“Better Love”

I’m not really sure how to efficiently talk about my time here. It’s just so much and I honestly don’t know where to start, so bare with me. My mind is one that so desperately wants to show people what I see, help them feel what I feel, walk them through experiences that I now have tucked away in the deepest parts of my heart. Sometimes I’m able to paint pictures with my words, other times I’m not. It’s pretty much always a gamble.

I’m only able to call Bundibugyo home for two short months, so I’ve chosen to accept the challenge the Lord gave me from the beginning: “walk with me (not ahead of me), open yourself to the possibility of the growth that only comes from discomfort, and let me show you the things I’ve wanted to show you.” Which means that I’ve been a sponge for three weeks, trying to absorb and process as much as I can.

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A song that I’ve always loved but has been on repeat a lot lately is one by Green River Ordinance. It’s the shortest track off their newest EP, if only because it paints a picture of a life-changing gospel in the deepest yet most concise way I’ve ever heard. (My kind of lyrical approach.) Today’s Uganda update is brought to you by “Better Love”. I encourage you to listen to it first, then keep reading.

 “Faith is not an idle grace. Guide my fears and lead my way.”

As a relational person, I’m driven by a desire to know people around me. And I’m frustrated by any obstacle that prevents relationships from forming the way I think they should be formed. Since multiple people have asked me my biggest struggle since I’ve been here, I give you the mzungu syndrome: (n.) a seemingly eternal separation of the foreigner, the “mzungu”, and the local babwisi villager; anything that emphasizes my easily-sun-burnt super white skin. I expected to stick out and look different. I anticipated a language barrier. I even expected people to look at me like I have dollar signs tattooed on my forehead. But for some reason I did not anticipate how hard it would be to love through it when I already have a hard time finding ways to relate to the people here. It’s something this team has experienced since day one, so I’ve been fortunate to learn from people much wiser than me. Doesn’t always make it easier, but I’m learning to be comfortable in my discomfort. While I’ll always be different to the people here, it gets much easier to pursue relationship every day.

“Darkest heart that you have saved. I can’t find a better love.”

My eyes have been opened to a new understanding of the broken world we live in. I see it manifest in innumerable ways around me on a daily basis, but I’ve seen it even more so within my own heart. It’s easy to be prideful when Americans are viewed as having all the answers to life’s problems. It’s easy to become frustrated when the same kids come to your door every day asking for the same things that you still aren’t able to give them. It’s easy to feel worthless when you sit before 20+ community kids who don’t speak English (or at all, if they’re hearing-impaired), trying to create fellowship through a translator. Or helpless when children are screaming in the pediatric ward while you’re doing inventory in the storage closet. Even with all of this uncertainty, I’m still convicted almost daily of arrogantly assuming I know what I’m doing. That I got this all by myself. It’s the biggest joke ever. But it reminds me that I cannot find a better love than the one who remains constant in spite of my faults. I’m not called to fix Bundibugyo, I’m simply called to be the hands and the feet of Jesus.

“When I set out from ruined lands, shadows everywhere I stand, you took death and called me friend. I can’t find a better love.” 

While I may not be able to give people what they ask for by way of tangible goods, I’ve been able to offer friendship. Jesus has shown me the ultimate love by taking death in my place, and then by being my friend. According to this world it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a humbling truth that will spill out into my interactions with people if I let it. I’ve been silently celebrating every friendship that’s slowly taking root, either with girls at Christ School or girls who come knocking every afternoon just to sit and color on my couch. A lot of them don’t understand why a random mzungu would come to their tiny destitute village and be interested in friendship. It’s a pretty a cool testimony.

Grabbed a pic while they weren't looking. They'll get me back for this later, I'm sure.
Harriet, Karen, and Lydia. Grabbed a pic while they weren’t looking. They’ll get me back for this later, I’m sure.

“Oh, you take me as I am. Oh, now I understand: the greatest gift to give a man is to give him grace to live again.

This summer is allowing me to experience a life outside of my own in Nashville. I’m seeing more forest and less trees. I mess up every day. I have always messed up every day, and I’ll continue to do so. (Last weekend, I singlehandedly messed up the processional at a Ugandan wedding reception. Holler.) There will always be hurdles to jump and things to clean up, but I’m enjoying every second here. Lots of gray, not a lot of black and white. Lots of laughter and do-overs. I’m so used to devoting all of my time to cleaning up after myself that I often forget how big Jesus is. I lose sight of the gospel doing work in the far reaches of Uganda. Lately, I’m thankful for a God who takes me as I am by giving me grace that never runs out. And for a team that keeps my perspective in check by preaching that concept to me over and over again.

Shout out to GRO for helping me streamline a lot of thoughts. If you made it this far, you have a super special place in my heart. 

Here’s a picture of a team luau we had a week ago. Turns out I can’t hula hoop as well as I used to.
And this is my view from Christ School every day. It's never NOT breathtaking.
And this is my view from Christ School every day. It’s never NOT breathtaking.

Keep those prayers coming! Love you all!

African Woman

For anyone worried sick: I made it to Bundibugyo, Uganda in one piece. With minimal jet lag and all of my health! The internet is super finicky here so I apologize for lack of communication…

For Mom: I still have everything I need, even though it’s only been a few days since you asked me.

For Dad: The people here are taking care of me super well and I’m washing all my produce carefully, I promise.

For AK and Cam: Yes, I’m still making a fool of myself even on a different continent. It’s a natural gift that’s only emphasized in a foreign culture.

For my supporters: I’ve only been here 6 days and I can already tell that God is and has been at work in this place. With or without my presence, He’ll continue to move mountains…but I thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to play a small part in His plan for Bundibugyo. I look forward to providing glimpses of life here as well as prayer requests as they arise. Trust me, there will be plenty of both.

There’s so much to say about my first week here, but for now I’ll give some of the bigger highlights…

I learned that I’ll be helping out with videography and photography projects for the boarding school here in the district. Christ School is always looking for ways to expand its reach in the US and internationally, so I’ll be working hand-in-hand with a fellow intern and the administration to start creating some really cool PR pieces. I get to use any talents I may have to showcase the talents and visions of the people surrounding this beautiful school. I can’t wait to show you some sneak peaks once the ball starts rolling on that!

I’ve started picking up a little bit of Lubwisi in the process of adjusting to life here. I pretty much have the greetings down, but I’ll need a little bit more to connect with the community the way I would like to. In the meantime, the people in the market are very gracious and helpful when I can’t find things I need. Charades are involved 90% of the time, but I’m told it’ll become a more graceful process eventually.

I’ve learned humility in ways I can’t even begin to explain to you. I’ve witnessed some of the most beautiful worship in the midst of poverty. I’ve been shown grace by people who have trouble saying my name. I’ve laughed with students about how fair skinned I am. Praise God for his provision and wisdom when I feel like a fish out of water, because this is all just the beginning.

After the bat flew into the kitchen the other night and was flung into my face…and after rocks fell and blocked our water supply temporarily…and after 4 of the 5 trunks we left with in Philadelphia got lost in the London Heathrow airport IT malfunction/British Airways fiasco (google it)…the seat belts have been fastened and expectations were thrown out the window AGES ago. And for a girl who tends to get wrapped up in the details of preparation, it’s truly a liberating feeling. This is Africa.

Prayer requests: wisdom for the team here, especially when little hurdles pop up every day; that our trunks will somehow arrive sometime relatively soon…supplies are in there; that I will keep Ephesians 4:2-3 close to my heart as I dive headfirst into a ministry I have no experience with.

 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

 

And to everyone who doubted: here I am cooking a traditional Ugandan meal with a sweet woman named Austa. She laughed at us a lot, but now I can semi-confidently pick and cook cassava leaves over a few burning embers IF I absolutely had to. Plus Austa’s daughter said to me, “You are African woman now,” so I’d consider it a relative success.

 Ash and Austa

Ash and Austa 2

 

 

Transitions

I’m currently sitting in my living room, using the only open floor space in sight. Sunscreen, bug spray, clothes, vitamins, meal bars, face wash, chacos… I could actually go on forever. Welcome to my little world of packing to live in a different country for two months. Eventually I’ll worry about fitting it into a single trunk, but for now I’m trying to process all of the change that’s been happening.

I graduated from college a month ago. It was bittersweet. I cried. One of my dearest friends married another dear friend two days ago. It was beautiful. I cried. Another dear friend moved away from Nashville to pursue a graduate degree in Southern California. It was difficult, and you guessed it… I cried.

Thanks a lot, you guys...
Thanks a lot, you guys…

Change is a real thing that few truly enjoy, if only because it forces vulnerability and assessment of one’s heart. It’s a test of perspective that goes against human nature, and it’s applicable to my life now more than ever.

People ask me daily if I know what exactly I’m about to do. Am I scared that something will go wrong? Don’t I know that I’m willingly entering a war zone of instability and uncertainty? Have I heard of Boko Haram? Am I ready to wash my own clothes and sleep under a mosquito net for 8 weeks? Do I know what I’m doing when I get back? What if a wild animal attacks me? (All real questions, verbatim.)

Honest answer: I don’t really know what I’m doing. I want nothing more than to reply, “I’m absolutely scared. Didn’t you see me cry 25 times this past month? I’M LEAVING MY COMFORT ZONE IN THREE DAYS, GUYS.”

And in spite of my out-of-control emotions and small-mindedness, I have peace knowing that a sovereign God will be with me wherever I go, that this is what He wants me to do right now. In no way am I qualified to love His people in Bundibugyo. I don’t know anyone over there. I don’t even know how to say hello in Lubwisi. I’ll probably spend all of next week processing culture shock at levels beyond my comprehension. I’ll also probably get sick a time or two and maybe even pet a monkey.

So many things are about to happen that I will not be prepared for. But I have a God who equips those that He calls. People who have no choice but to rely on His love and His providence because they know they can’t do it alone. With that as a mindset, I’m confident in an amazing experience full of lessons learned. But at the end of the day, it has very little to do with me and everything to do with His kingdom. He’ll help me figure things out along the way.

As far as prayer goes, I’m asking for prayers of wisdom and trust. And more than anything else, pray that I keep the perspective and the focus that’s always been centered on love and grace. Not centered on me.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Thank you to everyone who’s poured into me and this experience. I can’t say that enough. Your kind words of encouragement really are going with me to Uganda in a few short days and I’m PUMPED about it. It’s almost time!

But first, I have to pack a trunk. Here goes nothing.