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

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.

—————————–

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