header 03/19

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work."
2 Corinthians 9:8

Monday, December 3, 2018

An Unexpected "Journey"

I recently travelled to the US from Uganda to visit Deke, Eli, and Mattea. I thought I was just going to visit my kids in America, but this flight took me on more of journey than I had anticipated….

It began shortly after my arrival at the Entebbe airport. I went through the initial security check that is required upon entering the airport, and as I began to get in line to check my bags, I was instructed to move to the priority line as there was a large group checking bags in the regular line. 

The group consisted of a few dozen people of all ages: preschoolers, teens, young adults, middle age adults, and senior adults. They were obviously African, but I couldn’t figure out from watching them what type of group this was. All I could tell was that they seemed to be less "comfortable" there than the people typically seen in the airport. 

I checked my bags, went through immigration, and proceeded to wait at my gate. I didn’t see the group again before boarding. 

After I boarded and got settled, there were still many vacant seats left on the plane. All of us passengers were becoming more and more hopeful this wouldn't be a full flight. Once everyone on board was settled and it seemed about time to depart, another passenger asked the flight attendant if we would indeed have room to spread out. She said that according to her information, the flight was fully booked. 

Moments later, the entire group from bag check boarded. It was quite obvious that none of them had any idea of the process of boarding a plane. They tried to put 4 kids in 3 seats (because they “fit” ... so why not?), people were trying to decide which seats to take (not according to their tickets), children were not seated with adults, people were reluctant to put their carry-ons in the overhead bins, and even the typically unflappable KLM flight attendants were becoming a little, um, “flapped”.  

I was growing more and more excited that the seat next to me for the long 8+ hour flight to Amsterdam was still empty… until it wasn’t. My seat mate arrived, I said a quick hello, turned aside not really interested in small-talk at the moment, and we took off soon after. I leaned against the window, settled in, and tried to go to sleep. 

There was some moving about and talking amongst the group during the flight, but not a lot. A couple of times, my seat mate got up and talked with someone in the group. 

About an hour before landing, when people were beginning to move about more, I asked my seat mate if she were with the group. She said she was, so I asked what kind of group it was. She said, “It’s a group of refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo being resettled to the US”, and she was their escort. I asked where in the US they were headed, and she said “Atlanta”. I asked what would happen when they arrived. She told me that she wasn’t sure. She just escorts them, turns them over, spends one night, and flies back. 

As I recalled what I had observed of the group, I began to cry. 

That luggage they were checking? All they have left in the world. 

Those preschoolers? They’ll never truly, deeply know their culture - I'm sure their families will celebrate holidays and cook some traditional foods the best they can, but “culture” is far more than that. 

The younger adults? Probably a mix of excitement and also a level of fear. The opportunity can be great, but the hurdles and hardships they must overcome to live in an entirely different culture will likely be a challenge in some ways for the rest of their lives.  

And the older adults? I cried most for them. They know they are leaving their home probably never to return. They have no doubt lost loved ones to violence and/or disease, and many of the ones who remain behind they will never see again. There is no going back to what once was. The dreams of our youth are of prosperous, peaceful, joyful lives - never of losing family, friends, our very country, everything we’ve ever known, and spending our last days in a land where we will never fit in or feel we truly belong. 

I thought about the most heartrending scene of the evening: an older woman who, while in the bag check line, sat down on the luggage cart with her small amount of luggage and quietly traced the logo on the small plastic bag she was carrying. I now know the logo was IOM’s, and I can’t imagine what was going through her mind as she looked at what represented her new opportunity and at the same time a life that she was leaving behind forever. 

I know that some people would say they’re “lucky”, but that’s not the word I would choose. Of course, they are among the very few who are given this type of chance for a new start, but it’s going to be so, so, so hard. East African culture is different beyond explanation from American culture. The contrasting views of family, economics, work, time, food… everything they do will be a challenge. 

I’ve learned living in Uganda for the last 2 years that living day-in and day-out in another culture is exhausting beyond anything I ever imagined. And creating a “new normal” is hard, no matter your reason for living there. 

I feel like immigrating as a refugee is similar to adoption: it’s only a backup plan for when there are no other options. There may be a type of joy in the new start, but no matter how great, that new joy will never remove the old trauma and pain. The dreams of "what might have been" will always be unfulfilled. Even though there are new possibilities on the horizon, much grieving and mourning are appropriate for the losses experienced. 

When we arrived in Amsterdam, the group had extra security checks, so they were not on my flight to Atlanta. I do wish I could have been present when they landed in the US, but I don’t know if I could have survived that with any semblance of composure. And if that is how I felt as a mere observer, I can’t imagine the intense mix of emotions each of the refugees must have been experiencing. 

Sunrise through the window at my gate at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol as I waited to board that blue plane for my next flight to Atlanta.
They’ve been in the US almost a month now... 

Please join me in praying for them: that God would meet them in their sadness and also in their joy, that they would see Him through His people that He will put in their paths, for the gospel to be shared with them and for salvation for many, for true and eternal friendships to form with Americans who will love and help and appreciate and learn from their experiences and wisdom, for ease of adjustment, for peace in the days to come, that they’ll be able to *stay warm* (yes, that’s a real issue even for those of us returning to America - we get so stinkin’ cold!), that they will be able to hold on to comforting traditions and as many of their own ways of doing things as possible, that they will be able to be a blessing to those around them... and that they will see and be reassured that they, too, have much to offer America. 

I was in such desperate need of that trip back to my people and my homeland - even for a brief visit - and I can't imagine knowing I would never ever be able to do that again: never to see the ones I love, never to have the feeling of being "at home". I'm thankful God had much more planned for my trip than I ever dreamed and opened my heart even more to His love for all people. 

If you’d like to join me in praying for refugees during this season, but aren’t really sure how to pray, The Immigration Project has a wonderful prayer calendar resource with a short but important prayer focus for each day through Dec. 25th. 


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Another new season...

It seems like there’s always a new season in life. Just like the seasons in nature are always changing, so is the way our lives are ordered. I’m not complaining about change. I am one of those people who likes change. I'm motivated and energized by change. I like to move. I like to rearrange. I like to do all kinds of things different ways each time “just because”. I like variety. I don’t rely on predictability for my security. I truly enjoy change. 

However, this last “season change” was one I was dreading. 

When we moved to Uganda, our oldest son Deke was already out of the house and on his own and remained in the States. It was hard leaving him behind, but when he first transitioned out of our home, he was only a few hours away, and there were still five kids at home - I had plenty of distractions. And by the time we moved to Uganda, he hadn’t been a part of our family’s day-in/day-out lives for a while, so it wasn’t as big of a change for him to be farther away since I usually only spoke to him on the phone or through text and not in person each day. It was difficult emotionally, but daily life without him being physically present wasn't something new for me.

But for us to take Eli and Mattea back to the US in May to leave them there to start college this fall was something I had been dreading for months and months. I was in tears on a regular basis just thinking about it. If someone mentioned it to me, I had to quickly say, “I don’t want to talk about it” because I would have lost all composure. The tears would just sneak up on me pretty regularly. I cried early in the morning and late at night. I woke up in the middle of the night and cried. It was a very bad time for me. The dread was real and heavy. 

The seven of us spent May 4th-31st in the US traveling and visiting family, friends, and supporting churches (we stayed in 8 different lodging places in 4 states in 28 days!). Then, Michael returned to Uganda with Wyatt, TJ, and Brielle while I stayed in the US a few weeks longer to help Mattea and Eli with some preparations for college. I was so dreading June 20th when I would have to return to Uganda without them. I just couldn’t imagine what life would be like without seeing them every day. Without hugging them. Without sitting next to them and having long, deep conversations… or simply showing each other ridiculous memes or funny videos. 

How could I endure this? How could I ever be happy so far away from half of my kids? I cursed some. I prayed some. I cried out to God in frustration and anger and fear and desperation. It was not at all pretty or nice or even what most would call very “Christian” behavior at times. But that’s where I was.

But God, being rich in mercy…

He hears our cries - even our cries born out of doubt and fear and anger. He loves us with such great love. And he does more than we could ask or imagine. Far more than we deserve. More than we can even know or comprehend. And he has made this season change bearable… more than bearable. It’s good, even. 

How is it good? Well, maybe IT’s not good… but GOD is good in it.

How? He calmed my heart. He spoke peace to me. And he showed me more of his love through inner assurance and also through circumstances he orchestrated. 

Want to know just some of the things God has done to remind me of his goodness? Things that he didn’t have to do the way he did? There are a lot. And there are a lot because he wants me to not doubt he’s got this… and he knows I’m a slow learner.  

Here's a start... 

He provided a great car, and we didn’t have to “settle” or feel rushed to buy one. 
God provided a nice, well cared for, dependable, used car for about half of what we expected to have to pay. They'll have to share it for now, but God will work out the logistics of that, too. Finding a good car for them was a huge burden for our time in America. With all the traveling we needed to do, we knew wouldn’t have much time to shop around to get a good deal on a good car (and being on their own without us, a dependable car is a necessity). But the first day we were in Vicksburg where my parents live, someone we know posted their single-owner car on Facebook for sale. We contacted them, went to see it, drove it, and agreed to buy it. And we were able to do that so quickly that we even had time to get the tag and insurance before we had to move on to our next stop on our trip (so Eli and Mattea didn’t have to do that part on their own). 

He provided a very generous and unexpected gift from someone who wanted to outfit their dorm rooms. 
And not just the bare minimum. This benefactor wanted to make them comfortable and at home since they don’t have a real home or even a bedroom anywhere in America that’s actually theirs besides those dorm rooms. Not only did God provide the gift, he provided the giver of that gift who, even though she doesn’t know them very well, was thoughtful enough to think about all that and who simply wanted to bless them and to keep up with what they’re doing at college and has promised to continue to pray for them. That’s so much more than simply a monetary gift. 

He has provided Belhaven University. 
Through Eli’s job at The Amazima School as a teaching assistant in the math department and his temporary literature teaching assistant role at the staff children’s school, he really felt God calling him into classical education. As he looked for majors that would help him prepare for teaching, Belhaven was the only one with a Classical Education Studies major. He felt from the start that Belhaven was the place for him. He applied, was accepted right away, and hasn’t looked back. And what a bonus - especially for mom’s heart - that it’s close to family. 

Mattea had plans other than Belhaven for college, but God shut those doors. She had really hoped to attend college in Tennessee with some friends from here in Uganda, but God showed her that wasn’t the place he had for her even though to us it seemed like a great fit. We looked into the Musical Theatre program at Belhaven and found that Belhaven is one of only 36(!) universities in the USA accredited in all four arts: theatre, music, dance, and visual art, and their program is excellent (and that other college in TN is not one of those 36 schools). As we watched video after video with students and faculty talking about the academic programs of the school, the gospel focus, and biblical foundations and encouragement in every class to live on mission through whatever vocation God calls you to, Michael and I both said we wish we could go to college there! Plus, the fact that she and Eli can be at the same place is such a huge blessing. (And now I see that God has been forming their brother-sister friendship and preparing them for this for their whole lives. Yes, every detail… every single detail is planned by him.)

From our first visit to Belhaven as a family back in May when we were able to tour the campus, we knew they would be seen and loved and cared for there. Everyone we met - from admissions staff to department heads to the university president (who came out of a meeting and down the stairs to introduce himself and welcome us before we left the building) - was warm and welcoming and made us feel like we were truly special even though we know there are lots of other new students and families who will be joining them this fall. We toured academic buildings and dorms, and even though the dorms weren’t technically open for showing students around, both Eli and Mattea were able to see their own dorm rooms. The guys’ dorm’s “model room” (the only room in the dorm that our guide had a key to) was actually Eli’s room, and Mattea’s room was open because the cleaning crew was cleaning her room at the same time we were touring that building. It was good for them to see their actual rooms but also special that we got to see them. Now we can all sort of envision where they are spending their time each day. Was that necessary? No. But God did it “just because”.  

God has provided department heads who genuinely care about them and see their individual gifts and callings and goals and are making sure they have whatever they need. Eli’s department head moved him from under another advisor to directly under herself, placed him in Honors English, and added him to an upper level logic class because she sensed that he would enjoy it and believes that he will be able to handle it. While they were meeting, she asked him about his summer reading plans, and he told her he planned to read The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. He told me that when he said that her face lit up, and she said, “That’s what I did my master’s thesis on, and I just finished rereading it a couple of weeks ago!” Only God could have orchestrated that. I’m so thankful that God keeps reminding us that no detail escapes his loving, watchful eye. And Mattea’s department head met with her to make sure she was signed up for everything she needs according to her previous experience and training or lack thereof. (Being in Uganda has left her with some gaps in experience that other students in America would have had opportunities to have. He’s been so understanding about this, and is doing his best to make sure she gets her class schedule tailored to get the experience and training she needs.) And when he found out they were both eligible for work-study, he said he’d put them at the top of his list to work in the theatre department (dependent upon the approvals he gets for work-study openings). 

He has already provided new friendships with other students. 
Mattea and Eli really have no friends in MS. We moved away from MS when they were 2 years old and 1 year old. All of their friends are in Alabama, but they are staying four hours away in MS at my parents’ house until school starts in late August. I had been praying for them to meet and begin developing some lifelong friendships when they went to orientation last weekend, and they met and started getting to know some other incoming freshmen with whom they seem to have a lot in common. Those may not turn out to be some of the lifelong friendships that I was praying for, but they very well could. They’re even meeting up with some new friends tonight to attend a Belhaven summer theatre production together. 

He has provided family and friends who want to take care of them and be like family to them. 
From my parents who are letting them crash at their house for a couple of months, to extended family in and around the Jackson area, to long-time friends of ours and of their grandparents who have said they’ll go see all the productions Mattea is in, to the dozens of friends in MS and AL who have offered to help with anything they need anytime they need it, we have been amazed by the love and support that they have received. Again, God’s grace leaves nothing untouched or unprovided for.  

He has provided a church.
Even before Eli had looked into Belhaven as a possible choice for college, I had read an article about a church in Jackson, MS named Redeemer Church. I took note of it because the church seemed to be such a unique and special place, and Jackson is in MS near where we both grew up and went to college. The article had pointed out the church’s journey and success in becoming a truly diverse and integrated congregation. I was very impressed with all I had read about the church, its history, its pastor, its priorities and goals and how the church is working to reach the community where God has placed it. When Eli started looking into Belhaven, I mentioned to him that this church seemed like somewhere he would fit in, appreciate, and feel like he belonged, and we planned to visit at some point while in the States. Then, when we visited Belhaven, Eli’s admissions counselor who was giving us the tour mentioned “out of the blue” that if they weren’t already committed to a church in the area, they should give Redeemer Church a try because it was such a wonderful place. We just looked at each other and grinned. Eli, Mattea, and I did end up visiting one week while I was there, and Eli and Mattea have made the hour drive to Jackson to attend Redeemer every Sunday since. I’ve listened to at least fifteen Redeemer sermons on podcast since then, and I am so thrilled that God has already provided a place for them to hear the word preached so strongly and clearly each week. 

He has provided connections with great people. 
While visiting family in May, my sister-in-law mentioned that she knew someone who had started a school in Jackson and that Eli may want to meet him because it sounded like a really neat place but she couldn’t recall the name of it at the moment. She helped get them connected, and Eli set up a meeting with him. The school? The Redeemer’s School. The church it is affiliated with and where that principal attends? Yep. Redeemer Church. He said he’d love to see if Eli could help out at the school in some role, so Eli's hoping something there will work out. 

Since Mattea didn’t have as much opportunity for training and experience in theatre and dance while in Uganda as everyone else in her major proably did in the US, and since they're probably still able to work with their teachers and theatre groups during the summer (because they’re not on a different continent), she is really in need of some additional help this summer. But since we've been gone from Vicksburg for so long and have no connections in Vicksburg in the theatre scene there, we weren’t sure how that would happen. Well, through searching online, I found a small acting/dance/vocal studio run by a young mom who has a BFA in musical theatre and some professional experience through touring. I contacted her, and she has already met with Mattea and will be helping her through the rest of the summer. And as a bonus, we found out she attends church with my dad. Every detail is provided for... Every question we have, God has an answer for. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. 

Also, Eli and Mattea both were/are in need of summer jobs. Eli has some occasional work with my brother who is a home inspector and also with a property owner in Vicksburg for whom he has worked a bit before. It’s not a regular job, but it’s work that pays pretty well. Mattea, however, has nothing so far, but has applied multiple places. Even though she has had a few interviews and still doesn’t have a job, God has still shown her that he’s caring for her. She applied at the Gap Outlet in Vicksburg, but even though the manager really liked her, she wasn’t able to hire a worker who would be able to work only summers, holidays, school breaks, and occasional weekends. But a few days later, the manager called her back and told her that she should apply to a family-owned coffee shop where she knew the owners. She applied earlier this week, and her interview there was yesterday, so she doesn’t know whether she got the job yet. Even if she doesn’t get it, it was encouraging that someone that she just met and interviewed with liked her so much and cared enough to call her later on to recommend another job to her. (I realize that places don’t typically want to hire people who are going to leave so soon and not be available full-time, but I’m praying that the coffee shop owners will just feel strongly like they should hire her and will do it anyway. I’ll update later on the outcome.) And if she doesn’t get it, then there’s something else she should be doing with her time for the next 6 weeks, and God will provide the money she needs some other way. We know that God opens up the options he wants and closes the ones that aren’t best for us - we’ve seen it too many times to doubt that! 

. . . . . . . . . . . 

I know this has been a long read (if you made it this far, well done!) and contains more information than many people care to know about, but God works out so many details in every single thing, and I want to share as many as I can so people can see how intricate God’s plans are. I want others to be reminded that God works behind the scenes in thousands of ways that we will never know he’s doing… or if we do see that he's working, we will only see small parts of his plan. 

Also, I’m so thankful that God cares enough to humor me and give me the reassurance I need, to show that he’s been working in and through others long before I even knew what to ask - when I didn’t even have the composure to think of what to ask - and that he’s kind and merciful and lets no detail go untouched by him. He so graciously and freely gives me glimpses into what he’s been doing. My new refrain of late is “But God, being rich in mercy…”, and I thank him for showing me his mercy towards me daily. 

And just as importantly, Eli and Mattea are seeing over and over again that God is capable and dependable and will take care of everything they need... because of his love for them. There were so many times we said, "We have no idea how to work this out - like, no clue how this is going to be okay." But we were able to repeatedly see God work things out at just the right time in ways we never would have dreamed. I'm so thankful they have a front row seat for the show of God's faithfulness. 

And yet again we are reminded, “We don’t… but God does!” 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Glorious Day of Family Fun (+ the inside story)

Here's the account of our "family fun day" last Saturday. And since nothing is ever as "perfect" as one would think it should be, I’ve added some notes about how things really happened last Saturday. I could have simply said, “We strolled through town, ate a fabulous late lunch, did a little shopping, had delicious milkshakes and headed home” and left it at that, but I want to share the "inside" story with you. If you want the pretty “Instagram-ified" version, read only the large print. If you want the "how it really was" story, read the smaller print, too... 

Last Saturday we decided to spend a fun Saturday afternoon in town as a family. 

We chose not to stay home on Saturday because there was a power outage scheduled from  8:00am - 6:00pm. Just a week before, we and two of our neighbors had no power from 11:30am Saturday morning through 7:00pm Sunday evening with no explanation and no assistance from the power company who we called and texted and Twitter dm’d hourly and who kept saying someone was on the way when clearly(!) no one was on the way. And when they did finally come it literally took the technician only 10 minutes to get our power back on. We were soooo over having no power and were NOT staying around for that again! (And rarely has the power actually come back on at the stated time for the scheduled outages, so we figured we'd be at home for several hours with no power in the evening anyway.)

But before we could begin our adventure, we had to wait for the exterminators to come to spray for roaches. The roaches in our kitchen were so bad that every time we opened the kitchen drawers or cabinets there were dozens of roaches of varying sizes running everywhere... and I. do. not. do. roaches. We had to sit outside and wait for nearly an hour while they sprayed because the pesticide is so strong here that you can't stay inside or even go back into your house for several hours after it's been sprayed - another reason for our "family fun day" outing. 

We thought it would be nice to change things up a bit so we called our favorite boda driver, and he brought five more drivers with him so we could begin our adventure motorbiking into town together as a family with the sun shining on our faces and the wind blowing through our hair.  

This decision to boda into town was motivated not only by the desire to have some fun but also by the fact that the parking attendants in town are not always the most "honest" people around. (We do know some who are great and whom we trust, but most are not like them - and you don't always know who you'll get when you park.) Since there are no parking meters, you have to buy little tickets that you use to pay for parking with. When a parking attendant sees your car parked in their designated area, they will put half of a little slip of paper on your windshield. In order to get the other half of the slip (which is the proof that you paid to park), you must give the parking attendant a little "ticket" (which you also buy from said parking attendants). Sometimes they will tell you that your tickets are fakes and that you have to buy more tickets from them even though they're the ones who sold you the "fake" ones to begin with.  And occasionally, there are stretches of time in which the parking authority puts “boots” on the tires of cars that are parked legally and then claims that they have many unpaid parking tickets so they can extort money to take the boot off. Since we've seen a couple of booted cars lately, we didn't want to take a chance on parking in town (and we were glad we made the choice we did because while we were there we saw an already booted car and men on the way to boot another one).  We do actually have a "favorite boda guy" - his name is Adrian, and he's precious. He lets Wyatt drive the boda around town while he rides on the back! Wyatt loves this, of course, and I don't mind that Wyatt is ALWAYS willing to run my errands for me. (How "sweet" of him, right?) 

We spent some time strolling up and down Main St. visiting with all our favorite shop owners and stopping to talk with others who work nearby. We really enjoyed catching up with friends we haven't seen in a while!

Even though it was barely noon, one of them was drunk already and kept hitting on Mattea and gave us 3 different versions of the same story since he couldn't remember the lie he had just told us two minutes earlier. But other than that, we really did have a wonderful time talking with our friends - we need to do that more often.

After spending some time with our friends, we walked a couple streets over to a restaurant with beautiful patio seating to have “lupper” (our family's pet name for the lunch/supper version of  “brunch”). 

The patio area really is beautiful (bottom photo), and it's one of those places where you'd never guess from the street what lies through the little doorway. And we were eating "lupper" not because we are super hip and cool and like to make up new names for meals but because we left home later than we originally planned, restaurants here take a reallllly long time to bring your food, and I knew we probably wouldn't be able to cook once we got home (we really doubted the power would be back on at the stated time and we also would have to clean up after the exterminator had sprayed). The whole time we were eating, there was a scrawny, mangy-looking mama cat that kept hanging out near our table. I am sure she was their "mouser" - I just don't know if we should be happy that she wasn't fat. Were there simply not enough mice around for her to catch? (I hope that's the case.) Or was she just really terrible at catching them? (Yikes.)  And, yes, we fed her - she loved the chicken curry but not the pizza. 

From there we split up, with Michael and Wyatt heading out to pick up a couple of things we needed for the house while the rest of us headed back up to Main St. to look for a super cute basket that I had seen at a friend's house. 

Michael and Wyatt went in search of new door locks (because ours have been broken for at least 6 months on both the front and back exterior doors) and for a new toilet seat (because ours had been held together for months with duct tape and it was finally starting to unravel and split apart and we didn't want to get pinched - ha!). (And, no, the landlords here do not do any repairs at all while you rent - it's all on you.) And in case you were wondering, toilet seat shopping is even less glamorous here than it is in the US. They decided to wait on getting the new door locks, but they did purchase a toilet seat which Wyatt got to carry for a few blocks up to Main St. to meet up with the rest of us. He was so thrilled. And the cute basket I wanted? It was to organize our piles of pirated movies. Duplicating movies and TV shows and selling them is not illegal here - there are movie stores everywhere - and you can get almost anything you want for about 60 cents. 

After we found the perfect basket, the five of us who were already on Main St. headed to The Deli to wait on Michael and Wyatt and to end the day with our favorite milkshakes. Once they joined us and finished their milkshakes, we all headed home... and the power was back on by the time we arrived home. What a wonderful way to end such a great "family" day! 

Eli, Mattea, TJ, Brielle, and I ordered our milkshakes (top photo), but we didn't order Michael and Wyatt's since I wasn't sure how long they'd be and was afraid their milkshakes would melt before they arrived. I adore The Deli's mocha milkshake and was soooo looking forward to it, but the power was still off and the generator couldn't power both the milkshake machine and the coffee machine, so I had to settle for another kind. By the time Michael and Wyatt (and the toilet seat) arrived, the battery on the generator had died and they were waiting for someone to arrive with a new one. After sitting there awhile, we decided to send Mattea and Eli on ahead so they could go home to feed our day guard since we left before his lunchtime and his lunch was already over 3 hours late. (The residents of the home where the guard works are responsible for providing all meals during work hours, so we always have to think about that if we're going to be out of the house for very long.)  After about 15 minutes of waiting for the new battery to arrive, the power came back on (we never did see the battery guy, so who knows how long it would have been had the power not come back) and Michael and Wyatt finally got their milkshakes. We all took bodas back home and spent the rest of the night sweeping dead bugs out of the cabinets, off the floors, and cleaning them out of the drawers; washing every single cooking utensil, dish, and cup in our kitchen; wiping pesticide residue from counters, cabinets, and drawers; and replacing drawer liners. 

The REAL "inside" story is that we really did have a fun day that we all enjoyed and will remember for a long time - proof that things don't have to be "picture perfect" to make great memories with people you love! 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A New Day-to-Day

We’ve made some changes here in the Pierce household!

If you know us well, you know that we’ve always made family a very high priority. We’ve done a lot of “weird” things over the years (like homeschooling and saying no to a lot of “good” things) in order to be able to preserve and grow family relationships and not to be stretched too thin. 

But since being in Uganda, where there are just so many needs and so many things to do and be a part of, we’ve gradually slipped into being crazy busy. In order to get The Amazima Staff Children’s School off to a solid start, I (Melinda) was working about 70-80 hours per week teaching 5 grades (7-11), recruiting and interviewing additional teachers, and doing necessary administrative tasks needed to run a school. 

Also during this time, Michael was working tirelessly all day and into most nights as the new business manager in order to get the accounting systems and other office processes caught up and running smoothly. His God-given skill set is perfect for that job, and he’s been a real blessing to the Amazima office. 

As you can imagine, with both Mom and Dad working that many hours per week, our long-held priorities of family time and relationships were being severely neglected. In fact, we weren’t spending any regular time together or even having real conversations although we were either on the same campus all day or in the same house all night. I can’t count how many times I said, “Not now, I’ve got to work” to the kids or to Michael. (And we would have all starved if we didn’t have several kids who are amazing cooks!)  

Thankfully, we were blessed to have four new teachers arrive to begin our new school year mid-July, and I was able to transition out of classroom teaching to more of an administrative and service role. A couple weeks in I was finally able to start slowing down just enough to process how we were doing as a family, and I realized that we were steadily becoming more and more disconnected from one another. 

I began to have less and less peace about the pace at which we were living and the amount of stress much of the family was under. Even with the addition of the new staff, I was still spent each day by the time I got home from school. And although my after-hours work was greatly decreased, there were still issues that I was responsible for handling as the principal that weighed heavily on my mind even while I wasn’t supposed to be working.  

Since being on the mission field, I’ve seen and heard of too many missionary families splitting apart because in the doing of so many “good” (even great!) things, they simply got distracted and failed to vigilantly protect their families. And I completely understand how that could happen! It’s hard to say no when there are so many needs that you can truly help with everywhere you look. It’s hard to say no to good things and important things. These missionaries are people with hearts of gold. They love God enough to follow his call to move halfway around the world. They serve with their whole hearts. They give and give and give. But somehow in the middle of all the good work they were doing, their families were ever-so-gradually weakened and eventually fell apart. 

Because of what I’ve witnessed among other missionaries and what I was beginning to see in my own family, I expressed the desire to gradually lessen my role at the school in order to serve our family better. Thankfully, our In-Country Director very graciously offered to take on the role of principal of the staff children’s school immediately. He has many years of experience as a head master and principal, and he’s gifted in both encouraging staff members to grow and have freedom in their work while also keeping everyone unified and heading in the right direction. This was the area of leadership that I was least comfortable with, so it is a huge mental weight lifted off of me.

Once I agreed to hand over the staff leadership portion of the principal position to him, I felt the freedom to really consider what else I could do to get us back on track as a family. Mattea and Wyatt had both been asking for a while if they could be homeschooled again. It wasn’t because they didn’t love their classmates or didn’t have good teachers, but they were both feeling that being in school all day and doing homework for hours each night was not how they wanted to spend their time in Uganda. Plus, they knew from their years of experience that they could learn at least as much homeschooling and still have time for other things they’d like to pursue. 

When I was principal, I resisted their requests and told them that they needed to continue to go to the school (which is a very good school). Although I always felt at peace when I considered all the benefits of homeschooling them, I wasn’t sure how we could make that work with me gone all day every day. And what would others think about the “principal” taking her kids out of the very school where she was principal? 

But now that I would be stepping back from the top position, I wondered if homeschooling them could actually be a possibility. There are so many once-in-a-lifetime things they could be doing right now in Uganda. Wyatt had really enjoyed the opportunities he'd had to  serve in Sole Hope’s jigger removal clinics out in the villages on several Thursdays, and he couldn't do that on a regular basis without missing too much school. Mattea wanted to serve with another ministry here called Ekisa which serves children with disabilities and their families. She was also hoping to possibly teach another ballet class or two here in town, but there was just no time for ether of those things. 

Considering all of those factors, I agreed that homeschooling seemed to be the best option for them right now and also that reducing my role at the school even more would be beneficial not only to them but to the family as a whole. Another thing that made making our family a priority again even more urgent is the fact that we have only mere months with Mattea and Eli before they move back to America for college. By this time next year, half of our children will be living on another continent. So I began to try to figure out how I could make it happen. 

When I removed my staff oversight duties from my role as principal, what was left was mainly ordering, picking up, and serving lunch, teacher assistant type duties (I did a lot of that in order to serve the teachers and take a bit of a load off them), and administrative assistant type duties. These things filled my whole day, but they weren’t things that couldn’t at least partially be done by someone else. If we could find someone else to do some of them, I could reduce my role enough to be able to allow Mattea and Wyatt to homeschool like they wanted to. 

Well, God provided! Our In-Country Director’s college-age son is here visiting through the end of the semester, and he agreed to handle most of my basic day-to-day duties. The upper elementary teacher is now the “assistant principal” and is the go-to for anything that requires a bit more authority, and I am mostly working from home as the administrative assistant for the school. I go in each afternoon for a bit before I pick up TJ and Brielle to see if there's anything I can help with, I attend weekly staff meetings, I’m the on-call substitute teacher, and since I now have a little more room my car every afternoon, I can also be “bus driver” for the seven elementary kids who don’t live on campus (so they don’t have to wait around for their parents to get off work). 

TJ and Brielle will continue to attend the school. They LOVE their class and their teacher, and they are both progressing so much. They have the same wonderful teacher they've had since we arrived, and every student in their 4th-6th grade class is adopted from Africa (three from Uganda, and T & B from Ethiopia). In fact, the entire elementary school with the exception of TJ and Brielle’s teacher’s son and daughter are adopted from Africa. How cool is that?!? 

We’ve been enjoying our newly remodeled lifestyle for a few weeks now, and it’s such a blessing for our family! I’m so excited that I was chosen to have the privilege to do the work needed to help get The Amazima Staff Children’s School up and running. One of the major complications for many missionary families is how to provide a proper education for their children, and many wind up either sending their kids off to boarding school (often in another country) or returning to their home country so their children can have the education they need. I’m thankful that Amazima had the wisdom and foresight to bless their families by meeting this need, and I look forward to continuing to serve this great school in many ways! 

And another bonus is that I’ll have more time to keep everyone updated about what we are up to in Uganda. I've missed getting to share all the amazing things God is doing here! 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Our First Four Months... part 1

We’ve just passed the 4-month mark of living in Uganda!  
Wow, in some ways it seems shorter and in some ways longer. I’ve been meaning to write more on the blog, but it seems like we are just trying to make it through and get everything we need to get done done each day! 

I’m going to make this a multi-part post since trying to put it all in one would just be way too long.

Here’s Part 1: 

D R I V I N G  in Uganda...

Yes, all these photos were personally taken by me or Michael.
You should see the sights we can't get our cameras out fast enough for! 

Top left: A guy riding a bicycle and holding onto the back of a semi for speed.
Top right: A truck hauling cattle with 8-10 guys holding on and riding on the top. This was on a major road/highway.
Bottom left: Live turkeys tied onto the top of a matatu (van taxi).
Bottom right: Boda driver carrying about 8 cans of water. He was in between us and a semi. 

For me personally, I feel like my biggest achievement so far in Uganda has been learning to drive here. I’ve even gotten my Ugandan driver’s permit!  To explain a little why “driving” – something I’ve been doing since my early teens – would feel like a real accomplishment here, let me share a little glimpse into the lovely art of driving in Uganda.

First, the driving “rules” here are not what we have back in America.  

Rule number one:  There are no actual rules – just some basic understandings about what everyone is kind of expected to do.  I mean, I'm sure there are some actual laws about driving, but the observed rules of the road are more about getting where you're going rather than following some rules just because they are rules. If you’ve traveled abroad much and have ridden or even driven anywhere in Africa or in many other places, you totally get it.

If you haven’t experienced it yet, the best way I can describe how it works is this: 
Imagine walking around at a crowded amusement park: You don’t necessarily have to stay on “your” side of the walkway; you can walk in the grass or off the sidewalk to get around someone who’s just a bit too slow for you; you just walk and weave in and out, and if someone is coming toward you then you simply try to sneak back in between others who are walking the same direction as you without being too disruptive to the flow - everyone understands this and just scooches over a little to let you in... no big deal; if no one is coming toward you all, everyone can spread out and take the whole sidewalk and go in the same direction until someone starts coming that way. At that time a few people will move over to let them by and then everyone will take back over the whole sidewalk. Sounds okay, right?  Yep. Works great... as long as everyone is a pedestrian. 

Now, imagine that process with: 
cars (of all kinds and in all conditions), 
trucks (packed full of people, animals, a combination of people and animals, cargo of any kind and usually not safely secured), 
motorcycle taxis called bodas (yes, motorcycles as taxis, meaning there is a driver and at least one passenger – many times parents with kids or even tiny babies, or it could be just a kid or two with no adult other than the driver, or 2-3 adults squeezed on at once - OR the boda driver could be hauling stuff - a couch, live animals, metal poles, loaves of bread, jerry cans of water or oil, you name it - yes, I've actually seen all of these things ... on motorcycles... motorcycles), 
pedestrians (there are lots of school kids from about 4-5 years up through teens, old people, families, groups of friends, people with baskets on their heads, people pushing carts of food or produce, people carrying rugs or baskets from the village into town to sell them), 
van taxis called matatus (which carry at least 14 people at all times, often with mattresses or other loads or even live poultry tied to the top -  with drivers known for their crazy, aggressive driving), 
bicycles (many of them with human passengers on specially built seats on the back or possibly hauling charcoal or water or whatever can be attached to the bicycle), 
semi trucks (of all shapes and sizes, many of the trailers are permanently tilted to one side and constantly look like they're about to tip), 
buses (all sizes from mini-buses to school buses to greyhound-type buses - all packed to the brim with people and stuff). 
Add all that up, plus the common "the faster the better" attitude, and you've got a winning combination. So... you can see how it could get a little dicey, right?

One day last week, I was driving on a very busy two-lane highway on my way to The Amazima School. A semi truck which was ahead of me with two van taxis between us must have been traveling way too slowly to please the drivers of the van taxis, so the first taxi pulled out into the opposite direction lane to pass. When that taxi began to pass the truck, the taxi behind it drove on the shoulder of the road to pass both the first taxi and the semi - three cars traveling side-by-side in one direction on a two-lane, two-direction road.  They made it, but they barely avoided a head-on collision with oncoming vehicles.  

Even when driving around near our home in Jinja, there are taxis, bodas, pedestrians, other cars, potholes, and speed bumps. On some streets in town, there’s more dirt and holes than there is remaining pavement, and some potholes are so deep that if you accidentally drove into them, you would lose your tire and greatly damage your vehicle.  (So, I guess it is a good thing you aren’t really expected to stay on your own side of the road all the time here or you'd never be able to dodge the potholes!)  And there are speed bumps like you’ve never seen - I don’t mean wimpy little American parking lot or neighborhood speed bumps and speed humps. Speed bumps here come in at least pairs – sometimes there are 4 together. And the speed humps are huge! There’s one speed hump near our house that has to be at least a foot tall! It’s like going over a tiny mountain.  And not only are the speed bumps and humps giant here, most are not painted or indicated in any way to give you a warning that they are coming up – you just have to learn where they are!  

And on top of all that, you have to learn to do all this while driving on the other side of the road. Seems hard? Yes, it is, especially when you have a little “oh my goodness!” freak-out moment and your natural immediate reaction is to pull to the right which is the complete opposite of what you need to do. Left-hand turns are your friend rather than right-hand turns. You've still got to look both ways before pulling across a lane of traffic but you've got to look for it coming from the opposite direction than you're used to. Plus, the windshield wipers and turn signal are on different sides of the steering wheel than in America, so if you realize at the last second that you're in the wrong lane and need to get over, chances are you'll turn on the windshield wipers rather than your turn signal! (And I thought left-handed shifting was going to be my biggest challenge... HA!) 

In America, one of our favorite things to do when I was in the van with the kids was to listen to all kinds of music. That's one thing that I really do miss here.  I loved listening together and talking about the songs or the artists or just turning it up loud and having fun. And it's not that we don't have a stereo in our van or music we could listen to - we actually have an awesome stereo in our old 1993 van - it's just that I can't do anything but drive while I'm in the car. Driving takes ALL my brain power! 

So, learning to drive "Uganda-style" has been a real adventure... now, we will just have to see how it affects my driving when I get back to the States. But it will be awhile before we're back for a visit, so you've all got time to plan how to avoid encountering me on the road!