Saturday, December 28, 2013

The ordinarily beautiful

I've been back in the states for almost a month and a half now... It's been a whirlwind of trying to rest, while enjoying and squeezing each moment with those I'm with. I love seeing my nephew light up and laugh endlessly at the silly faces I make. I've loved sitting quietly, playing cards with my grandma. I love the choices in the grocery store and the ridiculous amounts of baked goods that have come out of our oven.

It's been a much needed trip home to see my family but something I love the most is getting to invite people to see a glimpse of Uganda. I always laugh because when I'm there, there is nothing extraordinary about my simple life. But something grand happens when I share it with others, the ordinary begins to abound in beauty and wonder.

I'm always wondering what you imagine when I describe the work I do...
When I tell you that I work with HIV+ women, what do you see?

Can you see the radiating beauty of the simple smile that stretches across Plaxceda's dark and weathered face as she faithfully presumes her timely arrival? Can you hear them all shouting their local greeting with great joy in their bones when they find me every Sunday, waiting patiently for their coming? Can you hear the tenderness and forgiving laughter when as I apologize breathlessly for arriving late, yet again? ...I always forget how long that walk takes me... Do you hear the songs on their lips as they work and the chatter of a long week that needs catching up? Can you feel the weight of carrying families upon their broken and tired backs and the burden of providing for a fatherless society? Yet, I see such ease as they move, such fullness of joy and strong believing hearts.

I no longer have to close my eyes and wonder what to picture or where to put faces.

I see it all.
It settles in those deep places in my heart, which feels a little like that deep longing you get in your stomach when you're remembering both pain and beauty.
I've stopped straining to imagine what this kind of life would look like and I've started to simply step into it.

And I don't quite feel the touch of wonder and glory when I'm just dusting off tables, reminding them to wash their hands so I'll stop having to set aside countless 'brown' beads or in preparing their accounts or spending long hours in my little office. The dust and sweat doesn't seem to transform into gold and honey after a long day. It all feels rather ordinary and tiresome at times. But...

Things don’t have to be extraordinary to be beautiful.
Even the ordinary can be beautiful. 
-Wicker Park 

I'm living that ordinary and beautiful life.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dear beloved

Dear beloved,
You were seven years old when we first met
I remember the way you would yell out my name when I'd arrive at your place
You and the little one used to shower me with hugs
You always found a place in my lap and climbed straight into my heart
I remember how you used to shine like a diamond
You always made me laugh with your facial expressions and sassy replies
You were your mother's little helper
I remember the day we baked a cake at your place
You sat on your brother's back in a family heap
You used to love when I took your picture
I remember how we danced in church
You were always the first to find me even after a late arrival
You used to hold my hands and laugh with me
I remember the day before you were hit
You sat with me at the office for lunch
You shouted "bye" when I told you, you were leaving without greeting me
I remember seeing your broken body in that hospital
You consumed my hours and days in desperate prayer
You were loved by so many who hoped we'd get to hear your laugh again
I remember the pain of unexpected goodbyes
You were too young to be buried in the earth
You were seven years old when we last met

Dear beloved, 
We still miss you here
I see the way your mother looks at your pictures
I find the courage to ask her which ones she loves the most
We comment on your sweet face and glowing smile
I still cry when I talk about you and the time I spent with you in the hospital
You still touch our hearts and shape our lives.

Dear beloved,
We love you
It's hard to let you go

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The end is just the beginning of something new

This year is quickly coming to an end for me here in Hoima. It's hard to bring it all into words as these last two months have been a whirlwind and mighty challenge in light of the year I've spent here. I have about two weeks remaining in this land that I call home and enough loose ends to tie up to keep these hands full and busy.

Despite the busyness and sadness I feel to leave Hoima, I am overjoyed with the firm call God has put on me to serve a second term in 2014! So this visit home will serve as a time to refresh, see my family (my HUGE nephew who is no longer a baby like I remember him), spend the holidays with those I love and raise funds for my next year term. I am looking forward to seeing all my friends and family while enjoying the luxuries of America that I've missed (like cereal, real milk, pie, ovens and good coffee)!

Knowing that I will return to Hoima will make this transition of leaving a little easier, although I know I will still miss the friends and family I have built here in love and ministry.

I would greatly enjoy if you could pray alongside me over a few things as I get ready to visit the states:
  •  I'm trying to wrap up my work permit and get it all taken care of for the next year. This process over the last year has been quite the real struggle so I could use favor and ease to make sure I don't find any problems in leaving the country.
  • There's a missionary/pastoral retreat from November 3rd-8th in Jinja, Uganda that I know would be a great transition and healing time before heading home. The total cost will be about $285 for me to attend this week. I'm believing God for total financial provision to make this possible! If you'd like to donate for this retreat please email me at or use the link on this page for my PayPal account.
  • I need to find a good house to rent for the next year. Pray for the right connections, good location, safety, and an affordable price!
  • Pray that I would be able to accomplish all I need to before I go for this trip home! The list always seems to be growing on what I need to finish up and set up for my two month absence.
  • Pray for our FAITH Project, which I'll temporarily be handing over to a faithful church member, pray for our village clinic that I've been overseeing, I'm also temporarily handing that over to one of our pastors who works as a doctor, for our Wednesday Bible Studies that I've been teaching, Thursday home Bible studies that I've led, sports ministries at the Secondary Schools and Campus ministries that I've taken part in!
  • Lastly, pray over this great community that I've found here. The love I've received from them has moved my heart in tremendous ways and the thanks that I give to God for them is a continuous testimony to His goodness!

On the Nile at the retreat center in Jinja
Look for another post in the next week with some highlights and beauty from this last year!
Thank-you all for your continued support, love and prayers from across the world. You guys are such a significant piece of my work and life here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The blood of a broken world

I wash off the blood of a mother's broken and bleeding heart. As it falls into the basin I see you there, unable to move because the grief of burying the one you carried in your womb since you were fifteen. It hits you with a blow that tells you that you'll be crippled for life. The dirt from carrying your weeping body to the grave of your girl splashes down as I find a moment to clear my mind. It's hard to believe it's been almost a week since that car smashed into your little body on your way to find us at the office. It's been a blur of concrete floors, sleepless nights and a harrowing hospital where you breathed your last. We didn't sleep the first night. We had to take shifts to hold your broken body from pulling the little support that held you. When you survived the journey to the government hospital in the capital, hope found me strong. After hours of talking with the nurses and doctors, seeing if we were doing all that we could, questions upon questions, seeking out the best options... after all the hours of prayers I poured over your body, tears I wept into your dark skin, moments of despair met with the Word of God... hours reporting to the family, contacting surgeons, monitoring, reporting, monitoring, weeping, finding your sweet presence in the nothingness and then the end. Praying over a lifeless and bloated body, resuscitation, breathing life into your mouth, praying desperate prayers of faith but it ending in nothing but pain and loss. Ending in grief that knocks the wind out of you. Ending in sleepless nights and pain that finds you in the darkest hour. Ending in the strong hold of a broken mother with tears I can't imagine. Ending with questions without answers. I held the bleeding heart of the mother as my world spun. Days of holding tight the broken pieces, praying comfort, speaking peace, singing truth and I look at you without an answer. My world doesn't make sense and it feels like I'm losing myself in it. Burying you today in emptiness shook my body in exhaustion as I wept with a multitude asking me to stay strong. I've filled an ocean with tears with no shore in sight. And my heart weighs heavy as You ask me the hard questions. The night before she died You met me in my tear-filled bed covered in fear. I was losing sight because I couldn't see You any longer in the suffering. What you spoke tore through the heavy walls of my heart...

"If she dies, am I still good?"

And I wept.

Just like my tears fall now.

One of the hardest answers to uncover in the blood of a broken world.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dance in Freedom

This place has taught me how to let go.

I think back to my Sunday mornings at Central secondary school. My heart bursts with love for those students. They teach me so much as I live life beside them. They show me how to be unashamed in my pursuit and expression towards God.

Each morning when I arrive the dancing has already begun. They love to sing, they love to dance. They have the stamina to dance their way though an ironman triathlon with ease. I consider the cardio regimen I'll have to pencil into my weekly schedule just to keep up with them but I breathlessly follow their lead.

Dust billows as they shuffle and jump. It's just their voices and the drum. It's just them with the joy of the Father.

They sing, "Higher, higher, higher, Jesus higher!" and they wave their arms in the air, reaching to the heavens, jumping with unconstrained joy.

I laugh because I feel foolish at times but when I see them I'm overcome by their carefree love for the King.

I dance, I sing, I jump, I let go.

photo by M Peg Achterman

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The blessing of great conflict

I know, I've been silent.
I came to a place where I began to intentionally shut off every response outlet... my communication suffered. I delayed my emails. Everything was work. I wanted it... I wanted to connect and relate and express but it was just... too. much. work.

That's when I realized it. I was burnt out.

Dry as the driest season here! It explained why things had been so hard. Why I had no drive. Why I was so apathetic and tired.

Of course the timing was impeccable.
Two new American volunteers had arrived. I had just said goodbye to another close friend who had served for two months alongside me. A week after the two gals arrived I was receiving a long awaited pair... my younger sister and close friend who were coming. Finally, the sweet presence of family. And I felt as though I had nothing to offer. It was right in the midst of total exhaustion and discouragement. I, of course, mustered up all I had to arise to the occasion which was where I met great struggle. Try and give away what you haven't received and you'll certainly find yourself in quite the bind.

Of course having four extra sets of eyes on your only makes you more aware of how unhealthy you are. I apologized for more things in these two months then I've probably uttered in the last three years of my life. I was totally worn at a crucial place of being responsible for the facilitation of four new volunteers. Talk about pressure!

I went into self-preservation mode and I hated the selfish state I was in. Almost a month later I found myself at the most wearied of places. I was hearing so many critiques (and I knew exactly why) but they reached me at a very low state.

I knew what I needed.

I left that Saturday to get away, to hear affirmation from the One who could lift me from this place. I was in tears on my walk to the office, which isn't easy when all eyes are always on you as you move about. I was greeted twelve different times on the way which is great when you're really hoping to go unnoticed.

On top of my personal emptiness I had received a text from a close employee of mine, Moses, saying that our chairperson of the FAITH Project was really badly off. I had called him during my walk and he said that Sarah told him that she wasn't doing well when he called a few hours earlier. I knew she was sick. She had missed our last weekly meeting and had been writing me while I was traveling about with our volunteers, informing me of her health. I knew on the way to the office that I wasn't in a strong enough emotional state to go and pray for her at her place right down the street. I did feel as though I was given a sweet spirit of prayer as I thought of her a lot on the way and spent my walk praying over her body and health. By the time I reached the office, the gate was locked without anyone in sight. So I sat in the grass, waiting for someone to come with the key.

I kept asking myself how I got to this point.  
When did I stop honoring the daily filling that kept me fresh and encouraged? 

I was waiting for close to an hour when I got the call.
When I answered Pastor Danny kept saying, "Abookie Sarah is dead." But it felt like a question and all I could say was that it wasn't possible. I had just talked to Moses, he had just spoken to her. It wasn't possible. I just passed her house. She just texted me the day before. It wasn't possible. I fumbled through my contacts to confirm the news.
I stood shocked with heavy tears flowing as I asked God, Why now? Why today? ...please... no...

I walked straight to her house with our church member. They had already moved her body to the village. We soon loaded the car with her daughter and headed off to the place where her body was. When I entered the room it was full of people sitting and weeping. I saw her mom and sat at the feet of Abookie and prayed. In the room all you could hear were the sounds of heavy sighing and disbelief that something like this would come so unexpectedly.

Our hearts wept together.
If there was ever a moment where I had the faith to believe someone would come to life, it would have been while I was holding her sweet feet and praying.

Somehow in that moment I felt a strong presence that brought overwhelming peace into that little room. I thought to myself, "Why on earth would she even want to come back? She's experiencing the greatest joy and wholeness she'll ever know!"

I had journeyed with Sarah throughout this past year as we worked together to reach the oppressed, the marginalized, the struggling. We worked to bring hope and love to the women of FAITH, whom she was one of. She lived her own struggle. She was HIV positive, a single mother, struggling with financial burdens and the cycle of poverty. But despite the opposition, that woman lived so boldly and truly. She laughed with a belly full of joy and her smile shone into the darkest of days. She was my right arm as we worked together bringing that group from its desperate state to where it is today. It has been full of struggle, difficulty, great success, tears and more laughter than one can handle. It was filled with friendship.

I remember in April, just after Easter, she came that Sunday beaming with news she could hardly contain. Ever since I've crossed paths in 2011, I knew that she was a muslim. She was raised in a muslim family, taught in a muslim school and claimed that as her personal belief. She was one my best students whenever we opened up the Bible to study new treasure and always loved discussing questions of all sorts. It was that Sunday she told me with such joy that she had accepted Christ and was baptized!

we danced.
we sang.
we laughed.

It was all so beautiful. Our diverse little family was bursting with life.

Navigating the days after Sarah's death were some of the most challenging times I have experienced. Being filled with grief and emptiness amidst a call to be a leader to the group of women who were all so broken with our loss was new territory for me. It created a struggle that forced rest and boundaries in my life.
That kind of emptiness and sadness produce something that is hard to put into words...
It produces something impossible.
It produced more of Christ in my life.
And it came because it was at the most fragile of times where I had nothing to call as my own.

Though the death of Abookie is still hard in many ways, it's bringing more life in each of us and in our group as we learn to walk in this kind of pain that binds us to one another. I became serious about taking care of myself... about not taking on too much, about resting and soaking in the presence of God. I'm learning about the perfect leadership of Jesus as He guides me through each day. He is truly so wonderful and light.

As Donald Miller puts it,
"I remembered about story, about how every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict that man can endure that will not produce a blessing. And I smiled. I'm not saying I was happy but for some reason I smiled.               It hurts now, but I'll love this memory, I thought to myself.  And I do."

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How few there are who die so hard

I died at age 23.

If living on the mission field has taught me one thing it's that it will surely strip everything from you until you've come to the conclusion of the one treasure that must remain.

The mission field has taught me how to die.

It's taught me how to put to death every selfish ambition, regard to self, and the desires of my flesh. There is so much that has been stripped from me that I wrestle with God over "...but Jesus, that's unfair! Why does THAT have to go? It's a simple thing! Why can't it remain? It's just unreasonable!"
But what's reasonable to us stands in the way of beholding that one treasure in our life. Any self regard or fleshly desire cannot co-exist with the godly desire and character that He's desperately trying to impart to us.
"I must decrease so He can increase."

I can't say I've ever been so stripped and tried as I have during these last 6 months. Many times I thought I had reached my end, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually... but it's always at those ends that something dies off, allowing another piece to come to life.

I've died to comfort. 6 months of cold showers, no oven, no refrigerator, washer or dryer, scarce power, many nights by candle light, a constant covering of dirt and dust. When traveling far from the comfort of my bed I've slept on floors, covered myself with the corners of sheets, battled with bugs galore, blood thirsty mosquitoes, cockroaches, latrines, no running water, exhaust...

I've died to feeling understood and understanding those around me. I'm the only American stuck somewhere between Ugandan and Filipino culture. Familiar faces, culture and a common place are far from me. We speak different languages (even our English is different), we worship and pray differently, our frame of understanding is different and sometimes misunderstandings come all too easy.

I've died to nearness. Family and friends are oceans away. The missings are sometimes overwhelming and loneliness is no surprise. I've given up the community that has nourished and grown me. I've said goodbye to grabbing coffee with a friend, spending hours on the docks sharing life with those so dear to me and watching my nephew grow up into his little quirks and forming personality.

I've died to my image and self-identity. The things that I considered parts that represented me, clothing, style, preference, they took a slow death march as I adhered to the expectations of this culture and my position...

I've died to individuality. In a place where you can't travel anywhere without being the center of attention, with kids shouting "MZUNGU! at the top of their lungs, parents laughing, constant staring and comments all over. You die to that piece that just wants to blend in and disappear. Going from living on your own to staying with four kids also teaches you to die to individuality. Your things are shared, including the singing, shouting in the early mornings and the responsibility of family.

I've died to preference and taste. No, I don't prefer eating rice for every meal, having salted and dried fish or limited access to the foods I enjoy. The little that I do prefer is often far from reach and at times bread is your only option, so you learn to die and develop a gratitude that comes from simple provision.

I've died to entertainment and an overabundance of things. Many nights come and go where your only entertainment is the company of the kids around you or a good book. You learn that you can live off of very little, much less than you would have ever imagined.

This place has taught me how to die. Slowly stripping every detail of what I once held as necessary.
We are all in the messy process of dying, and it is as difficult to experience as it is to observe. Although we may die, it's not an end of morbidity and loss but of the beginning of life in all its abundance.
That's the gift, the goal, the purpose.

"Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it produces much fruit." -Jn 12:24

As I'm in this messy process, God has been bringing to life the ability to appreciate and find thankfulness in every situation. And I mean every situation. The good, bad and absolutely hideous. That is something I don't believe I could have learned in such depth like I have during this time. He's bringing to life the simplicity of His gifts and truths. That He truly is enough... in abundance and in need. He's bringing to life the weight of His calling to go and bring the greatest news we can ever discover to the nations before us.

"Great victory has never been possible without great sacrifice." -Samuel Zwemer

And I know it'll be worth it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Life In Review

You know how time has a way of slowly but steadily slipping itself aside? Well, I sure do and I've found it to be one of the greatest difficulties of keeping all of you up to date. So here's to a post about the last few months in review! Since there is an overflow of words that could be used to describe the last three months, I'll save you a hefty novel and try to stick with some pictures instead.

In December two of my very dear friends flew halfway around the world to come and experience life here with me. It's hard to express the kind of love you feel when those in your life sacrifice their time, money and significant holidays just to be with you. With the helping hands and full hearts of my friends we were able to do some really neat things for our church and the community.

The four of us gals got to take part in holding a three day youth conference at our church for the surrounding churches and community. When we went forward in planning this conference I didn't realize that what we were doing was really a new thing for so many students. Youth conferences are common here in many churches but they really only consist of praise & worship, prayer, workshops and preaching. The students can sit through 4 preachers with only praise & worship in between (I'm not sure how they do it)! So when we had team competitions, game hour, and demonstrations in our preaching, it was really a new thing for them!

It was a lot of work for all of us at the church but it was a total blast! And I heard so many testimonies after the camp about all that the students had learned and how much fun they had all had together.

Game hour. Thanks to our gifted Young Life leaders, we were well equipped with silly ice breakers and team games to keep everyone plenty busy!

We also have had the sweet opportunity to begin a new venture with our HIV+ women (FAITH women). We started learning new crafts together to help support them with sustainable income.

It began with Krista teaching them how to make bracelets one day and then we started exploring other venues like weaving mats, money purses, and making paper beads for necklaces.

After Christmas we held a second annual program for our FAITH women called "A Day to Remember". We rented out a space in a nice hotel, had them dress in their finest gowns, painted their nails, made bracelets, painted cups with their names on them, shared a delicious meal, worshiped together, did skits and showered the love of God upon them. It was such a treasured time with those women!

A new ministry that Julia has helped spearhead in the secondary schools is teaching students how to play American Football and playing flag football together on a weekly basis. We play every Monday and Saturday at the schools and every Tuesday at the church. It's been one of my favorite things!

Some of our church members playing together.

Some odds and ends: We've done A LOT of traveling in the past months. I've traveled to northern Uganda, all the way down south, to the East (we stay in the West) and a lot in between! We've had some cool opportunities to visit some of our project sites (mainly with fish cage farming). We visit the local communities, meet beneficiaries and see the progress of our work as an organization.

This is one of our communities that will benefit from the fish cages that we're working on completing. 

In the last few weeks before my friend Julia flew back to the states (she had been with me for the last 5 months), we focused hard on our health program. So we set up to do HIV/AID prevention in two secondary schools.

We battled with our sound system, intense rain and too many students jammed into one place but we learned a lot as a team and took hold of a vital opportunity to talk and teach about this epidemic.

The weekend before Julia flew out we also planned a medical mission out in the village of one of our daughter churches. It was two exhausting days and a nonstop flood of people needing medical attention.

I got assigned to be the Pharmacist for the two days and was quickly affirmed in my decision to not pursue a medical career. Haha, it was an incredible honor though to bless that community in the capacity that we were able to.

We closed out our final days together with a candle light celebration for Julia with our church members.

It was an incredible last five months together with Julia. We've experienced great challenges, disappointments, adventure and unimaginable joys together. I had to part ways last week with this dear friend of mine and it feels like something is lacking without her here but I look ahead to the months to come and even greater adventure in this beautiful land.

My deepest love and appreciation to everyone who has supported me and the work we're doing here. Your prayers, financial blessing and encouragement have sustained me and the work I've taken part in here. Thank-you for blessing me and this country!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Let your hearts revive

I'm finding that my ability to express life here is often stunted by the array of areas that living in this land touches. Life here has a way of being a thousand different things all at once. I could say so much about it that it almost leaves me with nothing to say at all. This is a place where I experience some of the greatest joys, deepest sorrows, times of fulfillment, utter disappointment, loneliness, peace, unrest and everything in between. This place can be completely paradoxical yet so bare and simple. So I found myself unable express anything here, almost altogether. I stopped writing. I stopped journaling. I stopped trying to capture my thoughts and emotions because they were too many things all in one. And at first I didn't even recognize it, I figured with the busy month of December some things were just being naturally neglected. Slowly by slowly, God started revealing to me that there was an absence of remembering, of processing and expressing life in all that it was here and that it was a problem. The monotony and difficulty of life here suppressed the true passion and joy that I've felt for this place. Even though there were tremendous victories, sweet moments and days of enjoyment the unexpressed lull that fell upon my heart overcame and silenced my ability to understand much of what I desired to convey. After recognizing this deficiency I was lost as to what I could do about it. Each day I just felt God telling me to be obedient to the tasks before me, even though the feeling was as though I had lost the drive and passion for it. The constant reminder that my calling here isn't based on feeling kept me obedient and true to what he's asked of me. I had a timely reminder of a passage in Luke that held me from abandoning what I know he's asked of me...
Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty.' -Luke 17:7-10
Thankfully, we serve and loving and kind master who followed up each act of obedience with a gift of excitement and passion for each task as I entered into it. It always came as I stepped out in faith and it renewed and revived my heart. I feel Him restoring the lost words and reestablishing my expression of joy in this place that is home.
"You who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners." -Ps 69:32b-33