[Currently typing this having just inspected the soles of my feet. This just in: not sure the deep red African mud stains will ever be fully removed. Oddly okay with that.]
Ohhhh, you guys…. Are we still friends?? I can’t believe I’ve let the last 2.5 months slip right on past me without a single peep! But at the same time, I can. Soon enough I’ll be able to look you in the face and elaborate on how unpredictable life is here in Uganda, but until then I figured I’m way overdue for some updates and photos.
When you last heard from me, I was very recently engaged to a wonderful man of God. I still am, and plan on being for a few more months (until we get HITCHED!), but so much has happened since I put Gage back on a plane to America at the end of April. So much!
The month of May was a break between school terms for Christ School, so I instead invested my time and energy into loving Katherine well as she prepared to return to the States. KT has been a such a faithful friend, confidante, encourager, and speaker of truth ever since I landed in this land. I was by no means the only one sad to see her reach the end of her term… we had Babwisi friends and family coming to visit and greet consistently for THE ENTIRE MONTH OF MAY to say goodbye. I’ve never met a human who crosses cultures as gracefully as Katherine Thomas. Ashley and I would each tell you we’re better people after living with her here in Bundibugyo.
And then it was back to Bundibugyo reality. June meant the arrival of new teammates, two of which moved into the house I’ve been staying in! They’re our summer interns, and they’ve truly flourished in their six weeks with us. It’s been such a beautiful reminder of how I started here as a baby intern summer of 2014. Oh, how times have changed!
June also meant the beginning of term two at all schools in the Bundibugyo district, which often coincides with families’ needs being off-the-charts compared to the rest of the year due to poor harvest season. Low harvest = less income; less income = less ability to pay for school. I quickly found myself being pulled in thousands of directions as people approached me daily for help paying school fees, uniform fees, material fees, you name it. And it was overwhelming. Any other first-borns out there? Anyone else struggle with a debilitating NEED to fix people’s problems even when you can’t or know you shouldn’t? Yeah. Hit that head-on throughout the month of June as I wrestled with the Lord about what it meant to trust Him. I spent my days asking him to guide my investments and to provide for His children outside of anything I could or couldn’t offer. I was able to see clearly both scenarios played out, which I recognize is a gift I’m never promised. I was able to thank Jesus for teaching me what it means to be a redeemed vessel of His grace, and for walking so closely with me through that.
I also began wrestling through my first-ever bout of intense anxiety during that overwhelming month. Many of you know that fight and have walked through valleys because of that fight: the inability to gain control over heart rate, sleep patterns, tears, and emotions with zero idea how to even express it, let alone tackle it. But the good news is that I have plenty of trusted people (within Serge and outside of Serge) I can turn to who have walked me as I learn how to battle. And as a missionary and a human living cross-culturally in general, I know I’m the furthest thing from alone in the realm of anxiety. It’s actually expected. Being reminded how little you actually control in this life can often be easily avoided in home cultures; but living in a constant state of discomfort, even though you come across as joyful and thriving, will take its toll eventually. (Store this away for future reference, Ashland). The Holy Spirit has and will continue to meet me as I learn how to navigate a new struggle.
And before I knew it, suddenly it was time to pick up my FAMILY from the airport! My mom, my sister, and my college roommate ALL graciously donated lots of dollars and two whole weeks of their summer to be with me. And let’s be honest…. their timing was divinely appointed. I was overjoyed to have them here, to experience this world and all its joys and hardships. They saw so much and met so many of my closest people, and they did it all humbly and graciously. Not only were their eyes opened to this beautiful culture so different from anything they’ve known, they embraced it. Wholeheartedly. And they’ll each tell anyone who asks how much they were changed because of their time here.
But the coolest part is that the Lord used their time here to change me. Their presence here renewed my perspective and gratitude for this beautifully difficult place. They helped me make logistical decisions when my brain wasn’t working. They brushed my hair and wiped my stress tears. But what touched me the most was their willingness to pack up four trunks full of my things, adjust their weight to be less than 23 kilos each, then cart them all the way back to America. I was even able to take them on a safari that’s been on my bucket list since I landed: we got to see the giraffes at Murchison Falls National Park!
Needless to say, it was such a gift to have them walk these roads with me.
And then I blinked and it was July. Incredible.
The day after I dropped the fam at the Entebbe airport, I picked up a videographer and his father-in-law who agreed to devote their talent and two weeks of their summers here in Bundibugyo. Their arrival was a long time coming… Directing and overseeing a videography project to further donor relations at Christ School has been a dream of mine for the last three years. To finally have the opportunity to carry it out?! It was maybe the most beautiful way the Lord has answered prayers about my ministry time here. What a perfect way to wrap up this season!
Davis, along with his father-in-law Bruce, was recruited and hired a couple months ago after reviewing similar work he’s completed in other parts of the world. They listened to my vision (communicated through a series of FaceTimes where I word-vomited my heart and goals repeatedly), received my video concept breakdown with excitement, and tackled the discomfort of being foreigners here with GRACE, y’all.
With this project, I wanted to highlight the success of an alumni who graduated in 2012, completed university in Kampala in 2016, and then returned to the very school he called home in order to teach and invest in students just like him. I also wanted to create a video showcasing who Christ School is and what it’s about. And perhaps most importantly, I had a vision for a video that would entice one-time donors to switch to monthly partnership (in Jesus’ name we pray amen).
Not only were they on board with my ideas, they were both so delightful and easy-going for all five days of filming. I can’t wait to showcase the final products in a few months.
And after five very packed, very exhausting, all-encompassing days (Davis told me he could produce a feature-length film with all the footage he got), I bid them farewell and proceeded to sleep for 24 hours. It was a beautiful 24 hours.
But after I caught my breath, I was back at it. This time to start approaching the most complicated farewells I’ve ever had to say. There’s something sobering about not knowing for sure when (or IF) you’d ever see these brothers and sisters again this side of heaven, which has definitely translated to intentionality in making good goodbyes. I’ve spent the last week laughing, crying, hugging, praying, printing photos and writing letters, making visits and thanking Jesus for things from which I’ve recently begged for reprieve. Such fickle hearts we have, am I right?
It’s been a messy process full of every emotion in the book, but one thing I know for sure: these people are my family and co-laborers in advancing the truth of the Gospel. Nothing will change that, no matter where I call home.
I’ll be the first to admit my own tendency to place feelings on the shelf until I have the space and margin to process them, so I don’t expect real tears until after I’m settled back in the States. It’s a character flaw I’ve battled for most of my life. And this past year as been JAM PACKED with feelings – some I can articulate well, others I cannot. So while I continue to make myself sit and wrestle with those, would you pray for me?
I specifically ask for prayer regarding:
- Peace in leaving that speaks louder than confused and hurt neighbors (even though the gift of marriage does carry significant weight in this culture). I have friends who have thanked Jesus for Gage and our future marriage and have blessed my departure, and I have others who still struggle to understand why I’m having to leave. Some get it, many do not. Cultural and language barriers simply become more manageable over time; but I’ve learned they do not vanish. Confusion is a way of life here.
- The advancement of the Kingdom here in Bundibugyo, and that it would forever push back the darkness in magnificent ways.
- Persistence in personal prayer and reflection as I prepare to re-enter America. To be honest, there are many things about my home culture that seem so far removed that they’re almost scary. I ask for prayer that distortions of intensity planted by the enemy would be replaced with reminders of what’s TRUE: that God is the exact same in America as He is in Uganda, and He cares and provides for me deeply no matter where I am.
- Protection against undue anxiety attack, nervous stomach, and insomnia – all things that have popped up recently. Not necessarily surprising or anything out of control by any means, but also incredibly inconvenient as I prepare to travel.
- Margin to use my stopover in Ireland with my sister as a way to process with her, enjoy that beautiful terrain with her, and rest in the comfort of Jesus with her.
- Protection over my relationship with Gage as we FINALLY kiss long distance goodbye and get the privilege of walking towards marriage hand-in-hand. Literally, this time.
- That above all else, I’d remember that the God of the universe is on His throne and will reign forever. Not only that, but I get the opportunity to approach that very throne of grace to receive a perfect love that washes me of all guilt, shame, fear, confusion, and loneliness.
- That the immense JOY in returning home, to the most supportive and prayerful fiancé, family, and a home church I’ve missed deeply, would be the driving force in days to come.
I officially leave Bundibugyo on Saturday the 22nd, and then will begin a slow procession out until I eventually fly out of Entebbe on August 2nd. I will officially be home on August 10th! Which will begin my two-month Home Assignment with Serge – a beautiful time of rest, renewal, meeting with friends and supporters, and starting the search for a job. I look forward to lots of hugs, lots of stories, and lots of Frothy Monkey. See you there? 🙂
You’ll be hearing from me again once I hit American soil. Until then, know that my thankfulness for your generosity in countless ways does not end here. I will forever be singing praises to our King for never once feeling alone in this journey. You each have walked with me every step of the way.
My friends here have been praying a benediction over me this last week that will take me all the way to BNA: “Ogende na Mukama” is Lubwisi for “go with God.”
And indeed, I will.
All my love,