Sunday, April 19, 2015

last post from Africa (at least for now)

It's 5:30am on our last day in Uganda.  It's not productive for me to be up this early.  There's no power, and it's no use trying to pack those last few things by candlelight.  But my head is just too full to let me sleep longer... or maybe my heart's too full.  Many people have asked me the last few days about how I feel about leaving.  I don't think I can give a good answer to that unless the person inquiring is in the mood to sit and listen to me talk for an hour.  (I've only subjected Thomas to that.) And, the truth is, I am tired myself of analyzing all of my emotions on the subject. 

But, I've determined that there is one emotion that overrides all the other fickle ones. 


If I could express anything before I get on that plane, it would be how incredibly grateful I am.  I'm grateful to Watoto as an organization for allowing us to serve with them for the past four years.  Child-care ministry is messy, but it is beautiful and Christ-like.  We believe in what is happening on these villages, and will continue to find creative ways to love and support Watoto from across the ocean.

I'm grateful for the many, many friends here that make saying goodbye so difficult.  We have been showered with home-made gifts, cards, and hugs for the last few days.  Beyond the souvenirs in my suitcases, we are taking with us some life-long friendships. What a treasure! It makes the leaving painful, but I'm thankful our hearts are so knitted to this community. 

I'm grateful for all the unique memories that our family has been able to make here.

I'm grateful for all the ways we have been stretched and tested, and to find out again and again that His grace is enough.  

I'm grateful to God that He was so gracious to even give us this season in the first place.  He has protected us - we've had no major illnesses and only petty things stolen.  He has allowed our children to thrive here.  I can't even begin to know all the ways that our time here has shaped our family!  There are so many good gifts in my life right now, and I have to acknowledge that He is the giver of ALL of them!

I'm grateful for the next adventure and the opportunity to see God be faithful in new ways.

I'm grateful for the peace I have in my heart that, even though leaving is hard, it is right.

I'm even grateful for these 10 suitcases that have given me such a headache for the past week.  I'm grateful for the pile of stuff we are leaving behind.  They all represent an chance to simplify and be reminded once again that we don't NEED as much as we think we do. 

And I'm grateful for you who might be reading this.  So many people have loved us, prayed for us, and supported us for this season of our lives.  Such a blessing beyond words.  

I know I could continue to gush on and on except for the fact that my computer battery is at 18%. I want this posted before it's too late!  (so, you are spared my hour-long dissertation.)  Just like the song bird I can hear outside my window right now ushering in the sunrise, I felt I must sing out a bit of the song in my heart.  Because sunrises are beautiful things. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

signs and seasons

There have many long stretches of time between my inconsistent blogging in the past 5 years.  I'm sure this last stretch sets the record, however!  My excuses are tired from being used so often, so forgive me for not dragging them out now.  :)  I will (attempt to) give a nutshell update on life for the past 6 months...

We very much enjoyed spending autumn in the US.  It was wonderful to visit with family, reconnect with friends, and share with churches in different States.  God truly blessed us in so many ways!  Through the unprecedented generosity of individuals, we were able to return to Uganda in December with literally suitcase after suitcase full of ministry supplies for the pastoral teams here on the Watoto villages - from musical instruments, Bibles (LOTS of Bibles!), children's church curriculum, to even printers and sports equipment.  It was our 4th Christmas here in Uganda.  We had definitely already had our "fill" of cold weather by the time we departed the US, so we didn't mind one bit singing Christmas carols in the hot, equatorial sunshine!

 We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to transition back after being away for 3 months; 48 hours after being here, it seemed that we had never left.  Our roles, relationships, and the simple routine of life here was as easy to resume as putting on a favorite jacket.  Thomas has filled his days this year by continuing to serve the pastoral/discipleship team.  Discipleship for 3,000 children ages 2 - 20 entails multifaceted challenges, which Thomas loves being part of!  He has written curriculum/ sports devotions, compiled an "operations manual" explaining the discipleship paradigm on the villages, taught discipleship classes for university students, as well as conducted theological training for the pastoral team.  Meanwhile, he continues to coach basketball teams and invest relationally in some very special young people. 

Basically, the "nutshell update" is that doing life and ministry in this beautiful place with these beautiful people has continued to be incredibly fulfilling to us.  And that makes the real reason that I am finally breaking "blog-world-silence" even more unexpected.  Our family has now entered into a season of transition in order to do ministry in the U.S. again.  Yes, even I have to take a moment and process that sentence!  I feel a flood of emotions when I re-read the line I just typed. I feel torn between ending the sentence with exclamations !!!!!! or with understated periods...... or with ?!?!?!?!?!  We are excited about the future and also very sad that our season in Africa is coming to an end.  Bitter-sweet sums it up better than any other words I can think of.

When we returned to the U.S. last fall, we were quite convinced that we would be back in Uganda for another two years and that the end of 2016 would be a convenient time for us to relocate.  We always knew that Uganda was going to be a special “season” for our family – a few years, not a life-time commitment.  We confidently announced our plans to everyone while we were home.  However, by the end of our time in the States, God begin making it clear to us that His plans were different than our plans.  Lately, I’ve thought a lot about Proverbs 16:9 - A man's heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.  We are very much at peace with how God has chosen to direct our steps, even though the timing has caught us by surprise. 

So, we aren’t leaving Uganda because we feel unhappy or unfulfilled.  We aren’t leaving because we had a “falling out” with our ministry team or we just can’t get along with someone.   This team has truly become our family here, and we are going to miss them terribly!  We simply know that for a variety of personal reasons, it is God’s sovereign time for us to move on.

Even after we determined that 2015 would be a transition year for us, we were still not exactly sure when or how.  We are still working on the details of the HOW, but we at least know the WHEN.  We fly out April 20th and will land in Greensboro, NC.  We will spend a couple of weeks with T’s family.  Then, the first week of May, T and I will fly to Phoenix, Arizona to meet with church leaders and explore some ministry opportunities there.  After that, it is  - dot. dot. dot….!  Our goal is to give ourselves the summer to settle, so that our kids are ready to start school by the end of July.  There are many variables between now and that date, however.  We are completely open to however God chooses to direct us!

At this point, I’m sure you are wondering what there is in Phoenix that has our attention.  Actually, it is more what there isn’t.  God has given Thomas and I a strong desire to live and minister in the western part of the US where the percentage of the population having a "religious affiliation" is significantly low.  Phoenix is consistently in the top 10 list of American cities that need more evangelical churches.  The other cities on that list are located in the extreme Northeast or Northwest – which means extreme COLD WINTERS.  It may not sound very spiritual, but we’ve determined that our family can absolutely do without winter!  A hot climate suits us just fine.

There are many things about AZ that appeal to us, but the main thing is that we want to continue to be missional in ministry.  Not unlike the physical terrain, the spiritual soil in the West is drier and harder than the tilled-up spiritual soil of the Southeast.  We are very aware that planting and growing and harvesting spiritual fruit would not be as easy there as it may seem to be in our familiar “Bible Belt.”  But we are drawn to the challenge.  Really, to put it more accurately, we are drawn to the challenge of putting the GOSPEL to the test.  We know that the Gospel has power to change lives.  We just want to be a channel of the Gospel message, and watch it do its thing!  This part of the transition makes me very excited.  Other details can threaten to choke me with worry if I let them.   Details like … I don’t actually have any FRIENDS in AZ.  And we gotta find a place to live.  AND we have to buy a vehicle.  And I’m pretty sure that I don’t even have a frying pan in storage – much less any furniture!!  

It’s interesting for me to remember what a huge step of faith it was to move our family to Africa 4 years ago.  I would have never thought then that it would be an equally big step of faith to move our family back to North America!  But, it is once again gut-check time.  I keep telling T that I have that same feeling as when I’m strapped into a roller coaster that has just made its slow, clicking ascent to the top of the rails.  You know that exhilarating and terrifying pause before it plunges down and the real ride begins?  I remember feeling that way in the beginning of 2011, and I think that’s where I am right now.   God is again prying my fingers loose of the people and things in this place that was once so foreign and has now become HOME.  He is reminding me all over again that the only secure thing I have to hold on to is HIM.  And He is enough. 

We sincerely ask for your prayers for the coming weeks/months.  I imagine that I will be highly motivated to post updates on here more often in the near future, just so I can solicit those prayers!  I need to feel the support of friends and fellow-sojourners as we continue on with the next adventure.  I don't feel like our journey is ending in any way, but there is certainly a sharp bend ahead in the road!  So many of you have faithfully shared with us in this journey the past four years, and we are grateful beyond words.  Actually, I think T did a pretty good job putting it into words in the newsletter he just wrote, so allow me to just quote him, "The bottom line is that so many of you have simply trusted us.  You have sown seeds of prayer, finances, and encouragement into our lives because you trust that we are authentically ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Thank you.  Thank you for believing in our family and our calling.  Thank you for every encouraging word and every prayer whispered and every dollar given.  We are leaving Uganda with our hearts overflowing with gratitude at God’s goodness in our lives through YOU."  I wholeheartedly agree!