Thursday, February 23, 2017

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

We are in Kampala this week running errands and doing paperwork/ doctors appointments. Today we had the privilege of spending time with three South Sudanese friends. Rina Bismark, the wife of Bishop Bismark, the Bishop of Mundri. We lived next door to the Bismarks when when lived in Mundri and have kept in touch with them since evacuating. Mama Penina and her husband were also able to come today. Mama Penina is the leader of the Moru church in Arua that we partnered with while we were living in Arua last year.

It was such a joy to catch up with these friends today. It's always interesting because it never takes more than about 5 minutes in these visits to hear devastating news. Today, that news was the death of a woman from the Moru community in Arua. She was traveling to a funeral in Juba and was shot by a soldier while she was sitting on a bus. She was holding her young baby and the baby was also shot in the leg. The woman died three days later, but the baby was okay. The devastating news is never-ending. There are always stories of deaths- either directly connected to the war (being shot by soldiers) or indirectly (sickness, but not being able to find basic medicine because of inflation or a lack of availability due to fighting). It goes on and on.

During the conversation, we talked about the need for Christ to change the hearts of the people in the government in order for true peace to come to South Sudan. Mama Penina's husband said that he and the other elders of the church in Mundri held peace meetings after the main fighting last year. They got together and publicly forgave the soldiers who had come in and destroyed their homes, businesses, families, etc. He said that by speaking forgiveness, they were releasing these men in their hearts. They wanted them to know that they no longer condemned them and they saw them as forgiven. He said this was a way to show them that Christ also forgives them and desires a relationship with them.

I was blown away.

These are the men that caused them to hide in the bush with their small children and old grandparents for weeks on end. These are the men that ignited fear in their hearts and caused their bellies to be empty. They stole everything they had and destroyed the rest just because they could.

But they forgave them.

They wanted them to know they were released from condemnation.

Men like Penina's husband are why I still have hope in South Sudan. God is moving through people like this. God is using His people to show His love to those in desperate need of it.

The issues in South Sudan right now are completely man-made. Two men are the cause of thousands of deaths, huge gaps in education (kids having to be out of school due to fighting), lack of food (people away from farms during planting season because of fighting), etc. Pure evil.

We have a God who is powerful enough to work in even the most stubborn and ill-intended hearts.

My prayer for South Sudan today is that more people would be willing to stand up through the power of Christ and work of the Holy Spirit and forgive their perpetrators of the evil they have done and are doing. I pray that in doing so, hearts would be completely changed and the gospel would take root in the place where evil once reigned.

I don't say this lightly. Forgiving such atrocities is not easy to do, and definitely nothing that can be done on our own accord. But that is exactly why true forgiveness can lead to reconciliation- because it is not something we can muster up by our own strength. It takes the intervention of the Holy Spirit. When we are able to forgive, it opens up the opportunity to share about the One who forgave us of our own sin and evil.

Please join us in praying for South Sudan. Pray that as most of the missionaries have been forced to leave due to the fighting, that God would continue to rise up South Sudanese Christians who will take a stand for peace, forgiveness and grace. Pray that God would continue to protect His people and strengthen them for the work He has prepared for them. The stories are devastating, but our God is stronger and our God is able.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I've Been Lost (Returning to Gratitude)

In Uganda, if you haven't seen someone for a long time you tell them, "You've been lost!". This is a way of saying, I've missed you and I've noticed you haven't come here for a long time. If you have been traveling or haven't been somewhere in a while, you can say, "Sorry, I've been lost!" as a way of acknowledging your absence.

So, blog-followers (aka: Mom ;)), I've been lost! It's been a busy season with welcoming Jenna to Fort Portal and having her live with us, and we have been dealing with some major sleep issues in our house, so all of that lends itself to not easily finding time to blog. However, if I'm totally honest with you, I also just haven't known what to say.

It's been a hard season. We were hoping to finally find a place to find our footing and thrive when we settled on moving to Fort Portal, but that hasn't been the case yet. In general, we're just very weary. However, having new team members here and getting to live life with them and with Pat has been a huge bright spot in this season. We are so grateful for team. We are excited about the team God has placed here in Fort Portal and looking forward to seeing what he does through each person on the team.

A verse that God gave me after our season of evacuation and a miscarriage last year was,
"Be at rest once more, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." Psalm 116:7
In this season where we were hoping to feel settled and able to put down roots, I'm reminding my soul to be at rest even in the disappointment. I'm remembering all the times God has been good to us before, and recounting daily the ways He IS good even now in this season.

Taking the phrase, "I've been lost" to heart, it reminds me to think of all the ways I get distracted by difficulty and allow it to lead me astray. I believe the way we return back from being "lost" is through gratitude. When we get stuck in the daily difficulties we are facing, it causes us to look at ourselves and feel depressed and disappointed. However, in the midst of disappointment and struggle, when we can recount the ways we are thankful, it returns our gaze to the Creator. When we acknowledge the giver of the good things in each day, it reminds us that He cares for us in the little things and therefore is also present in the big things of life, even in our circumstances don't convince us of that at the moment.

Ellie with "Aunty Beth"
One current example of this in our lives has taken place this week. On Saturday, a good friend of ours, our neighbor and Jenna's landlord, passed away from breast cancer. Beth was one of the first people I've connected to her in Fort Portal and we had discussed getting together regularly to fellowship together and pray together. I was really looking forward to getting to know her more and having a prayer partner across the street. My heart was so heavy when we heard she passed away, and it is still heavy now. Beth was an incredible woman and loved by many people. She loved Jesus and was a person of peace and truth to others. I wanted to sit in my sorrow over her death. I wanted to allow it to be another reason why this has been a hard season. I wanted to use it as an excuse to be sad and discontent. However, although I am extremely sad about her death, it has also been an opportunity for me to praise the Lord for the depth of relationships we have already been able to form here. I'm grateful that I truly felt like I knew Beth. We've only been here a few months and I already had a friend that felt like a family member. When I went to pay respect to her family, I recognized many people there and knew a lot of them by name. I'm grateful for this community. My gratitude in no way covers up my sadness of Beth's death. I am still mourning her loss and wishing I had more time with her. However, my gratitude points me back to the Creator. It reminds me of His gifts in the midst of the challenges.

So, friends, I hope I will not get lost again. Meaning, I do hope to blog more regularly ;), but also that I will always have a heart of gratitude, despite my circumstances. My prayer for myself, and all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, is that gratitude will be our default- so that even when life gets hard, our hearts remain steadfast on the Creator.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Photocopy of the Father

Will and his "photocopy", Ellie putting up
the first piece on the advent calendar together
Almost every time Will, Ellie and I go out in town together, someone looks at Ellie and says, "Wow, she looks like the father!". We've heard this so often that I hardly process it anymore when someone says it. I simply smile and say, "Yes, she does!" and move on. However, a couple weeks ago we were at a market we only go to in route back to Fort Portal from Kampala. Someone at that market looked at Ellie and exclaimed, "Wow! She is a photocopy of the father!". I chuckled at the detailed nature of this comment. It was so specific and technologically savvy that seemed funny to hear in the middle of a dirty, side of the road market in the middle of our journey. However, this phrase stuck with me.

I love the description of Ellie being a "photocopy" of Will because it doesn't just mean her eyes look similar to his. It means her face is the exact same as her fathers. There is no denying that they are related because they are a copy of each other. Obviously this word isn't a great description of how Ellie actually looks, but it made me crave being called a "photocopy" of my heavenly father.

I think it would be the best compliment we could hear as Christians to be told, "Wow! You are a photocopy of the Father!". Would there be anything greater? It would mean that everything in our life reflects perfectly and identically our Father in heaven. When people see us, they immediately see and know God.

Ephesians 5: 1-2 says, "Therefore, become imitators of God, as well as beloved children and walk continually in love just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God."

My prayer is that no matter what we are doing as Christ Followers, that people would see our lives and say, "They look just like God! I now understand His love more because of the love they are showing me!". May we seek to be photocopies of our Father and may we love the people around us with His love.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Gifts for a King

Christmas has become a season where we are consumed with gifts. Gifts that we want others to give us and gifts we pick out specifically for those we love (or those we get stuck with in Secret Santa exchanges ;)). In the midst of thinking about what gifts to give this year, my mind has gone to the gifts that were given to Jesus. 

On the first Christmas, the Wise men brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. These gifts represented who God was- King of Kings (Gold is for Kings), that He was to be worshiped (Frankincense was used in worship) and the type of life he was going to live (Myrrh was use in burials, so this represented the fact that Jesus would endure suffering and death). These gifts were expensive and had meaning and weight. They weren't chosen randomly and they were fit for a King. They also risked their lives by choosing to not tell the King where Jesus was.

Another time in the Bible that Jesus was given a "gift" was when a woman poured very expensive perfume on his feet (story in Luke 7:37-8). This passage says,

“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:37-38)

This (nameless) woman was scolded by Jesus' disciples. They were aphauled that she would use such expensive perfume to put on Jesus' feet and thought the money should be used to help the poor. However, Jesus' response was, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Matthew 26:10-13)

In all of these examples of gifts given to Jesus, the giver was so consumed by the King that the cost didn't matter. The gifts were given out of love, honor and respect. 

The question I have been pondering while reading about all of this is, "What gifts am I giving to the King?". There are many areas where I feel stretched beyond my own human abilities lately. It honestly would be easier to throw in the towel rather than continue to be obedient and follow what God has called me to. I'm learning that it is in these areas where gifts are given to the Lord. When I reach the end of myself, but still chose to be obedient. Still chose to seek forgiveness, to move into relationship, to push past what I am capable of on my own strength, this is where the obedience truly comes in. Like the woman who poured perfume on Jesus' feet, she could have fallen at His feet and repented. However, she did more than that, she wept (which makes us believe she was repentant) and she poured someone of great value on Jesus as a form of worship and admiration. In the same way, we are called not only to be obedient, but to do so with a  joyful heart- one that longs to give good things to it's King. 

As the Christmas song, "Joy to the World" says, "Let every heart prepare Him room", I believe this is where we start. Our life becomes a gift to the Lord when we have prepared room for Him in our hearts. The wise men went on a long journey to find Jesus and this women went into the house of people she probably didn't associate with. They went out of their way for the King. This Christmas I am meditating on ways I can prepare room in my heart for Jesus. How can I go out of my way to spend time at His feet, in complete worship of the King? In this, I believe we give Jesus the gift He wants the most from His children- our time and our worship. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tree-za

When we lived in Nigeria, "Theresa" was a recognizable name. I even had a student named Theresa. When I said my name, people could hear it (once they got past my difficult English) and would say my name in a manner that sounded "normal" and familiar to me.

In South Sudan and Kenya, I was "Ter-A-sa". As long as I said it like this, people understood the name and could hear it well.

Here in Fort Portal, "Theresa and TerAsa" are not understood. When I pronounce my name this way, I get blank stares and big eyes. They just can't hear it. It's like when someone here tells me their name is, "Araali" or "Atooki", I have to hear it several times before I think I heard it well enough to attempt saying it, and then even after that I feel like I'm completely butchering it (because I most likely am).

Here my name is pronounced "Tree-za". It's the only way they can hear it. If I attempt to say it any other way, the name is completely lost on them. So, Treeza I am. This is now how I introduce myself and the name I respond to when I am called (well that and "Momma-Baby" as Moses prefers to call me.. hehe).

When we first moved to Africa I remember feeling really particular about how people pronounced my name. I wanted to be known and I felt like I would only be known if people fit into the box I was already in and used to. Anything outside of that was unfamiliar and didn't feel natural or normal. After our 4 years in Africa, I'm learning that the most loving way to approach culture is to enter as a learner. When I come in admitting that I am needy and that I don't have it all together, I am much better received than if I tried to pretend I have it all figured out.

Each time we move around in Africa, I learn how the name, "Theresa" is pronounced in that culture. It is a familiar name in most countries we have visited, but they don't realize it's familiar until it said the way they pronounce it. When I am willing to take the time to adjust the pronunciation of my name according to the culture I'm currently in, it ends up saving a lot of time and miscommunications. It's also a simple way for me to adjust to the culture and approach the culture as a learner rather than someone who needs others to fit into my box and my "normal".

For this season, I am Treeza. My prayer is that God would continue to give us grace as we are learning yet another culture and people group. I hope we would have humble hearts as we come here needy and as learners- willing to stumble in our speech and adjust our names to the culture we are serving.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Introduction

We had the privilege of attending an Introduction on Saturday for our friends, Maggie and Pheastus. An Introduction is a big event before a couple gets married. Culturally, it is the second step in the three steps you take to become husband and wife. First, the couple gets both families together and they discuss a bride price, or dowry. Then, the couple has and Introduction where the groom goes (with family and friends) to the bride's village to pay the dowry. The last step is a church wedding (if the couple wants to get married in a church and can afford this last step).

Maggie is our landlord and our next door neighbor. She went out of her way to include us in this event and even helped both of us clueless muzungus figure out what was appropriate to wear. The Introduction was at her father's village, which is about an hour and a half outside of town. It is located in the midst of beautiful tea fields with mountains in the distance. It was a long, bumpy ride, but the view was beautiful!

The lines of men and women
ready to enter the event.
We arrived with Pheastus' family. When we got there, everyone from his side separated into two lines- men and women. The men entered first and some carried crates of soda on their heads and other gifts for the bride's father. The women entered next and shown to their seats. The even started right away and was almost like a drama. There are four groups of women who come out before the bride and the groom looks for his bride among each group. He finally finds her in the forth group and that is when the celebrating begins. During the whole event, the groom is presenting gifs to the bride's father. At one point, the women in the groom's family present gifts to the bride and her mother. It is all very fascinating and so much fun to watch!

We learned that this event, although extremely entertaining and fun, it's a bit overwhelming for a little baby! After almost 2 hours in the car, Ellie was quite overwhelmed by the amount of people and the loud noises, so she and I ended up at the car where she could be loud and move around.

Here are some pictures from the Introduction. We are so grateful that we were included and loved getting to experience this part of culture.
Some of the dancers. The colors were so beautiful!

The first group of girls that came out. The groups came
in order of age, so he searched among the children first.

The women in Pheasxus' family bringing gifts (in a cart) to Maggie and her mother

This is where Ellie and I ended up most of the time!

Ellie all dressed and ready to go to the party!

Ellie and I before the event. Maggie helped me get a dress made in town.
We went together to pick out material and then I had a tailor custom make the dress.

Will's outfit for the event. Every man at the Introduction wore the same attire.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Can I Skip Thanksgiving?

Wednesday night was rough. Ellie is a beautiful little teething monster right now and she was up multiple times EVERY HOUR during the night.

I woke up on Thursday morning in a BAD mood. I was tired, frustrated about Ellie's pain and the lack of sleep and just wanted to lay in bed all day and catch up on much needed rest. Instead, I looked ahead to the plans for the day: we were hosting our guards (plus one of their families) and the woman who helps us in the house for a Thanksgiving meal. We wanted to share the American Thanksgiving tradition with these wonderful people whom we are so grateful for each day. Hosting them sounded like a great idea earlier in the week, but by Thursday morning, I was in NO mood to see anyone, much less be in the kitchen cooking all day... while juggling a teething 4 month old.

So, I woke up mad about Thanksgiving. Because having a bad attitude is not a new thing for me, I immediately (well, maybe I moped a bit first...) turned to the Lord in prayer.

 I asked the Lord if I could skip Thanksgiving.

I'm not kidding.

I was tired and missed family and I thought it would be easier to skip the day all together. Once I got over my toddler moment, I realized the symbolism is what I had asked the Lord. I basically asked if I could have a reason to not be thankful. If I could give up on gratitude.. because, lack of sleep of course! This realization brought me to my knees. Oh how I needed grace. Instead of continuing my prayers to be able to give up on Thanksgiving altogether, I asked God to change my attitude. I realized I was in desperate need of an attitude-check. So I prayed all morning for a better attitude and perspective on the day. At one point, Will came into the room and, seeing me in my zombi state, asked if I was okay. To which I replied, "NO! I'm not okay! Please pray for God to change my attitude!". Yes... another toddler moment. A little while later he asked again and I again pleaded for prayer. This time he responded with, "Oh, I've been praying..."(meaning, oh trust me, I'm pleading with God to change your attitude today! haha).

Well, by 9:30am, I found myself in the kitchen, blaring praise music and dancing along while kneading bread dough. There was an obvious shift in my demeanor and I was actually looking forward to the cooking that laid ahead! God had met me in my temper tantrums and changed my attitude around. I found myself extremely grateful the whole day. Little by little, I saw more and more that I was thankful for. There were so many reasons for gratitude and praise!

Violet helped me peel potatoes, chop and peel apples, boil pumpkin, etc. We worked hard all day long and were ready for our (condensed version of) Thanksgiving by 4:00. Everyone arrived and Will explained why we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US and why we wanted to celebrate with all of them this year. He read a verse about gratitude from the Bible and prayed over out time together. We served roasted chickens, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, boiled pumpkin and apple pie. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and fellowship.

During the meal we discussed what we were thankful for from this year. One of our guards, Tony, said, "It is so good to have a time to publicly thank God for all He has done in my life!". I loved this line because this is such an important practice as believers. The art of coming together to give thanks and acknowledge what God has done for us is a beautiful thing! It made me very grateful that God didn't allow me to skip Thanksgiving, but instead gave me an attitude of thankfulness and joy. What a patient and loving God! Here are some pictures from the day.

Our dinner crew! 

How can I not be grateful when we have this little turkey around?!

Violet and I working on the apple pie.

Will's explanation of Thanksgiving before dinner. (please take note
of Will's stylish sock/flip flop combo- I married him for his style ;))

How do you get cooking done when your baby refuses to nap and you need
to start the rolls? Strap her in the carrier, of course :)!