Friday, September 18, 2015

We're Here (and there...)

Will and I returned to the US last week. It has been great to be back in many ways, and in other ways, our hearts feel extremely stuck between two worlds.

We are currently with my family in Cincinnati. We have been enjoying all of my favorite things, things I have longed to do and eat for a long time. We have enjoyed a lot of time with our nieces and nephews, eaten home-made BBQ ribs (my all-time favorite!), and enjoyed Graeter's Ice Cream (the best ice cream in the world in my humble opinion). These are things we have been longing for, foods we have craved for months and people we have been excited to hug and be with in person.

This morning we woke up to e-mails and news articles about more fighting in Mundri. Government soldiers raided several towns and Mundri was one of them. They came in and stole what they could and everyone fled to the bush to hide. My friend Mary told me her compound was looted and the soldiers "only spared their lives". The went to the bush empty-handed- with no food or water for the days ahead of hiding.

For those of you who are thinking, "wait, didn't this already happen?". Yes. This is happening again. In May our friends fled to the bush for several days (and some for weeks) to escape the violence. And here they are, 4 months later, fleeing for safety again.

And I find myself here again as well, with a heart divided and my focus split. I'm thrilled to be with family and thankful to be safe. I'm overjoyed to hold my nieces and nephews and eat home-cooked family recipes again. But my heart aches. My heart longs to be able to help my friends in a practical way. I want to be useful to my friends who are without food in the bush right now. My heart longs to have the ability to do something when Mary tells me on the phone that her children are suffering and hungry. But instead, I sit in a comfortable house with a full tummy and have nothing to say except "I'm with you in prayer" and "I'm praying for a miracle".

I am praying for a miracle and we are with them in prayer, but my heart longs for more.

Children in Mundri, South Sudan
(photo taken in February 2015)
The problem with building relationships with people around the world is that you leave pieces of your heart... around the world. Our hearts are divided. We do not feel "fully here" and yet, we are not "there" either. But that is not all bad because it makes my heart connected with people all over the globe. We forget to pray and intercede for people when we just hear about something that happens, but we don't feel connected to the problem. When it is your friends who are hiding from danger in the bush with children in their arms (children that you know by name as well), you can do nothing but pray. It's your only connection to them- your only tangible way to help.

My current prayer for the people of Mundri is from Psalm 5:11-12. Please join me in praying this prayer over Mary, Emmanuel, Ralie, Francis Peter, Wajo, and everyone else in Mundri, South Sudan.

"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield." 

We are grateful for our friends and family who have been embracing our divided hearts. We cannot fully communicate how we are doing yet or what our year has been like, but we're grateful for those who have asked questions anyway and given us grace as we've stumbled through answers. For now, all we know is God IS able to do "immeasurable more than all we can ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20) and we are hoping and clinging to that truth. Please join us in prayer that God will surround our friends in Mundri "with His favor as with a shield". And please pray also that we will entrust our divided hearts to the only One who can unify them and make sense of the division. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Power of Noticing

I am currently reading No Greater Love by Mother Teresa. In the book, she mentions a family she met when she lived in Calcutta. The family had eight children and had not eaten for several days. When she heard of this family, she took food to them and was struck by the evidence of their hunger on their thin, disfigured faces. She handed the mother a bag of rice. The mother immediately divided the rice in two and carried half of the rice out of the house. When she returned, Mother Teresa asked the mother where she had gone. The mother replied, "To my neighbors; they are hungry also!"

What Mother Teresa wrote afterwards struck me. She said, "I was not surprised that she gave- poor people are really very generous. I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others."

YES. Dagger to the heart. This is true of me.

When we are suffering, we are consumed by ourselves. So much so that we usually do not have much capacity (or desire) to concern ourselves with the suffering of others.

This past March, I was extremely grateful for the timing of our Serge Regional Retreat. The retreat fell three weeks after Will, Justin and I evacuated from Mundri (and 5 weeks after the Wallaces had to medically evacuate). I went into the retreat thinking about how difficult our lives where. I couldn't stop thinking about how hard we had it- we were nomads going around with only the contents in one suitcase for heaven's sake! In my mind, our team was in the most transition and suffering.

But you know what happened at that retreat?

I listened. I listened to the stories of the other missionaries and heard what they were going through.

In the end, their suffering looked a lot like my suffering... it was painful and it was real. We heard stories of chaos and transitions, of mourning major losses and deaths that stung at a deep level. We watched tears that were the evidence of heart desires not being met and feelings of disappointment and discouragement. And through it all, my heart grew softer and softer and drifted father away from my own problems and suddenly became a lot more concerned over the pain of my friends. This didn't negate what I was going through- the pain of the transitions was still very real. However, it made me less concerned by the weight of my own struggles and reminded me of the importance of "carrying each others' burdens".

When we enter into each others' suffering, we help carry the load. The mother in the first example helped carry her neighbor's burden by bringing her rice. She easily could have seen the gift from Mother Teresa as a blessing just for her and her family. But instead, she knew her friend was just as much in need as she was. She couldn't take the gift for herself when she was aware of her friends' burden as well. What a beautiful example of Christ's love. When we are aware of our neighbors' burdens, we are compelled to respond. Not only are we moved to action, but our burdens no longer seems as big. When we are able to see the sufferings of others, we quickly realize we are not the only ones suffering. We also realize we are not alone and the load gets lighter with more hands on it.

So, whatever you are going through right now, I challenge you to take time to look around you. Take time to listen to your friends and the stories of your co-workers. Enter into their pain and be willing to walk along-side them in their suffering. As you hear of their struggles, my hope is that yours will be brought into perspective as well. As you lift a hand to help with the burdens of others, I hope also that you will be encouraged and feel your burden getting lighter at the same time.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


"God has not called me to be successful. 
He called me to be FAITHFUL." 
~Mother Teresa

It has been hard to mark our "successes" this year. This year has consisted of struggling for 5 months with language learning and adjusting to a new, and very different culture and living situation. To then evacuating, teaching for 3 months and then being transient while looking for a place to "temporarily" settle.

There are days (more than I would like to admit) where I wonder if I was successful at the end of them. I wonder if what I accomplished that day was "enough". Enough for what? I don't even know, but it's a common struggle in my heart. I am a person who like to feel purpose each day. It's why I love teaching. I write out lesson plans, I prepare everything needed to carry out those plans, and then I teach the lesson. At the end of the day, I know what I have accomplished and what I need to do tomorrow. 

1 Samuel 12:24 says, "Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you"

When we come face to face with the great things God has done for us, all we are left to do is be faithful. When we acknowledge the sacrifice He has made for us, the ways He has provided for us, the incredible way He loves us, we are left desiring to serve Him faithfully. 

In this season, serving God faithfully has sometimes just meant being devoted to prayer each day and loving those in front of me. There are some days when it has been hard to see success because we haven't been in Mundri to be able to continue language learning or do teacher trainings. I have wanted to have things to look back on each day to show what I "accomplished", but some days that is hard to come by. However, I am realizing more and more that is exactly where God wants me to be. Because faithfulness is about being devoted to GOD, not devoted to WORK or even PEOPLE (first). We are faithful when we obey God fully and are obedient to Him. This looks different in different seasons of our lives because what He calls us to changes. 

1 Kings 11:38 says, "If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you." 

Do you see that amazing connection? If we walk in faithfulness and obedience with God, He promises to be with us. What more could we as for? This is my heart cry, to serve God faithfully and walk with Him always. I want to be someone who seeks God daily and joyfully obeys Him in each day- even if at the end of the day all I have to show is my faithfulness. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Buzz Buzz


Buzz Buzz.


I wake from my unconscious, sleep state and try to make sense of what is happening.

Mosquito. By my ear... KILL IT!!!

Okay, it went away, I can go back to sleep.

This scenario happened about 15 times last night (or maybe I'm exaggerating, I'm a bit sleep deprived due to mosquitoes...).

Will and I are at a guest house in Kampala, Uganda. Our room has a mosquito net, which was apparently in use to keep the mosquitoes contained INSIDE last night.

3:01am- I awake to the light being turned on and my husband immediately standing on top of the bed with his hand cupped around his ear so he could best hear the location of the mosquito.

3:03am- Will: "Do you hear it?? I think I hear it!!" CLAP "Okay, no, I didn't get it. Do you hear it?"

3:06am- Me: "I think it's over here.... yes! It's right by my ear, get it!" SMACK "Got it!!"

3:07am- Light goes off, back to sleep.

3:09am- "Ahhhh! Do you hear that?!"

Light on. Will resumes hunting position- hands poised for clapping. Will looks around the room for the disruptor. After searching for several minutes Will said, "You know what the worst part of this is? We could find out in 3 weeks that all of this was a hallucination and there were never actually mosquitoes in our room..." (We're on malaria prophylaxis medicine that can very, very rarely cause hallucinations: ironic much?).

And the night continued in this fashion. Buzzing, lights on, smacking mosquitoes to their death, sleep.

And here is the part of the post where you realize I have no real purpose of this post other than we hate mosquitoes and desperately need a break... Pray for us ;).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Unexpected Blessings

After the conflict in Mundri last May, most of my friends remained in Mundri once they could return to their homes. However, a few weeks after the fighting ended, I received a call from my friend, Vivian and she was not in Mundri. Vivian and I became friends because her shop in the market is close to my language helper, Mary's shop. Vivian speaks English, so I started sitting with her if Mary was ever running late and we would converse in English and speak some Moru.

When I received the call from Vivian after the conflict in May, I was confused because she called from a Uganda phone number instead of South Sudan. After talking for a while I came to learn that she had walked to Uganda to escape the conflict. It was very hard to understand her on the phone, so I'm unsure on the details of how exactly she walked to Uganda, but she told me she was at a refugee camp in Uganda and planned on staying there until the war stopped in South Sudan.

Fast forward a few months and we found ourselves in Arua, Uganda. While talking to the Moru community in Arua, they told us about two refugee camps they visit when they are able to. It immediately made me think of Vivian, so I called her and asked if she was at one of these two camps. It turned out that she was at one of these camps! She was at a camp that is located off the main road that goes from Kampala to Arua. When I found this out, I knew there had to be a way that we could visit her on our next trip to Arua.

Vivian and I in Bweale, Uganda
The very next week we had to return to Arua so Will, Justin and Shawn could fly from there to Mundri. On our bus ride from Kampala to Arua, we arranged to meet Vivian in the town where she is staying. Communication tends to be difficult in Africa and a quick, "I'll just meet you on the side of the street and it will be easy" never seems to go as planned. However, after only about an hour of having to wait in a random town along the drive, we were able to meet up with Vivian! It was so exciting to greet my friend, whom I had worried about and been praying for, in person. Isn't it amazing how God arranges meetings like this?! This is a friend I didn't expect to see again until we return to Mundri again some day and yet, she happened to be in a location where we could see her along our journey. Praise the Lord!

Please pray for Vivian and the many other South Sudanese Refugees who are currently in Refugee Camps in Uganda (and surrounding countries). I am so grateful Refugee Camps exist and know they serve a great purpose. However, they are temporary fixes and often provide for difficult living situations. Please pray that Vivian and the other refugees would have their needs provided for and trust the Lord for strength and provision each day.

Elephants off the road to Arua
Just because God is amazing, He not only provided the opportunity for us to see Vivian on the drive to Arua, but He also allowed us to see a whole herd of elephants off the side of the road! It was amazing!We have seen elephants in Africa, but only at zoos, and Elephant Orphanage and a safari. There was something about seeing them roaming freely on the side of the road that was extremely exciting. It reminded me of how creative God is and reminded me to enjoy this adventure He has placed us in.

I was really dreading the drive to Arua. It is about 8 hours and we go through a lot of construction and some bad roads. However, after seeing Vivian and spotting elephants, I arrived to Arua with a huge smile on my face and so grateful for God's provision. With not being able to go into Mundri with the men, having the opportunity to see Vivian felt like an incredible gift. It was a blessing to see a friend from Mundri in person and visit with her briefly. This journey made me grateful for this adventure God has us on. I'm grateful for the unexpected blessings He provides and constant reminders of His goodness and provision.