Wednesday, March 21, 2012

For a long time I've been thinking about writing this blog post. Because of the more personal nature of some of the information I have hesitated putting it out for all to see. Especially since the personal matters are not my own to share. But still, I've felt like there was something important for you to know in hearing their stories, and so I'm choosing to write this. With respect for my teammates I am leaving the individuals names out of this post.

It has now been a little more than two months that this team has been living together in community, and in that time we have learned a lot about each other's lives. What I'm about to tell you is a story, not of failures, but of God's grace. These are not our stories, but they are all a part of God's story. I am blessed to be serving alongside these 12 other individuals and I'm thankful each day for the way that God has knit us together as family. What has given me the courage to finally sit down and put my thoughts on this page? Well, that's easy. This past weekend I got malaria. Yup. Malaria. The parasite that mosquitoes carry. The one that infects your blood stream and that makes you feel absolutely miserable. The parasite that is not only treatable, but it is also preventable, and still thousands will die each day all over the world because of it. (A statistic that needs to change. Remember, its PREVENTABLE) Thankfully, we caught it quickly and it was handled with great care by those responsible for my team. I'm happy to report that I am on the mend.

Having malaria in a third world country has further opened my eyes to a few things about this amazing community I find myself living in. So here's the thing, I didn't just get malaria in a third world country. I got malaria on the one weekend my team chose to live in the village, eliminating from our lives even more conveniences than we already had by coming to Africa. Now not only were we living without air conditioning and sometimes without electricity, we were living in mud huts, without running water, zero electricity, and, my personal favorite, squatty potties. Don't get me wrong, this experience was an amazing opportunity to truly see how the "other half" lives. But malaria brought a whole new stuggle to the forefront, a struggle of being completely reliant on someone other than myself. This is where I will begin...

In this eye opening weekend of adventure I was loaned clothing, shoes, pillows, soap, and many more items without any hesitation from my team members. Many of them sacrificed sleep to sit up with me at my lowest points, to go outside in the pitch black night when I needed to get out of the stuffy hut for some cool night air, and even to make the trek with me in the early morning hours to the squatty. Even since returning to Alpha, they have not once neglected to offer to get my bags or to make me a plate of potatoes for dinner. All of these things they have done without grumbling or complaining (Phillipians 2:14).

Now I want to tell you a few things about this group of people. The lives of these individuals are pretty amazing and I hope that hearing where they come from is blessing to you and your situation. On my team there is someone who survived leukemia, someone who was healed of a brain tumor, two individuals who have suffered with eating disorders, others who have dealt with doubts about believing in God, there are members from broken homes, and there are those who have lost parents to cancer. They aren't perfect people. They've been through their ups and downs. Some on this team have spent time not knowing their worth and looking for it in all of the wrong places. Still, God has redeemed every situation in their lives and He continues to work in and through them.

I don't know what you are going through today. Cancer in your body, cancer in a loved one, the loss of someone close to you, doubts, or even malaria, but I do know a Savior who loves you enough to come and give His life on a cross for you. If that sounds to difficult to imagine, you're not alone. I don't really understand it either. The part that I don't understand, that's called love. It's an unconditional love that I have a hard time comprehending because it isn't found in any place on this earth. Jesus is more than faithful and He is more than able to heal, to provide, to be patient with your doubts, and more than He is able to do those things, He desires to do those things for you. He created you. He designed you. When He thought about you before you were born, He thought of a purpose for your life. His thoughts of you gave Him joy and so He created you. Then I believe He saw that "it was good."

In the past week I have relied on my teammates. More than them, I have relied on God. And I haven't been disappointed. He is my healer and my provider. He has surrounded me with 12 other amazing people and I am so very thankful for them. God is good!

Blessings to you and yours!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Washing and Polishing

Recently my team spent the day at one of Victory Outreach's branch churches, VOC North. We will be spending one day a week in that community attempting to build relationships with the people there, to introduce them to Jesus, and to meet some of their physical and emotional needs. We spent the morning doing door-to-door ministry. In America, door-to-door ministry has a very negative connotation, but in Africa it is not only extremely effective, it is also a lot of fun. You meet some pretty amazing people and you hear stories that would almost be impossible to imagine if it weren't for the reality that lives behind the eyes of the person recounting their history to you.

One such story I heard on our first visit to the area was told to me by a young woman, 20 years old, named Judice. She was never able to finish the Ugandan equivalent to high school because her father was killed by the LRA rebels. Her family was living in an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp in 2004. They lived in the camp for 3-4 years, and if you know anything about the conditions in an IDP camp, you know how difficult that must have been for her family constantly depending on the generosity of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), often not having enough food to eat even one meal everyday, living in extremely close quarters, constant outbreaks of disease and sickness due to unsanitary living conditions, etc. And to compound the horrible conditions of the camp, there was a constant fear that if you left the impossible situation of surving in the IDP camp, you risked an even more unimaginable fate at the hands of the LRA rebels. The reality of this fear was felt by Judice's family one day in 2004 when her father left the camp to gather food from their family home. He was captured and killed by the rebels along with three of their neighbors in such a gruesome way, I won't mention it here. I really felt a connection with Judice. She is a catholic woman who prays at the Cathedral here in Lira, and I'm hoping to continue getting to know her better.

I didn't originally intend for this post  to be about such a difficult topic, in fact, I wanted this to be an uplifting post drawn from the amazing afternoon I spent at VOC North. I'll get to that now, but I hope this gives you a feel for the way my days are spent here in Uganda. I meet many people and hear many stories like Judice's on a regular basis. I met and prayed with her in the morning, went to other homes, had lunch, and then experienced a wonderful afternoon with some amazing women. Everyday here is so full, it's hard for me to believe it all fits into one day. It is only by the grace of God that my team stays sane!

This all occured last Thursday on the day that just happened to be a national holiday. It was Women's Day in the country of Uganda. It is a day to honor women and celebrate their rights. Women's rights are much newer here than they are in America, and in my opinion, they are still struggling for many of the basic freedoms that American women take for granted. But on this day, our team leader, Brittany, (who loves polishing nails) decided that offering to wash women's feet and polishing their toenails would be her ministry of choice to show the women, many of them widows, that someone out there cared for them. Mary and I decided to join her in the afternoon.

Before we knew it, many women had shown up to have their toenails polished. Let me put this into some perspective for you. We were sitting on the dirt floor on a ripped plastic tarp in the middle of a mud-brick and cement building covered by a tin roof with square holes in the walls for windows and air circulation (remember, no a/c). We were surrounded by women and children who speak a language we don't speak, many of the women were widows, all of them were impoverished and had likely never experienced a kindness of the level we were about to provide them with. Many of the women, in fact, were amazed when we told them that we were going to wash their feet. African feet. Feet that have rarely seen so much as a flip-flop made from re-used rubber from tires. Feet that, barefoot, had walked more miles and ran from more horrors than I could ever dream of. Some of the women had had their nails polished before but none of them had ever had someone else wash their feet and massage them with lotion - add to that the fact that all of this was being done by mzungus. We're close to royalty around here, and the norm when a mzungu visits is to offer them the last of your food and the only chair you own because they being foreign and white deserve the chair while you sit on the floor. (Happens all the time...) Needless to say, this was one of my favorite ministries we've done! Happy Women's Day!

All of this got me to thinking about what it means to put someone else above you. To truly serve like Jesus served (remember He washed a few feet in His days on earth, too...John 13:5-20) Jesus washes us clean from our sins and then takes time through our relationship with Him to polish us to look more like Him. He says in John 13:15-16 "for I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." Jesus is constantly polishing me and my team in our time here in Uganda. I just pray that you  take the time to examine the ways in your own life that you could allow him to polish you as well. Consider for a moment that may mean you will wash a few feet.