Ogende Na Mukama

[Currently typing this having just inspected the soles of my feet. This just in: not sure the deep red African mud stains will ever be fully removed. Oddly okay with that.]

Ohhhh, you guys…. Are we still friends?? I can’t believe I’ve let the last 2.5 months slip right on past me without a single peep! But at the same time, I can. Soon enough I’ll be able to look you in the face and elaborate on how unpredictable life is here in Uganda, but until then I figured I’m way overdue for some updates and photos.

When you last heard from me, I was very recently engaged to a wonderful man of God. I still am, and plan on being for a few more months (until we get HITCHED!), but so much has happened since I put Gage back on a plane to America at the end of April. So much!

The month of May was a break between school terms for Christ School, so I instead invested my time and energy into loving Katherine well as she prepared to return to the States. KT has been a such a faithful friend, confidante, encourager, and speaker of truth ever since I landed in this land. I was by no means the only one sad to see her reach the end of her term… we had Babwisi friends and family coming to visit and greet consistently for THE ENTIRE MONTH OF MAY to say goodbye. I’ve never met a human who crosses cultures as gracefully as Katherine Thomas. Ashley and I would each tell you we’re better people after living with her here in Bundibugyo.

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Couldn’t leave without a final boda ride to the Congo border!
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The final roomie pic in front of our home-away-from-home.

And then it was back to Bundibugyo reality. June meant the arrival of new teammates, two of which moved into the house I’ve been staying in! They’re our summer interns, and they’ve truly flourished in their six weeks with us. It’s been such a beautiful reminder of how I started here as a baby intern summer of 2014. Oh, how times have changed!

June also meant the beginning of term two at all schools in the Bundibugyo district, which often coincides with families’ needs being off-the-charts compared to the rest of the year due to poor harvest season. Low harvest = less income; less income = less ability to pay for school. I quickly found myself being pulled in thousands of directions as people approached me daily for help paying school fees, uniform fees, material fees, you name it. And it was overwhelming. Any other first-borns out there? Anyone else struggle with a debilitating NEED to fix people’s problems even when you can’t or know you shouldn’t? Yeah. Hit that head-on throughout the month of June as I wrestled with the Lord about what it meant to trust Him. I spent my days asking him to guide my investments and to provide for His children outside of anything I could or couldn’t offer. I was able to see clearly both scenarios played out, which I recognize is a gift I’m never promised. I was able to thank Jesus for teaching me what it means to be a redeemed vessel of His grace, and for walking so closely with me through that.

I also began wrestling through my first-ever bout of intense anxiety during that overwhelming month. Many of you know that fight and have walked through valleys because of that fight: the inability to gain control over heart rate, sleep patterns, tears, and emotions with zero idea how to even express it, let alone tackle it. But the good news is that I have plenty of trusted people (within Serge and outside of Serge) I can turn to who have walked me as I learn how to battle. And as a missionary and a human living cross-culturally in general, I know I’m the furthest thing from alone in the realm of anxiety. It’s actually expected. Being reminded how little you actually control in this life can often be easily avoided in home cultures; but living in a constant state of discomfort, even though you come across as joyful and thriving, will take its toll eventually. (Store this away for future reference, Ashland). The Holy Spirit has and will continue to meet me as I learn how to navigate a new struggle.

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A snapshot of my Bundibugyo home, taken from the top of my neighbor’s water tower.
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Home visits with Mugisa and his family NEVER disappoint. Say hello to Junior and Atuhire!

And before I knew it, suddenly it was time to pick up my FAMILY from the airport! My mom, my sister, and my college roommate ALL graciously donated lots of dollars and two whole weeks of their summer to be with me. And let’s be honest…. their timing was divinely appointed. I was overjoyed to have them here, to experience this world and all its joys and hardships. They saw so much and met so many of my closest people, and they did it all humbly and graciously. Not only were their eyes opened to this beautiful culture so different from anything they’ve known, they embraced it. Wholeheartedly. And they’ll each tell anyone who asks how much they were changed because of their time here.

But the coolest part is that the Lord used their time here to change me. Their presence here renewed my perspective and gratitude for this beautifully difficult place. They helped me make logistical decisions when my brain wasn’t working. They brushed my hair and wiped my stress tears. But what touched me the most was their willingness to pack up four trunks full of my things, adjust their weight to be less than 23 kilos each, then cart them all the way back to America. I was even able to take them on a safari that’s been on my bucket list since I landed: we got to see the giraffes at Murchison Falls National Park!

Needless to say, it was such a gift to have them walk these roads with me.

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Highlight: introducing them to all of the CSB students at a Wednesday Chapel service. It’s a big deal to meet a mama over here! Ugandans KNOW how to respect the ones who brought them into this world.
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“Roomies for life” taken to a whole new level. She’s the very best.

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Safari on the Nile. Insane.
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Angels. All of them.

And then I blinked and it was July. Incredible.

The day after I dropped the fam at the Entebbe airport, I picked up a videographer and his father-in-law who agreed to devote their talent and two weeks of their summers here in Bundibugyo. Their arrival was a long time coming… Directing and overseeing a videography project to further donor relations at Christ School has been a dream of mine for the last three years. To finally have the opportunity to carry it out?! It was maybe the most beautiful way the Lord has answered prayers about my ministry time here. What a perfect way to wrap up this season!

Davis, along with his father-in-law Bruce, was recruited and hired a couple months ago after reviewing similar work he’s completed in other parts of the world. They listened to my vision (communicated through a series of FaceTimes where I word-vomited my heart and goals repeatedly), received my video concept breakdown with excitement, and tackled the discomfort of being foreigners here with GRACE, y’all.

With this project, I wanted to highlight the success of an alumni who graduated in 2012, completed university in Kampala in 2016, and then returned to the very school he called home in order to teach and invest in students just like him. I also wanted to create a video showcasing who Christ School is and what it’s about. And perhaps most importantly, I had a vision for a video that would entice one-time donors to switch to monthly partnership (in Jesus’ name we pray amen).

Not only were they on board with my ideas, they were both so delightful and easy-going for all five days of filming. I can’t wait to showcase the final products in a few months.

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Here we are at Ronald’s family’s home in Bundibugyo Town. We spent a 9-hour work day with Ronald to make sure we fully captured his story of success as an alumni of CSB. By the time we finished, we had ALL been named honorary family members.
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Your eyes are not deceiving you: he’s a very tall man.

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Shout to all teachers who let us interrupt lessons all for the sake of the shot.
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Getting some student testimonies about life at CSB. This is Dan, easily one of my favorites.
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And would it even be full footage of Bundibugyo without Gladisi balancing something on her head? That mama loves the camera. 

And after five very packed, very exhausting, all-encompassing days (Davis told me he could produce a feature-length film with all the footage he got), I bid them farewell and proceeded to sleep for 24 hours. It was a beautiful 24 hours.

But after I caught my breath, I was back at it. This time to start approaching the most complicated farewells I’ve ever had to say. There’s something sobering about not knowing for sure when (or IF) you’d ever see these brothers and sisters again this side of heaven, which has definitely translated to intentionality in making good goodbyes. I’ve spent the last week laughing, crying, hugging, praying, printing photos and writing letters, making visits and thanking Jesus for things from which I’ve recently begged for reprieve. Such fickle hearts we have, am I right?

It’s been a messy process full of every emotion in the book, but one thing I know for sure: these people are my family and co-laborers in advancing the truth of the Gospel. Nothing will change that, no matter where I call home.

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Wrapping up some final CSB communications things with our female students.
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… Just in time for intentional time with my rat pack boys, the most unexpected yet beautiful friendships I never knew I needed. Jesus definitely knew, though.
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A 15-minute car ride to town for some book reading at the pubic library, followed by a stop at a local restaurant for sodas and chapatis. You would’ve thought they won the lottery.
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Charity stopped by the house for the most original goodbye thus far: a tail-whooping in checkers. He’s a smart one, that little brother of mine. And he knows he has my heart no matter how much he trash talks me.
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…Not to mention we share similar stories of family brokenness affecting the way we grew up, the way we view this world, the way we approach the Father. Investing in the life and journey of 17-year-old Charity has been tangible redemption for me in more ways than one.
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And finally, a farewell supper for all my closet Babwisi friends and family: SO much Ugandan food, lots of children chasing each other (one would not leave my lap all night), pictures, and a commission prayer spoken over me that I’ll remember for the rest of my days.

I’ll be the first to admit my own tendency to place feelings on the shelf until I have the space and margin to process them, so I don’t expect real tears until after I’m settled back in the States. It’s a character flaw I’ve battled for most of my life. And this past year as been JAM PACKED with feelings – some I can articulate well, others I cannot. So while I continue to make myself sit and wrestle with those, would you pray for me?

I specifically ask for prayer regarding:

  • Peace in leaving that speaks louder than confused and hurt neighbors (even though the gift of marriage does carry significant weight in this culture). I have friends who have thanked Jesus for Gage and our future marriage and have blessed my departure, and I have others who still struggle to understand why I’m having to leave. Some get it, many do not. Cultural and language barriers simply become more manageable over time; but I’ve learned they do not vanish. Confusion is a way of life here.
  • The advancement of the Kingdom here in Bundibugyo, and that it would forever push back the darkness in magnificent ways.
  • Persistence in personal prayer and reflection as I prepare to re-enter America. To be honest, there are many things about my home culture that seem so far removed that they’re almost scary. I ask for prayer that distortions of intensity planted by the enemy would be replaced with reminders of what’s TRUE: that God is the exact same in America as He is in Uganda, and He cares and provides for me deeply no matter where I am.
  • Protection against undue anxiety attack, nervous stomach, and insomnia – all things that have popped up recently. Not necessarily surprising or anything out of control by any means, but also incredibly inconvenient as I prepare to travel.
  • Margin to use my stopover in Ireland with my sister as a way to process with her, enjoy that beautiful terrain with her, and rest in the comfort of Jesus with her.
  • Protection over my relationship with Gage as we FINALLY kiss long distance goodbye and get the privilege of walking towards marriage hand-in-hand. Literally, this time.
  • That above all else, I’d remember that the God of the universe is on His throne and will reign forever. Not only that, but I get the opportunity to approach that very throne of grace to receive a perfect love that washes me of all guilt, shame, fear, confusion, and loneliness.
  • That the immense JOY in returning home, to the most supportive and prayerful fiancé, family, and a home church I’ve missed deeply, would be the driving force in days to come.

I officially leave Bundibugyo on Saturday the 22nd, and then will begin a slow procession out until I eventually fly out of Entebbe on August 2nd. I will officially be home on August 10th! Which will begin my two-month Home Assignment with Serge – a beautiful time of rest, renewal, meeting with friends and supporters, and starting the search for a job. I look forward to lots of hugs, lots of stories, and lots of Frothy Monkey. See you there? 🙂

You’ll be hearing from me again once I hit American soil. Until then, know that my thankfulness for your generosity in countless ways does not end here. I will forever be singing praises to our King for never once feeling alone in this journey. You each have walked with me every step of the way.

My friends here have been praying a benediction over me this last week that will take me all the way to BNA: “Ogende na Mukama” is Lubwisi for “go with God.”

And indeed, I will.

 

All my love,

Ashland

EnGAGEd in Uganda!

FAM! Can you believe it?! Most of you are shaking your head “yes, duh” because sometimes it’s easier to see clearly from the sidelines. Even I go back and forth – pinching myself to see if the last 3 weeks were real, embracing the peace that comes from assurance in our Lord’s faithfulness. “Is this real life?!” // “Why am I so shocked? Of course it’s real. God promised.”

Here to report that it’s possible to hold both at one time.

Ahh! I’M ENGAGED. TO GAGE.

So many of you have reached out with immense encouragement and celebration, even from 7,000 miles away from where I’m sitting right now. That’s incredible. We both felt, and continue to feel, ALL of the love. (In this sense, I absolutely love technology.)

Let’s back up a bit, yes?

Gage landed in Uganda late on a Saturday night. I had driven myself across the country using my teammates’ car, and then crashed in Kampala waiting on his plane to land. By the time I was picked up at 7pm from my guesthouse to go to the airport, I was definitely shaking. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I was so nervous and excited to see him that I was almost physically sick. (Thankfully I made a smooth recovery, but that reunion was seconds from being way less glamorous.)

And THEN.  I spotted his hair through the masses and got a nice running start before I almost plowed him to the ground. Lots and lots of happy. 🙂

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Here he is, minutes after I used this puppet to flag him down at the airport.

And after that came two weeks full of an extended show-and-tell. I got to take him EVERYWHERE, show him all my friends and favorite places, teach him how to greet in the local language, watched him try all of the local food. We even went on the best safari of my life. It was surreal.

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Here we are two hours from home sweet Bundibugyo, at a beautiful overlook where you can actually see straight through the Rwenzoris into the Congo.

And somewhere in the middle of the surreal-ness, he asked me to marry him at my very own dinner table nestled deep in the Ugandan jungle. Which made things even more surreal.

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Our first night in district, my roommates cooked dinner “so we could have a real date for the first time in 7 months.” They also insisted that I put a dress and makeup on which I thought was super weird. I agreed to half of their demands and threw this dress on over my nasty sports bra, then put the pieces together after the fact. Pretty sure that hair hadn’t seen shampoo in DAYS.
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He also pulled off a surprise celebration with the team after. 🙂
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If there’s anything this team is exceptional at, it’s celebrating each other. LET ME TELL YOU.
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Then he met my Ugandan friends and family, who had all been awaiting his arrival. Here we are getting an official town tour with Clovice.
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And at Christ School visiting little bro Charity, who was waiting with his list of questions to drill him. Not kidding.
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And of course… the Rat Pack. The hooligans who are TOTALLY aware that they have my heart. Here we are right after an informal field day G helped facilitate — dancing, soccer, wheelbarrow races, three-legged races, water balloon fights, and tie-dying t-shirts. (To this day they ask me when he’s coming back. “We like him SO MUCH, Ashalon!”)
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And we ended our time in Bundibugyo with a hike to Nyahuka falls. A rite of passage for all who are brave enough to visit. 🙂
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Then we woke up the next day and headed to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a safari!
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Where we made a new friend.
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I’m still not over it.

And after that, we made our way back to Kampala to see him off. Except a few days before he flew out, he surprised me by hiring a professional photographer living and working in Jinja to drive 3 hours and do a mini engagement shoot for us. THIS HUMAN. I don’t know how he manages to do half the things he does. ❤

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A little preview, brought to you by our incredible new friend Mary.

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Go follow her on Instagram, people. You will not regret it –> @wanderingwithmary.

And after one last fancy dinner in the big city of Kampala, I put him on a plane to head back to my other home. Which was no easy thing to do after two weeks of life in Uganda with him right by my side… Where he was able to put faces to names he’d only heard me say over the phone, where he was able to feel the weight of intense beauty juxtaposed with overwhelming brokenness, where he was able to look at me and tell me he understood why I go to bed so early over here. We were able to finally meet each other in the hard places again. That was something I had so desperately missed.

BUT. This last airport sendoff was a bit different than the first one. We now have a more tangible hope we couldn’t necessarily claim before he got here, which is founded on a pre-promise of a more permanent lifelong promise! So even though grief came after he left, I also have more than enough reason to choose joy in knowing that the Lord has been faithful to us, and faithful He will continue to be.

Gage has integrated back into his Nashville rhythm, and I’m slowly reaching that place myself here in Uganda. (Back in the land of mango trees and children climbing them incessantly, no matter how often ask them in Lubwisi to get down before they hurt themselves.) We’re both in our respective corners of the world again, each vastly different than the other. But his entire journey here and back gave us a priceless gift – a deeper understanding of how the other sees, feels, and prays. We’re thanking Jesus for that.

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Most of you have put the pieces together at least enough to assume, but I’d like to end with a formal announcement: I’m officially ending my term and coming home to Nashville earlier than expected to marry a VERY wonderful man there. 🙂 And I could not be more excited to tackle the next season of life with him!! God has a way of messing up my plans to give me better plans. Gage has been the very best gift in just about every sense, and I look forward to doing life and ministry with him as my forever teammate.

I’m still working out more logistics and plans than I ever thought possible, but I do know that I’ll be home mid-August of this year!! I battle countless emotions on any given day surrounding this upcoming transition home, but rest assured: I have felt the Lord’s hand every step of the way. He’s guiding me and Gage both as we move together towards marriage. There is no greater peace or assurance than that which a Father extends to a beloved daughter. I’m setting up camp in that grace right now. And I’m looking forward to giving you all a more detailed timeline and plan, which I expect to come later this week. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, would you pray for me and Gage both? Specifically that we would continue on the path of intentionality during this season of being apart: for me to be intentional in seeking the Lord’s guidance in relationship and ministry here in Uganda, and that Gage would do the same with his relationships and ministry in Nashville. Ultimately, pray that we’d both be intentional in seeking the Lord first no matter what kinds of crazy this pending season of transition may throw our way.

So many of you have played direct roles in my journey here AND in my journey with Gage. We love each of you so, so much. Thank you for investing in us, praying us forward, and teaching us what it looks like to tangibly be the Church. It’s already been a fuel propelling me to go out and love neighbors sacrificially here in Bundibugyo; but it’s also something Gage and I will take with us into marriage and extend forward together for years to come.

I’ll end with a quote by Charles H. Spurgeon that I keep returning to. I’ve spent time reflecting on the way the Lord has written my story here in Uganda, the way he’s written Gage’s story, even the way He’s written our story together. And I know I’m not the only one who knows the uncertainties of trusting Jesus. Especially when life is less than convenient, when ministry is messy, when relationships face hardships, when valuable lessons come on the coattails of impossible grief, when following in faith makes no sense according to this world… So my prayer is that it would encourage you as well.

“I bear my witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days. And when God has seemed most cruel to me, he has then been most kind. If there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than anything else, it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested to me. Our Father’s wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the richest freight of the bullion of his grace. Love letters from Heaven are often sent in black-edged envelopes. The cloud that is black with horror is big with mercy. Fear not the storm. It brings healing in its wings; and when Jesus is with you in the vessel, the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”

Love to all of you,

Ashland

Psalm 84 and Sara Groves

If you’re someone who understands that life as a redeemed sinner is both beautiful and difficult, this post is for you. I hesitate to even touch on the hardships that come in the fine print of following Jesus to East Africa — there are so many lies blocking honesty and vulnerability that tend to make me freeze up.

“You’re being dramatic, Ashland.”

“If you tell people you’re tired and sad, they’ll get the wrong idea about this beautiful place.”

“No one will understand. To people back home, you might as well be living on Mars.”

“They may even openly question why you’re even there. Don’t play the martyr. It’s unattractive and also not theologically sound at all.”

“So they’re paying money to watch you suffer and be completely helpless…?”

“You yourself understand so little; you have no business trying to invite others into the confusion and mess of attempting relational ministry as an ex-pat.”

“You will 100% offend at least one people group. Tread lightly. Better yet, probably best to keep it to yourself.”

You get the idea. I’ve developed an isolationist mentality fueled by believing it’s not okay for me to have a post without pretty pictures. (Disclaimer: not a single human has ever so much as hinted at this, but the lies have been living in my head anyways.)

Lord, help my unbelief.

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If it’s alright with you, I think I’d like to be honest for a few minutes.

Thanks to a new read during this season (Behold the King of Glory by dear friend and pastor Russ Ramsey — I could not recommend this enough), I’ve been walking closely with Jesus in new ways through this season of longing and desperation over cultural brokenness.

I guess the timing is appropriate, given what Lent is all about. And let me tell you… I have never longed to see Jesus’ coming quite as deeply as I have living here.

Maybe it’s my white skin and western mind that stands in stark contrast to everything around me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ll always be an outsider, no matter how many local friends call me their family. Maybe it’s just the Spirit revealing deep-seated issues and nothing more. All I know for sure is that I am acutely aware of the convoluted layers of brokenness I run into, quite forcefully, at almost every turn in this community.

And I’ve always done this thing where I NEED to have every piece to the puzzle when confronted with a problem. I almost can’t function until I have them all. Anyone else struggle with that? The desire to put all the pieces together, regardless of the cost? To understand every detail of a problem fully and thoroughly in order to come up with a solution? Yeah, that’s bitten me in the ass more times than I can count.

Because here’s the thing… what if there IS no “solution”? What then?

When the kids I know well are exposed to adult sexual behavior from the time they’re toddlers, because poverty requires 13 people to cram into a one-room, mud-walled home with no privacy. When their curiosity isn’t always addressed because shame runs deep in this culture, so they’re left to their own means of exploring with other kids. When that curiosity leads to inappropriate sexual behavior between pre-teens.

When trauma and anxiety from dysfunctional parenting lead children straight into pits of desperation, which then leads to seeking help from local healers in hopes of immediate relief.

When the teenage Ugandan brother I pray over and invest in threatens to throw it all away because he’s afraid. When he says he’s been cursed with unwelcomed visions of his father who died years ago (trauma stimulated by new surroundings and pressures is my best guess). When he says he can’t study because he can’t sleep at night.

When questions and concerns get lost in translation because cultural norms are so deeply ingrained and so vastly different than anything I’m used to. When I unintentionally offend my friends in the community because our value systems are different. Because people here value relationship over work, and innocently assume that I must be avoiding them because I chose productivity in an office over visiting them in their homes.

When a boy yells at me in anger and tells me that I’m not Ugandan and therefore will never belong here. Which is true in many ways, no matter how much it stings.

When interpretations and applications of Scripture are so far from anything I ever heard in the reformed circles I grew up in. When messages are laced with promises of success, protection, and prosperity if you turn to Jesus. When I hear so often of hell and so little of His loving grace. Basically, when I fear that people aren’t hearing the Gospel all the time. (Stemming from theology righteousness? Arrogance? Genuine concern? I may never know.)

When I’m taken advantage of by friends in the community and treated like a human ATM. When I realize there’s a good chance the people I helped financially used the money for things I didn’t agree to support, no matter how much I prayed for wisdom beforehand.

When teammates are stressed and spread too thin and can’t always find ways to love each other well. When everyone needs a break, but it’s impossible to find one most times.

When I’m so far away from people I know and love on the other side of the world, and struggle to process with them because they can’t (and shouldn’t be able to) fully understand.

I could go on.

I find that as my frustration intensifies, so does my desire to reach for a gavel and call a community-wide meeting. Somehow, I naivly believe that if I could get everyone to talk openly and honestly and be vulnerable with each other, mzungu and Ugandan alike, then all the problems would be solved.

“You, sir. Tell me how the missionaries offended you last week. Great. White people? Care to repent? Clarify? Maybe explain how you were hurt by what they did or said? Wonderful. Meeting adjourned.”

But I know that’s impossible. And even if it were possible, that’s not what would ultimately happen. So then I circle back around to frustration at the Creator of it all. What can I do to find peace here? How can I escape this discomfort? How can I alleviate pain from things that run so deep? “People are hurting, Jesus. I’m tired of crying with neighbors and only being able to pray over them. Why am I even here? Please help. Do something!”

Then two weeks ago, I was reading an article on Discipleship by Dr. Larry Crabb and realized that I’d been missing something. A very big, very obvious something that had somehow been clouded in the mess of heavy burdens.

“When relief of the inevitable pain of living in a fallen world becomes our priority, at that moment we leave the path toward pursuing God. God’s prescriptions for handling life do not relieve an ache that is not meant to cease this side of Heaven; they enable us to be faithful in the midst of it.”

Oh.

This whole time I thought I was fighting cultural brokenness, things wrong with the community right in front of me. Turns out I’ve been battling sin. A thing that knows no cultural divide or language barrier. A thing that seeps into every corner of this world. Yes. Right.  Had I been looking at the trees too closely and been missing the forrest? Is it possible to be blinded by righteous anger?

And then… and then… I opened my copy of The Blue Book and found Jesus there, too.

“The missing part of our lives [ability to ease pain, in my case] can either drive us crazy to the point where we lose paradise by reaching for more than we currently possess, or it can become the best altar for our prayers, where we remind ourselves of our dependence on God. When we understand how dependent we really are, we become free to enjoy the rest of the garden.

Jesus. Jesus. This is why he came. THIS is why he died in our place. Because we could never get out of this mess ourselves. This is what he came to redeem. Of course!

It is not, nor will it ever be my job to fix this place. Or fix my home culture. Or fix the entirety of the fall of man. I could see that now. Jesus came to make all things new; to bring a new heaven and a new earth. To restore what is dead back to life. He’s already done that on the cross, and he promises that he will complete it. Outside of Him, there is no solution.

But what am I supposed to do with all this pain in the here and now? How am I supposed to handle the tears and frustration and injustice that I see around me every single day? Why did God bring me here at all?

Thankfully, I took the time to call a mentor back in Nashville and asked her those very questions. Wanna know what she said? What Jesus said through her?

“Ashland. Stop for a second. Take a couple steps back and listen. You may not be able to see it right now, but I see countless opportunities for you to sit with people in the middle of their grief, in the middle of your grief, throw your arm around them and say, “Wow. This is a complete mess. We are all so messed up without Jesus. Aren’t you thankful we have hope in his Gospel?” Because you will never feel peace or be able to show Christ’s love by trying to fix problems with rules and expect immediate results. That’s not how Jesus came anyway. Jesus walked this earth and met people in the middle of their messes with a nonsensical type of love. Ashland, the Spirit gives you the power to share that same love! I think you should roll your sleeves up and dump so much love and understanding and shared grief with these people you call family, and together you ALL can be humbled and grateful and hopeful for righteousness. Let that be the foundation of your prayers.”

Well, by then I was crying.

Because I realized that I may never know the hard and fast answer to the tension between Ugandan culture and Gospel culture (don’t even get me started on American culture and Gospel culture), and there’s no mathematical equation telling me when it’s appropriate to speak out of Spirit-led conviction or to keep quiet and pray.

Psalm 84 came to life for me: my soul longs, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; and my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Blessed are those whose strength is in Him, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. And then Psalm 63 brought refreshing hope in the midst of the helplessness: I know that I can sing in the shadow of His wings, that I cling to Him because His right hand upholds me. 

For reasons I often struggle to understand, the Lord saw fit to invite me into this corner of his creation for such a time as this. He’s brought me here. He’ll show me the way.

He’ll show us all the way.

And while I’m waiting for Him, I search for my theme song lately and hit play for the thousandth time. Let Sara Groves remind me of a few things. (Everyone should listen.)

I believe in a blessing I don’t understand;

I’ve seen rain fall on the wicked and the just.

Rain is no measure of his faithfulness;

He withholds no good thing from us.

No good thing from us, no good thing from us.

I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain,

That broken find healing in love.

Pain is no measure of his faithfulness;

He withholds no good thing from us.

No good thing from us, no good thing from us.

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Here’s where I invite you into this with me for a little bit, and ask you to humbly pray the following prayer over me and this place. And know that I by no means assume that Uganda is the only nation crippled by these burdens; and because of that, I’ll pray the same over you.

“O persistent God, deliver me from assuming your mercy is gentle. Pressure me that I may grow more human, not through the lessening of my struggles, but through the expansion of them…Deepen my hurt until I learn to share it and myself openly, and my needs honestly. Sharpen my fears until I name them and release the power I have locked in them and they in me. Accentuate my confusion until I shed those grandiose expectations that divert me from the small, glad gifts of the now and the here and the me. Expose my shame where it shivers, crouched behind the curtains of propriety, until I can laugh at last through my common frailties and failures, laugh my way toward becoming whole.” – Guerrillas of Grace, Ted Loder

2017: New Year, Same Crazy

Life in these mountains is never boring or predictable…. and I think you’ve heard me say that before. I can’t even mentally prepare for the adventures that come my way; and as a result I’m faced with a choice: become frustrated at “interruptions” OR open my fists clenched tight around my schedule and choose joy. I’m interrupted and delayed constantly, people. One of the greatest cross-cultural tensions I face is deciding which side of that emotional coin I’m going to claim each day. Good news: I’m finding less of my identity in my work performance than I ever did in college or post-grad employment. With each diversion from my schedule, Jesus is reminding me that my identity is secured in Him only. And only then am I able to take a deep breath and joyfully open the door to find the 15th friend or neighbor waiting to greet me on any given day.

Lately, I’ve been carrying a lot of excess weight from realizing deep and dark brokenness here. It all stems from knowing and loving so many people here, which leads to heartache as I hear and see more problems up close. I intend to write more on that soon. Until then, I wanted to give a brief update on my day-to-day schedule and then give you a million pictures to give you the highlights. More often than not, I can’t think of a better way to invite you into this journey with me.

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Christ School kicked off a new academic year (school years run from Feb-Dec), and I am back in the saddle. Everyone’s back in the saddle. New routine, people! I spend two-three days a week up at the school in meetings and working on stories/pictures for the website and social media. It’s never not crazy. High school students hanging out in our offices between classes to greet, tea time with staff at 10am, trying to schedule precious time with the headmaster to get a couple quotes for a new story, worshipping in chapel on Wednesdays and Sundays with the entire student body. Staff fellowship on Tuesday nights means I get added friendship-building time with the teachers and leadership team. Pretty soon football (soccer) season will start, which will mean cheering on our boys’ and girls’ teams to regionals and hopefully nationals!

My ministry at CSB is relational in nature, which is where I thrive. I love this place. Pray for relationships to grow there as the school year continues?

I spend one day a week studying/reading/in class as part of the Serge Apprenticeship Program. Each class is taught by dear friend and teammate Ann Kieser (sometimes by guest teachers from the local community), and is geared toward cross-cultural ministry in some capacity. Some classes I’ve had so far have been on discipling, interpreting the Bible, cross-cultural tensions and how to maneuver them, evangelism in Uganda’s context, and history of African religion.

I meet with Clovice twice a week for language/culture lessons. Clovice went with me to a language intensive week in November, and he’s been teaching me ever since. He’s very patient with my confusion (ex: Lubwisi has NINE different noun classes and I won’t even try to explain what that means) and loves teaching me about Ugandan traditions.

And then I also spend one additional day a week with Ann working through Sonship, which is a 16-lesson mentor/mentee program. As a girl born and raised immersed in reformed theology, I’ve often struggled to connect my heart with what my head knows to be true. This program has helped me bridge the gap beautifully, especially in this unique context. (Read more about Sonship here.)

And once all of that is accounted for, I sure do try to rest. (I promise, Mom.) Sometimes it’s fleeting, other times I feel well-rested. Depends on the week. Pray for my Sabbath to be protected from visitors, crises, work anxiety, and expectations? That’d be a huge gift.

But regardless of what’s going on, I’m almost always laughing and taking pictures to send to my ginormous family back home. See below.

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*~Things That Happened After Christmas, A Large Picture Collection~*

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Friends and Elders from Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham spent the holiday with us! They came to lead a seminar on vulnerability and fostering intentional community, which is a vital skill for this context. Our team benefitted greatly.
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Then I took a little vacation with these girlies to explore Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania! We spent a couple days learning about the history of Stone Town…
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…then went on a tour of a spice farm, made possible by our fearless tour guide Mumu. He’s as ridiculous as this picture portrays.
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And we wrapped up with a few days on the beach. For those who know me well, you know this is the best way I can relax and reset. Bonus: no stingrays in sight.
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Then we went home to Uganda to stock up and prepare for a new year of ministry. Here we have Kathy (roommate, fellow Apprentice) showcasing the receipt from one of the three grocery stores we hit up every time.
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Here we are making the full-day journey from Kampala to Bundibugyo, donuts (!!!) and pizza in tow. We’ve learned how to stretch the good stuff, people.
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Thanks to a wonderful supporter who loves to knit, I’ve been able to give the cutest little newborn gifts that are always well-received. Which is how I got to meet Trisha! (I promise I have friends other than Katherine Thomas.)
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LOOK AT HIM. Tell me his entire outfit doesn’t scream “Justin Bieber wannabe.” I tell him that often to keep him humble, but I also tell him how proud I am of him. This is Charity, and we celebrated 17 years of his life right before sending him off to his first year of secondary school at CSB. He’s a brother for sure.
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Mugisa: actual neighbor, dear friend, landscaping extraordinaire, father of eight. Always giggling. He’s been working for us for a few months now, and we never want to know what life would look like without him. He’s the person I could run and find in the middle of the night if we needed anything and he’d come in a heartbeat. He got a new uniform last week, and he wanted to show it off.
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Since our front porch has such beautiful views of the East African sunsets, it’s become a popular place to hang out in the evenings. Thankful for sister teammates.
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I also picked up a new skill! Look out, people of Uganda. Ashland is on the roads once again. (When I’m able to borrow Brent and Alisha’s tank, pictured above.)
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My beauties Ash and KT. This was on our roomie day-trip to Fort Portal, which is about 2 hours from Bundibugyo. We celebrated a new freedom that came with my Ugandan driving permit!
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Speaking of Ashley Patterson….. this woman showcases resilience and care unlike anyone I’ve ever met. She’s a loyal gem who makes me laugh and is the first to come to my defense. She teaches elementary school for the children of our missionary families, and she does it with lots and lots of grace. The best part of living with her is shouting at each other from across the housing complex: “AAAAASHEYYYY!” Because it works both ways! 🙂 So, so thankful I get to live with this sister.
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By now, I’m sure you’ve heard me mention the Rat Pack – the kiddos that come by every day to dance and color and ask for things. I can’t think of a more telling picture of their personalities than this one. Best Face Ever award goes to Chauncey, front and center.
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And then my 25th birthday rolled around! These girls spoiled me. Check out this breakfast spread.
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And THEN… they coordinated a surprise dress-up theme for Team Meeting featuring all my favorite characters from LOST. Left to right: Russo, Kate, Shannon, Jack, Hurley, Claire and Aaron, Bernard, and Rose.
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Fellow Lost fans… you will appreciate this incredible attention to detail.
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The most popular birthday gift I received: a cutout of Gage on a stick made by Kathy. This thing has since traveled with many people to many places….
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….. and it’s especially enjoyed by my Ugandan friends. Say hello to Gonja and Geoffrey.
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Teammates also took me on my favorite kind of African drive: roof rack riding through the real Animal Kingdom. 🙂
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My team knows me well.
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Then we had the rat pack over after school to watch The Lion King for the first time, which was hilarious to witness. Plus grown-man Clovice decided to stick around after a language lesson to watch as well. His favorite was “Hakuna Matata.”
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I got to lead an icebreaker game at CSB staff in-service (dusted off my Belmont Orientation Council hat), which was basically a rousing rendition of “stand up if.” The objective is to come up with scenarios to get to know your colleagues: Stand up if you’ve ever traveled outside of Uganda, stand up if you speak more than three languages, etc. If the scenario applies to you, you stand up and swap seats with someone. There’s one less chair than players, and the one in the middle tries to steal someone’s chair. Whoever is left standing comes up with the next scenario. It was a HIT.
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And the most recent celebration? The very first birthday of precious Viann, son of Vincent and Ann (yes, they combined their two names to get his). This family has been near and dear to our team for a long time.

Aaaaaaaaand there ya have it, folks! As you can see, I often find myself running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Routines and schedules are good, and definitely ideal to aim for. But I have learned the beauty in not knowing what each day will hold: undeniable trust that the Lord is writing this story, and joy in knowing that He’s invited me to participate.

I can’t express enough how much you guys mean to me. I love getting to tell my friends here about my “big American family” back home who make this possible. It’s understood that I wouldn’t be here without you guys, so now my friends here want to make sure I thank you on their behalf as well. You are loved by many.

Next up: thoughts on cultural brokenness and hope found in waiting for redemption. Buckle your seatbelts.

Until then and with all my love,

A

Christmas, Dry Season, A New Year, All the Things

As I’m typing this, roommate and fellow Serge Apprentice Katherine (forever known as KT) is dancing around our living room to the newest Bruno Mars song. “Trying to stay hip with the kids these days,” she says. As she’s moonwalking.

Just a little glimpse into my day-to-day life to kick off this post. I’m rarely bored around here.

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Today–the day I became a big sister 23 years ago (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AK)– is apparently the day I decided to be hit in the face with an absurd reality: There are only 3.5 more days left of 2016. The year that has simultaneously dragged on for about a million years has in many ways flown by. I guess that’s the way things tend to go, but this year feels a bit…. more so. I guess.

More trying, more exasperating, more desperate, more lonely, more painful, more joyful, more cultural, more confusing, more humbling, more redemptive, more beautiful. More hard and full of Jesus all at once.

I used to think that wasn’t possible; that there was no way he would allow such profound paradoxes to exist together. On purpose, no less. But it turns out that it’s in the middle of that confusion and missing puzzle pieces that Jesus has met me and taught me in the most profound ways. What? Yes. Which brings me TO…..

A Grand List of Things God Has Taught Me This Year, Especially in Bundibugyo:

  1. Truth: I don’t drink nearly enough water. I never have; but as dry season is pretty much upon us here on the east African equator, my body is learning how to make SURE I remember to drink more water. I’m walking through 90º heat at the end of December. Whoops…!
  2. Turns out I’m way more pridefully independent than I thought, and I’m only okay trusting God after he lets me in on what he’s doing. Doesn’t matter if I’m trying to cook dinner or spend time with neighbors or foster a long-distance relationship. I’m pretty quick to believe that I can prepare/love/protect/do better than the creator of this universe; and he’s pretty quick to show me otherwise.
  3. Number 2 is dramatically emphasized when I’m taken out of my home culture and dropped in the middle of a foreign one. Tends to manifest itself in disproportionate levels of frustration, which I tend to take out on the neighbor’s goat simply for bleating. Or whatever sound they make.
  4. I’m much more compelled to learn a complicated language as soon as friendships depend on it.
  5. Nothing has ever/will ever make me feel more helpless than trying to reroute a migrating colony of safari ants away from our house. They bite like H-E-L-L and fear nothing.
  6. The rigid and intense pressure I put on myself in the context of work has no place in God’s economy or his Kingdom. Or his Gospel in general. I am not how much money I raise for Christ School or what I do/do not accomplish. (Take that, Western world!)
  7. Discipleship tends to happen outside my own intentions; and it’s by God’s grace alone that hurdles are jumped for cross-cultural relationships to thrive at all.
  8. Teenage boys do not change no matter what country or culture they call home. I don’t care what anyone else tells you. The frustration, laughter, arrogance, hugs, tears, prayers, Soulja Boi references and inappropriate jokes are all the same, especially when you’re trying to love them well and show them Jesus.
  9. Uganda is beautifully broken; but I am not called to fix every problem that comes to me in the form of a knock on the door, nor am I a walking ATM. Wisdom comes when I ask God for it, most times revealed through the context of relational integrity.
  10. I rarely feel like I know what I’m doing, which has become supernaturally comfortable within the context of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
    "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

    If it wasn’t for that passage, I’d  succumb to self-deprecation and doubt. Instead, I get to embrace the awkward and use it as a way to point to Jesus instead of myself. Heyo!

  11. Sometimes really good relationships pop up at the least-opportune times (like 5 months before I leave the country); but it turns out God can work in many realms of life at once and maintain all sovereignty and faithfulness. The last date I went on with Gage? He pulled up the new Netflix revival of Gilmore Girls on his laptop, then FaceTimed me on his iPhone. He propped virtual-me up on a pillow facing his computer and we watched the Gilmores banter back and forth for 45 minutes like I wasn’t 7,000 miles away. It was amazing. He’s the absolute best.
  12. And for the most important lesson God’s taught me through Uganda in 2016… Prayer. I’ve realized lately that I don’t think I’ve ever had a healthy approach to prayer, you guys. Not consistently. The whole concept used to intimidate me, like God was expecting a certain order of agenda with the right tone and heart posture. Sure, I always knew it was a gift to approach the Lord in prayer, but it really didn’t mean much because it’s not like my prayers are actually doing anything. Thy will be done anyway, right? I rarely approached the throne of grace with an honest and vulnerable heart, bearing all desires and emotions before a Father who created and loves me. In other words, I rarely came to our God with bold asks as his beloved daughter.”Why should he give me what I want if I’m so broken? What if my motivations are flawed? What if I’m missing his bigger picture and my prayers aren’t whole or well-rounded?  I sound whiney. What if I don’t like the answer?”

    As part of my weekly apprenticeship classes here on the field, I recently read a passage of a book written by Paul Miller on prayer. An excerpt from that passage goes as follows:

    "Our dislike in asking is rooted in our desire for independence. Reinhold Niebuhr, a leading post-World War II theologian, put his finger on the problem: "The human ego assumes its self-sufficiency and self-mastery and imagines itself secure... it does not recognize its contingent and dependent character of its life and believes itself to be the author of its own existence." We don't like being contingent, completely dependent on another. The little child that Jesus urged us to become is completely dependent on his parents for everything.
    
    What do I lose when I have a praying life? Control. Independence. What do I gain? Friendship with God. A quiet heart. The living work of God in the hearts of those I love. The ability to roll back the tide of evil. Essentially, I lose my kingdom and get his. I move from being an independent player to a dependent lover. I move from being an orphan to a child of God."

    My world was rocked. I’m learning how to pray without fear, inhibition, guilt, or shame. I’m learning that rambling is okay (yes, even in corporate prayer), that God uses prayer to increase our faith, and that I was never created for independence. It’s completely altered the way I pray about my own heart, the way I lift up those around me (no matter what language they speak), and the way I spend regular time with the Father. It’s brought new and deeper understanding of the freedom we have as children of the one true King.

And the very best part of this list is that it could keep going. I know that for every lesson I’m aware I’m learning, there are ten more I don’t have the eyes to see yet. That may be the coolest thing I’ve typed so far. Thank YOU for being an integral part of it.

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Want some work/life recaps real quick before I picture blast you right into 2017?! Great!

The first 3.5 months of my time here saw the launch of the new Christ School website, quickly followed by the success of a $15,000 fundraiser for construction on campus. I was able to play a part in each, and I praise God every day for the progress being made in the furthering of Christ School. I’m genuinely excited and thankful to be a part of this team.

It also saw a move into the brand new apprentice housing complex, which then turned into the location of our team’s Christmas Eve dinner and gift swap! More on that below.

Most of my relational ministry has come by way of fellowship with neighboring compounds and a group of teenage boys who call me their sister. They’re near and dear to my heart, but I constantly see the ways they struggle with societal pressure to be married and produce sons yet don’t have money to pay bride prices (mandatory here to be recognized as a legal marriage in the eyes of the church). Let alone school fees to finish their own educations. Also, they’re still boys…. They express hunger for the Gospel yet lack spiritual maturity to prioritize the pursuit of it. There are plenty of dynamics going on in their worlds. Prayers up for C, G, and J. 

Year-end giving season is upon us! Here’s where I humbly yet honestly ask you to explore all the opportunities to partner with us at Christ School. All donations are tax-deductible for 2016 as long as they’re completed online/mailed and postmarked by December 31st. The website has a section dedicated to detailing our tangible needs! Check it ooouuuuut: http://christschoolbundi.org/get-involved/

Alright, alright, alright. Thank you for your patience. It’s picture time.

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Sarah Crane hosted and facilitated the first ever Christmas party for the sponsored students (orphans and vulnerable children) at CSB  + their families. It was a highlight for sure.
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LOOK AT HER. Gentle spirit with a heart for all of her “babies” — the sponsored students call her “big mama” because she’s the only lady around with 56 kiddos. 🙂
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Spent about 5 hours shopping in Bundibugyo Town with Sarah so all 56 sponsored students would have a Christmas present to take home for the holiday break.
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Then ran home and changed to take pictures of each student with whatever family they were able to bring with them. Prints were made to deliver to each student at the start of the new term. (You know what’s hilarious? Explaining Christmas props to sweet Ugandan mamas and aunties.)
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Brenda (sponsored, right) with her big sister Rachael (left). Beauties.
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The Serge OVC crew + the local CSB staff who invest countless hours into the lives of these kids. It’s always an honor and a privilege to work with these people.
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Quality lesson to learn if living in Bundibugyo, illustrated by KT: Gotta go with the flow, people. Always.
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Brother Brent (I call him Chief) got a motorcycle in Kampala and brought it home. I have found my new favorite way to decompress.
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This was the hardest I’ve laughed since being here. Ladies and gents, I give you: The Rat Pack + Flat Annabelle. My favorite posse who loves to dance and is always asking questions about America. So when a supporter mailed me a “flat” version of their niece to take pics for her elementary school project, I jumped at this opportunity. Zero regrets.
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Some of the Serge crew at our team tacky Christmas party!
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Fast forward a week, and here’s the whole team + visitors from America in our house for Christmas Eve meal! (The one in the crazy kitenge button-down on the left is team leader Joshua–faithfully praying for our team this season.)
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Team Bundibugyo! Just missing a few in the states for the holiday.
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Christmas morning was spent with the singles on the team–Luke 2, coffee, and brunch to kick off the celebration!
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Then worshipped for a few hours at Bundimulinga Presbyterian Church with this sharp lookin’ bunch. Webale Christmas!
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And wrapped up Christmas Day with a cookout at Josh and Anna’s (with their precious baby Daniel). Complete with a grill, an above-ground pool, and 90º weather.

Phew! This was a long one. Sorry about that. Rest assured: Good, good things are happening here in Bundibugyo. I know I’m not the only one anxiously waiting for whatever comes in 2017, so keep this place in your prayers! Specifically pray for the Gospel to be proclaimed in all that is said and done, really and truly as far as the curse is found.

As always, you have all my love and prayers of gratitude. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from west Uganda!

-A

The One with Thanksgiving & a CSB Website

Well, friends. This blog really serves two purposes:

  1. Show you more pretty pictures of Thanksgiving here with Team Bundi.
  2. Celebrate with you the launch of Christ School Bundibugyo’s official web presence!

Three months living out here, and so much has happened. So much transition, so many new friends, so many exciting projects tackled for Christ School. And even though we weren’t able to have turkey like you guys (chicken with gravy is essentially the same thing), today I’m thankful for all of the crazy that accompanied the last month and a half. Here we goooooo..!

— Thanksgiving in Bundi! —

Such an odd concept, celebrating an American holiday focused on quality family time while living very far from my own. It definitely brings new ways to practice thankfulness, that’s for sure! There is much to be thankful for in this place. I tried explaining Thanksgiving to my friend Gladisi one day last week. Her response basically went like this:

“So… In America, there is an entire holiday… Just for thanking God? And for having a meal with family?” 

Her confusion made sense, honestly. Here, everyone thanks everyone for everything. Thank you for greeting, thank you for coming, thank you for cooking, thank you for working, thank you for carrying, thank you for appreciating, thank you for worshipping, etc. The list goes on. People walk down the street thanking perfect strangers for doing whatever task they may be doing. Community is at the heart of this place. And sharing meals with family (even with as many as 15 people gathered in one location) is so commonplace that I found myself stumbling through my explanation when I realized what she was processing. Of course she was baffled! She practices thankfulness daily. Such a neat perspective and reminder to take home with me to a country that often struggles to remember the good. Webale kwegesiya, Gladisi! Thank you for teaching.

After that, I walked down to team leaders Josh and Anna’s house for the team meal. And let me tell you. We ate food.

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This is the view walking from my house to Josh and Anna’s. Those Rwenzori mountains will never, ever get old.
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The BEAUTIFUL table arrangement thanks to sister Sarah Crane!
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Baby Daniel Dickenson posing with all his Aunties. This is his happy place.
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Look at this beautiful team! (And some visitors from the States.)
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Aaand the beautiful roomies. We watch a lot of Lost, eat a lot of nachos, and chase a lot of goats off the front porch. Solidarity at its finest.

All in all, it was a wonderful holiday with this pseudo-family of mine here in rural Uganda. Got to FaceTime with all my closest people in America to remind them of my thankfulness, even when I’m 7,000 miles away. And I slept for 12 hours when it was all over, partly because of a food coma but MAINLY BECAUSE…..

— CSB WEBSITE LAUNCH!! —

The Christ School website is finally LIVE, people! I’ve been waiting to show this to you pretty much since late September. It’s something Sarah Crane and I (and countless others, make no mistake) have been dreaming of and talking about for years. A place where people in America can get a firsthand look at what Christ School is and what we’re all about. A place where pictures and videos are easily accessible, ways to partner are easily grasped, and two-way communication can truly begin for financial partners.

Sarah Crane rolled up her sleeves and completed the grunt work to get the ball rolling ages ago; I jumped in with both feet when I got to the field. Copy writing, copy editing, meetings with local CSB board members for approval on phrasing and terminology, organizing pictures taken by friends at The Archibald Project, communicating with Serge staff stateside, communicating with a wonderful web designer steadily for weeks, communicating with a graphic designer, and digging through archived CSB documents written by founding members two decades ago. Most importantly, praying MANY prayers for the Holy Spirit to carry the message of Christ School through this site in ways that bring dignity to this people group, honesty to friends in America, and glory to Jesus. God knows I could never accomplish that on my own.

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Early Thursday morning: here I am in all my sleep-deprived glory. Clicking the live link for the first time. (Photo cred: roommate Ashley Patterson)

This CSB team has worked so hard. We’re proud and excited! Sarah and I both cried happy tears when it was finished (on Thanksgiving Day), just in time for Serge to launch its 2016 Giving Tuesday campaign benefiting CSB. Sarah also wrote a beautiful blog post that went live on Serge’s site this past Friday. Check it out here!

Lots of blood, sweat, and tears, friends. Tweaks will be made and growth will come from here, no doubt. But I can honestly say that I’ve never been more thankful to be a small part of something so beautifully foundational. Check out the website here:

www.christschoolbundi.org

Grace for completed work, faith for a million unknowns. Thanking our God for all of it and everything in between. And specifically thanking our God for each of YOU, because this would never be possible without you guys. The realization humbles me every time I think about it, which is often.

I always end like this, and I hope it never loses its truth: Thank you for walking with me to the rural East African jungle in the name of freedom and truth.

All my love,

Ashland

Lessons in Comfort, Controversy, & Communication

Today marks 9 weeks living in East Africa, and you guys. What a month and a half it’s been since we last talked. I apologize for the communication hiatus that’s resulted from someone hitting the crazy switch over here… We’ve been running and gunning nonstop for the last 3-4 weeks!

Of course, as things are happening I’m making mental notes to tell you all about them. Standby for MANY pictures. But before I upload all of them and talk about what the Lord is showing me along the way, I thought I’d bullet-point the big ticket updates below:

  • Successful completion of my first Kampala stock-up trip! Eight hours in the car followed by a week in the big city buying things to bring back home to Bundibugyo. Things for a brand new home, more groceries than I’ve ever bought at one time in my life, voltage stabilizers, power cords, all the things.
  • I also spent some quality time with the Ugandan Immigration Officers finalizing my work permit paperwork. Yo girl is a legal temporary resident of Uganda!
  • I returned from Kampala to a week of temporary living while the work crew finished up the new Apprentice house.
  • I then left district again to spend a week learning the Lubwisi language retreat-style in Fort Portal, which is about 2 hours from Bundi. Serge Kijabe team member Karen Masso flew over from Kenya to teach our local language helpers how to teach the Americans their heart language, which only became a written language this past August. Yes, it’s confusing. Better believe my brain was fried and I went to sleep at 9:30 every night, but we started each morning praying as a group that the Gospel of Jesus would advance through the study of language. Out of that came the most grace-filled week of learning Lubwisi under the teaching of our closest Ugandan friends and neighbors.
  • I watched Donald Trump be elected the next president of the United States all the way from Uganda, and have found myself engaging in many conversations with local friends about it. It’s been interesting, enlightening, and definitely prayerful on all sides.
  • I then returned to Bundi yet again, and officially MOVED into the new Apprentice housing here in Bundibugyo! After living out of trunks and suitcases since July 31st, I have to admit: unpacking for good was such a tangible relief.
  • And in the midst of all that moving around (shout out to the iPhone hotspot and literally anyone’s wifi I could find), I’ve been working alongside precious sister and teammate Sarah Crane, a web designer in Nashville, and a graphic designer in Nashville to build Christ School’s first ever website geared towards partners in the West. It’s been quite an endeavor to live in a Ugandan culture so vastly different than America’s, while working alongside people still living in America to tell the story of your friends living in Uganda. On American deadlines. Based on American holidays and year-end traditions (Thanksgiving/Giving Tuesday). All exciting steps being made in the world of Christ School communications, no doubt! But you see the struggle.
  • And I’m also trying to stay on top of my cross-cultural ministry classes that happen once a week, my Sonship lessons that also happen once a week, while settling into my 4th and final new living environment in 3 months.

Those are the highlights. WITHOUT FURTHER ADO: A chronological picture account of the last 5 weeks. Brace yourselves.

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Leaving district the first time. Here a picture of the Kampala-bound crew.
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And here’s a picture of our pitstop for chicken on a stick, of course.
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Here’s a picture of me and Ashley shopping for our new place, which can be a little daunting when you live 8 hours from anything close to a Walmart.
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And here’s a picture of so. many. things. We are forever indebted to Kampala for all the stock-up needs.
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Marathon work days in the city aren’t so bad when you get to post up at a coffee shop. Here’s a picture of me feeling like I’m in Nashville.
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Here’s a picture of the view from our Kampala guesthouse every morning.
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Back in district. Here’s a picture of the roommates watching Stranger Things for the first time while I worked.
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Then left district again to head to Fort Portal for language week. Here’s a picture of the view I saw every morning en route to the intensive.
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Five days of language study… Here’s a picture of my brain exercising like it’s never exercised before.
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“Ashland, keep going! You can do this!” – Karen Masso and Clovice, probably. Here’s a picture of me struggling.
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Here’s a picture of my language helper Clovice receiving his Lubwisi teaching certificate from Karen! I’d be lost without you, Clovice. Literally.
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Here’s a picture of everyone at the language intensive.
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Back in district. Here’s a picture of Ashley hanging our laundry line. Channeling that inner girl scout.
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Here’s a picture of our living room. Home sweet home!
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And here’s a picture of me doing my favorite thing: GETTING MAIL! Best way to end a long month.

Conclusion: I’m tired. I’m happy. I’m transitioning. I’m thankful. And I’ve re-learned things.

The biggest takeaway? Even though I’ve laughed a lot, I have had many, many conversations with Jesus about frustrations accompanying these last few weeks. In more ways than one, I feel like I’m moving too quickly to catch a good, deep breath. That I hit too many conversational walls when talking with friends here about America’s election. Because I can’t even FIND the words to talk about it most times. That I’m uncomfortable because I “haven’t been able to settle anywhere.” Because I can’t speak the language. That I’m sick of fighting acid reflux because apparently I struggle with that here.

And while there are real elements of truth that speak to my very real human limitations, I’ve realized that Jesus is also teaching me something about being uncomfortable.

Sometime before Kampala happened (timelines are hard for me now), I was walking and talking with a friend who relocated with her family from Bundibugyo to a coastal town in Kenya. They had returned to Bundi briefly to finish packing up their house and then move it all with them to Kenya for good. I asked how they were doing with the transition (most common missionary question literally ever), and she said the following.

“I mean this is life, I guess. Isn’t it? This coming and going and discomfort and not really knowing where home is anymore. Ashland, we’re exhausted. Thankfully Jesus modeled this life for us so we don’t have to forge ahead out of our own strength.”

I constantly fall into the trap of believing that I deserve to be comfortable and content. I’ve worked too hard and sacrificed too much already to not have that comfort. But as Christians, we’re actually called to a life of discomfort. This world is not our home, and thankfully so! The discomfort keeps my eyes on the true and better Adam, come to save the hell-bound man. It keeps my perspective in check. Our comfort comes in the promise fulfilled by Jesus. That’s it. And when I remember that, the laughter comes more quickly in the midst of the madness.

Confident in what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, we keep stepping faithfully in whatever direction our good Father leads us.

A-men.

Pray for: continued adjustment into this new home, and for continued solid roommate bonding between the three lady millennial missionaries. For my relationship with Gage, and that it’d be strengthened and used as a testimony to the Lord’s faithfulness and grace for all who see it. For time management and focus as I continue working on the Christ School website – deadline for launch is quickly approaching. For relationships with my new neighbors in the community to form, despite my struggle to practice my Lubwisi. And for diligence in practicing the language regularly without fear or shame. For the community to receive the Christmas story in new and deep ways – this is the first year they get to read it for themselves in their heart language!

Praises: It may not be going as quickly as I want it to, but I actually am learning Lubwisi pretty well. Ashley and Katherine are the best expat roommates a girl could ask for. Gage took me on a virtual date to Target a couple weeks ago and walked up and down every aisle so I could see everything; so you could say we’re discovering new ways to tackle long distance successfully (he even wrote about it). Wifi has been amazing lately, so I’ve been able to screenshare and collaborate hands-on with a web designer in the States. It’s been insane. And Jesus is showing me new things about himself every time I’m forced into a new season of transition. He’s walking with me closely.

Webale kusaba! Thank you for praying! Thank you for following along and for encouraging me every step of the way.

All my love and all my crazy,

Ashland