I try new things.

One of my first blogs since I came to Uganda was all about the day I became independent. It has been the running joke in our house that since I’m now independent, I also try new things. Here are some of the few new things I have tried this week:

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Taking 30 students to a sweetie factory!

Eating goat!

Traditional dancing!

Taking close pictures of the Warrior!

 Being a soldier in the army of the Lord

Getting my Sunday school students to act!

Try not to jump for joy when someone remembered last week’s verse

Give out donations of clothes to very deserving children

The hardest thing I have tried is to understand how I will be able to leave this place and these amazing people in just a few days

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Breaking Through

One of my first graders has been quite the challenge since I started at Heritage. His name is Jonah. Jonah struck me at first as the typical tough guy (at least as tough as you can be at age 6). He is the one who is always pushing on the playground or cutting in line. I noticed him right away because he was the only one who would not listen to instructions. I would tell him to get in line or clear his desk and he would just laugh and continue doing whatever he wanted. It wasn’t just me. Jonah did not really listen to any of the teachers.

After reading “Blue Like Jazz” while I was on safari, I was determined to try to change Jonah’s attitude by just loving him. Each day, I made it a point to ask him how he day was and give him a knuckle pound (what all the cool kids do). The first few days it was just plain awkward. I could tell he didn’t understand why I was just chatting when I’m normally the one enforcing the rules. Last Thursday, I saw a change. I was saying goodbye to the class because I would be missing class on Friday. As I was walking out of the class, Jonah ran and gave me a hug. Talking about being shocked!

Earlier this week, Jonah was in trouble for pushing one of the other boys at recess. When I asked him what happened, he sincerely apologized to the other boy. He told me that he really wants to follow the rules but sometimes he messes up. Then, there was a moment that just touched my heart. He asked me if I can forgive him for breaking the rules. This is the kid who a few weeks ago we had to drag into the class to get him to mumble an apology to someone. He was kept from recess almost three days a week for violence. But this was a new Jonah.

Yesterday at chapel, Jonah decided to sit next to me. During the upbeat songs, Jonah played the cool kid card. He was just too cool to do the moves to “Days of Elijah” or to shout during “Mabo Sawa Sawa.” I, being the early childhood major, was dancing as obnoxiously as ever. I tried to encourage Jonah to dance along. When he asked why, I told him that our silly dances are pleasing to God. It was then that God decided to speak straight to my heart. When volunteers for the next song were called, Jonah shot his hand up. He got up in front of first through sixth grade and did the motions with such passion and enthusiasm  that it took everything in me to stop myself from crying. I always find the praises of youth to be beautiful, but this was different. Even writing about it now, I am awestruck. The next time you feel your faith is lacking, go watch some first graders praising our God. I can’t stop thanking God for the amazing things He is whispering to me while I’ m in Uganda.

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Luke 18:15-17

Blessings!

Here are some of the blessings I am grateful for this week:

First grade “My Body” project

A student writing 8 pages about what he would do if he went on a picnic with Jesus

An afternoon relaxing with a book on the balcony

My first week teaching Sunday School to almost 60 kids

God’s beautiful creations

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Common Clay

As I am in the middle of my second week at Heritage, I finally feel like I know what I’m doing. I know the schedules of classes for the two grades with which I work. I know the names of the students and the surrounding staff. I am very handy with the copy machine, and I have made several diagram displays. Now that I have gotten my routine down, I have more free time during my day. This morning I had forty-five minutes to spare while my fifth graders were in Art class. My lesson plans for the week were done, so I decided I would spend this time reading through Romans. That is when I came across these verses:

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” Romans 9:20-21.

I started to really think about what those verses were saying. I was so convicted because I know how often I do this. Sometimes it is very hard not to desire the abilities of preaching, singing, speaking, comforting, or creating that someone else may have. When preparing for this trip, many people encouraged me that this would be a life-changing experience because of the miraculous things I would do while I am here. Yes, this journey has already changed my life in that my relationship with Jesus is growing stronger and more intimate with every moment. It has been a very long time since I have felt God speaking to me as often and as clear as I have during my time in Uganda. But I think when many of us think about missions trips like these, we think about the amazing impact we can have on those we are meeting. However, thinking about those verses from Romans I couldn’t help but feel that maybe God is calling some of us for more common roles.

I came to Heritage one month before the end of the school year. As you would expect, the teachers are exhausted and ready for a break. Can you blame them?! After meditating on those verses, I really felt God letting me know that one of my main reasons for being here is to lighten the load of these tired teachers. I am doing whatever I can from making copies, grading work, teaching Bible, covering someone’s lunch duty, to teaching 4th grade for a day (Tuesday I was able to teach Reading, Health and Bible because the teacher was absent). Some may ask “Why did you have to go all the way to Uganda to teach a few classes and make a bunch of photocopies? You could do that in the States!” To those, I would just refer to Romans because I am not about to question my potter.

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” Romans 12:4-6

So today, I am going to rejoice for the gifts I have been given and the opportunities God has given me to use those gifts to build up the body of Christ!

Rest

During orientation, we talked about things you must do to maintain a close walk with Christ. We listed prayer, Bible memorization, accountability, meditation, devotion, fasting, healthy eating and rest. Personally, I never really thought about healthy eating and rest as being aspects of my relationship with the Lord. The speaker said it is most vital to our effectiveness that we continue all these aspects of our faith while we are on the field. He described it by asking “Would you ever give up playing in the middle of the championship game?”

My first few days in Uganda were quite busy. I was getting acquainted with many new people, new responsibilities, and a whole new culture. After getting my feet wet at Heritage, I had the absolute blessing of going to Murchinson Falls National Park with the Hallahans. We got to our hotel Thursday afternoon just in time to relax a little before an afternoon drive with a guide. The safari was amazing! It was so exciting to see the beauty of God’s creation (outside of the cages of the zoo). We got so close to several giraffes and hippos! It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Friday morning we relaxed by the beautiful pool. It has been a very long time since I have actually relaxed. As a college student, my days at school are pretty swamped with work. I took all of my finals early so I could go to orientation in Marion, Indiana. I flew out of Indiana to Chicago to London to Entebbe, Uganda. It has been a busy couple of weeks. However, Friday was spectacular! I began reading “Blue Like Jazz” just soaking up the sun by the beautiful pool. We enjoyed a lovely lunch went on a boat tour of the falls. The boat ride was so peaceful. The falls, of course, were magnificent.  After the boat tour, I had a few hours to myself. I decided to take my Bible onto my balcony for some quiet time with Jesus. After about ten minutes, I understood why during orientation, we were told that rest is a necessary component of our spiritual walk. It has been a long time since I could hear God speaking to me so clearly. Many times, I get distracted while I am praying or reading my Bible. As much as I try to concentrate, I often find it hard to not think about the tangible things I need to do. However, after this resting time, it was like there was no one but God and me!! It was incredible! I definitely needed that relaxing time so that I could really focus on why I am in Uganda  right now. As I prepare to really dive in to teaching this coming week and cannot help but be grateful for everyone here and at home supporting me and making this trip possible! The two nights at the safari made me stop looking for God in the thunder, but simmer down enough to hear his gentle whisper. Just as an added bonus to everything God was showing me these last few days, as we were driving out of the park we saw this beautiful sigh:

If you did not know, elephants are by far my favorite animal in the entire world. We saw one briefly in the distance on our first drive. We saw so many amazing animals through the trip that I was not too disappointed about missing my elephants. Jesus must have just been smiling down on me as we were leaving though! We all thought we were done with the short vacation, but oh no! I felt like this was a reminder that I need to be relying on His timing, not my own. Through these three days of rest, I feel so rejuvenated and ready to serve this week!!

First Week at Heritage

I cannot praise God enough for how amazing my first week at Heritage International has been!

I have been shadowing the teacher assistant in the fifth grade classroom, and I will take over for her next week. I will be teaching Bible and devotion. I will also be assisting the head teacher in grading and preparation. This is our wonderful classroom!

In the afternoons I have been working in the first grade. This is such a blessing because it is the grade I hope to work with after graduation. Every moment in that classroom has been enjoyable! The enthusiasm of the children is overwhelming. This Friday, our students will be leading chapel. Today, we were practicing our short play and our songs. There are few things more moving than a bunch of first graders belting out “Because He Lives.”  I was also blessed to witness the baptism of eleven of the students of Heritage. Each student stated why they wanted to be baptized. So awesome! It is moments like those where I can do nothing but praise God!

Today, I had my first cultural orientation from a woman from Uganda. She taught on the politics and history of Uganda. We learned some codes of conduct too. Greetings are very important in Uganda. We learned the proper handshake for someone you respect. We also learned that children will often kneel when shaking your hand to show respect. Also, if your hand is dirty, it is polite to offer your wrist to shake. Yesterday, I went to greet a woman at Heritage who offered me her wrist. I realized after learning this custom, that she had been washing dishes and was trying not to get my hand dirty. I just thought she did not want to greet me!

Tomorrow morning, the Hallahans and I leave for a safari! Can’t wait to share all the pictures when I get back. For now, enjoy this picture of the view from our backyard. Amazing, right?

The Day I Became Independent

Saturday, May 12, I became independent. To frame this story, I’ll give a little background information. I am volunteering through World Gospel Mission’s Volunteers in Action program for the next month in Kampala, Uganda. Josh and Kelly Hallahan are my gracious hosts during this time. This is my first time out of the country, thus beginning by story of coming to be independent.

I humbly admit that I am not a traveler. I have only been on a plane for two occasions: a wedding in Minnesota and senior trip to Florida. I have never flown by myself. With that in mind, you can understand my anxiety at the thought of three flights totaling seventeen and a half hours. I knew that I would survive because God calls you to do things He knows you are capable of. So as I was preparing for this trip, I was steadily praying about this anxiety. God answered my prayers! A couple, George and Joyce Rogers, would be flying with me as they are serving for a year in Uganda. I was so relieved to not be flying internationally alone!

Saturday morning at 6:30 AM, six of the VIA left orientation at WGM headquarters for the airport in Indianapolis. Three of us left for the field, while the other three have a few weeks before leaving. It was so comforting to be able to share in the excitement as well as the stress over our trips. Over the last week, we had all connected and bonded through our fellowship. It was very sad to see each one go but also encouraging to see people following the call. I had the latest flight, giving me time to relax in prayer while waiting. My first flight was fine! It is hard for an hour long flight to be difficult. In Chicago, my independence began. I managed to navigate through the airport to get to check-in and security and find my gate. At this point, I was hoping to meet up with the Rogers, but our messages got lost in translation and I was on my own. That eight hour flight went fine as well. I was thoroughly entertained by the movies and tracking our flight progress. Never having flown internationally, the in-flight entertainment was extremely exciting. When we landed in London, the real transformation began.

I was completely overwhelmed with the size of the O’Hare Airport. I had a thirteen hour layover, so I was reserved a dayroom in a local hotel. On my itinerary, the hotel’s address was the O’Hare Airport. I thought it was actually connected to the airport! It was not. I found my way to customs so that I could leave the airport. An hour and twenty minutes later, I was approved to leave. Now came the tricky part! Where is my hotel? How do I get there? How will I get back? I attempted to Google its location on my laptop but was disappointed to find that there was no free wireless internet. I eventually found the address and bought a round-trip ticket for the shuttle from the airport. Once I checked into my room, I was incredibly relieved. There I was in London, and there was no way I was leaving the security of my room!

Getting on my third flight was much better because I met the Rogers, who were very experienced travelers. It was amazing how much comfort they brought me. Thinking now about how anxious I was, I felt silly. There was a moment, right before I left for my first flight, that I felt utterly alone. All the other VIAs had left. I had said goodbye to my parents and my friends. I just finished what I thought would be my last call with Stephen for a month. I was overwhelmed with insecurities and worries. Now, all I can think of is Psalm 139:7 “Where can I go from you Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Through all of my journeys, God was protecting me. I know that now as I am in Uganda, God will be over my work and my rest. I’m really trying to focus on the fact that even though this is out of my comfort zone, I am never doing this alone. None of us are ever alone! Praise God!