Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sustainable Crafts

It has been a couple weeks since I last posted. Will and I have been traveling for the past two weeks and it was extremely busy. We returned to Arua yesterday and will be here for two more weeks until we close out of this season. I will post more about our travels and about what is next for us in the coming weeks. 

A couple months ago, Mama Penina, the leader of the Moru church in Arua that we attend, asked if our ministry would parter with the church in helping to train some of the Moru women in Arua in craft making. This project was going to entail purchasing supplies from Kampala and hiring teachers to come and train the women in the specific skills. The purpose of this venture was to provide the women here with a skill they can use to make money to help sustain their families. As I have posted before, most of the Moru refugees here in Arua are women who stay with their children alone while their husbands are still in South Sudan. Most of the husbands have lost their jobs due to the most recent conflict in South Sudan and have not been able to send money consistently to help sustain their families. The women are constantly struggling to find money to pay rent, school fees, and buy food for their children. So, a project like this is huge in helping the women support their children while their husbands are away trying to find work. 

The training started last week and the women meet twice a week to learn the skills and work on their items together. The first thing they learned to make were purses. The purses are made with beads and then will be lined with cotton material on the inside. The teacher taught them to do many different designs of beadwork for the bags. After the women learn the skill of making the purses, they will move on to small pocketbooks, jewelry, sandals (with designs) and then they will learn to sew designs on bedsheets and napkins. 

One thing I absolutely love about this culture is how community-oriented they are in everything they do. In America, it seems like we would learn a skill and then go off to the privacy of our own homes and work on things alone. Here, they learn the skill together and then they gather together to work on the projects as a group. 

We had the privilege of visiting the group today while they were working. Everyone was gathered under a huge mango tree and were working on their individual bags while conversing with each other and helping each other as needed. The teacher was available and each woman would go up to her for guidance and advice occasionally. It was such a great picture of community!

Here are some pictures from the day:

We are so grateful that these women have this opportunity to help support their families. After they sell the items they make, they have a business plan to use some of the profit to purchase more supplies so they can keep making more items to sell. Please pray this would be a fruitful way for the women to help sustain their families. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

You will be Inconvenienced

After this past week, I realized that if new missionaries to Africa asked me to give them advice on living life in Africa, one thing I would say is, "Allow yourself to be inconvenienced." It's inevitable that it will happen, so chose to accept it willingly. 

An example of choosing to be okay in light of an inconvenience happened on Saturday. At church the week before, I told the leader of the church and the Sunday School leader that I would like to host a training for the Sunday School Teachers. They were so excited that they went ahead and told me where and when to come that following Saturday for the training. Since they were eager for the training, I agreed to do it that week. 

I spent several hours preparing what I wanted to present to the Sunday School Teachers. Making sure the material was simple enough to be understood in English, but also got to the heart of what I found to be most important to communicate about teaching children Biblical truths. After much debate about all of this, I finally had a lesson I was excited to teach and was looking forward to using my Saturday to share this information with the youth who were willing to volunteer to teach the children. 

Will, Justin and I showed up at the scheduled 2:00 time on Saturday. Much like usual, no one was there when we arrived. We are very used to be the first the arrive at a scheduled time and took the opportunity to greet a friend who lived nearby while we were waiting. An hour and a half went by and we realized that no one was coming. Usually there are at least signs of people starting to come at this point, so we knew something was wrong. We called all of the people who we knew to call and no one was answering their phones. At first I started to get annoyed. I had given up several hours of prep and my Saturday afternoon and no one cared to show up. 

But then I chose to listen. 

We asked our friend where she thought everyone was and she informed us that it was "Rations Day" at the refugee camp. Each month, the refugees find a way to get out to the refugee camp (which is about 2 hours away) and collect food rations for the month. If they do not show up to the camp on the right day (which of course changes each month depending on when the delivery actually arrives), they do not get food for their family for the month. 

Well, poor little old me got over her complaints pretty quickly when I heard why no one was there! They plan their months around when they need to collect their month's supply of food and here I am complaining that a couple hours of my Saturday was "wasted". 

This has quickly become a theme in our ministry in Africa. Things are often canceled, people often show up hours later than "scheduled", etc. But we have learned to listen. When you are patient and listen to the reasons, there is usually always a very reasonable explanation. Friends are late to a meeting because they had to wait in line for 5 hours to get water for their family for the day. They had to walk a mile to get firewood before the could cook breakfast, and with the other tasks for the morning, it made them late, and so on. Yes, it is still inconvenient for us and often throws off things we had scheduled later in the day, but often loving people here well is being understanding of their circumstances. When you chose to slow down and listen, you realize the person was always more important than the task in the first place. Therefore, it's always worth it to be a little inconvenienced. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

School Fees

Young children in Uganda (and most African countries) speak very little English. They typically speak 1-2 other languages at this point, but English is not learned until they start attending school. As someone who loves kids, I have learned ways around having to speak the same language and typically hold their hands, tickle them and laugh with them. 

Where we are staying in Arua is right next to women's barracks for a local teaching college. There are several small children who live on this compound (probably the children of workers who stay there). One girl is named "Chancellor Commander" (yes, that is her real name). She loves to run up and greet me with a smile, hold my hand and walk with me. 

One day, after greeting her many times before, Chancellor held my hand, walked with me, and with wide eyes, looked up at me and said, "School Fees??". Aside from the usual known greeting of, "How are you?", this is the only English I have ever heard this child speak. Since we have gotten this request many times since being in Uganda, I knew right away that those two words were a plead for us to pay her school fees for her. I also quickly knew that this sweet little child who didn't speak any English aside from simple greetings, did not come up with these words on her own. Someone in her family (probably her mother) had most likely seen her walking with me before and told her that next time she saw me, she should repeat these two magic words. 

I had not seen Chancellor for several weeks until running into her today. For the first time ever, I also met her mother. Her mother told me how her husband had passed away two years ago and she was left caring for her two children on her own. We had a great conversation and I told her she was a very strong woman and I was impressed by all she was able to handle on her own. Chancellor walked away with her mom and we all said goodbye. About 30 seconds later, Chancellor came running back up to me. This time, she was holding a folded up note that had been written for her (and stored somewhere for a while) and handed it to me. The note said, "Please give me money for school fees. My father has passed away and I need money to attend school". Again, someone had clearly instructed her to give this to me the next time I was around. 

I quickly went from being excited over the lovely conversation I had with Chancellor's mother to feeling extremely guilty over not running and handing her money for school fees. You have to understand, children not having money for school fees here is a VERY common problem. Almost every mother at the Moru church has told me she struggles to pay school fees for her children each term. The need is constant and very real. Paying school fees for everyone who has requested this of us is simply not possible.

When I got home I started processing what I was feeling. My first thought was, "I just feel guilty for not helping!!". Then I (or more likely, the Lord re-directing my thoughts) realized that without a doubt, if I felt like God was telling us to pay Chancellor's school fees, we would do it in a heartbeat. No question. If God put it on my heart to bring her over the money right now, I would do it. But I knew that wasn't what He was doing. Something was telling me I did the right thing by not running to hand her money. So what was the nagging feeling that was still there? As I thought about it more, I realized it was my pride. My pride craved the attention that comes after giving someone what they are asking for. I wanted to know I was tangibly helping the mother and, therefore, making her day much easier with the stress of where to get money for school fees taken away. I wanted to know I was helpful and needed. All good things, but not when they are done for the wrong reasons. Yikes. Hello, pride. 

So, this little request from a sweet 4 year old has knocked hard on my pride today and brought me to a place of repentance. Repentance for wanting to be Chancellor's savior. I wanted to solve her problems and make everything better for her. However, when I really look at this seriously, I realize that what I really want is to be enough for her. I want to be the one who provides for her needs. This is not my job. God did not call me to the mission field to become the Provider for those I minister to. That is His role. My role is simply to point people to the ultimate Provider. Yes, sometimes this is done by meeting their needs, but this has to be prompted by God, not by my own pride or desire to help. Will and I would quickly run out of energy and resources if we just started handing money to anyone who asked for it. It might make them feel good for the day, but what about tomorrow when we've used all our resources and they are still in need? 

My prayer is that I will continue to realize that my role as a missionary is to point people to Christ. That is the goal, purpose and hope. That is done in many different ways, so I pray that I would also be in tune with how God is leading with each specific person. For some, He might direct us to pay school fees as a way of building trust and relationship and helping to provide for their basic needs. For others, He might direct us to simply be present, hold hands, cry and mourn in the midst of tragedy. The key is being attentive to His voice and following where He leads. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Today I am feeling restless.

We have continued to be surrounded by tragedy this week. It's constant and I am completely helpless in being able to do anything to make the situations better for those I love around me.

When people you care for are hurting, all you want to do is bring comfort and peace in a way that makes the pain go away and the tears stop. However, that is usually not possible in the midst of true tragedies and deep pain. Therefore, all we are able to do is be present (in most of my current situations, from a distance) and pray fervently.

But some days that doesn't feel like enough.

I want to see change and I want to see it now.

For our Bishop who's son was most likely murdered but they haven't been able to identify the body, I want to see resolution. I want the pain to be erased and the family to be whole again. I want them to have reason to rejoice and be glad as a family of five again rather than having to sit in so much continued unknowns, pain and suffering.

For my friends who are continuing to struggle with infertility, lost pregnancies and unmet desires to be parents, I want their stories to have happy ending. I want to see them hold happy, healthy babies in their arms and to know that the long seasons of waiting was worth it. I want the sadness and pain to go away and for rejoicing to come.

For the many South Sudanese who are being forced to live far away from their families due to continued instability, I want there to be an end in sight. I'm tired of watching families being torn apart and have to suffer with very little due to the tragedy of war. I want there to be affordable food in the markets again and opportunities for children to return to school consistently. I want their fears to be washed away and healing to meet them in the painful places of their hearts.

And in the many other unmet desires and tragedies happening all over, my heart cries, "How long, Oh Lord?".

In it all, my heart feels tired. Sometimes I wish I didn't "feel" things as much as I do because my compassion often leaves me restless and exhausted. It's wearing to endure the sufferings of those around us.

But in it all, there is HOPE. This is only because we serve a good God. A God who meets us in the pain and unmet desires. A God who knows the heartache and speaks to us in that place. The One who offers us rest in His presence.

Psalm 62:1-2 says, "My soul finds rest in God alone. My salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress; I will never be shaken." 

The beauty of this truth is that nothing that is going on around me can shake me or separate me from the hope that God offers. Nothing is strong enough to push me over completely.  Nothing can steal my rest when I press into the fullness of what God offers.

Even as I write these words, I am praying for God to actually make this true for me. I feel shaken this week and very tired. However, I am reminded that being brought to my knees is not the same as being conquered completely. All of the things going on around me have brought me to a place of desperation for God to show up and bring resolutions, but that doesn't mean my faith is shattered. On the contrary, my faith is strengthened when I allow myself to fully engage in the pain, while still holding onto the truth that God is powerful enough to come through. It might not be in the way I would hope for or predict, but when He does come through, there is reason for much rejoicing.