The Eidens are heading back to America. That's right folks, we have our return date: March 15. Well, that is our departure date. We won't get back to Hays until the 17th, so here's to three days of traveling! There has been a whole lot of prayer and thought put into this, and we feel that God has blessed us with confirmation. How do we feel about this? I can best describe it as bittersweet. We are thrilled to be closer to family and friends, and all the comforts of home. At the same time, we’re sad to be leaving Uganda and all of our new friends here. But, as we always strive to do, we are seeking God first, and we are confident that this is when He is leading us home.
So, what does that mean for this family? Beyond the departure date, not much. We aren’t sure where God is leading, but we are confident that our time in Uganda is coming to an end (at least for now). There have been some big developments in our life in the last couple of months, so let me (Nick) fill you in.
In November, I felt God's call to ministry. I know that God is leading me to work as some sort of pastor, but the specifics, including a location, have yet to be revealed. I have been given the opportunity to preach several times, as well as lead a Bible study, and form some pastorish relationships. I love this stuff! It is becoming clear to me that this is what I was made for. I have started seminary online, and it is going great! If all goes as planned, I will have a Masters of Divinity (sounds fancy, right?) by the end of 2015. We are excited to get going on this next phase of ministry. We are heading back to Hays, Kansas for now, and will go as The Lord leads. So, as soon as God blesses us with an instruction about what to do and where to do it, we’re on it! Things are a little up in the air until that happens, but hey – if we can move to Uganda, we can do about anything! God literally can’t take us any further from home (or out of our comfort zone!)
Recently, I was able to video-chat with two of our pastors, Brant and Kyle, and they had some key advice for us: "stay until your work is finished." As Sarah and I both pondered and prayed through that wisdom, we realized that most of the things we had set out to accomplish have been. Sarah has been working with and training her replacement for the a.k.a. Hope school. The new teacher is ready to go, and has taken over the class. Several of the improvements to the school have been implemented, including access to clean water and the regular use of books, with Sarah leading the charge! My efforts with Kyampisi Childcare Ministries and Kyampisi Community Church are wrapping up. I have gone through all the case files and done what I can do to help with the investigations. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out http://kyampisi.org/?page_id=133
for more information.)
Also, we think that God may have planned all this out from the beginning. We never had a firm departure date. We felt that we were to spend about a year here, which we are approaching. Due to the airlines only scheduling flights out less than a year, the latest return flights we could book were March 15. We knew that we could change them, for a fee of about $800, so this was our plan. But now that we are nearing that date, it seems like this is when God wants us to fly home. So we are. Goodbye Uganda, hello again America. We are about to see how much America changed while we are gone, or more likely how much we have changed.
When people ask, “What are you looking forward to about coming back to the US?,” I usually answer with some food I miss eating, or how it will be so good to be around family and friends again. And it’s true- I do miss those things. But also, I am looking forward to giving my heart a rest.
My heart is being pummeled. A constant cycle of breaking and healing. It is exhausting and overwhelming. Right now, I have the fan on, not because it is hot, but because I don’t want to hear the neighbor yelling, “I’ll beat you!” in Luganda. I don’t always want to know when kids are sneaking into our gate to look through the trash. Sometimes, I just want to be Mom. Sometimes, I don’t want to think about what the children from my class are doing right now or if they’ve eaten today. I don’t want to see a guy lying on the side of the road and wonder if he is sleeping or dead… and then try to decide if I should do something about it. Some days, it is just too much to think about the young women being tricked into sex slavery, the witch doctors, and corrupt government officials. Today is one of those days.
Can I please just go back to worrying about what I’m going to wear to church? Or make for dinner? I’m not saying that America doesn’t have problems. (I think it was easier for me to compartmentalize there though.) And I’m not even saying that Uganda’s problems are worse than America’s. Pain is pain. Tears are tears. Sorrow is sorrow. People are going through real struggles everywhere. My eyes are just being opened to a new genre of hurt.
Thankfully, I have been spared from pain and sorrow for most of my life. For some reason, God chose to give me everything I’ve ever needed… and wanted, really. Why? Why me? I did nothing to deserve the blessings I have. Every good thing that I am is directly from Jesus. He is the source of hope, joy, and goodness. Without Him, I would be nothing.
On days like today when I just can’t make sense of things, the only thing I can do is remember that my job is to listen and obey. That’s it. I can’t fix everything. I can’t fix anything! But God can. He can use me to do whatever He wants. And instead of thinking, “that’s all I can do…” I should be thinking, “I am doing what I was born to do.”
Some of you may remember Frank from an earlier post: http://eidens.weebly.com/1/post/2013/08/unexpected-friendship.html
He’s the guy who lives in our compound, opens the gate, and keeps the place tidy. It’s time for an update on our friend, but first, a timeline of events leading up to this weekend: July
- met the guy, said “Thank you” when he opened the gate. August
- Frank started asking about English words, and Nick began teaching him English once in a while, when we all happened to be outside. September
- We started taking kids from our neighborhood to church. We invited Frank, but he declined and said, “Busy. Church radio.” Nick felt like God was prompting him to buy Frank a Bible, so he picked out a nice Luganda one and gave it to him. After that, we saw Frank reading in the afternoons on his little wooden stool outside his apartment. We even saw him outside the gate reading with a friend. It was so exciting to see that he was proud of his new Bible and that he wanted to share with others around him! October
- Another family in our compound had their laptop stolen, and Frank was accused. The local police arrested him and took him to jail. Nick brought him some food and water, correctly assuming that he wouldn’t be having meals there. He prayed with Frank and talked with the police officers about the investigation. Out of curiosity, Nick asked the officers about a bond for him, and was told there was no bond, and that Frank would just have to stay in jail until they determined that he was innocent. The next day, Nick got a call from the police commander asking him to come back to the station. When he got there, he was informed that he could bond Frank out, but no money was required. Instead, he could sign a form that promised Frank’s return to the station upon the end of the investigation. Nick asked what would happen if Frank didn’t show up. “Then we take you,” was the answer.
Now, I know this sounds like a very very stupid thing to do. It does not at all sound like something Nick would sign up for. He didn’t go there with the intention of paying a cash bond, let alone a human one! He called me from the station and asked what I thought about this. And all I could think was, Well, he wouldn’t be the first person in this family to spend some time in an African prison…
I told him that I didn’t think it was a logical choice, but that I trusted him to make the right decision. The logical option is not always the one we are supposed to choose.
Nick felt a very strong urge that this was what God wanted him to do, so he signed the paper. He asked the officers to explain to Frank what was happening, and had them translate: “Can I trust you?” Frank’s eyes were surprised, thankful, and sincere as he said “Yes.”
As you can imagine, the next few days involved quite a bit of prayer, and a careful eye on Frank. When the time came for the appointment at the station, Frank was ready and waiting! The two men went to the police station and were told that Frank had been found innocent! Both were cleared of charges. November
- We noticed Frank was getting dressed in his best clothes and going somewhere on Sunday mornings. He also stopped smoking (which we didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out to us). December
- Frank asked us to give him a ride to his church. We agreed. He seemed so proud to show off his mzungu friends, and his great Luganda church! January
- Our time with him seemed more frequent and a little more significant. Even though we still were only able to speak 1-2 word sentences, we all enjoyed our time together. Nick, Frank, and the neighborhood boys played basketball, and sometimes we all just played with Andy and Bethany out in the driveway. February
- On Friday last week, using a friend to translate, Frank told us he was getting baptized on Saturday! “Church. 8. 9. or 10.” Well, that was vague… So the next day, when we noticed Frank had left the compound, we loaded up the kids and headed to Frank’s church (about 8:30) and were told to come back at 10. When we got there at 10, there was a big purple bus waiting to take everyone to the lake! Awesome! After hanging around, waiting for the baptizees to have a little class, and the pastor speaking about something to the rest of us, and watching the kiddos make some new friends, we loaded up again and followed the bus in our car (about 11:00). I guess we forgot how stupid our car is, because, of course, it broke down on the way. Thankfully, the people on the bus noticed and sent someone to come check on us. One of the pastors stayed with us until we could get the car “fixed,” and we were on the road again (about 12:00)!
We finally made it to the lake with the pastor just in time to see the first people making their way into the water. (I’m still not sure if they were waiting for us or if it just took that long for prayer and pre-baptism pep-talks.)
Frank helped walk each of the new Christians through the water to a spot about 50 ft out from the shore. Each one seemed overjoyed by the significance of what they had just done- submitting their lives to the Lord, dying to self and living in Christ! While the baptisms were going on, other church members were singing and clapping to traditional Ugandan worship songs, a few of which we recognized and joined in singing!
Finally, it was Frank’s turn. He slowly walked out to the baptizing place and stood with the two pastors in the waist-high water. His eyes were full of determination as he looked toward our family. He went under, then came back up with a huge smile! We cheered (only for a short moment though, as we realized it is not customary to cheer in that moment here) for our friend! He walked through the water back toward shore, and Nick met him part way with a big hug. “Ande-rew. Jesus!,” he said as he came into the grass! “Frank got baptized because he loves Jesus!,” 3-year-old Andy announced! We each gave him another hug before he knelt to pray with the group. We all sang some more and prayed together asking God to continue to keep them close. What a sight it was- all these soaking wet people kneeling in the grass earnestly seeking God, surrounded and supported by their friends and church family. I am so thankful that we got to be a part of it!
Frank has been a blessing in our lives. This relationship is an odd one, but a beautiful one. We don’t have deep conversations or spend loads of time together. I am not sure what other factors took place in Frank’s life to bring him to this moment. We don’t know anything about his past, or about his friends or family. We really have no idea if the transformation happened because of us, or in spite of us! But we are so blessed to walk along with Frank in his journey with Jesus.
You know what I think is pretty cool about this story? It is not unique to Uganda. You don’t have to be a missionary in a foreign country to form a relationship and help someone know Christ! I am one of those people who isn’t super-excited about striking up random conversations with strangers just for fun. But I want to make more of an effort to foster relationships and open doors to communication about faith, whether it is here in Uganda, or back in Hays, or anywhere else in the world!
While Mimi, Papa, and Aunt Stacia were here, we got to go on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation! Murchison Falls National Park was our destination for a fabulous Safari. We got stinkin' close to rinos, elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, baboons, crocodiles, monitor lizards, Uganda kobes, haatbeasts, water buffalo, wart hogs, and a bunch of birds! Amazing!
We also spent some quality time at Lake Victoria in Munyonyo, and hung out in Kampala (see the previous post about our time at akaHOPE school). No one sustained any injury or sickness during the trip, which were our biggest fears! Thank God for a wonderful visit! I can still hardly believe they were here with us in Uganda! Here are some photos of our time together:
welcome sign- We were SO excited!
Bethany loved having Mimi here!
checking out the neighbor animals with Aunt Stacia
Ziwa Rino Sanctuary- maybe not the safest place for a group picture!
Andy and Papa are buds.
Stacia and mini-Stacia!
one of many sing-alongs
sunrise on the Nile River waiting for the ferry
No cages or fences, folks! Those beauties were right there!
This photo is just too cute not to post! My parents on Safari, ladies and gents!
The dark area is the shadow of our vehicle. You should have heard me when I realized Nick was hanging out the window filming! Good thing this big guy had already caught his breakfast.
Awwww! The baboons were not shy. We even saw a couple jump into a safari van to steal some apples.
both kiddos all tuckered out from the safari, happily resting on the Nile boat tour
Nick and Stacia were the ones brave enough to hike all the way to the top of Murchison Falls.
Andy continually reminds us, "That elephant was charging everyone!" This mother elephant ventured close to the ferry and a bunch of tourists got closer and closer to take photos, until she started charging and yelling. The people had gotten between her and her baby. I left the bags, grabbed the kids, and sprinted away. Mom managed to snag this photo!
Morning coffee at Sambiya River Lodge! Notice our fabulous guide, trip organizer, and friend Edith!
Toes! Stacia and Beth's favorite game!
Last dinner together in Uganda! Crocodile, springbok, kudu, and ostrich were on the menu. Yum!
Soaking up our last few hours together! (Sorry- I couldn't resist the pun. I have spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad lately.)
Last week, we had the honor and privilege of a visit from my mom, dad, and sister. We were so blessed by their time here! We all had tons of fun on safari and at the pool (blog post coming soon), but the most special time for me was the day we spent at a.k.a. HOPE.
We invited all the students and teachers back to school during the break. The day started out with preparation for each of the activities we had planned, while the teachers worked on cooking the food. Thanks to Nick’s mom and dad for funding the lunch for the school children! Then came introductions and lots of singing by all of us!
My mom brought suitcases full of books donated by teachers and librarians from all over! Thank you to the Nebraska Library Association! We laid out the books on a big table and let the kids enjoy reading, which they did for a very long time! It is wonderful to have new books- we are all so grateful! Mom also told a story to the children and had them join in! So much fun!
Stacia and Dad set up a health assessment area. First, Dad checked the students and teachers in, getting each patient's name, age, pulse, and temperature. Then they received medical testing and met with the local health counselor. Next they saw Stacia for a physical examination. There were a handful of kids who needed immediate medical attention, which we were able to implement that very day! Thank you to the Brandenburg and Peters families for donating funds for the medical supplies!
After the check-ups, we had play time with new soccer balls donated by some friends at New Life Church in Kearney, Nebraska! We were also blessed with new craft supplies, stickers, and balloons donated by Nick’s parents. What a great time we all had!
At the end of the long productive day, we all sat down and enjoyed our lunch of posho, rice, and beans. Before the students went home, we distributed the very special gift bags for each child. The boys received shorts and t-shirts, and the girls each got a new dress and matching doll. Thank you to the Celebration Church Quilting Ministry for these hand-made gifts! Friends from our churches in Hays and Kearney donated socks, underwear, and toys for each child as well, which were very joyfully received!
Walking around our school, watching all this going on, I was touched by the beauty of serving with my family here in Uganda. It was so sweet seeing my husband, children, parents, and sister all caring for the least of these- the precious children I have come to love. I was overwhelmed with joy and peace! I also thought of all the people who had contributed to this special day! All the donations, letters, and prayers made it a success. (At one point, we thought all the luggage was gone forever. But LOTS of prayers later, they were finally delivered to the hotel just in time for us to sort for the distribution day!)
I thank God for each person who sacrificed for these children. We are grateful for your generosity and support of this mission. The children felt your love in person, and from across the globe. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Merry Christmas from Uganda! We love you and miss you all! It's kind of a bummer to miss the Hillman Walmart Gift Exchange and Nana's Christmas cake, among other special traditions.
In our neighborhood, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" means that more people are carrying chickens around for their Christmas meals. Ours is the only place in the area with twinkling lights. (You know Nick- even in Africa, he found and expertly hung LEDs!) While we are feeling a bit lonely this Christmas, it has helped us focus more on Jesus, which is a blessing.
We have so much to be thankful for, starting with the birth of our Savior. For some reason, this year, it has hit me harder than other years. Jesus was the son of the most high King, living in Heaven, walking on streets of gold, seated on a throne, living in absolute splendor. And God the Father sent Jesus down to a filthy little cave in Bethlehem, knowing His Son would die for me, because He loves me and wants me to spend forever with Him. All this, not because I am wonderful and deserving of this, but because He knows that I cannot possibly earn it myself- because the only way I can get to Heaven is if my sins are accounted for! So God chose to let His Son die for me. I can hardly wrap my mind around it.
So...It's been a good Christmas for the Eidens- lots of family time and new traditions! Here are some pictures of what we've been up to!
(If you are following us on Facebook, you may have already seen some of these.)
Some wonderful Christmas carolers visited us!
Some of the kids from school took me on a little tour of the area. We collected flowers, lemons, mangoes, and avocados for our Christmas feast!
a.k.a.HOPE Christmas tree complete with flowers, balloons, and homemade garland!
The teachers cooked for the students!
Our Christmas Feast: posho, rice, beans, matooke, cabbage, and beef!
First Christmas Play!
Bethany loved making Christmas cookies!
sharing the cookies with our neighbors
ACE and Beth enjoyed decorating our little tree with African ornaments we got as gifts from friends and found at craft markets!
Our tree all lit up on Christmas Eve. Cards from new friends, our special Ugandan nativity, and lots of balloons make me smile!
Birthday Party for Jesus!
Christmas morning happy face!
The long-awaited guitar is finally here! We may have found the only child-sized guitar in all of Kampala.
While we are between terms at school, we decided to take an overnight trip to Jinja, Uganda. It was lovely to get out of the dusty, noisy city and relax!
We stayed at a quirky little bed and breakfast called "The Source of the Smile." Andy jumped into the pool approximately 500 times and would have spent the entire trip doing it if we'd let him! Bethany was content to relax by the pool eating snacks.
We visited The Nile River and took a canoe ride to the source. Andy even got to drive the boat! Both kids loved splashing in the water and spotting wild animals! We saw monitor lizards, many different birds, crabs, monkeys, and even one tiny snake!
The next day, Nick took off on a rafting trip. He had a great time and even got capsized twice! How many people can say they went rafting down The Nile?! Such a cool experience!
We have lived in Kampala, Uganda for about six months now. In answer to some questions from you folks reading the blog, here is a post about the major changes we’ve experienced as a family! Nick and I worked together to compile this list for you.
The Top 10 Ways Life Has Changed for the Eiden Family:
#10: Kid Stuff
During any given week in Hays, Kansas, you could usually find Sarah and our two kiddos at all of these locations, all within a 5 min drive or 10 min walk:
-Sternburg Museum of Natural History (family membership as a gift from Aunt Stacia)
-each of the three playgrounds near our home
-The Hays Mall
-Gram Rose’s House
-Sonic, McDonald’s or Burger King PlayPlaces
-Celebration Church Gym
-Hays Public Library Children’s Department
-Frontier Park and Big Creek
I had no idea that Hays was such a treasure trove of free and fun places for kids and families! Here in Kampala, we are also blessed with kid-friendly things to do, but they come at a price. There are a handful of playground areas (some nicer and safer than others…) which usually cost about $2+ per child. It takes a 30+ minute car ride to get most places, so a trip to the playground usually accompanies a necessary errand. There are no grassy areas within walking distance, at least none that are unoccupied by animals (goats, cows, etc). There is a museum here, but it is not that kid-friendly, nor cost-effective for us (but we did have a nice time while we were there!). There are some beautiful pools and resorts around, but they are a once-in-a-while activity due to cost and location. And, we have yet to find a library with a children’s department.
So, our new list of usual family activities is:
-walk down to Ibrahim’s shop (neighborhood roadside stand) for fresh produce
-help Frank (gate man) bring the goats in for the night
-local restaurant playground
-visit school and play games with the kids
-kick the ball around with the neighborhood kids
Again, we are so blessed to have a vehicle, money for playground tickets, and healthy legs for walking. No complaints! Plus, Uganda has beautiful weather year-round, so the outdoors are almost always available for fun! Of course, learning letters sounds, counting, music, and reading are all still a part of our daily routine!
#9: We’ve Got the Power… yeah, no.
I’ve been keeping track somewhat, and I don’t think we’ve gone more than 3 consecutive days with Internet, Electricity, and Water all working. Our electric water heater is a real God-send, but it does kind of stink when you try to take a shower during a power-outage and realize Cold or Dirty are your only options. It also takes a good 30 minutes to heat up, so no last second bathing decisions! We are learning to be thankful for these amenities… luxuries, really. There are people around us without these extravagancies, reminding us of how blessed we are to be able to afford to watch our silly tv shows, and keep up with friends and family online.
If I have a question about my kid’s runny nose or an insect I found, Google is only a click away.
We have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know people from all over the world during our time in Uganda. Our understanding of money, church, and government is changing. We’ve gotten to know Ugandans and understand more about their ways of life. In short, our world has been rocked.
For example, one of my teacher friends at school was giggling while helping me learn how to wash my hands using water from a jerry can. Here’s the conversation:
Teacher: You need to cup your hands like this so you don’t lose any water.
Sarah: Sorry! I’ve never done this before.
Teacher: Then how do you wash your hands in America?
Sarah: I put my hands under the water coming out of the sink and scrub until they are clean, then turn the water off.
Teacher: And where does the water go?
Sarah: Down the drain.
Teacher: That is extravagant.
Sarah: It is.
There you go- a new appreciation for clean running water, indoor plumbing, and money to pay for all the water I could possibly need. And that is just one tiny little example of how our perspectives are changing.
There are different expectations and different rules here. But we are also finding that people everywhere are the same-- We all want to be fed, heard, and loved.
The goal is not to have an American perspective, or Ugandan, or even a global perspective. We are striving for a Biblical, eternal perspective that only comes from walking with God.
#7: Stuff and Space
We downsized from a 5 bedroom home with garages for both our vehicles, to a 2 bedroom apartment on the second floor. No storage room. No laundry room. No office. No spare bedroom. These are things we thought we could not live without (at least not comfortably). A few years back, we didn’t even consider buying a home without a full basement to ensure plenty of space for storage and play areas.
But guess what—we can live without them. We have discovered that the Eiden family can live comfortably in 2 bedrooms! (Somehow, Andy is the only one who gets his own room.) We are surviving just fine without an extra room full of stuff. Not only that, but we are finding out how blessed we are to have this place to stay, and our old annoying car to drive.
#6: Lack of Modern Appliances
I’m developing some muscles! No dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, or microwave are making us a stronger people! I appreciate clean clothes and dishes much more now. Things take longer here, and we are starting to appreciate the slower pace… sometimes!
I have a confession to make: Due to insect larva and over-all disgustingness of hand washing cloth diapers, we have decided to take a break from them for the time being. Pampers it is, for now! (I’m sure I’ll go through a money saving or waste-not-want-not phase and try cloth diapers again, but not today.)
We also have no air conditioning in our home or car. I’m actually surprised at how much we don’t miss it! Good thing it isn’t nearly as hot as Kansas Summer, and the wind-blown look is more acceptable here.
As I’ve said before, we are so thankful for our good eaters! All four of us are enjoying the food here. All the organic produce and freshly baked bread are treating us well! The tea and coffee are just wonderful and we are drinking more hot beverages then we ever did in America! We’ve been enjoying cooking here, and also eating at restaurants for a break! When we’re getting a little homesick for some good ole ‘merican grub, I cook up some hot dogs and potato salad, or grilled cheese and tomato soup (which are more expensive and difficult to make here, but so worth it)! However, I must admit that there are some things we’ve been craving:
-Jimmy Johns sandwiches
-American junk food (Doritos, candy, frozen foods)
-real ice cream
-food made in my slow-cooker
-pot roast, brownies, cookies, and casserole from my oven
-deli meats and cheeses
-Diet Coke (we have Coke Zero here, but it just isn’t the same)
Well, we don’t have any. And that is very strange for the two of us. We are job people. We’ve always been job people. Both of us grew up working hard and saving for things we wanted, even as children. As adults, we never have had fewer than three jobs between us. And now… we have none.
Of course, we have plenty of work to do. But it just isn’t the same as having a set schedule, paycheck, and overall security.
We believed when we quit our jobs that God would provide. And He has. You have. We are not self-reliant. Saying those words is like a punch in the gut. We have always said we trusted God for His provision. But now we actually need it! This is good for us to learn. In reality, we have constantly needed God, and He has been the One all along blessing us in our finances, and in everything else.
So, thank you for supporting this mission. Thank you, friends, family, and church for providing for our needs.
It’s mid-December, and we are smack in the middle of the most prominent holidays of American culture: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pinterest and Facebook were all abuzz about pumpkins, cool weather, and apple cider. No Fall here... we are even started to miss football! (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration…) “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” is quite the appropriate song for us right now, especially since every third Facebook post is about how cold and snowy it is back home. All that wintery stuff gets us in the mood to see our dear family and friends, but it is nice to not have to put on a parka to get out of bed.
We are enjoying meshing our African life with our family traditions. We made a Thanksgiving dinner, with several customary items (we even found cranberry sauce – the solid tube kind), and a few replacements that served their purpose well (chicken instead of turkey, because we didn’t want to deal with a live bird). We have decorated for Christmas, complete with a junior Christmas tree. We have adorned the tree with lights, of course, as well as a few small ornaments, plus some balloons as is common here. When we have electricity, some Christmas lights glow in the windows, and we even scored some Danish cookies from the supermarket. We know that the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t change with geography, but we are happy to be in a place that has significantly less commercialism surrounding the birthday of our King. Most of the people here have no expectation of Santa paying them a visit, and I haven’t seen any elves on shelves. The birth of Jesus is reason enough to celebrate, and for some, is the only celebration they have (many laborers work year round, only getting Christmas day off.)
#2: We Miss You!
It is pretty tough being so far from family and friends sometimes.
You will either be delighted or heartbroken to hear that Andy loves to announce, “Mommy, Daddy! Someone is at the door!” He runs over and welcomes Nana, PawPaw, & Uncle AJ, Gram Rose, Mimi & Papa, Elijah & Keegan, or other family and friends. Then he says, “Come give them a big hug, Mama! They came to visit us!”
With the time difference and inconsistent internet connections, even just having a conversation with anyone in America can be difficult. We’re so thankful for skype dates, even early in the morning! It has been so good to see your faces and hear your voices. Thank you for making time to connect with us!
It makes me think of the missionaries in the years past who had no connection whatsoever with their families and churches back home (like Uncle Raymond and Aunt Cleo), and even those who are doing it now out in more remote areas. I thank God for our internet connection!
On rough days (or weeks… or months) Nick and I have started the habit of pointing out the good things about being in Uganda. Counting our blessings, if you will. One thing we continually come back to is that we have been through these changes as a family— that is special. We rely on one another.
We also rely on God. I don’t mean that we like God and read our Bibles. I mean that we need Him. We depend on Him daily for encouragement, for confirmation, for direction, for hope.
Even when things are difficult, we can rest assured knowing that God will use these trials to strengthen us.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Last week brought on two major firsts for my (Nick's) life. These two new activities were at opposite ends of the spectrum, taking me on an emotional elevator, up and down. While these two events were not inherently related, my life brought them together, initially due to the required time commitments of both, but later in a sort of triumph of good over bad, in how God was able to overcome the obstacles thrown at us and bring us through victoriously at the end of a trying week.
The week was well planned. We had our family schedule all lined out, including a national holiday on Tuesday (meaning that there would not be school or other activities for us). The weekend had gone by without anything major, aside from Andy being under the weather with a stomach bug on Saturday. He was much better now, and he had played and eaten as normal all day Sunday. But then 4:00 AM hit on Monday. Now, our kids wake up early, but not usually at 4:00. And not usually moaning and screaming in pain. Apparently Andrew wasn't all better, and his illness was back in full force. But we were able to get him back to sleep, and a few hours later, he seemed back on the mend. Fast forward a few hours, and Andy's tummy was on the fritz again, and he and I were headed to the doctor for what I expected to be a quick visit. But I, as it seems to happen frequently in Uganda, was wrong. The doctor was unable to diagnose Andrew’s illness, and his fever had risen to unacceptable heights. The doctor ordered an x-Ray, an ultrasound, and blood tests. The most conclusive was the ultrasound, which showed severely enlarged lymph nodes. This, combined with the physical symptoms, led the doctor to a slightly unsure diagnosis of a severe infection in his intestine.
Andy was given I.V. and oral antibiotics, and we were told that he would be staying the night. Staying the night? In an African hospital? The wind was suddenly taken out of my sails. I had been fine up to this point. I handled the needle sticks into Andy okay, even when they had to take a second shot at getting a vein for his I.V. But now, we were staying the night because the doctor wasn't comfortable with us being away from a doctor while Andy was sleeping? This brought on a range of emotions, mostly sadness and worry. I have been resting all of the difficulties that we face here in Uganda on the clear instruction God gave us to live here. But when I learned of the severity of Andrew's condition, I had to put much more effort into that trust. I won't overdramatize (if I haven't yet) and suggest that I doubted God's omnipotence, or our call to be here. But I will tell you that I felt entirely more reliant on Him, and I did question whether this was all going to turn out alright.
Well, Andy soon fell asleep, and our friend Chris delivered some supplies (the essentials: supper, a power adapter for charging my phone, and some crayons for Andy!) that would be much needed for us to stay overnight (remember, I only planned on being there an hour, not 24). After eating my recently delivered spaghetti, I took the quiet as an opportunity. I had been asked to preach a sermon the coming Sunday, and I had not had any time to write it in the three weeks since the request. My preaching debut was only a few days away, and I was planning on the national holiday as study and writing time. That was sure to be spent in the hospital, and recovering from having been in the hospital. So, I started to write. The words just flowed. I thanked God for the inspiration, and renewed my trust in Him for all things, especially the health and safety of my family. And I kept writing. I got a good portion of my sermon written, and good time to pray about that, and my life in general, especially Andrew's health.
After a long, mostly sleepless night, Andrew and I saw the doctor again, who noted improvement to the point that we could go home, after only a few more hours..... We made it home in the afternoon, truly after about 24 hours in the hospital. We needed to rest, which we did. Andy steadily improved, and at our follow up appointment the next day, the doctor said that he was on the path to recovery. He improved steadily, and has returned to his normally healthy, happy and energetic self. A follow up ultrasound showed no further complications with the suspect lymph nodes, and he has a clean bill of health. We thank God for the healing, and pray that Andy doesn't have to go through anymore illnesses, especially here in Africa.
Later in the week, I was able to finish writing and preparing my sermon. I was scheduled to preach in the village church of Kyampisi. This church is run by the same people as Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, where I have been volunteering some time when we are less busy with school. Pastor Peter was out of town, and I had been asked to fill in for him. This is funny because, when I first came to Uganda, Pastor Peter asked me if I preached. I told him that I did not. He told me that he was going to work on that. But, then he left the country for a three month trip, and I thought I was off the hook. Apparently not.
I wrote a sermon titled "God Has a Plan for Your Life." I used the stories of Jeremiah and Job to illustrate this, as well as the story of Andy's recent illness. I enjoyed preparing for the sermon; I knew I would. I like writing and researching, especially with a defined purpose. But more importantly, I felt that God was leading me in the writing. He blessed the process, and I know that he provided me with the wisdom and words to share.
Sunday came, and we prepared for the hour-long trek north and east of Kampala to Kyampisi. I had learned a couple of days prior that our friends, John, Lisa and Caleb had decided to come in support. We also had two of the neighbor boys join us, as they have for several Sunday mornings now. Our two car caravan headed out of town. On the way, I noticed my stomach tightening as it tends to do with nervousness. I prayed it would subside, and reminded myself that I was prepared and God had already been blessing this sermon. The pain eased some, but not completely. After only one minor navigational flub (Kyampisi needs a sign at their turn-off from the highway, in my opinion) we made it. We milled about meeting and greeting, and soon headed in to the open air, partially walled sanctuary. We sang and worshipped, mostly in Luganda, the native language of the area, and after about an hour, I was up. My stomach was fine, and I was happy. I went to the front, where I was introduced by one of the church elders, who also took this opportunity to strictly instruct that all cell phones be turned off! Everybody here seems to have at least one cell phone, but the juxtaposition of the cell phone warning out on what is pretty close to the middle of nowhere caused me to chuckle, which did not go unnoticed by some of the people in the front of the church. I don’t think they minded. I was joined at the front by Barbara, who served as translator for the message, and we were off.
For the next hour I gave the message, and felt good about my delivery. I didn’t have to hunt for words, and the translation seemed to go smoothly. Every now and then Barbara would seem to have a lot more to say that I had spoken, but later, John explained that sometimes the way I broke up a statement, the first part’s translation no longer made sense when I spoke the second portion, so Barbara translated the whole idea. Basically, it went great. And here in Africa, the preacher doesn’t have to wonder if anybody is paying attention! There is applause whenever God does something great in a story and lots of “Amens” and similar comments from the congregation. As a church attender, I have always found those interjections a little distracting, but as the preacher it is so encouraging! The hour flew by. And what a unique and lasting memory – my first preach, with an interpreter, in a village in Africa! Wow! This is something I will never forget.
After my message, the same elder got up and praised the sermon, saying that he had nothing to add. This, especially in the village church, is quite a compliment. I was so pleased that it had been received well. God had used me in a way that He never had before! After church wrapped up, one of the KCM employees came up to me, and told me that I had just started my journey, and to be sure to not be a Jonah. No pressure there. A compliment about my preaching, combined with a message that this is the beginning, and that I had better not run from my duties. Perhaps the best compliment though, came from our 13-year-old neighbor on the drive home. Henry said, "I want to be like that in future." I have no idea where God is taking me next, or what He plans for me to do. But, if it has anything to do with preaching, I have a pretty good first experience to go on from. And if preaching isn’t going to be something I do much of, I will have this experience forever as a happy memory.
We’ve been here for 4 months now, and we are starting to get a glimpse of the people. The culture seems very intense. Mourning, fear, and anger feel very powerful here. The joy in the stories and dancing is so passionate and heartfelt! These people are real. Their smiles and cries are spontaneous and true.
In America, when I saw pain or fear in the eyes of one of my students, I made it a priority to find out what had happened. If i found out that he had been hurt at home, was not eating healthy meals, or did not have a peaceful place to sleep, a stack of paperwork and some urgent phone calls would ensue. Here, I assume that most, if not all, of my students are experiencing those things every single day.
Most days, I feel swallowed up by the waves of emotion. I want to learn to ride them better. Sometimes I wish I could un-see the things I have seen, and un-hear the things I have heard, and just go back to “normal.” I do not have that option. The only choice is to get my hands dirty, get to work, listen for direction, and ask God for peace.
Photo Credit: Courtney Skiera-Vaughn
Wedding next door! Ugandans sure know how to throw a dance party!
Our go-to shop owners are proud of their fruits and veggies!
Our new school is awesome. We have new Tiva jugs that filter water through sand, making it pure and drinkable for our thirsty kiddos! The food program is back in full swing! We’re getting into a good routine with our new curriculum and supplies. The kids are starting to settle down after the holiday break- it takes a few days to accomplish that, to which any teacher, anywhere in the world can attest!
Our new Ugandan volunteer (a true God-send), asked me, "So how did you choose these children? There are so many out there who cannot afford school, and are living on the streets! They are so lucky."
I’m thinking: What? Are you kidding? These kids are lucky?! They are the most unlucky people on the face of the earth.
But the truth is: God chose them. For some reason, He chose these children to be fed, educated, and loved. The massive, all-knowing God of the Universe looked down and picked out these people, one by one.
Psalm 12:7 "You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked."
This is hope.
Thankful for clean water to drink!
New toothbrushes, thanks to Miner Family Dentistry in Hays, Kansas! Thank you for the supplies and books, too!
Lunch: Beans and Posho!
Of course I had to throw this one in, too. Bethany loves reading with her friends at school!