The missing person I hope is gone for good

It might be time to put out a missing person’s report… for myself. The girl who got on a plane a little more than a year ago and moved to Uganda is no longer the same. I’m not sure where she went, nor was there anything wrong with her, but I’m glad she’s gone.10427690_10152090158296573_1541129307916478648_n

At first I wasn’t sure how I had changed. But as I was home back in America longer, it was pretty obvious. Finances changed,  friendships changed, priorities changed, and my overall sense of peace and contentment with life changed.

Financially

The great thing about living in a third-world country for a year was that I returned to America and decided there were a lot of luxuries I could do without. Starbucks, the mall, pedicures, makeup, television and even flat-ironing my hair were a part of my past.

If you know me, you know this isn’t even remotely true. I’m still the first to jump at a trip to Starbucks, and I do my hair and makeup pretty much every day. I love shopping, Target, Macy’s, and fancy perfumes. The difference is, now I appreciate them so much more. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t look around me and think, “Thank you God! I have so much!”

Sure, I have changed my spending habits. I no longer have to have a Coach purse (I sold them ALL before moving to Uganda- there were lots), and I’m satisfied buying my jewelry at places like Target instead of from Premier Designs. But I’m not going to start doing all my shopping at Goodwill and going Starbucks-free because of my experience in Africa. That’s just not the type of impact it had on me.

Friendships

There were a few friendships I was really excited to come home to. I had warned some of my friends that I had changed, but apparently some of them weren’t ready for those changes. While it breaks my heart to see some of my friends make poor choices, like cut out someone like me who is a positive person to have around, it’s not my job to try and “save” anyone from making mistakes.

I’ve returned from Africa realizing I’m worth more than being anyone’s doormat. I’m not the girl who sits back and lets people walk all over her. Loyalty always has been and still is one of the very top things I value in friendship. When that loyalty was broken in the past, I would feel very hurt but probably let it slide. Not anymore. Life is too short to let some things “slide.” If that changes the degree of some of my friendships, so be it. I’ll never stop loving certain friends, I’ll never stop calling them “friend.” We simply have less in common now and aren’t as close. I’m pretty sure that’s just a part of life.

fortwaynerescuemissionPriorities

Volunteering was something I did on occasion before I moved to Uganda. I always wanted to make it a priority, but for some reason I never went through with it. Since coming home, I have felt an incredible tug at my heart to volunteer on a regular basis. I feel like I’m just not me if I’m not doing something to help those who need it. So, on Wednesday and Friday mornings I head to the Rescue Mission at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast to the homeless. Yes, it’s early. It’s hot and stuffy in there, and I leave smelling like sausage, but the smiling faces of the homeless keep me going back.

I’ve also added working out and reading/learning to my priority list. There’s so much to learn about the world and God, and I believe we should take the time to do so.

My Disposition

I’m different. Maybe it isn’t noticed right away, but I’m different. Things don’t bother me like they once did. I’m not chasing after things or people I know God doesn’t want me pursuing. I am… content. With what I have.

This changes everything.

It changes the way I treat people. It changes the way I see myself. It changes the way I see my future. It changes the way I handle hurt. It changes the way I generally feel on a daily basis. I am content. There is nothing else I “need” to be happy.

These changes didn’t happen overnight. I was nothing like this while I was in Uganda. Uganda was almost like a detox for my soul, and I didn’t reap the benefits of it until I came back to the United States. It reminds me of this verse from Galations:

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Galations 6:9

I might seem like the same Natalie I was before I lived in a third-world country. The outside of me hasn’t changed. But know that on the inside, I’m completely brand new. God used Uganda to do so many crazy and unexpected things in my life and in my heart. I will thank Him every single day for the hurt, fear, struggle and heartache, knowing that it’s what got me to where I am today.

Five things I’ve learned about missionaries…

All Christians are missionaries. Let’s first get that out of the way. If you’re a Christian, you’re called to spread the Gospel. That doesn’t mean you have to move to another country, continent, or planet to do so. We are ALL called to be missionaries.

But for this post, when I refer to a missionary, I’m talking about the ones who have moved their families to different countries and cultures completely different from the ones they were born in. I’ve spent time with missionaries in Nicaragua, Niger, Zambia, Uganda and Kenya, and I’ve learned a lot about their way of life. I’ve learned a lot about missionaries that I never imagined I would learn.

Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn't compare to being with family.
Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn’t compare to being with family.

1. Being a missionary sucks. I lived in Uganda for a year. For one year, I gave up American friends, family, food and holidays to live in a third-world country and serve God. But the people who do it full time? They give all that up… every… single… year. No Starbucks, no Target, no Macy’s at Christmas time, no nieces and nephews in school plays, no grandma’s 90th birthday party, no fun of the “normal” kind. Missionaries are literally a world away from their family and friends for a majority, if not all, of each and every year of their lives. It’s a part of the “job” that really sucks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Being a missionary, especially in a place like Uganda, means spiritual warfare is a very strong and very real thing. Missionaries experience it like you can’t even imagine. It’s treacherous on the heart and soul, and it’s easy to lose faith. Your soul is constantly under attack in ways that can’t be explained. And don’t get me started on the physical threats missionaries face.  Most probably won’t admit it, but being a missionary sometimes sucks.

2. Being a missionary is awesome. The benefits far outweigh the bad. There was a time where I began  to wonder why anyone would do such a thing to their kids- move them to a foreign country where life would be so drastically different from the rest of their peers back in America. Then I got to know and teach MKs (missionary kids) for a year in Uganda, and I saw that they are simply spectacular children who have experienced life to a degree their friends in America will never understand. They are smarter for it, better for it, and more cultured because of it. Not saying it makes these kids better than those who aren’t MKs, but being an MK certainly doesn’t make their lives any less awesome. Being a missionary, or an MK, is incredible. The experiences both culturally and spiritually are matchless.

3. Not all missionaries are “nice.” Missionaries do great things. That’s obvious. They have hearts of gold for people who have less and need assistance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean missionaries have good people skills with people of their own kind. Some missionaries appear to be very bitter, or they seem to not care about any mission other than their own. Missionaries gossip, missionaries sin, missionaries say hurtful things, missionaries…. are human. And we can’t forget that. They do a tough job, and maybe on some days it’s difficult to put on a smile. While the downright “coldness” I sometimes have felt from missionaries still shocks me, it’s important to remember that none of us are perfect. Being a missionary doesn’t mean being Miss Congeniality.

4. Missionaries don’t care about your mission trip. They won’t admit it, and maybe the wording is harsh, but full-time missionaries in the field often feel like they are being stabbed in the gut when you say, “Oh I know what it’s like in Uganda! I went there on a mission trip last summer!”  No. You don’t know what it’s like. Not at all. I went with some friends in Uganda to pick up someone at the airport after we’d lived there for about six months. While waiting, we saw wide-eyed mission teams ready to take on life in Uganda for a week or two. We kind of laughed at them and the idea that they thought they would truly experience Uganda. It was the first time I really realized why missionaries were never impressed when I told them I was going to spend two weeks in Niger, Nicaragua, or Zambia. A few weeks doesn’t even begin to compare to a lifetime. And the same goes for my situation. I was in Uganda for just short of a year. I still don’t know what it’s like to truly be a missionary in a third-world country. My year in Uganda is but a spec of time compared to those who serve their entire adult lives. I can’t blame them for not being impressed that I lived there for just a year.

Can't imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.
Can’t imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.

5. Missionaries deserve treats, just like the rest of us. Probably more than the rest of us. Oh the things people say. A few of my missionary friends in Uganda have even stopped posting pictures on Facebook of times they go out to eat because one of their supporters will say something about it. “Wow. Looks like a nice place you’re eating at there. Guess you aren’t “roughing it” after all.” Or, “I see where my support money is going now.” Yes. People say things like that. People are ignorant. If you support a missionary, you support their well-being. Part of surviving, and part of staying healthy, means having some time off. It means enjoying a special treat or vacation. Yes, even with your support money. A missionary will never succeed if he or she doesn’t have the opportunity to get away and unwind a bit. In my opinion, they need it and deserve it more than the rest of us, who are technically living in luxury each and every day of our lives. Do you have a car? Air conditioning in your home? A television? You are living in luxury compared to the rest of the world.

As Christians, we have to support missionaries. Some might not all be super friendly. They might not be impressed with your mission trip. They might not even love what they do every day. But the bottom line is, they are doing God’s work, they do it for a living, and they don’t get paid. The best way to support missionaries is financially and through prayer. Trust me, every little bit helps.

Unless you’ve done it, you don’t get. And I mean really, truly done it. Not even serving for a year in Uganda makes me qualified to say I know what it’s like to be a missionary in place like Uganda. These people go through things we can’t even imagine, both heartbreaking and fantastic things. They need, and deserve, our support. If we’re really Christians, we will support them, as we continue to be missionaries to the people around us, no matter where we’re located.

“How was Uganda?” I’m running out of adjectives…

Almost three weeks ago I stepped foot on American soil for the first time in nearly a year. My mom and dad were waiting for me in true American style with red, white, and blue flowers, and they were wearing “USA” T-shirts. My experience in Uganda was over, and I was home.10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_n

I remember coming back from my first big mission trip to Africa. I spent two weeks in Niger. It was difficult, when I returned, finding the words to describe what that trip was like. Being in a radical Muslim country and sharing the Gospel was something I’ll never forget, but explaining that, explaining what it was like… it was difficult.

A few years later I went on a week-long trip to Nicaragua where we built latrines and did Bible school with children in the village. I also got to meet my sponsor child. I came home from that trip with even fewer words to describe what I had experienced.

In 2013 I made my way back to Africa for almost two weeks. We spent the majority of our time at Lifesong for Orphans Zambia. Those children, those faces, and their voices will forever be engraved on my heart. Still, when I came back to the US, I wasn’t sure how to put those experiences into words. I even wrote a blog post about it then.

Now, after living in Uganda for almost a year, I’m asked the same basic question, but with a different location.

“How was Uganda?”

Amazing. Intense. Outstanding. Life-changing. Difficult. Spiritual. Aggravating. Incredible. Terrifying. Awesome. Fabulous. Insane. Wonderful.

I’m running out of adjectives.

Before I came home I had this fear that no one would want to know details about my time in Uganda, and there are still plenty of people who don’t care, but it’s kind of ironic that so many people have asked about it, and I have literally nothing to say but a few flowery adjectives.

I had difficulties summarizing a week or two across the globe, how in the world do I summarize an entire year?

My dad asked me the other day why I hadn’t blogged since I’ve been home. My honest answer was, “Because I don’t know what to say.”

And I still don’t know.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

IMG_0137Maybe it’s because I know most people will never understand. Maybe it’s because there’s just too much to tell. Maybe it’s because I can’t think about saying goodbye to Florence, our dayguard’s daughter, without bursting into tears. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting if I say, “God sent me there for my students, and a few of them even flat out told me that God sent me there to help them.”

My emotions are so mixed right now. I was told to take plenty of time to reflect on my time in Uganda, take time to rest and recuperate. I was told to take at least a month to really let things sink in and to process all I had experienced. However, since I’m unemployed, I couldn’t turn down a summer job at my old place of employment. I started a week after I got back. So much for relaxing and reflecting. So much for processing. A part of me feels like I’ve been forced to put processing my entire experience on the back burner, kind of like, “I’ll get to it later.”

What I do know right now is that I’m running out of adjectives to use to describe my time in Uganda. There’s just so much to say that I really don’t know where to start. So forgive me if you run into me and ask, “How was Uganda?” and my response is just a few descriptive words and I leave it at that.

I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends, whether it was financially, prayerfully or both. I am beyond blessed to know so many people who have taken an interest in what God is doing in Uganda. I pray that if you have any specific questions, even if they sound silly, that you will ask me! I am more than happy to share about any and every experience I had in Uganda. It’s just a little difficult to wrap it all up in one response to the question, “How was Uganda?”

I had a dream I moved to Africa

I had a dream I moved to Africa, my life was a different story.
I helped orphans, the poor, and refugees, I always gave God the glory.IMG_20140521_070845

I lived in a hut in a village. I wore long skirts that never showed my knees.
Never went to a mall or swimming, Entertainment was under the trees.

The locals often thanked me, God used me to do His will.
Made sure people got food and water, That every African had his or her fill.

I had a dream I moved to Africa, and then that dream came true.
It was nothing like the dream I had, But God, He always knew.

I literally moved to Africa, God asked me to teach some teens.
I visited malls and swimming pools, Ate more than just rice and beans.

Spent time with all my students, spent less with the orphans  and poor.
God told me this was what He wanted. He said, “Natalie, that’s what you’re here for.”

Thought teaching was my “in”, that would get me to Africa like my dream.
But God wanted me there to teach. He wanted me there for the teens.

I accepted His holy mission. There were tears and there was fun.
And before I even realized it, The mission was already done.IMG_20140602_073257

My classroom was nearly empty. My bedroom no longer a reflection of me.
The sunrise I saw on Monday, Could be the last one in Africa I ever see.

My bags were packed, goodbyes were said, I was crying as I waited for my plane.
God comforted me, He gave me peace. He said, “We may do this again.”

I had a dream I moved to Africa, a dream made true by God.
African souvenirs all over my parent’s house, It certainly looks rather odd.

It feels like it didn’t happen, almost feels like I was ever even gone.
Or maybe I just went for a week or two, But definitely not for that long.

I had a dream I moved to Africa, God wanted me there, that I can see.
And now that I’m back in America, I’m still exactly where He wants me to be.

Just call me Howard Wolowitz

Photo Credit: ScreenCrush.com
Photo Credit: ScreenCrush.com

Anyone who watches The Big Bang Theory and also knows me would probably say I’m most like the character Penny. I love shoes and shopping, and I hate science. But unfortunately, I feel there’s a bigger connection between me and Howard Wolowitz, the nerdy, Jewish engineer.

Although I’m not Jewish, or an engineer, or nerdy (well maybe a little), Howard Wolowitz and I have something in common: we have experienced something our friends and family have never, and probably will never, experience.

You see, Howard Wolowitz went to space. When he returned, all he could talk about were his experiences in space. Every conversation he had led back to a story about being in space. His friends quickly became tired of him always talking about space, and they eventually called him out on it. No more space stories, they told him.

In less than a week, I’ll be Howard Wolowitz. I’ll return to my friends and family with stories of my life from the past year, and all of those stories took place in Africa. Everyone I’ve talked to who has spent time overseas and then returns to the US says the same thing: “Many people won’t really care. They’ll want a sentence or two about your time overseas, and then they’ll be over it.”

Ouch. I guess it’s good to be prepared, but… ouch.

IMG_20140524_175951My heart tells me that my very best friends will care. It tells me that they won’t mind that all I know for the past year is Africa, therefore, that might be all I have to talk about for a while. But what if that’s not the case? What if they get tired of hearing about Africa?

This is my plea to friends and family: be patient with me.

If every conversation we have leads to a story about Africa, I apologize, but that’s all I’ve known since the end of July 2013. It’s not that I’m trying to show off or brag about my time here, it’s that I don’t know any differently. My stories, my life, my heart, have all been Uganda for nearly a year.

Howard Wolowitz eventually realized that maybe he was talking about space too much, and maybe I’ll reach that point as well. But until I readjust to life in a first-world country, I am asking for patience and grace.

10 days left, 10 memorable moments…

Left in July, returning in June. For nearly a year I’ll have lived in a third-world country. Uganda has been everything I hoped it would be, and yet it’s been nothing like I imagined. I am forever changed, and I am returning to the United States a totally different person.

I have ten days until I return to the United States. I’m sure there will be plenty of memorable moments in the coming days, including a safari with the 12th graders, and I had some amazing moments in my two trips to Kenya, but right now I want to reflect on 10 of the most memorable moments from the past year in the Pearl of Africa. These are the silly moments, the moments that are behind the scenes in the lives of expats living in Uganda.

Going Raw1546282_10151849897326573_2063871615_n

My roommate Ashlie and I were psyched. We are going to eat raw for one week. We would lose a good amount of weight and use it as a jumping off point for eating healthier overall.  Our great adventure was kicked off with a trip to Ggaba Market. Our arms literally ached from the many bags of fruits and vegetables we collected and carried back to our apartment.

The night before the big day (our first day eating raw), we chopped and sliced like crazy. We even found lots of great raw recipes online. Eating raw was going to be amazing!

Monday came. I had a delicious smoothie for breakfast. For lunch I munched on carrots. Come 3 p.m., I was starving. I remember walking into our apartment. Ashlie sat on the couch with Analeigh and said, “Do you want to eat at Little Donkey tonight?” My stomach rumbled as I thought of my favorite shredded beef burrito and guacamole. “Yes!” I replied with enthusiasm.

We were officially failures. Eating raw lasted approximately 12 hours, and many of our co-workers loved making fun of us when we failed. But Ashlie and I will never forget the 12 hours we went raw!

IMG_20140518_113900Stoney. Period.

Every Stoney I’ve had is memorable. Stoney is a heavenly drink that Coca-Cola has for some reason decided should not be available in the United States. It’s a refreshing blend of ginger and soda, so strong that sometimes one sip will make you cough.

I have had Stoney’s at dinner, at school, at the beach, by the pool, and just lounging on the front porch. Every moment with a Stoney is memorable.

The Detour

It was December, and a group of ladies had gone Christmas shopping downtown. My car was loaded with me, Ashlie, Abbey, and Tiffany. About halfway home, the road we typically take was closed. This forced us to take a detour.

This wasn’t just any detour. This was a detour that movies are made of, like when the Americans get lost in a third-world country and never again see the light of day. The detour through a super sketchy neighborhood gave us all sorts of interesting sights: cats who looked like they were on meth, boda drivers who smelled like meat and cheese, nuns, and beggars who didn’t even want our G-nuts for a snack.

It had been a long day, and we were downright delirious. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed and cried as much as we did on our detour. You definitely had to be there, but it was a moment I will never, ever forget from my time in Kampala.

The Acrobatic Cockroach

I screamed my head off. A giant African cockroach was crawling around our kitchen counter.

“Ashlie! Bring the Doom!” I yelled.

She knew what that meant. She grabbed the can of Doom, Uganda’s version of Raid, and ran in the kitchen. Ashlie chased the giant bug as it crawled around the counter. She doused it in Doom, but it was resilient. It wasn’t going to die.

Somehow, the roach made its way into a big pot on the counter. We were afraid to look and see if he was alive or not. As we slowly approached the pot to peer inside, the roach catapulted itself out of the pot and back onto the counter. Our screams echoed throughout all of Kampala, but after a few more minutes of spraying, the roach was finally dead.

Morning Surprise

It was Sunday morning, and we were headed to church. As I rounded the corner of our second-story apartment porch, I looked down the stairs and saw a kitten.10155465_603901271423_936196015706335090_n

I started to say, “Awww!” when my eyes were drawn to something further down the stairs.

“O….M…G….” I screamed, loud enough that the neighbors heard.

Ashlie walked around the corner and saw the kitten.

“It’s just a kitten!” she said.

“No! Look!” I pointed.

There on the steps was a dead baby chicken. How a chicken even got on our compound is a mystery, but he clearly didn’t last long!

Crazy Caterpillars

It started off almost as a pimple, but after a few days, it had grown. And it looked nasty.

The disgusting sore on my arm changed shape and size every day, and it was growing new blisters by the minute. Finally, I went to the doctor to have it checked out. As usual, the doctors didn’t have much of an answer, except that it might be a caterpillar burn.

IMG_4723A what? Yup. Many of the caterpillars here in Uganda are poisonous. Just brushing up against the wrong kind of caterpillar can literally burn your skin.

To fix me, they popped all the blisters, drained out some nasty stuff, and then packed it with honey and gauze. Yes, honey, the apparent fix-all for any skin problem in Uganda. Sure enough, after a few days they took off the gauze, cleaned off the honey, and I was good to go!

I do, however, have a scar from my caterpillar burn. I’m quite proud of it. How many people can say they have a scar from an encounter with an evil caterpillar?

Solar Eclipse

Living on the equator means getting burnt after only a few minutes in the sun. It’s a pain, but living on the equator also means experiencing awesome, once-in-a-lifetime things like a solar eclipse.eclipse2

In November we observed a solar eclipse here in Kampala. It happened in the evening, and while it did get darker than usual, it was not a full eclipse that darkened everything. Still, I’ll never forget viewing it through the solar shades the school provided everyone. It was an event I’ll always remember.

IMG_20131217_185925KFC Crazy

I thought there was a McDonald’s in every country. Or maybe even a Taco Bell. There had to be SOME sort of Western fast food restaurant in Uganda that would cure our cravings when we missed home.

There were none.

Until December. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its doors to the people of Uganda, and we were some of the first in line to experience the awesomeness.

Did I eat a lot of KFC when I lived in America? Not at all. Hardly ever, actually. But just to have a taste of home was something we were dying for by our fifth month here. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Uganda, simply because it was a small reminder of home.

Power Outage Party

It happens here. A lot. The power goes out and you never know if it will come back on within a few minutes or a few days. We quickly learned, however, that you just have to make the best of it.

There was one night we were particularly excited because we had purchased bread, pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese at the store. (Cheese can be next-to-impossible to find around here.) We were going to make one of our favorite dinners- pizza bites.IMG_0485

But the power went out.

Being the awesome gals we are, we didn’t let the lack of electricity cramp our style. Me, Ashlie, Stephanie, Elise and Nyenhial and her two boys packed ourselves into the kitchen, made our dinner by candlelight, and sang the hits of the 90’s. It was most definitely one of my favorite Africa memories!

Frozen with Florence

Florence, our dayguard’s daughter, is quite possibly one of the cutest four year olds on the planet. It’s such a blessing to be greeted by her each day, and sometimes we like to hang out. Florence knows very little English, but that doesn’t stop us from having fun. Sometimes we just play on the porch, sometimes I paint her fingernails and toenails, and the other day we watched Frozen.

IMG_20140517_071757Her reaction to everything was priceless. Throughout most of the movie she just pointed at my laptop screen and smiled. And the icing on the cake was after the movie when she looked at me and began to sing, “Let it Go.” The only words she knew were, “Let it go,” and that was fine. OK, it was amazing.

Every moment with Florence this year has been special, but one of my favorites was definitely watching Frozen together.

So many memories here in Uganda! I’ll never forget the faces and places from my year in the Pearl of Africa.

 

Cookie-cutter Christians: Why some of us MUST be different

“I’m not like them.”

It’s a common thought I have around big groups of Christian people with a certain personality.

They raise their hands high and say, “Thank you Jesus!” throughout prayer and worship. I partially lift my hands, close my eyes, and silently shed a few tears as I feel the Holy Spirit.

It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!
It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!

They quote scripture and often pull it into their prayers when praying in front of everyone. I talk to God like He’s my friend, and I suppose I don’t quote scripture to Him because He already knows it.

After my thoughts of, “I’m not like them,” come the thoughts of, “So I must not be as good of a Christian.”

It’s a struggle I’ve had since college. And it’s a false struggle. It’s one that Satan loves to tell me over and over again: “You’re not like them, so you aren’t worthy.”

It hit me recently how incredibly terrible those thoughts are. I know better. I know that God loves me just as much as He loves them, and I know that I don’t have to be like them to be a good person.

But then a seriously disturbing thought hit me like a hurricane: what if some of my students feel the same way? What if I have students who look at some of the “super spiritual” students and staff at school and think, “I’m not like that. I’ll never be like that. So why bother?”

Some conversations with my students this year revealed that some of them have felt that way before.

I knew I needed to say something. God told me I needed to say something. Yes, even though I’m not walking around quoting scripture and raising my hands in worship, I do talk to God. A lot. He gets me. And He knew it had to be said. So on Friday I said it.

The main class I needed to say these things to were my seniors. They’re an interesting bunch. Yes, I teach at a Christian school here in Uganda, but not all of our students are Christian. Many are simply “Christian” only because they’ve been forced to be. There are two boys who don’t even believe in God and have serious issues with Christianity and Christians in general, there is a Hindu girl, some who have a strong faith in God but are not charismatic like a lot of their peers at school, and a few who are.

When I finished sharing, they clapped. That’s a huge thing for this group of ten 12th graders. Their enthusiasm is typically non-existent. But then one of my seniors, who detests most Christians, said, “I just got more from what you said than anything I’ve heard in chapel all year.”

Part of me didn’t want to post that. I don’t want to hurt our chaplain or anyone else who has spoken in chapel. They’ve put their heart and soul into presenting for these kids. However, the fact that he said that completely drives home the point I made to my students: the point they so eagerly accepted and understood.

My overall point was this: Christians are not all the same. We’re not supposed to be.

It’s tough. If the Christians you’re surrounded by all act the same way and that’s just not your personality, it can be discouraging. And from the discussions we had yesterday in class, I discovered that it can be especially discouraging for teens. They think, “I’ll never be like that. That’s just not me to do that or say that.”

And so the next types of thoughts are, “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” Their overly hyped-up Christian classmates also inadvertently make them feel inadequate. They attribute the problem to their “level” of Christianity, when in reality it’s more of a personality difference.

I’m not saying anyone needs to “tone it down” or anything- not students or staff. But the kids who aren’t like that need to know that it’s OK. You can still have an awesome relationship with Christ without being so eccentric.

I also shared with the students the number one way that I’ve shared Christ with people: love. Simply put, love. Love people. Forgive people. Show grace towards people. Have mercy and compassion for people. Love. Love. Love.

I’ve never had someone say to me, “Natalie, thank you for telling me that I need Jesus. It’s made me want to be a Christian.” But I have had people say, “Thank you for loving me and for loving others as unconditionally as possible. I know this is because you’re a Christian, and that helped lead me to Christ.”

 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

We’re different. God wanted us to be different. While Christian organizations tend to be flooded with similar personality types, sometimes you need a misfit like myself who can reach out to the people who are different.

Do your thing. Be the person God created you to be. Be a Christian and be YOU. Don’t change your personality to match those of people who appear to be “better.” God loves us all the same!

“I’m not like them” is a legit statement to make about how I feel when I compare myself to most of my co-workers. Thank God for that. If I was exactly like them, I wouldn’t have reached some of the students God used me to reach yesterday. The same goes for them- God has used those people to reach many students this year as well! God uses ALL of us.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Part of it says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

I choose to reach people through love and compassion. What works for you? What do you do that brings people to Christ? As long as it does the job, well done! Use your God-given gifts to be a light for Him. And remember, just because you’re not exactly like the Christians around you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t as spiritual or important in the body of Christ. Do your thing. All that matters is what God thinks of you. And He thinks you’re awesome enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“Sorry!” and other things we say in Uganda…

I had only been living in Uganda for about a day when the strangest thing happened. I dropped something in the kitchen in front of my Dutch roommates, and they both said, “Sorry!”

Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I've picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!
Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I’ve picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!

It was my fault I dropped it. I was just clumsy. They weren’t in my way. They didn’t cause me to drop it. But still, they said, “Sorry!”

I chalked it up to being a Dutch thing, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that it’s a Uganda thing. And while I found it so strange, so unnecessary, so ridiculous… I find myself saying it all the time now. It’s one of the many words or phrases that we expats have picked up since living in Uganda.

Did you stub your toe? “Sorry!”

Had a bad day? “Sorry!”

Trip and fall? “Sorry! Sorry!” (some situations warrant two)

Here are a few more things you might catch an expat saying when they return to the U.S. after living in Uganda:

“Now now”

Although the very definition of “now” suggests that it means, well… now, here in Uganda there is something you say when you want something even quicker. “Now now.”

The other day I called for a boda. The conversation went like this:

“Hello Frank! I need picked up and taken to Italian Supermarket. Can you come now?”

Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come "now now!"
Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come “now now!”

“Yes. Now now?”

“Now now.”

“OK I am on my way!”

I guess “now now” has a greater sense of urgency than just “now.” So you must be very clear here about when you want something. Do you want it “now,” or do you want it “now now?”

“You are welcome!”

The first time we went to Friday Market, I approached someone’s shop and said hello. The lady said to me, “You are welcome!” I froze. Was she being smart? Did she say that because I was supposed to say, “Thank you” for something, but I hadn’t?

It took me weeks to realize that when you enter a store or even someone’s home here, they will say, “You are welcome!” It is not a response to “Thank you,” like it is in the U.S., it literally means, “You are welcome here, please come in!”

“It is paining me.”

One day I asked our house help how she was doing. “Terrible,” she said. “My tooth is paining me.” In other words, she had a toothache.

I’ve yet to hear anyone here say that something hurts. It’s always “paining” them.

“I won you!”

My elementary teacher friends hear this all the time on the playground at school. “I beat you!” or even, “I won!” aren’t phrases often muttered from children. Instead, if you win a game or are victorious in a race, children say, “I won you!”

“Just put it in the boot.”

The trunk. The back. I’ve never once heard of the storage portion of the car referred to as “the boot” until I moved to Uganda. I’m not even sure how it makes any sense. It doesn’t look like a boot. I don’t see people carrying boots in the backs of their cars. But nonetheless, here it is called “the boot.”

“Hello! How are you doing today?”

Clearly that’s a phrase we all know in America, but how often do we say it to strangers? In Uganda, it’s pretty much flat out rude not to ask how someone’s day is going. I was taught early on here to always ask how cashiers are doing, shop owners, support staff at school, and others I encounter. 1965021_10203543500770823_1566835692986534743_n

What a friendly concept though! I can only imagine some of the strange looks I might get when I return to the U.S. in June and ask the cashier at Target how her day is going. But honestly, I love it! I think being here has made me an overall friendlier person to strangers.

I might say some strange things when I get back to the US in 25 days, but it’s all part of the experience. I’m glad to know that my experience will continue long after I get back to the states. My friends and family will just have to adjust to my constant replies of “sorry” and wanting something “now now.”

What if I’ve missed something?

I imagine myself getting off the plane in Detroit in June. After a long flight from Uganda to Amsterdam and an even longer flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, I’ll finally arrive in America. While Detroit won’t be my final stop, it will be my first steps on American soil in almost a year.

In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.
In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.

I imagine myself crying.

I imagine myself falling to the ground and kissing it. Yes, even the dirty floor of the Detroit airport.

I imagine myself running in slow motion with the Chariots of Fire theme song playing in my head, towards the airport Starbucks.

It will be a grand return to my home country, and the thought of it makes my stomach feel like it does when I ride down the huge hill of a rollercoaster at Cedar Point. It’s scary, but it’s also wonderful.

There are 52 days left on my journey in Uganda.

Although I’m as excited as ever about going home, I have to admit: I’m horrified. As my time here comes to a close, the same question keeps popping up in my mind: What if I’ve missed something? It sparks a long list of questions like: If God called me here, what if I haven’t learned everything I was supposed to learn? I’ve grown, but what if I haven’t grown enough? What if I haven’t given enough?

I came to Africa to help. I came here to make a difference, to follow God’s calling, be it for a year or for the rest of my life. But after a few months, I began to think that maybe God brought me here more so for me. He wanted me to grow, wanted me to experience things that would forever change the way I viewed the world.

Now, though, as time dwindles away and my departure date moves closer, I am realizing that’s not entirely the case. I am here for other people as well. They just aren’t the people I imagined they would be.

Maybe I’ve held some babies who were HIV positive. Maybe I cleaned their bathrooms and bedrooms. Maybe I washed the feet of people who had jiggers. But those aren’t the primary people God brought me here for. He brought me here for my students.

And as I worry, “What if I’ve missed something?” I realize that God wouldn’t let that happen.

“For this God is our God forever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.” Psalm 48:14

In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.
In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.

He’s been my guide this entire time. It’s because of Him that I have the desire to hang out in my classroom with teenagers long after the final bell has rung. It’s because of His guidance that I have the right words to say to my struggling students who come to me for someone to listen.

I shouldn’t worry about what I’ve missed. God won’t let my time here be wasted. Even though the bulk of my time here was spent with students from places other than Uganda, that doesn’t mean my time was in vain. Even if I was here to show God’s love to just one student, even that was worth my time here.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

I haven’t missed anything in my time here in Uganda. Because I trust in the Lord and lean on Him and not my own understanding, I can’t go wrong. I’ll continue to live the same for the next 52 days, as well as the rest of my life.

A change of plans…

I’ve been quiet, haven’t I? I haven’t blogged since Valentine’s Day.

That’s not true.

I live in a land of infinite beauty here in Africa...
I live in a land of infinite beauty here in Africa…

I did blog, but was asked to take it down after a reminder that I do not live in a country that embraces freedom of speech.

And then, life just got in the way. Boy did life get in the way. So much has happened in the past month that I can’t even begin to describe it. Horrible things. Wonderful things. So many things happened.

I’ve said all along that God uses us wherever we are. I’ve also said that whatever I decide about my future, it is ultimately between me and God. And in February I made the big decision – I would stay in Africa for a second year. I didn’t feel God calling me to one specific place, and I believed He was leaving the choice up to me.

“The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

While I still feel that I can’t go wrong with my choice, things have changed. I started to feel uneasy. Some things started to unravel. My heart wasn’t at peace. My health started getting worse. Some things were revealed to me that I never imagined would be revealed.

I finally broke down one night while saying my prayers before bed.

God, I can’t make this decision. I need you like I’ve never needed you before. I need you to make it clear. I need to it to be crystal clear, spelled-out-in-the-sky clear. God, I am begging you. I need guidance and wisdom, and I need to know for sure what I am supposed to do.

I also live in a land of infinite chaos...
I also live in a land of infinite chaos…

The next day, God did just that. He revealed everything to me. He showed me things I hadn’t seen before, and He made it clear, just like I had asked Him to.

“Answer my prayers, O Lord, for your unfailing love is wonderful.” Psalm 69:16

It’s time to go home.

I know some people believe I’ve been “under attack” from Satan, but as long as I walk this earth, he will always be there looking to stop me from doing God’s work. That will happen in America as well as Africa. I’ve had enough conversations with God to know the difference, and I know that He is closing the door on my time in Uganda.

Yes, my heart is broken. I wanted to come here and fall in love with life in Africa. I wanted to find my lifelong calling and serve God here for years and years. But what we want doesn’t always line up with the plans God has for us. His plans, though, are always best.

I had to take a leap of faith before coming to Africa, but to be honest, I feel like it’s an even bigger leap of faith to go home. I will be unemployed, living at home, and trying to fit back into a society that was once normal to me but now seems so incredibly strange. I’ll have hundreds of stories to tell, but will anyone want to hear them? I’ll have so many memories, but will anyone even understand them?

I am faithful that God will work it all out. He has given me peace with my decision.

“Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you.” Job 22:21

I am overjoyed at the support I’ve received this year from friends and family, and even a few strangers. Whether it’s been financially or through prayer, so many people have given their love and support. But I need one last thing from you all: accountability.

Don’t let me come home and be the same person I was before I left.

I am at peace with my decision. USA bound in 71 days!
I am at peace with my decision. USA bound in 71 days!

Don’t let me forget Africa.

Don’t let me stop serving the Lord because I’m comfortable in my home country.

I will volunteer. I will fundraise for worthy causes. I will support missions. I need you to help remind me to do so.

I have 71 days left in Uganda. There will be no second year. God has big plans for me in America. I can’t wait to see what’s in store…

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised.” Hebrews 10:36