Sometimes, God sends you away from Africa

IMG_4864As I sit here in Indiana looking at photos on Instagram of the smiling children and missionaries who live in the village I’ll visit in Uganda in just a week, my heart hurts.

My heart hurts because I thought that would be me.

When I moved to Uganda in 2013, that was supposed to be it- be my calling. God was calling me to Uganda to be a missionary! I would teach at Heritage International School for a few years, and then God would move me to a village where I’d be a full-time missionary. The issue was, He didn’t.

Some people fear God will send them to Africa. (There’s even a book about it.) But for me, my fear was that He’d send me back home to the United States. And He did.

I don’t regret leaving after only one year. I know, for various reasons, that I couldn’t return for the second year I committed to. Still, I see other women my age serving the Lord in Uganda and other places in Africa and I wonder, “Why couldn’t that have been me?”

Even more so, I see these women living the best life ever (or so it appears) in Uganda, and I wonder why my experience wasn’t the same. Why, for me, wasn’t Uganda some ultra spiritual journey of helping others and following God? Why was my year in Uganda plagued with depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and lots and lots of tears?

1482753_10151871483561573_2088816754_nI look back at my photos from that year in Uganda. You’d never know I was in so much pain. You’d never know the battles I was fighting, both internally and externally. You’d never know that at one point I felt so worthless that I didn’t see a reason to live any longer.

Oddly enough, as much as I don’t regret coming back to the US after one year, I also don’t regret going over in the first place. And this journey I’m about to make back over, I am praying hard that it gives me some closure to the emotional and gripping time I spent there.

I’ve been uneasy for about a month now. My stomach is in knots. My heart is heavy. What if I go there and once again want to live there? What if I realize that I screwed up, and I should have stayed? My anxiety is through the roof.

“I needed to do this to see that it’s NOT what I’m meant to do for a lifetime. Had I not come to Uganda, I’d always wonder, “What if?””

 

I’ve been going back through Facebook private messages from when I was living in Uganda, as I work on my memoir. The statement above is what I must rely on as I make my trip back. “…it’s NOT what I’m meant to do for a lifetime.”

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nSometimes, God sends you to Africa. And sometimes, He sends you away from Africa.

He sent me away.

I trust His plan is what’s best. So as I return to the Pearl of Africa for two weeks, I will embrace everything I love about it- the welcoming people, the beautiful hills and trees, the melodious sounds of the many birds, the incredible food, and even that scorching equator sun.

I am thankful that God sent me to Uganda. I’m also grateful He sent me back home. But a part of my heart will always be in Africa, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the coming weeks.

The post I’ll always make on June 3rd

IMG_4864Every June 3 I will make this blog post:

“XX years since I returned from living in Uganda.”

It’s impossible NOT to write about the year of my life that has had such an impact on who I am today.

This post today is 2 years since I got back from Uganda. The excitement has faded some, but is still there. The pain has faded some, but is still there. The scars are still pretty fresh, but I also know why I have them. God doesn’t want me to forget.

Only 1/35 of my life was spent in Uganda, yet I think about it every single day.

Seriously. Every. Single. Day.

How could I forget? It was best AND worst year of my life thus far.

So many of the memories were experiences that blew my mind. Washing feet at the jigger clinic. Visiting the babies at the baby home. The amazing chocolate cake at Cafe Javas. Stoney! Trips to Kenya. Late nights with my roommates dancing in our living room. Getting to teach the greatest teens from around the world. Going on safari. The list goes on an on.

IMG_20140307_172741Somehow, depression made its way in. Doubt made its way in. Insecurity took over my life, and I felt like I had no one, not even God, to save me. Few people know this about my time in Uganda, but it was the first time I ever seriously considered ending my own life, and that’s mainly because I truly believed that no one cared about me. I look back now and see how untrue that was, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.

Needless to say, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What ended up helping towards the end of my stay was learning that I wasn’t alone. Others were hurt. Others were struggling. But our school was less than supportive when we needed it most.

I’m working on having grace for the people who hurt me and others. It’s not easy, but who am I to judge them for not having grace on those of us who struggled? I should model what I preach. I need to forgive. Easier said than done.

Wow. Two years later and I’m still processing. Two years later and it still hurts. Two years later and I still miss Uganda every single day.

I wish had something more profound to say. Maybe it’s this: I wouldn’t change a thing.

Two years ago I stepped foot on American soil after a year in Uganda, and I was a totally different person. And I continue to change. God isn’t going to let my suffering be in vain.

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nMy prayer is that when I post my “3 years since I returned from living in Uganda,” I’ll have found the grace to forgive, not only those who hurt me, but also forgive myself for mistakes I made while I was there. I hope to have processed more, grown more, and accepted the fact that if I’m going to want people to show me grace, I’m going to have to show it to others as well.

I am a work in progress. I should probably walk around with an “Under Construction” sign around my neck. It’s a sign I would have to wear the rest of my life because I am so, so far from perfection or anything near it.

Most milestones in my life are now built around my year in Uganda because that’s when everything changed for me. And like I said, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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.

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.

 

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

A different kind of Valentine’s Day

IMG_20140214_092651I was in the 8th grade when I had my first Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend. His name was Ben, and we were on our second-round of being girlfriend and boyfriend.

“Check your mailbox,” Ben said when I answered the phone.

“Why?” I asked.

“Just do it!” he said, and hung up the phone.

I walked out to the mailbox and opened it up. Inside was a rose, a card, and a small box. The small box contained a necklace. It was the ugliest necklace I’d ever laid eyes on. I can still picture it to this day. It was a gold chain, and on it hung a gold bow with what appeared to be fake opal painted on parts of the bow. It was hideous.

Ben and I didn’t last. Well, we broke up a few weeks later and then got back together a few weeks after that. This happened probably another four times throughout the remainder of my 8th grade year.

Valentine’s Day has ripped me apart some years and other years it’s made me smile. In college we had “S.A.D.” parties on Valentine’s Day- “Single’s Awareness Day” parties. They involved a lot of booze, dancing and some poor choices. That was ten years ago, and I must say, my feelings about this day have changed drastically.

This is my first Valentine’s Day in Africa, and I feel like it’s the first year I’m truly aware of what Valentine’s Day should be about: love.

When I think about it, Valentine’s Day could easily be a Christian holiday. Do you remember the story from the Bible about the religious leaders asking Jesus which commandment was most important? His response was this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31

For Christians, showing love isn’t something we should just be doing on Valentine’s Day. Showing love is what God wants us to do every single day.

IMG_20140214_092810We also need to take note of the fact that Jesus wasn’t specific about which neighbors we should love. He didn’t say to love our Christian neighbors. He didn’t say to love our American neighbors. He didn’t say to love our straight neighbors or our Caucasian neighbors or our neighbors who don’t do drugs. There are no footnotes in the Bible when it says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God wants us to love our neighbors, the very people He created, no matter what their situation, race, or sexual orientation is.

Not everyone is easy to love. I know this. I’m a teacher, and I’ve had more than 1,000 students cross my path over the years. They haven’t all been easy to love. But what better way to be a witness for Christ than to love everyone?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

I have a student right now who some teachers might find difficult. He knows he’s difficult, but I tell him on IMG_20140214_092929almost a daily basis that I love him. He’s told me that he doesn’t understand why. It perplexes him how I could possibly love him given some of his behavior. This student is also an atheist. What if I didn’t show him love? What kind of an example for Christ would I be if I didn’t love him?

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romantic love. It can be about the love we have for all the people of the earth. It’s easy to remember the importance of love as I sit here in Uganda, surrounded by people who were strangers to me seven months ago and are now people I love with all my heart.

Don’t feel sad if you don’t have a “Valentine” on February 14. God loves you more than any Valentine ever could. And if you love Him back, you’ll show love to everyone around you.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 12:4-8

America or Africa? The big decision…

“I’ve been praying, but I am not seeing any results. I don’t feel any guidance or that I’m receiving any direction.”IMG_3406

A good friend of mine who isn’t very religious or spiritual decided that maybe it was time to try prayer, but she felt like it wasn’t getting her anywhere.

My responses were all the things good Christians should say:

“God is listening! It’s apparently just not the right time to give you any answers or direction.”

“Don’t give up!”

“Keep praying!”

But now, even as a lifelong Christian who loves God with all her heart, I find myself asking, “God, are you listening? What should I do?”

And I’m not getting any response.

IMG_4872About a year ago I committed to two years as a high school English teacher at an international school in Uganda. I moved here in August, and about five months in, I decided that I missed home too much and that maybe this just wasn’t for me. International schools have a lot of work to do when it comes to finding teachers, so we had to give the school our intentions on January 9.

I didn’t tell many people back in America, but I gave the school my intentions on January 9: I wouldn’t be returning for a second year.

Then God stirred my heart. Or did He? All of a sudden, I regretted my decision to leave and felt like I not only COULD handle another year, but that I WANTED to do another year here.

And then I realized that maybe I couldn’t. So I did what everyone said to do, which is what I knew I needed to do: pray. I prayed. I continue to pray. I feel nothing. I hear nothing. I have no answers. I have no direction.

I understood why my friend was so frustrated with God as well. All my “good Christian answers” I tried to throw back at myself weren’t doing much for me. I wanted to hear something, anything, from God.

I pray.

Silence.

More prayer.

More silence.

It’s like I tap the microphone and say, “Is this thing on?” and God is in the sound booth just looking at me.

Then a horrifying thought hit me. What if this one’s on me? What if God’s leaving it up to me? One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past ten months is that God wants us to serve Him and spread His love no matter where we are located.

So maybe since God knows I’ll do that no matter where I am, He’s leaving it up to me. Where do I WANT to serve Him? Africa? Or America? There’s no right or wrong choice here.

I hate making decisions. I overthink every decision I’ve ever had to make in my entire life, except one. The one decision that was easy, the one decision in which I recall God literally speaking to my heart, was when I came to Uganda in the first place. This time around, He’s putting it in my hands.

The list of reasons to leave and go home is long. I’ve had terrible sinus and allergy problems that cause me to spit up blood some mornings. I am 33 and single, and staying another year would yet again prolong my chances of meeting someone and getting married. I miss my family so much that hurts. I long for the company of my best friends like a lost kitten missing its mother. Financially it makes no sense to stay another year. There’s always the chance of political unrest in a country like Uganda. The list goes on and on.

The list of reasons to stay another year is short. But the items on that list are important: I should honor my 1800357_10203260749505265_2087202430_n (2)commitment of staying for two years. I love my job, and my students are the most amazing kids on the planet. I’ve also made some new friends here who I really don’t want to say goodbye to. I learn so much from them, and we spiritually uplift one another.

Many of us are facing the same decision- to go, or to stay? I really think that if I were to stay, next year would be a lot easier. The transition period would be over, I’d know the ins and outs of living in Uganda, and I could focus even more on my students and other volunteer opportunities. If I were to go home, sure I’d be happy to be around my friends and family, but as one of my best friends asked me yesterday, “But would you end up regretting it? Would you end up wishing you had stayed that second year?”

And I think I would.

God trusts me enough to allow me to make the decision. America, or Africa?

And I choose Africa.

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CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT MY SECOND YEAR IN UGANDA!

Beautiful feet… where will you go?

My darling feet have been through a lot. Despite their polished toenails and trendy toe ring, they have seen some IMG_20131223_153745bad days.

I remember a day at church camp when I was in about the fourth grade and I dropped a can of Faygo on my right foot. The edge of the can smashed into my pinky toe and squished it into the cement. It burst a blood vessel and hurt like crazy.

I remember having warts removed from my feet multiple times as a child.

Then there was the instance last summer when I hurt my toe getting into a boat. It turned nice shades of blue and purple, and I was in pain for more than six months.

We put our feet through a lot, but we really have no idea the things that some people go through, simply because they don’t have access to clean water, and they don’t have shoes.

Yesterday I went with about a dozen of my co-workers to help at a jigger clinic near a village outside of Kampala. I saw feet like I’ve never seen before. My silly injuries and even warts don’t compare to the infections and jiggers I saw yesterday. (For more information on jiggers, go here.)

IMG_5435Some of my brave co-workers actually removed the jiggers using safety pins and razor blades. I would be worthless in that position, considering I would probably pass out at the first sign of bodily fluids and jigger egg sacks. So I served yesterday by washing feet.

It was our job to wash the feet of the people who came to the jigger clinic, check them for jiggers, dry their feet and give them a pair of shoes. Those who had jiggers (which ended up being most of the people we checked), were sent inside the clinic to be treated. Jiggers cause great infection, and if left untreated, can kill.

I wasn’t disgusted by anything. Although toes were covered in fungus, bottoms of feet filled with jiggers, and dead toe nails so black they literally fell off, I wasn’t disgusted. I was heartbroken.

At the time I didn’t think too much about it. We were so busy scrubbing and washing, looking for jiggers, finding the right size shoes and getting people into the clinic that I had little time to really think about the situation. But I did pray. I prayed for the feet of the toddlers, the teenagers, and the adults whose feet I washed, and I prayed that I won’t see them with the same issues when we go back at the end of the month.IMG_5427a

The Bible talks a lot about our feet and the paths we go on. Whether our feet are perfectly pedicured or filled with jiggers, how are our lives end up are all dependent on where we allow our feet to take us.

“My steps have held fast to Your paths. My feet have not slipped.”
Psalms 17:5

“I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.”
Psalms 119:101

“Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.”

Proverbs 4:26-27

In order for the beautiful African people in the village to stay healthy, they must take proper care of their feet by washing them and wearing shoes. Their feet simply can’t be ignored. And you know what? We need to do the same thing for our lives when it comes to where we allow our feet to take us.

IMG_5458We all have a choice. We can allow our feet to stay dirty and become infected, or we can take care of our feet and wash them clean. We can allow our feet to lead us to evil, or we can allow our feet to lead us to Christ.

You might not have jiggers or fungus all over your feet. You might even have the most beautiful feet on the planet. But if your feet aren’t leading you on a path towards serving Christ, none of that even matters.

“Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.”
Proverbs 4:26

You don’t have to be in Africa…

Sometimes here in Uganda… we can feel guilty. We look around at our beautiful international school campus and think, “This place is amazing.” We think about our remarkable students and their privileged backgrounds and think, “Why would God want me to help here? Should I maybe be in a village somewhere helping poor children?”

Our beautiful campus!
Our beautiful campus!

On January 10, my co-worker’s husband, Glen, spoke to all the teachers about our calling, about our influence and about how what we do is important. We don’t have to be living in a village and helping the poor to be a light for Christ.

“Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvelous works among all the peoples!”

1 Chronicles 16:24

You’ll notice that in most verses about spreading God’s love, God wants us to spread His love to everyone- not just the poor. And after hearing Glen speak a few weeks ago, I really realized that what we do at our school is important.

Our school’s students come from one of three backgrounds: missionary families, government employee families, and families who own major businesses in and around Kampala. We have students from nations all over the world: America, Australia, Singapore, North Korea, Congo, Kenya, Eritrea, Columbia, England, Sudan, and more. Some will stay in Uganda after they graduate, but most will go back to their home countries to attend college. Our hope is that they take their experience at our school and use it to impact the world around them for Christ.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 28:19

Don’t get me wrong, I love helping the poor. I love our trips to the village where we play with the kids at the jigger clinic, our Saturday afternoons we’ve spent with the babies at the orphanage and cleaning the place up. But I do realize that first and foremost, I am here for the students at my school, the well-off students with a roof over their heads and plenty of food to eat.

In October we took the high school kids on a spiritual retreat.
In October we took the high school kids on a spiritual retreat.

Think they don’t need just as much support? I’ve got students whose parents have never come to a sporting event because they are too busy. I have girls with eating disorders. I have Muslim students questioning their beliefs. I have students who have suffered the escape of war-ridden countries to come to Uganda. I have a number of students who live completely by themselves because their parents are never home; their house help and drivers are a bigger part of their lives than their actual parents.

These kids need us. No, they aren’t poor, but they need us. Privileged kids aren’t any less in need of the Gospel and of good role models than poor kids. Often they’re in need of it even more.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Glen also talked to us about our “mountain of influence.” Ours is here in Uganda at our school. In the same way that I don’t feel called to spread the Gospel in the villages for a living, maybe you don’t feel the need to come to Africa. And that’s OK! Africa isn’t your mountain of influence.

My roommate and I cheering on my students at a basketball game.
My roommate and I cheering on my students at a basketball game.

What if all Christians came to Africa? Who would be left to witness to the people in other places? We can’t all come to Africa or third-world countries.

God wants you to serve Him right where you are, and He thinks it’s beautiful when you do.

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And who are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”
Romans 10:13-15

Don’t wait to move to Africa. Don’t wait to meet a homeless person. Be a witness for Christ in your mountain of influence, showing God’s love to EVERYONE you meet.