Friday, September 9, 2016

Where is the Baby?

It's a funny thing, becoming a parent. Just as your love and attention gets directed to your baby, so does the attention of those around you. When you walk into a party, you are hardly acknowledged as the people in the room yell your child's name in excitement and reach out to grab them.

What a joy to see other people start to enjoy your child and look forward to seeing them. By doing this, they are acknowledging the beauty of new life and are hopeful to experience glimpses of this new being's personality that is developing.

When Will and I first arrive here to Fort Portal, we walked around to the shops and restaurants with Ellie. Now, it is more common for me to quickly run into a store to grab what we need while Will waits in the car with (a usually sleeping) Ellie. Every time I enter the store, I am greeted by the security guard outside (it's commonplace here to have security guards watching stores and restaurants) and then a grocery store clerk. Every single time they greet me and then say, "Where is the baby??". Every time I hear this, my momma's heart smiles. My daughter is acknowledged and her presence is missed in some way.

It's been exciting to see how having a baby has opened doors for relationships and conversations here. Babies seem to immediately draw people in- no matter their religion, history, etc. People who would normally come across as distant and aloof, are suddenly giving you a huge smile and asking how your baby is. People start having children at very young ages here, so asking if someone (who looks over 20) has a baby, is usually a safe question and a good way to start getting to know them. It's so fun to hear the responses. Sometimes, women who look like they are 18 will tell me they have a 9 year old child! Other times, you learn that someone your same age has 5 children already. I asked one landlord about his kids while we were looking for houses and he told me he has 10 children and 6 grandchildren! I asked these questions before, but there is something about having a child in your arms as you ask these questions that draws people in. They can connect to you on some level- you immediately have something in common.

Here are some things I have learned about having a baby in Uganda:
Even dressed like this, people
ask if she is a girl or boy.
1. Complete strangers will grab for your baby- whether the baby is screaming, nursing, sleeping, it doesn't matter, they can't wait to get their hands on the baby carry them around.

2. Even if your baby is dressed in all pink and has a huge bow on their head, the first question people will ask is, "Is she a boy or a girl?" (he and she are often confused in English here, so the wording of this question makes me giggle inside every time).

3. Because of the community nature of this culture, people are very quick to give their opinion about how you should be raising your child. Every time I hold Ellie in an Ergo carrier, someone tells me that my child can't breathe and I should "fix her nose" or that, "my child is breaking". It has taken a while, but I'm starting to try to view these comments as people caring and wanting the best for my child. One friend told me that when she was burping her child after nursing one time, someone yelled at her and said, "Stop beating your child!!!". We are learning to respond in patience and gently educate when necessary.

4. If your baby is crying, people will always think she is hungry. The common thought here is that crying always indicates hunger. If Ellie is crying, people will sometimes tell me, "give her the breast!".

5. When walking by greeting a complete stranger, if I am holding Ellie, they will always ask, "How is the baby?!". Some people will even look at me and then at her and say, "Thank you!". We've learned this is an acknowledgement of gratitude for bringing a baby into the world. If they are Christian, it is always a way of thanking God for the new life.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

He will Provide!

When Will and I decided we were moving to Fort Portal, we immediately started dreaming about actually having our own house. It has been almost exactly two years since we moved into our own home last- which was our small tukul in South Sudan. Since then, we have been living in the homes of generous missionary friends who are gone for a few months at a time.

In anticipation of moving, we would often dream about what we would want in our own home. We talked about outdoor living spaces and guest quarters for hosting. I dreamed about my own kitchen to cook in and a nursery for our new baby. Anytime I started to think practically about if we could actually find a home in Fort Portal that would fulfill all of these dreams, I found myself cutting off the doubts and thinking, "He will provide". I knew it wasn't worth stressing over and I also knew God saw the desired of our hearts and the longings that have long gone unfulfilled.

Fast forward to this past week. We finally made it to Fort Portal, Uganda and our long-anticipated house hunting began....

and it was extremely disappointing.

We saw house and house and each one didn't even come close to being what we had hoped for. Now, let me just clarify, Will and I have lived in Africa long enough to know that "dream houses" don't exist here (that we could afford at least). We didn't go into the search with lofty goals of house features that we know don't exist here. We wanted simple things, and most of all, just wanted a place that we could make "home".  But still, everything fell way, way short of that hope.

So after seeing 7 very disappointing homes, I started to doubt. My once optimistic view of, "God will provide!" turned into, "maybe we should just pick the best of these bad options because I don't know if anything else will come up...". However, what is great about our God is that even when we doubt and start to lose hope, He can still intervene if we allow him to.

We didn't feel peace about any of the options, so we hit the pause button on the search and hoped something else would come up. Our sweet teammate, Pat, told us that she would drive around with us and see if we found any "for rent" signs or saw anything that could potentially work. During the drive, she took us to a house American missionaries has rented before. As we were touring the house, we finally had the "this feels right" feeling! The house was beautiful! The other homes we saw felt dark and crammed and this had large, open windows and felt vast and homey. As we walked through the house, we both took mental note that it check off everything in our "dream list". The kitchen was large (not AT ALL common here) and beautiful, it had a nice green space outside, plenty of room to host and a great room for a nursery. Our only complaint about the house was that the living was too large. Yes, the only problem with the house was that a room was too big... Oh my, our God is provider! On top of everything, the home was significantly less money each month than the other homes we saw and less than we had budgeted to spend. What a good God!
Kitchen

The "too large" living room that we will somehow find a way to fill :)

For some reason, we didn't commit on the spot. I think it felt too good to be true. However, the more we discussed it, the more we realized this was straight from the Lord. A complete answer to prayers. So, we verbally committed and will sign lease papers this week. We hope to move into the house around September 22. In the meantime, we need to purchase furniture, appliances, etc. from Kampala.

Thank you for everyone who has been praying for us on this house-hunting journey. We are so grateful for the way you have joined us in our prayers and hoped God would provide. Rejoice with us that He did just that! And, this house has a "guest wing", which we are hoping to get a lot of use out of... so we're wide open for visitors :)! We will post more pictures once we move in and get settled after next month.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

House Hunters: Fort Portal, Uganda

Will and I have been busy house hunting this week! We arrived in Fort Portal on Saturday and saw our first house on Sunday. Since then, we have seen about 7 more houses. Woah, it has been quite a process! Here are some snit bits from the process...

Two of the houses we saw were currently being used as "Motels". Apparently the owners were not making enough money from it being used as a hotel, so they are trying to rent them out fully. We will not be renting the motels...

I was alarmed while walking into the second house we saw because there was a live chicken in one of the rooms. The house was totally empty and not currently being occupied, but there was a chicken...living in a room...

Going with the animal theme, the house we saw yesterday had "servant quarters" in the back. While being shown one of the rooms in this space, Will and I were caught off guard by a strong smell... we were then informed that this particular room is being used to store his goat.

One house came "fully furnished". We learned that this phrase totally lived up to it's reputation. The rooms were so fully furnished that you could not always open doors all the way due to the amount of furniture in the room not fitting completely. One family room had two couches, two love seats and two over-sized chairs plus a dining room table (which was against the wall, directly in front of the front door). So much furniture!


Things we learned from our house hunting process:

1. Always leave an extra seat in your car when house hunting in Africa. Most likely, the person you hired to show you houses (called a "broker" here), will recruit a friend to help too and you will have to pick them up along the way. This happened 3 times during two days of searching.

2. Kitchens here are tiny. I mean... might not fit an Easy Bake Oven small! Most homes here were not designed with ovens or refrigerators in mind. If you want to fit these "luxury items" in a kitchen here, there probably won't be room for much else. In some cases, the fridge would need to be kept in a separate room because there is not an outlet for it in the kitchen.

3. If you want hot water, you have to ask if there is a hot water heater installed. This is not a given and most of the houses we saw did not have one.

This photo was taken from
outside the gate while waiting
for the man with the keys.
4. The "man with the keys" is a phrase you quickly learn to hate while house hunting here. While trying to see 5/6 houses on Monday, the "man with the keys" was not around and we had to wait outside the house for several minutes (or longer) until they arrived. The houses were typically not occupied, so even though we think our broker called ahead to tell them we would be coming to see the house, the owner or key holder would only come after we arrived and they were told we were waiting.

5. **This is the most important one** Always, always ask the relator or home owner if there are any people who come with the compound. Often times, there are live in workers who come with the house if you decide to rent it. The workers could be guards, house helpers (or maids), gardeners, etc. They usually live in small one room apartments behind the house. If you want to rent an empty compound, you have to be very clear about this and this may mean that you are causing someone to lose a job.

It has been quite entertaining to say the least! We have not found a house that will work for us yet, but we are hopeful that we will by the end of the week. Please continue to pray for us in this process! Pray we would continue to keep a positive attitude, find something we can afford and find a house that would work well for our family and for team life. Thank you!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Eleanor Helen

Wow. I can't remember the last time I have gone this long without updating the blog. For those of you who actually check this regularly, I apologize for the long lapse in posts. However, I won't beat myself up too much about it because it was due to giving birth to our first child!

Eleanor Helen Reed was born on July 8 at 11:57pm. She was 6lbs 4 oz and 18 1/2 in long. We are so in love with this sweet bundle of joy and are so happy to now be a family of three!



We chose this name because Eleanor means "shining light" and Helen is a meaningful family name on my (Theresa) side of the family. Since we first found out we were pregnant, Ellie has been a bright spot in our life during a very hard season. After having to leave South Sudan and the miscarriage of our first pregnancy, we were in the midst of a very difficult season. Finding out were were pregnant with Ellie offered renewed hope. Our prayer for Ellie is that she would always continue to be a shining light to those around her. We pray that her life would continue to reflect the goodness of Christ and that she would always shine brightly for His kingdom. Her middle name is Helen after my grandmother, Helen Serros, and my mother, Nancy Helen. "Helen" represents strong women who seek to life for Christ in all they do and raise their families to do the same. This name represents women who are resilient, strong and compassionate. We pray Ellie will continue to carry on this legacy. 

Ellie was born in Nairobi, Kenya and we were blown away by God's provision for us during our time there! God provided a house for us to stay in through the generosity of sweet friends of ours who live in Nairobi. They were home for almost the same time we were in Kenya and allowed us to stay in their beautiful home and use their car for our time in Nairobi. It's amazing to think that their generosity allowed us to have an amazing place to bring our daughter "home" to for the first time after she was born. It allowed us to learn to be a family of three and to prepare for and recover from birth. We are so grateful for the Allerts and their incredible hospitality and generosity! 

God also provided a way for my parents to come to Kenya to meet Ellie! They arrived the day we got back from the hospital (3 days after Ellie was born). They were able to spend their entire 10 days in Kenya with Ellie (something we were worried about when they picked dates for coming- it's so hard to predict when a baby will arrive!). It was an amazing gift to have them in Kenya with us for this time!

Pop and Neena with Ellie on the night they arrived!


When Will and I were deciding where to give birth, we really wanted to be in a place where we would have community. We knew we desired to have others around who we could connect to and spend time with during this process. God blew us away by His provision of community while we were in Kenya! We spent a lot of time with our friends, Karis and Stephen Rigby. They are Serge missionaries in Nairobi and they spoiled us like crazy while we were there! Since they are expecting their first child in September, we were able to take a birthing class together and walk through some of the "How in the world are we going to manage parenthood" questions alongside them. It was such a gift to have this time with them! We also had the privilege of spending time with several other Serge families from the Nairobi and Kijabe teams. They brought us food, gifts for Ellie and meals. We were even able to stay with the Wallaces (our team leaders in South Sudan) for our last week in Nairobi. Praise the Lord for community!

Our Area Directors, Scott and Jennifer Myhre and Karen Masso from their visit to meet Ellie at the hospital
Us and the Rigbys on one of our lasts days in Kenya

We are so grateful for our birth experience in Kenya! The hospital was great and our doctor did an amazing job. It is common for people to hire midwives when they give birth in Kenya, even if they are delivering in a hospital. We hired a woman named Lucy as our midwife and are so glad we did! She came to the house when I started to feel intense contractions and labored with us there until it was time to go to the hospital. Then she stayed with us during the entire birth process and even stayed until 3am with us to make sure we were comfortable after the birth and with breastfeeding. She was amazing! 
Will, Ellie and I with Lucy 
We left Kenya last Friday and are now are in Kampala, Uganda before we head to our new home, Fort Portal, on Saturday. Here are some things I have learned about having a baby internationally/ in Africa:

1. Everyone is excited to see your baby and will call your baby cute... unless you are on an airplane with them or about to share a wall in a guest house with them ;).

2. People on an airplane will tell you your baby is cute AFTER they do well on the flight and don't disturb those around them. 

3. Africans will always think your baby is too cold and needs more blankets around them.

4. Babies are a great way to start conversations with people because the majority of them will immediately be able to relate to you. We have had many great conversations so far that started with us being able to ask about people's families and if they have children.

We are so grateful for the beautiful gift of Ellie! We are very tired from the adjustment to parenthood, but it has been worth every late night feeding and dirty diaper change. We're amazed by new life and the miracle that it is. We are grateful for everyone who has rejoiced with us as we have welcomed Ellie into our family!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fort Portal Team

There are times when something comes together and you think, "Hm, I wonder if God is at work here?" and there are other times when His hand is so clearly putting something together that it is undeniable. The latter is what is happening with the Serge Fort Portal team right now.

A few months ago, it became very clear that it was no longer viable for Will and I to bring a new baby to South Sudan. There were many factors, but the main ones because that we no longer had a team around us, there is no medical personnel on the ground and South Sudan remains very unstable politically. Due to these factors, we were in need of a new field to move to. To be honest, we were really unsure about what was going to happen. There didn't seem to be anywhere that would be a good fit for us based on our ministry desires and growing family. But then we heard about the forming Fort Portal team.

Fort Portal is located in western Uganda and is situated in the Rwenzori Mountains. For the past 5 years, Pat Abbott, a missionary with Serge, has been living in Fort Portal by herself. She has partnered with the Serge Bundibugyo team, who are located about 2 hours away. Pat started a ministry called, "Women of the Proverbs", with which she seeks to train women in sewing and art skills to help make them self-sustainable (read more about this below). Jenna Murphy went to help Pat for a few months and decided to join Serge long-term so that she could partner with the work being done with Women of the Proverbs. Meanwhile, the West family was in Fort Portal for several months while they were adopting their daughter JoAn. While there, they felt a call to help support YES (Youth Encouragement Services), the organization JoAn was adopted from. In order to partner with YES, they joined Serge as their sending agency.

So, within a few months, this team was quickly forming around Pat in Fort Portal and Will and I were team leaders who had no team in the next few months. Our heart is in development work, and that is exactly the work that is being done in Fort Portal through this forming team. Will and I went to visit Fort Portal in April. It quickly became obvious that this would be a great fit for our family for this season. It is a great place to raise a family and we were very excited about the work Pat (and soon Jenna) were doing with Women of the Proverbs and the work the Wests would be joining through YES. Will and I agreed to move to Fort Portal after the baby is born- sometime in late August/ early September. All of the sudden, God had placed together a team and leaders for this area. We are beyond excited about what He is forming! Here is a little more information about the wonderful people we will be joining in Fort Portal.

Pat Abbott joined Serge in 1993. She served in Bundibugyo, Uganda for 18 years. In 2007, a close friend of Pat's passed away and requested that Pat become the guardian for her two daughters, Kym and Lydia. Pat agreed and moved to Fort Portal with the girls. She officially gained Ugandan adoption rights in 2015. Kym and Lydia now attend school in Kampala, Uganda.

In 2012, Pat started Women of the Proverbs. This is a discipleship program in which Pat does a Bible Study with the women involved 4 days a week and trains them in how to make crafts which can be sold locally in craft stores and markets. The women are mentored by Pat through this Bible Studies and taught skills which will allow them to have self-sustaining businesses in the future. Most of the women are single mothers who are working to provide for their children. I had the privilege of meeting some of these women when we visited Fort Portal in the spring. Their love for Pat and passion about what they were learning was so evident. Pat does a beautiful job investing in these women and the relationship between all of them was incredible to see. We are so excited to see this ministry thrive and grow. Please pray for Pat, Kym and Lydia and for the Women of the Proverbs ministry.

Jenna Murphy served as an intern with Serge in 2013 in Bundibugyo, Uganda. She spent 8 months teaching preschool, kids clubs and youth outreach Bible Studies. She finished her internship in Fort Portal helping Pat with Women of the Proverbs. Jenna joined Serge for a 5 year term to continue her work with Pat and Women of the Proverbs. She is hoping to arrive in Uganda in January of 2017. Please pray for Jenna as she is continuing to raise support and prepare to move to Fort Portal. To see more about Jenna's heart for Uganda and the work she plans to do there, watch this video: https://vimeo.com/166358592/fca55acef8


Daryn and Brooke West and their children, Grace, JoAn, Anteneh and Luke are hoping to move to the field with Serge in December of 2016 and will partner with Y.E.S. For more information about Youth Encouragement Services, check out their website:  http://www.caroladamsministry.com/. In short, YES Uganda seeks to provide at-risk children and teens with resources such a school fees, uniforms, books, school lunch and discipleship. They aid nearly 300 children who are facing life-threatening poverty. Daryn and Brooke seek to help this organization through discipleship and partnering with the new vocational school, which is due to open in the fall. For more information about why the Wests decided to move to Fort Portal and who they are, check out their video: https://vimeo.com/167791656. Please also keep them in your prayers as they are in the midst of support raising and will be doing pre-field training in October.

Praise the Lord for the team He is forming in Fort Portal! We are so excited to join these amazing people and come along-side them in their different ministry areas. We are looking forward to seeing the many ways God provides for the people of Fort Portal through this team and the many ways our hearts are changes by those around us. May God be glorified through this team and honored in the work He puts our hands to.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Anywhere but Africa...

When Will and I first started telling people we were pregnant, the first question they would ask right after, "When are you due?" was, "Where will you have the baby?"

At first, we were considering having the baby in Spain or Ireland. We were already going to be in Europe when I was 34 weeks pregnant for a Company Conference, so it made sense to stay put and give birth there. We have friends in Ireland and thought our connections there might be helpful. We then talked to other friends who delivered in Spain, so we thought staying in Spain after the conference might be even more ideal. We knew we probably wouldn't give birth in the US since we had just spent 5 unexpected months there after we evacuated and the cost of delivering in the States verses anywhere else is much higher.

While we were considering all of these options, I would explain this to the people who asked where we were going to deliver. To one friend I even said, "We're still deciding which continent to deliver on, but definitely NOT Africa..."

In the future, if I ever say a "definitely NOT" statement to you when you ask me a question, will you please roll your eyes at me and give me a light slap on the hand?

I love how gentle the Lord is to me when I tell Him what I will and will not do. I believe He simply grins and thinks, "Yes, my daughter, just you wait and see how I am going to change your heart in this area."

After looking into our options for delivering in Spain or Ireland and getting advice from friends there, we finally realized these were not our best options. It would have been expensive, lonely and the medical care may not have been what we were hoping for. We thought again about delivering in the States, but it was too much travel, and would have created even more transitions in our already complicated and "up in the air" life.

So then our hearts were finally ready to consider options in Africa. The only reason I had been against it in the past was because I didn't know about about the healthcare options and I was very concerned about delivering in a place so far away from family. I figured it would have ruled out the option of family being there completely.

After talking to several friends who had delivered in Nairobi, Kenya, we soon realized this was actually a very good and safe place to deliver. We learned of a wonderful doctor who had delivered babies for two of our co-workers and worked very closely with another co-worker for a couple years. We learned that the hospital was clean and run very similar to hospitals in the States.

The very first day we started considering in Nairobi, we decided to write missionary friends of ours who lived there to see if we could stay in their guest quarters while we were there to give birth. I remember going to church write after I wrote the e-mail and praying, "Lord, if you want us to deliver in Nairobi, please have this family right back right away so we know if we would even have a housing option. Allow this to be a sign of if we should even consider this or not." The moment we got home from church, we had an e-mail response from these friends and they told us that we were welcome to stay in their house, not just the guest quarters, because they were going to be away for the same time-frame that we needed a place to stay!! They said we could use their cars, guards, workers, etc. for the duration of our time there. Talk about confirmation!

After receiving this news, we started to get excited about the option of delivering in Nairobi. However, I was still very worried that my family, who were very willing to visit us when we thought we would be delivering in Europe, would not be able to or want to come if we gave birth in Kenya instead. However, we serve a God who hears our cries and listens to our desires! I called my parents that day and mentioned the possible change to them. I was bracing myself for the possibility that they would not be able to come. Do you know what my sweet parents responded with? They said, "Well, We'll start looking up tickets to Kenya when we get off the phone!" More confirmation. More praise. More gratitude. Will's family also told us that they wanted to come and would come to Africa after we move from Kenya to Uganda when the baby is born. This will give them the opportunity to see their grandchild, but also see our new home in Fort Portal.

We have been so amazed by the medical care here. Our doctor is wonderful and very professional. We have hired a midwife (common here, even if you are delivering in a hospital as we are) and she has amazed us with the birthing classes she offers and the fact that she will come to the house when we first go into labor and help us know when to go to the hospital. She will there be with us throughout the entire delivery process. She will visit us the next day in the hospital and come to the house two times in the two weeks following the birth to ensure that we are getting the hang of nursing and answer any questions we have about "post birth". What a blessing!

Delivering in Kenya has also allowed us the space to spend a few weeks preparing for the baby before her big arrival. It has given us time to talk to our counselor and continue to heal from this past year. It has allowed us to pray, journey and process as we close out of being missionaries to South Sudan and prepare to be team leaders in Uganda. We are also grateful that after the baby is born, delivering here will allow for a much easier transition since we are already within Africa. We will have a very short flight to Uganda, rather than one or two very long international flights had our other plans worked out.

So, next time one of you hears me say, "Anywhere but..." or "I definitely won't", please just smile at me and say, "Or at least that is what you think now." Let us remind each other that even in our "Yes, but's"... God is at work. He is working all things for His good and changing our hearts in big and small ways to prepare us for what is to come. Let us remember that His plans are so much greater than ours and we can't see the whole picture yet.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Regaining Feeling

Will likes to call himself an "efficient sleeper". He says that while he is sleeping, his body takes heat from his arms and legs and only keeps his core warm. Therefore, he sleeps with lots of blankets and often wakes up cocooned in the covers and shivering.

Will's "efficiency" has made me think a lot lately about our body's response to stress and trauma. I believe our emotions respond in a similar way to Will's efficient body (yes, I giggle a little every time I use that phrase because my husband is funny). When we go through trauma, our emotions go into "survival mode". The keep the core of us functioning, but the non-essentials suffer for the time-being. We're functioning, but only at partial capacity and if we continue that way without seeking help or healing, part of us will die and we will not be about to function "wholly" any longer.

Will and I are so grateful for this season in Nairobi because we have time to assess which parts of us have gone numb due to extended stress and trauma. We have the space to process, bring things to the light and heal. And slowly by slowly, we are starting to regain feeling in parts of ourselves that have long been numb.

I recently saw this quote that a friend posted:
"The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can't stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope--and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend up on it) disappoint us."
~Walter Wangerin

I love this quote because it reminds me, yet again, that sorrow is not wasted. It produces in us deep, lasting, meaningful, joy. However, this does not come without work. I can't just expect that when I'm going through sorrow-filled seasons that I will naturally wake up one day and be filled with joy. Yes, that can happen by God's power, but usually this transition into joy is a process. It takes times to heal from the wounds and grow from the struggle that the sorrow brought. 

For Will and I, we can't expect that we will suddenly be okay with the fact that we are no longer missionaries in South Sudan. We can't expect to get off the phone with our friends in Mundri who just told us, "we are really suffering, we have no food for our children and are fearing what will happen next." and completely feel fine about the fact that we are not there with them and not able to meet their major, felt, needs at all times. However, we can allow God to meet us in the paradox of knowing we can't be in Mundri and also how much we long for it at the same time. We are taking time to allow God to speak to us in the pain and remind us that HE is still there. He is still with our friends and has not forgotten them. We wish we were involved in that process more, but in reality, what would that do? What would our worldly help do if God is not calling us there? What can I do that He is not able to without me (if I know He hasn't called me there for this time)? 

So for now, we heal. We ask God to reveal the numb places in our hearts. And we trust. We trust that His grace is sufficient and in our weakness, He is strong.