Travel, Settling In and Anticipation

There’s something wonderful about returning to a place you’ve been before – a place that feels like home, where memories are made, where you can tangibly feel God’s presence, where friends quickly become family and where you never want to leave.

I arrived in Uganda late Wednesday evening after 25 hours of planes and layovers. For whatever reason, the dreaded journey back wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in previous trips. I attribute the positive experience to the amount of sleep I was able to get in route.

I had to wait in line for a bit of time to officially receive my visa. Then, after collecting all 5 of our checked bags, along with our 4 carry-ons, Remmie and I stood in line to go through customs. It was at this point that we saw a sign which indicated that it was highly illegal to bring in medications, food supplements or medical devices. While we weren’t technically bringing in any of those things, we did have a few items which could be considered such – to say we were anxious would be an understatement. As our suitcases were examined, we prayed (and to be honest, sweat a bit). Praise God that each piece of our luggage was cleared without problem.

We met Remmie’s husband and one of the uncles outside the airport, who helped us to the car with our two towering carts full of luggage. It was quite literally a breath of fresh air to step into the warmth of the Ugandan night and see familiar faces.

We made the 30-minute journey through Entebbe and into the village where the Babies Home is located. Uncle Fred helped me with my bags into the guesthouse, where I’m staying for the duration of my visit. I’d like to say that it was nice to see the place again, but that was hard to do by only the light of our cell phones and an ongoing solar light issue.

My first few days in Uganda have been really nice and quite calm. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say those words – as most visits I hit the ground running with work to do. I’ve made my way into town to get WiFi and a cell phone. I’ve gone into the village to get food and things for the guesthouse. But most of all, I’ve been able to spend time with the children. In fact, each day I’ve been with the kids from shortly after they wake up until they head to bed.

The highlight of my week, of course, has been spending time with them. There are currently 19 kiddos at Purpose ages 1 to 5 years old. It’s been nice to reconnect with the kids I haven’t seen in 2 years and meet the new faces as well. From the time you wake up (and they catch sight of you through the guesthouse window), they’re calling for you to come outside and play. It’s no question that there will be a mad-rush of little ones the second you step outside; grabbing at your clothes, holding your hands and asking to be picked up.

My busyness will commence tomorrow as Remmie and I meet to discuss our schedule during my time here. I have a lengthy list of goals and things I’d like to accomplish and I’m sure she has the same. Things like providing a training for the preschool teachers prior to school resuming, helping to set up classrooms and clean the school, and marketing/advertising to bring in new students. We also have some non-school-related goals like working on the books we’re writing, training Sunday School teachers at a local church and spending intentional time with the children. It’s going to be a jampacked trip and the time will zoom by.

As I sit here and write this post, I can hear the noises of Uganda outside – motorcycles passing, birds making noises, and the children playing with other volunteers. The warm temperature and lightweight Ugandan dress I’m wearing has me easily forgetting that it’s January. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here yet again. I’m thankful for the past 5 years of relationship-building here and I’m expectant for what I’m going to see God do during this time.

Here’s to kicking off 2019 in Uganda. It’s going to be a great year.

Excitement Midst the To Do List

In just 3 days, I’ll board a plane that will take me to one of my favorite places. After approximately 25 hours of travel on three separate planes, it’ll touch down and I’ll step into warmer weather with familiar sounds and smells. I’ll see some of my favorite faces, most of which have aged since my last visit, and I’ll give lots of hugs. Then after a good night’s rest, I’ll hit the ground running and jump right into working.

The last several weeks have been full; very full actually. I’ve worked hard to prepare for my upcoming trip – making sure I was up to date on vaccines and had malaria medicine, getting my visa approved, fundraising, and more. I’ve worked diligently to ensure that things will go well at my work places while I am away.

Not to mention, Remmie, the owner and director of Purpose Uganda, has been in the States visiting. I was so grateful for the opportunity to introduce her to my family and to celebrate the holidays with her. We’ve worked on some important projects, visited Ugandan children now with forever families, and made memories.

It’s been a busy and very full holiday season.

So today, as I check things off my mile-long to do list, I’m forcing myself to slow down and be grateful; to think and pray over the next two months and most of all, to get excited.

I am thankful for another opportunity to travel to Uganda – for the right timing and for financial and prayerful support.

I’m grateful to be uniquely placed on staff at a church that is globally-minded and passionate about the gospel.

I thank God for the friendship that’s formed between Remmie and myself over the past five years; allowing us to work together well for His glory.

I can’t wait to joyfully greet those I haven’t seen in two years.

I look forward to working on big projects at the preschool.

I’m craving rice and beans and posho.

I’m excited for smiles and laughs. For holding tiny, brown hands and cuddling sweet babies. For my alarm clock to be the hustle and bustle of African life. For time away, from a tech-saturated culture. For red dirt under my feet and to see more of God’s beautiful creation. I’m excited to grow and see what He has in store. To be challenged. I can’t wait.

There’s so much to wrap up before heading halfway across the world. The next 3 days will be full of packing and re-packing, praying things start weighing less than they really do. I’ll be finalizing my thoughts for the training I will give to the teachers in the coming weeks. I’ll put the finishing touches on everything at church, so things run smoothly. I’ll start taking malaria medicine, with promises that I’m dedicated this time around. I’ll say some more see you later’s. And I’ll continue to be excited.

I invite you to join me on this trip, via proxy of course (though the invitation stands for whoever may want to journey with me one day). I’m grateful for the financial and prayerful support that’s already been given. Your words of encouragement speak directly to my heart and your prayers matter. Over the next two months, I promise to write as much as possible to share this journey with you. Please keep in touch because I love hearing from you too.

I can’t wait to share more with you!

People Come First

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to update about my time here in Uganda. In fact, it’s taken a week to write this post. Putting this experience into words is challenging. I feel more at home in Africa than I ever have before. My role at the preschool, my lifestyle here and the friendships feel just as normal as my time in the States.

There is always so much to do here.

My biggest focus the past few weeks has been the curriculum for the preschool. Uganda provides a Learning Framework for teachers to use for the duration of a child’s school career. I’ve been breaking it down and organizing it in a way that makes sense to our teachers and simplifies it for the entire school year. It’s been time consuming yet really rewarding.

I enjoy spending time with the children and I count each moment with them as priceless. It has been incredible to watch them grow over the years, to check in on the older ones and to meet new faces. I’m making memories that will have a place in my heart for years to come.

I feel like I always have a to-do list of things to accomplish. This for the school. That for the Babies Home. Dishes. Laundry. Showering. Shopping. Going this place or that place. And the list is unending.

I’ve always said that in Africa the days are twice as long. It seems like tasks always take longer for one reason or another (aside from the expected – like washing clothes by hand). As a planner, I like having a full schedule and finding a way to manage my time well. But over the last two weeks, I’ve found that there are instances in which I put aside my work for something that comes up. I was getting quite frustrated at not moving forward as much with my work for the school, until I realized that people should be my priority.

A child who is crying and needs love. A chaotic situation that needs another hand. Lightening the load for someone who has a lot of work. An opportunity to have tea and spend time with someone. Playing with a child who is having fun. Conversations, praying for one another, digging deeper into relationships – people come first.

Last weekend, I was up to my eyeballs with work that I needed to complete for a meeting with teachers that Monday. I began my work following lunch after a busy morning. In a panic, an auntie ran to find me. There was an unexpected urgent situation down at the Babies Home that needed someone else to be present. Of course, I rushed right down to try to help the aunties solve it. People come first.

That same evening, I was finally beginning to accomplish some of my work when another volunteer met me. We spent some time chatting with one of the uncles – even playing a game, while in the back of my head I knew I had too much to do. I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to cancel all my other priorities for the evening and to spend time with the aunties and uncles. Carina and I headed to a nearby shop to buy the supplies needed to make mandazi. We spent the evening having an impromptu “party”. People come first.

There is nothing; nothing that is more important than the people I am with here in Uganda. Relationships should supersede any task that I need to accomplish. With good time management skills, all those things will eventually happen. But being present in relationship is what really matters; at the end of the day it’s the only important thing. People come first.

I used to struggle with being in the moment. I thought too far ahead, worried a bunch, and always wondered what was next. But through trials and good experiences, God is showing me that being present – in relationship with others, with Him, and in this moment – is what really matters.

I could sit down and type a post that shares with you the details of each of my days here – the early morning tea and porridge, the kids’ smiles, the giant cockroaches, the power outages, riding motorcycles to get into town – the list goes on. But what I want to share the most is that God is here teaching me each and every day; whether I’m in the US or East Africa, I’m growing and learning.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17

African life & a God who is reliable

As I sit down to write this update, I can hear children outside laughing and playing. The cool morning breeze is coming through our open back door. And Carina, another volunteer from Germany, is in the kitchen washing dishes from a bucket of water she got from the tank outside. We just ran out of water this morning and as she was beginning to wash the dishes, the power also went out. I was hopeful to wash my hair today, so I guess we’ll see.

The last week has been nothing short of wonderful. I usually try not to share cliché missionary sayings, but there is something beautiful about living in the place God has you. As someone who tends to only dream about the future, plan and organize, I will say that there is something about this idea of living in the present.

Upon arriving in Uganda, I feel like I hit the ground running. School started for the term two days after my arrival, so I feel like it’s been busy ever since. It’s a different kind of busy though. As I reflect on my work here, it almost doesn’t even feel like work. I get so excited about the day-to-day tasks and I’m content to get to work on them.

As I was sitting here, Auntie Fausta came to the back door to say good morning to me. The people here are, of course, my favorite part. Each morning I head to school shortly after the children arrive, and am greeted by 30-something big hugs. There is so much joy when a child sees you, even if they had just seen you a few minutes before. It’s great to learn about new friends here, whether it be other volunteers, the staff, or the children – there are so many differences about how we live our lives and yet we are all  similar.

I have been devoting a big chunk of my time here to revising and organizing the preschool’s framework and curriculum. What might seem like mundane, tedious work is truly exciting. To think about the future of the children and what they will learn during their three years at Purpose Uganda is inspiring. Education can and will do so much in the lives of these kids, and that’s powerful to think about.

When school is not in session, I try to spend my free time with the children. The hugs, the smiles, the hand-holding is exactly as sweet as you think it’d be. Yesterday afternoon, I went outside to see the children and immediately Babirye asked me to put her on my back. As we stood next to a tree, she asked me to get her a leaf to hold. I asked her if she knew who created the tree and she told me, “God!” with a smile on her face. I asked if she knew who created her – again with a smile she said, “God!” I reminded her that the same God who created that tree and created her loved her, and received another huge smile. It’s moments like that which are way too sweet to forget.

Although I’d love all my time to be occupied with work at the preschool and loving on some babies, there are other things that need to be done. Washing dishes. Washing clothes. Showering. Shopping for food. Going into town for something you’re unable to find in the village. These things take quite a bit longer in Uganda than they do in America. And then there’s always an added twist – no water, no power, no internet, and so on.

I was talking with Carina last night about how I would write an update. I want to share every second of this experience with you and yet words can only do so much. When I shared with her my thoughts for a blog post, she gave me a nugget of wisdom that I felt like I had to share.

I was thinking through the things here that are unreliable. Water. Power. Internet. These are things I don’t even question being without in America (and when it happens there, I find myself frustrated). For whatever reason, I’m not surprised or even disappointed, when it happens here. The idea of things being unreliable or inconsistent reminded me how consistent God is. He is faithful and always reliable. When I’m back in America, I find myself going about my normal, everyday life, not even thinking about my need for Christ. I can rely on myself to drive my car to the store; I know the roads to take. I can rely on the water in my own house to give me a hot shower. I think inwardly a lot of the time, and I forget my need for a God who never ceases to provide. And yet here in Uganda, I am constantly reminded of my need for Him.

Carina was sharing that she thinks it’s all about the choices we make. When the power goes out, we can choose to be frustrated about it or we can deal with it. When the water stops working, we can be upset or we can wait for it to come back. What she shared really resonated with me – the choices we make in response to something challenging truly is what makes or breaks us. So, in instances which are less than ideal, am I going to choose to be upset and frustrated with African life (a cozy, comfortable African life mind you)? Or am I going to choose to be joyful and rest in a God who never fails? I love the lessons and truths that come through these experiences.

Well it’s about time I get my day started. The kids are off school today as it’s a public holiday, but I still have a lot to do in regards to curriculum. There is cleaning to be done as we have some new volunteers coming today. And of course, I can’t wait to greet some kiddos.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” – Lamentations 3:22-24

Back in Uganda

I truly believe that in Uganda the days are twice as long. I don’t know if it’s the heat, or the crazy-fun experiences, but it sure feels like it.

I arrived in Uganda on Monday evening after about 30 hours of travel. I had no complaints about the flights, aside from not being able to eat gluten/dairy free on the planes (thank goodness for airports!). Upon arrival, I waited in a rather long line (over an hour) to obtain my visa. This was strange, as it’s usually much faster. I collected both of my checked bags, got a SIM card for my phone and a little money before meeting my taxi driver and heading to the Babies Home. It was a joyous occasion to be welcomed by the aunties and uncles upon entering the gate to the compound. Aside from the two giant cockroaches (with wings!) that I was convinced were going to crawl on me all night, I got a good night’s rest.

I was promised that my first day in Uganda would be busy and it was! After waking up and greeting the children, Remmie and baby Jasmine came to see me. Talk about even more joy and happiness upon seeing one of my closest, dearest friends and her newest bundle of joy. We immediately began reviewing and revising the teachers’ lesson plans for this term, as school was to begin the following day. After meeting amongst ourselves, we talked with the teachers about the new year. It was wonderful to see excitement for the beginning of term and to hear new ideas being shared.

I was really blessed by having two of the older children visit on my first day. In the morning, Kyler came by to say hello before going back to school. I’m amazed at how mature and grown up she is now. In the afternoon, Angella came to visit. She has been having some issues in school and Remmie wanted to encourage her. Angella has a very special place in my heart and I have great memories of spending time with her on each of my trips to Uganda. I sat quietly, as I listened to Remmie speak to her in Luganda about the importance of doing well in school. Then Angella and I went for a short walk around the compound to talk. I reminded her of times that we had together and how much I cared for her. She told me that she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. I encouraged her and told her that I believed she could do anything that she wanted to do, if she continued to try. Before she left, Remmie and I laid hands on her and prayed. I wish words could express how it felt to see that beautiful girl’s smile or to watch her play and interact with the younger children.

Wednesday was the first day back at Purpose Uganda Preschool. The children came to school excited and ready to learn. I spent time in the classrooms watching the teachers and helping where I was able. In the middle of the day (I may have picked the hottest part…), I headed into town to get internet access and then back to the village to get a couple of groceries. And in the afternoon, Remmie and I again met with the teachers to debrief their day. Today has been just as wonderful, as I spent time with the children in school this morning. Whether it’s working on puzzles, learning sounds, or singing songs, there’s hardly ever a moment here that won’t make you smile.

It’s great to be back in Uganda. As I sit here writing this, I can hear kids outside playing, teachers discussing their plans, birds chirping and the occasional chicken. I am not much of a sensory person but on this trip, I’ve become aware of a lot more of the sounds, sights, and smells, than ever before. I want to be intentional about “taking in” this experience.

Although my emotions were a bit crazy on the first full day, I was reminded that I am here for a reason. I am excited to see what the next two months will hold. I look forward to sharing it all with you!