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