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.

A day out of the city…

My “Africa Mix” was the only CD we had with us. My roommate Debby and I were jamming out to IMG_20130831_111001Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” when we were stopped at a traffic crossing. A young boy selling bananas approached the car.

“No thank you, sebo!” Debby said to the young boy, who then heard our music and began dancing beside the car as we waited for the traffic police to let us through the intersection. It was a great start to the long day ahead of us.

The car was loaded with toilet paper, rice, tea, sugar and soap we had purchased to take to the orphanage in Bulamo. Bulamo in normal conditions would be about 30 minutes from Kampala. But in African conditions, it took us almost two hours to get there.

I was mystified at the beautiful Ugandan countryside. So much green, everywhere! Sometimes I felt like I was in the middle of a jungle.

We did some “off-roading” to get to the orphanage, which was down a long lane with lots of bumps and holes, chickens and cows, and of course, children, who would smile, wave, and yell, “Mzungu!” as we drove by.

IMG_20130831_120842The orphanage was thrilled to receive the supplies we brought them, and I walked around the compound with Debby as she introduced me to all the wonderful staff and children there. It reminded me a lot of Lifesong Zambia, and I felt an overwhelming sense of love walking around the compound.

Soon after we arrived, we met up with Bruno, Debby’s sponsor child. I’m not sure I should call him a “child,” considering he is 19 years old, but he still has one more year of school left before he goes to university. Bruno walked around with us for awhile and then we started the journey to Bruno’s father’s house.

Again, it took us about an hour to travel not much longer than a few miles. Bruno filled us in on how he was doing with his studies and his plans after graduation. He wants to study tourism at university, and with that sweet smile of his, I can definitely see him succeeding!

Debby had told me that Richard, Bruno’s father, would likely have all their nicest things out for our IMG_20130831_112601arrival. Sure enough, as we walked into their “house”, the couches and coffee table were covered in lace doilies. We were given the royal treatment, as Bruno’s step mother served us ice cold Cokes. Bruno’s little brother, Peace, was pretty overwhelmed by the two mzungu’s in the house, but he smiled big when Debby gave him the toy car we got him earlier in the day when we bought supplies.

We talked with Richard for a few hours, mainly about his profession. Richard is a butterfly catcher. How amazing is that? When he has the money to pay for his license to catch them, he spends days at a time traveling across Uganda and catching the most beautiful butterflies you’ve ever seen! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone so passionate about something like that, but what made Richard even more special is his love for God, which was just as apparent as his love for butterflies.

Debby, whose heart is one of the biggest I know, wanted to help Richard pay for his license so he can get back to butterfly catching to make money for his family. I was more than happy to offer to split the cost with her, and we gave him the money he needed for the license.

After saying goodbye to Richard, Mary and Peace, we took Bruno to where he could catch a taxi back to school. We might have gotten a little lost then, even to the point where we stopped and asked for directions and the lady said, “You are really lost!”

Eventually, we found our way to Garden City where we enjoyed a nice meal at Café Javas and did some window shopping at Nakumatt.

While the entire day was pretty amazing, I think one of my favorite moments came after we left Garden City. We were stopped at a light when a young, thin boy approached the car to ask for money or food.

“Do you want to give him your leftovers or take them home?” Debby asked me.

I was thrilled that she thought of that, and I handed her my box of food. She rolled down her window and handed it to the boy who smiled and said, “Thank you!” We were stopped at the light for a long time, which was totally worth it to see the boy sit down in the median, dig into my leftover club sandwich and fries, and smile the biggest smile I had seen all day.

Needless to say, it was one of the most fulfilling days I’ve had since I’ve been here.

Life Without a Home

We were there to help, to lend a hand, to show God’s love. But before we could do any of that, I was approached by a boy who looked to be about 10 years old.

“Can I pray for you, ma’am?” he said to me.

I was caught totally off guard.homeless

“Uh… of course we can pray,” I said.

“I’ll find you later,” he said and went to hang out with some of the other boys at the center.

About a dozen of us from my church went to Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) to serve a meal and spend time with some of the residents this evening. I think it’s safe to say they probably touched our lives more than we touched theirs.

The families there were homeless without the help of IHN. But IHN gave them a place to live while they looked for jobs and went out on their own again. I can’t imagine life without a home. Having a place to stay is something we take for granted. We just assume we’ll always have a home.

There were about seven families there, different races and different ages. They were all so appreciative of the giant Pizza Hut pizzas we brought, and the smiles on the children’s faces were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

One family in particular really stood out. It was a mother and a father, a few sons and a daughter. The daughter looked to be about 13, but she was severely handicapped. She would repeatedly slap herself, make strange noises and could barely walk, even with the help of leg braces. Her mom and dad’s faces told a story of great struggle and of pure exhaustion.

I wondered what their story was. Could they have been made homeless because of medical bills? Was their darling daughter like this from birth or was she in an accident? I didn’t know the specifics, but I do know that it broke my heart, and I will be praying for them.

After we served dinner, some of the kids asked me to play Ninja with them. It’s basically the hand-slap game where you try to move your hands before someone else slaps them. We had a great time, and of course, I was almost always the first one out. Need to work on my reflexes I guess!

I spent some time with a little girl named Peyton who insisted that I wear one of her rainbow-colored beaded necklaces she had made at school.

I talked to one teenage boy who is finishing high school by taking night classes and plans to attend Ball State next year. He’s not sure what he’s majoring in, but his face lit up when I told him how cool it was that he wanted to go to college.

Eventually I ended up with a beautiful two-year-old girl in my arms. Her hair was beaded in pink, purple and white and her big brown eyes made me want to never have to put her down. She loved my jewelry and played with my earrings and rings for as long as she could.

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Pastor took some pics at IHN. Here I am, ready to serve some pizza!

The little boy who wanted to pray for me ended up having to leave early, but the fact that he wanted to pray for me at all was enough to make my night totally worth it. We were supposed to be there for them, for the homeless, and here was a boy who wanted to pray for me.

Jesus said we’re supposed to help the poor, and that when we do, we have served Jesus. But what about those who are poor? Who are they supposed to help? I saw tonight that they can help those of us who aren’t poor by asking to pray for us, or simply allowing us to come and serve them a meal.

I’ll be praying for the people at IHN, and as I learned tonight, at least one of them will probably be praying for me.