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