July 28, 2016

Spiritual Wilderness and a Lovely Glimpse of Hope

Life is continuing and there is normalcy alongside the small wonders that happen and wonderful memories that are made.

For the last several weeks, despite the semi routine that I have found myself in, there is been some intense inner turmoil especially on a spiritual level.  It is not often that I have experienced a spiritually dry season and I certainly didn't expect it here but alas, here I am and here it is, a spiritual wilderness of sorts.  For some reason and out of nowhere, my heart has struggled to enter into worship.  I do worship but it passionless, fireless, emotionless, seemingly Spiritless and I think to myself--worship through singing and prayer are the primary ways that I praise my God and right now, I can't do it properly.  What is happening?!

There is an aspect of this that has been wrapped up in my reflections and seeking for truth about the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.  African Christians love the Holy Spirit!  And why shouldn't they?  Why shouldn't we all in fact?!  But me in my American, modernist influenced brain haven't made enough room for the truth and presence of the Holy Spirit to overwhelm and fill me continuously.  A while back I visited an Anglican church prepared for an experience similar to that of an American liturgically based service.  What I got was a church who preached the salvation/Gospel message, who invited people to accept Christ as their Savior, and who engaged in loud, heart felt, beautiful African praise and worship!  Much closer to a Pentecostal service than I ever thought possible in an Anglican church.

What I've come to learn, is that regardless of the "denomination," churches here are pentecostal.  Ought we all to be pentecostal because it is at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came to dwell among us and fill us and the body of Christ, that is the church, was born by the unification that comes from being one in the Spirit?  There is fire in people's worship here that I expected and was excited to find. My expectations have not been disappointed.... There are healings, words of exhortation, tongues, amazing musical gifts, exceptional teaching and preaching and here is where I find myself struggling.  I cannot actively participate in such as these.  It's like there is a block and no matter how much I praise God with enthusiasm, I know in my heart that I am not being touched by the Spirit as I have countless other times.

I have reflected a great deal on the passages of Scripture surrounding the topic of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit and I keep coming back to this: put on love.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  Love is higher than any public or personal manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  And what is love?  I could refer to the love chapter in 1 Corinthians but love is another thing as well.  Love is an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit.  The fruit that is produced when one is truly yielding to the indwelling of God.  I am seeking to be "fruity...."  Oh to be the salt and light to the world in a way that shows God's glory and not me in my brokenness and sinfulness.  Oh to be fruity so that He might be seen shining!

In the midst of this wilderness, God has blessed me with small glimpses reminding me that He is here and walking with me but I am in a trial of growth which I am learning to not pray away but to just walk through.  The other day, I was studying my Bible and praying and I heard something drop on the floor softly behind me....

Now, the House of Prayer is an awesome building with lots of character.  As long as I don't look at things too closely, I love it's rustic, poorly designed and built structure.  But if you sit close enough to the walls you can see more termite damage than I ever thought possible for a building still standing.  There are wood shavings just waiting to be bumped and sent raining down.  There are cobwebs galore, thankfully I haven't seen any frighteningly huge spiders.  The boards of the walls do not fit together anywhere so the weather comes through.  The roof is leaky tin and inside a ceiling has been made of papyrus reeds to prevent it from getting as hot.  Because the roof leaks, the papyrus is rotting and coming down in places.  The roof is slanted so that the rain runs off better and lowest part of the ceiling dips down low enough to almost touch the top of my head.  Not a fan of cobwebby rotting papyrus brushing me. ;)  When I sit inside during my morning devotional time, I often hear tiny creaks and possible footsteps above me in the ceiling.  I choose not to think about what creatures they might be.... rats? cockroaches? spiders? cats? who knows.

So, when I heard something drop behind me on the floor I jumped, thankfully I had the self control to not scream as there were others praying in their corners.  I glanced around behind me and what did I find?  A beautiful, newly emerged butterfly!  It had just come into this world as a butterfly and was climbing back up the wall.  I gently let it crawl onto my finger and it just sat there.  It's wings were heavy, damp, and droopy so it couldn't move around well.  It sat on my fingers for an hour or more as it's wings dried.  I admired it's beautiful colors and was reminded of a movie I recently watched called Metamorphosis.  If you haven't watched it, do! Here's the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiRFftkTtSA  It is amazing!  Butterflies put me in awe and wonder of their Creator!  Later I found the cocoon where it had come from, attached to a protected corner in the boards of the wall.

It was a small but wonderful reminder that God is still so present regardless of where I find myself.  If I'm dry or lonely or full of joy and surrounding by my special people, He is there and He knows when we need a reminder of Himself.

July 24, 2016

Videos About Life at Awinjo House

Reflections After Death

The death of a young person is always shocking.  There is usually some terrible story to go along with it.  Car accidents, drugs, illness, crime….  I recently learned of yet another young person who died seemingly too early: a dear friend of mine from high school.  He was a person with extraordinary intelligence, kindness, athletic talent, and potential to do something great with his life.  He had a rough upbringing and for whatever reason, was the subject of considerable teasing and bullying at least during the years I knew him in school.  Drug usage is a huge issue in Vermont where I spent most of my growing up years.  There were countless accidents and deaths related to alcohol and drug use throughout my growing up years there.  I later learned that Vermont has the least number of Christians of any state in the US! 

What is about this part of the country that people are resistant to the good news of the Gospel?  What is it about Jesus that people turn away from?  Are they too caught up by all the negative stereotypes of Christians who do awful things to each other and to people who have not chosen to follow Christ?  Is there more to it than that? 

This friend, Laszlo, went down the long dark road of drug usage that led to several imprisonments and rehabs only to remain caught in the vicious cycle.  People who profess to be Christians and those who don’t could both look at such a person living such a life as evil, dirty, no good, dangerous; you catch my drift.  But what I see is a hurt person who tried to deal with problems in ways that only created more problems because the hurts were too big to carry and deal with on his own.  I didn’t like knowing that he’d been in prison again or was struggling again with this or that, but I loved him as a brother and prayed for him regularly over the last ten years.  There were many times I tried to share Jesus with him, tried to encourage him, and show love to him when others did not.

 I was hit as if by a brick the day I found out he had died.  Two years ago, we had been in semi regular contact when he shared about his faith and theology and perception of God.  It was far fetched from the more common, mainstream ideas of believers I had interacted with, but at the very least it led me to believe and be encouraged that God was touching his heart and changing him for the better.  Shortly after arriving here, I had the pleasure of hearing from him; he had just gotten out of jail for the umpteenth time.  Laszlo briefly shared that he had made some big changes in his life and was planning to continue to live into a different life than he had up to that point.  We didn’t get into the details of those changes but there was definitely a change in his tone that I was encouraged by and really hoped it would stick this time.  Three weeks later I found out that he had had a seizure and fell into a brook while working, and drowned!  Why?! God knows the day and time when each person’s life on earth will come to a close.  A couple of people tried to encourage me with the passage somewhere between Genesis and Revelation that God takes people early when they are not able to withstand temptation, or something of the sort.  (wish I could find the verse but the internet has been unhelpful). 

Perhaps most importantly is the impact that Laszlo’s death will have on people…. Will his friends who had a bad influence on his life be transformed by Christ through this?  Will his family?  For me, it gave me a refreshed realization of just how much we as Christians ought to be driven to share Jesus with people.  We will never know each person’s time of death and how loving are we truly being if we are not taking care to share about Jesus with every person we meet who doesn’t already know him?  I have no real knowledge if Laszlo is in glory with God or living in suffering for all eternity.  The latter makes me grieve deeply and shudder to think that this “brother’ who suffered most of his earthly life, could be suffering beyond what I can imagine forever now.  I desperately hope that he found Jesus before his death.  And I should desire this for every other person on the earth, everyone of the 7+ billion people on earth.  As a Christian, I am called to love my God and love my neighbor who is anyone at all who crosses paths with me.  I am neither loving God nor my neighbor well if I remain indifferent to their possible eternal damnation. 

I know many people: friends and family who do not have a personal relationship with Christ and I pray often for them to be touched by the Spirit and somehow come to know Jesus before their time on earth is complete.  I ought to boldly share about Christ regardless if people want to hear it or not; but then if the seed doesn’t fall on fertile soil, what good is it? 

July 20, 2016

Tororo Rock Adventure

For the last week I keep feeling like I need to write something on my blog, but nothing comes to mind that seems good to write about.  Life has somewhat entered into a routine and so it seems blah to write about daily life but then I must remember that my daily life here would be new for all the rest of you as you are not the ones living it out.  Things happen that mix things up of course: challenges come, memories are made, small funny moments happen that often by the end of the day I can’t remember.

Many of you I’m sure saw the photos from when a group of us hiked Tororo Rock the other weekend.  Jia was able to get a group together who wanted to hike it and somehow convinced all the Africans who would be hiking that 7:00 AM was the best time to start!!! On a Saturday morning no less!! Haha!  They were only late by a half hour ish—so proud of them! ;)  The hike was beautiful and apart from four terrifying ladders (all ladders are terrifying not just those four), not difficult.  I had hoped to see monkeys along the way but I think our laughter and singing and jokes the whole way up and down was enough to scare them all off….  It was a grand time complete with a picnic of tea and chapatti (round flat bread cooked in a fry pan) on the top.  It amazes me that people can drink hot tea after a hike when it’s 85 degrees and sunny but they can and they love it!  Jia and I drank water….

Before the picnic, all but Flavia and 7-year-old Josiah, walked across to a place where the rock seemed to have broken off the main summit.  From the top, we walked down a grassy slope and then back up to another section of rock where we could see Tororo really well and pointed out many familiar spots and landmarks (which I sort of did in one photo on my Uganda facebook page).  I have never seen grass like that, growing on top of a rock mountain; it was so long that standing full height with my hands raised above my head, I was still not visible….  Thank the Lord, there were no snake sightings!

After making our way down, we decided to meet at a pool at the base of the rock; three or so hours later, people came back after retrieving their swim wear and eating lunch.  I have so far met one African who knows how to swim, Issa, who grew up on the coast of Kenya, swimming in the Indian Ocean.  It was a fun, relaxing afternoon at the pool and evening watching a movie!

July 9, 2016

A Day in the Village of Mella

The beginning of last week, Mama Sarah asked if I would like to visit her village with her!  I was so excited for the opportunity to visit a village as well as spend the day with mama Sarah!!

Mella, primarily made of the Iteso people, is very close to Kenya just up a hill from the river that creates a natural border.  She and I took a boda in the morning out to the village about a half hour from Tororo.  It was a beautiful drive!  We stopped by the river before going into the village and waved the boda off.  We walked up and down the river for a bit; we saw some men working in the river bed and up on the Kenyan side.  They dig sand/dirt out of the bottom of the river and throw it on shore.  It gets shoveled into big trucks and sell it for mixing concrete.  Really hard work!  

We then walked up the hill to the village for about 45 minutes!  It was so peaceful and quiet outside of town.  It was nice to be able to be out without constantly having people shouting for my attention or asking me for things as I walk by.  The landscape was all small rolling hills covered in bush and dotted with houses, crops, and animals.  Sarah has lived in this village for the majority of her life so as we walked, people would come and greet us.  They were so sweet and excited to see me of course, but it was in such a different way, more genuine than when I get stopped on the road in Tororo.  It was so refreshing!  We passed by the village church which was a small rectangular building made of mud plaster and a tin roof.  No windows, a couple of doors on the sides and the only way to see that it was a church was by the cross scraped into the mud on one wall.   

Further down the path that passed by the church was Sarah's family's home.  It was so quaint and simple and beautiful! I felt like I could have stayed there for quite some time.  Her parents were so sweet and it was such a pleasure to sit and talk with Sarah's father.  He taught me some things about their tribe: marriage traditions, food, general culture specific to them.  It was a special time of learning and sharing together!  After resting for a bit, we walked out to the village primary school  in the bush where Sarah went to school.  There were about 600-800 kids from preschool to grade 7 ish.  They had bright pink uniforms.  I came around the bend in the road and looked up the hill to the school and there were large numbers of children all in pink running around and talking with each other.  I wasn't expecting the school to have so many children and of course as soon as one saw me, all of their attention turned to me.  Many of them took off running towards me!!  I am not exaggerating when I say that a couple hundred elementary aged kids were about to bombard me!!! 

I wasn't expecting to be afraid but I legitimately thought they were going to surround me and take me out.  I ducked behind Sarah as we continued walking up the hill TOWARDS all those kids!  I wondered how in the world they were going to maintain control...  I was brought to a chair that stood underneath a tree in front of the school and immediately all those kids that I had made my way through, created a massive circle around me and stared.  The closest kids were within arms reach and I couldn't see those beyond them but when I stood, I could see there were several more rings of children standing in the circle.  I wanted to be able to play with them but I couldn't imagine one of me trying to play with all those kids.  I ended up visiting with one of the teachers, Sarah, and the head master for a while.  Two really young boys whispered in the teacher's ear if they could feel the texture of my hand.  They timidly came towards me and took my hand and quickly stepped away once they were satisfied.  

As I sat there, hundreds of eyes on me, I wondered if Jesus felt so filled with joy at being close to so many children at the same time and so fearful that they could at any moment bombard me.  I couldn't stop thinking about when He fed the 5, 000 (not including all the kids that must have been there).    When the kids starting getting to close and too many, the teacher would threaten them with a stick saying he would cane them.  They would all scatter fast and then come back after just a few minutes.  Just before I left, the headmaster arranged the children enough to have them sing a song!  It was awesome!  (I posted a video on my Uganda Facebook page for you to enjoy).  When they were finished singing, I blessed them all and then started to make my way with Sarah back down the hill towards home.  The kids all went back to class after I left.  No sooner had I reached the road than the kids got released from school for the rest of the day and again they took off running towards me.  Sarah and I made our way down the road back towards the village with at least 100 kids following behind! 

Once we reached Sarah's parents home again, we ate some mango and then went into their mud and cow dung, thatch roofed hut and ate a delicious lunch of rice with sauce and beef!  It was one of the best Ugandan meals I've had so far!  I was so impressed by the hut!  It was clean and airy and apparently when it rains, you can't hear it because of the thatched roof.  The floor and walls are made of mud brick and plastered with cow dung.  I imagined them being so dirty and smelly and stuffy but it was so cool!!! If I ever live in a place like this for a long time, I want to have one of these kinds of homes at least for sleeping and eating!  We visited a bit more and waited for our boda to pick us to go back to Tororo.  

It was a thoroughly enjoyable, precious day!  I can't wait for another opportunity to go out to a village and to return to visit Mella again!

July 6, 2016

Patience, Friendships, and the Power of Laughing and Worshiping Together!

Over the last couple of weeks, God has answered my prayers for connections, friendships, and "work" here in tremendous ways!  I'm so so thankful for all that God has been doing!

As I shared in my last post, God worked so much good out of having a week in Tororo by myself!!  Last Sunday evening there were several missionary families who arrived in town; some to visit who used to live here and some who just moved here from the States and Flavia, my newly made friend at House of Prayer, returned from northern Uganda.  Life got busy all of a sudden... Perhaps it is so engrained in Americans that even here, we can't not make life too full.

Flavia does a lot of the administrative work at IHOP and during my first week here had asked if I was interested in singing with them during their daily worship and possibly preach as well.  I was super excited for that opportunity to bless and serve and worship the Lord!  While she was away for a couple weeks, I didn't have a lot to do at House of Prayer, but I have made a habit of going to their worship/prayer/message time over lunch on a pretty regular basis.  I love participating in this daily two hour block of praying, praising, and learning about God with these people!!  It is loud and boisterous and lively and uninhibited!  The prayers have a focus for each day; for example Tuesdays we pray for revival in the global church and salvation for unbelievers, Thursdays we pray for global  and local issues of injustice, Fridays we pray for Muslims around the world.  I can't remember what the other days are, one is for Uganda and one is for Israel I think.  And there are times for independent prayer as well.

Last Monday morning, I went to catch up with Flavia and to see if she had anything she needed help with during the week.  She asked me to sing with her for morning devotion the next day so I met with her and Sam, who plays the keyboard and guitar, that evening to practice.  It was an awesome couple hours of singing and laughing and just having a good time with Sam and Flavia and some others, Issa and Ruth!  I have a challenge from Flavia to learn how to randomly sing prayers around a melody (called harp and bowl I think) as a part of worship; improv is not my forte but I'm hoping to work up the courage to do it sooner rather than later...  The devotion time Tuesday morning was great but God was definitely moving the evening before when we were together in an unstructured time of worship.  Since that night, I have felt and experienced another level of friendship with Flavia and many others at IHOP.  The power of laughing and having a good time together is amazing!

My loose routine has been quiet time in the mornings at home, helping at House of Prayer starting mid morning, lunch hour worship, prayers with the mamas at Awinjo, visiting with and learning from them and Ken and the Campbells (who also arrived the weekend all the missionaries did), and then playing with/mothering kids once they get home from school until dinner/dark.  It is a busy day but I thoroughly enjoy every minute of it!  God is deepening my relationship with him, molding me and friendships are forming in the midst of it all.  I'm finding myself being so much more present here than I was at first!

I was so impatient when I first arrived to just meet people and get connected and start serving.  But the minute I stepped back and just started praying about it and seeking God, all of those things have just happened organically.  His hand was in it and it is so good!! The thought of going home in five months is well, something I'd like to just not think about.  I can't imagine returning to life in the US after this.  But it is still only the beginning and I continue to seek God or be reminded that I need to do so when I start to focus more on other things and just live into what He is doing and where I am now.   I am feeling overwhelmingly blessed and hope and pray that those around me are being blessed as well!!