just so I can get home and wish I could be back here. The truth is that my heart will always and forever be split between these two places, home and home. The home I grew up in, and the home I’m making here. So despite the pain and heartache I will keep moving forward. I will keep on loving, keep on teaching, keep on praying, and keep on pressing on. And day by day, God will give me strength to do His work, in His timing, in this place until this season changes into another. And my prayer is that what I have learned in this season in life will help me in the next.
 
-          Aly

Monday, November 18, 2013

Aly and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Have you ever had one of those days where absolutely nothing goes right? No matter what you do to stop it, no matter how hard you try to keep a positive attitude, it just feels like a dark cloud is following you around like Eeyore. I had one of those days last week. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood stories, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. My mom used to read it to me when I was young, and it’s still one of my favorite stories to read to children. This week I feel as though I lived that story, so I thought I would write my own version here for you.

I went to bed with my mosquito net tucked in, and I woke up with a mosquito in my bed. When I went to use the bathroom, there was a lizard shuffling down the wall next to me.  Electricity has been off for 2 days and all of the food in my refrigerator has spoiled. I have nothing but a can of baked beans, some rice, and some stale crackers until I go shopping on Monday which is still 3 days away.

I tried to do laundry but the water tank was empty. I waited a few hours until it was finished filling and finally was able to wash  the huge stack of clothes that have piled up throughout the week. I hung them out to dry and no sooner walked back into the house when it began pouring.

The electricity came on for a short time after the main line was fixed in town, but then the transformer here at the school blew. So we still have no power. My clothes are still wet and hanging all over my bedroom. My floors are dirty and need to be mopped. I burned myself while lighting my stove to cook my last can of beans. The kids living here are end-of-the-school-year crazy and creating all kinds of chaos. And I live in the middle of Africa and haven’t seen the sun in days.

The house is too quiet, too empty, and dark.

It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

My mom says some days are like that. Even in Uganda.

Unfortunately this was my day for about 4 days in a row. It just kept repeating like a broken record. Any missionary in the field, especially one in the first year of service, has a breaking point. I reached mine last week. Things had been slowly building up over time to begin with. Between schedules and plans constantly changing, a schedule that feels out of control at times, and then physical needs not being met, it’s the perfect recipe for disaster. But God is teaching me, molding me, and making me into a better servant.

I learned that embracing the Ugandan mentality of only buying the food and supplies I need for a short time is not quite as good as keeping my American mentality of making sure I have a bunch of extra food  and supplies on hand just in case.  I’m finding that taking time for me is a good thing. That ministry work isn’t always something you can plan for. And that God can use some of the craziest things to change my heart.

I don’t know how God will use this time in the future. But I pray that He will allow all of these experiences to turn out for good in the end. If it’s possible that my hardest days here could help someone else in time to come, then it will all be worth it.

-          Aly

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lessons Under the Tree


Every Saturday afternoon, I meet with the older girls here at Upendo. It’s an informal meeting. We all bring blankets and sit under one of the handful of large trees we have on our compound. We talk about issues of life, play games, pray together, sing, and even do some crafts.

This week we talked about choices. We played the game, “Would You Rather.” They seemed to have fun answering the crazy questions I threw at them. Would you rather eat a worm with every meal, or have flies walk all over your food for an hour before you eat. Most of them picked the worm. (That might be because flies here can give you diseases if they walk all over your food). I also gave them all a 100 shilling coin. This would be equivalent to about 4 cents. I asked them questions and if it landed on the cow side, the answer would be yes. If it landed on the Ugandan Coat of Arms, the answer was no. I asked questions like, “Will I get married? Will I cheat on my next math exam? Will I pass science? Will I go to University? Will I betray my friends? Will I have 2 kids (cow side) or 10 (coat of arms side)?” According to what my coin told me, I’m going to be single with no university training because I cheated on my math exam and failed science, and I’ll have 10 kids and no friends because I betrayed them all.

It gave us a chance to talk about choices and how we often act as if we flip a coin, without thinking of the consequences of our actions. We will continue to talk about decision making over the next few weeks, and how we can make good decisions.

Please pray for these girls. They are at a very impressionable stage of their lives. Pray that God would work in their hearts and use me to help guide them.

-          Aly

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Very Special Birthday


Today is my birthday. I started the birthday celebrations a bit early this year. Since my birthday falls on a Monday and the kids are in school, I thought we should celebrate together on Sunday. So yesterday, I planned a celebration with the kids here.

We started off by watching Home Alone. I am telling you, I haven’t laughed so hard at that movie in a long time! It was absolutely hysterical watching them watch this movie. They loved all of the tricks Kevin played on the “bad guys.” They especially loved the part when Marv throws the tarantula off of his face and onto Harry and he gets up and hits him with the crowbar. This was their reaction (If you can zoom in, you can really see the awesome expressions on their faces):

 

When Kevin’s neighbor rescues him from the bad guys at the end by hitting them with a shovel, they cheered, clapped, and whistled. And when Kevin was reunited with his mom they applauded. I will never watch that movie the same again! And I can’t wait to show them Home Alone 2!

After the movie, enjoyed some birthday cake and sodas. The kids were excited about that. They sang to me as I cut the cake. I shared my moment with our P.7 Students. They are taking their Primary Leaving Exams this week. These exams determine whether or not they can go on to Secondary School. After they finish on Tuesday, they will all go home for the holiday break and they won’t return to us (we hope, because that will mean they passed). So I shared my celebration as a farewell to them as well. We cut the cake together (a Ugandan tradition) as the kids sang Happy Birthday to me.

 

One of the girls so kindly “baptized” us by shaking up and opening a bottle of soda. Nothing says happy birthday quite like soda in your hair and all over your glasses!

My neighbors prepared a special supper for me and we enjoyed some time together.

Today, my actual birthday, I’m in Kampala to plan for the team we have coming at the end of this month. I had a chance to celebrate with the staff and even went out for some pizza (not what you think, but 6 weeks without real pizza, and it’s close enough), and had some time to skype my family back home.

I’m so blessed in so many ways to be here. I’m thankful that God has brought me here, and for the 26 years of life He has given me. I’m thankful to my parents for being with me for all these years, supporting me and loving me through the good and bad times. But, that’s also what makes this day difficult. I’ve spent the last 25 birthdays with my family and friends. But this year, God has me thousands of miles away from them. I’m thankful for their support. Many of them sent birthday cards along with me when I left and I was able to open them this morning. So while we’re not together physically, we are together in heart and spirit.

I’m treating myself to a new phone today, since the one I have is not very good. Back home I’d be so excited to get a new phone. But it’s funny how things change, because today I’d give just about anything to forego any gifts just to get a hug from my parents, to spend some time with my best friend, and go out to dinner with my best girls. But God has a reason for everything, and being here has allowed me to share some very special time with these kids.

Today I’m celebrating 26 years of life, and praying for many more to come.

-          Aly



Lessons in Math


I taught my first academic lesson last week. I worked with Teacher Juliet, the Primary 4 math teacher. (On Tuesdays I go into P.4 Math, Wednesdays is P.5 Math, and Fridays are P.6 Math and P.4 English). She was teaching about measuring long distances in meters and kilometers. So we decided to take the kids outside to measure the length of the field. (That’s one of the great things about Uganda, it was the end of October and we could be outside without freezing!)

After giving them some time to measure (we only had one meter stick so they took turns and all counted together), we brought them back inside to teach them about converting meters to kilometers and vice versa.


 
Teacher Juliet taught the first half of the conversion lesson, and I took over the second half.
 
 It felt so good to be back in the classroom in a teaching role. I didn’t sub at all at the beginning of this school year back at home before I left, and I took the first month here to just observe classes, so this was really my first time teaching in several months, and I felt very at home.

Looking forward to next week’s lesson in P.4 as we teach about measuring liquids. I’m already collecting my containers to bring along to class with me!

-          Aly

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stepping Up and Stepping In


Today was visitation day here at Upendo Christian School where I work and live. At Upendo, we have some kids who just come to school during the day and then go home to their parents, and we also have some children who stay in our boarding section and are with us 24/7 for the months they are in school. Many of these children are orphans. They have extended family members who help take care of them during the school breaks, but most of them live far away and don’t have much money. One day per term (there are 3 total per year) the school has a visitation day. This is a day where parents can come and visit the school and check to see how their child is doing in class. For those who have no family, or their family lives very far away, they don’t get any visitors.

So today, I played the role of visitor for 6 girls.

I first visited Racheal. Her family lives about 75 miles east of here, so I knew they weren’t likely to come. She knew it too and her face said it all. I asked her if it was ok for me to be her visitor today. Suddenly her face lit up. We walked from the girls’ dorm toward the classroom. I started talking to her as if I were a family member she hadn’t seen in a long time. She laughed but played along, telling me that things were going well and she is happy to have a new teacher to help with Math (that’s me by the way).  We arrived in her classroom to speak to the teacher. Racheal is doing well. She is #3 in her class, though she wants to be #1. She struggles in math so we said that anytime she needs help she can ask me because I help tutor the kids on Tuesday and Friday evenings. After our conference was over, she talked to me about competing in class for the #1 position and how she feels discouraged when she doesn’t get good grades to get her to the top. This opened the door for me to talk to her about my own experiences and also to share that in life, we won’t always be perfect at everything. An example being that I make a good teacher, but if you asked me to fix a car engine I would fail every time. But that it doesn’t make me a failure in life. It just means I wouldn’t make a good mechanic. I told her not to become discouraged but to just keep doing her best, because God knows the effort we’re putting in.

I visited a few other girls. Many of them are struggling in their school work. In fact, one is failing terribly. She so badly wants to do well, but she just can’t seem to get there. As I spoke to her teacher I could see how terrible this girl felt about her grades. After our conference I also tried to encourage her. I told her that I would pray about how we can help her to improve. (And I ask that you’d pray as well, that God would help me to know how to help her so that she can succeed). I also told her that no matter what happened that God still had a good plan for her life and that He would use her in big ways whether she is good at spelling and math or not.

As visitation day came to a close, a handful of girls that didn’t have visitors had a reason to smile, and in my book that is a day well spent.
 
- Aly

Lessons from Laundry


I was watching the girls do laundry the other day. Growing up in Western New York, we always just threw dirty clothes in the washing machine, pulled the little button and went on to something else until it was time to throw the clean clothes in the dryer to dry.

Here, laundry is much different. You use the “natural machine” God gifted each of us with: your hands. Compared to these kids, I’m terrible at washing clothes.

Uganda is a place with no shortage of dirt and dust. And if it rains, there is mud everywhere. So clothes can get quite filthy. I watched the girls as they cleaned their clothes using bar soap and their bare hands. Holding the clothes in their fists they scrub the fabric together to work out all of the dirt and grime. Once finished, they dunk the clothes in rise water and wring them out, all within a matter of minutes. (For the record it takes me 20 minutes to wash my bed sheets and it’s still not as good as them! I figure, at least they smell good.)

As I watched them that morning I couldn’t help but think about my life right now. Tossed into the middle of Africa, God is doing some scrubbing of His own, changing my heart and making me look new again. The thing is, you can’t get clothes clean here if you don’t scrub them and wring them out, and that process is never a pleasant one. But unfortunately it is a necessary one.

I learned so much from those girls that morning. Sometimes life needs a good scrubbing. It takes some effort and muscle, but in the end, it yields something far better than you could imagine.
 
- Aly


Still Learning


These past 4 weeks have been eye opening to me. I am going to be completely honest in saying that when I pictured coming here, I thought that God would already be doing big, amazing things through me. I’m talking Mother Teresa/Billy Graham type experiences. I’m talking crowds of people coming to Christ, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor. In my mind, my superhero costume would be a skirt and t-shirt, and I’d have special soul-saving powers in my pink wristwatch.

In hindsight I realize that this was very wrong to imagine. I thought that my presence would suddenly change the world in enormous ways.

I had a bit of a Savior-complex.

So maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve found myself struggling these first several weeks. The mission field hasn’t met my ungodly high expectations of super-hero missionary status. Because, as I said before, sometimes I’m just doing my dishes, or helping a kid with their homework. Sometimes I’m just sitting in my living room writing out Bible lessons for the week, or writing emails to team leaders. My role has been much more behind the scenes than I imagined, which led me to realize something:

At this season in my life, God seems to be much more interested in working big things in me, rather than accomplishing huge things through me. Don’t get me wrong. I know God is using me, though sometimes I don’t always see or understand it. Is God really using me when I’m doing my laundry by hand and hanging it out to dry? Perhaps. How? Your guess is as good as mine. But these last few weeks have caused to see so much more change within myself than in those around me.

I’m learning to depend more on Him than on my own strength or abilities. I’m learning to think more of Him than anything else. I’m learning to stop and listen for Him, and to come to Him first to find comfort.

The problem is that as a human, I’m not all that comfortable with all this change in me. I’d much rather God be doing great things through me. It’s a whole lot easier isn’t it? We like it when God allows us to do great things for Him. It makes us feel good. But this whole process of moving 8,000 miles from home is doing a whole lot more inside my own heart than anything else right now.

So while the process is slow and painful at times, I’m learning to be open to the change. I’m learning how to adapt to this strange new life as a missionary overseas. And while at times I struggle more than I ever dreamed, I know that in the end God will bring me through. But first He has some work to do on my heart to help make me the servant here in Uganda that I need to be to serve His people in the best way I can.
 
- Aly

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Glitz-n-Glamorless


One day while making lunch, struggling with a bit of homesickness, sweeping ants out of my kitchen, and without electricity, I came to a very startling conclusion: Missions is not as glamorous as our church culture would make it seem.

We have these images in our minds of the lives of missionaries, that they’re out saving the world one soul at a time, healing the sick, educating the poor, helping the widows and loving the orphans. In our minds, every day is a huge success with souls won for Christ. They lay in bed at night marveling at all the wonderful things God did that day, just waiting for morning to come to do it all again.

Now, don’t get me wrong. God is doing amazing things through missionaries in the world. This is not a post to bash the work of missionaries. But as a missionary, sometimes I’m just making lunch and sweeping ants out of my kitchen wondering how on earth God could be using this to further His kingdom. Sometimes I fall into bed at night wondering if I did anything to encourage someone, or show them Christ’s love. Sometimes I wonder, “Did I miss something?”

To some extent I blame the growing popularity of short-term mission trips. People spending 1-2 weeks traveling to a foreign country to participate in pre-planned ministry work. During these trips people see God at work in ways they never have before. They’re preaching His word and sharing His love like never before. Every day is a great success. Meanwhile, there is always someone to do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. The short-termer only needs to be concerned with the ministry work.

It’s been a bit different this time, as my pile of laundry grows each day and my ability to do it depends on whether or not it decides to rain that day. The house loses electricity often which puts food in danger of spoiling. And many of the people I come into contact with outside of AMG are skeptical of what this young white girl is doing in their community.

So when I remember the stories of all these great missionaries I wonder still, “Did I miss something?” But God has brought me to another startling conclusion even as I type: There was nothing glamorous about Jesus’ ministry on earth.

He left the glory and riches of Heaven to be born in the lowliest of places. During His ministry, people tried to kill him several times. We have example after example of Jesus preaching but no one really listening. His closest friends abandoned Him in His greatest hour of need. And at one point he said, “Foxes have holes, but the Son of Man doesn’t even have a place to lay his head.”

Serving Christ overseas (and in any other capacity) has its joys. I’ve had some great conversations with the kids, as well as some of the workers here over the last few weeks. I know that God will use me in great ways over these next 2 years. But the work doesn’t come without a cost.

So as I make lunch and sweep ants or lizards or frogs out of my kitchen, I don’t have to wonder so much about how God could use all of this to further His Kingdom. Instead, I’m encouraged to know that God is using this to shape my heart, to make me more like the one who came to this earth and lived out His purpose no matter the cost.

-          Aly

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Fine Fine Life - Cooking in the Dark


As a missionary, I’ve been sent to Uganda to share Christ’s love with the people here. I will be doing that through a variety of different things which I will be sharing over time. But sometimes life happens, things go wrong or something unexpected pops up. What then? So I’m starting a segment called “It’s a Fine Fine Life,” to give you a look into what life is like when I’m not out doing my missionary thing. It won’t always be pretty, but I can assure you that it will always be honest.

It gets dark in Uganda by about 7pm. There’s no real sunset like at home where you can sit outside for a while and enjoy the beauty of the setting sun and the lingering colors it leaves behind. Here, if you want to watch the sunset, you’d better set a timer and bring a flashlight because when that sun goes down, it’s dark. (Consequently, the same thing happens in the morning. If you’re not awake by 7am you will be because it’s as if someone turned the lights on in the house).

Ugandans don’t tend to eat dinner until later in the evening. So when the power is off from 4-9pm (as it was the first few nights I was here), preparing dinner can be quite difficult, so I had to use my imagination and figure out how to get it done.

 



(What, you don’t take selfies when you’re cooking potatoes with a flashlight in your mouth?)

I could really use an extra set of hands…or maybe an intern.

Getting Settled


I’ve been in Uganda for 12 full days, and it sure has been an adventure. I’ve dealt with a kitchen full of ants, a lizard in my suitcase, cooking with no power, cooking with no running water, a never ending supply of dirty laundry, and a house that never seems to stay clean. That doesn’t include ministry!  There are kids who need my attention and teams to plan for. And of course, there are times of feeling homesick.
Needless to say at the end of the day I’m quite exhausted. Sometimes I wish that my mosquito net automatically came down so I could just fall into bed.
 I had a bit of a rough start. I think sometimes settling in is the hardest thing because there isn’t a whole lot of interaction time. I spent the first 4 days adjusting to the time change, recovering from the jetlag, and settling into my new home. In that time I was missing my family and friends so much at times it could make me feel physically sick. I had to really dig into God’s word and search for Him.
I sat down with the administrator here at Upendo School, and we worked out a tentative work schedule for me. I “officially” started on Wednesday. I split my time between the school (which also happens to be where I live on the outskirts of Kampala), and AMG’s office in the city. No two days of my schedule are exactly alike. Some days start early while others end late. 
This weekend went by in a bit of a blur. Friday faded into Saturday, which slid into Sunday. But I had a few hours today to get some house cleaning done, and still had time to hang out with the kids and relax at the house for a bit.
I want to thank everyone for the prayers. You have no idea what it means to me to know that I have so many people supporting me back home. It’s one of the things that brought me through those first few days here. I kept reminding myself that there were countless people back home who believe in what I’m doing and are lifting me up in prayer, and it was such an encouragement to me.
There’s certainly more to come, so stay tuned. I’ll be updating as often as I can. Be sure to keep clicking down the page because I may put up more than one blog post at a time.
-          Aly

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lessons From an Almost 2 Year Old

Tomorrow is the day that I will board a plane bound for Uganda. These last several days have been very difficult for me as I say good-bye to friends and family. In fact, this may be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

On Sunday, I went to say goodbye to my little buddy Wesley. He's almost 2 years old and can always manage to bring a smile to my face.

 
That evening while we were playing and giving lots of hugs, Wesley taught me something very important about what I've been going through these past several days.
 
First, here's a little background. Wesley had been staying at his Grammie's house because his Mommy had a new baby. Not really understanding what's going on, Wesley has been a little clingy to Grammie so Grammie was exhausted and happy to see me come to give him some attention. I offered to give him a bath. When I asked him, "Wesley, do you want to take a bath?" At first he said no. But when I asked him again, he looked at me and smiled. He said, "Yeah!" He ran into the bathroom, saw the bath, and went running back out of the room wimpering. He needed a hug from Grammie again. After some tears and running away, I eventually got him into the tub. When he's finally in the warm water, splashing away, he remembers how much fun it is. He laughs and laughs and enjoys a good time. When it's time to get out, now the bath he cried about getting into at first is the same bath he cries about getting out of. He doesn't want to leave, and he surely doesn't want to get dressed. I wrestle his clothes onto him (which is a very accurate description of what it takes to dress this little boy), and we play and have a great time now that he's out of the tub.
 
Life is so much about adapting. Our lives are constantly changing, and sometimes those changes are difficult. Right now I'm feeling so much like Wesley and his bath. God has called me to go to Uganda and I said with a smile, "Yeah!" But now that it comes down to leaving and saying good-byes, I'm feeling the tears coming. The crazy thing is I know that once I get there, I'll be fine. I'll be happy and at peace because I'm where God wants me to be. And once I'm there for 2 years, it'll be so hard to leave.
 
With every change in life comes a time to adapt, a chance for faith to grow, and an opportunity to be less dependent on ourselves and more dependent on God. So while I may be facing the tears and heartbreak that come from so many good-byes, I'm learning my lesson from my little buddy Wesley (actually 2: the first was never wear socks when giving a 2 year old a bath) that just around the corner is something even better than I'd imagined. And just like I was with Wesley that entire evening, God will be with me through it all.
 
- Aly

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stuff Gets in the Way

I have a bit of a confession to make. Last Saturday, I was issued my very first speeding ticket. I'm not proud of it. In fact, I was pretty mortified at the whole thing. It didn't help that a man drove past me in a black Jeep smirking. The very first thought that went through my mind as the red and blue lights flashed in my rearview mirror was, "Seriously, Aly?! 11 Days! That's all you needed to get through was 11 more days!"

When the officer issued my ticket, he told me my court date. September 25 at 6 pm. The exact time I should be catching one of my connecting flights. It was not a good day people. I couldn't decide if I wanted to laugh, cry, or scream at the top of my lungs. I was so upset, and to add that onto an already stressful time of trying to get packed and tie up all loose ends before I leave, I was a bit of a mess.

It was one of those things that consumed my mind that day. I kept replaying it in my head, which only made me more upset, which only made me think of it more, and so the cycle continued. But here's the thing: Saturday was a special day for me. A day that I typically take time to remember all that God has done in my life.

Saturday marked 4 years since I came home from Uganda and fell sick with an illness that knocked me down for almost a year. For months I battled with terrible headaches, crushing body aches, fever, chills, and severe joint pain. I was initially treated for malaria, and when that medication didn't stop the symptoms it sent me on a long journey to various specialists who performed various tests all to no avail. I was completely bed-ridden for 3 months, only getting out of bed or the couch to shower and eat. I had no energy. For another 6 months I was only able to make it out of the house for church, doctor appointments, and a visit to a local indoor pool twice a week to get me moving again and remind my body that staying still was not ok.

My best friend would drive me to the pool. I'd always bring bottles of water for us to drink along the way, but after months of inactivity I couldn't even open the bottles myself. My brain felt clouded, and I had a very hard time focusing. I could sleep away most of the day and then be awake half the night. My joints felt like someone was constantly squeezing me.
With encouragement from my doctor, I found a homeopathic specialist. They concluded that my problems were likely a result of parasites. Healing was a slow and painful process, because it consisted of detoxing. My diet was changed so that I was no longer feeding the parasites, and as they slowly met their end I was in misery.

But I made it. And today, I can say with confidence that I am healthier and stronger than I ever was, even before the illness.

Saturday marked 4 years since that trial started. And I almost allowed a speeding ticket get in the way of celebrating all God has done in my life. It's so easy for us to allow the little things in life to cloud our view of what really matters. It's easy for us to lose focus when life gets in the way. But if we can take a moment to step back we realize that God uses these moments in our lives in one way or another, and often times we don't realize to what extent until years later.

Is there something in your life today that's clouding your view of the bigger picture of what God's working out. Take a minute. Step back from it all. And try to from His perspective. You might just find that in light of how huge God is, you problem doesn't seem so big after all.

- Aly

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Shot in the Arm

Being a missionary isn't all fun and games. Today I had to go get shots for Polio and Meningitis. I went to the health department this morning, not very excited about getting them. I was in with the nurse when my Pastor walked around the corner. He moonlights at the Health Department when he's not at church or doing other pastorly things (though he'll be retiring soon and can tell you the exact amount of days he has left). I was happy to see a friendly face, and he happily kept me talking while the nurse shot me full of vaccines (and also snapped this photo for me).
 
 


I still have the bandaids on, not so much because I need them, but because they're pretty stuck to the tiny little hairs on my arm. I'm a bandaid peeler. I have to slowly and gently remove a bandaid. It usually involves some painful (pitiful?) sound effects.
 
 
 
What about you? Are you a bandaid peeler or do you just rip it off in one swift move? I think all I need is for a ripper to come and tear it right off my arm without telling me. Although I should warn you I've been learning self-defense tactics and I'd be happy to show off what I've learned.
 
- Aly

Friday, August 23, 2013

Citizens of the World Beware!

Tuesday, I drove to our local AAA with my membership card, driver's license, and $15 in hand. That's all it takes to get one of these:
 

I can now legally drive in Uganda (in addition to over 150 other countries in the world). Scary, I know.
 
 
So what will driving look like in Uganda? In my experience it is a scene of mass chaos. I read somewhere that there are 7 traffic lights in Kampala. Of those, I've only seen about 3, and I've only seen them working a handful of times. (You can see in the following photo, we have photographic proof that this one was working that day. Or at least the red light was.)
 
 
The rules, as best as I can understand, are if you're a bigger vehicle you have the right of way at all times no matter what. In addition, the boda bodas (or motorbikes) weave in and out of cars wherever there is enough room. From what I've witnessed, there's always room. (See below).
 
 

 

I'll have my hands full dodging potholes...
 
 
On the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road...
 
 
Prayers are greatly appreciated!
 
- Aly