A week and a half in this beautiful county is never enough… And to have to wait a year before returning feels far, far too long! I can’t even begin to put into words how much this country has taken ahold of my heart. Uganda was the first place I knew The Lord was calling me many years ago. I dreamed of working with children in Africa. However, I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like until the opportunity arrived for me to travel with an organization, Books are the Beginning, created and led by a couple from my church, to Lulwanda Children’s Home in the summer of 2015. I can remember vividly the drive back to the airport at the end of our time at Lulwanda last summer. I was overwhelmed with emotions and struggled to process what this new-found love meant for my life. I feared not being able to ever fully explain and share how special this country is, and doubted my ability to find the words to inspire others to see its charm, potential, and this unique call to serve. As I sit here, having to say goodbye once again, knowing I will leave a giant portion of my soul behind, I experience the same heartbreaking fear.
I love Uganda. I love Uganda in a way that at first feels so much more than that one word could convey. I have asked myself repeatedly what makes this country pull so intensely on my heart strings. Why do I “love” this country so much? While searching my soul for the answer to this question, the words “God is love” has continued to radiate through me. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. – 1 John 4:16b” I have come to the conclusion that when in Uganda I see and feel God move in ways I simply don’t anywhere else. His love becomes so incredibly tangible to me in this place. I see Him in every smile, red dirt road, and mud hut. I feel Him in every embrace and greeting. The people here are filled with such faith and strength it leaves me in awe and desire for more interactions.
Over the past week and a half, I have been completely taken aback by God’s faithfulness. Every single prayer I have prayed down to the smallest requests and more have been handed to me. It’s as if He gift-wrapped this portion of the trip and delivered it to me on a silver platter (a beautiful metaphor I heard the first time from Natalie Rolfe – a local missionary. It is such a perfect way to describe how giving our God is!). After fighting sickness in Thailand, it was such a comfort to land in Uganda feeling much stronger. Within two hours of arriving, the Thrasher team also arrived. It was such a blessing to be surrounded by some of my familiar church family and Books are the Beginning friends I bonded with last year.
That night, we were surprised to learn it had been arranged for our team and the Thrasher team to stop at our half way point and spend the night in Jinja before continuing the long journey to Mbale. The next morning, we got to take a boat on to Lake Victoria and explore the source of the Nile River! It was all more than I could have imagined or planned myself. We laughed at monkeys swaying in trees along the banks and starred in amazement at all the different birds and flowers that surrounded us. It was perfect. Simply perfect.
The day only continued to get better and better! We went straight from Jinja to Lulwanda where we were greeted by the children with signs, singing, and TONS of hugs! Again, it was perfect. I fought tears of pure Joy seeing all the children I have prayed for all year and longed to see and hold again. They had grown so much and all looked healthy and happy. Joyce was shy at first, but quickly became herself again. My heart felt complete in the peace of seeing how faithful The Lord has been in bringing me back to her and all the little ones that have captured my heart. Throughout the week, each time that I felt I hadn’t had enough time with a specific child(ren), I would pray and ask God to provide some time in the schedule for me to interact and bond with them again, and by the end of the day The Lord always made a way.
It was a true honor this year to be invited to spend a majority of my time here in either professional development sessions with the teachers at Lulwanda or in an actual classroom teaching and modeling lessons with the P7 (7th grade) students. I wasn’t a part of the very in-depth planning the Thrasher team did before coming to Uganda this summer. They worked alongside Purdue University in creating a curriculum aligned to the Ugandan standards and brought amazing inquiry based lessons to these very hungry and eager teachers. Even though I was not a part of the planning, the Thrasher team knew my giftings and were happy to utilize my experience in the classroom. It was quite convicting to see how excited the Lulwanda teachers were to see a new approach to teaching. It made me realize how much I take my education, engrained skills, and professional development for granted in America. I can’t wait to see how much these new strategies affect the academic performance and critical thinking skills of their students. The teachers asked for more, and I’m quite excited to be a part of it all next year, by the grace of God!
Before church on Sunday, I prayed God would bring a little village girl I had met the year before back again. She had “chosen me” last year, and sat on my lap throughout the entire service. She would randomly turn around, take my face within her hands, and smile the brightest little grin you could imagine! I had only one picture of her that I made the background on my phone throughout this past year in hope of never forgetting her face. I feared never seeing her again because she is not one of the children that lives at or attends school at Lulwanda.
As church filled up this past Sunday, I felt myself unable to relax and be still. I kept scanning each child’s face as they entered the one room church building. Finally, when it seemed as though I would have to live with only memories of her, I saw her tiny little body shuffle on past me through the aisle. She was holding her baby brother in her arms and looking for a place to sit. My heart stopped and I told the person in front of me to get her attention. As she turned around and our eyes met, that smile I had dreamed and prayed about seeing again spread across her face. She came straight to me! I hugged her and her baby brother so tight in that moment, and thanked God with every ounce of my being for allowing me the blessing and peace of mind in seeing her again. She shared her time on my lap this year with her little brother. Her doting love and care for him was incredible. Being only around 4 or 5 years old herself, to witness her selflessness left me convicted and inspired. She would bring him little snacks, wipe his mouth clean, carry him as if he was her own, and even let him hold the offering she so proudly shared with the small church.
Please continue to pray with me for little Ida. I pray that her giving and faithful heart continue to be as reflective of Lord’s as it is today. I pray that no sickness or schemes of the enemy attack her and her family. I pray that she always has plenty to eat, a healthy mother to care for her, and a roof over her head. I pray that her siblings also grow to be the carriers of God’s truth and that their testimonies bring others to their knees in wonder and surrender.
Leaving Lulwanda yesterday was the hardest goodbye to date. My girl, Joyce, and a few others have contracted Malaria. To see Joyce in bed, smile diminished, brought me to tears. I felt cheated at first, that we wouldn’t get to spend our last days together in a state of joyful bliss. But soon I had the privilege of holding her, praying over her, and reminding her of her identity in Christ. I got to sit with her, rub her back, and tell her how God had chosen her for me to sponsor. I told her the story of how when I got home last year I prayed for almost two months asking God which child He wanted me to personally invest in, and how He told me over and over it was her. To hold her and cry for her gave me a time to exercise a mother’s heart for her and to be awakened to new ways to pray for her and her brothers and sisters at Lulwanda.
Oh how I will miss these kids. I will miss the smell of the air in this stunning country. I will miss the accents, the word Mzungu (white person ;)) being shouted from village children as they run toward us waving, and the dancing! Oh the dancing! I will miss the greetings, the swarms of Lulwanda children reaching and fighting to hold my hands. I will miss the proud laughter as they plaster their faces with stickers. I will miss the food (Oh the mangoes and GIANT avocados). I miss the view of Mount Wanale. I will miss so much.
Until next year, Uganda, you will be in my prayers, and I hope to visit you in my dreams often.