Well-Rested, Prayerful, & So Unprepared

Happy Saturday to my beautiful friends and family in America! I hope you’re reading this from your beds sometime after 9am. The perfect weekend morning in my book. Go get your coffee first, if you haven’t already. I’ll respect that.

The last time we talked, I was about to head to Fort Portal (two-ish hours from Bundibugyo) with my team for four days of retreat. A time of rest, prayer, worship, planning, training, and general fellowship. I’m back in Bundi now, but I thought I’d catch y’all up real quick.

Being the new kid on the block, I took every opportunity to spend time with teammates that I wouldn’t have gotten in district. That was a beautiful gift. I reacquainted myself with the vision of each ministry, listened to presentations on how to love ourselves and our teammates well, and brainstormed ways to tangibly push our ministries to the local church. I slept well, I ate well, I finally kicked jet lag to the curb, and I laughed a lot around campfires.

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Someone brought s’more stuff from America (!!!)

But if I can be honest? In some ways, retreat was hard for me. And a lot of you just read that and said, “Yep, here it is. Been waiting for this.”

Truth: Reality set in for me a little bit. (A lotta bit.)

There’s this beautiful tension between resting in the peace that comes with trusting Jesus and wrestling with the weight of what it costs to do that. It’s challenging to navigate.

There were beautiful mountain views and sunsets that took my breath away every. single. night. My heart sang. There was news of the passing of beloved Ben Ellis back home in Nashville, whose gentle words, guidance, and encouraging prayers on my behalf played a significant role in my return to this place. My heart broke.

There was team worship and corporate prayer for each individual ministry. My spirit was filled to the brim as I joined hands with this new community. There was the ever-present GI bug that made its way through several team members towards the end of the weekend; and even though I never got sick, I hated seeing friends suffer so intensely (SO intensely… It was a nasty one).

I swapped stories with new faces who have welcomed me so well and have quickly become family. I realized I wouldn’t be doing this life alone in any sense – the people pictured below are 100% in my corner. We’re all in each other’s corners. But then I battled an intense longing to hug my precious people back home (my love language is physical touch, you guys) as I missed memorials and celebrations and relationship milestones. I missed sobering and disheartening incidents at my alma mater, not to mention the rest of my home country, regarding deep division and hate based on skin color. I battled a longing to simply stand alongside the people I love most and breathe their same air. Process all the emotions with them in person.

Quiet. Stillness. Adoration. Confession. Supplication. Reminders. Refreshment. Repeat.

I realized this “new normal” was going to take time to establish, and that it’d always be at least a little uncomfortable. Dang it.

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Worship and communion with the team.
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Adorable DanMan. The ultimate stress reliever.
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Look at these wonderful faces! Would you pray for Team Bundi?

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Bottom line? I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. I kind of felt like a crazy person. But I had many conversations with the One who sympathizes with my weaknesses and meets me there every time. He does the same for you, ya know. He gets it on a personal level, after all: the anger at death, the frustration at separation, the broken heart. It was in those moments that I remembered the truth of this whole “life” thing:

Our Abba Father does not long for human hearts that tackle the hard things perfectly. He longs for hearts that desire to obey out of the love He’s shown us. Hearts that trust. Hearts that cry out for help, because He delights in giving us what we need.

Phew. I’m a mess, and it’s shown up big time during this less-than-stable transition. But it’s okay! Because Jesus has a way of showing up in the messes to redeem them. The messes are welcome. Holy Spirit, you are welcome.

Soooooo, yes. The hard parts of reality set in first; but the freeing parts of reality quickly followed suit. And I returned to Bundibugyo with a new sense of understanding that I’m not prepared for this… But Jesus is enough. The Gospel will find a way to be proclaimed; it can’t be stopped. Serving out of weakness is loving genuinely and with integrity. And we don’t have to worry about what happens when we burn out, because we will. But the Holy Spirit sustains. Hallelujah.

And as I rounded the mountains heading back to my Bundihome for the second time in 2.5 weeks, my sleeves were rolled up and my hands were outstretched, palms facing upward this time.

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I’ve since been settling into life here in Bundi this last week, and I’m working to establish *some* semblance of a routine. I’ll share once I have a better idea of what what my weeks will look like; but I DO know that each week will involve Sonship, cross-cultural ministry courses, 2-3 ministry days spent working on projects for Christ School (including discipleship opportunities with female students), and several language lessons. Be praying for that last one specifically…. I desperately desire motivation to embrace this language. I’m too much of a relational person not to! It’s just very daunting at the moment.

Christ School kicks off the last term of the school year on Monday! I’ve reconnected with a couple of students who’ve told me more than once that I’ve been gone too long. 🙂 I also received an invitation to the Prom Party coming up. Details to follow.

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Wandering the grounds of Christ School, praying over it and the students set to come back soon for term three. The bottom picture is of the gardens recently started and maintained by agriculture students! How cool is that?

Although I’ve relocated two bats from my bedroom to the outdoors this week, I’m confident that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, all of it. And I can feel your prayers. They’re such sweet and faithful reminders of the way God intended the Church to love each other and spur each other on. Trust me when I say I’m praying for you as well.

Gearing up to jump in with both feet over here! Thank you for loving me, both near and far.

-Ash

 

Coming Home & Bike Riding

Sept. 12, 2016

“ASHALON! ASHALON! EH! You have returned! Welcome home!”

Such sweet words I have heard time and again since hopping out of the truck in Bundibugyo on Friday afternoon. Such unforeseen moments of grace in ministering to my weary heart. I am home, indeed.

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This ridiculous view can be found on the last leg of the journey from Kampala to Bundibugyo. The beautifully stunning Rwenzori Mountains. (Eyes are always peeled for Maria and the von Trap kiddos.)
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Have you ever seen such a sky?? Bundibugyo sunsets will always be some of my favorites.

I made it to district just in time for weekly team meeting, which happens every Friday afternoon. Following team meeting is always pizza night! We rotate responsibilities for making enough dough and sauce, gathering all the toppings, and working the brick oven. It’s one of my most favorite team traditions. This particular Friday had jet lag running through it from start to finish, but teammates made sure I made it where I was supposed to be and fed me along the way. It takes a village, people.

Saturday was spent touring the mission property. Most of it hadn’t changed much, but there were definitely some key additions since 2014 — the biggest being the construction of the new Apprentice housing complex!

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This is considered the “main/shared space building” of the Apprentice housing area. I’ll be living in what will ultimately be the shared office, and the two other short-term girls will live in the adjacent building. More adjacent buildings are hoped to be completed as funding is made available.

I remember rumblings of this project happening “sometime in the future” last time I was here… So it was 100% surreal to see them in person. The Lord has provided abundantly in making this a reality! It will provide so many opportunities to house visitors and short-term teams from all over. It also welcomes more space to host local friends and family and build genuine relationships with our neighbors here.

The Apprentice housing is set to be completed in October, so I’m currently bunking with team leaders Josh and Anna Dickenson. They have some gracious spirits, people…. because I know I didn’t necessarily travel lightly. Best news: their precious 6-month-old Daniel and I have become fast friends.

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Josh is a proud Florida alum, and he never misses a recording of a game. Snapped this picture right after I heard, “Alright, son. Time for an educational moment.” Chomp, chomp indeed.

Sunday morning was a sweet reunion with Bundimulinga Presbyterian Church in Uganda, which I had frequented during my last time here (if I didn’t join the students at Christ School for their Sunday morning service.) Many local friends have called Bundimulinga home for years, so it was a morning of smiles and greetings and hugs and welcoming. I did unintentionally put my offering in the bucket designated for the men instead of the one for the women….. But, I mean. Could always be worse. Especially with me.

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Baby Daniel and BFF Vian at church

I think the coolest and most humbling moment so far has been seeing and holding the New Testament translated into the local language of Lubwisi — a project that’s been in the works for decades, pulling in the dedicated hearts and minds of Americans and Ugandans alike to make known the truth of Jesus while instilling dignity to the local language and culture. This has been prayed over for many years, and the result is still crazy for me to wrap my head around. Look at it!

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!!!!!!

I now get to walk around with my own Bible and a New Testament in Lubwisi. No more limiting the ability to read scripture to those who can read and speak English. This is their own heart language. All hungry souls can now be fed. That’s a cool thing, folks.

And today was spent reacquainting myself with Nyahuka village and surrounding areas. I can count at least three instances where people have recognized me before I even saw them, and came running as soon as they realized I was back. The love and excitement I’ve experienced from my Ugandan friends and family have been the biggest gifts so far. The absolute best. With each reunion, I’ve been reminded that Jesus left his home.. his heavenly throne.. and willingly entered into our mess, and he did so with abundant humility, grace, and unmatched love. I’m convinced it’s the only way to do this cross-cultural life. Jesus, guide my steps.

The people of Bundibugyo have extended so much grace in welcoming me back here. In some ways, it’s been a lot like riding a bike. Some things I can never really forget once I learn, and the familiarity has helped me in this adjustment tremendously. But there’s also so much newness and change that I haven’t been part of, which is to be expected, but it also has humbled me in all the best ways. Please pray for these people and for me as I strive to show love and humility amidst my wobbliness. I’m by no means here to be perfect, and I thank Jesus for that.

On Wednesday, our team will head to Fort Portal (about a 1.5-2 hour drive from here) for our annual vision retreat. We’ll spend four days praying and thinking through what this next year of ministry will look like: How can we all serve more intentionally within our areas of service? How can we grow to meet even more needs than we’re already striving to meet? How can we better connect people back to the local church? How can we partner with the local community to create sustainability? As Team Leader Josh has said many times, our goal is to work ourselves out of our jobs. Serge is unique in that way – we strategize ways to spread the gospel of Christ through living as he lived, which means entering into this place fully and intentionally, living on mission with humility and grace to serve the people of Bundibugyo through skill sets and relationships. All the while pointing to Jesus and maintaining the integrity of this beautiful culture and people group.

This is never done quickly or without mistake. Would you pray for us as we enter this retreat? That the Holy Spirit would clearly guide discussion and prayer for each of our ministries, that the team would use this time to grow closer together during this season of transition, and that we’d all remember why we’re here in the first place.

Thank you guys so, so, so, so much for your constant messages of encouragement and support. Officially one week in! I’m tempted to hit the ground running, but I have a history of assuming too much too quickly. I’m totally a recovering perfectionist, and I’m totally learning the art of balance in this craziness. Phew.

Sorry for the novel. 🙂 All my love to each of you.

Ashland

“You are most welcome here in Uganda.”

Friends! I’ve made it to Kampala safe and sound. Totally jet lagged and sleep-drunk at first, but safe and sound. I even made it with ALL of my trunks and bags! If you’re familiar with my last trip over here (or with the way life goes for me in general), you know the significance of this small victory.

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This, dear friends, is what 25 hours of travel looks like. Yikes.

In the picture above, I’m sandwiched between the two Sarahs of team Bundibugyo. Sarah Crane is on the right, and she’s a dear sister-friend. Did my heart serious good to be tackled by her at the airport. Sarah Wentworth is on the left, and she’s joined the team since I’ve last been here. It’s been a joy to get to know her the past couple of days! They’ve both taken such good care of me.

People keep asking how my flights were, so here are some fast facts:

  • 3 planes
  • 18 hours physically sitting on said planes
  • 2 layovers
  • 3 Colgate wisps in various airport bathrooms + 1 change of clothes
  • 1 hour of turbulence that made me fear for my life (tropical storms = subpar flying conditions)
  • 5 airplane meals
  • 2 movies + 6 sitcom episodes
  • 1 confusing moment when a Dave Barnes song was played over the intercom
  • 20 minute wait in the customs line for a visa
  • 4 bags that all arrived when they were supposed to. A Ugandan miracle.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better journey. I could feel the prayers, you guys! One precious friend told me her mom woke up randomly at 4am, calculated that I must’ve been beginning my second leg of the trip, and prayed for me until she fell back asleep. To say I have an army of prayer warriors fighting for me would be an understatement.

Then I crashed at the hotel and slept until 11am. That was a gift, honestly. The 24 hours following were spent taking care of logistics here in Kampala. I got a Ugandan SIM card for my iPhone, exchanged cash into shillings, bought a 5-liter jug of water to keep in my hotel room for drinking and brushing teeth, found a couple sweet surprises I never thought I’d find…

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The most tangible way Jesus has said, “Ashland. You will transition just fine. Look, I’m easing you in.”

…bought a dress…

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Fit like a glove. Had to.

…Found a random sign that sums up my entire life too beautifully not to share…

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…Just in time for me to try to take my first shower on this continent only to find that the water wasn’t working. Worked fine for both Sarahs a few hours before this moment. Sarah Crane: “Ashland, honestly. This is amazing.” Me: “I don’t have any words.”

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The employees at our hotel showed up at the room holding a bucket full of water to compensate. It was the perfect “welcome to Africa” moment for me. I have since taken a real, non-bucket-bath shower.

And that’s about it! Your arrival recap. My emotions were a little rocky when I first got here, but sleep has proven to be the magic medicine. It also helps immensely knowing I have so many faithful prayer partners loving me through the hard stuff. Today I had a very real moment of knowing without a doubt that this is where I’m supposed to be right now. The Lord did not have to give me that peace, but he chose to. We serve a good Father.

Kampala has been great for transitioning, given the availability of salads, iced coffee, the occasional KFC if I’m feeling really homesick, and the quality of room and board. I know I won’t get these things for much longer once we head to the mountains, so you guys can rest easy knowing I’m eating ALL the things. No complaints here. Jesus has provided more than I even knew I needed.

Tomorrow we’ll stock up on groceries and other items we can’t find near us on a regular basis; and on Friday morning (the middle of Thursday night CT), we’ll drive 6-7 hours west to our Bundi home. Then I’ll finally connect with the rest of the team! I’ve gotten so much iMessage love from them today, and I know it’ll be a sweet reunion.

Praises:

  • Smooth travel with no unforeseen problems or hiccups
  • Arrival of all bags on time
  • The comfort of seeing familiar teammates’ faces with huge welcome signs waiting outside baggage claim
  • More communication ability to my people stateside than I thought I’d have
  • Finances being processed without any trouble
  • Minimal jetlag so far
  • A decent iced coffee

Prayer requests:

  • Safe travels to Bundibugyo from Kampala on Friday
  • Continued affirmation that Jesus is guiding me here, especially when my heartstrings and emotions want to pull me away from that truth
  • Intentional times of rest as I gear up to head to a week-long vision retreat with the whole team next week

When I stop and think about how GINORMOUS my sending family is, I get overwhelmed and tear up in the best way. Every time. Maybe it’s residual exhaustion, maybe it’s Jesus reminding me that I’m never in this alone. My love for you all stretches around the globe and back.

The next time you hear from me, I’ll be home in Bundibugyo!

-Ash

 

 

Deployment Day Eve

First of all, I’m realizing right in this moment that I never formally announced it…….. but I am OFFICIALLY FULLY FUNDED!! The faithfulness of our Father has never been more tangible. It’s real. It’s happening.

I actually board a plane (several planes) tomorrow. TOMORROW. 25 hours of travel starting at 1:35pm central time.

Nashville –> Detroit –> Amsterdam –> Kigali, Rwanda –> Entebbe, Uganda

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I’ll go from blue dot to yellow star, with a couple stops along the way. 🙂

And honestly, you guys… I’m brain dead. It’s been a whirlwind of transition this last month and goodbyes have never been my strong suit. This has truly been the beginning of relearning (again) what it feels like to have Jesus meet me in my weaknesses. For every sweet moment of excitement, there’s definitely been a bitter one that’s left a brutal sting. You can rarely say yes without saying no to something else, even if temporarily. It’s the worst feeling.

And then there’s all the last-minute shopping…

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Momma Shan actually using those phone things in Target to achieve a real objective.

And the packing….

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Before Adrianna Carter showed up.
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AFTER Adrianna Carter showed up and literally found me in a puddle. She then packed everything for me. This is what 18 months of life looks like.

I’m set to arrive in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, at 10:20pm local time on Tuesday the 6th (2:20pm central time here). I’ll have smiling faces and open arms of dear friends waiting for me right outside baggage claim, and then we’ll head to the hotel and I will CRASH. After a few days in Kampala stocking up on things, a couple teammates and I will load the car and begin the 6-7 hour car ride to Bundibugyo.

As I’m writing this, I’m fighting off tears. Please pray for the emotional roller coaster that’s hitting full force tomorrow. How I long to be back living life in the East African jungle; but oh, how I hate leaving my people.

Also, pray that the travel goes smoothly with all bags/trunks in tow. That’s very much on the forefront of my brain… bags have a way of disappearing when one changes planes 3 times.

And pray for my closest Nashville community here. If I know they’re being lifted up in prayer, my heart will rest easier.

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People came and went all day. Here’s a few towards the end of the night.

I’ve said this many times before, but thank you. Thank you. You’ve walked alongside me, prayed for me, prayed for my people, partnered with me financially, met logistical and physical needs along the way, fed me, caffeinated me, and loved me so much better than I ever thought possible.

Tomorrow begins a new season of trusting Jesus to reveal himself to me in the rural mountains of west Uganda. I’m buckling my seatbelt, but I need y’all to do the same.

We’re in this together, after all.

 

Yours faithfully,

Ashland