December 14, 2016

Final Days in Uganda

My last ten days living in Uganda were a bit crazy!  It was a whirlwind of moving, selling belongings, packing, preparing for graduation, preparing my heart and mind for a big transition, saying many many see yous (because I hate saying those so final sounding good byes), hosting ten Africans for two nights, a fun day at the pool and an (African) football game, farewell/sending parties, teaching a class and helping students finish assignments, grading essays, visiting a dear missionary friend's newborn in the hospital, and the list could go on!

The Greens had gone to Kampala to be prepared for when their baby girl arrived and my roommate moved out of our house.  I moved out of our cute little "girls'" quarters as well and stayed in the main house in my compound so I could empty out the last of the furniture.  All of a sudden, our compound was very very quiet; I was so very thankful for our eskari and our dogs who kept an eye on things and me!  This was when I really couldn't stop ignoring or denying the fact that I would be returning to the US soon and many good byes and see you laters were coming.  It was a daily heart break that I had to somehow maintain some control over in order to accomplish what had to be done.  There were several times when I thought to myself, it would be good to write about these things so I can process and remember and then I talked myself out of it cause I just struggled so much to face my reality and was overwhelmed by my own thoughts and emotions.  Much of what I was thinking about in those days have been forgotten but one thing I remember always... knowing that I would soon have to say good bye to some of the most loved people in my life that I had the blessing and pleasure of living alongside was more than I could bear alone.  Even now, a couple of weeks later, the pain is still very real.  I knew that many of those people I would never meet again in this life and it begged me to ask the question, how in the world am I going to be able to do this kind of thing throughout my life as a missionary?!  I don't want to damage people and relationships with constant goodbyes.  That was just one more instance when I realized how much I want to live long term as a missionary in one community and no matter where God brings me, to do my best to not break those ties and relationships.

Now about the specific things that went down in those final days...

I was not extremely involved in preparing for graduation because of simultaneously preparing to leave the country.  However, I was given the responsibility of compiling pictures from the year and putting together a slideshow for the students.  It was so fun to see all the things they did and to reflect on the precious memories captured!  I thoroughly enjoyed this big job of going through hundreds of photos!  I also worked with several others to do the decorations for graduation.  Initially I was put in charge of them but I quickly realized that, having never decorated for an event there, I had no idea how much things should cost, where to purchase or rent things, what was feasible with my budget, and the man power to put it all together.  We enlisted the matron of MAP school (my Ugandan mum) to help with the details and was so so thankful for all the wonderful people who helped me the morning of graduation to put everything up!  I definitely needed lots of help with this one...  All in all, I think we did a pretty good job!

The future House of Prayer under construction where we held graduation this year!
Just about every day, people came to pick up things they had bought or wanted to buy and used that time to say good bye!  It was too much sometimes!  Sometimes, I honestly would rather just not say good bye at all and just see people normally and part normally without all the emotion involved.  But I suppose that is fairly impossible.

For their last week of "school" the students were not supposed to have anymore assignments or classes but of course, TIA.  The unexpected and unplanned is to be expected and planned for.  The second year students had a final essay to write, due Wednesday morning so I had the pleasure of teaching them how to write a five paragraph essay which is not something taught in their education system.  Many of them had a lot of questions and were exhausted from studying for exams and just plain old struggled with writing so after holding the class, I had all who wanted to, come to my house for an evening and have a writing party!  It was seriously a blast!!  All but two of the second years came to my house to work on their assignment.  Earlier in the term, they had their first go at an essay so this was an opportunity for them to perfect the skill and they were quite determined to improve themselves this time.  It was encouraging to see them work so hard even though it was their last assignment, last thing to do for school ever!  The first essay showed a great deal of room for improvement for most of the students but after grading their essays the second time, I tell you I was so incredibly proud of them!  They worked so hard and really tried to learn what they needed to and it paid off!  Their essays had greatly improved and it was so exciting for me and for them to have worked together on this originally foreign skill!!
Grading essays at the pool!

Earlier in the term, Ashley (my roommate) and I agreed that we wanted to do something fun with the students as a last hoorah of the year so we decided that on Wednesday during the week before grad we would take them all to the pool.  Most Ugandans and Kenyans don't know how to swim but many of them expressed wanting to go all the same.  So we all went to the pool and I don't have words to fully express how fun it was!  Some of the students even learned the beginnings of how to swim and were beaming from ear to ear!  After spending the morning and afternoon at the pool, the male students and one female student played a football game versus the builders who have been working to construct the new HOP and MAP school!  We lost but it didn't even matter!  We were pumped up and still had a great time!
students learning to swim!

MAP school vs Builders

Us at the pool!!
And then Thursday was Thanksgiving!  A bunch of us missionaries got together and had a freshly butchered turkey and as many of the traditional and non traditional fixings as we could muster.  We had a wonderful time eating and playing games together!

Friday was crunch time for graduation and the day my African guests arrived!  Some of our students had family coming from Kenya and I offered the house I was staying in to them so they wouldn't have to worry about finding a guest house.  As is usual for living in that part of the world, what you think you're getting yourself into and what actually happens are always very different things.  I was under the impression that I was hosting one family of three and a pastor and so had a bed and pillow and mattress and bedsheets for everyone.  We ended up being joined by four more the first night and seven more the second night and it was AWESOME!!  I was not in a situation where I could provide much food from them from the house with being in the midst of leaving myself but all the same, it was such a joy to get to know the families of some our students and be able to serve them in this way!  I was learning what it's like to host people in another country which was cool too!  After graduation we had a wonderful gathering of prayer and blessing and sharing communion with cake and soda!  I was stressed and wondering why in the world I offered to host all these people the day before I was leaving town but it all worked out really well and was sincerely one of the most precious memories from my time in Uganda!

Cake and communion with students and family after graduation!
And then on November 26th, eleven first year students graduated into their second year of MAP school and nine second year students graduated from MAP school and have completed their two years of education to be missionaries among the unreached tribes of Africa!!!  Did you know that there are about 2, 000 tribes throughout Africa and 1, 000 of those tribes are considered unreached (have less than 1% Christians)?! It was a day that took hours and weeks of preparation.  The night before graduation we were still punching numbers to calculate grades, preparing diplomas, and making decorations for the following morning.  Despite the sometimes stressful, long, busy days leading up to graduation, we had a blast working together!  Graduation day was long and busy and somewhat stressful but it was filled with more joy and thankfulness and community and celebration than I could have ever imagined!  I will forever remember that day and the amazing happiness that filled the room.  It was all over everyone's faces, in the testimonies, the prayers, the blessings, the messages, the worship, and photos--everywhere there was joy and celebration!  If there is one thing Africans know how to do, it is celebrate a happy occasion with gusto!

Second year class with Ashley, me, and Flavia the admin trio
First year class, now second year MAP school students!
I look back and wonder how in the world I was able to accomplish all of those things in such a short time and I tell you, it's just life.  Somehow God enables us to do things we need to do.  Regardless of how stressful and busy we might feel, we always make it to other side and all the better for it!  Those last days are filled with so many memories, so many tears and laughter and joy!  I was only in Uganda for six months but the ways that He moved in my life and the ways that I have since come to learn that I was able to do to bless people and encourage people and strengthen or reengage people in their relationship with Jesus are far grander than I could have every imagined possible!  He seriously worked through me and in the moment I had no idea.

I had the pleasure of mentoring two of the students, Carol and Robinah this last term and Carol asked if she could borrow a notebook from me during our last week together.  She returned the notebook to me the day I left Tororo and I packed it right away.  After I returned and was unpacking at my parents' house in Vermont I found the notebook and remembered that she had asked for it.  I opened it and found where she had written page upon page of ways that I had touched her's and many other student's lives.  Page upon page of encouragement in what God is doing in and through me to bless those around me.  The tears poured down my face as I reflected in that moment all the times she wrote about and will remember with so much pleasure and love the months that I got to spend with those dear people in Uganda!

Another adventure and chapter of my life has ended and another one beginning and I look forward to walking the path God continues to unfold before me!

Friends being silly after grad