Thursday, January 21, 2016

The surprises of Jesus

Two hard years in Uganda. I was just shifted from Western Uganda, a place that I loved and could have spent years serving. I felt sad that in light of all the ministerial politics, I was the one who received what felt like punishment for the wrongdoings of another. Being uprooted from the place I felt undeniably called to would have been an impossible task without the overwhelming presence of peace.

"Let peace be your compass," 
I would whisper to my soul. Plus, I had heard that same voice before. The voice calling me to deeper trust, the voice that puts all my fears at ease. I knew I could say 'yes' to that voice and would not be disappointed.

I was moving to Northern Uganda. Leaving the ministry I had known to start anew in a land ravaged by twenty years of war.

I moved right before the end of my second term in October of 2014. Accompanied by two close national pastors from the West and we were as ready as we could be for the adventure ahead. Oh, the surprises of Jesus. Little did I know that I would find something altogether different during my time in the North. And how sweet it is to say 'yes' in the hard places.

We were staying together in a mission's house for about 3 months before I had went back to the States to recoup and prepare for another term. During the three months, we had already started our church plant and I had found a group of widows and single mothers to work with teaching skills to empower their future. It was exciting and challenging, being a stranger in a new land, knowing not the language or customs of the North. It was a new dimension living as the only white with my Ugandan brothers. Eating plain rice with potatoes and beans at every meal stripped away the comfort and preference I had enjoyed in Hoima. But at every point of pain and new growth I felt the LORD speaking that if I could live this next year with the different nations of the world, I would learn a greater expression of His Kingdom. Little did I know that this was preparation for the rest of my life.

I met Emma (Emmanuel) during those first three months. (My dad had asked me if Emma knew that his name was a woman's name in America and the cultural differences are really far and wide so I just keep laughing. So many men are called Emma there that I've forgotten that it may sound strange at first.) I didn't know at the time that the Northern tribe was so beautifully different from the various tribes I had worked with from the past and that with time, the people there (and Emma in particular), would break down the assumptions and judgments I had placed on the Ugandan people at large.

Emma is a carpenter and a close friend to the land lady's son who was staying with us. So he became a familiar face at the house and our church began giving him contracts to make our benches and pulpit. He was kind and gentle, hardworking but shy. I gave no extra thought or attention to anyone actually, so I enjoyed our little friendship and working together with him for the church. I remember one instance before I had left for the States, I was checking on some of our orders at his workshop and as I was leaving, he smiled and handed me 2,000 shillings (the equivalence of almost a dollar). He said, "go and get yourself a soda." I was stunned and blessed. So many seek 'the white' for money but now I was being given money to treat myself to a cold soda? Dismayed and pleasantly confused.

Nonetheless, I left to the States with no thought in mind or intention to ever consider a local for a relationship. And honestly, it just wasn't on my radar.

When I returned to Kitgum, I was full of new vision and life. Time at home was refreshing and sweet and I was excited as ever for this new journey I was on. I felt deeply in my spirit that this year, was the year to express the fullness of what I believe and know the Gospel to be. We wanted to feed the spirit, strengthen the body AND family structure while breaking spiritual bondages. Believing that there is no poverty in God's Kingdom means that we need to teach and empower people to break free from those crippling cycles. I believe that Jesus does just that and that He's given us all creativity and resources to unlock those mysteries. That meant for me that I was going to lead new projects this year. I wanted to focus on employing leaders and teaching what business looks like in God's Kingdom. How to start? Who knew... I sure didn't!

Coming back to Kitgum, I got a call from Emma. Seeing as his workshop was only a few minutes away I had no problem riding there to see what he was up to. He met me with a smile and we began discussing what my time in America was like. But this time, as I looked at him, interacted with him and talked with him I found something profoundly strange entering my mind. A thought that had never crossed any piece of my thoughts for any Ugandan I had ever met...
                                                              "This guy is extremely handsome."
Fancy enough, one of the first things Emma asks me was why I wasn't doing more projects. That brought me to express the urgency I felt in my heart this year to do different projects like farming, rearing chicken, buying grass-cutters, serving women and so-on.
He simply replied with the trueness of who he is,
 "I want to help you in any way I can."

So that's how the story goes. We started working to get land to plant some different crops, he would invite me for lunch every day, we started ministering together and I felt the walls coming down. That's how I knew it was a work of the LORD. My heart was being changed. Something I adamantly opposed was now happening and I realized all the wrongs being made right within it. Emma embodies a servant-hearted man. He loves Jesus so much and loves people best. The ways that I feel great in my loving of others, he shows me a new way with a deeper love still. We've navigated the awkward conversations, the blunders that come amidst cross-cultural relationships, the highs and lows of living in such a desperately poor and challenging land and we've come out stronger, and more sure of the sacrifice of love.

I remember the first time we talked about what we were venturing in to. He had come out and told me that he loved me, in which my tender reply was, "how can you love something you don't know?" The words he left me with were so beautifully simple. He looked perplexed and spoke them as though it was common knowledge in the experiences of our heart, "Don't you know that this love is a gift from God?"

And the weeks and months to follow proved just that. Love as such truly is a gift. Emma was that gift to me and as time pressed forward, I was overwhelmed by this extraordinary gift that was unfolding in my heart. This last year I have seen greater favor, blessing and more surprises than I could have ever envisioned. I've spent this last year building a future with a man of integrity and honor and I would have never dreamt that God would leave me with such a precious and wondrous gift to choose for the rest of my life.